Tag Archives: Historical Fairytale

{07-Jan) The Wronged Princess – book i

Chapter 30

Something very strange was going on, Hilda decided. She could not quite put her finger on the what, but ’twas there all the same. Her first inklings were prior to the picnic. She trailed the three girls to the parlor, studying Pricilla in particular. She was quite pleased with Pricilla’s soft rose gown. The maid had dressed her hair in fabulously high curls leaving wispy tendrils to frame her face. Hilda had to restrain from clapping her hands in glee.

Conte Alessandro de Lecce would be fighting for her favors this evening, and Hilda looked forward to guiding his efforts. With Esmeralda all but married off, ’twas downright miraculous the opportunity afforded for Pricilla. And Hilda had every intention of grappling the advantage. A mother had a duty to her children’s future, after all. Not to mention the side effect of securing one’s own. Olivier Roche had left her and her daughters destitute. She would not be so again.

Hilda pondered Cinderella through narrowed eyes. That child remained every bit the nuisance she had since the day Hilda had been forced to marry her murderous papa. Somehow, the chit managed to manipulate her way into the queen’s generous affections, no matter how erroneous. Short of death, there wasn’t much Hilda could do to alter that state.

Hmm, death. ’Twas a dilemma. But if Cinderella should somehow manage to get herself locked up somewhere with no one the wiser…well, that would be most convenient, would it not?

Hilda ushered her daughters through the door snagging Cinderella’s arm before she slipped by. One small squeeze to remind the child who was in charge. After all, she did seem to have difficulty remembering her place in the family hierarchy. Fear in Cinderella’s widened eyes assured Hilda’s point had been well and truly received.

The opportunity to back her threat with words was circumvented by Queen Thomasine’s pointed address.

“Lady Roche, would you care for sherry or claret this evening?” Queen Thomasine’s tone was mild, her gaze innocent.

Slowly, Hilda released her grip, clearing her throat. “Claret would make a divine diversion, Your Highness.” Hilda nudged Cinderella aside, preceding her into the drawing room. The child may have escaped censure this time but the night was young. Other opportunities would emerge.

Her eyes followed Cinderella’s gait to a settee before the windows where she lowered herself with an anomalous air. The frock she wore in a misty moss was downright infuriating. Hilda was not fooled in the least. The soft green should have made her appear washed out, but somehow managed the reverse. The soft tone enhanced her olive complexion, upstaging Esmeralda’s pale skin and flickering eyes.

If they were not more cautious, Prince might see fit to retract his promise to Esmeralda and take up with that hoyden. Non, he would dare no such a thing. The scandal would make him a laughingstock. He would lose all respect. Regardless, Hilda refused to any chances. She trusted no one.

Merci,” Hilda said, accepting her claret from the servant’s tray. Her eyes narrowed on the Conte’s eldest son, maneuvering his way toward her errant stepchild. He lowered himself next to her—shamefully close. Why, the little vagrant was out to cull Pricilla’s prize. Heated rage roiled through her.

Her heart stepped into an erratic rhythm that had her wanting to clutch her chest, breaths coming short and rapid. With concerted effort Hilda calmed her agitated facilities with a steady inhale. Enough was enough. She vowed adamantly to achieve that one-on-one tête-à-tête this very eve.

She sauntered her way to the settee. The noble Conte de Lecce’s son stood quickly offering his place, heels clicking with his formal bow. “Ah, merci, young man.” With a pat of her hand, Hilda gave Cinderella a bright smile. Hilda’s pleasure grew tenfold at Cinderella’s undisguised blanch. “Cinderella, my dear, you look absolutely stunning,” she said.

Cinderella dropped her eyes to her lap with a soft, almost indistinguishable reply. “Merci, Stepmama.”

“Your daughter, she is lovely, no, Signora?” Alessandro smiled.

Oui, your compliments are well received, Sir.” The erratic tempo soared once more through Hilda, leaving her almost faint.

Hilda glanced up quickly and caught a silent communiqué between Pricilla and Esmeralda. Mayhap she would have a word with Pricilla as well. As the favorite of her two girls, Pricilla could always be depended upon to further the family’s edicts. It would have to wait, however. The risk was too great to forestall Cinderella’s attendance with Alessandro de Lecce so close at hand with his unpredictable infatuation.

{06-Jan) The Wronged Princess – book i

Cinderella hid in the shadows of the darkened corridor, praying her light colored frock would not draw the attention of Prince and his cousin.

But, alas, luck was not with her. At least not good luck. Prince strode from the chamber, Sir Arnald fast on his heels. Surprise lit Prince’s eyes when they landed on her. His slow smile ignited a pulsating fire through her veins.

