In the mood for a fluffy f/f short story? I new EmMay one-shot I wrote called “Date Night” has been exclusively published on the Spectrum Lit Patreon! The story is a cute and free to read that is completely stand-alone, so anyone who hasn’t read the Starborn Series books can enjoy it too! Be sure to check out all the other queer, Own Voices stories on Spectrum while you’re there!
Check it out! It’s the first ever guest post on my blog! Today is cover reveal day for my amazing friend, Brianna! Check out the details on her debut f/f new adult contemporary romance (and see how you can win a copy!) below!
Hello all! Thank you for having me here, and thank you so much to Maggie for helping me kick off my first ever cover reveal and giveaway!
Let me introduce myself. My name is Brianna Kienitz and I’m the author of f/f new adult contemporary romance, Off Pitch, available from Ninestar Press beginning October 9th. This novel is the first of two in the Pitch Prodigies series. It follows Northwestern University’s soccer star, Adeline Fahey, as she encounters a roadblock in her life plane in the form of Gabriella Soto, an equally driven cello prodigy, and the TA in Addie’s Spanish class.
I could babble on and on all day about my upcoming novel, but I’d like to share a few fun tidbits with you. But first, how about a cover reveal? Here it is, my beautiful cover from the very talented Natasha Snow!
Now that your eyeballs are filled with that awesomeness, I want to tell you a little bit about the T-rex. If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed a plethora of T-rex’s. But why? I didn’t choose the T-rex brand, it chose me. The T-rex costume plays a relatively small, albeit hilarious, part in Off Pitch. When I started pitching this story on Twitter, it became clear that the T-rex costume was garnering a lot of attention. I latched onto it and ran with it. I like to think that the T-rex played a large part in acquiring my publishing deal with Ninestar Press.
With that in mind, I present the official Off Pitch sticker!
I will be sending a sticker with every signed copy of the book, handing them out at events, and sticking them to every available surface.
Up next I’d like to share a little bit about our lesbian lovers. Maggie was kind enough to gift me with beautiful fanart of these lovely ladies, and I’ve been googly-eyed over it all day.
On the left, we have Adeline Fahey. She’s a 20-year-old bio-mechanical engineering major at Northwestern University. Her parents are Irish immigrants of the affluent variety (a touchy subject for Addie). Most importantly, she is Northwestern’s soccer star and an aspiring soccer professional. Bio-mechanical engineering is her backup.
Fun fact: Adeline’s last name is a version of my Irish surname.
On the right, you guessed it, Gabriella Soto, a graduate cellist and the smoking hot teaching assistant in Adeline’s Spanish class. Originally from Spain, she’s studying abroad on a full scholarship. Her parents are much less affluent than Addie’s, but she is quickly becoming the darling of Chicago’s classical music scene.
Fun fact: The cello is not the only thing she plays well.
Anyways, that’s it for this blog post. Don’t forget to comment Team Soccer, Team Cello, or Team T-rex, and then head on over to Rafflecopter to claim an extra entry to the Off Pitch Cover Reveal giveaway. If you haven’t already, you can head over to my blog for another entry, and visit my Facebook and follow me on Twitter for even more entries and to stay up to date on the latest Off Pitch news!
Off Pitch is available for pre-order from Ninestar Press starting today, so if giveaways aren’t your thing you can head over there to reserve your paperback or e-copy!
Finally, another thank you to Maggie Derrick for co-hosting this cover reveal with me. Be sure to follow her blog, and stalk her on Twitter and Facebook, and consider snagging an art commission with her while you’re at it. Happy trails!
Content warning: Strong language
Em’s eyes sprang open, widening at the sight of Jeremy’s accusatory finger pointed her way.
“Me?” She balked with indignation. “How is this my fault?”
“The Loyals caught wind of your little stunt in the mountains,” Priva said. “You remember, the one with the bear?”
Em went stiff.
“I was just doing my job,” she muttered.
“You should have been a little less fucking flashy about it,” Jeremy snapped.
“She saved someone’s life,” May countered, coming to Em’s defense. “It’s not like she had any other options.”
Jeremy stared May down with such burning intensity she flinched.
“The Loyals wanted us to help find you,” Priva continued, distracting May from Jeremy’s scrutiny with a shudder. “But we refused.”
“Why?” Em asked.
“Because agreeing to the treaty didn’t mean we agreed to turn on Wishes,” Connor answered. “They tried for a while on their own but they never were as good at finding Wishes they way we are. And when we refused to help them a second time-”
“They took our son instead.” Rue finished his sentence, her voice breaking.
