frameM IsoldeMartyn FleurDeLis    

Fleur de Lis

This novel is set in the French Revolution but it is entirely guillotine free.
When Fleur, the hunted daughter of a hated duke, interrupts a murderous attack on an elderly traveller, she doesn't expect the dying man to generously offer her marriage and the chance of a new identity. Weary of hiding from her enemies, she accepts and discovers he has left her a theatre-cafe in Paris. But she has also provoked the interest of the handsome, intelligent revolutionary, Raoul de Villaret....


frameM IsoldeMartyn TheSilverBride frameM IsoldeMartyn MoonlightAndShadow  

The Silver Bride
Moonlight and Shadow (USA)

England 1483. Married at sword point to Heloise, a girl with terrifying clairvoyant skills, Sir Miles Rushden is determined to have the marrige annulled, but with the sudden death of the king, Miles and Heloise find themselves at the heart of a power struggle as the mighty dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham manouevre to seize power. Can Heloise convince her handsome new husband that she is not a witch? In a conspiracy that could have a lethal ending, can love prevail?


frameM IsoldeMartyn TheKnightAndTheRose frameM IsoldeMartyn TheKnightAndTheRoseUS  

The Knight and the Rose
(Australia + USA + Germany)

Inspired by a true medieval court case, The Knight and the Rose interweaves fact and fiction into a rich and vibrant tapestry of love, betrayal and political intrigue.


frameM IsoldeMartyn LadyAndTheUnicorn frameM IsoldeMartyn MaidenAndTheUnicorn  

The Lady and the Unicorn
The Maiden and the Unicorn (USA)

This story deals with a real historical hero and heroine and the concept was inspired by the mention of the woman spy in the Chronicle of Philippe de Commynes. When Margery, the beautiful and spirited ward of Warwick the Kingmaker, agrees to carry secret letters to France for King Edward IV, she becomes caught in the deadly power game between the Houses of York and Lancaster. But her greatest danger is the man she is forced to marry, Richard Huddleston.


Published in April 2017 by Harlequin Mira in Australia and New Zealand ISBN 978 1 489 220 370
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Inspiration for this novel came from staying in Languedoc in southern France. It’s the beautiful land of the troubadours but it was also witness to some terrible injustices. In 1209 Pope Innocent III persuaded the King of France to permit an army of northern knights to join a crusade against the south. The pope was angry because there was a heretical sect called the Cathars or Albigensians who had rejected the teaching of the orthodox church, and he wanted them destroyed. The soldiers who joined the crusade, however, were more interested in looting and a land grab than in Christian principles.

Everywhere we went, we heard stories about this crusade and how it devastated the southern culture. What would it have been like to face that army? This gave me the idea of a noble lord trying to save his people. Should he be a real historical figure or a fictional character?

The weekend we visited Carcassonne, my imagination was fired by the wonderfully restored medieval citadel. Standing within the walls which are dominated by watchtowers, you can feel such a vibrant sense of the past. There’s a cathedral and C12th castle and it was easy to imagine the narrow streets crowded with citizens watching their noble lord ride in procession. The perfect setting for a hero! Should I use a real historic figure? Well, the poor Vicomte de Carcassonne lost everything and died in the castle dungeon. He actually tried to join the crusade to save his lands but they turned him down. No, I wanted a more heroic figure and so I created Richart, Vicomte de Mirascon, and the fictional city-state of Mirascon, which is loosely based on Carcassonne.

And the woman in my story? I wanted a servant who gets mistaken for her mistress so Adela, my latest heroine, is resourceful, intelligent and courageous. She’s the daughter of a lady, who was rejected by her family because she fell in love and ran away with her father’s chaplain. Educated by her father, Adela has dreams of being useful and respected and she seizes the opportunity to join a bridal party heading for Mirascon. Surely in the land of the troubadours, life may be better.

In this scene, Adela, a hairbraider, is mistaken for the bride of Richart, Vicomte de Mirascon. She and the laundress, Maud, are the survivors of a brigands’ attack on the bride’s retinue.


GLISTENING in gold upon the rippling banners of blue ciclatoun was the crossed-swords insignia of Ricart, Vicomte of Mirascon. He had dispatched help but it had taken hours and there was no need for the musicians.

‘Christ save us!’ whispered Maud, falling to her knees, her lips drawn tight in awe. ‘He’s sent a blessed army.’

‘They’ve probably been in readiness. We were supposed to arrive several days ago, remember.’

The foremost riders astride fine mounts were of noble birth, judging by their golden adornments and clothes of costly scarlet. Behind them, mounted on amblers and sorels, the lesser in rank were clad in dull reds of cheaper dye, with perse blue chapes and silver badges stitched upon their tunics. In their midst Adela glimpsed the cream canopy of a women’s chariot with several other wagons in its wake. The procession slowed and the loping minstrels re-assembled and began to play once more.

Where was Ricart of Mirascon? The lord in charge was staring at her through narrowed eyes. Rebelliously, Adela stood her ground, hugging the coffer to her breast. She was no peasant to grovel before this man but it needed every drop of courageous blood to keep her shoulders straight and look him in the face.

‘What if they don’t believe us?’ wailed Maud, tugging at her skirt.

‘We had better make sure they do.’

‘Well, from now on I’m speaking naught but English, that way they can’t question me about wot happened to my poor lady.’

As the noblemen walked their horses closer, Adela’s confidence teetered. Oh, there was such hauteur in their faces. Her starved gaze beheld the glistening saddlecloths, the jewelled collars across the men’s shoulders and the expensive scabbards that gleamed upon their thighs. Their riches made her feel even more like a tightened tabor skin—primed for a beating! Would they believe her? But what if she could show her learning, pass for a companion of the dead woman? She wanted respect not further servitude.

The procession halted, close enough for her to see the arching of eyebrows. Lips, framed by clipped moustaches and neat beards, jutted warily. Irritability definitely creased the forehead of the noble who led the company. He kneed his white horse forward, clearly not prepared to dirty his boot soles unless it was worthwhile.

Adela curtsied with dignity, her curled hand at her heart, and it was the southerner broke his gaze away first. At some imperceptible command, a groom ran up to hold his master’s horse and the elegant lord dismounted and came to stand before her. He coughed a fraction disdainfully as if to show his companions that his first disgust at these strangers might be justified.

‘We seek the Lady Alys.’ A curt bow.

‘Whom am I addressing, seigneur?’ Adela replied in perfect Norman French.

The noble’s haughtiness thawed somewhat. ‘Sir Tibaut de Saint-Pons, cousin to Ricart, Lord of Mirascon.’

‘Seigneur Tibaut, I regret to tell you that we alone survived the journey.’

‘Dieu!’ He recoiled. ‘Pestilence?’ His gloved hand darted up to defend his nostrils.

‘No, seigneur, brigands. We were set upon several days ago and have been forced to make the rest of the journey on foot.’

As Sir Tibaut gravely repeated this to his companions, she almost felt sorry for them. All this splendour to no purpose. At least the cruel tidings had punctured their arrogance. Observation of the bruise on her forehead, the dust on her feet, and her far from pale complexion was now performed with sympathy.

‘My lord vicomte will be most distressed to learn of this misfortune,’ Sir Tibaut assured her. ‘Have no doubt that he will hunt these felons to the death.’ He unfastened a leather flask from his belt, removed the stopper and offered it courteously. The greatest gift she could ask for.

Adela received it solemnly, restrained herself from taking more than a few swallows and then before his haughtiness could object, she passed it to Maud.

‘Have the dowry chests arrived?’ she asked to distract him.

‘Yes, indeed, ma dompna,’ he began and then remembered to slide once more into the langue d’oeuil of northern France. ‘They arrived from Gascony two days ago.’

‘I am relieved to hear it,’ she answered.

Her innocent reply seemed to spark some decision in Sir Tibaut. He stepped towards her, and crooked a swift, imperious signal to the company behind him. With a rattle of harness and babble of astonishment, the southern lords slid from the saddles and a clutch of demoiselles hatched from the curtained chariot. Maybe they were going to turn the procession around but then she realised her error. Everyone was making obeisance to her.…

Before she could explain that she was not Lady Alys, …poles and canvas were being plucked from the wagons.

‘Well, I never did,’ Maud whispered in English, clearly feeling it was safe to rise to her feet. ‘You certainly put ’em in their place. Is that ’im?’

‘No, but I think I’ve just made a monstrous error. I believe they’ve mistaken me for Lady Alys.’

Maud shrugged. ‘I don’t care whether they think you’re the Queen of England, just ask ’em for some ruddy food.’

Adela was too concerned to answer. The demoiselles were advancing on her with battle-phalanx determination in their faces. ‘Maud, this is getting unfortunate.’

‘Aye, look at them pails being filled. I reckon you’re about to experience a proper sponging.’


‘Don’t squawk at me. Try telling ’im you’re the apprentice laundress.’

Adela tried—well, not the laundress part.

‘Later, later,’ an impatient Sir Tibaut assured her and, regaining possession of her hand, he joyfully surrendered her to the women.

The unclothing was embarrassing, not to mention the attention with the Castilian soap, but thank Heaven she knew the bathing procedure (she’d usually been the one with the jug), and if she closed her eyes as Queen Isabella usually did, it would make the these twittering maidens disappear.

Her exhausted body welcomed the lap of the perfumed water and for a few wonderful moments, she forgot her predicament and enjoyed the pleasure of being a noblewoman, of having her hair washed, scented and wrapped in soft cloths. It could be like this every day if she was a real lady—violet and rose petals bobbing round her breasts and the grimy existence of Adela de Handley washed away. With regret, she allowed their gentle hands to compel her to her feet and closed her eyes in delight at the soft towels that embraced her. Oh to be Lord Ricart’s bride!

She opened her eyes with a start as something furry touched her thighs. A demoiselle, armed with a rabbit tail of powdered myrtle proceeded upwards, whisking across Adela’s nipples and beneath her arms. Oh Heavens, despite her dilemma, the faux Lady Alys laughed. She had not known her breasts could blush. Encouraged, her ardent attendant giggled in appalling northern French. ‘Perhaps, you are thinking of your wedding night, madame?’ She repeated her jest in her own tongue and there was immense merriment.

