1) What fairytale(s) have you chosen to retell and why?
Stealing Maid Marian's Heart is a modern, fox-shifter, romantic Robin Hood retelling with a heist from the perspective of Maid Marian.
I loved Robin Hood growing up, but I wanted to modernize it and make it a little more romantic. The heist aspect fits in perfectly for the characters' motivation and the Robin Hood legend. Also, it was a ton of fun to try to figure out how a bunch of shifters would break into a casino.
2) What makes your story unique?
I chose to retell Robin Hood from Maid Marian's perspective because I've rarely seen this done and I thought she probably had a great story to tell too!
As it turns out, she does. ;)
Another thing that I believe makes my retelling unique is the modern feel. Many Robin Hood retellings that I see done are in a fantasy world or the past. Mine is set in Las Vegas, which is critical to the story.
3) What was your favorite fairytale growing up and why?
The Little Mermaid (Disney version). Honestly, I think it was my favorite because growing up I was a swimmer and being mermaid seemed like the ultimate dream come true.
I loved that movie so much I made my mom watch it with me every day for months. She's a trooper!
4) Who was your favorite villain?
Again, I was a Disney child, and Ursula had the BEST villain song.
But as I get older I actually sympathize with Ursula a little because she's very much the "witch" stereotype and probably just got kicked out of the sea kingdom because she was a powerful woman.
I love how our ideas on fairytales can evolve as we age.
5) Is this a standalone or do you have more books planned?
Stealing Maid Marian's Heart is a standalone tale in a fairytale universe! I have many others planned. One of which is titled Alice the Dagger (a fae assassin retelling of Alice in Wonderland). Alice the Dagger will release in June 2020 and is the first book in an Alice trilogy.
After that, I'd love to do a Beauty and the Beast retelling in the same universe. It would probably be a shifter story.
Stealing Maid Marian's Heart excerpt:
By Ashley McLeo
I squeezed my eyes shut as I inserted my key card and opened the door.
The handle hit the opposite wall with a thunk, and I inhaled a slow, calming breath. Then with the bravery of a knight charging into battle, I opened my eyes.
“Oh, shit!” My hand flew to my heart as I zeroed in on a person hiding behind the curtains. “Checkout was hours ago! You need to vacate the premises.”
The person didn’t move, not even the slightest twitch. My eyes narrowed, and wriggling my nose, I caught the scent of plastic. I scowled.
A blow-up doll! Why do people have to be so gross?
I released an annoyed huff and entered the room. The suite wasn’t in the worst condition I’d seen. There wasn’t any blood or human waste smeared on the walls or floors, but it wasn’t pretty either. Someone had twisted the bedsheets into a rope that wrapped around the chair in front of the desk. Bits of food dotted the bed, and coffee stained the nightstand.
And then there was the damn blow-up doll. Whoever had stayed in this room had sprung for one of the more realistic models, but they hadn’t wanted to take their toy home with them. I couldn’t imagine why.
My job was such a pleasure.
I pulled my cart right up to the door and began to work, starting with the sheet. Once it was unraveled, I was pleased to find that there were no visible bodily fluids on it. I tossed it into the tiny hamper attached to the cart and moved on.
Time ticked by in a haze of vacuuming, wiping, tucking, and scrubbing, but after twenty minutes, the room was clean. Whoever stayed there next would be none-the-wiser to what I’d seen. Even though my job sucked, I did it well and took pride in that.
I’d just finished placing the small containers of lemon-scented soap, shampoo, and conditioner on the shelf in the shower when a faint knock came at the door. A fake smile bloomed on my face. It was probably some housewife wanting to steal more coffee from my cart. Why they didn’t just go for it while I was busy was beyond me. They paid enough for their rooms to justify at least a month’s supply of free coffee.
The knock sounded again, louder and more persistent.
I’d made it two more steps before catching a whiff of a familiar scent that told me whoever had knocked wasn’t a housewife on vacay. It was dry like cotton balls, and smelled both ancient and very virile.
Ugh, what does Sherwood want?
Despite wanting nothing to do with the hotelier, I kept the smile on my face as I turned the corner. My boss stood there, dressed to the nines in a tailored, navy suit, polished brown shoes, and a gold pocket square that gave him a pop of color.
“Hi, Sherwood. How can I help you?”
