Synopsis: Stories within stories. Secrets within secrets. In accepting powers from the legendary witch Baba Yaga, Anne must tackle a complex set of missions: Discover the secret of their enemy's newfound immortality; decide whether she can kill him to free her family from a vicious curse; come to terms with the magic that now resides inside her; and finally find true love with Ethan. The riveting conclusion to the trilogy that began with Dreaming Anastasia.
Guest Post: What’s Love Got to Do with It?: The Anne/Ethan Romance
The guiding force of the DREAMING ANASTASIA series is the relationship between Anne and Ethan. Anne knows from the second she catches blue-eyed Ethan stalking her at the ballet that there is just something about him. And in fact, he proceeds to turn her life upside and sideways because it is Ethan who peels back Anne’s normal world and reveals a world of Russian fairy tales brought to life, of a hidden princess and an illegitimate royal son driven by vengeance. When they touch – and I always knew that their story would begin with a physical touch setting things in motion—everything changes.
Anne is no longer just the girl who dances ballet and goes to school and mourns the death of her brother to cancer. She is a girl with power to save a princess, power to right ancient wrongs and ultimately, the power to break a curse that is holding her birth grandmother captive. But power comes with a steep price. And when Anne accepts Baba Yaga’s bargain so she can save Ethan in book 2, she steps into the witch’s forest in a way she has up until then refused to do. Of course, I wanted her to do this for love, even if she has trouble admitting that’s what it is.
This is problem for Anne and Ethan: they do not come easily to loving each other. Or rather, Ethan comes easily to loving Anne, even if he feels that he does not deserve her or a second chance at life. Which is exactly what she gives him when she rides out of the witch’s forest with Anastasia, allowing Ethan to regain his mortality. While Viktor yearns to live forever, Ethan wants only to have what he lost for a cause that was never what he believed it to be: to live and die in the proper time. That he has found the love of his life makes him both deliriously happy as well as guilty as hell.
And Anne, well, she’s a smart girl. Even when she’s not, she has Tess watching her back, making sure she sees things as they are. Anne sees loving Ethan as an impossibility. He is too old even if he looks young. He has secrets and a long, long past. She is only sixteen. And yet I think she loves him from the moment he tells her his story. But she holds back; she is indecisive. In fact, these traits hurt her in all aspects of her life. She has trouble committing. Ethan, on the other hand, is an all-in kind of guy.
So what did I do to these two? I made them inhabit a reverse fairy tale. It is Anne who ends up saving Ethan over and over. It is Anne who is the hero. And ultimately, it is Ethan (no spoilers for book 3 quite yet) who needs redemption and forgiveness before he and Anne can be together. A happily ever after, but hard won. And not without suffering and sacrifice. This is after all, a Russian fairy tale. No one knows endurance like the Russians.
And so it goes: Ethan and Anne, circling and circling love, each running from the other, each doing the hero’s job. The question becomes, will they figure out that they belong together before it’s too late?
Of course they will!
But with these two, love isn’t simple. I think that makes them equal parts of smart and stupid. Not forbidden love. Not crazy love where the passion burns out everything else—and I think we all need some of that in our lives.
When Anne and Ethan finally figure out that they belong together, it will be a love that entwines them like two puzzle pieces, marveling at how perfectly and easily they fit. And how foolish they were not to know it.
Here is a bit of background on the scene from Joy:
“The Anastasia Forever deleted scene is my favorite. I had originally envisioned Anne turning into a full blown Baba Yaga much earlier. And so I wrote this scene where she and Ben and Tess and Ethan all go to that Swedish film festival, but in the middle of the story. And there's all this wonderful tension and just at the moment that Ben decides to confront Anne about Ethan and her feelings, Anne realizes that smelling Ben's cologne is making her hungry. Really hungry. And well, she almost eats him. And after that much wackiness ensued. But in the end, I didn't go this route. But it is fun to see what might have been had my editor seen it.”
We stop at the base of the Grand Staircase - all pretty marble and elegant looking. I’ve always loved those stairs – regal in a way that most things aren’t these days. Once when I was five, David chased me up and down the stairs until we were both red-faced and out of breath and Mom was pissed that we wouldn’t settle down and let her show us the paintings. The stairs were more fun.
“My stomach hurts,” Tess observes.
“It should,” Ben comments testily. “You just ate your body weight in Red Vines.” Then to all of us: “Coffee’s in the other building if that’s what you want.” Since we walked into the lobby, he’s been directing his comments sort of generally into the air.
“In a minute. Let’s run to the top. I need to stretch.” I don’t wait for group agreement, just lope up the stairs and assume they’ll follow me, which after a few beats, they do.
On the second floor landing, I stretch my arms into classic ballet third position – arms over my head, elbows rounded, palms inward but fingers not touching. My gladiator sandals aren’t the best footwear for this, and I’m wearing a pair of gray cargo pants and a short white tee – hardly ballet clothes - but that’s okay. Until I’d started back subbing at Miss Amy’s, I’d forgotten in the mess that is my life, how much I love dance.
“Your form needs work,” Tess says. She rises up on her toes as much as she can in her black Chucks and skinny jeans and pirouettes around me. She’s a way better dancer than I am these days, even goofing around. Of the two of I us, I’d always been more focused and disciplined. Not any more.
“Coffee?” Ethan asks again. “Wasn’t that the plan?” I know he thinks this is a waste of time – and also dangerous since everything’s at risk for girls who make bargains with witches. Ben needs to man up and move on. But I can’t just push Ben under the metaphor bus like that, and I’m sure he knows this.
