Mistress Spy

Mistress Spy

by Pamela Mingle

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781640636217
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Publication date: 08/27/2018
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 380
Sales rank: 442,872
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Pamela Mingle is a former teacher and librarian who made the switch to writing as a third career. She loves to create romantic tales that play out against historical events, and she always includes a bit of humor in her books. She and her husband enjoy walking in the UK—even though she’s done her share of whining on those fifteen-mile days. The walking trips have proved to be an ideal way to discover new settings for her books.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

February 1570

She charged into battle with the zeal of one who demands justice and will accept nothing less.

They had been riding all afternoon on the old Stanegate Highway, from Carlisle east toward Naworth Castle, where the rebels were mustering. There were five of them besides herself — two friends she had persuaded to join the fight and three others they had picked up along the way. It was a frigid February day, piercing deep to the bone with an unforgiving cold. When the beacons came into view at last, their flames a call to battle, she glanced at her companions triumphantly.

They scarcely had time to give their mounts a rest and let them graze and drink before the order was given to move out. She kept the bright red banners, adorned with white gryphons, in view, and hoped her friends were close by. A fellow riding alongside her leaned in and said, "What about the reinforcements?"

At a loss, she said, "What reinforcements?"

He glanced around, as though fearful of being overheard. No chance of that, in the din of hundreds of men mustering for battle. "Word is, more than a thousand Scots are supposed to be joining up with us. Far as I can tell, they're not here."

She shrugged. Why did they require more men? There were infantry and horsemen as far as the eye could see, though they looked like a ragtag lot. Nobody in mail or armor. She rode on, keeping her eyes on the banners ahead, from time to time searching the crowd for her friends. But to no avail.

They could see the queen's forces in the distance. It was almost as though they wished to sneak past. No judge of the difference between brilliant or foolhardy military strategies, she accepted chasing after an enemy who clearly did not wish to engage as part of a plan. Lord Dacre was their commander, and in her vengeful fervor she would follow him anywhere. On his orders, they gave chase until finally, circling ahead of the queen's southern army, they lay in wait near the Gelt River where Hell Beck joined it.

In mere moments, her belief that justice would triumph shattered.

Hundreds of horsemen at the rear of the queen's army began a vicious attack, pushing Dacre's troops out onto the heath. She dismounted, electing to take her chances as one of the infantry. Within minutes, mayhem ensued. Mounted troops wielding lances made short work of the men, most of whom carried nothing more than dirks. A lucky few were armed with pikes. Arrows flew, and she ducked every time she saw a bow raised. But before long, the smoke from the harquebuses was so thick, she could see nothing, nor could she hear anything other than the screams and shouts of both the rebels and queen's men. What a fool she'd been, expecting an orderly military action. She'd gotten chaos instead.

Their footmen broke through and tore into the rebels with pikes, and cavalrymen attacked with lances. She looked on helplessly as men around her were run through with rapiers or felled by blows to the head. The darkness helped to mask the grievous wounds, but when she dropped to the ground to avoid a hit, a nearby cry for help pierced the frigid air. Crawling in the direction of the sound, she located the injured man. With blood foaming at his open mouth, he tried to speak.

"Finish me." Though the words were garbled, his meaning was clear. Knowing she couldn't do what he required, she began backing away. "Pray, help me," he said, a note of desperation in his voice. Feeling cowardly, she continued to edge away, and when it seemed safe, sprang to her feet and lunged onward. She was too fired up — and apparently too brainless — to sense the inevitability of the outcome, or even the extreme peril she was in.

Having removed her travel cloak, she shivered in her thin shirt and doublet. Neither did much to ward off the bone-chilling cold. Ahead, mist rose from the river like a curtain of gauze. She tripped over more than one lifeless body, both human and beast. Shouts of command and cries of the wounded were muted in the dense air. Clutching the handle of a dirk that had belonged to her brother, she longed for the chance to put it to use. If she could surprise one of the queen's men, catch one of them unawares ... a life for her brother's life. That was all she wanted.

