Girl In the Woods (Part 20 – Home Front)

Girl in the Woods is a regular Friday feature on vampiremaman.com

This is a serial novel so I suggest you start from the beginning. Click here for the entire story.

Girl in the Woods

Part 20

Home Front

Blessedly home from the cesspool of Allegory, Dare sat in his office at the palace thinking about Olivia. He knew everything about the woman the prince had asked about. Her likes, her dislikes, every bit of background from the day she was born, her family history, her financials, even her lovers, but he’d never met her.

He knew the scars that marked her body but not the scars that must have been on her heart. A heart he was sure was as hard and cold and slick as polished obsidian. Easy to break and in turn, easy to turn into a sharp edge that could easily cut a man’s heart out, without regret or remorse.

Simon was openly hostile to anyone who would tarnish the unblemished reputation of his business partner. For that matter, Simon was openly hostile to almost everyone and everything that didn’t fit into his ideal of a perfect world. Had Simon been behind this? Had he finally committed the ultimate defiance to authority and orchestrated a meeting to advance his own power?

Dare looked through the images, choosing carefully the ones he’d send to Alexander. She smiled in most. Odd that anyone with her burdens of shame and guilt and pain could smile so sweetly. It was amazing to him that she ever left the house, much less looking so put together and confidant. Then again, she was a wizard. Wizards always prided themselves on their appearance, even if they didn’t practice the craft.

Her files were sealed order of Florien, but it was no secret to Dare. He’d asked Florien about it when the request had come in. The king had told him “Keep my son wondering. It will be good for him not to get all the answers for a change.”

Over the years Dare had kept his watch on her through his spies and sources. He knew things that even Simon couldn’t guess. He knew about her late night meetings with Crystal Mountain expatriates and mercenaries, he knew about the men in her life, he knew about her haunted tormented nights in her mansion in the woods. He knew the small details of where she got her clothes, her habit of making lists, the way she devoured books, the small sketches she made while sitting in restaurants and bars with friends.

She’d been systematically and without her knowledge kept away from Alexander.

“She’s been kept away from me as well.” He said aloud. “The game is up Miss Snowhawk.”

He thought about what it would be like to dance the dance with Olivia Snowhawk. He studied her image looking at her face, her body. He thought of her kiss in Allegory. It took everything he had in him not to take it to her bed.

He never took advantage of women, but seduction of Olivia Snowhawk would be the ultimate conquest for this wizard. She’ll be a challenge. Women were so easy and casual with Dare. No string or heartbreak, just fun and games. This one would be different because he hated the very idea of her existence.

The door opened and a dazzling sight greeted his eyes. Princess Candi was all in form fitting pink lace and diamonds.

“I’m going to some clubs, you know, like the clubs you like to go to when you pick up on women. Would you care to join me?” she asked, all girlie giggles.

“I have to work.” He said still surprised she was there, looking like a powdered sugar confection good enough to lick.

“Or, if you don’t want to go clubbing, my friends and I, well we could go to your house and party there. I know where you live. Nice place.”

“Are you high?”

She laughed. “You’re cute and built and all my girlfriends want you to come with us. They say you’re a real pleaser.” She giggled then took a deep breath. “Come with us Dare. Pretty please with sugar and ripe red cherries on top!”

Dare was lost for words. Candi’s invitation was so random and unexpected. “Not tonight, I have to leave early tomorrow, before the sun comes up,” he said, suddenly not feeling like himself at all.

She leaned over the desk and gave him an air kiss and flashing a good bit of cleavage. “Party pooper. Dream of me tonight.” Then she turned with a twirl and headed for the door.

“Princess Candi, I want to ask you something,” he said, making her spin around with a smile.

“What do you think of Alexander’s change of plans?”

“What?”

“He is now traveling with Olivia Snowhawk. Does that bother you?”

“My mom says Miss Snowhawk is a strange bazarro bitch. And she’s old, like almost your age. I mean not that you’re old but it’s different with men. You can be hot forever. What bothers me is the fact that Alexander decided to go off and take Andrew and Charles with him. Now you’re going too. No fair all the good looking fun men are gone.”

“You’ll have plenty of fun on your own Princess Candi.”

“Yes I will. Goodbye Dare. Have fun.” She grabbed his collar and before he could respond the princess planted a lingering kiss on his lips.”

“Goodbye Princess,” he said not even knowing what to think. And he was left alone again. He’d been totally disarmed by the girl. Sitting for a while Dare tried to clear his brain and get back to business on hand.

Princess Candi and Olivia he thought. They weren’t even the same species. He would have liked to tell someone the amusing story of Candi’s visit, but who could he tell?

 

~ To be continued

 

Girl in the The Woods: Allegory (Serial Novel, Part 16)

Girl in the Woods is a serial novel, and a regular 2016 Friday feature here at Vampiremaman.com. This is the uncut and unedited version of a novel that has nothing to do with the rest of this blog. If you are new to Girl in the Woods please start from the beginning (Click here for all installments or see the side bar on the home page.) Like I said, it is a novel – an epic adventure of sorts. Have fun.

Part 16: Allegory

The Road to Allegory

A few hours after leaving Jake’s Alexander and his fellow travelers took the main road going west. They came to a small wayside inn. Around it were guards and soldiers.

A few men in odd clothing mingled around, they were members of the Allegory Redemption cult.

Tom went inside. Olivia could see him talking to some men inside. He came out and took Alexander and Charles aside.

“Olivia, Michael, we’ll be making an additional stop.”

“Not to Allegory I hope,” said Michael eying the strange looking men.

“I’m sorry,” said Tom “we’re going to Allegory on official government business.

Alexander locked his eyes on Olivia. “You’ll be in Allegory with us as an official member of the royal delegation.”

Olivia glared at him, “No, absolutely not.”

“The Redemption cult” said Michael. “The town is run by the cult. They’re anti-technology, anti-magic, anti-popular culture and they hate women, especially successful women with the last name of Snowhawk.”

“A few of the citizens might be a little backwards, but that is no reason not to go there. You’ve been in far more uncomfortable places than Allegory,” said Tom

Olivia shot a chilled look at Tom “You know about the stolen shipments and highway robberies targeted at Universal Technologies and other technological companies based in the area, not to mention robberies of shipments from the mills in Lockwood and fashion houses in Meadow Creek. The stolen goods were traced back to Allegory.”

“Robberies happen everywhere, as you well know Olivia” said Tom. “This is the first time I’ve seen you seem to be remotely bothered by it.”

She turned to Alexander “Prince Alexander, as you may recall, last year at the Education and Technology Conference in Meadow Creek the Lord Mayor of Allegory sent a delegation to disrupt the meeting. They attempted to vandalize the Universal Technologies facilities and broke into the offices of the Meadow Creek Recorder.”

“It was never proved the Mayor had anything to do with the disruption or the break in to the newspaper.” Said Alexander

“No of course not.” Olivia snapped sarcastically. “Richard Long, the owner of the Meadow Creek Recorder received a charred decapitated dog body with my name carved on it after he printed an article suggesting the Mayor of Allegory was behind it. Everyone knows the Mayor of Allegory was involved but nothing was done about it.”

“I’m aware of that. Due to that sort of threatening activity, we are keeping such a close watch on Allegory.” said Alexander quietly. “You and Richard Long aren’t the only ones who have been targeted by such activity.”

“I know that. Nobody I know, including you, is safe there. If you feel you must go to Allegory, then go with my prayers, but Michael and I will go ahead to Two Brother’s. You can meet us there.”

“Those people are no better than trolls,” said Michael under his breath.

“A regiment of the Royal Guard will be there for your protection,” said Tom, ignoring Michael’s comments.

“I don’t care if you have the great wizard Darious Crow himself standing guard, I will not participate in this farce,” said Olivia.

Alexander gently took Olivia’s arm. “Miss Snowhawk, need a word in private,”

 

Alexander led Olivia into the park next to the inn. They walked to a small grove of oak trees. He motioned to the others to stay back.

Olivia stood alone with Alexander, trying not lose her temper. Her eyes burned with anger. “Simon will be furious when he hears of this.”

Alexander brushed his hair out of his face and looked her in the eye for a few moments before speaking. “Don’t expect Simon to rescue you. He already knows about the detour to Allegory.”

A touch of panic entered Olivia’s voice. “You don’t understand. Simon would never do this to me.”

“Maybe this is his way of getting you back for not telling him about the meeting with your lover the day before yesterday?”

“Excuse me?” Her face went flush.

“Shadowford,” he answered.

“My relationship with Alaric Shadowford is none of Simon’s business or yours. I will not go to Allegory and that is final.”

“What are you afraid of?”

“Losing my life for start.”

“I doubt that’s true. I’ve seen you throw a knife.”

“A knife won’t protect me against those people.”

“Olivia, I promise, I will guarantee your safety. You have my word on it”

“Alexander, I will not…”

“With you by my side as my equal, it will show them that we are serious about changing the situation. Your presence will send a clear message that things are about to change.”

“Your equal? Who do you expect to believe that? These people traffic in women and girls. It is the mainstay of their economy.”

“When I made arrangements with Justin and Simon I was promised full support from the Universal Technologies team.”

“What else did they say I’d do?”

“As I recall, they didn’t say anything about you at all. You’ll come with me as one of my advisors. I could use your insights, however skewed they might be.”

She was about to speak but he cut her off. “You always have to get in the last word don’t you? I want you with me in Allegory. We are leaving now. That is the end of this discussion.”

“I need to make arrangements…”

“It’s been taken care of.”

“I’m sure it has been.” She answered sarcastically.

“We have another small matter to discuss.”

“What else?” her head started to throb again. She took a deep breath.

Alexander’s eyes narrowed, but his voice was calm and controlled. “When we’re alone you can spit all the venom you want, but don’t you ever disagree with me in front of the others. Do you understand?”

“Are you still afraid I’ll make you look bad?”

“I’ve come to realize there is nothing you can do or say to make me look bad. Now, back to the question. Do you understand that you are not to disagree with me in the presence of others?”

“Yes. I understand.”

“Good. Thank you. Now everyone won’t think I’m traveling with a fool.”

“Oh go screw yourself. I’m sick and tired of being bullied by you.”

“Everything I’ve done has been for your own good. So stop fighting me. You won’t win.”

The pain in her head sharpened. She involuntarily winced with pain. Another headache. He wondered again what was wrong with her.

“Are you alright?”

“I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine.”

“There is nothing wrong with me.”

“You aren’t the woman that Simon has described to me over the years. What did you do, kill the nice Olivia and take her place?”

“Very funny. Ha ha.”

“Go ahead and finish. Call me an asshole. You want to don’t you?”

“Fine, you win. I’ll go to Allegory. I’ll play nice and be a perfect example of diplomacy and professionalism to everyone I come into contact with. Are you happy now?”

 

They looked at each other in silence. He wasn’t going to let her off the hook. Had she been a man he might have handled her differently. He knew he wasn’t handling it well, but she infuriated him. He had gone out of his way to be accommodating yet she openly showed her loathing and contempt for him.

Her pain and discomfort was obvious but she wouldn’t admit any of it, not to him. She just kept going. He gave her a grim smile and motioned the way to the others. “Miss Snowhawk, shall we go?”

She put her head down for a minute holding her left temple. Her hand clenched into a fist. She was in obvious pain. He said nothing and waited. He could wait all day if necessary. She looked up, her eyes glaring. “Let’s not keep everyone waiting,” she said in mock respect.

Alexander watched as she joined the others. Showing no emotion, the woman simply told Michael that they would go to Allegory as part of the diplomatic mission. Michael said nothing, as if there was an unspoken language between the two.

Arrival

The road into the town of Allegory looked like it had been recently graded, but it was a half assed job. Holes and ruts in the road made the going rough. Abandoned buildings were on the outskirts. Some boarded but most just falling down. Signs advertising brothels and live sex shows lined the side of the road.

A large three story red building stood next to what used to be a city gate. On one windowless wall was a large elaborately painted mural graphically advertising the sexual services available inside. A quarterly auction for willing freaks, middle aged virgins, and feminine men was advertised, as well as nightly live sex performances in a nearby theater.

The place was busy, with at least a dozen men waiting by a fire pit on the front porch. The men were being entertained by women in elaborate low cut orange and yellow dresses.

Despite the cold, on an upstairs balcony two women stood, clothed in nothing but thigh high yellow boots and yellow hands painted on their bare breasts. Bright gold rings pierced their nipples. Their pale blonde hair was piled high in elaborate hair styles. They’d obviously come out to see the prince. Standing silent they smiled down on the procession.

Michael and Olivia watched in disgust from Alexander’s carriage. The Prince and Tom rode their horses ahead with the guards.

“Tell me again why we’re here?” Michael asked Olivia.

“To support Alexander,” she muttered holding her gloved hands clutched in her lap.

He’d never seen her nervous like this before. They’d been caught in a bar fight a year before and she’d pulled her knife and took a man twice her size down to the ground. She regularly dealt with foreign traders who were ruthless liars and called their bluff without hesitation.

Olivia had a past so violent that he was surprised that anything could bother her. She was fearless. She would stand up to anyone man or woman, wizard or warlord. He heard rumors that she’d even killed men. This time, here in Allegory with Prince Alexander, she was different. It wasn’t just diplomacy that made her give in, it was as if she’d given up.

Michael didn’t just wonder about Olivia’s unusual behavior. He also wondered about Alexander. He’d never in his life had he imagined this grim, unwavering side of his prince. Annie had bubbled over how charming Alexander was. Simon spoke of his life long friend with warmth and respect. The media projected him as a loving, open minded scholar who made everyone he came into contact with feel good. He was portrayed as anything but the hard line bastard who was treating Olivia with distrust and disrespect that she didn’t deserve.

Michael put his hand on Olivia’s. She squeezed it briefly and let go. She’d always been there for him, since showed up at her house the day before his 16th birthday.

It was eleven years ago when he first met her. She was overseeing the final stages of construction on her mansion. He was a skinny, outspoken kid with a passion for new ideas and a burning desire to show off his knowledge to the head of Universal Technologies. He stopped by uninvited to see the amazing building project.

They’d hit it off from the start. She was delighted and amused that he’d found her at home. She hired him on the spot as her assistant, sent him the University, and kept him on her personal team for the past ten years.

“There is no prostitution where I come from,” Olivia spoke in a low voice.

Michael thought of making her feel better by mentioning her native culture had a higher moral standard, but he knew that wasn’t exactly the case. In the Crystal Mountains, they had extremely formal and complex rules of behavior, but the natives didn’t think twice about using violence or sex to settle an argument. He’d had it on good authority that brutality against women was a way of life especially among the upper echelons of her native country. He suspected that attitude towards women was the main reason why Olivia left the Crystal Mountains.

Olivia spoke quietly, breaking Michael’s thoughts, “I can’t even think of a word for prostitution in my native tongue.”

“It’s everywhere Olivia, not just here,” Michael said matter-of-factly, hoping to make her see the big picture.

“I’m not naive, I know it’s everywhere, just not on this scale, not out in the open like this Michael. Not like this.”

A few minutes passed in uncomfortable silence.

Olivia spoke again; almost sadly as if she was talking about someone she loved. “I can’t imagine being one of those women who will do anything, no matter how perverse or degrading a man might desire, as long as he’ll pay. Alexander isn’t much different than those women up there on the balcony. He’s nothing but a whore, sold to the highest bidder and pressed into sexual service by his parents in the name of tradition.”

Michael looked at her in shock. She ignored him. The carriage stopped for a moment and Tom joined them. He mumbled something about the cold.

“Tired of the view?” She asked him with a glare.

“We’ll be at the town center in about twenty minutes. What do you think so far?” Tom asked.

Olivia squinted at the view out the window and looked back to Tom. “I am disgusted beyond my wildest expectations. Did you know Princess Kitti is a major investor in the Red House we just passed?”

“Olivia, don’t get started on that. I’ve gone over Kitti’s finances more than once and there is no connection.”

“The connection is with her partners in the South. Her books look clean on the surface, but she’s hiding mountains of dirt under her proverbial rug.”

“Where did you get that information?”

“I have reliable sources Tom. Sources that don’t care whose privacy they invade or who gets hurt in the process.”

“I find that hard to believe. Kitti is Alexander’s future mother-in-law. Florien would have known about any indiscretions,” Tom said.

“Florien is blinded by the prospect of his thirty nine year old son’s pending marriage to a twenty six year old Princess who will produce an heir within a year of their marriage vows.”

“You’ve been swayed by Simon’s jaded opinions.”

“Put on your blinders and let the country go to hell. Obviously Alexander doesn’t care so why should you?”

“What’s up with you and Alexander?”

“Nothing.”

“I thought you and Alexander would hit it off like you’d been friends forever. This open hostility isn’t like you my dear.” Tom had never seen either one of his friends act so disagreeable for what seemed like no reason.

Olivia turned towards the window with unfocused eyes refusing to acknowledge Tom’s comment.

Michael knew better than to say anything. This was going to be an interesting trip.

 

 

First Night in Allegory

Allegory was an old town consisting of a maze of narrow streets and mainly dark three story buildings with steeply peaked roofs. Most windows were covered with bars or thick dark curtains that shut out the outside world. The streets and ancient window boxes were almost devoid of any plant life. On the streets drably cloaked women with wide brimmed hats walked quickly in groups. Men hung around in doorways wearing garish colored winter coats waiting for Prince Alexander’s procession to pass by. The women stopped and bowed their heads. The men cheered. Occasional windows opened and more whores waved and flashed their painted bare breasts at the procession.

Alexander and Tom entered the city with an entourage of twenty guards, along with the their small staff of assistants, groomsmen and valets. The front guards held flags bearing the royal crest.

Riding in Alexander’s carriage, Olivia and Michael were trying to keep out of the eyes of the citizens of the town. Olivia ran the trips agenda through her head and worried about what might happen with this unexpected detour. She’d planned on picking up additional staff in Lockford so needless to stay the detour to Allegory threw her off.

She could understand the security. Simon had told her about the usual ridiculously large staff Alexander carried with him of servants and advisors. Even Simon had three times the personal staff she required. “I prefer to travel unencumbered and unwatched.” She told him when Simon scolded her for traveling alone. Her fingers involuntarily slid down to the dagger strapped to her leg as she looked out the carriage window.

They arrived at a well-guarded inn that catered to wealthy out of town guests. The inn had an outer wall with all the suites facing an inner courtyard. Alexander, Tom and their personal staff were housed in the large north wing, while she and Michael were tucked away in the Western wing near where the members of the Guard were to stay. No other guests were in the place.

Alexander and Tom immediately left to meet with a few local dignitaries. Olivia told Michael to join them, telling him that it would be good experience for him. There was no need for him to be subjected to her dark mood.

 

A staff employee led her to a large suite on the top floor of the western wing. The living room was a garish mix of patterns and textures she was sure the locals thought was fashionable. No expense was spared but it still looked cheap. Gold and white tiles shone with a glass like finish on the floor. Lush overlapping rugs of orange and pink floral patterns covered the tiles. The furniture was over stuffed in the same orange and pink with black and purple added to the mix. A bar was on one side, gleaming with carved wood in ornate forms of naked nymphs. She could see it was well stocked. A large stone fireplace centered the room, a fire already blazing. On the walls were paintings of idealized scenes from the local landscape. She wondered sarcastically why they hadn’t painted in all the dirt.

Making her way to what she assumed was the bedroom, she peeled off her coat and dropped it on a couch. Stopping in her tracks she looked at where she’d sleep.

Her suite was luxurious, expensive and spotlessly clean but hideously tacky with garish colors and too many different fabrics. It was the local’s idea of what outsiders would consider impressive. The large bed was a sea of yellow and black satin pillows. The thick quilted bedspread was a checkered purple and black with yellow fringe. Velvet ropes were wound around each bedpost. For binding arms and legs no doubt. Looking up above the bed she saw mirrors. The whole damn ceiling was covered with mirrors as well as two of the walls. Thick purple carpet covered the floors. The furnishings were high gloss wood covered in what looked to be an inch thick of varnish giving it an artificial look.

She stood on the bed and checked out the mirrors. One way, thank goodness. She scanned the room looking for any peepholes or spying devices. It was clean as far as she could tell. She usually didn’t check but it was different here.

Olivia settled in her rooms alone. She ordered up food. When it arrived served by good looking silver haired man of indeterminate age. He could have been 35 or 55. She couldn’t tell. He pleasantly introduced himself as the manager of the place. He explained the many services, including services of one of their trained professionals in case she wanted male companionship. She politely declined.

“I can service you personally madam. You won’t be disappointed,” he added with a dazzling smile.

“Thanks but I’m kind of tired tonight.”

“A relaxing massage might do the trick. It would be my pleasure.”

“I just need to be alone right now.”

“As you wish Miss Snowhawk. Call me if you need anything at all.“

“Thanks for the offer. Goodnight,” she said with a warm smile. As disgusted as she was, she knew he was a trained professional, just doing his job. This place was insane. Then she slipped him a generous tip to assure she’d be left undisturbed and ushered him out the door.

Thinking she should have joined the others, she quickly changed her mind. She wasn’t in any mood to socialize with anyone. She checked her messages then tried to call Simon. There was no answer so she left a message for her best friend.

