This blog is to keep my readers updated about my forthcoming historical romance books and to tell you a little bit about the history behind each one. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel free to comment.
Friday, 4 April 2014
The Judas Pledge
THE JUDAS PLEDGE
Bethany first saw
him on twelfth night. It was the beginning of a new year, her father had become
impatient with his efforts to find a title for her to marry, and this Christmas
visit to her sister was a last chance attempt to find a suitor more important
than a baron, someone impoverished perhaps, who would be likely to lower
himself to marry the daughter of a wealthy merchant.
He entered the banqueting hall much later than everyone
else, drawing immediate attention to himself in so doing, and her sister did
not seem pleased with his company.
He was very
handsome; he was tall and well built and oh, so self confident.She watched him as he entered and cast his
eyes about the company as though he belonged there.
Julia was very
perplexed when she first saw him and she looked startled as well, as though she
could not quite believe what she was seeing.
the Earl of Summerville,” the steward announced him in a loud voice.
“What is he
doing here?”Julia muttered crossly.
“Oh yes,” she
replied.“He is our nearest and most
important neighbour.He has to be
invited, but he never comes.Never.”
replied unnecessarily.“He has come this
He seemed to
have unofficially invited himself, a fact she found intriguing in this age and
social class where everything has to be correctly done lest scandal should
off to greet this new and mysterious guest while her sister watched curiously
both her own reaction and that of her husband.Sir Geoffrey looked quite furious, as if he might challenge this newcomer,
although it was doubtful he possessed the courage.Threats and innuendo were more in keeping
with his custom than actual action, much less confrontation.
was a whispered argument going on between the Earl of Summerville and Julia.It may be that he was an important neighbour
and due the respect owed to such a man, but the two seemed to be on rather more
familiar terms than neighbourly friendliness would allow.Who could blame her, Bethany thought, if she
had been tempted by her nearest and most important neighbour.In her position, she might well have done the
Bethany was intrigued by this hint of intimacy between them and
could not resist going closer to see what they were whispering about. She never
found out, because they both stopped talking abruptly on her approach.
“Allow me to present
my sister, my Lord,” Julia said hurriedly in an obvious effort to change the
subject.“Bethany, this is Lord Summerville, my
He turned and smiled, then took Bethany’s hand and kissed
murmured.“Another lovely member of the
As he spoke
there was a little playful grin about his mouth, a grin which reached his black
eyes and made them dance with mischief.She
found it difficult not to laugh, but Julia’s obvious displeasure at seeing him
there caused her to conceal her amusement.
Their father was
a merchant dealing in fine cloth and had built up vast wealth over the years,
so much in fact that he was able to maintain a grand house in London as well as
a small country residence. But what he really wanted was noble blood running
through the veins of his grandchildren.
He had managed to negotiate a marriage between Julia and Sir
Geoffrey Winterton, the first step on the staircase to the upper classes, but now
he needed to find a man of similar or higher rank for his youngest
The gentlemen of
Sir Geoffrey’s acquaintance were all of the same social rank as himself with
the exception of a baron or two. Lord
Summerville was the first Earl to have appeared in this house, and it was clear
that Bethany was not alone in finding his presence unexpected.
She had never
been of the obedient disposition, never understood why a woman had to accept
that her menfolk knew best and she had done nothing to encourage any of the
suitors Julia had so far invited to the house. She was determined to do
everything within her power to deter these poverty stricken noblemen whom her
father could wine and dine and feel pleased about.
She would infinitely prefer a man of her own class whom she
could at least respect and like, if not love. If she did not achieve her goal of alienating
them all, she would likely have to accept one of them. Her father was putting
all his faith into these twelve days in the hope of finding someone more
Bethany had always known the time would come when she would
have to marry and she would not be allowed to choose for herself, but the time
had come too quickly and she was not yet ready to accept her fate. She wondered
if she ever would be.
