Excerpt: Bewitching in Boots

 

Moral of the story of

Puss in Boots:

“If a man has quick success

In winning such a fair princess,

By turning on the charm,

Then regard his manners, looks, and dress,

That inspired her deepest tenderness,

For they can’t do one any harm.”

Charles Perrault

(1628–1703)

 

 

Chapter ONE

France 1685

“Do you really think your plan will work, Elisabeth?” Claire swiped a curl from her damp forehead. The summer breeze stealing its way into their moving carriage was a mixed blessing. It offered some relief from the heat, but brought with it wafts of dust.

This wasn’t the most comfortable trip Elisabeth de Roussel had ever taken, but it was the most important—to her. “For the third time, yes.” Her voice was calm, belying the disquiet she felt. Her nerves jangled; she didn’t need her sister to keep repeating the same question.

“You’re going to seduce Tristan de Tiersonnier, a man who makes other men quake with fear and women tremble with desire. And you’re going to do it, dressed like that?

“That is the plan.” Elisabeth glanced over at her maid, Agathe, and caught her rolling her eyes. Elisabeth fully expected the older woman to voice her dissent over the plan, but instead Agathe was uncharacteristically quiet, and stared out the window, lips pursed.

Claire leaned in. “Elisabeth, you are dressed like a man. A shirt, breeches, black boots—those are men’s clothes. Well, perhaps not those black boots. No man would wear something so snug around his calves.”

“I’m quite aware of how I’m dressed, dear sister.” Her younger sibling didn’t need to know what an utter mess Elisabeth was inside. Nor was she going to admit that she was dressed this way because she wanted—needed—her prized sword at her hip. It gave her confidence. Helped to bolster courage. And courage was what she’d need to execute her plan.

Especially when the plan centered on the only man who intimidated her. The imposing sinfully beautiful former commander of the King’s private Guard—the Musketeers—Tristan de Tiersonnier, Comte de Saint-Marcel.

One look from his intense blue eyes and she was undone—when no man shook her, not even her father, the King. By doing nothing more than walking into a room, Tristan commanded her attention and ignited her senses—reducing her into some gawking unsophisticated ingénue. With his confident manner, his tall and powerful body, he exuded authority. And—God help her—such potent sensuality. He made her ache. Heart and body.

He burned in her blood.

Sadly, nothing had lessened her fever for Tristan. Not marriage to another man. Not the lovers she’d taken since the Duc’s death. Not time or distance.

“I’m all for being a part of your plan, Elisabeth,” Claire said. “In fact, I’d never refuse. But this one is rather involved.”

That was an understatement. Claire had no idea just how involved her plan was or what Elisabeth truly hoped to accomplish during this sojourn, but she couldn’t explain all of it to her sister. Claire always looked up to her. As much as she adored Claire, Elisabeth couldn’t reveal to her, or anyone, just how vulnerable she was to Tristan.

It was a weakness. She never showed her weaknesses. One didn’t survive in her world by being transparent—ever.

And Elisabeth had survived plenty of attempts to diminish her, both at court and in the eyes of the King. Her late mother had taught her well. She’d been a fine example of how strength and a cunning mind benefited a woman. Her mother hadn’t kept the King’s interest longer than any of his other mistresses without knowing a thing or two about how to be clever in a man’s world. Elisabeth had adopted her mother’s finesse and fortitude and had risen among the brood sired by His Majesty to become the favorite royal daughter. And she used her favored position to protect Claire—who went mostly unnoticed and unprotected by their father— from the constant courtly intrigue.

“Hrrmph . . . Seems like a lot of trouble to go to just to bed a man,” Agathe mumbled. “We could have stayed home. There are plenty of men at Versailles to choose from.”

“There are indeed,” Elisabeth said. Her period of mourning over, during the last year she’d had her choice of lovers. Had the freedom to pick and choose whom she wanted. She’d enjoyed the freedom that came with widowhood.

But her freedom was running out.

If she was going to do something about Tristan, it had to be now.

“The men at court bore me,” Elisabeth added, affecting a tone that was purposely blasé. One that gave the world the impression she was indifferent to all things. “The timing is perfect. Veronique is no longer Tristan’s mistress. This is the most opportune time.”

Claire crinkled her nose. “Veronique . . .” she muttered with disdain. A disdain shared by Elisabeth for their unscrupulous half-sister, the court filled with too many just like her.

“Opportune time?” Agathe snorted. “Perhaps madame has forgotten that the man was dismissed from his position as Captain of the Guard—and the reason why?”

“I haven’t forgotten, Agathe,” Elisabeth said, “and it is not a permanent situation. Tristan is strong and skilled. Sooner or later His Majesty will reinstate him.” She’d see to it. It was part of her plan, important for many reasons, including thwarting Veronique’s ambitions. Three months ago, Tristan had been injured in the line of duty. For two months he’d convalesced at the palace until the King, acting on the advice of the royal physicians who felt Tristan would never completely heal, had replaced him as Captain of the Guard.

