Sunday, March 18, 2018

Legions 2 beginning

I admit, it has been a very long time since I've written anything, and it's something that I miss doing so much. The snippet below is a part of what I started to write for my 2nd Legions of Fate book, though it's something I wrote quite a while ago, so I've only recently edited it a bit. I hope you enjoy!

Jared couldn’t believe he was actually looking at her. After all this time, Kate Bennett was less than a foot away from him. And not just any Kate Bennett…Kate Madison Bennett. A woman who’d proved difficult to not only pinpoint from genealogical reports, but also to find in real life. It was bad enough that she’d gone off the grid for the last year, but the fact that it was his fault made his life with the Legions a living hell for the last 365 days. But, as he’d expected, she had come out of whatever hole she’d stashed herself in and had finally deigned to join the land of the living.
Not that she looked all that lively at the moment. She was downing, what…her eighth drink already? She had already drawn snickers and whispered comments from the restaurant’s waiters and waitresses, who currently had a bet going on what time she’d hurl all over their floor.
Jared shifted in his bar stool, glancing at Kate from the corner of his eye as she huddled over her plate, sniffling at the picture she gripped tightly between her thumb and forefinger.
“Kate,” her dad berated quietly, awkwardly trying to avoid more attention. “I know its tough, but you’ve got to get a hold of yourself. You’ve already had too much to drink tonight, and that’s no way to work through your grief.”
“What do you know?” She drew the back of her hand across her face, wiping away her tears. “I tried, you know. I really tried. I just don’t think I can do this anymore.” Her forehead dropped onto her crossed arms, her hair barely missing the mashed potatoes and gravy. Kate lifted her head once more, wiping her tears away again before she turned her head toward her father on the left side of her. “You still have Mom, and you still have me. You don’t know how this feels.”
Jared winced at the pure torment in her voice and in her very demeanor. He’d seen the pictures of the car when it had been pulled from Forestport Reservoir. The car had not only driven off the bridge into the water, but the reservoir’s bed had done insurmountable damage during the crash.
“Besides,” Kate continued with a shrug, “it’s worked pretty well for me for the last twelve months.”
“That’s no way to live, Kate. Drinking yourself into a stupor, while you’re hiding away at the cabin? What happened to running? You love to run.”
The cabin? Jared thought. That’s where she’d been? He hadn’t even known her family owned a cabin. Had he and the Legions known, he could have reached her months ago instead of wallowing in his own failed attempt; watching other Legions shake their heads at him in mock sympathy. Those who’d never lost a charge.
He was no idiot. Even now there were others nearby, watching and waiting for him to screw up again. Waiting for him to miss his chance at sending Kate back in time.
Just then, waiters and waitresses shuffled from the kitchen doorway, the leading waitress balancing a plate with a slice of cake on her palm. The employees following her had already started clapping as they made their way through the bar and around the corner to a large table of customers, who had started clapping in rhythm as a birthday song was sung.
Kate’s father excused himself then as he made his way toward the bathroom. The poor guy had tried probably a thirty times to get Kate out of the restaurant; out of view of other people as she experienced a complete meltdown. And yet, all Jared could think was: Here it is. The best chance I’ve had for a year.
He nudged the pocket watch on the bar slowly toward her as he leaned in, slowly so that she might not notice, and offered her a smile. “Sounds like you could use another drink. Mind if I buy you one?”
Kate’s eyes bugged momentarily as she looked in Jared’s direction, almost as though she’d been surprised there was someone there. “I’ll take one if you’re offering,” she slurred before tossing back the last of her drink. “Just know it’s not going to lead to anything. I’m sure you’re a nice guy and all, but—”
Jared lifted a hand and shook his head. “It’s not like that. I can just tell you need another one.” He looked at the bartender. “Another one of whatever she’s having, and can I get my bill?”
“You got it,” the bartender said, immediately grabbing a new glass and pouring Kate’s drink. After setting it on a coaster, he shuffled off to the computer to print off his bill.
She wasted no time in bringing the glass to her lips. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” Jared threw some cash down on the bar after seeing his total due. Standing up, he slid his bar stool back under the counter. “Don’t worry ma’am. I have a feeling things will be looking up for you soon.” He gave her a smile and strode away.
“It can’t get any worse,” she muttered, almost imperceptibly.
He reached the first set of doors and walked through as the hostess held one open for him. Please pick it up, please pick it up.
“Hey!” Kate yelled.
Jared rushed through the other door and turned left as he reached the sidewalk.
Kate’s voice called out from behind him. “Hey, uh…sir. You forgot this.”
He turned, meeting her eyes as she more or less stumbled toward him. She would have caught up to him easily under normal circumstances. Then again, under normal circumstances her mind would have already picked up on the fact that something was wrong.
Kate’s progress slowed and her brows furrowed as she peered down at her hand.
Come on, come on…hurry. There was no one on the sidewalk that could see anything; but that didn’t mean a million things couldn’t go wrong: a customer could look out the window, or Kate’s dad could waltz out of the door, a driver could pass by on the street, or for the love of God, a customer could head toward the restaurant seeking a bite to eat—any of which could witness the inexplicable phenomenon of someone disappearing into thin air. None of it mattered to him at the moment; it was a chance he had to take. Not that he had any choice now.

“Hey…wha…ow! What the hell!” She tried to fling the watch from her hand, but it had already latched onto her skin. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she began to crumple to the ground. Just before her body hit the ground, she completely disappeared. He knew she hit the ground somewhere though, just way, way in the past.

Sunday, March 4, 2018


This story felt different than what I've written in the past. It could be that I haven't written anything in just about as long as my last post. Shoot. I hope you like it. 

“What are we going to do?”

I look at him, the moon making his dark skin pale. Tilting his head to see me, the light gleams in his eyes like the flashlights we lost two days ago. I know he expects me to reassure him. That’s what I’ve done every step of this horrific journey. From the weeks stowed away on the cargo ship, to the days in the detention center in Djert, across Pyom, through Traunto, and now in this godless jungle. I’ve run out of things to tell him, ways to comfort him. I don’t want to talk at all. I have nothing left to say. I lost that desire when we ate our last bit of food yesterday. So I rub his hair, so long it curls into his ears now.

It’s enough. He wraps his arms around my leg and is quiet. I hear voices in the distance. I haven’t decided if they’re actually hunting us or if we’re dumb enough to be going in the same direction. It was only because Paulo had to relieve himself two minutes before the guerillas came into our camp that we escaped. We heard the screaming first. The cries of fear, the pleas for mercy. If the other immigrants knew what waited for them, they would rather have died. I know I would. As Paulo and I hid in the brush, I heard what the guerillas said.

“Make sure you pay that coyote extra for his work. This is a larger group than usual.”

“I’m not paying him anything extra. This group was smart enough to stick together. That’s why more of them survived than the other groups.”

“The markets are going to like the Mirna women we netted this time.”

Kohsoom and her sister. My stomach sank to my knees. She spent two years learning Sterno so that when she got to Sternilla, she would be able to find work. It was her optimism that strengthened my legs when there wasn’t anything left for me to give. The dreams she had of her new life were so beautiful that I could close my eyes and see that world she wove and not the starving faces around me. Now those faces I’d struggled with, fought for survival with were filled with terror.

“And the kids. Five is more than we’ve had to sell for months.”

Paulo whimpered next to me in the brush. I don’t think he understood the old Boristo language they spoke, but the air changed then. It got darker somehow.

I calmly put my hand over his mouth and we waited. We waited for them to leave. We waited to make our escape.  But the guerillas weren’t in any hurry to go anywhere. They just lay down and posted watches over their new slaves. We waited until the fires went out and all we could see were shadows against the darkness. It wasn’t until the shadows stopped moving for thousands of breaths that I dared move. Slower than the sloths overhead, we moved away from the camp and into the dark of the jungle. Not too far though. The animals out here would kill us just as easily as those rifles would. We climbed a tree and tried to sleep.

