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: 2016 Serial Novel, Part 19

Each Friday in 2016 brings a new installment of the serial novel Girl in the Woods. If you are new to this romance/fantasy/adventure please start from the beginning. CLICK HERE for previous installments. And remember – you’re getting the unedited rough version. Have fun and happy reading.

 

Girl in the Woods

 

Girl in the Woods: 2016 Serial Novel, Part 19

Three Brothers Vineyard: The Past That Haunts

The road to the Trinity Valley turned from wooded areas that surrounded Allegory to orchards and vineyards. Dare Crow had vanished to parts unknown. Olivia could hear the younger men, Michael, Andrew, and Charles laughing from inside of the carriage. She rode her own horse alongside Alexander and Tom. The group of a dozen guards, led by a man called Captain Wallford followed.

Bob, Roy, Dan and Bob’s wife Alyssa ran the Three Brother’s Vineyards and Winery. Olivia waved at Roy who was out in the field with some workers. She looked forward to seeing her old friend later. The Three Brother’s Estate, including the main manor house, and guesthouses stood absolutely beautiful among the vineyards.

There would be several days of meetings, public appearances, and parties. But all Olivia could think of was maybe an hour or two to herself in an attempt to refocus and heal. It was difficult to feel any excitement over the upcoming events with the ever present headaches and the phantom visits from her nemesis. Such was the life of Olivia Starfire Snowhawk. She scanned the others, then tried to smile, as they arrived to the open arms of their hosts.

After a lavish dinner and a bottle of wine to toast the evening and coming days, was smiling and laughing.

In Alexander’s room was a basket containing recent magazines. There was the issue of business monthly with Simon, Olivia and Annie on the cover. The entire issue was nothing but a love letter to Universal Technologies. Logan had said that Annie was the master at public relations getting them on the cover of just about every magazine in the country a month before the River Conference. Interest in Universal Technologies had skyrocketed in anticipation of their latest breakthroughs. He’d read the article before he left home and congratulated Simon on the good press coverage.

He set his eyes on Olivia’s picture. She was the most prominent in the grouping, showing a completely secure in-charge business leader. The woman described in the article wasn’t the woman he was traveling with. “Why are you so agitated and angry? Your health? Your relationships? Your traveling companions? Don’t blame me for your bad mood Miss Snowhawk. I wasn’t the one who volunteered you for this trip.”

The last few issues of Fabulous Homes were in there as well. A few months before his own home had been featured along with a complete diary of the restoration. He made him cringed thinking of the accompanying editorial saying that the home was incomplete without a wife. He picked up the latest issue. It must have just come out. He didn’t remember seeing it before he left home. There was Olivia again, on the cover. This time she was on her front porch dressed exquisitely casual, smiling with a large black cat in her arms, as she stood in front of a massive door covered with carvings of a fern grotto. The cat could have been a double for his own cat Rufus. He stared at the image scanning Olivia’s smiling face for some resemblance to the woman he’d met just a few days before.

He ignored the rest of the features and went directly to the spreads of her home. The kitchen was warm and inviting. It was huge with high ceilings. Her own recipe for an elegant vegetable soup was in a side bar. She grew her own herbs and had a vegetable garden.

Her main living area was warm and homey, filled with shelves of art pottery and books. The rug on the floor was almost exactly like the one he’d had custom made. Large windows overlooked her famous gardens. He saw the famous crystal dragonfly chandelier in the formal dining room as well as a comfortable guest room. The centerfold out spread was of her home library. “Wow” he said aloud. It was smaller than his but equally impressive. It said that built in bookshelves also lined the upstairs hallways. He could live in that house. It was spectacular. It was Fabulous. He looked more. No pictures of her bedroom. He wondered what her bedroom looked like. No, he wondered whom she entertained there.

Alexander made a mental note to himself to ask Rich Long to dig up something. Rich knew everyone and everything in Meadow Creek. He’d know who Olivia was spending her time with.

She was quoted in the article next to a picture of her in beautiful green dress, her arms full of flowers. “This is the only place I’ve ever called home.”

He turned the next page and froze. The next article was pink. Metallic pink letters splashed across the page. Princess Candi at Home. Solid pink with touches of cream and yellow finished it off. He felt flushed and slightly uncomfortable. Beautiful Candi was lounging on a pink fur covered fainting couch in a low cut pink gown, her perfect mouth formed in a sweet smile. The sight of it was slightly childish and slightly erotic. It was embarrassing.

“She can’t actually live there in all that pink.” he thought.

The headline read “Candi Just Can’t Get Enough Pink!!!”

Alexander scanned the article.

When asked about Prince Alexander, Princess Candi replied, “Alexander is so absolutely handsome. Sometimes I just have to pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming.” Then the darling princess giggled in her lovely bell like little laugh and clapped her hands together.

He continued to skim the article passing over her remarks about fashion. He stopped skimming when he saw his name again.

“What sort of decorating plans do you have for after you marry Prince Alexander?”

“His musty old house is like an old hunting lodge so I’ll HAVE to redecorate. Unfortunately I don’t think Alexander will let me have pink all over so just the ball room, and my sitting room will be total pink paradise.” she pouted with her famous perfect pink lips. “The rest will be golds and whites and bright sunshine yellow. I might let him have a really masculine red and black bedroom for when he’s feeling really naughty, I mean amorous, whoops, you know, romantic, I mean a girl can wish can’t she?”

Did she really say that? First of all his house wasn’t anything like a hunting lodge. He’d have to have a serious talk about her when he returned. He made a note to have his public relations staff approve any future interviews she did. No, he’d personally approve all of her interviews for print. He could see in his mind the pout, the puzzled looks, tears, then the kiss filled apology.

Alexander let the flash of anger roll over him. It wasn’t worth getting angry about. She could be trained. He was a master of damage control. He’d dealt with all the other woman in his life, Candy wasn’t that much different. In fact she’d be easier than most. Still, he knew most of his friends would call it off at this point and start dating again. Unfortunately that wasn’t a choice he could make.

He flipped back to the pages with Olivia’s house, then back to Candi. The contrast made him almost feel sick. He dropped the magazine on the table.

 

He went downstairs to find the others. A small blue lantern was lit on the porch. Olivia sat alone in the clear cold air, bundled in her coat with several bottles of wine next to her. There were several glasses on the table and a wine opener. He hadn’t seen her all day and noticed she’s been quiet at dinner, excusing herself early then vanishing.

 

“Expecting someone?”

Olivia looked up with a slight smile. “Not really. They always have wine out in the guest quarters, this being a vineyard and all. I’ll pour you a glass.”

“What’s up with the blue lantern?”

“Old wizard’s trick to ward off bad magic.” She didn’t tell him she was afraid of the night.

“Come inside. It’s freezing.”

With a quick glance at the outdoor hearth a fire blazed up. She gave him a quick smile and unbuttoned her coat. She’d become comfortable openly using her magic around him. Alexander sat next to her on the couch. The air around them quickly warmed up.

“The heat feels great.”

She stretched her legs in front of her. “I’m so used to the cold sometimes that I forget…” She trailed off not finishing her sentence. She glanced at the fire. “I sit outside a lot at home too, to see the night sky.” She added in an attempt to break the uncomfortable silence.

“I saw your house in Fabulous Homes. You’ve done a great job.”

“Thanks, they did a nice job of the spread. I saw your home in the magazine last year. You did a great job at restoration. I like your style.”

“It’s a lot like yours.”

“We’ll have to go shopping together sometime.” She said with a smile, then looked away.

He was surprised she didn’t mention the article about Princess Candi and her juvenile decorating taste. “You live alone.” He said.

“That information wasn’t in the article.”

“I pried it out of Simon. Who takes care of your place?”

“I employ a married couple who live in a cottage on the grounds of my house. Mac manages the grounds and stable staff. Daisy takes care of the household staff. Sometimes she helps me with special projects, like party planning, organizing and domestic stuff. They’re dear folk, really and I like having them around, but not in my line of sight.

In the evenings and weekends, it’s just me and my cat in the big house, unless I have guests. I entertain almost every weekend so it’s not as if I’m not a hermit.”

He thought again about who her guests might be. “Sounds nice.”

“It is. When we get done with this, business of ours, I’d like you to come over, as my guest.”

“I’d like that.” The tension started to ease out of his neck. It would be nice to visit Olivia’s house, walk the grounds, cook with her in the big kitchen while listening to her rattle off stories in her Crystal Mountain lilt. He wanted to see her library, her art collection, and the famous dragonfly chandelier. The thought of seeing her bedroom made him slightly uncomfortable.

They opened the bottle of wine and made small talk about Freddy Green’s architecture and the events of the day. Conversation came easily.

His mind kept going back the fact that she lived alone, unmarried, away from her family. She was famous and her face in the press almost as much as his own, yet she kept her private life almost completely closed off to the public eye. He wanted to know how this woman who headed up the largest private company in the country seemed like such a mystery to him.