The vampire’s lips tilted up into a sexy and dangerous smirk. It was a smile I’d seen ensnare dozens of human patrons who didn’t realize the danger it posed.
“You can always help me, Marian.” His posh English accent washed over me. “One way or another.” He gave me a pointed look and the subtext was clear.
My fists clenched behind my back. “I meant with hotel work. Not . . . anything else.”
I wanted to scream, No I will not come whore for you, but like always, I swallowed my words.
Las Vegas was a vampire town, and I was a fox-shifter, one of the few left in the area. I had no family or close friends to ask for help; I had to make my own way. Losing this job, when it had taken me ages to get full benefits and a number of raises, would suck.
Plus, Sherwood had only ever suggested that I could make more money working in one of his brothels. As much as I hated that, I understood why he’d offer. A lot of shifter gals worked in brothels. Patrons, even the ones who didn’t know the girls were shifters, couldn’t resist the animalistic side of my kind between the sheets. In short, shifters brought in top dollar. And Sherwood Nottingham, the vampire billionaire, was first and foremost a businessman.
Sherwood shook his head. “A pity for me.” He pulled out his pocket watch and glanced at it. “Albus claims that you are behind on this floor. He says this has been happening often?”
Of course it had. My manager had been assigning me all the bachelor party rooms. But I knew that it was no use complaining. Sherwood always took Albus’s side in work matters, because my manager was his mate’s child. While I suspected that the hotelier didn’t like Albus much either, Vegas was nothing but nepotism at its finest. Especially where vamps were concerned.
“For the last three days, I’ve been running behind. My rooms have needed extra tending.”
“Hmm, well pick up the pace. Anna’s complained that she’s had to cover for you.”
I rolled my eyes. Everything annoyed Anna, including my habit of pinning up only half my hair. The worst part was that she was vocal about the annoyances, even going as far as offering to show me how to do my hair.
And of course if Anna was frustrated, then she’d be less likely to boink Albus in his office. My inability to perform miracles was impeding Albus’ sex life.
“I’ll do my best.”
Sherwood’s eyes drifted to my lips and back up to my eyes. “You know, there are better options than working for Albus.”
Slowly, Sherwood’s hands lifted to my face, and I steeled myself. He tucked a lock of my sandy brown hair behind my ears. “With emeralds like those, you’d be raking in the dough. A lot of girls even grow to like it.”
I repressed the shudder crawling up my spine. Only because they get hooked on the drugs you supply. “I’m good where I am.”
He shrugged. “Better be getting back to work then, Marian.” He turned and drifted down the hall of his empire.
When the hotelier disappeared around the corner, my hand went straight to the necklace hidden beneath my shirt—a silver arrow, about an inch long, that had been my mom’s. Once, a tiny bow had accompanied the arrow, but the people who had cleaned up after my parents’ death had never found it.
The arrow comforted me so much that I never took it off. I even wore it at the hotel, a place where employees were forbidden to wear silver. At first, breaking the rule had terrified me, but for the last five years, no one had noticed. Now I didn’t even question putting it on every morning.
It was an easy risk to take when I was invisible to most people.
The door to my little home swung open with a squeal. I set the groceries on the counter and did a few neck circles.
I needed to go for a run soon. Working as a maid gave me the worst aches and pains, but running the sand dunes in my fox aspect always managed to alleviate them.
Maybe tomorrow, Ada would let me take the children into the desert. Perhaps we could even practice archery. The tyrannical heat had begun to let up, which meant outdoor activities were an option again.
The thought of watching the children run wild and free brought a smile to my face. Despite the orphanage being specifically for shifters, the poor little things weren’t allowed to be in their animal aspects inside. They made too much of a mess. So when they got a little freedom, they really went for it.
I began to hum as I put the groceries away, setting aside the massive box of chocolates I’d bought for the kids. Once that was done, I preheated the oven and slipped a frozen pizza inside before flipping the electric kettle on.
A whistle pierced the air a few minutes later, and I poured the steaming hot water into a mug prepped with a tea bag. Lavender and honey filled my nostrils, calming me and easing my aching muscles. I cupped the warm mug with both hands and took a seat on my sagging couch.
The book I’d been reading sat on the end table. I reached for it, ready to dive into a light romantic comedy, but the book was just out of reach. When I stood to retrieve it, I cracked the window to let in a fresh breeze, and I caught a whiff of a sweet aroma. Something out of place in my home. An old and familiar scent that enlivened every cell in my body. One that had the power to break my heart.