Still giggling, they brought Adela clean underlinen, a kirtle of robin egg blue and Cordovan leather slippers stitched with tiny marguerites. This was getting out of hand.

‘I must explain … ’ Adela began again but they took her reluctance for displeasure at the garments and it was necessary to smile once more like a cheerful stone saint and be accepting.

Sir Tibaut was impatient to have her loaded into a chariot, but at least he offered her some sweet wine, figs and cakes.

Maud looked tidier and better tempered when she appeared at the back steps of the chariot ready to elbow her way on but the demoiselles made room.

‘I scrounged some of your bathwater,’ Maud muttered. ‘You haven’t told them yet, I gather?’

‘No, I keep trying.’ At least they both smelled sweeter.

‘Trouble is you plaguey well scrub up like a princess an’ they won’t like it when they found out you ain’t.’

Forced to flee the English court after the lecherous King John attacks her, Adela, the queen’s hairbraider, finds employment in the entourage of Lady Alys. Alys is on her way to marry the Lord of Mirascon, a fiefdom in southern France. However, the south is under threat from Pope Innocent III’s military crusade against the heretics.

After trying in vain to rally his fellow lords against invasion, Richart, Vicomte de Mirascon, makes an alliance with King John. A political marriage to the Lady Alys – the king’s discarded mistress – will allow Richart to safeguard his people from a merciless land grab and cruel slaughter.

When the bridal party is ambushed, Adela is mistaken for her dead mistress by the people of Mirascon. Adela knows she must tell Richart that she is not his betrothed, but as she is dragged deeper into the deception, she is also powerfully drawn to the beleaguered man trying to protect his people and his culture. Adela is recognised by the dwarf Derwent, Richart’s English jester, who seems willing to keep her secret for the time being. Yet as suspicion builds up against her, paying with her life seems inevitable.

As the pope's savage army marches south, can Richart and Adela overcome a web of deceit and treachery and evade the bonfires of the crusaders, or will their land of troubadours and tolerance be destroyed forever?

Published by Harlequin Mira in Australia and New Zealand ISBN 978 1 74 356874 3Order from Harlequin, Bookworld or Booktopia; e-book from iBooks, Amazon or Kobo
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Two young women on opposing sides find their lives wrecked by battle ... can they be restored by love?


As sister to Warwick the Kingmaker and cousin to the new young King Edward IV, Kate Neville finds herself on the winning side of the latest bloody battle of the Wars of the Roses — and under pressure to marry again. Kate’s family want to ensure her new husband will be someone they control, but Kate is refusing. The nobleman they have in mind for her has a reputation as a womaniser and she wants a man who won’t betray her like her first husband did. But her new suitor is determined to win her heart. Can she thwart her brother’s plans for her?


Elysabeth Woodville is a beautiful young woman, much adored by her husband, Sir John Grey. But when he is killed in battle on the losing side and named as a traitor, his estate is seized by the Yorkists and Elysabeth finds herself penniless and friendless. In her desperate struggle to restore her sons’ inheritance, she finds herself not only kneeling before her enemy but winning his heart. Is she is too proud to become his mistress? Or does the King of England love her enough to ignore his friends’ advice and make her his queen?

In the precarious peace of a bloody civil war, can love heal wounds?

Extract 1 Kate Neville

Kate, the young sister of the Earl of Warwick, is married to twenty-year-old Will Bonville, Lord Harrington, and they have a six-month-old daughter, Cecily. In this excerpt from the opening section, it is January 1461 and Will is away fighting in the rebel army of the Duke of York. Kate is at home in Devon, sitting in the winter sunshine and gazing up at the wooded hillside that overlooks the manor of Shute.

… Stockton Wood made her afraid of the deep recesses of her soul, afraid that there was a reckoning to be paid.

That first leaf fall after their wedding, Will had spurred his horse through the great rutted puddles left by the woodsmen’s carts. She had been riding close behind, but the laughter had left her when he led her on foot deeper into the ancient grove of oaks that tonsured the hill. Everywhere, ivy snaked forth across the fallen logs, clawing upwards, tormenting the barks of the wizened trees. Less obvious, a few venomous greenish-white toadstools – death-caps – pierced through the rotting leaves, and the phallus of a single stinkhorn breathed its corrupt miasma out into the shadowy air.

‘This oak grove is haunted by the wraiths of pagan victims,’ Will had whispered. ‘Young virgins sacrificed on a stone altar to the sun god.’

‘Then we are trespassing,’ she had whispered, pulling free. Their presence seemed a sacrilege. ‘Let’s go back to the horses.’

He laughed, seeing he had upset her. ‘Pah, you are such an innocent, Kate Neville.’ His hands reached out to tether her but she guessed his intent and fled.

Whooping, he chased her around the oaks and then he deftly hooked his foot around her ankle, tripping her. She remembered screaming as she fell face down into the mess of ivy. Then he had turned her over, the merriment slipping from his face and she had recognised the silent intensity that always heralded his ardour.

‘I don’t want to,’ she said. ‘Not here.’

‘Hush, it’s your duty to obey me.’

Stifling her protests with kisses, he had fumbled beneath her petticotes, tossed her kirtle back and tumbled her as though she were some common shepherdess. Useless to be angry. Will was quite capable of sulking whenever she said no. Being ‘bloggy’, his father called it.

‘The Druids made love to the virgins before they sacrificed them,’ he lied with male authority afterwards, as he stood above her retying the points to his gypon. ‘It would have been a waste otherwise.’

‘But then they would not have been pure to sacrifice,’ she argued, hiding her resentment and tugging her skirts back over her garters and stockings. She pitied the pagan maidens; their ravishment an extra cruelty before slaughter.

He straightened the flap of his hose. ‘You are too clever, you Nevilles,’ he muttered. ‘Anyway, say your prayers, madame wife, that we have made a boy of this moment’s work.’ But there had been an uneasiness in his eyes, perhaps a fear that he could have provoked the primeval spirits of the grove – a desecration that might require punishment. But then his mood lifted, like a tossed caravel, swinging round to confidence again.

‘It looks to rain. I’d better get you home.’ He helped her scramble to her feet and then as he plucked away the leaves snared in her boisterous hair, the shadows about them seemed to shrink back, the gnarled trees became less ominous. With his arm about her waist, he had hastened her back to where the horses were contentedly cropping the moss. Maybe it was his new doublet that concerned him, whether the dye of the lining could run and ruin his shirt, or else he was afeared and too much the swaggerer to admit it. Yet they quit the wood with a new spirit planted inside her. It had been there that Cecily had been conceived and although the baby had been born free of any deformities, still Kate feared there was some curse attached to that coupling and that the skein of destiny for Will was tampered with that day. That fear still lay heavy behind her heart although it was fifteen months since the begetting.

Extract 2 Elysabeth Woodville, Lady Grey

It is Februay 1461 and Elysabeth’s twenty-nine year-old husband, John Grey, Lord Ferrers, is away fighting for the House of Lancaster. They have two sons, Thomas and Dickon. In this extract, the Ferrers household at Groby [pronounced Grooby] in Leicestershire is celebrating the news of Lancaster’s battle victory at St Albans. However, a messenger arrives desiring to have urgent speech with Elysabeth. Her mother-in-law, Lady Ferrers, joins her outside.

Two men were waiting in the courtyard, facing the steps of the hall. Right behind them, still held by its leading rein, was a laden ass.

The grey-haired man – this must be Bart – bobbed in respect and stepped aside. Elysabeth recognised the youth who was with him – one of the stable lads who had left Groby last week as an excited horseboy and returned as … ?

The young man bowed and as he raised his head, sorrowful eyes, gritted with weariness and suffering, pierced hers. Elysabeth,  confused, skewed her gaze behind him to the pack ass – not one of theirs but a poor bony creature. Its load … was a body.

The corpse was slung across the horse’s back. It hung face down, wrists bound to bare ankles to prevent falling. A quilted brigadine, heavily and red-stained, had slid downwards to collar the man’s head.

Staring at Elysabeth, the lad reached out wordlessly and tugged the garment up so she was able to recognise the tousled, bloodied hair and the hands, ringless and tethered palm to palm.

'John!' she screamed and rushed forwards, falling on her knees. The ass was startled. The boy swiftly grabbed the reins.

‘How can this be?’ Elysabeth shrieked, twisting in anger to face the people behind her.

John’s mother’s face was as grey as ashes. ‘O Jesu,’ she whispered crossing herself in horror. ‘O Jesu, Jesu, Jesu!’

‘But it was a victory,’ protested someone.

‘What of Grey, my other son?’ Lady Ferrers was asking.

‘He be recovering from wounds, my lady,’ answered the boy. ‘That be why he could not come ’imself.’

Oh, if only John’s brother had died instead! Elysabeth wanted to shriek aloud in her wretchedness. How could God be so cruel? And she and John had parted in such anger!

‘No, no!’ she protested, her hands fists against the wrath of God.

‘My lady?’ Exclaiming and muttering, their people were all about them now, the women servants sobbing and the older men blaspheming in shock. And Elysabeth was reaching out in grief and pity to John’s brow as if her fingertips needed to assert what her mind refused to believe.

And then the voices halted, as though a knife had been thrust against each throat. She twisted round, dashing her own tears aside. The throng had parted to let Tom through. The chaplain was trying to hold him back but he jerked away the cleric’s hand.

‘No, no, don’t let him see!’ exclaimed Elysabeth. ‘Take him in! For the love of God, take him in!’ She stumbled to her feet, spreading her arms.

Ignoring her, his face like hewn stone, he came past her and halted, staring wide-eyed at the purple bruises that made his father’s profile almost beyond recognition. It was as if he was counting the wounds, forcing himself to register each one. Elysabeth, shaking with shock now, looked, too. There were so many. And the gash. The line of dried blood ribboning John’s throat.

‘Tom,’ she began but her son’s face was a mask of defiance.

‘This is victory, Mother? I do not think so.’

