Tag Archives: New Release

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#Lured – Book 2 of the North Start to Freedom Series

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For the past few weeks I’ve been sharing the books in the North Star to Freedom series.

Well, this week it’s my turn!

#Lured is my book in the series, and I have to say, I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out.

Anyone who has read my Jagged Scars series won’t be shocked that Warren, the trafficking survivor in this book, deals with some serious PTSD.

I have to admit it was difficult to put myself in Warren’s shoes. I’m fortunate not to have abuse in my past, so I had to imagine what it might be like being a sex trafficking survivor. Not my favorite topic to think about, but I feel like I scraped enough of the surface to make everyone reading feel for Warren.

Scroll down to see how I got sucked into this project!

The ebook is 99 cents this week only!

The girl being lured away

The trafficking survivor trying to save her

Kaylee Roberts, sophomore and varsity soccer player, is furious when her arch nemesis not only beats her for the half-back position on the team, but then sends a picture of Kaylee’s eczema-covered face on fire to the whole school. It’s not like she needs a reminder about her skin condition. Lucky for Kaylee, she’s been chatting online with a basketball player from another school who appreciates her photography skills and likes her for who she is.

Seventeen year old Warren Scott’s plan to get out of juvie and rescue his best friend from a trafficker goes out the window when he gets into a fight defending another kid. He’s expecting a reprimand, but instead gets an offer: join a specialized team of sex trafficking survivors who go into high schools to find and warn teenagers who are being targeted by predators. The rich guy in charge promises Warren help finding his friend in exchange for his time.

Warren agrees, but while he and his partner are desperately trying to find the target, he starts having crippling flashbacks of his old life. In the meantime Kaylee’s amazing and supportive online boyfriend tells her he loves her. She loves him too, and wants to show him.

Can Warren find Kaylee before it’s too late, or will Kaylee be #Lured away to a fate Warren knows all too well?

 

How I got involved in this project

JO SCHNEIDER

Taylor Hart approached me about this project early in 2019. We were sitting in a crowded Olive Garden and she was telling me stories that she’d heard from Cammy Bowker (see her forward at the beginning of the book) about child sex trafficking and exploitation in America. Right here in our home state. I was blown away. Of course I knew it happened, but had never looked too close. Like many of us, for me ignorance was bliss. That night Taylor destroyed my ignorance, and I’ll be forever grateful.

Taylor said she wanted to join the fight, and asked me if I would be willing to write a book and donate all of the proceeds to charity. Duh. Yes. When do you want it?

Our original idea was to write sweet romances, which I write under my pen name Karly Stratford, and donate the money. Then Taylor ran into Tim Ballard, founder of Operation Underground Railroad, at the mall. I saw a picture she’d posted on Facebook and I sent her a text asking her if she was stalking the poor guy! Nope, not stalking. A fortuitous, and possibly inspired, meeting. Taylor thanked him for all he has done, told him we were authors, and asked him what we could do to help. When he said he would love it if we would write books directed at the teens, because more and more get taken every day, that threw a wrench in the plan.

At this point, Heather had joined our little party, and the three of us were a bit dumbfounded. Most of the group write sweet and clean romance…how are we supposed to write something to teens on the topic of sex trafficking?

I’m the young adult writer of the group, so I started thinking. And praying. And thinking. Here’s the thing, in young adult books you need to empower the teenage characters. They have to be driving the story, not be bossed around by their parents or teachers. And we didn’t want to just focus on a victim after they’d been taken—first too grisly, and second most teens won’t relate to the situation. Finally, after a few weeks, I had an idea. If you remember the old 21 Jump Street, with Johnny Depp, you’ll know that young-looking cops got sent undercover into high schools to sniff out drug and theft rings. In the process they usually helped teens who were in trouble. Then it hit me. What if we used young trafficking survivors as our 21 Jump Street-type teams, and they went into high schools to help kids who are being targeted by predators? That way we could tell a story that would be familiar to teens (high school), as well as explore a victim of trafficking after they’d gotten out!

