20.01.2017 Views

serpentsamp

It has been seventeen years since the Asterian Revolution, and all eyes are on Princess Aria and the long expected royal wedding. Having grown up in a world of royalty and wealth, Aria has been unable to imagine anything less than perfect for her life. But when an indiscretion threatens to ruin her reputation, the princess finds herself cast into a world of scandal. As rumors and heartbreak threaten to destroy her, Aria journeys to a distant seaport and sets sail on a merchant ship, hoping the voyage will give her the freedom she craves. Though the ocean holds promises of adventure and intrigue, the world may be too small for a royal to truly disappear. With her family desperately searching the kingdoms for her, Aria finds herself surrounded by strangers and realizes that her brashness may have been a deadly mistake…

It has been seventeen years since the Asterian Revolution, and all eyes are on Princess Aria and the long expected royal wedding. Having grown up in a world of royalty and wealth, Aria has been unable to imagine anything less than perfect for her life. But when an indiscretion threatens to ruin her reputation, the princess finds herself cast into a world of scandal.

As rumors and heartbreak threaten to destroy her, Aria journeys to a distant seaport and sets sail on a merchant ship, hoping the voyage will give her the freedom she craves. Though the ocean holds promises of adventure and intrigue, the world may be too small for a royal to truly disappear. With her family desperately searching the kingdoms for her, Aria finds herself surrounded by strangers and realizes that her brashness may have been a deadly mistake…

SHOW MORE
SHOW LESS

Create successful ePaper yourself

Turn your PDF publications into a flip-book with our unique Google optimized e-Paper software.

Books in the Asterian Trilogy

by Sarah Fay Olson

Sapphire

Book 1

“This story begins like a fairy tale set in a fantasy kingdom but

quickly develops into an emotional journey. The elements of a great

fantasy are there but are given a light touch while the author focuses

on romance, true love and heartbreak. All of which the reader will be

easily swept up in! The dynamics of Layla’s past are intricately

written and give depth to both her character and the story. This adds

a richness to her characterization that makes Layla extremely

admirable, although at times her stubbornness can exasperate the

reader.”

—Margaret Faria, InD’Tale Magazine

Serpent

Book 2

When scandal threatens to ruin her reputation, Aria leaves her life

behind in search of an adventure…

Book 3

Coming 2018

Available at SoulFirePress.com

and local and online bookstores


Serpent

Copyright © 2017 by Sarah Fay Olson

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of

1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or

transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval

system without the prior written permission of the author. All characters

appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons, living or

dead, is purely coincidental.

Editors: Jeremy Soldevilla

Cover design: Neil Noah

ISBN 978-1-948146-19-0

ebook ISBN 978-1-945146-21-3

Published by

Soul Fire Press

an imprint of

CHRISTOPHER MATTHEWS PUBLISHING

http://christophermatthewspub.com

Boston

Printed in the United States of America


PROLOGUE

James

T

HE FIRST TIME I HELD ARIA, I was amazed at how small and

beautiful she was. A servant had told me that Layla had left the

castle, and I was furious she had done so without my permission.

I stormed down the hall toward her chambers to find Mrs. Fallon.

She would know where Layla had gone.

Aria’s cries greeted me as I reached the thick wooden door, and I opened

it to find Mrs. Fallon pacing the room with the wailing child.

She looked up at me and shook her head. "I apologize if Aria has disturbed

you, General," she said.

"She didn’t," I replied, my anger receding for a moment. "I came up here

to ask you where Layla is."

"I believe she went for a ride through Kings City with Charlotte. Did she

not tell you?"

"No."

Mrs. Fallon rolled her eyes as she hoisted Aria up onto her shoulder and

began to pat her back. "I thought she would."

"Does she ever do as she’s told?" I asked bitterly. Sometimes I swore Layla

purposely worked my nerves. If I’d known the princess would be this

complicated, I would’ve turned my duties over to someone else.

The child began to cry louder.

"I am never going to get her down for a nap. Can you hold her?" Mrs.

Fallon asked.

"What?" Her question caught me off guard.

"It’s not that hard. I need to find her blanket." She held Aria out to me.

Aria’s face was red and streaked with tears. I had never held a child before

and was uneasy at the thought.

"I don’t know," I said.


"She won’t bite," Mrs. Fallon insisted. "Just make sure you cradle her

head like this." Mrs. Fallon demonstrated how to hold the child and then held

her out to me. "There’s nothing to it."

Hesitantly, I reached out, took the wailing child and awkwardly cradled

her in my arms.

Aria looked up at me through her watering eyes, her cries quieting to

whimpers.

"I think she likes you," Mrs. Fallon said.

As I looked down at Aria, it was as if the world had come to a halt. She

was so small and delicate—so innocent. She knew nothing of the world and

the dangers around her. Nothing of the way her father abandoned her and the

trials her mother would face. She simply lived, trusting those around her to

care for her every need.

