Dangerous Desires Series
When she’s kidnapped, Senorita Isabella knows the men have been sent by her uncle in a murderous attempt to control her family’s fortune. But when she is rescued by a dashing and mysterious warrior, Isabella can’t imagine why a stranger would risk his life for her—until she discovers her rescuer believes she’s someone else….
Fernando de Zayas loves nothing more than the cry of battle. Defying death is his way of life. But when he discovers his betrothed has been kidnapped, he rushes to her aid—never suspecting that spirited beauty would soothe his warrior heart…
With her uncle’s minions close on their heels, Isabella finds herself drawing closer to Fernando. But as the desire between them builds, her secret could keep them apart forever…
The Moorish Kingdom of Granada, Spain—1488
Al-Caicería—The Great Bazaar
“Harem!” The slave trader’s shout rose above other voices in the open-air market. He dug his fingers into the hooded robe hiding Isabella Lopéz de Lara’s face and nudity. “Harem!”
The Arabic word seemed to linger in the still, warm air. Sweat trickled down Isabella’s cheek. Her abduction in Andalucía, on orders from her murderous uncle, was far too real and horrifying now.
Someone brushed past, startling her. The individual’s sandals or boots slapped hard against the ground, the sounds fading quickly. Isabella snatched a breath. The hem of her robe pulled away from her legs. She stilled, terrified to move. Work-roughened fingers slid over her ankle and up her calf.
Holding back a scream, she backed into the slaver. He released his hold on her robe and shouted in Arabic, his words incomprehensible to her. An object whistled close to her face, followed by a harsh crack and a man’s agonized cry.
The hand jerked away from her leg. A series of brutal whacks and stumbling noises rose above the other sounds.
Swallowing hard, she listened for what she couldn’t see.
Too many buyers shuffled close, stirring up dust to mingle with the scents of cooked meat, cloyingly sweet perfumes, the stench of animals and men. Crude male voices yelled the word harem repeatedly. Moments later, fabric snapped.
She pictured the slaver stripping one of the other captives, forcing the poor woman to display herself.
Murmurs floated through the crowd. The slaver shouted above them, making the men speak faster, louder.
As they offered bids?
She shuddered, expecting the slave to plead for mercy.
Whoever the girl was, she held her tongue, seemingly resigned to her fate the Moors deemed qisma, destiny.
Men pushed past with cruel indifference, some pressing so close Isabella could smell the grime on their robes. Sickened, she stepped back. The slaver said something and ran his fingers down her shoulder to her arm, touching the side of her breast. She jerked away from his filthy touch. Those surrounding them laughed. The slaver pulled her tightly against him, proving she was in his world, his property, even though she was the daughter of a grandee and duke.
Her late father’s position hardly mattered now. Her only hope was in escape that seemed impossible.
Voices rose and fell during countless negotiations, sheep bleated, children played. Someone spoke above the din, the tone unusually high-pitched, sounding neither female nor male, marking its owner as a eunuch. A man who was no longer male.
His comments grew strident. The slaver shouted in return.
Her pulse pounded. If a way out existed, she had to see it. The eunuch and slaver argued on. She pulled at the hood of her robe and slowly lifted her head until she could see past the cloth.
The sun hung heavy in the sky, turning Granada’s structures a blinding white. Squinting at the overwhelming brightness, she regarded the numerous towers to determine if guards watched from there and would see any attempt at escape. If not, where would she flee?
Granada was a city of countless dwellings and strangers who would never offer sanctuary to a Spanish noblewoman. The free women here were as shrouded as she was, with only their eyes uncovered. However, if she could secure one of the dark robes sold in the market and disguise herself as a Moorish woman, there might be a chance to flee. No man would dare break the sanctity of the veil, not even to search for an escaped slave. The Moors’ religion forbade it.
The robes were tantalizingly close, though still out of reach.
The slaver’s voice rose again. He spat on the dinars the eunuch had offered. The eunuch’s palm looked as soft as a woman’s, his dark face bearing no trace of a beard. Clearly impatient, he gestured to Isabella’s robe. The slaver yanked the hood off her head. She gasped.
A flurry of excited murmurs rippled through the crowd. The eunuch stared openly at her elaborately braided hair, apparently stunned at its unusual auburn color. The slaver gestured to her robe, his words seeming to imply how the Moors had prepared her body for sale. The eunuch focused on her eyes, the same blue-green as Queen Isabella’s, a color well known within Spain’s Royal House of Trastámara.
