Kelly Barr, Professional Freelance Editor

I am a Professional Freelance Editor. I have five years of experience editing fiction. If you have a fiction manuscript or short story you would like edited, check out my “Editing Services” page for more details–simply click on the “Editing Services” tab at the top of the page.

Here are some books I have worked on:

The Sorcerer's Bane (The Seven Words Book 1) by [Wachter, C. S. ]     Bride Tree (Secrets of Versailles Book 2) by [Robinson, JP]     Gods They Had Never Known by [Helms, J. S.]

For more books I’ve edited, click the “Editing Services” link at the top of the page.

Here is what some of my clients have to say about my work:

“Kelly is a pleasure to work with. She is well-versed enough to understand the nuances of my genre (Christian Speculative) even though she doesn’t write Speculative. She knows her craft and is sensitive and gentle when giving input about things that need to be corrected or rewritten. Her notes are thoughtful and her suggestions made my book a better read and a more polished final product. ‘The Sorcerer’s Bane‘, book one of my series The Seven Words, is slated to be released soon and I will continue to seek her professional help on future manuscripts.  — C. S. Wachter

Kelly Barr did a very thorough job, generating a final product that truly expresses what I had in mind. Also, they shortened it by about 1600 words and that’s always a plus! 🙂 There were some that I chose not to apply, but the vast majority of the edits proposed were golden. — J. P. Robinson

Unbreakable by Sara Ella

Unbreakable (The Unblemished Trilogy Book 3) by [Ella, Sara]

I completed my reading of Unbreakable by Sara Ella last night. This is the third and final book in the “Unblemished” series/trilogy. What a ride these books have been. Lots of romance, action, suspense, and struggles. Sara Ella did a fantastic job with her world building and creating fascinating, well-developed characters. These books kept me turning page after page.

However, when I finally reached Unbreakable, the page turning became an act of anxiety and anticipation. Would Eliyana end up with Joshua or Ky? Would she and her friends be able to defeat the Void? Which characters would remain alive at the end of the book? Whose hearts and lives would be intact, and whose would be broken?

I turned each page with trepidation because I wanted a certain outcome/ending. Would Sara Ella deliver?

This entire series was so well-written. The characters and their dialog were so realistic. I was pulled into each book in the series from the very beginning, and I fell in love with certain characters and wanted to see others defeated. There were fascinating connections between characters. There were twists and turns. Sometimes I gasped. Sometimes I smiled. But all the time, my heart pounded and my nerves were taught.

I will say, Sara Ella did do a good job of resolving everything in the end. However, with all the suspense and tension I felt throughout the series, especially the last two books, I have to say I felt like the end was too calm. The characters’ emotions didn’t seem to hold their tension and strength. Though the ending was satisfying, I felt that everything was too calm, quiet, and peaceful like walking out of an epic battle into a high school study hall where no talking is allowed. I guess I expected and wanted something more.

However, I still highly recommend these books to anyone who loves a good YA Fantasy read with incredible world-building, characters you can relate to, and intriguing romance, and I look forward to reading more of Sara Ella’s books.

Special Post: Interview with Laura Zimmerman, Author of the New Release “Keen”

Hi Everyone! Yesterday was a big day for my friend and fellow writer, Laura Zimmerman, as her debut novel, Keen, released YESTERDAY! It is my pleasure to interview Laura for this event.

Q: Keen is your debut novel. How long did it take you to get to this big moment?

Laura: Well, I began writing the rough draft of KEEN in July of 2017, but my journey to publication began much earlier. I’ve always loved to write and have spent years crafting my stories. (I’ve got bits and pieces of stories from when I was in elementary school and even a novel I started while in high school!)

It wasn’t until 2013 that my husband tired of watching me write novels, only to see them sit on my laptop. He gave me an ultimatum to try to get published or he would take one of my (very rough) manuscripts and would publish it on Amazon. *hides face*

I attended my first writers conference in April 2014. When I pitched my novel, the editor was real with me. The manuscript I had wasn’t ready. But she encouraged me to continue to attend conferences and to work on my craft. She said statistically the average time it takes for an author to get published is 5 years. Sometimes it takes less time, sometimes it takes longer. But for me, her words were right on!

