When her family’s cider business is ruined and other local businesses are vandalized, Anika Pembrie wonders if the recent bout of unrest is merely a result of rivalry between local merchants and noblemen or if something more sinister is at the root of the recent crimes. Along her journey Anika befriends Prince Valdemar, future king of Brevalia but their relationship hits many twists and turns along the way. Lady Winifred Paxel Flemming pursues the prince relentlessly. His grandmother, Queen Marguerite, expects him to wed whoever she thinks is suitable, even if it means marrying a foreign princess he’s never met. Anika’s mother, Lady Sarah, wants Anika to help ease the family’s financial burdens by marrying Erland Riccats, National Chairman of the Merchants’ Guild. Lady Sarah also harbors secrets regarding Prince Valdemar’s mother, Princess Karin, who met an untimely death years before. In the end, will both Anika and Prince Valdemar be forced into loveless mar-riages, or will they be able to outwit their enemies?
Enjoy an Excerpt
Miss Anika Penning glanced down from the top of the mulberry tree she’d climbed and stole a glimpse of Prince Valdemar riding past her on his white stallion. She held her breath, hoping he wouldn’t look up and catch her spying on him.
“Anika, we’re leaving,” Mr. Penning hollered from the back porch.
Botheration! She’d told her parents she wasn’t going to the fair with them.
As Prince Valdemar spurred his horse and dashed back and forth along the palace grounds bordering Anika’s property, she realized she couldn’t possibly emerge from the tree without being seen by him. But maybe, if she was fast enough, she could climb halfway down and then scurry off while he rode away in the opposite direction.
She began making her descent from branch to branch, while Finn, their ten-year-old stable boy, gazed up at her from the ground below.
“Oh, there you are, Miss Penning,” he called out to her. His clothing was stained with jam and his hair was a mass of unruly blond curls that had probably not seen a brush in days. “Your father’s been searching for you.”
“Tell him to leave without me,” she whispered, putting a finger to her lips. “I’m not going.”
“What’s that?” Finn shouted just as Prince Valdemar rode by again. “You’ll have to speak up. I can’t hear what you’re saying if you whisper.”
Was the boy really so thickheaded, or was he purposely trying to thwart her?
“Tell my father not to wait for me,” she said.
“He is waiting for you,” Finn hollered. “But don’t worry. Your mother said she needed another minute or two.” He strode toward the house.
Drat! He’d misunderstood her. “Finn! Wait!”
“We are waiting,” he said, turning back. “But since you’re going, I’ll stay behind to help with the chores.”
Anika opened her mouth to correct him, but he ran off before she could utter another word. Now she’d really have to hurry. Her father would just keep sending people to search for her if she tarried.
While the prince’s horse galloped off toward the palace, she climbed down to the lower branches. When she jumped from the bottom branch to the ground, she landed in a large pile of sticky, wet mulberries. She slipped, tried desperately to keep her footing but fell face forward right into another huge mound of moist purple fruit.
“Botheration,” she muttered, leaning up on her elbows. Her hands were stained with purple juice and her dress looked no better. She raked a hand across her face and ripped a gooey purple mulberry from her cheek as a pair of gleaming black leather boots strode toward her, and a horse whinnied from a few feet away.
No, no, no!
Anika maneuvered herself into a sitting position and dared to look up.
A tall young man with long, straight, copper-colored hair stood over her. Prince Valdemar, obviously trying to stifle a laugh, but failing, extended a hand to help her up. “I’ve always found it difficult to climb trees while wearing a gown and silk slippers. Why don’t you try and stand? Then we can determine whether or not to fetch a doctor.”
She sat in the sludge, staring up at him, unable to speak. Good thing she hadn’t fallen far enough to be badly hurt. It was her pride that was wounded, that was all.
While he took hold of her hand, she pushed off the ground and stood up. She staggered forward a few steps, feeling slightly off balance at his touch. Maybe she had injured herself somehow.
He furrowed his brows as he watched her stumbling about. “Perhaps we should get help.”