“What do you really want Olivia?” He asked

“More wine always.” She smiled then looked at his serious face. “I guess I don’t understand your question.”

“In life. What do you want for yourself?”

“I want that dress Roy wore the other night.” She laughed, “Actually, I have everything I need.”

“That’s not what I asked. What do you want? Worldwide domination of the technology market? “

“I’ve already got that one wrapped up.”

“Then what’s next? Power? Fortune? A castle and your own personal army?”

She wasn’t sure if he was being humorous or on the attack. “Personal army? I’ve had enough of fighting to last ten lifetimes.”

“A woman of your influence might need a bevy of well built young men to protect you, or at least keep you entertained.”

“Oh you make me laugh. As my business grows, I want Universal Technologies to be instrumental in bringing beauty and hope into lives of those who lack hope. I want to teach more. I want to continue to provide a work environment that encourages free creativity and innovation. I want to contribute to the well being of my community and give back a hundred times what it has given to me.”

“Admirable goals for someone who is insidiously self-centered, manipulative, sarcastic…”

“I am not self-centered.”

“I stand corrected, you are not self-centered. All kidding aside, what do you want outside of your work?”

She spoke deliberately choosing her words carefully. “I have everything I want. Despite what you read in the society and gossip sections of the newspaper, like you, I treasure my quiet evenings at home with my books or with a few friends gathered in my kitchen. I like a good party or a night out like anyone else, but I guard my privacy and my independence. I’m not in this for the notoriety.”

“I’ve found a kindred spirit. Olivia, marry me tonight.”

“I wish I could dear prince, but we have a busy day tomorrow. I’ll be needing my sleep.“

He had to smile. She’d made a flirtatious joke back in response to his. “Seriously, do you want a family of your own? A husband and children to share your home?”

“I want you to stop asking me questions.”

“After your interrogation of me last night you owe me. Just one more.”

“Alright, ask away.”

He looked at her comfortably on the opposite end of the couch with her feet tucked up underneath her, her hair falling haphazardly over her shoulders a slight smile on her lips. Despite their differences he found himself again oddly fascinated by her. “You are so different than anyone I know, but that isn’t a bad thing. You’re absolutely lovely. Why hasn’t some man enchanted your heart?”

Most woman would have swooned and been in his arms with that statement. Olivia stretched out her legs and leaned back into the pillows on the couch. “Enchanted is an odd word to use.”

“Don’t you want someone to share your life with?”

“I have plenty of people to share my life with.” The smile vanished from her face. He knew he’d put her on edge. He decided to nudge her over.

“What about Alaric Shadowford?”

“Oh please…” she rolled her eyes at him in disgust. “I haven’t been involved with Alaric for over a year.”

“Is it over because of Simon?”

“Simon has nothing to do with it. Alaric didn’t just want to be my partner, he wanted to dominate and own me. He kept watch on my every movement and track of every man I spoke to, yet he took other women to his bed every chance he got. I got tired of the drama and dumped him.”

The confession sat cold with Alexander. He suddenly saw her in a different light, not as the aggressive seductress of his embarrassing fantasies, but as someone he could relate to. “He cheated on you? Why?”

“Because he could. You’ve seen the man. He’s gorgeous. Then kick in the war hero mystique and women line up to be with him.” There was a pause. Alexander looked intensely at Olivia, not saying a word. Not asking a question. She looked out over the vineyard. It was obvious she had been hurt by the man. “It was horrible.” She added quietly.

“Simon told me about the Spring Ball.” Alexander said quietly, trying not to be obvious about setting her up again.

“Oh that. What else did he tell you?”

“Nothing except the fact he doesn’t want you to be around Alaric.”

“This is embarrassing. I know you wonder why I ever got involved with Alaric or stayed with him as long as I did.”

“I don’t know you well enough to even speculate. I suspect you were alone and he was available. That’s what usually gets me into trouble, you know, being alone and available.” He smiled at his own joke. Olivia gave a weak attempt at a smile.

“Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Alaric and I grew up together during the war. Our parents ran the intelligence units for the rebellion. We lived in the same, it’s hard to explain, um, the same compound, or I guess you’d call it a camp of a sorts. Justin and I moved around a lot more but we stayed with the same group of families more or less. Alaric and I always ended up hanging out together. He was one of the only kids who wasn’t all flipped out that I was a wizard, and well, different from the others. I think he took me under his wing get into my father’s good graces. Anyway, to make a long story short, when we were just teenagers I saved Alaric’s life. Then, right before I moved here, he saved my life. That makes a bond that ties us together for always, at least it does at home, in the Crystal Mountains. Stupid tradition if you ask me, but then again when it came to Alaric my opinion never did matter. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.

When Alaric took the position as ambassador to the Northwestern Kingdom, we reunited. It all happened so quickly and I thought…it doesn’t matter what I thought. Now it is over and done with.” She sat for a moment not saying a word. He had her flustered and off guard. Alexander waited until she was ready to say more.

She spoke again, quietly still looking over the vineyards. “To make matters worse my dear misguided brother begged for me to make it work. God knows what sort of future Justin and Alaric had planned for me. The one thing I do know is that their vision meant I’d have to leave my life here and turn my back on everything and everyone I’ve come to love.” She turned her face to Alexander and looked straight into his eye. “I won’t do that, not for any man. I’m never going back to the Crystal Mountains. Never.” She turned away from him again and poured another glass of wine. “This wine is absolutely wonderful. I could drink an entire bottle in one sitting.” She wanted to change the subject.

“I’m sorry to hear they had such dismal plans for you. I’m sure you already know that Alaric is a distant cousin of mine. I thought it was odd that he never brought you around to meet me.”

She looked disgusted. “Alaric is too possessive. Within a day of introducing us he would have accused me of having an affair with you.”

“Like when he accused you and Simon of being lovers.”

“Simon and I aren’t lovers.”

“Not since you were young.”

“You know then?”

“It’s no big deal. It was a long time ago. So why are you still in contact with Alaric at all?”

“I told you, we have a history. Our families, our pasts are connected.”

“You were with him the night he killed Doran Nightlander.”

She crossed her legs and pulled her jacket tight.

“I was there. What has Alaric told you about it?”

“Nothing really, aside from the fact that you were there and you saved his life. He isn’t one for details so that’s all I know.”

“It wasn’t a high point in his life, or mine for that fact. We don’t talk about it.”

“I’ve always wanted to know what really happened. Seems odd that a seventeen year old boy would kill the most powerful wizard in the Crystal Mountains all by himself.”

“I understand you’re quite the historic scholar. I don’t blame you for wanting to know everything, but sometimes it is better if history is not investigated too deeply.”

“You know Olivia, it would be easier for you to tell me about how Alaric killed Doran, and how you saved Alaric now rather than to have me pry it out of you later.”

“Alexander, please.”

“Why are you protecting someone who physically and mentally abused you? Alaric didn’t kill Doran did he? Someone else was there that night.”

She squinted her eyes at him. “The official story was that Alaric killed Doran and his men. The fact is that it didn’t happen that way. You are correct in your assumption that someone else killed Doran and his men.”

“Who was it? ”

“I killed them. All of them.”

“Olivia, don’t lie to me.”

“I’m telling you the truth. ”

“Doran was one of the most powerful wizards alive. You were just a girl.”

“I’m also a wizard, a very powerful wizard at that, remember?”

“You couldn’t handle Dare Crow back in Allegory. How do you expect me to believe you could neutralize Doran Nightlander, much less a dozen other men?”

“Believe what you want. I’m so sick of the lies and pretending. If it had been my brother I’m sure you would have believed him.”

“Oh come on…”

“The truth of the matter is that the meeting with Doran wasn’t accidental. He had been searching for me for years. He planned to …just forget it. You’ll never understand what I went through much less believe me.” She started to stand but Alexander caught her hand.

“Doran was looking for you? Why would he want you?”

“Why wouldn’t he want me? I’m Jonathan Snowhawk’s daughter. One of the chief ways to get to your enemy is to take what is most precious and turn it against him.”

“Why not take Justin?”

“Because I was the rare female wizard child, in a time when most wizards in the Crystal Mountains had been eliminated by the Nightlander clan. If both parents are wizards that will guarantee their children will all be wizards. As far as anyone knew I was the only known female wizard of any power left in the country. I was the key to passing on their magic for future generations. They wanted me for breeding.”

“That’s insane.”

“Everything was insane.” She crossed her arms and leaned back into the corner of the couch. “Since you don’t believe me, just forget I said anything to you about it.”

He gently put his hand on her knee. “If you’re telling the truth then show me your memories. Memories can’t lie.”

She brushed his hand off of her leg. “Forget it. You either believe me or you don’t.”

“You don’t trust me, do you?”

“Not anymore than you trust me. I’m not letting you into my head.”

Alexander had to laugh. “We can’t go on like this. We need to have some amount of trust between us. Show me what happened.”

“No.”

