The Princess and the Stag
The Lost Princess #2
by JP Roth
Even without wings, a true goddess will find a way to fly.
Sentenced to death by the damming testimony of the only man she trusts, Velvet is rescued by Nora Hartington, bastard daughter of King George III, stunning socialite turned pirate queen. On the high seas, Velvet is stolen by the duke who betrayed her. He takes her abord his own vessel in the throes of a black storm. and claims that by proxy,, and the king’s decree, she is his alone.
Velvet is haunted by a magic she held, used, and now regrets with all her soul. A dark collection of precious stones hosting ancient powers which once transformed a frightened prince and princess of France into a snow-white owl, and a golden stag. With the full force of the British monarchy, and Napoleon’s army closing in, Velvet’s haven is also her doom.
In the lush bed of the captain’s cabin, Henry attempts to hold Velvet to a vow she did not make. Tossed and battered by waves tall as mountains, locked in a passion neither can escape, they are victims to the gods of the deep. Shipwrecked and washed to the white shores of a storied pirate retreat. Ile Sainte-Marie, island of legend, and birthplace of the magic which has shaped Velvet’s life and threatens to steal everything she loves.
Ghosts, enchantments, lost loves, and bloody sacrifice teach Velvet that time and reality are fragile, varied, sparkling dimensions ever just out sight, and the things that truly matter, always come with the steepest price.
Release Date: August 17, 2021
Genre: Fantasy Historical Romance
A Red Satin Romance
On this day we burry you in the ground, on this day we live with sight and no sound.
November 3, 1800
Dove grey morning light touched the empty fields in silver. Six men loitered in two groups of three, friends facing each other like enemies. Henry stood, the rising sun at his back and took in the sad sight of his sorry group of friends.
“This is your fault, Charles,” Henry said. “I should be knocking you senseless for what you did to Nora, not standing as your second while you disgrace yourself in yet another duel.”
Charles tossed his blonde locks from his blue eyes. “As I told Lord Dustin, it was his honorable lady wife who set her cap for me,” said Charles, throwing up his gloved hands, “a piece of real truth, I vow. I don’t deserve this, but us Newcastle men never run from a fight. A pastime we have kept till death.”
“This is not a laughing matter,” Henry barked. “Lord Dustin is one of the finest shots in the country. You were friends at Eton. I have vivid memories of you drinking, wenching, and dicing together, so do you really want him to be the one who kills you?”
Charles sniffed at the air, prissily he brushed imaginary dirt off his perfectly tailored cuff. “All this fuss over women and their virtue has my blood up. A good fight right now, is what I need.”
“Because of Nora?” Henry asked.
“Because of all of them,” Charles responded flippantly.
“Nora isn’t like ‘all of them’. She’s a sister to us.”
Charles dragged his sword from its sheath, inspected the blade, then threw his brother a meaningful look. “A sister to you, maybe. Always something else to me.”
“Don’t you care about the fate of your own child?” Henry roared, causing a few of the surrounding men to glance in their direction.
“Did you know her father is the king?” asked Charles, deftly ignoring his brother’s outburst. “Old Georgie and his bastards.” He sighed, shaking his golden head.
“Everyone knows that, Charles. Christ, you’re almost too dense to be infuriating.”
“Better an imbecile, than a traitor,” chortled Charles. “For once, you are the wretched brother and I the supreme, even standing here on this field at dawn, to do what I mean to do.” Charles tapped the tip of his rapier against the heel of his boot. Mud sprinkled to the earth. “Defying the order of the King,” Charles said and sucked in a sharp breath through his teeth. “Never thought you had it in you man.”
“I am not a traitor,” Henry said. “I was under her spell. The French princess is powerful and beautiful. Cardinal Exeter tells me her mother slept with the devil, and she is the product of their union. He says King Louis was impotent.”
“Don’t tell me you believe that dribble.”
“I don’t know what I believe,” Henry confessed. “I have spent the last three days, in prayer and fasting, still I feel her dark hands touching my soul.” Unconsciously he ran his fingers through his hair, tussling it mercilessly. “She’s the only thought in my mind. And every image of her is wrapped in my own guilt.”
“Ah, the one emotion I was not blessed with,” Charles said as he tapped his sword again and his voice turned serious. “You did nothing wrong. You were right to capture her. You are a loyal subject of King Georgie, a lord, and a captain in his army. You have no business running with pirates and gypsies.”
Velvet was neither, but Henry chose not to correct his brother. Rather, he stared into the first light of the rising sun shielding his eyes with his right hand. “What if it’s all a lie?” he said, his voice so low, Henry wondered if Charles heard his words. “What if she really is innocent of it all, falsely accused, fighting for her life. What if there is no Devil, no witches or magic, what if it is all an allusion of our times. They say our mother was a witch, but she was the best person I have ever met. Desperation and survival do not make the best decisions. What if Velvet just did what she thought she had to do, to keep herself and her brother alive? I swore to keep her safe, and I betrayed her.”