The slaver’s broad smile revealed most of his decayed teeth. When he spoke again, the eunuch grew thoughtful.
On a shuddering breath, Isabella searched the market for any means of escape and found none. Too many people pressed close with no clear route from the area. If only she could see what was behind her, she might find a way out.
A quick glance showed even more people and cramped stalls, proving how trapped she was. The eunuch’s high-pitched shout suddenly rose above the slaver’s angry growl. Wanting away from them, she inched back. The eunuch dashed to her right, blocking her. The slaver to her left and reached for her robe.
Piercing wails filled the heated air.
Isabella stiffened. The slaver’s hand fell from her. He and the eunuch turned toward the sounds. Two dark-robed women pressed their hands to their veiled mouths. Children had stopped playing, their youthful eyes widened in wonder or fear at an aged man. His white beard trailed down his chest, and infirmity bent his tall frame, forcing him to keep his face lowered. He wore a turban and full robe, the voluminous fabric hiding the contours of his body.
Suddenly, he thrust his hand into a fire used to cook some manner of food.
Many in the crowd gasped. A young girl backed into a basket of olives, toppling it. The fruit rolled across the ground until it reached a pool of spilled honey where a black cat prowled.
The aged man kept his hand in the fire without bellowing in pain. He chose three smoking coals, tossing the hot embers from his right hand to his left much as jugglers did at fairs with brightly colored balls.
This was no fair nor was he a juggler, but a fakir, a holy man.
Isabella had heard tales of such beings who traveled the Arab territories. Fakirs had no homes or commerce, begging for food as they roamed from place to place, performing amazing feats to shock everyone, as he did now. Merchants, free women, and children waited to see what the strange man would do next.
With no one watching her, Isabella prepared to break into a run, to lose herself in the throng.
The fakir tilted his face and met her gaze.
Her heart caught. His eyes were arresting and strangely beautiful, his gaze so intent she stepped back. His expression changed. With a hard frown, he seemed to warn her to remain where she was. He turned to the eunuch and slaver, crying to them in Arabic, his voice reedy with age.
Her stomach churned. Was he warning them of her intent to flee?
When he looked back at her, raw power lit his expression, holding her to the spot.
Even if she’d wanted to move, she couldn’t now. The eunuch and slaver stared at her.
The air grew heavier than before and far too still. The slaver adjusted his weight from foot to foot as he and the eunuch spoke to the fakir. The holy man answered in kind, juggling the hot coals. He drew closer to them, his movements inefficient and tottering, no different from a babe. The slaver stepped back. The eunuch did not. His shrill voice rose in what sounded like an oath. The fakir hobbled closer, the hot coals jumping more slowly between his hands. At last he responded, his voice low.
The eunuch scowled and shouted a string of foul-sounding words. The fakir grabbed the eunuch’s throat, pressing the hot coals to it. Squealing in agony, the eunuch fell to the ground, rocking and mewling.
Frightened sounds rippled through the crowd. The holy man spoke to the spectators, who exchanged glances with each other and shuffled back.
The fakir grabbed more hot coals from another fire and staggered toward the slaver. Unlike the eunuch, the slaver offered no retort as he stepped back quickly. The fakir followed. It was a strange dance, the fakir plodding forward a step, the slaver retreating the same distance as he focused on the newest coals.
Again, Isabella realized no one noticed her. Before she could think to escape, the fakir was at her side, clutching her hair in his free hand, shouting at the others.
Again, they backed away.
He yanked Isabella toward him and whispered in Castilian, “When I release you, grasp your throat and cry out. Your freedom and life depend upon it. Do you understand?”
Her heart hammered so wildly she could barely breathe, much less think. With no time to consider why he would help her, she nodded.
The fakir shouted something to the others then brought the coals close enough for her to feel their heat. She clutched her throat and wailed.
The slaver spoke hurriedly, his words seeming to beg for mercy.
The fakir lifted the hot coals to his mouth and blew. Flames poured from his parted lips. Screams tore through the crowd with more than a few bolting.
The fakir gripped her wrist, his touch steel.
Again, he lifted the coals to his lips. Flames shot out of his mouth, which he directed to the black silk hanging on a stall. The cloth caught fire. He bolted, pulling her with him.