“Show me. I know you’re not lying but I need to understand.” He stared into her eyes for what seemed like an eternity. The bright teal color flecked with gray was as cold as the northern sea.

“I can’t.”

“You can. You will.” It was an order cold and clear. “Olivia, do it now.”

“Dare Crow said he would lock me up if I ever did any magic around you.”

“ I will handle Crow. Show me what happened with Doran Nightlander. You know you want to, otherwise you wouldn’t have told me about it in the first place.”

“Promise on your word as the Crown Prince of the Northwestern Kingdom that you’ll not tell a soul what you see or take any action against me for what you are about to see.”

“It’s that bad?”

“Promise me.”

“I promise you, Olivia Snowhawk, on my honor as Prince of the Northwestern Kingdom that I will not speak of what you show me tonight, nor will I take action against you for anything you did that night.” He gave her a warm smile that would have melted any other woman and almost for a second melted her.

Out of control again, she wanted to smack Alexander’s face but she kept calm. “Fine, I’ll show you but don’t blame me if you have nightmares for the next year.” she said scowling at him. “Give me your hands, palm down.”

He brushed his hand through his hair and put his hands out for her to take. He’d done this with Ellie when they were younger. She’d show him her memories of places she’d been and things that had happened in school. Over the years Dare Crow and others in law enforcement and government had shared brief images of events he needed to understand. It was an odd experience to say the least but thrilling too.

“This isn’t a good idea,” Olivia said.

He smiled at her. “I know you want to show me what happened.”

She stared at him again with a slight squint in her eyes. He locked his eyes on her and wouldn’t let go. He’d rarely seen anyone holding back so much anger.

“I’ll show you everything,” she said, “Just be prepared. It isn’t pretty.” Olivia closed her eyes for a few seconds then looked at Alexander. “Don’t judge either Alaric or me for what happened. It wasn’t your battle to fight and I don’t know if you can understand yet that our lives were not the same as yours. We didn’t go to school or have carefree teenage years filled with parties and dances. We were trained to fight and survive. We wanted to be children but we didn’t have that luxury.”

She looked at his hands and rubbed the tops with her thumbs, almost a lover’s caress. Unlike her touch, the sound of her voice was cold and distant. He could feel a slight warmth moving from his hands up to his arms and shoulders. A wizard’s touch.

“Stop me anytime you feel uncomfortable.” She sat in front of him and held his hands. He felt a slight tingle in his fingertips. Olivia closed her eyes for a few moments and took a few deep breaths. He suddenly had an overwhelming wave of desire for her. He leaned over to brush his lips to hers, when she sat up straighter, away from his face, opened her eyes and spoke in the old language. “I haven’t done this in a while, so I can’t guarantee how well it will go. It is important for you not to ask any questions or talk until I’m done. Relax. Close your eyes. Don’t let go of my hands until I let go. Alright, here we go.”

 

Vivid images, sounds and smells entered Alexander’s mind. Dusk in the woods. The trees were gnarled and tangled. Snow was deep on the ground. He could feel and smell the bite of the cold winter night. Two teenagers with packs on their backs hiked along. The tall young man was Alaric, about 16 or 17 years old. The other teen was smaller, a lot smaller. Two long braids hung out from under a cap, falling a few inches below her knees. He saw the face. She was just a baby, maybe 14 at the oldest. It was Olivia, with a freckled unadorned adolescent face. A dull pain throbbed in her balled up, almost useless right hand. The girl was crippled and in constant pain.

Olivia looked at Alaric; she was in love with him. Alaric never noticed her that way.

Next he saw an ancient stone structure with a high tower. The snow fell harder. They made their way to the locked door. Olivia held her hands over the rust covered lock. It clicked off and with a glance from Olivia the heavy door opened with a groan.

Alaric removed his heavy coat to reveal the broad shoulders covered by a heavy sweater. His dark ringlets curled over his shoulders and down his back. He already had the arrogant serious look that he wore as an adult. However Alaric’s fresh young face could have been that of any teenage boy who was lost, tired and trying to hide that he was also frightened.

She lit a blue light. Dropping the big coat Alexander saw she already had her luscious curves. Those curves were a burden for a girl so young. She wore a dark well-worn and patched sweater pulled down over layers of skirts and heavy scuffed boots. An untied knit scarf hung from her neck. Her ears were already pierced with three small studs in each, two in her ear lobes and one at the top curve of each ear. She wore a dozen beaded bracelets on her small wrists that were her own handiwork made from discarded and broken jewelry she’d found and squirreled away in secret.

There were weapons in the trunks. Odd highly destructive and illegal weapons. It was unlike anything they had ever seen. It looked as though nobody had been there for months or even years.

“I’m never going to hear the end of it from my dad.” She knew what Jonathan was worried about. She’d freeze to death in the snow or worse lose her virginity to Alaric. He and his brothers already had reputations with girls. She’d told him time and again that she could take care of herself but Jonathan never listened.

Alaric went to work checking their surroundings. He surveyed the room like an experienced soldier. “Did you set any spells yet?”

“Sure, I locked the front door. I also made footprints going back out into the forest. They aren’t great but it looks like real feet.”

“Why don’t you do more magic? You could enchant everyone in the Baron’s army.”

“Who told you that?”

“I over heard the adults last week. You scare the shit out of them.”

“It scares me.”

“You’re so useless. If any other girl was here instead of you…”

“You would have been up her skirts and forgetting how lost you are. Dick head.” She rubbed the dust off of an elaborate old mirror and stuck a few poses.

“Think you’re pretty?” Alaric asked with a look of disgust.

“One day, I might be pretty and fall in love with a handsome wizard.”

“Who filled your head with ideas of romance?”

“Nobody,”

“Well, don’t get your hopes up because you’re so freaking strange and ugly only things any guy will be looking at will be your big tits.”

“Asshole.” The mirror glass exploded sending glass flying in his direction. He ducked under one the open trunks.

“Stop it.”

“Why are you so mean to me?” tears brimmed in her eyes.

“Just shut the fuck up and get some heat in here.”

“I’m not ugly.”

“You’re sure as hell not pretty.”

She already knew why he didn’t like her. He resented the fact that she was a wizard and she could throw a knife better than any of the boys in their group. He wanted to be a great fighter and ended up as a baby sitter to the weird wizard girl. Now they were lost and it was his fault. She made a ball of smokeless flames in the old fireplace. It wasn’t much but it would heat the room.

“Hands,” she demanded holding out her own to him. He pulled off his worn gloves and took her hands. Heat radiated through his body.

“Thanks,” he said, and then turned to look more at the weapons.

They talked of staying the night. It was another 5 or 6 miles to the safe house. It was already dark and snowing hard. She thought of making a snotty remark about his insistence on taking a short cut but thought better of it. She didn’t want to make him mad. Even if he was an asshole, he was the most handsome boy she’d ever met. All the girls worshiped the ground he walked on.

She started chatting away about the weapons in an attempt to impress him with her knowledge when without warning Alaric pinned her to the back of chair she was sitting on and kissed her. She tried to push him back but he continued, his hand went up her sweater working quickly to get at her bare skin. Despite her attempts to push him away he continued work on getting her clothing undone. “Relax. You’ll like it. I promise.” He kissed her again. She turned her head away from him in a panic.

“My dad will kill me if he finds out.”

He stood up in disgust. “Your first kiss and you’re worried about what your daddy will think. You want to die a virgin Livy?”

“Leave me alone.” Tears blurred her vision as she got up and headed to the door.

“You’re fucking crazy. Any other girl would be begging me to be making out with her right now.”

“Go to hell.”

As she reached the door it flew open almost knocking her to the floor.

The next image was a blinding flash of yellow light. Wizard light. Three men grabbed Alaric. Two were giant muscular men with long dark hair. Third was smaller and looked like a rat wearing a coat richly decorated in bronze and copper colored embroidery. He was obviously someone important.

A fourth came through the door, the Baron’s youngest son Doran Nightlander. He was in his early thirties. The most beautiful man she’d ever seen. His hair was the same color as Olivia’s, brown shot with auburn, long and silken flowing down his back. His eyes were golden brown like jewels. At the time he was the most powerful wizard in the Crystal Mountains. He seemed to know who Olivia was.

He approached her holding out his gloved hand. His smile was warm and inviting. His voice was calming. “So, here you are my little wizard girl. I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Do you remember me? No? I’m not going to kill you. In fact, you’re in for a real treat.”

Doran glared at Alaric. “How dare you treat her with disrespect.” Alaric screamed with pain inflicted by some invisible hand.

The wizard took Olivia aside and made her turn around for inspection. “You’ll clean up nicely,” he told her. “You have the sweet face of a girl but already the body of a woman.”

 

He took her hand and led her up the stairs and unlocked the door. “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to help. I’m your friend. Remember that.”

At the top of the stairs was a chamber with a large bed. It was an elaborate lush room made for comfort. Doran closed the door. Olivia heard the click of the lock behind her.

