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Authors: Jennifer McGowan

Maid of Deception

BOOK: Maid of Deception
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For Ann.

I’m blessed you are my sister. And proud you are my friend.

Acknowledgments

Maid of Deception
is the result of many people who helped bring Beatrice’s story to life. In particular, I remain gratefully indebted to Alexandra Machinist, who has made this entire journey so worthwhile. The entire team at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers also deserves my sincere and profound thanks, not only for making my first year as an author such a tremendous experience, but for devoting themselves to the reimagination of the look and feel of the Maids of Honor series. Bara MacNeill, the copyeditor who worked on this book, was tireless in her efforts as well. She labored long and hard to ensure that my words and details were accurate—any mistakes are, of course, my own. Last but without question most important, I would like to thank my editor, Christian Trimmer. Without his grace, discernment, and insight,
Maid of Deception
would never have found its light. Thank you, forever and always.

CHAPTER ONE

SEPTEMBER 1559

WINDSOR CASTLE, ENGLAND

There would be no tears on my wedding day. I would not allow it.

As the music from the Queen’s own orchestra filled Saint George’s Chapel, a perfect blend of viol and harpsichord to complement my perfect union with Lord Percival Andrew William Cavanaugh, I clasped the clammy hands of my fellow Maid of Honor Sophia Dee and smiled into her large, worried eyes.

“Hush, Sophia. All is well,” I said, giving her fine-boned fingers a light squeeze. She shivered despite the stifling heat of the chamber. “If you keep crying, you’ll draw attention to yourself.”

That caught the girl up short. The youngest of our group of royal spies, and the most uncertain, Sophia hated attention. Her eyes, if possible, got even bigger.

“But, Beatrice—you should b-be
happy
—”

“I
am
happy, Sophia,” I assured her. And, strangely enough, I was. For all my well-rehearsed sophistication, Lord Cavanaugh represented more than just my crowning
achievement at court. Yes, of course, he was one of the richest men in the kingdom. And he was from a respected family whose reputation was not at daily risk from either a drunken father or a muddle-minded mother. And his ancestral home was not overrun by brawling foundling children.

And, perhaps most important, he had no idea whatsoever how desperately I needed this marriage.

But there was more to it than that. Lord Cavanaugh was gentle, fine, and soft-spoken, with a rich, drawling voice that I thrilled to hear. He was gracious and educated, in a court filled with rakes and curs more intent on the hunt than on conversation. He was devout, respectful at service and in court. He was polite to women of every station; he appeared to genuinely care for his mother.

And he loved me.

I saw it in his eyes, in his smile. In the way he nodded his approval as he took in my gowns and hair. I saw it as he watched others watching me. Though I’d worked very hard to ensure that I was perfect for him in every possible way, I still could not believe I had succeeded so well. . . . Lord Cavanaugh
loved
me. The rest meant nothing beside that truth.

“Babies with my husband will come in time, I am sure,” I said now, addressing Sophia’s current cause for distress. She’d seen—somehow—that my groom and I would have no children, and the shock of her vision was quite undoing her. Sophia, it should be said, had a gift of intuition that might well become the full-fledged Sight at any moment. But Sophia’s predictions were not always clear, and she was definitely wrong on this score. My marriage to Cavanaugh would
be perfect. It had to be. “Today I am the most joyful woman alive.” Still, the tiniest thread of fear skated along my nerves.

Sophia raised a trembling chin and gave me a smile, looking like a frail raven-haired ghost in her gorgeous white silk gown. That gown had cost five pounds if it had cost a shilling, and it was embroidered with Italian lace. It would have taken a farmer a
year
just to earn enough to pay for a dress like that, but it was only one of a dozen gowns Sophia’s betrothed had gifted to her. I pondered that a moment. Had Cavanaugh given me any gifts of late? I’d been so busy with my duties to the Queen, I hadn’t much noticed.

“It’s almost time, Beatrice,” Anna Burgher chirped from the doorway.

We’d participated in the loud and boisterous procession from the Upper Ward of Windsor Castle down to Saint George’s Chapel, and then—just as I’d orchestrated it—my bridesmaids and I had slipped in here while Lord Cavanaugh had moved toward the front of the chapel, to give me a last opportunity to make sure I was completely prepared.

Now Anna was up on her toes, bouncing in her yellow satin skirts, her ginger mass of hair brutalized into a tight coil of braids. I smiled at the back of Anna’s head, imagining her eyes darting this way and that. She’d record every person in attendance of this, my most triumphant public appearance yet. We would spend hours poring over the lists she made, analyzing who was most appropriate to approach, to flatter, and to watch in the weeks following the wedding. The Queen’s birthday was coming up, and there would be time to cement alliances there.

Speaking of. “And Elizabeth? Has she arrived yet?”

“No! She must wish to do you proud, Beatrice,” Anna said staunchly, still scanning the chapel floor. “She will grace you like the Queen of the Fairies at exactly the perfect moment.”

I pursed my lips, the thread of doubt within me thickening to a coarser yarn. Elizabeth was many things, I knew. “Fairy Queen” was not among them. But she had blessed this union, taken pride in it as if it were her own. That was what mattered.

The music shifted in subtle counterpoint just then, and I straightened, casting a glance over my soft pink gown. Unlike the rumored splendor of the recent bridal ensemble worn by Mary, Queen of Scots—all white, if you can believe it—my gown’s skirts flowed down in rich, pale pink panels, parted at the front to reveal a luxurious swath of cream-colored satin, delicately picked out with golden thread. The skirts were attached above to a stiffly embroidered V-pointed bodice that featured a virtual garden of pink, gold, and brilliantly red roses, all of them swirling, twirling, and fanning out along a neckline cut to showcase my blushing porcelain skin—still modest enough, but an effective display of maidenly beauty. My lace sleeves were so fine as to be nearly sheer, ending in delicate cuffs edged, once more, in pink and gold. I was a vision of English sensibilities, from head to toe.

Everything was perfect.

“God’s bones, half of England is out there,” Meg Fellowes observed as she ducked into the doorway, tall and straight in her simple gown of dove-grey satin. I smiled, feeling uncharacteristically charitable toward our resident thief, which I
never would have believed possible at the start of the summer. I’d even loaned her the dress she was now wearing. Of course, it was two seasons out of date, but Meg didn’t seem to mind. Probably didn’t know, either.

And she was no rival, that much was certain. Somewhere out in that audience was Meg’s special Spanish spy, Rafe de Martine. I’d watched her sneak glances at the boy since he’d entered the chapel, and now I felt something curiously empty in my chest, as though I’d gone too long since breaking my fast.

Anna, usually the smartest of our select company, was convinced that Meg was truly in love, though I couldn’t quite see the point of that. Rafe de Martine was a courtier, but he was Spanish. He was fine for a turn on the dance floor, or even a stolen kiss—or a dozen—behind a darkened tapestry, but nothing more. Rafe had wanted me first, of course, but I could never have given him what he wanted. So he’d turned to Meg.

It wasn’t as if he were going to tuck himself into a corner with Jane Morgan, after all. Her unkind cuts would have left him bleeding.

Still and all, the Queen would never approve a match between Meg and the Spaniard. And Meg, for her part, insisted she had no interest in marriage. This of course was utter folly, but the girl was still new to court. She would learn, I thought as I returned my attention to my gown. Marriage was not about love. I knew that, no matter how desperately glad I was that Cavanaugh loved me.

Marriage was about power.

“So who created this guest list, exactly?” Jane was the last
to enter the chapel, and her flat voice interrupted my reverie. Our troupe’s official ruffian generally kept her mouth shut, which is how I preferred it. Still, my attention sharpened not at Jane’s wry words so much as Anna’s reaction to them. Even Sophia lifted a hand to her mouth, her eyes darting first to Anna and then to Jane, and then, resolutely, not to me.