“I am in Allegory Simon, yes Allegory, and I am none too happy about it. And by the way, what the hell possessed you to tell Prince Alexander about my relationship with Alaric? My love life, past or present is none of his fucking business or yours for that matter. Thanks for stabbing me in the back.”

She turned off her machine still angry at her closest friend. How dare he tell Alexander about her most private moments? How could Simon, her own Simon, betray her like that?

She made another call to Richard Long, the owner of the second largest newspaper in the country. Again, she started to leave a message.

“Rich, it’s Liv. I’m in Allegory as part of Prince Alexander’s official delegation. You’ll get the full and exclusive story when we get out of here. In the meantime watch your back.” Her voice softened almost to a whisper. “If anything happens to you I… just be careful, alright.”

Richard answered sounding stunned. “Slow down. You’re in Allegory? For God’s sake get out of there before they kill you.”

Tears welled in her eyes at the sound of his voice. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath then continued. “You don’t understand. I’m with Prince Alexander, on his trip, you know, the trip he was suppose to be on with my brother.”

Olivia heard a sultry voiced woman in the background. “Who is it Richie?”

Olivia’s face grew flushed at the sound of the other woman’s voice. Resisting the urge to say something rude, she filled him in. “We left from Jake’s yesterday. I took Justin’s place. It was a last minute thing, that’s why nobody knows about it yet.”

“Can I print this?”

“No, don’t print anything in the next 48 hours unless you hear from Simon or me. Contact Simon in the morning. He’ll fill you in on the details. I’ll give you the exclusive story on the trip. Richard, I had to hear your voice. I had to make sure you were alive.”

Olivia heard the woman in the background again trying to coax Richard back to whatever he’d been doing with her. He snapped at the woman, telling her to back off.

“Just a second,” he said gently to Olivia. She could hear his footsteps as he left the room. “Olivia, baby, are you alright?”

“I’m with Prince Alexander and Tom, I’ll be fine,” she whispered as she held back more tears. The sound of his voice left her emotions raw. “I don’t want to be here, but I made a commitment to work with Alexander.”

“Forget Alexander, come home now.”

She cut him off. “No, I can’t. Just be careful Richard. I have a bad feeling something is going to happen…something isn’t right.”

“What? Tell me.”

“Add more security to your office and get more security on your home tonight. Please, just do it.”

“What is going on?”

“I don’t know. Listen, I have to go. I’ll call you when I get out of here. See Simon first thing tomorrow. Promise me you will.”

“Sure, I’ll see Simon in the morning.” There was a pause as they both waited for the other to speak. “Olivia, I still…”

She cut him off. “Your girlfriend is waiting. Be careful”.

She signed off not giving him a chance to respond. He called back but she didn’t answer. She went to the bathroom sink feeling like she was going to throw up. A chill ran through her body as she stood trying not to shake. Taking a deep breath she returned to the garish sitting room.

 

Olivia sat by the window alone, unable to concentrate on anything. She didn’t want to think about Simon or Richard or everything else she’d left behind before she rearranged her entire life to take this horrible mistake of a trip. There was no Jake to come in to sooth her soul and rub her shoulders. Hannah was miles in Ravenswood with her perfect wonderful husband. Annie was in Meadow Creek dreaming about Price Jeff. She tried to read but put the book down after a half page. Her thoughts drifted to Alexander. Despite the fact that she didn’t like him, Olivia thought of how awful it would be to have to marry someone you didn’t love.

She knew the living hell of being with someone who was physically beautiful but the thought of his touch repulsive. Did he love Perfect Real Princess Candi? He was defensive enough but it didn’t sound like love to her, more of a political contract than anything.

She wondered if Alexander and Candi had become lovers. Maybe, but what from what his friends said it sounded like he wasn’t overly thrilled with the prospect. But the papers had reports each day of their activities together. Images of the two smiling and holding hands were plastered across the front pages. It was enough to make a sane person want to throw up. It was enough to make any woman with half a brain want to scream, but it was all anyone talked about. Everyone was in love with Alexander, and Alexander was reported to maybe be in love.

There had always been lists of women Alexander might end up with, speculations and gossip. She knew several of his former girlfriends including Ellie, Princess Viola and Misty Barnes – all beautiful Real Princesses. All were successful women in their own rights. That’s why it seemed so odd that he’d be with someone like Candi,

She recalled the night Simon had told her about the match with Candi. She’d had him and Ellie over for cocktails. Simon and Ellie were both devastated about the news. Ellie had been in tears for most of the night, completely inconsolable. They’d even tried to get their powerful parents to come out against the union with no luck. What bothered them the most was the fact that Alexander seemed resigned to the fact that he would have to marry a woman that had been chosen for him by the King and Queen.

Olivia thought it was odd that neither Simon or Ellie had ever tried to fix Alexander up with anyone, but then again, aside from Alaric Shadowford, they’d always stayed out of her love life as well. Then again, aside from Alaric, they’d liked all of her former boyfriends, at least as far as she knew.

 

Olivia wondered who Simon would have picked out for Alexander. It certainly wouldn’t have been Princess Kitti’s simple, uncomplicated daughter. Simon would pick a woman who was tall, beautiful and confidant like Ellie. She would also be smart and politically successful with good connections. Most of all she would be of flawless reputation with nothing to hide. Olivia could think of a dozen women who would qualify. “Nobody like me.” Thought Olivia in disgust. “What an awful weight it must be to be perfect.”

An image came into her head of Alexander talking to the men from the Royal Guard that morning. He was their leader, in charge, in absolute control, with absolute confidence. His dark hair was swept off his face, each and every strand in order. Despite a day of traveling, his clothes were immaculate. His green eyes sparkled with excitement about going down that vile garishly decorated road to Allegory.

Then he had looked at her, a longer than comfortable, lingering glance that ended in a perfect mocking smile. She had smiled back with a mock sweetness dripping with sarcasm that only made him laugh. His laugh wasn’t a sneering laugh. It was full of fun and joy.

What was with this guy? One minute he’s flustered at having a woman along to spoil his fun and the next he’s the most confident, self-assured, in-charge man alive. She felt her stomach starting to cramp.

Her thoughts jumped to the party she had given the night of the arrival of Princess Candi. It had been a mock-engagement party for her well-connected politically liberal and not so liberal friends in Meadow Creek. She stared out the window, thinking about the toasts she made and her now infamous slightly drunken speech about true love and the barbarians. It was all in good fun, plus she’d gotten the reaction she’d wanted.

Everything was perfect. Her new dress had come in the day before. It fit like a glove. She’d worked hard during the past year so she’d be able to wear dresses like that.

The chandelier in the grand dining room with a thousand crystal dragonflies was what she was so proud of. She’d had it custom made of her own design. It was a spurge but one she could afford and deserved. Rumors abounded about it – the design, the cost, and the dazzling display that out dazzled all others. And now, this party would be the perfect time to light it for the first time for all of her friends.

Then there was the food. She smiled knowing she’d stolen Alexander’s personal chef to work for Universal Technologies. The man’s wife worked for one of the large fashion houses in Meadow Creek so it only made sense that he come to work for Olivia. The spread was magnificent – it was almost too beautiful to eat.

One of her guests was her old friend Richard Long, the good looking, witty, 40ish owner of the second largest newspaper in the country, the Meadow Creek Recorder. Over the years of their close friendship she had often fantasized he might be the one she’d one day vow her life long love to. Several months before, after attending the theater, friendship turned in another direction. As they walked through the park on the way back to his carriage he had kissed her, long passionate take-your-breath-away kisses. Without shame or hesitation his hands had explored her body over the delicate fabric of her evening dress. He whispered promises of more to come. He told her he was falling in love with her.

An hour later she was in his bed. Under the pretense of caring he’d weaseled all the information he could out of her. Safely in his arms she’d told him her secrets. He kissed away her tears and made love to her again so slowly and yet so passionately that she thought she would melt underneath him.

They spent the weekend together immersed in each other. He told her that he loved her over and over. She couldn’t remember ever being so happy. Weeks passed and neither one seemed to have time free. She was dealing with distasteful legal business in The Capitol. He was traveling for the newspaper.

Finally they were both back in town, free to continue where they had left off.

The day of the party all she could think of was Richard. It had been years since she’d been so in love with a man. She had planned out every detail of that night’s seduction of Richard Long right down to her scanty lace underwear and the extra pillows on her bed. In anticipation she’d freed her calendar of everything for the rest of the weekend, except Richard.

Much to her surprise he showed up with a date – a tall gorgeous blonde, a well known professional model, with a sweet disposition and an exceptionally lewd portfolio.

Olivia was the perfect hostess, graciously greeting the couple without the slightest hint of her own feelings. With 80 guests she was able to avoid Richard most of the evening.

When Richard finally found her alone he told her “You are so sexy. I love being with you Olivia, but you’re too complicated. ”

She tried to reason with him but then he said, “I need a woman who is simple and easy, someone I can marry.”

She lied and with a smile told him that she understood. They agreed that they would always be friends. He gave her a brotherly kiss on the cheek, but three months later it still stung like a slap in the face.

The day after the party, the social column of the Meadow Creek Recorder gave a lavish account of the amazing event, including her new chandelier with over 5000 crystal dragonflies. He also mentioned how brilliant, beautiful and amusing the hostess was, no doubt as an attempt to placate her feelings. He wrote that it was the Meadow Creek social success of the season, a fitting tribute to Prince Alexander. The column dripped with flattery. In the pictures she looked happy and beautifully flawless. A day later the column, including her picture, was picked up by newspapers in The Capitol and other major markets.

Richard’s words came back to her mind again “I need a woman who is simple and easy, someone I can marry.” She couldn’t be simple or easy. She couldn’t believe she’d allowed herself to give her heart to Richard Long.

“You don’t deserve me you prick,” she said aloud, her eyes filling with tears.

Thinking again of the call she’d just made to him her face grew hot. She tried to him out of her mind but it was impossible. His smile, his laugh, the way he made the room light up when he came near her. Curing up in the chair, alone in a God forsaken town, trying to forget every man she’d ever known, Olivia Snowhawk cried herself to sleep.

 

Yellow sparks swirled in the fireplace. Engulfed in a phantom’s vision, Olivia stood on a tower looking at her beloved Crystal Mountains. Her traditional dress was the softest of deep blue wool with leather trim, formfitting with a plunging neckline. Her brown hair hung in loose curls down past her knees. The large ceremonial rings of her great-great grandmother were on her fingers. As always, Robert stood next to her, handsome and protective. Tonight she could see the faint white scar along his jaw line. Her finger ran gently across the old wound. He smiled and spoke to her in a comforting voice “From your newspaper man to Prince Alexander – they all want simple, easy, uncomplicated women. You’ll never find a man in your new country who will appreciate you. Come home where you belong. Come home to your rightful place in the Crystal Mountains.” He gently kissed her “Make love to me tonight, even if it’s just a beautiful illusion.”

She backed away from him. “Damn you, stay out of my dreams.”

Olivia woke in anger. Her tiny lamp had gone out. She got a drink of water and almost spit it out. Even the water in Allegory had an off flavor. “Everything about this place stinks” she thought.

Being here made her think too much about her past. The rest of the trip will be great, she thought trying to think herself out of her bad mood. She was looking forward to the other stops, especially the time in Riverbend. She couldn’t wait to lecture at the University and touch bases with old friends. She relit the blue flames in the small lamp and took it to the bedroom.

She woke well before sunrise, still wearing her reading glasses with a book open on the bed next to her. She’d managed three hours of sleep; enough to function in what she hoped would be a quick uneventful day.

Knowing nobody else in her party was awake yet she worked on an upcoming lecture she was schedule to give in Riverbend. Around 7:00 am a girl came to her door with a tray of tea and pastries.

“What else can I do for you my lady?” She inquired.

“Get me the hell out of here.” She thought as she smiled and thanked the girl with a generous tip.

First Morning

As much as she missed him, Olivia cursed Justin for setting up this trip in the first place. She cursed Logan for not calling it off after his accident. But most of all she cursed Simon for asking her to be the replacement. Handling Logan would have been easy. He was familiar with Universal Technologies and he knew how they operated. Logan would have treated her like an equal unlike Alexander who seemed hell bent on turning her into his doormat.

There was so much that needed to be done. I don’t have time for this, she muttered under her breath, still furious about Alexander’s attitude. A panic swept over her. Her citizenship papers would arrive while she was out. Damn it to hell. She didn’t risk having them forwarded. She didn’t dare risk word getting out to her brother or father that she would finally be a citizen of her adopted country.

Wrapping her cape around herself Olivia walked across the long courtyard to meet up with Alexander and the rest of her party. She suddenly felt alone. Not the quiet solitude she longed for but a cold, heart-breaking, empty kind of lonely.

Her mind went back to that turning point in her life, when she was only seventeen, a few weeks after she arrived at the University in Riverbend. It was her first time out of the Crystal Mountains, a foreigner in a strange country. She walked across the campus in a long fur trimmed leather coat, with a bag of heavy books slung over her shoulder. Her hair, elaborately braided with ribbons, reached past her knees. She noticed the sleek wool coats and swept up hair styles worn by the local girls and suddenly felt self conscious. Not wanting to go back to her cold rooms alone, she slipped into the campus tea house for an evening with her books. Scanning the room for a quiet corner, she found the only available seat was in a small booth by the window occupied by an auburn haired young man. He was reading a large volume on economics. Despite his wire framed glasses he was extraordinarily handsome. Self-consciously she asked him if she could share the booth with him. He took off his glasses looked up with cold ice blue eyes, then melted her with his beautiful smile. When he mentioned her accent and the four earrings she wore in each ear Olivia was afraid he’d reject her for being different, but instead of rejection he invited her to join him. She had no idea who he was but soon found out he was the outcast son of one of the most powerful lords in the land. He learned she was the exiled daughter of one of the most influential men in the new government of the Crystal Mountain Republic.

They talked for hours and shared their stories of dysfunctional families and failures. She told him things she’d never dared to tell anyone else. Despite her thick accent he understood her and listened without judgment as she spilled out everything that she’d locked up so tightly in her young heart. He took her hand in his and told her not to be afraid of anything ever again.

Later that evening she took him back to her rooms. He lost his innocence that night and she regained hers. They helped each other heal their young hearts. They were too much alike for the chemistry to be there for a lifelong love affair, but they became the closest of friends. Their minds worked together like a machine or like magic depending on what their projects were. She wished Simon was here now to handle Alexander for her and calm her fears.

Taking a sideways glance at her reflection in a window she saw a pretty, well-dressed woman, but she knew Alexander wouldn’t be attracted to her. That was the last thing she needed. She was pretty enough, but definitely not Alexander’s type. From what she understood, he liked statuesque women with the kind of perfect flawless beauty that took one’s breath away.

She glanced at her reflection one last time. One look at my scars and he’d be totally emasculated. The way he stared at the scar on her hand at Jakes’ was enough to give her an advanced preview of that. She smiled grimly imagining the shocked look on his face if he saw her undressed. Oh well, there were more than enough perfect women around to fill his every shallow need and desire.

The smell of burning garbage floated through the air. There was nothing beautiful about the residents of Allegory. The town was populated by narrow minded mean spirited people, who would rather die than better their lives or those their children. Dog fights and brothels were the prime sources for entertainment. It used to be public floggings, rape and torture of just about anybody they could find who was different but they were forced to stop the practice. This place was an anomaly in a country with a culture of free ideas and equality.

Years ago the mayor of the Allegory had protested Florien’s marriage to Hyacinth due to the fact that she was from the technological advanced but socially corrupt country of the Crystal Mountains. Florien sent them the letter saying that he had found happiness and true love with a daughter of Starfire.

Olivia smiled when she thought of Starfire. When she was a child she dreamed of being just like her, a beautiful romantic vision, a leader of her people, a visionary, a woman who found true love. Starfire, the former ruler of the Crystal Mountains who over 100 years ago, set a spell so that all of the descendents of the Florien’s great grandfather would find true and lasting love. She wondered why Starfire didn’t set the same spell for her own dysfunctional family.

Hyacinth wasn’t a descendant of Starfire by a long shot, but it made a good romantic story. Besides, Hyacinth was declared a Real Princess so nobody in their right mind would even dream of questioning her marriage to Florien. Olivia could never figure out what that was about. Alexander was named after his great uncle, the man Starfire had loved with a passion that still burned bright 100 years after their deaths. How pathetic that he should marry someone like Candi who was nothing like Starfire.

Olivia had heard from friends in high places that the real reason Lord Mayor of Allegory had objected to Florien’s marriage to the mysterious Hyacinth is because he had wanted his distant cousin the beautiful 16 year old Princess Kitti of the Lavender Forest to marry the 22 year old Florien. Along with the ugly connections grew hate for anything out of the Crystal Mountains.

Stories of the war in the Crystal Mountains broke through. Tales of the technological genius of the Snowhawk clan and their push towards the equality of all citizens didn’t set well with the leadership of Allegory either. The men of Allegory blindly supported the more violent followers of the Baron and their brutal actions against women. An obscene fantasy, Olivia thought in disgust.

Ninety years ago Allegory had been founded by and still attracted members of the Redemption Cult. The group was started by a charismatic visionary who gained mental and physical power over his followers. He took their wives and daughters as his own. His followers were taught that both magic and technology were evil. They worshiped the divinity of the King and the rise of a male dominated society. Birth control and physical pleasure was dismissed as evil among married women, so brothels flourished. Sex and the degraded role of women became the center around which their culture moved. At the age of thirteen girls were chosen by the elders as either wives or whores, their fate sealed without question. There were few other respectable options for the women of Allegory.

To the citizens of Allegory, Olivia represented the evils of technology and the bad influence of independent women. She was a from the technologically savvy Snowhawk clan of the Crystal Mountains, a fact that could never be forgiven. Those were three strikes they had against her. Three strikes she knew they would use to attempt to bring her down in the eyes of their prince.

Her mind drifted to Michael. She was almost afraid to let Michael go out unescorted with his long dark hair and green eyes and trendy unconventional clothes. She told him to wear his tinted glasses and pull his hair back.

Olivia walked into the large conference room where Alexander and a large delegation of the Allegory leaders were assembled. As usual Alexander didn’t have a hair out of place. Beautifully dressed in shades of brown that highlighted his green eyes, he was almost perfect. He looked her way and with a warm smile beckoned her to enter the room.

She held her head high and an amused smile came to her face. It was show time. The self-confident presence of Olivia Snowhawk, President of Universal Technologies filled the room. She quickly spotted Michael was also in black leather from head to toe. His hair was tied back at Olivia’s request. The blue stone on his wedding ring sparkled in the torchlight.

Olivia gave him a quick wink. “Your stone is shining so bright because she’s thinking of you.” A big grin came to his face.

 

Alexander approached them, wondering what the smiles were all about. He couldn’t believe this was the apprehensive woman he had seen the day before. She looked like she owned the place.

“Olivia, Michael, I’m so glad to see you.”

Michael smiled and shook Alexander’s hand. Olivia gave a slight bow of her head and smiled sweetly. “I hate this place. The town motto should be Embrace Ignorance.”

“You do sarcasm so well my dear,” Alexander replied with a smile, he put her hand on his arm and led them to Tom.

Alexander then went to mingle with the Lord Mayor of Allegory, an imposing giant of a man, six and a half feet tall, with a massive muscular build. His face was angular and strong with squinting blue eyes. As the prince approached, he removed a garish floppy hat covered with red feathers, revealing pale short cropped hair. These people had to be the tackiest dressed society she’d ever seen. A wide grin, that made Olivia think of a frog, covered the Lord Mayor’s face when he saw Alexander. Olivia looked on in disgust.

Tom gently took Olivia’s hand and led her to the podium. “Alexander requested you give an introduction. You’ll speak after me.”

“No, I’m not comfortable here.”

“How many dozens of times have you been the keynote speaker at conferences? Come on, audiences love to hear you.”

This audience doesn’t want to hear from me,” she answered quietly.

“It will show them we’re serious about women having an important place in leadership.”

“I don’t have anything prepared.”

“Not being prepared has never been a handicap for you. You thrive on this sort of thing.”

“Tom, this is not a good idea.”

“It’s an excellent idea. Come on Olivia, you’ll score big points with Alexander.”

“Alright, a few generic words.” She took off a bracelet of tiny silver bells and shoved it in Tom’s hand. “Hold this for me.”

 

Tom gave a quick introduction to the day’s events then introduced Olivia. She walked to the podium and stood beside it so they could see she wasn’t about to hid behind anything. The group before her was obviously not pleased to see her, a foreign woman speaking before them, on behalf of their prince. Despite the hostility she felt a rush of excitement. She was the center of attention and at that moment, in charge.

Olivia smiled looking over the group to Alexander. He gave a slight smile and a nod of approval. I hate you Alexander, she thought as she sweetly smiled back at him.

Alexander half expected jeers or disrespectful noise from the men of Allegory, as Olivia stood before the group looking as if she owned the place. The room was still and silent. In a strong voice without hint of an accent she spoke with an assured and confident tone that held the room.

Thank you Lord Mayor and to the esteemed counsel of Allegory for your hospitality and good will.

Twelve years ago, when I immigrated to this country, I had the honor of meeting with King Florien. He told me that his greatest joys in life were getting to know his people and sharing that joy with his children.

Prince Alexander is truly his father’s son, a man who loves his people. He embodies that love and respect as a man of honor and trust. Taking the lessons he learned from King Florien, Alexander has spent his life in service to his people, not just the people of The Capitol and the court, but to everyone in this land. He is a visionary who will honor your way of life, values and concerns.

