Lady Of The Knight
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
She fumbled with the laces at her neckline.
He straightened up. “Do you have a troublesome knot?”
Rosie blew her hair out of her eyes. “Tis no matter. We can do it with my shift on, my lord.”
Slowly he shook his head. “Not in my tub. Now, off with it. Every last revolting stitch you have on.”
Rosie pursed her lips. “Ye want me to strip naked with ye standing there a-watching me?” He appeared to ponder the question. She thought she had said it plain enough.
He crossed his arms over his chest. “Aye, that is the very nut and core of it. I do. Perchance, you will recall that I have paid a small fortune for that very privilege, Mistress…What did you say your name was?”
She lifted her head with as much pride as she could muster. “Tis Rosie, so please ye, my lord.”
He flourished a deep bow. The red silk tassels below his waist swayed with erotic abandon. “I am struck near speechless by your presence, Mistress Rosie. Permit me to introduce myself. I am Sir Andrew Ford, the miracle worker.” He bowed again.
Rosie stared at him with a mixture of bewilderment and apprehension. She was trapped alone with a charming lunatic.
Sir Andrew softened his expression. “I do but jest, Rosie. Tis my fashion. Now, for the love of warm water, will you please undress—or shall I do it for you?”
“Nay!” Rosie loosened the bandstring that held her shift together, but she clutched the material to her bosom before it slipped off her shoulders. “I have nothing else on underneath this, my lord.”
He held out his hand to her. Cheerful expectation deepened the laugh lines around his eyes and mouth.
“Delighted to hear that, Rosie!”
A ripple of tenderness crept into Andrew’s heart as Rosie reluctantly untied the last lace of her ragged shift, but his feelings changed into unexpected heated ones once she dropped the garment. He sucked his breath through his teeth though he maintained an outward calm.
Rosie’s beauty far exceeded his original estimate. In spite of the mud and filth that clung to her skin, she looked like a Venus come to life. Reed-slender, she carried herself with a certain unconscious grace that reminded him of a young willow tree. Rosie squared her shoulders, as if preparing for a battle. This action drew his immediate attention to her firm, uplifted breasts. Below them, her slim waist flared into softly rounded hips. When she noticed that his gaze moved lower, she covered her most private part with her hand. At the same time, she crossed her other arm over her bosom, hiding her tender pink nipples. It was a most unnatural pose for a prostitute, and Andrew found it highly provocative.
His loins stirred and grew hot.
Rosie shot him a wary look. “Is there something amiss, my lord?” she asked in perfect innocence.
Andrew cleared his throat before he trusted himself to frame a sensible answer.“Nay, my dear.” He pointed to the tub. “Hop in quickly before the water has lost all its heat.”
Rosie tiptoed across the rug then paused beside the bath.
He smiled encouragement, while his heart raced. “You will not drown, I promise you.”
She tossed an unruly tangle of hair out of her eyes. Her full lips twisted into a cynical expression. “I have heard men’s promises afore and they proved to be nothing more than chaff on the wind.”
Andrew ran his finger around the inside of his collar. “I am not like other men, Rosie. And that is a promise you can trust.”
She turned away. Taking a deep breath, she stepped into the tub.
Andrew exhaled. “Excellent! Now sit down, Rosie.”
Without comment, she sank into the water. Andrew walked over to her discarded clothing. He pushed the motley garments into a pile with the toe of his shoe.
Rosie stared at him through the snarls of her hair like a cornered rabbit. “What are ye a-doing with my clothes?” she yelped. Her emerald eyes darkened with genuine fear.
In answer he kicked her rags toward the closed tent flap.
She gripped the rim of the tub. Water sloshed over the side onto the rug. “Hold, my lord! Tis all I have in this world.”
Andrew gave them another kick. “Good!”
Just then something within their folds crunched under his heel. Rosie gasped and started to rise.
Andrew pointed at her. “Sit back down and soak!” he ordered in the same tone of voice he had often used on the Cavendish brothers when they had been his pages.
