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The queens rival, p.1
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       The Queen's Rival, p.1

           Diane Haeger
 
The Queen's Rival


  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Dedication

  PART I - The First Step . . .

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  PART II - Step. . . .

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  PART III - Step again. . . .

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  PART IV - Step. . . .

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  PART V - Step. . . .

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  PART VI - Step. . . .

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  PART VII - Step. . . .

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  PART VIII - The Final Step . . .

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Author’s Note

  READERS GUIDE

  Praise for the Novels of Diane Haeger

  The Queen’s Mistake

  “Haeger’s characters, even her minor ones, have a certain depth that’s often lacking in novels that trod this well-traveled ground, and she handles the love affair between Katherine and Thomas Culpeper skillfully and sympathetically.”

  —Historical Novels Review

  “Fans will enjoy Diane Haeger’s take on sixteenth-century aristocratic permissiveness.”

  —Genre Go Round Reviews

  “Fans of tales of royalty will find Haeger’s novel both historically accurate and sympathetically written.”

  —Fresh Fiction

  The Secret Bride

  “Haeger delivers complexities of court and duty plausibly and with aplomb.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Haeger masterfully brings the past alive in her latest historical novel. A tale of thwarted desire and sacrifice, it is rich in court intrigue and lavishly detailed descriptions of court life during the early years of Henry VIII’s reign. Both fans of Haeger and readers new to her novels will relish her insightful story about the one woman Henry truly loved: his sister.”

  —Booklist

  “An enjoyable, well-written book about one of history’s true love stories.”

  —Romance Reviews Today

  Other Historical Novels by Diane Haeger

  “In Haeger’s impressive Restoration romance, King Charles II and his mistress. . . leap off the page. . . . Charles and Nell are marvelously complex—jealous and petty, devoted yet fallible. Haeger perfectly balances the history with the trystery.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  “Engagingly deep romantic historical fiction.”

  —Midwest Book Review

  “Romantic. . . filled with intrigue and danger.”

  —The Indianapolis Star

  “Set against the vivid descriptive detail of Rome and Trastevere, Haeger’s tale of how the ring came to be obscured in the Raphael masterpiece resonates with the grandeur and intimacy of epic love stories. . . . This romance is first to be savored as the wonderful historical tale that it is.”

  —BookPage

  “Lush. . . [a] rich yet fast-paced story.”

  —Historical Novels Review

  “Spectacular. . . . Haeger explores the fascinating, rich, exciting, and tragic life of Henry II’s beloved. . . . Lush in characterization and rich in historical detail, Courtesan will sweep readers up into its pages and carry them away.”

  —Romantic Times

  “With her wealth of detail cleverly interwoven into a fabulous plot, Diane Haeger has written a triumphant tale that will provide much delight to fans of historical fiction and Regency romance.”

  —Affaire de Coeur

  NEW AMERICAN LIBRARY NOVELS

  BY DIANE HAEGER

  The Queen’s Mistake

  The Secret Bride

  NEW AMERICAN LIBRARY

  Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA ♦ Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) ♦ Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England ♦ Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) ♦ Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) ♦ Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India ♦ Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) ♦ Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:

  80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  First published by New American Library,

  a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

  First Printing, March 2011

  Copyright © Diane Haeger, 2011 Readers Guide copyright © Penguin Group (USA), Inc., 2011 All rights reserved

  LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA:

  Haeger, Diane. The queen’s rival: in the court of Henry VIII/Diane Haeger.

  p. cm.

  eISBN : 978-1-101-47890-5

  1. Blount, Elizabeth, ca. 1502-1539—Fiction. 2. Catharine, of Aragon, Queen, consort of Henry VIII, King of England, 1485—1536—Fiction. 3. Henry VIII, King of England, 1491—1547—Fiction. 4. Great Britain—Kings and rulers—Paramours—Fiction.

  5. Mistresses—Great Britain—Fiction. 6. Ladies-in-waiting—Great Britain—Fiction. 7. Great Britain—History—Henry VIII, 1509—1547—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3558.A32125Q46 2011

  813’.54—dc22 2010039719

  Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

  PUBLISHER’S NOTE

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  http://us.penguingroup.com

  For Kelly, With love and gratitude

  Prologue

  July 1536

  Greenwich Palace

  I tell you, it is her!”