The stick in her hand began vibrating with a thrumming energy, reverberating up her arm, making its way through her entire body. Before coherent thought rationed her brain, she held it out—freezing the two men quite immobile. Horrified and shocked by her actions she looked at the stick, dumbfounded, uncertain what she’d accomplished or why? Could she make them forget they’d seen her?

She raked a hungry gaze over Prince and a positively evil thought took hold. She could test the theory. She wished to touch him. Just once. Before the inevitability of his and Essie’s nuptials. Would he remember? Mortification, humiliation would dog her to her death and beyond. Not to mention the end of an untarnished reputation or the love-turn-hate of a sister.

Hadn’t Cinderella and her sisters already stacked enough bad deeds against them? Oui! Enough to have them drawn and quartered several times over. But somehow in that moment she could not seem to care.

Was that so terrible?

Oui, it was, the prim, practical, timid voice in her head screamed even as she stepped toward him.

But one kiss, who would know besides she? Roaring silence filled the passageway. One more step found her in touching distance. Spicy soap assailed her senses, and before she could stop herself, Cinderella closed her eyes, tipped up on her toes and touched the corner of his mouth with her lips. Floating on air had nothing on such a daring adventure, touch of his lips. Heart pounding furiously, she lowered her heels, opened her eyes, and stepped back. There was a lovely firmness that contrasted with such velvet. She brought her fingers to her mouth.

Time suspended, holding her prisoner. She’d never acted so indecently. She stared at him as if he were Eros, come to life, yet he remained still as the statue, itself.

“Nicely handled, my dear.”

Startled, Cinderella jumped back, the stick clattering to the floor.

“Ah, there it is. I wondered where I’d misplaced it.”

Shamed burned through her. Her deplorable behavior fastened her in place.

“Oh, Fairy Godmother. I-I am, I—” Cinderella took another step back.

The distinct crack of wood had her gasping for air. Oh, no. No, no, no. She’d broken the magic stick. This could not be happening. Hands flew to her flamed cheeks. She waited for Prince to snap out of his frozen reverie. Denounce her very life. But not so much as a flicker of his eyelash fluttered. She dare not move. “Oh. I…I…” Her voice croaked in horror.

Fairy Godmother’s dainty palm came up to halt Cinderella mid-sentence. “Did you break it, do you think? My wand, dear? Thank the heavens you found the blasted thing. ’Twould not do for it to fall into nefarious hands.” She dipped forward and swiped two distinct pieces from the ground.

“Oh, my,” Cinderella whispered. She had definitely broken it. She was too stunned to cry. “I shall—shall—” An audible gulp was impossible to mask. Resigned, she squared her shoulders. ’Twas time to pay the piper. “I shall turn myself in, of course. ’Tis only fitting I should be locked up. The dungeon would be preferable to the gallows, however. Is it possible…you could recommend…I would be most grateful…I…I imagine there are friends in the dungeon. Or, mayhap, Marcel…I am friendly with mice, you see. They are not so terrible, you know. He…is not…so…”

“Cease your prattling, dear child. It is not as dire as all that. Worry naught. I shall handle matters from here. Do you think you can manage your way back?”

Cinderella did not think so, but she could not seem to form a coherent sentence to convey the fact.

“Run along, dear.”

“But, I need to tell Essie. He…she…they…” Cinderella flung out her hand unable to put sound to the word ‘betrothed.’

“Let us not mention this little incident further, hmm?”

“But—” She choked at Fairy Godmother’s stern gaze. “No…no, of course not.” She stammered while heat burned her face. She swung on her heel. Then stopped, and asked over her shoulder, “Prince? Sir Arnald?”

“Not to worry, child. These spells never last long. You handled things magnificently, if I must say.”

Pressing her luck was not an option. She ran for the cover of darkness—never mind the lack of ladylike etiquette, or the fact that she had no inclination, whatsoever, on how to find her way back. Or the many questions she’d had for her elusive Fairy Godmother, once she’d set eyes on her again.

Perhaps another time, she promised herself, and fled for safety.

{05-Jan) The Wronged Princess – book i

“I must protest this avenue of your investigation,” Arnald complained.

“If you are frightened, by all means, I will meet up with you later.” Prince was vastly amused by Arnald’s discomfort, and he took great delight in letting him see so.

“I am not afraid,” he growled.

But Arnald hesitated at the door of the chamber where Prince heard his mother conspiring with the mysterious Faustine. Prince sauntered in, using the taper he held to light two of the four sconces on the wall. “Much better,” he said, glancing around.

The chamber was not large by any means. A chair with worn fabric in one corner and beside it a heavy square table. There were no candles or other objects to identify the recent occupants but for the unsettled grime. Only the damning evidence of Maman’s voice in his head from the prior day.

Waves crashing below sounded through a window that was much too high to peer from.

“What are you looking for, Cousin?” Arnald’s barely concealed sarcasm rebounded.

