(Lesbian Cinderalla fairy tale. for $3.99 Re-release of 2012 title)
Available in Print for $12.99:
Synopsis: The sudden death of Ellie’s father leaves her with an uncertain future. Her stepmother, Geraldine and step-sister Mina treat her like a servant. The seductive Countess Tremaine wants to save Ellie from her life of drudgery, but all for a price- her innocence. She feels all hope is lost until she meets a lady who makes all her wishes come true.
Lady Kristina, the Duke of Perrault’s daughter has returned home after five years abroad. She’s expected to marry, but her attraction to women stops her from carrying out her parents’ wishes. One night she meets a shy servant girl and becomes obsessed. She’ll do whatever she can to gain the trust of this mysterious woman and claim her for her own.
With the countess pressuring Ellie into accepting her unscrupulous offer, and her stepmother growing more unstable, she turns to Kristina for support. But then her whole world comes crashing down when she learns the truth behind Kristina’s identity and the lies Geraldine has kept from her.
As Ellie falls victim to those dark forces set on ruining her, Kristina fights to save Ellie’s heart before she loses her forever.
Her fingers twitched with the urge to caress Elle’s mouth or cheek. If she was more forward, she would have stolen a kiss, but this wasn’t like Leena, who welcomed her touch, or the bored Finnish wives and widows who liked experimenting in the bedroom.
By the time she finished her story, Elle wrapped her arms around her legs and tucked her chin on top of her knees, her attention never waning, watching her the entire time. Earlier, she had taken off her jacket and unbuttoned the top of her blouse to cool off. She wanted to lie on her side and ask Elle to join her, but every time she moved in closer, the young girl became wary and tense. She didn’t want to frighten the poor thing, but wanted to ease the tension between them.
The next step was arranging another meeting to see if they were as compatible as she thought they were. If so, she would then announce who she was really was and offer Elle employment in her parents’ house.
Her throat had become dry from her talking, and she bemoaned the fact she didn’t have anything to quench her thirst.
“Forgive me. I need a moment to rest my voice.” She cleared her throat.
Elle dug in her basket and produced an apple. She held it out in an offering. “Here, take this. It should soothe your parched throat.”
She smiled in thanks and took the fruit, deliberately gliding her fingers over the ridges of Elle’s knuckles. She took a big bite and moaned from the sweet juices filling her mouth.
“It’s wonderful.” She saluted with the half-eaten apple and spread her legs, rotating her ankles to alleviate the stiffness there.
“Apples are my favorite fruit,” Elle smiled at August, who dozed in her lap. She scratched between his ears, and he yawned. “The best kind of pie to make is apple. The smell of cinnamon fills the kitchen, and it sticks in your hair and in your skin. My mother loved to…um.” She shut her mouth and turned away to look off to the side.
She stopped chewing, waiting for Elle to tell her about her mother. She didn’t, and that made her all the more intrigued.
“Forgive me for prying, but you don’t see your mother often or is she…?” She waved her hand around for Elle to carry on.
Elle stared at the ocean. “My mother was killed in an accident when I was a child. Things weren’t the same at home after she died.”
A pang of sympathy came over her as Elle’s voice grew childlike while she spoke about her mother gone too soon. She took Elle’s hand, brushing her thumb on the inside of her wrist. Elle didn’t flinch or pull away.
The sound of the crashing waves and caws of seagulls filled the lull between them. It wasn’t until August climbed off her lap and sniffed around that Elle took her hand back and fiddled with the basket, examining it as if something special was hidden inside.
She threw her half-eaten apple away and rubbed her palms together to erase the stickiness coating her fingers. A square wooden board near the corner of the blanket caught her eye. She picked it up, trying to read the strange lettering drawn there.
Something like a grunt came from Elle. She glanced up. Elle’s face had lost her color.
“What’s wrong?” She reached for Elle’s arm.
Elle motioned with her chin at the slate Kristina held. “That’s my slate.”
“I can see it’s a slate. What are you using it for?”
“To…practice my penmanship and to read better.”
Aha! That’s why she reacted the way she did. She must be ashamed by her lack of schooling.
“Oh? That’s admirable. Not many women in your situation continue their education.” She held out the slate for Elle to take. “But why do it alone? Isn’t there a tutor nearby you can go to for lessons?”
Elle grabbed the slate and set the book on top of it. She tried to catch the title of the book, but it was dropped into the basket and covered.
“I can’t afford no money for a teacher,” Elle said in a tight voice while tugging on the frayed hem of her dress.
“It’s better if you leave out the word, no, as in, I can’t afford to pay for a teacher,” she corrected.
“Either way I say it doesn’t matter. I do the best with what I have.” Elle stuck out her chin.
That’s the spirit, my darling girl. Speak your mind! She wanted to cheer.
Elle suddenly dropped her head down, and her shoulders sagged.
“Are you all right?” She set her hand on Elle’s shoulder, keeping it there for a moment then sliding it down her arm.
Elle nibbled on her bottom lip. “I apologize, my lady. I shouldn’t have spoken so rudely. I should know better than to show my temper in such a way.”
She tilted Elle’s chin up. Her eyes showed bleak remorse. Kristina’s chest stung. This poor girl needed some coddling. She wanted to be the one to give that to her.
“Now, listen to me. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You’re hardworking, like most of the people in this town not born into privilege. Many can’t read or don’t care to learn. But you, my precious girl, have taken the step in the right direction.” She tugged on one of Elle’s curls.
Elle wiped her cheek and laughed softly when August swiped her chin with his paw. She pulled him into an embrace and kissed his nose.
