Just in time for the release of Happily Never After, I am happy to share an excerpt from the book!
"Happily Never After"
by Jack Heckel
Publisher: Harper Voyager Impulse
Release Date: Nov 25, 2014
Summary from goodreads.com:
Once upon, once again…
The dragon has been slain, but the problems have just begun for Prince Charming.
Disowned by his father, the King, and abandoned by his only friend, William Pickett, Charming must find a new path in life...but he's going to need a lot of help. His love, Liz, barely survived an assassination attempt; his former fling, Rapunzel, is in danger; and William is under an evil spell cast by Princess Gwendolyn.
The fate of Castle White hangs in the balance as Charming tries to find himself, while finding new allies along the way — including an odd number of dwarfs (or is it dwarves?) and a reformed beast. But he's running out of time to stop royally ruinous wedding bells from ringing…
Will blinked at the brilliant sky and stepped onto the wet road. As he helped Lady Rapunzel descend, Will suddenly became very aware of her hand in his. A hint of flowers floated in the air around her, not roses like Princess Gwendolyn but something else…jasmine. The perfume reminded him of home, where a vine of jasmine had climbed the wall outside his bedroom window. He found himself holding her hand for a moment even after she had stepped onto the road. She favored him with a smile of surprise and a blush of color, so swift, that he wondered after she turned away if he had imagined it.
She walked toward the head of the coach, and he had a chance to admire the waist of her traveling dress and the long flow of swishing skirt that followed. Perhaps she felt his eyes on her, because she glanced back, and when she saw him looking, she adjusted the hood of her traveling cloak, pulling it further down over her face. Will pretended to be in deep contemplation of his mud-crusted boot.
Alone for the moment, he considered Rapunzel. What a change from the ball. She was still overly opinionated and quick to anger, but there was something about her that made his throat catch every time he tried to talk to her. Sadly, he reminded himself, she was unlikely to be favorably disposed toward him, given their argument. He replayed the conversation in the coach and winced.
By the time he had reviewed and regretted all the stupid things he’d said, the carriage was moving away, and the Royal Herald was scrambling to mount up and follow. “I must hurry,” the man exclaimed dramatically. “The King cannot possibly travel without being properly announced.”
Meanwhile, Tomas had taken a small cloth pavilion out of one of Rapunzel’s many trunks, and was assembling it on the glittering green grass of a nearby field. Will wandered over to the squire and watched as he drove the last peg into the ground. “What is that for?”
“Haven’t you ever traveled with a Lady, Will? She’s going to need to change into her riding clothes, and she’s not about to do that out in the open so you can ogle her in her all-natural. Not that you’d mind, I’d reckon, given how you’ve been staring after her.”
Will’s cheeks flamed. Tomas gave a low, knowing chuckle, and then stalked off toward Rapunzel. “Now I know why Charming always called him a gnarled hobgoblin,” Will muttered to himself.
Will was still mumbling to himself when Lady Rapunzel arrived. He tried to transform—midword—his unintelligible mutterings into a song so she would not think him mad. The curled smile that followed told him that it hadn’t worked. Still smiling, she stepped into the small enclosure to begin changing. Will turned to leave.
“Lord William, would you stay?”
He turned back and saw the cloth wall of the tent flutter. The opening gaped for a moment and Will glimpsed the outline of her body silhouetted within. He turned away and managed a throaty, “Yes…yes…of course.”
Will looked about for Tomas, but the man had vanished entirely, so he gazed up at the clouds, then down at the wet grass, and wondered how pretty girls always made him feel so uncomfortable. And then he realized…Lady Rapunzel was pretty—very pretty, and funny, and—
“Are you listening to me?” She sounded as if she had been repeating herself.
Will dared to glance over. Her face was visible in the flap of the pavilion and she had that same annoyed look that Liz always had when he had been thinking too much. “What?” he asked, feeling awkward.
“I said, I want to know what happened to Prince Charming—and this may be our only chance to talk without the King being present. So, tell me how he died. Our last meeting may not have gone well, but I always felt that the prince was…well, invulnerable.”
“Oh, he didn’t really die.”
“What?” she asked and stuck her head out even farther. Will caught a glimpse of a bare shoulder and shut his eyes for a moment, then opened them again. Lady Rapunzel stared at him like he had sprouted a second head. “What is wrong with you?”
He spluttered incoherently and pointed at her and the tent. She looked down at the slight opening and smiled a cunning smile. “Am I making you uncomfortable?”
Will blushed yet again and nodded mutely.
