Daughters of Peverell Book 2
By Hannah Currie
To the watching world, Princess Alina has it all—maids to serve her, a kingdom to revere her, a prince to marry her, and a wardrobe filled with enough frills, flounces, and shades of pink to rival a flower shop. But behind the smiles and designer clothes, Alina has a secret. She’s barely holding it together.
After a moment of panic almost ends in tragedy, Alina is sent to a refuge far from the palace to recuperate. Her family claims it’s for her own good but—faced with cows, knife-beaked ducks, and far too many of her own insecurities—Alina is pretty sure it will kill her first. And Joha Samson, infuriating man that he is, will laugh as it does.
Only there’s more to Joha than she realizes, and more to herself too. When the time comes to make a stand, will she find the courage?
So tired of being someone else,
So sick of trying to be perfect,
You didn’t ask for perfection
You’re not looking for someone else
Broken, bent, tired and far from perfect
I come to you
Kneeling, crawling, it’s all I can do.
I look up, expecting to see rejection again
Only to see you reaching out
Smile on your face.
Waiting, you’ve been waiting
You open your arms wide
Invite me in
You pick me up—hurt, broken, imperfect—
All the pieces that so shame me
You hold me close, whisper love in my ear
You sing me a song you wrote
Just for me.
I look into your eyes and see what I long for—
Acceptance, love, pride, joy.
You are pleased I came.
And in that moment, all the pain falls away
I don’t remember why I hurt
Because in the arms of God I have found
Who I am and always want to be
And here I want to stay
I traced a finger over my mother’s face, her perfect smile captured for all time in the photograph, and wished for the thousandth time that I might have known her. Though the palace archives were filled with her pictures and I only had to ask and they would be in my hands, it would never be enough. No number of photographs could tell you how a person smelled.
I flicked backward through the album on my lap, the photos as familiar as the ache they produced—Mother’s twenty-fifth birthday, her holding Thoraben as a baby, smiling as she waved to a crowd, wedding photos, her official engagement portrait and, there, the one I’d opened the album to find. Her eighteenth birthday. Standing beside the prince who would soon be her husband, she radiated beauty.
Today, I celebrated the same birthday. Eighteen years since the day I was born.
Eighteen years since the day Mother died.
Giving birth to me.
Mama, I’m sorry. So sorry. I wish you’d lived. You were so loved, so beautiful, so perfect, so—
Everything I wasn’t. Oh, the people loved me too, called me their beauty and the darling of Peverell—I’d made sure of it, making myself into the perfect princess—but inside…
Cry, and you’ll ruin your makeup, Alina. You don’t have time to redo it.
The deep breath I took stilled my tears but not my aching heart. It wasn’t fair. None of this was. It shouldn’t have been one life or the other. If only we’d both lived. She would have been by my side to celebrate with me today and tell me she was proud of me, that everything was going to be okay. I’d long since stopped believing it when anyone else told me that, but from her, the woman with the smile so bright and a peace I envied in her eyes, I may have believed it.
The door to my suite swung open, Milenne almost hidden by the long garment bag she carried. I closed the album, tucking it back into the top drawer of my desk, glad I hadn’t allowed the tears pricking my eyes to fall. The last thing I needed today was my maid or anyone else trying to comfort me with words that only made it worse. I know just how you feel. We all lost someone special that day. They didn’t know. How could they? They’d lost a queen. I’d all but killed my mother. Before I’d even had the chance to know her. Even Thoraben had had three years.
“The car is waiting and—Oh, Alina, you’re not even dressed.”
Milenne dropped the bag over the back of a chair and rushed to my giant walk-in-wardrobe. I wondered if it was too much to hope she’d get lost in there. Then I could claim the need to go in and fight the thousands of pieces of clothing, shoes, and accessories to find her. Anything to get out of going into town today.
Of course, ordered as my maids kept the wardrobe, she was out again in seconds, a pair of jeans and a cotton shirt slung over one arm, canvas shoes balanced in the other. All of them unworn, as they would stay. Mother never wore jeans so neither would I.
You’re the princess. Be the princess.
I stood and rolled back my shoulders, breathing in the reminder like the oxygen it was. I could do this. Two and a half hours in town, shake a few hundred hands, accept some flowers, smile through the comments, laugh a little, flirt a lot, leave the people in no doubt that there was nowhere else I’d rather be. Lie, fake, pretend, hide—the act had become more natural than the truth. Especially since Thoraben and Kenna’s wedding.