“So how do you plan on seducing him?” Claire asked, her eyes twinkling with mischief.

Elisabeth smiled. “Now where would be the fun in telling you that? You’ll just have to wait and see.” She had no idea how she was going to go about seducing Tristan. Her mother had taught her how to entice men, what they liked in and out of the boudoir. But Tristan was not like any man she’d ever known. He wasn’t the sort of man who could be led around by the nose. He wouldn’t be easily lured.

Claire frowned. “I will still get to help you, yes?”

“Of course. That’s why I brought you along.” Elisabeth glanced at Agathe. “I’m going to need both of you to help.”

Her old and faithful servant looked about as thrilled over the prospect as she’d be at developing a body rash.

“Excellent.” Claire beamed. “I do so admire your bravery, Elisabeth. Normally women wait to be approached by Tristan de Tiersonnier. You’re the only woman I know who is willing to approach him. He’s a little too serious, a little too intense for me. I’ve always found him to be rather unnerving.”

So did she. For entirely different reasons: the unbreakable pull he had on her and the desire she had for him that was far too keen. If all goes well, you might have him tonight . . . Her nerve endings quivered with life, the notion as thrilling as it was terrifying. It took all she possessed not to abort her plan and race back to Versailles. But she couldn’t. Wouldn’t. It was time to take control and sate the tormenting carnal hunger she had for this man—who’d barely noticed her and had only spoken to her out of duty.

Well, today he’d notice her.

Acting on the signs she’d read in her father, on the subtle comments he’d made, Elisabeth knew he’d select a new husband for her soon. She’d be trapped in another hollow marriage filled with lonely nights fantasizing about Tristan. More lonely years spent starved for his touch, his taste.

She wouldn’t go through that again.

If she was going to be forced to marry once more, then her husband may as well be Tristan. A husband of her choosing. If she failed to seduce him into the idea of marriage, then at the very least she wouldn’t fail to seduce him into her bed for a week of unbridled sex. It was unwise, utterly foolhardy, for a woman to crave a man as intensely as she craved Tristan. To be as spellbound as she was by him. Her mother had taught her better than that. One way or another, husband or lover, he’d bed her and she’d at last satisfy this hunger, snap this fascination, and purge him from her heart, body and soul.

She’d never find any contentment in her life—know any peace—if she didn’t break the power Tristan had over her.

“I find Tiersonnier appealing,” Elisabeth remarked. “And as for his ‘intensity,’ I think that could be put to good use in the boudoir.”

Claire giggled. “Too true, sister.”

Agathe pursed her lips firmer together.

Elisabeth’s plan was simple. Before she could marry Tristan, she had to convince both the King and Tristan that the irresistible ex-Musketeer was her perfect match.

There were only two problems with her plan. One, the King saw Tristan as infirm and not fit to marry her. And two, Tristan wasn’t going be easy to seduce into her bed, much less into marriage.

He hated her.

The carriage stopped. Her entourage of Musketeers and a second carriage filled with Elisabeth’s and Claire’s trunks and necessities halted as well.

Elisabeth alighted from the carriage with the help of one of the King’s Guardsmen. Her stomach dropped at the sight before her.

“Good Lord, Elisabeth, is that Tiersonnier’s château?” her sister asked, stopping by her side.

Agathe simply shook her head in dismay.

Standing in the courtyard, overgrown with weeds, was an old two-story country mansion, its stone masonry crumbling in many spots. The once proud mythical statues adorning its rooftops were blackened with dirt and age.

Elisabeth took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “It’s in some need of repair.”

Agathe snorted. “That is putting it mildly.”

This isn’t a setback. She wasn’t going to be discouraged by the state of Tristan’s abode or, more important, what it suggested about the finances of the lord of this château and how that diminished her already slim chances of being with Tristan beyond the week. She’d come this far. She’d forge ahead.

She’d simply add to the plan. What was one more obstacle in her path? After all, she was already attempting the impossible. In addition to convincing the King that Tristan was capable of commanding His Majesty’s Guard once more, and making Tristan want her, clearly she’d have to convince her father that Tristan was richer than he was.

She was wearing her lucky boots. Good thing.

She was going to need all the luck she could get.

******

“Is this what you do all day? Sit in the library?” Gabriel de Tiersonnier asked with a smile as he strolled into the room.

Seated on the settee, his leg propped up, Tristan stared out at the gardens. Without glancing at his brother, he responded dryly, “No. Sometimes I sit in the salon.” His tone was caustic. Embittered.