“How sweet.” Her eyes danced with pleasure as she looked at him appraisingly. “You and your sister both have the most marvelous color when you blush. She might have mentioned it when we were talking about you. It’s really quite becoming.”
This comment only made him blush deeper. It was completely unfair for Liz to talk to other women about him, especially now that he was Lord Protector. He had a reputation, or something like that, to maintain.
Lady Rapunzel’s lilting voice interrupted his thoughts again. “If I must be dressed for you to talk to me, then I will finish.”
She disappeared back inside the tent. Several moments passed, the tent flap open, and out stepped Lady Rapunzel, mercifully dressed in her riding skirts. It was an elegant costume only ruined by the addition of a bulky cloak that did not seem to match. Adjusting the hood over her head, she said, “I think it will be safe for you to talk now.”
He stammered something idiotic and she giggled, a delightful sound. Their eyes met. Had her eyes always been such a brilliant green? She was a woman, and beautiful, but there was also something different about her. She was more familiar, more real than the Princess. She had a little of the tavern girl in her. It reminded him of the best parts of Gretel, how she would pull him into the storeroom for a quick kiss, or slap him when he was too forward.
“Now, I mean no disrespect, Lord Protector, but Liz told me you could be, well, vague, so please tell me what happened to the Prince?”
He hesitated, not sure exactly what to say. Was he betraying the King’s confidence somehow to speak of it? As he paused, her expression grew harder, and he realized with horror that he was, in fact, being vague. But it was so hard to concentrate when she was pursing her very red lips like that.
She tilted her head. “Did you hear me? I asked you what happened. Why does the King say the Prince is dead, and yet you say he is not? And, if he’s not dead, why is the King acting like a man that has lost his child? And, what in heaven’s name is he not telling me?”
Will opened his mouth to answer the first question, and then closed it again when he decided it made more sense to answer the second first, and then repeated the performance when he realized he had no idea how to answer the third question at all. She stamped her foot on the ground, which was really adorable, and the hood slipped off her head. As she said something else, he found himself admiring the way her short hair curled about her ears and framed her face.
She reached up to adjust her hood again, “Please, Lord Protector.”
The earnestness of her plea brought him up short and made him realize what an ass he was being. “I apologize, Lady Rapunzel. Let me begin by swearing that, as far as I know, the Prince still lives. He and the King had a falling out and the King has disowned him.”
If possible, this seemed to shock her even more. She let the hood fall back again and instead started absent-mindedly tucking the stray ends of her hair behind her ears.
“I never imagined. Charming was conceited and a fool, but I never thought the King would do such a thing.” She stroked her chin thoughtfully. “There is more to this than the story you’ve told, probably more than you or I know. Perhaps the court has been putting pressure on King Rupert.”
Elle stood, lost in quiet contemplation of some intrigue, which Will didn’t quite follow. It was clear that Lady Rapunzel was a thoughtful woman, like his sister. But she was also pretty, much prettier than Gretel, and he realized in an instant—even prettier than the Princess. He found himself, again, distracted by her and furtively admiring more than just her intelligence.
“I know you’re not listening to me anymore, so what are you thinking about?” she asked. It was an accusation.
Will paused and swallowed. He had been caught ogling her, and he knew there was nothing to be done because, if he took the time to think of something clever to say, she would know. But even the time he’d taken to consider whether to consider what to say, seemed to have taken too long, because she stepped toward him, hands on hips.
“I confess that I was just thinking that you are smart like my sister, but prettier than any girl I’ve ever known,” he blurted. His hand twitched, demanding that he bite it, and Will felt the blush hit his face and burn incredibly hot. He closed his eyes, awaiting the brutal tongue-lashing that he would surely receive. Why am I so bad at this?
After a pause, Will opened his eyes to see Rapunzel’s emerald eyes staring into his. They glistened with unshed tears, making them even more beautiful, and there was a pale confusion on her face.
About the author: Jack Heckel’s life is an open book, actually, it’s the book you are in all hope holding right now (and if you are not holding it, he would like to tell you it can be purchased from any of your finest purveyors of the written word). Beyond that, Jack aspires to be either a witty, urbane, world-traveler who lives on his vintage yacht, The Clever Double Entendre, or a geographically illiterate professor of literature who spends his non-writing time restoring an 18th century lighthouse off a remote part of the Vermont coastline. More than anything, Jack lives for his readers.
Find more info about the book here: http://www.harpercollins.com/
Disclosure: I received an e-arc of this book