SPOTLIGHT & GIVEAWAY: The King’s Falcon by Stella Riley

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A tale of war and witchcraft …plots and playhouses … love and loyalty.

Following his coronation in Scotland, Charles ll leads an army south to reclaim his throne but the dream ends in a crushing defeat at Worcester, leaving no alternative but flight. With little more than the clothes on their backs, Ashley Peverell and Francis Langley manage to reach Paris where Ashley, known to some as The Falcon, resumes his under-cover and unpaid work for the King.

Beautiful, stubborn and street-wise, Athenais de Galzain has risen from the slums of Paris to become the Marais Theatre’s leading actress. Unfortunately, this brings her to the attention of the Marquis d’Auxerre – an influential nobleman of unsavoury reputation who is accustomed to taking what he wants.

While the Prince’s Frondé flares up anew and turns the city into a battle-ground, Francis is bullied into helping his sister, Celia, obtain a divorce from Eden Maxwell. Currently working as a cryptographer in the Commonwealth’s intelligence service, Eden watches Cromwell creating a king-sized space for himself and begins to question the cause to which he has devoted a decade of his life.

From the first, Ashley and Athenais are drawn together with the unstoppable force of two stars colliding; a force which Ashley, lacking both money and prospects and aware of the frequency with which he’s required to risk his life, cannot deny but resolves to conceal. He has only two priorities; his work for Charles ll and his determination to protect Athenais from the Marquis. Both are to test him to the limits.

The King’s Falcon follows the Cavalier’s last crusade and the bitter, poverty-stricken exile that followed it, whilst also taking us behind the scenes at the Theatre du Marais. There is danger, intrigue and romance in this sequel to The Black Madonna and Garland of Straw.

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EXCERPT

Athenais lay in bed, blowing her nose and feeling sorry for herself. Then boredom began to creep in. She couldn’t lie here all day with nothing to do and, moreover, her hot brick was growing cold. Downstairs in the parlour was a copy of a new play Froissart was considering including in the repertoire. If she went down, she could get it and make a tisane while her brick was warming in the oven. It wouldn’t take above ten minutes.

She listened for sounds elsewhere in the house and then, detecting none, slid out of bed and pulled on her robe. Wraith-like, she padded down to the kitchen.

Her concoction of herbs and honey was just beginning to simmer when she heard two pairs of booted feet descending the stairs and a rich, familiar voice saying with good-humoured impatience, ‘Oh God, Jem – I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Madame Fleury.’

No! thought Athenais, completely horror-struck. No, no, no! Not him. Not now.

‘Well, that’s the problem. I doesn’t parley the old French as good as you – and the old tabby always makes out she can’t understand a word I’m saying. She looks at me like I’m something nasty stuck to her shoe and keeps saying pardon.’ Jem heaved a sigh. ‘Truth is, I can’t ask her nothing. Not and get an answer, I can’t.’
‘Meaning you’d like me to do it, I suppose.’

‘If you wouldn’t mind. She’s usually somewhere about at this time of day.’

Athenais heard a snort of laughter, followed by the sound of someone – presumably Jem – leaving the house. Then the other man strode away down the hall and it occurred to her that, when he didn’t find Pauline in the parlour, he’d almost certainly try the kitchen. Panic spiralled out of control and sent her flying across the room to snatch the pan from the heat. Then, without stopping to think, she threw herself into the pantry and shut the door.

Seconds later, she heard him coming back along the hall. The kitchen door swung back and he called, ‘Madame?’ Then he seemed to pause as if, realising Pauline wasn’t there, he was about to leave.

Athenais held her breath.

It would have been all right if she hadn’t sneezed. It might even have been all right if she’d had any warning of it. But the sneeze came out of nowhere to arrive with malevolently disastrous timing. And it wasn’t even a dainty, ladylike sneeze. It was a violent explosion that, in the confined space, set things rattling on the shelves. Athenais clamped her handkerchief over her face, unable in the pitch-dark to think of anywhere to hide, while on the other side of the door, feet were heading in her direction and an aggravatingly amused voice said again, ‘Madame?’

Merde! thought Athenais desperately. And promptly sneezed twice in quick succession.

Then the door opened and she was face to face with the most beautiful man she’d ever seen and whose extraordinary, gold-flecked green eyes, damn him, were brimming with laughter.

Unaware that he was the one being in the entire universe she didn’t want to see at this precise moment, Ashley conducted a swift appraisal and came to the inescapable conclusion that la petite Galzain was hiding in the larder because she looked like hell. He took in the glowing red nose, the puffy eyelids, the length of scarlet flannel swathing her throat and the tangled copper hair, writhing like a nest of vipers and clashing horribly with the unflattering pink thing she was wearing. She looked nothing short of atrocious and, having previously found her perfection irritating, the discovery should have been satisfying and bred an immediate accusation of vanity. Due, however, to the fact that she looked about fourteen and was obviously ill, it produced a completely different reaction that he could have done without.

Fortunately, it was also funny. Managing not to laugh but failing to conceal the fact that he wanted to, he said, ‘Mademoiselle? I’m so sorry. I hope I didn’t startle you?’

Feeling every bit as foolish as she no doubt looked, Athenais could have hit him. Instead, trying to salvage what was left of her dignity, she said freezingly, ‘Not at all. I was looking for … for a lemon.’

His brows rose over an expression that said, In the dark? But he had the sense not to voice it. ‘Ah. But you didn’t find one?’

‘Obviously not.’ Unfortunately, as she attempted to sweep majestically past him, the words were lost in another magnificent sneeze and she half-tripped on the trailing hem of her robe.

Helpfully, Ashley grasped her arm and, still on that annoying quiver of laughter, said, ‘Allow me to assist you, Mademoiselle.’

And that was when Athenais suddenly remembered clambering over fallen masonry on the Petit Pont … and wondered how on earth she hadn’t recognised him before.

‘You!’ she croaked accusingly. ‘It was you that night on the bridge.’

‘It was.’ He grinned at her over folded arms. ‘You told me to bugger off.’

And I’d like to do it again, she thought crossly. Furious, embarrassed and thoroughly at a disadvantage, she stalked to the fire and blew her nose again before saying abruptly, ‘Did you know who I was?’

‘Yes.’

She turned, frowning. ‘That means you’d seen me before.’

‘Once,’ agreed Ashley. ‘I don’t recall the name of the play … but there was some business with feathers.’

She stared at him, feeling even more irritable. He’d seen her come close to making an idiot of herself on-stage and he’d heard her swearing like a trooper and been spoken to with neither courtesy nor charm – which meant he knew precisely how deep the veneer of gentility went. No wonder he didn’t like her.

GIVEAWAY

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

stella rileyI’ve always enjoyed history and, for years now, have had an on-going love affair with the seventeenth century – a period containing a wealth of fascinating detail. The drama and intrigue of stirring events; gallantry and tragedy; love and loss … and a cast of heroes and villains more varied than any I could ever create.

When not writing, I enjoy travel, the theatre, dancing and reading. My husband and I live in the ancient Cinque Port of Sandwich, Kent, where I spend half a day each week volunteering in the museum.

As most of my readers will know, I took a long break in my writing career and the novels so far available in e-format were originally published some years ago. The King’s Falcon is the first new book I’ve written in a very long time and follows The Black Madonna and Garland of Straw in my Roundheads & Cavaliers series.

Visit me at stellariley.wordpress.com

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