Read The Virgin's War Online

Authors: Laura Andersen

The Virgin's War

BOOK: The Virgin's War
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The Virgin's War
is a work of historical fiction. Apart from the well-known actual people, events, and locales that figure in the narrative, all names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to current events or locales, or to living persons, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 by Laura Andersen

Reading group guide copyright © 2016 by Random House LLC

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

B
ALLANTINE
and the
H
OUSE
colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

R
ANDOM
H
OUSE
R
EADER'S
C
IRCLE
& Design is a registered trademark of Random House LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Andersen, Laura, author.

Title: The virgin's war : a Tudor legacy novel / Laura Andersen.

Description: New York : Ballantine Books, [2016]
|
Series: Tudor legacy

Identifiers: LCCN 2016007745 (print)
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LCCN 2016013172 (ebook)
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ISBN 9780804179409 (softcover : acid-free paper)
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ISBN 9780804179416 (ebook)

Subjects: LCSH: Elizabeth I, Queen of England, 1533-1603—Fiction.
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Great Britain—Kings and rulers—Succession—Fiction.
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Great Britain—History—Tudors, 1485-1603—Fiction.
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Inheritance and succession—Fiction.
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Queens—Great Britain—Fiction.
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BISAC: FICTION / Historical.
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FICTION / Sagas.
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FICTION / Romance / Historical.
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GSAFD: Historical fiction.

Classification: LCC PS3601.N437 V59 2016 (print)
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LCC PS3601.N437 (ebook)
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DDC 813/.6—dc23

LC record available at
http://lccn.loc.gov/​2016007745

ebook ISBN 9780804179416

randomhousereaderscircle.com

Book design by Caroline Cunningham, adapted for ebook

Cover design: Susan Zucker

Cover photograph: Jeff Cottenden

v4.1

ep

F
ifteen-year-old Pippa Courtenay woke to the blazing sun of a late July day already smiling and practically floated out of bed—before promptly falling earthbound under the onslaught of humid heat. It hadn't rained for three weeks and each day the temperatures seemed to climb higher. She would have to choose her clothing with care today if she didn't want to melt before noon.

After the briefest hesitation, she threw caution to the wind and decided to forgo a petticoat entirely. No one would know she wasn't wearing one beneath her striped blue silk kirtle. Over that she laced her lightest gown of white voile, delicately embroidered with jewel-toned flowers and vines so lifelike they appeared to twine around her as she walked. Her abundant honey-gold hair she plaited severely away from her face and off her neck, with the single black streak she'd had since birth painting a curve back from her right temple.

Then she tripped downstairs to Wynfield Mote's hall, humming as she went. And when she entered the high-paneled lofty space, he was waiting for her as promised: Matthew Harrington.

Eighteen, tall, broad, brown-haired and brown-eyed, Matthew gave her one of his rare smiles. “Shall we?” he asked.

Considering the unusual heat of this summer, they had decided on a breakfast picnic while the air was still breathable rather than openly liquid. For the same reason, they had decided to walk rather than punish horses with a ride. Their route was instinctive—eastward to the old church.

Pippa talked at an unusually rapid pace even for her. The words spilled out in a rush and burble of delight, dancing from topic to topic. It was such a pleasure to have Matthew home. For the last year he had been deep in his studies at Balliol College, Oxford, but two days earlier had returned to visit his parents. Edward and Carrie Harrington had served the Courtenays for more than twenty years, and Matthew was as much a part of the family as her siblings.

Pippa loved her family. But her older sister, Lucette, had been moody and difficult the last few years and now spent a great deal of time in London—ostensibly studying with Dr. Dee but more practically avoiding their parents. Her two brothers were training seriously with their father this summer and riding back and forth often to Tiverton Castle. Stephen, two years older, still thought of Pippa as a child, but even her own twin, Kit, had little time to spend with her. Matthew, though, could always be counted on.

She didn't set out to make the day momentous. She rarely set out to do anything—if Lucette invariably acted from principle, Pippa relied on instinct. Although most people found Matthew uncommunicative, with her he spoke freely. In and around and over her quicksilver voice, he told her wry stories about his college and tutors and fellow students, making her laugh in a manner no one else did. Not even Kit.

After the slow ramble, they reached the copse of beeches that looked down a hill onto the stone walls and spire of the old Norman church. She flung herself into the fragrant meadow grass at the trees' edge and leaned back on her elbows, staring up at the sky. Matthew lowered himself more cautiously to sit beside her and deftly handled the domestic details of laying out breakfast: ripe strawberries, early apples, fresh bread, and soft cheese. They took their time eating, letting their stories slowly wind down into companionable silence.

