After being cursed to live for eternity as a spider, Ariana gifts the love goddess a dress spun from moonbeams, earning the chance to exchange her silk web for a silk dress. But time is rapidly slipping away. If she doesn't fall in love before her magical spool of silk runs out, she'll land in a grave instead of a sticky web.
When a dashing prince and his equally handsome commander vie for her hand, her heart is torn. One man can offer her a simple life full of love. The other man can make her dreams come true--but at a cost that may be too high to pay.
Ariana expected the choice between two men to break the curse, not her heart.
Tangled Web is a fairytale romance inspired by Greek mythology's story of the goddess Athena's curse on the master weaver Arachne.
Buy now for breathtaking adventure and a fairytale-worthy happily ever after!
[Previously titled The Spinning Wheel]
Release date: November 11, 2019
Print pages: 224
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n a land far, far away…
The timeworn oak door to Shepherd’s Cottage creaked on rusted hinges. Edward’s heart thumped madly as he poked his head inside the inky blackness, far darker than the abandoned torture chambers of the castle’s dungeon. He strained his ears, but nothing stirred.
“What’re you waiting for?” his best friend Maximus asked, peering over his shoulder. Although only nine months older, his friend stood a full head taller.
Edward gripped the door knob tighter to stay his trembling fingers. Twelve-year-old boys were not afraid of haunted cottages. Still, his friend was bigger and stronger.
“You go first, Maximus.”
A snort chuffed against Edward’s ear.
“Why should I? Coming here was your bloody idea.”
Edward summoned the imperious tone his father so often used. “Someday, you will lead the King’s Legion. Prove your mettle to me now or be off!”
Maximus shoved him aside and pushed the door wider.
Musty air smacked Edward full on the face and engulfed his nostrils. He coughed violently into his forearm, and his eyes watered. The summer sun had baked the cottage all day, and with no one to open the shutters, the stench of rotted straw and dust overwhelmed his senses.
Maximus flashed him a superior smirk and entered. Something crunched under his boot, and he halted. A mouse carcass, perhaps? Glancing over his shoulder, his friend said, “If anything happens to us, your father will take a stick to my arse. Tell him you forced me to come against my will.”
Edward nodded and nudged Maximus farther inside. The one space forbidden by the King. Were the stories of Shepherd’s Cottage true? Chills of anticipation skittered over his arms. Nay, unlikely. The bard had spun a tale for the royal family’s consumption. Surely, nothing more.
Once inside, he waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Four windows emitted scant rays of moonlight through slits in the shutters, revealing a simple rectangular floorplan. Dust motes swirled around him. He took in everything from the rustic kitchen to a huge chest doubling as a table next to two chairs. But in the far corner of the cottage stood the most interesting of all its contents: an ancient loom.
Intricate spiderwebs spanned the width of the wooden instrument. Spinning, spinning, for all eternity, she’s spinning. The bard’s verse played over in his head, drawing him forward like a moth to a campfire. He swallowed hard as he inched closer.
Perched in the center of the loom was the most magnificent spider he’d ever laid eyes on. The body was shaped like an hourglass, and its legs were well-defined, covered in fine, black hair. If only the moonlight reached a bit farther, he could get a better look at the eyes.
“Gawd!” Maximus groaned, reaching for a broom lying on the floor. “That’s disgusting.”
“Don’t kill her!” Edward hissed, snatching his best friend’s hand in mid-swing.
“Are you daft?” Maximus glanced sidelong at him. “The bloody thing is as big as my palm. And you’re a tasty morsel. I’ve sworn an oath to guard and protect you.”
The legs of the creature twitched, and Maximus stumbled back with a yelp.
“Spiders don’t eat humans,” Edward snapped with his gaze riveted on their subject. “We’re intruding where we don’t belong. This is her home. I never should’ve brought you here. Leave her be.” He glanced around the cluttered space and whispered, “Her webs are spectacular. They glitter like diamonds in the moonlight.”