I sat on the bed in the center of the room as Mrs. Fallon returned with the

blanket. "I can do it," I said, surprising myself. I was not ready to let her go.

Mrs. Fallon smiled and watched as I wrapped the blanket around Aria.

"Have you ever held a baby before?" she asked.

"No," I said. "I’m not around children much."

She nodded. "Well, you’re doing a good job with her."

I did not look up, for I was so taken by the small life in my arms.

"I can put her in the crib now that she has stopped crying," Mrs. Fallon

said. "That way you can get back to whatever you were doing."

I shook my head. "I can stay a little longer."

Mrs. Fallon smiled and went over to sit by the fire.

The minutes passed slowly as I held Aria. Her brown eyes began to close

and soon she was asleep. She snuggled closer into my chest, and I smiled. It

was the first moment in a while that I had felt such peace.

The door creaked, and I glanced up to find Layla in the doorway. She was

wide-eyed, confusion etched across her face.

I hid my smile. "She wouldn’t stop crying. Mrs. Fallon was trying to get

her to sleep and told me you’d gone out."

"She calmed down almost immediately," Mrs. Fallon added. "It seems like

James has the magic touch."

I stood and handed the child to Layla. "I’m glad you are back safe. Do not

leave the castle grounds without my permission again. At least until King

Darius gets back."

She stared back dumbly as she took Aria.

2


When I realized she would not answer, I left the room quickly, closing the

door behind me. But even as I left the hall, I knew that I would do anything to

protect Aria.

3


Aria

Chapter 1

T

HE RING GLINTED in the sunlight as I twisted it on my finger,

watching the three sparkling diamonds, and I could not help but

smile. This was the ring I would wear for the rest of my days—the

ring that proved Thomas' love. Nothing could dampen the joy I

felt each time I admired it.

I leaned against the railing of the balcony and looked down into the waves

crashing onto the cliffs far below in a never-ending struggle. I could still smell

the sweet scent of the flowers intermingling with the salty air as we strolled

through the royal gardens. It was there where Thomas had lowered himself to

one knee and asked me to be his wife.

"I love you, Aria," he had said. "And I want to spend the rest of my life

with you."

Since he had been courting me for almost two years to the day, there was

no real surprise in the proposal. Thomas was twenty-two—three years my

senior—and the son of a wealthy lord in the Maplewood Forest province of

Asteria. Even though his family was pressuring him to marry a royal, I quickly

learned that Thomas' courtship had little to do with my status. He had fallen

in love with me and couldn’t care less that I was a princess—not that he’d ever

be king since I was not in line for the crown.

"Do you think you will marry him?" my younger sister Juliette asked when

I had accepted him as a suitor. She was such a romantic—dreaming of falling

in love and living happily ever after. It was amusing since she was only eleven

at the time. When I told her that I didn’t know yet, her disappointment was

evident.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like him at the time—I did—I just wanted to be

careful. While my mother was more than supportive of our union, there was

always an undertone of warning. She had been engaged once after only


knowing the man for a couple of months, and things did not end well. She

thought she was in love, but was young and did not understand love’s

meaning.

I sighed and squinted out into the setting sun. I was in love with Thomas,

and while the two years of courting had been long, it was long enough to for

me to think about what I wanted. Now I was to be married at the end of spring

in an extravagant royal wedding. After the official announcement the

following day, it would be the talk of the kingdom. Tonight was for the

governors and lords to celebrate the engagement.

"Milady?"

I turned from the sea and found Lydia, my lady-in-waiting, standing in

the open doorway of my chambers.

"I believe it is time for you to dress for the feast," she said with a smile.

Lydia was a middle-aged woman with rosy cheeks and light brown hair

that she always kept up in a bun. She had dedicated her life to my family when

my parents took power over the kingdom of Asteria.

"I believe it is," I said. "Have any guests arrived?"

"Yes," she replied, walking over to my wardrobe. "Some as early as an

hour ago. The king and Lord Bateson have them entertained in the Great

Hall."

"And Thomas?" I asked, watching her rummage through my gowns inside

the generous closet.

"I’m not certain, Milady. I would assume he will be soon, though."

"Good," I said with a smile.

"What would you like to wear tonight?"

I sat down on my bed, the soft covers and mattress sinking beneath me.

"I’m not certain."

"How about this one?" Lydia asked, freeing a dark burgundy gown from

the multitude of dresses.

"No, that’s too dark for a spring feast."

"Of course, Milady. Forgive me."

"What about the champagne colored one I just had made?" I said. "I

haven’t had a chance to wear it."

"Oh yes! That one is lovely!" She put the burgundy one back and pulled

out the champagne one.

It was sleeveless with a crystal-encrusted bodice and a large, silk ruffled

skirt. Lydia laid the gown on the bed as I stripped out of my clothes. She pulled

5


out a cream-colored corset and petticoat and helped me change into them as

the ones I was currently wearing would not do for such a gown. I savored the

few moments in between the corsets, my chest, grateful for the reprieve.

