He is a man of secretsWhen a mysterious, seductive trader arrives at her door, noblewoman Katrine de Gravere reluctantly agrees to give him shelter. The payment--enough wool to keep her precious looms filled.She is a woman of liesSleeping under the same roof, tempted every minute to let his fingers linger on this flame-haired, reserved innocent, Renard wonders if she suspects his real reasons for being there. In a town where no one feels safe, Katrine makes him yearn for things long forbidden, but can he trust her not to betray him?
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1 . Another excellent story and such beautiful writing.
Posted August 22, 2009 by Mary Bassis , Salt Lake CityThis is Ms. Giffords third novel and they keep getting better and better. The story is wonderful, both the suspense and the love story. And she writes so beautifully.
May 31, 2008
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Excerpt from Innocence Unveiled by Blythe Gifford
Flanders, The Low Countries--Spring 1337
Shadows hid the stranger's face, but over the pounding of her heart, Katrine heard the threat in his voice, as casual as a shrug.
'You decide,' he said. 'I can get you the wool you need, but if you let the opportunity pass...' the slight lift of his shoulders blocked the morning sun streaming into her weaving room '...there are many other willing buyers.'
'Every weaver in Ghent is willing.' Katrine fought the tremble in her tongue.
It was no secret. Deprived of the wool that was its lifeblood, this city of clothmakers was starving. So when a stranger had claimed he could find fleece for her looms, she had recklessly agreed to listen. He didn't need her, but she needed his wool. Desperately.
Arms crossed, the smuggler leaned against the wall, filling the space as if he owned it. 'Decide, mistress. Deal with me or go hungry.'
Backed against the loom, she felt the wooden upright press against her spine like a martyr's stake. She stroked the taut warp threads for comfort. They quivered beneath her fingers. Looking up, she tried to read his eyes, but the sun cast him in darkness. She must not yield too easily, or she'd not be able to bargain at all.
'Your voice does not carry the accent of Ghent.' She knew nothing about the man. Not even his name. 'Where is your home?'
A shaft of sunlight picked up a reddish strand in his chestnut hair. He did not speak at first, and she wondered whether he had heard her. 'I was born in Brabant,' he said, finally.
His answer seemed safe enough. The neighbouring duchy was one of half-a-dozen fiefdoms clustered near the channel between England and France. She should at least discover what goods he offered.
Fingers hidden in the folds of her skirt, she pinched the fabric, taking comfort in the even weave. 'My mark appears on only the finest cloth. I buy with care. Is this wool of yours English or Spanish?'
'Good.' Clasping her fingers in front of her, she paced as if considering her choices. Best not to ask how he would come by it. The English king had embargoed all shipments to Flanders for the last nine months. 'Where were the sheep raised? I prefer Cistercian-raised flocks from Tintern Abbey, though I will accept Yorkshire fleece.'
'Accept?'Amusement coloured his voice. 'You will accept whatever I bring you. You have no choice.'
Sweet Saint Catherine, what shall I do?
She had bargained with the larger cloth houses for any fleece they would spare. She had scrambled for the poor stuff grown on the backs of Flemish sheep. She had even directed her weavers to make a looser weave, hoping that the fullers, cleaning and beating the cloth to finish it, could thicken the final product.
She had no tricks left.
She had begged her unsympathetic uncle for help, but she feared, unless she trusted this mysterious stranger, there would be no business remaining if--no, when--her father returned.
At least the stranger's hands, large, with long, strong fingers, looked reliable, even familiar.
'How much can you get?' she asked. 'Maybe one sack.A weaver will use that in a week,' Katrine scoffed, to cover her disappointment.
He did not move from his comfortable slouch. 'One sack is one sack more than you have at the moment.'
She squeezed prayerful fingers. 'What is your price? If I agree.'
'Twenty-five gold livres per sack. In advance.Fifteen.' With good negotiation, the pouch of gold her father had left might pay for three sacks. 'On delivery.' She gritted her teeth behind a stone-saint smile.
Her smile shattered. 'You said twenty-five before.'
'I'll say thirty tomorrow, if I please. Don't try to bargain with me, mistress. You have nothing to bargain with.'
The sunlight shifted and revealed his eyes for the first time, the dusky blue of indigo dyed over grey wool. One eye hovered on the edge of a wink.
'Or maybe,' he said, softly, 'you do.'
Something more than fear burned her cheeks and chilled her fingers. Something that had to do with him.
Stifling her body's betrayal, she folded her arms, mimicking his stance. 'I bargain only with gold. I want the wool, but I have another source.' She trusted her uncle little more than she trusted this stranger, but she would not give him the power of that knowledge. The man already had the advantage. 'If your offer is better, I will take three sacks and pay twenty each--ten in advance, the rest on delivery. If you want more...' she hesitated '...if you want more money than that, find one of your other willing buyers.'
'It does not matter what you say. It is your husband who will decide.'
Her hand flew to the wimple hiding her red hair. The married woman's headdress was one of the little lies of her life, so much a part of her she had forgotten it would signal a husband who ruled her every action. 'I have been given authority in this matter.'
In her father's absence, the drapers' guild had allowed her to conduct his affairs, but she was reaching the limits of their regulations.