The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Thirty Three

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CW: Strong language


All eyes were on Em.

“Emmy?” May whispered, laying her hand carefully on Em’s thigh.

“I don’t…” Em’s eyes searched something no one else could see. “I forgot.”

“You clearly didn’t forget everything, did you?” Jeremy said. His voice was tight with anger. Placing the guitar on the floor, he stood and looked down at his friends. “I know you think I’m crazy but I believed it then, and I know it now: somehow, she is Audrey.”

“Jeremy,” Priva hissed, unconvincingly scandalized. The fear of realization had already settled across her features.

“Tell me I’m wrong again,” Jeremy barked, pointing straight at Em. “I fucking dare you. No one else knew that song, no one.”

Em gaped wordlessly. She was frozen in horror, completely unable to act.

“Stop it,” May shouted, jumping to Em’s defense. “You need to let this go!”

Jeremy rounded on her like a cobra. “You fucking knew, didn’t you?” His voice shook. Tears threatened on the brims of his eyelids. “You’ve known all along, haven’t you?”

Now it was May’s turn to falter.

“I…” She didn’t know what to say. Her breath tightened; she was trapped.

“Just fucking admit it,” Jeremy yelled. May jumped, frightened by his forceful energy. “Tell me the truth.”

Seeing Jeremy come at May was the antidote to Em’s paralysis. She leapt up from the couch and stepped between them.

“Leave her alone,” she growled. “You’re not wrong, okay?”

“What?” Connor choked, getting to his feet.

Rue’s eyes were round as the moon. “How? Audrey is dead. We saw her, we put her in the ground together.”

“It’s complicated,” Em said, raising her palms before her like a protective barrier. “And it might be hard to understand. Audrey did die.” She forced herself to meet Jeremy’s fiery stare. “Welkin captured what they could of her spirit before it was completely lost and had an Emandi help to create a new body to put it in. But you need to understand, I am not her.”

May looked to her in confusion. This was the second time Em had mentioned the Emandi, but May still had no idea what that was or what it meant.

“How can you say that?” Jeremy’s voice was barely a whisper. Silent tears snaked down his face. “How can you stand there and tell me you carry her spirit but you’re somehow “not her”?”

“A spirit begins to evanesce as soon as the body dies, Jeremy,” Em spoke gently, sadly. “What Welkin was able to salvage wasn’t whole. They had to fill in the gaps themself. I am a new person.” She swallowed hard. “Jeremy, I’m so sorry.”

“My stars,” Rue exclaimed, distracting everyone with her expression of surprise. She gazed at Em as though she were seeing her for the first time. “Is it true?”

“I promise, I’m telling you the truth,” Em assured her.

Rue stood and stepped to Em slowly, taking her hand and regarding it with near reverence. “Incredible. This… this has never happened before! It makes so much sense! Where is Welkin now? I need to speak with them.”

Em opened her mouth to answer but Jeremy cut her off.

“Fuck you.”

Everyone turned to stare at him as he stood, fists balled at his side.

“You came back, knowing what you did – who you are – and you didn’t even try to find us? You didn’t let me know that you were alright? Do you have any idea-“

“Jeremy, please,” Em stopped him abruptly. “You’re not listening to me. I might have some of Audrey’s memories but I am not the same person. Besides, it wouldn’t have been smart or safe of me to come find you guys and you know it.”

Glowering, Jeremy’s eyes grew dark and foreboding. “So you got your freedom and I got left behind to grieve. Amazing.”

“That’s not fair,” May interjected. “She had to die for what you’re calling freedom.”

“Shut up,” Jeremy snapped back. “I am not interested in anything you have to say. You couldn’t possibly understand.”

Drawing up her courage, May pushed back the hurt. “Of course I understand: I love her.”

“So did I!” he screamed back, lunging forward.

“Cut it out!” Em shouted, shoving him back. The intensity of her confusion and frustration rippled outward from her like an impact strike, rattling the glassware and knocking him off his already unsteady feet.

In a flash, Jeremy was back up. Snapped from their awestruck reverie, everyone else jumped into action, struggling to pull and push Jeremy and Em away from one another. The two were incensed, shouting and swiping at one another around the others.

When May reached into the chaos, Jeremy’s hand caught her wrist and he stared at her with the fury of a wild, cornered animal. “This is all your fucking fault.”