"Here we go," Lydia said as she helped me step into the gown.

I turned and admired the gown in the three-way mirror as she busied

herself lacing up the back.

"I think you should use a similar style for your wedding gown," Lydia said

as she picked up my hairbrush from the intricately carved vanity. "It really

brings out your figure."

"You mean my bosom?" I laughed, looking at the way the bodice pressed

into my breasts.

"Milady!" Lydia exclaimed. "I meant no such thing. That is a modest

neckline—especially if you compare it to the gowns your friend Catherine

wears."

I rolled my eyes and laughed. It was true. My dear friend Catherine

Montgomery had a thing for low necklines and extra tight corsets—men

fawned over her for it.

Lydia brushed my blonde hair and pulled it up into a delicate bun. She

powdered my face and painted my lips. When she finished and placed the

diamond tiara on my head, I smiled at my reflection.

"Thank you, Lydia," I said as a knock sounded at the door.

Lydia smiled and went to open it.

"Is she ready?" I heard my mother ask.

"Yes, Your Grace," Lydia said.

She opened the door wider, and my mother stepped in, the gently ruffled

skirt of her elegant lavender gown swishing through the doorway.

"My darling!" she exclaimed. "You look beautiful!"

"You don’t think it’s too much?" I asked as she hugged me.

"Of course not!" she exclaimed, her brilliant green eyes sparkling in the

light from the glowing sapphire around her neck. "You look like a princess."

I smiled. "Do you know if Thomas has arrived yet?"

"He has," my mother said sweetly. "I told him to come up here in a few

minutes to fetch you. Your father and I would like you two to enter together."

"Of course." I looked back in the mirror, once more making sure that I

looked perfect.

"Are you nervous?" my mother asked.

6


"Not very," I said. "I’ll probably be more nervous the day before the

wedding."

"I know how that is," she said, looking into the mirror and pushing a

stubborn golden-brown hair back into place. "Thomas is a wonderful man."

"As you’ve said from the day I met him," I laughed. Thomas had charmed

her from the beginning.

She rolled her eyes.

"But yes, he is wonderful," I agreed. "And I love him very much."

"Good. James keeps asking me if you really do love him. I don’t think he

likes the idea of giving up his little girl."

"Father would keep me from growing up if he could," I said. "But I am

happy and want to marry Thomas—I’ve told him many times."

"I know," my mother said. "But you know how he is."

"Milady," Lydia said. "Lord Thomas is here."

My mother turned from the mirror. "That is my cue. I will see you in the

Great Hall." She walked over to the door, greeted Thomas and then

disappeared down the hall.

"Thomas," I said as he strolled in, "you look dashing."

"Why, thank you, Milady," he said with a bow. He was as handsome as

always with his combed, dark brown hair and fine doublet. His gray eyes

sparkled in the candlelight as he took me in with them. "And may I say that

you are absolutely stunning."

"Thank you," I said, a blush finding its way to my cheeks.

He stepped closer and gave me a gentle kiss; his lips sending a warm tingle

down my spine. "Are you ready?" he whispered.

I nodded. "Nothing to it, right?"

Thomas offered me his arm. "Not at all."

I took his arm, and he led me out of the room and down to the Great Hall.

The sound of the merrymaking guests reached my ears through the thick

double doors. Guards hauled them open as we neared them, and a herald

announced our arrival.

"Ladies and gentleman," he called out. "Princess Aria of Asteria and Lord

Thomas Windsor of Maplewood Forest."

The guests—governors of the provinces, lords and ladies and close

friends—stood around the tables laden with food. They bowed and curtsied as

we walked past to sit by my parents.

7


My mother stood at the end of the room with my father, King James of

Asteria, who smiled at me as Thomas and I approached. He was tall with

brown hair and piercing, light blue eyes. Thomas once admitted to me that

something about my father put him on edge (which had always been my

father’s intent).

We faced the guests again as my father began to speak.

"Thank you all for being here today," he said. "Queen Layla and I have

brought you here tonight for a special announcement—the engagement of our

daughter, Princess Aria, to Lord Thomas Windsor. Two months from now,

they will become husband and wife before you. Tonight is to celebrate their

engagement, and the queen and I could not be happier."

The guests clapped for a few long moments, then quieted, eagerly

awaiting the invitation to begin eating, no doubt.

My mother’s voice floated over me. "We now invite you to sit and enjoy

this feast in honor of your princess’s engagement."

The guests sat quickly, excited conversation rising from them in seconds,

as servants darted in between the tables with pitchers of wine.

"You look beautiful, Aria," my father said as Thomas and I rounded the

head table.

"Thank you, Father," I said, kissing his cheek.

"Lord Thomas," my father said in greeting, giving my fiancé a slight but

polite nod.

"Your Majesty," Thomas said with a bow. "Thank you for this wonderful

feast."

