This week I have a special treat for you. The first glimpse into my twisted fairy tale romance, Curse of the Huntsman’s Jewel. I borrowed from the established tales of Red Riding Hood as well as Snow White and Rose Red (the sisters who befriend an enchanted prince) to create this magical universe. There are three romances in this book. One for each female lead character: Rosalind, Bianca, and Scarlett. You won’t want to miss the three handsome huntsmen brothers either. *wink*
Releases on March 29th! Preorder is available from ebook retailers HERE.
A knock at the door disturbed the evening meal. Uncle Jack stood, gesturing for the family to remain seated at the table. Her grandmother and Aunt Caroline exchanged a lingering look, the stew before them left untouched upon the table. Her cousins, Rose and Bianca, continued eating without care. Scarlett knew better. Something was amiss.
She glanced toward the door where Uncle Jack stood over the threshold blocking whoever interrupted their peaceful evening. Voices echoed through the small space, but the words garbled together, muffled by distance and tone.
“Eat your supper, Scarlett.” Aunt Caroline gestured to the bowl of venison and potatoes in front of her.
“Come now, Red, you do not want it to get cold.” Grandmother lifted a spoonful to her mouth, but her gaze darted between the door and the table before her. “Finish your supper, and I shall tell you a bedtime story.”
Bianca and Rose bounced in their seats, grins on their faces.
“We love your stories, Grandmother.” Bianca shoveled a large spoonful into her mouth.
“Can you tell us the story about the huntsman’s curse?” Rose asked, her eyes wide.
“Of course, Rose.” Grandmother smiled and encouraged her to finish what remained in her bowl.
Scarlett took a bite of her food, unable to enjoy the flavor. A strange tension pulled tight in the small cottage. Rose always wanted to hear the story about the huntsman and the princess. Personally, Scarlett disliked the tale. It always left her with a sadness she could not describe. Were love stories not meant to have a happy ending?
The door closed and Uncle Jack returned to the table, his handsome face lined with worry making him look like an old man, burdened with exhaustion.
“Who was that?” Aunt Caroline wiped her mouth with a rag.
“The queen’s guard.” He cleared his throat and tucked his hands into his pockets. “We have been summoned.”
Her aunt dropped the cloth, her lip trembling. “How…? Never mind.” She rose from the table in haste, nearly upsetting the bowl of unfinished stew.
“Go. I shall remain here with the girls.” Grandmother rose from her seat and shooed them toward the door before any questions could be asked.
Curiosity burned within her. Scarlett regarded her aunt and uncle carefully as they donned their warm, outer garments. Her aunt pulled a satchel from the hook hanging near the door and slung it across her shoulders before retrieving her bow and quiver of arrows. They kissed their daughters and Scarlett before heading toward the door.
“We shall return as quickly as possible. Remain here until then.” Uncle Jack pulled on his cap, and together they ventured out into the night where the queen’s guard awaited them.
Before Scarlett could say a word, Grandmother pushed her empty bowl away and stood. “Shall we gather around the fire for our story, girls?”
Rose and Bianca wasted no time. They raced for the bearskin rug beside the hearth and curled upon it. Grandmother settled in the rocking chair beside the crackling flames.
Scarlett sighed. She reached her fourteenth summer only a fortnight past. She was older and wiser than her cousins. At eleven and twelve summers respectively, Bianca and Rose were still quite young. They enjoyed Grandmother’s tales of romance and adventure, while Scarlett knew of the dangers of the world.
Aunt Caroline and Uncle Jack took her in, raising her as their own daughter in the wake of the tragedy which took her parents’ lives. Only a wee baby at the time of their deaths, she remembered nothing of her birth parents. Her aunt and uncle welcomed her into their family, and they taught her the ways of the huntsmen. Or in her case, the huntress, giving her the tools to defend herself and survive. Scarlett embraced the challenge with relish.
“Once upon a time there lived a huntsman…”
Rose sighed, and Scarlett rolled her eyes, leaning back listening from a distance.
“Come join us, Red.” Grandmother patted the chair beside her.
Reluctantly, Scarlett retreated from the table and slid into the seat beside Grandmother. She folded her arms across her chest and fixed her gaze upon the flames in the hearth. How she detested love stories. Her thoughts remained on the curious summons from the queen as her grandmother continued her tale.
“This huntsman lived in the forest surrounding the royal palace.” Grandmother’s voice carried through the small cottage. “One day he fell in love with the princess. But he hid a dark secret, one that would bring his ruin should it come to light. He bore the mark of the Inkling, a message to all who saw it that he was an animus.”
Bianca gasped even though they heard the tale a hundred times before. The story infected them, drawing them in with every telling. “What form did he take?”
“No one knows his form, but for the sake of our tale, let us say it was a wolf.” Grandmother chuckled before continuing with her tale. “He remained content to admire the princess from afar and never tell her of his love. He watched and waited, praying fate would bring them together.”
“How romantic.” Rose clung to her every word. The contents of Scarlett’s stomach churned.
“One day, the huntsman was wounded while hunting. He managed to return to his human form and seek help, but he grew weak from his injury and collapsed deep in the forest.” Grandmother’s tone deepened drawing the girls into the tale. “A lone traveler found him. He happened to be a powerful alchemist and took mercy on the injured man, carrying him to his cottage. The alchemist healed the young huntsman, but the damage was done. He saw the Inkling beneath the young man’s skin.
