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Bertrice Small

Bedazzled

The second book in the Skye's Legacy series, 1999

PROLOGUE

LONDON, 1616

“Is he dead, Mother?' The boy peered closely and curiously at the body slumped in the dark-blue tapestry chair.

The woman held a small looking glass attached to the gilt cord about her waist up to the man's nostrils. The mirror remained clear, not the faintest hint of breath upon it. 'He is dead, my son,' she replied matter-of-factly. Then, reaching into the bosom of her gown, she drew forth a dagger with a beautifully carved and bejeweled handle. She looked at the weapon a moment, admiring its artistry, regretting it would be lost to them. Handing it to the boy, she commanded, 'Put it into his heart as I have shown you.'

The boy stared down at the blade in his hands. 'I always wanted this dagger,' he mused. 'Why must it be this dagger, Mother? I shall not be allowed to have it now, shall I? It isn't fair!'

'We have been over this several times, my son,' the woman said quietly. 'This weapon is known to belong to your older brother. As he and Lord Jeffers have had a very public falling out over Lady Clinton, when this dagger is found in Lord Jeffers's heart, it will be assumed that your brother killed him.' She smiled. 'You do want to be your father's heir, caro mio, don't you? How much nicer to be his heir than just his second son. There is little satisfaction in being a second son.'

'I suppose so,' the boy said, and he sighed. 'Will they hang Dev for this murder, Mother?'

'If they catch him,' the woman replied. 'But hopefully they won't. I really don't want your elder brother's death on my conscience. I just want my darling little boy to be his father's heir. It isn't our fault that your father was married, had a son, and was widowed before I wed him.'

'But if they don't hang my brother, then how can I be our father's heir? What if Dev proves his innocence?'

'Your brother will have no chance to prove his innocence, dearest,' his mother explained patiently. 'We have been over this before. Your brother is rash, and he will be convinced to flee England before he can even be arrested. He will never dare to come back, with the threat of execution hanging over him. Now push the dagger into Lord Jeffers's heart, dearest.' She lightly touched his hand encouragingly.

The boy did as his mother had bid him, twisting the blade with some pleasure, she noted, not particularly shocked. The woman took the goblet from which her victim had been drinking, splashing the remaining contents into the fireplace, where they hissed briefly, then died away. Using her own handkerchief, she wiped the goblet free of the residue of finely ground glass and hair-the items she had used to kill her prey. Then she poured fresh wine from the decanter into the goblet, and replaced it upon the table opposite a second goblet, which she tipped over to give the appearance of both anger and haste on the part of the victim. 'There,' she said, well satisfied with her efforts.

Her son was growing fretful. 'Can we leave now, Mother?' The boy whined impatiently.

She nodded. Taking his hand, the pair slipped unnoticed from the house that Lord Jeffers had rented when he was in residence in London. His valet, the only servant Lord Jeffers employed, had been given the night off. The woman had made certain, using one of her own serving girls, that he would not return until dawn. Even now, as she and her son mounted their horses-which had been hidden in the alley belonging to their victim's house-and rode quickly back to their own elegant abode, the woman knew her stepson would have been informed already of Lord Jeffers's demise, and encouraged to escape lest he be blamed for the crime.

Of course the young man would argue-he always did-and attempt to reason with the family's majordomo, but poor desperate Rogers would convince him, for he loved the young man whom he had known his entire life as he would a son. Rogers was old now. His weakening mind could easily be confused. The woman had coolly informed him, just before she and her son had left the house that evening, that Lord Jeffers would be found murdered in the morning with the young master's dagger in his heart. If Rogers did not forewarn the young man, he would surely be arrested, convicted, and hung for the crime. After all, was not the quarrel between the two men over that strumpet, Lady Clinton, public knowledge? Lord Jeffers had no other known enemies.

'But, my lady, how could you know such a thing?' the old man had quavered. Then he shuddered when she smiled knowingly at him. He was not so old that he didn't realize she knew because she planned to commit the murder herself. He had always suspected she was a dangerous woman, but as a servant he was helpless to her will. His master was at court with the king. There was no way he could get a message to him in time. Besides, would his lord believe such a tale?

Rogers had always known that her ladyship was jealous of the young master's position. He knew she coveted it for her own son, but he had never imagined she would kill for her child. Still, she was giving the elder son a fair chance to escape with his life, even if he would lose everything else he held dear. She would have the young master's inheritance for her own.

He bowed stiffly. 'I will see my lord makes a good escape, your ladyship.'

The woman nodded. 'I knew that I could count upon you,' she said. Then she added, 'You have always been a careful man, Rogers. Is it not comforting to at least know he will be safe, and that you will have a comfortable old age?'

'Yes, my lady,' he had replied impassively, 'I am grateful for your kindness.' But when she had gone, he had run up the staircase of the house faster than he had ever imagined he could at his age, delivered the bad news to his young master, and then convinced him, not without great difficulty, to flee for his own safety. Less than a year later, Rogers had died quietly in his sleep. The truth of Lord Jeffers's death went with him.

PART I

ENGLAND, 1625-1626

Chapter 1

“Welcome to France, madame,' the due de St. Laurent said V T to his mother-in-law as he handed her from her great traveling coach.

'Merci, monseigneur,' Catriona Stewart-Hepburn said, curtseying stiffly, her famous leaf-green eyes making contact with the due's but a

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