Heart and Fire
Click on image to enlarge.
by Wendy L. Callahan
Description: Courtesan. Secret agent. Tea-drinker. Courtesan and gunslinging government agent, Saville Cantall has just been thrust into an untenable position. She has been ordered to work as bodyguard to the woman who just replaced her as the king's mistress. Frustrated by, not just the situation, but her own tenuous place in society, Saville finds her problems compounded by the question of who would want to harm the king's new mistress. Over the course of the summer, she learns that time is running out to stop a war, learn the secret of her magickal abilities, and fend off two persistent suitors? While somehow still finding the time to sit down for afternoon tea. Excerpt: "Why is it so important to protect Miss d'Lucier?" I asked quietly. "Is she in danger?" "Danger is ever-present at any royal court." I frowned. I was receiving yet another evasive response to my most burning questions, to which I so deeply desired answers. My suspicions were even more aroused by the king's words. Respectfully, I responded, "The more information I have, the better able I am to guard your dear lady. We know of more than one agent who lost his life due to simple ignorance of the situation into which he was getting himself. After the other night, it is obvious that there is someone who wishes your mistress ill." "Put that incident out of your mind and do your job, Saville. The less you know, the less you can betray," was Haydon's terse rejoinder. "Betray?" Indignation tinged my voice, and this time my hand did clutch at my parasol reflexively. "Under torture," the king clarified. Smoothing my dress over my knees with my free hand, and trying to keep a neutral expression on my face, I said, "Then that would beg the question, who would want to torture me on behalf of Falia d'Lucier?"
eBook Publisher: Eternal Press/Damnation Books LLC/Eternal Press, 2012 2012
eBookwise Release Date: April 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [334 KB]
Reading time: 205-287 min.
* * * *
A courtesan, even one with specialized training such as I had, was nothing without a patron. Society would consider such a woman as nothing more than a whore. I did not relish that title.
Of course I knew this day would come. It had been five years in the making. I just had not realized that it would be today. Sinking into the soft, velvety gray chair of my parlor, I sighed dejectedly. What was to become of me now?
I looked slowly around the cozy, elegant townhome that I inherited from my father. Money was the least of my concerns. As the only child of a minor, unmarried noble who had died many years ago, I had control of all funds from my father's estate, the townhome, and the country manor. I had more than enough money to see me through the rest of my life.
However, I was not merely a bastard of aristocratic blood, but now a cast-off courtesan as well. What place in society could I find? What was there for me? While I had never considered marriage, my chances of it were most certainly more than halved at this point in my life.
I was adrift and I hated that feeling.
Before tonight my days were well-ordered from morning to night. For the past five years, I was both mistress and bodyguard to King Haydon Dane, sovereign of Keltria. I was strategically placed in his life and in his bed for the very purpose of providing both companionship and protection. Then, over the course of less than two days, my life changed completely. Upon his return from a neighboring kingdom, he had brought with him a beautiful young woman. The night he returned from his journey, he did not summon me to the palace as I expected. Instead, the summons to meet with him came the next morning. In that private meeting, he told me about his new mistress and released me from my position...to replace me with her.
For the past half-decade, I devoted my life to serving King Haydon as his companion and protector. In a matter of a few hours, I had lost my place as his mistress. I still had a few obligations in my life, but nothing I could throw myself into completely. Although I was not relieved of my post as his bodyguard, surely I could not personally attend to the king now. It would be too awkward for his new lady, and certainly against the very social structure of the kingdom itself.
Languidly, slowly, I rose from the chair. I had no need to hurry now. Then again, a lady never hurried anyway. Although my lack of birth legitimacy and long-standing role as a courtesan hardly qualified me as a lady in the social sense of the word, I was still a lady in the aristocratic sense.
In the ornate mirror above the fireplace, I saw my Keltrian features. My hazel eyes looked more golden than green beneath lavender-shadowed lids, my lips soft and shapely in my oval face. Then there was my straight, almost masculine nose. How I hated it. "Strong" my father had called it, and actually quite attractive to everyone except me. My hair set me apart from most of the Keltrians, because it was a light shade of auburn. The Keltrians were usually dark-haired, but my mother had been a Bayardian actress of whose heritage I knew nothing. Somehow her blonde beauty had mingled with my father's darker coloring to produce this effect.
The high-necked day dress was a shade of lavender that brought out the vibrant burgundy tones in my hair and the green in my eyes. Corsets were a normal part of fashion, so I wore one even though I had no need of the shaping or the support with my slender waist and lush curves. The dress buttoned down the front and the skirts draped over a bustle, also the height of fashion in modern society. In my role as the king's mistress, it had been necessary to dress impeccably. Part of a high-ranking courtesan's profession was to be at the center of everything, like a lovely decoration or centerpiece in a room.
With an impatient sigh, I turned away from the mirror. What good was beauty? Did I really want to live off my looks my entire life? The problem was that I did not know what I wanted at this point. Everything for the past fifteen years of my life had revolved around my work with the Society of Sovereign Guardians, the agency that maneuvered to secure me a position as the king's mistress.
My status as a member of the Society of Sovereign Guardians was a secret kept even from my servants. Women were neither soldiers nor secret agents in Keltria. They glided along the streets in their day dresses, clutching lacy parasols and wearing dainty hats, their outward good manners concealing their hauteur that could only be revealed over tea with intimate acquaintances. How women were expected to behave was the reason the king felt that I was one of his best weapons.
Who would expect a corseted, bustled, parasol-toting courtesan to be able to kill a man?
I could do it with precision, speed and skill, though, as I had been trained to do since my adolescence.
What was I to do with my life now?
"Excuse me, my lady." My maid and secretary, Hermione interrupted my thoughts with her inquiry as she entered the parlor. "Is now a good time to discuss tomorrow's schedule?"
She sounded tentative, as though she expected bad news. No doubt she had heard of my expulsion already, as servants were wont to gossip. Now she dreaded her own expulsion and the stress of finding a new post. It was time to act the noblewoman and gracious lady, and to set my personal cynicism aside.
"Please, have a seat, Hermione," I said calmly, trying to forget that it had already been a morning of bad tidings.
As she chose a place on the loveseat, I sat opposite her in the gray chair. I had warm and sincere regard for Hermione Byrne, as well as her husband and daughter. The entire family entered my employ when I was called into the service of the king. While they knew me as the king's mistress, they were unaware of the fact that I was also the king's bodyguard for these many years.
Hermione kept my home immaculate, as well as keeping my social calendar and handling my correspondence. Stephen kept the small grounds of my townhome tidy, yet charming with exquisite rosebushes and fragrant honeysuckle planted along my front walkway. He also served as my coachman and had the good grace never to gossip, unlike the women. Fiona was an excellent lady's maid, mostly because she stayed informed of the new styles with far greater interest than I did. Fashion had never been my forte, so Fiona was probably the most valuable asset to my life as a both a noblewoman and a courtesan.
"I must tell you that His Highness has determined that my services are no longer necessary," I calmly told Hermione.
She nodded, her eyes intent on me. The expression on her face told me that she was aware that I had been cast aside for the new woman. In addition to concern for her livelihood, though, I could also see sympathy for my situation.