Q: Have you always known you wanted to be a writer?

Laura: Actually, I wanted to be a visual artist when i was little. At age 11 I got bitten by the acting bug and was headed to Broadway. But in my senior year in high school I decided a degree in music would gave me more opportunities. I went on to graduate with a BMUS. All that time I wrote stories but only considered it a “hobby”. Until my husband suggested I get published, I honestly didn’t think it was something I could do. I haven’t always wanted to be a writer, but I’ve always been writing.

Q: What made you choose to write Fantasy Fiction?

Laura: Ha! I think my brain gave me very little choice in that. I’ve always been drawn to fantasy, sci-fi, and paranormal stories. As a child I ate up Christopher Pike and Goosebump books like they were candy, and Star Wars has been one of my favorites for as long as I can remember. I’ve tried to write straight fiction, but somehow fantasy always bleeds through into my story! (I guess my head is in the clouds!)

Q: Where did you get the idea for a banshee character?

Laura: I was actually in the middle of writing another series and had no intention of starting a new one. But my teenage daughter asked me to watch the CW show Teen Wolf (that was on Netflix) with her. At first I humored her, but wasn’t really interested. However, like many shows, by the time I got a couple seasons in, I was really hooked! They featured a teenage girl banshee on the show and spent quite a bit of time building up to reveal exactly “what” she was. I was intrigued by the idea of a teenage banshee. I’d never read or seen anything else with that type of character. I began thinking on what it would be like for a teenage girl in high school to have to deal with the curse of being a banshee. Eventually I couldn’t stop thinking about it and had to begin writing. Once I did, I just never stopped.

Q: What is your favorite fantasy or mythological creature?

Laura: Mermaids! *swoon* I love anything mermaids and secretly want to turn into one. (The beautiful kind that don’t kill men, though. *wink*) I even bought my daughters mermaid tails to swim in when they were little. Of course, that’s easier said than done, so they really just wore them in the tub! Haha.

Q: What does your writing process look like?

Laura: I used to be solely a plotter, than changed over to writing by the seat of my pants. Now I’ve balanced out. I plot as much of the book/characters as I can by mapping out plot points and creating character arcs. But I leave it there and allow my creative juices to direct the story as I write. It’s hard to know the characters’ personalities early on, so sometimes writing the book helps bring their true personality out as I go. Which means some tweaking in rewrites but that’s what rewrites are for, right? Overall I feel like my stories flow much better and I’m less frustrated than writing strictly by plotting or writing by the seat of my pants. I like this balance and hope it continues to work for me!

Q: Is Keen a stand alone novel?

Laura: When I started writing it, it was. But since I like allowing my creative juices to flow while writing, it ended completely differently than I expected. In the final climax scene I planted a solid Easter Egg to allow for further books, although I did also tie up loose ends so it could be a stand alone just in case the publisher wasn’t interested in continuing the story. I had a good idea of where I wanted to go with books 2 and 3 by the time I pitched the novel to the editor but let them decide if there would be room for more books.

Q: What Fantasy authors have you read that have inspired you?

Laura: Wow. There are a ton of inspirational authors that have influenced me. JK Rowling is the obvious, along with some other big names like Ingrid Law and Jennifer A. Nielsen. But I think the ones that have influenced me the most are the authors I’ve met at conferences or through social media. My fellow authors in the #bookstagram community and those I’ve connected with through Realm Makers have influenced me more because I get to see their authenticity in their life and their writing. I’m so thankful for all the connections I’ve made with fellow writers and the way they’ve encouraged me in my writing journey. I wouldn’t be here today without the writing community!

Q: What makes writing for a young adult audience appeal to you?