“Ah, I see you recovered from your weak constitution” Prince said, dryly.

Weak constitution.” Arnald’s indignation had Prince unable to hold back a burst of laughter. Arnald’s eyes focused on something behind Prince, standing the hair at his nape on end. “Bonjour, Madame,” Arnald smiled.

Prince spun quickly shocked to see his mother.

“Oh, dear,” she muttered softly.

“Maman?”

She cleared her throat with a delicate cough. “It appears your maman failed to mention a twin, I see.”

Twin?” he choked out. “But—” Of course, she was a twin. At first glance, they looked exactly the same but for the elaborately fashioned hair built high on her stately head. They had the same dark eyes and upturned noses and slight builds. He would hazard the only discernible difference, upon closer examination, was a tiny mole on his aunt’s left cheek. Though his mother would not have been caught dead in a frock of such frilly, pink nonsense. He leaned closer. “Are those diamonds, threaded throughout your gown, Madame?”

“Ahem…” She inclined her head, identically to his mother. “Mais oui, mon cher. I must say,” she said. “You are the spitting image of your papa. I am quite proud of you.”

Proud?”

“Are you unwell, dear?” She furrowed her brows. “You keep repeating me. It could be a sickness of the mind, you know.”

Prince could hardly comprehend the thread of conversation at the sight of an aunt long thought dead. It was no secret Arnald was his cousin, but how could Maman keep a twin sister a secret. And why? Oh, were they past time for a chat.

“Maman, I believe you have left my cousin thoroughly speechless. A remarkable feat, actually.” Arnald’s humor had bounded back in full force.

Prince recovered himself with an effort and narrowed his eyes on the tiny woman before him. “Does my maman know you are about, Tante?”

Oui,” she responded with a wave of her hand. “We are quite close, you know.”

Close? He strived for a measured breath. It was obvious he needed to keep his wits about him. This, of course, had to be the mysterious Faustine. His mother’s sister. His aunt.

“So you and my darling, conniving, Maman have been manipulating the recent events of my life,” he said. The more he considered “recent” events, the more perfect sense it made, and the more incensed he became. He struggled for composure, however. “I wonder what conclusions you have come to, Tante. I would be most curious to hear.”

“Oh, my. I do believe you are angry, oui?” she twittered.

“Angry, Madame?”

“Now, my dear, you would not dare to threaten such a dainty creature? A woman this small in stature, mind, could not hope to create so much as a bustle of concern.” Arnald laughed. He stood with folded arms across his chest and shoulder against the doorframe. His lofty wit was annoying and did not help in restoring Prince’s usually collected attitude.

“Humph. You are telling me, because she is so small, she could not cause havoc?” Prince dare not take his eyes from the woman before him who begun a pace about the room. He had the distinct feeling she might evaporate into thin air. A handy trick these women were able to execute at the snap of a finger.

“That is neither here nor there, Nephew.”

Prince drew his fiercest scowl. “You dare to taunt me, Madame? I am the future king.”

“And I am your elder, you shall address me with respect.” She actually snapped at him. “Now, dear, you must let your confidence guide you.”

Confidence? Guide him? “I feel the most sudden urge to meet with my own maman,” he muttered.

Oui, oui. I suppose you must.” She plopped down in the one chair, planted an elbow on the table and rested her chin in her palm.

Arnald moved to her and went down on bended knee. He clasped her small hand in his. “What is it, Maman? You are distressed, non?”

“Dear boy.” A tender touch to his head had Prince compelled to look away. “Naught that with which you could help.” She pulled her hand away. “Be gone, both of you. We shall speak soon enough.”

{04-Jan) The Wronged Princess – book i

Chapter 29

 “We must return it,” Cinderella insisted. “Someone is bound to discover its disappearance.”

“I don’t want to return it. Not yet.”

Cinderella was surprised Pricilla did not stomp her foot like an errant child. The shiny stick had not so much as loosened from her tightly fisted fingers.

The three girls had hurried to Cinderella’s chamber with, as far as Cinderella could tell, no one the wiser. Their luck could not hold out much longer.

“Well, I want my turn with it,” Essie said.

At this rate, Fairy Godmother would never get her silver stick back.

“Someone is coming,” Pricilla hissed. She thrust the stick in Cinderella’s hand just as the door to the chamber burst open.

Cinderella dropped her arms to her side and managed to disguise the thin baton within the plush folds of her skirts.

“There you are, children.” Stepmama strode in, ignoring Cinderella. “I have begged an audience with Conte de Lecce and his son. We shall meet him within the hour.”

Pricilla scowled and Essie gasped, simultaneously.

Unnerving, Cinderella thought.

Stepmama’s narrowed eyes on Essie held a dangerous glint. “What is this, Esmeralda?”

“No…nothing, Maman,” Essie stammered.

