Posts Tagged ‘writing’

The Life and Times of a Would-Be Somebody Blog Tour

Evening, folks! Today I have the distinctive honor of hosting the one and only Kristy Carey as she makes her way across the world on her blog tour. She is the author of the awesome new book, The Wandering Wizard. (available at Amazon for only $0.99 here: Let’s give her a warm welcome, shall we?

1) You are hosting your blog tour in honor of your brand-new book, The Wandering Wizard. Please tell us about it.
Its the story of a man who�s become something more than he should be, to protect the world against forces it doesn�t understand. He�s the last of his kind right now, a sort of final defense against the darkness. But its also a strain and what we see in this story is his struggle to regain his power and keep fighting.

2) You are not just a writer; you also run a small business making steampunk jewelry. How do you balance your two creative pursuits?
Its not easy. Over the years I�ve often had to focus on one or the other and to be honest, it tore me apart. At that time, I had a blog for Fashion, one for Writing and one for myself. When I picked up blogging last month, I decided to stop dividing myself into pieces and just put it all in one place. I never think of myself as just a writer or a jewelry designer. Instead, I call myself a Creative. There are other things I do beyond just the two listed above. Graphic Design work, flower arranging [silk and fresh], knitting, sewing, weird sculptures with weird things, abstract drawing and even ceramics painting. It just took me a while to find one I could stick with, but I still enjoy the other things.

3) Are you inspired in your art by living in Washington? If so, how?
Yes. My side of the state [the east side] is so freaking green and filled with beauty. Its not always the best place, but the grass is always greener and no place will ever be perfect. For me, its home. There are parks to go sit in and read or write, places to shop and spots you can take day trips too. I�ve made plenty of friends here, while the internet has opened doors to making friends from other places.

4) Who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman?
Batman. Hands down. Sure, Supes has all the special skills, but Bats carries Kryptonite bullets and is prepared to take him out if needed. ~nods~ Batman rocks.

Kristy Carey is an author and blogger with a passion for creativity. With one publication under her belt, she plans to keep the momentum by focusing on the Urban Fantasy genre in future pieces. She is currently splitting her time between writing and steampunk jewelry design. Her passion in both writing and design, is to mix together elements that don’t belong, and make them seem natural. Kristy is currently working on a Superhero story staring The Protectors as they battle both Loki and Kronos.

She can be found here:
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Rough Drafts, Fair and Foul. Final Installment.

We have, at long last, reached what I hope will be the rough draft of the first chapter I am keeping. (Please imagine trumpets here, or something. I feel like I deserve trumpets after this many drafts.) After this I may rearrange lines or paragraphs, alter sentences, send it through a workshop, et cetera, but I will not be rewriting it. I’m done with that. Finished! Caput!

Sounds like a firm decision, yeah? You may even be asking yourself, why this one? The fact of the matter is I could probably keep rewriting this single chapter for the rest of my life. There comes a point where making the decision to stick with a draft is not so much a matter of good writing vs. bad writing as it is a matter of courage vs. cowardice—am I doing eternal rewrites because I’m scared? I would like to deny it outright, but I can’t. My first book, Lady of the Veils, met with limited critical success. There have been times when I was worried its follow-up would not be as successful. How many times have you read a review that said, I loved the first book in this series, but the second one is terrible? Not even blockbuster hits are immune to this. I read that about The Hunger Games a week ago. That’s a lot of pressure for a writer.

Now that The Storm Prince has been accepted by Gypsy Shadow, maybe I feel as if that fear has been defused a bit-the second book, even though it is just an expansion of the first book, is already set to hit the presses. Good, bad, right or wrong, it’s out of my control. Maybe that book gives me the courage I needed to finish this one. Whatever it is, I feel confident in this chapter. Now all I need is a title. And, you know, all the other chapters besides the first one.

Even so, I would love to hear some feedback from readers. Since this will be my last first draft, I need to make it as wonderful as possible, so if you have any ideas I would love to hear them.
For your reading pleasure, the final first draft.