Maximus shuddered and folded his arms. “Makes my skin crawl just looking at them. They aren’t natural. Why did you bring me here?”
Should he confess the truth? This was his best friend and only confidant. They had sworn a blood oath to each other one month ago when Edward turned twelve. He could tell his friend anything. Still, no one outside his family knew the truth.
“I wanted to see inside the cottage,” he finally said.
“Liar! You were too afraid to come alone.” Maximus narrowed his gaze on the dark corner of the room and tilted his head, as though he saw something peculiar. “Do you believe the rumors?”
The place had been abandoned for many lifetimes, and the stories regarding the cottage were enough to send gooseflesh rippling over his skin. “Haunted by ghosts? No, I don’t believe that.”
“Then what is there to see?”
Something spectacular and eternal. The secret was screaming to come out. If he couldn’t trust his best friend, the future was bleak.
“Father says the spider that lives here is Arachne. She haunts her ancestral home—cursed by a goddess to spin her webs for all eternity. She was a master weaver. Perhaps the best who ever lived. I wanted to see for myself if the tale is true. If so, I doubt you could kill her even if you tried.”
His friend’s eyes widened. “Arachne? The maiden who challenged Athena to a weaving contest? Got what was coming to her, if you ask me. Thinking herself better than a goddess.”
Edward shrugged. “You’ve seen the tapestry that hangs in the great hall of the castle. The craftsmanship is the best I’ve ever seen. I cannot imagine Athena created anything better.”
“You’re telling me your family owns the fabled tapestry of Arachne?” Maximus said with a snort. “Right, and my mum’s the Queen of Aramaya.”
Edward rolled his eyes. “My mother is the Queen.”
“Exactly. Hogwash, I say. Why have I never heard this story before? Arachne’s tale is legendary.”
“Which makes the tapestry of great value,” Edward offered. He rubbed the back of his neck where the start of a headache pounded. He should’ve kept his mouth shut. “You can’t tell anyone what I’ve told you. Promise me.”
They stared at each other for a moment.
“Blood oath,” his friend said, pounding his fist against his chest. As a descendant from a long line of warriors sworn to serve and defend the crown, Maximus’s word was his honor.
Edward nodded briskly.
A movement from the corner of his eye caught his attention. The spider was crawling toward him. Maximus leapt forward and slammed his hand down on the loom.
“No!” Edward shouted.
But the creature had scrambled away in the blink of an eye. Maximus wielded the broom and gave chase, jabbing relentlessly in the darkened corner of the cottage where the eight-legged arachnid had fled.
Edward grasped his friend by the shoulders and shook him hard. “What in Zeus’s name are you doing?”
Maximus panted and wiped his brow with the back of his hand. “Trying to kill the blasted thing so we’ll know if the story is true. Arachne cannot die. She’s cursed to live for an eternity as a spider.”
“So, you would torture her to satisfy your curiosity?” Edward spat. “Does she not suffer enough under her plight?”
His friend tossed the broom to the floor and swaggered around the room. “Don’t be that way. We both know the story is a myth.” He knelt in front of a large wooden chest and rattled the top, but it was locked. “Wonder if there’s anything worthwhile in here?”
Edward’s gut burned red hot with an intensity to rival that of the blacksmith’s kiln. All life was precious–from the highest born to the simplest of creatures–and no one or nothing deserved to be tortured.
Drawing his shoulders back, Edward harnessed his royal voice and growled, “As Prince of Aramaya, I forbid you, Maximus Edgewater, ever to come here again without me. We’re leaving.”
With that, he turned and stormed out of the cottage.
ravel crunched under Prince Edward’s boots as he walked with purposeful strides toward the smithy. Ten of his best soldiers covered his back. There was a time when Edward traveled to Plumford with only his best friend for company. But those days were a distant memory. One dry summer—followed by an equally harsh winter—had wrought havoc on the poorest subjects in the Kingdom of Aramaya.