The servants parted in silence as he walked back through their midst into the house. For a moment no one moved and then his grandmother took charge. ‘Why do you stand in such idleness?’ Lady Ferrers cried, gesturing the servants towards John’s body. ‘Carry your master to the chapel at once! And you, sirrah,’ she demanded of the youth. ‘What of Lady Grey’s kinsmen and the rest of our men?’

Elysabeth clutched her fingers to her lips with a painful, guilty gasp. In her anguish, she had forgotten that her father and eldest brother were with the army, too.

‘They stay with the queen, my lady. She intends to march on to London. Two of the men from Astley were killed with the master but they’re like to be buried at St Albans and Nicholas Anstey had an arrow in his shoulder but the chirugeon got it out and reckons it’ll heal an—’

‘They will be in our prayers,’ cut in Lady Ferrers. ‘Come, Elysabeth! Let us to the chapel!’ But then rage and sorrow broke through her mask of briskness. ‘I’ll say this, though, lad, you could have brought your lord home with greater honour, not slung like a traitor!’

‘Beggin’ your pardon, my lady. It be not my fault nor Master Edward’s. Her highness would not spare the horses.’

‘No horse?’ Elysabeth exclaimed, her voice strange and shrill. ‘My lord husband died for the queen and she could not spare a horse?’ For an instant, her entire body shook with hatred, welcomed it, but the horror was overwhelming. She was conscious of the chaplain at her side, the murmur of concerned voices.

‘Pray go in, my lady,’ he was saying. ‘Your sons will need you.’ And then Lady Ferrers, with an arm about her shoulders, was turning her towards the steps. She could feel the same righteous anger pulsing through the older woman’s fingers.

‘Ahem! Please you, Lady Grey.’ They had forgotten the messenger who had brought his master home.

Both of them looked back. Elysabeth felt the words stick in her throat, but Lady Ferrers still had a stifler on her grief and nodded. ‘We thank you, boy. You shall be rewarded.’

He sniffed dismissively, waggling his lower jaw. ‘Not that, my lady.’ It seemed he had a speech for both of them but his gaze was for Elysabeth. ‘Master’s esquire, Andrew Chilvers, wanted me to say to you that the master fought bravely. He led the charge but it was them traps what did it.’

‘Traps?’ The word tasted raw, bitter as she turned and braced herself to listen.

‘Yes, Lady Grey, Lord Warwick hid traps – nets, caltraps and that ilk to wound the horses, see. That’s what brought the master down. His horse trod upon the caltraps and he fell upon the field and our enemy’s soldiers rushed forward with their halberds.’

‘Oh dear God! You saw this?’

‘Not I, my lady, but Master Chilvers did. And he bade me give you this.’ He thrust his hand inside his jacket and tugged out a crumpled piece of silk.

The St Valentine’s gift.

The youth was a blur beyond her tears as he tumbled to his knees at her feet like a penitent waiting for absolution. ‘An’ I crave you forgivene—

He broke off. Dickon had burst out of the hall and was pulling at her skirt.

‘Mama come, come! Tom is throwing the wooden soldiers that Father made us onto the fire.’

Elysabeth, torn, her heart breaking, caught the child to her side and set a trembling hand upon the messenger’s head. ‘God’s blessing on you for bringing your master home.’

‘An’ God be wi’ you, my lady,’ he said, with pity.

ISBN 978 0 98 738460 7 print on demand and Amazon e-book ISBN 978 0 98 738465 2 Amazon and Smashwords Reader BewareAny audio edition of this book is a scam
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A real life 'game of thrones'!

1483: England has a new king – a mere boy – but who is to rule the kingdom until he comes of age? His ambitious mother, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, or his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester?

Into this impasse steps the eloquent and charming Harry, Duke of Buckingham, Richard’s cousin, but what are his true intentions? Here for the first time is his account of that fateful summer when Gloucester became King Richard III. But of the two, who is the statesman and who the villain?

In this novel, rich in intrigue, Isolde Martyn, author of Mistress to the Crown, draws Richard III and Buckingham, two of history’s most enigmatic men, out from the shadows.

April 1483

Before the strange messenger arrived, I could have been struck by a lightning bolt and made no difference to England’s history. But in April 1483, the planets that favoured my birth sign moved into unparalleled amity. In one day, one hour almost, my fortune changed.

Instead of attending King Edward at Westminster Palace, I had taken leave and returned to my castle above the town of Brecknock – Aberhonddu as the local Welsh call it. I was weary of hanging about the royal heels like an idle dog. Being Duke of Buckingham and the last legal heir of the House of Lancaster might engender envy in some but they would be misguided. I hungered for the respect that comes with high office, the respect that had been accorded to my grandsire, the first duke, but Edward gave me no opportunity to prove myself. At twenty-eight years old, it was little wonder I was so discontent.

On the afternoon of the day the messenger rode into Wales, I admit to frolicking. My servants had done their best to alleviate my tedium by finding me two pert wenches in a hamlet south of the town. These twin girls were pretty as briar roses, fragrant, black-haired, blue-eyed, mischievous and, mercifully, clean. I was welcomed into their dwelling, where they blindfolded me and tormented me so exquisitely that I could not tell who nuzzled me or which one of them sat astride me first.

When I was sated, their sweet whispers and girlish laughter lapped around me – as gentle as perfumed bathwater after a day in the saddle. One of them slid from the bed to stoke the cottage fire. The other girl fetched sweetmeats and, while her sister fed me, she teased me to hardness once again. I might have stayed longer in their company but Sir William Knyvett, my uncle by marriage, rapped upon the cottage door and straightaway let himself in.

‘Harry, are you going to be much longer?’

‘You wish to join us?’ I asked, but something in his face made me toss aside my delightful rider and reach for my shirt.

‘And have your aunt strangle me with one of her garters? No, Harry, it’s John Shenmore – the bailiff you sent to Abergavenny, remember. He has just has been carted in with broken ribs. He was attacked down by Tretwr on his way back this morning.’

‘The Vaughans?’ I asked. It had to be the Vaughans, the greediest marauding whoresons this side of the Black Mountains.

‘Aye, who else?’

‘Excellent.’ I turned and gestured for my clothes. ‘We can ride down tomorrow and whack the hell out of them. It may not be as satisfying as sitting on the Royal Council, invading France or—’

‘Or risking the pox,’ Uncle Knyvett cut in. He moved aside to let the girl bring me my gipon and underdrawers. ‘Good, were they?’ His stare was appreciative

‘Very good, eh, cariad?’ I smiled down at the girl as she knelt to slide my feet into my woollen stockings. I thanked her in Welsh and carried her sister’s hand to my lips. ‘So, is Shenmore badly hurt?’ I asked Uncle Knyvett. No doubt extra payment would ease the fellow’s pain.

‘He’ll mend.’

‘Come, then, I am done here.’

I teased the wenches by striding to the door without giving them payment. But as I grabbed the latch, I turned, laughing, and paid them double their worth, amused to see their dismayed mouths tilt into merriment again.

It was a shock to leave the warm stew of the wenches’ abode. The chill wind scourged our backs. April still had the breath of winter. Last night’s toss of snow garlanded the hedgerows and the road was hard with frost beneath our horses’ hooves. As we neared the river, I glanced over my shoulder. The clouds above the ebbing sun had parted over the mountains in a splendour of gold and vermilion as if Christ’s return was due. Was it an omen?

I gave spur to my horse and hastened across the drawbridge of my castle with new heart. The murrey sandstone walls were blushed a deeper hue beneath that glorious light and the grisailled windows of the great hall were conjured into a hundred tiny, shining mirrors. I do not exaggerate. I had never beheld such an immodest configuration of clouds and I tossed my ambler’s reins to a stableboy, hurtled up the stone steps and stood gasping on the battlements. But already the beauty of that sky was fading. So soon? Did it mean nothing? Oh God, surely there had to be some worth to life instead of the constant yearning that obsessed my soul.

‘Your grace?’

Pershall, my bodyservant, had come to find me. His dark blue eyes were concerned. He had reason; I do not usually behave as though stung by a gadfly.

‘Observing me for signs of fever, Pershall? I came to see the sky.’

‘Not like you, my lord.’ Impertinent, disbelieving, he stared across the rooftops of the town to where the hills reared like an angry sea, and instantly dismissed the fading clouds. ‘Were the girls not to your liking, your grace?’

‘Most satisfactory, Pershall. Quite imaginative.’ I guessed the blindfold had been his suggestion.

‘Thank the saints for that. Well, I should stay up here a bit longer if I were you, my lord. Your youngest is bawling fit to wake the dead.’

I narrowed my eyes against the rising wind as I looked towards the great ridge of Pen-y-Fan, the inevitable horizon of Brecknock. It was dark and brooding now, its green-gold collar lost in the half-light. Maybe I believed in far too gracious a god. No gentle hand had clawed out those valleys and slapped those crags against the sky.

‘Should be good fishing on Llyn Safaddan soon, my lord.’

I shrugged sourly.

‘What about the Myddffai girl for you tonight? You remember, my lord, the red-haired wench with duckies to die for.’

Was that my reputation? Naught but a horny Plantagenet? Sweet Christ, any lord can have a warm-thighed woman who by night willingly creases the sheets she has so lovingly laundered by day. I would have given my soul to be useful instead of rutting in Wales.

Pershall would have earned a terse answer had not the barking of dogs and the trumpeting from the river gatehouse proclaimed the monthly arrival of the messenger from the Queen, my sister-in-law.

‘Shall you go down, my lord?’ Pershall looked hopeful.

‘What for, Pershall? News of the latest royal runny nose can wait until suppertime. Go and make ready my bath.’ I kept walking, the black dog of despair following behind my spurred heels like a shadow.

‘Harry! Harry, where in Hell are you?’

Uncle Knyvett emerged from the upper floor of the nearest tower. For a man in his forties he was very fit but the stairs had made him breathless. ‘Th…the messenger that has just come from Westminster, Harry, he’s a strange one. I think you should go down. He’s not from the Queen and he will speak only with you.’ I shrugged, but Uncle Knvyett had the bit between his teeth. ‘He’s poorly clad and yet he rode in on one of the King’s post-horses. Something’s up, lad. Something’s definitely up.’

