06 March 2014

Excerpt Thursday: SECRETS AT COURT by Blythe Gifford

This week, regular contributor Blythe Gifford is back with an excerpt from her new Harlequin Historical release, SECRETS AT COURT, one of two planned Royal Wedding stories.  Set in the 14th century court of England's King Edward III, the wedding in question is that of the king's oldest son and Joan, Countess of Kent.  (Blythe wrote about the historical background in last month's post about the prince who married for love. )  The book is available in both the U.S. and the U.K. this month in both print and digital versions.

Blythe will offer a free paperback of SECRETS AT COURT to a randomly selected blog visitor from the U.S. or the U.K.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win.  The winner will be contacted privately by email. Here's a bit about the book:

The king’s son has married for love and now, Sir Nicholas Lovayne must persuade the church to bless the union. But Anne of Stamford knows something about the prince’s bride: a secret that must be kept at any cost.

Anne has long been the keeper of her mistress's secrets, but when Nicholas starts to uncover the truth about Lady Joan's past, Anne must do something—anything—to throw him off the hunt.

Longing to escape the intrigues at court, Nicholas hasn't counted on the way Anne attracts him—her refusal to accept pity for her clubfoot touches something deep inside him. Will he be able to follow his duty when every fiber of his being tells him to protect Anne? 

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter One:

Windsor Castle—late March, 1361

‘Come. Quickly.’ A whisper, urgent. Disturbing her dreams.

Anne felt a hand, squeezing her shoulder. She opened her eyes, blinking, to see the Countess holding a candle and leaning over her in the darkness.

Closing her eyes, Anne rolled on to her side. She only dreamt. Lady Joan would never rise in the dead of night. That was left to Anne.

Slender fingers pinched her cheek. ‘Are you awake, Anne?’

Suddenly, she was. Throwing back her bedclothes. Reaching for something to cover her feet. ‘What is it?’ Had the pestilence found them? Or perhaps the French? ‘What is the hour?’

Lady Joan waved a hand. ‘Dark.’ Then, she gripped Anne’s fingers and tugged. ‘Come. I need you.’

Anne tried to stand. Awkward, more out of balance than usual. She patted the sheets, searching for her walking stick.

‘Here.’ It was thrust into her hand. Then, the Countess, putting her impatience aside, offered a shoulder to help Anne rise.

Kindness from her lady, often when it was least expected. Or wanted.

Walking staff tucked snugly under her left arm, Anne hobbled through Windsor’s corridors, mindful that Lady Joan had put a finger to her lips to signal quiet and gestured for her to hurry. As if Anne had any control over either. Between stick and stairs, she could not hurry unless she wanted to tumble to the bottom and risk her only good leg in the process.

Lady Joan led her towards the royal quarters and into an echoing chapel, dark except for a candle, held by someone standing before the altar. A man, tall and strong.

Edward of Woodstock, eldest son of the King, Prince of England, smiling and looking nothing like the stern warrior she, nay, all England and France knew.

Lady Joan was beaming, too. No longer sparing a glance for Anne, she moved swiftly to join her hand with his. ‘Here. Now. With a witness.’

No. It could not be what she intended. But Lady Joan, of all people, knew what must be done and how important a witness would be.

The Prince took her candle and set them both on the trestle that served as an altar. Wavering flames cast shadows upwards on their faces, throwing the Prince’s nose and cheekbones into sharp relief and softening her lady’s rounded smile. Then they clasped hands, fingers tight, one on top of the other’s.

‘I, Edward, take thee, Joan, to my wedded wife.’

Anne swallowed, speechless. Surely God must want her to speak, to prevent this sacrilege?

‘Thee to love and keep, as a man ought to love his wife…

She freed her voice. ‘You mustn’t. You cannot! The King, you are too close…’

The Prince’s scowl stopped her speech. They knew the truth better than she. They shared a royal grandfather, a connection too close for the church to allow this marriage.

‘All will be as it must,’ Lady Joan said. ‘As soon as we have said the vows, we will send a petition to the Pope. He will set aside the impediment and then we will be wed in the church.’

‘But…’ Anne let the objections fade. The Countess believed it would be as easy as that. Logic, reason, all for naught. Lady Joan would do as she pleased and the world would accommodate her.

It had ever been thus.

The Prince withdrew his frown and faced his bride again. ‘…and thereto, I plight thee my troth.’

As if he knew exactly the words to say.

Ah, but her lady knew. Lady Joan knew exactly what must be done to make such a marriage valid.

Now, she heard her lady’s voice, the soft, seductive tone Anne knew too well. ‘I, Joan, take thee, Edward, to be my wedded husband…’

Intentions stated, clearly. Too late to protest now.

The chill of the midnight chapel sank into her bones. She would be the one. She would be the one who held the truth of Lady Joan’s clandestine marriage.


After many years in public relations, advertising and marketing, Blythe Gifford started writing seriously after a corporate layoff. Ten years and one layoff later, she became an overnight success when she sold her first book to the Harlequin Historical line.  Since then, she has published eight romances set in England and on the Scottish Borders.  The Chicago Tribune has called her work "the perfect balance between history and romance." For more information about Blythe Gifford and SECRETS AT COURT, visit www.blythegifford.com