Tuesday, September 12, 2017

One Last Lullaby - Teaser

One Last Lullaby was released today as part of the Cimmerian Shade boxed set. Hurrah! Did you grab a copy yet? It's on sale for 99 cents, but this price won't last!


Here's an excerpt from my story. It features characters that appeared in Fangs & Lullabies and Demons & Lullabies, but One Last Lullaby is a standalone.

He arrived at the airport much too early but he didn’t mind the wait. He found a parking spot, turned on the radio and tried to relax. It worked for a little while, but then a song came up that had him tense up again. They’d danced to this at their prom. He’d picked her up in this very same car on prom night, come to think of it. And he’d been almost as anxious as he was now. He turned off the radio with a sharp gesture. Why had he offered to pick her up from the airport again?

His sense that this was all wrong deepened when he finally left the car to go wait in the arrival hall. Three or four people there were waiting with flowers. During the few minutes he waited, he witnessed three tearful reunions, complete with cries of joy and endless hugs, and more kisses than he cared to count. But oh, how he wished Kirsten’s arrival would play out like that! She’d step down that hallway, spot him, smile, then run to him. He’d catch her and twirl her around, and then he’d hold her tight and kiss her, releasing her mouth only to hear her say—

“Hey. My plane landed early.”

He started at the words and turned to his right, annoyed with himself that he’d been so distracted he hadn’t noticed her approach, then even more annoyed when all he found to say was, “Oh, hi.”

The first thing he noticed was that she had let her hair grow long again. A pang of nostalgia flashed through him. She had been as pretty as ever with her hair cut short in what she called a pixie cut—as pretty as ever when she broke up with him—but in his mind her hair would always bounce on her shoulders in the ponytail she’d often worn in high school. She looked well, although tired, no doubt from the long flight. She offered him a hesitant smile that looked nothing like the one from his little fantasy. Was this as weird for her as it was for him?

“I picked up my luggage already,” she said, looking down at the suitcases on each side of her. “Where are you parked?”

“On level two,” he answered automatically. “It’s not far.”

Without thinking, he leaned down to pick up her suitcases. How many times had he carried her school bag for her? She used to call him a dork for it, with all her affection transpiring into that teasing word. Now, she sounded flustered when she said, “You don’t have to do that. I’ve got it.”
Jacob let go of the suitcase handle as though he’d just been burned. If he’d had any doubt left she hadn’t come back for him, they disappeared at that moment.

“Why don’t you go to the pick-up area?” he suggested, almost proud when his voice didn’t waver. “I’ll get the car and meet you there.”

He left before she could reply, shoving his fists in his jacket pockets so they wouldn’t feel so empty. He called himself an idiot all the way back to the car. Was it too late to offer to pay for her taxi? Although she’d probably refuse that, too, if it came from him. He wasn’t sure why she had even accepted his offer for a ride.

She was waiting on the side of the curb when he pulled up. By the time he got out of the car, she had already hoisted one suitcase into the trunk he had opened for her, and was struggling with the second one.

“Let me?” he offered, already preparing himself to be shot down.

She set the suitcase down and nodded at him. “Thanks. This one’s packed with a lot of books and magic stuff. Kinda on the heavy side.”

It really was, and Jacob found himself wishing he had insisted to help her carry the suitcases. Too late now.

It felt eerily familiar to get in the car with her. The awkwardness, however, was new. He wanted to ask about her flight, ask where she’d be living, ask how she was, but he was afraid to give any sign that he wasn’t over her yet; afraid to be shot down again. So he kept quiet, and tried not to look at her from the corner of his eye.

They were halfway back to the agency when she asked, “Are you mad at me?”

Déjà vu flashed through Jacob. Not two hours earlier, his father had asked the same thing.

“Mad?” he repeated. “Of course not. Why would I be mad?”

She was looking at him, but he kept his eyes on the road rather than meet her eyes.

“Because I took a job with your father?” She shrugged. “I wanted to come back to town and his agency’s the best.”

“Of course it is,” he said, forcing himself to smile but still unable to look at her. “And even more so now that we’ll have a decent mage again.”