  “That such a strumpet would have the courage to return . . . It is scandalous!”

  It had been years since Bess had been at court, and even longer since she had walked this vast carpet-lined gallery leading to the king’s privy apartments. But it was not so long that she had forgotten how it felt to be whispered about loudly enough so she could hear. Neither the king’s second cousin Lady Hastings, nor Lady Margaret Bryan—aging noble magpies in rich velvet, strings of pearls, and red and gold brocade—had changed at all.
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br />   Determined, she held her head high and ignored them. Time and years, more than two decades, slipped away. In those days she had simply been Bess Blount. But she was no longer that pretty, young, innocent girl; yet neither was he, the man she had come to see, the dashing young ruler he once was. But he was here, and he needed her.

  As she made her way forward, the tall carved doors before her were parted by two stiff Yeomen of the Guard in green and white livery and silver breastplates. Each bore a tall, flashing gilt halberd. A line of elegantly clad servants and curious courtiers on the other side bowed deeply or dipped into formal curtsies as she advanced. Like waves, one after another, they acknowledged her as the venerable Lady Elizabeth Clinton, whose reputation well preceded her. Then they backed away in a kaleidoscope of movement—rich Tudor green, white, blue, red, and yellow velvet; brocade; and pearls combined with glittering gold. The tunnel of light, sounds, and fragrances drew her back in time even more deeply. There was no place on earth that smelled quite like the court of Henry VIII: rich, musky, complex—very like the king, the man, and the legend himself. Ironic, Bess thought, that it was here in this very presence chamber that she had first seen him. Here, she had first touched his hand . . . and had first fallen in foolish, childish love when she was barely fourteen.

  The empty throne before her was polished and heavily carved, placed beneath a tall silk canopy fringed in gold and emblazoned with an H and J intertwined. J was for Jane Seymour, his new—and third—queen. Bess was relieved not to have to face her newest rival today of all days.

  “Elizabeth, Lady Clinton.”

  Hearing her title announced by the herald, Bess fell into a deep curtsy herself. The rich amber-beaded velvet of her skirt, edged in gold thread, pooled around her as Thomas Cromwell, the king’s chief minister, approached. Then Bess heard the whispers flare again, but she did not recognize the voices this time—those of two women and a man. Still, the sentiment was all too familiar.

  “What will the new queen say, knowing that the mother of the king’s son has dared to return?” one of the women wondered aloud.

  “They shall likely say she looks surprisingly merry for her age, though she must be past thirty now,” the oily-voiced man replied.

  “Ah, it seems only yesterday that she was a fresh-faced and eager threat to the queen,” remarked the second woman.

  “Back then everyone in a dress was a threat to the Spanish queen,” quipped the man in return.

  “Not so much a threat as Bess Blount. He very nearly married her, they say.”

  As Thomas Cromwell, a stout middle-aged man in a black velvet robe and cap and a heavy gold and jeweled baldric, extended his hands to her in greeting, the conversation ceased.

  “My Lady Clinton,” he said somberly.

  “My Lord Chancellor,” she returned deferentially, acknowledging the king’s most influential adviser.

  “While I understand that this is the hour of your greatest grief, I am afraid His Majesty does not wish to be disturbed by anyone.”

  “His grief is my own, my lord.”

  There was a slight pause as he studied her, his gray beetle eyebrows merging. “ ’ Tis true, I suppose. Under the circumstances, you are not just anyone.”

  Bess pressed back the tears that filled her eyes, refusing to cry at his acknowledgment of what had brought her such notoriety. Mother of the king’s son. There had been rumors all across England less than a month before that Henry had actually been about to take the unprecedented step of formally naming his natural son—his only son—heir to the throne of England over Katherine of Aragon’s and Anne Boleyn’s daughters.

  No one would ever know now if he had truly meant to do it.

  His son; her son—precious Harry had been destined for greatness. He was meant to be Henry IX.

  As Bess followed a porcine, tottering Cromwell down the long private corridor, her mind, still full of memories, caught and eddied on bright, sharp moments and images through the years. They tugged at her, bidding her to remember how a tender girl from the Shropshire countryside had wound up here at the court of Henry VIII, so naive yet so full of ambitious dreams—mistress to a king; mother of the King of England’s only son.

