About the Author
Laura KinsaleLaura Kinsale, a former geologist, is the New York Times bestselling author of Flowers from the Storm, The Prince of Midnight, and Seize the Fire. She and her husband divide their time between Santa Fe and Dallas.
La Paire, foothills of the French Alps—1772
The lad had the deep, burning eyes of a zealot. S.T. Maitland shifted uncomfortably on his wooden bench and glanced again over his win...
La Paire, foothills of the French Alps—1772
The lad had the deep, burning eyes of a zealot. S.T. Maitland shifted uncomfortably on his wooden bench and glanced again over his wine across the murky depths of the tavern. It was damnably disconcerting to find that measuring stare still fixed on him, as if he were up for admission to heaven and not particularly likely to get in.
S.T. lifted his tankard in a lazy salute. He wasn’t proud. He reckoned he was a long enough shot for paradise that a nod was worth the trouble. If this comely youth with the absurdly black lashes and vivid blue eyes should turn out to be St. Peter, Jr., best to be decently civil.
Rather to S.T.’s dismay, the youngster’s gaze intensified. The straight, dark brows drew into a frown and the boy stood, slim and silent, a figure of blue velvet and shabby gentility amid the usual lot of peasants chattering in Piedmontese and Provençal. S.T. rubbed his ear and brushed his tie wig nervously. A vision of eating his déjeuner in the clutches of an earnestly holy adolescent made him swig the last half of his wine and stand up in haste.
He reached down for the packet of sable paintbrushes he’d come into the village to procure. The string loosened. He swore under his breath, trying to capture the precious sticks before they scattered into the rushes that covered the dirt floor.
The soft voice seemed to be behind him. S.T. came upright, turning quickly to the left in the hope of escaping, but his bad ear tricked him amid the babble of laughter and conversation. His balance fluctuated for an instant; he grabbed instinctively for the table and found himself face-to-face with the youth.
“Monseigneur du Minuit?”
A bolt of alarm shot through him. The words were French, but it was very stilted French, and a name he hadn’t been called in three years.
He’d been half expecting to hear it—for so long that it didn’t even sound remarkable. ’Twas the voice itself that seemed improbable, gruff and toneless, coming from this infant with the fresh, high-colored face. When S.T. had envisioned the hunters who might track him for the price on his head, he’d hardly imagined a greenling who hadn’t even started a beard.
He relaxed against the table and gazed glumly down at the youth. Was this youngster all he was worth? He could kill the poor cub with one hand, for God’s sake.
“You are le Seigneur du Minuit,” the boy stated, nodding stiffly, managing the pronunciation of “seyn-yuhr” and “minwhee” with careful dignity. In English, he added, “I am correct?”
S.T. thought of answering in a torrent of annoyed French which would undoubtedly go right over the fellow’s head. His schoolroom accent sounded none too steady. But those eyes of burning deep blue had a force of their own, enough to keep S.T. wary. Fresh faced or not, the child had managed to locate him—a disturbing fact on all counts.
The boy was tall for an adolescent, but S.T. still topped him by a head and certainly outweighed him by a good six stone. With that slender elegance and full, solemn mouth, the young whelp looked more like to grow into a dandy than a thieftaker. He dressed the beau, to be sure, even if the lace at his cuffs and linen jabot was frayed and grimy.
“Qu’est-ce que c’est?” S.T. demanded brusquely.
The dark, winged brows drew into a deeper line. “S’il vous plaît,” the boy said with a little bobbing bow, “will you speak English, monsieur?”
S.T. gave him a suspicious look. The lad was really outrageously beautiful, his black hair drawn back off high cheekbones into a short queue; a classical, perfect nose…and those eyes, alors, like the light through deep water: nightshade and violet and bluebells. S.T. had seen that effect once, in a rocky cave at the edge of the Mediterranean, with the sun shafts piercing aquamarine shadows and playing off jet-black stone—and this against skin soft and fine as a girl’s. The superbly modeled face held high color, a pink that looked almost feverish. Against his better judgment, S.T. found himself growing curious about the brat.
“Little speak Eng-lish.” He made up the worst accent he could humanly execute, speaking loudly above the tavern noise. “Little! Good day! Yes?”
The youth hesitated, staring intensely from beneath those slanted brows. S.T. found himself vaguely embarrassed by the farce. What a silly language, French—it made a man sound like some backstage cardsharp to imitate the proper Gallic inflections.
“You are not the Seigneur,” the boy said in his husky, toneless voice.
“Seigneur!” Did the young dullard suppose that S.T. was going to announce it to any English stranger who happened along? “Mon petit bouffon! I look a seigneur, no? A lord! But yes!” He gestured down at his jackboots and paint-stained breeches. “Bien sûr! A prince, of course!”
“Je m’excuse.” The youth gave a second awkward bow. “I seek another.” He hesitated, looked hard at S.T., and then began to turn away.
S.T. clamped his hand on the slender shoulder. He couldn’t afford to let the cub go quite so easily as that. “Seek an-oth-er? An-o-ther? Pardon; but this I comprehend not.”
The boy’s frown deepened. “A man.” He moved his hand in a slight gesture of frustration. “Un homme.”
“Le Seigneur du Minuit?” S.T. put just a trace of patient patronage in his tone.
“The Lord—of the Midnight, eh? Zut! Is a name absurd. I know not he. You seek? Pardon, pardon, monsieur, for why you seek?”
“I must find him.” The youth watched S.T.’s face with the intensity of a cat at a mouse hole. “It doesn’t matter why.” He paused and then said slowly, “Perhaps he goes by a different name here.”
“Of course. I give to you help, hm? Ah—the hair.” S.T. tugged at the queue on his tie wig. “Color? The color, you know it?”
“Yes. Brown hair, monsieur. I’m told he doesn’t like a wig or powder. Brown hair, dark, but with gold in it. Streaked with gold, all over. Similar to a lion, monsieur.” S.T. rolled his eyes, playing Frenchman. “Alors. Le beau!”
The boy nodded seriously. “Yes, they say he is handsome. Quite good-looking. Tall. With eyes of green. Comprenez ‘green,’ monsieur? Emerald? With gold in them. And gold on his eyelashes and brows.” The boy stared at S.T. significantly. “Very unusual, I’m told. As if someone had sprinkled gold dust over him. And his eyebrows are quite distinctive, too, so they say—” He touched his own. “With a curl at the arch of them like the horns on a devil.”
S.T. hesitated. The blue eyes held constant, no change in expression, just a shade too level, the tone of voice a trace too mild—he looked down at the youth and saw someone a thousand years old gazing out of that unfledged face. It chilled him. There was a devil inside this one, and it knew full well who he was but chose to play the game S.T. had started.
He carried on with the performance anyway. The only other recourse was to lure the poor pup out back and hold a stiletto to his throat. S.T. needed to know how he’d been found… and why.
Tapping his forehead, he said wisely, “Ah. Eye-brow. Je comprends. See this eye-brow you, and think…I is he. This seigneur. Yes?”
“Yes.” The boy smiled faintly. “But I was wrong. I’m sorry.” The smile erased all trace of subterfuge. It was sweet and wistful and feminine, and S.T. had to sit down to keep from sinking under the sudden shock of revelation.
For the love of—
She was a girl.
Length: 8 in
Width: 5 in
Weight: 10.48 oz
Page Count: 408 pages