“I did not think so.” Her smile appeared more a sneer with her jowls shaking so. It sent a terror of tingles over Cinderella’s skin.

She grazed Cinderella with a maliciousness that had her shrinking away. How quickly things had changed with Essie and Pricilla. Yet, not so with Stepmama, reminding Cinderella how tenuous her place. How was she to escape such hatred? This was the woman Papa had promised himself to for all eternity. What was it Cinderella did that so dismayed her? If she could but fix it, she would. She blinked back sudden tears.

“I suppose we have no choice but to include you.” Stepmama turned to Pricilla. “You must look your best.” She threw her arms wide. “I have grand plans for you, my darling.”

Oui, Maman.” The contrite tone Pricilla offered Stepmama was in complete contrast to the sparkle of mischief in her eyes.

“Come along, then. You too, Esmeralda. The prince will be in attendance as well. We have much work to do.” She swung on her heel and bounded from the room like a large hound.

Pushing away the dampness, Cinderella’s sympathies followed Pricilla and Essie from the chamber as they had no choice but to trot after Stepmama like pedigreed puppies, leaving the door ajar in their wake.

Cinderella unclutched her skirts and glanced down. All sympathy flew out the window. She still held the baton Pricilla had thrust at her. Mayhap her luck had changed. The little stick pulsated with life. This was her only chance to return it. Nervous exhilaration pounded through her veins. She may not be what one could refer to as a free spirit, whether too prim and proper or timid like a mouse, she thought—not without disgust—but she was one to follow through, however dangerous the undertaking. She moved to the door and peeked down the hall.

All clear.

Now, if she only knew where to find the deserted wing. She contemplated the baton in her hand for a moment then wrapped both hands tightly about the base. She closed her eyes and held it out.

Nothing happened for a moment—then her slippered feet set out on a path of their own volition. A strange sensation, indeed, when one’s mind was not in sync with one’s feet. She breathed deeply and maintained a vigil watch.

The little baton guided her through winding turns of cold dark passageways lit only by the glow emanating from the magical little stick. Short, oblong windows as perfectly spaced apart as the candled sconces in her own hallway had no coverings to protect the dank walls from the weather. A cool breeze passed through creating an eerie whistle effect that sent chills up her spine. Cobwebs danced like eerie ghosts in the dimness.

Cinderella’s feet showed no signs of slowing as the stick guided her on. Dust kicked up from her swishing skirts teasing her nostrils with a sneeze. Several long moments later dancing shadows of a flickering taper sent relief surging through her.

But the sound of deep voices froze her in her tracks.

{28-Dec} The Wronged Princess ~ book i

“I believe I have now seen it all,” Arnald jeered.

Prince groaned before opening one eye. Arnald stood over him, hands at his hips. The smirk on his lips had Prince clenching a fist. “Is your hovering absolutely necessary?”

“Ha!” Arnald held out his hand, warding off any explanation Prince may have had inclined to offer. Which he did not. “Do not tell me. An attack of the vapors? Another swoon?”

Neither had occurred to Prince, and he stifled a surge of panic. “I should banish you to the dungeons. Feed you rations of molded bread and tepid water for the rest of your natural life.”

Arnald shot him a quick grin and stepped toward the table near his head. “Non. You know your blessed maman would never allow anything of the sort for her sister’s only child.”

That much was true. Arnald was difficult enough without encouragement from that quarter.

He sat up slowly. “I cannot seem to remember much of anything.” Well, nothing he was prepared to mention. Startling three attractive young women in his private sitting chamber did not bear mentioning. And how had they managed to get him to the settee? He was much too heavy. Mayhap they used the wind from Ernalda’s freakishly strong lashes.

“If I may be so bold—”

“Are you ever anything else?” he interrupted.

“—did you perhaps imbibe one too many, Cousin.”

“Imbibe?” Prince was ready to throttle him.

Arnald knelt down on one knee. “Your brandy snifter—” he said, picking up the base of the glass. He held it out in an open palm. “Broken.”

Dumbfounded, Prince repeated, “Broken?” He contemplated the smashed glass for a moment. His head did not seem to be pounding from the inside out. In fact, the last liquor he remembered feasting on was the small bit just before bed the night before. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, head in his hands. Something odd was going on. Instinct, whispered that his mother and her mysterious friend, Faustine, were, if not the entire cause, then certainly had some inkling behind the strange goings-on. He was sure of it. But what? “Call someone to clear up this mess. We have information to uncover. And I believe I know just where to begin.”

“Should we not be strategizing your kidnapping? The betrothal ball is but a few days, hence.”

He responded to Arnald’s sarcasm with a touch of his own. “Or mayhap a lynching,” he muttered.

