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Unspoken Sneak Peek


This day is unlike any other.

I can feel that as I watch one of my father’s advisors climb the steps, a rolled up scroll in his hand. He places the paper on the top of the podium, unrolling it, and clearing his throat. My father has waited three days to give everyone in the kingdom time to arrive, so they can all hear these words. My curiosity increases along with my anxiety over what is to be said. My father’s announcements are rarely about anything good. I find myself wondering where all these people will sleep since my father only had rooms prepared for the nobles, but even at my young age, I know that my father doesn’t care for the commoners. He never has. He is the king over all that I can see, and yet, he only cares for those in our kingdom who can increase his wealth.

“By royal decree, from this day forward, The Unspoken One is banished from the Kingdom of Nur. He is an enemy to your king, and therefore an enemy to you. Anyone who so much as speaks this enemy’s true name shall receive a punishment of no less than twenty lashes and the loss of a year’s wages.”

The nobility and commoners alike gasp at the words, looking at each other with wide, shocked eyes. But my own confusion dampens my shock. Who is being banished? Who is The Unspoken One? How are the people supposed to know who is banished and an enemy, if his name is not spoken? And what harm could there be in saying his name? What power can it possibly have? My mind reels with the many questions racing through it.

“The Unspoken One shall not be remembered in any aspect. It shall be as if he never lived or existed at all. So orders our sovereign, King Qarun.”

The advisor faces the paper outward, and raises it high, as if anyone can actually see my father’s signature on the decree. But I can, and I swallow, knowing it seals someone’s fate. For my father holds the power to elevate or destroy someone’s life, and I’ve rarely seen him use it for the former.

The people below us grumble as the advisors gather into a half-circle near the podium. I try to listen to them discreetly, too fearful to ask anything of them or the man sitting next to me. But I want to plead so badly for the answer to what horrible thing this person has done to be banished. For his very name to be erased from our history. It must have been something unspeakable to deserve such a punishment.

I peek at my father out the corner of my eye and find him watching me with the usual disgust shown on his face whenever his gaze settles upon me. His top lip curls up on one side, eyes full of downright contempt. I’ve become sure over the years that when he looks at me he only sees that, while he got the daughter he wanted, he did not get the daughter he hoped for. I am not powerful like my mother, like he thought his union with her would produce.

But now, I am his only hope.

Everyone ceases speaking all at once, and I don’t have to look behind me to know she’s here. The witch. The very air vibrates with darkness and something that makes the hairs on my arms stand up. Soon she’s beside me, so close her dark cloak brushes against the arm of my chair. I’m unable to suppress my shiver at her proximity. I never knew my mother, but I cannot look at her portrait in the halls and imagine her ever seeming so ominous. Cannot imagine that her magic felt so violent and cold.

I see my father gesture impatiently at the witch, and she steps forward to the podium. Although I tell myself not to look up at her, my neck cranes of its own accord, and I regret it the moment I meet her eyes. They are completely white, devoid of any color, and yet still frightening in the way that they seem to see all. They have no irises to tell me what she’s looking at and still I can feel her staring right back at me, so intently I have to swallow to keep the fear from crawling up my throat and making me scream. The hard set of her thin lips and the sharp point of her nose makes her face just as unwelcoming as her eyes. Her skin is stretched too thin, like it wants to peel away from her face, and she refuses to allow it. I shudder to even think of how old she is.

Her power calls to the spark of my own. I look at Maryam out the corner of my eye, and she discreetly shakes her head, a reminder to control myself. If my father ever knew there was even an ounce of my mother’s magic flowing through my veins, I know that I would and could never be free of him. I grip the arms of my chair, suppressing the magic trying to rise from the base of my abdomen. The witch’s head turns slightly, her eyebrows furrowing, while her eyes fervently seek out the magic she senses.

Although she has lived in the palace since my mother’s death, this is only the third time I’ve seen her. The first was when she presided over my older brother’s funeral two weeks ago. He’d been stabbed, why and by whom, no one knows, but there he laid, lifeless, his once bronze skin pale and ghostly. I could not bring myself to spill any tears for him as I barely knew him. A little sister was of no significance to him, and so my dead brother was of no importance to me.

The second time I saw her was when my father signed the decree naming me his new heir, I’m sure purely because I am his blood, and not because he has any actual desire for me to rule. Even as the crown of the heir was placed on my head, he could not stop himself from laying out my flaws. Too weak, too compassionate, too merciful. His hands balled into fists at his sides as the witch sealed the decree, making it so none could change the wording after my father’s death. And now, seeing her for the third time, I am no less afraid of her than I was before.

I sink further into my seat as I watch her dig her too sharp nail into her pointer finger. Once she’s broken through the skin, she tilts her head back and brings her finger to the space above her open mouth, and I watch as a single drop of blood slowly falls onto her outstretched tongue. The moment the blood makes contact with it, the skies darken, clouds rushing in like they herald a storm to end all storms. When I look back at the witch, her eyes are completely black, and I shrink back in my seat in fear. If I thought her white eyes were frightening, seeing them all black now is terrifying.

She exhales and smoke releases from her mouth like breath on a cold day. I’ve never seen a spell the likes of this. Not in any of the books Maryam managed to hide away for me to study. The books with pages full of words that only call out to those with magic in their blood.

The sky begins to crackle, lightning flashing through the gray clouds, but no thunder sounds, no rain falls. There is only a violence in the air, a feeling that whatever the witch is doing should not be done.

But she proceeds, ignoring the warning that makes my eyes constantly dart between her and the sky, not knowing which to watch or where the danger lies. The witch steps closer to the podium, touching her bloody finger to the decree, leaving a red fingerprint behind when she removes it. She raises her arms high, her wide sleeves falling back and revealing pale, frail arms. A low grunt leaves her, as if the effort this takes is more than she can bear. Even that sound is gravelly, like her voice is rarely used. And why would it be? My father only permits her to speak to him and other witches. But there are only a few witches left, and the ones who remain have good reason to avoid her. She has killed almost all of witches in the kingdom, consuming their power for herself, using their deaths to prolong her life. But now there are hardly any left to kill, hardly any to use to preserve her youth. Her greed will be her downfall.

She brings her hands to her chest, and her air cuts off with a sharp intake of breath. Even the sky silences, as if it’s waiting to see if she will truly finish this spell, to carry on with this foreboding deed. Her eyes close, and her head dips until her chin touches her chest. Then she spreads her arms wide, and a spark too bright to look at without squinting emanates from her chest. It stretches between her hands until it passes from her, racing towards the sky, growing wider and covering all as it progresses. The people on the balcony and below scream as it passes over them, but it doesn’t harm them, simply continuing on, traveling until I can no longer see it’s glow.

“It is done,” the witch says hoarsely, her body now sagging against the podium, exhaustion clear on her weathered face. “He is banished.”

I scrunch my eyebrows at her sudden old and haggard appearance. When she did the spells at my brother’s funeral and the heir decree signing, they did not take such a toll on her. In fact, they didn’t appear to take anything from her at all. But this spell, this banishment, seems to have used every ounce of power she has.

And she’s searching for more. She inhales deeply, and I feel a pull at my center. Her cold, now white-again eyes are searching once more, snapping from one face to the next until they settle on mine. They narrow, her head tilting as the pull inside of me turns in to a painful tug, then a tight, crushing grip. My chest begins heaving with the effort of me using what little training I have to resist her, all while trying not to prove that her suspicions that the magic she senses is coming from me are correct. Maryam must realize something is wrong because she comes to stand between me and the witch, placing her hand on my shoulder and squeezing. Without the witch’s gaze on me, I feel her power release from within me. I slump back into the chair, a bead of sweat trailing over my temple.

My father simply grunts as he raises, the sound he usually makes when someone has done his bidding. Oblivious to his fatigued daughter beside him, he passes me and walks towards the door of the balcony. The others standing near us slowly follow him, and the witch staggers back into the palace. Her footsteps are slow, her feet dragging as she uses her hand on the wall to keep her upright. Only then does Maryam remove her hand from my shoulder and go inside as well.

The people below begin to slowly filter out of the courtyard and beyond, casting worried glances over their shoulders as they go. I stay in my seat, content to look over the balcony, not wanting to return to the uncertainties of the palace just yet. And although my eyes glance up at the sky, wondering if that spark has faded yet, at the courtyard, and the guards directing the people out, my mind keeps whispering to me.

Who was banished? Who is The Unspoken One?

I could never have known how much the answer to that question would change my life.

Chapter 1

I used to think one would get used to things after experiencing them so many times. But I know now I was wrong. I have seen and heard countless people lashed for speaking of The Unspoken One since he was banished thirteen years ago. My father forces me to be present for each and every punishment carried out. But I have never gotten used to seeing the guard inflict such pain on another person. Never been able to stop the way I flinch at the first strike. Never been able to stop my stomach from rolling as I see the first piece of skin split open under the whip. Never been able to stop my jaw from clenching at the screams of anguish.

