An accomplished debut set in 1560 at the Court of Queen Elizabeth I. Impoverished young widow Ursula Blanchard, whose mother had served Queen Elizabeth's mother, has agreed to join Elizabeth's Ladies of the Presence Chamber. Estranged from her own and her late husband's families, she leaves behind her faithful groom John Wilton and puts small daughter Meg in the care of nursemaid Bridget. Once at Court, Ursula grows quickly aware of gossip about the young, unmarried Queen and her Master of the Horse, Robin Dudley. Dudley's wife Amy is said to be dying (amid rumors of poisoning) at Cumnor Place, some miles away. Her death, of course, would free Dudley to marry the Queen--an unpopular idea in many high places. Meanwhile, Ursula has acquired a suitor of her own--the wealthy Frenchman Matthew de la Roche--but when Dudley asks her to move to Cumnor Place, to comfort Amy (and perhaps to stop the rumors), she readily agrees. The handsome salary will help to pay Bridget, her own maid Fran Dale, and newly rehired John Wilton. Ursula finds Cumnor Place a strange household where steward Forster rules with tightfisted authority, and she comes to believe that there is a plot on Amy's life. Events prove her right, but other plots are also afoot, one of them setting Ursula on a slippery path of self-denial and discovery. The pseudonymous Buckley, a British author who's written other nonmystery fiction, maintains high suspense throughout a lively debut that's filled with vivid characters, religious conflict, subplots, and power plays. Ursula is the essence of iron cloaked in velvet--a heroine to reckon with.