Say Yes to the Princess

Book 1 of the
Hidden Royals Series

. . . . . . . . . .

Say Yes to the Princess

Book 1 of the Hidden Royals Series

A hidden princess…

Princess Regine Elise Adelaide d’Orleans is no longer a princess, but she’s also no commoner. She’s obscure French royalty, exiled to England in the aftermath of the revolution. She lives as a glorified houseguest of the British Royal family, guarded and gilded, but also trapped.

The cynical outcast…

Mr. Killian Crewes serves as the Royal Fixer in St. James’s Palace, making messy problems disappear. Cleaning up indiscretions was hardly Killian’s goal in life, but options are limited for a man of his pedigree. His father’s earldom gives him access to the Crown; but his mother’s notoriety makes him less like a peer of the realm and more like a member of palace staff.

A royal scandal…

When Princess Elise spots her long-lost brother in crowded market; she thinks she’s finally found a way home. She mounts a search to find him, uncovering royal secrets along the way. To distract Elise from meddling, the palace dispatches Killian to seduce the her into submission. But Killian is disarmed by the lonely princess and finds himself seduced instead.

Meanwhile Elise is falling for a man who could lock her away in an ivory tower…or set them both free.

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Say Yes to the Princess

Book 1 of the Hidden Royals Series

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Jump to: Chapter Two

. . . . . .

Chapter One

September 1803

Killian Crewes was known as the Royal Fixer.

He “fixed” things: lapses in judgment; gambling debts; amusing friends who were, in fact, petty thieves. He recovered runaway lovers, bribed judges to release careless relatives from jail, and redacted press reports about late-night escapades in public fountains. More than once, he’d disposed of a dead body.

Sometimes, he performed these duties under the title of “Equerry to the King”; other times, he was nameless hired muscle. He was nimble and resourceful, occasionally threatening, and spoke only when necessary. Little-known fact, he was also the second son of an earl.

His late father’s title had gained him access to life at court, while his late mother’s profession positioned him as the man on whom the palace relied to take out the rubbish.

In short, he was a very creative, very private solver of problems, and on the first day of September 1803, Killian Crewes was asked to creatively solve the private problem created by a certain French princess.

Distract her . . . occupy her . . . enchant or even seduce her—these had been the palace’s suggested fixes to solve the problem of the princess. Methods didn’t seem to matter, so long as Killian redirected her from the current spate of trouble she’d been making in the royal court.

First, however, he had to determine who the French princess was.

Oh, Killian knew the girl’s name, and he knew she was one of many courtiers and hangers-on in St. James’s Palace. She was called Her Serene Highness, Princess Regine Elise Adelaide d’Orleans. She was a glorified houseguest living under the protection of the British royal family.

To seduce her, Killian would require more than her name, but the problem was Her Serene Highness traveled in a pack. She was never without a small entourage of ladies-in-waiting, and they dressed in identical black bombazine. Ebony hats. Onyx-colored gloves. Black woolen drapey things that could be a cape or could be the bunting from a funeral pyre. Worst of all, they wore veils that obscured their faces like a dense vapor.

They marched around Mayfair, four blackbirds in formation, and it was impossible to tell who was the lead bird.

“Why not ask the royal dukes which one she is?” wondered Hodges, Killian’s manservant, speaking of the sons of King George. They stood at the edge of Portman Square, watching the as-yet-unidentified princess and her entourage bear down George Street.

“Because the royal dukes do not know,” Killian said, leaning his shoulder against a tree. “I’ve asked. They don’t keep track of their sisters’ friends. And we dare not suggest to the king or queen that none of us has the slightest idea, do we?”

Hodges could best be described as Killian’s “manservant,” but a more accurate title was “man of all work.” Royal fixing was rarely a one-person job. But the older man sometimes forgot that the work was not guaranteed; they were employees, just like the footmen and the grooms. As such, they could be sacked if their services did not meet expectations.