By embarking on this journey of rediscovery, on the eve of his long awaited marriage to a Real Princess, Prince Alexander proves, once again, that the concerns and care of you, the citizens of this land, will always come first.

There was a round of applause and cheers. Trying not to look surprised, she paused and glanced at Alexander again. Her brain was drawing nothing but blanks. Now it was time to really spread thick the lies.

I can’t begin to tell you how pleased Alexander was when he announced this unexpected detour to Allegory and the chance to experience for himself the unique spirit of this truly invigorating city. On such a bitterly cold winter day, the enthusiastic welcome from the citizens of your city warmed the hearts of all in the royal party.

So to you, the esteemed citizens of Allegory I am honored to introduce Prince Alexander of the Northwest Kingdom.

As the group cheered for their prince, Olivia stepped back, Alexander lightly kissed her on the cheek and took center stage. This morning was uncomfortable enough without the warm touch of his lips lingering on her face. That was weird. She’d said a lot of generic glob about him and in turn he pretended they on warm and fuzzy terms.

Olivia heard Alexander start to speak but his words soon became mindless background noise. A brain splitting headache pounded in her head. Digging her fingernails into the palms of her hands she attempted to maintain her composure. From years of practice she managed to keep a slight relaxed smile on her face. She wouldn’t allow anyone to see her pain. As the throbbing in her head increased, she refocused her gaze on the Alexander’s handsome face. Her eyes migrated to his shoulders and the perfect cut of his jacket, then down to his well polished boots and back up to his shoulders.

He is perfect and he knows it, she thought, as her headache suddenly vanished. Glancing at the clock she noticed that almost an hour had gone by.

As the audience cheered their prince, he stepped down and went to Olivia. She hoped he wouldn’t ask her to comment on what he’d said.

 

“Thank you for the lovely introduction. I never knew you had met my father,” said Alexander.

“Your father, is a wonderful man,” Olivia sounded tired. Her accent came out stronger than usual

“Yes, he is a wonderful man. What happened to your accent when you were introducing me? You sounded like a local.”

“In some locations I’m more welcome if I sound like the native population. Some still tend be suspicious of outsiders.”

“You’re very good at it.”

“I know.”

“Ever try acting?”

“No, I’ve been told I’m too dramatic.”

He smiled at her joke, if it was a joke. She gave him a slight smile back. He wondered if she was going to finally warm up to him.

“What’s on your agenda for today?” he asked.

“Michael and I planned on doing a little exploring around this miserable dump, you know, sort of a study on how completely disgusting selected human societies can become,” she answered.

Alexander ignored her sarcasm. “Is that wise? This isn’t a safe place for outsiders.”

“I appreciate your over concern with safety but like you pointed out yesterday, I’m good with a knife,” she answered a little too cool.

Olivia was so sure of herself that it was maddening. Alexander was glad he had made plans to keep her occupied so she’d be both out of his way and out of trouble.

He stepped closer to her taking her always cold hand in his. He could feel her tighten up. “Olivia, before you go exploring, there’s someone you need to meet with.”

“I’m not interested in socializing with any of the good citizens of Allegory.”

“I’m wouldn’t dream of asking you to do that. This is strictly business. Jet Gilroy, a private security and communications specialist had planned on meeting with Justin and Logan. Jet does classified business with some of our government interests in the South. He’s here this morning. I’ve scheduled you and Michael to meet with him. I told Jet you’d meet him at the Dogwood Inn at 10:00.”

She pulled her hand away from his. “That is just fifteen minutes from now.”

“Then you’d better grab Michael and get over there. I told Jet you’d be more than happy to accommodate him. You can give me a full report on it tomorrow.” He saw her eyes narrow. “Don’t give me that damn you Prince Alexander look. Do this for me. I’ll return the favor later.”

“Returned favor or not, it appears that I don’t have a choice in the matter. Good day Alexander. I’ll see you tonight at the reception.” she said with a slight bow of her head. She ran her hands through her hair and shook her head slightly, then smoothed out her already immaculate coat as she left the room.

“Olivia.” he called back to her.

She spun around, anger flashing in her eyes. “What else?”

He winked at her. “You look great.”

“I’m sure I do.” She shot back giving him a look that could kill. Then she left in search of Michael.

What an odd one he thought. Even in Allegory she can warm hearts, but turns cold to me.

 

Jet Gilroy

The Dogwood Inn was a comfortable three story establishment catered outsiders. It was the preferred place for out of town visitors, those not associated with the local government or the cult. Unlike most of the buildings near the main meeting center was that it was clean on the exterior, with beautifully carved doors, etched windows and an inside garden courtyard.

Olivia and Michael were met at the door of a private meeting room by a tall charming man who looked to be in his forties with a wild mane of glossy black hair streaked in the front with a few strands of grey. A thick mustache had more grey. His blue eyes were highlighted with fine lines that appeared to be laugh lines, if nothing else. His skin had a deep tan that set off his sharp features.

He looked thoroughly amused to see Olivia and Michael.

“Ms Snowhawk, Mr. Taylor, so good of you to meet us on such short notice. I’m Jet Gilroy,” he greeted them warmly with a pronounced Silver Lakes accent.

Jet led them to a back room with a large fireplace and large table. A row of small windows showed out to a tangle of old roses hedges. Two large, well dressed men stood to greet them.

“Let me introduce my associates Carlon Gray and Hal Rivers. Carlon is our expert in the personal security end of the business. Hal is our financial wizard, so to speak,” said Jet with a smile to Olivia and Michael.

Like Jet, both men were tall and muscular. Carlon Gray was in his late thirties, blonde, blue eyed and good looking in a rugged square jawed sort of way, with the build of a fighter and the signs of a once broken nose. A thin scar running the length of his chin made her wonder if he’d acquired it on the job. Hal Rivers was younger with short sandy blonde colored curls, wearing glasses with fashionable green frames accenting large his golden brown eyes. Hal would be a big hit with the trendy young women in Meadow Creek, Olivia thought to herself.

They made introductions along with the usual obligatory small talk as they settled around a large table. Olivia was feeling impatient to get started. Yes, the weather was cold, business was great, we’re excited about the River Conference, Prince Alexander is a great guy, whatever. Olivia took a deep breath and smiled. Yes, everything would be easy now that she was away from Alexander.

Jet explained his situation. “We have a client with outposts in the south near the toxic zones. We’d like to discuss what we might do for them. Perhaps some custom communication systems.”

Olivia allowed Michael to take the lead in both charm and technology talk while she observed the reactions of their host. There was something familiar about Jet Gilroy she couldn’t quite pin point. Aside from the unusually beautiful hair, he was nice enough looking, but there was something about the way he moved and the honey smooth sound of his voice that made him extremely attractive in an odd sort of way she couldn’t explain to herself. Maybe it was the Silver Lakes accent that most women couldn’t resist with all the promises of luxury and leisure that their refined culture so valued.

Her headache had come back making it was tough for her to concentrate on business at hand. Without thinking she studied the fabric of Jet’s coat. It was something she did when she couldn’t keep her mind on anything. The textures and patterns kept her mind off of the pain that no amount of drugs or alcohol could dull. One ear was still set with the discussion, but her mind went to the pattern on Jet Gilroy’s jacket..

Jet’s coat was a small black on black stripe with a hint of blue of some sort of finely woven expensive Silver Lakes wool. It was the finest wool in the world from sheep as sweet tempered and soft as an animal could be. Down the sleeves to the black trimmed cuffs, she noticed his well groomed hands. He’d had a ring on his right hand recently. Why did he take it off? She wondered if it had been of sentimental value or if it had identified him as the member of an organization. Maybe he’d recently broken up with the woman who had given it to him. A nasty divorce recently? It must have been. Most people in the Silver Lakes region wore their wedding rings on the right hand, rather than the left like everyone else. The wizard in her could sense a faint tragic tinge of a broken heart in him. She wondered what the woman looked like and if they had children together. Did the children look like him with black hair and eyes the color of a tropical sea? Did she break Jet’s heart when she ran away with a lover? Had she died a tragic and untimely death? No it wasn’t death or he’d still be wearing the ring. She’d more than likely torn his heart into shreds and left him alone and dazed, wondering what happened.

Fingering her own moonstone ring Olivia felt the pain edging down her neck to her right shoulder. She wished she was in her own office at Universal Technologies, or better yet sleeping out the storm in her own bed. She imagined her cat Ink curled up at her feet, the sound of the rain on the roof, a pot of peppermint tea with a touch of honey. Or a long hot bath and a glass of wine with a good book, a mystery maybe, just watching the rain over the trees and gardens behind her home…

Michael’s voice jerked her back into reality. “What is your client’s exact business in the south?” he asked.

Jet answered in a calm smooth voice. “They need communications networks with medical resources with a high degree of security. The objective of this mission and name of our client is confidential at this point. Let’s just say its preventative measures to make sure things stay clean and legal. We feel Universal can combine technology with legal wizardry to create the customized systems we need.”

Jet looked at Olivia, a hint of a smile turned on the corners of his mouth. “Have you been to the southern regions Ms Snowhawk?”

“No.” she answered not elaborating on it. She’d had enough of travel in the worst parts of the Northern Hemisphere without taking her chances to the South. Jet asked her about shipping. She told him they could ship anywhere, and send technical staff to train their clients, even in forbidden areas, North and South. She wouldn’t elaborate on it. Universal Technologies operated in enough countries that they could do whatever they wanted. That was information she wouldn’t share with Jet Gilroy.

Centuries ago large parts of the southern hemisphere had been polluted by careless societies and ill thought technological advances. The Starlings had all but sealed the area off and disbanded any local government centers. It was now sparsely inhabited. There were a few towns, several large prisons, and nomadic tribes of traders, and of course the scientific research outposts, including several from Universal Technologies. Most wizardry had been banned from the area as well as. Olivia had dealt with most of the technology clients in that area as well as a few traders in unusual goods. She could understand at this stage why Gilroy had kept the name of his client confidential.

“Exactly how confidential is the name of your client? There is already a good chance it is someone we’ve worked with before, or at least have working knowledge,” Olivia asked.

It was quiet. Michael set down a pencil. It rolled across the table. Olivia glanced over, making it stop before it rolled off the edge. What a waste of good wizardry. “I can respect the wish for your client’s confidentiality, but if we do work for you, we’ll need to know everyone involved.”

Jet smiled. “When the time comes, you’ll know everything.”

“Is your client legitimate? Universal Technologies will only work with clients who are completely legal and in good standing with the licensing boards for the South.”

“They have high connections with the government of the Northwestern Kingdom.”

“Very well,” said Olivia. “I’ll look forward to meeting them.”

Michael pulled his laptop out of the bag and began pounding out options and calculations. Diagrams were drawn. Questions were asked. Olivia was impressed with the amount of knowledge and ideas from Jet Gilroy and his associates. She wondered if she could persuade any of them to quit their current occupations and join forces with Universal Technologies International. Occasionally she took notes and added to Michael’s comments but for the most part observed. From time to time Jet or Carlon got up to take messages from the outside. Olivia wondered what other business they had, but didn’t ask about it. Even though her head still swam in a pain induced fog but she’d learned over the years how to keep her ears open to key words and warnings.

Michael had run the routine systems and the latest technologies on the market.

After almost three hours of talk and an invitation to Meadow Creek to meet with some specialist Jet ordered food and drink for the group. The subject quickly changed from business to Allegory.

 

“Communications were down all over the region just a few days ago,” said Jet Gilroy.

“We’re investigating it,” said Olivia.

“Do you think it was sabotage?”

“Yes I do.”

“I read the expose yesterday in the Meadow Creek Recorder about the possibilities of the Cult here in Allegory being behind it. You weren’t quoted directly, but it was implied you agreed,” said Jet.

“Implied? I haven’t had time to read the paper much less speculate on rumors of my own opinion.” Olivia jotted a note in her native language to call Richard Long and tell him never to even hint at her opinions unless she gave permission in writing.

Jet leaned back with a smile “I understand you employ more than a few wizards to help with your special projects.”

“We do combine magic with technology to create a superior product. As you know, technology can be tampered with, but a good spell can last forever.” Again she could feel a twinge of something uncomfortable in him. Maybe he had problems with wizards.

“Wasn’t Master Wizard Hannah Crow contracted to do work on a project? No, that wasn’t it. Now I remember, you were writing a book together.”

“Hannah and I are working on a book. It doesn’t have anything to do with Universal Technologies.”

“I’m sure you aren’t at liberty to talk about that either. Hannah Crow is a talented wizard. Having her name associated with anything would be an asset.”

“She’s the best. I take it you’re acquainted with her.”

“I’m sorry to say the path of Jet Gilroy has never crossed that of the beautiful and accomplished Hannah Crow.” He smiled and said no more on the subject. “I’m surprised Prince Alexander and Lord Thomas brought you to this charming town of Allegory,” Jet then mentioned sarcastically.

“We are too,” said Michael, always ready to jump in with an opinion.

“Have you ever been anywhere so appalling,” said Hal, giving Olivia a glance.

Olivia answered, without giving Michael a chance to blurt out another blunt opinion. “Yes, I have, but that isn’t part of our discussion for today. Michael and I are not visiting Allegory in any official capacity with Universal Technologies International.   We’re here with Prince Alexander, as official members of the Royal party.”

“I hear you were suppose to be in the Trinity Valley today.”

Olivia was surprised he knew this but didn’t show it. “Our plans unfortunately changed. With any luck we’ll be there tomorrow night.”

“The Trinity valley will seem all the more sweeter, now that you’ve spent time in Allegory,” Jet said as he leaned back in his chair, giving Olivia an amused smile.

“We’ve been talking for over three hours about the needs of your clients in the south. I’m still curious to know, Mr. Gilroy, what exactly is your business here, in Allegory? You could have met with us in a more desirable location,” Olivia asked back at him, not taking the bait to get personal.

“The Lord Mayor has hired us for our security consulting services. Of course, our interest in you and Universal Technologies has nothing to do with anything in Allegory. I’ve been in contact with your brother Justin for some time. Having the opportunity to meet with you is has been a more than pleasant surprise.”

Jet looked at Olivia in a way that made her feel undressed. She felt as though she gone into her soul and was looking for something. She quickly blocked out the thought. There had been too many changes and distractions. The past two days had been almost insane. Had it been another time or place she would have welcomed the sport but now was not the time or place to start into a flirtation.

“When did you meet Justin?” She wondered at the reference to her twin. Justin had never mentioned Jet Gilroy.

“Last year in Aurora Lake. We’ve kept in touch.”

“My brother never mentioned you.”

Jet shrugged with an all knowing amused look. He looked at her, straight in the eyes. “How do you like working with Prince Alexander?”

“It is an honor for Universal Technologies.” She answered with a warm smile, despite that fact that right now she felt anything but honored.

Jet lowered his voice. “I’m sure it is, but how do you like working with him on a personal level?”

She wanted to say she thought Alexander was arrogant, sexist and out of touch with reality, but she had to be diplomatic. “Prince Alexander is demanding to say the least, but always charming. I’m looking forward to helping him become reacquainted with the people of this region.”

“I was surprised the Queen let him leave The Capitol, considering his engagement to Princess Candi.”

“Impending engagement,” said Michael

Olivia glanced at her young companion in hopes he’d just stop talking. “Prince Alexander’s first concern is his people. That always takes precedence over his personal life,” said Olivia

Jet smiled at Olivia. “What do you think of his impending engagement?”

She wasn’t going to give him the response she knew he wanted. With no emotion she answered Jet’s question. “I don’t know Alexander well enough to have an opinion about the matters of his heart.”

“Oh come on, you have to think something. Everyone is talking about it.”

“I’m not of your culture so my opinions will naturally be skewed towards finding real love rather than a real princess.”

“That’s right, you don’t have legal marriages in the Crystal Mountains.”

“In my native land we vow our love to each other in private. It is a matter of faith rather than the law. I don’t believe law and love should be mixed anymore than law and religion.”

“What about you Michael?” Jet asked.

Michael’s face lit up in a smile. “As a firm believer in marriage, I’m happy to admit that 8 months ago, I married for love. I hope Alexander does the same.”

Jet laughed. “I agree with both of you. It has to be for love. This business with Candi is all too easy. He needs to find his own girl in the woods, or better yet break an enchantment.” He looked straight again at Olivia. She coolly met his eyes and held his gaze until he looked away. She couldn’t help but smile at his romantic, if not misguided notions of what Alexander’s fate should be.

“You never know, stranger things have happened,” added Hal

Jet lifted his goblet and stood up from the table. “Here’s to true love.”

“To true love,” they all said in unison, except for Olivia who remained silent.

They took a break and stretched their legs. Hal and Carlon took Michael out to the courtyard to discuss new solar technologies.

 

Olivia found herself alone with Jet, but too tired to even think of clever conversation. She covered her mouth and yawned.

“Am I boring you?” Jet raised an eyebrow at her. “You seemed a little preoccupied earlier.”

“I’m just a little tired. I didn’t sleep well last night.”

“I’m not surprised. You’re out of place here Olivia. I’m sure it is dreadfully uncomfortable for you here.”

There it was again, like he already knew what had kept her awake. Like he knew her every thought before she said it out loud.

“It is uncomfortable, but I’m used to dealing with uncomfortable people and situations.” She stopped and changed the subject to avoid getting personal. “The next time you’re in Meadow Creek come by the Universal Technologies research facility. I’ll show you things you can’t even imagine in your wildest dreams.”

“I’m sure you will.” Jet said quietly, almost as if she’d propositioned him. “I hope I don’t make you uncomfortable.”

“No, not at all. Funny, it seems like we’ve met before, even though I know we haven’t.”

“I feel the same way, like I’ve known you before, in another time, another place.”

He took her left hand and kissed it then smiled. She suddenly went flushed like a young girl. Moving his hand on the small of her back Jet gently pulled her close. His lips lightly brushed hers. “I can tell you’re feeling unappreciated and alone. You’re a smart and beautiful woman Olivia. Prince Alexander is a fool to not appreciate the experience and expertise you bring to his mission.”

There again, it was if he could read her mind. He tenderly brushed his hand through her hair and smiled. His mouth met hers again, this time in a passionate lovers kiss. For a moment she lost herself in him. Her hands were in his hair. Her senses were flooded with him. She had lost control. “Who was this man?” She thought, but did nothing to stop herself. With one hand he unhooked the pin at the top of her blouse and ran his finger along her open collar.

She put her hand up to stop him. He locked his fingers in hers as a lover would do and held her hand to his chest.

“Don’t be afraid.” He whispered close to her ear. His mouth moved down her neck.

She could smell his hair, a mix of rare exotic woods with his own seductive masculine scent lingering in. Her body was taking control over her mind. She released her hand from his and put it on his chest but couldn’t make herself push him away. Closing her eyes she savored the heat of his body next to his.

“I can tell it’s been a long while since a man has touched you in the way you need to be touched.” He softly kissed her again. “A long time since you’ve been loved the way you deserve.”

Jet ran his hand across Olivia’s right shoulder. A cold chill set over an old scar, stabbing pain jolted through her. She jerked back into reality. Before she could move away Jet kissed her again, the pain vanished.

She was flushed and embarrassed. Her imagination was getting the best of her. She was running on three hours of sleep. Her judgment was shot. But damn it she did want more. She wanted to take him back to her room and tear his clothes off of him. How did he manage to get her to go down to that level? Everything in this journey had caught her off guard. Damn Jet, damn Alexander, damn Justin, damn every man she ever knew except Michael. It was freezing in the room. She hated this place and everything about it. Something was definitely wrong, very wrong.

“Why are you really here?” She demanded, pushing him away putting her hands on her hips.

Jet smiled. “Look at you, with your aggressive no nonsense stance.” He stepped closer to her. “I’m investigating for a private client.”

“Who is your client?”

“That is confidential information.”

“Lord Mayor of Allegory?”

“I have business with him as well, but it won’t conflict with anything that concerns Universal Technologies. I’m working with the government. That is all I can tell you.”

“Are you here to investigate me?”

He put his hands around her waist again pulling her close. Her knees almost buckled underneath her. Every time he touched her she lost control. “I wasn’t planning on investigating you, in a different way.” He gave her another long lingering kiss. “Spend the night with me Olivia.” He said softly, not as a question but as an answer.

“I can’t…” her lips found his. She was lost again. Jet’s hand moved to her blouse, expertly undoing buttons. “Please don’t,” she gasped closing her eyes and bringing her lips to his again.

He met her kiss then gently whispered, “your voice says no, yet your body and spirit say yes. Let me make love to you. Let yourself get lost my embrace, if only for a few hours. When I saw you I knew…” He trailed off not finishing his sentence kissing her again. She kissed back. He pulled her closer. The heat of her body surprised him.

Her mind said she had to stop but her body resisted. “I can’t,” she whispered, pulling away and grabbing his hand from her chest.

Jet smiled and kissed her again. “You can. I’m in suite seven. Come up after the reception tonight.”

“No. I’m sorry Jet. I can’t do this,” she gasped.

He dropped his hands to his sides. “You want to have sex with me in the worst way, but I understand why you can’t. As an official representative of Prince Alexander, it would be less than fitting for you to be caught in a compromising position. But it was fun for a temporary fantasy, wasn’t it?”

