Saturday, January 31, 2015

Echo of Her Presence by Alaina Stanford


We are so excited to spotlight book 3 of the Archangel series today! Let's take a look at this great book.

Synopsis
Ariel has proven her prowess on the battlefield. Still since the Great War she has maintained a low profile allowing her fellow archangels to take a leading role. Just as she finally strikes out on her own she meets a stubborn Texas cattle rancher named Orson Anderson. His steely blue eyes and bold Texan attitude immediately set her on the defense. Yet it's her job to save Texas from a wicked drought, but it's not going to be that easy. While gently urging nature to move moisture into Texas, she discovers demons at work in the oil fields.

Her small task quickly escalates. Suddenly the entire nation is at risk and it's up to her to save it.

Snippet #1

“What the hell are you doing out here?” A deep voice with a Texas twang said from behind her.
Her eyes flashed with annoyance as she turned to find a man in a cowboy hat with a scruffy beard sitting on a horse staring down at her with steely gray eyes. “I’m minding my own business doing nothing that should concern you,” She squinted at him in the harsh daylight.
“You got a death wish?” He snapped and glanced around, “Where’s your man? Sleeping one off in his air conditioned dune buggy while you try to get some warped version of a California tan?”
Ariel sighed and glared at him. He was one of those archaic cowboy types who chewed tobacco and slept under his horse. “Relax Haas, I’m just doing my job. So why don’t you get on with yours. I wouldn’t want to keep you from burning the flesh off a cow or shooting at something.”
He turned back to gaze at her. His eyes narrowed suspiciously then he chuckled. “You’re a cocky minx, but those pretty brown eyes aren’t going to stop a wild hog from ripping your head off. This country is full of them you know.”
“How fascinating,” She muttered. She turned and began following the dry stream bed hoping he’d ride off.
“Look lady,” He called moving his horse toward her, “You don’t seem to understand. We are in the middle of a drought, you don’t appear to have any water on you and that stream bed you’re following isn’t going to lead you to any. Now I’m not partial to riding double, it’s hard on the horse, but I don’t see any option at this point. So give me your hand and I’ll pull you up.”
She stopped and turned to stare at him. The fight had gone out of his face, replaced with a sincerity she couldn’t ignore, but somehow found annoying. “So let me get this straight. You want to be my knight in shining armor and save me from certain death?”
He smiled. He had a nice smile full of perfect white teeth. He pulled off his hat and smoothed back his thick brown hair. Ariel’s attention was drawn to his bicepts. They were the size of a mountain. “Lady, I don’t know how you got out here or what you think you’re doing. Frankly, I don’t care. But I’m not leaving any woman, crazy or not, in the middle of the range with no horse and no water. Now I’d like to get out of this heat. Contrary to what you may believe Texans are tough, but we are human. I’ve got some water in my saddle bag which I am happy to share. It’s a bit of a ride back to the stables. So if you want to climb up on my horse voluntarily that’s great. I’d prefer it.” His smile vanished, “However, if you are going to stand there arguing with me like an empty headed princess and I have to get off of my horse to fetch your skinny ass…”
“Are you threatening me?” Ariel locked eyes with him. Her hands went to her hips.
He sighed and said quietly, “Yes, I guess I am. Ma’am, I’m not leaving you behind.” His eyes softened and their color deepened to warm cobalt blue, “You’ll die.”
“What the hell are you doing out here?” A deep voice with a Texas twang said from behind her.
Her eyes flashed with annoyance as she turned to find a man in a cowboy hat with a scruffy beard sitting on a horse staring down at her with steely gray eyes. “I’m minding my own business doing nothing that should concern you,” She squinted at him in the harsh daylight.
“You got a death wish?” He snapped and glanced around, “Where’s your man? Sleeping one off in his air conditioned dune buggy while you try to get some warped version of a California tan?”
Ariel sighed and glared at him. He was one of those archaic cowboy types who chewed tobacco and slept under his horse. “Relax Haas, I’m just doing my job. So why don’t you get on with yours. I wouldn’t want to keep you from burning the flesh off a cow or shooting at something.”
He turned back to gaze at her. His eyes narrowed suspiciously then he chuckled. “You’re a cocky minx, but those pretty brown eyes aren’t going to stop a wild hog from ripping your head off. This country is full of them you know.”
“How fascinating,” She muttered. She turned and began following the dry stream bed hoping he’d ride off.