“We’re meant to consistently prove our value, Hodges—remember?” Killian went on. “How valuable do I appear if I cannot identify the girl I’ve agreed to seduce? No. Wait. Let me tell you: I appear to have no value.”

The more invaluable Killian was to the king, the more work they sent his way—princesses to entertain, for example. The more work, the more money, and the king and his sons paid handsomely. Money, however, wasn’t the only thing he earned. His role as royal fixer also allowed him inside knowledge and access.

The crown owned half of England and most of London. It was a profitable but cumbersome portfolio, and from time to time, the royal family would sell less desirable properties. Killian used his position inside the palace to buy these cast-off properties on the cheap. He was the first to know and the last to place the winning bid.

In essence, he came to the palace for a salary, but stayed for access to condemned boarding houses, vacant shops, and old taverns.

One day, perhaps very soon, he hoped to have acquired enough derelict property to sustain himself as a proper landlord instead of a lackey. He hoped to have earned enough money to restore the properties to safe, livable structures. And also to provide for his young nephew. And to set up Hodges with a pension. And to work for himself and himself alone.

But not today. Today he would carry on as fixer, making money by entertaining Her Serene Bloody Highness and keeping her occupied.

If he could determine which of these women she was. And why she was rambling about London. And the most effective way to distract her.

Princess Elise was obscure French royalty living in exile in Britain. Killian’s research hadn’t yet turned up exactly how close she was to the French throne. She’d been harbored by the royal family, safe these last ten years from the voracious guillotine of the French Revolution. Her first five years in England had been spent with an aunt and uncle in Kent, and the last five in St. James’s Palace, as a companion to King George’s daughters.

Apparently, the black dresses and veils were a new addition to the princess’s wardrobe. According to the king’s sons, her presence in court could formerly be described as “unremarkable”; now she trudged about in a death quartet, needled the royal family with probing questions, and was generally in everyone’s way.

“That’s some mourning attire,” observed Hodges now, watching the princess’s black-clad entourage navigate the maze of walkways in Portman Square.

“Is it me,” asked Killian, crossing his arms over his chest, “or does she look less like a mourner and more like a woman-shaped hole cut into the wall?”

Hodges snorted. “If her father lost his head to the guillotine, maybe she has no choice but to dress in black.”

“I don’t care if she wears black, or pink, or floral sofa upholstery; if I’m meant to distract her, I need to know who she is.”

Given so little information about the identities within the princess’s entourage, Killian had made up little names for each of them. In his own mind, he tracked them as the Tall One, the Little One, the Nervous One, and the One Who Walked like a Duck.

“So you reckon that’s what happened?” Hodges speculated. “The princess’s parents got . . . ?” He made a gesture like the drop of a blade.

“I believe that’s the commonly held view,” Killian remarked. “She arrived in England alone, save the nun who delivered her. The timing is right. Except for King Louis’s daughter, the only way French royals escaped the guillotine was to flee the country.”

At the moment, Princess Elise and Co. appeared to be bound for St. James’s Catholic Church. Or at least, the church would likely be her performative destination. Yesterday she and her ladies had called to the church but not remained—not for Mass, not even long enough to dip their black-gloved fingers in holy water. They’d gone in one door, waited three minutes, and slipped out another. A quarter hour later, they’d turned up in a bookshop in Camden.

“In they go,” remarked Hodges, watching the women file into the church.

“So they do,” said Killian, shoving off the tree. “I’ll bet you ten shillings they’re out the alley door and on their way in five minutes…”

. . . . . .

Chapter Two

Her Serene Highness, Princess Regine Elise Adelaide d’Orleans, had begun to wonder when, if ever, she’d last felt serene.

Also in question, the elevated designation of “highness.”

At the moment, marching down George Street, her ladies surrounding her in their usual formation, she felt neither serene nor elevated. She felt a strange combination of exhilaration and fatigue, like a person sneaking out of prison after waiting up all night.