My father nodded curtly. Over the past two years, I couldn’t help but feel

that he did not like Thomas much.

"It is the proper way to celebrate your engagement," my mother said as I

took the seat beside her.

Thomas smiled and sat next to me. "That it is."

"Aria!" a man’s voice exclaimed behind me. I turned to find Lord Davorin

Bateson with his wife, Lady Charlotte Bateson.

"Davorin! Charlotte!" I exclaimed, rising from the chair to hug them.

"My, you are lovely," Davorin said, taking a step back and making a show

of looking at me. He was my father’s closest friend.

I blushed. "Thank you. Where’s Mitchell?"

Davorin shrugged. He was tall like my father but with dark blond hair and

faint stubble on his cheeks and chin.

8


"Probably with Gabriel, causing mischief," Charlotte said.

"Let us hope it is nothing like last time," I said. "The guests were not

amused when a squealing pig ran through the Great Hall."

Davorin and Thomas laughed.

"Yes, let us hope," my mother said, giving them a disapproving look.

My father just shook his head.

"Anyway," Charlotte said as Davorin began to speak with my father,

"Congratulations, Lord Thomas. It seems you have been able to steal the

princess’s heart."

Thomas laughed. "Thank you, Lady Bateson."

Charlotte smiled; her hazel eyes a stark contrast to her black hair that was

currently up in a beautiful and intricate bun. "I am very happy for you both."

"Thank you," I said.

Charlotte turned away. "Davorin, can we sit and eat now?"

Davorin glanced over at her. "Yes, of course." Charlotte took his arm,

casting another smile in my direction, and the two strolled away to their seats.

The night continued with food and congratulations. When we began on

dessert, the doors opened, and Gabriel and Mitchell strode in.

"Any food left?" Gabriel asked when he reached our table.

My father glanced up at him. "What are you doing in here?"

"I was just hungry. Sorry, Father," Gabriel said. However, the sly smile on

his face indicated he didn’t mean it. At fifteen, Gabriel was the spitting image

of our father—same build, blue eyes and brown hair.

It was an Asterian tradition that both boys and girls were not to attend

balls or feasts until they were sixteen—it was the reason Gabriel and Juliette

had not been present. In my opinion, it was a silly tradition, but my parents

were adamant we abide by it.

"Where were you, Mitchell?" I asked. He was seventeen now but somehow

managed not to show up to many of the royal occasions he could attend.

Mitchell’s brown eyes met mine, and he smiled. "The food is better in the

children’s room."

Gabriel laughed.

"I would assume that means Gabriel ate then," my father said, no

amusement in his tone.

Mitchell shrugged. "I wasn’t watching him."

I rolled my eyes.

9


Mitchell was Charlotte’s son from her first husband, Mitchell Anderson,

who had been killed some time during the Asterian Revolution—as they called

it now. Charlotte married Davorin a few years later, and Mitchell had

managed to get his stepfather’s carefree spirit.

"Well, Mitchell," my mother said, "you may join your parents, but I am

afraid Gabriel needs to return to the children’s room."

"I am not a child!" Gabriel exclaimed. "I’ll be sixteen in a month!"

"Gabriel, that is enough," my father interjected. "Listen to your mother."

Gabriel began to argue again, but one look from my father silenced him.

"I apologize for bringing him in here," Mitchell said politely.

I couldn’t help but laugh at his false tone.

"I only wanted to wish Princess Aria and Lord Thomas my

congratulations," he said.

Thomas smiled. "Thank you, Mitchell."

Mitchell bowed theatrically, and the two made their way to the double

doors, but not before sneaking a few of the desserts off the tables.

"You know they only came in here for dessert," Thomas said, as the two

boys hurried from the Great Hall.

"I know," I said, shaking my head. Gabriel and Mitchell would never cease

to amuse me.

When the feast ended, the guests finished their conversations and left the

castle with wine-tainted laughter. I was glad that none of the governors or

lords had opposed the engagement and that most seemed quite thrilled by it.

"Tomorrow we get to stand before the entire kingdom," Thomas said as

he escorted me back to my chambers.

"I know," I said. "And then it’s time to plan the wedding." I opened the

door, and he followed me through my private parlor and into my bedroom.

"Did you have a good time tonight?"

"You know I did," Thomas said brushing my cheek. "It was wonderful.

Tonight made me realize that this is finally happening—we are getting

married!"

"And with the kingdom’s approval," I said, rising on my toes so I could

kiss him.

He wrapped his arms around me and pulled me close. I felt warmth and

happiness in his embrace, and his kiss filled me with desire. His hands found

their way to the back of my gown, and his fingers fumbled with the laces. I felt

his lips travel down to my neck.

10


"Thomas," I gasped.

"What?" he whispered.

"Stop," I said. "I’m serious," I said again when I felt the bodice of my gown

loosen. I pushed him away gently. "I told you I’m not doing that."