“This is where my mother used to meet her lovers. After her sons were born she needed assurance she was still desirable.”

He picked up a picture. “This is mother. Words can’t express how much I miss her.”

She’d seen pictures of her before, the Baroness Nightlander. The woman was stunning. Olivia had never known anyone could be so beautiful. She could see the resemblance in Doran.

“You look like her,” Olivia said, barely able to get the words out. Her heart was pounding fast. She was terrified and uncomfortable with his talk about his mother’s lovers, but trying to keep calm.

“Yes, I look like her. My dear departed brother Robbie looked more like our father. And my other brother…he was a traitor, now he’s a dead traitor.”

Olivia held the picture in her hands still looking at the lovely face. “She died in childbirth,” whispered Olivia. That much she knew of the Baroness.

“That is what we tell everyone, but it isn’t true. My mother gave birth to my beautiful little sister, who died a few minutes after her first breath. My father suspected the child wasn’t his and stabbed my mother in the heart. She was exhausted from childbirth and too tired to use her magic to defend herself. He later found out the baby was his. You can’t imagine how angry I was at him. I’ll get even with the old bastard eventually, then I’ll be the Baron of the Crystal Mountains.” He smiled at Olivia and took the picture of his mother in his hands. “One day soon you’ll be as beautiful as she was.”

He took a dress out of the wardrobe and handed it to her. “Put this on. I’d love to watch but I’ll turn my back for you.”

Olivia stood motionless clutching the dress. Doran lowered his voice in a demanding tone. “Put the dress on now.” He turned to the window with a smile.

Frightened, she quickly stripped off her worn clothes and put on the dress. Never in her life had she felt fabric so soft or touched anything so beautiful. It fit her as if it were made for her.

“Turn around” Doran told her. He gently unbraided her hair and fanned it out over her back and shoulders. It fell almost to her ankles. Look at yourself he turned her again towards a full-length mirror. “This is your future.”

She gazed at herself. Her serious face cracked a small smile. The teal color of the dress matched her eyes.

Doran lifted her chin and looked into her face. “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to rescue you my love.” He held her gaze. Everything became quiet. She was frozen as if in a trance, unable to move or see anything outside of Doran. “You’re going to be my partner. You’re going to vow to love me forever, even after death and in turn I shall worship the ground you walk on.”

Doran kissed her. Not like a hormone crazed boy but like a man, slow and sensuous. She’d never imagined how wonderful a real kiss could be. He held her close in a gentle embrace. Olivia felt so warm and safe with his arms around her. She could hear his heart beating slow and steady. He stroked her hair and gently spoke to her.

She felt something she’d never felt before – desire for a man.

“Tonight you’ll become a woman and the world will be ours.” He kissed her again making her almost feel like jelly in his arms. “Such a pretty sweet thing.” His lips moved to hers again. Olivia closed her eyes and was lost as if in a trance. He was going to take her away from it all just like the stories she’d read about Hyacinth meeting the handsome Prince Florien in the Northwestern Kingdom, and they’d live happily ever after.

From his pocket he pulled a gold necklace with a large golden stone. Purple and blue light sparkled in it.

“This belonged to my great grandmother Starfire. You know who she was, a powerful wizard, the mother of our country. One day you too will be a great wizard like her. Consider this symbol of your future.”

He put the necklace around her neck. She could feel a surge of magic tingle down to her fingers.

“You’ve always felt like an outcast, haven’t you my little wizard girl? Tonight you’ll sleep in this beautiful bed, not on an old rug on the floor. You’ll be treated with the respect you deserve.”

He gently pulled her down on the bed and kissed her again. His hand drifted to her hip.

“Doran, if my dad finds out I’m here with you, making out…”

“I know Jonathan Snowhawk. We used to be friends. I know he’d approve.” He kissed her again “Clear your mind my beauty. Clear your mind of all the pain that has followed you for so long. Close your mind of all the horrible things you were forced to do.” He unfolded her fisted fingers. She pulled back in pain.

“Let me see. Poor darling.” Doran then kissed the palm of her right hand. The raised scar grew thinner and smooth. The cruel pain she felt in it for as long as she could remember vanished. She opened her damaged hand painlessly and with ease for the first time she could remember. He smiled at her. “This is the first of many gifts of love I’ll have for you. I’ll make you whole, I promise.”

She felt uneasy, unsure of what he was feeling or her own feelings. She was too young to understand why he spoke of love to her but she knew it was wrong. She knew she was too young. There was something else about him, something familiar. She did seem to belong with him. The jumble of thoughts and emotions confused her.

She lay back on the bed, trying to read his thoughts. Then she remembered who he was. She’d been sucked into his world through thoughts and dreams before.

This was the man who had caused hundreds of thousands of deaths of innocent people. He’d started the practice of disassembly – taking prisoners of war and political prisoners apart one body part at a time until they died. This was the man who is responsible for the slaughter of 90% of the Crystal Mountain wizards,including men, women and children. This was the man who had imprisoned her father Jack Snowhawk for over a year. This is the man she’d used her own magic against to keep him from further torturing and mutilating the woman Jack loved.

Olivia locked up that portion of her mind so Doran couldn’t get to her, giving him a sweet smile. Lies came easy to Olivia. It was the only way she could survive without going completely crazy.

“I’m only 14,” she said, trying to stall him.

“You’ll be 15 in two months time. Old enough to know the love of a man.”

His voice calmed her and made her want to completely surrender to him. She kept her composure and kept his magic from touching her. “I don’t know what to do. I’m scared.”

He sat up and pulled her up too. “We’ll get to know each other better. I will teach you. This is what I offer you.” He took her hands and showed her visions that astounded her, of what life with him could be. What surprised her was that she wanted what he showed her more than anything. She belonged in the world that he showed her. She belonged with Doran. He took away her pain. He showed her love. He told her that she was lovely, when everyone else around her viewed her as plain weird wizard girl.

 

There was a noise from below. He went to the door and called down   “Kill the Shadowford brat”.

Before Olivia could shout for them to stop, she willed them to die with her mind, with her own magic. The three men lay in a heap on the floor. Blood came out of their ears and noses. The smaller man twitched as his lifeless glassy gold eyes stared in her direction. The bodies went up in flames.

A chill of pure fear ran through Alexander. He could smell the blood and burning flesh. He involuntarily shuddered.

“Stay in there, I’m not finished.” Whispered Olivia, heat from her hands radiated through his body.

Doran pulled her back up the stairs and tighter to him then laughed. He didn’t care his men were dead. He was delighted by the fact that she could kill with the power of her mind. He laughed with joy. “This is better than I imagined. Olivia my love, you are such a rare and wonderful treasure. By the gods of the stars, this is the beginning of a new age.”

“I didn’t mean to kill them.” Olivia barely got the words out.

“Of course you did my lovely beautiful perfect little wizard,” he kissed her again and then laughed.

Olivia had a sense that Alaric was dying. She could feel his life slipping out of his body She tried to get down the stairs but Doran stopped her. “Let him die. He will be nothing but trouble to you.”

“He’s my friend.”

“That resentful adolescent bastard? Tell me Olivia, will you call him your friend when he beats you and belittles you in the name of love?”

Alexander went cold. It was a vision of what was to come. He thought of Simon’s hate for Alaric.

“Don’t go there Alexander, let’s stick to this story” Olivia said out loud.

Doran took Olivia’s face in his hands.” You’ll learn our ways. You’ll learn to channel your power. You’ll learn to love like you’ve never imagined. Tell me you’ll love me forever Olivia Starfire and we’ll rule the world together.”

“I can’t do this. What if I get pregnant?” It sounded so desperate. She sounded so young.

“My precious darling little wizard, don’t worry about that. I’ll take care of everything.”

Alexander heard Olivia’s adult voice speaking aloud but saw her violent memories in his mind.

Olivia spoke out loud. “I don’t know exactly what happened except that a surge of fear ran through my soul. I wasn’t thinking about Alaric. I was thinking about all the innocent people Doran and his minions had tortured and killed. I pulled myself together and smiled, making him think that I was willing to give myself to him. I leaned into him and kissed him.

She kissed him and whispered in his ear, “I’ll learn to love you Doran. I’ll be a real woman for you.”

He put his arm around her waist and pulled her closer. The passion of her kiss intensified. A low groan of pleasure came out of him.

She looked into his golden eye,s “I don’t want to wait. I want to know what it’s like to be with a man. Please, Doran, I’ll be yours now. Right now. Teach me now.”

“ It was the most convincing lie I’d ever told. Just as his hands started to slide the dress from my shoulders I slipped my dagger out of the sleeve and stabbed him. One upper thrust through the heart just like my father had taught me. Then I stabbed him in the neck. Doran just fell limp right on top of me, with my hand still frozen to the hilt of my dagger. It seemed like I lay there underneath him forever while all his blood drained out on me. It felt like someone was running hot syrup over me. When I finally pulled the knife out of Doran’s neck and pushed him off of me the blade of my dagger blazed up like a paper knife and was gone. God, it was strange.”

