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She desired him above all others...
Would he now be her executioner?
Lady Gwenyth Macleod has staked her fortune and her reputation to help Mary, Queen of Scots take her rightful place on the throne. But her struggle to guide the reckless, defiant queen has put her at perilous odds with Rowan Graham, a laird dangerously accomplished in both passion and affairs of state. And the more Gwenyth challenges his intentions, the less he can resist the desire igniting between them. Now, with her country in turmoil and treachery shadowing her every step, will Gwenyth's last daring gamble
lead her to the ultimate betrayal-or a destiny greater than she could ever imagine?
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
August 19, Year of Our Lord 1561
"Who is that?" one of the maids whispered, hovering behind Queen Mary as they arrived, earlier than expected, at Leith. Gwenyth wasn't sure who had spoken; Mary, Queen of Scots, had left her native land as a child with four ladies-in-waiting, all of them also named Mary: Mary Seton, Mary Fleming, Mary Livingstone and Mary Beaton. Gwenyth liked them all very much. They were all charming and sweet. Each had her individual personality traits, but they were known collectively as "the Marys" or "the queen's Marys," and sometimes it seemed as if they had become one collective person, as now, when Gwenyth wasn't sure who had spoken.
They were all—including the queen—watching the shore, their eyes on the contingent awaiting them. The queen's beautiful dark eyes seemed, to Gwenyth, as misty as the day itself.
Gwenyth didn't think the queen had heard the question, until suddenly she replied. "Rowan. Rowan Graham, Lord of Lochraven. He visited France with my half brother, Lord James, some months ago."
Gwenyth had heard the name. Rowan Graham was considered to be one of the most powerful nobles in Scotland. She seemed to recall that there was some strange tragedy connected with him, but she didn't know what it was. She also knew that he had a reputation for speaking boldly and having the personal power and political strength to assure he was heard.
She sensed at that moment that this man was destined to haunt her life. He was impossible to miss, standing beside the queen's half brother and regent, Lord James Stewart. Mary herself was tall, at five feet and eleven inches, taller than most of the men who served her. James himself was not as tall, but even if he had been taller than the queen, the man by his side would have towered above him in the mist that shrouded the land. The light was thin, but what there was of it gilded his wheat-gold hair, turning him into a golden lord, a warrior knight, akin to the Viking raiders of long ago. He was clad in the colors of his clan, blues and greens and, despite the fashionable raiment of the group assembled to greet the returning queen, he was the man to whom eyes turned.
Lochraven, Gwenyth thought. A Highland holding. Even in Scotland, the Highlanders were considered a race unto themselves. Gwenyth knew Scotland better than her queen, and she knew that a Highland lord could be a dangerous man, for she was from the Highlands herself, and very aware of the fierce power of the clan thanes. Rowan Graham was a man to be watched.
Not that the queen had a reason to fear any man in Scotland. Mary had been asked to return home, but there were things Gwenyth knew that the queen did not. Just a year ago, Protestantism had become the official religion in Scotland, and with fanatical men—persuasive men—such as John Knox preaching in Edinburgh, the queen's devotion to the Catholic faith could place her in danger. The thought made Gwenyth angry; Mary's intent was to let people worship as they chose. Surely the same courtesy should be extended to the queen.
"Home. Scotland." Mary murmured the two words as if trying, in her own mind, to make them synonymous.
Gwenyth was startled from her own thoughts and looked at her sovereign and friend worriedly. She herself was delighted to return home. Unlike many of the queen's ladies, she had been gone but a short time, only a year. Mary had left her home before the age of six. The Queen of Scotland was far more French than Scottish. When they had left France, Mary had stood at the rail of their ship for a long time, tears in her eyes, repeating, "Adieu, France."
For a moment Gwenyth felt a surge of resentment on behalf of Scotland. She loved her homeland. There was nothing as beautiful as the rocky coast, with its shades of gray, green and mauve in spring and summer turning to a fantasy of white come winter. And she loved her country's rugged castles, a match for the steep crags of the landscape. But perhaps she wasn't being fair to Mary. The queen had been away for a long time. It couldn't help that the French themselves considered Scotland a land where barbarians still roamed, possessed of nothing that could compare with the sophistication of their own country.
Mary was barely nineteen and a widow. No longer Queen of France but ruler of the country that was her birthright, a country she hardly knew.
The queen smiled at those around her. "We have won through," she said with forced cheer.
"Yes," agreed Mary Seton. "Despite all those wretched threats from Elizabeth."
