Name: Ashley Maker
Title of manuscript: Under the Trees
Falling in love isn’t easy when it’s challenged by a brutal duke, a murderous king, and the threat of war between kingdoms. But true love doesn’t care about convenience, and it certainly has no aversion to danger. When Princess Araya flees an arranged marriage to Duke Peter, her only goal is freedom, even if that means she must evade her father’s armed guards—men under strict orders to carry out her capture. She never counted on falling in love with the man who rescues her.
Prince Thoredmund, the neighboring kingdom’s crown prince, quickly learns that the role of prince in shining armor isn’t quite what it’s made out to be, and now he must deal with the consequences of harboring a fugitive when visitors arrive at the castle, spewing kidnapping accusations and demanding the return of their princess. Thor’s going to have to make a choice—risk his kingdom or turn Araya in.
Last 500 words:
After making sure I was comfortable in the carriage, Father went to fetch his horse. The moment he left, Thor climbed in with me and smiled. He was not alone. To my delight, I saw that Marek wriggled in his arms. The black dog wagged his tail when he saw me and leaned forward to lick my fingers.
“You didn’t tell me he lived!” I laughed as I ruffled the soft fur under his ears, mindful of the jagged line of stitches on his skull and across his shoulder.
“I didn’t want to give you false hope,” Thor said. “We didn’t think he was going to pull through, he lost so much blood, but I wanted you to see him before you left.”
He placed Marek on the floor of the carriage, and the big dog sat down in front of me, placing his head on my lap.
“I’m glad you brought him to say goodbye.”
Thor’s smile disappeared. “This isn’t goodbye.”
I met his eyes and saw a determination there that lifted my heart.
“When will I see you again?”
“Soon,” he said, “I promise.” Reaching down to his belt, he unclipped something and held it out to me.
It was the ram’s horn he’d given me that day at the inn.
“Until I can give you something better.”
I wrapped my hand around the handle and held onto it tightly, wishing I had something to give him in return. My eyes lit up. “Would you please hand me my bag?”
Raising an eyebrow, Thor reached down and retrieved the bag at my feet. He set it next to me, and I rooted around in it until I found what I was looking for. There was very little to search through, so it didn’t take long. With a deep breath, I brought out the little music box and handed it to him.
“Araya, no…” He tried to give it back.
“Take it,” I said. “I want you to have it.”
He tucked it to his chest and leaned closer. “I’ll make sure to return it the next time I see you.”
“Soon,” I repeated, my breath catching on the word.
Thor smiled before leaning in to kiss me. His lips were warm on mine; they were gentle. Time seemed endless, as if the world had stopped spinning. I sighed into the kiss, giving myself over to the dizzy sensation. Nothing had ever felt this right, and I had a feeling that nothing ever would.
When the kiss ended, he rested his forehead against mine, and I knew that he was right. This couldn’t be goodbye—it couldn’t end like this. I hadn’t come to Braythel looking for love, but here he was, and I wasn’t ready to let him go. I closed my eyes, already wishing for tomorrow. Until then, I would think of our time under the trees.