The king smiled. “Lady Marjorie, I bid you welcome. Forgive me for not seeing you sooner, but I had a great many matters of state to attend to.”
His tone was affable, but as he moved toward her, she could hear a clinking sound, and her heart sank. The convent prioress’s cold warning had been true. James did wear an iron chain of penance under his doublet, in sorrow over his father’s death. Like the courtiers downstairs, he would never forget the high treason Lord Hepburn had been party to.
“Your Grace,” she whispered, curtsying deeply. “It is an. . . an honor to be here.”
“Your chamber is comfortable?”
“It is lovely. The tapestries are beautiful.”
“Good, good. There is someone I wish you to meet,” said the king, gesturing to his right.
“Of course. . .” Marjorie’s voice trailed off as her mouth abruptly forgot how to form words.
She was being introduced to Lady Janet Fraser? One of the most influential women in Scotland?
That would be a mark of favor, surely.
Confusion turned her mind to mud, but there was no mistaking the stunning beauty now standing in front of her. That blazing-red hair, not quite constrained by a simple hood. Wide green eyes the color of fresh moss. Creamy skin. Unusually tall, enviably slender, wearing a fashionable blue velvet gown with wide fur-lined cuffs, beautifully embroidered sleeves, and a jeweled girdle around her waist.
Even at the convent, they’d heard of Fiery Janet, albeit as a stern cautionary tale on the terrible vice of lust. She had been the king’s mistress for several years, and the pair had half scandalized, half delighted the realm with their public displays of affection and heated arguments. The prioress had called her the worst sinner in Scotland. She hadn’t mentioned how utterly compelling Lady Janet was, though, or how her rosy pink lips invited the lewdest of thoughts.
How do you kiss, lady? Soft and sweet, gentle as the petals of a rose? Or do you take command, teasing and nipping and plundering until your lover whimpers with need?
The other woman cocked her head, frowning a little, and for one dreadful moment, Marjorie thought she’d said the words aloud. How could she think such a shocking, forbidden thing? Ladies did not have sinful thoughts about other ladies. But then the redhead turned to the king and lightly rested her hand on his sleeve.
“This is Lady Marjorie, Your Grace?” she said.
James inclined his head. “Indeed. Lady Marjorie, may I present my most beloved friend, Lady Janet Fraser. A widow, scholar, healer, and a woman of means.”
“Uh. . . a pleasure–a great pleasure–to, er, meet you, my lady,” Marjorie said, awkward in her eagerness to make the acquaintance of this bold, beautiful woman, the one person in the realm who might withhold judgment on her. “How very accomplished you are.”
“His Grace flatters me overmuch. I suspect there is a reason,” said the older woman wryly.
James shifted a little. “Not at all, beloved. But I have a most wonderful surprise for you both.”
Now Lady Janet looked wary, and Marjorie stepped back and twisted her fingers together. This did not sound like the king was about to gift them a trinket or offer them a place at the top table during tonight’s feast in the Great Hall.
“A surprise, Your Grace?” Marjorie asked through bone-dry lips. If he meant to send her to another convent, she would flee in the dead of night and take her chances with beasts, brigands, and warring clans. Even the thought of being imprisoned again was unbearable; unlike the nuns, she took no joy or comfort in silent contemplation, poverty, and chastity.
James smiled. “Indeed. Until I decide on a husband for you, Lady Janet is to be your new guardian. You will leave Stirling together on the morrow to live with her at her estate in St. Andrews.”
The startling news made her breath hitch. Once again a decision had been made with no care for her wishes…and yet for the first time, she welcomed it. To live in the country with Fiery Janet herself! While she had little knowledge of the other woman’s character or how she treated servants, it was hard to believe she would oversee a somber household. This woman was bold and learned. Forthright in speech. Experienced in the ways of men.
“As it pleases Your Grace,” Marjorie murmured, unable to quell the flickering of that wretched flame of hope inside her. Even a short time in the companionship of this woman might be the best of her life.
Lady Janet looked thoughtful. “The king’s champion, Sir Lachlan Ross, will escort and protect us both.”
“The Highland Beast?”
“Some say, lady,” growled a voice to her left.
Marjorie nearly jumped a foot. Sir Lachlan had moved silently yet was enormous. Even in her innocence of men, he was obviously dangerous. Deadly. His hands rested behind his back in a nonthreatening manner as he inclined his head, but those dark-brown eyes seared straight into her soul, and the ruby-studded hilt of a sheathed dagger glowed at his hip. By the saints, any moment now she would begin confessing all her secrets.
Somehow she managed a curtsy. But she couldn’t speak; she could only stare at this dark, craggy mountain masquerading as a courtier. No doubt they all considered him rough and raw. Uncivilized. Yet she couldn’t stop her thirsty gaze drinking him in. Would his hands be calloused? Was his massive chest as hard as it looked? How would he kiss?
Swallowing hard, Marjorie attempted to regather her scattered wits. The Highland Beast and Fiery Janet, darkest night and brightest day, watching over her. Guiding her.
Highland Menage #1
Lady Janet Fraser didn’t earn her reputation as Scotland’s most notorious sinner by following the rules. A former mistress of King James IV, she’s content to live her life from pleasure to pleasure. Even if those pleasures–and people–are forbidden.
People like Sir Lachlan Ross, given the moniker The Highland Beast, a man as intimidating in battle as he is in size. A beast she discovers secretly wishes to be tamed and submit to her dominance.
Or like her new ward, Lady Marjorie Hepburn, a convent-raised virgin with a desire to be taught all the sensual secrets of the marriage bed. Things that Janet is fully willing to teach her, again and again. There’s much for her to learn.
And forbidden pleasures like the three of them together in one bed.
But Lachlan and Marjorie both have ties to the king. As wicked lusts are indulged and affection unexpectedly grows into love, breaking the rules this time could mean all of their undoing. . .
About Nicola Davidson
Nicola Davidson worked for many years in media and local government, but she hasn’t looked back since deciding that writing wicked, Regency and Tudor-set historical romance was infinitely more fun! When not chained to her computer, Nicola can be found ambling along one of New Zealand’s beautiful beaches, belting out 80’s power ballads or cheering on the champion All Blacks rugby team. If these activities include chocolate – even better!