Follow the heart through darkness…
As the Inquisition gains force, even the faintest rumor can brand one a heretic. In this world it is Sancha’s gift–or curse–to be blessed with the gift of healing. But the villagers are in need of her arts more than ever, and she feels it is her duty to help them at the risk of losing her life. And at the sacrifice of her heart…
Enrique has never wanted a woman as he does Sancha. Determined to have her love, he woos her with exquisite passion, giving her refuge to pursue her healing in secret. But their very desire and escape from the ruthless forces of the world may be their undoing. And together, they must pit themselves against a jealous rival and archaic tradition to secure their place in a hopeful new dawn…
He looked at her. “Never have I met women like you.”
She inclined her head slightly to concede his point. “Now you understand why I said you must find another more in accord with your needs.”
“I want no one but you.”
He’d cupped her face, his thumb skimming her bottom lip. Her mouth tingled. Her breath spilled out on a wanting sigh at the tenderness and desire in his expression.
He reined in his gelding and lowered his mouth to hers.
She couldn’t fight him. Didn’t want to. The night was perfect for love, their attraction too intense, his kiss soft and searching at first then filled with raw male need, his tongue slipping into her mouth.
Sancha sagged against him, suckling his tongue as though she’d been born for the task, loving his clean flavor, his strong caress.
With the reins in one hand, he eased his other beneath her shirt, fingertips grazing her skin, hand cupping her naked breast.
She should have pulled away, told him to stop. Trembling with unbearable need, she opened her mouth even more to his tongue, inviting him to invade her deeply, intoxicated by his scent and strength.
Emboldened by her willing surrender, he dragged his thumb over her nipple, making the tip even harder. She ached for him in a way she couldn’t deny. All her life others had told her how sinful lust was. For her to avoid it at all cost. A woman’s purity was worth more than love. Passion could fade in a moment. Chastity alone proved a female’s honor the same as valor did with a man.
She’d never doubted those truths, having rarely thought of them until now.
Within Enrique’s embrace, she was complete for the first time, even though they had no future. Somehow, this moment and a few others seemed enough. On some level, she knew her sentiments were wrong. A better woman would fight for what was right, denying herself and him.
She gripped Enrique’s thigh, not wanting him to stop. Her touch seemed to excite him even more. He tore his mouth free and lifted her shirt, exposing her breasts to the ebbing moon and night air. The cool breeze skipped lightly against her feverish skin. His mouth was hot and damp on her throat.
Is their passion strong enough to break her chains?
Andalucía Spain, 1489: Innocent Beatriz is desperate to escape the threat of a miserable marriage to a cruel Marquis. Forced into the betrothal by her ruthless merchant papá, her only hope is to conceal her identity and become a servant in a nearby castle—a life drastically different from her comfortable upbringing.
Tomás doesn’t know what to make of his well-spoken new servant girl. Her beauty and charm captivates the military hero; her mysterious nature intrigues him. And the desire she ignites burns brighter with each glance, as does his longing to claim her for his own.
Beatriz can’t resist Tomás’ passion nor deny the heat of her own. But neither the lush countryside nor the walls of the opulent Moorish castle can entirely protect her—and if he were to discover her secret, she could be torn away from him forever. Yet how can she sustain his love if she’s living a lie?
Tomás slumped in his chair. A lone candle barely illuminated his desk, leaving his study in shadows. The hour was late, moon high, silvery rays bleeding around the window screen. His guests were finally in their bedchambers, asleep or devising plans to trap him.
He hardly cared anymore. To have these few seconds without them was a relief, though he didn’t want to be alone, and wouldn’t be for long if history proved him correct.
He relaxed as much as he could, waiting, wanting.
Light tapping sounded in the hall. Beatriz’s footfalls, as he’d expected.
Each workday before retiring, she came to his study to dust and straighten up. At least he supposed that’s what she did in here. He’d always waited in another chamber to hear her leave. Once she had, he’d return, hoping to catch her clean scent.
Sometimes he did. Most often, he did not.
Knowing her schedule, he took to straightening up before she arrived, hoping to ease her burden so she could go to bed sooner. Even with his efforts, she often spent close to an hour in here. Perhaps curled up in his chair, napping, because she preferred his study to the servant quarters or she might have simply roamed the room, touching the fine leather, books, and other items she’d never have.
The silver door handle lowered. Tomás sat up. She slipped inside and closed them in, secluded from everyone else on earth.