Author Bio 
I have one of those brains that won't turn off at night. Many nights I would distract my intellect by revamping a movie, book or TV show in my mind. I would twist and turn the plots and characters to achieve the ending I preferred. That developed into side stories about my favorite minor characters. Each night I fell asleep in the middle of a grand adventure. It wasn't long before I began to create stories of my own and put pen to paper.

I love a good adventure. I love a good romance. As the mother of seven children, I also learned to love to play video games. One day it occurred to me to write an adventure that flowed like a video game and I added a touch of romance. Thus, Hypnotic Journey was born. The HJ characters are like a family to me. They are foolish, daring, resourceful, passionate and dedicated to their friends.
My love for Science Fiction gave birth to the Treborel Series. It’s a paranormal Sci-Fi romance featuring a psychotic villain and a multiple layer
of hero's fighting to survive the chaos.
I write about how friendship and love can carry you through situations that you might not otherwise survive. You will find my stories exciting and steamy, but I am not an erotic writer. My stories fade to dark when the steam begins to rise, but take it from me, the steam does rise and emotions do soar.
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• Website: www.authoralainastanford.com

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Sunday, January 18, 2015



Love Finds Its Way


Lucas arrived at the Sullivan mansion as an orphan with a vicious burn on his side. The mark is a clue to his past, and the accident that took his family. The Sullivans gave him a home, raised him as their son, and made him heir to their fortune. He has everything a man could want, but he’s tortured by the secrets from his past. He’s a man without a name.

For seventeen years, Lucas has called the Sullivan girls his sisters, but his feelings for Callie have changed from brotherly to those of a man for a woman. As the passion between them ignites, Lucas is forced to make a choice between claiming Callie, or finding out who he is.

On a cold January night, Lucas leaves to follow a clue to Texas, but not before he has Callie promise, “I will wait for you.”

Secrets unfold, and Lucas discovers the answers he seeks. Is it too late for Lucas and Callie, or will their love find its way?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wilhelmina Stolen is the pseudonym for romance writer, Shannon Hayes. Shannon is a native of Kentucky and makes her home in a small southern town close to the Tennessee line.
During her adolescence, her mother’s free spirited nature became restless causing the family to embark on a slew of adventurous moves across the country. The moves provoked a hunger for adventure and romance and introduced her to a wonderful world of history and beauty.
As with most writers, her stories began at an early age with long sessions of seclusion and secrecy. While her classmates and friends were outside playing, Shannon was locked away in her room hammering out ideas on an old 1940’s Royal typewriter.
After finding Mr. Right, Shannon found herself wanting the comfort and security of the small Kentucky town she longed to escape as a child. Fortune smiled upon her and she became the family historian; gathering pictures, wills, marriage certificates and everything else that somehow managed to fall into her lap. Stories flooded her mind and writing quickly became an obsession that turned into the Way of Hearts Saga.

