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Author Annette K. Larsen I was born in Utah, but grew up in Flagstaff Arizona and St. Louis Missouri, the fifth of seven children. I attended college at Southern Virginia University and Brigham Young University where I studied English and Theater. I now live in Idaho with my husband and four children. I have Charlotte Bronte to thank for the courage to write novels. After being bombarded with assigned reading about women who justified abandoning either their families or their principles in the name of love, I had the great fortune of reading Jane Eyre. And that was it: finally a heroine who understood that being moral and making the right choice was hard, and sometimes it hurt, but it was still worth it. After rereading it several years later, I realized that if I wanted more books to exist with the kinds of heroines I admired, then I might as well write a few myself. My books are about women who face hard choices, who face pain and rejection and often have to sacrifice what they want for what is right. The consequences are often difficult or unpleasant, but it the end, doing what’s right will always be worth it. I believe there is no substitute for good writing or good chocolate. Fortunately, one often leads to the other.
Excerpt: “When have we ever seen anyone else out here?” “Just because we haven’t doesn’t mean we couldn’t.” “Well, I’m sorry you regret confiding in me, but I’m not going to stop coming here.” “I don’t want you to stop coming here. I love that you come here. But you have to let me come with you.” “Because you can protect me from the wicked world?” My voice was mocking, mean. His eyes narrowed. “I can hold my own,” he said in absolute seriousness. For the first time I considered his build in relation to something other than his striking looks. The years of hard physical work had resulted in toned muscle and rough, strong hands. He would be good in a fight. The thought made me swallow. “Can you say the same for yourself?” I looked down at the book I’d been reading, rubbing one hand over the cover in agitation while my face burned. The guilt I felt at his reprimand surprised me. “All right,” I conceded. “You can come from now on.” He moved close to me, then brush a curl behind my ear. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. I had to keep myself from closing my eyes as the warmth of his touch rippled down my spine. “I’m fine.” “I’m still sorry.” I rested my chin on my knees, staring at the water for a minute. “How old are you?” My quiet question broke the silence. “Eighteen,” he answered, close to my ear. “How old are you?” I turned to glare at him but was momentarily distracted to find him leaning toward me, smiling. I had the oddest urge to kiss the smirk off his face. Forcing myself to look at his eyes, I resumed my glaring. He knew my age. Everyone knew, because everyone prepared for it. “I’ll be sixteen in five days,” I said caustically. He just kept smiling. “Happy Birthday.” We both worked silently for several minutes until he spoke abruptly. “I’ve been wondering something.” I looked up to see him kneeling at the edge of the stream, peering over his shoulder at me. “What’s that?” I asked. He was very selective about the things he asked me. “Do you remember the first time you realized you were royalty?” I replied without giving it much thought. “I suppose I’ve always known.” “There was never a moment when it hit you that you were meant for greater things than most people?” His question was humbling and made me a little sad. Truthfully, I had never seen myself that way. Being royalty had become tedious and I often resented it, which was precisely why I was sitting out in the forest with him. “No, I never had a moment like that.” Strictly speaking, it was a truthful answer. I had never felt I was meant for greater things. “You just always knew what you would become?” I looked out at the forest. I wanted to answer his question, but found my answer difficult to put into words. I suppose it would be simplest to say I dreaded what I would become. “Ella?” I focused on Gavin and tried to answer. “I suppose I have an idea of what I am expected to become, but,” I smiled to myself as I admitted, “I think I’ll end up disappointing everyone.” I changed behind a couple of close-growing trees at the base of the hill, then squeezed the water from my hair and tried to restore it to some semblance of order. I wrung out my clothes before wrapping them in a shawl and putting them in my bag. I decided against putting on my shoes, instead walking barefoot back to the maze, enjoying the feel of the earth under my feet. A lightness filled me; whether from knowing the secret of the waterfall or from abandoning propriety and tromping around barefoot, it didn’t really matter. New life had been breathed into me. The looks thrown my way while entering the palace with bare feet and disheveled hair made me smile. I couldn’t find it in myself to be ashamed. I bounded up the stairs to my room with no poise at all, and had to suppress a grin when I hurried past Lorraina, who stopped suddenly upon seeing me and didn’t recover before I passed her by. I slipped into my room and shut the door firmly, unable to keep a broad smile from my face as I considered my excursion. It was liberating. “No!” I shrieked, stepping toward Gavin but stopping myself. The guard hesitated and I looked back at my father, reaching a hand toward him, pleading. “Father, please! He’s a friend! He didn’t take me away; he only did what I asked. Please stop this,” I begged. I could hear the horror in my own voice, the disbelief and the desperation I felt. It was as though I were being torn in two, as though my arms—one outstretched to halt my father, the other itching to pull Gavin from harm’s way—were pulling me in opposite directions, and if I moved at all, I would be torn to pieces.