Thursday 25 February 2016

'Amice and the Mercenary' - Sequel to 'Mistress Angel'. OUT NOW!

Amice is a mistress of sugar and spices but is she always mistress of her heart?

England in the summer of 1357 is a nervous, triumphant place. The English king holds the King of France hostage—but there are plots afoot to see this French monarch assassinated. Duke Henry begs beautiful Amice, the spice seller, for her help to counter and reveal such plots. Amice is an expert in the secrets of spices and poisons. She agrees to help for her own personal reason—revenge. 

But Amice must work in the glittering, dangerous world of the royal court, snubbed and mocked for her own dark-skinned beauty, until she is rescued by the notorious mercenary, Harry Swynford—charming, charismatic, and lethal.

In the shifting alliances of the court, which side is Harry Swynford on? In this world of poison among the feasts, can Amice stop an assassin in time? Harry has his own games to play, and although she is powerfully attracted to him, Amice is wary. Lives—including her own—are at stake.

Can their happiness last, or will their enemies tear them apart? What price revenge against true love?.


Chapter 1

Summer, Kent, 1357

 “I need your help,” Duke Henry said. “I need your help to guard the king of France.”
Amice said nothing. She and the duke sat together at her best friend’s wedding, drinking French wine and watching the other guests dance. Throughout the simple country marriage feast, Duke Henry had spoken of the great golden beauty of the bride Isabella, of the good fortune of Stephen, the bridegroom, and of the mild summer weather—all safe, conventional subjects. His leaning toward her now and speaking of the guardianship of kings was unexpected. She raised her dark eyebrows.
Duke Henry lowered his voice still further. “I need someone with a knowledge of plants, medicines and spices, like yourself, a woman with a knowledge of sugar. The reward for such an undertaking will be generous, very generous.”
Listening, Amice was in no haste to commit herself. To a less powerful man than the duke she might have said, “What is the captured French king to me? Why should I care to watch over him against an assassin?” Instead, she asked, “You fear an attack against this mighty hostage? You fear he might sicken or even die and you will be blamed because he is in your charge?”
“I do,” the duke answered, frowning over his wine. “This is an angry time, a time of war and trouble.”
And knights and nobles live for such times. Again, Amice remained silent.
After a sigh, the duke continued. “There are many who might wish to strike against my royal captive. Perhaps an angry Englishman, who believes all Frenchmen are the spawn of the devil.”
“Or Charles of Navarre,” Amice remarked. “He does not lack ambition.”
“True, ‘tis true,” the duke grunted. “It may even be one of the French King’s subjects, one who does not wish to pay his ransom.”
“And you believe I can help. Why? I am no warrior.”
“But you know poisons,” the duke countered.
“As do your food tasters,” Amice answered. “Or you could have the king drink from a cup made from the horn of a unicorn to neutralize the poison.”
“I will do both,” Duke Henry agreed. “But I need still more.”
“I do not blend in,” Amice said, interested to see how Duke Henry responded to that truth. Her parents had been Londoners like herself, but her grandparents were African. She was as dark as Saint Maurice. Even at home, people stared at her in the street.
“That is all to the good,” the duke said quickly. “Tall and handsome, striking as you are, you will attract notice.” He smiled, a look of surprising sweetness. “They will see your beauty and naught else. You will be stationed close to the serving tables, if it please you.”
“To watch for a poisoner? That will be a large undertaking.”
Duke Henry sighed. “I know it will be difficult, Amice, but if you are willing to pretend to work there, you would be another pair of eyes. You have expertise my servants do not have. King Jean—King John in the English way—has a particular liking for almond dragees and anise in confit at the end of every meal.”
Sweets, spiced and difficult to create. Their taste would mask much, including poison. “I can make those.” And watch perhaps as other sweets are made.
“Stephen told me that was likely. That you are a superb cook of sweets. Is it true that your mother trained in Italy and learned all the secrets of sugar?”
“She lived there for a time, yes.” Amice replied. Isabella has been bragging on my behalf to Stephen. And what else has Isabella’s new husband told the duke? “Does the French king not have his own people watching him? His own food-tasters?”
“Of course. King John has many tasters. But still it would be embarrassing if they detected poison, especially in a dish or a confit made solely for the king.”
“I see.” How strange. This king is his captive yet the duke still wishes to be regarded as a perfect host.
Duke Henry glanced away to the dancers again. “I trust my own tasters, of course, but not all of them have your skill and knowledge, especially with spices and sugar.”
Very prettily put, but Amice realized then that the duke did not entirely trust all those within his household. She decided to be blunt. “I will not work in the main kitchen.”
Duke Henry flushed to the roots of his fair hair and looked horrified at the idea. “A young woman such as yourself amidst those raging fires and sweating, half-naked scullions? Indeed, I would not ask that of you. No women work in my kitchens. Women do not work in kitchens. You will be in the still room, with my wife Isabel and her ladies.”
Amice wondered why he felt it needful to stress this. In great houses, castles and palaces, the cooks were all men. If I venture anywhere where food is prepared I shall stand out. But then I do already. “Your wife agrees to this?”
Now Duke Henry looked surprised. “Of course.”
“Shall I wear your livery?”
Duke Henry shook his head. “You are elegant enough already.”
Amice inclined her head at the compliment, glad to hide her eyes as she thought furiously. If I agree to this and I am mostly in the still room , does it mean he suspects a woman? Has there already been trouble? “And for other kinds of assassins?” she prompted.
“King John has Sir Gilles in his household, a most capable warrior, and Harry Swynford, Gilles’s captain.” Duke Henry sniffed. “Swynford is your true mercenary. He is English, but he fights for any side that pays him. Sir Gilles rates him highly.”
Amice was glad that her coloring did not betray her feelings, although she felt as if an arrow had pierced her. “Sir Gilles of Picardy?” She spoke with seeming unconcern. “I had heard he was dead, cut down in a skirmish in Normandy.” Her beloved older brother Nigel had told her this on his death-bed and she had believed him. Why should I not, when Sir Gilles was the one who gave Nigel his death-blow?
But now Duke Henry shook his head. “Sir Gilles is very much alive.”
“What kind of man is he? Tall, dark, fair?”
“The report is that he is a good man to have your back in a fight….” came back the frustrating answer.
“Truly?” I know that to be wrong, thought Amice grimly, recalling what her brother had said.
“….The fellow has a massive bushy beard, very black. Once seen, never forgotten. Do you know him?”
“Not at all,” Amice replied at once. “The man is a stranger to me.” And beards, however big and bushy can be shaved off, so I still have no real notion of what Sir Gilles looks like. That however, could wait for the moment. “When do you wish me to start?”
“Soon,” Duke Henry said, with another heavy sigh. “As soon as you can.”
“I will see my Isabella and her Stephen on their honeymoon, and then I will come,” Amice promised, her heart beating furiously. Nigel had been so certain that the Frenchman had not survived, that he had seen the man cut down. To cross the path of this Sir Gilles now, she would close up her London spice shop and live at the duke’s palace of the Savoy for as long as it took. This English mercenary, this Harry Swynford, he will not stop me in my quest. For all he has done, Sir Gilles deserves to die. He will do so at my hand. The French king I will watch, too, but only for the chance of revenging myself on that French knight. Let my golden Isabella be settled and happy and then I shall begin.

Prairie Rose Publications.

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Now read about Amice as a character in Mistress Angel.

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