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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?
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.