I set out originally some years ago to write a novel about Margaret Beaufort but a hand kept going up: 'What about me, miss? Write a novel about me.' The voice was Harry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham's.

I hope you will enjoy his story and it has been good to write a Wars of the Roses novel from a male viewpoint for a change. When I first began this book, I set out to create an absolute anti-hero. Trouble is authors have to keep the reader's empathy for the main character so he had to have a lot of likeable qualities, too, and the more I researched him, the more I could see why he made the decisions he did. Not always the right ones, I'm afraid.

If you think about it, all great men have flaws that can bring about their downfall. Consider Shakespeare's tragedies, and we only have to look at a lot of world leaders today. So many are corrupted by power that they haven't the greatness to step aside when they start failing to fulfil their people's hopes.

So here is political intrigue in abundance and I hope this novel may lift a candle to the events of 1483 and how Richard III became king. We may only conjecture what really happened back then and the jury are still out on who were the villains. Enjoy!

Published by Harlequin Mira in Australia and New Zealand trade paperback ISBN 978 1 74 356021 1 B-format ISBN 978 1 74 356833 0 e-book worldwide itunes UK edition Harlequin Mills & Boon ISBN 978 0 26 391012 4German edition Mätresse der Krone published by Cora
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Wed at thirteen to William Shore, beautiful and resourceful Elizabeth Lambard is determined to free herself from a loveless marriage and manage her own destiny. But freedom means persuading the Pope in Rome to hear her case, a costly enterprise, so when the King’s friend, Lord Hastings, visits her husband’s shop and they see each other again, Elizabeth offers him an irresistible bargain.

But it’s not just Hastings who is hungry for the delectable Mistress Shore, King Edward IV is determined to have her, too.

So long as these great men protect her, she is safe from public scorn and the Queen’s enmity, but when the king eventually falls ill and his brother, Richard of Gloucester, comes south to take control of the realm, Elizabeth finds herself charged as a traitor.

Under the new regime of Richard III, is there anyone left for Elizabeth to trust? Or will help and love come from the most unexpected quarter as she faces a humiliating penance as a whore and a cruel death for treason?

For more information about the historical Elizabeth Lambard's life, read Inspiration for a new novel.

The thought of being married at 13 to someone twice your age without any say in the matter could make you determined to escape somehow. The more I researched Elizabeth Lambard aka Jane Shore, the educated daughter of high-ranking John Lambard, the more I admired her. If you think about the problem Henry VIII had in obtaining a divorce, for a housewife to achieve that half a century earlier was pretty magnificent.

Sir Thomas More says people thought very highly of Mistress Shore and she was known for her kindness and wit. I wanted to have a heroine who was at the heart of the court so she was just perfect – a royal mistress who could wittily put men down without giving offence and who suffered adversity as well as success.

Originally, the manuscript contained a lot more chapters on Elizabeth’s married life as she was with William Shore for at least ten years before she became a royal mistress. These chapters were deleted from the published edition. However, writing them helped me get to know my character better and see her in the context of London life, especially the hierarchy of the guilds. Whenever I am researching real people, I like to look at their childhood and adolescence as it helps me understand the decisions they took later.

My agent asked me to bring out what it must have been really like to be a royal mistress – the negative side as well as the good life. I imagine it would have been very lonely for Elizabeth when the king was on progress. It is highly likely that neighbours, family friends and the guilds would have initially ostracised her because of the scandal.

Elizabeth’s father got into great trouble over a house he rented from the Goldsmiths’ Guild. They accused him of removing a lot of expensive fittings. In trying to make sense of it (the guild records do not give his motives), I supposed it was possible that he had rented the house for a mistress and she had carried away stuff in retaliation when he broke the arrangement off. It explains one reason why he might condone his daughter’s relationship with the king.

I’ve been reading more about Edward IV’s death recently and there are theories that he may have died from diabetes. When you think about it, here must have been plenty of cases among the rich and well-fed, so it is quite possible that is what carried the poor fellow off. That’s the beauty of research; it’s on-going, always more discoveries and some new light bulb moments!

Soper’s Lane, the city of London, 1463

At fourteen, we make mistakes. I had been a fool to come to this old man’s chamber on my own but I was desperate for legal advice on how to annul my marriage. He had told me he was a former proctor, a church lawyer – exactly what I needed – and he had seemed as friendly as a kindly grandfather when I spoke to him after Mass on Sunday. But now he was tonguing his cheek as he eyed my body and dancing his fingers slowly on the table between us. Behind him, in the corner, I could see his half-made bed.

I would not scream, I decided, slowly rising to my feet. Shrieking for help would mean my name would be all over the city by suppertime. No, I had to deal with this on my own.

‘Thank you, sir, I shall pass your counsel on to my friend, but now I have to go.’ My voice emerged creakily. I had meant to sound brisk.

He smiled, nastily now, no longer bothering to mask his purpose. Both of us had been lying. In truth, I was ‘the friend’ who desired advice, and his legal counsel was not ‘free’; it came with a fee that was still to be exacted.

‘If you are desperate, Mistress Shore,’ he declared, rising heavily to his feet, ‘you’ll be willing to please me.’

Yes, I was desperate for an annulment, but I had rather be hanged than ‘please’ this revolting old goat. My maidenhead was intact and I intended to keep it that way.

‘I made no such bargain,’ I said, fisting my hands within the folds of my skirts, cursing I had not brought a bodkin to defend myself.

‘We won’t go all the way because that would spoil the evidence,’ he wheezed, fumbling at the ties beneath his tunic. ‘Some fondling will do. For now.’

‘Oh, just fondling,’ I said with a pretend smile of relief. ‘I thought you meant—’

I rushed to the door but the latch tongue stuck. He grabbed my left forearm, dragging me back.

This was the moment, or never. I swung my right fist with all the fury I possessed into his face. I heard something crunch. He went staggering back and crashed against the table, the bright blood spurting from his nostrils. That and the toppling inkpots would spoil his clothes or so I hoped as I ran down the stairs.

It was realising the enormity of my folly that rearranged the contents of my stomach once I reached the street. I did manage to hide my face as I retched and the moment I could stand upright, I ran past the tenements up to Cheapside and with a gasp of relief, plunged into the chaos of carts, pigs and people. My mind was still in panic. What if the old man threatened to blab to my husband or to my wealthy father?

My slow progress through the crowd calmed my shakiness. Being small, I felt concealed. Outsiders might be afraid of London cutpurses but this wonderful, raucous hub of noise was my neighbourhood, safer to me than any quieter lane. I pushed further along to where a tight press of people was clogging the thoroughfare and wriggled in amongst them. In their midst, a hosier’s apprentice was standing on a barrow. I had heard his silver-tongued babble before. He was good.

‘The best price in Cheapside,’ the lad was yelling, waving a pair of frothy scarlet garters. ‘Just imagine your wife’s legs in these, sir.’ Laughter rumbled around me. His gaze scanned our faces. ‘And what about the jays and robin redbreasts among you sparrows?’ he challenged, flourishing a pair of men’s hose – one leg pea green, the other violet, and then his cheeky stare sauntered back to my face and slid lower.

Lordy! Squinting downwards at the gap in my cloak, I realised what the proctor had glimpsed as well – a woman’s breasts straining against an outgrown gown. And it was not just on the outside my body was changing. I knew that. Dear God, that was why I needed the urgent annulment. I was an apple almost ripe for plucking and my husband Shore was watching – waiting – like a hungry orchard thief.

I gave the apprentice a hands-off glare, tugged my cloak tightly across my front and, aware that the proctor’s neighbours might still raise the alarm, I determined to stay where I was with every sense alert.

No hue-and-cry was coming from the direction of Soper’s Lane and I said a silent prayer of thanks for that. Maybe the foul old fellow was as fearful for his reputation as I was for mine. That welcome thought made my shoulders relax. And, apart from learning that men of all ages were not to be trusted, I had at least gleaned one piece of useful advice. The proctor had told me that ‘my friend’ needed to have her case heard by the Court of Arches, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s especial court for hearing divorce petitions. St Mary-le-Bow, the church, which housed the court on weekdays, was just a few moments’ walk back along Cheapside. Perhaps the Almighty was watching over me, after all. If I went to St Mary’s straight away…

‘Pretty mistress? Hey? Anybody home?’ Lapis-blue garters pranced before my eyes. The glib-tongued apprentice had singled me out again. ‘Pet, you’re not listening,’ he declared with feigned dismay, reaching out to tweak my nose. ‘Come, give your husband a surp––’

‘Exactly my thoughts!’ I exclaimed fervently and elbowed my way out.

One of St Anthony’s wretched sows blundered along in front of me, as though she had some similar mission. At least she cleared my path.
St Mary-le-Bow lay almost a stone’s throw from the alley off Bow Lane where I now lived. Richard Lambard, my grandfather, was buried beneath the church’s nave so that was why my family sometimes worshipped there to pray for his soul. My brothers used to tease me that the steeple was haunted and if you stood in the churchyard for long enough, you were sure to see a chunk of masonry fall from the roof and that was Grandfather’s ghost making mischief.

To my relief, the doors of St Mary’s stood open. I crossed myself and prayed to Our Lady the Virgin to give me strength. After all, Our Lady’s marriage had been arranged, too, and I doubt she had cared for St Joseph at first, especially when he was so angry about the Angel Gabriel.

I could, would, do this now – go in, swear on the Gospels that I had been wed against my will and that the marriage had not been consummated. They might insist upon a midwife to examine me but my body’s evidence would prove I was no liar. Of course, I’d need to move back to my parents’ house and I could not be sure Father would take me in; but first things first. With a deep breath I grabbed up my skirts. Freedom was just steps away.

But I was wrong. A pikestaff dropped obliquely across my path. I had not noticed the sergeant on duty.

‘I have business inside, sir,’ I announced, imitating my mother’s tone when she addressed the household. ‘It’s a matter of urgency.’

The soldier jerked a thumb at a parchment nailed on the door. ‘Plaintiff or defendant, mistress? What time is your hearing?’


He propped the pikestaff against the wall and shook his head at me. ‘The rule is you cannot go in unless you are on today’s list.’