Speechless, Olivia was ready to step back, but he gave her one last long passionate kiss, just before Michael and the others came back through the doors. Michael was in his element, chatting away about what an amazing organization Universal Technologies was and what a fantastic opportunity it had been to work directly with Olivia. She brushed her skirt straight, checked her buttons and took another step away from Jet.

As they went back to the meeting room Michael put his hand on her arm. “Olivia, is everything alright?”

“Aside from wanting to sleep with a complete stranger, I’m just fucking great.” she thought to herself. Jet shot a glance at her, his blue eyes laughing at her. She felt her face grow flushed. “I’m just a little tired Michael, but thanks for asking.”

Four hours later when they finally disbanded. The weather had kicked up to an ugly storm.

Jet gently pulled her aside. “Olivia, be careful on the streets of Allegory. It isn’t safe for a woman, especially one as lovely and foreign as you.” Before she could spit out the last word he put a finger to her lips. “Don’t tell me you can take care of yourself, because you can’t. Not in Allegory.”

Michael and Olivia decided to go back to their rooms before the reception. Outside of the inn they were surrounded by a group of the Mayors men. They made obscene gestures towards Olivia and Michael.

They asked Olivia if her man had marked her yet. One grabbed at her cloak and skirt. Michael puts his arm around her shoulder in protection.

A group of Alexander’s Guards came and told the men to leave or risk arrest. Olivia looked back up at the building and noticed Jet watching from the window. Then he smiled at her and turns away.

 

~ to be continued.

 

Girl in the Woods is a serial novel, and a regular 2016 Friday feature here at Vampiremaman.com. This is the uncut and unedited version of a novel that has nothing to do with the rest of this blog. If you are new to Girl in the Woods please start from the beginning (Click here for all installments or see the side bar on the home page.) Like I said, it is a novel – an epic adventure of sorts. Have fun.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girl in the Woods: Jake’s Place (Serial Novel, Part 15)

Welcome to The Serial Novel: Girl in the Woods, a regular 2016 Friday feature. For those of you who haven’t been following this story please start from the beginning (Click Here.) I started on this epic adventure when I had a small baby who was up at all hours. This is by no means an edited or polished manuscript. I’m just sharing a story – an epic fairy tale full of magic, technology, romance, adventure, and a lot of sharp twists and turns. So have fun, as the story continues… 

Girl in the Woods

Girl in the Woods: Jake’s Place (Serial Novel, Part 15)

After meeting with Olivia, Alexander was ready for a drink.

“So, are you ready for adventure of a lifetime?” Tom asked as he poured a glass of wine for Alexander.

Alexander took the glass and sat. “I thought I was leaving perfect princess hell for a few months. I was looking forward to some relaxation, soul searching, and reconnection with my people. Now I find myself shackled with a knife-throwing bitch from the Crystal Mountains. I may as well be traveling with my mother.”

“I’d travel with your mother,” said Simon with a smile, knowing the comment would annoy Alexander.

“I’d marry your mother,” added Tom.

Alexander rolled his eyes at his two friends. “Spare me your witty response. You knew Justin Snowhawk couldn’t make it and was sending his foul tempered twin sister as his replacement, didn’t you?” There was silence. “Well?”

“Yes, we both knew,” said Tom

“Olivia found out less than 48 hours ago that she’d be taking Justin’s place. You aren’t the only one who was put out by last minute changes,” Simon added.

“Why didn’t…” Alexander started.

Simon interrupted, choosing his words carefully. “We chose not to tell you until now because we knew if you had heard the news at home you would have canceled the trip.”

“You needed to get out of town, away from everything,” added Tom gently.

“You need some fun,” said Simon.

Alexander scowled and took a drink. “This isn’t going to be fun gentlemen.”

“Of course it will, Relax. Make an effort to enjoy yourself,” said Simon.

“It’s obvious Olivia doesn’t want to travel with me. Send her home and come with us Simon.”

“I’ve been on the road too much this year. I need to be with my children before they forget who I am.”

Alexander was still irritated by the session with Olivia. He was in no mood to have his situation trivialized by his friends. “Did the issue ever come up about how this would look? Princess Candi and everyone else for that matter, thinks I’m off on a male only trip, not running across the country side with some woman.”

“You’re not running across the country side with some woman. You’re traveling with your staff, and the President of Universal Technologies International and her staff,” scowled Simon

“Her one staff member. Do you realize she doesn’t even have a personal maid? A woman of her stature should have some sort of personal staff.”

“She can take care of herself,” said Simon. “Stop this one sided sexist argument and relax.”

“I can’t relax. This was to be my last adventure with the guys before a formal engagement is forced upon me.”

“It’s Olivia Snowhawk you’re traveling with. She might as well be one of the guys,” said Simon.

“She isn’t one of the guys. People will assume…” started Alexander again.

“People won’t assume anything. Besides that, Olivia will be the first to protect your honor and reputation,” said Simon as he poured himself another glass of wine. “And so what if something did happen between you and Olivia? You’ve told me more than once that you don’t love Candi.”

“Love has nothing to do with my situation.” Alexander ran his hands through his hair, then put his elbows on the table, head in his hands “I’m already the royal asshole for not marrying Viola. Unless I find a suitable replacement, I may just end up marrying Candi, regardless of how I feel about her.”

Tom leaned back in his chair and smiled. “All the more reason for you to get out of The Capitol for a while.”

“With another woman,” said Alexander still annoyed.

“Forget Olivia is a woman,” said Simon. “You need to get to know the Crystal Mountain contingency of Universal Technologies International better. Universal Technologies isn’t going away. We’re the future of technology and a major force in the economy. And were growing, fast. It is in your best interest to spend all the time you can afford with Olivia.”

“She made it clear that she had no respect for me or my position.”

“She has a great deal of respect for both you and your position,” Simon added. “What has gotten into you?”

Alexander gave him a blow-by-blow account of their meeting right up to her pathetic apology for bad behavior.

“Everything either of you have ever told me about Olivia Snowhawk was completely different from the woman I met tonight.” Alexander gave a cold look to Simon “I don’t know how you put up with her Simon. How could you leave your post with the government to work for her?”

“It was a great opportunity and an excuse to get back to Greenwood, where I’m actually needed,” Simon answered without a beat.

“Universal Technologies is a foreign owned company.”

Simon took a sip of his wine and set down his glass “Alex, you forget I own 35% of the Universal Technologies International Technologies Division. I own a third of all out of country business.”

Alexander shook his head at Simon “She has you right by the balls doesn’t she?”

“See Tom, this is why I got out of government. Attitude Alex, check your attitude.”

“My attitude?” Alexander shot back at Simon.

Simon’s cold blue eyes locked on Alexander “Keep your temper and mountains of personal baggage out of this.”

He suddenly resigned himself to the fact that he would go forward with Olivia. “My temper Simon?”

“You can’t handle being around a strong woman.”

“I can handle strong women.”

“Maybe I was wrong. You should marry Princess Candi. It would suit you to have spineless brainless simpleton for a partner.”

“What does that have to do with Olivia Snowhawk or Universal Technologies?”

“You can’t handle Olivia because you have problems with any woman who challenges your preconceived notions of a woman’s role in business verses the bedroom.

“That’s bull shit and you know it. The situation with Olivia has nothing to do with my attitude towards women, which by the way, is as or more enlightened than yours.”

“I doubt that.”

“Give me a break. I overheard you growling at her about Alaric Shadowford. What the hell was that about?”

Simon seemed surprised then regained his composure. “It was nothing.”

Alexander wasn’t going to let his friend off the hook. “Is there a problem?”

“There was. I took care of it.” Simon replied sharply.

Alexander knew he had hit a nerve.“Well?”

“It has nothing to do with our current conversation.”

“Spit it out Simon. If there is a problem with Alaric I need to know. I overheard you telling Olivia that you didn’t want her to be alone with him.”

Simon hand been caught off guard. “I’m surprised your spies haven’t already filled you in on the situation.”

Alexander ignored the jab. “Why shouldn’t she meet with him alone? He’s an important member of the CMP government, not to mention my cousin.”

Simon took a deep breath and poured more wine. “Extremely distant cousin. You overheard a private conversation you had no business listening in on.”

Alexander looked at him grimly. “Alaric told me they were lovers at one point. She’s still sleeping with him isn’t she?”

Simon took a deep breath and continued knowing Alexander would prod the information out of him. “No, it is over, thank God. I will never understand what she saw in him.“ He stopped ran his finger around the rim of the glass.

Alexander’s interest peaked. “Olivia is rich, powerful, not to mention from his own sick and twisted culture. It makes sense they’d be attracted to each other.”

“It never made sense,” Simon shot back. “From their first night together the man was insanely possessive. If another man so much as talked to her he’d accuse her of sleeping around.”

“So what does that have to do with you?”

“She’s my friend and I care about her. Do you have a problem with that?”

“It’s her life.”

“It was your life when Viola cheated on you. Did you expect me to mind my own business then?”

“That was different.”

“No, it wasn’t any different. Olivia needed me and I was there for her.”

“Simon, tell Alex about the Spring Ball.” Tom added, giving his friend a little extra support. “He’ll understand.”

“Yes, Simon, tell me about the Spring Ball.”

“Last year at the Meadow Creek Spring Ball, Alaric Shadowford, the Ambassador of the Crystal Mountain Republic, very publicly accused Olivia Snowhawk, President of Universal Technologies, of sleeping with another man. She told him she wasn’t involved with the alleged other man, but he refused to believe her. Then he hit her across the face and knocked her to the ground. I saw her fall and came to her aid. He’d split her lip open and she’d cut her elbow in the fall. There was blood everywhere.”

“He hit her.”

“Of course he did. That’s what the bastard did to control her, when he wasn’t fucking with her mind.”

“I can’t believe he’d do that.”

“Believe it. That is what men in the Crystal Mountains do to their women. They beat them into submission. That is one of the main reasons Olivia doesn’t live there anymore.”

“Why’d she stay with him?”

“Who knows, but by the time the Spring Ball came around she’d had enough of him. After Alaric hit her she clawed him across the face. He grabbed her arms and told her he’d kill her if he found out she was cheating on him. I pulled her away and told him I’d kill him if he ever touched her again. Alaric called me a few choice names and made a few ugly accusations about my relationship with Olivia and my abilities in bed. I told him to screw himself and took Olivia home.

Of course, being the good friend that I am, I made the mistake of giving her a little brotherly advice on her taste in men. I thought maybe I’d talked some sense into her. Once I got her home she told me to go to hell and mind my own business. Then she slammed the door in my face. She wouldn’t talk to me for almost a week. On the bright side she took my advice and broke it off with Alaric for good.”

“I take it you were the other man.” Said Alexander leaning back in his chair trying not to smile.

“I was accused of being the other man.” Said Simon quickly defending his reputation.

“Please tell me there was no truth in it.” Alexander said, knowing Simon would never cheat on Ellie.

“Absolutely not. Alaric is a possessive domineering bastard. It could have been a public relations disaster for us if I hadn’t had the authority to keep it out of the papers. Jonathan Snowhawk was furious when he heard about it.”

“Her father knew about it?” Alexander asked.

Simon leaned back and scowled, “Jonathan eventually finds out everything that goes on with his daughter. If it’s bad I’ll get hell for it. That’s why I was so angry when she was late tonight. Olivia claimed the delay with Alaric was due to official consulate business, but I don’t trust him alone with her.”

“Are you afraid he’ll hurt her again?”

Simon answered, carefully choosing his words. “I’m afraid, he’ll somehow force her into taking him back. He wants her to be his partner, vow her soul to him forever. He doesn’t understand her. He doesn’t care about what is really important to her.”

“What is important to her? Power? Control over her men?”

“No, the same things which are important to you. Her work, her home, her friends and family. Why did you even mention control over men? Nothing could be further from the truth. It isn’t typical of her to be in such a volatile relationship. She’s usually calm and almost passive in her romantic affairs.”

“Olivia is passive? I find that hard to believe.”

“She’s extremely caring and giving. Maybe too much so.”

Alexander wondered if Simon knew how possessive he sounded when he spoke of Olivia. He wondered if there was more to their relationship. Simon gave him the cold ice blue look that said don’t ask about it again. Simon’s all too volatile temper could get out of hand. None the less it had peaked Alexander’s interest in Olivia even more.

He started in at Simon again. “So what’s with the headaches? She isn’t one of those insidious high maintenance women is she?”

Simon went from annoyed to reserved in his answer, “If anything she’s low maintenance. You’ve seen that from her lack of staff.”

Tom jumped in “The headaches are painful but not life threatening. She’s learned to manage them.”

Simon glanced at Tom as if to signal him not to say anymore. Tom ignored him and continued telling Alexander about Olivia. “Her headaches are a remnant of everything evil in her past. Olivia suffered unbelievable horrors during the war. Justin, came away more or less unscathed but Olivia wasn’t so fortunate. She paid the ultimate price, physically and emotionally, by sacrificing her childhood along with any innocence she once had. Her scars go deep and the nightmares of violence she witnessed and experienced still cling to her. To her credit she has managed to put most of it behind her and use her experience in tragedy to help others.

Simon added, “That doesn’t excuse her attitude toward you this evening, but try to understand where she came from.”

“I have to add that I’ve never had a better traveling companion. I’m looking forward to working and traveling with Olivia again,” said Tom.

Simon said nothing as he sat back stoically.

“When did you travel with her before?” Alexander asked, not even knowing how he should react to Tom’s impassioned speech.

“We’ve made the trip to Riverbend three, no, actually four times. I assumed you knew.”

“No, Tom, I didn’t know. Seems like there’s a lot I don’t know these days.” Alexander felt puzzled again about why he’d never met her. Why his friends never spoke much of her.

“Is she leaving anyone at home? A current lover or significant other? Children?” He asked knowing he might piss off Simon again.

Simon answered without emotion “There’s nobody special as far as I know.” Tom shrugged.

“She knows Graham. Anything there I should know about?”

“Please, give the woman a little credit. She doesn’t sleep with married men, much less a slime ball like Graham. Besides, you know Graham’s aversion to wizards.”

“I didn’t know she was a wizard. You’d think Dare would have said something to me about it before I left.” Alexander digested the information. Simon was married to a wizard, so the comment was not out of the ordinary. Still it wasn’t expected.

“Dare doesn’t know she is traveling with us. In fact, Dare has never met her. “

“I’m surprised. I’d expect he’d be all over her.”

“I’m sure he would be. It is a good thing they’ve never met. I hope it stays that way. The last thing she needs is an emotional cripple like Dare up her skirts.”

“Then who should she have up her skirts?”

“Don’t be crude. What is wrong with you tonight? You’re never pissy like this.”

“Forgive me for asking about your mysterious friend. I’ll find my answers from other sources.” Alexander snapped sarcastically. “No wonder she’s not married, with all of her secrets and a friend like you hovering around.”

“It’s odd that you’re so interested in her love life, considering how much you claim to detest her.”

Alexander leaned forward and looked at Simon for a second. He knew wasn’t going to let Simon get off easy. “As Crown Prince I need to know who I’m traveling with. You’re holding information Simon. Other than the fact that she’s a pushy self centered bitch, why isn’t she married?“

Simon gave Alexander a cold glare. “Alexander, take a look at yourself before you make judgments on others. Look at your own string of romantic failures. Dumped by three real princesses and now you’re being set-up in an arranged marriage with someone too stupid to know any better. I won’t even start listing the countless other women who couldn’t put up with you. Or worse, the dozen or so who got you in their beds just to say they’d slept with you, the Crown Prince of the Northwestern Kingdom. Think about it. Not too good is it?”

“Simon, that was uncalled for.” Tom scolded him.

It didn’t stop Simon from his attack “ Why the problems with Olivia? Are you finding yourself attracted to her?”

“I find her very attractive, but she’s the last woman on earth I’d be interested in.”

“You’d sleep with her tonight if she’d have you, otherwise you wouldn’t be so rattled by her.”

“So what if I did sleep with her tonight?”

“I’d loose all respect for you simply because it would be a power play on your part and nothing else.”

“Aren’t you possessive of your little friend? I have a question for you Simon. You’ve known her for years, you run a business empire with her, yet you’ve never introduced us. Why is that?”

“Logistics. You tend to visit Meadow Creek in the spring when she’s teaching at the University in Riverbend.”

“What about when she’s in The Capitol?”

“She’s busy.”

“You’d think that just once my path would have crossed hers.”

“Don’t drive yourself crazy thinking about it.”

“You hardly talk about her.”

“I talk about her a lot. But you know I don’t give out intimate details of any of my friend’s lives to anybody. Not yours. Not Tom’s. Not Olivia’s.”

“I’m not just anybody Simon.”

“I understand that but Liv is not just my business partner. I’m the closest she has to anything resembling family here. I’m not going to betray the trust of one of my dearest friends, just to satisfy your morbid curiosity.”

“Liv? Simon, she’s more that just a friend isn’t she? Is she the one you knew at the University at Riverbend?”

“Here it comes” said Tom under his breath

“Shut up Tom” Simon growled at Tom. “You know we met our first year in college, it’s no secret.”

“So there is something to Alaric’s suspicions.” Alexander said trying to taunt the information out of Simon.

“I’m surprised you never figured it out before now,” said Tom thoroughly amused now by the direction of the conversation.

“Thanks a million Tom,” Simon snapped.

“Olivia was that mysterious girlfriend you were involved with your first year of college. She was your first, wasn’t she?” Asked Alexander.

“It was almost twenty years ago.” Simon answered.

“Sleeping your way to the top Simon?” asked Alexander not letting his friend off the hook.

Simon stood up. “Don’t even suggest it.”

“Well?” Ask Alexander with a mocking smile.

Simon gave in, knowing Alexander wasn’t going to back down. “Yes, she was the one. We were only seventeen when we met, the first quarter in at the University at Riverbend. The first time I saw her, she’d come in the tea house on campus, the only free seat was in my booth. She looked out of place and lost. I invited her to join me, out of curiosity more than anything. Her accent was so strong I could hardly understand her, but when we started to talk, I mean really talk, I don’t think I’d ever been more comfortable with anyone in my life. After a few hours of deep conversation I walked her home and stayed the night.”

“That was bold of you.”

“That night I let myself break free from everything I knew about myself and my life. Over the next few weeks I learned Olivia’s life in the Crystal Mountains had been more brutal and traumatic than I could have ever imagined. Yet, she took it almost as matter of fact. No self pity, no regrets. She looked to the future, no matter how hard that was. Like me, she was a problem for her family. They sent her as far away as possible to make sure she’d stay out of trouble and out of the press.

Nobody understood me like Olivia did. She pulled me out of my self-imposed hell and brought me back to life. We learned together how to live and love without fear or regret.”

“You never spoke much about her.”

Simon took his seat again and spoke quietly now. He looked at the window avoiding Alexander’s eyes. “It was our time alone. We didn’t share it with anyone. Olivia went back to her life in the CMR. I went home with the courage to win back Ellie. We kept in touch. That’s it. When Olivia wanted to relocate the international side of the business I suggested she move to Meadow Creek. Don’t read anything else into it.”

Leaning forward Alexander said, “You and Olivia Snowhawk. Do you still think about her in that way?”

Simon shook his head in disgust. “No, of course not. I can’t believe you even asked me that, especially since everyone in the entire kingdom knows you were the first man who ever slept with my wife. A fact my mother regularly reminds me of.”

“As you recall, that was Ellie’s idea steal away my virginity on my 17th birthday, not mine,” Alexander countered.

“Don’t remind me,” said Simon.

“What about Ellie? Does she know about it?”

“Of course she knows. ” Simon glanced out the window at the storm, then back to Alexander. His expression was pained. “There’s a strong bond between Ellie and Olivia. I can’t explain it. Ellie says their souls have know each other for centuries. When she arrived here twelve years ago, Olivia rarely slept through a night without being haunted by nightmares. Ellie helped Olivia control the demons of her childhood memories and lay them to rest for once and for all. Miles helped her out with other issues from her past. Without their help Olivia might still be struggling with memories of her past life. Think of everything you read or heard about the war in the Crystal Mountains and magnify it ten times. That’s the reality of her situation.”

For a rare moment Alexander said nothing. He knew this wasn’t the time to ask any more questions about Olivia’s past with Simon.

Simon continued. “My children adore their Auntie Livy. Olivia even has a room in her house for them. They beg to have sleepovers with her. Even my parents approve of her, in fact, the actually like her and you know how Lydia and Blane are.”

Did he ever. Alexander had spent his life watching Simon struggle with his cold and distant parents. “I had no idea Olivia was close to your family. I’ve been out of touch Simon. Forgive an old friend for passing judgment.”

“Aside from your exceptional rudeness tonight, there’s nothing to forgive. We’re all on edge tonight, especially Olivia.”

“One warning Alex, don’t push her. Don’t badger her for information.”

“I don’t badger people.”

“You have an annoying habit of always asking for more.”

“You do Alex. You always ask “what else, what else, what else after the subject has been closed. You drain people.”

“I do not.”

“Yes, you do,” added Tom.

“You guys are relentless,” said Alex.

“Now you know how the rest of us feel,” said Simon.

Alexander got up to leave. It had been along day both physically and emotionally. He needed time alone.

He put his hand on Simon’s shoulder. “I can’t believe Olivia was the first woman you slept with.”

