Enjoy this excerpt from The Princess and the Wolf
“The housekeeper tells that ’ tis well known the prince would divorce her, were he here,” said the kitchen maid.
“Aye, that he would,” replied the housemaid. “And good riddance, says I. It was she that drove him away. That she did.”
Gossip between servants at
Prince Alathom’s Castle
“Do you wish anything else before we go ashore?”
“No, Maria,” answered Princess Sierra, watching from her perch high above the dock, as Governor Clark stepped from the carriage, accompanied by an Indian maiden. “I do not require anything else at the moment. You’ve done quite well, my friend, despite the demanding conditions of this vessel.” She gave Maria a brief smile. “Would you please find Mr. Dominic and inform him that I am ready to leave this ship?”
“Yes, Your Highness. At once. Do we go to greet Governor Clark, then?”
“I believe so,” said the princess. “And for this task, I will have need of you both to accompany me.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” Maria said, curtsying before she turned to do as bid.
Sierra smoothed a white-gloved hand over the blue and white muslin of her very full skirt, pulling the lace that bordered her walking dress into place. Straightening her shoulders, she settled her blue and white-lace mantle over the double bouffant of her sleeves, buttoning the mantle’s closure at the neck. Briefly, she touched her wide belt, which was made of the same light blue color as her dress, pulling it a little more tightly around her waist so as to accentuate its most tiny aspect. A white straw bonnet, adorned with ribbons of blue and tied at the neck, completed the image of the fashionable royal that she was.
Opening her blue and white parasol, Sierra narrowed her eyes, placing a hand gently over her forehead as though it were an extra shield from the sun. She frowned.
From her view of it, there seemed to be no sign of the man she had instructed Governor Clark to hire. Had she needlessly tortured herself over this first meeting with High Wolf?
Perhaps he hadn’t yet arrived.
Or maybe, she thought on a grimmer note, he wasn’t coming. Had he mayhap learned that it was she behind the request?
For a moment, she worried over the possibility. As absurd as it might appear, such a thing was possible: He might know of her coming. He’d always seemed to have ways of gleaning information about things—ways that she had never understood. Perhaps he had discovered her scheme well ahead of the fact.
At that thought, Sierra tried to swallow her disappointment.
It wasn’t that she was looking forward to seeing him again. No. It was only that he, and he alone, could lead her to Prince Alathom, and it was Prince Alathom she needed to find and challenge, Prince Alathom whom she would repay in kind…if need be…
Squaring her shoulders and setting her features into as delightful a smile as she could, Princess Sierra pulled unconsciously at her mantle, noticing as she did so that her fingers shook with the effort.
It was then that she caught sight of something in her peripheral vision…something familiar. She turned her head carefully to the left, her eyes colliding with and staring hard at a pair of dark eyes looking directly back at her.
Her stomach flipped over twice before it at last performed a dive toward her toes. She inhaled swiftly to try to quell the reaction.
It was he, High Wolf. He had come, after all.
As impossible as it might seem, she stared back at a face that she had once thought never to see again. Yet, there he was; there, across a very short distance.
And unable to curtail it, she was suddenly awash in nearly palpable relief.
Relief? Nonsense. It was probably more to the point to say that she was glad that her scheme now contained the element of possibility, the possibility of success.
But if he were to be caught looking up at her, she would be staring back down at him as well, almost as though she were hungry for the sight of him…although she corrected herself, this last thought was ridiculous.
Again, she reminded herself that he, as well as the prince, had betrayed her. In different ways, perhaps. But betrayal was certain treachery after all, regardless of the circumstances. And faith, once lost, could never be restored.
Still, despite the intervening years, an all too familiar pain shot through her, and without her conscious will, she found herself scrutinizing the man she had once thought herself to be in love with…a man who had left her for no more than three hundred gold dukaten.
He looked much the same as he had ten years ago, yet different. Whereas High Wolf had been little more than a boy then, he was now very much a man, and he looked bigger somehow, though he was still extraordinarily slim. Perhaps it was because his chest was wider, larger…or perhaps he was more muscular.
He looked…better, more handsome, more virile.
Sierra grimaced at her thoughts and decided to scrutinize something else less potent…his manner of dress, for instance…
Gone were the fashionable trousers and high leather boots that she remembered him wearing in the past; in their place were buckskin leggings, breechcloth and moccasins. Gone also were the carefully stitched linen shirt and cravat so precisely tied, supplanted now with a long buckskin shirt, fringed, with the bottom of it hanging down almost past his breechcloth. An ornament of what looked to be a concatenation of beads and bone, in the shape of a breastplate, hung down over his chest. It was a sight she had never beheld until this moment.
Instead of a hat, however, he now wore feathers on his head—or at least there was one feather sticking straight up behind him. And his hair…
Relegated to the past was the fashionable haircut she recalled so well, displaced now by long, black hair that hung well past his shoulders.
He looked…Indian, alien from all she had ever known and loved. Yet his countenance was, contrarily, as familiar to her as a well-rehearsed play.
And she wondered: Despite their past, would he help her?
Not if he knew her purpose.
Only too well, she recalled that High Wolf considered the prince to be more than a friend. To him, and perhaps rightly so, Prince Alathom was a brother, a brother in fact as well as in deed. Besides, High Wolf would hardly condone her murderous plan…a scheme she fully intended to execute if the prince refused to return to the Continent, whereupon he would take up his responsibilities.
Indeed, she would be satisfied.
Those at home thought she knew nothing of their wagging tongues; they believed their whispered insults were discreet. But Sierra did know. She did care. And he would pay.
