Overcoming her misgivings, Susanna soon finds herself impersonating Eleanor so that she can join the ring of conspirators. Attempting to deliver a vital letter to the earl of Northumberland, a key player in the drama about to unfold, Susanna wonders how long she can conceal her true identity. Will the plot against the Queen proceed unchecked, or will it be thwarted by Susanna's sleuthing?
In the sixth installment of this "sparkling series" (Publishers Weekly), Emerson seamlessly combines politics, history and suspense as she follows Susanna, Lady Appleton, on her latest adventure.
Author Biography: Kathy Lynn Emerson lives in Wilton, Maine. Face Down Before Rebel Hooves is the sixth book in the Susanna, Lady Appleton, series.
Related collections and offers
Read an Excerpt
Imperial Free City of AugsburgSeptember 1569
Muttering invective, Eleanor Pendennis stormed out of the bedchamber. Sir Walter watched her go with a mixture of irritation and regret. Ill temper would build into a towering rage before the day was out. The fury in his wife's wide hazel eyes already flashed brighter than the gold clasp fastening her new velvet cloak.
The scent of sweet marjoram lingered after her departure. Once upon a time, he would have said it was his favorite perfume. Now he found it cloying, and Eleanor more so.
She was a strong-minded woman. In the general way of things, he admired the quality, especially when it was combined with feminine grace and fierce passion, but during the last four months Eleanor's willfulness had tried his patience. When she recovered from this latest heat, he'd have to remind her, in a calm and reasonable way, of the vow she had taken to obey her husband in all things.
Now that he'd succeeded in negotiating a secret loan from the bankers of Augsburg to Elizabeth of England, Walter meant to return home. He would not go to London, where he'd lodged for many years, but to his estate in Cornwall, there to rusticate and renew relations with his brothersit had been years since he'd seen any of themand sire sons of his own to raise up into country gentlemen.
Eleanor had not been happy with his plan when she'd first heard of it. She'd wanted him to accept another ambassadorship. When he'd refused to consider that alternative, she'd reviled him, complaining that he nolonger loved her. He wondered if she had the right of it. Of late it seemed as if they could not be in the same room together without quarreling.
Walter donned his warm, dark green wool cloak, resigned to the fact that the interior of the church was always damnably cold. As he'd expected, Eleanor had left the house without waiting for him to escort her to the small stone edifice used by Augsburg's English congregation. She was well ahead of him, striding along the cobbled street at a rapid pace and paying no attention to her surroundings. He suspected she was still mumbling epithets under her breath.
Out of habit, Walter paused a moment longer before he left cover. Most passersby were on their way to divine worship, dressed in their somber best, but he did spot a pickpocket in the crowd, and a whore making her way home after a long night's work. There was no one who presented any threat to him, but he could not help but be glad he'd soon be able to leave crowded cities and their dangers behind.
Walter had always intended his present assignment to be his last. Eleanor would have to accept that he had lost his desire to fight dragons for the queen. After years of service to the Crown, first as an intelligence gatherer and then as a diplomat, he was ready to retire.
Thinking of the clean, bracing air of home, he inhaled deeply, then choked on the reek of offal from a nearby butcher's stall. Only a bit less powerful was the rich aroma of a pile of horse dung so fresh it was still steaming. Shaking his head, he set out after his wife.
The babble of churchgoers calling out greetings to one another vied with the clatter of hooves and the rattle of wheels on cobblestones. A cheerful cacophony, Walter thought, just as a farm wagon hurtled past him at breakneck speed, scattering the crowd in its wake. It had seemed to appear out of nowhere, and pedestrians up ahead were still oblivious to the danger bearing down on them.
"Eleanor!" Walter shouted. "To me!"
If she heard him at all, she mistook his warning for another attempt to dictate her actions. Stubborn to the last, she continued on.
Time slowed to a crawl. Walter began to run, but he was too far away to avert disaster.
At the last instant, Eleanor glanced over her shoulder and saw her doom approaching. Her terrified scream drowned out all other sound until it broke off with horrifying abruptness. There was no room for the draft horse to veer around her in the narrow thoroughfare. As Walter watched in disbelief and horror, his wife was knocked down and trampled by the runaway. Flashing hooves struck her. Then the wagon's heavy load passed over her prostrate form with a sickening series of thumps.
