Those of you who have read the first two books in the Cherry Fairy Tales may be wondering where the third and final instalment has gone. Well, it is due for release this summer and I thought I would share a little excerpt from the first chapter for you to whet your appetites. I will keep you updated and post details of the release date as soon as I can.
‘Duncan!’ Shelle called out.
He glanced over at her, cradling the feline version of Cerise in her arms, a panic stricken look on her face. He hastily wiped his eyes dry with his sleeve and sniffed. He didn’t want anyone to see him crying.
‘Do you recognise her?’ Shelle asked, holding Cerise in her outstretched arms, letting her dangle like a sack of potatoes. Cerise yelped an objection, her eyes wide and frightened and uncertain.
‘Of course I do,’ Duncan said with a slight croak.
‘Well, what are we going to do about this? We can’t just leave her to live life as a cat. We have to fix this,’ Shelle asserted.
‘What do you mean, how?’ Shelle grumped. ‘You’re her husband and you’re in charge of the whole sodding kingdom! You tell me!’
‘I think you’ll find that’s my uncle,’ Duncan corrected her.
‘Let’s ask him then,’ Shelle said.
He sighed and motioned for her to sit next to him, which she duly did. She placed Cerise in Duncan’s lap. He looked down at his wife and his lip trembled, threatening fresh tears. He shrugged. Shelle tried to keep the sneer from her face as she watched the powerless prince struggle to find any words, never mind the right ones.
‘Pathetic,’ Shelle muttered.
‘We were going to run away together,’ Duncan eventually managed.
‘Really?’ Shelle scowled. ‘That’s not what she told me.’
Even as a cat, Cerise looked sheepish at the way her actions and decisions that day had contradicted what she discussed with Shelle the previous night.
‘Well, we had only just decided. We were going to fake our own deaths and get away from all the madness. Then we made love, right here.’
‘Christ’s nails,’ Shelle cringed in exasperation, putting her hands to her eyes as if she wanted to be anywhere but there. ‘I do not need to know this!’
‘That was our big mistake. We thought it would be alright, so long as we did it in a way that would not cause a pregnancy,’ he continued.
‘Clearly you were wrong.’
‘How much did she tell you?’ Duncan probed.
‘All of it. About the cats and her mother and Leopold not being dead. And I told my father, so if you decide to kill me to silence me, there’s still one other person who knows – at least!’
‘I won’t kill you. There’s no reason to. You want to help, although you’re wasting your time.’
‘So, what are you going to do about it?’
‘There’s only two ways to save her. One is to transfer the spell and the other is to kill the witch who cursed her.’
The trio sat in silence, considering the possibilities. Killing Arietta was not an option for Duncan. No matter how evil her deeds or how much pain she caused, she was his little sister and always would be. Under no circumstances would he ever consider killing her or allowing anyone else to kill her. That was much the same conclusion Shelle arrived at too when she was going through all the options in her mind. No matter how heinous her crimes, Duncan would not stand to see her murdered just to save Cerise. Shelle, on the other hand, was ashamed and surprised to find that the idea of Arietta dying to save Cerise did not bother her one bit.
‘To transfer the spell, you have to get someone to cut her head off, is that right?’ Shelle asked.
Cerise leapt from Duncan’s lap and he grabbed her before she could disappear.
‘That’s right. No matter who did it, Cerise would be her old self again. It’s the poor man who does it who suffers,’ he said.
‘That’s what happened to your father, isn’t it?’ Shelle said.
‘Bloody shame,’ Shelle sighed. ‘I saw paintings of him when I was in the castle. He was really something in his human days.’
Duncan glared at her and then raised his eyebrows.
‘Yes, he was a handsome man.’
‘Well, it should be easy. All we have to do is find a man who loves Cerise and he can change her back!’ Shelle brightened. ‘If he loves her, he won’t mind living as a cat until we figure the rest out.’
Duncan frowned, ‘Do we know anyone who loves her that much?’
Shelle and Cerise both stared at him, expecting him to say that he did. When he declined to volunteer his services, their frowns deepened and Cerise hissed. He shook his head.
‘Can we exhaust every other possibility first?’ he stammered.
‘I thought you would have done that already. You must have tried to change your father back,’ Shelle noted, a tiny crease appearing between her brows at the idea that Blaxton had been a cat all that time and yet nobody had even bothered trying to save him.
‘I mean, can we find a man who loves her. Surely this village is full of men who do? After all, I fell in love with her. There must be at least one who loved her without the lip-stain?’ Duncan asked.
Shelle shook her head and bit down on her lower lip.
‘Not one?’ he pushed.
‘We don’t know. We never will. She’s done so much testing that she had started to run out of men,’ Shelle admitted.
Cerise took a step back and then another, attempting to back away from Duncan and this awkward conversation. He looked down at her, one eyebrow raised and a smirk on his lips.
‘Suddenly I don’t feel so bad about all those cats hanging around the castle.’
‘Could we find a man willing to sacrifice himself for her?’ Shelle asked.
‘Easier said than done,’ Duncan sighed.
‘Isn’t sacrificing your own life for someone else an act of love anyway? Magic is weird…’ Shelle trailed off, looking far into the distance.
They fell silent again, both happy to sit by the loch. Neither of them knew how to feel. They were caught between mourning Cerise and desperation to fix what had happened. The sky clouded over and a stiff breeze arrived, whipping Shelle’s hair into her eyes and chilling them both. Cerise stepped out from Duncan’s lap and stretched, trying to get accustomed to her new body. To her, Duncan’s heartbeat was so loud that she couldn’t stay close to him for much longer anyway.
‘Isn’t that your father?’ Shelle asked, pointing to a large ginger cat stepping out from the woods.
‘It is. He’ll give me hell when he sees what’s happened to Cerise,’ Duncan groaned.
Sure enough, as Blaxton approached, he hissed with a ferocity that alarmed them all. Once he was close enough, he walked around Cerise in a circular fashion, looking at her, examining her and then, with claws extended, he leapt at Duncan and reached out to swipe him across his cheek.
‘I deserved that,’ Duncan said.
‘We should go and see Ascot,’ Shelle announced. ‘Whenever Cerise has a problem, she always goes to him.’
‘I doubt I would be welcome. Perhaps you should visit him without me. I’ll take Cerise back home with me,’ Duncan said and then after a pause he continued, ‘Actually, I saw him earlier. He passed this loch. He was on his way to see Merewald.’
Duncan and Shelle watched the two cats, one large, ginger-haired and confident, the other fluffy with black and red fur and an awkward way of moving, who seemingly had a plan, walk together, side-by-side toward the woods. Blaxton and Cerise seemed to be conversing, exchanging squeaks and purrs, like they could understand each other. Shelle sprang to her feet and raced after them.
‘Where are you going?’ Duncan demanded.
‘I’m following Blaxton. I like to think he has a plan!’