Now Available: Door in the Wind!


Description:
Wind whipped around them, icy one second and then dry as a desert the next. Akuchi stood firm against it.

The door in the wind blasted them, carrying threat from another world. Or perhaps that threat had already come through with the creeping unnatural moss coating the glade around them.

Whatever the threat, Akuchi hoped that he could deal with it. Otherwise, his soulbond Prince Cyrille was doomed.

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Whoot! Another Now Available post in a timely fashion! Look at me on a feeble little roll. *grin*

This is the second of my series of epic fantasy short stories, this time with the team fighting a monster from another dimension instead of a god. Hope you enjoy if you choose to read!

Posted in Gods Above and Below, LGBT Issues, MDR Publishing, Self Publishing, Writing Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Novel Monday: Crafting Home – Chapter 10

POD Crafting Home Ebook Cover 06
Description:
Everyone has plans for Haruka’s life. They assume she’ll marry her best friend Shahzad, youngest son of Lord Bilal of Breding Manor. They assume she’s a pretty face with no mind or will of her own.

Fatima’s plans for her life had fallen apart around her ears. Her father and twin sister Zainab were at each other’s throats, no matter how Fatima tried to keep the peace.

Then Fatima’s father, Count Rafi, offered her hand in marriage to Haruka with the assumption that Haruka would be delighted to accept. After a swift, firm denial, it was up to Haruka and Fatima to craft a future together that held not just their happiness but their families’ as well.

Crafting Home is a sweet romance where patience and determination bring the rewards both girls seek.

Crafting Home
By Meyari McFarland

10. Bedtime

“You’re happy,” Zainab murmured as they wrapped the heavy blankets around their bodies.

Their suite had cooled dramatically during dinner. So much so that Fatima had insisted that Father take the little charcoal heater in his bedroom. She’d also insisted on hot bricks for under his blankets and that one of the servants come check on him during the night. Lady Shizuka had agreed so readily to Fatima’s requirements that Fatima suspected that every single guest would be checked over the night.

The weather was only getting colder.

Rather than waste another precious heater in their bedroom, Fatima and Zainab had combined their beds into one. Doubling the mattresses made a cocoon that all but swallowed Fatima alive as she snuggled into it. Their two layers of futon had four thinner blankets between them, plus a pair of hot bricks wrapped in beautiful cloths at their feet.

“It’s warm,” Fatima crooned. “So lovely soft and warm. I want to do this at home.”

Zainab laughed as she curled under the blankets and then sighed. “All right. It is warm. This is nicer than I expected. Except my nose.”

“Mmm-hmm,” Fatima agreed, snuggling even further down into the blankets until her nose and mouth were covered. Her breath added puffs of moist heat to the nest of blankets. “It is cold.”

Zainab laughed again. Her hand slithered through the blankets until she found Fatima’s wrist. Then her fingers crept down, then up, Fatima’s arm until she could grip Fatima’s hand. She squeezed harder than Fatima would have expected, even with the extremely obvious attention she and Haruka had gotten at dinner.

That had been unexpected. Not the attention Fatima had gotten. People paying attention to her was not unusual at all. She was heir to Skagit Manor, the future Countess. What had been odd was how closely the other dinner guests had watched Fatima and Haruka interact.

And, frankly, how much that seemed to have bothered Haruka.

Given their interactions earlier, Fatima would have assumed that Haruka would laugh and talk and smile through the dinner, charming everyone. Instead she’d been as silent as Fatima. More significantly, she’d barely eaten at all.

The food had been so good that Fatima had eaten twice what she normally would. Haruka, however, seemed to have inherited Fatima’s nervous stomach. She’d poked and prodded her food, barely met anyone’s eyes, and barely spoken. It was such a change from Haruka’s normal behavior that Fatima was unsure what had happened.

Well, that was a lie. She wanted to believe that it was because Haruka had come to care about her. That Fatima was somehow winning over Haruka’s heart. It was silly, ridiculous, and yet Fatima gave herself a moment to dream that exactly that had happened.

“You’re giggling,” Zainab murmured.

“I most certainly am not,” Fatima replied, keeping her voice low so that Father wouldn’t overhear.

“Oh, you’re giggling,” Zainab said, just as quietly, as respectfully and wasn’t that a change? She’d been so rude to Father lately that the care was shocking. “That’s what I mean. You’re happy. It’s been… I can’t even remember how long it’s been since you giggled this way.”

Fatima still, pushing up out of the covers enough that she could stare into Zainab’s eyes. Her twin was serious, smiling ever so faintly even though the lines around her mouth looked pinched and a little frown wrinkle lingered between her eyebrows, nearly hidden by the downy threads of hair there.

“Things have been hard,” Fatima whispered, clutching Zainab’s hand. “I haven’t felt like laughing.”

“None of us have,” Zainab sighed.

She shut her eyes, closing them so tightly that a spider web of wrinkles formed at the corners of her eyes. The wrinkles made Zainab look so much older, nearly as old as Mother, and sad. And lonely.

“What’s wrong?” Fatima asked as she ran a gentle finger over the web of wrinkles on Zainab’s face. “Was it something I said?”

“No!” Zainab huffed. Her eyes opened. She glared at Fatima but there was more concern in her gaze than anger. “You aren’t to blame for everything, Fati. It’s, you’re, it’s not your fault. Any of it.”

Her vehemence faded as Fatima stared. Zainab flushed, cheeks going blotchy, and then curled into herself until she was nearly hidden by the blankets. Even her eyes were hidden, leaving just a loose braid and the top of Zainab’s head poking out.

Fatima’s stomach clenched around the very good dinner. What had Zainab and Father said while Fatima was gone? Had they finally started talking? The dinner had been remarkably quiet given the battles that Fatima had gotten used to.

Frankly, she’d assumed that it was having company present combined with being in someone else’s home. Even at her angriest, Zainab usually didn’t pick fights when she was visiting someone else. That was reserved for home. This morning’s battles had as much to do with the unexpected and inappropriate marriage proposal as they did with anything else. At least Fatima had thought so.

“All right,” Fatima finally said, still somewhat stunned by Zainab hiding her face as if they’d switched places. “But that doesn’t answer my question. What’s wrong?”

Zainab groaned. She let Fatima’s hand go so that she could roll onto her belly and hide her face in the large soft pillows they’d been given. Fatima snorted a laugh despite herself. It had been a very, very long time since Zainab had hidden this way.

Rather than let it continue, Fatima poked Zainab in the side. That got a grunt so Fatima did it again, then again, each time getting another grunt. Fatima started laughing, quietly, softly, heart singing at having her beloved sister back from the raging Wendigo that had taken Zainab’s place lately.

“Fati,” Zainab groaned when Fatima tried to wiggle her fingers into the neck of Zainab’s sleep shirt.

“Tell me!” Fatima giggled.

“You’re being silly,” Zainab complained.

She sounded very serious but when she lifted her face her lips twitched with amusement and her eyes had smile wrinkles radiating from the corners. Fatima grinned and laughed as she kept gently poking and teasing Zainab.

“Oh, come here,” Zainab huffed as she held her arms open for a hug.

Fatima snuggled into Zainab’s arms, sighing happily at the warmth and comfort of being held. This hadn’t happened for entirely too long, too. Ever since Mother announced her intention to leave there hadn’t been hugs. Or laughter. Or even grieving except maybe the anger and fighting was Father and Zainab’s method of dealing with their grief for Mother leaving them all behind.

Hiding herself in paperwork had worked well for Fatima. It was quiet and calm and productive. She’d been able to contribute to everyone by making sure that Skagit Manor’s paperwork was perfect, that they were prepared for any disasters or questions that came their way. And she’d truly enjoyed making sure that the law was applied fairly, evenly, with justice for everyone in their province.

Haruka had watched Fatima with open admiration in the library, too.

The memory of Haruka’s eyes, wide and warm, prompted a groan out of Fatima. Really, she should let the crush go. In a week or two, after the cold snap passed, Fatima likely wouldn’t see Haruka again.

She would go home, back to Skagit Manor and her duties. Father would work to find someone else appropriate for Fatima to marry. And Fatima would do it, always providing that the person was kind and gentle and didn’t yell at her. No matter who they were, Fatima didn’t want to marry someone who yelled.

Haruka yelled but only a little bit, only to get her point across. But not really. She hadn’t even yelled at Father during that so-awkward first meeting. Snapped, yes, but not yelled. It had felt like yelling, bellowing even, but that was nerves, not reality.

“You really like her,” Zainab murmured into Fatima’s hair. Her arms tightened around Fatima’s back. “You never gave any of the others a second look.”

“Others?” Fatima asked, startled enough that she pulled back so that she could meet Zainab’s eyes. “What others? No one else has offered for me. And Father hasn’t offered us to anyone else.”

“Yes, there were,” Zainab said, staring at Fatima, brows twisted together so that she looked as though she had only the one brow instead of two. “Lots. Mother was always telling them to push off and set sail, that we weren’t available.”

“No,” Fatima breathed, heart skipping a beat. “Who? Zai, I had no idea anyone had offered for me! I mean, I know you had a couple of warriors interested but not me. No one has been interested in me.”

The way Zainab stared, mouth open, eyes wide and then narrowed as if Zainab wondered whether or not Fatima was teasing her, brought a blush up Fatima’s cheeks. It couldn’t be true. Haruka had said that it had to be but Fatima hadn’t believed her. She didn’t believe it now, either. No one had been interested in her. Fatima would have heard about it if they were.

“Um.”

