Here it is! The first chapter of Defiance!
"It's so nice to finally meet you!" she was saying. "Rachel has gone on and on about you for weeks now over the phone," she said, her accent endearing and sweet. But even with that I could barely concentrate on what the woman, from the Martineze clan of Prague, was saying.
I stared Marla down in absolute confusion and disgust as she chatted with someone. Had she said what I thought she said before? It couldn't be. We'd only been at the 'palace' for less than twenty minutes and I already had a new enemy. Though I guess Marla wasn't new, she'd been working behind the scenes, playing tricks and toying with our minds.
Caleb's hand shaking in mine brought me back to my reality as the woman waved and said her goodbyes to me. I looked over to calm him, but had to stop my breath from catching out loud. He wasn't shaking with fright or confusion. He was shaking with fury. I followed his gaze to Marcus, who was standing and smirking behind Marla. Caleb's mind ran through the multiple times that Marcus had injured or hurt me, the latest being, cutting my hair when I'd fallen asleep at the beach house. His fingers squeezed mine a little too tightly and I flexed them to get his attention. He jerked his gaze over to me and rubbed my fingers gently in apology before turning back to the raven haired traitor and her family.
Marla laughed as Caleb pulled me behind him as she made her way to us once more.
But she was headed to someone behind us. "Donald!" she sang and lifted her hand in greeting. "You're looking very fit."
"Oh," an older man said in surprise and smiled, showing a mouth full of perfectly straight, white teeth. "Why, thank you, Marla dear. It's been too long since you've graced us."
"It really has," she answered. "I'm here to remedy that."
"Well, good. And your Champion?"
Marla turned and hid her frown in her hands. She shook her head and lifted her face to him. Her tears might have looked real to him, but we knew otherwise.
"He's passed on. A terrible accident just yesterday."
"Oh, my…that is terrible. Poor Sikes. Had we been notified, we would have held a memorial for him."
"Yes, well, his wife wouldn't have wanted the attention. She's quiet and though she did come with us, she's grieving in her own way."
The councilman nodded as if he knew exactly what she meant. Then he said, "I see. It's hard, I know."
"As a matter of fact, I'd better go check on her now," Marla spouted and waved to him as her and her entourage left quickly out some double doors that led into a large hallway. "It was so good to see you," she called over her shoulder.
"You too, dear." Then he turned to us and he saw me for the first time. Correction - he saw the Visionary. He gasped and fell to one knee in front of me. He took my hand, kissing the backs of my fingers and pressing them to his head before looking back up to me. His eyes took a long time before they left the mark on my neck. I tried to be still and portray the object on display that he apparently thought I was.
Finally he spoke.
"Oh…Visionary. We are so glad you've come. We've waited… long and hard years for your return."
I swallowed my sarcastic response. Waited? Long and hard years? For my return? None of that seemed right. For one, they didn't seem to be waiting. And for two, they sure weren't in hard times. I glanced him over. He was wearing what had to be an expensive suit. His shoes were shinier than the marble floor we were standing on, and his eyebrows were perfectly aligned and trimmed. He looked severely pampered. And as for the third thing, the thing about my return? What did that mean? Did he think I was reincarnated or something?
"It's nice to meet you," I said lamely.
"Donald, this is Maggie Masters, soon to be Maggie Jacobson," Caleb explained. He looked over at me and smiled. "My significant."
I had my mind closed off like Caleb had told me to. He had said with all the worshipping going on my mind would overload for sure in this place. I tried to open up a little to hear the councilman's thoughts. All I heard and felt was disgust. It wafted over me…almost like when Marcus' mind was open to me. Like slime.
I figured I must not be focusing on the councilman right so I backed away from his mind and settled back on Caleb.
"Maggie," Donald tested my name on his tongue. He didn’t sound as though he was impressed. "Is that short for something? Margaret, maybe?"
I almost sighed. Almost. "No, sir. Just Maggie."
"Hmm. And Peter," he said clearly, but with a little inflection. He peered around Caleb, and I did too. Peter was standing there with a smile pasted on his handsome face. A big fake smile with tight crinkled eyes. The councilman and Peter stared at each other.
"Donald," Peter said. He folded his arms over his chest, the material bunching and twisting with the tightness, his head turning ever so slightly to the right. "How…nice to see you, as always."
"I'm sure," Donald rebutted with equal amounts of sarcasm. I felt seriously uncomfortable and fidgeted with Caleb's sleeve. "Why don't we get started on the introductions. The Visionary needs to get to know her people."
My heart jumped in my throat. "What?" I squeaked and Caleb eased his arm around my waist.
"It's ok," he whispered. "He just means that he'll announce you to everyone."
"Yes, dear. Unless you'd like to say a few words?" Donald hedged.
"No. No, that won't be necessary," I answered quickly and tried not to gulp.
"As for the rest of you," Donald addressed the rest of our family who stood behind us. "It's so good to see you all again. Please, come in." He lifted an eyebrow and pursed his lips in disapproval. "You don't have to just stand in the doorway like that."