It took a lot of work, praying, planning and coordinating, but in the end it all came together!

I’m not often public about my religious beliefs, but I certainly felt a divine hand holding mine more than once as I researched this brutal topic, planned my book and then wrote it. There was also plenty of opposition as we fought to get this project finished and out to the world.

I hope these books made you just a little bit uncomfortable, but I also hope that you go away from them with a better understanding of the process predators use to lure people into their traps. The internet is not going away, and the best defense against it is open communication with friends and family and as much knowledge as you can gather about the dangers that lurk behind the screen.

 

 

 


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#Seen – Book 1 of the North Star to Freedom Series

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Last week I shared a bit about how I got involved in fighting the biggest growing crime in the world.

Sounds dramatic, right?

Well, it is.

This week  book one of the series, #Seen, is out!

Scroll down past the book to read Taylor Hart’s “Why”
I should warn you, she’s a bit…intense. 😉

The ebook is 99 cents this week only!

She loses her prom date, her chance at cheer captain, and her friends all in one day! Will Sammy Lewis ever get her chance to be #Seen? Good thing there’s two new kids at school to help her out!

Zoey Thompson never expected to get hand-picked by a philanthropic billionaire Cyrus Black for an elite, undercover team to stop online predators from targeting teens. And she really never expected to have a broody, hot partner named Nicholas who keeps telling her not to ask about his past. Sheesh—he’s not the only one with secrets, so whatever!

Enter Sammy Lewis, sixteen-year-old cheerleader at Montrose High. Sammy has everything—a boyfriend, two best friends, and a shot at becoming cheer captain for the upcoming state cheer competition. Too bad she loses them all in one day. Good thing she has Instagram and @hunterlives, the only guy who really understands her.

Posing as cheerleaders, Zoey and Nicholas think they’re getting through to Sammy about the dangers of her situation. That is, until Sammy runs off in search of the guy who really isn’t her boyfriend at all.

Will they get there in time, or will it be the last time Sammy Lewis is ever #seen?

From Taylor Hart


Super Secret Terrifying Project I’ve been working on.
Seriously you guys, my hands are shaking.
Why?
Because this project has been—INSANE!
Insanely hard. Insanely awesome! Insanely Fun!

Drumroll.

I know you’re ready to hear the two-second newsclip version of what I’ve been doing, but I’m sorry—I have to tell you more!

Have you ever had that moment when you see a world’s problem and then you look away quick because–

1-it’s scary
2-YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING.
3-it doesn’t do any good to think about it.

Me too.

For the last—10 years I won’t even watch the news.

My parents think I’m unpatriotic

Seriously.

But—I had one of those experiences—that grabbed my attention and inspired me to try to MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

And it involves these AMAZING BOOKS I’m RELEASING with 2 other AMAZING authors over the next few weeks!

Here’s how it went:

A couple of months I saw a FB Live between Timothy Ballard speaking with Tony Robbins.

Tony Robbins has been a personal hero of mine for roughly 15 years. I love his personal development material and he really helped changed the way I look at the world and he has helped me gain strategies to more effectively deal with my emotions and my business, etc.

Timothy Ballard was a special agent for Homeland Security for ten years, then he left and has made it his life mission to rescue children from being trafficked. I have read many of his books and he has a love of country and he’s a man on a mission.

During this FB Live, Tony asked Timothy Ballard—what can people do to help. And Timothy said, “I don’t mean to sound preachy about it, but I feel preachy—talk about it, blog about it, write a book on it.”

And—I felt it. Call it—the spirit, my inner voice, or whatever you call it. But, I felt that rush of inward, outward chills and I heard a little voice say—‘you could write a book about it.’

Seriously, at this point I said, out loud, “I don’t write books about that.”

Ha! I argued WITH GOD.

It’s not a good thing. In fact—don’t do it! 🙂

But–I write books about fun romances. Not-child trafficking.

Right!

I don’t even want to think about it. I have four children and IT SCARES ME.

And—then I HEARD what I had said—I have FOUR children.

I knew, I had to do something. But I pushed it away.

