October 24, 2017

#JeffeKennedyEvent: #Excerpt The Tears of the Rose (The Twelve Kingdoms #2) by @jeffekennedy #Giveaway

Welcome to today's postings.  Here we have a sample of book two in this amazing series. 

Three sisters. Motherless daughters of the high king. The eldest is the warrior-woman heir; the middle child is shy and full of witchy intuition; and the youngest, Princess Amelia, she is as beautiful as the sun and just as generous.

Ami met her Prince Charming and went away to his castle on the stormy sea-cliffs—and that should have been her happily ever after. Instead, her husband lies dead and a war rages. Her middle sister has been taken into a demon land, turned into a stranger. The priests and her father are revealing secrets and telling lies. And a power is rising in Ami, too, a power she hardly recognizes, to wield her beauty as a weapon, and her charm as a tool to deceive…

Amelia has never had to be anything but good and sweet and kind and lovely. But the chess game for the Twelve Kingdoms has swept her up in it, and she must make a gambit of her own. Can the prettiest princess become a pawn—or a queen?

Jeffe Kennedy is an award winning author. Her most recent works the fantasty series Twelve Kingdoms, the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns, the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera. Readers can visit her website at: JeffeKennedy.com or every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog.

When they brought Hugh's empty body home to me, I didn't weep.
A princess never lets her people see her cry.
Father expected that much, even of me.
It wasn't even that difficult. My grief, my rage, they bloomed large in my heart, too huge to escape through such a small channel as a tear duct. All that he had been, so glorious, so handsome, full of life and love ... gone.
The procession climbed the winding road to Windroven, lined by Hugh's people, all dressed in the ashy gray of mourning. The folk of Avonlidgh don't call out with their mourning. No, they observe it with silence, as stolid as their remote and rocky coastline. Fittingly, however, the wind wailed instead. It tore at my griseous cloak with pinching fingers and snapped my hair painfully against my skin.
When we first received the news, I'd tried to cut it off, the long tresses Hugh had loved so much. But my ladies stopped me, saying I'd regret it later.
They didn't understand that I only had room for one regret. It edged out everything else. I couldn't understand how anyone could imagine that any other thing mattered or would ever matter again.
Hugh was gone.
Even though the words circled my mind in an endless cruel march, I couldn't quite believe it.
The members of the procession struggled against the ferocious wind, full of bits of biting ice off the churning ocean, my sister and her elite squad, Ursula's Hawks. Now her Hawks served as pallbearers, carrying the pallet at shoulder height despite the added effort, a gesture of highest regard. Not enough regard to have prevented his death, however. As they passed, the people and soldiers of Avonlidgh fell in behind, a drab parade in their wake.
Not so long ago, before winter set in, Hugh and I had ridden up that hill, bringing my other sister, Andi, with us. We'd given her protection, the shelter of our home. Sacrificed the armies of Avonlidgh to save her—and failed.
Hugh had gone to rescue her and died for it.
A sour ball of frozen guilt and hate choked me, the gorge rising every morning. That channel wasn't big enough, either, so it grew inside me, monstrous and vile.
They reached the top and Ursula's steely gaze found mine. The eldest and heir to the High Throne of the Twelve Kingdoms, she looked more gaunt than ever. In the past, some might have called her passably attractive, in her hard-edged way, but not at this moment. Her normally clear gray eyes clouded dark with defeat and her thin lips pursed tight with exhaustion.
She dismounted, saying nothing, gesturing for her Hawks to lay Hugh's shrouded body at my feet. They hadn't had the appropriate cloth to work with—I'd fix that—so they'd wrapped him in his cloak. I'd thought my heart had already died, but it clenched at the sight of the sigil I'd embroidered for him. Still, it could all be a lie.
Couldn't it?
"Show me." My voice croaked out, and Ursula, the brave one, she who never flinches, blanched ever so slightly. Then she dropped to one knee and did the honors herself, touching the fabric tenderly with bare fingers the color of ice. The frozen wool resisted, then tore with a sigh that could have been a man's dying breath. One of my ladies broke into hysterical sobs that quickly faded as someone led her away.
I wanted to say it wasn't him. Surely this lifeless thing couldn't be my golden prince. When he first strode into the audience chamber at Castle Ordnung, he'd won everyone's hearts in an instant. We all fell in love with him, with the way the sun walked with him, radiant and perfect.
The light had abandoned him now.
There was nothing left to say good-bye to. Just a frozen husk.
Ursula stared at him, too, hands folded over her armored knee. The sourness of guilt and metallic shame filled the air. Of course she felt it, too. Ursula never failed. Especially not in such a spectacular way. I saved some of my hate for her. If she'd arrived in time to stop the siege, if she'd taken Odfell's Pass as was meant, Hugh would still be alive.
"Tell me what happened." I spoke to her only, where she still knelt by Hugh's pallid corpse, even his sunny blond locks sapped of color.
King Erich, who'd stood in silence behind me this whole time, stoically observing the delivery of his dead son, stirred. A gnarled oak tree coming to life and moving its creaking limbs. "Perhaps we should go inside and—"