Nothing happened between the two of them. Sure. I’ll believe that the same day I start wearing jeans.
A single glance in the floor-length mirror was enough to assure me my hair, makeup, and outfit were still as perfect as when I’d dressed an hour ago, but I kept looking anyway, coveting the few extra moments to compose myself. Had the choice been mine, I would have spent the day hiding out in the living area of my suite, a tub of dark chocolate ice-cream dripping with caramel sauce my one companion as I wallowed in the unfairness of it all. Unfortunately, it wasn’t my choice. Few things ever were. The same, apparently, couldn’t be said for Kenna, who had more say in the running of Peverell than any traitor should have—princess or otherwise. Only she would think inviting everyone in the kingdom to come and help paint and furnish the newly-built Community Center a good way to celebrate her birthday. The fact that Father had agreed to it—and decreed the entire royal family would be in attendance—only added to my frustration. Lunch would be catered by the palace, but Kenna had volunteered our family to serve it.
Breathe in. Breathe out. It’s just another engagement. Another day in the life of a princess. Nothing you haven’t done before.
When I turned to face Milenne, my smile was back in place. I waved aside the clothing she tried to pass me. “Thank you, but I’m ready.”
The woman paused, her gaze taking in the tailored white jacket and pale pink dress I wore before dropping to my matching three-inch heels. “Are you certain that outfit is appropriate?”
A giddy laugh bubbled up my throat. Appropriate? For walking through dirt, painting brick walls, and sitting in the dust to eat with commoners? Of course it wasn’t appropriate. But neither was spending the day doing charity work on my birthday. The day which would have been my wedding day, if not for—
“But Princess Mackenna said to wear—”
A short wave of my hand stopped Milenne before she could complete her sentence. Or perhaps it was the narrowing of my eyes and wild anger I wasn’t fast enough to hide. My words came out clipped. I took pride in the fact that they weren’t screaming.
“Mackenna may be married to my brother, but she isn’t the queen yet. If she wishes to wear such clothing in public, that is her choice, but it is not—and will never—be mine.” Especially not today. If I had to face our people today, standing beside my brother and his new wife—and Father had decreed it so—I would take all the confidence my shaking fingers could grasp at. And that included every inch of extra height my heels afforded me. “Thank you for your concern, but I will go in this.”
I grabbed a silver clutch from a side table and walked out the door, saving Milenne the trouble of finding the right argument to change my mind. It would have been a fool’s errand anyway, just like trying to talk my way out of today had been.
My heels clicked on the white marble as I descended the palace’s grand central staircase. No one stood at the bottom watching in appreciation or waited to escort me to the car or even wish me happy birthday as I passed. Not even the palace’s elderly doorkeeper—as much a part of the palace as the front door itself—was present, having been given the day off by the wonder couple themselves to attend the public relations stunt today. As if Rebels might not at any moment come and attack the palace while we were all off effusing false happiness. The hall was as empty as my dreams had become, dashed to nothingness in the course of one night.
Pull it together, Alina. You can do this. All you have to do is walk out the door, get in the car, smile at the driver, breathe…
The air I sucked into my lungs wasn’t nearly enough to fortify me for what lay ahead, but it would have to do. I’d already delayed as long as I dared.
You’re the princess, be the—
I flung open the front door, striding down the steps and tucking myself into the back seat of the waiting black car before fear had the chance to convince me otherwise. Childbirth might have taken my mother and Mackenna my wedding, but no one could take my pride.
What little I had left of it.
A short word from Father to the driver set us in motion. I settled into the seat and did my best to ignore the racing of my heart. If Father disapproved of my outfit or tardiness, he didn’t mention it. We were halfway to town before he spoke to me at all, reminding me again of the importance of today for our family.
I nodded, the weight of emotion sitting on my chest too much to allow for speech. I’d go today because I was part of the royal family and our people needed a show of unity, but even Father knew better than to ask me to enjoy it.
“It is in times like these when we pull together as a country and prove to the rest of the world what we are made of. Infrastructure may collapse around us, but we, the people, stand strong. We are Peverell—steeped in tradition, bound by a hope for the future.”
Though my head angled toward Father at his lectern, the gaze beneath my sunglasses wandered around the assembled crowd, wilting in the heat. Their faces, like mine, showed complete attentiveness, but the niggles gave them away. They probably thought they were hiding them but from here, on the podium, they were all too clear. Shuffling feet, shushing of young children, rapid blinking—or those forgetting to blink at all, glazed over as they were—stretching necks, smothered yawns. If Father’s speech went much longer, I wouldn’t have to do any work at all.
