In 1570, Madeleine Vernon is caught up in the hostilities and paranoia between Queen Elizabeth l of England and Mary, Queen of Scots. Imprisoned in Carlisle Castle’s dungeon and believing her brother has been executed, Madeleine faces the possibility of her own execution. When Nicholas Ryder offers her the chance of a pardon if she spies on the household of Lady Dacre, Madeleine reluctantly accepts. She becomes Lady Dacre’s companion, apparently calm and obedient despite the presence of her former lover John Musgrave.
Events in the Dacre household rapidly escalate. A maid disappears and Madeleine suspects Musgrave of killing her; a band of riders attack the household but steal very little. Investigation shows that the elderly Lady Dacre has an unusual history. As Madeleine reports all this to Nicholas she finds herself increasingly attracted to him, yet he is her enemy and has proved himself untrustworthy to boot.
This is a pleasant read with plenty of twists as well as engaging characters who come to life, flaws and all. The setting—the northwest corner of England—makes a refreshing change from the usual London court of Elizabeth l. The political intrigues are well researched, as is the geographical detail.