Stunned, Walter skidded to a halt. The wildly careening wagon continued on, leaving Eleanor behind. Unmoving, she lay face down on the cobbles. Her once bright crimson cloak was mud stained and blood streaked, the lace trim torn. Her limbs splayed at unnatural angles beneath the folds of her finery.
Walter's legs refused to function. His mind struggled to deny what his eyes saw. The landmarks around him faded, buildings and people alike becoming a blur. He tasted bile.
On the heels of his own anguished whisper, Walter began to run again, frantic now to reach her. Already fearing the worst, his stomach twisted as he flung himself to his knees by her side. He reached out, intending to turn her over, to gather her into his arms. He stopped himself just in time.
He had been in battle, seen men injured, seen them hurt more terribly still by rough handling afterward. If Eleanor, by some chance, was still alive ...
Many hours later, Walter sat by his wife's bedside. He wanted to pray for her recovery. Instead his thoughts churned restlessly, struggling to come to terms with a bleak future.
Eleanor's injuries were dreadful. One hip had been broken, and the opposite leg. She had sustained horrible bruises and a number of deep cuts. Bandages swathed one side of her face. One shoulder had been dislocated. The physician, a man well respected in Augsburg for his knowledge of medicine, did not expect her to survive. He warned that if by some miracle she did recover, she would never walk again. She'd spend the rest of her life crippled and disfigured.
Could she live with that?
Could he stand to see her suffer?
He had no answers. He did not even know which outcome to pray for. A short, bitter laugh escaped him as he recalled that they'd been on their way to church when the accident occurred.
Eleanor's voice was so faint that he thought at first he'd imagined the sound. Her eyes remained closed. Her breathing was still ragged and shallow.
"There's naught to forgive."
A little sob escaped her. Although it obviously pained her to do so, she raised her eyelids sufficient to peer up at him. He leaned closer, taking her cold hand in his. His heart ached for her ... and for himself.
"Rest, Eleanor. You have grave injuries."
"Am I nigh unto death?"
He could not bring himself to choke out an answer, but she must have read the seriousness of her condition in his expression.
"I have done a terrible thing," she whispered.
"No!" Her voice grew stronger. Determination gleamed in the hazel depths of her slitted, agony-filled eyes. "Hear me out. You must."
"As you wish."
He expected to be told she'd spent the household money on fine fabric, or, at most, that she'd gone behind his back and written to someone at the English court to inquire about his prospects for employment there.
"I have betrayed you, Walter. And England. The proof of it is in my little cypress box, beneath the false bottom."
Although every word of her confession was painful to them both, she soldiered on, unfolding a story that first hurt, then shocked, then angered him. He could scarce fail to believe her. Not only was this a deathbed declaration, but she offered evidence of her perfidy.
Eleanor had lapsed into unconsciousness by the time he'd deciphered the damning document he found in her hiding place. With grim precision, he slid it back into its oilskin pouch, replaced the packet in the cypress box, and snapped the false bottom into place.
Did he know his wife at all? Had he ever? He'd never guessed that she would go to such lengths to avoid retiring to Cornwall.
With the clarity of hindsight, he realized Eleanor had been the one who'd urged him to request that first appointment as an ambassador. Newly married, they'd been sent to the court of Sigismund Augustus of Poland. Later he'd been appointed an envoy to Sweden's king Erik. Apparently, Eleanor loved the excitement of life at court so much that she'd been unable to give it up. Instead, she'd involved herself in a plot to overthrow Elizabeth of England, gambling that the queen's successor would reward her with a place in the royal household.
She had turned traitor.
Hands curled into fists, Walter avoided looking at her still form on the bed. He could not bear to go near her, knowing that she had betrayed him and all he stood for.
Hardening his heart against Eleanor, resolved to waste no more pity on someone who had so foully abused his trust, Walter examined the letters she'd kept in the top compartment of her cypress box. He found nothing in any of them to alarm him, but the most recent communication from their mutual friend Lady Appleton, which Eleanor had not seen fit to show him, did contain surprising news.
By the time Walter left his wife's chamber, his thoughts had turned to how he could best use the information she had given him. Before their marriage, he had devoted himself to ferreting out and thwarting plots against the Crown. This was familiar territory. He'd send a warning to the queen first, but there was also much more he could do to protect the realm.