The wind rose, clearing the smoke. Glimpsing an opening, she plunged forward, straight toward a giant of a man wearing the queen's badge and without a weapon to hand. She was ready for him. With an upward thrust, she aimed for his heart. But with one step back, he was out of reach. She was stabbing at the air. He brought a beefy fist down on her wrist and knocked the dirk out of her hand, then gave a low chuckle before grasping the back of her doublet and hoisting her a few feet off the ground. "God's wounds, you're no bigger than a wench," he said.

"Because she is a wench, fool," a second man said, stepping out of the darkness. This one wore a short beard. Or perhaps it was only stubble — she couldn't tell in the dark. He reached down and picked up her dagger.

"We could have some fun with her, I'll warrant," the giant said. He still held her aloft as though she weighed no more than a cloth doll. While he mulled it over, she kicked him in the groin, as hard as she could while swaying in the air. He doubled over and dropped her, and the second man laughed. She leaped to her feet and ran.

Unfortunately, she managed only a few steps before an arm hard as stone and every bit as unyielding wrapped around her. It was the bearded man. The terror, the panic, all the unacknowledged dread she'd been holding inside now burst out in one long, agonized plea. "Let me go, I beg you. I have a family to look after."

He snorted. "A bit late to think of that, is it not?" He ordered the giant to bind her hands behind her back, and they dragged her, one on each side, to an area where prisoners were being held, and dumped her to the cold ground. But not before they'd spotted the scabbard tied at her waist and relieved her of it.

The next day they marched to Carlisle Castle, and she, Madeleine Vernon, daughter of Philip and Blanche Vernon of Carlisle and sister of the executed Robert, found herself thrown into a dank, stinking cell, fit only for murderers, thieves, and rebels.

* * *

The days slipped by in a shadowy nightmare. Maddy had not even a pallet, only a meager pile of straw to lie on, and a thin woolen blanket for cover. It provided little warmth but was better than nothing. Though her ankles had been chained when they arrived here, the chains had been removed, thank the Blessed Virgin. They had caused her to stumble on the crumbling, narrow steps that led to the cells, twisting her right ankle, and each time she rose to pace her cell it burned with pain.

Among the other prisoners she'd not seen either of her friends who had accompanied her to join up with Leonard Dacre. They were neighbors, a brother and sister, Ann and Charles Dodd. Fear that they might have been killed in the battle gnawed at her while she was awake and allowed her only a restless sleep. If I was responsible for their deaths ... better to have lost my own life.

At the end of each day, she'd been setting aside a stalk of straw to keep track of how long she'd been held prisoner. Six stalks now lay in the little pile, and she wondered how much longer it would be before she was summoned for questioning. She was frightened, of course, but ironically, she didn't like being ignored. Left to rot in a cell forever seemed worse than any torture they could subject her to, although she would no doubt change her mind, if that came to pass. The cell was reasonably clean, if she overlooked the stink of urine and feces. Even if the place were scrubbed down with boiling water and lye, the smell would linger. The straw was fresh — there were no bugs in it, and it smelled clean — and despite the dripping water pooling in one corner, she might have been held in far worse conditions.

The jailer, who was appropriately called Wolf, brought her breakfast — the usual hard crust of bread and thin porridge — and then thrust a bucket of water at her, hard enough that most of it splashed onto the floor. "Wash yourself. The master wants to see you." Though curious, Maddy knew he would ignore her questions. Better to keep silent. Hastily, she broke her fast and afterward washed her face in the meager amount of water left in the pail and dried it on her shirt. At least the water was warm, which surprised her.

Very soon thereafter, Wolf returned to deliver her to his master.

* * *

Nicholas Ryder sat at his desk awaiting the prisoner. The one they intended to put to work to further their cause. His father's and the queen's. Not his. The brawny jailer, Wolf, pushed the lass forward. A more bedraggled woman he'd not seen in his thirty years. Nor smelled. God's blood, had they not allowed her to wash in the week they'd held her captive?

After a cursory look at her, Nicholas dismissed Wolf and glanced down at the papers he'd been studying before she entered the room. They provided him with the bare facts. Name: Margaret Vernon. Age: Unknown, but probably mid-twenties. Unmarried with no issue. Daughter of the late Philip Vernon, a Catholic, but never a trouble-maker, and one Blanche Vernon, a deceased French woman. Sister of the recently executed — for his part in the northern rebellion — Robert Vernon.

