Exclusive Excerpt: ‘Grace and Fury’ By Tracy Banghart
In a world where women have no rights, sisters Serina and Nomi Tessaro face two very different fates: one in the palace, the other in prison. Serina has been groomed her whole life to become a Grace—someone to stand by the heir to the throne as a shining, subjugated example of the perfect woman. But when her headstrong and rebellious younger sister, Nomi, catches the heir's eye, it's Serina who takes the fall for the dangerous secret that Nomi has been hiding.
We have a taste of Grace and Fury, a dystopian YA delight:
Nomi couldn’t sleep. Storms ravaged the palazzo until long after midnight, and she flinched with each clap of thunder and flash of lightning, feeling as if she were under attack. Eventually, when the sky finally cleared and dawn crept up her windowsill, she dragged herself out of bed and sat at her dressing table. She stared at her reflection, and it was as if she were looking at a completely different person. Her lips were tender and her cheeks flushed. She stared until her face blurred and her features didn’t make sense anymore. Even wrapped in a warm robe, she shivered.
The Heir had kissed her.
Her mind flashed back to the moment, over and over.
The lashing rain, the heat of his mouth, the way her body pressed against him as if it wanted him. But it didn’t.
Now, away from the rain and the heat and the anger, her stomach turned, thinking about it. Had she kissed him because she knew she had to? Because, with the Heir, it wasn’t a choice?
She wasn’t sure.
Either way, it felt like a betrayal to Asa. And to herself.
Angeline bustled into the room, a scrap of material clutched to her chest. “Ines says the Heir has requested breakfast on the beach with his Graces. It’ll be nice to spend some time in the sun, right?”
With the Heir? Nomi’s stomach balked.
Angeline laid the fabric out on the bed—a black swimming robe. “It’s such a beautiful day. The sky is so clear. You’d never know we had storms yesterday.”
“Yes,” Nomi echoed faintly, staring fixedly at her reflection. “Are you well?” Angeline asked. “You seem a bit preoccupied. Was yesterday’s outing taxing?”
Taxing? The Heir called me dangerous. And then he kissed me. The words wanted to form on Nomi’s lips. She wanted to talk about it. But she wanted to talk to her sister. Nomi thought of her letter, traveling north to Lanos. She thought of Asa, preparing to launch a false case against his brother.
The Heir is right. I am dangerous.
After she’d donned her swimming robe, Nomi joined the others in the receiving room. Ines led them down through the palazzo and onto the beach. Bleary-eyed and reluctant, Nomi followed Cassia and Maris out into the glaring sunlight.
A wrought-iron table had been set up a few yards from the water, on a black-and-white-checked carpet. Heavy white drapes were staked out above it to provide shade. Next to the table, a row of chaises were lined up like soldiers in the sun.
The Heir sat alone at the table. Cassia stepped forward quickly to snag the seat next to him, while Maris and Nomi slowly picked their way to the table; Nomi’s strappy sandals wobbled and filled with sand. She kept her head down. Her skull felt too full, tight and near to bursting with all that had happened the night before.
Would Malachi expect more of the same?
Of course. You’re his Grace.
She was his. The thought filled her mind, inescapable. It wouldn’t matter that she had feelings for Asa. That she didn’t want Malachi to touch her.
She’d comforted herself that Cassia had caught his eye. She’d counted on him responding to the girl’s enthusiasm. But what if Malachi chose Nomi to grace his bed the night of his birthday? What if her behavior last night had ignited his interest in her?
“What happened to you and Malachi yesterday?” Maris asked quietly. “You both disappeared so abruptly. Cassia was livid.”
Nomi might have told Maris everything, but not here. Not with Cassia and Malachi so close. So instead, she said as casually as she could, “He helped me get out of the rain. Took pity on me for being so frightened.”
It wasn’t pity, she knew. It was his volatility. Ignoring her for weeks, then seeking her out. Kissing her in the middle of an argument—in the middle of a storm.
