[Blog Feature] Guest Post: Isabelle Adler

Good morning, my lovely readers and followers. :3
I hope you’ll have a great start of the day, if not, maybe I can help you with it?. 🙂

Today I have a special guest today on my blog: author Isabelle Adler, who wrote A Touch of Magic, The Castaway Prince and Adrift, is here today and talks about the fraught relationships the main characters have with their close families, mostly with their fathers/father figures.

I’m super thrilled to share this guest post with you.

Happy reading. 🙂

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GUEST POST

You’re curious what Isabelle has to say about the fraught relationships the main characters have with their close families (their fathers/father figures)?

Isabelle said:

Complex and layered characters are often what grabs us most about a particular book, especially a romance. Characters you can empathize with or characters that you love to hate—those are the crucial parts of any captivating story. And of course, characters cannot exist in a vacuum. In order to be interesting, they need a backstory which encompasses all their past experiences, good and bad, from which they can grow and evolve, just like a real person.

One of the most important aspects of creating a well-rounded character is their family. Often the character’s relationship with their family shapes their future interactions with other people, including their love interests. If that relationship is loving and supportive, that character will most likely be open and trusting of the people around them, but if their family ties are strained, that can be a constant source of tension that defines the character’s outlook and choices. For a writer, this tension can be fascinating to explore (while not necessarily, contrary to popular belief, drawing on their real-life experiences).

I have recently noticed that most of my main characters have fraught relationships with their close families, especially with their fathers or father figures—which often serves as a point of departure for the character’s journey in the story, or even as a driving force that moves the plot forward.

In Adrift, the first book of my Staying Afloat sci-fi series, Captain Matt Spears is estranged from his family. So much so that he changed his name to separate himself from them. With a distinguished star fleet Admiral for a father, turning his back on a promising military career was the most difficult choice Matt had to make as a young man, and one that made his father disown and actively shun him. This painful feeling of being an outcast had led to some questionable decisions, and to attempts to fill the void in his heart with random hook-ups and, well, alcohol. As the story starts, he is cast adrift, with no purpose and no real goals, not even realizing that what he’s truly after is a sense of belonging. It isn’t until he meets Ryce, the mysterious representative of his no less mysterious client, that he begins to understand the true importance of love and of finding a family that would accept him for who he is.

In A Touch of Magic, the first book of my contemporary paranormal series, Fae-Touched, both main characters, Cary and Ty, were raised by a father figure: Cary by his stage illusionist grandfather, and Ty by a real sorcerer who’d taken him off the streets. As a teenager grieving the loss of his parents, Cary had rebelled against his grandfather—all the way to a juvenile prison. It was only after his grandfather’s death that Cary realizes how much he misses him and chooses to follow in his footsteps as a stage magician. On the other hand, Ty has a much more complicated connection with his adoptive father and mentor. Years after being inexplicably and suddenly turned away, having nothing else to rely on but his skills and training as a professional thief, he’s still a lost child at heart, yearning for his teacher’s approval—or at least for an explanation for his rejection. It is the strength they gradually learn to draw from each other that eventually helps both of them to come to terms with the loss of their respective father figures.

If you are interested in finding out more about these characters and their journeys to find love and self-acceptance, check out Adrift and A Touch of Magic (available both as e-books and in print!)


You enjoyed this guest post as much as I did? Splendid. Read further for additional information (including excerpts) about the books she’s talking about. 😉


Her works

ATouchofMagic-f500Title: A Touch of Magic
Series: Fae-Touched book # 1
Author: Isabelle Adler
Genre: M/M Romance, Contemporary, Paranormal
Release Date: May 28, 2018
Publisher: Nine Star Press
Lenght: 68.800 words / 182 pages
Cover artist: Natasha Snow

 

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Blurb

After returning to the straight and narrow, Cary Westfield hopes to rebuild his life as a stage magician. Only thing is, the success of his new show is entirely dependent on a strange medallion inherited from his late grandfather—an amulet that holds a rare and inexplicable power to captivate the wearer’s audience.

Ty prides himself on his ability to obtain any item of magical significance—for the right price. When a mysterious client hires him to steal a magical amulet from a neophyte illusionist, he’s sure it will be a quick and easy job, earning him a nice chunk of cash.

