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Authors: April Taylor

Court of Conspiracy

Court of Conspiracy
By April Taylor

Book one of The Tudor Enigma

England is the prize.
The death of a young king is the price.

King Henry IX, son of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, holds the very balance of European power in his Protestant hands. His numerous Catholic enemies have cast greedy eyes upon his crown and will stop at nothing to usurp the throne.

An unassuming apothecary in the Outer Green of Hampton Court Palace is the Queen’s last hope. Luke Ballard treats the poor with balms and salves but is careful to protect his greater gifts. For Luke is also an elemancer, one of the blessed few able to harness elemental powers for good. His quiet life ends when Queen Anne commands him to hunt down the traitors, a mission he cannot refuse.

Beset on all sides, Luke mobilizes his arsenal of magic and ingenuity to conquer the enemy. But as the stakes are raised in the uneven battle of good vs. evil, he knows this is only the first skirmish of a lifelong war. The welfare of the Tudors—and England—depends on him alone.

102,000 words

Dear Reader,

If there’s one thing that’s sure to tickle me every time, it’s when I ask for book recommendations via social media, and readers come back to recommend books I’ve edited or published. Most recently, readers have given me recommendations for
Saved by the Bride
by Fiona Lowe,
Wild Ones
by Kristine Wyllys and
Goddess with a Blade
by Lauren Dane. I’m always pleased when this happens and I think our batch of May books will be next on readers’ recommendation lists!

We’re thrilled to welcome fan favorite Josh Lanyon back to Carina Press with
Stranger on the Shore
. Journalist Griffin Hadley shrugs off lawyer Pierce Mather’s objections to his investigation of a decades-old kidnapping, but it might not be so easy to shrug off the objections of someone willing to do anything to keep the past buried.

Bestselling author Stephanie Tyler returns with another sexy, unique story set not-too-far into our possible post-apocalyptic future. In
Salvation
, when Luna leaves Defiance to rescue Bish from a rival gang, she doesn’t realize she’s the one who will end up needing saving—both from the gang and from Bish, the man who can’t wait any longer to claim her and make her his. Though this book can be read as a standalone, be sure to check out both
Defiance
and
Redemption
as well!

There’s
No Accounting for Cowboys
in Leah Braemel’s sexy contemporary cowboy romance. Jake Grady relies on family accountant Paige Reynolds to bring order to his life, when family secrets throw it into chaos. Check out our new reduced-price bundle of Leah’s erotic romance duology,
Texas Tangle
and
Tangled Past
, available now.

And speaking of sexy contemporary romance, the only woman Grand Duke Armand ever desired is her, but not every girl dreams of marrying a prince. Anna doesn’t want prince charming, she loved the man behind the crown. Can they overcome their mistakes and reclaim a love neither forgot? Don’t miss this Going Royal book by Heather Long,
Some Like It Scandalous
.

Tamara Morgan joins us with the start to a new contemporary romance series in
If I Stay
. In this kickoff to a modern-day
Downton Abbey
series, the nanny to a rich hotelier family must choose between the hard-edged chauffeur who gets her pulse racing and the profligate playboy she’s loved her whole life.

Another author kicking off a new series is Sheryl Nantus. If you’ve been looking for a unique futuristic romance series to enjoy,
In the Black
is being described as
Firefly
meets
Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
. What’s more unique than a heroine who’s captain of a bordello spaceship?

Male/male author KC Burn also offers up a futuristic romance this month. Falling in love with an alien exotic dancer forces a prejudiced fleet captain to reevaluate who he is and what he believes in
Voodoo ’n’ Vice
.

May is a month packed full of science fiction, fantasy and futuristic books. Cindy Spencer Pape is back with a new book in her Gaslight Chronicles,
Dragons
&
Dirigibles
(I love this title!). Airship engineer Melody MacKay is exactly the kind of emancipated woman Victor Arrington wants to keep away from his impressionable niece—that is, until smugglers start trying to kill the girl. Then Victor turns to Melody for help. If you’re new to the Gaslight Chronicles, you can start the series now with a new, reduced-price bundle of the first three books in the series. Available wherever ebooks are sold.