Her father did not
really care much about the age or inclinations of a future husband, only that
he was high born and could bring the family further up the social ladder,
perhaps even give them access to the court.That was one commodity which could only be bought with his daughters and
he still had one of those left with which to bargain.He had married her brother to a woman of his
own class, but there was no title to be had in that direction so it was
unimportant.Daughters were his
bargaining tool and Bethany had a feeling he already knew he had wasted one of
them on Sir Geoffrey, since no grandchild had yet appeared nor ever likely to,
judging by their obvious animosity toward each other and their separate
sleeping and living arrangements.He was
taking more time with his remaining commodity.
was a beautiful maiden, with dark hair and eyes, a small straight nose and
round cheeks. She had a sweet voice and an easy laughter, but her one failing
was that she found pretence to be almost beyond her capabilities.She had so far seen very few at this ball who
appealed, but time was running out. She knew as well as her father that the
older she got, the smaller the pool of suitors would be.
Her brother had
at least had some say in his choice of spouse, being a man.She did not think he loved Margaret, not in a
romantic sense anyway, but he was certainly fond of her as she was of him.They would do well together; they might even
learn respect for each other, even if she did obey his every command and agree
with his every thought. Bethany still envied them both the choices she would be
She could not
do much worse than Julia, surely. It pained Bethany to think of all that beauty
being wasted on Sir Geoffrey, who seemed not to care one iota for his
wife.But that was hardly surprising,
really.He had got her dowry, now he had
no real need of her since he had a younger brother who could well be an
He did not
seem to take much notice of any woman and Bethany often wondered if he were
perhaps one of those men who were attracted to their own sex.As she looked his way, she tried to shake off
that idea; she had only heard rumours about such men and she was never sure
whether to believe them or not.God made
men and women in order for them to procreate, to perpetuate the species, so why
would he make one like that?And God did
not make mistakes, which meant that such men were as likely as a unicorn.
Summerville helped himself to mead and stood watching his neighbour’s sister
where she sat staring into space, her mind apparently elsewhere. He could
imagine where her thoughts were taking her; Julia had told him the reason for
her visit and he hoped those circumstances would work in his favour.
She was a very
beautiful woman, not at all like her sister whose hair was fairer than any he
had seen before or since. He never accepted Sir Geoffrey’s invitations, as he
could not abide the man, but he had seen this young woman when she first
arrived and had been attracted to her then. He decided to have a closer look,
perhaps learn her character and now as he watched her, he thought she might
suit his purposes very well.
He had been
looking for a wife as he badly needed an heir to his title and estates, but he
had grown tired of the women in his own social circles, many of whom he had
already had in his bed. Although he enjoyed them, he secretly thought of them
as harlots and that was not the sort of woman he wanted as his wife.
girl was innocent and he could mould her to his purposes; he did not ask for
much of a wife, only loyalty and companionship, and the hope of a son. He had
no need of her generous dowry as he was one of the wealthiest noblemen in the
country and he could be certain of her father’s consent.
He was sure
she had no idea he was studying her, admiring her full bosom, her slim waist,
her shining dark hair. She was too involved in worrying about her future to be
aware of him at all and he found that intriguing. Women were usually very much
aware of him.
was far away as she pondered her situation and wondered if there were by any
chance a way out, when she felt the pressure of someone sitting down beside her.
“Lady Winterton did not tell me that she had such a
beautiful sister,” he said.
her head and stared up at the Earl, still curious about the real relationship
between him and her sister.They had
indeed seemed too familiar for mere neighbours.
“Why should she
tell you anything, My Lord?”She
replied.“After all, you are but a
neighbour, are you not?Nothing more?”
drawing the attention of several other guests, and she caught sight of Julia,
dancing with her husband and frowning in disapproval.
“Are you always
so candid?”He asked.
“I try to curb
my enthusiasm, Sir, but it does not always work.Sometimes I wish there were some function of
the human body which allowed us to retract words that had already been spoken,
sort of grab them back while they still hung in the air.”She sat back and sighed.“I will not apologise for it, My Lord.”
“I should hope
not.And it is Richard,” he said
firmly.“My name is Richard.”
She was surprised
at such familiarity, but she could not deny she found it somewhat pleasing. For
the first time since arriving here at Winterton House, she felt able to reveal
her true self, to speak without thought of the impression she might be making.
