The Glass Rainbow
A Cracked Slipper Novel, Book 3
fantasy series · fairy tales · strong female lead · mythology & folk tales
"Great characters and storyline! Love the 'magic' of this familiar tale of family, hope and best of all. Love!" —★★★★★ Reader Review
Four years have passed since Eleanor Brice Desmarais’s darkest secret came to heartbreaking, perilous light. The princess with the cracked glass slipper still mourns unimaginable losses, including the deaths of her son and her best friend. Her lover, Dorian Finley, is in exile in a far northern kingdom. Eleanor and her husband, Crown Prince Gregory of Cartheigh, barely tolerate one another. Her two daughters are the bright stars in what feels like an existence of endless night.
Husband and wife travel north on an unexpected diplomatic mission, and Eleanor, Dorian, and Gregory resume their dangerous love triangle, with continued interference from Eleanor’s wily stepsister. Eleanor’s old nemesis, Ezra Oliver, forms a mysterious alliance with an army of vicious, bloodthirsty ogres, pushing Cartheigh to the brink of war. His magical finagling exposes strange connections between Eleanor’s world and our own, and places her precocious, enigmatic daughter, Natalie, in terrible danger. When Gregory suddenly finds himself king, he leans on Dorian and Eleanor’s counsel. With a fledgling monarch on the throne and the enemy amassing in the north, the unlikely triad must unite for the good of the kingdom. Their shared purpose forces Eleanor to rethink years of grudges, resentment, and animosity. As she truly embraces her own power, she finds herself learning to forgive, and asking for forgiveness.
— scroll down to read book sample —
"At long last! This brilliantly-written finale to the Cracked Slipper series was worth the wait. As we have come to expect with Stephanie Alexander's writing, the reader is immersed in Eleanor's world and experiences her joy, pain, fear and love right along with her. Ms. Alexander stays true to Eleanor, Gregory, Dorian and the rest, bringing their story to an unexpected—yet perfect—ending." —★★★★★ Reader Review
“Couldn't wait to read it. It was so worth the long wait for the conclusion of the cracked slipper series! I love the story and how it ended...” —★★★★★ Reader Review
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stephanie embraced full-time motherhood after the birth of the first of her three children in 2003. Her family put down permanent southern roots in Charleston in 2011. She published her first novel, The Cracked Slipper, in February 2012. The first printing of the series sold over 40,000 copies. Stephanie has appeared on local and national media, been a contributor on many writing blogs and in writing magazines, and regularly joins with book clubs for discussions of her work.
Stephanie Alexander grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC. 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 (ICRW), a think-tank focused on women's health and economic advancement.
In addition to her personal writing, Stephanie returned to the College of Charleston as an Adjunct Professor of Sociology, and launched her freelance ghostwriting and editing business, Wordarcher, LLC. She has ghostwritten dozens of books, from novels to memoirs to academic theses. Beginning in the Fall of 2015, as a single working mother, she attended law school on a full academic scholarship, earning her juris doctor with honors from the Charleston School of Law in December, 2017.
She currently practices family law in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, the Charleston suburb that is the setting of her latest novel, Charleston Green. Her personal experience rebuilding her life after divorce inspires both her legal work and her fiction. She published the second edition of The Cracked Slipper and its sequel, The Dragon Choker, in early 2020. The series is now complete with the release of final book in the series, The Glass Rainbow, in April 2020.
Her award-winning first Southern fiction novel, Charleston Green was released in April 2020 and is the 2020 Readers' Favorite Book Awards Silver Medalist for Paranormal Fiction.
Stephanie and her husband live in the Charleston area with their blended family of five children and their two miniature dachshunds, Trinket and Tipsy. She is represented by Stefanie Lieberman of Janklow & Nesbit Associates, New York, NY.
SAMPLE FROM THE GLASS RAINBOW
Chapter 1: A Long Road Ahead of You
After fourteen years, Eleanor Brice Desmarais knew the passageways of Eclatant Palace like she knew the patterns of her own thoughts. She took turns and stairs and ducked low-hanging tapestries without pausing; an unusually tall, unusually blonde woman, with unusually straight carriage. The servants were accustomed to the sight of Eleanor rushing about the castle. They bowed and asked for her blessing, for they’d long since overcome their fear of her mismatched eyes. Eleanor had twice vanquished the most feared magician in the history of the kingdom of Cartheigh. Her eyes—one robin’s egg blue, one reddish-brown—could not possibly be as unlucky as everyone once thought.