He took a step back and sighed. "Why, Aria? We are getting married."

"In two months."

"You’re really going to make me wait that long?" he asked, rolling his eyes.

"Are we really going to do this again?" I asked incredulously.

Thomas shook his head, annoyance flickering across his face. "I just don’t

understand what the problem is. I’m not going to leave you the way Prince

Richard left your mother—don’t you trust me?"

"Don’t bring my mother into this," I snapped. "This is up to me, and it has

nothing to do with Richard."

"You certain?" Thomas asked. "Because if you ask me, it seems like you’re

afraid I’ll get you pregnant and then leave you, the way he left her."

"Get out."

Thomas didn't move.

"Now," I said, feeling the sudden onslaught of anger rising in my chest.

He took a step forward. "Aria look—"

"She said now," a voice rang from the shadows.

Thomas' hard gaze shifted towards the voice as my handmaiden Ethelyn

stepped away from the door that led into my bathing room.

"This is none of your concern," Thomas said. "You know better than to

spy on the princess."

Ethelyn took another step forward.

"It’s all right, Ethelyn," I said. "Thomas was just leaving."

Thomas clenched his jaw. "Fine." He turned and stomped out of the room.

Ethelyn closed the door behind him. "Are you all right, Milady?" she asked

as I sat down heavily on the bed.

"You should make your presence known," I whispered, suddenly

exhausted.

"Forgive me, Milady," Ethelyn said. "I did not mean to spy."

I sighed. "Help me out of this gown." I stood up, and Ethelyn finished

unlacing it.

When I was ready to sleep, Ethelyn sat on the end of my bed. She was only

a few years older than me. Her skin was darker than mine as her mother had

been of Malanese descent, and her black hair was pulled back in an intricate

11


aid. Her gray eyes were alert and full of concern. I had no doubt that she

could have taken Thomas down if he had not stopped.

"What is it?" I asked her as she watched me intently.

"He was wrong to do that," she whispered.

I sighed, knowing she would force me into the conversation sooner or

later.

Even though Ethelyn was a handmaiden, she was not like Lydia. Ethelyn

was one of the few highly trained female bodyguards assigned to the women

of the royal family. Davorin had come up with the idea, and while my mother

was not fond of it, my father was. They put Charlotte in charge of choosing the

women and training them. They were taught to protect the royal family at all

costs, but blend in as ladies-in-waiting. Only those directly involved with the

handmaidens knew their real purpose. While a lady-in-waiting would

normally turn a blind eye to a private argument, a handmaiden would not.

She would become involved as soon as she felt harm could come to her

mistress.

"Don’t worry about it," I said. "It was my fault—I’ve made him court me

for two years, and now he has to wait another two months."

"That is not your fault," Ethelyn said. "If your father saw that, he would

have had him banished from the castle."

"You are not to tell anyone," I snapped.

Ethelyn’s gray eyes locked onto mine. "I will not, Milady."

"Good," I replied, rubbing my eyes. "I just hate it when he brings my

mother into it. She was younger than I when she was engaged to Prince

Richard."

"Your real father," she said quietly.

My head shot up. "He is not my father. When he abandoned my mother,

he abandoned me. James is my father."

"Forgive me," Ethelyn said. "I meant no offense."

I looked away. "I would like to be alone now."

"Of course, Milady. Sleep well." She silently left the room and closed the

door behind her.

I lay back into the soft mattress as a tear slid down my cheek.

Tonight was not the first time Thomas had tried to get me to sleep with

him—but this was the first time he had been so persistent. It was not that I

didn’t want to, because I did. I just needed to wait for our marriage. How was

12


it that he managed to make it look like I was wrong for not allowing him into

my bed?

I pulled the sheets up to my chin and closed my eyes. I would not worry

about this tonight.

13


Chapter 2

T

HE NEXT MORNING, I opened my eyes to find Juliette sitting at

the end of my bed. Her bright green eyes watched me curiously

as she pushed a brown lock of hair behind her ear.

"Good morning, sleepy head," she said with a smile.

I sat up slowly and looked at her. "Good morning." I glanced around the

room, at the pale green walls brightening in the sun’s rays streaming through

the window. "What are you doing in here?"

"It’s time for breakfast."

"Yes," I said. "But why in my room?"

"I wanted to eat with you," she said shyly, suddenly looking afraid I would

ask her to leave. "I told Lydia I wanted to have breakfast with you before the

big announcement."

"So I can tell you all about last night?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Yes," she said smugly. "Since I’m not old enough to go to the feast, I want

to know everything that happened."

"Fine, you can stay, but I am afraid the feast was not all that exciting. Just

a lot of important people eating food and congratulating us."

"I’m certain it was more exciting than being in the children’s room."

"Are you, now?" I asked, getting up and slipping into my robe. I walked

over to the window and stared out at the expanse of forest lining the cliffs high

above the ocean. "After all, Mitchell was there."