Chapter 1

Karen MacGregor shifted from foot to foot and rubbed her palms against the scratchy lace of her skirt. The weight of fear bowed her shoulders and made a cold knot in her belly. The people outside the courtyard screamed their epithets for her. The high walls of the palace muffled their words, but not enough. Hate, it turned out, carried.
A heavy hand rested on her shoulder and she looked up. Geordie Harris wore the midnight blue uniform of the Royal Guard. A man the size of a small mountain, Harris’ tattoos swirled across his bald scalp. His expression was ever-tranquil. When they split up this morning, he wore leather both scuffed and grimy. Now, his massive chest and shoulders gleamed with medals and silver cord. A tooled scabbard hung from his belt, the pommel of his ceremonial sword jutting from it. If the hollows of hunger and stress shadowed his cheekbones, they could be overlooked in favor of his splendid clothing.
“You’re screwing up your dress, Mac,” he rumbled. “You want to go out there with sweaty lace?”
Karen looked down at her dress as if she had never seen it before. When she last checked her reflection half an hour ago, she loved her clothes. Her dress was blue satin with a lace overlay. The sleeveless bodice clung, and the skirt flared out to just above her knee. She had paired it with silver, peep-toe flats and tied her hair in a twist that almost tamed her wild curls. She had even put on a little make-up, tinting her lips pink and darkening her eyelashes. When she spoke her words shook. “I’m scared, Geordie.”
“Don’t try to sell me that. You’ve never been scared of anything in your life. There’s no room for fear in a body as little as yours.”
Shaken as she felt, she smiled. “I’m not a Chihuahua.”
Harris shrugged. “Could have fooled me.” She elbowed his side.
The air in the south courtyard smelled of unseasonable magnolia blooms and pine. The grass grew in a luxurious carpet and the hedges that hid the security wall from view were clipped to perfection. A cherry tree drooping with fragrant blossoms shaded a bench of carved stone. Karen stepped off the path and sat, smoothing her skirt under her.
The ogre occupation had not been good for the garden. When Karen had first made her way through after retaking Avalon, it was a tangled jungle of climbing roses and ivy. Irises hid among the overgrown grass, peeking out like feral children. A body with swollen hands floated in the Koi pond. Now, after an army of gnomes with pruning shears had done battle with entropy, it was suitable for a royal ceremony.
From the other side of the wall, a high-pitched voice screamed loud enough to be heard over the angry rumble: “Filthy half-breeds! Our kingdom is defiled!”
Karen flinched. She should be angry instead of afraid, shouldn’t she? She should fight back, because she had made herself into a person who fought back. She had learned to fight, to stand tall and take up her space. So why did she feel so small? Why was she so afraid, not that the racists outside would harm her, but that they were right? What if her humanity really was a spreading, fatal virus and the best thing she could do for everyone involved was to fade from sight and leave them all alone?
Geordie swallowed. For the first time it occurred to her he might be as hurt as she. Though his shoulders could hold a world still if they had to, Harris had grown up the same as she, half-Fey and unwelcome in a land that called their births treason. Maybe the noise of Avalon’s prejudice was loud enough to make even him feel small
“What time is it?” Karen asked.
Geordie glanced at his watch. “A minute later than the last time you asked.”
“Dave is going to be late.”
“Probably,” Geordie agreed. “He usually is.”
A door slammed against a wall, and they both startled as they looked toward the palace. Harried, David Thoreau dashed toward them, still shrugging his uniform jacket on over his white shirt. He had skin the color of light chocolate and curls cut very close to his scalp. His eyes were golden and sharp as an eagle’s, though now his face was more concerned than intense.
“Am I late?” he gasped, accent thick with Texas.
“Not yet,” Geordie said. He slapped Dave’s shoulder hard enough to make the smaller man dance for balance. “Lookin’ good, son.”
Dave regained his composure and granted them a wide, white grin. “Yeah. It hurts to be this fine, but somebody has to do it.”
Karen laughed. “We’re all very grateful for your sacrifice.”
Thoreau raised both eyebrows in her direction. “Damn. You’re almost attractive in that outfit, Mac.”
Karen snorted, then hoisted her middle finger in a gesture with which they were all familiar. “I’ll never look as pretty in a dress as you.”
Thoreau didn’t take the bait. He spoke to Geordie as if she could not hear him: “She even painted her fingernails. It’s like she thinks she’s a girl.”
“She’s a girl who’s going to bust you in the face,” Geordie said.
Thoreau threw his arm around Karen’s shoulders and rubbed his knuckles across the top of her head. Karen squealed and bit him. Dave jerked away, shaking his wounded hand.
“Ow! What’s wrong with you?”
“Don’t mess up my hair,” Karen panted. “Geordie, does it still look okay?”
Laughing and shaking his head, Geordie said, “Imagine you two jokers as knights. Jesus.”
A throat cleared, and the three half-Fey looked up. A page in blue livery bowed from the waist and announced, “The time is come, gentles.”
The three straightened and sobered. Karen stood, brushing imaginary wrinkles from her skirt. They were about to make history. Or they were about to die in a hate crime, which would, come to think of it, also be pretty historic given the circumstances.
They followed the page down a shaded path that curved past a wide lawn. Chairs were arranged on it in rows. Roughly a hundred people stood as Karen and the others appeared. Cameras flashed, light brief and dazzling despite the sunny day. She scanned the crowd and located her family: her brother Julian, his fiancée Dahlia, and her parents sat in the first row. Dad nudged Julian and grinned from behind his auburn beard. Mom tipped her chin up, green eyes shining with…could those be tears? Dahlia waved. Karen smiled back and flapped her hand near her hip, hoping it was too subtle for the reporters to notice.
Four wide, shallow steps led to a clear pond. At the top of these steps stood a group of Sidhe, luminous and graceful, three male and one female. Each was tall and slender. They, too, wore dark blue with silver accents. Jewels glinted from fingers and throats. Intricate braids twisted their long hair, and their faces were serene.
A long line of Royal Guards in the same dark-blue uniforms Dave and Geordie wore flanked the nobles. Physically, each was different from the rest, but their identical proud stances and fierce expressions made it clear they were a unit. Karen looked away from them. She knew what they must be thinking of her. Half-Fey can never be real knights. She wondered if they were right.
High King Beriani Quintinar stood in the center of the top step, dressed in his blue robes of state. The platinum of his crown bound pearl-colored braids and his skin glowed with a faint bioluminescence that was almost invisible by daylight. Tear shaped sapphires dripped from the earlobes of his delicately pointed ears. His lips were full and his eyes were storm-cloud gray. He held a thin sword of silvery metal.
Karen drew a breath and found she couldn’t release it. He was not beautiful. He was as terrifying as an Old Testament angel. Had he looked like that when he kissed her forehead goodbye this morning? He had seemed more…familiar then. He had also been wearing less clothing. Maybe that was the difference.
The king’s voice carried over the distant sound of chanting and the rustling of fabric, clear and bright as a trumpet’s note. “Kneel, Geordie Harris, David Thoreau, and Karen MacGregor.”
For a second, Karen’s knees froze and she found she couldn’t bend them. She had been knighted once before by the late Lord of the Host, and she had not been asked to kneel then. Prince Rhyn had taken control of her body and forced her onto her knees at his feet. Dave tugged her hand and she remembered how to work her legs. She lowered herself to the ground.
“Geordie Harris.” Beri’s voice still held its resonant, clarion quality. Was that tone magic or court training? “You have lent your sword in our attempt to retake our homeland from those who would usurp us. You have valorously risked life and limb in service to the High Throne. Do you swear, here before these assembled nobles, to do so until your mortality takes you?”
Karen swallowed. He had changed the words. If he were knighting a Fey, he would say do you swear to do so always?
“I do so swear,” Geordie said, voice so low Karen could hear it vibrating in the ground under her knees.
She looked sideways at her kneeling friend as the king placed the flat of his blade against first one of Geordie’s shoulders, then the other. Geordie’s eyes squeezed shut, as if he was afraid the sword might slip and he didn’t want to watch it happen. A lump formed in Karen’s throat. She thought of Lillia, the long-faced girl who had loved Geordie and died in his arms. There was nothing Karen wouldn’t give to see Lillia’s face in the crowd beside her own parents. Maybe ghost stories came true in Faerie, and Geordie’s fiancée was somehow there to see this even without her body.
“Arise, Sir Geordie, Knight of the High Court,” the king said.
Karen looked back down. Beside her, the words began again.
“David Thoreau. You have lent your sword in our attempt to retake our homeland from those who would usurp us. You have valorously risked life and limb in service to the High Throne. Do you swear, here before these assembled nobles, to do so until your mortality takes you?”
Dave’s voice was hoarse, as if he, too, had come near tears. “I do so swear.”
“Arise, Sir David, Knight of the High Court.”
In Karen’s peripheral vision, Dave stood. She could see nothing but the hem of his pants and the high gloss on his black shoes.
Suddenly, the edge of the robe was in front of her. Karen’s heart kicked into overtime.
“Hey,” the king whispered. Karen looked up to find him smiling at her. He had a gorgeous smile, full of perfect teeth and affection. “Are you well? You look as if you are about to be ill.”
Karen swallowed. “I’m scared, Beri.”
He raised an eyebrow. “And when did you learn how to be afraid, when you have never known before?”
“I don’t know,” Karen said. Where did these people get the idea she was fearless? “Everything. The people outside. The people up there.” Myself. I’m not ready for this. I’m not a real knight; I’m just a half-human girl with a sword.
Beri’s face was so bright with pride it lifted her and calmed her all at once.
“You are worth an army of them,” he said. “Are you ready? Or are you going to back out like a sissy?” The word ‘sissy’ did not translate well into High Fey, so he used English instead.
“I’m not backing out.” She said it even as she decided. “Just get it over with.”
He raised his voice again, so it carried away from her and out to the surrounding crowd. “Karen MacGregor. You have lent your sword in our attempt to retake our homeland from those who would usurp us. You have valorously risked life and limb in service to the High Throne. Do you swear, here before these assembled nobles, to do so until your mortality takes you?”
Karen swallowed and looked up to meet his eyes. “I do so swear.”
A frightened cry rose behind her like a startled bird and Karen spun, still crouched at Beri’s feet. Julian stood, leaning heavily on his new cane and pointing to a spot on the wall. “Karen!” He shouted “Eleven o’clock!”
Light caught the silver metal hidden among the hedges. A gun’s report thundered off the garden walls. Beri dropped onto the top step. Karen shrieked. The world screamed around her, voices climbing in a confusing cacophony. She threw her body over his as cover and her mind jabbered: too late, too late.
Beri groaned; she oriented on his face. His lips peeled away from his teeth with pain.
“Where are you hurt?” Karen asked.
“Belly,” he gasped.
Karen drew away from him. She couldn’t see the color of his blood against the blue robes, but moisture spread further across his abdomen with every heartbeat. Her dress was wet, too, and clung to her. Beri’s white fingers, speckled with red, knotted in her skirt.
Hard fingers grasped her bicep and yanked her up. Karen resisted even as she realized a wind sprite in a blue uniform held her. His skin shifted color like the rainbows on the surface of an oil slick and his mouth was a hard line.
“Come away, Lady,” he said.
“No! I-“
“You are not a medic. You are a knight. Come away.”
The sprite clutched both of Karen’s arms, hard enough to hurt. “The shooter, Lady. Healers aid the wounded. Knights apprehend shooters.”
His words cut through her panic. People ran around them, hid under chairs. Knights attempted to scale the wall with only the hedges for handholds. Karen ripped open the Veils and yanked her sword back through. Before the wonder on the sprite’s face could fade, she opened another way. Hard wind picked up as she did, tugging at her hem and the other knight’s immaculate silver cords.
“I’ll be right back,” Karen said. The Way glittered before her like a piece of star-specked night, and she stepped into the spangled darkness.
She held all her destinations in her mind even as she traveled. The first step through the Veils brought her to a park in California. She stayed just long enough to see honeyed sunlight filtering through a lacework of leaves before she opened another Way back to Avalon. The noise hit her first. The protesters still shouted at the wall and waved their insulting signs, but a few closest to where Karen opened her Way fell back with startled squawks. Karen went up on her toes, straining to see over the sea of heads. There, only a few yards ahead of her, was a person using the butt of his rifle to beat his way through the mass of bodies.
She thought he’ll be gone by the time I get through, and without another moment of hesitation dove into the crowd.
“Excuse me!” Karen cried, voice strangled by the hot press of bodies around her. “Please, this is an emergency!”
She flung out a sharpened elbow, then stomped an instep. Someone cried out with injury, and suddenly she could see a way through the press. She barged into the negative space created by their movement and found herself on the broad marble steps at the front of the palace. Ahead, down the cobbled road, a person with a gun ran from her.
She could chase him, but it was obvious from his long-legged stride she wouldn’t catch him. She was fast in a fight, but being five feet tall had its disadvantages. Instead she tore open another Way and placed herself at the mouth of an alley at the base of the hill. As the wind from her casting died, the gunman sprinted toward her. Karen crouched, and when her prey passed she tensed and leapt. They tumbled over each other, sliding against the sidewalk as people dove for cover. The gun skittered into the street. A civilian shouted alarm.
They landed; Karen had clawed her way on top. The world went red with her fury and she drove her fist into the gunman’s face, then again. His nose crunched under her fist. She realized she had broken her knuckle open on one of his teeth and stopped.
“Who sent you?” she snarled.
“My master wishes me to deliver a message.” He spoke English, his voice breathy and hollow, as if he were standing at the bottom of a very deep hole.
For the first time, Karen calmed enough to get a good look at the shooter’s face. His nose listed sideways, but the only blood smearing his skin came from her hand. He was human, with tawny hair expensively cut, and he wore a Western-style suit with a blue tie. His skin was pasty, almost gray, and his gums were mottled. He smelled of antiseptic.
“Who’s your master?”
“The only master there is. Death.”
Karen sucked in a breath even as her skin rose into hard bumps.
“The Master says you have broken the world by allowing life to a dead thing. Give him back, or we will dismantle this city marble slab by marble slab.”
Allowing life to a dead thing. There was only one person she knew who had ever come back from the dead. Her hands shook. She buried them in the gunman’s shirt, pulling him up to meet her gaze. Something dark rode his breath; his cloudy eyes did not focus on her. She knew he was listening anyway.
“You go back to Hell and tell that arrogant bastard he’s already been paid. Quay died to save Beri. No one owes him anything. Do you hear me? We’re even!”
The gunman nodded his understanding, then his head sagged backward and his eyes rolled up behind his eyelids. Karen released his shirt and the back of his skull thudded against the sidewalk.
“Hey,” Karen said. “Hey, are you all right?”
The gunman didn’t respond. She reached around for his wrist to check his vital signs and found his skin cold and rubbery. There was no pulse. The certainty that she straddled something long-dead flooded her. Appalled, Karen jumped away from him and skittered backward until she bumped into a car parked against the curb.
Only then did she wonder what the talking corpse meant when he said we.