A flash of movement made him raise his eyes. He would not tolerate an attempt to escape. There were other female captives whose services they could draw upon. It did not have to be this one. But she was quite still, save for a quick swipe of the back of her hand over her face. When he looked a little closer, he could see a trail of tears carving a path through the grime on her cheeks. She was weeping, then. That bode well for coming to terms swiftly.

"You are Margaret Vernon?"

"My Christian name is Madeleine, spelled in the French way."

Fools. He made the correction with his quill. "And your age, Mistress Vernon?"

"I am three and twenty."

"And you are the daughter of the late Philip and Blanche Vernon of Carlisle, and sister of Robert, lately executed?"

She winced but remained silent. Nicholas took the opportunity to study her. Not only was she filthy, but she was still dressed in a man's hose and doublet, the clothes she'd been wearing when they'd captured her. Her hair looked like a serpent's nest. Like Medusa. No wonder she stank.

"Pray answer the question, mistress."

"Aye." Now his captive was weeping in earnest, and for the first time Nicholas noticed she was balancing on one foot, her face racked with pain. Obviously, the lass had been injured.

"You are not well." He hauled his chair from behind his desk and set it down near her, then circled her waist with his arm. "Allow me to help you." God's breath, her smell nearly made him gag. After she was seated, he rose and strode to the door, yanking it open. A guard stood watch outside. "Find Joan and bring her to me."

"Master?" Joan said when she entered the room. He'd been standing at the windows, surveying the sere winter landscape. The cold had been bitter and relentless. The windows were frosted over every morning, and when he roused himself at sunrise, he had to poke through a thin film of ice in the ewer before he could pour any water.

He could hear the question in Joan's voice. Why was he standing with his back exposed to a prisoner? The answer was simple. Because he did not care to look at Mistress Madeleine Vernon. Her countenance bore an odd mix of vulnerability and strength, and he didn't like seeing what had been done to her. Her actions had been rash and foolhardy, but he was awed by her courage.

"Pray escort Mistress Vernon to one of the chambers and help her wash. I cannot have her stinking and miserable while I am questioning her. Make sure the fire is stoked and the room warmed first. While you are waiting, give her some cheese and bread and hot wine. And God's mercy, find her some clean apparel. Fit for a female."

"Aye, Master Ryder." With Joan's help, the prisoner limped slowly to the door.

"How were you injured, mistress?" Nicholas asked.

She glared at him defiantly but did not answer.

He nodded at Joan. "Take her. And do not return her until she is clean, fed, and clothed in something that does not reek."

The door slammed shut behind them. Nicholas unleashed a sigh. So this was not to be swiftly done after all.

CHAPTER 2

The servant, called Joan, led Maddy back to her captor. This time the woman didn't hold on to her. She must have decided Maddy wouldn't try to escape, since she hadn't shown any signs of doing so while eating, bathing, or dressing. Her pace was slow due to her sore and swollen ankle, but Joan was patient and did not try to hurry her along.

Maddy sighed with relief when she saw that a settle had been brought in and placed before the table, evidently for her benefit. For the moment, she was alone in the chamber, dark save for the fire burning in the hearth and the meager light slanting in through the arrow slits. Free of the hunger pangs that had plagued her for days, her mind felt clear and sharp. She'd been able to think about the questioning she must submit to and had devised a strategy. Her interrogator had revealed various facts he knew about her; perhaps she could bargain with him. A pardon in exchange for information, though if indeed she'd committed treason — and Maddy was reasonably sure she had — she would be lucky to obtain one. As far as she knew, nobody had yet been pardoned for taking part in the rebellion that had occurred last November, the debacle that had forced her onto the path that had ended here at Carlisle Castle. Indeed, punishment had been meted out using martial law, which granted the queen limitless powers during wartimes. Maddy's brother had been hanged within a month, without even a trial. He and scores of others. Where was the justice in that?

But she was no outlaw, merely a woman with a grievance. Her strategy was to plead her case as the sole protector of her sister-in-law and niece and nephews. Not only had they lost a brother, husband, and father, but their land and most of their goods had been confiscated. Maddy's family needed her, and it was her duty to care for them.