She was weary of trying to impress people of a superior social class and this
Earl was unlikely to join her father’s queue of suitors. That queue was growing
ever shorter as time went on and this was her main concern on this last night
of Christmas, not whether she would offend the sensibilities of a Lord of the
manor.It was a relief to be able to talk to someone
of the male persuasion without having to pretend, without having to think about
every word before it left her lips.
His clothes were
of the finest cloth, velvet and satin with pearls embedded for decoration.The colour was dark though, dark blue to be
exact, as though he did not wish to make himself conspicuous.Many men in his position would wear bright
colours and plenty of embroidery and jewels, to display their wealth and
importance, like Sir Geoffrey.This man
was important, and he had no need to convince anyone of it.She liked that, very much.It seemed he was also someone who did not
need nor like to pretend.
His hair and eyes were almost black, his
shoulders beneath his jacket were broad and she could see the muscles at his
thighs beneath his clothing.
She imagined a man of his age would be married and wondered
where Lady Summerville might be. Perhaps he was a widower, or perhaps he kept
his own wife hidden at home whilst he liaised with that of his neighbour.
She neither knew nor cared; she only knew she was enjoying
his conversation and felt relaxed for the first time in weeks.
The following morning brought bright sunshine streaming through
the windows of her bedchamber and although there was a sharp nip of cold in the
air and thick frost on the ground, she was determined to walk off her fatigue
from the night before.She had found it
difficult to sleep, her thoughts in a whirl of indecision.
She wondered how
it would be if she stole some of her mother’s jewels and ran away. It was an
idea she had been toying with for some time, even before her father began
presenting her to various prospective husbands, but that morning was the first
time she had given it serious consideration. She could perhaps travel to
another city, up north somewhere where nobody knew her. She was inventive; she
could easily make up a story as to why she was travelling alone. Perhaps she
could pretend to have been robbed by her servants, perhaps she could pretend to
be a widow looking to forget a much loved husband. She smiled at the idea. A
memory sprang to mind of her father locking away a purse in his cupboard; if
she could get into that, find the money still there, she would not have to
steal her mother’s jewels. She was not comfortable with doing that, but to
steal her father’s money was a different matter. It would serve him right for
forcing her into this position in the first place.
The only obstacle which really deterred her from forming a
plan was that she had heard people in the north were still fiercely Catholic.
Although against the law since the young King Edward at taken the throne, there
were still some Papist factions about the country and she could expect no aid
from any of them.
Was she brave enough? The world was a harsh place for a
young woman alone and with no dowry and no family to support her, she would
find it very difficult to make a good match. And she did want a good match, she
was basically spoilt and had grown up with servants and her father’s wealth
ready to grant her every wish and whim.
There had been a
time of religious chaos in the land after the old king’s break with the Roman
church. She had been told about it, about how King Henry had stripped the
monasteries of all their possessions, destroyed the idols and turned the monks
out on the street.Suddenly that which
had been sacred was worthless, even blasphemous.But that had been twenty years ago, long
before Bethany was born.She had no
memory of a time when Rome had any say in the religion of England and since the
accession of the young King Edward, there had been five years or more of peace and
stability on that score.
Bethany believed they had seen an end to Papist rule. From
what she had heard Catholic rule was harsh and their ideals were bizarre. Those who did not agree with them were
tortured and burned alive, those like her family who did not accept the
doctrine of confession, absolution, buying prayers to reduce our time in
purgatory, or even paying money to touch the many relics they claimed were
genuine. Catholics believed in transubstantiation, which meant that the wine
and bread were transformed during the Holy Communion into the actual flesh and
blood of the saviour, instead of being only symbolic of those things.She shuddered to think of it, but it was all
in the past now except for some parts of the country where priests were hidden
away in private houses, brought out to say mass in private chapels. It would
never again be the religion of England, and that is all she knew and all that
For that Christmas, Bethany had more important things to
think about, or at least she thought she did.
Most of her suitors were younger sons with no inheritance,
but she could summon no respect for a man whose only interest in her was her
generous dowry and her wealthy father.
