The Duke of Snow and Apples
Entangled / August 26, 2014 / $0.99 digital
Frederick Snow, first footman, is the perfect servant: efficient, hardworking, and completely bereft of emotion. Unbeknownst to his employers, he’s the lost Duke of Snowmont, on the run from a suspicious stepfather and a powerful magic he can only control by burying his passions beneath his frosty demeanor. He's managed to hide behind his carefully ordered life until an impertinent miss arrives and challenges everything he thought he wanted.
If Charlotte Erlwood wants to land a wealthy, titled husband at her great aunt’s house party, she has to stop losing her temper – especially with inordinately handsome footmen. Perhaps if she recruits Frederick for her matrimonial schemes, she'll be able to direct her attention toward suitable single noblemen and away from inappropriate dalliances. But Frederick’s frigid control is no match for Charlotte’s irrepressible spirit, and her passionate kiss could summon the darker side of his magic...or wake his heart from its frozen sleep.
Elizabeth Vail's The Duke of Snow and Apples is an alternate-reality romance where magic is the norm and the gulf between the Pure-Blooded and Underfolk is even greater than that of your basic Regency-set Historical.
When Frederick, Duke of Snowmont was 15, something terrible happened with his magic and he ran away, winding up half-dead on Lady Balrumple's doorstep. She took him in and he's spent the last ten years working his way up to First Footman, earning a reputation as the perfect servant. He's worked hard to control his magic and emotions and nothing cracks his veneer until Lady Balrumple's niece, Charlotte, arrives for a house party.
The change in Charlotte's appearance struck Frederick into stillness, even as long-ignored, dusty sections of his heart started squirming and shifting, woken into movement. Frederick's gaze dropped to her lips and noticed one corner quirked up higher than the other. He felt a surprising clench in his gut as his mind narrowed down to the single, focused thought that if he kissed that one corner enough it would shift back in place and behave…
Frederick jerked up and caught Charlotte's glance for a startled instant, and he saw colors about her head, the last vestiges of angry red, sad violet, and a glimmer of cheerful green, before he yanked his gaze away, appalled. He scrunched his eyes shut, cutting off the flow of his power. He hadn't meant to let it out.
Pull it back, he willed. Pull it all back. He imagined snow and cold and silence, and he tried to distract himself with the immediately physical—the irritating weight of his wig, the pull of his gloves, the crunch of dead leaves beneath his boot With a coldly professional demeanor, he bowed to Miss Charlotte and closed the carriage door. He let the dangerously tempting heat of his power draw back from his eyes, and he slowly regained control.
Charlotte knows something about hiding as well. She is there on a mission to find a husband and has invented what she thinks is the perfect façade to snare one.
All eyes were on her, now. Charlotte closed her eyes and imagined her practiced politeness as an impenetrable armor that deflected every possible sneering glance, every upturned nose, every doubtful frown. She drew herself taller, brought her calm, cool smile forward, and imagined the metal sound of a helm's visor slamming shut.
Let them try to find fault with me now. Charlotte was a warrior princess. Her modest, girlish, flirtatious, graceful, cultured, proper demeanor was her trusted mace, and she was fully prepared to club the nearest bachelor over the head with it and drag him to the altar as soon as possible.
Frederick is assigned to be Charlotte's personal footman during her stay and their attraction steadily grows into friendship and then more. All this leads to fun and pleasure as both begin to lose their armor and become more their true selves. But this also comes with pain, for they know nothing can come of it.
“Tell me how to become like you. Cold. Perfect. I've seen you.” She pressed a small damp hand against his chest. “You disappear when things get hard, leaving ice in your place. How lovely it must be for you. I want that.” …
“Do you think it's easy?” Frederick tightened his grip, daring her to hold his gaze. “Do you think it's a simple matter, like closing a door or barring a window? Snow melts. Ice weakens. You always have to shore it up, freeze it again, reinforce it to keep everything out. Before you know it you've used up every good part of yourself, and you're empty, and alone. You can guard that emptiness all you like, but that's all it is. Dull echoes and useless space.”
“You seem to manage well enough,” Charlotte spat …
“I did manage. I was managing. Ten long, frozen years, I was cold and I was peaceful. But then you had to come and ruin everything. You had to poke and prod and touch everything - and after that? It took all of my strength just to keep my hands off you. What did I have left to keep the world away? Nothing! …
”And now you want me to teach you to do something I can't even manage for five minutes anymore? Holy Maiden, even now I want to kiss you, with your face all squashed up and red as a goblin's.“
An outraged gasp interrupted Charlotte's sob. ”Squashed?"
The alternate-reality aspects of The Duke of Snow and Apples took a while to get used to but the important part of any romance—the emotion, the connection, the love—is so well done and yes, romantic.
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Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com.