Olivia said nothing for a few seconds. Alexander looked at her sad expression. She gave him a quick glance.

“Doran Nightlander, the most powerful wizard in the Crystal Mountains was dead.”

She stood and backed away from the body and stared at him for what felt like hours. Then she pulled off his rings and took the medallion from around his neck. She emptied his pockets into her own. Next she went through the trunk that had belonged to the Baroness. Olivia jammed the love letters and jewelry into a bag. She took the small portrait of the beautiful and gentle Baroness, then sat on the floor and cried until she thought she would pass out.

Alexander suddenly saw a jumble of images and feelings. A woman in an elaborate blood covered dress on the floor, her face covered in blood, her arm severed just below the elbow. A man held by chains attempting to get to her. An unseen child screaming.

Is that the Baroness? Alexander asked.

“Crystal Fox, my…dad’s partner, Doran had her tortured, years before…I killed Doran for her, because of what he’d done to her and so many others. My thoughts aren’t on track anymore,” said Olivia. “I’m sorry, you shouldn’t have seen that. “ Olivia dug her fingernails into Alexander’s wrists. He was back in the tower, seeing the scene through Olivia’s 14 year old eyes.

“I scrambled down the stairs and found Alaric on the floor bleeding from a beating and a knife wound in his neck. He should have died of internal injuries, but I was able to save him with my own wizard healing. My abilities seemed to suddenly grow stronger in my fear.

I’d never known life without war. I’d killed before, with firebombs and thoughts, but this was different. It was with my own hands. There was nothing heroic or noble about it. It was ugly and sad. I knew he was evil, but killing Doran Nightlander left a hole in my soul that I couldn’t understand. I felt a strange bond with him. In a horrible perverse afterthought I wanted to be with Doran, to be his partner, his lover, to live in his world of comfort and luxury. I wanted the pageantry and ceremony. I wanted to be in a place where I’d never be cold or hungry, or in pain.” She paused to compose her emotions.

“I saved Alaric from bleeding to death, I healed him with my wizardry, but I felt like a traitor. Then I realized that was what Doran wanted me to feel. He wanted me to feel like I was one of them, like a Nightlander or one of their true followers. He wanted me to turn against my own family and friends.”

She caressed Alexander’s hands again but her attention was on her story. “When Doran died it was the beginning of the end. The Baron died a month later. The Nightlanders were more or less gone. Within a year the fighting stopped. Alaric was the brave young hero everyone needed.

Anyway, to finish off the story, Doran had six more guards posted outside the door, watching the woods. They had no idea what had gone on inside. I killed them the same way I’d killed his other men.”

Alexander took in a breath.

“I had to kill them, I had no other choice. It was them or Alaric and me. Later than night I contacted my dad. He was there by noon the next day.”

Knowing Alexander would ask she added, “I can speak to people in their dreams or come to them as a phantom while they’re awake.”

Alexander saw the 14-year-old Olivia again, still in the beautiful dress now covered in blood. She had been crying. Tears streaked her face. A 36-year-old Jonathan Snowhawk stood next to her, tall with broad shoulders, his hair not yet touched with grey. His handsome brow was furrowed with worry. Jonathan spoke to Olivia in a gentle voice. His emerald green eyes locked on hers. “Never tell anyone what Doran asked of you or that you killed him. Let them think Alaric did it. There are men, even on our side who will hunt you down and kill you if they discover what happened between you and Doran.”

“Dad, he was so beautiful. He kissed me. He said he loved me. I told him that I wasn’t ready. I told him that I’m just a girl.” She started to sob again.

“Did he take you as a man takes his partner?”

“No, almost but no. I killed him.” She buried her head in his shoulder crying even harder now.

“Don’t think about it anymore. Forget the night ever happened.”

“Don’t let them hurt me.”

There had always been people who wanted Olivia dead, who told Jonathan he should have killed her at birth because of her wizardry and odd ways.”

He held his daughter tight and told her he loved her more than anything in the world. He made her swear she’d never use her magic again. He promised her that he would do everything in his power to keep her safe. Olivia sobbed on not caring if she ever saw Alaric again.

“I’ve shown you too much,” Olivia said, still tightly holding his hands in hers. He could hear the sadness in her voice. Without letting him answer she continued her story. “My father was afraid to let me near wizards, even good wizards. He told forbade me ever to mention Doran Nightlander again or any other members of the Nightlander family. He watched me like a hawk around boys and men of any age.”

“Was he so afraid you’d become the woman Doran had promised you’d become.”

“He was afraid I’d kill again. That’s why the wizard community watches me. They don’t think I know, but they can’t fool me. I can feel them trying to get at me through their minds and their spies. It drives them crazy that they can’t will a heart to stop. I’m the only one who can do that. I’m the only one who can kill without leaving a trace.”

“You could kill me now?”

“No. It only works when I’m protecting someone else. I take no pride in killing. I did what I had to do to save Alaric and so many more. Doran was a monster. I had to stop him. Do you understand?”

“I understand what you had to do. You were brave. Most grown men wouldn’t have been so brave.” They sat in silence for a minute.

Alexander thought about how badly the young Alaric has treated Olivia. He’d bossed her around, called her strange and ugly then expect her to put out for him. He wouldn’t have been surprised if Doran had seduced her, but then she turned on him because she recognized his evil.

“You said Alaric saved your life later on,” Alexander said, knowing she’d been attacked right before she move to the Northwest Kingdom. Now he wanted to hear what really happened from Olivia.

“What?” She gave him a blank look.

“Earlier you said that Alaric saved your life. That was the bond that kept you connected.”

“It was a lot later. I won’t show you that.”

“Nothing could be worse than what I just saw.”

She gave a low mirthless laugh to herself “Sure it can. Twelve years ago, I was kidnapped and raped by a man. Someone I knew from my past.” She paused and looked away. “When I told my kidnapper I’d never love him, he went into a fury and almost killed me. I don’t want to share that memory with you or anyone else.”

“Olivia, I’m sorry.” Alexander reached for her hands but she quickly folded her arms preventing him from touching her.

“After I went missing, Alaric headed up the search to find me. I would have bled to death if he’d not been so relentless in his efforts. Six weeks later Simon met me at the border and I left the Crystal Mountains for good.” She was tired of his skirting what he did and didn’t know about her. “It’s no secret. You already knew about it before you even asked, didn’t you Alexander?”

“I knew there had been an attempt on your life by a former lover. I didn’t know the details. I’m sorry. I promise I won’t ask about it again.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Alexander was almost numb at hearing her story, just as Tom had told him in Allegory. It changed every thought and emotion he’d had about her. He had a million questions he knew she’d never willingly answer. She looked at his concerned gaze. “I’m fine now, really. Don’t tell me you won’t ask about it again because I know you will.” she said.

“Where is he now, the man who hurt you?”

“Somewhere in the wild lands north of the Crystal Mountains, but I don’t know for sure. That’s why I keep in touch with scouts, in case he shows up at the borders, I know to watch out.” she sighed.

“Are you safe with him out there?”

“I’m safe enough. Don’t worry about me.” She took a deep breath and looked down at her hands, rubbing the scar on her right palm. Looking up at Alexander, Olivia smiled.

“I never imagined I’d be living anywhere so peaceful, sitting on a porch drinking wine with a handsome prince, telling him about the nightmares I’ve lived. Let’s stop this ugly conversation. We should be talking about wine and what books we’re reading and gossiping about our mutual friends.” she paused and took a sip of wine.

“You’re very brave,” he said taking her hand again.

“Aside from my father, you’re the only one who knows the full story of my encounter with Doran Nightlander so I’d appreciate it if you kept it to yourself.”

“Nobody else?”

“Not even my brother.” She paused and took a deep breath. “There is one other person. During his interrogation, Detective Crow, damn him, dug part of it out of my memories.” She thought of when Darious kissed her and suddenly felt almost naked in front of Alexander.

“Why tell me all of this after all these years of silence?”

Olivia stammered, “I wanted you to hear it from me, and not from Crow. But that isn’t it, not really, Alexander, I shared my secrets with you because I feel safe in your presence. You have the background and understanding in these matters not to judge me for things I had to do. That’s what you wanted after all isn’t it, for me to trust you?”

“That’s not the real reason. Come on Olivia, after what happened in Allegory, you don’t trust me as far as you can spit.”

“I thought you’d understand…” she paused and took a deep breath, almost a sigh, then continued. “Oh screw it. I hear the respect and awe in your voice when you speak of Alaric. Doran was right in what he said about Alaric. He treated me like dirt, all the while knowing that I’d risked my life to save him. Alaric knows I’d never share our secret. He knows he could live the lie forever and get away with it. I know I’ll sound shallow and self serving for saying this, but it makes me sick every time I think of women practically waiting in line to jump into Alaric’s bed because he’s a hero. He uses it to has advantage whenever he gets a chance, whether it’s for diplomatic or romantic reasons and there isn’t a fucking thing I can do about it.”

