As a child, Lady Elsabeth Durnfir dreamed of marrying a prince, but after seeing her elder sister’s personality make a complete 180 degree turn after her engagement to Crown Prince Henry of Estoria is announced, Elsabeth has traded in her childish hopes of a fairytale wedding for the equally unlikely hope of inheriting Durnfir Manor and the surrounding land.
Life at court is not something she is interested in, or good at, but in order to help prepare for her sister Alicia’s wedding, Elsabeth must live at court for an entire year. As well as trying to fit in at court while living up to her sister’s reputation, Elsabeth has a secret to keep. But, court is full of secrets that are all about to come to light.
How will Elsabeth survive court without destroying her family’s reputation—and how can she get Prince Frederick, the renowned rake, to stop teasing her?
Rules of Ascension
by Suzy Knight
September 4, 2014
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The high table had never been so full. The king and queen sat in the center, as always, with Georgiana on the queen’s left and Henry on the king’s right. However, Alicia was in Frederick’s normal place at Henry’s side, leaving Frederick no choice but to sit between Elsabeth and Georgiana, not willing to subject one as innocent as Elsabeth to Georgiana’s stern gaze of disapproval.
Food was served within moments of him sitting down; the kitchen had pulled out all the stops tonight. Frederick watched as his plate became laden with thick cuts of roast beef; golden, crispy potatoes, and thick gravy. The servants knew his habits well, giving him only the smallest helping of greens but loading him with still-warm rolls of bread and the thickest of the beef slices they had.
Not long after Frederick demolished his first roll, the king called for a toast to the happy couple. This was a precedent that would set the theme for the evening, for every few minutes there was yet another toast. Frederick sipped at his wine, sometimes only pretending to drink, knowing the evening meal was going to be long the toasts were not likely to stop, and he hadn’t quite recovered his head from the night before. However, after the fourth or fifth toast, he noticed Elsabeth swaying a little in her chair as a servant dashed forward to refill her wine goblet. The flush in her cheeks confirmed his suspicions as another lord stood to toast the couple. The prince leaned in to Elsabeth and whispered in her ear. “Pace yourself, sip the wine or simply pretend to drink. If you get too drunk, you’ll fall out of your chair, and then what would Lissy say?”
Elsabeth hiccupped, her big blue eyes staring at him from under her dark, long lashes. Seeming to have to concentrate on her motions, she nodded and put the cup down, glaring at it suspiciously. A smile tugged at the prince’s lips as he watched her frowning at her cup as though the cup itself were to blame for her inebriation.
Georgiana leaned past Frederick to glower at the young woman. “Is she drunk?” she hissed, eyebrows knitted tightly with judgment. Frederick felt that same knot in his stomach that he had felt earlier when Elsabeth had floundered under the queen’s questioning. It was almost a protective feeling, which didn’t make sense, as he didn’t know her at all. Besides, I never go after innocents—I only ever pursue women who understand that I’m not promising anything.
Nonetheless, he turned in his chair and rested his chin on his hand, careful to position his elbow quite obviously on the table, blocking Georgiana’s view. His distraction worked. “Get your elbow off of the table at once! Are you a heathen?” Georgiana’s whisper could cleave wood, the tone was so sharp. With a flash, she hit Frederick’s elbow with the bottom of her fork, causing him to curse and rub at the offending body part.
“Jeez, Georgiana. Is there really a need to turn to violence?”
“It’s all you men seem to understand.” She sniffed and turned away, focusing on her own meal once more.
New to the castle, the servants played it safe by putting a little of everything on Elsabeth’s plate. But, Frederick noticed her request second helpings of everything except the gravy. If the way she gazed longingly at the steaming tureen was anything to go by, he suspected her refusal of the gravy was in accordance with her wish to lessen the chance of spilling on herself.
Frederick sighed and sat back in his chair, watching Elsabeth play with the food on her plate. He felt himself smiling again as he watched her keep dropping her potatoes, her coordination suffering greatly from the amount of alcohol she consumed. There was something endearing about her, but it’s not like he could bed his future sister-in-law to get her out of his system.
“Will you tell me something?” he asked, leaning forward to take her fork from her slack grip. She pouted at him, following the fork with her gaze.
