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Today we have another excerpt from my fantasy romance novel The Exile. My hero’s scene is an experiment in progress for me writing first person. Nearly killed in an assassination attempt, my hero has had a long, hard recovery. He’s had his hands full reclaiming his life and hanging onto his throne against accusations of madness. Today, after he slipped the watch of his bodyguards, he meets my heroine, who had some secrets of her own.
Was fighting with league council worth it? They’d proven the league was unready for change. A likely waste of breath.
And how much damage had I just managed myself with my surly, headache-driven disappearance from the council chambers? I was to be mending my image, not demolishing it and proving the gossipers truthful. If they ever found out I had lost everything I was in the assassination attempt . . .
Naiaom. My skin crawled. If I didn’t fight, Naiaom would win. If I did fight, Naiaom might still win.
Thoroughly depressed now, I drained my tankard, and let my eyes drift in search of the woman. A much more pleasant occupation for my weary mind.
She was watching me. No one had joined her at her table deep in the back of the room and she hadn’t the air of someone waiting. Tall and graceful and confident carriage that read clearly: ‘mind your own business.’ Near my own height. Bronze-gold hair ruthlessly sleeked back, twisted and pinned. No Shaharalí with that bright hair. Clothes, in a cut and cloth of quality. Not the sort of woman to frequent this dark, seedy tavern, even if they did brew a fine ale.
She cocked her head and gave me a frank, steady look with bright intelligent eyes. She pushed away the empty seat at her table, and lifted a questioning eyebrow.
Intrigued and tired of my own company, I brought two tankards of the Engerlees to her table. Silently taking the seat across from her. A good view of the door still.
“Schola.” She raised her tankard. Your health. Kahrougi. More interesting already.
“Feru shauda.” Quiet watch. The words came spontaneously.
“You speak my language. How nice.” That incredible smile again.
Apparently I did, for a rush of words tumbled to my mind. How odd. Why had Kemmáth and Zímka not told me?
I could not guess her age. By her smooth skin, far younger than I. By the weary look in her light eyes something else again.
“Why me? On the hunt?” Oh, too crudely put, and cruder for the roughness of my voice.
A puzzled frown. I had offended her. Damn. I once had manners, hadn’t I?
Then she laughed. Solid, genuine. Forgiving. “No. Not at all. Not of that sort of thing.”
“Why me, then?” She could not be interested in my one-eyed, ruined face.
“How was that?”
“You looked like you might be interesting. Thank you for the drink. You may call me Calli, by the way. What may I call you?
“Kerral.” The false name slipped out impulsively.
“I am pleased to meet you, Kerral.”
That smile again, loosening something tight in me.
“I’m on holiday, here three days already. Will be leaving in two days. I’ve never taken a holiday before and I’ve never been to the sea before. I thought I’d find it restful. Always heard others speaking so highly of them. But apparently, instead of doing nothing, you are supposedly to do. Sights to see, places to go. It’s not easy to have no regimen whatsoever. And being with friends makes for itineraries, negotiation, squabbling, dissension. How about you?”
“What do you mean?” Yes, I’d had too much to drink.
“How do you feel about holidays?”
If I’d ever had one, I had no recollection of it. “I can’t remember one that I have enjoyed.”
“There you have it.” She sipped at her drink and grinned. “Well, Kerral, you don’t look at all like you’re on holiday. You don’t strike me as a religious pilgrim. So it must be that you are here on business. From your grim expressions, your venture has not brought you success or pleasure.
“Something like enough to that.” Far from pleasure. “What brought you here to dine, alone?”
She nodded. “A horror of fishsauce and florid poesy drove me to our refuge.”
“Fish sauce?” Now I was sure I was drunk. Fishsauce and bad poetry. I could not have understood her correctly. Something lost in translation?
“The ubiquitous Thereali seasoning itself. Gopui. And there is the open air theater. Have you seen it? It is the thing to do apparently when staying in Port Thereal. We were lucky to get tickets I was told. Lucky? Packed in together like pickled fish in a barrel, perched on stone benches, listening to pompous players torture our ears. it will run for hours, until near dawn, while vendors spill their wine and sweetmeats and insults on you. I plead a headache and escaped within the first twenty stanzas. It was a close thing.”
“Your companions let you leave alone? Is that safe?” But she was Kahrougi. Warriors all, male and female.
She laughed, her eyes darkening with something, paused as if she were going to say something and changed her mind. “Safe enough. As to my companions? In truth, I outright lied to them. Said I was returning straight to our lodgings. Better experienced in the art of the holiday than I, they will stay at the theater until the last bitter verse and cup of wine. It will be past noon tomorrow before I see them rise and face the new day. So I am hopefully free of them missing me and their worrying.”
A look crossed her face. Perhaps she was not entirely certain of that. “I was desperate for a real meal, something made without that fish sauce they cook everything with here. I asked about and my quest for a plain bit of meat led me here.” She glanced down at the bare-bone remains of her steak and sighed. “It was good. I should survive my two last days of holiday now. I don’t think you’ve eaten. You should. Did you yet?”
She pulled the pins from her hair and sighed in relief as the heavy coils loosened and tumbled over her shoulders. “Should have done this sooner.”
“No.” Just drank. I shook my head. I dismissed my manners and stared, riveted by her fingers combing through the gold gleam. And riveted by the ghostly, echoing pull in my groin.
She massaged her scalp, unselfconscious, sighing. She caught my look, smiled. “You have no idea.” She shook her head and rolled her shoulders. Another smile.
A man could live on that smile. Oh, yes, way too much to drink. Or not enough.
“You should eat something here. The fish sauce has probably gotten to you as well. Tell me, has anything you’ve eaten during your stay here been made without it?”