As it turns out, nothing is sure when greed and powerful magic are at play. When a mob boss with far-reaching aspirations beats Ty to the snatch, Cary and Ty form an unlikely partnership to get the amulet back. The unexpected spark of attraction between them is a welcome perk, but each man has his own plan for the prize.

All bets are off, however, when it is revealed the magical amulet holds a darker secret than either of them had bargained for.

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Chapter One

Cary Westfield wasn’t a terribly catchy name for a magician, so the playbill read The Incredible Mr. Mars.

Ty studied the vintage style poster near the theater’s entrance, which depicted said Mr. Mars pulling a bewildered-looking white rabbit out of a hat. Despite the old-fashioned font and style, the poster was brand new. Mr. Mars was a relative newcomer to the live entertainment scene and had only been performing at the Garland Magic Theater for two weeks, but the shows had been consistently sold out. Granted, this wasn’t the largest or the most prestigious venue in San Francisco; however, considering the act in question wasn’t at all original or shocking, consisting of run-of-the-mill stage illusions and a bit of mind reading, it was quite a feat.

The mass appeal would have been something of a mystery had Ty not known exactly what was behind it. That was too bad for poor Cary Westfield—sudden and unwarranted success tended to draw the wrong kind of attention.

Ty followed the line inside. The usher took a look at his ticket and directed him to the back row. Ty took the aisle seat and waited as the lights dimmed. The darkness sharpened the smell of dust coming from the old upholstery, the whispers of the spectators, and most annoyingly, the glare of their cell phone screens. It would seem even the promise of magic couldn’t tear some people away from their social media. The emcee announced the magician, and the show began.

Contrary to tradition, Mr. Mars didn’t have an assistant. His tricks weren’t all that complicated, but Ty had to give him credit for showmanship. He supplied a running commentary for the performance, which was both witty and charming and elicited laughter from the crowd. Smart. People always loved it when a show made them laugh, so they were more likely to forgive the lack of surprise and excitement. Not that Ty was in any way an expert on magic shows, but he was, in a manner of speaking, an expert on excitement.

The magician’s looks didn’t hurt either. His smooth tan skin and fine features made the gaudy stage costume appear elegant. Ty absently noted the lean figure and the fluid movements, but he wasn’t there to admire Westfield’s form.

As Mr. Mars struck another impressive pose, pretending to strain to recite the contents of some woman’s purse, Ty slipped quietly into the shadows, making himself as inconspicuous as possible. Thankfully, the small theater had an appropriately small staff, even on a busier Saturday night, and no one spotted him as he made his way to the backstage passage. There was only one dressing room, and the lock on it was a joke. He let himself inside and closed the door softly. The runes tattooed into his fingertips with invisible ink prevented him from leaving fingerprints, so he could rummage freely without being encumbered by gloves. That shit always came in handy—bad pun intended.

The small room was cramped, serving both as a makeup nook and a storage space for various costumes and stage props. There was a vanity with a large backlit mirror. Ty looked it over, but saw nothing of interest besides a kohl eyeliner and a few mini-sized bottles of flavored vodka scattered all over the tabletop. Either the Incredible Mr. Mars needed some liquid courage before facing the crowd, or Mr. Westfield had a bit of a drinking problem.

It was more force of habit than curiosity. Ty didn’t really expect to find anything of value lying around. He retreated to a far corner, where he spotted an oversized armchair under a pile of old sequined jackets, and settled there, taking out his SIG. The show was supposed to run for at least forty more minutes, but that was okay. He could wait.


Adrift-f500Title: Adrift
Series: Staying Afloat book # 1
Author: Isabelle Adler
Genre: M/M Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Release Date: January 30, 2017
Publisher: Nine Star Press
Length: 66.000 words / 184 pages
Cover artist: Natasha Snow
Note: Book # 2, Ashore, is planned for May 2019

 

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Blurb

Some jobs are just too good to be true.

Captain Matt Spears learns this the hard way after a mysterious employer hires his ship to hunt down an ancient alien artifact but insists on providing his own pilot. Ryce Faine is handsome and smart, but Matt has rarely met anyone more obnoxious. With tensions running high, it isn’t until they are attacked by the hostile Alraki that Matt grudgingly begins to respect Ryce’s superior skills, respect that transforms into a tentative attraction.