The door opened and in strode her captor. Master Ryder, as Joan had called him. He was a tall, imposing figure. She had already taken note of his clear, green eyes, and had she felt more herself, she would have found him quite attractive.

He nodded at Maddy before taking a seat behind the big oak table, which, thank Our Blessed Lady, was pushed close to the hearth. Carlisle Castle was a cold, damp fortress, not fit for human habitation, in her opinion.

"You look ..." His voice tapered off. "Did you eat something?"

"I did, sir. I am most grateful for the food and drink and the clean clothing. And even more so for the chance to bathe." She glanced down at her plain bodice and skirts. Nothing fancy, but warm and serviceable, and not that far removed from her usual attire. He was being kind, the better to induce her to talk. She understood that, but for now she would behave in an appropriately obliging manner, even though she knew his kindness was simply a means to an end.

His gaze was fixed on Maddy's face. "Will you talk to me now?"

She inclined her head, very slightly.

"Tell me how you were injured. You are limping."

Maddy smiled sheepishly. "I twisted my ankle when I was descending the stairs to the cells. Clumsy of me, but in my defense, the steps are crumbling away to nothing, and even without shackles on my ankles they would have been difficult to manage."

He made no answer, merely studied her. A massive log on the hearth split apart, shooting sparks up the chimney. After a time he said, "It should have healed by now, since it cannot have been put to much use this week. We shall have a physician look at it."

"Do not trouble yourself, sir."

"It is no trouble. There are several residing in the town." He took up his papers and examined them.

She waited mere seconds, then said, "May I know your name, sir?" "Ryder. Nicholas Ryder."

