Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 14

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

14. Connections

Ammad smiled as he made his way through the crowd towards Father. The formal announcement of the nikkah naama’s terms, including the money bestowed on Shizuka for her support, had gone flawlessly despite the disaster with Their Majesties’ representative and the miso. Mori had been quite gratified to learn that his support was included in the contract. Gentle Rain had beamed at the offer of a job handling Breding Manor’s books. And even though Keiko had shown up last for the actual signing, she’d been visibly delighted by everything that Nabeela and Shizuka had agreed upon for their marriage.

His face ached, stiff and painful from his fixed smile. Sixteen comments about his ‘private dinner with Keiko’ and counting had him on the verge of bellowing at them all to get out, wedding or no wedding. As one of the guests, a friend of Duke Laughing Seal’s who had sailed up specifically to wish Shizuka and Nabeela the best, caught Ammad’s elbow, Ammad swallowed down the anger and tried to make sure his smile wasn’t completely stony.

“It appears your lovely lady is here,” Falling Star said, nodding towards the door to the ballroom.

“She isn’t my lady,” Ammad said, automatically glancing that way. He turned and looked again because yes, Keiko was there along with Haruka but it was Rina trailing in behind Lady Tamami who caught his attention.

Her kimono was a luscious rose that made her dark skin glow. She’d topped it with golden hakama that moved around her much like Nabeela’s best skirts, the ones that shifted and danced as if they were alive. Keiko and Haruka moved towards the windows with Lady Tamami but Rina scanned the crowd as if looking for someone.

Their eyes met across the room. Ammad’s heart clenched at the way Rina blushed, ducked her head and then raised it again, slowly, staring into his eyes as if she wanted to memorize him standing there with his mouth open. He snapped his mouth shut, waving at Falling Star’s puzzled question about what he’d seen that made him look that way.
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Free Fiction Friday: Darkness Rising

POD Darkness Rising Ebook Cover 02
Description:
Kia’s life revolved around the monsters that stalked her tribe every night. The Dark killed at will and there was nothing that Kia could do. Until one night, Kia’s anger overwhelmed her fear. Her life went on a different path, one that she could never have anticipated. Defender of her tribe, Kia bided her time until she discovered a weakness in the Dark that promised everyone freedom.

Darkness Rising is a moody science fiction story set in humanity’s ancient past where one woman’s life made a huge difference in humanity’s development and in first contact with a mysterious alien race.

Darkness Rising

By Meyari McFarland

1. Night

Kia watched quietly, nibbling on her bottom lip as Chinara took a fresh incense cone and gently set it on the family altar. Her hands didn’t shake the way Fola’s had when she put the dates on the altar. Chinara’s hands were steady. Her voice was calm as she prayed to the Gods to grant them good weather, bountiful harvests and freedom from the Dark. It felt wrong for her to be so calm. She should be angry, like Kia.

Outside, Kia heard the strange echoing sounds of impacts that always came from the Dark’s ravine. They were such a normal part of her life that she barely noticed them. Since Mother and Father had been taken by the Dark the sounds seemed louder, more threatening. Kia had tried banging rocks and wood together but nothing made the same hollow booming sound that the Dark’s hammering did. It was if they hammered on something completely different from the familiar wood, rock and earth that surrounded Kia.

“Will you set the flame, Kia?” Chinara asked.

“Can I?” Kia asked, surprised. “I thought I wasn’t big enough yet.”

“It’s just the three of us,” Chinara sighed, her smile so sad that Fola put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I think it’s okay as long as you’re careful.”

“I’ll be very careful!” Kia exclaimed.

She scrambled up from her cushion by the fire, coming over to take the little lamp from Chinara. It was heavier than she expected. The rosy quartz crystal base chilled her fingers and filled both her hands. Fola poured a puddle of oil in the hollowed out center of the base. Kia let her tongue poke out of her lips between the gap where her front tooth had fallen out, concentrating hard as Chinara carefully lit the little puddle of oil for her.

“Just set it on the altar, Kia,” Chinara said, “right between the dates and the incense.”

“Okay,” Kia said.

Kia had to stand on her toes to set the lamp on the altar. She was very careful to make sure that the lamp didn’t slosh to the sides, spilling the oil and fire. Chinara smiled as Kia stepped back, resting her hands on Kia’s shoulders. Fola patted Kia’s shoulder and smiled too but her smile was wobbly and sad, not confident and reassuring.