That was a wasted effort. Neither one of us closed our eyes for a second. Abandoning that idea, we climbed back down and in the gray dawn, we moved north. That’s where our destination was. We had to get there. If only to defy this hell. There’s no way I was going to let all this sacrifice be for nothing, to just die here where no one will ever find me. My family gave me all the money they could to help me get this far. That won’t be wasted. I will survive this. And I will be successful. In Sternilla.

As I think of what to do, I hear them again. The voices of the guerillas are muffled in the undergrowth. It’s hard to tell how far behind us they are. I don’t think we can outrun them. Paulo’s shoes wore out a day after the “guide” abandoned us just inside the jungle. His legs, skinny before, are skeletal. We’ve got to find a place to hide.

I take us right, off the nearly invisible trail we’ve been following. Every step has to be intentional now. With roots, undergrowth, vegetation, snakes, and any number of animals that could be crawling on the ground, we move cautiously. I count every step, mark every tree on our detour. We have to be able to find our way back. Or we really will be lost here forever.

Having gone far enough, I pull Paulo behind a huge tree trunk and we wait. Again. The voices get closer, louder. Then we fall to the ground. The roar of an engine in front of the trail we left startles us. The ground rumbles under the heavy wheels. A truck.

Shouts and orders to climb in come from the guerillas. I’m tempted to run out and beg for a ride. To civilization, to anywhere but here. But I know where they’re going. Human markets would be one of the only places that could surpass this place in depravity. So I stay and listen to the cries. I wish I could help them. But I’m only one person. I have to protect Paulo. I’m not much, but I’m the only thing keeping him alive. I can’t leave him.

Leaves rustle as the truck grinds away. Still, we wait. Until the sounds of the jungle creatures come to life again. I count our steps back in the direction we fled. I find the path and we walk twenty more steps. And the jungle disappears behind us. No more trees. No more undergrowth. Just open fields and empty space. I stare at the sky above us. Blue, clear. I can see it. My breath catches in my chest. 

Paulo slumps to the ground beside me.

We’re alive. We made it. Not to Sternilla yet, but having left the jungle behind, I feel we can conquer anything.

A man speaks behind me.
“Leaves for shoes.” He’s looking at Paulo’s feet. We strapped the leaves to his feet to protect them the best we could.

“That’s why the tracks were so strange,” another man says, stepping from the jungle next to him.

“We’ve been tracking you two a while.” They both smile, teeth rotten and black.

I can’t move. My mouth won’t work. A ringing starts in my ears. I feel the ground shake beneath my feet again. The truck is coming back. They’ve known about us all along. No. This isn’t how this is supposed to end. I haven’t fought this hard this long just to end up in the sex slave market. This is why I left my home in the first place. It was either starve, work in the market, or leave. I did what I could. I’ve tried my hardest. This isn’t going to happen to me.

I look at Paulo. He and I had talked about this before. He has already been in the market. He risked everything to run when I told him I was leaving.

Standing slowly on his stick thin legs, he steps toward the men.

I follow him.

They raise their guns in warning.

It’s not a warning to us. It’s a welcoming embrace. This is our only option now.

We continue our advance. Paulo reaches out for the first man’s rifle. The man yanks it away while his companion swings his rifle away from me and fires at Paulo. I don’t know if it hit him or not. Paulo doesn’t stop wrestling for the rifle. The man stumbles.

I jump on the man in front of me. We’re either going to get their guns or we’re going to die. Either way, we’re not getting on that truck. The rifle muzzle is pointed up, away from me. I need to change that. I climb up the man’s arm, trying to bring the ball into my heart. He headbutts me and I slide to the ground. On top of Paulo. I don’t know if he’s hurt or dead. Shaking my head, I try again, try for that gun.

The man points it at me. “Another move and I’ll kill you.”

I lunge at him. The blast of the barrel is blinding and deafening. I don’t feel hurt. Did he miss? How could he miss? I was an inch in front of the barrel. My legs buckle underneath me. I don’t feel pain. I fall, my face in front of Paulo’s. His eyes stare blankly at me. He’s done it. He’s escaped to a place he’ll never suffer again. No one will control his body ever again. I raise my hand to my chest. It’s warm and wet, blood flowing with every slow pump of my heart.

I look at the blue sky. No one will ever own me either. I’m free. I’m free.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A Dead Heart

Wow! So it's been a while. Like almost exactly a year from the last time I, or any of us for that matter, posted on here. Well, we're going to change that. Again. And this time it will stick. We hope. ;)
So, I'm not really supposed to post this story yet because the person I wrote it for hasn't even read it yet. But...I just can't help myself. My twin sister had this super cool dream that I just couldn't stop thinking about after she told it to me. So, for her Christmas present, yep I'm that late delivering, I decided to write a short story about her dream. Happy reading!

