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…
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‘I know your reputation, mistress.’
Margerie raised her brows in a delicate question as he turned to face her, but the doctor did not elaborate. His stare moved instead from her face to her breasts, small but made more prominent by the tight silk bodice, then her narrow waist and hips, for her height had kept her figure girlishly slender since childhood.
She felt the touch of his gaze on her body as a physical thing, as though he had stroked her with a long cool finger, and her pulse raced, suddenly wild. Her cheeks began to burn. ‘You dare to judge me, sir?’
‘I have said nothing, madam.’
‘Your eyes speak for you.’
Master Elton came close, still gazing on her body as though imagining how she would look naked. That look made her tremble.
His voice was curt. She had the impression of tremendous energy held in check, his whole being focused on her in the most disconcerting way. He could not be much older than her, perhaps eight and twenty years of age. Certainly Master Elton was not past thirty. Yet he had the poise and authority of a much older man.
‘You are indeed a beautiful woman,’ Master Elton agreed. ‘Your form stirs a man to lust, and I am a man like any other. But I am not convinced that men must always act upon their desires, especially when restraint would prove the better course. Man’s control over his baser instincts is what separates him from the beasts.’
‘I thought it was our ability to think that makes us superior to the animal kingdom.’
‘Oh, not superior.’ There was a drawl in his voice now, his mouth twisting as the dark gaze lifted to her face. ‘I cannot allow those men who would have raped you to be superior to a beast in any way.’
‘They were afraid of you, I think,’ she said impulsively. ‘Why?’
‘I saw no fear in them. I am but a doctor. Why should the king’s men fear me?’
‘I do not know, sir. That is why I asked.’
Her height meant they stood as equals, gazing into each other’s eyes without speaking. She recalled how her body had responded to the touch of his hand, her heart racing as though in fear for her life, and wondered at it.
You must have ice-water in your veins, Margerie Croft, not to have been moved by the heat of my desire.
To be passionless, to be cold at heart ... These were crimes against a woman’s nature, and she knew it. Yet the merest touch of Master Elton’s hand had left her shocked and unsettled. How was this doctor so different from the other men who had tried to seduce her?
She shivered, her gaze dropping under his.
It was painful to meet those intelligent eyes and guess what Master Elton must be thinking. Her infamous seduction all those years ago meant she was too well known as a wanton for him to hold any other view of her character. And if she continued to look so boldly at this man he would think she wished to warm his bed tonight, instead of the king’s.
‘You asked to escort me back to my chamber,’ she said coolly. ‘Will you hold to that promise, sir?’
‘I have to take these medicaments back to my rooms. I will walk with you to your chamber first.’
‘Are these not your quarters?’
‘No, I lodge in one of the towers. The physicians only use this room when we are summoned to attend His Majesty, as we were earlier tonight.’
That surprised her. ‘You attended the king tonight?’
‘For what purpose?’
‘I cannot discuss it with you, mistress. I am bound by a sacred oath to keep such matters secret.’ Master Elton closed his book of Latin poetry, marking the page with a strip of black silk, and placed it in the cloth bag with his medicaments. Then he took up his bag, and gestured her to the door. ‘It’s late, and the courtiers who attacked you should have gone by now. Shall we go?’
She hesitated, studying her rescuer in a moment of indecision. His features were a shade too strong to be classically attractive, his nose aquiline, his mouth straight and unrelenting, like the hard jut of his chin. His dark hair curled under the physician’s cap, not cut short like most courtiers’ but long enough to brush his broad shoulders. She thought it gave him a very European look, dangerously unconventional. His eyes were impenetrably dark too, deep-set and heavy-lidded, watching her with a hint of the same restless interest she felt for him.
She ought not to find such a man pleasing to look upon. Yet she could not seem to stop staring ... There was a sensuality about him that made her heart beat faster, her body aware of his in a way she had never been with any man before. Indeed, she could not help wondering what it would feel like to lie beneath that lean body, to have his mouth on hers, to accept him into her body as she had once accepted Wolf.
A night in Master Elton’s bed would be very different from those abortive hours she had spent with Wolf. For she had taken Wolf to her bed on the orders of her mother, whose obsession with her advancement at court had known no limits, and not because she felt any desire for the nobleman.
With Master Elton though, it would be hard to say no if the doctor wished to take his pleasure with her. And this time she would have no virginity to lose.
‘Yes,’ she managed, belatedly realising that he was still waiting for her response. ‘Forgive me.’
‘Mistress Croft, you have done nothing that needs to be forgiven,’ Master Elton murmured, a faint smile on his lips as he bent to blow out the candle. ‘The same may not be true for the rest of us, however.’
Her breath caught as the room was plunged into smoking velvety darkness. And she was glad he could not see her face. For his smile had sent a jolt of heat to her belly and thighs, her whole body suddenly alight with desire.
The darkness had brought illumination. He wanted her. And she wanted him. That was what she was feeling.
Groping her way into the torchlit corridor afterwards, Margerie did not dare look at him again, caught in the grip of some sexual urge so strong she was left breathless and trembling, shocked by the visceral nature of her response.
Don’t show him how you feel, she told herself sternly. He was a man, and she was alone with him. Had she no sense of self-preservation whatsoever?
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.
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