Richelle Mead The Glittering Court

ISBN 13: 9781595148421

The Glittering Court

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9781595148421: The Glittering Court

A #1 NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER

The Selection
 meets Reign in this dazzling trilogy of interwoven novels about three girls on a quest for freedom and true love from #1 internationally bestselling author Richelle Mead.

"Brilliant and original, Mead’s new series starts off with a bang and will leave readers on the edge of their seats until the very end."
School Library Journal
 
For a select group of girls, the Glittering Court offers a shot at a life they’ve only ever dreamed of, one of luxury, glamour, and leisure. To high-born Adelaide, whose wealthy family is forcing her into a loveless marriage, the Glittering Court represents something else: the chance to chart her own destiny, and adventure in an unspoiled, prosperous new land across the sea.
 
After a chance meeting with the dazzling Cedric Thorn, Adelaide poses as a servant to join the crop of impoverished girls he promises to transform into proper ladies. But her familiarity with upper class life comes with a price: she must hide her identity from her new friends, mysterious refugee Mira and fiery former laundress Tamsin, and most importantly, from Cedric himself—even though she’s falling in love with him. 
 
Everything begins to crumble when Cedric discovers Adelaide’s ruse, and she catches the eye of a powerful young governor, who wants her for a wife. She didn’t leave the gilded cage of her old life behind just to become someone else's property. But nothing is as daunting—or as wonderful—as the potent, forbidden attraction simmering between Adelaide and Cedric. One that, if acted on, would make them both outcasts in a wild, dangerous, uncharted world, and possibly lead them to their deaths.

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About the Author:

Richelle Mead is the author of the international #1 bestselling Vampire Academy series, its bestselling spinoff series Bloodlines, and the fantasy standalone Soundless. A lifelong reader, Richelle has always had a particular fascination with mythology and folklore. When she can actually tear herself away from books (either reading or writing them), she enjoys bad reality TV, traveling, trying interesting cocktails, and shopping for dresses to wear on tour. She is a self-professed coffee addict, works in her pajamas, and has a passion for all things wacky and humorous. Originally from Michigan, Richelle now lives in Seattle, Washington, where she is hard at work on her next novel. Visit www.RichelleMead.com to find out more.
From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2016 Richelle Mead

 

The Glittering Court

Chapter 1

I’d never planned on stealing someone else’s life.

Really, at a glance, you wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with my old life. I was young and healthy. I liked to think I was clever. I belonged to one of the noblest families in Osfrid, one that could trace its bloodline back to the country’s founders. Sure, my title might have been more prestigious if my family’s fortune hadn’t evaporated, but that was easily fixed. All I had to do was marry well.

And that was where my problems started.

Most noblemen admired a descendant of Rupert, First Earl of Rothford, great hero of Osfrid. Centuries ago, he’d helped wrest this land from savages, thus forming the great nation we enjoyed today. But few noblemen admired my lack of resources, especially in these times. Other families were fighting their own financial crises, and a pretty face with an exalted title no longer held the appeal it once might have.

I needed a miracle, and I needed one fast. “Darling, a miracle’s happened.”

I’d been staring at the ballroom’s velvet-embossed wallpaper as dark thoughts swirled in my head. Blinking, I returned my attention to the noisy party and focused on my grandmother’s approach. Though her face was lined and her hair pure white, people always remarked on what a handsome woman Lady Alice Witmore was. I agreed, though I couldn’t help but notice she’d seemed to age more in the years since my parents had died. But just now, her face was alight in a way I hadn’t seen in some time.

“How, Grandmama?”

“We have an offer. An offer. He’s everything we’ve hoped for. Young. A substantial fortune. His family line’s as prestigious as yours.”

That last one caught me by surprise. The blessed Rupert’s line was tough to match. “Are you sure?”

“Certainly. He’s your . . . cousin.”

It wasn’t often that words failed me. For a moment, all I could think of was my cousin Peter. He was twice my age—and married. By the rules of descent, he would be the one to inherit the Rothford title if I died without children. Whenever he was in town, he’d stop by and ask how I was feeling.

“Which one?” I asked at last, relaxing slightly. The term “cousin” was sometimes used loosely, and if you looked far enough in the family trees, half the Osfridian nobility was related to the other half. She could be referring to any number of men.

“Lionel Belshire, Baron of Ashby.”

I shook my head. He was no one I knew.

She linked my arm with hers and drew me toward the opposite side of the ballroom, winding our way through some of the city’s most powerful people. They were swathed in silks and velvets, adorned with pearls and gems. Above us, crystal chandeliers covered the entire ceiling, like our hosts were trying to outdo the stars. Such was life among Osfro’s nobility.

“His grandmother and I were both ladies in the Duchess of Samford’s coterie, back in the old days. He’s only a baron.” Grandmama leaned her head toward me to speak more quietly. I noted the pearl-studded cap she wore, in good shape but unfashionable for at least two years. She spent our money on clothing me. “But his blood is still good. His line comes from one of Rupert’s lesser sons, though there was some scandal that Rupert might not actually have been his father. His mother was noble, though, so either way, we’re covered.”

