Here’s a preview of the prologue of The Gilded Fae. It takes place about five years before the book. (And about 4 1/2 years before The Masked Fae.) I hope you enjoy it!
The stage curtains are the color of the wine in Mother’s glass—a rich, deep scarlet I will forevermore associate with this night. Slowly, they draw back to reveal the performers who step forward for their final bow.
Though I clap politely, I’m applauding wildly on the inside. Never in my life have I seen a human theatrical performance.
It was magical. Not like my magic, which is true, bold, and powerful. This magic was subtle. It tugged at my heart and caught my breath. It told a story and ruthlessly held me captive until it was finished.
The group of players constructed the stage in a mere twelve hours. A large section of the courtyard was roped off during the day, and castle guards surveyed the men’s progress as they worked.
By dusk, the garden was filled with lantern light and music, and I was escorted in as the guest of honor.
“The happiest of birthdays to you, Your Highness,” the group’s prima donna says from the stage with a flourish of her hands. “We thank you for allowing us to share this day with you.”
I blush at the attention, ducking my head with a smile as every eye in the garden falls on me—every eye except my mother’s. The queen of West Faerie is sound asleep, resting her head upon her new husband’s shoulder.
It’s only because she recently married and is awash in what she claims is new love that she agreed to the performance. Temporarily content, she’s feeling generous. It won’t last long, but I don’t care because she allowed me to have the most beautiful sixteenth birthday I could dare imagine.
The curtains close once more, hiding the troupe and ending the show, and the audience begins to leave. Most spent the last few hours upon hard benches that were brought out for the performance, but I sit on a gilded settee with my family, in a place of honor elevated behind the rest.
Brahm, my older brother, and Regina, our cousin, are to my left. My younger brother stands behind us, silent as always. Drake wasn’t allowed a seat, not even a hard bench. I suppose he’s used to it by now, but it doesn’t make it right.
My heart still dancing, I turn around and try to ask him if he enjoyed the show, but his curse binds my tongue, making it impossible to speak the words. Frustration mars my euphoria, and anger as well. Mother is a spiteful woman, still punishing her son for something that happened long in the past.
But that’s not a new revelation, nor is it one I’ll dwell on tonight.
Drake meets my eyes, likely sensing what I wish to say, and then he turns away as if bored.
Surely I wasn’t the only one who was enthralled by the performance?
Ignoring Drake’s lackluster response, I clasp my hands in my lap to keep them still and ask Brahm and Regina, “What did you think? Did you enjoy it?”
Brahm nods languidly, stretching as he stands. A couple years older than I am, he’s tall, with broad shoulders and an intimidating presence. He’s often at odds with Mother, and many are cautious of him because of it—but I know him better than most.
“It was entertaining”—he shoots me an ornery look—“but I think I prefer the theater in Kellington.”
I scowl at him, wondering why he’s such a killjoy. I’ve never cared that I’m forbidden from leaving West Faerie, but now…
The performance kindled curiosity inside me, slowly fanning the spark into a flame. What other kinds of magic do the human territories offer? What am I missing? In one night, I’ve realized there’s a vast world I’ll never see. Performances I’ll never attend. People I won’t have a chance to meet.
And speaking of people…
I take another peek at the stage, hoping to spot someone in particular—a performer with sandy blond hair and a disarming smile. Where did he disappear to? Surely he couldn’t vanish so quickly. Was he so eager to be away?
He looked older than me, but only by a year or two. And he held my eyes during the curtain call—I’m certain of it.
“Excuse me, Your Highness?”
“Hmm?” I ask absently as I continue to scan the crowd, reluctantly turning my attention to the owner of the voice.
And then I freeze.
The young man I’m looking for stands before me, waiting patiently for me to acknowledge him. He played the character in love with the female lead, heartbreakingly handsome and destined for heartbreak. He was my favorite.
And now he’s here, smiling at me.
I flush as I meet his moss-green eyes, my heart giving an extra thump when I realize he’s even more handsome up close. A strand of hair falls across his brow, mussed from the long performance.
He’s human, I remind the butterflies in my stomach, commanding them to stop their fluttering.
“A token to celebrate your birthday,” he says, offering me a small box. The paper wrapping is white, and it’s tied with a pale pink ribbon.
I glance at Mother, knowing she’d object if she were awake—but she’s not. Surrounded by watchful guards, my most recent stepfather lifts his wife into his arms, preparing to carry her to the castle.
I look at Brahm next. Though he frowns at the performer, he doesn’t stop me from accepting the gift. With a nod, he silently tells me to go ahead.
“Thank you,” I murmur to the young man after I take the box, running my finger over the satin ribbon. It falls into my lap after I untie the bow, and the paper soon follows.
A small figurine of a girl rests inside the box, whittled from wood and carefully painted. Her hair is golden, and she wears a crown. Tiny, winged pixies surround her, carved into her skirt. She stands in a fairy ring, smiling serenely.
“Is it me?” I ask, looking up at the young man.
“Are you the artist?”
I brush my finger over the fine details. “It’s beautiful.”