“Let’s go!” May cried, wrenching herself from his grip and stumbling back from the mele.

Tears sprang to her eyes. Her heart hammered in her chest. She was completely overwhelmed.

With a sob, she turned and ran from the room.

She needed to get away.

Shoving open the heavy oak doors that lead outside, May tripped into the twilight, and ran.


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Thirty Two

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[ CW: strong language, sexual content ]

Marina’s big house was fairly quiet for the rest of the day, especially considering how many people were in it. The party spent most of the afternoon napping and getting cleaned up.

Some time after three o’clock, Em jolted awake and glanced groggily around the room until she remembered where she was. It came back to her slowly: the memory of crawling along the couch and flopping down onto her stomach between May’s splayed legs. May had been lounging there, reading the computer reference book Marina had loaned her; Em fell asleep with her arms wrapped around May’s middle and her face resting on her stomach as it rose and fell with each gentle breath May took.

“How long was I asleep?” Em asked. She peered up at May, who lifted the book she was still reading to peek back at her.

“Not sure,” May admitted. “Maybe an hour?”

Connor strode into the room carrying a basket full of fresh laundry.

“Do you guys mind if I fold in here?” he asked. “Rue’s sleeping upstairs.”

“Knock yourself out,” Em replied with a yawn, snuggling back down onto May who set the book aside and began combing her fingers lightly through Em’s hair.

Connor was almost finished his chore when a sleepy-eyed Rue wandered downstairs.

“Feeling better, love?” he asked when she walked up for a quick kiss and to survey his progress.

“Much better.” She smiled warmly.

Marina breezed into the room and grinned when she saw them. “Everyone’s surfacing! Who’s up for a drink or two?”

Without waiting for a response she unlocked a magnificent liquor cabinet and pulled out glasses. She then went to retrieve wine from the kitchen as everyone made their drink selection. Before striding back into the room she called up the stairs to the stragglers. “We’re getting drunk without you!”

Soon Jeremy and Priva joined them. They were disheveled, but it didn’t appear to have been from sleep. Em and May exchanged knowing looks when the pair passed them on their way to make their drinks, but they kept their teasing remarks to themselves.

“Oh, man.” Marina sighed happily, settling back with a very full glass of wine. “I can’t remember the last time I got drunk. I think I’m overdue.”

“We’re not getting drunk,” Connor laughed. “But don’t let us stop you.”

“For those prepared to party,” Em raised her glass of whiskey to Marina. “We salute you.”

They all clinked their glasses, a chaotic moment of reaching arms trying to make sure no one was missed, and toasted to being together, regardless of the circumstances.

For everyone but May and Em, the conversation flowed naturally, especially once the alcohol started to lighten the mood in the room. No one wanted to talk about the present and so those who shared a history dipped into the wells of nostalgia. They rehashed memories, retelling increasingly funnier stories until they gasped for breath between their laughter.

May and Em sat on the far end of the couch, edging closer with every sip from their glasses. At first they tried to stay cognisant that Jeremy was right there, regardless of the fact that he hadn’t looked at them once since entering the room. But as the whiskey worked its magic, they seemed to forget that anyone else was in the room. Em coiled an arm around May’s slender waist and nuzzled into the curve of her neck. She planted kiss after kiss – playful in the beginning, then slower and seductive as they worked through their second and third drinks – along May’s jawline and shoulder. Between kisses she’d whisper things in May’s ear that left her crimson-cheeked and giggling.

“One day I’m gonna buy us a big house like this one,” Em told May in a matter-of-fact, whisper-yell. “And you can just spend all day lounging around in fancy lingerie like the fucking queen you are.”

“Shhh, everyone can hear you.” May grinned and kissed Em to silence her.

Em replied by mumbling something against May’s lips that sounded a bit like, “I worship you.”

The only sign that Jeremy heard any of this was the subtle bouncing of his knee.

It wasn’t long after that May excused herself, slipping upstairs to use the washroom.

***

Jeremy didn’t realize Em had crept away too until he rose to fix another drink and found her missing. Squaring his jaw, he tried to focus on the promises he had made; one to Rue to try harder to be pleasant to the girls, made in the throes of gratitude that came with having survived his beating in the alley, the other to Priva. That afternoon she had made him promise to stop obsessing over the past – to see her, the one standing right in front of him. He had promised to try and it must have been enough for her; they made love for the first time in ages.

