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In Bed With A Stranger

By:Mary Wine

In Bed With A Stranger
Mary Wine

 Chapter One

Warwick Castle, 1578

"She shall not touch my pearls." The Countess of Warwickshire was a  beautiful woman but her lips twisted into an ugly expression as she  glared at her husband's mistress.

"In sooth, she shall, Wife." The earl entered on silent feet; even his  spurs didn't make any noise. He kept his voice even but there was the  unmistakable ring of authority in it. Every servant in the room lowered  their head in deference to the master of the house before continuing on  with their tasks. But they listened to every word. The brewing  discontent of the lady of the manor sent excitement through the staff.  It had been growing since the day the lord's mistress had been  discovered with child. A reckoning was long overdue.

"She shall wear the pearls and the new garments I instructed you to order made when the babe was birthed."

Lady Philipa bit into her lower lip as a scathing reply leapt to mind.  She dared not voice it too harshly; men were such fickle creatures when  it came to their cocks. She lowered her head to hide her frown as she  curtsied to her husband. When she raised her face, her lips were smooth  once more, a testimony to years of training at the hands of her  governess. Women had to be much more controlled than men, in the world  where they were owned by them.

"My lord, am I to have no comforts? Shall I be reduced to seeing my own  finery placed onto your leman? Will you see me shamed in front of my own  household?"

The earl stepped in front of his wife, his dark gaze traveling over her face as he lifted one finger in front of her nose.

"You are a bitch, Philipa. A truly spoilt, pampered bitch, who doesn't  even bother to perform the function of a true bitch." His hand closed  into a fist that he shook in front of her alarmed eyes. "Hear me well,  lady wife! There will be no dishonesty in this house! Declare to one and  all that you are without comforts and I will have your chamber stripped  of its tapestries and carpets. Your fine gowns and jewelry will be shut  away and the spice cabinet locked so that you may, in truth, live  without comforts."

The countess gasped but covered her mouth lest she spit out an angry  retort and seal her fate. The earl nodded his head to himself before  gripping her arm and turning her to face his mistress, Ivy Copper. Ivy  was sitting up in bed with her new daughter at her breast. The babe  kicked and pushed a plump fist against her mother's swollen breast as it  suckled. She was a lively babe, in spite of the fact that no one had  swaddled it. The strips of fabric cost money and Ivy didn't have any say  over what she was given. The servants were Philipa's to command. She  had not commanded that anyone spend time wrapping the babe in strips of  swaddling fabric to ensure that its limbs grew straight. Only a long  shift covered the babe, like a peasant child.

Ivy's hair was brushed into a soft shine over her opposite shoulder as  she celebrated her sitting-up day. Philipa secretly hoped that her  husband's mistress might die of childbed fever, but she sat there  looking the picture of good health. Even her milk had come in to ensure  that her bastard would be full and strong.

"Yet, you are shamed, Philipa, shamed by the fact of your own  cowardice." Her husband turned her so she could stare up into his face. A  shiver shook her as she caught a hint of his manly scent. Her weak  female body enjoyed it. Avoiding his bed took discipline.

"Ah, you're a coward, Philipa. You left my bed for fear of childbirth.  Look at my new daughter, Wife. God favors the bold." His gaze softened  for a moment as he offered her a kind look. "You are my lady wife.  Return to my bed and take up your duty as wife. If you do, I swear there  will be no other taking your place. No bastard-born child set above  your own children."

Her head shook back and forth as she pulled against his grip. Fear  strangled her, trapping her words in her throat. Giving birth was  deadly! Over half her friends had gone to their graves as fever engulfed  their bodies or, worse still, their babes refused to be pushed from  their wombs. They died in withering agony, with long hours of endless  pain.

The earl snorted with disgust. Pointing his thick finger at her, his  voice boomed so that it reverberated against all the walls of the  chamber. "Then you yourself shall place that string of pearls around my  leman's neck and follow her to her churching. You will stand as  godmother to my new daughter."         