Two months later, I met Cammy Boker—and she—is AWESOME.

HER website is here. But she has made helping children her mission too.

This was when I discovered that predators. Online predators, trafficking rings and CRAZY WEIRDO. Bleep bleep bleep kind of people are trying to get to OUR children.

Right here. In America.

In my own city.

Of course, once you start digging, you find more and more. That’s what I discovered. I interviewed parents whose daughter LEFT WILLINGLY on a bus for Vegas, because she thought she had a boyfriend.

Another girl—thought she was going to be a model.

These psychopath predators are pretending to be friends, boyfriends, modeling agents to our CHILDREN.

Not just girls.

Boys, too.

They are getting our children to be ‘friends’ with them—through instagram, facebook, snapchat, etc. etc. etc. AND send SEX TEXTS back and forth with them—and then they Blackmail them.

Tell them—they will kill their siblings, their parents, etc. Convincing them that they are BEYOND LOST.

Ok. End rant.

You are getting the idea.

Soo—drumroll…I teamed up with 2 other amazing authors. And—it was ROUGH.

Miracle—I met Timothy Ballard—walking out of the mall.

And-I told him what we were doing and he said—‘write the books for the teens, I get more calls everyday about the teens.’

How were we going to write these books for kids?

Jo Schneider is a dear friend of mine and when I spoke to her about this she was in and it made my heart soar. And she came back with an amazing idea to have a team of kids go in under cover. Do you remember the old 21 Jump St.? With Johnny Depp? Honestly, I have never heard of it.
So I went back and I watched some of the old 21 Jump Street they are available on prime right now for free 🙂 and I knew Jo had been inspired.

Because it gave us a format where we could write these books in a fun way we can have a quickie team of kids going in under cover. But the kids would have a past of getting out of being trafficked. No not all of them have been trafficked but their lives have been affected by it maybe it’s one of their siblings or friend.

Heather Horrocks, who is a friend of mine and Jo’s got involved with us. And Heather brought so much excitement and energy she passed the project forward to completion.

I’m not gonna lie to you, as a mother ever so many times I wanted to quit. And there was so much opposition to bringing these books forward.

But our mantra became #justonechild #justoneteen #justonegirl #justoneboy

If we could raise awareness and PREVENT #justone

From getting caught up in sex trafficking, then … it will be worth it.

So now I’m here … asking you … NOT to turn away. Not – to push this email out of your mind. NOT – to ignore these books.

Read them.

They are clean. No swearing. No sex. You do—know bad things have happened and it is alluded to and talked about.

How can we NOT talk about it?

Phones—are NOT going away. Apps—different apps, new apps—are going to keep coming.

THE ONLY THING WE CAN DO IS VACCINATE OUR KIDS AGAINST THIS.

Talk to them.

Explain it.

Have them read these!

Have them learn—through our characters—what NOT to do. And what to do!
Help them!!
Educate them!
Inform them!
Save them!

You!

It’s intense. I know. I feel intense about it! And—I’m asking for your help to spread the word.

All of the profits of these books are being donated to O.U.R. or to GlobalEP.

That means—OUR ONLY GOAL IS TO RAISE AWARENESS AND PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING!

So I don’t feel bad being preachy! And I don’t feel bad asking.

My hand—in your hand.

The best part about the WORST THING—is just like the times of the Civil War—when there was LEGALIZED SLAVERY in this country—

AND GOOD MEN AND WOMEN STEPPED UP TO END IT!

Now.
Now.
Now.

WE HAVE A CHANCE TO STEP UP NOW!

You have a chance!

Read them! Talk about them! Blog about them! Social Media Share! Tell your kids! Your sister! Your brother!

Open your mouth!
#Justone
#Justone
#Justone


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#Lost – A Prequel

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I’ve been vague-booking about a project , and it’s finally time to make it public!

This all started when my author buddy, Taylor Hart, asked me if I would be willing to write a book and donate all the profits to the fight against child sex trafficking.

I didn’t have much real-life knowledge of child sex trafficking, but duh. Yes. I’m in.

