"I was surprised when I did not see you at mass. Tell me you are not
a pagan, or excommunicated for some dire reason."
"I attended mass this morning," she informed him in a prim voice.
Her brows drew together in a frown. "You looked for me at the mass?"
"I searched for you everywhere." He said that with such ease that
she felt certain he teased her. He studied her face for a moment and
seemed to read her thoughts. "You do not believe me?"
The exaggerated look he gave her was one of such wounded feelings
that she smiled, aware that she smiled into the face of danger. This
one could charm snakes, did he put his mind to it. "You cannot
search for someone you do not know, Baron."
"I know more about you than you might think. You are only half
Italian, on your father's side, and your mother was Baron Lonsdale's
sister. Five years ago, you and two brothers came to England after
the deaths of your parents. Your brothers left soon after, but you
remained at Lonsdale and earn your keep as a seamtress. 'Tis all I
know of you at present, yet I would like to know more. Much more."
His gaze moved over her face and settled on her mouth. Probably
because it hung wide open. She snapped it shut. "How do you know so
much about me?"
"It is in my best interests to know everything I can about Baron
Lonsdale and his family. I came here to make a contract with your
uncle, and I never enter into a contract without knowing all I can
of who I bargain with." He propped his hands at the edge of the
bench behind him and stretched out his legs to cross them at the
ankle. He looked every inch a nobleman at his leisure. "What would
you like to know about me?"
"What would I-" She took a deep, steadying breath. "I have no need
to know anything about you, Baron. Perhaps you should have this
conversation with my uncle."
"Ah, but I am here with you now." His roguish grin made her pulse
race. "Are you not the least bit curious? Is there nothing you wish
to know about me? I will answer any question you pose."
"Why would you pay so much for a keep worth so little?"
The question left her mouth before she could think better of it. She
shouldn't question him at all, but now that she had, she grew
bolder. " 'Tis said you intend to purchase Halford Hall, that my
uncle asked a fortune in gold florins, yet you agreed to his price
without hesitation. Why would you agree to such a poor bargain?"
He looked away from her and studied his boots. She could tell from
the downward tilt of his lips that he had little liking for the
question, but true to his word, he answered it.
"Halford belonged to Montague a long time ago. My father signed it
over to your grandfather when I was still a boy. My mother grew up
there, and I want Halford Hall under Montague rule once more."
"You are sentimental about your mother's childhood home?" The notion
that this powerful man might be sentimental seemed incredible, yet
she could think of no other reason he might want a keep so
insignificant. "You wish to honor your mother's memory by reuniting
He seemed to find some grim amusement in her observations but it
soon faded. "I wish to save my cousins from starvation. They still
reside at Halford and will not leave their land. Your uncle's
stewards tax and tithe all that Halford can produce, then they claim
every beast and bag of grain we send them. My people grow old with
ease at Montague, while my mother's people starve each winter. Your
uncle guessed right enough that I would hear of their plight. He
even sent word to Montague that he would be willing to part with
Halford. For a price. I expected him to ask twice what he did for
Halford Hall, and I would have paid it to see this business at an
Claudia couldn't believe he'd answered the question in the first
place. She'd never expected him to reveal so much. "You should not
tell me this, Baron. My uncle would delight in this information. It
is not in your best interest to tell anyone within Lonsdale so
"I feel I can trust you, Claudia." He said it so surely that she
felt an odd glow of pride. "I also know that you and your uncle are
not close. Why does he dislike you?"
The glow of pride died a quick death. She began to brush at a few
smudges of dirt on her gown. "My grandfather arranged my mother's
marriage to a man Uncle Laurence never liked. He says I am the image
of my father in looks and temperament." She concentrated on a grass
stain, unable to look him in the eye but willing to repay his
honesty. "I do not speak your language as well as I should after
five years in this country. My uncle says it offends him even when I
speak, that he must hear my father as well as look upon him whenever
I enter a room. 'Dislike' is a mild word to describe what my uncle
feels for me."
He said nothing for a long time. She'd probably disgusted him by
blurting out her family problems.
"Your life here must be very difficult, Lady Claudia."
His voice was so soft, so very gentle that she wanted to cry. She
forced a smile instead and gazed out over the gardens. " 'Tis not so
bad. Lonsdale is a large fortress, and I can avoid my uncle's
company most of the time. Indeed, there are days when I believe he
forgets I exist."
"You must see him at mealtime each day."
"Oh, nay. Ofttimes I eat in the kitchens, or else in my chamber."
Her smile dimmed. She was making herself sound pathetic. She didn't
want this man's pity. "I prefer to be alone. There are so many
people within the castle that I feel lucky to have a chamber I can
call my own. I like to work in this garden as well, for only the
priest and immediate family
are allowed its sanctuary without permission." She pointed toward
the wall beyond them. "I helped plant those vines three years ago.
Soon they will cover the wall. I plant and tend the herb plots each
year as well. The work I do here is very rewarding."
"But you would rather live somewhere else?"
That remark made her think of her brother, Dante, of the fine Welsh
keep he mentioned in his last missive. If all went well with Dante,
someday she would have a garden of her own, in a home where she
could be happy again. "Yes, I would rather live somewhere else."
He startled her when he placed his fingertips beneath her chin and
turned her face toward his. "Do you have a suitor, Lady Claudia?
Some man who longs to make you his wife?"
