I’m very excited, I have a draft of the cover for you all to look at! It’s likely going to be tweaked before final release, but do let me know what you think! (Be honest, remember, this is for posterity…)
Only a couple more snippets before you can buy the whole thing and gobble it up all at once. As always, to begin at the beginning, click here.
“Bella. You ok?” The shorter one, still taller than she was by six inches, which meant he towered over me, hugged her. “Uncle sent me to wait for you, I was beginning to worry.”
She hugged him back and I thought I heard a small sigh, before she gestured at me as he let her down.
“I’m fine. A bit bruised. This is Lom, he’s been helping me.”
She looked at me, then. “Lom, this is my cousin Mark, and Tex, who isn’t a cousin, but might as well be.”
Mark surveyed me with dark hazel eyes as he took my hand briefly. Then I looked up at Tex, who had to stoop a little to shake my hand. He was taller than her grandfather, a skinny rake of a man in greasy coveralls.
“You’re our ride out of here?” I surmised, and he grinned.
“Yup, sure am. Come into the warm, though, like to freeze my…”
“Tex!” Bella interrupted. An old-fashioned girl, that one. But inside sounded good. Maybe there would be food, too.
I followed the girl in, content to let the men wait chivalrously for us to go in. They may also have been assessing me for threat, not that I gave a damn at the moment. I’d seen that Mark was of Lavendar’s blood when he’d hugged Bella and their lifeglows were identical. I was safe, for values of safe. In the building was a large waiting area, a universal design and decor, and on the counter where tickets were no doubt sold from, were two large pizza boxes.
I headed for them. Mark grabbed a stack of paper plates and handed Bella and I each a slice of pizza.
“Fast Eddie’s Mad Trapper Pie.” He announced cheerfully. I didn’t care what it was called, I needed it. I was already taking a bite.
It was good. Spicy – my mouth was already burning, but hot and greasy and perfect. Mark watched me eat, and slid another piece on my plate before I could even ask. I was most of the way through that piece before I remembered what I needed to ask.
“Bella, have you a passport?”
She looked startled. I guessed it hadn’t crossed her mind, just like it hadn’t really sunk in that she was leaving home.
“Yes, but…” she turned to Mark. “It is in my cabin, and I don’t know how we will get it. Some clothes and things would be nice.” She looked back at me, a pleading expression. “And the cat. Who will feed him?
Mark snorted. “Rasputin will feed himself. Nothing short of a wolverine would take that mangy excuse on. As for the rest of it, let me make a call.”
I interrupted. “Whoever goes needs to use caution. And I need to get my case off the snow machine, dammit.” I had completely forgotten it in my need to get food in my system. That wasn’t good. I could not let my guard down like this.
I got up, when had I sat down? I couldn’t remember. Tex materialized. “Hey, settle back. Here’s your briefcase.” He set it down next to me. “You’re looking a little peaky. Guess you needed to eat.”
I knew he hadn’t tried to open it. If he had, there would be some melted snow outside. The elaborate tooling on the case was for more than decoration. I patted it and went back to eating.
Mark handed me another slice on a fresh plate. I sighed and intoned. “Bless you, my son.”
He snorted. “I’ll call Dan to get her things. I think you met him this morning.”
“Is it still today?”
Bella laughed. “I need to talk to him, Mark. He’ll need my combination.” She made a face. “And I will change it when I get back, just so you all know!”
Mark adopted an expression of abused innocence while I watched the byplay with amusement. They were more like siblings than most cousins. I went back to eating while they talked to Dan on the counter phone.
Bella came and perched on the arm of the dilapidated couch I was sitting on when she was done. “This won’t take long. Raven told Tex to take us to Haines, when we do leave.”
“Where?” I was surprised at how many feathers the old spirit was sticking into the pot. Bella must be something special to him.
She nodded. “Exactly. It’s unlikely your, um, cohorts, will know where it is, either.”
“Not my cohorts.” I felt utterly tired, now, but the warm glow in my stomach was soothing my unsettled humor.
“What are they then?”
“Yes,” Mark joined the conversation, sitting across from me. “I’d like to know, too.”
“I told Bella earlier, she has an inheritance from her grandmother. I know, she’d like to be able to decline it, but that’s not an option. These people are going to come after her, no matter what. And they will use you – her family – as leverage to get to her.”
“Yes,” Bella broke in, “I’ve accepted that. But who are ‘they’?”
I rubbed my face. This was not going to be easy. I wasn’t supposed to tell Mark, an outsider, anything. Oh, hell, he is Lavendar’s blood.
