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Friday, September 30, 2016

Review of My Heart's Desire by Andrea Kane

My Heart's Desire (Barrett #1) by Andrea Kane
Genre: Adult Fiction (Historical Fiction/ Romance)
Date Re-Published: September 20, 2016
Publisher: Meadow Publishing LLC

Lady Alexandria Cassel scorned London’s frivolous social whirl, seeking adventure as a stowaway aboard a merchant ship. Drake Barrett was the vessel’s powerful captain—and a cynical duke who disdained a noble’s shallow life. At sea he revealed neither his origins nor his wealth, and to Alexandria he was simply a man who made her cool reserve fly with the winds… whose desire for her was as wild as the ocean they sailed.
Caught in the crossfire of war, they were shipwrecked on an idyllic island, where they tasted perfect passion… and tenderness. But Drake dreaded the day of their rescue—when his love would discover that the virile man she adored was at the pinnacle of the aristocracy she despised. Hardly did they suspect the base treachery that would soon threaten them… and the dangers each would brave to join forever their hearts and lives!

My Heart's Desire is the first book in the Barrett Family Series by Andrea Kane. Drake tried to be a brute. He has major trust & anger issues. He doesn't believe in love. He doesn't want love. I guess he never bargained on meeting Alex who comes into his life like a bull in a china shop. I don't know why she didn't kick him to the curb a few times. He sure deserved it. Alex was a fun little spitfire of a thing. I like how she didn't let Drake push her around(aside from a few times, which for me, would have been kicking to the curb times), and it was also fun watching Drake be all disgruntled about the fact that she did whatever she wanted regardless of what he said. They were an entertaining pair. There was insta-lust, but it certainly wasn't insta-love. They bantered and faught most of the time, but when they turned on the steam... Whew! They didn't mess around... err well they did..but... you know what I mean. My Heart's Desire kept my attention from the beginning. It was entertaining, funny, steamy, and had a touch of adventure and danger! I'll definitely be getting my hands on the next book!

My Heart's Desire by Andrea Kane was kindly provided to me by the author for review. The opinions are my own.

No storm could be as fierce as the one that raged in Alexandria’s flashing eyes as she faced Drake across the cabin. Her expression was murderous, her small hands clenched at her sides, her tone lethal.
Drake closed the door behind him with a firm click. “By ‘your clothes’ I presume you mean that dusty gown and shredded chemise you discarded on my cabin floor?” He leaned nonchalantly against the wall, regarding her with amusement.
Alex was too angry to be shocked at his casual mention of her undergarment. “You know damned well what clothes I mean!”
“Now, now … such language, my lady. I am truly shocked.”
She looked as though she might strike him.
“I demand that you return my things at once!”
His brows went up. “You demand? Careful, princess, your snobbish airs are showing. Remember, on this ship the only one who demands is me.” He crossed the room, ignoring her as if she were no more than an annoying child.
She stepped in front of him, blocking his way.
“Did you want something, my lady?” He paused, studying her livid expression. She was as transparent as glass, her anger and exasperation clearly evident on her beautiful face.
Drake grinned. “Your clothes are no longer with us.”
The color in her face deepened. “What?”
“They were torn from your adventure.”
“Liar!” she shot back. “There was no reason for you to discard them … at least not for the reason you just gave.”
Her accusing tone made him chuckle. “You are quite correct, princess. The real reason is that I cannot have you parading around in your finery. My men are already lusting after you quite openly. We wouldn’t want to further intoxicate their senses, now would we?”
“The only one on this ship who has treated me with any disrespect is you!” she retorted.
“Then be grateful that I have limited you to men’s attire. Perhaps you will be safe from my lecherous advances.”
Drake moved away, and Alex turned her back as he took off his shirt and tossed it carelessly onto the chair. Tossing his breeches next to his shirt, he put an end to her torment by climbing into his berth.
The cabin was silent. Drake could sense Alex’s presence nearby, and he knew instinctively that she was not in bed.
He heard her jump. “What is it?”
He cleared his throat. “Is there some problem?”
“No … yes …” She paused. “May I use your basin and some water to wash the dirt from my face?”
Drake smiled in the darkness. “Go right ahead. And, princess … if you can find your way around in the dark, help yourself to one of my shirts. They are clean and more than large enough to protect your modesty.”
Again, silence. Then, “Thank you, Captain.”
Her bare feet padded across the room. Drake listened to her opening the heavy chest, taking out one of his shirts, and slipping it on. Splashing sounds told him she was washing, followed by her soft footsteps as she returned to her cot. Then a thud and a cry of pain.
Drake was out of bed in an instant, moving toward the sound of her choked cry.
“Alexandria? What is it?”
“I walked into the cot,” she whimpered.
“Are you badly hurt?”
In truth she was not. It had been a sudden painful blow, yet already the pain was subsiding to a dull throb. But it was more than she could withstand after her emotionally taxing day. Hot tears filled her eyes, spilled down her cheeks. Try though she would, she could not control the sobs that shook her.
“I’m sorry,” she gasped. “I never cry … and it is not that bad a bruise … I just can’t …” She shook her head helplessly, covering her eyes with trembling hands.
There was no forethought. Drake reacted instantly, pulling her into his arms.
“Shhh,” he soothed, pressing her head against his chest. He felt her tears drenching his bare skin, her narrow shoulders shaking. “It’s all right, sweetheart … don’t cry,” he murmured, raising her chin with his forefinger, wishing he could see her face. He stroked his other hand down her back, pressing her closer to him.
They became aware of each other at the same moment. He was totally naked. She was clad only in a thin white shirt. She needed comfort. He needed more.

Check out my review of the next book in this series!

Andrea Kane is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-seven novels, including thirteen psychological thrillers and fourteen historical romantic suspense titles.

With her signature style, Kane creates unforgettable characters and confronts them with life-threatening danger. As a master of suspense, she weaves them into exciting, carefully-researched stories, pushing them to the edge—and keeping her readers up all night.

Kane’s beloved historical romantic suspense novels include My Heart’s Desire, Samantha, The Last Duke, and Wishes in the Wind.
With a worldwide following of passionate readers, her books have been published in more than twenty languages.

Kane lives in New Jersey with her husband and family. She’s an avid crossword puzzle solver and a diehard Yankees fan. Otherwise, she’s either writing or playing with her Pomeranian, Mischief, who does his best to keep her from writing.

To learn more about Andrea Kane and her books, visit her website.You can also find her on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book Review of Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter by C.A. Verstraete, Plus Author Interview!

Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter by C.A. Verstraete
Genre: Adult Fiction (Horror/Historical Fiction)
Date Published: September 13, 2016
Publisher: Imajin Books

Every family has its secrets… 

One hot August morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden picked up an axe and murdered her father and stepmother. Newspapers claim she did it for the oldest of reasons: family conflicts, jealousy and greed. But what if her parents were already dead? What if Lizzie slaughtered them because they’d become zombies? 

Thrust into a horrific world where the walking dead are part of a shocking conspiracy to infect not only Fall River, Massachusetts, but also the world beyond, Lizzie battles to protect her sister, Emma, and her hometown from nightmarish ghouls and the evil forces controlling them.

Lizze Borden is a person in our American history who never ceases to fascinate us. Mostly because we still don't know what happened. Did she do it? Didn't she do it? Who did? Why?  It's a crazy, sad mess. Well, some of these questions may now be answered for us. Zombies. Lizzie was protecting her self from Zombies. And why not? It makes about as much sense as anything else. I found the whole idea to be quite clever actually.

There was a lot of action through this book. Zombies are everywhere it seems. Lizzie is a quick study in the hunting of zombies, and seems to be a pretty smart and independent lady. I never really connected with Lizzie as a person. She was always at a distance to me, so it was hard to truly get absorbed in her story. Although, when you look at all her real life pictures, she gives me the impression of someone who is cold and distant there too, so maybe that is a fitting aspect after all.

 John bothered me. I think he's supposed to, but I don't understand his intentions. Did he lose interest? Was he an 1890's player? He cut Lizzie off so suddenly, I thought there was going to be a reason behind the behavior, but there was none given.

This was a wonderful idea for a book. I love when a book takes history's mysteries and fills in the blanks.

The ARC of Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter by C.A. Verstraete was kindly provided to me by Bewitching Book Tours for review. The opinions are my own.

