Kendíka’s second chance at life begins as a nightmare.
Will the eerie eyes always looking down from the sky reveal themselves?
Kendíka challenges the aliens no one has ever seen to bring about a better life for the humans trapped in the surreal Regency world she wakes up in.
While getting to know her alien owner, she discovers the aliens aren’t so perfect and have much to learn about humans.
Will Kendíka survive or perish, attempting to make life better for the people living on Regency?
Kendíka dried her still flowing tears and, as quietly as possible, blew her runny nose. The woman at the pulpit sang Schubert’s Ave Maria, one of her mother’s favorites, as the crowd walked past the two caskets to say their last good-byes. How can they both be gone? She hiccupped, unable to stop crying. Mr. Vetrano, the family lawyer, squeezed her shoulder.
At the end of the service, with all the dignitaries who had come to pay their last respects to the ambassador and his wife, Kendíka accompanied the caskets to the cemetery where the freshly dug graves awaited. Shaking in the damp air, she stared at the deep darkness. At least it had stopped raining.
She leaned on Vetrano’s arm, shifting her weight from foot to foot, fighting the fatigue taking over her body. Her shallow breaths weren’t enough to fill her lungs. Her heart constricted.
Before the dignitaries could approach her to extend their condolences, Mr. Vetrano wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders, guiding her to the limousine.
After a few minutes of silence, Kendíka turned to him. “Why do I have to go with anyone? My parents left me a beautiful home with plenty of money. Why can’t we just hire a housekeeper to take care of the house and me until I turn eighteen?”
He drew in a breath. “I’ve explained everything to you already. First and foremost, you’re a minor. Second, your parents stated in their will you are to live with your father’s cousin.”
“I don’t even—” She hiccupped. “Know these people.”
He took out a little pillbox. “You are quite distraught, my dear.” Opening it, he took out a little white pill and gave it to her. The drug settled her grief, fogging her mind, and the nausea from lack of sleep no longer taunted her.
Startled by the lack of movement, Kendíka sat up in bed, scanning the shadows in the moonlit room. Perspiration beaded her forehead while her heart pounded against her ribs. The last thing she remembered was sitting in the limousine next to Mr. Vetrano, arguing about her future. He insisted the will mandated her future, not him. Did the pill knock her out? How dare he drug me!
She blinked and, holding her breath, glanced around the unfamiliar room. When her lungs screamed for air, she exhaled then took another deep inhale. What the hell? What happened to the limousine?
Butterflies unsettled her stomach. Her back stiffened. Her heart drummed. Oh, my God! When did I get out of the car or come to this room? Why would Mr. Vetrano bring me to such a freaky place? Fear and the thought of her parents’ death brought fresh tears to her eyes.
She slid out of bed and shuffled her bare feet along the stone floor, hands held out to make sure she didn’t bump into anything hidden by the shadows.
At the opposite end of the room, she could make out a dark blob, which she hoped might be the door. Somewhere along the wall near it, she would find a light switch. She advanced slowly, making sure not to stub her toes. Her fingertips ran along the smooth wood. The handle felt cold. She pulled on the knob, but it didn’t budge. Strange! Her heart missed a beat. Why is the door locked?
With all her strength, she pounded on the door. “Mr. Vetrano?” She paused. “Is anyone out there?” She beat her fists on it a few more times, but when no one came to investigate the commotion, she slid to the floor and buried her face in her hands. Think, girl, think. Standing again, she moved her hands along the smooth walls at the edge of the molding, feeling for a light switch. Why can’t I find it? She tried again…nothing but wall. Why is no one coming?
Hunched over, she scuffled across the icy stone floor to the open window. Below, she spotted a quaint lake nestled in the middle of an English garden. A cool breeze swept her hair away from her face, invigorating her spirits.
In the light of the moon, she glanced down at herself. These aren’t my T-shirt and boxers. Staring at the knee-length nightgown she wore, she ran her hands over the fabric from her waist up to the low-cut neckline, fingering the lace. Her father’s family was weird.
The fog wrapped around her mind cleared, yet she still couldn’t remember when or how she got into this crappy nightgown. Shit! Who the hell changed my clothes? A shudder ripped through her body, and shaking her head, she refused to think about it any further. At least she was alive, unharmed, and that was all that mattered for the moment.
