Julie Garwood is one of the biggest names in romance, with over 40 MILLION copies of her books in print. If you’re a new fan, you might know her best for her sizzling contemporary romantic suspense…but did you know she also wrote almost 20 historical romances? And today, we’re sharing an excerpt from CASTLES, which has been re-released with a new package! In this beloved Regency-set romance, Alesandra must make a political marriage–but will it turn into something more?
Mother Superior Mary Felicity had always believed in miracles, but in all of her sixty-seven years on this sweet earth, she had never actually witnessed one until the frigid day in February of 1820 when the letter arrived from England.
At first the mother superior had been afraid to believe the blessed news, for she feared it was trickery on the devil’s part to get her hopes up and then dash them later, but after she had dutifully answered the missive and received a second confirmation with the Duke of Williamshire’s seal affixed, she accepted the gift for what it truly was.
They were finally going to get rid of the hellion. The mother superior shared her good news with the other nuns the following morning at matins. That evening they celebrated with duck soup and freshly baked black bread. Sister Rachael was positively giddy and had to be admonished twice for laughing out loud during evening vespers.
The hellion-or, rather, Princess Alesandra-was called into the mother superior’s stark office the following afternoon. While she was being given the news of her departure from the convent, Sister Rachael was busy packing her bags. The mother superior sat in a high-backed chair behind a wide desk as scarred and old as she was. The nun absentmindedly fingered the heavy wooden beads of her rosary, hooked to the side of her black habit, while she waited for her charge to react to the announcement.
Princess Alesandra was stunned by the news. She gripped her hands together in a nervous gesture and kept her head bowed so the mother superior wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes.
“Do sit down, Alesandra. I don’t wish to talk to the top of your head.”
“As you wish, Mother.” She sat on the very edge of the hard chair, straightened her posture to please the superior, and then clasped her hands together in her lap.
“What do you think of this news?” the mother superior asked.
“It was the fire, wasn’t it, Mother? You still haven’t forgiven me that mishap.”
“Nonsense,” the mother superior replied. “I forgave you that thoughtlessness over a month ago.”
“Was it Sister Rachael who convinced you to send me away? I did tell her how sorry I was, and her face isn’t nearly as green anymore.”
The mother superior shook her head. She frowned, too, for Alesandra was inadvertently getting her all riled up over the reminders of some of her antics.
“Why you believed that vile paste would remove freckles is beyond my understanding. However, Sister Rachael did agree to the experiment. She doesn’t blame you … overly much.” she hastened to add so the lie she was telling would only be considered a venial sin in God’s eyes. “Alesandra, I didn’t write to your guardian requesting your leave. He wrote to me. Here is the Duke of Williamshire’s letter. Read it and then you’ll see I’m telling you the truth.”
Alesandra’s hand shook when she reached for the missive. She quickly scanned the contents before handing the letter back to her superior.
“You can see the urgency, can’t you? This General Ivan your guardian mentions sounds quite disreputable. Do you remember meeting him?”
Alesandra shook her head. “We visited father’s homeland several times, but I was very young. I don’t remember meeting him. Why in heaven’s name would he want to marry me?”
“Your guardian understands the general’s motives,” the mother superior replied. She tapped the letter with her fingertips. “Your father’s subjects haven’t forgotten you. You’re still their beloved princess. The general has a notion that if he marries you, he’ll be able to take over the kingdom with the support of the masses. It’s a clever plan.”
“But I don’t wish to marry him,” Alesandra whispered. “And neither does your guardian wish it,” the superior said. “He believes the general won’t take no for an answer, however, and will take you by force if necessary to insure his success. That is why the Duke of Williamshire wants guards to journey with you to England.”
“I don’t want to leave here, Mother. I really don’t.”
The anguish in Alesandra’s voice tugged at the mother superior’s heart. Forgotten for the moment were all the mischievous schemes Princess Alesandra had gotten involved in over the past years. The superior remembered the vulnerability and the fear in the little girl’s eyes when she and her ailing mother had first arrived. Alesandra had been quite saintly while her mother lived. She had been so very young-only twelve-and had lost her dear father just six months before. Yet the child had shown tremendous strength. She took on the full responsibility of caring for her mother day and night. There was never any possibility her mother would recover. Her illness destroyed her body and her mind, and toward the end, when she had been crazed with her pain, Alesandra would climb into her mother’s sickbed and take the frail woman into her arms. She would gently rock her back and forth and sing tender ballads to her, her voice that of an angel. Her love for her mother had been achingly beautiful to see. When at last the devil’s torture was finished, her mother died in her daughter’s arms.
Alesandra wouldn’t allow anyone to comfort her. She wept during the dark hours of the night, alone in her cell, the white curtains surrounding her cubicle blocking out none of her sobs from the postulants.
Her mother was buried on the grounds behind the chapel in a lovely, flower-bordered grotto. Alesandra couldn’t abide the thought of leaving her. The grounds of the convent were adjacent to the family’s second home, Stone Haven, but Alesandra wouldn’t even journey there for a visitation. “I had thought I would stay here forever,” Alesandra whispered.
“You must look upon this as your destiny unfolding,” the mother superior advised. “One chapter of your life is closing and another is about to open up.”
Alesandra lowered her head again. “I wish to have all my chapters here, Mother. You could deny the Duke of Williamshire’s request if you wished, or stall him with endless correspondence until he forgot about me.”
“And the general?”
Alesandra had already thought of an answer to that dilemma. ”He wouldn’t dare breach this sanctuary. I’m safe as long as I stay here.”
“A man lusting for power will not care if he breaks the holy laws governing this convent, Alesandra. He certainly would breach our sanctuary. Do you realize you are also suggesting I deceive your dear guardian?”
The nun’s voice held a note of reproach in it. “No, Mother,” Alesandra answered with a little sigh, knowing full well that was the answer the nun wished to hear. “I suppose it would be wrong to deceive . . .”
The wistfulness in her voice made the mother superior shake her head. “I will not accommodate you. Even if there was a valid reason . . .”
Alesandra jumped on the possibility. “Oh, but there is,” she blurted out. She took a deep breath, then announced, “I have decided to become a nun.”
The mere thought of Alesandra joining their holy order sent chills down the mother superior’s spine…”Heaven help us all,” she muttered.