What was she running from?

What was she running from?

The untold tale of Goldilocks...

Her story really isn't part of the original tales. In the classic tale of The Three Bears, it's all about the bears, and Goldilocks just comes in, starving and exhausted, then leaves, never to be seen again. This time...Roar tells her story.

Read an exclusive sneak peek below!

"So, does everyone understand their role in this attack?" Lord Vauquelin asked. He waited for the other men to nod before he continued, "Good. Be swift and silent, leave no survivors, and Berehaven will be ours by dawn. Ready your men. In an hour, we march."

Father's knights trooped out, leaving Bernard alone with him.

"Did you not hear me? I said get ready." Father waved his hand in dismissal.

"I still don't know what my role in all this is," Bernard began. As his father's brows descended, Bernard felt the childish urge to hide under the table from the blow he knew would be coming next. Childhood habits die hard. "I'm sorry, Father. I've never been in a battle before. The King…"

"The King is no longer your concern," Lord Vauquelin snapped. "He no longer wants you at court, and so you are no use to me there, either. So make yourself useful. Every man in my army is a skilled swordsman, and as a member of the King's court, you must have had plenty of training. In fact, I have the perfect task for a man of your talents." When Father grinned like that, Bernard often thought he looked like a wild beast about to devour his dinner alive.

Bernard shivered. "I am your obedient son, Father. Anything you command, if it is within my power to deliver it, then I shall."

Father grinned even more widely. "Your job is to make sure there is no one left alive in the maidens' tower when the sun rises. I'm sure you are man enough to defeat Baron Orson's defenceless daughters."

Bernard closed his eyes. In his imagination, he could already hear the girls' screams. But if the girls must die, better that they die on his sword, than that of some of Father's common soldiers. Anyone else would keep the girls alive as long as possible, and not kill them before dawn. He'd seen firsthand was soldiers could do. At least he would leave them their virtue, if not their lives. Bernard bowed his head. "Of course, Father. By dawn, I shall report to you that there is no one left alive in the maidens' tower."

"Good boy," Father said distractedly, already pulling on his armour.

Bernard had better do the same. The women he sought might not be fighters, but there would still be guards, and Bernard had no desire to die. There was no longer a place at court for him, but if he did well tonight, there might still be a place for him in his father's service. If he survived the night.

The allocated hour sped by, and in no time at all Lord Vauquelin sent his men marching into the valley where Berehaven lay.

Bernard wanted desperately to run, to head back to the court that he knew so well. There was no honour in this. To attack like robbers in the night, to slaughter them in their beds. The Baron of Berehaven and his family had every right to this valley, that no one had cared about until now. If he hadn't sent a message to his father about the envoy from King Siward, this backwater barony might have remained forgotten.

But Bernard was his father's son, and he'd learned a long time ago to be obedient to his father's wishes. So he'd written the letter, and he marched now. Marching into darkness and he did not know what, for who could see what awaited him in the dark?

The stories alone of this place were enough to terrify anyone.

"May heaven help us all," Bernard whispered to himself.

* * *

That was the scrape of a sword coming out of a metal scabbard, Ursula was certain of it. She'd heard the sound only on the rare occasions when her father had drawn his weapon. Ceremonial occasions, on feast days, when she was expected to stand in the great hall along with everyone else. No one should be drawing weapons in the castle tonight.

She crept over to the window, reaching up to unbolted the shutters, but the bolt was too high. Grumbling, she dragged a chair that had once been her father's over to the window so that she could reach the stubborn bolts.

Finally, she'd unfastened the shutters. She pushed them open a tiny bit.

From her room in the top of the tower, she could see the castle gates and clear across the valley, but what she saw threatened to stop her heart altogether. A river of men raced across the bridge, through the gate. Invading her home.

She wanted to scream at them that they would never take Berehaven, never, not while one of her people lived, but she had to warn her family, wake them up and get them out to safety.

Ursula fumbled in the dark for a gown, not daring to strike a light. She put on the first one she found, shoving her stockinged feet into boots before seizing a cloak.

She grabbed her dagger, wondering whether she'd need it.

The clomp of footsteps on the stairs told her she would.

Ursula whirled to face her visitor, trying not to let her hand shake too much as she pointed the dagger at the door.

The man who emerged was breathless from the climb, doubling over the moment he reached the room. Then he straightened, and Ursula saw it. The blue and gold blazon of Vauquelin across his chest.

"Get out," she hissed, brandishing the dagger.

Only then did he see her, his eyes widening inside his helm as he jerked back to avoid her blade. He snatched up her mother's chair just in time to avoid her second slash, which sliced open the fabric covering the precious chair, spilling out stuffing.

He threw the chair aside, knocking the knife out of her hand, and took a step toward her. His hand closed around the hilt of his sword.

Ursula swallowed, looking desperately around the room for another weapon she could use. Curse her stupidity for not thinking to keep a collection of swords up here. All she had was her father's chair – too hard to lift, let alone use as a weapon – and her own tiny stool.

She grabbed the stool by one leg, hefting it like a hammer, and whacked it against the man's sword arm.


She laughed and advanced, whacking him with the stool when he got within reach to drive him out. What she'd do then, she didn't know – she could bar the door, but then how would she get out? She needed to get down the stairs, and this Vauquelin soldier was blocking the door.

She aimed her next blow at his head, but he ducked and the stool smashed against the wall, leaving her holding nothing but one leg. A leg that ended in a point. Wishing it were a dagger, she thrust it at the man's face and he jerked back. And kept going, down the stairs, until he hit the wall and was still.

Ursula paused, waiting for him to get up, but he didn't move. Surely with his leg bent at that angle, he should be screaming in pain. Unless the fall had killed him.

Serve him right if it had.

Cautiously, keeping to the inner curve of the staircase, she crept down to him. Even as she reached the steps where he lay, he didn't move. Dead, then. Which she would be, too, if he'd caught her, or if any of his fellows did.

She had to escape.

Ursula forced her feet to move down the stairs. The corridor was eerily empty when she reached it. Perhaps the invaders hadn't reached here yet, and the soldier she'd killed was a scout, or something. That was what they called the men who went ahead, wasn't it? Now she wished she'd listened to more of her brothers' talk of war, instead of drifting into her own daydreams.

Her brothers' room was first, the door already ajar.

She pushed the door open fully and whispered, "Gidie, Eudes! Quick, wake up, we must go!"

But the boys in their beds didn't stir. They always had been heavy sleepers.

She reached out and shook Gidie's shoulder. "Wake up!" she hissed, then wished she hadn't. Her hand came away sticky. Sticky and warm. Still, she shook Gidie again. Only then did she realise how boneless he felt, like she was shaking a rag doll instead of a boy.

Dead. He's dead. Her mind supplied the information, but she refused to believe it. She shook Eudes next, and felt the unmistakeable flow of blood over her hands. Someone had slit the boy's throat as he slept, and they'd probably done the same to Gidie, too. The boys had never felt a thing.

Her father would not go down without a fight, unlike his sleeping sons.

Ursula headed for the passage, and the door to the next room. A body lay across the threshold. She lifted her foot step over it, and a hand caught her ankle. Caught, and held.

"Invaders," the man coughed. "You have to get out."

"What do you think I'm doing?" she hissed, shaking her foot free. "I must see my father first."

"No, Ula, you have to get out. Go somewhere safe and hide. Father is dead."

Only her family called her Ula, which meant…

She stared at the man's face, blood bubbling over his lips like an obscene kind of carmine. "Geoffrey?"

"Father's dead, too. I tried to stop them, but I couldn't. You're Berehaven's only hope. Save yourself, Ula," he whispered, then slumped to the floor.

Dead, like her other brothers. And her father.

She stepped over Geoffrey's corpse, then took a deep breath and dared to look into Father's chamber. Short of the front door, her only way out lay through here.

And past Orson, Baron of Berehaven. Father had not had time to dress, but he had managed to seize a sword. That hadn't stopped his assassins, though, for she counted no less than half a dozen bloody slashes in the front of his nightgown, his flesh gleaming wetly beneath. He lay on the hearth, like his dogs did in the great hall below, but that's where the similarity ended. His blood pooled beneath him – some of those slashes had run him through before he could reach the secret passage she needed.

She wanted to fall to her knees beside him, begging his forgiveness for every uncharitable thought, every infraction, but she'd seen how many of Vauquelin's men entered the castle. One of them could return here at any moment, and she could not disobey Geoffrey's dying wish. Her father would want her safe.

Ursula found the fake panel beside the fireplace that opened onto the secret passage. She risked one glance back. "Forgive me, Father," she whispered as she closed the door, shutting out all light as she headed into the dark and the safety it held. Her future couldn't possibly be any darker than the slaughter she'd left behind.

* * *

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Three bears. Two enemies. One winter that will change everything.

Once upon a time...

Ursula thought her biggest worry was hiding her magic powers long enough to catch a husband, until Lord Vauquelin invades and slaughters her whole family. When she emerges from hiding, she finds she's snowed in with a wounded enemy soldier, in a valley full of bears.

Can a girl who can't even make porridge survive until spring?

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About the Author

USA Today bestselling author Demelza Carlton has always loved the ocean, but on her first snorkelling trip she found she was afraid of fish.
She has since swum with sea lions, sharks and sea cucumbers and stood on spray-drenched cliffs over a seething sea as a seven-metre cyclonic swell surged in, shattering a shipwreck below.
Sensationalist spin? No - Demelza tends to take a camera with her so she can capture and share the moment later; shipwrecks, sharks and all.
Demelza now lives in Perth, Western Australia, the shark attack capital of the world.

Demelza Carlton

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