A Regency paranormal romance.
in 1802, on a visit to London, Princess Tanaquill encounters a complete stranger who shows her a glimpse of the true love she will never achieve in her traditional, arranged marriage.
The sun shone brightly into the busy front rooms of 22 Grosvenor Square. The house, which stood detached from its neighbors, was like a beehive humming with last minute instructions and pattering feet, exclamations by maids, one to another, quickly, softly, for an important guest was arriving. Careful directions had been given concerning all manner of details, from the flower arrangements that were to face east, to the variety of infusions to be served in lieu of tea. The curtains had been beaten, the floors glossed with wax, the windows rubbed until spotless.
Daphne Lockwood lightly dusted around an ancient Greek vase in a niche, her lithe figure not unlike its painted runner in peplos and sandals. She wore her soft purple day dress, covered in a pattern of small lake flowers, in honor of their guest. "When she arrives, I ought to simply ask her," her voice echoed lightly across the tall drawing room.
"Out of the question," her sister Chloe replied.
"It isn't a matter of idle curiosity," Daphne continued. "Her Majesty's instructions placed such an unusual emphasis on keeping the princess' visit secret, though we're always very discreet. And it's not everybody one could tell such a thing in any case, is it?" Daphne paused. "Chloe?"
"Hm?" Chloe was peering under the sofa, checking for dust that might have strayed across the gleaming wood floor. She pressed her hand to the sofa to support herself and stood.
Frowning, she dusted down her dress. "The princess is the youngest daughter, there are bound to be strictures."
"But could it be something more?" Daphne wondered. "Some unusual circumstance, too delicate to mention. Perhaps if we were to broach the subject first ourselves..."
"Without indiscretion?" Walking over, she pulled out a hairpin and pressed a stray hair back into place, pinned. "'Too delicate to mention'--I doubt I could have put it better myself. Have I ruined my dress?"
Daphne took a careful look, studying the brick red velvet that brought out an attractive, ruddy warmth in her sister's skin. Both avowed spinsters in their later twenties, they nevertheless loved beautiful things and knew how to look smart. "It looks lovely. And your hair as well." "Thank you." Chloe briskly brushed her dress' front again. "Fairies are such tidy folk." She ran her finger across the mantle, the white moldings absolutely clean to the touch--satisfying. Just then she stilled, trying to resolve a distant sound. "Did you hear it?" she said, crossing to the window. It was very faint. Fairy trumpets?
Daphne came to stand beside her at the large French window. Leaning over the window seat, they scanned the street below. Grosvenor Park was greening across the way, an oval hideaway of trees and lawn, with the wide roads surrounding it lined for as far as the eye could see with tall, pale stone terrace houses.
Chloe pressed her finger to the glass. "That smoke, do you see it?"
"Smoke?" Daphne said softly. She squinted but saw only sky and the unmoving treetops on a clear spring morning.
Chloe tapped the glass. "Just above the couple out walking, there, by Lord Osborn's house.
Doesn't that puff of smoke seem to travel with purpose? There's no draft carrying it."
It would not have attracted the slightest attention, if not for how well the smoke held together. As if in its own world, the wisp of grey smoke glided over dark strolling hats and light silk bonnets, heading for the house.
Chloe sighed wistfully. "I wish Uncle were here to see this," she said, for a moment allowing herself to simply watch.
Daphne took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. This home was the only one they knew, but in truth it belonged to the Earl of Sommerfeld, who might be dead or lost, as Chloe and Daphne had not heard from him for some time. Their uncle was frequently away indulging his passion for antiquities, but it had never been this long since he had written. After their parents had left for America when they were babes, the Earl had as good as adopted them. The sisters had brushed off the odd marriage proposal until they'd found themselves, with some sense of relief, left alone to attend functions like respectable matrons, living on in their uncle's house in the manner they had since they were children, as if it were their own.
Suddenly the sound of trumpets rang out distinctly, that is, to anyone with hearing such as theirs. "Quickly, open it," Chloe exclaimed, gesturing to the window.
Daphne unlatched the casement and pulled the window open wide, stepping back just in time for a tiny carriage to form out of the smoke and glide through the window on a sudden fragrant breeze. The sisters gasped gently as the light in the room changed as if a warm fire of blue and gold was kindling dusk in broad daylight, a wondrous sight as the conveyance grew more defined.
It was an equipage England's prince would have envied. The carriage sailed through the room, its wheels turning on a road of gold pixie dust that vanished behind it. A magnificent
confection of antique mother-of-pearl, with gold filigree and blue-glass windows, drawn by six hummingbirds, a gift from the Americas, the vehicle appeared extraordinarily dainty, as if it would have crumbled at the slightest human touch. As it took its turn about the room a delicate whistling sound came from the spinning wheel-spokes, a sonorous accompaniment to the brassy flower trumpets and the soothing drone of the hummingbirds.
Even Chloe and Daphne, who were familiar with many strange occurrences, had never seen such a conveyance from the fairy realm, rather than merely catching a scent of meadow flowers in winter, or hearing a whisper of music on the breeze.
After circling slowly in the air the carriage began its gentle descent, and finally glided to a halt on the drawing room table. The trumpeters, small gentlemen in livery standing on the carriage's running boards, stopped trumpeting abruptly and lowered their horns.
The Lockwood sisters stood utterly motionless, staring at the inconceivably exquisite and exotic little object at rest on the table amidst all the ordinary things of life they'd spent the morning cleaning and arranging.
In the carriage window, which was wrought of a smoky glass as if cut from a frozen lake, a tiny head appeared to be moving.
After a breathless moment a footman stepped down from the platform, opened the seashell door and drew down the steps. The princess climbed out. She was less than a hand tall, with waves of blond hair that fell past her knees, and wearing a dress made entirely of just two flowers, a pink bleeding heart flower bodice and a bluebell skirt, woven with details in green cellulose thread. Her shimmering dragonfly wings buzzed as she looked about her with an expression of sober curiosity that seemed at once grave and interested. Her wings stopped, as if a train of thought had ended, and she looked up at the two sisters. She bowed gracefully. "Greetings, cousins. The Queen and King of the Fairies of the Lake wish that your days may be filled with joy."
With solemn formality, the sisters bowed in unison, unlike the curtsy they would have performed for a human noble. "Salutations, Princess," they replied together. Chloe continued, "May the Queen and King be ever honored. Chloe and Daphne Lockwood welcome your sublime presence to the human realm, to the house of Phillip Winyard, Earl of Sommerfeld, and into our hearts. May your stay in the realm of man bring joy."
The fairy princess tilted her head in recognition. "Thank you, cousins Chloe and Daphne Lockwood." She studied them for a moment, her tiny form intense. Then she looked carefully about her again. Her wings twitched, as if with curiosity. Chloe knew that the human realm must be somewhat surprising to her, if not alarming. The princess' face, as she looked about, remained disciplined to show but a shade of interest, though her tiny chest rose and fell.