“Ellie still can’t believe you were the first guy she ever slept with.”

“You know I’ll always love Ellie in my own selfish way.”

“She knows it too.”

“Good night gentlemen.”

 

After Alexander had left Simon and Tom talked for a while longer about their families and jobs.

“So,” said Tom, “Do you think they’ll end up killing each other?”

Simon topped of both of their glasses, draining their third bottle of wine, “She’s perfect for him. I’ve always thought so.”

“Why didn’t you tell him that earlier?”

“It’s taken twelve years for me to get them together. He’ll figure it out on his own.”

 

 

Alexander was in his room at the inn alone. Being alone had been a rare commodity over the past few weeks. He thought about his encounter with Olivia and his conversation with Tom and Simon. These past few months had drained him of all reason he thought.

He sat on the bed with notes from the meeting earlier that evening. His mind was a jumble and wandered away from the pages in a hundred different directions.

“Why couldn’t my closest friends tell me what was going on?” He thought. “It would have saved me the aggravation with Olivia Snowhawk. Why was she so confrontational?”

Maybe Olivia was afraid. He knew he could have that affect on some people with his somewhat devastatingly handsome good looks. But that didn’t make sense, she was surrounded by beautiful people. Her brother was strikingly beautiful, and she spent her days in the company of Simon and Ellie, who were both know for their uncommon good looks. There was also her former lover Alaric Shadowford with his serious good looks and well-toned body. Alex knew some people felt uncomfortable with royalty, especially the eldest prince. But then again, maybe she was just a bitch.

Simon was right, Alexander did find himself attracted to her. It was her eyes that took him. She spoke with her eyes. Now, her body was custom made for him, he could almost feel his hands running over those curves, exploring every turn, peeling away the layers of soft black leather, running his hands over her full breasts… but he tried not to think about that. He had to keep his distance.

She was strange, and she made him uncomfortable. On the other hand, he could turn that thought around and say, “She is exotic, on the edge and ready for adventure.” No, Alexander, stop you brain and get to sleep. Think about Candi. Beautiful, exquisite, and available Candi. Think about the pleasures you’ll have when you return home.” The thought of Candi suddenly made him feel ill.

His mind went back to Olivia again as she explained the route with the precision of an army general. Then of how she joked with Annie and Michael. The camaraderie and friendship between the three was obvious. He saw how she was already had a history with both Tom and Jake.

Then there was Simon. He didn’t know what to think of his relationship with her. It was a side of Simon he hadn’t seen. Olivia was more than a friend to Simon. Together Simon and Olivia were a force to be reckoned with. Alexander tried to brush the idea of them as lovers out of his head but a vision of a teenage Simon with a tempestuous young Olivia had already burned in his mind. It was a long time ago. They were just kids, he told himself.

“Why haven’t I met her before?” he asked aloud, for what seemed the hundredth time that night. He’d extended invitations through Simon but she’d always been busy or ill. On at least two occasions she’d actually sent him formal notes to thank him for the invitation and express impersonal but polite regrets for not attending.

She was so excited when she told him about the ruins. Her entire demeanor changed. There was a passion and an excitement. He should have given her a chance to talk instead of worrying about what other people might think about him traveling with her.

As he undressed for the night Alexander imagined himself seducing Olivia, almost dangerously slow. He could hear her sultry voice, “Prince Alexander, you’re so handsome, so absolutely perfect” As he closed his eyes he could hear Jeff saying “You are so shallow. One day it’s going to catch up with you”.

His mind wondered back to Candi, exquisitely beautiful and perfect, protected from the world in her sheltered innocent life. She was waiting for him body and soul. She was everything a man could want he thought desperately trying to convince himself how lucky he was.

He couldn’t let himself think of Olivia or any other woman. Alexander Florien Byron, Crown Prince of the Northwestern Kingdom had never felt so uncomfortable or unsure of himself as he did at this moment. He was a charismatic leader, a prince, and a man of honor. Why was he so apprehensive about this trip? What was it about Olivia Snowhawk that unnerved him so?

He envisioned her coming to his room in the middle of the night, and then thought, “Maybe if I’m lucky she won’t cut my throat.”

 

Morning

The morning was cold and damp. A low fog hung over the valley. Sunrise was still an hour away.

There were no servants aside from a young valet. A couple of assistants. It was a minimal trip. How odd, it was such a low key, non publicized meeting. He knew things would change once they arrived in Riverbend and his entire personal staff would be at the River Conference. There would be bevies of staff at his disposal at every stop. It was almost liberating but at the same time annoying. Tom had told him to relax. Tom was born relaxed, like a great big tabby cat.

He’d brought his usual security staff. He’d wished he could have left most of them at home as well.

The press was left at home. There was no published agenda. Charles would take care of things along the way. Simon had told him that everything would be taken care of on the Universal Technologies end of things. Alexander would get approval of all press releases.

Alex came down the stairs and could see the Universal group in the large room. Olivia was dressed in black leather holding her jacket over her arm. He noticed the dagger strapped to the side of her boot. She looked like a mercenary wizard.

She and Simon stood by the fire talking, standing close. Other wise it wouldn’t have made him notice, but after last nights revelations he wondered again about his friend’s relationship with this woman. There was nothing in the way they stood or talked that would say anything other than a close friendship, but his mind still worked. Michael came over and put his arm around Olivia’s shoulder and gave a quick squeeze. He said something in her ear and she laughed. He knew that the Universal culture was more hands on than most. It was the custom of the Crystal Mountains. They were physical people, ready to hug you or hit you on a moment’s notice.

Suddenly something slammed into him knocking him against the wall. It was Annie. She caught her balance and gasped. “I’m so sorry your highness, I tripped.”

Alex took Annie’s arms under her elbows and steadied her, then taking his time he gently brushed a stray hair out of her face. Her blue eyes met his, she stammered “I’m so sorry.”

She was tall but it suited her. It made it easier for him to be right next to her face, drinking up her eyes in his, getting uncomfortably close to her lovely lips.

He smiled. Annie thought she would melt in his arms, it was the reaction he wanted. He could have easily kissed her on the stairs without skipping a beat. He was used to this reaction from younger women.

“Don’t be sorry Annie. I’ve been asking Jake to fix these stairs for years, ” he said almost tenderly, his face still close to hers.

Alexander played the game well – a fact he was proud of. Annie smiled and blushed. It wasn’t the stairs. She had caught her heel in the hem of her long coat and he knew it. He put his hand protectively in hers and helped her down the remaining stairs. He continued to make small talk with her until they reached the others.

He thought Annie was a bundle of contradictions. She was no nonsense powerful business presence in the meeting the day before. Her blue eyes could quickly turn icy cold. He pitied anyone who crossed her. She had a reputation for getting what she wanted. Logan had mentioned this more than once. Yet here she was, ready to melt in his arms and be covered in kisses. There was a silly girlish side to her that was absolutely delightful. He could have fun playing with her. Too bad she wasn’t going with them. Too bad she was dating Jeff. It was equally a shame that she wasn’t the Real Princess.

He kissed her hand before leading her into the room. She smiled and blushed. By then Tom had met the others in before the fire but Olivia had vanished.

 

They made small talk until Andrew came in to tell them the carriage and horses were ready.

“Miss Snowhawk seems to have vanished. I believe she was looking for someone.”

“Go on Andrew,” said the Prince. “I’ll retrieve the missing lady.” It was a gut reaction. He should have sent Andrew after her.

Before he left life hand been too hectic. There was too much to do before he left. Projects had gone undone or under managed. He had to hope that his staff would cover it all. Logan promised to check up on what he could. Tom said not to worry, everything was taken care of. Tom always made sure everything was taken care of. Something would go undone. It was almost a relief to be gone.

The weight of the personal aspect of his job – the business with Candi or any real princess had almost put him over the edge. He had spent late nights working and doing research. These were tasks that could have been delegated, but he took them on just to avoid the issue.

His mother had talked with him before he left. She told him “Take this time to be away and think about your life and what is important to you and your people.”

His father said nothing after the blow out the night before.

Alexander told the King, “Let me tell you what I know about real princesses. The two women I loved, really loved were real princesses and they both left me for other men. I never told you this, but the real reason I left Viola is because I caught her in bed with another man. She was making me wait for our wedding night after our engagement. And you know I’ll always love Ellie, but I let her marry Simon, because she loved him far more than she could ever love me. This real princess thing just doesn’t work for me Dad.”

 

Alexander found Olivia near Jake’s office. “It is time to go,” he barked at her, surprising himself at his tone. Damn this woman still had him angry.

“I know. Please, just give me a minute.”

“We have to go right now”.

“I’m waiting for someone.”

“This early?”

Jake appeared as if form out of nowhere. “Livy my love, I’ve someone to see you” he almost sang.

As if out of thin air, a tall stunning brunette appeared in the doorway.

“Hannah, there you are!” Olivia cried throwing her arms around the other woman. Hannah shoved a package into Olivia’s hands.

“Prince Alexander” Olivia suddenly changed her mood “I’m pleased to introduce Grand Marshall Hannah Crow. She’s my partner. In fact, we’re working on a book together.”

“It is a pleasure to see you Alexander.” said Hannah giving a reverent bow of the head due a royal prince. “It has been a while.”

“At least twenty years.” He answered taking her hand and leaving it with a kiss. “Dare still worships the ground you walk on.”

Hannah smiled “Yes, he speaks well of you too, my sweet baby brother does. Only, he never mentioned how so very charming and handsome you’ve become.” She gave his a quick up and down inspection and a seductive smile.

Hannah was tall with a perfect helping of seductive curves covered in a tight green jacket and a flowing flowered skirt. Everything was in the right place on this woman. Glossy black hair cascaded down her back like water.. Her large blue eyes were framed with long dark lashes. Her full pink lips gave way to an easy smile. Her high cheekbones matched that of her brothers. She looked to be in her early to mid 30’s but she’d make any man of any age turn his head. “Now there is my fantasy traveling companion.” he thought to himself with a bit of amusement, wondering if she was available.

“Darling Livy, last night was so special,” said Hannah stroking Olivia’s hair with her hand. “I just wanted to let you know that I love you my dear and I can’t until you get to Ravenswood next month.”

“I will think of you often,” said Olivia ” Hannah I love you dearly and I will miss you” she said warmly and the two embraced again. “Excuse us, Alexander, I need some private time with my dear Hannah.”

“Good bye Prince Alexander” said Hannah with a seductive smile and what might have been a wink “I’ll see you in a few weeks at Ravens Wood. Rest assured that my Olivia will take good care of you on your journey.” Then she pulled him aside and whispered in his ear. “Dear Prince, I’m 54 years old. I’m far too ancient for you to be thinking such carnal thoughts about me.” The two women left the room arm in arm. Alex thought he heard giggles.

Alexander should have remembered Hannah could read minds. Just like her brother. He had heard over the years about the exploits of the powerful Wizard in Ravenswood, formerly a member of the Royal Guard, and now the regional Grand Marshall. Hannah Crow had an exceptional talent for solving the more horrific crimes in the kingdom. He found it hard to imagine this friendly seductive creature was in such a gruesome profession, much less Dare Crow’s sister. Like everything else over the past 24 hours she was a surprise. It would take him a long time to get thoughts of Hannah out of his mind.

Alexander pretended to look at a map on the wall then looked out the window at the oncoming storm. He thought about the two successful and attractive woman. Two women in love – obviously with each other. Obviously a couple. Suddenly he felt very stupid about drilling Simon why she wasn’t married. Jeff and Glinda were right, he was the most shallow person they had ever met. He tried to get the thought out of his mind. It had been hard enough to get use to the news that she had been involved with Simon.

He thought “Knowing Olivia is involved with someone is one less distraction I’ll have to worry about.” With his pending engagement to Princess Candi and the urgent business at hand he didn’t need the distraction. He needed to make his heart pure and faithful. He needed to make his mind and body pure and faithful as well. This was one time he wished he was more like Jeff.

At least Olivia was in a committed relationship with a partner or whatever her people called each other. She obviously wasn’t dazzled by his charm and good looks like most women, not to mention the fact that he was a prince. She was really didn’t seem to give a crap who he was. Olivia Snowhawk didn’t stammer or blush or bat her eyes. She obviously wasn’t attracted to him. He was sure this was the reason Simon had been so secretive about details on her personal life. He was trying to protect her from the social stigma of a same sex relationship.

At the same time he felt a big of jealousy when he thought of the two women. That was the sort of partnership he wanted. The way Hannah smiled at Olivia made him want to melt. He wanted someone who would love him as an equal partner, not just as a prince.

Candi made a pretty ornament but she could never be an equal partner. He felt the earring in his pocket. It was a nice fantasy, the thought of finding the mysterious enchanted woman.

Olivia returned still looking cheerful. “Forgive the interruption. I had to take care of a few things before Hannah left.” she said, shaking him from his thoughts. “Let’s find Thomas, we need to get to settled at the winery before nightfall. Heaven forbid we get stuck on the road near Allegory.

With a forced smile, Alexander opened the door for her, knowing there would be no winery tours for Miss Snowhawk that night.

He heard Simon speaking to Michael “Make sure she eats something occasionally, not just an apple here or there. Watch her drinking too. She thinks three glasses of wine makes dinner.”

“She won’t eat when she’s nervous. I’ll keep her calm. You know I’m one of the few people who knows how to take care of her,” said Michael, almost in a whisper.

 

Girl in the Woods

 

Next Week: Allegory and a major turn to the story.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

Girl in The Woods (Serial Novel, Part 13)

Serial Novel Girl in the Woods, Part 13

Girl in the Woods is loosely based on the old princess and the pea story, but it goes beyond a simple fairy tale. It is a story about a quest for perfection, or more the rejection of perfection the reality sets in. Because we all know there is no perfections, especially when it comes to love.

It is mostly about a circle of friends. As adults living their own lives, they are still connected.

What you’re getting is the rough story I wrote years ago when I had a small infant who kept me up at all kinds of weird hours.

Girl in The Woods is a regular Friday feature on Vampire Maman. I strongly suggest you start from the beginning as you would with any novel – especially an epic adventure like this one. CLICK here for previous chapters.

 

Before The Trip

Shadowford

Alexander was had a law degree, a minor in poetry and a masters degree in History. The history he really wanted to know was from the Crystal Mountain Republic. The country was hidden away from the rest of the world by mountains as high as thirty thousand feet. The people never left. They never let anyone into their country either.

The culture of the Crystal Mountains was built upon an obsession with both traditional mythology and traditions, mixed with an obsession with technology. Whether they stole it from the Starlings or built it themselves, the technology rarely left the country. He’d used the communications technology and seen the amazing medical technology. He’d also seen the almost magical toys and even heard that they could fly without creating noise or pollution.

At the same time the people of the Crystal Mountains were incredibly superstitious and socially backwards. Most of all they were violent in almost every aspect of their lives. They mated for life and only parted with death. There were no marriages, only personal of vows of love that lasted forever. Violence against woman was common even after the revolution that had dethroned the Wizard Lord Robin Nightlander.

Alexander had founds bits and pieces of his mother’s Crystal Mountain past from Logan, Simon and Alaric Shadowford.

Shadowford was a new comer to Alexander’s life. The Ambassador from the Crystal Mountain Republic, War Hero and 4th cousin.

His mother’s maiden name was Shadowford.

The son of intelligence officers in the rebellion army, had almost single handedly ended the war. At he age of 17 he’d killed Doran Nightlander, master wizard and the youngest son of the Nightlanders. Doran was thought to be the end of the Nightlander line. It was over.

Alaric never basked in the status of hero as would so many young men. He refused to speak of it, saying it was an effort of a people in which he played a small role.

Alaric’s life was blanketed by secrets like most people from the CMR. It was know he’d partnered with a woman who was critically ill and died a few years later. That had been ten years before he taken the ambissordship.

Doran Nightlander was known for his cruelty, which was in contrast to his almost angelic face and gentle public persona. He “dismantle” people, bury them alive, any sort of torture and spell was used to get his was. He’d started to take an interest in long forbidden weapons technology. He was a master at mind control and could read minds. He had long thought that his magic could kill, but it was an art he’d never mastered. Only the Nightlander women could do that and there hadn’t been a Nightlander woman for over 100 years.

Simon’s business partner Olivia Snowhawk had been there when Alaric killed Doran Nightlander, but she wouldn’t speak of it to Simon. Rumor was that she and Alaric were an item. There had been a few pictures in the social sections but nothing he’d been concerned about. Alexander had never met the woman. Simon never spoke of it. Then again, Simon always kept his business and personal life separate.

As children Aleric and Logan had spent a lot of time together. Alaric met with the Queen often behind closed doors.

Alexander spoke the language but truly understood the culture.

He’d invited Alaric to the party, but as with a lot of social invitations he never accepted.

“I’m sorry Alexander, I cannot attend your party.” There was no explanation. That drove Alexander crazy.

“I’m sorry as well. I was looking forward to seeing you there. You know, Olivia Snowhawk was going to attend, but had to bow out at the last minute. I was looking forward to meeting her. She’s an old friend of yours isn’t she?”

“We’ve been friends since childhood. “ Replied Alaric. And not another word. There was another pause.

“You dated her for a while didn’t you?” Alexander asked. “I hear you were pretty serious.”

Alaric gave him a smile. “Do you know her?”

“No, I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her. Funny considering she’s Simon’s business partner.”

Alaric gave Alexander a slight and rare smile “I’d love to talk all day about all of the beautiful women we’ve known but my business today is much more serious.”

“What’s up?”

“I’m finished with my assignment here. My business here is over.

Alexander was shocked. Alaric was doing such a great job. “You’re kidding, what about the refugees and everyone you’ve been helping.”

“There are others who will take care of that.” Said Alaric flatly.

Again no explanation thought Alexander. “What others? Come on Alaric, nobody could have the connections and expertise you have.”

“Consulate staff, Universal Technologies connections. Your mother. They’ll all fill the void I’ll leave.”

“I’ll be sorry to see you go. Could you talk Justin Snowhawk into taking your position?” Alexander asked. Justin Snowhawk was the brother of Simon’s business partner Olivia Snowhawk and one of the owners of Universal Technologies, the largest technology company in the entire world. Alexander had met Justin a year before and they’d hit it off like old friends. Unlike Alaric, and most Crystal Mountain natives, Justin was warm and open. He actually had a sense of humor and a worldview.

Alaric’s answer was unexpected. “Justin Snowhawk thinks you’re all barbarians.” Alaric smiled breaking the ice. “He doesn’t trust the people of the country who stole away his twin sister.”

Alexander decided to just get to the point. “Alaric, tell me what’s going on. Why are you leaving all of the sudden?”

“I’ve accepted a position with Justin. He’s in line to be the next president of the Crystal Mountain Republic. He wants me head up his International Relations staff. I’m also leaving on moral grounds. Alexander, I can no longer live here and live with myself.”

Alexander was in shock over that announcement. “On moral grounds. For the love of God, what moral grounds could you be leaving on here? We’re positively bland compared to the Crystal Mountain Republic.”

“Betrayal is a way of life here.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Love between humans is a strong and binding force not to be taken lightly.”

“Is this about Candi? You sound like Simon.”

“No, this is about your mother who would betray all that she is and all that she has ever believed in to force her son to marry a woman he doesn’t love.”

Alexander raked his hair back with his right hand and looked at Alaric in shock. “Nobody is forcing me to do anything least of all my mother. I’m courting Candi of my own free will.”

Alaric gave him a sarcastic mean sort of smile. “Don’t fool yourself cousin. For you the marriage is a legal contract. For those of us from the Crystal Mountains it is fire and passion that does not need jurisdiction of any government. It is a solemn oath between a man and a woman. A vow of love that is never broken. We don’t divorce. Once a vow is made it is forever.”

“Marriage is based on love,” said Alexander in defense.

“Cousin, listen to yourself and look at your own life. Do you love the silly princess?”

Alexander smiled “Give me time. I’m sure will, eventually.”

Alaric looked at him sadly. “Will it be a love of endless passion like that of Dare Crow bound to an enchanted woman who belongs to another? Or the love of two old souls who grew as children but grew apart in their passion only to come together again explode in a flame of need and desire. It can’t be as with your parents, a love a first sight that has never stopped even after 40 years. What will it be with you and your Real Princess?” Alaric’s green eyes sparkled. His face was serious.

“I’ll be right back. Alexander said and went to his bedroom to retrieve the poetry book.”

When he returned Alaric was looking none too pleased. He spoke again before allowing Alexander to say anything. “Unless you can give your soul to this Candi woman you will never find the true love you seek.

Alexander held out the paper he’d found at the fern chapel to Alaric.

“What do you know about this?” he asked Alaric.

Alaric looked at Alexander, he was calm but Alexander saw a hint of recognition in his eyes.

“The woman who wrote this is enchanted isn’t she?” Alexander continued.

Alaric turned the paper over in his hands, and then spoke in his native language. “Aye, she is indeed. The pictures are beautiful. She has a mind that can’t keep still.”

“Who is she?” demanded Alexander switching to the old language of the Crystal Mountains.

Alaric didn’t answer. He looked the paper over and over, gently touching his hands over it as if was a personal love letter.

Alexander pulled out the earring and put it on the table. “I found this too.”