“Do you know the words?” Chinara asked.

“Uh-uh,” Kia said. “Say them for me?”

“Of course,” Chinara laughed. “Just repeat after me, okay?”

She took a deep breath as she stared at the lamp for a long moment. Chinara carefully picked up the incense cone and touched the tip of it to the flame, holding it there until it began to smolder. A long thread of smoke curled towards the ceiling of their cave. Kia watched with Chinara and Fola as the smoke built in the dark spot over the altar before slowly flowing like an upside down river towards the smoke hole that led outside.

“Protect and defend us,” Chinara said, looking back down at Kia. “Keep us safe so that we may bear the flame to the next generation.”

Kia repeated the words along with Fola, her tongue stumbling a little on ‘generation’ but Chinara didn’t seem to mind. She tugged both Fola and Kia back over to the cushions, sitting with Kia in her arms. Her arms were thinner and harder than they had been before Mother and Father went to the Dark. Chinara’s belly was flatter, too. It made her hip bones poke into Kia’s side but she was warm and that was nice enough that Kia didn’t complain.

A wail sounded outside, faint and distant. It sounded so far away that Kia wondered if it was out on the plains instead of in one of the other caves. No one lived on the plains, though, so that didn’t make sense. It was too dangerous out there with the Dark and lions and crocodiles and hippos. Chinara’s arms went hard and tight around Kia’s back, tugging her so close that Kia protested.

“Hush,” Chinara whispered.

“Chinara!” Fola hissed. “What do we do? There’s no one to defend us now. We’re all alone.”

“Hush!” Chinara repeated. “We stay quiet. We stay still. We don’t go out at night. We’ll be fine.”

“Should have gone to live with Duna,” Fola muttered but she said it very quietly.
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Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 13

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

13. Laughter

Why was it different? Keiko turned around so that she wouldn’t stare at Lady Tamami’s body. It shouldn’t be different. Her entire life she’d bathed with her parents and sisters. She swam with the other people in town in the river along with the rest of town. A naked body was just a naked body.

But somehow Lady Tamami naked was something entirely different from anyone else. She was strong, muscles defining her arms, legs and stomach, with small breasts that were tight and high. There were scars along her forearms, one long one across her right thigh. Those stood out pale against Tamami’s dark skin. Still, it wasn’t the same because Rina had scars too, many similar ones on her forearms, and one longer one across her left ribcage and those didn’t make Keiko’s mouth go dry and her heart beat faster.

It took Keiko a moment to register that Lady Tamami had spoken. Keiko blushed as she looked over her shoulder because Lady Tamami stood right there, naked as the day she was born, staring at Keiko with a worried frown.

“Ah, sumimasen,” Keiko said and then flapped her hands because whatever her emotions were doing to her had to stop. “I should go. I should. Their Majesty’s representative is here and ah, well, you should get warm too, Lady Tamami.”

“If you’ve seen me naked I think you can stop using my title,” Lady Tamami said with a little snort of amusement.

Behind her Rina coughed so obviously that Keiko’s ears began to burn. Lady Tamami turned to stare at Rina, giving Keiko a view of the hard lines of her back and the flattened curve of her rear end. Keiko stared despite her best intentions, abruptly realizing that this was lust. It wasn’t curiosity or embarrassment or anything other than pure lust for Lady Tamami.

“I should go!” Keiko gasped, the words coming much higher than normal.

“You’re an idiot, Tamami,” Rina said, opening her eyes to stare so flatly at the two of them that Keiko winced along with Lady Tamami.

“What?” Lady Tamami asked. “What am I missing?”
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Free Fiction Friday: Dragon Rider’s Song

POD Dragon Rider's Song Ebook Cover 03

Description:

Young dragon rider Amynta returned to her senator mother Timo’s home expecting conflict, the possibility of good food and a very nice bath. Instead she found the lovely Pallas, a mysterious visitor to her mother’s home.

Dinner brought a request that Amynta hadn’t expected along with possibilities that Amynta had given up on years ago. Perhaps with Pallas’ help Amynta might fly beyond her mother’s domain to make her own life.

Dragon Rider’s Song is a sweet fantasy romance between two young women whose lives revolve around dragons and the songs they use to communicate.

Dragon Rider’s Song

By Meyari McFarland

1. Guest

Amynta strode into her mother, Timo’s, home, shedding her helmet and shield with noisy clangs that sent the servants scurrying. Amynta kicked aside her greaves with a sigh of relief that she didn’t bother to hide. Breastplate, pauldron and the heavy leather coat that protected her from dragon fire and freezing at altitude went next. She paused at the threshold of the kitchen to unlace her heavy boots so that she could kick them off.

