Fri
May 19 2017 12:00pm

Sharon Cullen Excerpt: Wed to a Spy

Sharon Cullen

Wed to a Spy by Sharon Cullen

Blistering seduction meets international intrigue in the Highlands as a veteran spy infiltrates the court of Mary, Queen of Scots. There he matches wits against a tantalizing enemy: his new wife.
 
Simon Marcheford wants nothing more than to settle down on the land bestowed upon him by the English crown. Queen Elizabeth, however, is not about to let her best spy retire so easily. Simon will have his reward, she decrees, after he completes one last mission in Scotland. But no sooner has he sussed out a diabolical plot up North than Queen Mary weds him to her cousin—an exquisite beauty with troubled, soulful eyes—and orders Simon to watch her every move.
 
Aimee de Verris is no spy. But her life may depend on becoming one. Banished from the French court by Catherine de Medici, Aimee finds herself tasked with reporting on Queen Mary’s activities in Scotland, where she’s unnerved by the frigid weather and brutish customs. Worst of all, Aimee’s been married off to a most uncouth lout. But when murder strikes, she learns to appreciate Simon’s talent for shielding her with every inch of his muscular frame. If Aimee desires her husband, perhaps she could trust him—or even love him.

Get a sneak peek at Sharon Cullen's Wed to a Spy (available May 23, 2017) with an exclusive excerpt of a selected scene.

Chapter 1

Holyrood Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland
March 1566

My dearest Pierre,

Scotland is a dreadful place, cold and damp and inhospitable. I do not know how these people live in such deplorable conditions or how they thrive without the warm sun that so often shines on my beloved France.

My sorrow and misery is doubled—nay, tripled—without your presence beside me. I lay my head on my pillow every night and dream of you.

I miss you so, Pierre. I had never believed such nonsense as a broken heart, but I believe it now. Mine is shattered into a thousand tiny shards and will not be whole again until we are reunited.

I live for that day, dream of it at every moment. I will stay chaste for you, as I promised. I will not even look upon another man, for you are the only man for me.

Yours always,
Aimee

Catherine,

Scotland is as you described it. The people are welcoming and kind. I have formed a special bond with Queen Mary, as you had hoped, and we get along well. She is a good queen to her people—

Aimee de Verris threw her quill down, unable to continue with the lies she was attempting to tell her aunt Catherine de Medici. Oh, how she hated her aunt. Aimee looked longingly at her letter to Pierre and stroked the parchment, remembering the feel of his hands in hers, of his cheek pressed against her own. The parchment was a pale second to her Pierre.

With a frustrated growl, she stood and paced restlessly to the window to look out onto the cold landscape of Scotland. She was absolutely certain she would never be warm again. It was a cold that seeped into one’s bones and took up residence there. No matter how high her maid built the fire, Aimee was never warm. She snatched a thick shawl from the chair next to her and wrapped herself up in it, fighting tears of frustration and longing.

What was Pierre doing at this very moment? No doubt he was warm, but did he miss her as much as she missed him? Did he look at the moon as she did and wonder what she was doing at that very moment?

Her hatred for Catherine de Medici burned bright, but it was a cold hatred.

Aimee was Catherine’s spy, through no choice of her own. Just thinking of the night that had changed her entire world made Aimee want to shudder in fear. Catherine had stumbled across Aimee and Pierre in an intimate embrace. Catherine’s wrath was legendary. It was rumored that she beat her own children, and Aimee had been terrified that Catherine would unfurl that wrath on her and Pierre. Pierre had bravely stepped in front of Aimee and shielded her with his body. It was something Aimee would always remember. She’d felt so safe and protected and loved by Pierre.

But Pierre could not protect Aimee forever, and soon enough Catherine had exacted her revenge. She told Aimee that she was being sent to Mary’s court in Scotland. Aimee’s pleas fell on deaf ears. Her promises that Pierre loved her and wanted to marry her were scoffed at. Catherine had looked at her in disdain when, distraught, Aimee had fallen to her knees at Catherine’s feet and begged her not to send her away.

“If you think I will allow you to wed one such as him, you are touched in the head. He is not the one for you.”

Aimee had been stunned. Pierre came from an impeccable lineage. It was a coup for Aimee to have landed him, but none of that mattered to her. Pierre loved her. He’d told her so. And she loved him, and that was all that mattered.

