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The Lord and the Scorpion
In a time when their love is forbidden, two people will join together
and find a passion unlike any other. Sauda Mauri is a trained assassin.
She has been a slave and an assassin for many years and now she has a
chance at a new life as a free woman if she can complete her final
mission. Running from her Japanese master she is traveling under the
guise as Lady Francis’s nursemaid so she can get her assignments from
the head of the Queen’s Secret Service. She does not need any
complications and Lord Ethan Clare is more than determined to be just
that. When she is hurt protecting the Queen, she awakens to find Ethan
at her bedside. He has been asked to help her uncover who the culprits
are behind the attempt on the Queen’s life. Their union changes the
destiny of many and attracts the attention of a madman who is determined
to get the Blackamoor woman out of their lives forever.
The Lord and the Scorpion

PROLOGUE

 
June 1578
Richmond Palace, Surrey England          
    
     “Walsingham, soon the Court will be buzzing with activities.  All the lords and their ladies will be arriving at Hampton Court for my birthday celebration!”  Queen Elizabeth tried to suppress a giggle.  She loved celebrating her birthdays as well as watching one and all try to surpass each other with their gifts to her.
     “Remember the year those two piglets were given to you?”  Sir Francis Walsingham chuckled at the happy memory.           
     “Yes, I tied ribbons with rings from my fingers around their necks and declared who ever could catch them, won the rings!  It was so entertaining watching all those à la mode clad royals rolling about the floor.”
Queen Elizabeth’s steps slowed as she pondered and continued.
     “Lord Ethan Clare is betrothed to one of my ladies in waiting, Lizabetha my god-daughter.  The Clare citizens have been most loyal and profitable people of England.” 
     “Yes, Your Grace, may I add Lord Ethan is also a superb captain of the sea.  He has assisted us from time to time on his foreign journeys and of late with some most important security information.”  Sir Walsingham offered with a gleam of admiration in his gray eyes.
     Elizabeth walked over to the seat by the window of her private salon.  With quiet poise, she settled onto the deep red cushion, arranging her skirts about her.
 “He is a wealthy man by his own right and add this to the wealth of his father he is a most excellent match.”  Elizabeth motioned him to take a seat.
“Indeed he is, Your Grace.”
     “Now attend me to the more grave matters Walsingham, such as the latest news on this silent tyranny that hovers over my pending celebrations.” 
     Walsingham felt deep admiration and fondness for the woman before him.  It was his duty as Secretary of State to assure her safety and he took his duties seriously.   However, this matter had begun to age him in an expeditious manner.
     “Well Walsingham,” Elizabeth voiced louder, patience not being her strongest virtue.  “So what say you of this new commerce of hooded men dressed in black armor kidnapping and holding members of my court for ransom?”  She leaned toward him, her eyes cold.  “Who would dare be so bold?”
     The tensing of his jaw betrayed his frustrations.  “Your Majesty, we have found nigh all, except the one who started this subversion.  He still remains elusive and one step ahead.  Not even the men who served him claim to know who he is because he remains masked.”
     A probing query came into her eyes.  “Any members of my court?”
     “Indeed, there are members of the royal court involved.  They are using the ill gains to acquire foreign supporters to aid in removing Mary, Queen of Scot from your prison and placing her Catholic presence in your place of power.”
     Elizabeth leaned back, suppressing a sigh.  Unspoken pain was alive and flaming in her eyes. 
     “I grow weary of this constant state of unrest,” she supposed matter-of-factly.
     “Heed my words.   Mary of Scotland should lose her head once and for all.”  Sir Walsingham commented as if the answer was obvious.
     Raising fine painted arched eyebrows, she protested. 
     “I do not wish to put my cousin Mary Stuart of Scotland’s head on the block.  She is my guest not a prisoner.  It takes a strong will and great sacrifice for a woman to run a country.” 
     “However Your Majesty-”
     “Sir Francis Walsingham, if you wish to introduce this subject with me once again, I pray you have conclusive evidence of her part in these reprehensible plots,” she demanded in a penetrating voice. 
     “I will, one day, bring you what you need, Your Majesty.”  He bowed his dark head with proper regard.
     “And on that day I shall do what must be done for the good of England,” her eyes flashed imperiously.   Elizabeth flicked her fan open and began to slowly fan herself. 