Zainab shook her head, started to sit up and then hissed as she scooted back down under the covers. The aborted movement sent a wave of cold under the blankets to claw at Fatima. She squawked and pulled the blankets closer, trying to conserve the warm spot they’d built up.

Maybe telling the servants that they didn’t want a heater was a bad idea after all. A nice mass heater would be lovely right now.

“As far as I know,” Zainab mumbled into the blankets, rubbing her arms, “you’ve gotten five or six times as many offers as I have. Most of Mother’s rages were about people far too old offering for your hand. I was there last year when four separate nobles tried to convince Mother than a twenty and thirty year difference wasn’t something to object to.”

“Oh ew,” Fatima complained. “I think I remember that. Were they the ones that Mother went after with a sword?”

“No, different group,” Zainab said. She grinned. “But yes, that group offered for you, too. Didn’t she tell you about the offers?”

“No, never,” Fatima said as she rubbed the tip of her nose. It was cold. “Father never said anything, either. I thought no one had offered at all.”

Zainab shorted and shook her head as if Fatima was being ridiculous. “Of course you’ve had offers. You’re the heir. You’ll be Countess in time. Maybe soon if Father’s… well. Maybe soon.”

Her face fell so dramatically that Fatima automatically pulled Zainab into her arms. She whimpered so quietly that Fatima felt it more than heard it, even with her cheek pressed against Zainab’s hair.

Around them, the room chilled even further. Fatima’s nose ached whenever she lifted it from Zainab’s hair. Her breath formed puffs of clouds, shimmering silver in the night. It had been a bad idea to say no to the heater. And Haruka was definitely right that Breding Manor needed proper mass heaters.

Tomorrow morning, after they’d slept and eaten, possibly even bathed given that the tub had its own little heater that they could fire to get the water as hot as they liked, Fatima would tell Haruka that. She’d tell her that she was right about Fatima getting offers. And then, before lunch, Fatima was going to sit both Father and Zainab down and find out exactly how many people she’d effectively snubbed because she hadn’t realized that they’d offered for her hand in marriage.

Maybe she’d start writing apology notes in the evening. With the weather this cold there didn’t seem to be much else to do. Fatima certainly couldn’t monopolize all of Haruka’s time, as appealing as the idea was.

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Posted in LGBT Issues, Manor Verse, MDR Publishing, Novel Monday, Self Publishing, Writing Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Free Fiction Friday: Late Arrival

POD Late Arrival Ebook Cover 02

Description:

When Lusala was small his big sister went into space to explore and find new worlds for humanity. It’s been five years for her, fifty for him. But now, finally, Osumare was home, so very late. With everything that had happened, Lusala worried that her return would be too little to bridge the gulf that had grown between them.

Late Arrival is a science fiction examination of the price of space travel on those left behind that you will remember for years to come.

Late Arrival

By Meyari McFarland

Lusala stood on the dock, staring up into clear blue skies that stretched forever. Blue above, blue below, both filled with dark horrors that made his knees tremble and his hands clench into fists. The chill of the light spring breeze felt too much like the cold of space, of vacuum, of bodies floating slowly turning as blood drifted like cabochon rubies scattered across black velvet.

Copper bloomed on his tongue. No. Not today. Not when Osumare was finally coming home. He wouldn’t let the memories overwhelm him today. He’d never told her how Mother and Father died. No matter what, he never would.

She’d gone so far and done so much. Osumare didn’t deserve the guilt for being gone when it was Lusala’s mistake that led to their deaths, to Ndidi’s injuries, to his own retirement from all space-based work. After overcoming everyone’s perceptions of her as African, as trans, as too-smart, too-determined, too-perfect, too-everything, Osumare could believe that the deaths were nothing more than happenstance. Lusala could give her that easily enough.

He could just hear the whine of a shuttle’s engines decelerating from planetary approach, way off over the water and so high that his eyes couldn’t pick out anything. No graceful swoop of vanes like the sails of an old wooden ship, no flicker of movement. Not a surprise when he’d left his glasses back on the bedside next to Ndidi. Lusala probably wouldn’t see the shuttle until it was at the end of the dock.

What would Osumare say?

His hands curled around the head of his cane. When she left Lusala’s hands had been small and soft, a child’s hands with pale palms and dark backs that looked as smooth as silk. Now his hands were gnarled, scarred from his long career of work in low orbit. His thick black dreads had long since turned into a white coat of fluff over his scalp and his skin hung loose over his bones. He’d lived entire lives while Osumare was gone.

She’d promised to come home on the first ship. And then the second. He’d stopped listening after the third promise after he was out of school, college, graduate school. Whatever she’d found on the other end of the universe was more interesting than coming home to visit.

He didn’t expect her to stay, not after he’d seen her excitement at the ship, the stars, the vastness of the universe that had always given Lusala nightmares. Staying was for people who enjoyed the tug of gravity, who liked the feel of dirt under their nails, the smell of leaves after a rainstorm.

No, Osumare was made for the exploration program where every planet was new, every sunset a wonder. So many messages, all of them raving of the new things she’d seen, places she’d gone, things she’d done. By the time he met Ndidi at the back of a tiny bar in the moon’s spaceport Lusala had reconciled himself to Osumare never spending more than a day or two on any planet, much less Earth.

Lusala was made for solid ground, a quiet life, Ndidi by his side as they tended their little garden, their tiny house, their many programs that monitored the sun, the stars, the shipping lanes for threats of all varieties. The shift from space to shore had been necessary after Ndidi’s accident but Lusala had never regretted it.

He found joy in the slow ever-changing drift of the seasons. They had planted an apple tree together after they bought the house on the edge of the lake, one that promised to give crisp green apples for pie, for butter, for eating fresh off the branch. It had been just two inches shorter than Lusala that first year. Now it stood twenty feet high and gave so many apples that their neighbors had to come help them pick.

“You forgot your glasses,” Ndidi called from the shore.

“Didn’t want to wake you,” Lusala called back.

He smiled as Ndidi slowly made his way up the dock, his heavy wheelchair making the dock bob under Lusala’s feet. The whine of the motor was a quieter counterpoint to the sound of Osumare’s ship coming closer. Lusala could hear it clearly now. The taste of lightning on his tongue was thick enough that Lusala turned to smile down into Ndidi’s jasper brown eyes so that he wouldn’t cry the instant he saw Osumare’s face.

Once upon a time Lusala had fought against getting glasses. He’d cried and pouted at their parents because Osumare wouldn’t recognize him if he had glasses when she got back. They’d won, of course, getting him thin-rimmed glasses that perched on Lusala’s broad nose like a delicate bird resting on an elephant’s broad brown back. They’d lasted three days before Lusala broke then wrestling with a neighbor boy.

All his glasses since had thick rims, solid and heavy enough to take the life that Lusala had chosen.

“You look tired,” Ndidi commented as Lusala settled his glasses in place.

“I didn’t sleep well,” Lusala allowed and smiled as Ndidi nodded.

Neither of them had slept well for months, not since Osumare sent her message that she was coming home at long last. Five years for her. Fifty-three for Lusala. The world had changed in her absence but not really. Not in the ways that mattered.

The sun still rose and set. Rain fell. Rich people ruled the space stations. Poor people lived on Earth and scraped by in their world that was changing so rapidly as the sea levels rose and temperatures shifted across the globe.

Someday soon Lusala and Ndidi’s house on the lake would be submerged. When they bought the land the shore was three hundred yards away down a gentle slope. Now the water lapped at their foundations and the dock jutted straight out from the basement door. Contractors would arrive tomorrow to break ground on the new foundation for the new house further up the hill where their garden grew.

“It’s here,” Ndidi murmured.

Lusala shut his eyes, hands tight around the head of his cane. Air rushed around the two of them, Lusala looking back, Ndidi looking forward. His legs trembled as the so-familiar hiss of stabilizers engaging. The water surged and slopped over the dock to wet Lusala’s toes, dampen Ndidi’s wheels.

The end of the dock, Osumare was parking the shuttle at the end of the dock so that she could walk from her shuttle straight into their house. Lusala laughed softly. Just like his dramatic big sister to make her true home obvious.

Ndidi reached up and put a hand over Lusala’s white knuckles. For years he’d avoided mentioning Ndidi in the messages he sent to Osumare. The administrators always said that it was best not to remind their family members of how much they were missing. It caused loneliness, depression. Suicide.

But Osumare had seen through him. She’d cocked her head, grinned and asked who Lusala had fallen in love with four years after he and Ndidi got married. For her it would have been a matter of months. It had been over a decade for Lusala. In that moment it hadn’t mattered that their lives passed at different speeds or that Lusala was now older than his big sister.

He spent an entire hour telling Osumare everything about Ndidi in the next message, sharing all the little things that had drawn them to share their lives. Ndidi’s honking laugh, the way he snored like a shuttle taking off just before Lusala’s alarm clock went off, the taste of mango and tangerine on Ndidi’s lips at their wedding.

She’d demanded pictures of the wedding and laughed and cried and smiled so broadly after he sent them on to her. He’d added pictures every time after that. Documenting their life together so that Osumare was part of it even if she was so far away became second nature.

They never got pictures back.

It was policy, not personal. The exploration program kept a tight grip on all images of other worlds. Still, Lusala had a few pictures of Osumare at work. She’d shown up in six separate images and three videos, dark skin shimmering under foreign suns as she did her job opening up new habitats for humanity’s second great age of colonization.

The dock shuddered as Osumare’s shuttle door thumped down on it. Lusala swallowed, shut his eyes and turned to face his so overdue sister.