Little did he know that their biggest challenge would be reaching their destination, an abandoned alien base located on a distant moon amid a dense asteroid field. But when Matt learns that Ryce isn’t completely who he says he is and the artifact is more than he bargained for, he is faced with a difficult choice. One that might change the balance of forces in the known galaxy.

Matt doesn’t take well to moral dilemmas; he prefers the easy way out. But that might not be possible anymore, when his past comes back to haunt him at the worst possible moment. When faced with a notorious pirate carrying a personal grudge, the fragile connection Matt has formed with Ryce might be the only thing that he can count on to save them both.

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Adrift
Isabelle Adler

“No way,” Matt said. “No way in hell.”

The low hum of music and the loud voices threatened to swallow his response. The Blue Giant was like any other canteen on any other small-time maintenance space station, offering cheap drinks and free talk, catering to drifters, smugglers, freelance pilots, and the dregs of every known society. The strong smell of synthetic spirits enveloped the crowded room in an almost tangible cloud. It really wasn’t the best location for conducting business, even over interstellar communications channels, but one could stand being cooped up in a spaceship for only so long.

Matt ignored the noise best he could as he squinted at the commlink screen. This wasn’t a regular type of job, but then again, freelancers didn’t exactly have regular jobs. As it was, this one promised to be very well paying. His potential client had introduced himself as Mr. Ari, though Matt suspected it wasn’t his real name. They usually weren’t. At the moment, he was more concerned with Mr. Ari’s terms and conditions than with his identity, fake or otherwise.

“This is nonnegotiable,” Ari said firmly. There was no image on-screen, just his computer-altered voice in the earpiece. “I require that my own pilot navigate your ship to destination. He’s the only one who will know the exact route and the details of the mission. I’m merely hiring your ship to transport my man and provide him with assistance.”

“It’s my ship and I’m the only one flying her,” Matt said indignantly. “No way I’ll just let some stranger take over. Now, a passenger, that’s another matter. I’ve nothing against passengers, so long as they’re nice and quiet.” And good-looking, but he wasn’t about to say that to the client’s face, or to the lack thereof, as the case was. But another pilot? This was ridiculous. If the only thing this guy needed was a ship, there were much simpler alternatives than hiring Matt’s services.

“As I’ve said before, Captain, this job requires subtlety and a very specific set of skills,” Ari said. Even with the distortion, he somehow managed to make “Captain” sound like an insult. “Which, with all due respect, I doubt you possess. This is a salvage mission, and the location must remain a secret until you get there. To put it simply, you sit back, let my man do the job, get back safely, and collect the cash—as long as you keep your mouth firmly shut about any of this. I’ve been told that your ship is fast and well equipped, and that you are discreet. I’d hate to think that I’ve been misinformed.”

Matt took a long sip of his beer to stall for time. The beer had a distinct sour artificial aftertaste, but at least it was cold. “What kind of salvage?”

“An abandoned alien site. I’m afraid I can’t divulge further information at this point, other than it would require a jump to another sector.”

“Huh,” Matt grunted. The guy was definitely too well-spoken to be a scavenger; on the other hand, off-world archaeological salvage (if that was indeed Ari’s intent) was usually done for strictly academic purposes and required government permits. Any other form of salvage, whether human or alien, was considered theft and was absolutely illegal. That and some other guy had to fly his ship? There was no way in hell he’d agree to that. This Mr. Ari could either fuck off or pay him way more than he was offering. “Well, you make it sound very tempting and all, but still. A pilot has his pride, you know. No one takes my seat, twenty thousand Fed-creds or no.”

“Name your price,” Ari said tersely.

“One hundred thousand,” Matt said, testing the waters.

“Done,” Ari said with a finality that left Matt a little dizzy. He was sure Ari would balk at the asking price. He wondered belatedly whether he could have gotten away with being even bolder. “My pilot will meet you at Dock G5 in two hours. You’ll get twenty percent of your fee now, and the rest when the job is done.”

