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Authors: Kate Pearce

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BOOK: Blood of the Rose
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“Anne Boleyn?” Rosalind frowned. “I don’t believe I’ve met her, although I just saw her brother playing tennis.”

“She and her brother are much together and their power over the king grows daily. Anne returned to court a year or so ago. She was raised mainly in France.”

Rosalind lowered her voice. “Didn’t the king have another mistress by the name of Boleyn?”

Jasper nodded. “Yes, her sister, Mary, who has since been married off. But don’t make the mistake of assuming that the Lady Anne is the king’s mistress. I believe she aims much higher.”

“Is she here?”

“I believe so, although to keep the king’s interest, she has been known to deliberately absent herself from court in a sulk.” Jasper’s smile wasn’t pleasant. “I believe it is the first time in his life that the king has had to chase and woo a woman for more than a day or two. He seems invigorated by the prospect.”

Even as she made the arrangements to meet Jasper that night, Rosalind’s unease grew. It seemed that the rumors were true. Queen Katherine had indeed fallen far from the king’s favor if he was openly parading his new love in her place. And if that news about the queen wasn’t bad enough, what misgivings did Jasper have to reveal about their Vampire foes?

Rosalind didn’t allow herself to think about Christopher’s cool reception and obvious anger. It was far easier to focus on Jasper than to delve into the unpleasant swirl of emotions Christopher aroused in her. With a shake of her head, Rosalind went to find the controller of the queen’s household and beg for a bed for the night. Whatever else happened, her mission to keep the king safe from the Vampire threat remained. She was determined that she—and Jasper—would protect the king at all costs.

 

 

Hampton Court was crammed full of the king’s courtiers and, despite its size, the great hall seethed like an overcrowded anthill. Having nothing to change into, Rosalind arrived early for the evening meal and made her way to the trestle table where some of the queen’s ladies had gathered. She was greeted warmly, although there was an undercurrent of unease among the women. Rosalind could only assume they were worried about their positions at court now that the queen was no longer in favor.

She glanced up at the high table where the king sat, surrounded by his favorites. Seated on his right was his chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, dressed in his black and gray robes, a thick gold chain around his neck. To the king’s left was a woman Rosalind hadn’t seen before, but assumed was the much-talked-about Lady Anne Boleyn.

Unlike her much-admired sister, Mary, Anne wasn’t beautiful by current court standards. Her eyes were very dark, her chin pointed, and her body slender. As Rosalind considered her, Anne glanced at the king as if she owned him. Not beautiful at all, but she had something that drew the eye . . .

Rosalind turned back to her dinner and tried not to look across the hall at the king’s gentlemen. She’d already spotted Christopher’s dark head next to George Boleyn, who was also one of the gentlemen of the privy chamber. The two men seemed close, sharing not only a trencher, but an equal interest in the women who constantly paraded before them.

Rosalind set her teeth. Christopher might think he had a right to amuse himself when she wasn’t there, but she intended to set him right on a few matters before they were done. Much depended on what Jasper had to say to her about the Vampires. If Christopher was involved in any of that, she would be devastated.

She looked up to see that his dark blue gaze had fallen on her and found she couldn’t look away. Part of her wanted to drop her guard and try to steal into his mind. Then at least she would know his true feelings. But she deserved the words, didn’t she? If he was done with her, she deserved to hear it spoken to her face rather than steal the thought from his mind.

She dropped her gaze and made stilted conversation with the ladies around her, aware of the movement of the crowds, the fact that Christopher had turned to speak to a woman and had then disappeared. She could hardly expect him to remain celibate without her, could she? No woman should expect that from a man who wasn’t bound by the ties of wedlock. Her fingers curled into fists. Except that if she ever caught Christopher in bed with another woman, she would have no hesitation in cutting off his . . .

“Lady Rosalind?”

With a start, Rosalind turned to find her cousin behind her, along with another man. “Cousin Jasper.”

He smiled and indicated his companion. “I wish to present a friend of mine, Sir Reginald Fforde.”

Rosalind held out her hand. “It is always a pleasure to meet a friend of yours, Jasper. How do you do, sir?”

Sir Reginald bowed, his fair skin flushing an unbecoming shade of red. “Lady Rosalind, a pleasure. Indeed, a rare and glorious pleasure.”