He called the servants together and gave terse instructions in a voice that brooked no disobedience. That done, he extracted enough Hungarian ducats, Rhenish gulder, rose nobles, and crona from his money chest to fill a substantial pouch, sufficient to ensure that the physician who'd treated Eleanor would swear to any who inquired that her injuries had been minor, her recovery imminent.
On the morrow, Walter intended to take his wife, dead or alive, out of the city in a covered carriage. Her tiring maid had been hired during their sojourn in Cracow. He'd send the woman home from the first city they passed through on their way north. Then, with the help of his manservant, Jacob, who had been with him for years and was unquestionably loyal, he'd be able to bury Eleanor in secret.
Conspirators in England expected her to deliver a packet to them when she returned home. Walter did not mean to disappoint them. A substitution would be made, not only of its contents but of its messenger.
He permitted himself a small, grim smile as he contemplated the single stroke of good luck in all this. The person most ideally suited to take Eleanor's place was also on the Continent, in Hamburg. He'd appeal first, he decided, to Susanna Appleton's loyalty to Queen Elizabeth, but if that did not work, he'd not hesitate to compel her cooperation by reminding her that she owed him her life.
Nineteen days later
Burying a dead Englishman in hallowed ground in Hamburg required tact, patience, and resourcefulness. The city's Lutheran ministers had little tolerance for those who practiced the rites of the Church of England. "Heretic" services could only be held at the headquarters of the Merchant Adventurers. When Nick Baldwin went off to attend the funeral of one of that company, a careless apprentice who had drowned in the Bleichen Fleth, the outermost canal among many that traversed the city, Susanna, Lady Appleton, remained behind in his comfortable little house and considered how best to break the news that she would soon be leaving.
If she wished to avoid being trapped for the winter, when sailing back home became not only hazardous but foolhardy, she must leave before the end of October. The previous winter, ice had clogged the Elbe all the way from Hamburg to Ritzbuttel, near the river's mouth.
A sigh escaped her. They'd have another week together, two at the most. It had been wonderful to be with Nick again. Since he'd first become involved in readying the Hamburg market for regular English trade, more than two years earlier, he'd been able to return to England only twice. He continued to have responsibilities here, to the Company of Merchant Adventurers and to his own business interests. Susanna, likewise, had obligations that required her presence at Leigh Abbey in Kent.
Chief among them was Rosamond, her late husband's daughter by another woman.
The little girl, who would soon celebrate her seventh birthday, greatly resembled her father. She was the bane of Susanna's existence ... and her greatest delight. Quick-witted, Rosamond devoured the lessons Susanna gave her. She'd shown an early flair for herbal lore, and she was far more advanced than most children her age, even boys, in reading, writing, and mathematics.
Unfortunately, Rosamond had inherited more than Sir Robert Appleton's dark hair and eyes, narrow face, and high forehead. He had also bequeathed her his temper, his stubbornness, and his infuriating self-assurance.
And his charm. That made up for a good deal.
Susanna's marriage to Sir Robert had lasted more than twelve years, most of them acrimonious, and had ended badly, but as the direct result of being widowed, she had acquired three good thingsa greater knowledge of herself, Rosamond's guardianship, and the freedom to do as she wished with the rest of her life.
Just now, she wanted to go home.
Taking up paper and quill, Susanna began to list the arrangements she'd need to make beforehand. She had scarce completed half of it when Nick's man Toby interrupted her.
"You have a visitor, madam. Sir Walter Pendennis."
"Walter!" Delighted by the prospect of a reunion with one of her oldest and dearest friends, Susanna rose from the writing table with such alacrity that she overset her stool. "Show him in, Toby."
She resisted a temptation to rush to her mirror, and settled for smoothing her skirts and poking a stray wisp of brown hair back up under her coif. Even that small amount of primping made her smile at her own foolishness. Although Walter had once asked her to be his bride, she'd never thought of him as a potential lover. Walter was more like the older brother she'd never had, as well as a good and loyal friend. She was heartily glad to welcome him to Hamburg.