I shivered as memories of Robin and me flashed through my mind.
The time we’d started a rock collection and placed our treasures in Robin’s single, prized possession: a beautiful mahogany box much too pretty to hold dusty rocks.
The day we’d first ridden our bicycles, and I’d had to hold on to his handlebars before he’d even get on the bike.
Sneaking out of the orphanage and running the dunes of Nevada in our fox aspects.
The time that he’d convinced me to help him steal candy bars from the corner market. And when Ada subsequently made us return them with a hand-written apology.
Our first kiss beneath a star-filled sky in the desert.
I sucked in a breath. Thirteen long years later, that kiss still warmed my heart. It was a kiss that had led to countless others, and then more intimate explorations.
He’d been my first in every single way, and despite being apart for four years, a disturbing number of things still reminded me of Robin Hood.
Like goddamn toffee.
I whipped around, forgetting that I’d wanted the cool night breeze to air out my old home, and yanked down the window.
Since the night I’d left Robin, I’d allowed myself to cherish those memories, but never to regret my decision.
Robin had changed. He’d made his priorities clear when he’d chosen the life of a con man over the family we’d hoped to create.
And when he never came chasing after me.
“Be careful, Lila! You don’t want to get a sand burn,” I called to the tiny girl, who had slipped off her black garbage bag and rolled down the dune.
It was going to be a chore getting the sand out of her red curls, but I found it difficult to care. She was having so much fun, just like the rest of the children. Kids needed to run and be wild, and little shifters even more so. They had too much energy to be inside, or even in the orphanage yard all day. The primal part of them begged to be free.
Proving my belief, Elijah, a preteen mountain lion-shifter, burst into his animal aspect and released a monstrous yowl before loping up the hill. I grinned as I watched him weave around the children sledding down the hill.
He reminded me of another free-spirited boy. One who had chased me up and down these hills, shot arrows into the night with me, and laid beside me on these very sands to watch the stars twinkle.
I shook my head. Why was Robin popping into my mind so much lately?
The screech of an eagle cut through my musings, and my eyes shot to the sky. A bald eagle soared above in a perfect figure-eight shape. Recognizing the shifter and the signal he was sending, I threw him a wave. The eagle let out another screech and soared away.
“All right, kids! It’s time to go home. Dinner will be ready in an hour, and you all have a lot of cleaning up to do.”
Lila wrinkled her dirt-caked nose. Her typical reaction to a shower made me chuckle. “Especially you, little coyote. Everyone shift, and we’ll race back!”
The children shifted into their animal aspects, and a zoo of small mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, black bears, one hawk, and even a raccoon appeared in front of me.
“Thank you,” I said, shocked that everyone had listened so quickly. Then again, we had been out here for hours. They were probably starving. I nodded to the larger of the two black bears. “Jazzy, let Robbie ride on your back, will you?”
Jazzy nodded, and a moment later, the raccoon hopped onto her back. I scanned the crowd, making sure everyone else looked capable of keeping up. When I was positive they did, I grinned.
“Let the race begin!” I shifted into fox aspect and dashed toward the orphanage.
Once the kids were all in their rooms and preparing for dinner, I made my way to the kitchen. I hadn’t played as hard as the children, but the run back to the orphanage, a three-mile journey in the sand, had revved up my shifter metabolism. I needed a snack before my meeting with Ada.
Sounds of pots and pans banging met my ears, and my stomach clenched in anticipation. Turning the corner, the doorway to the kitchen came into sight and scents intensified. Someone was making something chocolatey . . .
Brownies?! My stomach rumbled hard when I recognized the scent, and I put some pep in my step. I was about to open the kitchen door when it opened from the other side, and a broad back appeared as a guy waved goodbye to the kitchen staff.
Although I couldn’t see the man’s face, it was plain by his clothes that he didn’t belong here. His jeans cost a quarter of my paycheck. The shirt he wore looked tailored, and his shoes were crafted of rich leather. Who the heck was this guy?
“Thanks for the brownie, Lorna!”
I stiffened at his voice, deep and familiar. No! How is he—?
All my thoughts ceased as Robin turned to face me, his azure gaze taking me in. My hand flew to the arrow pendant I wore, fingers rubbing against the metal for strength.