The party was already in full swing when I finally forced myself to leave the shelter of my room and brave the crowd that would swarm me the moment I made my appearance. I got lucky on my way down and made it to the entry way of the large ballroom without being noticed. Taking advantage of the momentary solitude, I stood half hidden behind a large plant, surveying the scene before me without interruption.
Extravagance and luxury met my eyes and I felt my stomach churn at the sight of so many wasted resources that were needed elsewhere in our lands. Women were dressed in their finest gowns, not a hair out of place and best manners on display, while the men, dressed equally as elegant, had no such concerns for their manners and many a boisterous laugh could be heard throughout the room.
I spotted several people that I longed never to see again, let alone on this night, and I almost turned back to my quarters. Leaning my head against the cool stone, I closed my eyes against the fresh wave of tears that came at seeing everyone so happy and free when I felt so trapped and broken.
Why did we have to do this every year? We won a war five years ago; couldn’t we just build a museum or a monument to remember that fateful day? Why did we have to broadcast the final battle?
As if living through it wasn’t bad enough, I had to watch the painful events unfold, all my sins of that day laid bare for the world to see. Every. Single. Year. It was too much. This night was too much.
A hand on my arm startled me from my thoughts. Years of training kicked into action as I assessed my threat, my entire body tense and ready to attack.
“Are you hiding, Lady Stonewell?” came the warm voice that belonged to the hand on my arm. I forced myself to relax and returned her smile with as genuine one as I could. It wasn’t much.
“Countess Barlow, how nice to see you again. I’m not hiding, more like…contemplating,” I replied, shaking my head at my own idiocy. She laughed loudly, and I resisted the urge to shush her, so she wouldn’t draw attention to me.
“My dear, what do you have to contemplate? The moment you set foot in that room, you’re going to be surrounded by men who want to dance with you, or marry you if you’d pick one, and women that want to dress like you, act like you, be you. What are you waiting for?” she tilled merrily.
For everyone to realize what a fake I am. To wake up from this horrible nightmare and have my best friend still be alive, I thought. To her I said, “Just catching my breath before the excitement of the night begins.”
This time her laugh did draw others to us and I mentally prepared myself for the onslaught of attention I didn’t want or deserve. Every congratulations was a reminder of what I’d lost five years ago and every action I took that day would be retold to me over and over, as if I wasn’t the one who was actually there. All the while I had to pretend to be amused.
 “Lady Stonewell, how lovely you look tonight! Blue is the perfect color to offset your beautiful blonde hair!”
“And your brown eyes! I wish I had brown eyes like yours.”
“Good evening, Lady Stonewell. May I have this dance?”
“May I have the next one?”
“And I the next after that?”
“A toast to Lady Aryia Stonewell, for giving us back our future!”
I plastered the smile I had mastered over the years for exactly this night on my ridged face, as I walked through the sea of people, all waiting for me. My feet itched to take me back to my empty room where I could mourn this day properly instead of being forced to celebrate it. But I was a soldier and no matter how much it broke my heart, I would be their hero again tonight if that’s what they needed.
Taking my partner’s hand for the first dance, I tried to be as charming as everyone thought I was. I smiled and exchanged pleasantries with the man across from me, but I had a hard time pretending to be interested in anything he had to say.
There were balloons and decorations with the numerical sign for five hung all over the pillars and tables. Five years since the final battle that ended our three-year long war. Five years since I lost my best friend and the real reason we won. But there would be no mention of him tonight and it made my chest ache.
Though we celebrated this night every year, this one was different for me. I had this childish fantasy that he was still out there somewhere, alive, and making his way home. But I knew now that wasn’t the case. I knew him better than I knew myself and he would’ve moved heaven and earth to get back to me by now.
I gave myself five years to hope. Five years for him to show up if he were alive. I realized now what a huge mistake that was. I knew it back then, but I couldn’t face the truth. The moment we got separated I felt his connection to me go out. Like a switch being turned off, and for five long years, it’s never once flickered or given the slightest hint of being there.
Why had I just prolonged the devastation that had been waiting for me? I could have been healing for five years and maybe this party would have been a normal celebration of our victory, instead of the crushing weight on my heart that always left me empty and hollow.
“Where are you in that beautiful head of yours?” asked a deep, gravelly voice. I came out of my thoughts to find a different man standing in front of me than the one I was just with. I felt the color rise to my cheeks and tried to remember how I’d let such a thing happen without my notice. I took his outstretched hand and we began to dance with everyone else.
“My apology, sir. This night is always a long one for me and I must’ve been caught up in my memories.”
“No apology is needed, I assure you. I can only imagine what it’s like being forced to remember the night you took out an entire army single-handedly.”
I smiled tightly at his remark as I tried to figure out if that was meant to be a compliment. It almost seemed more like an accusation, but I couldn’t think why this man would be accusing me of anything. I didn’t even know him. As inconspicuously as I could, I took a closer look at my dance partner. I don’t remember ever seeing him before tonight, but that wasn’t entirely unusual, as I didn’t pay a lot of attention to those around me.
He was wearing a black evening jacket with a light grey waist coat underneath and matching black slacks. He was older than me by almost a decade, if I had to guess, but he was still quite striking with his jet-black hair and green eyes. A thick, white scar lined the underside of his jaw on the left, ending just before his chin.
“Forgive me, I didn’t catch your name, Mr…?” I trailed off.
“For being the goddess among men tonight, you sure do ask forgiveness a lot, Lady Stonewell. Do you always carry around so much guilt or is tonight a special occasion?”
His tone was still playful but there was an edge to it that made the hair on my arms stand on end. I stiffened, and he pulled me closer, like he was worried I was going to try and leave.
“I-I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you—"
“The way they worship you, it’s like you were the only one fighting the war. Well, not everyone has forgotten what else happened that night,” he said, all pretenses gone. “What about the thousands that died trying to defend you before you figured out how to tap into your power? Why are their faces not plastered to the screens, instead of just yours?”
 I felt my stomach drop like a stone and tried, unsuccessfully, to take a full breath. These were all questions I had wondered myself. But having them laid bare before me felt like the greatest slap in the face.
I made to move, but he held me firmly in place, forcing me to face some of my deepest fears. I knew I could probably get away if I tried hard enough, but I didn’t want to cause a scene.
“Why are they left to be forgotten while you’re made into a legend? Do you even think about them anymore? About the people who died? Do you ever think about him?” he asked softly in my ear, sending chills down my back. This time when I pulled away, he let me.
If he wanted to cut to the core of me, he’d done it. I don’t know how he knew about him, most people didn’t, but there was no mistaking the look in his eyes as he stood there glaring at me. Accusing me. And he danced with me so he could remind me about him.
I felt my chest heaving with the effort to get my breathing under control. “Yes,” I finally choked out. “Not a day goes by where I don’t think about all the men who were killed, waiting for me. I think about how it could’ve been different, how I would’ve changed things, so they could have lived. So he could have lived, instead of me. And every single night I dream about him coming home, even though I know he’s gone.” I felt the stinging behind my eyes, but it was too late to stop the tears from coming now. “Yes, I think about him.”

                                *Copyright Jayne L. Bowden*

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Red Queen's Fight

Here's the second part of A Desperate Move. Neither of these were meant to be written, but they happened anyway. I had to know what happened next and the characters gladly told me. Forgive the raw writing, but that's not my focus as this was a just a practice piece.