“Oh.”

The low musical word startled Amynta enough that she lost her balance and toppled to the red, yellow and blue painted tiles. A sea foam green floor-length stola filled her eyes as she swept her gaze upwards to a delicate burnt umber hand adorned by slender gold rings. The lovely young woman had a pair of laughing golden-brown eyes framed by perfect chestnut curls.

“Ah, hello?” Amynta said as she scrambled back to her feet. “Sorry, I didn’t know that Mother, I mean Timo, I mean Senator Timo was hosting guests right now.”

She couldn’t help but be acutely aware of the differences between Amynta and her mother’s beautiful guest. While the gorgeous young woman was immaculately dressed, perfectly coifed with stylish curls, Amynta now wore only her partially unlaced boots, breast bindings and underwear. After hours in her helmet, Amynta knew that her hair had to be a bird’s nest of tangles. Sweat had long since soaked through all the layers of her clothes so Amynta had to be painfully pungent.

Embarrassment made Amynta’s cheeks heat. She’d gotten used to stripping as soon as she and Blood Blossom, her dragon, got home to the barracks. It had been automatic to do the same here even though this wasn’t the barracks and her mother hated it when Amynta stripped on the way in. For the first time Amynta understood her mother’s objections, if only because it would have been nice to have made a better first impression.

“Must you scatter your armor everywhere when you come in?” Timo asked as she stalked over, delicate sandals sounding more like heavy boots with the impact of her heels. She held Amynta’s coat in two fingers, extended to arm’s reach, as if it might infect her. “The servants don’t appreciate cleaning up after you, Amynta. You are a woman grown. I would appreciate if you would attempt to learn how to behave like an adult.”

“And you don’t appreciate me walking around the house stinking of sweat and dragon fire,” Amynta snarled as she snatched the coat out of Timo’s fingers. Just like Timo to try to make Amynta look bad in front of someone she might be interested in. “By Blood Blossom’s shell, I’ve heard your thoughts about ‘responsible adulthood’ a thousand times. Guest?”

Amynta gestured towards the young woman who watched the two of them as though she was at the theatre. Fortunately, she didn’t seem upset by Amynta’s semi-nudity, Timo’s hostility or this round of their never-ending arguments about Amynta’s choice of career. If anything, she seemed fascinated.

The foyer carried their words through the house. It opened on the other hallways and rooms and was specifically designed for letting the servants know that someone had arrived. Timo couldn’t have picked a better location to let Amynta know that she had not been forgiven. Not that it mattered to Amynta if the entire town knew that she was still at odds with her powerful mother. Everyone already knew that, from the town mayor on down to the servants who poked their heads into the foyer to frown at Amynta.

“Yes, I have a guest,” Timo drawled as she nodded graciously towards her guest. “Her name is Pallas and she’s come from the Academy to study the copies of Ferenius’ histories in our private library. I presume that you’ll never see her again because of it. There are other guests, as well, who are likely to take you for a prostitute if you walk around without clothing.”

“More likely they’d take me for a warrior or field slave,” Amynta snorted. “No prostitute has ever had my muscles, at least not the female ones.”

Pallas tried to smother a shocked giggle behind her hand, eyes gone almost true gold with amusement when Amynta turned to look at her. She didn’t seem offended at all by the hostility between Amynta and Timo, thank the Fire Gods. Timo glared at Amynta, eyes so narrow that Amynta would have braced for attack if it was anyone else.
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Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 12

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

12. Shopping

Breding Village was actually a fairly sizable town. Tamami looked around as she strolled behind Rina. Unlike Metchosin, spread along the shore and only occasionally creeping up the steep hills behind it, the people of Breding Village had carved their homes into the hillside. Terraces curved around the cliff that led up to Breding Manor, each one holding a house, a tiny field that was far too dry for this time of year, or a shop.

It was a nice mix, too, with Japanese top-heavy thatched roofs mixing in with native longhouses, all of them bracketed by squat Pakistani-inspired homes with steep roofs instead of the more traditional flat ones. Not that a flat roof would work here. The rains that swept over the sound would flood a flat roof and drench the occupants.

