After King Midas’s gift—or curse—almost killed his daughter, he relinquished The Touch forever. Ten years later, Princess Kora still bears the consequences of her father’s wish: her skin shines golden, rumors follow her everywhere she goes, and she harbors secret powers that are getting harder to hide.
Kora spends her days concealed behind gloves and veils. It isn’t until a charming duke arrives that Kora believes she could indeed be loved. But their courtship is disrupted when a thief steals treasures her father needs to survive. Thanks to Kora’s unique ability to sense gold, she sails off on her quest to find the missing items.
Magic, mythology, fantasy, and pirate adventures charge through every page as Kora learns that not everything is what it seems—not her companions, not the thieves, and not even Kora herself.
A Touch of Gold:
- Is told from the perspective of Kora, King Midas’s daughter and a strong female protagonist
- Is a clean fantasy adventure, perfect for fans of the #1 New York Times bestselling books, The Wrath & the Dawn and Cinder
- Is an enchanting and captivating fantasy adventure/fairy tale retelling
- Features a beautifully decorated cover
- Will have strong appeal to readers ages 13 & up
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I've only ever turned one person to gold, and that was an accident. It was before I knew what I could do, before I knew that people were right to fear me.
Although the nobles don't know about my powers, money still changes hands at the tables before me as they bet on how long my newest suitor, Duke Wystlinos, will last. Some brokers even take bets on whether he'll scream when he sees me.
I roll my eyes — not that anyone can see it beneath my thick veil. Only one of my former suitors, Lord Primtim, had screamed. Thankfully, we'd been out in the rose garden, where most people couldn't hear.
The light coming in from the stained glass windows reflects off the sliver of golden skin visible in the gap between my gloves and sleeves. I quickly yank the material down before folding my hands back in my lap like I always do to keep from touching things.
You can never be too careful. Not when it comes to gold. Or to curses.
I pray that a trip out to the garden is all it will take to dissuade Duke Wystlinos. Once he sees my skin, he'll flee like all the rest, and I can retreat to the library to read about the mythical island of Jipper that I'll never get to visit.
I stifle a yawn. I was up too late reading last night, trying to put Duke Wystlinos's visit from my mind.
"Don't let the duke see you yawning like that, Kora," my cousin Hettie says. She towers over me as she leans on the chair beside mine. She inherited the same height as her father and mine, while I share my mother's more petite frame.
Her auburn curls bounce and her curvy lips pout forward as she plops down and pulls a platter of grapes closer. A servant brings her a tray full of cheeses, dark brown barley bread dripping with honey, and several olives that threaten to roll off as the servant's hands become shakier the closer he gets to me.
"Good morning, Hettiana," I mutter, putting extra emphasis on her full name. I'm the only one who uses it — and only to annoy her.
She ignores me. "We don't want you scaring Duke Wystlinos away until he's had a chance to see what other maidens the kingdom has to offer." She sighs dramatically. "Then again, I suppose that's what you want, isn't it? Me, an old maid like you." She examines the remaining grapes in the cluster before selecting a particularly plump one.
What I want is to put an end to the suitors — Hettie can have whichever one she wants. I'd let Hettie marry Duke Wystlinos in a heartbeat, but with the palace coffers what they are, Uncle Pheus made it quite clear that I'll need to marry into wealth to give my family any hope of holding on to the throne. He'd pushed me to accept an offer from the duke, should one be made, because in addition to deep coffers, Wystlinos will bring stability to the kingdom as it continues its recovery from the Orfland Wars.
Hettie knows the state of the kingdom as well as I do, which is why she's hoping some dashing lord will come along and take her far, far away from Lagonia. And I can't blame her. How many times have I dreamt of leaving since my father turned me to gold ten years ago?
I just wish Hettie wouldn't bring up all my suitors so often. But since she's one of the few people in the world who isn't afraid of me, I tolerate her and her single-mindedness.