“Sixty years ago, when my father, King Rafael, took up the crown and saved our great nation, he vowed it would be a place of peace, of loyalty, of courage, and of hope. He transcribed them on our Coat of Arms, and ever since we have endeavored to carry out those fidelities.
“The whirlwind took its toll on our land. It destroyed houses, businesses, and—for some of our farmers—livelihoods. But what we must remember and rejoice in is this—it didn’t take a single life. Not one person was lost to its wrath. Houses, businesses, crops—they can all be rebuilt, but our people…”
Father’s deep breath, the slow shake of his head as he let the sentence fall to silence, was planned, practiced, and effective. Tired backs straightened, determined nods tipped out tears, arms reached for loved ones as a mix of fierce loyalty and tenderness washed the exhaustion from the crowd. Even I felt myself sitting straighter, pulled in by Father’s words and the gratitude they produced.
“Sixty years ago, we rebuilt this nation. We will do it again. Already we have begun. What you have pulled together to do in the weeks since the whirlwind has been nothing short of remarkable. Looking around this marketplace today, one would never guess it was near rubble a mere seven weeks ago. But there is more to do. We can’t stop here. We will not stop here.”
Father looked behind him, beckoning Thoraben, Kenna, and me forward. We stood by his sides, as we had so many times before. Hand in hand, a unified front.
“Thoraben, Mackenna, Alina, and I, we stand before you today, not as rulers but as friends. Family. Fellow workers in the building of this small but beautiful country of ours. As one, we stand. As one, we fight. As one, we care. As one, we will rebuild.
“Without further ado, let us begin.”
The applause was deafening. I smiled first at the crowd, then Father, grinned at Thoraben, hugged Kenna, all the while pushing down the voice inside me screaming that it was lies on top of lies. We weren’t unified. Not as a family. Not anymore. Not since the night of the whirlwind, when my brother and former best friend betrayed us all.
And unlike the land, not everything could be rebuilt.
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An hour and sixteen minutes later, I placed one final plate on the Community Center’s kitchen shelves and washed my hands, drying them on a hand towel, doing my best to ignore the dubious brown stain on its edge. Serving lunch had taken longer and been messier than I thought it would be—as evidenced by the drip of pork fat on my skirt and the stain of gravy gracing my left shoe, gifts from a particularly rambunctious young boy—but it had kept me away from the worst of the dirt and paint, so for that I was thankful.
Twelve minutes until I could go home.
A glance around the room, full of stainless-steel counters and glistening white walls lined with cooking implements, told me there was little else I could do in here, but I grabbed a wet cloth all the same and began wiping down counters a second time, claiming every minute of silence I could. My eyes drifted shut as I focused on the soothing motion of the cloth—forward, back, forward, back—and let everything else fade into the distance. The whirlwind’s destruction, the lingering smell of meat fat, opinions I couldn’t change, questions I couldn’t answer…
It wasn’t that I didn’t love the people. I did. Truly. But some days were more difficult than others, and there were only so many times a person could smile, nod, and change the subject before they looked like an incompetent fool. The gravy on my shoe? The spot of pork fat on the bottom of my dress? None of that came even close to demoralizing me as much as the outspoken opinions of too many people who I wished had kept their mouths shut.
“When’s the wedding to be, Princess Alina?”
“Where is Prince Marcos today? Shouldn’t your fiancé be by your side?”
“Aren’t Princess Mackenna and your brother sweet together? To think they gave up their honeymoon to help rebuild Peverell. And Princess Mackenna, spending her eighteenth birthday painting when she could have been celebrating. Gems, the both of them.”
Smile, nod. Hold it together.
“Oh, but it’s your birthday too, of course.”
That was the moment I’d excused myself and come to hide in the kitchen. Thoraben and Kenna had enough smiles to cover for me. And a few thousand other people as well. I glanced through the door at the two of them painting a wall on the other side of the center, their movements so effortlessly synchronized they might as well have been waltzing at a ball.
Kenna giggled in response to something Thoraben said before tapping him on the shoulder with her wet brush. Thoraben’s retaliation was instant, flicking a glob of white paint right back at her before dropping his roller and capturing her wrists, pulling her close. He wouldn’t kiss her, not here in front of so many of our people, but the expression on his face left no secret to the fact that he wanted to. I looked away before the bitterness burning my stomach could spill out.