Then things got…complicated. Instead of just writing a sweet romance and donating the profits, which would have been easy, we got the nudge to write cautionary tales for teens about how these things happen here in the United States.

So we did.

Much more on that later.

Today is the official launch of #Lost, a prequel to said project.

Co-written by Taylor Hart, Heather Horrocks and myself, this novella tells the story of billionaire Cyrus Black whose daughter was taken by a sex trafficker.

The end of this story sets up the rest of the series, which will launch a book a week for the rest of the month!

Get your copy of #Lost today!

Free for Kindle Unlimited readers, or 99 cents for the ebook

 

All billionaire Cyrus Black wants is a chance to spend a month in Paris and repair the fractured relationship with his wife and daughter. But things don’t go as planned. Frantic, he realizes his daughter has left without telling anyone where she’s going. When he finds her phone dumped in a garbage can, he grows even more frantic. Though the police assume it is a kidnapping, and tell him to wait for a ransom note, he calls in associates who might help him find her.

Marcella Black is looking forward to spending time with her parents, especially her father whom she’s hardly seen since her parents separated. But when her father is late—as usual—and her mother is having a melt-down, and she can’t face the fight that’s sure to come, she turns to the only person who understands her—@JamesKind.

She met him briefly in Paris last year and has since fallen in love with him. When he asks her to come meet him, she happily goes. Because he loves her, too, right?

When the expected ransom note doesn’t arrive, Cyrus fears his daughter might be #lost—maybe forever.

***

Stay tuned for next week’s launch of #Seen


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Fractured Sleep Release!

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Fractured Sleep Launches Friday!

Kindle Pre-Order is still just 99 CENTS!

Keep scrolling to read chapter one of my story!

The Fairy Tale Ink is proud to present these four retold stories of the classic, Sleeping Beauty. A story for every reader from best-selling and award-winning authors!

At The Edge of Dreams:by Angela Brimhall

Five years ago, Aurora was forced to live at Thornhurst Manor, the city insane asylum. Every night she dreads sunset when sleep becomes a wicked game of survival. When Aurora is kidnapped and imprisoned in The Briar, a vision reveals the desperate man in the next cell is her only hope in stopping the plague of her nightmares. Will she find a way to rescue this mysterious man before The Dragon’s death countdown reaches zero?

Dragon’s Curse, by Adrienne Monson

When her nana is in a near-fatal car accident, Dawn is forced to reconcile her beliefs about magic. Her long-buried powers could save Nana’s life, but at a high price. Accepting magic means that the man Dawn dreamt about her whole life is real and that she’s the only one who can save him from a cursed sleep. To do that, she’ll have to face the terrifying dragon who put him there.

The Lonely Princess by Jo Schneider

Everything changed in the 500 years Aurora slept. Now teenagers go to the Academy, where humans and fey live side-by-side and everyone pretends to get along. In her attempts to find her place in this new world, she meets Saru—a mysterious boy who delights in irritating her. Their attraction is instant, but his forgotten past might be their undoing.

Restless by Quinn Coleridge

Rory Kingston doesn’t want much. Just a good night’s sleep and a normal life free of magic. Yet Rory’s own royal pedigree keeps getting in the way of achieving these goals, not to mention her preoccupation with a new neighbor. Where the darkly handsome history professor goes, danger and mayhem follow. Has Phillip come to drag Rory back to the magical kingdom she left behind years ago or are his motives even more nefarious?

***

The Lonely Princess is my Academy story, The Monkey King, from Aurora’s point of view.

Fun fact:

My husband has a niece named Aurora and a niece named Aulorah. I get their names mixed up all the time, much to their chagrin, so I thought it would be funny to use both of their names in this story!

Here’s Chapter 1, just in case you need more incentive to buy the book.

Chapter 1

Sunlight streamed through the windows of the classroom and kissed the side of each student’s face. The warmth of the autumn day, combined with Master Aloon’s droning voice, had sucked every ounce of joy from the subject of ancient stories. Right now there were six students nodding, three passing notes, two drooling, and one snoring softly.

