It is Friday and that means another installment of the epic fantasy/drama/adventure “Girl in the Woods.”
This story was written years ago when I had a tiny baby who would not let me sleep – ever. Reading this will be good practice for any budding editor or proof reader. Yes, that was a disclaimer. Despite that it is a pretty good story. You’ll be hooked before you know it.
This week the plot thickens. If you’re coming in new to this please read the first four installments (see the page on any of the side bars.)
Cora wrote down the guest list and notes.
Everyone was of influence. She noted the behavior of Alexander towards Candi. She made detailed notes on Julianna, Jeff, Logan and Laurel. She made special notes on Tom and especially Simon. She had orders to find out any information about those with connections to Universal Technologies. She was also told to look out for anyone who might be a threat to the union between Candi and Alexander.
Simon Oliver, 12th Earl of Greenwood, stayed at the lavish Universal Technologies house when he was in town. About once a week Annjanette Hawthorne stayed there too. Annie Hawthorne wasn’t in the inner social circle, yet. With any luck she never would be. Annie was the main Universal Technologies contact for Prince Logan. Annie had been a brilliant young executive, moving up through the ranks to make Vice President at age 27. Now at age 31 she was Simon’s protégé and Olivia Snowhawk’s right hand.
Cora found the dirt on Miss Hawthorne. Her mother had been a popular young prostitute in a brothel catering to foreign traders with a taste for attractive young ladies. Annie’s father was a local man, not a customer. He was a whores way out of the life her ticket into respectability and a loveless marriage. The mother was still unusually attractive for a woman of her class and station but rarely showed her face in public. They had two children, a son and a daughter. The father drove the children to be successful. He eventually became a success with his artistic metal work gracing the finest public and private buildings. He worked with the most prestigious architects. But the black cloud of his wife’s past hung over him. At one time he thought he could over come it and put it all behind him, but his wife was never accepted into the middle class society she longed for. She would never allow herself to be accepted. At least his children were. It was odd how the middle class never accepted his children but the ruling class took them in and ignored the past. What a strange country this was. Cora couldn’t figure these people out.
Simon was another story. His father and King Florien were childhood friends. Simon’s father became head of the court system. He was a brilliant man. Simon’s mother was also royalty, a cold and aloof woman. It was at one time rumored that Florien had fathered the baby Simon, but those rumors quickly died down when Florien showed up one day with Hyacinth and her immediate pregnancy with Alexander.
Simon was a financial genius, working with the government, but then 12 years ago abruptly quite in a shroud of mystery to work for the new international headquarters of Universal Technologies in Meadow Creek. One of his jobs was to be the contact to the government and royal family.
Simon also had another star by his name. His wife was a Real Princess. Ellie was the daughter of the wizards Jasper and Monique. Her brother Miles was another one of Alexander’s closest childhood friend.
Ellie had been Alexander’s first love. But Simon came back from a year of college and aggressively pursued her love. They were said to be a perfect match. They married young and had 2 small children.
Then there was Tom. He was also in the inner circle. He often was the buffer between Simon and Alexander. Simon, Tom, Alexander and Miles had been an inseparable foursome as boys. Simon was now in meadow creek, Miles was the royal wizard in the Moonbeam Mountains and Tom was Alexander’s closest advisor.
Tom had an impeccable pedigree. He was married to Princess Rachael, daughter of Florien’s sister. His parents were titled royalty. He grew up in an estate house with an older brother. His brother was brilliant and one of the Kings chief legal counsels. Many people thought his brother would marry Princess Julianna but nothing ever came of the match after she allegedly had an affair with Dare Crow.
Tom was the true diplomat. He mended the fences between his temperamental and often high strung friends. He was relaxed and easy going. He showed a genuine interest in people. If Cora would have any of them for true loves purpose it would have been Tom. He was tall and thin with light brown hair and a warm smile.
