Authors: Tara Brown
An Adult Fairy Tale
A Novel by Tara Brown Writing as Sophie Starr
Copyright 2015 Tara Brown
This ebook is a work of fiction and is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. No alteration or copying of content is permitted. This book contains materials not suited for people under the age of eighteen. This book is a work of the author’s crazy mind—any similarities are coincidental. Any similarities are by chance and not intentional.
Cover Art by Mae I Design
Edited by Andrea Burns
Other Books by Tara Brown writing as
TL Brown, AE Watson, Erin Leigh, and Sophie Starr
The Devil’s Roses
The Born Trilogy
Born to Fight
The Light Series
The Light of the World
The Four Horsemen
The Blood Trail Chronicles
The Single Lady Spy Series
The End of Me
The End of Games
The End of You – A Novella
Blood and Bone
Blood and Bone
Sin and Swoon
Soul and Blade
The Long Way Home
In the Fading Light
For Love or Money
White Girl Problems
The Seventh Day
This book is an adult fantasy novel, an erotic novel. It is not meant for anyone under the age of eighteen or those who are sensitive to intensely sexual storylines.
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a small town on the edge of a dark and tangled forest. It was said that once, many years before, the town had been part of a small kingdom ruled by a royal family. Their castle was said to have been just on the outskirts of town, inside the Dark Forest.
The royals were known for their strength because their kingdom was home to the fiercest warriors in all the lands. Also remembered as the kindest and gentlest of nobility, they were always willing to help or lend a hand to the needy. They ruled what was known as the Rose Kingdom.
And though the breadth of the land was small, it was strong and protected.
When war broke out amongst neighboring kingdoms, the king sent his men to aid, as he had many times before. But this time a dark army had crossed the lands. It was no regular war.
The battle seemed to go on forever, neither side ever gaining a win.
As the war raged on, the people of the Rose Kingdom vanished. It was rumored that the good king had died and his young son had become the ruler.
The young king locked himself away as another war found its way to the borders of their lands. Again the dark army came; this time they snuck in, attacking at night.
The young king, unprepared for battle and without a plan, waited, uncertain of what to do. But when an army is not stopped, it does not respect borders—it crushes them.
All of the land was swallowed in darkness, death, and suffering under the dark army and its leaders.
When the people looked up to the young king for aid, he remained hidden.
And for a time everyone suffered until all the royals in the neighboring realms bent a knee to the new ruler. The land that had once been made up of several kingdoms became one.
Instead of bending a knee, the young king locked himself away in the castle, dethroned by all accounts and defeated.
He isolated himself and left his people to the mercy of their new ruler.
It was several years before the people of the one combined kingdom found peace. But when they did, they people found themselves nearly as happy as they had been with their previous king. The towns flourished and the markets boomed as trade from many other, and mostly larger, kingdoms found its way into the kingdom.
But the young dethroned king did not leave his castle.
The road grew over and the
vines grew up, and after a decade the people assumed the young man was
dead. Those who tried to venture to the castle, where he had lived with his family and ruled their once small kingdom, discovered it in a state not fit for anyone. But that wasn't all they found.
Behind the large gates and locked-away beauty, there was rumored to be a beast. One so horrible, neither the new king nor his dark army would dare try to claim the castle for
And so it was forgotten.
The sound of the music filling the village was often enough to make me forget we had left our beloved home, the home where my mother had died.
But as I passed the small shops of the quaint village, I couldn't seem to find my way out of the fog that had settled inside my head. Even the melody did nothing to touch my heart.
I carried a novel to return to the elderly bookshop owner who had lent it to me, as he often did. At first I had assumed he was taking pity on the new pauper in the village but soon discovered he had a love of books that matched my own.
We had spent many an afternoon nestled in a corner of the small dusty store, comparing adventures we had never actually taken. Not physically, but mentally we had both seen the world. We had seen worlds that didn't exist. Oftentimes, he was more excited by the cities I had seen in my travels with my parents, though none compared to the stories we read.
He was a sad sort of man, always in a bit of a mood. But the moment he got lost in the journey he had taken in retelling the story, his face lit up. I wondered how he had come to be such a disheartened little man in such an unworldly town, when his spirit was larger than any I had ever seen.
The village was not a place I would have chosen, but my father had received a commission to be the mender. And deep down I believed he wanted to be away from the home where he had lost his beloved.
The village was dreary on the best of days, and the townspeople here all appeared to be glum in their own way. There was not a single person I felt a kinship to, beyond the bookshop owner. And even he was too sullen for me most of the time.
I headed for his shop first, hoping he had something remarkable for me to read and get lost in. Something that would lift me from the place I was at.
The voice made me cringe.