They’d left the manor not long after Shizuka arrived with a tray of breakfast and a thousand apologies on her lips. To Rina’s embarrassment, not Tamami’s, Shizuka had seen Tamami’s makeshift bed and apologized even more.

Of course, then she’d immediately fixed the problem by showing them that there were proper futon in the bench under their too-soft beds and explained that she would have the servants set up futon for them from now on. Tamami had barely had time to sketch a bow of thanks before Shizuka hurried out of the room again, even more apologies on her lips.

“What do you think?” Rina asked.

“What?” Tamami blinked and then came over to study the buckwheat hull pillows that Rina had found in one shop. “Not bad. And we could bring them home with us.”

They were good pillows, not like the huge fluffy things they’d been given at Breding Manor. Each cylindrical pillow was about two hands’ length long, about five inches in diameter, stuffed with buckwheat hulls until they were nearly solid. Just right for properly supporting your neck. Tamami nodded. That’s what they needed to sleep properly.

“That was my thought,” Rina agreed. “Nice and firm and they have some lovely covers.”

Rina sighed at the way Tamami frowned, waving a hand against Tamami’s disbelief. Why cover them? The pillows looked quite sturdy and they were new, no stains, no worn spots. The merchant smiled at Rina so approvingly that Tamami shrugged and let her do as she willed. There really didn’t seem to be that much difference between the covers Rina laid out. One was indigo blue with Sashiko embroidery in a basket pattern. Another had a resist dye flower on it. The third was half indigo blue, half white.

“Which do you like better?” Rina asked, holding all three of them up and studying them in the light that had filtered through the clouds.
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Free Fiction Friday: Moon of the Sea

Obviously I need to schedule these Friday posts in advance. I got busy with the holidays and completely forgot to get my Friday posts up. So have one last story for 2016. I’ll do my best to pre-schedule everything for 2017. Happy New Years everyone!

POD Moon of the Sea Ebook Cover 03

Description:

Sisters in Conflict

Badra and Rida had spent years fishing the moonlit seas together but their relationship was as unstable as their tiny fishing boat adrift in a gale. Badra had done her best for her sister. They had a home. They had work. There was hope for the future.

Rida was not satisfied. All the silent resentment and worry that they had carefully avoided over the years came to a head when their nets pulled up a Moon of the Sea. The rare deadly fish promised wealth beyond their wildest dreams. It threatened to destroy them both at the same time.

Moon of the Sea is a story of family, sisters and finding what matters to you in the midst of dire emergencies.

Moon of the Sea

“Good catch,” Rida grunted as she hauled on the nets.

The moon hung overhead, stained red by the summer fires blazing in the hills. Badra ignored her. Her hands burned from the salt coating the nets sinking into the rope burns and tiny cuts layered over her palms. In front of them fish jumped and splashed, churning the water’s surface as they attempted to escape the net’s tightening embrace.

She could have sworn that she smelled the fishes’ fear, tasted their desperation as the water slipped away from them only to cram them next to their fellows. Scales rubbing against each other, eyes rolling, flippers flailing at the emptiness where water should be; they flailed desperately as they tried to find their way back to the ocean that was their home. Badra blinked and shook her head hard.

Romanticizing the fish they needed to survive was foolish, especially with Rida by her side. Sister or not, Rida was never and would never be her ally by her own choice. Rida frowned at her, eyes quicksilver bright in the darkness of the night. Moon-fishing had never been her favored work. She far preferred the sunlit fish, larger and stronger, caught on rod and reel.

“Badra?”

“Focus,” Badra snarled at her. “Don’t let the nets slack.”
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Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 11

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

11. Responsibilities

“Do we have all the paperwork for the nikkah naama?” Ammad asked. “The contract, financial documents, agreements of duties?”

“Drink your tea,” Shizuka said, pointing sternly at the steaming cup that Ammad had abandoned to rifle through stacks of paper they would need to sign today. “Their Majesty’s representative hasn’t arrived yet. Father and Mother aren’t here yet, either. You have time to eat.”

Ammad sighed as Nabeela passed the cup of tea back to him. Her smirk was entirely too smug for this time of the morning. Sadly, Father’s smile was nearly as annoying while Shahzad looked as though he wanted to laugh and Father’s new apprentices openly grinned at him.

Fortunately, the servants were gone already, off setting up breakfast for the guests and arranging entertainment for them throughout the day. As much as Ammad wished that he could spend the day dealing with normal matters, such as the eight treaties that sat on his desk or the three legal cases that needed to be reviewed, he already knew that his day was destined to be split between Their Majesties’ representative and wedding socializing.