It really was a beautiful shuttle. When she left shuttles had been as graceful as bricks flung through the air to crack your skull. Now, on her first trip home, the shuttle looked like origami worked large in golden parchment inscribed with scarlet kanji. He could see exactly what folds would be needed to transform a flat piece of paper into a shuttle like Osumare’s, four folds, maybe five for the divot at the back that was the engine cowling.

Boots appeared at the top of the ramp. Lusala laughed because he recognized them.

Osumare had whined and complained that she needed a good pair of boots before she went on the trip into space. Mother had glowered at extra cost while Father scolded Osumare for adding weight that wasn’t needed. The exploration program would provide her with boots, with clothes, with everything she needed. There was no need for Osumare to go out and buy a special pair of boots with heavy tread, bright pink canvas and laces as green as the grass around Lusala’s house.

She had won the battle, just as she’d won so many other battles.

Lusala had gone with Osumare on six different shopping trips, kicking his heels as she tried on boot after boot after boot. They’d march into a store, hand in hand, Osumare glaring down security guards who eyed them as if they were thieves, two African brothers even though by that time Osumare wore proper women’s clothes more often then not. Then she would strip off her boyish tennis shoes and ask for every single boot that wasn’t brown or green or black so that she could try them on. When none of them fit what she pictured in her head, Osumare had shaken her head, sighed and said that they might as well get a treat together before going home.

He had been fifteen before he realized that the hunt for boots was Osumare’s way of creating memories with her little brother, the little brother who would be grown long before she got home again.

And there were the boots at long last.

“Pink?” Ndidi asked so quietly that Lusala barely heard it over the thump of heavy bags being flung down onto the dock.

“She likes pink,” Lusala answered and then laughed as one bag became two, then three, each of them washed by cloudy lake water. Hopefully they were waterproof or Lusala would have to show Osumare where the clothes line was. Their drier couldn’t handle that much at once.

Osumare finally emerged from the shuttle, standing with one foot in the wash of water from the lake, the other on the final step of the ramp. The exploration program had given Osumare the hormones she’d wanted. Her square jaw had softened, her throat was more delicate though her arms were as big as ever. Lusala smiled at the cleavage just peeking between the buttons of Osumare’s shirt.

He’d giggled and then laughed as he kicked his heels the time she had borrowed one of Mother’s dresses, stuffing socks into the bodice so it sat correctly. It’d looked strange then but now it looked so right, so perfectly Osumare. This was what she had seen when she looked in the mirror and now, so much later, Lusala knew why she had fought so hard to go away.

Osumare didn’t glance Lusala’s way. Instead she looked back and up, one hand out as she smiled so brightly that Lusala’s heart clenched.

That smile used to point at him, back when they were both children. His very first memory was running across their parched front lawn, a weed-filled block of concrete hard grey dirt less than a yard across, into Osumare’s arms as she marched home from school, head held high in her boy’s uniform that she hated so much but wore because she had to if she was to get what she wanted.

His beautiful, bright sister, always three steps ahead of everyone else. She’d looked at their neighborhood, broken windows, rusting cars, police cruising through every half hour to search for someone to harass, and then taken to school as if it was a war that had to be won. Every grade had to be perfect. Every paper a masterpiece. Every class was another battle against the forces that wanted to declare her to be worthless, unwanted, unwelcome, wrong down to her very core.

It had worked. Osumare’s grades got her into the programs that led to space flight. They got her into the exclusive exploration program that so few managed to qualify for. Her grades opened doors for Lusala, too, giving him better chances at school, at training, at jobs later in life.

She had forged a path that blazed like a meteor, no, a comet circling round the sun. Not just for him but for so many others, too. There were worlds out there in the galaxy that had humans on them because of Osumare. Worlds that were mined for resources that had made Lusala’s life better, everyone’s lives better. Unlike Lusala with his careful choices and small joys, Osumare looked at the world and bent it to her desires.

“That’s it,” Osumare said to whoever it was above her. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. The dock’s strong.”

She reached both hands up and pulled out a little boy with pale Asian skin, dark African hair that curled in ringlets and a pout that would have made done Lusala proud when he was that age. Despite his narrow eyes, the little boy had Osumare’s nose, her broad lips, her round cheeks. Lusala’s breath caught. Ndidi gasped, smacking Lusala’s hip repeatedly as the little boy stared up the dock at them.

“They’re your uncles, Isao,” Osumare said. She patted the boy on the back, no more than three, he couldn’t be more than three years old, and sent him slowly toddling up the dock towards Lusala and Ndidi.

Another person came down the ramp, pale Asian like Isao but with a full rounded belly that promised a second child very, very soon. She frowned as she took Osumare’s hand but once lifted, hefted really, over the wash of water she smiled brightly. Not at Lusala or Ndidi or even little Isao but at Osumare.

And that was a smile that Lusala knew as well. It was one that had stretched his cheeks a thousand times over before Osumare had left. So much love, so much love…

“You never told me you had a wife,” Lusala called as Isao stopped a yard or so from him. “Or a son.”

“It was a surprise!” Osumare declared as she hefted bags and struggled to carry them all while at the same time supporting her wife’s careful waddle up the dock. “I told you I had a lot to tell you, didn’t I? Haruna and Isao were just two of the things I was saving up for you.”

Lusala laughed, nodded, carefully bent and offered a hand to Isao who stared at his fingers before gravely taking them. He turned, stepped aside for Ndidi to turn his wheelchair. Osumare’s cheeks went darker, then red, then she blushed so hard that he could see hints of red across her scalp where she’d shaved her hair off, probably for the ease of it.

“It was a surprise,” Lusala agreed. “But really, did you have to leave it to so late? Much longer and I would have missed the joke entirely.”

Osumare’s breath caught. Tears welled up in her eyes. She grinned and shrugged, nearly dropping one of the bags. Lusala’s eyes had tears, too, not that it appeared to matter to Haruna who glared at Lusala as if she’d rather be anywhere else.

“Took a while to convince Haruna I was serious,” Osumare explained through tears and laughter and that wrinkled nose that said Lusala was going to get a hug that made his back pop and crack and ache for days. “Besides, you know me, always late to the party.”

“True, true,” Lusala said. He leaned his cane against his hip so that he could wipe the tears of his cheeks. “Well, we kept the party waiting for you. You’re just in time to help us pick plums and I’m pretty sure that the apples will be ready in a day or two. Ndidi made a special cake, just for you. If we’d known, we’d have made even more for Haruna and Isao, too. But I suppose we should be glad we didn’t, yes? At least this way we can make it the right flavor.”

Osumare’s bags thumped down to the dock, shaking them all as it lurched. He leaned into her sudden hug, laughing with her as she murmured in his ear.

“Sorry I’m late, little brother.”

“Welcome home, big sister. Welcome home.”

The End

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Now Available: The Heat of the Thorn


Descriptiion:
Xun stopped, panting. She ached. Climbing the mountian to the Valley of the Thorns was hard enough without her new teammates.

Keanu Marchetti was as cheerful as Garnett Daughterty was dour. Demigod and Mage matched with Xun’s gardening.

Together, they should have the skills necessary to rescue Prince Cyrille Notariano and his lover from the ancient God Dorji Kita.

If not, they were all dead.

Find This Story:

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Finally! It’s a Now Available post! Not the big one I need to do but hey, it is the most recent story I’ve released.

…I have so many Now Available posts I need to make. *dies a little*

Anyway, this is the start of a new epic fantasy short story series. It’s kinda creepy but not too bad, filled with Gods and monsters and women being awesome and unstoppable as they save the boys. :D

Because what’s not to like about that?

Hope you enjoy it if you choose to read!

Posted in Gods Above and Below, LGBT Issues, MDR Publishing, Rambling, Writing Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Novel Monday: Crafting Home – Chapter 9

POD Crafting Home Ebook Cover 06
Description:
Everyone has plans for Haruka’s life. They assume she’ll marry her best friend Shahzad, youngest son of Lord Bilal of Breding Manor. They assume she’s a pretty face with no mind or will of her own.

Fatima’s plans for her life had fallen apart around her ears. Her father and twin sister Zainab were at each other’s throats, no matter how Fatima tried to keep the peace.

Then Fatima’s father, Count Rafi, offered her hand in marriage to Haruka with the assumption that Haruka would be delighted to accept. After a swift, firm denial, it was up to Haruka and Fatima to craft a future together that held not just their happiness but their families’ as well.

Crafting Home is a sweet romance where patience and determination bring the rewards both girls seek.

Crafting Home
By Meyari McFarland

9. Conversation

The words shot an arrow straight through Haruka’s heart. She stared at Fatima, cheeks heating and then cooling as she realized that from Fatima’s point of view it probably did look that way. After all, she’d seen Haruka take care of Shahzad, her sister, Rina and Ammad and Nabeela. She’d seen that with her own eyes.

And then there was sharing her private room with Fatima, getting tea and blankets. That was something that looked like a habit of care, much like Fatima’s habit of taking care of people.

But no, it wasn’t true, no matter how it looked right now to Fatima.

Haruka was the selfish one out of her sisters, the spoiled baby of the family. She was used to being taken care of, not doing the caring. Really, the major reason that she’d gotten used to going with Shahzad on his patient calls was that she wanted to get out of the manor and see new things. Back home in their village, Haruka had been notorious for wandering off and then charming her way out of Mother and Father’s scolding for failing to do her chores.

And yet, and yet. Haruka bit her top lip as the servants arrived with their soup, the opening course of their dinner. She wanted to take care of Fatima, wanted to help her solve the problems of her family, wanted Fatima to be happy, focused and intense the way she had been talking to the auditor. The way she was now, for that matter.

Fatima barely seemed aware of the auditor’s staff sitting to her left or her father on her right. She didn’t glance at her twin Zainab or even at the servants as they started setting bowls of thick, warm miso soup in front of them all.

