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The lies are mounting up.
Lady Hannah has made a deal with the devil. Worse, she's falling in love with him. There's no turning back.
A steamy medieval romance filled with spankings and erotic pleasures.
Do not let your heart blindly lead you toward love. I made that mistake, falling for Princess Isabella long before she became queen and married Prince Alexander. Lately I’ve seemed less in favor, though I suspect it has more to do with King Alexander ravishing Ella than anything I’ve done wrong. He’s had eyes for her, and she seems to accept his advances graciously. After all, they are married and expected to produce an heir. I don’t exactly fit into their arrangement the way they intended. It feels as though when things get stale, they bring me in for the night to satisfy their desires. I agreed to the arrangement, so I must accept what I’ve done with my position at court. I am the king and queen’s mistress.
If you wish to be specific, I am the king’s mistress for all purposes outside of their chambers. Women don’t have mistresses, including queens. Straying from her husband is an act of treason and would result in death for both of us. So it’s kept a secret that Ella and I are in love. At least we were. Lately I feel like our emotions are becoming much more one-sided. What was once shared is now unrequited, it burns.
I travel by carriage to Paris for the afternoon. Autumn is here, with a splash of reds, oranges, and yellows painting the trees. The sight is beautiful and peaceful, not something so common just a few years ago. The road to Paris is quiet except for the chirps of birds in the forest. I’ve seen no other wildlife though the coach may be scarring such creatures off.
It’s rare for me to venture far from the castle. Most of what we need is brought to us. However, Ella’s birthday falls at the end of October, and I wish to surprise her with a gift she can’t find at court. She has jewelry and gowns, perfumes and rouge from the farthest reaches. What do you get a queen that has everything?
Claude is kind enough to travel with me into the city, steering the coach. I’m sure he has other business he could attend to, but I informed King Alexander of my travels and he insisted Claude accompany me. Not only is he a fantastic coachman but also a skilled swordsman.
Arriving in Paris, Claude helps me out of the coach. The sun is still strong in the afternoon, and it warms my cheeks as I wander the stalls, searching for the perfect gift. Claude stays behind with the coach, giving me some time on my own which I greatly appreciate.
“Let me go, Pierre!” a blonde woman shouts, trying to break free of a burly man’s grasp. She must know him. His skin is stained with dirt on his cheeks. It’s been a few days since he’s shaved.
I step closer to see and can smell the ale on his breath and recognize the blood-shot eyes. He stumbles and grips the sleeve of her gown, ripping the material into his tightly balled fist.
“Did you really think I wouldn’t find you?” His top lip sneers. He slaps the blonde across the face, leaving a mark from the ring on his finger. “See what you made me do!”
“What’s the problem?” I ask, interrupting them. I have no issue interfering. Claude may be waiting by his carriage but should the need arise, he’ll come. I know he will.
“My disgraceful wife has no concern for authority.” The words slur out past his lips. “She tried leaving me. Stupid cow thought she could buy her freedom with six pence. It’ll cost her more than that!”
Her eyes are downcast, but there’s tears slipping down her swollen cheek. “I’m sorry,” she says, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Sorry won’t cut it, Jehannette.” He lifts her petite form over his shoulder and dumps her into his dung cart. My eyes widen in horror. Is he planning on dragging her home to beat her further? The smell of his breath was bad, but the cart of horse droppings is far more repulsive.
“How much for her?” I ask, holding my breath.
“She ain’t for sale.” He spits when he talks, and I wipe my jaw from his saliva.
“You don’t really want a cow that doesn’t give you what you desire, milk.” I glance at Jehannette feeling terrible for speaking about her in such a way. However, if it gets the end result, does it matter? I dig into my pocket and pull out my entire lot of gold coins. The money I intended to buy Ella a gift with. “Have a second look. Are you sure she’s not for sale?”
Jehannette’s eyes widen in horror. Her head raises and she glances between Pierre and myself. I want to tell her I’m trying to help her but I don’t think it’s doing much good.