I was still trying to process that when we came to a halt in front of a floor-to-ceiling window that overlooked Harlington Green. A young man stood with a woman my grandmother’s age, speaking in low tones. Upon our arrival, they both looked up with keen interest.

Grandmama released my hand. “My granddaughter, the Countess of Rothford. My darling, this is Baron Belshire and his grandmother, Lady Dorothy.”

Lionel bent over and kissed my hand while his grandmother curtseyed. Her deference was a show. Sharp eyes raked over every part of me. If propriety had allowed it, I think she would have examined my teeth.

I turned to Lionel as he straightened. He was the one I had to size up. “Countess, it’s a pleasure to meet you. It’s a shame this hasn’t happened sooner, seeing as we’re family. Descendants of Earl Rupert and all that.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Grandmama arch a skeptical eyebrow.

I gave him a demure smile, not deferential enough to diminish my superior rank but enough to make him think his charm had flustered me. His charm, of course, was yet to be assessed. At a glance, it might be all he had going for him. His face was long and pointed, his skin sallow. I would have expected at least a flush, considering how the crush of bodies had heated the room. The sagging of his narrow shoulders gave the impression he was about to cave in upon himself. None of it mattered, though. Only the marriage logistics did. I’d never expected to marry for love.

“We’re definitely overdue for a meeting,” I agreed. “Really, we should all be having regular Rupert reunions, as a tribute to our progenitor. Get everyone together and have picnics on the green. We could do three-legged races, like the country folk do. I’m sure I could manage it with the skirts.”

He stared at me unblinkingly and scratched his wrist. “Earl Rupert’s descendants are spread out all over Osfrid. I don’t think a gathering of that sort would be feasible. And it’s not just unseemly for nobility to do those three-legged races; I don’t allow the tenants on my estates to do such things either. The great god Uros gave us two legs, not three. To suggest otherwise is an abomination.” He paused. “I don’t really approve of potato-sack races either.”

“You’re right, of course,” I said, keeping the smile fixed on my face. Beside me, Grandmama cleared her throat.

“The baron has been very successful with his barley production,” she said with forced cheer. “Quite possibly the most successful in the country.”

Lionel scratched his left ear. “My tenants have converted more than eighty percent of the land to barley fields. We recently bought a new estate, and those lands too now have a booming crop. Barley as far as the eye can see. Acres and acres. I even have my house servants, in both estates, eat it every morning. To boost morale.”

“That’s . . . a lot of barley,” I said. I was starting to feel sorry for his tenants. “Well, I hope you let them splurge every once in a while. Oats. Rye, if you’re feeling exotic.”

That previous puzzled look returned to his face as he scratched his right ear. “Why would I do that? Barley is our livelihood. It’s good for them to remember that. I hold myself to the same standard—a higher one, actually, as I make sure to include a portion of barley in all of my meals. It sets a good example.”

“You’re a man of the people,” I said. I eyed the window beyond him, wondering if I could jump out of it.

An awkward silence fell, and Lady Dorothy tried to fill it. “Speaking of estates, I understand you just recently sold your lastone.” Here it was, a reminder of our financial situation. Grandmama was quick to defend our honor.

“We weren’t using it.” She lifted her chin. “I’m not so foolish as to waste money on an empty house and tenants who’ve grown lazy without supervision. Our town house here in the city is much more comfortable and keeps us close to society. We were invited to court three times this winter, you know.”

“Winter, of course,” said Lady Dorothy dismissively. “But surely summers in the city are dull. Especially with so much of the nobility at their own estates. When you marry Lionel, you’ll live in his Northshire estate—where I live—and want for nothing. And you may plan as many social gatherings as you like. Under my close supervision, of course. It’s such a lovely opportunity for you. I mean no offense— Countess, Lady Alice. You maintain yourselves so well that no one would guess your true situation. But I’m sure it’ll be a relief to be settled into better circumstances.”

“Better circumstances for me. A better title for him,” I murmured. As we spoke, Lionel first scratched his forehead and then his inner arm. That second bout went on for some time, and I tried not to stare. What was going on? Why was he itching so much? And why was it happening all over his whole body? I couldn’t see any obvious rashes. Worse, the more I watched him, the more I suddenly wanted to scratch. I had to clasp my hands together to stop myself.

The excruciating conversation went on for several more minutes as our grandmothers made plans for the nuptials I’d only just learned about. Lionel continued to scratch. When we finally extracted ourselves, I waited all of thirty seconds before voicing my opinion to Grandmama.

“No,” I said.

“Hush.” She smiled at various guests we knew as we walked to the ballroom’s exit and told one of our host’s manservants to order our carriage around. I bit off my words until we were safely alone inside it. “No,” I repeated, sinking back into the carriage’s plush seat.

“Absolutely not.”

“Don’t be so dramatic.”

