Happy Sunday and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for COLD HEARTED by Serena Valentino! I’m so excited because today I have an excerpt of the book to share with you! This book is truly amazing and I’m so excited to for you to find out more about it, PLUS enter for a chance to win a print copy!
Cold Hearted by Serena Valentino
Series: Villains #8
Published on July 6, 2021 by Disney-Hyperion
Genres: Fantasy, Retellings, YA
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This was supposed to be her happily ever after...
It’s a familiar tale: A kind and beautiful young girl, reeling from loss. A doting father, frantic to bring a mother’s love back into his daughter’s life. And the selfish, cruel woman who insinuates herself into that family―a woman so unfeeling, so cold hearted, that when her new husband dies, she makes the girl a servant in her own home.
But who is that evil stepmother, that icy lady of the house? How did she become so closed off that, in the face of a child’s grief, she thought only to seek wealth and power for herself and her abhorrent daughters? Before that fateful ball, before the glass slipper and the prince, there was another story―a story of love and grief, of hope and of dreams dashed. It is the story of Lady Tremaine.
Even the coldest of villains are sometimes wives and mothers, women who loved and lost and hoped for something grander for their lives . . . once upon a dream.
Not too long ago and rather far away, but still within the Many Kingdoms, there was a moldering old château. This château had two distinguishing attributes: the first and most remarkable was that Cinderella, the queen of her land, once called this strange, foreboding place her home. The second was that it was the subject of wild rumors—that it was haunted by Lady Tremaine and her two daughters.
The lady’s daughters, Anastasia and Drizella, were said to roam the château in white dresses, and the specter of the lady was said to have been seen talking with the ghost of her beloved cat, Lucifer, as she lamented the loss of her one true love.
The rumors told a tragic ghost tale, filled with misery and deception. But the truth was far more interesting. The fact was, the lady and her daughters were very much alive, despite their wraithlike appearance, and they were indeed trapped within the old crumbling château with no hope of escape. You see, unlike Cinderella, the Tremaine sisters did not have a fairy godmother to look after them.
We probably don’t have to tell you about Cinderella’s past, before she became queen, back when she lived with the Tremaines. If you picked up this book, then you are already well acquainted with Cinderella’s story, but just in case you’ve been living outside the Many Kingdoms, and you have somehow managed to go a lifetime without hearing Cinderella’s story, I suppose it best I tell you a little bit about her family.
Like most princesses in the Many Kingdoms, this poor girl lost her mother at a young age, and it was left to her father to find a proper stepmother to make a happy home for his daughter. It seems the lives of mothers in the Many Kingdoms are often cut short, and the stepmothers who replace them are almost always cruel and selfish creatures, but that is a story for another time. We could speculate that something supernatural was at work in the Many Kingdoms, or that the blame should almost certainly be placed on the widowers’ poor choices in stepmothers. One might even argue that the lives of these women were predestined by the prevailing misguided notion in fairy circles that all stepmothers are evil.
Cinderella’s father didn’t think much beyond the care of his daughter when he chose his new wife, aside from making sure she was a lady from a good family, well respected in her community, and that she had a large dowry. This lady seemed like the perfect choice, really. She was a stately-looking woman, still rather handsome, and most importantly she had a fortune of her own, which of course would become his upon their marriage. This was, and remains to this day, a rather unfortunate and antiquated custom in the Many Kingdoms: all of a woman’s possessions become property of her husband upon marriage. But this didn’t concern the lady. She thought the young girl’s father to be very handsome, with a title far greater than her own, what she assumed was a substantial fortune, and a beautiful home in which she could raise her own children alongside his daughter.
However, this lady’s hopes for the marriage went beyond practical concerns. She sincerely loved this man and looked forward to having a beautiful life with him, even if she didn’t say so when he was courting her. He seemed like the sort of man who desired a pragmatic woman, and the lady was indeed very sensible and far too proper to mention such things. She prided herself on her stoicism.