I knew he would find me. He always did. It was one of the many things I loved about him, despite his being a controlling, untrusting, arrogant beast.
Not to mention, there weren’t a lot of hiding places in the palace where he grew up that he didn’t already know about. At least this one was completely private so we could fight and not worry about who overheard us. Because we were definitely going to fight.
I had been staring out the small window, watching the roiling sea, when I heard the loud creak of the door open and close behind me. I knew it was him and I had to force myself to hold still and wait for him to come to me.
I had stumbled upon this hidden room by accident when I was looking for something to wear. It was just off the Queen’s wing of the castle, hidden behind a wall of beautiful dresses. The room was cozy, with little furnishings except a large, extravagant settee by the fireplace and a bookshelf, full to the brim with books.
“Thaila,” Canton said from behind me. “I’m glad I found you, I want a chance to explain---” But I didn’t give him that chance. Having changed into my battle gear, I was free to attack him without the restriction of my skirt and corset.
I was surprised that Canton hadn’t noticed it first thing or he would have known what was about to happen. Even so, when I swung my leg at his torso, he managed to block it with minimal impact to his chest.
Still, the hit felt good and I immediately circled so I could take another shot. Canton frowned, but kept me in his sights, moving in a circle as well so I wouldn’t be able to sneak behind him.
“Thaila, stop this. I don’t want to fight you,” he said sternly. I hated that tone. So patronizing, like when my mother would scold me for doing something a princess shouldn’t do. My whole life I had been told what I could and couldn’t do. Why would I think it would be different in my marriage?
“You don’t want to fight me. You don’t want me to go with you. What about what I want? When does that ever come into the equation, or has that thought never even crossed your mind?” I asked him. His scowl deepened and he growled something incoherent.
“Of course, I think about what you want! But you want things I can’t---”
I lunged at him again and managed to strike him in the jaw before he grabbed my wrists and pinned them behind my back. This move infuriated me more than anything else. It gave him complete access to me and left me vulnerable.
He didn’t waste any time in taking advantage of my position and before I could so much as take a breath, his lips were on mine, searing me with their heat and intensity. I knew it was only a matter of time before I completely succumbed to my desire for him. I had to move now.
He started to push me toward the wall, one hand going to my hip and the other holding my hands back. I let him, as if he had already won me over, and just before my back hit the wall, I yanked my hands free, ducking away from his reach and kicking him in the back.
He slammed into the bookshelf, scattering books all over the ground, and grunted as he pushed himself away and turned to face me. I felt a satisfied smirk on my face. He may be immortal, but he still felt pain. And right now, I wanted him to feel pain.
There was a fire in his eyes that made my heart beat fast and irregular. I knew that look; he was done playing nice. Now he would fight back. Now I would be able to show him how capable I was of taking care of myself.
He wiped a drop of blood from the corner of his mouth in a slow, deliberate move, never taking his eyes off me. It was meant to intimidate me and in truth, it did. But that just made my anger burn brighter and I moved again before he could toy with me further.
He was ready for me, knowing I would grow impatient, and when I crouched to take out his legs, he tackled me to the ground, pinning me underneath the weight of his body.
I screamed in frustration and tried to lift my knee in a move that was low, even for me. But he pinned my leg with his much stronger one and I was immobile. Keeping my legs and arms restrained, he lifted his chest off mine so he could look at my face.
I glared up at him, daring him to say that this was the reason I couldn’t go. He stared back at me with the same intense look in his eyes that first captured my heart. A look I knew meant his entire world was focused solely on me.
“Thaila,” he growled in a low voice that completely undid me. “I know you’re upset and I don’t blame you, but you will hear me out!”
I continued to struggle against him, periodically testing my legs and arms to see if I could get one of them away long enough to do some damage.
I didn’t want to hear what he had to say. He embarrassed me in front of all those people in the courtroom and refused to see reason, even when he knew how much it meant to me.
“My reasoning for not wanting you to come along has nothing to do with your capability as a fighter,” he ground out, still struggling to hold me in place. “I know you’re more than capable of taking me on, you already proved that when you nearly succeeded in ending my life. But I can’t lose you, Thaila!”
This time I did stop struggling against him. We were both breathing heavily from the exertion of our fight and our quick breathes were loud in the silent room.
“Please. Listen,” he asked me gently. I was still wired and ready to fight, but I would at least give him a chance to try and explain his behavior. I nodded my head and he slowly arose, ready to pin me back down at the slightest indication I wouldn’t keep my word.
Which was tempting.
Reaching his hand out to me, I let him pull me up after him, but quickly turned back to the small window so his stormy eyes couldn’t try to persuade me to see his side of things. I wanted to hear his words, hear what was so important, he wouldn’t grant me this small thing I asked of him.
“Do you remember the day we fought together against the Green Kingdom?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I whispered.
“I can’t think of a time when I was ever more scared, than in that moment when I first saw you out there, fighting alongside all those men. The very sight of you knocked my breath away. You were fierce and strong and beautiful and more than just the princess who fought for her kingdom. The passion I saw in your eyes as you battled for the greater good of your people, was the moment I knew I wouldn’t be able to live without you by my side.”
He paused and I wanted to turn around and run to him. I didn’t. As nice as his words were to hear, it didn’t satiate my anger. I still needed to know why it was so important that I not be a part of this mission. He sighed when I didn’t turn around and I imaged him rubbing his goatee in frustration.
            “That feeling has only grown stronger, Thaila. As my wife, I’ve come to understand you in a way I only dreamed of being able to. Your kindness, your witty humor, your patience. If something happened to you…” he broke off as if the thought alone was too painful. I sucked in a deep breath, trying to control the emotions that were stirring dangerously close to the surface.
“If something happened to you, I would be a lost, broken man. My reasons for living would no longer be strong enough to keep me here and I would follow you to the afterlife and anywhere else you decided to go after that,” he finally finished. I had to choke back a sob that threatened to escape. The thought of him going through with that was too painful to contemplate.
I finally turned around and faced him. His dark eyes were shimmering in the low setting sun and his face was full of pain and anguish.
“So, that is my offer. If I agree to let you come along, and something happens to you, you agree to let me follow you, wherever you may go.”
I stared at my husband, so tall and strong, trying to imagine how I would live without him should the roles be reversed. I too would want to find a way to be with him again, no matter the consequences.
Suddenly the distance I’d put between us was too unbearable and I took several long strides to close it as quickly as possible. His strong arms were waiting for me and he scooped me into them the moment I was within his reach.
The electric current between us was still sizzling with heat, but this time a different passion ignited our furious kisses. He picked me up and I immediately wrapped my legs around his waist as he carried me over to the settee and laid us both down on the soft cushions.

 I knew I would have to think about his offer more seriously before making such a big decision, but right now, all I could think about was showing my husband just how much I couldn’t live without him.
                                     *Copyright Jayne L. Bowden*

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Desperate Move

Here's a scene from a book that I still have to write the prequel to, but I couldn't get it out of my head. So naturally, I had to stay up till 1:30am writing it. Enjoy.