Unfortunately, bad weather was the least of their troubles. The castle forge was active day and night. Still, it wasn’t enough. Edward needed more weapons, more armor, and many more able-bodied men capable of wielding both or it wouldn’t matter one whit if the coming summer brought another drought.
War was coming.
He surveyed the approaching smithy with a critical eye. The pitched rooftop covered an open-air workshop on two sides, allowing for airflow. Hammers of various sizes hung neatly on the back wall. Excellent. Where there was order, productivity thrived. And with a fireplace that took up the length of one wall, the blacksmith was capable of significant output. In the middle of the floor stood one rectangular anvil. Edward would have preferred to see two. But one was better than none. He would commission another if need be.
A bald man held an iron rod to the smoldering coals in the fireplace and watched Edward’s party approach with an impassive look. Enormous biceps bulged under the man’s shirtsleeves, rolled up over his elbows. His entire head glowed beet red, and sweat trickled down the sides of his face.
After pulling the rod out of the red-hot coals and walking to the anvil, the blacksmith offered a brief bow. Edward acknowledged the respectful greeting with a curt nod. The tension gathering in his shoulders eased somewhat. At least he would not have to contend with a cantankerous vendor.
A sudden movement in the corner of the workshop caught Edward’s attention, and he groaned inside. Behind the blacksmith, a group of six young men stood with their arms folded over their chests. Not one offered the proper greeting for a royal family member. Worse yet, each wore a fierce scowl.
These men were trouble. Edward knew by their unwavering gazes and stiff stances. He chose to ignore the slight. Someday soon, he would recruit the knaves as soldiers. Then they would learn the meaning of respect under Commander Edgewater’s oversight.
A few more steps brought Edward across from the smithy, separated by the anvil. “Good day, Paulus. Might I have a word with you?” Glancing beyond his shoulder to the riffraff in the corner, he added, “Alone.”
“Ye got a problem with us?” one of the young men said in a boisterous tone. The redheaded fool swaggered across the floor, all spit and fire. Anyone with sense would have held his tongue. Ten against six. The odds favored Edward and his soldiers in a fight.
The blacksmith grabbed his hammer and, without turning, said, “The prince wants to talk to me, Jericho. That says nothing about ye. Now get ye gone before I take this hammer to yer thick skull.”
Jericho glared daggers but motioned for his friends with a flick of his wrist. Their collective anger was almost as unbearable as the heat emanating from the fireplace. But Edward held his ground, refusing to look away. Without another word, the rude boar and his friends stormed off. Interesting. They obeyed the blacksmith’s command as well as any soldier of the King’s Legion.
“These men respect you,” Edward said to the blacksmith once the others were out of earshot.
The burly man held up his hammer. “They respect this. And this.” He slammed the head down on the glowing rod three times in quick succession. “I make their farm tools, weapons, and doorknobs. Someday, I’ll make their wedding bands. They can’t afford to anger me.” He wiped his brow, and a smug grin lifted the corners of his mouth. “Mayhap they’re a mite bit scared of a beating from my fists as well.”
And rightfully so. If Edward didn’t have ten men at his back and a sword in his belt, he, too, would be scared of the smithy. The man was a giant. And his skills were invaluable.
“What can I do for ye?” the blacksmith asked, resting his hammer against the anvil and leaning his forearms against the end.
Edward pulled a rolled-up parchment from his breast pocket and set it on the anvil. “Swords, knives, axes, breastplates, and more. All paid in advance.” He motioned to Commander Edgewater, who tossed a bag beside the list of goods. The coins clanked with a dull thud. It wasn’t the full payment. But enough to whet his appetite.
The smithy glanced at the list with a lifted brow. “I’ll have to hire more men. And even then, I may not be able to meet yer demands for several months.”
“Do your best to comply. That’s all I can ask of you. War is coming.”
The blacksmith eyed the group of soldiers, his stare bleak. There was little one could say to that. He brought the hammer down on the rod again in a dismissive gesture. “Come back tomorrow afternoon with the rest of the payment.”
