The Cracked Slipper
by Stephanie Alexander
When Eleanor Brice unexpectedly wins the heart of Gregory Desmarais, Crown Prince of Cartheigh, she's sure she's found her happily-ever-after. Unfortunately, Prince Charming has a loose grip on his temper, a looser grip on his marriage vows, and a tight grip on the bottle.
Eight years of mistreatment, isolation and clandestine book learning hardly prepare Eleanor for life at Eclatant Palace, where women are seen, not heard. According to Eleanor's eavesdropping parrot, no one at court appreciates her unladylike tendency to voice her opinion. To make matter worse, her royal fiancé spends his last night of bachelorhood on a drunken whoring spree. Before the ink dries on her marriage proclamation Eleanor realizes that she loves her husband's best friend, former soldier Dorian Finley.
Eleanor can't resist Dorian's honesty, or his unusual admiration for her intelligence, and soon both are caught in a dangerous obsession. She drowns her confusion in charitable endeavors, but the people's love can't protect her from her feelings. When a magical crime endangers the bond between unicorns, dragons, and the royal family, a falsely accused Eleanor must clear her own name to save her life. The road toward vindication will force a choice between hard-won security and an impossible love.
The Cracked Slipper is a book club friendly fairytale retelling in the vein of Gregory Maguire, with a dash of romance. Set in a pseudo-renaissance, corset-and-petticoats enchanted kingdom, The Cracked Slipper brings a magical twist to women's fiction.
"He tugged at his earlobe. “I can’t, Mistress, and I would, just to get you out of this hallway, but Prince Gregory is not here.”
“Not here? What do you mean? It has to be—”
“Two in the morning.”
“Two in the morning,” she said. Something icy formed in her chest, and it wasn’t from the cold tiles beneath her feet. “I see. Well, I’ll be going.” She turned slowly.
“I’m sorry, Mistress.” The gruff voice followed her, but she didn’t want to turn around and see the sympathy on his face. She started up the steps but stopped midway.
There must be an explanation. She could not face tomorrow not knowing. She would wait and see, and it would all be revealed. Probably just some late-night meeting with his advisers, a problem that must solved before the wedding. She would wait until he returned, and then go back to bed happy.
Exhaustion caught up with her and she sat on the bottom step out of view of the guard. She wrapped her arms around her knees and in spite of the cold she nodded off. After some time, maybe ten minutes or maybe an hour, she heard voices. She sat up.
They were male voices, and some of them sounded familiar. She rocked forward on her numb toes and peered around the corner again.
She recognized Dorian first, and then Brian, Raoul, and several of Gregory’s other friends. Dorian struggled to hold someone up. Her heart sank as she recognized Gregory’s auburn hair.
He could barely stand. His legs kept buckling underneath him. Each time they crumpled he reached up with both arms. He grabbed Dorian’s neck and nearly dragged them both to the floor. The other men kept up a constant stream of harassment. She lost track of who said what, but their words rang painfully clear.
“What’s that Gregory? Those two Talessee girls where too much for you?”
“We should have quit after the redhead. She took care of him quite nicely.”
“Did you see the tits on that one?”
“Old Greg was probably seeing four of them. He was so smashed he was already falling over.”
“But his flagpole was standing up!” They all roared with laughter.
“A fine tribute to Cartheigh!”
“Tell me, Gregory, how will your sweet little maid compare with those last two?”
Gregory’s head swung up. “See, what you boys don’t realize…is I can have the sweet little maid and still bang as many whores as I see fit. Benefits of the crown.”
Eleanor could barely breathe. She head Dorian’s voice for the first time. “All right, all
right, let’s get you to bed or you’re liable to pass out on the altar.”
Gregory spoke again. “And you know, boys, little Eleanor is not quite as sweet as you may think— I’ve already had my hands on her—”
“Enough, Gregory,” Dorian said. He thrust the stuttering prince off on Brian and Raoul. He took the keys from the guard, who gazed resolutely at the wall.
“Tonight was just practice for tomorrow—”
Eleanor couldn’t take any more. Without any further thought she stepped out into the hallway.
They all froze, a bunch of possums blinded by a woodsmen’s torch. Eleanor couldn’t speak. She simply stood there, staring at Gregory strung between Brian and Raoul like a pair of wet stockings left out to dry. Her hands clenched at her sides in tight fists. Blood roared in her ears, but her eyes were dry.
Dorian finally broke the silence.“Eleanor.”
Gregory cocked his head. “Sweetheart, how good to see you.”
His body jerked and he vomited. It covered his boots, and the sentry’s. The guard never moved. The acidic scent hit Eleanor’s nose and broke her paralysis. She fled up the steps. She heard Dorian calling after her but she didn’t stop. She brushed past her own sentry, threw the door open with both hands, closed it and drew the latch. She leaned against it. She had left her candle in the hallway, but she’d built the fire well and it still burned. She jumped at a gentle tap on the door behind her.
Dorian’s voice through the thick wood loosened the tears that had not come downstairs. “Eleanor,” he said, “please open the door. Let me explain.”
“No, go away.”
“He’s just drunk. It’s just talk among men. He didn’t mean any of it.”
“So where were you all? You weren’t out pitching lawn bolls!”
“I don’t deny it, or defend it. But Gregory loves you. He never meant to hurt you. ”
She leaned her head against the door. There was no way she could open it. “I don’t know what to believe,” she said. And then, louder, “Please go away, Dorian. Please.”
“As you wish.”
She sensed him standing on the other side, and then his footsteps moved down the hallway."
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Stephanie Alexander grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, the oldest of three children. Drawing, writing stories, and harassing her parents for a pony consumed much of her childhood. After graduating from high school in 1995 she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the College of Charleston, South Carolina. She returned to Washington, DC, where she followed a long-time fascination with sociopolitical structures and women’s issues to a Master of Arts in Sociology from the American University. She spent several years as a Policy Associate at the International Center for Research on Women, a think-tank focused on women’s health and economic advancement.
Stephanie embraced full-time motherhood after the birth of the first of her three children in 2003. After six wonderful years buried in diapers and picture books she returned to her childhood passion and wrote her own fairytale. Her family put down permanent southern roots in Charleston in 2011. Stephanie is an adjunct professor of Sociology at the College of Charleston.
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