Alaric picked up the earring and studied it. “The earrings belong to someone of great wealth. She could also be the lover of a man who values her beyond all measure. A man who would think nothing of taking her away by force to have her as his own. A man who’s passion she could never comprehend or appreciate. A man who can control her and keep her from her foolish ways. It has a fern pattern, like something you’d pick out. What is it about ferns that you like so much?”

“You know her. You gave her the earrings.” He was going to say they belonged to Olivia Snowhawk but Alaric spoke first.

“No, the object of your desire didn’t get them from me.” Said Alaric.

“The owner of the earrings is not my object of desire. I don’t even know who she is.”

“You’re intrigued, I can see it in your face. You’ve thought of since you first picked up the note.”

“Like you, I’m curious. That is all. Where did you get these things?”

“ I found the earring and paper at the fern chapel a few weeks ago.”

Alaric handed the paper back to Alexander. “Your mother is the only other one I know who has jewelry of that stone, jewelry she brought with her from the Crystal Mountains. The jewels from her castle.” He put the earring down on the table. “Ten years ago, before my diplomatic career I had a partner. A woman I’d vowed my love to. She died of an illness of the heart. There was nothing any wizard or physician could do to stop it. She owned a pair of earrings with stones like that. It’s fairly rare, from the mines of the wastes of the Northern Boundaries. The green stones are favored by the Starlings. I gave them to her the night we vowed our love. She wore them the day she died.”

“I didn’t know. I’m sorry. I never knew you had a partner.” Now Alexander, who usually knew everything about everyone felt like a fool.

“Our life together was quiet. Much different than my life now. Surprised aren’t you.”

“Yes, I am. You never mentioned her.”

“We were together for only 3 years. I don’t speak of her, but she is always in my thoughts and my heart. Some day maybe there will be another. Until then I keep my grief private.

I with to you as your kinsman and as your friend that you shall find the same happiness that I have found.”

They spoke; Alexander got the story of Alaric’s woman, a green eyed, raven haired beauty. She was a quiet loving woman, the daughter of a religious leader. Not the type one would think of with Alaric.

They discussed the new ambassador from the Crystal Mountain Republic and Justin Snowhawk’s political prospects.

In a country where just 24 years earlier nearly half of the population had died from the violence of war, starvation or disease the country had come back as a powerhouse of industry and technology. Alaric was indeed needed at home.

“Alaric have to ask you about your experiences during the war. I know you don’t like to discuss them, but you are credited into killing Doran Nightlander, who at the time was one of the most powerful and evil wizards in the Crystal Mountains.”

“You’ve been looking at old history.”

“Of course I have. Come on Alaric, you were only 17 and killed a man who might have been the most powerful wizard in the world.”

“It was nothing really. We were caught in a storm. Olivia Snowhawk was with me.”

“Were you childhood sweethearts?” Alexander asked.

“Not then. We were close. Friends. Olivia was serious, even for Crystal Mountain standards. She hated the way we lived. There was always a wild part of her ready to bolt and run away. Her father never left her alone in fear she’d run and fall into the hands of the Nightlanders.

We took shelter in the old tower, not knowing what it was. It was a sweet moment, the first time I kissed her. She was so pure and lovely, as beautiful as any princess. Such a pure and innocent moment was taken away by the arrival of Doran’s men. Doran took Olivia to the top of the tower. I fought off the attackers and was able to rescue Olivia, but it almost cost me my life. Unfortunately I don’t remember much of it.”

“Tell me about Doran Nightlander?” asked Alexander, knowing that Doran Nightlander was a wizard of almost mythical reputation.

“Doran was imposing like the wind personified. Powerful and beautiful. He lit up the room, literally. He owned the world around him and everyone in it.” Alaric went to the fire and warmed his hands then he crossed his arms as if protecting himself from an unseen enemy or trying to find comfort. “After it was over all I remember is Olivia holding me and keeping alive. She wouldn’t tell anyone what actually happened, no matter how they tried to pry it out of her.”

“Never?” Asked Alexander, who never took never for an answer. “ Couldn’t you have had a wizard read her memories?”

Alaric shrugged. “Most of our wizards were dead. Those who were alive wouldn’t go near her not knowing what Doran Nightlander might have done to her. Doran Nightlander’s magic is strong, even after his death. Disturbing the memories of his death could have hurt Olivia more than it would have helped anyone.”

Alaric pulled his collar aside, showing Alexander a scar on his neck. “It’s the only time in my life I lost memories. She saved my life. For that reason I will not ask her to bring back the nightmare.”

“Sounds like you saved her from Doran in more than one way.”

“Maybe. Maybe not, but she survived without any physical marks from him. He tried to tempt her with the promise of sex and luxury to go over to his side. When she refused him he punished her by trying to kill me. That cost him his life. “

“You were only 17. I’m not sure what I would have done at that age.” Alexander remembered he was spending his time with Ellie, without a care in the world.

Alaric smiled warmly, changing the mood drastically. “Come to the Crystal Mountains with me and you can see the country for yourself and meet the people. You’ll understand the history of our family, but more see what we’d done to build a better place. Understand our culture.”

“I’d like that.” Said Alexander.

“You won’t be able to open your eyes wide enough to see the beauty of the mountains, or the beauty of the women.”

With that comment Alexander laughed and for a rare moment thought Alaric was laughing along with him.

 

Family History

Alexander is getting ready to leave on his trip. He is looking forward to going out of town. He’d gone to the jeweler but ended up ordering something for his cousin Rachael as an engagement present. He never mentioned rings.

He looked at a portrait of Alexander and Starfire in the small sitting room off of the north tower. It was a place that was hardly used, a small library of old fiction and family archives.

He was tall and blonde like almost all of Alexander’s ancestors. He had the same build as Alexander. About the time he’d started college his father had the painting moved to this out of the way room.

Starfire was the glowing image of a woman in love but a woman of power. One of the greatest wizards who ever lived, she ruled her country with an iron hand. She also captured the heart of Alexander and he turned her heart of stone into flesh again.

She wasn’t tall. A woman with curves in the right place, shown off by the elaborate traditional clothing of her country. She was lovely, her beauty in a different way than Candi or any other woman he had known. Her hair was a reddish brown, not as dark as his.

Alexander sometimes felt as though she looked through the image at him, her eyes alive. He found himself drawn to her.

His father came into the room.

“Why didn’t you give Starfire’s diamond to my mother?”

“She wouldn’t take it. According to her the Nightlanders would get wind and come back for it. We’ll never hear from any of the Nightlanders again, thank God. Were you thinking of giving the ring to Candi?”

“No.” Absolutely no way in hell would he give something of so much value to someone who would never appreciate it’s history.

Florien didn’t comment but looked at his son as if contemplating his future.

“Dad, are there any heirs left of Starfire’s, any Nightlanders?”

“A few in the Crystal Mountains. I know what you’re thinking. Don’t try to find them.”

“I wasn’t, but now that you bring it up…”

“They’re reclusive and dangerous. They want to forget their past.”

“Robbie Nightlander’s children. They’re alive aren’t they?”

“Officially nobody knows. Unoffically, yes they are alive. “

“Where are they?”

“Robbie’s children are of no consequence.”

Do you think Justin Snowhawk would know anything about them.

“Don’t ask him. It will only bring up bad blood. His father killed Nightlanders for a living. I understand Justin Snowhawk is uncomfortable with anything to do with wizards or magic. It’s best not to bring anything along those lines up unless he does first. It will cause suspicion. If he does bring it up be skeptical about anything he says. He’ll speak like a puzzle, only giving you tiny bits and pieces but never the whole. It will drive you crazy.”

“I can handle people from the Crystal Mountains.”

“I know you Alexander, you always want the entire story. Spending time with someone from the Crystal Mountains will drive you crazy if you let it. Believe me, I’m married to one of them.”

“Do you think Justin would lie to me about it?”

“They never lie. They just don’t tell you the entire story. It’s just the way they are. It’s part of their culture.”

“I didn’t hesitate when Logan told me about traveling with Justin Snowhawk, but are you sure it is necessary for you to spend so much time with him.”

“He runs one of the largest companies in the world, and he’s the obvious choice to be the next president of their country. This is a prime opportunity for us to forge a strong and lasting relationship. We’re the same age, we have many of the same interests. I’m also sure that Justin will appreciate the fact than I’m not going to be out trolling for women every night. He’s a devoted family man. There’s almost a sweetness to him, sort of an innocence that you don’t see with many guys his age. He’s safe Dad.”

“Have you met his sister?”

“Olivia Snowhawk? No, I haven’t. God knows I’ve tried over the years, but the woman is a mystery to me. I asked Simon and Ellie to bring her to the party last week. She didn’t make it.”

“You shouldn’t have invited her.”

“I said she didn’t make it. What’s the deal?”

“Alexander, you need to take your duties to Candi more seriously.”

“Candi is a darling girl, but I’m not all together sold on the idea being married to her.”

“By the time I was your age I’d been married 17 years and had sired four children.”

“You were lucky to have found someone you felt so passionate about.”

“I know you haven’t slept with Candi. That isn’t like you.”

Alexander’s temper flared at the question. “I haven’t slept with Candi out of respect for the delicate and formal arrangement you’ve made with her mother. If she was someone like Misty or any of my other former and more mature former girlfriends I would have fucked her silly weeks ago. Are we done here?”

“I’ve set a wedding date. Six months from tomorrow.”

“Than you’d better unset it. I told Candi she’d be better off with Blake.”

“Blake?”

“The wizard. The man she’s been in love with for the past 10 years.”

“The man is nothing but a fashionable fool completely unsuitable for her.”

“He’ll be a rich and powerful wizard in a few years. Blakes’s perfect for Candi. God knows he’s as pretty and air headed as she is. A marriage between Candi and me would be a disaster. We have nothing in common. We have nothing to talk about. It’s a one way road to failure.”

“You will make it work”.

“What kind of life outside of the public pageantry could I possibly have with her?”

“Do you think your mother and I had anything to talk about? She could barely speak the language. She came from a culture so foreign that it was like living with a child.”

Alexander’s stomach sank. He’d never heard his father speak of his mother like that. “Than why did you marry her.”

“Because she was the most beautiful woman on the planet. She was wild and passionate and she twisted my heart with desire unlike any women I’d ever met. “

“Candi is beautiful and sexy but I need more. I need a lot more.”

“You will marry Candi. The date has already been set.”

Alexander began to speak but his father cut him off “There is no getting out of this one Alexander.”

“What if I meet someone else? Do I keep her as a mistress like Graham would or just be myseriable for the rest of my life?” Alexander put his hand in his pocket and fingered the earrings. He felt numb.

“You’ve already proved that you can’t pick a suitable bride. From here on out the decision is not yours. Accept your fate. You will marry Candi in six months. That is an order from your king.”

 

Conversation With Candi

Simon spent the rest of the afternoon filling his friend in on business details for the trip.

Alexander rushed back to the palace to meet with Candi. He hadn’t told her he was to take Logan’s place yet.

He met Princess Candi at his house. She was already settled in the library when he arrived, late. Dora was reading a book by the fire in the downstairs parlor. At least somebody in Candi’s entourage read. He asked her about her book, a recent best seller about fashion. She seemed pleased that he noticed. He felt sorry for such a sweet girl like Dora to have to have spent most of her life being kicked around by Princess Kitti. At least if he married Candi, it would be good for Dora.

Candi ran to greet him when he arrived at the library. “Just like a puppy.” He thought. He gave her a light kiss on her perfect pink mouth. She smiled and led him by the hand to the window. The sunset was a brilliant glow of pink and blue on the large clouds.

“What a beautiful sunset. It makes me think of kisses and true love. I guess I’m just a romantic” exclaimed Candi

“What do you consider romantic sweet Candi?” Alexander asked wistfully, looking into what he had to admit were two of the most beautiful blue eyes he had ever seen.

“Being showered with flowers and jewels just because I’m pretty. Dancing at the ball with a prince, knowing he thinks I’m the most beautiful woman there. Having you treat me like everyday is my birthday. But do you want to know what I think is the most romantic thing of all?”

“What’s that?”

She gave him a pretty smile and batted her eyes. “Secret names”

Alexander leaned back on the window seat. Her idea of romance was a bit childish and self-centered , but he had to admit she was awfully cute. “Tell me, dear princess, what are secret names?”

“You know, special names. I think you should have a special name for me.”

“You mean pet names?” He asked attempting to hide his sudden disgust. This couldn’t be happening. He was trying to make it work with her, but this went too far.

She put her hands around his neck and leaned into him, almost in his lap. “Yes. Let’s have pet names for each other. I could call you Cuddles or Princely.”

“Candi, I don’t think we’re quite ready for special pet names yet.” His tone changed from light to serious. This is where he had to draw the line on too much cuteness.

“No?” she said with a childish frown.

“No, darling, I don’t think so. I’m not really a pet name kind of guy.”

Her arms dropped to her sides. Her bottom lip went out in a seductive pout. She mocked a little cry. He glanced at the sunset again and thought of the perfect pet name for Candi “idiot girl”.

Candi continued to pout at him. A flock of sparrows could land on that bottom lip. “Listen, Candi, sit down, right here next to me.” He patted the seat next to him “I have to talk to you, seriously.”

She sat close to him, their hips and shoulder touching, a little too close for his current comfort. “About our soon to be engagement?” she asked poised for a kiss.

He shifted to face her, adding a few inches between them. “Candi, I’ll be traveling for a few months on business. I’m leaving in three days.”

“To the River Conference? May I come with you? Please, please, please take me with you.”

“No, the River Conference isn’t for another few months. Remember when we talked about Logan’s trip.”

“At your party. He’ll travel with one of those odd Universal Crystal Mountain people.”

“The Crystal Mountain person you mentioned is Justin Snowhawk, one of the owners of Universal Technologies. Candi, darling, Logan won’t be well enough to travel, so I’m taking his place.”

“Can’t you send somebody else?”

“Candi this is a very, very important diplomatic and business venture. I need to be there.”

Candi threw her arms around his neck. “I’ll miss you so much. I want to go with you. Please, please, pretty please.”

Gently taking her hand, he looked into her beautiful blue eyes. “I’m sorry I can’t. It’s a guy’s trip. It will be all business, and when we’re not engaged in business we’ll be out fishing or hiking around forests and ruins. It will be far too rough and tumble for a pretty princess like you.”

“Announce our engagement before you go and I want a ring. A big ring.” She tightened her arms around him, in excitement, like a child on her birthday.

“Candi, I can’t do that.” He unlatched her arms and held her hands. He saw the hurt in her eyes.

“Why not? Don’t you love me?” she said in almost a whisper, her voice starting to crack as her blue eyes watered over.

Alexander shook his head. “Love isn’t easy for me Candi. I can’t rush my heart. I’m sorry”

She threw herself into his arms again and started to cry. He rubbed her back and stroked her hair like he would a crying child. He wanted to yell, “No, I doubt I’ll never love you. I’ve can’t wait to as far away from you as I can,” but kept his thoughts to himself and told her “I’ll be back in no time. You’ll be so busy you won’t even miss me.”

After a romantic candlelit dinner for two in the flower filled formal dining room, Candi was back to her charming and happy self. Over dessert he presented her with a diamond and pearl bracelet that seemed to make her happy.

After dinner he went to the wine cellar for something stronger. She was gone when he returned. He found a trail of flowers from the vase on the table leading up to his bedroom. This wasn’t what he’d planned on.

She lay on her back on the bed, legs spread, arms over her head. Her hair fanned out around her, the diamond bracelet on her arm. She wore nothing but her sheer lace stockings held up with jeweled garters. She reminded him of a high priced whore, or at least what he imagined a high priced whore looked like. It was sad.

“Put this on.” He said tossing her his robe.

“Don’t you want me?”

“I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t want to have sex with you this very second, but you expect me to love you in return and I can’t give you right now.” he told her, knowing if she had stayed, and if he’d made love to her that there would be no turning back.

“But ….”

“You’re absolutely beautiful. Please get dressed and meet me downstairs.”

He waited with a glass of wine and a headache. He wanted her so badly but it would have been wrong. If she had been another woman it would have been so easy to drop his clothes and join her in bed. And then what? Would they talk? What would they talk about? Another endless conversation about parties and social gossip.

It had been over a month since she had arrived. It had been an exhausting blur of parties and nights out on the town. Time with Candi always lead to conversations on redecorating in colors that only belonged in a whorehouse. After decorating conversation, Candi always wanted to talk about clothes and parties and gossip. It was like having a 14 year old girl around.

He handed her a box containing a necklace and earrings to go with the bracelet he had given her at the dinner table. She squeeled with delight. The damn things cost as much as the college education, but it was worth the bribe to get her leave on her own accord.

After she’d left, with her strange twins, escorted by members of his staff, Alexander felt drained and relieved.

He took out the earring he’d found in the Fern Chapel. It was nothing like Candi would have worn. He carefully unfolded the note and ran his fingers across the water stains.

“Two by love, two by faith. I will find you.” He said aloud.

He imagined the girl with the earring. She was a woman of unmatched beauty. Tall and elegant. She was calm and serene, never making demands, always giving support and comfort. She was intelligent and witty with a smile that would melt a man away. She would be Princess Candi with a brain. Upon their meeting he would release her from the enchantment that bound her. In return she would gladly become his wife. It would be clean and simple. They would live happily ever after.

He thought of past girlfriends. Starting with Ellie and moving on to Viola, all had been strong willed, enormously fun and exceptionally smart and beautiful. There was his college girlfriend, the exquisite Misty Barnes who was now the mayor of Ravenswood, and engaged to be married. There were more he had been involved with briefly. The joke was that he couldn’t last more than two weeks with a woman before he became bored with her. It was true. He had many female friends, but all were too smart to become romantically involved with him.

He’d been involved with three other Real Princesses, Ellie, Viola and Misty. Misty was carnal unlike any woman he’d ever known, but he only truly loved two – Ellie and Viola. Ellie was his first love. He had thought Viola was his true love, his soul mate, but it had been a lie. She had never loved him. Just like he would never love Candi.

He remembered Viola’s words. “I was never in love with you. I was in love with the idea of you.”

Candi didn’t think about ideas. In fact, most of the time it seemed like she didn’t think at all. Everything was clear cut and simple for her.

He picked up the book of poetry he’d found in the Fern Chapel and opened it to a random page.

“My wild unexpected love. You ambushed me, you attacked my senses, you took me by surprise, body, heart and soul.”

His grandfather had written that to his grandmother. That is what he wanted. What they had. He wanted what his parents had. He wanted what Simon and Ellie had.

Again he said aloud to himself “Two by love, two by faith, I will find you.”

 

~ To be continued. Next week: The Journey Begins.

 

 

 

 

Girl in the Wood: Turning Point (Part 12)

Girl in the Woods, the serial novel, is a regular 2016 Friday feature on Vampire Maman. If you’re new start from the top. I recommend you start from the beginning. CLICK here for all of the installments.

Girl in the Wood: Turning Point (Part 12)

Alexander was in his office reviewing trade agreements with the government of the Moonbeam Mountains. He couldn’t help but think of Viola and her betrayal. She had been perfect in theory. Candi was also perfect in theory, if she’d stay faithful.

It had been two weeks since his party and the attack on Logan. It had almost been a week since he’d spent a night out with Princess Candi. He’d met her for lunch and attended an afternoon music recital with her, but nothing else. Even those few short times seemed like an eternity and he couldn’t seem to get away from her and back to work or the quiet of his own home fast enough. He didn’t have time to go to clubs or attend the never ending invitations to parties thrown by people he hardly knew. Candi seemed to be happily entertained day and night without him so he wasn’t too worried about hurting her feelings.

Another lovely young woman was on Alexander’s mind. He couldn’t stop thinking of things Candi had said about Annie Hawthorn. Everything the Princess had said about Annie was true, but it was the hateful mean spirited manner in which Candi said it. From what Logan and Simon had told him, Annie had worked hard and smart to get where she was. Unlike Candi’s circle of pampered friends, not to mention his own, nothing was ever handed to Annie Hawthorne, yet she defied all odds and was at the top of her game, both professionally and personally. She was a jewel, as far as Alexander was, in the crown of his country – an example for all young women to aspire to. She was one to be truly admired. If only he could marry a girl like Annie. She was brilliant, kind, beautiful and well, dating his brother.

Jeff, the one who seemed to treasure only beauty managed to get the smart girl, and Alexander was left with the Real Princess, no matter that she as dumb as a box of rocks with the tact of a five year old. Enough he thought trying to get his mind back on his work.

“I can teach Candi the social graces she needs,” Alexander said to himself.

He put his hand in his coat pocket and fingered the earring. The delicate shape was branded in his memory. It had been a week since he’d found the golden fern shaped earring near his home. She was the woman he thought of when he closed his eyes at night. He couldn’t see her face but he could imagine the touch of her hands, the delicate clean smell of her hair as it brushed against his face and chest, her lips kissing his. In turn he imagined she needed him and longed for him as much as he needed and longed for her. It was his secret and his alone to savor and to be tortured by. But one day he’d wake with her head on his shoulder, her bare leg wrapped around his legs, the feel of her breasts…

“You need to review and sign all of these by this afternoon.”His office manager Marrianna interrupted his revelries with a stack of papers.

“Thank you,” he told her with a glance up.

“You need to sign and date everything or I’ll bring it back.” She was serious. Marrianna ran his office like an army post.

After signing everything he rolled his shoulders then ran his and through his hair. “I’ll be leaving early today.”