A tense silence filled the small trailer. Em counted her rapid breaths as May looked to Dom.
“See?” he said quietly. “I told you they needed your help.”
At this Em shook her head. “How are we supposed to help? I’m sorry if I fucked things up for you guys but I’m not about to turn myself in just to-”
“We’re not asking you to,” Rue interrupted her, raising her hands to quell her rising temper. “We have a plan, but the only way it will work is if you agree to help us.
Em opened her mouth but paused when May placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“Let’s hear them out, love,” May whispered in her ear. Em might not have felt any responsibility for Gaten’s abduction but May couldn’t seem to suppress the guilt roiling inside her.
Lips in a tight line, Em gave her a hard stare before letting out a tired sigh.
“What do you need us to do?” she relented.
Looking more hopeful than he had all night, Connor stepped forward.
“The Loyals wanted us to turn you in when we found you,” he admitted. “But as far as we’re concerned, we don’t owe them anything now. The treaty was as good as dead the moment they took Gaten to get us to cooperate. Our plan is to stage an exchange and, once he’s safe, come at them in an orchestrated assault. We don’t need to beat them – just create enough of a diversion so that all of us can slip away. With our combined abilities – yours in particular – we should be able to pull it off.”
Em raised an eyebrow and let out a hollow laugh. “You not only want to use me as bait, you want us to help you fight the Loyals?”
Dom jumped as though someone had shocked him.
“You didn’t say anything about using her as bait,” he exclaimed, looking scandalized. “You promised me they would be safe.”
Priva shook her head. “They are safe. We’re not going to hurt them. This is their choice to make.”
Em buried her eyes beneath the heels of her palms and tried to focus. Audrey’s dearest friends being back in her life was confusing in a way that was making it difficult to keep her mind from slipping. The fight to stay grounded in the present was wearing her out.
Scenes from Audrey’s final days cut into her thoughts like a corrupted reel jerked from scene to scene. The surface of her skin prickled with the static that warned of an impending breakdown.
With great difficulty she tried to concentrate on the touch of May’s warm hands still tight on her shoulders while her mind stumbled over the problem at hand.
This is unbelievable, she thought as bitterness boiled in the pit of her stomach. What would make them think I would agree to a plan like…
Em’s mind snapped. For a split second she was Audrey again, her attention wrenching from a heated argument with Jeremy as a terrifying realization dawned on her. Audrey placed a shaking hand over her chest and the jagged silver scar that ran down its center…
“You fucking assholes,” Em shouted, shaking her head and choking on her words.
“What?” May asked, alarmed. “What is it?”
Em’s glare was furious.
“They’re fucking tracking you, aren’t they?”
No one spoke. Connor and Jeremy exchanged wide-eyed looks of surprise.
“Aren’t they?” Em bellowed again, her demand for a response making everyone jump.
“No,” Connor answered, caution edging into his voice. “I mean, I suppose they might be, but-”
“For fuck’s sake,” Em snapped. She was furious, anger rolling through her veins like a tempest.
“Please,” Rue begged, stepping around her friends so Em and May could see her sincerity. “We swear we aren’t trying to lead them back to you.”
“But you might have.” There was venom in Em’s voice now. “So much for us being safe, huh?”
“Does it matter?” Jeremy mused. “From the sounds of things, you two don’t mind being on the run, anyway.”
Incensed, Em made to lunge for him but Dom had already rushed to her side and held her back with a firm hand. All her anger earned was a satisfied sneer from Jeremy instead.
“I’ve about had it with your shit,” she growled.
“Stop it,” May cut in, jumping down from her perch and planting herself between the bristling pair. “Both of you need to cut it out.”
She gave Em a look that begged for her trust before turning to Connor and Rue.
“If we help you, is there a way to end this?”
The others shared a look of unease.
“How do you mean?” Connor asked, approaching her as though her fingers rested on the detonator of a bomb.
“If we help get your son back, you have to help us too.” May could not have explained where the confidence to negotiate with these people was coming from, but she let it lead her. “You can go back to running from the Loyals if that’s what you want but somehow, when this is all over, they need to be off our trails. We walk away from this without targets on our backs or no deal.”
Jeremy scoffed. “And how would you like us to do that?”
Since the first moment their eyes met, May had been intimidated by this man. Yet now she wasn’t willing to back down. Whatever his problem was with her, she chose to rise above it.
“I guess you’ll have to figure it out.”
“It’ll be tricky,” Connor offered, his brow knitted tightly. “We need to think about how to pull it off.”
“That’s fine.” May held her head up high. “We need to think about this too.”
Everyone started, each pair of eyes turning to gaze at her with varying degrees of incredulity.
