Hilary Mantel meets Sylvia Day in Elizabeth Moss' Rose Bride. Out this month, Rose Bride is the final installment in a deliciously erotic trilogy all set against the sumptuous backdrop of the scandal-ridden Tudor Court.
Five nights later, he had his answer. He had been summoned to the bedside of Sir Christopher late one evening, one of the men he had interrupted during Margerie’s attempted rape earlier that year. The knight had been wounded in the leg during a jousting contest before the king and queen, and was feverish. It was clear from his initial examination that the humors were out of balance and the man needed to be bled. Virgil had performed the deed himself, placing the leeches carefully at certain points on his body while Sir Christopher swore and ranted against the opponent who had bested him.
“An idiot who can barely sit a horse,” he was telling his friend, who was standing beside the bed with folded arms. “Now I shall hear nothing at court but this failure for the next month at least. And all because my guard was weak. Otherwise the fool could not have got near me.”
Virgil’s lips twitched. “There,” he murmured, beginning to remove the leeches, dropping each one into a small copper bowl. “Your bleeding should bring the fever down. That, along with the cooling draught I will leave you. One drop on your tongue every hour tonight will suffice, sir, and if you are still feverish in the morning send your boy to me and I will attend you again.”
“Too full of himself by far, that dolt Munro,” his patient told his friend, ignoring Virgil. “On any other day I could have taken him down with one hand tied behind my back, I swear it.”
Virgil set the cooling draught beside Sir Christopher’s bed, then packed the leeches away one by one in their slimy container, careful not to make any comment. He disliked the man intensely, but one could not pick one’s patients at court. Or not without exciting the kind of attention he preferred to avoid.
Sir Christopher continued, “So now my lord Munro has a mistress, and this, we are to believe, has changed him overnight from a boy with two left feet to a champion of the joust. As though all it takes to make a man is a night or two with a skillful whore.”
His friend looked askance. “Who is this skilled courtesan that Munro takes to mistress?”
“Margerie Croft, no less. And even the king is displeased now, for she scorned to take His Majesty as a lover, yet accepts this boy into her bed. There will be trouble over this, mark my words.”
Virgil stilled, carefully wiping his hands after handling the leeches. Margerie Croft, no less. A shaft of pain lanced through him, and it was all he could do to stay silent, slipping his physician’s instruments back into his bag. So he had been right. That was why she had rejected him. Because Margerie Croft preferred a nobleman in her bed.
Jealousy buffeted him, violent and unthinking, and he felt a sudden furious urge to find the man who was keeping her bed warm and throttle him. But Virgil kept his face composed, only betraying by the slightest flicker that he had any interest in their conversation.
“Unless there is something else you need, sir,” Virgil remarked, “I will leave you.”
Sir Christopher waved him away without interest. Then his friend muttered something in his ear, and the knight seemed to change his mind.
“Wait, Master Elton,” he called after him. “You will not repeat what you have heard here today. It is a doctor’s place to heal the sick, not spread gossip…Even when it concerns a known whore.” Sir Christopher nodded to his friend, who fished a few coins out of his pouch and tossed them onto the bed covers. “Your fee, Master Elton.”
Virgil looked at both men coldly, then collected up the scattered coins. “You are sure you have no other complaint that needs my treatment, Sir Christopher?” he asked softly.
A flush came into the knight’s face and he said nothing. Virgil bowed, unsmiling, and took himself out of the knight’s candlelit chamber. He was bound, under the Hippocratic Oath he had sworn on entering into his profession, not to reveal any secrets he knew about any man, whether told to him as a physician or otherwise. But sometimes he was sorely tempted.
He had treated Sir Christopher in the past for certain embarrassing ailments of the groin, for he was known at court as a doctor who understood the treatment of such disorders better than most. To hear a knight speak about Margerie Croft in those terms had left him furious.
A known whore…
His steps slowing, he deliberately chose to return to his chamber a different way. This route would take him past the women’s chambers where he knew Margerie slept. Unless she was in Lord Munro’s bed tonight.
Again, the whip of jealousy descended across his shoulders and he ground his teeth. He knew Munro. A wealthy and handsome youth who had come into his title early, while the boy was still a student at Oxford.
“She likes her lords,” he muttered to himself.
First Lord Wolf, now Lord Munro. A mere commoner, he should have realized his kisses would compare unfavorably to those of noblemen, however high he might stand in the king’s estimation as a physician.
He stopped, listening. Someone was coming along the shadowy corridor ahead. He could hear light footsteps, almost shuffling. Then a dim figure passed beneath the nearest torch and he saw her face, pale, her eyes open but devoid of expression, her lips parted in a string of barely coherent whispers.
He stared. It was Margerie Croft herself, wandering barefoot in her sleep, her unbound hair tumbling in a cloudy red cascade to her waist, clad in nothing but a thin white shift.
Fortuna audaces iuvat, he thought fiercely. Fortune favors the bold. And he would have to be bold if he wished to be favored by this beautiful, elusive creature.
“He will not touch me again…No, I will not allow it.” Her voice dwindled to nothing, descending into vague murmurings. Then suddenly, more succinctly, “You must let me go, sir. You cannot keep me here forever…”
So her night wanderings were not at an end, as she had tried to pretend. And here was the proof.
Putting down his bag, Virgil stepped into her path and caught her by the shoulders. “Margerie,” he said quietly, looking into her face.
But her clear green gaze looked past him, empty and seemingly unaware of her surroundings.
She was asleep.
Virgil stood a moment, thinking, still holding her lightly. He had read of somnambulists in ancient texts, troubled souls who walked in their sleep, and had even prescribed a sleeping draught to keep her nightmares at bay. But he had not truly believed it to be possible until he had seen the phenomenon with his own eyes, thinking she and Kate Langley must have exaggerated her condition.
What was it that stirred her soul so deeply, she must wander the palace at night?
“Are you awake, Margerie? Can you hear me?” His whisper echoed in the narrow corridor. “Do you know where you are?”
She did not respond but stood passive and blank-faced, breathing more deeply now, as though fast asleep. His gaze dropped to her mouth, and a powerful surge of desire moved through his body, surprising him.
She was at once vulnerable and strong, her swaying curves generous, her height imposing, suggesting she was the equal of a man. In any other woman such fiery independence of spirit would have left him cool. Yet something about Margerie threw out a challenge to every male she passed—an instinctive lure as old as time, a dare that he found nigh impossible to resist—to tame and subdue her if he was up to the task. And Virgil knew he was.
His cock hardened, his lust so visceral it was hard to think of anything but burying himself in her body. But not like this. He wanted Margerie to be awake when he took her.
“Margerie, I am going to kiss you,” he warned her, but there was no flicker of response in that pale face.
Was she in truth asleep, or just feigning?
There was one way to find out. Grasping her shoulders, Virgil leaned forward and set his lips to hers. The violent shock that ran through him as their mouths touched stole his ability to breathe, to think, to retain control over himself. She was still asleep. He should not be doing this, it was not right. Still he could not draw away.
His kiss deepened, and as her lips parted softly under that pressure, Virgil pushed his tongue inside and tasted her. That was his undoing. His heart sped up at once, heat entering his cheeks, and as his tongue slid against hers he became aware of his cock stiffening with an almost animal instinct to mate.
She tasted like honey, and God’s blood, he was drowning in her. Drowning…
Then suddenly Margerie was struggling in his arms, jerking away from him, gasping and shaking. Virgil let her go, not wanting to hurt her by insisting. He was not interested in forcing Margerie into an embrace she did not welcome.
Besides, her eyes held awareness now. She was awake.
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…
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.