Pierre snatches the twenty pieces of gold and tosses her from the cart at me. “Have at her. She’s not even worth half what you paid. Best of luck!” He snickers and turns away.
�Jehannette’s hands are trembling. “Why did you do that?”
There’s a few witnesses and as Pierre stalks off, the onlookers linger for a moment before going about their business with nothing left to gawk at.
“Why wouldn’t I? I’m Hannah. I didn’t buy you for myself. You’re free, you no longer have to take his abuse.” I offer her the world and a new life. It’s the most I can give this poor woman.
“I’m Jehannette,” she says and tucks an errant strand of tangled dirty blonde behind her ear. She shifts on her feet. “I’m not sure if I should thank you or be angry with you.” Jehannette exhales a long slow breath. “Pierre is a bastard but I had a house and food. After the plague took my father, he agreed to marry me. We were neighbors, and he’d been interested in wedding me for years. I hadn’t spent much time around him, so I didn’t know what he was truly like. He received my father’s lands as my dowry for marriage. Now I have nothing. No food. No home. A husband that just sold me. Is that even legal?”
“No,” I say and shake my head. “I don’t believe it is.” I wasn’t thinking about the long haul. All I had wanted to do was free this woman from imminent danger. Which I had succeeded in doing. “You are free. Find yourself a new life. Move away from here and make your own happiness. Doesn’t everyone deserve love?”
“Free to go where? Live on the streets of Paris?” Jehannette asks. “I have nothing.”
I glance back at the coach. I can’t let this woman starve and freeze out here when winter arrives. “I may have an idea, if you’d be willing to escort me back to the castle.”
Jehannette’s eyes widen. “You work for the royal family?”
I don’t divulge my position at court, that I’m the mistress. What good would it do, except put my life and Ella’s in danger. “Trust me and accept my help or leave Paris and get as far from Pierre as you can, before he changes his mind.”
“Show me your coach.”
Does she not believe I could be from the castle?
“It’s this way.” I point toward the edge of the market and feel her follow behind me.
Claude is standing beside our ride, his arms crossed as he leans against the coach. He points at the blonde walking beside me. “Absolutely not! You cannot bring a harlot to the castle for a present to Queen Isabella.”
I snort and laugh. “Don’t worry. She’s with me.”
“Are you certain King Alexander would approve of this arrangement? You are his mistress.” Claude moves his hand to his chin, looking pensive. “At the very least, send her to the bathhouse. She smells rotten.”
“I’m out of money,” I say, hoping Claude won’t ask why.
He sighs and digs into his pocket pulling out one penny, enough for her to bathe before arriving at court.
I walk her to the public bathhouse, making sure she won’t just steal the money and run. Though in all honesty, it would probably be quite easier for me if she did leave.
Handing the attendant one penny, I gently nudge her through the door and I wait outside. I’ve never been to a public bathhouse. There’s no need when tubs are at court and servants fill them with water. Being a mistress to the king and queen and a lady-in-waiting has many benefits.
I’ve heard stories that men and women share tubs in bathhouses. I don’t dare sneak a peek inside. I’m not sure I’d want to witness such wild behavior. It would never be acceptable in the palace.
Waiting outside the bathhouse, a gentleman, with honey-golden hair and eyes as green as the blades of grass on a summer’s day, stops in front of me. He looks me over and smiles. His face is covered in scruff and dirt licks his skin. “I approve.”
There’s an arrogance surrounding this man, and I have the urge to silence him.
“You approve of what?” I ask and cross my arms defensively. My eyes narrow, unpleased.
“I approve of you joining me in the bathhouse. Though I admit you look pretty clean already. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised.” He reaches out to touch a strand of my blonde hair and I swat his fingers away and force his arm down to his side.
“You’ve lost your mind.” My grip on his wrist is forceful, showing him who’s boss.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he asks, glancing down at my hand still holding his wrist.
