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ENCHANTING THE LADY
            EXCERPT
Chapter One

London, 1882
Where magic has never died…

Felicity should have known that her cousin
would try to frighten her with one of his illusions on the
most important day of her life. But when she opened
the door to her room to fetch her wrap and saw the
apparition before her, she gasped with astonishment.
The wooden floor had cracked apart to reveal a gaping
hole. Felicity leaned forward and peered over the edge,
an odor of rotten eggs burning her nose. Her lavender-blue
eyes watered as she looked down into an abyss that
glowed from a river of lava flowing at the very bottom.
Cousin Ralph’s magic had surpassed his rank, just
as Uncle Oliver had predicted. As a viscount’s son, he
shouldn’t have been able to create any illusions, much
less something this vivid.
Felicity swallowed and lifted her chin. Ralph’s illusions
usually came to her in dreams, and it startled her
that he’d become powerful enough to send her one in
the daytime. Still, it could only be an illusion, no matter
how well crafted, and she’d have to cross it to reach the
white lace shawl she needed. But she hated heights.
Uncle Oliver’s impatient voice—loudly
wondering what could be taking her so long to fetch a
wrap—carried up the stairs. Felicity took the deepest breath
she could within the confines of her corset, lifted
the ruffles of her skirts and sprinted across the room,
landing in a very unladylike sprawl atop her settee.
Her heart pounded at an alarming rate and her hands
shook when she reached for her wrap, but a smile of
grim satisfaction spread across her face.
And then she glanced down.
The settee shifted, slowly sinking into the chasm.
“Blast!”
Felicity rolled, thankfully hit a solid surface with her
feet, and leaped across the room, catching the edge of
the chasm with her fingers. Her feet flailed and she
could feel the heat of the lava flow up her skirts, and
she swore she’d get even with her cousin.
She’d never been caught up in one of his illusions
to this degree. But his magic kept growing stronger,
and she had little of her own to counter it.
“My goodness, Miss Felicity!”
Felicity looked up into the freckled face of her
newest lady’s maid.
“I near stepped on ye! Whatever are ye doing?”
Felicity wiggled her toes and glanced over her
shoulder. The lava burped and a fresh wave of rot hit
her nose. “What does it look like, Katie?”
The Irish girl stepped back, her eyes wide, and
crossed herself. “Ye’re lying on the floor, miss.
Wiggling like a fish.”
Felicity sighed. She’d lose another maid. Again. It was
hard enough to get good servants, but when only she
could see the illusions, the hired help had a tendency to
think she was a bit mad. Her fingers had started to slip,
and her shoulders to cramp. “Would you mind giving
me a hand, then? I can’t seem to get up.”
Katie nodded, the red hair that had escaped her cap
bouncing along her flushed cheeks. Although tiny,
she had enough wiry strength to flip Felicity right on
her feet.
“Now, then.” Felicity brushed at the dust covering
the front of her white gown. “I think you should go
straight away to the upstairs maid and tell her the floors
must be mopped more often. Really, when one wants
to wiggle like a fish, one should not be subjected to
such filth.”
Katie nodded again, backing down the hallway
as if afraid to turn her back on her mistress. Felicity
watched her bound down the stairs as if the hounds of
hell were after her, and tried not to feel too sad.
Sometimes Felicity thought she might be going
a bit daft. For the umpteenth time she wished she
could get away from magic, find some nice untitled,
unmagical man who couldn’t light a fire without some
ordinary matches…
Aunt Gertrude passed her in a rush of whispering
silk and lavender scent, spun to a halt and narrowed
her eyes. “Is that you, Felicity? I’ve been looking
for you everywhere. Lord Wortley has become most
impatient with the wait, and you know how your
uncle gets when he’s inconvenienced.”
Lady Gertrude Wortley grasped her niece’s hand
and towed her down the stairs, the feathers in her
hat leading the way like the prow of a great ship. She
swayed like one as well, the bulk of her thighs creating
a rolling motion, her huge bustle a pendulum of silk.
Felicity adored her aunt, who had been her surrogate
mother since Felicity’s parents had died. But Aunt was
plagued by headaches, and she rarely left her personal
chambers. They shared the same home, but Felicity
seldom saw her.
Aunt Gertrude looked surprisingly well. Felicity
could never see a resemblance to her aunt in the
photographs of her mother. Aunt lacked the coal-black
hair and violet eyes of her mother, and instead
was gifted with mousy brown hair, watery blue eyes,
and a plain face. If she’d been a beauty in her youth, it
had faded with the years and her illness.
When they reached the bottom of the staircase,
Aunt Gertrude bobbed her head at her scowling
husband and ushered Felicity out the great door, down
the marble steps and into their coach. Uncle Oliver
and Ralph climbed in and sat in the opposite seat, both
dressed in black top hats and double-breasted
frock coats. At seventeen, Ralph looked like a younger
version of his handsome father, his face just beginning
to lose the fullness of a boy’s. Ralph’s mahogany
brown hair was matched with similarly colored eyes,
whereas Uncle Oliver’s eyes glittered gray. And Uncle
Oliver didn’t sneer at her with disdain.