At first glance, Walter looked much the same as she remembered, a tall man with shoulders nearly broad enough to touch either side of the carved doorway. The slight paunch he'd had when they first met was a bit more obvious, and his sand-colored hair was thinner, but his love of bright colors remained undimmed. A vivid green satin doublet gleamed in the sunlight pouring through the chamber window. Over one arm he carried a short cape of scarlet wool.
For a moment they just stared at one another. Awash with memories, Susanna lacked the words to express what she felt. The months just before Walter left England had been emotional ones for both of them. He'd risked his reputation to help her, a commodity she knew was of more value to him than life itself.
Walter found his voice first. "My dear, it is good to see you."
"And you, Walter. But where is Eleanor? Surely you did not leave her behind in Augsburg." The moment she mentioned Eleanor's name, Susanna sensed something was wrong.
"Tell me first how you came to be here." Pulling off his gloves, Walter entered the room. He greeted Susanna with a brief kiss, then turned to survey their surroundings.
Susanna frowned. She trusted her instincts, but if Walter was in distress of mind, it did not show in his face. Then again, he'd had years of practice at keeping his expression a careful blank.
"The last letter you wrote to us said you were bound for Hamburg, but you did not explain why you decided to make such a long and difficult journey. Now that the duke of Alba's Spanish infantrymen are at large in the Low Countries and England has declared an embargo on trade with them, 'tis scarce the best time for an Englishwoman to travel abroad alone." His stance was a little too stiff and his mien a bit too forbidding, both subtle indicators that he struggled to contain some strong emotion.
"But I am not alone, Walter," Susanna said in mild tones. "I am with Nick Baldwin."
The look Walter gave her was sharp enough to puncture the skin. When he'd last been in England, she and Nick had been neighbors and no more than casual friends. Their relationship had changed a good deal since then.
She had to clear her throat before she could continue. "We were, I assure you, most careful when passing through the Netherlands." She motioned Walter toward a small armchair with a semicircular seat and arms, the most comfortable piece of furniture in the room. When he sat, she perched on the edge of the window seat.
"Are you his mistress?"
The bluntness of Walter's question took Susanna aback. She could feel her chin lifting, jutting out as her father's had been wont to do when he was called upon to defend his actions. "That term implies he controls my actions."
"What would you call yourself, then?"
"In private, Nick calls me his mitgeselle." The German word, when used to describe a wife or mistress, meant both helpmate and companion. As an endearment, Susanna found it pleasing.
Walter's expression revealed none of his thoughts. He appeared, however, to be contemplating her statement, examining all aspects of it. It required more self-control on her part than Susanna had expected to keep from blurting out excuses for her behavior. No matter what Walter had done for her in the past, she owed him no explanations. On the other hand, she did want him to understand that she saw no cause for shame.
"Why have you not married him?"
Drawing her legs up onto the window seat, she wrapped her arms around her knees, hugging them tightly to her chest. "For the same reason I would not marry you when you asked me. I have no desire to lose everything I own to a husband, no matter how good a man he seems."
After marriage, a woman no longer controlled either her own person or her possessions but became mere chattel. The man she wed assumed absolute power.
Susanna hoped Walter would let the matter drop. She did not want to wound his feelings, but if he persisted he would soon realize that her love for Nick was far stronger than any attachment she had formed with him. Although she had a deep and abiding affection for Walter, she would never have invited him into her bed. Indeed, she had wholeheartedly encouraged him to marry Eleanor.
"What business has Baldwin in Hamburg?" Walter asked.
"Nick is a merchant. When Hamburg granted the Merchant Adventurers of London a ten-year charter, including in it wide-ranging privileges to settle here and trade, Nick was one of the first to arrive. Now Hamburg is poised to replace Antwerp as the principal gateway for English trade with Germany and the Baltics." With no small amount of pride, she added, "Two fleets, each consisting of thirty ships, made the voyage from the Thames this year, sailing up the Elbe to unload cargoes of broadcloth."
"That does not explain why you came here. You are not a merchant."
Exasperated by Walter's inquisition, she answered with the simple truth. "Letters were a poor substitute for having Nick at my side and in my bed."
Walter slumped in the chair in an attitude of utter dejection. After studying him for a few moments, Susanna left her cushioned bench to fetch an angster of the local wine. Most people drank direct from the long-necked bottle, but in the hope of reviving Walter's spirits, Susanna poured the liquid into a glazed, earthenware cup, then spiced it with honey and cloves.