Laura: I’ve always been drawn to reading YA and just never stopped reading it as I got older. I think it’s easiest to write what I know, so it feels natural that I gravitate toward writing YA. It helps that I’ve got two teenagers in the house to pull inspiration from as well!

Q: Have you begun working on another book?

Laura: Yep! I’m about to finish LAMENT, book 2 in the “Banshee Song Series”! *throws confetti* I’m not sure when that one will be released, but I hope you’ll enjoy that one just as much as KEEN!

Q: Where can readers purchase Keen?

Laura: The easiest way is to visit the L2L2 Publishing website. They have all the links where it can be purchased there. Both the paperback and the e-book version are currently available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as other distributors!

Q: What social media sites can Keen readers use to connect with you?

Laura: I’m active on Instagram @lauralzimmauthor, Twitter @lauralzimm, Facebook, and my website http://www.lauralzimmerman.com. I love connecting with fellow readers and writers!

Thanks for having me, Kelly! It was fun getting to talk about writing and KEEN!

You’re welcome Laura! Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, and best wishes on your release of Keen!

Readers, If you like YA Fantasy stories, and want to read about a character unlike most Fantasy characters, pick up a copy of Keen today!

Tea and Poetry Tuesday

Today’s Tea Tidbit”

“My hour for tea is half past five, and my buttered toast waits for nobody.”
– Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

To Write a Story
by Kelly F. Barr

My pen bleeds
As my words flow.
Characters born
To live and grow.

His story must be told
Or my brain shall burst.
Her love must be found.
But which should come first?

Their whispers fill my ear
And I write faster
Caught up in their lives,
They become my masters.

Until their journey’s end
To my desk I am chained,
Til their love has blossomed
Through struggles overcame.

Update on My Writing Journey

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may already know I finished the rough draft of my upcoming novel at the end of March of this year. I have begun revising and editing my novel and am currently working on chapter nine.

However, at the encouragement and urging of a writer friend, I wrote a proposal for my completed novel and revised and edited the first three chapters, added a query letter and sent it out to an agent. Then I tried to forget about it for the next sixty days. I also tried not to get my hopes up, as I know most writers receive many rejections before finally acquiring an agent and/or publisher.

I will say that I was surprised, when after just a week or two, I received a brief email from the agent’s assistant informing me that they had received my Book Proposal and would review it. I hadn’t expected that.

Then in early June there was an email in my inbox from the agent’s assistant. I was nervous about opening it, and after a brief pause, clicked to open it. As I read what was written, I took it as a rejection, felt hurt, posted on my Facebook Writer page that I had received my first rejection and gave myself twenty-four hours before writing or revising anything.

On June thirteenth, one of my closest writer friends was in the area and we met for lunch. At the time, she was preparing for her first published book to be released, so I printed a copy of my rejection email letter and took it along to show to her. She was glad that I had brought it because she had recently been to a writers’ conference where she attended a session about rejection letters.

After reading my rejection letter, she was really excited. She said, “This is not a rejection!” She proceeded to tell me there are three types of rejections: 1) a form letter; 2) a flat “no” with no other information; or 3) you simply never hear back from them at all.

Well, my “rejection” letter was none of the above. My letter states that “there is much to recommend in your story, and we can see your writing talent.” Then they state two things they didn’t like about my story, and end with “Because of your talent, we’d be happy to see other projects from you in the future”. Therefore, my friend said, “you should be celebrating. This is not a rejection, and I’ve been told that if you really want to try to get in with an agent who sends you this kind of information, you can revise the story, changing the things they didn’t like, and after a year, resend it to them. Or since they are willing to look at another story you write, write another one and send it.”

Her excitement and enthusiasm were catching, and what she said made a lot of sense, so I felt a lot better about the letter.

What did I decide to do in regard to my writing?

I decided that I am not going to send anything to any agent again until I finish my revision and edits on this novel and get it edited by an editor. Then I will rewrite my synopsis and send a proposal out again. I’m hoping to finish it and send it before another year passes so I wouldn’t be sending it to the same agent. Besides, one of the two things the email stated that they didn’t like is one thing I am unwilling to change because I would have to start the story all over from a completely different character’s perspective and that would change the entire story.