{25-Dec} The Wronged Princess ~ book i

Chapter 28

Cinderella snatched one arm and Essie the other as they dragged Pricilla into the first unlocked chamber they could find. Lucky for them, Pricilla’s amusement was so great it lessened her resistance.

“What?” Pricilla choked out, laughing so hard she bent at the waist. “I am just having a bit of fun.”

“You terrified that poor chambermaid out of her wits,” Essie accused.

“We shall never survive the aftermath,” Cinderella muttered. Her heart pounded furiously against her chest. She had to get that stick out of Pricilla’s hands, and soon, before she set the entire castle afire or turned everyone into chirping crickets.

“Where are we?” Pricilla asked, swiping tears from her eyes. Once she’d finally calmed enough to pose the question.

“Some poor unfortunate’s sitting room from the looks of it,” Essie said.

“Well, poor they are not, I would venture.” Cinderella cast a nervous glance round. Heavy brocaded drapes blocked out a good portion of the daylight but for a parted sliver. Heated coals smoldered in the hearth, and an empty brandy glass sat on a nearby table.

Cinderella had trouble believing Pricilla bore a single stint of remorse for her theft of the magic stick. In retrospect, it had mattered naught for Pricilla to steal the bread from Cinderella’s plate. She supposed that could not compare to a powerful silver baton.

Why, the two carried on as if Pricilla had not just whipped up a flock of butterflies scurrying round the palace, worthy of Essie’s batting eyes. Thousands of them: monarchs, tiger swallowtails, gossamers of every shape, size and color, all flitting about, covering every conceivable surface. Sending the servants into a horrific frenzy, with the betrothal ball just days away.

Cinderella had to admit, the situation would be outrageously comical, but for the consequences of their shenanigans. She, apparently, harbored enough terror for the three of them. “Do not touch a thing,” Cinderella hissed as Essie picked up the empty brandy glass and brought it to her nose.

Unfortunately, Cinderella’s stark command managed to trigger the opposite effect. Startled, the glass slipped from Essie’s finders. Thankfully, the elaborate rug padded the fall, and the glass rolled to a slow stop.

Cinderella stilled, breath stuck in her throat. Her pulse flailed wildly against the open palm she laid across her neck. Pricilla and Essie froze too. Not for long, however.

“Watch this,” Pricilla whispered, grinning. She extended the silver bar towards the glass, now laying on its side.

Cinderella watched, enthralled, in spite of her misgivings. The glass levitated from the floor and floated to mid-air, swaying precariously under Pricilla’s concentration.

Under her carefully guided journey, the glass was near complete to the table, a spectacular sight—until an adjoining door to the chamber burst open.

Pricilla and Essie’s gasps drowned Cinderella’s. Pricilla snatched her hand behind her back and the glass crashed against the edge. No graceful set down this time as it shattered in pieces when it hit the floor.

“Good afternoon, ladies. To what do I owe the pleasure?” Prince smirked from the doorjamb his arms folded across his chest.

Cinderella could not have moved had someone set her feet afire. He moved to the windows and whipped the drapes aside, flooding his features with late afternoon sun. The effect accentuated chiseled cheek bones and streaks of dirt over shirt open at the neck. His hair was plastered against his head in an unsightly, quite un-princely manner. He reeked of rich soil and fresh air. He was the most beautiful sight she’d ever laid eyes on. Her breath caught in her throat.

“Please tell me you had nothing to do with the mayhem thundering the halls?” Amusement colored his tone.

Heat that flamed Cinderella’s cheeks. Dear heavens, they were sunk. If Pricilla was able to keep the silver baton hidden, mayhap they could escape any real dire consequences. It took every ounce of restraint Cinderella could muster to not drop to her knees and beg for mercy.

She snuck a peek at Pricilla. But before Cinderella could screech out a warning, Pricilla whipped the cursed stick from behind and it slanted to the prince.

Her Prince. How could she!

Rendered immobile, Cinderella’s life flashed before her eyes in a series of dark stone dungeons equipped with a stretching rack, or worse—The Wheel. Administered by an evil, mustached-man armed with a leather strap to snap across her bare back. Essie’s cries would bounce off the dank walls she’d be manacled to. Rodents and other vile critters would pick over their broken bones. The pictured, so vivid, had her gasping for air.

Riveted and unmoving, except for a furious blinking that had the drapes fluttering with the shift in current, showed Essie suffered a similar vision.

Pricilla, however, was not to be deterred. Arm raised, she wore a vague smile on her lips. “My apologies, Sire,” she said softly. She flicked her wrist.

Prince—her wonderful, beloved, Prince—slumped to the floor like a lump of coal. “How dare you…how dare you…” the words choked from Cinderella in a chant, even as the shocking scene before her unfolded. Cinderella couldn’t seem to move. She wished herself dead.