My father makes me watch, trying to harden me, but it only drives to strengthen me never to be like him. A tyrant, unforgiving and hard-hearted. It only increases my hatred for him with each lash. As the whip falls for the last time, the man being punished sags in the chains that prevent him from collapsing to the ground. My father approaches me, and I close my eyes, making sure all emotion bleeds from them before I look at him. And when I do, his eyes bore into mine as he towers over me.

“You’ve stopped crying at the lashings. That’s something at least,” he says.

I stay silent, only looking at him with dead eyes, refusing to give him the satisfaction of my emotions. His face, pockmarked from a sickness in his youth, and now a pale brown from how little he leaves the palace walls, fills my vision. Black eyes that always look tired and half-lidded, narrow even more with his disdain for me. His nostrils flare before his lip curls on one side, and he speaks again.

“Nothing to say, Ameera?”

“What is it you’d like me to say?” I ask with a monotone voice.

He glares at me. “Oh, we’re being the dutiful daughter today, are we? Okay then, I’d like you to say that you agree to marry King Azar.”

My eyes cast to the side now. I should have expected that to be his response. It’s all he cares about now. It is the point of every discussion we have, the few we have. I have not agreed to marry King Azar since my father promised him my hand a year ago. Azar is king of the cold and foreboding Sameer Kingdom. The only kingdom with a bigger army than ours, and stronger. The only true threat to Nur, and my father would have me marry Azar to be secure that he won’t cross our borders and take his crown…and his head along with it.

The laws of our kingdom dictate that should an heir be forced to marry against their will, without signing their consent on the marriage agreement, when they become the king or queen, they can have the marriage dissolved. My father knows that is exactly what I will do should he force me to marry Azar. And I will not agree because, although my father has chosen to ignore Azar’s reputation, I have not. He has had two wives suddenly die, under circumstances no one ever seems to really know the details of. Only that they are alive one day and dead the next. I will not be the next bride he kills, taking my kingdom after my death.

“It could be you next time,” my father whispers menacingly, stepping closer to me until his broad shoulders block out the sun. “You can be chained to the posts and lashed until you agree.”

Like always, when he threatens me, my magic surges inside of me, tearing at my center to be released, wanting to protect me from a man I should not need protection from. But I have trained with Maryam for years to gain self-control, to increase my self-restraint. The few times it has slipped over the years, something breaking in a room for seemingly no reason, the wind howling through a room it shouldn’t, have only caused him to watch me closer, salivating for proof that his marrying my mother was worth it, that my existence can still be of some benefit to him.

I quell the magic within me, having expected the threat this time. He’s been escalating in his attempts to make me sign the marriage agreement. First, three months ago, he took away my ladies-in-waiting. When he saw that didn’t affect me enough to sign, he had me contained to the palace, unable to leave its walls for any reason. This has hit me hard since I enjoy being out in the village much more than in the palace, but it isn’t enough to make me even consider signing the agreement. The last time we spoke of this and I once again refused to sign, he backhanded me so hard, I saw stars before I tasted the blood filling my mouth. Still, I would not sign. But I am anxious over what he will do next, and apparently I’m right to be.

“I will not marry him.” I grit out, even as fear makes my muscles lock, bracing against another hit.

“I don’t think you understand just what lengths I’m willing to go to for a simple signature.”

Oh, I do. I really do. But he doesn’t comprehend the lengths I would go to for my people. Because I know it is them who would suffer the most. My father will die, and I would become queen, but a queen married to a king even more corrupt than my father. Azar would make my kingdom like his own, or worse, and that I will never allow. The people need change, now more than ever, and I can only give it to them if I can rule the way they deserve when I sit upon the throne.

I don’t even know if Azar would let me live long enough to become queen. And it’s not a chance I’m willing to take just to protect myself from my father and whatever evil thing he thinks of doing to me next.

“Get out of my sight before I lock you in the dungeons.” My father waves me off.

I am glad to be dismissed, having never wanted to be on this balcony in the first place, watching people be punished for nothing more than uttering a name. But it is exactly that name that has me heading towards the library instead of returning to my room. My gown swishes behind me with my movements, the only sound in the empty hallways of the palace. All others stay far away from the courtyard when someone is being punished, whereas I am given no choice in whether I wish to witness the horrors that take place there or not.

I turn down hallway after hallway of the mostly one level palace. It would be easy to get lost in the maze of hallways if I had not been walking them all my life. The lower level is much simpler, only having two rooms, the hot springs for bathing, and the dark, dank dungeons.

I push the double doors of the library open, creaky with its rare use when I first started coming here, but opening silently now. The darkness and quiet of the library comfort me. It’s kept hotter here, fires burning to keep any moisture from affecting the books. It’s the only place where my long-sleeved, high-necked gowns and hair wraps make me feel the heat of their presence. The rest of our kingdom is always perpetually autumn. Not too hot, not too cold. Always cool.

I sigh as I walk into the library, feeling a freedom that’s nonexistent in the rest of the palace, where I feel eyes on me at all times. Either those of spies my father has told to watch me, or the eyes of the people, judging if I will be just like my father or if I am more like my mother was rumored to be. My father never comes here, and it feels untainted for that very reason. A room, more or less, to myself. Well, me and the librarian. He smiles at me as I walk over to him.

“I left the books you were reading yesterday on the table for you, Your Highness,” he tells me.

“Thank you Imran.” I smile, looking over at the stack of books beckoning me.

“I do wish you would tell me what you’re looking for. I’m sure I could help you if I knew.”

“I know you could, but I like the search. Something to fill my time.”

He nods and sits back down in his chair, head bending over the book in front of him. I would never ask for his help. Not with this. The thought of him in the courtyard, getting lashed because he helped me search for anything involving The Unspoken One would be too much to bear. I walk over to the table and light the candle Imran left for me. Setting it a good distance away from me, I reach for the book at the top of the stack and open it.

Just like all the other books about the histories of our kingdom, a name is blotted out again and again, black ink placed over whatever letters had once been there. It’s been the same thing for weeks as I’ve searched for any information about The Unspoken One. Blotted words, black ink telling me I shouldn’t be looking for him, but he’s my last hope now. With each day, my marriage to Azar draws nearer. My refusal to sign the marriage agreement has not at all deterred my father from continuing to promise Azar that our wedding will take place and end the tensions between our kingdoms. More and more I’m realizing that I have nowhere to turn. A father who cares so little for me, he’d hand me over to a, by all accounts, brutal killer. Advisors who have tried to intervene on my behalf, but can do very little to convince my father to call off trying to force the marriage. So now I look for the name of the only one I know is an enemy to my father, hoping he can save me somehow. It’s a foolish thing to hang my future on, I know, but it’s all I have right now.

All I’ve found so far is that The Unspoken one is summoned by his true name. That people call upon him in times of desperation, but what kind of desperation, I don’t know. And can he even still be summoned, since he was banished? The witch who cast the spell died years ago, but I don’t for a second believe the spell died with her. And if so, my father would have had the current witch cast the same spell the moment she was found and brought to the palace. Such is his hate for The Unspoken One.

I glance through book after book, placing them in another stack on the left side of me once I decide they’re useless. I’m on the last book when I see a word that makes me pause, my body going still in my seat. I know I have never seen this word in any of the books before, have never heard it said before. That tells me of its importance, and the first letter being capitalized tells me it’s not just a word, but a name. A name that should not be spoken in this kingdom, lest you end up like the man I just witnessed in the courtyard.

I purse my lips to say the name, but stop myself, remembering what I read about his name summoning him. I can’t do that here. It would put Imran in danger and myself as well. No, later, when the palace is asleep, I will find somewhere to say this name.


Chapter 2

“How did I know I would find you here?” A voice asks from behind me.

I know who is it before I even turn my head to look at her. Maryam. The light from the candle flame shimmers against her ebony skin as she approaches me, her lean frame and tall stature giving her grace that few can ever learn. The way they usually are when she walks, her hands are behind her back. Her tan tunic makes her brown eyes stand out more. Just like every other time I see her, happiness fills me.

She is one of my father’s advisors, but even more than that, she is the woman who has raised me. Before I was named his heir, and my father had no concern for me being educated in the ways of our people, she was the one to teach me politics and our kingdom’s history. And when my brother died and my father started sending me for lessons, she began teaching me other things he would never have me learn.

She was the one to take the time to show and tell me what good character looked like. Even if she was teaching me that my father was the very opposite of that. She taught me what it will take for me to be a just and fair queen. Even how to use what weakness people think I have simply because I was a woman to my advantage.

And when I grew older, she taught me how to fight and defend myself. To use a sword, knife, and bow. To control myself so my emotions didn’t get the better of me, so my feelings didn’t dictate my mind. She taught me to think for myself, to question what doesn’t sound or feel right. She taught me to be fierce.

And beyond lessons, she was the one the guards brought to my room when I was younger and  wept from a bad dream. She nursed me herself when I was sick, intent on making me healthy and then making me strong. My mother was taken from me, but Maryam was the one to fill that void when no one else would.

“Were you looking for me?” I ask her as she reaches me.

Her locks, styled to come to the left side of her head and over her shoulder, swing as she sits down across from me.

“Yes. I wanted to know if you’d eat lunch with me, but since it’s now night, I’ll amend that to dinner.”

