Lady Of The Knight
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“This is your account, Rosie,” he said, tapping the slate. “Whenever you have earned your wage, I will make a stroke on it like so.” He drew a fat line. “If you lose a penny, I will erase it—like so.” He smudged the line with his thumb until there was nothing left but a splotch of chalk.
Rosie said nothing, but she eyed the account board. No one had ever taken her so seriously, nor even acknowledged that she was good for anything except as a drudge or a whore.
He propped the slate against a stack of books on a side coffer. “We will keep your account here, so that you may peruse it—that is, look at it—whenever you wish. Do my terms meet with your approval?”
She could only nod. Excitement welled up within her. The future opened before her like a flower-strewn high road.
“Aye? Then let us shake hands upon it.” He held his out to her.
Rosie wiped her greasy fingers on the front of her shirt, then gave him her hand. In formal silence, they shook upon their bargain, but afterward he refused to let go. Instead, he turned her hand over and studied her palm and nails like a blacksmith before shoeing a horse.
He clicked his tongue against his teeth. “Rosie, nail biting is a nasty habit. I will take away a—”
She tensed and curled her fingers into a ball. She hadn’t even earned a penny yet, and he already threatened her with debt. She knew she should never have trusted him.
He looked at her annoying amusement. “I shall take away a halfpenny for each infraction.”
Rosie tried to snatch her hand away from him. “Infrac…what?”
He chuckled. “For each time you bite your nail’s.”
She gasped. “I be out a shilling’s worth afore this night is gone!”
“Ladies do not chew on their nails, Rosie.”
“Haint a lady,” she reminded him, twisting out of his grasp.
His eyes gleamed in the low candlelight. “Not yet, but by all that is holy, you will be!”
The hubbub of the great English encampment settled into muted revels as the night reached its midpoint. Andrew saw that Rosie fought to keep her eyes open, but the lure of Morpheus fast overwhelmed her. From what she had told him, it had been a hellish day for the lass. The hours of anxiety together with the large supper and the quantity of wine she had consumed had finally taken their toll. Still, she forced herself to stay awake in an effort to preserve the virtue that he knew had already been taken from her. He gave Rosie full marks for the effort, and vowed to add an extra penny to her account.
Rosie’s head bobbed. She desperately needed her sleep. He had a full day planned for her on the morrow. He smiled to himself. He could not remember passing such a enjoyable evening as this one for a long time– especially when he had no intention of bedding his fair company. He sighed over his self-imposed denial.Truly, the pretty creature was extremely enticing.
Rosie blinked and yawned without bothering to cover her mouth. Andrew shook himself from his pleasant reverie. He stood, stretched, then yawned loudly for her benefit.
“What be ye a-doing?” she asked in that velvet-edged voice of hers.
He drank in her sweet tone. Rosie had no idea how seductive she sounded, especially when laced with wine. “Preparing for repose,” he replied in a forced, lighthearted manner. “Going to bed—and so should you, my dear.”
Her upper lip curled back. “Aha! Just like a man! Ye make lovely promises one minute then take them back with interest the next.”
Andrew furrowed his brow. He had no clear idea what Rosie meant or why her mood had changed once again. He was far too tired to begin another argument with her now.
She gripped the edge of the table. “Ye told me that ye did not buy a woman for your pleasure, yet now ye be a-talking about going to bed.”
Andrew groaned inwardly. He thought he had settled this particular sticking point already. “To sleep, Rosie. Perchance to dream. Tis been a most fatiguing day, though I admit that you have made the evening stimulating.” Much too stimulating.
He ambled toward the four-poster bed that Jeremy had prepared. The swans-down pillows had been plumped just the way he liked them. The sheets of softest lawn had been sprinkled with lavender water to discourage both fleas and odors of the night. A coverlet of mint green taffeta lay folded at the bed’s foot. Taken altogether, his makeshift bedchamber beckoned with irresistible invitation to his tired body.
Rosie struggled to her feet and gripped the center tent pole to steady herself. “Ye are a-going to sleep?”
He yawned. “Aye, tis my sole intent at this particular moment.”
She blinked like an owlet. “Then where do I go?”
Andrew lifted one of the lanterns and shed its light into the second chamber’s far corner. “There.” He pointed to Jeremy’s truckle bed.
Rosie closed her eyes and sagged against the pole. Andrew moved closer in case she collapsed, but she rallied before he touched her. Without a word, she scurried to the cot, pulled back the cover and tucked herself between the sheets.
“Sweet heaven!” She sighed. She burrowed as far down as the straw mattress allowed her. “Tis a wonderment, my lord!”
He knelt beside her. “Clean sheets?” he inquired.
She rolled her eyes. “Haint ever had sheets, my lord.”
Andrew shuddered inwardly. He really had to do something about her butchery of the king’s English but it could wait until dawn. Then Rosie looked up at him and actually smiled.
The unexpected sight nearly overthrew all of Andrew’s high-minded principles. He felt as if he had been struck by a bolt of lightning. He thanked assorted guardian saints that neither one of the hot-blooded Cavendish boys nor the lust-driven Stafford had seen that smile of hers. There would have been blood on the rug by now and it would not have come from Rosie’s pathetic ruse. He leaned over her.
