I have in mind a blog post on the vagaries, necessities, and nuisances of “genre” in writing (or, more particularly, publishing)…but I also need to get a lot of work done on Book 3 today, so that post will have to wait.
But I’m excited to have this new blog location, so the temptation to post something is strong. I thought I’d pick a random paragraph or two from Book 1 (aka The Stone of Shadows; link also found in this site’s main header, above), and I opened the file to do just that—and realized I could tie the exerpt into that future post on genre.
One of the largest…let’s use the term “muddles”…I’ve had with this book series (in terms of publishing/marketing) is genre and whether to present it as a variety of romance—which, I’ll be honest, is the bulk of what I read. Contemporary fantasy, this series definitely is. But that’s such a broad category. There are elements of thriller, mystery, adventure, suspense, and without question, romance.
And yet I was informed some time ago that because the main characters, Thia and Cormac, do not encounter one another face-to-face until several chapters in, The Stone of Shadows is not a romance. Because it does not close with a two-people-as-a-couple-happily-ever-after-implied-ending, it is not romance. (It’s a series, I could argue there. Each book’s particular mystery/adventure/crisis resolves by the final page, but the character arcs, the relationships, will do what they will up to the final page of the series.) Two books in, and there hasn’t been a—ahem!— “love scene” despite physical attraction. That isn’t to say there won’t be, in future books; the situations of the characters, the emotional things they were dealing with, the general timing of their lives, meant that such things just didn’t happen. Weren’t right. Would have felt wrong for both plot and character, and as such, didn’t happen. Some might argue—and might be right—that with current expectations, to call such a PG-13-rated book a romance would lead to reader upset. They’d expect such scenes—and the first-chapter character meeting, the definite happy ending—when purchasing the book, and they’d feel they were mislead.
I am a Romance Reader. Would I feel that way if I bought my book(s)? No. But that’s the muddle. I wouldn’t, but others might.
This is why I’d like to do a post—several posts?—on genre. It is both help and hindrance in terms of finding and attracting audience.
And so here is Cormac and Thia’s first face-to-face encounter. They have had other encounters, other sightings. Cormac knows who Thia is. He has tracked her down, observed her because he believes she has an item he desperately needs. (He’s right.) She has no idea…yet.
Contemporary Fantasy, Magical Realism, Romantic Suspense, Mystery Thriller Aventure:
San Francisco International Airport
Feeling the sharp impatience of the people behind her in the plane’s narrow aisle, Thia came to a stop at her row, double-checked the seat number with her boarding pass. Tempers had already been frayed by an hour-long delay whose origins had been blamed simply on “weather.” Since the skies above San Francisco were clear, that was hard to believe…and she didn’t think many did.
The man seated on the outside of the row hadn’t so much as looked up from his copy of Finnegan’s Wake, let alone make an effort to adjust his legs so she could shimmy past to her seat at the window.
Her backpack made that hopeless, anyway. She struggled out of it, winced as last night’s bruises and scrapes reasserted themselves and the Stone, cloth-wrapped though it was, pressed painfully against her sternum. Not for the first time, she wondered if she wasn’t being a bit paranoid by carting it around in her bra. Yet after the attack, even her pants pocket had seemed too accessible.
Thank goodness she hadn’t been picked to go through a full-body scan. Not that there was anything wrong with carrying a crystal sphere in one’s bra. Still, it was certainly odd. And where there was oddity, there could be suspicion. And suspicion brought attention.
Should she have kept it in her pocket after all?
This was what she’d been doing all day: second-guessing herself. She was making herself crazy with it.
She hefted the backpack—which, naturally, with everyone watching, had become a too-heavy, ungainly mass. A desperate shove barely got it to the lip of the bin. Straps and nylon ties dangled, writhing against her face almost like living, fighting things while she tried to adjust her grip to try again. Her arms were already burning. Was she really so out of shape?
“Come on, lady,” someone grumbled from the long line building to her right.