     The piquant scent of pungent roses waft the stilted air, yet Sir Francis Walsingham would not be so ill kept in manners to ever comment on the aging queen’s hygiene; however, there was hope with the celebration of her birth nearing the periodical bath would come hence.
     “So what shall we do about these wayward lords who commit treason?”
     Stroking his well-groomed bearded chin, he chose his words carefully.  “I thought it not wise to arrest them and go through public trials.   We are speaking mostly of young sons of influential loyal families.  So it would be difficult to get full cooperation of the Privy Council.”
     She paused in fanning.
     Thank God.
     “So, they are free to continue kidnapping, plotting and causing fear amongst my dominion.”
     “I believed if we made this outcry public and send them to the block, it would create even more martyrs for the Catholic people who support them,” he waited to discern her train of thought.
     Once more, her fanning began again earnestly.
     God please, have mercy.                  
     Her tiny cream-colored silk covered heel tapped nervously against the polished floor.  “Your suggestion sir and I beg you be quick about it.”
     Moreover, I beg you stop fanning.  
     Sir Walsingham cleared his throat and blotted his face with the perfumed handkerchief that was pinned in the wrist of his doublet.
     “I have already taken leave to handle the matter discreetly and quietly.”
     “Are you saying what I think you are saying?”
     “It’s the only way, I most assure you.”   Walsingham stated, his eyes flashed a familiar display of impatience.
     “Man I don’t need your assurance.  I say what is the only way!”
     “My humble apologies Your Grace,” he once again bowed his head penitently.
     Elizabeth watched him with a critical squint trying to decide if she should continue to reprimand him for not speaking to her first.  Instead, she decided to ponder the essentials.  These young royals seem more bold then the rest.  They were foolish to think they could accomplish what many had tried over the years.  
     “Walsingham, if only young heads take example of the ancient,” she let out a long, audible breath. 
     “Your Grace, I did as I saw suitable.  Your welfare is my only concern and for the good of England I would die!” 
     His voice was passionate and it excited her more then the flesh of man ever could.
     “Oh, Walsingham, they have brought it upon themselves.”
     “Yes, Your Majesty.”
     “Unbridled persons whose mouths are never snuffled by the rider will rashly continue to ride.”   Elizabeth announced before turning the full impact of her shrewd gaze upon Sir Walsingham.  “So the Moor woman still watches over your daughter Frances.”
     “Yes, Your Grace and she will service as needed for the freedom we allowed her.”
     She remained motionless for a moment her thoughts scampered vaguely around before she made her decision.
     “Continue to ascend your dark hand of justice and heed from this day on I know nothing of what you do.”  She conceded.
     Walsingham stared at her face full of strength, shining with a steadfast and serene peace. 
     “Of course, Your Grace.”
     Requisite to his duties, he stood gazing at her ivory painted face with blood red bow shaped lips pursed in deep thought; the wig she chose today was just as crimson.  He knew her well enough to know she had more to say.
     “Walsingham?”
     “Yes, Your Grace?”
     “Is Captain Clare on the list?
     “Of say not, Your Majesty.  He is one of the few I know I can trust.”
     “Trust no one!” She slapped her fan shut on her regal silk cream-colored taffeta gown.  Long illustrious pearls gently tossed together from the gentle breeze of her movements.
     “Trust and love got several of my father’s wives head on the block,” she reminded.  “Thus England is my lover and I am England, thus I trust only myself.”
     “As it should be Your Grace.  I assure you if for some reason the young Clare or any member of his family name arises to the list, I will take care of it discreetly,” he vowed as he captured her gloved hand and gently touched it to his lips ever so thankful she wore perfumed gloves.
     “Also Walsingham you make sure you seize all the young lords who commit treason again me purses,” she reminded.
     “You are most wise, Your Grace.”  Walsingham bowed with flourish, his hand over his heart.  “Thus, to do so would mean visibly bringing their crimes to light upon the remaining citizens of the Privy Council and as you have agreed the more you do not know the better, in this situation.”
     “So not only do there wretched purses become full by their treachery, my hands are bound from seizing it back!”  Elizabeth exclaimed passionately.   “Walsingham I want you to make sure this situation is in hand and I mean soon.”
     “Of course, Your Majesty.”  Sir Walsingham went down gallantly upon his knee touching his forehead to her gloved hand before standing and gracefully backed out the room.