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Excerpt 1

Twenty minutes later, Callie sat in the restaurant of the Capital Hotel across from Walter. Her father had insisted they eat without him while he made the necessary arrangements for the final leg of their journey into Santa Camino. Odd how her father felt the need to disappear. This was his latest attempt at matchmaking. She could feel it.
The somewhat deserted dining area was uncomfortably quiet. Callie drummed the fingers of one hand on the tabletop and rested her chin in the palm of the other.
The waiter set the plate in front of Walter. He smiled. “It looks delicious. I’m starving.” A juicy red flow tainted the plate when he cut into the meat, and popped a chunk into his mouth.
Callie raised her upper lip into a snarl and watched him chewed his steak with zeal. “How can you eat that?” she questioned the seared beef on his plate. “It’s bleeding.”
He cut another large chunk off and skewered it with his fork. “It’s delicious!” he repeated the process and held a bite up to Callie. “Try it.”
“No, thank you.” Callie recoiled from the pink meat. “I like mine well done.”
Walter shrugged and shoved the piece into his mouth.
She unfolded her napkin and placed it on her lap. “So, Mr. Delaney, what do you hope to gain from this trip?”
He looked confounded. “Gain?” he said in mid-chew. After he swallowed, he took a sip of water and wiped his mouth. “I’m not sure I understand the question.”
She cut into the well-done steak on the plate in front of her. “It is a simple question. Is it the money? Did my father offer you more money to come along?” she inserted her fork into the meat and lifted it to her mouth, pausing to speak. “Because if it was, I would have doubled your salary just to have you remain in Honesty,” she took a bite, it was delicious. The tender beef made her mouth water.
Walter dropped his eyes. “No. It was not the money.”
She chewed and swallowed before asking. “Then why come to Texas? Why leave the comfort and safety of an office to risk life and limb for the sake of a job?”
He discarded his napkin on the table and sat back in his chair. “You once asked me if I’d ever fired a gun or watched someone die,” he took another sip of water.
“Being sheltered often comes with money.”
Walter offered her an annoyed look and scratched the side of his face. “Yes, I suppose it does, but that’s why I came to Texas.”
“Now, I am the one confused.”
“I was born and raised in New York City. My mother is a socialite and my father, a hard working businessman. I was born into a life of wealth and privilege. When the war started, I joined but─”
“Your father made sure you didn’t see battle,” Callie finished for him.
Walter’s mouth twitched at the corners. “You seem to have me figured out, Ms. Sullivan.”
“I’m very observant,” Callie said, pleased with herself.
“I can see that,” Walter pushed his plate back and rested his elbows on the table. “It is true, to an extent, my life has been somewhat sheltered. I want for nothing,” he leaned forward, looking deep into her eyes. “Yet, there is something missing in my life.”
Callie sipped her water, watching the raw emotion on his face. Poor Mr. Delaney. He was so naive. “And you think you’ll find that something in Texas?”
He shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Well, good luck Mr. Delaney. Texas is hell, and I want nothing to do with it.”
Walter’s eyes changed to a darker shade of blue. “Then why are you here?”
Callie managed a nonchalant look. “You read the telegram.”
“I did,” his eyes drilled into hers. “You could have any man you want. So why are you chasing after a man that left you?”
Callie felt the statement reverberate through her heart. With a voice smaller than usual, she answered him. “You wouldn’t understand.”
Walter crossed his arms and leaned forward, holding her with his eyes. “I understand more than you think. You’re in love with him.”
She felt a warm blush spread across her cheeks. “Everyone deserves a second chance at love, Mr. Delaney. Remember?”
Walter raised his eyebrows and smiled. “I do,” his eyes moved over her face. “Being in love is nothing to be ashamed of, Callie,” the softness of his voice was almost intimate. “The heart can’t help who it loves.”
Callie lowered her head. “I am not at all comfortable talking about such matters with you, Mr. Delaney.”
“I have embarrassed you,” he gave her a thin smile that disappeared quickly. “That was not my intention,” he pushed his chair back and stood.
“Where are you going? You’ve hardly touched your food,” Callie protested.
“I’ve lost my appetite,” he retrieved his hat from the rack beside the door. “I’ll be in my room if you need me.”
Callie watched him disappear up the stairs. “What just happened?” she whispered.

Excerpt 2

Callie wiped her face. “Sit up. Let me take a look,” Lucas sat up and to let her unwrap the dirty bandage. As she untied the knot holding the soaked cloth in place, he held his breath when she leaned into him. “Am I hurting you?”
His dark eyes made her heart flip. “Anytime you touch me, I hurt,” he clamped his hand down over hers. “Do it fast and don’t linger. I don’t have much restraint left when it comes to you.”
Warmth centered deep within the pit of her stomach and spread through her body. He still wanted her. Callie choked back the elated feeling. “It seems you don’t have much restraint at all when it comes to the opposite sex.”
“What the hell do you know about restraint? You hopped onto the first man that came callin’.” He let go of her hand.
The lie Walter told stood as her only defense against Lucas’ betrayal. If he cared about her now as he had once claimed to, the details of her fake relationship with Walter would hurt him.
“I don’t understand why you’re so upset. You left me, remember?” she peeled the last remaining layer of bandage from the wound. “You should be happy I met a man who loved me.”
The muscles in his jaw worked in a grinding motion. “You had a man who loved you,” Lucas lifted his arm higher so she could see the wound. “I’ve always loved you, but never knew how much until I left.”
Her heart soared. “If you loved me, why did you leave?”
“At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do.”
She held her breath. “And now?”
“I wanted you to have my name when we married, and when I left Virginia, the only thing that mattered to me was finding out who I was. But it seems the longer I chase after my past, the closer I am to losing my future. I know I should have stayed, but─” he hesitated and tried to find the words. “You were so ….”
“So what?” she lay her hands in her lap. “What drove you away?”
He was silent.
“Was it the kidnapping or the rumors?” her defenses came up.
He frowned. “What rumors?”
“That I was a rebel whore,” she clasped her fingers together.
Anger filled his eyes, and his lips pressed into a thin line.
“I suppose you left before they could get back to you.”
A muscle in his jaw flexed. “I left because you were hurt and looking for someone you could trust. I couldn’t take advantage of you. If I’d made love to you that night and then run off to Texas, I would have been doing exactly that.”
She’d never considered things from his point of view.
“You were so innocent and trusting,” his eyes searched hers. “And I was arrogant enough to think you would wait for me. That you wouldn’t give yourself or your heart to another man. That’s why I left,” his eyes fell to the floor. “I thought you’d always be waiting for me.”
Callie wiped dried blood from the wound with the dirty bandage. “It is an awful feeling isn’t it?” she questioned softly. “Thinking about the one you love making love to another.”
“Did he?” his eyes burned into her.
“Did he what?”
“Make love to you?
Callie may not have been an experienced woman, but she was a woman. She knew how to inflict pain. She smiled sweetly and wiped the wound harder than she should have. “What do you think?”



Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Silver Unicorn by Wayne Orr

The Silver Unicorn by Wayne Orr


























Available from 5 Prince Publishing www.5princebooks.com  books@5princebooks.comGenre: Fiction, Fantasy, General
Release Date: December 4, 2014
Digital ISBN 13 978-1-63112-085-5 ISBN: 10:1631120859
Print ISBN 13: 978-1-63112-086-2 ISBN: 10: 1631120867
Purchase link : http://www.5princebooks.com/buy-links.html


Th Silver Unicorn by Wayne Orr
Johnny is still recovering from a suspicious car accident that he knows was no accident. Glinda is still scarred from an attack in her youth and in denial about her magical gifts. When these two guarded hearts meet at a concert the magic begins but there’s little time for Romance.

These two star crossed lovers embark on a magical journey through a time space portal aboard a magical unicorn. This portal is being misused by a group of interplanetary smugglers who will stop at nothing to keep their operation going. It's up to Glinda and Johnny to shut this nefarious enterprise down.

These two mavericks face, a mob of cruel demons, a 7-foot human named Grito, a Pit of Cleansing Fire and manage to fall in love along the way.


About Wayne Orr

Wayne holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from The University of Texas in Austin. He spent twenty-eight years working for the federal government writing manuals and regulations, first in San Antonio, Texas, then in Dayton, Ohio and finally in the Washington, D.C. area including the Pentagon.
He is retired and lives in Alexandria, VA, just outside of Washington D.C. where he spends much of his time writing and traveling.
He has written three other books which are presently listed for sale on Createspace.com, Amazon.com and numerous other online locations. They are Lonely Texas Road, Dust and Empty Dreams, and The Awakening (The Gay Preacher).
Wayne has also had several poems and short fiction pieces published in the Rusty Nail Literary Magazine. Additionally, he has published work on the Flash Fiction World website.

How to Contact Wayne:
Twitter: @LonelyTexasRoad
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wayne.orr.39
Website: http://wayneorrswanderings.blogspot.com/