She hadn’t waited up all night, and she wasn’t a prisoner (well, not really); she’d slipped away from St. James’s Palace when one of the king’s daughters saw a mouse and swooned. The ensuing panic disrupted the routine of an otherwise boring afternoon. While everyone else leaped onto chairs, Elise had rallied her ladies. Now they were halfway to what she hoped was a golden nugget of new information. Another piece of the puzzle that was her missing brother.

“Juliette,” Princess Elise called, whispering to her cousin. “Faster, if you please. He’s come. Again.”

“Mr. Crewes?” Juliette asked in a breathless trill. The younger woman halted in the middle of the walkway and craned around. The stop was so sudden, it caused Kirby to collide with her; her stillness had a ripple effect on Marie. The group splintered in different directions like pins in a lawn game.

Elise swallowed a noise of frustration and swept up both Kirby and her cousin Juliette by the elbow, ushering them along.

“Yes, it’s Mr. Crewes.” Elise looked over her shoulder. “We may be forced to linger for Mass today—at least until the homily. Hope he loses interest.”

“I should like to proffer the suggestion,” began Juliette, “that Mr. Crewes is not someone to evade during these forays outside the palace, but rather someone we might use to our advantage.”

Elise ground her teeth. Of course Juliette would see him as an advantage. Juliette’s life was not at stake, nor her sanity. Also, Juliette viewed every man as an advantage, while Elise saw anyone who stalked her as a threat.

“Hasn’t Mr. Crewes been a trusted courtier for years?” Juliette continued. “Doesn’t his alliance with the king and queen make him honor bound to protect us? Like an escort?”

“He is bound by greed,” Elise corrected her, “to mind us. Like a nursemaid. If we’re very lucky. Greed could also motivate him to knock us in the head and toss us into the river. Turn here.”

The lurking presence of Mr. Crewes had enchanted Elise’s cousin Juliette since the first time they’d noticed him. Now every new sighting inspired the younger woman to comply less and preen more—a remarkable digression, considering her tendency to petulance and vanity.

But Cousin Juliette had always been the most challenging member of Elise’s entourage. Elise would have dismissed her years ago, except—

Well, for one, there were few other candidates for the job of attendant to a twenty-five-year-old exiled princess.

Second, Juliette was Elise’s cousin and therefore the only noblewoman among Elise’s ladies-in-waiting. Cousin Juliette was meant to remind everyone that Elise was an actual princess (albeit exiled) with actual claim (albeit distant) to an actual European throne (albeit dismantled).

Now Elise wondered why she or her ladies bothered. The Prince of Wales and Queen Charlotte might have offered Elise a safe haven once upon a time, but that had been years ago, and Elise’s welcome had long since worn thin. She grew more conscious of her outsized place with the royal family every day.

And what of the imposition to herself? She was so very purposeless and idle, so displaced. She missed her real family like a part of her body had been cut out.

While hiding in England may have saved Elise, her life in exile had been a truncated, sort of half existence. She had no freedom and no recourse to regain it.

For years, she’d simply gone along, mimicking the motions of daily life in a fog of grief and fear. Then, one month ago, she’d been traveling back to London from the seaside estate of Gloucester Lodge in Weymouth with King George’s daughters. As she rode along, bored and uncomfortable, she made a chance sighting of a man. An achingly familiar man.

Her brother.

His Serene Highness, Prince Gabriel Phillipe d’Orleans.

She’d never been more certain of anything in her life.

The man was young—well, younger than Elise—but no longer a child. His hair was sandy brown like hers, although that wasn’t the bit that caught her eye. The striking thing about the man was that he looked exactly like a younger version of their late father.

Everything about him—his posture, his build, and especially his face—was so familiar to Elise, she sat up and stared out the window, nose and two hands pressed to the glass. She gasped so sharply, King George’s daughters shot up and craned to the window to see what had caught her eye. How disappointed they’d been by the sight of a wholly undistinguished man, standing in a patch of sunlight in a market square amid a milling herd of horseflesh.