I drop my hold, not intending for this moment to become intimate in any way possible. He’s the one harassing me. “Don’t turn this on me.” I stare into his green eyes, we’re both nearly the same height. Perhaps he stands a little above me, but not much.
“Fine then, I won’t. I invite you to join me in the bathhouse, of course.” His smile is charming but it doesn’t do a thing for me. I can see through his charade to warm up the ladies and bathe with him. It’s no secret many public bathhouses are brothels. Does this man think I’m a harlot? Just because I’m a mistress does not make me a prostitute.
I smile, my annoyance seeping out in my response. “Well I guess it’s good I’m out of money.”
He steps closer, blocking the door, and I feel his breath against my skin. “You don’t need to pay anything, darling, I have it covered.”
“You and me, darling.” I purr seductively as I toy with him in the same way he’s teasing me. “It’s not going to happen.” My last words are firm and my eyes never waver.
Jehannette exits the bathhouse, and I’m forced to take a step back. I’m grateful for the distraction and the space between us.
“I’m ready,” Jehannette says and she glances at the gentleman that still hasn’t entered the bathhouse. “What are you waiting for? There isn’t a line.”
“I was hoping to get this beautiful woman to join me.”
“Hold your breath, Lucas. Please, I beg of you.” Jehannette takes my arm and pulls me at once away from the bathhouse. “She’s mine, and you can’t have her.”
“You know him?” I ask, glancing back over my shoulder.
“I never got your name!” he shouts, waving at me, probably hoping I’ll come back.
Yes, I’m not giving it to him either.
I never thought I’d need rescuing. “Thank you for that. He’s a bit of a charmer, isn’t he?”
“Lucas? Yes, I guess he is,” Jehannette says and lets go of me as we walk up to the coach. Her hair is damp and tangled, the dress she’s wearing is still filthy, but overall she’s clean. She certainly looks better than she had a few minutes ago.
Claude opens the coach door. “Much better. Though I must advise against whatever you’re considering doing, Hannah.”
“Jehannette has been hired to help sew a gown for Queen Isabella’s birthday. She is one of the finest seamstresses in all of France and England.” I can tell he’s not buying my story. Will anyone at the palace believe me?
“If you insist.” Claude offers his hand helping Jehannette into the coach first. Taking my hand, he pulls me closer, keeping his lips beside my ear so only I will hear his words. “You’ll have to be more convincing.”
I swallow the lump in my throat, and Claude shuts the door as I step inside the coach. I sit down and hear Claude moving to the box seat before steering the horses back to court.
Exhaling a long sigh, I try and forget Claude’s words. I can’t leave her without a home and food. In a way, I’m partially responsible for what happens to her. I need a distraction and the image of those piercing green eyes flashes in my mind. There’s something about him that I can’t ignore. “How do you know Lucas?” I should forget about the young man, but I can’t. I’d never seen eyes as green as his. They are alluring.
“How do I not know him? He’s the cause of trouble in Paris. Innocent issues mostly, nothing that would get him locked away, but he is known for wooing the ladies to find his way into their beds. Rumor has it he’s slept with everyone at the palace.”
“That’s not true. At least not at court with King Alexander and Queen Isabella.” There are of course other palaces in neighboring countries. I certainly don’t remember him from my own home, but could he have slept his way through some of the maids and servants? Anything is possible.
Jehannette sits across from me, her eyes staring out the window. “What will happen to me when we arrive? Your coachman doesn’t believe I’m a seamstress, what makes you think your king will?”
“I have a plan, just go along with it. Okay?”
Sighing, the blonde purses her lips. “Well, I don’t see another choice. You should know, I’m terrible at sewing. Maybe terrible is the wrong word. I’ve never done it, but I can’t imagine my first time I’d be very good at it.” She twirls her tangled wet locks and pauses. “I can cook, though, but I’m sure you already have staff for that at the royal castle.”