Rough Drafts, Fair and Foul, Part 4

At this point, you are probably wondering how many of these drafts I have written. I honestly cannot answer that. It is definitely tens, maybe hundreds. Don’t worry, I have no intention of posting twenty-seven drafts of the same chapter, even if they DO exist. But there are five major revisions, and of them, this is nearly the last. This series will complete next week with the draft I intend to keep. Yay, nearing closure! But in all honesty, I am still posting these long after everyone is bored because I am trying to prove a point: if you are the type of writer who rewrites everything  a million times before it makes you happy, you are not alone.

If you are a fan of George R.R. Martin, you are aware that his sixth book has been awaited by fans for years. Every time he is questioned on it, he roars, “IT’LL BE FINISHED WHEN IT’S FINISHED!” Some of his fans probably think he is stalling from sheer wickedness, but you and I know better, don’t we? George is what’s called a ‘revisionist,’ or if you are a hater, a ‘pantster.’ What that means is that the story reveals itself to him as he writes, changing as it goes. He writes ‘by the seat of his pants,’ if you will. When it does change, it becomes necessary to go back and revise the beginning to match the new storyline. Stephen King is another famous version of the revisionist, though I mostly credit his productivity to his beloved wife, Tabby. Seriously, it’s probably a lot easier to write a book a year when you have someone to wrangle your children and cook your dinner. Not even lying, I wish Tabby King would come be my wife for a while. My husband might have something to say about it, but she would be a big help.

I am also a pantster. I have tried again and again to write using an outline, and I just can’t do it. When I commit a story to outline, it feels to me like pinning a bug to a display board: the story dies, but it’s easier to keep your eye on. So I rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite. It may not be the most efficient way to finish a manuscript, but when I send my editor a book, I know I’m satisfied with it. Of course, there does come a point where you have to tell yourself, All right, that’s enough revision, you pantster, but we’ll get more into that next week.

This particular rough draft is pretty close to what I finally decided to keep, timeline-wise. I decided the best course of action is to start the new story as close to the end of Lady of the Veils as possible. There are a few benefits to this: I know who the characters are, because I remember them from the last book. There is plenty of story left to tell, because Avalon is in a state of rebuilding, which is more interesting than a state of peace. I don’t have to try to figure out why the villains waited so long to attack, because they didn’t wait. For a while, I even considered using this draft as the final one. It bogged down eventually for a number of reasons, one of which was the fact that I didn’t pose enough questions in the opening chapter and it couldn’t sustain itself. 

So here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

Chapter 1

The inside of the Avalon International Airport was conspicuous for its lack of ash.  It had either been spared the fire which destroyed half the city or been repaired with magical efficiency. The only evidence left of the siege was a deep gouge in the checkerboard tile. Karen MacGregor wondered whether magic or science had caused the scar in the floor. 

The only other people in the airport were a cluster of paparazzi, some human and some Fey. They stayed fifty feet away from her as Faerie law required.  Karen heard the sound of a flash bulb being tested.  Most of the photographers had given up taking pictures for now.  She supposed they were saving their film for her mother.

Karen kept her eyes trained on the muted television mounted to a nearby wall. The news was on, and all the reporters looked grim.  Were they discussing the new numbers of the death toll or the endless downpour of rain?  She had never imagined the Apocalypse would be so wet, but she supposed it was as good a death as any. 