Eleanor lifted the skirts of her ivory gown as she climbed the last staircase on the way to King Casper Desmarais’s receiving room. White dress against white skin and the marble steps made her all but invisible until a flash of crimson besmirched the colorless tableau. A red parrot dropped from the chandelier onto her head, a jaunty kite let loose from a high wind. She tapped his scaly feet. “You’ll ruin my coiffure, Chou.”
“I’ve never liked you in braids, anyway.” Chou Chou flapped about on her head. His wings were like a matched set of elegant feathered fans—the sort the older ladies carried to chapel on hot summer days.
“Thank you for the breeze. It is warm for LowAutumn.”
“Don’t bore me with talk of the weather. I want to know why His Majesty wants to see you.”
“If you couldn’t find out, no one can. We’ll know soon enough.”
Chou left Eleanor’s head as they approached the Fire-iron door to the receiving room. She picked a stray red feather from her hair and shook out her skirts. Chou landed on a suit of armor. “I shall stand guard, my lady.” He tucked his beak under his wing and promptly went to sleep.
Eleanor’s nerves did a jig in her stomach as she waited before the door. Colors swirled under its silvery surface, barely perceptible, like a whispered riddle. She panicked whenever the king formally requested her presence. The same refrain rang through her head, an overused chorus in a bad opera.
He knows. He knows. He knows.
For over four years the secret had held, but she could not be sure of its safety. She never knew when, or how, King Casper would discover that Prince Gregory’s wife, the mother of his grandchildren, had conducted a decade-long affair with his son’s dearest friend.
The door opened and Orvid Jones, the Chief Magician, announced Eleanor’s arrival. No camaraderie touched Orvid’s brown eyes, nor did he show his buckteeth in the flash of a smile. He’d treated Eleanor with all the warmth of a snuffed candle since he learned the truth about her relationship with Dorian Finley, Duke of Brandling. She had long since given up trying to make amends.
Eleanor crossed the room and stopped before her father-in-law. Casper sat on his Fire-iron throne, a stout man with thick auburn hair that was finally going gray, like clouds giving in to sunset.
“Eleanor, good day,” said Casper as she curtsied. “Gregory, offer your wife a glass of wine.”
Eleanor turned to the refreshment table. She’d been so focused on the king, she’d not noticed her husband skulking in the corner. His lack of welcome did not surprise her. Husband and wife rarely spoke, except during public appearances. They didn’t say much in the nursery or at meals. They were even silent on the frequent, unfortunate occasions when Gregory visited Eleanor’s bed and attempted to plant a male heir in her belly.
“Eleanor doesn’t drink wine before dinner. Do you, sweetheart?” Gregory took a seat in his own Fire-iron throne beside Casper. Both men crossed their ankles and rested their elbows on the armrests. They so resembled one another—aside from a few layers of fat, a mustache, and Casper’s graying hair—that Eleanor might have been looking into a distorted mirror.
“Correct, Husband. I like a clear head when I’m managing the children’s affairs.”
“It is certainly wise to be alert to all affairs.”
Thankfully, the innuendo floated over King Casper’s head. “Speaking of the children,” the king said, “I have some news. About Leticia.”
“She’s to be wed,” said Gregory, before Eleanor opened her mouth.
At first, the comment didn’t register. “Who’s to be wed?”
Eleanor shook her head. “She’s twelve years old.”
“The Duke of Brandling has had great success repairing relations with the Svelyans,” said the king. “Not that I doubted he would.”
“Dorian has always been a charmer, as we all know,” said Gregory.
Oh, Gregory, how clever you think you are with your veiled insinuations. Under other circumstances, Eleanor may have thrown a reciprocal double entendre his way. Something so subtle as to be beyond his recognition, for safety’s sake. Not enough to stoke the dragon’s fire, but sufficient to soothe her own smoldering pride. In this critical moment, with both men’s judgment and authority bearing down on her, she only had conversational space to fight for her daughter.