 
 
 
 
CHAPTER ONE
 
To everything, there is a season.
A time for every purpose under heaven.
1 John 4:18
 
Late August 1578
Hampton Court, Surrey England
     Queen Elizabeth’s birthday is September 7, and Hampton Court was a throng of activity, preparing for the continuous stream of royal and elite guest from all regions.   Allies and enemies called armistice as a show of respect and hopefully possible future political favors for their consideration. 
     It was a beautiful summer day, lines of elegant coaches adorn with families colors and insignia clattered and threaded their way along both major roadways and down narrow tracks that led through a large gateway with imposing wrought iron gates. 
     On up the driveway they traveled past lush green lawns, cloistered trees and acres of gardens.  The aromatic perfume from thousands of multihued flowers floated on the breeze tantalizing their already hyperactive senses. 
     Lord Ethan Clare and his childhood friend Sir Lucian Gilbert sat patiently in their hired coach choosing to ride together.  
     “Each year it becomes more like a spectacle.  I wished I stayed out to sea till all this was over,” Ethan spoke freely about what he was thinking.  It was easy to do so with Lucian, they told each other everything. 
     Lucian gave him a sidelong glance of utter disbelief.
     “How can you possible say such?  Do you not get to see the lovely Lady Lizabetha during your stay at Hampton Court?”  
     “That is another thing which galls me to no end!” sudden anger lit Ethan’s bluish-green eyes. “I hardly know her Lucian, yet I have been betrothed to her since she was thirteen.”
     “It’s a worthy match.  She has grown in to a fine beauty of seventeen with golden hair to match your own.  She has the bluest of blood in her veins,” Lucian remarked his dark eyebrows arched mischievously.   “You are to marry in the spring so take this time to get to know her…better, if you know what I mean.”
     Ethan’s mouth dipped into an even deeper frown. 
     “I do not befoul the innocent.  Beside I am nine and twenty Lucian and have no desires to ever marry again.”  He leaned back in the black leather seat and closed his eyes with a deep sigh. 
     Time passed in companionable silence while each man rocked gently to and fro from the motion of the coach.  It was Ethan to break the silence once more.
     “They should have betrothed her to my younger brother Thomas.  I lost one wife to childbirth because she was too young and my child too big.  What if she gets with child and I have to go through that nightmare again?  I can’t hazard another loss of child and mother.”
     Leaning forward in his seat Lucian touched his friend’s hand in silent understanding.  He remembered Ethan’s pain.  Ethan and his first wife both were young and fortunate to have administered a love match with the approval of all.
Now, with Lizabetha, it would not be so and there wasn’t much Lucian could say to change the facts.  Of course Ethan had titles to go along with his wealth, which made him a more acceptable match.  Still, Queen Elizabeth predestined all men and women of wealth to be her human pawns forced to marry and breed into more resilient powers she could call on in times of war.  Ethan was one of those pawns and unfortunately his choices were no longer his own.
     Their coach came to a halt and both men released deep sighs of relief for they would finally be able to ease their full bladders and stretch out their exceptionally long legs.  A brandy to soothe the day’s dust from their tongues would also be most welcomed.
      “This heat is unbearable,” Lucian complained as he stepped down from the coach, adjusting his pease-porrige-tawny, brownish-green, colored paned slops from the sweating cheeks of his ass.  “You know dressing as a gentleman is no easy achievement during this time of year.”
Lucian stepped aside for Ethan to step down from the carriage as he continued to straiten his attire.   The matching garters on his knitted silk hosen had nearly slid to his ankles and he figured he looked very foolish as he bent to tug them in place but what was one to do at times such as this.   He knocked the dust from his pleated tall hat with emerald brooch trim and two white ostrich feathers and placed it on his head to rest in a jaunty tilt. 
     Ethan stood by staring at Lucian in amazement.  “I don’t see how you do it.  I would go mad if I had to worry with that hat and those garters. ”  Ethan’s mouth quirked with humor as he touched his forehead slightly in a mock salute.  “You have my utmost admiration my friend, though I prefer my garters on a pair of well-formed feminine legs.  Preferably thick of thighs.”
     “You only wish you could look so pleasing, my friend.” Lucian rolled his eyes.
     “And I bet on days like this you wished you hadn’t taken the road of fashionable apple-john,” Ethan said mockingly.