“Anything I need to know about?”

“Lunch with Simon, maybe a drop into the stationery store and a few other stops, nothing of importance.” He’d planned on finding out who was buying the same paper as he was. If he went by himself, confidentially his inquiries would be kept quiet.

“I can go to the stationery store for you or send Andrew for you later on today.”

“No need to send anyone. I need some time…” he faded off trying not to spill his guts to one of his loyal staff.

“I understand, you need some time to yourself. I’ll get you some cool compresses for your eyes. You look tired.” It was her job to let Alexander know how he looked. She knew appearances were everything with him.

“I am tired Marrianna.” Old and tired he thought. “But you’ve been with me long enough to know.”

“You’re a hopeless workaholic.” Marrianna scolded him coming back with a cool scented cloth and putting it over Alexander’s eyes.

“I’m dedicated to my people,” he said taking control of the compress and resting his head on the back of the chair. He waited a few minutes then took it off, feeling slightly better, but more so from Marrianna’s attentions.

She was still there, ready to continue her scolding. “I don’t want you dropping dead before your 40th birthday. You’re filling your time because you don’t want to go home to an empty house every night. That will end as soon as you have your young bride waiting at home for you.”

“You never know.” He said giving her a wink. “I doubt if any young bride will appreciate me these days.” He stood up and headed over to the wall mirror.

“You’re too modest for such a handsome man.” She smiled knowing that it was to her advantage to feed into his vanity. As she started to fix his shirt collar, her very pregnant belly brushed against him.”I won’t have you going out looking like you’ve slept in your clothes.”

“I felt that. That was the baby, right?” Alexander asked as her belly moved against him.

“The baby is kicking all the time now. Put your hand here.” She said taking his hand and putting it down on her side.”

“I felt that. That was amazing.” Alexander laughed. It was amazing to feel her child with his own hand.

She smiled “Before too long you’ll have your own baby on the way.”

“Maybe,” he thought. Turning to the mirror he saw a weary reflection. Death warmed over he thought. There was gray hair he’d never noticed before. He looked back at Marrianna who hardly able to keep her balance. “You need to take it easy my dear. Where is Andrew?” he asked wondering where his assistant had been all morning.

“Out riding with Princess Candi. Remember you told him to start taking her on Wednesday and Friday mornings.”

“Right. Sorry.”

Marrianna gave him a sad look and shook her head. They made small talk about the baby and her hopes and expectations for her son. The idea of his own son or daughter was too vague and far away for him to even consider.

On his way out Alexander gave Marrianna and unexpected kiss on the cheek then grabbed his coat and headed out for a lunch appointment.

 

 

The idea of a baby with Candi was someplace Alexander’s mind hadn’t traveled yet. She’d no doubt have the best of nurses and nannies. He’d choose the best teachers and tutors for the child. Their children would have his love of books and her love of music. It would be a perfect fit, or at least he’d try to make it perfect for his children, as perfect as he could.

On his way out he passed a group of women were talking by the courtyard fountain. The Minister of Arts, a judge and one of his father’s financial advisors. Three powerful women. They were all married to equally powerful men. All were mothers of well-adjusted and happy children.

“I need to get Candi more involved in her music career. She needs that confidence to mature and excel in what she loves.” he said to himself. It was a thought he was going to keep to himself for now.

As his carriage pulled up to the Universal Technologies building he looked up at the carvings on the front of the building. He’d always been amused by the Starling symbols carved above the doors. Simon came out of the massive doorway and down the stairway and climbed up into the carriage.

“I’ve always liked the Starling symbols on your building,” Alexander said.

Simon looked up. “Olivia likes the imagery. She said it stands for technology and truth. I don’t know about that but I do agree with her on the great designs. Then again lately it has been all things to do with the Silver Lakes with her. I’m sure you heard about the 5,000 crystal dragonflies she ordered from there for her ballroom chandelier. I swear to God, sometimes I wonder about her.”

It was uncharacteristic for Simon to speak about Olivia Snowhawk of Universal Technologies. Alexander had heard about the crystal dragonflies. Who hadn’t? It was excess beyond anything he’d ever done in his own home. “When do I get to meet your boss?” he asked Simon, not really caring if he ever met her or not.

Simon laughed “Soon enough.”

“I saw the cover of Business Weekly, the picture with you flanked by the lovely Miss Annie Hawthorne and Olivia Snowhawk. You’ve always managed to surround yourself with powerful, beautiful women.”

“That can be a dangerous thing,” Simon added with a smile. “You know how picture sessions go. They even worked me over like an Allegory whore before they got all the hair, make-up and clothing right for that cover. It took almost an entire day to get it right.”

Alexander reached in his pocket. “Simon, I’ve something to show you.” He unfolded the paper. “A woman dropped this in the Fern Chapel, the morning of my party.” He told Simon the story of how he’d watched her from the hill and found the paper and the earring. “Look at the drawing on the back.”

“Ferns. I should have known. Well, who is she?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t get a clear look at her face. There’s no name on anything.”

“I guess you’re out of luck then.”

“On the back, it’s written in Starling. And look at the letter forms, just like the symbols used by Universal Technologies.”

“We’re not the only ones who use Starling symbols. The hip young poets use them all the time. They don’t know a damn thing about Starlings but…really Alex you’re barking up the wrong tree.”

“She could be from the Crystal Mountains, but I can’t rule out the possibilities that she’s from here. The black marks are wizardry symbols. Read the poem. I think she’s enchanted.”

Simon turned the paper over in his hands “Enchanted? Now that’s something different and exciting for you. So now you’re going to tell me you want me to help you find out who she is? I know you Alexander, I know how your brain works.”

“I can’t very well go asking around for a mysterious woman. Both my mother and Dare treated me as if I was crazy.”

“You showed this to them? Bad idea, you should have kept it to yourself, you know how controlling and opinionated those two are.”

“I know Dare can find out who she is but he won’t. His loyalties are with the King, not the King’s son.”

“You can’t stop thinking about your mysterious woman can you?”

“She is THE ONE. I know she is.”

“From your description she could be a romance writer who lost her notes.”

Alexander slipped his hand into his pocket again and took out the earring. “I found this too.”

Simon held the golden fern leaf earring in his hand and looked at the mark on the bottom. “Ferns again. So you think you’ve found your soul mate because you like the same plants?”

“Come on Simon, it isn’t like that.”

“Really Alexander? I know you too well.”

“Don’t tell anyone about this.”

“You’re secret is safe. Anyway, if I told anyone they’d think you were insane.”

“I can feel her Simon. She’s out there, waiting for me. Enchanted or not, she’s my girl in the woods.”

“What if you meet her and she isn’t what you expect?”

“What if I’m not what she expected?”

“I can guarantee you won’t be who she expects.”

“I’m the most handsome and charming man in the kingdom. What more could she want?”

“You’re full of shit. I’m the most handsome and charming man in the kingdom.”

Alexander laughed. “You might be more handsome but I’m a lot taller than you and I’m definitely more charming.”

Simon spun his wedding ring on his finger. He thought of his last conversation with Ellie.” In all seriousness Alexander, your mystery woman will want someone to love her unconditionally without fault no matter what the enchantment or what her past is. In return she must love you unconditionally with all her heart and soul. It’s the only way you can break a spell of the heart, if indeed she is enchanted.”

“Sometimes I feel as if I’m enchanted. I’m 38 and still looking for that perfect love that doesn’t exist, at least for me. I’ll have to be content with beauty and comfort.”

“So in light of your discovery of the mysterious woman with one earring, you’re still going to go through with it, marrying Candi?” he said in open disgust.

Alexander answered calmer than usual on the subject “Unless the mysterious woman appears in the next few months it seems I don’t have a choice in the matter.”

“Candi will ruin your life.”

“Please, Simon I’m tired of your constant criticism.”

“You have too many doubts about Candi.”

“Who doesn’t have doubts about marriage?”

Simon scowled at Alexander. “I didn’t. Then again, I married a Ellie.”

“Darling Ellie. How’s that working out? Does she have any plans on divorcing you soon? ”

“Very funny. Don’t expect me to be at your wedding.

“You’ll be there as my best man. Then you’ll give a glowing speech about how happy you are for me.”

“I’d rather speak at your funeral.”

“You married young. You and Ellie built your life together. My life is already set. Candi will fit into that life… ‘ Alexander had no idea what he was going to say. ‘Candi’s presence will enhance what I’ve already created.”

“Fine, talk yourself into it. Marry an accessory. Evenings at your house will certainly be dull.”

“If her kisses are any indication of how she’ll be in bed, I don’t think I’ll have any problems.”

“The girl can’t say three words to you without making you cringe. After a while the very thought of touching her will revolt you. Keep thinking about the girl with the earring. I’ll check around and see what I can find out. Just don’t mention it to anyone else, alright.”

“Thanks.” Alexander smiled weakly at Simon’s comment and fingered the earring in his pocket. “Where do you want to go for lunch?” he asked Simon, ready to change the subject.

They stopped in front of Logan’s house. “We’re here.”

Tom met them at the door when they arrived. Graham and Charles were there as well.

 

Lady Megan Gold was sitting with Logan, actually on his lap. She stood when Alexander and Simon came in. Megan had been around as long as Simon and Alexander could remember. Alexander sometimes wondered why Logan or Dare had never married her, especially now that she was widowed. Love never made sense.

“Lady Megan.”

“Prince Alexander. I’m taking care of Logan. Poor baby can hardly get up by himself.”

“I’m sure you’ve helped him solve that problem.””

“She certainly did.”

She kissed Logan in a long sensual kiss with no second thoughts of having the others in the room.”Logan, darling if you need anything at all, you know where to reach me.”

“Thank you,” said Logan, then he whispered in her ear. She smiled and laughed.

Megan turned to Alexander. “Alexander it was so good to see you.” She kissed him on the cheek and ran a hand over his behind. “Gentlemen it was lovely to see you.” She gave air kisses to Tom and Graham.

Then Megan smiled at Simon. “You’re so gorgeous it’s sinful. What I’d give for a just a small taste of you.” She kissed him full on the mouth.

“Love you too Megan,” said Simon. “Are we still on for lunch tomorrow?””

“Absolutely,” she said, and left the room.

After Megan left. Alexander looked at Simon. “What was that about?”

Simon shrugged. “She does a good bit of legal work for Universal Technologies.”

“Is it safe, for you to lunch with her, alone?” Alexander asked.

“She knows I’m a faithful husband,” said Simon.

“Too bad.” Said Graham with a smirk.

“Yes, too bad for Megan,” said Simon, then he turned to Logan. “Aside from your private physical therapy from Megan how are you doing?

“Feeling like hell, but better thanks to my many female admirers and some exceptional painkillers. Sit, please, everyone. You too Alexander. Dear nephew, I’ve had Simon bring you here to ask a favor of you.”

“Anything. Ask away,” Said Alexander.

“I’d like you to take my place, on the trip with Justin Snowhawk,” said Logan.

“As tempting as it sounds I can’t,” said Alexander.

“You can and you will”, said Logan

“The timing is off. I can’t afford 3 months on the road,” said Alexander.

“We’ve sorted everything out.” Said Graham. “Tom will go along as well and I’ll meet you in Riverbend. You can work on the road.”

“It will be the same as working from home,” said Logan.

“From Riverbend we’ll go to the River Conference and if you can make the time we’ll spend a final relaxing week in Aurora Lake,” said Simon.

“You’ve been working six days a week, twelve-hour days. You need a change of pace or you’ll wear yourself out,” said Graham.

“I’m expected to announce an engagement with Candi soon. I can’t run off and leave her,” said Alexander.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Remember you never had a problem having a long distance relationship with Viola.” said Graham.

Alexander scowled. “Viola was entertaining another man in my absence.”

“Candi isn’t Viola.” Said Graham.

“Candi is like a little dog. She can’t remember if you’re gone five days or five minutes. She’ll be excited to see you no matter what.” Added Simon.

“Enough Simon.” Said Tom. “We’ll spin it as your last trip before you get married. You’ll do some diplomatic work, kiss babies and pretty girls, attend local town hall meetings and cultural events, and go fishing with your buddies. After that, six weeks in Riverbend, then you’ll end it off with the River Conference.”

“The diplomatic opportunities are immense. Justin Snowhawk will be the next president of the Crystal Mountain Republic. You’ll be the next King. Now is the time to forge those bonds,” added Logan

It sounded good to Alexander. More than good. It sounded great.

“You hit it off great with Justin. You’re really a better choice than I ever was for this trip,” said Logan.

“Does Florien know about this?” Alexander always referred to his father as Florien or The King.

“We have his blessing,” said Logan.

“What did he say?” Alexander asked, starting to wonder if he had any control over his life.

“Your dad said you’re driving him up the fucking wall and he’d like to get you out of town,” said Simon.

Alexander tried not to laugh. “Seriously what did he say?”

“He said it was a brilliant move and it would be great for public relations,” said Logan.

“There’s the business in Allegory as well. I’m still counting on you to back up the operatives in that area.” They turned to see Dare Crow standing in the doorway.

“So Dare why not join us on the diplomatic mission and from Allegory continue the trip with Justin Snowhawk and me,” said Tom.

“Thanks for the invitation but no.” Said Dare. “I’m no diplomat. I’ll leave the matters of diplomacy, commerce and goodwill up to those who actually govern. I might see you at some point along the road but I’m visiting my sister in Riverbend for a week or two.”

“What’s going on in Allegory?” asked Simon, who was no longer privy to government information.

Dare took a seat by the fire and stretched out his long legs. “We’re finally shutting down the cult. Eighty years of organized crime, drug running, under aged prostitution and forced marriages, weapons running, extortion, you name it, and it has got to stop. If they want their own brand of religion or to keep the legal entertainment business going…”

“The whorehouses…” added Tom.

“The legal regulated brothels and other adult entertainments…if they want to keep that open fine. But the rest is going down,” said Dare.

Simon scowled. “You should torch the place and burn it to the ground. They bombed my office last year. It has cost Universal Technologies International a fortune in extra security costs. Not to mention the extra security costs Rich Long has had to put up with after they tried to set fire to his building. People in Meadow Creek were terrified and nothing, not a damn thing was done about it.”

“We know all about that and the dead dog on the doorstep and the rest. I guarantee you it will stop,” said Dare.

“Right. I’ve heard that before. As soon as they get wind of trouble they all have alibis and scatter like the wind. I know they’re the ones who tried to break into Olivia’s house a few weeks ago,” said Simon.

“There was no connection,” said Dare.

“Bull shit,” said Simon. “Someone from Allegory hired thugs to kidnap Olivia. And don’t give me any Crystal Mountain connections Dare, they were from here. None of us are safe until you plow the place into the ground and find out who their spies are.”

“That’s what we’re planning,” said Dare.

“Planning. What good will that do? You’ll never get Lord Mayor and his cronies all in one place,” said Simon.

“Simon, I’m going in as bait. If I’m there all of the top leaders will be there. I’ve sent personal invitations to all for a reception. It’s a trap. It overlaps with the trip,”

“Come with us, just to Allegory. It’s only a day away. With fresh meat like you we’ll be guaranteed all the top cult members will show,” said Tom. “I’m looking forward to seeing the looks on their faces when we tell them no to everything they want.”

“I wouldn’t set foot in Allegory unless they were holding one of my children hostage.” said Simon.

“Then skip Allegory; meet us in the Trinity Valley,” said Tom.

Simon shook his head. “I’ve already made the trip to the Crystal Mountains twice this year so I doubt if I’ll be traveling anytime soon. Four months away from my kids is too much for one year.  I need to be in Meadow Creek for a while. This is a diplomatic mission as well as a business venture for Universal Technologies. Graham and Tom are familiar with the area but it’s been years since you’ve been in those parts. Your perspective will change viewing it as more than a casual visitor. More than that. Justin Snowhawk is an expert in cults and dealing with them. Granted their methods in the CMR is a little heavy handed compared to ours but they’ve effectively dismantled most of the more destructive groups. Justin is going to be the next president of the Crystal Mountain Republic. You need to forge that bond. Despite the fact that it’s a closed country we need them. Their technology …”

Alexander could hear Simon talking but he wasn’t listening to a word he said.

His thoughts were on more personal matters. Justin Snowhawk knew Starlings as few people did. Starlings avoided anyone not of their own kind. They cut themselves off from people, and didn’t seem interested in anything except what benefited them. They were worse isolationist than the people from the Crystal Mountain Republic. Justin would know who wrote the note in the language of the Starlings. He’d know who this enchanted woman with the fern shaped earring was. It was also rumored that Justin was a wizard, so he’d know first hand about the references to enchantments and wizardry.

Justin’s sister Olivia might also have information but Alexander couldn’t ask her. From what he knew she was a workaholic who had no time for anything, much less romance or magic. Wait, he was describing himself. But asking her would be too much of an intrusion, of course unless it was his only options. He didn’t have time to make the trip to Meadow Creek to meet her and her trips to the Capitol were sporadic at best.

Princess Candi was beautiful and a Real Princess. He could make her into his perfect woman with the right amount of training and tutoring. He could hire the very best to help her learn to be the woman he wanted. He could easily do it but his heart said “No.”

He turned to his friends. “Gentlemen, yes, I’ll go in Logan’s place. Charles, you know what we need to do.”

 

~ End

The story will continue next week, right here at vampiremaman.com

For the previous sections – from the start – CLICK HERE

 

Oscar the cat - just because he is so cute.

Oscar the cat – just because he is so cute.

More news: 

FREE FREE FREE

Looking for a thriller that isn’t fantasy or paranormal? Have I got the book for you!

Exceptional Liars by Marla Todd is FREE through March 21.

“All of us Hobbs kids were exceptional liars, well except my brother Jordan who was a liar by default by his refusal to tell either lies or the truth.”

What do you do when the world thinks you’re dead? If you’re Liz Atkinson you become somebody else.

Alex Goldstein has a thriving law practice with his wife Tasha Alexander. Life is is good. Well, except for the fact that he drinks too much, and his wife regularly cheats on him. To keep his mind off of his problems Alex writes about by serial killers. His most recent obsession is The Killer of Virtue. Then one day, Liz Hobbs Atkinson, the last victim of The Killer of Virtue shows up in his office very much alive. As Alex helps Liz build a new life, his own life falls apart.

Author Marla Todd explores themes of identity, relationships, and religion through the eyes of unlikely friendships, and sometimes frightening situations.

Exceptional Liars takes you on a wild ride with a cast of interesting characters, sharp dialogue, and unexpected twists and turns. You won’t want to put it down.

51vMiPEj6pL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_

 

Click HERE for a link to the Amazon.com page: http://www.amazon.com/Exceptional-Liars-Marla-Todd-ebook/dp/B01CRZ10B8/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1458321520&sr=1-1&keywords=exceptional+liars

Download it, read it. If you like it tell your friends and leave a nice review.

 

Girl in the Woods

 

 

Girl in the Woods (Serial Novel Part 10) Secrets and Lies

For the two of you who are following this…
Girl in the Woods continues. This is a regular 2016 Friday feature here at Vampire Maman. Note: This is an epic romantic adventure I wrote a while back when I was up at weird hours with a new baby. I’m bringing it back out for 2016 – just for fun.

CLICK here for parts 1-9. 

Secrets and Lies – The Engagement Party Continues

Alexander mingled with his friends. The group was close. They had shared everything together, including more than their share of tragedy. Tom, Simon, Miles, Freddie and Alexander had grown up together as close as any brothers. Malcolm and Jeff had been close and shared their artistic passions even as children.

Six years before Miles and Ellie had lost their sister. Kazia was murdered while on a trip. She had been engaged to Logan. She vanished without a trace. Her finger and the engagement ring he’d given her were sent back in a box. Logan never got over it. Miles still refused to believe his sister was dead.

A year earlier Simon’s sister Lilly had died. Lilly had been Laurel’s closest girlfriend, despite Lilly’s physical problems.

Malcolm’s parents were murdered the same year Kazia vanished. Some wondered if there was a connection. A year later he was thrown again when his wife divorced him in a nasty bitter scandal ridden scene leaving him with a baby daughter to raise. Freddie Greene, who’d become an admired architect and his wife Miranda were brought into it as well.

Addie, Tom’s sister, had been engaged to Jeff’s closest friend Marcus. They had grown up together. Marcus was like Jeff, a gentle soul, an artist and scholar. A week before the wedding he hung himself, leaving a long letter behind. Addie was a pillar of strength, but she went into her own world. She refused to accept love from any man. She blamed herself for his death. She threw herself into her business, with Simon as a mentor. She eventually became Malcolm’s manager and had a small musical empire of talent. She had a knack for finding technology as well.

Alexander seemed to get over breaking up with Viola, but his friend’s all knew the public explanation was nothing like the personal.

Graham seemed to be the only one who’d never been directly touched by tragedy. He seemed charmed at times.

——————-

“They make a handsome couple.” Remarked Graham to his cousin Simon as they looked over at Alexander and Candi.

“They’re both vain enough,” said Simon.

“Oh come on, he’s perfect for her.”

“Unfortunately she’s not perfect for him.”

“Sure she is. Candi is beautiful and sexy.”

“Alex needs a woman who will challenge him. Candi just rolls over like a submissive puppy.”

“It’s not always a bad thing when a woman does that.”

“”You know what I mean. I want him to have what I have with Ellie.