“Agreed,” Matt said. How did this guy know exactly where his ship was? Shit, he could hardly back down on the offer now. “I’ll send you the account number.”

“Now, Mr. Spears, I must stress again how delicate this assignment is.”

“Of course,” Matt said. Really, this was tedious. Every client thought they were the only one in the galaxy who had dirty secrets. He wouldn’t have been in this line of work for as long as he had if he couldn’t keep his mouth shut and his eyes averted.

“You might encounter…competition,” Ari said. “While this is unlikely to happen, there is a chance that other parties might try to intercept you.”

“What do you mean, ‘intercept’?” Matt asked suspiciously. “Just to make it clear—I’m a runner, not a mercenary. If it’s something dangerous—”

“The reason I’m not willing to be more specific is precisely because I don’t want any information to leak out and pose a threat to your mission,” Ari said, sounding a bit too vague for Matt’s comfort. “However, you should be on alert, and report any incidents to my agent.”

Now he wanted him to report to the guy? Matt was utterly and completely done with reporting to anybody for the rest of his life. He was more than capable of handling any situation, and he wasn’t about to play the chain-of-command game with his client’s representative. However, he kept it prudently to himself. You didn’t sass somebody who was willing to shell out all those credits.

“Got it,” he said dryly. “I’ll be on alert. Anything else?”

“You may discuss further details with my man, and he’ll be handling all future communications. Good luck, Captain.”

“My pleasure,” Matt said. He disconnected the call and sagged back into his chair, pushing away the beer. He had a very, very bad feeling.


TheCastawayPrince-f500
Title: The Castaway Prince
Author: Isabelle Adler
Genre: M/M Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Release Date: May 15, 2017
Publisher: Nine Star Press
Length: 20.000 words / 59 pages
Cover artist: Natasha Snow
Note: Book # 2, The Exile Prince, is planned for July 2019

 

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Blurb

Ostracized by his family for his sexual identity, Prince Stephan is forced to flee his homeland before his older brother ascends the throne.

Stephan has been drawn to feminine things for as long as he can remember, so when the dire need for secrecy arises, he seizes the chance to don the perfect disguise. With the help of his loyal servant, Stephan picks his way through hostile territory, hiding his identity by posing as a woman. His only hope for asylum lies with the man who had been his friend and lover three years ago. But when that man also happens to be the crown prince of a rival country, things are a bit more complicated.

With war looming on the horizon, the danger of discovery grows by the moment. With all odds stacked against him, will Stephan find a safe place where he can be his true self, or is he doomed to remain a castaway?

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The Castaway Prince
Isabelle Adler

Chapter One

“My, aren’t you a beauty.”

“Shut up,” Stephan said as he hoisted his skirts. The wind and the rain had made the pier boards slippery, and he nearly fell over as the wet fabric twisted around his legs. All his surreptitious practice wearing dresses and feminine undergarments hadn’t prepared him for the trials of this kind of miserable weather. In the course of a few minutes after stepping out of the relative coziness of their private boat cabin, he’d managed to get soaked through down to his stockings and narrowly avoided falling into the river.

Warren, his manservant, seemed to be rather amused by Stephan’s efforts. He was grinning as he watched him try to drag his bags onto the pier. Stephan really wasn’t supposed to do that, but the port hand was currently busy unloading another boat, and the prospect of warming up in front of a cozy fire had lost Stephan all patience.

“Help me, you oaf!” Stephan glared at Warren from under the hood of his fur-lined cloak. The man was having a bit too much fun at his expense.

“Watch your language. You’re a lady, remember?” Warren said, quickly coming to his aid, shouldering the heavy travel bags. “One who’s too pretty to be so bad-tempered.” He winked at Stephan and led the way across the busy dock, farther into the streets of the city.

Zenna, the capital of Esnia, sprawled on both banks of the river, its two halves connected by a multitude of stone bridges. This was a city Stephan had never thought he’d be visiting—certainly not in his current predicament. The royal castle, partially visible from the docks, was an ominous presence that loomed over the city and more resembled a prison. It spanned the narrowest point of the river with its massive arch of a weathered stone bridge. Built to withstand invasion and siege, it was supported by great rectangular pillars rooted deep in the riverbed, now almost entirely green with centuries-old buildup of slime and algae.