Pricilla did not appear finished, She motioned the silver baton upward…lifting Prince in the process. Slowly, she guided his leaden body to the settee, arm shaking with her efforts. He dropped in an unceremonious heap on the settee.

“Don’t just stand there gaping like fish,” she hissed, startling Cinderella.

Cinderella jerked forward and wrapped her arms about his broad shoulders. Even deep breaths from Prince sent a surge of relief through her. She struggled to lay his back against the pillow while Essie struggled in shifting his booted legs over the arm rest at the other end.

“You’ve done it this time, Cill,” Essie accused, wheezing with exhaustion.

Cinderella barely registered Essie’s words when she found her cheek brushing his. The intimacy of the position shook her to her core. Heated breath from his parted lips on her skin created a brilliant charge in the air. She felt dizzy from the unexpected contact. Her fingers drifted to the hair felled over his brow.

If she dropped dead in this moment she would surely die a happy woman.

“Do hurry, Cinderella. We have no idea how long these efforts can be contained. This stick is unpredictable, at best.”

Cinderella snapped to, managing to arrange Prince as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. She resisted the urge to brush back a curling lock of hair from his forehead, and distanced herself at once.

“They are sure to hang us from the gallows,” Essie said, gulping for air.

Cinderella couldn’t have agreed more.

“There is the strangest current in the air,” Pricilla said. “I vow I did not do a thing.”

“Not much, you didn’t,” Essie muttered. “Quick, I believe he may be stirring.”

A statement that effectively sent them scrambling for the door.

{24-Dec} The Wronged Princess ~ book i

Chapter 27

“What do you mean you’ve misplaced your wand, Faustine? If this is another one of your little practical jokes, I’ll have you know, my sensibility level is knee-high, at best,” Thomasine ranted.

“Good heavens, Thomasine. What on earth could make you believe I would jest about such a thing? Why, the very idea of my wand in the wrong hands leaves me alarmed beyond comprehension.” She shuddered. “And, because the blasted thing has gone missing, I am stuck in this dust, rat-infested hole until we locate it.”

“What a horrid thing to say. My castle is not rat-infested.” She pinched the bridge of her nose. “But that is neither here nor there. You are right. It does not bear thinking of what consequences should emerge if the wrong person were to possess it. I best return, before someone wonders what has become of me. Give me a sign of some sort once you have located it.”

Thomasine swept from the room, leaving behind a flustered, frustrated Faustine. Disgust filled her. What more could go wrong?

Muted screams reached Faustine’s ears. “Well, that did not take long,” she muttered, darting for the door. One should not tempt fate in the manner of such a question, she chastised, hastily quitting the chamber.

{23-Dec} The Wronged Princess ~ book i

Hours moved swiftly into days, and Cinderella was amazed to find how natural her relationship with Pricilla and Essie progressed. To her astonishment, if her opinion differed from one of the others, then a word battle ensued before they were laughing it off. Her meek behavior, though not completely absolved, was moving to a thing of the past.

It was not perfect, of course. She was the first to realize there was much of the past to be forgiven, but for the first time since Papa’s death she felt a connection, as if the three of them became truly sisters. Most importantly, she was not destined to the isolated existence prevalent just days before. At least until Essie and Pricilla realized that she was the mysterious princess. She grimaced. Then they would hate her for sure.

And Prince? Would he resent her, as well, for deceiving him? Would his family?

She swallowed tears. ’Twas not the time to blubber like a fool.

Arm linked in Essie’s, Cinderella dragged Essie down the path toward the Eros pond. It might seem silly, but Cinderella found comfort in the statue’s presence, and she couldn’t traipse about along. The sun beat down on her new fashionable bonnet and droplets of perspiration gathered at her nape. They meandered along the path, awaiting Pricilla. “What is taking her so long?” Cinderella said

“What on earth?” Essie sputtered at the same time, spinning. Pricilla’s footsteps pounded down the path. “You sound like a herd of horses, Cill.”

Pricilla’s breath came in short stilted gasps as she pulled up, grabbing Essie’s arm, bent at the waist.

“You’d best take care, Pricilla, before you cause Stepmama an apoplectic seizure. Or yourself. What is that contraption you’re holding? And where in heaven’s name did you find it?”

It was a silver baton and Cinderella had a bad feeling. A very bad feeling.

“’Tis a stick, see?” She rose slowly, and held it out, turning it at various angles. “It’s the strangest thing.”

Deep foreboding spread through Cinderella. “What do you mean?” she whispered.

“It sort of quivers when I tilt it just so.” Pricilla demonstrated by grasping the slightly widened end.

“Mayhap it just looks like it quivers due to its sparkled and shiny exterior.” Essie scoffed.

But Cinderella eyed it warily. Sure enough, a small, yet discernible tremor emanated from the skinny stick jiggling in Pricilla’s fingertips.