Excerpt of The Silver Unicorn
Chapter I

To hear Bum Hartley tell it, the West Texas Energy Systems (WTES) Company was ready to pull out all stops. Willie Justice had decided to make it a major player in the energy business, and when Willie Justice decided to make a move in the oil patch, people listened. So when Bum asked Johnny to go to work for him, Johnny didn’t hesitate to accept Bum’s offer.
Hartley and Johnny’s father used to run around together years before, so it didn’t surprise him much when Bum had given him the call. What had surprised him was that he was going to be in a startup organization owned by the legendary “Uncle Willie.”
Johnny was a petroleum engineer. In the oil patch, people with his skills were in high demand and made good money. The company he was working for was in the process of being acquired by another company. The management people stressed that they would do all they could to minimize any disruption, but at the same time, everyone was encouraged to check other options to see what was available. So when Bum called him, he gave his company two-week’s notice and was now working for WTES.
Practically everyone in the world knew who Willie Justice was. He was The Major Share Holder, The President and The Chief Executive Officer of “Justice Enterprises” and held several other important positions there. Oftentimes he was referred to as Mr. Justice Enterprises. Lately you would see him just about every time you turned on your computer or TV. He may be riding around in a helicopter anywhere in the world that had gas or oil or maybe in Alberta, Canada checking out the oil sands or driving around on a Texas oil lease in a Ford F-150 pickup.
Johnny had seen him on TV once in the White House shaking hands with the president. He was dressed in blue jeans and cowboy boots and wearing a western style tie. Johnny was surprised that he wasn’t wearing a big, white Stetson. But a moment later he had to chuckle to himself, because when Justice walked away some man who looked like he was probably a secret service agent or White House big-shot handed him a white hat just exactly like the one Johnny had been imagining. Justice put it on as he left the room accompanied by some men who seemed to Johnny to be some pretty important government officials.
Johnny figured that it was really cool that someone could be so nonchalant and casual around the president. It sure did prove the old adage about money talking. But in Uncle Willie’s case it was undoubtedly more than just the money. He had been an icon in the energy business for more than forty years. Just about anyone in the world would probably want to shake hands with him. Being a president doesn’t make you immune to that, Johnny reckoned. Anyway, Johnny figured that old Bum was right. If Willie Justice was ready to get involved with West Texas Energy Systems, the company was probably on its way.
Johnny pulled into the parking lot and parked his pickup. Neither Bum nor Billy Joe had arrived yet. As far as Johnny knew the three of them were the only employees that the company had so far. But from his understanding, Willie Justice was bringing down an “implementation cadre” soon to get the company staffed and operating.
Bum and Billy Joe usually arrived at around nine o’clock. Johnny looked at his watch and saw that he was about fifteen minutes early. He figured he might as well brew a pot of coffee while he waited for the others. He liked his coffee a lot more than he liked Bum’s. And there was certainly no use in waiting for Billy Joe to make any. Billy Joe picked up a cup at McDonald’s on the way in and wasn’t about to waste his time brewing any. Johnny had just finished making the coffee when Bum and Billy Joe came driving into the lot. He poured himself a cup as he waited for them to come inside. He hoped that Bum had some kind of news from Uncle Willie to share with them this morning.
The two men walked up the steps together. Johnny opened the door and said, “Hi fellows.”
Billy Joe was carrying a cup of McDonald’s coffee just as Johnny had expected. Both he and Bum returned Johnny’s greeting.
“I hope you made some coffee,” Bum said. “Billy Joe was too doggoned stingy to get me a cup at McDonald’s.”
“You’ve told me about a thousand times that you don’t like this stuff. You said if I can’t buy you a cup of Caramel Flan Latte or Cafe Mocha just to forget it.”
“So you just forgot it, right?”
“Yep, that’s what I did.”
Johnny said, “I just brewed a pot. That’s exactly what I’m drinking right now. It’s worth seven fifty a cup, but it’s on special this morning for free. You can’t beat that.”
Bum said, “Great, free’s a pretty good price. Hard to get any cheaper than that. I just hope it’s worth it” and went to the pot and poured himself a cup.
They sat down at a little round table, and Bum said, “I just got off the phone with Uncle Willie, and he brought me up to speed about what’s going on. It’s pretty darned good news. He’s bringing in the “implementation cadre” in ten days or so. This place is about ready to start rocking.”
Billy Joe laughed. “So exactly what does that mean?”
“Well essentially that means that we’re gonna start working and doing things. The “implementation cadre” will be running the place for a while and helping us get it staffed. Uncle Willie will probably come in for a few days to make sure that everything’s moving in the right direction. We’ll get settled into our offices and learn exactly what our jobs are going to be. In ninety days or so, when we get the hang of what’s going on, the implementation guys will go somewhere else, and we’ll be on our own.”
“Sounds to me like it’ll work,” Johnny said.
“Oh, it’ll work all right,” Bum told him. “Everything that Uncle Willie gets involved in always works.”
“So as of right now I suppose there are just the three of us,” Johnny said.
“Actually there are four. We’ve just picked up a new fellow named Robert Slater. He’s going to be in charge of the landscaping and sprucing this place up. He’ll be in a little later and we can all go out to lunch.”

The Paper Masque by Jessica Dall

The Paper Masque by Jessica Dall


Available from 5 Prince Publishing www.5princebooks.com  books@5princebooks.com
Genre: Fiction, Romance, Historical, Alternative History
Release Date: December 4, 2014
Digital ISBN 13 978-1-63112-087-9 ISBN: 10:1631120875
Print ISBN 13: 978-1-63112-088-6 ISBN: 10: 1631120883
Purchase link : http://www.5princebooks.com/buy-links.html

The Broken Line- Book Three
Elsie Wembley has never suffered boredom gladly. Oldest of three—and second in line to the throne—she knows Carby like the back of her hand, always staying only one step ahead of trouble. When Elsie meets button-down Laurence Flynn, however, it seems she may finally have found someone to keep her out of it for good—at least until his secrets catch up to them.

With war on the horizon and nothing certain, Book 3 of The Broken Line Series continues in a quickly changing world.


About Jessica Dall
Jessica Dall finished her first novel at age 15 and been writing ever since. She is the author of such novels as Grey Areas and The Bleeding Crowd, the Broken Line Series, and a number of short stories which have appeared in both literary magazines and anthologies. When not writing, she works as a freelance editor and creative writing teacher in Washington, DC.