Stephan was glad when its daunting bulk was lost from view as they headed to the more genteel part of the city, where the smell of fish and refuse wasn’t quite as overpowering. They had to walk a good distance from the docks, but as they left the bustle of the riverfront and fish markets behind, the streets became broader, and the mud was replaced with cobblestones. The rain was bitterly cold, making him miss the slightly gentler climate of his homeland.

Thankfully, with so much traffic this time of day, they didn’t attract too much notice. They found a respectable-looking inn, situated on one of the main streets, where noble folk, even those traveling ostensibly without a retinue, weren’t an uncommon sight.

“My sister and I require lodgings for tonight,” Warren announced with a haughty air as they stepped inside the common room and the innkeeper rushed to meet them. Really, Stephan thought as he pushed back his hood to watch Warren dispense silver coins, the man was doing a startlingly good job imitating nobility, even considering he came from a well-off merchant family and not some backwater village. Stephan stood aside, waiting meekly for his “brother” to finish giving instructions regarding their meals and baths, and then followed him upstairs. He would be overjoyed to finally see a dry bed and a lit fireplace in a room that didn’t sway with the river’s tides.

They were given two adjacent rooms on the second floor. Warren deposited Stephan’s bags in his room before retiring to his own, where Stephan could hear him unpacking on the other side of the wall. He took off his cloak and fumbled with the lacings of his bodice, cursing under his breath. The wretched things were so wet it made them more difficult to handle, but finally the knots came undone, and the heavy dress, crumpled and dirty from the journey, slipped from his shoulders to the floor. The corset that cinched his waist and added discreet padding to his chest was next to come off, and Stephan could finally draw an unrestricted breath, standing in nothing but a fine cotton chemise and bloomers.

As this was a room intended for a lady, there was a large standing mirror in one corner. Its ornate frame must have been the pride of the innkeeper.

Looking into the spotless polished surface, Stephan had to admit his bedraggled state didn’t quite mesh with his idea of feminine charm. The paint he’d used to accentuate his lashes had smeared beneath his eyes, and his chestnut hair, usually done in a low bun, was now in complete disarray.

Despite the dress being uncomfortable at times—particularly when it was nearly soaking wet—he was growing more and more accustomed to it. At the beginning of their journey, he’d been nervous about appearing ridiculous, despite all the previous careful preparation and the endless hours spent on modulating his voice and perfecting his posture in front of the mirror. His shoulders were too wide, his hips too narrow, his gait too awkward. Perhaps he’d been lucky no one had peered too closely at a noblewoman traveling under the protection of her fierce-looking older brother.

It was one thing to put on a costume once in a while for the sheer fun of it, and quite another to wear it constantly, living in it and assuming it as a part of his identity, affecting a wholly feminine character at all times. Especially when this identity—as attuned as it was to his preferences—was the only thing keeping him alive.

Still, as he wiped away the streaks of paint and grime from his face and leaned in to look more closely—at the smooth cheeks so rarely in need of shaving, the long lashes, and the finely arched brows—the familiar similitude of womanly features reasserted itself. There was nothing overtly masculine about the face staring back at him. Turning slightly, he lifted a shoulder, affecting a coquettish pose, and smiled at his reflection. Maybe the possibility of him pulling this off wasn’t so entirely unfeasible.

There was a knock on the door, and he turned around in alarm, clutching the chemise that had slipped off his shoulder, but it was only Warren, carrying a tray with two steaming cups of tea.

“Your Highness,” he said, after shutting the door with his heel.

Stephan took the cup gratefully, warming his fingers. The scalding-hot fragrant tea made him feel marginally better about the world.

Warren set the tray on the table. He took a quilted silk robe out of one of the bags and helped Stephan put it on, after which he proceeded to pick up the discarded articles of wet clothing strewn across the floor.

“It would behoove you to be a bit more circumspect,” he observed in a neutral tone as he shook the water out of the velvet. “For a pampered aristocrat, you behave like a loudmouthed milkmaid sometimes.”

Stephan barked a laugh and turned away from the mirror. “Only when I’m too cold to wait on my servant’s alacrity.”