It was the socializing that he resented. Ammad sipped his tea, rifling through the paperwork with one hand. Even with Lady Tamami, Keiko and Rina’s help, he knew that there would be endless commentary on which young person he liked the most and how ‘wonderful’ if would be if ‘one wedding begat another’. If Waseem said that again Ammad might just scream.

“Food, too,” Shizuka said, pushing Ammad away from the table with the paperwork. “Ammad. Eat something!”

“I will, I promise,” Ammad complained. Nabeela’s stern look prompted a wince. He allowed Shizuka to guide him to the table where their food was laid out. “Is there a reason I’m being bullied today?”

“Other than questions about where you disappeared last night with Keiko?” Shizuka asked. She snorted at his glare. “No. You didn’t eat breakfast yesterday. Today will be incredibly busy so lunch is unlikely. And I know you’re going to be occupied with the guests when the dinner buffet is running. Eat your breakfast so that I don’t spend all day worrying about you fainting from hunger.”

Ammad took a deep breath, bit his tongue against the urge to tell Shizuka that he didn’t need to have her fuss over him, and sat down with his family. It wasn’t a complicated breakfast, thank goodness. Naan, cheese and sliced strawberries made the centerpiece with tiny bowls of miso soup laden with salty seaweed, an addition to breakfast since Shizuka’s acceptance of Nabeela’s hand.

Once he sat, Shizuka moved around the table so that she could sit next to Nabeela, their knees brushing together. Father smile at that and then raised an eyebrow at Ammad. Rather than answer immediately, Ammad drank his miso and then carefully chewed the seaweed.

“Ammad,” Father said.

“Yes?”

“There was a question asked,” Father said, his smile going a bit stern.
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Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 10

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

10. Sisters

Keiko shifted, rolling from her back to her side. Something tickled her nose. She mumbled and batted it away only to jerk awake as Haruka whined and elbowed Keiko in the stomach. The something was the end of Haruka’s braid, tickling her nose.

She flipped it over Haruka’s shoulder and rolled back onto her back. Everything was quiet. She couldn’t hear Father’s faintly bubbly snores but she could hear Mother muttering in her sleep so their parents had to be okay in the other bedroom. Strange to have separate bedrooms. Keiko was used to sleeping with Mother and Father right there, in the same room with them.

After a moment, Keiko blinked and turned to look at Haruka. She’d started out on her own futon, with her own blankets. When they set up the futons, with Shizuka’s laughing help, Haruka had been excited about the thought of not sharing a futon with anyone.

“Go back to your bed,” Keiko whispered to Haruka.

“Too cold,” Haruka mumbled.

She rolled over and wrapped her arms around Keiko’s waist. Keiko snorted but tugged the blankets until they were both covered fully. It had been a little cold to sleep by herself. Of course, it had been just as strange to sleep with just the two of them when Shizuka went off to be an apprentice. Even a year later Keiko still expected Shizuka’s whistling snores early in the night and the way she woke instantly and cheerfully in the morning.

“I’ll miss this,” Haruka whispered.

“Why?” Keiko murmured. “What? Sleeping? You sleep every night, silly.”

“No, I’ll miss having my sister right here every night,” Haruka said, far too seriously and far too awake for the early hour.
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Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 9

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

9. Morning After

Tamami rubbed her face against her too-large, too-soft pillow. Her head throbbed. The knots in her neck and shoulders felt as though they were made of steel bands twisted and crimped until they looked like overly twisted rope. And her back felt as though she’d been stabbed multiple times at the base of her spine.

She rolled over and groaned as the bed squished underneath her. Something smacked her feet. Tamami started to sit up only to collapse back down when she realized that it was Rina, glaring at her.

“You need to sleep on the floor,” Rina grumbled. “All night, back and forth, rolling over, groaning, snores like a saw ripping through hardwood. Just take a blanket and sleep on the floor tonight.”

“I might,” Tamami said instead of her usual litany of ‘it wasn’t that bad, you’re making things up’. “I hurt.”

“It is far too soft,” Rina agreed with a deep sigh that Tamami completely understood. “These pillows are ridiculous. I’m talking to the servants today. If they don’t have any proper block pillows or at least buckwheat hull ones I’m going down to the village to get some there.”

“I’d go with you,” Tamami said only to snicker at the way Rina smacked her shins with the too-big pillow.

