Once a pampered courtesan in France, Claudia Valemont has lost her mother, her protector, and her lifestyle to the French Revolution. To avoid the guillotine herself, Claudia flees to Scotland to search for her only remaining relative: the father she has never met.
Instead she finds hardship and heartbreak. Penniless, she is forced to steal to survive. Her crime nearly lands her in the hangman's noose—until the hangman himself comes to the rescue. Pleading on her behalf, he gets her sentence commuted to a period of indenture in the village commons under his watchful eye.
Undeniably indebted to her unlikely savior, still Claudia feels more than gratitude—much more. As a harsh Scottish winter descends, her Lord Jack just might heal her wounded heart…
"‘Tis settled then." Another bang of the gavel drove the point home and brought the room to order. "Let the rolls show that the prisoner, one Claudia Valemont, late o' Paris, France, is heretofore remanded to the custody of Master Jack Campbell, occupant of the office of Lord High Executioner to His Majesty, King George the Third, for a term of six months to begin this day and end the first Friday of April in the year of Our Lord 1794, when she shall be released once more into her own keeping." He looked up from the tome and addressed himself to Claudia. "Mark me well, mistress, for I'll say this but the once. Should ye run off at any time o'er the next six months and should ye be so unlucky as to be captured and brought back before me, the original punishment shall stand—ye shall be hangit from the neck until dead. D'ye ken me?"
"Y-yes, my lord."
For the first time during the proceedings, the judge's angular face relaxed into a smile. "Good, because ye've a verra pretty neck and twould be a rare pity to make me call upon Jack to stretch it."
The room exploded into raucous laughter punctuated with a hand or two of applause. Only three people stood without cracking a smile: the prisoner, her reluctant gaoler—and Callum McBride.
Callum rounded on Jack as the crowd dispersed. "Well, well, it seems we've another bastard in our midst, aye Jacko? I ken now why the two of ye got on so verra well, but then ye ken the auld saying about birds of a feather, aye?"
In no mood, Jack made to shoulder past him. "It's over, Callum, now stand aside."
"Wheesht, I'll stand aside a'right… for now. But mind ye, I'll be watchin'—and waitin.' One false step and your ladybird will find ‘erself dancin' on the wind."
Clenching his jaw to keep from retorting in kind, Jack turned his back on his brother and made his way to the prisoner's dock. Standing just outside it, Mistress Valemont held out her manacled wrists, staring down at them in a fixed, frozen sort of way while Pol, palsied and more than half blind, struggled to fit the key into the lock.
She looked up as Jack approached, and her blank stare slipped into a scowl. "I suppose I should thank you for saving my life, monsieur."
"Aye, I suppose you should." He turned to Pol and held out his hand for the ring of keys. "I'll have at it if ye dinna mind."
The old man turned the ring of keys over with a grudging air. "'Tis the wee silver one, third on the left," he said, then stumped away to greet his mate, Peadair, who'd risen from the benches.
Key in hand, Jack stepped forward. "If ye'll allow me, mistress…"
She hesitated, then raised her manacled wrists, a wry smile playing about her mouth. "It seems, Monsieur le Borreau, that I have no choice."
"Mind your head." Monsieur Campbell held open the door to his cottage and stepped back for Claudia to enter.
Less mannered was his dog, Elf. The wolfhound bolted inside, treading on Claudia's foot in her haste to reach home and hearth.
Far from eager herself, Claudia hesitated, gulping down her dread, and then crossed the threshold, the crown of her head clearing the lintel with inches to spare.
Coming up behind her, Monsieur Campbell murmured, "Aye, I forget how small ye are." He ducked inside and pulled the door closed.
Nerves strung on tenterhooks, Claudia started at the sound. "Eh bien," she said around a nervous laugh, "you know what the English say about good things and small packages, yes?"
Judging from his blank look he didn't, which was likely to be for the best. "I'll see to building a wee fire and then to our supper." He set her valise down inside the door and then moved to take the cloak from her shoulders.
"Non, merci," she said with a shake of her head and then backed up to the wall.
No point in surrendering her cloak or her foothold by the door until she'd determined whether or not what lay inside would behoove her to turn about and run.
Back pressed against the cold stones, she followed him with her eyes as he crossed to the hearth, shrugged out of his broadcloth coat, and, after hanging it neatly over the back of the chair, turned to the cold hearth. Only when he'd faced away, squatting to rout through a wooden box filled with bricks of scraggly sod, did she venture to leave the shelter of the wall to look about.