It was meant as gentle ribbing, not real censure. Warren seemed to take it as such, because he draped the dress neatly over a chair to dry, and sat down without waiting for permission, pouring another cup for himself.

While Stephan had been busy ogling himself in the mirror, Warren had taken the opportunity to change out of his travel clothes. The plain linen shirt clung to his broad shoulders, and his short auburn hair was half dry already. He was tall and solidly built, the very image of hale masculinity, whereas Stephan was slender and almost petite, with fine bones and delicate features. He’d been teased for these attributes since adolescence, but now he worried they were not nearly as effeminate as the situation required.

“You seem glummer than usual,” Warren observed. “I’d have thought it would take more than a bit of rain to dampen your spirits.”

“The prospect of being thrown in prison and possibly executed if anyone were to recognize me doesn’t exactly make me cheerful,” Stephan said dryly, setting his cup down and removing the needle-sharp pins that held his long hair back. “And it’s so…dreary here.”

He supposed his own anxiety made the surroundings seem more depressing than they truly were, but so far nothing about this city had appeased him, apart from the tea.

“At least we’re off that cursed boat,” Warren offered wryly, watching him over the rim of his cup. He’d had some difficulties adjusting to that mode of transportation, and spent the first few days on the upper deck, leaning over the rail. The experience hadn’t served to lighten the moods of either of them. “And no one has followed us.”

Stephan nodded in acquiescence as he languidly finger-combed his hair, working out the knots. There had been no signs of pursuit, or of anyone actively looking for them, as far as he could tell. Of course, he was counting on the likelihood of his seeking refuge in Esnia being rejected as outright preposterous. Just as his outfitting himself as a woman would have been thought to be. It was one reason—though admittedly not the chief one—why he’d resorted to this type of disguise.

“We’re due to arrive at the royal castle tomorrow,” Warren reminded him. Stephan could tell he’d been steeling himself to have this conversation. Again. “Are you absolutely sure you want to go through with this? You know what I think about this whole matter, Your Highness. It’s not too late to turn elsewhere.”

“We’ve come this far already,” Stephan said. “To back down now would be—”

“Prudent,” Warren interjected. “Up until now, we’ve been traveling by the waterways, which was safe enough. Not a lot of people, more privacy to be had, no fear of discovery. And if anyone thought you behaved strangely—well, gentle-born women are peculiar in their manner, you know? But it won’t be like that in Zenna. Here, there are real noblewomen aplenty, around whom you will need to take special care of how you conduct yourself. Not to mention people who might recognize you from before.”

“Who? The only ones who might would have been the members of the Esnian delegation to Seveihar, and that was three years ago. A lot has changed since then.” Three years was a long time, especially in that awkward age between sixteen and nineteen. Stephan was reasonably sure it would be difficult enough to associate him with the shy, lanky youth he’d been back then, even without the disguise.

Warren shrugged and took a sip of tea. For a moment, his eyes lingered on Stephan’s hands going through his hair, and then he looked away. “When you have reason to hate someone as the Esnians hate us, you remember your enemies’ faces. You send spies that would know what they look like. We’ve talked about this already, but what makes you think Prince Arlen himself won’t call the guards when he sees you? As you’ve said, a lot has changed in three years.”

“He wouldn’t,” Stephan said with a conviction he wasn’t feeling.

Warren rolled his eyes, his expression that of a long-suffering voice of reason. At twenty-five, he was only six years Stephan’s senior, but at times he acted like Stephan’s aged grandfather.

“It’s not as if I have a lot of choice,” Stephan said bitterly. He finished combing his hair and picked up his tea, which was rapidly growing cold. “I don’t have anywhere else to go. Arlen is the only one who might grant me asylum.”

“There are other people who could help you,” Warren said carefully. “I mean—”

“You know very well there aren’t,” Stephan cut him off. “None that would support me against Robert and my uncle.”

Warren opened his mouth and then paused as he seemed to reconsider what he was going to say.

“With all due respect, you have no idea what kind of man Arlen is now. Do you really want to risk your life on his ability to handle seeing you in a petticoat?”