He set his papers down and pinched between his brows, as though he had a headache. "Perhaps the most efficient way to approach this is for you to tell me how and why you became involved in Leonard Dacre's raid." He leaned back in his chair and waited.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Mistress Spy"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Pamela Mingle.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Mistress Spy 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Historical_Romance_Lover 8 months ago
I really enjoyed Madeleine and Nicholas' story! Attempting to avenge her brother's death, Madeleine joins the rebels, only to be caught by the Queen's men. Nicholas has been given charge of Madeleine and decides to place her in a home posing as a secretary to gather intel. They start as enemies but as they start to spend time together, the lines begin to blur. I really enjoyed watching these two get to know one another and see that what they originally thought each other was like be proved wrong. Another great story from Mingle!!
beckymmoe 9 months ago
Mistress Spy is a fast-paced story of historical espionage dealing with an aspect of history (plots involving Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots) that I have a general understanding of but not a lot of specific knowledge--I'll admit keeping track of all the players and the details about the plots Nick and Maddy are trying to uncover was sometimes a bit of a challenge, but overall it was an enjoyable read. I do wish the romance between Maddy and Nick had had a bit more to it for much of the book, though I suppose working for the crown and partaking in hazardous spy detail must take priority ;) Nick's tendency to run hot and cold, though--one minute all about his work, the next unable to stay away from Maddy--was as frustrating for the reader as it was for the heroine. He makes up for it in the end, but still. Overall, I enjoyed this book and will definitely look for more from the author. It's clear she puts a lot of research into her work and loves what she does. (Plus, you know--spies!!!) Rating: 4 stars / B I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.
Annette5151 9 months ago
A fast paced story with lots of action,intrigue and romance! Loved the story and characters! Perfect if you love historical fiction!
Pompie1999 9 months ago
Thrilling, exciting, interesting and romantic. This is my first book by this (I think fairly new) author and it definitely won’t be my last. It is well-written and well-plotted and I just couldn’t stop reading. I enjoyed all of the characters, even the villains and that is rare. Another thing I liked is that it wasn’t filled with Dukes, Earls, etc. Just plain folks in the northern region of England in 1569 – well – not plain folks as in farm laborers, etc. but people who had nice homes, but weren’t necessarily the aristocracy. In an exciting opening scene, we have our heroine, Madeline Vernon, riding into battle against the Queen’s army. Why? She wants to avenge her brother Robert’s hanging as a traitor. Actually, he was a traitor, but he never even got to have a trial for any facts to come out – he was just hanged. Those were some dangerous times between England and Scotland – Elizabeth was the Queen of England and Mary was Queen of Scotland. Mary was imprisoned by Elizabeth and the Catholic religion had been outlawed. Everyone was forced into the ‘new’ protestant religion. Naturally, the Catholics didn’t want to give up their religion and many of them went underground while others blatantly defied the law and openly practiced their religion. The battle does not end well for the rebels lead by Lord Leonard Dacre. They were a rag-tag group armed with dirks and pitchforks – certainly no match for the highly trained and well-armed Royal troops. Many of the rebels were killed and even more were captured. Madeline (Maddy) was one of those captured and she spent six very trying days in prison awaiting her questioning/torture or her hanging. She had no idea which it would be, but she was sure it would be one or the other. She had so many regrets about what she had done – especially dragging two of her friends into the uprising. Then, her jailer comes to take her up for her interrogation – but – that isn’t really what she got. She receives an offer she can hardly refuse – become a spy in the home of someone the Crown believes is a traitor or hang. Nicholas Ryder, a representative of the Crown, sat and awaited the prisoner’s arrival – and when she did arrive, she was the most bedraggled woman he’d seen in his entire life. The stench was unbelievable, she was injured, and you couldn’t even see her face for the dirt. He makes her an offer – assume the role of companion/secretary in the home of Lady Jane Dacre aunt to Leonard Dacre. Maddy is to spy on the Dacre’s to find out what, if anything, they had to do with any of the uprisings. This branch of the Dacres appear to be loyal to the queen, but there are doubts. Maddy enters into what appears to be a loyal, protestant household – but there are so many undercurrents. Add in Mr. Vine, who Maddy knew many years ago as someone other than Mr. Vine – and an innocent sixteen-year-old maid who goes missing and you have quite a tale. Is Mr. Vine as evil as Maddy thinks he is? Where is the sweet maid and did Mr. Vine do something to her? Could Lady Dacre, who is kind to Maddy, really be a traitor? As Maddy carries out her task and reports weekly to Nicholas, their relationship grows and they come to care for each other – but so very many things stand in their way and do their best to keep them apart. I absolutely loved Nick’s ward – his nephew Daniel. He was a wonderful addition to the book because he was such a sweet and loving little boy – and so troubled. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing him grow.
CathyGeha 9 months ago