There had been a certain sense of nervousness when they had sailed, since Queen Elizabeth had not responded to their request for safe passage. Many in France and Scotland had feared that the English queen intended to waylay and capture her cousin. There had been a terrifying moment when they had been stopped on their journey by English ships. However, the English crews had merely saluted, and their vessels, other than those in Mary's immediate party, had been inspected for pirates. Lord Eglington had been detained, but he had been assured of safe conduct after interrogation. At Tynemouth, Mary's horses and mules had been confiscated, with promises of a safe return once proper documents were obtained.
"This is quite exciting," Mary Seton said, indicating the tall Scotsman.
The queen looked out at the shore again, staring at the man in question. "He is not for you," she said simply.
"Perhaps there are more like him," Mary Livingstone said lightly.
"There are many like him," Gwenyth said. They all turned to stare at her, and she flushed. "Scotland is known for birthing some of the finest warriors in the world," she said, upset with herself for sounding so defensive.
"I vow we will have peace," Queen Mary said, her gaze still on the shore, then she shivered slightly.
It was not the cold, Gwenyth thought, that caused the shiver. She knew that Mary was thinking that France was a far grander country than Scotland, offering far more comfortable accommodations along with its warmer weather. Much of the known world, and certainly the French themselves, considered the country to be the epitome of art and learning and felt that Scotland had been blessed to be tied to such a great power by marriage. In France, Mary had known the finest of everything. Gwenyth feared that the queen would be disappointed by the amenities her homeland offered.
Cheers went up from the shore, as Mary offered a radiant smile. Despite their early arrival after five days at sea, a good-sized crowd had mustered. "Curiosity," Mary whispered to Gwenyth, a dry note in her voice.
"They've come to honor their queen," Gwenyth protested. Mary merely smiled and waved; radiant, she stepped from the ship, to be greeted first by her half brother James and then the milling court around him. The people were shouting joyously. Perhaps they had come out of nothing more than curiosity, but they were impressed now, as well they should be. Mary had never forgotten her Scots tongue; she spoke it fluently, with no trace of an accent. Her voice was clear, and she was not only beautiful—tall, stately and slender—but she moved with an unmistakably regal grace.
Gwenyth stood slightly behind the queen and Lord James. The towering blond man, Lord Rowan, slipped past her, bending to whisper in Lord James's ear. "It's time to move on. She's done well. Let's not take a chance that the mood will turn."
When he moved to retreat, Gwenyth caught his eyes and she knew her own were indignant. He wasn't, however, cowed in the least by her fury; instead was amused. His lips twitched, and Gwenyth felt her anger deepen. Mary of Scotland was a caring queen. True, she was young, and she had grown up in France, but since the death of her young husband—not just the King and her marriage partner, but her dear friend since child-hood—Mary had demonstrated a firm grasp of statesmanship. That this man should doubt her in any way was nothing less than infuriating. And, Gwenyth decided, traitorous.
Soon they were all mounted, ready to ride to Holyrood Palace, where they would dine while the queen's rooms were prepared. Gwenyth sighed softly. This homecoming would be a good thing. The people would continue to rally around Mary. Meanwhile, Gwenyth herself was content simply to revel in the familiarity of the truest home she had ever known. Though the day was a bit foggy, even what some might call dismal, the gray and mauve skies were as much a part of Scotland's wild beauty as the rugged landscape itself.
"At the least," one of the young Marys said, "it seems that Mary will be adored and honored here. Even if it isn't France," she added sadly.
Gwenyth was dismayed to feel a strange chill as they rode through Leith. There was nothing to cause her such discomfort, she assured herself. People were cheering the queen's passage with great enthusiasm. She had no reason for uneasiness.
"Why the frown?"
She turned, startled, to see that Rowan Graham had moved up and was riding at her side—and regarding her with amusement.
"I am not frowning," she said.
"Really? And to think I had imagined you might have the intelligence to worry about the future despite the fanfare."
"Worry about the future?" she said indignantly. "Why should I worry that the concerns of the world might impose themselves upon a queen?"
He stared forward, a strange look of both amusement and distance in his eyes. "A Catholic queen has suddenly come home to rule a nation that has wholeheartedly embraced Protestantism in the last year." He turned back to her. "Surely that is cause for concern?"
"Queen Mary's half brother, the Lord James, has assured her that she may worship as she chooses," she said.
"Indeed," he said, and laughed aloud, which she thought quite rude.
"Would you deny the queen her right to worship God?" she inquired. "If so, perhaps you'd be best off returning to the Highlands, my lord," she said sweetly.
"Ah, such fierce loyalty."
"No more than you, too, owe your queen," she snapped.
"How long have you been gone, Lady Gwenyth?" he asked softly in return. "A year."