“I’m glad you shared that with me, as bad as it is.”

“That isn’t the worst of it. Alaric’s plan was to come here for a few years then bring me home as a trophy. He’d tame the wild and rebellious Olivia Snowhawk and bring her back to the Crystal Mountains once and for all. It didn’t matter if he cheated on me and treated me like I owed him something. A hero should get whatever he wants, no matter if that wish is for me to become his personal property. Everyone I knew back in the Crystal Mountains thought I was crazy not to vow my love to him. He played into it too, acting like the broken hearted hero and enjoying their sympathies while living in The Capitol having more than his share of women. Damn him all to hell.”

“Do you plan on telling anyone else about this?”

“Not anytime soon. Like you, my dear prince, I don’t air my dirty laundry in public.”

“Unfortunately almost everything in my laundry basket eventually goes public whether I like it or not. ”

“No you’re wrong. What about Viola’s betrayal to you? Viola kept you out of her bed because she loved another man. She wanted your title and she wanted your name for her children but she didn’t want you. And in return you protected her and hid her actions from the public. You made it look like the break-up was your fault.”

“I still wonder why I protected Viola. I could have ruined her reputation. I could have prevented her from ever seeing her new lover again.”

“Because you chose to take the high road and be a better person than she was.”

“You took the high road with Alaric as well. Did you feel as bad as I did?”

“It was worse for you. You loved Viola with all of your heart. I wanted to love Alaric but now I know it was just wishing I could love him the way Simon loves Ellie.”

“We’ll love again, both of us. I’m sure of that.”

“You’re too sweet. Go back to being your usual rude self so I won’t have to feel so awful.”

She closed her eyes for a second. Alexander wondered if she was going to cry.

“Olivia, you didn’t do anything wrong. Not in killing Doran and his men. Not when you broke it off with Alaric. “

“Don’t tell anyone what I’ve said or what I’ve shown you tonight.”

“I gave you my word, as your friend and as your prince.”

She mouthed the words thank you, got up out of her chair and stretched.

“Where are you going?”

“For a walk. Come with me.” She reached out her hand for Alexander’s then dropped it on the sound of feet coming down the deck.

 

Michael and the boys came bounding down the steps to join them. Tom was in the house talking with Bob and Roy.

They walked down the patch and looked at the stars. She knew all the constellations and planets. She knew myths of many cultures. He told her that he’d take her to the observatory south of the capitol when they returned home.

Michael gave her a knowing grin. She swore he could read her mind as well as Detective Crow. Michael reminded her of her younger brother. It made her guilty thinking that she had missed so much of her younger siblings lives.

She didn’t know why she’d opened up to Alexander and shared her secrets.   She almost took his arm but decided against it. She noticed he was cold and suggested they go back. This was a temperate land where it rarely snowed in the capitol.

 

Five days before she had met Alexander. Less than a week. But then again she had met men at parties and fell for them the first night. But this wasn’t a party. It was business. He was unavailable and she might as well have been. She found herself telling him things she never had told anyone before. She felt herself feeling things she hadn’t felt in years.

 

What was it about him? He made her angry with his constant questions.

 

The physical attraction was clear. It almost took her breath away.

 

It was the easy way they talked. It was the odd little things like the ferns embossed on his portfolio and saddle. It was the way he was relaxed in the kitchen and how well he took the joke with Roy. She enjoyed watching the banter between Alex and Tom.

 

Alexander took her hands and kissed her cheek. She held her breath and closed her eyes for a moment. He lingered, his cheek against hers. It could have lead to more, but he let go of her hands.

“There’s something I wanted to ask you about the Crystal Mountain courting rituals.”

“We don’t get married in the way you do. Is that it?”

“No, it’s not that. Most of the really bad cases of enchantments, unbreakable enchantments of the heart, come from wizards of The Crystal Mountains. It seems to me to be almost a romantic ritual in some cases, connected perhaps to vows of love.

“An enchantment of the heart isn’t a romantic ritual and has nothing to do with vows of love, it’s a serious violent crime.”

“What do you know about enchantments?”

“I know it is extremely rare and dangerous. In most cases the enchantment is never broken. In most cases the burden of the enchantment is like a disease, eventually killing the victim by wearing him or her out both physically and emotionally.”

“Do you know anyone who is enchanted?”

“It isn’t something those who are enchanted readily share with others. Ask Detective Crow if you want population statistics. He’s the expert.”

He looked at her and smiled. “I think you and Dare would be good together.”

“Darious Crow is too much like Alaric Shadowford.”

“You’re wrong. Get to know him better.”

“No thank you.”

“Don’t give up on love Olivia.”

“Good night Alexander. I’ll see you when the sun comes up.”

 

 

Olivia went to the kitchen to fix some tea before she went to her room for the night. Michael was in the adjoining room looking at some maps. She thought about Crow for a second. The memory of his kisses still made her feel hot and nervous. Then her mind went to Alexander. She’d shared with him something she’d never shared with anyone. She had given him a bit of her heart and soul that she’d she’d never be able to take back. It was like being with a friend she would have forever.

What a manipulating charmer Alexander was, she thought to herself. Suddenly she was wracked with pain. She fell on her knees. Her head was being crushed in a vice. It was though a spear had been driven into her back. Her chest felt crushed. Michael came to her side. He knew what it was, she had never told him, but he knew. He had seen the prince kiss her cheek. He saw the way she looked at him. He put on some hot water, then he put a cold rag on her forehead. He had been through this before. Annie and Simon knew as well. Before he had left Simon told him what to do if she had a bad attack.

 

Change the subject he thought as he stroked her hair. He talked about going to the book dealer at Lockwood. That would get her attention. There was going to be a poetry reading. There were some new landscapes showing at the gallery, ocean scenes. He reminded her that she loved being near the ocean. They had to take a break. She gave him a weak smile for his efforts, then staggered to the sink and threw up. He held her hair back out of her face with one hand and rubbed her back with the other. He put his arm around her waist and got her back into the chair before she sank to the floor. She put her head on the table. He brought her a wet cloth to wipe her face. Blue light he thought.

“Olivia, can you light the lantern? Light the lantern.” He put a small lantern he’d found on the counter in front of her. “Try to light it,” he said gently.

She managed to sit up and hold her hands over it. A flood of pain came over her again. She held her head in her hands. Closing her eyes she grasped the small lantern. A small blue flame started to grow. She took a deep breath and pushed it aside. She started to shake. He put his arms around her and held her until she was still. “I’m alright now,” she said with a raspy voice. She cleared her throat “I’m fine”.

He wanted to yell at her and tell her that she wasn’t fine at all. She was going to let this thing kill her if she continued to close herself off. They shared a pot of tea.

 

“Thank you Michael” she said her eyes brimming over with rare tears.

“You have to do something about this.”

“There is nothing to be done.”

“I’m going to talk to Ellie.”

“She can’t help. Nobody can help. Just let me be Michael. ”

Tom came in. He could see her shaking and the sweat on her forehead and above her lip.

“She’s had one of her attacks,” said Michael

She glanced at Tom and staggered off to the sink again.

Tom went to her as she sank to the floor and whispered, “Don’t tell anyone about this. Especially not Alexander.”

Tom carried her over to the couch. He held her hand “Be strong.”

“I am strong,” she gasped then she closed her eyes tight as the pain shot through her body again. Out of Michaels hearing range she whispered again to Tom “Michael knows I get sick like this, but he doesn’t know why. You don’t need to tell him.”

Then she took a deep breath again, pulled herself to her feet and started for the stairs. “It’s over. I’ll be fine.”

“Where are you going?” asked Michael

“To bed darling, to sleep.”

 

After she had gone Michael turned to Tom. “She’s enchanted, isn’t she?”

 

Tom shook his head. “Go to bed Michael.”

Michael stood his ground. “I figured it out a long time ago. Every time she looks at Alexander she gets a headache. That romantic walk they went on tonight just about killed her. I’ve seen this before, but never this bad. We have to talk about it. We can’t continue on our journey like this.”

Michael wanted to talk but Tom shook his head no. “She’ll be fine. Just accept it.”

Michael knew he couldn’t accept that.

 

~ to be continued

Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

 

Girl in the Woods: Part 18. Leaving Allegory, and Business at Home

Friday is here and that means another exciting chapter of Girl in the Woods, a serial novel I’m posting right here in 2016.

If you are new here please start from the beginning (CLICK HERE). This is a novel, not the usually stand-alone blog post. And remember no editors were harmed, or even used on this post. It is your sneak peak into the rough draft mind. Warning: Twists and Turns Ahead.

Girl in the Woods: Part 17

Leaving Allegory, and Business at Home

Morning Continued…

 

After she had dressed, Olivia woke Lenora from the sweet dreams of a young girl.

The only clothing the girl had was the whorehouse dress she’d worn the night before, a low cut dress of worn cheap gaudy fabric that was cut tight across the girl’s slight chest.