“Look, Fairy, the world Underhill, is broken into two courts. Just like in the stories.”
She wrinkled her nose, an expression I was finding rather endearing. “Summer and Winter? Low and High? Grandmother’s stories were always changing.”
Mark nodded at this. “She didn’t tell me the same stories as Bella, but I learned very young the value of sitting still and being quiet.”
“Always a useful skill,” I told him, still trying to marshal my thoughts. “Summer, Winter, light, dark, good, evil… No one quite knows how it happened, but over the centuries each court has become a magnet for certain personalities. It isn’t always linked to bloodlines, of course, although there are certain families who are always Summer, or always Winter. Lavendar was Summer court, and thus you you are, Bella.”
Mark got up and brought the pizza over and put it in front of me. I nodded my gratitude as I took another piece, and went on.
“For some time now, Summer has been on the wane. Nothing overt was ever done, but Winter would prefer that Summer stay out of the way, so it was assumed that certain accidents… weren’t.”
I stopped to finish eating. I needed the fuel badly, still. I took another piece.
She went on, “so I am being targeted by Winter fairies? And they have Troll allies?”
Mark gave her a startled look. Raven must not have told him about that fight.
I swallowed. The pizza was very good, but I was eating too fast to appreciate much. Tex materialized and handed me a bottle of soda.
“Dan’s on his way,” he informed us laconically. “I am going to go tighten the rubberbands.”
When he’d gone outside, I looked at the others. “Tighten the rubberbands?”
It gave me the chance to finish – was this my fourth, or fifth piece? – while Mark answered. “When Tex came here he was used to flying larger planes. The running joke is that he loves the little bush planes, but he never misses an opportunity to down-talk them. Says the J-5 he will be flying today runs on two rubber bands… ever play with a toy airplane?”
I nodded, my mouth full. I got the joke, now. Bella reminded me gently, “what about the Winter court?”
“I am not convinced it’s the Winter court alone. I know they have allies, and some of them may be Summer Court, I’m sorry to tell you.” What I wasn’t going to tell her was that I trusted no-one. Not even her sweet, innocent little face. It might look to them like I was only talking, and stuffing my face. I was also watching their every reaction to what I was saying. Mark was looking slightly concerned, with protective glances at his cousin from time to time. She might think of herself as competent and independent, but she had a pack of family who looked after her.
Bella was solemnly focused on me. I went on, “among other allies, the worst will be the goblins. They are known as the defilers for a good reason. Do not,” I emphasized grimly, holding her eyes with mine, “let them take you captive. The women and children are worse than the warriors, and that is no exaggeration.”
She nodded, looking a little pale. I picked up the last piece.
“Do you always eat like that?” She followed the arc as I lifted it to my mouth and took a big bite.
I shook my head and swallowed. “No, but I burned a lot of energy back there. Remember that. Magic use comes with a cost, always. Try to do too much, and it will kill you.”
She sighed, “I have so much to learn, and so little time.”
I nodded. Not much more I could say, to that. The door swung open and I was on my feet and between her and the newcomer before Mark could even look around. I relaxed, recognizing the man stamping snow off his boots. While I was up, I grabbed the other box, the one with half a pizza left in it.
Dan brought a thick envelope and a backpack to Bella. She stood up and hugged her cousin, and he glared at me over her shoulder while he rubbed her back. I nodded at him, acknowledging his anger and frustration. The burly, bearded man rather intimidated me, and he didn’t have a bit of magic.
Bella kept her face turned away from me when she let go of him, but I could tell from her hand movements that she was wiping her tears away. Dan came to me.
“Anything else we can do?” He asked me in a deep, quiet voice. I shook my head. The food had me alert again, and now I had to think through how we were going to get safely away from here, without any collateral damage. We needed to leave, soon. My power signature was damped, I knew, but she had no such training, nor did Mark. I mentally debated taking him with us. No – they would leave him alone, he was male and posed no danger to them.
“No. We need to leave, before trouble finds us.”
Bella swung the backpack over her shoulder. “I’m ready as I’ll ever be.”
She looked down at the box in front of me, then looked me in the eyes, raising an eyebrow. “It’s amazing you aren’t round, the way you eat.”
She had a right to snark at me, I had eaten a pizza and a half, it looked like. “Remember to have food on hand when you learn to do that. Then you will understand.” And I was looking forward to training her, and getting a chance to prove it to her as she tossed back the calories afterward.
“I’m going to be able to toss a snowmobile?” She grinned.
To my surprise, I grinned back, demurring, “I didn’t exactly toss it.”