She had to run to save herself, but will she be able to slip away from him with her heart unscathed?
The Charming Fairy Tales, Book 2
Now officially titled Duke von Gruenewald, Penn finds himself master of a province on the brink of poverty, and he has no idea how he could possibly resurrect the once strong land. Turning to the one person who has never failed him, Penn asks his mother to come help him restore order.
When his mother arrives with a new, amber-eyed maid in tow, at first, Penn wonders if his mother is trying to liven up his new life at Gruenewald, tempting him with such a lovely lady.
But in truth, he doesn’t need such drama. Life remains dramatic enough with blackmail, secrets and treachery left behind by his cousin.
So why is Penn so distracted by the new maid?
Ana Dutetre is running away from her horrible step-mother, and her plan should get her out of her family’s snarling reach. Yet winding up at Gruenewald Castle shoves her in the worst possible predicament--people appreciate her.
Even the flirtatious young duke is pleased with her. Of course, he is handsome—there is no denying that.
But there’s more between them. Glances that last a moment longer than proper. A secret smile, shared only between them. And he speaks to her like her opinion is of value.
Her heart grows fonder by the day, but she knows better than to dally with nobility. Yet she entertains those very thoughts every time the duke glances her way.
Perhaps it is time for Ana to slip away, once again, so she’s not ensnared by something far worse than fear—love.
But this time, Penn is determined to catch her.
Charming Fairy Tales:
“Cinder-Girl! Where is that lazy, good for nothing—” Edda’s loud, screechy voice bellowed down the stairs.
I ran up to see what my two stepsisters wanted, attempting to brush off some of the dirt from my dress.
“Cinder-Girl!” Galianna called out.
“I’m here,” I said as I reached the double doors to the girl’s suite. They shared a large sitting room—once my nursery—and each had bedrooms off either side of it. All the childhood decorations I once had in the room had long since been swept away and replaced with lovely pastels and bold floral prints.
I always adored the room. It truly was a beautiful room for two lovely girls—
“About time! Do you carry rocks in your pockets?” Edda fired at me.
Unfortunately, I didn’t live with lovely girls. I lived with demanding stepsisters. I blinked. “I am sorry, I can only move as fast as I can.”
“Well move faster. We have company coming,” Edda snapped. She whipped a dress—far nicer than anything I owned—around like it was a rag, throwing in on the floor as though it was worth nothing.
Inside I cringed, because I only had two dresses—the one I wore now, and the one I’d hung outside my window this morning to freshen up. To have so many dresses to disregard them as she did boggled my mind.
To have enough to wonder what to wear? I couldn’t imagine such luxury.
And from the way they bustled around their suite, debating what to wear, the company coming must be important.
“Cinder-Girl, help me.” Galianna gestured to her dress. “This is what I’m wearing for the introduction to the suitors.” She twisted around so that I could straighten the rippled fabrics over the panniers. The bracing underneath the dress made the sides stick out so wide, I doubted she would be able to get in and out of a doorway without turning sideways.
Suitors were coming here? The house had been in a frenzy all morning, attempting to make everything as perfect as possible, but no one mentioned that suitors were the reason.
Suitors only came if there was a negotiation of marriage on the table, and I wondered who Father had struck a bargain for.
“Fix the hem,” Galianna jutted her hip toward me and jarred me from my thoughts. The bottom edge of her dress drug the ground just a bit more than it should.
Onto my knees I went, pulling the tiny sewing kit out of my pocket and began to stitch it up.
“And don’t make the stitches show, like the last time.” Galianna huffed. “Nearly everyone commented on what a horrible patch job it was.”
I did the best I could. Rather, I did the best a dim-witted maid could do. I certainly didn’t do the best I could do. “It would have been better, had you let the seamstress tailor it at the dress shop.”
“Why, that just costs more money than we need to spend, when we have you,” Galianna said.
I kept my head down, trying not to look at my ¬stepsister, so she didn’t see my irritation. Whenever I hemmed anything for my stepsisters, it was never good enough, so I quit trying to be perfect for them. It was wasted effort.
One would think they would rather have the expense of the dressmaker in Gruenewald township do it properly than have me repair it, only to complain about it later. Sewing had never been my strong suit.
That had always been my mother’s. Even Mother had always told me how my skills resided in different areas.
Even now, so many years later, the loss of her still stung. I could barely remember the days when a lack of money was no worry in this home. Father’s business used to be one of the most successful in the province. People all over the White Mountains would buy Father’s spirits—he had so many orders that he rarely remained at home due to all his deliveries.
Though after Mother’s death, Father’s business began to decline. I had seen the financial records in his study while I cleaned—and I thanked goodness that Mother had taught me reading and my sums when I was little.
But that was before she came…
The arrival of my stepmother had changed everything. I was no longer considered anything other than a servant in my own home. My stepmother was a lady of title, as were my stepsisters. I was merely the daughter of a merchant.
What little education I had after her arrival was done by smuggling books out of Father’s study, not that anyone noticed. My stepmother and stepsisters were not readers.
I stitched as carefully as I could though Galianna kept shifting in her dress.
“Please be still,” I said.
Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.
Edda, who must have been close, kicked me in the back—hard—and I toppled forward. I grabbed the first thing I could, which happened to be Galianna’s dress and the frame underneath.
Galianna fell forward and screamed.
The framing cracked.
And I was underneath, forcing air back into my lungs.
