I’m taking part in Camp Nano this month to revise Girlie a bit! Working title is ‘Anything for a Home’ and I’ve purchased some stock art already for the main character’s face. There’s not much to say on that subject, so here’s a teaser:
The Texas summer sun was harsh and high, but tucked into the shade of our school’s playground equipment with my stack of graphic novels, I was comfortable enough and, more importantly, hidden. I was bent over rereading my favorite section of Cutter and Leetah’s courtship when footsteps approached through the sand. I froze, holding my breath and hoping desperately that no one would look under the slide.
Teenage guys’ voices, low and heated.
“You don’t even know her,” one protested, voice cracking. “She’s like four years older than you.”
A second voice, deeper and glummer. “I told you. It’s an arranged marriage thing. Mom negotiated with her family; that’s why we’re visiting here.”
I leaned closer, tilting my head to hear better, graphic novels forgotten. An arranged marriage? In real life? I’ll be honest, I was a snoop and a sucker for romances.
A hot tempered voice, high pitched with youth broke in with a new suggestion. “You could get married beforehand. That would break the arranged marriage.”
The glum voice scoffed. “Then I’d just be married to someone else that I’d have to see for the rest of eternity. I don’t want to get married at all, not this early.”
Something brushed my foot, and I jerked, brushing violently and hoping it was only a spider even as I strained to hear more. Whatever it was fell onto my pants, and I caught a glimpse of a raised tail.
I squealed, leaping away, scattering my books and sending them flying. Texas had the worst creepy crawlies I’d seen yet, and military brats see a lot. I heaved a few breaths, double checking to make sure it was gone, before I realized the talking had stopped. Sand grated behind me, and a teen guy dropped down from the equipment, landing beside me to rock back onto his heels and stare at me.
I stared back.
He was cute, in a gangly, unfinished way, with one green eye and one blue.
“Scorpion,” I blurted out, flushing and looking down at my jean covered knees. I picked at one of the holes, well earned by climbing a particularly recalcitrant grapefruit tree. How was I supposed to know grapefruit trees had thorns?
“Were you listening in on us?” he asked, leaning closer, but he didn’t sound particularly angry. He was the glum one, and sand kicked up as I was aggressively surrounded by three other guys.
“I wasn’t planning to,” I mumbled. I didn’t dare look up, just blushed harder than I’d ever blushed before. They were older, 14 or 15 maybe, all of them cute. “I’ve been here for hours.”
One of the guys, wild haired and bright eyed knelt and started gathering up my books. “You could have said something,” he chided.
I fell to my knees and scrambled to gather my own books before he could reach them. “I was hoping you’d leave,” I hissed back at him.
“Truth,” one of the other guys said, the one with a cracking voice.
“Huh,” said the glum guy, leaning in. “Well, if you were listening. Do you have any ideas? You’re human.”
A shiver ran up my spine, but I shot him a side glare. “Human? So are you.”
He shook his head, brown locks brushing his jaw. “No. We’re fae.”
“Rhodes,” hissed the guy helping me.
“Yeah, right,” I said, hugging my books to my chest and looking down. “Don’t make fun of me.”
Rhodes dropped to a kneel in front of me, his mismatched eyes intent on me. If I hadn’t stared into them before, I wouldn’t have noticed because they were close enough in hue to miss the difference.
“I’m not mocking you. I swear upon the tree of rebirth,” he said, making an odd aborted gesture in front of his chest.
I cast him a suspicious look, but oddly enough I got the feeling that he was being truthful. I blew out a breath, my own hair tickling my nose. “You have an arranged marriage?”
“Yes,” he said simply.
“And you’re fae?”
I chewed my lip as I thought back through the various romances I’d read with fae. Maybe I’d run across the issue before?
“You can get married after your wife dies, right?” I asked.
He recoiled, falling back onto his heels. “I’m not killing someone just because they have the misfortune of marrying me.”
“But you’re fae,” I counter smugly. “So you live a long time, right? Just outlive a human wife.” He opened his mouth.
Shut it, brows furrowed as he thought.
“But I’d need a volunteer,” he finally said. “And humans aren’t allowed to know about fae.”
“Technically, I know about fae,” I countered.
“Rhodes,” the guy in front of me groaned. “Your mother is going to murder you if she finds out about this.”
“You offering to marry me?” he asked, incredulous now.
I huffed a laugh. “My family is military. We’re leaving in less than a week to go to a new base. You can marry me, and it’ll be like I don’t even exist.”
“Randolph Air Force Base,” he said, slowly, thinking. “You’re stationed there?”
“We were, but it’s time to move,” I said with a shrug, my over-sized T shirt sliding down my shoulder.
“She has a point,” one of the guys said, but I was so focused on Rhodes that I didn’t spare a look.
“It would have to be the formal vows,” he mused, raking his fingers through his hair. “And a secret.”
“Let your mom go along with the arranged marriage plan without explaining it won’t work?” one guy asked, voice cracking unfortunately in the middle of the question.