“You’re asking a lot of us here.” May took in their surprised with an aloof shrug of her shoulders. “You didn’t expect us to answer you right away, did you?”
A quick whispered exchange passed between Connor, Rue, and Priva. Jeremy glared.
“That’s fair.” Rue agreed at last. “We’re staying at a motel on the edge of town – Willows Court. Can we meet again in the morning?”
May glanced at Em and Dom, who stared back at her expectantly.
“Noon,” she said. “If we don’t show up by then, you’ll know our answer.”
While the decision didn’t sit well with everyone, WIND knew they had pushed far enough for one night. With muttered words of parting, they took their leave. Dom stayed behind and locked the door after them. He took a moment to steel his nerves, knowing full well he owed Em and May one hell of an apology.
“There’s no way for me to express how sorry I am,” he began, his back still to the girls. “If I had known-”
“Em? Are you okay?”
May’s voice was high with concern.
Dom twisted around just in time to see Em collapse into her arms.
[ Read Next Chapter ]
Content warning: Strong language
“I’m sorry.” Rue glanced apologetically between her husband and Jeremy. “But we aren’t getting anywhere like this.”
Stepping forward, she gently lifted a silver chain up and over her head. Hanging from its delicate links was an ornate locket with a detailed design in a rainbow of candy-like enamel inlays. She offered it to Em but when she hesitated, May took it instead. Carefully, she popped the cover open, revealing the photo inside.
Connor, a bright smile lighting up his handsome face, held in his arms a laughing child. The toddler had Rue’s brown skin and dark, fluffy curls but his green eyes were carbon copies of Connor’s.
“That’s our son.” Rue’s voice caught as she pointed at the photo cradled in May’s hand. “Gaten.”
“He looks so sweet,” May murmured.
Her mind was already racing across thousands of miles back to her nephew, Omi. Depending on when the photo was taken, she figured Gaten was probably close to the same age as him. She could picture Omi now, playing in the sand on the beaches of Omea, proudly holding up the spiked coil of a conch shell he had just unearthed; a new addition to his growing collection.
Her heart clenched at how much she missed him.
“He is very sweet,” Connor agreed, putting an arm around his wife’s shoulder. Slow tears snaked down her inked face. “And happy and perfect. He’s the light of our lives.”
The sound of Omi’s laughter bubbled in May’s memory. She glanced down at the locket again and swallowed, her throat dry.
“What’s happened to him?” Em asked, her voice breaking May’s train of thought. Em’s eyes were trained on the locket too – she didn’t seem capable of raising them to look at Connor, or Rue – not even at May – anywhere other than at Gaten’s smiling face.
“They took him,” Rue answered quietly. “The Loyals took him from us.”
Em tensed. May gasped.
“Why?” May asked, the question coming out louder than she meant it to.
Connor rubbed his brow; he looked as though he hadn’t gotten a full night’s rest in weeks. Rue wrapped her arms around his waist and tucked her face into the crook of his neck.
“To answer that, we need to tell you more about us,” said Priva, taking over to give the grieving parents a moment to themselves. “It’s complicated.”
With gentle hands, May placed the locket back in Connor’s palm before hopping up to sit on the edge of the counter. Em sidled up beside her and draped an arm over her knees. They were ready to listen.
“You know the Loyals are after you, but do you understand why?”
“Sort of,” Em lied. She felt it safer to say as little as possible. “Something about a missing wishing star and stolen wishes or something like that.”
Priva rubbed the back of her neck in thinly veiled frustration. “That wishing star fell to Earth over three decades ago. An organization of Star worshippers sought it out but became divided about what to do with it when they found it. Some people actually used it for their own gain, wishing for all kinds of things – money, love, beauty, prestige. But the people we know now as the Loyals were exactly that – loyal to the Stars. They considered these ill-gotten wishes to be affronts to the Stars and took it upon themselves to destroy them. Unfortunately, some people had wished for babies – innocents like Connor and Jeremy and me.” She nodded at the others to make her point. “And getting rid of Wishes like us meant murder.”
“People were dying. So a couple of Wishes started fighting back. Connor was one of the first, along with…” She hesitated, eyes darting from Em to her friends and back again. Em and May exchanged a quick, surreptitious glance. “Some others. Jeremy and Rue. Me, eventually. We spent years operating in secret. We called ourselves WIND – Wish Identification, Naturalization, and Defence – and tried to get to human Wishes before the Loyals could.”
“What did you do with the Wishes when you found them?” May asked.
“Anything it took to keep them safe,” Priva replied. “Sometimes they already knew what they were and just needed to be warned. Others needed help escaping and starting new lives.”