But we’ll get to that part of the story soon. For now we’ll concern ourselves with the lady’s unfortunate daughters, who have been withering away within the confines of their home, under the watchful eye of their domineering mother. The situation attracted the attention of their stepsister, Queen Cinderella, who found she couldn’t ignore her stepsisters’ sad circumstances.
My dearest Fairy Godmother,
I am so sorry to have learned the Fairylands have been in a state of turmoil, and though I do not wish to trouble you at such a time, I must write to you about a gravely important matter that has me in great distress.
You see, my stepsisters, Anastasia and Drizella, are in a desperate situation, and for reasons you understand all too well, I am unable to help them. If the Fairylands can spare you, won’t you please come to me as soon as you are able? Drizella, Anastasia, and I need your help.
The Fairy Godmother crumpled up the letter from Queen Cinderella, which took great effort since it was rather large and written on the sturdy parchment used for official royal correspondence.
“Honestly, I don’t know what Cinderella is thinking! What in the Fairylands are we supposed to do about Anastasia and Drizella? The fairies are not in the business of helping the likes of them!”
The Fairy Godmother’s wings twitched violently as she waited for her sister to respond.
Of course, the Fairy Godmother’s sister, Nanny, wasn’t listening to her. Lately, Nanny had been in the Fairylands much more often than usual. She had spent many years on her own adventures, only recently deciding to return to help her sister when the fairies were in great peril. But that is another story, one that you can find in the book of fairy tales. This story finds the sister fairies in the Fairy Godmother’s blossoming garden, where they were just sitting down for their afternoon tea when they were interrupted by the queen’s message.
“Cinderella is your charge. You have to go to her. She’s asked you for your help!” said Nanny, giving the Fairy Godmother a withering look. The Fairy Godmother had always thought that her sister would be more pleasant to be around if she smiled more often. Nanny had silver ringlets and sparkling eyes. She was a round, cute little woman, with powdery soft skin that felt like vellum paper. She was far older than the Fairy Godmother and used it to her advantage as often as it pleased her, including bossing the Fairy Godmother around.
The Fairy Godmother tapped her wand on the edge of the table, agitated, as her sister went on. They were in her garden, after all, and Nanny was fussing at her, as usual.
“Aren’t you the least bit interested why Cinderella is so upset? Something awful must have happened to Anastasia and Drizella to have her so worried. And you are fairy duty–bound to go to Cinderella if she calls you. I don’t think this is something you can ignore,” said Nanny in her usual superior fashion, which the Fairy Godmother had grown to detest even more now that her sister had been spending so much time in the Fairylands.
The Fairy Godmother was still recovering her nerves since their latest ordeal. They had just survived an attack in Fairyland by the Odd Sisters. And before that an attack by Maleficent.
“Here we are, hardly able to catch our breath after the near destruction of the Fairylands at the hands of your old charges, the Odd Sisters, and now you’re trying to drag us into another battle. I can’t go flying here and there just because Cinderella is worried about her stepsisters. They’re not fairy-worthy,” the Fairy Godmother said. Her hands shook as she poured herself a cup of tea to calm her nerves. She hated being so rattled by all this, especially in front of her sister, but she couldn’t help it. From the moment she’d received the letter from Cinderella pleading for help, her heart had not stopped fluttering. She was now regretting sharing the news with Nanny.
“Well, I don’t see you have any other choice! Cinderella has asked for your help, and it’s your job to do just that! And why exactly are you so rattled by the Tremaines? They’re non-magical and hardly a threat,” said Nanny, eyeing her sister in a way the Fairy Godmother hated.
The Fairy Godmother cleared her throat, steeled her nerves, and spoke in the slowest, sternest voice she could muster. “I will not help Anastasia and Drizella, and that is the last word on this topic, Nanny. Now, if you’d like to continue having our tea, I’d appreciate it if we could talk about something else. The subject of Cinderella and her wicked stepsisters is closed.” The Fairy Godmother took a sip of her tea and put her teacup down gently on the saucer, never taking her eyes off Nanny. “Besides,” she continued, “I know what this is really about. You feel guilty about everything the Odd Sisters have done, not to mention the sacrifice Circe had to make to stop them from destroying the Many Kingdoms.”