How to Contact Jessica:
Twitter: @JessicaDall
facebook.com/jkdall
Website: jessicadall.com

Excerpt of The Paper Masque
Chapter One

Elsie squeezed her eyes shut, head pounding. Her body refused to move.
Oh well, she had dealt with worse hangovers than this in her life.
Releasing a long breath, Elsie forced her legs over the edge of the bed, levering herself up to sitting. The springs of the mattress creaked under her. Loudly.
Everett groaned before Elsie could, rubbing his forehead unhappily. “Christ, Els. What time is it?”
“Later than I should be here.” Elsie took one last moment to force her body to listen to her, then stood, grabbing her bag. Pulling out the change of clothes, she shimmied into the blouse and pedal pushers. “You don’t need to get up. I can show myself out.”
“It’s barely light out, Els.” Everett pushed himself up on his elbows, the quilt sliding down his bare chest to his waist.
Elsie shook her head, rolling up last night’s dress to stuff it in her bag. For all of Everett Adderley’s faults, being unattractive was not one of them. She did her best to ignore it. “And if my mother finds out I’ve been gone, I’m never going to see the light of day again. I’ve already been pushing my luck lately.”
“Like she’d be able to keep you in if she tried.” Everett ran a hand through his wavy blond hair, pushing it out of his face as he lay back down. “Will you at least use the stairs this time?”
“And where’s the fun in that?” Elsie strapped her bag over her back.
Everett turned to his side. “One of these days, you’re going to slip and break your neck, and I’m going to have a lot of explaining to do.”
“Come now, darling.” Elsie pushed the window open, checking the courtyard quickly before glancing back at the bed. “I could have come crawling out of any of these windows. Nothing to tie me to this one.”
Everett just grunted.
Elsie pulled herself up onto the sill, taking a moment to make sure she had her balance before she swung to the outside, twisting to get a grip on the window frame.
Nobody ever looked up. Elsie had figured that out not long after she had learned to walk. High enough up you were as good as invisible. And with the rough stone walls, with all their protruding window sills, it was as though the designers of the Berkshire dorms wanted people to climb them. Working her toes into the crevices, Elsie pulled herself up the last three stories to the roof, rolling her shoulders as she found her footing on the slant. Sure, it was simpler to do when it didn’t feel like she had lead-filled stockings being thrown around her skull, but at this point, she likely would have been able to make it home along the roofs blackout drunk, never mind a hangover.
Moving lightly, Elsie made her way across the slate roof, angling her body to keep upright on the tilt. A hop from the dorms to the chapel, another to the science building, down three branches of the old oak on the far side, and Elsie reached the wall surrounding the old university.
Elsie crouched, taking a moment to study the road running between the walls and the rows of townhouses across from the university. The sky just beginning to lighten, it made sense that the Berks’ campus was dead—no self-respecting university student would be up now unless they were only just coming home—but the rest of Carby was anybody’s guess. Having to dash across the road and then up the side of the townhouses to reach the roofs again would leave her exposed for long enough that an early riser might spot a suspicious shape climbing up the balconies. With the streets mostly empty, however, she wouldn’t be able do disappear into a crowd if anyone took an interest in her.
Grabbing a tie from the front pocket of her bag, Elsie forced her blonde hair back into a messy bun. With her head swimming as it was, she was lucky she’d gotten up the side of the dorms as quickly as she had. The smooth brick townhomes would prove more of a challenge—even with their wrought iron balconies.
Moving to the east corner of the wall, Elsie worked her way down to the street, pulling a skirt from her bag to slip over the pedal pushers before she continued forward. She would just have to hope she didn’t gather too much suspicion working her way back across Carby by ground.
Only a twenty minute walk on the worst of days, the sky had fully lightened by the time Elsie made it to the last turn before the palace gates. Skirting the front with its guardhouse, she turned left, moving along the side of the palace grounds. Ducking behind a final tree, Elsie wiggled the old iron rod free from its place and pushed her way through the gate into the hedge. Not quite as easy a fit as it had once been, she could still manage it well enough. Slipping the rod back into place, she wriggled her way free of the branches. A quick check to make sure no stray leaves had found a place to stick, and Elsie finally made her way up to the back of the palace.
Once a fair deal larger than it was now, the palace had gone through a number of renovations in the three decades Elsie’s mother had lived there. Parts of the old structure still shining through here and there, entire wings had been demolished with other parts being rebuilt, turning the palace into some mix of old monarchy and what had been the “new style” a generation and a half ago. It seemed likely Queen Mary would have turned everything into a bigger replica of the country house in Aberfirth if she had been any freer with their purses.
Swinging around what was left of the old west wing, Elsie worked her way into the rose garden, taking the winding path up to the back door.
“Your Highness. You’re up early this morning.”
Elsie spun toward the voice, doing her best to release a breath as the rush of adrenaline passed. She pulled herself up to her full, generally impressive height, head tilted back regally. “Mr. Fletcher. I didn’t know you were in Carby.”
The man smiled from his seat on a bench. “Just arrived last night.”
At least seventy, Antony Fletcher did look good for his age, body still trim with a full head of white hair. Looking at the pencil he held, Elsie would imagine many men would have had to retire from his profession long before due to tremors, but no, the painter’s hands seemed as steady as ever with his hazel eyes clear and alert. A little too alert for Elsie’s liking at the moment. Elsie pulled herself straight, trying to hide any lingering surprise. “Did my mother call you in to help with repainting the east room?”
Antony nodded. “That, and she was hoping for me do Princess Anne’s portrait.”
Elsie furrowed her brow. Self-conscious as Anne was, Elsie couldn’t see her little sister enjoying that prospect. “Isn’t Anne a little young for all that?”
“You were six the first time I painted you, Your Highness.” Antony smiled, the lines around his eyes deepening. “Princess Anne is twice that now.”
“And hates people staring at her, I’m sure you know,” Elsie returned.
Antony just continued to smile. “I’m sure we’ll find some way to make things work.”
Elsie caught her hands in front of her, did her best to make her words sound final. “Well, I’m sure my mother will be glad to have you. She’s always in a good mood when you’re around.”
“It is always good to see old friends,” Antony agreed.
Elsie nodded, turning for the door once again. “If you’ll excuse me…”
“I’ll assume you don’t wish for me to mention you just getting in when I see your mother later?”
Elsie turned back to face him, fixing her grey eyes on him. Annoyingly, as always, they seemed to have no affect with Antony Fletcher. She pulled her shoulders back all the same. “I was just taking a walk. I couldn’t sleep.”
“With that large a pack with you?” Antony nodded to the bag on her back.
“Yes,” she said, tone challenging him to comment. “Is that a problem?”
The corner of the old man’s mouth turned up. “Have a good morning, Your Highness.”
Elsie didn’t bother to respond, turning to the palace with a punctuated finality, ignoring the feeling that Antony Fletcher was laughing at her back.

