Blood, Love and Steel
209 pages
English

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209 pages
English

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Description

He who loves not is but half man – until a compassionate woman sets his world right.


Athos, the famed Musketeer, has become a Paris sideshow. His antics mask a menacing heartache from cruel memories of his first true love, Milady, and he is driven to attempt a suicidal dare that he believes will end his suffering. But his plan backfires, and Athos finds himself at the country château of the Comtesse de Rochefort, a woman he must seduce to save his crumbling reputation. But Nicole, a pious and married woman, shows him compassion and sees through his pain, and love builds between them. Now, tested by both God and the sword, Athos must fight for her love to seek his own redemption. 


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Publié par
Date de parution 30 juin 2014
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781783081905
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0025€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

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BLOOD, LOVE AND STEEL
BLOOD, LOVE AND STEEL

A Musketeer’s Tale

JENNIFER M. FULFORD

A Romantic Sequel to The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Blood, Love and Steel A Musketeer’s Tale
THAMES RIVER PRESS An imprint of Wimbledon Publishing Company Limited (WPC) Another imprint of WPC is Anthem Press ( www.anthempress.com ) First published in the United Kingdom in 2014 by THAMES RIVER PRESS 75–76 Blackfriars Road London SE1 8HA
www.thamesriverpress.com
© Jennifer Fulford 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission of the publisher.
The moral rights of the author have been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All the characters and events described in this novel are imaginary and any similarity with real people or events is purely coincidental.
A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library.
ISBN 978-1-78308-202-5
This title is also available as an eBook
For Alexandre Dumas and Oliver Reed, who deserve all the credit.
Acknowledgements
T o everyone close to me who knows the journey behind this story, my love and dearest admiration. Thank you for your part in making this small miracle happen.
Foreword
T he Three Musketeers chronicles the friendship and adventures of an élite group of guardsmen who protected the King and Queen of France in the early 17th Century. The fictional tale begins in Paris and sends the Musketeers across France and England. Their intrigues entangle them with the spy Milady de Winter, a woman as evil as she is beautiful. D’Artagnan, the central figure in Alexandre Dumas’s novel, lives by his wits and sword, learning from three “inseparables” – Porthos, Aramis and Athos – the Musketeers who befriend the young Gascon.
Each man has his own personal story. D’Artagnan falls in love and proves his intelligence and swordsmanship to earn the title of Musketeer. Porthos, stricken by the sin of vanity, searches for a wealthy benefactor. Aramis’s desire for love competes with his longing to become a priest. Finally, Athos, the most serious and reserved of the Musketeers, harbours secrets from a previous life he shared with the devilish Milady. Determined to end her evildoing, Athos leads a lethal hunt for Milady. Dumas’s novel ends with her execution at the hands of the Musketeers, but her death is the beginning of this story about Athos, who had at one time loved her, married her and never loved again.
P ART O NE – T HE F ALL
“In his private hours, and there were many, the light within Athos was extinguished and his brilliant side disappeared into profound darkness.”
The Three Musketeers Alexandre Dumas
Chapter 1
A Duel After Dark
Paris, Early Summer, 1629
O f his many regrets, using his fellow Parisians to turn a death wish into a sport troubled Athos the least. “A stranger might easily persuade a kiss from this nobleman’s beloved wife,” Athos declared, pointing to the Comte de Rochefort. “Within a week or less, I could touch the lips of his sweet Nicole by posing as a guest at their estate. Who would agree?”
With the suddenness of a cannon blast, gamblers shouted bets from every corner of the Taverne Cheval. Athos tossed his coin pouch to a grinning drunk, doubling the racket in the tavern. Before the noise died into a mild chaos, the roomful of peasants and hotheads had split the odds down the middle—half for the Musketeer and the rest for the Comte, a notorious gambler who had never lost a swordfight in Paris.
Sour-faced, the Comte tightened his fists and zeroed in on Athos across the dim tavern. Commandeering the floor of the establishment as his stage, Athos upped the ante.
“Perhaps I could persuade more than a kiss.”
A few in the crowd whistled and whooped. Hatred darkened the Comte’s face. The river of wine that had been consumed in the tavern since dusk fuelled the scene for mayhem.
“You’ve gone completely mad!” As he shouted, the Comte spitted profusely. Steely eyed, he unsheathed his sword. “But you shall not insult my wife.”
