Novel Monday: Following the Trail – Chapter 14

POD Following the Trail Ebook Cover 04
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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.

Rina smiled, bowed and then moved after Lady Tamami with an expression that Ammad recognized all too well. That wasn’t happiness. It wasn’t even resignation at having to deal with yet another party. It was regret mingled with determination. Even her stride shifted. Before she’d moved smoothly, gracefully, though not as gracefully as Keiko always did.

Now she strode as if going into battle, all joy gone, subsumed into a sort of rigidness that matched all too well with Ammad’s feelings before they arrived. He licked his lips, pulling away from Falling Star without even apologizing. That was stupid but Ammad found himself working quickly through the crowd.

This time the comments about his ‘lovely lady’ fell on deaf ears. Ammad managed to intercept Rina before she returned to Lady Tamami’s side. She started when he caught her sleeve, staring at him as if his grip on the long fluttering bit of fabric had frozen her in place.

“I apologize,” Ammad said, dropping the sleeve. His cheeks burned. “I ah, wondered if I could ask you something. Privately?”

“Avoid the party for a bit longer?” Rina said with a wry enough smile that Ammad grinned. “All right. Outside?”

“The hallway,” Ammad said, gesturing back towards the door.

It was closer but Rina still looked at him as if he’d just suggested that they strip naked and run through the house like a toddler escaping his nannies. The hallway wasn’t empty, sadly, but it was close enough to empty that Ammad was satisfied. Kosuke was there with a couple of the kitchen staff, checking food before carrying it in to the buffet. Up the hallway he could see Lady Cantara and Firas so this would have to be a short discussion.

“Is something wrong?” Rina asked. Her fingers shook so slightly that Ammad almost missed it. That she wouldn’t meet his eyes was very obvious.

“You’re interested in me,” Ammad said quietly and then groaned. “I am sorry. My mouth doesn’t appear to be listening to my mind today.”

Rina snorted a laugh, finally looking at him directly. Her smile was very warm but very rueful. Ammad waved one hand to encourage her to say something then held it up to say no, not yet. He swallowed hard around the surge of nervousness that seemed to come from nowhere. By that point Rina’s smile was open, bright and highly amused.

“I cannot marry until Tamami does,” Rina said before Ammad could do more than open his mouth. “No matter what I may want.”

He stared at her. “Why? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“She cannot handle the duties that I’ve been doing,” Rina explained, more quietly as Lady Cantara and Firas approached. She watched them rather than meeting Ammad’s eyes but this time it didn’t feel as though Rina was being shy. “At all. Everyone in Metchosin agrees on that point. Frankly, had I actually been there for Lady Cantara’s visit the… situation would not have occurred.”

“I really need to find out what happened,” Ammad said. He grinned when Rina turned laughing eyes on him.

He grinned and gestured for Rina to accompany him back inside. Obviously there were questions he should have asked during their private dinner. And equally obviously, getting answers to those questions was not likely to happen until he could corner Keiko, Lady Tamami and Rina in one place at one time.

Perhaps Shizuka would help on that. Certainly Shahzad and Haruka would, as would Father and his new apprentices. The little he’d seen of those boys told him that they would gladly help with any shenanigans that they could. As he headed back inside with Rina by his side, Lady Cantara cleared her throat.

“Yes?” Ammad asked. He raised an eyebrow at the disapproving sneer on her lips, the mock-sad shake of Firas’ head. “Can I help you?”

“You’ll make your lady question your faith if you go off to talk with other women alone,” Lady Cantara said. “Both of you should know better than that.”

“If you mean Yasuda Keiko,” Ammad said, setting one hand on Rina’s shoulder to keep her from advancing on Lady Cantara, “she isn’t my lady. And Lady Tamami isn’t Rina’s, either. None of us are involved in that fashion, thank you very much.”

“It’s obvious which way the wind is blowing,” Lady Cantara said with a sniff of disapproval that made Ammad curl his free hand into a fist, much like Rina’s hands.

“Only because people like you can’t learn how to hold their tongues when they know nothing and aren’t involved,” Rina growled. “Good day, Lady Cantara. I don’t believe I’ll be free to talk to you anytime soon.”

“Agreed,” Ammad said.

He used the deep tone of voice that Father had taught him for discipline and judgment cases. It echoed in the hallway as if Allah himself had spoken. Out of the corner of his eye, Ammad saw Kosuke’s head snap around. The kitchen staff with him all gasped, one girl’s hands flying to her mouth in shock.

Rather than respond to them, or to Lady Cantara who had gone a very unbecoming shade of purple, Ammad nodded to Rina before returning to the party. Hopefully that would get around quickly, although once it did Father was likely to come lecture Ammad on proper behavior. Not that he needed the lecture. Ammad was fairly certain that Lady Cantara wouldn’t listen to lectures no matter how much she needed them.