“Not everyone can marry Ellie.”

“Fortunately you’re right about that one. But I know there is someone else out there for Alex besides Candi.”

Graham downed his wine. “A wife isn’t everything. Some men take mistresses. I prefer entertaining my friend’s wives. Don’t worry, I haven’t seduced Ellie, at least not yet.”

“Don’t waste your time trying, she’d never have you.”

“I’ll take that as a challenge. I’m sure after all those years with a little guy like you she’s bound to be restless.”

“Your insults aren’t going to rile me Graham.”

“You pretend to be so innocent Simon. I know who keeps your bed warm when visit the Capitol.”

“Give it up Graham. You can’t get to me anymore.”

“Yes, Olivia Snowhawk keeps your bed warm just like your mother kept Florien’s bed warm. So many nasty little secrets Simon.”

“Go to hell.”

Graham started to laugh. “I can’t believe how smug you are. You think you have Alexander under your thumb, in your confidence. You’ve been in Meadow Creek too long. You don’t know him anymore. He’ll marry Candi.”

“Over my dead body.”

“That can be arranged cousin.”

 

 

Graham saw Alexander almost every day, but he was never as close as Simon was to him. Simon and Alexander were linked in an unexplainable bond. They grew up together as neighbors, went to school together, both fell in love with Ellie.

Dare Crow showed up for about an hour. He had business to work on. Graham looked uncomfortable. Six years before Dare has stolen his mistress away. His beautiful, sensual, submissive mistress. Graham thought of Jane in disgust. She was so bland, so correct, so nice. Where Denese had a fire and passion unlike any woman he’d ever known. Dare got his just reward when Denese dumped him weeks before their wedding.

Graham had recently found his way back into her bed, a fact that made him feel superior to the great wizard. Despite the fact she was now blind, Graham was the one enjoying her, using her, owning her, making her do things his wife would never imagine doing.

Miranda slipped by Darious. She took his hand “How are you Dare?” He was about to answer when he knew she wanted him to read her mind. He read her thoughts “Help me. Graham has threatened to destroy my life. I have no one to turn to. Please help.” Miranda and Dare knew each other from her days in the Royal Guard before she married Freddie. He could feel the fear and desperation in her, but hadn’t been able to get a better reading on her.

Alexander looked at Candi next to him giggling and laughing at the amusing conversations. It seemed almost creepy for a moment. She looked so young. She was so young. He thought of kissing her upstairs in his bedroom and suddenly felt like a dirty old man. He wasn’t old but he was 13 years her senior. He looked around the room at the other couples. There were two years between Freddy and Miranda. Graham was 9 years older than Jane, who was closest to Candi’s age. In her defense Jane was elegant and reserved. She was still beautiful beyond description but she always seemed mature for her age, worldly and refined. Sometime he wondered why she’d married Graham. No doubt he’d filled her head with pretty lies or filled her father’s bank account. That wasn’t the kind of marriage he wanted. His mind went to Annie Hawthorne. There was a woman he could easily fall in love with. Annie Hawthorne was younger than him but she was also bright and successful. She was full of charm and independence. Thank God Jeff grabbed her up before I thought seriously about it.

 

It had been a while since Alexander had been surrounded by so many beautiful women. Alexander looked at Jane so elegant and cool. She wore a green dress that complimented everything about her coloring and figure. Her white blonde hair cascaded down her back like water. Her storm blue eyes were heavy lidded under a veil of long lashes and along with her full lips the combination gave her a sensual look, even when she was out riding her horse or playing with her children. She was like an elegant doll, without flaw. She’d been the perfect wife for Graham. Despite rumors of his infidelities he was always attentive and affectionate toward her in public.

Jane had once been a lot like Candi. The girlish 20 year old Jane had been so silly and excited about her engagement to Graham. He’d swept her off her feet with a shower of flowers and jewels, like any good prince should. Over the past 8 years she’d matured and refined. The transformation had made her unrecognizable as the sweet silly girl who married Graham. She’d received an advanced degree, had two children and been wrote impassioned articles about homeless animals. She’d also been by Graham’s side, doing whatever was needed to keep him happy and in good standing in the social scenes of three cities. She obviously adored Graham. He spoke of her often always fondly, saying how lucky he was to have a wife like Jane. The key was that she’d grown and matured into a wonderful almost serious woman. Compared to the others in the room she seemed reserved, but that was a nice change from all of the emotion charged females he was usually around.

If Candi could be like Jane that would be great. She could be Candi’s mentor, her friend. He could mould and shape his princess into being his wife and one day future Queen. He thought of his Granny Jewel and how silly she could still be, yet she had been so popular with the people when she was Queen. He smiled. Maybe he should propose in the next week.

 

Alexander saw Dare talking with Candi. What on earth could they be talking about? Graham joined them. It was a wonder the two men could be in the same room together. Alexander had taken his chances. He supposed Graham had matured since he’d married Graham as well.

It was a surprise when Graham had announced his engagement. He’d been involved for years with woman in Aurora Lake. An investigator for the Royal Guard named Denese. Alexander always enjoyed her company. She was funny and independent. A tall attractive woman with a wild mane of black curls. She’d restored the old tower by the lake where she lived alone. She’d become a close friend of Julianna as well. All Graham talked about among his friends was Denese. It was still unclear what had happened between them. An engagement to Jane was suddenly announced. Denese was devastated. Then six months later she had hooked up with Dare Crow. They were inseparable, like lovers in an epic romance, until she was enchanted and broke it off with Dare because she couldn’t break the spell. But there had been words between the two and rumor that there had been a fight over Grahams’ brutal treatment of Denese.

 

The young wizard Blake Jones, Candi’s BFF (best friend forever) was delighted to be invited to the party. It proved that Alexander accepted him as a friend, not just one of the staff. He mingled with the group with comfort, amazed that they accepted him almost better than they’d accepted Candi.

—————————

Graham took Freddy’s wife Miranda aside. They both had an avid interest in the night sky so nobody thought anything of the two of them going to room where Alexander kept the telescope and star charts.

“I’ve missed you.” he said low almost a whisper. He stood close putting his hands around her waist and drinking in her golden eyes.

“Please don’t do this to me.” Begged Miranda.

“You’re so beautiful tonight. It took my breath away when I saw you come in the room.”

She said nothing, trying to keep her composure.

“Freddy will be in Meadow Creek next week. I will be here, waiting, wanting, the object of my every desire. Ah Miranda, only you can make me complete.”

“Graham it was a mistake. I was going through a bad time…”

“Don’t try to talk me out of it. You don’t have a choice in the matter.” Said Graham with a smile as he kissed her.

“We both know this is wrong.” She said.

Graham grabbed the back of her hair and gave a hard pull. “The lies you told Freddie about your past are enough to make him divorce you and prevent you from ever seeing your children again. If that isn’t enough to make him hate you, imagine how he’ll feel about you when I gave him the lurid details about the things we did together – things you’d never dreamed of doing with him. Shall I then tell him the precious words you said to me, how you long to escape, how much you love me, how you said you wish our affair would last forever?”

Miranda just stared at him too shocked to say anything.

“Wishes come true Miranda. I will have you forever.”

He kissed her but she didn’t respond. “Kiss me back,” he ordered. He lifted her up on the table and pushed up her skirt and started to unbuckle his belt.

She complied out of fear knowing what he would do if she refused.

 

——————————-

Addie arrived at the party alone as usual. It gave her the opportunity to come and go as she pleased.

She meant to shock them all tonight with a complete transformation.

Her unruly head of frizz had been tamed to smooth shining waves over her shoulders. Her face was made up with natural colors. The usual heavy black eyeliner was replaced with soft brown. Her blue eyes sparkled. Aside from the childhood freckles she’d never outgrown, her skin was unusually flawless. For the first time since she’d broken her nose she actually looked pretty.

She wore a dark blue form fitting dress. Sleeves of blue lace came to a point that extended over her small freckled hands. On her middle finger was the 6 ct oval diamond she’d inherited from her grandmother. At her neck was the delicate blue diamond Malcolm had given her after his last concert tour. On her ears were the lily earrings Jeff had made for her years ago.

Alexander saw the tension between Addie and Malcolm. He would approach her, she would step away. They vanished for almost an hour on the library balcony. It was always business with those two.

Jeff told her how beautiful she looked. She didn’t say more than a simple thank you. Addie loved Jeff, but Alexander knew she could never love him the way he had wanted her to.

Alexander couldn’t tell if she was on the verge of one of her dark moods or not. She’d never been the same since Marcus died.

But tonight for most of the night she was light and fun. She even spoke with Candi for a while. Alexander figured they were talking about music or gossip.

The one thing Addie did have was a beautiful singing voice, as beautiful as Candi’s, as beautiful as the greatest stars in the Royal Opera. On rare occasion she would perform in public with Malcolm.

Addie was also a wealth of information. She was the queen of trivia, a human encyclopedia of facts and figures, odd bits of information she kept stored up until needed.

Addie was fragile, broken and well loved by everyone in the group.   Business wise, she was a genius. She had a knack for blending the art and technology of music, not only for Malcolm, but for all of the musicians she represented. She could be ruthless when making a deal. She ran in all the right circles, she knew all the right people. It also didn’t hurt that she came from the third most powerful family in the country.

He thought about Addie and Malcolm, how well they worked together. They spent more time together than most married couples. She was almost a second mother to his small daughter. It was more likely to see Addie with little dark haired Iris than Malcolm or anyone else for that matter. Yet, aside from their long time friendship and the jewels he lavished on her, there was no indication Malcolm and Addie were involved romantically. She was a business partner and friend. Just like Simon and Freddy had a female business partners.

Powerful women were everywhere.

——————

Addie asked Alexander where the crystals were that he found a few months ago.

He told her to look in his bedroom, on the table by the bed.

Poor Alex, what a lovely room to stay alone in. She spotted the crystals on the table by the bed. One was a large orange arrangement of perfect cubes; the other was a classic quartz crystal completely clear and gleaming. On the table she spotted the earring he’d found that morning.

“No fucking way.” She said aloud. She knew the woman the earring belonged to. “When did he meet her?” But it made sense. She smiled. The owner of the earring was, well, perfect for him. She’d always thought. If it were true, if he was having an affair, it would be a good excuse to get rid of sickening sweet Candi.

Addie turned over the Crystals in her hand. Candi would never have been out on the trails looking for crystals. The pea brained princess didn’t have anything in common with Alexander. Poor darling Alex. She looked at the earring again “I can’t believe she left her earring here.” She said aloud “Damn, this is great.” She heard a noise. The light was on in the bathroom. Addie pushed the door open. “Hello?”

Someone was leaning against the wall. Candi turned around. She had a vial in her hand.

“Are you alright? Oh dear God, what are you doing?” Addie gasped. “If Alexander knew you were doing that shit he’d kick you out on your ass quicker than you could count to five. What the hell are you thinking?”

The princess stared at Addie with panic in her eyes. “Don’t tell him.”

On top of being stupid, she’s a drug addict. thought Addie as she grabbed the vial and sniffed “What is that? Oh Candi, this is bad. This is really really bad. This stuff will kill you, not to mention ruin your voice and your looks. I’m flushing this it.”

“No” Candi gasped. “I don’t do this all the time. I was nervous. I don’t think anybody likes me down there.”

No shit thought Addie Maybe if you’d show a little more interest in Alexander and a little less in yourself. “If you marry Alexander you’ll have to deal with all sorts of people who aren’t going to like you. Just sitting around and looking pretty is duty you’ll have to be concerned with.”

“I’m trying as hard as I can,” said Candi, almost like a kitten mewing.

Addie flushed the vial down the toilet. “I can’t fucking believe this. After all the shit with Viola put him through…Alex doesn’t deserve this from you.”

“Huh?”

“You have no idea…you have no idea what a special man our Alex is. He’s downstairs telling everyone what a lovely woman you are, while you’re up here snorting dragon fumes.”

“Addie please…please don’t tell him.” Candi’s eyes brimmed with tears. “I want to marry him so much. At least ten times more than you ever wanted to marry Jeff. So even if nobody else understands, at least I know you can understand how hard this is for me.”

Addie looked at Candi in disbelief. How did she know about Jeff? How could she have known about him?

“I never understood what Prince Jeffery saw in you until I realized how beautiful your voice is and how smart you are. He’s so gorgeous, and you’re well, sort of like a little troll with your broken nose, bad hair, freckles, flat skinny chest and all the rest. I don’t know how you do it. I’d kill myself if I looked like you. You’re so strong Addie.”

“Go downstairs, NOW.”

A wave of pain and depression draped over her. “I’m not ugly, I’m not ugly, I’m not ugly. Take a deep breath. Candi doesn’t matter. She doesn’t matter.” There had to be a way to get rid of the perfect princess. She picked up the earring again. This could be the best thing that ever happened for Alexander.

Addie sat down on the edge of the bed and thought of the events of the past month. Everything was about to change for all of them. Candi had arrived, Tom and Rachael were married, the rest were going in all directions on new ventures. Malcolm was preoccupied with tutoring Candi. Right, like he had time for that, considering his upcoming concert schedule. Addie kept her opinions on the matter to herself, but it was like a slap in the face. Why are men so drawn in by stupid women? Jeff had told her about meeting Annie. Addie approved of the match. Annie was smart and edgy, not some ditzoid from hell like Candi. None the less, Jeff had spent the evening drooling over the pretty pink princess from hell. Alexander seemed like the only one who wasn’t totally stupid over the nasty little back stabbing bitch from the Lavender Forest. A tear ran down her face.

She put her hand on her stomach and tried to smile. She would soon have her own changes to deal with, but for now pregnancy was her own private joy and her own private hell to deal with.

 

Logan and Freddie were glad to see each other. It had been too long since they’d been in each other’s company. The subject of the Snowhawks came up.

“I’ve never met Justin but his twin sister Olivia is a close friend of mine.” Said Freddy.

“Really now. How close? Vertically or horizontally?”

“ We’re close, but why ruin a good friendship with complications of the bedroom, plus Miranda is the only woman for me, that and the fact that she’d kill me if I cheated on her. You on the other hand, might enjoy the challenge. I’ll have to introduce you to Olivia next time she’s in town. She has fabulous weekend parties at her house in Meadow Creek. I’m surprised you haven’t been invited to one yet. “

“I was about a month ago, through Simon, but Candi’s arrival prevented me from attending. “ said Logan

“You missed a good one. Olivia turned it into an engagement party. We all drank a toast to Alexander and speculated on how long it would take for another man to steal Princess Candi out of his bed.”

“Poor Alex.” Logan signed catching sight of Ellie and Simon across the room.

“The hostess called us all barbarians.”

“We’re barbarians?” said Logan pretending to be shocked.

“Sure we are. We bury our dead in the ground. Our men wear short hair. We dress too plain. But worst of all we’re forcing our favorite prince to marry a woman he doesn’t love.”

“Being a barbarian myself, I’ll have to agree with the last statement. How long have you known Olivia?”

“About 5 years. We were bidding on the same lot of books at an auction.” Said Freddy, like Alexander, he was an avid book collector.

“Who won?” asked Logan.

“She did of course. But she took me out for drinks afterward.”

“Lucky you.”

“She sold the books back to me at triple the price and donated the money to local charity. We’ve been great friends ever since.”

“We’ve had scattered business correspondences but meeting her in person has been impossible.” Said Logan wondering again if he was the only one in the world who had never met Olivia Snowhawk.

“How hard can it be, especially with your position?” asked Freddy.

“Honestly Freddy, I think Miss Snowhawk is avoiding me.”

“With your reputation with women I can’t blame her.” Freddy laughed.

“Usually Simon is the Universal contact with the royal family. All my own business dealings are with Annie Hawthorne. “ replied Logan in his own defense.”

“Olivia is quite proud of Annie Hawthorne, working so closely with the Queen’s handsome and brilliant brother.”

“Handsome and brilliant? She really said that?”

“Yes, she did indeed.” Said Freddy willing to keep throwing on more bait to his friend Logan. “Annie thinks the world of you Logan.

 

 

 

Alexander envied Logan for his trip. He thought about meeting Justin Snowhawk a year earlier. It was at a visit at Simon’s in Meadow Creek. They spent an afternoon fishing on Simon’s Greenwood property.

Justin’s good looks could even intimidate Alexander. In contrast his kind gentle nature had gained him a reputation as sort of a saint. It was Justin’s eyes that Alexander remembered. They were expressive and he always looked as if he could see inside of one’s very soul. The golden brown was almost metallic and distracting.

Alexander heard laughing and looked up to where his sister stood telling a tall tale, at his expense no doubt. He thought of Justin speaking of his own twin sister, in his musical lilting accent.

“Olivia took care me when we were small. While our father was away she protected me like a mother wolf. She saved my life more than once. As a small child I was not only blind, but walked with a limp. You see, Alexander, these aren’t the eyes I was born with. I got my first set when I was 6. I’ve had these for about 20 years. They aren’t human eyes as you can tell or even organic.

I miss my sister dearly, but knowing that she’s found such happiness in your land takes away some of my loss. To see her so content is a joy I can’t even begin to describe.

She’s a pretty thing. I suspect one day she’ll come back to the Crystal Mountains to find a man to partner up with. Too bad she’s in Riverbend right now, I would have liked for you to meet her. When she gets back you ought to pay her a visit.” Then he laughs at the idea. “Not for romance mind you. I’d never wish that on any of my friends.”

With that Justin snagged a fish and the subject of his sister was closed.

——————————–

 

 

Dare Crow showed up for about an hour. He had still had business to work on that night.

Graham was always uncomfortable around Dare, but he wouldn’t show it on his face. Six years before Dare has stolen his mistress away. His beautiful, sensual, submissive mistress. He thought of Jane in disgust. She was so bland, so correct, and so nice. Where Denese had a fire and passion unlike any woman he’d ever known. But Dare are got his just reward when Denese dumped him a week before their wedding. A week before Graham had found his way back into her bed, a fact that made him feel superior to the great wizard. Now he was the one enjoying her, using her, owning her, making her do things his wife would never imagine doing.

Miranda slipped by Darious. She took his hand “How are you Dare?” He was about to answer when he knew she wanted him to read her mind. He read her thoughts “Help me. Graham has threatened to destroy my life. I have no one to turn to. Please help.” Miranda and Darious knew each other from her days in the Royal Guard before she married Freddie. He could feel the fear and desperation in her, but hadn’t been able to get a better reading on her.

 

At dinner the guests spoke of the Crystal Mountains. Simon had brought the candle sticks back from there. They had fern patterns on them.

Laurel mentioned that she didn’t remember anything about the place. Logan remembered a few things. He remembered his sister’s boyfriend Jack who was like a father to them but said nothing about it to the others.

Only Simon, Ellie and Miles had been to the Crystal Mountains. Simon because of business and the time he took Ellie and Miles along. Their father Jasper had been a student and friend of Hyacinth’s father.

It was an odd country, a place of unimaginable beauty. People dressed in lavish clothing and everything involved great social ceremony. It was a place of much formality. It was still a place of much violence and uncertainty. Human life was still undervalued. Nobody spoke of the war though signs were there. A third of the adult population had died. Old buildings had been torn down or restored. Only a few outsiders were let in each year. Those who did get in were welcomed, with some caution at first. Only Simon had met with some Starlings that the Snowhawk clan was close to. Simon was enchanted by them. They loved Simon and said he was sure to have starling blood in him. Odd since Starlings and humans rarely had offspring and those rarely survived. The technology there was amazing. The homes were connected up and everything worked like a charm. There were strange cults and strange habits. The murder rate was still frightening. Starfire was all but worshiped. People were extremely emotional and passionate about everything they did. Women were theoretically equal to men but there was a lot of fighting among them. There was a lot of violence against women that was ignored. Justin Snowhawk was trying to change that.

People dressed in elaborately decorated clothing. Layers upon layers were necessary for the harsh climate. Immense greenhouses provided food for the population. On formal occasions women wore elaborate head dresses. Men had long hair, which they wore on their shoulders or usually down their backs free falling or in braids.

On the last trip they had gone to the blessing of Justin’s baby daughter. It was in a great cathedral with much ceremony. Olivia had stood in elaborate headdress of her people as the baby’s protector.

Olivia’s brother had tried to fix her up with several local men. She broke a few hearts and threatened but came back to her new country.

The northwestern region of the country, the remote and inaccessible wastelands and forests had been taken over by those pushed out by the revolution. It was those who survived the slaughters and the outcasts. There were constant battles and uprisings.

 

 

Alexander looked at Candi next to him giggling and laughing at the amusing conversations. It seemed almost creepy for a moment. She looked so young. She was so young. He thought of kissing her upstairs in his bedroom and suddenly felt like a dirty old man. He wasn’t old but he was 14 years her senior. He looked around the room at the other couples. There were six years between Freddy and Miranda. Graham was 9 years older than Jane, who was closest to Candi’s age. In her defense Jane was elegant and reserved. She’d was still beautiful beyond description but she always seemed mature for her age, worldly and refined. Sometime he wondered why she’d married Graham. No doubt he’d filled her head with pretty lies or filled her father’s bank account. That wasn’t the kind of marriage he wanted. His mind went to Annie Hawthorne. There was a woman he could easily fall in love with. Annie Hawthorne was younger than him but she was also bright and successful. She was full of charm and independence.

 

 

Girl in the Woods