“You obeyed your king,” said Charles, placing his gloved hand on his brother’s shoulder. “There is no shame in what you did. The shame would lie in betraying your king for a pretty face, regardless of what magic she cast, real or imagined.” Charles gave Henry’s shoulder a squeeze. “For what it’s worth, I’m proud of you.”
“Under the harsh light of your current actions, it’s not worth much,” Henry snapped.
Charles shrugged, stung. Pointedly he removed his hand.
“I’m sorry, Charles, I’m being a complete fool. Who am I to cast judgement? I’ve been chasing dreams and visions for a fortnight.”
“To your positions, gentlemen,” called Sir James, Viscount of Charrington. “This duel for lady Dustin’s honor will conclude at first blood. Satisfaction will be had, my lords, but not at the risk of incarceration. Lord Newcastle, as the one who accepted the challenge, the choice of weapons is yours.”
“Rapier,” Charles called, skillfully brandishing his blade, the steel drank the weak morning light and glowed.
“Lord Dustin, do you accept this choice of weapons?” demanded Sir James, his voice pitched to carry across the whispering field, and early morning sounds.
“I do,” said Dustin, and drew his thin blade.
“You wear your heart on your face, brother. It betrays you.” Charles yawned and raised his sword arm in a lengthy stretch above his head, loudly cracking his neck, pulling the silk of his tailored coat tight across his broad shoulders. The sun had recently brightened his hair, and Henry thought it gave his brother the look of a fading specter. It whitened his skin, enhancing the paleness of his lips, and lashes. Under the dawn light, Charles was the spitting image of their father. At times, Henry wondered if that similarity in them tainted the brotherly love he was meant to feel.
“There is nothing on my face except old bruises and fresh exhaustion,” Henry said.
“Both courtesy of our dead princess.”
“Not dead yet,” Henry said. Though he should not have, the words gave him hope. Hope of what? A happily ever after, running for his life with the woman of his dreams?
Sir James blew on a small, rectangular device that whistled like birdsong.
“You can still back out of this, Charles,” Henry said, as his brother moved to take position.
Charles looked at Henry, his jaw fixed, his eyes flashing excitement. “If you can say such a thing brother, then you truly don’t know me a’ tall.”
Henry threw a meaningful look at the men gathered round. “I know you, Charles, this is you!”
Henry spun to the sound of his name. Paul Beauchamp stood to the right of Charles, hands folded behind his back. Kohl lined his large, blue eyes, and pink rouge blushed cheeks that were white and soft as a woman. Beneath a dark cap stuck with a painted pigeon feather, he wore a fashionably powdered wig, curled to perfection. A large mole decorated the left side of his upper lip, the painted dot added an exotic flare to an otherwise fashionably standard garb.
“Bonjour, Monsieur,” Paul said, affecting a slight bow. “If your brother backs out before satisfaction is had, it is I who will test your metal.”
“Good morning to you, sir. I hope it does not come to that,” Henry said sincerely. Paul may be beautiful, and feminine enough to confound his sex, but Henry knew he was arguably one of the best swordsmen in Paris and had no desire to test the validity of gossips, on this day of all days. “I’ve heard great stories about you.”
“Ha! Mon Die, but people like to talk, eh? I’ve heard some stories too, my lord. About you and the lost princess? They say you found Marie Therese, then delivered her to die?”
Wads of lace tumbling from the tailored cuff of Paul’s riding jacket, fell over his thin fingers. Paul flipped the material back with a flourish. The motion was confusing as the rest of him. Despite its softness there was a deep warning in the speed of the movement, and the fineness in which he drew his blade. “Marie Therese of France, princess of Normandy is my niece,” Paul said.
Henry felt the words lie heavy in his gut. “She is a traitor, a killer and a prisoner of the British crown.”
“She is a frightened child, and you, monsieur, are a dead man. How could you?” Paul spat. “If she is anything like her mother, how could you? You are a lord serving a mad king and she is a princess of France! I heard you were just. I was grateful when they told me she had fallen under your protection. I was riding to rescue her when they told me you had delivered her to die.”
“She is a witch,” Henry said, even to himself the tone of his words was made of lies.
“You imbécile!” said Paul, “all women are witches, do you know nothing?”
“She bewitched me!” Henry insisted. “She took my sanity, my will.”
“Mais oui? That is the power of woman, no? Are you angry because you wanted her? Is she as beautiful as they say?”
Yes. He had been incredibly angry. Because he wanted her always, and she made him act on it. She made him lose control, turned him into a senseless statue. Not senseless, his mind corrected. One sense had been very present and was enslaved.
