With Book Two of the Broken Line series, The Porcelain Child, out one week from today, today’s post is an exclusive sneak peek:
The porcelain a little chipped, Mary still recognized the woman in the miniature. There were enough pictures of her around, after all. Mary supposed she shouldn’t be surprised to find it amongst the small box they had sent her of Richard Seymour’s affects—even as the parliamentarian he was. Queen Adela wasn’t a symbol of monarchy, after all. Even after everything, she was still the romantic heroine.
And Mary supposed it likewise wasn’t surprising the surviving Seymours had sent it to her. Mary hadn’t received much from Richard Seymour’s estate—she hadn’t expected to—but it seemed to be the logical conclusion for someone going through Richard’s things to send a picture of Adela Tilden to her daughter. Mary couldn’t imagine the remaining Seymours would have much love for Queen Adela themselves.
It was likely they would send it to Aberfirth or use it for target practice.
Touching the gold filigree around the little portrait, Mary finally set it down. Of all the portraits Mary had seen, this one didn’t look the least familiar. Adela couldn’t have been much more than fifteen in it. A rare portrait from before her short reign as queen, when she had been a baron’s daughter living so far north she was barely on the map. Still, looking down and off to the side, as if the viewer were below her interest, the picture still seemed bizarrely fitting—as though she already considered herself the viewer’s better, far before she had the right to.
The door opened, then slammed shut. William rested back against it, breathing heavily.
Mary frowned, attempting to recover from her thoughts. “What…?”
Motioning for her silence, William winced as someone knocked. He looked at her, mouthed, Help me.
Giving him a suspicious look, Mary moved forward all the same, letting him hide behind the dark wood as she pulled the door open.
Mr. Johnson, red-faced and soaking wet, looked up at her, puffing. “Where is he?”
Mary blinked, could feel William tense through the door. “Who?”
“Him,” the tutor seethed. “Lord Kedington. I heard him come this way.”
“He must have gone further down the hall, then.” Mary glanced out the door as though looking where William might have gone. “I haven’t seen him.”
Mr. Johnson didn’t move, hands clenched. A head shorter than her and red as a beet, he still somehow remained intimidating. Even while dripping on the hardwood.
Mary looked at him, unmoving, daring him to call her a liar.
Mr. Johnson didn’t answer.
“If you’re wanting to catch him, sir, you should likely keep looking,” Mary finished.
Another tense breath, and Mr. Johnson bowed shallowly at the waist, stalking off as his wet shoes squeaked after him.
Waiting a moment, Mary finally shut the door, looking at the smiling man still pressed against the wall. She crossed her arms. “Aren’t you getting a little old for these pranks, Will?”
“It wasn’t meant to be a prank.” The smile grew. “Just a happy coincidence.”
Mary sat at her desk, shaking her head. “I doubt Mr. Johnson will believe you.”
William shrugged, seeming less than bothered as he moved to the box on the bed. “This the Seymour stuff they sent you?”
Mary looked at it silently, allowing William to change the topic.
Peering over the side, William pursed his lips slightly. “Not much, is it?”
“More than I was expecting, honestly,” Mary answered. “You know what the rest of the Seymours think of me.”
William just nodded, poking through the few things left in the box. “Should I assume you aren’t planning on going to the funeral?”
Mary frowned, watching him closely at the change of tone. He hadn’t asked what he’d meant. She shook her head. “If my mother can’t be bothered to come back from abroad at all in light of recent events, I see no reason why I should make the effort go to Carby.”
“He’s your father.”
“And who knows,” William continued over her justified skepticism. “It might be exciting. Getting out of Aberfirth for a bit? Seeing Carby?”
“I really can’t think of a place I’d rather not see, Will,” Mary droned, picking up the miniature before he could argue. She tossed it to him. “He had that apparently.”
William caught it easily, eyebrows rising as he looked at it. “Very nice.”
Mary frowned deeply. “Could you please refrain from salivating over my mother while I’m still in the room?”
“I wasn’t salivating.” He smiled, tossing it back to her before he sat. “It’s just a nice picture. One of her queen portraits?”
“Not one I recognize at least.” Mary set it down without looking. “Do you find it strange that he had it?”
“Well.” William took a moment, shrugged. “Your mother is a beautiful woman.”
Mary made a face, standing to pick up the box.
William caught her wrist. “Don’t give me that look, May.”