David Thoreau stopped pacing to flop into a chair beside her, long legs splayed out in front of him.  He threw an arm casually across the back of Karen’s chair and gave her one of his rakish grins.  Thoreau was still dressed in colony gear, leather armor and scuffed boots.  He had skin the color of light chocolate and curls cut very close to his scalp.  His golden, cat-pupiled eyes glittered with humor now, but when he looked out at the paparazzi his eyes went hard.  His sword still hung at his side, a scabbarded threat rather than a veiled one. No one was around to ask him to disarm. 

“What happened to your gun?”  Karen asked. 

Thoreau snorted.   Accent thick with Texas, he said, “A wise man once told me, ‘You beat the Sidhe with a sword or you don’t beat them at all.’  I left it back at the colony when I found out we were done fighting ogres.  Where’s yours?”

Karen recognized the quote.  Shannon had once said the same thing to her. He wasn’t wrong, either.  A Knight of Summer would stride right through her bullets and kill her for the disrespect.  She shrugged.  “Lost it.” 

For a long moment they watched the news.  Karen wasn’t much of a lip reader, but she could make out the word genocide.   

Thoreau said, “So, I’m thinking about asking your mom out.  If I marry her, I just want you to know it’s cool if you call me daddy.”

Karen barked laughter.  “All right, go ahead. But I’m going to tell her about that time you almost married Shannon O’Grady.”

Thoreau’s laugh was so loud it echoed, as if he didn’t care who heard him. He sat up and leaned his hands on his knees. “I did not! He proposed and I busted his lip!”

Karen shrugged.  “I’ve always thought it was messed up that you hit him. He couldn’t really be blamed. We both know that in a skirt, those gams of yours go all the way up.”

“Oh, you little rat! I lost a bet! You’re never going to let me live it down, are you?”

“I just feel like my mother deserves to know her new boyfriend is a cross dresser, that’s all.”  Karen batted her eyes innocently over her smirk. “I’ll tell you what, we’ll compromise.  If you guys get married I’ll call you mommy.”

Thoreau gaped at her. “You are such a pig!”

Karen, gasping laughter, managed, “That’s what all the girls tell me.”

Thoreau balled up a fist and pretended to punch her in the arm before giving up completely and laughing along.  They trailed off into chortles and then companionable silence.  Feeling grateful to have something to laugh at, Karen leaned her head against his shoulder.   

She said, “Thanks for coming with me.  You’re a lot better at looking scary than I am.”

Thoreau squeezed her with the arm he’d placed on her chair.  “I’m a lot better looking than you are, period.” Karen elbowed his ribs, and he chuckled. “Ow! Would you quit doing that?”

“Probably not,” Karen told him.  “What time is it?”

“Twelve forty-five,” he answered, checking the watch on his wrist.  “Fifteen minutes.”

Karen sighed and fidgeted in her chair.  Her tailbone ached.  “This is not going to be pretty. Can we just go?  Please?”

Thoreau snorted.  “You want to leave your parents at the airport with no ride, in the pouring rain, in a city occupied by the Unseelie Host?  Really?”

“No, not really,” Karen said miserably.

 Thoreau turned his attention to the television. Karen followed suit.   The charred and skeletal remains of the Agromancy wing at the Wizard’s Academy haunted the screen for a moment, and then the camera cut back to another sad-eyed reporter.  Karen had loved the city of Avalon since she was old enough to love any place at all.  Queen Aynia had not destroyed this beautiful old city when she took it.  No, that had been Karen’s doing.  She had unleashed the Host on Avalon herself. 

She turned her attention away from the television and her eyes caught the furrow in the tile again.  She abruptly realized why Thoreau kept pacing.  

“How much longer?” Karen asked.

“Fourteen minutes,” Thoreau told her.

Karen sighed again and fidgeted.  Damn Julian for getting too badly hurt to come along! She thought. Lucky bastard. “I wish I’d brought a deck of cards,” Karen said.

Thoreau laughed.  “It’s just a few minutes, Mac, would you settle down?  Watch T.V or something.”

Fifteen minutes stretched into twenty-five before the loudspeaker announced her parent’s flight had finally landed.  Karen jumped up, and then sat back down.  Beside her, Thoreau stood smoothly and offered her a hand.

“Time to man up, Mac,” He said. “They’re just your parents, for chrissakes.”

“They don’t call my mother ‘The Dragonsbane’ because she’s a good cook,” Karen grumbled.  “When she asks me to come back to the states, what am I going to say?”

Karen had left home last November in the middle of her senior year of high school for reasons that, in retrospect, seemed pretty thin. I was protecting Beri seemed like a ridiculous excuse to give her parents for abandoning them.  Beri was a wizard-level meteomancer. The idea of her protecting him was like the idea of her protecting a Mack truck.  

The worst part was that, if given the chance, she would do it again.  She was going to have to justify this whole year to her parents without being able to honestly say I’m sorry.  

Grabbing her wrist, Thoreau said, “I don’t know what you’re going to say.  But you can’t hide out here forever.”  He hauled her toward her parent’s gate while she dragged her feet.

People, mostly human but some Fey, poured into the airport. Many of them held camera equipment or were so attractive they could only be on-air personalities. Karen bounced nervously on her toes and thought, great, more reporters.   

At the end of the hallway, something glowed against the wall. 

“Holy hell,” Thoreau said reverently. 

            Her mother and father approached.  They stood close to each other but did not touch.  Though they often took comfort from physical contact, Karen’s Fey mother had been exiled for marrying her human father.  In Faerie it was against the law for them to display their affection in public places.

Marty MacGregor was a tall man with a salt-and pepper beard and dark eyes.  He seemed thinner than Karen remembered him, and his thick hair was more gray than brown.   He was dressed in a well-made suit and a tie that had rumpled during the flight. 

Mirya MacGregor was Daoine Sidhe.  She was not tall as her people went, but she moved with an air of confidence normally reserved for much larger Fey.  She looked barely older than Karen, though she was more ancient than the city they stood in. Her skin glowed faintly, casting the room around her into gloom. Her sun-golden hair was cut fashionably short and revealed the points of her ears.  Karen had always known her mother was beautiful, but now she seemed indefinably sadder.  Mom had become breathtaking with her new gravity.

            Tears burned Karen’s throat.  She shook free of Thoreau without speaking and launched herself at her parents.

            Dad caught her.  Karen buried her face in his chest, sobbing as she had not done in a very long time.  He smelled of laundry detergent and felt like a mountain when he wrapped his arms around her. He shook with sobs.

            “My little girl,” Dad whispered, over and over.  “My girl.”

            After a long time he pushed Karen away, holding her at arm’s length and studying her with red-rimmed eyes.  Karen gave him a weak smile.

            “Hi, Daddy.” She felt inexplicably shy.

            “Hi yourself.” Dad’s voice was gruff with emotion.  “Well, look at you!  I haven’t seen you in a dress since you were a little girl.”

            Karen looked down at the hand-made frock she wore and gave her father a lop-sided smile.  “Yeah, I know it.  All my jeans wore out in the forest.”

            She turned to her mother.  Mom clasped her hands against her chest, eyes shining with tears.  It struck Karen for the very first time how much her mother looked like Queen Aynia.

Karen had only met the Queen of the Summer Court the day the Fey monarch was executed.  She suspected she would spend many years watching the light in those luminous green eyes go out while she dreamed.  Her mother was just as lovely, just as glamorous as the Queen had been.  Guilt wrenched Karen’s insides.  She had assassinated her own grandmother, and this beautiful Fey she had loved all her life was the only one left who might really mourn.