He lifted his foot and examined the bottom of his shoe. Blood dripped onto the clothing. More blood stained Rosie’s sorry excuse of a skirt. A grin threatened the corners of Andrew’s mouth. An old bawd’s trick! So much for the proof of his sworn virgin. Assuming an expression of innocent surprise, he glanced at Rosie. She had turned white under the layer of dirt. He shook his foot. A few crimson droplets spattered onto the rug. “Od’s bodkins, my sweet. What do you suppose I have stepped on?”
Rosie ran the tip of her pink tongue across her top lip in the most enticing manner. “Methinks ye have killed a monstrous fat beetle, my lord, and ye had best keep an eye on your bedding in case there are more.”
Andrew chuckled and silently applauded Rosie’s quick thinking. She would have to use those clever wits in the near future if he was going to successfully pass her off as a lady.
Aloud he remarked, “Aye, my very thought indeed, Rosie. I will instruct Jeremy to henceforth wield his broom with a vengeance.” He wiped his shoe on her shift, then kicked the lot under the flap. “Ho there! Timothy!” he called to one of his young servants who hovered outside the tent. “Burn those at once and mind you—there may be a large dead beetle within.”
Rosie sloshed more water onto the rug as she started to stand up again. Her pallor had now changed to bright red and her eyes glowed with green fire. “What right have ye got to destroy my things?”
Andrew crossed to the tub in two strides and pushed her back into the water. Then he knelt behind her and whispered into her ear, “You are mine, Mistress Rosie. I own you for as long as I please.”
She opened her mouth to say something but stopped when she saw him lathering his hands with soap. With a snort, she turned away from him. Pleased with his command of the situation, Andrew hummed a little ballad under his breath as he scrubbed her neck and shoulders. Rosie said nothing, but his fingers felt the tension in her muscles. Despite the heat of the water and the warmth inside the pavilion, she trembled.
Rinsing her back, he saw a number of purple bruises staining her fair skin. He touched one place lightly and gritted his teeth when she flinched. His mind clouded with anger at the sight of her mistreatment.
He massaged the back of her neck as if she were a child. “Rosie, who did this villainy to you?”
She would not look at him. “Tis nothing, my lord,” she snapped. “Are ye going to do it now with me all soaped up like a greased pig?”
Andrew sighed, and added more oil of roses to the bath water. “Nay, Rosie. I am not going to do anything to you but wash the grime of the ages out of your sweet skin. But, by the rood, I will punish the foul knave who did this piece of mischief. I warrant twas that whoremonger who sold you to me. I will slit the villain’s nose.”
Rosie hung her head, but said nothing.
He scrubbed one of her arms with a small brush. “That vermin is nothing to you now. You need not fear him.”
“Humph!” she retorted. “Tis easy enough for you to say. You do not have to face Quince in the morning.”
“Neither do you, sweetheart,” he murmured softly.
Slowly, she turned around. A sheen of tears filmed over her eyes. Andrew almost kissed away those bitter drops, but he checked himself in time. It would only reinforce her mistrust if he had.
“How now?” she jeered. “Is this another one of your tricks to drive me mad? I pray ye, do not jest with kind words.”
Andrew dipped a soft cloth into the water, soaped it, then gently held her chin between his thumb and forefinger while he washed her face. “I swear a solemn oath upon my word as a knight—oh, aye, Rosie, for all my fripperies and silvered hairs, I am a true swordsman—I swear that I do not make sport of you.”
Her lips hardened into a thin line. “That is a pretty promise, my lord, and as solid as smoke.”
He tenderly wiped the soap suds from her cheeks. “Mark me well, Rosie. I paid enough money for you to last a lifetime—both yours and mine. As of this night, you are bound to no man but me. You will never return to that abominable villain again, I promise.”
She stared at him searching to find a falsehood in his eyes. Then she wrinkled her nose. “I will believe you when pigs sprout wings, my lord.”