A corner of Jasper’s mouth twitched upward as he met Rosalind’s gaze. “Sir Reginald was most insistent on meeting you, cousin. He was—How did you put it, Reginald? ‘Struck by your beauty.’ ”

“How flattering, sir.” Behind Sir Reginald, Rosalind noticed the unmistakable looming presence of her betrothed. She smiled deeply into the stuttering young man’s eyes. “If only all men were as poetic.”

Sir Reginald turned quite puce. “I’ll write you a beautiful sonnet to your fine eyes. If you permit, of course.”

Rosalind gave a small, tinkling laugh and clasped her hands to her bosom. “Oh, my, Sir Reginald. That would be delightful.”

Incoherent now, his mouth opening and closing like a stranded fish, Sir Reginald allowed Jasper to lead him away, leaving Rosalind facing Christopher. She made as if to move past him, but he grasped her firmly by the elbow.

“Where are you off to, my lady?”

Rosalind allowed her gaze to drop to the long fingers wrapped around her arm. “What is it you want?” Despite her best efforts to break free, he steered her toward the shadows at the end of the hall.

“If you wish poems written for you, ask me.”

“With your surly and unpleasant attitude, sir, I would fear to read anything you had written about me.”

“Obviously.”

“What on earth do you mean?” He made no reply. She tried to shake off his grip, but he refused to release her. “Sir Reginald was only being pleasant.”

His eyebrows rose. “I can be pleasant.”

“I haven’t seen any evidence of it so far.”

He leaned in closer until his mouth brushed her ear. “My, my, you have a very short memory, don’t you?”

She shivered and swallowed hard. “And you’ve an even shorter memory, judging by your ability to cavort around the court without a care in the world.”

His soft laughter was far too intimate for such a crowded place. “Are you jealous?”

She opened her eyes wide at him. “Why would I be jealous? I have plenty of other suitors to choose from.”

Christopher straightened, all expression removed from his face. “Ah, yes, and here comes another of them to rescue you.”

“I do not need rescuing.”

He shrugged. “
I
know that, but it appears the rest of your ‘suitors’ don’t. Jasper is bearing down on us with a very determined expression on his face.”

“Which is hardly my fault. I didn’t ask him to.”

“Why? Are you enjoying our little chat more than I anticipated?”

Christopher’s anger was so glaringly obvious that for a moment Rosalind could only stare at him. His barbed comments hurt far more than she had anticipated and made even less sense.

“Why are you being like this?”

Instantly, she regretted her plea. She’d learned from an early age that it wasn’t wise to show weakness. She was well trained in how to handle overbearing men, and she could usually overcome her opponents despite her smaller status.

Christopher’s gaze softened. “Rosalind, I didn’t mean . . .”

She wrenched free of his slackened grip and swung around to face her cousin. “Ah, there you are, Jasper. Have you come to take me to the king?”

Jasper bowed and took her hand, completely ignoring Christopher. Rosalind found she was clinging to his arm as he led her away and she tried to relax her grip.

“Actually, I’ve arranged for you to meet with the king tomorrow, but I sensed you needed rescuing.” He hesitated and looked back over his shoulder, but Christopher had already gone. “Was Lord Christopher annoying you?”

“He always annoys me.”

Jasper snorted. “He is an extremely irritating man. After you left, he actually tried to ingratiate himself with me. I still can’t understand why my uncle hasn’t broken your betrothal.”

“Neither can I.” Rosalind kept moving and refrained from turning back to look for Christopher. His anger was puzzling. It was if he felt that she had let him down, but how could that be? She had done nothing to get out of the betrothal or to speak against him to her grandfather. She suddenly felt tired and squeezed Jasper’s arm.

“I think I’ll go and rest for a while.”

“If you are sure you are all right.” Jasper studied her for a long moment before releasing her hand. “I am more than willing to keep you company if you wish to avoid your betrothed.”

Rosalind smiled at him. “Thank you, Jasper, but I’ll retire for the night. I’ll be quite safe.” She curtsied, and he bowed, and she left the great hall. The clock in the courtyard struck eight times and Rosalind smothered a yawn. If she was to be alert and ready to hear Jasper’s suspicions about the Vampires at midnight, a nap would be very welcome. She also needed time to ponder Christopher’s behavior. Although, in truth, she was unlikely to understand him if she thought about him for a year and a day.

