Snippet Sunday: The General’s Lady (work in progress)

The General's Lady coverThe snippet featured today is a romance project developed with a longtime friend of mine.  It will be released under the Jayne E. Alexander pen name.

Elaine Harris was once a solider in the service of the Commonwealth.  That ended in one pitched battle out in the Scandian Arm, as the galaxy devolved into civil war.  Seized by the enemy and enslaved, she abandoned all hope–until a ghost from her past walked back into her life, determined to save her from herself.

Snippet below the break.


Graden was pacing in the shadows immediately beyond the table, half hidden as he kept to the dimness beyond the lights centered above the table.  She cleared her throat quietly as she approached, worried of what might happen if she startled him.  As it was, he jerked upright and spun to face her, losing balance and stumbling half a step sideways before he caught himself against his chair.

And he smiled, something like relief lighting his eyes.  “Did you get lost again?” he asked as he limped toward her chair to pull it out for her.

She winced at the gesture, but not the lie she was about to tell.  “Yes.  You’re right, it’s a big house.”  She sank into the chair and let him ease it in for her, barely concealing a wince.

Why is he doing this?

“You didn’t need to do that,” she said as he seated himself.  He tried to conceal a wince as he sank into his chair, but she saw the slight grimace.  “You’ve been on your feet all day.”

“No, I’ve been trapped behind the governor’s desk all day,” he growled, reaching for his napkin and the bottle of wine that sat between the two place settings.  “All I want right now is this bottle of wine and an hour with a normal person.”

She opened her mouth to ask him not to pour her any wine, but the statement about time with a normal person stopped her cold.  Elaine closed her mouth and watched the pale golden wine splash into her glass.

Did he remember that I can’t drink most reds, or is that simply his preference?

No.  He was never one to drink much wine.  She watched him fill his own glass, watched as he studied it for along moment as he set down the bottle.

“You wish it was whiskey,” she whispered.

His eyes slid closed and he nodded.  “Not an option, though.  Don’t have a lieutenant governor yet.  I’ve been informed that I’m limited to wine and only two glasses until I have one of those.  Ashleigh is worried I’ll accidentally become incapacitated.”  He lifted the glass with a quiet snort.  “As if there would be some sort of massive crisis I couldn’t handle without being completely sober.”

Her breath hitched for a moment, but she covered it by seizing her own wineglass.  Hell.  Can’t even drink off-duty because a governor’s never off-duty, I guess.  She felt a pang of sympathy that surprised her.  “I’m sure she’s only looking out for the well-being of the planets that you’re supposed to safeguard,” she said as she took a slow sip of her wine.  It was sweet and cool but somehow left her feeling warm in the wake of that first sip.

Firewine.  Of course.  If it can’t be whiskey, he’d find something else.

Resourceful as always.

“Someone should be bringing soup soon,” he muttered, leaning back in his seat.  “I’m sorry that it’s not on the table now.  I keep trying to convince them that they can just bring it out and put it down but they won’t listen.”

“It’s all right,” Elaine said, startled to realize that she meant it.  “If it had been waiting for us, it’d be cold by now.”

He made a quiet sound of agreement in his throat and set down his wineglass.  She concentrated on hers as he stared at her, studied her.  It was all she could do not to flinch or blush under the close scrutiny.

It’s just like inspection was way back when.  Keep it together.

Then his fingertip brushed the edge of the scar on her shoulder and it was suddenly very much not like inspection back when.

She jerked back from the table, almost spilling the wine.  He withdrew, blinking at her.

“Laney?”

“Don’t,” she said, her voice rough and harsh as she tried to quell sudden sickness, to swallow back the bile rising in her throat.  “Please, Michael, don’t.”

Pain flashed through his eyes as he sank back in his chair, almost slumping until he caught himself and sat up straight.  Always the commanding officer, always the soldier.

Except with me, but I’m not me anymore.  And he’s not him anymore.  And nobody is who they used to be and everything—everything—has changed.

“What happened to you?” he whispered so quietly she almost didn’t hear him.

“I could ask you the same thing,” she whispered back, hands curling into fists on the tabletop.  Her heart pounded a staccato beat against her breastbone.  God, Elaine, get it the hell together.  Get back in control.  You’ve still got shreds of that, don’t you?

Barely.

“I fought a goddamned war,” he said, hands flat on the table, fingers splayed.  One pinkie spread from the others at an odd angle.  He’d broken it when they were still in secondary, playing lacrosse.  She remembered that.  “The entire galaxy was falling down around our ears and I just kept on fighting.”  He swallowed hard, still staring at her.  “I never stopped looking for you and your unit.  I never stopped trying to figure out what happened to you, Laney.”

You sure as hell did a bang-up job, didn’t you?  She swallowed bitter anger and shook her head.  “If you think that I want to talk about it—”

“I know that you don’t,” he said abruptly.  “But eventually, you’re going to have to.  You’ll have to tell someone.  I just hope that you somehow trust me enough to let me be the one you tell.”

Her gaze flicked up to his eyes and she swallowed hard as she saw the pain and frustration there.  Her jaw tightened and she reached for her wineglass, downing a mouthful before her throat loosened enough to speak.  “You’re the fucking Dragonslayer.  I’m supposed to tell you how my unit got betrayed and decimated?  About how I almost died on that field and then woke up as a prisoner of war?  How all of us became slaves when the Corps died and the government finally collapsed?  When laws stopped meaning anything?  I’m supposed to talk to you about that?”  She got up so quickly she knocked over her chair, hating herself for the hot tears that welled up in her eyes.  “No, Michael.  I can’t talk about that.  I can’t tell anyone about that.  Not even you.  Especially not you.”

She strode toward the door, ashamed of her own tears, angry at herself, angry at him.

Where were you when I needed you, Michael?

Fighting a war thousands of light-years away.  Blissfully ignorant of what was happening to me and my unit.

No one cared.

His hand closed around her arm.  She tried to shake him off, but his grip was like iron.

“Elaine,” he said raggedly, “goddammit, look at me.”

“I don’t have anything to say,” she said, trying to be firm.  “Let me go.”  The words came out as a plea instead and she hated herself for them.

“No,” he said.  “Not until you listen.”

“To what?” she snapped, wheeling on him.  “Listen to what?”

“To me,” he said, words impossibly gentle despite the contorted mask of an expression transformed by rage and pain.  “You have to know, if I had known what was happening to you, I’d have been there in a heartbeat.  I don’t care what it would have taken, I would have come.”

“It’s too late for that,” she whispered.  “They’re dead or slaves and I’m here, but I’m not the same.  I’m not who you think I am anymore.”

He swallowed and reached up to brush hair back from her face.  She flinched away from the touch and he winced.

“You are,” he said quietly.  “Somewhere, buried deep where you hope that nothing can hurt you anymore, you are.”

“Let me go, Michael,” she said again, realizing that she wasn’t above begging.

He let go of her and she fled back to her room, leaving him back to finish the bottle of wine—and dinner—alone.


The General’s Lady will be released by Taliesin Ambrose Books upon completion.

Like my science fiction worlds?  Check out Epsilon: Broken Stars (available where books are sold) and Legacies of the Lost Earth (online at www.embklitzke.com/e557).

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