Below is the first chapter of Castle of Shadow, released November 26th. The eBook is available for pre-order here.

I

It all began innocuously enough when my fiancé received an invitation to attend dinner from the esteemed Duke of Zenborough in the late of September. My fiancé and benevolent darling, Robert Littelfield, to whom I adore more than anything in this world, is a remarkable craftsman of fine jewelry and purveyor of magnificent gems. He positively delighted in the news that we were welcome at the gracious Duke’s dining table. I’m afraid that I did not catch the significance. Truth be told, Robert curried my favor well out of his class. I was lowly born and orphaned young and had been paying for my room and board by merchandising the flowers I kept in a small bed in the shadow of a church on the east side of town and I was therefore ignorant of the value in twining social connections amongst the world of fine jewelry. My fiancé patiently assured me that this was indeed great news— the Duke, who is a renowned collector of arcane curios, would surely wish to hire my sweet Robert for his skill in his trade.

“We must make arrangements,” declared Robert. Oh, it was the happiest I have ever seen him and his enthusiasm soon spread to my heart as well.

His mother was not as warm on the idea, claiming that Zenborough was a grisly place and crossed herself doubly over her chest. She is not a cold woman, Mrs. Littelfield, but I have never won her affection. She has inspected me as if I am some horrid insect that has crawled into her supper. When Robert was first courting me the woman would not even utter a word towards me. She regarded some perceived slight in my mere existence and there was nothing to be done to win her forgiveness. She nearly fell from a faint when Robert told her that we were betrothed and intended to marry in the spring. On this matter, Robert heartily reminded her that the invitation to the manor was not hers to decide and he happily went to town to send back a reply and to arrange the train tickets due to depart in a mere nine days.

The days passed easily and I would contend that it was the happiest I have ever been. Robert reminded me daily that he loved me more than he did yesterday and did not think that was possible. Robert was able to expedite a few sales that freed up a sizable allowance for us to live as we wished in the days leading up to our journey and so we delighted in the city’s finer offerings, taking in amusements at the theater and dining on fresh fish and sweet wines by the bay. During a promenade around the park with my head firmly nestled into the cradle of his neck, I was reminded about how Robert first came to court me, having stopped by my flower cart to make a purchase and then handed me the flower. It was such a romantic gesture, I was nearly horrified for I had forgotten how to behave! My word, he was so cordial and allowed me to hide my fluster with a whole bouquet next. I do not understand how a woman of my low bearing could have been so lucky as to have found a man as gentle and generous as the one at my side.

When finally the day arrived for us to depart my excitement gave me a barely containable and buoyant energy and Robert was of easy and gregarious cheer. We kissed Mrs. Littelfield goodbye although her mood was dark and ominous. She told us to go with God and draped a silver crucifix necklace over her son’s neck. Robert laughed and accepted the gift but when we were seated he claimed that it was too girlish a feature for himself to wear, and quickly removed it and draped it over my breast. When the train lurched and took off I admit I was glad to be free from the overbearing presence of Mrs. Littelfield and looked forward to a few days without her admonishments. Robert busied himself with the gazette and I a small novel. A cart brought us a tray of cured meats and exquisite cheeses although the bread was rather stale. At nightfall, I made use of the water closet for my evening toilet when a strange thing occurred. I examined my face in the looking glass, although that of itself is not unusual but rather the nightly routine of a young woman who wishes to remain the precious object of her fiancé’s affection, but the peculiarity arose when a knock fell on the door and the concerned tone of my dear Robert came muffled through the wood.

“Are you all right, my love? You’ve been in there for nearly half the hour.”

I snapped alert and it dawned on me that I had been staring into my smiling reflection and fondling the silver cross between my thumb and forefinger. I was dreadfully embarrassed as it is not a woman’s place to reveal her toilet activities to the man she intends to marry and I called back that I was indeed fine and made an excuse about worrying over combing my hair. My beloved Robert mentioned something about never understanding the minds of women and I heard his footfalls retreat to our cabin where I soon joined him. We toasted a small glass of brandy and were both quickly asleep in our beds amidst the rocking cradle of the moving train. Silly dreams filled my head that night and awful ones at that. When I woke and foolishly concerned Robert with the matter he gently reminded me that foul dreams are merely the apparitions of the body’s strained nerves. I was simply anxious about my first big social gathering and nothing more. Robert is so clever and wise and I felt small and childish for even bringing it up. I resumed my slumber and slept easily enough until morning.

I hoped you enjoyed this sample. This book will be released on November 26th. If you would like to pre-order this book, simply click here.

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