Arriving at court, I lead Jehannette straight to my room. A few maids take note of Jehannette’s presence but none say anything to me. I’m grateful to avoid the questions. Will they interrogate me tonight at dinner or when they fill my tub for a bath?
Bringing Jehannette into my room, I hastily shut the door and find a brush to untangle her blonde locks. Her hair is unkempt, wild. “I’m sorry, this might hurt a bit.” Doing my best to be gentle, it takes well into sundown to finish combing her hair and braiding it to look like a lady that belongs at court. Her dress is filthy and not the most elegant attire either. It’s old, well-worn, and the sleeve is ripped thanks to that bastard of a husband in Paris.
I riffle through my gowns and the dresses that Queen Isabella has given me through the years. Some were hers that she grew tired of and I had taken in to fit. Jehannette is a few inches taller than me but our bodies are similar enough that I believe she’ll fit well into an old gown.
Grabbing a silk black and emerald dress, I hand it to Jehannette hoping she’ll blend in for awhile. At least until I can obtain additional funds from King Alexander and marry her off to a duke or count in the far reaches of the kingdom.
Unlike Queen Isabella that has a dressing screen, my room is bare of privacy. I untie the dirty and torn ribbons, unlacing the dress for her to change out of.
Turning, I face the door, giving Jehannette time to undress and slip into the gown. A few minutes later, she’s calling for my attention. “Hannah, I need your assistance again.”
The gown hugs all of her curves. She wears the dress better than I ever have. I lace the corset, tying it tight and securing the bottom ribbon with a bow. “Turn around,” I say, wanting to see the full package. Her shoulders are slumped forward and her head hangs low. There’s a mark on her cheek from where Pierre hit her earlier in the day. “We’ll need to do something about that bruise.” I step to my vanity, searching for a dab of makeup that will cover the discoloration on her cheeks. Usually rouge would do the trick but it’s already red and slightly swollen. In a few days it will turn an ugly color that will be even more trying to hide. The sooner I can marry her off, the better.
“What do you plan to do with me?” Jehannette asks.
I blend a bit of color onto my hands before carefully covering the mark on her pale skin. She grimaces and I feel bad but keep at it. The makeup works, at least enough for now to avoid any indication of her abuse.
“Find you a suitor that will respect and love you. Tell me what kind of man you like.” I finish with the makeup and open my jewelry box. King Alexander has given me necklaces, earrings, even bracelets covered in jewels. I find a bracelet covered in diamonds and secure it to Jehannette’s hand. It’s less flashy than one of my necklaces, but just as valuable.
Jehannette sits at my vanity, staring into the mirror. “Any man that can accept my stubbornness and not try and beat it out of me.”
Standing behind Jehannette, I rest a gentle hand on her shoulder. “You have my word, I will not let anyone else harm you.”
Her voice cracks. “Thank you.”
“I don’t have money to give, but with the right story and jewels you’ll be wearing, it will be enough of a dowry to cast away any doubt.”
“You’re letting me keep the bracelet and gown?” Jehannette’s jaw drops.
“I’m going to get you out of town without anyone knowing the truth. You can’t be Jehannette anymore, but changing your name too much might cause trouble if anyone recognizes you.” I pause thinking it over. “Annette. I think that’s fitting and should cast away any suspicion.”
“Why are you helping me?”
“No one deserves to be treated with disrespect or beaten.” I still can’t believe Pierre slapped Jehannette across the face. I’d heard of men abusing their spouses, but I never thought I’d witness the act in public. It sickens me to think that this wasn’t the first time either.
“I tried to leave him, that’s what I was doing at the market in Paris today. Running away. I thought if I’d become a prostitute, at best I’d be less desirable to him and he’d leave me alone.� At worst, I could buy my freedom with a few pence.”
“Annette, you don’t have to worry about Pierre anymore.” I’d bought Jehannette her freedom and for the moment Pierre seemed fine with the arrangement. When he eventually sobered up, would he go looking for his wife? Her best chances were as far from Paris as possible.
