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.
“Cinder-Girl! Where is that lazy, good for nothing—” Edda’s loud, screechy voice bellowed down the stairs.
I ran to see what my two very privileged stepsisters wanted.
“Cinder-Girl!” Galianna called out.
“I’m here,” I said, panting as I reached the door to the girl’s suite--the one that was once my nursery so many moons ago.
“About time! Do you carry rocks in your pockets?” Edda fired at me.
I blinked. “I am sorry, I can only move as fast as I can.”
"You take forever, snail," Galianna said.
“Yes. Move faster. We have company coming,” Edda snapped. She whipped a dress—far nicer than anything I owned—around like it was a rag, and threw it onto the floor.
Inside I seethed, and I was certain Edda knew it. While younger than me, Edda seemed to live to infuriate me, but being the baby, she never seemed to get in trouble for anything.READ MORE
"Is there a problem, Cinder-girl?" Edda asked, her eyebrow raised, in a good imitation of her mother.
"Please do not call me that," I said, though why I bothered, I wasn't sure.
"It is what you are," Edda said. "Daughter of a merchant," her words dripped with detest. "Not worth anything at all."
"And filthy," Galianna added. "You smell like smoke." She fanned me as if to stop the smell from wafting toward her.
"I'm sorry," I said, ashamed because I likely did smell. A sheen of sweat made my neck feel damp.
But I had been running all day, like all the rest of the house.
"What do you need?" While I wanted to tell my sisters to dress themselves, I knew it wasn't worth the argument. Edda would scream to Stepmother and Galianna would only add to the story.
On her own, Galianna wasn't quite so bad, other than her rude quips.
I could live with names.
Unfortunately, that is not all I have endured since my father brought home a new, titled bride with two rather spoiled daughters.
They never had to do anything except get dressed and be pretty for visitors.
I, on the other hand, became a servant and made sure everything was perfect for arriving guests.
Hence, why I was not up here sooner to assist them.
And from the way my stepsisters bustled around 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? That explained the frenzy the house had been in all morning to prepare.
Suitors only came here if there was a negotiation of marriage on the table, and I wondered who Father had struck a bargain for.
A glimmer of hope.
Perhaps Father had...
“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.
So on 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 grimaced as I worked. “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 rolled my eyes, though I kept my head down, trying not to look at my stepsister. Every time I hemmed anything for my stepsisters, it was never good enough. 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 been my mother’s.
Even now, so many years later, I missed her so. 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—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 his financial records in his study while I cleaned once—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 standing, 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.
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 approached and 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 fruitless. 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.
And I never saw the slam of my stepmother’s hand approach. I lurched forward, this time, able 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 jam. “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.
The only reason I stayed here was because of Father. He was all I had left of the family I once had.
Mother was gone, and some days I was certain that Stepmother attempted to get rid of me as well. It pained me so that my father allow this to stand.
I was his child.
A von Hinleburg.
His heir. Child.
I was all that was left of his family.
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.
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 as neatly as I could. 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 were handsome and dressed in very nice, regal clothing. Father emerged from his study, and his suit—at least a decade old—looked tattered and shoddy next to such finely dressed gentlemen.
I sighed 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 all 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 and positively beamed.
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.
How come he had never once beamed about me like he did for them?
Like thunder from a storm, memories washed over me, the ones I ignored--the ones I didn't want to think were real.
But in that moment, I knew they all were true.
Not once, even when Mother was alive, did Father beam for me like he did for Edda and Galiana.
And 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. Time that 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 with such a beam in his eye to someone.
The past, the part I’d blamed solely on my stepmother, that the reason he’d not loved me was because she had been there--because she had influenced him, she had stopped him from being a father became crystal clear.
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, or his name.
My name is Ana Dutetre. I will no longer be anyone’s Cinder-girl.COLLAPSE
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