Hello, lovelies! It’s once again Teaser Tuesday, and I am back, as promised, with a sneak peek for you! I’m not going to waste a whole bunch of time blah blah blah-ing about this, so let’s just get right into it, shall we?
Today, I want to share the entire opening scene of my next release with you! Cursed Hearts (book 2 in the Hearts of Valentia saga) releases on November 1st, 2016, but I thought I’d let you see a bit of what you’ll get with this story. Unlike Tempered Hearts, which runs similar in some ways to a historical romance, Cursed Hearts is much more action-packed. Polliandra Quicke is a curse breaker for hire, and so earns her living by thwarting magic and monsters for a price. She is who she is for a reason, however, and in the very beginning of the book, we see how it all began. Are you ready to meet Polly? Here we go!
* * * * *
“Priscilla, tell me you didn’t!”
The sudden sound of voices startled her. Polly jumped, smacking her head against the underside of the bed, but squelched her yelp of pain.
“Don’t be such a spoilsport, Jenessa. What’s the harm? We’re practically married already.”
She stayed quiet, listening in on her sister’s conversation in hopes of hearing some juicy details. At nine years old, most of her information on the larger world came from eavesdropping on her older sibling and her friends.
“You know if your parents find out…”
Their feet shuffled into view.
“No one saw us. We went all the way out to the lake, like always.”
“You are shameless!” Jenessa giggled.
“Not shameless, just checking on the quality of the goods is all.”
They burst into laughter as Polly rolled her eyes. Everything with her sister had been about her betrothed for the past few months. With spring arriving in LePelle township, the wedding was imminent. Personally, she didn’t see what the fuss was. All it meant for her was extra work with the garden and chickens while Priscilla ran off to see the butcher’s son. That was to say nothing of the fittings she endured. Between Scilla’s wedding robes and the embroidery on her skirts, plus scouting for flowers that would be blooming in time for the ceremony, and the influx of company wanting to wish the bride well, she had her fill of weddings and then some.
“But where are the slippers? You promised to show me as soon as you picked them up from the cobbler.”
Polly froze and stared at the box not six inches from where she’d been braiding flower crowns for her pair of wooden dolls. She was about to be in a lot of trouble.
“Of course! I just got them this afternoon. I stashed them under the bed so Polly wouldn’t—”
Blasted stars. She braced.
First came the screech of indignation, followed quickly by fingers yanking her out by the ear from her hiding spot. She learned years ago not to flail during such instances, and Priscilla marched her out of the room and then out of their little house, all the while ranting bollocks about her privacy and respect for others. If Polly struggled, Priscilla only pulled harder.
“Out of my sight!” she hollered as she shoved her down the paving stones leading to the road. “Don’t you have chores to do?”
Free of her grasp, Polly stuck her tongue out. “Did them this morning. What did you do, lazy cow? Moon about the size of your butcher’s—”
“I will tear that horrid tongue out of your mouth if you so much as—”
“What? Tell Mama how you snuck out every night the last two weeks to meet your oaf? You just try to catch me first!”
At that, she bolted, knowing too well how it felt to be on the receiving end of her sister’s fury. She’d calm down in an hour or three, but Polly needed to stay clear of her until dinner or risk getting her ears boxed.
Priscilla only followed as far as the street, and Polly was well away from her by the time she reached Donnel’s house. Muttering to herself as she wound around to the back, she leaned up against the rail fence to chuck a pebble at the boy crouched down in the dirt.
“What’re you doing?” she said when the rock pinged off his shoulder.
He looked up, a smudge of dusty filth across the bridge of his nose. “Watching the ants. What did you do this time, Polliwog?”
She tossed her dark braid over her shoulder. “Nothing but tell the truth. She is a lazy cow, and he’s an oaf. It’s common knowledge.”
He grinned, his nearly black eyes sparkling with amusement. “The truth isn’t required in every situation, you know. It always gets you in trouble.”
She lifted her chin and sniffed. “Not my fault if I can’t let people dilute themselves.”
“Whatever.” She waved off the correction. Donnel was always trying to teach her things. “I thought I’d go to the pond. Want to come with? Might see if the raspberries are ripe yet.”
“It’ll be another week at least.”
She sighed in exasperation. “Best to check so we don’t miss it and they all get picked clean before we get a chance to eat any. Are you coming or not?”
Straightening up, he brushed off his trousers and called into the house. “Auntie Della, I’m going to the pond with Polly.”
“Be back by dinner!”
The boy was more polite than most grownups she knew, and he always surprised her with his manners. In the three years they’d been friends, not once had she seen him argue with his aunt or uncle, and the only person he ever teased at all was her, though it was mostly with the stupid nickname he’d given her. Despite that, Donnel was her best friend in the entire town. She counted on him when she needed a quick escape from her sister. With her mother and father working the bakery, Priscilla was almost always left in charge. Polly couldn’t wait for her wedding so she’d finally be rid of her… and all the extra work that went with her.
It was a ten minute walk to the pond through the forest path, and Donnel passed the time telling her all about the things he’d learned from watching the ants in his backyard.
