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A Stolen Crown: Stolen Royals

A Stolen Crown: Stolen Royals

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A Stolen Crown: Stolen Royals

Length:
381 pages
6 hours
Released:
Jan 17, 2017
ISBN:
9781943923038
Format:
Book

Description

A stolen crown. An unbreakable friendship. One big mess in the making.

When Princess Cecily Degalt travels south to wed a prince she's never met, she's ushered into a strange new world alongside her best friend and bodyguard, Rory Castille. With an MIA fiancé, his handsome twin brother, and a kidnapping gone wrong, life in Myrzel isn't quite what Cecily expected.

Rory will do anything to keep Cecily from harm--but when Rory's darkest secret comes between her and Cecily, the greatest danger to the princess might be Rory herself.

Torn apart for the first time, each girl will have to think like the other as she faces not only the darkness of Fangralee Forest, but a dangerous enemy closer to home.

A Stolen Crown is the second novel in the Stolen Royals series - a tale of magic, intrigue, and the power of true friendship.

Released:
Jan 17, 2017
ISBN:
9781943923038
Format:
Book

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A Stolen Crown - Kelsey Keating

way.

• CHAPTER 1 •

Almost

Once upon a time, a princess needed a midnight snack, Cecily Degalt whispered, sneaking through the dark, marble halls. Foraging after hours had always been a favorite activity of hers, and she wanted one last scavenge in her own castle before everything changed. Tomorrow, she’d leave for distant Myrzel for her new life in an arranged marriage. Butterflies somersaulted in her stomach.

Would Prince Rakesh like her? Would she like him?

Entrenched in her thoughts, she turned the corner down a dark hallway and collided with someone. Opening her mouth to scream, Cecily felt the hand of her assailant press against her mouth while the attacker’s other arm immobilized her failing limbs.

For cripes’ sake, Cece! It’s me!

The pale hand shifted away from her, and Cecily stared down at the mess of blonde hair atop her dearest friend’s head. Rory?

Of course!

What are you doing? You gave me such a fright! Cecily stepped away from the petite girl only half Cecily’s size. Cecily’s heart pounded in her throat as she pushed her dark curls back in a vain attempt at composure.

And you didn’t defend yourself at all. Honestly, mate, have you learned nothin’? Rory sighed and leaned against the wall, her commoner’s accent thick. I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d check and see how you were doin’.

Cecily sidled up next to her. I couldn’t sleep either, so I was on my way to the kitchens for something sweet.

Your idea’s better than mine. I figured I’d wake you for a few sparring matches. Rory shifted away from the wall, turning back in the direction of the kitchens. Sweets it is.

A few moments of comfortable silence stretched between them. Cecily ran a hand along the castle wall, loving the feel of the stone, the contrast of the white marble beneath her umber brown fingertips. Did you say goodbye to your family?

Even in the dim hallway, she saw Rory’s face shift into a glower. It always did when someone mentioned family. I don’t want to talk about it.

Cecily opened her mouth but then closed it with a snap. Rory never said more than she wanted to, not even to Cecily. Have you packed?

Eh. I didn’t have much to pack, now did I?

Cecily paused, drilling Rory with a suspicious glare. You packed the dresses, right? Rory didn’t stop, but Cecily saw her shoulders tense. Oh my word, Rory—you packed the dresses, didn’t you? Tell me you packed the dresses.

Rory cast a sly grin over her shoulder, and Cecily let out a breath of relief. Of course I packed the dresses. My whole cover story revolves around those blasted monstrosities.

Cecily stacked her hands on her hips, pursing her lips. They’re beautiful, and you know it.

Rory let out a snort and turned through the archway into the kitchens. Cecily bounced after her, stifling a giggle.

I wonder what kind of sweet rolls Mrs. Renders made today. Think she tried to hide them from us one last time? Rory pulled out a match and lit a nearby lantern.

Cecily’s eyes drank in the familiar room. It’s hard to believe this is the last time we’ll do this.