I paused, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath, before spinning around with a wide smile for my father’s employer. He was a man I had not been able to avoid even though I tried. Somehow he always seemed to know exactly where I was. And for whatever reason, he enjoyed vexing and taunting me about my hobbies and the state of my father’s mental health. He acted as if he were concerned, but I knew better—not that I let him know that.
I smiled and curtseyed. “Lord Gaston.”
“How are you this fine morning, Belle?” His eyes instantly drew to the book in my arms.
“I am well, milord.”
“I am well also,” he remarked, giving me a look. “But I am somewhat surprised to see yet another book in your hands. I believe we had discussed that strange hobby. I was under the impression you were going to contemplate some of the other recreational opportunities we have to offer here in Luxinberg.” His disgusting smile led me to wonder and fear any possible recreation he intended for me. The way he leered at and was always draped across the shoulders of the young women in town made me sick. The poor barmaids tolerated him at best, knowing a tip was in store for them if they ignored where his hands might accidentally land.
I flushed, glancing down and wishing I could tell him that my affairs were none of his concern. But I played along for my father’s sake. “I have spent this very morning hiking about the woods, taking in the general splendor of the forests here. They are magnificent.”
“You should join us in a fortnight for the hunt.”
A grimace owned my face before I could stop myself. “A hunt? I don't believe I am cut out to hunt innocent creatures for sport, milord.”
His dark eyes narrowed. “Women join the hunt for the ride alone, Belle. They do not hunt.” He scoffed and shook his head lightly. “Where is it you have come from again? Do the women hunt there?”
His tone grated on my nerves, but I forced a bigger smile upon my lips as I pointed behind me. “I really am sorry, milord. I must be going. I am expected home very shortly.” I waved and turned, nearly dashing to the bookshop.
Being new to the village meant every eye followed me in all directions. I couldn't escape the stare that followed the crazy inventor’s daughter. While my father might have been the town mender, he was an inventor in his own right. When he wasn't busy with a task, he was knee deep in what I knew they saw as madness.
If only they knew the man they spoke of and the genius he had once been capable of, before my mother’s death.
That man was the one I still saw. I refused to admit my father was a sick man. I couldn't avoid knowing it, but I could avoid accepting it. His crazed stare lurked in corners and his mouth moved as though he spoke when he did not.
It was breaking my heart, the little bit of it I let in.
I hurried to the bookshop, nearly slamming the door as I entered and pressed my back against it, catching my breath.
“Belle, how lovely to see you back again.” Mr. Dobson was chipper, oddly chipper. “Did you like the book?” His cheeks glowed and his eyes were sparkling with life.
“Very much, sir.” I nodded, finally catching my breath. “The fighting scenes were just what you said they would be, visually stunning. I adored the romance even if the heroine was so blind to the hero’s strengths. I truly felt how difficult it was for her to see the kindness and unconditional love that he possessed. I loved the angst and the near misses they suffered, both thinking the other annoying. It was a wonderful story.”
“I should be surprised you read it all in one day, but I am getting used to your ways of rushing through a book.” He looked baffled by it. He was the opposite of me, always savoring the book to the very end. But I loved knowing the ending. Which is why I read everything twice.
“I was hoping you might have something new.”
He cocked an eyebrow and pushed up his glasses. “Since yesterday?”
A laugh slipped from my lips. “I suppose that is ridiculous.”
“You have spent too many years living in the cities, traveling with your father from one booming metropolis to the next. You have to adapt to the ways of Luxinberg. Everything here is slow. We pace ourselves.”
“Of course, you are right, sir.” I walked to the old bookcase and pulled the first book I borrowed when I got there.
Seeing it brought a smile to my face as I recalled the rainy day we had arrived. I was half mad by the time we reached the tiny town and nearly went all the way wild when I saw the size of our new home. The moment I found the bookshop, I flung open the doors and made my way inside to the shelves. I looked positively medieval in my rain-drenched and muddied dress, but I didn't care. Desperately my fingers combed the aisles for the one thing that might settle me. When I found it I sat smelling it for several moments before Mr. Dobson found me, offering me the book on lend.
I nearly hugged the small man.
“You can’t possibly read that again. It’s been at least ten times since you arrived last winter.”
“I could read it ten more times before next winter and still love it.” I glanced back at him, grinning.
He waved a hand at me. “Bah, you are a silly girl.” His eyes drew to the windows. “The rains look like they might be coming back this way, Belle. I think perhaps you ought to head home, straightaway. Take the back door so the busy streets don't delay you.” His voice had changed a little; gone was the chipper man.
I glanced to where he looked and nodded, grateful for the warning that Gaston was walking in the direction of the bookshop.
“See you tomorrow!” I waved and hurried out the back door, running along the cobblestoned alley to the path home. I made it just before the rain started, closing our front door as the sky cracked and the beat of the droplets on our small house filled the air around me.
