December 10th, 1678
Forgive me for my delay in replying. I was called, quite unexpectedly, to join the Christmas celebrations at Versailles. I was understandably wary to receive a summons bearing the King’s seal after our misadventures last autumn, but one ignores the King at one’s peril, so I made haste to that swamp with a brace of pistols hidden well within my bed linen.
Fortunately, His Radiant Majesty has made no move to clamp me in irons. Rather, I have spoken at length with Colbert on a matter of business: I am to provide sufficient sugar to keep the King, his court, and every Cherche-Midi well satisfied through the next half-dozen years. I stand to make a handsome profit–assuming, of course, war and gloire have not bankrupted the treasury so thoroughly as it is rumored.
Speaking of “gekannibaliseerd”– You will be relieved to hear the court has all but forgotten about you and Madame Sharpe. They are presently occupied with matters of love and war: the King is bored with Isabelle de Ludres and had grown to mistrust the foreign minister, Pomponne. Neither will remain in his good graces beyond the new year. It is said His Majesty confides in Madame Maintenon as he once confided in your wife, but I would wager my house in Chartres Maintenon’s ambitions are anything but innocent.
Truly, the matter of the maitresse-en-titre does not concern me, so long as he does not set his sights on my niece. I brought Laure with me to discourage Languedoc’s ever more brazen advances. Now that she is wealthy and–thanks to yours truly–dressed to the highest fashion and most refined taste, she has attracted friends as flies to honey. Only this afternoon, we went to see the elephant with Marie Angelique de Scorailles. She and Laure are of an age and chatter on as sisters. It was a pleasant enough way to pass an afternoon, until the King’s entourage passed and his gaze lingered on the girls for longer than I would have liked. Though Laure is a woman grown and not many years younger than myself, I still think of her as a child. What will I do if I ever have daughters?
I am passing fond of the elephant. All of the ladies like to see him in the snow, to hang flowers from his neck and feed him peas and wine. They treat me likewise as a curiosity from darkest Africa, though I am French as the King himself. They are kinder to me this year, though few will dance with me and fewer still will consent to coffee. I regret postponing my journey to London. I hope to go once the roads are clear enough to make my escape. If the English women are as gracious as your lady wife, I may yet bring one home with me.
Do give my love to Alice and your son. Your small family is ever in my prayers.
Your affectionate friend,
The Long Way Home
(The Southwark Saga, Book 3)
By Jessica Cale
A paranoid king, a poison plot, and hideous shoes…it’s not easy being Cinderella.
After saving the life of the glamorous Marquise de Harfleur, painfully shy barmaid Alice Henshawe is employed as the lady’s companion and whisked away to Versailles. There, she catches King Louis’ eye and quickly becomes a court favorite as the muse for Charles Perrault’s Cinderella. The palace appears to be heaven itself, but there is danger hidden beneath the façade and Alice soon finds herself thrust into a world of intrigue, murder, and Satanism at the heart of the French court.
Having left his apprenticeship to serve King Charles as a spy, Jack Sharpe is given a mission that may just kill him. In the midst of the Franco-Dutch war, he is to investigate rumors of a poison plot by posing as a courtier, but he has a mission of his own. His childhood friend Alice Henshawe is missing and he will stop at nothing to see her safe. When he finds her in the company of the very people he is meant to be investigating, Jack begins to wonder if the sweet girl he grew up with has a dark side.
When a careless lie finds them accidentally married, Alice and Jack must rely on one another to survive the intrigues of the court. As old affection gives way to new passion, suspicion lingers. Can they trust each other, or is the real danger closer than they suspect?
“Really brilliant writing that’s so engaging with such endearing characters! I especially love the way Jack and Alice are both so devoted to each other! I was totally absorbed in this exciting and fascinating world Jessica Cale created from the very first paragraph to the last! I read this all in one sitting, staying awake late to finish, just had to!” – Romazing Reader
Jessica Cale is the award-winning author of the historical romance series,The Southwark Saga. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned a BA in History and an MFA in Creative Writing while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She kidnapped (“married”) her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in North Carolina. She is the editor of Dirty, Sexy History and a Bluestocking Belle.