“I’m really not as caring as you think I am,” Haruka said, the tone inappropriately grumpy for a dinner like this.

“Mmm, maybe,” Fatima replied, cautiously lifting her bowl of soup like Haruka did, sipping gingerly. “Oh, this is delicious!”

“Miso,” Haruka said, delighted to have something, anything, else to talk about. “It’s perfect for this sort of weather, I think.”

Count Rafi sipped his miso, both eyebrows going up at the taste. Haruka smiled at him, sipped her miso, and tried to not stare at the sparkle in Fatima’s eyes. She could feel people watching the two of them, starting with Zainab and Count Rafi and moving onwards to Shizuka and then into the auditor and his staff. It felt rather like being stripped naked in front of the entire town and that was a feeling Haruka could do without. The aftermath of Father’s glass blowing accident was bad enough that she never wanted to relive the memories.

“What’s wrong?” Fatima asked.

“Oh, nothing really,” Haruka said, waving away Fatima’s worries. “I was just thinking of Father’s accident.” She sighed when Count Rafi frowned at her. “He was a glass blower until a few years ago. Then there was an explosion and he was badly hurt. That’s why Shizuka joined the apprenticeship program.”

“You were there?” Fatima asked before Count Rafi could even open his mouth.

“I had brought them all lunch,” Haruka explained, her stomach knotting around the miso in ways that promised a late-night raid on the kitchen. She wasn’t going to be able to eat much now. “I was at the door when it happened. Several blobs of molten glass hit my kimono, well, my hapi-coat, but I wasn’t burned. The padding saved me. It was just… well, traumatic.”

“And embarrassing,” Shizuka agreed from her spot further up the table with Nabeela. “Her clothes caught fire so she had to ah, take them off.”

“Yes, thank you, big sister,” Haruka sighed while rolling her eyes dramatically. “Everyone really needs to imagine me naked now.”

“Eleven year old you,” Shizuka snorted with a fierce enough look that several of the auditor’s staff looked down at their bowls of miso with faint blushes creeping up their cheeks.

Fatima stared at Shizuka, turned and stared at Haruka and then whined while burying her face in her hands. At much the same time Zainab started snickering, one hand over her mouth and face turned away towards Lord Bilal as if that made her amusement any less obvious.

“Ahem,” Count Rafi said, lips twitching as he tried to frown at Zainab. She laughed harder. “Fatima had a similar incident thought she was nine and the problem was a small heating fire catching the edge of one of her skirts.”

“Oh no!” Haruka breathed.

Fatima whined again, but her shoulders shook as if she was about to laugh, too. When she raised her face out of her hands finally, as the servants came to reclaim their empty miso bowls, Fatima’s eyes were rueful but her lips curled in a beautifully understanding smile.

Rather than let anyone start in about other embarrassing incidents, Shizuka started telling the entire table in a just slightly too loud tone of voice all about her latest visit with Waseem Javid, the head of the shipping guild in town. It was a story that Haruka had already heard, full of Waseem’s perennial efforts to be the best matchmaker in town as well as a goat, a duck and a very angry mother goose that attacked everyone and everything that came into her vicinity, including random leaves, kimono sleeves and a brown recluse spider the size of a grown man’s thumb.

Haruka let the words of the story, as well as the laughter it provoked, flow over her head. She took her plate of good white rice and then spread elk kahari and moose pai over the top. The first time she tried rice that way after they moved to Breding Manor, it had seemed so very wrong, no matter how good it tasted. Now it was just tasty.

Everyone else followed suit, serving themselves from the big dishes in the middle, laughing at Shizuka’s story or offering bits of stories of their own once Shizuka was done. It was comfortable, finally. The tension seemed to have gone out of the others as they chatted and ate.

Except no, not everyone had relaxed. Fatima’s eyes rested on Haruka’s face far more than they did on anything else, even her own plate of food. In addition, both Count Rafi and Zainab watched the two of them as if they expected Haruka and Fatima to sprout wings and take to the skies at any second.

After a little bit, Haruka realized that the auditor was covertly watching them too. He was very discrete about it, just glancing their way from the corners of his eyes but every time he did it his lips curled in a smile that he hid in a bit of food or a sip of his wine.

Lord Bilal was so blatantly not watching them that he might as well have stared outright. Shizuka kept her chatter flowing all through the dinner without ever once meeting Haruka’s eyes so yes, she was watching too. Every time Haruka met Nabeela or Rina’s eyes, they smiled approvingly. Even Ammad watched though he wasn’t as good at not-watching-while-watching as his father was.

None of it seemed to bother Fatima.

She didn’t offer anything to the conversation flowing around them. Nor did she say anything directly to Haruka. The shy, terrified girl was completely gone, replaced with a quiet, confident woman who pointedly focused on Haruka and Haruka alone.

Haruka’s stomach fluttered every time she lifted her face to meet Fatima’s eyes. The kahari went barely sampled. Her rice went cold as Haruka poked at her plate instead of eating. Really, about the only thing she managed to get into her stomach was the pai and some, not much for fear of getting drunk, blackberry wine.

“Will there be dessert?” Fatima asked as their plates, hers nearly cleaned and Haruka’s embarrassingly full of food, were taken away.

“Oh yes,” Haruka said, flapping one hand to reassure Fatima. “There are pastries and rice pudding and I think I saw little fruit platters, as well.”

“At this time of year?” Fatima asked, startlement widening her eyes and making her straighten up so that the curve of her neck lengthened enough to tempt Haruka with visions of nibbling and biting under the curve of Fatima’s jaw. “How in the world?”

“Dried fruit,” Haruka laughed. “You’ll see. It’s quite tasty when Kosuke makes it.”

When the servants brought out the dessert, Fatima did take one of the fruit platters. Well, they were more like fruit cups but the cups were made of shallow bread bowls filled with luscious dried fruit marinated in rice wine. Kosuke always cooked the fruit once it was done marinating so the alcohol content was quite low. It just added a wonderful flavor while softening the fruit dramatically.

“I think the sauce is the best part,” Haruka said as she ate her fruit cup with her fingers.

Fatima nibbled and then gasped. “It’s so sweet! Goodness, you have to try it, Zainab. You’ll love it.”

Zainab raised an eyebrow but she took the fruit cup instead of the cream-filled pastry covered with powdered sugar that she’d reached for. She took a much bigger bite, rather like Haruka, and then widened her eyes at Haruka while chewing.

“Good, isn’t it?” Haruka said with a grin that Fatima echoed.

“I want the recipe,” Zainab said around her bite of food.

“Dried fruit, marinated for at least several days in the alcohol of your choice,” Haruka said while laughing at Zainab’s avid expression, “then you simmer the fruit for a while to boil off the alcohol. Serve on the bread of your choice. Sometimes you can dust it with sugar, too. Easy.”

“And good,” Zainab agreed.

Fatima nodded her agreement. Most of the others, Count Rafi included, had taken the pastries so Haruka waved for Zainab and Fatima to have a second serving when Fatima looking longingly at the plate. Rather than let them be the only ones reaching for seconds, Haruka did so as well.

Her second pastry seemed a bit stronger than the first though that probably had more to do with the joy in Fatima’s eyes and Haruka’s empty stomach than anything else. Still, eating the fruit cup did help fill the time until the servants finished clearing their dishes away. Haruka passed her plate over, blushing at the little approving pat on her shoulder Keiko gave her before taking the cup of nice warm tea.

It was black tea, not green, perhaps in respect for Count Rafi’s sensibilities. Or perhaps because it was shockingly cold outside and green tea was never steeped at as high a temperature as black. Either way, Haruka drank her tea gladly, at least until she realized that Fatima was frowning into her cup as if she wasn’t sure what to do with it.

“What’s wrong?” Haruka asked.

“Nothing,” Fatima said, her cheeks blushing blotchily even as she smiled wryly. “I was just hoping for more of the tea we had earlier. It was very good.”

Haruka grinned. “I could have them make some for you.”

“Oh goodness, no!” Fatima breathed, eyes going wide. Her blush spread until her whole face was deep burgundy, no patchy spots left at all. “Please, that’s not necessary.”

Her embarrassment sent a not at all pleasant thrill through Haruka. Fatima’s confident expression had disappeared, replaced by one shy, miserable, entirely self-conscious. She looked sideways at the auditor’s staff, then towards Lord Bilal before hesitantly sipping her tea.

Haruka sipped as well, stomach roiling so badly that she had to swallow twice to get the tea down. “Would you like some to take home with you?”

“Oh, well, if it wouldn’t cause trouble?” Fatima asked. Her shoulders relaxed. Her chin came up. Haruka’s stomach clenched even harder.

“Not at all,” Haruka said, flapping one hand reassuringly. “It’s morning tea. We have a whole bin of it in the kitchen.”

Everyone else in the dining room seemed to dissolve into mist as Fatima smiled. It was so much like looking at the sun break through rain clouds on a miserable, wet day that Haruka almost looked over her shoulder to see if the sun actually was out.

But no, it was just Fatima, her smile, the rush of joy and warmth it set off in Haruka’s heart, nothing more. Haruka sipped her tea, cheeks going hotter and hotter as she tried to avoid meeting anyone’s eyes other than Fatima’s. Someday she was going to laugh at this but realizing that she’d fallen in love with the girl she’d flatly rejected wasn’t funny at all right now.