I had never given fishsauce, either its presence or absence, any thought. The last meal had set off my headache before I even took a mouthful, which had led to my being here. Perhaps the fishsauce had led to our meeting. “No. But then perhaps without the existence of fishsauce we would never have met?”
Another peal of laughter from her, and I felt a light lurch of pleasure break like dawn through me.
“And what brought you here?”
“A need for solitude.”
She glanced around the crowded tavern and its boisterous patrons. “Solitude? In a place like this?”
“As you said: you have no idea.”
That earned me her delightful laugh again.
Our spirited conversation ambled through food, books, music, travel. I found myself expounding for a time on the writings of Walfseam, though how I’d gotten from condiments to ancient philosophy? And she had read the man.
I glanced up. Kemmáth stood there in the doorway, not yet seeing me. The same traits of dogged determination and persistence that made him invaluable to me as an aide were proving a damned problem now. “Hell, he’s going to spot me.”
“Who?” She was alert and still, a creature tuning for the scent of danger. Like a warrior. She was Karoughi, after all.
“The young man, there at the door. He works for me.”
Kemmáth walked inside.
Our dark corner gave me a few moments before I’d be spotted, but also prevented me from slipping out unseen. Kemmáth would approach the bartender. The bartender would point me out. I was the only one-eyed man in this place. Kemmáth would search all the way through.
“I just need a break.” I felt some guilt for the anxiety etched into Kemmáth’s face. “Just a break.” I downed the last of my drink, prepared to stand and give in. “I had best go. Thank you, Calli, for the company.”
“So we’ve both slipped our leashes for the evening.” She rose and stood between me and Kemmáth, blocking both my and Kemmeth’s line of sight. “You really don’t want him to find you?” Amusement shone in her eyes and twitched those full rosy lips. Distracting me from my worries as my fingers itched to sink into that luscious silky fall of hair round her shoulders. As my body itched to explore the new sensations gripping me.
“He’ll expect you to be alone?” She smiled, the light high spirit in her eyes narrowing into something deeper. “I’ve an idea. Trust me for a moment?”
I had barely nodded, desperate for just a little longer freedom, when I found her straddling my lap, her lips on mine.
The warm weight of her against my body was pure pleasurable torture. My body surged to life. Leaving me mortified and intensely relieved.
“Come on. Act like you’ve missed me, Kerral” she whispered. The silk fall of her hair brushing my face. She took my head in both her hands. Boldly kissed me, opening her mouth over mine. The contact of her soft eager lips stunning.
Act like I missed her?
I didn’t have to act. Even as my startled mind blurted this was insane, every sense said they’d known her forever, missed her longer.
I kissed her back. My hands on their own slid along her flanks as if starved. She was dangerous and I was fascinated. My body had done this in the life I’d had before, but my mind was an utter virgin. In this I was no different than the green youths I trained with. Completely clueless. I was excruciatingly self-conscious of the laughter and bawdy comments from nearby tables and a grumbling “take it upstairs.” Having rediscovered an erection, now I wished it would just go away. Well, not truly. I wanted to explore this urgent feeling of normal. Of being alive. I wasn’t dead. For the first time since I had woken after the attack I was a man fully alive.
“Oh, my,” she sighed. She pulled back, to look me in the eye. Her expression stunned and bemused as if seeing me for the first time. Her smile soft. “You.” She took a deep breath and glanced around behind her. “He’s gone.”
She moved to slip away from me.
No. Not yet. I pulled her back, feeling the coiled strength in her as she decided whether to resist.
She relaxed into my grasp, seemingly unselfconscious of our intimate contact or my unsubtle response to it. Her hands rested lightly on my shoulders. Didn’t she have any sense? Any fear? I explored the graceful lines of her back with my hands. And what about yourself? Where’s your common sense? Assassins could be female. “Why?”
“Because you needed to hide. Your man looked easily embarrassed. I don’t imagine you’re the type he’d expect to find in a dockside tavern with shameless wench draped over him.” Her steady eyes held humor and tenderness.
I flushed. It was true. For many reasons.
“Why? You don’t know me. You know nothing about me.”
“Because.” She grazed her lips across mine, tracing the shape of them. “I had to feel your mouth. Because.” She softly kissed my scarred cheek. “I liked your face.”
Links to other Excerpt Monday writers: Click on the banner
Note: I have not personally screened these excerpts. Please heed the ratings and be aware that the links may contain material that is not typical of my site.
|Alexia Reed, Urban Fantasy (R)
Bria Quinlan, Rom Com (PG)
M.G. Buehrlen, YA Fantasy (PG13)
AJ Chase, Paranormal Romcom (PG13)
Stephanie Draven, Paranormal Romance (PG13)
Cynthia Justlin, Romantic Suspense (PG 13)
Kaige, Historical Romance (PG13)
Julia Knight, Fantasy Romance (PG13)
Nadia Lee, Paranormal Romance (PG13)
Jeannie Lin, Historical Romance (PG 13)
RF Long, Paranormal Romance (PG13)
Shawntelle Madison, Paranormal Romance (PG13)
Crista McHugh, Paranormal Romance (PG 13)
Debbie Mumford, Fantasy Romance (PG13)
Megan S., Paranormal (PG13)
Dara Sorensen, Historical Fiction (PG 13)
|Melissa Aires, Futuristic Romance (R)
Kendal Ashby, Contemporary, (R)
KB Alan, Contemporary Erotic Romance (R)
Cate Hart, YA (R)
Felicia Holt, Contemporary Romance (R)
Ali Katz, Historical Erotic Romance (R)
Inez Kelley, Contemporary Romance (R)
Annie Nicholas, Paranormal Romance (R)
Christa Paige, Paranormal (R)
Mary Quast, Contemporary Romance (R)
Photo: SsJ Toma