My eyes widen. Night? Sure enough I look out the windows behind Maryam, and somehow the sun has begun to set without me ever noticing. And although I really just want to go to my room and think of how I’ll be able to summon Hamza, I wouldn’t turn Maryam’s invitation down. Not after all she’s risked for me before, and even more so lately.

“I would love to. Where are we eating?”

“My office, if you don’t mind. I don’t have much patience for seeing your father in the hall tonight.”

“You and me both,” I say through clenched teeth.

We begin to walk towards her office, approaching one of the few remaining portraits of my mother in the palace. I can already hear Maryam’s words before she says them.

“You look more and more like her with each day.”

I smile to myself at the statement Maryam has made more times than I can count. She’s the only one who’s taught me anything about my mother, what she was like, the mother she would have been to me had she not passed away. Even knowing every detail of the portrait, I still look at it when we reach it. At the woman I resemble in almost every way. Her curly hair, high cheekbones, lips, nose, and eyes. Especially her eyes. The gray color that no one else in the kingdom has except the women in my mother’s family. The witches in my mother’s family. They were what kept my father watching me for any signs of magic throughout my childhood, until he finally gave up. I often wondered if his disappointment was renewed each time he looked into my eyes, at the reminder that, as far as he knew, I had the eyes of a witch without the magic to match.

I looked so little like my father that when I was younger, I used to pretend he could treat me with so little regard or kindness because I was not truly his. That my mother had loved and been loved by someone else, and I was the product of it. The only thing I’d inherited from my father was his dark brown skin color joining with my mother’s light color, giving me my reddish brown complexion. Still, as a child I clung to the idea that that small part of me that wasn’t from my mother, also wasn’t from him. But I could no longer hold onto that belief when he named me this heir. I knew then that I had to be his because there was no way he would pass his kingdom on to me unless he had no other choice to keep it in his bloodline.

No, then I knew for sure I was the product of my father marrying a witch in the hopes that she would provide him with a powerful daughter, but alas, he got me instead. Witches are bound to serve Nur, as my mother was bound to serve my grandmother and then my father when he became king. She’d grown up in the palace, using her magic even before she had been commanded to, healing my father of the sickness that marred his face. When her mother died and she became bound to Nur, my father asked her to marry him. He wanted to end the kingdom’s reliance on witches, and the way he sought to do that was to have a daughter who would be bound to him more than Nur, loyal to the king beyond duty.

They had my brother first. Still a win for my father, a king to rule after him instead of a queen. Then they had me. The daughter he wanted. But I contained none of the magic he hoped for. Or so it seemed for many years to me, and still now to him.

Maryam sighs as we continue past the portrait, softly saying, “I wish she could have seen the woman you’ve become.”

There’s always a note of sadness when she speaks of my mother, her very dear friend that she had to watch die. Maryam was right at my mother’s side when she gave birth to me, smiled down at me, and breathed one word.

“Ameera.” Princess.

Then Maryam has told me how her eyes closed for the last time. She had to witness her friend’s arms fall to her body as the life drained out of her. My father burst into the room then, paying no mind to the nurses telling him his wife had just died. He picked up his daughter, expecting to feel some power emanating off of her as newborn witches do. Only to find a calm, cooing baby staring back at him. He handed me to Maryam and left the room, his howl of rage being heard and perceived as grief for his now dead wife, who was known to everyone as kind, giving, and always had a smile for whomever saw her. But everyone in the room knew the real reason for it.

“Are you going to stand there forever?” Maryam’s chuckle snaps me from my dark thoughts.

I look up to see her standing inside her office, holding the heavy door open for me. Then I notice the smell wafting out of it, and my smile grows. Maryam’s eyebrows wiggle as I pass her, and I giggle in delight when I see the layout of food spread across her desk. The pastries from the bakery I love in the village. The roasted meat from my favorite cook. On and on until I can no longer just look, my mouth salivating too much.

“I know you haven’t been able to have anything from the village in a long time, so I thought I would bring some to you.”

“Thank you,” I say softly.

“Well, what are you waiting for? The food won’t eat itself.”

At that, I rush to the desk and although I should go for the meat first, I go for the pastry. The strawberry leaking out the side of it calls to me, and I answer. When I’ve eaten something from each tray and am leaning back in my chair wishing there was room for the rest, Maryam clears her throat.

“Your father gathered us for a meeting today.”

And just like that, everything in my stomach sours. The food leaves a taste like ash in my mouth as my eyes meet Maryam’s. My father would only gather them together after seeing me for one reason. The council of advisors, Maryam, Hunayn, Zayd, Bilal, and Medinah, are meant to advise my father, but most of them just simply agree to whatever he wants. All but Maryam. She holds the most power, her family always has, as much as my father hates it. It gives her the ability to oppose my father where the other advisors are too fearful to do the same.

“I can guess for what,” I murmur.

She nods. “King Azar. Your father wants us to review the law saying he needs your consent for the marriage. To find any loophole in it.”

My hands tighten into fists in my lap. Of course he does, because if he cannot make me agree, he will try and find a way around me having to agree.

“And did you find anything?”

She grins. “You know as well as I do when that law was made and by whom. The moment your great grandmother was crowned queen, she made it so no one could ever be forced into a marriage and made to suffer like she had. There’s no way around that law.”

“I guess there’s some sick satisfaction in knowing her own horrible marriage is protecting me from one now.”

She nods, even as her mouth curves down into a frown. “But he will not stop. This just shows how desperate he’s getting. The wood and foods we send to the Sameer Kingdom aren’t enough to keep them from bringing war to us anymore. Azar sends a letter almost every week now asking why the marriage agreement has not been signed and returned to him. Your father grows more angry with each one.”

“When is Father ever not angry?” I roll my eyes.

“I’m trying to warn you, Ameera. I fear what he will do next if he thinks it would make you sign.”

“He threatened to have me lashed today,” I tell her.

A small gasp escapes her. “He wouldn’t dare.”

“You and I both know he would. Who could stop him?”

“The council.”

“He would have me lashed and in the dungeon before any of you even knew what happened. He plans much too far in the future. The only thing he didn’t plan for was having a stubborn daughter who wouldn’t follow his every command. And we all know what happens when people disobey him. He crushes them.”

“I have been speaking to the council…without the king present.”

My eyebrows raise at that. “Do go on.”

“We get reports day in and day out about the conditions beyond these walls, the poverty, the conditions our people should not have to live in. Your father refuses to even hear of anything that does not affect the nobility, and the lands will not improve because the rich choose to hoard money instead of spending it to make things better.”

I shake my head, my heart aching at what my people have to endure under my father. Our kingdom was once great, looked at by others as a just and respectable nation, where all prospered and were treated fairly. But now, in the thirty years of my father’s reign, the rich have grown richer, and the people who before weren’t poor but now are, continue to lose what little they have. They’re forced to pay unfair taxes to nobles who don’t need the funds. To a king who doesn’t need the money.

“I don’t understand how he could possibly let our kingdom rot like this.”

“Greed blinds many, and your father lost his sight a long time ago. All we can do now is wait for you to become queen and restore us to what we were.”

My eyes snap to hers. “Is that what the council plans to do? Wait, and let our kingdom lose everything we’ve built in the meantime?”

She smiles at me, not a nice smile. No, it holds all the viciousness she’s tried to instill in me.

“There’s that fire. I cannot tell you how much it pleases me when I see it.” I narrow my eyes at her and she continues. “No, we do not plan to wait. Medinah and I are ready for change, ready to be free of your father’s rule, but the rest treat our words as if we are just women overacting over the concerns of a few people. They talk as if we are not fit for the position of advisors. As if we did not all come into these position the same way.”

The role of advisor, like the crown, is passed down to the eldest child, whether that be man or woman. They are all trained in how best to advise the king or queen they will serve from an early age. I scoff at the very idea that the male advisors would look down on their female counterparts when every queen we’ve had has ruled ten times better than the current king. Maryam’s family is so powerful because of the women in her line. They brought up land from the crown over the past century until they owned more than any other family. And because they govern that land with fairness, the people love them. And that love makes them a threat in my father’s eyes. And apparently, the source of envy to the other advisors.

“And you and Medinah, what do you discuss concerning change?”

“Nothing I wish to tell you about Princess. Only for your own safety. You cannot be made to tell what you do not know.”

“I would never betray you.” I’m quick to argue.

Her eyes bore into mine. “If it were ever to save your own life, I would wish for you to betray me as quickly as you could. For you are this kingdom’s last hope. Advisors can be replaced. Heirs cannot.”

“I replaced my brother easily enough,” I grumble.

“Your brother was never fit to be a ruler over this land. There was nothing to replace because he was not a fit heir.”

My eyebrows scrunch. She’s said things like this before, but I already know if I ask her why he was unfit, she will not tell me. Although it’s clear she holds no affection for my brother, he was still my mother’s son. So she will not speak ill of him. I don’t know much about him, really. He was born and all but whisked away from my mother, raised solely by my father. He wasn’t a witch who needed my mother’s guidance in how to use magic, so my father saw no reason for her to be a part of his life. She only saw him when she was allowed in the throne room because her power was needed. Maryam has told me that my mother’s heartbreak was easy to see when she looked at the son she could never really have.

