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Blood Between Queens
By Barbara Kyle
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013Barbara Kyle
All rights reserved.
The night of the fireworks changed the course of many lives in England, though no one suspected the dark future as hundreds of courtiers stared, faces upturned in delight, at the starbursts of crimson and gold that lit up the terraces and pleasure grounds of Rosethorn House, the country home of Richard, Baron Thornleigh. That night, no one was more proud to belong to the baron's family than his eighteen-year-old ward, Justine Thornleigh; she had no idea that she would soon cause a deadly division in the family and ignite a struggle between two queens. Yet she was already, innocently, on a divergent path, for as Lord and Lady Thornleigh and their multitude of guests watched the dazzle of fireworks honoring the spring visit of Queen Elizabeth, Justine was hurrying away from the public gaiety. Someone had asked to meet her in private.
"Who is it, Timothy?" she had asked the footman when he reached her beside the goldfish pond. She was shepherding three of Lord Thornleigh's grandchildren in a game of tag and had to raise her voice above their squeals. They were a rambunctious trio, excited at being allowed to stay up late for the revels.
"I know not, my lady. She would not say. Just asked for you."
"Behave yourselves," she told the little ones. "Katherine, watch them, will you?" The eight-year-old took an instant tyrannical pleasure in ordering her brother and cousin to sit.
Justine hurried along the path through the knot garden crowded with strolling courtiers. She was hurrying because she wanted to get the interview over with quickly, whoever it was. She had something more exciting on her mind. She'd been told that Lord Thornleigh's nephew, Will Croft, was somewhere among the guests. An ambitious law student, Will was never far from his patron, Sir William Cecil, and Cecil, the Queen's most trusted councilor, was never far from her court. Tonight, most of the court was here at Rosethorn. Justine was determined that as soon as she had fulfilled her promise to entertain the children, and their nursemaid had taken them off to bed, she would find Will in the throng. One word from him, one look even, would thrill her more than all the fireworks in the kingdom.
Nevertheless she slowed, a little in awe, as she passed the open-air banqueting pavilion where the Queen was making merry with her hosts and closest courtiers. Justine had never spoken to Queen Elizabeth face-to-face, an honor she hoped one day to be worthy of, and it was thrilling to see her bantering with Lord and Lady Thornleigh. The three were old friends. Naturally, Justine thought with a glow of pride, for no monarch could ask for a more loyal nobleman than Lord Thornleigh. So commanding a man, tall, erect, with his close cropped iron-gray hair and the leather patch over his lost eye while his good eye, a blazing blue, missed nothing around him. Lady Thornleigh, elegant and gracious as ever, would always have Justine's affection and respect, but his lordship had Justine's love.
And what magnificent entertainment he had laid on for the Queen! The pavilion, built for her visit, was on a raised platform to give her the best view. Its canopy of scarlet silk rippled faintly in the breeze, and torches flared around it. The vista she looked out on was a dazzle of fire and water. On the terraces, fountains shot up bursts of wine that sparkled in the torchlight as if mimicking the fireworks. The man-made lake reflected the torch flames that ringed its shores. Windows in the four-story house appeared ablaze as they, in turn, reflected the burnished lake. Even the crowd shimmered, Justine thought, all the lords and ladies in their satins and silks of every jewel hue. She hoped her own finery did justice to the family; she had carefully chosen a velvet gown of cornflower blue spangled with silver stars. Lady Thornleigh had approved it for the grand event and Justine knew the color set off her fair hair well. Yet she felt a pang of regret, as she often did, at looking so unlike a Thornleigh. Her ladyship and her daughter and stepson and all their children were dark-haired, and Justine often wished that her own hair was not so brightly blond nor her eyes so very blue. Still, she took a secret delight in sharing that blue trait with Lord Thornleigh. It made her feel as though she alone was his daughter.
Trumpeters blared a fanfare. Drummers rumbled a drum roll. A signal that the next fireworks fusillade would be the crowning event? Every guest looked to Queen Elizabeth, and so did Justine. Slender at thirty-four, dressed in lustrous black and white satin, her red hair studded with pearls, Elizabeth stepped closer to the pavilion's rose-wrapped railing to watch, a wineglass in her hand. The barrage that followed was stunning: twelve cannon boomed from earthen ramparts, shooting balls of fire high into the blackness. Justine felt the ground tremble from the blasts. People cheered. She caught the expectant looks of Lord and Lady Thornleigh standing beside their royal guest. Had this magnificent display they had arranged been worth the enormous expense?
The Queen quaffed back the last of her wine. She rapped the goblet against the railing and the bowl of the glass shattered. She stuck the broken stem in her mouth, then grinned. Sugar glass.
Courtiers around her followed suit, smashing their glasses in a shower of brittle sugar and munching the shards that their servants scrambled to retrieve. The Queen threw back her head and laughed. Lord and Lady Thornleigh beamed.
Definitely worth the expense, Justine thought with a smile.
Once past the Queen's pavilion she hurried on up the crowded terrace steps, making for Lady Thornleigh's rose garden, where the unnamed guest was waiting. The rose garden lay at the far side of the terrace, beyond the torches, and she could make out no figure yet in its shadows. Who could want to see her? She recalled that a place for a lady-in-waiting to the Queen had recently opened up. Could this visitor be the widowed Lady Denny come to solicit her to get Lady Thornleigh to put her daughter's name before the Queen? Or could it be the scholar's wife from Oxford who had grabbed her sleeve on the Whitehall Palace wharf at Lent, asking her to recommend her son as a tutor to Lord Thornleigh's eldest grandson? Justine was determined to protect her guardians from excessive demands on their largesse. She would take Lady Thornleigh only the petitions of the deserving.
Another fusillade of fireworks burst behind her with such a mighty noise, a whoosh like a thousand arrows let fly, she stopped and looked up. Five enormous bursts of fire hung suspended for a moment, then rained down in a shower of gold. Justine had to admire the wild beauty of it. It was as if the stars were falling from the sky. It gave her goose bumps, for it seemed to herald success with her vow to speak to Will before the night was out. This time, she would let him know her heart. Unmaidenly behavior, no doubt, but she didn't care.
She had loved Will Croft from the moment she first saw him. Eight years ago when Lord Thornleigh had brought her into his London home, she was a frightened ten-year-old whose world had been devastated. Bewildered and withdrawn, she had responded to Lord and Lady Thornleighs' gentle questions with tight one-word answers, for although they were kindness itself, she had so much anxiety knotted up inside her, she was afraid to open her mouth lest her fears shoot out in words and turn these good people against her. They had taken her in, telling everyone she was the orphan of a distant Thornleigh relation. No one beyond the immediate family knew the truth: that she was the child of a traitor. One evening, creeping into the parlor as the family went into the great hall for supper, Justine had
Excerpted from Blood Between Queens by Barbara Kyle. Copyright © 2013 by Barbara Kyle. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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