English noblewoman searches for her abducted infant, aided by a master spy in the court, circa 1550.
Her mother-in-law, the formidable dowager countess of Bryanston, insists that the baby boy was stillborn. Yet Lady Penelope knows that she heard her child’s first cry and demands to at least see the body. The strange women attending Pen will say only that the infant had to be buried immediately due to the unusually hot summer weather. Her own mother, Lady Kendal (the remarried Lady Guinevere Mallory of The Widow’s Kiss, 2001), rescues her, but Pen recuperates slowly. Her husband Philip, the eldest Bryanston son, would have been the next earl had he not died only months earlier of a mysterious wasting illness. Philip was sensitive, musical, highly intelligent—and despised by his cruel, ambitious mother, who has always favored the loutish Miles, a fool but biddable. Meanwhile, back at the court of boy-king Edward VI, Lady Pen serves as confidante and companion to Princess Mary. The bloodthirsty excesses of Henry VIII have taken their toll, and the court is rife with intrigue. The French ambassador favors the Catholic faction, of course, but the Protestant dukes of Northumberland and Suffolk would be happy to plunder the church’s riches in the name of their relatively new religion. As Mary’s confidante, Pen may well prove a useful pawn, so ambassador Antoine de Noailles sets his spymaster, Owen D’Arcy, to woo the lovely widow. Owen is skilled at swordplay, strategy, skullduggery—and seduction—and he gains Pen’s trust by believing her story and helping her search for the boy (who would now be two) in London’s seamiest streets and brothels. It turns out that Miles was assigned to get rid of his nephew by fair means or foul, and, typically, had botched the job. Pen discovers two very young boys at last, thin and filthy—but which one is hers?
Another genre winner from Feather, done with skill, sensuality, and brio.