But beyond that, people speak of my brother in hushed tones, afraid to say his name too loudly and upset the king. When I do hear stories of him, they always make my brother sound like he was every inch my father’s son; arrogant, mean, and a bully. But these stories are only whispered when people get too drunk to hold their tongues. Sometimes it seems as though his name has almost been erased as much as The Unspoken One’s name has. And that snaps my mind back to what I learned in the library. I know his name now.

“Well in that case,” I say. “I hope you can bring the other advisors around to seeing things from your point of view. Although from the way Zayd, Hunayn, and Bilal bend and bow to my father’s every whim, I don’t think it’s likely.”

“I never thought Medinah would come to my side, and here she is, so.” She shrugs. “I will see you tomorrow, for our lesson.”

I nod as I stand, seeing her words for what they are. Dismissal. She hates to say goodbye. Sees it as much too final a statement.

I walk back to my bedroom, the torches lit now, casting my shadow along the walls as I go. When I reach my room, I light a candle before sitting on the bed, but the energy rushing through me makes it too much for me to remain there. I pace the length of my room, wringing my hands, trying to decide a safe place to go to summon him. If I am found or heard, I have no doubt my father will make an example of me. He wouldn’t hesitate to show that not even his daughter is above reproach when it comes to The Unspoken One.

And I still don’t even know if it’s safe. I have no idea what he was banished for or what he’s capable of, and the thought of summoning him, having to be alone with him, terrifies me. I am more sure than ever that he has magic in him. The fact that he can be summoned tells me that. The amount of energy the former witch had to use to banish him tells me that whatever magic is in him must be powerful, but he’s not a witch. Men cannot be witches. So what magic does he possess? And is my own magic any challenge to his? Would any training I’ve had be enough to battle him if there was a need to?

I jump when I hear a knock at my door, as if my very thoughts brought the guards upon me. Walking to it slowly, I open it to find Hud standing there and widen the door. He, out of the many guards in the palace, is one of the very few I trust.

“I am sorry to come so late, Your Highness,” he apologizes. “Your father sent me with a gift…from your fiancé.”

My lip curls at the word, and Hud has to tuck his lips into his mouth not to smile.

“It is strange to see you with this look. It only comes when I mention King Azar.”

This is not the first time Hud has been sent with a gift from Azar for me. And every time, my face changes of its own volition at the reminder of him. At the audacity of him sending me gifts, so sure of our pending marriage. I hold my hand out, and he gives me the package.

“I have to go. I am guarding the dungeon tonight.”

“Is the man who was punished today still down there?”

His eyes sadden as he nods. “He is still unconscious.”

“I will come there later.”

He looks behind him. “Are you sure that’s wise?” he asks low.

“I will be careful.”

He gives me a hesitant nod before walking away. I close my door and set the package on my desk. It’s like a living, breathing thing, like Azar somehow came into my room without my permission. I stare at it for a few minutes before finally opening it. The dress is beautiful, a vibrant purple made in the heavier materials needed for the cold of Sameer. But the person who sent it sullies the beauty of it. Then I look for the card he’s included with every other gift. While the others have told me of his wanting to marry me, how anxious he is to have me as his queen, this one is different and makes my stomach roll as I read the words.

I cannot wait to have you in my kingdom, and my bed.

What has emboldened him to write such a thing? Has my father told him I’m close to agreeing to marrying him? I wouldn’t put the lie above him. And then my spine straightens as all hesitation concerning summoning The Unspoken One fades away. And I know just where to do it. A place safe from my father, but that also provides an element of safety for me.

Exchanging my shoes for slippers, I blow out the candle in my room and open my door slowly, peeking into the hallway to make sure it’s empty. When I’m sure it is, I step out of my room and close the door behind me before hiking up my dress and tiptoeing away. I hurry down the hallways until I reach the door to the dungeon. Hud looks around before letting me pass him to descend down the dark stairs. This is something we’ve done time and time again, but this time, I need the privacy of the dungeon for my own purposes.

I pass the man who was lashed earlier, laying on his stomach on a cot. The cell door isn’t even closed for they have no fear of him waking up, let alone leaving. He’s still shirtless, the skin on his back flayed, dried blood mixing with the wet drops still dripping down his sides. Fear overwhelms me. He was lashed for the very thing I came down here to do. I waver for a second, picturing myself laying where he is, groaning in agony for simply stating a name. But then I remember the only way to stop more people from being in this very position is for me to rule this kingdom, to change the laws that cause so many, so much pain. I shake the fear away, knowing I have to do this. I have no other choice, and I’m running out of time, especially if Azar’s note is any indication.

I walk down to the last cell, the door open and darkness filling the space inside. Recalling the very first lesson in magic I learned, I picture a flame igniting on the candle placed on the wall. I wave my hand over it and the wick lights. I step slowly into the cell, looking at the door, hoping if The Unspoken One is dangerous and my magic fails me, I can still rush from the cell and lock him in…if he can even be locked in. I take a deep breath and stand in the middle of the cell, closing my eyes for a second before they open as determination fills me.


I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek into Unspoken. Find out what happens next when it releases on 4/12/21. Now available for pre-order:

Posted in Author, books, Contemporary Romance, kindle books, love triangle romance, New Adult Romance, pre-order, Romance, Sneak Peek

Sneak Peek of Girl Meets Boys

The first time Emily meets Julian:

I’m jeered out of my thoughts when someone practically falls into the seat beside me. The entire row is empty, but this boy decides he should sit right next to me. I look from his black jeans up to his T-shirt, and my eyes stay there for a moment reading the quote on it. Do not set yourself on fire to keep others warm, it states. Oh, I like that.

An amused chuckle brings my eyes higher, to his face. And what a face it is. His smile is…beautiful. Maybe he wouldn’t appreciate me describing it with that word, but it’s the only one I can think of. It’s a little crooked, pulling to the side, but that just makes it all the better. His brown eyes look back at me, his smile reaching them. You could get lost in eyes like his, just staring into them and letting yourself forget all your problems. His dark brown hair somehow manages to look like he just rolled out of bed, yet had time for a quick comb through before getting to class, ruffled but neat.

“Uh, hi,” he finally says.

“Hi,” my voice comes out in the most embarrassing croak.

Come on, Emily. Get it together.

“I’m Julian.” He offers me his hand.


“Nice to meet you, Emily.” He smiles. “I hope you weren’t saving this seat for someone.

I shake my head because quite frankly, I don’t trust my voice right now.

“Good.” His head turns as the professor begins speaking. When did he even get here? “Shh, we have to learn now.”

First day of class and I’m not even paying attention. I’m too busy watching everything Julian does from the corner of my eye. He gets his laptop out of his backpack and sets it on the desk. I tuck my lips in to hide my smile when I see his screensaver is a picture of him stuffing his face with the biggest burger I’ve ever seen. Unlocking my tablet, I try my best to listen and take notes. All that’s blown to hell when I hear Julian’s laptop give what can only be described as a foreboding sound from his desk. I look over and see his screen turn blue and a sad face appear on it.

A groan leaves Julian’s mouth as my eyes quickly read the words on the screen telling him there’s been a problem with his device, and it will now try to assess it and not to turn the laptop off. But apparently the laptop doesn’t take its own advice because a few seconds later, the screen goes black, the lights on the keyboard fade, and you can audibly hear the laptop power down.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Julian’s head falls back on the seat.

I look back and forth between him and the laptop, willing it to turn back on, but my mind tricks don’t work. It stays black the rest of the class. When the professor dismisses us and people begin walking out of class, Julian stays in his seat, staring at the blank screen.

“You can have my notes,” I offer him.

He looks at me, then his eyes go around the hall, as if just now noticing that class is even over.

“I appreciate it.” He gives me a small smile.

“You want me to email them to you?”

He nods. “That’ll work. And kills two birds with one stone.”

My eyebrows scrunch in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“I get the notes and a way to contact you.”

A surprised chuckle bursts out of me, and my face heats up.

“Well I’ll make you work harder for my phone number. Don’t think it’ll all be that easy.”

“I would never.” He grins.

The third time Emily meets Will (because *whispers* the first two times didn’t go so well)

Instead of going to the student cafeteria, I enjoy the weather and walk a few blocks to one of the small cafés near the campus. Oddly enough, as soon as I enter, I hear a voice and instantly know it’s Will. I look to my left and see him sitting on top of one of the tables while his friends sit in the chairs around the table. He notices me and waves. I give him a small smile and walk to the counter to place an order.

The food is already cooked and just placed in a Styrofoam container before it’s handed to me. I grab a drink and pay for everything before going to an empty table towards the back. The first bite of my baked ziti is in my mouth as someone comes and sits on the table. I don’t even have to look up from his jeans to know it’s Will.

“You do know most people sit on the chairs instead of the table right?” I ask after I swallow my food.

“I like being able to see everything,” he says.

“Well I don’t want your ass near my food, so,” I shoo him off the table.

He chuckles and sits in the chair instead. “Fine. Have it your way. This your first time here?” I nod and he continues. “Food’s really good. Me and my friends usually come here for lunch.”

I take another bite and nod, not really knowing what to say.