“Yes,” he said slowly. “It could work.”
“End of problem.” I shrugged again and made to get up, the guys shifting back out of my way.
Of course, he was joking. Fae weren’t real, but it was fun to imagine.
“Okay,” he said. “But there’s a problem. If my mom finds out about it, she can annul it if it isn’t, um, consummated, and I’m sorry, but you’re a kid. Yeah, no.”
I made a face at that, blushing again. “Lie, then.”
“Truth spell,” he countered. “I can’t lie to my own kin.”
“What about if it’s a throuple? These guys, if they’re not your family, they could lie, and it would still count, right?”
“Throuple?” he echoed in confusion. I fluttered my fingers at the guys around us.
“Multiple, um, guys, married.”
He grinned then, a flash of bright teeth. “That would work.”
“What you’re not even going to ask us?” the wild haired guy blurted out, bright eyes wide. “We’re getting married too?”
“You’re my court,” Rhodes countered. “It’s not uncommon for a court to be bound and share.”
“She’s leaving. Military and likely to move often?” the guy kneeling beside me said, rising. “And we all have to wait to date until she dies? How would we even know if she’s not fae?”
I snorted at that, more amused than anything. “Cheat. I don’t care. I won’t even know what you’re up to. I don’t even remember what base we’re going to. Someplace in South Dakota I think.”
“How old are you?” Rhodes asked, smiling now.
“Twelve,” I said, flushing.
“Does anyone remember our wedding vows?” he asked, looking at the other guys. “I mean, word for word?”
They grumbled and looked at each other uncomfortably.
Finally, the one who hadn’t spoken yet sighed. “Cherish, love and protect, right? It’s a pretty simple vow.” He was the hot headed one, although he looked more uncomfortable than anything now.
“You need a ring,” the wild haired one said.
“That’s easy enough,” the guy with a crack in his voice decided. “Hair is enough for me to weave with if you have scissors.” I shook my head but delved in my pocket.
“Just a knife.” When I came up with it and proffered it, he smiled and carefully measured and cut a lock of his hair, then passed it to the next guy. This was the hot head, and he scowled.
“What, I’m getting married too?”
“Just cut your hair,” Rhodes retorted.
“Do I get names or what?” I said.
“You won’t even remember,” the hot head scoffed as he carefully cut his own hair and passed the knife one way while passing the hair over to join the swatch in his friend’s hand.
“I’m Rhodes Boreas,” Rhodes said and swept an oddly elegant bow with a hand flourish at the end. “Fall Prince.”
“Wilder Von Brandt,” the wild haired guy said, appropriately enough as he wrangled with his hair to cut a lock. “Summer.”
“I’m Aster Sylvie,” I said slowly. “But everyone calls me Stella.”
“Oakley,” the hot headed guy said with a scowl. “Oakley Arlet. Winter. This is stupid, she won’t remember.”
“You need it for the vow,” the guy with cracking voice said, carefully taking a lock of hair from Wilder. He passed the knife to me. “You too.”
“Okay,” I said and swiftly undid one braid and measured out what I thought was enough. “Like this?”
“I’m Birch Vesna,” he said and coughed to clear his throat. “Spring. A little longer, please, yours has to weave through everyone else’s.”
“Sure,” I said, and measured out a longer section. At his nod, I sawed at it inelegantly. He grimaced but took the disheveled lock. I passed the knife to Rhodes, who measured out his own lock and easily cut it. Then Birch laid the locks against his knee and began swiftly braiding, my hair tying all of theirs together.
“Hand,” he said after a moment, and I hesitantly held my left one out, assuming he meant ring side. He measured the ring against my finger, then braided it into itself to create a loop. Rhodes handed me back the knife, and I folded it shut and tucked it into my pocket with my free hand.
“Now what?” Rhodes asked.
Oakley sighed, his dark eyes and somber stare unnerving. “I, state your name, vow to Cherish, Love, and Protect Aster Sylvie known as Stella until such time as death does us part.”
Rhodes arched a brow at him. “That’s it?”
He grimaced in return. “It has all the parts you need, so hush.”
“Okay,” I said, feeling a bit self conscious. “But what do I say? All of your names?”
“Rhodes Boreas and his court,” suggested Wilder. Birch handed me the ring, and I slid it on, a bit bristly from my hair, soft as silk from theirs. I swallowed hard, feeling suddenly self conscious.
“I Aster Sylvie, known as Stella, vow to Cherish, Love, and Protect Rhodes Boreas and his court until such time as death does us part.” I glanced at Oakley who just nodded. Rhodes cleared his throat.
“I Rhodes Boreas, vow to Cherish, Love and Protect Aster Sylvie, known as Stella, until such time as death does us part.”
Something fluttered in my chest, a skipped heartbeat maybe, a couple really as each repeated their part until my heart was racing and drew my attention.
Then Rhodes stepped in, and I stepped back reflexively.
