Skilled in passion, artful in deception, and driven by betrayal, she is the glittering center of the royal court-but the most desired woman of Renaissance France will draw the wrath of a dangerous adversary.Paris, 1575. The consort of some of Europe's most influential men, Gabrielle Cheney is determined to secure her future by winning the heart of Henry, the Huguenot king of Navarre. As his mistress, Gabrielle hopes she might one day become the power behind the French throne. But her plans are jeopardized by Captain Nicolas Rémy, a devoted warrior whose love Gabrielle desires-and fears-above all. She will also incur the malevolence of the Dark Queen, Catherine de' Medici, whose spies and witch-hunters are legion, and who will summon the black arts to maintain her authority. With the lives of those she loves in peril, Gabrielle must rebel against her queen to fulfill a glorious destiny she has sacrificed everything to gain.
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July 26, 2005
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Excerpt from The Courtesan by Susan Carroll
Gabrielle Cheney peered through the slits of her mask, picking her way carefully along the path overgrown with weeds. The courtyard of the Maison d' Esprit was silent as a ceme- tery and twice as eerie. The moon cast a pale light over moss- blackened fountains and broken statuary. Some headless saint presided over the withered remains of a rose garden. The flowers were long gone, but the thorns were not, one branch catching at the hem of Gabrielle's cloak.
As she bent to free herself, she was beset by the troubling sensation that had afflicted her all evening. The feeling that she was being followed. Straightening, she curled her fingers over the hilt of the sword hidden beneath her cloak and whirled around. The iron gate and stone wall were nothing more than vague outlines in the fog-bound night. But as she stared, another figure took shape, that of a tall proud warrior.
Her hand fell away from the sword and she uttered a soft choked cry. Not of fear, but more of despair because she had seen the silhouette of this man far too many times in her dreams. She took a step forward only to check the motion, knowing it would do her no good. There would be no smile to greet her, no strong arms to welcome her because he didn't exist, this phantom man. All she would find was empty space and silence.
Ghosts left no footfalls and memories cast no shadows, except perhaps on the human heart. She watched the figure of the man evaporate into the mist as he always did. Gabrielle had never once seen his face, but she knew beyond certainty who he was.
Nicolas Remy, the captain from Navarre. Whether it was his ghost she kept seeing or only a figment of her own tormented imagination, the effect was always the same. Gabrielle's heart constricted with sorrow and guilt.
"Oh, Remy," she murmured. "I've asked your forgiveness a thousand times. What more do you want from me? Why can't you leave me in peace?"
She knew she would never gain any answer to that question, at least not in this damp, misty courtyard. With one last glance behind her, Gabrielle turned and hastened toward the house.
The stone manor loomed ahead of her, splintered wood and a great hole where the front door should be, gaping like the jagged mouth of some fierce beast ready to devour her. But Gabrielle feared the ghosts of her own memories far more than she did the sinister aspect of the house. Besides she knew the truth behind the legends of the Maison d'Esprit far better than the superstitious Parisians who blessed themselves every time they had to pass those rusting gates.