She squishes her barley bread into the pools of honey that have slid off the top.
I look away. I already ate this morning in my room. It's too hard to eat in front of others when you're wearing a veil, and my stomach is in knots anyway.
"I wouldn't mind being the hostess of all those parties Duke Wystlinos throws," Hettie continues. "I've heard he brings in performers from as far away as Kalakhosia."
I suppress the urge to roll my eyes again. I've received invitations to his parties because I'm the princess, and it'd be a grave insult to be left off the guest list entirely. Though, as a cursed girl with golden skin, it's understood that I'll never attend.
A voice at the back of the main hall cries out, "His Majesty, King Midas," and I wish I'd tried a little harder to avoid this meeting. To avoid exposing myself to one more duke or lord who will spread tales about me and look at me in disgust. Maybe if I asked my father — really asked — he would stop the parade of suitors. That is, if he could stand to be in the same room as me for more than ten seconds.
After my skin reverted to gold, our relationship effectively ended. He couldn't stand the sight of me — still can't — and it broke my heart. The times we talk now are mumbled greetings necessitated by the presence of others in the room. Otherwise, we avoid one another entirely.
It's not like I expected my father to apologize for turning me to gold. It was an accident, one he wishes didn't happen as much as I do. But he didn't even come to comfort me when the nightmares began. He didn't take my hand and tell me that it would be all right, that we'd get through this together. He left me to deal with the curse alone. I've never figured out if it's due to guilt or disgust, and I've never had the courage to ask because I'm not sure I want to know.
All around the hall, benches and chairs scrape across the stone floor as the nobles rise to their feet.
Right in front of the dais where I sit is Archduke Ralton, with his polished bald head on full display. As expected, he's positioned near the king's table. He wants to see me fail, to make sure the monarchy stays weak. I've even heard rumors he's gathering funds to raise an army against my father. Ralton keeps saying we need to focus more on fighting the pirates pillaging our coasts and less on finding me a husband, which my uncle always points out is due mostly to the fact Ralton doesn't want a strong line of succession in place. As both my father and the kingdom grow weaker, it becomes more likely the archduke will make a bid for the throne one day — and we may not be strong enough to stop him.
That's the other reason Duke Wystlinos is here.
He's Archduke Ralton's nephew. They supposedly had a falling out a few years back, but Uncle Pheus seems to think having a blood relation in line for the throne will appease Ralton. Or at least make him think twice about attacking.
I turn my gaze to the figures working their way down the main aisle. I can just make out my father's stooped form clinging to my uncle's arm. Long gone are the days when I could spot him in any crowd due to his stature and merry laugh. People call me a ghost because of the way I cling to the shadows of the palace, but the moniker applies more to my father. His skin is as pale as mine is gold.
While his legs struggle to shuffle forward, my father's eyes dart again and again in the direction of his tower. The same tower where he probably spent most of the morning sitting in a small wooden chair next to the twelve objects he'd turned to gold years ago. Minus me, the unlucky thirteenth object.
From anywhere in the palace, I can sense the items — a side effect of once being among them. But I'm not drawn to them the way my father is. For years, the gold has greedily called to him, begging for his attention every moment of the day, telling him he can never part with it, making him believe he can't live without it. Eventually, the lies the magic whispered came true. He needs the gold. If he goes too long without sitting near it, he grows visibly weaker, as if being near the gold is the only thing keeping him alive. And every day, he must remain longer and longer to gain enough energy to face the day.
This is one of the consequences Dionysus warned my father about, another way for his "gift" to plague my family. I have no doubt the cruel god enjoys the irony — my father asked for power over gold to revive his kingdom, but now the gold holds power over the king.
I don't ever want the gold to have power over me like that. That's why I avoid reaching my mind out to it, afraid I will become dependent as well. Sometimes I wonder if he could survive without being near it, as he's proven he can survive without me.
Hettie's elbow jabs into my side. "Do you see him yet?"