He chuckled. “You never can tell, my dear. Pigs are uncommonly intelligent. Sometimes they surprise us.”
Rosie almost smiled. Andrew yearned to kiss her lips, but the voice of prudence warned him in time. This girl was a skittish colt. He knew he must exercise great restraint and patience to win her trust, especially if he wanted her cooperation to turn her into a lady within twelve days. He picked up a jug from the floor.
“Bend over and close your eyes,” he instructed.
Rosie’s expression immediately hardened. “A blister on that sweet tongue! I spy your deceit, my lord. First you make me half believe you, then you show your true colors!”
Her sudden mood swing caught Andrew off guard. “’Sblood, Rosie, what brought on this tempest of fury?”
She glared at him. “Myself, my lord! Ye tell me that I should not fear ye, then, in your very next breath, ye tell me to bend over and close my eyes while you use me like a dog. I am a puling fool to have believed your honey words!”
Andrew beseeched heaven for patience. He sat back on his heels and held up the jug for her inspection. “I must wash your hair, Rosie, or else the whole bath will be for naught. I merely asked you to bend your head over so you will not get soap in your eyes.”
She studied his face for nearly a full minute. Finally she nodded. “So please your lordship. I had forgotten that ye own me.”
Andrew opened his mouth to defend himself, but instead he decided to seize the moment of her docility. He filled the pitcher and poured it over her hair. She screamed like a scalded cat.
Andrew paused. “What now?”
She hunched her thin shoulders. “Tis mickle wet!”
He chuckled. “Water usually is. Tis its God-given property. Now close your eyes and hold still.”
She squinted at him through her wet lashes. “Why?”
He poured some pale cream into his palm. “Because this will sting if it creeps into your eye.”
He lathered the wilderness of her hair. Patiently, he worked his fingers through the tangles. Rosie sat very still while he added more soap, then more water. The scent of roses grew stronger after each rinse.
Andrew discovered that he was enjoying himself. He liked the way her wet locks tended to curl around his fingers. He caressed her neck and behind her delicate ears. He traced his finger down her bowed spine. She shivered under his touch. Andrew brought himself up short. Attend to your business. He soaped her tresses a fourth time.
“Ye have done that already, my lord,” she sputtered.
“Aye, and I will do it again, if tis necessary.” He poured several more jugfuls over her.
As the last of the soapy water ran down her back, her dull grayish hair turned into an ash blond. He whistled under his breath.
“What?” She patted the top of her head. “Have I gone bald?”
He smoothed her crown. “Nay, I have discovered a rare beauty.”
“M…me?” she asked with an incredulous voice.
He smiled into her brilliant eyes. “Aye, my sweet. I will show you anon.” He cleared his throat again. “But first you must attend to your personal needs.” He handed her the scrubbing cloth and the diminished chunk of soap. “Wash your paps and your…ah…nether area. Tis not proper for a gentleman to perform that service.”
He levered himself onto one of the stools and watched her as she continued her ablutions. He could not remember the last time he had grown so hot at the mere sight of a beautiful wench. He welcomed the pleasurable ache that he feared he had lost with the lusty days of his youth.
Rosie wrung out the washcloth. “Water’s getting cold.”
Her words snapped Andrew out of his erotic reverie. He pulled himself together and hoped she would not notice the physical change in him. He opened another chest and took out several pieces of clean toweling for her and his blue silk brocade dressing robe for himself. He put on the robe first before turning around to hand her the towels.
“You may get out now, Rosie, and dry yourself off with these.”
She took the towels. “Ye look flushed, my lord,” she observed.
“Tis the heat. France is quite warm for this time of year.”
She turned her back to him, then stood up and stepped out of the tub. Andrew collapsed into his armchair. He could not believe Rosie’s transformation. Her skin glowed like pink roses floating in a bowl of cream. A little rivulet of bathwater meandered down the hollow of her spine and disappeared between her softly rounded buttocks.
