Crown & Serpent
Author: Heather Frost
Published: August 25th, 2023
ebook: 244 pages
***Crown & Serpent is a Fate of Eyrinthia prequel novella that’s actually the length of a novel. This villain origin story was released after Royal Rebel, but it can be read at any point in the series.***
Excerpt from Crown & Serpent
Iris gritted her teeth. She was sick of warnings, threats, and all the false smiles constantly aimed at her. Her irritation only spiked when a trumpet sounded, announcing the arrival of royalty.
So much for the fates listening to her prayers.
The dancers stopped at once, turning to the ballroom’s main double doors and bowing low.
Iris followed suit, though her eyes were fastened on King Ezra, who entered the room first and greeted Lord and Lady Thatcher. Prince Henri was right behind him.
The prince looked even more handsome tonight. He wore the colors of Ryden—emerald and black—and his hair was perfectly combed. There was no smudge of dirt on him, and he stood with military grace beside his father. He wasn’t looking at the Thatchers, however. His intense brown eyes scanned the room, methodical and sweeping. His gaze stopped on Iris, making it clear who he’d been searching for.
A slow, confident smile stretched Henri’s lips.
Iris’s heart skipped, and she frowned at the unsettling sensation.
The king turned to view the crowded floor, his gold crown gleaming in the candlelight. “Good evening!” he called out. “Please, continue.”
People rose from their bows, and the music began once more. Dancing resumed. Conversation bubbled up.
Iris was still staring at Henri. The moment she realized it, she forced herself to look away.
Anna’s fingers twisted in her skirt, betraying nervousness. “It seems Prince Henri is headed this way . . .”
“He certainly is,” Dalia concurred.
Iris stiffened, but she refused to look. Fates, how had this happened? Mere weeks ago, she’d been happily ensconced at home. Now, she was trapped in a ballroom and being hunted by a prince she wished would look elsewhere for his entertainment.
“Lady Iris.” His voice was deep, smooth, and familiar—and directly behind her.
Iris twisted slowly to face Henri.
His smile was perfectly in place, his eyes bright as he extended a hand. “You saved your first dance for me, I hope.”
Iris did not want to take his hand, nor did she care to dance; everyone would be watching them. To be fair though, people were already staring. At least if they were dancing, people would be less likely to overhear them.
She set her hand in Henri’s, and he grinned as he led her onto the floor. Once they were in the middle, he turned to face her. His fingers tightened around hers, and his other hand settled at her waist. Though Iris had spent hours practicing with Lady Griffin and her assortment of tutors, no touch had ever felt like this.
Nor had anyone drawn Iris quite so close.
Henri’s hold was firm, his posture impeccable. When the new song began, he effortlessly began to move, pulling her with him.
Iris attempted to mirror his steps, though it took considerable more effort on her part.
“You look beautiful tonight,” Henri said.
“As opposed to how I looked at the Summer Festival?” she challenged.
His smile widened. “Most young ladies would have simply taken the compliment.”
“I’m not most young ladies.”
“No, you are not.” He looked utterly fascinated by that prospect.
She was aware of the other dancing couples easing away, giving Henri and Iris more of the floor. When her shoe bumped against his boot, she had to force herself not to look down. Keeping her jaw level with the floor as she’d been taught, she stared directly into Henri’s eyes.
Amusement sparked therein. “Have you had any interesting conversations with any stable boys tonight?” he asked.
Her eyes narrowed. “You shouldn’t have let me carry on as you did. It was very rude of you.”
“Will you ever forgive me?”
“I don’t think I can. You made me into a fool.”
“Never,” he said at once. “You are many things, Iris Winn, but I don’t think you could ever be considered a fool.”
Her brow furrowed. “You barely know me.”
“True. But I’d like to remedy that.”
Her body moved rigidly through the practiced steps of the dance. She tried to ignore her own gracelessness, but her movements were too jerky to disregard. Her foot knocked against his again, and she gritted her teeth.
“Relax,” Henri whispered. “Trust my guidance and move with me.”
She shot him a quick glare. “You’re the one who wanted my first dance. It’s not my fault if I tread on your toes.”
He threw back his head and laughed.
She knew people stared at them, but she had a hard time looking away from Henri. Even when his laughter faded, mirth continued to shine in his eyes.
She shook her head slowly. “What are you doing?”
He grinned. “Dancing.”
“No, I mean—what are you doing with me?”
He lifted one eyebrow. “Dancing,” he repeated.
She exhaled sharply. “Why are you dancing with me? This room is filled with young ladies who would love to have your attention.”
“You don’t want my attention?”
She knew she needed to make an effort to not insult the crown prince of Ryden, so she spoke more carefully. “I prefer to stay in the background.”
“That’s a shame. Someone like you doesn’t deserve to be relegated to the shadows.”