“You, you twit!” Galianna screeched. “How could you?” She pushed herself off me and attempted to smooth out her dress.
“Oh, Galianna, this is torn,” Edda said, grinning.
“You pushed me!” I snarled at Edda.
“I did no such thing,” Edda said, her nose tilted up so high I could see right up it. “You are just a worthless, clumsy oaf.”
Arguing with Edda would prove no good. Whether Galianna saw what she’d done or not, she’d never stick up for me. Not once in the last ten years had either of them ever sided with me about anything.
Besides, Galianna was too busy shrieking over her dress. Her wails made my already aching head throb even more.
I pulled myself up and attempted to ignore the pain in my back from being kicked. “Let me see.” I stumbled toward her.
“No, you beast, get away from me!” Galianna’s scream brought my stepmother in the room.
“What is going on in here?” Stepmother bellowed.
I froze, my hands risen to see if I could rectify the now twisted and torn dress.
“Mother, she fell on me, and tore my dress! Just before the suitors arrive!” Galianna wailed. “She did it on purpose, I know she did.”
I glared at Edda, who stood there, still as a statue, except for the smirk on her face.
So focused on Edda, I lurched forward as a strike from my stepmother sending me reeling. This time I managed to right myself before stumbling into Galianna again. Of course, I would not have hit her, because Stepmother grabbed the back of my hair and yanked on it so hard, it brought tears to my eyes.
“You foolish girl! How dare you attempt to ruin this for my daughter!” She whipped me around by my hair and slammed me into the door jamb. “Get out of here before I get the whip!”
I darted out the door, tears poured down my cheeks as I ran for my tiny attic room. Finally, inside the only sanctuary I had left, I rubbed my head, hating my stepmother and my wicked stepsisters more with every passing moment.
Where was my father? Why hadn’t he seen this? If he’d seen Edda push me, he would have stood up for me. He would have protected me.
He had to, I was all he had left.
Mother was gone, and some days I was certain that Stepmother attempted to get rid of me as well. How did my father allow this to stand? How could he? I am all that remains of Mother.
Did that not matter to him?
Tears poured down and I just let them fall—the warm, salty water glided down my cheeks and dripped off my chin. My head throbbed, and I wondered how I could endure more.
How much worse could it be?
From off in the distance, I heard a rumble, and I ran to my window. There, coming up our long drive was a carriage.
I attempted to smooth my wavy hair and pinned it back as neatly as I could. I grabbed my other dress, relieved that I’d let it air out before, so it smelled of the soft breezes coming off the Black Forest. I slipped it on and tied my laces neatly. I splashed water on my face and ran downstairs. I even pinched my cheeks like I’d seen Galianna and Edda do, and since I didn’t have any lip rouge, I bit my lips, hoping they would look a little redder.
Just as I reached the bottom of the stairs, the butler opened the door. He let in three young gentlemen and one older man, probably my father’s age. All of the men were handsome and dressed in very nice, regal clothing. Father emerged from his study, his suit—at least a decade old—looked tattered and shoddy next to such finely dressed gentlemen.
I sighed as I paused against the stair rail.
They were all so handsome! One even glanced my way for just a moment, and suddenly, I no longer needed the pinching, I was certain my cheeks were red enough without it. I took a few more tentative steps toward them and the one who’d glanced at me winked.
He winked at me!
I felt this tiny flutter in my tummy.
A boy had never winked at me before. A boy had never looked at me before.
When my feet finally hit the floor, I took a few more steps toward them, where Father led them into the parlor. I followed them in, staying to the side, as my father greeted them and shook their hands.
“Good to see you, von Hinleburg,” the older man said.
“You too, Baron,” my father said. “Your boys have grown into strapping young men.”
“That they are,” the Baron replied and patted the one who winked at me on his shoulder.
Father gestured across the room, where Galianna and Edda had been sitting.
“And these are my beautiful daughters I told you about. Miss Galianna Stone and Miss Edda Stone.” He put his hands on both their shoulders, his face positively beaming.
I took another step forward.
Father, you forgot about me…
What about me, Father?
I must have bumped something, because suddenly, all eyes had snapped to me.
My father’s eyes turned cold. “Cinder-girl, go back to the kitchen and tell Lora to bring the tea.”
My stomach roiled, and I thought I might be sick. I am your daughter too, a voice screamed in my head. I couldn’t move. I could barely breathe.
Never once had he ever looked upon me with such pride.
Never once, even when Mother was alive.
Something deep inside me burned with a fury I could not control. I stood straighter and raised my chin. “My name is not Cinder-girl.”
My father blinked. “Go!” he snarled and took two steps toward me. “Do not forget your place…”
The young man who’d winked at me glanced between me and my father, his face stern, but I knew not if it was out of concern or irritation.
“Do not forget yours,” I said then turned to walk out of the room.
Where the bravado came from, I knew not, but it was time I stood up to this—this—torment. With every step, my heart hardened.
He didn’t love me.
He didn’t want me.
Not once had he ever wrapped his arm around me and introduced me to anyone with such a beam in his eye.
The past I’d blamed solely on my stepmother, believing the reason he’d not loved me was because she had been there, because she had influenced him. It seemed crystal clear she had stopped him from being a father to me. But now I knew.
She didn’t influence him.
He just didn’t want me.
And if my father didn’t want me, then I didn’t want him, either.
My name is Ana Dutetre. I will no longer be anyone’s Cinder-girl.
Or a von Hinleburg.
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