Excerpt from The Luck of Two Magpies, copyright 2012, all rights reserved.
No distribution or reproduction without the author’s express permission
She thrust her palms at the blaze and inhaled the woodsy-clove aroma, admiring the fire’s light in the pale, translucent onyx that climbed the chimney wall. Another pair of hands appeared beside hers, a good deal larger, slender, with neat nails topping long, elegant fingers. A familiar bejeweled ring encircled one of them.
“Lord Justin,” she said without glancing his way. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the brevity of your homily this morning.” She steeled herself as he brayed quiet laughter. She was discovering that his laughter roused goose bumps on her.
“I should have done better, lady. To think that in observation of the birth of Our Lord my offering was not my best.” He drew back the left side of his mouth. The lone, deep dent appeared, giving some semblance of padding to his angular face.
“I’m sure God will forgive you.”
“Aye, certainly God will, but I am arbiter of my conscience, lady, and I know I should have given more. But your chapel was colder than a witch’s eyes.”
She fought back a giggle. “Aren’t all chapels pretty much the same in winter?”
“Truly, they are,” he said sheepishly, firelight dancing in his fringe of hair as he nodded. “But in Durham, my pulpit has a brazier beneath it, and a warming pan heats my chair beside the altar.”
“You’ll have to leave details for Monsignor Lawliss.”
Before she could gird herself, his full baritone laughter quivered through to her belly. He aimed his shaking head at the fire, features chiseled in profile—a high brow, straight nose, a jaw that was like his father’s, a strong mouth.
Margarida was right. He was dangerous, but not in the way her adopted mother thought. His laughter set her blood fizzing. His gracefulness was nearly erotic. But she enjoyed their discussions.
Another of his quiet laughs delivered a quick flip to her stomach. Astonishment became embarrassment in his pale-eyed gaze. “I apologize, lady. I did forget your most gracious companionship.”
She smiled genially. “Sometimes it’s nice simply not to be alone when you’re thinking.”
The touch on her shoulder, soft as a sigh, might well have been cannonshot. She whirled about, a cry of surprise escaping her lips as moonlight proclaimed him.
“Lord Justin.” He could have kissed her. That’s what his arrogance said, the hunger in a gaze that devoured her mouth. Thank God she stood in shadows. He wouldn’t see her upset.
She was aware of wetness as Justin kissed her palm, his warm breath sending a shudder through her. She should scream, either for help or at him. At least, she should slap him.
He traced the lines in her palm, sober in his concentration. His murmur startled her. “Did this day gladden your heart, my lady?” His voice was deeper than usual.
“Yes,” she said warily.
“Ye ne’er did say me if you would consider becoming a priest’s mistress.” He kissed her fingertips.
Her hand trembled. She yanked it away, hiding it in the small of her back. He didn’t even try to hide his smile. “I thought we had an agreement,” she said, puzzled by his actions but more by her response to them.
“Aye?…Regarding what?” he said in that sleepy voice.
“I’m not sure only—What’s gotten into you?”
“I did warn ye not to be fooled by this priestly care, my lady.”
Now that her hand wasn’t against his lips, she could smell the reason for his bizarre actions. “You’re drunk!”
“Not so very much,” he admitted with a haphazard shrug. “‘Twould be sin. And ye ne’er did answer my question.”
He blinked moon-dusted lashes and stepped in as close as he could. “Nay, ye did no such a thing.” His silent laughter stuttered in humid waves so hot and sweet she felt sticky. “Ye did say I was in error if I thought the rules of celibacy did not apply to me. My lady.” He shifted in place, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “My lady….”
In the long years since Jake’s death, not one man had touched her heart. In this time, in the space of a few months, two men could sway her emotions.
But she married only one, the one who was honorable enough to wait, who courted her and even offered her an out if she wanted it, not the one who offered to make her his mistress.
His long finger traced the swell of her breast. His lower lip thrust forward as the fingertip dipped deep into dark cleavage, then rose to trace the summit of its twin. His expression was objective, divorced from emotion, and eerily reminiscent of William’s that night they breached the wall that divided them.
Memory more than instinct forced her back a step.
A slow smile lit his features. “Ye art beauty.”
It was memory that aided her now, too, that and faithfulness. She slapped his hand away. “How was that for an answer?”
He shook his head. “No logic in it,” he said thickly. “Your action may be read in any number of ways, lady, ergo, it answers no question well. As to sins against celibacy, I did recommend that God would forgive us our indiscretions.” His hands cupped her shoulders, warm as they slid down her arms. “And two days past, I did tell ye that we—all of us—want to be loved… that God would forgive us for falling prey to that desire.” He closed his fingers over her hers.
An electric volt connected them. “Frankly, Your Grace, I don’t care if he does or doesn’t. This isn’t some philosophic polemic. My answer is no. No, Justin Beaufort, I could not be your mistress. I don’t love you. I love my husband.” But the arrogance in his pale eyes grew instead of diminishing. “It’s William I want in my bed—not you.” She wrenched her hand from his and stalked off.
She turned back so quickly that he hadn’t time to hide his disappointment. “I’m so sorry for you. You want love. Despite your position, you need to be loved.” The words raced out, a shrill volley that echoed in the emptiness of St. George’s.
“Pity?! How dare ye!”
The quaver in her voice made her augury more vibrant. “Yes. Pity. You will find love—real love—difficult. Costly. I pity you because your life is empty, so filled with envy and complicity,” she swore, knowing he could hear and see her anger and disappointment, for she faced the moonlight now, “that you would covet another man’s wife—and on her wedding day!”
And though she didn’t know why, she offered him a perfect curtsey, and fled at once.
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