The door was locked.
She should have known better than to trust a fairy. “I’m your godmother,” it had said, all smiles and sparkles in the moonlight. “I’ve been watching over you,” it claimed. “Your mother begged me to make all your dreams come true before she passed (poor soul).” It had even managed to squeeze out a tear. Elle had been skeptical. Never, in all her life, had she ever witnessed any evidence of a vigilant benefactress. Through all the years of loneliness and toil, she’d learned that she could only count on herself. As she hammered on the door, Elle shook her head. It was the hope that had gotten to her. The possibility of change. The secret desire to see her stepmother and wretched stepsisters get their comeuppance. Now, here she was, disheveled and desperate as the minutes ticked past.
The door was locked.
She was panting now, barely able to breathe in the tight corset the fairy had insisted she wear. “To highlight that gorgeous figure,” the fairy had explained. “No prince could resist that silhouette!” Elle stopped bashing the door long enough to push back her hair, which had seemed elegant at 10:00 pm but was the bane of her existence at midnight. How had she even managed to recognize the prince, with a swoop of bangs blocking one eye? It was a miracle she hadn’t fallen off the balcony when he led her outside for a breath of air and a quick canoodle. She’d hoped he would declare his undying love—the fairy had guaranteed that he would be smitten at first sight and had added a little extra something to the glamour that Elle had felt growing around her. Innocent Elle had assumed that meant a whirlwind romance and marriage. But midnight had struck, and she’d felt the glamour disperse. His eyes were already wandering as Elle kicked off her shoes and dashed through the garden toward the stable. She tripped over a pumpkin and squashed something soft that squeaked. She suddenly wished she’d held on to those slippers.
The door was locked. Tinkling laughter tickled her ears, drowning out the crunching of gravel as a carriage approached at full speed. Moonlight glinted off the blade of the hatchet that someone had carelessly left beside the woodpile. The door was locked. The carriage slid to a halt. Angry voices drew near. Elle contemplated “happily ever after.”