The baseborn daughter of a courtesan and a lord, Marguerite was forced to fend for herself in the dangerous world of the French nobility--as the king's most feared spy.
Sent to the court of King Henry of England, Marguerite found polite words and flattery concealed dark passions. Her only friend was her old enemy, the sensually tempting Nicolai Ostrovsky. And their sinful alliance seemed set to turn her from old loyalties to new desires!
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March 31, 2008
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Excerpt from A Sinful Alliance by Amanda McCabe
The Palace of Fontainebleau, January 1527
Marguerite Dumas walked slowly down the corridor, gaze straight ahead, hands folded at her waist, her face carefully blank as she ignored the whispers of the courtiers loitering about. In her fingers she clutched the summons of the king.
She had known this day would come. A new assignment. A new mission for the Emerald Lily. If only this one ended better than the last, that night in Venice!
Marguerite paused at the end of the corridor, where a shadowed landing became a narrow staircase. Here, there was no one to see her, and she closed her eyes against the spasm of pain in her head. It was no illness, but the memory of Venice, the thought of the handsome Russian encule. The coppery, bitter taste of humiliation and failure.
The king had said nothing when she returned to Paris with her report of the Russian's escape. He had said nothing when he sent her back to her "legitimate" duties as fille d'honneur to Princess Madeleine, her ostensible reason for being at Court in the first place. There she had languished for months, walking with the other ladies in the gardens, reading to the princess, dancing at banquets. Fending off the advances of useless, arrogant courtiers.
They could do her no good, those perfumed popinjays who pressed their kisses on her in the shadows. Only one man was useful here, King Francois himself. And he maintained his distant politeness, merely nodding to her when they happened to pass in the garden or the banquet hall.
Marguerite knew the whispers, that she and the king had been lovers who were estranged now that he was involved with the Duchesse de Vendome. If they only knew the truth! They would never believe it. Not of her.
She scarcely believed it herself, in these days of quiet leisure in the princess's apartments. Had she truly ever been sent to the far corners of Europe, to defeat the enemies of France? Had she once used her wits, her hard-learned skills, to find a secret victory over those who would defy the king? It did not seem possible.
Yet at night, alone in her curtained bed, she knew it was true. Once, she had had adventures. She had won a place for herself in the wider world. Had one mistake, one instant's miscalculation, cost her all she worked for?
It had made no sense to her that she would be dismissed in only a moment, when now more than ever her special skills were needed. Since the king's humiliating defeat against the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor at Pavia, since his two sons were sent to Madrid as hostages, dark days had descended on France. Her enemies were becoming ever bolder.
Marguerite knew she could be of use in these new, dangerous games. Why, then, was she relegated to dancing and card playing? All because of the Russian, damn his un-earthly blue eyes!
But those days seemed to be at an end. She held the king's note in her hand, so tightly the parchment pressed her rings into her skin. It was time for her to redeem herself.
As she climbed the narrow, privy staircase, the sounds of hammering and sawing grew louder, more distinct, shouting of the king's new mania for building. Since his return from Spain in defeat, Francois had thrown himself into a frenzy of remodelling, of making his palaces ever grander.
Fontainebleau, one of his favourite castles thanks to the seventeen-thousand hectares of forest ripe with deer for hunting, was his latest focus. Since the Christmas festivities, so muted without the presence of the Dauphin and his brother, work was begun in earnest. The old keep of St Louis and Philipe le Beau was being demolished, replaced by something vast and modern.
Marguerite lifted the hem of her velvet skirt as she stepped over a pile of rubbish. A shower of stone dust from above nearly coated her headdress, and she hurried to the relative safety of the great gallery.
This was one of the few rooms in the place to be almost finished. A long, echoing expanse of polished parquet floor swept up to walls of pale stuccowork, inlaid dark wood in the panels of the boiserie. A few of the many planned flourishes of floral motifs, gods and goddesses, fat little Cupids, were in place, with blank spaces just waiting to be filled.
At the far end of the gallery, leaning over a table covered with sketches, was King Francois himself. He was consulting with one of the Italian artists brought in to take charge of all this splendour, Signor Fiorentino, and for the moment did not see her. Marguerite slowed her steps, studying him carefully for any sign of his thoughts and intentions. Any hint that she was truly forgiven.