“We’ll seal with a kiss,” he explained, brows lifting.
“We will not,” I told him firmly.
His brow furrowed. “On the cheek?”
I wavered and then nodded, flashing a nervous smile.
His gaze sharpened, focused on the dimple in my cheek, and he moved before I could react, pressing a kiss there. It stung, and I gasped, raising my hand to my face, but he pulled it down firmly. “It’ll hurt. It sets the vow in place.”
“Do I have to kiss you?” I said miserably.
He just laughed. “Just me, but the others will have to kiss you.”
I groaned and closed my eyes, but I couldn’t raise my hands to cover my face, his hands warm and solid in mine. I flushed and looked away as each leaned in to press a kiss to my dimple, stinging more and more by the second.
When the last finished, I flinched away, hissing.
“I know it hurts,” Rhodes said. “But it’s almost done. A quick kiss?”
I glanced up at him, tugging reflexively at his hold. “Do I have to?”
“It was your idea,” he pointed out.
I groaned and pressed into him, our hands caught up between us, as I hastily dropped a kiss high on his cheekbone, the scent of bonfires and fallen leaves rising around us.
Fire flashed across my lips, leaping into my chest and throwing us apart.
“Stella?” someone gasped, distant and distorted, but the wave of concern that hit me, flooding my heart and senses with warmth was overwhelming.
I couldn’t see.
Someone shook me, concern spiking sharp and overwhelming through every pore of my skin. “Stella, open your eyes!”
His fingers dug into the bare skin of one shoulder, bleeding warmth and flashes of an angry women with long dark braids, elegant and dangerous, someone who was sure to be furious they’d screwed this up. Someone’s mother.
I grabbed his elbows, hanging from his grasp and blinked hard, their faces swimming above me. “Don’t tell her,” I gasped, flashes of past punishments and future fears hitting me hard.
Rhodes jerked his hands back, letting me collapse back into the sand hard enough that I thumped the back of my head, his shock ringing in my ears.
“How?” he rasped, his gaze wild as he looked at me and then the guys. “You’re not fae.”
I stared up at him, chest full of so much feeling, fear and concern and flashes of annoyance that I could pin on Oakley now that my eyes were open. I was drowning in it, losing myself to the surges of their emotions, and I gasped reflexively, arching up and clawing at my chest.
“Close her down!” hissed Wilder.
“How?” multiple voices demanded.
I pressed my palms to my face, pressing into my eyes as shock and fear hit me in wave after wave. My legs kicked almost of their own volition, and I shook. Hands pressed me down, down, down.
And then, silence. Stillness in my own head.
I opened my eyes, and I was alone, lying on my back in the sand with books in disarray around me.
I blinked, looking around, but I really was alone, no sign of any of the guys. I turned my head slowly, my hands still lifted as though to fend off a threat, but there weren’t even footsteps leading to where I lay in the sand.
Where had they gone? My heart picked up as I sat up and looked around. Were they even real?
Was I just feeling heat stroke? Mom was always worried about me getting heatstroke. I felt my cheeks, and something wet smeared on my right hand. I looked down at it, my blood bright against the palm of my hand. Blood from where they had kissed me. The ring on my other hand was missing though the echo of it felt as though it were still there.
I tugged at my braid, pulling it forward, and a section was missing, just where I remembered cutting it off.
Was I going crazy?
I stood slowly and began gathering up my books with shaking hands, my blood smearing on the covers before I hastily wiped it on my jeans.
“Stella!” a voice called, and I spun to see my mother, in uniform, waiting at the edge of the playground. I gathered my books more handily in my arms and ran towards her.
“Mom, mom, you won’t believe-”
“What happened to you face?” she gasped in horror, and she dug for a tissue in her purse, carefully dabbing at my dimple. I opened my mouth to answer, the words on the tip of my tongue. Who had tattooed my face? I reached up to touch it, and she pulled my hand down, an oddly familiar gesture.
“Oh, honey, who did this?”
“I don’t know,” I told her after a moment, more confused than ever. I’d spent the whole day here, reading alone. “Maybe I caught it on the playground equipment?”
She frowned, rubbing at it and looking again. “It looks like a cut, but I could have sworn-”
“I think I hit my face?” I said. “I got too hot. And there was a scorpion,” I suddenly recalled. “I’d just jumped up because there was a scorpion on my leg, and maybe I bashed it then?”
“Were you stung?” she asked and dabbed one last time at my cheek.
“No,” I said, sure of that at least. “Is it going to scar?”
“Maybe?” she said. “At least it isn’t bleeding anymore.” She gathered the soiled tissues up into her purse and turned to the parking lot.
“What does it look like?” I asked and stretched my legs to catch up with her.
“A star. That’s an odd shaped bolt you must have hit,” she said, seemingly losing interest.
Odd that I didn’t remember the pain of hitting it, but as I trotted after her, my brain cleared, and I calmed. We left the empty playground behind, and I never looked back.