Tom’s younger sister Adaylee was there as well. Tom called her Addie. She was an odd one. Cora noticed how protective Tom was of his sister. She and Jeff had been involved in their college days, but that was long over.
Adaylee managed their friend, the mega popular singer Malcolm and his career. It was said they were the best of friends and maybe more. Cora had known Malcolm ten years ago when he’d given Candi private music lessons. There were more than music lessons in those private sessions. Cora was looking forward to seeing Malcolm later and maybe make a little blackmail. Oddly Malcolm’s parents were murdered right after the 16-year-old Candi had seduced him. Cora often wondered if anyone she knew had been responsible for the tragedy.
Alexander treated Candi with a reserved politeness. He didn’t act like a suitor. He didn’t act as though he was interested in Candi at all, well aside from being a fashion accessory he could hang on his arm.
Jeff on the other hand doted on Candi. This was odd. Cora didn’t know why Alexander didn’t like her. They were both so much alike. Vain, self centered, used to being the center of attention. Liked others to think they looked good.
Unlike her twin Dora, Cora had ambition. She loved the fact that Universal Technologies was run by twins. Twins with ambition. She had followed the progress of the Snowhawk twins, setting up scrapbooks. She found the location of their townhouse in the capitol. The week before she had the thrill of spending several days trailing Olivia Snowhawk. Her superior had told her to find out everything she could about Olivia’s goings while she was in town. She would write down everything she could in a day.
C was fascinated by Olivia. She visited the local library and looked up everything she could find. The business section was full of stories about new technologies promoted and created by Universal Technologies. There was an interview with Olivia from 6 months back. She spoke of how the medical technology had helped so many and the need to continue the good work.
At the end the interviewer asked, “What advice can you give to young women?”
Olivia answered, “Pursue your dreams. Don’t let anyone, especially a man, tell you that you can’t”.
It was a cliché, but Cora repeated it in her head over and over.
As she left the palace that morning to find her idol, Cora caught a glimpse of Olivia’s former lovers the Alaric Shadowford, Ambassador of the Crystal Mountain Republic. He was a magnificent specimen of manhood, muscular and mysterious and always intense. He always looked serious even when he smiled. Cora imagined herself in his arms with his broad shoulders whispering to her with his strong accent as he made love to her with wild abandon. It almost frightened her to think of it.
She saw Olivia with several men this day, but aside from Alaric there were no obvious lovers. She imagined Olivia with the Queen’s brother Prince Logan. That would be sure to create some fireworks. If she could prove they had been together it would be a large bonus.
The first day Cora was out watching she waited outside the townhouse until Olivia came out of the side on her beautiful black horse. She was dressed all in black leather. She headed for the offices of Universal Technologies and stayed until late afternoon. From there she went to a few blocks on foot to the offices of the architect Freddie Greene. Cora could see them inside the large upstairs window. After about an hour Olivia went back to the townhouse with a large portfolio. It was getting dark and Cora noticed that the fireplace had been lit. Annie Hawthorne and the eclectic young man Michael Taylor came back. They were staying there as well. Michael wore round green wire rim glasses and that day had his dark brown hair slicked back and pulled into a ponytail. The thick gold highlights, obviously not real brought out his green eyes. He was tall and skinny with a narrow face, a long sharp nose and full lips. In theory his features shouldn’t have worked but the results were attractive in an odd sort of way. His clothes were sleek and form fitting without being tight. Silver rivets ran up the sides of his pant legs. He walked with an “I don’t give a shit” swagger. Annie’s two large mongrel dogs prowled the yard, until someone called them in around midnight. Then the lights went out, except for a small blue lantern in one of the top windows. Wizardry was going on.
The next day Cora spent an entire day trailing Olivia Snowhawk around town. Miss Snowhawk, dressed to the hilt in her usual fashion. Olivia Snowhawk was known for her beautiful clothing. That was the style Cora wanted, not the fussy pink and yellow fluff Candi insisted she wear. Cora wanted to be sophisticated like the fashionable successful businesswomen in The Capitol. She adored the Meadow Creek designers and longed to shop in the trendy shops along the riverfront.