“I’m not! I’m being sane. I can’t believe you accepted that offer without consulting me.”

“Well, it was certainly difficult choosing between that and your many other offers.” She met my glare levelly. “Yes, dear, you’re not the only one around here who can be pert. You are, however, the only one who can save us from eventual ruin.”

“Now who’s being dramatic? Lady Branson would take you with her into her daughter’s household. You’d live very well there.”

“And what happens to you while I’m living very well?”

“I don’t know. I’ll find someone else.” I thought back to the flurry of guests I’d met at the party this evening. “What about that merchant who was there? Donald Crosby? I hear he’s amassed a pretty big fortune.”

“Ugh.” Grandmama rubbed her temples. “Please stop talking about the nouveau riche. You know how it gives me a headache.”

I scoffed. “What’s wrong with him? His business is booming. And he laughed at all my jokes—which is more than can be said for Lionel.” “You know what’s wrong with Mister Crosby. He should never have been at that party. I don’t know what Lord Gilman was thinking.” She paused as a particularly large pothole in the cobblestone street caused our carriage to lurch. “How do you think your exalted ancestor Rupert

would feel about you mingling his line with such common blood?”

I groaned. It seemed as though, lately, we couldn’t have a conversation without invoking Rupert’s name. “I think someone who followed his lord across the channel to carve out an empire would place a pretty big emphasis on keeping one’s self-respect. Not selling it out to a boring cousin and his tyrant grandmother. Did you count how many times she said ‘under my close supervision’ when we were talking about the future? I did. Five. Which is seven less times than Lionel scratched some body part.”

Grandmama’s expression grew weary. “Do you think you’re the first girl who’s had an arranged marriage? Do you think you’re the first girl to resent it? Stories and songs are full of tales of woeful maidens trapped in such circumstances who escape to a glorious future. But those are stories. The reality is that most girls in your situation . . . well, endure. There’s nothing else you can do. There’s nowhere else you can go. It’s the price we pay for this world we live in. For our rank.”

“My parents would have never made me endure,” I grumbled.

Her eyes hardened. “Your parents and their frivolous investments are the reason we’re in this situation. We’re out of money. Selling the Bentley estate has kept us living as we always have. But that’s going to change. And you won’t like it when it does.” When my obstinate glare continued, she added, “You’ll have people making choices for you your entire life. Get used to it.”

Our home was located in a different—but equally fashionable— district of the city from the party. Upon our arrival, servants swarmed to attend us. They helped us out of the carriage, took our wraps and shawls. I had my own flock of maidservants who accompanied me to my suite to remove my formal attire for me. I watched as they smoothed the red velvet overdress, with its trumpet sleeves and gold embroidery. They hung it up with countless other decadent frocks, and I found myself staring at the bureau after they’d left. So much of our family’s fading wealth spent on clothes that were supposed to help me achieve the opportunity to change my life for the better.

My life was certainly about to change, but for the better? That I was skeptical of.

And so, I treated it as though it wasn’t real. It was how I’d dealt with my parents’ deaths as well. I’d refused to believe they were gone, even when faced with the tangible proof of their graves. It wasn’t possible that someone you loved so much, someone who filled up so much of your heart, could no longer exist in the world. I tried convincing myself that they would walk through my door one day. And when I couldn’t make myself believe that, I simply didn’t think about it all.

That was how I dealt with Lionel. I put him out of my mind and went on with my life as though nothing at that party had ever happened.

When a letter came from Lady Dorothy one day, I finally had to acknowledge his existence again. She wanted to confirm a date for the wedding, which was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was her directive to cut our household staff in half and get rid of the majority of our possessions. You won’t need them when you get to Northshire, she wrote. The staff and items you need will be provided, under my close supervision.

“Oh, sweet Uros,” I said when I’d finished reading.

“Don’t take the god’s name in vain,” Grandmama snapped. Despite her sharp words, I could see the strain on her. Living under someone else’s thumb wasn’t going to be easy for her either. “Oh. And Lionel sent you a present.”

The “present” was a container of a proprietary barley cereal blend he ate each morning, with a note saying it would give me a taste of what was to come. I wanted to believe he’d intended the pun, but I sincerely doubted it.

Grandmama began fretting about how to split up the household as I walked out of the room. And I kept walking. I walked out of the town house, out through the front courtyard. I walked right out through the gate that sheltered our property from the main thoroughfare, earning a puzzled look from the servant who was manning it.

“My lady? Is there something I can help you with?”

I waved him back when he started to rise. “No,” I said. He glanced around, uncertain what to do. He’d never seen me leave our property alone. No one ever had. It wasn’t done.

His confusion kept him where he was, and I soon found myself swallowed up in the foot traffic moving about the street. It wasn’t the gentry, of course. Servants, merchants, couriers . . . all the people whose labor helped the city’s rich survive. I fell in step with them, unsure of where I was going.

Some crazy part of me thought maybe I should go make an appeal to Donald Crosby. He’d seemed to like m...

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