BOOK 2 in The Love Mark Series
Adult Fantasy Romance
Orginally published May 2020
About 127,000 words, 410 pages
4-Flame Sensuality Rating
A princess who thinks she's running away with her one true love meets a ruffian who thinks he's kidnapping her to his kingdom by the sea. Who's right?
The kingdom of Far Shore still resents Donnelly, its neighboring land, for forming an alliance with those filthy High Clifters and then defeating them in war. Twice! They really must pay for such an insult. And what better way to prick their pride than to steal their lovely, revered princess, mutilate her a little, and then ransom her back to them for a hefty sum.
So, the king blackmails stable hand, Farrow, into accepting the mission of kidnapping Princess Nicolette and bringing her back to Far Shore to meet her gruesome fate.
With his sister's life on the line, Farrow reluctantly accepts the quest and travels through desert and forest, only to find Nicolette eagerly awaiting his arrival with her bags already packed and good to go, spouting off insane nonsense about being his destiny and one true love.
What follows is a crazy, eclectic adventure that brings two lost souls together and helps them learn who they're supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do in this ever-changing journey called life.
I'd witnessed the birthing process enough from growing up in the brothel where my mother had worked to know the queen's babe would be here soon.
Low, distressed moans and heightened murmurs of encouragement filtered from her royal bedchamber and out into the corridor, echoing down the hall to me like shards of haunting memories that pelted me with visions better left forgotten.
Pain and blood, and too often death, mixed in with the new breath of life; I’d seen it all. I knew exactly what was happening in that room.
Biting my bottom lip, I stole an inconspicuous glance around the corner and watched the assortment of men gathered outside her door, waiting for news, men who knew nothing about the process transpiring on the other side of that portal.
Among the ignorant, the king sat gruffly in a padded chair that someone had brought for him as he glared at the chamber's entrance and impatiently rolled his signet ring around his pinkie. Even in the middle of the night, he wore his gold crown embedded with rubies and sapphires and long leather cape with the fur collar.
Ever the pompous ruler.
Tonight, however, he seemed more zealous than he had during the last four times one of his wives had given birth. More restless. More attentive. And infinitely more irritable.
Then again, the last four times a queen had borne him progeny, he’d already had a male heir.
But Murdock was nearly five years in his grave now, and King Torrance’s remaining four issue were all female, thus preventing any of them from assuming the throne after his reign, per Far Shore custom.
Or maybe I should say, his four remaining legitimate children were all female.
A bastard like me didn't count, of course.
"It doesn't matter if she births a boy or not, you know," a voice, thick with a royal's elitist pragmatism, announced directly from my left.
Flinching in surprise because I thought I'd been alone and hidden rather well, I spun to find one of the king's legitimate offspring standing beside me in her nightgown.
"What’re you doing out of your bedchamber this late?" I hissed.
Twelve-year-old Sable blinked at me from solemn gray eyes. "My rooms are just there. And honestly, who could sleep with all that caterwauling going on? It's absolutely dreadful."
"Indeed," I said dryly. "Such concern for your dear, sweet stepmother while she's suffering through the most intense agony of her life. You're the soul of sympathy, you are."
With an indifferent shrug, Sable crowded closer to me so she could peer around the corner as well and study our father in all his feral glory. "Even if it's a girl," she whispered, persistently pursuing the conversation she'd initiated. "You still have less of a chance to inherit the crown from him than, well, I do."
I sniffed and tossed her an affronted glance. "I've no interest in the crown."
To which my half sister hummed and raised her eyebrows in obvious disagreement. "Then what're you doing up here, skulking around and waiting for the first morsel of news? Certainly, you're not concerned for our dear stepmother's well-being. Kalendria wants you banned from Far Shore entirely. She probably wouldn't balk at the suggestion of you being drawn and quartered."
Ignoring that unfortunate bit of fact, I shrugged. "Why wouldn’t I be curious about the arrival of a new half sibling?" Bumping my elbow her way, I sent her a teasing wink. "Maybe I’ll actually like this one."
With a moody pout, Sable poked me right back. "As if. You adore me and you know it."
"Only because you command it, my princess," I murmured offhandedly, my attention returning to the king when he demanded to know how much longer he was going to be forced to sit there, waiting.
None of his servants were brave enough to tell him he wasn't being forced to do any such thing. He sat there by his own directive to begin with.
The entire scene was sad, really, because of how desperately he wanted a legitimate male heir. It was almost as sad as how desperately I wanted him to claim me as such.
"It's going to be another girl, anyway," Sable went on in her matter-of-fact voice.
I glanced her way, lifting my eyebrows. "You think so? Even though the second soothsayer claimed it would be a boy?"
"You mean Roloff?" With a roll of her eyes, Sable muttered, "He only predicted a boy because Father beheaded the first soothsayer for predicting a girl. Honestly, what else could he say?"
"Honestly," I shot back, rolling my eyes to copy her. "He could’ve told the truth. The king will behead him anyway if he learns he was lied to."
"If he finds him," Sable argued. "Which I doubt he will. You and I both know Roloff's halfway to Lowden, or Donnelly, or maybe even Blair by now."
I agreed with her wholeheartedly. But it was always fun to egg on Sable’s temper, especially when she was certain she was right, which was pretty much always.
"They tested him before he could approach the king," I reminded her. "And he was found to be pure of heart, in which case, he couldn't lie."
"Of course, he could," Sable insisted, her voice sharpening high enough to make both of us flinch and widen our eyes before glancing worriedly toward the others to make sure we hadn't been heard. When no one reacted, telling us we remained undetected, she turned back to me, hissing, "He didn’t want to die, Farrow. The lie was about self-preservation. Besides, being pure of heart doesn't mean you're unable to--"
She broke herself off when the first cry of a newborn rent the air.
The two of us exchanged wide-eyed glances.
The child was here.
"Well?" King Torrance barked, surging to his feet as a midwife eased nervously from the queen's bedchamber and into the corridor. "Is it a male?"