Bethany had been so deep in thought she did not realise just
how far from the house she had wandered.She had pulled her cloak tightly about her shoulders and was thankful
for the rabbit fur lining, then she looked up to see a huge mansion in the valley,
almost hidden by the trees surrounding it.This was the sort of house she had dreams of ruling.Her father’s country house, which she had
believed so vast, was as a small manor house compared to this.How wonderful to be mistress of such a place,
to command the homage and respect of all the people around her. Nobody then
would be in a position to order her life or to decide with whom she should
She sighed despondently; she had not been born to that life
and it was not going to happen so there was no earthly point in thinking about
it.What she needed to think about was a
way out of a marriage she did not want and could hardly bear to think about.
Mistress,” a voice came from behind her, making her start.“You are about early, considering the
lateness of the ball last night.”
“My Lord,” she
stammered, feeling foolish and vulnerable, neither position being one she
enjoyed.“I did not expect to find
anybody abroad.You live nearby?”
He smiled then indicated
with his hand the huge mansion in the valley.Julia had said he was her nearest and most important neighbour, but
Bethany had failed to make the connection. She just had too many other things
going on in her mind, too many things more personal to her.Thinking of the small manor house that Sir
Geoffrey owned nearby, she realised why His Lordship had to be invited, even if
they neither wanted nor expected him to accept.
“I have wandered farther than I realised.Please forgive me for trespassing, My Lord.”
“You are welcome
to trespass whenever you want.” He touched her arm as she turned to begin her
walk back to Winterton House. “But do not run away,” he said. “We should take
the opportunity to get to know each other.”
again she wanted to grab back the word.Not very polite, given the circumstances.But he laughed.
“Why not?” He
replied.“Come.You look cold and I know where we can get a
hot drink and a warm fire.”
He held out his
hand which she took and allowed him to lead me across the frost covered meadow toward
his house.She wondered briefly if she
should perhaps get word to Julia as to her whereabouts, but something told her
that her sister would not approve.She
also knew perfectly well that to be going off with a man who was not a
relative, without a chaperone, was not the behaviour one expected of a
lady.It did not occur to her, however,
to worry about what the Earl might think of her for this indiscretion, she just
knew it was a relief to be able to not care.
Once inside and
warming up with mulled wine before a roaring fire, seated on rich cushions on
oak settles such as she had never seen before, she was able to remove her cloak.
She could not help but cast her eyes greedily over the chamber, over the rich
tapestries and ancient paintings, the oak panelling and carved ceilings.There were even rugs from the Far East covering the stone floors.At least she assumed they were from the East
since she had never seen anything like it in England before.She had heard somewhere that fine rugs were
made in the far eastern countries which had only been found in the last century
or two.Such things were too expensive
for most people and seeing them here merely confirmed her suspicion that this
man was incredibly wealthy, even wealthier than her father, perhaps even
wealthier than the King himself.It was
said that King Henry acquired Hampton
Court from Cardinal Wolsey when he learned that
the Cardinal was richer than he.
She let her
glance slide towards her companion, appreciating his good looks and his confident
manner, his broad shoulders and his muscular chest. She had never met anyone
quite like him before, but then she had never met a nobleman before. For the
first time in her life, she regretted who she was, regretted she had no right
to be attracted to this man, even though she was.
“The King is not
expected to live much longer,” Richard said suddenly.“What do you think of that?”
She turned to
look at him, quite startled at the way he had suddenly dropped this treacherous
statement into the silence of the room.
“To speak of the
death of the King is treason, My Lord,” she replied quickly, lest she be
accused of complying with such sentiments.“Is this some kind of trap you have led me into?”
all.I got the impression you speak
whatever thoughts come into your mind and I believed it would be a topic of
interest to us both.Forgive me if I am
She was still
unsure of how best to reply.She hardly
knew this man and he was close to the court, and while she in no way thought herself
important enough to entrap with a false question, she felt it was difficult to
trust such a conversation coming from a stranger.
“You are not
mistaken,” she said at last.“I am just
surprised, that is all.You know nothing
about me.How do you know I will not
He shrugged and
smiled mischievously.“I will simply
deny all knowledge of it, my dear.It is
not difficult to believe that anybody would take my word over yours.Or is it?”
probably right,” she replied carefully.“What is your own opinion of the King’s health?”
“I think it will
be a good thing when the corrupt Lord Protector is ousted from his
position.He has no love for the country
or the people, but seeks only power.”
“But if the King
should die young, the throne will go to his cousin.The Duke will still be Lord Protector; I
heard he will marry his son to the Lady Jane Grey.”
“Jane Grey will
never be queen,” he replied harshly.“She has no real claim to the throne.The Scottish queen has a greater claim but the people would never accept
her either.Mary Tudor will succeed,
just as her father willed it.”
“Mary?”She shuddered.“I hope you are wrong, Sir.She will turn England back to Rome and
persecute those true to the Protestant faith. I may be young, but I have learned about the
way Protestants were treated before King Henry broke with Rome, and even after.I believe Mary is a fanatic who refuses to
give up the Mass, despite it being outlawed.”
“And her brother
allows it, so long as it is performed in private.Why do you suppose that is?”
She did not know
enough about the relationship between the King and his half sister to converse
on the subject and she was still afraid of saying too much.This conversation was rapidly following a
dangerous path and she felt it would be a good thing to change the subject.
“Is your lady
wife here with you?” She asked, not knowing what else to say to change the
course of the conversation.
“What makes you
think I have a lady wife?”
“I suppose I
just assumed that it would be the case.”
She got up and moved toward the window, looking out at the hundreds
of acres of fields and meadows stretching as far as the eye could see. There were little cottages and farmhouses
dotted about here and there, all with smoke coming from roofs.Some even had proper chimneys, an expense
reserved for the wealthy.If they were
part of Lord Summerville’s estate, then he must be responsible for installing
them, for caring for his tenants’ comfort.She brought her mind back to the conversation about his wife. “Am I
indeed.I have no wife, a situation
which must be remedied very soon.I am
an only child and I need an heir.” She turned to look at him, surprised once
more by this intimate choice of topic, and her heart leapt for a second with
the hope his words promised. His next words dispelled that hope. “I am told
that you will soon be married yourself.”
“That is what I
am told as well, My Lord,” she replied cynically.“I am just not at all sure to whom my father
intends to sell me.”
“An odd way of
all.He wants a titled gentleman to give
him a lift up the social ladder.He is
wealthy; an impoverished nobleman would likely be interested, just as Sir
Geoffrey bought my sister with his title.It is a barbaric system and not one with which I would ever willingly
“But only the
lowest classes are given the privilege of being able to marry for love,
Mistress. You and I must look upon the procedure as a business arrangement,
something which will benefit both parties.”
“I have never
heard it put like that before,” she replied wistfully.“Perhaps the lower classes have the advantage
“Perhaps. Just what sort of man would suit you, madam?”He asked playfully.
She looked about,
returning his mischievous grin as she swept the space around her with her arms.
replied.“The owner of all this would
suit nicely.”She paused and laughed at
her own folly.“But the owner of all
this would not be in need of my dowry.”
She collected her
cloak from where it lay upon the settle, warming beside the fire.
“I must go,” she
said quickly.“Julia will be wondering
where I am and I do not wish to outstay my welcome.”He helped her with her cloak, then took her
chin in his hand and lifted her face to his.As she looked into his eyes she felt a sudden concern for his safety,
though why she did not know. She hardly knew him. “My Lord,” she said.“You should have a care.I would hate to see your head on a spike on London
“It will never
happen.Mary will be Queen and when she
is, all us Catholics will be able to show our faces again without having to
tread carefully and curb our tongues.”
She caught her
breath and could only stare in disbelief.Us Catholics, he had
said.He was playing a very dangerous
“You are a
He nodded.“You will not give me away, will you?”
“Why are you so
sure?You know nothing of me,
nothing.How can you be so sure I will
not betray you?”
It was a few
minutes before he replied, and when he did he was smiling like a man who knows
he has won the day.
“Because I am
the owner of all this,” he indicated the room.“You would not want to lose out on that, for the sake of a principle,
now would you?”