She laughed aloud. "Nay, Baron. I doubt any man in England longs for
one such as me. Most can understand no more than one of every three
words I speak, and I am beyond the age when most maids marry." She
shook her head and held her hands with the palms upward to show them
empty. "Most men long for a wealthy heiress, but what you see here
is my dowry. Only a fool would wish for such a wife."
His expression grew more intense. "I am well acquainted with a
She didn't know what to make of that strange remark nor what to do
when he gathered his legs beneath him and moved toward her. "What
are you doing, Baron?"
"I would like you to call me by my given name." He leaned closer,
his eyes as deep and mysterious as a fathomless sea.
Panic rose fast inside her. She slid away until she sat on the edge
of the bench, but had to lay her palm against his chest to hold him
at bay. "You should not look at me this way, Baron!"
"Guy." He captured her hand beneath his and held it against his
heart. "My name is Guy."
The moment he touched her hand, Claudia forgot why she'd placed it
there in the first place. She felt dizzy and disoriented as if every
thought had suddenly emptied itself from her head. He continued to
move toward her, yet she didn't realize his intent until his lips
touched hers. And still he watched her, with eyes that had somehow
turned to blue fire.
Claudia didn't know what to do. She closed her eyes. That didn't
help. The dizzy, ringing sensation in her ears grew stronger. She
couldn't seem to maintain her balance, yet now she couldn't open her
eyes, either. If one strong arm hadn't wrapped itself around her,
she would have fallen off the edge of the bench. She was soon
surrounded by his warmth. His lips began to move against hers,
brushing back and forth but never leaving her, pressing closer and
closer until her mouth was moving with his and against it at the
same time. She found herself focused entirely on the feel of his
kiss, the hard, masculine lips that somehow managed to be soft at
the same time. No man had ever kissed her, although she'd sometimes
wondered what it would be like. Now she knew. It was like being
drunk on thin air. She wanted it to go on forever. It seemed as if
it would. She wanted-
She was sitting on his lap!
Claudia stiffened and tried to push away from him. First she would
have to unwrap her arms from his neck. How did they get there? How
did he manage to kiss her in the first place? She placed her hands
on his shoulders and shoved backward as far as his arms would allow.
"Baron! Y-you forget yourself!"
"Guy," he murmured, pressing one last, lingering kiss against her
lips. He lifted his head and looked into her eyes, as if he were
searching for something. At last he smiled. "You must learn to call
me 'Guy.'" She tried to scoot off his lap, but his grip on her
tightened. "Hold very still, Claudia."
"Release me, Baron."
He shook his head. "Never."
She tried not to panic. He'd turned into a madman. A lust-crazed
madman. That was the source of the strange light in his eyes.
Before they kissed that light had fascinated her.
Now it frightened her. She lifted her hand and slapped him, not
hard, but hopefully hard enough to bring him to his senses.
Guy blinked once very slowly. When he opened his eyes again, they no
longer burned with passion. He looked confused. "Why did you do
"Why did I-" Claudia pressed her palm to her own cheek and released
a shaky sigh. He was wooden-headed as well as crazed. "I thought it
might return you to your senses, Baron. You did not come here to
He lifted one hand to her temple and his gaze moved to the stray
wisp of her hair that he rubbed between his fingers.
"I suspected rightly enough that you wanted to kiss me. There seemed
no reason to delay the matter."
Claudia pushed the lock of hair from his grasp and tucked it behind
her ear in one harsh movement. He looked as if she'd just slapped
him again. "I don't know why I let you kiss me, but it will not
happen again. What we did-what you are doing now is-is sinful."
"Perhaps." He didn't look the least disturbed by the possibility.
"Perhaps not. You are right about Halford Hall. The bargain does
seem unbalanced in your uncle's favor."
"What do you mean?"
He was staring at her mouth again. His voice sounded distracted. "I
must discuss the matter with Baron Lonsdale before I can tell you
anything more." He shook his head as if to clear his thoughts.
"Indeed, I have said too much already."
A feeling of dread settled over her. "My uncle will be furious if
you refuse to go through with the contract for Halford. You are in
his fortress, Baron. Within his power. If you think to refuse his
offer, you would be wise to make that refusal from the safety of
Montague. Make any excuse you wish to leave the fortress, but do not
speak a word of what you have told me to anyone else while you are
within these walls."
"I am not the fool you must think me, Lady Claudia. Baron Lonsdale
expects a bargain that will make him a wealthy man. In that, he will
not be disappointed." He stood up and brought Claudia to her feet
with him. His hands rested on her hips, his hold on her far from
intimate, yet the firm pressure made her skin tingle. Everywhere.
"Was that your first kiss?"
He did know how to make her head spin. This man could exasperate a
saint. More likely, he was related to the Devil.
She didn't know what made her answer the foolish question, yet he
seemed pleased when she did. "Aye."
He lifted her hand and pressed another sensuous kiss against her
wrist. "Good. I hoped I would be the first." He glanced toward the
path that led to the bailey, and his mouth became a straight line.
"I must leave you, Claudia. 'Tis unlikely we will have another
opportunity to speak alone again before tomorrow." His lips brushed
against hers in a kiss so brief that it was over almost before she
realized it began. "Do not kiss anyone else until then. I want you
to save your kisses for me."
Excerpted from "Betrothed" by Elizabeth Elliott. Copyright © 1996 by Elizabeth Elliott. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.