"Donald," Gran drawled and came around Caleb and I. "Don't throw out your condescension on us, now. We're all standing in the doorway because you're blocking our way, you old star struck fool."
"Oh," Donald said abruptly and looked around. "Quite right. Forgive me, Visionary. You must think me terribly improper."
"No. Um…no," I mumbled.
He waved his arm for us to enter the grand room. I felt someone at my back and turned to find Kyle. His hand was on my shoulder and a sympathetic look on his face. Beside him was Lynne with a tight grip on his hand as she looked around at the golden room. "Time to face the music," Kyle whispered and then patted Caleb on the back.
"You both act like we're going to war or something," Lynne muttered.
Caleb laughed. "No. We just know that Maggie is absolutely going to hate this."
"Hate what?" I asked.
"This," he said and pointed. I looked up to see a room full of people who were just a few seconds ago bustling and talking. Now in the eerie quiet of the room, I could see them all falling to one knee and bowing their heads to me. It was a struggle to keep the disgusted grimace from my face. Everyone just waited. It dawned that they were waiting for me. Crap.
"Thank you. You can…stand," I said.
A few of them came forward to me and each in turn did their little reverence bow; kissing fingers, bowing head and touching it to my hand. When they finally rose I smiled and tried not to cringe into Caleb's side. Everyone else stood and watched.
A few well dressed individuals made their way to a platform that had a long table, covered in white linen. The seven of them sat and then looked our way. At first I thought they were looking at me. But Gran squeezed my shoulder as she went by. She made her way and stood at the end of the table. They all sat down together.
I was confused. Caleb leaned in and spoke low. "The council. Or the assembly as they like to call themselves. There's a member from each family. Gran represents us."
"Why not your dad? He's the Champion?"
"It can't be the champion. The Champion must always be free for our family and not tied down to any other position. Technically, Gran, since she is an assembly member, should live here at the palace with the rest of them. But she refuses."
"Did they pick her?" I asked, thinking the assembly probably wouldn't want such a vocal and, uh…speak-her-mind type on the council.
"Nope. Each family chooses their own representative." He grinned. "Who else would we vote in but Gran?"
I giggled, causing a few people to turn and stare. Caleb just ignored them and put an arm around my shoulder, but I couldn't help but wonder what the strange look on their faces was for. I opened my mind, focusing on one guy in particular who looked pretty upset. His gaze latched onto mine and I immediately felt his jealousy. He wasn't angry, he just wanted. He wanted what he'd been told his whole life was his only way to have a family and to love someone. His mind swamped mine with thoughts of imprints coming back, the possibility of his soul mate being in this very room. That I was the catalyst, the thing that would bring it all back to them. I smiled at him and he seemed shocked by the gesture. He smiled back and bowed his head.
"That's Paul, of the Petrona clan," Caleb said quietly. "And beside him is Philippe. Do you remember me telling you about him?"
"Yes, the other human besides Gran and me." He looked over and saw us looking. He waved to Caleb and bowed his head to me. He started to come our way, but a child grabbed his pant leg and made him stop. He laughed and picked the girl up.
And Kyle and Lynne. Everyone stared at them as well, the looks on their faces with just as much longing. Kyle was oblivious, but Lynne knew what was at stake. She cringed into Kyle's side in an uncharacteristic move from the spunky girl I knew.
Jen was pulled by Maria to stand next to us. Maria took both of our Caleb and my arms and yawned as she leaned her head against him. He chuckled at her. I looked around the room then, as Donald started addressing everyone loudly. But I tuned him out.
Everyone's mind was the same and they all seemed as taken with me as Donald had been. They wanted what they thought I had to offer; their lives back. Little did they know that I had no idea what the heck I was doing. I really hoped that I could help them because desperation seemed to be the mood of the day.
"Maggie?" I heard and looked back up to see Donald watching me curiously.
"I wondered if you'd like to say a few words? To your people?"
I looked at him and realized that though he asked me earlier if I wanted to speak, and I told him that I did not, that he wasn't really giving me the option, he was just being polite.
Caleb sighed beside me and I glanced at him to see that he understood all too well that the assembly had no intentions of letting me sit quietly. I steeled myself. I had Caleb's hand in mine, his blood and love running through my veins and his heart in my chest. I could do this.
You bet your pretty tush you can.
I tried not to giggle at his words in my head. I squeezed his hand and turned to face the whole of the room, a bouquet of different people and colors.
I didn't wait. I just went for it. "I just wanted to say that it's really good to meet you all. I hope we can get to know each other well this week." And since I was in a position for everyone to hear me at once…. "And please, you don't have to bow to me. I'm just like you. I know that you are anxious about my being here, and what that could mean, but we'll figure it all out together. I realize the importance of this and I promise you that I am taking this seriously, but my name is Maggie, please call me that." And then I smiled.
I looked around the room. Some were smiling back, some were just watching, and some were in absolute shock. But they weren't looking at me. I followed their glances over my shoulder to find a red faced Donald.