Stephan turned away and walked to the fireplace, letting the warmth spread through his weary body. As much as he wanted to snap back at Warren, he couldn’t. Warren was right, of course, and it wasn’t only Stephan’s life that hung in the balance. Stephan’s title as the prince of Seveihar—even while he was fleeing his own country—offered at least some semblance of protection, while Warren had none. Furthermore, the circumstances in which Stephen’s identity could be discovered—namely, pretending to be a woman—would mean nothing but shame and ridicule for his family, regardless of his ultimate fate. Shame and ridicule that they would not react well to.

Stephan often wondered why Warren had agreed to accompany him and share in his uncertain fate—loyalty notwithstanding. More than loyalty, really, as a bond had formed between them, tenuous but certain. But it had become clear from their first night on the road that Warren’s plan had been to continue to dissuade him from this folly—a plan that had proved futile in the face of Stephan’s blind determination.

It wasn’t as if Stephan wasn’t aware of the risks. He knew exactly how dangerous this scheme was. He’d known that when he’d first devised it, but then it had seemed like a daring idea, a shockingly outrageous adventure, even if it had been conceived of out of sheer desperation. Making his way through enemy territory, securing invitations to the High King of Esnia’s annual ball under false names—all for a chance to reconnect with the man who had been his first love and best friend years ago, and seek refuge with him—it all seemed improbable.

But after surviving a third alarming “accident” at the royal palace at Sever, his home in the valley-situated capital of Seveihar, Stephan was more than ready to risk appealing to an old lover rather than tempting fate by remaining in the family nest.

Certainly, in coming to Esnia, he was placing himself in no lesser danger. Seveihar’s relations with Esnia had been tenuous for decades, and then there was King Feden’s personal dislike of him. If exposed, Stephan would most likely face captivity and incarceration.

At least the choice of disguise for his escape had come easily to Stephan. If he was going to be persecuted for his idiosyncrasies, he might as well embrace them fully. Stephan had always enjoyed exploring his feminine side, and despite the audacity of it, when the idea of this subterfuge entered his mind, he’d directed all his efforts to delving deeper into it. He was still not entirely certain of his ability to fool others, of not making some stupid mistake that would give him away, but it was attainable, given time. He just wasn’t sure he had enough of it at his disposal.

“I have to at least try to get through to him,” he told Warren. “I can do this. I promise I’ll be careful. And it’s not like anyone would miss me should anything happen.”

Warren wisely didn’t contradict him, but his expression grew pensive. He seemed to put his arguments aside, as he’d done so often before when Stephan refused to be swayed.

“I wish you’d listen to reason, Your Highness. But since you won’t, and we’re here, we might as well go through with it. I’ll fetch you some food and hot water,” Warren said. “I’ve requested for you not to be disturbed.”

“Thanks, War,” Stephan offered him a smile. The man insisted on addressing him by his title, but in truth he was more a friend than a servant; he’d become the only one whom Stephan could trust when so much was at stake.

Warren left to get their dinner, and Stephan shed his robe before stretching on the bed, luxuriating in the crispness of clean starched sheets against his skin. After a three-week boat journey at the wane of autumn, he was grateful for all the little comforts he’d always taken for granted. The linen smelled vaguely of lavender. Stephan liked lavender. His household staff had scented his pillows with the dried flowers, and he remembered the smell clinging to Arlen’s hair as they rolled about in bed, laughing.

He closed his eyes, breathing in deeply. The memory of that long-ago summer had lingered on the edge of awareness. Now, he could see in his mind’s eye the bright-colored light that had spilled from the stained-glass windows of the throne room, lending an almost festive appearance to the first and only Esnian delegation to Seveihar. How handsome Prince Arlen had been, wearing a silver circlet in his hair and Esnian royal blue. How happy they’d been later, finding joy in each other’s company. He wished he could stay in that memory a little bit longer, but it dissolved in the warmth, transforming into deep, exhausted sleep.


Author bio  – Isabelle Adler

A voracious reader from the age of five, Isabelle Adler has always dreamed of one day putting her own stories into writing. She loves traveling, art, and science, and finds inspiration in all of these. Her favorite genres include sci-fi, fantasy, and historical adventure. She also firmly believes in the unlimited powers of imagination and caffeine.

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