“You don’t talk much huh?” He tilts his head like he’s trying to figure me out.

“I talk when I have something to say.” I shrug.

“And you have nothing to say to me?” His eyebrows raise. People not exactly salivating to talk to him is probably new for him.

“We’re not exactly from the same crowd, you know?”

“Well you can’t know if you haven’t been introduced to my crowd yet.”

With that, he waves his friends over. Everything inside me wants to take the food I have left, toss it in the garbage, and make my way towards the exit. I have no desire to be a part of his fan club. But his friends come over, seeming to surround me and the table before I even blink. They sit in the few available chairs and when those are full, they pull some chairs from other tables. Some even stand and I find myself looking at Will out the corner of my eye, wondering just what it is about him that makes people flock to him like this. It’s more than his good looks. There’s a charm there, a smile that makes people feel important just to have it thrown in their direction.

“Everyone, this is Emily. She’s a freshman,” Will announces.

Most of the guys waves, while the girls size me up. They begin talking about the upcoming parties and joking about different professors, impersonating them and despite myself, I begin to relax, laughing with them and staying long after I’ve finished my food. I look over at Will and find him watching me, his smile a little easier than I’ve ever seen, but still a hint of practiced in it, like he doesn’t know how to drop the mask and just…smile.

“My crowd’s not so bad, is it?” he asks low.

“Maybe not.”

“So maybe you’ll come here for lunch again.”


“You’ll come,” he says with a grin. “And this will be our table.”

I’ve never had an our. Not an our table at school with anyone, not an our crowd. And for some reason, it appeals to me, as much as I just called this Will’s fan club. Maybe I wouldn’t mind being a part of an our, just a little bit.

“I’ll think about it.”

“Well here, let me give you my number, and if you are gonna come, let me know. I’ll make sure there’s a seat for you.”

I unlock and hand him my phone, not looking at the screen before giving it to him.

“Who’s The One And Only?” he asks when he looks at it.

I snatch my phone and see a text from Julian. Smiling, I swipe it off the screen and hand the phone back to Will. There’s a look in his eyes that I can’t quite name before they go down to my phone. A look that felt like it was saying the chase is on.

I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek of Girl Meets Boys. It releases on January 15th and is now available for pre-order.

Posted in Author, books, Contemporary Romance, Enemies to lover romance, Erotic Romance, pre-order, Romance, Sneak Peek, Uncategorized

Sneak Peek!

The first two chapters of It Was Always You:

Chapter 1

“It’s a boy!” I scream, along with everyone else, when I see the blue icing inside the cake.

My sister kisses her husband, her six-month belly standing in the way of them getting too close as everyone cheers. When she turns around to hug me, wrapping her arms around my neck, I let a tear fall. It’s hard to believe I’m at my little sister’s gender reveal party, that she somehow went from sneaking into my room to steal my…everything, to being married and having a baby on the way.

“I told you it was a boy,” I whisper to her.

Elise brings her head back and chuckles. “You couldn’t let me be right, even once, huh?”

“Never. Big sisters earn the right to know everything. It’s part of the package.”

Her husband, Trevor, turns around and puts his arm around my shoulders from the side as I congratulate him. But my smile quickly drops as the hairs rise on my arms. It’s the same thing that happens whenever I’m near him. Eric. Trevor’s older brother. Also known as the biggest pain in my ass and thorn in my side.

Even knowing he’s going to be here doesn’t prepare me for seeing him. I ignore the way my body reacts as I finally set eyes on him. All six feet, three inches of him heads towards the kitchen. His black T-shirt puts every bit of muscle along his arms and stomach on display. Jeans show off nice thighs as his long legs cross the living room. My gaze goes back up to his face, his dark hair—cut short—his mouth, in that damn near perpetual grin. He’d be cute if he weren’t such a jerk.

“Eric,” I groan.

“Oh, would you stop?” Elise slaps my arm. “You knew you were gonna see him.”

“It’s not enough that I just saw him at the New Year’s Eve party?”

“If you would just get to know him—” She begins for the hundredth time.

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” I roll my eyes. “He’s the greatest guy on the planet.”

“Uh, no. Actually, that would be me,” Trevor grins. “But my brother’s a close second. I swear you two are both secretly in love with each other.”

I scowl at him. “Don’t even think it.”

And speak of the devil.

“Congratulations, guys,” Eric steps between Elise and Trevor and wraps an arm around them. “I’ve always wanted a nephew.”

“As long as you don’t make my nephew anything like you.” I give a false smile as his light brown eyes meet mine.

My heart reacts—like it does every time I see him—by speeding up, seeming to take notice of how close he is, excited by his mere presence. I ignore it and prepare for his return. There’s no way he’ll miss a chance to banter with me.

“Aw, all that bitterness from your break-up is showing,” he retorts.

My eyes dart to Elise. “Seriously? You told him?”

“No. He was at my house when you called to tell me about it.” She grimaces. “You were really loud.”

“Listen.” Eric steps from between them, getting closer to me. “That guy was obviously a douchebag. When you’re ready for a relationship with a real man—”

“I’ll drop you off at preschool and go find one.” I smirk, but then I overhear an all-too-familiar sound, towards the back of the room.

“Mom and dad are within a hundred feet of each other,” I murmur to Elise.

She turns her worried eyes to them and then drops her head. “Please, not here, Aubrey.”

I nod and walk over to them. “Mom, Dad. Not today. Not in this moment. Don’t ruin this for Elise.”

“You can’t even be around him for five seconds within wanting to rip your hair out.” My mom glares at my dad.

He just scoffs. “Like you’re any better? I swear the lights dimmed when you walked into the house.”

“We’re all very aware of how you two feel about each other,” I say through clenched teeth. “But not right now. Let Elise enjoy her party. Go to separate sides of the room or something. Pretend the other one isn’t even here. Please.”

My mom rolls her eyes and stomps away, going to stand next to Elise. Her fake smile is in place.

“That woman,” my dad grumbles.

My parents are the very epitome of oil and water. They just don’t mix, on any level. How they’d ever gotten married and had two kids, I have no idea. My childhood had been one argument after the other, until they’d finally divorced when I was ten. Most kids were heartbroken when their parents got divorced, but I was relieved. My parents had single-handedly seen to it that I had no belief, whatsoever, in true love.

“And you know you push her buttons,” I give him a pointed look. “It’s the both of you.”

He shrugs. “I do. It’s hilarious when she gets so angry her face goes red.”

“Dad.” I nudge him. “You’re horrible.”

“You ready to be an aunt?” he asks.

“So ready. How about you grandpa?”

“We’re gonna have to figure out another name for me. I’m too hot to be a grandpa.”

“Oh, goodness. How about pawpaw?”

“Uh no. Maybe we’ll just go with Sir.”

“Yeah, I can already tell you that’s not happening.”

Later on, when most of the people have left the party and my dad has gone, my parents giving each other one last glower, I sit on the couch with Elise. She rubs her belly as I organize her gifts, clothes, bottles, diapers, and even a stroller with the matching car seat. I stop when Elise takes my hand and places it on her belly. When I feel a little kick, my smile is instant.

“I can’t wait to meet you,” I bend over and whisper to her belly.

“I can’t wait to have my bladder back,” Elise groans.

I giggle, but it cuts off when I hear Eric’s laugh come from the kitchen.

“He really is a nice person,” Elise says. “You guys just rub each other the wrong way for some reason, but if you’d ever really spent some time with him, you’d see he’s not usually so…”

“Asshole-y?” I supply.

“I was actually going to say, ‘hard to get along with.’”

“Well, I’ll just have to take your word for it because I don’t see any reason that I would have to be in his presence any longer than I absolutely have to.”

“All right.” She sighs.

“And next time I’m pouring my heart out to you, maybe tell me he’s within a five-mile distance.” I side-eye her.

“You were upset. I didn’t want to just cut you off with an, ‘I’ll call you back.’”

“I wasn’t that upset,” I grumble.

“Not over him, you weren’t. You were really upset because you know he was right. You’re scared of commitment. You’ve never even let a guy into your condo.”

“I’m not scared of commitment. I don’t want it. There’s a big difference.”

“Not everyone ends up like Mom and Dad,” she says low.

I scoff. “Yeah, okay. So says every couple, in the beginning, before they end up just like Mom and Dad.”

“So you think that’s what will happen to me and Trevor?”

Guilt rushes through me. “No, of course not. You guys are the one love story I do believe.”

That puts a smile back on her face as our mom walks into the room.

“This was a really nice party,” she says, sitting on the couch across from us. “Aside from your father attending, that is.”

“What did you want me to do, Mom? Not invite him?” Elise asks.

“Yes, exactly that.” My mom grins. “But never mind all that. A boy. I can’t believe it. I’m gonna have a grandson. Maybe I should move closer, be available to babysit when you go back to work.”

I swallow the “please don’t” that tries to crawl up my throat and just raise my eyebrows. As if she can sense I am biting my tongue, her eyes come to me.

“And you,” she says. “You’re twenty-five already. When are you going to settle down and give me some grandbabies?”

“Uh, probably right around…never,” I answer.

She shakes her head. “You’re the older sister. You were supposed to be doing all this first.”