His eyes flitted down to the necklace for a second before he dragged his gaze up to meet mine, and a charming grin lit up his face. “Fancy seeing you here, Mar! You look great!”
I didn’t answer; actually, I couldn’t. But it didn’t matter, Robin loved to talk, and he kept right on doing it.
“Smelled the brownies too, I take it?”
“I—I . . . Wha—” I stopped and shook my head.
Dammit, why did I have to stutter? Why couldn’t I sound cool and confident?
With a massive effort, I pulled myself together. “What are you doing here, Robin?”
He held up a chocolate square.
My lips pressed together. “You came from . . .” I trailed off, unsure where he lived now. “You came back for brownies?”
Robin’s lips quirked up mischievously. “Of course not. I’m here to see Ada. Heard the orphanage was in a bit of a bind, and thought I could help.”
How had he heard about that? The orphanage had always been just scraping by, but as of late, funds had been dwindling much faster.
“And how are you going to help?”
“Now, Mar, that’s for me to discuss with Ada. But I’m curious, why are you here?”
“I volunteer here twice a week.”
Robin nodded. “Giving back. Sounds like you.” My lips tightened at his familiarity, but Robin didn’t seem to notice. “Anyway, I’ve got to be getting to my meeting. You know how Ada hates waiting. See you around.” He moved to walk around me, but I reached out and grabbed him by the wrist.
A tingle ran up my arms, and I let go nearly as fast as I’d grabbed him.“Wait a minute! You’re not talking to Ada without me around.”
“Why’s that? Do I look like I need a chaperone?” The tiniest edge of steel appeared in Robin’s voice. He’d always hated when others tried to curtail his independence.
“Chaperone, no.” My chin jutted out. “I need to talk to her anyway. You probably don’t realize this, but she’s getting old, and—”
“She tires easily,” Robin cut me off, his tone soft.
I cocked my head. How had he known that?
“Anyway,” Robin said, a little louder this time, “I have an appointment.” He turned and headed down the hall toward Ada’s quarters, leaving me with my lips parted in surprise.
Questions ran through my mind as I walked behind him. What was going on? Why had he been in touch with Ada? Had she ever mentioned me?
I shook the last one free. I needed to get a grip. Robin didn’t want me. If he did, he would have run after me years ago.
And you’ve learned how to manage without him just fine too, I reminded myself.
Robin knocked on Ada’s door, making me rush to catch up. A second later, Ada appeared, dressed in her usual loose pants and tunic. Both were a fun shade of bright red that made her umber skin glow as if she were a woman of thirty instead of sixty-five. Her mouth cracked open in a smile at the sight of Robin, who beamed back and opened his arms wide for a hug.
“You look just like you did the day I left,” Robin said, enveloping Ada’s tiny frame.
“Oh lordy! Boy, you always were too charming for your own good.” Although Ada’s voice was muffled, I could tell she was laughing. “And I see Marian found you. Are you two up to trouble again? Teaching the youngsters fun and games before you came to see old Ada?” She stepped away from Robin, and her gaze went from him to me, her lips quirked up in a nostalgic expression.
I stiffened. Ada knew that Robin and I had broken up, but I’d led her to believe it was more amicable than it had been.
“I just ran into Mar in the hall,” Robin said, not missing a beat. “She was trying to snag a brownie from the Halloween party stash. I set her on the straight and narrow path. Like usual.”
Ada snorted. “I’m not sure who was zig and who was zag in your paths, but you two were never straight and narrow. That much I’m sure of.” She turned and waved for us to follow. “Come on in, double trouble. Have a seat.”
Double trouble. It had been ages since I’d heard the orphanage’s nickname for Robin and me.
“So, Marian, I assume you’re here to give me the rundown.” Ada sat behind her desk. “Would you like to go first?”
I ran through the day, like I did after every volunteer shift. Although I was focusing on Ada while I spoke, I noticed Robin’s eyes light up at my mention of the sand hill. It was so endearing that I almost forgot to be annoyed that he was present.
“So the kids should be all cleaned up,” I finished, then, remembering the brownies, added, “Do you need extra help for the Halloween party tomorrow? I’m not working, and I can—”
“Deary, you’ll work yourself to the bone if I let you.” Ada shook her head. “We’re staffed, and don’t you go running to the Oasis for another shift just cause I won’t let you work.”
“The Oasis, huh?” Robin arched an eyebrow.