            Mom reached out for her, and Karen stepped into her embrace. Her mother smelled of vanilla soap and lilacs. She was suddenly small again.          

“Mom,” Karen whispered. “I’m so, so sorry.”

            Mom shushed her.  “No.  I have always known you would come to this, Karen MacGregor.  You have had a soldier’s heart since the day you were born.  If you had not fought this war you would have fought another.”

            Karen drew away to meet Mom’s eyes.  “Not for that, Mom.  I’m not sorry for that.  I’m sorry I killed your mother.”

            Mom looked into her face solemnly for a long moment.  Karen realized she could hear the clicks of cameras behind her.  Then her mother leaned down to kiss Karen’s forehead.

            “If anyone else had slain her, my vengeance would have been terrible to witness,” Mom whispered.  She pushed a dark curl of Karen’s hair behind her ear.  “But child, she brought her death to herself when she made an enemy of you.”

            Karen blinked.  “You’re not mad?”

            Mirya’s lip twitched up just a hint. Her eyes were still unbearably sad.  “Mad? No. My heart aches. I wish my mother had dandled you on her knee as a grandmother is meant to do.   I wish she could have lived long enough to know how beautiful and brave her granddaughter would grow up to be.  I wish she had the courage to love you as I do.  I grieve my mother, who was once my Queen. I suppose I always will. But do I blame you for doing what had to be done? No.  No, Karen, I do not.”

            “Well!” Dad’s voice was too loud, too cheerful.  “This is very sad talk for a very happy occasion! Take us to your brother, will you?”

            Karen grinned, wiping her cheeks free of tears.  Mom gave her a stunning smile and took her hand. 

Thoreau still stood several feet away, looking out of place.  Karen gestured for him to come closer.  His eyes were full of stars as he looked at Karen’s mother.  Karen recognized the dazzled look.  A Daoine Sidhe of a royal house could be quite a sight the first time a person saw one.

            “Dave, these are my parents, Marty and Mirya MacGregor,” Karen said. “Mom, Dad, this is David Thoreau.  He’s currently acting as my bodyguard.”

            Dad stretched a hand out to shake with Thoreau.  “Thanks for taking care of my little girl.”

            Thoreau dropped his eyes. Karen smirked.  He was probably remembering what he’d said before the plane landed.  “Well, she mostly takes care of herself, but sometimes two blades are better than one.”

            Karen’s father gave her a measuring look.  He said, “When you left home you were a vegetarian.  Now people actually refer to you as ‘a blade.’”

            Embarrassed, Karen shrugged. “I’m still a vegetarian,” she said.


Rough Drafts Fair and Foul, Part 3

Hello, all! So, last week I posted a draft of the first chapter of Knight of Avalon 2 that I started writing before Lady of the Veils came out. You may remember that an agent named Anita Kushner gave me the advice that I should join a writer’s group, and under their careful tutelage, I rewrote the first book. It was published in December of 2010. So this draft is actually the first one I started to write after Lady of the Veils was published.

I got about ten chapters into this one before it started to disintegrate. It was this draft that made me realize I needed to start the second book very soon after the events of the first one because I was badly predicting how the characters would grow over a period of months or  years. Besides, the fans of the first book loved the insecurities of the young characters-they still weren’t interested in reading about people who had it all figured out. It took me a very long time to home in on the story I wanted to tell.

Even though the drafts are all very different, a few things remain the same.  You might notice that this chapter is a mixture of fantasy and mystery, very much like the original draft. (The second, of course, was more firmly romance.) Karen’s partner, Sir Corali Misslo, is also present, though in a very different form-he is less charming and attractive, shorter and more cantankerous. I didn’t realize how integral a part of this book Sir Corali is, but he keeps cropping up, no matter how much I try to ignore him. I’m beginning to realize he’s very much a part of this book.

So, without further ado, here is the third draft of the first chapter of Knight of Avalon 2.

Chapter 1

            Karen MacGregor, Lady of the Veils and Knight of the Royal Guard, slogged through green mud.  It weighed her legs down and speckled her with stink.  The humid air stuck her clothes to her armpits and the backs of her knees.  Hunched trees dangled vines of the spidery Spanish moss which occasionally crept down her collar.  Karen shrugged curious foliage out of the way with resignation.  She’d been fighting them off all day.

Her partner, Sir Corali Misslo, swiped at the vines with his slender court sword and swore under his breath in Sprite when they danced away from his blade. Misslo was short; the top of his head reached only to Karen’s chin, and his iridescent hair straggled out of what had been a neat braid this morning. His skin shifted in hue like the rainbow on the surface of an oil slick.  A streak of mud disgraced one of his cheekbones.

Karen swatted at a buzzing something near her face and managed to hit her ear hard enough to make it ring. “Ow,” she murmured, feeling stupid.  She hoped Misslo had not heard her.  The senior knight did not turn around.  Small favors, she told herself bitterly, rubbing at her ear until the noise faded.  She had no desire to annoy him further.  She knew his sensibilities would already be offended by the mud and bugs; he would not react well if he knew she was acting like a stooge. 

Misslo left long gouges in the soupy mud as he fought through the swamp.  Karen tried to stay in his trail to make walking easier, but it did her very little good.  Water filled his footsteps the moment he stepped out of them.   Karen told herself again she should be grateful to be on this mission, no matter how angry Misslo seemed to be about it.  Even though this trek through the swamp was unpleasant, being allowed to investigate the first murders in Faerie’s history was a great honor. If this case turned out well, it would be a feather in each of their professional caps. 

“Misslo?”  Karen called, wanting to hear something besides the droning of mosquitoes, “Why did you agree to let me partner with you?”

            Misslo shot her an irritated look over his shoulder.  “You can fence and part the Veils.  I was under the mistaken impression you would be useful.”

            Karen grimaced.  She didn’t know what answer she had expected from the surly knight.  He was in a foul mood, even for him. If there was a thing Misslo hated in the world, it was dirt.  Karen wondered if it was too much to hope for that the murderer they hunted would be lying unconscious next to his victims.  Unlikely as that was a win would cheer Misslo up.

            Ahead, an ugly shack crouched like a toad in the mud of the swamp. Karen loosened her sword in her scabbard.  She had learned the hard way to prepare for violence at every turn.  The Troll who had gone into Mishni a few days ago to report finding the bodies had given the sheriff’s department vague directions at best, and her phone’s navigation system had been of little help in the chaotic tangle of brush.  There was no way to know if this was the right hut, or what might greet them if it wasn’t.  Antisocial Fey infested Mishni swamp as thickly as the mosquitos. 

            Misslo stopped and attempted to wipe vegetation from his blade with a silken shirtsleeve, managing only to smear mud up the blade.  He sighed with exasperation and tucked his hair, stringy with sweat and grime, behind his spade-shaped ears.

            “Let me see the sword.” Karen stretched out her hand for it.

            Misslo gave her a resentful look and handed the weapon over. 

            Karen exerted a small amount of effort toward the Veils between Earth and Faerie, creating a black hole in the fabric of reality just large enough to reach through. From this secure spot she pulled a cloth, mostly clean and smelling of sword oil.  She scrubbed her partner’s sword to the best of her ability and tossed the cloth back through.

            When Karen handed the bronze weapon back to her partner, Misslo looked chagrined.

            “My temper is like a dragon’s,” he told her quietly.  “You must forgive me for the things I say.”

