Scandalous Passions (Highland Menage #1) - Nicola Davidson

Chapter One

Stirling Castle, Scotland, July 1504

The knock at her chamber door sounded more battering ram than human. Powerful. Relentless. Deadly.

Even before the heavy oak swung open, Lady Janet Fraser knew who it was. There was only one man King James IV sent when he had reached the end of his tether with a recalcitrant courtier: Sir Lachlan Ross, his Highland Beast.

And she had been most recalcitrant, choosing to remain in the castle rather than leaving it, as the king’s other former mistresses and illegitimate children had been ordered to do when he wed the young English princess Margaret Tudor.

Now Janet’s day of reckoning had come. And if James had sent the Beast, he was most displeased.

“Lady,” Sir Lachlan growled. “The king will see you. Now.”

Janet swallowed hard as she got to her feet, forcing herself to meet the warrior’s frigid brown gaze. Everything about Sir Lachlan was terrifying. She was tall for a woman, as tall as most men, but he towered over her by a full head. His shoulders were massive, his chest broad, his arms thick with muscle after many years of expertly wielding a longsword in battle, and he always wore black from hat to hose, apart from a red doublet that many whispered was refreshed in the blood of his enemies. And while his pitch-black hair reached shoulder length, as was fashionable, he always wore it tied back with a length of leather. All the better to see the scar that dissected one slashing black brow and stretched to his ear.

Terrifying.

“Will he, indeed?” she retorted, pleased when her voice quavered only a little. Even after their affair had ended and the king married her off to one of his privy councillors, he had been kind to her. When her husband passed of a fever, he had been kinder still. Surely James would show her mercy today.

Sir Lachlan scowled, one huge paw of a hand curving around her elbow. “Now.”

The jolt that raced through her at his impersonal touch was so startling Janet stumbled. Saints alive! Had she lost her wits? Clearly she needed a new lover in her bed if her body responded to Lachlan Ross. Especially when it appeared he wanted to snap her like a twig. Or heave her over the ramparts. It certainly wasn’t lust darkening those fathomless eyes.

“One moment,” she said just to compose herself. “I need to…hook up the train of my gown.”

Surprisingly, Sir Lachlan released her and stepped back, granting permission with a curt nod. Yet even as she bent down to gather up an armful of dark-blue velvet, she could feel his eyes burning into her, and it made her usually dexterous fingers clumsy. When at last she had finally conquered that task, adjusted her gable hood so it sat straighter on her head, and smoothed the wide fur-lined cuffs at her wrists, she again met his gaze.

“There. You may escort me to see the king,” Janet announced crisply. “Is he receiving many this afternoon? They are not long arrived from Linlithgow; I thought he and the queen might have tarried there longer. I’m sure she prefers Linlithgow to Stirling Castle.”

“No.”

Janet hesitated, forcing a laugh. “No? To which point?”

Sir Lachlan’s lips tightened, and he took her elbow again, leading her across the comfortably furnished chamber and out into the torch-lit hallway. Even in summer the stone walls and floor held a cool dampness, and the row of torches sitting in their small wrought-iron cradles were a welcome source of light and warmth.

“Only you,” he said. “And Lady Marjorie Hepburn.”

Confusion furrowed her brow. She well knew what her own sins were, but it was hard to imagine Lady Marjorie’s—the king’s beautiful young ward had only recently been released from imprisonment in a remote convent. Allegedly for her comfort and protection, but as Lady Marjorie’s father, Lord Hepburn, had been involved in the death of the king’s father at Sauchieburn back in 1488, it was hard to see it as anything other than punishment.

“Oh.”

“Fret not, lady. No harm will befall you. I swear.”

Janet almost stumbled again. As soon as she returned to her chamber, she would throw those almond-paste comfits out the window. Bad enough the sweet treat had caused her to feel lust at the Highland Beast’s touch, but now she’d heard a faint note of tenderness in his tone?

Impossible.

Thoroughly unnerved, she remained silent for the rest of their walk across the inner close. While Stirling Castle had stood for centuries, a brooch that fastened the Highlands and Lowlands together, James