Authors: Elise Marion
|The Third Son|
|Kings of Cardenas |
|CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2011)|
Rake. Rogue. Scoundrel. Each of these words has been used to describe Damien Largess, youngest prince of Cardenas, most frequently by his ridiculously somber eldest brother. Damien is perfectly content to spend his days drinking at the card tables, and his nights in the bed of his scheming mistress, especially since doing these things seems to vex his high-handed brother to no end. But when he steps into a glittering ballroom on the night of his twenty-fifth birthday, the roguish young prince’s life will be forever changed.
Beautiful. Graceful. Sensual. When Esmeralda steps into the center of the King’s ballroom to perform for his youngest son’s birthday, every eye in the room is glued to the tall, lithe Gypsy dancer. One pair of eyes seems to burn straight through her, and though she has worked endlessly to shield her heart, she finds her defenses slowly slipping away in the presence of the handsome prince. She cannot resist his devastating charm, nor is she immune to the earth shattering desire in his kiss. As she falls rapidly under his spell, Esmeralda dares to hope for a future she would never have thought possible.
With a deadly plot against the royal family surrounding him in danger and intrigue, Damien will face a decision he never thought he would have to make. Would he step up to claim a responsibility that should never have fallen to the third son? Or will he abandon it to risk all for love?
The Third Son
Edited by Christine Kirchoff
Cover art by: Larry J. Stephens (Imagine Images Photography and Graphic Design)
Copyright 2011 by Elise Marion
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, or people, living or dead, is coincidental.
Kevin, for being my rock and always supporting me to follow my dreams.
Averylle, for being a reader of my very first books even if they weren’t all that good.
Tiffany, for encouraging me to go out on a limb.
His mother was dead. As much as he would have liked to escape the ugly truth there was no getting away from the cold, hard fact. She’d battled
disease for years, a sickness that seemed to eat at her from inside until she could no longer hang on to the tender threads of her miserable existence. Her condition had only been exacerbated by the pangs of a broken heart. It seemed
had always been in possession of a heart rendered in two
hat caused it, he had never known until now.
He could hardly believe his ears when she had entrusted him with her closely guarded secret during what would be their very last conversation, the night before she died
ven now as he stood over the loosely packed earth covering her freshly dug grave
, disbelief gripped him
. The sky was sickeningly clear and sunny, casting its bright rays down upon the cold stone of the monument resting at the head of the grave. A soft breeze rustled the grass beneath his feet, whispered through the bright green leaves on the trees surrounding him and tugged at the hair brushing the collar of his tailored coat. The air carried the sweet fragrance of spring flowers and somewhere in the distance
the babbling of a nearby stream called to him. It was all so beautiful; a more sacred resting place for his mother he could not have dreamed up himself. He knew, even in the midst of his own hurt that she was better off now than she’d ever been.
Yet for some reason, his heart was in turmoil. Even as he reminded himself that she finally rested peacefully, he knew that there would never be anything peaceful about his existence again. With what would be her last words to her only son, she had tipped his very world off its axis and redefined the course of his life forever. As he stood at the edge of her grave and stared at the carved stone figure of an angel looking down on
, he had only to close his eyes against the bright afternoon sun to remember.
In the blink of an eye he was back in the room where she’d died, gazing down upon a face that had once been beautiful but was now ravaged by disease. The whisper of the stream was gone and now all he could hear was the devastating rasp of her labored breath filling her chambers. Gone was the sweet smell of roses and in its place the sickly stench of sickness and death filled his nostrils. Her frail form had been nearly swallowed by the massive four-poster bed she was confined to, an emaciated shell of who she’d once been.
When she awakened, which was a rare occurr
ence toward the end, he was
sitting by her side. She stared up at him with velvety brown eyes rimmed in red.
“My son,” she had rasped, attempting a smile that translated into more of a grimace. She tried to sit up but could barely lift her head. “The doctors have said there is no hope,” she said. “They say I may have only days if I’m fortunate, hours if I am not.”
“Shhhh,” he crooned softly, brushing back a stray lock of honey brown hair from her brow. It was cold and slick with sweat. “We don’t need to talk about that now.”
“No,” she agreed. “We must talk about your father.”