"Then such pretense on your part is either foolish or you are sadly not as well-read or intelligent as I had imagined. You speak of loyalty, but surely you know loyalty is something to be earned. Perhaps your young queen does indeed deserve such a fierce defense, but she must prove herself to her people, having been gone so long. Have you been gone so long that you have forgotten how it is here? That there are parts of this land where the monarchy and government mean nothing, and devotion is given first and foremost to one's own clan? When there is no war to fight, we fight among ourselves. I am a loyal man, my lady. Fiercely loyal to Scotland. Young Mary is our queen, and as such, she has not just my loyalty but every shred of strength I can provide, both my sword arm and my life. But if she wishes to gain real control as a monarch, she will have to come to know her people and make them love her. For if they love her...no battle in her name will be too great. History has proven us reckless, far too ready to die for those with the passion to lead us into battle. Time will tell if Mary is one such."
Gwenyth stared at him, incredulous. It was a heroic speech, but she sensed something of a threat in it, as well. "You, my lord, haven't the manners of a Highland hound," she returned, fighting for control.
He didn't lose his temper, only shrugged. She was further irritated when once again he laughed out loud. "A year in France has made you quite high and mighty, has it not? Have you forgotten that your own father hailed from the Highlands?"
Was that a subtle rebuke? Her father had died on the battlefield with James V, though he'd not left such a great legacy as the king. He'd been Laird MacLeod of Islington Isle, but the tiny spit of land just off the high tors barely afforded a meager living for those who lived upon it. Riches had not sent her to France to serve Queen Mary; respect for her father's memory was all that had been left her.
"It's my understanding that my father was stalwart and brave, and courteous at all times," she informed him.
"Ah, how sharp that dagger," he murmured.
"What is the matter with you, Laird Rowan? This is a day of great joy. A young queen has returned to claim her birthright. Look around you. People are happy."
"Indeed," he agreed. "So far."
"Beware. Your words hold a hint of what might sound traitorous to other ears," she informed him coolly.
"My point," he said softly, "is that this Scotland is a far different place than the Scotland she left so long ago— indeed, even from the Scotland you left behind. But if you think I am less than pleased to see Mary here, you are mistaken. It is my entire aim to keep Mary on her throne. I, too, believe a man—or a woman—must worship God from the heart and as seems best, not turning upon details that have so torn apart the Catholic Church and the people of this country. Men of power write policy and interpret words on paper, yet it is the innocents who so often die because of that simple fact. I speak bluntly and boldly—that is my way. I will always be here to guard your Mary—even against herself, if need be. You, my dear, are young, with the idealistic perceptions of youth. May God guard you, as well."
"I hope He will start by helping me avoid the boors of my own country," she returned, her chin high.
"With one so charming and dedicated as yourself, dear Lady Gwenyth, how could our Maker not oblige?"
Kneeing her horse, she hurried forward, keeping her place within Mary's vanguard, but putting some distance between herself and the rough Laird Rowan. She heard his soft laughter follow her and shivered. He had managed to cast a pall over what should have been a day of unalloyed triumph. Why, she wondered, did she let his subtle byplay disturb her so deeply?
She turned her horse back toward him. Riding was one of her finer talents, and she wasn't averse to displaying her abilities as she swerved her mount, covered the distance she'd put between them, then swerved once again and rode up beside him.
"You know nothing," she informed him heatedly. "You do not know Mary. She was sent to France as a child and given a husband. And she was a friend, the best friend possible, to him. The poor king was sickly from the beginning, but Mary remained a dear and loyal friend—and wife. In the end, despite the wretched conditions of the sickroom, she never once wavered. She cared for him until his death, then mourned his loss with dignity. And as the world changed around her, she kept that dignity. As diplomats and courtiers from all over the world came with petitions and suggestions for her next marriage, she weighed her options, including what was best for Scotland, with deep concern and a full understanding of the statesmanship demanded by her position. How dare you doubt her?" she demanded.
This time, he didn't laugh. Instead, his eyes softened. "If she has the power to earn such passionate praise from one such as yourself, my lady, then there must be deep resources indeed beneath her lovely and noble appearance. May you always be so certain in all things," he said at last, softly.
"Why should not one be certain, sir?" she inquired.
"Because the wind is quick to change."
"And do you, like the wind, change so easily, Laird Rowan?"
Título: The Queen's Lady (Thorndike Romance)
Editorial: Thorndike Press
Año de publicación: 2008
Condición del libro: Good
Descripción Thorndike Press, 2008. Hardcover. Estado de conservación: Used: Very Good. Nº de ref. de la librería SONG1410407594
Descripción Thorndike Press, 2008. Hardcover. Estado de conservación: Very Good. Great condition with minimal wear, aging, or shelf wear. Nº de ref. de la librería P021410407594