            Karen smiled at him.  “Ah, it’s all good.  You remind me of my first fencing master when you’re mean.  It brings back fond memories.”  She gave Shannon O’Grady a brief mental salute.  He had been dead nearly a year now.

            Misslo frowned, his smooth brow crinkling in confusion.  Then he smiled sheepishly and asked, “What means this ‘all good’?”

            Karen chuckled and shook her head.  “It means I forgive you. It’s something humans say.”

            They started to walk again.  Misslo wondered aloud, “Have you ever considered trying a little harder to be Fey?  It would not be very difficult.  You could alter your speech patterns just a little and change your hair color.  Save for your coloring you very much resemble a small Fey already.”

            Karen swallowed her anger, sternly telling herself that in his own bigoted way, Misslo was trying to help her as she had helped him.  He was unaware that she might not wish to lose her humanity.  “Well, I tried Unseelie coloring once while I was a Knight of the Host, but everybody hated it.”

            Misslo shrugged as if giving up on her.  The shack loomed just a few steps from them now.

       Karen had never interrogated a troll before, but she knew enough to be nervous. They were big and brutally strong. The door they approached was nearly nine feet tall, suggesting this particular troll was no small example of his species. 

Misslo squared his narrow shoulders and rapped on the front door.  “High Court!  Open up!”

 Inside, there was a rumble like a large stone moved across wooden floorboards.  Karen shot Misslo a worried, wide-eyed look, which he ignored.  The door swung open silently, and framed in it was a creature at least eight feet tall, with skin of a mottled yellow.  Two white tusks curled down under his jaw.  The Troll’s face was full of sharp angles, as if it had been carved of stone.  A waist-length top knot grew from the troll’s head.  He was the biggest, ugliest troll Karen had ever seen, and she had once ridden into Avalon with the Unseelie Host, so that was really saying something.  He blinked down at them with surprise as Misslo produced his badge.

            “I am Sir Corali Misslo, Knight of the Royal Guard, and this is my partner, Lady Karen MacGregor.  We come on order of the High King.  Are you Shrunk, the Troll?”

            “I am,” the creature rumbled agreement.  “Have you come about the bodies?”

            “I have. Where are they?”

The Troll didn’t answer at first, instead studying Karen with vague curiosity.  She imagined he had never seen a Sidhe/human half-breed before.  Since there were only two recorded instances of such a pairing and the other was her brother, most people hadn’t.  After a moment, the creature shrugged its large shoulders and started around the hut.

“I will show you,” Shrunk finally rumbled, gesturing for the knights to follow.  With an exchange of glances, Karen and Misslo followed the troll around the side of his hut.

            The troll’s side yard was beautifully landscaped.  Orchids clung to the cypress trees in a colorful array, and Spanish moss dangled from willow branches like a woman’s long hair. Amazed, Karen wondered what kind of garden the troll could grow if he was given good soil and some rose bulbs. 

            “I found them while I was weeding,” Shrunk rumbled, wading into the swamp.  “Follow me.”

            Resigned to still more soupy mud, the two knights followed. Shrunk led them out of his yard, a few troll-sized strides past where the trees stopped looking cultivated.  They approached a low, rolling hill blanketed with waving grass.  On top of this rested the corpses.

            “Here they are,” Shrunk announced.

            There were four bodies.  Flies buzzed around them in a noisy swarm.  Each had a gaping hole in its chest, revealing a cavity that should have held organs. Their faces were bloated past the point of recognition, and some of their skin was raggedly torn as if by hungry animals.  One showed yellow teeth through a large slash in a cheek, and on another a length of bone gleamed from the brown flesh of an arm.  Their clothing was reduced to slimy tatters.  Karen’s stomach turned and she looked away, feeling disrespectful for staring.  These bodies would have to be identified by their dental records.

           Misslo snapped, “Did you move these?”

            “I did,” Shrunk agreed.  “It did not seem right to let them molder in my yard.  I thought it best if they came to rest in the sun.”

            “Unseelie fool,” Misslo exclaimed.  “Do you know how much evidence you have lost?  Perhaps we shall never discover what has happened to them because of your idiocy.”

            Shrunk glared at Misslo as if he would melt the knight with his gaze.  Misslo scowled up at the hulking troll, chin cocked at an aggressive angle.  Karen almost smiled as she thought, it would take a lot bigger Fey than Shrunk to stare down Misslo .  

Finally, the creature lowered his eyes and admitted, “I have never encountered dead bodies before.  I was most relieved to see you had brought the human girl.”

            Karen grimaced, thinking my mortality hardly makes me the resident death expert. She decided she had better do something or the Fey would just keep looking at the corpses with stunned horror until they rotted away to nothing.

 “We need to call the forensics team,” she muttered.  She opened another Way and pulled her Blackberry out of the air.  It had been her idea to call the humans in on this first homicide investigation and she desperately wanted this partnership to go smoothly.  Karen stepped a little aside to dial, feeling disrespectful of the bodies again. 

Lowenstein answered the phone in English, accent Midwestern.  “Lowenstein,” the imported medical examiner announced.  His voice was tinny and the connection crackled.  The cell towers in Faerie were improving, but for the most part wireless coverage was less than stellar this far from the American border.

“This is MacGregor,” Karen said.  “I’m texting you our coordinates.  We found the bodies.”

“Thank God,” Dr. Lowenstein sighed.  “I’m pretty sure the trees in this swamp are sentient.  I would love to get out of this muddy hell before dark.”

“You’re preaching to the choir,” Karen told him.  She hung up without saying goodbye and fired off a text message to the same number.  She, Misslo, and Shrunk waited outside the troll’s oversized hut for the second search team to find them.  They had split off from the local group earlier to cover more ground, sending the coroner and his assistants east with a swamp guide before heading west themselves. Two more groups were sent north and south. Karen and Misslo had circled the swamp for hours before they finally stumbled across the hut.

  Karen shifted from foot to foot while she waited.  She was tempted to sit down, but the only dry place was beside the bodies.  Karen checked the time on her phone’s digital readout several times.  Misslo did not speak to her, electing instead to stare down the troll and gaze into the trees intermittently. Insects buzzed in the silence.  They had been waiting almost forty-five minutes before another group stumbled out of the brush.

The guide was a local Dryad, complete with supple limbs and hair the same color as the dangling moss.  Lowenstein was a giant of a human, nearly seven feet tall and crowned with wild, dark curls that stood out as if he had once been electrocuted and decided he liked the look. His skin was dark as ground coffee. The borrowed medical examiner looked just as terrible as Karen felt. He wore a green jumpsuit marked FBI, now so thickly caked with mud he looked as if his bottom half was malformed.  Agent Sherman, a stocky middle-aged man with graying hair and horn-rimmed glasses, was wearing a double-breasted suit that would probably never recover from the day’s travels.  He was there to act as Lowenstein’s handler.

Dr. Lowenstein, in his hearty, booming voice, said. “Well hallelujah. Corpses at last.”

Karen blinked with surprise at his reaction and Misslo exchanged a puzzled look with Shrunk.   Lowenstein started to bark orders almost immediately.  In moments the American team was taking samples from the hill and Shrunk’s garden.  They were soon joined by the other groups, and the clearing behind the hut was swarming with knights and the Mishni town Sherriff’s Department. The humans went about their work without much reaction to the crime scene, but the Fey were another story.  The mostly kept their eyes averted from the corpses.  One Drow actually stopped to look at the bodies on the hill, and then ran from the clearing as if he needed to escape, flinging vines away from himself in his haste.  His partner stared after him with wide eyes and shifted her weight from foot to foot, obviously unsure what her next course of action should be.  Karen said, “Go after him, Lady.  Everyone needs to stay together.  The thing that did this could still be close.”  With a frightened backward glance, she obeyed.