‘But I need a marriage annulment, sir. By the end of this week. Today, if possible.’

‘Bless me, young woman,’ he clucked. ‘Have you been sleeping in some toadstool ring? Don’t you know it takes months, sometimes years, to get a hearing?’

Months? Years? My first monthly flow might be only days away.

‘They’ll understand the matter is urgent,’ I assured him, wondering if I could duck beneath his arm, but he was no fool.

‘Listen, first you find a proctor to write your petition, then it has to go all the way to Rome and the Pope himself must be told of it. His Holiness may say you have a case to be heard or he may not.’

‘But I do. Oh, please, let me through.’

‘How old are you?’

‘Almost fifteen, sir.’

‘Fourteen, then. Well, pardon me for asking but does this husband of yours cuff you around when he’s had a bellyful of ale?’ He peered down, inspecting my face for bruises. ‘Is he unkind to you?’

‘No, sir.’ This was becoming embarrassing. Next he would ask whether Shore had lain with me. Instead he said, ‘Does your father know you’ve come here?’ And that angered me.

‘No, sir, this is my business. I am quite capable of handling it.’

‘I can see that.’ I could tell he was trying not to laugh. ‘So, who is to pay the legal fees?’ He cocked his head towards the door. ‘None of the carrion crows in there will take your part unless you pay ’em. They can’t live on air, you know. It’s business, see.’

How naïve of me. I thought it a matter of justice.

Dismayed, I stared down into the churchyard, biting back my tears, looking so forlorn, I daresay, that the soldier creaked down upon his haunches and took my gloved hands. ‘Give your marriage time,’ he advised, with a kindly tug on the end of my blonde  plait that must have been showing beneath my coif. ‘Lovely girl like you can twirl your husband round your little finger if you play it right. Now you go home and make him his supper, eh?’

Someone cleared his throat impatiently behind me. Three churchmen were waiting to pass. My self-appointed counsel snapped up to standing, his chin turning a dull red beneath his stubble. ‘Go home an’ forget all about this, eh?’ he muttered after he had waved them through.

Forget? The rest of my life is staked out unless I cut the ropes.

Published in Australia and the United States with different titles. There is also a German edition. Australia (The Silver Bride) ISBN 0 732 91127 3, paperback ISBN 0 330 36403 0 United States (Moonlight and Shadow) ISBN TBC, paperback ISBN 0 425 19328 4 e-book published by Momentum
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A lot of readers have asked me what happened to the real historical people in The Maiden and the Unicorn after the novel ends. Well, some of them are in my third book Moonlight and Shadow aka The Silver Bride, which is set twelve years later during the Buckingham Rebellion of 1483.

The political events of 1483 have always intrigued me. Like 1470–71, this was a year of tremendous upheaval with people changing sides and taking huge risks. Looking back from the 21st century, the truth of what really happened is hard to glimpse. Few records survive from that period and those that do exist have been gone over again and again by historians and writers with truth detectors, hoping that some undiscovered nugget of insight might lie there still. This lack of knowledge, of course, makes it much more exciting for the historical novelist. There is room for conjecture, and because the chief protagonists are shadowy figures, it is very satisfying to try and flesh them out.

While I have enjoyed researching the politics of these fifteenth century dukes, I haven't forgotten that it's a love story as well. Neither Margery nor Richard Huddleston have lost their delight in political intrigue, but it is a different hero and heroine who now take centre stage. Miles Rushden (nicknamed Y Cysgod (the Man of Shadow) by the Welsh, is a close friend and companion of the twenty-nine year old Duke of Buckingham, Harry Stafford, and both men are ambitious and prepared to embark on a ruthless, risk-all bid for political power.

Heloise Ballaster, the, fey heroine, is a maid of honour in the household of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. She has the voice of an angel, the face of a Madonna and the hair of a witch. She is also cursed with glimpses of the future – not a blessing in such a superstitious age. But her biggest problem is her father. He's a small, strutting rooster of a man, and a family tyrant. And quarrelsome, too, especially when there is land at stake, which is how he comes to blows with Miles's father and challenges him to a duel. However, what sensible father would put on armour if his adult son is at hand to play his champion? And if Heloise's father turns lily-livered at the thought of combat, which of his daughters is going to defend the family honour? Heloise!

Miles and Heloise, like all my heroes and heroines, are flung into the thick of royal intrigue as Richard, Duke of Gloucester seizes the crown.

Research for this novel took me to Brecon (headquarters of the Duke of Buckingham in 1483) in Wales and to Weobley in Herefordshire. The combat scene between Heloise and Miles was prompted by the Northamptonshire folktale of Skulking Dudley, and the kidnapping of Miles was based on the real-life abduction of Margery Huddleston's son.

And for animal lovers – no dogs or pigs this time but a Welsh mouser called Dafydd (modelled on Cagney, a cat of California) and a noble stallion named Traveller, named after a friendly horse in Dorset, UK, who never said no to an apple.

Yuletide, January 1483, Middleham, Yorkshire

Packed like a row of spoons, the maids of honour to her grace of Gloucester snuggled together in the great bed for warmth against the icy wind howling across the moors of Wensleydale. It should have been impossible for a nightmare to insinuate itself amongst them, but Heloise Ballaster awoke as she hit the floor, bringing the candlestick crashing down with her and bruising her elbow on the wooden bedsteps.

The shriek of her nearest neighbour awoke the others and four faces peered down at her from the edge of the coverlet, their braids dangling like a row of bellropes.

'Your pardon,' whispered Heloise ruefully, goose-fleshed as she scrambled quickly back up into the high bed.

'Was it him again?' asked someone.

The dream of an armoured knight, visor down, thundering towards her with a deadly lance aimed at her breast?

'Yes. And I always fall. Why do I always fall?'

'Mayhap it was not his lance he was aiming at you, Heloise,' giggled the worldliest among them. 'Maybe there is something you are not telling us.'

There was.

Heloise's nightmares always came true.

Chapter One

Bring us in no bacon, for that is passing fat,
But bring us in the good ale and give us enough of that,
And bring us in good ale!
Bring us in good ale and bring us in good ale,
For our Lady's blessed sake, bring us in good ale.

Tankards slammed bawdily upon the trestle tables and the great hall of the Duke of Gloucester's castle at Middleham guffawed with Yorkist laughter as the cockatrice, a gaudy, four-legged monster with the head of a rooster and the tail of a crocodilus, capered round among the revellers. By rights, the legendary creature should have had a piglike rear but no one could be bothered arguing. It staggered and swore with two voices as someone grabbed hold of its scaly tail.

'Ouch!' spluttered Heloise Ballaster, who was playing the head. She recovered her balance and craned the cumbersome beak round to see which drunken lout was impeding her progress. The merrymaking had become suddenly too boisterous and some of the more unruly youths were trying to discover who owned the cockatrice's legs.

'I'll deal with this knave,' exclaimed the cockatrice's tail. Will, the duke's jester, loosened his arms from Heloise's waist and jabbed two fingers out the rear end of the costume into the fellow's nose, and then he squirted the contents of a leather bladder after it. The onlookers collapsed in fits of raucous laughter as the esquire staggered back in humiliated surprise, his face dripping with pudding ale.

'We must end this, Will!' Heloise muttered, lurching away as a reveller tried to peer inside the beak. Thank heaven she wore a black mask as well. Yes, definitely time to make their exit. This prank was growing far too perilous. God's mercy! If it should be discovered that one of the duchess's maids-of-honour was prancing in doublet and hose – with a man's arms and face against her waist (not that the jester ever showed any interest in women) – her virtue would be put to the question. Besides, it was not just fear of disgrace that was fraying her wits but a gnawing sense of evil about to happen.

'Shall we make for the great chamber then, mistress? Mistress?'

Heloise did not answer. She swayed as the rush of blood that precipitated a vision flooded her mind. Not now, please God, not now! But it came unwanted – the nightmare image of the duke's son choking for breath, writhing upon the floor.

'Mistress?' Will's arms shook her back to the reality of the smoky hall. He turned her towards the dais, for the great chamber where they had left their outer garments lay beyond the high table – the high table where the duke's heir, a giggling ten year old, was reaching out to the golden platter of wafers and sugar-coated almonds. Almonds that could choke a laughing child!

'Jesu!' Fear of discovery, not just of shamefully playing the cockatrice but her terror that the entire castle might shrink from her as a witch-warred with her duty. But how could she risk the life of Richard Gloucester's precious only child?

'No,' Heloise exclaimed. 'No!'

The cockatrice hurtled up the hall-its rear staggering-dived under the cloth of the high table and heaved. It reared up to grab the platter of almonds and tripped. Silver dishes skidded, sweetmeats flew as if magicked, goblets splashed their contents down the sumptuous cloth, the central trestle tumbled, crashing down the steps and the duke and his guests sprang up.

The music and the laughter stopped in mid-breath. Heloise, blanching behind her mask, took an anguished look at the coloured shards of costly glass spattering the tiles, and gazed up wretchedly at his grace's astounded face. But the boy was safe. Uncertain, surprised, but beside his father, safe.

Silence, growing more menacing by the instant, surrounded the grotesque cockatrice. Heloise backed into Will, wishing the floor would swallow her up. For an instant, it seemed to the onlookers that the monster's back and front legs were trying to go in different directions and then the creature shook itself into some sort of unison and hurtled out the nearest door.

'That was impressive,' commented a female voice, laced with humour. 'We shall have to remember that for next year as well.' Lady Margery Huddleston, the creator of the costume, had hastened after them into the great chamber. Briskly, she gripped the painted edifice that had been stifling Heloise and wriggled it free. Already there were raised voices beyond the door.

Heloise blinked at her helplessly, wishing desperately that she might turn time backwards. How could she possibly explain? 'I am sorry, madam. I am so sorry.' Here was the last person she wished to anger; Margery, the duchess's bastard half-sister, had been a good friend to her.

'They will want to understand.' Margery tilted her head towards the great hall. 'I want to understand? God's mercy, where –' Scanning the chamber, she snatched up Heloise's discarded over gown. 'Quickly!' Hastily, she tugged it over Heloise's head, struggling to hide the shirt and borrowed hose just as the door opened.

