Fate can be fickle...
For a moment, the stillness of the night allowed him to forget his purpose for being here instead of sailing the seas, searching for his lost bride-to-be and his cousin. He knew too much time had passed to find them alive, but discovering something would at least help to bring closure. And maybe it would explain what had happened during that fateful storm at sea.
With the new title of Crown Prince weighing on him―a title he had never wanted―Brody had reluctantly agreed to represent Delphine at the Faldaeran ball. An offer that had delighted his father, Prince Aldric It had taken one look at the ballroom filled with eligible brides for Brody to understand his father’s reaction and flee to the gardens
Brody sighed and loosened his cravat, wishing he could remove the strangling tie completely. Looking up, he made a wish on the first star he saw, one he knew would never come true. If only he could turn back the hands of time to that fateful, life-changing day. For not only had he lost Lisabet, but he’d lost his cousin as well.
Some would consider him lucky, as Princess Elsbeth’s disappearance moved him from third in line to the throne to the Crown Prince by a simple decree of the king. But Brody didn’t believe it luck, not when it cost him both his cousin and the girl he loved. At least he thought it had been love, or as in love as a sixteen year old could be. Of course, love wasn’t a requirement for his marriage. No, the contract was all that mattered.
But Lisabet had been more than a contract to him, more than just the woman who would give him heirs and sit by his side the rest of his life. She’d been joy, and laughter. She was the light at the end of a dreary day. If that wasn’t love, then Brody didn’t know what was.
A dull pain filled his heart as he thought about Lisabet. All these months later, he still missed the sound of her voice, the touch of her hand, the sweet rose scent she always wore. If only he had sailed with her, perhaps she wouldn’t have vanished.
A twig snapped and a quiet oath, muttered by a feminine voice, drifted through the air. Brody arched a brow, curious as to what lady would know such a foul phrase. He turned to retrace his steps, halting as a lovely young lady stumbled out of the darkness and into the spotlight of the moon.
Wisps of golden hair curled around her face, giving her the look of an angel. Her eyes, the color of Delphine’s finest whiskey, sparkled with mischief. Her gown, a pale gold, showed more of her sun-kissed skin than it hid, yet it was far from being indecent.
She stumbled, and Brody reached out, setting a hand at her waist to steady her. When she tensed and lifted a fist, he released her and stepped back, his own hand raised in a sign of peace.
“Forgive me, I meant no harm. I only wanted to be sure you didn’t fall and injure yourself or ruin your lovely gown.”
Her lips twisted in a wry grin, pulling his gaze to them. Pink and plump, like a ripe berry, he wondered if they would taste as sweet.
“Why is it that men always worry about the gown? Were a man to stumble would you hasten to catch him so he didn’t damage his trousers?”
Brody chuckled. “No, I suppose not. I shall keep that in mind for the next time I rescue a damsel in distress.”
“And now you relegate me to damsel in distress. Can I not merely be a young lady who stumbled over a root while walking?”
“Forgive me, my lady,” he lowered into a courtly bow, “‘twas not my intention to offend you with my words or deeds.”
The young woman stood silent, assessing him with her whiskey colored eyes. After a moment she sighed and said, “You are not from around here, are you?”
“No, my lady.” He grinned. “What gave me away? My clothing or my accent?”
She smiled, the simple act transforming her face from lovely to beautiful. “Neither. It was more the fact that you haven’t called me by my correct title.”
Brody frowned as he quickly ran through a mental list of who she could be. He swept his gaze over her, his eyes widening as a name locked into place.
“Forgive me, Princess Gabrielle.” He bowed formally, his head dipping below his knee as he recognized her royal status. “It has been many years since I have seen you, and I did not connect the girl I met with the lovely young woman you have become.”
“We have met before?”
He straightened and grinned as she studied him again, her brow furrowed as she tried to place his name.
“Once. Most likely you do not recall as you would have been about three at the time.”
“And that would have made you, what? Five?”
He nodded. “Exactly.”
She stepped closer and fluttered her lashes. By the gods she was beautiful. If he wasn’t still holding out hope that Lisabet would be found, he’d offer for her hand. But without knowing Lisabet’s true fate, and with less than a year of mourning completed, he wasn’t free to make the offer.
“So, what brings you to Faldaera now…Prince Broderick?”
He tipped his head in acknowledgment of his name, pleased at how quickly she’d identified him. “We are here visiting and enjoying your father’s hospitality.”
“We?” She arched a brow as she spoke.
“Yes, my father and I came as representatives for my uncle.” He swallowed back the lump that grew in his throat every time he thought of the cousin who disappeared with Lisabet. “He and my aunt are still in mourning after the loss Elsbeth.”