“Go to hell.” Lucian smiled politely and punched Ethan playfully in the shoulder sending him stumbling backwards.
     “Ouch, you idle-headed idiot!  It’s hot, crowed, and I don’t need you nearly ripping my clothes off!”  A shrill came from the woman as she fought to keep her balance.
     “`Fore God woman, no need to…” Ethan turned to see a dark-skinned woman of medium stature tugging at the silken red train of the foreign garb she wore and to his amazement, his cock hardened.
     “Well?”  Sauda looked up at the golden giant of a man as if he was dimwitted boldly scrutinizing his face, as he seemed to be doing hers.  From his blond hair to the laugh lines bracketing his eyes, over his square, indomitable clean-shaven jaw with its deeply cleft chin, down his muscular body, all the way to his dust covered leather boots with spur straps.
     She gazed back up into his greenish blue eyes and placed her fist on her hips looking as if she was ready to knock him on his ass.
     He held her gaze in silent amusement. 
     “I am waiting.”  Sauda muttered, her patients growing thin.
     “Waiting,” he repeated sounding like the idiot; she named him.  Silently he cursed himself for acting so dense.  “Forgive me, I apologize for bumping into you milady.”  Ethan inclined his head 
     Sauda rolled her eyes, wondering how could anyone who looks this good not have a smidgen of sense.  “I’m not looking for your apology milord, I am looking for you to move your oversized foot from the train of my skirt.”
     Ethan looked down and saw he indeed had her trapped, his face flushed and he hurriedly removed his foot and she rushed away without another word or looking back.  For some reason he felt disappointed by her rebuff.
     “My friend, what or who are you staring at?”  Lucian sidled up next to Ethan looking into the crowd of people yet not seeing anyone in particular.
     “Huh?”  Ethan mumbled trying to not lose the woman in the throng of people.  “Nothing I…I just stumbled into a Moor woman because YOU punched me.” 
     “Here?  A Moors woman you say.”  Lucian dark eyebrows lifted in question.  “Where?  I don’t see her.”
     “That’s because I lost her while talking to you,” Ethan scowled.
     “Don’t get your hosen in your crack,” Lucian chuckled noting it had been sometime since his best friend had taken a genuine interest in any woman since what happened to him five years ago.  “You got her name, so she should be easy to find once we get in the palace, probably some servant or one of the queen’s pet entertainers for her birthday.”
     Ethan scowl deepened as Lucian continued to talk.  He really did feel like and idiot.  He didn’t ask her name!  He had her trapped and he should have questioned her before he set her free.
     Seeing the look on Ethan’s face Lucian halted abruptly which was no big feat seeing how the crowd only allowed them to move so far with each step before the lines stopped moving.
     “Ethan you did get her name.”  Lucian let out a long, audible breath.  “Tell me you got a name, so you won’t have me searching for a nameless Moor wench the entire time we are here.”
     “Lucian…” 
The underlying tone in his voice spoke volumes to Lucian and he groaned and held up his hand.  “I will say this once…I have ladies at court that are in dire need of my…my attention…”
Ethan snorted and rolled his eyes.
“AND…” Lucian continued.  “I do not have time to aid you in looking for this woman.  Besides it is unseemly for you the son of an earl to dally with a Moor.”
Ethan’s eyes darkened dangerously.  “I grow weary of being reminded of my station in life every time I choose to be myself.”
“Well obviously you need your friends and family to remind you when you have no problems risking all.   Like now for instance, you are already obsessing over this woman knowing how important this visit is for your family seeing how the banners will be posted for your spring wedding to Lizabetha.”
Ethan ran a hand through his hair with building frustration.  It wasn’t the first time he’s heard this from Lucian.  How could he disagree?  Since his ordeal in that Turkish prison, he was no longer the same man.  He longed for freedom and being under his parents dominating hands left him no room to breathe.  Having his best friend Lucian on their side only irritated him more so he lashed out his anger.
“It’s easy for you to say.  You have been free to pursue everything you wished in your life.  No one has mapped out your every movement before you could walk,” Ethan ranted in hushed tones as they began to gain curious glances.  
“So I don’t need my best friend doing the same.  What I don’t understand is you have been reared by an uncle who makes his living from peddling flesh and you do not know who your real father is…so who are you to judge me?”