'Aye, Mistress Ballaster!' exclaimed the jester crawling with sweating pate and scarlet face from the beast's entrails. 'Would you care to explain what in hell you were about? Oh, lordy, here is the judge and jury.'

Despite his thirty-one years, Duke Richard of Gloucester was not a tall man but being a brother to the King, his authority gave him the extra stature and he was looking stern enough to hang a man-or woman. His brown eyes took in the discarded skin of yellow fustian, the scaled, flaccid tail, and rose questioningly to the scarlet-beaked head that his sister-in-law was hugging to her bosom. Margery gave a tiny shrug and the duke stared beyond her to his wife's crumpled maid-of-honour.

'Close the door!' he ordered grimly.

Heloise's face burned with shame as his shocked gaze fell upon the ungirded gown with its collar slatternly awry, and the loosened ginger legs of the cockatrice puddled around her ankles. Gravely, she removed her mask. At least her accursed hair, bonneted into a coif, was out of sight. They had been so courteous and decent to her, these people, and this was how she repaid them. All the warmth and respect she had sought to kindle in her few months atMiddleham was turning to ashes. Controlled though it now was, Gloucester's voice was like a lash to her already bruised morale.

'Since you seem to be the brains of this creature, mistress, perhaps you would care to enlighten me as to why you upset our table?'

Others had followed the duke in; the chamberlain and his grace's chaplain, and she could hear an inebriated crowd gathering outside with the excitement of carrion crows anticipating a killing.

'I thought my lord your son was about to choke.' It was the truth. 'I was wrong. I beg your pardon, your grace.' Please do not send me home, your grace, her eyes beseeched him. Not to the beatings and the anger.

'How could you discern such a thing?' Dr Dokett, the chaplain, stepped forward, his huge black sleeves aflap with malevolence. 'You were at the end of the hall. How could you possibly see?'

'I –' The right words evaded Heloise. How could she tell these noblemen of her premonitions without making them loathe her, fear her? Even Duke Richard, sensible as he was, would send her away. People did not want to hear. It terrified them. Dear God, it terrified her.

Then suddenly there was shouting and the oaken door was wrenched open. The throng crowding its portals separated as Anne, Duchess of Gloucester, eyes awash with tears, pushed through to sag against the doorway.

'What is it?' Gloucester asked, his voice serrated with the edge of sudden fear.

'Our son,' whispered the duchess, fingers pressed against her lips. 'He choked on a sugared almond but Richard Huddleston turned him upside down, thank God, and he is restored. Oh, my dearest lord.' With a sob of relief, she flew across the chamber to the comfort of her husband's arms. Although Gloucester lovingly stroked the back of his fingers down his wife's cheek, above her head he was staring at Heloise.

'When? Just now?' he asked his duchess.

'It was probably the excitement. Foolish child.' Anne of Gloucester raised her head cheerfully, knuckling her tears away, and then she sensed the tension around her and recognized Heloise and Lady Margery, snared in the midst of it. 'Let us not spoil the feast,' she said quietly, receiving a plea from her half-sister. 'I pray you, my lords, let us return to the merrymaking.'

The duke hesitated, confusion behind his frowning brow. The duchess drew him away, but he was still glancing back at Heloise as the company thronging the dais drew aside deferentially to let their lord and lady pass.

'Cockatrice!' sneered Dr Dokett, delaying to cast an evil look at Lady Margery and her accomplices. He drove a sandalled foot savagely into the belly of the carcass. 'A work of the Devil! And that foul Fiend already has your soul! Cavorting shamelessly and you a maid. You should be dismissed!' He hurled the words at Heloise over his shoulder like salt as though she was a demon. And, perhaps, thought Heloise, shaken by the ugly hatred, perhaps she was.

Copyright Isolde Martyn
Reproduced with the kind permission of Pan Macmillan Australia. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Published in Australia and the United States with different titles Australia (The Lady and the Unicorn) trade paperback ISBN 0 733 80144 7, paperback ISBN 0 733 80199 4 United States (The Maiden and the Unicorn) published by Berkeley ISBN 0 553 58168 6 e-book published by Momentum Audio edition published by Bolinda ISBN 9 781 74317897 3, read by Rebecca Macualey
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In 1470 the Wars of the Roses between the house of York and Lancaster threatens to tear England apart once more. In the middle of the conflict is a most unlikely heroine. For Margery, the beautiful and spirited ward of Warwick the Kingmaker, freedom is the only prize worth having. But it is a prize that could cost her her life. Sent to France on a mission for King Edward IV, she finds herself the target of a man who may be one of the king's most dangerous enemies.

Richard Huddleston is bold, enigmatic and devastatingly handsome. He is used to getting what he wants, and he wants Margery to be his wife. Margery suspects that Richard has abandoned the king and the House of York and is conspiring with the rebel queen and the traitorous House of Lancaster. Caught between her role as a spy and a fierce passion that neither she nor Richard can deny, Margery finds her heart exposed to the ultimate danger: falling in love. Yet she cannot admit her real mission to Richard. For if she stays true to her noble cause, she'll save many men ... and lose the one that matters most.

This was the novel I always wanted to write. When I was fourteen I came across the mention of a woman spy in the Wars of the Roses, and I promised myself that one day I would write a novel with her as the heroine. Imagine my delight when I came across the mention of Warwick's bastard daughter, Margaret Neville, and her husband being present at the coronation of King Richard III and Queen Anne Neville, her half-sister. It made sense that the woman spy mentioned by the Burgundian Chronicler, Philippe de Commynes, was Margaret and now I had a name for her and for my hero – Richard Huddleston! As a historian, it was a joy to use real people and it gave veracity to the story.

While the main plot is the relationship between Margaret and Richard, the subplot concerns the intrigue and turmoil of 1470–71. This required a supporting cast of some of history's most intriguing characters: the overmighty earl, Warwick the Kingmaker, the gorgeous womaniser, Edward IV, and his treacherous young brother, George. Then there's his tenacious, ruthless enemy, Queen Margaret of Anjou and her wily cousin, the 'spiderking', Louis XI and, of course, the young Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III.

I never dreamed this novel would win the top awards for romance writing in both America and Australia and I am not only in the debt of my wonderful critique group for all their help and encouragement but above all grateful to editor Fiona Henderson and the publishing team at Transworld Australia who believed in the story so wholeheartedly.

The banns were called at mass again next morning, sending Margery into such a state of inward panic that she was scarce aware of the buzz of conversation about her or a page's tug at her sleeve, summoning her to attend my lord of Warwick straightway.

The Earl was waiting for her in his solar.

‘My dear Margery,’ he exclaimed as made obeisance to him. ‘I am so pleased at your change of heart that I have decided to hold your wedding this week. Since your bridegroom is busy on my behalf, it will be more convenient to have it all signed and sealed immediately.’

‘My lord, you ride roughshod over my feelings. I am against this marriage. What makes you suddenly think otherwise?’

Her guardian gave a snort of disbelief. ‘Ah no, you merely flirt and dance with the man as if you care for him. Have you no shame?’

‘I danced with one man last night. Ankarette danced with him t–’ she faltered and her eyes flew to Warwick's as shock and disbelief flooded across her face. She wanted to sink down onto a stool; surely her legs would collapse beneath her.

‘Come let us be done with this fast-and-loose nonsense. You are marrying Richard Huddleston tomorrow and have done. Ah, Richard lad, Margery is a little overcome at the haste of all this but I have explained the situation.’

Richard Stone came through the doorway, removing his plumed beaver hat, and bowed to the Earl. If he knew Margery's appalled eyes were upon him, he seemed unruffled.

‘My lord. I think it may be the matter of my horse's tail.’ He looked round at her now. Did the Devil look so on the acquisition of a new soul? Oh, Jesu, how could she be so stupid? His name was not Stone. Agnes Guppy had told her wrongly. All that time he must have thought she had been deliberately calling him so to rile him. He was Richard Huddlestone.

Be calm, talk yourself out of this, an inner voice advised. Calm? When the deceitful knave was deliberately reminding her who had won all their past battles!

‘No, sirrah, it is the matter of you! I had rather wed a heathen than be yoked to you in matrimony. As I have made very clear, my lord of Warwick, one, I do not want to marry; two, I do not want to marry this week; and, three, I do not want to marry Master Richard Sto – Huddleston.’

‘At least you have finally gotten my name right at last.’ Richard laid his hat and gloves on the table. ‘My lord, there has been some misunderstanding. It seems the lady thought that she was marrying someone else.’

The Earl, appearing half-irritated, half-indulgent at their quarrel, glanced sharply at Margery. ‘Is this true, child?’

‘Yes, my lord.’ Her fingers writhed in front of her. ‘You led me to expect it was someone of your lordship's years. Old was the word, you used, I recollect.’

‘Old!’ Richard regarded the Earl with polite astonishment.

Warwick snorted, ‘So now he's not old, he's known to you and he wants to marry you, though why I cannot imagine, and I want you off my hands, Margery, so there's an end to it. What pleases me and Master Huddleston shall satisfy you. I have two emissaries arriving from the King of France the day after tomorrow. You will be wed before mass and I shall feast you together with the French lords. Tomorrow, Huddlestone, we shall hunt.’

Margery fleetingly closed her eyes and gave an angry sigh, prepared to sweep away in dignity before tears overwhelmed her. Huddleston stepped to block her way. She refused to look at him.

‘My lord,’ he said across her shoulder to the Earl. ‘Permit me to speak to my betrothed privily. This is obviously a shock to her.’ She flinched at the word betrothed, recoiling as if he had struck her.

The Earl shrugged, ‘Well, I suppose there is no impropriety in that since you will soon be man and wife. You may speak with one another here but there is the contract to draw up so make haste.’

Huddleston bowed as the Earl passed them but remained an obstacle between Margery and the door. She turned away from him, her eyes on the ceiling. It was pain enough to endure being married to a stranger but that it was Richard Sto ... Huddleston. She cursed herself for a blind and stupid fool.

His voice was kind. ‘Mistress Twynhoe told me last night that you did not realise that my name was Huddleston. I had no intention of misleading you, believe me.’