"No," I reply, exasperated. If she can't see Duke Wystlinos, there's no way I can.
I knot my fingers together to resist the urge to pull my golden braid over my shoulder and twirl the end through my fingers.
A group of women bow, and I glimpse a dark head bent toward my uncle, who whispers something. As Uncle Pheus finishes, Duke Wystlinos throws his head back and laughs. The sound echoes around the room. Duke Wystlinos then confidently strides forward, one arm holding his sword hilt as if that's the most natural position in the world.
He turns to several nobles as he passes, clasping outstretched hands.
He bypasses his uncle without a glance. For his part, Ralton makes a show of turning up his nose and looking away. While I'm glad my family isn't the only one who has drama, I can't help but doubt that putting Duke Wystlinos on the throne will appease the archduke. His nephew appears to be the only person he despises more than my father and uncle. Well, and me.
The duke is tall and can't be more than a few years older than me. Tousled black hair falls around his face. He's muscular without being large, and his square jaw is balanced by a straight nose. His face is all angles, but they come together in a way that makes it hard to look away.
I can see why all the housemaids were a tizzy when his visit was announced. He's certainly lived up to his reputation.
He's wearing a bright purple jacket laced with intricate designs. Silver thread swirls up and down the sleeves, chest, and back, giving him the appearance of a living tapestry and making him stand out against my uncle's less-adorned black jacket. He reminds me of the daring sea captains I read about who go off in search of lost islands and distant shores.
He spots me. A smile spreads across his lips.
I suck in a breath. I tell myself it has nothing to do with the way that smile makes me want to smile back. The breath is only to steady me for what's to come.
The entire party comes to a stop before me.
My father's graying hair contrasts with Pheus's dark locks, so much so that you'd think they were separated by decades instead of only two years. It's one of many differences between them, and not a day goes by that I'm not thankful for Pheus's presence and concern for me. He's the glue that has been holding the kingdom together as my father grows weaker, the one who runs every council meeting and judges every dispute brought before the crown.
"My daughter." My father stumbles over the words. He seems to collapse inwardly like he always does when he's in the same room with me. I notice his clothes are rumpled, and I can't remember if they're the same ones he wore yesterday.
Thankfully, Uncle Pheus is there to not only support my father, but to finish the introduction. "Princess Kora, may I introduce Duke Aris Wystlinos."
"Princess." The duke bows. He doesn't drop the smile as he addresses me, which either means he's not nervous or he's very good about hiding it. I'm not sure which I prefer.
He flicks dark hair out of his eyes as he straightens. "I am honored to make your acquaintance."
I offer the smallest curtsy in return. I'm not sure if it's low enough or not. Maybe if my tutors had stuck around after I'd been turned to gold, I would've executed it without concern, but these days most of my education comes from books and books alone. After deciding I don't care if the curtsy is proper enough, I raise my head and finally meet Duke Wystlinos's gaze.
"Welcome to the palace, Duke Wystlinos," I intone. "We are most honored by your visit." Everyone in the room knows I'm lying, but we're nobles. We're used to playing this stupid game of saying things we don't mean.
Uncle Pheus smiles in encouragement, and Hettie keeps shifting next to me, as if she thinks by moving enough, the duke will eventually be forced to look at her.
Instead, his eyes stay locked on mine. Or where mine would be if the veil weren't covering my face.
"Princess, if you're finished with your meal, perhaps we could walk together in the rose garden?" The way the duke says it holds such confidence, even though I know he's been instructed by Uncle Pheus to take me to the garden, where I can be embarrassed in peace. Still, he almost manages to make the visit sound intriguing, like something I should want because he wants it.
I'm not drawn in by his easy self-assurance. I've dealt with men like him before, ones who rely on their charm and bravado to advance them politically. But I have my own reasons for wanting to go to the rose garden. Nothing brings out my skin tone more than glints of sunlight, and nothing scares a suitor away faster.