You don’t think Myrzel has a baker? Rory wandered off to where the sweet rolls were kept, opening the cupboard with a squeal of delight. She made cinnamon! Greatest. Day. Ever.

We’re moving to Myrzel, I’m getting married to a stranger, and you have to pretend to be a lady-in-waiting.

I still think it’s bizarre they won’t allow their portraits to be painted.

And they think it’s bizarre that we do, Cecily countered. Still, I’ll miss this.

Rory rolled her eyes. "It’s Myrzel, not the Foul Forest. They have kitchens."

Cecily stifled a shiver at the mention of the forest of dark magic that fueled her nightmares. But it won’t be the same. She accepted the sticky roll from Rory and worried her lower lip. I’m going to be queen. They may not even let me—

Hold your tongue. Rory swatted her arm. "Are you listenin’ to yourself? You’re goin’ to be queen. No one is goin’ to be lettin’ you do anythin’. You’ll be the one in control. Well, except for Prince Rakesh since he’ll be king."

"But what if he’s a tyrant? What if he’s fat and ugly? Or worse, what if he’s gorgeous, sweet, and everything I’ve ever wanted, but he thinks I’m ugly?" Or big? Or stupid? Cecily eyed her sweet roll, wondering if she should forgo it to avoid expanding her already curvaceous body.

You’re beautiful; he’ll see that. If he’s awful, Gene and I will carry you away into the sunset and find you a new prince, Rory said, flinging her arm out and throwing back her head.

Will he be in the carriage with us? Cecily pictured the red-headed guard bouncing along in the carriage with them, his buoyant personality fitting Rory and Cecily’s mood to a T.

Yeah, he’s on carriage duty with Percy. They’ll switch back and forth between the two carriages during our travel. She rolled her eyes, and Cecily moaned.

Not Percy! Why does he need to be there? We’ll have two guards with you and Gene.

Rory shook her head and hopped up onto the counter—something Mrs. Renders would never allow. "I’m supposed to be pretendin’ to be one of your ladies-in-waiting. I can’t be that and a guard. Your father wants me by your side."

Still. Percy? He’s so…boring.

And arrogant.

And weird, they said together, laughing.

Maybe we can make Muriel keep him company, Rory said, her lips twisting into a devilish grin.

I don’t know why you don’t like her. She’s not that bad. Besides, Doreen is far more pliable. She can’t say no to anyone or anything. Cecily reached out and tugged at Rory’s black trousers. Do you sleep in these things?

No. Rory shifted her leg out of Cecily’s reach. I just wanted to do one last sweep before sleep.

How quaint, Cecily drawled, rolling her eyes at Rory’s rhyme. Are you going to be this strict in Myrzel? They have their own palace guards, you know.

Don’t care. Your safety is my whole life’s purpose. Rory placed her hand over her heart and dipped her head in a bow before snapping back up. Besides, now that Humphrey and your parents are on their way to Opea, I’m the only one left to keep an eye on you.

You’re a peculiar one. Cecily yielded to the delicious aroma of the sticky roll, stripped off a layer, and popped it into her mouth.

Rory jumped down from the counter, stuffing the last of her bun into her mouth and speaking around chews. Takes one to know one. She reached out and tugged one of Cecily’s dark chocolate curls.

Ow! Hey, no fair. Cecily swatted her hand away and lunged for Rory’s head, running her hand over it, attempting to make the white-blonde hair lie flat. Rory didn’t swat her away, but Cecily’s efforts were fruitless. Nothing could ever make Rory’s boyish hair behave.

Maybe the Myrzellians have something that could tame this fluffy beast. Cecily clenched the rest of her sticky roll between her teeth and pressed both hands on top of Rory’s head.

Lay off! You’re getting my hair sticky. It has a mind of its own. That’s why I keep it so short.

I know, but…it’s so…unladylike. I’ve never met a noblewoman with so little hair. Rory said nothing, and Cecily forced herself to ask the question she feared most. What if I’m an awful queen?

You’ve been trainin’ to be queen your entire life. This is what everythin’s been for.

