All Isobel wants is a quiet place to read, but apparently that's too much to ask. She only needs to make it through one last summer with her broken family before she can leave for university and get on with her life. At least she has her books and the solitude of the woods.
But there are wolves in these woods.
Caught out in the forest after dark, Isobel is pursued by a disturbingly intelligent pack of wolves. When the grizzly bear who rescues her turns out to be a cursed fae prince, she realizes her life isn't the only thing in danger. She could lose her heart.
Trapped by the wolves at the prince's home in Faerie, Isobel tries to unravel the mystery behind the surly prince's scars. Because time is running out for the castle's inhabitants, and if Isobel can't find a way to break the spell and save the prince from the Unseelie Queen, she may lose everything she's come to love.
If you love magic, adventure, and a clean romance, try The Rose Gate. This is a stand-alone story that kicks off the Faerie Tale Romances series
** The e-book edition does not include the illustrations done for the paperback edition**
Release date: June 20, 2019
Publisher: Phouka Publishing
Print pages: 332
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Rose Gate: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast
“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess.” I tilted the storybook and showed my preschool class the colorful illustration. “She was also resourceful, creative, and very good at math.”
“I don’t remember there being math in this story…” Avery whispered loudly to little Rory who sat next to her in the reading circle.
I gave the chubby blond girl a quelling look. “Now, even though the princess was beautiful, smart, and quite healthy, she couldn’t resist running around touching pokey things like this spinning wheel. Is it safe, kids, to play with sharp objects?”
“Nooooo,” chorused most of the preschool summer reading club.
Rory whispered to Avery “I like this story better when Miss Chloe reads it.”
“So, because the princess was not a careful girl, an evil fairy cursed her to sleep for a hundred years. Her garden got very out of control during this time.” I showed the group an illustration of exuberant watercolor roses.
“Now, because of this inconvenient curse…”
“What’s an inconvict curse, Miss Isobel?” William’s finger was up his nose. Again.
“It’s what happens to kids who don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables,” I warned the class. “And in this case, it kept the princess from doing anything useful for quite a while and she had to be rescued by a handsome prince, who kissed her without permission.” I turned the page to show them the picture of the handsome prince kissing Sleeping Beauty. “Kids, don’t let anyone kiss you without permission.”
“What even is this?” asked a boy from the back row while Avery and Rory sighed dreamily at the image of the prince and princess dancing through fields of roses.
“That was the moral of the story, Charlie.” I turned the page. “And the Prince and Princess got married and lived happily ever after. After they got to know each other properly and the Princess went to university for at least four years to complete a bachelor’s.”
“Very practical of her.” The head librarian leaned against the classroom door, peering at me over her gold-rimmed glasses with amusement.
“Miss Chloe!” Fifteen preschoolers cheered as they ran over and mobbed the curly, gray-haired woman.
“Miss Chloe, Miss Isobel didn’t tell the story right.” Avery put her hands on her hips.
“Ah well, Avery.” Miss Chloe gave the girl a hug. “Stories change a little every time they’re told. They can’t help it.”
Miss Chloe passed me a damp rag, and we wiped down the tables as parents arrived to pick up their precious but rather sticky children. “Keep your kitty picture flat, William,” I called after the boy, “or all the macaroni will slide off.”
“So, what are your plans for the rest of the day, Isobel?” Miss Chloe scraped googly eyes and dry macaroni off the table and into a garbage can.
“I have a new book, and it looks like it’ll be a warm afternoon, so I think I’ll go for a walk and find a sunny rock to read on. Like a lizard.”
“A lizard who reads?”
“Exactly.” I gamely tried to peel a gluey piece of construction paper off the table without ripping it. No dice.
“Why doesn’t a pretty young thing like you have something more exciting to do?”
I stifled a laugh. People who lived in small towns didn’t mean to be ironic when they discussed local excitement. “I’ll have you know my book has vampires and magic swords in it. It’s very exciting.”
“You don’t want to go to the lake with the other kids?”
“That’s more my sister Amber’s scene.”
Since moving from Vancouver to Pilot Bay halfway through my last semester of high school, I’d done my best to avoid drawing any attention to myself at school and I had succeeded brilliantly, much to the disgust of my younger sister. I just wasn’t interested in wasting my energy trying to break into a social scene where everyone else had been friends since…in utero probably. Now that school was out, they had all probably forgotten that I existed.