Chapter One

Q. You saw his face covered with blood?
A. Yes sir.
Q. Did you see his eyeball hanging out?
A. No sir.
Q. Did you see the gashes where his face was laid open?
A. No sir.
—Lizzie Borden at inquest, August 9-11, 1892, Fall River Courtroom

August 4, 1892
Lizzie Borden drained the rest of her tea, set down her cup, and listened to the sound of furniture moving upstairs. My, my, for only ten o’clock in the morning my stepmother is certainly energetic. Housecleaning, already?
For a moment, Lizzie forgot her plans to go shopping downtown. THUMP. There it went again. It sounded like her stepmother was rearranging the whole room. She paused at the bottom stair, her concern growing, when she heard another thump and then, the oddest of sounds—a moan. Uh-oh. What was that? Did she hurt herself?
“Mrs. Borden?” Lizzie called. “Are you all right?”
No answer.
She wondered if her stepmother had taken ill, yet the shuffling, moving, and other unusual noises continued. Lizzie hurried up the stairs and paused outside the partially opened door. The strange moans coming from the room sent a shiver up her back.
Lizzie pushed the door open wider and stared. Mrs. Abby Durfee Borden stood in front of the bureau mirror, clawing at her reflected image. And what a horrid image it was. The sixty-seven-year-old woman’s hair looked like it had never been combed and stuck out like porcupine quills. Her usually spotless housedress appeared wrinkled and torn. Yet, that wasn’t the worst. Dark red spots—Blood, Lizzie’s mind whispered—dotted the floor and streaked the sides of the older woman’s dress and sleeves.
Lizzie gazed about the room in alarm. The tips of Father’s slippers peeking out from beneath the bed also glistened with the same viscous red liquid. All that blood! What happened here? What happened?
She gasped, which got the attention of Mrs. Borden, who jerked her head and growled. Lizzie choked back a cry of alarm. Abby’s square, plain face now appeared twisted and ashen gray. Her eyes, once bright with interest, stared from under a milky covering as if she had cataracts. She resembled a female version of The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Another growl and a moan, and the older woman lunged, arms rigid, her stubby hands held out like claws.
“Mrs. Borden, Abby!” Lizzie yelled and stumbled backward as fast as she could. “Abby, do you hear me?”
Her stepmother shuffled forward, her steps slow but steady. She showed no emotion or sense of recognition. The only utterances she made were those strange low moans.
Lizzie moved back even further, trying to keep some distance between her and Mrs. Borden’s grasping fingers. Then her foot hit something. Lizzie quickly glanced down at the silver hairbrush that had fallen to the floor. Too late, she realized her error.
“No!” Lizzie cried out at the strange feeling of her stepmother’s clammy, cold hand around her wrist. “Abby, what happened? What’s wrong with you?”
Mrs. Borden said nothing and moved in closer. Her mouth opened and closed, revealing bloodstained teeth.
“No! Stay away!” Lizzie yelled. “Stop!”
She didn’t. Instead, Mrs. Borden scratched and clawed at her. Lizzie leaned back, barely escaping the snap of the madwoman’s teeth at her neck.
“Mrs. Bor—Abby! No, no! Stop!”
Lizzie’s slight advantage of a few inches in height offered no protection against her shorter stepmother’s almost demonic and inhuman strength. The older woman bit and snapped like a rabid dog. Lizzie struggled to fight her off, and shoved her away, yet Mrs. Borden attacked again and again, her hands grabbing, her teeth seeking the tender flesh covered by Lizzie’s long, full sleeves.
The two of them grappled and wrestled, bumping into the bedposts and banging into furniture. Lizzie yelped each time her soft flesh hit something hard. She felt her strength wane as the  crazed woman’s gnarled hands clawed at her. Lizzie wondered how much more she could endure.
Lizzie’s cries for help came out hoarse and weak. “Em-Emma!” She tried again. “Help! Help me!” She knew Emma had come in late last night from her trip out of town. But if Emma already woke and went downstairs, will she even hear me?
Lizzie reeled back, her panic growing as her spine pressed against the fireplace. She pushed and fought in an attempt to keep this monster away, yet Mrs. Borden’s ugly face and snapping teeth edged closer and closer.
Then Lizzie spotted it: the worn hatchet Father had left behind after he’d last brought in the newly chopped wood. No, no! Her mind filled with  horror,  but  when  her  stepmother  came  at  her  again,  Lizzie whispered a prayer for forgiveness and grabbed the handle. She lifted the hatchet high overhead and swung as hard as she could. It hit her stepmother’s skull with a sickening thud.
As impossible as it seemed, Mrs. Borden snarled and continued her attack.
Lizzie hit her again, and again, and again. The blows raked her stepmother’s face and scraped deep furrows into tender flesh. The metal hatchet head pounded her stepmother’s shoulders and arms, the bones giving way with sickening crunches. Mrs. Borden’s broken arms dangled, hanging limp and ugly at her sides… and yet, dear God, yet she continued her attack.
With the last bit of her strength, Lizzie raised the hatchet again and brought it down on Mrs. Borden’s head. Only then did her stepmother crumple and fall into a pile at Lizzie’s feet.
It took a few minutes for Lizzie to comprehend the horrible scene. It didn’t seem real, but it was. With a cry, she threw the bloodied hatchet aside. She gagged as the weapon caught in the braided artificial hairpiece hanging from the back of Mrs. Borden’s gore-encrusted scalp.
Retching, Lizzie ran to the other side of the bed, bent over, and vomited into the chamber pot. She crossed the room and leaned against the wall, her shoulders shaking with each heart-rending sob.
Her hands trembled so hard she could barely hold them still, but she managed to cover her eyes in a feeble attempt to block out the carnage. It didn’t stop the horrific images that flashed in her mind, or the many questions. And it certainly did nothing for the soul-crushing guilt that filled her.

Why? she cried. Why? Dear God, what have I done? What have I done?

How long have you been writing?
A favorite baby photo of mine shows me with a newspaper in front of me and a pencil behind my ear, suggesting it’s been since before I could walk. Actually I’ve been writing a little less time than that. But the photo is prophetic in that I also became a newspaper reporter.

What inspired you to write Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter?
I always was intrigued by Lizzie Borden and realized that the murders could be viewed in another way, especially once I studied the autopsy records and photos. Why else would the victims have been so viciously hit in the head—unless they’d become zombies?

What was the weirdest thing you had to Google while doing research?
Probably axe murders. I wondered how prolific they were…

Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter would make a great film. Would you want to turn your book into a movie?
I agree it would! You have a heroine everyone knows, or thinks they know, action, adventure, horror and family drama. Oh, and maybe a touch of romance. All the ingredients for a great movie!

Which of your characters do you relate to most and why?
I felt rather sorry for Lizzie’s sister, Emma. She stands by her sister throughout her ordeal, but is often overlooked and misunderstood, I think. In real life, it had to be terrible to go from a private life to being thrust into the public and endure the endless speculations on what really happened. I like Lizzie’s take charge attitude in the book, however. She does what’s needed to be done.

What is a secret about you that nobody else knows?
Then it wouldn’t be a secret, right? ☺

What book have you read too many times to count?
I have re-read Stephen King’s Salem Lot and Bram Stoker’s Dracula quite a few times. I still like to pick them up once in a while.

What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
Don’t quit. 

If you could hop into the life of any fictional character, who would it be and why?
I think it would be interesting to step into the shoes of someone living in Fall River at the time of the Borden murders and see firsthand what really went on. It could be a real eye-opener.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
That history isn’t as boring as you might think. Maybe it’s the difference between looking things up you want to learn more about versus being fed boring facts in school. 

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I like building and creating dollhouses and miniatures. It’s my creative and artistic outlet. I also write how-to books on them.
Christine (C.A.) Verstraete enjoys putting a bit of a “scare” in her writing. He stories have appeared in various anthologies and publications including Mystery Weekly, Happy Homicides 3: Summertime Crime, Siren’s Call Magazine, and more. She also is the author of books on dollhouses and a YA novel, GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie.

Her latest novel is Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter.

To learn more about C.A. Verstraete and her books, visit her website & blog.You can also find her on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

Release Week Review & Excerpt of Crushing on Love by Melissa Foster

Crushing on Love (The Bradens at Peaceful Harbor #4) by Melissa Foster
Genre: Adult Fiction(Contemporary Romance)
Date Published: September 21, 2016
Publisher: Self

The Bradens are a series of stand-alone romances that may also be enjoyed as part of the larger Love in Bloom series.
Steve Johnson is living his life's passion watching over the Colorado Mountains as a ranger and wildlife consultant. But his peaceful life is upended when overzealous and insanely beautiful Shannon Braden flits back into his life after returning from a brief trip home to Maryland. He thought his attraction to her was under control--after all, she's only in Colorado temporarily, and he doesn't do casual affairs.

Shannon's return to Colorado has as much to do with the game of cat and mouse she and Steve have been playing as it does the data she's been hired to collect. But despite her efforts to explore the undeniable heat simmering between them, Steve's intent on keeping his distance.

When a ranch abutting the national park goes up for sale, Steve will do whatever it takes to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. And when all his attempts fail, he's left with no alternative but to follow Shannon's guidance into the online world he abhors in order to raise the funds. The more time they spend together, the deeper their attraction becomes, and a game of cat and mouse turns into an unstoppable connection. But when Shannon's assignment comes to an end, will it mean an end to them, too?

Crushing on Love is the fourth book in The Bradens at Peaceful Harbor series by Melissa Foster. I haven't read the previous books in this series yet, but I'm definitely curious about them now. Steve and Shannon were every bit as stubborn as they were lovable. Shannon's life is in Peaceful Harbor on the East Coast. Steve's is in the Colorado mountains. They have this extreme pull to each other and palpable chemistry. And these two were quite naughty in the bedroom, let me tell you. Their story was fun though. I loved their personalities and attitude, and they work together really well. They make a good team, but neither of them wants to leave their lives. So, they decide to let these few weeks of together be it for them. They'll get each other out of their systems right? You'll have to read it to find out.

The ARC of Crushing on Love by Melissa Foster was kindly provided to me by InkSlinger PR for review. The opinions are my own.

