As a child, Lady Elsabeth Durnfir dreamed of marrying a prince, but after seeing her elder sister’s personality make a complete 180 degree turn after her engagement to Crown Prince Henry of Estoria is announced, Elsabeth has traded in her childish hopes of a fairytale wedding for the equally unlikely hope of inheriting Durnfir Manor and the surrounding land.
Life at court is not something she is interested in, or good at, but in order to help prepare for her sister Alicia’s wedding, Elsabeth must live at court for an entire year. As well as trying to fit in at court while living up to her sister’s reputation, Elsabeth has a secret to keep. But, court is full of secrets that are all about to come to light.
How will Elsabeth survive court without destroying her family’s reputation—and how can she get Prince Frederick, the renowned rake, to stop teasing her?
The high table had never been so full. The king
and queen sat in the center, as always, with Georgiana on the queen’s left and
Henry on the king’s right. However, Alicia was in Frederick’s normal place at
Henry’s side, leaving Frederick no choice but to sit between Elsabeth and
Georgiana, not willing to subject one as innocent as Elsabeth to Georgiana’s
stern gaze of disapproval.
Food was served within moments of him sitting
down; the kitchen had pulled out all the stops tonight. Frederick watched as
his plate became laden with thick cuts of roast beef; golden, crispy potatoes,
and thick gravy. The servants knew his habits well, giving him only the
smallest helping of greens but loading him with still-warm rolls of bread and
the thickest of the beef slices they had.
Not long after Frederick demolished his first
roll, the king called for a toast to the happy couple. This was a precedent
that would set the theme for the evening, for every few minutes there was yet
another toast. Frederick sipped at his wine, sometimes only pretending to
drink, knowing the evening meal was going to be long the toasts were not likely
to stop, and he hadn’t quite recovered his head from the night before. However,
after the fourth or fifth toast, he noticed Elsabeth swaying a little in her
chair as a servant dashed forward to refill her wine goblet. The flush in her
cheeks confirmed his suspicions as another lord stood to toast the couple. The
prince leaned in to Elsabeth and whispered in her ear. “Pace yourself, sip the
wine or simply pretend to drink. If you get too drunk, you’ll fall out of your
chair, and then what would Lissy say?”
Elsabeth hiccupped, her big blue eyes staring
at him from under her dark, long lashes. Seeming to have to concentrate on her
motions, she nodded and put the cup down, glaring at it suspiciously. A smile
tugged at the prince’s lips as he watched her frowning at her cup as though the
cup itself were to blame for her inebriation.
Georgiana leaned past Frederick to glower at
the young woman. “Is she drunk?” she
hissed, eyebrows knitted tightly with judgment. Frederick felt that same knot
in his stomach that he had felt earlier when Elsabeth had floundered under the
queen’s questioning. It was almost a protective feeling, which didn’t make
sense, as he didn’t know her at all. Besides,
I never go after innocents—I only ever pursue women who understand that I’m not
Nonetheless, he turned in his chair and rested
his chin on his hand, careful to position his elbow quite obviously on the
table, blocking Georgiana’s view. His distraction worked. “Get your elbow off of the table at once! Are you a heathen?”
Georgiana’s whisper could cleave wood, the tone was so sharp. With a flash, she
hit Frederick’s elbow with the bottom of her fork, causing him to curse and rub
at the offending body part.
“Jeez, Georgiana. Is there really a need to
turn to violence?”
“It’s all you men seem to understand.” She
sniffed and turned away, focusing on her own meal once more.
New to the castle, the servants played it safe
by putting a little of everything on Elsabeth’s plate. But, Frederick noticed
her request second helpings of everything except the gravy. If the way she
gazed longingly at the steaming tureen was anything to go by, he suspected her
refusal of the gravy was in accordance with her wish to lessen the chance of
spilling on herself.
Frederick sighed and sat back in his chair,
watching Elsabeth play with the food on her plate. He felt himself smiling
again as he watched her keep dropping her potatoes, her coordination suffering
greatly from the amount of alcohol she consumed. There was something endearing
about her, but it’s not like he could bed his future sister-in-law to get her
out of his system.
“Will you tell me something?” he asked, leaning
forward to take her fork from her slack grip. She pouted at him, following the
fork with her gaze.
“Sure,” she mumbled, watching as he speared a
golden potato and waved it tauntingly before her.