If only Marcos had been here. He would have known what to say to the people. He always knew what to say. But he wasn’t here. Hadn’t been since Father postponed our wedding last week, stating that two royal weddings so close to each other on top of the toll the whirlwind had taken was simply too much for the palace to handle. Marcos had left for Hodenia the same day, despite my begging him to stay. A new date hadn’t been set.
Unfair didn’t even come close to describing it.
Forward, back, forward, back…
The cloth skimmed its way across another already-clean benchtop. If only I could wipe the frustration from my mind as easily. Forget it, Alina. He’s not here and no amount of wishing any different will make it so. At least he was coming back in time for the dinner tonight. Whether he’d agreed because he wanted to come or simply to get me to stop begging—and I liked to think it was the former—he’d be here for my birthday. Part of it, anyway.
“Alina? Are you in here?”
“Wenderley.” I breathed out her name, thankful for the distraction. This friend’s company I could handle. Would welcome, even. “I didn’t know you’d be here today.”
The hair playing escapee from her ponytail made me smile, as did the colorful bracelets lined up her left wrist. Lady Wenderley Davis had come a long way from the scruffy tomboy of a child I’d been thrown into friendship with as a six-year-old, but—alongside the designer clothes and practiced poise—hints of that carefree child peeked through.
“Of course, I came. Half the kingdom is out there, bringing Peverell back to its glory. It’s so sweet of you and Kenna to give up your birthdays to help.”
Sweet. Sure. “Kenna’s choice, not mine.”
“You’re still angry at her?”
“Aren’t you?” If any other person had a right to be, it was Wenderley. Her dream had been crushed the day Thoraben and Kenna married too.
“Really? You don’t hate her, even a little?”
“I thought you’d be on my side.”
“There are no sides. It’s not us or them. It’s just…life. People fall in love, circumstances change, life moves on. We move on with it or we get trampled while everyone else does.”
I scrubbed at an invisible mark, rethinking my decision to welcome Wenderley in, wondering if she could truly be as accepting of the situation as she seemed, hoping she wasn’t. “You loved Thoraben.” Everyone knew it. She’d made no secret of the fact, beaming up at him whenever they danced, clinging to his side, unashamedly telling everyone close enough to listen. She’d been in love with him as long as I could remember, wishing down the days till he declared himself.
“You wanted to marry him.”
“And he married Kenna.”
Wenderley shrugged, the pain on her face not as well hidden as she probably thought. “She’s good for him.”
Though I opened my mouth to tell Wenderley exactly what I thought of that ridiculous comment, she beat me to it. “Let it go, Alina. What’s done is done.”
“Did you meet Joha yet?”
The change in conversation topic was about as subtle as a rose in a bouquet of daisies, but I welcomed it all the same. My brother and his wife were far from my favorite topic of conversation. “Who?”
“Joha Samson. He’s a friend of Thoraben’s. Came all the way from Hodenia to help out today. I sat with him and his mother, Malisa, at lunch.”
“I handed out meals to a few hundred people in the marketplace today.” And did my best to blank out every single one of them. “Unless he was the particularly messy boy who left half his lunch on my outfit, I don’t remember. Why do you ask?”
“Because he’s cute. And he’s all man.” She grinned, adding a wink for emphasis. I shook my head, tempted to roll my eyes despite the admonitions of my old deportment teacher never to do such a thing.
“Really, Wenderley? I’m engaged.”
“So? Doesn’t mean you can’t make another friend. He’s really nice. I could introduce you, if you like.”
I shook my head again. “Thanks, but no.” The last thing I needed today was another friend of Thoraben’s gushing over how wonderful it was to see him so happy and what a great king he’d make one day. If only they knew. The whirlwind hadn’t opened Thoraben’s eyes to the depth of his love for Kenna and the fact that he couldn’t live another day without her like the rumors still circulating claimed. The speed of their wedding was due to necessity and necessity alone. They had to marry. Of course, no one would believe that, what with the way the two newlyweds were acting.
I checked the time, relieved to see thirteen minutes had passed on the kitchen’s wall clock since I last looked. “Sorry, Wenderley, but it’s time for me to leave. It was nice to see you.”
“You too. Maybe you could come riding with Kenna and me tomorrow. We’re planning on going early.”
Not likely. “Thanks. I’ll check my schedule.”
“And make sure you’re busy.”
I shrugged. We both knew it was true.
“Sooner or later, you’re going to have to forgive her, you know. She’s your sister.”
I’d thought Wenderley understood, maybe even just a little. I couldn’t have been further from the truth.
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