“He convinced King Peter Mangolin to consider my daughter as a bride for his son, Crown Prince Samuel. Peter has invited me to visit. Meet his son. Tour the kingdom. A gesture of friendship unthinkable five years ago. I’m heading north in four days.”
“Gregory, you can’t be serious. Leticia? Married to the Svelyan prince? Dorian loves Ticia, he would never—”
She stopped herself and shut her teeth around her opinion. In their unspoken agreement to avoid one another as much as a royal couple feasibly could, they eschewed the subject of Dorian above all others. Before today, Gregory hadn’t so much as spoken his name to her in years. Sweat beaded on her forehead. For Dorian’s sake, she must not goad Gregory with reminders of their former familiarity. Especially if the two men would soon be reunited.
“They honor Ticia with their consideration,” said Gregory. “Samuel will someday be the second most powerful king in the known nations. She’d do well to be his wife.”
Eleanor pictured Leticia, her sunshine child, trapped in a drafty Svelyan Castle. Locked in a gray mist, beyond the Dragon Mines. A hundred miles of jagged mountains between Ticia and her family, a barely passable field of battleaxes turned sharp side up. Married to a Svelyan lord she didn’t know—and surrounded by a language she would not understand.
“She’s twelve, Husband.” Eleanor clung to the rational. “A child, not a wife.”
“High time we settle on plans for her,” said Gregory.
“Is it safe to travel to Svelya?” Eleanor asked. Casper always hesitated to send his only son and heir into danger.
“A battalion of the Unicorn Guard will escort Gregory,” the king said, “and our finest magicians. Orvid Jones himself will accompany him. This is a mission of goodwill. Leticia’s betrothal will help secure an alliance with our old enemies.”
The room sank into silence. Both men watched Eleanor. They knew what was coming. She tried to hold her tongue, HighGod knew she did, but it slipped from her grasp like a slippery fish.
“Please, Your Majesty. Ticia is too young to be married. And sent away—to Svelya? She’ll be so frightened—and we don’t even know this Svelyan prince. What if he’s cruel, or stupid, or a drunkard—” The Svelyan prince took shape in Eleanor’s mind. A hulking blonde man with squinty eyes, bad breath, and heavy hands. “Please. Don’t do this. Your own granddaughter—and the next heir—”
“Leticia is not my heir,” said Gregory. “As of this moment, I have no heir.”
The king laced his hands over his belly. “Leticia’s importance to the crown lies in her marriage. As for an heir, you produced a son once. You can do it again—with prayer and effort.”
Eleanor was too distraught to be mortified by the king’s reference to carnality. “You can’t. It’s not right. She’s my daughter!”
Eleanor’s words tinkled off the Fire-iron chandelier over their heads. Casper rubbed his mustache and stood. Eleanor dropped a curtsy as he approached. She expected a reprimand, but he spoke softly, as if addressing a tired toddler. “Do you think I have no care for my own granddaughter?”
“I cannot imagine, sire, that if you did you would send her away.”
Eleanor stared at the king’s belt. The Fire-iron D embossed on the buckle rose and fell with his labored breathing.
“Go with Gregory,” he said.
“Go to Svelya. Meet with the prince. Report your estimation of him to me. I will take it into consideration in my final decision.”
Eleanor rose. “Oh, Your Majesty, thank—”
“I’d not planned on her coming along,” said Gregory as he stood.
Gregory raked a hand through his hair. “Father, I don’t want to take her.”
“I won’t be any trouble on the journey, Gregory,” Eleanor said. “I promise.”
“I’m sure Dorian will be pleased to see you both after so long,” said Casper. “Now, you’re dismissed. Go prepare. You have a long road ahead of you.”
“Must you go?”
“Yes, darling,” Eleanor said to Leticia. “Your father needs me.”
“No, he doesn’t.” Ticia shook her head so adamantly that her auburn plaits slapped her cheeks. “He’ll have Vigor and the rest of the unicorns and Orvid Jones. He’ll see Uncle Dorian. We need you. Natalie and I.”
“You must take care of Natalie for me. You’re the older sister.”
