11 May 2017

Excerpt Thursday: RUMORS AT COURT by Blythe Gifford


Today, we have a peek at the newest release from long-time Unusual Historicals contributor Blythe Gifford, RUMORS AT COURT, out now from the Harlequin Historical line.  Blythe will be back on Sunday for an interview about the book.  She’ll be focusing on the joys and challenges of using real historical figures in fiction, so this excerpt includes a scene featuring several of the real people who are part of the story.

 

RUMORS AT COURT is the third Royal Wedding story.  All three are set in the 14th century English court of Edward III.  This time, while the royal wedding in the book is that of Edward’s son Edmund to Isabella of Castile, the royal marriage at the center of the book is that of Constanza of Castile, Isabella’s older sister, to John of Gaunt, Edward’s third son.  Through marriage to Constanza, Gaunt assumed the title of King of Castile. Also a character in the book is Katherine Swynford, who became Gaunt’s mistress.  (Blythe wrote about her here.)

 

But the center of the story is the romance between two fictional characters, who serve John and Constanza.  Here’s a recap:

 

Wed by royal command! 

Widow Valerie of Florham wants nothing more than to forget her abusive marriage and live peacefully at the mercy of no man. She'd never have dreamed of a liaison with handsome Sir Gil Wolford, but then comes a royal decree—they must wed! 

Gil craves military conquest in Castile, far from his haunted past. Marriage to Lady Valerie is the last thing he should want, yet both have truths to hide from the rumormongers at court. They have no choice…and, once wed, the marriage bed changes everything!


RTBookreviews gave it a 4-Star review, writing “delights on every level, from the sumptuous settings to the whispered…rumors spinning through the royal court.  …Gifford’s characters are always well developed and…deeply resistant to a new passion…until, of course, love gets its way…”


 

From Chapter One of RUMORS AT COURT:

The Savoy Palace, London—February 9th, 1372

 

The English and Castilian ladies were shepherded into the palace and then to the Hall side by side, close enough for Valerie to hear the foreign chatter. She could not follow all the words, but the lilt of the language, the faint scent of Castilian soap, seemed familiar.

Perhaps her blood remembered these things. Blood that had come from another Castilian woman exiled to England, generations ago. Like Constanza, Queen of Castile, she, too, had been taken from her home and sent to a distant place.

Valerie touched the brooch of copper and enamel on her gown, a reminder of her long-dead relative. She must hold her head high amidst the unfamiliar trappings of court. Soon enough, she would be allowed to return to the earth of her home and her garden, slumbering now in winter.

The Queen reached the front of the Hall and turned to face the room. Valerie squinted, trying to see her clearly. She was fair, even sallow. Were her eyes blue? Too far to see, but her nose looked longish for the fashion, her figure tall and sturdy.

Her looks, in truth, were unimportant. Her gift to her husband was her country, not her beauty. And a woman, even a royal one, had no more choices than any other woman. She must marry for reasons of state, no matter what her heart. And if she wanted to be Queen in fact instead of just in name, this woman needed a man both willing and wealthy enough to fight for her kingdom.

Suddenly, the Queen touched a hand to her belly and the curtain of women around her closed tightly.

Were the rumours true? The Queen had arrived in England months ago, but had stayed in the country, some said because of the early ills of being with child.

The Duke—Valerie could still not think of him as a king—would have wasted no time getting an heir on her. They both needed to prove they could produce another generation to sit on Castile’s throne, so that might be the reason the woman did not look her best. All would be forgiven if she bore a son.

Something Valerie had failed to do.

‘She looks so young,’ Lady Katherine, next to her, whispered.

Valerie murmured something that might be mistaken for assent. The Queen was nearly Valerie’s own age and only a few years younger than Lady Katherine. Katherine, too, was newly widowed and had three children of her own. She might be feeling the length of her life.

Though she mourns her husband no more than I do mine.

She could not say how she knew. They had met only recently and never spoken of it, but Valerie felt certain that they both recited the requisite prayers for the loss of a husband while secretly revelling in their new freedom.

The line of ladies shielding the Queen parted. The Queen had settled into a chair at the front of the hall beside the Duke. Her sister came to stand beside her and the procession of lords and ladies shuffled into line to be presented.

Valerie, following Katherine, was surprised and honoured that she had been invited to this ceremony. Her husband had been a knight, but a lowly one. Lady Katherine’s husband had been the same, but she was here because she took care of the Duke’s children by his first wife. Now, she would move into his second wife’s household, a strong link to what the Queen needed to know about England and, perhaps, even about her husband.

As Valerie was presented to at least a dozen of the Queen’s ladies, she was called upon to do little beyond nod politely. The Queen’s people smiled, silent, not attempting the unfamiliar tongue.

Even the Queen remained impassive in the face of all the introductions. Surely the poor woman had absorbed nothing about the strangers paraded before her.

Then, Valerie heard her name called and knelt before the Queen. A flurry of conversation, the Duke, speaking to the interpreter, who then spoke to the Queen.

Descended from one who came to England with Eleanor of Castile, wife of the first Edward.

Ah, it was her ancestor who had brought her here, the woman who had served that other foreign Queen nearly a hundred years ago.

Finally, the Queen understood and nodded. ‘Habla la lengua de sus antepasados?’

Now she was the one who struggled to understand. Speak? Did she speak…?

She was a widow now. She could speak aloud, even to a queen, without looking over her shoulder for her husband’s permission. And yet, the language of Castile was as foreign to her as hers was to the Queen.

She shook her head. ‘Only enough to say Bienvenida.' That meant welcome. At least, she thought it did.

It was enough to make the Queen smile. ‘Gracias.’ She stretched out a hand, touching the brooch with reverent fingers, then spoke to her interpreter.

‘La Reina wishes to know, is the brooch you wear hers?’

Valerie smiled. ‘Yes, Your Grace. It, too, came from Castile.’ The Queen, the story went, had been generous to her ladies.

Nodding, this Queen cleared her throat and spoke, each word careful and distinct. ‘We to meet again.’

The words touched her like a benediction. ‘I hope so, Your Grace.’

Valerie paused to kneel before the Duke—no, the King—barely looking at him as she hugged the Queen’s words close to her heart.

When she rose, still smiling, and turned away, it was to come face to face with the knight she had seen earlier at the Duke’s right hand. Dark, ragged brows shielded pale blue eyes. His nose and cheeks were sharply carved. He looked to be a man, like her husband, more at home in battle than in the Hall.

She nodded, courteous. Waiting.

‘Lady Valerie, I am Sir Gilbert Wolford.’

Her momentary glow faded. ‘The man they call The Wolf.’

The one who had commanded her husband to his death.

  


About the author:
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 ten books, primarily set in England and on the Scottish Borders, most revolving around real historical figures and events.  For more information, visit her webpage: www.blythegifford.com, find her on

Author photo Jennifer Girard  Excerpt © 2017 Wendy B. Gifford, all rights reserved
Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited.  All rights reserved. ®and T are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license. Copyright 2017



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