Queen of Always
by Sherry D. Ficklin
(Stolen Empire #3)
Published by: Clean Teen Publishing
Publication date: September 15th 2015
Genres: Historical, Young Adult
LONG LIVE THE QUEEN
If her time at court has taught Catherine anything, it’s that there is no room for weakness in Imperial Russia. With the Empress’ health failing and rumors of a change in the line of succession, her place in the royal line is once more in jeopardy. Tormented by her sadistic husband and his venomous mistress, Catherine must once more walk the fine line between pleasure and politics—between scandal and survival.
When her young son becomes the target of those rebelling against Peter’s reign, Catherine will have to rise up to protect herself, her child, and her nation from his unstable and potentially catastrophic rule. This means putting herself at odds with the most dangerous man she’s ever known, trusting those who once proved to be her enemies, and turning a nation against its sovereign. In the ultimate battle for the crown, new alliances will be forged, loyalties will be tested, and blood will be shed.
Don’t miss this breathtaking conclusion to the Stolen Empire series!
Queen of Always is a YA historical fiction based on the life of young Catherine the Great. Fans of the hit TV show REIGN will devour this scandalous glimpse into the life of one of the most dynamic women in history.
Once everyone has filed in, Peter stands.
“I have gathered you together to witness a momentous occasion.” The crowd hushes. “This week, my son and heir was taken by those who would seek to destabilize our beloved country. Those men have been executed. But before their deaths, it was discovered that one of them had ties to Danish court.”
I watch on in horror as his eyes lock on to Alexander in the crowd. “While I cannot prove he was acting on orders from Danish court, I have decided that a show of force is necessary. And so this week, I am dispatching troops to Demark. We will take the country and any who oppose us will be razed to the ground.” He lifts a glass as if to toast, but the room is silent. I stand, leaning over and whispering.
“Peter, you can’t declare war on Denmark with no evidence. They are our ally, if you attack them unprovoked—“
I don’t get to finish my thought. His hand shoots out, slapping me in the face so hard I pitch forward and roll down the small staircase.
My ears are still ringing when he slowly climbs down and takes a handful of my hair in his fist, lifting me to my feet.
“There may be some of you who question my decisions. But I am sovereign Russia. This country, and everyone in it, belong to me. I decide who we will be at war with and I will decide who to call my wife.”
He’s shouting, spittle flying from his mouth as he takes two steps forward, dragging me with him. When he finally releases me, I stumble but manage to keep my feet under me.
“George, take her to the cells!”
I blink, steeling myself to be taken into custody. But to my surprise, George doesn’t move. He simply lowers his head.
“Mikahil!” Peter yells, looking for support from his oldest friend. Mikhail rushes to Peter’s side and whispers furiously. Peter waves him off in an angry fit.
“Guards, take her!” he orders. Two guards near the rear door move, only to be met with a line of Nobles blocking their path. My own guards rush in, swords drawn, and circle me.
I can feel the rage radiating off Peter in waves. Straightening myself I hold up my hands.
“No, please. Let them through.” Then to Grigori, “Let them take me, that is my command.”
Reluctantly the Nobles step aside, and my guards retreat. But before his guards can touch me Peter screams and they freeze.
“No! You will not obey her. You will obey me!”
For a long moment no one moves. Battle lines have been drawn and it’s as if the entire assembly might erupt into a bloody massacre right here in open court. My breath is coming too fast, I realize, forcing myself to still against the rising panic. Unsure what else to do to defuse the situation I turn to Peter and curtsey deeply.
“Yes, we will obey our king!” I say, my voice as steady as I can make it. Around me, others do the same, some even dropping to one knee.
Finally, Peter takes a deep breath, seeming to calm. But it’s a menacing sound, one I know all too well, and goosebumps break out across my skin. It’s the sound the wind makes before it blows, the sound of waves an instant before they crash to the shore. The sound of inevitability. While I realize that nothing can stop him now, I know I must try anyway, I must try to contain the damage.
“Punish me, if you will, but leave the others. It was only their deep sense of chivalry that drove them to defend me, nothing more,” I plead.
The side of his mouth curls up as Peter nods.
“Yes, you must be punished. You publically challenged my authority and your punishment will be equally public.”
I swallow hard. A flogging, if I’m lucky. Or perhaps simply a few days in the stockade. He will punish me, but he will not kill me, not even for this. I sag, a moment of relief washing over me, but he sees it, and in his eyes, I see something change.
Moving slowly across the room he grabs a crystal flask of liquid, each step, each gesture exaggerated like a court fool might. When he moves back to me, he holds it close enough for me to smell, swirling the clear liquid inside. Vodka? My confusion lasts only a moment.
Slowly he begins pouring it down my shoulders, into my hair, and down my white feathered gown. The liquid is cold against my hot flesh, soaking into my heavy damask gown. The heavy odor fills my lungs, making each breath sting. Around me people watch, looks of shock and horror etched onto their faces. I find Sergei in the crowd and hold his gaze. His blue-green eyes are narrow, his hand hovering inches above the long knife attached to his waistcoat. I shake my head, imperceptibly, and he blinks, still not relaxing. He’s trying to decide if he’s going to come to my rescue, but I know that if he does, Peter will kill us both. His jaw clenches, but finally, he drops his hand. I feel myself relax, just a bit, as Peter begins speaking again, drawing my attention to his face. He’s excited, like a child about to play his favorite game. It’s then that the real fear hits me.
“My Aunt didn’t believe in executing her enemies. She understood that death was a privilege, that there were far worse things.” He pauses, sweeping the room with a glance. “Let me be very clear. I will not tolerate any disloyalty.” He replaces the now empty flask on the tray and picks a lit candle from the nearby candelabra. I hold his gaze as he walks slowly toward me, each footstep echoing in the deathly still room. The pulse beats in my ears so loudly it drowns out all other sounds, my heart flutters in my ribcage like a hummingbird. I will not let him see me afraid, I decide, steeling myself. I will not give him the pleasure. I would rather die in flames right now than to let him break me again. I lift my chin, refusing to falter.
Once he’s close enough he leans in close, whispering into my ear.
“I have wanted to do this for a very long time, wife.”
He touches the flame to my gown. All I can do is scream as chaos erupts around me.
You can see more about Sherry and her books at her official website, sherryficklin.com