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Authors: Aimie K. Runyan

Promised to the Crown

BOOK: Promised to the Crown
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Advance praise for Aimie K. Runyan and
Promised to the Crown
“This gripping debut brings to life the saga of three courageous women from disparate backgrounds starting over in New France. Aimie Runyan deftly guides us through the hardships and rewards of life on the early Canadian frontier.
Promised to the Crown
is an absorbing adventure with heart.”
 
—Jennifer Laam, author of
The Secret Daughter of the Tsar
 
“A captivating tale of three courageous women: Rose, Elizabeth, and Nicole, bonded by adversity, friendship, and love. In author Aimie Runyan's skillful hands, their stories are woven together as seamlessly as were their fascinating lives.
Promised to the Crown
is an unforgettable saga of strength and sisterhood, one that will stay with you long after the final page.”
 
—Anne Girard, author of
Madame Picasso
and
Platinum Doll.
 
“In her original and well-written debut,
Promised to the Crown,
Aimie Runyan evokes the story of three young women who venture from France to Canada in the seventeenth century to marry and start a new life. It is a heart-wrenching and timeless tale of friendship, love, and hope that skillfully blends history and romance to educate, entertain and inspire.”
 
—Pam Jenoff, author of
The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach
 
“An engaging, engrossing debut. Runyan's gift transports you to the distant, frozen landscape of seventeenth-century Canada, but Rose, Elisabeth, and Nicole feel as real as if they live next door. A romantic, compelling adventure.”
 
—Greer Macallister,
USA Today
bestselling author of
The Magician's Lie
P
ROMISED TO THE
C
ROWN
AIMIE K. RUNYAN
KENSINGTON BOOKS
www.kensingtonbooks.com
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
To Allan, for being my port in the storm,
my partner in crime,
best friend, and the love of my life.
And to Ciarán and Aria, for teaching me the
kind of motherly love that made this book possible.
A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS
As with any first book, the list of people to thank is so long that I am sure to forget someone crucial to the creation of this book: My profound apologies in advance.
Many thanks to:
My rock star agent, Melissa Jeglinski, my wonderful editor, John Scognamiglio, and the entire crew at Kensington for believing in this project and spending countless hours to make it shine. I am immeasurably grateful to you.
Susan Spann, for being my first friend at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and for taking me under her wing. She embodies all that is great in the writing community. And RMFW? You're the best tribe there is.
The wonderful women of the BWW: Jamie Raintree, Katie Moretti, Gwen Florio, Andrea Catalano, Theresa Alan, and Orly Konig-Lopez for the unwavering support from first query to release day. You're all amazing, and I couldn't do this without you. I love you all.
Jill Furman and Melony Black for reading this when it was rougher than tree bark and not hating me for it, and to Abby Polzin for all the great cleanup edits. Thanks to all who read this work in its infancy and adolescence. It is better because of you.
The wonderful women of the Tall Poppies, thank you for welcoming me into the fold. You're some of the most talented writers in the biz, and I'm proud you let me sit at the cool table with you.
My wonderful family, especially Wayne and Kathy Trumbly and Bob and Donna Runyan for their love and support.
Most of all, to Allan, Ciarán, and Aria. The three of you made me a wife, a mother, and a much busier, much happier woman. You are the best things in my life.
Adversity draws men together and produces beauty
and harmony in life's relationships, just as the
cold of winter produces ice-flowers on the
window-panes, which vanish with the warmth.
 