Catherine had openly laughed at the proclamation of love. “You are a bigger fool than I thought. My sister should have sent you to me long ago. I fear it is too late to reform your harlot ways. Scotland will be good for you.” And then she’d outlined exactly what Aimee was to do in Scotland.

“I am being sent to the wilds of a barbaric country for something that I am not ashamed of,” Aimee had said to Catherine, her love for Pierre making her foolish and impetuous. “You are convinced that Pierre and I are not fit for each other and will never marry, so why should I do this thing for you?”

Catherine’s thunderous expression almost had Aimee backing down, but she’d thought of Pierre bravely standing in front of her and known that she could do no less for him.

To her surprise, Catherine’s expression had slowly lessened to thoughtfulness. “You are right, of course. You have no incentive to do as I say while you are ‘banished,’ as you call it. Send me reports on the Scottish queen, detailed reports that tell me what she is up to, and I will allow you to return to the French court. If Pierre is still waiting, you may have him.”

Shivering from the deep cold that seeped through the dark stone of Holyrood Palace, drawn away from her reveries, Aimee swiped at a lone tear and headed back to the escritoire, where she put her finished letter to Pierre and her unfinished letter to Catherine in a drawer beneath her prayer book.

Catherine was expecting a report from Aimee on Mary’s activities, but Aimee had nothing to report. Mary had been kind to her, and they had exchanged stories of growing up in France, but that was the extent of their conversations. If Catherine thought Queen Mary would divulge all her secrets to Aimee, then she was sorely mistaken.

A scratch at the door preceded her maid entering. “What gown will you be wearing tonight, my lady?”

Aimee closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. “Whatever you think is best, Hannah.”

Hannah went about the room, picking up this and that, presumably putting together Aimee’s clothing for the evening. Another evening spent with Mary and her entourage, pretending that she was happy and that she actually wanted to be here, when her heart was really in France with Pierre.

Arrived from Spain a few months before, Simon spotted Will right away in Mary’s Presence Chamber, but as always, they didn’t acknowledge each other. Simon made his way to the edge of the room and positioned himself close to the musicians. Mary was on the other side of the room, which was surprising. She held these salons nightly but most nights was absent from them. She was sickly, they said. An ailment that baffled all her physicians and was particularly concerning as she was carrying within her the next king or queen of Scotland.

Tonight she was in the far corner with the Maries—an odd group of four women who had been with Mary and served her all her life. All were named Marie, and they were fiercely loyal to their queen.

Will scanned the room and noted that Rizzio, Mary’s most trusted adviser, was present, as well as James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, the man in charge of Mary’s security and, some said, the power behind her throne. Simon observed Bothwell from afar, not at all trusting the loudmouthed man whom Mary seemed to admire.

Conspicuously absent was the king, Lord Darnley. But his absence was not surprising, as it was known by all that the king and queen did not get along well. How they had managed to create a child without killing each other was beyond Simon.

Scattered about was the typical gaggle of richly dressed, brightly colored courtesans, huddled in groups here and there, talking, laughing, and generally being a nuisance. Good Lord, but had he ever been that young and naive? He certainly hoped not but feared so.

His wandering gaze landed on a lone woman standing at the edge of the group. He remembered seeing her before but had never had the pleasure of meeting her. For some reason, she always caught his attention when they were in a room together. It had to be her midnight-black hair or the contrast of her light gray eyes. She was always flitting silently through the room, occasionally speaking to Mary or the other women. He never saw her flirt. In fact, she tended to shy from the men in the room.

Simon watched in amusement as she made her way toward the queen in a roundabout fashion. She definitely had a purpose tonight as she edged toward Mary and the entourage of Maries. He wondered what it was that had her so focused.

The musicians struck up their tune, and the crowds merged together then re-formed into different groupings, and he lost sight of the dainty little magpie.

***
Copyright © 2017 by Sharon Cullen.
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Learn more about or order a copy of Wed to a Spy by Sharon Cullen, available May 23, 2017:

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Sharon Cullen is the USA Today bestselling author of the Highland Pride series (Sutherland’s Secret, MacLean’s Passion, Campbell’s Redemption) as well as many novels of Regency romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, and contemporary romance. If you’d like to find out more about the author and her books, you can visit her blog or her website. She is addicted to social networking, so you can find her on Facebook and Twitter. Friend her! Like her! Follow her! She’d love to hang out with you and talk about her passion: books.

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