Oh, yes, he would pay.
Which meant, she realized, that the real reason for her journey must remain a well-guarded secret; from Governor Clark, from her guides and especially from High Wolf.
She only wondered if she could successfully hide her motives from High Wolf. After all, as she had already surmised, High Wolf was an extremely perceptive man. Might he guess?
Well, it was up to her to keep her secret well hidden. She only hoped she was up to the task.
He stared at her as though he had come face-to-face with his worst nightmare—or maybe his best fantasy. Princess Sierra? Here? Now?
His heart skipped a beat, then picked up its pace, pounding onward in triple speed. High Wolf caught his breath before forcing himself to breathe in and out. In a daze, he stared up at her, feeling as though he were caught in an illusion.
Had she come for him? Had she traveled all this distance to reach out to him, realizing after all this time that she could not live without him, as she had once proclaimed?
Or was she a mere mirage, the same sort of image that haunted his dreams?
Without warning, the desire to run to her, to take her in his arms and embrace her, was almost more real than the solidness of the ground beneath him. Of its own will, the memory of the taste of her, the scent of her, the sweetness of her embrace, overwhelmed him.
And he knew he needed, he wanted to kiss her. Now. In truth, so strong was the desire, he had taken a few steps toward her before he became once more fully aware of himself, and stopped.
The prince. How could he have forgotten the prince—as well as her duplicity—so easily? Where was the prince?
Odd, he thought, how the mind could forget the pain, the anguish, the loss. For a moment, all had been gone, replaced by the simple joy of seeing her again. Odd, too, how his body was even now reacting, that most manly part of him pulsing with every pounding of his heart, remembering, anticipating…what could never be.
He groaned. He had to bring himself, his thoughts, his body under control, quickly.
Concentrate on her faithlessness, he cautioned himself. Hers and Prince Alathom’s.
He glanced to the side of her and all around her. Where was the prince?
And then, as though it came through the fog cluttering his mind, a thought came to him. Governor Clark had hired him, had told High Wolf that he was to escort and protect a royal party, one that was coming to the Americas for a wild-game hunt.
It was the prince and princess . It had to be.
Had the two of them asked for him, personally? For old time’s sake? Was that why Clark had sent for him?
Or was this mere coincidence?
Coincidence? He sneered. High Wolf knew there was no such thing.
Had the two of them no compassion? No pity?
Surely they were aware of what the mere act of seeing them again—together—would do to him.
Or did they think that they could renew friendship? That he would have forgotten?
Well, he had not forgotten; he could not.
Breathing in deeply, High Wolf calmed himself. He was letting his emotions take control of his mind, even of his body. It was possible, he conceded, that he was not thinking clearly, putting elements together that did not necessarily go together.
Besides, he didn’t have to take the job at hand. He had not pledged his word.
And it wouldn’t be as if he were deserting the prince and princess, either. After all, there were these two disreputable trappers that Clark had hired as well.
Wearily, High Wolf glanced at the two shabbily dressed men. Yes, let them have the assignment…while he, High Wolf, quietly disappeared…
Surely, that would be best. For indeed, if this were his initial reaction to the princess—and at this great a distance from her—what would be his fate if he were to witness her beauty closer to hand?
At that thought, a rush of desire swept through him that was as uncontrollable as it was unwelcome. In truth, so swift was his reaction, he rocked back on his feet.
The response shocked him as much as it excited him. And High Wolf knew he had best renew his intention to leave—quickly…
Yet he didn’t budge so much as an inch. In faith, he could not have turned away from her now had he been a saint. Not yet.
Contrarily, another part of him reasoned that little harm could come from feasting his sights upon her for a while longer. Perhaps the image gained could serve to fuel the fiber of his imagination in the lonely nights ahead of him.
Make no mistake, Princess Sierra had always been the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, and it appeared she had changed little, except to have blossomed. More curves, more womanly features.
As he stared, his heart warmed to his subject. Dark curls bounced around her face while her bonnet hid the rest of her coiffure. Oval face, high cheekbones, eyes that he knew were as green as a prairie in spring. Even from this distance, he could attest that her skin still glowed with health and vitality. It was one of the features he remembered most about her. Her skin had been luminous, clear; had shone with a radiance even under cover of darkness, as though she might be lit by a fire within.
How he had loved to run his hands over her face, her neck, those curves…
Cease this, he cautioned himself, letting out his breath.
Yet the mind was often a mysterious thing, and despite himself, his thoughts rambled on. At five foot four, she had always been a slender little thing. He recalled that he had once spanned her waist within the outstretched grip of both his hands. They had laughed about it. All three of them. Himself, Prince Alathom and the princess.
Odd, how close the three of them had once been, so close they had shared most everything.
High Wolf sighed.
Perhaps it was the way of the world that some things—even good things—were destined to end. Maybe that was why one should reach out for all the happiness he could have, while it still lay within his grasp.
Taking a few steps away, High Wolf at last turned his back on the sight of her. Best to disappear now, as quickly as possible. For of one matter he was entirely certain: He would not escort the princess and the prince. Not now. Not ever.
He took a few steps away.
His insides plummeted at the sound of her voice. Yet he remained steadfast in his decision and kept walking, ignoring the call.
“High Wolf, don’t go!”
Don’t listen to her, he counseled himself. Go now, before she has a chance to weave her spell around you. Go at once .
But even as he thought it, an odd music, a rhythm perchance, began to pound through his mind, reminding him of other places, other times…