Once she stepped away from the mulberries and was on firm, un-littered ground, her walking returned to normal. “No need,” she said, finally. “It was just the berries. They’re slippery when squished.”
A small laugh escaped from him. “Ah. That might be a good thing to keep in mind for future endeavors.” He looked up into the tall branches towering above him. “Do you often climb trees?”
Anika looked him over from the top of his blue velvet cap to his creamy white linen tunic and down to his polished leather boots. He was impeccably groomed. Several servants had probably helped him dress. He even smelled like limes.
If she were to admit that she did partake of such unfeminine activities as climbing trees, he might then correctly assume that she liked fishing and hunting as well. These pursuits certainly didn’t leave her smelling anything like fresh fruit. But, better to be honest, she decided.
“Well, uh, yes, I’m afraid I’ve not yet outgrown my desire for such pursuits.”
“How old are you?”
The prince raised his eyebrows. “Interesting …” He glanced around at the flowers and plants surrounding them. “Well, it’s certainly a lovely day to be out of doors.”
Anika wondered if he was merely being kind by staying and chatting with her or if he was always so friendly. Perhaps he wanted to alleviate her embarrassment by making it seem as if falling out of a tree and landing in a pile of mulberries was a normal everyday occurrence.
He was quiet for a moment, squinting as he looked at her face. “I don’t believe we’ve met. Allow me to introduce myself. Valdemar Dresden, at your service.” The prince bowed elegantly. “And to whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?”
“Oh, uh,” her hands began smoothing the old brown linen dress she’d worn to blend into the tree. When she realized there was nothing she could possibly do to improve her appearance, she stood tall and curtsied. “Miss Anika Penning. Thank you for your kind assistance. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to help you.”
Prince Valdemar snickered and looked down at the ground.
“Do you mock me because, in your ignorance, you think you won’t ever need anyone’s help,” Anika said, folding arms across her chest. “Or because you think that someone like me would never be able to assist you with something you might need assistance with?” Her voice grew faster and louder as she spoke.
He stared at her, eyes wide, as if she were a six-headed dragon.
“Anika!” Mr. Penning called again.
Prince Valdemar slowly backed away from her. “I do believe that’s my cue to depart.” He hopped back on his horse and rode off before she could utter another word. He hopped back on his white stallion and rode off before she could utter a word of thanks.
Anika realized it was time to make her prayers a bit more specific. “Dear Lord,” she said, looking up at the heavens. “If I ever get the chance to meet the prince again, may I please not be covered in mulberries?”
A light breeze blew a tuft of hair across her face. She tucked a wayward strand behind her ear and caught sight of the purple stains on her hand. What a fright she must look. And her father was waiting.
She rushed to the well in the back yard, buried her hands in a bucket of water, and cleaned up as best she could. Then she grabbed her hat from the ground and raced around the house to the front lawn.
Her father sat atop the box of their carriage, grasping the horses’ reins.
“I’m sorry, Father, but I won’t be able to join you,” Anika said in a rush.
“Are you sure? The agricultural fair comes but once a year.” The beige color of his farmer’s hat and tunic blended into his skin, making him look old and tired.
Anika knew he was in sore need of a day off. “Please go enjoy yourself,” she said, donning her felt hat and adjusting the brim to block out the early morning sun. “I’ll stay behind and tend to the animals.”
Her mother rushed out of the house wearing a crisp green linen dress. “Pray for our cider to win first place at the fair,” she said, hurrying past Anika and climbing into the waiting carriage. When she leaned out the window to wave goodbye, she caught sight of Anika’s stained dress and frowned. “What happened? Never mind. I don’t want to know. How on earth can we possibly trust you to stay home alone if this is how you’ve decided to start the day?”
Anika took a deep breath. “Please, Mother. Let me stay home. I fell, that was all. Westlowe is only a short distance away. You’ll be back well before supper. What could possibly go wrong before then?”
“Plenty, I’ll bet,” her mother uttered under her breath, though Anika still heard her. Aloud she said, “We’ll see you later this afternoon, then.”
Anika’s father whipped the horses into motion.