She followed Olivia first to the rare book dealer. She came out with a small package. No doubt poetry. After that it was a trip to the boot maker. She went to Jordan Jackson the finest boot maker in the city. His expensive creations, as he called them, were sought after by anyone who was anyone. A single pair of boots or shoes could cost more than Cora made in a year. The day before she’d seen the Queen’s spy Master Wizard Detective Darious Crow there. Then Cora followed her down the back alleys to the foreign section of town going through odd herb shops, more musty bookstores and tedious textile shops.
Cora had forgone Candi’s pastel gowns for something that would fit into a crowd and more of her own style. She wore a black dress with a small green pattern in the latest style, but not too flashy. Over it was a green coat of a stylish but modest cut. Her white blonde hair fell in a long braid down her back. Without make-up she was plain and pale. Nobody would ever notice her.
Miss Snowhawk had met with a couple of longhaired men in a dark odd spicy smelling teahouse. They poured over documents and had heated discussions in a foreign language. Alaric Shadowford met them for about 30 minutes. He gave Olivia a long kiss on the lips before he left. His hand lingered on her hip then took her hand in his. He whispered something in her ear. Olivia smiled and for a second rested her forehead on his shoulder. Cora made a note of that. It made her feel flush. He was an amazing specimen of a man, so much it too Cora’s breath away just thinking about him. Cora checked her sources and found out later the other two men were foreign mercenaries, looking for the last remaining war criminals and renegade wizards of the old guard government of the Crystal Mountain Republic. Cora’s superiors would be glad for this information and the obvious romantic involvement with Shadowford.
Later that day Olivia then met Annie Hawthorne, the mega music star Malcolm and Malcolm’s public relations manager Lady Adaylee Thorne for lunch at a fashionable restaurant across town. This was obviously a social call for the fashionable set. They spent most of the time drinking and laughing. Cora met with one of her sources and they watched from the courtyard coffee shop unable to hear the conversation, lip reading what she could through the use of a small spyglass carefully hidden in a book. No doubt all of their talk was social. Gone was Miss Snowhawk’s serious in-charge look that she got when dealing with business or politics.
Lady Adaylee was an odd one. Cora had seen her at the palace a few times, talking to herself, humming strange tunes. Her brother Thomas was Alexander’s chief advisor. She’d been Prince Jeff’s girlfriend at one time. That was weird too, considering how she looked. Her hair was a mousey brown mop of uncontrollable frizzy curls that fell wildly to the middle of her back, she had a long face and a slightly crooked nose, her eyes were an uninteresting greenish brown. Her eyebrows until a few weeks ago were almost one thick brown across her forehead. She’d recently had them pruned to something that looked vaguely normal. Adaylee dressed in the latest styles, always trendy, sometime a little too on edge, too much jewelry, too much eyeliner, but always looking expensive.
Her last stop was at the open farmer’s market. Olivia tuned quickly to reach for a bunch of dried lavender, Cora ran into her almost knocking her down. Getting a close up view of her idol Cora realized that Olivia Snowhawk wasn’t a dazzling beauty like Princess Candi or Kitti and the rich and famous beauties they hung out with. Miss Snowhawk was much more exciting. Her reddish brown hair was loose under her small hat. She had a sprinkling of freckles across her face. Her hazel eyes were lined with smoky gray. Her beautifully groomed nails were painted a deep maroon, matching her form fitting leather jacket. The full skirt was maroon with blue and gold stripes. Her shoes matched with large blue bows. She was shorter, much shorter than Cora expected.
“I’m so sorry, let me help you.” Olivia said in a noticeable accent. It was her own, the unmistakable lilt of the CMR. The same as the queen. The same as Prince Logan had a touch of when he was angry or trying to romance someone. This surprised Cora, who had known that Olivia rarely used her native Crystal Mountain accent in town. Olivia Snowhawk was a master at languages and accents and a master at hiding her own identity. Cora wanted to start a conversation but she was too awestruck. Here was one of the most elusive and powerful creatures in land apologizing to her in the market. Cora just smiled and said, “Really, it’s no problem, thank you”. Cora should have started a conversation but she was tongue-tied.
