It’s a new year and I’m beginning to get subscribers to my mailing list.
To celebrate, in anticipation of the spring release of THE PURSUAL, I’m sharing a short, scene from THE PURSUAL.
Let me know your thoughts.
Hope you like it.
I should be happy, but the only emotion I feel is dread. It’s a pure, absolute terror that makes my palms sweat and leaves my mouth dry. I tend to be a happy person but today, I can’t pretend to be anything but … scared. On the other side of the glass divide are wide smiles and bright, white teeth. Champagne flutes clinking, voices bubbling into laughter and heels clicking on the gleaming onyx floor create a rhythm that sets me on edge.
“Master Portan is such a peacock,” Bel says, her voice filled with amusement. “He has color and glitter in his hair.”
Portan glides into the pavilion with his locks styled in a series of vertical knots running along the middle of his head. Each knot sports a different color and shimmers with every languid step he takes. He stops to greet the Saint Esprit family. The Titan whispers into his ear as two servers rush around their booth, refilling jewel encrusted plates and glasses.
A few rows back in the booth, Nome Saint Esprit’s scion and heir apparent, James Jr., takes a sip of his drink and leans in to listen to his mother’s whispers.
My chest tightens at the thought that he could become my mate. There are those who find James attractive but to me, he’s just a scraggly boy with a widow’s peak and tawny-colored hair that looks dirty. His family’s global agriculture business has earned them a sixth-place position in the rankings and make him a perfect match. Technically. Anyone who thinks that way either doesn’t know or ignores their knowledge of his … proclivities. I don’t fall into either category.
“Are you all right? You’re not saying much.” I feel her concerned gaze upon me and swivel my head to meet it. Her soft brown eyes are full of apprehension that I wave away with the flick of my wrist. There’s no need to worry my best friend right now. There’ll be plenty of time for that later.
Plastering a delirious grin on my face, I say, “I’m fine.”
She scoffs, knowing that I’m not being truthful. “Don’t you dare lie to me, Neith Reffour.” She sounds stern but, there’s a tinge of laughter underneath her words. “You’ve been waiting for this night forever and everyone,” she sweeps her long caramel fingers towards the pavilion beyond our waiting room, “is here to share it with you. What’s wrong?”
Despite how close we are; I can’t bring myself to tell her what troubles me. I’m frightened if I say what worries me aloud, the universe will make it come to pass. What antiquated thinking, I know. Still, I square my shoulders and say “Everything is okay.”
“Is it about Invier?”
I don’t think she believes a word I said because she squints at me. “I’m going to let you hold onto this secret because we know you’ll tell me eventually.”
Despite the temptation, now is not the time to argue with her on this point because she’s right. Bel always gets the truth from me. Part of the reason is because I trust her completely. She’s my oldest friend and confidante.
Even though I won’t turn this into a debate, I can’t resist irking her so I say, “Sure thing, Belly.”
She pinches my arm with long pink nails. They bite into the soft flesh and I squirm to get out of their reach. She’s never liked the nickname, but her siblings and I use it to great effect to get a rise out of her. When she’s satisfied that she’s caused enough pain, she crows in victory and lets me go.
We’re seated in a small waiting room, tucked within the pavilion, a high-ceilinged room adjacent to my family’s cavernous ballroom. Glass walls separate us from our guests but allow us to observe them. The attendees are members of the Group of Twenty’s Nomes, the world’s most powerful family-conglomerates, and they sit in booths that line three of the four walls in the expansive room. Despite how friendly they treat each other; I know they’d do anything to come out on top. Nome above all.
An announcer’s voice soars over the din of discussion. “Ladies and Gentlemen, now entering the Pavilion are the members of Nome Parashar, led by Titan Parashar and his Titane. They are followed by their children, Scion Acri Parashar, Doge Elon Parashar, Dogenne Riya Parashar….”
The announcer drones on as the Parashars make their way to their designated seating. Thank goodness I chose this sparkling black number to wear tonight because Riya has on a white dress similar to what I was supposed to wear. Her brother, Acri, holds her hand, guiding her past the other nomes. He’s all smiles as he scans the booths above.
“Looks like your friend needs help finding something. Or, should I say someone?”
Bel’s lips press into a thin line before she says, “Acri and I are—”
“Whatever you say, Belly.” At my cackling, she purses her plump bottom lip and tries to ignore me. Acri has liked Bel for a long time and recently, his nome informed her family that they interested in a pairing. Both Titans like each other and think aspects of their businesses can mesh. Even though a love match isn’t required for a successful pairing and eventual marriage, Acri has feelings for her. And, in spite of her protests, I’m sure she likes him too.