A measure of satisfaction swelled in Edward’s breast as he nodded. “You can expect Commander Edgewater before sunset tomorrow.”
Everything was falling into place. The shipyard was nigh on overflowing with supplies and men. Weapons were being forged at the castle and in town. Now all Edward had to do was recruit as many men into his army as possible. In order to do that, he first had to bribe his mother with the perfect plot of land for her dower house.
He turned to his men. “We ride for Shepherd’s Cottage.”
FROM ATOP his horse, Edward surveyed a long stretch of land on the outskirts of his kingdom. Gold wildflowers sprouted endlessly in the meadow, painting an alluring landscape against the mountainous backdrop where sheep grazed lazily in the high grass. To his right, frogs chirped in a nearby pond thick with lily pads and cattails. His mother would adore the view and peaceful surroundings.
He popped a wild strawberry into his mouth and chewed. A burst of flavor washed over his tongue, both sweet and tart. Nothing had changed since his eighteenth birthday when he’d last visited the area. Everything was perfect, except for the old cottage to the southeast. That would have to be laid to waste. His mother would shudder in disgust with a single glance.
Edward turned to Maximus and asked, “How can my mother deny me my wish once she lays eyes on this land?”
“You still wish to marry a commoner?” The derision in his friend’s tone was thick.
Edward nodded. His horse whinnied and shifted sideways, as if disturbed by his response. He gripped the reins tighter while patting the destrier’s neck. “The blacksmith’s daughter might be a good choice.”
A chorus of muted chuckles rumbled from behind. He glanced over his shoulder at the line of guards protecting his back. “What do you find so amusing?”
Maximus’s lips twitched. “Have you ever seen her?”
Edward quelled his rising anger. “I will be coronated as king much sooner than I wish. I don’t have the luxury of marrying for love. Whomever I choose will be for the good of the kingdom.”
The blacksmith was highly respected among the townsfolk—especially the young men who would bear arms—and he would work long hours forging weapons in the coming months. If his daughter became the future queen, the blacksmith could be a powerful ally in recruiting men to the King’s Legion.
“True,” Maximus said. “Yet the Queen’s choices are likely more palatable to the eyes and offer a strong alliance with our neighboring lands. An alliance provides immediate access to trained soldiers.”
Edward shook his head. “There is no guarantee that my marrying a princess from a foreign land will strengthen our defenses. Better that we build our forces from within with men who are vested in the outcome.”
“How will you convince the Queen to forego tradition?” Maximus asked. “It’s her duty to choose an acceptable wife for you. She will hold to tradition and seek out princesses as suitable candidates.”
Ignoring the pointed comment, Edward nudged his mount forward. He shouldn’t be in this impossible situation to begin with. Soon to be coronated as king and married at the age of twenty-three? Blast it all! His father was invincible in battle after battle. Until he wasn’t. Why had the courageous fool taken up arms for their neighbor’s cause?
A tightness burned in Edward’s chest. He kept his gaze trained forward on the cottage in the distance. Falling victim to his emotions would not change the fact that his father suffered from a confounding ailment. A stab wound to the King’s shoulder had healed without swelling or foul-smelling pus; yet his appetite waned, he was thin as a reed, and he slept more often than not. The healer gave him little hope of surviving. A few months at most.
“We need every able-bodied man ready to fight for King and country. Choosing a wife from among my people will strengthen their love for the Crown and give them added incentive to fight. I’ll convince my mother to allow me to put forth one candidate.” His gaze shifted over the land and a slow smile lifted his lips. “Of course, finding the perfect plot of land for her dower house before presenting my arguments will help my cause. All we need to do is tear down that old monstrosity.”
Maximus spared one glance at the nearing cottage and lifted an eyebrow.
“Stop looking at me that way, Maximus.”