Natalie danced around Eleanor’s skirts, grabbing for her mother’s waist. Eleanor picked her up. “Heavens, love,” she said as she kissed Natalie’s silky hair. “You’re getting so big. I shan’t be able to pick you up much longer.”
Natalie grinned and gently bopped Eleanor’s nose. “Mama, you should stay,” she said.
“I won’t be gone long, sweetheart. I’ll be back before you miss me.” She set Natalie on the ground. She wrapped her skinny arms around Ticia’s waist, and Ticia kissed the top of her head. For a precious moment, Eleanor marveled at her daughters’ beauty. Ticia with her dark red hair and reddish-brown eyes, even features, and long, slim form. As for Natalie, from portraits, Eleanor knew her to be the spitting image of her aunt, the Princess Matilda, who had died in childbirth before Eleanor came to Eclatant. Matilda, a legendary beauty, had strawberry blonde hair, large greenish-hazel eyes, and a smile that lit up a dark room in the heart of MidWinter. Natalie even had a dusting of light freckles over her nose, just like her aunt. Like Ticia, she was tall for her age and slender.
Despite being quite familiar with the signs of human reproduction, Eleanor hadn’t recognized them during the anxious chaos proceeding Dorian’s expulsion from Eclatant. Low and behold, Natalie entered the world only seven months after he went north—a welcome blessing in those long months of acute mourning. She continued to surprise and delight Eleanor every day. At four years old, she could already read and write her name. She spent hours pouring over storybooks. In that vein, she reminded Eleanor of her poor son, Nathan, gone over five years now. Nathan, however, had a serious and somewhat reserved temperament, while Natalie charmed everyone. Like Ticia—and truth be told, like her father. Eleanor adored her children equally, but she sometimes thought little Natalie inherited the best of her parents.
“You’re coming back tomorrow, Mama?” Natalie asked.
“The next day?”
“Not the next day, either.” Eleanor sighed. Natalie always understood more than she should. Her mother would find no respite from guilt in the child’s obliviousness. Eleanor offered her a stuffed unicorn. She cringed at the thought of how Natalie would grow during her absence, but not as much as she hated the idea of Ticia married to an unknown Svelyan.
As usual, Ticia would not be deterred. “I still don’t understand why you have to go—”
“I told you. Poppa needs me.” Eleanor felt no need to inform Ticia of her potential matrimonial fate.
“—and why you must take Chou Chou!” Tears filled Ticia’s eyes.
“Darling, Chou and I have been together since I was Natalie’s age. He’ll never let me go without him.”
The wooden nursery doors opened, and Gregory strode into the room. Ticia ran to him. She pelted him with questions about the journey, but he steered her in the direction of her easel. The opportunity to impress her father distracted her from her troubles.
“It’s very good, sweetheart.” Gregory ran a finger along Ticia’s portrait of her unicorn, Cricket. “Try a darker gray around the muscles in Cricket’s haunches. Think of the shadows.”
Ticia’s brow furrowed. She took up her charcoal pencil and a smudging rag. “Shadows…” she whispered and set about following her poppa’s advice.
With Ticia occupied, Natalie dropped her toy unicorn and jumped into her father’s arms. “And you, little one. Or”—he lifted Natalie above his head and she squealed in delight—“maybe not so little. Perhaps Pansy feeds you too many sweetmeats.”
“She’s perfectly healthy,” said Eleanor.
Gregory laughed. “Of course, she is. She’ll be as graceful as Ticia and my darling Matilda. Not like me as a child. So round! In those portraits in father’s study I look as if you could roll me down the hall. Do you need help with your packing?”
Gregory’s chatty mood and solicitousness unnerved her, in light of his usual abject distaste for company. Eleanor kept her own tone light and pleasant for the girls’ sake, but she watched him out of the corner of her eye as she folded a blanket. “I’m nearly ready. Since we’re going on unicornback, there’s not much to be done.”
“I’ve written to King Peter. He shall have his finest seamstress at your disposal when we arrive. Your new gowns will be the height of Svelyan fashion.”
“Thank you for allowing me to accompany you.”