Since a lady-in-waiting, I’ve grown accustomed to the royal balls and palace festivities. It’s the perfect excuse to introduce Annette to possibly a suitor, except the next one isn’t scheduled for another month. I’m not sure how long I can hide Annette in the castle. It’s nearing dinner, and I can’t starve the poor girl. I’ll have to bring her food, and she’ll need a place to sleep. The maid’s quarters would offer ample room, but they’ll ask questions. The sooner I can find her a candidate for marriage, the faster I’ll be out of this mess I’ve created. In the meantime, I’ve left Annette in my room. Supper will be soon, and I should gather her food and figure out where she will sleep.
Wandering the palace halls, I stumble into Lucas as I round the corner, not expecting to come headfirst into anyone’s chest, let alone the arrogant man I met in Paris.
“What are you doing here?” He is the last person I hoped to ever run into again. Why am I in such hell? Did he follow me to court? Shouldn’t someone have stopped him at the gates?
Lucas grips my arm, keeping me from knocking him over. “You’re off in a hurry.” He’s cleaned up, shaven, and dressed in dark browns and blacks. He’s definitely not a guard. There’s no weapon on him. He dresses well, better than I saw him in Paris and he’s clean. I can still smell the soap or perhaps it’s his cologne. Why did he choose to get cleaned up before coming to court at a public bathhouse? Didn’t all nobles and royals have private tubs? Unless Lucas isn’t a noble?
“What are you doing at the palace?” I ask again. A frown etches across my forehead.
Lucas smirks and glances me over. “I could be asking you the same question. Especially bringing Jehannette to the palace. Does anyone else know she doesn’t belong here?” He seems to avoid my question and it irritates me. Is that his plan, to annoy me at every possible chance he can get?
“How did you know about Jehannette?” I keep my voice low, not wanting anyone wandering through the castle to hear our discussion.
“I assumed it. The royal crest was on the coach that took you back to the castle. It makes sense that you brought her here. Probably trying to save her from Pierre. Am I getting close?”
I shift uncomfortably on my feet and take a step back. I need some space. “What do you want, Lucas?” I have a bad feeling that he isn’t going to just go away. I can’t order him to leave either, can I?
“I want in on whatever scheme you’re involved in. My guess is you’re going to have to marry her off and need a potential suitor that doesn’t know her history. I can keep a secret, for a price.”
The click of heels on stone startle me. I grab Lucas’s arm, pulling him into the nearest room. It’s dark with only a single lantern shining in the corner. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust. There’s a sofa, upholstered chairs, and a table for tea. I have no desire to sit down. I stand by the door, my voice low in case anyone walks by. I don’t need us to be disturbed.
“You aren’t to say anything about Jehannette. She’s safe here and if I so much as get a whiff of Pierre showing up, I’m going to come down and rip your tongue from that pretty little mouth of yours.”
“You think my mouth is pretty?” Lucas grins. I want to strangle him. Does he realize how pretentious he sounds? Who let him inside the palace? Maybe they’ll die second. “I’m serious. I want in. Whatever your take, I get twenty percent.”
“My take? Do you think I’m doing this for money? I paid to have her released from Pierre’s clutches. There’s no money being exchanged, nothing sinister like you might think, or desire.” Lucas steps closer, his eyes skirt down to my cleavage. The corset squeezes everything together, giving me a little to show. I don’t have much bosom, but Lucas doesn’t seem to complain. His tongue darts out, swiping the corner of his lips. I shoot my hand upward at his face, smacking him in the nose. “Quit staring, pervert.”
Lucas backs away and rubs his nose. “It’s any wonder that you saved Jehannette from Pierre, given your desire to abuse me.”
“Abuse you?” I scoff. “Maybe you should keep your hands and eyes off my cleavage and hair. Then it wouldn’t require putting you in your place.”