I know, but what if I’m not any good at it? What if he doesn’t like me?

If he doesn’t like you, I’ll kill him. As for being good at it… She pondered a moment and then shook her head. No, I don’t think there could be anyone better for a queen.

You’re biased, Cecily said, grinning.

"You have to remember you are queen. It’s your job to take charge. Rory reached out and tapped Cecily on the forehead. It’s all in there."

How do I do that?

Rory snorted. I don’t know—you just do it. When we get to Myrzel, you won’t be the youngest of four—and the only daughter—anymore. You’ll be the future queen of the country. You’re marrying the prince to cement Dellsby and Myrzel’s alliance. That comes with a bit of heft, don’t you think?

I guess. I just hope they like me. Cecily stifled a yawn.

What’s not to like? Rory gestured to the door. You should get back to bed, though. Tomorrow starts a long journey.

"Says the girl on the same journey. Why don’t you need sleep?"

You know I never sleep. Cat naps are enough. Rory hopped up and down, showing off her energy. "I don’t need twelve hours of beauty rest like you do."

That’s because you’re already as adorable as can be. She smooshed Rory’s face between her hands, speaking in a tone she’d use with an infant.

Rory shoved her hand away, smiling. Try that again, and I’ll take you down.

Oh, you can’t touch me. I was trained by the best woman in the King’s Guard.

"The only woman in the King’s Guard. Rory winked. I think I could take her."

I don’t know. She talks about herself in third person a lot. I’m pretty sure she’s deranged.

Oh, she’s definitely unhinged, Rory said, nodding. I’m always saying, ‘That Rory is a basket case. She’ll crack any day now.’ Thinkin’ she can train a princess to be a warrior.

"And that princess thinks she can make a lady out of Rory. It’s thinking, not thinkin’. Try to remember. Cecily pushed away from the counter and started toward the door, laughing. This is why we’re so good together, Ror…we balance each other out."

Mmhmm. Rory stepped up alongside her. Your crazy is just different enough from my crazy that in the end we almost seem sane.

Cecily grinned. Almost.

• CHAPTER 2 •

An Unwelcome Goodbye

That’s why I prefer churning my own butter, Percy said, staring out the window. His endless tirade on the proper production of butter hadn’t ceased since dinner the night before. Rory’s hand pressed against her forehead as she silently recited her mantra.

Don’t choke him in front of Cecily. Don’t choke him in front of Cecily.

Nearly a month in the carriage with him had almost driven her over the edge. They’d pass the Myrzellian border any day now. She just had to last until then.

It’s all in the wrist. You turn the plunge and churn the perfect butter. The batch last night wasn’t processed long enough.

An exasperated grunt echoed from across the carriage, and Rory opened her eyes. Muriel slapped her hand against the wall, her fair cheeks pinking to match her ginger hair. I don’t care! I do not care! If you say one more thing about butter, I swear I will scratch your eyes out.

Rory bit her lip to keep from smiling. Out of all of Cecily’s ladies-in-waiting, Muriel often landed at the bottom of Rory’s list. Muriel’s haughty air and superior attitude didn’t leave room for affection between her and someone as pathetically common as Rory. Muriel’s family was one of the original noble families of Dellsby, not a family who rose to nobility through other means like Doreen’s or Gayla’s families had. As the middle child of seven, Muriel fought for everything and with everyone.

Rory cast a surreptitious glance at Percy, whose thick brows drooped low over his eyes.

I was only trying to break up the silence. No one else was talking.

We’d prefer the silence, Rory said.

He turned his dark gaze on her and looked her up and down without saying a word. She shifted in the dress Cecily had forced her into that morning, feeling exposed.

It’s nice to see you in your proper place, Percy said.

Out of the corner of her eye, Rory saw Cecily perk up, stiffening. Biting down on her tongue, she clutched a handful of her dress to keep from punching Percy right on the nose. I’d watch what you’re sayin’ there, Percy.

"Saying, Rory," Cecily corrected, her gaze fixed on Percy as well.

"Fine. I’d watch what you’re saying, Percy."