“Even your kitty thinks the same way I do,” she joked, and Elle laughed again.
“Thank you.” Elle dropped August. “You’re a nice lady.”
“I should like to think so.” Her stomach did a little flip at the compliment.
Elle gave her a small smile and rose to leave.
“You’re leaving?” Moving to her feet, she wanted to keep talking to her new friend.
“It’s getting late, and I have to make dinner.” Elle moved the basket aside and lifted the blanket.
The sun wasn’t as high as it had been before, and the ocean had grown calm. She hugged her waist, feeling a slight chill in the air. She had enjoyed her conversation with Elle and wished she could prolong it. The odds of them spending more time together was small. She could only imagine how that would go over with the townspeople. The gossip about the duke’s daughter befriending a lowly servant girl would be unrelentless.
She kicked a pebble away and tapped her fingers on her hip. There had to be a way— aha!
Lifting her hands to her mouth, her joy mounted at the amazing idea that would allow her and Elle to remain in contact.
“Are you feeling well, miss? Your eyes have gone all glassy like,” Elle asked.
She stepped forward and smiled. “I have a marvelous idea. I can tutor you in your studies.”
Elle stared at her disbelief. “Why would you want to do such a thing? Don’t you have better things to do, like shop?”
She laughed. Elle’s question didn’t come out as defensive, but the opposite, with an open and innocent tone to it. She understood why Elle thought the way she did. Most women of quality who had a fortune at their disposal spent their days at leisure.
“You’re very intuitive. I do enjoy shopping just like any woman, but every so often I shake things up and do something out of the ordinary.” She beamed, delighted with her reasoning.
Elle didn’t seem to agree. Her forehead burrowed and strain lines appeared around her mouth. “I don’t know what in-tu-itive means, but I won’t be a charity case to make you feel good about yourself.” She turned away and lifted August, who chewed on a broken piece of shell.
She twisted her hands, feeling rotten for making Elle upset. I must fix this before she rushes away.
Elle held August in her arms. “I spoke badly just now and shouldn’t have. I keep forgetting my station.”
She wanted to correct Elle, but there was some truth to her statement. “That may be the case but I’m not going to obsess about it like you are. Can’t we pretend we’re equals?”
Elle placed August in her basket as her answer.
She nibbled her bottom lip. Think! She stalled Elle by bending down and crooning to the cat. He responded by licking her fingers.
“At least your cat likes me.” Her lips slipped into a small pout.
A blush colored Elle’s cheeks. “I like you also.” She ran her palm down August’s back.
Her hand landed on Elle’s, and she halted her movements. “Before you say no, please hear me out. I want to tutor you not because you’re a charity case but because I want to be your friend. I know of a place where we can be alone and uninterrupted. I’m allowed access to the duke’s land as his guest. There’s a vacant gamekeeper’s cottage on the edge of his property near the river. We can use it as a schoolroom.”
“What about the Lady Kristina or Lord Simon? Won’t they question why you’re spending time with a servant?”
“They don’t have to know. They’re fine with me going off by myself. As long as I’m back in time for dinner, no one will find it odd. We can meet for an hour or two each day.”
“I can’t. My duties take up a lot of my time.” Elle took August back.
She huffed, annoyed. “Really? I guess your duties today weren’t too pressing.”
Elle gave her a sheepish smile and brushed away a piece of her hair falling over her eye. “My mistress can be generous when it suits her.”
Undaunted, she wouldn’t budge without getting what she wanted. “I’ll work around your schedule. When are you free next?”
Elle stared at the sky, and her cheeks bulged out she blew out air. “In three days, on Sunday. After morning Mass, my mistress visits with friends then takes a long nap before supper. I guess I can get away for a few hours.”
“Shall we say around three o’clock on Sunday afternoon, then?”
“Are you certain I won’t get in trouble being on the duke’s property?”
The nervous look Elle shot her way had Kristina longing to comfort her. Now was not the time, but soon enough she would. Instead, she smiled brightly. “Trust me. There’s no reason to worry. I’ll take care of everything.”
Elle’s begrudging acceptance was good enough for now. She conceded, ecstatic she had gotten her way.
“I really must go before I get into trouble. Thank you for keeping me company.” Elle curtsied and grabbed her clogs.
What ghastly shoes. She eyed the footwear with disdain. They were the color of mud, with unidentifiable stains.
“They might be ugly, but they don’t pinch my feet and are serviceable.” Elle lifted a clog in the air.
She shouldn’t tease about her hideous shoes, not wanting to say or do anything else that might offend. “I imagine they are. I actually prefer my riding boots.” She waved in the general direction of where they lay. “Slippers are not the most effective for walking long distances. Dancing can be a trial. Some gentleman always ends up treading on my poor toes.”
“I’ve never been dancing.”
“Never? How can that be?” she asked, taken aback.
Elle shrugged. “No time, really.”
“I must teach you to dance, then. A woman cannot go through life not knowing how to dance.” She pointed a finger in the air to push her point home.
Elle’s lips twitched. “I’ll keep that in mind.” She gathered the rest of her things and climbed to the top of the short incline.
“Don’t forget, three o’clock Sunday near the river where it runs across Perrault’s property. You won’t be able to miss the small white building in need of a new coat of paint.”
Elle stared down at her from above. “I’ll be able to find it. Goodbye.” With a wave, she disappeared from view.
She didn’t follow Elle. There was no way she could be sneaky about it with her horse. For now she’d allow her secrets, but soon enough she would learn all of them and introduce her skittish friend to a whole new world that had been denied her.