Find This Book:

On Amazon $5.99 ebook or $14.99 TPB
On Smashwords $5.99 ebook
On CreateSpace $14.99 5″ x 8″ TPB
On Kobo $5.99 ebook
On Barnes & Noble $5.99 ebook

If you can’t afford to buy the story, please consider leaving a donation. All money received goes toward keeping me writing and posting these stories. Thank you very much!

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Free Fiction Friday: Eternity in a Touch

POD Eternity in a Touch Ebook Cover 02

Description:

Exploration of new worlds delighted Berenike. They’d yet to find one that would make an acceptable colony but she enjoyed the process of discovery. Until they landed on one bleak grey world and discovered something so far beyond her expectations that Berenike feared for her and her team’s survival.

Eternity in a Touch is a SF exploration of time, space and the urge to connect that spans worlds and utterly different species that is sure to entrance you.

Eternity in a Touch

By Meyari McFarland

Berenike shivered, her fingers dragging across delicately carved surface of the obelisk. At least it looked like an obelisk, tall and slender, carved of some impossibly perfect stone that their instruments had not yet been able to identify. It stood at least three times as high as Berenike was tall, twice as tall as Chloris, off muttering curses by the lander.

Delicately grey, the same color as everything else on this long-abandoned planet. Berenike traced one particular swirl of alien writing, following its curve down then up then inwards in a spiral the twisted into a knot of roughness. She could feel ever smaller swirls going in like fractals though her eyes showed her nothing. Other bits of writing, some angular, some scooped out the stone as if tiny melon ballers had worked it over, surrounded the swirl.

When she swept her hand over the surface it felt like the bumps and swirls, dips and gouges, drove her fingers straight back to the central swirl as though it was a black hole sucking Berenike in. She leaned closer, breath briefly fogging the surface of the obelisk, to try to see exactly what shape those innermost swirls too. Could they truly have created a fractal image that swept outwards from here?

She thought so. The entire city swept outwards from the obelisk, wrapping and shifting, walls formed in strange loops covered with ever growing bumps and hollows that became windows and doors that would not open for her crew. Silent, buildings coated with a fine grey dust that perfectly matched the fine grey stone they were constructive of, the city lurked like the frozen swirl of a whirlpool, the image of a black hole’s corona as it collapsed ever inwards.

Berenike frowned, her finger tracing the swirl again. It all came back to here. Everything. She’d reviewed the aerial photos.

“Do we have any analysis of the dust?” Berenike asked.

“Not yet,” Chloris snapped. “We only just landed. Give us a minute.”

“Mm, just wondering if we need breather masks,” Berenike murmured. “Volcanic glass in the lungs is a terrible way to die.”

Chloris’ head snapped up. Berenike ignored her, ignored the fervent cursing, and only turned once Chloris grunted once over her equipment. Their lander was so desperately out of place, blocky body a painful contrast to the elegant buildings and apparently impervious paving underneath it.

She wanted to strip the color of it, drain the black into grey, shift the red and white lettering declaring “MHS Baird: Lander #13” on the side until it faded into nondescript greyness like everything else. Even the shadow it cast over Chloris’ equipment, blocking the dim red sunlight, seemed too dark to belong to this quiet graveyard.

“Not volcanic,” Chloris said. She sighed and nodded once. “Metallic. Not angular. Big enough particles. Shouldn’t hurt us. Dust masks’d be good though. It’s sticky.”

“Issue them out,” Berenike ordered. “Call the others back in for it. I don’t want anyone harmed if we can avoid it. Even if we do need a new world, this probably isn’t the one for us. Not enough life even with the atmosphere match.”

“Right,” Chloris grunted.

She stood and strode into the lander, head ducked against the perpetually too-low ceiling. Her boot heels echoed like asteroid impacts in the interior, allowing Berenike to track her progress back to the supply locker and then out again. Her muttered orders were a dim murmur over Berenike’s comm. Berenike turned it up again only to scowl at the excited chattering din.

“No, I really think they’re gone,” Elisavet exclaimed so loudly that Berenike winced. At that volume she had to be flailing her arms and bouncing on her toes wherever she was.

Of course, Ismeme answered her. “You don’t know that. Our scanners aren’t telling us enough about the city or its power supply. We can’t even get into any of the buildings, Eli. For all we know they’re watching us right now.”

It was a valid concern. Berenike’s skin crawled for a second as though someone had run fingers over her spine but no, it was her fingers running over the innermost swirl on the obelisk. She turned back to it, frowning. Another brush across that central swirl. A longer, more intimate sensation of fingers gently trailing the length of her spine, starting at the small of her back with a broad, warm palm, trailing off into the faintest of fingertips at the base of her neck.

So good. It had been much too long since her last lover and the imaginary touch felt incredibly good. Berenike set her hand against the swirl, pressing gently and then firmer. An answering hand, no a dozen hands, pressed gently then harder against her chest, her right breast, the swell of her belly, her left thigh just above the knee. Hands, touching her, pressing into her, exploring her body with pressure, gentle, firm, kind, harsh, all dependent on the way Berenike touched the obelisk.

“You okay?” Chloris asked.
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Novel Monday: Crafting Home – Chapter 8

POD Crafting Home Ebook Cover 06
Description:
Everyone has plans for Haruka’s life. They assume she’ll marry her best friend Shahzad, youngest son of Lord Bilal of Breding Manor. They assume she’s a pretty face with no mind or will of her own.

Fatima’s plans for her life had fallen apart around her ears. Her father and twin sister Zainab were at each other’s throats, no matter how Fatima tried to keep the peace.

Then Fatima’s father, Count Rafi, offered her hand in marriage to Haruka with the assumption that Haruka would be delighted to accept. After a swift, firm denial, it was up to Haruka and Fatima to craft a future together that held not just their happiness but their families’ as well.

Crafting Home is a sweet romance where patience and determination bring the rewards both girls seek.

Crafting Home
By Meyari McFarland

8. Dinner

Fatima eased the door to their suite open, peering inside. Two pairs of worried, accusatory eyes met her. Father tried to stand only to fail. He dropped back onto the indigo couch with a frustrated grunt but he didn’t clutch his thigh. Thankfully, their suite was warm, very warm, warm enough to make Fatima’s breasts and shoulder blades prickle with sweat as soon as she shut the door. The blankets that Haruka had brought were beside him, still folded neatly.

Zainab sat on the floor next to a small charcoal burner that had a cheery little fire burning in it. She stared up at Fatima with the sort of glower that meant she was worried that Fatima had been having fun without her. It was a glower that Fatima hadn’t seen in years, not since they were eleven or twelve and their future duties started to become a reality instead of a hazy thing in the impossibly distant future.

“Where did you go?” Zainab asked.

“Well, at first I wandered,” Fatima said.

“Got lost,” Father sighed.

“A little bit,” Fatima said and laughed quietly. “Not badly. I know which quadrant of the manor I was in, though not how to get there again. Then Haruka found me and she swept me off to her hiding place for tea.”

Father immediately perked up at that, looking delighted that Fatima and Haruka had spent time together. That was completely understandable given his poor leg but Zainab glowered at him as if he was being cruel to want Fatima to marry. Rather than let another round of arguments break out, Fatima smiled at the wall, deliberately not meeting either of their eyes.

“We had the best herbal tea,” Fatima continued. “It was lovely. Dried blueberries and blackberries, herbs mixed into the tea leaves. Not sure what herbs but Haruka did promise to gift us with some before we go home. I might ask her for the recipe. I suspect that guests to Skagit Manor would like that tea much more than my poor green tea.”

“That’s lovely, dear,” Father said. “So you talked?”

“Oh no,” Fatima said. Her wry smile made both Father and Zainab frown, confusion evident in Father’s cocked head and Zainab’s teeth chomping down on her bottom lip. “We’d only just finished the first mug of tea, so tasty that, when Lady Rina showed up with news that the auditor wanted to talk to Haruka. So we went off and she answered his questions. Then I asked him questions for, oh, goodness, how long was I gone?”

Zainab’s head went back a little as a smile started twitching at the corners of her lips. Maybe the battle between her and Father had gone better than Fatima feared. Or maybe Fatima was just so much more relaxed that they were both afraid to upset her. She wasn’t sure.

“Almost four hours,” Zainab said. Father snorted and nodded, gesturing for Fatima to continue.

“Well, then I asked him questions for about three and a half hours,” Fatima said. She grinned at the startled laughter from Zainab and Father’s dropped jaw. “Really, I had so many questions. The procedures are completely different. We’re going to have to revised at least half of the forms we use, Father. And the audits are going to take much more time now. Their Majesties have completely new information they want to gather about how the province is running.”

“Must be related to Lady Cantara and Countess Dancing Otter,” Father sighed.

“I think so,” Fatima agreed.

She rubbed her hands over her thighs thoughtfully. The only reason she’d come back to the suite was that she wanted to make sure that both Father and Zainab behaved at dinner. Haruka had warned her against saying so, though. So had Lady Shizuka who was very gentle and very kind about it but forbiddingly stern.

Both of them felt that anything Fatima said or did would simply be fuel to the fire in her sister and Father’s feud. After so long between the two of them, Fatima had gotten to the point where she felt like everything they did was her fault. It seemed so natural to blame herself.

But the auditor’s questions had gotten Fatima thinking. So much of what Their Majesties wanted to know was how well the ruling family was functioning. Fatima could smooth things over a few moments at a time but she couldn’t fix anything. Not one thing.

Father and Zainab fought when they fought, over nothing most of the time. Until they opened up and admitted the real reasons for their battles, not one single thing Fatima said or did would make any difference.

It was still very, very hard not to comment on the quiet room when she’d walked in.