He thought of the sex, imagining the feeling of Priva’s silky skin under his and the look on her face as he moved between her thighs. Her moans of pleasure, her nails digging into his shoulders, the genuine happiness she radiated as they laid together afterward.

He reached out and took her hand. He could try.

“I know what we’re missing,” Marina announced, sitting up quickly. “Music!”

Priva snapped her fingers. “Didn’t you say Myles plays guitar now?”

“Yes!” Marina pointed at her, clearly into the direction Priva’s train of thought was headed. “It’s in his room!”

Priva looked to Jeremy expectedly. “Go get it, boo! Play for us!”

Jeremy blinked up at Marina. “Where’s his room?”

“Third floor. First door on your left.”

Without arguing – he was trying to be better, after all – he got to his feet and made for the stairs. He hadn’t realized just how much he’d had to drink until standing; his head swam with the early stages of his buzz.

As he stepped onto the second floor, Jeremy paused. To his right the staircase continued upwards. But to his left he saw the bathroom, open and dark. Across the hall was Em and May’s room, the door open just a crack. Everything was quiet.

That’s weird, he thought with a frown. He had been sure they had sneaked up here to fuck. A slight flurry of concern rose in his stomach.

Against his better judgement, he tiptoed toward the room. Perhaps they had simply passed out like a couple of lightweights. But what if they weren’t in there? He tried to push down the paranoid voice in his head, honed from years of fighting and fleeing, that screamed something might be wrong.

He held his breath as he peered through the miniscule opening in the door. From there he could see the bed, made and empty.

A sudden rush of movement took him by surprise as a pair of bodies tumbled into his line of vision from somewhere hidden by the door. Jeremy had to bite his bottom lip to keep from gasping out loud.

A tangle of peaches and cream; May had pushed Em up against the wall, kissing her fiercely. Their shirts had already been discarded, their hands were everywhere.

To Jeremy, the world seemed to fall away. He stood, paralyzed; knowing he needed to walk away but helpless to do so.

May dragged her teeth lightly against the tender flesh of Em’s throat. Head back, Em welcomed May’s assault with a breathy moan.

Kisses were peppered across Em’s collarbone as May groped under her lover’s bra with one hand and worked the button of her jeans with the other.

Get out of here, Jeremy’s brain shouted at him.

But he couldn’t. He was transfixed by the ecstacy on Em’s face as May’s hand plunged down the front of her pants and pressed into her warmth.

He knew that look, he remembered it perfectly. Her quiet noises of passion were exactly the same.

All at once, memories of when he was the one in May’s place came back to him like a crashing wave.

It didn’t matter what she looked like or what she called herself: Jeremy knew Audrey when he saw her.

At last he was able to tear himself away from the door. He staggered to the staircase and heaved a few deep and rocky breaths.

Go upstairs, he coached himself. Get the guitar. Go downstairs. Figure your shit out.

From down the hall, Em cried out softly.

Figure your shit out.

***

By the time the girls slunk back downstairs, the sitting room was filled with the sound of guitar strings and drunken singing.

“Welcome back, ladies,” Priva announced loudly, drawing everyone’s attention to the blushing pair as they slid back into their spot on the couch.

“Look,” May laughed, trying to come up with an excuse and failing.

“Listen,” Em said, with just as much success.

From his chair, Jeremy fiddled with the guitar pegs, adjusting the tuning. He didn’t look up as he launched into another song.

The notes were familiar. May recognized it as the song she and Em had performed at the flat in Luxton; the first song she learned to play herself.

“Hey!” She turned to Em, smiling. “It’s the song you’re always singing!”

But Em didn’t answer. She wasn’t smiling either.

Instead her gaze was fixed on Jeremy’s hands as they danced over the strings.

“Wait,” Em muttered, squinting. “How do you…”

Her eyes grew wide. “Oh, fuck.”

“What’s wrong?” Connor asked, glancing between Em and Jeremy.

“Imagine how surprised I was when you two started playing this song,” Jeremy said, his eyes still trained on his instrument as he finished the melody. “This, the song I wrote for Audrey.”

The final note reverberated itself into silence. No one spoke.

“She’s the only person I ever played it for.” Now he looked up. His eyes were cold.

“Isn’t that interesting?”