His mouth went dry as he watched the drop’s sensuous journey. He wished he were twenty years younger.
Someone scratched on the tent flap. “My lord?” Jeremy called through the canvas. “I have returned with your supper.”
She glanced at the entrance with a sudden spark of interest. Andrew shot to his feet. He would not allow that young coxcomb of a squire to spy Rosie in all her naked glory. “One moment!”
“Food!” Rosie inhaled the aroma of roasted fowl with closed eyes. A radiant smile touched her lips. The sight of her bliss nearly undid all of Andrew’s good intentions toward her.
He moved quickly behind Rosie and took the towel from her limp fingers. He dried her with considerable speed. She tried to squirm away from his vigorous ministrations.
“Soft, my lord! First ye cook me, then ye flay me. Ouch!”
Andrew murmured soothing nonsense. Rosie’s loud protests subsided into small kittenish sounds. He gentled his touch, patting her across her shoulders, down her lovely back and around her delicious bottom. He enjoyed touching her soft curves through the damp cloth. Giving Rosie this bath had been worth every groat he had paid that abominable villain.
Rosie leaned against him and rested her head on his shoulder. Her damp golden hair smelled of roses and almonds. Andrew slipped his arm around her waist. He suspected that she would not protest if he chose to take her straight to his bed. He glanced at the linen bedcovers that were turned down so invitingly. After all, it was what she expected him to do.
Andrew steeled his resolve and banished the tempting idea before it grew to full flower in his imagination. He had never used his wealth to buy either a man’s good opinion or a woman’s favor, and he refused to begin now. He hugged Rosie as if she were a beloved daughter—the child he had never had. He reminded himself again that he needed her goodwill to win his madcap wager.
Just then Rosie looked up at him. The candlelight made her green eyes luminous. “If ye do it now, I will get your fine bed all wet.”
Andrew put his hands on her shoulders and gave her a little shake. “Rosie, my sweet, we are not going to swive now.”
She regarded him with that soul-plumbing stare. “Ye want to,” she observed in a soft tone. “I can see it in your eyes. Am I not clean enough for ye yet?”
Andrew framed her lovely face in his hands and traced her high cheekbones with the pads of his thumbs. “Aye, Rosie. You are as clean as an angel’s wing, but I have other plans for you.”
She stepped away from him and drew the damp towel tighter around herself. “Ah, ha! Now I begin to understand. Ye have different tastes. I have heard that there are men who like to hear a girl scream in pain afore they are aroused. Trust me, my lord, I will scream this bloody tent down to please ye, but…” She paused, gulping for breath, then folded her hands as if in prayer. “I beseech ye for the love of God do not beat me.”
Her plea took him aback. How could she say that when he had already told her how much he hated to see the bruises on her young skin? “Rosie, I have no intention of beating you, nor do I wish to hear you scream. That behavior is not to my taste either. Trust me. Please?”
Rosie lifted her chin. “Then what are ye a-going to do with me now that I have no dirt and no clothes?” She took another step backward, narrowly missing the tub of dirty water.
The poor girl looked like a hunted doe. Instead of trying to placate her fears with more words, Andrew turned to the nearest coffer, opened the lid and drew out one of his plainer shirts.
“Will this garment suffice for the time being, my lady?”
Rosie caught her lower lip between her teeth. “Haint ever been a lady, but that is the finest-looking shirt I ever did see.”
He waved it back and forth. “Tis yours, Rosie. Take it. Put it on.”
Like a spark of summer lightning, she reached out and snatched it from his fingers. In one fluid movement, she dropped it over her head as she let the wet towels fall to the rug. The hem fell just above her dimpled knees. Andrew tied the neck laces high above her collarbones.
Rosie ran her hand over the ivory lawn material. “Tis like wearing a spider’s web,” she whispered. “Haint ever had so fine a shift.”
Andrew resisted his latest impulse to kiss her. Instead, he draped his red cape over her shoulders to ward off both the night chill and his squire’s lusty gaze.