“When did you go back to the middle ages? Do I get a ball to announce I’m available for suitors as well?”

“If only I thought that would work.” She arches a brow.

“That’s not in the cards for me, Mom.”

“Careful what you say isn’t for you.” She warns. “That’s exactly when it finds you.”



Chapter 2

“Everything looks good to me,” Elise says as she looks over the plans I have for the nursery.

“Now that we know the baby’s a boy, we can decide on a color theme,” I return over my shoulder, looking at who’s coming through her front door.

I smile as Trevor walks in, but it drops when I see Eric come in behind him.

“Happy to see you, too, beautiful.” Eric chuckles and I refuse to let my body react to his deep voice. “One day you’ll tell me why you hate me.”

“You’ve been a douchebag since the first time I ever met you,” I explain.

“Define ‘douchebag.’”

My eyes narrow. “You spilled your drink all over my favorite dress. Then proceeded to try and clean it off with a vomit-covered rag.”

“How was I supposed to know the rag had throw up on it?” He spreads his hands wide. “It was on the counter. Really, you should be mad at the weirdo who puked into a rag and then left it there.”

“But you used it and found it absolutely hilarious, when I pointed out I was now covered with drink and vomit.”

“It was a party and my laugh was more nerves than anything. Plus, that was four years ago,” he points out.

Four years ago, I’d let Elise drag me to a party. She’d met Trevor there and I’d had the bad luck of meeting Eric. The funny part is that when I’d first seen him, I couldn’t stop staring. He was the best-looking guy at the party, hands down, but as it turned out, also the clumsiest. He walked towards me, not paying me any mind and bumped into me, spilling his drink all over me and the dress that would never recover. He then proceeded to wipe me down with vomit. He wasn’t so cute, then. While all this was going on, Elise was dancing with Trevor and deciding he was her one true love.

I didn’t see Eric after that night. Not until Elise and Trevor got engaged. My biggest worry at the engagement party was, surprise, surprise, keeping my parents separated, until Trevor’s brother walked in. The man who I’d thought I’d never met turned out to be none other than the drink spiller. Eric. The moment we locked eyes, I could tell he remembered me just as much as I remembered him. Although he’d apologized that night and a few times since, my first impression of him had dug deep. The fact that he found a way to make every single thing a joke hadn’t helped. Three years after the engagement party and I still didn’t like him.

“In my eyes, your image hasn’t improved much since that party.” I arch a brow at him. “But luckily for me, I don’t have to see you much.”

“Well”—he drops onto the couch beside me and tries to put his arm around me, but I squirm out of his way—“your luck’s run out, sweetheart. I’m moving back to town.”

My head drops back. “Why? What have I done to deserve this?”

“You’re so dramatic.” Elise chuckles, before asking Trevor, “So, he liked the house?”

“Yeah. Signed the paperwork on the spot,” Trevor answers as he looks at the plans for the nursery over Elise’s shoulder. “Hey, Aubrey. You can design the house for him.”

“What?” Eric and I exclaim at the same time.

“You’re an interior designer.” He points at me, before he turns to Eric. “You need your house designed much better than the way your last one was.”

“Hey. It wasn’t that bad,” Eric protests.

Elise laughs. “It was horrible.”

Not one to turn down money, I look over at Eric. “Well, what were you thinking?”

“I wasn’t.” He chuckles. “But once I get everything moved in next week, I’ll give you a call, if you would be so kind as to give me your number, after three years of having me in your life.”

I shake my head. “We almost had a civilized moment, there. Thank you for reminding me that’s not a possibility with you.”

“I’m consistent, if not anything else.” He smirks.

“Go away,” I grumble.

“I’ll make you love me, yet, Aubrey,” he says as he stands up and joins Trevor on the way to the kitchen.

“The nursery looks good, sis,” Trevor yells just before they’re out of sight.

“If I knew my brother-in-law would be Eric, I don’t know if I could’ve let you go through with the engagement,” I joke with Elise.

“Oh, shut up. He’s so nice. You’d think he was funny, if you weren’t so busy thinking he’s annoying.”

“Name one nice thing he’s ever done.” I cross my arms.

“He’s moving here for the baby,” she says low.


“He’s moving here, now, so he can be around for the baby. So he can be in his life.”

Well, damn. I can’t say that’s not nice as hell.

“Yeah, exactly,” Elise says when I’m silent. “So, maybe, just give him a chance now that he’s going to be around a hell of a lot more.”

“We’ll see how the design goes. I make no guarantees.”

“I honestly think he bothers you every time he sees you because he’s trying, very poorly, to tell you he’s into you,” she whispers.

“What’s next? Pulling my hair on the playground?” I chuckle.

“If it gets me your love,” Eric walks back into the living room with his hand over his heart.

“Not even if you got down on your knees and begged.” I laugh. “Have you guys finally figured out a name for my nephew?” I ask when Trevor sits beside Elise.

Trevor makes an exasperated face. “She’s insisting on Cassian, but I want something like Knox. A cool name that he’ll like when he’s older.”

“Oh, I like Knox. Knox August. That’s nice.”

Elise gapes at me. “How could you go against your own sister?”

“Hey, I’ve got to be on my nephew’s side now. And that means getting a name kids can’t rhyme with ‘ass.’ No, he will not be ‘Cass The Ass,’ okay?”

“Only you would think of that,” she rolls her eyes.

“I’m with Aubrey on this one,” Eric chuckles. “We’ve got to save our nephew.”

My eyes go to Eric, who is lounging in the chair, that dangerously tempting smile on his face. He hasn’t shaved since the gender reveal party and I find I like the scruff.

I shake my head. Why am I liking anything about him? I chalk it up to me agreeing to give him a chance. But when his eyes come to mine, softening when he sees me looking at him, that kick in my heart that I’ve denied time after time happens again.

What does giving him a chance mean? And which part of me is giving him a chance? My mind or my heart?

“Well, I’ve gotta go,” I say, standing up. “I’ve got a date.”

And just like that, Eric’s eyes lose their softness, narrowing on me before he looks away. But why the hell would he even care?

“Oh, where?” Elise asks.

“This place called Bon Appetit. It’s on the other side of town.”

“And who’s this guy?” Trevor questions. “I’m gonna need his name, license plate number, address. All the essentials.”

“Oh, please. I don’t even know his address to tell you.” I chuckle.

“Someone you just met?” Elise inquires.

“Yeah. At a networking lunch I went to.”

“He doesn’t know what he’s in for.” Eric scoffs. “Poor guy.”

I arch a brow, suddenly not appreciating that scruff nearly as much.

“Anyone, and I mean anyone, who gets a date with me is the luckiest person on earth. Don’t forget it. See you guys later. Well, hopefully not you, Eric. I can wait until the birth to see you.”

I go home and shower before slipping into a black dress that fits like a second skin. Unfortunately I’m more excited about the restaurant we’re eating at than who I’m actually going there with. He’s handsome and all, nice smile, and I can admit a nice body, but there’s just nothing there when I look at him or think of him. Nothing stirs, nothing longs for him. There’s only one person my body has consistently reacted to for years and I refuse to acknowledge that or try to figure out why.

I meet Frank outside the restaurant. He throws that smile my way and I give him one back, even if it doesn’t feel as sincere as his. He puts his hand on the middle of my back to walk me inside and opens the door. The place is packed, like I thought it would be. Frank tells the woman his name and we’re seated at a small table right in the middle of the restaurant.

“I’ve heard really good things about this place,” I say as the hostess pours us both a glass of champagne.

“Me too. I was happy I was able to get a reservation last minute. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to. But turns out, I sold the owner a house a few years ago, so I gave him a call to get us in.”

“Oh, well excuse me. I didn’t know I was on a date with an MVP.”

He shrugs. “Now you do.”

He’s joking, I’m sure, or I think so. But ugh, strike one. Strike two has my eyes widening when the waiter comes to take our order. Frank makes sure to tell him to put our meals on separate checks. Then he winks at me and what I’m sure is my open mouth.

“Never know how the date is gonna turn out, you know?”

I’m starting to get a very good idea.

Strike three quickly comes from the way his eyes seem to find a way to every waitress’ ass when they’re within fifty feet of us. Even when he knows I’ve caught him, which has been three times now, he just gives me a lopsided grin and leans forward, continuing the conversation like nothing ever happened. I get out my phone and text Elise under the table, telling her the date is a disaster, that Frank is a pig, and to call me with some feigned emergency so I can get the hell out of here.

I’m tapping the phone against my thigh, wondering why Elise hasn’t called yet, fifteen minutes later when the food arrives. Just as I’m looking down at my plate of rib-eye and lobster mac and cheese, realizing this will be the only good part of my night, I hear the very last voice I expected to.

“Just how bad of an ass whooping are we talking here?”

In utter disbelief, I raise my eyes from my plate to see Eric. He stands beside the table, eyebrow arched, awaiting an answer to a question I don’t understand. My eyebrows furrow in confusion at so many things. What the hell is he doing here? What the hell is he talking about? Who needs an ass whooping, and why am I apparently supposed to be telling him to what degree? And just, what the hell?

“Eric, what are you doing here?” I sputter.