Charles yawned long and loudly. “Leave it to you, brother, to upstage my duel. May my Lord Dustin and I get on with it? Or would you prefer to bandy about, throwing insults and playing with swords until the constable arrives?”
“Watch your back, my lord,” Paul said, strolling away to take his place at lord Dustin’s right-hand side. His last words were thrown over his shoulder like a curse. “You may find my knife in it.”
Henry took his place beside Charles who clapped him on the back and gave him a friendly nudge in the ribs. “Turning out to be quite the exciting day, eh old chap?”
“I fear it won't improve for you. We will speak about Nora when this stupidity is concluded,” Henry said.
Charles spat on the ground and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “What do you want me to do? Raise a bastard?”
“Marry her, give the child your protection and your name.”
“You’re out of your mind,” said Charles. Henry reached out to touch his brother’s shoulder. Peevishly, Charles slapped his hand away. “Nora and I are fine. You’re the one walking like a dead man. See to your own guilt brother, kindly leave me to mine.”
* * *
Rain poured in sheets from the fog-soaked sky, large, cold drops that splashed on the bowed heads of those gathered around the freshly dug hole in the muddy ground. A murder of crows screamed from the surrounding tree branches and flew in dizzying circles over the likely clad mourners.
“Today we say goodbye to Katie Miller, a child of Christ, a sister and a friend.”
Nora stared at the casket being lowered into the ground in horror. The Parson, hands folded over a withered bible continued speaking in a low monotone voice. Nora ignored him. There was nothing particularly wrong with what he was saying, point of fact: it was quite beautiful; however, he did not know Katie, his words were only perfunctory, something real should be said, she knew it. But she felt too miserable to speak right now. It would not do; she knew that too. She was made of sterner stuff. Close your eyes and feel inside. Henry’s mother spoke those words to Nora a long time ago, but she held onto them now. Close your eyes and feel inside. She told herself. Don’t let them see you break. Don’t let them know. You are a lady and a princess. You are made of stone. Your eyes, your ears, your heart—all stone. Stone doesn’t cry. The more she tried to compose herself, the more breathless and tearful she felt.
The ropes holding Katie’s casket creaked loudly, Nora heard Katie’s small body shift slightly inside her polished oak box. Nora wished there had been time to find a smaller casket and a better priest, but after what Henry had done, they were all in constant danger of arrest. So, Nora had found the most beautiful casket money could buy, on short notice, knowing it would dwarf Katie, and hoping that would be alright. It was, except for the thumping.
Rest in peace, Katie, Nora thought. Would that I could have saved you, my dearest friend. Rest in peace, love. Such thoughts did not help her resolution to be made of stone, Nora reflected, and decided to save her own mental eulogies until she was alone, then she would let go, alone she could cry out all the broken pieces of her heart. The casket thumped when it met earth, Katie’s body rattled, the ropes sighed and released their hold as the coffin slid in place. It was done. Katie was really gone.
Nora took a step back, she wanted to move to the edge of the crowd unseen and slip away before the hymn singing began. Devon squeezed her hand. His was so warm and comforting, she felt her resolve to be a stone slip a little more, quietly she lay her head on his shoulder, sighing when he tucked a wandering curl behind her ear.
“It was a beautiful service,” Nora said. “Simple and Catholic. Katie would have loved it.”
Devon nodded, gazing at the men detaching the ropes from the coffin, now dusting their hands, and picking up their shovels. “Katie was always there,” he said. “My first memory of you, at your come-out ball, Katie was at your side. I never once saw you without her.”
“I know,” Nora whispered. “To be honest, it still doesn’t feel like she is gone. Do you think a dead friend can be like a phantom limb? In that you still feel it, long after it’s been cut off?”
Devon made a low sound of agreement in his chest. “I think so. Our memories keep them alive.”
“She wasn’t supposed to die.” Nora blinked her eyelids so that her tears might not fall. It worked, she swallowed them back. Somewhere above them a crow screamed, slowly it circled the giant elm bracing their sad, black garbed party.
Devon stepped back, Nora saw that beneath the many raindrops his face was pale, his bloodshot eyes rimmed in red. “I truly despise death,” he muttered. “Today only firms my resolution to fight it until the end.”
Nora almost smiled. The crow screamed again. It landed on a leafy branch overhanging the grave. Disturbed leaves fluttered to the ground and Nora followed their dizzy path until her eyes came to rest on a dark shadow standing just beyond the elm. Nora instantly recognized the face—it was not difficult—she had known the face since her sixth birthday. Nora coughed out a shredded gasp as her senses promptly deserted her. Uttering a broken growl, she shook off Devon’s hand fervently enough to make him stumble. A few people blocked her path, people who had loved Katie, even one of her brothers—Nora did not see them. She saw only Henry, bathed in a red glow, a glow which she felt herself exuding in hot, rage filled waves from her eyes.