Chapter 3

A
s agreed, Rosalind met Rhys under the archway between Clock court and Basse court. The huge clock boomed twelve times, vibrating the wall at her back. She only wished she had brought her boy’s clothes with her instead of having to wear her skirts. Running around in a riding habit and petticoats left much to be desired. But at least she had her dagger. It felt comforting in her hand.

“Are you ready, my lady?” Rhys whispered.

“I’m ready.” Rosalind fell into step behind him as he skirted the archway and headed out into the formal gardens. He used the older, more established trees that had shaded the earlier church buildings as cover and Rosalind followed suit. After a little while, he paused to point out a dense line of bushes beyond the more formal knot garden.

“There’s the maze. I understand the king intends to pull this one up and build a much grander version.”

“Of course he does. Everything the king owns has to be bigger and better than it was before he glorified it with his attention.” Rosalind considered the entrance to the maze. “At least it affords us some cover. A new maze would be very hard to hide in.”

“True,” said Rhys. “I’ll go first. I’ll call you over when I’m sure it is safe.”

Rosalind always chafed at being left behind, but she had sense enough to realize Rhys was well trained to ensure their safety. After all, he had taught her all she knew about fighting Vampires. She studied the long shadows cast by the old yew trees to her left and drew her dagger. Someone was coming. She could only hope it was Jasper.

Rhys lifted his head and beckoned for her to join him at the entrance of the maze. Rosalind gathered her cumbersome skirts in one hand and ran to him.

“There is someone approaching from the right,” she whispered.

“Aye.” Rhys nodded. “I heard. We’ll keep back until we’re sure it’s Jasper.”

To Rosalind’s relief, it was indeed Jasper who appeared, his sword drawn, his clothes a dull, serviceable brown that didn’t attract notice. In the moonlight, he looked more alert and much harder. With a quick gesture he led them into the first passageway of the maze.

Keeping his voice low, he began to speak without preamble. “Lady Rosalind, I wrote to your grandfather because something is definitely wrong at court. I do not have your womanly skill for sniffing out Vampires, but even I’ve become aware that there are many more of our enemies gathering at court.” He grimaced. “Despite my best efforts, I’ve had little success in getting any information from Elias Warner. He professes to know nothing, but I’m certain he lies. There is a gleam in his eye that convinces me he enjoys misleading me.”

“That certainly sounds like Elias,” Rosalind said. “He delights in being deliberately vague—except when he wants something for himself or information for his superiors.”

“Perhaps you will have more luck with him, my lady,” Jasper replied. “He seemed quite disappointed when you left court and he had to deal with me.”

Rosalind shivered as she remembered the Vampire’s enigmatic silver gaze. Christopher had warned her that Elias had developed more than a friendly interest in her. And, when forced to share Elias’s mind by the rogue Vampire, she’d realized it was true.

“I’ll certainly try to get more information out of Elias, but surely the threat must be more specific for you to have requested my presence back at court.”

“Oh, it’s quite specific, my lady. Do you know the Boleyn family?”

Rosalind felt cold. “I met Mary Boleyn once, and just today I saw both the Lady Anne and her brother, George. But I’m not acquainted with them.”

“It is whispered that the family has turned to the Dark Arts to ensure their rise to power. And it has certainly been spectacular.”

“Witchcraft? That is what has you worried?”

Jasper hesitated. “I believe the Lady Anne is a Vampire out to win the king to the Vampire cause.”

“But, by all accounts, she is just his latest mistress, one of his passing fancies. And he would never be influenced by a mere woman, in any case.”

“He doesn’t treat her like any other woman. He is determined to have her and she plays him like a fish on a hook. Surely you must have heard the rumors that the king is intending to annul his marriage to Queen Katherine on the grounds of their consanguinity?”

“Those rumors have swirled for years.”

“But now the king has a reason to want to be free. Apparently, he has pledged Anne Boleyn a queen’s crown and a place at his side as his wife.”

Rosalind went still. “Are you sure?”

“Sure enough to write to your grandfather asking for your return. You are better able to detect a Vampire’s scent than I am, and you are a maid of honor.”

BOOK: Blood of the Rose
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