—Søren Kierkegaard
PART 1
1667
Louis XIV's colony in Canada needs women.
Surrounded by the British, the King needs to tie his settlers to the land with farms, wives, and children to defend in the event their enemies should invade.
The King's ministers devised a plan by which young, strong women of good character would be sent at the King's expense to wed the soldiers, farmers, artisans, and fur trappers who populated the colony.
History would remember them as the King's Daughters and the Daughters of New France.
C
HAPTER
1
Rose
June 1667, The Salpêtrière Charity Hospital, Paris
 
O
ne, two, three strokes up . . . Rinse. One, two, three strokes down. Rinse. Move three inches to the right....
Rose Barré scoured the floor on her hands and knees, her once fine hands now raw, cracked, and bleeding, as she tried to rid the small room of the stench. The battle was futile. One painfully clean dormitory cell would not mask the stink of filth and disease that permeated the dozens of other cells surrounding it. The fetid smell of mold, piss, and unwashed flesh hit Rose in the face each morning as she opened her eyes and kept her from her sleep at night, despite all the promises that she would grow used to it. This was one of Rose's bad days, where, no matter what she did, she could not stop scrubbing, even though her
officière
had forbidden the endless scouring. No matter how Rose tried to reason with herself, she could never get the room clean enough to sate the urge. She wiped her black, matted curls from her forehead with the back of her hand and moved the brush three inches to the right.
The church bells rang not far from Rose's room, causing her to look up from the soapy scrub marks. She tossed her brush in the bucket of murky water with more vigor than necessary.
I'm going to be late.
Missing a lesson would not be worth the resultant reprimand, no matter how much Rose longed to continue her attack on the perpetually grimy floor. She looked down at the water stains on the knees of her dingy canvas apron.
Oh well, I haven't another
.
I'll bear the disapproving eyes of the Sisters as I always do.
Before she reached the door to the classroom, Rose heard voices raised in argument coming from Sister Vérité's rooms. She scuttled past the open door on her way to the catechism room with every attempt at silence. She laid her hand on the classroom's door handle when Sister Vérité called her name. She froze.
Curse my luck!
Rose groaned quietly. Rose turned back and entered the well-ordered apartment that served as Sister Vérité's office and living quarters, leaving the musty hallway behind. The familiar rooms smelled of candle wax and book dust, not unpleasant for a room in the Salpêtrière. As she entered, Rose saw Sister Charité, the Supérieure herself, seated behind the large walnut desk.
“Hello, Sister,” Rose stammered.
She realized that raised voice had been Vérité's; the younger
officière
had dared to argue with the Supérieure. Rose felt a cold stone growing in the hollow of her stomach as she took the proffered chair.
“Sister Vérité and I were just discussing you, my child,” Sister Charité said.
Rose felt the rock in her stomach grow larger still.
“Me, Sister?” Rose asked. Given the immense scope of the Supérieure's duties, Rose figured her goings-on were as significant to the head of the massive establishment as the scurrying of ants.
“Yes, my dear,” the Supérieure said, looking Rose over. “You know that your skills and talents, your education, have not gone unnoticed by Sister Vérité. Therefore, you have not gone unnoticed by me. The question, child, is where your talents are best spent.”
Sister Vérité's preference for Rose was no surprise. From her arrival at the charity hospital three years prior, the Sister earmarked her as a “
bijou,
” a gem. Rose learned this meant that she was being groomed to be an
officière
herself one day. Sister Vérité's kindness in those early days, Rose was certain, was the only thing that kept her heart from breaking. She had shadowed the young woman ever since. More recently, she'd taken on the unofficial role of assistant.
They're here to make me a
sous-officière, Rose concluded, but was relieved only momentarily.
My appointment wouldn't make Vérité displeased. Surely, one as young and inexperienced as I wouldn't be asked to serve in La Force to work with the lunatics and thieves.
The stone turned to bile that threatened to escape its confines as she pondered the possibility. Life in the dormitories felt like purgatory, but from what Rose understood from the stories, the hospital prison was hell itself.
Sister Charité shifted position in her seat, seemingly adjusting her thoughts as well. “You are, without question, of great use to us here. Sister Vérité vehemently supports taking you on as an
officière.