Author T.D. Wilson returns to Carina Press with book two in his space opera series. In
The Epherium Chronicles:
Crucible
, only one more jump to the new colony in the Cygni star system, but what will Captain James Hood find when he arrives—a thriving colony, dangerous enemies, or will it be in ruins?

We’re pleased to welcome four authors to Carina Press this month. Debut author April Taylor brings us a tale of fantasy and alternate history. In
Court of Conspiracy
, book one of The Tudor Enigma, ordered by Anne Boleyn to protect her son, can apothecary and elemancer Luke Ballard overcome the evil sunderer who seeks to kill Henry IX at Hampton Court Palace?

Also with a debut novel this month is historical paranormal romance author Kari Edgren. Selah Kilbrid would sacrifice everything for her birthright, except the one kiss that could destroy her in
Goddess Born
.

For our mystery offering this month, debut author Rosie Claverton brings together an agoraphobic hacker and a streetwise ex-con to hunt down a serial killer in Cardiff. Don’t miss
Binary Witness
, the first in a new mystery series.

Last, we’re thrilled to have author Vanessa North join us with her new male/male romance
High and Tight
. Deeply closeted Navy pilot Adam returns home, planning to convince his longtime lover he’s ready to commit at last, only to find Harris has moved on without him.

Coming in June: novels from Lynda Aicher, Ava March, Christi Barth, Dana Marie Bell and more, along with a fabulous male/male contemporary romance anthology from three talented authors.

Here’s wishing you a wonderful month of books you love, remember and recommend.

Happy reading!

~Angela James
Editorial Director, Carina Press

Dedication

For Mum, Paul and “the Bruvvers”

Acknowledgments

There are two people without whom you would not be reading
Court of Conspiracy
. They are my wonderful agent, Marlene Stringer, and my fantastic editor at Carina Press, Kerri Buckley. Thank you for your belief in me.

Although the book is set in an alternate Tudor universe, it took a lot of research. I must thank the following people: the incredible staff at Hampton Court Palace, especially Ian Franklin; The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, particularly the cook in the Tudor kitchen and Cathy Flower-Bond for her videos of Tudor cookery (
http://cookit.e2bn.org/historycookbook/1406-bread.html
); Claire Ridgway of the Anne Boleyn Files (
http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com
); the website of King Henry VIII (
http://www.henrytudor.co.uk
); and historian Alison Weir for her encouragement.

Writing is a solitary profession and I owe thanks to so many people for helping to make it less so. They include the brilliant Hornsea Writers for sitting through the book’s progress week by week, Janet Shell and Christopher Goldsack for putting me up—and putting up with me—in London, Joanny for listening on the dog walks as I wittered on sorting out plot points aloud, Nicky Griffiths for her enthusiasm and invaluable help with research, and friends whose first question is always
How is the book going?

Finally, although the book is dedicated to them, thanks to my family for their endless encouragement and especially to Paul, whose infinite patience, support and love keeps me going.

Chapter One

Queen Anne Boleyn sat in her Privy Bedchamber at Hampton Court Palace, gazing at her reflection as she meditated upon the implications of the latest threat to the throne of England. The years had dealt kindly with her; her long dark hair remained as luxurious as ever and the faint web of lines at the corners of her still alluring black eyes was apparent only at close quarters.

As mother to the young King Henry IX, her position was as precarious as it had ever been. Since the death of her beloved lord King Henry VIII had left the realm in the hands of an untried thirteen-year-old boy, there had been numerous attempts to gain ascendancy over the young monarch. Some had been simple to foil, others had taken more effort, but Anne had thwarted them all. Until now. In the past few weeks there had been three attempts on Henry’s life. Taken separately, each could be regarded as an accident. But Anne knew better and she needed all her guile and cunning to tiptoe through the web their enemies had spun.