You should never have been allowed in the guard. You’re a woman. Nor should you be masquerading as a lady. You’re not posh enough—you should be one of the maids.

Percy, I don’t know what you’re implying, Cecily said, her gaze narrowed. But if you don’t—

WHAM!

The carriage heaved, knocking them out of their seats. Rory braced herself against the side of the carriage, reached out, and caught Cecily before she hit the floor. Shouting echoed all around them outside.

What was that? Muriel asked, popping up from the layers of silver skirts surrounding her on the carriage floor. What happened?

We’re under attack! Cecily said, peering out the window. Percy and Rory were already on their way to the door, but Percy shoved Rory back when she tried to exit.

You have to play your part. You can’t help.

I have to! I can’t do nothin’ while you lot are in danger.

Stay where you belong.

She glared at him as he pulled his sword and leaped from the coach. Hiking up the skirt of her jade dress, Rory slipped her hand into her boot and pulled a hidden blade from its sheath.

You have a dagger in there? Muriel asked, gaping at Rory’s feet. Who carries a dagger in her boot?

Shh, I’m thinkin’. Thinking. Each of Rory’s senses was on alert. Her skin prickled, a sign of danger approaching. We’re sitting ducks in here. We need to leave.

Leave? Muriel snorted, shaking her head. What, when there are men out there trying to kill us?

If Rory says we need to leave, we leave. Cecily shifted to position herself behind Rory, who was crouched and ready to move. Lead the way.

Rory shoved the door open and hopped out of the carriage, turning to help the other two down. Follow me—we need to get the others.

They ran along the back of the coach, away from the fighting. Gene, Doreen, Gayla, and two maids rode in the second carriage, and unlike Percy, Gene hadn’t abandoned his post. When Rory swung the carriage door wide, he leaped out, brandishing his sword.

Gene! Rory blocked his attack with her dagger, her unnatural strength pushing his blade down and away. He calmed at the sight of her.

What are you doing outside your carriage? Where’s Percy?

Fighting. We need to get the ladies to safety. We’re as good as dead in the carriages.

He nodded, gesturing for the women to step out. Listen to Rory. Come on.

I’m not going anywhere, Gayla said, her deep-set eyes round as she cowered in the corner of the carriage behind a reluctant maid.

Doreen rolled her eyes and leaped from the carriage, her dark hair swinging around her golden-brown neck and shoulders. With a smirk at Muriel, she stepped up to Cecily’s side. Neither Gayla nor the maids followed.

Ladies, out now. Gene, go join the others. Cecily gestured toward the scuffle raging in front of the horses of their carriage. They’re outnumbered, and they need you. Rory can handle this.

He hesitated but didn’t dare go against the order of his princess. Nodding to Rory, Gene raced off to join the fray. Gayla and the maids timidly obeyed Cecily’s command.

This way. Back here. Rory led them to the back of the second carriage, hoping its immense size would hide them. With all six ladies tucked behind her, Rory poked her head out to assess the situation.

A large group of men wielding crude weapons fought with the twenty-member King’s Guard escorting Cecily’s carriage. What the attackers lacked in sophisticated weaponry they made up for in guerilla skill.

These men fight dirty, Rory said. We’re outnumbered.

You should get out there. Cecily nudged her forward.

What about my cover as your lady?

I think everyone’s safety is more important, Cecily said, jerking her head in the direction of the fighting.

Rory pursed her lips. "Your safety is most important. I should stay with you."

Well, look at these little pretties.

The ladies whirled around to see six men appear from the other side of the carriage. The leader leered at Doreen, his gaze roving over the feminine curves accentuated by her rose-colored dress. Wispy Gayla scooted behind Muriel, bending her knees to hide her height.

Looks like we may have found ourselves a real treasure. How much do you think their ransom would get us?

They spoke in the Dellsbian tongue, their accents common like Rory’s. She arched a brow. You aren’t Myrzellian.

You catch on quick, don’t you, sweetheart? the leader said, causing his men to chuckle.

