Nicholas does not live an ordinary life. He is a thief, reputed to be the best in London. But no one—no one—has ever broken into Westminster Palace except Nicholas, of course, who’s visited every few nights for months and months in order to steal—not crown jewels, nor secrets—but stories. The crown princess spins yarns in a tower study and Nicholas sits atop the roof to listen through the chimney flute until one night, when things go wrong and Nicholas finds himself in the palace and knowing things he should not know.
Someone loathes the idea that the King of England is planning to step down for his female heir, and will go to horrendous lengths to ensure this does not occur.
Suddenly, Nicholas wants to do the exact opposite of the thief’s code: helping to save a princess, instead of stealing one. A thief with a moral compass. Who knew?
|Release||February 14, 2017|
|Tags||History, London, thieves, princesses, kingdom, royals, romance, adventure, treachery, coup, plotting, murder, palace, coronation, Westminster, Westminster Abbey, Windsor, king|
“Where’s my boat?”
All dreams of Irish queens—perhaps the crown princess was Irish herself?—and pirates and even more daring escapes through castle grounds ceased when a suffocating pressure shoved the boy’s head deep into his mattress.
“Whumph?” Twisting, he ripped the pillow off his face just as a man sat on him, roughing his hair.
“You—” the man’s yellow goatee curved in a grin as his victim attempted to hold his hands away, “—took my boat out last night. I know you did.” He upended a disheveled boot and shook it. Dirt, straw, and three silver coins rained down on the boy pinned to the bed. “You left money. You always do. So, where’s my boat?”
“Hugh, it was—”
“I need it to row to Butler’s Warf by noon. It’s going to be a big one, Nicholas—”
“It’s probably sunk in the Thames.”
For a man of five-and-twenty, broad chested with arms like a sailor, Hugh’s face went exceptionally blank and his grip slackened. Nicholas used this time to squirm out from under him and stepped lightly on the freezing wooden floor in bare feet.
“You might’ve used the silver I gave you to buy firewood,” he remarked. A jerk on his vestments hauled him to a stop and he winced.
“Nicholas.” Hugh narrowed his gray eyes. “You’re joshing, yeah? You’re kidding.” He gave a little laugh. “You’re responsible, always. How could…”
Nicholas blinked his blue eyes once. Remorse flicked across his mouth. Then something else glittered in his eyes.
“Where did you go last night?” Squinting, Hugh gave the robes a little shake. “You pulled an Our Father. Why? What’d you do to your hand?”
Nicholas tugged off the handkerchief and displayed the small angry weal on his palm. “Slipped on the ice. Grabbed a cart.” His jaw set. “I explored last night. I didn’t get anything, but you know how everyone trusts a man of God—”
Hugh stared at the handkerchief lying on the floor, his mouth working at the purple, red, and gold embroidery. When his gaze met Nicholas’s again, they cooled to iron. “You were the intruder last night. The one everyone’s talking about.”
Nicholas finally snagged his vestments out of Hugh’s fingers. “What are you on about? Hugh, last night I went all the way to South Kensington.”
“Last night, you took my boat. Argh, you were the intruder and the priest they found! Are you mad! Are you saying the royal guard impounded my skiff?”
“More like sent it down the Thames to die.” Nicholas reached under his bed, found a pair of wool socks, and yanked them on, shrugging out of the robes as he did so. Now in just trousers and a shirt, he grabbed a seaman’s cable sweater off the bedpost. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hugh’s brow furrow in hurt.
“I’m sorry. I’ll—I’ll buy you a new one. I’ll buy you a cart to Butler’s Warf. A steamer. A hackney cab!” He knew he was upsetting him, but Westminster was his secret. His. He couldn’t very well explain to everyone that since the end of summer he’d risked the rope or worse just to steal stories….
Yanking a cloth cap low over his eyes, Nicholas turned back to grab a pair of cork-soled wellies.
“So this is where you go every night.”
Hugh’s voice froze him.
It wasn’t hurt.
It wasn’t angry.
Nicholas felt his mind grow sluggish in panic as he looked all over the small inn room they kept, buying seconds before he had to reply. His gaze scanned the wooden walls, the fireplace with wet socks from yesterday snagged on iron curls to dry, the two beds mounded with patched quilts and even a pair of Count Van Der Buke’s best silk sheets (one of Hugh’s proudest moments, except for the fact he was dressed as an abbess at the time), to the pair of steamer trunks, to the clothes on the floor. He couldn’t think of any grand rebuke, no slick denial, so he slowly looked up.
Hugh was bobbing his head up and down, chewing his lip. “Uhuh,” he smiled. Nicholas could hear Hugh’s mind putting it all together. “Finally. For months now you’ve disappeared every night, even after we’d had good hauls. Great hauls! You left that one night we waylaid that feast for the Duchess’s birthday, Her Whatever-ness.”
“That was for the queen’s memorial service.” The words came out faster than Nicholas meant for them too. That night he’d climbed the tower, only there had been no story. Disappointed, he had descended back to the ground and paused at one of the colossal windows. Two dozen men in tall, funny white hats and aprons were all arguing and screaming about how a good quarter of the delicacies brought to celebrate the queen’s life had never reached Westminster. At first, Nicholas was shocked to hear they’d taken only a quarter. Then, for the two weeks, he lost his appetite whenever someone brought up the feast from their root cellar.
“Right.” Hugh fixed him with a look. “Are you investigating? Casing? No way you’ve gone there all those nights—you would’ve been caught! No one’s that good—have you been interviewing people? Fired maids? Retired footman, perhaps?”
Nicholas glowed a little with pride inside, but Hugh was laughing.
“Nicholas, Nicholas! Little Nicholas trying to thieve in the king’s palace!” His gray eyes swam with tears of laughter. “I know your parents are the best in England mate, maybe Europe, but Westminster! Fancy a suit of armor, eh? The crown jewels! Can you imagine holding the scepter and the orb in your hands?”
Nicholas’s brow furrowed. Fine, let him believe that.
“Oh, don’t look sore. We’ll save the palace for your twentieth birthday, eh?”