You could help, she nearly suggested, her teeth gritted as she gave another hard shove. A plastic clasp swung down to bounce against her nose but otherwise the pack didn’t budge. How could a few spare clothes and TSA-approved toiletries weigh so much? It felt as if she’d packed a boulder.
Sweat broke out on her face as her arms began to tremble, and with a kind of dawning horror, she realized she’d become that passenger. The one who, through idiocy or ineptitude or a humiliating combination of both, couldn’t manage her own luggage.
But everything had gone smoothly this morning, with the other plane. The smaller plane. She’d had no trouble getting her backpack into its bin. She shoved again. It was like pushing against a wall.
“Lady, would you just—”
“Thank you, yes. I’m trying.” The frayed ends of her temper flared, sizzled. Her fellow passenger had every right to be annoyed—all of them did—but he didn’t have to make it worse, did he? He didn’t have to stand so close, practically looming over her, and make her feel stupid.
She couldn’t see him clearly, not with the angle and so many straps hanging in her face, but he sounded big. She bet he could lift her backpack—and her—into the bin with one giant hand.
Since shoving wasn’t getting anyone anywhere, she pulled instead, thinking to take the pack with her. If not past the still-oblivious Joyce Reader to her window seat, than anywhere down the aisle where she could step out of the way. But the damn thing proved to be stuck that way too.
“It’s caught on something,” she said, a little desperately, conscious of shuffling going on beside her. The angry man, she assumed, going to complain to a flight attendant. “I’m really sorry. I can’t seem to—”
The back of her neck prickled, her only warning before someone new stepped up behind, his chest a light pressure against her back. She jerked in surprise as heat shot down her spine.
Her backpack popped free.
Deft hands grabbed it, stopped it before it could land on her face.
“Got you.” Close at her ear. Soft with a light accent. Scottish?
She glanced over her shoulder, but with him almost directly behind her, she couldn’t catch more than a glimpse of his jaw (firm and clean-shaven) and his hair (short-cropped and dark).
He lifted her backpack as if it weighed nothing at all, slid it easily into the bin.
“Thanks.” She lowered her useless hands. When this whole thing was over, she promised herself, she would join a gym.
Her cheeks warmed. Embarrassment…and something more. For which she blamed her emotional vulnerability and his cologne. Although subtle, the latter was having a not-so-subtle effect.
She had always scoffed at the implied (and often bizarre) promises of fragrance ads—but given the way her brain was fuzzing and her nerves were tingling, his was a winner. A woodsy scent with a hint of spice, somehow both simple and complex. And familiar?
“Any time,” came his reply, the breath of it light and warm on her neck.
She suppressed a shiver. He stepped back, releasing her, and the belated identification came.
Oak moss and clove. Of course she’d recognized the scent. Eclectica sold quite a lot of each. Good for protection, she remembered, turning to face him. Protection, strength, luck, and—
Her polite smile froze on her face, her intended words all but forgotten when she met the gaze of two very intense, surprisingly wary eyes. Eyes that held all the color and fascination of a stormy sea.
This, she thought distantly. This was trouble.
More, even, than attempted muggings and missing great-aunts and mysterious crystal spheres tucked into ill-fitting sports bras.
More, because despite everything—despite herself—this was the kind of trouble she longed for. The rush and whirl of attraction. The awakening of everything that had lain dormant, frozen in the aftermath of a broken engagement (though, as she’d realized uncomfortably some time later, not a broken heart). This was exactly what she’d craved and circumstance had denied.
What terrible, ironic timing it should present itself now.
The left corner of his precisely defined lips pulled the slightest bit upwards in the barest suggestion of a smile while a dark brow arched, drawing her attention from—good grief, she’d been staring.
And now she was blushing. Perfect. “Sorry. You must think I’m an idiot.”
He laughed—a single huff, nearly soundless, gone in an instant—and inclined his head. “Not at all. I think you’re—”
“Don’t got all day,” the angry man cut in. He hadn’t gone far, after all. And Thia had been right—he was built like a linebacker. After shooting her a particularly hostile glare, he pushed past her rescuer, knocking him into her. She stumbled backwards, only to hit the arm of the aisle seat at knee level.