   Karen stayed near Lowenstein and Sherman, waiting for a verdict.  Periodically, she translated if the Americans needed to address the other knights or deputies.

“Well, there’s cause of death,” Lowenstein joked, gesturing to the empty chest cavities.  He knelt to get a closer look, handling the bodies with gloved hands. There was no awkwardness to his treatment of the dead.  Karen briefly congratulated herself on her invitation to him. Because no other Fey had ever tried to solve a murder, it had not occurred to anyone else their investigation might need a medical examiner. The plan to borrow one from the U.S had been an inspired one.  “Based on the stage of decomposition and the level of insect activity, I’d say they’ve been here for about a week.  I’ll have to do an autopsy to be more specific.”  He reached down with one gloved hand and lifted a rotted limb toward his face for a closer look.  “Huh.  That’s odd.”

“What?”  Karen wondered.

“All of the fingers on this hand are the same length,” Lowenstein mused.  “And look at this skull. It’s…well, I don’t think this is a human skull.  It’s too narrow at the temporal bones.  I don’t think these are human remains.”

Karen frowned with confusion.  Misslo asked, “What is he saying?”  He spoke just enough English to make it clear he didn’t speak English.

Karen made a dismissive gesture at her partner without looking at him.  “What else would they be?  Some kind of animal?”

Lowenstein looked up at Karen, studying her as if he wondered what her skull might look like if her face weren’t in the way.  Karen felt her frown deepen as she endured his examination.  Then Lowenstein looked back at the bodies and said, “Well, I suspect they might be Fey. Is that even possible?  Aren’t the Fey immortal?”

Flabbergasted, Karen only blinked at him for a moment.  Behind her, Misslo barked, “Lady MacGregor!  Translate immediately!”

Karen stammered a quick paraphrase of the coroner’s words.  Misslo’s skin faded to dull gray with shock.

Karen tried frantically to get her mind to quit reeling.  She knew it was possible to kill a Fey.  She had seen it done scores of times during the war, but there was only one way to do it.  It took magic so strong a Fey could not use it without rendering himself mortal.  The clearing fell silent as Fey stopped to listen. 

Stammering uncharacteristically, Misslo said, “Ask him if he is certain.  He must be completely certain before he makes such accusations.”

“Are you sure about this?”  Karen demanded.  “I mean, these bodies are Fey?  They can’t just be, you know, deformed humans?” 

Lowenstein looked into the faces of the Fey around him, suddenly realizing they studied him with varying degrees of horror.  “Well, I’m pretty sure, yes.  This one has a tail.”

“No!”  Karen snarled, surprising herself.  Panic surged through her, whispering, he thinks Beri did this.  “Pretty sure is not going to fly.   If you’re going to say something like that, you need to be a hundred percent sure those bodies are Fey.  You need to be ready to swear before God himself.”

Agent Sherman stepped between them suddenly.  Karen’s heart thudded against her ribcage and Lowenstein watched her with amazement and a little fear over his handler’s shoulder.

“Woah, woah,” Sherman said, holding his hands out in front of him to make Karen keep her distance.  Karen firmly reminded herself to breathe through the black splotches in her vision.  “What does it mean if the bodies are Fey, Lady MacGregor?  We’re not from around here.  We have no idea why everybody is getting so upset.”

Karen closed her eyes briefly, counted to five.  “It means we have a really short suspect list.”

Sherman gave her an easy smile.  “Well, where I come from that’s a good thing.  Who’s on it?”

Karen glanced at Misslo. He looked back at her, eyes full of knowledge and fear. “Well, two people. One of them is an eight- year- old girl. I doubt she has the upper body strength to hollow out one chest, let alone four.”

“And the other?”

Karen breathed out and tried to remain calm.  “The other is the High King of Faerie.”


Rough Drafts, Fair and Foul, Part 2

In my last post, I shared a chapter from my earliest attempt at writing a sequel to Lady of the Veils. It is about 60,000 words long. I decided not to use it, not because the story wasn’t entertaining, but because it wasn’t actually a sequel. It was set ten years after the events of the first book, and the characters were so changed they weren’t even recognizable. Far from being young people trying to carve places for themselves in a pair of twin worlds, these had become thirty-year-olds with thirty-year-old problems.
So I decided to take another pass at it: I would move the timeframe in a little. Instead of being set ten years in the future, it would be set four years in the future. Some of the problems from the first draft of the sequel could be completely avoided. That’s the nice thing about fiction: you don’t have to worry about all the time paradoxes. If you don’t like the past, just erase it and hope the future comes out better.
Let me also say this before I present you with the second version of chapter 1: at the time when I wrote this piece, I had given up on publishing Lady of the Veils. In fact, I had not written anything in quite some time. When I started this piece, I thought I may never write professionally, but I have to write for me. It makes me happy. The characters, of course, would not let me be. They were a part of me.
When I was about 115 pages into this particular draft, a got a letter from an agent who said, this is a great story, but the writing needs work. Your best bet is to join a writer’s group. So I did. I workshopped Lady of the Veils like crazy, changed its name, and sent it out. Eventually three different publishers offered to pick it up. (This is why they advise against multiple submissions, kids.)
So. Without further delay, here is the first draft of the second attempt at Knight of Avalon 2.