His voice sounded almost normal. After three years of absence, she apparently didn’t hear the small hitch in his words; back then, she would have noticed at once and called him out on it, but now all she said was a tentative, “So… you’re okay with this, then? With me being there?”

Really not.

“Of course,” he lied again. “It’ll be nice to work with a friend.”

He was turning into the driveway as he finished. She stayed quiet until he had stopped the car, then touched his arm, drawing his attention to her.

“Friends,” she repeated with a small smile. “I’d like that. I was afraid things would be awkward but being friends sounds good. I was kind of hoping that’s why you offered me a ride.”

Jacob struggled to push a matching smile to his lips even when his heart was breaking again, right along the same old fracture lines. Why had he imagined anything different? She’d been all too clear when she had broken up with him. He was such a fool…

“Can you help me take the heavy suitcase inside?” she asked as she opened her door. “I’ll just leave the other one in the trunk ‘til Alex picks me up.”

Jacob’s thoughts flew as they got out of the car. So, her brother was picking her up; Jacob knew that he was the only member of her family still in town. Her parents had left long ago, following their youngest to a region where demons were unheard of. Did that mean Kirsten would be staying with her brother? He could have asked, he supposed. It was territory covered by a ‘friends’ relationship, wasn’t it? So why did he feel so reluctant to question her?

Before he could decide whether to ask or not, Kirsten was already walking up to the door, looking back once to see if he was following. Shaking himself, Jacob grabbed the suitcase and went after her. She paused two feet past the door and looked at him again.

“You know the way to Andrew’s office,” Jacob said, unsure why she was hesitating now.

“I do, but it’s different. He wasn’t my boss back when…”

Jacob was glad she didn’t finish; he didn’t want to know how she would have ended that sentence.

“This way.”

He passed in front of her and led her past the agency’s front desk. He set the suitcase down in front of the door on the left; in his mind, it’d always been Julie’s office even when she herself had called it the ‘library.’ Maybe things would change now that it was Kirsten’s space. He pushed the door on the right open. Andrew’s office was lit, but empty. The sound of battling swords still rising from the training room gave a hint of where he might be.

“Have a seat,” he told Kirsten. “I’ll get him for you.”

“Thank you. And thanks again for the ride.”

Her arm brushed against him as she entered the office. The touch was fleeting, and still Jacob’s jaw clenched hard enough to hurt. He’d missed her so much…

Shaking the thought off, he took long strides to the training room. Vinnie was gone; he’d return in the evening for patrols. Andrew’s new sparring partner was Nicholas, though they seemed to be playing more than anything else, each of them holding the sword with their left hand while they were both right-handed, and the same wide grin etched on their faces.

“Kirsten’s waiting for you in your office,” Jacob said coolly.

When he’d been a small child, his dads’ obvious affection for each other had always made him feel happy. As he had grown older, it had sometimes embarrassed him, especially when they’d been a little too demonstrative in public. As the years passed, however, he’d started to hope he would share the same thing they had with someone, someday. And he had, for a few short years. To see now the reminder of what he’d had with Kirsten but lost tightened his heart.

Andrew paused by him, just long enough to hand him the training sword and pat his shoulder, but he didn’t say anything before he left the room. Jacob tightened his hand over the hilt. A bit more sparring sounded like a great idea; anything to clear his mind. He pulled his shoes and socks off and shrugged out of his shirt, aware that Nicholas was observing his every move.

“You could have said no,” Nicholas said softly when Jacob took position in front of him.

Jacob raised his sword, waiting for Nicholas to make the first attack. “We need her.”

“We do.” Nicholas’ sword still pointed to the floor. “But you could still have said no. We’d have found someone else. Someone who won’t break your heart every day.”

Glancing at the open door, Jacob shook his head. “Dad… just… let it go, okay?” He made himself meet Nicholas’ eyes. “Me and her, it’s over. That’s all there is to it.”

His dad didn’t believe him, Jacob could tell as much, but Nicholas didn’t say anything and swung the sword instead, a slow, weak move to start. It wasn’t long before they got to the real fighting, and by the time they were done Kirsten had left and Jacob’s mind was quiet again. His heart, though, still hurt as much.

https://books2read.com/FLullabies http://books2read.com/Lullabies2 https://books2read.com/CS

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