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 Woods (Serial Novel Part 17)

We’re finally up to Part 17. This is for the two of you who might be following the long and twisted (and unedited) adventure/romance epic Girl in the Woods.

The rest of you can click HERE or HERE for something else more along the lines of PARENTING or VAMPIRES. Or (yes there is more) check out the other two Friday posts, including Ask Juliette (Ask a Vampire – Advice for Everyone.)

If you are new to Girl in the Woods please start from the beginning (HERE.)

Note: Eventually this section will be in extreme editing but for now – well, you’re going to get all of the back story and odds and ends in one big jumble. And the plot thickens.

 

Girl in the Woods

 

Girl in the Woods (Part 17)

Allegory: The Reception

Alexander remembered when the stories of the civil war in the Crystal Mountains broke through. Tales of the Snowhawk clan and their violence against the ruling Baron Nightlander’s family didn’t set well with the people of Allegory either. They blindly supported the more violent followers of the Baron. The Lord Mayor’s father claimed that Olivia’s uncle had killed the remaining Nightlander children, the Baron’s grandchildren and fed their bodies to their dogs. An obscene fantasy was what Alexander’s mother Hyacinth had told him.

Ninety years ago the town had been founded by and still attracted members of a cult. It 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 against both magic and technology. The worshiped the divinity of the King and the rise of a male dominated society. Birth control 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. They ridiculed anyone who was different or foreign. Until recently infanticide and child neglect for children who were different was common.

Raiding parties were sent out as far away as Meadow Creek and Riverbend. At nearby Lockford women didn’t go out at night in fear of kidnappings. Eventually the army was sent in and the gates of Allegory were more or less locked to outsiders.

Things had calmed down in the past eighty years. The raids had stopped and all was quiet, according to the official press releases, but Olivia knew better. Olivia represented technology. She represented the independence of women. She was a foreigner. Most of all her name was Snowhawk. 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 Prince Alexander.

A reception was held at what was called the great hall. That night she dressed in a long skirt of black velveteen with a form fitting short black jacket of leather trimmed velvet. Michael was beside her, also in black. They looked somber and humorless among the loud party colors of the locals.

 

The reception for Prince Alexander was in a lavish hall decorated in gold and shining reds, orange, and purple lights. Tables were filled with food of every kind. Wine and beer flowed freely.

All who were there noticed that Alexander listened intently to each person who talked to him. He made eye contact, held a handshake just a little longer than necessary, smiled warmly. It was genuine warmth and interest.

When Olivia arrived he motioned for her to come up front with him. “Take my hand Olivia,” he said quietly.

She held up her hand expecting him to take fingers in a formal hold. Instead he laced his fingers through hers and held her arm against his side. “From what I understand you’re in complete charge at Universal Technologies. I don’t know you well enough to have any idea what you’re like outside of work. “

“I’m in control,” said Olivia.

“Until now,” he winked at her and smiled. “I know this is difficult for you. ”

It wasn’t like Jet’s seductive tone telling her how out of place she was. It was a genuine admission of concern. Olivia felt herself involuntarily lean into him.

“You’re the only one I would have agreed to come here with,“ she stammered, uncomfortably aware of the warmth of his hand.

“You’re just saying that to be polite. You didn’t exactly agree to be here. In fact, I imagine you’re hating me right now for forcing you to be here.”

She was caught off guard. She didn’t know what to feel. “I feel safe, right now, here…with you. Well, relatively safe.”

”Good.” He quickly changed the subject. “How was your meeting with Jet Gilroy?”

“Odd to say the least. How well do you know him?”

They were interrupted by a visitor. He kept her hand in his, almost as if she was a small child or an elderly aunt.

He squeezed her hand, then let go but kept his hand lightly on her elbow. “We’ll be out of here by tomorrow morning, I promise. Olivia, no matter what happens tonight please keep calm and act submissive. Lord Mayor is on a rampage against you and looking for anything to fuel his fire. It will all be over by tomorrow. I promise.”

“I have done nothing to deserve his rage.”

“I know, but for tonight you must bottle up your pride and be a submissive little mouse. I wouldn’t have asked you to do this except it is only for tonight. After the reception you can go back to being your own strong willed and delightfully self assured in-charge self.”

“Got it.” She gave him a quick knowing smile.

She always has to get in the last word he thought.

 

Olivia didn’t speak unless Alexander spoke to her, occasionally asking her opinion. She answered conservatively with short answers giving no details or personal opinions. Michael stood next to them and politely smiled, while he observed and took mental notes of everything going on around him.

Olivia stepped aside for a few moments when a couple of Madams from two the larger brothels wanted to speak with her. The women knew of Olivia’s reputation as a fashion leader. They discussed the latest styles and asked about what houses to get the best fabrics. Olivia was fascinated by these women. She was used to strange people. She’d grown up with people who weren’t even human, but these women were different. They told her that like them she was better off unmarried, just taking lovers along the way. She had to smile. Had these women be in Meadow Creek running a different kind of business, maybe even in the adult entertainment business like Richard Long’s new love, she would probably be friends with them. She knew she’d never be friends with Richard’s new woman.

Scanning the crowd Olivia saw Jet and his companions. They were talking with some garishly dressed women with elaborate hair and too much make-up, obviously important madams and whores. The women were laughing loudly about something one of the men had said. Olivia was sure Jet would be spending the night with at least one of the whores. The thought of it made her angry.

The Lord Mayor sat in a large chair, flanked by his wife and another woman Olivia guessed was an important madam. A thin young woman sat on a stool by his feet. She was obviously wasn’t a wife or daughter by the way she was dressed. Her eyes were vacant and glassy. Olivia looked away in disgust.

 

Carlon Grey approached her. “Good evening Olivia. Don’t worry, Jet won’t go home with one of those women. A man like him never has to pay for it.”

“He’ll pay, one way or the other,” she said with a smile. “So good to see you again, Mr. Grey.”

“How are you finding things this evening?” he asked Michael.

“I’m not sure, then again it’s early isn’t it. Maybe we can get together over lunch tomorrow and compare notes,” said Michael.

“I’d be delighted, ” Carlon answered with enthusiasm then his attention shot back to Olivia. “Jet has done nothing but sing your praises.”

“I’m sure he has,” said Olivia.

“As far as I know he doesn’t have plans for after the reception,” said Carlon.

Olivia smiled sweetly. “Good for Jet. After such a busy day I’m certain he’d be glad for some time alone. I know I will.”

“It’s a cold night to be alone,” said Carlon.

“I come from a cold land. I’m used to it.”

“Don’t be coy Miss Snowhawk. You know what I’m talking about.”

“Yes I do.”

“Jet Gilroy’s offer from this afternoon still stands. I could give you the key to his suite.”

“I’m sure you could. Unfortunately I’m not sure Jet could afford my price. Good evening Mr. Grey.”

“Good evening Miss Snowhawk, Mr. Taylor.”

Olivia and Michael watched as Carlon Grey walked back to Jet Gilroy and his other companions.

“He was trying to set you up with Jet Gilroy,” said Michael.

“Yes he was. His boss wants to get laid and he feels obliged to see how receptive I’ll be. What an ass.”

 

It wasn’t worth the risk to go any further with Jet. After tonight she’d never see him again. Nonetheless she had to make her presence known. It wouldn’t be right if she didn’t give into the tease. He’d have to find somebody else to share his bed with but she’d make sure he’d be dreaming of her tonight.

Alexander spotted Olivia walking toward the man who called himself Jet Gilroy. Still entertaining a group of madams and whores, Jet looked at Olivia and smiled, with the look of a wolf about to go in for the kill.

He suddenly felt a small pang of jealousy. With Candi there was no real pursuit. The perfect, Real Princess was there for the taking, spread out waiting on a pink bed of roses. Jet and Olivia on the other hand were both flawed to the point of being completely broken, yet he could see Jet had already engaged Olivia in that age old game of tension and denial that could lead to desire and eventual surrender of both parties.

“No,” said Alexander aloud to himself suddenly feeling protective. He couldn’t let this happen to her. Not here, not tonight, not with Jet.

Olivia walked past Lord Mayor without giving him a glance. Lord Mayor grinned as he watched her come his way. Just as Alexander was ready to call Olivia to come back to him, Lord Mayor ran up to her and grabbed the back of her skirt.

She gasped as her body was jerked back in his directions, her heels sliding on the highly polished floor. She found herself looking at the large man’s chest.

The Lord Mayor was drunk as usual. He was loud and crude. He eyed Olivia all night. He knew she heard the lewd comments.

“How good to see you here enjoying yourself Miss Snowhawk.”

Gently pulling her skirt out of his large hand and regaining her composure she politely answered is question almost like a schoolgirl would. “It is an honor to be part of Prince Alexander’s team.”

“You don’t have to be shy with me,” he looked her up and down then reached around and grabbed her ass with a vice like grip. She stepped back regaining her balance, but without any show of shock or emotion. Michael put his hand protectively on her shoulder. She quickly scanned the room for Alexander.

“I told Prince Alexander that I haven’t had a foreign piece of ass for a while. How about it Miss Snowhawk? It will be your goodwill gift from Universal Technologies.”

“How dare you speak to Ms. Snowhawk like that,” Michael spoke up.

Lord Mayor pushed Michael aside.

Olivia spoke up. “That gift is unavailable right now, but I’m sure we can work out a mutually satisfying deal of a less personal nature,” she said, trying to get out of the situation.

Lord Mayor pulled at her skirt again. She pulled the fabric out of his grip.

He laughed. “You’ve got a dagger up there. Ready to cut someone’s balls off are you?”

She didn’t dare draw her other weapon or use her magic. She looked around for Alexander.

“How many men have you killed with that thing?‘

“I break hearts, but I try not to stop them.” Normally the comment would have been good for a laugh, but it fell flat.

She was aware of the crowd of hostile men gathering around Lord Mayor.

His voice suddenly boomed for all to hear.

“I hear you’ve been sending spies up to the northern territories trying to smoke out any Nightlander sympathizers. Do you think you’ll overthrow Prince Alexander like your father overthrew the Baron Nightlander?”

“Excuse me, I don’t understand your statement. “

“I hear your brother is going to be president of the Crystal Mountain Republic soon. Your old man made sure of that. Would you kill Alexander, like your father killed the Robbie Nightlander and his children so your friend Simon can take over here?”

“I would never harm Prince Alexander. I am a loyal subject of the Northwestern Kingdom.“

Lord Mayor and his friends laughed a mocking laugh as if in disbelief. Comments were made again about her father being a killer of children. They started to loudly chant “baby killer, baby killer, baby killer.”

“My father is no baby killer. The Nightlander children are alive and well.”

“Where?”

“Living quiet, normal lives out of government and out of the spot life. They are free children of the revolution. They are free of the shackles of the Nightlander clan.”

“You lying cunt. If they are alive they’re plotting to take revenge on your family and anyone else you’ve meddled with beyond the borders. Your revolution is a failure. Rather than fixing an unsettled government where the rulers were strong and women knew their place, your father opted to start a country ruled by pure evil and heartless technology that is running the very structure of our society. The Crystal Mountain Republic is a joke run by mutant Starling machine makers. Now your bring your vile and wicked culture here to pollute the ways of our citizens.”

“Come now” said Tom, doing his best to try to defuse the situation.

Olivia spoke up. “The war which ripped my homeland apart was a long time ago. Please put that bad memory behind us, if only for tonight.”

“Our fair Queen Hyacinth was the last good person to escape the Crystal Mountains. She is golden haired and beautiful like our own women. She is one of us. If it were up to me I’d never have let you in the country. You would have been hanged the first day you set foot in Meadow Creek”

“Lord Mayor,” interrupted Tom. “We’ve heard enough.”

Olivia turned to Tom with a slight bow of her head she spoke quietly “Thomas, forgive me for causing such a stir. Without the guidance from the Earl of Greenwood I find myself in an awkward situation. Please, I ask your permission to be excused for the night.”

Alexander rose, “Miss Snowhawk, you’ll stay here.”

Olivia turned to Alexander and gave a bow of her head. “No, Prince Alexander, I have made our host uncomfortable with my presence. Please, let me retire for the night and make amends in the morning.” She felt as if she was in some strange amateur play. Lord Mayor was obviously insane.

Alexander approached and took her hand. “You are excused Miss Snowhawk. I’ll escort you to the door”

Olivia’s hand was uncomfortably hot. Alexander made a note that there was no emotion on her face or in her voice. But after they’d turned their back on the room her eyes lit up in anger. She was ready to burn someone with her wizardry, or at least with her temper. Suddenly her hand cooled.

“Did you hear what he called me?” She whispered the words to him so that only he could hear her. She looked back up at the chandelier. It was starting to sway.

He held on tighter and led her to the door. “You’re on his turf.”

“He called me a lying cunt.”

“How did he know about your scouts?”

“Everyone employees scouts to watch their backs. I’d like to see your payroll for scouts and spies.”

“Lord Mayor knows something.”

“He doesn’t know shit. Your future mother-in-law sent her spies out after me last time I was in The Capitol. They saw me with some old friends, who happen to be scouts, and happen to do work for me. Kitti is tight with Lord Mayor. God, I bet they’re lovers.”

He looked at her not believing. “Princess Kitti did not have you followed.”

“Oh but she did. One of those creepy inbred twins followed me around for a week, hovering around windows, taking notes. As far as we know she could have been behind the attack on Logan.”

Alexander almost had to laugh at the reference to creepy twins, but he was too shocked. He’d take care of that later. Regaining his composure he got back to the subject of the outburst with Lord Mayor.

“Why did you mention the children of the revolution? You knew it would make Lord Mayor angry.”

“Alexander, I am a child of the revolution. I lived through it. Ask your mother about it. She was there too. She’ll tell you why I said it.”

“You said you know Robbie Nightlander’s children are alive.”

“You don’t know who they are? Of course you don’t. You don’t seem to know a lot of things you should know. Don’t look at me like I just sprung a second head. ” She jerked her hand out of his. “That bastard Lord Mayor wanted me to…I’m so disgusted I can’t even say it.”

“He already asked me if I could do him a personal favor and send you to his bed tonight. I gave him a Royal no.”

“I can’t believe this.”

“Take Michael and go to your rooms. Guards will escort you. Don’t open the door for anyone outside of our party.”

“What about your friend Jet Gilroy? I can’t believe you had me waste a day on him.”

“Don’t open your door for Jet or anyone else you’ve met in Allegory.”

“You couldn’t pay me enough to open the door for Jet Gilroy. What?”

“You gave me a scare back there.”

“I can hold my own”

“Not with this one. Stay in your rooms.”

“Like a prisoner.”

“Good night Olivia.”

“Where are you going now?”

“I’ve business to take care of. Good night.”

_____________

 

From the reception Olivia walked back to her quarters hardly noticing the two Royal Guards on either side of her or Michael who walked close behind. Deep in her own thoughts she was trying to make sense of the past 24 hours. The first day out the trip turned out to be a disaster. The place frightened Michael. She’d had a first hand look at a side of Tom she’d never seen. His loyalty to Alexander wasn’t what surprised her. It was her own reaction to it that threw her off. She wondered if she’d been used as bait to bring in all of Lord Mayor’s cronies. Why would Alexander come to this place?

Olivia’s mind was working overtime. She’d left Lord Mayor with a crash of the chandelier. It was a stupid thing to do but absolutely nobody would know it was her doing. Few people knew she was a wizard outside of her closest friends. Even Michael didn’t know for sure.

The Mayor was a pig. Without the help of magic, had they been alone, she could have taken his sorry ass out so fast he would have never known what hit him. She could have also have covered up the evidence so well that nobody would ever know it was her doing. Fortunately for him her dark days as a killer were in the distant past. She had to concentrate on the here and now.

Tonight Alexander had suddenly gone from a control freak to a compassionate protector. When he’d taken her hand it had been strangely comforting. Then he’d come to her aid, as she crossed the room to see Jet. Her face grew flushed just thinking about it. How embarrassing almost humiliating to have been almost caught showing interest in another man. No it wasn’t interest. She was just going to show Jet that she wasn’t just some weak helpless woman who would throw herself in his arms just because she was a little uncomfortable with her surroundings. How dare he even ensuniate that she couldn’t take care of herself. She’d been in situations that would make the visit to Allegory seem like a child’s birthday party. She’d totally lost it, that was for sure. Now all she wanted in the world was a glass of wine and a few hours of undisturbed sleep. She kept walking, still ignoring Michael and the guards. What a crappy night.

Jet Gilroy. She couldn’t clear the image of him from her mind. Not from earlier in the day or from the reception as he watched her all night from across the room with that seductive smile.

There was some underlying weirdness about Jet she couldn’t figure out. He was hiding something from her behind those dusk blue eyes. Those beautiful eyes like the sky just before the last glimmers of sunlight completely leaves the sky. Those blue eyes framed by gorgeous black hair, high cheekbones that perfectly balanced with a mouth that promised everything she ever wanted. She thought of how delicious he’d look with his hair long, past his broad shoulders, down his back, like the men of the Crystal Mountains.

Even over winter clothes she could feel the memory of the heat of Jet’s body against hers. Her skin tingled. She involuntarily closed her eyes and held her breath thinking of the sound of his voice, the taste of his kiss, his mouth on her neck, his hands on her bare skin. She imagined herself in his bed letting him fulfill the promises of giving her what she deserved and desired. With a sudden jerk of her head, Olivia opened her eyes to find she’d stopped in her tracks, trying to regain her balance. Don’t be an idiot.

She suddenly felt bitter cold pass through her body. Olivia had spent the first twenty seven years of her life in a cold harsh climate. Cold was a way of life, but here in Allegory it was a different kind of cold. It was the cold she’d always felt when she was afraid. Her knees felt like they were about to buckle out from under her.

Michaels arm was around her shoulder. “Steady boss.”

“Thanks. Must have been the wine.”

“You didn’t drink anything tonight.”

She didn’t respond. Caught in a lie. Her entire life now seemed like one big lie that was ready to snuff her out. How many lies had her faithful Michael caught her in.

“You’re not well Olivia.”

“I’m fine. You know I’m fine.”

