(Historical Hellions Novella by Madeline Martin)
Freya Campbell did not employ virgins. She took in war widows, of whom there were many, and grown women wanting to work but lacking the skills for genteel labor. They were well-treated and paid considerably – as any woman who worked on her back ought to be. Her women hadn’t chosen this life any more than she had hers, and she would not punish them with meager pay for it.
Happy ladies, after all, made happy customers.
With regards to her establishment, Freya operated with sufficient grandeur to entice foreign clients, and enough of a bawdy edge to stay outside the notice of the law. She was hard yet fair and always ensured the customers of Molly’s were well pleased.
Freya propped an elbow on the chipped bar and stared through a sea of satin and skin to where a man drank alone at a corner table. He wore the dark tartan of a traitor, the blue and green shadowed to the point of running together, stained with the colors of the Black Watch – a man Highland born who’d sided with the English.
It was not the first time she’d seen him. Likewise, it was not the first time he’d sat alone. Freya had questioned her ladies previously to see who had been with him. None had, much to their dismay. The captain was a handsome man, and not all the men who passed through Molly’s doors were near as fit.
But no, the captain did not take interest in the ladies as they did with him. He simply brought his men for pleasure and left with them once they’d had their fill. Or done their fill, as it were.
Never once had he engaged the lasses like his men, and that intrigued Freya. In a world where she’d seen practically everything a man could offer, it was a rare thing to be intrigued. Unaware of her observation, or uncaring, he raised a cup to his mouth and drank, his strong throat flexing as he swallowed. No tea for him this time.
She patted the counter to get the attention of the barmaid, who hurried over. “Tessa, give me a second glass of what he’s drinking.”
Tessa smiled. She was a pretty blonde with skin like fresh cream. “He’s drinking ale.”
“Ale?” Freya tilted her head to ensure she’d heard correctly.
With the abundance of spirits she kept stocked on her shelves, ale was hardly the supreme choice.
The barmaid turned away to prepare the drink and handed her a foaming mug of ale seconds later. The lass could run numbers like a steward – and in her head, no less. It was an uncanny skill uncovered by the education Freya offered her ladies, a skill that made the effort and time worthwhile.
Freya nodded her thanks and Tessa gave a sweet curtsey. The men always liked a lass who showed pleasant appreciation.
Freya fixed her stare on her target and strode in his direction, the offering of ale held boldly in her hand.
Every set of eyes in the room watched her as she moved. Perhaps because of the brilliant blue silk gown whispering over her body, or the shock of red hair sweeping down her back like a cape, or even the constellation of freckles sprinkled unapologetically across the bridge of her nose. Then again, it might even have something to do with her reputation for being a hardened viper, as she’d been called a time or two before. Regardless of why they looked, she played to the stares and let the swell of her lush hips sway enticingly while her attention remained locked with purpose before her.
She set the mug on the table before the Black Watch captain. The clink of glass on wood broke the attention of those around her and the stares fell away.
“No entertainment for ye tonight, Captain?” she queried.
He looked up at her with clear blue eyes fringed heavy with dark lashes. The kind of eyes which might promise a girl the world while reining in her heart. It was all too easy to meet his gaze.
“Good evening.” He gave her an easy smile and a dimple appeared in his right cheek. “I’m content here, thank ye.”
He lifted the mug of ale in her direction and took a sip, as if to prove his point. The sleeves of his leine were rolled up to accommodate the warmth of the room and displayed lines of corded muscle running up his forearms.
She settled a hand on her hip. “We have many different women for anything that might please ye. We do like all of our clients to be pleased.”
Usually a man’s gaze would lower to where her hand caressed the silk corset, but the captain’s eyes remained on hers. “Thank ye, but I’m fine.”
She pulled out the seat opposite him and gracefully lowered herself into it. “Ye come here often and never partake of the women. Ye drink tea and sit quietly in this corner.”
His mouth quirked upward with the hint of a smile.