“Don’t worry about me and my social life. You and the library kids are enough excitement for a Tuesday.” I wiped the last of the glue off the table. Or was that snot? “I’m a happy hermit. Maybe I’ll go for a hike, be a healthy happy hermit.”
“There’s an old miner’s cabin not far from your end of town. Have you hiked up that way?”
“No.” I perked up. I hadn’t even heard about an old cabin. “Where does the trail start?”
“You know where the ATV track is?” Miss Chloe took my rag and picked up the garbage can. Our battle against grime and glitter was done for today.
I nodded. The track passed behind my back yard, and I’d hiked it a few times. It was nothing special.
“Apparently if you follow it up the mountain for about a half hour, there’s a rock cairn marking the trail to the cabin. It’s supposed to be a fairly easy hike.”
“You haven’t been up there?”
“Oh, I’m not much for the wilderness.” Miss Chloe laughed. “Bugs, bears, sinister gingerbread houses, you know how it is.”
I nodded politely but honestly, after growing up in the city I couldn’t get enough of exploring the woods around Pilot Bay. The Kootenays were still part of British Columbia, but it felt like a different world from Vancouver. I would be sorry to leave the mountains and forests for school in the fall.
“Well, I’ll brave the evil witches and check it out. Have a nice day.” I gave the head librarian a hug before I grabbed my bag and slipped on my sandals.
“Don’t touch any sharp objects,” she called after me as I stepped out into the bright sunshine.
Words to live by.
“How was reading club?” asked Lily as I dropped my bag on the kitchen counter. She was flipping through a cookbook. The kitchen was Lily’s domain. She’d always been better at mom-type stuff than our mother had.
“Reading club was good. Any day without glitter is a good day.” I inspected the cookie jar for treats. “Another day of work, another university credit paid for. Well, maybe half a credit.”
Chocolate chip! My sister’s chocolate chip cookies were the best. Lily claimed that the secret ingredient was love, but we all knew it was the salted caramel chips she mixed in.
“Glitter is bad?” Lily examined a page in the cookbook.
“Well, glitter isn’t inherently bad, but all my clothes are getting shimmery. I found glitter in the pockets of my jeans today on the way to the library. How is that even possible? I haven’t worn them all week.”
“It’s magic.” Lily winked. “You know, if you’d enroll in online classes, it would be a lot cheaper. I know you’ve been accepted into UVIC already, but I’m sure they’d let you put it off for a year or two. You could stay here and save on rent, too.”
I shuddered. “Please don’t even joke about that. This house was cute when it was our vacation home. But it’s lacking some important things. Like insulation. And breathing room.”
Six more weeks of sharing a roof with my little sister Amber was plenty. More than plenty.
“It’s just something to think about.” Lily didn’t push it, she never liked to argue. “Should we have taco salad, or actual tacos?”
“Actual tacos are more work. Will you be home this afternoon to help make tortillas?”
“You know that they have tortillas at the store, right?”
“A sun-dried tomato flavored wheat wrap is not a tortilla. Besides, homemade is always better.”
“True enough. I’m just going out for a wander with my book. I won’t be too long. Where’s Amber?” As if Amber would be any help. Or eat any evil, carb-filled tortillas.
“She’s at the beach. Although, she keeps complaining that it’s not a real beach because there’s no ocean.”
Amber was probably out drinking on a boat somewhere with her friends from school. For someone so disdainful about small-town life, she sure slipped into it quick enough.
“Where are you wandering to?” Lily asked. “You and your book?”
I finished my second cookie and grabbed an apple from the fridge to eat as I hiked. “Miss Chloe says there’s an old miner’s cabin up the mountain behind our place. Up that ATV trail? I’m going to see if I can find it.”
“How far is it? I’m not sure I like you being out there by yourself. Sarah from work says that there are wolves around here sometimes at night.”
“Wolves? Really?” I raised my eyebrows.
“That’s the rumor. And cougars. And bears.”
“Oh my!” I teased. She gave me a look. “Okay, okay, Mom.”
My joke fell flat. Gathering up my bag, I gave her a hug. “Thanks for the cookies, Lily.”
She kissed the top of my head and I headed upstairs to change.