“He went tearing after you,” Maris said. “I wish he’d have done the same for us. We got soaked walking up those stairs, and I thought for certain I’d slip and break an ankle.”
Nomi smiled wanly. She, too, wished Malachi had gone after the other girls. That he’d never cornered her under the overhang. That he’d never kissed her. That she’d never kissed him back.
By the time the two girls settled themselves at the table, Cassia had already helped herself to several tiny sandwich rounds. For today’s outing, she’d piled her shimmering hair on top of her head and secured it with a jaunty pink bow. She wore a flattering, low-cut pink swimming robe. The garment was designed like Nomi’s, with stretchy fabric that crossed over the bust and billowed into a short skirt, except Nomi’s was black.
Maris had tied her dark hair back in a thick braid and her willowy body into a shimmering gold swimming robe.
“Good morning,” the Heir said to the group.
He wore navy swim trunks, leaving the golden skin of his chest and arms bare. His satisfied smile made him look like his father.
He was staring straight at Nomi.
She dropped her gaze to her plate as heat rose to her cheeks. Beside her, Maris ate a sandwich, her head turned to watch the waves. Nomi drizzled honey over a small round of flatbread and tried to eat it, but her stomach wouldn’t settle. Not with the Heir sitting across from her. Not with the memory of last night playing through her mind. She wished Asa were here. He’d distract his brother, send her a secret smile, remind her what they were fighting for.
“How did you sleep, Nomi?” the Heir asked, interrupting her thoughts.
“Very well,” she replied, clipping the words. “You?”
“I slept quite well.” His voice deepened. “A good storm has a way of clarifying things, doesn’t it?”
Maris turned away from the water. Cassia cocked her head. Nomi could only smile awkwardly and push at her food, her appetite gone. As soon as the plates were cleared, she stood up.
She escaped to a spot near the water. Her hands shook as she pulled off her sandals and dropped them into the sand. She closed her eyes and tipped her head back, the sunshine bright and hot against her face.
“Do you enjoy swimming, Your Eminence?” Cassia’s voice floated out over the crash of waves.
Nomi stepped into the water. It was cool against her flushed skin, and the waves were gentle. Out here, she didn’t have to pretend. She didn’t have to see Malachi’s satisfaction at claiming his prize. Maybe he thought her gift of the gloves meant she had resigned herself to him. But he was wrong.
Suddenly, there was a giant splash behind her. Nomi turned, just as the Heir pushed through the water toward her. “Very refreshing,” he said.
Nomi’s mouth dropped open. “Your Eminence.”
Malachi shot her a little smile before diving into the water, submerging completely. When he surfaced, he shook like a dog, spraying water at her. “Can you swim?”
Nomi shook her head. In Lanos, there had been no need to learn.
He reached out and put his hands on her arms. She was so shocked at his touch, it took her a moment to realize he was drawing her slowly into deeper water. She resisted. Her toes dug into the sand as little swells lapped against her collarbone.
Fear blossomed in her chest. Too deep, too deep. “Please, Your Eminence.”
Did he enjoy scaring her? Nomi’s heart beat faster.
Malachi stopped moving, his hands still loosely encircling her wrists. “When I was five,” he said in a conversational tone, “my father threw me into the water. I figured out pretty quickly how to float.”
Nomi’s breath caught. That was horrible. What if he’d drowned?
Is that what the Heir was going to do to her?
“We’ve no place to swim in Lanos,” she said, her voice trembling. She stood on her tiptoes as a bigger swell pushed at her, sending panic shooting through her. “I’ve always thought it would feel nice, but—but it’s frightening.” She took a step back toward shallower water.
His hands released her, but instead of backing away, he moved closer, his skin sliding against hers as he wrapped his arms loosely around her. “That’s what I’m trying to say,” he said, in a different, softer tone. “I don’t think it has to be frightening. Here—put your arms around me. I’ll show you.”
He’s toying with me.
