A determined sister . . .
Madeleine Vernon’s dreams should be filled with elegant gowns and marriageable men. Instead, she dreams of avenging her brother’s death. But when she’s captured by the queen’s men, she’s forced to become a spy by her mysterious yet undeniably attractive captor.
A rakish spy . . .
After years of working for his father in Queen Elizabeth’s service, Nicholas Ryder is close to going his own way. But now he’s got a feisty beauty he must protect or risk her execution as a traitor to the crown. She’s a distraction he can’t afford, but he also can’t stop thinking about her.
A dangerous lie . . .
It is Nicholas’s job to foil plots against Elizabeth, and he sends Maddy into a household of suspected traitors to garner what information she can. As the line between captor and prisoner blurs, deceit, betrayal, and desire become a perilous mix. Ultimately, Nicholas must decide whether duty to the queen is more important than winning Maddy’s heart.
Maddy was musing on the purpose of this meeting when she heard muted hoof beats on the water-soaked ground. Stepping out to greet horse and rider, she was welcomed by a nicker from Raven, Ryder’s mount.
Ryder swiftly dismounted. “Next time be certain who you are greeting before you show yourself,” he said rather sternly.
“Had I not been expecting you, I would have.” He grasped her elbow, leading her back inside. Three walls were intact and helped block the wind. Maddy lowered the hood on her mantle and waited for him to speak.
His expression was grim. “I wished you to have this information at once. I have learned Thomas Vine’s true identity.”
Her heart jumped. “Oh?” she said, attempting to gather her wits. Maddy had remained undecided about exactly how much to confess when the time was right. If Ryder already knew Musgrave’s identity, conceivably he knew all.
He did not notice her unease, but went on speaking. “His name is John Musgrave. He’s a notorious border reiver, a brutal criminal and most likely a killer. I am considering removing you from Lanercost for your safety.”
And return me to Carlisle Castle? “Oh, pray do not! This is my only chance to save myself.” And to redeem herself. What would happen to her if Ryder carried out this plan? If his father had any say in the matter, which he most assuredly would, she would soon be sleeping on straw again. “Nicholas, I beg you!” Before thinking the better of it, Maddy grabbed hold of his doublet and yanked.
Ryder said nothing, only kept a probing gaze on her. How had she dared to lay her hands on him? Reaching out, he captured them with his own, his sage green eyes searching her face. “Do you still fear I could not protect you? I would keep you from harm, Maddy. You have become very important to me.”
And then he bent his head and kissed her. A gentle, exploring kiss. With a soft moan, she leaned into him. His arms came around her, gathering her close, kissing her more urgently. The tantalizing pressure of his tongue seeking hers made Maddy forget everything but the here and now. Nicholas smelled as clean and fresh as morning dew. The soft rustle of Raven’s grazing, the wind soughing, the rain drip-dropping off the wall, yes, she was aware of all those sounds. But nothing mattered except the warmth of his embrace and the sensual press of his lips. A fever possessed her, and when he stepped away, she wanted to lure him back. He tasted like twilight: deep, sensual, and a little mysterious.
They laughed, both of them breathless. He continued to hold her arms. “I would very much like to kiss you the night through, but I must tell you the rest.”
She nodded. “Go ahead.” Maddy hoped she could comprehend it; her senses were still attuned to other things.
All seriousness now, he said, “Musgrave is an outlaw, drafted into service by Cecil as a double agent. In the past year, he was hauled before the Council of the North because of his raiding. He got off with a warning, since they had no proof, as is often the case with these men. Their steel helms cover their faces, and of course they ride mainly at night.”
Maddy pulled away from Nicholas. “Which is why he could not be present when Sussex came to Lanercost. He would have recognized Musgrave and exposed him.”
“What is his purpose there?”
“He’s been sent to gauge the loyalty of the Protestant Dacres.”
“But that is what I am doing. Why must there be two of us?” How she wished Musgrave might be removed.
“It seems Lady Jane Dacre and her son may have differing loyalties. They want Musgrave primarily to keep an eye, jaded as it is, on Dacre.”
“Has my mission changed?”
Nicholas shook his head. “Nay. ’Tis unclear to me why Cecil needs two spies at Lanercost, but your duty will remain unchanged. Watch and observe Lady Dacre and take note of questionable behavior on the part of anybody else.”
Questionable behavior. Did her suspicions of Musgrave in Cath’s disappearance count? When Maddy thought about Cath, she was convinced his ruthlessness knew no bounds. “I found out today that the young serving girl who spurned him is missing. I’m frightened for her, Nicholas, and quite certain it’s Musgrave’s doing.” She explained what little she knew. “Can you do anything to help find her?”
“I’ll put some men on it, have them be on the lookout for her—or her body.” Nicholas gripped her shoulders. “In the meantime, you must stay away from him as much as possible.”
Trembling, she broke away from Nicholas. Now was the time to tell him, yet still she hesitated. What would he think of her? But if there was to be trust between them, there must first be truth. It was up to Maddy to convey it. She drew in a deep breath and said, “Musgrave was no stranger to me.”
A questioning brow arched. “I do not understand.”
It would be easier said if she were not facing him straight on, so she began to pace. “I was introduced to him in Carlisle, during a Midsummer celebration. It will seem difficult to believe, but back then he cut a dashing figure.” She paused and glanced at Nicholas, whose face had frozen. “He was tall, handsome, and seduced me with flattery. I was an innocent girl of nineteen years, completely taken in by it.”
“He seduced you? Did he—?”
“Bed me?” Maddy looked at him over her shoulder, wondering if her expression reflected the shame and regret she felt. “Aye.”
“God’s wounds, Madeleine! It is beyond belief that you lay with that man.” Even when he’d questioned her, she did not recall him raising his voice. Not like this.
Mistress Spy is a fast-paced story of historical espionage dealing with an aspect of history (plots involving Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots) that I have a general understanding of but not a lot of specific knowledge–I’ll admit keeping track of all the players and the details about the plots Nick and Maddy are trying to uncover was sometimes a bit of a challenge, but overall it was an enjoyable read.
I do wish the romance between Maddy and Nick had had a bit more to it for much of the book, though I suppose working for the crown and partaking in hazardous spy detail must take priority 😉 Nick’s tendency to run hot and cold, though–one minute all about his work, the next unable to stay away from Maddy–was as frustrating for the reader as it was for the heroine. He makes up for it in the end, but still.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and will definitely look for more from the author. It’s clear she puts a lot of research into her work and loves what she does. (Plus, you know–spies!!!)
Rating: 4 stars / B
I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.
Meet the Author:
Pamela Mingle is a former teacher and librarian who was fortunate enough to choose writing as a third career. Or maybe it chose her. 🙂 She loves to create romantic tales that play out against historical events and always includes some humor in her books.
Pam and her husband enjoy walking in the UK–even though she’s done her share of whining on those fifteen-mile days. The walking trips have been an ideal way to discover new settings for her books.
Pam loves to hear from readers. Go to her website, http://www.pammingle.com/ to sign up for her newsletter. Subscribers learn first about giveaways and exclusive-to-subscriber content. You can also contact her via her website.
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