***

The sharp knock jerked Elsie awake far sooner than was kind. Forcing her eyes open, Elsie looked across the room accusingly, less than eager to move from the plush bed.
“Elsie?” the small voice asked through the door. “Are you there?”
Anne. Elsie released a breath, rubbing a hand over her face. “I’m here. It’s open.”
The door creaked on its hinges, swinging fully open before Anne started forward with her halting gait. She frowned, looking Elsie over. “Are you all right?”
“I’ll survive.” Elsie sat up, pushing bits of loose hair away from her face. “What is it?”
Anne hesitated, pressed her lips together. “You said you wanted me to wake you up to go to parliament today?”
Elsie blinked, the conversation slowly sliding into place in her half-functioning mind. “Right. Thanks. Why don’t you head downstairs, I’ll join you in a second.”
Anne nodded, turning to head back out of the room.
Elsie released a final breath, closing her eyes for a moment before pushing herself out of bed. As well as Anne managed to get around on her bad foot, Elsie still had time before her sister made it to the front door. Elsie shook her head, turning to the mirror as she listened to her sister hobble down the hall. Shame it was, too, pretty a girl as Anne would have been had she not been born with the problems. The only sibling with auburn hair, Anne likely would have been a dead ringer for their mother when Mary had been younger save for that unfortunate port-wine stain and clubfoot.
Elsie tried not to think on it too long, slipping the pedal pushers off from under her skirt before critiquing the result. Slightly wrinkled from her impromptu nap, the skirt and blouse weren’t beyond salvaging for the rest of the day with any luck. Bits of her blonde hair loose around her face, it was nearly stylish. If only she were going to a Berks party rather than parliament.
She glanced at the lever on the wall, debating ringing for a maid to help with her hair, but the entire ritual always felt so stuffy, old. And with Anne working her way downstairs, it seemed like a dreadful waste of time. Sitting at her vanity, Elsie managed a less bohemian bun herself, pinning it into place. She could bother someone later when she changed for dinner.
Popping back up, Elsie tucked her blouse back in place and started after her sister.