Do you realize who this is? Doreen asked, turning as she pointed at Cecily. Rory tried to shush her. "This is Princess Cecily—your princess."

We know who she is, the leader said. Why do you think we’re here? He jerked his head forward, speaking to his men. Get them.

The two maids screamed and fled. Rory jerked Doreen and Muriel back as two men approached them, and Muriel tripped into Rory. Rory threw up her arms, and her hand got stuck in Muriel’s elaborate updo as she caught her. Their attacker threw himself against both of them and knocked them to the ground while Rory struggled to free herself amidst Muriel’s shrieks. Though the force vibrated through Rory’s body when they hit the dirt, she felt no pain.

Wrestling her hands free, she rolled and caught the attacker with a right hook to his jaw. The force behind her punch knocked him cold, and he slumped unconscious on top of Muriel, who continued to scream as Doreen and Cecily dragged him off her. A few feet away, Gayla lay oblivious in a faint of hysteria.

On her feet again, Rory grabbed the next man by the scruff of his shirt with one hand, her other gripping between his legs. He squealed as she hefted him into the air over her head, balancing him for a moment before tossing him into the other four, who watched her with slack-jawed awe. One of the men snapped out of his shock just in time to get out of the way as the scoundrel sailing through the air collided with the other three, knocking them all to the ground.

Muriel, on her feet and entirely disheveled, opened her mouth, her rosy cheeks paling. How—how did you do that?

Rory! Cecily’s voice was high and tight.

Turning, Rory saw the last man—the speaker who’d first attacked them—holding Cecily by the hair, a blade against her throat.

I don’t know what kind of creature you are, girlie, he said to Rory, but I don’t fink you can get your little princess here out of this before I slice ’er open. Now you’re goin’ to come with me, real quiet like. All of you.

With his focus on Rory, the bandit didn’t consider Cecily to be a threat.

Using her weight to full advantage, Cecily grabbed the wrist of his knife hand and dropped down to her knees, flipping him forward over her. His back hit the ground, knocking the air from his lungs, and Cecily leaped up, his arm still in her grasp. She wrenched it around, and the bone snapped. He cried out, but Cecily knocked him hard upside the head, rendering him unconscious.

That’s my girl, Rory said, rejoining Cecily. This is what you trained for.

Not bad for my first real fight, Cecily said, grimacing as she touched her neck where a thin line of blood trailed from this place his blade had nicked her.

Another man rounded the carriage and surprised her from behind, knocking her sideways.

No talkin’ while fightin’! Rory said, heeding her own advice too late as the man jumped her and twisted her arm behind her back.

Talking! Fighting! Cecily shouted, pushing back up to her feet.

Is this the time to correct my grammar?

A loud trumpet sounded somewhere in the distance, and Rory sensed an influx of fighters joining the skirmish.

Kicking hard against her captor’s knee, Rory felt the bone shatter beneath her heel. As he screeched and released her, Rory bolted around the carriage to see the newcomers. Men in red uniforms rushed into the mix of the King’s Guard and the bandits, causing confusion on all sides.

P'ATÉEN!

The command magically froze Rory in her tracks as she rounded the coach. She wasn’t alone. Only the men in red retained their mobility as they dropped their blades to their sides.

A man in dark maroon moved through the crowd; he was taller than anyone present. He glared around at the lot of them, his tan skin lined by the permanent frown etched on his face, his dark hair cropped short, and a thick, white scar visible on his neck, even from a distance. His next sentence dropped low, and Rory couldn’t hear him from so far away. A young man answered in kind.

The young man moved through the crowd with fluid ease, but he didn’t wear the burgundy uniform of the others. His outfit, trousers and a wrapped tunic with a gold belt, shone blue like a sapphire, vibrant against his coppery complexion. His sable-brown hair partially impeded his vision, falling in a shaggy mop around his face, curling at the ends. Rory watched his easy gait, struggling against the magic holding her in place.

As she leaned into it, she could feel the magic weakening. Her skin tingled, urging her to continue. Closing her eyes, she pressed harder into the invisible wall holding her still, using every ounce of magical strength within her.