“Well, dinner is almost ready,” Fatima said as she stood. “Father, I strongly recommend wearing your house coat. Haruka and Lady Shizuka both warned me that the dining room was a bit chilly. Apparently Duchess Chin-Sun always needs warmed bricks, blankets and sometimes a wrap to be comfortable.”

“I’ll wear it then,” Father said, snorting. His eyes were still a bit too wide, too startled, but he didn’t ask anything else. “Her chills are usually a good predictor of my leg seizing up.”

Zainab flinched. She rolled to her feet, went into Father’s room and came out with his heavily quilted house coat, the more formal one that went down to his knees that looked like it was designed for a man three times his size. Then she carefully poured water over the charcoal fire, making sure that it was truly out.

“Do we know what’s for dinner?” Zainab asked as Fatima helped Father get his coat on, stand and then get steady with his cane.

“I believe they had several warm stews and rice,” Fatima said. “I didn’t recognize the names of the dishes that Haruka told me about. But elk and salmon and something called pai that she said was sticky but very, very good.”

“I’ve had that,” Father murmured as he hobbled towards the door, leaning in equal measures on his cane and Fatima’s arm. “Generally it’s made from hooves. Do you know what animal it came from?”

“I think moose but I’m not sure,” Fatima said.

The walk up the inner hallway, narrow and simple with only a couple of serene ocean paintings on the wall, to the northern glass-covered hallway took forever. Servants were waiting for them to escort them to the dining room. That took even longer. The farther they went, the slower Father walked.

The dining room was larger than Fatima had expected. But then it would have to be with the entire Breding family present, Fatima and her family plus the auditor and his support staff all coming to dinner. Instead of the series of low tables with individual trays that would have been arranged around small fires back home, there was one long table covered by a bright blue cloth. Someone had reverse dyed lovely little birds into it, a whole flock of them flying up the length of the cloth from one end of the table to the other.

In the middle of the table were big platters of rice, stews, huge stacks of lovely naan bread. That made Fatima smile. Father always loved naan bread. Every time they had it Fatima thought about having a proper tandoori oven put in back home but she’d never added it to the budget. Fry bread was so much simpler and the cooks knew exactly how to prepare it.

“Crowded,” Father murmured.

“It is,” Fatima agreed.

Such a large room shouldn’t have felt crowded but it did. Part of it was the crowd of assistants clustered around the auditor, each of them in the simple black uniforms that Their Majesties’ representatives wore. Fatima noted three with pale green trim, all female clerks, two with brown trim that nearly blended back into the black of their collars and cuffs. Those where guards of some sort, perhaps for the clerks as none had been present in the library. And one lone accountant with pale blue trim on his collar and cuffs. Interestingly, the accountant had three lines of trim, giving him higher rank that the ostensible leader, the auditor that Fatima had interrogated earlier.

The auditor nodded towards them, as they came in, a little smile of approval on his lips. Fatima smiled and bowed back, just a little one so that she didn’t convey too much respect. Her rank did exceed his. Even if he had the authority to remove them from their position at Skagit Manor.

Orbiting around the auditor and his team, Breding Manor’s family hovered, fussed and generally tried to make sure that absolutely everyone was comfortable. Lady Rina and Lady Shizuka smiled and directed the auditor and his staff to the places of honor in front of the display alcove at the far end of the room. The auditor made a striking figure seated at the head of the table with a beautiful hand-painted calligraphy behind him.

It looked as though the Breding family would spread between them all with Lord Bilal at the opposite end of the table and Fatima, Father and Zainab in the middle. A safe, comfortable choice.

Fatima would have been a little less deferential to the auditor’s staff, seating them in the middle but then Skagit Manor didn’t seat its guests at one big table. There were little fire pits and individual discussion areas that one could sit at or wander between as one willed. Personally, she liked that setup better for formal dinners. It made private conversations so much easier.

Fatima frowned as she helped Father sit on the big, firm cushion that Lady Shizuka had selected for him. He nearly collapsed and groaned as he stretched his leg out under the table. Lady Shizuka produced a pair of hot bricks that Father placed so that they would support and warm his bad leg, and then a blanket that he gratefully put over his lap to keep the heat in.

They really shouldn’t have come. No matter how much Father tried to pretend otherwise, his leg was getting worse. She hated the thought of Father losing his leg but seeing him in pain this way was so much worse.

It seemed as though Zainab had finally realized just how badly injured Father was. Her cheeks were pale, her eyes almost ice blue with worry, as she sat opposite Father. Thankfully, she didn’t say anything but the worry was there, written on her face as clearly as if someone had taken a paint brush and used indelible ink to inscribe the words.

“You’ll be right here, dear,” Lady Shizuka murmured as she seated Fatima directly opposite Haruka. Her eyes sparkled with amusement at the way Fatima blushed. “Do excuse me. I want to make sure that the auditor’s comfortable.”

“Oh, go,” Fatima said, gently pushing Lady Shizuka away. “We’ll be fine. Make sure to sit and eat sometime.”

Lady Shizuka’s eyes wrinkled in a smile that didn’t escape to her lips. She bowed, sleek straight black hair sweeping over her shoulder for a second before she turned away. It was nice. Very traditionally attractive but Fatima liked Haruka’s dramatic waves better. Looking at Haruka’s hair was like gazing at the sound when the wind picked up and the waves surged up into peaks.

The only person who seemed to be missing was Haruka’s friend, Doctor Shahzad. Fatima frowned, counted cushions along the long edges of the table and realized that there wasn’t a place setting for him.

“Will Doctor Shahzad be joining us?” Fatima asked. She patted Father’s wrist when he stiffed and glared at Fatima. “He will remember to eat, won’t he?”

Haruka clapped a hand over her mouth, eyes dancing with laughter as she nodded. After a second, and a hard swallow that made Zainab smirk at her, Haruka pulled her hand away to wave away Fatima’s concern.

“He got called away on another visit,” Haruka explained. “With this weather I expect he’ll be running most of the night.”

“But he gets lost,” Fatima said. “You said so.”

“Oh yes.” Haruka laughed, drawing most of the other dinner guests’ eyes to her though she didn’t seem to notice it. Her eyes were squarely focused on Fatima. “He does. He’s so bad at directions. When I can’t go with him he takes one of the servants along, a big burly man who can literally pick him up and carry him where he needs to go if Shahzad gets too stubborn about going the wrong way. He’ll be fine, honestly.”

“That’s good to hear,” Fatima sighed. Then she blushed and waved a hand as if to erase those words. “I mean, it’s good to hear that someone is with him and that he will remember to eat.”

“You just can’t help taking care of everyone around you, can you?” Haruka said, a wry smile mixing strangely with the admiration in her eyes.

Fatima blushed harder, nodding that it really was quite true. “I know. I can’t help it. I just want everyone to be happy. But you do it, too, no matter how hard you protest that you don’t.”

Find This Book:

On Amazon $5.99 ebook or $14.99 TPB
On Smashwords $5.99 ebook
On CreateSpace $14.99 5″ x 8″ TPB
On Kobo $5.99 ebook
On Barnes & Noble $5.99 ebook

If you can’t afford to buy the story, please consider leaving a donation. All money received goes toward keeping me writing and posting these stories. Thank you very much!

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Free Fiction Friday: Mountainous Stretch of Wind

POD Mountainous Stretch of Wind Ebook Cover 06

Description:

Etsuko delighted in the challenge of meeting a new species on a new world. Meeting new aliens, learning of their cultures, was her greatest joy. Not as joyful was dealing with new coworkers who seemed to view her as an odd little threat to their much more important experiments. It would have been fine if their Commander hadn’t ordered Etsuko to smooth the way in their tiny habitat.

Mountainous Stretch of Wind is a humorous SF story of learning to deal with unexpected circumstances and finding joy no matter what’s thrown your way that you’re sure to love.

Mountainous Stretch of Wind

By Meyari McFarland

1. Ascent

Wind battered at Etsuko. She leaned into it, hands thrust deep into her coat pockets. Not that the pockets helped. The wind stabbed through the coat, through her gloves, through all of the clothes she wore, even her heavy insulated underwear. Cold enough to bite and hard enough to steal her breath, the wind was like an enemy intent on killing Etsuko before she could take another step.

It was glorious.

She’d missed wind since she left Japan to explore other planets and other cultures. Certainly, while on world she got to experience actual weather but most of her time was spent on space ships and those could be so dreadfully dull. Even if the Commander shared Etsuko’s sense of humor and indulged in little prank wars with her the vast majority of her time shipboard was dull. Uninteresting. Boring.

Every time she tried to look at the path ahead the wind whipped tears into her eyes. She grinned, wiped the tears away with one cuff, and kept looking despite the wind that slipped under her safety glasses and into her eyes. So nice to have that struggle!

Even through the tear-blur Etsuko could see that they had far to go yet. The path stretched upwards, a bare rocky foot trail leading through boulders and scrubby grass that whipped in the wind like tentacles reaching for Etsuko’s feet. There were other plants, tiny purple creeping plants that slowly moved over the soil with tentacle-like branches functioning as limbs. Their white flowers were more like dots against the purple stems than the flowers that Etsuko was familiar with.

She wondered what they smelled like, if the pollen they released to the driving wind would cause her eyes to swell and her nose to run as the flowers on their ship did. Best not to check. She had promised not to do silly things just to see what happened and who knew what her teammates would think of Etsuko kneeling down to stick her face in the little purple plants. Besides, her face mask was fuzzy and warm, likely to collect any pollen that the flowers might have, if any remained after the beating of the wind.