He knew her better than anyone, even with all of her lies and secrets.

When they arrived at the entrance of her building she thanked the guards. Michael followed her up to their quarters on the third floor.

 

As they walked up the stairs Michael was unusually quiet. He kept looking at Olivia as if he was going to slam her with something serious. She thought about Jet again. Michael knew what was going on. He had to know.

“Alright Michael, spit it out. What are you thinking?”

“Remember Mayor’s whore, the young one sitting at his feet?”

“Mayor’s whore? What are you talking about?” It wasn’t about her or Jet.

“Pale, thin, light brown hair?”

“Sure, I saw her sitting there spun out of her mind. Looked like she had been snorting Dragon’s Breath. ”

“She looked at me and mouthed the words help me. ”

“Michael, please, do not ask me to get involved with this.”

“She also mouthed the words I was kidnapped. I asked Jet about it. He said it happens all the time around here.”

Olivia took a deep breath. “Oh for God’s sake. Why were you talking to Jet?”

“It was before you talked to Carlon. Come on Olivia, it doesn’t matter where I got my information. That girl needs our help.”

“I’ll talk to Alexander about it in the morning.”

“You’re always the first to help if anyone is in trouble. Why wait until morning?”

“Lord Mayor wants my heart carved out and served up on a plate. I would love more than anything to help the poor girl but I can’t do anything about it right now.”

“We could break into Lord Mayor’s quarters and rescue her tonight.”

“Are you out of your mind?”

“We know security systems and we don’t have to worry about wizardry here. You know how to use weapons. Come on Olivia. I’ve seen you fight.”

“No, you have seen me detain a man long enough for the police to arrive. You’ve never seen me fight, nor do you ever want to see me fight.”

“I’m willing to take that chance.”

“Breaking into a private home to kidnap a resident is illegal. Neither one of us can afford to add a public trial or jail time to our resumes, not to mention debilitating injuries or death. For God’s sake Michael, I’d be deported back to the Crystal Mountains.”

“How can you blindly stand back and watch this injustice…”

She cut him off “Start a revolution for all I care, just don’t do it on my time. I’ve already been there and it isn’t fun.”

Michael stammered and started to speak but she cut him off again.

“What has gotten into you?” she snapped. “Your most valuable assets right now are your reputation and sanity. Do me a favor and don’t loose them until after the River Conference”

“Maybe we can ask Tom or Alexander to, you know, ask to borrow the girl for the night. It would be a great honor for Mayor to share one of his whores.”

“Excuse me?”

“Alexander or Tom could ask to borrow the girl for the night for a little action?”

“Action?”

“Sex. They borrow her for the pretense of sex. Then we don’t bring her back.”

She cringed. “I guarantee you, sending for whores in the middle of the night isn’t an activity either Alexander or Tom indulges in.”

“Olivia, you’re always helping people.”

“In a safe normal and legal way, at least when I’m in this country.”

”You’ll regret it if you let this one go.”

“Listen if it makes you feel any better, I’ll send a message to Alexander asking if he can arrange for the Royal Guards take her from the Mayor’s home. They don’t need to give Lord mayor a reason. If she is there against her will, it should be no problem to have her removed from the situation. How does that sound?

“Do you think Alexander will do it?”

“”Yes, I do. Alexander is a good man Michael.” She felt her face getting flushed but showed no other feelings. Alexander had been so sweet and she’d made a fool of herself in front of him.

They stopped in front of Michael’s door. She handed him a small dagger. “Don’t leave your rooms for any reason aside from flood or fire. Don’t open the door for anyone outside of Prince Alexander’s staff.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Will you be safe?”

She smiled. “I can fight, remember?”

“You’ve killed before.”

The remark caught her off guard. She spoke calmly. “It is true Michael, I am a killer and it haunts me every single day of my life. Don’t bring it up again.” She crossed her arms, so she wouldn’t choke the young man she loved like a favorite nephew. “Alexander has posted a dozen guards outside of our building. You also have the dagger I gave you. It has magic in it so if you need to use it, then use it. Good night dear Michael. Get some sleep. I’ll see you when the sun comes up.” She gave him a quick hug and made sure he was secure in his rooms. Quickly waving her hand over the door she set a spell that would keep the door locked and let her know if anyone tried to harm him.

The guards were waiting at a polite distance to walk her to her own room on the next floor up. She wrote a quick note about the girl and asked that it be delivered to Tom. She then thanked the guards, two nice young men in their midtwenties, and bid them goodnight.

As she entered her own room an image of Jet flashed in her mind again. If he could play with her feelings and use her so easily today what could he do in the future? I’m not giving you that chance you arrogant bastard. She said under her breath as she locked the door behind her.

__________________________

 

Alexander walked across the courtyard with Tom to their quarters. Extra guards would be posted with orders to kill anyone who tried to disturb him. He glanced up at Olivia’s window half expecting her to be watching, but she wasn’t there. Just a pale light shone behind a closed drape.

He had thought of Olivia more than once that day. He had to get her under control if this mission was going to succeed. The meeting with Jet Gilroy had kept her busy but the promised outcome to keep her out of trouble obviously hadn’t worked. The bomb she dropped about knowing the mysterious missing Nightlander children was just that, a bomb. He didn’t know what to think. They Nightlanders could be harmless. Yet, if they were still alive and hungry to regain their power, they could threaten the existence of all free society, including his own country.

When Alexander and Tom arrived at their suite an envelope was waiting for him. It was from Dare Crow, detective and Master Wizard in the Royal Guard.

At Jake’s he’d send a message to Dare to send background information about Olivia Snowhawk. Alexander knew some of the basics but he wanted more than was public, and much more than she or Simon or even Tom would be willing to tell him.

The document was standard material.

Full name: Olivia Starfire Snowhawk

Father: Jonathan Snowhawk (legal)

Mother: Deceased. Undisclosed identity

Father: Biological Deceased. Undisclosed identity

 

He knew she was adopted as an infant, so it wasn’t a surprise, though he wondered why a young man like Jonathan Snowhawk, would take on two children during the war. He imagined Jonathan had found them on the street or in the shell of a burned out house. They could have belonged to a cousin or friend. They could have been Jonathan’s for all anyone knew. Getting answers was from anyone from the Crystal Mountains was nearly impossible. Almost every document from the Crystal Mountains was filled with unknowns or undisclosed. Every fact was concealed in a riddle or another question or half truth. He knew he wouldn’t get any information in these documents about her life in the Crystal Mountains.

 

Siblings

Brother: Justin Snowhawk (twin) age 39.

Brother: Tynick Snowhawk (parents Jonathan Snowhawk and Crystal Fox) age 21

Sister: Flora Snowhawk (parents Jonathan Snowhawk and Crystal Fox) age 16

Marital Status: Single, never married, no known CM partnership.

Children: None.

 

He knew she shared the same birthday with Simon and would be turning 40 the next month. His own 40th birthday was looming later in the year. The thought of Candi quickly passed through his mind and he just as quickly put it out of his thoughts.

His thoughts went back to Olivia. Marital status was always sketchy with people from the Crystal Mountains since there were no legal marriages. It was a closed society that didn’t share records or information of any kind with outsiders. There was no way of finding out anything aside from asking Olivia or Simon. He knew he wouldn’t get any information there.

Justin had talked almost nonstop about his partner, a woman named Heather and their two young children. Of course most of their conversations were about government issues and fishing.

They’d been fishing when the subject of sister’s came up. Alexander had shared information about growing up with Julianna and Glenda always tagging along. He’d almost said that Jeff could pass for a sister most of the time but he kept those remarks to himself. God knows he was prettier and more sensitive than most girls.

He remembered Justin’s fond words about Olivia in his strong lilting accent.

“You see, Alexander, these aren’t the eyes I was born with. I lost my sight when I was a wee child of six. Olivia took it upon herself to be my eyes until I got new ones.. She protected me like a mother wolf. I miss her dearly, but the 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 begin to describe.

Justin cast out his line and continued on about his sister with a fond smile. “I suspect one day my sister will come back to the Crystal Mountains to find a mate. Next time you’re in Meadow Creek you ought to look her up.” Then Justin gave a hearty laugh. “Not for romance mind you.” With that Justin snagged a fish and the subject of his sister was closed.

Again, Alexander wondered again about Olivia and Hannah. He could imagine how she could have been drawn to Hannah, so darkly beautiful with her sparkling blue eyes and child like laugh. Hannah was married but he didn’t know the particulars of her relationship with her husband.

He continued to scan the pages. Olivia’s place of birth was listed as Blackwood, Crystal Mountain Republic. Blackwood was the last outpost on the border of Starling territory. It was a close to no man’s land as one could get. There were no public records of her birth, so there was no way to easily check if she’d actually been born there or on that date. He noticed a copy of an odd almost cryptic birth certificate was attached. The names of the birth parents was left blank.

His patience was thin. How could she have lived in his shadow for so long without him knowing her or anything about her? She lived only seventy miles away but it seemed like she was in another part of the world. At the same time she was like a rat living in his walls, sharing his air, his friends and every little bit of his life without him knowing.

 

Education: 1 year at Royal University at Riverbend. Graduated from the Great University of the Crystal Mountains with Masters Degrees in Textile Technology and Art.

Current Employment:

Universal Technologies International – President/Owner

Royal University at Riverbend – Professor

Meadow Creek University – Lecturer

Lockwood Textile Mills – Owner

He noted that she never lectured at the Royal University at The Capitol. Again, he wondered how she could spend so much time in The Capitol on business but never become part of society, or again, why he’d never met her before.

 

Personal Property:

Meadow Creek home, 120 acres, 7,500 square feet. Architect – Freddy Greene. Her impressive home in Meadow Creek was next to Simon’s massive Greenwood estate, bordered with Annie’s 20 acres. It listed several other building on the Meadow Creek property which included stables, barns and three cottages. He knew about the historic ruins that bordered property owned by Annjanette Hawthorne, Simon and Olivia was included. There was a note about the ancient tunnels created by unknown people over 1000 years ago. The place was blocked off for safety reasons as well as historic preservation.

The Capitol: Townhouse, co-owner Simon Oliver. 3,400 square feet. It was two doors down from Malcolm’s and just a few blocks from Logan’s house, in one of the more exclusive areas of town. He’d been there a few times to see Simon. The interior was a dazzling showcase of the latest decorating trends and high tech gadgets.

Lockwood: A historic home of 5,000 square feet, on 20 acres, co-owner Simon Oliver. Architects – Freddy Greene and Prince Jeffery Byron. He’d heard of the place, a burned out shell Simon had decided to restore rather than tear down. He knew Jeff had worked on the plans for the interior restoration. Jeff might have met Olivia but he never mentioned it. Alexander thought maybe she had him sign a paper saying he’d never seen her. It wouldn’t have surprised him at this point. It was where Simon and Olivia stayed while doing business at their textile mill, the house he’d be staying at in 5 days.

 

Riverbend: Cottage, 1,200 square feet.

The property in Riverbend must have been what Olivia referred to as the cottage. It wasn’t worth much compared to the others and on a long narrow lot off a dead end road which backed up to the Royal University of Riverbend . He was familiar with the neighborhood. It was old and comfortable, filled with an odd assortment of cottages and a few larger homes. He noticed that she owned most of the ajoining properties as well, renting them out to professors and graduate students.

In addition to her homes there was a long listing of commercial properties and land she owned with Universal and Simon. He had no idea they shared so many holdings. Scanning down the papers he saw that her personal net worth was impressive. She was wealthy beyond most of his own class. In fact, she was one of the richest people in the country.

 

Citizenship: Crystal Mountain Republic

Then there was a surprise. She had applied for citizenship to the Northwestern Kingdom three weeks prior to the trip. There had been a request to keep the application confidential. Simon was her sponsor, no small surprise there. The request for citizenship had been accepted and signed by King Florien.

 

Immigration status: Asylum and permanent residence.

Asylum documents sealed, by order of His Majesty Florien the 2nd. The documents were sealed by his own father. That was 12 years ago. The documents from her college days were also sealed. What was she being protected from? Or more to the point, what was she running away from?

He would have to ask her about that, but with Olivia’s volatile temper timing was everything. He’d have to make it her idea and then gently coax her story out like a splinter, or take the easy way out and use his own authority to get the records. He could go to Simon, but there again, he knew Simon wouldn’t tell him anything.

This was all public data. He’d seen her image in the social sections of the papers and magazines along with Simon and other powerful business leaders. She was everywhere, except where he was.

The first picture surprised him a little. It was of Olivia at an event at the Meadow Creek Opera House with newspaper publisher Richard Long. She wore a form fitting lace dress with a plunging neckline. A jewel encrusted necklace rested above her breasts. Her hair was pulled back from her face and clipped with jewels. She was smiling at him. No, she was glowing, like a woman in love. A smiling Richard stood next to her, his dark golden blonde hair slightly mussed and his clothes the height of fashion. How was it that Richard Long always looked like he’d just rolled out of bed and dressed in a rush but still looked fantastic? Everything seemed effortless for Richard, including his nonchalant attitude towards romance.

Richard’s arm was around Olivia. Alexander’s eye settled on Richard’s hand resting on her hip. Olivia and Richard. That was a surprise, considering the nitwits Richard usually dated. His eyes went back to Richard’s hand on the curve of Olivia’s hip, then to the curve of her breast in the low cut dress.

It looked like there had been more to her concern about the threats by Lord Mayor against Richard that she’d lead on.

He thumbed through the articles and images.

A recent image was of Olivia with a group of friends outside the Royal Cultural Center in The Capitol. She was posing for the camera, showing off an exquisite dress, not as revealing as the dress she wore on her date with Richard Long. Her hair was piled high on her head, set with jewels. She looked content but not as happy as she’d been with the newpaper publisher. Tom and Malcolm were there, along with several other people he knew.

He looked at Tom, sitting across the room by the fire. “When was this taken?”

“We’d been to see Joss Harden, the historian.” said Tom. “You were supposed to come with us, remember?”

“Sure, his presentation on his research on the Southern Wastelands. I’m sorry I missed it.”

“You were doing something with Candi that night.”

Alexander remembered the evening. He’d asked her to attend the lecture with him, but she’d put out her pretty pink pout and said “We’re invited to a party and meeting with some of my friends. Malcom will be there.”

They ended up going to a trendy club where Candi was the center of attention. Malcolm never showed. By midnight they were at an after hours party at the fashionable home of a popular young musician. This was just one more night in a long series of pleasant evenings that revolved around trendy all night parties and his all too public courtship of Candi. When he woke up the next morning alone with a hang-over and message from Malcolm asking him where he’d been all night. His last memory had been of dumping Candi and her entarage off at the palace. Once again she’d begged for him to take her to his place for sex, but he gently and politely declined her offer, too annoyed and drunk to deal with her.

He looked down at the image and his mind went back to Olivia. She was fourteen years older than Candi and it showed. Not so much in her face, but in her personality. Olivia was worldly and demanding with years of education and professional success behind her. She wouldn’t have had to beg for anything with him, especially in that lace dress she wore out on her night with Richard Long.

What did Olivia want from her relationships? Obviously not what he was looking for. From what Alexander saw, she had no room in her life for marriage or children. Bad tempered and emotionally distant, she was no doubt driven to succeed at all cost, both to mentally and physically. She hid behind a veil of power that protected her from who knows what.   It was a little confusing find out about her relationship with Alaric Shadowford, then to see her with Hannah two days ago, the hint of something with Jet tonight, then the images of Olivia and Richard Long.

Alexander looked up from the image of Simon and Olivia. “Did Olivia have a date for Harden’s lecture?”

“No, she usually doesn’t bring anyone to these things unless she’s serious about him. She’s pretty private about her love life.”

“I don’t blame her.” He thought of the obsession the press and public had with his love life since he first dated Ellie as a teenager.

“So what’s her relationship with Richard Long?”

“Friends. Simon and Olivia have been working out deals with Rich for years. They give him the exclusive on stories and he gives them good press. They’re all part of the fashionable Meadow Creek social scene.”

Charitable contributions took up a dozen pages. Everything from stray children to libraries to helping sick children. Most were programs for children. She also sponsored several asylum seekers emigrating from various parts of the world. She’d been in court many times on the behalf of women seeking refuge from abusers.

The file was thick with financials, accolades, property records, transcripts, articles.

For all of her time in his country the woman had been without flaw. She was by all accounts a saint and friend to all.

A folded not with his name on is was inside handwritten by Dare. It was quickly scrawled a tone unusually personal for Dare.

 

Alexander,

After receiving your request for information I spoke with my sister Hannah about her close friend Olivia Snowhawk.  

Miss Snowhawk’s powers as a wizard are strong and extremely destructive. She is careful and secreative about the use of her wizardry and rarely shows any traces of it in public. Most of her friends and employees have no idea of this facet of her life. Should you ask her about it proceed with caution.

Like most of the population of the Crystal Mountain Republic, your traveling companion was trained to kill at an early age. If asked about it she will refuse to discuss or acknowledge it. She will kill and has killed, but only in defense of others. She is less effective when it comes to defending herself.

You asked if she is currently romantically involved with anyone. At this time I doubt it. All sources, including my sister, say they don’t know anything.

If you want more information about her private life and friends ask Tom. He’s closer to her than he’ll admit.

Hannah sends her love. She said you were absolutely delicious, whatever that means in the female lexicon.

Dare

 

Alexander read the cryptic note twice then handed it to Tom. Just like Crow to keep it confidential. It was unusual that Darious was so vague about the personal details. He was sure Hannah had something to do with it. She probably threatened him.

Tom glanced over the documents. “I could have told you everything in here, including the part about her being a trained killer.”

“I’m sure you could have.”

Tom continued. “She’ll kill me for telling you this, no pun intended. Olivia can blow things up. When she was a girl, around eight or nine she was told to blow up bridges and buildings. When she found out people were in the structures she refused to do it anymore.”

“I wouldn’t have guessed she built bombs.”

