Orphaned shop girl Cinder, and Rome, the Prince of the Fae,
have been best friends most of their lives. And she's loved him for just as long. But with the death of her father, she's now trapped as the sole breadwinner for her stepmother and half-sister– leaving little time for anything more than dreaming of getting away.
Rome loves Cinder as well, but her free spirit and lack of noble blood have stood in the way of him doing something about it. That is until his father the King decrees a three-part contest will determine Rome's new bride.
Even though Cinder possess more magick than has been seen in a hundred years, only those with the highest magickal blood are able to enter the contest; leaving Cinder out of the running for good. That is until a Fairy Grandmother steps in with a disguise and a plan.
But a hidden Evil has been scheming for centuries and is vying to be more than just Rome's new bride. It wants all of Ville DeFee.
Cinder's magick can stop those out to ruin her kingdom. But it may mean giving up her life to do it.
Silas’ back straightened and his shoulders bunched. He turned around slowly. His gaze fell heavily upon Cinder, but then he smiled genuinely.
A shiver crawled up Cinder’s spine.
“Lady Cinder, I hope you have a pleasant day.” He inclined his head and then strode from the shop.
As the door slammed shut, Rome let out a bark of laughter. “What a pompous ass.”
“He certainly is.” Cinder’s eyes stayed glued on the door as she stilled her anger.
Rome looked at her, and his smile fell. “What happened?” he demanded.
Cinder swallowed and met his gaze before looking away again. “Nothing.”
She picked up the lid to the jar of horehound candy and replaced it, then grabbed a cloth and scrubbed at a spot on the glass counter.
Rome continued to look over her. He had ever been her loyal protector. Standing up for her with anyone who dared to put her down or treat her as a lesser. But she didn’t need him getting in the middle of her battles. Not this time. She could handle herself.
He reached out and touched her face gently, placing his fingers just where Silas had before. Cinder swatted his hand away and rubbed her cheek. Rome’s eyes narrowed.
“Afa Kalinda Mae. He touched you.”
“No, he didn’t.” Cinder ground the cloth on the invisible spot. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Rome bite his bottom lip and scan the shop floor. She knew that look. He was replaying what he’d seen.
“I’m going to kill him.” He rushed to the door, but Cinder was right behind him.
“Dota. Don’t, Rome, please.” She grabbed him by the arm.
His handsome face twisted into a mask of anger.
“He had no right to lay a hand on you. He should be punished.”
“Please. If he reports me then I’ll have to go to a hearing for using magick on him. You know what could happen to me. And if I lose my father’s shop what will I have?” The begging coated her mouth like soapy water, making her stomach roil. But she knew this side of him. The royal side, the just side. His father’s side. She took his hand and squeezed it like she had when they were kids and scared.
After a minute, his face softened, and he squeezed her hand in return. “You always have a place to go, Cinder. I’d never let anything happen to you.”
His sincerity struck her hard in the heart.
She sat her fists on her hips and blew the hair from her eyes. “I know, but I can’t rely on you to get me out of trouble. What kind of reputation would I have then?”
He laughed. “Since when do you care what other people think?”
“I don’t, but it would be nice to marry someday, and who would want a woman with a tarnished reputation?”
“We’ve been friends forever. People know that.”
“Yes, but what kind of female friend gets the Prince to help her out of trouble with the law?” She wiggled her eyebrows at him.
Rome’s expression grew serious again. “You’ve never spoken of marriage before.”
She shrugged though her insides squirmed. She’d not thought about marriage much, except to Rome. But Silas had been right. Due to her father’s not claiming her as his heir before he died, she had little to no standing in the fae community at all. Men with higher bloodlines wouldn’t want a woman like her.
“Well I can’t spend forever waiting around for you to ask me, can I? Not that I’d say yes.” She joked.
A sly smile grew across Rome’s face. He brushed a hair behind her ear then ran his finger along the outside to the apex. “As if you would ever curb your independent side enough to be bound by the rules of being a princess.”
The tone of his voice struck her as serious, and something else replaced the playful glint in his eye. Like he was prodding her, testing her. She swallowed hard at his nearness and the desire to kiss him burned deep inside like it had ever since he’d kissed her in the field of sungolds ages ago.
“I might.” She leaned into him, taking in his wonderful, lemon balm scented cologne. “If the right prince came along.”