She just flicked her eyes over him, pulling herself free before she moved the box to the ground. A well placed kick and it slid out of sight.
He watched her carefully. Took his time before speaking. “They’ve asked me to go.”
She looked back up, a low level of panic starting deep in her chest though she wasn’t sure why. “They who? Go where?”
“Who, parliament,” he said, running a hand through his short blond hair. “Where, the funeral.”
Mary pulled her eyebrows together. “Why? You’re no one important.”
He laughed. “Thanks, May.”
“It’s hardly a bad thing.” Mary pressed her lips tightly together.
He took her hand, swinging to face her. “I’d like you to come with me.”
He nodded, his blue eyes drilling into her.
Her grey ones looked back. “Are you feverish?”
The smile returned. “Carby can’t really be as bad as you think, May.”
“I can’t get within thirty miles of the place without someone trying to draw me into a royalist plot. I would think especially now.” Mary glanced at the window, the rolling green hills of Aberfirth seeming to be a false shield from everything else waiting out there. “Anyway, I haven’t gotten marching orders from my mother yet. If she thought
there were any benefit in me going she would have already ordered me there. This is Adela Tilden we’re talking about.”
William nodded, glancing out the window himself as if checking she didn’t see anything before he looked back at her. “When was the last time you heard from her?”
Mary shook her head. “Years? What has there been for her to write about?”
“I would think there’s plenty lately.”
“She’s probably still figuring out her next move. His death was recent enough.” Mary sighed, brushed it away. “I don’t have her mind. Don’t ask me to try to understand her actions.”
“I still think you would have made a great queen, May.” William smiled.
Mary’s stomach clenched, her face turning deadly serious. “Don’t even joke like that.”
William’s eyes stayed on her, but he didn’t argue. Fair and tall as he was, Mary had to admit William had grown into a handsome man from the gangly ten year old that had shown up to stay eight years ago. She froze, the nature of the thought registering, making heat rise to her cheeks.
“You are beautiful, you know that, May?” his voice cut in before she could recover.
Mary’s body tensed, the odd sense he had read her mind too jarring.
“Don’t look so shocked.” He rested back on his hands, easy smile unsettlingly handsome now that she thought about it. “You are your mother’s daughter, after all.”
“And I would give anything that I weren’t.” She rubbed the side of her face quickly, dropping her eyes.
His eyes stayed on her another moment before he stood, holding her chin.
She looked up, breath catching in her throat as he held her eyes.
“You still have this house, May. You still have your life. I don’t think you have weathered everything too poorly, all things considered. Many lost much more.”
There was enough to set her head right again. Mary’s jaw locked as she pulled back. “Thank you, Will, but I hardly need you to remind me.”
He touched her hair gently, pushing a dark auburn strand behind her ear. “Please come, May? You can’t spend your entire life afraid out here.”
Mary shook her head. “You shouldn’t go at all, Will. Not now.”
William looked at her another moment, finally sighed. “I have to. Anyway, you’re Mary Seymour. I imagine people would leave you alone at Richard Seymour’s funeral.”
“Not when they believe I’d be Mary Claybourne had the old king not lost his head.”
“Seymour claimed you as legitimate,” William argued.
“Words.” Mary slipped away from him, sitting on the bed. “Oaths and proclamations and edicts. They’re all just words. People hold them cheap these days.”
“I don’t know if I’d say that.” William turned to face her.
Mary looked down at her hands, back up. “Do they know who will be the new lord protector?”
William cocked an eyebrow but let her change the topic. “I think they’re still discussing it.”
“So there’s no one in charge?”
“Well, parliament is.” William laughed. “They won’t allow the country to enter a state of anarchy just because one man died.”
“We’ll see,” Mary mumbled.
He shook his head, good natured as ever. “No one wants another war, May.”
“Every royalist who lost the last one does,” she returned, face serious.
“We aren’t going to war.”
“Are you certain of that?” She held his eyes.
The corner of his mouth turned up. “Would you like to place a bet?”
Her frown only deepened. “This isn’t funny, Will.”
William sat next to her, placing an arm around her shoulder before he kissed her forehead. “You’re always so serious, May.”
“Life is serious.” She didn’t look at him.
“It can also be fun,” he said.
“So you always think,” she said, knot still tight in the pit of her stomach.
The Porcelain Child, available July 3rd from 5 Prince Publishing
The Copper Witch (Book 1), available now