“The queen of the hill never comes out, you know. I only saw her by chance that one day when she picked that spot. Did you know an ant can have wings?”
She kicked an acorn off into the bushes. “Only because you told me about it a hundred times. Must be a boring life, stuck in a hole like that.”
He shrugged. “I dunno. She gets waited on constantly, tells everyone where to live and decides what their jobs are. She’s probably very busy, even if she doesn’t have to take care of all the baby ants herself. Bet she sleeps a lot, too, what with all the ants she has to make. Don’t you think that’d be exhausting? You wouldn’t have time to get bored.”
“How do you know so much about things?” she asked as the pond came into view.
“I, uh…” he stammered, but immediately shrugged it off. “I read a lot.”
There weren’t all that many books in his house, so she had her doubts, but let it go. Not everyone liked to be as blunt and honest as she did.
A bare handful of raspberries were ripe enough to eat, and they laid on the mossy bank of the pond as they shared them. The slightly sour juice lingered on her lips as she stared up into the sky, enjoying the moment of quiet.
“I’ll be so glad when Scilla’s finally gone,” she said with a sigh. “I can get all the chores done just fine on my own. Probably do ‘em all faster once I don’t have to deal with her yammering all day.”
“Her beau isn’t so bad, you know,” Donnel said. “A bit dim, but he’s mostly nice to folk.”
She shrugged. “Maybe. I’m just so sick of her going on and on about him. Mal said this, Mal did that. Blah, blah, blah. Not got another thought in her stupid head aside from him.”
“I imagine you’ll be the same way when you get yourself someone.”
Polly sat up and glared at him. “You take that back! I’ll feed myself to Torn Ones before I become that addled.”
He laughed. “Don’t get so worked up, Polliwog. Happens to everybody as far as I can tell.”
Crossing her arms, she pouted. “I ain’t everybody. Probably be just fine if I never got married. What’s the good in it anyway? Makes you silly and useless. No thank you.”
“What, you don’t think there’s a bloke alive that could—”
“Not likely,” she insisted, stubbornly refusing to consider the prospect. “Not in this town anyway. There’s more to the world than LePelle, and if there’s anyone who can make me act a fool, he’s probably far, far away.”
Donnel’s expression darkened. “You’d leave to find him?”
She stuck her nose in the air. “I’ll leave regardless. You wait and see. I’m not gonna be stuck here marrying a butcher’s boy or any such nonsense. Even if I have to trick a lord’s son into marrying me, I’ll not spend the rest of my life in a place that smells like drying cow hide from sunrise to sunset.”
“Trick a…” He scowled, suddenly very upset. “I wouldn’t let you do something that stupid.”
“You wouldn’t let me?” She laughed at him. “What do you care who I marry?”
“You think I’d let my best friend marry some tosser who flashes a bit of coin? I have plans, too, you know.”
“I don’t see what your plans got to do with me.”
He looked up at the sky, watching a few dark clouds roll in. “Got everything to do with you. Plan to take you with me when I go.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Plan to… What, just like that? I don’t get a say? What in the Void’s wrong with you? Why would I ever—”
“Traveling’s no fun without friends along. If I take anyone, it’d be my best friend.”
Standing, she stuck her hands on her hips and fumed. “And I suppose you’d be the one deciding where we’d go and all that? Maybe I won’t want to then. Maybe I’ll find someone who catches my fancy, and—”
Donnel got to his feet, hands balled into fists. In the distance, a rumble of thunder made her shiver. “There’s not a person here who’s good enough for you, Polly.”
She inched back, nervous about the strange look in his eye. Something in his demeanor was different, darker, but she couldn’t say what. She’d never heard him speak that way before. Donnel was always so kind and patient, what happened to him?
“I’m not any better than the lot here,” she said, her voice lacking its normal bluster. “Once I’m older, I’m sure someone will—”
He snatched at her hands, his eyes clouded over with a strange mist that obscured even the whites of his eyes, and his voice kept time with the thunder. “Polliandra Quicke, if I can’t have you, no man will.”
Frightened, she tried to break free of his grasp, but his gaze locked her muscles in place. Her friend was not himself, taken over by something otherworldly and unfamiliar. A fiery burst of energy blasted up through her feet, into her stomach, and straight out the top of her head to the sky. Before she could react, a crack of lightning split the heavens, cleaving the tree they sat under in two. She staggered to her feet, having been blown back to the very edge of the water, trying to shake the sparks from her vision. Her skin tingled from the inside out, like tiny bubbles of heat bursting through her pores. Donnel was on his hands and knees, his shoulders shaking with each breath. When he looked up, his eyes were as they’d always been, but her terror remained. Though he looked dazed and unsure of where he was, she refused to go near him.
As he lifted a hand to reach out to her, she skittered away, trembling. His mouth worked at words, but nothing he might’ve said could ease the scare he gave her. Before he uttered a single thing, Polly bolted back into the woods, running as fast as her legs could carry her.
* * * * *
And there’s your teaser! Hope you’re all excited for the release on November 1st! And remember, if you haven’t yet read Tempered Hearts, there’s still time to dive into this beautiful new world to experience the magic from the beginning!