The Scholar’s Heart
by Antonia Aquilante
M/M Fantasy Romance
Series: Chronicles of Tournai
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Release Date: May 30, 2016
Length: Novel (294 pages)
Youngest son of a royal duke, Etan is a scholar at heart who juggles his work for the prince with his studies of the history and legends of Tournai, something of particular interest to him because he shares the magical Talent that runs in the royal bloodline. Etan’s peaceful world turns upside down when his best friend—the man he secretly loves—unexpectedly marries a woman. Though Tristan values his friendship with Etan and has always been attracted to him, he is a dutiful son, raised to shoulder responsibility for the family business one day. That day comes far sooner than anticipated, and he makes a deathbed promise to his father to marry the woman his father chose and become head of the company and family.
A year later, Tristan is a widower with an infant daughter and a mother who demands he marry again quickly—something Tristan resists. Circumstances throw Etan and Tristan together, and even as they succumb to the desires they’ve always harbored, Etan battles his feelings, wary of being cast aside again. When Tristan’s daughter is kidnapped, Etan and Tristan must come together to find her, find the person responsible, and support each other through the ordeal… and maybe beyond.
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His wife was dead.
Tristan kept hearing the words echoing in his head in his mother’s emotionless voice. She’d only said it a few moments ago, but it was the last thing he’d heard clearly. Everything else his mother was saying— something about arrangements to be made—had to filter through that statement, that dawning knowledge, that Dariela was dead.
“What happened?” he asked, cutting her off midsentence.
She drew herself up and back. “It’s not appropriate to tell you the details of—”
“My wife is dead,” he said, biting out each word. “I will know how it happened.”
Mother stared at him mulishly for a moment, then nodded. “She bled too much during the birth. The midwife couldn’t stop it.”
“And the healer?” Amory had sent the head of the palace healers to attend Dariela at the birth. Surely Jadis could have done something.
Mother sniffed. “We sent him away when he arrived.”
For a moment, he couldn’t find his voice. “You sent away the most powerful healer in Tournai? Who was graciously sent to us by the prince’s consort?”
“A man had no place in that room. Only women should be present. Family and midwives. That’s how it’s done—how it has always been done.”
“And Dariela might still be alive if you’d consented to doing it differently.”
Mother looked away, as well she should. “We don’t know that,” she said after a pause, her voice stiff.
He dismissed that with nothing more than a glare. He wanted to be
compassionate, wanted to believe his mother might feel guilty for her choice—certainly Dariela’s mother, presumably still upstairs with her daughter’s body, had to be devastated—but Dariela didn’t have to die. A healer could have saved her.
He might not have loved his wife, but he’d liked her, and she had deserved a better chance. A chance to know her child at least.
Mother had started speaking again, explaining their choice, it seemed, but he didn’t need to hear her justifications. “What about the baby?”
He’d heard a baby’s cry not long ago. He’d expected someone to rush down to tell him the happy news but there had only been silence until his mother appeared.
She stopped speaking, her brow furrowing.
“Mother, the baby?” he prompted.
“The baby survived. A girl.”
A girl. He had a daughter. “Where is she?”
“With her nursemaid, but I’ll have her packed up quickly.”
“Packed up. Why?” His confusion seemed to surprise Mother for some reason.
“So I can take her home with me.” Mother said it as if it were utterly obvious, but Tristan was still confused.
“Why would you do that?”
Now Mother looked confused. “Because you can’t take care of her yourself, not with Dariela gone.”
“I don’t see why not. We’ve hired a nursemaid and a wet nurse.”
The wet nurse had been at both his mother and Dariela’s mother’s insistence. Dariela had wanted to nurse the baby herself but had been overruled. “They’ll be doing far more than I will for her, but she will stay in her own home.”
“But, Tristan, really.”
“You should get home, Mother, before it gets too late. Dariela’s mother can stay as long as she likes with Dariela, of course.”
She protested that she should stay or take the baby with her, but Tristan managed to bundle her off home in the carriage. He scribbled a quick message to Amory about what had happened and apologizing for his mother’s disrespect in rejecting the healer, and sent it to the palace.
Only then did he climb the stairs to the nursery with slow, heavy steps. The distance to the room they’d set aside as a nursery seemed far greater than it was, and yet even dragging himself down the corridor, he arrived at the closed door all too soon. He took a deep breath and forced himself to open the door and walk inside.
The nursemaid, whom his wife had liked immediately, was a slightly plump woman with a kind smile. As he stood in the doorway, she turned and bobbed a quick curtsy. She gave him her condolences, but he had eyes only for the small, white-wrapped bundle in her arms.
Trepidation and curiosity warred within him, churning and twisting in his guts. Finally, he stepped forward, raising his arms awkwardly as he said, “May I....”
“Of course, sir.” She came to him and transferred the baby into his arms smoothly. If she noticed his lack of confidence, she said nothing. “I’ll be just in the other room if you need me.”
Before Tristan could protest, she had left the nursery, going into her own small bedroom and shutting the door. A cold shock of panic froze him to the spot. He hadn’t meant for her to leave. He had no idea what to do with a baby. She was so light in his arms. So fragile. What if he hurt her?
She made a little snuffling sound, and he reflexively looked down. His first look at his daughter’s face... and he tumbled headlong into love.
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About the Author:
Antonia Aquilante has been making up stories for as long as she can remember, and at the age of twelve, decided she would be a writer when she grew up. After many years and a few career detours, she has returned to that original plan. Her stories have changed over the years, but one thing has remained consistent - they all end in happily ever after.
She has a fondness for travel (and a long list of places she wants to visit and revisit), taking photos, family history, fabulous shoes, baking treats which she shares with friends and family, and of course reading. She usually has at least two books started at once and never goes anywhere without her Kindle. Though she is a convert to ebooks, she still loves paper books the best, and there are a couple thousand of them residing in her home with her.
Born and raised in New Jersey, she is living there again after years in Washington, DC, and North Carolina for school and work. She enjoys being back in the Garden State but admits to being tempted every so often to run away from home and live in Italy.
She is a member of the Romance Writers of America and the New Jersey Romance Writers.
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