But not Elise.

Elise had been forever changed.

By the time he was a tiny speck on the horizon, she’d convinced herself that the young man was her long-lost brother, Gabriel. She’d found him—or, at the very least, she’d caught sight of him. She was alone and directionless no more.

It had been ten years since she’d last seen Gabriel, the night before they’d fled France. He’d been only eight years of age, confused and terrified but trying so hard to be brave. Elise had been fifteen, and their sister, Danielle, only a toddler. The night after their father’s execution, the three of them had been separated, spirited out of France, and hidden in exile for their protection.

Since that night, Elise had not heard even a glimmer of news from her brother or sister, and she assumed they’d not survived.

Until last month, when she’d seen a man who might be—who must be—her brother somewhere along the Road to Land’s End, which had been the route taken by the royal caravan from Weymouth to London.

The sighting had set off something inside of her; it was . . . a motivating event. Seeing her brother had been the hard shove to an immovable rock that finally sent it rolling downhill. She’d rolled slowly at first, then faster, then faster; now she felt unstoppable.

She would find that man who was surely her brother. She would extricate herself from her tedious, periphery position in the British court. She would claim some semblance of a normal life. Together, she and her brother would find their baby sister. In the process of this, she might relocate her own self.

The sight of her brother had conjured a forgotten boldness; it had prodded her to step outside the shadowy, borrowed life she’d been living and turn her face to the sun.

Except she hadn’t turned her face to the sun. She’d covered it in a veil, because although this new boldness was motivating, it was also frightening. Boldness was not necessarily braveness.

It didn’t help that St. James’s Palace wouldn’t endorse or assist in her plan.

They’d objected almost immediately to her search for the man who might be her brother. Firmly. With no appeal. The king and queen hadn’t personally objected, but their ministers, the fussy men who darted about the palace with dossiers clutched to their chests, had done it on their behalf. They sought her out and said no in every way imaginable except for the words It’s forbidden. She might be an exiled princess, forgotten and ignored, but she was royalty. It would be unseemly to give her an order outright—not if they could dissuade her instead.

They began by curtailing her access to the queen. After that, they instructed other courtiers to ignore her questions. They closed doors and locked libraries and interrupted her mail. Elise was no longer included in events where she might speak to senior members of court. Finally, her old friend and newest lady-in-waiting, Marie, was summoned from a convent in Ireland to appease her.

And then, most chillingly of all, the palace had dispatched this . . . “minder” to stalk her.

Killian Crewes.

He kept his distance inside the palace but dogged her every step on the outside. She’d known who he was, of course; these many years in the palace had afforded her ample time to study the key players. In the broadest sense, Killian Crewes was a schoolmate of the royal dukes. More to the point, he was the shady man in fine clothes with fine manners whom the royal family summoned when something inside St. James’s Palace had gone awry.

When the king’s fifth son, Ernest, had made too many shady investments, Killian Crewes had been called in to make the problem disappear. When King George’s seventh son, Adolphus, had taken up bear baiting, which resulted in several maulings, Mr. Crewes had been appointed to conceal the details, pay off the injured, and ship the animals to Bavaria.

He made unsavory people vanish, caused missing diamonds to appear, and reimagined bastard infants as wholly legitimate, long-lost nieces.

And now here he was, trailing Elise everywhere she went.

For better or worse, this was not her first experience with a stalker. She’d been followed before, and she’d been captured before. She’d seen her own father killed in the most gruesome manner; a shrewdly planned public execution, drawn out over one terrible afternoon, forever seared into her memory. She understood very well the danger that lurked within royal courts. Fear had been her companion since the age of fifteen; it took the shape of bumps in the night, and mob-ruled crowds, and men who followed her.

It was miserable to be afraid, but not miserable enough to stop trying to break free.

~ End of Excerpt ~

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July 11, 2023


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