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The Madam's Highlander
Author:Madeline Martin

The Madam's Highlander

Madeline Martin




CHAPTER ONE





January 1746

Edinburgh





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.

Interesting.

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.

Commendable.

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.