She rested her head on her arms, crying in frustration. With her mother gone, she wondered how she would deal with life without the benefit of her advice. She wiped a tear threatening to trickle down her face. For the time being, she was stuck in a locked room until whoever owned the place let her out. Oh gosh, what if that person meant to harm her? The hair on her neck stood as the sensation of being watched assaulted her. Startled, she glared through the dimness one more time, sweeping her gaze around the shadowy room to make sure she was alone.
She leaned out the window to see if she could find a way to escape—no trees, no ladders to aid her in her plight. Wow, that’s a long way down. I’d probably break my leg if I jumped. Defeat washed over her, and she bit her lower lip to fight the threatening tears.
The toughness her mother always spoke of came to mind.
“My dear, no one will step forward to protect you if your father and I aren’t around. You must learn to protect yourself.”
Her chest swelled with hope, and she gazed at the horizon. Yes, Mother. We’ll see how much I’ve learned from you and Father.
To distract herself, she looked out at the quaint lake. She slipped off one of the many elastic bands she wore around her wrist, pulling her hair into a messy bun.
On the blue waters below, three white swans swam, followed by a single black one. Swans were her favorite animals. She identified the white swans as belonging to different species—a Mute, a Trumpeter, and a Whooper—and they paddled away from the black as if warding off an omen. But even the peaceful scenery did nothing to calm the apprehension bubbling inside her chest, making her heart flutter like a bird in a cage.
Too keyed up to sleep, she continued to observe the swans, losing all sense of time. Soon dawn splashed pink and orange on the horizon. The room brightened, dispelling all shadows as well as her jangled nerves. Stretching her stiff limbs, she shoved to her feet to find her jeans, camisole, and cardigan. She would be dressed and ready when Mr. Vetrano unlocked the door.
Now, where was her iPhone? Not finding her clothes or cell lying around the room, she walked to the massive armoire to take a peek inside. What’s this? Puzzled, she ran her fingers across the soft silks and velvets, but stopped when she noticed the style. Within the ancient cabinet hung a line of white dresses, each parading high waists, puffy sleeves, and satin ribbons. What the hell are these?
She lifted one for a better look. It resembled something out of a fairytale. The low square neckline trimmed with delicate lace, the bodice and sleeves adorned with small, embroidered flowers. The overall effect was chic, beautiful, delicate…but not something she would be caught dead in. She shook her head, frowning. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach, flying up her throat. She giggled them out. Nerves always made her giggle.
After a quick glance at the dresses, she grabbed the plainest one, tugged the horrible thing on, and sat on the bed, her heart thumping. The rattling sound of metal filled the air. She glared at the knob, frozen, wondering about the reason for being locked in the room. The clanging of keys moved on, but the door never opened.
Without wasting time, she hurried out of the room, determined to make her getaway. Only the rustling of her dress and the slapping of her bare feet against the stone accompanied her as she jogged down the hall. On the landing, she froze. A full-figured woman, dressed in black with a white apron tied around her waist, ambled up the stairs. Strands of gray hair escaped from beneath the shower cap she wore as a hat. How weird.
Stepping onto the landing, the woman curtsied. Kendíka giggled. What a creepy thing to do.
“Good morning, milady. It must be novel for you to be in such a magnificent mansion.” She motioned for Kendíka to follow.
Since the woman didn’t look dangerous, she decided to ask a few questions. “Excuse me. Who are you?”
The woman stopped, curtsying again. “I’m your abigail, milady. My name is Cordova.”
She raised a brow. “My what?”
Frustration skewed the woman’s face. “Your personal maid. Please follow me. His Grace, Duke Deverow, does not like to be kept waiting.” She gestured for the girl to follow. “Breakfast will be served soon.”
The woman wobbled down the hall. Kendíka ran after her and blocked her way. “Where is Mr. Vetrano?”
“He left last night to return to Italy, milady.”
A pang in her heart left her breathless. She frowned, wrapping her arms around her middle. Even the lawyer had abandoned her. “Why did he leave me here?”
“The duke is your guardian now.”
“But I’ve never met this duke.”
“You will.” The abigail motioned her to move along.
“Where are you taking me?”