Margery took a deep breath, her shoulders proud. ‘Master Huddleston, I value my freedom. I repeat that I do not want to marry anyone. I will not be sold like some Paynim slave to a harem. I came here this morning expecting a public apology and instead’ She waved her hands in despair.

‘If it is the business of my horse's tail that still angers you then I admit my error. You have my belated but humble apology.’ The humility in his voice sounded genuine enough but she turned to see if the sincerity was in his eyes. It was, but he was playing kind, of course.

‘No, it – yes, of course it is your horse's tail and all your insults. How dared you abuse me so for your amusement because I am a landless woman and lack a father's name! Do you imagine I have no feelings because I was born in some unblest bed?’

‘Lady, you shall have land, name and your bed will be blessed.’

The blood flooded into her cheeks at the thought. ‘Blessed, sir, with you in it? I do not know why you have chosen me as a butt for this madness of yours but please change your mind. It will not suit. It will be a marriage made by the Devil.’

He laughed and half-seated himself on the edge of the table, one leg swinging. ‘I am resolved on it.’ He selected an apple from the silver platter and bit into it with his fine white teeth.

Margery's hands curled into fists at her side and she paced the room before she swung back to confront him. ‘Why do you want to enslave me? What have I ever done to you? Why should it be your choice? Why cannot it be mine?’

‘Because I know what is best for you.’ Warwick's voice came from behind her. Huddleston slid off the table respectfully to face the Kingmaker. The Earl's hands settled upon Margery's frozen shoulders, his breath was upon her cheek. ‘I make this marriage for you out of loving kindness, child. Trust me in this.’ He put a finger beneath her chin and made her look at him. ‘A firm hand is needed on your bridle, Margery. Once you start bearing you will no doubt calm down and become a sensible wife and mother.’

‘I am not a horse!’ she exclaimed hotly, and snatching up her skirts, she fled.

Richard left the Earl some half hour later well pleased with the bargain. Everything was going according to his plans. Warwick's fondness for the girl and his determination to dispose of his defiant ward had permitted Richard to demand a higher dowry. Of course, it was all on paper but six manors definitely made it worthwhile.

He was not expecting a slender female hand to reach out from behind a curtain and grab the coney-fur tip of his hanging sleeve. His right hand flew to the handle of his sword as he whirled round.

‘By Christ's blessed mercy, lady!’ He slid the sword back into its black scabbard as he recognised that the blue brocade enclosing the feminine arm belonged to the gown Margery had been wearing.

Her face peeped out at him. ‘Could we please speak about this matter?’ Pink tinged the white around the delightful blue of her eyes, hinting at angry tears. He hated seeing her distressed but you needed to break eggs to make a custard. What was the little witch up to now?

‘Right willingly, mistress, but it seems there is little more to say unless you have changed your mind. This curtain is mighty dusty. Do we have to stand behind it like lovers? Is this locked?’ She gave an angry growl. He rattled the door ring. It opened onto a small storeroom stacked with broken benches, brooms and buckets. ‘Hardly something out of a French romance. Would you prefer somewhere with tapestries?’

His betrothed stamped her foot at him. He grinned at her, revelling in his consistent ability to arouse the desire in her to hit him.

‘I think we should discuss this marriage in a sensible manner, sir. You will have to persuade my lord to reconsider this match.’

‘You want to marry someone else?’ If she did, would he change his mind? There went that little foot again.

‘'No, Master S–Huddleston, I thought I made it clear I do not want to marry anyone.’

‘Least of all me.’' He allowed the good humour to fade from his voice.

‘ Thank goodness, you are intelligent enough to see that.’

‘May I ask why?’

‘Why’' she spluttered. ‘Because we do not like each other.’

‘I am sorry I teased you.’

‘Teased me! You taunted, insulted and riled me. Your arrogant behaviour was insufferable. Just because I have no parents–’

‘–and a doubtful reputation.’

‘Exactly! I am quite unsuitable for you. I am sure your parents - if you have not annoyed them to an early grave – would not approve.’

‘I admit, lady, your besmirched reputation pleases me not one whit but as to your lack of parents, I am pleased to disregard the fact. Besides you come to me with a substantial dowry. I shall be wealthier by several manors.’

‘Dowry!’ He could not decide if she looked like an owlet or a kitten at that point. Tendrils of honey hair were rapidly escaping from her embroidered cap. ‘How many manors?’

‘Five so far, one more to be arranged. Now what's amiss?’

‘Can you not see he's only doing this to mend my reputation and wash his hands of me. You have no need to marry me.’ His patient expression must have exasperated her further for she stuck her hands on her hips like a little fishwife. ‘Jesu, you are not prepared to make him change his mind, are you?’

‘No, mistress, for his mind is fixed like the north star.’ He curbed the desire to pull her across the pace of flagstones between them so he could slide his hands down over her lower curves and cradled her hard against him. ‘You must be a heavy responsibility, Margery. Perhaps I should have bargained for seven manors. The sixth is for your little sin with the King.’

‘If were a man, I should run you through for your continual insults’'

‘But you are not a man, my mistress, so why not try your woman's wiles on me instead?’ It was time he showed her what he wanted from her. By all the Saints, he had been waiting long enough.

‘To Hell with you, Master Huddleston!’

She ran out and down the passageway before he could stop her and flung open the Earl's door. ‘Sutton Gaveston! Let the sixth manor that you sold me for be Sutton Gaveston!’ Then she grabbed up a fistful of her skirts in each hand. ‘You said you did not want used goods. You said I was a bad bargain,’ she snarled at Richard as she hurried back towards him. She would have torn past had he not seized her arm. He was about to kiss the anger out of her when the Earl loudly opened the door of the antechamber.

Warwick's face struggled in a contortion of anger interbred with laughter. ‘Margery, enough!’ he thundered.

Richard's fingers bit into the top half of his betrothed's sleeve. It was like trying to hold onto a spitting cat but he had a point to make and he made it loudly. ‘You said you wanted me shackled and bound. Well, I shall be, for all eternity.’

Margery gave Warwick a deadly glare before she wrenched her arm from Richard's grasp.

‘But I did not mean to me, Master Huddleston, not to me!’

Copyright Isolde Martyn
Excerpted by permission of the Transworld Division of Random Australia Pty Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Published in Australia, the United States and Germany Australia ISBN 0 773 80145 4, small format edition ISBN 0 733 80200 1 United State published by Berkeley ISBN 0 425 18329 7, paperback ISBN 0 425 19328 4 e-book published by Momentum Audio edition published by Bolinda ISBN 9 781 74317893 5, read by Jerome Pride
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Inspired by a medieval court case, The Knight and the Rose interweaves fact and fiction into a rich and vibrant tapestry of love, betrayal and political intrigue.

Trapped in marrige to the vindictive Sir Fulk de Enderby, a veteran of the wars against Robert the Bruce, Lady Johanna FitzHenry has one last chance to escape.If a stranger can be found who is willing to swear to a court that she was secretly wed to him before her match to Fulk, Johanna will be set free.

Fleeing bounty hunters after the Battle of Boroughbridge where the rebels have been defeated by King Edward II's army, the last thing Geraint needs is to be blackmailed into pretending to be a long-lost husband. But he has no choice. If he refuses, he and his wounded companion will be handed over to the King for hanging drawing and quartering as traitors.

At first the sparks fly as he and the bruised Johanna try to invent a past together, but Geraint gradually realises that this feisty lady is worth healing. With good humour and kindness, he slowly mends her courage and self-esteem.

Though the ploy goes according to plan, Johanna's hired husband leaves many questions unanswered. Why will he not tell her his real name? What is her mysterious rescuer's secret?

Joanna's attempt to discover the truth sweeps her up into the highest echelons of the English court and into a dangerous web of political intrigue as Queen Isabella leads the barons into rebellion against the King.

A historian friend of mine told me about the case of an ordinary medieval woman obtaining a divorce.

‘Are you serious?’ I exclaimed. ‘Look at the trouble Henry VIII had.’

‘I'll send you the journal article,’ she promised.

And it arrived in the post a few days later, the real life story of how a woman escaped a hateful husband – a medieval 'Green Card' scenario. The woman's family had paid a stranger to pretend he had married her secretly before her real marriage took place. The pair had to stand up in a church court and pretend they had fallen in love.

So I took the bones of the story and upped the pressure. I made the heroine a high-ranking lady with a dowry and I made the hero a rebel blackmailed into playing the role of lover because he was on the run from the king's men. The subplot is an echo of the main story – the unhappy Queen Isabella rebelling against the rule of her husband, the gay king, Edward II and his favourite.

‘Mother, are you out of your wits?’ Johanna sank down on the linen chest in her mother's chamber after midday dinner, her thoughts whirling like blustery blown windmill sails. She regarded Lady Constance scathingly.

‘Am I to understand that you opportuned some man of unknown origin in our deer chase this morning and offered him money to be my husband! Jesu, madam, the knave might be blabbing the tale out to half the shire by now if he has sufficient ale to make his tongue gallop. What possessed you?’

‘Your wellbeing for a start,’ muttered her mother reproachfully, ‘and I did not opportune him. We first met a few days ago when he tried to rob Father Gilbert.’

Johanna's eyes widened further. For an instant, she could not find words to clothe her feelings. ’Only tried!’ she exclaimed. ‘Jesu preserve me, now you are admitting he is not only an outlaw but a stupid one as well.’

Her parent sniffed defensively. ‘He is a poor scholar and he was desperately hungry.’ Was that supposed to make her feel more comfortable about the fellow?

‘And a failed one, by the smell of it.’ Johanna rose and paced between the bed and door. Lady Constance of Conisthorpe was not usually so reckless. Certainly she ordered the demesne as skilfully as Lord Alan ever had and for the most part she chose her servants well. But had this outlaw a silvery tongue and a cheerful eye? She would wager he had cajoled his way into her mother's goodwill.

‘And another thing?’ Johanna swung round. ‘Why is this scholar of yours not tutoring some rich man's sons or employed honestly as a schoolmaster? What was he doing apart from trying to rob old churchmen? Poaching our deer?’