I ignore his cranky tone and try out my arabesque - also in need of some serious work.
“Let’s get that coffee.” It’s Ben’s turn to sound cranky. He beckons toward the stairs. “You know that first movie won an award at Sundance. It’s really--”
“Your after shave is really strong.” The comment pops out of nowhere and I feel my cheeks redden. What a stupid thing to say. But suddenly the smell of his cologne is all I can think of. My stomach rumbles, embarrassingly loud. Maybe I should have had some of that popcorn.
I jump on the coffee train. “You know what? A latte would be great right now.”
I’ve just spent almost four hours trying not to fall into a coma while watching Swedish people look unhappy and occasionally have sex in metro bus stations and in one instance, a barn. My fingers feel all tingly. My skin feels sticky and clammy. Am I having a panic attack?
Other museum-goers stream around us. The light overhead through the huge skylight dims noticeably. I look up. Thick gray clouds. The faint sound of thunder rumbles. My heart kicks into overdrive. Am I about to throw up? Maybe it’s the flu.
“You want to talk,” Ben says. “So let’s talk. You’re right. I can’t keep pretending all those things didn’t happen. I dream about them, you know that? Your boss, Mrs. Benson? Those things – those mermaid things – they surrounded her. I heard them breaking her into pieces. You know that, right?”
“Ben.” I’m feeling sicker now, but I try to focus. But Ben doesn’t want to be interrupted. He glances at Ethan - something dangerous brewing in his eyes and the set of his jaw.
“Outside,” I gasp. What the hell is wrong with me?
“Anne?” Ethan’s voice rises above the buzzing in my head, but I ignore him, too.
I turn and stumble down the stairs. My ears are ringing. Or is it just the thunder getting louder? I shouldn’t be doing this. But I can’t seem to think of anything but putting distance between myself and Ben. In my head, I see us a few weeks ago – my hands burning his face. Me running then, too, and calling Ethan.
I’m in the lobby now, shoulder against the heavy front doors of the Art Institute. Out onto the cement landing and then down the stairs - running onto Michigan Avenue. It starts to rain – small drops that get larger and fatter, falling on my head, my face, my hands. Even in my panic – it is pure panic right now, mixed with something else I can’t identify – I wonder if it’s somehow me that’s making it rain.
“Anne!” All three of them are calling my name – Ben and Tess and Ethan. The sound of it echoes in the air around me.
On the sidewalk, standing between the two huge lion statues that flank the Art Institute steps – the ones David and I used to love to shimmy so we could straddle their backs while Dad snapped pictures - I force myself to stop. This is ridiculous. Why am I running? What is it that I’m afraid of? My heart skips then steadies, then skips again. That weird feeling skates the inside of my stomach.
I turn. Ben’s reached me first and he puts his hands on my shoulders. His hair is wet from the rain and a drizzle of water inches down the side of his face.
“Should I be afraid?” he asks, his face serious now, his brown eyes locked on mine.
It’s the question that sparks everything inside me like a lit match falling on dry wood. Not What’s wrong? or What do you need? But “Should I be afraid?”
“Ben,” I say slowly because I understand now what’s happening and I don’t know if I can stop it. “I think you need to run. I think you need to do it now.”
He stares at me like I’m crazy. “What are talking about?”
“You need to get away from me,” I say again, but I can see that he’s not going to. That even after everything he’s seen, he still doesn’t get it. “Oh God, Ben. Go. Ethan!” I look blindly around me and even though I’m sure Ethan is right there, my vision is red and hazy and I can barely make him out. “Oh no. Ethan. You have to--”
I’m her then, not completely, but more Baba Yaga than me. Her power stretches inside me, a spiderweb of fury. I clench my fists; try to hold it back.
Ben doesn’t get it yet – how could he? He presses a hand to my cheek, palm against my skin.
“You’re burning up,” he says. And all I can think is how good he smells. How good he’ll taste.
Ben pulls his hand back. I lean toward him, my face close to his. Someone – Ethan maybe? Maybe him and Tess? – tries to pull me back, but I’m too strong. I hold my ground. Watch the confusion in Ben’s eyes.
No one should underestimate your power, says a voice inside me that sounds like Baba Yaga’s.
Anne, says another voice that I think is Ethan. Don’t. Don’t give in to it. Hold on.
“Can’t what, Anne? Anne, are you okay?” Ben sounds scared.
I try to stop. I really do. But I can’t. Or maybe I don’t want to. This scares me more than the sound of Ben’s voice.
Lightning, I think.
It shears through the sky.
Thunder, I think.
It crashes overhead.
Roar, I think.
And the two lion statues open their mouths and howl.
I press my lips to Ben’s. Will him not to pull back. His eyes widen as I sink my teeth into his lower lip – hard, then harder - until I draw blood. I lick it from his lip. Swallow. My stomach muscles ripple, seize, ripple again. My jaw loosens; the bones pop. My breath comes in ragged gasps. Pain. Red hot and everywhere.
“Anne!” I hear my name again. “Anne.”
My jaw loosens some more. I press my lips shut, a tight seam, desperate to stop it. My teeth dig into my lower lip so hard that blood starts to trickle. The taste of it mingles with the taste of Ben. The combination is suddenly the best thing I’ve ever tasted. I’m not just hungry anymore. I’m ravenous.
Understand crashes through me. No. God no. If I open my mouth, it will unhinge like hers. I know it. I know it. It’s not Ben’s cologne. It’s just Ben. He smells so good because he smells like food. And if someone doesn’t do something right this second, I’m going to eat him whole.
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