“She didn’t build bombs. She can blow things up with her mind.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“No, Alex, I’m not kidding. Olivia is powerful. She can also visit other places out of her own body. When her father was imprisoned during the war by the Baron, she visited him as a phantom. She killed anyone who tried to harm him. She did the same for Crystal Fox. She saved Crystal from dismemberment and death. Crystal lost an eye and an arm before Olivia saved her. In order to get Jonathan Snowhawk to talk, Doran Nightlander had Crystal Fox brought into Snowhawk’s cell and dismembered one piece at a time. First an ear, then her eye eye, a cut on the face, then Doran chopped off her right arm just below the elbow. Olivia was miles away but she sensed her father’s grief and came to help, in the form of a ghost. Olivia stopped the hearts of anyone who tried to harm Jonathan or Crystal.”

“Where was Olivia? Who was taking care of her?”

“With the Starlings. Jonathan talked them into keeping Olivia and Justin.”

“Starlings”. It sent the hair on the back of his neck on end.

“They don’t help humans.”

“They’re close to the Snowhawks.”

“How many men did she kill?”

“I don’t know. She was only a child. She says she doesn’t remember.”

“She made herself into a phantom. Do you know how many wizards can do that? None in this country.”

“It’s a trait of the Nightlander and Tyhaven Wizard clans. She has blood from both in her, or so I suspect.”

“Tom do you know what that means?”

“Of course I do. She’s powerful, more than we can imagine. But when she used her magic she was protecting her father. She loved him. She did what she had to do, even in a child’s mind. There weren’t any other wizards around to help her, to mentor her. She was on her own. It was heart breaking. You’ve no idea what she went through. Don’t worry she only uses her magic to protect someone she cares about. She either can’t or won’t use it to protect her self. I’m not a wizard so I don’t know exactly how it works.”

“Is that why were her immigrations records sealed?”

“I don’t know exactly. It might had to do with the attack.”

“What attack?”

“A few weeks before she moved here a former lover tried to kill her. He stabbed her and left her to die. Alaric Shadowford was the one who found her bleeding to death, dumped in the woods behind her house.”

“Alaric never mentioned it.”

“They were childhood friends, maybe even childhood sweethearts, that is before their recent unfortunate affair. There again, neither one of them will talk about it with any of us outsiders.”

“So this old boyfriend tried to kill her, Alaric saved her and Simon brought her here.”

“More or less.”

“That explains the scar on her chest. Know anything about the guy who tried to kill her?”

He’s a wizard in bad standing with the Crystal Mountain clans. He escaped to the western wastelands. There’s no possibility of him leaving the Wastes but she’s still terrified of him. Alex, Don’t expect her to talk about it.”

“I’m sure it’s extremely painful for her to be reminded of something so horrendous. I suppose I shouldn’t expect her open up to me.”

“No, you shouldn’t, at least until you get to know her better. “ The both looked through the papers more. “Give her a chance, earn her trust and she’ll open up to you.”

“Why don’t you just tell me everything I want to know.”

“Her cat Ink is from the same litter as your cat Rufus. She likes red wine and art and poetry. In case you haven’t noticed, she has likes ferns, just like you. Neither one of you can keep out of book stores. You’re both fashion snobs, but she isn’t vain like you are. She likes flowers and entertaining and her privacy. She has worked hard for everything she has. She’s an excellent planner, can make a decision and is good with money. Her heart and soul go into everything she does. She is extremely caring and protective of anyone she is close to as well as anyone who needs her help. Anything else you want to know?”

“Why is she sick all the time? What’s up with the headaches? Tom, give me the real reason.”

“The attempted murder. He did more than just stab her. She was savagely beaten, tortured and raped. Other things happened as well, but the thing that matters is that she survived. She doesn’t want any pity or to make it anyone else’s problem. It isn’t public knowledge, so anything said between us on the matter stays private.”

“I understand.” It made Alexander sick to think of what she’d been through. “Who were her biological parents? Where were they during all of this?”

“Dead. They were a couple of unscrupulous wizards who couldn’t care less about the children they’d created. She has a portrait of her nameless mother in her house, but she doesn’t acknowledge that the woman is her mother, or the existence of her biological father.”

Alexander said nothing. He was feeling as though there was a conspiracy against him.

“So Alex, now what do you think of the woman you called a cold hearted bitch just 48 hours ago.”

“I’ll let you know in another 48 hours.”

“You haven’t exactly been Prince Charming.”

“Maybe.” he poured himself a drink. He wasn’t going to commit to any behavior towards Miss Snowhawk. He suddenly thought of Candi, so simple and sweet. So undemanding.

“Times like this make me appreciate Candi. There she is, the perfect simple, uncomplicated, undemanding woman handed to me without any work on my part. A lovely gift for my 40th birthday.” he said.

“My God, you’re shallow.”

“I’m practical. Plus I can’t fight my father on it anymore.”

“It’s too easy. I know you miss the thrill of the chase.”

“Perhaps.”

“How would you go about seducing Olivia”.

Alexander scowled at his friend. “I wouldn’t”

“You’ve thought about it.“

“She is involved with someone. A tall sexy brunette.”

“Let me guess, it’s Dare Crow. That would be a match made in heaven.”

“Hell more like it. No, it’s a woman Tom. Her partner is another woman.”

“No, you can’t be right.”

“The morning we left from Jake’s I interrupted their fond farewell. They were fawning all over each other, whispering sweet nothings. Then they left me to say their goodbyes in private.”

“So who’s the woman”

“Hannah Crow. Olivia introduced her to me as her partner. Partner, as in lover.”

“Dare’s exquisite sister? Simon would have told me about that.”

“Simon wouldn’t. Two good looking women as lovers makes for a great fantasy, but it isn’t exactly acceptable in most social circles. Not openly at least.”

“I think you’re wrong about Olivia and Hannah.”

“They were all over each other, hugging, giggling.”

“Hannah is married.”

“So is Graham but that never stopped him from anything.”

“Hannah isn’t like Graham. She takes her marriage seriously. Olivia doesn’t…not with anyone married.”

“I can’t help thinking about how Olivia and Hannah were together. I’ll just leave it at business. Nothing more than business.”

“You’re attracted to her aren’t you?”

“Who wouldn’t be. Hannah is absolutely gorgeous.”

“No, not Hannah, I mean you’re attracted to Olivia. I could see the chemistry between you tonight at the reception.”.

“Olivia despises me.”

“She’s intimidated by you.”

“She doesn’t like men”.

“She loves men. Did you see the way she looked at Jet Gilmore?”

He had seen the way she looked at Jet. His face grew flushed. “I wish I hadn’t.”

“They’d make an interesting couple.”

“Don’t even think about it. If he so much as touches her I’ll make his life a living hell.”

“Don’t worry about it. He’s a professional. He wouldn’t let sex get in the way of what needs to be done. Alex, seriously, the more time you spend around Olivia the more you’ll understand and like her.”

“I’m not sure I want to spend anymore time around her than I have to.”

“Liar. So given the opportunity, how would you seduce Olivia?’

Alexander had to smile. This was a game they’d played since teenagers every time a new woman came into their lives. “I’d lead her to the top of an ancient ruin and tell her a romantic story of long ago. Then I’d recite a love poem to her in the old language of the Crystal Mountains. When she was thoroughly speechless, I’d take her into my arms and softly say You are so amazing. There’s something timeless about you.. She’ll look into my dazzling green eyes then, softly sigh and say Alexander you’re full of shit.

“She’d be right,” Tom said. He absentmindedly pulled the bracelet of tiny silver bells from his pocket. “Olivia asked me to hold it before her speech this morning. Guess she forgot about it. Silly thing. I wouldn’t expect her to be wearing something like this.”

Alexander took the delicate silver bracelet. He knew the meaning of the bells. Women of the Crystal Mountains wore bells to symbolize the fact that they weren’t afraid and wouldn’t hide from any man. In Allegory, she was afraid.

“I shouldn’t have brought her here.” He said quietly. No wonder she turned to a sultry protective wizard like Hannah for love. No wonder Simon was so protective and suspicious of Alaric. He thought of the man who tried to stab her to death.

His mother had told him women suffered the most during the Crystal Mountain war. The ruling Baron’s warlords considered them property, to be taken, and marked and bound by magic. It happened to his grandmother, who was raped and marked by the Baron’s men. After the baron and his sons were dead and their followers disbanded, women began to wear bells to symbolize their freedom from fear.

_____________________

Tom went back to his room for the night. He was troubled with Alexander’s obcession with Olivia. He’d been friends with her for years. She was fun and interesting. He saw an ugly side of her he’d never seen before as well as a bad side of Alexander that he rarely saw.

There stood a shapely blond woman. Her hair cascaded across her shoulders and down her back. She smiled and slipped her robe off her shoulders. Except for long pearl earrings, she was naked and beautiful.

“Hello my Lord. I’m your welcome gift, from the Mayor.”

“Put your robe back on, please,” said Tom.

“Don’t you like what you see?”

“I appreciate the offer but you have to leave, right now.”

“Are you ill?”

“I’m married.”

She looked puzzled. “My father will be disappointed that you turned down his gift.”

“You’re the Lord Mayor’s daughter? You’re Claudia?”

“Yes and his gift to you for the night.”

“How old are you?”

“Nineteen.”

“Sit down. Pull your robe up. Wait, let me see your arm. Is that a brand?”

“It is the mark of honor. I’m well trained in the high arts of pleasuring. I’ll do anything you desire and then some.”

“I see. Put the robe on. Thank you. Claudia, did you ever think of doing something else, besides, what you do?”

Claudia looked confused. “I don’t understand.”

“Dear girl, have you ever thought of having some sort of career, besides whoreing for your father?”

“I don’t want to be a wife. Any other choice would make me unclean.”

“You have many choices Claudia. For example look at Miss Snowhawk. I wouldn’t consider her unclean.”

Claudia leaned forward and changed her expression from vacuous to interested. “What does she do?”

Tom thought of saying she was the president of a major corporation but decided to bring it down to Claudia’s level. It was like talking to a small child. “She designs beautiful wedding dresses.”

Claudia gave a little pout that reminded Tom of Candi. “My father said she is a vile blemish on the pure beauty of womanhood.”

“What do you think?”

“My father says…”

“What do you think Claudia?”

“I like her clothes. Lots of black leather.” Claudia made a purring noise in the back of her throat “Is she Prince Alexander’s whore?”

Tom was taken aback. “She is no man’s whore. She belongs to herself.”

“She’s not a wife?”

“They don’t have wives where she comes from.”

“Oh.” She gave him a confused look then leaned back on one arm. Her perfect lips formed into a sly smile “I can pleasure you in ways you’ve only dreamed of.” She put her hand to her crotch and started to rub herself.

“I’m sure you can. Please, stop touching yourself. Claudia, you need to go home, now.”

“You don’t want me?” She stood up and put her arms around Tom’s neck.

Tom gently stepped away. “Your offer is more than generous, but no. My heart and my body belong to one woman, and one woman alone.”

“I can’t imagine any man just wanting one woman.”

“I’ll tell you a secret. Her name is Rachael. She’s the first cousin of Prince Alexander. She is a REAL princess.”

Claudia smiled and clasped her hands over her chest. “A REAL princess. Then you must be faithful to her. I wish I were a Real princess.”

“Maybe one day you’ll fall in love with a man and he’ll treat you like a Real Princess. Maybe he won’t want to be with anyone but you forever and ever.”

Then to Tom’s surprise, Claudia began to laugh. “You’re too funny.”

Tom opened the door. “Goodnight Claudia. Think about what I’ve said. There is a big wide wonderful world outside of Allegory. Consider exploring it.”

————-

Olivia was starting to settle in for the night. Sleep was out of the question. She thought about Jet Gilroy. At the reception he mingled through the crowd but never approached her. At one point he looked across the room and smiled at her, a dazzling sexy smile. She could see his dark hair brushing the collar of his shirt, grown just a little too long to keep the cut, but just perfect enough for her to get her hands in it. He said nothing but returned her look for a little too long for her comfort. Then he shook his head as if mocking her. Oh yes she wanted him, in the worst way, but she wasn’t about to go running to him. Let him find himself a whore or another female traveler to keep him company tonight.

“If you want me Jet you’ll have to work for it. You’ll have to work long and hard.” She said aloud. “And for you Lord Mayor, if you want a piece of me you’ll have do get it off of my dead body, you disgusting piece of shit.”

Oddly enough, the only time she’d really felt safe the entire time in Allegory was at the reception with Alexander. He was so in control. It was almost comforting. A twinge of feeling came over her. He was charming and attentive all evening. She thought of the way he gently placed his hand on her back or would gently take her arm when he wanted her attention. Her face went flushed. She felt like a fool for all of her bitching and complaining. “What am I going to do?” she asked herself. “I can’t go home. I can’t let things go on with Alexander the way they have.” Sitting down at the desk she started to scrawl down a list.

 

What motivates him?

Common friends

Commerce

Vanity

Sex

Romance

Power

Fear

 

Fear didn’t seem to be a factor with him. She crossed out fear, sex and romance, then underlined vanity. Then she circled common friends and started a list. Simon, Ellie, Tom, Malcolm, Freddy…

There was a knock on the door.

She froze and pulled her dagger. Looking through the spy hole in the door she was releaved to see familiar faces. Opening the door she welcomed in Tom and Andrew.

 

“We received your note about the girl. Now I need a favor from you,” said Tom.

Olivia smiled. “Anything for you. Just say the word and I’ll put my life on hold. Wait, I already put my life on hold for Alexander. What’s up?”

“The little girl, with Lord Mayor tonight, she is barely fourteen.”

“Shit, Tom. How can something like this happen? I thought the age of consent with an adult was seventeen.”

“It is. When I got your message I sent in the Royal Guard. They said she we needed for questioning. Lord Mayor wasn’t going to question us about that. In fact, he told them to enjoy her as long as they had her.”

“Who is she? How did she get here?”

“The girl is an orphan, a thrown away child, originally from the Lavender Forest. Allegedly she was a servant in the home of Prince Manly but she was hired on later at the Lord Mayor’s home.”

“Isn’t Manly Alexander’s future bride’s brother-in-law?”

 

“I’m well aware of who he is. His household is large, I’m sure he never knew who she was, much less her age. ” Tom said. Manly had always been charming and a top notch business man. Tom was annoyed at Olivia’s allegations of anything less than legal.

“Slavery, child prostitution and rape are serious crimes,” said Olivia. “It wouldn’t surprise me that Manly or his mother Kitti could be involved.”

“The men who enslaved her will be dealt with as well as those who sold her and others like her.

“I know people in Meadow Creek who can help her. They’ll find a family to care for her.”

“The girl needs someone to take care of her tonight. She’s afraid of men. Olivia?”

“She can stay with me.”

Tom called down the hallway. “Lenore, come over here please.”

A slight cloaked figure came from around the corner.

“You’re safe now.” She put her arm around the girl and led her into the room.

“I know you’re disgusted. This place is being flushed out. It will all come to an end soon.”

“Sure, whatever you say. Goodnight gentlemen.” She opened the door and motioned for them to leave. Slamming it behind her she was alone with the child.

 

Lenora was a slim girl with long brown hair and large blue eyes. Her features were those of a pretty delicate child, but there was weariness in her eyes Olivia recognized. It came from years of abuse and hopelessness.

The girl told Olivia thank you at least a dozen times. Olivia helped the girl with a much needed bath. She washed the long brown hair and gently combed it. Bruises covered the girls skinny arms and legs. On her back side there were strap marks from some sort of belt or whip. Bruned into her arm was the freshly healed burned brand of a whore. It was something willing professionals took pride in, but she knew this girl had not been burned by choice.

Olivia took her own soft nightgown and gave it to the girl to wear. Lenora cried on Olivia’s shoulder. She held the child and stroked her hair, trying not to think of the horrors she must have gone through.

“You’ll be safe from now on my dear. I promise you that.” Olivia gently told Lenora. It was late and there was no need to say anything else.

After tucking the tired girl into bed she went to the next room and sat in a large chair by the window and cupped her hands over a small unadorned lantern. Blue flames glowed. The girl cried out in her sleep. Olivia put her hand on the girl’s forehead and set a spell. “ Only sweet dreams for my darling girl tonight.”

Lenora would have dreams of spring gardens filled with flowers. She’d feel like a child again, running down the garden path with a dozen fluffy kittens and clouds of butterflies. No fear would come into her dreams that night or any night in the near future thanks to Olivia’s simple spell..

Returned to the chair she closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind. The book she’d taken out of her bag held no interest. Nothing seemed to help. It had been a long horrible day.

Thinking about Lenora she decided she’d personally make sure there was always someone to take care of the girl, get her help, make her safe. Revenge against the men who hurt her was a thought, but there was nothing Olivia could do that night. The only thing that mattered was that the girl was safe now and under Alexander’s protection.

For the countless time Olivia wondered how different her life would have been if she’d grown up in a normal family. She remembered the last time she saw her own mother, the woman she called Rorie. Dressed in a dress of the softest red leather, Rorie was the most wonderful woman Olivia had ever known. Her hazel eyes laughed as she watched her children play. She brushed Olivia’s hair and told her how much she had missed her and how much she loved her. Olivia turned and hugged her mother, never wanting to let go and begged her to stay. Less than an hour later Rorie was dead from the hand of the man she’d later learn was her father. Olivia was only six but she remembered ever detail of the night as if it was yesterday.

Dozing off in the light of the blue lamp, she was startled awake by the noise of a book falling from her lap. “I have to get out for a walk” she thought. Maybe she’d find Alexander and Tom and crash their party. Grabbing her cloak she headed for the door. There in the entryway was the silhouette of a tall man. There was the lusturous mane of glossy dark hair streaked with gray and a seductive smile. Jet Gilroy.

He blocked her way with his arm. “You’re not going out there.”

She started up. “How did you get in?

“It doesn’t matter how I got in. What matters is that you don’t go out.” he wrapped his fingers around a stray lock of hair that fell in her face.

This was the last thing Olivia needed. “This afternoon was a mistake. I’m sorry if I made the wrong impression.”

He stepped forward putting his hand behind her neck. “Actually you made a very good impression.” He leaned in to kiss her and lightly brushed her lips with his. As he reached around to pull her closer she backed away from him.

“Get out, now” she demanded.