Gregory set Natalie in front of her dollhouse, where she started a lively conversation with the figurines. He walked to Eleanor and took her hands. He spoke in a whispery voice, as smooth as a ream of the Svelyan silk he’d promised her, but his gripping fingers cut into hers like blunt sewing shears. “That was the king’s decision, not mine. Just know if I catch wind of any impropriety, I’ll cut off his manhood and serve it to the dragons on a Fire-iron platter.”
With that, he left. Eleanor sat on the edge of Ticia’s bed. She knew exactly who’s manhood risked removal from his person. The sun slid behind a cloud, and Eleanor’s shadow faded on the woven rug below her skirts. Her trembling fingers danced over the Fire-iron and diamond chain around her neck. She touched the dragon choker’s center stone. Even if she raised the memory in her mind, the one that magically united the dragon choker with Dorian’s ring, Rosemary’s spell was not powerful enough to bridge the distance between them. She could not make his ring glow with comforting blue fire. He would not feel her heartfelt attempt to remind him she still loved him. Regardless, she thought of the broom closet anyway, as she often did. When the red stone warmed her chest, the room didn’t seem so cold.
The day of Eleanor and Gregory’s departure dawned gray and drizzly, as if HighGod were preparing them for the North Country weather. Eclatant’s formal courtyard spread out before Eleanor, in all its imposing glorification of the Desmarais family and the Great Bond. A thousand purple and green banners flapping in the wet breeze gave the impression of so much polite applause, and the rose bushes clung stubbornly to their blossoms, as if dropping a petal would be sacrilege. Eleanor stood next to her unicorn, Teardrop, beside the larger than life statue of Caleb Desmarais. The first Desmarais king peered down at his descendants and their subjects from the back of his own stone unicorn, the great stallion, Eclatant. Both man and mount wore expressions of benevolent tolerance. Eternal patience with those to whom they’d handed their collective legacy three hundred years ago. Eleanor tucked her hair into her cloak. She inhaled the scents of wet livestock and baking bread. Chou yawned in her ear. “Always so early with these northern voyages. The sun is barely awake. The chickens are peaceful in their coop.”
“Look a long journey in the face, as the witches say.” Eleanor kissed Teardrop’s silky muzzle. The mare snuffled her neck. Her ears pricked, and her white lashes blinked over her liquid eyes like the wings of excited dragonflies. She shifted her mighty haunches, and Eleanor felt anticipation flowing beneath her ivory hide. “Not quite time to go, dearest. We’re to have a formal send away.”
“The air is so clean in the North,” Teardrop said in her breezy voice. “I remember the taste. Like water from a deep spring. The smell of the dragons. Burning rocks.”
Chou landed between Teardrop’s ears and nibbled her forelock. “Do you remember so well the smell of Giant Buzzards, carried on a cold wind?”
“Hush, Chou,” said Eleanor as she hauled herself into the saddle. “We’ll not have you complaining.”
Chou whistled. “Sarcasm is complaining at its highest form. A sign of intelligence.”
Eleanor laughed and patted Teardrop’s twitching neck. She had not been to the North Country in over thirteen years, and she’d never left Cartheigh in her thirty-two years of life. Despite agonizing over leaving her girls, she shared Teardrop’s excitement. Her own eagerness, however, went beyond a long ride, clean air, and a herd of dragons.
Eleanor had not seen nor heard from Dorian since he quietly left Eclatant to serve as the king’s ambassador to Svelya. She often wondered if she’d ever lay eyes on him again. The crushing grief over his absence had become part of her persona, as much as the birthmark in her left eye or her tendency to break into a sweat under duress. It sat, deep in her chest, through parties and chapel services. It did not abandon her during Ticia’s lessons, on evenings when she rocked Natalie to sleep, or when she bustled about town on her charitable endeavors. Between his loss, and the deaths of Nathan and her oldest friend, Margaret Easton Delano, sadness was Eleanor’s constant companion. She pictured it as a black cat with pale green eyes, purring along with her own heartbeat.
“Fare thee well, my darling girl!”
Rosemary’s voice rang across the cobblestones. The witch clipped toward Teardrop on feathery legs, with no hint of her one hundred years of life in her easy stride. Eleanor smiled at her teacher. “Abbottess, you didn’t need to make the journey from Afar Creek to see us off.”
