Excerpt from Project Burning Bush (a work in progress)

Harper shoved his hands in his pockets and wrinkled his nose as he looked around. “So-o-o-o, nobody is going to get excited about the weirdness of suddenly finding ourselves in the distant past, or future, or someplace that is NOT WHERE WE WERE?” He yelled in a whisper, but it was definitely a yell.

Luthor shrugged. “It’s weird, but no big deal to me. I’ve been in situations like this with my uncle. Sometimes in worse conditions, and with less supplies. I’ll lose my cool when we’re not concerned about basic survival.”

Harper looked at their most prim and proper member. “What about you, Minji? Doesn’t this bother you? Or is not showing panic some Asian thing?”

Minji rolled her eyes and curled her lip. “Stoicism is not ‘some Asian thing’. You do not even know if I AM Asian. Just because I have almond-shaped eyes and a vaguely different name does not make me Asian. Besides, there is nothing to panic about. We have food and a fire and a dry place to sleep that we can defend. It is far better than floating on a leaking boat in the middle of the ocean with no food or water, all alone.”

Nita laughed. “You’re boat people, but deny being Asian? Come on, Dragonlady. We’re not stupid.”

Minji started to snarl a reply, but Harper interrupted. “What about you, Nita? Isn’t this way out of your comfort range?”

Nita whooped and laughed for a few minutes. When she finally ran down, she wiped tears from her eyes. “Comfort range, huh? Listen, chico, comfort is no dog-sized rats trying to steal your food or worse, thinking you’re supper. Comfort is being able to sleep without wondering if your mom’s latest customer or boyfriend or pimp is going to check you out while she sleeps. I like this place. There’s a lot less people to bother me here. So far, at least,” she muttered, looking around.

Harper rubbed his face. “Okay then! I guess I’ll just keep my screaming to myself, but I make no promises about what I do in my sleep.”

“If you wake up gagged and bound, it’s because we didn’t want you drawing predators,” Nita told him with a shark-like smile as she rubbed his head with her knuckles. “Nothing personal.”

Excerpt from “The Warlord’s Heart” (WIP)

Edward looked around the room. His expression smoothed into blankness as he looked back at all the suddenly silent young men present. “Did I interrupt your discussion of me?”

“We weren’t talking about you. We were talking about your lady.” The confession was, of course, blurted out by the compulsive talker of the group.

Richard sighed and rubbed his head. “Would somebody PLEASE put their hand over Franklin’s mouth before Edward kills us all?”

Franklin’s protest was silenced by Darwood’s fist in front of his face.

Richard held up a hand in a placating gesture. “Don’t be angry, Edward. We weren’t gossiping about Betsy. We were discussing who she really is and why the Warlord, well, indulges her. You have to admit it, Edward. Nobody else gets away with what she does.”

“He does indulge her, yes. But it still sounds like you’re gossiping about the woman I love.”

“No, listen. We’re not being malicious. We’ve been trying to piece together what we’ve observed. You know, like you have said we will have to from reading battle reports.”

Edward leaned against the wall and crossed his arms and legs, clearly reluctant. “Very well. Tell me of your conclusions.”

Richard looked around the room. All the others looked more than ready for him to offer himself as sacrificial speaker. He looked back at Edward’s stony face and swallowed. “See, first, we know somebody is constantly trying to kill the princess, correct? So she has to be guarded all the time. Even in her bedroom and in the wardrobe, so the guard needs to be a female. Do you agree?”

Edward nodded slowly, his hard expression easing. “So you think that will be Betsy’s future?”

“We think that perhaps she already IS, and has been for quite a while, actually.”

“Why do you think that?”

Richard held up a single finger. “She’s the same age as the princess. She’s obviously already been trained in battle art far more than any of us. The Royal Guardsmen and palace staff show her an amazing amount of respect, far more than a simple maid should receive. Correct? She respects and obeys the Warlord, but she certainly doesn’t treat him the way anybody else does. We’ve all seen it. She treats him more like, like, well,” he took a deep breath and blurted, “Like her father.”

Edward slowly uncoiled. “Are you suggesting…”

Richard cringed. “We don’t mean anything ill! We know the Warlord is unmarried and childless. But if she is his illegitimate daughter, it answers everything!”

“You just called the woman I love a bastard. I have every reason to challenge you to a duel right now, not only you but every man in this room. Nobody is allowed to blacken her honor in that manner.”

“We’re not! Just listen! Please! She would have grown up with the princess as her cousin! They would be bound by blood! Who better to protect her wherever she went? Who could be more loyal?”

One of the others snorted. “Idealistic, there!”

Richard threw his hands up. “Whatever! But if she was raised as companion to the princess, it is more likely for her to be bound by love as well as blood!”

Edward lowered himself into a chair. “I can understand that, barely. But why would she work in the palace as a maid, scrubbing and doing all the servants’ jobs? I’ve seen her at work. Why would the Warlord allow a child of his to do that?”

A grin flashed across Richard’s face. “You might not realize it, but we of the nobility have long understood one fact. The servants know everything that goes on. Everything. They talk about what they know, too. If Betsy worked among them, she would know every secret in the palace. She would also have personal knowledge of every room in the palace, servants’ hallways, and probably every hiding place there might be.”

“Necessary information for a personal bodyguard, indeed. To always know what was going on, who was in the palace, what the schedules are, and where the princess might hide in case of danger.” Edward rubbed his chin. “But why put her through officer’s schooling?”

Richard leaned forward, his eyes gleaming. “To receive the authority to command the guardsmen in moments of danger. Otherwise, some might question her orders at a vital moment.”

Excerpt from The Warlord’s Heart: “Love and Secrecy”

Edward cupped his hands around Betsy’s cheeks. He savored the velvet of her skin, the silk of her curls, her sweet smile, her soft blue eyes. She was perfect. Every inch of her petite form pleased him, from her curves to the strength he knew hid beneath her uniform.

He took a deep breath, praying he would recite the words he had practiced, had even written down trying to perfect them. If only they would come out without error. He wanted both Betsy and himself to remember this night for the rest of their lives, to tell their children and grandchildren with sighs and smiles, like his parents did.

“Betsy, I know we cannot make plans for our future until after graduation, when we receive our duty assignments. But I want to make my intentions clear so that you will know. I love you, Betsy. I love you and I want to marry you, as soon as possible. I love you enough to even dare ask the Warlord for permission to court you and ask for your hand.”

Betsy blinked rapidly. Her smile widened. She touched his cheek with trembling fingers. “Oh, my beloved Edward,” she whispered. “I do so love you, too.” Mischief crept into her smile. “But don’t say anything to the Warlord yet. He takes his role of my guardian so seriously, he is likely to make a great fuss and threaten to throw you in the dungeon lest you be carried away by your feelings before we take vows. Please, wait until after graduation. I turn 21 that day, and he will be totally different.”

Edward’s eyebrows pinched together. “What is he likely to say then?”

She giggled. “Most likely he will throw his arms around you, weep joyful tears, and thank God I am your problem now!”

He laughed with her, then blinked as the laughter drained out of her like water. “Betsy?”

She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead on his chest. “I love you, Edward. I loved you from the moment I first saw you. But I have secrets, my love. They are a terrible burden, and I cannot reveal them to you until after graduation. Once I do, your heart may change.”

“Secrets?” He tipped her chin up. “Darling, there can be no secret so dire it can change my love for you.”

Her poor attempt at a smile faded quickly. “I hope not. I pray not. I believe with all my heart you are a better man than all others. But like others in the palace, I have borne secrets for the princess my entire life. Sometimes they have caused me to weep into my pillow at night, or scream in frustration at the poor Warlord who could change nothing for me. Many men would either rage at me for only keeping the secrets, and others could not share the burden of my duties once I take them up.”

“I swear, nothing will change my love! We will marry no matter what your duties are!”

“I believe you mean that, now. But please, for my sake, speak no more of our future until you discover what I must keep silent about. The poor Warlord does not deserve to listen to my frustrated screams again.” She made a better attempt at a smile this time.

“Hmph. If I must keep silent for your sake, he may find himself forced to listen to mine!”