Her smile fled. She stiffened and cringed as if she expected to be struck. Her bee-stung lips compressed into a tight line. Andrew reversed his lustful intentions. Instead, he planted a chaste kiss on her forehead.
“God give you sweet repose, Rosie,” he murmured in a husky voice that barely cloaked his passionate urgings. “Sleep well and safely. I swear upon my honor as a knight, no harm shall come to you.”
Her shoulders relaxed. A glimmer of her smile returned. “And to ye, my lord.” Then she turned over onto her side and closed her eyes.
With a whisper of regret, Andrew rose, blew out the lantern and made his preparations for his own slumber. He poured some rose water in the basin of his portable washstand—a device of his own invention—and rinsed his face and hands. The cool ablutions did little to quench his inner fever. After he brushed his teeth with a peeled stick from an elm tree and polished them with a piece of tooth linen, he went around the tent and blew out the rest of the candles. The campfire outside the entrance bathed the interior of the pavilion with a golden glow. He shook out a spare pallet for Jeremy—whenever the scamp decided to return.
Andrew shucked his dressing robe, then he pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it over a coffer. He loosened his codpiece, stepped behind a painted screen and made use of his new close stool. It was as elaborate as the one Great Harry himself had for his most personal needs. Ever since Andrew had inherited his late wife’s fortune, he had indulged himself in all the finest accoutrements of gracious living. Yet in the depths of the night, he admitted to himself that all his refinements and luxuries had not filled the yawning emptiness in his life.
Returning to his sumptuous bed, he sat on the edge of it, and peeled off his dusty, sweat-soaked hose. He balled them up and tossed them beside his shirt. Jeremy would take care of the laundry in the morning. For all his put-upon airs, his squire was a good lad, though Andrew missed Guy. Now that the younger Cavendish had become a knight, he no longer had to wait upon Andrew’s every whim. Yawning, he stretched his arms over his head and basked in the freedom of his nakedness.
He heard a small, muffled giggle behind him. He looked over his shoulder. Rosie’s eyes twinkled from the depths of her little bed.
He felt a flush steal up his neck and around his ears. He blessed the darkness and wished it were darker still.
“Methought you were asleep,” he muttered, jumping into his bed.
“With ye a-splashing and grunting like a hog in a mud wallow?”
Andrew pursed his lips. “I marvel at your eloquent description of myself, dear Rosie. Have you been acquainted with many hogs in your short lifetime?” Her unappealing appraisal stung his vanity.
She had the gall to giggle again. “One or two, my lord, but methinks ye are the best of the lot.”
He fumed in the luxurious sanctuary of his gilded bed. “I give you thanks for your kind words,” he growled.
“How old are ye, my lord, if ye do not mind me asking?”
Injury to insult! “Eight and thirty years since this Shrovetide.” He laid down amid his flock of feathered pillows and pouted.
“Ah!” The chit was mercifully silent for a moment, then she said, “Ye should not let those minions of yours call ye an old man, Sir Andrew, for ye have a good strong body that gives the lie to your years.”
A ridiculous warmth flooded Andrew. He grinned in the darkness. What an intelligent girl he had acquired! Rosie obviously possessed an innate sense of good taste.
He cleared his throat. “Ladies should not observe a gentleman when he disrobes, Rosie.”
She snorted. “Haint a lady—yet! Good night, my lord.”
Andrew blew her a kiss. “Good night, sweet Rosie,” he whispered.
Despite his fatigue, he discovered that he could not sleep. Rosie’s even breathing told him that she had at last slipped into the healing grace of slumber. He laced his fingers behind his head and stared into the blackness of his silk-swathed ceiling.
Rosie danced through his thoughts like a maddening sprite. In his imagination, he heard her smoky voice and her sudden silvery laughter. Since he could not banish her from his mind, he turned his powers of concentration fully upon his latest acquisition.
It was already evident that she had teased a new vigor in his body. He sighed. Too evident. He would have to watch himself in the coming days if he was going to have her full cooperation. Any dolt could tell that she had been ill-used by men in her past. He swore to himself that he would try to make her future much more pleasant, even if it meant denying himself the pleasure that was his by right of ownership.
Andrew rolled onto his stomach and punched his pillows into a mound. Rosie had surprised him with her quick wit. True, she was entirely uneducated, but her natural instincts proved to be razor-sharp. He could tell that she would be an apt pupil. His hopes rose. It was not the money, but his pride that was at stake. He chuckled to himself when he imagined how Brandon would writhe when Andrew unveiled his little bit of mummery at the king’s banquet. Let the young cockerel sweat out the consequences of his rash gamble for a few days. Then, when he had learned his lesson, Andrew would return his losses to him.
Then there was Rosie. Andrew curled on his side. Was she really only a gleaning from the gutter? His observation differed. There was something about her that hinted of better blood—something familiar that he couldn’t quite recognize. Her face was too fine and delicate to be that bred from a mere peasant. Her complexion, kissed by the sun, reminded him of the petals of a flower. And her hair!