A horse-drawn wagon, carrying kegs of cider, rolled slowly behind. The farmhands, Bertram and Victor, sat on the perch, while Una, the housekeeper, and Inga, the cook, sat in the rear amidst the straw, keeping watch over the precious barrels of liquid.
“I didn’t have time to gather the eggs, Miss Penning.” Una whispered, picking hay off of her black linen dress, with her long thin hands.
“Do not fret,” Anika said. “Finn offered to stay behind and help with the chores. If he doesn’t get to it, I promise I will.”
“Where is that good-for-nothing, anyway?” Inga scolded. “I doubt you’ll get much help from him!” Her double chin shook and her gray hair tumbled out of her white cap. “He’s probably eating us out of house and home as we speak. Stable boy, my foot, lazy hanger-on more like.”
The wagon picked up speed. “We’ll have everything sorted out by the time you get back,” Anika said, waving.
Once the carriages rolled past the iron gates, Anika rushed to the barn. “Finn!” she shouted. “They’ve gone. Time to help with the chores.”
Finn strolled out slowly from one of the stalls, holding a biscuit in his grimy hands. “You’re here. What do you need my help for?” He bit into his biscuit and munched slowly.
Anika placed her hands on her hips. “Oh, no you don’t. I’m willing to help with the chores so Father and the servants can take the day off, but you’ve got to clean out the horses’ stalls like you always do. Then you’re to milk Blossom and gather the eggs.”
Finn swallowed the last bite of biscuit. “And what will you be doing?”
Insolent child! As if she was accountable to him. “I’ll tend to the animals, but I’ve got more than enough of my own work to do, thank you very much.”
“Oh, of course you do. Prince Valdemar’s going to the ball.” He made kissing sounds with his lips. “And look at you. Ha! You’re right. It’ll take loads of work to get yourself ready to be around any man, let alone a prince.” Finn laughed heartily, pointing at the purple stains all over Anika’s clothing. “Is that why you were spying on him? So you can see what he looks like all grown up and then run up to him and beg him for a dance?”
Anika glared at him. She had been spying on the prince so she would know what he looked like, but it was none of Finn’s business.
Finn folded his hands and held them beneath his chin. “Please, Prince Valdemar, dance with me, pick me,” he said in a high-pitched voice.
“Enough already, you’ve made your point,” Anika scolded.
Finn was right about one thing, though. She did need to use her free time to get ready for the upcoming ball. It was only a few short weeks away. She grabbed the shovel and handed it to him.
“At your service, Your Royal Highness,” he said, bowing elegantly and mocking her.
Anika took no heed. She hurried to feed the pigs and sheep, though dung littered the ground and maneuvering through it slowed her down. No matter how hard she tried, it seemed the stench of the barn — a mixture of hay and manure — was something she’d never get used to.
When she finished with the animals, she wiped her brow and saw that the shovel that Finn had been using was now resting against the wall. She trudged over to the horses and checked their stalls. Though Finn’s work was completed, there was no sign of him. Botheration! He couldn’t possibly have gathered the eggs and milked the cow already.
Anika had promised to collect the eggs, so she trudged to the small wooden chicken coop that sat next to the barn, quickly gathered a dozen and placed them in her basket.
She trudged back to the barn hoping to find Finn milking Blossom, their sturdy white cow, but once again, he was nowhere to be found. She sighed wearily upon discovering Blossom’s heavy udders and wandered off to gather a pail and a trusty wooden three-legged stool. No use hoping for Finn’s return. Her least favorite job would have to be done.
She placed some hay in front of Blossom, to distract her, and then gave her udders a quick wipe down with a wet cloth to wipe away any dirt. As she sat pulling and squeezing Blossom’s underbelly, she remembered her mother asking her to pray for their cider to win first place at the fair. So, she sent up a silent prayer for God to work on their behalf.
With a closet full of worn and faded dresses, Anika was well aware that her family only stayed afloat financially because of the tasty cider they made from the apples growing in their orchard. Her father entered it in various contests throughout the year, which provided the family with a bit of prize money now and again. Since they could then make the claim that their cider was “prize-winning”, they sold every last drop of it each season.