I watched the two of them argue quietly from under my lashes, both fascinated and terrified by the whole ordeal. I held my breath while I waited for them to debate my fate, knowing that at any moment I could lose my head. Having heard of The Red King’s reputation, I knew the likelihood of that happening was almost a guarantee.
It was worth the risk though. She was worth the risk. And I knew she made the right decision, no matter how tempted I was to take her up on her offer of staying with me instead of claiming her rightful place on the thrown.
But that would have been a mistake. The people of the Green Kingdom needed a ruler who cared about their well-being. And who better to do that, then the woman who spent the last several months living as one of them.
There was a small pause in their conversation and I chanced a glance, keeping my head bent low. As I looked at the King and Queen of the Red City trying to communicate something with their eyes, I felt increasingly sure that the man sitting on the thrown was not the same man I heard about growing up.
I couldn’t imagine the fearsome, ruthless leader who wiped out nations without so much as a blink of his eye, was the same man, sitting here and staring at his wife with all the love and respect a man could possibly be capable of, no matter how beautiful she may be. And she was beautiful, there was no denying that. But my heart had been taken, a long time ago, by a different woman.
They seemed to finally come to a decision with a single nod of the Queen’s head and I found myself once again shocked at their relationship. The fact that the King even counseled with his Queen was one thing, but to also concede to her request, was simply unprecedented. I quickly lowered my eyes as they turned back to address me.
“It seems I am over ruled by my Queen. You shall not only keep your head, but you have also been permitted to speak. You may thank my lovely wife for both favors, but be careful how you do so; I am a very jealous man,” The Red King said in a deadly tone.
I swallowed hard, saying a silent prayer for my life and then slowly rose to my feet. I dared not take a step forward as I felt I had already used up every bit of luck in the world by being here now, still alive.
The task ahead was daunting, but for the first time since setting out on this mission, I felt a tiny glimmer of hope, thanks to the new-found mystery that was The Red Queen.
“Your Majesties, I pray you will accept my humble gratitude for my life and for the chance to plead my case before you, despite belonging to a different Kingdom,” I said with a slight tremor to my voice. They were still, after all, the two most intimidating people I had ever met in my entire life.
The Queen nodded her acceptance and the King waved for me to continue. I took another deep breath and went on.
“I come before you, asking for help that only the two of you could possibly give me. You may have heard of the struggle the Green Kingdom recently went through when princess Shea returned to her homeland to reclaim her title,” I spoke it more like a question than a statement.
“We’re aware of the princess’s quest to return home,” The Red King told me with amusement. I wondered at his tone, but now was not the time to get off track.
“Then you’re also aware that the Green Queen had her thrown in prison for impersonating, well, herself?”
“That’s ridiculous. How can someone impersonate themselves?”
“When the princess was sent here, the Green King had a decoy step in for her to keep up appearances at the palace. Her cousin, similar in looks and mannerisms, was that decoy. Now it seems the Queen prefers the fake princess to the real one.”
“And what is it you want our help with?” he asked, cutting right to the chase.
“I want you to come to my Kingdom and help set things straight, your Highness. Put the real princess back on the thrown she deserves as her birthright.”
He let out a small, humorless chuckle and shook his head. I felt my heart drop, but I didn’t let it show, nor did I back down. I was nobody to these royals, but she was everything to me and I had to try.
“I know you have every reason to loath my Kingdom right now, but the princess is not her father. She’s been living among her people for several months and only wants a chance to try and undo the damage that was done. Your Kingdom is not the only one who suffered losses because of his selfish greed for power.” My chest rose faster at the mention of my family’s suffering and I willed my heart to beat normally again. “Your Majesty,” I added politely.
“You seem to know a lot about the affairs of the princess, as well as information about the Kingdom you now stand in. I wonder how a man in your position came by such sensitive information?” There was that same deadly tone he used with me earlier. I knew I walked a fine line with him, but I’ve come too far to turn back now.
“I’m not a spy, your highness, if that’s what you’re implying.”
“Then pray tell, how you seem to know so much about two Kingdoms as a simple stable hand.”
“I helped the princess when she was tossed out of the palace the first time. The day she returned home and the Queen turned her back on her own daughter, she sought shelter in the stable I oversee and I cared for her there until she was ready to face her mother again. But things clearly did not go as planned or I wouldn’t be here before you now,” I bowed my head in acknowledgement for sparing my life once more.
“Why should you care which princess is on the thrown? And how can you be so sure that the woman you took care of is the real princess?” he asked.
“I had the same thoughts when I first met her, but trust me, my Lord, she’s the real princess,” I laughed. The memory of her trying to order me around in my own home was not one I would soon forget.
The fire in her eyes and the longing I heard in her voice when she talked of her place on the thrown was real and true. Yes, she was most definitely the rightful heir.
“As for your first question, I care because the princess that currently resides in the palace is little more than a puppet on a string, manipulated by the very woman who agreed to all her husband’s plans of war against your Kingdom. She is the reason I came to ask for help, and to also warn you against her unfulfilled plot to take over the most powerful Kingdom in the land. Your Kingdom, your Highness.”
It was quite for several moments while The Red King contemplated the information I had given him. I could tell he was sharp, cunning. Perhaps not The Red King everyone feared, but still just as clever and perhaps just as hungry for domination as the previous King. Which meant he was just as dangerous.
And yet, the woman sitting next to him radiated kindness and love. It was that woman’s eyes that I now felt studying me, scrutinizing everything about me that she could read from watching my behavior. It was nerve racking. More so than the King’s penetrating stare.
The Red King let out a small sigh and I knew the decision he had just made would not be in my favor.
“You made quite the speech. But you’re asking me to interfere in a Kingdom’s affairs, based on one stable hand’s account of what happened. How am I to know you’re not sent here to lure me out of my own Kingdom, just to be betrayed and killed when I’m less protected?”
I was already shaking my head before he finished. I could feel myself losing this battle, but I pressed on anyway, unable to accept the fate of princess Shea.
“Please, your majesty,” I begged. “I swear, I would never---”
“Your word means nothing to me. I don’t know you, nor do I trust you. You’ve had your chance to speak, now be gone before I change my mind about sparing your life.” He flicked his hand and suddenly there were guards on either side of me, grabbing me under the arms and forcing me toward the entryway.
“I care not for my life, you can have it! But please, please help the princess!” I yelled over my shoulder, praying he would somehow see reason.
We were almost to the entryway when I heard a woman’s voice cry out.
“Wait!” The men on either side of me froze, as if not quite sure what to do. Then I was forced to turn around and kneel, as The Red Queen approached us.
“Let him up,” she ordered. When the men didn’t immediately release me, she said more loudly, “Now!” They finally complied and left to stand a few feet away, but I dared not stand up, nor look at her for fear of The Red King’s wrath.
“You may rise,” she said to me. I noticed there was none of the entitled tone she used with the guards, only kindness. I did as she asked and rose to my feet, but kept my eyes on the floor. My heart raced as I tried to foresee the outcome of this strange turn of events.
“What is your name, sir?” she asked. Sharp breaths were drawn at both her question and her use of a title that did not belong to the likes of me. What royal Queen would care to know the name of a peasant?
I looked up at The Red King for permission to answer, but the Queen was not to be over looked.
I asked you a question, not my husband. Look at me and answer it,” she said. The Red King raised an amused eyebrow at his wife and I knew her life was not in danger, despite her blatant implication that she was the one to seek permission from, not her King.