As soon as Ethan brought up Lucian’s family situation, he regretted it.  He had no right to take out his frustrations on his friend by reminding him of his own painful situation.
“My apologies, Lucian…  I had no right…”
“Nay,” Lucian picked at unseen lint from his sleeve refusing to allow the hurt to show on his face.  “You have every right because unlike me, you were born with all the trappings of one entitled and that give you the right to speak to me like the orphaned bastard I am.”
The silken thread of warning in Lucian’s voice let Ethan know he had indeed overstepped.
“Forgive me; I know you don’t know of your past, so who can truthfully say if that is a true statement since we have yet to find your mother.”  Ethan stated soothingly. 
“It also doesn’t change the fact that your mother’s father was well respected and so are your other uncles, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, and his brothers Walter and Carew Ralegh who are even now exploring the Americas for Queen Elizabeth.”  Ethan touched Lucian’s arm. 
“Leave it to my mother to ship me off to the black sheep uncle of the family,” Lucian chuckled. 
“She sent you to your grandfather who died and left you to the only uncle that was wealthy enough to make sure you got your education and wouldn’t squander your trust on his own dreams before you were old enough to inherit.”
Lucian laughed aloud
“True.  My uncles would happily kiss the queen’s ass for ships, and would have used my money and called it an investment in my future share of these said, American Explorations.  As if some heathenish wild country would be worth something someday.”
Ethan smiled, “Don’t be too hasty, every country is wild until it’s tamed.  I have made such investments on an island not to far from hence they explore.  I hope to someday cultivate it into a home for my family and me.”
“You truly are mad.  What makes you think Lady Lizabetha will allow you to move her to some island and away from court?  It will be eventful enough traveling between England and your marriage properties in France.  I don’t know when you will find the time, my friend.”
“I will get back there eventually even if I have to request myself to be buried upon its grounds,” Ethan vowed.
“Of course you will,” Lucian appeased with a smiled as he placed a companionable arm around Ethan’s shoulder.  “Come let us find this woman of yours and rejoice that you are finally getting the stiffness back in your fizzled codpiece.”
“I don’t think they heard you across the courtyard you goatish base-court lout,” Ethan said tersely.
“Takes one to know one,” Lucian chuckled all the anger between them forgotten.
 
***
     Sauda could only feel relief when she caught up to her ward Frances Walsingham; she thought for sure she had lost the child in the crowd while the dimwitted Englishman stood there taking his sweet time removing his person from her gown.
     “Sauda.  You know you are supposed to not allow me out of your site.”  Lady Francis pouted.
     “It wasn’t my fault didn’t you see the flaxen haired giant that barreled into me?”  Sauda knew she exaggerated a bit, but if he had been moving faster, a man of his size would definitely have knocked her over.  “He was a complete ogre, not attractive at all.”  She pretended a shudder and tickled Frances.
     Frances giggled.  “Stop now.  You know this hell-hated corset is about to kill me.”
     “Milady Frances you know you shouldn’t use such coarse words. If your mother was to hear, she would have both our hides.”
     “As usual mother, is attending the queen leaving you to tend to me, so I do not worry one wit what she thinks.  Besides you just lied to me.”  She popped Sauda with her ornamented fan.
     “Ok…so he wasn’t big enough to knock me over.”  Sauda laughed.
     “No, that was the true part silly…now he being an unattractive ogre is a blatant lie.”
     “I wish you would stop speaking to me as if you were fully grown when you are only a child of eleven.  It makes me forget myself and say things to you I shouldn’t,” Sauda chastised.
     “Pooh…if I am old enough to become betroth to Sir Philip Sidney then I am old enough to speak of boys.”
     “Boys are one thing, but men are another Lady Frances and I can’t believe your father would agree to allow you to marry so young.”  Sauda willed herself not to become emotional.  When it comes to some things such as killing a man, she had no emotions one-way or the other.  Yet, when it had to do with children, especially female children who weren’t allowed a voice of their own it sent her into a rage.
     “Well Sir Philip is older then I, so he is a man; however, being betrothed is to only prepare you for what comes next and to let others know you are spoken for and to keep their hands off.”  She giggled.   “I will have five years before I am wedded and bedded,” Frances cut a side-glance at Sauda with mischief in her beautiful silvery colored eyes.