Anika was finally finished milking Blossom and rushed upstairs to her bedroom to wash and change. Then she pulled her mother’s sparkling pink satin dress from the wardrobe and gingerly placed it atop a basket of soiled clothes. She wasn’t one for wearing frilly gowns, but this frock was different. She loved the elegant creamy panels of lace in the sleeves and finely embroidered floral designs at the neckline and hem. It only needed minor adjustments to fit her, but since it had been hanging unused in her mother’s closet for some time, it needed a quick wash to freshen it up. So, she lugged the dress, and all her laundry down the long staircase.
Una, their housekeeper, had always done the wash, but Anika had recently taken to scrubbing her personal items herself, along with her sheets and coverlet. Una had enough to do already and Anika had the time. Besides, there was something disconcerting about Una touching her lace-trimmed knickers and scratchy petticoats one moment, and then calling her “Miss Penning” a few minutes later. Especially, since at thirty-four years of age, Una was twice as old as Anika. But formality was the order of the day, it seemed.
When Anika reached the kitchen, she grabbed a bar of goose grease soap, washed her dirty laundry in a large tub of water, then hung everything out to dry on the branches of some shrubs growing behind the barn.
Her back ached from her efforts, so she went for a lazy stroll, stretching her arms wide and weaving her way through the rows of sweet-smelling apple trees, which grew in the orchard. Bees buzzed near the fruit that had fallen onto the leaf-covered ground below. Birds whistled overhead. A warm breeze swept through the deep green leaves, while white puffy clouds floated above, along the powder blue sky. It was a perfect early autumn day.
Most of the apples had already been picked to make cider, but she found a green one hanging on a low branch, picked it, rubbed it against the folds of her blue linen dress and bit into it. The sour juice, which she’d grown used to over time, was a source of welcome refreshment after her labors, and she savored every bite.
There were still many hours left in the day, so she wondered what else she could do with her free time. Her fingers ached for a few rounds of target practice with her crossbow. Though her father allowed it, the use of weapons wasn’t considered a suitable pastime for females living in Brevalia. It wasn’t illegal, merely frowned upon. Still. What a nuisance it was to only be able to practice when no one else was about.
She ran upstairs to snatch her weapon from beneath her bed, then wandered back outside, grabbed some rotten apples from the ground and lined them up along the top of the wooden fence that ran along the side garden.
She loaded a bolt, raised her bow, aimed and pulled the trigger. The bolt pierced the center of the apple, sending it sailing several feet before it fell to the ground. All but three of the remaining apples met the same fate. She hadn’t had many chances to practice, but she hadn’t lost her touch.
The bolts that missed their marks landed near some rose bushes growing along the edge of the house. Anika inhaled the flowers’ fragrant scent while she bent down to collect the errant bolts. Once she’d gathered them, she loaded her crossbow again, aimed at an apple, but stopped before pulling the trigger. A small breeze had started to blow, carrying a foul odor with it. The air suddenly smelled like a blackened cake that had been left in the oven too long. Something was burning.
She threw down her weapon and ran around the perimeter of the house, searching frantically for the source of the smell. When she reached the orchard she stopped in her tracks. The trees growing along the outer edge were engulfed in red flames!
**ROYALLY ENTITLED IS FREE WITH AN AUDIBLE TRIAL**
Melody Delgado is the author of Royally Entitled, a historical romance, available as an Ebook. It recently won a Readers’ Favorite award in the category of Historical Christian Romance. Oops-A-Daisy, a humorous novel for children, was published in the fall of 2017. It is available in print and as an Ebook. It is currently up for a Christian Indie Award. Take a peek and vote here: https://www.christianaward.com/
She is currently working on the sequel to Royally Entitled, which will be called Royally Scheming. It will include some of the characters from book one and continue the story line started there, but will feature Elkie Olafson as the new main character and will tell her story.
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Author Melody Delgado is offering a giveaway, an ecopy of Royally Entitled! Please follow the directions on the Rafflecopter below: