Recently widowed with a daughter to support, Ursula Blanchard has few options until she is noticed by Sir William Cecil, powerful Secretary of State to the new queen, Elizabeth. Through his offices, Ursula obtains a position as one of Elizabeth’s Ladies of the Presence Chamber, assuring Ursula a monthly stipend, although she remains in dire financial straits.
The court is rife with rumors, the powerful jockeying for position, many outraged by Elizabeth’s obvious affection for Sir Robert Dudley, a married man with an ill wife residing at their estate in Cumnor. Anyone close to the Queen is a target for malicious scheming, and Dudley is no exception, a threat to others who would have the Queen's favor.
Should Amy Dudley die, Sir Robert would be free to marry Elizabeth; nevertheless, when a threat against Amy’s life circulates, Elizabeth and Dudley persuade Ursula to go to Robert’s wife and assure her of their concern for their safety: "Once more I saw the spoor of treason, how it prowled from one victim to another."
Ursula agrees to the task, leaving behind a gentleman seeking to win her favor, Matthew de la Roche. Little does she imagine that he will pursue her through the countryside, relentless in his affection, with elaborate plans for their lives.
Amy Dudley is indeed pitiful, suffering from a terminal illness and distraught at the perceived loss of her husband’s affections. Sympathetic to the young woman's plight, Ursula wins Amy's friendship. Because of that friendship and her pity for Amy, Ursula begins to mistrust the Queen's motives for sending her on the mission.
Ursula’s suspicions are not unwarranted; there are strange comings and goings at the estate. Indeed, even Cumnor is infiltrated by court rumors. In spite of Ursula’s precautions, the inevitable occurs, Amy suffering an accident that takes her life. It is impossible to determine the cause and Ursula must consider her position: is she servant or pawn to the Queen?
The honorable Ursula is caught in a conundrum not of her making, doing the Queen's bidding yet unable to protect Amy Dudley from her fate. Her own servant killed while on a journey to deliver a vital message, Ursula sets out to find his murderers and return to the Queen.
A simple mission unexpectedly becomes the salvation of Elizabeth’s reign, as Ursula unwittingly stumbles upon a plot to usurp the throne. At the center of the scandal caused by Amy's death, her own future in jeopardy, Ursula is faced with a decision that will not only determine her future happiness but influence the direction of the country.