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CHAPTER ONE Laurie Lucking /

I rolled my shoulders and stretched my cramped fingers, sore from a long day of scrubbing floors. Guilt pricked my conscience as I passed the bedchamber I shared with Ma. I knew I should spend the evening helping her finish Lady Turington’s new gown, and I would, unless…

I bit my lip to suppress a grin as I peeked out the window at the end of the corridor. There, across the moonlit gardens, a candle flickered in the farthest window of the North Wing. At last! It had been weeks since I’d seen Rafe.

Promising myself I would assist Ma tomorrow, I headed back toward the center of the palace. Fellow servants clustered in the halls, commiserating or discussing the latest gossip before they retired for the evening. I strode through with my head lowered, eager to avoid being drawn into conversation.

I glanced into every shadowed corner as I neared the closet, my footsteps whispering across the marble floor. Once certain I was free from observers, I eased the door open and slipped inside.

Rafe looked up from his thick textbook, one corner of his mouth quirking into a smile. “There you are, Leah! I was beginning to worry you wouldn’t be able to come.”

I planted my hands on my hips and squared my shoulders in my best impression of Clara, our head housekeeper. “Always so impatient. Recall that some of us have work to finish before we’re able to do as we like for the evening.” I scrunched my nose at him before crouching down to grasp the handle of a fallen mop. Batting away the wisp of dust disturbed by my movements, I propped it in the corner amid an assortment of cobwebby brooms and dustpans.

He scoffed. “If you think my days don’t feel like work, you’re sorely mistaken. The royal party from Upper Flynn extended their visit by almost a full week. Every moment not claimed by my tutor has been filled with stuffy banquets and theatre engagements.”

“Sounds dreadful.” I tugged at the fraying sleeve of my dress and settled onto one of the upright wooden barrels lining the far wall.

“Believe me, it was. To make matters worse, they kept trying to push their king’s whiny niece at me.” His face twisted into a scowl. “Not a chance.”

I ducked my head to hide a smile. Though I knew I would never be considered a suitable partner for my childhood friend, I couldn’t help feeling relieved every time one of his parents’ matchmaking schemes failed. “Ah, no wonder they stayed so long.”

“Practically an eternity.” He leaned his head back, digging his fingers into his unruly dark hair. “How good it feels to be free at last.”

“You certainly have an odd definition of free.” I glanced around the confines of the abandoned broom closet that had been my sanctuary from the moment I discovered it as a child. Rafe—or Prince Raphael, as I should’ve been addressing him—had stumbled in several years later while attempting to evade his governess. We had shared this secret reprieve from the constraints of our daily lives ever since.

“You know what I mean. This is the only room in the palace not crawling with guards and nobles. But now that the Upper Flynnites have finally taken their leave, I’m sure my parents will want to keep me out of their sight as much as possible. I ought to be able to get away a few more times this week.”

My spirits lifted at the prospect of spending so much time with Rafe after his prolonged absence, only to sink again. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to join you.”

He gave me a puzzled frown.

“Ma’s hands are giving her trouble, so I’ve been helping her catch up with her sewing.” I ran a finger over the callus developing on my thumb. “And Purge Week starts tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” Rafe’s eyebrows flicked upward as he straightened. “I suppose it is nearly mid-spring. Thanks for the warning—I’d best avoid Mother at all costs. The chaos of Purge Week drives her to distraction.”

Twice a year—once in the spring, again in the fall—the majority of the servants were relieved of their usual duties to empty Dorendyn Castle of every rug, drape, and tapestry to give them an airing. In truth, the process rarely took a full week, but nonetheless, the nickname Purge the Castle Week held.

He fixed me with a stern gaze. “Make sure they don’t work you too hard.”

As though I had any control over my workload. I fought the urge to roll my eyes as I bent to retrieve the novel I’d stored on an adjoining barrel. The king and queen had passed a decree many years before forbidding anyone in the serving class from learning to read, but Rafe taught me in the privacy of this closet and kept me supplied with new books.

Rafe turned through several pages in his textbook before he flipped it shut again. “Didn’t you say you were born under the last spring moon?”

“Yes.” I set my open book on my lap.

“Then you’ll be sixteen soon, right?” He leaned forward and glanced out the window at the waning gibbous.

“In about a month.”

“You must be planning a celebration of some kind. You’ll be reaching your Maturity!”

I shrugged, smoothing my apron. “Servants don’t generally celebrate birthdays.” We had little enough time, and nothing to celebrate with. “Ma always remembers and tries to sneak me something special from the kitchen. I doubt this year will be any different.”

“I can’t believe that.” Rafe stared at me as though I’d sprouted an extra head. “Why, my parents even pretended to care about my sixteenth birthday last year. They threw a big banquet filled with people I don’t like, and Father made a speech about how important this time was in my preparations to become king one day.”

My laugh held an edge of cynicism. “I guess while sixteen may be critical in the development of a future king, it’s not particularly noteworthy in the life of one who spends her days with a bucket and sponge.”

“It’s noteworthy to me.” He rubbed his fingers across his jawline, as though plotting something.

I returned to my book, reassuring myself that Rafe could hardly turn my birthday into an embarrassing spectacle when we only ever saw each other in a broom closet.

Only one person knows of the plot against the royal family and cares enough to try to stop it—the servant girl they banished.

Leah spends her days scrubbing floors, polishing silver, and meekly curtsying to nobility. Nothing distinguishes her from the other commoners serving at the palace, except her red hair.

And her secret friendship with Rafe, the Crown Prince of Imperia.

But Leah’s safe, ordinary world begins to splinter. Rafe’s parents announce his betrothal to a foreign princess, and she unearths a plot to overthrow the royal family. When she reports it without proof, her life shatters completely when the queen banishes her for treason.

Harbored by an unusual group of nuns, Leah must secure Rafe’s safety before it’s too late. But her quest reveals a villain far more sinister than an ambitious nobleman with his eye on the throne.

Can a common maidservant summon the courage to fight for her dearest friend?


Laurie Lucking is a book hoarder, chocoholic, top-of-her-lungs singer, former lawyer, mom to three energetic kiddos, and award-winning author of young adult romantic fantasy! The second book in her Tales of the Mystics series, Traitor, just released this week! Join her for the release party on her Facebook group today, April 29th!

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Copyright © 2019 Jessa Lucas

All rights reserved. This work or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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