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About the author:
Sandra is an avid moviephile and introvert, and will read anything from Austen to King. She resides on the East Coast with her husband and bipolar feline.
What inspired you to write your book?
I have loved swashbuckling tales since I was little. I read Alexandre Dumas’ The Man in the Iron Mask (after watching a film based on the book) almost two decades ago and became even more intrigued with the reign of Louis XIV. And then my romance daydreaming took over: heaving bosoms under desperately tight corsets, possessive men with lust in their eyes… you get the idea.
Here is a short sample from the book:
A twitchy little man burst into the small grouping we formed while the afternoon ticked away leisurely. He pointed to Michael and panted out his command. “Danet! The king requests your presence in the courtyard immediately.” His hand waved at me. “And bring your companion.”
My pulse quickened. The splashes of water circulating in the fountain filled my ears for some seconds. Michael carefully grasped my wrist and placed my shaking palm over his. “Come, little sister. Let us go make our introductions.”
Three stories of arched stained glass greeted us as we passed below in the courtyard. The castle had indeed served its purpose well as a fortress for centuries. The party awaiting us huddled on the far end of the expanse.
“I fear I will faint.” I dallied, trying to slow down Michael’s pace as he pulled me beside him.
“None of that, now. As Mother says, you were born for this moment.” He nodded in confirmation.
On our approach, the guests parted and offered the brilliant sight of our host, King Louis XIV. His golden attire glittered in the daylight. He posed on the cushioned throne, placed atop a foot-high step. He glanced down at Michael and then to my person. On instinct and etiquette, Michael bowed and I curtsied. I slowed my breath and waited for his order. “Rise.”
I studied the countenance of the king. He was a young ruler at twenty-one. His mother, Queen Anne of Austria, had served as Regent upon the passing of his father, Louis XIII. Young Louis XIV, only four when his father died, was not officially king until his thirteenth birthday. Many said he ruled as a mere figurehead. His youth required advisors to handle the day-to-day mundanity of taking care of a country. He was known to pursue pastimes filled with beauteous art and dance and drama and women. His skin, unblemished and unlined, proclaimed a life of pampering.
“I am told you are a valuable asset in my army…” His voice trailed off, and he bent down a fraction. The same advisor who found us in the garden whispered in the king’s ear while balancing on the tips of his feet. “Michael, is it?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
The king looked to me. “And I’ve been told this is your sister, Cecilia.” His smile emerged and illuminated his visage. The blue eyes narrowed. “I hope you are enjoying the party.”
I nodded. “Very much, Your Majesty. Thank you.”
“You have been tutored in the arts?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Hmmm.” The strong contours of his face appraised me further. Then, with a flick of his wrist, he dismissed us. “That is all.”
* * * *
Standing expressionless in our one-room cottage, the messenger had waited as I read the missive over and over again. “The queen wishes an answer immediately.”
“It shall be done as Her Majesty has requested. She will be ready.” My mother nodded her confirmation.
With that he was gone, only to return the next morning to claim the king’s new prize. Myself.
Mother’s excitement at the queen’s summons had been more balanced than I anticipated. We indulged in our usual chamomile tea and a conversation full of reservations and mindfulness.
The light blue dress rested against my figure in the full-length mirror. She responded to my silent question while she watched. “You will not need much, Cilia. All will be ready for you when you arrive. Pack two dresses at most.”
“But”—I turned to examine her reaction—“should I arrive in this? I want to make a good impression.”
“You have already made the most important impression. It’s gained you admittance. Play the part as instructed by your host.”
“My host…” Although it was the queen’s order to have me serve as one of her ladies-in-waiting, my thoughts drifted to the regal being who had truly requested me.
Mother sighed, bringing me out of my daze. “What is it?” I questioned, dropping the dress onto the bed we shared to sit beside her. “Why aren’t you jumping for joy? You should have been up and down the road five times by now announcing the news to everyone, especially Madame Stevens! I wish I could see the look on her face—”
“Remember your role.” She cut me off.
“Of course, Mother.”
Her fingers glided over my cheek. “He is very handsome.” Another sigh. “I wish he was in his sixties.” She laughed at the frown her comment produced from me. “You don’t understand, yet, but you need to safeguard yourself.”
“Yes, be mindful. Give nothing of myself except the shell.” I repeated the mantra. “You act as if you have not told me these things a million times before.”
“Living it will be a million times different from anything I could imagine or truly ready you for. I was young once, too, my dear. I know how easily the heart can be fooled. Do not let him crack through the shell.”
The next morning, I was unceremoniously deposited by a carriage outside the servants’ entrance to the palace. Madame Bourne, the most well-known and respected lady-in-waiting, greeted me when I arrived in the queen’s wing.
“That explains it,” she mumbled to herself. Her plump, middle-aged frame stood motionless in the center of the large sitting room.
“At first, I thought I misread the order. You are to assist the queen in her private chambers. Your things will be taken to your room.” A silent chambermaid grabbed the solitary bag from my hand and rushed out of sight. “Through that door. And hurry up.” A long sigh floated behind my steps. I knocked with hesitation.
A tiny woman, dressed in black, appeared on the other side when the door opened. I barely discerned a smile. Her hand outstretched before me beckoned me inside the room. I took five long strides, then stopped and waited. My eyes performed a quick survey of the area. A huge canopy bed, draped in gold-and-red fabric, anchored the rest of the walnut furniture in the large room. Gilded chests of drawers flanked each side. Tapestries adorned by horses, cupids, and Roman goddesses hung from the high ceilings. The small woman closed the door behind me and took a seat in one of four chairs lined up side by side against the wall.
Those must be for the queen’s assistants.
“Come closer,” a voice rose from the bed’s veiled interior. My body flinched. “I want to see what all the fuss is about.”
I bowed my head and marched to a spot directly in front of the bed. My eyes peeked forward. The figure behind the sheer layer of fabric moved.
“My son insists you will be a charming companion and assistant. I enjoy being read to in the mornings while I have breakfast. Aida, show her where we left off yesterday.”
My mother’s voice echoed in my head again to “remember your place and serve quietly, without question.”