The release of Forever Hold His Peace marks the end of The Crofton Chronicles, my trilogy of historical novels set in Elizabethan England. Now, I’m going to be honest here, when I first started writing The Actor and the Earl, the story was meant to be a standalone novella, little did I think my fun romp with Sebastian and Anthony would turn into a three novel series. Writing about these two men, and the Elizabethan period of history has been strangely addictive, and making sure the series worked has been a real labour of love. I had just written the first draft of Actor when the plot to Duty to the Crown hit me, so they were pretty much written back-to-back, and I was delighted to be able to use some of things I’d researched for Actor which didn’t fit, in particular the duelling and dancing scenes. The plot of Forever Hold His Peace was a still a nebulous mass by the time Duty was submitted, and I had a few other things on my mind (like the birth of my son!), so there’s over a year between the publication of the first editions of the second and third books.
In The Actor and the Earl, Sebastian – the actor – ends up taking up a role which was never on his horizon, playing his twin sister, Bronwyn. He becomes the wife of Anthony Redbourn, Earl of Crofton, and despite the warnings that Anthony is a bit of a bounder, Sebastian can’t help but fall in love with him. Anthony, however, goes too far, and he has to muster his best displays of courtly love in order to convince Sebastian that he should remain at his side.
Claire laughed. “Don’t think for one minute that because you have grown older you look less like your sister. You’ve still got the same high cheekbones and pretty green eyes.”
“That is beside the point.”
“I think it is exactly the point, Sebastian. Just think of it as another acting job.”
Sebastian scowled at her, but she didn’t appear even slightly perturbed. “No! Absolutely not.”
“Oh, come now. I saw your performance tonight. You make a more convincing woman than Bronwyn actually does. And if the rumors at court are true about Lord Crofton, I doubt he’d object even if our ruse was discovered.”
“What do you mean if he finds out? I’m sure on my so-called wedding night he’d soon discover my decidedly unfeminine attributes.”
“Do you have that little faith in us? We have everything planned down to the smallest detail.” Sebastian rolled his eyes, and Claire smacked him. “A little faith goes a long way, Cousin.”
“I’m sorry, Claire, but this is sounding more ridiculous than some of the plays I’ve been in, and let me remind you that I portrayed Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
By the beginning of Duty to the Crown, Sebastian and Anthony’s relationship has matured, although it doesn’t stop the rampaging jealously when Queen Elizabeth asks Anthony to seduce a young French noblewoman, Marie Valois, to find out where her father is. But Anthony soon has a visit from the green-eyed monster when Marie’s brother, Nicholas, takes a shine to Sebastian dressed as Bronwyn, and Marie’s affection is directed as Sebastian when dressed as himself. Add in duelling, bandits and kidnapping to complete the mix.
“Refuse the Queen? And how should I do that, Sebastian? You know nothing of the politics of court and the dangerous line her courtiers tread. One wrong move could result in an extended stay in the Tower!”
“You could’ve tried,” Sebastian shouted. “You’re good with soft words, why not use them?”
“Do you see that I cannot win this argument? Whether I did this in London or at Crofton Hall, you would be displeased. At least at home you can be assured of my actions.”
“Assured of your actions? How? Because I will see you with my own eyes rather than rely on hearing the gossip of the court?”
Anthony reached out to him. “Please consider the position I am in.”
“And what about me, Anthony? What would you have me do? Be happy that you have to play a lovesick fool to another?”
“Of course not. But some support and understanding would be welcome.”
Sebastian let out a frustrated yell and pushed Anthony away so hard he landed back on the bed. “Listen to me, Anthony Redbourn. While I accept that you cannot refuse the Queen, do not think you can come near me until you have worked out a way to complete this request without me having to control the desire to punch you!”
The new release, Forever Hold His Peace, was great fun to write, and this is the part of the story where Anthony and Sebastian have face up to the reality of their situation; Sebastian can’t play Bronwyn forever. There are plots around every corner, mischief and witchcraft, as well as some insalubrious characters. But nothing will come between these two men, and someone will have to pay the price of forcing Anthony’s hand. Anthony and Sebastian will need to find a new way to stay together now Bronwyn has to be laid to rest.
He unlocked his bedchamber. Henry bolted past him and wove around the furniture, his tail wagging furiously. Oddly, the casket on his table was open, and Sebastian was certain he would’ve left it closed. Miriam had been with them in London, so no one should’ve been in his room.
He peered into the casket, and lying on top of a white handkerchief was a small glass vial containing a white powder. The vial was sealed with a cork stopper and had a label that read “Dried Mugwort.”
After the briefest of knocks, Miriam bustled into the room. Sebastian held up the bottle to show her. “Did you put this in here?”
Miriam squinted at the bottle. “No, what it is?”
“The label says Dried Mugwort. I noticed the casket was open, and it was just in there. Would anyone else have been in here while we were away?”
“No one should have. The maids are under strict orders not to come in here unless directly told to, and this and his lordship’s bedchamber are kept locked.”
Sebastian wasn’t sure what mugwort was, but he knew he didn’t like the thought of someone leaving strange items among his things. “It must’ve gotten in here somehow.”
“I can’t see how. Only you, Wallace, and I have a key,” said Miriam, counting the names on her fingers.
Sebastian gnawed at his lip. “It didn’t get in there on its own.”
“I wouldn’t trouble yourself too much about it—most likely one of maids dropped it. Or maybe one of the girls thought she was being helpful,” said Miriam.
Sebastian still wasn’t sure. “I don’t see why it would have been put in here, unless someone thought it was mine.”
“I’ll tell you what; I’ll speak to Wallace, see if he allowed anyone in here when we were away.”
“What’s mugwort, and why would someone think it’s mine?”
“It’s a herb often used by ladies to help them be regular.” She smiled fondly at his confusion. “If you think about it, Sebastian, Lord and Lady Crofton have been married a while with no sign of a babe….”
Sebastian’s cheeks flamed. He thrust the vial hurriedly back into the casket.
“Maybe one of the maids was trying to help,” said Miriam.
He knew the servants gossiped about him—he’d heard them himself—but the thought of someone thinking he was in need of help in such personal matters was mortifying. “It’d take more than a ground-up herb for Bronwyn to provide Anthony with a child.”
Miriam laughed. “Not even divine intervention could do that! But folk aren’t to know.”
The Giveaway: THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED
Author bio, contacts and buy links: Rebecca Cohen is a Brit abroad. Having swapped the Thames for the Rhine, she has left London behind and now lives with her husband and son in Basel, Switzerland. She can often be found with a pen in one hand and a cup of Darjeeling in the other.