  Oh, yes, I shall go to court one day. . . . She heard her own voice echo across time, tumbling forward through her memories. When I grow up, I may even meet the king. Just you watch and see. . . .

  When they reached the small rounded door, Cromwell turned back to her. His face was full, his snub nose was red, and his expression bore the barest trace of empathy.

  “There is a secret staircase leading to the king’s bedchamber beyond this door, my lady,” he said. “You may be some comfort to each other, if he will see you.”

  “He shall see me. And I know well the way,” Bess replied, turning the handle, its movement taking her very swiftly back in time. Each shadowy, winding step was like a year she had passed as the woman Henry VIII had met, loved, and had very nearly made his queen. . . .

  PART I

  The First Step . . .

  A journey of a thousand miles

  Must begin with a single step.

  —LAO TZU

  Chapter One

  June 1513

  Kinlet, Shropshire

  “Bess, wait!”

  Hearing nothing but the wind, she raced back across the broad, waving carpet of emerald grass dotted with rich bluebells, a full pace ahead of her siblings. A canopy of azure dipped low to the horizon, meeting the shadowy stand of oaks ahead, on this Midsummer’s Day. Her rich rose-colored skirts billowed out behind her so fully that she felt as if she might actually fly as the image of their father blossomed in her mind, kindling the excitement of seeing him. Of the six Blount children, she was his favorite, and these months had felt a lifetime to a girl of fourteen. Her mother had just returned from King Henry’s court, where she served in the queen’s household, and now her father was home from the war in France. All would be well with the world—at least with their own little world here in the countryside.

  Tell us of the king, Father! Do tell us again!

  Words echoed across memories, and images tumbled between them as her heart raced. In her mind, she was sitting on her father’s knee, rubbing her forefinger over the smooth plane of his square jaw. He had always resembled a statue, she thought—chiseled, young, magnificent. Surely there could be no other father like Sir John Blount. Shortly after that, he had nobly gone off to France to fight alongside the king in order to reclaim English land. It was like something from a great romance, her mother drawing him to her and whispering devotions in his ear with tears in her eyes and her chin quivering as his great warrior bay stood ready in the distance. Bess and the other children had lingered silently nearby.

  Mother had been home for only a few hours to be with her beloved. Still, that must have been something of a sacrifice, Bess thought, leaving the exciting court and its romantic, fascinating sovereign.

  “He’s a handsome sort, tall as a tree, and trim. His Majesty can hunt and sing—”

  “And joust!” Bess had chimed, knowing the details well, yet still loving how her father recounted the tale, as he did with Lancelot and other magical adventures he read to them, filling their heads with fantasy and possibility.

  “Yes, after jousts he can dance on into the night, besting everyone!”

  Bess was faster than the others now, and more eager, as she dashed up the brick steps outside the house and scrambled through the vast entry hall, her footfalls softened by the Turkish carpets. She was determined to be first to greet her father once they had heard the sounding of the trumpet announcing his return. It had been almost a year since he had left.

  George and Robert, her two brothers closest in age, were not far behind. Their little sister, Isabella, fell back and cried out again.

  “I shall tell Master Clarke, and he is going to flog the lot of you properly for leaving me!” the little girl stubbornly warned, using their sour-faced tutor as a threat.


  Predictably, they all ignored the stout, rosy-cheeked little girl behind them, who always insisted on tagging along. Bess keenly felt the thump of anticipation in her slim chest as she sailed around the corner and into the drawing room, which bore a massive wall of leaded windows with panes shaped like diamonds and a heraldic panel in colored glass. Then she stopped so suddenly that both boys crashed into her as if she were a wall. The wounded man, covered in blankets and lying on a litter, was not her father, her mind said, yet her heart knew that he was.

  For a moment, Bess stopped breathing. Her hands fell limply to her sides; her lower lip dropped. She could not force herself to move forward. He frightened her, this old-looking man with the gaunt cheeks, gray skin, and hollow dark eyes. He did not even sense her presence or call for her approach as he usually would have done.

  There’s my poppet! Come give us a proper kiss.

  The memory of his kind voice, so full of command from a year ago, shook her now, and Bess squeezed her eyes to chase it away as she fixed her gaze on someone who was not the man she remembered. This man was weak, defeated, and without the shine of the sun that once had so defined him. This was the last thing she expected. He seemed a stranger.

 
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