She took Cora’s hand and helped her get her balance. Then Olivia Snowhawk looked straight into Cora’s pale brown eyes and said, “You’re a twin aren’t you?” Then Olivia smiled and said “I’m also a twin. I have a talent for picking our kind out”.
Cora had to be quick with her response “Do you have a brother or sister?”
“A beautiful sweet brother. He compliments my abrasive personality and plain looks.”
“Oh but you’re not plain at all, you’re very pretty,” said Cora, still amazed.
“You seem a little speechless in my presence or maybe perhaps, star struck?” said her idol.
Cora said nothing.
Then Olivia squinted her eyes at Cora and in a tone that was chilling and almost cruel said “My twin brother Justin really is beautiful in a way that takes the breath away in most people. Compared to him I’m as plain and homely as you are my dear.
You’ve been following me all day. In fact you’ve been following me around all week. I suspect someone has sent you on this little hunt because they know you have an unhealthy fascination with me and would be more than willing to follow my every move. If this happens again it will get ugly. Someone will get hurt. Do you understand?”
“I’m sorry,” said Cora standing there, her feet unable to move.
“I advise you sink your loyalties and talents elsewhere if you plan on living past your 30th birthday.”
She can read my mind thought Cora. What sort of magic is she using? Speechless, Cora ran off. She was chilled by the almost threatening exchange. She’d failed.
That evening she saw the glow of light behind the curtains in the Universal Technology townhouse. The house looked like any home in the upscale neighborhood but she knew it was secured like a fortress. Cora walked back to the palace feeling depressed. Olivia’s harsh words had cut through her like a knife. “Compared to him I’m as plain and homely as you are my dear”.
Now she was again surrounded by dazzling people and it was her job to be plain. She’d always be plain and unnoticed.
Cora was saving up to move out of her plain life. She was promised big rewards. She would move away where nobody knew her. She would change her name to Magnolia Lizette. She would wear beautiful clothing and paint her eyes and lips. She would curl her pale blonde hair in masses of ringlets. Magnolia Lizette would have passionate affairs with powerful men. They would grovel at her door begging for her favors. Men like Prince Logan and Alaric Shadowford. Cora longed to escape the servitude of Candi and Kitti. She longed for a life of her own as somebody else.
Princess Kitti Visits Universal Technologies International
Two days before Alexander’s important party Princess Kitti entered the offices of Universal Technologies with her entourage. “I’m here to see The Earl of Greenwood.” She demanded to a trendily dressed young woman in the large tastefully decorated lobby.
“And you are?” asked the receptionist.
“Princess Kitti of the Lavender Forest.” Sneered Kitti.
“Oh, yes. I’ll get him right away.” And the young woman vanished around the corner. A tall, dark haired young man wearing an outlandish black suit came down the stairs.
With a slight bow of his head he introduced himself. “Princess Kitti, I’m Michael Taylor. I’ll show you to Simon Oliver’s office. Please if you’ll leave your men in the lobby. ” Kitti signaled for the men to stay to stay.
She was lead down a long hallway to an opulent office of fine woods and rich green fabrics. On the wall were two portraits. One was of Queen Hyacinth. The other was of a beautiful girl with pale blonde hair. It was Ellie, Jasper the Wizard’s youngest daughter. She was the Wizard of Meadow Creek, a REAL princess and Simon’s wife of 15 years and Alexander’s first love.
A short auburn haired man stood by the window. His bearing showed his royal breeding. His cold blue eyes met her own. It was Simon Oliver, 12th Earl of Greenwood and Chief of Operations at Universal Technologies International.
“Princess Kitti, what brings you to Universal Technologies? I’m going to assume this is not a social call.” He said as he turned to face Kitti. No love or admiration was on his face, despite her position.
“Your assumption is correct.” She replied with a cold smile. “This isn’t a social call.”
“Then state your business madam. I’m a busy man.”
“Tell me Simon, why did you decide to give up your royal post and come to work for the bastard children of Jonathan Snowhawk?”
“I didn’t give up anything Kitti, you know that.”
“Your mother is very disappointed in you.” Kitti spoke as if she was talking to a wayward teen.
“Drop it Kitti. You don’t know my mother. She wouldn’t give you the time of day. ” He replied calmly, not giving into her taunts.
“My daughter is going to marry your best friend, you do realize that.” Kitti told him as she walked across the room to where he stood.
“Not if I can help it.” He told her almost defiantly.
“You’ve already taken one real princess away from him. Don’t try it again or it will cost you dearly.”
“You may leave now.” Simon said coldly.
“What are you going to do about it?” taunted Kitti. “No, really, Simon I want to know what you plan on doing about Alexander? Introduce him to one of your odd artistic Meadow Creek friends, or one of Logan’s sluts or maybe marry him off to your sickly sister. Oh that’s right, your sister died last year. Too bad.” She had hit a nerve. She could see him flinch. “I have a proposition for you Simon. Take it and you’ll be a happy man. Leave it and I will ruin you.”
“Kitti, you underestimate my influence and that of my family. ” He remained by the window, calm and not moving. “What do you want from me?”
“Lockwood Mill isn’t for sale.”
“You are harboring illegal workers in your textile mill.” Kitti said.
“It is not in your jurisdiction. The illegal workers you speak of are here under the protection of political asylum.” Simon answered.
“It would be to your favor to no longer be involved in the textile business. I can take it off your hands.”
“The mill is not for sale. ”
“None the less, I’ve drawn up a contract to buy out 50% of your share of the Mill and 100% of Olivia Snowhawk’s share.” By then Kitti was in his face. She was as tall as Simon. She enjoyed thinking of him as short and easy to squash. “We’ll be partners.”
“I’m not interested in your offer.” Simon replied as he moved away from her and towards his desk.
“I’ll pay triple what it’s worth.”
“You don’t know what our mill is worth. Besides, we don’t need the money.”
“Selling it worth not being exposed.” She threatened.
“Kitti, unlike you I have nothing to hide.” He said with a slight smile.
“Except your questionable relationship with….” she suddenly was interrupted.
“Princess Kitti” came a voice from the door. “No amount of personal insults or blackmail or lies can make up for bad business practices. You are not and will not ever be welcome here”.
Kitti could hear the lilting accent that matched Queen Hyacinth’s. She immediately knew who the silky smooth, almost seductive voice belonged to. Kitti turned to see a brunette woman dressed in fitted wine colored jacket and a full striped skirt standing in the doorway. Kitti noticed the expensive shoes with the trademark bows and the exquisite rings and bracelets. The young man in black, Michael Taylor stood to the side. The woman stepped into the room, her heels clicked on the hardwood floor.
“Olivia Snowhawk. So we finally meet,” said Kitti. “I’ve had the pleasure of meeting your incredibly sexy father. It was years ago, when he dropped you off at college in Riverbend. I understand you had been in a bit of trouble back home”.
Simon started to say something but Kitti held up her hand.
“Riverbend, that is where you met the young Simon Oliver, the 12th Earl of Greenwood.” She continued to Olivia. “And that’s where you started your life long love affair? If word got out of your connection…”
“Simon and I have nothing to hide madam,” said Olivia coldly.
“Oh but you do.” Said Kitti giving a slight laugh.
Olivia Snowhawk shook her head and put a hand on her hip, “Princess Kitti, you can spread dirt from here to the Crystal Mountain and it won’t touch my bottom line. Nothing you do can hurt me, annoy me yes, but hurt me, no. Now, Mr. Taylor will show you out, of course unless you wish to be forcibly removed.”