***

The gavel came down. “And so it is approved, the exchequer will extend credit for the necessary improvements to Her Majesty’s Navy.”
Elsie snorted. Her mother would love that. As much money as there had already been spent preparing for a war with the continent that had never come, parliament still seemed to consider itself in an arms race.
Mr. Jones cleared his throat from his spot at the end of the long hall looking at the papers in front of him. “And now Mr. Warrick has asked for the floor.”
The kind-looking man stood off to one side of the room, glancing at the paper between his hands before he started to speak, “My honored colleagues, I rise today to discuss an issue of grave importance to every member of this chamber: The situation in Oneác. Today we find ourselves at a crossroads. Many of you wish the present dominion over the land of Oneác to continue as it has for over a hundred years, others want our separation. With the violence and mayhem we have seen plague this issue, we must agree this arguing cannot continue. I believe Oneác should be given home rule.”
The expected uproar broke from the benches, men jumping up to shout at Mr. Warrick, others jumping to his defense.
“We benefit most from our relationship with Oneác through trade and economic companionship,” Mr. Warrick continued, nearly yelling to be heard over the din. “Of course we do not wish to sever those ties, but we can not continue to abuse Oneác, acting as if its own people do not know how to run it.”
Eyes scanning the shouting men, Elsie took it all in. Perry, MP from Kedington, remained silent as ever, nodding to himself as he wrote something on the pad in front of him. Howard and Pemberton, both from the south, gestured wildly—shouting what, Elsie sincerely doubted anyone could really tell. Townsend, from Milford, shouted back from across the aisle, nothing really surprising there.
“Home rule provides stability not severance. What I am proposing is a compromise many in this chamber will find hard to swallow. But the job of government, the job of Parliament, is not to create policy that is best for oneself but what is best for all…”
The shouting only grew louder. Nothing like the Oneácy problem to turn the MPs into shrieking children—even if poor Mr. Warrick spoke quite conservatively for his party.
“Can we go?” Anne whispered. “They’re giving me a headache.”
Elsie nodded, not willing to spend any of her sparse hangover energy on working her way through anything less than true debate.

***

Queen Mary had never cared for parties. Growing up, Elsie had quickly come to the realization that her mother didn’t much care for anything that came with being queen. Parties, meetings, even just standing out on the balcony and waving—honestly their most basic function—seemed to exhaust her. Perhaps, then, it made perfect sense that the large dining room that had entertained court meals, back when there had been a proper court, sat empty eleven-twelfths of the year, the small antechamber outside Elsie’s parents’ room turned into a family dining room.
Pushing her food around her plate, Elsie did her best to hide her unabashed boredom with the entire exercise.
“Are you feeling all right, Alice?”
Elsie started, taking a second to respond to her given name. She glanced across the oval table at her mother, straightening in her seat. “Yes, sorry. Just thinking.”
“About what?” Mary asked.
“Nothing in particular.” Elsie shook her head.
Something that nearly looked like pain flashed across Mary’s face, but Mary tilted the corners of her mouth up in one of her almost-smiles.
“I ran into Mr. Fletcher earlier,” Elsie changed the topic smoothly. “He said he was here to paint Anne?”
Anne looked up, eyes wide. “I don’t want to be painted.”
Mary managed a real smile for her youngest daughter. “Mr. Fletcher is a great painter, sweetheart. You remember the one he did of Alice a few years ago?”
Anne frowned. “But Elsie’s actually pretty.”
“And so are you,” Mary insisted, the pained look slipping back into her grey eyes.
“It’s a painting, not a photo, Annie,” Elsie argued before Anne could respond. “He can fix anything you want him to.”
Anne looked down, pushing her plate back. “May I please be excused?”
“We’re still—”
Anne began to limp away before Mary could finish her objection.
Eddy snorted, picking up his wine glass. “Good job, Els.”
“I didn’t know it would make her that upset.” Elsie shook her head, letting silence settle back over them.
All of them together, it was easy to see the family resemblance that ran through the new Wembley line. Only a little more than a year apart, Eddy and Elsie would easily have passed as twins, sharing their father’s sandy-blond hair and mother’s grey eyes. Especially now that Eddy had outgrown his childhood illness and filled out from the stick he used to have been.
If only Anne had some hope of outgrowing her problems as well, they would be a handsome lot—even as grey hairs and wrinkles began to work their way onto Mary and William’s faces. Worry lines, Elsie would say for her mother. Laughter lines for her father.
Elsie tilted her own wine glass toward her, glancing at the dark liquid inside. Her stomach turned at the thought of more wine. Not quite recovered from last night. She set the glass right again before returning to pushing her food around the plate in silence.