What she saw allayed the very worst of her fears, for the cottage in no way resembled the chamber of horrors she'd spent the short journey from the tollbooth dreading. The few possessions in sight were all common, workaday things—no ropes or thumbscrews or severed heads, at least none in plain view. Suspended from a beam above the fireplace grate was an assortment of earthenware cooking vessels and a great gleaming copper kettle. Herbs tied into neat bundles hung drying from the rafter nearest the hearth, perfuming the air with rosemary, lavender, and peppermint. A small reading table and a stuffed armchair—the latter with a black-and-white cat curled upon the seat—took pride of place before the hearth. A few paces to the left set a scrubbed pine table, a bench on either side. Spartan to be sure, but nothing sinister, and all so spotless and tidy as to belie Monsieur Campbell's bachelor status. The only obvious anomaly was the richly grained walnut and mahogany mantelpiece. Elaborately carved with a profusion of lions and other fanciful forest creatures, it seemed more in keeping with the grandeur of a palace than with the present humble surroundings, as did the library of leather-bound books ranged along the scrolled shelf.
"You can read, monsieur?"
Forgetting her fear, Claudia rounded on the hearth and went down the line to read the titles on the tooled leather spines. Culpeper's The English Physitian or an Astrologo-Physical Discourse of the Vulgar Herbs of This Nation, Sir Thomas More's Utopia, a small berry-colored leather compendium of Shakespeare's sonnets. The Chimney-piece Maker's Daily Assistant—might that explain the extraordinary mantel? The State of Prisons by John Howard and Commentaries on the Laws of England by Sir William Blackstone—well, at least those two made some sense. And finally there was Voltaire's Candide and Rousseau's Emile, both translated into the English but impressive nonetheless.
Kneeling outside the circle of flattened stones, he fed another piece of peat to the fledgling flame. "That surprises ye, does it?" She couldn't see his face but she thought she heard disappointment straining his tone.
Would she never learn to think before she spoke? "Oui," she admitted, dropping her gaze to admire the strong, capable hands stacking the peat into a neat pyramid.
When he'd touched her cheek in the tavern the other day, his big, blunt fingers had traced the edges of the bruise in the lightest of touches as though she were made of fine porcelain instead of mere flesh and bone. The only other man's touch she'd known was Phillippe's and certainement his had never conveyed such gentleness. Nor did she imagine for a moment that he would have shown much, indeed any, interest in the books on literature and philosophy queued above her head, for his passions had run more to hunting and gaming, dancing and drinking.
By way of offering an olive branch, she added, "But it is a most pleasant surprise. Perhaps in the evenings we will read aloud together?"
He dusted off his hands and reached for the bellows. "My evening hours are my own, mistress, but you may do with yours as ye wish."
Seeing that he meant to ignore her, Claudia fell to roaming the room. As fear dissipated, curiosity returned and soon her restless footsteps bore her toward the shadowed alcove that, until now, she'd avoided. Sans headboard, the simple rope bed was crudely constructed and yet the mattress looked to be sturdy and more than able to accommodate two, with a quaint quilt serving as a counterpane. Wondering if she would be expected to share her gaoler's bed as a condition of her parole, she stole a glance at the Scotsman's broad back. She still feared him, yes, but he intrigued her, too. Would his red gold hair feel as silky as it looked? Could his arms and chest possibly be half as hard, as beautifully sculpted as the outline beneath his shirt promised?
Phillippe had been accounted to be a fine figure of a man; certainly Maman had never tired of telling her how fortunate she was to have such a young and handsome protector. Yet the sight of his slender, wiry form had never stirred Claudia. As for Monsieur Campbell, she wasn't entirely sure she even liked the man, certainly she abhorred his "profession." And yet, consummate liar that she was becoming, she still hadn't the trick of lying to herself. Monsieur Jack Campbell moved her.
She dealt herself a brisk mental shake. The man was a borreau and thus a brother to Monsieur Sanson, who operated the guillotine in France with such lethal skill. Vowing not to forget that all-important fact again, she turned her attention to the bed.
"I thought ye might have need of this."
She whirled to find Monsieur Campbell standing just behind her, her valise dangling from one hand. Caught up in her thoughts, she hadn't heard him come up behind her. On eye-level with the triangle of his dun-colored waistcoat she could see the shadow of crisp chest hair beneath the well-worn cloth of his white shirt and felt a strange fluttering low in her belly.