Andrew threw off his sheet, swung his legs over the side of the bed and got up. He fumbled for the tinderbox on his bedside table and after a few moments, lit his candle. Jeremy had not yet returned. Wastrel!
Holding the candle aloft, he crept around the foot of the great bed. The light fell upon Rosie. Her hair cascaded over the white pillowcase in a tumble of sun-kissed curls. Andrew knelt and touched the nearest one. Pure silk under his fingers. His loins stiffened and grew hot. He cursed himself for his weakness but did not move.
He continued to stroke the soft curl as he imagined all the delicious possibilities that making love with Rosie would present. Her veil of hair would clothe him as it enticed him. He longed to bury his face in her fragrant tresses. To bind himself with them. To taste their strands, to die—
The tent flap opened and Jeremy stumbled inside with a whispered oath. His load of cleaned supper plate clattered to the floor. Andrew stood up quickly and blew out the candle before the squire got a good look at his master’s rejuvenated body.
“Silence, churl!” he whispered to his tipsy squire. “I have only just now soothed her to sleep.”
Jeremy giggled like a wench. “And was she easy to leap upon, my lord? Did you have much good cheer?”
“I’ll leap upon you, you quirt, if you do not stop that damnable bleating, and I warrant you, the experience will bring you no cheer at all. Get you to bed!” He pointed to the pallet by the entrance.
Jeremy half sat, half fell onto it. “Your pardon, my lord,” he mumbled as he pulled off his jerkin.
Andrew climbed back into his own bed. “Granted, but not a word to the young lady on the morrow or you will rue it forty days, I promise you.”
“Aye, my lord,” Jeremy yawned. He lay down still half-dressed. “I am right glad that she pleased you.” He ended with a soft snore.
Andrew shook his head at the general folly of youth. “That she does,” he whispered to himself. “She pleases me well.”
Tuesday, June 12
Angry voices pulled Rosie from her slumber. From habit, she curled tight into a ball and pretended that she still slept even though she was now fully awake. Then she realized that the voices did not belong to her foster parents, nor was she shivering under the eaves of their cottage in Stoke Poges. A white sheet smelling faintly of lavender covered her and the morning’s sun bathed the interior of Sir Andrew’s tent with a soft glow.
“Surely ye have done with her by now, my lord. Tis near the dinner hour,” Quince whined on the other side of the canvas wall.
Rosie shivered despite the warmth of her bedding. She pulled her sheet up to her chin.
Sir Andrew chuckled. “By my troth, I have barely begun taking my pleasure with Mistress Rosie, and you said to take all the time I wanted.”
Quince stammered, “B-but another gentleman has already paid me a pretty penny for her. He waits for the wench now.”
Rosie chewed on her thumbnail. She couldn’t go back to Quince. She had never done much praying before, but now her lips framed a silent plea to heaven for deliverance.
“That other gentleman’s name had better not be Cavendish or Stafford,” Sir Andrew remarked in a dark tone.
“Nay.” Quince’s whine increased. “Tis a very insistent lord named Sir Gareth Hogsworthy, and methinks his patience is shorter than gunpowder.”
Rosie slid deeper under her covers. She remembered the man from last night because he reminded her of her foster father. She instinctively knew what sort of a beast Sir Gareth would be. Heaven help the woman who fell within his sadistic grasp.
“And what did Sir Gareth pay you for the attentions of the fair damsel?” Sir Andrew inquired. Danger lurked in his voice.
Quince hesitated. Rosie guessed that the bawdmaster was calculating a greater profit. She wanted to cry out a warning to Sir Andrew, but her sense of self-preservation silenced her.
“Twenty gold ryals, my lord,” Quince finally replied.
Ten times Quince’s highest price! Sir Andrew would never pay it. Rosie moaned into her pillow. Her sweet holiday from reality was over.
Then she heard someone swear softly inside the tent. She opened her eyes and peeked over the covers. Jeremy stood with his back to her while he listened at the closed entrance. He held a naked sword in one hand. By his stance, Rosie realized that the boy knew how to use the weapon.
“The devil take you, master of flesh!” Sir Andrew raised his voice.
Rosie cringed. She pushed back her covers and searched for another way out of the tent. They would have to catch her before any man could have his cruel way with her.
“Jeremy!” Sir Andrew bellowed. “Fetch my purse!”
The squire turned around and saw Rosie. She froze, barely daring to breathe. Jeremy unlocked a brass-bound trunk and lifted out a brown leather pouch. From its shape and size, Rosie guessed it contained a fortune.
The boy curled his lips at her. “You must have pleased my lord past all remembrance, wench,” he whispered with a rough edge to his voice. “Sir Andrew has never spent so much money on a woman before except his wife.” With that, he batted the flap aside and strode out.
Rosie didn’t know whether she felt flattered, appalled—or hurt. Sir Andrew hadn’t mentioned anything about having a wife. Rosie had assumed he was a bachelor. She should have known better. What a deceitful devil he was! Of course a rich and handsome lord like Sir Andrew would be married, and he probably had a castle filled with children as well. She cursed her naivet?, then cursed herself even more for caring. What was he to her but a slim respite from the hell of her life? What was she to him but a whore with whom he would play an outlandish jest upon the king? Why did she care?
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