She folded her arms and closed her eyes with a sigh. “But it was an exhausting way to live. Constantly staying one step ahead of the Loyals meant never being able to rest. We always had to be looking over our shoulders, living on the run, even after all the known Wishes had been found.” – At this, May kept her expression as impassive as possible. – “Which is why when the Loyals eventually came to us with a treaty, we decided to take it.”
“We thought it was the best thing for everyone,” Connor blurted. He sounded like he was confessing to a crime. “As far as we knew, we had found the last of the Wishes. The most important part of our work was done. And besides…” he looked down at Rue, whose face was still pressed against him. “When we found out we were expecting, our priorities had to change.”
“So we agreed to their terms,” Priva continued. “We gave ourselves up in exchange for some semblance of freedom.”
May shook her head. “I don’t understand. If the Loyals wanted to get rid of all the Wishes, why would they negotiate with you? Why wouldn’t they just… you know.”
“Kill us?” Jeremy offered. An awkward silence hung for a beat before he continued. “It’s not like they hadn’t tried. But by this point they had realized their self-righteous bullshit wasn’t gaining them any brownie points; all the Stars wanted was their wishing star back.”
“But the problem there was that the wishing star had been stolen years earlier,” Priva said. “While the Loyals had never stopped looking for it, they certainly hadn’t gotten any closer to finding it. Eventually someone in that mess of a cult decided we might be the key to figuring out how to find it, which is where the treaty came in.”
Beside her, Jeremy sneered.
“We could hand ourselves over to the cause or spend the rest of our lives running and hiding from their network. At the time it seemed like a fair enough deal – finding the wishing star and getting it fuck out of here would make everyone happy. Instead we wound up signing up to let them use us just so we can go on living our lives like normal people.” He scoffed, tugging down the collar of his shirt to reveal the tip of a thick, silvery scar in the centre of his chest. “Of course, ‘normal’ to these people means treating the Wishes among us like lab rats, among other things.”
Em gave a start, her nails digging into the flesh of May’s arm.
From his corner, Dom cleared his throat, making everyone jump – they had almost forgotten he was there.
“And Gaten?” he asked. “What did all this treaty business mean for him?”
Rue pulled back at last, drawing in an uneasy breath. “Gaten was the first child to be born to a Wish.” She gave Connor’s hand a squeeze. “This made him very interesting to the Loyals, but they never made a move on him. We figured he was protected by the treaty like the rest of us.”
Her lip quivered as she clutched the locket to her breast. “But we were wrong. We wrong about everything. And them taking him from us was just another betrayal we’ve been powerless to stop.”
Again, Em twitched – a jolt racing down her limb from her core. May watched helplessly as Em clenched her eyes and licked her lips the way she always did when her mind was beginning to slip.
“But why take him now?” May asked, rubbing Em’s shoulder gently as her mind sifted through everything they had said, lining the pieces up in her mind like clues in a game. “What happened?”
With darkness in his eyes, Jeremy turned his glare to Em.
[ Read Next Chapter ]
For anyone who isn’t super familiar with it, The Wattys are like the Oscars of Wattpad. Every summer tens of thousands of books are entered for consideration, with only a small group ultimately winning the coveted title in a handful of categories.
I am absolutely beside myself over this! There are so many amazing books on this shortlist so it’s really just an honour to have made it this far. The winners will be announced at the end of September and, while I don’t want to get my hopes up, my fingers are still crossed!
But aside from taking a moment to squee publicly, I thought this might be a good opportunity to share some lessons I learned along the way. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I actually submitted TSATO for The Wattys last year as well (it was only because I didn’t finish the book until February that it was eligible to be re-submitted this year as well).
Needless to say, I didn’t win.
While I didn’t say anything publicly, I was SUPER heartbroken over it. I, like so many other entrants, truly thought my book had what it took to win. But because I knew I’d have a second shot I excused myself from my pity party and took some steps to make sure the book was as good as it could be when the contest opened back up again in 2017.
Whether you missed the mark this year or are planning on giving it a shot next year for the first time, here are some of the things I did that might help you out!
Look for feedback and actually do something with it
Even the most constructive criticism can be hard to take, but if you want to improve you work you’re going to have to suck it up. Ask your readers for feedback and pay close attention to what they have to say. A lot of it might end up just being matters of preference but if you see legitimate issues cropping up, make the effort to address them.
I completely restructured the beginning of The Star and the Ocean, as well as the length of my chapters, in September of last year because of reader feedback. It was a massive undertaking (not to mention a frustrating pain in the ass) but in the end, it did make the story stronger and more attractive to readers.
