Her darkest dreams are coming true
In Tudor England, 1555, Meg Lytton has learned how powerful her magick gift can be. But danger surrounds her and her mistress, the outcast Princess Elizabeth. Nowhere is safe in the court of Elizabeth's fanatical sister, Queen Mary. And as the Spanish Inquisition's merciless priests slowly tighten their grip on the court, Meg's very dreams are disturbed by the ever-vengeful witchfinder Marcus Dent.
Even as Meg tries to use her powers to find guidance, something evil arises, impervious to Meg's spells and hungry to control England's fate. As Meg desperately tries to keep her secret betrothed, the Spanish priest Alejandro de Castillo, out of harm's way, caution wars with their forbidden desire. And with her most powerful enemy poised to strike, Meg's only chance is a heartbreaking sacrifice.
About the Author
Victoria Lamb lives in a farmhouse on the wild fringes of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, England, with her husband, five children and an energetic Irish Red Setter. She writes poetry and fiction as her day job, and is addicted to social media. On dark nights she has been known to sneak out onto the moors and howl at the moon . Visit her website www.victorialambbooks.com or chat with her on Twitter, where she answers to @VictoriaLamb1.
Read an Excerpt
I had been here before in a dream. I was standing in a high place, buffeted by winds and wrapped in a reddish mist that stretched into cloud a few yards ahead. My loose hair whipped about my face, longer than it was now. The wide skirt of my gown billowed around my ankles, flapping like a ship's sail. Power prickled at my fingertips, tingling with familiar heat. Yet I was not permitted to use magick. Not in this place. My senses strained for clues as to my whereabouts, catching strange sounds, a rushing noise like wings.
Sensing movement above my head, I glanced up. A hawk came soaring out of the sunset. It screamed impatiently, tilting its barred body as though hunting for a place to land.
When I looked down again, Marcus Dent was standing in front of me, clothed all in black.
"You always knew it would come to this, Meg Lytton." His words echoed in my mind. "Didn't you?"
I stared at him, too horrified to speak.
I had to get away from him, yet seemed unable to move. My arms hung stiffly by my sides, my feet rooted as though tied to a stake.
"You bested me with your girl's magick last time we met. But now you will find I have the advantage."
The witchfinder showed me what was in his hands: a broad-headed axe, shiny and cruel, its thick shaft wrapped thrice about with holly.
"No," I managed hoarsely.
Marcus Dent watched as I struggled to break free from whatever supernatural hold he had asserted over me. His blue eyes gleamed with malicious amusement.
"Why waste your last moments on this tiresome show of resistance? Accept your fate and kneel for the axe. You have tried before to escape me-and might have succeeded with a little more talent. But you are a mere girl. It is your destiny to die at my hands. You have neither the strength nor the knowledge to fight me. I will always be stronger than you, and your blood spilt in this place today will prove it." With the axe, he pointed to the stone between us. "Now, down on your knees!"
Sweat broke out on my forehead as I battled to break free of Marcus Dent's hold over me. How had the witchfinder managed this feat, binding me so tight to this time and place that I could not escape?
"I will not kneel to you, Dent. I refuse!"
"Meg," he said deeply, leaning closer. The axe blade flashed in my eyes, dazzling me. His voice grew urgent. "Meg! Meg!"
Then a hand came down on my shoulder and I turned, looking up into Alejandro de Castillo's concerned face.
The young Spanish novice was balancing a tallow stump on his palm, its flickering flame reflected in his eyes. As though I had never seen him before, I drank in the sight of my secret betrothed: strong cheekbones, dark hair swept back from his forehead, a burning intensity about him-and yet a steadiness too, like a rock set in the midst of a wild torrent. "Meg, it is time to go."
I closed my eyes, dazed and confused as reality flooded back. I was no longer standing in that high place, about to have my head chopped off by the witchfinder Marcus Dent. Instead, I was kneeling on the dirt floor in a tiny disused storage room adjacent to the kitchens of Hampton Court Palace.
My heart was juddering, my palms clammy. It was hard not to let my frustration show as I stumbled over my words. "I must keep scrying.. just another few minutes."
"The kitchen servants are assembling to carry the dishes into the Great Hall. Your absence will be noted if you are not at the princess's side when the banquet begins."
"But I must finish the vision! I must see how it ends."
Alejandro pointed to the ground. The copper scrying bowl had been tipped over, the wine almost drained away into the dirt. "Forgive me, I had no choice. It was the only way to wake you."
"You had no right to interfere, Alejandro. What I see in these visions is important."
Alejandro helped me to my feet, brushing the dirt from my skirts. "Mi querida," he murmured, his Spanish accent pronounced, "your fury is quite charming. As is the flash in your eyes when you say 'Alejandro' in your very English voice. Have I ever told you that?"
"The Lady Elizabeth has ordered me to keep scrying and consulting my books of magick, looking for any threat that may lie ahead for her," I countered, ignoring his question as deliberately provocative. He put his arms about me, and it was hard to push him away. "Be serious, please, just for a moment."