“The Abbey will carry on for a few hours without me.” Rosemary looked up at Eleanor with dancing dark eyes. “How long in coming, this journey.”
Eleanor squeezed Rosemary’s hand. The witch was, other than Chou Chou, her oldest companion. Rosemary had schooled Eleanor in secret through her years of imprisonment in her father’s house. Eleanor clung to Rosemary’s letters and lessons, slivers of hope under the harsh rule of her stepmother, Imogene Brice. Fourteen years ago, when Imogene refused to allow Eleanor to attend the Second Sunday Ball, Rosemary conjured Eleanor’s romantic notions into existence with a lovely gown and a pair of glass slippers. When the dream fell apart, shattered by the twin realities of her dismal marriage and a passionate, forbidden love, Rosemary kept Eleanor and Dorian’s secret for almost ten years. No one had shaped Eleanor’s life like the Abbottess of Afar Creek Abbey.
Rosemary squeezed back. “Promise me you will take care.” The witch glanced at Gregory, mounted on his white stallion, Vigor. “There will be many eyes upon you.”
“I hear you well,” said Eleanor. “The girls will have their regular tutors from the Abbey, of course, but perhaps you can find time to visit?”
“Of course. Leticia and I will write to you. Soon Natalie will be writing her own letters.”
“Help Leticia with her penmanship. I fear the artist in her makes for sloppy correspondence. Don’t let her play with the cracked slipper. She likes to show it to Natalie.” Eleanor’s heart hurt. “I will miss them so. Perhaps I should have woken them.”
“No, let the children sleep. I will personally see to them this morning. Ah, here is the Godsman.” Rosemary’s brows lifted. “That one isn’t much more than a child himself.”
A young man in brown robes joined King Casper beside the statue of Caleb Desmarais. He looked to be less than twenty years old, slim and slight. Eleanor only took such measure of him because he so clashed with her memory of Marcus, the Godsman who’d turned traitor six years ago. She couldn’t help but compare the young man’s nervous piety to Marcus’s hulking arrogance.
He wasn’t always such, she thought. He was a good man, until Ezra Oliver twisted him about. Marcus helped us as well as he could, in the end, and he lost his life for it. Anger simmered between her ears. Damn Oliver. Murdering, manipulative disgrace to magic.
The king said a few words about the growing friendship between Cartheigh and Svelya. His secretary scribbled the speech on a piece of parchment. The next few days would find printing press copies of the king’s good intent spread over the capital city of Maliana and beyond. Casper turned to the young Godsman. “I ask for the blessings of HighGod on my son, his wife, and their party.”
The young man cleared his throat. The conviction in his voice belied his youth.
“HighGod, we ask you to protect His Highness, Crown Prince Gregory Desmarais, on the long road ahead. In him, you’ve entrusted the power of the Great Bond. The mystical gift to Cartheigh. The intertwining of unicorn, dragon, and the Desmarais family. As he travels North, he will venture into the heart of the Bond itself—the Dragon Mines. From whence flows all the wealth and peace you’ve bestowed upon this kingdom for three centuries. Like the Fire-iron the dragons create with their breath, like the numinous calm that exists in the touch of horn on scale, like the undying love between prince and king and these most noble steeds, all elements of the Great Bond are connected We pray you will watch over Gregory, the keeper of this gift, and aid him in his quest to continue the work of Lord Brandling, far across the Scaled Mountains. May the friendship between Cartheigh and Svelya become a bond in itself, for the mutual benefit of both nations.”
Eleanor watched Gregory throughout the Godsman’s speech, and despite her bitterness toward him, she saw him as he appeared to everyone else in the courtyard. A powerful man of thirty-five with a ramrod back, a broad chest, and a chin like a sawed-off tree trunk. The light rain darkened his red hair to brown. It clung to his neck and only accentuated the strength in his shoulders. He held his head high throughout the young man’s prayer. When the Godsman finished, he offered this, with a simple elegance: “You do me honor, and you honor the Bond. Might that I am worthy of HighGod’s protection, and the privilege of my station.”
Eleanor knew Gregory at his worst. His most drunken and childish, slovenly and vindictive. But even she couldn’t deny a great king existed inside him somewhere.