|Claire Delacroix: The Temptress|
(Paperback), ISBN 0-440-23640-1
A knight in the service of Richard the Lionheart newly returned from the Crusades, Bayard finds himself on an urgent diplomatic mission to save Montvieux, his family's estate in France. When Bayard's uncle spurns his help, Bayard turns to his grandmother to acquire control of the estate for his lord by peaceful means. His grandmother, in turn, challenges Bayard to win a Bride Quest and enter into a marriage of convenience to prove himself worthy of Montvieux.
Esmeraude of Ceinn-beithe -- daughter of Lady Eglantine and stepdaughter of Duncan MacLauren (from Delacroix's The Countess) and the prize of this particular Bride Quest -- decides that if she must marry, she would rather set the terms of her choice. To achieve her goal -- and experience a bit of adventure before she must settle down -- Esmeraude flees her stepfather's estate with only her trusted maid as chaperone. She also leaves behind a riddle that dares her suitors to follow.
Determined to arrange matters so that none of her suitors can compel her to wed, Esmeraude resolves to lose her virginity to the first promising stranger who crosses her path. That stranger happens to be Bayard. When he realizes both who Esmeraude must be and that she does indeed mean to do the -- ahem! -- deed, he thanks Lady Fortune for placing his goal in his grasp. However, his good fortune quickly vanishes when Esmeraude flees from his side to continue her adventure.
When they meet again, and Esmeraude discovers Bayard's true identity and purpose, she reasserts her intention to marry for love, not because some man wishes to win a holding. Then she flees again. Eventually, after a series of encounters and misadventures, Esmeraude, Bayard, and the other prospective suitors arrive en masse at the estate of Esmeraude's older sister.
From that point the plot begins to unravel and stagnate. Esmeraude's charmingly spoiled persona begins to grate once she turns all her attention to forcing Bayard to say the words of love she craves. In addition, Delacroix artificially extends the narrative by postponing the complete explanation of Bayard's aversion to a love match and throwing in a magic vine that supposedly reflects the hero and heroine's relationship, two complete chapters on the romance of Tristan and Iseult, and a subplot involving the romantic doings of Esmeraude's younger sister Mhairi back home. I found myself wondering if Delacroix came up way short in her word count. I did, however, enjoy the otherworldly interludes between Lady Fortune and the various saints invoked by the various characters. Their interactions would've made much more satisfying filler.
here to share your