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Still Standing

In Bed With A Stranger(10)

By: Mary Wine



And Cullen didn’t know why he was foul tempered. With a snort, Brodrick kicked a rock. He was saddled by tradition to take a wife who would enhance his peoples’ lives. It was his lousy luck that that woman was going to be discontented in his home.

But he was the Earl of Alcaon.

Pride filled him as he drew a deep breath. Being an earl meant more than lowered heads as he passed. It was something he’d spent years earning the right to wear. His northern borders weren’t as peaceful as his southern ones. When his father had taken an ax to his leg during a skirmish, it had fallen to Brodick to lead the McJames’ retainers. In a lot of ways, he preferred battle to marriage. Stiffening his resolve, he looked down onto the English land that was shortly to become his.

In a way marriage was exactly like battle—only the strong became victorious. He’d claim his English bride and plant a McJames son in her belly so that the dowry would remain his. He was the McJames, a McJames who didn’t know how to lose.

Warwick Castle

“Lady Mary is taking a bath and you’re to attend her.”

Brenda the cook flung her words over the hissing of water as it was poured into twin copper jugs sitting on top of the stove. She poked the fire in the belly of the huge stove, adding a thick log.

“Wait for the water.”

Rubbing her eyes, Anne looked at the stove. The flames mesmerized her tired eyes as she resisted the urge to let them close for a few moments of needed rest.

“Here now. No napping for you.”

Anne laughed. “Oh ’twas a late night but a dear one.”

Brenda grinned. The water boiled and Anne placed a wooden yoke over her shoulders to carry the two pots.

“Off with you and don’t scald yourself.”

Keeping her steps tiny, Anne hurried up the stairs to the top floor. The ladies of the house bathed in their chambers, which called for the hauling of water. Steam rose from the copper jugs as she knocked on the servants’ door that would allow her to enter the lady’s chamber from a small side entrance. It was even a secret from most of the castle inhabitants, only known to those the housekeeper or cook allowed to be told.

“Enter.”

Mary was still completely dressed. Anne stared at her in confusion as she took the hot water toward the tub waiting near the fire. Lengths of linen were warming over a rack and more jugs of water were lined up on the floor for rinsing. Costly French soap was sitting on a silver tray, awaiting the lady.

“Bar the door, Mary.”

Mary looked as shocked as Anne did when Philipa spoke. The lady frowned at her daughter. “Hurry up. We need secrecy here. Not whispers among the staff. Unless you have changed your mind, Daughter, in which case, you may bathe.”

Mary shook her head and ran toward the door. She dropped the thick wooden beam across it before turning back around to stare at Anne.

“Dump that water, Anne.”

“Of course…” Anne clamped her jaw shut as she realized that she was speaking. Philipa’s eyes narrowed as a faint crimson colored her face. Anne reached for a jug, wrapping part of her skirt over the hot handle as she waited for the lady to blister her ears.

Nothing but the sound of water filled the chamber. Anne reached for the second jug and poured the hot water into the tub.

“Anne, take that dress off and get in.”

Turning around, Anne stared at the lady, certain she had misunderstood. Philipa was staring straight at her. The mistress glared at her with firm authority.

“You’re to bathe, Anne. Mary and I will help you.”

“Here?”

Anne didn’t care if her voice wasn’t properly smooth and meek. Philipa was clearly soaked with wine.

The lady snickered. It was an eerie sound that sent a shiver down her spine. There was a smile on her lips as Philipa clapped her hands.

“Yes, here. You will get in that bath and wash from head to toe. You are finally going to earn every silver shilling I have been forced to spend on your mother and her whelps. Disrobe. Now.”

Anne stared at the woman. Hate was an ugly thing and it distorted Philipa’s face. She now understood why the lady looked nothing like her portrait; her soul was rotten from hatred.

“Disrobe, Anne. You are going to take Mary’s place with this Scots earl.”

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