“And now here ye are.” Freya pushed the second mug of ale forward. “Drinking ale.”
Men needed women for pleasure, as was evident in the great flow of coin in her establishment night after night. But sometimes men also needed the conversation of a woman, the companionship. Perhaps this was what the captain needed this night.
“That’s very observant of ye.” The captain did not take the second mug of ale.
Freya leaned a little closer to him and pushed her chest forward so her breasts squeezed against her corset. “Is there anything I can get for ye?” She let the words tease out in a purr, ripe with lush promise.
He flicked his gaze away, the way men did when they wanted to look but did not want to grant themselves the weakness to do so. The captain was a determined spirit.
He met her eyes and kept them fixed there. “I’d like to speak with ye.”
She gave him a coquettish smile. “We are speaking.”
He glanced at the room from the corner of his eye. “Somewhere private.”
Ah, so he was interested in companionship for the evening. Freya offered him a pleasant smile. “One of my girls would be happy to see to ye.”
He shook his head. His cheeks reddened slightly, as if her offer embarrassed him.
Such fortitude and lofty principles!
He was the kind of morally straight man her girls would love to bend crooked.
The captain shifted in his seat. “I want only to speak with ye about an important matter.”
Normally Freya would not entertain the idea of a private meeting with a customer – especially not on so busy a night. But the captain put a considerable amount of coin in her pocket for his men, and he’d made it clear his intent was not pleasure but conversation.
Then there was the knife she kept in her desk drawer. “Very well,” she conceded.
She rose from the table and, without checking first to ensure he followed, made her way to her office. Though he had not looked on her with appreciation when she sat in front of him, she knew he would be more inclined to do so with her back turned.
She arched her back slightly to narrow her waist and lift her bottom. If he was going to look, she’d give him the best view possible.
She slid the key from her pocket and unlocked the door to the small room where she went over her accounts. The captain stepped forward and pushed the door open for her, motioning to the room within. Like a gentleman, treating her like a lady.
It had been a long while since she’d been treated thus.
So, what did a man like the captain need from the madam of a bawdyhouse?
Molly’s, like the ladies within, had been painted to entice, with wide stretched mirrors lining the costly patterned walls, colorful Turkish carpet underfoot, and vivid red cushions to encourage one to lean back and enjoy. In this small room, it was as if the plaster had been peeled away to expose the plainness beneath.
While tidy, the room was stark, devoid of any décor to give insight to its owner. The massive wooden desk possessed no adornment, several chairs lay before it with one behind, and three small bookcases were backed against a simply painted green wall. Ledgers were lined in such neat rows, they most surely were organized with an order in mind.
Even the sweet perfume in the air had given way to a musty, dry scent like old paste.
Freya settled into the seat behind the desk and regarded Ewan with sky-colored eyes made even more vivid by the brilliant blue silk she wore. The dress hugged every curve in a way that made a man want to trace her shape with his hands.
And she knew it.
Even Ewan, with all his careful control and discipline, had not been able to keep his gaze from slipping down the enticement of her body when her back was turned.
She tilted her head up at him, the angle slightly arrogant, with more confidence than any one person should ever possess. Her delicate hand lifted and gestured to the chair in front of her desk. “Have a seat, Captain.”
He sat in the hard-backed chair, not missing how her own plush seat offered her far greater comfort than she afforded her guests. This room was not Molly’s – a place meant to appease clients and encourage a long stay. This was Freya’s domain, blunt and controlled.
He’d do well to remember that.
Perhaps he ought to have arrived armed with information. With secrets. Being a man of the Black Watch, a man trained to uncover plots of extortion, he could have uncovered information to use against Freya.
Secrets, however, once uncovered, could not easily be buried.
He hoped to appeal to Freya’s decency to get what he needed. Meeting the coolness of her stare, he was having his doubts before even posing the question.