"Of course," I say.
Uncle Pheus nods. As usual, my father refuses to look at me, and I wonder if he feels as ashamed as I do by this charade.
I wait for Duke Wystlinos to make his way around the head table so we can venture outside and get this over with.
He holds his arm out to me. It's an unexpected move, and I freeze.
My breath catches in my throat, and my hands clench together, my heartbeat thudding loudly as I stare at his outstretched arm.
What if he's wearing gold?
Seconds tick by. Too long. I've kept him waiting too long.
Surely Uncle Pheus checked. Because Archduke Ralton would have us removed from the palace in a heartbeat if I turned Duke Wystlinos to gold in front of everyone.
My eyes frantically search for Uncle Pheus, but he's helping my father up onto the dais. I'm out of options. And time.
I pull down my sleeves so they're flush with my gloves — the fabric is already beginning to fray from the repetitive action — and take a calming breath.
I pray Uncle Pheus did check because I have no other choice than to unclamp my hands and loop my arm through the duke's.
There. Nothing happened.
I exhale, and my heartbeat settles. I should've known Uncle Pheus would check. He always does.
Duke Wystlinos and I take stiff steps toward the balcony door. The cool air hits me once we're outside, and I sense him relax. I breathe in and out, happy to not have the tepid indoor air continually circulating under my veil.
Past the long stretch of gardens and the labyrinth of houses beyond the palace wall, tall mountains loom in the distance, the same mountains where the Great Oracle is rumored to live. I've always hated those mountains, always felt like she must be up there watching us, wondering why we haven't lived up to her prophecy — of making Lagonia prosper.
An early spring snow still rests on the highest peaks, but down here, temperate air drifts in from the sea on the other side of the palace. I look away from the mountains and breathe in the salty scent to calm my mind.
We walk down the steps toward the maze of hedges. Morning light casts shadows on the pathways, which lead to several small courtyards containing fountains and benches. In between these courtyards are corridors lined with newly blooming roses that lazily bob their heads as morning dew drips off them.
My father's prized birds chirp in cages hidden throughout the garden. For a few moments, that's the only sound, as Duke Wystlinos is yet to speak.
I prefer the silence. When my first suitor arrived, I'd foolishly harbored hope that I'd finally have someone to talk to. But, like the others after him, all he'd wanted to discuss was my father's gold. So rather than hope for the best, I mull over any number of topics I could bring up to scare Wystlinos away. My father's curse. My curse. The gold. The empty treasury. But I don't — not yet. He'll inevitably ask about each subject on his own sooner or later, and that way, when Uncle Pheus asks, I can pretend I tried to give this suitor a chance.
"Your uncle told me you like to read books on sailing," Duke Wystlinos ventures.
This is a new tactic. "Yes."
I answered. That counts as trying, right?
"I've sailed extensively," he replies. "Is there any place that particularly interests you?"
"Jipper," I blurt out before I can stop myself. But it doesn't matter. In fact, mentioning a fantasy island that no one has ever set eyes on and is rumored to move around the sea might even help.
When I'd asked my second suitor, the merchant's son, about Jipper, he rushed off to respond to the imagined call of his father. Apparently, mentioning an island most of the world doesn't believe exists has that effect, so I steel myself for the duke's response.
He doesn't laugh or run away. He just looks at me, smiling slightly. "To my knowledge, no man has ever set foot on Jipper."
I almost sigh. A typical diplomatic answer. Neither an agreement nor a disagreement that might upset the other party, just a simple restating of a fact. He must've studied under my tutors after they abandoned me.
It's probably better for everyone if I end this now. I reach for the edge of my veil.
"But I wouldn't mind being the first," Duke Wystlinos continues.
My hand stops. "Really?" I pull back on his arm and study his face, waiting for a mocking tone that simply isn't there.
Excerpted from "A Touch of Gold"
Copyright © 2018 Annie Sullivan.
Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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