Elizabeth Tudor is at a crossroads. After a disastrous winter, the Duke of Northumberland has been executed for treason while his son, Robert Dudley, claims from the Tower that the true traitor has not yet been caught. And though her brother, William, has survived smallpox, scars linger in the king’s body and mind and his patience is at an end.
As English ships and soldiers arm themselves against the threat of invasion, William marches to the drumbeat of his own desires rather than his country’s welfare. Wary of this changed royal brother, Elizabeth assembles her own shadow court to protect England as best she can. But William, able to command armies and navies, cannot command hearts.
Minuette and Dominic have married in secret, and after an ill-timed pregnancy, they take to flight. Faced with betrayal by the two he loved most, William’s need for vengeance pushes England to the brink of civil war and in the end, Elizabeth must choose: her brother, or her country?
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5 May 1556
Dominic returned last night from Kenilworth and spent hours today closeted with Elizabeth. No doubt they are weighing whatever evidence Robert Dudley has gathered against Rochford. I know what they will do next, because I know them both. Elizabeth is angry with all the Dudleys still, but her affections are strong. She will be glad of a reason to negotiate Robert into release. And Dominic? He is incapable of ignoring wrongdoing.
I do not think they know me as well as I know them. They think I am too wrapped up in William and personalities. That I am overlooked makes it easier for me to maneuver. When one is underestimated, one can strike all the harder. And I will move first.
Lord Rochford will never see me coming, but he will have cause before the end to thank me for interfering.
. . .
Minuette was received by Rochford’s attendants with professional courtesy and soon found herself alone with the Lord Chancellor. “Thank you for seeing me, Your Grace,” she said, accepting the seat he indicated across the wide desk from where he regarded her coolly.
“Can I refuse to meet with a woman so dear to the king’s heart?” Rochford’s tone was all mockery and dislike and his keen dark eyes–so like his sister, Anne’s–pierced through her. Minuette used his contempt to strengthen her resolve.
“I have come to do you a favour,” she said.
“I do not think your position is quite so strong that I need worry yet about favours from you.”
Perversely, the difficult reception calmed Minuette’s nerves and she let her instincts guide her. She was no stranger to political sparring–she had been trained by Anne Boleyn herself. “Do you know what Lord Exeter was doing in the north?”
“Visiting Amy Dudley at Kenilworth.”
“Do you know why?”
“It is no great supposition that my niece would like her favorite released from the Tower. No doubt Lord Exeter is doing her bidding.”
“By visiting Robert’s wife?” Minuette laughed in genuine surprise. “If you believe that, you are a fool.”
The dark eyes narrowed and one hand beat a restless pattern on the desk. “What do you want, Mistress Wyatt?”
“Lord Exeter returned from Kenilworth with a chest of Robert Dudley’s papers and letters. Robert claims to have evidence that you were the mastermind behind the Duke of Norfolk’s disgrace and the Penitent’s Confession.”
“Seeing as his father has been executed in part for that affair, of course Robert Dudley would look to save his own name–and neck.”
“Dominic believes him, and so does Elizabeth. Who do you think William is going to believe?”
“There is no proof.” Was that a flicker of concern in his expression?
Minuette leaned forward, confidingly. “There doesn’t have to be. William is persuadable. They will bring him to believe it. You are going to fall, Lord Rochford.” She let that hang for a few breaths, then added gently, “How far you fall? That might be up to me.”
“You think you have that kind of power?”
“I know I do. If you pre-empt the revelations–if you go to William first and tell him the truth–if you have all the Dudley sons released from the Tower . . .” Minuette drew a deep breath, momentarily dizzy with her own daring. “Then I will persuade the king to mercy on your behalf.”
She counted it success that he didn’t immediately dismiss her. He leaned back in his chair, studying her over his steepled fingers. Minuette had always thought of Rochford as ageless, but now she noted the streaks of silver in his hair and the thinness of the skin beneath his eyes. “Why would you do that?”
“Because you know even less than you think you do. And because a time is coming when I will need all the friends I can get.”
“You think I will be your friend for this?”
“I think you will owe me, and you are a man who pays his debts. There is only one requirement–you must convince William that you had nothing to do with my poisoning.”
His face grew dark. “The monkshood? I was not behind that.”
“You arrested a man who has since been executed for painting my pendant with monkshood. How could you have known the perpetrator if you were not behind the attempt?”
“It was a useful event for my cause, for I could lay it at Northumberland’s feet. That is all. I had nothing else to do with the matter.”
“It is no secret that you would do anything to remove me from the king’s attention.”
Rochford put his elbows on the desk and fixed her in his sight. “Trust me in this, Mistress Wyatt–if I wanted you dead, you would be dead.”
Oh yes, that she could believe. Minuette swallowed. “Eleanor Percy is not prepared to take the entire blame for the monkshood. According to her, you already know who was behind it all. And it was certainly not Northumberland. If you do not confess all to the king, Eleanor will do it for you.”
Rochford stilled, watching her like a falcon about to dive on its prey. “What were you doing speaking to Eleanor Percy?”
“Playing the game,” she retorted. “As I will continue to do, with or without your aid.”
After a long, fraught silence in which Minuette could hear faint footsteps from distant corridors, Rochford nodded once. “You surprise me, Mistress Wyatt. I had thought you incapable of such hardness.”
“I learned from your sister, did I not? Do not underestimate what I will dare for those I love.”
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About the Author
Laura Andersen has one husband, four children, and a college degree in English that she puts to non-profitable use by reading everything she can lay her hands on. Books, shoes, and travel are her fiscal downfalls, which she justifies because all three ‘take you places.’ She loves the ocean (but not sand), forests (but not camping), good food (but not cooking), and shopping (there is no downside.) Historical fiction offers her all the pleasure of visiting the past without the inconvenience of no electricity or indoor plumbing. After more than thirty years spent west of the Rocky Mountains, she now lives in Massachusetts with her family.