The Uncrowned Queen: A Novel

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9780340836521: The Uncrowned Queen: A Novel

The thrilling climax to the trilogy that began with The Innocent and The Exiled brings Posie Graeme-Evans's bittersweet story of two lovers divided by the throne of England to its dramatic conclusion.

As England tears itself apart in the War of the Roses, Anne de Bohun lives far from the intrigues of cities and courts. Once King Edward IV's mistress, Anne has found safety with their son in Brugge. But now Edward himself is a hunted fugitive, and Anne's real father, King Henry VI, rules again from Westminster. Summoned by an enigmatic message from her lover, Anne is drawn once more to the passion, the excitement, and the deadly danger that Edward brings into her life. But now, the girl who was once a penniless servant has a child to protect and an inheritance to defend. Can she let her love for Edward threaten everything she has? Or will she need his help to protect her from the powerful enemy who means to destroy her?

Boasting an extraordinary heroine and intense, intersecting plots, The Uncrowned Queen is a dazzling and satisfying finale to Anne de Bohun's incredible story.

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About the Author:

Posie Graeme-Evans has worked in the Australian film and television industry for the last twenty-five years as an editor, director, and producer on hundreds of prime-time television programs, including McLeod's Daughters and Hi-5. She lives in Sydney with her husband and creative partner, Andrew Blaxland. Visit her website at www.posie-graeme-evans.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Snow was falling again. Soft, lazy flakes. She tasted them. Held up her hands to catch them. They touched her like a kiss.

There were footprints in the fallen snow. Large. Not hers. Marks made by a man. But they were old, the edges of the outlines rounded, blurred. The man was long gone. She looked down at her own red shoes. Would she fit her feet within the marks the man had made? They led away across the white field toward the fence of trees that was the edge of the forest. Stark black trunks, limbs burdened, clotted with snow. Yes.

Suddenly convinced, she hurried forward, the deep, soft powder creaking beneath her Spanish slippers. But she was hot, not cold, as she stepped into the hollows of the footprints in the snow. She had to stretch to match his stride -- he'd been tall, this man -- and she could feel it in her thighs, her knees.

And then she was among the trees, breathless, starting to hurry, trying to run, trying not to flounder, stumbling on though her skirts were wet and heavy. Her mantle was a burden. Throw it away, that was best, she would not be so hot. Impatiently she dragged at the cloak pin, a gold dragon with milk-white eyes of pearl. It ripped the heavy velvet as she tugged, but she didn't care. She threw the precious garment down beside a naked hawthorn tree, the last blood-dark berries shriveled on the twigs, some caught into icicles, the fingers of winter. Perhaps she would come back and find the blue cloak later. Only perhaps.

She was strong, she knew that, but every part of her was in pain as she struggled to be faithful to the marks in the snow, her chest heaving with the effort of moving forward, plowing forward. The footprints led her on. She allowed herself to feel hope now, to believe that she was close. That soon, if only she ignored the agony in her knees, her side, her throat, she would find him, the man who'd made them. She was clear on that -- she wanted that. She must find him, ask him why he had . . . what? Gone on this weary journey, of course, when all the world was deep asleep, locked in the depths of rigid winter.

And it made her happy, knowing she would find him, so happy that nothing else mattered. She would see this man, touch him, hold his face between her hands. She would feel the sharp day-old stubble on his skin, she would taste his mouth softly, and he would hold her. Not concentrating, Anne stumbled, falling suddenly into the cold, soft snow. She laughed. She liked snow, liked the feel of it, only it was important to brush it off quickly so the cold did not travel to the skin. First she would sit up, then she would stand, and then . . .

She saw the wolf. Smelled her. This white world had no smell, but the wolf did -- a rank, dog-slobber stench. The creature was yellow-eyed, all sinew, no fat this deep in winter. Ravenous, and pregnant. Anne was fresh meat, a happy bonus in the frozen world of the wolf.

Anne heard herself scream, the sound given up from deep in her chest, as the wolf sprang. The animal's weight hit her and teeth, hard yellow teeth, ripped and connected within her throat; blood, blood was everywhere. White pain, white snow and blood, a sea of blood, soft red blood. How could blood be so soft?

The wolf was shaking her now, shaking Anne's shoulder. Addressing her, while ripping at her tender flesh.

"Anne? Anne, all is well. Anne?"

Yes, perhaps all would be well. Dying was easy; she'd always known that. Anne sighed. These were the last things she would ever feel; she allowed her hands to pat the soft red snow as her body flopped this way and that, shaken by the wolf as the creature went about her work.

"Anne? Wake now, sweetheart. Wake!"

It was the counterpane -- red silk and goose down, that was all. Her hand was white against it and there was no blood.

"No blood?"

Deborah, Anne's foster mother, swallowed acid fear as she held the girl tight against her own body. "No blood. All's well now."

The dream had gone but the forest had not quite left Anne de Bohun. She still saw the footprints leading her on. Old footprints, lost in the snow. The girl closed her eyes against tears as Deborah kissed her brow, soothed damp, tangled hair back from her face.