Finish your story (or at least be as close as you can)
Technically your story doesn’t have to be finished to be eligible for The Wattys (you’re required to have a minimum of five parts up) but I truly think it helps. The first time I submitted TSATO it wasn’t quite halfway finished, whereas this year it was complete. I’m sure the judges do their absolute best to keep an open mind when going into unfinished stories, but you’ve got to admit that it’s easier to appreciate and understand a full and complete work over a handful of chapters. Think of it this way: would you ever pick a favourite movie based solely on the teaser alone?
Get those reads
This piece of advice is completely based on speculation and observation. The number of reads your story has don’t technically factor into the judging criteria, and there are definitely winners each year with only a few thousand reads. But the majority of winning stories tend to have read counts on the higher side. Does it matter? Probably not. Does it hurt to try? Nope.
If you’re stumped over how to drum up reads, begin by understanding that no one breaks the 100k read mark overnight. When I submitted TSATO last year I had around 3k reads when the contest closed. This year I had over 100k when the contest opened. It’s a long game and you have to be committed to playing it.
Admittedly, a lot of my reads came from features; first by making the Wattpad Featured Fantasy list and again by their official LGBT account. While Wattpad has since changed how its Featured List works, there are still plenty of other Book of the Month lists you can apply – or have someone nominate you – for. I also recommend entering book clubs. They’re a bit time consuming but you’re guaranteed reads PLUS most book clubs require participants to leave feedback, which we already know can also be helpful.
Be kind to yourself
Would it be amazing to win? Damn right! Are you a shitty writer if you don’t? Of course not. Not everyone can win and there are SO MANY great books out there that will never win anything. No contest defines your worth as a writer, so don’t let this one stop you from doing what you love!
Genre: contemporary romance
Rep: gay, bisexual, lesbian, trans
Content Warnings: strong language, alcohol, family issues, NSFW scenes
A free copy of this publication was sent to me in exchange for an honest review.
For 55-year-old Phil Hutton, finding a new boyfriend is tough, especially since he’s still hurting from his ex leaving him for a younger man. Online dating has been a soul-crushing experience for the restaurant owner. Too many meat-haters interested in microbreweries or something called geocaching. His matches in the multiplayer for his favorite video game have been equally sucky too.
One night, he encounters a newbie who is so helpless, Phil can’t help showing him the ropes. It doesn’t take long for Phil to become interested in his enthusiastic teammate. 28-year-old Tyson Falls from Georgia loves working as a server in a rinky pizza joint and sees the best in everything. As Phil’s online dating matches get worse and his in-game matches with Tyson get better, he finds himself wanting to pursue the easygoing chatterbox with a thick, sexy drawl.
But Phil can’t get past the fear that Tyson couldn’t possibly want a fossil like him. If his brain doesn’t stop being so damn insecure, it might be game over for his heart.
I’m going to be super honest here: an age-gap m/m romance isn’t something I would have picked up on my own. That said, after reading Team Phison I’m really glad I requested an ARC because it was wonderful. This charming novella had me hooked, thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it and reaching for it during snatched, quiet moments throughout the day so I could keep reading. It’s been a while since a book has captured my attention like that!
What works well:
Chace’s writing is the kind I just love to sink into; her prose was as enjoyable as the story itself. Phil is so well rounded that I felt like a fly on the wall of his life. There’s a ton of great LGBT+ representation throughout the story and the overall concept was unique and well-executed.
What doesn’t work well:
Honestly? I don’t think I have a single criticism for this one! I enjoyed it, I thought it was well-written, and I might just read it again!
Purchase this title on:
Nothing about this month worked out the way I wanted it to.
Remember when I said I was taking August off from all my other projects to get The Witch’s Patron ready to publish?
I started out strong; I combed through my beta feedback, made notes throughout my manuscript, identified places that need work, and outlined a bunch of sections I need to add. I was feeling so good about my progress and direction!
But when the time came to do the writing I just… stalled.
After those first couple weeks I just couldn’t find the motivation to write or revise. First there was the fact that I had something going on virtually every weekend of the month, then I wound up spending two weeks in pain from a floor hockey tournament gone wrong, fighting off an infection, and grappling with a flare up in my depression. Still, when I did have time and desire to write, it was never for The Witch’s Patron. I started to feel guilty because I had set aside the time to work on this one project; I wasn’t supposed to be working on anything else! So instead of writing what I was inspired to write I just… didn’t write at all.
I wound up doing a lot of “productive procrastination”, working on art and opening my commissions instead of writing. If felt good to be doing something, but as August drew to an end I started to feel like the entire month had been a waste of time.