He held his breath.
Candle and dust cloth in hand, she crossed the space, glanced his way, and stopped abruptly.
He smiled, aching to see her return his greeting the same as she had earlier at the window. What a moment. No riches or position could replace the desire, acceptance, and pure joy he’d seen on her lovely face then.
Gone now. She was back to being a servant, curious or cautious as to why he was in his own study at such an odd hour.
“Forgive me for startling you. I had things to do in here.” He wasn’t about to explain what they might be.
For him to admit he wanted to be her friend, as he’d considered earlier, would be reckless. She might laugh or think him mad. Best he approached the subject carefully. “Go on, tend to your duties.” He lit five more candles so she could see easily. “If you need me to move from my desk, say the word. I shall obey your command immediately.”
She lowered her face, though not before he caught her smile. His mood soared.
“I can return later.” She pivoted.
He stood. “If you leave, so will I. Do you want to drive me from my work?”
She stopped, but didn’t face him. “Never.” After putting down her candle, she hurried to the bookcase and swiped at the shelves. “If you want me to stay, I will. Whatever you wish.”
Ah, more wishes. Tomás sank back to his chair. If only she knew what he had in mind for them, past friendship, of course. Evenings, afternoons, and every morning filled with the most wanton delights, them naked, laughing, loving.
She looked over.
He grabbed a book from his desk and flipped a page. The moment she resumed her work, he turned the book right side up. He read the first line several times, not understanding a word, and gave up.
She dusted the bookshelf, removed a volume, scanned the other spines, then inserted the book she held in another location.
Where the text should have been from the start.
She’d done so effortlessly, without pause or forethought. The same as him, not an illiterate servant.
He considered the titles he had on the shelves. “You come in here every night you work, no?”
She nodded, her back still to him.
“I seem to have lost one of my volumes.” He stated the title. “Have you seen the book in here? I looked earlier, but have yet to find the thing anywhere.”
“Here it is.” She pulled the edition off the shelf and had nearly reached him when she stopped, her face horrified at what she’d revealed.
Tomás wagged a finger playfully. “You can read. I thought so.”
She put the book on his desk and backed away. “Only a few words. Titles mainly.”
“Of Spanish history?” He gestured to the volume she’d brought to him. “And agriculture?” He pointed to the book she’d relocated on the shelf. “How odd you learned those things, not merely a few passages from the Bible as most would.”
“I must return to my work.”
“Wait. I insist.”
She faced him but squared her shoulders, her stance surprisingly defiant.
He had no idea why. He wanted to talk to her, hopefully kiss her, not fight. “Who taught you to read? Your secret is safe. I promise never to tell anyone.”
She certainly hadn’t. At least not in this castle, since he would have heard about her skill from Nuncio in the most negative way possible. Odd that she’d keep such an ability hidden. Not that Tomás intended to question her. With her previous fight gone, she reminded him of a frightened doe, ready to dart away.
“Come.” He pulled a box chair over and patted the leather seat. “Sit. Tell me about your teacher.”
“I have nothing to tell. My father taught me before he passed.”
“Your father from the same village where your mother resides?” All of them supposedly peasants, yet they knew how to read.
She twisted her cloth. “He was a baker with a small amount of money to his name. He loved to read and taught me the skill, even though I have no use for such things.”
“Do you read in here after you dust?” Surely, books were what had kept her inside the room so long. “Tell me which volume you like best.”
She made a sound somewhere between a whimper and a moan.
“I promise never to tell anyone. Come, sit. Talk to me.”
“Will I still have my position here if I do?”
“Of course. Dust never goes away for long as you well know.”
She laughed softly and sank into the chair, but remained perched on the edge.
“Go on and lean back.” He gestured encouragement.
She remained where she was. “Señor Nuncio would rail at me if he saw this.”
“Me sitting in one of your chairs.”
“Better than the floor, no?”
She worked her mouth trying hard not to smile.
He wished she would. “I have no plans to tell Nuncio anything that might give him another gray hair, wrinkle, or push him closer to the grave. Do you?”
She laughed. “I think not. The volume I enjoy most is Cantar del Mio Cid.”
Tomás couldn’t have been more delighted. The epic poem detailed Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar’s exploits during the early days of Spain’s Reconquista. “The book is my favorite too. We can share his adventures together. Where did you stop in his tale? Wait. Have you finished the story?”