Eyes closed, Pippa lay down in the sweet-smelling, sun-warmed grass.

“Princess Anne is coming to Wynfield soon?” Matthew asked.

“Next week.”

“And what trouble are the two of you planning to launch this time?” He corrected himself. “The three of you, I mean. Kit is the worst.”

“Anabel's the worst,” Pippa said drowsily. “Because
she
isn't afraid of my mother. You'll be here, won't you?”

“I've been invited to Theobalds for a month, to work with Lord Burghley's household. I can hardly say no to England's Lord High Treasurer.”

Pippa's eyes flew open, the first shadow of the day crossing her sunny mood. “But I want you here!”

“What a pity I cannot learn the intricacies of English government from a fifteen-year-old girl.”

He was deliberately baiting her, and she let herself rise to it. “Anabel is a fifteen-year-old girl,” she pointed out caustically. “And before long she will be in a position to compose her own household and council. Shouldn't you be trying to please
her
?”

“The princess is far too practical to want advisors with no experience. Why do you think Lord Burghley is taking an interest in me? Because he believes it likely Princess Anne will draw me into her circle. He intends me to be an asset.”

Pippa delivered a practiced pout—only halfheartedly, because pouting never worked on Matthew. Really, the only person it ever worked on was her father. When he merely continued to look steadily at her, Pippa huffed a gusty sigh and gave it up.

“I never could make you do what I wanted,” she complained.

He made a sound between a laugh and a cough. “Do you think so?”

There was a queer note to his voice that made Pippa sit up and study him sharply. His face looked placid as always, but she caught the slightest quiver at the corner of his lips.

“Matthew?”

All her life Pippa had moved through the world with an awareness of shifting layers of meaning and feeling. Most often it was her twin whose emotions pressed in upon her, Kit who came to her in flashes of his present state. But just now the emotions were entirely her own. And in all that brilliant, beautiful day, there was only one thing she wanted.

So she took it.

Pippa leaned in so suddenly that Matthew startled back. But she gave him no chance to speak or wonder or think at all. She simply kissed him.

It was, of necessity, inexpert. Pippa was not in the habit of kissing the gentlemen of her acquaintance. She was attractive and wellborn and wealthy, but she also had a formidable father. Rumour had it Dominic Courtenay had nearly killed Brandon Dudley several years ago after discovering him in passionate concord with Lucette. Which meant Pippa would have to take the initiative with any man—and with no one more than the self-effacing Matthew.

Almost at once, as though sparked by the touch, Pippa felt Matthew's emotions blaze into life. His first instinct was pure physical response—his second, to pull away. But because she felt the resistance coming, she put her hands on the sides of his face to keep him engaged.

And once past his second instinct, Matthew let himself return her kiss. Having nothing to compare it to, Pippa had no idea if he was experienced or not. All she knew was that it was right. They fit perfectly, as she had always known they would.

Despite her curious double awareness, it was still a surprise when Matthew spoke. “I love you,” he whispered in a suspiciously rough voice into her hair when they released each other to breathe. “I have always loved you, Philippa. But you already knew that, didn't you?”

She laughed breathlessly. “Why does everyone think I know everything?”

“Only the things that matter.”

And just like that, like a candle being snuffed out, the brilliant day vanished and Pippa was wrapped in a dream or vision—a very specific one that had crept into her life so long ago it seemed to have always been with her.
Rushlight and fog, insistent hands and masked faces, melodious Spanish voices mixed with the unmistakable lilt of the Scots, the certain knowledge that she was dying…

The vision had never frightened her—until now. Because for the first time, a new element was added to the familiar litany of her life's eventual end.
“Run, Philippa. Run now!” Matthew's voice. Matthew's beautiful, beloved voice, strained with fear and anger. But she could not run, because he was bleeding and if she left him he would die—

Pippa gasped, the shock of it like falling into an icy Devon stream in winter. She came back to the hillside, the warm sun on her face and Matthew grasping her hands. “What's wrong?” he asked.

She slipped out of his hold and stood, still disoriented as to time and place. All she could do was escape as quickly as possible. “I don't always like what I know,” she managed to reply. “And neither would you. Don't follow me, Matthew.”

She ran away, knowing he would not override her. Matthew's restraint would always win out.

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