He wanted to be left alone and tried to ignore his younger brother and his good mood. It was as infuriating as the unrelenting dull ache in Tristan’s leg. An incessant reminder of his debilitated state. All these weeks and no bloody sign of improvement. He still walked with a cane. He still couldn’t make peace with his crippled limb. He hadn’t wanted to believe the royal physicians’ prognosis. Now he was beginning to lose all hope of a complete recovery. And his frustration and fury over it mounted daily.

Still smiling, Gabriel shook his head and sat down in a nearby chair, making himself comfortable.

Merde. His brother meant to stay.

“Really, Tristan, this sedate existence of yours is as exciting as living among celibate monks.”

“You should know. You were one of them—that is until they tossed you out last week.” Gabriel had returned two days ago, shattering Tristan’s solitude, and he resented it.

He resented just about everything nowadays. He resented how far he’d fallen for a man who had it all—command of the most prestigious, most elite corps in the realm, the ear of the King and his esteem, magnificent apartments at Versailles, and a number of women to bed whenever he chose, including his favorite, Veronique. But his favorite turned out to be a conniving little opportunist, who was quick to leave. The moment he was replaced as Captain of the Musketeers, she was bedding his successor.

What did he have left when all the dust had settled? A lame leg. A broken-down château he cared nothing about. And worse, staid empty years stretched out before him—a life so contrary to his active existence. He’d fought in countless campaigns for his country during his distinguished military career. He’d risen through the ranks to eventually head the King’s private Guard, and had conducted covert operations and quashed conspiracies while in charge of the safety and protection of the royal family.

Gabriel chuckled good-naturedly. “I was not a monk, and well you know it. I was in the seminary. I hadn’t taken any vows yet. Our dear departed father felt he needed to have one son in the service of God. I told him it was a mistake to send me.”

“I suppose ‘our dear departed father’ overestimated your restraint. Here you thought celibacy was a mere suggestion and not a requirement for a man studying to become a member of the Holy Church.”

“Exactly.” Gabriel grinned. “Glad you see my point.”

“Yes, and who could have guessed they’d take it so seriously when they caught you with two women at the same time—twice.”

Gabriel laughed. “Ah, now Tristan, those women were well worth being expelled from the seminary. Who needs to wait to die to go to paradise when a man can sample those four lovelies right here on earth?”

“Tristan?” The sound of his uncle’s voice grabbed Tristan’s attention. He turned to see Richard de Tiersonnier entered the room, his brow furrowed. Despite his salt and pepper hair, he was still the tall, strong figure he’d been during his years in the military. “Are you expecting a Duc?”

“A Duc?” Tristan repeated. “Of course not, why?” No one from court had visited him since his departure from the royal palace. He’d been well forgotten in mere weeks—after years of loyal service to the King and his family.

“There is a six-horse carriage among the entourage outside.”

Tristan was baffled. Entourage? A six-horse carriage was definitely a Duc. What Duc? Why was he here?

Grabbing his cane, he struggled to his feet, refusing help from Gabriel, and made his way to the courtyard to greet his notable visitor, his uncle and brother falling in behind him.

The moment Tristan stepped outside the main entrance of his château, he arrested his steps. His heart lost a beat. Two carriages, one with six white horses, and thirty of his former men each on horseback filled his courtyard.

But if that wasn’t enough, by far the most astonishing sight was the King’s favorite daughter, Elisabeth, Duchesse de Roussel. Flanked by her maid and her sister, she stood not twenty feet away dressed in breeches, black boots and a white shirt—male clothing custom-fitted to her form.

She looked like anything but a man.

Her breeches accentuated her mouth-watering curves, black boots—like none he’d ever seen—molded to her slender calves, and then there was her shirt. The breeze fluttered the white material, teasing him with glimpses of creamy skin above her breasts. He felt his prick harden.

Tristan squeezed the handle of his cane. Jésus-Christ, he hadn’t had sex since his injury. He’d definitely gone too long without a good fuck if the sight of the King’s most spoiled offspring, dressed in men’s clothing, was stiffening his cock.

“Where is the Duc?” his uncle asked.

Gabriel stepped around Tristan. “Never mind that, Uncle. Who is that woman dressed in breeches?”

“One of His Majesty’s illegitimate daughters.” Tristan couldn’t keep the disdain from his tone.

“I thought he legitimized all his children born to his mistresses,” Richard stated.

“He did. He gave them status and arranged powerful matches for them, too,” Tristan said. “This is one of the more self-indulgent among those in the royal brood.”

Tightening his jaw, he made his way across the courtyard, hating it that his former men had to see him hobbling like a cripple. Whatever Elisabeth wanted, he’d refuse. Whatever game she was playing—and it was obvious she was up to no good—he wouldn’t engage in it.

He was going to send her and her entourage straight back to Versailles.


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