"Merci. Thank you." All too aware of the bed at her back, of the fact that they were well and truly alone together, she swallowed hard and backed up a step.
"I suppose ye'll be wantin' a moment to yourself and forbye supper will no cook itself." He set the valise atop the blanket chest at the foot of the bed and turned to go.
Glancing at his broad, retreating back, she blurted out the question that had been preying upon her mind since they'd left the hall. "Have you had a change of heart, monsieur? Do you mean to sleep with me after all?"
The clumsy question seemed to stun both of them, freezing Monsieur Campbell in midstep. Heart pounding, she watched him slowly turn back to face her.
Scarlet limned his Viking cheekbones and his eyes were fierce as he stared her down. "Duncan granted me leave to beat you, no to bed ye."
Claudia had all but forgotten that particular condition of her punishment. Faced with the threat, and her gaoler's obvious ability to act on it, she curled her hands into fists at her sides.
Her chin shot up. "Do not think to lay so much as a hand on me, for if you do I will scratch out your eyes!"
It was false bravado, and they both knew it. If he so wished, he could overpower her in a second, draw up her skirts, and turn her over his knee or the kitchen table, as he pleased.
Even so, she fancied there was a grudging respect in his voice and a growing softness to his amber eyes when he said, "Dinna fash, lass. I've yet to raise a hand to a woman, so I dinna suppose I'll start with you." Holding her gaze, he added, "Nor need ye be worrit that I'll come to ye in the night for I swear to you that I willna." In answer to her unspoken question, he added, "My plaid and the floor shall suit me well enough, and after we've eaten I'll hang a blanket or some such so that you may be private."
"Thank you." Fidgeting under the intensity of his gaze, Claudia looked away. "I did not mean to insult your honor, monsieur, I only thought—"
"That I spared ye from being hangit only because I'd reconsidered your er, offer?" he asked, gaze narrowing, daring her to deny what they both knew to be the truth.
Thinking on how she'd humbled herself before him, offering herself up as though she was a common harlot and a desperate one at that, had the heat of embarrassment blistering her own cheeks. Reminding herself that she was une femme du monde, a woman of the world, she tried for a shrug. "We are strangers, monsieur. If not to take me to your bed, then why put yourself to the trouble of speaking for me today?"
"You mean why would I lie for you?"
She hesitated, then nodded. "Oui. Yes, why did you?"
He pulled a hard swallow, and Claudia watched the long ripple travel down his throat, saw the big chest rise, then fall, heard the slight rasp in his voice as at last he admitted, "I canna say as I know, mistress. Truly I canna say."
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"I enjoyed reading My Lord Jack. The characters were endearing and the romance was touching. Fans of historical romance will certainly want to pick up a copy."
"Ms Tarr has an impressive educational background and some fine writing accomplishments to her credit. She has done well in this book as the storyline and character development reveal a talent that has been honed through experience. Obviously romance fans are looking for good reading entertainment and they will find that here. But it is also a novel that educates as it entertains by opening up a chapter in Scottish history that makes for good storytelling and good reading."
5 Tea Cups!
"Ms Tarr has done a wonderful job of creating three dimensional characters in Claudia and Jack that live on once the last page is turned. With its action, drama, love and romance, My Lord Jack has everything you could want from a novel on a long dark evening. Its the first of Ms Tarr's books I have read and won't be the last."
TOP PICK! Rating: 9 (Excellent)
"The simple book cover of Hope Tarr's My Lord Jack, perfectly conveys a story centered around a man with so much heart it's matchless. The unusual pairing of Jack Campbell and Claudia Valemont is central to this powerful novel packed with storyline, redemption, heartfelt emotion, and unrelenting action steeped in Scottish customs... My Lord Jack has provided a role-model for writers of romance with this virginal male character...This perfectly balanced novel furnishes readers with everything they want and more and, "Och, I ken ye will love it!" I highly recommend My Lord Jack and really look forward to her next novel!"
"...I enjoyed every page, the story has an engaging heroine and a fantastic hero. The historical aspects were well incorporated and the plot moved at a very good pace. The romance was tender and spicy and the secondary characters were well written."
"This story was fun, exciting and heartfelt. Jack, our unlikely hero, is such a unique character. He has compassion for all forms of life, despite the duties of his job, and it's his carefully masked tender side that will make readers fall in love... The characters can't help but fall in love and with the add hints of danger and a delicious forbidden quality, My Lord Jack is an excellent read for any rainy day and beyond!"
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