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Red Velvet

The Lost Princess #1


by JP Roth

Red Velvet Magic is sacred, but real love is divine.

To save them from the Guillotine a spell is cast, and Marie-Thérèse Charlotte of France, daughter of Marie Antoinette, is changed into an owl, her brother, the young dauphin, into a golden stag. The old gypsy witch who repaid a blood debt by saving their lives, takes the princess’s memories and names her Velvet. For eight years Velvet exists safely wrapped in the spell. On her eighteenth year, rumors of her life reach the ears of King George III. In a bout of fearful madness, he orders the death of the French heirs. When soldiers torch their camp, Velvet and her brother, are forced to run for their lives.

Nora Hardington, a young woman on a mission into the dangerous underbelly of London, finds Velvet wounded and dying. Risking her own life, she rescues Velvet. Together, they enlist the help of the dark stranger sent to carry out the king’s command. As they search for the spell to return her brother’s humanity, Velvet lives all the sides of life she was previously denied.

Her adventures are fraught with assassins, pirates, ancient enchantments, bloody battle, mythical lore, and all manner of dastardly love.


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Release Date: December 1, 2020
Genre: Fantasy Romance

A Red Satin Romance


Excerpt

Chapter One

Velvet: Fateful Encounters

 

London, Cheapside

October 14, 1800

 

Ambient yellow light poured down from the broken streetlamp standing quiet on the filthy road. The light fell onto the cobblestones and thick puddles between them. The last of the evening raindrops caught the flickering light and turned it to golden diamonds; they were all that sparkled in this dank, cold world. The light touched the shabby faces of the shacks that lined the street, then fell away—its absence pitched the world in darkness. A little mouse skittered to a stop under the lamp and used his cold hands to wipe the water off his twitching nose. His beady eyes looked up at the Ladies of the Night who stood in colorful clusters, calling out their wares to any poor soul who happened along this dreary way. Carriage wheels clattered in the distance; somewhere men shouted, foggy noises punctuated by soft thuds of fists meeting flesh. A booted foot landed in a puddle beside the loitering mouse, and mud sprayed his whiskers. He skittered away before the boot struck again. Only it was not a boot that fell, it was the body of a woman. She fell against the cold stones thumping unceremoniously.

Hot blood trickled from a gaping wound across her ribs, more of it pooled under her waist. There were no screams of outrage or horror; this was the Chepe, and many creatures like Velvet were abandoned or left for dead every day on these storied streets.

Not dead though, Velvet thought. Not dead yet. Her eyelids lifted, and when sight returned, she saw the world lying on its side in a wreath of dark clouds. It spun like a fortune wheel. She was the little ball falling from space to space, waiting to see where fate would land her—black or white—life or death.

“Excuse me, are you breathing?” asked a pretty voice. To Velvet, the voice was soft and far away. It spun beside her on fortune’s wheel. She opened her mouth to speak—no words came, only the rank taste of blood filling it.

“You look terrible, if you were wondering,” said the voice. “Are you...?”

“Alright,” Velvet whispered. “I’m alright.” Velvet closed her eyes. She had to stop the spinning.

“If you’re alright, I’m legitimate,” the voice told her. “Gah! Your hair is like sunshine, just who would mess up a girl like you, I’d like to know—it’s rude!”

Velvet realized the voice came with a soft pair of hands. They touched her face and shoulders. “Come on now. Sit up, girl. It’s a little knife wound, nothing to cry about. My name is Nora, well, actually it’s Nora Hartington, people call me Lady N, but for some reason, I don’t see you being one of those people.” Nora adjusted her hand slightly and chattered on. “Put your arm over my shoulder, yes, that’s right.”

Velvet gasped. Pain, hot and acid, bit her side. Nora hushed her by a sharp wave of her slim hand. “Nonsense. Make it a few steps with me, you live. Stay here, you die. Your choice, but if you die, I’m stealing your hair.”

Nora made this threat with such culture and prim elegance, Velvet laughed. The pain in her ribs almost made her scream, but she laughed anyway. “You would not,” Velvet gasped. “That would be rude.”

“Yes, well, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and yours is far prettier than mine.”

Velvet said nothing, it was too difficult. Her only stability was the girl at her side holding her fast. Velvet looked at her face. Nora’s sky-blue eyes bridged a slender nose dusted by a sweep of adorable freckles. The hair—piled high atop her head—ended in a luxurious mass of twisted curls, framing gently arched brows that boasted a rare autumn hue, set off beautifully by her gown of midnight blue. The fine bone corset was black, with an indigo etching that framed the décolletage in delicate, embroidered swirls, then fell into yards of flounced skirts made of a material that looked fluffy as a springtime cloud. Nora’s skirt swayed, and Velvet felt her body sway with it. It still felt so wrong walking on these spindly legs of hers.

“Hey, stay with me,” pleaded Nora. “I can’t carry you. To my great misfortune, I am quite a tiny person. Tell me your name, can you do that?”

“Velvet.”

“Velvet?” queried Nora. “That’s it? That’s your name? I introduced myself by three separate titles and all you have for me is Velvet? Well, who are your people, Velvet? Do they all have two-syllable names?”

“Most,” Velvet said, distracted, her small uncoordinated feet on the verge of a breakdown. This was no time to comb through the shambles of her family tree. “My family is Romani.”

“That’s absolute nonsense. You have the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen, and your hair looks like actual gold. It’s upsetting, really.”

