QSFer Tabitha O’Connell has a new queer fantasy romance out (bi, demi, gay, non-binary): Dirt-Stained Hands, Thorn-Pierced Skin.
A queer, Beauty-and-the-Beast-inspired novella.
Heron thought ey wanted to be with handsome, charming Tiel—but the relationship hasn’t quite lived up to eir expectations. With Tiel’s confidence comes a tendency to be overbearing, and now he wants Heron to leave eir farm life behind and move to town with him. And Heron can’t figure out how to explain to him that ey doesn’t want that.
When an accident strands Heron’s mother at a castle rumored to belong to a family of mages, Heron rushes off to make sure she’s all right—only to find the castle occupied by a single man who isn’t a mage at all. Prone to hiding behind his long mess of hair, the mysterious Theomer possesses a long-neglected, semi-magical garden. A job tending it is Heron’s perfect opportunity for some time away from Tiel while ey decides what to tell him.
Heron did not plan to be drawn in by Theomer’s attentive gaze and understated sense of humor. But as an undeniable bond forms between them, ey’s soon going to have a much bigger choice to make…
Warninghs: Minor injury, blood, mild body horror, reference to parent death, reference to alcohol consumption
Heron eased what ey hoped was the final weed from its spot between the leaves of a rhubarb plant, careful to pull the entire root system free before tossing it into the wheelbarrow with the rest. Ey wiped the light sheen of sweat from eir face, then looked up to survey the garden for any remaining intruders. Only the neat rows of vegetables remained, soil dark and damp around them.
These days, with eir mother determined to make a living off selling her inventions, the garden was solely Heron’s responsibility—which ey didn’t mind. Ey liked the quiet, the steady rhythm, the progress as the plants grew and blossomed and bore fruit. Ey liked the smell of the dirt, the infinite variety in the plants, the insects that pollinated them…
If Tiel got his way, though, Heron was going to lose all of that. Living in town instead, hearing arguing people instead of the clucking of chickens, inhaling smoke instead of rain-soaked earth.
Sighing, ey unbent eir stiff knees and rose, rolling eir shoulders and stretching eir arms above eir head. With Ma away, off on her trip to the city fair that morning, Tiel had invited himself over tonight. Heron had reminded him, though, that that would mean waking up early tomorrow to make it back into town for work on time, and that had seemed sufficient to put him off the idea.
Guilt nagged em like a persistent fly, but ey just as persistently swatted it away. Ey was allowed to want some time to emself every so often. Ever since Ma had mentioned her trip, ey’d been looking forward to a quiet evening alone with a book. No clatter of tools from Ma’s bedroom workshop, no trying to figure out if her mutterings were directed at em or just her talking to herself. Ey loved her, and they got along well for the most part—but it was still nice to have a break once in a while.
Of course, most people would relish the chance to have their lover over when they had the house to themselves… but then, most people weren’t seeing Tiel. Maybe if he could sit still, could amuse himself while Heron read, or at least show an interest in what ey was reading, it would be different. Maybe if he could stop pestering Heron about moving to town with him for one moment…
Ey dropped eir arms with another sigh. At least ey’d succeeded in dissuading Tiel from coming by, and ey wouldn’t have to face that tonight—
Something grabbed em around the ribs, and ey yelped, pulling away. When ey spun around, there was Tiel, sleeves rolled to the elbows, hands stained with ink, wearing the heeled boots that raised him two or three inches taller than Heron, elegant features crumpled into a laugh.
“For fuck’s sake.” Heron rolled eir eyes and gave Tiel a half-hearted shove, conveniently pushing him off the rhubarb plants he was trampling.
“Every time!” Tiel exclaimed through continued laughter. “I swear, you’ll never learn.” He grabbed Heron’s hand, making a show of wincing at the dirt embedded in eir palm, and pulled em in for a kiss. “Impeccable timing on my part, don’t you think? Looks like you’ve just finished for the day.”
Heron turned to maneuver the wheelbarrow out of the garden and toward the compost heap. Tiel jogged to catch up, smacking eir ass as he fell into step beside em, making em jump, and Tiel laughed.
“Ah, I can’t wait to have a night of peace and quiet,” he remarked. “My parents are going to murder each other one of these days, I swear.”
Here it came. Tiel would certainly use take this chance to segue into…
“Have you talked to your mum yet about leaving?”
The wheelbarrow hit a divot in the path, sending clumps of dirt bouncing into the air. Tiel fell back a step, giving Heron an extra moment to consider eir answer. “…No, not yet. She was so busy with fair preparations, you know, there really wasn’t a good time.”
“When will be a good time?” Tiel grabbed Heron’s shoulder as he caught up again.
“Do I look like a fortune teller?” They’d reached the compost pile, and Heron shrugged Tiel’s hand off and tipped the wheelbarrow forward, giving it a shake to get all the bits out.
“No, you look like a farmer’s child who was meant for bigger things! Stop worrying about your mum and let yourself have this.”
Heron rested the wheelbarrow on the ground again, and Tiel grabbed eir arms, spinning em to face him. Holding Heron in place, hands firm on eir biceps, he dropped his voice to an enticing whisper. “Come live with me, darling. Let me take you away from all this.”
There was a time when Heron would have smiled at Tiel’s theatrics. Ey had originally enjoyed that side of Tiel; it was what had drawn em in even before they’d met. The handsome man with the loud laugh and bold gestures, who veered into silliness at times, but whose confidence never wavered. When had that confidence become a wall holding Heron back, rather than a supportive foundation?
Heron closed the gap between them, pressing eir mouth to Tiel’s, lifting a hand to run eir fingers down Tiel’s chest.
“You’re trying to distract me,” Tiel murmured against eir lips.
“Is it working?”
Tiel pressed closer against em, sufficiently answering that question, and Heron let eir anticipated vision of the evening slip away. It was fine. Ey would have a night with Tiel, and ey would enjoy that instead.
Tabitha O’Connell is a historic preservationist and writer of queer fiction living in Western New York. Eir favorite things include animals, abandoned places, alliteration, long walks, and long sentences (some of which may or may not turn up in eir work…). Right now ey is probably drinking tea and daydreaming about stories centering ace, trans, and other queer characters.