Mistress Spy by Pamela Mingle In 1569 a young woman and her friends go to join a fight on the losing side. Madeleine Vernon wants revenge for the hanging of her brother. He fought against the queen and was considered a traitor but she found him only misguided and worthy of life. Anyway, she is captured and given the opportunity of saving her traitorous life IF she is willing to go undercover to try to expose plots against the English Queen. Not wanting to hang as her brother did, Madeleine accepts, is cleaned up a bit, given clothing and sent to the Dacre home to spy by her handler, Nicholas Ryder…well…at the behest of his father who is much more into spy-craft and keeping the queen safe at all costs. So, off Madeleine goes with spying to do, information to get back to Ryder, a guest in the home Madeleine knows is not who he says he is and a lot of tension to endure. Then, a woman goes missing, reivers (or are they?) come visiting, Madeleine’s life is at risk and eventually a plot with an evil killer is exposed and he is done away with. Throw in a cute nephew of Nicholas, a bit of romance and the potential for a HEA and you have a historical romance that I found myself skimming at times as it seemed a wee bit predictable and the characters not different enough to hold my attention fully. Thank you to NetGalley and Entangled-Amara for the ARC - This is my honest review. 3 Stars
georgia1 9 months ago
1569 the fight for the rightful Queen of England. In reading this story, I felt like I was in the middle of the rebellion because the descriptions and emotions were so real! Filled with suspense, intrigue, spies and traitors combined with betrayal and danger, I was kept on the edge wondering what would happen next. She lost her brother in the fight and she was determined to avenge him by joining a group of rebels. Even dressing like a lad did not help her when she was captured by the enemy and thrown in a dank cell. He was working as a spy for the Queen and used her to gather information in return for her freedom. So much emotion and twists and turns that me talking to the characters to help them! I really enjoyed this book and look forward to more by this author!!! Lori Dykes
FizzaYounis 9 months ago
It's an absolutely amazing book full of mystery, romance, and thrill. I loved both Maddy and Nicholas. They're perfect together, both reluctant spies working to uncover traitors to the crown. After her brother died, Madeleine only thought about getting revenge. Unfortunately, she was captured and faced trial. Only when she thought all hope was lost, she was given a choice. Die as a traitor or become a spy. She chose to live. Her mission is not as simple as it sounds. There will be danger and it might not end well for her. But she is willing to make an effort and so her best. Her future is uncertain but for now she is working with Nicholas to make things right. Nicholas Ryder does not enjoy working in Queen Elizabeth’s service but when his father needs him, he doesn't have much of a choice. He also dislikes putting Madeleine in danger but this is the only way for her to earn her freedom. So, together they must find all the information needed in order to put an end to any plot against Queen Elizabeth, that maybe brewing in the north. It's a very well-written book. I especially enjoyed the action packed ending. It's an interesting spy story set in Queen Elizabeth’s time when Mary Queen of Scots was thought to be plotting against her, and laying claim to the British throne. I don't know much about historic facts but the story had me intrigued from the very beginning. I enjoyed it a lot and would recommend to all historical fiction fans.
Sunshine1006 9 months ago
Madeleine Vernon is a heartbroken sister. Her brother was hung for being a traitor. She has joined a group of rebels fighting against the Queen's army to get revenge for his death. She gets caught and is imprisoned for treason. Nicholas Ryder is in service to the Queen under the guidance of his father, who is ruthless when it comes to following the rules of the Crown. He does what his father wants despite not agreeing with him on many matters. When he meets Madeline, there is attraction between them but it can never be. Nicholas is tired of working for his father but he is not free to do as he wishes. Since Madeline can read and write, she is placed in household to spy on the occupants as they are suspected to be traitors. She is to get as much information as possible and turn it in to Nicholas. While in the house, she meets someone she knows who is using an alias. Will this man reveal her secret of will she reveals his? Who are the traitors? Will Maddie get caught and killed? Will Nicholas escape his father's hold? This book is an action packed story full of mystery, adventure and love. As the story progresses, you don't know who to believe or trust. I was so invested in this book, the story and the characters that I stayed up all night to finish it. I highly recommend it. I received this book from Net Galley and Entangled Publishing for a honest review and no compensation otherwise. 5+ stars
Anonymous 9 months ago
The blurb sounds more interesting that the story which I struggled through. Nothing much really appealed. I thought both characters rather flat as was the story. When Maddy’s brother joins the rebellion against Queen Elizabeth and is killed, Maddy rashly decides she wants “revenge”, dresses as a boy and joins the fray & is (naturally) caught. Surprisingly spared (don’t ask me why) she is instead imprisoned and then given the ultimatum to spy on behalf on the Queen to redeem herself or be killed as a traitor. That whole premise didn’t make me warm to Maddy much, nor the fact that she had been smitten when younger with a rather smarmy snake of a man (who shows up in the household where she is sent to spy) enough to have sex with him. Nicholas’ behaviour towards Maddy felt uneven in the earlier part of the story. Sometimes indifferent to the point of nasty and other time “she’s so beautiful! I have to keep myself under control”.
Vesper1931 9 months ago
1569 Madeleine Vernon rushes to battle to avenge the death of her brother but in doing so she goes against Queen Elizabeth. But she is caught, and her position has become perilous. To save herself she must act the spy in the Dacre houshold, under the eye of Nicholas Ryder - for some years now he has worked for his father in the service of the Queen. A good paced and well-written story with characters I liked almost immediately. Overall an enjoyable story.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Unsuspected trickery and deception makes this an enticing read! Captured by Queen Elizabeth's men, Madeline is forced to spy for her handler and spymaster, Nicolas. Slow at times, then the action picks up. Secrets abound including Maddie's and Nicolas'. Enjoyed the action, unraveling the mysteries and the romance. 3 1/2 stars. Voluntarily read ARC, through Netgalley and publisher, for honest review.