“I’ll leave, but you’ll be hearing from my attorneys.”
“I’m looking forward to it Princess Kitti.” Said Olivia with a slightly amused smile then she turned and left the room.
“Alexander will marry my daughter,” said Kitti flashing an angry look at Simon.
“We’ll see about that,”’ said Simon with a slight nod and followed after Olivia Snowhawk.
Simon went into Olivia’s office. Problems with Princess Kitti were the last thing he needed right now.
Ellie was the love of his life and soul mate. Alexander was his best friend. His relationship with Olivia was something he found harder to explain. She was his partner in business and power. He was also the only person who understood her and really knew her, even more than her twin brother. In turn she knew and understood him unlike anyone else. They were friends but even more, they had become a force of power in the economy of the nation that nothing could touch. Had she been a man nobody would question their relationship.
Her jacket and bracelets were tossed on her desk. She was at the window looking over the city. She turned around and gave him a nasty mean spirited smile.
“What do you want to do about Kitti?” he asked in disgust.
“Well, since it’s against the law for me to cut her throat, I’ll let our lawyers take care of her.”
“I’ve sent word to Lockwood to add more security.”
“Did you tell them to make a sweep for internal spies?”
“Marina is already on it. She’ll be ruthless.”
“That’s why I hired her. May the gods have pity on anyone she finds.” She waited for Simon to speak again. He knew what she was thinking. He could all but read her mind in most cases.
“Want me to talk to Alexander about Kitti?”
She squinted her eyes, the way she always did when she was on the attack “It’s up to you. You’re his friend.”
He knew it was her way of saying “If you don’t talk to Alexander about it I’ll make your life a living hell.”
Simon knew things had to change. She had to meet Alexander and convince him to understand the true power of Universal Technologies International. Maybe she could convince him not to marry Princess Candi as long as she was there. He approached her and took her hands in his own. “Come to the party tomorrow. Everyone will be there. Tom and Rachael, Malcolm, Addie. Ellie is coming down tomorrow morning.”
“This is Alexander’s night to introduce his betrothed to his closest friends. He wouldn’t want a stranger crashing the party.”
“Alexander asked me to invite you. It’s about time you met him.”
“You know I can’t…”
“You can and you will.”
“I don’t know.”
“There is no reason that anything that ever happened in the Crystal Mountains should matter now. It is old history, over and done with.”
“Maybe.” She glanced down for a second, not wanting to meet his gaze.
Simon wasn’t going to let her back down. “Your application for citizenship has been personally accepted by King Florien. There is nothing to stop you from going to Alexander’s party with Ellie and me.”
“I have meetings in Meadow Creek tomorrow with Research and Development.”
“We own the company. Reschedule. I want you there.”
“To be perfectly honest, I don’t want to waste an evening with Kitti’s idiot daughter.”
“Screw Kitti and Princess Candi with an i. After Alexander meets you he’ll forget he ever heard the name Candi.”
“My dear darling Simon, you’re so full of shit.”
“Then forget Alexander. I need you there.”
“I’ll think about it. Maybe it is time I meet the handsome prince.” She smiled and squeezed Simon’s hands before she let them go.
She suddenly put her hands to her head and winced in pain. A gasp came out of her mouth. She fell to her knees, her hands still on her head. Her breath came is short gasp as she held her head and closed her eyes tight.
“Liv, please no.” Simon took her in his arms and held her tight. How many more times would she have to endure the torture?
He unhooked the top button of her shirt and unhooked her necklace so she could breathe better, then put his arms around her. He stroked her hair and held her tight.
“Keep breathing. Don’t hold your breath. Don’t hold it in.”
His mind worked quickly to figure out what had triggered this attack. Then it came to him. Why hadn’t he figured it out before?
A small brown dove with crystal eyes sat on the windowsill, silently capturing images of Simon holding a woman in his arms in a close embrace of a lover and slowly undressing her in the privacy of their offices.