“You may have implied a connection that doesn’t exist,” Rina said so quietly that Ammad barely heard her over the sound of people chatting, laughing, and one person far across the room singing.

“Yet,” Ammad said, smiling at Rina while his heart leaped. “Perhaps not ever but, well. That option is the best I’ve encountered yet and frankly, it’s the only one I would take at this time. Though you’d have to enjoy managing the books.”

Rina’s hand flew to her mouth as she broke into startled giggles. She shrugged, waving one hand, only to give up as laughter won entirely. Ammad’s heart fluttered in his chest. Oh yes, Rina was the best option so far, though he had to find the time to check her lineage to see if they were politically compatible. The last thing he wanted to do was replicate Lady Cantara’s errors.

“I can learn,” Rina finally said. She sighed as she looked towards Lady Tamami and Keiko. “The question is whether or not Tamami will ever learn to see what’s in front of her eyes. And whether Keiko will accept.”

Ammad followed Rina’s gaze and sighed at what he saw. Off against the wall, as far away from the buffet as possible, Lady Tamami stood with Keiko by her side. Neither of them was looking at the other. Instead Lady Tamami glared out at the party as if she intended to fight everyone there. Keiko stared at her feet as if they were the most fascinating thing possible.

He sighed, looked at Rina and then snorted when all she did was shrug. Maybe they could escape into the garden, but no, it was raining finally so that wouldn’t work. And slipping away from the party wouldn’t either. Of course, he could simply tell them to stop being foolish but given Keiko’s fierce nature and Lady Tamami’s tendency to hit people who offended her that wasn’t a good option.

“Oh no,” Ammad groaned. “Oh no!”

“What?” Rina asked.

“I just realized that I’ve started match-making,” Ammad complained as dramatically as he could simply to see if he could make Rina laugh.

She burst out laughing, so loudly that the people around them turned to stare at the two of them. Ammad grinned, shrugged and then laughed himself as Rina swatted his elbow. He gestured for them to go join Lady Tamami and Keiko, not in small part because Lady Cantara was bearing down on them again.

Rina nodded, glanced over her shoulder and rolled her eyes. They slipped around the knot of guests closest to them, taking opposite sides. The guests looked to see what they were fleeing. One of the oldest men snorted, stiffening his back before talking in a much louder tone of voice about Countess Dancing Water who had apparently refused to let any more suitors approach her over the last day or two.

His fellows joined suit, talking loudly, very loudly, about how inappropriate it was to have relationships outside of the proper class. The party seemed much better, brighter, happier, though that was likely Rina’s grin and the laughter that Ammad fought to suppress. He really did need to investigate Rina’s background but that could wait. Breaking the vow to fight all matchmaking didn’t mean that he couldn’t gently encourage Lady Tamami to pay attention to what was in front of her eyes.

And if that helped him spend more time with Rina, well, Ammad wasn’t going to object to that. At the very least, he felt much calmer and happier around Rina than he did around almost anyone else. That in itself was reason to consider a marriage to her, completely outside of the links it would forge between Breding and Metchosin.

Ammad snorted quietly. He would have to work harder at lying to himself. If he was spending this much time thinking up excuses for why Rina would be a good choice then he should simply admit that he liked her and wanted to know her better. Wasting energy on excuses was ridiculous.

At least, it was ridiculous to himself. As Ammad and Rina made their way through the crowd they got first one, then another, then a whole series of approving looks, glances and quietly murmured ‘she’s over there’ comments. Rina’s lips compressed as the wave of misplaced approval increased. Ammad’s hands curled so tightly into fists that his bones ached.

“I think we need to encourage Lady Tamami,” Ammad murmured to Rina as they tried to slip around a group of older women who cooed at them for rejoining their ‘lovers’.

“To do what?” Rina asked.

“Hit people.”

Rina laughed, wrinkling her nose adorably. He grinned at her and then finally glowered at the older women until they moved out of the way. Maybe he should take some time to write down all the reasons why Rina was correct and Keiko wasn’t. Before this wedding was over he might need every single one of them.

Find this Story:

On Amazon $5.99 ebook or $14.99 TPB

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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!

Find this Story:

On Amazon $5.99 ebook or $14.99 TPB

On Smashwords $5.99 ebook

On CreateSpace $14.99 5″ x 8″ TPB

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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About meyari

I am a writer of erotica, science fiction and fantasy. I've been writing for years but have just sold my first erotica novel and am working on self-publishing my non-erotica. I love sewing, collecting dolls, reading, and a great many crafts that I no longer have time to do. I've been happily married to my husband for 20 years.
This entry was posted in LGBT Issues, Manor Verse, MDR Publishing, Novel Monday, Self Publishing, Writing Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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