"So?"

I turned back around to find her blushing.

"Breakfast!" Lydia exclaimed, bursting through the door with a silver tray

of food.

Ethelyn followed behind with a pitcher of milk.

"Good morning, Milady!" Lydia said, placing the tray down on a table.

"Good morning," I said, my stomach rumbling at the delicious smell

wafting up from the food "I’m starving."


Juliette and I sat down at the table as Ethelyn filled our cups.

"Thank you," I said.

"You are most welcome, Milady," Ethelyn said. "Are you feeling better this

morning?"

I caught her concerned look and nodded. "I’m just fine, Ethelyn."

"Well, enjoy your breakfast!" Lydia said as she and Ethelyn exited the

room.

"You were unwell?" Juliette asked as she cut into the ham topped with a

fried egg.

My mind wandered back to Thomas' insistence to find that it bothered me

much more than it ever had in the past. I took some grapes and put them on

my plate. "It was nothing; but getting back to what I was saying earlier . . . "

"Please, Aria," Juliette begged. "Can we not talk about Mitchell?"

"Why not?" I asked, laughing. I needed the momentary distraction, even

if it was at Juliette’s expense. "I get the feeling he didn’t attend the feast

because he’d rather be around you."

"That is not true!" Juliette exclaimed. "He barely spoke to me. I was with

Rosalie for most of the night, while he and Gabriel fooled around. If anything,

Rosalie spoke to Gabriel more than Mitchell spoke to me."

"Why does that not surprise me?"

Rosalie was Mitchell’s younger sister. She was a year older than Juliette

and far more outgoing. She fancied Gabriel, but the feeling—at least to my

knowledge—was not mutual.

"Anyway," Juliette said, rolling her eyes. "How was the feast—really?"

"It was nice," I replied. "Not as extravagant as a ball, but still enjoyable."

"Did anything interesting happen?"

"No. As I said, I ate food and spoke to many different people."

"How was Thomas?"

"I believe he enjoyed himself very much."

Juliette smiled. "He is going to be a good husband, right?"

"Are you concerned?" I asked, attempting to keep the incident from the

night before from giving me something to be concerned about. "I am certain

he will be an excellent husband. I love him very much."

She put her bread down and looked up at me. There was something

strange about her eyes all of a sudden—as if she were older than her mere

thirteen years. "I’m just worried."

"About what?"

15


"That you don’t love him the way you should."

"Why on earth would you say that?" I exclaimed. "Was it not you from the

beginning that wanted me to marry him?"

"Yes," she replied. "It’s just—you don’t look at him the way Mother looks

at Father."

"Where is this coming from, Jules?" I asked. "I thought you were happy

about this?"

"I am, but you’re my sister, and I don’t want you to make a mistake."

"I’m your older sister. I think I know what I’m doing. If I were uncertain,

I wouldn’t go through with it. If Father even thought for a moment this

marriage was a bad idea, you know he would’ve already insisted I end things

with Thomas. Everyone seems certain that it will work out, so you should too."

"But don’t you think about it?" she asked. "Don’t you ever have a moment

where you begin to rethink things?"

I suddenly understood from where this was coming. Juliette had always

known that she and I were only half-sisters, but it was not until recently our

mother had sat her down and explained everything that had happened.

I stood up and knelt beside her chair, taking her hand in mine. "This is

about what mother told you," I whispered.

She nodded. "Mother thought she knew what she was doing when she was

engaged to that prince."

"Yes, and she’d only known him for a couple of months. I’ve known

Thomas for years . . . plenty of time to think about this."

Juliette smiled. "You’re right."

I squeezed her hand. "Thank you for caring, Jules."

When we finished our breakfast, Juliette’s lady-in-waiting, Martha, came

to fetch her. It was time to get ready for the announcement.

Lydia chose a pale green satin gown that was perfect for the event. Once I

was bathed and the gown was on, Ethelyn worked on my make-up while Lydia

brushed my hair. My tiara and a matching necklace, dripping with diamonds,

were the finishing touches.

"Beautiful," Lydia said, taking a step back and admiring her and Ethelyn’s

handiwork. "I will let the king and queen know that you are ready! This is

terribly exciting! You should see the crowds that have gathered in the

courtyard!"

I smiled and looked at myself in the mirror as Lydia headed into the

parlor. This was it—the announcement to the kingdom would make my

16


engagement official. The ring on my finger suddenly felt heavy as I thought of

Juliette’s words. You don’t look at him the way Mother looks at Father. I

shook the thought away. I was going to marry Thomas because we loved each

other.

"Lord Thomas!" Lydia said as she opened the door to leave. "I thought you

were waiting with the royal family."

"I was," I heard Thomas say, "I just wanted to see Aria for a moment."

"Of course."

He crossed through the parlor and stepped into my room as Lydia closed

the door.

"Aria," he said, a kind smile on his lips, "you look beautiful."

