Authors: Margaret Mallory
But Jamie’s father had taught him that his enemy’s behavior did not guide his own. A knight did not take a
man’s life by poison, no matter how richly the death was deserved.
Grinding his teeth against his rage, Jamie forced himself to toss Pomeroy’s sword aside. Holding Pomeroy by the throat, he
pulled his own dagger.
“I should cut out your eyes just for looking at her,” he spat out. “But I shall settle for this.”
Pomeroy clenched his jaw, but he did not cry out when Jamie drew the edge of the blade across his cheek. It was a deep cut
that would fester and leave a scar.
“When you look at your reflection, I want you to remember that I could have killed you this day,” Jamie said. “Know that if
you ever threaten Linnet again, I shall.”
here is a rumor on the wind about you, Lady Linnet,” Gloucester said.
Linnet raised an eyebrow. “Only one, Your Grace? ’Tis disappointing to learn I am so little remarked upon.”
Gloucester guffawed and slapped his knee. “I do like a clever woman. Never fear, dear lady, there is always a good deal of
talk about you—especially about your beauty.”
She expelled a dramatic sigh. “
is not very interesting.”
Neither was Gloucester. When he crossed the hall to sit beside her on her bench by the window, there was no escape. One simply
did not walk away from a man who was the king’s uncle and third in line to the throne, tedious though he may be. Just yesterday,
she would have done it anyway. But after how angry Jamie had been with her, she was determined to be more circumspect in her
“There is also speculation as to whom you’ve taken as your latest lover.” Gloucester leaned closer. “But I, for one, am more
interested in learning who will be your next.”
Linnet did not like the direction of the conversation—or the way the duke was staring at her chest.
She cleared her throat. “But that is not the rumor you first spoke of?”
“You are quite right.”
His sweet scent was going to make her sneeze if he did not move farther away. She glanced about the room, hoping someone would
“What I heard is that you are looking for a particular man,” Gloucester said in a low voice. “A merchant you suspect of cheating
your family many years past.”
Linnet’s heart leapt in her chest. He had her full attention now. Trying to keep her voice steady, she asked, “Do you know
who this man is?”
“Not at present. But if it is important to you,
…” He shrugged one shoulder and lifted his hands. “I could be persuaded to apply a bit of pressure here, a hint of a favor
As a member of the royal family, Gloucester had means to obtain information she would never have. And more, he was the darling
of the London merchants. If Gloucester let it be known that he required certain information, he would get it.
Linnet leaned forward, her breath coming fast. “You would do this for me, Your Grace?”
“The task could prove… enjoyable,” he said with a slow smile. “Who knows what we might discover together?”
She sat back and folded her hands in her lap. Gloucester liked to play at being chivalrous, but he expected payment for service.
Of course, she should have known there would be a quid pro quo. All she needed to do was think of something he wanted—other
His heavy scent made her nose twitch dangerously as he leaned close again. “There are too many ears here in the hall. Come
to my rooms in an hour, and we can discuss how best to pursue your mysterious merchant.”
“Will Lady Eleanor be joining us?” she asked, playing innocent.
He gave a bark of laughter. “Eleanor knows I like to share my goodwill.”
Which was probably one of the reasons Eleanor remained his favorite.
“All the same, let us keep this… arrangement… to ourselves,” Gloucester said, giving her a wink. “I suspect Sir James Rayburn
would not be pleased if he learned of it.”
And there was the rub.
While she was not going to let Gloucester lay a finger on her, let alone get into bed with him, Jamie would be furious if
he learned she was still pursuing her revenge. She had not meant to. Truly, she had every intention of giving up the search.
But with Gloucester dangling the means of discovering the identity of her worst enemy, she could not turn away.
She would have the name in no time.
And Jamie need never know.
She got to her feet. As she dipped her curtsy, she gave Gloucester a slight nod. Then she picked up her skirts and left him
without a backward glance.