They were the same height but the girl was still thin and undeveloped. Her skin was pale and blotched with red. She had welts on her wrists that looked like a rope burns. It disgusted Olivia to think how the Mayor had violated this child.

“When you get to Meadow Creek you’ll get a complete new wardrobe. I’ll make sure you have the latest styles that all the girls your age are wearing. Lavender is the big color this year. You’ll look great in lavender velvet with a touch of cream colored lace. A short jacket with matching skirt and your hair in ribbons. In the meantime I’ll give you something of mine. “

Olivia gave the girl a of brown skirt and a trendy long blue wool jacket with small flowers embroidered into the fabric. Underneath the jacket went a white shirt of the softest cotton with a blue lace collar and matching cuffs. The buttons were gold stars. Lenore stroked the beautiful fabrics and stars in awe. Olivia belted and tucked the clothing so that it fit the slightly built girl.

“I’ve seen things like this in the fashion papers along with your picture. I never imagined in a thousand years I’d ever ever meet you and be wearing your clothes.”

“You need something else.” Around the girl’s neck she put a delicate gold chain with a single pink crystal suspended in the center of a delicate golden flower.

“I couldn’t take this. It’s too beautiful,” said the girl.

“It is my gift to you.”

“I’m just an orphan.”

“Me too.”

“You, an orphan?”

“Yes, my parents died in a horrible war. My brother and I were adopted by a wonderful crazy man who had no business raising children. And do you know what? I turned out just fine. You are a bright and beautiful girl. Today is the start of your new life. You’ll have friends and you’ll be loved. You’ll go back to school and even to the University.”

The girl started to cry. “I’m not a bad girl, really I’m not. I didn’t want to do those things with those men.”

Olivia held her close. She clung to Olivia. “Nobody will ever hurt you again. You not only have my protection but that of Prince Alexander.”

Olivia looked down from the window into the courtyard. Kings Soldiers were there. She felt a sudden panic. She knew it was just a reaction to her upbringing.

There had been a raid on the town. Alexander and Tom would be the only bait to get them all in one location. Illegal arms, money and magic were being transported to fund the rebels. The cult had to be shut down.

“Why didn’t we know about this?” asked Michael

Olivia understood the reasoning behind the decision. She later explained to Michael. He had grown up in a city and town of strong women. It offended him as much as it did her.

Alexander came in. Olivia was sitting with the girl showing her needlework stitches. It wasn’t what he had expected. This was a woman he called a cold hearted bitch not two days before. He noticed that Lenore was dressed in what looked to be Olivia’s clothing. The girl’s long hair had been pulled back in an elaborate braid with golden ribbons. Not a trace of make-up was left on her pretty young face. It was a scene of domestic bliss. It could have been a mother and daughter.

The girl stood up when she saw Alexander and gave a deep courtesy. Olivia stood as well and gave a slight bow of her head.

Alexander took Olivia’s hand. “May I speak to you alone?” They went to the next room, a small cold parlor. Tea was set out on a sideboard.

Alexander closed the door behind them and locked the door. Olivia didn’t react as he’d expected her to. In fact she didn’t react at all. She looked calm and collected, perfectly groomed and ready for a day of travel.

He noticed her eyes quickly scan the room as if looking for someone else, someone other than him.

“Well, good morning, again.” He said in his most cheerful morning voice, hoping he wouldn’t annoy her.

“Good morning.” she answered with a slight smile, but her voice was cool. “So, what did I do wrong today?”

“I’m not here to chastise you.”

Olivia said nothing. Despite her anger over the previous nights events, she didn’t have the stomach for a fight today. Alexander sort of reminded her of her father with his early morning cheerfulness that made absolutely no sense what so ever. She had learned to live with her father and she’d learn to live with Alexander.

“Dare Crow speaks highly of you. He said you were extremely understanding and gracious last night. He was impressed how you cared for Lenora.”

“Lenora is a remarkable girl considering how much damage has been done to her. She’ll go far with the right care and guidance.” She poured herself a cup of tea, then spoke, again with almost no emotion. “It was an interesting evening, to say the least, with both Jet Gilroy and Darious Crow.”

Alexander gently put his hand on her arm. “Dare told me he’d met with you last night. He said he was pretty rough with you. Maybe too rough.”

She shrugged stepping away from him. “We came to an understanding.”

He took the cup from her hand and set it on the table. Then he put his hand to the back of her head. “Hold on, I’m just checking on something. ‘He stroked the back of her head. Her hair was smooth and finer than he thought. He could tell she held her breath for a moment. They stood close, her chest almost brushing his own. He locked his eyes on hers knowing it would make her uncomfortable. “You have bump back here the size of an egg.”

“I’ll be fine.” She gently put her hand on his and pushed it away from her head. Then unable to fight it any longer she turned on him. “If anything like this happens again I’ll…”

“What will you do? Send Simon after me?”

“Take me seriously Alexander. I have neither the time nor the patience for the type of stunts Crow pulled last night.” She looked down. “Under any other circumstances I could have had him arrested for assault. But I assume he had your permission to hurt me and treat me like a criminal. Be happy I didn’t kill him.”

Alexander looked serious. “I am glad you didn’t kill him.” He’d had enough of her bravado. A little questioning by Crow shouldn’t have warranted a death threat. “After the chandelier dropped I suspected it might have been your doing. Dare told me you dropped it out of spite. Then he told me he’d lock you up in the darkest dungeon he could find if you ever did anything like that again.”

“He has no proof.”

“You could have blown up the entire room if you wanted to. Why didn’t you?”

Despite Alexander’s calm demeanor she bowed her head slightly. This wasn’t going to be easy. “Your highnesses, I rarely use my magic outside if own home. What I did was wrong and I take full responsibility.”

He crossed his arms as the corners of his mouth turned up slightly. He reminded her of her father. “Relax, you’re not in trouble. In fact I wish I’d thought of it myself.”

She looked at him in disbelief. “It doesn’t bother you that I’m a wizard.”

“Not at all, that is as long as you use your powers responsibly, which you obviously do, despite what Dare Crow thinks. By the way, Lord Mayor is under medical care this morning. Apparently he had a night of graphically violent nightmares.”

“His nightmares are no concern of mine.”

“He is under house arrest and will soon be taken to a prison in an undisclosed location.”

“Don’t expect me to feel sorry for him.”

“I don’t. Did you cause his nightmares?”

“He got what he deserved.”

Alexander just smiled. “Crow said you’re the best, that is at sending bad dreams to bad people.”

“It was for Lenora. He raped and tortured her. He took a part of her soul that she’ll never get back.”

“I know.”

“Are you and Crow going to punish me for the unauthorized use of magic?”

“No, Lord Mayor was overcome with guilt which caused him to go mad. I’ve ordered Dare to do the same. Do you do this sort of thing often?”

“Of course not. Why the game with Detective Crow? Why didn’t you just tell me up front who he was?”

“He wanted to check you out.”

“He checked me out alright. He expected me to go to bed with him.”

“Why does that not surprise me?” He said calmly, hiding his surprise. Son of a bitch. He should have known better than to leave her alone with Dare Crow.

“Don’t trivialize the situation.” Olivia snapped at him.

“I’m not trivializing anything. I needed to keep you and Michael out of trouble, so I asked Crow for assistance. He reluctantly agreed, and I stress reluctantly.” The words came out sounding shallow and plain flippant. Alexander wished he could start over.

“Pray tell, what sort of trouble did you think we’d get into?”

“Case in point, your actions last night at the reception. Why were you so hell bent on crossing the room to see Dare, thus getting the attention of Lord Mayor? Was it because you knew Dare wanted to seduce you or did you have legitimate business with him?”

“That question is totally unjustified. If Justin had been here, he would have been treated with respect. Had you been open and up front with me we could have avoided any trouble last night.”

You and Justin are opposites. If I’d met you without knowing who you are, I would have never guessed you were related.”

“Spare me. I’ve heard it all before. Day and night, fire and ice, summer and winter. Justin and I are of the same mind and the same heart. But, Justin is a stranger here. Had Justin rescued Lenora, Lord Mayor would have been missing his balls and half the town would have burned to the ground.”

Alexander stopped and smiled. No little delicate female here. “Universal Technologies has a strong presence in this country, thanks to your family. Your brother would hardly be considered a stranger.”

“I head up the International Division of Universal Technologies, which means all Universal business in this country. I thought I made it clear to you at Jake’s. ”

“Still, Justin is the main force behind most of the new technology. The message would have more credibility if he presented that technology to those who can be helped by it.”

“Who fed you that line of bull? I know the technology as well as Justin. As for creating and explaining the real life applications for that technology in the six country alliance, I outshine him on every level.”