After a few sips, he managed a faint smile. "Wine, Susanna, when Hamburg is called the city of beer?"
"Robert always used to say your mind was a storehouse of trivial information." The name of her late husband, his onetime friend, hung heavy in the air between them. Before she'd married Walter, Eleanor had been Robert's mistress. She was Rosamond's mother. "Tell me what troubles you, Walter, and how I may help."
"I do need your assistance." He took another swallow of the wine.
"You know I will do anything I can for you. You need only ask."
"I hope you mean that." He drained the goblet but continued to hold it in both hands. "There was an accident, nearly three weeks ago now. Eleanor was run down by a horse and wagon. Her injuries were most grievous. There was naught anyone could do for her."
"Oh, my dear!" Sinking to her knees at his side, she touched his velvet sleeve in an instinctive gesture of comfort.
Eleanor dead? She could scarce believe it. Even though they had not known each other well, they had spent several weeks together at Appleton Manor in Lancashire. They'd made candles and traded recipes and developed a certain liking, in spite of the suspicions they'd entertained about each other at the time.
"I am sorry for your loss." The words seemed inadequate.
"She made no provision for Rosamond."
To Susanna's dismay, relief flooded through her. Eleanor's death meant she would never try to reclaim her daughter. Rosamond would continue to live at Leigh Abbey, continue to call Susanna "Mama."
"I have made provision for her, Walter. In time she will inherit her father's estate and all I own, as well."
"Few women would be so generous to a husband's by-blow."
Frowning, Susanna tried to peer into Walter's downcast eyes. How odd his behavior was. Walter did not comport himself like any new-made widower she'd ever seen. If he grieved, he hid it well. But then, he would. She knew better than anyone what his history was. Until his marriage, he had been one of the queen of England's most dedicated intelligence gatherers, overseeing a squadron of spies that had once included her late husband.
"You did not travel here to Hamburg to discuss Rosamond." She realized how tightly she was gripping Walter's arm and relaxed her hold. "Nor did you come here for the sole purpose of telling me of your wife's death. A letter would have sufficed for either purpose." She plucked at the bright-hued fabric of his sleeve. "Why do you not wear mourning?"
Walter chuckled as if her comment pleased him. "Sharp-eyed and sharp-witted. I was right to choose you."
"You speak in riddles."
"I act to confuse. My intent is to give the impression that Eleanor is alive and well. For that reason, we left Augsburg in a closed coach on the day' after the accident. Anyone who watched us go must believe Eleanor suffered only minor injuries."
Regarding Walter with wary eyes, Susanna digested this information and came to the conclusion that Eleanor had died at some point during the 450-mile journey. She could only imagine the agony he must have endured, forced to increase a doomed woman's suffering in order to ... what?
Nothing less than the fate of the realm could be at stake. Numbed by that realization, Susanna's fingers slipped from Walter's arm. She sat back on her heels and braced herself for the revelations to come. "What do you want from me, Walter?"
A brief softening of his harsh features accompanied his answer. "I require a wife."
Damned popinjay!" Nick Baldwin fought a near overwhelming urge to lay violent hands on Sir Walter Pendennis. "Who does he think he is? If you marry anyone, Susanna, you will marry me!"
Nick had come home to find his domestic bliss shattered. Pendennis had needed only to snap his fingers and Susanna had agreed to do his bidding. She'd already sent some of her belongings to the ship he had waiting. If the weather held and the wind was right, they'd sail on tomorrow's tide.
"He does not want to marry me." Susanna sounded flustered, although she continued to fold sleeves and kirtles in an efficient manner, arranging them in neat piles on the bed. "And I have no plans to wed anyone. Walter wants me to pretend to be his wife."
"Worse and worse! Bad enough he'd propose marriage to you, but if he does not even mean to offer you his name"
Dropping a wrist ruff and whirling around to face him, Susanna struck him, hard, on the chest. "Bodykins! You sound like a dog about to fight over a bone!" She glared at him in annoyante. Since she was a trifle taller than he was, their eyes were level.
Excerpted from Face Down Before Rebel Hooves by Kathy Lynn Emerson. Copyright © 2001 by Kathy Lynn Emerson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.