Though she was Queen and mother of the King, Anne knew she was officially regarded as weak, feeble and powerless, even by her son. The latest incident, a graze that had unaccountably become septic decided her that something must be done to eradicate the menace hanging over them. In normal circumstances she would have turned to a member of Henry’s group of intimates, but this situation was not normal. Years of experience had taught her that those who held high office could switch allegiance in an instant, even friends or kin. Trust was a heady weapon in the wrong hands and Anne truly trusted only one person, her lady-in-waiting and confidante, Gwenette Paige.

Gwenette was her ears and eyes around the palace, keeping her mistress abreast of whispers and rumors. She had the quality of stillness that made people forget she was there. Even now, Gwenette sat at a table, seemingly engrossed in repairing one of Anne’s gowns, but the Queen knew her lady-in-waiting would be intent on the innocuous chatter of the other ladies. Listening for anything that might threaten her mistress. For Anne had her enemies just as Henry did. Enemies who would seize any opportunity, however tenuous, to bring her down. No, she had been right in her decision to do nothing overt, simply maintain vigilance over the King, whilst formulating a strategy to defeat the conspirators.

After much deliberation, she had spoken to an esteemed advisor outside court circles, one whose opinion she valued and who, through years of discreet loyal service, had proved his worth. He had mentioned someone close at hand but unknown by many at court. The more she pondered his suggestion, the more she saw the sense of it. She needed an unknown, moreover an unknown who could come and go without arousing suspicion. The name on her mind at this moment was Luke Ballard, the apothecary in the Outer Green of Hampton Court. Certainly close at hand. Not a peasant, but not highborn either. Could he discover the identity of the would-be assassin? She had been assured that he had the mental agility required for such a mission, but this affair would not be resolved by merely sitting in a chair and thinking.

Luke Ballard. Surely she had heard Gwenette speak of him? Without giving herself time to think herself into circles of mounting indecision, she rose and gestured to Gwenette to follow her.

“Accompany me. The air is stuffy and I would walk in the gardens.”

The Queen waited until they had reached the far end of the graveled walkway. She turned to face the palace, to ensure that they were out of earshot and could talk openly.

“You know Ballard the apothecary, I think.”

Gwenette’s brows rose in surprise. Then her mouth curved into a smile.

“I do, Your Grace. We are friends. What has he done now?”

“Done? Nothing to my knowledge. Tell me what he is like.”

It was a testament to their mutual confidence and affection, hidden behind the formal etiquette dictated by the court, that Gwenette spoke freely.

“Luke is a good and fair man, Your Grace. A little hot tempered at times, but I would trust him with my life.”

Now it was Anne’s turn to raise her brows.

“Indeed? Do I understand you would set your cap at him?”

Gwenette colored.

“No, Your Grace. My duty and loyalty always have been and always will be to you.”

“I know, and I am more than grateful for it. So, tell me about Master Ballard. Is he clever?”

“Resourceful, certainly, madam. He has a nimble brain and is popular with the poor who make up most of his customers. When he is able, he refuses to take payment from them, although some will bring a loaf of bread or slices of bacon in return for medicine. More often than not, he simply laughs and tells them the only reward he seeks is seeing them back in good health. I like him. He does not curry favor with those who could advance him, but treats all men equally.”

They both stood for a few moments contemplating the topiaries, this one in the shape of a bird.

“Let us return to the palace,” the Queen said, turning back the way they had come.

Luke Ballard. The perfect weapon. Those inside the palace would see him as a peasant of no account. Those outside the palace would know him as the kind apothecary from the Outer Green. She prayed that her advisor had been right about the man’s skills, for she could feel the approach of the coming storm. It was time to make a decision, plot her strategy and make England, and its King, safe.

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