"You mean to acknowledge the bastard?" In shock, Philipa felt her lower  lip quiver. "What of Mary? I have given you a daughter, my lord!"

"And you were honored well and truly." Her husband released her arm and  ran the back of his hand across her cheek. "I'd honor you again without  holding a grudge if you'd return to my bed as a wife should." He lowered  his voice so that Ivy could not hear him. "I'll set her aside, Philipa,  for you and a legitimate son. Think on it. But I'll not turn to rape.  You will not lay such a burden upon me. We are married and it is your  duty to bear my child as much as mine to take you to my bed."

Her husband left her to join the group of visitors celebrating Ivy's  survival of childbirth. Today was her sitting-up ceremony, and in  another two weeks if she still lived, there would be the churching day  when the new mother was cleansed by the estate clergy and allowed back  into the church. The bastard would be taken from her at its baptism. The  traditions were older than anyone remembered. If Ivy died before she  was churched, she'd be buried in unconsecrated ground. If the baby died  unbaptized, it, too, would be denied burial in church ground.

The baby's soft smacking sounds filled the chamber as Philipa watched  her husband lean over to kiss his mistress. The bed was draped in lavish  display. Thick wool tapestries covered the top of the bed and hung as  curtains along the side of the bed. There were fine linen sheets, the  stained sheet from the day of the birth proudly displayed by the window.  The visitors all touched it for good luck as they passed. Ivy was  wearing a shift taken from Philipa's own wardrobe. The fine fabric  shimmered against her creamy skin. There was mulled wine at her command  and cakes baked with spices from the lord's own private stock.

Everything was laid out as grandly as it had been when she was the  mother and her daughter Mary first allowed to be seen. The only  difference was that a wet nurse had suckled the child because as a  noblewoman she could afford the luxury of not tending to a newborn's  fussing. Philipa gazed at Ivy's breasts as the milk ran across the  baby's cheek and the earl laughed. He wiped the milk away with his own  hand. Ivy smiled as the lord bathed her with his attention, praising her  and her whelp.

The sight left a bitter taste in Philipa's mouth. She shivered as she  realized what it would take to win his attention away from his mistress.  She couldn't do it. Not again. It had taken two days to force her  daughter into the world. Days that had seemed endless as the pain wrung  her body. In truth, she couldn't have suckled her child because she  hated it so much for hurting her so greatly. That hate extended to her  husband and his demands for more children. Her mother had had to endure  such from her father, but it was a different time now. England had a  queen and Mary could inherit everything. Elizabeth Tudor would see to  that. Men were going to see an end to their absolute rule over their  female relatives.

Turning in a flare of silk petticoats, Philipa left. Let the bastard be  acknowledged! It would not change the fact that she was mistress of the  estate. The earl would be called back to court and Ivy and her child  would answer to her.

Warwick Chapel

"By what name shall the child be known?"

The congregation held their breath as they waited to hear the baby's  name. A child was never named until it was being baptized to ensure that  Satan couldn't send one of his demons to snatch the child's soul.

"Anne." Philipa spoke clearly as the clergyman looked to her as the  godmother to decide on the name. "After the Queen's own dear departed  mother."

The clergyman almost dropped the infant into the baptismal font as his  eyes bulged out in shock. Philipa fluttered her eyelashes innocently at  him. There was a mutter running across the congregation but she did not  care. Let the bastard bear an unlucky name. Anne Boleyn had lost her  head long before her daughter wore the crown of England. Her husband was  forbidden to attend the baptism along with Ivy in an attempt to cleanse  the child completely without any softhearted parents in attendance.  Philipa glared at the clergyman and he dunked the baby with far less  grace than he normally did.         



Anne screamed as she was pulled out of the baptismal basin. Philipa  frowned as the baby turned red and the congregation sent up a cheer of  acceptance. If the baby hadn't screamed to release the devil, then it  might have been shunned by its Christian community. Anne screeched loud  enough to reach even the last pew.