He’s not bleeding but I did leave a nice red welt. He’s lucky that’s all there is to his nose. I could have broken it, had I slammed his face with my fist any harder. “I have an idea for how we might marry Jehannette off at court.”
As much as I hate to even consider a plan that Lucas has, I can’t deny any possibility. “I’m listening.”
“I was just looking for you,” I say, tracking William down in the palace. I’ve barely gotten the chance to know the young gentleman. He’s a member of the royal guard. I know he’s protected Isabella when she ventures outside of the castle. He’s single, has gorgeous chocolate eyes and thick black hair. “I have a friend, a widow from outside of court. Her name is Annette, and she’s visiting the palace, looking for a suitable man to marry. I was hoping you might know someone that is looking to settle down. I’m sure you and the other guards must talk about the women that are available, and wishing to court them.”
His eyes shine in the darkness and he grins. “Men don’t talk about ladies, at least not in the courting sense. However, I’d be happy to meet this maiden you speak of. If I find her suitable, then perhaps I shall marry her or help you match her with someone at court. Does she have a dowry, land, something as collateral for marriage?”
It’s just as Lucas suspected. William would offer to show her the palace and get to know her a little better. He’s been searching for a wife to move into the countryside and start a family. “You’ll have to ask her that,” I say, doing my best to steer clear of any story she decides to give. The last thing I want is to reveal her past. She deserves a second chance and a life with happiness. “She’s in my room, I’ll go and retrieve her.”
“I’ll escort you.” William follows me to my room. It’s no secret I’m housed just outside of King Alexander and Queen Isabella’s chambers. They insisted I change rooms and move closer after I was given the position as mistress at court. It didn’t sound like such a terrible idea, having a bigger room and plusher mattress. There were fortunes that came with being mistress, gifts of diamonds and pearls from the king. Misfortunes also found their way into my heart, listening to the two of them across the hall while I was kept out of their chambers.
Opening the door to my room, Annette is sitting quietly perched at the edge of my mattress. Upon seeing me enter with a guard, she stands up, alarm shining in her eyes.
“It’s all right,” I assure her. All I can do is hope William doesn’t catch on to anything amiss. “Annette this is William.”
William puts out his hand and Annette does the same, he takes her palm and bends forward kissing her hand. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Would you mind if I showed you around the castle? I know how easy it is to get lost when you first attend court.”
“That would be lovely,” Annette says. Her cheeks burn and I’m not sure how well her makeup will hide the mark on her skin. Thankfully it’s grown dark outside. He leads her into the hall.
“So tell me how you came to the palace? Where are you from? How is a beautiful woman such as yourself not already taken?”
“I’m a seamstress,” she says. Already the lies begin and a part of me feels terrible. If this man or another marries her because of the stories she fabricates, are we not causing more harm than good?
It’ll just be this once.
William offers his arm and Annette rests her hand on his bicep as he leads her down the hall. Part of me wants to watch, to see what transpires between them. I know very little of William but if he’s a guard for Alexander and Isabella, surely he’s a gentleman and good man. The king wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve learned that being Alexander’s mistress.
There’s footsteps coming up the back stairwell. I recognize the heavy-footedness at once. King Alexander approaches. “I’ve been looking for you. Did you find a present for Ella at the market in Paris?”
How do I explain that I spent the money I’d been given as a stipend on rescuing a wife from her abusive husband? Since I became a mistress, I’ve wanted to do something. I have power, real power obtained from the crown. Even though I don’t have royal blood, being a mistress to the throne yields influence.
“No. I spent the afternoon trying to decide what to get for a queen who has everything. I think the best gift is a gown that I will help design. I brought a seamstress, Annette, in from Paris to help create the dress. Most of the funds went to buying her time at our court. I’ll require another trip to find the richest and most bold fabrics for Queen Isabella.”
Alexander nods briefly. “Of course. Whatever you need. Do you h