His friend smirked and shook his head. “My apologies, Your Highness. There was a time when you were rather fond of this cottage. Never in my lifetime would I have guessed you would be the one to raze the place.”
Nor would Edward have thought as much. But the days of childhood fantasies was long past. He could not allow myths to waylay his vital plans for his kingdom. He swallowed past a lump forming at the base of his throat. The wondrous ancient treasures hidden inside the cottage must be removed and stored in the castle.
Unfortunately, nothing could be done with the spiderwebs. Hundreds of unique pieces of art would be destroyed. Tearing down the cottage would be like slicing out a sliver of his soul, but it must be done. His mother would never live so close to a cottage that was reputedly haunted.
The soldiers chatted animatedly as they crossed the field. Finally, they came upon the road. The horses’ hooves thudded against the dirt, leaving a cloud of dust in their wake. To the west, farms lined both sides of the road until one reached the bustling town of Plumford. But here, in the wilderness, the air was thick with the sweet scent of wildflowers and grass.
As they drew closer to Shepherd’s Cottage, the sound of an axe on wood rang in the air and the deep rumble of men’s voices could be heard. What in Hades was going on? Edward signaled for his entourage to stop on the lane in front of the cottage just as a burly man rounded the corner of the building with an armload of wood.
A young woman with long, black tresses, dressed in a practical day dress, stood at the doorway, sweeping the entrance. She glanced up and gifted a nearby squirrel with a broad smile. The creature chattered excitedly, bobbing up and down, and the young woman’s eyes sparkled with mirth.
“Good morning, Sally,” the woman called from the entrance. She paused in her sweeping and tossed a nut. The bushy-tailed animal snatched the gift and scrambled up the oak tree that shielded the right side of the cottage from the blazing sun. The squirrel disappeared into a hole a second later, and the young woman’s musical laughter filled the air.
Edward felt his mouth drop open. Did she not notice him along with ten armed soldiers on the road? She would address a squirrel before the Prince of Aramaya? The coat of arms his soldiers wore could not be mistaken. He glanced sidelong at Maximus, but his friend was enthralled, proving to be of no use.
Since when had the cottage been occupied, and why, in Zeus’s name, hadn’t he been informed by his steward? Tossing a family out of Shepherd’s Cottage wouldn’t endear the townsfolk to him or his cause. What a terrible pickle he found himself in, despite the fact that the abandoned house had belonged to the royal family for centuries.
“You can pile the wood here, Hector,” the woman said to the man with an armful of wood. At least he had a valid excuse for not removing his hat and bowing.
“As you wish, Ariana.” Hector stacked the wood neatly and then, after a wary glance at the heavily armed soldiers, offered a proper greeting to the group assembled on the lane. Edward nodded in acceptance. Yet the young woman ignored him still.
He couldn’t recall the last time he’d been snubbed. Perhaps when he was five and had demanded a lemon square from Cook before dinner despite his mother’s orders to the contrary? Cook was a smart man and chose to obey the Queen. But why did this lady ignore him? Ariana. A beautiful name for a young woman with no manners whatsoever.
“Thank you, kindly,” Ariana continued, smiling at Hector. “I appreciate your hard work and that of your sons. The new thatching on the roof is wonderful. There wasn’t a single leak during the last thunderstorm.” She patted Hector’s arm. “Give me but a moment. I’ll grab the cloth I’ve made for your wife in exchange for your services.”
She disappeared inside without a glance in Edward’s direction. Meanwhile, Hector fidgeted with the rim of his hat and said, “A fine morning for a ride, Your Highness. Please excuse the young lady. She’s new to these parts. May I introduce her when she returns?”
“Indeed, sir.” Edward dismounted his horse and handed the reins to Maximus, who had also dismounted. “What is your family name, if I might inquire?”
“Morgan. My farm is up the road a bit—an easy distance, except when the snow is ankle deep.”