“Make me.” Jet whispering to her as he kissed her ear, then moved his lips down her neck.

She pushed him towards the door. “Go away Jet.”

He laughed “Now Olivia, wouldn’t it be better if we found a more entertaining way to pass our time.” Stepping closer to her, he spoke to quietly “I sensed there was something magic between us this afternoon.”

Olivia’s temper flared. She’d had enough bull shit for one day. “Don’t flatter yourself. Get out of my way.” She tried to move around him and he grabbed the back of her vest and pulled her back towards the room.

“You’re staying here and you’re going do what I say.” He held her close almost an embrace.

Suddenly she thought of Alexander’s words to her at Jake’s “If I ask you about anything you are to tell me everything. And I do mean everything. Do you understand?” She tried to push Jet away.

He held her tighter “You were all too cautious when speaking of Prince Alexander this afternoon. Are you afraid of breaking one of his rules? He made things pretty clear to you at Jake’s, didn’t he?”

Jet could read her mind. He was a wizard. Suddenly feeling cold with fear, panic took over. Olivia reached for the dagger in her boot and Jet got to it first, throwing it across the room. She lunged at him with the one up her sleeve, cutting his hand.

“You little witch.” He gasped, letting go of her.

She ran for the door. With lightning speed he grabbed her wrist tight making her drop the dagger and pushed her hard into the wall. As she tried to push him away Jet grabbed her by the shoulders and slammed her to the floor, knocking the breath out of her. She took a second to realize what had happened. He straddled her, holding her arms by the wrists above her head. Her skull pounded with pain where her head had hit the floor.

Jet glared at her. His eyes were cold and unforgiving. “Jumpy tonight aren’t you. Are you afraid I might carve my name into your flesh? Don’t looks so shocked. I know everything about you.” He took both of her small wrists in one hand and wiped the blood off of his other where she had cut him “Damn you. You’re fast with the knife but not fast enough. I bet you would have killed me if you had the chance.”

“What do you want?” she gasped.

“I already told you. I’m here to prevent you from leaving these rooms.” She struggled as he held her with two hands again, one on each wrist. She tried a sleeping spell on him but he blocked her magic. Trying another spell to burn him, She scorched his sleeve, but he blocked her magic again and held her tighter. “Being out of control drives you crazy doesn’t it?” He said in a mocking tone. She took a deep breath as he readjusted his hands, holding her small wrists with one hand. Jet put a slick finger of his bloody left hand to her lips. “Don’t bother screaming, no one will hear you.” He noticed her eyes quickly scanning the room “Don’t even think about dropping anything on me or I’ll hurt you in ways you can’t even imagine.”

Olivia tried another approach. “What you’re doing is illegal. The Royal Guard will trace your magic and send Darious Crow after you.” She said trying to keep her voice calm, despite the fact that she could taste his blood on her lips.

He gave her a grim smile. “Don’t talk to me about illegal activities after that trick you pulled tonight with the chandelier. You’re a woefully undisciplined and dangerous wizard Olivia. It’s just one of your dirty little secrets. You have a lot of dirty secrets, don’t you?”

“Are you trying to blackmail me?” she asked defiantly.

“That’s not a bad idea. Let me tell you what I know and you tell me what it’s worth to you. You handle your booze better than most men, but you tend to drink too much alone at home. That’s a bad sign Olivia.

You spend an obscene amount of money on clothes and jewelry. Maybe that compensates for the fact that you never feel like you’re beautiful enough to coexist with the beautiful people you spend your time with? Despite your pretty face, you still see yourself as that plain freckled faced adolescent that boys never bothered to look at.

Yet, you’re a notorious flirt and a tease. Every time you go out men can’t help but notice that beautiful body of yours. You certainally enjoy showing it off don’t you? But you usually go home alone. Why is that? Too afraid of getting your pathetic little heart broken?”

“Get off of me.” she practically spat out at him.

He gave her a mocking smile and continued. “What else do I know? You’ve had eight lovers since you moved to Meadow Creek. I thought there would be more in 12 years, a lot more. Let me see, there were four in Meadow Creek and two in the Capitol and we can’t forget your childhood sweetheart Alaric Shadowford. Then there was your notorious five-year relationship with my old friend Dominick Jones in Riverbend. All smart, successful, attractive men but nobody you would want to make a vow to. A bunch of testosterone laden assholes I’d say. I’d hoped to be number nine, but that’s out of the question now. Your loss Olivia. Oh but look, you’re blushing. How sweet. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.’ he whispered, mocking her as he adjusted his grip on her arms.

“Prince Alexander will hear about this.” She said trying again unsuccessfully to free her hands.

He laughed. “What will he hear? That you were ready to make love to me this afternoon; a man you’d only be aquainted with for a few hours. Is that what you want?”

“If you tell him anything I’ll…”

“Don’t threaten me. You can’t even use your own magic correctly much less convince Alexander of your virtue. But back to what I was saying. What I don’t understand about you is that despite your passionate feelings for your former lovers, including that unfortunate tryst with Richard Long, you’ve never told any man that you love him. Well, except for the first man you loved, but he doesn’t count does he?”

“Get the fuck off of me.”

“You never give any man a chance do you? I’d just love to hear that sexy silky voice of yours say I love you Jet. Say it Olivia. Tell me that you love me. I dare you.”

She made a frantic effort of get away scratching his wrist with her nails. She dug her fingers into him burning his skin with her magic. He pulled away then slapped her hard. After the first shock of pain she tried to get out from underneath him again. He muttered something and she couldn’t breath. He let the spell go and she gasped for air. None of her own magic worked. A panic overcame her. This was it – he was going to kill her.

“I’ll break our arm if you try that again.” he said grimly grabbing her wrist and slamming her hand against the ground, then tossed his head to get his hair out of his face. Olivia cried out in pain.

“Do you do this to every woman who rejects you?”

A smile broke on his lips. “Dominick Jones said you had sex with him on the first date. Is that true? Oh, that’s right, it wasn’t really a date. It was a business meeting. You let him take you right there in your office on that great big desk of yours.”

“Do you get off by trying to humiliate me?”

“No, I’m just trying to figure out what motivates you to act the way you do. You take extremely well known and successful men as lovers, but you’ve always avoided any contact with Prince Alexander. Now that you’ve met him you treat him as if he’s your enemey. Why was that Olivia? What were you afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid of anything.”

“Really now? Why don’t I believe you? Aren’t you afraid he’ll figure out who you were spawned from and turn you away? Or are you afraid he’ll find out about a certain insanely possessive and dangerous former lover who still stalks you as a phantom at night. That’s what scared Richard Long off, wasn’t it?”

“You don’t know anything about it.”

“Ah, but I do.” He tightened his grip on her even more. “I know everything about your family, your friends, your lovers. Your biological father was the more powerful wizard, but I understand you resemble the sorry excuse you had for a mother. You were just thinking about her before I came in, weren’t you?”

The comment about her mother hurt. “You have no right enter my private thoughts.”

His blue eyes scanned her face looking for something else to break her spirit with. She hadn’t reacted the way he’d anticipated. “Poor darling. Look at you, the lovely and powerful Olivia Snowhawk, forced flat on your back, underneath a strange man, in a strange town. Most women would be hysterical by now, but not you. Not a tear. No begging or pleading either. No wonder Alexander thinks you’re an angry cold hearted bitch.”

She tried to pull away again. He found the weak spot he was looking for when at the mention of Alexander’s negative opinion of her. “You’re definitely not the powder pink fluff he’s used to,” he added as an afterthought, almost to himself.

She glared at Jet with pure hate. His hands held her wrists like vices, as his thighs clamped around her hips. Leaning down closer to her, his hair brushed her forehead. His lips were again close to hers almost a kiss. He could feel her breath on his face as she tried to catch her breath. There was fear in her, but also hate unlike he’d ever felt before.

“If you want to take me go ahead. I don’t care.” She said locking her eyes on his.

“You are a conceited little bitch. I don’t want you. Not like this.” He laughed. “You’re a piece of work aren’t you.”

“If you’re trying to confuse me and break my will you’re a fucking failure.” She growled at him.

“Language, language my dear. Dear God you’ve got a vile mouth on you. I don’t think there’s man alive who can break your will. Well, maybe Alexander could but you wouldn’t be worth his time.”

He heard a noise and spun around still keeping an iron grip on Olivia. She had tried to retrieve her dagger but she was too confused for the magic to work. He muttered a few words. The dagger hissed and went up in a ball of smoke with a flash of flame.

He turned to face Olivia again. “Nice try. If you had really wanted to kill me you could have. God knows, you’ve killed men before.” He spoke to her coldly and deliberately. He saw the shock register on her face. Another victory. “I’m surprised you didn’t kill Robert when you had the chance. Yes, Olivia, I know you’re enchanted. I know what he did to you.”

As Olivia struggled to attack him he held her arms even tighter. She tried to grab him to burn his arm but couldn’t get her hands around to his wrists. Any attempts to block his hold with magic failed. Her fingers started to tingle as his grip cut off her circulation. Panic swept over her. “Robert sent you here to find me, didn’t he?”

He tightened his grip. Suddenly his expression darkened. The Silver Lake accent changed to the high bred accent of The Capitol. “Stop fighting me. I want Robert dead as much as you do. My real name is Crow. Chief Detective, Master Wizard Darious Crow, of the King’s Royal Guard.”

Olivia looked him almost in shock. He let her in. He was telling the truth. “You’ve heard of me. You know my reputation. Trust me” he said.

“Trust you? Why didn’t you tell me who you were up front?” she demanded. He said nothing. Olivia’s body relaxed underneath him, almost as if she had given up the fight. “Damn you, we’re on the same side. ” she said in a horse whisper.

Dare started to sense fear growing in her. “Are we on the same side Olivia? You could have killed someone tonight when you dropped the chandelier. You could have killed Prince Alexander. I swear if I hear of anything like this again I will lock you up in a dungeon so deep you’ll never see the light of day again.”

“I give you my word, I would never harm Alexander.”

“Your word doesn’t mean dirt to me. If you try any magic on him or around him you will pay with your freedom or your life. Now, I’m going to allow you to get up. If you try anything, magic or otherwise I will take you down again.” He climbed off of her and offered a hand up.

“Don’t touch me”. She snarled at him “I should have stayed home.” She said getting up and brushing off her clothes.

“Listen, I didn’t know you were even here until this morning. If it had been up to me you would have never been allowed to come to Allegory.”

Olivia was ready to scream. The man was exasperating. “Allowed? I didn’t ask to be here. I was ordered to come here by Prince Alexander.”

“He made the poor choice of thinking you would set a good example for the pathetic female population of Allegory.”

“ It’s a little too late for that.”

“Before you left Jake’s, Alexander asked me to supply him with information about you.”

“Why didn’t he just ask me?”

“You wouldn’t have told him anything he wanted to know.”

“You didn’t tell him about…”

“No, he doesn’t know about the enchantment or who your parents were. I certainly didn’t tell him how much you enjoyed kissing me.” He ran a finger down her front. “or how badly you wanted me.”

“You asshole.”

“Now, now, you can stop the name calling. I only gave Alexander the bare basic facts. Name, assets, place of birth, adoptive father, citizenship status, financials and usual dry statistical data. Your private secrets are safe. Well, most of them anyway. I can only imagine what Tom or Simon have told him.”

She rubbed her wrists and stared to pace the room. She reminded him of a captured animal. He took her by the shoulders. She started to pull away until she realized he was making the pain he’d inflicted on her body go away. A warmth filled her.

He let go and stepped back. “Don’t think about leaving this room.”

“Of course not, it would just give you another excuse to hurt me again.”

“If you hadn’t stabbed me, it might have gone easier.”

“If you would have told me who you really were up front and not assumed I’d just drop my dress for you…”

“The mayor has put a price on your head. You are in real danger. That’s why I couldn’t let you out.”

“If you’re my protection then I’ll take my chances outside.”

“That’s something about you I don’t understand – taking chances, going out alone at night, living alone, traveling alone. You’re going to get hurt.“

“Don’t talk to me about being hurt.”

“Fighting your enchantment has made you reckless.”

Olivia snapped. “Reckless? I live my life in spite of my enchantment. If you call that reckless then you can go to hell. You obviously know what Robert did to me.”

“I know that lately he’s been keeping a closer watch on you.”

“He has kept a close watch on me for the past twelve years. He comes to me in at night as a phantom. He makes sure I’ll never have a partner or a child of my own. He punishes me with pain if I so much as think of another man. Your kisses will cause me weeks of mind numbing headaches or worse. ”

Olivia realized her voice was shaking but she had to get it out. She hated Darious Crow almost as much as she hated Robert. He couldn’t understand. Nobody could understand what she had gone through. “As long as we’re on the subject, do you want to see the physical scars Robert left on me?   I’ll show you.” She started to unbutton the front of her blouse.

“Stop. Keep your clothes on, I get your point.” his voice turned quiet. “His spells have weakened your magic considerably but you’ve done remarkably well. In fact, you’re downright amazing.”

“Spare me the compliments.”

“Hannah told me about what you’ve had to endure. She’s my sister.”

“I know, I already made the connection.” Had she ever. For years she’d heard stories of Hannah’s younger brother Dare. Stories of how he and his partners using their magic to keep them all free from dark forces and renegade magic. The mysterious Darious Crow already had legend status in the public imagination.

He spoke to her gently. “If I could do anything about the enchantment that binds you I would. Unfortunately it’s beyond my magic. I’m sorry.”

She wanted to spew obscenities at him but she didn’t say anything. Nothing he said could erase the anger and pain she was feeling at that moment. She concentrated to block her thoughts to him. Turning away she fought the anger that made her want to kill Darious Crow then and there.

Looking out the window. A small group of local men had gathered in the courtyard below. She drew the curtains shut.

“Turn out the blue light. If the Mayor’s men see it they’ll be up here in no time. I’ll keep any harm from coming your way tonight. My magic is as powerful as Roberts’s. “

She glanced at the lamp and the flames went out. A panic hit her “Where’s Michael?”

“He’s well protected. Have a seat.” She turned her back to him again. He got up and turned her shoulders to face him. “Olivia, come sit down.” He said gently.

“We’re here to take down the local government and the local cult leaders. I’ve been in and out undercover for months. Then you show up and almost blow it. This morning you made them angry with your little introduction of Alexander.”

“I told Tom that I didn’t want to speak before the group.”

“He should have listened to you. By the end of Alexander’s talk they had decided to teach you some lessons, then kill you. It wasn’t going to be pretty either.”

“What had they planned? Tell me.”

“First and foremost the Lord Mayor would have a private session with you in his bed chamber. I’ll spare you the lurid details of what he was going to force you to do with him. When he was done with you, then his friends would have you, in other words you would be gang raped. Next they had planned to beat you until that pretty face of yours was unrecognizable and your nearly all your bones were broken. After that they were going to bury you alive, then just when you thought your lungs were going to fill with dirt they would have dug you up and tied a noose around your neck. But they weren’t going to hang you, not yet. Since you’re a wizard…”

“How do they know I’m a wizard? I don’t make that public.”

“They have their sources, just like you have yours. In your favor they don’t know that you could kill them all if you really wanted to. Not knowing that, they were going to cut your fingers off one by one, then string them around your neck, making a lovely little necklace. Next they would each carve their names into your back until they dug into your spinal cord, but just enough to paralyze you, not kill you. Then they would drag you by your neck from the back of a wagon until you were absolutely dead. Your naked broken body would then be delivered to the office of Richard Long at the Meadow Creek Recorder.” He paused. “It would be far worse than the dead dog they sent him last year. You can only imagine the trauma Richard would be subjected to seeing what was left of his former lover on his doorstep.”

“Why do they want me dead? And Rich? Have you met Richard Long? The man is afraid of his own shadow.”

“Give me a reason why they wouldn’t want you dead. You represent everything that threatens their way of life and narrow minded beliefs. Richard Long might be somewhat lacking in courage, but when behind the pen, the man is a giant bear, unwavering in the expression of his opinions. Another reason Lord Mayor hates Richard is that his editorials are pro-technology and favor complete equality for women.”

“We’re not the only ones who feel that way.”

“The difference between you and others is that you’re Jonathan Snowhawk’s daughter. They see your father as a villain, bringing down the Baron and spearheading the movement to bring technology out of the CMR.

They hate the fact that you are an independent and powerful woman. You are everything they don’t want their women to be.

“There are many independent powerful women in this country.”

“They have been harassed as well. Unfortunately for you being a wizard and a powerful business woman wasn’t enough for them. The most damning reason they want you gone now is the fact that you are traveling unchaperoned with Prince Alexander.”

“Unchaperoned? For heavens sake, I’m almost fourty.”

“The citizens of Allegory are big supporters of his marriage with the subservient, fertile and oh so perfect Princess Candi. They see you, an attractive, single and overtly independent woman, as a rival to the Princess.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Ridiculous? Why do you say that?”

“Get real. I just met the man.”

“Reality is not a deciding factor in the thought process of these people. They see you with Alexander and assume you’re trading sexual favors for policies in your favor. Even worse, some speculate you want to have his child. Needless to say they plan to set you up as an example of what happens to bad women like you who tempt and use men.”

“I’ve never even touched Alexander.”

“No you haven’t. Unfortunately he touched you this morning when he kissed your cheek, after your sweet your introduction. Tonight, during the reception he held your hand tonight like an attentive lover.”

“He was protective of me, that’s all. I was, shit, I was looking at you.”

Dare had to smile at her admission, then got back to the subject at hand. “An innocent show of support from Alexander to Lord Mayor is proof of an affair.”

“I can’t believe this is happening.”

“In their cult all women are either submissive wives or entertaining whores. Their sole purpose is for providing either children or pleasure to their men. There is no in between.”

“So why are you here?”

“We’ve had an uncover operation going on for months. They’re stockpiling weapons, trafficking drugs and under aged girls. I came here two weeks ago to wrap up the job. It is finally time to shut the place down”. He told her what he could about the operation. She told him her plans for Lenore.

Leaning in towards him Olivia took his injured hand. She studied it for a moment. “I was looking forward to one day meeting you. Hannah spoke so well of her baby brother.”