“Quivers!” Essie snatched it from Pricilla’s hand. “Oh, my,” Essie breathed.

An odd shiver of apprehension snaked over Cinderella’s skin. “Where did it come from?”

“It sort of just rolled in front of me.” Pricilla shrugged. She shot a mischievous grin in their direction, and plucked it back from Essie. “It feels almost…alive.”

“Rolled in front of you where? “ Essie demanded.

“In the castle, silly,” she said rolling her eyes. Essie’s gaze was a fierce scrutiny and Pricilla huffed. Cinderella thought it a brilliant tactic. “Fine. I found it in a wing that may not be so inhabited,” Pricilla hedged.

“Not inhabited?” Cinderella squeaked. She could feel the panic closing her throat.

“Cill, you know we’re not supposed to explore that area!”

“Oh, please, Essie, who will know?” Pricilla narrowed her eyes on Essie. “Unless you take it upon yourself to say something, that is.”

Oh, no. They verged on the edge of blows—again. “For the sake of heaven, both of you!” Cinderella snapped. “Do you hear yourselves? This constant bickering is…is embarrassing, not to mention annoying.” Two gaped expressions turned on Cinderella that had heat flooding her face. Eyes squeezed tight, she place both palms to her cheeks. “Oh…oh, I’m sorry.”

Silence filled the air, when finally Essie barked out a sharp laugh and threw her arms about her. “Oh, Cinde. We truly are sisters, now.”

Tears burned the back of her throat. Cinderella opened her eyes and caught Pricilla’s sheepish grin.

Oui.” Pricilla was concurring? “When one takes comfort in raising one’s voice to another, as you have, Cinde, it does appear the relationship has truly evolved.” To Cinderella’s complete and utter astonishment, Pricilla reached out and hugged her too, poking her in the side with the shiny stick.

“Umph,” Cinderella grunted. “Um, Pricilla, your new stick is poking me.”

“Oh, je suis désolée, sorry,” she said, standing back. “Interesting little thing, is it not?” She swished it through the air creating a soft whistle.

Blooms sprouted in a rainbow of colors. From the tips of the tree limbs, throughout the fields as far as the eye could see. The air fairly choked with the convergence of overbearing sickly fragrances.

That sick feeling of dread Cinderella experienced over her skin spread to a chill down her spine as she circled slowly circle gaping. Essie collapsed in a heap on the stone bench facing Eros, hand covering her open mouth.

Cinderella glanced over at Pricilla.

Her mouth hung open too, but her gaze was stuck on the silver baton in her hand. “What the—”

“Cill!” Essie snapped, coming to her senses. Cinderella could not take it in. Periwinkles, thistles, daisies, goldenrods, orange jewelweed. They sprouted everywhere with no end in sight. Kept sprouting, in fact. “Make it stop, Cill.”

“I…I don’t know how.”

Cinderella had never heard Pricilla panic—and she was the sensible one.

“Wave the blasted thing,” Essie commanded.

“Oh, of course.” She did. The flowers faded away, leaving behind the scented atmosphere, which appeared somewhat bland in the aftermath. Pricilla stood immobile appearing as stunned as Cinderella felt.

“What…what happened?” Pricilla’s voice trembled.

Cinderella had yet to find her own voice. She swallowed hard and could not seem to keep her eyes from the stick in Pricilla’s fingers. The thing positively exuded a shimmering effervescent glow.

“I do believe you stick is magic,” Essie said, awed.

Pricilla dropped down on the bench beside her. “I do believe you are right.”

Essie’s curiosity spilled forth. “How does it work?”

There would be no stopping her sisters now, Cinderella realized, and a certain terror gripped her.

“How the devil should I know?” Pricilla said softly. She was clearly still in shock. Bewilderment touching her tone.

“Try something else,” Essie said. Her shock had blazed past, straight through to excitement.

“I have no idea what I did in the first place.”

“We surely need to take it back,” Cinderella squeaked out.

“Do be serious, Cinde. Surely, you are not averse to a little fun?” Essie said, eyes riveted on the object. The blasted thing had her mesmerized.

Someone had to do something, Cinderella thought, panic rising. Oh, this was a nightmare. What if the stick belonged to—

“What did you do that for?” Essie cried. “Ow! My shoe is getting too snug.”

“Oh, Ess, I’m sorry. Truly, I am. I just had a fleeting thought that if your feet were the same size as mine and pointed the stick…Oh, Essie—” Pricilla gasped.

Cinderella felt almost sorry for Pricilla. Her horrified expression made clear her intention was not to make Essie’s foot less dainty. But, heavens, the size of her foot changed! That stick could only belong to one person, and they needed to return it. Without delay.

“Pricilla!” Cinderella said sternly. “Come. Now.” She spun on her heel without waiting for either of them. Newly embraced or not, she strode up the path, praying they’d have sense enough to follow; they had to return that stick.

