Letter of Love
by Virginia Henley
Original Copyright 1996 © Virginia Henley
Ebook copyright July, 2011 © Virginia Henley
Cover Copyright 2011 © Marsha Canham
First published by Leisure Books, January 1996. All rights reserved. No part of this may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical without permission in writing from Virginia Henley.
"Your mother was a willful little jade," the queen said, thumping her first on the magnificently carved desk. "Some maggot in her brain made her throw away her position of maid of honor by making that disastrous marriage with a common spy, rather than accept the union I had arranged for her with the Earl of Devon. Even the flamboyant name she chose for you flouted convention."
Burgundy Bedford stood silently before Elizabeth, thinking the queen looked like a corpse that had been resurrected. How she hated this bitch of a woman! Well, if Bess thought her mother had been willful, she would soon learn that Burgundy Bedford was even more headstrong and unbiddable!
Elizabeth's red wig screamed its falseness to the world, making Burgundy wonder if her own abundant wine-colored tresses had triggered this tirade against her mother. The queen was overdressed in silver gauze, slashed with red taffeta. Pearls and rubies studded the lining of the high-collared gown. In contrast, Burgundy wore one of the queen's castoffs in dark green velvet.
"Before you follow in your mother's footsteps, I have made arrangements for you to marry into that same noble family." The queen's expression altered for the worse as she smiled. "The husband I have chosen for you is Lord Nicholas Mountjoy. So you see, I hold no grudge against your mother, who was, after all, my dear friend at one time."
So the rumor Burgundy had heard was true! Elizabeth was marrying off her profligate favorite before he scattered any more bastards about her realm. Well, she'd be damned if she'd have the queen's leavings! Burgundy lowered her lashes so that the shrewd Elizabeth would not see the rebellion in her eyes. She curtsied. "Thank you, Your Majesty," she said sweetly, trying not to recoil as Elizabeth presented her beringed, bony fingers for Burgundy's kiss of homage and gratitude.
"Lord Mountjoy is without. I think it is time you two met each other."
Burgundy's lashes flew up to reveal shocked surprise in her violet eyes. As if by magic the anteroom door swung open to admit the broad-shouldered Earl of Devon. She was trapped!
His black eyes swept her from head to toe before he gave his complete attention to the queen.
"Nicholas!" Elizabeth greeted him intimately. Her voice was the only thing still beautiful about her.
He was one of the Queen's Gentlemen, an elite corps of royal bodyguards, and clearly in the inner ring of the court's charmed circle.
"Your Majesty... Bess," he replied in a tone equally as intimate as hers.
Burgundy watched the byplay between the aging monarch and her arrogant courtier with distaste. With both hands Elizabeth opened the front of her gown as if she were too hot, so that the whole of her bosom was visible! Finally the queen tore her eyes from the powerful male before her.
"Mistress Bedford, I present Lord Nicholas Mountjoy, Earl of Devon, who has graciously agreed to become your husband. I hope you realize the enormous honor he does you, for though your grandfather is a baron, his estate is much diminished and your mother's marriage to a commoner made you plain Mistress Bedford."
Burgundy's chin went up.
"Mistress Bedford could never be 'plain,' Your Majesty," Mountjoy asserted.
"Pish, sirrah! Continue your wooing in yon garden, not in my presence, you rogue!"
"Glorianna's radiance can never be eclipsed." He bestowed a passionate kiss upon his sovereign's hand.
The queen's fan tapped Burgundy on the breast in a signal of dismissal and perhaps envy. "This marriage will unite two great shipping families, which will benefit not only yourselves, but England. I trust you are mindful of this great honor, mistress."
Burgundy curtsied once more, then withdrew from the Queen's Presence Chamber, her back as stiff as a ramrod.
Nicholas Mountjoy's lips twitched with secret amusement as he followed the curvaceous beauty out into the formal gardens of Hampton Court Palace. "A stroll in the maze, perhaps?" the deep voice behind her suggested.
Burgundy spun about, hands on hips. "My lord, I beg you not to sacrifice yourself upon a commoner." Her voice dripped with sweet sarcasm.
"Your blood is good enough, I warrant," he drawled lazily.
"I have no doubt of it," she said coldly, 'but since a Mountjoy wasn't good enough for my mother, a Mountjoy certainly isn't good enough for me, sir!"
His dark brows drew together and his jaw clenched as he suppressed his anger at the insult. Like mother, like daughter. Lady Jane had spurned his father, so Burgundy would refuse him. "Your mother caused a fine scandal when she flouted the queen's wishes. Surely you are not so reckless, Mistress Bedford?"
"That is the last insult I shall ever suffer from you about my mother!" she flared. "Must she be condemned forever?"
"I am happy she did not wed my father... that would make us brother and sister and tempt me to incest."
Burgundy said coldly, "You may be an earl, sir, but you are certainly no gentleman!"
"My reputation precedes me," he mocked.
She nodded stiffly. "And your presence offends me. I prithee, begone."
"I don't dismiss so easily," he said, taking her wrist in a vise-like grip before she could escape. "Stop this nonsense, mistress. The queen wishes this match and has arranged for the marriage to take place while I am on leave from Ireland."
"Remove your hand from my person, sir, before I stab it with my bodkin." Her voice almost froze him.
Before Nicholas Mountjoy had come into the garden, he had been indifferent about Elizabeth's choice of bride for him; that it pleased the queen was enough. He was indifferent no longer. The wench was an instant challenge. He decided to have the little bitch at any price.
"You are an ice queen in need of a damn good thawing." He pulled her into his arms and kissed her. Thoroughly.
Burgundy forced herself to remain passive until he loosened his hold; then she drew back her hand and slapped him full in the face. "You arrogant swine!" she hissed.
Nicholas was amused again. It was the first time he'd ever been slapped before he had his hand beneath a lady's skirts.
She fought back a retort that she would not marry him because she wanted another. No one must learn of Anthony Russell, a fellow spy of her father's who had been wooing her for almost a year. Her mind darted about like quicksilver. She must contact Tony; they would have to elope. He'd been pressing her to it for months, and now she wished she had listened to him.
The autumn wind suddenly rustled the fallen leaves amidst the Michaelmas daisies. Burgundy's lashes swept to her cheeks. She shuddered. "Let me go, my lord. I'm cold."
"So I've discovered," he taunted.
Her lashes lifted, and he felt the full impact of blazing violet. His mouth curved. "Burgundy should be warmed by the hands before being tasted," he said softly, freeing her wrist, but enjoying the flush upon her cheek before she fled.