“Not at all. I was about to begin the part where El Cid plans to conquer Valencia.”
“We shall do so together.” He fetched the poem and offered the volume to her. “Read to me, please.”
She took the book reluctantly. “I can only manage titles.”
He laughed at her teasing, liking her ready wit, the way she already treated him as a friend. He brought over two candles to give her enough light. “Pretend every line is a title. Your duty now is to read to me.”
“For how long? I still have to dust.”
“After we finish with El Cid, I can help.”
She laughed throatily.
“You doubt my ability?” He feigned insult. “How can you? I have the combined skill of three dozen servants, the stamina of twenty men, and the dedication of every zealot on earth.”
“Someone should write an epic poem about you.”
He laughed so hard his belly hurt, tears stinging his eyes. “Go on.” He gestured. “Read.”
She did, flawlessly, her skill as great as his, a nobleman. Or her father’s, the baker.
Tomás had never met one educated in anything other than making bread, cakes, and such, along with having the most elementary knowledge of reading and mathematics to operate a business.
However, since he’d spent most of his days battling Moors, his understanding of those who lived in the villages was limited, even the ones he now owned. In years past, the only time he’d stepped foot in those places was after the Moors had raided them. With the destruction he and his soldiers had faced, there hadn’t been time to get to know the people.
He wouldn’t make the same mistake with Beatriz.
Her lashes cast shadows on her cheeks from the candlelight, the glow adding a touch of gold to her complexion. Her lips caressed the words she read, the movement bewitching, beckoning him to taste her mouth.
She turned the page. Her hands were lovely and quite pale, despite the work she did here. She bore no healed burns from hot pans in her father’s bakeshop, nor had washing pots there left her skin red and raw. Tending a feeble mother hadn’t harmed her beauty, either.
With Beatriz here, her mamá had no one to care for her, unless another relative handled the task or Beatriz paid someone. Given her reading skills, she should have gone to one of the large cities, rather than staying in the countryside. In a more populated area, she might have found work as a tutor for a prosperous family, earning far more.
He might never have met her.
She was here now, tending to him, reading a story they both loved, sitting close. He touched her arm.
She stopped reading.
He smiled softly, unable to help himself, his soul and heart bared to her. Although she was one of the loveliest women he’d ever known, he liked her as a person, enjoying her voice and laugh, how she looked at him with wonder and desire, no different than his passion for her.
He cupped her face. The book slipped from her grasp and hit the floor. He brushed his mouth over hers. She inhaled sharply, her hand on his chest.
He slanted his mouth over hers and parted her lips with his tongue, entering her, tasting sweet moisture, reveling in the clean, fresh flavor. The finest food had never been better. He had to have more and angled his mouth for greater penetration, his tongue probing deeper.
Beatriz suckled him.
They tried to get closer to each other, their chair legs scraping the floor. Tomás cupped her breast. She moaned around his tongue and wreathed her arm over his shoulder. Her tunic and gown were frustrating barriers, her erect nipple covered by too much cloth. He ran his thumb over the tightened tip, wanting the garments off, her bared to him.
His kiss grew heated and uncontrolled. He pulled off her cap to little avail. She’d coiled her hair in a braid, the style difficult for him to take down.
He had to try, and fumbled for the first pin.
She pulled her mouth free, desire and shock on her face.
On her feet, she backed away, then returned and swiped her cap off the floor. “I have to go.”
He stood. “I meant no harm.”
“I know.” She shoved the cap on her head.
The silly thing was askew. He set about straightening it. She twisted away and grabbed her cloth.
“Wait.” He stood between her and the door. “Was our kiss so awful?”
Tears shone in her eyes. “How can you ask such a thing?”
“I want to know if you enjoyed me as much as I did you.”
“You know I did.” She approached so quickly, he took an instinctive step back. “How could I not?”
She moaned. “I have to go.”
“When will I see you again?”
“Like this?” She gestured to the room, her eyes wide and wild. “Never. If Nuncio caught me here, he would make me pay dearly for my indiscretion.”
“Our kiss was hardly your indiscretion. It was our shared pleasure. You seem to have forgotten this is my castle, not his. Ignore him. I want to see you again and have you read to me every night.”
She frowned. “No. Never ask again.”
“Ask? As I said, this is my castle. I give the orders.”
“Not to me.” She pushed past him, opened the door, and ran down the hall.