“She always speaks well of me. My dear sister is an accomplished liar.”

Olivia had to smile as she continued to examine him. “You have nice hands. Too bad…” she hesitated.

“Say it, Olivia, too bad you’ll never get to find out how these nice hands will feel on your bare skin.”

She leaned forward, her lips close to his, her hand caressed his thigh. “You’re extremely attractive Crow. Too bad the idea of being with you makes me sick.” She continued to hold his hand.

“You can’t do a reading on me Olivia.”

“Shut up. I don’t want to know what you’re thinking. You’ll end up with an infected hand or a nasty scar or worse if we don’t do something about this.” She reached into her bag and took out a small medical kit. She gently cleaned where she cut his hand and wrapped it in gauze. “It’s deeper than I thought.”

“It will be fine by morning.”

“You stopped the bleeding on your own. I’m impressed. I couldn’t heal myself with magic even if my life depended on it.”

“I’ll teach you one day, when our paths cross again.”

Her touch was gentle and healing. The pain went away as she gently stroked the top of his hand. What a difference from moments ago when she tried to kill him. Without a word she cleaned off her own wrist that was covered with his blood from when he held her down.

Dare took her hands again gently in his own. “You could have easily killed me. Why didn’t you?”

She didn’t answer. It was a subject that was off limits, even to other wizards. She pulled her hands back and crossed her arms.

“Your magic is strong Olivia, stronger than you know.”

She looked at him in the eye. He held her gaze. “You know about my enchantment.” She said calmly, knowing he could feel how alone and isolated she felt.

“Everybody in the higher levels of the magic community knows about it. We’ve been keeping an eye on you, at a distance of course. Most thought the enchantment would have been broken by now.”

“There’s only one way it can be broken, and it’s never going to happen.”

“The love and faith of the man in your vision, combined with your own love and faith will break the spells.”

“It doesn’t matter what is suppose to break the spells. My vision was a cruel joke, just like your kiss this afternoon.”

He looked at her in silence. He thought of making a sarcastic remark about how serious she sounded but decided not to.

“Honestly, I thought you of all people would understand my enchantment. I do everything in my power to live a normal life. It isn’t easy, but this is my life. As difficult and isolating as it is, I can’t do anymore about it than you can.” She added quietly.

He knew she was referring to his own situation with Denese but didn’t comment.

“So now what do we do, Detective Darious Crow?” she asked sinking into the large chair by the window.

“We’ll wait here until morning. If all goes well, by the time the sun rises, the old ruling group will be rounded up and arrested. The cult will be history.”

“Aren’t you needed out there?”

“They’ll call me if they need me.”

 

He watched her nod off to sleep quietly curled in the large chair like a small child. “Sweet dreams” he said as a gentle lover would. He put his hand on her forehead to give her quiet dreams without unwanted intrusions from Nightlander.

She opened her eyes “Don’t even think about putting anything into my mind.” She drifted off again.

Olivia was such a bundle of contradictions to Dare Crow. When he got into her mind, the thought patterns he found were almost overwhelming. He’d violated all codes of wizard ethics and dug up memories she’d locked away in the darkest recesses of her mind, memories she’d tried to forget forever. It was worse than he could have imagined. Despite her threats he gave her a dream of gazing out over the beautiful water of Lake Aurora. It was the view from his own cottage – his one haven away from the world at large.

He covered her with a blanket, and then set her undamaged dagger on the table, next to her book. He’d expected something about business or finance but noted it was from a popular mystery series. Her delicate wire framed reading glasses sat next to the book. A folder contained notes for future meeting and talks on the trip. She had sketched detailed dress designs on the borders of the documents. He then examined the dagger more closely. It was sharp, double sided and deadly. One had a handle of intricate distinctly feminine floral designs.

He closed his eyes for a minute of rest, than opened them again with an uneasy feeling. He’d dozed off for three hours. Olivia was gone, along with her dagger. He looked in the bedroom. Lenora was sleeping quietly alone in the big bed. Laying a hand on her young forehead he explored her memories. If he could convince her to testify in court more than one head would roll. No child should have to go through what she had, not for any reason.

Dare went back into the other room. Tom was standing at the door. His face was white and drawn. He tried to speak but only a whisper came out.

“Alexander…he’s dead.”

Crow’s head spun. “Stop, give me the details. How? When?”

“Now, just now.”

“Are you sure Tom? Are you absolutely sure?”

“Olivia came into his room, to his bed…I would have never expected this from her…” he stopped. “She butchered him.”

Dare was sick. How could this happen under his watch? A wave of grief overcame him for his friend and anger towards the woman who killed him.

As they ran to the North wing of the building, to Alexander’s rooms, Tom started to talk “Alex said he was going to meet her. He wanted one last affair before he married Candi. Oh God, Simon warned him about her.”

“Warned him about what? She isn’t aggressive towards men at all.”

“For God’s sake, she hasn’t been stable for a long time. The enchantment has twisted her. When Alexander forced her to come here, to Allegory, she must have snapped. But, but, I want to believe it wasn’t Olivia. Oh God, I want to believe he’s still alive and…” Tom broke down.

How would he tell Hyacinth?

Dare ran down the corridor to Alexander’s chamber. In front of the door two guards lay dead on the ground, their throats slit. The crazy bitch had burned their eyes out.

Stepping over the bodies Dare and Tom made their way to Alexander. Blood was splattered on the bed curtains and the walls. The sheets were a bright solid red. The smell of death and burned flesh filled the room. Alexander lay naked on his back. His throat had been cut. A handprint was burned on the left side of his face. A hole, the size and shape of a female hand was burned deep into his chest leaving a jagged black outline. His heart was gone.

Dare put his hand on lightly Alexander’s forehead. He was still warm to the touch. A vision came to Dare. It was a few minutes before the murder. Their encounter had been rough and almost brutal.

She sat naked on the bed, sweat glistened on her chest and forehead. Alexander stood next to the bed with his hands on his hips. It was obvious that they had already been intimate and were now in a heated argument.

“If you tell anyone about what just happened I will ruin you.”

“I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone that you’ve just treated me like an Allegory whore. I’ll just send you a bill for services rendered.”

“Bitch.”

She stood and kissed him “I wish it had been different. I wanted you to fall in love with me, but that will never happen, will it?”

He pulled her closer but she pried herself out of his arms and backed out of his embrace. “Gotta go,” she said with a laugh, “I have a date with Jet Gilmore, excuse me, I mean Dare Crow.”

Alexander hit her hard in the face. A large gash started to bleed above her eye. She cried out in pain as he pinned her down on the bed. “You aren’t going anywhere.”

Blood ran into her eyes, as she kissed him and pulled him close to her.

Disgusted at what he saw, Dare tried to get to the murder but she’d used her own magic to wipe out all other lingering memories or visions of the crime.

Dare studied the gaping hand shaped hole in Alexander’s chest, and the scratch marks on his shoulders along with bites on his neck. Alexander’s dead fist clutched a clump of Olivia’s long brown hair that looked to be pulled out by the roots. What sort of madness had overcome them? Olivia’s ripped clothing was scattered on the floor. Dare couldn’t get a reading on anything. His eyes darted around the room. There was blood on the floor. He dipped his finger in it. It was Olivia’s and she was alive.

“Dare, over here.” Dare turned around to see Tom, now leaning against the wall, tears down his face. “His heart.” He whispered.

In a crystal bowl, surrounded by apples was a human heart. Dare felt a wave of sickness overcome him. Bile started up his throat. He gripped the table and tried to compose himself. “Get away Tom,” he said as he watched Tom sink to the floor in shock.

Hal came in dragging a bedraggled Michael. “He was trying to get away.”

“Where is she?” Dare growled, gripping Michaels shoulder like a vice, trying to get at his memories.

 

“I’m right here Darious.” her voice slowly sounding out his name in a thick Crystal Mountain accent, elongating the r sound and hissing out the s at the end.

He jerked awake in a cold sweat still shaking in anger. Olivia was still curled like a cat in the chair where she’d been sleeping.

“How dare you enter my dreams.” his hands went to her throat.

“How dare you come up here and think you can control me,” she growled back at him. Taking both of his wrists in her hands in an attempt to pry him off of her.

“Do you like it that way? Rough and painful?” He gave her neck a squeeze.

She sucked in as much air as he would allow her to. “Of course not. That was for your benefit.”

He knew she was baiting him. He got close to her face. His hand still held her neck. “You want me, admit it.”

“I’d rather die,” she said without flinching or moving back a bit.

He pushed her back, making her head hit the back of the chair. “I’ll give you credit for your crude little revenge on me. I’m impressed. Do it again and I will kill you.”

He pulled his arm away with sudden pain. She’d burned his wrists. The wound vanished as soon as it had appeared. Smoke curled around the burned edges of his shirt sleeves.

“Fuck you Crow,” she snarled, then curled up in the chair again and shut off her mind.

He looked at her in disbelief as she slept like a wild kitten who’d just caught herself a big rat. He’d never imagined the woman his sister had called “sweet little Livy” would be this foul mouthed, foul tempered woman in front of him. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d wanted a woman so much or the last time he’d hated one as much as he hated Olivia Snowhawk at this moment.

Putting his personal feeling aside he closed his eyes and slept a dreamless and guarded slumber.

___________________

The sun was not quite up. Olivia was still asleep. He studied the ferns on the setting of her moonstone ring. It was in an old style of the Crystal Mountains. He sensed the ring had been given to her long ago, by someone she loved.

He’d tried to stay angry about her haunting him with the dream last night but he saw it as a rare insight at what sort of magic she really had. His memory was still crystal clear and real, not at all like a dream. His arm was alright as well but his shirt was still burned, the brown black edges of the burned hole still crisp.

She was emotionally drained but she’d survive like the cockroach she was. Most people didn’t live well with enchantments, especially one as evasive as hers. Olivia’s enchantment had made her as bitter and angry as the man who had enchanted her. Dare tried to see who could break her spell. He had a slight sense of something, but any information was blocked by some twisted and intricate magic he couldn’t figure out. He sat holding her hand and trying to figure out the spell for over an hour. Then it came to him, the spell wouldn’t be broken by love at first sight or something as simple as a kiss. It would be a long difficult road for both Olivia and the unfortunate man she would allow herself to love.

He thought of her vision of slaughtering Alexander, his mind went to the real events of the night. Alexander had taken her hand ever so gently. She’d leaned into him, and whispered quietly and gently in his ear. They’d talked with their heads close together, ever so sweetly. Then on a wild impulse, just like a silly young girl, she’d gone across the room to meet Jet Gilroy, the bad boy who’d kissed her and completely destroyed any credibility she had with Alexander.

Olivia opened her eyes and found herself holding the hand of Dare Crow. She said nothing as she looked into his eyes trying to search his soul.

“Olivia, I’m leaving now. Someone will come get you and Lenora in an hour or so. Don’t worry, you’re safe now.”

“Safe? What is that suppose to mean?”

“Allegory as we knew it is gone.”

Olivia looked up at Dare. She was still angry. Pulling her hand out of his and she looked out the window to avoid his gaze.

Dare leaned forward in his chair. “I have to ask you something, but I don’t want you to get angry.”

She glanced back at him. “Ask whatever you want to know. I’m not going to fight with you anymore.”

“Any chance you have romantic feelings for Prince Alexander?” he asked gently.

She answered him quickly. “Of course not.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’d sooner fall in love with you and I guarantee THAT will never happen.”

He thought for a second that it was too bad he wasn’t the one to break her spell. Life with her would never be dull. He pulled on his coat and made his way to the door. “Watch your back Olivia.”

“Go away,” she said without so much as a smile. After he left she stared at the door trying to clear her mind of him. Parting the curtains and looking back out the window she saw Alexander in the courtyard talking to the wizard. Those are two men I could learn to hate with a passion she thought.

 

~ 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.

Girl in the Woods (Part 14, The Journey Begins)

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…

Part 14: The Journey Begins

Alexander and Tom left early in the morning. Their first stop was in Meadow Creek. They spent the night at Simon and Ellie’s home. Simon had already gone on to the meeting place, but that didn’t stop them from having a lovely evening visiting with Ellie.

In the morning she told them to take a short cut through the woods, past Annie Hawthorne’s house, and then past Olivia Snowhawk’s estate.

As they finally passed the Snowhawk estate Alexander stopped to look. “This place is amazing. I could live here.”

Tom gave a knowing smile “Just your style. I think you’d like Olivia. You have a lot in common.”

“Justin’s sister. Impressive. I’ve been thinking of building a place in this area, any idea who the architect is?”

“Is this a honeymoon cottage you’re planning?” Asked Tom lifting an eyebrow

“No, it’s not Candi’s taste.” Replied Alex in disgust.

“You’re not completely sold on this match are you?”

“Over the past few months I’ve felt absolutely suffocated. You can’t imagine how glad I’ll be to get on the road and away from everyone and everything I know. I need to figure out how I can bring Candi into my life as a partner, and a friend. It is an almost impossible task, but I shall endure.”

Tom tried to change the subject of Candi. He could hadn’t heard that kind of fear in Alexander’s voice since they were teenagers, facing the wrath of their father’s over yet another one of Simon’s stupid pranks. “Freddie Green designed the house. He does most of Olivia’s buildings.”

“I should have figured. Candi can’t stand Freddie.” Alexander added quietly, going back to his misery.

“I’m sure the feeling is mutual.” Tom started to get back on his horse.

“Should we stop for a visit? You’re friends with Olivia.” Alexander looked at his friend with a glimmer of hope in his eye. A distraction would be welcome.

“Looks like she already has company. Let’s go.” Said Tom, trying pry Alexander away from the view. A dark, luxurious carriage stood in front of the house. It looked like it belonged to the Ambassador of the Crystal Mountain Republic. It made sense he’d be there.

“I think that’s Alaric Shadowford’s carriage.” Exclaimed Alexander, starting towards the gate. Tom was now starting to get annoyed He knew the stop at Olivia’s would be unwise. The less Alexander knew about her the better.

“Then all the more reason not to stop. Let’s keep going Alex. We’ll stop by on the way home.”

 

Jakes

Their first stop would be Jake’s Place, a large entertainment complex at main fork in the highway between Meadow Creek, and the towns of Riverbend and Allegory.

Jake’s consisted of two inns, twos indoor stages, an outdoor stage that could host major musical festivals, a camping area, several pubs, and meeting rooms. Malcolm frequently played there, as well as all of the popular acts. Jakes was a favorite meeting place for business and most of all for pleasure. Jakes’s also hosted three recording studios.

 

 

Alexander and Tom went into the inn. They were familiar with the place. Since they were teens it had been one of their favorite spots. Always a party or entertainment.

They were greeted by Jake the proprietor, a tall skinny guy with a perpetual smile. Men found him friendly, women for some odd reason found him irresistible. Not at all what one would expect in a cross roads such as this. He knew everybody and everything that happened in those parts. He was a little older than Alex and a great friend of Logan’s. Jake had started the place when he was twenty years old and built it into his own small music/entertainment empire.

 

The wind picked up around the inn, and the cold came late that afternoon.

The plan was to meet with Simon Oliver, Annie Hawthorne, and Justin Snowhawk about the trip and general business before the trip.

Alexander said hello to Annie and Simon then went to see Jake. After three days on the road he needed to relax. He left Tom to sort out the details and contracts.

Jake and Alexander visited in the large parlor by a roaring fire.

“So how’s Logan doing?” asked Jake

“He still can’t use his arm very well but all in all better than I imagined. He’s definitely taking advantage of the situation. Every time I see him there’s a different woman waiting on him.”

“It’s sad to see a strong man like him so helpless” said Jake with a grin

“Yes, he’s not up to riding his four legged mare yet, but he’s defiantly being ridden by the two legged variety”.

“That’s the Logan we know and love”.

“You haven’t said anything about Princess Candi.”

“Jake, she’s absolutely beautiful. I’ve never met a woman so sweet and seemingly untouched.”

“Then you’re happy.”

“I suppose I’ll be happy enough. An exquisitely beautiful and willing princess is hopelessly in love with me. What more could I ever ask for?”

“You’re a lucky man Alex.”

“So I’m told.”

Alex saw a rider outside the door on a large black horse. “Is that Justin Snowhawk?”

“No, he never travels alone. That is his darling twin, Olivia. She almost always solo. Come out with me. I’ll introduce you.”

 

Alexander stood by Jake as a woman in a green cape and hood hauled a large pack off the back of a huge black horse. The wind whips strands of brown hair out from under the hood.

 

She turned around with a grim look. Jake ignored the look and gave her a hug, nearly lifting her off of the ground. She gave a slight laugh then got back to business.

“I tried to contact you. Most of the communications, both image and voice have been down for two days.” she told Jake,

“They’ve come back up here about an hour ago. I understand things were fine in The Capital.” He answered passing her horse to a groom.

“I’m none too pleased about it.” She replied angrily “I’ll get to the bottom of whatever or whoever is behind this. It practically shut down operations.”

“Annie, Michael and Simon are inside.”

“Good. Has Prince Alexander arrived?”

She turned and almost ran into Alexander. She stopped and took a step back, then regained her composure.

“Prince Alexander” said Jake, “I’m honored to introduce my dear friend Olivia Snowhawk, President of Universal Technologies”.

“So we finally meet” Alexander said with a smile.

“Yes, we finally meet” Olivia replied almost as if she was taken aback, then she gave a slight bow of her head. “I’m honored that you could make it Prince Alexander”.

 

So this was Olivia Snowhawk, Simon’s long time friend and business partner. Her eyes were hazel; her brown wind tangled hair fell midway down her back. Who would have thought that she was the powerful Olivia Snowhawk? He’d seen her image before in magazines and in the papers, but in person she wasn’t at all what he expected. He had imagined her to be tall like her brother, formal and elegant, not the small, road weary and obviously agitated woman before him. She was about eight inches shorter than his six feet, making her a little below average in height. He might have passed her on the street.

He thought it odd that she was traveling alone without staff, servants and security people. A woman of her status traveling alone on a trip like this was highly unusual.

