QSFer Blaine D. Arden has a new queer fantasy romance out in the Tales of the Forest series: Tewnty-Five Turns.
Can love last when one won’t leave, and the other can’t stay?
Fear of moving farther away from his family had cost Eer the love of his life, but now, after twenty-five turns, Kat has returned…with a son, and Eer’s feelings resurface as if it had been only yesterday since they’d first kissed.
But any hope Eer has of rekindling their love seems doomed to fail when a murderer’s taste for revenge forces Kat to choose between endangering their family or running… and leaving Eer behind, again.
Warning: mention of domestic abuse.
After the last visitor of the day skipped out of my chamber, I cleaned all the mugs with a spell and put them back into the niche. It was early still, so I sauntered along the beach, sandals in hand, letting the sun warm me.
In the shade of the trees, a group of wee ones sat gathered around Mistress Em and Mistress Silke, her apprentice. One had even crawled in Em’s lap and seemed to be asleep.
Em’s melodious voice washed over me as she told them a story of a tiny dragon breathing their first fire while their mother was out hunting. I found myself listening with as much rapture as the wee ones.
“And that, my wee ones, is why we don’t go traipsing into caves by ourselves.” Em winked at them and gently woke the sleeping one. “You never know when a young dragon is practising their fire skills.”
It had been a long time since anyone had spotted a dragon around here. They tended to flock east, far across the lake. Em had also left out that dragons rarely grew taller than knee-high. Fire was still fire, though.
As the wee ones wobbled off to find their parents, Silke rose and picked the sleepy one from Em’s lap. She approached me with a smile that only enhanced her resemblance to Em. They looked more like mother and daughter than distant cousins. Though Em was a cloud elf and Silke was wingless.
“I really enjoyed our talk last moon. We leave on a tour around the neighbouring villages soon, I’ll come by before we leave.”
Last moon had been Silke’s first village tour with Em, and she’d never left the village before. Some soothing from me, and a potion from her healer, had steadied her nerves more than words could. “My door is always open.”
“See you soon, then.” And with that, she danced around me and took the wee one into the centre.
“She’ll be telling them her own dragon stories soon enough.”
I held out my arm for Em. “And keep our wee ones dreaming of finding dragons in the caves.”
She grabbed it with a wide smile and let me pull her to her feet. Her long greying curls still turned the colour of fire as they caught the sunlight. “As if you never wandered into the mountains hoping to find a dragon.”
“The mountains are at best a day’s walk from my family’s village, same as here. Mum would have skinned me if I’d tried.” I held her bag as she shook herself and patted down her layered dress to rid herself of any lingering sand. “But Pa took me and my siblings to explore the caves when I was ten or so. No dragon in sight, but a night filled with so many creepy sounds, I didn’t sleep for days.”
Em’s laugh was bright and happy and contagious. “We were six when Kat insisted we explore the caves on the other side of the village, far past the cells. We weren’t even allowed near the path to the cells. An elder caught us and brought us home. Kat spent the rest of the day training imaginary dragons to keep Pop’s forge burning.”
For a moment I couldn’t breathe, and it was hard to keep the smile on my face as I forced the words out. “They must have been adorable.”
They were siblings, triplets. Em and Lin were constant reminders of the one I missed and how badly I’d messed up.
Em snorted. “Good thing they can’t hear you.” Then she seemed to realise what she’d said. “I’m sorry.”
I shook my head. “No need. I let Kat go. It’s my fault.”
“Nonsense,” she said with conviction as she hooked her arm through mine. “Come. Let’s get tea at the centre.”
Now that sounded good. But as we neared the path to the centre, Em stopped and pointed at the safehold. “What’s my sister doing in travel clothes?”
Lin wearing what? I glanced to where Em was pointing, and it did indeed seem to be Lin in sturdy travel clothes standing with the guide, her back turned to me, her wings folded. Her short, grey curls glimmered red in the sun, like Em’s, and like I imagined Kat’s would, too.
“Maybe she’s going for a visit?” I suggested.
“No. Not with—” Em stopped herself, eyes wide as she glanced at me.
She shook her head. “Nothing.” She pulled at me to move. “Come. Let’s find out.”
Lin took a step back, revealing a wingless stripling with long, sleek black hair that shielded their face. Even with their shoulders hunched, they were almost as tall as Lin. They held on to Lin’s hand so tightly their knuckles had turned almost white, visible even from this distance. Not one of Lin’s children. Besides, hers were adults with their own wee ones. Who was this stripling? And what were they doing with Lin?
When Lin swatted a fly, giving me a better view of her profile, my heart skipped a beat, and it all became clear. This was not Lin.
Em must have noticed at the same time because she uttered a pleased cry and let go of me to greet her sibling.
With my heart pounding, I stood rooted to the ground, staring at Kat, and scolding myself for not recognising them. I took a step back, despite the distance between us. They did not glance my way. They might not even have seen me, with Em throwing herself at them.
I could barely breathe. All my feelings for Kat resurfaced at that one glance, and in that moment I had more sympathy for any of my charges with a crush than I’d ever had. Love did hurt. So much.
Blaine D. Arden is an EPIC Award-winning author of Romantic Speculative Fiction and Suspense who sings her way through life in platform boots.