“Yes. She works there full-time, more if they let her.” Ada’s face showed a mixture of pride and worry. “Maybe you can use your free day to show Robin here around his hometown. He’s probably forgotten where everything is, he’s been gone so long.”
That was so not happening.
“Okay, but if anyone cancels on the party, call me. You know I can be here in just a few minutes.”
“I know, I know.” Ada sighed and turned to Robin. “Miss Marian has been the most available out of anyone on staff for years. And she technically doesn’t even work here.”
“You need the help,” I countered, annoyed.
“Can’t deny that, deary,” Ada agreed.
“In that case, maybe I can provide some assistance, too. Chip in and help this old girl shine a little more.” Robin’s blue eyes leveled on Ada, and I sensed he was getting to the point of why he was here. “Or at the very least, save her.”
Ada gulped, which made my eyebrows furrow.
“I don’t know how you heard about all this, Robin, but I don’t want to go taking out your life savings or anything . . . and believe me, we need that much.”
What the what? I leaned forward.
“Friends in high places, Ada. Now, how much are we talking? Fifty grand? One hundred?”
My heart leapt into my throat. “Excuse me . . .” I croaked out. “But what the hell is going on here?”
Ada’s attention turned to me, and she looked just as confused as I felt. Then she gasped. “Oh, lordy! I just thought because you two showed up together that Robin would have filled you in. I’m so sorry, dear.” She tutted. “It’s the orphanage. I’ve been trying not to spread it around. No need to scare the children, but we’re in a bit of trouble.”
“A bit?” Robin shook his head. “A developer wants to take advantage of your lack of funding and tear the place down. I’d say that’s more than ‘a bit of trouble’.”
“Yes,” Ada nodded, her eyes weary.
It felt like my heart had stopped beating. “Ada . . . why didn’t you tell me? You know I wouldn’t have mentioned it to the kids.”
I agreed there was no need to put them through that. The facility was an orphanage, but for many who grew up here, this was their first real home—including me.
“I might have been able to help.” There was a frantic note in my voice.
Ada extended her hand over the desk. I placed my palm in hers, just like I’d done many times as a child. She squeezed, and her dark brown eyes pierced through me. “Deary, there was no way I was bringing more pain upon you. You work yourself too hard as it is, and what we owe is so much, there’s no way you could help. I prefer to see you happy and healthy with the children, rather than toiling away for nothing.”
She turned her gaze to Robin. “And I can’t take your money either. It’s not enough and wouldn’t stop the big bad wolf—well, vampire, in this case—from blowing down our door. I hate to say this, but this will be the last year the orphanage is open.”
“You’re not even going to fight for it?” I shot out of my chair, a turmoil of emotions rushing through me so fast that identifying a single one was impossible.
“Just tell us how much you need, Ada.” Robin somehow managed to sound sensible. “Maybe we can come to an agreement with the owner of the land.”
Ada shook her head. “The owner said if we could beat the vamp’s price, he’d sell to us. But it’s pointless. That amount of money has never flowed through these halls. It’s—”
“How much?” Robin placed his hand over both of ours.
A zing of electricity shot through me, but I forced myself to ignore it and held my breath, waiting for Ada’s answer.
She pressed her lips together. “Two million. Apparently our property is valuable because it’s far outside the city, in a pretty area. They want to build a beautiful spa retreat for tourists.”
Someone had sucked all the air out of the room. I collapsed into my chair. Two million?! Who in their right mind would expect an orphanage—a poor shifter orphanage, at that—to come up with that kind of money?
My gaze veered to Robin. He too looked gobsmacked. So he hadn’t known the true extent of the trouble our childhood home was in.
Ada retracted her hand. “As you see, it’s quite a substantial donation we’d be needing. And while I appreciate that both of you want to help, I can’t take your money.”
“There has to be something we can do,” Robin said.
“There is,” Ada gave Robin a gentle smile. “Why don’t you use that money you were going to donate and take Marian here out to get the kids new clothing? Every single one of them needs a few things, and Marian knows their sizes and tastes. As we may need to relocate the children soon, it would be best if they looked presentable when they arrive at their new homes.” She choked on the final words.
Robin nodded and stood. “We’ll do that, won’t we, Mar?”
Still shell-shocked, I didn’t even think to try to get out of what Ada had suggested. I simply followed Robin from the room.
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”