He wrinkled his brow and puckered his lips in distaste. He always did when reminded of his father. As fathers went he supposed he could have had worse, but the man barely knew he existed. He wasn’t even sure if the man possessed any sort of affection for him. If completely and totally ignoring one’s son was an expression of fatherly devotion, then he was the most beloved son ever born.
“I don’t want to talk about him,” he answered as calmly as he was able.
“Oh but we must,” she insisted, her grip on his hand tightening. “He doesn’t want you to know, he never did. He made me promise not to tell you but I would not be able to die peacefully without telling you the truth.”
“What are you talking about, mother? What doesn’t he want me to know?”
“He doesn’t want you to know who he is. He knows you would never be able to forgive him for what he had to do. He tried everything within his power to fight it, to make things different, but in the end it was no use.”
His eyes flashed with equal parts confusion and irritation. What on earth was she trying to tell him? Why would she not just say it and stop speaking in riddles?
“What do you mean?” he asked, the wheels in his head turning rapidly as he spoke. And even before he said the words, he knew. “Are you trying to tell me what I think you’re trying to tell me?”
She nodded slowly and his heart plummeted to the bottom of his stomach. It was as he had suspected for quite some time now. The man who had raised him, albeit distantly, was not his father. Though he had never had any proof, he had always suspected, known it deep down.
“I’ve wanted to tell you for so long. Every time I saw how your father’s rejection affected you, I wanted to tell you the truth. I wanted you to understand why your father is the way he is.”
“He is a miserable old fool, and that is no fault of yours or mine,” he interjected vehemently.
“But you don’t understand! It is all my fault! He has never done anything but love me, and I have never been able to return that love. He has suffered for it greatly. I have never been the wife to him I could have been. I couldn’t even give him children of his own.”
Tears filled her eyes and
and turned away, but not before he glimpsed the pain that filled their watery depths. And then it all became clear.
had been miserable in her marriage, it was no secret. Everyone knew that her husband loved her to distraction. Everyone also knew that she did not return the sentiment. She had been unhappy for as long as he could remember, and now he finally understood why.
“You still love him.” It was not a question, but a statement of fact that she did not deny. She turned back to her son and sighed, clasping her hands together tightly in her lap.
“I never stopped,” she said with a helpless shrug. “God knows I tried so hard once I was married to your father. But it just couldn’t be helped.”
“I do not want to know,” he said abruptly. “I don’t want to know who he is. It doesn’t matter.” Even as he said this, his mind was rapidly flipping through the mental images of every man of a certain age he had ever come in contact with, wondering if he had ever come face to face with the man without knowing it.
“But you must know! I cannot bear to leave this earth without telling you the truth. It has weighed so heavily upon me all these years.”
He took a deep breath and prepared himself. She needed to say this and he did not have the heart to stop her. She would unburden herself before her death and he would worry about the ramifications of her revelation later. He leaned close and took her hand again, straining to hear as she leaned forward and whispered the last name he would ever have expected to hear.
He now knew who his father was. Now that he knew, he could just kick himself for not having figured it all out sooner. It all made since now and the pieces of his life all came together to form one clear picture.
In fact, everyone knew who he was. Adare was king after all, sovereign ruler of the province of Cardenas. He knew the man well, had thought that he held him in high regard but was now not so sure. His mother had told him a heartbreaking tale of passionate love between herself and the king, who at the time had been a prince. Out of their love, he was born
ut nothing could ever come of their love, as Adare was already promised to another.
young prince had cast
aside, forcing her to choose between marrying another and living the life of shame and ridicule that awaited her as an unwed mother. He had gone on to marry his future queen and his
had been left shackled to a man she could not ever possibly love.
The morning after her
she had been found dead. He supposed that with the unburdening of her deep, dark secret she had finally found peace and was able to let go. While he was happy enough for her, his own world had been completely changed. He could not stop looking into the mirror and seeing the face of his father, his real father. Every time he saw it, he grew angrier and angrier. What kind of man abandoned the woman he claimed to love? What kind of man allowed his own son to be raised by another, one who is incapable of loving the son as his own? Not only had the man turned his mother away and married another, he had given life to three sons, each of whom was loved and acknowledged by their father. Each time he was forced to swallow this reality like a pill, it became more and more bitter, more and more toxic until he feared he would overflow with the poisonous bile of his anger.