One thing that you will find whenever I get this novel (and any future novels) published, if you choose to read them, is that I do not write formulaic romance. I don’t know why that should be a problem, when one of the things an agent or publisher always wants to know is “what makes your book different from the others in the genre”.

I’ll keep you posted on this writing journey I am on.

Thanks for reading!

A Special Post — A Short Story– “The Princess of Winterberry”

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Photo by Tim Rebkavets on Unsplash

“The Princess of Winterberry”
by Kelly F. Barr

It’s strange how I’d never noticed her before. I mean, I’d seen her but never really paid attention. Now it seemed I couldn’t look at anything else—anyone else. Not after what she’d told me. And she had proof—a copy of a page from her mom’s diary, or at least the woman she’d always known as her mother.

“You were kidnapped as a toddler?”

She nodded. Her emerald eyes met my gray-blue ones. “You don’t suppose I’m … I could be the missing princess of Winterberry, do you?”

I had to cough to stifle the chuckle that almost erupted from my throat. She was serious. I paused and really looked at her. In the past, the only thing I found attractive about her were her eyes. They were large and emerald green. Other than that, I’d found her plain.

Today, however, I noticed her nose was perfectly straight and she had high cheekbones. Her long hair, the color of goldenrod, hung in waves past her shoulders. It’s the first time I ever saw her with it down. She usually tied it back in a ponytail. Her pink bow-shaped lips stood out from her flawless cream-colored complexion. She wasn’t plain after all. She was … beautiful.

“Ashley, just because you found out that you were kidnapped, don’t you think it’s far-fetched to jump to the conclusion that you are the princess?”

“Why do you automatically assume I couldn’t be?” Her eyes flashed and she raised her chin.

I’d never seen her like this before. She had always been meek, quiet, and mostly kept to herself. She had surprised me when she sat down across from me here in Josiah’s Tavern.

“You hope you are … don’t you?”

She made a huffing noise. “Why do you keep responding to my questions with questions?” She leaned toward me. “Brock, don’t you think it would make sense? I don’t look anything like Hannah, the raven-haired woman with dark brown eyes and Zeke, the brown-haired man with golden brown eyes that raised me. Maybe that’s why they treat me more like a servant than a daughter—making me scrub the floors and windows, cook, and wash the dishes, bake the bread and churn the butter, beat the rugs, and hang the clothing out to air.”

“So how did you get away today? And what about the other days I’ve seen you in the market or walking through a field? Seems to me they give you plenty of freedom.”

“I may do as I please when my work’s all done, and as I like to spend time alone, I’ve learned to get my work done quickly so I can wander where I please. Will you come with me to Winterberry Castle?”

My lower jaw dropped, but I quickly regained my composure. “You’re planning on going to the castle?”

“Well, how will I know if I’m the lost princess unless someone from the castle sees me and recognizes me?”

“First, I’ll ask my mother to tell me what she knows about the missing princess. If I find enough information that points to the possibility of you being the princess … I’ll take you to the castle.”

“I’ll give you three days.”

“Ashley, why did you come to me about this? What makes you trust me?”

“Brock, you’re the only person who’s ever been nice to me.”

“I hardly noticed you.”

“Oh come on, Brock. I’ve seen you sneak glances at me when I’ve walked by in the market place. I felt your eyes on my back as I walked through a field. I know you were in a tree above me … watching over me … every time I’ve sat by the creek, and I know you’ve often followed me to be sure I arrived home safely.”

My face flushed. I hoped she didn’t notice. I wouldn’t admit to those things, even though they were true. I wouldn’t have her thinking I was interested in her. It’s just … I always found her … enchanting somehow.

“I think you must’ve mistaken someone else for me. Maybe Robin Rhoads is the one’s been doing all those things.”

She rose to her feet, came around the table, and stood next to me.

“It’s all right Brock. I like that you watch over me. It makes me feel, kind of … special, and safe.”

She leaned down, gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, and sashayed out the tavern door as my face burned with heat and my heart beat loud in my chest.

_______________________________________________________________________

Three days later I found Ashley waiting outside the tavern for me. She grabbed my hand and pulled me to the side of the building.

“Well, what have you found out?”

“You’re the right age to be the princess. My mother said her sixteenth birthday is just two weeks away. She said that Queen Miranda of Winterberry has emerald eyes and goldenrod hair.”

Ashley slipped her fingers through a handful of her hair.

“My mother also said the princess was born with a birthmark on her inner right thigh, the shape of a crescent moon.”

Ashley began to hitch up her skirt.

“Ashley, not here. Not in front of me.”

“Oh, don’t be silly. It’s only my leg.”

She held her skirt at the top of her thigh, revealing her entire shapely leg. She turned it out so that the light could shine on her inner thigh, and there… There was a reddish tan birthmark in the shape of a crescent moon.

Without a thought, I dropped to one knee before her, placed my left hand upon her thigh, and brushed my thumb across the birthmark. A tingling sensation shot through my fingers and up my arm.

Ashley pulled her leg back and dropped her skirt. She looked at me through wide eyes and she was breathing heavy causing her chest to rise and fall. I wondered if she’d felt the tingling too.

“You have to take me to the castle. Tomorrow. I’ll meet you by the creek in the early afternoon.”

I nodded and, with a swirl of her skirt, she was gone.

I tossed and turned all through the night, an ache in my heart. The next morning I plodded through my work, my every thought on Ashley—Ashley, the girl I had come to realize I am in love with. The girl I am no longer worthy of. She is a princess, and I am just a peasant … a farmer who lives in Winterburgh village and gives one-third of his crops to the lords that manage the village for the King and Queen of Winterberry—Ashley’s parents.

When my work was finished, I trudged to the creek. Ashley was already there, her eyes alight with excitement. She placed her hand in mine, and again the tingling shot up my arm, stronger than the evening before.

“I’m ready to go.” She smiled at me.

I gave her hand a gentle squeeze and rubbed my thumb over the back of it. I longed to fall on my knees and beg her to stay with me. To continue living as the daughter of the village cobbler and his wife. To … marry … me, but I could not. If she was indeed the princess, she deserved so much more.

“Brock, how could I have been right under the king’s and queen’s noses all these years and they not know it? Didn’t they send knights to look through the village for their missing child? It seems that would’ve been the first course of action.”

“They did, but your father and mother, I mean, Zeke and Hannah had taken you far away. They didn’t return to Winterburgh for four years. By then, the king and queen had given up and done their grieving, and were living their lives the best they could without their child. You were six years old when I first met you.”

“And you were ten. You must’ve thought me a bother as I followed you around.”

“I never saw you as a bother. You were always sweet.”

“Oh my…” Ashley stopped, her free hand covering her mouth.

We stood looking at Castle Winterberry.

A tear slid down Ashley’s cheek.

“Ashley, are you okay? Is something wrong?”

“Oh Brock, could I really belong in a place like that? It will be a whole different life. Will I still be … me?”

She turned to look at me and I saw fear in her eyes.

“Yes, your life will be different, but Ashley, you will always be you.” I lifted her hand to my mouth and kissed the back of it. “Just promise you will never forget me.” I dropped her hand.

“Don’t be silly, Brock. How could I ever forget you?” She turned and started toward the castle, then turned back to me. “You’ve been my guardian angel for years. That’s why you had to come with me.”

“Ashley, I can’t stay at the castle with you. It will become someone else’s job to protect you now.”

“I … I can’t go without you.”

Then she was in my arms, clinging to me as she wept into my shoulder.