I did as she asked again and was met with big, beautiful hazel eyes full of kindness and sympathy. Something I did not expect.
“My name is Theron, your Grace,” I told her quietly. She folded her hands together and smiled, as if we were old acquaintances, now that she had a name for my face.
“Well, Theron, I don’t think you’re telling us the whole story. In fact, I think you’ve left out a very important detail.”
I felt my hopes plummet once more. She thought I was lying too. And worse, that I was purposely holding back information from them.
“I assure you, your highness, I’ve not left anything out---”
“You’re in love with her,” she stated simply. I felt my mouth open, but no words came out.
“You not only cared for Shea, but you somehow ended up falling in love with her, didn’t you?” I felt the heat on my neck, but managed a stiff nod.
There was no use in denying it to her. She could see right through me. See the desperation in my eyes, and hear it in my voice as I plead for their help and offered up my life in return.
“Forgive me, your majesty, but I fail to see how this has any relevance to my earlier request.”
“Oh, but it has every relevance, Theron,” she said too quietly for anyone else to overhear. “Love can be the strongest of arguments and the most heavily used weapons for persuasion.” She gave me a sly smile, then turned back to The Red King and approached his thrown without asking for permission.
It seemed this woman was breaking every rule ever made and I respected her greatly for her courage. What was even more shocking, however, was that The Red King let her get away with it, was even amused by it at times.
I watched as she sauntered up to the front of his chair, with all the lithe of a cat, and bowed herself low before him.
“Rise my love, you need never bow yourself before me,” he told her gently. She did rise and gracefully put her hands in his awaiting outstretched ones. I couldn’t remember ever seeing the royal family of the Green Kingdom ever touch in public. Not so much as a hand on the back to guide from room to room.
And the way they held hands in such a tender manner. As if they were just two people in love and couldn’t help themselves from touching.
“My King, may I present to you, Theron of the Green Kingdom, who has come here asking for our help.”
“What are you doing, Thaila?” The Red King asked, lowering his voice. He stood up and pulled her closer so he wouldn’t be overheard. I had to strain my ears, but years of hunting in the forest, listening for animals that would make a good meal, assisted in my ability and I heard every word.
“I want to help him. I know it could be dangerous, but he makes a good point. If The Green Queen is still plotting against our Kingdom then I want to do something about it. I don’t need to remind you what sort of creatures the King was creating in secret. If she has access to them, I want her off the thrown,” Thaila whispered.
“Our Kingdom,” The Red King said smiling. The Queen smiled back and I felt like I should look away and give them some privacy. But I was enraptured.
The Queen was trying to convince him to help! And from the look in his eyes, she was getting a lot farther with him than I ever could have.
“Yes, our Kingdom,” she said. “I want to keep it, and you, safe.”
“I am immortal. I’m as safe as I can possibly be. But what about you? What’s going to keep you safe? I’m assuming if I agree to help, you’ll want to come along.”
“I go where you go,” she stated simply.
“You go where danger goes,” he sighed heavily.
“Is that why you don’t want to help them? Because you’re worried for my safety if I come along?”
“Then you do believe him?” she asked hopefully.
“I’ll need convincing that he really does love that selfish, royal brat. But otherwise, yes. I can easily imagine the wife of that pig being conniving enough to throw her own daughter in prison. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out she can’t control Shea. Why wouldn’t she keep the one who listens to her?”
“So, will you help them?” The Red Queen urged him. I dared not breath for fear I would not be able to hear his answer. But instead of replying to his wife, The Red King turned toward me. I quickly lowered my eyes, as if I hadn’t been watching them the entire time.
“Theron of The Green Kingdom. My Queen has convinced me to help your cause. I will go back to your land with you and vouch for your princess, on one condition,” he said, facing his wife once more. Anything. I would promise him anything if he would just agree to help Shea.
“My Queen is not to come along,” he said, staring into her eyes. I also looked at her and watched her face go from elation to anger. Before arriving here, I would have agreed without a moment’s hesitation, but I wasn’t even sure how to answer his request. In fact, I was positive the request wasn’t really meant for me.
If The Red Queen wanted him to help, she would have to stay behind. The fact that he gave her a choice was astounding, but I remembered Shea telling me she was a good fighter, as shocking as that seemed.
They were still holding hands when he spoke, but now she ripped hers out of his grasp. He didn’t flinch at her reaction, as if he expected such a response from her, but there was still a flash of hurt across his face.
It was nothing compared to her look though. Again, I felt uncomfortable being witness to their disagreement, but I couldn’t just leave. The Queen finally turned around stormed out of the large room, leaving her husband to stare after her.
It took him several moments to look away from the doorway she had gone through, but when he did look back and found me still standing there, he seemed surprised.
“We have an understanding, then?” he asked me as he went back to his thrown to sit down. I gave him the only answer I could.
“I believe so, your Grace.” He nodded his head and rubbed absently at his close-shaven goatee.
“Then my servants will see that a room is made up for you, and we’ll make preparations for our journey on the morrow.” The moment the words left his lips, the guards that had almost dragged me from the room earlier were back, this time waiting to show me the way.
“Thank you, my Lord,” I said sincerely and bowed myself to the ground. When I stood up again I saw that he had barely registered my words. His mind was still on the fiery Queen.
I told my feet to move, but they would not listen to me yet. I knew the look on The Red King’s face and I thought for the first time in my life, maybe royals are not so different from me.
We were raised differently, and surely the weight of an entire kingdom on one’s shoulders was a lot to bare. But here was a man so desperately in love that he was willing to do anything to keep her safe. Even hurt her if necessary.
“Someone wise once told me, ‘Love can be the strongest of arguments and the most heavily used weapons for persuasion,’” I spoke quietly so as not to alert him to my disrespect for still being here when he had clearly dismissed me. “I believe that weapon can be used to remind your wife how much you care for her and for her safety, your Highness.”
He looked at me as if I may have revealed all the deepest secrets in the world. For just a moment, I saw him not as the King of the greatest Kingdom in the land, but as a young man, still navigating the rocky waters of love. It was that side of him that I knew must have attracted the fair Queen to him in the first place.
He blinked and just like that, the young man was gone and The Red King sat before me once again.
“Make sure you remember the agreement and I’ll stop by later to discuss the strategy.” He stood up and followed the route his wife had taken without so much as a backward glance at anyone else in the room.
The two guards let me to a modest, but comfortable room on the fourth level, where the servant’s quarters were. Considering I thought I would spend the night in the prisons below, or worse, I was never so grateful to be in a small room with a roof over my head.
I lay back on the little bed tucked in the corner and wondered at everything that had transpired today. The Red King was still the most dangerous person I had ever encountered, but he was not a ruthless killer as most people had suspected.
And The Red Queen. What had possessed her to defy her husband for requesting that she stay behind for her own safety? Though I meant what I said to The Red King about our agreement, my money, if I’d had any, would be on the Queen. I didn’t feel bad about this revelation because it would be the King’s decision to have her come along, not mine. Stubborn woman…
 Shea immediately sprung to my mind as she had so many times since leaving. I knew she would not want to stay behind either, but she was not a skilled fighter. And I was certainly not her husband, nor would I ever be, so I couldn’t talk any sense into her. I only hoped the man she did marry would try to keep her safe, even from herself, if necessary.
I rolled over on my side and tried not to let the bitter thought ruin my elation at having found a way to help her. That was all that mattered. She would be where she belonged again and we would both live out our lives separately.