     “Lady Frances,” Sauda warned rolling her eyes.  She gazed down at Lady Frances who was a pretty girl.  She had a sweet round face with naturally cherry kissed heart shaped lips and a long straight nose.  Her deep brown hair was currently fashioned in a version of the latest style; split in the middle and swept back into a tiny bun with pearl netting. A single white pearl suspended from a thin gold ribbon rest against her broad brow.     
     “So, you think Lord Ethan Clare is an ugly oaf.”  Frances stated out of the air as they found themselves once more in an unmoving line heading into the palace.  Her little fan moving rapidly to keep the sweltering heat from being overwhelming.
     Sauda chuckled.  “So is that his name?”
     “Yes, that is his name.  He and my father are acquaintance.  I am supposed to start ladyship services under his mother, Lady Catherine, but mother hasn’t stated when I start and don’t think I didn’t notice you didn’t answer the question.”
     “Oh, was there a question milady?”  Sauda asked sheepishly her thoughts drifted to laughing popinjay colored eyes and a clean-shaven face boasting a prominent square jaw and cleft chin.  A wan shaft of sunlight striking his hair until it gleamed like dark gold.
     Lady Frances gasped, “My goodness Sauda, I would swear if your skin wasn’t so dark I would think you were blushing.”
     Sauda could feel her ears burning.  “You are mistaken milady, I don’t blush.  It must be the heat.”
     “Heat indeed.” Frances Giggled and began to wave.  “Then you won’t mind if I invite Lord Ethan and his friend Sir Gilbert to stand with us.”
     Sauda turned Frances and ushered her further into the crowd.
 
    
                       
CHAPTER TWO
 
Turn your eyes away from me,
They overwhelm me.
Song of Solomon 6:5
 
     “Was that a Moor with little Lady Frances Walsingham?”  Lucian pushed forward.
     “Where?  Are you sure?” Ethan felt disturbing quakes in his serenity.  He was for once thankful of his unusual tall height for he caught a glimpse of her and cursed softly as she disappeared once more into the crowd.
     “I don’t see her anymore,” Lucian sighed.  “Don’t worry we have time to find her.  If that was her with Sir Walsingham’s daughter then you know you will find her.”
     “Are you sure it was Frances?” Ethan ran his hand through his hair in frustration.
     “Well…uh…nay.”
     Ethan placed his hands on his hips and scowled at Lucian.  “May I ask why you would think it was Lady Frances if tis not?”
     “Don’t give me that look.”  Lucian returned his scowl.  “I thought it was her, but ’fore God Ethan we haven’t seen the child for a couple of years so I couldn’t be sure; however, we can assume there is a child with a black servant so how hard will that be?”
     Ethan quirked a glance at his friend and laughed out, “Oh, not hard at all.  There is probably only a hundred or so in attendance to be sure.”  Ethan stated nonchalantly before exploding.  “Lucian thou art a fool-born coxcomb and if you have any commoner sense you would be off on your own for a bit!”
     Lucian’s well-waxed bearded chin lifted in a pretense of wounded pride as he placed his hand over his heart.            “Well thou art a warped onion-eyed skainsmate and you my friend don’t see me loosing all sensibilities over some woman I haven’t even met formally.  So I bid you fare-the-well for I have better things to do indeed.”  Lucian touched his head in a mock salute and departed into the crowd.
     Ethan continued mumbling his frustrations and after a few strange looks, he realized his mumblings were aloud and clamped his mouth shut before they carted him away to Bedlam.
 He continued his search through the assembly catching the eyes of many winsome ladies; however none was the one he was looking for.  He was about to give up his search when he felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck and he felt as if eyes were upon him.
Of course, several people were possibly watching him since he was the only one not scrambling to get inside the palace.
     Ethan released a shuddering sigh as he saw HER looking intently at him with open admiration.  He felt drawn to the sadness in her dark eyes.   `Fore God, she is beautiful.  His fingers tingled at the tips as his mind meandered about the texture of her earthy colored skin.  Was it as warm, smooth and inviting as it looked?   Now he could really savor her full appearance.  In her enchanting glory she stood at a distance, yet close enough that he could take in the wholeness of her appearance. 
She was dressed not harshly bejeweled and overly painted as the women of the court, but in something soft, simple and foreign, for the skirt fell in alluring gentle silken folds of what seemed to be yards of red silk with small white embroidered flowers leading into a small train.  He could see why he accidentally stepped on her skirt; it wasn’t the normal wide skirts shaped by yards of petticoats.