Concentrate.

Rory opened her eyes again to see the man in maroon speaking to the younger man. The latter shrugged his shoulders and gestured around, replying in the same dialect, his words too muffled to understand.

She knew the language—Myrzellian. It wasn’t a written language, but everyone in the envoy was well-versed. A native Myrzellian had trained the princess from the time of her betrothal announcement six years before, and Rory and the others had begun their education two years later.

The invisible wall cracked against her force, the magic vibrating around her, and feeling returned to her fingers and toes. Just a bit further. She pressed into one more mental shove and flew forward, rolling into a somersault and ending up back on her feet, at the ready, her jade traveling dress covered in dust from the road.

All the eyes of those unfrozen turned on her, many of the soldiers raising their swords. The man in maroon shouted something at the younger man, who shook his head, his eyes wide as he stared at her.

Bix tin ale? he asked as the two of them marched toward her. Rory understood these words. How did you do that?

Wracking her brain for the right thing to say, Rory lifted her hands in a gesture of surrender, speaking in Myrzellian and hoping she appeared weak. Please. Don’t hurt me.

The lips of the young man, full and with upturned corners, twisted in amusement, giving her the distinct impression that she’d butchered the pronunciation of his language.

No, he said, his accent thick and unlike any she’d ever heard as he stared down his sharp nose at her. We will not hurt you.

The man wearing the maroon didn’t warm to her. How did you do that? How did you break free of the spell? His R's rolled off his tongue, his brows forming a fierce arch.

I don’t know, she lied. The man’s glower deepened.

It’s probably my fault. The young man put a hand on the other’s arm. I must not have done the spell correctly. Tell your men to lower their swords—she doesn’t look dangerous.

Not if you don’t force me to be. Rory held her tongue, trying to appear as fragile as Doreen or Gayla—in this, her tiny frame proved helpful.

The leader kept his narrowed gaze fixed on her. I asked you a question. Who are you?

I don’t make a habit of giving my name to strangers, Rory replied. By whose authority do you delay our journey? The words felt peculiar on her tongue, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t harden her r’s, let alone make them roll off her tongue the way these men did.

The man in maroon straightened, the lines on his face deepening as he frowned and drew up to his full height. I am Arrão Leyera, captain of the Border Guard. Brother to Mercusius Leyera, the Royal Advisor to Queen Adaliyah Nohchil. Now I ask you again—who are you?

Letting out a breath of relief, Rory curtsied, wobbling as she did so. Time to play the part of a noble. I am Lady Rory Castile, traveling here with the Princess Cecily Degalt, on her way to meet her fiancé, the Crown Prince Rakesh Nohchil. We were ambushed on the road by these men here. I ask your pardon and permission to travel into your lands. Her cheeks hurt from the forced smile on her face, and her jaw clenched as she mentally went over Cecily’s list of formal greetings, ensuring she’d completed each step.

The mood on the road shifted. Most of the men dropped down to one knee, their heads bowed. Arrão brought his right fist to his chest, eyes widening, and even the young man beside him seemed surprised.

My lady. Arrão dipped into a bow. My apologies. Sir Vera, quick—release them at once.

The young man’s eyes widened, and he tugged at his tunic. I-I can’t. At least, not without unfreezing all of them. Maybe they could do what you did? he suggested, gesturing to Rory. Arrão didn’t wait for her reply.

There’s no time. Let them go!

Sir Vera bit down on his lip and lifted his hands, muttering something under his breath. Rory felt the pulse of power leave him even as he stumbled. She cocked her head to the side, surprised by his lack of control over his magic. Arrão did nothing as the sorcerer fell to the ground on his knees with the magic sapping his energy.

Chaos reigned. Bandits continued their attack against Cecily’s envoy, but now the Border Guard knew who to fight as they joined in. Before Rory could move, Arrão pulled her, Cecily, Doreen, Gayla, and Muriel to the side, guarding them with his sword. Gayla, though shaky on her

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