His face held mock offense. “Oh?” He grabbed her around the waist and brought her hips into contact with his. His deep blue gaze sucked her in. “Am I not the right prince?”
His words held the same teasing tone he always used, but his eyes were fixed on her like nothing else existed at that moment. What was he playing at?
In the past months, something had changed with him. Nothing she could put her finger on but his words seemed a bit more earnest at times and his actions more meaningful. All she could assume is that it had to do with his father’s desire for Rome to finally settle down.
The most eligible male in the kingdom, Rome was prone to flirting, but she knew what his life held. Parties, dignitaries, delegations, festivals, royal everything. Always on his best behavior. Always smiling and judicious and… a royal wife. One with grace and poise; one that didn’t break the law or combine her magick with a mage to help a human. And most importantly, that had pure blood. Blood was the most important. Always had been.
Which was why, no matter who her father had been, how close he’d been– or how close her step-uncle now was to the king, she would never be a princess.
So why did it feel like he was asking her if she was interested?
Her heart ached for him. Yes, Rome was judicious and a stickler for the law as the prince. But with her he was someone else altogether. He was funny and kind hearted. He always listened to her problems with her stepmother and offered logical advice.
Something she herself wasn’t prone to giving. He never saw her as a commoner and treated her with respect. They’d shared every hope, every dream, every new beginning with each other. He knew her inside and out. Her good, her bad and her ugly, and he was still there for her.
She stared at his lush, full lips and wondered if they would taste the same as they had the time he’d kissed her, when they had played seek and find as children. She’d pushed him away then, afraid that he was only toying with her like she’d heard he had with other girls. And as he’d never tried again, she could only assume he had been testing the limits of their friendship.
“What’s going on here?” Came an angry voice from behind them.
Cinder stumbled as Rome let her go. Her stepmother came through the back curtain and walked to the counter. She took one look at Rome, and her anger melted away instantly.
“Why Prince Rome, I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you there. How are you this fine morning?” Cinder’s stepmother glided toward them, a toothy smile, wide as the moon, planted on her face.
Cinder stepped aside, bumping into a table of herbs, as her stepmother shoved a burgundy silk cloak into her arms. Cinder bowed and moved away to hang it up.
“Tell me, your highness, what can I get you today?”
Cinder peeked over her shoulder to see her stepmother link a slender arm in Rome’s and pull him into the middle of the room. His eyes never left Cinder’s, and her cheeks flushed with warmth as she walked to the back room. She bit back her shame of being treated so low in front of Rome and hung the cloak on a hook near the rear door. Then she lit a fire in the small stove and put on a kettle for tea.
She pulled up a stool and tended the fire, flicking sparks off her fingertips while listening to the chatter and light tinkle of laughter from her stepmother out front. Her heart sank, thinking of Rome and his offer to help her.
Her father had been an advisor to the king. But since her father’s unexpected death, five years before, Cinder had been forced to be the breadwinner for her stepmother and half sister. Her father came from a respectable bloodline, and he’d taught her everything he knew about magick, as well as herbs. He’d left her stepmother the apothecary, but the woman knew nothing about running it. Fancy parties and charming men she could do but providing for herself and her daughter was beneath her.
The curtain was thrown aside, and Cinder’s head whipped up. Her stepmother’s eyes narrowed on her, and Cinder’s gaze traveled toward the shop floor. Had a customer arrived? She hadn’t heard the bell ring.
“Prince Rome would like to speak to you about his grandmother.”
“All right.” Cinder swallowed hard and kept her eyes on the floor. She crossed to the curtain, biting her tongue to keep from saying what she really wanted to. Her stepmother grabbed her by the arm, digging long nails through her thin dress and into her skin.
Cinder’s gaze caught her stepmother’s and for a second she could swear the woman’s eyes flashed red.
“Remember your place, girl. You are nothing more than the product of a fling with a seductress. Only I and my daughter Olivia carry the name of Rondell.”
Cinder dropped eyes again, and her ribcage squeezed her like one of her stepmother’s magick corsets. How could she forget her place when she had so many people willing to remind of her of it? The slashes to her pride burned white hot.
The woman gave a guttural, wheezy hiss and Cinder had to remind herself her stepmother wasn’t a snake. “How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that? Are you dense?”