Ahead, Chikafuji Kimiko and Yamashita Rika trudged upwards. Both carried packs on their backs equal in size to Etsuko’s. Two weeks’ worth of clothing and dehydrated food, one tablet for entertainment and to work with, a brush, a toothbrush, nothing else. The natives were quite strict about what could be brought in. At least they provided water, though from the briefing the water would always need to be filtered and purified. Even then the taste was something to regret. Pity she couldn’t bring tea. That would help.

Etsuko shook her head at herself, carefully pulled her boot out from under the seeking fronds of one of the purple creepers that had crawled closer to shelter behind her feet, and then trudged after her teammates. It would be strange to be surrounded only by women. In her life, Etsuko had spent far more time among men than women. For all the progress that the authorities claimed, women still tended towards soft sciences rather than hard.

She was no exception. Xeno-sociology was mostly a matter of learning to talk to other species whose morphology differed dramatically from human. It was delightfully fun trying to explain stereo-vision to creatures with one eye or three or none. And the joys of demonstrating running to a race that always moved at a snail’s pace had been beyond anything that Etsuko had imagined. This trip would likely be more of the same, though Etsuko did wish that she was even shorter and smaller so that she could see the natives’ homes.

Chikafuji Kimiko was an exception to the general rule of women in science, as was Yamashita Rika. Both had studied extensively in physics and xeno-biology before joining the Exploration Corp. Their reports were so thick with math and chemistry that Etsuko had set them aside, largely unread. It made Etsuko doubt her place on this team, her right to be here on this alien planet with its demanding, complicated, confusing masters.

But then, the problems the previous teams had experienced had more to do with social dynamics among the team members and between the humans and the natives than any hard science issues. Etsuko was fairly certain that her job was to be a wall between Kimiko, Rika and anything that would distract them from their work, though her orders had included a line about ‘smoothing interpersonal issues in the habitat’ that her commander had refused to explain further.

Annoying, amusing man. Mission briefings was not a place for teasing. Even Etsuko avoided making jokes during briefings. Still, dealing with any personal issues their team had shouldn’t be too hard. Etsuko usually did a good job of adapting to her environment, whether that environment included humans, aliens or mixes of the types.

It should help that both Kimiko and Rika were of Japanese descent. They might not follow Japanese social customs but they were familiar with them by default. One couldn’t grow up with a Japanese grandmother and not learn that bowing was important and politeness was mandatory.

Etsuko would certainly have to adjust to their needs, though. Neither of them were native to Japan or even Issei, first generation children born after emigrating from Japan. They wouldn’t follow the customs as fully so Etsuko would need to be conscious of herself and try not to offend them with her idiosyncratic version of Japanese politeness.

“I can do that,” Etsuko said to herself even though the words whipped her sounds away. “I will do that. I will do it well.”

She nodded and marched up the path after her teammates, wind tearing at her skin despite the protective gear. No matter what her always present worries told her, Etsuko would complete her mission. Two weeks wasn’t that long. It would take hard work but she could smooth relations with the natives and, hopefully, keep Rika and Kimiko happy during their stay on world.

She would do it.

And when she wasn’t dealing with her teammates, Etsuko looked forward to spending time talking with the natives about their so-interesting world with its wind and mountains and moving plants that acted like animals while being vegetable.

This should be an absolutely delightful mission.
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Novel Monday: Crafting Home – Chapter 7

POD Crafting Home Ebook Cover 06
Description:
Everyone has plans for Haruka’s life. They assume she’ll marry her best friend Shahzad, youngest son of Lord Bilal of Breding Manor. They assume she’s a pretty face with no mind or will of her own.

Fatima’s plans for her life had fallen apart around her ears. Her father and twin sister Zainab were at each other’s throats, no matter how Fatima tried to keep the peace.

Then Fatima’s father, Count Rafi, offered her hand in marriage to Haruka with the assumption that Haruka would be delighted to accept. After a swift, firm denial, it was up to Haruka and Fatima to craft a future together that held not just their happiness but their families’ as well.

Crafting Home is a sweet romance where patience and determination bring the rewards both girls seek.

Crafting Home
By Meyari McFarland

7. Audit

Haruka smiled as Fatima finally relaxed, leaning back against the pillows as if she hadn’t relaxed in years. Given her family, she might not have and that was a dreadful shame. The girl was beautiful when she lost that pinched, worried expression. Her nose was broader than Haruka’s and her cheekbones far more pronounced, but it gave her face such dignity that Haruka decided she liked it.

If the situation was different, less coercive, Haruka would have given serious thought to marrying Fatima. At the very least, Fatima seemed as dedicated to taking care of people as Haruka was. She wouldn’t be so utterly miserable about her family’s battles if she weren’t.

They could craft a life together, blending Haruka’s love of dealing with people together with Fatima’s talent for the administrative and legal side of ruling. And Haruka had to admit that she was curious about Skagit Manor. It sounded so lovely, warmer and more welcoming than Breding Manor’s imposing bulk.

“What’s it like?” Haruka asked. “Skagit Manor. Is it half buried? Are there windows?”

“It is mostly buried, actually,” Fatima said so happily that Haruka squirmed around to face her more directly. “The roof is exposed, of course, but everything else is dug down into the earth. Father’s started investing in mass heaters for the peasants. We’re financing it for the most part. The island gets much colder than here so we want everyone to have reliable, low-fuel cost heating.”

“I wish I could convince the others that it made sense here,” Haruka sighed. “Goodness, we’d save so much money with mass heaters.”

“They are very nice,” Fatima agreed. She smiled, a little sad but mostly thoughtful as she stared towards the cedar bows that Haruka had brought into the room to give it that living tree smell. “We won’t get them in Skagit Manor for a year or two but it’s on the long-term plan. I’m looking forward to it. The manor is fairly easy to heat so we’ll only need to add a few to heat the whole thing. I ah, suspect that you’ll need more than a couple to heat Breding Manor.”

Haruka groaned, rolling her eyes. Far more than a few. Every single room would need one, or close to it. The manor had never been designed properly for heating considerations. Its many winding halls and vast expanses of north-facing windows meant that it lost heat like water flowing through a sieve.

Before Haruka could explain that, someone knocked on the door. That was unexpected. Haruka had told the servants that she was entertaining Fatima to keep her away from Fatima’s family battles. Kosuke had said that he’d make sure that they weren’t interrupted.

“Yes?” Haruka called.

Rina stuck her head into the room, her simple black bun covered with a traditional hijab that she’d taken to wearing after her marriage to Ammad. “I’m so sorry to interrupt, girls, but Haruka, we really need you in the library.”

“The audit?” Haruka asked as she took Fatima’s offered mug and her own, setting them by the hibachi for the servants to collect later. Or maybe her, once the events of the day were over. Everyone was so busy that it was likely to be Haruka doing it.

“Yes,” Rina said with a grimace of disgust. “You’re the one doing the majority of the work reorganizing the files. The auditor had questions about what happened and he wanted to hear from you directly.”

“All right,” Haruka groaned as she pushed the blanket off and turned to Fatima. “All right. I’m sorry. I’m afraid I have to go. You’re free to stay as long as you like, Fatima. And to come back anytime you wish during your stay.”

“Actually, I was hoping to talk to the auditor myself,” Fatima said so shyly that Rina nodded and encouragingly flapped a hand for her to continue. “The regulations that we received weren’t especially clear on what to expect when our turn for an audit comes around.”

Both Rina and Haruka snorted at that. They’d had the exact same problem with the regulations and now it was biting them in the rear end. Getting ahead of the problem when she could was a very wise move on Fatima’s part. Rina nodded her approval so Fatima stood, carefully folding Haruka’s blanket before following them to the library.

Which was considerably more crowded than Haruka expected. Lord Bilal was there, reclining in one of the big comfy chairs that Shizuka had brought in. At the great central table that could comfortably seat twelve, Ammad sat opposite the auditor and his stacks of paperwork. Shizuka and Nabeela sat next to Ammad, Nabeela with the sort of blank expression that spoke of frustration and Shizuka with that faint frown that meant she was utterly confused by everything that had happened.

In addition, there was Rina, several of the librarians hovering around, one of the clerks who worked under Rina and Haruka saw a servant scurry out the side door with a tray of tea goods that looked largely untouched.

Not a good sign there. The auditor spending so much time on their records that he forgot to drink the tea he’d specifically requested was not what any of them wanted. Haruka took a deep breath, smiled brightly and came to sit at the end of the table. Fatima joined them, pulling her chair back a little bit so that she was observing rather than interacting directly.

“Lady Rina said that you had some questions for me?” Haruka asked, still smiling at the auditor.

He was an older man, slowly nodding as he studied the paperwork in front of him. Her smile was completely wasted as he didn’t look up. Instead he ran a wrinkled hand over a slightly wrinkled piece of paper that had to be one of the ones that had been crammed between file cabinets.

The standard black uniform that she was used to seeing on representatives of Their Majesties was slightly different for him. He had discrete silver piping around his high coat collar and at the hem of his sleeves. She suspected that his hair was thinning because he’d cut it all off other than a bare quarter inch that was black at the base of his neck and nearly invisible silver at his forehead.

“These papers are damaged,” the auditor said, finally looking up and then staring at Haruka’s bright smile. “Miss.”

“Yes, they are,” Haruka agreed.

He waited and then sighed when Haruka just smiled at him. Not having the slightest clue what questions had gone before meant that she was absolutely not going to offer anything that might trip the others up. The audit was already stressful enough. Haruka didn’t want to make it any worse.

“Why are they damaged?” the auditor asked.