The voice was what really made him take notice. Underneath her lilting Crystal Mountain accent, it was a smooth sultry voice, the kind that would be welcome for hours in a lecture hall or better yet, hours in the bedroom.

“Miss Snowhawk, this is a pleasure indeed. Simon has spoken so much about you over the years, but sometimes I doubted if you really existed.” Alexander said as he took her gloved hand, not knowing if he should kiss it or not. He decided to forgo the kiss. She smiled slightly and held eye contact with him. He felt as though he’d known her for years, then as soon as the warm feeling appeared she turned away wincing in pain, putting her hand to her forehead. Jake mouthed the words “don’t say anything” to Alexander.

Olivia turned back and as if nothing had happened continued their introduction.

“Yes, Simon has done a wonderful job of keeping us apart. But here we are, finally, face to face.”

The attraction was immediate for Alexander in an odd and unsettling way he couldn’t explain.

“Yes, we finally meet, face to face.” he answered with flirtatious smile.

“Come on let’s go in, the others are waiting”, Jake motioned as he picked up her bag. Alexander noticed the way he put his hand on Olivia’s back, almost a caress.

Jake smiled and practically purred “It’s good to have you back darling.” then he looked at his friend and motioned towards the door “Alexander”.

Alexander looked at Jake and wondered if he was sleeping with her. No, Jake would have said something. He’d ask anyway before they left.

As they entered the lobby she slipped off her heavy cape off and Alex saw a tempting curvy leather clad figure. “Don’t even think about it,” he thought to himself. He worked with women all the time, he reasoned with himself, but sometimes reason flew out the window.

He was amused by the haphazard way her hair fell over her shoulders in windblown tangles. Light freckles scattered over her face, another imperfection, like her dusty windblown hair, the freckles worked to make her even more feminine and vulnerable. Her only adornments were delicate silver hoops in her ears and an elegantly simple moonstone ring on her right hand. But there was certain flamboyance about her. She wore a form fitting black jacket that flared at the hips and fell to her knees. Underneath was a maroon colored shirt with touches of delicate lace at the collar showing just a hint of cleavage and a thin white scar peeking out. The lining of her long cape was a wild black on gray print of twisted ferns and birds. Her black leather boots were up to her thighs with more fern patterned delicately tooled down the sides along her legs. She wears ferns he thought to himself. Under different circumstances he would have been charmed. Now it only brought back unpleasant thoughts of Candi redecorating his home in pastel pink and yellow.

“So, you’re the elusive Olivia Snowhawk of Universal Technologies” he thought to himself making a mental note of her beautiful textured clothing. At least she had good taste.

There was something familiar about her, more than just her images in the press or pictures he’d seen in Simon’s office and home. He knew he hadn’t met her, but it was as if he already knew her. That was common with well known public figures he supposed. Everyone in the country thought they knew him personally.

She took her bag from Jake, something Alexander found odd. “I know you’re busy. I’ll settle in myself.” She kissed him on the cheek.

“I’ll see you both at dinner then.” Jake winked and went back down the hallway.

 

Alexander noticed that Jake hadn’t given her a key. She was obviously a regular here. “Miss Snowhawk?” he said quietly as she walked beside him down the long hallway towards the VIP suites.

“Please, call me Olivia” she said rubbing her left temple again. He took note of how she furrowed her brow in pain.

“Let me take your bag for you.”

“I’ve got it,” she said with the smallest bit of a smile.

He wondered what she had in there that she wouldn’t let go of. Knowing she was from the Crystal Mountains it could be anything from expensive boots to a severed head. He decided to lighten the mood with small talk then. “You’re from the Crystal Mountains. We don’t see many people from my mother’s homeland.”

“No, we don’t get out much… that is out of the country.”

Over the years he had met a few others from the same region beyond the Crystal Mountains. It was a place of unmatched natural beauty, but with a violent past and guarded present. People who came from there spoke in hushed defensive tones about their homeland and shared little with outsiders aside from the technology they exported. Few visitors made it into the strange land.

“How did you end up so far from home?” he asked, already knowing she’d come to run the largest technology business in the country.

She answered as if reading from a well rehearsed script. “I was already running the international side of business so it seemed natural to relocate on the other side of the mountains so to speak. Next thing I knew Simon had talked me into locating the headquarters in Meadow Creek.” she hesitated, and paused for a second, her tone changed to quiet and personal “I come from a very harsh and violent place. Things are better there now, since the war…but” she stopped and took a deep breath “I don’t choose to live there anymore.”

“You’ve been here twelve years now. That’s a long time to be away from home.” the prince started

“My home is here, not in the Crystal Mountain Republic. Please, let’s not talk about it. Not tonight.” she whispered, her hand briefly went to her right temple as if in pain again. Thunder cracked outside. Alexander felt a chill down his spine.

She continued in totally emotionless voice.” I’m going to freshen up before our first meeting. It’s been a long ride.” Then she paused pulled her gloves off, then took his hand. Her hand was like ice in his. “Funny isn’t it that we’ve never met. That’s what you’re thinking isn’t it?” She said with a slight smile.

“I suppose I was. Why haven’t we met?” he brought her hand to his mouth and lightly kissed it.

She didn’t take the bait to talk more, to open up. She gave his hand a squeeze and let go of it. “It doesn’t matter why our paths have never crossed, what’s important is that we’re both here now. I’ll see you in about 30 minutes.” She bowed her head slightly and turned towards the stairs. He had to smile at her. The mystery was finally over. She was right. They were both here, finally.

“That bag looks heavy. Let me help you at least up those stairs.” He called after her not wanting to let her go yet.

“Thank you but, you aren’t going my direction. I can handle it.” She turned again and headed to her rooms.

“When is Justin arriving?” Alexander asked to her back.

She stopped at the foot of the stairs and turned, heaving her bag up to her shoulder. “Never, or at least not for a while. Not here with us. No today. I’ll be taking his place.”

Alexander might as well be hit with a door. “I don’t think I heard you correctly. When will Justin be arriving?”

“I’m sorry, Justin can’t make it. He’ll meet us at the River Conference in a few weeks.” She answered slowly as if speaking to a small child or an idiot.

“Where is he?” Alexander demanded.

“Who knows at this point. The high mountain passes are still snowed in. The road crews have been blasting but it’s a slow process at 18,000 feet. The risk of avalanche is too high to go any faster. Of course attempt to get out over the mountains was completely out of the question, so he decided to scrap the whole deal and made other plans. Why he didn’t tell me earlier I don’t know, but I’ve barely had two days notice. I’m sure you can imagine how I’ve had to scramble on this. Despite the last minute change of plans I’m looking forward to working with you and Tom. I’ll see you in a bit.” She impatiently heaved the weight of her bag from one shoulder to the other then took a step up the stairs.

“Why wasn’t I told?”

She dropped the heavy bag her feet. “I tried to contact you but as you probably know already, most of my voice communications have been down for the past few days. I sent word to Logan as soon as I found out. Didn’t he tell you?”

“No. he didn’t.” he snapped back at her.

Her expression softened. “I’m sorry, I told him to pass my message on to you. So I guess Simon didn’t tell you either.”

“No he didn’t tell me anything.”

“I see. Have you met with the others yet?”

“Yes, briefly, but they didn’t say anything either.”

“I’m sure they assumed you knew.”

“So it seems, Ms Snowhawk” Alexander all but yelled at her. He was at his wit’s end. This couldn’t be happening. Not to him, not now. He had to put her off of the idea. There was no way she could go with them. “I hope you realize this isn’t exactly a safe or comfortable trip we’re going on.” he told her trying to talk some sense into this woman.

“Your highness”, she said calmly, almost too calmly, “I beg that you forget all generalizations. I’ve made this trip many times by myself. If you stay clear of Allegory, it is safe and exceedingly comfortable. All the arrangements have been made for your comfort and security. Your business is my business, very lucrative business I might add. I have close ties in this region that will make this little adventure well worth your while”. Alexander furrowed his brow. She seemed impervious to his show of disgust. “I am at your service. I promise you won’t be disappointed.” Olivia showed him the first sign of a genuine smile. He could get used to that smile under different circumstances, but not here, not now.

Oh God, he thought, this is going to be a long trip. On top of it all would be explaining to his parent’s and Candi the change in circumstances. This wasn’t going to go over well with any of them.

“This will never work.”

“Never is a word I try to leave out of my vocabulary. I recommend you do the same. I’ll see you in thirty minutes.” She bowed her head slightly and picked up the bag again.

Who did this woman think she was? Alexander kept calm, trying not to show his temper at her infuriating attitude. “Stop. Who’s idea is it that you take Justin’s place?”

Olivia answered calmly “Logan suggested it after talking with my brother. Simon and Tom agreed. They insisted I drop everything and join you. There was no other choice, other than cancel the mission.” She bowed her head and said “Prince Alexander, I am truly glad we finally have met and I’m looking forward to traveling with you. I will see you in half an hour.” then headed up the stairs.

“We’re going to talk about this now.”

“We’ll talk later. I’m tired, I’ve got a headache and I’m sure a million tangles in my hair, so let me have a few minutes to myself, please.” She continued up the stairs leaving Alexander to watch her vanish up the dark hallway.

“Miss Snowhawk, your tangles can wait.”

She took a deep breath and gripped the stair rail. “At the moment.” She paused for a few seconds. “At the moment, Your Highness, I am in a great deal of pain and must take care of myself before we discuss anything. I promise you, later, we’ll come up with a plan that you and your associates will agree with…that you’ll be able to live with. Alright? Please?”

“I’ll see you in thirty minutes Miss Snowhawk.”

“Prince Alexander.” She turned without another word or change in expression and climbed the stairs.

 

He’d expected Justin and found himself about to embark on the trip with a stranger who was not only ill, but had a bad attitude to match. In his wildest dreams or nightmares, this wasn’t what he expected, not at all. Still trying to digest the information she’d just given him he went to look for Tom. Apparently nobody from his party was available. He found Jake in his office going over paperwork. Alexander asked him about business and upcoming concerts. He wondered again about Jake’s relationship with Olivia Snowhawk.

“Has Olivia Snowhawk discussed my trip with you?”

“Olivia? No, she hasn’t. I didn’t know she’d be here until this morning. I haven’t spoken to her in maybe three or four months.”

“You seemed pretty cozy with her. Is she one of your girlfriends?”

“You know I never kiss and tell.”

“You always kiss and tell. Is she one of your weekend girlfriends?” Alexander was digging himself a hole, something he rarely did, but the news of traveling Olivia had thrown him completely off.

“No, unfortunately there’s never been anything with Olivia and me except a lot of hot and heavy flirting. The last thing she needs is a pervert like me to complicate her life.”

Alexander had to smile at that comment, then he was back on his mission. “Olivia said Justin won’t be in the country until the River Conference.”

“What a shame. I was looking forward to seeing him again too. The man has an amazing voice. Too bad he couldn’t make it. I’d hoped to talk him into getting up on stage tonight.”

“Does she sing? Olivia?”

“God no, at least not in front of an audience.”

Alexander decided not to let Jake see his agitation. “Justin isn’t much like his sister, is he?”

“Olivia is all fire and ice, no in betweens with that one. Justin is like nice warm comfortable bath water.” Jake pulled open a folder with his busy calendar. Talk of Olivia was now over. “Hey, when are you going to get Princess Candi out here on my stage?”

“For you Jake, I’ll make it happen. We’ll have Malcolm and Addie set up show while I’m traveling. It will keep Candi busy and give you the kind of publicity you’ve only dreamed.”

“That would be fantastic.”

“Don’t advertise Candi but bill her with someone popular who will bring in a full house. Make it a surprise to the audience. Book it with Addie. I’ll take care of the extra security. Don’t spare any costs. Whatever you need to get the job done and bill me for it. That goes for Candi’s personal comfort and security and whatever Malcolm and Addie need.”

“This will give your pretty little princess a distraction while you’re off traveling with Simon and Olivia.”

“Simon isn’t going with me. Ms Snowhawk just told me will be traveling in Justin’s place. This was supposed to be a male only party and now I’ll have to explain why a girl just popped out of the cake.”

“Ahhh Olivia. Don’t worry about her. She’s a workaholic the same as yourself only worse. She’s as sexy as they come but she won’t be thinking about you a bit.”

“The press will have a field day with this one.”

“Olivia and Simon can manage the press. They’ve helped me out a time or two or three. You’ve got Charles along don’t you.”

“The voice of reason”

“There you are. Nothing to worry about.”

Alex imagined that most of their talk that evening would be about business. That was fine with him. He felt his personal side had been drained by the shallow courting of Candi. It was another half hour before their meeting. He went to his room to change out of his traveling clothes.

On the way down to the meeting room he stopped in the hall. He could hear Simon’s voice in one of the side parlors. Simon was angry, but his voice was controlled, like a parent scolding an errant teenager. Alexander hesitated and listened.

“Alaric Shadowford was in your house. What were you thinking? But of course, you never think when it comes to him, do you?”

”It is official business of the Crystal Mountain Republic.”

“Bull shit. I know what he wanted.”

“It has nothing to do with you.” Snapped Olivia.

“It has everything to do with me. I don’t want you alone with him again, ever.”

“Fine, then you tell him to stay away from me.”

“Don’t even go there…”

“No Simon, let’s go there. It’s none of your fucking business who I spend my time with.”

“Like hell it isn’t.”

The conversations trailed off into a whisper.

Alexander headed to the meeting room. Tom, Michael and Annie were already there at the large table. His young assistants Andrew and Charles sat together looking serious and somewhat overwhelmed. No sooner had he greeted the others when Simon and Olivia made a grand entrance through the door. They smiled and greeted everyone, relaxed and slightly amused as if they had an inside joke they weren’t going to share. Nobody would have guessed that this was the couple Alexander had heard arguing just a few minutes ago.

Olivia had cleaned up quite well, having brushed her straight brown hair to a glossy shine and changed into a pretty black lace blouse.

 

Annie stood to greet them, giving Olivia a quick embrace.

“Olivia, I thought we’d lost you. Did you speak with Logan?”

Olivia gave a wicked smile, “Yes, finally. When I explained the situation he laughed and asks me if I’d brought along the dress I had worn to the opera.”

“It will be interesting when you finally meet him in person.”

“Yes, it will indeed be interesting.”

“You’ll like him.” Annie added suggestively.

“I’m sure I will Annie. I’m sure I will, unfortunately not in the way he’d like.”

“As always Olivia, you are right.” Annie said with a grin and a slight laugh to herself.

Olivia turned towards Tom “It’s always good to see your friendly face. I saw you and Prince Alexander ride by my house. You should have stopped. We could have ridden in together.”

He took her hands and kissed her cheek. “You had company.” He whispered in her ear.

“It’s not what you think.” She whispered back.

Tom made introductions with Andrew and Charles. Olivia charmed them with comments about how proud their families must be of them and how their skills would be an asset to their mission.

Alexander took note of how Olivia had changed from the cold to hot on a moment’s notice. So like Simon he thought.

She turned towards Alexander and took his hands in hers. “We’re honored to be here, joining you on this journey of goodwill and discovery. Alexander smiled and bowed his head slightly to her. She gave him a warm smile but her eyes were cold like her hands.

“Shall we get started?” she asked Simon with a genuine smile. Simon smiled back and took her hand, giving it a quick squeeze.

This was Alexander’s first real look at Simon at work and the true inner workings of Universal Technologies. The chemistry between Olivia and Simon was unmistakable.

Olivia stood and gave a brief introduction “On behalf of everyone at Universal Technologies International, I welcome you.” She started.

She continued on to say how she appreciates the last minute changes, Alexander taking Logan’s place, Tom putting his schedule on hold to come as well. She acknowledged Annie’s role of public relations and how Michael would help Annie in dealing with the press. Then she said a few words about Logan and what a shame it was he couldn’t join them until the River Conference. She was delighted at the prospect of a lasting partnership which will benefit all of them. Then she mentioned that the people of this territory are looking forward to seeing Alexander again.

“So much has been planned in your honor” she told him. “There will be some elegant formal receptions, but most will be more humble. Everything from children’s singing recitals and amateur theatricals to factory tours and town hall meetings.”

She continued to describe the first part of the trip that Logan and Justin had planned, up until they would part ways with Tom and arrive in Riverbend. She commanded the room with grace and elegance. Her voice showed excitement and infectious enthusiasm.

When Olivia finished, Alexander noticed the thick white scar across the palm of her right hand. It couldn’t have been comfortable. She caught his eye and closed her hand in a loose fist, palm side down to the table.

A lavish spread was brought in for dinner. Jake joined them.

They talked about business. Stories were traded. Two hours pass by. Alexander noticed that Olivia had hardly said a word, but listened intently to every word said by the others. When they are finally through, Annie, Michael and the boys headed off to see a hot local band in the other side of the resort, Tom and Simon head for the private club. Olivia requests a few minutes alone with Alexander.

 

After they were alone Olivia stood up and drew a dagger out from under her coat and put it on the table. Another old Crystal Mountain tradition. It showed she expected his trust.

She leaned against the edge of the table. “We discussed the first leg of the trip with the others. We now need to discuss our eight weeks in Riverbend.”

Alexander replied, glancing at the dagger. “Logan said all the arrangements had been made.”

She ignored him. “I have an office with Universal Technologies in Riverbend, plus I’m scheduled to lecture at the University. I know you’d planned on working with my brother, Michael and my cousin Marigold Snowhawk. Now you’ll work with Marigold and me. Since I’ll be busy with my classes and students, I won’t be able to spend that much time with you during the day. Honestly, Marigold and Michael have control over everything so I doubt if you’ll really need me. That shouldn’t be too much off the original agenda.”

“I understand Marigold has been in the country for almost 15 years.”

“She came to set up the Riverbend Universal Technologies sales and support office and fell in love with the country, and a man. Marigold is a Northwest Kingdom citizen now. Did you know that?”

“No, but I’m honored.”

“Of course, Michael is my right hand man, more like my shadow really. I’d be lost without him. He may just seem like another trendy 20 something young man, but underneath that trendy exterior he is absolutely brilliant.”

“Where is the rest of your staff?”

“My staff?”

“You arrived here alone. Where is your staff?”