“A hot bath is waiting for you in your dressing room. You should always remember that a proper lady must bathe after traveling so far.” The woman took a quick breath. “You shouldn’t worry about things. Duke Deverow is the kindest man in the world….”
Will the woman never shut up? To hell with baths. Remembering her original plan, Kendíka turned, ran down the stairs, and headed straight for the front door. It didn’t matter that her feet were bare. She was getting the heck outta this loony bin one way or another. Grabbing the ornate knob, she gave it a hard twist.
She dashed down the hall and burst into the first room, discovering a vast living area with french doors on either side of a marbled fireplace. She tried to open one set of doors only to find them locked. She tried the other, finding it secured as well. Frantic, she searched around for an object to smash against the glass. On a small table, she spied a vase. Perfect. She snatched it and aimed at the french door.
“His Grace would not appreciate you breaking his lovely things.”
She spun around to face the maid, who planted her fists on her hips and sighed.
“It is too late for a bath. Besides, the water is probably cold. No matter. We shall remedy the situation after breakfast.”
Stung by the sharp reproof, she set the vase back on the round table, carefully watching the maid.
The woman curtsied. “Please follow me into the breakfast room.” Without waiting for a reply, she turned and exited the room.
Kendíka glanced at the french doors, letting out a huge huff. She hunched her shoulders, her heart filling with disappointment. Fine. I’ll meet this duke she keeps babbling about. She stomped after the maid. He’d better have answers to my questions.
The long corridor seemed to never end. Her stomach knotted. She balled her hands. Don’t you dare clam up. I have to ask all my questions. Breathing deeply, she let her hair down, returning the elastic band to her wrist. She stood taller and pushed her hair behind her shoulders. Call on the courage. Girl power! Before walking across the threshold, she inhaled, rolling her neck to release some of the tension.
Seated at the long dining table, a man in a stiff, high-collared shirt with something that resembled toilet paper wrapped around his neck and tied in a knot stood, bowing his head.
“Good morning, Lady Kendíka.” He gestured to his right.
Another man—also wearing a white, high-collared shirt, but with black bow tie instead of the toilet paper—came forward and held the chair next to the duke. “Charles Emory, Duke of Deverow, invites you to breakfast at his side.”
“That is Wordsworth,” Cordova whispered in her ear, pushing her gently toward the table.
Flustered by all the pomp, she curtsied before sitting. Damn! Did I just curtsy? She couldn’t understand what drove her to such a crazy action. For sure, she had been reading too many romance novels.
The duke shook open a white napkin, laying it across his lap. “I hope you rested well.”
“Yeah, sure,” she lied.
Grabbing the napkin laying next to her plate, she stared at it then plopped it on her lap. She stole a surreptitious look. Why am I so nervous? He doesn’t look like a serial killer. She rolled her eyes. If he was going to kill me, why feed me breakfast?
Wordsworth returned, holding a platter. With his free hand, he picked up her napkin, shook it open, and laid it back across her lap. His stooped back showed signs of a growing hump. Mindful not to stare, she focused on her plate, fiddling with her gown. The footman filled her dish with scrambled eggs, an English muffin, and a sausage link.
She twisted her mouth. Where’s my cappuccino and croissant?
“I hope your room is to your liking,” the duke said.
“Yes, thank you.”
“You look lovely.”
She lifted her head, her gaze shooting to his. Oh, my God! Did he order those dresses for me? Heat rose to her face again. “Thanks.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?”
She glared at him, but he looked at her with a calm stare of his own. His eyes reminded her of the ocean on a clear summer’s day, a great contrast to his tousled black hair and dark olive complexion.
“I’m sixteen.” The intensity of his gaze made her look away.
“I was told you were older.”
“No, I’m still only sixteen.”
“Well, then, I need to take measures, so you can complete your education.”
“For marriage, of course.”
She giggled, rattled by her nerves. Marriage? She grabbed the glass of water and drank to force down the food stuck in her throat. She glared at him, too shocked to respond. Instead, she focused on slowing her breathing. None of this made sense. These people were loony. Her mind rushed through different possibilities, trying to figure out a way to escape. But there were too many people around. She wouldn’t take two steps before they grabbed her.
