Hilary Mantel meets Sylvia Day: the final installment in a deliciously erotic trilogy begun in Wolf Bride, set against the sumptuous backdrop of the scandal-ridden Tudor Court by Elizabeth Moss.
SHE’S FALLEN TOO FAR...
Margerie Croft yielded her virginity before her wedding night, and then fled King Henry VIII’s court, knowing she couldn’t marry a man she did not love. Now she is viewed as soiled goods, fit only for the role of a courtier's plaything.
Virgil Elton has heard the wicked rumors, but something about Margerie calls to him. Drawn close despite himself, he invites her to help in his work to restore the king’s flagging health. But as he comes to know her, Virgil discovers beneath the layers of protective reserve a woman who is as intelligent and passionate as she is beautiful. He will stop at nothing to heal the damage the court has inflicted, even if it means falling himself…
Master Elton spoke as though they were alone together, his voice deep and rich, stirring her in some unfathomable way. ‘I must lock up the storage room,’ he told her calmly, ‘but then I beg you will permit me to escort you back to your chamber. The hour is late and a lady should not be wandering the palace corridors unaccompanied.’
There was a growl of dissent from the watching nobles. Yet to her astonishment none of them challenged the doctor’s right to remove her.
Slowly she groped after the truth, though it seemed impossible. These lords were wary of him, though he was merely a physician.
Master Elton was still holding her hand, his strong fingers locked intimately with hers. When she did not reply, he raised his eyebrows, watching her with those dark intelligent eyes that seemed to know precisely what she was thinking – and feeling.
She found her courage again, and with it her voice. ‘I ... I thank you, sir.’
‘My lords, I must beg your pardon for interrupting your sport,’ he said, turning to her attackers. ‘But this lady seems uncomfortable in your company.’
Master Elton drew her out from their silent circle, a look of irony on his face. He bowed to Sir Christopher as the knight shifted to block his way.
‘You look well, Sir Christopher. I am glad.’
Sir Christopher’s mouth tightened, as though that soft emphasis had conveyed some special meaning to him. He glared at the doctor sourly. They were about the same height and build, she realised, though the knight was perhaps a shade taller. For a moment the atmosphere was tense in the narrow space, and she feared for her saviour.
Then the knight shrugged and stepped aside, letting them pass.
‘You may go on your way, physician, and take this creature with you,’ Sir Christopher said. His gaze flicked over her with contempt. ‘No man wants soiled goods anyway. Not even for sport.’
Without another word, the physician led her away into the small gloomy chamber from which he had emerged, taking a moment to bar the door behind him in case the king’s men changed their minds.
She looked about the room. There was a high table crowded with bottles and physicians’ instruments, and a small leather-bound volume lying open beside a candle as though he had been reading before he was disturbed. A doctor’s workshop, Margerie thought, glancing at more bottles arranged in a shadowy alcove. She found herself breathing more easily, for she had only narrowly escaped harm.
Glancing at the open page of the book, she saw it was not a doctor’s journal with a list of medicaments, as she had at first assumed.
It was poetry. In Latin.
Master Elton turned from the door and fixed her with a hard look. His casual air had dropped away. ‘Do you have a death wish, madam?’
Margerie flushed angrily. ‘I beg your pardon?’
The physician looked her up and down assessingly, taking in every detail of her flushed cheeks and unbound mass of red hair, then the fine silk gown, her thin-soled leather pumps showing beneath. The bodice sat tight about her breasts, for she had been a girl and narrower in the chest when she last wore it at court, and she saw his gaze linger on the creamy flesh there.
No doubt he was wondering if she was a courtesan. Perhaps even considering if he could afford her services on a physician’s wage. She was used to such unpleasant conversations. But for some reason the thought of this man propositioning her left a bitter taste in her mouth.
‘I do not recall seeing you at court before,’ he commented, ‘so I must assume your foolishness tonight was the result of inexperience rather than a wanton desire to be ravished by those courtiers.’
Her lips tightened at this insult. She wanted to speak her mind, tell him exactly what she thought of his misinterpretation of tonight’s events. But she kept silent. This man had just saved her from what would undeniably have been a rape.
He raised dark eyebrows at her silence. ‘Will you give me your name?’
His eyes narrowed on her face, suddenly fixed and intent. Heat entered her cheeks as she realised her name was known to him. She ought not to be surprised. Everyone at court knew of Margerie Croft, the infamous whore who had taken young Wolf to her bed, then run off to France with another nobleman, an infirm youth who had died without marrying her, leaving Margerie to earn enough for her passage back to England – as a whore, it was whispered by some.
‘Mistress Croft,’ he said softly, ‘my name is Master Elton. Do you have any idea how dangerous it was to allow yourself to be alone with those men?’
‘You think I allowed that to happen, Master Elton? I was summoned by King Henry tonight so he could ...’ She faltered, seeing the look in his eyes. Caution entered her tone as she finished lamely, ‘So he could speak with me.’
‘I see.’ But his voice had grown cold. She could guess what he was thinking. ‘And afterwards?’
‘Afterwards,’ she repeated, shuddering as she remembering what had followed her abortive interview with His Majesty, ‘they cornered me in one of the royal antechambers. I tried to escape, but they were determined to ...’
‘Make your better acquaintance?’ he suggested.
‘Punish me.’ Margerie lifted her gaze to his, meeting it unflinchingly. ‘I had displeased the king, you see. So they had little fear of reprisals, whatever they might choose to do to me.’
‘You seem curiously unmoved by that prospect.’
‘Merely resigned to my fate. Men rape women. It is the way of the world.’
Something flickered in that level stare. Contempt? Her temper rose. ‘Sir?’
Turning to a nearby shelf, the doctor began to pack away a row of thin-necked bottles into a cloth bag, checking each stopper and label as he did so, his movements careful and precise.
‘No doubt you find me impertinent, mistress?’
She could not deny it.
‘Forgive me.’ He glanced over his shoulder at her, his smile thin. ‘But your story is, you must admit, a little incredible. What was your crime tonight against His Majesty?’
‘That is my business.’
‘Do you remain silent for your own sake or mine? I assure you that I have no intention of becoming embroiled in this affair. But you must know the king’s ways, as all the world does. Perhaps if you had taken some respectable female companion with you to His Majesty ...’
She glared at him, nettled by the suggestion that she was to blame, and he shrugged, continuing to pack away his bottles.
‘I gave you my name, sir,’ she pointed out. ‘I am Margerie Croft. Or are you alone at this court in not knowing my reputation?
About the Book
Born into a literary family, Elizabeth Moss is a keen countryside walker who writes fun and sexy historical romances. She also writes award-winning fiction as Victoria Lamb. She lives with her husband and five children in South-West England.