I smoothed her hair. “Sh, sh. It will be all right. This is your destiny, Ashley. You were meant to be the Princess of Winterberry. Soon you’ll find…” I swallowed around the lump in my throat, tried to clear it. “Soon you’ll find … your prince.” A knife pierced my heart at the thought of someone else holding her, loving her. But she could not be mine.

I released her, took a step back from her, and brushed the tears from her face. I began walking toward the castle and soon she was walking beside me once again. We walked the rest of the way in silence.

At the castle gate, I spoke quietly to one of the castle guards, who then escorted us to the castle door.

A tall gentleman bid us entrance and led us down a long hallway. We stopped before a set of double doors. The tall man opened the doors and motioned for Ashley and I to enter.

We entered a room where, seated on two chairs were a grand gentleman with hair the color of sand and eyes the same blue as the sky on a sunny day. Next to him sat a very regal woman.

Ashley looked at the woman and gasped. Her fingers touched her own hair. The woman’s hair was the same goldenrod color.

The woman rose and stepped toward Ashley, looked into her eyes and touched her hair. Tears began to pool in the woman’s eyes—eyes the same emerald color as Ashley’s. “Could it be?” She spoke so soft, it was a mere whisper. Her eyes moved to Ashley’s skirt. “Would you mind? Could I see the inside of your right thigh?”

Ashley nodded and lifted her skirt. The queen fell to her knees and examined Ashley’s inner thigh. She took her thumb and rubbed the crescent moon much more vigorously than I had.

Ashley winced.

The queen rose to her feet. “I’m sorry dear, but I had to be sure the mark was real.” Then she wrapped Ashley in her arms and wept. After what seemed a long time, she held Ashley at arm’s length and smiled through her tears. “It’s you. It’s really you … my daughter! You’ve come home!” Then she hugged Ashley again and both were crying.

The king moved to join them, and wrapped both of them in his arms. “After all these years, we are a family again.” Then he noticed me for the first time. “Young man, however did you find her, and how did you know she was our Arabella?”

“She actually figured it out, Your Majesty. She found a page in the diary of the woman she thought was her mother telling how they had kidnapped her when she was quite young. She knew of the missing princess and spoke with me about her suspicion. I asked my mother what she knew of the missing princess and my mother told me the story and gave me a description which I shared with Ashley … I mean, Arabella. She found she had the birthmark, and asked me to come to the castle with her.”

He smiled at me and shook my hand. “Now that Princess Arabella has come home, we must celebrate her safe return. Next week, for her sixteenth birthday we will have a ball where she will have the chance to be introduced to all the eligible knights in the land. Surely, you must attend the ball.”

_______________________________________________________________________

The king, true to his word, sent a royal invitation for me to attend the ball. How could I attend and watch Ashley … Arabella dance with all the eligible knights as they vied for her hand? But I could not resist a chance to see her one last time.

I washed and dressed in my finest clothes and walked to the castle. I paused before the door. Surely I would draw attention being the poorest dressed man in the room. People would wonder what business I had there. I took a deep breath and knocked.

The same gentleman bid me entrance and led me to a large ballroom with crystal candle chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. A small symphony orchestra sat in one corner, playing soft music while knights and ladies dressed in beautiful clothing mingled. I stepped inside and hurried to a place along one wall, hoping not to be noticed. I would simply watch. It would have to be enough—just to see the princess once again.

There was a grand staircase at the back of the room. It led to a balcony of sorts and my breath caught in my throat as Ashley appeared on the balcony and moved to the top of the stairs. She glided down the staircase, dressed in a green gown with gold trim, long white gloves on her hands and up her forearms, a gold necklace with sparkling emeralds and diamonds hung at her throat and matching earrings dangled from her ears. Her goldenrod hair was piled atop her head but several tendrils hung down by her face to touch her collarbone. She was exquisite. She had truly been transformed from the seemingly unremarkable Ashley, who had stolen my heart, to an enchanting princess—Princess Arabella.

I shrank back against the wall, hoping she wouldn’t see me. I didn’t come to ruin her evening, and she deserved one of the knights, who eagerly awaited her, near the bottom of the stairs. I could give her … nothing.