Freya settled back in her seat, which made her ample bosom push forward. How he wanted to let his gaze slide over the offering she laid out for him – to skim the creamy valleys and swells of her firm skin until his hands ached to touch.
But he did not look. He kept his eyes locked on hers. He was stronger than the weakness of the body. Disciplined, determined. He was a soldier with a purpose.
“What can I do for ye, Captain…?” She raised her brows for him to fill in his name, though he was certain she already knew it.
“Fraser. Captain Ewan Fraser,” he provided. “I have a favor to ask ye.”
She gave a bemused smile. “So ask.”
“My mother relocated some time ago into the country in the Lowlands. I’d like ye to check on her well-being for me.”
Freya smirked. “I’m no steward.” She sat forward and placed her hand on the polished surface of the desk. Her fingernails were clean and carefully rounded, like those of a lady.
“Captain Fraser, I appreciate yer patronage at Molly’s. If it’s an experience ye’re after, ye willna find one better than what my girls can provide ye. Aside from a memorable night and a stiff drink, I’m afraid I canna offer much more than that.”
Ewan nodded carefully. “I understand what I ask is an extraordinary request.”
“Extraordinary.” She said it as if deciding if she liked the taste of it in her mouth. “And impossible.”
Aye, he should have come armed with information. “There’s a reason I’ve asked ye specifically,” he said.
“Oh?” she curled her glossy red lips around the word.
“I hear ye go to the country often, near Callander, aye? That isna too far from where my ma is.” The muscles at her throat tensed and he rushed on before she could stop him. “I dinna know many who even venture outside of Edinburgh.” He clenched his jaw in the same stubborn set hers had settled into. “As a favor for a client who brings his men here on every visit to Edinburgh.”
The glint in her blue eyes went hard as sapphires. “How do ye know I go there?”
“One of yer girls had mentioned it to my men once.”
Spots of color showed on her cheeks beneath her freckles. A crash sounded on the other side of the door, in the other, more gilded world of sex and seduction.
Freya’s eyes darted behind him to the closed door before returning her attention back to him. “Nay.”
Ewan sat forward in his seat. “Ye dinna understand, my ma is in the country. I canna be excused from my duties to see to her, and I—”
“Ye worry she might be hurt by the very men ye’ve sided with?” Her gaze sharpened perceptively, like the viper she’d been heralded by many a rejected man.
In that one stare, she cut into his soul and had sucked the truth from the marrow of his very core. She’d coiled around the security he’d wrapped himself in – the good name, the medals of valor, the years of loyal service – and she’d found the stink of his doubt as sure as a predator draws on the scent of blood.
Because she was right.
He questioned it all.
The Black Watch was not as it was when he joined, when his task was to mind the wilds of the Highlands, to break up disputes and prevent exploitation. Now his job was to aid the English in a battle against his own people.
And it was their blood bathing his homeland – men, women…children. His stomach rolled with what he’d stumbled upon too many times – a home razed to the ground, still smoldering with defeat, the family slaughtered where they’d been found running or hiding.
What they did to the women…
“Nay.” Freya rose abruptly from her seat. “I willna help ye.”
A woman’s scream sounded in the distance followed by a man’s bellow.
Ewan stood with his hands extended in offering. “Please, my mother—”
“Nay.” She pulled a dagger from an unseen drawer. “I told ye before, I’m no steward.”
She strode past him, yanked open the door, and launched the blade. Ewan could not see where it landed, but he heard it thunk into a solid target.
The room fell immediately silent.
Freya placed her hands on her hips with her legs braced wide apart. “What’s going on out here?” She didn’t wait for an answer before striding forward, clearing the doorway enough for Ewan to catch sight of a soldier wearing only his long linen leine, a dagger jutting from the wall only a fraction of an inch from his nose.
One of his soldiers.
Ewan fisted his hand with frustration. Of course it had to be Clemmons, the soldier who challenged Ewan’s orders at every turn and tried to compromise Ewan’s position as an officer. The man was still bitter at Ewan’s commission being accepted over his own, especially given Ewan’s past.