“My staff. At home, doing their jobs. Michael and I travel light. It gives us more flexibility. Our own private communications technology affords us that luxury. Aside from that, I already have staff at the Lockwood Mill and my offices in Riverbend. We also have a warehouse and distribution center in Ravenswood I’ll be stopping at. Universal Technologies International have a huge delegation at the River Conference of course, at least 120 people, if not more, plus about 20 people are coming in from the Crystal Mountains.”

“What about your maid?”

“I don’t need a maid. I can do my own hair.”

“You don’t have any security.”

“I figured you’d have a zillion guards with us so there wasn’t any need for me to bring anybody else along. You and Tom are light on staff as well. I was glad to see that. It will help us be more flexible in our schedule.”

“Exactly when will Justin be joining us?”

“I already told you, we won’t see him until the River Conference. It’s not just the weather. When he couldn’t get though the pass he went home to take care of other issues he needs to deal with – medical issues and family. He sends his apologies and will be contacting you in a few weeks.”

“Medical? Nothing serious I hope.”

“He’ll be fine. Don’t worry about it. I know you and Justin had planned on doing some fishing and exploring before the River Conference, but rest assured you’ll still have opportunities for, well, a little adventure.”

“So I won’t see Justin until the River Conference?”

“No, you won’t, but when we do see him, I’ll personally make sure you’ll have as much time as you want with him. He’s staying on for another month which will give you ample time to take care of whatever business the two of you had. He’d even suggested a side trip to Aurora Lake if you’re up for it.” She ignored his look of disgust and continued. “I contacted your cousin Graham Oliver about the stop in Riverbend. As you know he’ll be joining us there.” she threw the dagger at the map on the wall and it impaled the town of Riverbend. “Graham said he is looking forward to…”

“You know Graham?” He unintentionally looked her up and down wondering if she’d be the type Graham would try to seduce.

“I’ve known Graham for years. Don’t look at me like that. I’m not one of his sluts.”

“You know about his indiscretions?”

“Indiscretions is a polite way to put it. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there, or any concern of mine. I spend 3 or 4 months a year in Riverbend. I know everyone there, including that particular branch of your family.”

“You seem to know everyone in my circle.”

“Yes, and you know just about everyone in mine.” there was an uncomfortable pause in the conversation. Olivia glanced out of the window at the storm, then back at Alexander. “Any questions about the agenda?”

“Annie Hawthorne is working with Logan as Universal Technology’s liaison in government relations. I usually work with Simon when I have business with Universal. Where do you come in?”

“I own the company.”

He crossed his arms and took a long look at her. “Why haven’t I ever met you before?”

She closed her eyes for just a second too long and started to put her hand to her temple then put it down. “I don’t know Alexander, it really isn’t something I’ve had much time to think about.” She paused again. “Justin and Logan had planned on using my Riverbend cottage when it was just a trip for the boys. The cottage is small and intimate, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for you to stay, well, alone with me. There are also security concerns. George wants you to stay with him but…”

“My cousin George is the most annoying person in the world. There is no way I’ll stay with him.”

“I thought of that already. Poor George. He really does mean well, but anyway, your staff has arranged for you to stay with your cousin Roxanna because she has more security and privacy at her home, and unlike Graham’s place, her house is in the center of town near the regional government offices. You could also stay with your Aunt, but Roxanna begged for you to stay with her. I know you’re especially close to her. There is also room and privacy at Roxanna’s if you plan on inviting Princess Candi or other friends to join you.”

“So it’s settled.” He ended her sentence for her.

“Yes, it’s settled, as well as it can be on such short notice. Michael and I will be in Riverbend for our business. You’ll have an official state visit, and the people of Riverbend will be absolutely overjoyed to see you. The opera season is opening so we’ll be well entertained. And best of all you’ll still get to do some fishing. There’s a great spot my friend Don showed me last time along the river just south of town. Nobody goes there and the fish are real fighters. It’s all catch and release of course, but I hear that’s your preference anyway. It’s absolutely beautiful. I’ll take you there if you like.”

“Sure.” Alexander answered flatly, folding his arms.

“Fantastic. Oh, and I just found out some exciting news, the new dig site on the old castle site has been opened and they’re quite excited to have you up to see it. I hear you’re quite involved in archeological sites. On the way, in Ravenswood we can take a hike up in the hills to the ruins where your great Uncle Alexander fell in love with the Baroness Starfire. I’m sure you’ve seen them already but I have some new information about some of the stone carvings. It’s such a magical place. I can’t wait to share…” she trailed out seeing a disgusted look on his face. ”What’s wrong?”

Alex sat back in his seat and shook his head. “You have this all planned out don’t you?”

“All of the details have been taken care of for you. You don’t have to do anything but relax and enjoy the ride.”

“Not all of the details”.

“Is there a problem? If there is you need to tell me.”

“Yes, there is a problem. This is not what I expected.”

“Aside from my brother what were you expecting?”

“That’s it. I was expecting Justin. No offense, but not Justin’s twin sister, not you. I have confidential matters I need to discuss with your brother.” He fingered the earring in his pocket.

“Justin and I don’t keep secrets in our business.”

“This is personal.”

She said nothing. For the first time that night she didn’t know what to say.

He added under his breath. “I wasn’t expecting anything remotely like this.”

“Yes, you don’t need to tell me again. I wasn’t expecting anything like this either, but I’m not going to sit around and pout about it”. She suddenly felt sorry for him. A man forced into too many unpleasant situations. Sooner or later something was bound to snap. “I hear the past few months have been rough for you” she said quietly.

He stared at her without a comment.

“Simon told me you would welcome a break from the pressures of your impending engagement”.

“My love life is none of your business”.

”It is if you let it interfere with my business.”

“You are out of hand Miss Snowhawk.”

She leaned against the table. “I have your best interests in mind. That is NOT being out of hand Prince Alexander.”

“What is it with you? Don’t you give a damn how this looks? I’m traveling with you, while Princess Candi waits for me at home.”

“Is that what this is about? I would never do anything to compromise your honor.”

“You don’t have to do anything. Just look at yourself in the mirror. People will talk. People will assume…”

“What? Assume that we’re going to …oh don’t even say it. I can’t even start to express how offended I am by your assumptions about my character or my physical attributes.”

She had him cornered. He tried to explain. “Candi, is young and doesn’t understand the world of business. She’ll see you as a threat.”

“She’s got a lifetime ahead of her seeing you working with other women. Tell her to grow up and get over it.“

“The press will be even less kind at seeing us together 24/7.”

“I can handle the press. I’ll leave you to handle Princess Candi and her insecurities.” Olivia took a deep breath and shook her head in frustration. “I understand the delicate nature of your situation, but let me assure you that this is business, not a pleasure trip.”

“Is that all you think about? Business?”

“Universal Technologies employs 4000 people. 1200 are outside of the Crystal Mountain Republic. It is my responsibility to all of those 1200 people to make sure they have jobs to go to each Monday morning. It is my responsibility to make sure their families are safe and taken care of. It is my responsibility to make sure that our technology is used for the good of all people, not just the privileged few. I take that very personally.”

“Nice speech, but step back off of your lofty mountain and imagine my position. I have not 1200, but 10 million people to think about.”

“Would you like to call this off?” she asked defiantly.

He glared at her. The thought of going back to The Capitol would only accelerate things with Candi. He decided to turn things back on Olivia.

“No, I’m not letting you out of this.” he said pushing his hand through his hair.

“Are you sure that is what you want?” she folded her arms across her chest and narrowed her eyes.

He took it as a challenge. “Too much has gone into the planning of this trip. People are expecting me. As their prince and servant, I need to be there. I want to be there.”

The corners of her mouth turned up slightly. “Yes, they are expecting both of us. You’re not the only one who draws a crowd in these parts.”

“I’m sure you draw quite the crowd.” He answered in a slightly condescending tone.

Olivia’s hands fisted then relaxed. “My influence extends far beyond Meadow Creek. You’ll find that I can take you places you’d never be able to get to on your own, even as a prince.”

“Don’t be so sure of that.” His tone grew cold. She saw the anger in his green eyes saying “don’t go there”.

She wasn’t going to back down. She’d be damned if she let him off easy. “I know these people. Unlike you, I spend time with them, on their level.”

“You have no idea what I do. No prince has ever been more in touch with his subjects than I am.”

“You spend your days surrounded by pretty faces and pleasantries. You don’t know your people. You haven’t taken the time to know them. Do you even comprehend or appreciate the loyalty and the love they feel for you?”

“You’re out of bounds Miss Snowhawk.”

“Am I, Prince Alexander? Am I really? Aside from Simon’s interest and the rare visits from Thomas or Graham, most of this region is blatantly ignored by the diplomats and higher ups in The Capitol. The local officials feel cut off and rejected. The people who live between the rivers couldn’t give a rat’s ass if you marry a Real Princess or a whore. They want to know what is being done about their children’s education and their unique economy. They want to know what’s going to be done about the cults living in Allegory and Hammers Woods. They want to know their voices are being heard. ”

They stood looking at each other in silence. Neither wanting to back down. Alexander wasn’t about to let her get the best of him. He wasn’t about to let her win this one.

“Are you finished?” he asked looking down at her.

“No, but you seem to have heard all you want to hear.” She snapped back.

He took a deep breath to calm himself. “Before we start on our journey of goodwill, together, we need to get a few things straight.” He told her as calmly as he could. “If you plan to travel with me you’ll go by my rules.”

“Your rules?”

“You will go by my rules or this show is over. That’s it. No compromise. No negotiations. What I say is final.”

She just looked at him. At least he got her to shut up for more than 5 seconds.

“Sit down. Please. Sit, NOW.”

Olivia hesitated then sat with her hands in her lap. Alexander continued as he stood in front of her. “Rule number one. Respect.”

“Respect?” she asked.

“Rule number one. You will show respect for my position. I understand that you are not a citizen of my country and owe me no allegiance. However, no matter how powerful you might be as a business leader and social butterfly, you will show me respect. I’m not asking you to do this, I am ordering you to do it.”

She narrowed her eyes again, but didn’t say a thing.

He leaned on the edge of the table, still looking down at her. “Rule number two, don’t do anything behind my back. Everything is up front with us. No secret conversations with third parties, no back room deals along the way. There is to be no discussing my private life with others, including Simon. If you want to do or say anything concerning me, you are to bring it to me first. If I ask you about anything you are to tell me everything. And I do mean everything. Do you understand?”

“Yes, I understand.” Olivia answered quietly.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am sure.” Her voice was calm but her eyes burned with rage.

“Rule number three, anything said between you and me is confidential. Do you understand?”

“Yes, of course I’ll keep all our conversations confidential.”

“Good. Rule number four, don’t change the agenda without my approval.”

Olivia leaned forward in her chair “Meaning?”

“I will approve who I will be traveling with and where we are going and what we are doing, in advance.”

“Anything else?” She asked. He could hear the impatience in her voice.

“No more knife throwing. I don’t need the dramatic displays. Will you agree to those terms?” Alexander locked his eyes on hers. She answered his stare.

“Yes, I will agree to those terms.”

“Good.”

“I have a request of my own.” She stood up and stepped towards him.

He stood his ground. “Yes?”

“You need to trust me and respect my position.”

“I have great respect for your position. Give me reason to trust or respect you personally and I will.”

She looked at him with slight disgust. He stared back with an angry fire in his green eyes and brushed his hair back with his right hand. He couldn’t believe this woman.

“We have an early start ahead of us and I still have another meeting ahead of me tonight.” she said quietly. “Good night.” and with a bow of her head she left for her room, then she turned at the door and locked on his eyes “Your highness, I apologize for my bluntness and any perception of disrespect towards you. I assure you none was meant.”

“Apologies accepted. Goodnight Olivia. I will see you in the morning”. He said grimly.

“See you when the sun comes up.” She said in the old language and left him alone.

 

 

“What a self-centered bastard.” she said aloud to no one as she made her way to her room. “He was supposed to be charming but no he had to be a total and complete power-hungry asshole shit-head, damn it all to hell.” By the time she reached her room, she was furious. To top it off a monster of a headache was pressing on the front of her skull. From the minute she laid eyes on Alexander her head felt as if it was in a vice.

She pulled off her boots and lay down on her bed with her palms pressing her throbbing temples. She stifled back a scream. There was a tap on the door. Instinctively she grabbed for the handle of her dagger then remembered it was still in the map. “It better not be him” she thought as she jumped up and threw open the door. Jake stood outside holding her dagger in his hand with an all-knowing smile on his face.

“Jake” her blood pressure dropped. The headache vanished.

“How goes it darling?” he asked as he made his way into the room giving her a quick kiss on the cheek.

“The guy may be a prince, but, oh Jake, this is going to be painful.”

“You seem as if you’ll explode little one.”

“If you could have heard his condescending tone. I don’t think he has any concept of who I am.”

“He knows exactly who you are.”

“He has no appreciation of what I’m going to do for him”.

“You aren’t used to somebody else being in charge. You’ll snap if you don’t relax Livy. Now sit. Let me do my magic on you before you explode.”

Jake led her to the bed and began to massage her temples then moved down to her shoulders. Olivia felt as though she would melt. Sensuous chills then calm replaced the tension.

He pulled her hair to one side and kissed her on the neck. She gave a little gasp.

“I thought you’d like that” he said as he continued up to her mouth.

“You are pure magic” she purred and pulled him down on the bed and started to undo the buttons on his shirt. She moved her mouth on his and gave him a long sensuous kiss. “Stay with me tonight.” She whispered in his ear.

“I’ve been waiting years for you to ask me that, but you deserve better than a womanizing scoundrel like me.” He answered tenderly as he sat up and untangled himself from her. “I’ve known Alex since we were children. He can be a tad bit overwhelming…”

Olivia was annoyed that he changed the subject back to Alexander. “That’s an understatement. I saw what an arrogant controlling bastard he is.”

“Get to know him and he’ll be a true and loyal friend, unlike any you’ve ever had. ”

“Alexander couldn’t care less if I extend an offer of friendship. I’m just a pair of tits to him.” She sighed. Jake could tell she was physically and emotionally exhausted. “When you came to the door I thought it was him. If Alexander is the type who would use sex to get what he wants then I’m calling this trip off right now. I’ve had enough shit from men lately to last a lifetime. I’m not going to put up with it from him.”

“You’ll be safe with him. And if you’re worried about anything less than professional, Alexander would never cross those lines, unless of course, you wanted him to.”

“No I don’t want him to.”

“He’ll be married soon to Candi of Lavender Forest. He’ll be dreaming of her tonight and forget all about you.”

“Are you sure? I hear he’s not sold on that deal yet.”

“Your fragile heart and your business interests will be safe with our prince. Now get some sleep little one. I’ll see you when the sun comes up.”

“See you before the sun comes up.”

Jake gave her a hug. In return she kissed him with a deep passionate response. “Thank you for being here for me Jake”.

He laughed “Don’t tempt me like that or you’ll end losing all respect for me.” He gave her another long kiss and left her alone.

If he had stayed she knew they would have both regretted it in the morning. Dear sweet Jake. The encounter with Alexander now seemed so strange. She lit a blue light in the lantern and waited for her next visitor.

 

Girl in the Woods (Serial Novel Part 9 – The Party Continues)

Each Friday during 2016 I’ll be posting an installment of Girl in the Woods, an epic Novel I wrote over ten years ago when my children were babies. If you’re new to this adventure CLICK HERE to start from the beginning. Or go to the sidebar on the main page of this blog to find the page.

 

The Party Continues

Alexander greeted his Uncle Logan, who was more of an older brother to him.

“It was good to finally meet Annie Hawthorne, “ said Alexander. “She thinks the world of you Logan.”

“And I of her. She’s a remarkable young woman. Jeff was quite taken by her. I think love is in the air.”

Alexander poured them both a glass of wine. “Here’s to the Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne for providing us with such humble and charming woman to share our lives with.”

Logan lifted his glass “To the Hawthorns”

Just then Candi walked up with Jeff who was now dressed for the party. Alexander assumed his baby brother had come through the back door. Jeff no longer looked annoyed and seemed smitten with the Princess.

Candi took Alexander’s arm and smiled sweetly. “I couldn’t help but overhear you talking about the Hawthorne family. Annjanette and her brother Anvil have overcome all odds with their success. It’s a fascinating story. Did you know their grandfather was hanged for murder? And their mother worked for…”

“Candi, please don’t say anything else,” said Logan.

“She was a professional whore, licensed and everything. It is public record,” said Candi with her signature pout.

“Do you know Annie?” Said Jeff trying to conceal his shock.

“No,” said Candi, “but I know a lot about them.”

Logan spoke up. “Candi dear, if you wish to be part our inner circle, don’t repeat every nasty little thing you hear. Especially if it’s about people we know, and love. “

“Logan, I’m sure she meant no harm”, said Jeff.

“I’m sure she didn’t Jeffery.” Logan pulled his nephew aside, “I don’t care if Candi is your future sister-in-law, don’t encourage the little imbecile.”

“Logan, I’m as shocked as you are.”

“I don’t know where Candi got her information, but it isn’t public knowledge. Unfortunately it is true. If you say anything to Annie, or judge her by this, I will personally beat that handsome face of yours into an unrecognizable pulp. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to mingle before I smash something over your head.”

 

 

Even with Candi on his arm, Alexander’s mind was somewhere else. She seemed to notice and fluttered off to find Jeff.

In a few weeks Logan would be leaving for a cross country goodwill trip with Justin Snowhawk, who ruled Universal Technologies headquarters in the Crystal Mountain Republic.

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 I also 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. Yes, he should have paid Olivia Snowhawk a visit but never got around to it Alexander thought about joining Logan and Justin for a few weeks. Simon had also talked of going along as well.

Alexander was lost in his thoughts, forgetting about greeting his guest when a hand came around his waist.

“How’s my prince?” asked Ellie. She looked stunning as always.

He took her in his arms. “Run away with me Ellie. We can start a new life together, change our names, spend the rest of our days on a warm tropical island in the southern seas.”

“I’ll pack tonight after Simon goes to bed.”

“I’ve thought about joining Logan and Justin for a few weeks on their grand adventure.”