Nanny looked as though the Fairy Godmother had slapped her in the face. She got up from the table abruptly and violently, causing her chair to make a horrible scraping noise on the cobblestones in the Fairy Godmother’s garden.
The Fairy Godmother felt terrible. Yes, her sister was annoying, domineering, and rather eccentric for a fairy. (After all, she hated wearing her wings, and only did so begrudgingly at the Fairy Godmother’s request. The Fairy Godmother could never fathom it since wings were so glorious and their fairy-given right and honor.) Still, she loved Nanny and felt sorry for bringing up a topic that hurt her.
“Nanny! I’m sorry! Where are you going? I shouldn’t have mentioned Circe. I know you’re grieving. I am so sorry!” she said, but Nanny didn’t answer, and the Fairy Godmother could tell she’d broken her sister’s heart, even with her back turned to her. Nanny’s wings were hanging low.
The Fairy Godmother knew she should have never brought up the debacle. That’s what the Fairy Godmother had been calling it. And that’s exactly what it was, a debacle. And as far as the Fairy Godmother was concerned, Circe and her mothers, the Odd Sisters, were perfectly fine where they were, in the Place Between, far away from the Fairylands and the Many Kingdoms, where they couldn’t hurt anyone. It wasn’t her business if Circe chose to go beyond the veil with her mothers, or come back to the land of the living after she said her tearful goodbyes to those horrible witch mothers of hers. This was a matter for witches, not fairies—it was no longer their concern. As long as the Fairylands were safe and as long as the Odd Sisters were as far away from them as possible, she was content. Oh yes, there was some way the ancestors could bring them back if they chose, but the Fairy Godmother felt Circe would make the right choice. For all Circe’s failings, the Fairy Godmother thought she was a brave young woman. She had, after all, sacrificed her own life to stop her mothers from destroying the Fairylands. Circe had saved the Many Kingdoms, and for that the fairies would always be grateful. And the Fairy Godmother knew Circe wouldn’t make the mistake of bringing the Odd Sisters back into the world again. So as far as she was concerned the matter was put to rest. What they all needed now was to tighten up ranks and make sure nothing like that would ever happen again, even if that meant not entangling the fairies with the likes of the Tremaines. Of course her sister, Nanny, didn’t agree, and as usual she was Hades-bent on flying them into the face of danger.
Nanny tutted at the Fairy Godmother (no doubt having read her sister’s mind) and turned to face her.
“Sister, please don’t ever mention Circe again,” Nanny said. “And don’t insult me or my intelligence by invoking her name in an attempt to distract me. You know as well as I do that you are fairy duty–bound to help Queen Cinderella!”
As Nanny spoke, the Fairy Godmother grew more and more agitated. She tapped her wand on the edge of the table, causing it to spark in rapid bursts that Nanny had to dodge.
“Sister, stop that!” Nanny scolded. “You know you don’t have a choice. You have to help Cinderella. And as much as you will hate it, that means you have to help Anastasia and Drizella. I can’t believe we are even having this discussion.” Nanny was so angry her wings were now standing up straight behind her.
“Don’t you dare twitch your wings at me, Nanny!” said the Fairy Godmother, slamming her teacup onto the saucer, then putting her hand to her head dramatically as if her sister was giving her a terrible headache. “Can I please, just for once, have my tea in peace without you pestering me with all this wish-granting nonsense? Next thing you know we will be granting wishes to Anastasia and Drizella themselves!”
“Well, sister, that’s exactly what I had in mind.” Nanny laughed as she got up from the table again and slowly walked away, not bothering to turn back to look at her sister even though she was yelling behind her.