Suppressing a shudder, she concentrated on the food in her dish and bit her lower lip to ensure she was awake before putting more sausage in her mouth. Being alone in the world sucked. Important to her survival, she needed to remember all the lessons Mother taught her. With her parents’ passing, the lawyer had explained that her legal guardian would be her father’s cousin, but the man sitting next to her seemed much too young.
“Since you know my age, do you mind if I ask yours?” Picking up her napkin, she wiped her lips, avoiding his stern gaze. “Did you know my d-dad?”
“No. Perhaps you refer to my father, the previous Duke of Deverow?”
She glanced up at him, not understanding his meaning. “So where is he?”
His face darkened, his gaze sweeping the dining hall as though he searched for ghosts or spies. Something that looked like sadness filled his eyes. Seconds passed while he regained his composure. “He is…indisposed.”
If he’s sick, why can’t he just say so? She shook her head. What the hell is wrong here? Dukes and earls? Nothing makes sense. She decided to get down to the business of having her questions answered. “Am I a prisoner?”
His nervous laugh echoed off the walls. “What makes you think that?”
“The doors are locked.”
“You will find them unlocked after breakfast.” He dabbed the corners of his mouth with his immaculate napkin and placed it on the table. “Please excuse me, but I have business to attend to.”
Angst caused her fingers to clutch her skirt. She might not get another chance to question him once he left the room. “What do you do?”
“I govern the Duchy.” He walked out.
What the heck is a duchy? Some of her hopes sank, and she felt as though, somehow, she had stepped into the past. Still flustered from the weird formal encounter, she reprimanded herself for not asking what she considered important, such as why were they dressed in such ridiculous clothes, or why Mr. Vetrano had left in such a hurry.
When Kendíka finished eating, Cordova forced her back to her chamber. Driven into the tub, she couldn’t even test the temperature before she found herself soaking in steaming water that turned her skin red. She closed her eyes to collect her thoughts. The vapors relaxed her tight muscles, drifting her mind to a foggy place where the events of the morning made no sense. She still couldn’t remember how she’d gotten here, when she’d walked into the mansion, or how she’d gotten into bed. With only a vague recollection of the limo ride in Mr. Vetrano’s company, she trembled in the hot water and squeezed her temples with her fingertips.
And the marriage. Had her parents’ lawyer known about that, too? Yeah, like I’m gonna get married to some freak. I’ll be gone before they know it. Tonight even.
The image of the swans appeared in her mind. She sank deeper into the soothing water, watching them swim around her psyche, the black one trailing behind. Frowning, she whispered, “Why do you exclude the black swan?”
In response, the three white ones opened their wings. Flapping, they put greater distance between themselves and the outcast.
A chilling breeze swept across her face. She shivered. Opening her eyes, she stared at the window. It stood closed. Sitting up, she looked around, finding herself alone.
Shrill screams reverberated off the tiled walls. Startled, she jumped to her feet and stepped out of the tub. Cordova rushed in, picked up the towel she had placed on the settee, and wrapped it around Kendíka.
In the chill of the room, she shook and pulled the plush towel tighter, her heart racing. “Did you hear that?” The agony in the scream echoed in her head. Will I ever be able to get out of here?
The woman lowered her head, remaining silent, but the fear in her eyes before she’d looked away shocked Kendíka.
“Do you know who screamed?”
The maid didn’t respond.
Hurrying to her prison cell, she shed the towel. The abigail brought out silk stockings and laid them on the bed. She also brought out a pair of lace up mid-calf boots with half-inch heels.
Kendíka twisted her mouth. That’s what my grandmother used to wear.
The maid helped her into the creepy clothes and then brushed her hair. “You have such lovely, long, thick tresses, milady. The duke admires long locks.” She tied a bow around Kendíka’s hair to keep it from falling in her face.
“Do you have a hairdryer?”
The woman frowned, appearing confused. Kendíka moved away, taking the brush from the maid’s hand. After detangling her hair, she french braided it, slipping the elastic band from her wrist to secure the braid.
“But, milady, Duke Deverow….”
She rounded on the woman, giving her a hard stare. “I don’t want my wet hair to soak the dress. It makes me cold.”
Cordova shook her head and curtsied. “You might want to go outside and get some fresh air.”
“Yeah, what good will that do if I’m a prisoner?” she mumbled.