“Why were you so floundered by my mother’s
question? Surely there are things you enjoy doing?”
“Of course,” sighed Elsabeth, gaze still
focused on the potato he held out. “But I promised Alicia I wouldn’t tell about
the embroidery and nothing else I do is very ladylike.”
“What do you mean by ‘not very ladylike’?” He
fed her the potato and speared another.
“Well, I teach the village children to read,
and in return they teach me dancing. Alicia says I shouldn’t dance like a
commoner. I like to walk through the gardens while the dew is fresh, but it
ruins my dresses. I don’t much care for fashion, but I like sewing.” She opened
her mouth patiently, expecting a reward for her answer. He obliged, holding out
the second potato. Spearing a third, he twirled it while he contemplated his
“Why can’t you tell anyone about your
embroidery? That’s a very ladylike hobby. You must have seen how much my mother
enjoyed the piece Lady Alicia made.”
Elsabeth shook her head and wobbled slightly in
the chair. “I have a secret. Lissy made me promise.”
“I won’t tell anyone, I promise,” he whispered,
leaning closer and teasing her with the potato, touching it to her lips and
pulling it away before she could bite. A swipe of her tongue across her lips
almost made him forget why he was trying to get information.
With a moan, Elsabeth nodded. “Okay, but you
can’t tell anyone! Lissy can’t sew at all, so I can’t tell anyone that I can,
or they might notice that my work is identical to the work that Lissy claimed
as her own.” With a triumphant grin, she leaned forward and snatched the bite
of potato, chewing happily.
Frederick sat back in his chair, watching
Elsabeth as she reclaimed her fork and enthusiastically attacked her
vegetables. Why would Alicia lie about
that? It’s not as though Henry would care if she were able to sew or not. Yet
she made her sister promise to keep it a secret? Frederick didn’t think
Elsabeth was lying, but it gave him something to think about. He knew how the
court worked, a skill with embroidery got you close to the queen—could Alicia have planned it all in order to
get herself close to Henry? He shook his head clear of such thoughts. Henry is cautious, and Georgiana is like a
hawk. There’s no way anyone would be able to trick their way into the royal
He focused on Elsabeth once more, smiling as he
watched her eating with such exuberance. She seemed completely at ease, now
that her inhibitions had melted away. It was hard not to laugh at her
disastrous attempts to feed herself, her coordination having suffered greatly,
but he didn’t think he could feed her again. Not if she was going to moan in
pleasure with every bite.
When the meal was finished, it was time to
dance. Queen Charlotte and King George followed Lady Alicia and Crown Prince
Henry out onto the floor. Georgiana had disappeared again, which left Elsabeth
with Frederick. He helped her out of her chair, trying not to let others notice
how heavily she leaned on him. At least
she isn’t tripping over her dress anymore. The music started before they
reached the floor, where the tables had been pushed aside to make a dancing
area. Other couples joined the royal family, giving Frederick the chance to
pull her in closer than was appropriate. Only
because I need to be able to hold her upright, that’s all there is to it, he
told himself, ignoring the curious glance Henry shot across the room.
Their fingers were entwined and his other hand
rested on her lower back, his thumb gently rubbing small patterns. He was
careful to move slowly and not to turn her too often, but he couldn’t help the
grin that spread across his face as he watched her bite her lip in
concentration. “Are you doubting me again, Ellie?” he whispered, making her
head snap up. She glared at him.
“My name is Elsabeth. And I’ve never once
doubted you, so there.” She stuck her tongue out at him, and he struggled to
quiet his laughter. He tugged her closer so her hips were pressed against his.
“I’m sorry, Elsabeth,
I’m glad to be thought of so highly by such a discerning young lady.” She
shivered and looked up, her eyelids fluttering with the effort to keep them
“Are you teasing me?” she said, her head tilted
to one side like a curious puppy.
He smiled, his gaze locking with hers. “Never.”
Suzy Knight is an average English girl, who after completing a degree in boring business management decided to travel halfway around the world to the land of kpop and kimchi to be a teacher.
Whilst in Korea, Suzy rediscovered her passion for writing and managed to write the novel Love and War in between working at her academy and volunteering with animal rescue. Two years later and she’s back in England with her rescued Korean puppy, Panda.
Now she is working on her next novels, while training Panda to be less nervous.