“You should. I adore Justin. Spending a few weeks with him would definitely help settle your nerves.”

I love you Ellie, but I’m glad you dumped me for Simon. I could have never made you happy.”

“Your happiness is out there Alexander.”

“What do you see?”

“”I’ve known you my whole life Alexander. I know you like few people do. You’ve had a change of mind. I can tell. Something happened today. What was it?”

Nothing happened. I went for a walk by the ruins. I had a fight with Jeff. I took care of some paperwork then had a fight with my dad. Fortunately my mother still loves me. Next Candi showed up and told me that she hates my house. She then kissed me and I almost lost my mind and let her take advantage of me, but Julianna showed up and saved me. Then the party started. That’s it. Nothing more than a usual Friday. Ellie, I should be excited, I should be brimming with joy over the idea of marriage to Candi but I don’t feel anything for her except maybe a sense of forced duty.”

“You don’t have much in common with her, do you?”

“Marriage is a partnership Alexander. What you need is a woman who will rescue you.”

“Rescue me from what?”

“You need someone to rescue you from yourself.”

 

Check back next Friday for more of the story, and a lot of surprises.

The Next Big Thing

Stick around because the next blog post is going to be “Things I hate about people who aren’t Vampires.” But now, drum roll please, I’m going to get personal. OK it is personal to me, but not really, because it isn’t about me.

About a dozen years ago I started writing a story to my friend Amelia as sort of a funny joke. It was my own take on a fairy tale. About 300,000 words later I had an epic adventure. Then I started to write some spin off stories because the characters were really fun and interesting. I now have a series.

Until I get picked up by a major publisher, publish this myself, or until you see this as the next HBO, Showtime or other  cable network series, this will be for you, my wonderful Vampire Maman readers.

After writing plays and then putting down my pen for what seemed like a century, this is what got me started back up writing again.

It is a story called “Girl in the Woods.” It 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.

Below are just a few points of this tale. Pretend you’re reading my private notes.

  • What happens when a twenty-two year old freedom fighter adopts twins – the children of his rival and former best friend?
  • What happens when a prince is expected to marry a perfect princess who turns out to be a junkie who is sleeping with half the men on his staff? What happens when he falls in love with someone else who is imperfect in ways he could never imagine.
  • What happens when a girl pretends to be a princess to escape a war torn country and ends up with a life based on lies? Then what happens when her own son falls in love with the daughter of her former lover?
  • It is the story of two generations of lovers and enemies.
  • It is an epic adventure.
  • There are no vampires (this is fiction folks), but you’ll find wizards, trolls, and mysterious beings that may or may not be from space. And of course there are cats. There are always cats.
  • It is a fairy tale with a prince and a princess. But the main character is the President of an international technology company who just happens to be a wizard, and just happens to be enchanted.
  • A newspaper reporter knows too many secrets about the woman he was afraid to love.
  • The story is post environmental disaster.
  • It is political.
  • It is funny.
  • It is disturbing and sick and twisted.
  • There are betrayals.
  • There is evil.
  • There is romance (of course.)
  • There is magic.
  • It is mostly about a circle of friends. As adults living their own lives, they are still connected.

Every Friday I will post an installment of the story. I’ll put it all on a page that you will be able to locate from either sidebar.

Below is Chapter 1, sort of a prologue to “Girl in the Woods.” A version of this first chapter was first published in the anthology “Passions Prisms” as a stand alone story.

Note: This is rough and unedited for the most part. I’ll polish it eventually.

 

Girl in the Woods
Chapter 1: Crystal Mountain Republic

“Do you still love her?” Crystal snarled. The vase flew across the room and shattered next to Jack’s shoulder.

Jack kept his hands on his hips, refusing to retreat from the angry woman in front of him. “Not for 40 years. What do I need to do to prove my love to you? We won a war, rebuilt a country and raised four successful children. We run a multinational corporation we’ve built from dust. We’ve built a good life.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Damn you woman. I’m not going to answer you either.”

“Why not?”

“You’re the wizard. Read my bloody mind.”

Crystal threw a bookend making perfect aim. It crashed into his forehead and knocked him onto the floor. Jack looked up through a heavy flow of blood coming from the cut on his forehead.

“You are my heart Crystal and I will love you forever even if you kill me first.” Jack said glaring at her.

A much younger, tall handsome man with sparkling amber eyes and waist long reddish brown hair cautiously came through the door. “What the hell happened to you?” He said to Jack.

The older couple both turned to him. “Nothing” they said in unison.

Two small children tumbled into the room. “Go play downstairs” he told his kids “You’re grandparents are being a bit bad right now.” He looked at his parents with his hands on his hips and a look of disgust on his face. “When are you going to stop this behavior? You’re a bad example for the children.”

“What behavior?” asked his father with a wicked grin wiping the blood off his face with his shirt sleeve.

Crystal turned on the younger man. “Now that you’re here Justin, I want to tell you that now is not a good time to tell me to be nice and polite. Nobody knows where Robert Nightlander is. He has vanished off the face of the earth. I told you and your father that we should have killed him years ago. I don’t care who he might be related to, the man is evil.”

“We’ve located him. He is in the Northern Wastes but has moved around some. You know we can’t go up there.”

“Treaties be damned. I’ll go up there and kill him myself if I have to, before he kills your sister. He’s wearing her out Justin. He’s going to kill her if she can’t find a man with the kind of love it takes to…damn it. It was your duty, and your father’s to protect her.”

“Simon is keeping her safe. He made a promise as well as many others. Robert can’t touch her as long as she stays in the Northern Kingdom.” Justin gave Crystal a hug. She turned away and retreated.

 

The Northwestern Kingdom. What good was it having her beloved daughter Liv among barbarians, who sat in the sun all day and smiled like neutered sheep. Not to mention the fact their queen was a traitor to the Crystal Mountain republic – the kind of woman who got by with cunning and looks rather than courage and conviction. She knew what it was to have courage and conviction. She knew what it was like to put her life on the line for everything she loved and believed in. Sacrifice is something that bitch in the Northwestern Kingdom would never know.

“He fears Simon because Simon fears no man or wizard. But he can’t protect her all the time. He has his own wife and family to take care of. What if Robert went after Simon’s babies? It would be the blood of children on your hands Jack.”

Crystal excused herself so they wouldn’t see her tears and went alone out on the balcony, as was her habit when she needed to be by herself. She took a deep breath of the cool mountain air.

 

Memories of a time long ago came rushing back. On another dark night 31 years ago she’d gone out to the town pretending to be another causality of war. Another amputee, disfigured and homeless. She crawled under the fence with the plans unseen. It was a rush, a job well done. She hadn’t been caught this time. Her luck would run out sooner or later but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that she took the maps from the enemy.

As she made her way through the dark woods she tried to get the memory out of her mind of the dead woman. Even in death she was beautiful, her dark hair framing the face, the glassy dead green eyes, the blue gown torn at the neckline. Her throat had been cut. A man’s name had been carved into her chest. She’d been dumped by the side of the road. Chrystal weighed the body down and rolled her into the river and left her, only taking her jewelry and a lock of hair for the family. She had been a spy and Chrystal’s best friend. Crystal was on her way to find the man who had killed her friend.

Silently she picked the lock on the back door. Her prey was home alone, in a chair in front of the fire. Her arm went around his neck and she slammed him into the floor. She was on him, his arms snapped behind his back as she clipped on restraints. She could feel the fear in him.

His struggles were useless as she cut his skin from his chin up around his face, deep and steady. He screamed in pain. “You can dish it out but you can’t take it you pansy assed puke”. She taunted him. “Tell me where Doran Nightlander is headed or I’ll peel your face off.”

“I don’t know” he cried.

“Liar”. She said.

He was breathing hard. “Tell me.”

“Don’t hurt me. I have a family” the man begged like a child.

“We all have families. The minute you took the side of the Nightlander you sentenced yours to death. So where is Doran heading?”

“South along the Greenville Highway.”

“Liar” she said pushing her knife under the skin of his forehead and separating it from his skull. He screamed.

“North on the old road” the man gasped.

“How long ago?” She wiggled the knife under his skin again.

“They left at dawn.”

“Did they have the boy, Robert with them?”

“No.”

“Liar liar liar.” She grabbed the skin on his forehead and pulled it down exposing his skull. He screamed again.

She smiled and said gently “Tell me where the plans are and I’ll leave you alone. Don’t tell me and I’ll kill your children. I know where they are tonight.”

“You don’t know anything.”

“I’m a wizard you fucking puke. I can feel the fear in you and tell that you’re telling me lies. I can sense where you hid your wife and babes. If you want I can grab the memories out of your brain and erase everything in there, so tell me where the plans are.”

“Under the bed, in the yellow box.”

“Telling the truth. Good boy.”

She looked under the bed and pulled out the box. There it was – a map of the prison. And it was real. She took the entire box in case it contained more useful information.

Walking over to him she looked around the room. It was the beautiful sitting room of a successful man. This successful man’s face was now bruised but could be fixed. It wasn’t a bad face. Nice friendly lines, sensuous lips. He had lovely golden brown eyes, now bloody red and bruised.

The sounds of horses were outside the door. He knew they were coming. He’d planned on trapping her by giving her the directions and stalling her for time. No such luck for him tonight.

She got close to his face. “You raped and marked a woman called Lauren then dumped her body in the woods. What was that about?”

“She was a traitor.”

“She was my friend.” Crystal snarled and drove her knife through the man’s eye and into his brain. Running to the back of the house she escaped into the night.

A few hours later Crystal entered the rebel compound with a shower of hugs and tears. After being almost a day late they thought they’d lost her – again. When she’d cleaned up and changed clothes she joined the crew in the main house.

Commander Crystal Fox returned to her outpost in the southern part of the Crystal Mountains. She was welcomed back as legend. Crystal Fox of the Crystal Mountains. As sparkling and sly as her namesake. A fearless, passionate and lovely young heroine, brave and true. Well, maybe not so lovely anymore. She’d been to hell and lived to tell.

Almost a year before news of her escape and that of Jack Snowhawk from the Baron’s notorious Blacktower prison camp had everyone in the country looking for her. At first there was big money for anyone taking her alive. Now they wanted her dead. It was an honor to be wanted so by her enemy. It meant she was doing her job.

Everyone at the compound talked about Jack. Was he really the wild and brilliant mind they’d all heard about? Had he really stood up to everyone? What were the children like?

She’d met the children he’d adopted or stolen considering whose side of the story you heard. Nobody could believe he had them. The boy was bright and with a personality like sunshine. The skittish girl was special in her own ways, a wizard thought to be more powerful than the Baron or any of his clan.

Crystal always had her standard answer. Yes, Jack Snowhawk was fearless and crazy but he was brilliant and a visionary. One day he’d bring their country back and into the future. Most of all, Jack was a man of honor.

After Jack always came talk of the legendary beauty Hi Shadowford. Everyone was always asking Crystal if Jack still loved her. He’d said vows to Hi and then she left him. It was a mystery why she vanished only to show up later in the newspapers of a foreign land.

Crystal heard their whispers. Was Jack over Hi Shadowford? Would he ever be over her? Poor Jack, how could any man get over having loved the most beautiful woman in the country?

 

“Do you believe in true love?” Asked one of the younger women as Crystal looked at the wall chart of their battle zones. “Commander Fox?”

Crystal turned weary of the small talk. “Right now I don’t have the luxury of thinking of true love and trivial stories about shallow romances.”

“Being a fighter doesn’t mean you have to be a cold unfeeling bitch.” Said Derek a spy who’d once been her lover.

Crystal fingered the dagger by her side. “Don’t you dare insinuate that I am cold and unfeeling. I have watched my friends and family die in the worst possible ways. My heart will never mend. My pain will never go away. I live for the memory of those I’ve watched die by the hands of those we’re fighting.”

Derek’s expression softened. “We’ve all watched our friends and family dies off in front of us but Crystal, we’re still alive. They wouldn’t want us to just give up and never feel love in our arms again.”

“I haven’t given up. I’ve given over my entire body and soul to the revolution” she answered.

Derek was popular with the woman but never touched Crystal after she’d returned from her imprisonment in the Blacktower. He, like so many other men was also afraid of her. He also knew it was best to leave her alone when she was like this.

She filled up her wine glass and stood by the fire, trying to forget her sickening rush she’d felt as she tortured and killed her enemy just a few hours earlier. At one time she had been a science teacher at a pretty little school with window boxes full of flowers and smart happy children. She’d imagined that one day she’d have children of her own. But then she’d seen her longtime lover buried alive because he’d had the misfortune of being born a powerful wizard. At that moment all hope failed until the next day when she’d been thrown into the tower with Jack Snowhawk. It seemed like a million years ago.

 

The other women continued to talk as if Crystal was fully engaged with them.

“I’m surprised you didn’t fall in love with Jack Snowhawk. God, he’s gorgeous.” Said one.

“A year with locked in a tower with him and I’d be sated for life.” Another giggled.

Jack was gorgeous but Crystal didn’t want them to forget that he was also a cunning fighter and a true friend. “I’m alive because of Jack Snowhawk and I’d give my life for his. But romance was the last thing on my mind, and his for that matter.”

The others looked at Crystal with disbelief. One spoke up. “That is hard to believe Crystal. Romance had to have crossed your mind. I know what you were like before all of this.”

All of this is what they would say to avoid the words “war” and “revolution” and “dismembered”.

“It’s been a long day. I’m heading upstairs. But get me if anything comes up.” She started out the room tired of the company.

Behind her back Crystal could hear the conversation pick up again. A pretty girl, who was also a talented code breaker, gave a snarky laugh “Commander Fox is in love with the war. We’ve all seen her practically have an orgasm over a good strategy in the map room. It’s almost obscene.”

Crystal spun around threw her dagger so fast it pinned the woman’s coat sleeve to the wall. “I’m not completely deaf or blind. If you forget that I’ll take you out so fast you won’t know what hit you.”

She yanked the dagger out of the wall and left the room. Since she’d come back she forced herself to think of nothing but the war effort. Every other dream was gone. If the war ever ended she’d deal with it then.

“After Hi Shadowford, does she really think Jack Snowhawk would settle for a disassembled freak like her?” Crystal heard one of the women whisper behind her back.

“Say it out loud” she called behind her. “Fucking cowards. Keep it up and you’ll no longer have my protection.”

Crystal climbed out to the roof and putting her coat collar tight around her neck. Jack. How could she think he’d love her the way he had loved his first partner. Hi Shadowford was so absolutely beautiful and perfect in every way possible. Crystal had involuntarily adjusted her eye patch and folded the stump of her arm in her lap, drawing her knees up close to her chest. She’d once been pretty, not beautiful like Hi but she’d been pretty enough to turn heads and make men long for her touch.

When she and Jack were prisoners in the tower together a yellowed newspaper had been brought up. It was in the common language used by the rest of the world. She could hardly read it but she could see the pictures in full color.

On the front was a picture of Hi Shadowford, her breath taking beauty almost jumping off the page. She abandoned the vows she’d made to Jack, escaped the country, gone to a new land and married a prince. She was now a Real Princess, whatever the hell that meant. Hi’s own father had started the revolution and now she had escaped and betrayed them all by turning her back on the cause. The prince she’d married was as handsome as one of the Nightlander Barons and smiling on his beautiful family. A later issue in the same bundle of pages showed Hi with a baby in her arms, a small beautiful blonde girl and a darling dark haired boy who had the green eyes of the Crystal Mountain folks sat at her feet. From what she’d read in the yellowed paper was that the mysterious new princess had adjusted to her new country and was adored by her people.

Their prison guards said, “She was your partner Jack. Now the only woman you’ve got, if you can call her a woman, is this creature here.” He said with an ugly sneer, kicking the mutilated Crystal out of her place in the shadows.

Jack was clearly disturbed by what he saw in the yellowed newspaper, but after that day he never mentioned Hi. Crystal never asked him about it.

Leaning against the side of the building the 25 year old Crystal stared into the fog and thought of her time with Jack. She missed the way he’d brush her hair with his fingers while he sang to her. She missed their long talks and star watching, huddled in the prison tower under a blanket together. She missed being curled up with him at night as they slept. She knew he kissed her hair and shoulders as she slept, or pretended to sleep in his arms. She heard him whisper the words “I love you Crystal” thinking she didn’t hear him. She missed the fire in his eyes. She missed the way he talked about the cause and the children. She missed him so much it ached. She missed the way he listened to her hopes and dreams never once telling her that it was hopeless to still dream.

After they were rescued, he’d made love to her for the first time. He told he that he loved her, his eyes glistening with tears. But Crystal told him they had to go their separate ways for the war. She was needed in the South; he had to with his children and run the intelligence operations in the North. Like a good soldier she accepted the reality of the situation knowing she’d probably never see him again.

Crystal never cried. Not when she watched as her wizard lover was buried alive. Not when they took her eye, not when they cut off her ear, not when the ax fell and severed her fingers, then chopped off her arm. Not when they cut deeply into her face and locked her in a tower for months without hope. She didn’t even cry when she watched Jack ride away to the North.

Now she sat on the roof and sobbed her heart breaking for the man who’d loved a beautiful princess. She loved Jack Snowhawk – the man every woman desired – the man she’d let go.

Years later they reunited and vowed their love forever, but sometimes the thought of everything she’d lost and might still loose hurt more than she could bear.

 

 

Her side became suddenly warm and she looked to a child snuggled up to her. She was back in the here and now, over 20 years later.

“Don’t cry Grams. Don’t think about those old dark times.” Her 12 old grandson held her hand.

“I’m sorry. Everyone thinks I’m a brave old warhorse but I’m not. Only you know my secret.”

“I love you.”

“You are my heart and soul dear child.”

“Heart and soul Grams.”

She looked up to see her own Jack standing by the door with a smile, pressing a bandage to his face. His long black curls were now flecked with gray but his green eyes still held the fire that could ignite the passion in her body and soul. He was still as handsome as he’d been 31 years ago. She still loved him more than ever.

In their own way they’d come together as a family that despite war and heartbreak would last forever.

 

~ end chapter one

 

 

 

 

 

 

More to come…

 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman