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Authors: Kate Pearce

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BOOK: Blood of the Rose
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“I will answer to my superiors, not to you.”

“As you wish, but you will answer.” The blade of Marcus’s dagger flicked out and nicked Christopher’s cheek. “Someone will let you know when the meeting is.”

Christopher didn’t acknowledge either the blood now trickling down his face or the other man’s statement. There was nothing he could do to avoid the summons, and in truth, he didn’t want to. Thanks to his uncle, he’d had his fill of the Cult of Mithras years ago. Mayhap it was time for him to express his doubts in person.

He watched as Marcus bowed, his blond hair glinting in the moonlight, and then left with his companion. Christopher wiped absently at the blood trickling down his neck. He didn’t want any Vampires scenting an easy victim and coming to feast on him. With a groan, he flexed his fingers and hoped he’d still be able to use his right hand come the morning.

Things were definitely getting interesting. He sighed and went to look for his dagger, which he assumed had landed somewhere in the scrubby foliage. Strange that both Elias and Marcus Flavian had reappeared on the same night to warn him of the consequences of his actions.

And a pity that the only way to leave the Cult of Mithras, without dying of natural causes, was by execution.

Chapter 2

“T
he king is at Hampton Court today, my lady.”

“And Queen Katherine?” Rosalind asked.

The maidservant Rosalind had accosted shrugged. “I don’t know, my lady. Most of the court is with the king. She might be there.”

“Thank you.”

The servant’s lack of knowledge and indifference as to the queen’s whereabouts told Rosalind that things were indeed dire between the king and queen. Oblivious to her surroundings, she’d slept well and woken to find the queen’s rooms deserted and only a few servants caring for the five or so elderly ladies who had remained behind.

Rosalind slid the smallest of her daggers into her hanging pocket and retraced her steps down to the stables. As she walked, the stiff, embroidered green skirts of her favorite riding habit brushed against the lush summer foliage. The thought of getting on a horse again didn’t please her, but she had no choice. She needed to see King Henry and meet with Jasper, who had been watching over the king in her stead.

“Good morning, Rhys.”

“Good morning, my lady.” Rhys was already busy saddling her horse. “I assumed you’d want to follow the masses to Hampton Court this morning.”

“Indeed.” Rosalind made sure her headdress was securely fastened and pulled on her thick leather riding gloves. “You are going to accompany me, aren’t you?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t miss this for the world.” His slow wink made her want to smack him.

“I’m
hoping
to see the king and Jasper.”

“Jasper, eh? Not Lord Christopher Ellis?” Rhys tightened the girth on her horse and stood ready to help her into the saddle. “I wonder why Jasper wrote to your grandfather.”

“So do I. He’s always been convinced he would be far better at guarding the king than I would, so asking for my help must have been hard for him.”

“Well nigh impossible, I should think, my lady. Things must indeed be bad.” Rhys laced his hands together, waited until she placed her booted foot on his palms, and then threw her up into the saddle. She wanted to groan when her bottom hit the leather.

She waited until he mounted his horse with his usual easy grace and then set off after him. They passed through the great brick arch of the gatehouse. The clatter of the horses’ hooves on the cobblestones made it impossible to speak or hear a thing.

As they emerged into the warm sunlight, Rhys glanced at her. “Are you still sore, my lady? If you’d asked me nicely I could’ve rubbed some horse liniment on your more tender parts.”

“I’m quite well. Thank you, Rhys,” Rosalind answered and forced a smile.

He nodded in the direction of the river. “If you prefer it, we could get a boat down to Hampton Court. We have enough coin to pay the ferryman.”

Rosalind shuddered and gripped her reins more tightly. “You know I hate the water.”

He shrugged, making his muscled shoulders bunch in his leather jerkin. “As you wish, my lady. It isn’t that far, less than twelve miles, I gather.” He slowed his horse to come alongside her. “I heard that Cardinal Wolsey made Hampton Court a palace fit for a king.”

“That’s why he couldn’t keep it—the king obviously decided the same thing.”

Rhys chuckled and eased his horse into a smooth trot. “You might be right. They say Wolsey gave it to the king in a last desperate attempt to win back his favor, but obviously it didn’t work.”

“I wonder why.” Rosalind urged her horse into a trot. She could endure a short ride if it meant she was able to see Jasper and find out what was going on. Anticipation surged through her. After a year of almost no activity, she was anxious to return to fighting her Vampire foe. Excitement of another sort threaded through her as well. She might see Christopher again.

Eventually, Rhys pulled up his horse, and they both gazed down at the moat and gatehouse leading up to the newly renovated Hampton Court. The gleaming red brick still looked pristine, the scars of the new building not yet concealed by the parks and gardens encircling the vast house.

“It seems the cardinal did very well for himself—very well indeed, for the son of a butcher,” Rhys said.

A cold shiver rippled through Rosalind. King Henry never liked to be shown up by anyone, and this imposing structure was far grander than most of the existing royal palaces. It wasn’t surprising that Wolsey had handed it over. “Too well, I suspect.”

“I won’t argue with you. The king’s favor is a fickle thing.” Rhys nodded in the direction of the gate. “Shall we go in?”

Rosalind followed him down the treelined avenue and waited as he inquired at the gate. One of the king’s guards seemed to recognize Rhys, and they passed through without incident into the Basse court and then through an imposing archway into another courtyard. Rosalind’s gaze was caught by the large astrological clock that dominated the enclosed square.

Rhys turned in the saddle to survey the lines of windows. “The guard said the state apartments are in this area. After we stable the horses, we should find the king there.”

Rosalind followed him through to the vast and busy stables and waited as he ascertained that the horses would be taken care of. She’d forgotten how good Rhys was at getting people to do his bidding with just a smile and a polite turn of phrase—far better than she would ever be. It was a quality he shared with Christopher, who could charm the birds from the trees when he put his mind to it.

As her ears adjusted to the noisy bustle, she heard cheering from somewhere in the grounds. “Is the king outside?”

A passing stable boy answered her, his freckled face ablaze with excitement. “Aye, my lady. He and some of his courtiers are playing real tennis in the pavilion.”

Rosalind caught Rhys’s attention and gestured toward the grounds. “Apparently, the king is playing tennis.”

“Do you want me to go with you, or shall I concentrate on finding Jasper while you deal with the king?”

“Yes, please, find Jasper.” Rosalind let out her breath. She’d much rather meet the king, and anyone else who happened to be included in the royal party, without Rhys at her shoulder. She picked up the skirts of her green riding habit and wished she was wearing something less heavy and concealing. It was hot in the sun, and she was sure she was red in the face. But it couldn’t be helped. The king would have to take her as she was, as would everyone else.

She followed the roars and claps of the crowd, and came to a low covered building with one side open to the air. Galleys filled with courtiers lined three sides of the enclosed space as the king and a man she didn’t know played a game of tennis on the court. Luckily for his opponent, it appeared that the king was winning. Rosalind squeezed into a small space and wiggled her way forward through the packed courtiers. The king made another shot and the crowd erupted.

By the time she reached the front, King Henry had finished his game and been replaced by another familiar figure, one that made Rosalind’s heart beat faster. Christopher Ellis looked as lean and elegant as ever in his shirtsleeves and stockinged feet, his right hand gripping a racquet, his left holding the small ball in the air ready to serve.

He seemed quite familiar with his opponent, their laughing banter inaudible to Rosalind because of the crowd, but obviously not to each other. With a sigh, Rosalind sat back and watched Christopher. She’d missed him so badly, she’d cried for at least a month after leaving him.

She wrapped her arms around herself. Cowardly, too, when she thought about it. She’d been too afraid to stand up to her grandfather and demand that he allow her to marry her family’s worst enemy. Instead, she’d skulked at home waiting for her grandfather to resolve matters for her like any silly woman. But he hadn’t resolved anything and now she had to face Christopher again. In some part of her soul, it shamed her that she cared so much for Christopher that she was willing to abandon everything she had been brought up to believe in.

She nudged the man sitting next to her. “Excuse me, sir. Who is the man playing against Lord Christopher Ellis?”

“That is Lord George Boleyn, a gentleman of the king’s privy chamber. Surely you must know of him.”

“I’ve recently returned from the countryside, sir. I don’t believe I’ve met him before.”