"I am always serious with you. I know you serve la princesa well, but might I suggest you find somewhere less dangerous to practise your scrying?" His slow, warm smile made my heart flip over. "Now that I have found the woman of my dreams, I would hate to lose her to the Inquisition."
The woman of his dreams? I was hardly that. Not only was I that most forbidden of creatures, a witch, but I was also in the pay of the Lady Elizabeth, whose dislike for the Catholic faith was widely whispered at court. Yet there was no denying the heat between myself and Alejandro. That passion was what had led him to offer me marriage, for Alejandro belonged to a holy order which permitted its priests not only to fight in God's name but also to marry.
Although I felt the same about him, however, and had secretly agreed to be his betrothed for a year and a day, I had not yet been able to give him a final answer. Life would not be easy for such an ill-matched pair, after all.
Besides, our betrothal did not mean he could demand the sacrifice of my craft.
I turned away, tucking the copper scrying bowl away out of sight under a dusty shelf, and stoppering the wine bottle I had used to fill it before carefully hiding that too. They would be needed next time I came here to scry in silence and solitude.
"I am safe enough from the Inquisition," I insisted, though the black-robed priests who prowled the court looking for heretics made me very nervous indeed. I halted before him and smiled up into his eyes. "They do not even know of my existence. Give me your patience a little while longer."
Frustration flickered in his face, though he did not refuse. Instead, he put out a hand and tucked a loose strand of hair back under my courtly hood. "You are beautiful, Meg, but vulnerable too. Do you have any idea of the horrors in store for you if these activities should be discovered?"
How could he ask that? Alejandro had been present at the horrible execution of my aunt, burned at the stake as a witch and a heretic. He must know that my last glimpse of Aunt Jane, screaming in agony as she was consumed by smoke and flame, had been scorched into my mind's eye for ever.
"I shall be more careful in future," I promised him.
"But you will not stop." It was a statement, not a question.
"I cannot," I whispered.
"Not even for my sake?" He held up the candle to see my face better. "Not even though I am your betrothed and ask it of you?"
Beyond the closed door, I could hear clattering and shouts from the vast roaring kitchens as hundreds of servants bustled about, preparing a feast fit for the royal court.
I placed a hand on his chest, feeling the thud of his heart beneath my fingers. "I was born into this path. I cannot be other than a witch, any more than you could turn away from your training in the priesthood. If your Order of Santiago did not allow priests to wed, would you give up your calling to marry me?" I sighed. "Please do not ask me to change who I am, Alejandro."
He looked deep into my eyes, then nodded slowly. "So be it."
For a long moment we gazed at each other without speaking. It was the first time in weeks we had managed to be alone together, and heat bloomed in my face at the sheer intensity of his look. Was this how love always felt, this exquisite tenderness, as though my emotions had been scraped raw and could not bear to be touched? I wanted so badly to speak, to admit that my love for him was as strong as ever, despite the obstacles that fate had thrown between us. Yet I did not wish to break this love spell with the clumsiness of speech. And what if he did not feel the same way?
Alejandro bent his head and touched his lips to mine.
My arms clasped about his neck, and I kissed him back, temporarily pushing all my fears to one side as I let my heart rule my head.
We swayed together, tangled up in each other like strands of wild honeysuckle, and then his arm came round my waist, pulling me even closer. Still I did not resist, lost to reason, wanting the moment to last for ever.
He made a strangled noise under his breath, and the heat of his kiss increased. Then suddenly he took an abrupt step backwards, holding the candle in a less than steady hand. "Meg, we cannot."
My cheeks were on fire. I knew he was right. But that did not make the trembling ache inside me any less of a torment.
"Yes I mean, no. We should go," I managed unevenly, but could not resist brushing his cheek with my fingertips.
"That would be wise," Alejandro agreed with a crooked smile, "before I lose my head."
It was only a joke. But I remembered Marcus Dent with his axe, and shuddered.
After the witchfinder had put me through a sickening trial by water-bound and thrown into a pool, to drown if innocent, to be hanged if I survived-my banishing spell had tossed him into the void. I had thought him gone for ever. Yet now Marcus Dent was appearing in my visions, seemingly unharmed by his ordeal. What could it mean?
Alejandro opened the door and bowed, allowing me to go through before him.
"Meg, the Lady Elizabeth awaits you," he reminded me softly when I hesitated.
I nodded and squeezed past him in the dark narrow space. These were dangerous times at court, and I needed to focus on survival, not on the prickling heat I felt whenever I looked at Alejandro.
I had heard nothing of Marcus Dent since the Lady Elizabeth had been summoned back to court earlier that spring. Now summer was approaching fast, and every day I feared Dent's arrival. I did not know where he had vanished to after Woodstock, nor how long my spell to silence him might last.
