Excerpt: My Fugitive Prince

Excerpt: My Fugitive Prince

Book Five: The Man of My Dreams

“Where are you, Prince Valentin? Where are you?”

Estelle Easton had shouted at the top of her lungs from where she stood looking out across a glistening Mount’s Bay. The wind whipped at her waist-length auburn hair, the water’s surface blinding in the noonday sun.

Of course no one could have heard her. The deafening waves crashing against the rocks at the bottom of the cliff had sucked away the sound the moment the words left her lips.

She didn’t care if anyone had heard her anyway. It felt good to release the frustration that seemed to build whenever she found herself thinking overmuch about Prince Valentin.

No, she absolutely refused to believe the courageous young man who had saved her from drowning on Christmas Day two and a half years ago might be dead! Yet if he was alive and well, why had he sent only one letter since he’d sailed from Porthleven with his man, Robert, three days after rescuing her?

Her brother-in-law Donovan Trent, the Duke of Arundale, had shared with her that the letter had arrived and Valentin was safe, though Donovan hadn’t revealed where he’d gone. She’d been so happy to hear the news, but weeks passed, then months, and no more letters.

Donovan had reassured her many times that no further news was a wise thing on Valentin’s part, it being too dangerous to share his plans or his whereabouts with anyone. He was a fugitive after all from brutal pursuers like the three men who had come to Porthleven looking for him just days before Donovan received the letter.

The three men who had intended to abduct her and her sister Linette to use as a lure to ensure Valentin’s surrender once they tracked him down…

“Oh, dear.” Her chest tightening, Estelle shook her head in an attempt to dispel the dreadful memories assailing her. She made herself take a deep, calming breath of the salt-tinged air.

Those bad men were dead. No others had ventured into Porthleven inquiring about a young man meeting Prince Valentin’s description, which had convinced Donovan last year to allow his wife, children, and Estelle to journey from Hampshire to Cornwall to spend the summer.

It had convinced him, too, to grant Estelle’s request to remain behind with her father, Reverend Joseph Easton, instead of returning with them at summer’s end to Arundale Hall.

In her old room at the parsonage. The peaceful surroundings offering her solace from dark memories that had changed her forever, and curbed her wild and headstrong ways…well, not completely, but most of the time. The past year had raced by, much in part to Estelle keeping herself busy by helping those less fortunate in the parish, just like her older sisters had done.

Donovan, Corisande, and their children had arrived just a few days ago to spend another summer in Cornwall, but Estelle still had plenty to do besides socialize. She’d ridden out to the manor house only to join them for breakfast before returning to Porthleven to visit the orphans at the poorhouse.

She would have already been there, too, if her thoughts of Valentin hadn’t overwhelmed her and caused her to stop at her favorite spot to clear her head.

Estelle supposed she was thinking about him so much because she was dying to ask Donovan if he’d received any letters from him. She’d resisted the impulse though, recalling how his face had darkened at each query in the past, which told her, in spite of his reassuring words, he’d sensed misfortune might have befallen Valentin. Truly, that was the last thing she wanted to hear!

Her sister Corie had looked troubled, too, if ever she’d heard an inquiry from Estelle about a letter, which didn’t surprise her. She knew that Donovan and Corie held a special place in their hearts for the young man who had so bravely risked his life by plunging into the frigid waves to save her.

“And brought your sweet boy Luther home to you,” Estelle murmured, feeling a hollow ache at the thought of her little dog that she’d lost soon after her eighteenth birthday in February.

How many times had she stood in this very spot overlooking Mount’s Bay with Luther tucked securely under arm? His brown eyes bright, the wind tugging at his whiskers, and his bony tail thumping against her hip? She’d awakened one morning to find he had drifted away peacefully in his sleep…

Estelle heaved a sigh and glanced behind her to a rock outcropping where she’d tethered her chestnut mare. She had tarried long enough, but still she found her gaze drawn once more to the sunlight glinting like gold upon Mount’s Bay.

A flash of memory came to her…Valentin’s hair shining like gold in the firelight.

The concern on his handsome face when he’d held her tightly against him, wrapped in his cloak, and rode like the wind to return her safely to her family. The sound of his voice, gentle and soothing, when she’d cried out in pain.

Forgive me, Estelle. You’re terribly bruised from the rocks, but you’ll be home soon.

Those memories she cherished, thankfully stronger than the awful ones she longed only to forget.

Once again she wondered where Valentin might be and if she would ever be able to thank him for saving her life.

Was he safe? She desperately hoped so. Did he ever think of her during his travels? Had he taken refuge in northern England, Ireland, or Scotland? Or perhaps somewhere even further away? The Continent? Maybe even America?

Her thoughts consumed by the possibilities, she lifted the hem of her riding habit and hurried toward her mare, who nickered at her approach. With agile grace, she climbed up on a rock and mounted, and then wheeled her horse around in the direction of Porthleven.

“Estelle, wait!”

Startled, she glanced across the yellow gorse-covered ground to where her eleven-year-old niece, Paloma, rode toward her.

Fortunately Donovan and Corie’s eldest daughter, an expert horsewoman even at her tender age, slowed her mare to a trot as she grew closer to the cliff. Yet Estelle’s heart beat faster all the same.

“I’d hoped to find you here! The stable hand told me you’d rode out this way.”

Estelle smiled as Paloma drew her mount alongside her, struck anew by her young niece’s unrivaled beauty.

It seemed during the months since she’d last seen her, Paloma had grown even lovelier, if that was even possible. Her plaited mahogany hair gleamed in the sunlight, her skin the color of cream, her lips red as cherries. Clearly her Spanish mother must have been an astonishing beauty. Yet Paloma remained as sweet and loving as always, her exquisite features lit with excitement.

“Estelle, you must ride back to the manor house with me! A letter has come from Prince Valentin!”