“You sent Elise a text, asking her to get you out of here. But I saw the message instead. And so, I’m here wondering, to what extent this pig—as you put it—needs his ass beat?” He continues, “Are we talking a bleeding nose, missing teeth, or do I need to go beyond the face and wreck his body as well?”

“What the hell is going on?” Frank demands, throwing his napkin to the table.

“I-I have no…” I struggle to find words, but Eric does not.

He leans down, menacingly, getting closer to Frank’s face. “She texted her sister, asking her to call with an excuse to get her the hell out of here. And that’s fine, maybe you were a boring date, but no. She said you were being rude to her. A pig. And so her sister didn’t call. I showed up instead, because if you disrespected this woman, you’ll be limping out of this restaurant.”

My eyes widen and, well, honestly, heat rushes through me as I watch Eric. I’ve never seen him angry and it’s a damn good look on him. But why is he so angry on my behalf? I could convince myself this is all a joke but his face won’t let me. There’s clear anger there and his fist is clenched at his side, waiting for Frank to say the wrong thing. Eric stands straight again and I look beyond him to find all the eyes in the dining room are on us. I need to diffuse the situation before it gets worse.

“Eric, really it sounds worse than it was.”

“Exactly,” Frank exclaims. “I’ve been a perfect gentleman.”

I give him an exasperated look. “Let’s not start lying now. You’ve looked at every waitress’ ass in here at least twice, with absolutely no remorse when you’ve known you’ve been caught. This date has been one of the worst I’ve been on.” I look back at Eric. “But nothing that demands the shedding of blood or anything.”

“Are you sure?” Eric asks.

“I’m sure.”

“Well, I’ve had enough of being made a fool of.” Frank stands, chair loudly scraping back in the silence of the dining room. Eric steps closer and Frank steps back, speaking a little lower. “Aubrey, since you’re the cause of all this, I’m sure you’ll have no problem paying the check.”

I scoff. “Not like I wasn’t already paying half anyway, right?”

Eric narrows his eyes at Frank. “You never even deserved to be sitting at this table with her.”

Frank walks away, head high, but embarrassment is clear on his red face. I watch him leave until my eyes are drawn to Eric, who is taking the seat across from me. My eyes widen again, which is becoming a common thing tonight.

“What are you doing?” I puzzle.

“Shame to let such good-looking food go to waste. He didn’t touch any of this, did he?”

“He didn’t get the chance to, before you stormed in playing Captain Save ‘em.”

He grins. “So you admit it? I saved you?”

I glare at him. “What the hell are you even doing here? Why didn’t Elise just call me?”

“When I saw your text, I thought me showing up would be better than a call from Elise.”

“I am going to bite her head off for sending you.”

Eric looks a little nervous, rubbing his hand across the back of his neck. “Well, uh, her phone was on the counter and I saw the text cross her screen. But I never actually gave the phone to her.”

I sit back in my seat, laughing. “Oh. So, she’s going to bite your head off. I will make sure I’m there to witness it.”

“Hey, hey. Let’s get back to my heroics.”

He begins scooping up some rice and chicken on his fork.

“Are you seriously going to sit there and eat after the stunt you just pulled? Half the restaurant is still looking at us.”

“I hear this place is amazing.” He shrugs, bringing the fork to his mouth. He chews for a moment. “And they’re right.”

“You don’t really think I’m going to sit here and share a meal with you? That would basically mean we’re on a date.”

He stops chewing, eyes suddenly becoming serious. “And would that be so bad, Aubrey?”

I’m taken aback at his question. Even more so, by the response that enters my mind. Because no, it wouldn’t be so bad. But we’re enemies, right? We don’t like each other. We can’t even stand to be around each other. Wouldn’t any date we had just turn into us exchanging barbs and ending the night hating each other even more?

Instead of answering him, I look down at my own plate, figuring what the hell? At least I can enjoy my meal. Even if it is with Eric.

“Do not say another word to me while we eat,” I insist. “Let’s pretend we are just two strangers somehow seated at the same table. This night has been horrible and quite frankly, a waste of a beautiful dress, so I just want to eat and enjoy some part of it.”

He pretends to zip his lips closed and mumbles something behind them. I narrow my eyes at him and he grins. And so we eat a silent meal.

Even with Eric for company, I am glad I stayed because this steak is freaking amazing. When the waiter comes back, I make sure to order the most expensive dessert on the menu and another to take home with me. I mean, if I’m paying, I might as well go all out.

Eric watches me eat my dessert, eyes on my mouth as I lick the tiramisu from the spoon.

“Stop staring at me,” I demand.

He shrugs, mumbling behind closed lips again. I roll my eyes. “You can talk.”

“How else am I supposed to entertain myself?” he asks.

“So, that’s what all this was to you? Entertainment?” I arch a brow.

“No, it wasn’t, and one day you’ll realize why that’s true.”

Confused, I just look back down to my dessert. I don’t feel like I’m going to get a straight answer out of him as to why he’s done all this. He clearly meant it when he came here to defend me from whatever wrong he felt I’d eluded to in the text. His intent was sincere, his anger at the thought that someone had disrespected me was real. But why?

I tell myself it’s just because I’m Elise’s sister. Trevor would have done the same, had he seen the text. But I can feel it’s a lie. It’s more than that. This feels more like he came here defending a woman he…cares about. But that can’t be. I don’t know what it is.

The waiter brings my boxed, to-go dessert in a bag and places the check on the table. Before I can even reach for it, Eric is handing his card to the waiter.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Paying for dinner,” he says simply.


“What kind of date would this be if I didn’t?”

I narrow my eyes at him. “This was not a date.”

“No. You’re right. Our first date will be so much nicer. And you know, hopefully, I’ll be able to talk during it.”

“I can’t figure out what this all means, Eric,” I finally admit. “Why you came here. Why you were so ready to fight for me when it’s usually me and you who are doing the fighting. Why you keep talking about a date like you actually want one with me. You can’t stand me. And I can’t stand you. I mean, has that changed?”

The waiter brings his card back and Eric just smiles. Not a grin or a smirk, a smile. He stands from the table and begins to lean down. I freeze, wondering if he means to kiss me, on my cheek or my lips, but he stops, seeming to catch himself and straightening while clearing his throat.

“Goodnight, Aubrey.” His deep voice makes me shiver. “And that dress definitely was not wasted because you look amazing in it. Even if that asshole couldn’t appreciate it, I can.”

Bewildered by his compliment, I sit there in silence as he begins to walk past me. But then I grab his wrist, stopping him. His eyes go down to where we touch and the same softness I’ve been noticing here and there enters his gaze again.

“Thank you,” I say. “For coming. Even if you won’t tell me why.”

“Of course I came.”

He leaves and I gather my dessert, still noticing a few glances being cast my way. When I get inside my car, I put my bag into the passenger seat and pull out my phone. I have a bunch of missed calls from Elise and I realize she doesn’t know what Eric did. She probably still thinks I’m sitting around waiting for her call to bail me out. I press the screen to call her back.

“Thank God,” she exclaims. “I was getting ready to send out a search party for you.”

“You would be surprised who already found me.” I chuckle.

“Huh? Are you still there? I’m sorry I took so long to call. I didn’t even see your text until a few minutes ago.”

“Yeah, well, you can blame Eric for that.”

“How did you know he was here?”

“Because he saw my text and came to the restaurant to scare my horrible date away.”

She gasps. “Are you serious?”


“Tell me everything.”

I relay what happened, leaving out the moments and comments that are still confusing me. In the silence that follows, I can practically feel what she’s about to say, feel the grin growing on her face. I roll my eyes in preparation.

“So you two had dinner together?” she asks.

“Only you would see the night that way.”

She hums. “Me and Eric, apparently. Oh my God, Aubrey, you guys were on a date. Probably the weirdest one ever, but a date all the same.”

“No, we most certainly were not. What kind of guy sits down and eats a meal that was not meant for him? I don’t know, but that does not make it a date. It’s more like, we just didn’t want the food to go to waste. Especially not when I thought I was paying for it.”

She scoffs. “Well, I could’ve told you he wasn’t going to let you pay. Because, say it with me, Eric is a good…”

“Guy. Yeah, Yeah. I get it. What I don’t get is why he did all this.”

“I’m telling you he likes you.”

Could she be right? The answer to that question eludes me more than ever after tonight. Because the next time we see each other, I imagine things going right back to the way they’ve always been between us. So then what does that really make tonight? Just a nice moment between enemies? Did tonight show that we could be more than enemies, if we both tried to be?

I shake my head, deciding not to think on it anymore. That’s where the trouble starts. Thinking too much. Letting feelings grow. Opening yourself up to pain. I don’t need an ounce of that.

“Anyway, after this crappy date, I think I am officially spending the next few weeks at home, very alone. It would seem you grabbed up the last decent man around.”

“He’s more than decent. It runs in the family. In fact, he has a brother who you’d be great with.”

I laugh. “You really never quit. I’m about to start driving. I’ll call you later. Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

I hang up and start heading home. And as much as I tell myself not to think of him, not to ruminate on his words from tonight, not to remember that look in his eyes as he looked at my hand on him, my mind conjures him again and again. By the time I get home, I’m no closer to figuring it all out and know I won’t be able to sleep for a while.