“No, you have formalities to attend to here,” Rina said. “Is it morning?”

The room was dark enough that Tamami didn’t know. She sat up and shifted the curtain of their window, peering outside. Clouds had rolled in sometime after the party ended. They loomed, thick and dark, over the manor. But it was light enough that it had to be morning, if not, perhaps, a time when she would normally wake up.

“Clouds came in,” Tamami murmured. “Looks like early morning. Don’t see anyone out on the road to town though.”

“Mm.”

Rina rolled off the long bench-like bed they’d been given, automatically brushing her sleeping kimono back into place. She went to the door and peeked outside, snorted, and then came back to start pulling Tamami’s blankets off her.

“What?” Tamami said as she tried to tug the blankets back.

“It’s too early for the servants to be up,” Rina said. “Which means that it must be four or five in the morning. You need to sleep on the floor if you’re going to be worth anything today and I want to actually sleep for a bit longer. Give me the blankets. I’ll make you a bed on the floor and you’ll sleep better.”

The throbbing in Tamami’s head told her to shut up, do as she was told and go back to sleep. Instinct and long habit of arguing with Rina said the opposite. After a moment Tamami sighed. She peered at the corners of the room suspiciously.

“There aren’t bugs,” Rina groaned. “I’ve already checked.”
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Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 8

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
Description:

As her older sister’s wedding begins, Keiko struggles to cope with a level of society she has never prepared for. Raised a peasant, Keiko is now a member of nobility. Despite that, she longs for the simplicity of her rural peasant life but her family’s choices mean that Keiko will never go home again.

Worse, everyone at the wedding assumes that Keiko will marry her future brother-in-law, Ammad, despite Keiko’s fascination with the visiting Lady Tamami.

Following the Trail is a sweet romance where cruel gossip and sheer determination create a trail to a new life that promises everything Keiko could ever want.

Following the Trail

By Meyari McFarland

8. Private Dinner

The private sitting room was cool, thank goodness. Set on the east side of the manor, well away from the ballroom and its hive of activity, it hadn’t had a fire made. Possibly for several days. The weather had been so unseasonably warm and dry that most of the guests had spent their time outside rather than in here or the other sitting rooms.

Better still, as far as Ammad was concerned, it was a Japanese style sitting room with a low table surrounded by thin cushions. The floor had been covered by tatami mats, giving the room a pleasant grassy smell that was all the better this evening. He set their pilfered tray on the table and gestured for Rina to set her kotatsu on the floor close to them.

“Thank you,” Rina said. “If you would pass me the teapot, Keiko?”

“Of course.”

Keiko and Rina settled down, both kneeling with their kimono and hakama, respectively, tucked close to their legs. Lady Tamami smiled at the two of them as she helped Ammad spread their pilfered food on the table. Not that it was actually stolen but Kosuke had been quite annoyed by the request for a separate pot of nihari, another of soup and then naan to soak it all up. He’d glowered at both Lady Tamami and Ammad while behind his back Rina and Keiko had calmly gathered sweet mochi, a simple cabbage salad and tea for them to drink.

It was worth it, though. Ammad smiled as he sat, legs crossed, and passed chopsticks to Lady Tamami. She bowed as she took them, glanced towards Rina and Keiko and then snagged a bit of elk out of the nihari. He grinned but didn’t follow suit.

“We’re almost ready,” Keiko huffed. “Just a moment and we’ll have tea to go with dinner.”

“Pity there wasn’t some other wine,” Lady Tamami said around her bit of elk. “Blackberry’s too sweet for this.”

“It truly is,” Ammad agreed. “But most people expect it at parties so we always serve it. We’re saving the sake for the wedding, of course. I think we have at least twenty barrels, not including the ones going to the shrine to thank the priest for his work in marrying Nabeela and Shizuka.”

Keiko settled next to Ammad, leaving Rina with the spot directly opposite him. It was probably the most appropriate way for them to sit. Rina was Lady Tamami’s relative so sitting next to her was right. Still, Ammad wouldn’t have objected even if it were massively inappropriate. Getting to watch Rina’s face as they ate was an opportunity that Ammad wouldn’t pass up. Lady Tamami seemed to feel the same way about Keiko because she smiled, ducked her head and then grinned as she tried to sneak another bite of the elk.

“Oh, just serve some out!” Keiko huffed as she batted Lady Tamami’s chopsticks away.

“Tastes better when you steal it from the pot,” Lady Tamami said.
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