"No," I interrupted him. Someone gasped in shock, but I was beyond caring. "I want her to say it out loud right here. So everyone can hear. And bear witness."
Ursula measured me with her eyes. Maybe seeing someone besides her flirty, flighty baby sister for the first time.
"We attempted to take Odfell's Pass. King Rayfe and his Tala armies stopped us. Hugh fell in the battle." Her voice choked on the words, the burnt smell of lies floating up from them.
"Was Andi there?" I demanded.
Ursula hesitated—so, so unlike her—and inclined her head.
"Why didn't you bring her back with you, then?"
"We could not," Ursula answered in a voice devoid of emotion.
"So the mission failed." Old Erich sounded weary. He'd traveled to Windroven in the dead of winter to keep vigil for his fallen heir. Now all Avonlidgh had was me. Having the most beautiful woman in the Twelve Kingdoms for your son's wife sounds great, until you realize she's the one who will be making the decisions when you're dead. Who wanted a girl who cared only about pretty dresses and picnics running a kingdom, after all?
Yes, I knew what they were thinking. The stink of their doubt filled the castle. Worthless, useless me.
And soon I wouldn't even be beautiful, my one claim to importance. With every day, that famed beauty flaked away, dying on the surface of my skin and sloughing off like moss deprived of water. I felt it and didn't care. Let it wither and die with everything else.
"Princess Andromeda elected to honor her marriage to Rayfe and her commitment to the Tala," Ursula was telling Erich. "The pass cannot be taken by force. There is a magical barrier that cannot be breached. We tried and failed. It's over."
"I've heard such ridiculous rumors for decades." Erich's exhausted tone held a world of regret, possibly larger than mine. "You should not believe everything you're told, Princess. Especially by such tricksters as the Tala."
"I witnessed it myself," she replied.
"I highly doubt High King Uorsin will be so convinced."
"I will convince him, King Erich," Ursula answered. "I shall go to his seat at Castle Ordnung next and confess—"
"How did he die?" My voice cut through their conversation like a rusty knife.
Ursula rose. Met my eyes. So stoic. So steady.
"He fell in the battle at Odfell's Pass."
Her words smoldered, stinking of the lie. How I was so certain, I didn't know, but I was.
"Whose hand wielded the blade?"
Erich laid a hand on my shoulder. "Princess Amelia, in the heat of battle it is rarely easy to—"
"She knows." I hissed it at her. "Don't you? Tell me what you're not saying."
Ursula's shoulders dropped, her hand finding the hilt of her sword, fingers wrapping around it for comfort.
"Hugh went for Rayfe and Andi stepped between them. She asked me to give you her confession: that he died at her hands."
A murmur ran through the erstwhile silent crowd, growing larger the farther it rippled away. I closed my eyes, listening to it spread. This. This was what I'd known. The burning ball in my gut turned, wanting to rise again. Andi. How could she?
"She offers you her grief and great sorrow. One day, when you're ready to hear it, she will offer you her apology. She knows well that it is nothing you will accept at this time."
"This is true, then?" Erich's voice was ashen, weakened by the shock.
"It was never intended," came Ursula's reply, "but yes. In his zeal, Hugh thought to slay the King of the Tala. He died a brave and noble death."
I felt the sneer twisting my lips and opened my eyes to gaze down at the rotting shell of my true love. "There is no such thing as a brave and noble death."
"No." Ursula spoke the quiet agreement. "I erred in saying so."
"Yes." I swallowed, my mouth filling with the saliva that presaged vomit. I couldn't be ill in front of my people.
"She asked me to give you three other messages—in private."
"I don't want to hear them!" The world darkened at the edges.
Ursula frowned at me. "Ami—are you all right?"
The childhood endearment nearly broke me open. I couldn't do this.
"I have to lie down." I fumbled to stay on my feet, and my hand found Dafne, solid and steady by my side. I leaned on her before I remembered that she had been Andi's friend first. Before Andi had betrayed me so foully.
"Shh," she soothed me, though I hadn't said anything to her. She wound an arm around my waist. "Let's get you inside. I'm sure it's not as bad as it sounds. Your sister loves you. They both do. Princess Ursula—would you care to accompany us?"
"I don't want her to—"
"Now, now. Save your energy, Princess." Dafne sounded all concerned, but I knew they were worried about offending Ursula. As if anything touched her hardened heart.
I was beyond protesting, though, and my ladies swept me along, a sea of soft hands and gray silk skirts. As if my stomach knew we'd entered my chambers, it heaved in earnest just as I reached for the washbowl. Lady Dulcinor held my hair away from my face and I emptied myself into the basin. My eyes watered from the vicious spasms, but still I did not weep.
"How long has she been ill like this?" Ursula was talking to Dafne in lowered tones, and I couldn't make out the librarian's reply.
I lost the rest of their conversation in the rustle of silk and comforting murmurs of the other ladies as they swept me away from my sick and eased me onto the glorious bed I'd shared with Hugh for such a brief marriage. As I stared up at the fanciful draperies of lace and ribbon, his teasing words came back to me. A beautiful princess bed for the most beautiful princess of all.
Our story was not supposed to end this way.
Ursula sat on the bed beside me and I let her sinking weight draw my eyelids closed. I didn't resist when she took my hand, though hers was still as cold as melting ice. I felt nothing.
"Don't call me that." My voice was dull, but she heard me.

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