Velvet’s knees were seconds from giving way. In her mind, blood trailed her like a scarlet banner, and fortune’s wheel slowed, nearing its final spin. It twirled her back to childhood days where red and gold lights from the caravans pulsed, and flickering evening fires lit up the night. Tambourines shook out their enchanting song, and jeweled dancers flashed bare limbs before the throbbing orange light. Velvet heard her grandmother’s voice singing a sad song, while her fingers plucked at the strings of her guitar. She could smell the sweet tang of roasting onions and cabbage boiling in cast-iron pots over open flames, heard the hoot of an owl, saw her brother’s face in a world of mist and cannon smoke. Her current reality ever fading by the second, Velvet suspected she might be dying.

“You can make it,” said Nora, hoisting Velvet higher against her shoulder and locking her hands around Velvet’s bloody waist. “Not much further now. My carriage is just around the corner.” Velvet’s vision darkened at the edges. Her feet stumbled, and small sparks of pain attacked her toes. “No, no, none of that now!” admonished Nora. “A couple more steps. Don’t you fail me after I carried you all this way! This is without a doubt the most physical labor I have ever done in my life without first receiving payment.”

“Isn’t this a pretty sight?” said a deep, foreign voice that grated on Velvet’s nerves. The wheel stopped spinning so fast it exploded and blew apart in a thousand pieces that lit up the sky in her mind like a host of exploding fireworks.

“You get out of my way now, you big brute,” said Nora. She struggled to pull the edge of her cloak over Velvet’s bowed head and link her arm even tighter around her waist. “My man is around the corner, and I swear I will scream so loud it’ll bust your ears.”

The man laughed, a rich, dangerous sound that rose the soft hairs on the back of Velvet’s neck. She listened to the steady patter of her heart as it slowed to an easy rhythm—perhaps its last? No. Not yet. Velvet adamantly refused the thought. She would not die, not now, not here. She had spent too many years flying in the sky to die in the gutter.

The man took a single step closer. “It seems something squirms beneath your cloak?” he noted. “She’s a pretty thing. Come on now, give us a look, sweetheart, there’s a good lass.”

“Beautiful.” Another voice, deeper—like gravel being dragged over glass—came at her from the left.

We don’t mean no trouble,” the shattered voice said.

“Nope, no trouble at all,” the other confirmed. “We’re looking for a girl about so high.” He thrust a hand in the air. “She has hair like…” He paused, Velvet assumed it was for effect. “Well, like that one there.” He pointed one long, grubby finger at Velvet. “You know, the coward, crouching behind your skirts.”

“Get—out—of—my—way,” said Nora, spacing each word. “Sir. You are—” Nora’s words broke off as the man’s hand closed over her throat.

“Give us the girl!” he hissed. “And we will be on our way.” His tongue darted out to pass over his bottom lip in a serpentine lick. Velvet heard Nora gasp at the sparse air, and let her body go limp—momentarily giving in to her hollering joints. Nora screamed, swaying when Velvet went to her knees. Nora might have fallen herself, but the man’s grip on her neck held her fast.

Growling a stream of foul curses, the man hoisted Nora until her toes hovered inches from the earth. Nora’s face bulged. Her attacker leaned in until their noses touched. Nora gagged audibly, her eyelids tumbled closed, her hands grappling desperately with the ones at her throat. Fiercely, she clawed at the leathery skin of his wrists, polished nails leaving bloody grooves.

Velvet tried to stand. Fresh, sizzling pain jolted through her, but she did not utter a sound. She reached for the knife in her boot; it hissed when it cleared the sheath. She was outside the pain, there was only focus, movement, and survival—survival most of all. Every sense spiking, Velvet listened to how her mind amplified the surrounding sounds. Screams from the bawdy houses, the pattering feet of beggar boys running for their loot, or their life—and the men. Velvet could hear the men best of all, accelerated heartbeats pounding over short, excited breaths. Nora’s screeching sounds were all that mattered. Her face was turning a mottled shade of purple and there was no time to wait for the ideal moment, time had become a thing they were fast running out of.

Velvet sprang up and buried her knife in the taut neck of Nora’s attacker. The man shrieked, as blood filled his mouth, and the scream turned to a slurry, garbled wail. Nora crumpled to the ground, clawing at her throat, gasping for air. Velvet spun around, instinctively dodging the fist aimed at her face. Her arm moved, and this time her knife sunk in the second man’s stomach. She stabbed again and again, short quick jabs that were over almost before he registered them. The man stumbled back—smacked a meaty hand to his bleeding gut—and fell on his backside, then lost consciousness with a groan. Velvet heard a sick crack when his skull hit the stone. In front of them, the first man was on his knees, the gash in his neck spewing obscene amounts of blood. Both the hands he pressed to the wound did nothing to staunch the flow.

“I’ve never seen so much blood in my life,” gasped Nora, dragging herself to her knees. “Now I will faint, and who could blame me?” Shaking hands encircling her battered throat, she coughed until tears ran down her cheeks. More hot blood pooled around the man’s knees so the cracks between the stones could not contain it. Crimson liquid bubbled up, rushing toward the lacy hem of Nora’s dress.

“Run!” Velvet panted. “Get out of here!” Hand shaking, she lifted the bloody knife, her eyes searching for danger—she found only shadows.

“I will do no such thing! Spencer!” wailed Nora. “Spencer!”

Velvet fell. Regardless of how much she wished it was otherwise, darkness had won the battle for her sight—the world faded to black.

 

 

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