"Thank you," I replied. Usually, I would have run to him and kissed him,

but suddenly, I couldn’t. "Ethelyn," I said.

Ethelyn bowed her head, acknowledging the dismissal, and left the room,

but not before casting a dark look in Thomas’ direction.

He clenched his jaw for a second and then walked over to me once there

was a door between us and Ethelyn’s presence. "Aria, I’m sorry about last

night. I don’t know what got into me. It was disrespectful, especially when

from the beginning I have known your values. I can’t even begin to try and

explain my actions because that is what they still were—mine."

I looked into his gray eyes and saw that he was sincere. "I forgive you. I

know you didn’t mean anything by it. It was a tiresome day, and we both had

too much wine, I think."

"But that’s no excuse," he said, taking my hand.

I smiled and brushed my fingers over his cheek. "I forgive you, Thomas."

I leaned in and gently kissed his lips. "Now, shall we go? I believe they are

ready for us."

Thomas gave me a crooked grin. "After you, Your Highness."


Standing on the castle balcony and looking down at the hundreds of people

filling the courtyard was thrilling. They cheered as my father announced my

engagement to Thomas. My mother had said it would be something for the

people of Asteria to celebrate, and it was indeed. The happiness of my people

pushed aside any doubts I harbored about the marriage. Thomas and I would

be perfect together, and we had the kingdom's blessing.

17


That night, we had a much smaller feast with Thomas' family to celebrate the

announcement. Only his parents had attended the one the night before, so

this time I got a chance to meet the rest of his relatives. They were elated to

be in the castle, meeting my family and me, and ecstatic for the wedding.

"Where will it be held?" his Aunt Jane asked me. She’d been going on and

on about how beautifully decorated the dining room was and how honored

she was for being invited, only to turn the conversation into a hunt for every

wedding detail she could extract from us.

"At the Council’s Palace," my mother answered.

"King Luther’s old palace?" she asked, surprised.

"Well, it no longer belongs to him, Aunt Jane," Thomas said with a laugh.

"It is the Council’s meeting place."

"It has the loveliest Sunroom," I added. "It overlooks the gardens."

"And the ballroom is much larger than the one we have here," my mother

said. "If there was anything Luther did right, it was that he sure knew how to

build a palace."

"I am certain it will be beautiful then," Jane said.

I had been surprised when my parents made no opposition to my getting

married in the Sunroom at the Council’s Palace. They had loathed King

Luther, and I thought they would not want me marrying in the palace he’d

built.

But my father had simply said, "We overthrew him and reclaimed the

throne making that palace ours. Your mother didn’t have the heart to let it

waste away to ruin. So if that is where you want your wedding, that’s where it

shall be."

"Tomorrow we begin planning everything," my mother continued. "It will

not be last minute, like mine."

We all laughed.

"Though I suppose a last minute one is much simpler," Thomas said.

"Perhaps when you are in the rebel villages before a war," I said. "My

mother and father only had a few thousand to please, but now we have a whole

kingdom expecting a grand occasion."

"Not that every citizen is invited!" Jane exclaimed.

"Of course not," my mother laughed. "But we will be holding celebrations

in the largest town of each province after the honeymoon to present the

newlyweds to the people."

18


"Oh, that will be wonderful!" Jane said, clapping her hands together in

delight.

My father walked over to us and smiled. "I apologize for interrupting, but

Thomas, would you join your father and I for a moment?"

"Of course," Thomas said. He kissed my cheek and excused himself.

I watched him curiously as he followed my father and Lord Windsor from

the dining room.

"I wonder what that is about," Jane said, the question unmistakable in

her tone.

"I am certain it is nothing," my mother said. "Anyway, the Kingdom will

be celebrating the marriage for months—well that depends on how long they

take for their honeymoon."

"Mother!" I exclaimed, blushing.

My mother and Jane laughed.

"Do you know where you will spend it?" Jane asked.

"No," I replied. "Thomas wants to surprise me."

"How romantic."

I blushed again.

When the hour became late, Thomas' family began to leave. His parents

politely said their goodbyes while his aunt hugged me. I was glad to see them

all in good spirits over the wedding.

Once the castle was quiet again, I headed up to my chambers and changed

into my chemise. As I sat in the bed reading a book, Lydia entered the room.

"Milady," she said, "this letter came for you from Lady Catherine."

"Thank you," I said, taking it from her. I scanned it. "Blast!"

"What is it, Milady?" Lydia asked, surprised at my outburst.

"Catherine’s ill-bred cousin Moira Langdon has come to stay with her," I

said, placing the letter down.

"Milady!" Lydia exclaimed. "You know it is improper to speak so poorly

of another."

I rolled my eyes.

"Especially since you know the financial situation Lady Moira’s family is

in," she scolded.

"It’s Miss Moira now, as their family no longer holds a title," I corrected.

"Their financial situation is not my concern. Everyone knows Moira helped

squander away her family’s fortune, just as much as her father gambled it

away."