Henry saw her charging at him. His hands went up in surrender. Nora picked up her skirt and ran. Yelling something at him that sounded like traitor, or liar? She did not know, maybe a jumbled combination of both.
“Nora,” Henry shouted, alarmed.
Nora’s fist flashed out; Henry ducked his head seconds before her knuckles clipped his cheek. “Nora, for god’s sake!” he roared. Nora let the other fist fly. It struck his chest with a solid thump. Her thumb nail clipped the golden buckle on the collar of his redcoat, but she hardly felt the small pain.
“You...! Lying...! Betrayer!” Nora could not find her words, so instead she kicked his shin with all her strength. Henry yelped, hopping backward.
“You didn’t think to dive in after me? To wonder where I was. Noooo! You stood there and lost your mind. After, I managed to survive—no thanks to you, I return to find you arrested the girl I almost died for. More than once!” Nora swung again, both fists lashing out blindly. Henry caught her hands; his own grip was incredibly strong. The bastard!
Using his hold on her wrists, Henry spun her around, pulling her against him, firmly locking both her hands on either side of her waist. His heart thumped against the base of her neck, as he gulped in a deep breath, she felt his chin come to rest on the top of her head.
“Goddamn it, Nora,” he growled. “Will you let me explain.”
“Explain!” she screamed. “You lied to her, Henry, you lied to me. If they kill her, I will never forgive you.” Nora struggled wildly for a useless moment, then went limp, Henry made a tisking sound and relaxed his hold. Nora threw her foot back and kicked him again. He stumbled, nearly falling. Nora broke free and spun away, then rounded on him. “You swore!” She railed and lifted her fists to pound on him again. Devon caught her around the waist and swung her away from temptation.
“Nora,” Devon said, obviously striving for soothing tones. “Not now. Let it go. Let’s get out of here.”
“Are you...are you laughing?” Nora asked him, completely aghast.
“No,” Devon said, cleanly wiping the smile off his face. “It’s jus...” His shoulders shook. “I’ve never seen you in hysterics. It’s not something I’ll forget.”
“I am not hysterical! I am furious. There is a vast, marked difference.”
“Devon,” said Henry, winded and gasping. “Get her away from this place. Make sure she’s safe.”
Devon nodded, but said nothing. Nora saw his eyes, and noted the look he cast at Henry, angry and confused as her own, as though trying, yet failing to fully understand his friend's motives. Nora turned to face Devon and froze. Everything forgotten, mortality challenged.
Louis stood in a shaft of sunlight, pawing the ground, and watching her. She felt a second of shame at what he had most likely seen; ladies who were made of stone did not attack gentlemen moments after a funeral. She almost dropped her eyes, but he caught her gaze and held it.
“It’s okay,” said Louis, in that intoxicating mind voice. Last night it had seemed unreal, today, in broad daylight she felt paralyzed by the wonder of it.
“Let’s get out of here,” Devon said, his voice seeming to come to her from far away. “I’ll take you to court...it's going to be...”
When Devon saw he had none of her attention, his words trailed off. Nora tapped his hand still locked around her waist; he released her muttering an apology. She took a step toward Louis, battling the silly urge to pinch herself. She had never seen him in daylight before, something about the way the sun merged in his golden glow made it all so beautifully, impossibly true. It assured her that the night he saved her, had not been a fevered dream.
“Good day, my lady,” said Louis and his words roved through her mind. She lifted her hands, touching her temples, meaning to keep them there.
“Why did you stop me?” she said aloud, not giving two hoots who saw her chatting up the thin air. “He,” she pointed an outraged finger in Henry’s general direction, possibly implicating Devon in the process. “He is responsible for your sister’s current predicament. He...” Her finger shook. “He...my once ‘brother,’ he...”
“Allow me to speak from experience,” Louis told her, waiting politely for her to regain a modicum of composure. “Men don’t usually like being enslaved to a spell, no matter how well meaning.”
Devon came to stand beside her and cleared his throat. “Should I be concerned that this is the second time you have spoken to thin air in a matter of days?”
“Do hush!” Nora pleaded. “I’ve already explained it to you once. Don’t ask me to do it again right now, I can barely form a complete thought.”
“I’ll just wait over here,” said Devon, clearing his throat and pointing to a patch of sun falling on the close cobblestones lining lower Sunbury road.
Nora turned toward where he was pointing just in time to see Henry walk away. “The pox take him,” she muttered, and Louis’s peal of rich laughter echoed in her mind.
“You have a beautiful laugh,” Nora said.
“Thank you. That’s truly kind.” Devon bowed.
Nora ignored him.