SHANNON WATCHED STEVE swing his ax. He was built like the very mountains he loved: strong and stable, with layers of hard-earned muscles born from honest, hard work. Pure perfection. And that hair? Lord. What would it be like to fist her hands in his hair and kiss him? To touch all those hard planes of muscle? To discover the man behind the walls? She told herself those were wants not needs, no matter how much they felt like it. The kind of unrelenting wants that bring a girl to reach beneath the sheets and satisfy her fantasies.
Down, girl.
Shannon had been surprised by how much she’d missed Steve when she’d gone home for her eldest brother Cole’s wedding. She and Steve hadn’t spent more than a few stolen moments together during the weeks she was here for her first assignment. Usually she’d catch him working on equipment, or in his yard, before she returned to her uncle’s ranch in the evenings. He’d captivated her with his passion for, and endless knowledge about, all things wilderness related. And he was different from most of the guys she knew. He wasn’t hung up on his looks or material things. He was real, with a strong set of values and priorities. Somehow, between their almost daily conversations and weeks of hoping she’d see him, she’d become completely and utterly taken with him.
When she’d been offered the assignment and the cabin, she’d accepted without hesitation. She’d missed Steve too much to deny the attraction, and she wanted to see if something might come of it.
Now that she was here, her body was thrumming at the mere sight of him. Given that she’d actually asked him about his sex life—and nearly died on the spot when the question slipped out—she desperately needed to rein herself in.
He wiped sweat from his brow, his tanned skin glistening in the morning sun. “Need anything from town?” he asked, setting another log on the stump.
She couldn’t pry her eyes from his rippling abs and his bulbous biceps flexing with every move. “Town?”
He cocked a smile and hoisted the ax again. “Town. You know, the place where people who like Pinterest live?”
She forced her eyes away, glancing at the trees swaying in the breeze, the rocks at her feet, anywhere but at him.
“I know what town is. I’m just surprised you’re going there.” Everyone knew Steve hated to leave his precious mountain.
“Gotta take care of some business.”
Going into town was a big deal. Unlike a quick trip to the store from her apartment in Peaceful Harbor, the drive into town took at least thirty to forty-five minutes, depending on which town he was going to. She’d realized last night she’d forgotten two very important supplies. Pop-Tarts and toilet paper. She could probably live with the single roll of toilet paper she had in the cabin for another few days if she needed to, but Pop-Tarts were pretty much a necessity. Besides, maybe she could convince Steve to help her scout gray-fox habitats at dusk. Perfect!
“Can I come with you?” she asked hopefully. “I need to pick up a few things.”
“I’ll get them for you. What do you need?”
She bit her lower lip, willing herself not to fib. But if she asked him to pick up what she really needed, he’d leave and she’d have to go searching for habitats by herself. Now that she’d thought about going later with her yummy mountain man, she’d already settled on it in her mind.
“It’s girl stuff. You won’t want to get it.” So much for not fibbing. “Can I please go with you?” She gave him her best pleading look. “I promise not to talk your ear off.” Fib, fib, fib! She had no control over what came out of her mouth, especially around him.
He muttered under his breath and set the ax against the stump. “I’m not making a hundred stops.”
She leapt with delight and ran over to hug him. Her heel slipped out of her boot and she stumbled into him in a half hug, half full-body-draped-over-Steve embrace. His skin was hot, his body was hard, and getting harder by the second. He smelled like man and musk, and…she was still plastered against him.
She cleared her throat and managed, “Thank you.” Using his chest for leverage—yum, yum—she found her footing and pressed her heel back into her boot. “One stop. That’s it. Promise.”
“You’re excited to get those supplies.” He picked up the logs he’d chopped and piled them on his forearm like they were toothpicks.
 “I’m just excited to be back. Maybe at dusk you can help me map out the habitats? It’ll be fun to scope them out together.”
He gave her a curious look. “Haven’t heard anyone describe hanging out with me as fun in a long time.”
“Then you’re hanging out with losers, and I’m taking that as a yes.” She grabbed the coffee mugs, unable to stop smiling.
“I’m leaving in twenty minutes.”
“I’ll be back lickety-split.” With a bounce in her step, she headed toward her cabin and heard him mutter, “Lickety-split,” followed by a chuckle.

Check out my reviews of other books by this author!

Melissa Foster is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling and award-winning author. She writes sexy and heartwarming contemporary romance and new adult romance, contemporary women’s fiction, suspense, and historical fiction with emotionally compelling characters that stay with you long after you turn the last page. Her books have been recommended by USA Today’s book blog, Hagerstown Magazine, The Patriot, and several other print venues. She is the founder of the  World Literary CafĂ© and Fostering Success. When she’s not writing, Melissa helps authors navigate the publishing industry through her author training programs on  Fostering Success. Melissa has been published in Calgary’s Child Magazine, the Huffington Post, and Women Business Owners magazine.

Melissa hosts an Aspiring Authors contest for children and has painted and donated several murals to The Hospital for Sick Children in Washington, DC. Melissa lives in Maryland with her family.

Visit Melissa on social media. Melissa enjoys discussing her books with book clubs and reader groups, and welcomes an invitation to your event.

To learn more about Melissa Foster and her books, visit her website.You can also find her on GoodreadsFacebook, and Twitter.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Playing Catch Up! The Revolution of Ivy by Amy Engel

Playing Catch Up has really been helping me through my ever growing TBR list. I'd like to welcome all other blogs to participate too! If you do, be sure to post your links in the comments section. I'd love to see your Playing Catch Up Reviews, and I'm sure others would too!! *wink*

Want to know more about Playing Catch Up? I'll tell you all about it here!

The Revolution of Ivy (The Book of Ivy #2) by Amy Engel 
Genre: Young Adult (Dystopian Romance)
Date Published: November 3, 2015
Publisher: Entangled: Teen

Ivy Westfall is beyond the fence and she is alone. Abandoned by her family and separated from Bishop Lattimer, Ivy must find a way to survive on her own in a land filled with countless dangers, both human and natural. She has traded a more civilized type of cruelty--forced marriages and murder plots--for the bare-knuckled brutality required to survive outside Westfall's borders.

But there is hope beyond the fence, as well. And when Bishop reappears in Ivy's life, she must decide if returning to Westfall to take a final stand for what she believes is right is worth losing everything she's fought for.

The Revolution of Ivy is the final book in the Book of Ivy Duology. It was a process getting Ivy to talk it out with Bishop. I get it in some ways, but in others? I don't understand why she took so long. Otherwise, I was very happy with how things worked out through this book. The life Ivy started making for herself outside the fence made me proud of her. I wish she didn't hold on to her lies for quite as long as she did, but it sure made for some good drama. Ivy and Bishop grew as characters, both together and separately. In my opinion, they became something quite beautiful. There were some new characters introduced who I really enjoyed. I would love to see a Caleb and/or Ash spin off.

Chapter One

No one survives beyond the fence. At least that’s what my father always told me when I was a child. But I’m not a little girl anymore, and I no longer believe in the words of my father. He told me the Lattimers were cruel and deserved to die. He told me my only choice was to kill the boy I loved. He has been wrong about so many things. And I’m determined that he’s going to be wrong about my survival as well.

If I want to live, I have to move away from the fence and head toward the river. But even after I start that direction, my fingers still clench and release, clench and release, as if they are searching the air for the comforting familiarity of chain link. I know that last night I was lucky, considering what could have happened while I was passed out and injured on the wrong side of the fence. An animal could have found me. Or a person. I can’t count on that type of luck again. I need to reach the river, quench my thirst before the sun sets, and find some shelter from the coming night.

The river can’t be far, but it still takes what feels like hours for me to get there. I lose count of how many times I have to stop and rest, my breathing ragged and my body aching. My thoughts move sluggishly inside my head, and dizziness is an ever-present companion, hovering over me, waiting for a moment of weakness. I probably have a concussion from the blow to my head, but I’m not sure I remember what you’re supposed to do for one. And it’s not like I can put my feet up anyway, grab a cold compress, ask someone else’s opinion. A laugh bubbles in my throat, but when it breaks free all it sounds is wild, just this side of insane, and I press my lips together tight.

Keeping my thoughts from returning to Westfall takes almost as much effort as walking. But I push the memories aside. Out here, longing for things that are no longer mine will only lead to weakness that will be my downfall. Instead, I concentrate on the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other and continue moving forward even as part of me is left behind, beyond a fence I cannot breach.

When I finally reach the river, it’s not a placid pool like Bishop showed me inside Westfall’s borders. Here it’s wide, and although not raging, the current is running strong. The water looks brownish in the afternoon sun, silt stirred up by the rush of water. But when I kneel on the riverbank and cup it in my hands, it is mostly clear, and I gulp it down. I reach with both hands and shovel it toward my open mouth as fast as I can. I hadn’t realized how thirsty I was until the first drops hit my tongue.

Once I’ve slackened my immediate thirst, I splash water onto my face. I take off my sweater and set it on the bank beside me, then cup handfuls of water and scrub gingerly at my face and neck, cataloging injuries as I go. The guards who threw me out were definitely not careful with me. My lower lip feels puffy and raw, and the back of my head is so tender I can’t even run my fingers over it without sucking air in through gritted teeth. My arms are crisscrossed with dozens of deep scratches. I plunge my hands into the cold water and rub the blood away, try to work the dirt out from underneath my nails.

The sun is beginning to sink lower in the sky, and a thin strip of light cuts through the trees and glances off my wedding ring. I straighten my left hand out underneath the water, watch the gold glimmer and shift. I remember the day Bishop put it on my finger, the way my hand shook. The way I wanted to rip the ring off, how foreign and confining it felt against my skin. Now it takes me a long minute to work the ring off my finger. It leaves behind a dent in my flesh, a smooth band of skin that feels naked without it. But I can’t bear to wear it anymore, this reminder of all the things I have lost. I hold the ring loosely in my palm, and then open my hand, let the river carry it away.

I scoot back on the riverbank, content for the moment to listen to the play of water over rocks, feel the warmth of the fading sun on my back. I try not to think about the coming night. I try not to think about anything beyond my basic needs, afraid that if I do I will simply collapse under the weight of my fear and grief. There’s no room for second-guessing the decisions I made back in Westfall. No room for wondering what might have been. I don’t consider myself a victim—it was my choice to sacrifice myself, after all—but out here, turning into one will be easy if I don’t stay focused.

Behind me there is a small stand of trees, as good a place as any to take refuge once darkness falls. My more immediate worry, now that thirst isn’t at the top of the list, is finding something to eat. My father, in all his endless lessons, never spared a single second talking to me about how to survive beyond the fence. He never taught me how to start a fire or catch a small animal. I suppose he never considered the possibility that all his planning might come to nothing, that we might be caught, that he might need to give me some kind of alternative training. It is just one more time he has failed me.

A slight movement to my right catches my attention and I watch as a small lizard scampers across the rocks, stopping to sun himself. I hold my breath, willing him closer, although I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do with him if I’m able to catch him. But the gnawing hunger in my stomach forces me to try. I lean my weight onto my left arm and inch my right hand closer. At the last second the lizard must sense my intent because he tries to scuttle away, but I’m faster, or more desperate, and my fingers close around his scaly back.

I hold him in my fist, and he stares at me with dull black eyes. I pick up a small rock and use it to crush him, ignoring the bile that fights its way into my throat. I eat methodically, not allowing myself to think, trying not to taste the bitter tang that coats my mouth. It takes all my concentration to swallow, my eyes focused on a spot across the river. My stomach wants to heave the lizard back up, but when I’m done I set my jaw, take deep breaths through my nose. My days of eating Bishop’s hamburgers and turkey sandwiches are over. Now I will eat whatever it takes to stay alive.

When I’m sure the lizard is going to stay down, I crawl forward and rinse my mouth with water. I swish and spit until all I taste is river. The sun has almost set now, bands of orange and pink threading like gauze through the trees. The air is still warm, but there’s the promise of fall’s chill underneath. The weather will not cooperate with me for long.

I pull my sweater back on and drag myself over to the stand of trees. I curl myself into a ball, trying to make myself invisible. I haven’t seen another person since the children at the fence, and I don’t have the sense that anyone’s watching me. But I still feel exposed, with no way to defend myself if someone were to come along. I anticipate it taking hours for me to find sleep, but my battered body has other plans, and almost as soon as I close my eyes, I’m sucked down into darkness.

When I wake, it’s difficult to tell what time of day it is, whether it’s morning or afternoon, whether I’ve slept twelve hours or twenty. The sky is overcast, dark clouds rolling in from the west, the rumble of thunder promising storms. I have a feeling that my sleep was closer to unconsciousness. I don’t feel rested. My body is sore and stiff, my vision fuzzy, like I’m looking at the world through a pane of dirty glass. I push myself to sitting, hissing in air at the sharp spike in my head.

I need to find better shelter from the coming storm. The day is warm, but I worry what will happen if my clothes get soaked and the temperature drops. I hate to leave the river, but promise myself I won’t go far, just to the nearest available shelter. My stomach is cramping with hunger, so before I head out I kneel by the river and gulp down handfuls of water to ease the ache a little.

I walk due east from the river, looking for anything that would offer good protection from the rain. At first there is nothing, only the empty expanse of land. I know that before the war overpopulation was a real concern, the idea that the earth might simply run out of space and resources for all its inhabitants. Such fears are hard to imagine now, when I am the only human as far as the eye can see, the sole evidence of life.

The sharp crack of thunder moves closer, a stiff wind blowing my hair into my face. I top a small rise, and in the near distance I see the rusted hulk of a car. I approach it cautiously, but there’s no indication anyone’s touched it in decades. The tires are shredded to nothing, both doors on the driver’s side ripped away. The front windshield is smashed in and there’s a faint rotten smell from the interior, but the car is still the best option I’ve seen in terms of shelter. I climb into the backseat, easing myself over the cracked and torn leather.

The storm hits only a few minutes later, rain lashing down against the car, driving in sideways so that I am forced to curl against the far side in order to stay dry. I’m grateful for the protection from the rain, but staying still, without the benefit of any sort of distraction, allows my brain to circle back around to Westfall. To my family. To Bishop. The longing I feel for him is a physical ache, pinched and throbbing inside my chest. I bite down on the inside of my cheek to keep myself from crying, press my hands against my closed eyes. It shouldn’t be so hard to forget someone I barely knew. Bishop was in my life for only a few months, but somehow he left an imprint that has absolutely no relationship to the length of time we were together.

I lower my hands and open my eyes, watch the rain beating down against the long grass outside the car. I work to clear my head of thought. Perhaps this is how I will survive now, by keeping myself an empty white blank, pretending my life began only yesterday and nothing came before. My eyelids grow heavy, my breathing deepening with the sound of the rain. I let myself sink down, my head resting against the dirt-streaked window. I have a fleeting thought that maybe it’s not a good thing to be sleeping so much, but I give in to the oblivion. If nothing else, it’s a welcome respite from the pain.

At first I think I’m dreaming about the dog that bit me. The one my sister Callie strangled with his own chain. I hear the snarling, smell the scent of wet fur and rancid breath. I shift, batting against nothing, and my hand slams against something hard and slick. My eyes fly open, take in the interior of the car, my hand resting against the leather seat. My body is already scrambling backward, registering the threat before my mind can process it. There’s a coyote in the open doorway of the car. Saliva drips from its mouth, its light brown fur matted and mud-clogged. It bares yellowed fangs at me, growls ripping from its throat. I’ve never seen a coyote in real life, but my father talked about packs of them roaming outside the fence. So far, there is only evidence of one, but his pack might not be far.

“Go away!” I yell, kicking out with my foot. Panic is flooding my veins and part of me knows I need to calm down, think, but the rest of me is simply frantic to get away. My foot catches the coyote in the head and it retreats. But only for a second before it returns, this time putting its front paws up on the backseat, watching me with predatory eyes. I don’t know if it is strong enough to kill me, but it can definitely inflict serious damage.

I draw my foot back to kick again and the coyote lunges forward, its jaws snapping the air only millimeters from my canvas-covered toes. I scream and flail backward, eyes searching the car for some kind of weapon. For a split second, I consider trying to launch myself over the coyote and out of the car, but I know on the open ground it will outpace me easily. My frantic eyes land on the broken front windshield. A portion of the metal frame yawns inward, the end sharp where it’s broken in two. I keep one eye on the coyote as I shift forward. I’m scared to try kicking it again. If it gets a hold of my foot, it will mangle me in seconds. I take a deep breath and vault over the front seat, screaming as the coyote shoots into the car, its hot breath brushing against my neck.

I can hear the coyote growling frantically, scrambling on the backseat behind me, but I don’t look back. I reach out and wrench the loose piece of metal from the frame, only distantly aware that I’ve sliced through my own fingers as I pull it free. I turn, heaving out air, lunging at the coyote just as it springs toward me. I bury the jagged metal in the coyote’s eye and we scream at the same time, both of us spouting blood.

The coyote falls onto the floor of the backseat, shaking its head wildly, trying to dislodge the metal. Warm drops of blood spatter onto my arms as it writhes. I shove myself out of the car and run, not looking back. I can feel my own blood gushing out of my fingers and I clutch my hand against my chest. After only a minute of hard running, I have to stop. My head is spinning and my stomach heaves. I lean over, vomiting up water and bile, acid stinging my throat. Even before I’ve finished wiping my mouth with my good hand, I’m looking behind me, eyes searching the long grass. But nothing moves. If the coyote is still alive, it is not following me. At least not yet.

By the time I make it back to the river, blood is running down my forearm, dripping off the bend of my elbow. I sink to my knees on the bank and look at my hand closely for the first time. All four of my fingers on my right hand are cut across the bottom joint, the deepest gash on my ring finger where a thick flap of skin hangs loose, revealing a flash of white bone. I tip my head up, take deep breaths until my stomach settles.

I pull off my sweater, the front of it soaked with blood, and toss it beside me. Using my teeth and hands, I manage to tear off a strip of cotton from the bottom of my tank top. I press the cloth hard against my fingers, willing the flow of blood to stop.

Only one day outside the fence and already I’m losing the battle. Part of me is surprised I’m not crying, not shaking with fear. But the rest of me knows this is probably only the first of many injuries, many tests, I’ll face. I can’t afford to fall apart every time.

The cloth is soaked through with blood by the time the flow begins to slow down. Using my teeth again, I manage to knot the sodden piece of tank top around my fingers. I don’t know how much good it will do, but maybe it will keep some pressure on the wounds. I’m so tired I can barely move, my whole body screaming for sleep although I haven’t been awake for all that long.

I lean over the water, splash some on my face with my good hand, bring a handful to my mouth. Now that the rain has stopped, the sun has come out from behind the clouds, just in time to set. I can barely see my own reflection in the water, which is probably a blessing. Only the outline of my head and neck. The lines of the trees behind me.

And a man’s shadow over my shoulder.

I whirl around, my legs skidding out from under me where I was crouched on the grassy bank. I throw out an arm to stop myself from tumbling into the river. My injured fingers dig into the ground and instantly begin to bleed again, but it hardly matters. My breath is a harsh rasp in the early evening gloom.

At first I can’t tell who it is, just a man, his face masked in twilight. But he steps forward and I see his blue eyes, eyes I would know anywhere.

“Hey there, pretty girl,” Mark Laird says. And then he smiles.

Check out my review of the first book in this duology!

Amy Engel was born in Kansas and after a childhood spent bouncing between countries (Iran, Taiwan) and states (Kansas; California; Missouri; Washington, D.C.), she settled in Kansas City, Missouri, where she lives with her husband and two kids. Before devoting herself full-time to motherhood and writing, she was a criminal defense attorney, which is not quite as exciting as it looks on TV. When she has a free moment, she can usually be found reading, running, or shoe shopping. The Book of Ivy is her debut YA novel.
To learn more about Amy Engel and her books, visit her website.You can also find her on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Book Review: The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead

The Glittering Court (The Glittering Court #1) by Richelle Mead
Genre: Young Adult (Historical/Fantasy Romance)
Date Published: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Razorbill

Big and sweeping, spanning from the refined palaces of Osfrid to the gold dust and untamed forests of Adoria, The Glittering Court tells the story of Adelaide, an Osfridian countess who poses as her servant to escape an arranged marriage and start a new life in Adoria, the New World. But to do that, she must join the Glittering Court.

Both a school and a business venture, the Glittering Court is designed to transform impoverished girls into upper-class ladies who appear destined for powerful and wealthy marriages in the New World. Adelaide naturally excels in her training, and even makes a few friends: the fiery former laundress Tamsin and the beautiful Sirminican refugee Mira. She manages to keep her true identity hidden from all but one: the intriguing Cedric Thorn, son of the wealthy proprietor of the Glittering Court.

When Adelaide discovers that Cedric is hiding a dangerous secret of his own, together they hatch a scheme to make the best of Adelaide’s deception. Complications soon arise—first as they cross the treacherous seas from Osfrid to Adoria, and then when Adelaide catches the attention of a powerful governor.

But no complication will prove quite as daunting as the potent attraction simmering between Adelaide and Cedric. An attraction that, if acted on, would scandalize the Glittering Court and make them both outcasts in wild, vastly uncharted lands…

The Glittering Court is the first book in The Glittering Court series by Richelle Mead. This isn't Vampire Academy. Not even close. So, don't expect that. That's not a bad thing though. This is its own story.

Adelaide (aka Elizabeth) comes from Osfrid, a place very much like England and is escaping to Adoria, a place very much like the USA. So, even thought it is fantasy fiction in that respect, it felt more like a historical fiction. I like both genres so, I was happy either way.

Adelaide is a brave girl. She wants to escape a betrothal and better her life. I don't know that the potential circumstances for these women would necessarily be better than where they came from, especially Adelaide since she's high society, but at least this is her choice. Unlike the marriage, that she was being forced into. I loved Adelaide's friends. In fact, I think her friendships were my favorite thing about this book.

With its humor, adventure, drama, and romance, The Glittering Court had something to entertain a wide variety of audiences.

Chapter 1

I’d never planned on stealing someone else’s life.

Really, at a glance, you wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with my old life. I was young and healthy. I liked to think I was clever. I belonged to one of the noblest families in Osfrid, one that could trace its bloodline back to the country’s founders. Sure, my title might have been more prestigious if my family’s fortune hadn’t evaporated, but that was easily fixed. All I had to do was marry well.

And that was where my problems started.

Most noblemen admired a descendant of Rupert, First Earl of Rothford, great hero of Osfrid. Centuries ago, he’d helped wrest this land from savages, thus forming the great nation we enjoyed today. But few noblemen admired my lack of resources, especially in these times. Other families were fighting their own financial crises, and a pretty face with an exalted title no longer held the appeal it once might have.

I needed a miracle, and I needed one fast. “Darling, a miracle’s happened.”

I’d been staring at the ballroom’s velvet-embossed wallpaper as dark thoughts swirled in my head. Blinking, I returned my attention to the noisy party and focused on my grandmother’s approach. Though her face was lined and her hair pure white, people always remarked on what a handsome woman Lady Alice Witmore was. I agreed, though I couldn’t help but notice she’d seemed to age more in the years since my parents had died. But just now, her face was alight in a way I hadn’t seen in some time.

“How, Grandmama?”

“We have an offer. An offer. He’s everything we’ve hoped for. Young. A substantial fortune. His family line’s as prestigious as yours.”

That last one caught me by surprise. The blessed Rupert’s line was tough to match. “Are you sure?”

“Certainly. He’s your . . . cousin.”

It wasn’t often that words failed me. For a moment, all I could think of was my cousin Peter. He was twice my age—and married. By the rules of descent, he would be the one to inherit the Rothford title if I died without children. Whenever he was in town, he’d stop by and ask how I was feeling.

“Which one?” I asked at last, relaxing slightly. The term “cousin” was sometimes used loosely, and if you looked far enough in the family trees, half the Osfridian nobility was related to the other half. She could be referring to any number of men.

“Lionel Belshire, Baron of Ashby.”

I shook my head. He was no one I knew.

She linked my arm with hers and drew me toward the opposite side of the ballroom, winding our way through some of the city’s most powerful people. They were swathed in silks and velvets, adorned with pearls and gems. Above us, crystal chandeliers covered the entire ceiling, like our hosts were trying to outdo the stars. Such was life among Osfro’s nobility.

“His grandmother and I were both ladies in the Duchess of Samford’s coterie, back in the old days. He’s only a baron.” Grandmama leaned her head toward me to speak more quietly. I noted the pearl-studded cap she wore, in good shape but unfashionable for at least two years. She spent our money on clothing me. “But his blood is still good. His line comes from one of Rupert’s lesser sons, though there was some scandal that Rupert might not actually have been his father. His mother was noble, though, so either way, we’re covered.”

I was still trying to process that when we came to a halt in front of a floor-to-ceiling window that overlooked Harlington Green. A young man stood with a woman my grandmother’s age, speaking in low tones. Upon our arrival, they both looked up with keen interest.

Grandmama released my hand. “My granddaughter, the Countess of Rothford. My darling, this is Baron Belshire and his grandmother, Lady Dorothy.”

Lionel bent over and kissed my hand while his grandmother curtseyed. Her deference was a show. Sharp eyes raked over every part of me. If propriety had allowed it, I think she would have examined my teeth.

I turned to Lionel as he straightened. He was the one I had to size up. “Countess, it’s a pleasure to meet you. It’s a shame this hasn’t happened sooner, seeing as we’re family. Descendants of Earl Rupert and all that.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Grandmama arch a skeptical eyebrow.

I gave him a demure smile, not deferential enough to diminish my superior rank but enough to make him think his charm had flustered me. His charm, of course, was yet to be assessed. At a glance, it might be all he had going for him. His face was long and pointed, his skin sallow. I would have expected at least a flush, considering how the crush of bodies had heated the room. The sagging of his narrow shoulders gave the impression he was about to cave in upon himself. None of it mattered, though. Only the marriage logistics did. I’d never expected to marry for love.

“We’re definitely overdue for a meeting,” I agreed. “Really, we should all be having regular Rupert reunions, as a tribute to our progenitor. Get everyone together and have picnics on the green. We could do three-legged races, like the country folk do. I’m sure I could manage it with the skirts.”

He stared at me unblinkingly and scratched his wrist. “Earl Rupert’s descendants are spread out all over Osfrid. I don’t think a gathering of that sort would be feasible. And it’s not just unseemly for nobility to do those three-legged races; I don’t allow the tenants on my estates to do such things either. The great god Uros gave us two legs, not three. To suggest otherwise is an abomination.” He paused. “I don’t really approve of potato-sack races either.”

“You’re right, of course,” I said, keeping the smile fixed on my face. Beside me, Grandmama cleared her throat.

“The baron has been very successful with his barley production,” she said with forced cheer. “Quite possibly the most successful in the country.”

Lionel scratched his left ear. “My tenants have converted more than eighty percent of the land to barley fields. We recently bought a new estate, and those lands too now have a booming crop. Barley as far as the eye can see. Acres and acres. I even have my house servants, in both estates, eat it every morning. To boost morale.”

“That’s . . . a lot of barley,” I said. I was starting to feel sorry for his tenants. “Well, I hope you let them splurge every once in a while. Oats. Rye, if you’re feeling exotic.”

That previous puzzled look returned to his face as he scratched his right ear. “Why would I do that? Barley is our livelihood. It’s good for them to remember that. I hold myself to the same standard—a higher one, actually, as I make sure to include a portion of barley in all of my meals. It sets a good example.”

“You’re a man of the people,” I said. I eyed the window beyond him, wondering if I could jump out of it.

An awkward silence fell, and Lady Dorothy tried to fill it. “Speaking of estates, I understand you just recently sold your lastone.” Here it was, a reminder of our financial situation. Grandmama was quick to defend our honor.

“We weren’t using it.” She lifted her chin. “I’m not so foolish as to waste money on an empty house and tenants who’ve grown lazy without supervision. Our town house here in the city is much more comfortable and keeps us close to society. We were invited to court three times this winter, you know.”

“Winter, of course,” said Lady Dorothy dismissively. “But surely summers in the city are dull. Especially with so much of the nobility at their own estates. When you marry Lionel, you’ll live in his Northshire estate—where I live—and want for nothing. And you may plan as many social gatherings as you like. Under my close supervision, of course. It’s such a lovely opportunity for you. I mean no offense— Countess, Lady Alice. You maintain yourselves so well that no one would guess your true situation. But I’m sure it’ll be a relief to be settled into better circumstances.”

“Better circumstances for me. A better title for him,” I murmured. As we spoke, Lionel first scratched his forehead and then his inner arm. That second bout went on for some time, and I tried not to stare. What was going on? Why was he itching so much? And why was it happening all over his whole body? I couldn’t see any obvious rashes. Worse, the more I watched him, the more I suddenly wanted to scratch. I had to clasp my hands together to stop myself.

The excruciating conversation went on for several more minutes as our grandmothers made plans for the nuptials I’d only just learned about. Lionel continued to scratch. When we finally extracted ourselves, I waited all of thirty seconds before voicing my opinion to Grandmama.

“No,” I said.

“Hush.” She smiled at various guests we knew as we walked to the ballroom’s exit and told one of our host’s manservants to order our carriage around. I bit off my words until we were safely alone inside it. “No,” I repeated, sinking back into the carriage’s plush seat.

“Absolutely not.”

“Don’t be so dramatic.”

“I’m not! I’m being sane. I can’t believe you accepted that offer without consulting me.”

“Well, it was certainly difficult choosing between that and your many other offers.” She met my glare levelly. “Yes, dear, you’re not the only one around here who can be pert. You are, however, the only one who can save us from eventual ruin.”

“Now who’s being dramatic? Lady Branson would take you with her into her daughter’s household. You’d live very well there.”

“And what happens to you while I’m living very well?”

“I don’t know. I’ll find someone else.” I thought back to the flurry of guests I’d met at the party this evening. “What about that merchant who was there? Donald Crosby? I hear he’s amassed a pretty big fortune.”

“Ugh.” Grandmama rubbed her temples. “Please stop talking about the nouveau riche. You know how it gives me a headache.”

I scoffed. “What’s wrong with him? His business is booming. And he laughed at all my jokes—which is more than can be said for Lionel.” “You know what’s wrong with Mister Crosby. He should never have been at that party. I don’t know what Lord Gilman was thinking.” She paused as a particularly large pothole in the cobblestone street caused our carriage to lurch. “How do you think your exalted ancestor Rupert

would feel about you mingling his line with such common blood?”

I groaned. It seemed as though, lately, we couldn’t have a conversation without invoking Rupert’s name. “I think someone who followed his lord across the channel to carve out an empire would place a pretty big emphasis on keeping one’s self-respect. Not selling it out to a boring cousin and his tyrant grandmother. Did you count how many times she said ‘under my close supervision’ when we were talking about the future? I did. Five. Which is seven less times than Lionel scratched some body part.”

Grandmama’s expression grew weary. “Do you think you’re the first girl who’s had an arranged marriage? Do you think you’re the first girl to resent it? Stories and songs are full of tales of woeful maidens trapped in such circumstances who escape to a glorious future. But those are stories. The reality is that most girls in your situation . . . well, endure. There’s nothing else you can do. There’s nowhere else you can go. It’s the price we pay for this world we live in. For our rank.”

“My parents would have never made me endure,” I grumbled.

Her eyes hardened. “Your parents and their frivolous investments are the reason we’re in this situation. We’re out of money. Selling the Bentley estate has kept us living as we always have. But that’s going to change. And you won’t like it when it does.” When my obstinate glare continued, she added, “You’ll have people making choices for you your entire life. Get used to it.”

Our home was located in a different—but equally fashionable— district of the city from the party. Upon our arrival, servants swarmed to attend us. They helped us out of the carriage, took our wraps and shawls. I had my own flock of maidservants who accompanied me to my suite to remove my formal attire for me. I watched as they smoothed the red velvet overdress, with its trumpet sleeves and gold embroidery. They hung it up with countless other decadent frocks, and I found myself staring at the bureau after they’d left. So much of our family’s fading wealth spent on clothes that were supposed to help me achieve the opportunity to change my life for the better.

My life was certainly about to change, but for the better? That I was skeptical of.

And so, I treated it as though it wasn’t real. It was how I’d dealt with my parents’ deaths as well. I’d refused to believe they were gone, even when faced with the tangible proof of their graves. It wasn’t possible that someone you loved so much, someone who filled up so much of your heart, could no longer exist in the world. I tried convincing myself that they would walk through my door one day. And when I couldn’t make myself believe that, I simply didn’t think about it all.

That was how I dealt with Lionel. I put him out of my mind and went on with my life as though nothing at that party had ever happened.

When a letter came from Lady Dorothy one day, I finally had to acknowledge his existence again. She wanted to confirm a date for the wedding, which was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was her directive to cut our household staff in half and get rid of the majority of our possessions. You won’t need them when you get to Northshire, she wrote. The staff and items you need will be provided, under my close supervision.

“Oh, sweet Uros,” I said when I’d finished reading.

“Don’t take the god’s name in vain,” Grandmama snapped. Despite her sharp words, I could see the strain on her. Living under someone else’s thumb wasn’t going to be easy for her either. “Oh. And Lionel sent you a present.”

The “present” was a container of a proprietary barley cereal blend he ate each morning, with a note saying it would give me a taste of what was to come. I wanted to believe he’d intended the pun, but I sincerely doubted it.

Grandmama began fretting about how to split up the household as I walked out of the room. And I kept walking. I walked out of the town house, out through the front courtyard. I walked right out through the gate that sheltered our property from the main thoroughfare, earning a puzzled look from the servant who was manning it.

“My lady? Is there something I can help you with?”

I waved him back when he started to rise. “No,” I said. He glanced around, uncertain what to do. He’d never seen me leave our property alone. No one ever had. It wasn’t done.

His confusion kept him where he was, and I soon found myself swallowed up in the foot traffic moving about the street. It wasn’t the gentry, of course. Servants, merchants, couriers . . . all the people whose labor helped the city’s rich survive. I fell in step with them, unsure of where I was going.

Some crazy part of me thought maybe I should go make an appeal to Donald Crosby. He’d seemed to like me well enough in our minutes-long conversation. Or maybe I could seek passage some- where. Go off to the continent and charm some Belsian noble. Or maybe I could just lose myself in the crowd, one more anonymous face to blend into the city’s masses.

“Can I help you, my lady? Did you get separated from your servants?”

Apparently not so anonymous.

I’d ended up on the edge of one of the city’s many commercial districts. The speaker was an older man who carried parcels on his back that looked far too heavy for his slight frame.

“How do you know I’m a lady?” I blurted out.

He grinned, showing a few missing teeth. “Ain’t too many out alone dressed like you.”

I glanced around and saw he was right. The violet jacquard dress I wore was a casual one for me, but it made me stand out in the sea of otherwise drab attire. There were a few others of higher classes out shopping, but they were surrounded by dutiful servants ready to shield them from any unsavory elements.

“I’m fine,” I said, pushing past him. But I didn’t get very far before someone else stopped me: a ruddy-faced young boy, the kind who made his living delivering messages.

“Need me to escort you home, m’lady?” he asked. “Three coppers, and I’ll get you out of all this.”

“No, I . . .” I let my words drop as something occurred to me. “I don’t have any money. Not on me.” He started to leave, and I called, “Wait. Here.” I pulled off my pearl bracelet and offered it to him. “Can you take me to the Church of Glorious Vaiel?”

His eyes widened at the sight of the pearls, but he hesitated. “That’s too much, m’lady. The church is only over on Cunningham Street.”

I pushed the bracelet into his hand. “I have no idea where that is. Take me.”

It turned out to be only about three blocks away. I knew all the major areas of Osfro but little about how to travel between them. There’d never been any need to know.

There were no services today, but the main doors were propped slightly open, welcoming any souls in need of counsel. I walked past the elegant church, out to the graveyard. I moved through the common section, through the nicer section, and finally to the noble section. It had a wrought-iron gate surrounding it and was filled with monuments and mausoleums, rather than ordinary gravestones.

I might not know my way around Osfro streets, but I knew exactly where my family’s mausoleum was in this graveyard. My guide waited near the iron gate as I walked over to the handsome stone building labeled witmore. It wasn’t the biggest one on the property, but I thought it was one of the most beautiful. My father had loved art of all kinds, and we’d commissioned exquisite carvings of the six glorious angels on all the exterior walls.

I had no way to enter, not without prior arrangements with the church, and simply sat on the steps. I ran my fingers over the names carved amid those listed on the stone placard: Lord Roger Witmore, Sixteenth Earl of Rothford, and Lady Amelia Rothford. Above them, my grandfather’s name was listed alone: Lord Augustus Witmore, Fifteenth Earl of Rothford. My grandmother’s name would join his one day, and then the mausoleum would be full. “You’ll have to find your own place,” Grandmama had told me at my father’s funeral.

My mother had died first, catching one of the many illnesses that ran rampant in the poorer parts of the city. My parents had been greatly interested in investing in charitable establishments among the less fortunate, and it had cost them their lives, my mother getting sick one summer, my father the next. Their charities fell apart. Some said my parents had been saintly. Most said they’d been foolish.

I stared up at the great stone door, which held a carving of the glorious angel Ariniel, the gatekeeper of Uros. The work was gorgeous, but I always thought Ariniel was the least interesting of the angels. All she did was open the way for others and facilitate their journeys. Was there some place she’d rather be? Something else she’d rather do? Was she content to exist so that others could achieve their goals while she stayed at a standstill? Grandmama had said I’d always have choices made for me. Was that way of both humans and angels? The scriptures had never addressed such questions. Most likely they were blasphemous.

“My lady!”

I turned from that serene face and saw a flutter of color at the gate. Three of my ladies were hurrying toward me. Far beyond them, near the church’s entrance, I saw our carriage waiting. Immediately, I was swarmed.

“Oh, my lady, what were you thinking?” cried Vanessa. “Did that boy behave inappropriately?”

“You must be freezing!” Ada tossed a heavier cloak over my shoulders.

“Let me brush the dirt from your hem,” said Thea.

“No, no,” I said to that last one. “I’m fine. How did you find me?” They all began talking over one another, but it basically came down

to their noticing my disappearance and questioning the boy at our town house’s gate and pretty much every person I’d passed in my outing. I’d apparently made an impression.

“Your grandmother doesn’t know yet,” said Vanessa, urging me forward. She was the cleverest of them. “Let’s get back quickly.”

Before I stepped away, I looked back at the angel, back at my parents’ names. “Bad things are always going to happen,” my father had told me in his last year. “There’s no way to avoid that. Our control comes in how we face them. Do we let them crush us, making us despondent? Do we face them unflinchingly and endure the pain? Do we outsmart them?” I’d asked him what it meant to outsmart a bad thing. “You’ll know when the time comes. And when it does, you need to act quickly.”

The maids couldn’t stop fussing over me, even on the carriage ride home. “My lady, if you’d wanted to go, you should have just let us arrange a proper visit with a priest,” Thea said.