The man gave a snort. “If you stay at court, you’ll meet him soon enough. Thanks to the influence of his sister, the man rides high in the king’s favor.”

That gave Rosalind plenty to think about. The match drew to a close, and George Boleyn claimed victory as Christopher laughingly complained about his hand. Rosalind stood with the rest of the crowd, her gaze fixed on Christopher as he headed for the exit. She stiffened as he and George Boleyn were surrounded by a bevy of beautiful court maidens. One of them even dared to mop Christopher’s brow with her lace handkerchief. Not that he seemed to mind at all.

Rosalind set her jaw and stomped down from the viewing gallery to the ground floor, her intentions unclear. Part of her wished to find Christopher and ask him whether he’d missed her at all; the saner part of her knew that would be a mistake and urged her to use her common sense and go and find the king.

But it was too late; the group containing George Boleyn, the beauties, and Christopher was fast bearing down on her. Rosalind stiffened her spine and tried to look anywhere but at Christopher. A woman hung on each of his arms, and he was grinning like a fool who had not a care in the world.

Her smile died and she raised her chin. She would not cower before him. She had nothing to be ashamed of. Christopher’s laughing blue gaze swept past her and then returned. Her heart beat uncomfortably against her bodice as he detached himself from his companions and walked over to her.

“My lady, I didn’t realize that you had returned to court.”

“Obviously.”

His smile was a challenge. “Did you imagine I would hide in my room and mope without your presence?”

“That would have been nice, seeing as we are betrothed.”

“Are we?” He took two hasty steps toward her, blocking out the light, his chest still heaving, either from his recent exertions or from his current fury. She inhaled the scent of his warm skin and yearned to place her mouth over his and just breathe him in. “I wasn’t sure, seeing as you haven’t bothered to communicate with me for an entire year.”

“Why would I communicate with you? It was a matter for our families to deal with.”

“Was it?” He stared into her eyes, and she swallowed uncomfortably at the fire in his gaze. She had no sense of him in her mind at all. Perhaps the connection had been lost. “How foolish of me to believe that it was a matter between
us
.”

“Christopher? Are you coming?”

He glanced back over his shoulder, his charming smile suddenly much in evidence. “Yes, my lady.”

Rosalind bit down on her lip. “Don’t let me detain you from your . . .”

“My what?”

“Your whatever it is you are doing.”

“Don’t worry. I know when I’m not wanted.” His glare intensified as he looked over her shoulder. “Here comes your watchdog. I’m sure I’ll see you again, my lady. Tell Rhys I sent him my greetings.”

Christopher turned and stalked away, straight into the center of the laughing crowd of courtiers. The hint of the scent of fox drifted back to Rosalind, and she wondered which of the male courtiers was a Vampire, and whether Christopher had noticed it. He didn’t look back, so Rosalind stayed where she was, her legs trembling and her heart racing so fast that she thought it might leap out of her chest. What right did he have to be so annoyed with her? What had he expected, a series of love letters?

She swung around and saw Rhys approaching her, his hand raised in a salute. Beside him walked her cousin Jasper, who wasn’t smiling. Not that he ever smiled much. Unlike most men, he tended to keep his own counsel and only speak when he had something important to say. He bowed and kissed her hand. He was in his late twenties and unmarried, his hair as dark as Rosalind’s, but his eyes slate gray to her brown.

“Cousin Rosalind. It is a pleasure to see you again.”

“As it is you, cousin.”

“I’m glad that you were able to return.” Jasper grimaced. “But this is not the best place for us to talk. Perhaps I should meet you later tonight by the entrance to the maze. I doubt we will be disturbed there.”

Rosalind glanced uncertainly up at Rhys. “I’m not sure if we are staying here for the night.”

Rhys looked resigned. “It seems as if we are now. I’ll go and seek some accommodation in the stables for the night. I suggest you find a member of the queen’s household and do the same.”

“Is the queen here, Jasper?” Rosalind asked.

“I believe she is on a local pilgrimage.” Jasper lowered his voice. “She is not welcome here. King Henry, and the king’s current companions, have made that very clear.”

Jasper took her arm and continued to stroll back toward the main buildings. “For all intents and purposes, the Lady Anne Boleyn is behaving as if she is the queen.”

BOOK: Blood of the Rose
3.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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