Ignoring the jarring pain in my heart, I closed my eyes and prayed sleep would find me quickly. I needed to be ready when The Red King came by. If this didn’t work, I didn’t know what else would. This had to work. 

                                *Copyright Jayne L. Bowden*

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Bragi

“I’m what your people once were.”
“You mean you were human?”
“No.” She looks at me, her eyes older than her twenty something face. “I am more than that. Humans used to be like I am, but they chose to live in this world, to give up their special ‘traits.’ There were some who wanted to live in a world without the monsters we live with. In order to be granted that desire, they had to give up their immortality.
I blow out a breath. “Can I choose to go back to being immortal?”
“You’d want to live forever in that form?”
Bitch. I want to claw her eyes out, but the twin swords gleaming in the moonlight over her shoulder give me pause. “Why should your race be immortal while the rest of us constantly live with death hovering over us? What makes you more special than us?”
Before I can even blink, she’s pushed her face into mine. “You don’t think I live with the threat of death? You don’t think I know what it is to lose someone I love?” Just as quickly, she pulls away from me and stiffens. “You humans are too small-minded to see beyond yourselves. All you can think to do is whine that we have a unique makeup that allows us to survive for years beyond your abilities. At least, we have the potential to live longer. When there’s peace. But I haven’t lived long enough to see peace. And I’ve lived a long time.” She lifts her eyes to the darkened sky. And breathes. “Of course we can die. It just takes more than a human to kill us.” Her eyes find mine. “You should be asking me why we live? What purpose do Bragi serve? Why would The Creator make us stronger than humans, faster, and more durable? What are we here to fight?”
I swallow, trying to ignore my stupidity and pettiness. A scream pierces the night. She turns her head, listening. I hear nothing. But she does. Her eyes narrow. “Run,” she whispers as she pulls two knives from her boots. Moving without a sound, she presses her back into the slimy brick wall and turns toward the howl that follows more screams.
I turn to run. And turn again. And again. We’re at the end of an alley. There’s nowhere to go. She looks at me standing there like a fool. “At least hide yourself,” she hisses.
Scrambling, I leap into a pile of garbage. The heat from the decomposition is suffocating. Black plastic sticks to my skin, wrapping me in and pulling me down farther and farther. My head starts pounding. My chest constricts so tight I feel my heart hitting my ribs. To hell with hiding. I claw wildly at the refuse. Out, I have to get out. Cold, smooth metal skims my cheek. I freeze.
“Stop moving.” Her  voice is barely more than the blowing wind. Petit arms reach around me, lifting me out of my feculent grave. She puts her finger to her lips. Low growling moves closer. The stink of the garbage is nothing compared to the whiff of…of what? A wet something lands on my shoulder and slides down my arm. I don’t want to look. I shouldn’t look. I know I won’t like what I find. But I look anyway. Slowly, I raise my eyes. The night sky is gone. In its stead, a gaping maw hovers three stories above. Jagged, black teeth, as long as my entire body, point down at me. It covers the expanse of the small alley we’re standing in. I don’t even scream. I can’t.
She seems grateful for my silence. Her firm hand on my shoulder tells me to stay. Two silent steps away from me, she launches herself at the crumbling building to our left.  She lands two stories up, striking the vertical surface with her powerful legs, propelling herself higher. The thing above swivels its head. Too slow. Her blades reach its throat, sinking deep. As she begins to fall, she pulls her arms apart, severing the monster’s neck. I jump behind a wooden pallet, the only protection I can find from the falling head. A billow of dirt and dust from the roofs above are all I know about the body. There is a lot of dirt and dust. With a head as large as the alley, the body must be even more enormous.
Through the fear, I manage to feel idiotic for my earlier petulance about her immortality. Of course there’s a reason the Bragi are build the way they are. I want to crawl back into the garbage and die when she looks at me as she lands on her feet beside me. “Now we really need to run.” Pulling me up, she leads us down the open alleyway and emerge on an abandoned street. Well, abandoned of all living things. Only a few scattered bodies litter the street, some torn to pieces.
“Why are you helping me?”
“Shut up and run.”
A howl reverberates off the buildings tightly packed together on the old cobblestone street. It is drawn out and moves closer with each second it lasts. Another creature picks up the call and answers back, closer than the first. Both are converging on…us.
I pick up my feet and try to run, but I’m too slow. I’ve never been much of a runner, but I’m pathetic next to her. She is two blocks ahead of me before she realizes how far behind I am. Backtracking, she comes and looks at me bent over, hands on my knees. She scans the area around us as the ground starts to shake. The creatures are coming. A few feet away, she lifts a sewer grate. “Get in,” she says, shoving me down the dark hole.
She follows and closes the cover just as the shaking stops. A silence ensues. Then I hear puffs of air. The monsters are up there, sniffing, smelling for us. The Bragi woman stands so still on the ladder rungs that she looks like a statue. I will myself not to move. I try to continue sucking wind as silently as I can. The streets above us bounce with the footsteps of the departing creatures. She lets out a breath, more of relief than of actual fatigue or fear.
Then she looks at me. I feel even smaller than before. Jumping down the ladder, she lands next to me and waits. I guess I should say something, even though anything that comes out of my mouth will prove I’m just as petty as she accused me of being. “What are those?” I decide to say.
I try again. “Why haven’t I ever seen them before?”
Ripping the hem of her shirt, she starts cleaning the stinking blood from her knives. “They’re only freed from the darkness of the forests when someone, Bragi or human, summons them by reading out of that.” She thrusts her chin toward the book I’d stuffed in my backpack earlier. Actually, she showed up as I was trying to sound out the rest of that page.
Yep. I’m an idiot. She stops the meticulous slide along the knife edge and holds out her hand. There’s no reason for me to pretend like I can keep it from her. As I set it in her palm, I see her face change. The stone set warrior look now shows something like remorse or regret or pain…
“I have spent my entire mature life trying to destroy this thing.” She weighs it in her hand. And laughs humorlessly. “It can’t be destroyed.”
When I found it hidden in a hollow of the tree I’d been perched in while waiting for the boars to wander away, I felt something come from it. A power or a presence. Did that stop me from trying to learn what the symbols meant or from reading out loud from it when I’d learned? No. Because I’m stupid. I was Indiana Jones and I’d come across the Holy Grail. The only thing others see when they look at me is a misshapen, tiny girl who will never blossom into womanhood. That book was my chance to prove I’m worth more than what people see.
“I thought I hid it well.”
While I’d been berating myself, she’d turned her gaze to me. “You weren’t the threat I was hiding it from. That’s why I hid it in your world.”
My world? I guess that makes sense since Bragi are nothing more than stories. Yet, here I am, talking to one. Maybe I should tug on her pointed ear, just to make sure she is what she says she is. I see her free hand clench into a fist. Can she read my thoughts? Best to stay away from her ears. It’s all I can do not to break into hysterical nervous, terrified giggling. I replay the way she jumped up the walls of that apartment complex, reaching the roof in two leaps. I see her swords gleaming with that Watakseys blood as she glides to the ground again. No, there’s no doubt she’s Bragi or at least something not found in my world. “Who were you hiding it from?”
“ There are some in my world who think that summoning the creatures these words do would allow us to fully eradicate the…No one wanders in those woods anymore. What were you, of all people, doing there?”
“How do you and your kind get into this world?”
“How old are you?”

