#1 New York Times Bestselling Author Rachel Van Dyken returns to regency romance with the last and final installment in The London Fairy Tales series...A regency retelling of Snow White and The Seven Dwarves.
Ashton Wolfsbane, Earl of Gyles, has taken a vow of celibacy after blaming himself for his sister in laws death. After a failed suicide attempt, he's dedicated his life to bring justice to the weak making it his personal vendetta to be the death dealer to the wicked, also known as The Grimm Reaper. He denies himself lusts of the flesh and is known throughout London because of his ability to kill effortlessly and without emotion, that is until he meets Princess Sofia, a woman hell bent on making him forget all his reasons for denying himself the one thing he's always craved---love.
After rescuing the fair damsel, he thinks his job finished, that is until he discovers he's to be the Princess's escort throughout London until she's safely married. It wouldn't be such a hardship, except the Princess has made him an offer he can't refuse. Show her passion, real passion.
Four weeks of giving into the desire he's suppressed for so long--four weeks of bliss and then they'll go their separate ways. But things aren't always what they seem, and when rescuing a damsel, or making a deal with her, one must always be prepared for the consequences.
Seven Royal Guard, a Beast, a kingdom in chaos, and a girl as pure as the driven snow...Will they find their Happily Ever After?
PROLOGUEAsh didn’t want to remember her this way. Her beautiful face, so often lit with a breathtaking smile, was now cold and dead.
The first time he’d seen her, he had thought she was an angel, and he’d said that very thing under his breath when she had made her debut that season…
“Beautiful,” he murmured as Lucy took a turn about the room, gaining introductions to all the available gentlemen who came her way. Taking an earth-shattering breath, the kind that every man took when he was about to approach a beautiful woman, he made his way over to her.
Music faded into the background with each step. All Ash was aware of was the clicking of his boot against the floor as he progressed toward the beauty. One dance… if only she would give him one dance, he would secure her hand forever. He knew it in his heart, in his soul. She was meant to be his.
Heart beating out of his chest, he could barely contain his excitement as she lifted her eyes and met his gaze. Blue eyes twinkled in his direction, and then she lifted her hand in a wave. A wave? Something was wrong. Ash paused and then glanced self-consciously over his shoulder. There was no one but him, and then he gazed back at her. She crooked her finger, beckoning him forward.
Completely under her spell, he couldn’t deny her any more than he could cease from taking his next breath. Finally, he stood before her, at least a foot taller than she.
“Where have you been, you rogue?” She swatted him on the arm and gave him a coy laugh. “I have been looking everywhere for you!”
“For me?” Ash questioned. “Are you certain we have met?”
“Must you always joke at such serious times?” The girl laughed again, and he was caught at the sight of her dimples as they danced along her cheeks. Carefree. She appeared so carefree, so perfect, un-weighted by the things of this world, by the responsibility and darkness, by disappointment. He tilted his head and then reached out to touch her — perhaps she truly was a dream. And then a voice broke out into the pounding in his ears.
“Ah, sweetheart, you’ve met my brother.” Hunter stepped beside the girl and wrapped his arm around her.
Ash stepped back, his heart sinking down to his feet. She hadn’t been looking for him at all, but his older brother, his twin, the duke. It was such a sad joke, a sad existence really. Would he ever be first in anything?
Months had progressed into a year as he’d watched his brother and Lucy fall into such a deep love all he had been able to do was be happy for them and try to spend as much time away as possible. After all, it was not done to want your brother’s wife, to want to care for her and protect her. It was fate’s final, cruel trick to allow Ash to feel something for another and then have that person ripped away by his brother. Though he loved his brother more than his own life, it seemed Ash was always left with nothing while his brother was given everything.
His name fit.
For he was the ash after the fire of Hunter burned out.
He was nothing but soot, darkness, and sand. One day, his ashes would trickle away into the wind, never to be remembered and never mourned, but forgotten.
“Ash! Do you hear me! I love you! I love you!” Hunter yelled at his brother as he shook his shoulders, and then his eyes widened with desperation as slapped him across the face.
Ash stared at the blood staining his hands. He tried to wipe it off. Tried but failed as it continued to drip down his wrists into his jacket. “I’m so sorry,” he kept repeating over and over again, but it did not matter.
The carriage had come too fast. Lucy had thought Ash was Hunter and had run to him right into the street.
The fault was his.
He knew it, Hunter knew it, and Lucy, beautiful Lucy, his brother’s innocent wife was dead, and it was all because he had lied about who he was, tried to be better than just the second son.
He backed away, slowly at first, and then he ran.
His feet ached, his stomach heaved, and finally he stopped in the middle of the street, hoping, praying that someone or something would hit him. Death, it seemed, was his only option; it was his wish, his choice. For how could he live with himself after what he had done?
Hunter had loved Lucy, but so had Ash. She was his everything, his only relative other than Hunter, and although he had wanted her for himself, he had pushed those emotions so far beneath the surface of his heart that he hadn’t understood how far the love had run until now, until it was too late.
On legs like lead, he walked until he reached the tombstone of his parents. Both taken from him too soon. What would they think of him now? He was the disappointment in the family, the second son by minutes. And now he was a murderer.
Disgusted with himself, he sat down on the cold grass, leaned his head against the stone, and cursed. His brother — his only living relative — and he had ruined his life and ruined his parents’ memory in the process. All he had ever wanted as a boy was to please his father, yet all he’d received was disapproval. One time — just one time — he wanted to make someone proud, make himself proud.
But it was impossible.
He looked down at bloodstained hands.
His future stared right back at him.
Flee! He needed to flee, to get away. No, not just get away. He needed to die. A life for a life. So he set about doing exactly that. It was not fair that he was able to live, to survive, when the one woman who had done nothing but brought happiness to everyone she’d met, lay dead in the street.
“Lucy,” he whispered as salty tears ran down his cheeks and across his lips. “I’m so sorry… but I will see you soon. I will see you soon.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the pistol. With shaking hands he lifted it to his chin and pulled the trigger.
Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author of regency and contemporary romances. When she's not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor.
She keeps her home in Idaho with her Husband and their snoring Boxer, Sir Winston Churchill. She loves to hear from readers! You can follow her writing journey at www.rachelvandykenauthor.com
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