Lily and I shared a bedroom at the top of the stairs, the other half of the not so spacious loft was the master bedroom which Amber had taken for herself claiming that she needed the bigger closet. Whatever. Dad had a small room off the kitchen that I suspected was supposed to be a pantry, but I think he was happy to let the upstairs be a feminine domain.
Lily had painted our room a cheery robin’s egg blue when we moved in and found bright vintage floral blankets and curtains. My contributions were the strings of white Christmas lights I had brought from my old room, and the bookcase bursting with all the books I could fit in my share of the moving boxes. It was cute, which was about as good as it was going to get in here.
I changed into a yellow jersey sundress, then pulled on some bike shorts under it. For modesty. You never knew about those wolves and their dirty minds. I grabbed my Kindle off the bed and double checked the charge before tucking it into my bag. Sunscreen? Check. Ponytail? Check.
As I descended the narrow wooden stairs, the phone rang. And when I say phone, I mean land-line. You had to hike into the middle of town and hold your teeth just right to get a lonely bar of connection. Which Amber did twice a day. I had given up and only used my phone as a camera. It wasn’t a very good camera.
“Hello, Watson house. No, he’s not here.” Lily’s voice drifted from the living room. “No. I don’t know, maybe after six? Hello? Hello?”
“That’s a bit rude,” she muttered as she hung up the phone.
“It was for Dad?” No one ever calls for Dad. Like ever.
“Yeah, but they hung up while I was talking.” She gave the phone another glare then handed me a chilly water bottle and a small spray bottle. “Here. If you must go wandering alone in the woods, at least take this.”
I gave her a questioning look.
“It’s bear spray. Make sure you aim it downwind.”
“What if the bear is upwind?” I dropped it into my bag.
“I wonder if I should get you a bell.” She tapped her finger on her chin. “Or a large dog.”
“I’m leaving now.” I pulled my sandals on and headed out the door. “No buying a puppy while I’m gone. Or a tambourine!”
“No, no, a bell for your bag, to let bears know where you are.”
“I don’t want the bears to know where I am. See you in a couple hours!” I escaped through the bright red front door—Lily’s work, of course—and breathed in the smell of pine trees in the sun. A perfect day to be with nobody.
The sun beat down on my shoulders as I hiked along the twin dirt tracks into the forest behind our house. It was gloriously hot out today. The Kootenays got more sun than the coast ever did. My sisters could avoid the heat by staying inside or in the water if they wanted to, but I loved it. I loved the weight of the sun on my skin. The way my dark hair got hot to the touch.
I loved the snap and crackle of grasshoppers springing ahead of me in the long grass.
The wide track that cut behind the back of our cabin was supposedly used by hunters in the fall, but it was abandoned this time of year. We’d get the odd hiker or dog walker but there were more picturesque hikes to spend your afternoon on, with waterfalls and overlooks to reward you. This trail wound slowly up the side of the mountain with no epic views, but that suited me just fine. I didn’t need epic views. I just needed silence.
Growing up in Vancouver I’m not sure I even knew what silence was. In the city, there was always this buzz of traffic punctuated by sirens and the occasional crash or bang. Even in our part of the city, where crime was told to kindly keep its dirty feet out, it was never quiet. Add two sisters who like to chatter and a mother who thinks a weekend isn’t a weekend without a dinner party full of very important people and I usually escaped with my books and my headphones to find a little peace.
When everything fell apart, we moved with Dad to the cabin in early March. One day when Amber’s snipping and Lily’s crying and Dad’s annoyed muttering about the snipping and the crying got to be too much for me, I ran out the back door with no thought beyond not being in that tiny loud house. And the forest was waiting for me. It wasn’t much to look at in March, a month of mud and potential, but the quiet? The quiet was beautiful.
Now, of course a forest isn’t truly silent. There’s always the rustle of leaves, the calls of the birds, and the odd noise in the underbrush you hope is not a large snake. But those noises don’t intrude on you. The forest doesn’t need anything from you. It just is. And it’s content to let you be the same.
At the edge of our yard the dry grass was eaten up by the bracken fern. The feathery plants were growing tall, above my knees already and they weren’t showing signs of slowing down yet. After wading through the ferns (who had very little regard for where the trail edges are) I reached the aspens with their slim white trunks and bright green leaves that shimmered and whispered in the slightest breeze. I pulled my sandals off and tucked them in my bag so I could enjoy the earth beneath my feet as I walked. There hadn’t been much for dirt paths in the city, and wearing shoes felt like taking this one for granted.