 For a moment, he wondered what she wore beneath such a form-fitting garment.  Her dark untamed frizzed hair glistened like polished wood flowing from a center part and tied loosely with a thin matching ribbon.
This woman was too bold in her stare, not submissive like most slaves or servants.  She would not shy away from the drudgery of nature for the sake of appearance.   Being born to her skin, she most likely knew only the hardships and turmoil of life.  She is a Moor and living in a foreign land so assuredly she belonged to someone to be here amongst the nobles; yet she had certain poise about her that intrigued him.
Ethan pushed his way thru the multitude and allowed his eyes to feast upon her afraid he would lose site of her once more.  He realized her face was just an intro to the magnificence of her as a woman.  Her body seemed rounded yet shapely.  She had curves everywhere from the gentle shape of her high cheekbones, to the fullness of voluptuous lips.  Curves continued with the shape of her dark thick brows over mysterious, dark and profound eyes surrounded by sooty curved lashes.
When Ethan finally was within in steps of her he stopped and smiled.  “I didn’t think I would find you again.”
“I don’t know why you would be searching for me milord, unless you wish to purchase me a new gown,” Sauda chuckled.
He thought her throaty voice and laugh was delectable.  “That can be managed if you give me your name I will make the arrangements.”
Sauda found herself staring at his mouth waiting for those silly boyish dimples to appear again.  She shook herself and glanced about, realizing Lady Frances was still chatting with a friend of hers.  Sauda didn’t want to lose site of the child again so she would have to move forward or once more separated by the push of people.
“I wasn’t serious milord.”  Sauda turn her gaze back to his.
“I was,” Ethan raised a brow.  “Now your name?”
“My name is…” Sauda backed up as two people pushed their way through.
Ethan gritted his teeth, his annoyance increased when more people pushed their way through, he found this was an impossible situation. 
  “Please can we mayhap find a place on the grounds to speak?”  He asked once they came together again. 
“It’s not possible and I am here because I have a job to do milord.  It will be best if we not speak again.”  Sauda said realizing how foolish it was to allow this man to become a distraction for her no matter how handsome he was.   Even if he was an acquaintance of Sir Walsingham, it didn’t mean he wasn’t a member of the Knights of Darkness she was to take care of while she was here. 
Sauda resist the urge to smile as she noticed more then a suggestion of annoyance hovered in his eyes.  She supposed he didn’t get many women who weren’t interested.
Ethan could tell she wanted to smile and she was trying to resist.  Why was she making this difficult for him?  
Sauda suddenly felt breathless as an undeniable magnetism was building between them and her heart was hammering foolishly as the blood coursed through her veins like an awakened river. 
Ethan’s broad shoulders were heaving as a hot ache grew in his throat.  The nearness of her seemed to give him comfort.
As soon as his hand reached out to touch the warmth of her face, the breach between them unexpectedly spread and all he caught was the crimson ribbon from her hair releasing the obsidian tresses to the caresses of the warm breeze.  
     His frustrations knew no bounds as once again, he lost sight of her and he still didn’t know her name.  He pushed the ribbon he clutched tightly in his hand inside his shirt and held it against his heart.
 
***
     “Where have you been all week?  Every time I have made arrangements for you and Lizabetha to spend time together you have been missing”
     “I am fairing well this eve father thank you.” His mouth spread into a cynical smile.  “I do have my own apartments here at Hampton Court as you may recall.  So all you had to do was leave word with my manservant John Henley.”
Ethan lounged casually against the doorframe of his family suite of rooms and crossed his arms in front of his wide chest.    He gazed at the man who was an older version of him, but by means of age his shoulders were commencing to bend forward making him about two inches shorter and his wheat colored hair was now completely white, yet there was no mistaking the intelligence in his blue sapphire eyes or the strength in his rigid profile.
     “I’m about to disown you, that’s what I am about,” The Earl of Clare walked forward, stopping in front of son.
     Ethan’s eyes rolled.  Here we go again. “As well you should, father.  It would make me happy to know I was no longer obligated to fulfill this marriage you arranged.”  Ethan’s square jaw tensed visibly, he was growing weary of his lack of say about his own life.
     Bernard Clare, Earl of Clare Hall, placed his hand on his heir’s crossed forearms.