“Lord Ammad has a new apprentice,” Haruka explained. She raised an eyebrow when the auditor started to wave her explanation off. “Do you want to know what happened or have you already made up your mind? If so, I can simply leave and you can issue your report without any further interaction from me. I was entertaining Count Rafi’s daughter, Fatima, while he discussed several issues with his other daughter Zainab. I’m certain that Fatima would appreciate the chance to get back to less stressful environments.”

The auditor frowned, pursed his lips but nodded. “My apologies. Please continue.”

“Thank you,” Haruka said. “The apprentice is a very bright young lady but she is very, very bad at stating plainly what she is comfortable doing. She’s also very bad at asking questions when she doesn’t understand something. She was assigned in four separate areas of Breding Manor before she came to the file room. In every one, without fail, she was unsuccessful at her assigned tasks. By the time she came here, Lord Ammad was ah, rather frustrated. I suspect that she was quite aware of that and it made her even less capable of asking questions.”

Haruka took a deep breath, very aware that Ammad had frozen, eyes wide and alarmed while Shizuka winced out of the auditor’s line of sight. Even Fatima made a little horrified noise. Criticizing an apprentice who was desperate to help their family by finding a new profession was just not done.

“She was assigned to file paperwork,” Haruka continued. “It’s very simple. The date is on the upper left corner. The file identification number is on the upper right corner. You put everything with the same file identification number together, in reverse date order, the newest on top. Then you put in the file for that number, again, newest on top.”

“She… couldn’t do it?” the auditor asked, blinking rapidly and then staring at Ammad who sighed and nodded. “Truly?”

“I don’t know if she couldn’t understand it, didn’t want to do it, or if she has a perceptual issue that makes sorting and filing difficult,” Haruka said, recapturing his attention. “But yes, she couldn’t do it. It took almost two weeks to discover that she was doing it very, very wrong. Once it was, she was given one last chance in the kitchens. She’s brilliant there. Kosuke, the chef, thinks that she could replace him when he retires. She’s that good at it. And now I’m going through every single file in the records room to make sure that things are where they should be, that they’re in the proper order and that,” she tapped the wrinkled files the auditor had asked about, “none of them are stuffed between file cabinets, under the file folders or behind shelves.”

The auditor sat back, his mouth dropping open to reveal a gap of several teeth on the right side. He stared, shook his head, and then turned to stare at Lord Ammad who made a face as he shrugged and nodded.

“I’m astonished that she wasn’t sent back sooner,” the auditor said, closing the file with a sort of finality that Haruka hoped meant that he’d stopped metaphorically chasing wild ferrets.

“I was an apprentice,” Shizuka said, her chin coming up and her eyes going so steely that the auditor winced. “We want her to succeed. Her communication issues were not apparent until after the fact.”

The auditor nodded, looking at his notes and then shaking his head in dismay. “Well, until the files have been repaired there is little that I can determine here. I will have to schedule a return visit once you’ve gotten things fixed.”

“If I may?”

Everyone started as Fatima spoke up. Haruka had almost forgotten that she was sitting there, behind her right shoulder. The auditor frowned at her and then nodded for Fatima to go ahead. She smiled, bowed from the waist just enough for it to be thanks but not so much that it would grant him higher rank than her. Nice. Haruka would have loved to be able to get away with that sort of thing.

“I have several questions about the audit procedure document that was sent out,” Fatima said. “Could you perhaps spare a small bit of time to explain it to me? I would rather be prepared for the audit of Skagit Manor when our time comes rather than scramble because I misunderstood the regulations.”

“Of course, Lady Fatima,” the auditor said. “What were your questions?”

Haruka stood and gestured for Fatima to take her place at the table. The offer made Fatima blush, spots of color rising on her cheeks and then one on the right side of her neck, but she took the seat readily enough. That let Haruka sit in Fatima’s abandoned chair.

“I was quite confused by clause seventeen,” Fatima said, her shy tone of voice and hesitant demeanor replaced by the sort of sternness and determination that Haruka expected out of Ammad in the middle of a major legal case.

It suited Fatima. Her blush faded, leaving beautiful brown cheeks that were as sculpted as a sheer cliff face. Her eyes seemed brighter, the blue going deep as a forest pool in the middle of summer. And her intense stare made the auditor sit straighter, nod respectfully and then explain in exactly the sort of detail that everyone, Ammad, Rina, Nabeela and Shizuka seemed to need.

One of the librarian’s stood for a moment, mouth dropped open in shock, and then he started scribbling down everything the auditor and Fatima said. From that one clause, the explanation expanded out to the purpose of each section of the document Their Majesties had sent out, how each would be approached and what records would be expected.

From what Haruka understood, not that much of it made sense, they’d approached the audit exactly in the wrong way. Just looking at the files on the table told Haruka that they’d brought the auditor the wrong things.

Her heart skipped a beat as she realized that Fatima kept asking questions not for her sake. She appeared to have understood what the auditor needed almost immediately if her little nods and grunts were anything to judge by. No, she kept asking for their sake, so that Ammad and Rina would have a much easier time with their next audit.

Amazing. Wonderful. Kind and so under-appreciated. All of it applied to Fatima. And pretty, despite her high cheekbones and pale blue eyes. Haruka but her lip, looking away as she realized that maybe, just maybe, she’d been a bit too abrupt about refusing the marriage offer. There might be more possibilities with Fatima than Haruka had been willing to admit.

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Free Fiction Friday: Bottling the Cold, Hard Heart

POD Bottling the Cold Hard Heart Ebook Cover 04
Description:
Eliza’s comfortable life ended when her beloved grandmother died. Her cousin Sandra swooped in and took it all, from the house to Eliza’s beloved dog, Miki. Nothing Eliza did worked but the one thing she would never give up on was saving Miki, no matter what it took.

Bottling the Cold, Hard Heart is a cozy mystery where family and tradition are the true threats to life, love and liberty.

Bottling the Cold, Hard Heart

By Meyari McFarland

1.

Eliza paused just inside the back fence, heart pounding so hard that her head spun and her stomach churned. Her familiar old yard looked so very barren now. Sandra had stripped out the purple and gold irises that had clustered along the west side of the yard like sunlit storm clouds in the spring. Every single blueberry, concord grape and blackberry bush was gone, torn up as though they were worthless. There was no hope of wine this year, sweet and rich from the fruits of the garden Eliza and Grandmother had spent so many years tending.

Her old oak tree, trunk bent and twisted from the lightning strike that had killed half the tree when Eliza was ten, was gone. There wasn’t even a hummock or stump left. Sandra must have paid to have the stump dug out and the hole filled in before she covered everything in the yard with purchased blocks of dry-edged sod.

Even the old fence, broad boards that Eliza had once decorated with chalk drawings of suns, stars and moons, was gone. Every single bleached grey slab of wood had been whisked away. In its place was an eight foot tall cold, impersonal chain link fence whose only bit of personality was the green plastic coating over the bare metal. The Chelsey’s back yard looked startled at being exposed and old Mr. Quinn’s yard all but glowered, shrubs leaning away from the chain link as if offended by its presence.

Grandmother’s house was as unrecognizable. When Eliza moved in at eight, after her parent’s deaths, Grandmother had insisted on repainting the house in Eliza’s favorite colors. The roof had been covered with new burgundy shingles. Eliza, Grandfather and Grandmother had gleefully painted the siding forest green. The trim had been a rich golden tan. All the doors and window frames had been carefully covered with deep purple paint that made the little rambler look like a grand Painted Lady of the Victorian era.

Not now. The house was white. The shingles were black. Every scrap of color was gone, just like Grandmother’s life was gone, like Eliza’s life was over. Only Sandra’s desires and tastes remained.

Except for Miki, her precious little Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Miki, hopefully, was the last bit of life and color left in the house that had been Eliza’s home since her father killed her mother and then himself when she was eight years old. Now she just had to rescue Miki and go to jail for crossing Sandra.

Eliza wished for that old battered fence for more than just nostalgia’s sake as she edged carefully across the bricks of grass towards the back door. Anyone passing on the road in front of the house could see her there. With all the greenery gone, Eliza stood out like the sole red rose in a display of pure white lilies.

It hardly mattered that Eliza had parked her car a mile away and walked down the much quieter back lane that only garbage trucks followed to get here when there was no cover at all in the yard. Someone had to notice her, had to call the police soon. But no, Eliza couldn’t hear a single car. The afternoon was still and quiet as suited a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of the month. Everyone in the neighborhood was gone, hopefully especially Sandra.

Birds sang next door, a strident Bluejay calling its claim to the neighbor’s garden worms, a little chickadee trilling as it hopped along the top of the chain link fence. The chickadee cocked its head at Eliza, taking in her wild hair, shaking hands, pale face. Then it flew away as if afraid to even look into Sandra’s yard.

And wasn’t that the heart of it all?

This was Sandra’s now. The yard stripped of flowers, trees, shrubs, the fresh sod laid down over the clover Grandmother and Eliza had favored, even the bare black paving stones by the back door with one pristine white-painted iron chair sitting by a carefully centered white ironwork table; it all belonged to Sandra when it had been willed to Eliza.

The Bluejay shrilled as it took flight in a clap of wings that startled Eliza back into the chain link fence. It clanged, startling her even worse. Eliza bit her lip against a scream that would turn to tears, to panic, to shaking and crouching by the gate instead of going in to rescue Miki.

“Miki,” Eliza whispered. “I have to save Miki.”

She pressed her hands to her mouth, shut her eyes. No matter how frightened she was of Sandra, Eliza had to rescue Miki. Grandmother had willed the house and everything in it to Eliza. Sandra had gotten the money, the investments she’d always prized over people and pets, but the house had gone to Eliza so that she’d always have a home for herself and Miki.

Not that the will had stood against Sandra’s lawyers.
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