The question of what to pay Gloucester for the favor was already settled in her mind. It was well known Gloucester overspent
his income. His lavish support of the arts, among other indulgences, left him perpetually short of cash. Gold coin she had
Gloucester was like a fish on a hook. All she had to
do was get him in her net without falling into the water. She would make this a business deal, and they both would walk away
satisfied. From what she heard, that was more than could be said of his lovers.
He would give her the name of her enemy. Once she had it, she would crush the villain like a soft pebble beneath her heel.
Then all would be as it should be: the evil would be punished, the honest and hardworking rewarded.
Jamie called it revenge, but she called it justice.
To leave her past behind, she must do this one last thing. And then, she would begin her new life with her beloved.
An hour later, Linnet presented herself at Gloucester’s rooms. She was covered head to toe in hood and cape and carrying a
purse filled with gold coins. She was expected. After a brief glance at her face beneath the hood, the guard opened the heavy
door for her.
She could not make herself go in at first.
For the hundredth time, she told herself Jamie need never know. Sweat broke out on her palms as she stepped into the room—not
from any fear of Gloucester, but because she felt guilty for deceiving her future husband—the man she loved with all her heart.
“Jamie, I promise I shall never deceive you again,” she whispered under her breath. “But I can have no peace until I avenge
my grandfather and right the wrong done to us.”
amie was starving. ’Twas always that way after a fight. As soon as he cleaned himself up, he went to the hall hoping to find
some supper. He could eat an entire wild boar himself.
Supper was finished, but when he hailed a servant, the good man brought him a tasty venison pie and a loaf of bread. Ignoring
the people milling about the hall, he sat at a trestle table and made quick work of his meal. When he was done, he got up
to look for Linnet.
Food was not the only thing a man hungered for after a fight. He was randy as hell.
The Virgin protect him. Eleanor Cobham was heading straight for him like a hound on the scent of a fox through an open field.
Jamie glanced to the left and the right, though he knew full well it was too late to escape.
“Lady Eleanor,” he said, making his bow. “You look striking tonight.”
He spoke the truth—Eleanor looked as if she might strike anyone who stood in her path.
She narrowed cold gray eyes at him and demanded, “Do you know where your lady friend is?”
How much jewelry could a woman wear? Gloucester could have financed another foray against the Flemish with the gold and glittering
stones hanging off his mistress.
“My ‘lady friend’?” he asked in a mild tone, knowing damned well it would annoy her.
Eleanor leaned forward, hands on her hips, and he smelled the strong wine on her breath.
“Do not play the fool with me, James Rayburn. You know very well I mean that fair-haired French bastard who puts on airs as
if royal blood ran through her veins.”
In a flash, Jamie’s own blood was pounding in his ears. “If you were a man, Eleanor, I would beat you senseless for that remark.
As it is, I will ask you to curb your tongue.”
“Men are such fools,” she spat out. “Shall I tell you where the woman you are so gallantly defending is at this very moment?”
Unease settled in his gut. He cursed himself for letting this corrosive woman make him doubt Linnet. She had pledged her love,
given him an eternal promise. She would not play him for a fool.
“Lady Linnet is with the queen and her ladies in the queen’s apartment,” he said.
Eleanor clenched her fists and stamped her foot. “She is with Gloucester!”
“You are mistaken,” he said, fighting the insidious doubt that was seeping into his heart. “But if she were in his company,
I am certain it would be for some innocent purpose.”
He just could not imagine what. Linnet had little
patience for people she disliked. She would avoid Gloucester like the plague, unless… unless he had something she wanted.
Jamie rubbed his temples with one hand as he found himself walking down a long corridor beside Eleanor. The woman seethed
with malice. Why was he letting her lead him to Gloucester’s rooms? It was wrong of him to doubt Linnet.
The question kept going through his mind: What could Gloucester give her?
Anything she wanted.
Jamie had a moment of panic as he followed Eleanor into an empty bedchamber. Had he completely misunderstood her? He tried
to recall if his wine had tasted unusually sweet.