     “Do you know what an honor this is for you and for our family?  Lady Lizabetha is young admittedly, in spite of this she is the goddaughter and distant cousin of the queen, so how could we say no?”
     “Simply by saying ‘my son has already been married and does not wish to remarry’ or maybe you could have told them to speak with me first since it is my life.”  Ethan’s expression was one of pained tolerance.
     Bernard smiled benignly, as if dealing with a temperamental child.
     “Why don’t we change the subject for the moment?”
“Yes, why don’t we drop this subject…say…forever.”
“My, I say you are getting to old for this behavior.”  Bernard cleared his throat before continuing, “Sir and Lady Walsingham’s daughter Frances will be coming to Clare Hall…
“Oh `fore God, father she looks at me as if I created the heavens.  Am I to suffer this child through the coming winter season too?”
“Ethan, I don’t know what has happened to you.  You use to take things in stride now everything and everyone is a bother for you.”  Bernard sighed as he saw a pain expression cross his son’s face.
“As I was saying,” Bernard shrugged matter-of-factly.    “Seeing how Frances is youthful she is to start her training as a lady-in-waiting with your mother.”
“Speaking of mother, where is she at this hour?”
“She spied that insipid cousin of hers, Sir Edwin Norris and I suppose they are losing MY money in a late eve game of Hazard.”
“I don’t know why you dislike him so father, he seems a reasonable fellow.”
“Trust me, I have my reasons.”  Bernard stated his brow deepened in a frown.  “Now getting back to young Lady Frances, she shouldn’t be a bother she shall have a tutor and a nursemaid with her at all times during her stay. I was told one is a Moor woman, isn’t that something?”
     Ethan’s eyes blazed with sudden interest, “A Moor you say?”      
     “Your mother was none to happy about this arrangement.  She doesn’t want the Blackamoor woman living in the house,” Bernard shrugged.  “Sir Walsingham won’t have it any other way, so your mother has no choice but to consent or offend the queen’s councilman.
     “I fear mother is at her happiest at court, so why not winter here attending the queen and allow Frances to learn from the queen’s ladies?”    Ethan followed his father further into the room and they took a seat while a silent server moved about and filled empty cups with wine to break the fast and hold them over until the next meal.  The servant also placed a tray of fruit, fresh goat cheese and bread on the low table between them before the fire and went back to his quiet corner.
     “Because you know it tis your mother’s year to entertain the nobles of our Somerset district for winter season and the invitations has already been delivered.”
     Ethan took a piece of bread dunking it in his wine before partaking.
     Earl Bernard Clare grimaced at his son’s coarse behavior.  A few years at sea and all his social graces seemed to have disappeared.
Ethan struggled to contain the excitement he felt.  Could young Lady Frances custodian mayhap be the Moor woman he has been looking for the past few days?  Lucian had thought he had seen Lady Frances with a Moor and he didn’t even think about checking out the possibilities.  If she didn’t show for the queen’s ball, tonight he would track down Sir Walsingham and find out for himself.
     “Maybe having the child on my heels won’t be so bad after all,” Ethan said leaning back in his chair, relaxing and soaking up the fire.  “Yes, I believe I am actually looking forward to spending time with Frances Walsingham.  Maybe it will help me get use to the idea of children being around.”
     “Wonderful!” Lord Bernard clapped his hands together gleefully. He pushed himself up from the chair.  “Now if we can get Lady Lizabetha away from the queen’s service…”
     “Father, don’t push it.” 
For a moment in time, life became somber as he looked at his son and saw so much of his mother in him.  Her willfulness and her dimpled smile.
Ethan watched the play of emotion on his father’s face. “Father?” 
“I…uh…we have to prepare our costumes for her Majesty Masquerade and fireworks at the midnight ball in honor of her day of birth.  I suppose you will be attending.”
     “Ah, yes, that should be exciting.” Standing, Ethan straightened his shoulders and cleared his throat before downing the rest of his wine and placing the empty cup on the table.  “Have you decided what saintly biblical character you will be tonight?”         
“Nay, I’m leaving those details to your mother and I shall follow her lead.  Who might you be, good son?”
     “I believe of late I find myself to be as fortunate as King Solomon,” his mouth spread into a wide mischievous grin.  “If I am as wise as he, I too shall soon have my Queen of Sheba.”
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