Anne knew who the man was now. Edward Plantagenet.

"Will you pray before the break-fast?" Deborah's tone was carefully brisk, formal, as she tidied the bed. Anne was glad, suddenly, that her foster mother -- her housekeeper in the eyes of the world -- was practical. She was right. It was time to begin the day, time to leave the night world, and there was much to be done as autumn approached winter. They must also think about protecting the farm from brigands, in these uncertain times. For that they would need money.

Anne sat up, huddling the bedclothes around her bare shoulders. It was dark still but the branch of candles on the shelf beside the fire made a show of challenging the gloom, as did the fire on its newly built hearth.

"Yes, I should like to pray with the household. But I've slept late. Perhaps I'm the last down and they're all about their work already?"

Deborah, splashing hot water from an ewer into the washing bowl by the fire, smiled at the girl in the great bed.

"Do not distress yourself. We've all been working hard these weeks with the harvest. You most of all, and -- " She'd been about to say, "You needed a good sleep," but stopped herself. There'd been far too many nightmares recently, as this last night showed.

Anne was determined the wolf's shadow would not enter her daylight world. Slipping down from the high mattress, she groped on the boards beneath the bed for her felt house slippers. "And little Edward?" Anne shivered, naked, toward the fire and the comfort of the dressing mantle -- an extravagance from her former life.

"In the kitchen. A matter of new bread, I think. He could smell it when he woke."

Both women laughed and the dark air moved and shifted with the sound. Anne's son, the boy she called her nephew, was three, though tall for his age, quick, and speaking well. She was proud that many people, on first meeting him, thought him at least five. She would laugh and say, "Ah, yes. It's the good food he gets here. He grows like a weed outside the town. Boys need space."

There was always comfort in the ritual of washing and dressing for Anne and Deborah. It was almost the only time during the day that they could expect to be alone together; that was, if the noisy boy they both so deeply loved was not bouncing around on the great bed, demanding that they both hurry, hurry, down to the kitchen and break-fast.

"House dress, or fine?"

"House dress, Deborah. We've much to do today."

Anne avoided her foster mother's glance. Their current situation was her responsibility and it weighed on her. Hoping for greater freedom outside the narrow life of the city, she'd brought them all to this little farm beyond the walls of Brugge. Yet now that war, rumored and actual, was spreading through Europe, she could not avoid the uncertainty of their situation. There were hard questions to be asked. And there were no easy answers.

Preoccupied, Anne washed herself quickly in the warming air. Light from candles and the fire touched her body like a loving hand. She was gracefully made, with curving hips; a straight, well-muscled back; high, delicate breasts with tawny rose nipples -- larger for having had a child -- and strong, slender arms and legs from all the work she did.

Deborah sighed and turned away to find the girl a house dress. There were so many things they did not speak of anymore. Marriage, that was what Anne needed. A real flesh-and-blood marriage, not an insubstantial, passionate dream that receded, day by day, into enchanted mist. Marriage was an alliance, a contract designed for mutual aid and support between a man and a woman; such a contract would protect Anne and the boy and her household as the constant dangerous wrangling between Burgundy and France escalated. It was a shame, and a waste, that nearly two years since their last meeting, her foster daughter still yearned for the one man she could not have. Edward, the English king; Edward Plantagenet, her son's father. A thousand miles away over the sea, but closer than thought to Anne -- always closer than thought.

But things changed when they needed to and there was an unexpected cause for new hope in their lives. Last night, very late, Leif Molnar had arrived from Sluys -- too late to talk, except to say he'd come from Sir Mathew. Perhaps Leif brought Anne a solution? Perhaps they would all go back to London, to Sir Mathew's house, until the wrangling between France and Burgundy resolved itself? Yet England, too, was in turmoil. There was even talk that Edward Plantagenet might lose his throne. Perhaps nowhere was safe anymore?

Deborah took a house dress down from its peg and shook it vigorously. Concentrate on the moment, banish gloom with hard work. "The worsted? It's clean still. Which sleeves would you like?"

"You choose, Deborah. I don't mind."

The kirtle was designed for work and not for show, but it was still a pretty thing. Dark red, it had several pairs of sleeves that could be swapped depending on mood. Deborah, thinking the day would be sullen, chose a set in cheerful crocus yellow, piped with blue to match the blue lacings of the dress. She knew that Anne liked color, particularly as the days drew in. The older woman also found a linen chemise for her daughter. Anne appreciated the warmth and durability of her own good woolen cloth, but was sensitive to its itch against her skin. She always had been, even as a little girl.

Footed hose, a practical luxury, were laid up in a fruitwood coffer. These would be tied beneath the knee with ribbon. Lastly, there was an apron of forest-green serge and a thick shawl, its warp bright blue wool with a startling weft of yellow silk.

Helping the girl dress, Deborah worked, crabwise, toward her design for the future. "So, what do you think our neighbors will ask for the plow land?"

As Deborah laced the kirtle, Anne stared out toward the first faint light in the east.

"I'm not cer...

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