Movement from the middle of the room drew Aurora’s attention. Princess Catherine, one of the note passers, folded a paper and slipped it to the boy ahead of her. As if Catherine could feel Aurora’s stare, the little blonde princess turned and met Aurora’s gaze. She gave Aurora a viper’s smile before she swiveled her head forward. A couple of Catherine’s minions smirked at Aurora’s glare before following their master’s example.

It was bad enough that each time Aurora saw the little princess, she wanted to punch her in the face for what her kingdom had done to Aurora’s. But to sit in class and endure the endless snickering and sideways glances as Catherine’s supporters openly shunned or ridiculed Aurora was about all she could take.

“Learn the minds of those you rule.”

Her father’s words floated through her mind as if he were sitting next to her. He’d said them to her often enough that they came without bidding, and she pressed her lips together.

Catherine had been the ranking member of the court at the Academy, and she’d used the position to get whatever she wanted. Then Aurora had come, outranking the little blonde princess and ruining her perfect life.

Aurora had tried to get to know Catherine, but had given up quickly. To learn that girl’s mind she would have to throw out common decency, and Aurora wasn’t willing to do that.

Master Aloon’s words broke through her brooding. “Tomorrow we will split up into groups of four. Together you will choose a story and make a production of it.”

A production? Aurora, along with most of the boys in the class, groaned. Catherine and her crew looked positively giddy.

Master Aloon continued. “You will have two weeks before you perform your play. The group that has the best production will have the privilege to present at the annual Peach Ball.”

Peach Ball? Hadn’t they just had a ball? Aurora rubbed her face. This place was beginning to drive her crazy. Her people were barely surviving, and she had to attend another stupid ball?

Princess Catherine nudged the boy in front of her, Saru. Aurora could probably predict how the groups would shake out. Catherine and two of her favorite mean-girl friends would take Saru. Krabbs—a goblin prince—would include a satyr and a couple of pixies. The rest of the girls wouldn’t be brave enough to ask the boys before the boys had already made alliances. Unless the boys needed a better grade—then there would be shameless flirting followed by horrible heartbreak at or after the ball.

“Go to the Academy,” her father said. “It will be fun,” he said.

More like torture.

Aurora glanced up at the clock, and relief filled her. She quietly packed her bag, gave master Aloon a little wave, and slipped out of the classroom.

Warm, fresh air filled Aurora’s lungs as she moved outdoors. The rectangular academic buildings stretched out behind her. A cobblestone path led her toward the huge, round fountain in the center of a large square. Water cascaded down from the bowl held up by larger-than-life statues of a human, a dwarf, a merman, and a First Fey. The cool mist settled on her skin, raising goose bumps. The scent of grass and leaves filled the air.

A vast field of green grass stretched from the fountain toward the front gates of the Academy. Beyond sat the dean’s tower and other administrative buildings.

Aurora circled the fountain and made her way to the cafeteria.

Long tables filled the large room. The scents of cooked meat and fresh bread hung in the air, and Aurora’s mouth began to water. She never ate breakfast. It was silly, but she felt like skipping one meal a day honored those in her kingdom who still struggled to get enough food. Her mother would scold her, but Aurora had to do something.

A section of the serving line counter had been swiveled up, and she went through and into a supply room beyond. Benches lined three of the four walls, and evenly-spaced iron hooks hung above.

“Hey,” a cheery voice said.

Aurora jumped and reached for a sword that wasn’t there, then checked the shadows. Sure enough, after a second she found the hint of an outline of a person. A familiar figure stood in the corner, out of the light. “Oh, hey Lora. What are you still doing here?”

Lora, whose actual name was Aulorah, stepped forward. The short, curvy vampire had pulled her dark brown hair up into a bun and wore a blood-smeared apron over her uniform, which consisted of a white, button-down top with a red-and-blue plaid tie and skirt. Pale skin accentuated the dark circles under her eyes. “They asked us to help this morning.”

Aurora nodded. “Anything exciting happen during the night shift?”

