Rosamund Bolton is determined finally to live her own life. She has claimed her inheritance, rejected her latest suitor—and decided to travel to the court of her dear friend, Queen Margaret of Scotland. It is against this lavish and unpredictable backdrop that she will meet the man who will forever change her destiny. Patrick Leslie, the first earl of Glenkirk, has a tragic past, but he brings to Rosamund a passion that few will ever know. And as war looms once more between England and Scotland, and Henry VIII seeks to make himself the most powerful monarch in all of Europe, Patrick and Rosamund will undertake a dangerous mission on behalf of King James IV—one that will test the very limits of their loyalty and the depths of their love...
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By Bertrice Small
Thorndike PressCopyright © 2005 Bertrice Small
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Chapter One"Who is she?" Patrick Leslie, the first Earl of Glenkirk asked his friend Lord Grey.
"Who is who?"
"The woman who sits on the footstool at the queen's right side," the earl answered his friend.
"Ahh," Lord Grey said, understanding at last. "The lady with the auburn hair in the green gown. She is the queen's childhood friend, the lady of Friarsgate, come from England at the queen's invitation. She is lovely, isn't she? She spent a night at my home on her way to court, but I was not there, of course."
"I would meet her," the earl said.
"What?" Lord Grey chuckled. "You have shown no interest in a respectable woman in over twenty years, Patrick. And you could be her father," he teased.
"Fortunately I am not her father," the earl replied, a faint smile touching his lips. "Can you introduce us, Andrew?"
"I have not yet myself been introduced," Lord Grey said.
It was the Christmas season. The two men stood among the crush of King James IV's court in the Great Hall of Stirling Castle. The hall had been built by the king's late father, James III. It hadd a hammer-beamed roof, large heraldic stained-glass windows, and five great fireplaces. Above the fireplace that was behind the high board where the king sat, hung his embroidered Cloth of Estate. The interior of the Great Hall was painted a rich lime yellow called King's Gold.
The court of King James IV of Scotland was a very cosmopolitan one. At least six different languages could be heard spoken among the guests. The king was an educated man with eclectic tastes. He could speak on the most modern sciences and theories, architecture, poetry, and history. He was urbane and had great charm. And as well liked as he was by those who peopled his court, he was beloved of the common man as well.
The Earl of Glenkirk stared again at the auburn-haired young woman. Andrew Grey was correct. It had been years since he was last attracted to a woman like the lady of Friarsgate. He had been widowed for twenty-eight years, and when he had lost his wife, Agnes, he had vowed never again to kill a woman with the bearing of his children. Oh, he had enjoyed his share of mistresses, but they had been mostly for the release of his lust-though some of his mistresses had been his friends as well. They had all been women considered of low estate, not women from respectable families, who a man paid court to or married. His boyhood mistress, Meg MacKay, had borne his daughter, Janet; and his wife, Agnes Cummings, had given him his only son. The Earl of Glenkirk sighed, remembering these two women. Never since their untimely deaths had he looked at another woman as he was now looking at the lady of Friarsgate. The very sight of her stirred something in his heart he had long thought immune to such tender emotions. Was he being a fool?
"You really want to meet her?" Andrew Grey's soft voice pierced the earl's thoughts. "I know one of the queen's ladies, Elsbeth Hume. I could speak to her."
"Do it," the Earl of Glenkirk said. "Now, if you can."
"God's foot, Patrick!" Lord Grey said. "I cannot remember the last time you were so eager over a wench." He chuckled. "Very well. Come along, and let us find Elsbeth."
They moved through the crowded hall until finally the lady they sought was found. She was a pretty girl with black hair and dancing blue eyes.
Lord Grey moved next to her and slid an arm about the lady's waist. "Elsbeth, you adorable and fascinating lass, I have a favor to ask of you, my pet."
Mistress Hume turned to look up at Lord Grey, her blue eyes twinkling. "And just what is it you seek of me, my lord, and what will you give me in return for this favor?" she purred. Her cherry-red lips pursed questioningly.
Lord Grey quickly kissed the offered lips and replied, "My friend the Earl of Glenkirk wishes a proper introduction to the queen's English friend, the lady of Friarsgate. Can you aid him?"
Elsbeth Hume turned and smiled up at Patrick Leslie. "I can, my lord. Rosamund Bolton is a most delightful lady. There is naught high-flown about her, as there is with most of these English who come to our court. From the look in your eyes, I expect you would meet the lady sooner than later, eh?" She smiled mischievously at him.
"I would, Mistress Hume," the Earl of Glenkirk replied with an answering smile.