“Sure,” she mumbled, watching as he speared a golden potato and waved it tauntingly before her.
“Why were you so floundered by my mother’s question? Surely there are things you enjoy doing?”
“Of course,” sighed Elsabeth, gaze still focused on the potato he held out. “But I promised Alicia I wouldn’t tell about the embroidery and nothing else I do is very ladylike.”
“What do you mean by ‘not very ladylike’?” He fed her the potato and speared another.
“Well, I teach the village children to read, and in return they teach me dancing. Alicia says I shouldn’t dance like a commoner. I like to walk through the gardens while the dew is fresh, but it ruins my dresses. I don’t much care for fashion, but I like sewing.” She opened her mouth patiently, expecting a reward for her answer. He obliged, holding out the second potato. Spearing a third, he twirled it while he contemplated his next question.
“Why can’t you tell anyone about your embroidery? That’s a very ladylike hobby. You must have seen how much my mother enjoyed the piece Lady Alicia made.”
Elsabeth shook her head and wobbled slightly in the chair. “I have a secret. Lissy made me promise.”
“I won’t tell anyone, I promise,” he whispered, leaning closer and teasing her with the potato, touching it to her lips and pulling it away before she could bite. A swipe of her tongue across her lips almost made him forget why he was trying to get information.
With a moan, Elsabeth nodded. “Okay, but you can’t tell anyone! Lissy can’t sew at all, so I can’t tell anyone that I can, or they might notice that my work is identical to the work that Lissy claimed as her own.” With a triumphant grin, she leaned forward and snatched the bite of potato, chewing happily.
Frederick sat back in his chair, watching Elsabeth as she reclaimed her fork and enthusiastically attacked her vegetables. Why would Alicia lie about that? It’s not as though Henry would care if she were able to sew or not. Yet she made her sister promise to keep it a secret? Frederick didn’t think Elsabeth was lying, but it gave him something to think about. He knew how the court worked, a skill with embroidery got you close to the queen—could Alicia have planned it all in order to get herself close to Henry? He shook his head clear of such thoughts. Henry is cautious, and Georgiana is like a hawk. There’s no way anyone would be able to trick their way into the royal family.
He focused on Elsabeth once more, smiling as he watched her eating with such exuberance. She seemed completely at ease, now that her inhibitions had melted away. It was hard not to laugh at her disastrous attempts to feed herself, her coordination having suffered greatly, but he didn’t think he could feed her again. Not if she was going to moan in pleasure with every bite.
When the meal was finished, it was time to dance. Queen Charlotte and King George followed Lady Alicia and Crown Prince Henry out onto the floor. Georgiana had disappeared again, which left Elsabeth with Frederick. He helped her out of her chair, trying not to let others notice how heavily she leaned on him. At least she isn’t tripping over her dress anymore. The music started before they reached the floor, where the tables had been pushed aside to make a dancing area. Other couples joined the royal family, giving Frederick the chance to pull her in closer than was appropriate. Only because I need to be able to hold her upright, that’s all there is to it, he told himself, ignoring the curious glance Henry shot across the room.
Their fingers were entwined and his other hand rested on her lower back, his thumb gently rubbing small patterns. He was careful to move slowly and not to turn her too often, but he couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face as he watched her bite her lip in concentration. “Are you doubting me again, Ellie?” he whispered, making her head snap up. She glared at him.
“My name is Elsabeth. And I’ve never once doubted you, so there.” She stuck her tongue out at him, and he struggled to quiet his laughter. He tugged her closer so her hips were pressed against his.
“I’m sorry, Elsabeth, I’m glad to be thought of so highly by such a discerning young lady.” She shivered and looked up, her eyelids fluttering with the effort to keep them open.
“Are you teasing me?” she said, her head tilted to one side like a curious puppy.
He smiled, his gaze locking with hers. “Never.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Suzy Knight is an average English girl, who after completing a degree in boring business management decided to travel halfway around the world to the land of kpop and kimchi to be a teacher.
Whilst in Korea, Suzy rediscovered her passion for writing and managed to write the novel Love and War in between working at her academy and volunteering with animal rescue. Two years later and she’s back in England with her rescued Korean puppy, Panda.
Now she is working on her next novels, while training Panda to be less nervous.
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