So, what did I learn from this failed experiment?
Putting strict parameters on my creativity does not work for me.
I would have been better off if I had just let myself work on whatever I was most inspired by in the moment than forcing myself into a box.
Which is why, moving forward, I’m going to do exactly that.
Yes, I’d still like to have The Witch’s Patron polished by the time I go to the Surrey International Writer’s Conference at the end of October, but not at the detriment of my other projects or my own happiness. I want to enjoy the ride again and not feel guilty about what I am or a not doing.
So, there you have it, folks – I’m back to my regularly scheduled programming. Here’s hoping loosening the reigns will help me get back on track!
Content warning: Strong language
Connor broke the awkward silence that followed Jeremy’s words.
“Do you know who we are?” he asked point blank.
It was a loaded question. Em’s mind tripped over how best to respond.
“You just introduced yourselves,” May pointed out, rescuing Em from herself. Em could have kissed her.
Rubbing his face thoughtfully, Connor considered them both.
“Let me come at this another way.” He wasn’t flirting with the edge of anger the way Jeremy had. His voice was steady and unflinching, like that of a therapist trying to connect with his patient. “We know about you.”
Em folded her arms and stared him down. “Know what?”
“About what you can do. That you can manipulate the energy around you and use it to help you fly, and as a weapon.”
“You realize what we did tonight was just an act, right?” Em drawled. “Smoke and mirrors. Rigging and clever lighting and shit like that.”
“We’re also not the only ones who know what you can do,” Priva cut in, ignoring the way Em mocked them. “But you already knew that, didn’t you?”
With an exaggerated shrug, Em gave a cheeky grin. “Well, there were an awful lot of people in the audience tonight.”
“A full house, I’d say,” May chimed in without missing a beat.
“Same with last night, if I remember correctly.”
“You’re on the run,” Priva snapped, interrupting their banter.
“Says who?” Em asked, sounding incredulous.
“Says your girlfriend.”
Em followed the accusatory point of Priva’s finger to where May stood gaping.
A flare of crimson flooded up May’s neck and across her face. She looked back at Em apologetically. “Dom asked about Ginger and Rosemary. I didn’t-”
“Whatever, it doesn’t matter,” Em waved her hand as if the details were trivial. “Half the people in this circus are on the run from something or someone. Did you know running away to join the circus is an actual thing people do?”
Jeremy stood abruptly from the small chair he had taken to haunting in the corner.
“How many of them are running away from the Loyals?” he asked, mimicking Em’s snark. “Is Melanie after them, too?”
This time Em kept her mouth shut. May bit her lip, becoming preoccupied with the ring on her middle finger.
“We know that’s who you’re running from,” Connor said, his voice a soothing balm after the many barbs and sharp tongues of his friends. “We know about Melanie; how she was there the day that photo was taken in Tenna.”
In a split second, Em re-lived that day in her mind like a film on fast-forward. The argument with May leading them both to a woman in danger. Em’s flagrant use of her otherworldly abilities not only saved her but got the attention of Melanie, a Loyal agent who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She and her organization of devout Star-worshipping Loyals had made it their business to hunt down anyone they assumed had been influenced by a missing wishing star. Em knew first hand just how vicious they could be in their misguided efforts to appease the Stars, which was exactly why she and May were still in hiding.
That Melanie and her cohorts were still after them wasn’t surprising. But if word of this pursuit had reached the people from her previous life, Em knew their situation was far worse than she had previously thought.
“What does it matter to you?” May asked, breaking the haze of Em’s troubled thoughts. Despite her stress, Em couldn’t help but smile. It made her proud to see how much May had come into her own, especially since they had fled the island of Hoku. The woman she met just over a year ago that fateful evening on the beach wouldn’t have been so brazen.
Connor smiled as well, the corners of his mouth creeping shyly skywards.
“It matters very much, actually,” he said in that gentle voice of his. “Over the years we’ve made it our business to protect anyone targeted by the Loyals and the way they try to scrub out anything that may have resulted from a missing wishing star.”
May opened her mouth, prepared to play dumb as long as necessary, but Jeremy cut her off.
“Don’t,” he snapped. “You’re going to pretend you don’t know what we’re talking about but we all know you do. This shit is exhausting and we don’t have time for it.”
Pursing her lips, May looked to Em. The pair exchanged a cryptic look.
“We know what you can do,” Jeremy continued, pointing at Em. “And we’re not fucking stupid. We know your abilities have something to do with the Stars.”
“Fine,” Em huffed, throwing her hands up. “Maybe everything you’ve said is true. Maybe it’s not. But it doesn’t matter. We don’t need your help. We’ve got this. But thanks anyway. C’mon, babe.” She took May’s hand and pulled her toward the door.
Jeremy stepped in front of them, blocking their escape route.
“If we could find you, what makes you think they won’t?” His eyes bored into Em’s, holding them with an uncomfortable intensity.
Em glanced over to Dom. He was hunched, his features pinched with shame, but he did not look away.
“I said we’ve got this,” Em growled through clenched teeth. She made to push past Jeremy, daring him to stop her with a glare, when Rue cried out from behind them.
“Wait!” Her voice was pained, desperate. “You may not need us, but we need you.”
“Please, my son’s life depends on it.”
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Content Warning: Strong language
For a heartbeat no one spoke.
Em’s wide eyes, filled with surprise, flickered from one face to the next, her grip tightening reflexively around May’s shoulder.
“Dom, what the fuck?” she demanded. She looked ready to run or fight, whichever was necessary first.
Holding his palms up in surrender, Dom kept his focus locked on her. He could sense her mix of fear and anger from where he stood. A part of him wanted to bridge that gap, to coax her down to a peaceful place with a compassionate touch. He knew her well enough to stay back. His heart ached, reflecting on how he had hoped his first reunion with these friends would go; so different from the scenario he found himself in now.
“Please, Em,” he begged. “These people need your help. You’ve got to know I wouldn’t have lead them to you if I didn’t believe that.”
And that was the problem – Em did know Dom believed he was doing the right thing. He was so good, and helping people was in his nature. For the first time she regretted not being more honest with him, for waiting so long to tell him her truth in what wound up being just a hastily abridged version anyway. She didn’t know what these people told him but there was no way he could have realized just how far away from them she had hoped to stay. For that she had no one to blame but herself.
Despite having tried to avoid it, Em eventually let herself look at the man gaping at her from the centre of the room. His dark eyes were troubled beneath a mess of unruly red hair, his expression that of someone who had just been slapped – hard. His companions glanced uncomfortably between him and Em, none of them speaking until the blond man with sad green eyes cleared his throat.
“We aren’t here to hurt you,” he said, his voice gentle and low. “But he’s right, we need your help. We’ve been trying to find you for a long time and we hope you’ll hear us out.”
Em licked her lips and let out a shaky exhale. It took her a moment to reply.
“Why us? Why me?”
The man opened his mouth to answer but it was his redheaded friend that stepped forward.
“It’s a long story, so we should probably start from the beginning.” He offered his hand for her to shake. He didn’t smile. “My name is Jeremy.”
May let out a barely audible gasp, flinching imperceptibly to everyone but Em, whose arm was still draped protectively around her. Instead of acknowledging May’s surprise, Em took Jeremy’s hand and gave it a single, firm shake.
The moment between the two seem to hang, but around them their friends exchanged wide-eyed glances. Everyone was tense.
At last Jeremy pulled back his hand and gestured to his companions.
“This is Connor,” he said of his blond friend. “His wife, Rue. And that’s Priva.”
Jeremy watched Em’s face carefully as he spoke, looking for something he didn’t seem to find as she nodded curtly in turn from Connor, to the golden-eyed Rue, and finally at Priva, who at least gave a slight wave back. In response, Jeremy frowned deeper and looked away, missing the way Em’s knuckles faded to white as she gripped at the loose edges of May’s shirt – the only hint she was reeling.
Another deep breath. Em slid her hand – clammy with nerves – to the small of May’s back and rolled her shoulders so she stood a little taller.
“I see you’ve already met my girlfriend, May.”
A person would have to be dead to miss the shockwave that shot through the room. May forced a small smile and resisted the urge to press tighter into the protection of Em’s side. She wasn’t sure what had happened but she knew the mood had gone from bad to worse. With anxiety swelling inside her she watched as Connor, Rue, and Priva glanced at one another but said nothing. Between them, May could see Dom holding his breath.
Jeremy remained locked on Em, his jaw tight and his expression stiff.
“It’s nice to meet you both,” he said at last, turning away as he did so.
May met Em’s eyes.
She wondered if Em could tell he was lying, too.
[ Next Chapter ]
Content Warning: Strong language
It didn’t take long for May’s cheerful excitement to give way to unease.
“As much as I’d like to believe you just wanted to surprise us, something -” she glanced back at Dom’s unfamiliar travelling companions “- tells me this isn’t a social visit.”
Dom’s jaw tightened. He gave May’s hand a quick squeeze.
“I wish, Maybe. I really do.”
“What’s going on?” Worry settled heavy across her brow. “Who are-“
“Let’s wait until we’re somewhere more private before we get into it, okay?” Dom cut her off. May didn’t argue.
They made their way out the back of the tent and into an open lot teeming with activity. May waved and exchanged quick words with the fellow cast and crew milling around. The last remnants of the night’s props were being locked away in the shipping crates and boisterous laughter drifted from an inviting-look dining tent. Beyond that, a sea of mobile trailers clustered just out of the tent’s circle of light.
“You’ve gotta tell me what this “Ginger” thing is all about,” Dom remarked after a fourth person referred to May by the name.
May laughed quietly. “We’re on the run, Dominic. It wouldn’t make much sense to go by our real names, now would it?”
“Fair enough.” He gestured at the scene around them. “Nice work hiding in plain sight by the way.”
At this, May beamed. “Yeah, we’re pretty proud of ourselves.”
“You must be happy to be dancing again.”
“I really am. I didn’t realize how much I missed it, to be honest.”
A voice was cleared from behind the pair, who looked over their shoulders in unison.
“Your performance was very lovely,” said one of the two women who followed them with a soft smile. “You’re very talented.”
May flushed; for someone who loved to perform, she was still getting accustomed to praise.
“Thank you! That’s very sweet of you to say.”
Her gaze lingered on the woman a moment longer. She was striking; warm brown skin that was etched with painstakingly detailed tattoos on her face and forearms. But it was her brilliant golden eyes that held May’s attention the most, their familiarity causing her to shiver involuntarily.
Giving her head a slight shake, May hoped she hadn’t been staring too long and changed the subject.
“Rose was in the shower when Bertram came to find us,” she said, speaking Rose’s name slowly as though she were still getting used to it herself. “But she should be done by now.”
They made their way through the small village of trailers to one with fairy lights framing the door. May skipped up the steps and poked her head inside.
“Babe?” she called and listened for a reply. Jeremy tensed and shot Dom a look who pretended not to notice. “Huh. Maybe she went looking for me. Would you like to wait inside?”
The troupe filed into the cramped trailer – a space not suited for quite so many bodies – and clustered in the awkward silence that followed.
“Sorry it’s so small,” May murmured, bashfully shoving stray laundry out of sight. “The other trailers have more room but we took this one so we wouldn’t have to share with anyone else.”
“Smooth,” Dom replied with a chuckle. He nudged at her with his elbow, bringing the blush back to her cheeks. She gave him a swat.
“So what’s going on?” She gave the group of strangers her full attention for the first time. She tried to ignore the anxiety that gnawed at her gut under the intense stare of the man with fiery hair. He had been fixated on her from the very first moment – the entire walk to the trailer she had felt his dark eyes boring into her, but now she couldn’t avoid them. “Is everything okay?”
Before Dom could reply, the red-haired man reached into his pocket and produced a tattered, folded piece of paper. Opening it carefully he stepped forward and handed it to her without a word.
Panic gripped May’s insides when she saw the photo – herself and Em, caught on a security camera in Tenna nearly a year ago. She could pinpoint the moment precisely, her shoulder wedged under Em’s arm as the two wove through alleys to escape a Loyal agent named Melanie.
“Why do you have this?” May’s voice hitched, her breathing shallow. Her eyes darted fearfully from the man to her friend. “Dom, what is this?”
“May, listen,” he tried to sound reassuring but there was grief in his expression that filled May with dread. “You’ve got to hear them out.”
But her mind was already racing.
“We trusted you.” May felt as though she were looking at a stranger. She couldn’t imagine anyone who knew about that day in the photo having anything but bad reasons for wanting to find her and Em – surely Dom realized that. “Dom, how could you bring them here?”
With her heartbeat thundering in her ears, May could see that the others were talking to her but she was too busy scouring the room for a way out. The strangers blocked her path – would she be able to fight her way through?
“We’re not here to hurt you,” insisted another one of the strangers; the other man, beautiful and earnest. He reached tenderly to her as though she were a wounded, frightened animal and she jerked away only to back into Dom.
“C’mon, Maybe,” he pleaded. “Just list-“
Panic overcame her and she screamed. Aliases be damned, she screamed Em’s name and lunged for the door just as it swung open. Dom and the strangers pulled back in surprise, leaving room for May to stumble into the arms of a woman with pearlescent skin. Hair like polished silver poked out from where it had been hastily tucked beneath the ragged ball cap Dom has often seen her wearing in the photos she sent him. She clutched May close while her haunting diamond-blue eyes took in the scene.
The room went silent and she spoke.
“What the fuck is going on?”
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