Catching Johanna's hands in hers, her mother exclaimed, ‘I am not such a fool as you think me. This man will serve our purpose, trust me. Where else can I find a stranger so swiftly, one who is willing to swear that he married you before Fulk did?’

Johanna tugged her fingers away. ‘Do you truly realise the enormity of what you are saying? You have asked some incompetent trickster to come and pose as my husband? Think about it, madam. Why would a woman of my status have espoused myself to a poor scholar?’

‘You could swear you fell in love. Besides, you have yet to meet him. You are judging the wine before you taste it.’

‘Of course I am.’ Johanna flung up her hands like birds panicked into flight. ‘I would not even buy this vinegary wine in the first place.’ She gave an angry sigh and gathered up her sewing and silks.

‘Supposing I were to arrange for you to meet him, Johanna?’ Her mother reached out a staying hand. ‘No, listen, go and bathe your face at St Robert's spring early tomorrow morning. This young man can meet you there. Then tell me yea or nay.’

‘What, go to the chase to be assaulted? Out of one cooking pot into another.’

Her mother met Johanna's outraged glare undeterred. ‘Father Gilbert can accompany you. He knows the scholar already.’

‘The chaplain is embroiled in this?’ That reined in Johanna's galloping indignation. She folded her lips, pensively gathering the embroidery to her breast. What harm might it do? The old courage in her struggled for air. ‘I was thinking of visiting the holy spring anyway. It may help my bruises heal faster.’ Then she sighed, ‘But it will not do. Edyth will insist on accompanying me like a shadow.’

‘I will warn the man.’ Lady Constance began to unpin her veil. ‘I had better make haste if I am to let him know this afternoon. I hope he will agree to this. To be honest, he is not exactly enthralled by my plan any more than you are.’ That was scant relief.

‘But the jingle of gold, of course, is loosening the straps that binds his conscience.’

‘You are probably right, lambkin. Where is my cap?’ She searched through the untidy pile of garments on her bed. ‘I am thankful you are being co-operative at last. This man will be perfect for our purpose, and let us face the facts, Johanna, we are beggars and must ride whatever horse we can in this matter.’

‘Mother, he is a beggar and will ride us if we let him.’

Copyright Isolde Martyn
Reproduced with permission of Random House Australia. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Published by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd trade paperback ISBN 1 405 03569 2 B format ISBN 0 330 42134 4 e-book published by Momentum
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January 1789

Since the stable behind the Clef d'Or was where he had been initiated into making love some seven years earlier, Raoul de Villaret rode into the town of Clerville in the January twilight, wondering whether he should just pass through, or halt and revisit the generous ‘magdalene’ who had provided such a delightful tutorial. Not for an anniversary encore, of course – Bibi must be prodding forty by now, and at twenty-two, he had become choosy – but perhaps to say a thank you for the only decent memory he had of the place.

His stomach complained of hunger and he frowned against the knife-edged wind as he rode towards the town square, knowing he would be unlikely to find a decent supper before he reached Rennes. The rivers were frozen over, the grindstones of the watermills were locked in ice and there was little flour. He had seen desperate hunger in the haggard faces of the migrating workers he had passed on the road. He doubted they would find labour in Clerville or anywhere else in the region; he doubted also that the King's call for every parish to submit a written list of grievances would make much difference. The incidents were growing and it looked as though he was encountering one now.

The place Saint-Denis was still crammed with the poorer people who had come in for market day and there was great deal of angry shouting going on. They had snared a grain transport. The carters, pulled from the running board, were struggling within the crowd, and the four-dragoon escort had foolishly let themselves be isolated in front of the market cross. Astride on top of the grain sacks, defying the soldiers' muskets, a gaunt workman was addressing the crowd.

‘The King does not wish our children to starve, patriots!’ he exclaimed, his dialect proclaiming him a local man. ‘It is his evil counsellors and that Austrian bitch who are trying to squeeze every last sou from us. Take the grain to feed your children, mes braves, and you,’ he snarled at the dragoons, ‘shoot us if you dare!’

Another man sprang up onto the cart and jabbed a finger in the air. ‘Go and observe the fine English lawns, mes amis , the strutting peacocks, the mulberry trees. Why should we labour while the Duc de Montbuillou leads a life of idleness? We're not even allowed to shoot his doves for eating our peas. Has he done anything to keep us from starvation? No! Break open his barns, I say! Allons! Let us seize the grain and feed our children!’

‘To the chateau!’ a woman bawled. ‘Burn it down!’

‘And be broken on the wheel?’ scoffed someone.

‘Starve then!’ The second orator exclaimed. ‘The only difference between us and the noblesse is in the ledgers! I say burn the records which make slaves of us! To arms!’

One of the dragoons fired above the head of the speaker, merely to frighten him, but the crowd erupted in bitter fury.

Raoul reined his horse Nostradamus round. The chateau ? For years, he had tried to forget the Chateau de Clerville, vowing never to set foot within its detestable proximity, but the painting was there. Jacques-Louis David's painting! He could not let David's work be destroyed, even though he loathed every oiled pore of the canvas; even though to see its brilliance again would make him remember that humiliating month at Clerville when he had been David's apprentice.

With hatred burning anew, he circumnavigated the square through the back streets and spurred out of the town ahead of the mob to that loveless chateau. It was not just David's impatient snarl Raoul recalled, but the sting of the Duc de Montbulliou's horsewhip across his shoulders and the sniggers of the duke's daughters. Their hateful laughter whirled around his temples as he rode, so infecting his senses that he grew hot with shame beneath his greatcoat, remembering the ripe, pointing breasts flaunted to torment him.

He drew rein at the gates of the chateau, smiting his riding crop against the ironwork, gratified that the old gatekeeper hobbled forward in his sabots with a respectful touch of forelock. Thank God for that! So no ghost of a thin gauche, sixteen-year-old was recognisable any more.

‘There is a mob on the way,’ Raoul exclaimed, but the ancient cupped his ear and grinned. ‘Open the gate, damn you! Holà, you!’ Raoul snatched off his tricorne hat and gestured frantically to a boy loitering in the doorway of the gatekeeper's cottage. ‘Run to the servants' quarters as quick as you can and warn them. There's a rabble coming to burn the chateau. And you, man, for Christ's sake, let me through!'

He swung the horse round impatiently. The torches flaring behind him on the road were distant enough. The old fellow, fumbling now with sudden fear, unlocked the gates to let him in. Instead of following the carriage drive, Raoul turned into the basse-cour. His memory served him well; beyond the clipped hedges that hemmed in the lawns and en broderie flowerbeds was a copse sheltering an English grotto. Little had changed in six years. The old, artificial cave was as he remembered it, large enough to tether Nostradamus out of sight. He listened again but the winter dusk was quiet. Even on foot, the rioters would not take long to reach the chateau, for it lay but one mile from the outskirts of the dirty, impoverished town like a pendant jewel around a beggar's neck.

Jamming his hat firmly down and with his neckerchief back to front so he might draw it up to hide his face, Raoul made stealthily for the rear terrace and tested the second window of the billiard room. The frame slid up easily as it always had. He adroitly climbed over the sill into the cold gloom of the unlit room, and skirting the billiard table, he softly opened the door to the grande salon. Despite the heavy odour of lavender polish, the faint hint of mustiness spoiled the elegant room like the whiff of sweat from beneath a nobleman's expensive waistcoat.

Only the candelabra on the harpsichord had been lit. Raoul's gaze slid round the walls and halted at the artwork which hung beside the opposite door. Not David's, but a more recent portrait of Montbulliou and his son. Both faces mocked Raoul with their supercilious expressions just as they had done in real life. The duke's eyes bore smugly into his, forcing him to remember the shame and the violence, the raised whip beating him painfully to his knees. Merde , it was tempting to drive his knife into that smirking, canvas mouth. Raoul dragged his stare away with an iron will and, pulling his neckerchief up over his mouth and nose, let himself into the vestibule. David's painting did not hang there either. Time was running out. The tick-tock of the grandfather clock echoed up the great staircase and he could hear raised voices in the common room.

Could the painting be in one of the bedchambers? The sound of breaking glass drove him to take the quickest way – up the backstairs – to Montbulliou's dressing-room. A startled footman collided with him in the hall and thrusting the man roughly aside with a warning to save himself, he hurtled up the stairs to the duke's apartments. Glad of the scant lighting, he edged cautiously forward. The upper floor was chill and silent. The family was not in evidence. Just as well. It would have been a unique pleasure to scar the duke's face; anunwise pleasure that might send him to the galleys or the Bastille.

Orangeflower water and pomade! The dressing room stank of the duke, but there above the shining, polished sidetable hung his quarry – David's masterpiece, a greater work than any of the artist's more heroic paintings. Or so Raoul thought. He stared at it for a moment, reabsorbing its magnificent sensual power. Gauzy, lascivious and heartless, the duke's three oldest daughters –the goddesses, Venus, Minerva and Juno – watched from their frame as he came closer.

The fourth daughter in the painting was not looking at him. She had been nine years old and too fat to play a beauteous goddess. Instead, she had been coerced to model as the chubby Cupid offering a golden apple as a prize. A fruit so real and luscious that Raoul could have snatched it from the canvas; the apple that the youth Paris was to award to the goddess he judged to be the loveliest. But Paris was not in the painting; David had made the beholder of the painting Paris. No , you judge, he had said to the world.

The sound of splintering wood and shouting jolted Raoul back to reality. Swiftly, he dragged a Louis Quinze chair across to the wall, laughing softly as he sprang with mudded soles onto its fine brocade. Then he drew his knife from its sheaf.

‘Get down!’

A young girl stood in the inner doorway, pointing a pair of duelling pistols at him. The weapons wobbled but there was determination in the plump young face. Cupid! He had no trouble in recognising her. Long brown hair, loose, save for a band that held it free of her forehead, tumbled down to an undiscernible waist clad in tawny velvet. About fifteen now, but still round as an English pudding!

‘Shoot me then.’ He challenged, and turned his back to her.

Copyright Isolde Martyn
Excerpt by permission of Pan Macmillan Australia. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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