19


"Yes, but now that they are penniless—you must pity them," Lydia said,

hanging my gown up in the closet.

"Lydia, you know she is an appalling young woman. Did you not see the

way her eyes followed Thomas the last time she visited?"

"I don’t think that will be a problem since Thomas will not be here during

most of her stay."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I assumed you knew," Lydia said, closing the door to the closet. "Thomas

is accompanying your father during his trip to Malan."

"He is?" I exclaimed. "This is the first I hear of it. How do you know?"

She smirked. "Well . . . you know how the servants seem to know

everything."

"I suppose," I said, frowning. "Perhaps that is what my father had to speak

to him about tonight. I just wish someone would have felt it necessary to tell

me."

"I am certain Lord Thomas meant to," Lydia offered. "He probably just

didn’t get a chance tonight."

"Yes—I suppose he will tell me tomorrow. That is, of course, if Moira gives

us a moment’s peace."

"Is she arriving tomorrow?"

"Yes, and she will be accompanying Catherine during her visit," I sighed

as a knock sounded on the door. "Come in!"

My father entered, still wearing his fine clothing from the evening.

Lydia curtsied deeply and quickly excused herself from the room.

"I was hoping you were still awake," he said with a smile. "I wanted to

speak with you."

"About what you had to say to Thomas tonight?" I asked.

"Yes," he said, settling down on the edge of my bed. "I was speaking to his

father, and he thinks it would be wise if Thomas accompanies me to Malan in

a couple of days." There was no hiding the grimace that flickered across his

face at the idea. "He thinks it would be good for Thomas to get more involved

in Asterian politics."

"Not that he will ever be king," I reminded him.

"Yes, I know. But since he is marrying you, that does make him a part of

our family, and I would hope that he has an opinion I’d be able to trust."

I nodded.

"Is that all right with you?"

20


"Yes," I replied. "I think it would be good for him, and then you’ll be able

to get to know him better. Will the trip still be just as long?"

"Yes, I’m afraid I will be unable to shorten it. Between the traveling to

Kings City and our time there, we should be back within a month."

I sighed. "I suppose it gives mother and I more time alone to prepare for

the wedding."

My father smiled. "Yes, it does, though I promise I’d much rather he

remains here with you, but your mother insisted it was a good idea."

"Because the last thing you need is a young lord trailing you through the

streets of Malan," I finished for him. "You can just say you don’t like him,

Father."

He sighed. "Aria, I don’t want you to think I don’t like him. I just . . . Never

mind." He stood up.

"Father—"

"Thomas is a gentleman, and if you believe he can make you happy, then

I am happy. As long as you are fine with him accompanying me, we will be

leaving in two days."

I wanted to push him further but knew that when my father decided a

conversation was over, it was over. "Perfectly fine," I said instead.

He gave me a smile. "By the way, you looked beautiful today—just like

your mother."

I dropped my gaze in an attempt to hide my reddening cheeks.

"Goodnight," he said, kissing my forehead.

"Goodnight, Father."

When he left the room, Ethelyn walked in. "Is there anything I can get

you, Milady," she asked as I lay back onto my pillow.

"No, Ethelyn," I replied.

She bowed and opened the door.

I sat up. "Ethelyn, how is that even though you are supposed to be waiting

on me that I rarely see you?"

"I’m always around, Milady," she said with a smile. "I just don’t want to

interfere with Lydia’s only duty."

"I’m certain she appreciates that," I said. "Just make your presence

known more often."

Ethelyn bowed her head and left the room.

When I was finally alone, my thoughts drifted to Thomas. His leaving with

my father would be the longest either of us had been apart since he had begun

21


courting me. I would miss him terribly, but this was a wonderful opportunity

for him. Even though I knew my father was less than thrilled about having

Thomas trailing him through Kings City, this would be his chance to really get

to know him—to see that Thomas would be an excellent husband for me. I

could sacrifice a month of not seeing Thomas if it meant my father actually

accepting him.

22


Chapter 3

T

HE NEXT MORNING, I met Catherine and Moira in the castle. Thomas was polite to them, as

always, and seemed to ignore the seductive glances Moira kept throwing at him as if I were not

even there—how I despised her.

"Congratulations on your engagement," Moira said with a sweet smile.

Her brown hair was up in an elegant bun, and she wore a lovely floral patterned yellow dress. Of course,

her corset was far too tight, and the neckline dipped dangerously low, making even Catherine in her light

blue dress look modest.

"Thank you, Moira," I said, attempting to hide my disdain for her behind a forced smile. "We are so

happy."

Catherine twirled a strand of blonde hair, not even attempting to hide her irritation at Moira’s prattling.

This is the end of the free sample

to order your copy,

Visit

Soul Fire Press

Also available at bookstores and online retailers

23

Hooray! Your file is uploaded and ready to be published.

Saved successfully!

Ooh no, something went wrong!