“I will not return it. Not just yet,” Pricilla called after Cinderella. “If this thing can adjust the size of one’s foot, just imagine the other possibilities.”

Cinderella froze in her tracks. She’d never be able to stand up to the both of them. She would just have to confiscate the thing in secret and return it herself. If Fairy Godmother got wind of this…well, it was bad enough she’d lost her shoe, but to have stolen her magic stick? ’Twas inconceivable.

She could only hope reigning terror did not befall them all in the interim. Streaks of silver and gold glitter fell gracefully from the sky.

{22-Dec} The Wronged Princess ~ book i

Chapter 26

 The next morning

Pressure bore down on Prince’s chest equivalent to that of an African elephant crushing his breast bone. The betrothal ball was but a mere sennight off and he was no closer to a solution than the moment the glass slipper slipped on Elma’s dainty foot. That name was just wrong.

He moved to the open window and placed a palm over his face, frustration miring panic. What if he couldn’t find a way out and really wound up married to a human advection motion detector? He lifted his head and stared out. Despite the sun rising over the horizon for what promised to be a beautiful day, his breakfast remained on a tray, cold and untouched.

A day of mending walls and tending tenant matters would go far in clearing his head. Deciding how to divert an impending wedding doomed for disaster without hurting an innocent young woman was difficult. The usual solution in these matters was the female crying off.

Prince was not fool enough to believe Lady Roche would allow either of her daughters any such thing. And, what of Cinderella? He was still unclear of her role in that strange little family. Mayhap he could ask Maman, if she could spare an audience. ’Twas looking less and less of a possibility. Still, if it saved a wedding with the wrong woman…

He let out a sigh. Non, Lady Roche’s consuming hatred of Cinderella stifled any union of that sort. And, short of sudden death he foresaw no graceful way from the situation.

Two hours later, Prince pounded his vexation on a fencing post, making great strides in his effort. “What am I to do about this betrothal ball?” Prince asked Arnald. He slammed the hammer on the post sending it deeper into the ground. Each whack sealed the debacle in which he found himself. He could feel moisture glistening off his body, his muscles rippling with each swing. He welcomed the unseasonably brutal sun.

“You could stage your own siege,” Arnald suggested. He hammered away at another post several feet over.

“’Tis obvious I cannot marry the chit,” Prince went on. The misery of a future with Earline threatened to unman him—a disaster of his own doing.

“Or your own kidnapping.”

“She is not so bad, I suppose. And her blinking does seem to have lost some of its velocity.” But to marry her when I love another? He couldn’t do it. There must be another solution. Ideally, he would have found his mysterious princess by this time, but each hour that passed pushed hope further from reach.

His lips tingled with an image of touching them to Cinderella’s hand. The unbidden thought was so unexpected he missed the post altogether with his next propulsion. He stumbled forward like a clumsy oxen. He swiped the sweat from his brow with a forearm.

“That is because you do not make her nervous any longer,” Arnald pointed out ruthlessly. “What about fainting again? That appeared to work well.”

Prince looked over his shoulder to Arnald. “Did you say something?”

{21-Dec} The Wronged Princess ~ book i

Chapter 25

 “Faustine, what the devil are you about?” Thomasine hissed. “I do not remember an agreement to stirring up the wind.”

“Such language, dear,” she sniffed. “And the wind is not my doing.”

“Of course, it is. Who else could it be?”

Thomasine glanced about for curious ears. She sat in a chair elevated on a platform, observing the festivities before swinging her gaze back to Faustine.

Faustine was postured through a break in the trees tapping her foot impatiently. One hand was fisted at her hip, the other waving in a precarious position. Her expression gave Thomasine pause. “Well, then…who…?” Thomasine’s question trailed as her eyes landed on the source and light dawned. “Ah, my apologies, Sister Dear. I, ah, see the problem. Alessandro has Cinderella’s hand yet again. Hmmm. It’s clear our Esmeralda harbors a longing for the Conte’s elder son.”

Faustine’s grunt sounded through the branches. “Where is the hag, dear?”

Thomasine’s gaze spanned the grounds, locating Lady Roche cornered by the Conte near the refreshment tent. “Being nicely detained at the moment. Your handiwork?”

“Well, I had my doubts it would work a second time, ma chère. I can only offer the suggestion by way of…” she waggled her hand. “I cannot force love. Hmmm. Somehow, I’ve misplaced by wand.”

“A shame that. Sweeping her from Chalmers—” A rousing cheer roared through the crowd.

“What is it, Thomasine?”

Thomasine cocked her head toward the archery targets. “It seems Esmeralda just scored a bull’s-eye on the archery target.”

“Esmeralda?” Faustine asked, clearly stunned. “I thought Pricilla was the expert with a deadly weapon.”