Authors: Virginia Henley
Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #Historical, #Large Type Books, #Scotland
First published by Avon Books,
Original Copyright 1985 © Virginia Henley
Online edition © Virginia Henley 2011
Cover Copyright 2011 © Marsha Canham
Online edition published by Virginia Henley, May 2011
All rights reserved. No part of this may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Virginia Henley.
This Ebook version is dedicated to my sons Sean and Adam
Paris Cockburn sat at the top of Cockburnspath Castle in the Master Tower, one of the turret towers that stood at each corner of the square stronghold, as befitted his new status as laird of his clan. He had recently inherited his father's royal appointment as one of the wardens of the Scottish borders, and now he wondered ruefully how that title, representing law and order, sat with his clansmen.
Ah, well, he resolved, a Borderer owed allegiance to his laird before the King of Scots when all was said and done. And Jamie had deserted them for the crown of England when Queen Elizabeth had named him heir, just before she conveniently died.
Paris Cockburn frowned, his dark eyebrows slanting over dark green eyes in surprising contrast to his thick red hair. A slight hook in the nose and prominent cheekbones gave him a look of arrogance. His mouth, set in grim lines as it was now, made him look considerably older than his twenty-five years. Clad only in an open shirt that revealed the thickly corded column of his neck and dark red mat of chest hair, dark pants and knee-high boots, he did not feel the coldness of the tower room.
He gazed with unseeing eyes across the stone stanchion that formed a windowsill to frame the clouds hanging low and heavy over the North Sea. The screams of the Arctic terns did not penetrate his concentration; neither did the sea swallows as they darted about like little demons with forked tails. The Mangler lay at his feet. She was part mastiff, part wolf; an ugly bitch but worth her weight in gold.
Paris found he couldn't help reliving those terrible moments two months back when he had found his father's body broken on the cobblestones of the inner keep, where he had fallen from the battlements of the Black Tower. He closed his eyes to banish the tears of pain the recent death still brought him. He clenched his fists in frustration at the unanswered questions that plagued him. Why had it happened when the family was miles away in Edinburgh? Why were there no witnesses to the accident, or at least none who would come forward. Was it murder? He shook his head to dispel his suspicions. His father had had a lame leg, a wound he'd taken years back on a punitive raid on the lands of the Gordon, their hated enemies. However, Paris could not quite accept that a man with the quickness and vigor that Lord Angus Cockburn had possessed would slip and fall.
His new load of responsibility would be no heavier really, as Angus had allowed him to take charge in all but name for the last several years. Paris had come up to the Master Tower to go over the account books, one of the few tasks Angus had insisted upon doing alone. As he began he chided himself for letting two months elapse before tackling the heretofore "confidential" journals. Here were the lists of "Blackmail"— rent paid in money or cattle to raiding clansmen in return for a promise not to steal their herds or burn their villages. Here were exact tallies of whisky sales, which were of course illegal, and wool sales, which were illegal only if exported. Paris's mouth twisted into a smile, exposing a flash of strong white teeth in the darkly tanned face. The more things the government banned, the higher the profits to smugglers such as himself. Those same ships that secretly conveyed wool over to Holland, brought back French brandy, Lyon silk and Brussels lace. He noted with satisfaction that the sale of cattle and sheep brought in a great deal of money. Only some had been rustled; most had been raised legitimately on their own lands.
He had inherited an elaborate and highly successful illegal operation, which the Cockburns had masterminded for generations. And not only did it provide a rich living for the Cockburns, it made life easier for every man, woman and child who belonged to the clan and lived on their lands. It gave him a feeling of deep satisfaction that his people were always well housed and fed. He shook his head at his father's audacity to list booty and salvage they took from ships purposely lured to their doom. This was one practice he would put an end to.
Money went both ways, of course. He quickly scanned the expenditures listed, skipping through the personal expenses of his numerous brothers and sisters. They were all vain and extravagant, himself included, and there was no thought in his mind to curb their spending. He knew there was more gold on deposit with "Jingling Geordie Heriot,' the royal goldsmith and moneylender, than they could have dreamed possible.
A good part of this gold had been stripped from English mansions on moonlight raids, a practice that would soon have to cease now that King James ruled both England and Scotland. Some of the gold had come from boarding and plundering treasure ships from Spain and the Orient, but most of it had come from capturing rival Scots lairds and holding them to ransom. It was a practice Paris licked his lips over. Blood feuds were a way of life; Scottish lords were addicted to settling their quarrels with bare steel. Every noble in Scotland had his own fighting men or moss-troopers, which together made up the King's army. But in time of peace like this, they quarreled and made war with each other.