“Don’t you walk away from me!” cried the Fairy Godmother. “Where do you think you’re going?” Nanny looked over her shoulder and smiled. “To get my magic mirror. Let’s see for ourselves why Cinderella is so worried.”
The Fairy Godmother slammed her wand down on the table, snapping it in half with an explosion of glittering sparks. “Oh, look what you made me do! What am I supposed to do now? I can’t do magic without my wand! It will take the Maker of Wands weeks to make me another,” she screeched, but her sister had already gone into the house.
When Nanny returned she found the Fairy Godmother pacing back and forth, nearly in tears. Nanny rolled her eyes. She waved her hand, effortlessly mending her sister’s wand.
“There. Good as new. Now sit down and calm yourself. Let’s see why Cinderella is so worried about her sisters.” Nanny cast her hand across the mirror. “Show us the Tremaines!”
“Sister, stop!” the Fairy Godmother protested. “I don’t want to lay eyes on those creatures. We know everything there is to know about them. Besides, I know exactly what has become of them, and they deserve their fate for what they did to my Cinderella.”
Nanny looked into her magic mirror anyway, ignoring her sister, and was shocked by what she saw. Anastasia and Drizella were in a deplorable state. The château was crumbling around them and filled with cats. They were wearing tatty white dresses, and she could hear the voice of Lady Tremaine in the background raving over everything she had lost.
“No wonder you didn’t want me to look in on them!” said Nanny, putting down the mirror. “We have to do something about this! This is horrendous! Why hasn’t Cinderella done anything to help her sisters?” Nanny was appalled.
“She’s bound by magic. I put an enchantment on the Tremaines and Cinderella so they would never meet again,” said the Fairy Godmother.
“So the Tremaines are trapped in that house?” Nanny was horrified and felt deeply ashamed for her part in their story. “I had no idea they’ve been trapped there all these years. If I had known, I would have done something. Oh, this is all my fault. I can’t believe we let this happen.” Nanny clutched her mirror so tightly the Fairy Godmother thought she would break it.
“Stop it! You’re going to hurt yourself,” said the Fairy Godmother. “You know as well as I do there was no other choice. Lady Tremaine picked her path even though she was warned.”
“But surely we can remove the enchantment so those poor girls can leave that place and Cinderella could help them herself if she wished? I’m just heartsick knowing that they are still there after all these years.”
The fact was, the Fairy Godmother could remove the enchantment if she wanted. But why should she? She had thought carefully before placing it, and she had to do what was best for her charge. It was her job to protect Cinderella, and she wasn’t about to do anything that would put Cinderella at risk, not now or ever. “I won’t do it! I won’t ruin Cinderella’s happily ever after! Not for those horrible girls or anyone else. Anastasia and Drizella are getting exactly what they deserve!” said the Fairy Godmother, standing up to her sister.
Nanny was unrelenting. “I spent time with them, sister; you didn’t. I was their nanny, and I cared for those girls. You have no idea what they’ve been through. And I feel just awful we didn’t help them when we could. Those poor girls don’t deserve this!”
“I believe they do,” said the Fairy Godmother, catching sight of her protégées the Three Good Fairies walking down her garden path and about to enter her gate. “The law is very clear when it comes to crimes against princesses-to-be. Anastasia and Drizella, not to mention their tyrannical mother, are lucky they survived their story.”
Nanny scoffed. “And how exactly is it determined who is a princess-to-be and who is not? Why weren’t Anastasia or Drizella marked as princesses-to-be? Why was their fate written so tragically while Cinderella’s was so charmed?”
“Cinderella’s life was not charmed! She was tortured by the Tremaines, and they’re lucky they got off so easily. Most storybook villains meet a less kind fate. I’m not even sure how we let those three escape their punishment!”
Nanny scoffed. But before she could answer, the Three Good Fairies came bubbling into the garden making themselves quite at home, pouring cups of tea and conjuring little cakes and scones to share.
“What were you fairies chatting about so animatedly when we got here?” asked Merryweather, conjuring some of her special preserves and honey from her own gardens. But before the Fairy Godmother could answer, Nanny took over the conversation.
