As I usher Outrush, the third book in my PNR series, through editing and production, I confess to having set up a love story and drama for a fourth within it. I’m going on record as saying I’m not going to write it – I’m just not, people, so don’t pay any attention to these little asides I throw out that suggest otherwise. This development of scenes is an exorcism, and any minute, I’ll be purged and free, just you watch.
With that, here’s an excerpt from the book following Outrush (which again, I refuse to write!):
From Crosstide, Book Four of the Mer Chronicles by Errin Stevens
“Xanthe. Come back to me.”
She knew that voice, had been in these arms before… but maybe not. Maybe she was dreaming she was in a better situation than she actually was. She looked apprehensively over her shoulder toward the room she’d just left, the glow from the chandelier too bright, its illumination still touching her.
Like a prison searchlight when all good inmates were in bed, and she was an escapee in the yard.
She bolted deeper into the night shadows, pulling so hard on her companion, they both stumbled, and how odd for the laws of gravity to work in a scenario that didn’t really exist. Her phantom Peter steadied them.
“Moonflower.” His voice was gruff with emotion. He contained her struggling when all she wanted to do was run, flee to the ocean as fast as she could and find the deepest, darkest sea cave to hide in. “What did they do to you?”
Not that negotiating with a ghost would get her anywhere, but she decided there was no harm in responding. “You must be new here. If you show sadness, if you withdraw and dim yourself, they will kill you.” She checked over her shoulder again and frowned. “I don’t know why they aren’t coming for me…”
Peter shook her, pulling her attention back to him. “Xanthe. You’re safe. And they’re all dead. No one will chase you.”
God, but his anger was glorious, as was the unlikely assertion he’d done away with her captors. Still, she reveled in the reprieve, in the idea she had a true friend at her side. She studied his face, his ethereal beauty, then took in his confidence and self-possession, two attributes that would never survive in this place. He was so vital, so real. “What new trick is this?” she murmured, touching his cheek. He felt warm and solid, and yet couldn’t be. He flattened her palm against the side of his face.
He was too physically vibrant, too enticing. He was in fact a desperate hope she couldn’t afford to indulge, because to believe in him was to invite her own execution. She fought to get away, but he held her firmly… and even his strength, his illusory hold on her, was a solace. She stopped, leaned into him. Perhaps she’d snapped and her mind was forcing her into the conclusion she needed so badly, that she was loved and protected. But she still turned her head away, gazed toward the sea glittering under the high moon. If she could imagine Peter, she could imagine getting away from here.
Peter began to hum. The tune tugged at a memory, one she’d buried because it had made her too homesick.
A ball in a grand palace among her own people. A prince in fine dress bowing before her, his admiration evident as he paused over her hand to request a dance. Her apprehension at the time seemed absurd now, how she’d stewed over his interest in her and what she risked by allowing him to lead her onto the floor.
He swept her into a waltz.
The sights and sounds of that faraway time blended with the present, her old memories darkening as she and Peter glided and turned along the stone corridor. She relaxed against his hand at her back for every spin, trusting him to contain their momentum. And at each step, the music from their earlier encounter also bled away… until soon, all she heard was the deep, resonant voice of her partner, his breath intimate and warm in her ear.
The vivid hues from that long-ago celebration – the gowns, the floral arrangements, the garish towers of hors d’oeuvres – went last, their brilliance fading into a colorless but deeper, more private display. She and Peter performed alone here in moonlight and shadow, like a silent movie they enacted between the arches of the arcade. She began to watch Peter’s face, looking for further evidence of his actuality. His features appeared and disappeared, never evident long enough for her to know.
At the end of the gallery, he stopped humming but kept her in his frame, as if they might dance again. He stood so close she could see nothing else, his chest heaving slightly from exertion. She watched the movement in fascination, reminiscent as it was of the waves she so longed for, the swelling, the contraction. She set her ear against his heart and let its rhythm absorb her. He cupped the back of her head.