A slight crease came between his dark brows as he noticed a payment to an orphanage in Edinburgh. Ten years melted away as he leaped back in time to that unforgettable day when he had been a fifteen-year-old child/man and hell-bent on proving it! He'd ridden with his father's troop into Edinburgh after patrolling the borders for a month, and while Angus had been detained at the castle, giving the King his reports, Paris had slipped away with a couple of their troopers to visit the taverns and find a back-street whore. His mind recalled the decrepit, windowless, crumbling tenement. It contained gin shops at street level, whisky cellars beneath and worse vices up above. He could hear the raucous shrieks of drunken women; heavily smeared with makeup and grime. And the stench! Streets filled with excrement and rotting rubbish and the smell of human misery.
Thinking back, he wondered how his father had found him but find him he did. His lips twitched as he called up the vivid memory of his father. It was amusing now but not so at the time. The air had been shattered by a shout capable of deafening a man. "Get up off that whore, you brainless young bastard!"
"Father!" Paris, naked and undignified, swayed before the red-haired giant of a man. The eyes glaring at him were so piercing, Paris was rooted to the spot. His father's face was so angry and red, he feared the fit of rage that was inevitable.
"I apologize for being drunk, Father," he managed to slur.
Angus lifted one beefy arm, which was capable of smashing the woman as well as his son, and with a visible effort he withheld the blow.
"There's no harm in being drunk, you young fool. You'll be sober tomorrow," he bellowed, "but, by Christ, if you take the pox from that drab, it'll be more punishment than I could ever mete out. Get dressed immediately, you rogue." Hence the nickname Rogue stayed with him.
The tricky business of dressing while the floor kept rising up to crash excruciatingly against his battered knees took some time. As he descended from the third floor, he remembered his father on the second landing, talking with a young woman, Even then, Paris recognized that death had put his mark on her and was coming to collect her any hour now. Her cleanliness proclaimed loudly that she did not belong in such a place. She was a supplicant, begging Angus in a low, cultured French. His father waved him outside, then followed the young woman into a room.
He had been managing the tricky business of keeping erect in the saddle when his father hoisted a poppet onto his saddlebow. All he remembered of the little wench, about five years old, was a set of large angry eyes and a mop of unruly dark red curls, not unlike his own. And the kick; he remembered the kick. The wee foot, not much larger than his thumb, had jabbed his solar plexus so sharply that the liquor he had imbibed came into his throat and threatened to erupt. But with a quick gulp, swallow and gasp, he allowed it to settle back down into his stomach.
He'd followed his father's lead down the street known as the Canongate, which entered the broad and paved High Street, then down a narrow alley, that led to a dark gray, forbidding building known as the Edinburgh Orphanage. Inside this stone edifice, waifs and strays and all manner of bastards were provided for. At the time he had been too young and callous to question his father or consider what might happen to the child. Now, however, his curiosity had been pricked. Had his father known the young Frenchwoman? Why had Angus seen to the child's welfare? Try as he might, Paris could recall no more details of the incident.
Of course, the latter part of that day is what stood out in his mind most vividly. On the downhill slope toward Holyrood Palace, his father had stopped and taken him into a tall house with steep front steps. By this time the fog of spirits was beginning to clear from his brain. "Next time you're in need of a whore, come to this establishment. 'Tis a wee bit more refined." Angus winked and left him to the ministrations of Lily, Rose and Poppy; a veritable bouquet of budding womanhood.
He reluctantly dragged his thoughts back to the present task and examined the entries more closely. There was another dated six months ago, and further back, another. Donations to the orphanage had been made on a regular basis, twice a year, always in the name of Lamont. He decided then and there to visit the orphanage and see for himself how little Miss Lamont had fared, before he paid out one more copper in that direction. He calculated that the child would be about fifteen now, almost old enough to be put out to work. There was no time to be wasted now that his memory had been jogged and his curiosity aroused. He carefully locked away the journals and made his way to the family's private apartments.
A whole wing was taken up for the family's private use. It faced west, away from the sea, to catch the infrequent warmth of the afternoon sun. The kitchens were located on the main floor, with dining room, living room and receiving rooms above on the second. The bedroom suites were on a third level. At the corner of the wing stood the Lady Tower where Paris had his own rooms.
Long before he opened the door to the large comfortable chamber, he could hear his brothers and sisters arguing. His four sisters and two brothers continually vied for center stage. He sighed as he entered the room, resigned to the fact that there was never a dull moment.