My laughter comes to an abrupt end when Father barrels into the room through a mahogany side door.
“Hello, Uncle Nabo,” Bel says with a bright smile. I can tell she’s glad that his arrival brought an end to my entertainment.
He looks up from the slate screen in his hands. “Hello, Belema.” His golden eyes leave hers to meet mine and he nods briskly.
“You got here on time. I think Portan will start the opening ceremony soon.”
Eyes still on his screen, he says, “I wouldn’t want deal with his conniption if I showed up late.”
Portan would definitely have a fit if Father was absent when the ceremony begins. As the nome’s Master, Portan works for my father in whatever capacity is necessary. Nevertheless, even Father doesn’t want to face his wrath. It doesn’t show up often, but with all the planning he’s put into things, he’s become a tad high-strung. Father and I have done our best to avoid him the last few weeks which has been difficult because he insisted on giving me an etiquette refresher course that was the absolute worst.
“Are you excited about tonight, Uncle? Your daughter isn’t.”
He gives me a quick look as he lowers his tall frame into one of the red, velvet-covered seats. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything.” His chair dips under his weight. “One of the men that get called to the pavilion floor could become my son-in-law.” He returns to his screen and his fingers fly over the surface. Whatever he’s doing is obviously more important than what could be the most important day of my life.
“Now, now, you could end up with a daughter-in-law, you know. Nothing in the Pursual rules stops a scioness from participating and becoming Paladin.” Bel avoids the glare I send her way. I wish she hadn’t said that. What if she just spoke that outcome into the universe? Clearly, my nerves are getting the best of me if I’m getting so superstitious.
In spite of my protest, this issue of participant gender was Father’s idea. “The more the merrier,” he’d said. I can’t imagine many scionesses entering the competition but the rules dictate that I’ll marry whoever becomes Paladin, no matter their gender.
“True.” Father’s tone is playful and he turns towards me. “I hope for your sake, dear, that this experiment of yours doesn’t end with you having to marry a girl.” He returns to tapping on his screen. “Personally, all I care is that the winner of this competition is from a nome that will make for a profitable alliance.”
Of course, he’d be sure to point out what matters to him. A profitable alliance.
Father’s opinion shouldn’t be a surprise. Yet, his words leech the warmth from me. It’s always about profit when it comes to him. Well, profit, power, and the continued advancement of our family—Nome Reffour. Family is more than the people one is related to. Family is the nome. The nome is the business it controls, which for us, is manufacturing. We build and create everything for everyone meaning we have deep business ties with almost every other nome which has fared us well over the years. Regardless, he always reminds me how Reffour’s Titans and Titanes have steadily moved our family up the nome rankings. We are now second but it isn’t enough for him. If we ever get to be the first among the Twenty, there’d still be more to do to keep others at bay. Someday, that responsibility will fall on my shoulders and I am happy to bear it. All I have to do is make sure that I have the love of my life by my side.
“Don’t be cruel, Uncle.” Bel leans over to take my hand in hers. Her warmth bleeds into me and while it’s comforting, it can’t erase the cold that flares across my skin. “The Pursual will lead Neith to the love she desires.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome Nome Floran, led by Titan Floran and his Titane, and accompanied by their children, Scion Invier Floran, Dogenne Song Floran and other members of their nome!”
I look at my best friend, hoping I can borrow some of her confidence. She waggles her angled eyebrows and then looks out at the pavilion. I follow her gaze to where Invier enters with his father, mother, sister and a few other people I assume to be family members of some sort.
“Love has nothing to do with it.” Father’s commanding words are punctuated with a snort. I used to think the same. Responsibility to the family was always supreme. That was until a few months ago. Now, I believe I can have much more.
Ignoring his dismissing comment, I keep my eyes on Invier as my heart thumps. His curly brown hair is sleeked back today. He’s draped in a navy-blue trench suit, its long seams falling midway at his thighs. I can tell from his slumped shoulders that he doesn’t want to be here and I don’t blame him. His mother and sister are all smiles, while his father’s lips are a thin line.
“You’re still frowning?” she asks quietly. The corners of her mouth flip downwards. “You did the best you could Neat. It was his job to rise to the occasion and he didn’t. Don’t let that drag you down.”
I wish it was that simple.