I frowned at Jane’s profile as she turned to stare back out the doorway, but the girl’s grin wasn’t cruel or dark. Just amused. Irritation kindled along my nerves, and I steeled myself against it. I was the future Marchioness of Westmoreland, a future that would be arriving in a few short moments. I would be kind and patient. Even if it killed me.


I
created the guest list,” I said, then offered a careless wave of my hand. “And Cecil and Walsingham reviewed and approved it, of course.” As if there’d be any chance those two wouldn’t want to control every aspect of such a grand court event.

Sir William Cecil and Sir Francis Walsingham were not just the Queen’s most powerful advisors, after all. They were instructors to a very special group of spies within the Queen’s court. The Maids of Honor comprised five young women from all stations of life. Anna and Jane, Sophia and now Meg—and, of course, me. Each of us with unique skills, selected by Queen Elizabeth herself to serve her in a very specific capacity. To be her eyes and ears—and sometimes mouth—and to ferret out secrets that no mere man could hope to uncover. I had been the first young woman chosen to head up this secret sect, a favor that had, I daresay, shocked Cecil and Walsingham. I had not been surprised, however.

The Queen and I had more history between us than Cecil and Walsingham could ever guess.

None of the other girls spoke, and I frowned into the silence. “And probably the Queen stuck her nose into the guest list, as she is ever wont to do. What of it? Who do you see?”

“The Queen?” Meg’s voice had a peculiar tone to it, but I never could tell what the Rat was thinking. “Well, that would do it.”

Irritation crested with a snap. “Who do you—”

“Oh, Beatrice, darling! You look lovely!” I glanced up, startled, then moved forward three quick paces to catch my mother as she stumbled into our little chamber, her breath smelling of honeyed mead and, more faintly, a light, sweet tang; a scent I’d come to know too well.

“Lady Knowles,” Jane said stoutly, and suddenly she was at my side, her strong arms around my mother as if she knew exactly what to do with a woman too muddled to stand upright. My cheeks burned with mortification. Today of all days!

“Beatrice, your father is coming!” Anna squeaked. I whipped my gaze back around toward the door. No! Not now, not with my mother in one of her states.

“He can’t see—he can’t see her like—” I swallowed the words, remembering discretion too late. I turned to the only maid who could possibly understand. “Oh, Anna!”

“Relax. We’ll take care of her,” Meg cut in smoothly. “You just smile like it’s your wedding day, and keep moving. Don’t let him stop to look and see anything.” She sounded
like she was directing a play—or a battle. I’m not sure which comparison was more apt. In any event, she took up her place on the other side of my mother and nodded to Jane, two serious maids escorting the mother of the bride. “We’ll be back in a moment.”

“Or two,” Jane muttered, eyeing the woman now listing between them.

Then the pair of them was through the door as they clutched my mother, who’d begun to burble something about “beautiful.” She was the beautiful one, not me. Even with her eyes going glassy and her expression a little lost. My father had done this to her, I knew. Had killed her with a thousand cuts.

If only . . .

My jaw set. I had no time for “if only.” I just needed the woman to keep herself together for another quarter hour. I boosted myself up on my toes, using Anna’s shoulder as a brace, and watched Jane and Meg smoothly steer Mother into her place, even as their attention was captured by someone in the crowd. All three of them were staring, actually. Including my mother.

What in the world could have penetrated her fog?

“Beatrice! Now!” Anna breathed. I dashed back to the table to catch up my bouquet, and turned to receive Lord Bartholomew Edward Matthew Knowles with my face set into an expression of perfectly practiced ethereal joy.

My reward was swift and complete. “Beatrice, you are the most entrancing of women, and the grandest lady in all of England,” my father said, bowing with a flourish.

“And you, my father, are the most depraved lord in all of Christendom.”

“I own it.” He grinned at me with a smile that I knew—from long and occasionally bitter experience—had made women’s hearts melt for the past thirty years. “But say, Lord Cavanaugh is standing up like a strawman at the tilt. Think he’ll have the stamina to make it through the ceremony?”

BOOK: Maid of Deception
11.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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