Aunt Gertrude finally let go of her hand. “Felicity,
dear,” she whispered. “Your palms are so sweaty.
Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten your gloves?”
Felicity shook her head and pulled the lengths of
satin from the pocket of her skirt, ignoring Ralph’s
snort of contempt. While she struggled to pull the
cloth over damp skin, she glared at him beneath her
lashes. Let him gloat over the fright he’d given her
while he had the chance. If he wanted to continue to
behave like a child—even though he was due to reach
his majority in a few months—she would accommodate
him.
Even though she had little to no magic, there were
other ways she could get even: like pepper in his soup,
powder in his top hat, holes in his breeches. She’d had
to get creative over the years, but she just couldn’t let
him bully her without any consequences.
If only Uncle Oliver would do something about it.
But whenever she complained, Ralph would either
lie or point out that if Felicity worked harder on
garnering her own magic, she’d be able to counteract
any of his measly spells.
Uncle glanced at her and lifted an imperious brow.
Felicity quickly turned to look out the window,
staring at her reflection in the glass. She admired the
three white feathers in her hair, the way Katie had
done up her black locks into twists and curls, then let
the back fall in waves where it flowed down her back
like a river of silk. Her pale face still had a flush of
pink from her fright, and her black lashes outlined the
bluish-violet of her eyes, so that even in her reflection
they seemed to glow.
She might have been vain, but she’d become so
accustomed to people overlooking her presence that
she felt sure her features weren’t particularly extraordinary.
Felicity knew that if she thought herself the
tiniest bit handsome it was because she’d reached
an age where she resembled the photographs of her
mother… and who didn’t think that their own mother
was beautiful?
Especially when one’s mother was dead.
“Do you think,” she asked no one in particular,
“that if my parents had lived, I would have inherited
the power of a duchess?”
Stunned silence rocked with the coach over the
cobblestones. Felicity never mentioned her parents; it
always seemed to bring such horrible reactions from
Aunt and Uncle.
Uncle Oliver scowled and cursed beneath his
breath. Ralph’s mouth dropped open in the most
unbecoming way, and Aunt Gertrude rushed to fill
the silence.
“Lord Wortley, I’m sure it’s just her nerves. It’s
most difficult to face a presentation, especially without
the support of one’s parents.”
Uncle Oliver looked ready to implode.
“I mean,” stuttered Aunt, “when she’s likely to fail
at the tests, it’s understandable… isn’t it?” She patted
Felicity gently on the hand, but her eyes glinted with a
warning. “We all feel the loss of the duke and duchess,
dear. Especially when one reminds us of their absence.”
Felicity tried not to flinch when Aunt mentioned
her probable failure. But Uncle Oliver let out a gust
of breath and his features relaxed. Ralph let out a
smug giggle.
“Just wait,” he boasted, “until my presentation. At
least then the lands will stay in the family.”
“Dear Ralph,” sighed Aunt Gertrude. She fingered
her pearl necklace. “That’s something to be grateful
for now, isn’t it, Felicity? If you don’t have the magic
required to be the next duchess, at least your cousin
might be the next duke.”
Felicity tried to look grateful. She knew her lack
of magic to continue the title had to be a great
disappointment
to Aunt and Uncle, and she shouldn’t
begrudge her cousin because he carried it in his veins.
But she’d been duchess-of-honor for her parents’
holdings for so long she felt they belonged to her.
She didn’t care much for Stonehaven Castle, nor their
London mansion, but Graystone Castle was home. It
was her parents’ legacy to her…
“Look at Lord Gremville’s new coach and four.”
Uncle Oliver’s voice dripped with disdain.
Felicity stared out the window. Marquesses’ powers
were limited to illusions and the transfer of objects, so
she knew that the white unicorns with golden horns
weren’t real, that the gilded coach camouflaged a plain
black finish. Still, the sight took her breath away, and
she longed to stroke the foreheads of the animals.
“Oh, yes,” said Aunt Gertrude, fingering the pearl
in the necklace she habitually wore. “Unicorns are at
the height of fashion now. Much better than those
ghastly gargoyles they had last season.”
“Foolish of him, don’t you think, Father?” Ralph’s
lips thinned into a narrow line, making his handsome
face look cruel. “How long can a marquess’s powers
last, a few hours or so? He’d have to renew the spell in
the middle of the presentation, and the wards are too
strong for him to get past them. It’ll be interesting to
see the real condition of his nags.”
“Perhaps. But perhaps it would be equally
delightful to have a son who could hold his illusion
for even that long.”
Ralph shrank in his seat, and Felicity couldn’t help
feeling a pang of sympathy for him. For some ridiculous
reason, Uncle felt her absence of power forgivable
because of her gender. But Ralph lacked that excuse.