I stop questioning her. It’s not like we were actually answering each other anyway. I hate when people ask my age. They ask when I’m at the store by myself buying groceries. Whenever I get on the bus, someone asks where my parents are. I’d already been humiliated by my mouth. No reason to be humiliated by this Bragi woman too. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Isilys-Will POV From Chapter 7

This started out as a writing exercise to get to know my hero's POV better and I ended up writing an entire chapter. I'm not going to post the whole chapter and some of the references might not make sense, but I thought I would post it just for fun. It's been a while after all.

Will’s POV on Chapter 7
A sort of nervous excitement coursed through me as I walked to Victoria’s room to get her for our little family outing today. I was right about my parents insisting she come with us, just as I was right about her needing to get out of her hotel room. Seriously, the girl could use a little fun. And I was nothing if not fun.
Except things never seemed to go right with her. She thwarted every attempt I made at flirting, called me out on my crap, and would never, under normal circumstances, go out with me. I could admit I was intrigued. Okay, fine, I was a little more than intrigued.
I knocked loudly on her door and listened as she scrambled to answer it. Already amused, I leaned as casually as I could against the doorframe, willing my face to a neutral expression. Several moments passed and I found it harder and harder to wait to see her.
Trying not to examine why that was, I finally heard her footsteps coming toward the door. I pushed off the frame and stood up straight just as she opened it. There was no way to prepare myself for seeing her again.
Her long, brown hair was loose around her shoulders and I knew from experience it was soft and silky. She didn’t wear a lot of makeup, but her beautiful, big brown eyes were as striking as ever and her full lips had a hint of red.
She had on a simple t-shirt with skinny jeans, but somehow she managed not to look casual. She looked radiant and alive.
“Hey,” she said breathlessly, almost knocking me to the floor.
“Hey,” I replied a bit more steadily, despite my pounding heart. She seemed flustered by her reaction to me and I found myself trying not to smile at the thought. I like her flustered, and I liked it even more when I was the one that caused it.
She quickly spun around and ran to her room, but not before I caught the attractive blush creeping onto her face. I followed her inside and closed the door behind me, already completely comfortable in her space.
I watched her as inconspicuously as I could as she rushed to gather her things. Disappearing into her room again, I heard her call out, “I’m sorry, I’m almost ready.” I smiled to myself already knowing she would be late and not caring a bit.
I sat down on the couch, but was back on my feet in seconds when I spotted a box with a card next to it. Luke.
Jealousy, strong and irrational, spread through my body and I had to swallow down the bitter accusations I wanted to throw out. It wasn’t Victoria’s fault Luke was a pushy, arrogant rat, and getting mad at her didn’t work.
I carefully opened the box of chocolates and pulled one out. I could hear her behind me now and decided I was okay with being obnoxious this morning.
“Where did you get these?” I asked. She stopped moving around and looked at me.
“Lucas sent them yesterday afternoon,” she said with as much attitude and sass as I expected. I couldn’t help but smirk at her predicted reaction to my question.
I took a bite and mumbled, “Pretty good.” She continued to watch me so I decided to give in to my curiosity. “What?”
“That’s it? No, ‘Luke is a bad person who runs over squirrels on purpose’ talk?” she demanded. I half choked, half laughed. She never failed to surprise me.
I couldn’t contain the laughter bubbling out of me. Part of it was her ridiculous comment, but an even bigger part of it was just being around her. I felt lighter, happier. It was addicting.
The next thing I knew, she had grabbed my hand and was pulling me out of the room. I didn’t even try to stop my laughter as we rode down the elevator and my good mood stayed with me as we crossed the lobby.
Seeing my family was a relief because it meant I got to pretend to be infatuated with this girl. Not that I wasn’t interested in her, I could admit that. But she was a mystery and as soon as I solved it, I would get bored and move on. For now though, the chase was thrilling.
I slung my arm over her shoulders and felt her relax as we approached my parents.  Last night’s conversation, first with Victoria, and then with my parents, played through my mind and I was curious to see how they would reassure her, as promised, of their good opinion.
“Victoria!” Sam shouted and ran over to meet us. As he usually did when he was around us, he went for Victoria’s unoccupied hand. I possessively kept my arm around her shoulders and felt her grip tighten around my waist as we arrived in front of my mom and dad. I don’t think she even noticed she was doing it.
“Hello, Victoria,” my dad said to her in a friendly tone. My mom was less inconspicuous and went right in for a hug, which seemed to startle the ever living daylights out of Victoria.
Her earlier words rang through my mind. People won’t remember me, why should I remember them? It had been obvious from the start that Victoria didn’t see herself very clearly, but hearing her words sent a sharp pang through my chest.
I decided I would just have to hold her more often if I could get away with it. She needed to learn that she was wanted, loved, even if this was just pretend. She should know how it could be with someone if she ever opened up.
I knew I was playing a dangerous game with this whole charade, and while I didn’t want to hurt her, I needed to prove her own worth to her. Then she could find someone who actually deserved her. I didn’t want to dwell on that thought, we’d cross that bridge when it came. As long as it wasn’t Luke Thompson…
“I’m so glad you’re coming with us today,” mom said to Victoria, snapping me out of my thoughts. The talk with my parents had gone rather well and I couldn’t help but be a little smug about the fact. Unsurprisingly, Victoria noticed.
 Ducking out from under my arm, she pulled on my hand until I obliged and leaned down. Her warm breath tickled my ear and I had to stop myself from turning my head and stealing a kiss right then and there.
“What did you do?” she hissed at me. I smiled.
“What makes you think I did something?” I whispered back, enjoying the feel of her silky hair against my cheek. Seriously, hair shouldn’t be that sexy.
“Because you’re you. What did you say to them?” I was enjoying her fret over this too much to give up my secret just yet. Instead, I opened the door of the hotel for everyone, using it as an excuse to avoid her question for a moment.
            Our car was pulled around and I made sure she was sitting in the middle so both Sam and I would be satisfied. We started on our journey in comfortable silence, but I found myself unsettled by her nearness.
            Not that we hadn’t been this near before, but there was something boiling under the surface of my skin and it came to life every time her body brushed up against mine. It was maddening and the long ride I had so looked forward to, now seemed like endless torture.
            Oblivious to my struggle, Victoria leaned toward me and I caught a whiff of her perfume. Having her this close to me and smelling like the most tempting of forbidden fruits was a dangerous combination. I reminded myself of her rule over and over again.
            “Tell me,” she said in a quiet voice that dissolved any reason why I should follow that stupid rule. I mean, we were supposed to be in love right? People in love always kissed. And this girl needed to be kissed. Desperately. And I was only too happy to oblige.
            Unable to help it any longer, I reached over and tucked her into the side of me. Immediately the volcano under my skin came to life, but it was easier somehow than the teasing brush of her arm or leg against mine.
“I just told them you were upset about the way I made you seem at dinner and you were reluctant to come because of what they might think of you.”
            “Oh,” she said sounding surprised. I let the moment drag on as long as I dared and then raised my arm to give her the choice of staying where she was or leaving. She quickly scooted back to her seat and I let the disappointment sober me.
            We were both pretending, not just me, and it wouldn’t do any good to forget that now. I needed to focus on playing the part without confusing any of the emotions that normally accompany such a relationship.
I heard her talking with Sam, but I was too distracted to really hear their conversation until Victoria asked where we were going. Needing a reason to get out of my thoughts, I volunteered the answer before Sam could reply.
"Aquarium of the Bay. It's like this huge underwater exhibit where you can watch animals swim around."
"And there's lots of sharks!" Sam piped up excitedly. I was about to remind him that he couldn’t swim with them when Victoria spoke up.
“What?” she squeaked out. Thoroughly intrigued at her tone I couldn’t resist the temptation to goad her.
"Not afraid of sharks, are you, Victoria?" I asked.
"They're my favorite animals,” Sam inserted cheerily. As if we were talking about flavors of soda instead of the powerful, deadly creatures that ruled the ocean.
"Too bad you can't go swimming with them today," I told Sam, remembering my earlier thought. I leaned over to playfully mess up his hair, something that drove him crazy, but that was a mistake. I caught the scent of Victoria again and was immediately pulled into her force field like a magnet.
"Why not?" Sam sulked and swatted my hand away. I barely registered his words or his actions. Victoria was still looking at Sam with a horrified expression or she would have caught me staring at her.
I heard soft voices from the front of the car and the spell was momentarily broken. I looked over to see my parents talking too quietly for us to hear.
I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, but then my father glanced at me in the rear view mirror. My curiosity was peaked, but I decided to let it drop for now and answer Sam’s question.
"For starters, I'm pretty sure you have to be at least eighteen. Sam's big dream in life is to go swimming with sharks," I told Victoria who had her mouth hanging open as she continued to stare at Sam.
"What? They're cool!" he protested under her incredulous look, which made me laugh out loud. As if I couldn’t stop myself from touching her, I reached over and lightly raised her jaw until her mouth was once again closed.
Drop your hand, I commanded my body. But it wouldn’t listen to me. Instead I found myself turning her head to face me. Her scared expression at the mention of sharks had me rushing to reassure her, like a good pretend boyfriend would.
"Don't worry, I won't let you fall in the shark tank.” It was meant to lighten the mood, but instead I found myself lost in her beauty. Not just her outward appearance, she was absolutely gorgeous after all, but her inside beauty as well.
She was witty, funny, kind, forgiving, and as much as she tried to hide it, she was hurting for some reason. I wanted to make her pain go away, I wanted to ease all her worries, but most of all I wanted to make her happy.
That last thought hit me hard. How could I make her happy? Having apparently reached our destination I felt the rumble of the car come to a stop. She was still looking up into my eyes, as confused and conflicted about our pretend relationship as I was.
The realization that I was making this harder on her than it needed to be was enough to make me drop my hand and hop out of the car as quickly as possible. Distance, space. That was what I needed right now.
I’d never been so grateful for Sam’s insistence that she hold his hand than I was in that moment. I needed to think outside of her bewitching presence, so when mom groaned that she had forgotten the sunscreen, I immediately volunteered to buy some while they went to get the tickets.
I shopped in a daze and grabbed the first bottle of sunscreen from the way too expensive gift shop outside the park entrance. I approached the counter and set the bottle down in a hurry, knocking over a little stand of chapstick.
Sighing, I started picking up the tubes and hopelessly stacking them on the counter again. I heard a small giggle and looked up to see a beautiful blonde girl, the cashier, watching me.
“In a hurry?” she asked with a wide smile on her face. I knew that kind of smile and told myself to smile back. I think it came out more of a grimace.
“Sort of. Sorry about the mess,” I said still trying, and failing, to stack the annoying things the way they were before. Another throaty laugh and a small hand shot out to stop me from doing any more damage. I froze at her touch.
“It’s fine, I’ll stack them later. I think you’re making it worse by trying to fix them,” she giggled again. This time I did smile, but it wasn’t the normal, inviting smile I usually pulled with a girl like her. It was tight and polite and instead of flirting back, I gently slipped my hand from under hers wondering if I was broken. This wasn’t like me. I loved to flirt and I was good at it.
She batted her eyelashes at me before picking up the sunscreen and turning to the register. I looked at her closer as she worked, trying to figure out why I didn’t seem to be in the mood to receive her flirtations or return any of my own.
She was pretty. But her short blonde hair was too short for my taste and her eyes a little too dull to hold me captive. She was tall and lean, but I wanted someone I could tuck under my arm.
            That was it, I decided. She was too tall for me, despite the obvious several inches I still had on her. She handed me the now bagged sunscreen and smiled hugely once more.
“Got fun plans today?” she asked, still trying to get a reaction from me. Dozens of comments streamed through my head, all leading to her giving me her phone number. And from the smile still plastered on her face, it would be all too easy.
            But the only smile I wanted to see was waiting with my family.
            “I do, yes. My girlfriend and I are walking around the Aquarium. She just loves watching the sharks,” I laughed at my own private joke.
            The girl smiled indulgently, effectively taking the hint and my dismissal. I grabbed the bag and rushed out of there, more confused than before.

                                                   *Copyright Jayne L. Bowden*