"Come then, and I will present you. Your intentions will be as honorable as any man at this court, I expect. The lady, however, is no fool, and she can defend herself," Mistress Hume said. "Be warned, my lord. More than one gentleman has felt the sting of her outrage when he exhibited bad behavior before her."
She moved across the hall with Lord Grey and the Earl of Glenkirk following behind her. Reaching the throne where the queen sat, Elsbeth Hume curtsied low and said, "Your majesty, the Earl of Glenkirk would pay his respects to the lady of Friarsgate. May I have your permission to introduce them?"
Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland, smiled at Patrick Leslie and Andrew Grey. "You have our permission," she said, wondering what it was the earl could possibly want. "We have not met, my lord earl. You have not been at court in my time here, have you?"
Patrick bowed with an elegant flourish. He might have been a Highlander, but he remembered his manners. "I have not, your highness," he replied.
"What has brought you back to the court, then?" she queried.
"His majesty's personal request, madame, although he has not yet seen fit to share his wishes with me," the earl said. But whatever it was, Patrick considered, it was important to James Stewart or he would not have sent for the Earl of Glenkirk. The king knew how this earl felt about his court, or any other court for that matter. He did not share these thoughts with the queen, however.
"How intriguing," the queen said. "I shall have to ask Jamie about this mystery you have provided me with, my lord." Then she smiled at the earl. "You have our permission to make the acquaintance of our dearest friend, the lady of Friarsgate. Beth, you will make the introductions." Then the queen turned away, her curiosity satisfied for the moment and her attention engaged elsewhere now.
"Lady Rosamund Bolton, Patrick Leslie, the Earl of Glenkirk, and my friend Lord Andrew Grey," Elsbeth Hume said, making the introductions.
Rosamund held out her hand to be kissed, and her gaze met those of the two gentlemen. Lord Grey took her hand, saluted it, and murmured, "Lady Bolton." But when Rosamund's amber eyes met those of the Earl of Glenkirk, she was overcome with shock. The green eyes locked on to hers, and he was not a stranger! She had known him forever, and yet she had never before this day seen the man. She struggled to maintain control over herself while the most disturbing images bloomed in her head, and when his lips touched the back of her hand Rosamund felt as if she had been scorched by a bolt of lightning.
"Madame," he said, his big hand yet holding hers. His voice was deep.
"My lord," she managed to say. She felt as if they were a single entity. Her voice was soft.
It was patently obvious to their two companions that something extraordinary had just happened. And though neither Lord Grey nor Elsbeth Hume understood, they moved away discreetly, leaving Rosamund and the Earl of Glenkirk alone.
Patrick tucked the small hand still in his possession into the crook of his arm, saying as he did so, "Let us stroll, madame, and we will tell each other of ourselves."
"There is naught to tell," Rosamund began. She felt better now that they were speaking than she had in the odd silence that had enwrapped them previously.
"You are English," he said, "but not from the south, for I understand you too well."
She smiled now. "My home is in Cumbria, my lord."
"And how did a lass from Cumbria come to be Margaret Tudor's friend? A good enough friend to be invited to King James' court?" he asked. He shortened his steps to match hers, for he was very tall, and she, while not as small as the queen, was petite.
"When my second husband died, he put me into the care of King Henry. Not he now upon England's throne, but his father," Rosamund explained. "I was just thirteen."
"At thirteen you had outlived two husbands, madame? Are you so dangerous, then?" he asked, and she heard the humor in his voice.
"I am twenty-two now, my lord, and have buried three husbands," she teased him.
He laughed aloud. "You have children, then." It was a statement.
"Three daughters. Philippa, Banon, and Elizabeth," Rosamund answered. "They were born to me and my third husband, Sir Owein Meredith. I was wed first at the age of three to a cousin who perished when I was five. I was married again at the age of six to Sir Hugh Cabot, an elderly knight chosen by my uncle, who wished to retain control over Friarsgate. Hugh, however, taught me how to be independent and cleverly thwarted my uncle Henry by placing me into the custody of the king when he died. My uncle was furious, for he sought to wed me to his second son, who was but five. It was the king's mother, the Venerable Margaret, and your queen, Margaret Tudor, who chose my third husband for me. Owein was a good man, and we were content together."
"How did he die?" the Earl of Glenkirk asked her.
"Owein loved Friarsgate every bit as much as if he had been born and bred there. He had a peculiar habit of climbing to the top of each tree in the orchards come harvest, so that no fruit was wasted. No one else had ever done it. Usually that fruit was left to rot, or to fall and be scavenged by the deer. But he would not have it. He thought it wasteful. I was enceinte with our son when he fell from the top of one of those trees and broke his neck. A branch gave way." She sighed. "And then the bairn was born dead."