Reluctantly, Nomi lined her arms along the tops of his, let- ting her hands rest on his shoulders. She stared fixedly at his throat, where his wet skin glistened.
“Look at me.”
Slowly, she raised her chin. His gaze found hers, as intense as it had been when she’d first seen him, when he’d caught her in the hall. “I promise. I won’t let you go.”
He pulled her closer, until their bodies slid against each other. Slowly, he moved into deeper water. Heart in her throat, Nomi felt the sand fall away under her feet. Reflexively, she tightened her arms around his neck. Too deep, too deep.
But she was floating. His embrace kept her head well above the water, and the rest of her flowed. She kicked her feet a little, feeling the rush of the current.
Her eyes widened.
He smiled. “See?” he said softly. “It’s not so bad.”
The tightness in her chest eased a little. “I feel so light. Like a—a cloud. I could float away.” How she wished she could.
“Well, let’s not float away quite yet.” He grinned, and for a moment, he looked almost playful. “It was a hard start for me, but I love swimming now.” Something about the way he said it, the warmth in his eyes, sent heat through her body. His hands slid down her back and the current pushed them closer together, so close her legs drifted around his hips of their own accord. She was holding on to him everywhere.
Nomi drew in a breath. She was still looking him in the eye, their faces a mere inch away. Her stomach turned over. His eyes darkened; the intensity was back, all playfulness gone. The world reduced to the silken slide of their skin, the shrinking space between their lips.
“Have you found the gift I left for you?” he asked softly. “Gift?” she asked stupidly. It was suddenly very difficult to think. What was wrong with her? “The book.”
The book? Nomi’s body went rigid. Asa had given her the book. Hadn’t he?
“Why in the world would you give me a book?” She tried to sound unperturbed, but her voice shook, betraying her.
“Your sister could read,” he said, his body swaying with the insistent prodding of the current. “I thought maybe you could too. I was hoping . . .” He didn’t finish the thought.
The moment—any softening she’d felt toward him—shattered.
A trap, a trap, a trap.
Nomi wasn’t walking the high wire anymore. She was grip- ping the line with a single hand. Falling wasn’t a question of whether but when.
“No, Your Eminence,” she said, her voice hoarse. “I can’t read.”
The sun lit his eyes to a bright golden brown. Nomi couldn’t look away. “I see,” he said at last, but she couldn’t tell if he be- lieved her. “It was a gift, as I said. Maybe not entirely innocent, but it wasn’t intended as poison. If you can read—”
Nomi’s head swam, and suddenly, the miracle of weightless- ness felt like a curse. She couldn’t escape from him, not in water so deep. And she needed, so much, to escape. “Please,” she whispered, pulling against his arms. “I want to get out of the water.”
“Have I upset you?” he asked, and she couldn’t tell if he was asking with real concern or mocking her.
“I just—I don’t like the water anymore,” she said as the panic built in her chest. She yanked herself from his grasp, her head dipping under the water. She sputtered, terror tightening every muscle. But somehow, she made it to shallower water. Somehow, she made it to shore.
Her teeth chattered. Her lungs ached.
She splashed up onto the beach and reached for a towel from one of the chaises. It was hot in the sun, but she still shivered as she wrapped it around herself. Malachi splashed up behind her. “Are you okay?”
She curtsied awkwardly and bowed her head, aware that Cassia and Maris were watching. “I am, Your Eminence. But I’m cold. May I return to my room for some dry clothes?”
“Of course.” He looked as if he wanted to say more, but she couldn’t bear it.
The chill didn’t leave her for the rest of the day.
Grace and Fury publishes on July 31 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound. To learn how receive this swag bag when you pre-order, click here.
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About the Author
An Army wife and mom, Tracy Banghart has an MA in Publishing and an unhealthy affection for cupcakes. Her quiet childhood led to a reading addiction, writing obsession, and several serious book boyfriends. She currently lives in Kentucky with her husband and young son.
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