Immediately, the dripping sounds filled the sitting parlor. I hurried for the pots to place under each of the drips.
I didn't hear my father so I assumed he was in the cellar, perfecting his latest invention. After the rainy fortnight we had endured, he would have a lot of mending to do when the clouds lifted so he was working hard to complete his tasks before that happened.
All I knew was that it was a machine for the townspeople.
Gaston had hired him to be the local mender because my father was a brilliant man who had mended clocks and other mechanical items his whole life. All the while, he had been inventing other works of amazement.
We had traveled my entire life, though our very last home had been the longest stay. We might have moved sooner but my mother had become ill, preventing us. I grew to love the city just as she died. It might have been the only thing that saved me. Every step of the cobblestone there had felt like an adventure. It was a port city with ships coming and going constantly. All fodder for my imagination.
I had never seen the sorts of places in my books, but in a city I could imagine them so much easier. I could imagine I had left the kingdom and seen the world. My childhood had been spent traveling with my father and mother to cities within the kingdom.
An explosion in the basement caught me off guard as I placed the last pot and bucket on the floor
under a drips
. I jumped and then slumped, knowing it would mean another mess for me to clean up. When I got down into the cellar my father’s face was black and his eyes were wide.
“Belle, my dear girl. You just missed it. I had it working, the confounded thing. It worked for half a second.” His eyes roamed the room as if he couldn't focus on my face or he saw too many of me.
I just stared at my confused father, all the while trying to avoid the horrendous mess he’d made. “Papa, you cannot ruin this house. We do not have the money to fix it and it’s not ours.”
He stumbled, nodding as he tapped his finger against his chin. “Of course, my dear.” His train of thought was lost. “The pressure is getting trapped. It needs a release valve.” He turned and I lost him to his mind. I sighed and got to
the mess I could without getting in his way.
When I finally finished, I turned on the lamp in the corner so he could see and headed up the stairs to finish making dinner.
I was midway of carving the pot roast I had pulled out of the oven, when a knock at the door interrupted my daydream.
I walked to the door, wiping my hands on my apron and sighing the moment I caught his dark eyes leering at me from the window. I opened the door. “Lord Gaston! To what do we owe the honor?” I hoped the pleasant tone covered the grimace I had.
He glanced past me, looking for my father. His eyes settled on the pot roast as he spoke, “I came to offer your father something beneficial.” He pushed himself inside, glancing at the door to the cellar. “Is he down there?”
I nodded, hating how close we were.
His eyes lowered to my chest. “I’ll be back up in a moment. Then you and I shall discuss something else of great importance.” He licked his lips and walked through the doorway that led to the stairs descending into the basement.
My heart raced when he was around, but it was entirely out of annoyance and fear.
I finished carving the roast and dishing up the dinner, making three plates instead of two, which stretched our meal to the brink of not actually having enough. I took the plate with the least and sat at the table, not sure when they would be upstairs.
Moments later, my father came up first, moving clumsily as he bounded through the house. He had a delirious smile upon his lips as he spoke, “I have the most wonderful news, Belle. You have secured our futures.” His words were thick and strange.
The way he said it confused me. “Has Lord Gaston offered you more work?” I suspected he had and that was what my father meant.
“Work? No.” He scowled and glanced back at the door as Gaston came through it.
Gaston’s eyes danced like a cat watching a field mouse come closer. “I offered your father a deal he couldn't refuse. It will secure your futures and allow him to focus solely on his inventions—no more menial labor.” A wicked grin crossed his wide lips. He had a long face with a cleft chin and greasy dark hair that matched his dark eyes. He was a large man, a bear of one in fact. His hands were the size of my head.
I knew he didn't believe in my father’s inventions so the smile was cruel and mocking at my father’s expense, but I didn’t comprehend why.
“I don't understand.” I shook my head.
“Your hand, Belle. Gaston has asked for it and I have agreed, so long as you have no objections.” My father sighed and sat. He seemed content. “Then I can work on my inventions without distraction.
Everything in the world, apart from my father, halted. I swear my heart stopped. The words started to form in my head, making sense of something horrible. My jaw dropped as every dream I’d ever had died off inside me. “What?”
Gaston walked to me, tilting my chin and grinning. “You are speechless—an admirable quality in a woman.” He grabbed the fullest plate and sat next to me, scooping some of my roast and potatoes onto his plate. “You don’t need as much as I do.” He winked.
My clueless father grinned as he grabbed his own plate and sat at the table, cutting his potatoes before trying to shove the entire piece of tough roast in his mouth.
“I fear I still don't understand.” I grabbed my father’s plate and cut his meat. “How have you two come to these terms without my consent?” I was barely hanging on but being rude to my father’s employer and explaining my objections would have to wait until Gaston was gone.