It was not a comfortable thought that my vision could be a premonition of my death. If Marcus Dent had indeed returned from some otherworldly void, and was perhaps free to accuse me of witchcraft once more, I would have no chance against him. The word of a witchfinder must outweigh the word of a suspected witch every time.
I rejoined the Lady Elizabeth in the Great Hall, sidling in behind her chair on the high dais and hoping that no one had noticed my absence. I had only slipped away for half an hour during the dancing, after all, and with the Queen still keeping stubbornly to her apartments, these royal banquets never dragged on much beyond nightfall anyway.
Blanche Parry shot me an accusing look but said nothing, pursing her lips and folding both arms across her ample chest as I begged a passing servant for a cup of ale. The princess's lady-in-waiting knew better than to draw attention to my absence when the King might overhear and punish our mistress for it instead.
"Forgive me," I whispered to Blanche. "I forgot the time."
Mistress Parry's gaze flicked across the Great Hall to where Alejandro had joined the black-robed priests at the back wall, his cowl drawn forward to hide his face.
"Indeed," she said drily. "At your prayers again, were you? They'll make you a nun soon, you are so keen on your devotions."
I ignored her jibe, turning to watch the princess. Since Queen Mary had summoned her to court from imprisonment at Woodstock Palace, the Lady Elizabeth had become a favourite with the courtiers. Some said too much of a favourite, and that the Queen would send her sister away again once the royal baby had been born.
Deep in conversation with His Majesty, the Lady Elizabeth was seated on the left hand of the King, simply dressed in a plain black gown with a net of tiny pearls in her hair. Elizabeth laughed at all King Philip's jests and smiled in a flattering way, her face flushed and animated.
I spoke little Spanish, so could not follow what the princess and King Philip were saying to each other. But courtiers throughout the Great Hall were openly staring at the couple, their heads so close together-the Queen's dark-haired Spanish husband and her slim-waisted sister. Indeed, it could not be denied that the princess's youth and shining reddish-gold hair were in contrast to Queen Mary's dour looks.
Not that the court had seen much of Queen Mary in recent months. She still kept to her state apartments, insisting that her baby was late. But King Philip showed so little interest that few still believed their Queen to be with child. Instead, the whispers spoke of a sickly Queen and a young princess who might well be married to the grieving Philip before the year was out.
The dishes were brought out in a long procession that passed in front of the high dais for the King's approval. He applauded them politely, then the cloth-covered board was crowded with platters and wine cups, with honey-glazed pork flesh and a vast roast swan cut open at table that released half a dozen tiny wrens f lapping their wings in panic as they flew upwards, seeking the rafters. The whole court exclaimed in delight and clapped vigorously when the spit-cook was brought forward, red-faced and still in his leather apron, to receive the King's compliments.
At one point between courses, the Lady Elizabeth turned to me with greasy fingers. "Meg?"
Hurriedly, I passed her ladyship a bowl of lemon-scented water and a clean white napkin, freshly starched and folded.
Still listening to His Majesty, Elizabeth dipped her long white fingers in the lemon-scented water without even glancing at me. She dried each finger meticulously, draped the napkin over her shoulder to protect her costly gown, then turned back to the King with an apologetic smile.
A sudden shout at the back of the hall stilled the revellers. A courtier, his face pale with terror, was being dragged from the hall by two of the black-robed priests of the Inquisition. His voice could be heard even after he had been removed, raised in high-pitched protest of his innocence. The Spanish priests paid no heed, however, their cowls hiding their faces as they took him away. Those priests who had remained walked among the courtiers with watchful eyes, as though hoping to catch another "heretic" by his guilty expression.
Blanche shivered and crossed herself. "Poor soul," she muttered, but was careful not to speak too loudly, in case she was next.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
(Source: I received a digital copy of this book for free on a read-to-review basis. Thanks to Harlequin TEEN and Netgalley.) Meg has survived to practice witch-craft another day, but unfortunately her scrying reveals that Witch-hunter Marcus Dent still has it in for her. Meanwhile the Queen remains in bed with child, and a dark shadow is seen floating near the ceiling in the dining hall. What is wrong with the Queen? Who or what is this dark shadow? And will Marcus Dent succeed in removing Meg’s head once and for all? This was an okay story, but had a few too many dull moments for me. I felt frustrated for Meg in this book, because she had so much power, but because of the witch-hunters was rendered totally powerless. To know that you should be able to do something about something, but to be unable to for fear of being outed as a witch must be really frustrating. The storyline was okay, but it did drag at times for me. It did take me a while to get into the story, and I found some of the history-lesson type stuff a little stale. We did get some action a bit later in the book, which I certainly appreciated, but again the book did then have its slow moments. We did get some romance, although not a lot, and it was touch and go at times how successful this romance was going to be. The ending was okay, and was a bit more exciting than the rest of the book, but it didn’t 100% save this book for me. Overall; okay sequel, but had it’s dull moments. 6.25 out of 10.