Esmeraude of Ceinn-beithe knows that she alone can name the winner of her heart. To the knights gallant who ride from afar to do her bidding, she issues a challenge: a riddle that is both quest and test. And then she flees, daring her suitor to follow. Thus begins the Bride Quest of Bayard of Villonne, to compete for the hand of a woman he has never seen...
Newly returned from the Crusades, Bayard has warned his family of a pending attack upon their estate. When they pay no heed to his message, he swears to protect the family holding himself...even if its price is a marriage of convenience. It seems a simple matter to win the hand of a rural maid in a barbarian contest—until the chase begins. Esmeraude's challenge makes her far more intriguing than Bayard had dared to hope.
But when he follows her across the waters and rescues a tattered, ravishing damsel in disguise, he knows he has found her. Recklessly, she offers herself to the handsome stranger. But not even a passion that touches both their souls can win her hand. For Esmeraude will settle for nothing less than total surrender of the crusader’s worn and weary heart...a treasure Bayard is determined to keep shielded forever.
Set during the Crusades, the newest entry in Delacroix's Bride Quest series (after The Beauty) brims with rich historical detail, entertaining banter and romantic tension. A handsome knight often smiled upon by fortune, Bayard of Villonne must marry quickly to secure Montvieux, his family's holding and legacy. When he is invited to participate in a contest to win the hand of Esmeraude of Ceinne-beithe, an adventure-seeking rural maid who possesses a considerable dowry, Bayard is confident that his victory will come easily. He is not prepared, however, for her challenge. Determined to settle for nothing less than a love match, Esmeraude leads her suitors on a merry chase, dropping occasional riddles to clue them into her whereabouts. With the help of Dame Fortune, Bayard stumbles upon a damsel in distress, whom he quickly realizes is the missing Esmeraude. Although intrigued by his errant bride-to-be, he is unwilling to give her his heart. But when a competitor for Esmeraude's hand attempts to sabotage their union, Bayard can no longer deny his feelings. Without using antiquated dialogue or description, Delacroix captures the essence of the period. Fans of the series, as well as admirers of Johanna Lindsey, will savor this magical tale.