“Just vampires and other creatures of the dark.” She pointed to her apron.

“Sounds like your type of people.”

“I guess.”

Aurora had never met a vampire until she’d come to the Academy. They slept during the day and had classes at night. The only time they interacted with the other students was after sundown. Most of the other vampires seemed aloof, but Lora wanted nothing more than to fit in.

“Ready for your first day?” Lora asked.

“I hope so.” Aurora set her bag down on the bench and reached for an apron that hung on a hook with her name over it. Before she could stop it, her bag toppled over and the contents spilled onto the floor. Aurora bit back a curse.

“I got it.” Lora bent down and started gathering papers and books. She frowned when she picked up a small glass vial of purple liquid. “What’s this?”

Aurora snatched it away from the vampire. “Nothing.”

Lora raised an eyebrow.

“It’s for indigestion,” Aurora said, knowing her roommate could probably smell the lie.

To her credit, Lora shrugged.

Aurora shoved her stuff, including the strength-enhancing potion, back into her bag. Then she donned a fresh white apron and put a cap over her short, spiked hair.

“You’ll do great.” Lora gave her an encouraging smile.

“Thanks. Have a good rest.”

“Thank you.”

With that, the vampire blurred and turned into smoke.

“I’m still jealous you can do that.”

“It would only take one bite to change that.” Lora’s voice sounded right next to Aurora’s ear.

Aurora only jumped a little before she laughed and headed out to the serving line.

Hanna—a tall, broad woman with round cheeks, a button nose, and a voice that could be heard all the way to the woods—stood in the center of a circle of servers. Aurora hurried over, berating herself for being the last one there.

Hanna gave her a small nod, then went back to what she had been saying. “Keep the portion sizes to one scoop of everything. If they want more, they can come back for seconds.”

A round of bobbing heads accompanied the orders.

Hanna turned her gaze on Aurora. “There have been several complaints about students getting dessert before their other food. Do not let this happen.”

“Okay,” Aurora said.

“No matter who it is.” Hanna’s blue eyes narrowed.

“You got it.” Aurora could say no to anyone.

After a few more instructions, Hanna split them up. She accompanied Aurora to the dessert counter.

Sweets sat six deep in front of Aurora. Cake, brownies, scones, and even some fruit tarts. The smell of sugar and honey filled her nose, and Aurora’s stomach grumbled. She made a mental note to get here early enough tomorrow to eat before she had to serve.

“Keep them as far forward as you can,” Hanna said. She pointed behind them. “There will be a new batch here before you run out.”

“Got it.”

Hanna took Aurora in from head to foot. “You look tall enough that you don’t need a stool.”

Aurora smiled. “I’ll be fine.”

“And you’re certain you want to do this?” Hanna’s voice lowered. “It is below your station.”

“My father taught me that if you want to know someone, serve them.” Aurora recited the words as if they were a school lesson she’d been forced to memorize against her will.

“That’s what you’re here to do? Get to know the others?”

“Something like that.” She’d been having trouble connecting with the students here, and while she didn’t much care that she outranked everyone, they did. So she’d decided to test her father’s words and see if serving the other students would help her see their good qualities.

Hanna snorted. “Very well, I will leave you to it. Holler if you have any trouble.”

“I will, thank you.”

The outside door clanged open, and a wave of sound rolled into the cafeteria. Aurora’s stomach did a little flip, but she ordered herself to remain calm. This was what her father would want her to do. It was her duty. If she could cut through a hedge of briars with a rusted axe, she could do this.

The third years, who got out of class first, piled through the door. One minute the cafeteria stood empty, and the next the food line ran half the length of the room. The din of conversation—complaints, excitement, and flirting—filled the air, along with the relief of a few minutes of freedom.

Aurora’s job was easy. The students surveyed their options, then asked for what they wanted. Aurora delivered. Her first customer studied the line of desserts for a few seconds before he pointed. “Brownie.”

Aurora handed one over. “You got it.”

“Thanks,” he muttered.

The next girl smiled at Aurora. “You’re new.”