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Twenty One

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By the time May, Em, and Priva returned to the campsite, Connor already had the fire blazing with a satisfying crackle. Rue busied herself with food prep while Jeremy had been tasked with creating small tin foil bowls for everyone. They took turns layering their bowls with meat, potatoes, and eggs, positioning them delicately on a camp grill once the coals were hot enough.

The snapping fire was the only sound as the group sat wordlessly, waiting for their meals to cook. May watched spits of ash pop from the flames and drift skyward into the darkening sky. The sherbet colours of twilight gave way to night by the time Connor inspected his bowl and deemed dinner to be ready.

May wondered if the tension around the fire had been in some part the result of empty stomachs. As she collected her meal, she felt the mood lighten as everyone tucked into their food, and decided now might be a good time for casual conversation.

“Back to camping,” she said with a sigh, dropping back down beside Em, the edges of her foil plate pinched between her fingers.

“Hey,” Em remarked, looking mildly scandalized. “I thought you liked camping.”

“I like some parts of camping more than others,” May replied with a wink.

Em rolled her eyes dramatically.

“Kids these days,” she grumbled, earning her playful kick in the ankle from May.

The comment raised curiosity in Rue.

“How old are you two, anyway?” she asked.

“Twenty-five,” May answered, distracted. She leaned over to survey what was in Em’s plate. “Yours is cooked better than mine.”

“That’s because I’m a pro,” Em teased. Then, turning her attention back to Rue, “I’m, uh, a bit older.”

At this, Priva laughed loudly.

“You saying you’re a cradle robber?” She grinned at Em who mirrored her expression.

“Ha! Not quite that bad.” Em scooped a hearty forkful from May’s plate and shoved it in her mouth. After swallowing, she continued, “Still, I almost passed out when I realized my girlfriend was just a wee babe.” She turned to look at May. “Yours is fine, by the way.”

“You’re not that much older than me,” May defended, digging her own fork into Em’s plate. The utensil pierced the foil bottom, catching in a way that May hadn’t expected. Her hand slipped, sending the plastic handle snapping backwards and striking Em’s breast with a sharp thwap.

“My boob!” Em cried, choking on laughter and clutching at her chest. “You got me right in the tit!”

May doubled over, breathless in a fit of gasping laughter and tears, unable to reply.

Everyone but Jeremy succumbed to the first true bout of laughter since the two groups met, a moment of pure weightlessness that made the night feel a little less dark and the stakes a little less dire.

“So, how’d you two meet, anyway?” Jeremy asked, his question stopping the laughter dead.

May’s heartbeat stumbled. When she and Em decided to lie, they hadn’t taken the time to fill in the blanks of their cover story. Hoping her own panic wasn’t showing, May glanced at Em and found her to be a picture of calm.

“Maybe’s a dancer,” Em said, a goofy lovesick smile on her face that left May flushing. “I was in the audience one night when she was performing and I was instantly smitten.” She gave May a wink. “I’ve been her biggest fan ever since.”

That night in Omea’s community theatre – the night everything changed between them – flashed through May’s mind. She could still see Em standing in the wings, wide-eyed and marveling, watching her take the stage for her final performance of the night. Was this what Em was thinking of as she spun her tale? May had never asked Em what it was that pushed her over the delicate line between friends and lovers; that there might have been some truth to Em’s story made May giddy.

“Of course!” Rue’s face lit up. “We saw you dance at the circus. How long have you been performing?”

“Since I was in school,” May replied, delighted by Rue’s interest. “I’m self-taught though, so sometimes it feels like I’m making it up as I go.”

“She’s selling herself short,” Em insisted.

“Self-taught?” Connor look gob-smacked. “I’m impressed.”

“Me too,” Rue agreed brightly.

“Thank you,” May gushed. But elated as she was to have a chance to talk about one of her truest passions, she wanted to steer the conversation away from her and Em. “What about all of you? I’ve been so curious to know more about Wishes. I mean, I know what Wishes are but…” she shrugged, struggling to find the right words. “What does that mean for you? Is it different than being human?”

Sure, she was playing dumb to a certain extent. But this was the first time she had ever met other Wishes; she was curious about what she might have been missing. Em’s attempts at distancing herself from her past had often made her answers to May’s questions vague or indifferent. May figured this was a chance to learn more about herself as much as the others.

Connor rubbed his chin, mulling over her question. He looked to his friends. Priva shrugged.

“I guess for the most part it’s not that different,” he admitted. “We’re born to our mothers and, if we’re lucky, we live our lives and die when we’re old. The only difference we’ve noticed – aside from how we come to be, of course – is that every Wish has their own unique ability.”

May blinked in a way she hoped conveyed naive confusion. “What kind of abilities?”

“Something we’re naturally very good at,” Connor replied. “Think of it like a talent on steroids. Everyone’s is different. Mine is my strength.” He gestured back to the massive dead tree they were using as firewood and May picked up on the implication that he had felled it singlehandedly. “Nothing too fancy here.”

“Mine, on the other hand, is very fancy,” Priva said, sounding rather proud of herself. She leaned forward and grinned. “I don’t have to sleep.”

“That’s only partially true,” Rue quipped, giving Priva a cutting look. “She can live on very little sleep. One night’s worth for every three or four days awake.”

“Killjoy,” Priva pouted.

If this was a reason to be any less impressed, May didn’t see why.

She looked to Jeremy expectantly. “What’s your ability?”

Arms crossed, Jeremy studied her for a moment before answering.

“Perfect memory.” He tapped his temple, his expression impossible to read. “I don’t forget anything.”

“Oh.” May smiled. “I’ll bet that comes in handy.”

Jeremy didn’t reply.

“What about you, Rue?” Em cut in on the awkward silence filling the space between May and Jeremy.

Rue laughed. “Oh, I’m not a Wish.”

May looked at her in surprise. “Really?”

“Yep.” Rue set her bowl down and settled back beside Connor, leaning gently into his side. “My place in this little family is kind of different than the others. I come from an ancient line of astromantic druids.”

Now genuinely confused, May frowned. “What does that mean? Are you human?”

“For the most part. But way back, in the beginning of human history, my people came to be specifically because of the Stars.”

The firelight danced, reflected in Rue’s magnificent golden eyes. May’s breath caught as she remembered why they had seemed so familiar.

“Were they Wishes?” May asked.

“No.” Rue’s eyes – the same otherworldly gold as the Star called Welkin – creased in the corners as she smiled. “They were Starborn.”


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Fifteen

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You want to blow up the treaty.

It had been a life-changing moment for Audrey. There she was, thousands of miles away from where she was supposed to be, staring down the one person who, until a handful of minutes ago, she had trusted more than anyone else in the world.

And he lied to her.

So what if I do?” Jeremy snapped, anger and frustration getting the better of him at last. “Is this really how you want to live the rest of your life, Audrey? Lab rats under constant surveillance?

Of course it wasn’t how she wanted to live out the rest of her days. But if they wanted to free themselves of the suffocating conditions of the treaty, it couldn’t be like this.

“The question you should ask yourself is whether this is how you want to die. Because I know my answer. Do you?”

Jeremy threw his hands up and stormed away from her. “You’re being dramatic. Neither of us will die over this. We’ll get these fucking things out of us and then we’ll go back for the others.”

He looked back at her, his expression softer now.

“Please, Audrey. We have a real shot here.”

Without thinking, Audrey’s fingers traced down the center of her chest where, beneath the soft fabric of her sweater, a scar marred her flesh. The devices she, Jeremy, Connor, and Priva now lived with, nestled next to their hearts and tracking them like spies, seemed like the better end of the deal back when they made it. They hoped understanding more about them as Wishes would encourage the Loyals to see them as people.

But instead Audrey and her friends traded one form of imprisonment for another. The Loyals were always with them. The treaty came with strict rules and check-ins and repercussions for stepping out of line… Was this freedom?

Was the sacrifice worth it?

Audrey took a shaky breath and let herself meet Jeremy’s desperate gaze.

“Where do they think we are right now?” she asked.

“On vacation.” Jeremy took her hands in his. “A romantic getaway of sorts.”

Despite her anger, Audrey let slip a soft chuckle. It had been romantic, at least romantic by their standards.

At least until she caught onto Jeremy’s plan.

“You realize what they’ll do to us if they find out?” Her voice was the tiniest of whispers.

Jeremy pulled her to him. Pushing the dark curtain of her chestnut hair away from her shining golden eyes, he smiled down at her.

Gently he pressed a kiss to her mouth, working her lips until he felt her relax against him.

“They won’t,” he assured her in a tender voice. “I promise.”

Even then she knew it was a promise he wouldn’t be able to keep.

***

It was rare Em experienced a breakdown May couldn’t help fix. And if May’s touch – her embrace, her kiss – wasn’t enough, there was always the water.

On only two or three other occasions, water hadn’t been an option. When those breakdowns came, all May could do was hold tight.

From where she sat, rocking gently with her arms wrapped around Em, it looked as though her lover was falling apart. Choking and sobbing, Em clasped her hands over her ears, screwing her eyes shut and trying to shut out the barrage of cosmic noise. The trauma of her mind ripping back and forth between who she was and who she used to be, coupled with a heightened sensitivity to the energies pulsing around – the ones that are always there but no one else seemed to notice – left her screaming and thrashing.

This breakdown did not surprise May. A part of her wondered what coming face-to-face with people who once meant the world to Audrey might do to Em. The fallout was as bad as she had feared.

So May rocked her, letting Em know she was safe with whispered words. Dom sat beside them, rubbing rhythmic circles on Em’s back. He had seen her lose control before, but never like this.

“Is there really nothing we can do to help her?” He watched the scene with sad eyes.

May shook her head, acutely aware of its weight through her exhaustion.

“We have to ride it out. She’ll come around, eventually.

“This is hard to watch.”

“Imagine how hard it must be for her.”

They lost track of time while they waited, but as the night wore on Em’s breathing slowed and the screaming ebbed. May thought she had fallen asleep when a groggy voice punctuated the silence.

“What did you tell them, Dom?”

Dom sat up with surprise. “What do you mean, Em?”

Em peered over her shoulder, twisting in May’s still firm embrace. “Do they know who I am? Who I used to be?”

“I think they thought they did,” Dom admitted. “At least Jeremy did. But once they saw you-”

“What did you say?” She sounded more awake now, her voice tight with urgency.

“I told them the truth,” Dom said. “That your name is Em and you’re not whoever they thought you were. I told them I could help them find the person in the picture, but that was it.”

Em let out a slow exhale as May gave her a tight squeeze.

“Thanks, buddy.”

Dom sat back and ran his hands through his hair. “I thought it was important. When they told me about the kid, I thought you might want to make your own call-”

“Poor Dominic,” Em teased. “Always has to be a hero.”

He didn’t have it in him to argue.

“What do we do now?” May asked. She had bought them some time, but they still had a decision to make.

Em pulled herself up to sit, wobbling and looking around sluggishly as though she’d had too much to drink.

“I don’t know,” Em mumbled, lurching to her feet and staggering the few short paces to the door. “I need to think.”

“Wait.” May scrambled up and after her. “Where are you-”

But before she could finish her sentence, Em threw open the door and launched herself into the air.

May could only gape after her as Em disappeared skyward without so much as a goodbye.


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Off Pitch Hype Train: Just Visiting

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!

x,
M


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!

The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Fourteen

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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.


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Ko-Fi May

The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Twelve

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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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Ko-Fi May

The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Eleven

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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.

“Emanthy.”

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.


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Nine

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The wait was almost too much.

As soon as the show ended, Dom, Jeremy, and the rest hurried through the crowd and hunted for the usher who had shown them to their seats.

“I’m afraid Lenore won’t be available for a while yet,” she told them. Her voice was sympathetic but her answer was infuriating. “She’s one of the performers, you see. They don’t take any guests until after the rest of the audience has left and they’ve had a chance to freshen up. I’m sure you understand.”

Jeremy elbowed his way in between Dom and the usher.

“What about the dancers from the Moon and Ocean act?” he asked, sounding breathless. “They’re the ones we’re actually looking for.”

Dom couldn’t suppress his groan as he watched the usher’s expression fall. Just like the boy at the ticket wicket, she took a moment to think before answering.

“You’ll still need to talk to Lenore first,” she said at last. “How about you just wait in the stands? Someone will come find you when she’s ready.”

Before anyone could argue to the contrary, the usher turned and disappeared into the slow exodus of patrons making their way out of the tent. The chatter in the air was still excited as people rehashed their favourite moments from the show – eyes alight with the magic they felt they had witnessed – but for Dom and the others excitement had given way to anxious tension.

They did as the usher suggested and returned to the stands to wait. Dom made a point of sitting off on his own, hoping to avoid Jeremy and his questions. But Jeremy kept to himself as well, pacing along a row of seats with a furrowed expression while his friends whispered to each other in low, hurried voices.

“Who the fuck is this Lenore person and why do we have to go through her anyway?” Jeremy growled, throwing his hands up after what must have been more than an hour of waiting. The tent seemed quiet now and it was hard not to feel as though they had been forgotten. “We’re wasting-”

“I’m the leader of this outfit,” boomed a voice from the entryway through which they had come. “And no one gets to my performers without going through me first.”

Lenore – a woman who appeared to be in her mid-fifties with close cropped greying hair – strode toward them with an unmistakable air of authority. She paused a handful of paces away from the group and scrutinized each of them one by one.

“Now what’s this I hear about you asking after my girls?” she barked. At this distance, Dom noticed her reptilian-esque eyes and the bony protrusions that jutted out from the peaks of her cheekbones and crown of her forehead. He recognized her from the show as the performer who had danced with fire, and he made a mental note that anyone who could make flames look like well-trained animals was not one to be tested.

“Ma’am, my name is Dominic,” he began, stepping up and turning on what had often been described as his most disarmingly charming smile. “The performers we’re looking for are friends and former colleagues of mine. We were really hoping to see them.”

With a harsh laugh, Lenore shook her head. “I don’t think so, buddy.”

Dom pushed onward, careful not to let Jeremy sneak a word in edgewise.

“Please, we’ve come a really long way.” He hesitated. He didn’t want to lie for fear of being found out, but… “They sent me an invitation to watch them perform.”

Lenore still wasn’t buying it.

“They didn’t say anything to me about it, which means you’re probably full of shit.”

Exasperating as it was, Dom was grateful for Lenore’s steadfast gatekeeping; at least it wouldn’t have been easy for anyone of ill-intent to get close to the girls.

The others didn’t see it the same way. In a flurry of voices they came at Lenore as one, talking and shouting over one another with questions and demands. Lenore opened her mouth and Dom knew at once they had blown it – she was going to toss them out – when a new voice cut through the noise.

“Dom? Is that you?”

The chatter ceased. In unison, every head turned to the closest entrance, where a pair of faces peeked back at them. One belonged to the boy from the wicket. The other was that of a rosy-haired woman with dark blue eyes and constellations of freckles splashed across her face. An elated smile lit up her features.

“Maybe!” Dom cried, opening his arms to catch her as she tore out into the open and lept up to greet him. “Look at you – your hair’s gotten so long!”

Scrubbed free of her stage make-up, May Alana was positively glowing. Dom marvelled at what time on the road had done to her: not only had her soft waves grown long and wild, tumbling over her shoulders, but even under loose studio clothes he could tell how much stronger she was. He could feel the firm muscles that wound up her arms and down her back as he crushed her into his embrace. Her skin had lost its sun-kissed island radiance but she still looked happy and healthy.

“I can’t believe you’re here!” May squeaked, taking a step back to see him better but keeping her fists clutched at his shirt sleeves. “When Bertram said people were here to see us I wasn’t expecting it to be you!”

Over May’s shoulder, Dom watched Lenore throw a stern look at the wicket boy – presumably Bertram – who went scarlet and ducked out of view.

“Is everything okay, Ginger?” Lenore sounded wary. “Do you know them?”

As if in reply, May pulled Dom into another tight hug. She tilted her face until her mouth met his ear.

“Who are these people?” she whispered as quietly as she could.

“I’ll explain later,” Dom murmured back to her. “Who’s Ginger?”

“I am. Just roll with it.”

Pulling back, May beamed. “Yeah, they’re friends. Everything’s okay, Lenore. Thanks for looking out for us though.”

At this Leore actually smiled, relaxing her stance ever so slightly.

“Of course. You know me: family first. Sorry for being hard on you, folks – you can never be too careful in this business. Ginger, honey, will you tell Rosemary to stop leaving her costumes on the dressing room floor? Fool girl doesn’t seem to want to listen to me and I’m about ready to kick her ass.”

May laughed. “Sure thing, Dragon Mama. We’ll go find her right now.”

She took Dom by the hand and lead him to the exit, motioning for the others to follow. When he was sure Lenore was well out of earshot, Dom ducked his head and whispered.

“Is this Rosemary who I think she is?”

A grin cut across May’s face as she winked.

“You’ll have to wait and see.”


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