I have no doubt you would serve us admirably in that capacity. The King, however, needs young women to go to New France as brides for his settlers there. In his wisdom, His Majesty has ordered us to send some of our best, that they might marry and end their reliance on the Royal treasury and solve His Majesty's colonial woes in one gesture. I think you would be an ideal choice. You are young, you are strong and healthy—a good worker, too.”
The room filled with a heavy silence as the Sisters waited for some response from Rose, who stared downward at her splotched apron.
“I leave the choice to you,” Sister Charité said. “I suggest you consider your options carefully. I will expect your answer in the morning.”
Sister Charité gave her
officière
a pointed glare and left the room with her usual efficiency.
New France?
Rose's hands shook at the very prospect. All she knew was that it was a cold, lonely place, far to the west. Only the bravest of men attempted the voyage, and fewer chose to make a life there. Could the good Sister, who preached to the inmates about the virtues of femininity and the place of women in the home, be serious about sending her—and others—to the colony?
Vérité looked at her charge with pleading eyes. “Sister Charité would not wish me to sway your decision, Rose, but I must speak. You cannot think to leave. Not for some desolate patch of wilderness that the King has taken a fancy to.”
“Truly, Sister, I do not know what to think.” Rose, who had never in the course of her life been given leave to make her own decisions, now had less than twenty-four hours to decide her own fate.
“You are needed here, Rose,” Sister Vérité said. “The children admire and love you. You have purpose here, helping the poor of Paris. Stay and be an example to them. What awaits you in New France? Bitter cold? A man, gone half-savage, who expects you to keep his shack? Child after child until bearing children kills you? Is that what you want?”
Rose looked at her mentor. Vérité's eyes shone with terror. Rose thought of a husband. One to treat her each night as her uncle had. Callous. Uncaring. Cruel. Rose had no desire to relive the torture she had endured at his hands.
Vérité smiled at Rose, taking the girl's hand in her own. “The Salpêtrière isn't paradise, but it
is
safe. Now, hurry along to class.”
Rose's prayers and responses to the questions on her catechism that afternoon were distracted at best. If Sister Jeanne, normally a stickler for attentiveness, noticed Rose's comportment, she said nothing. The lenience made more sense when Rose remembered that Sister Charité had mentioned others would go to New France as well. The
officières
would certainly know who the candidates were.
There are no secrets in a place like this. Not ones anyone can keep for long.
After catechism came supper, an ample bowl of hearty beef soup and crusty bread, a substantial degree better than the usual fare. It still tasted as pleasant as soot in Rose's mouth that night. Excused from her evening duties, Rose returned to her room after supper and paced the floors, still dingy for all her toils. A fatigue, much deeper than she had ever felt, washed over her. She felt crippled by the enormity of the decision. She thumbed through her prayer book, but knew it would give her no solace that night. She looked at her ratty mattress, but knew sleep would not come. She opted for the hard wire bristles of her scrub brush instead.
Even three long years weren't enough for Rose to adjust to the cesspool that was her prison. Her heart still broke with each injustice. All it took was a letter from a well-connected member of society to the right people, and a woman was imprisoned in this “charity hospital” for the rest of her days. A girl who refused to marry a man a quarter century her senior, another who took a profession as a secretary without her father's blessing, women branded as mad by husbands who wished to be rid of them. Most common were the countless orphans, like Rose, whose families simply couldn't be bothered with their care. These were Rose's companions now, so very unlike the ones her beloved father had envisioned for her.
As she scrubbed, Rose remembered her father's face, lined with kindness. A successful merchant, he'd lost his life over a hand of
vingt-et-un
with a disgruntled client when Rose was barely twelve years old. Her mother died giving birth to her, and Rose was sent to live with her aunt and uncle on their estate outside of Paris. A palace of crystal chandeliers, gilded furniture, and gardens manicured to the point they no longer resembled anything from nature. For two and a half happy years Rose's aunt doted upon her niece and Rose reveled in spoiling her young cousins. Then her uncle took notice of Rose's developing breasts and soft red lips.
Too frequently, Rose remembered that first evening when she gently shut the door to the nursery and released a grateful sigh that the day was coming to a close. She had just finished tucking in little Luce after three stories and a promise of more tomorrow, and Rose was ready to find her own bed.