Eleanor, however, marched across the room without a backward glance. When she reached a door on the opposite side, she stopped
and pressed her ear to it. Jamie’s heart beat faster as he realized the door must connect to Gloucester’s apartment. Eleanor
waved impatiently for him to join her. When he did not, she lifted the latch, pushed the door with her fingertips, and stepped
Jamie watched in horror as the door slowly swung open to reveal the scene in the next room. Gloucester was half-dressed, his
chest bare in the wide gap of his open robe.
And Linnet was on his lap. In his arms.
Time stopped as the sight before him stole his trust, killed his faith, and destroyed the future he had imagined. His heart
froze and shattered into a hundred pieces at his feet.
Linnet looked up, startled, and pushed Gloucester away. But there was guilt in those pale-blue eyes.
“How could you, Linnet? How could you do this?”
He slammed the door and turned on Eleanor. Anger roiled in him, pounding through his veins and blurring his vision.
“You are an evil woman,” he said, stepping toward her. “One day God will punish you for it.”
“You should blame your lover, not me,” she said when he had her backed against the wall.
“I know you poisoned other women you found with Gloucester,” he said, wrapping his hand around her throat. “If I hear Linnet
has had so much as a bad stomach after this, you shall regret it.”
“No one can prove I poisoned anyone.”
“Did I say I would attempt to prove it?” he said. “Do I seem the sort of man to waste my time in court?”
Eleanor’s eyes went wide as he brought his face down close to hers.
“Pray Linnet stays well,” he hissed through his teeth. “For if she falls ill, I will sneak into your bedchamber in the dark
of night and slit your throat.”
With this last duty discharged, he turned and left.
As he marched down the corridor, Linnet caught up to him. He did not look at her.
“Jamie, that was not what it seemed. I—”
“I hope you got whatever it was you wanted, Linnet. I hope it was worth the price you paid.”
“I did not—”
“Another woman will value what I have to offer. She will not sacrifice my affections and sell her honor.”
“I did nothing wrong.”
Jamie came to an abrupt halt and turned to face her. “Nothing? Nothing!” he roared. He had to clench his
hands to keep from grabbing her and shaking her. “I find you sitting on the lap of a half-naked man in his bedchamber, and
you call that
“It was nothing, I promise. You are the only man I love. The only one I want.”
“And that is the worst part of it,” he said, shaking with emotion. “To get something you wanted, you would go into the arms
of a man you detest. By God, you are a cold-hearted woman.”
“Jamie, I only meant to—”
“There is nothing you can say that will make a damned bit of difference to me,” he said. “I am done with you.”
She started to speak again, but he had already turned away.
he queen will meet you again tonight.” Linnet’s eyes followed Jamie crossing the hall with Agnes Stafford as she spoke to
Owen. Agnes’s hand was tucked into Jamie’s arm.
“How?” Owen asked.
“How will Katherine get away and where shall I meet her?”
“Half an hour after supper, I will cross the upper ward wearing her ermine-trimmed cape and hood, with her ladies in tow.”
Linnet tried to concentrate, but it was hard with Jamie and that woman in the same room. “At the same time, the queen will
slip out the side door in my cape to meet you at the place in the wood.”
“Who knew love would prove so difficult?” Owen said with a sigh. “You do us a great favor by the risks you take on our behalf.
I wish I could do the same for you.”
“Jamie stays at Agnes’s side like a dutiful dog,” she said. “Is this farce meant to teach me a lesson?”
Owen shrugged. “Jamie says he intends to wed her.”
“He could not be that foolish.” Truly, he could not. “They would hate each other inside a month.”
“Jamie says the lady’s religious devotion is sure to make her a good and faithful wife.”
“A good and faithful wife,” she snapped. She folded her arms and glared at the two of them. “No mortal man would tempt Agnes,
that is for certain.”
It made her so angry to see him parading around the hall with the paradigm of virtue. He meant it as a slap in her face, and
she felt the sting.
“What Jamie says is certain,” Owen said, “is that he will always know where Agnes is.”