Edward was not familiar with the Morgan family, but he liked the man’s straightforward nature and willingness to assist a neighbor in need. Helping one’s neighbors built a sense of community. How had Edward not noticed the newly thatched roof from afar? Probably because the cottage was still in want of new shutters. But the garden had been pruned, and fresh vegetables sprouted from the ground.
“Here we are,” Ariana said, stepping over the threshold with a basket overflowing with fabric folded in a neat pile. The heavenly scent of strawberry pie wafted through the doorway, making Edward’s mouth water.
Ariana’s brown-eyed gaze locked with his, and she halted, throwing her hand over her heart. “Oh goodness, you startled me.”
“Pardon me,” Edward said with a slight twitching of his lips. “That was not my intention.” At least she could not ignore him any longer.
Morgan rushed to her side and accepted the basket. “Prince Edward Rigas, may I introduce Ariana.”
Her gaze traveled the length of his person, and she cocked her head to one side. An odd sensation skittered along his spine at being studied so closely. Usually, ladies of the lower class averted their gazes and snuck in an occasional glance and smile. But Ariana was bold in her assessment of him.
“You don’t look at all the way I recall,” she said.
Had they met before? He examined her facial features with more scrutiny. No, certainly not. He would remember meeting this woman with her black tresses and the distinctive mole on her left cheek.
“I’m sorry, but have we met?” he said, cocking an eyebrow.
“Oh, no.” She shook her head briskly. “I once saw a painting of you as a young boy.”
He laughed, unable to stop himself. “Well, then, I should hope you don’t recognize me. Morgan tells me you’re new to the area.” Gesturing to the cottage, he asked, “How long have you lived here, Ariana?”
She pursed her lips and glanced over his shoulder at the soldiers still mounted on their horses. Her gaze connected with Morgan’s before she said, “Six months or there about.”
“And how did you come by this living?” he asked, strolling to one of the windows to peer inside. Everything looked orderly, and in the corner of the room stood the ancient loom that had fascinated him as a boy. He glanced over his shoulder, piercing her with his gaze. “I don’t recall my steward mentioning that he let the place out. In fact, I came here today to survey the land and finalize plans to raze the cottage.”
All color leeched out of her flushed cheeks in an instant. Ah, so she was caught in a sticky situation—as sticky as the hundreds of webs she’d cleared from the cottage. At least that was one less distasteful task he must oversee. He would bet the fleet of ships currently under construction in the shipyard that she did not have a signed lease for the cottage.
“You cannot tear down my home,” she cried, wringing her hands together. “Please, Hector, tell him how much work you’ve put into restoring the place.”
Edward turned and planted his feet wide, folding his arms over his chest. He met Morgan’s shocked expression with a questioning brow. What could the man possibly offer in the lady’s defense? If he was a longstanding subject of Aramaya, he knew Shepherd’s Cottage belonged to the royal family.
But to his surprise, Morgan’s expression turned stony. “Aye, we’ve toiled for months to make the cottage comfortable again. Why destroy a decent living when so many of your people are in want of a home? She’s a hard-working lass and will pay the taxes.”
Inside, Edward bristled. On the outside, he offered a polite, if restrained, smile. “While I appreciate your candor, Morgan, this matter is between me and Ariana.”
With a tightening jaw, Morgan tipped his hat at Ariana. “My wife is surely missing me and the boys by now. Thank you again for the cloth.” He placed his hat on his head and took his leave. His sons materialized from around the corner of the house—two strapping lads on the verge of manhood. Both greeted the prince with a curt bow before their father motioned for them to be off. The Morgan men kicked up dirt along the road in their haste to leave.
Edward faced Ariana and gestured with a flick of his head toward the front door. “Perhaps you would care to invite me in so we can discuss the situation?”
With a little luck, she would also offer him a slice of the strawberry pie that still teased his appetite. What harm was there in giving her the sense that she had a voice in the matter? In the meantime, he could assuage his curiosity about the interior of the cottage. He’d never been inside during the light of day. Ariana would be gone soon enough. He would see to that in order to carry out his plans.
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