I slipped to the refreshment table as the dancing began and Princess Arabella was whisked onto the dance floor by a tall, handsome man with dark brown hair. I downed a glass of punch and grabbed another then slipped back to my place against the wall.

I watched as the princess danced with man after man. She smiled at each of them, but her body held tension and her eyes seemed to search the room frequently. I stuck to the shadows willing those searching eyes not to find me.

Then one of the gentlemen escorted the princess to the refreshment table and handed her a glass of punch. She responded politely and with a smile, then set her eyes to searching the room once more.

That’s when it happened—her eyes met mine and I could not look away. My heart thudded in my chest and I thought the whole room must hear it. Ashley set the glass of punch down and moved toward me. I stood frozen in place, though my head told me to leave.

“Brock, you’re here. Why are you hiding here by the wall? I’ve been looking for you. You must dance with me.”

“Ashley … uh, I mean, Arabella … uh, I mean, My Lady, I am not worthy to dance with you. I should not be here. There are many worthy gentlemen who wait to dance with you. I should go.”

The princess reached out and took my hand in one of her gloved ones. “You must dance with me. I insist.” The corners of her lips twitched and her emerald eyes sparkled.

She pulled me to the dance floor, as my feet didn’t seem to be able to move of their own accord. The music began and she placed my hand on her waist, held my other hand and raised it to shoulder level, and placed her free hand on my opposite shoulder. We danced. I don’t know how I managed to move as I felt stiff, but somehow we glided across the floor and Ashley relaxed. The rest of the people seemed to melt away.

“Will you ask for my hand?” She searched my eyes.

“I … I am not worthy. I have … nothing … nothing to offer you. You are a princess. I am a peasant.” I lowered my gaze.

She placed a gloved finger under my chin and lifted my head so that my eyes, once again, looked into hers.

“But we have a bond. Our hearts belong to one another—they have for a long time. I love you and I know you love me. Princess or not, maybe that is why I was kidnapped and raised in the village.”

I looked at her with raised brows.

“To meet the man intended for me. Had I been raised in this castle, we may have never met.”

“But…” She placed a gloved finger on my lips, and we danced through open glass doors I hadn’t noticed before. We were on a veranda overlooking the courtyard.

“Brock…” She placed a hand on my chest—over my heart, and stepped close to me, so close I felt the breath of her next words on my lips. “I may be a princess, but my heart will always belong to you, and I will live in a castle or on a peasant farm. None of this…” She moved an arm in an arc from her waist outward, indicating the castle. “…means anything to me without you.”

I searched her eyes and all I saw was love—a strong burning love directed toward me. “Oh Ashley.” My lips found hers and I kissed her deep and long as I had yearned to do for over a week.

When the kiss ended, we remained in each other’s arms until someone cleared their throat. We turned to find the king and queen looking at us. I quickly released Ashley.

“I beg your pardon, Your Majesties. I … I’m sorry. I should not have come. I have … overstepped my bounds. I will take my leave now.” I took a step, but a gloved hand reached out and grabbed me.

“No!” Ashley’s voice sounded strangled. She looked to her parents. “Please. I know he’s not a knight, but my heart belongs to him. Please. He is the one I choose.” Tears glistened in her eyes.

I stood frozen to my spot, fear filling every part of me.

The king and queen looked at one another, then at Ashley, then at me. Their look was not disapproving. They looked at one another once again, and the queen nodded to the king.

The king looked at me and said, “Well, young man, are you prepared to accept my daughter’s hand in marriage?”

My lower jaw dropped. I couldn’t speak for a few moments. Then, “But, Your Majesty, I am a peasant farmer. I have nothing to offer her.”

“Oh but you do. You offer her the most important things in life, things that cannot be bought and paid for—love, faithfulness, loyalty—your heart—yourself. We could not ask for anything better for our daughter, the Princess of Winterberry.”