Ewan strode through the doorway and found a woman standing opposite Clemmons. Her brown hair was a tousled mess and a bright red mark showed on her chin. She clutched her hands under her chest where a bit of torn lace drooped from between her fingers like a wilting flower.
“I dinna do what he wants,” the woman said plaintively. “I told him that before we went up.”
Clemmons’ face went red. “Ye’re a whore, and ye’ll do what I pay ye to do.” He reached for the dagger, but Freya shot forward like a snake and latched her hand on the worn hilt.
“My women are to be treated with respect.” She jerked the blade from the wall and held it to his gullet.
Ewan tensed. Clemmons was a seasoned soldier. He’d killed people for less than pointing a weapon in his direction.
Clemmons gave a derisive snort. “They’re no’ ladies. They’re whores.”
“They’re whores ye willna see again.” Freya backed up and Ewan breathed a sigh of relief.
“Wait in the main room while yer clothing is retrieved.” Freya nodded toward the open doorway but kept her stare fixed on Clemmons. “Ye are no longer welcome at Molly’s.” She spun on her heel and regarded Ewan with a sharp look. “In fact, I find I’m growing weary of many of the Black Watch soldiers this evening.”
A protest went up around the room, not just from the men, but also from the women strewn over their laps and draped over them.
A smirk touched Freya’s mouth, silently touting a victory won. “Very well,” she purred to her crowd. “Ye may stay.” She pushed Clemmons in the direction of the main room. “Captain Fraser, see yer wayward soldier to another establishment. He isna welcome here.”
Clemmons halted his forward progress with a snarl. “I canna wait in my leine.” Ewan put a hand to Clemmons’ shoulder. “Come now, let’s get ye—”
Clemmons jerked from his grasp. “I’ll no’ wait out there in my leine.”
Freya grabbed hold of the front of Clemmons’ leine and held up her blade. “Complain once more and I’ll deprive ye of the leine ye so vehemently protest. Then ye can stand there with yer prick cupped in yer hand until one of my girls feels kind enough to bring ye yer clothing.” She narrowed her eyes. “And we dinna take kindly to our own being mistreated. Ye might have a verra long wait.”
She released him like rubbish and her gaze clashed with Ewan’s. “Good evening, Captain Fraser.”
Then she tucked the blade in the band at her waist, wiped her hands together, and walked away, putting her back to them with the confidence of a woman who could clearly handle her own.
Clemmons tried to twist after her. “I’d like to take her knife and—”
Ewan grabbed the man’s shoulders and pulled him back. “Ye’ll do no such thing. I say ye keep from this place lest ye go missing yer bollocks.”
“I’d like to see her try.” Clemmons spit on the ground and uttered a few more choice words Ewan chose to ignore.
The main room was cooler than the bar area, the lights dimmed and shadows settled heavy in corners where the sun had long since set. Ewan had his response from Freya, though he’d hoped for a different outcome.
In his time with the Black Watch, Ewan had learned not only to uncover secrets, he’d also found everyone had them.
Most especially a madam who traveled to the country regularly. Freya had her indiscretions, and uncovering them would expose a weakness he could exploit.
He grimaced inwardly at the distaste of doing the very thing he’d been taught to prevent. But then his thoughts flashed to his mother, left alone in their country manor. She’d never been the same after his father’s death. Neither of them had.
Ewan imagined her as he’d left her, sitting on the porch with her frail hands folded tightly over one another, as if she could hold in her fear of losing him. Except he’d felt it – from the moisture visible in her wide gaze to the tremble in her voice and the ferocity of her fragile hug.
He needed to ensure she was all right, and Freya would help him. No matter what it took.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the first chapter of The Madam’s Highlander 🙂 If you’d like to pre-order your copy of the Historical Hellions Box Set for only .99, please see the links below (releases April 11, 2017):