“I wasn’t thinking,” I murmured. I wasn’t about to elaborate on how the letter from Lady Dorothy had nearly given me a nervous breakdown. “I wanted the air. I decided I’d just walk over on my own.” They stared at me incredulously. “You can’t do that,” said Ada. “You can’t do that on your own. You . . . you can’t do anything on your own.”

“Why not?” I snapped, feeling only a little bad when she flinched. “I’m a peeress of the realm. My family name commands respect every- where. So why shouldn’t I be free to move everywhere? To choose to do whatever I want?”

None of them spoke right away, and I wasn’t surprised that it was Vanessa who finally did: “Because you’re the Countess of Rothford. Someone with a name like that can’t move among the nameless. And when it comes to who you are, my lady . . . well, that’s something we never have a choice in.”

Chapter 2

I realized then that I was taking the first approach to this “bad thing” with Lionel: I was letting it crush me. And so, I decided then and there that I would choose the nobler, un- flinching approach. I would endure the pain.

In the following weeks, I smiled and made my quips and acted as though our household wasn’t being torn apart. While the servants worked and worried about their futures, I calmly went about tasks that were appropriate to young noblewomen, painting pictures and planning my wedding attire. When callers came to wish us well, I sat with them and feigned excitement. More than once, I heard the arrangement referred to as a “smart match.” It reminded me of when I was six, when my mother and I had watched Princess Margrete’s wedding procession go by.

The princess had sat in a carriage, waving and stiffly smiling as she held hands with a Lorandian duke she’d only met the week before.

“She looks a little green,” I’d said.

“Nonsense. And if you’re lucky,” my mother had told me, “you’ll make a smart match like that.”

Would my mother have allowed this if she were still alive? Would this have turned out differently? Probably. A lot of things would’ve turned out differently if my parents were still alive.

“My lady?”

I looked up from the canvas I’d been painting, a field of purple and pink poppies copied from one of the great masters in the National Gallery. A page stood in front of me. From the tone of his voice, I could tell this wasn’t the first time he’d spoken to me.

“Yes?” I asked. The word came out a bit more harshly than I’d intended. I’d had an argument with Grandmama this morning about the dismissal of my favorite cook, and it still bothered me.

He bowed, relieved at finally being acknowledged. “There’s a gentleman caller here. He’s, um, making Ada cry.”

I blinked, wondering if I’d misheard. “I’m sorry, what?”

Thea and Vanessa sat beside me, busy with sewing. They looked up from their work, equally perplexed.

The page shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t really understand it my- self, my lady. It’s some sort of meeting arranged by Lady Branson. I think she was supposed to be here to supervise but was delayed by business. I settled them into the west drawing room, and when I returned to check on them, Ada was quite hysterical. I thought you would want to know.”

“Yes, certainly.”

And here I’d thought this would be a boring day.

The other ladies started to rise when I did, but I urged them to sit down. As I followed the page back into the house, I asked, “Do you have any idea what this so-called gentleman is here for?”

“Another position, I believe.”

I felt a small pang of guilt. Staff cuts had begun, and Ada was one of the ladies being dismissed from my entourage. I’d been able to keep only one. Lady Dorothy had assured me the replacements who’d been selected under her close supervision were exemplary, but I was pretty sure their chief function would be to spy on me.

As I made my way to the drawing room, I pondered what could have caused this unexpected morning drama. Lady Branson was my grandmother’s chief lady. If she’d arranged a position for Ada, I had to imagine it would be something respectable and not worthy of a breakdown.

“These weren’t tears of joy?” I asked the page, just to clarify.

“No, my lady.”

We entered the room, and sure enough, there was poor Ada, sitting on a sofa and sobbing into her hands. A man, his back to me, was bent over, trying awkwardly to comfort her by patting her shoulder. Immediately, my heart hardened as I wondered what kind of monster had brought this about.

“Lady Witmore, Countess of Rothford,” announced the page.

That startled both Ada and her guest. She lifted her face from her hands, still sniffling, and managed to rise for a small curtsey. The man also straightened, turning to look at me. As he did, the images I’d been building of some old, twisted scoundrel vanished.

Well, maybe he was a scoundrel, but who was I to say? And the rest of him . . . my eyes burned at the sight of him. Deep auburn hair swept back in a short, fashionable tail revealed a face with clean lines and high cheekbones. His eyes were an intense blue-gray, contrasting with skin tanned from being outdoors. That wasn’t fashionable among nobles, but I could’ve deduced he wasn’t one of us from a mile away. “Your ladyship,” he said, giving a proper bow. “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

I gestured the page away and sat down, a signal for the other two as well. “I’m not sure I can say the same, seeing as you’ve sent my lady-in-waiting into hysterics.”

A chagrined expression crossed that handsome face. “Er, that wasn’t my intent. I’m just as surprised as you. I’d been under the impression that Lady Branson had settled things with her.”

“She did,” exclaimed Ada. I could see new sobs bubbling up within her. “But now that it’s here . . . I just . . . I just don’t know if I want to go!”

He turned on a smile for her, one so confident and so practiced that I was certain he must use it regularly to get his way. “Well, a few nerves are understandable. But once you’ve seen how the other girls live at the Glittering Court—”

“Hold on,” I interrupted. “What is the Glittering Court?” It sounded vaguely brothelish, but that seemed unlikely if Lady Branson had arranged it.

“I’d be happy to explain it, my lady. Assuming you don’t find the logistics boring.”

I looked him over. “Believe me, there’s absolutely nothing about this situation I find boring.”

He turned that gallant smile on me, no doubt hoping it would win me over as it did others. It kind of did. “The Glittering Court is an exciting opportunity for young women like Ada, an opportunity that will transform their lives and—”

“Hold on one more time,” I said. “What’s your name?”

He stood and bowed again. “Cedric Thorn, at your service.” No title, but again, that didn’t surprise me. The more I studied him, the more intrigued I was. He wore a brown coat of light wool that flared slightly at the knee, longer than current trends. A brown brocade vest under the coat caught the light. It was a respectable, subdued outfit, one a prosperous merchant might wear, but a bright amber pin in the hat he held told me he wasn’t entirely without flair.

“My lady?” he asked.

I realized I’d been staring and offered a grand wave of my hand. “Please continue explaining this Gleaming Court of yours.”

“Glittering, my lady. And as I was saying, it’s an exciting opportunity for young women to move up in the world. Ada here is exactly the type of bright and promising girl we’re looking for.”

I raised an eyebrow at that. Ada was by far my most uninteresting maidservant. She was pretty, which, I’d learned, tended to be synonymous with “bright and promising” for most men.

He launched into what had to be a well-rehearsed speech. “The Glittering Court is a highly respected enterprise on both sides of the ocean. My father and my uncle founded it ten years ago after learning just how few women there are in Adoria.”

Adoria? That’s what this was about? I nearly leaned forward and then remembered myself. Still, it was hard not to be taken in. Adoria.

The country discovered across the Sunset Sea. Adoria. The very sound of it inspired adventure and excitement. It was a new world, a world far removed from the one in which I was required to marry my itching cousin—but also a world without galleries and theaters and luxuriously dressed nobility.

“There are plenty of Icori women there,” I remarked, feeling the need to say something.

Cedric’s smile broadened, warming his features. Were his eyelashes longer than mine? That certainly seemed unfair.

“Yes, but our colonists aren’t looking for savage Icori wives in kilts and tartans. Well,” he added, “most of our colonists aren’t looking for savage wives. I suppose there’s always someone who finds that appealing.”

I nearly asked what he found appealing and then again reminded myself I was a lady of exalted rank.

“Most of our settlers are looking for gentle, cultured Osfridian wives—especially those men who’ve made their fortunes there. Plenty set sail for Adoria with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and now have found success as businessmen and plantation owners. They’ve become pillars in their communities, men of prestige.” Cedric held up his hands grandly, a performer on his stage. “They want suitable wives to start families with. His Majesty wants it too. He’s ordered the founding of several other colonies and the expansion of current ones—but it’s very difficult when Osfridian men outnumber women three to one. When women do go, they’re usually ordinary, working-class girls who are already married. That’s not what the new nobility is looking for.”

“New nobility?” I asked. I was getting sucked into his pitch. It was a new experience, having someone else turn the powers of persuasion on me.

“The new nobility. That’s what we call them—these ordinary men who’ve found extraordinary greatness in the New World.”

“It’s very catchy. Did you come up with it?”

He looked surprised by the question. “No, my lady. My father did. He’s a master of publicity and persuasion. Far more so than me.”

“I find that incredible. Please—continue with your new nobility.” Cedric studied me for a beat, and there was something in his eyes.

A calculation, or maybe a reassessment. “The new nobility. They don’t need a title or right of birth to claim power and prestige. They’ve earned it through hard work and have become a nobility—of sorts— and now need suitably ‘noble’ wives. But since women of your rank aren’t exactly lining up to sail over, the Glittering Court has taken it upon itself to create a cohort of young women willing to transform. We take lovely girls like Ada here, girls of common birth, girls with no family—or maybe too much family—and we train them up to greatness.”

He’d smiled briefly when he made his comment about noblewomen lining up, like it was a joke between us. I felt a pang in my heart. Little did he know that just then, faced with a lifetime shackled to a sullen cousin and an overbearing grandmother-in-law, I would have given up my regal world and sailed to the colonies in an instant, savage conditions or no. Not that I could have ever made it to the docks without dozens of people trying to usher me back to my proper sphere of society.

Ada sniffled, reminding me she was still here. I’d known her for years, barely giving her a second thought. Now, for the first time ever, I felt jealous of her. She had a world—a new world—of potential and adventure opening up right before her.

“So. You’re going to take Ada to Adoria,” I said. It was difficult keeping my tone light, lest my envy show.