Rowdy cries of approval bounced off the stone walls, and new bets flew across the dark tavern, where Athos had spent days waiting, primed for his mark. The Comte swung his sword to disperse the baited crowd, sending wild-eyed men to cower and duck behind posts, overcome by nervous laughter at the sport about to take place.
For the first time in many months, Athos felt self-assured. Every aspect of his scheme hinged on the Comte’s honour and his fidelity to his beautiful wife.
“ You ,” the Comte said, drawing near and circling his sword in front of Athos, “the Devil has you in his hold.”
“The Devil—or your wife,” Athos said with an ironic smirk.
Too far away to lunge, the Comte aimed the sword between Athos’s legs. “You have few conquests to back up your boast, Monsieur. There’s not a woman in Paris who could claim you’re capable.”
Several in the crowd catcalled. Undeterred, Athos delivered his final insult with a slight bow of his head.
“Who could please the women of Paris while you keep them so busy? Meanwhile, your wife wilts alone in your bed.” The Musketeer cocked an eyebrow. “Or does she?”
The scandalous claim reduced the room to whispers. No one had ever questioned the well-known piety of the Comtesse. As Athos had hoped, her husband lashed out with venom.
“ Liar! Nicole is not yours to wager nor seduce!” The Comte’s outburst silenced the gossip. “Your punishment is death!”
Athos bowed and headed outside for the duel of his life. He couldn’t have picked a finer opponent. The Comte’s reputation at fencing placed him among the best of the best. Not even in practice had a challenger gotten the better of the Comte de Rochefort. In the street duels the Comte had fought, the nobleman dispatched his rivals in a few minutes, providing no time for the Cardinal’s guards to apprehend him for breaking the law. His skill favoured technical supremacy and, despite being a master himself, Athos would need every reserve of his strength to make this match convincing. Having defied death so many times before, few in the city, including those betting against the Musketeer tonight, would believe he was mortal.
Everyone abandoned the tavern for the street and torches formed a circle around the two men, both the epitome of strength. Identical in build, medium with broad shoulders and narrow hips, the two were opposing shades of physical magnificence. Athos’s chin-length sandy hair hung loose and framed his grey eyes; the Comte’s short, dark hair and beard matched the precise cut of his clothes.
Just as confidently as his opponent, Athos slipped his sword from the scabbard. The moonlight reflected off the blade and the damp stone pavement, adding to the illusion of entertainment.
The Comte stood en garde and attacked as soon as Athos faced the fight. Within the first strikes, Athos’s instincts took over. Fighting was a familiar elixir. Like a shot of rum to a drunkard, it smoothed out the edges. His spirits soared with focus and resolution, for he never underestimated an opponent.
Attacking, Athos gained composure and his nerves braced for the fight. Even though he counted on — needed — the outcome to favour his foe, he still searched for a psychological advantage.
Athos blocked the Comte’s lightning moves. A parry, a riposte, and the sequence of manoeuvres repeated in flashes of spark. Like a master, the Comte performed compound attacks with outstanding accuracy while Athos took aggression to its peak. He slammed back with overhead blows, allowing no break or opening. The Musketeer’s moves matched his temperament—feverish and hell-bent.
“You can do better than this!” Athos shouted, laden with contempt. “Remember Nicole’s honour!”
“You’re a jackal!” Hatred rippled down the Comte’s body. “A grave is in your future.”
The Comte heaved in laboured bursts and jabbed at Athos’s neck. Subtly, Athos provided an opening but the Comte’s anger ruined his attack, and he overshot the Musketeer by several steps. Athos had no choice but to exploit the vulnerability.
Athos grabbed the Comte by the belt, shoved him to his knees and pointed the heavy sword toward his rival’s gut.
Silence blanketed the street. His temperature rising, the Musketeer rendered God a fool for sparing his life. Again.
“You still have your sword, but what is your fate?” The Musketeer seethed through his teeth, his heartbeat quick, palms sweaty, weapon pressed to the clean shirt of his opponent. His hot words rasped out. “Save yourself. Dare me to any outlandish feat, and if I perish, you live. If I survive, Nicole is my prize.”
Stilted in disbelief, the Comte gathered words and stammered. “I … I don’t understand.”
Athos seized the Comte’s neck, jerked him to within inches of his sweat-streaked face and spoke in a heated whisper. “I’m offering you a second chance. Take it!”
The sword remained on target and, tightening his grip, Athos shook the Comte by the neck. “Dare me, for God will not defeat me.”
The Comte sputtered nonsense. Athos pushed the sword th

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