“And are you not in mourning as well?” Gabrielle set a hand on his arm.
Brody sighed. “My father seems to think I have wasted enough time mourning for my cousin and my betrothed.”
“And do you agree?”
“No. Until I know for certain what has happened to Lisabet and Elsbeth, I fear I will never be able to accept their fate, let alone end my mourning of them.”
Her fingers tightened on his arm, offering him comfort. “I am so sorry for your loss, Prince Broderick.”
“Thank you, Princess.” He stepped back, letting her hand fall away from him. “Where is your chaperone?”
“I imagine he’s searching the castle for me as we speak.” Her eyes danced with mischief.
Anger surged through him. Had she no idea how much danger she could be in? “You are foolish to wander around without a guard. There are men here who would take what they want from you, regardless that you are a princess. Others who would seek to abduct you. You are not invincible.”
“Mayhap not, but I am quite able to protect myself.” Gabrielle glared at him. “Lend me your sword and I shall prove it.”
Brody slid the dulled blade of his ceremonial sword from its scabbard and handed it to the princess. He watched as she held the sword at arms length, looking down the edge. Then she spun the hilt in her hand, testing its weight, before spinning into a complicated dance. She swung the weapon at imaginary foes with a grace and ease that spoke of her extensive training. After several minutes, she returned the weapon to him, her breath as even as it had been when she began.
“Impressive.” He sheathed the blade. “But that is to be expected from the First Knight of the King’s Guard, is it not?”
He shrugged. “I have a great understanding of how hereditary titles work.”
Gabrielle grinned. “I suppose you do, seeing as your cousin’s death has made you Crown Prince.”
“Yes.” He bit out the word. “A title I never wanted.”
“And you think I wanted to be First Knight?” Her eyes flashed.
He admired the way her flare of temper brought color to her cheeks, enhancing her beauty. “I think you were fated to be First Knight, and pity the man who tries to prevent you from following your destiny.”
“Is that truly how you see me?”
She shook her head. “So, I am a victim of my birth order?”
“No, not a victim.” He shook his head. “Were you born first or third, you still would have been destined for this role. Can you not feel it inside your bones?”
“I can. I do.” She frowned. “Do you feel destined to be king?”
Brody shrugged, uncomfortable with the question. “No. I do not. Fate is toying with me, testing me. I wasn’t born to rule Delphine, but you were born to lead the armies of Faldaera.” He brushed a hand over her cheek, marveling at the softness of her skin. How could one so fierce be so fragile? The music crescendoed, and Brody held out a hand. “May I have the honor of this dance?”
Gabrielle set her hand in his and curtsied. “Of course, my prince.”
He swirled her around the garden, surprised at how right she felt in his arms, how perfectly she balanced him. If only things were different. If only luck were on his side.
The music faded and he spun Gabrielle into a shadowy corner. She tipped her head up and smiled.
“Thank you for such a lovely dance.”
“You are quite welcome, Gabrielle,” he whispered, his lips a breath away from hers. Her eyes widened at the liberties he took with her name. Before she could chastise him, he closed the distance between them.
Her soft lips trembled beneath his, reminding him of her innocence. An innocence he had no right to claim. Regret filled him, even as he longed to deepen the kiss, to see if she tasted as sweet as he imagined.
He pulled away, his gaze dropping from hers to the ground. “Forgive me, princess, I―”
Gabrielle set her fingers against his lips, halting his apology. “There is nothing to forgive. I shall treasure this night forever.”
A branch cracked and a voice called out, “Princess Gabrielle!!”
“I must go, before my guard finds us.” Gabrielle brushed her fingers over his cheek. “Until tomorrow.” With those words, she slipped into the darkness, calling out, “I’m here, Tavares.”
Brody cursed. He knew Gabrielle would be expecting him to speak with her father, to offer for her hand. But he couldn’t do that. Not yet. And now, she was gone before he could say anything.
Fate was truly playing games with him, giving him a taste of what could be―letting him hope for the future―only to have his hopes dashed. But, at least he had these few stolen moments to help him through the dark days he was certain lay ahead.
These characters are from my Princess of Valendria series. Follow Brody's story from his appearance in CHARMED MEMORIES to his reunion with Gabrielle in DIFFERENT KIND OF KNIGHT.
YA author Mary Waibel’s love for fairytales and happy-ever fill the pages of her works. Whether penning stories in a medieval setting or a modern day school, magic and romance weave their way inside every tale. Strong female characters use both brain and brawn to save the day and win the heart of their men. Mary enjoys connecting with her readers through her website: marywaibel.blogspot.com