“I don’t doubt your abilities, it’s just that Justin…”

“My brother is a foreigner with an accent so strong most locals can hardly understand him. His culture and values are strange, if not somewhat unnerving to most people in these parts. I’ve spent the past twelve years traveling this road and working with the people who live here. I know how the government works. I know how the local business environment works. The people we’ll be meeting with are my neighbors and friends. This is my home Alexander.” She pulled out her dagger and slammed it into the table. “ How dare you insinuate Justin is better for this job than I am.”

“I never said Justin was better than you.”

“You might not have said it out loud but I know you’re thinking it.”

He pulled the dagger out of the table and calmly handed it back to her. “Hear me out Olivia. I have never doubted your abilities, after all you are the head of one of the most respected, successful and well run organizations in the country. I suppose that’s why I’m so shocked at how insecure and angry you are.”

“Excuse me? In the past 48 hours you’ve done everything in your power to undermine me, strip away my authority and belittle me.”

“Where does all of your anger come from?”

Olivia wished he had been accusing, but his tone and expression showed quiet concern. She wasn’t ready to answer that question or anything else. Her fingers itched to grab her dagger again and throw it at something.

“I’ll tell you where my anger comes from. Last night, it was just like being back in the Crystal Mountains. Last night I was knocked to the ground, by a strange man who then proceeded to hold me prisoner all the while hurting me for not giving him what he wanted. I thought he was going to …” she stopped short of saying she thought she was going to be raped by another wizard with powers that she couldn’t control. A flurry of blue sparks flew around her feet. “No.” she whispered, making her hands into fists. “I have done nothing to deserve this and I will not tolerate this sort of treatment from you, Crow or anyone else. Do you understand?.”

A thought flashed in her mind of when Alexander had held her hand at the reception the night before. A dull painful realization came to the pit of her stomach that he really was just like her newspaper man. She thought of the words of Darious Crow “No wonder he thinks you’re a cold calculating bitch. Not like the perfect pink fluff he’s used to.” A sharp pain shot through her head. She closed her eyes for a second, then took a deep breath. “Damn it I don’t even like him. Stop the headaches.” She tried to counter act the pain with reason.

Alexander waited a few moments in silence looking at the woman pressing her hand to her forehead. He wondered about what seemed to be constant headaches. He said nothing, but watched her trying to control her pain. Horses and wagons could be heard in the courtyard below. He’d blown it with her and wondered if he could ever gain her confidence again.

“Olivia?” he asked out of concern. The sound of his voice jolted her out of her own thoughts.

“You promised I’d be safe.”

This was heart breaking. He’d never felt so bad about anything in his entire life. “I am truly sorry for what happened last night.”

She put her hand to her side and locked her eyes on his. “My reputation and success speaks for itself. If you are unable to accept that, I’ll leave you to finish this journey on your own.”

“Work with me on this,” he answered gently.

“Believe me, I want to work with you.” Another wave of searing pain swept across her skull. She took a breath trying not to show another display of weakness. He never answered the question of why he didn’t want to work with her. It didn’t matter. She had to prove him wrong.

“I know you do,” he said in a low voice, even quieter than before.

They continued to look in each other’s eyes, neither one looking away. Neither one giving up control. Olivia knew she had to submit. “Dear God” she thought “I never thought I’d be in this situation again, ever in my life. Damn you Alexander.”

“Prince Alexander, let us make a new start.” Then she spoke to him in the old language a greeting of solidarity. “I promise I will be your loyal ally and in time a true friend.” She offered her hand. He took her small hand. Her palm was ice-cold over the raised scar. He suddenly wanted to kiss her hand to warm it up but he refrained, instead firmly held it in both of his hands as a sign of friendship.

“Thank you. I’m looking forward to the rest of our journey.” He said gently, still holding her hand. “I promise you that nothing like last night will happen again.”

She was nothing like the amusing woman Simon and his other friends had described. Nothing like the woman in the interviews and articles he’d read. She was fighting him and defiant, yet there was fear in her. His thoughts were interrupted by voices outside the door. Tom and Michael laughing about something.

Olivia glanced towards the door then back to him. “Alexander, I have a request.” she said, gently sliding her hand from his.

“What is that?” he asked cautiously.

“Stop being an asshole. I’m serious.”

“So am I Olivia. So am I.”

 

___________________________

 

Warm in Alexander’s bed, Candi lay cocooned in a warm happy drug induced state, wearing nothing but the diamond and pearl necklace he’d given her. It was a true feeling of perfection, better than a new dress, almost better than a new man.

Alexander had given her the keys and told her to take advantage of his library. Sure, like that was going to happen. She spent her time there in the big beautiful bedroom.

She purred as her lover kissed her face and mounted her. What for the third, maybe fourth time tonight? She didn’t care. She was floating in a warm sea of pleasure, oblivious to the demands of her mother and the burdens of being a Real Princess. She thought of Alexander for a brief second before sliding her hands through her partner’s golden blonde hair and pulling his mouth to hers.

He looked so much like King Florien. She reveled in the fact that her mother could only fantasize about a moment such as this – being so intimate with the men in the King’s family.

She laughed out loud as he brought her to climax. He came hard then lay next to her, his blue eyes almost glowing. God, he was so gorgeous, almost as pretty as she was. And he was so nasty. He did things to her she could never imagine Alexander doing.

“Can I still see you after I get married?” Candi asked in a childish voice.

“Sure, you can.”

“Did I tell you Alexander wouldn’t go to bed with me?” She did her trademark pretty pout, sticking out her bottom lip and furrowing her perfect brow.”

“Yes, you did tell me,” about a dozen times already. You can shut up now.

Candi ran her hands through his hair. “Alexander is such a prude. I can’t believe you’re related.”

“He doesn’t deserve a woman like you.”

“I love you Graham.”

He didn’t answer as he slipped another vial under her nose to inhale. She closed her eyes again and melted into the pillows, to a place where everything was pink and yellow and perfect.

 

Girl in the Woods

Check back next week for the next chapter in Girl in the Woods. To start from the beginning CLICK HERE.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

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 The Woods: Allegory (Serial Novel, Part 16)

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

Part 16: Allegory

The Road to Allegory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Excuse me?” Her face went flush.

“Shadowford,” he answered.

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

“What are you afraid of?”

“Losing my life for start.”

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

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

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

“Alexander, I will not…”

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

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

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

“What else did they say I’d do?”

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

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

“I need to make arrangements…”

“It’s been taken care of.”

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

“We have another small matter to discuss.”

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

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

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

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

“Yes. I understand.”

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

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

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

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

“Are you alright?”

“I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine.”

“There is nothing wrong with me.”

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

“Very funny. Ha ha.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Arrival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few minutes passed in uncomfortable silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where did you get that information?”

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s up with you and Alexander?”

“Nothing.”

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

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

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

 

 

First Night in Allegory

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I just need to be alone right now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can I print this?”

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

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

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

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

“Forget Alexander, come home now.”

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

“What? Tell me.”

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

“What is going on?”

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, I’m not comfortable here.”

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

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

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

“I don’t have anything prepared.”

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

“Tom, this is not a good idea.”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“You’re very good at it.”

“I know.”

“Ever try acting?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Olivia.” he called back to her.

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

He winked at her. “You look great.”

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

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

 

Jet Gilroy

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

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

He looked thoroughly amused to see Olivia and Michael.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“We’re investigating it,” said Olivia.

“Do you think it was sabotage?”

“Yes I do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My brother never mentioned you.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Impending engagement,” said Michael

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about you Michael?” Jet asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who is your client?”

“That is confidential information.”

“Lord Mayor of Allegory?”

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

“Are you here to investigate me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

~ to be continued.

 

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

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Girl in the Woods

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

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

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

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

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

“I’d marry your mother,” added Tom.

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

“Yes, we both knew,” said Tom

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

“Why didn’t…” Alexander started.

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

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

“You need some fun,” said Simon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“With another woman,” said Alexander still annoyed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Universal Technologies is a foreign owned company.”

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

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

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

“My attitude?” Alexander shot back at Simon.

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

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

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

“I can handle strong women.”

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

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

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

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

“I doubt that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s her life.”

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

“That was different.”

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

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

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

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

“He hit her.”

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

“I can’t believe he’d do that.”

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

“Why’d she stay with him?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Her father knew about it?” Alexander asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simon said nothing as he sat back stoically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then who should she have up her skirts?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She’s busy.”

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

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

“You hardly talk about her.”

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

“I’m not just anybody Simon.”

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

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

“Here it comes” said Tom under his breath

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

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

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

“Thanks a million Tom,” Simon snapped.

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

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

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

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

“Well?” Ask Alexander with a mocking smile.

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

“That was bold of you.”

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

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

“You never spoke much about her.”

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

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

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

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

“Don’t remind me,” said Simon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t badger people.”

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

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

“I do not.”

“Yes, you do,” added Tom.

“You guys are relentless,” said Alex.

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

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

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

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

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

“She knows it too.”

“Good night gentlemen.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“We have to go right now”.

“I’m waiting for someone.”

“This early?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Girl in the Woods

 

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

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman