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The Vanyr You Don’t See

By On Feb 25 2007, 9:08 am

With Nine You Get Vanyr came out in print on Fat Tuesday. The same day I found out the electronic version scored as the number two finisher in the SF/fantasy category of the 2006 Preditors & Editors Poll. The same day I inaugurated my book-related contest of the new year. After a triple header like that, I bet you’re expecting me to use this blog to post excerpts of the book.

When have I ever blogged what you expected?

What I propose to share with you today is something you can’t find anyplace else—not in With Nine You Get Vanyr, not on a web site or in an interview or even on my blog—five never-before-seen views of the Vanyr universe.
Nope, it’s not a first look at book two. But it does provide a first look at some people who will be important in later books of the series.
The reason I can offer such a deal is the novel for sale at My Bookstore and More isn’t the novel Teri and I submitted to Samhain last year. Samhain rejected that novel. At 165,000 words, they had to reject it. It was too big to print and too cohesive to break in two.
But editor Jess Bimberg liked it anyway. So she issued us a challenge. Bring the word count down to 120K and Samhain would consider it. Being crazy—but not stupid—Teri and I did, and the rest is Samhellion history.
Much of what we cut came from our Dragon*Con scenes. Dragon*Con has been described as Mardi Gras with twice the boobs and half the barf—and that was in the days of pre-Katrina Mardi Gras. Crazed as the novel’s Dragon*Con scenes are, they can’t come close to the flash-cut madness of the convention itself. You don’t follow a single storyline at Dragon*Con. You’re living multiple plotlines at once.
Strangely enough, it’s harder to deal with that in a book—where you’re theoretically distanced from the madness—than it is when you’re in the middle of it. So the revised opening of the novel follows the con adventures of two reasonably reliable point of view characters (Thea Gardner and Liz Devereaux) and one screwball goddess (Reyah). But they weren’t the only ones in the Exhibit Hall where much of the book’s pivotal Earth scenes take place.
They weren’t the only people Reyah was watching either. Her booth stood across the aisle from the vanity booth for Eric Bernard, the actor who played the lead in the television series Domain, and down the aisle from the official booth of the show’s production company. My first UN-excerpt trains the narrative camera on the company booth, where the actor who played the villainous Deryk, Michael Ryan, is holding court. Mike’s one of my favorite “spears on the wall”. Poor guy’s going to have to hang there a while too.

UN-Excerpt One:
The Dragon*Con Exhibit Hall in the Basement of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis

The fluorescent lights illuminating the room flickered. Eric Bernard’s television went black. The mask maker in the booth next to Eric’s shook her head and rearranged her rapidly dwindling stock. Exactly two minutes later, a loud wailing issued from the booth facing the end of the aisle containing “Madame Reyah’s Magical Emporium.” Two convention security guards—one carrying an electric kettle, the other, an oversized extension cord—marched past.
“Wait!” a cultured British voice yelped for the third time since the Exhibit Hall opened that morning. “For God’s sake, at least let me pour the hot water into my teapot!”
Reyah grumbled under her breath even though her laptop’s battery seamlessly bridged the surge. She was getting very tired of the little spectacle that kept playing itself out at the Immortal Productions booth. Every time the bespectacled and wholly benign tree-hugger Michael Ryan plugged in his kettle for a cuppa, he blew nearly every fuse in the Marriott’s convention level.
Two minutes later, security would come and haul off the electric kettle, accompanied by much howling and hand wringing from Michael’s fans. As soon as the coast cleared, Michael’s fan club president would dispatch an away team of women in red t-shirts, while that twit Michael protested that he didn’t want to be a bother, really. Eventually, a fan would return with a foam cup of some foul-smelling concoction. Another would bring a new kettle and cord, and the whole process would repeat itself.
“Deryk is worth ten of that brainless nitwit,” Reyah groused. “He’s lucky I didn’t have to reboot.”

*

Actually, Mike and his kettle are the least of Reyah’s worries. She should be more concerned about overall-wearing, pin-bedizened fan in the size 12 sneakers who plopped down to talk slash with the thirsty tree-hugger. The fan is Pandora Keaton, the very ditz—er, fangirl—er, woman Reyah’s Wishstone needs for the plan Reyah knows nothing about.
In the submission manuscript, Pandora begins her reign of disaster by tripping over a wire in the booth and causing another black-out. This particular black-out happens off-camera in the current version, as does the following Girlfriend Moment between Thea and Liz.

UN-Excerpt Two:

“The Mistress of Mayhem strikes again,” Thea remarked wryly. The latest black-out caught her and Liz in one of the artists’ stalls overlooking the Immortal Productions booth. But unlike the squawking folks with the walkie-talkies and security badges, Thea knew exactly how—and who—had knocked one of the guys with the flashlights into a wall of plushie toys.
She didn’t plan on telling, however. She was having too much fun watching con security try to shovel their way through a never-ending cascade of squeaking Shippos, mewling Duzells and 57 varieties of Hello Kitty. Meanwhile, cyber-sister Pandora Keaton and her infamous Backpack of Doom made good their escape.
Sort of made good their escape. Thea snickered. She’d be willing to bet the clerk in the collectible video booth hadn’t planned to throw all those DVDs into the Netherworld Haunted House display, much less have them vanish under the props. She wondered if he’d be brave enough to stick his hand inside the box making the grinding noises. She sure wouldn’t.
“Pandora creates more havoc in real-life than her cyber-character does in her fanfic. Do you suppose her parents knew that when they named her, or do you think it was more on the order of a self-fulfilling prophecy?” Thea asked Liz.
Liz moaned a soft “nnnnnn” sound under her breath. Startled, Thea turned to the corner of the booth where she’d last seen Liz.
Liz stood in the exact same spot, in the exact same position, she’d occupied when the lights went out. She appeared transfixed by a framed print hung near the top of one of the partition walls. Thea angled her head for a better view of the picture—a drow angel with tousled white hair, luminous lavender eyes and a thin line of white symbols etched across his fine-boned, charcoal gray face. Lithe musculature defined his almost naked torso. Or was he naked? It was hard to tell whether the thin layer of white curling back from the dusky flesh was a shirt that fit like a second skin or an actual second skin. Belatedly Thea noticed the angel hefted a large black scythe like he knew how to use it.
“Funny, I didn’t think you went in for pretty anime boys.”
“It’s not anime,” Liz said a shade too quickly. “The rendering is much too naturalistic.”
“If you say so. But if you’re going to buy it, you’d better hurry up. Circe’s almost made it to the head of the autograph line.”
“Circe?” Liz mumbled in the direction of the print.
“Circe, Mistress of Sorcery and Spells. Reyah’s raven-haired daughter and Lord Alfred’s biggest fan.”
“You mean Anna?” Liz asked. “Why didn’t you just say so?”
“Because she wrote me all those emails telling me not to.”
And because anyone who went to that much trouble to dress like her cyber character deserves a break, Thea thought to herself. Anna Randall’s extravagant purple and black Elizabethan gown could’ve come straight from the set of a movie, and she carried herself like a queen. At the Daughters of Reyah brunch that morning, Anna’s grand entrance into the hotel restaurant had caused a table of musketeers to stand up and bow.
Off-list, one of the DoRs had suggested—rather unkindly, Thea thought—that Anna wanted to make Eric Bernard husband number six. Admittedly, the well-padded, thirty-something brunette might make a big deal out of having been a Miss Georgia Peach-Alternate sometime in her teens. And in her Domain stories, Anna certainly cast herself as Miss Scarlett to Alfred’s Rhett. But Thea had watched Anna go from regally dismissing her cavaliers to discussing the relative merits of grits versus hash browns without missing a beat. That kind of woman was far too down-to-earth to confuse fan fiction with real life.
“You didn’t face the prospect of hearing her holler ‘si-KEE’ at you all weekend long.” Liz chuckled and moved to the open area at the front of the stall. “But if you’re sure you want to spend the whole weekend as ‘Bastet,’ I’ll be happy to buy a bag of kitty litter to help you get in the mood.”
Thea smacked Liz on the shoulder. The redhead’s serene smile never wavered. She winked in Anna’s direction.
Eric Bernard’s booth wasn’t that far away, but Thea was pretty sure Anna hadn’t noticed them. Thea was also pretty sure Anna wouldn’t have noticed if the earth opened up and swallowed everything in the room except her and Eric Bernard.
Anna slid a ring-bound stack of pink, yellow and blue papers across the counter of Eric’s booth. It looked like the shooting script of the Domain ep “Little Tin God” that Anna had showed them at brunch. Although Anna never went into specifics, Thea got the impression she’d paid a small fortune for it.
The wired black lace of Anna’s face-framing collar quivered as if she was trembling. Eric Bernard uncapped his pen.
In one of those freakish moments of quiet that occasionally happen in a crowded room, Thea heard Anna say, “Would you mind signing it ‘To Circe’, please?”
Eric’s bored gaze traveled from the top of Anna’s exquisitely coiffed head to the soles of her historically accurate half-boots and back to her face. One side of his mouth twitched upward before he bent to sign the title page. “Whatever,” he said and reached for the calendar proffered by the next fan in line.
As a woman carrying too much weight and too many miles, Thea was used to being dismissed at first glance. But not like that. Her cheeks burned as if she’d been slapped.
Anna stiffened but recovered quickly. She dropped into a practiced curtsey before taking her script and her pride down the aisle. Thea thought she was heading for “Madame Reyah’s Magical Emporium.” But it looked like anything Domain was too much for Anna to bear right now. At the last moment, Anna ducked into corset booth next to Madame Reyah’s.
“Mommy, I promise to call her ‘Circe’ for the rest of the con. That putz,” Liz hissed. The word sizzled with enough force to flay the skin off Eric Bernard’s face.
He couldn’t have heard her. Thea would’ve sworn Liz pitched her voice too low to be heard by anyone who wasn’t standing next to her. But in the same instant, Eric’s hand clenched around his pen, breaking the point against the calendar. Viscous black ink spurted over the calendar and Eric’s hand.
Eric cursed and jumped from his chair. The autograph seeker staggered back. The rest of the line shuffled backwards in response. The jostle of bodies left an opening that revealed a tall, chestnut-haired young woman with the face of a Murillo angel wedged against the front of the mask maker’s display table. Since they’d only met in the flesh at brunch, it took Thea an instant to attach the right name to that lovely face—Marisol Santiago, Miami-based realtor and yet another member of the nine Daughters of Reyah. Marisol pointed at an ornate red and orange mask streaming with feathers and gilt-edged ribbons.
“Marisol must’ve decided to buy the Sun Mask after all,” Thea said. “That’s so . . .”
Thea had meant to say “great,” but by the time she got to that part of the sentence, it no longer applied—and it was all Eric Bernard’s fault. One minute the actor was behind his autograph table, wiping ink off his hands and bitching at his staff. The next he was rubbing a still inky hand suggestively up and down Marisol’s bare arm. The fact that Marisol was at least three inches taller than Eric didn’t seem to bother him in the least.
“Make my day, beautiful. Tell me you’re competing in the Masquerade tonight. I’m one of the judges, you know,” Eric rumbled in an accent that owed more to London’s East End than the ersatz Old Vic he affected for the show. The line of fans waiting for Eric’s autograph turned in unison and stared.
Marisol’s chocolate brown eyes went wide. The creamy gold of her complexion paled. She stole a quick glance towards the corset seller’s booth, where Anna was playing with a folding fan made of something that looked like ivory. Anna closed the fan with a snap as loud as a gunshot. Two hectic spots bloomed on Anna’s cheeks. Marisol flinched, her cameo perfect features a mask of dismay.
“Oh shit,” Thea muttered. “We need to stage a rescue.”
“Yeah.” Liz’s voice dropped to a rough purr. “You take care of Anna. You’re better at comforting the afflicted. I’ll handle Bernard.”
Liz tossed back her hair and smoothed her hands over her skirt. The small movements seemed to act as some kind of trigger. Her expression, her whole manner changed as she stalked towards the mask maker’s booth.
If Thea didn’t know better, she would’ve sworn Liz had transformed herself into her cyber-character. Liz was only pretty, not model gorgeous like Marisol. The red-haired civil servant had at least ten years on the young Cuban-American realtor. But it was as if Liz had flipped on some kind of uber-female switch. Heads on both sides of the aisle whipped around at the rhythmic clip of her high-heeled swagger. All of the men and surprising number of the women appeared riveted by sashay of her hips and the long, elegantly curved legs revealed by Liz’s short skirt.
“Try to leave enough of him to sign autographs,” Thea called after her.
Why?
The question inside Thea’s head seemed to come from nowhere. But she could’ve sworn it sounded exactly like Liz.
Or was that Liz’s cyber-character, the mind mage known as Psyche?

*

Liz, Anna and Marisol weren’t the only “Daughters of Reyah” into shopping therapy. Our manuscript had Kaitlin Williams going nuts for all the sharp pointies in Reyah’s booth. We cut this scene, opting to let Reyah scope out Kait and Sarah Blake by dipping directly into their minds. But the original version underscores the issues the women would face with Sarah later in the book.

UN-Excerpt Three:

“Oh man, oh man, oh man, oh man,” the young woman chanted. “Please, please, please, tell me that I can afford these knives.”
Reyah smiled at the little blonde clutching the box of Paelinorean throwing daggers to her chest with all the fervor of a mother who’d just found a lost child. What was this one called? Oh yes—Kaitlin. A little Buffy/Slayer wannabe. Cute. She had that Gidget-thing going for her, but was definitely too young for what Reyah needed. No matter. Female warriors were a dime a dozen at these conventions. Swapping out one of the nine wouldn’t be hard at all.
“Two hundred and fifty dollars for the box and all six knives,” Reyah said firmly. “You won’t find a better deal at this convention. I’ll take plastic if you have it.”
“Dammit, dammit, dammit, I can’t put that much on my card,” Kaitlin moaned. “I promised my parents I wouldn’t spend over a hundred and fifty. Oh God, I want these knives soooooo bad.”
“Well, it’s obvious you can’t have them,” Sarah Blake retorted. The brunette lawyer scanned the aisles around Reyah’s booth as if she were expecting someone to appear at any moment. “So put them back and find something else.”
“I don’t want anything else. I want these knives. They’re special.”
“Perhaps Madame Reyah would let you work out some kind of layaway,” Thea suggested.
“Sorry.” Reyah shook her head. “You can order them from my web site, but no layaways. The logistics are just too difficult.” Reyah ignored the skeptical look Thea cast in her direction. Cash on the barrelhead had been her policy for eons. She wasn’t going to change it now.
“Let me think, let me think,” Kaitlin babbled. “There’s got to be a way I can get these knives.”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” Sarah growled. “Either pay for the damn things or shut up. The sword fighting demo’s going to start in eight minutes. For once, I’d really like to be close enough to the stage to see the action.”
“Wait a minute,” Kaitlin said. “Let me call my parents. I’m sure I can talk them into loaning me the money.”
“Maybe Madame Reyah could hold the knives for you ‘til you reach your folks,” Thea said. “After all, you don’t want to use up all your money on just one thing.”
Reyah considered the idea. “I suppose I could hold them until tomorrow.”
“Swell,” Sarah groused. “Happy now?”
“Not until I talk to my parents,” Kaitlin said. “Liz? Can I borrow your cell phone?”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “Christ, what next? And where the hell are Pandora and Free?” Sarah demanded. “Pandora’s been late for every single panel so far, and I’m getting damned tired of it.”
Anna looked up from a tray of Hiawati jewelry. “What bit your bustle?”
Sarah whirled around. For a moment, Reyah thought Sarah was going to attack Anna. The other women obviously thought so too. Brigid and Liz moved towards Anna and Sarah even as Marisol and Thea stepped in front of Kaitlin, who remained completely oblivious to the tension.
“Please, please, please, pleeeeeeeeeease,” Kaitlin crooned into the phone. “I’ll give you my whole next paycheck . . . as soon as I get another job. OK?”
“Stand down, Sarah. This isn’t the OK Corral,” Liz said.
Sarah turned on Liz. In her boots, the lawyer towered at least four inches over the slender redhead. “Don’t tell me what to do!”
“Even when what you’re doing is incredibly stupid? All right.” Liz shrugged, coolly turning her back on what amounted to a stick of dynamite with a burning fuse.
“Don’t you dare turn away when I’m . . . ”
“Yes?” Liz said over her shoulder.
“Oh shit.” Sarah covered her face with her hands. “What am I doing?”
Thea put a hand on Sarah’s shoulder. Reyah smiled. A peacemaker too. Reyah liked that. But Sarah and Sarah’s rage would never do. She needed to replace this loose cannon too.
“Sarah, what’s wrong?” Thea asked.
“Someone promised to meet me this weekend. He hasn’t even called to tell me he’s not coming. He likes swords, so I thought if I hung by the booth and made it to the demonstration panels—” Sarah lowered her head to Thea’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have taken it out on you guys.” Thea patted Sarah’s back.
“Man, this is all I need. Bonzo drummers starting up when I’m trying to talk to my parents,” Kaitlin complained.
“Drummers?” Anna and Marisol asked. Marisol added, “I didn’t think the concerts started until later.”
Reyah hastily whisked her laptop and cashbox into a pocket Portal. She knew what that sound was, and it certainly had nothing to do with drummers and wailing punk bands.

*

The pounding sound that was not part of the musical entertainment—in the original manuscript as well as the finished novel—heralded the arrival of Pandora Keaton and fellow fangirl Frieda (Free) Talbot. It’s also the lead-in to the Wishstone “finding” Pandora and encouraging her to utter the fateful wish taking all nine “Daughters of Reyah” to the world known as Reyah’s Domain.
But details like the disappearance of nine women and one bad actress, a hotel-wide electrical failure and the spontaneous eruption of the convention-level sprinkler system didn’t stop our fictional convention any more than it would’ve stopped the real thing. At least three of the following sequences were inspired by things Teri and I saw at Dragon*Con. I leave it to your imagination which ones they are.

UN-Excerpt Four:

“It really belonged to one of those women?”
“Oh yes, one of the redheads. But . . . ” Reyah paused.
The lanky sucker — er, buyer rested a proprietary hand on the pale blue shawl lying on the counter. The eagerness in his eyes said, “I’m hooked, reel me in.” But Reyah couldn’t resist playing with him for a bit longer.
Reyah made a big show of looking up and down the aisle. She crooked Her finger. The man leaned closer.
“The police were by here earlier, and they mentioned taking everything the women bought from me as evidence,” Reyah said in a low voice. “I really should put this away.”
“It’s evidence?” Tall-and-Skinny’s voice cracked on the last word. “Oh man!” He dug into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out his wallet. “I’ve got MasterCard, Visa and American Express. How much?”
A few minutes later, Reyah dropped a very healthy credit slip into her cash box. Then she reached under her table and pulled out another shawl. The sale to Tall-and-Skinny had been her fifteenth since the doors to the Exhibit Hall opened that morning.
Reyah grinned. She adored the human fascination with death and destruction. It was so good for business, not only for Reyah but for all Her friends.
Pity about Eric Bernard’s booth, of course. Bless the little putz’s heart, his plasma screen was gone for good. Thankfully, so was Eric. He’d left sometime last night to confer with his lawyers about suing Lydia, the con and anyone else who might have a little cash.
Reyah debated whether she should visit an attack of shingles on Eric now or wait until the series resumed filming in Montreal. Either way, it couldn’t hurt his acting.
In the place formerly occupied by Eric’s glass-fronted counter, one of Reyah’s artist friends sat at a folding table the artist’s husband had scrounged from somewhere. The artist’s fingers flew over her sketch pad, rendering view after view of Jagger’s inhumanly lovely features and naked form drawn straight from the visions Reyah had planted in the dear woman’s invitingly open brain.
Fan girls—and more than a couple of fan boys—pressed four deep around the artist’s table. Meanwhile, the artist’s husband scrambled to record all the orders pouring in for artist’s next print series.
Reyah wondered when it would occur to the artist and her husband to put Jagger’s image on a t-shirt. Jagger’s face alone could sell yellow snow to Eskimos. And the rest of him . . . well, as she undoubtedly knew by now, Liz Devereaux was one very lucky woman.
There was a lot of very good luck going around. Some might call it miraculous the way a box of Veronica’s masks had appeared on the loading dock this morning. Not to mention all the cartons of books, posters and bookmarks that, amazingly, had survived unscathed. Even the air smelled sweeter than usual. Only the faintest hint of smoke and patchouli remained—after yesterday’s pyrotechnics, the fans had a right to expect some atmosphere.
Reyah considered punching up the fragrance with a little more musk. She hadn’t gone through all the trouble of eradicating the reek of fried plastic only to be chased from her booth by the odor of unwashed socks.
A pot-bellied man wearing horn-rimmed glasses, black socks and shoes, a woman’s nude shaper panty and a large sombrero wandered past. He carried a guitar strategically positioned over his midsection.
One of the fan girls at the artist’s table nudged the girl next to her. “Look at him! And they told us no nudity until after ten p.m.”
The second girl shook her head. “That is just so wrong on so many levels.”

A sallow young woman with a vivid purple buzz cut and three nose rings gently urged a second young woman wearing a microscopic denim skirt and an even smaller halter top of electrical tape toward the nearest set of doors. The second young woman, a dyed-by-her-own-hand blonde, snuffled quietly. The blonde’s hands were pressed over a rapidly reddening wad of paper napkins at the top of her right breast—the one area of her chest not crisscrossed by black tape.
“Just because nail polish remover didn’t take off the tape doesn’t mean you’ll have to go to the emergency room,” Buzz Cut soothed. “The hotel’s bound to have a nurse on duty or something. Look at the bright side. At least you’ve still got your nipples.”

The bar at the Hyatt was packed with an even higher level of faded celebrities than usual for a con Saturday night. One of the costars of Autolycus, King of Thieves table-danced in a shirt and tie. The tie, which sported a pattern of interlocked circles in last year’s orange and green, was knotted around the man’s frizzy hair. His shirt tails hung considerably shy of his pasty assets.
While the rest of the dealers and artists at Reyah’s table were entertained by the arrival of the Atlanta police, the Elder Goddess checked Her sapphire and platinum Tiffany compact. She didn’t bother with the sound. She couldn’t hear a thing over the Flab One’s misguided attempt at karaoke, anyway.
No matter, the view in Her natural crystal mirror was enough to warm a divine maternal heart. Tears of laughter streamed down Jagger’s rose-kissed cheeks. Flanking him, Bastet and Psyche exchanged shrugs and smiles.
Reyah loved it when Her children got along.

*

Needless to say, Reyah’s entirely wrong about that. At that point in the story, Thea, Liz and Jagger are most definitely not getting along. And it’s all Reyah’s fault. Not that she’d ever admit it. She’s got the whole divine infallibility thing down.
But Jagger and Roarke, the wounded hero featured so prominently in our standard excerpts, are getting along quite nicely with the rest of the Daughters of Reyah. So nicely, that we had to cut that bit. Couldn’t afford a scene where nobody was in mortal or emotional danger, but it makes a great happy ending to the blog about the novel that no longer is. Enjoy. And remember, the novel you can buy at My Bookstore and More is even better—at least that’s what Jess keeps telling me. ;-)

The Fifth and Final UN-Excerpt:
The Eighth Floor Spa of the Daughters’ Tower in Reyah’s Keep, Domain

Anna thought Roarke and Jagger were two of the most precious boys that it’d ever been her pleasure to be pleasured by. But now, in her dream, it was Lord Alfred doing all the wonderful things to her body that Roarke had done, only Alfred did them ever so much better. And just as they’d gotten to a really juicy part, there was Gareth standing at the end of her bed.
Well! Anna decided right then and there that Gareth had to be a damned Yankee. No true southern gentleman would ever break up a dream that was three times better than anything those romance gals ever wrote.
“Good morning, most gracious ladies,” Gareth said. He sounded like he was standing in the Atlanta Hawks locker room in Phillips Arena, his words bouncing every which way off concrete, chrome and marble.
Then Anna remembered that they didn’t have marble—or Gareth—in the Atlanta Hawks locker room. For that matter, the Atlanta Hawks locker room was most certainly not equipped with a magical pool, wine that sparkled on your tongue, and chaises at just the right height for incredible, mind-blowing sex. Her eyelids fluttered open, then squeezed shut. All the sunlight bouncing off the mosaics reminded her that she was just the teensiest bit hung-over.
Zaihns squawked. Anna growled. It was bad enough the ungodly things were magical peeping Toms, but that they were magical alarm clocks, too, was outside of enough. Anna decided to have words with Vallenius about setting the zaihns to her magic before the day was out. Even the daughter of a goddess needed her beauty sleep.
“The blessings of a new year in Reyah upon you,” Gareth’s voice blared from several zaihns at once. “It is now the third hour of Reyah’s Nativity. Lord Alfred has taken the liberty of setting the time for your presentation to Domain at midday. Yeves and your new servants will arrive shortly to help you get ready. Please, have Yeves summon me if there’s anything else you need. Until then, may the morning sunlight fall gently upon you.”
“Ohmigod,” Anna gasped, bolting upright from the chaise lounge. She immediately realized three things: she was naked as a jaybird, her thighs ached like nobody’s business, and she was not alone.
Marisol and two strangers, each of them at least as pretty as the Cuban real estate agent, stared blearily in Anna’s direction. It took a minute for Anna’s memory to assign names to the not-yet-familiar faces of the other two women. The women were just Brigid and Free. Anna didn’t have anything to worry about, except . . .
“Where’s Sarah?” Anna asked.
“The heck with Sarah,” Free said. “Has anybody seen a clock? I don’t want to miss breakfast.”
The words were barely out of Free’s mouth before the rest of Gareth’s speech final sank in.
“Oh shit, we’ve got people coming,” Marisol groaned.
“Clothes,” Brigid said meaningfully. “Robes for starters. There’s a stack of them folded behind the screen.”
Brigid swung her legs out from under the damask tablecloth she’d been using as a sheet. Brigid must have lasted a helluva lot longer than Anna had with those two lovely boys (and that was saying a lot) because Brigid dropped back onto the blue plush chaise like someone had let all the air out of her knees.
“Holy Jose Cuervo,” Brigid said. “That was the most fun I ever had without a worm.”

###

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