A smile passes over his face. “I’m glad it pleases you. Happy birthday, Your Highness.”
With a bow of his head, he returns to his troupe. I watch him go, wanting to call him back and ask his name.
“It’s growing late,” Brahm says. “We should go inside. There might be a cake waiting for you.”
I turn to my brother, temporarily distracted. “Did you bring it back from the bakery in Kellington? The one you keep going on about?”
We have a patisserie in Auvenridge, and a trio of pastry chefs who bake exclusively for the royal family, but Brahm swears this bakery is the best.
He conceals a smile. “I might have.”
I shake my head as I carefully fold the paper and wind the ribbon, returning both into the box with the figurine. Brahm’s made such a fuss out of it, but how good could it be? “Is it chocolate?”
“You’d disown me if I brought anything else.”
And he’s right. Chocolate is rarely brought into West Faerie. I’ve only had it a few times, both occasions when we had visiting nobles from South Faerie. The Sionna Court is fortunate enough to have the cocoa trees on their archipelago.
“If you’re going to go to all the trouble, you might as well do it right,” I agree. Then I frown. “Will you leave after?”
“We will,” Brahm says, glancing at Regina.
Our cousin wears black, mourning the recent loss of her husband. He was executed for treason, but his only crime was publicly disagreeing with Mother.
After the horrific ordeal, Brahm moved out of the castle and into our late father’s estate, taking Regina with him—protecting her from our mother.
I don’t see him as often as I would like, but I’m glad he helped Regina escape. I only wish I could have gone with them.
“I’m sorry,” Regina says quietly, speaking for the first time all evening.
I shake my head. “I’m so grateful you came.”
She smiles, but her eyes are haunted.
As Brahm escorts us inside, I look back one last time to see if I can spot the young man, but he’s already disappeared into the crowd.
My mind is too full of the day’s events to sleep. I lie in bed, tossing and turning, commanding my thoughts to be still.
In the wee hours of the morning, I finally give up. With a frustrated sigh, I sit, shoving the blankets back.
Ten minutes later, I slip through the castle, using my magic to sneak past the drowsing guards.
Though I don’t consciously intend to go to the gardens, that’s where I find myself. The stage remains, but the area is deserted. The traveling troupe members sleep in their carts near the front of the castle, protected by my mother’s temporary agreement. It wouldn’t be safe for most humans to linger in Faerie after nightfall, but exceptions can be made.
At least they were tonight.
I call my magic, casting an orb of light above the stage, and walk up the wooden steps. Lilacs bloom nearby, their purple flowers scenting the air.
I run my finger down one of the velvet curtains, imagining what it would be like to perform on this stage, humming under my breath.
“Does your mother know you’re out here?”
I whirl around, letting out a soft cry of surprise, ready to run.
The young man I met earlier leans against the base of the stairs, smiling at me in a way that makes it hard to catch my breath. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I have magic,” I warn.
His smile grows as he circles the stairs and then climbs them, joining me on the stage. “A common gift of the Fae, or so I’ve heard.”
I swallow, excitement growing in my belly and chasing away the fear.
“Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” I ask. “It’s the middle of the night.”
“Funny.” His smile turns lazy. “I was going to ask you the same thing.”
“What’s your name?” I ask.
“Alexander.” He bows his head. “But my friends call me Alex.”
“I’m Sabine.” I touch a hand to my throat, evading him when he draws a little closer.
It almost feels like I’ve been dropped into a play, and we’re practicing for a scene that makes my heart beat too quickly.
He laughs, cocking his head to the side. “Why do you keep running from me?”
“Am I?” I force myself to be still.
The young man stops a few feet away, his eyes bright. He’s taller than I am by several inches, lean like Drake.
“Couldn’t sleep?” he asks.
I shake my head, biting my bottom lip to hide my smile.
“Neither could I.” He nods toward the painted flats, which have yet to be packed. “I take it you enjoyed the performance?”
“I did.” My smile breaks free without my permission. “It was my first.”
“And what was your favorite part?”
Before I can stop myself, I say, “You.”
His eyebrows jump, and his smirk grows lopsided.
“I mean…the character you played.” My cheeks burn. “Not you specifically.”
Alex looks away with a self-conscious laugh. “I think I preferred your first answer.”
My heart flutters, and the sensation is new and exhilarating. It’s also worrisome. If Mother knew I was out here—with a human boy no less…
But she’s fast asleep, and no one needs to find out.
“Do you sing?” he asks. “I could fetch the music, and we could try a song together.”
“What if we wake the others?”
“They’re on the other side of the gardens.” He watches me, daring me to give in. “It’ll be fun.”
“I don’t know…”
“Don’t leave,” Alex says with a grin, walking backward toward the steps. “I’ll be right back.”
Just when I reach out my hand to warn him he’s about to fall, he turns.
I pace as I wait for him, wondering if I should go inside and pretend this never happened. I shouldn’t be out here, not in the middle of the night—and not with a human.
But Alex returns before I can talk myself into leaving. He holds several pieces of sheet music, and when he joins me on the stage once more, he offers them to me.