She thought Uncle had unreasonable expectations for
his son; after all, Uncle was only a viscount, his powers
limited to alchemy and herbs. Yet he expected Ralph
to attain the power of a duke, to go beyond illusions to
the actual changing of matter. Ralph’s powers already
entitled him to the expected rank of a marquess, or at
the very least, an earl.
The coach lurched to a stop, and Felicity blinked
with surprise and a sudden panic. They had reached
Buckingham Palace so soon? The door opened and
just as Felicity descended from the coach, the clouds
cleared and the sun lit the palace. The diamond-studded
walls threw prisms of color in her eyes.
She squinted to admire the fanciful arches over the
windows, which had been shaped into mythical beasts
and ancient battles of wizardry.
Felicity averted her gaze from the warding spells
that surrounded the walls. Although barely discernible,
if she looked too long it always made her feel queasy.
It would be several hours before her official presentation
in the palace. She had to be tested first. The
guards herded their group toward a small, unremarkable
building. It didn’t look more important than the
palace itself, but within those walls titles had been
made or broken.
As they waited in line, Felicity stared at the mosaic-tiled
walk. If the wards of the palace could make her
queasy, the ones surrounding the Hall of Mages would
make her violently ill. Designed not only for defense,
but to keep the magic released inside those walls
contained, the wards roiled in dizzying motion.
Aunt Gertrude patted her shoulder and murmured
encouragement. Felicity lifted her chin and locked her
trembling legs. They all expected her to fail. And she
couldn’t blame them, since she could barely manage
to light a candle with the magic she possessed. But she
knew she had magic; it just always seemed to be hiding
from her. And lately, she’d discovered a small secret.
If she looked for her magic, it evaded her. But if
she relaxed a bit, she could feel it gathering from all
the tiny crevices in her body, and she’d managed, just
a few times, to use it.
Felicity prayed that she could accomplish that feat
again today. She endured the agonizing wait by imagining
how pleased Aunt and Uncle would be to realize
that she did carry a bit of her parents’ power. Not
enough to permanently keep her parents’ title, but at
least enough to hold the title of honor until another
qualified for the dukedom.
“Lady Felicity May Seymour?”
She looked up into the face of a novice, his purple
robes indicating his rank. He looked over her head at
Aunt Gertrude, who shook her head with disgust and
laid her hand gently on Felicity’s shoulder.
“This is Duchess-of-Honor Stonehaven.”
The novice blinked. “I apologize, I didn’t see you
standing there. Would you follow me, please?”
Felicity strengthened her resolve. She embraced
Aunt and Uncle as if she’d never see them again,
as if she went to her doom instead of a testing of
entitlement. Ralph’s sneer of disgust made her abruptly
loosen her hold.
She followed the novice down so many hallways
and through such myriad corridors that without a
guide she knew she’d never find her way out again.
Strange sounds issued from behind several closed
doors. Green lights and blue smoke bled through
cracks in the frames and seeped into the halls. Felicity
grabbed a pinch of the novice’s robe and held on.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Not enough can get out
to harm you.”
“Enough of what?” she gasped.
He only chuckled and opened a door embellished
with a golden crown. He pushed her through and
closed it behind her, and when Felicity looked up she
saw a half dozen white-gowned girls.
One-by-one they’d be called out to face their test.
She hadn’t thought about it, but experiencing this
holding cell with other equally nervous, jittery, giggly
girls felt like a subtle form of torture.
She didn’t know any of the girls, but they all seemed
to know each other, whispering encouragement
and adjusting hair feathers. Felicity had never cared
for the city, always preferring to live at Graystone
Castle in Ireland. Aunt and Uncle had indulged her,
though now she wished they hadn’t. It might have
been comforting to have a friend to talk to. But they
all ignored her, so she just concentrated on relaxing.
Which seemed ridiculous, considering her situation.
Felicity fought against her corset to breathe as
deeply as she could. Ralph’s illusions had taught her
about fear from a very young age. When faced with
a three-headed green monster slobbering noxious
purple goo all over one’s bedcovers night after night
for several years, she’d learned to isolate the fear from
her brain.
As she got older and his illusions became more
sophisticated,
her skill at managing fear had only increased.
So, she breathed, and acknowledged the pounding
of her heart without thinking she’d die from it, and let
the weakness in her knees flow out through her toes.
She gave her body permission to be afraid, already
knowing that the fear had a limit to what it could do
to her. But she must let her mind relax. Must allow the
little bit of magic given her to gather at her fingertips,
so that when the time came she’d be able to—
“Duchess-of-Honor Stonehaven, please enter.”
Another novice held open a door from across the
room and scanned the sea of white ruffles. His eyes
slowly focused on her as she approached. “The prince
is most eager to meet you.” And he bowed aside,
waving her through the door with an unnecessary
flourish of his arm.