“It has come to our attention that the fairies have been holding Lady Tremaine and her daughters captive in Queen Cinderella’s old château,” said Nanny, her wings fluttering with agitation. “This is highly disturbing considering my connection to the Tremaine family.” Nanny wiggled back and forth in her seat, trying to make herself comfortable. The Fairy Godmother thought it was laughable that her sister, who was born a fairy, never felt comfortable in her own wings.
“Come now! I wouldn’t put it quite like that, sister!” said the Fairy Godmother, feeling a bit guilty once she heard it in such simple, straightforward terms.
“Good heavens! We can’t help those awful girls!” screeched Merryweather, startling Fauna and Flora.
“I’m sorry you’re so upset, Nanny, but I have the majority in this. We will not help Anastasia and Drizella. My fairies will never grant wishes to foul demons, witches, evil stepmothers, or cruel stepsisters! Not ever! Not while I’m in charge anyway!” said the Fairy Godmother, feeling very proud of herself.
“Let’s not forget you’re not in charge of the Fairylands, sister. I am.” Nanny’s tone was firm. “You stepped down, and Oberon agreed that I should take the lead. Now, I’m going to ask Opal to fly a message to Cinderella letting her know the Fairy Godmother is on her way to help Anastasia and Drizella. Do you want to disappoint her? Or do I have to strip you of your charge and become Cinderella’s fairy godmother myself?”
The Three Good Fairies gasped. “You can’t do that!”
“Oh yes I can! And I will! Make your choice, sister. Help Queen Cinderella, or I will!” said Nanny.
The Fairy Godmother was hurt deeply by her sister’s threats, but she remained stalwart. She picked up the book of fairy tales, flipping though it until she found Lady Tremaine and her daughters’ story. “Nanny, this is nonsense,” she said. “You know their story, you were there. And you know as well as I do Lady Tremaine and her horrible daughters didn’t even need the encouragement of those meddlesome Odd Sisters! They treated my poor Cinderella reprehensibly on their own accord. It’s all in the book of fairy tales that Snow White sent back to us after the ordeal.”
Nanny smiled, and her sister didn’t like it. She knew that meant she was up to something.
“Okay, sister. Let’s read their story, then. Perhaps there will be no redemption for Lady Tremaine, but I wager even you will want to help her daughters after reading their tale. Remember I was there, and more importantly, I know your heart.”
Fauna, Flora, and Merryweather had been silent, waiting to see what the Fairy Godmother would say. They had been dumbstruck by Nanny’s earlier comments and had been sitting there the entire time, jaws dropped.
“Merryweather, close your mouth. A dragonfly is going to fly into it!” said the Fairy Godmother. “And magic us some more refreshments.” Then she snapped at Fauna, “And you! Send a message to the Blue Fairy. Tell her there is an emergency Fairy Council meeting and she’s needed immediately.” Finally, she looked to Nanny. “Where is the King of the Fairies? Do you think he’d like to sit on the council meeting?”
Nanny laughed, no doubt because her sister was still acting as though she was in charge of the Fairylands. “Oberon is at Morningstar Castle with Princess Tulip preparing for another of their adventures. But I am sure he’s listening,” said Nanny.
The Fairy Godmother knew that even if he wasn’t listening, Nanny would fill him in later. They had been closer than ever, which sent a tingling rage through her body, but she had to put that aside for now. “All right, then,” she said. “Once Blue Fairy arrives we will read Lady Tremaine’s story, and the council will decide if we should help Drizella and Anastasia.”
“I think that sounds fair,” said Nanny, with a suspicious look on her face that the Fairy Godmother didn’t like. But she decided it was a victory anyway. She knew in her heart her fairies would never agree to help Anastasia and Drizella, no matter what Nanny had up her sleeve.
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What do you think about Cold Hearted? Have you added it to your tbr yet? Let me know in the comments and have a splendiferous day!