, paranormal romance
, sci fi romance
, alpha male
, fairy tale romance
, fantasy romance
, twisted fairy tale
, evil stepmother
, Skeleton Key Publishing
, Jennifer Blackstream
stories of this lord,” Corrine said tightly. “Mother Briar, I’m sure you’ll be able to confirm them. I’ve heard that this lord was cursed into a bestial form because he turned away a weary old woman who begged shelter during a wicked storm. She wanted to teach him a lesson, but the lord was too cruel and selfish to learn. I heard that he killed everyone in his manor—down to the last servant.”
Mother Briar held Corrine’s look for a moment longer then faced Maribel. “I’ve heard those rumors as well. And indeed, we must not dismiss them too easily.” She paused. “However…”
Corrine choked, but Mother Briar ignored her.
“If your father says that this lord fed and sheltered him, then perhaps he has learned from his past mistakes. In fact, I had heard that in order to break the curse upon him, he must learn to love and trust another, and earn their love and trust in return. Perhaps that is why he has sent for you, suggested this trade. It is possible that he wants an opportunity to break his curse, and he simply feels that his appearance is too frightening for him to get the chance any other way.”
Maribel’s lips parted. “You mean… You think he wants me to stay with him so that he can…woo me?”
Corrine’s fingers gripped the wooden table so hard her nails drew furrows in the surface. Mother Briar continued to ignore her, her unwavering gaze locked firmly on Maribel.
“I think he wants a chance to prove that he’s changed, that he is not the beast inside that he is on the outside,” the witch confirmed. “Do you think you could see beyond his appearance and give him that chance?”
Maribel blinked, shifting uncomfortably in her seat at the witch’s lack of subtlety. She folded her hands, urging herself to get a grip. The witch was probably toying with her, filling her head with ridiculous fantasies so she’d embarrass herself in front of this lord. Mother Briar had never liked Maribel. “I’m sure we’ll get along fine,” she told Mother Briar, her will to remain polite strained to the point of discomfort. “Thank you for the advice.”
Corrine’s shout drew the attention of Maribel and Mother Briar simultaneously. Veins pulsed in her sister’s temples, straining against her skin. The hair on Maribel’s arms rose as some sort of ghostly wind flowed from her sister. The brown tendrils of Corrine’s hair danced as though stirred by a breeze, and there was a disconcerting vibration rolling off her body. Maribel held her breath as she realized that for the first time, she was getting a taste of Corrine’s magic.
“Mother Briar,” Corrine ground out, “surely there is some information you can give us that would let Maribel escape the lord’s grasp? We need her on the farm.”
Mother Briar gave an exaggerated sigh. “I’m afraid I can think of nothing. In my mind, the best thing for your sister to do is to go to this lord, save her father, and perhaps see if she can’t get to know the man within the monster.”
Corrine looked like she’d swallowed a live toad and Maribel shifted uneasily in her seat. The vibration from her sister grew stronger, and the sensation on Maribel’s skin was…unpleasant. Not for the first time, she wondered exactly what happened in this cottage while she was outside among the plants. “Corrine,” she said gently. “Please. Everything will be all right, you’ll see.”
Corrine shot out of her seat and practically flew through the door. Maribel raised her hands to cover her face, suddenly wanting nothing more than to be alone with her thoughts.
“She will be all right,” Mother Briar assured her. “There comes a time in everyone’s life where they must travel their path alone.”
“I suppose so,” Maribel mumbled.
“Your sister relies on you, Maribel, but she is stronger than even she thinks. Go to this lord, save your father—save the beast. Do not worry about Corrine.” The witch’s voice shifted, taking on a
Debbie Howells/Susie Martyn