Beri’s skin reminded Karen of a pool of water brightened by the moon. It had the color of a pearl, and a luminosity that cast the far corners of the room into shadow. His pale hair was loose on bare shoulders, and his eyes gleamed with the satisfaction of a spoiled Persian cat. He twisted a strand of Karen’s hair around his right index finger, then pulled on it until the curl straightened and let go so that it would bounce back into place.
Karen used her finger to mark her page and shut her biology book. “Why are you pulling my hair?”
He, fey as ever, answered her question with one of his own: “Did you know that when I pull your hair straight, it reaches almost to the middle of your back?”
Karen laughed. “Do you think I should wear it straight today?”
Beri bounced another curl. “Is that possible?”
“Sure. It only takes a flat brush and a blow dryer.”
“Or you could just-“ he placed the curl between his index finger and thumb, then slid it through his fingertips. When he reached the end the curl had straightened.
Karen rolled her eyes. “Fix that.”
Beri tugged on the end of the uncurled strand, and it bounced back up into its natural state. “What is it with you and my hair?” she wondered aloud.
“Under electric lights, it turns red and golden.” He paused, then stretched the freshly restored curl across the bridge of her nose. “There. Is that better?”
“Yes. Much.” Karen opened her book again, but she knew he wasn’t going to let her read. She was not disappointed. He ran a finger up her bare arm and across her collarbone. Karen’s skin raised itself into rows of goose bumps, and she shivered. “Is there something I can help you with? Because I’m trying to study.”
Beri chuckled warmly, and replied, “There is one thing.”
Karen closed the book again, this time without bothering to put her finger between the pages. He regarded her with his mischievous eyes and a curve of full lips.
“Do you ever think about anything besides sex?” Karen asked him bluntly.
His half smile turned into a laugh. “No. Well, rarely. Actually, I am so brilliant that I can think great things and still think about sex at the same time.”
Karen wanted to smile, but she bit her lip and shook her head. “It’s a shame.”
“If you weren’t so pretty I would finally be able to ace a science course.”
Later, as she lay with her head against his chest and his arm resting under her breasts, Karen asked, “Do you think I’ll still be this in love with you when I’m old?”
Beri kissed the top of her head and said, “I hope so. I shall certainly be this in love with you.”
“Nah. My hair will fall out and you won’t want anything to do with me.”
He made a serious sounding noise. “I never thought about that. Perhaps I should just break off with you now.”
“Maybe. How will you bug me if you can’t pull my hair?”
“It will be impossible. You will be completely useless to me.”
“See?” She snuggled down into the covers, and his arms twined around her. The digital clock on her bedside table read 3:15. “I knew you would get bored sooner or later. By then I’ll be too old to be of any use to anybody.”
He made a sound near her arm that was something like a cross between a sigh and a purr. “And wrinkled. Don’t forget that you’ll be horribly wrinkled.”
Karen sighed. “It’s three fifteen. Maybe you should be getting home.”
Beri released her, and propped himself up on his elbow. “Karen. I was joking. I couldn’t stop loving you if I wanted to. Since I’ll outlive you by quite a while, I may someday wish that were an option. But it’s not.”
Karen smiled a little, then kissed his soft bottom lip. “I know. I’m not mad. But you have to get up in, like, three hours. They’re going to be wondering where you are. “
Beri groaned and threw himself dramatically back down on the pillow. “Oh, Goddess. Every time. I’ll be useless tomorrow.”
Karen grinned. “But you were great tonight.”
He laughed, then rose with his typical grace to pull his clothes on. “And what time are you up tomorrow? Hopefully disgustingly early.”
“Yeah,” Karen said. “I have a calc final at eight thirty. And I assure you I won’t be well rested for it.”
“A shame.” Beri shot a quick smile at her as he finished adjusting his fly. Karen stood, pulled on the t-shirt she had been wearing before he arrived, and closed her eyes to focus on the spell to open the doorway to his bedroom. With a gust of breeze, the dresser vanished and she could see his bed through the darkly glittering fabric of nothing that she had created.
Beri wound his arms around her waist and kissed her one last time. “Good luck with your test,” he whispered, as the guards could probably hear him now.
“Good luck with the whole High King thing you have planned today,” she whispered back. “I miss you already.”
“Cheesy dame,” he chuckled, then stepped out of her arms and through the Doorway. She quickly closed the door. The silence was sudden and lonely.
“At least we don’t have to rely on e-mail and phone calls,” Karen muttered. But his absence always felt like an aftermath. She picked up the scattered clothing on her floor and put it away, then straightened her twisted bedclothes and climbed between them. They were scented with the musky odor of his skin and she breathed deeply. It was a while before she could sleep. Karen couldn’t help but wonder what it might be like to get to fall asleep and wake up beside him. But eventually, even these melancholy thoughts drifted into smoke and she was asleep.
Karen’s alarm clock, as usual, was an audible stab at seven-thirty. She groaned and dragged her body out of bed and into her shower. The hot spray woke her, but her mind was still foggy from lack of sleep. She dressed in jeans and a green t-shirt with the Beetles emblazoned on the front (to this day she could not get over how good it felt not to have to wear a uniform to class) and went out, locking the door behind her. Her roommate, Constance, had never come home last night. She would be in the calc final this morning. She had probably spent the night with her boyfriend, Jim, at the Sigma Beta house. Karen lived just down the road from campus, but she drove to avoid being late and then entered the amphitheater where the test was being held. As expected, Connie was slouched in the back row, hiding behind dark glasses. She did not look as if she had showered that morning, but instead had pulled her particolored hair into a claw clasp at the nape of her neck. Karen settled herself beside her friend.
“Rough night?” Karen asked.
Connie lowered her glasses and peered at Karen over them. “You should talk. Did you even comb your hair this morning after the mystery man left?”
Karen ran an embarrassed hand over her hair. “Yeah, I did. But I didn’t blow dry it so it got all frizzy.”
Connie grinned. “When are you going to introduce me to this guy? We’ve been living together for almost two years now, he’s been over, like, three nights a week, and I have yet to do a single Jell-O shot in his presence.”
Karen had to smile back at the idea of Beri Quintinar doing shots with Constance Miller. “I know, I know. Someday. You guys will love each other. You’re both completely out of your minds.”
Connie rolled her eyes. “You always say that. Why can’t I meet him?”
Karen sighed as she pulled her number two pencil out of her bag, then scratched idly at her scalp with the tip. This was a question she never knew how to answer. “I’m sorry, Connie. But you embarrass the bejeezus out of me. I seriously can’t introduce you to anybody.”
Connie stabbed Karen in the side with an index finger. “I know what it is, Kay. He’s a professor. And he’s married. And you think I would tell his wife or some lame shit like that.”
Karen snorted. “You got me. I’m banging a forty year old.”
“It better be Dr. Martinson,” Connie told her. “I swear to you, I would do that old man like my life depended on it. He is a stone cold gray fox.”
Karen laughed aloud, and several people turned to look at her. “That’s fortunate,” Karen said. “I heard he will date his students. And he’ll give you an A, too.”
“No way,” Connie said seriously. “That is prostitution. I would do him just for the sheer joy of it.”
“But you wouldn’t turn down an A in history.”
Connie smirked. “Remind me to take history next semester.”
There was a newspaper on the desk before her, and Karen turned her eyes to it. LOCAL DEATH RULED SUICIDE, it proclaimed, below the headline that announced the paper as the Lincoln Star Journal. There was a picture on the front, of a smiling fellow, about thirty, with a square jaw, pale greenish hair, and gold eyes.
“Huh,” Karen said, interested and a little disturbed.
“What?” Connie asked.
Karen passed her the sheet of newsprint. “Look at this. Some half fey killed himself.”
Connie frowned, a little confused. “Oh? Did you know him?”
“No,” Karen told her. “It’s just that there aren’t very many of us. It’s just weird that this paper happened to have one in it.”
“Lincoln Star Journal,” Connie read aloud. “I wonder if he was friends with some corn husker who transferred here.”
“Weird,” Karen said, but then the professor appeared and started to pass papers to the people in the front row. He was a balding fellow with a little paunch and watery eyes. Karen nudged Connie and whispered, “It’s him. He doesn’t look like much, but the things he can do with his tongue are illegal in eight states.”
Connie guffawed loudly, and people once more turned to look at them.
“Shut up,” Connie stage whispered. “If I don’t pass calc this time my mom will kill me.”
Karen chuckled and accepted her paper from someone in the row in front of her. “If you can’t focus on your test, maybe you should move somewhere else.”
From the front, the professor called, “The test has begun, girls. Please, no talking.”
They both fell silent. If there was one thing Connie was good at, it was waking her up.
After the test, Karen walked to the gym slowly, feeling a little sorry for herself. Beri was the most beautiful person she had ever met. He was also smart, kind, funny, charming, and loyal. And she couldn’t even introduce him to her friends. They had decided to tell themselves that she was dating a married man, just to make her normal. It was hard. They could never be together openly. It was true, there were hundreds of people who suspected the true nature of their relationship. But if it was ever confirmed, that would be it. They would either have to break up or go into exile. He might be forced to abdicate the throne. There would be assassination attempts. It was no longer illegal for a fey to marry a human, but the fey had long memories. Loving a half breed was just enough to get a king murdered.
There had been a time when Karen wanted a family, children. But that was not her fate. Her fate was stolen kisses in the middle of the night, pressing her body to skin that she could never really have. And the alternative was worse. God help her, the alternative was worse
Karen sighed. The professor, indeed. If that was what Connie wanted to call him, the professor he would be. She would never know his real name