Well, at least I have my extra dessert to keep me company.


Hope you enjoyed this sneak peek of It Was Always You.

This book releases June 15, 2020

Available for pre-order now: It Was Always You

The first time Aubrey met Eric, he spilled his drink on her favorite dress. The second time, she was scowling at him across the room as her sister celebrated her engagement to his brother. Now he’s in her life to stay and she’s stuck asking herself what she did to deserve this punishment.
She can no longer avoid his smirk or ignore the way her body reacts when he walks into a room. With each laugh, joke, and caress, it’s getting harder to convince herself that it all means nothing. But the alternative is acknowledging that he’s starting to make her feel everything she promised herself she never would.
Having already seen what letting someone in leads to, she’s sworn to always protect her heart. Only now, she can’t help wondering if it might be safest with the person she thought she hated most.

Posted in Author, books, Contemporary Romance, Erotic Romance, Martial Arts Romance, Romance, Sneak Peek, Teasers, Uncategorized

The Great Escape

An excerpt from the scene that has become a favorite in Never Leave Your Side:  

“Um, are you sure this is the right place?” I ask.
“If I had a dollar for every time someone said that.” A man comes from behind the counter, laughing. “I’d be a rich man.” He walks over to us. “Welcome to The Great Escape.”
“So, how does this work?” Kyle inquires.
“You start out in the room right over here. There’s a video to tell you the backstory and what to expect. You get three clues. If you both decide that you need them, you wave in front of the TV and one will come on the screen. You have an hour to escape.”
“Or?” I arch a brow in worry.
He wiggles his eyebrows and gestures to the black door across from us.
“Did you check any reviews for this place?” I whisper to Kyle. “To make sure other people actually made it out, you know…alive?”
“I can’t say that I did.” He chuckles. “But don’t worry. I’ll protect you.”
We walk into the small, dark room and the door slams behind us. I try to twist the knob, but it doesn’t budge. I open my mouth to speak, but the TV cuts on, casting a glow in the room. I look around and see fake blood smeared on the walls, scratch marks trailing down a door that leads to another room. Sound draws my attention back to the TV.
A deep voice tells us that we’re now in the house of a serial killer. That all his other victims have passed through this room and none have left alive. He tells us that he’s gone out to get supplies and that when he gets back in an hour, that we’re all going to have some “fun.”
“There’s no way out,” The voice says. “Use this time to pray for your soul because when I get back, I’m going to rip it out.”
“I’m going to kill you,” I tell Kyle.
“Yeah, if that guy doesn’t beat you to it.”

Posted in Author, Contemporary Romance, Erotic Romance, Martial Arts Romance, pre-order, Romance, Sneak Peek, Teasers, Uncategorized

Sneak Peek

Here’s the first chapter of Never Leave Your Side. Enjoy.

Chapter 1

There’s just something about a man in a suit that makes me stop and notice him. That makes it hard to take my eyes off of him. Just like the man I’m looking at right now. He’s wearing a suit, and wearing it damn well. I’ve been staring at him for at least the last five minutes. But to be fair, he’s been standing in front of the same painting for longer than that, so he’s kind of asking for it.

His eyes move back and forth as if he’s trying to figure the painting out. It’s both amusing and nerve-racking to watch someone view your art, your creation, with such critical eyes. Out of all the people in the gallery tonight who are looking at my pieces on the walls, he’s the only one who truly seems to be admiring the paintings, instead of just glancing at them.

I walk over and pretend to look over the painting as well.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” he asks.

His voice slithers down my spine, damn near making me shudder. It’s rough and deep.

“You think so?”

“Absolutely.” His eyes come over to me briefly, but then he does a double take and looks at me for much longer, his eyes trailing up and down my body.

I turn my head and look right back at him. His dark-brown eyes, strong jaw, and light-brown skin only add to his appeal. His hair is cut low, same as his beard.

“What do you like most about it?” I inquire, more than curious as to what his answer will be.

“You can tell this is a really important painting to the artist. The way she paid so much attention to the smallest things, like the crinkles around the man’s eyes from his smile. The way she even painted the woman’s stray hairs blowing in the breeze. The details are what make it really special. How about you?”

“It seems like the artist is really fond of the people in this painting.” I answer.

“Fond of? What makes you say that?”

“Because that’s my mother and father. So, yeah, I’m quite fond of them.” I smile at the shock on his face.

“You painted this? All of these?”

“This is my showing.”

He looks down at the flyer in his hand, which has my picture in the lower right corner, and shakes his head.

“Well, now I feel really stupid.” He grumbles.

“Don’t. It’s refreshing to talk with someone about my paintings without them knowing who I am. Keeps people honest.”

“Well, even though I know you’re the artist now, I’ll still honestly tell you that these are amazing.”

“Thank you.”

“So, what was it?”


“What was it about this moment that made you want to paint it? That you remembered everything about this moment so well?”

I’m taken aback by his question. No one has ever asked it and I find myself having to take a deep breath before answering. “This was the last time I saw my parents together. My dad died that night.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I was glad to get this last great memory of them together. This was the first time I ever painted it and felt that I’d truly captured the essence of that moment.”

“You really did. I can tell these people really love each other. That they’re happy in each other’s arms.”

I look over at the painting and try to see it through his eyes. My mother had fallen in our backyard, tripped, really, running from the hose my dad was trying to spray her with. My father was helping her up, his one arm behind her back and her one arm wrapped around his neck. They were looking into each other’s eyes, smiling, and so in love.

“Are all of these for sale?”

I nod.

“Even this one?”

“Yeah. Do you think that’s weird?”

“No, it’s just that it’s so personal to you. I didn’t know if you’d want someone else having that.”

“The picture will always be in my mind. And I like thinking that someone will look at this and want to find the kind of love my parents had, if they don’t have it already.”

He gives me a sideways smile. “I like that. So now that I know who you are, I know your name is Renna. I’m Kyle.”

He extends his hand and I shake it. The callouses on his hand are a sharp contrast to his suit and they make me want to ask what he does for work. Then I think of those callouses running down my skin and my face heats up. He smirks as if he knows exactly what I’ve just thought about. I clear my thoughts along with my throat.

“So, how did you hear about the showing?” I ask.

“One of my students.”

My eyebrows scrunch in confusion. “You don’t seem like a teacher.”

“A martial arts teacher. I’m not sure if I should be offended or not though.” He chuckles.

“Not at all.” I smile. “I was just thinking, they didn’t have teachers who look like you when I was in school.”

He raises his eyebrows. “Thank you, then. But, yeah, one of my students was telling everyone about it after class.”

“Is he here?”

“She already left.”

“She? Do you have a lot of female students?”

“Less than I’d like. I think it’s especially important for women to know how to defend themselves.”

“I agree. Do you have classes just for women?”

“There are a few self-defense classes, just for women, so they can be more comfortable. And I do one-on-one lessons. You could come to one, if you want.”

“Is that your way of asking me on a date?”

I cringe right after the words leave my mouth. I meant them to be funny, but they were anything but. Now it seems like I’m fishing for a date. Smooth, Renna. Really smooth. But Kyle just grins.

“When I take you on a date, it definitely won’t be to a class.”

“‘When?’ So sure, huh?”

“More like hopeful. Would you like to go out next weekend?”

“Next weekend, I’m in an auction for charity. So, it would have to be another time.”

“In an auction? You mean, your paintings are?”

“Nope. I am. They’re auctioning off dates, and yours truly is on the chopping block.” I wave my hand up and down my body.

“Interesting,” he says, drawing the word out. “Well, let me get your number and we can set up a date for, maybe the next weekend.”

I give him my number. As he’s putting his phone back in his pocket, the owner of the gallery, Tracy, calls me over.

“Just give me a few minutes.” I tell Kyle.

He nods and I walk over to her. I can’t help but look at him over my shoulder and when I do, I find his eyes on me. He smirks before turning around to look at the painting again.

Tracy introduces me to a few people who want to meet me. It takes a lot longer than the few minutes I thought it would. Of course, I know I need to meet people and be friendly, but my mind is still on the conversation with Kyle. When I’ve finally shaken the last hand, I turn around to find Kyle gone. I look around, thinking he’s moved on to another painting, but I don’t find him.

“Renna, you won’t believe it.” Tracy calls out to me, walking over.

I look for Kyle a few more seconds before giving her my attention. “What?”

“You just sold four paintings.”

My eyes widen. “Really? Which ones?”

“The one of the night sky, the one with the woman touching her reflection, the one of the library, and the one of the man and woman on the grass in the backyard.”

My breath stalls knowing that painting, one that means so much more to me than the others, has sold and will belong to someone else now. Unexpectedly, a tear comes to my eye.

“Oh, this is such great news.” Tracy continues, running her hands up and down my arms.

I nod. “I know.”

“Congratulations. Your first sales.”

“Thank you.”

And even in this moment, my mind drifts back to the sexy man in a suit, whose number I didn’t even get.


Releasing November 15, 2019

Pre-order now: Never Leave Your SideThere's just something about a man in a suit....png