"Visionary," he said clearly and I got his meaning by it. No one was to call me Maggie. "I know that you are young, but you have an obligation to our people, being what you are. You can't allow them to treat you as some commoner, because you are not. And you are not some measly human anymore either," he sneered loud and clear.
"I understand," I told him. "I'm not shirking my duties, but I am the Visionary and I don't feel the necessity to treat me as something else other than just…one of you. I plan to try to figure out what it is I'm supposed to do while I'm here."
"Forgive me, Visionary, but we know exactly what you are supposed to do." He came around the table and stood in front of us all. "Welcome home!" he boomed, the echo eerie in the big room. "You are to come here, for good. Rule our people and live with the council as has been planned for centuries."
"I…" What was I supposed to say to that? Peter touched my arm. He gave me a look. I focused on him, assuming he had something to say.
I assumed they were going to try to do this, Maggie. As much as I love my people, they can be adamant and downright obsessive about tradition and formality. Just…don’t get worked up. We’ll figure all this out together. I won't let them bully you, I promise.
I nodded as Peter turned to Donald and smiled that same smile as before. The one that said You are seriously full of crap. "Donald, Maggie is only seventeen years old and was a human. She has human ties; a father and brother, friends. You cannot expect her to uproot herself completely and come to live here. Not to mention Caleb-"
"What about Caleb?" Donald said smugly. "I extended no such invitation to live with us to him."
"He is her significant," Peter replied tightly.
"And if she chooses to keep him here, he may stay. But that is to the Visionary's discretion how she handles that…situation." My brows bunched in confusion, but he went on. "I understand that she needs his touch to survive, but the Visionary is too important and refined to be consumed with petty puppy love and insignificant use of her time." Caleb rumbled beside me and I gripped his arm out of instinct. What was the council trying to pull? "Therefore, if the Visionary so wishes it, she may keep Caleb here in the common quarters, as it wouldn't be proper for him to stay with her in her portion of the palace."
"Like hell," Caleb growled.
Donald," Peter roared. "I beg your pardon, but are you suggesting that Maggie keep my son here as some sort of…of…"
"Consort?" I finished for him. Just the thought of them suggesting that I use Caleb for such a thing was enough to make my blood boil. And boil it did. The lights began to flicker a little above us.
Everyone looked around in confusion, but I never removed my eyes from the individuals at the table. I looked at them each in turn and told them with my gaze that this was idiocy. They all looked away as if scared of me, or ashamed for sitting by quietly while Donald lorded over everyone. So, if they were scared of me, then why were they pulling this crap?
Donald bristled at my tone and cleared his throat as he took a slight step back. Then he swatted at an energy ribbon as it floated in the air near his head. His eyes bulged when it went straight through his skin. I looked behind me to see that there were lots of energy ribbons in the air. I took a deep breath, understanding the blue menace was coming directly from me. Caleb tried to touch my skin, his hands running up my arms to my face, but in honestly, he was so upset himself that he wasn't calming me much.
"What's going on here?" another assembly member shouted. "Who's doing this?"
"I am," I answered in a hushed voice and everyone stopped. Caleb slid his hands from my face slowly and turned to glare at the assembly once more.
"It's not her fault. Maggie does this when she's upset. So stop it," he ground out.
"It was not our intention to upset you, my dear Visionary," Donald said and made his way back to the table to his chair. I was glad I wasn't close enough to get a good look of the condescension on his face that I could hear in his voice. "What part was it that…" he stopped. I followed his gaze to my wrist. Crap. He turned a couple shades of red. He glared at Peter, then Caleb.
I watched as his brow shot up in accusation. Or maybe it was curiosity.
"So, you've mutualized with our Visionary?" he asked, causing Caleb's grip to tighten on me. "You...tainted our Visionary before you were married?"
"Now, hold on a second," Peter interrupted. "There's no law-"
"It's a matter of propriety!" he bellowed and stood, banging a wrinkled fist on the table. Jen pulled Maria back to her and looked like she wanted to cover her poor daughter's ears. "Something you should have taught her as the Champion of your clan!"
"Well he's been a little busy saving our lives," I muttered from behind Caleb.
"What was that, Visionary?"
I straightened my back and came to stood closer to Caleb. I grabbed his hand, letting our wrist tattoos show off our love for each other, but also the fact that we mutualized. It was not something dirty and the fact that he was trying to take my perfect, happy, delicious memory of that night away from me wasn't going to fly. Caleb grinned as he heard my inner rant and chuckled as I turned to the table before me. I spoke clear and loud.
"I said, we've been a little busy trying to stay alive. The fact that I did or didn't mutualize with my significant shouldn't matter to you. The fact that we were almost killed by members of the Virtuoso who are in this very room and you're doing nothing about it is what we should discuss. And it's Maggie, not Visionary...sir."
The release date is now officially March 13th! two months early.
To address a few questions I've had, Yes my hand is SOO much better, thank you!
And also, the Kindle and Nook versions should be available that day and I'm even trying for the paperback s as well.
Best wishes and happy endings,