Thursday, 19 June 2014 00:05

The Golden Widows

Published by Harlequin Mira in Australia and New Zealand
ISBN 978 1 74 356874 3
Order from Harlequin, Bookworld or Booktopia; e-book from iBooks, Amazon or Kobo

 

  • About the book
  • Read an extract

Two young women on opposing sides find their lives wrecked by battle ... can they be restored by love?

Kate

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?

Elysbeth

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?

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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.

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Published in Publications
Sunday, 09 December 2012 06:22

The Silver Bride

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

  • Author's notes
  • Read an excerpt

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.

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Prologue
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.

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Published in Publications
Sunday, 09 December 2012 06:21

The Lady and the Unicorn

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

  • About the book
  • Author's notes
  • Read an excerpt

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.

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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.

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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.

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