"I lost my wife in childbed, but my son survived," he told her. "He is now a grown man with a wife of his own."
"He was your only child?" she asked.
"I had a daughter," he replied shortly, and his tone indicated he did not at this time choose to discuss it further. They had reached the end of the Great Hall. "Let us go out and view the night sky," he suggested. "It is very clear, and the stars are always their brightest over Stirling on a winter's night."
"We have no capes," she answered, but she very much wanted to go.
The Earl of Glenkirk snapped his fingers at a passing servant.
The man stopped. "Yes, my lord?"
"Two warm cloaks for the lady and for me," the earl ordered.
"At once, my lord, if you will wait here," the servant responded, and he hurried off. They stood silently until he returned a few moments later with the required garments.
The Earl of Glenkirk took a long nut-brown wool cape lined in warm marten and draped it over Rosamund's shoulders. He moved around before her and carefully fastened each of the polished brass frogs that closed the garb tightly. Then he gently drew up the fur-lined hood. Each time their eyes met, Rosamund had this incredible sense of deja vu. "There," he said and then, turning, took the other cloak from the servant. When he had dressed himself, he thanked the servant and took Rosamund's hand to lead her outside into the winter gardens.
It was very cold, but the air was still. Above them the night sky was ebony in color and dotted with stars that twinkled crystal, blue, and red. They walked in silence until the lights of the castle were but glittering gold points and they could no longer hear the murmur of the many voices within the hall. Then suddenly he stopped. He turned her so that she was facing him, pushing back the hood of her garment, taking her small face within the enclosure of his two big hands.
Rosamund's heart began to hammer with her excitement. Each time their eyes met it was as if this very moment had happened before. She could not for the life of her look away from him, and when his dark head slowly descended, his lips brushing gently over hers several times as if tasting her, it was she who cupped his head in her palms, and drew him down to kiss him hungrily. She shuddered as their mouths met that first time. Or was it for the first time?
Finally he drew away, saying as he did, "I am hardly a young man, madame."
"I know," she replied.
"I have seen a half century," he answered. "I could be your father."
"But you are not my father, my lord," Rosamund told him. "You are older than Owein Meredith, but younger than Hugh Cabot. We are drawn to each other, although I do not know why or how this is. I know that you feel it, too, for I have seen it in your eyes." She reached out and gently caressed his cheek. "So here we are, my lord earl, and what are we to do?"
"Will you believe me when I tell you that I have never before felt with a woman as I do with you, madame?"
"My name is Rosamund," she told him, nodding. "And like you, I have never felt quite this way before, my lord."
"My name is Patrick," he answered.
"Are we bewitched, Patrick?" she asked him.
"By whom or what?" he wondered aloud.
She shook her head. "I do not know. I am new here and know few."
"As am I," he replied. "I have not been to court since I returned to Scotland from San Lorenzo many years ago."
"San Lorenzo?" She looked puzzled.
"It is a small duchy on the Mediterranean Sea. I was sent as the king's first ambassador to set up a friendly port where our trading vessels might find safety, water, and supplies," the earl explained.
"Then you have traveled, Patrick. I have never wanted to travel, for I love my home. I always hated going to court. But now, suddenly, I am ripe for adventure." She smiled mischievously, and his heart contracted almost painfully.
He reached out again and enfolded her in his embrace. "I want to make love to you," he said softly. He kissed her slowly, his mouth demanding yet gentle. "I cannot believe I would be so damned bold with someone I have only just met, and yet I feel as if we have known each other forever. And you feel it, too, Rosamund. I saw the surprise of recognition in your eyes earlier. I do not understand it, and yet it is happening."
"I know," she agreed. "I do not know what to do. Do you? Should we follow our instincts? Or should we decide this is some madness, and part from each other? You must decide for us, Patrick, for I am much too afraid to do so, and I have never before been a coward when facing life."
"Neither have I," he said. "So despite what common sense would tell us, my fair Rosamund, let us follow our instincts and see where they will lead us." He kissed her again. "Are you ready for the journey?"
"My family's motto is Tracez Votre Chemin-Make Your Own Path. If we are to follow our instincts, my lord, then that is exactly what I shall do," she told him, looking up into his handsome face. He did not look to her as if he had lived a half century, even if there were small lines about his eyes.
Excerpted from Until You by Bertrice Small Copyright © 2005 by Bertrice Small. Excerpted by permission.
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