Then he stepped to the middle of the tent and bellowed, “Are you still out there, Jeremy?”
“Aye, my lord,” the boy replied, “together with your cooling supper.”
Andrew winked at Rosie. “Well, maltworm! Bring it in!”
A cloud of succulent aromas followed the squire into the tent.
Rosie nearly swooned when she smelled the delicious mixture of roast chicken, warm yeast bread and a cinnamon-spicy scent that she couldn’t quite place. It smelled heavenly. Her stomach rumbled with her hunger. She longed to snatch the huge covered platter out of the boy’s hands, but Andrew intercepted her and guided her to a stool.
Jeremy cast her a quick glance through the shaggy fringe of his dark bangs. His jaw dropped. Rosie pulled the cape across her bare knees.
Sir Andrew took a comb and began to pull it through her tangled locks. “Mind the platter, clodpate,” he growled at the speechless boy. “I much prefer to take my supper off a table than off the floor.”
Jeremy gaped at Rosie. She returned his penetrating stare.
Sir Andrew chuckled while he worked on a particularly stubborn snarl. “You remind me of a goggle-eyed turbot, Jeremy. Have you never seen a lady with her hair unbound before?”
The boy swallowed. “Not like her,” he muttered.
Rosie stiffened. The young churl was making fun of her predicament. She glared at him. “I may not be a lady, but haint ever been a mermaid either, so ye can put your watery eyes back in your sockets, boy!”
Sir Andrew patted her shoulder. “Well-spoken!” he whispered into her ear. Then he continued to torture her scalp.
Jeremy stepped closer and peered at Rosie as if she were a creature from the New World. “Tis the same wench as before?” Disbelief spread over the boy’s face.
Rosie whispered a tavern oath.
“The very same lady indeed!” Sir Andrew worked on another tangle.
“Haint ever been a lady,” Rosie muttered, then she squealed. It felt as if he had ripped off half her scalp. “Pray, my lord, I beg ye stop! Are ye a-trying to make me bald?”
He massaged her tender skin. “May I be boiled in a suet pudding if I ever inflicted such a dire punishment upon you, my dear. Jeremy!” he snapped at the transfixed youth. “Attend to your duties! Set the table for two. Use my silver gilt service.”
Jeremy slid the platter onto one of the nearby chests. Then he opened the coffer next to it and took out golden plates, goblets, eating utensils and folded pieces of white damask. He set all these items on the table, and arranged them in a pattern. Rosie couldn’t understand why her master waited so long before eating. The food must be half-cold already.
She twisted on the stool. “I pray ye, my lord. Leave my hair in peace. Let us eat now.”
Sir Andrew clicked his tongue against his teeth. “You must be patient, Rosie. Patience is a virtue, you know.” He continued to work with her tresses as if he had all the time in the world.
She eyed the tempting tray and fumed at his delay. “Haint ever had a virtue,” she muttered under her breath.
Sir Andrew chuckled. “How now? What about the virtue of chastity? Remember, I paid a great deal for that particular virtue.”
She shifted again on the stool, then rubbed the side of her nose with her forefinger. “Aye, my mind mistook that for a moment.”
“Of course it did,” he agreed in a soothing tone of voice.
Her lie made Rosie feel sick.
Jeremy poured red wine from a large clay jug into a silver pitcher. The polished metal gleamed in the candlelight. Then the squire shook out one of the cloths, folded it in the artful shape of a swan, and placed it on the table. When he noticed Rosie’s attention, he made an exaggerated display of his surprising skill with the second snow-white cloth.
She hid her amazement behind a look of disdain. She didn’t want this green stripling to think that she had no idea why he had wasted his time to make two such fantastic shapes. She would rather eat a swan than look at one. From under the tantalizing cover of the tray, Jeremy extracted a small bowl of salt and a larger bowl filled with assorted fruits. He put the salt on one end of the table and the fruit on the other. Finally, he wedged a beeswax taper into the golden candlestick, and lit it.
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