The birds weren’t making much noise as I walked along in the afternoon heat, but I caught a flash of a red head as a little woodpecker zipped across the trail ahead of me. I could hear a chatter overhead and I glanced up, wary of the squirrels who had thrown nuts down on me in previous hikes. The aspen gave way to towering, sweet-smelling ponderosa pine, and I fell into a rhythm as I walked.
The double tracks slanted uphill, and I kept my eyes open for the cairn Miss Chloe had mentioned. Even with close attention, I almost missed it as the top two rocks had fallen off into the grass. I picked one up, warm from the sun on one side, cool from the earth on the other, and balanced it on the knee-high tower of rocks. I grabbed the second rock and turned it over. Interesting. The outline of a symbol was carved into the smooth stone. I traced my finger over the worn lines, three interlocking spirals, and set it on the top of the cairn before hunting for the path it marked.
I would never have seen the trail without the marker. It was little more than a deer path cutting deeper into the forest. The shrubs bent into the trail leaving little white scratches on my legs as I walked. The forest darkened as the trees grew taller. Within a few steps, I had almost lost the trail, but I could see the brightening of a clearing up ahead. It must be the cabin.
The forest lightened as I walked through another pale, graceful aspen grove into the clearing. I caught a flash of red as I stepped past the last trees. Turning back, I saw dark red roses in the trees. They had grown up over the path, making a natural arch across the branches of two trees before trailing down the trunk on the other side. The heat warmed my shoulders in the clearing as I examined the velvety blossoms, petals spread open to face the sun. The roses were unexpected and beautiful, but not what I was here to find.
I turned back to the clearing. It was quieter than the forest, no grasshoppers snapped in front of me as I walked through the meadow. I ran my hands over a few black-eyed Susan’s poking their yellow faces above the tall grass.
I stopped to examine the cabin before going in. It was built of interlocking logs and the low peeked roof was covered in moss and sprouting small plants. Aspen saplings crowded it on one side and a single determined tree appeared to have sprouted through the middle of the roof as the forest reclaimed the old structure.
None of this made it look particularly safe, but it had stood this long. Surely it wouldn’t cave in on me if I went inside? I eyed the rough floorboards and slipped my sandals back on to protect me from splinters and spiders. Hopefully not spiders.
I stepped through the doorway and…I guess I was inside now? I don’t know what I expected but as I turned around, the space lit only by light from the doorway and a square of sunlight coming through the little side window, I felt a bit let down. Shouldn’t there be ghosts? Mysterious documents? Photos of a lost love? Instead, I found nothing but a couple of beer bottles in the corner suggesting I wasn’t the only person to hike up here. That was it.
I took one more look around the cabin. Terry wuz here! proclaimed the carved words over the door. Thanks Terry. I shrugged and went back out into the sun.
I explored the meadow around the cabin. It was very meadowy. That done, I decided to head back down the mountain and found myself back in front of the roses. The local wild roses had finished blooming a couple weeks ago, but these deep red blossoms were plentiful as they climbed up the tree and spread across its branches to reach for the tree on the other side of me. I followed their path around and down the second tree and touched a tightly closed bloom with my fingertip.
It vibrated softly under my touch, sending a humming sensation up my arm. I jerked my hand back and eyed the rose suspiciously. It remained closed, as if ignoring me.
Wait, hadn’t the roses been open when I walked past them earlier? I examined the roses on the other tree and, sure enough, all the roses were curled shut. Huh. Did roses do that? I honestly hadn’t ever given their habits much thought. I watched them for a minute to see if they had any other tricks to pull but they just sat there. Closed. I touched another one to see if it would give me the same strange humming feeling, but I couldn’t tell for sure.
I shook my head and checked the time on my phone. Time to head home if I wanted to help Lily make dinner. I drank some water, tucked my sandals back into my bag, and after another glance at the strange roses, I headed into the forest again, following the faint path.
As I entered the forest, I thought I caught a glimpse of something large and dark from the corner of my eye and my hand fumbled for Lily’s bear spray while I scanned through the trees. Nothing. I shook my head and started down the path toward home.
My imagination was clearly on overdrive today. Maybe I should switch to reading nonfiction for a few days.
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