“No, Lady Sabine.”
Sabine thrust a parchment with a list into Cinder’s hand then brushed past her, grabbed her cloak and headed for the back door. “Bring those potions by the house when you break for lunch. I have some clients coming in that need them. And it’s a complete mess back here. You are to straighten up before tomorrow.”
“Yes, Lady Sabine.”
Sabine’s gaze raked over Cinder. “Tomorrow, see that you wear something nicer as well. I don’t want anyone thinking that I can’t afford to keep you well enough. And please, for the sake of the gods, put some shoes on those hideously enormous feet of yours.”
Cinder crossed her bare feet and swallowed but said nothing as Sabine swung her cloak around her and stepped out the back door. She tried to keep her anger contained, but the blue tendrils of magick had already begun to swell within her, like a floating lantern.
It was Cinder and her magick that kept both the shop and her stepmother in style. Without her magick, Sabine would be forced to do the work herself. If anyone looked as if they couldn’t afford nice clothing, it was Cinder herself.
For the first time, the desire to run away crossed Cinder’s thoughts. It would be hard out in the world of Fairelle, and she would miss Rome all of her days, but perhaps the Gwyn brothers would help her. They’d ever been kind to her and more like family than her own. Her ribcage squeezed, Ville DeFee was her home. So why did she never feel like she belonged there?
Rome peeked through the curtain into the back room and glanced around. “Is it safe? Did she go?”
Cinder sighed. “She’s gone.” She walked to her flat shoes and picked them up, looking at them. “Do you think my feet are hideously enormous?”
Rome chuckled. “What?”
“Nothing.” She slid them on.
Rome shook his head and stepped in. He folded his arms and leaned against the back room wall.
“I don’t know how you do it, Cinder, I really don’t. I couldn’t put up with a woman like that.”
Anger pierced her, and the need to stand up for her stepmother crossed her thoughts. But she couldn’t pretend. Not with Rome. He knew here too well. “She and Livy are all I have. Even if she doesn’t want me,” she finally said.
The bell rang, and several sets of footsteps entered.
“I need to go,” she said.
“Me too,” he said. “But I’m going to bring my grandmother in tomorrow. She’s got a cough that worries me. And I wanted to speak to you about something. Something important.”
“You can tell me now.”
He shook his head. “No. I want to do it when we have a bit of time.”
She planted a forced smile on her face. “I’ll be here.”
Rome wrapped her in a hug and kissed the top of her head. “It’ll get better. I promise.”
Her cheek brushed against his chest, and the scent of him made her eyes close as she inhaled.
If only she knew who her mother had been. If only her father hadn’t died before claiming her as his heir and giving her his name. If only she’d tried harder to win his affections. If only, if only, if only…
“Helloooooo?” Came a call from the front of the shop.
Cinder backed away. If only I were someone else.
He shot her his winning smile and pointed at her. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She nodded and ambled to the curtain.
She glanced back.
“Your feet aren’t hideously enormous. Only moderately enormous.”
She flicked her fingers and a hand towel flew off the workbench in his direction. He ducked out the rear door, and the towel hit the glass window instead of his face.
He laughed as she glared at him. A smile snuck across her face, and she shook her head before going to the front of the store.
If only she’d let him kiss her again and again when they were young.
Rebekah is an Award Winning Bestselling Author. Her debut novel Dead Awakenings, hit the bestseller list the first day, in January 2014. Her Fairelle Series, released in May 2014 and has won several awards including the Golden Palm and a finalist for Rone Award. Her trilogy The Society was released by Kensington in 2014 and her new series Shifter Rising is releasing in 2016 from Samhain Press.
Rebekah is currently working on six series in the Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy, Sci-fi genres. She has five books releasing in 2016.
Rebekah is the President Elect of the FF&P Chapter. In her spare time when she isn't writing you can find her teaching on SavvyAuthors.com or at RWA. Rebekah also cosplays with her kids and is a guest speaker and panelist at San Diego Comic Con and Salt Lake Comic Con and several other Comic Cons on the west coast as well as LTUE, Romantic Times Convention, and Authors After Dark.
Red the Were Hunter (Book 1)
Snow the Vampire Hunter (Book 2)
Zelle and the Tower (Book 3)
Jamen's Yuletide Bride (Book 4)