Gingerly, I accept the parchment. “I’ve never done anything like this. I don’t know how to begin.”
“My part is first. Just follow me.”
Even though I sing well enough, the music is written in Favoran, the language that used to be the tongue when the Favore Empire ruled the territory that is now much of the Valsta Algora Alliance. Since the Fae have always had little interest in the turbulent comings and goings of human monarchies, I only know enough to recognize it when I hear it spoken. But I don’t have the slightest idea how to begin to pronounce the strange swirling letters.
My cheeks grow warm as I admit, “I can’t read Favoran.”
Alex’s expression falters for just a moment as he processes the problem. “Can you translate it with your magic?”
I shake my head. “I’d need to have some awareness of it.”
Alex thinks about that for a few seconds, looking disappointed.
“You know it, though,” I say.
“It’s the primary language of the arts,” he answers. “My father made me study it for eight years.”
“Can you translate it into the common tongue for me?”
“I can…” He grins. “But do you think you’ll remember it all?”
I laugh to myself. “I’ll manage.”
Frowning slightly, Alex steps up beside me and begins on the first part, pointing to each word as he reads. As he speaks, new words appear above the original ones, glowing on the page in moonlit silver. Before getting very far, he lets out a surprised noise, startled by my magic.
I press my lips together to keep from smiling.
Clearing his throat, Alex continues until my part has been completely translated.
Even once he’s finished, he looks disconcerted. Studying the magic-laced parchment, he says, “Imagine how much I could get for sheet music translated by the crown princess of West Faerie.”
With a quiet laugh, I say, “I can’t imagine anyone would want such a thing.”
“You’d be surprised what you can sell.” He looks up, studying me with a little more reservation than before. “Should we give it a go?”
I glance around the quiet garden. “You’re certain we won’t disturb anyone?”
“No one is nearby.”
“All right.” Anxiety twists like vines in my stomach, making me a little lightheaded. “I’ll try.”
Alex begins, looking right at me as he sings, making my pulse quicken. I don’t know what he’s saying, but it doesn’t matter—it sounds like a song about love.
When it’s my turn, my voice is clear despite my nerves. Though I do my best to follow the music, I’m not certain I’m hitting the right notes. But it feels natural, and I lose myself in it, letting my magic guide me.
Alex’s smile falters. He watches me with his head slightly tilted to the side. When he forgets to join me for the duet, I lower the music and reluctantly meet his eyes.
“Was it bad?” I ask, embarrassed. “I was trying to go off memory, but I heard the song for the first time this evening.”
Alex steps forward, and a smile ghosts across his lips. “You didn’t follow the music.”
I shrug, looking away. “Like Favoran, I’ve never learned how to read it.”
“I’ve never heard anything like it.”
When I shoot him a look, he steps even closer. “But I realize I’ve made a grave error in judgment.”
“I mistook you for a Faerie when you are, in fact, a siren.” He grins, but it’s a little lopsided, and it makes my heart jump.
I swat his arm with the sheet music, rolling my eyes. “Honestly.”
“No, I’m serious.” His expression becomes solemn. “What did you do? There was magic in that, I’m sure of it.”
When I was a child, I sang often. The queen of the Eilonwy Court told my mother I was gifted and said my talent should be nurtured. Since Mother has never gotten along with Queen Salvia, she scoffed, saying it was a worthless gift. I’ve been hesitant to sing in front of anyone ever since.
“So I wasn’t awful?” I ask, wishing I didn’t care quite so much what this human thinks.
“Not awful at all,” Alex says softly. “Let’s try again.”
Feeling flushed thanks to his praise, I nod.
We sing once more, and Alex doesn’t forget to join me when it’s time. The two languages twine together, feeling symbolic. As the song comes to an end, he takes me in his arms—just as he did in the show. I end up against him, my forearms pressed to his chest.
He’s warm and solid and so very handsome. I stare up at him, my heart racing as I remember the scene from the performance. I know what’s supposed to come next.
Alex looks down at me, breathing hard. Slowly, his eyes drop to my lips.
“I shouldn’t kiss you, princess,” he whispers. “We’ve just met.”
I’m transfixed by the moment, by this feeling of being held for the first time. “But if not now…then when?”
“I have to leave in the morning,” he says.
“Our time is short.”
“It is,” I agree softly.
“So perhaps you’ll forgive me for being forward?”
He leans his head down, giving me time to step out of his arms. Slowly, I lift my gaze to his, finding it difficult to breathe. When Alex sets his hand on my side, I shiver with sweet anticipation.
“You’re nervous,” he says quietly. “Is this your first kiss?”
“Yes,” I manage.
“Would you like to save it for someone else?” He smiles. “Someone not…human?”
“Then close your eyes,” he murmurs.
I do as I’m told, and seconds later, Alex’s warm lips touch mine. Though time seems to stand still, it’s over too soon.
When he pulls back, my eyes flutter open.
“Happy birthday, Sabine,” Alex whispers. “I’m honored I was able to spend it with you.”
Read the full book on July 8th! Pre-order your copy now for the discounted price of $3.99. (It will go up to $4.99 after the release.)