“Not right away,” said Cedric. “First, we have to make sure she’s trained up to Glittering Court standards. I’m sure she’s received some education in your service—but nothing to match your own. She’ll spend a year in one of my uncle’s manor houses with other girls her age, learning all sorts of things to make up for that. She’ll—”

“Wait,” I interrupted. My grandmother would’ve been appalled at the completely haphazard way I was managing this conversation, but this whole situation was too strange for me to get caught up in formalities. “You’re saying she’ll have an education that’ll match mine. In a year?”

“Not an exact match, no. But she’ll be able to pass herself off among upper classes—maybe even the nobility—after that time.”

Knowing Ada as I did, I was again skeptical, but urged him on. “Continue.”

“We’ll start by polishing up her basic education in reading and accounting, and then expand into other more genteel areas. How to run a household and manage servants. Music lessons. How to throw social engagements. What to talk about at social engagements. Art, history, philosophy. Foreign language, if there’s time.”

“That’s very extensive,” I said, casting a curious glance at Ada. “That’s why it takes a year,” Cedric explained. “She’ll live in one

of my uncle’s manors learning all these things and then sail over to Adoria with all the girls from the other manors. If she chooses to go.” At this, Ada finally came to life. Her head jerked up. “I don’t have to go?”

“Well, no,” said Cedric, a little surprised at the question. He produced a roll of paper from his coat—with a bit of a flourish, if I wasn’t mistaken. “At the end of your year, your contract states you can either choose to go to Adoria to have a marriage made for you or you can leave the Glittering Court, at which point we’ll find a suitable work arrangement to reimburse us for your education.”

Ada looked immensely more cheerful, and I realized she probably thought said arrangement would involve a job similar to what she had now.

“I’m guessing he means a workhouse or a factory,” I said. Her face fell. “Oh. But it’d still be here. In Osfrid.”

“Yes,” said Cedric. “If you want to stay. But honestly? Who’d pick those kind of long work hours over a chance to be on the arm of a wealthy, doting husband who’ll drape you in silks and jewels?”

“I don’t get to choose him,” she argued.

“That’s not entirely true. When you arrive in Adoria, you and the other girls will have a three-month period in which you’ll be presented to those eligible men who’ve shown interest in our jewels—that’s what my uncle calls the Glittering Court girls.” He turned his smile to its most dazzling, trying to reassure her. “You’ll love it there. The colonial men go crazy when we bring new girls. It’s a season of parties and other social engagements, and you’ll get a whole new wardrobe for it all—Adorian fashions are somewhat different from ours. If more than one man makes an offer for you, then you can choose the one you want.”

Once again, I found myself brimming with jealousy, but Ada still looked uncertain. No doubt she’d heard tales of danger and savagery about Adoria. And, in fairness, some weren’t unfounded. When settlers from Osfrid and other countries had landed in Adoria, there’d been terrible bloodshed between them and the Icori clans living there. Many of the Icori had been driven away, but we still heard stories of other tragedies: diseases, storms, and wild animals, to name a few.

But what were those things compared to the riches and greatness that Adoria offered? And wasn’t there danger everywhere? I wanted to shake some sense into her, to tell her she should take this opportunity and never look back. Surely there could be no greater adventure than this. But she’d never had a sense of adventure, never seen the promise of taking a chance on something she didn’t know. That was part of the reason I hadn’t picked her to come with me to Lionel’s household.

After much deliberation, she turned to me. “What do you think I should do, my lady?”

The question caught me unprepared, and suddenly, all I could think of was my grandmother’s words: You’ll have people making choices for you your entire life. Get used to it.

I felt myself softening. “You have to make your own choices— especially since you’ll be on your own once you leave my service.” I looked over at Cedric, and for the first time, I saw uneasiness on those striking features. He was afraid Ada was going to opt out. Did the Glittering Court have quotas to meet? Was he on the hook to come back with someone?

“Mister Thorn has made it all sound very lovely,” she replied. “But

I kind of feel like some trinket being bought and sold.” “Women always feel that way,” I said.

But in the end, Ada accepted Cedric’s offer anyway because, as she saw it, she had nowhere else to go. Over her shoulder I scanned the contract, which was mostly a more formal explanation of what Cedric had told us. When she signed, I did a double take.

“That’s your full name?” I asked. “Adelaide? Why don’t you go by that?”

She shrugged. “Too many letters. It took me years to learn to spell it.” Cedric seemed to struggle to keep a straight face. I wondered if he was starting to question this choice and if Ada could really be made

into part of his “new nobility.”

Contract in hand, he stood up and bowed to me. To her, he said, “I have other contracts to deliver this afternoon and some errands to run at the university. You can take the day to pack your things, and our carriage will come to retrieve you this evening and take you to your manor. My father and I will join you along the way.”

“Where is this manor?” I asked.

“I’m not sure which one she’ll be assigned to,” he admitted. “I’ll know by tonight. My uncle maintains four for the Glittering Court, with ten girls each. One is in Medfordshire. Two are in Donley, an- other in Fairhope.”

They were true country houses then, I noted, placing each location on a mental map. They were each at least half a day from where we were in Osfro.

He delivered a few more last-minute instructions before making motions to leave. I offered to walk him out, which was a bit un- orthodox, and took him back toward the garden I’d been in earlier. “University. So you’re a student then, Mister Thorn.”

“Yes. You don’t sound surprised by that.”

“It’s in your manner. And your coat. Only a student would set his own fashion standards.”

He laughed. “I didn’t. It’s actually an Adorian fashion. I’ve got to look the part when I go with the girls.”

“You get to go too?” Somehow, that made this entire thing even more agonizing. “You’ve been there before?”

“Not in years, but—”

He drew up short as we rounded a corner and heard more sniffling. Old Doris the cook was trudging toward the kitchen, trying not to cry as she walked.

“Don’t take this the wrong way . . .” Cedric began. “But there are a lot of tears in your household.”

I shot him a wry look. “Much is changing. Doris won’t be going with us either. She’s blind in one eye, and my cousin doesn’t want her.” He turned to study me, and I averted my gaze, not wanting him to see how much this decision pained me. In her condition, Doris wasn’t going to have an easy time finding work. It was another argument Grandmama had won. I was losing my edge.

“Is she good?” Cedric asked. “Very.”

“Excuse me,” he called out to her.

Doris turned in surprise. “M’lord?” Neither of us bothered to correct her error.

“Is it true that your services are for hire? I can understand if some- one else has already hired you on.”

She blinked, her one good eye focusing on him. “No, m’lord.” “There’s an opening over in one of the university’s kitchens. Four silvers a month and room and board. If you’re interested, it’s yours. Although if the thought of cooking for so many is daunting—”

“M’lord,” she interrupted, pulling herself up to her full but short height. “I have overseen seven-course dinners hosting a hundred nobles. I can handle swaggering boys.”

Cedric’s expression remained dignified. “Glad to hear it. Go to the university’s north office tomorrow and tell them your name. They’ll give you more information.”

Old Doris’s mouth dropped, and she looked to me for confirmation. I nodded encouragingly.

“Yes, yes, m’lord! I’ll go right after breakfast’s served. Thank you—thank you so much.”

“Well, that’s lucky,” I told him, once we were alone again. I certainly wouldn’t say so, but I thought it was incredibly kind of him to offer such a thing, let alone notice her. Most didn’t. “Lucky that there was an open position.”

“There isn’t, actually,” he said. “But I’ll stop by and talk to the office today. By the time I’m done, they’ll have an opening.”

“Mister Thorn, something tells me you could sell salvation to a priest.”

He smiled at the old adage. “What makes you think I haven’t?”

We reached the garden and were nearing the exit when he halted again. An expression of disbelief crossed his face, and I turned toward what had caught his eye. My poppies painting.

“That’s . . . Peter Cosingford’s Poppies. I saw it in the National Gallery. Except . . . ?” He trailed off, face full of confusion as he took in the canvas and the pigments beside it.

“It’s a copy. My attempt at a copy. I have others. It’s just something

I do for fun.”

“You make copies of great works for fun?” Belatedly, he added, “My lady?”

“No, Mister Thorn. That’s what you do.”

The smile on his face was genuine, and I found I liked it better than the show ones. “Well, I’m pretty sure I could never copy you.”

We’d reached the front gate, and his words made me come to a halt. It was less about their meaning than the way he’d said them. The tone. The warmth. I tried to think of a witty retort, but my normally quick mind had frozen up.

“And if you won’t take offense at me speaking openly . . .” he added quickly.

“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.”

“It’s just . . . well, I’m a little disappointed I probably won’t ever get a chance to see you again.” Perhaps realizing that was too open, he gave a hasty bow. “Farewell, and best of luck to you, my lady.”

One of the guards outside the gate unlocked it for him, and I watched him walk out the gate, admiring the way the velvet coat hugged his body.

“But you will be seeing me again,” I murmured. “Just wait.”

Richelle Mead is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy books for both adults and teens.  Originally from Michigan, Richelle now lives in Seattle, Washington where she works on her three series full-time. Before becoming a writer, she considered a few different career paths. She received a liberal arts degree from the University of Michigan, an MA in Comparative Religion from Western Michigan University, and a Master in Teaching (Middle & High School English) degree from the University of Washington. In the end, she decided writing was the way for her but believes all of her education prepared her for it.

A life-long reader, Richelle has always had a particular fascination with mythology and folklore. When not writing,, she enjoys bad reality TV, traveling, trying interesting cocktails, and shopping for dresses. Lots of dresses. She is a self-professed coffee addict, fights a constant (and losing) battle with procrastination, and has a passion for all things wacky and humorous.

To learn more about Richelle Mead and her books, visit her website and blog.You can also find her on GoodreadsFacebook, and Twitter.