“As payment for his aid, the huntsman bestowed a vial of his blood drawn directly from the Inkling. The alchemist vowed to inspect this mysterious affliction and gain a greater understanding of its power.” Grandmother leaned closer. “However, the huntsman did not realize how powerful his blood truly was and the magic qualities it possessed.”
“Foolish man,” Scarlett grunted in annoyance. How could the huntsman do such a ridiculous thing by relinquishing something so rare and coveted?
“Hush!” Rose scowled at her and turned to motion for Grandmother to continue.
“Several moons passed and the huntsman encountered a pack of wolves in the forest near the castle. He tracked them knowing they stalked prey.” Her voice lowered. “When he reached the clearing, the huntsman gasped. The ravenous pack encircled a woman wearing a white cloak and brandishing a large tree branch in a futile attempt to scare them away.” Grandmother swiped her hands at the girls like massive paws. “They attacked, and the huntsman joined the fray. He defended the woman, fighting off the pack of bloodthirsty wolves alone.
“When he defeated the final wolf, he converted into his human form and offered his hand to the cowering woman. It was the princess! He bowed low, and she threw her arms around him in gratitude for coming to her aid.” Grandmother sighed with satisfaction. “She explained how her horse had bolted when it smelled the wolves, casting her aside. When the pack surrounded her, she could not fight them off. Under the protection of the huntsman, she followed him through the thick and winding forest until they reached the safety of the castle.”
Scarlett listened to the story, knowing each part by heart and reciting it in her mind. Her cousins adored the tale, and her grandmother told it with such fervor, one would believe it truly happened. Try as she might to ignore the attraction of such a legend, it drew her in every time. She licked her lips and waited for Grandmother to continue.
“After being rescued by the handsome and charming huntsman, the princess grew quite fond of her savior. He returned her to the castle unharmed and was granted a boon for his daring rescue. Seizing the opportunity, he requested to become the princess’s personal protector.” Grandmother chuckled. “The king laughed at the bold request, but he acquiesced with gratitude, sensing the young man’s honorable intentions.”
Rose sighed again. Irritated, Scarlett nudged her with her foot.
“As time passed, their love blossomed, and the young huntsman waited for the opportunity press his suit for the princess’s hand in marriage.” Grandma’s smile faded and her eyes grew misty. “Until one cold winter morning, the alchemist returned with a gift for the king. A vibrant jewel with rare and mystical powers. The Huntsman’s Jewel, formed from the blood of an animus bearing the mark of the Inkling.”
Rose and Bianca gasped.
“The huntsman realized his mistake, but it was too late. The bargain he made by bestowing the blood to the alchemist bound his soul to the gem, and a cursed existence, one from which he could never break free. If he remained, the curse would plague generations to come.” Grandma sighed. “He stole the gem and transformed into his animus form before escaping into the night. The huntsman was never heard from again, and the princess languished of a broken heart.”
“This story is ridiculous.” Scarlett threw her hands up in the air. “Why must you always tell the saddest story? Aren’t love stories supposed to have happy endings?”
“I like the story, even with a sad ending.” Bianca scrambled to her feet and stuck out her tongue. “Why must you always ruin it?”
“The story ruined itself.” Scarlett scowled. “I do not understand why you cannot tell us a different, happier story, Grandmother.”
“I happen to like this one.” Grandmother shrugged and rose to her feet. “Off to bed, girls.”
Once they were tucked in bed, Scarlett attempted to sleep, but visions of snarling wolves appeared in her dreams whenever she tried. Darkness lay thick in the cottage, reaching down from the loft where they slept. She drifted in and out of sleep.
A door slammed, shaking the cottage. Scarlett bolted upright, pulling the blankets around her like a shield.
“Girls, wake! Hurry!” Her uncle’s voice echoed from below. A lantern flickered to life illuminating the small space. “Get dressed and gather your things, quickly!”
In haste, they dressed and packed a few items in their sacks before slinging them over their shoulders. They climbed down the ladders to find Grandmother and Uncle Jack pacing by the door with their own satchels on their backs.
Confused, Scarlett stepped forward. “Where are we going?”
His haunted eyes met hers. “We must go. Now. Whatever happens, run and do not look back.”
“Where is mother?” Rose asked, glancing around.
“Come.” Grandmother pulled her close, and they ventured out into the night.
As they weaved through the blackened forest, an eerie sound filtered through the silence. Wolves. The girls took off at a run with Grandmother and Uncle Jack following behind. They ran until their legs weakened and their chests nearly burst.
Somehow they remained ahead of the pack, reaching the river as the cool blue light of dawn broke over the horizon. They climbed into the boat and pushed off from shore. Grandmother cradled Rose and Bianca against her chest as Uncle Jack rowed.
Scarlett scanned the shore, catching a glimpse of the pack in the distance standing where the boat had been moored. Relief filled her.
“Where is mother?” Rose muttered between sobs.
“She is gone, pet. I am sorry.” Uncle Jack hung his head, hiding the tears staining his cheeks. “The wolves…” His voice drifted off as though it pained him to recount what had transpired. He cleared his throat. “Whatever happens, you must remain hidden from the queen. Do you understand, girls?”
Rose and Bianca nodded.
Scarlett tried to comprehend, but nothing made sense. “Why?”
“It does not matter why.” His dark gaze bored into her soul. “But if you wish to live, you must remain as far from the queen as possible.” Those were the last words spoken on the matter.