“Tired, my dear?” asked Uncle Grégoire, approaching his niece from a spot in the shadows farther down the hall.
Rose gasped, not having heard her uncle approach, and not used to his presence in this wing of the house. His children, while necessary for the protection of the estate, were of little interest to him in many respects. “You gave me a start, Uncle!” cried Rose. “Yes, yes, I am tired. The children were particularly energetic today.”
Grégoire clucked his tongue in disapproval. “You work too hard, my dear. You were not brought here to be a servant, you know.”
“Of course, Uncle. But I enjoy the children immensely.”
“Let their mother and the servants attend to them, my dear.” Grégoire was now standing only inches from Rose, and his proximity was beginning to make her nervous. She would have taken a step back, but she was all but pinned to the nursery door. Rose looked at her uncle, not knowing what to say by way of a response.
“You're not a chatty girl,” remarked Grégoire, running a finger down his niece's flushed cheek. “I like that. You please me a great deal, you know.” His fingertip reached its objective . . . the swell of her lower lip.
“I do?” muttered Rose, covertly looking for a way to escape. She saw none.
“Oh yes,” said Grégoire. “I don't want you wasting your energies on the children. I will keep you as my pet. Do you understand? Your aunt must never know.”
Before she could answer that she, in fact, did not understand what her uncle wanted from her, his mouth was upon hers. Trapped, Rose had no choice but to press herself against the door. His right hand moved from her hair to the front of her dress, grabbing the soft swell of her breast, causing Rose to whine in displeasure.
“To your room, now,” he commanded, pulling away from her and grabbing her arm, forcing her to follow.
Once in the small bedchamber, he divested himself of most of his clothes and began to yank her dress from her shivering frame. He shoved her to the bed and tears rolled down her cheeks as he took her roughly, without consideration for her innocence.
“Good girl,” he said, throwing his clothes back on before Aunt Martine noticed his absence. “You will wait up for me each night unless I give you leave otherwise. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Uncle,” she said, wiping the tears from her face.
“You will come to enjoy it, little pet.” He cast a glance at the bloodstains on her bed. “Now see to your sheets before your aunt notices the mess.”
And so it continued for six months. Uncle Grégoire did not miss an evening, and despite his assertion to the contrary, she never came to enjoy his unwanted attentions. Each month, Rose feared she would miss her course and she would be utterly ruined. Worse, Rose began to worry her uncle would never tire of her and continue his nightly visits forever. She longed to tell her aunt, but didn't want to break her heart when she learned what a monster her husband was. She knew she was ruined for marriage, but she hoped that if the whole disgusting affair stayed secret she might remain a sort of spinster aunt who cared for the children and eventually their own children.
That was until one night when, without preamble, Rose's bedroom door was flung open just as her uncle was dressing to leave.
“You little whore.” Aunt Martine looked with hate, not at her half-naked husband, but at Rose, who lay trembling, trying to forget his embraces.
The next morning Rose was taken from her bed with nothing but her oldest dress and most basic belongings in tow. With one word from her aunt, she was now a ward of the state and a prisoner of the Salpêtrière. Stripped of all she ever knew and loved, she was terrified of this new hell in which she found herself.
Rose was abandoned, screaming, at the gates of the Salpêtrière. The fear gripped her like the cold fingers of death. She was certain she wouldn't live out the night, so she wasn't afraid that her screams would earn her a beating. Seeing the dawn light through her cell window proved a disappointment that morning and many afterward.
Rose thought of her father often. Sometimes she indulged in the fantasy that he was miraculously returned to life. She imagined his face as he saw her on her knees scrubbing the floor in a tattered dress. When he learned where she was, what his brother had done to her, there would be another duel, this time with a far more satisfactory outcome. In her childhood, she was given every whim of her heart, coddled and loved by him and a long string of overindulgent governesses. He loved to tell Rose how much she looked like his beloved, lamented wife. So far as Rose knew, he never loved another woman. She treasured the thought like a precious jewel. Like the emerald brooch of her mother's that now her aunt surely kept for herself.
BOOK: Promised to the Crown
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