“It’s my first day,” Aurora said. She didn’t recognize the girl, so she must be a first year.

“I’ll have a scone.”

Aurora handed it over and got another smile.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” This wasn’t so hard.

A centaur asked for cake, and a satyr requested a brownie. Rakar, the student body president and the most popular goblin around, approached. Aurora braced herself, figuring that this was probably the dessert troublemaker. But he had food on his plate and only asked for cake.

Most of the students said hello, and asked politely.

Aurora felt like she was just getting the hang of it when Saru—the boy from her literature class—set his empty tray down on the counter. He didn’t even bother to look at her as he surveyed the tables. “One of each.”

Aurora sighed. She should have known that this was the guy causing the dessert problem. “You have to get your other food first.”

Her words brought his attention back to her. Tall and thin, with wild brown hair and a ridiculous golden circlet that he always wore, Saru stared at her in shock. Then his golden eyes flashed, and he shot her a dazzling smile as he put both hands on the counter. He leaned forward and made what he probably thought was a handsome face. He failed. “You’re new.”

“Flirting is not going to help.” She met his smolder with a shake of her head.

Saru put his fingers on his chest. “I was just trying to be friendly.”

“That’s nice.” She picked up a spatula. “Now go get your other food.”

“Testy,” he said. “What’s your name?”

The students behind Saru began standing on tiptoe to see what the hold-up was. “Move along, lover boy. Other people want their cake.”

He stuck out his bottom lip. “But I want cake.”

Aurora opened her mouth to retort, but stopped when a familiar set of golden locks came up beside Saru.

“You won’t get anywhere with her.” Princess Catherine slipped her hand through the crook of Saru’s elbow and shot Aurora a triumphant expression. “Aurora, dear, whatever are you doing serving lunch?”

Aurora ordered herself to remain calm. “I decided to volunteer.”

Princess Catherine leaned toward Saru. “That’s not what I heard.”

“The two of you need to move so people can get their food,” Aurora said through clenched teeth as she fought back the desire the throw the spatula at Catherine. Aurora could hit her right between the eyes and leave a nice bruise. Not that she would. Probably.

“But I still don’t have cake.” Saru pointed to his empty plate.

Aurora returned her attention to Saru. “And I almost feel bad about that, but not bad enough to break the rules for you. Now get to the back of the line and come through again.”

Catherine whispered to Saru in a voice so loud everyone could hear. “I told you, you won’t get anywhere with this one. She’s a shrew.”

Shrew? Aurora narrowed her eyes. Catherine had never wanted for anything, and her spoiled brat syndrome showed in every action and word. Maybe if she’d spent a winter huddled in ruins, she would get over herself.

Princess Catherine continued her fake smile.

Saru shifted his weight, and Aurora moved her furious gaze to him.

One second he had his mouth open to talk, and the next he blanked out as if someone had simply turned him off.

Princess Catherine didn’t even notice. She tugged on him once. Then twice. “Come on.”

After a few uncomfortable seconds, Saru finally blinked and let Catherine drag him away.

Aurora watched them go.

“Can I have some cake?” the next student asked.

“Whatever.” Aurora slammed the plate down on the counter.

The boy jumped, took the dessert with a shaking hand, and bolted.

A few minutes later Saru was back, this time with food on his plate. He managed an innocent look and held out his tray. “Can I have some cake now?”

Aurora repressed an eye roll. “Sure. What would you like?”

“Do you have banana cake?”

“We never have banana cake.”

“Too bad—that’s my favorite.” He tapped his chin with a finger. “One of each?”

She shook her head and dropped a plate with a piece of chocolate cake onto the counter.

“Is that all?” He once again shot her his most winning smile.

She ignored the winning smile. “One piece. That’s the rule.”

“You have a pretty serious relationship with these rules.”

Aurora stared at him and pointed in the direction of the tables.

“Fine.” Saru grabbed his tray. “But next time, we’re going to have to renegotiate this arrangement.”

“Good luck with that,” Aurora muttered as he walked away.

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