“Oh.” It was a silly sound, she knew, even as she made it. Just as she knew it was silly to flail her arms. Her balance was lost. No matter what she did, she was going to fall.
Only she didn’t. Before she could drop onto the Joyce Reader, before she could even so much encroach on his personal space, the other man rescued her again. He reached out, gripped her outstretched arms firmly, and yanked her forward, steadying her against him.
She blinked, startled enough to still be upright, not to mention in a kind of embrace. She was unaccountably aware of the fabric between them, the feel of his stylishly-casual canvas jacket through the cotton of her shirt, the chenille of her sweater. He was only an inch or so taller than her. Not so much slender as athletically trim. And his eyes, that intriguing mix of blues and grays, were so close she couldn’t possibly look away.
Not that she wanted to.
“Saved again,” she said, because she had to say something. What a ridiculous impression she’d made: the staring, blushing damsel in distress, unable to lift her own luggage or stand on her own feet.
“Any time,” he said again, only this time, his tone was unmistakably wry.
She laughed. “I’m not usually so—” She broke off when the man took a sudden, awkward step into her as the rest of the crowd pushed past him. She braced herself against the jostling. Braced him as well, though she could feel him trying to take the brunt of it.
“You’re not usually so.…” he prompted, clearly finding amusement in the situation. Both of them captive until people stopped coming up against them.
It wasn’t what she’d begun to say—clumsy had been her original thought—but this was no less true. Thanks to her time at golf camp, where her utter lack of skill had made her an obvious target for pranks and teasing, she never got so caught up in something to the exclusion of all else.
“We’re clear,” she said, moments later, when the last of the crowd moved on. His weight shifted, and she took a step to the side, attempting to extricate herself. Reluctantly. “I should take my seat—and let you find yours.”
“Ah, but I already have.” His hold tightened, a brief, almost possessive clutch of her arms, before he let go to gesture to the row. Her row. “It’s right here.”
“No need to apologize,” he returned playfully. “It’s not your mistake. It’s his.” Without warning, he snatched Finnegan’s Wake from its reader’s hands.
The man in question looked up, fuzzy-white-caterpillar brows furrowing above narrowed green eyes. He held out his hand for the book. “I beg your pardon.”
“And well you should, old fellow.” The book’s thief moved it further out of reach, held behind his back while he leaned in to say almost conspiratorially, “Though of course I understand the motivation. With her there beside it, it’s the best seat on the whole plane.” He gave Thia a wink before straightening. “I’d consider stealing it myself—if I had to.”
She frowned, not sure what he was up to.
His lips curved, the mischievous sparkle in his eyes giving him an boyish appearance. It was hard not to be charmed by it, by him. But she tried.
She really did.
“You’re being ridiculous, young man, and I resent your implications.” The now former Reader punched the call button on his armrest, the soft chime sounding throughout the cabin. “Return my book and apologize, then kindly take your seat. You’re disrupting the flight.” A sharp gesture indicated the many faces turned their way, people with nothing to do but watch now that they’d found their places.
“I can’t very well do that, with you in it,” was the reply. But the book was held out, on offer.
It was quickly snapped up. “For the last time, this is not your seat.”
“This is easy enough to clear up,” Thia suggested, carefully neutral. “What do your tickets say?”
“Oh, of course you’d take his side.” Temper flooded the older man’s cheeks with red as he pulled his boarding pass from the back of his book. He held it out, tapped the print. “It quite plainly says thirty-six…G?” Surprise muddled his expression.
The error clear, she pointed to the markings above the row. “This isn’t thirty-six G,” she said kindly. “This is thirty-six C.”
“I don’t understand.” The man’s bewilderment was priceless.
Thia’s wasn’t bad, either, and Cormac couldn’t recall the last time he’d had such fun. “It seems you belong back there,” he said, gesturing.
“No, no.” The poor fool blinked, looking from the ticket in his hand to the sign posted above the seat. “This can’t be. I made sure they matched, and they did. The numbers matched.”
“Of course they did,” Cormac said, deliberately patronizing. Inside, he was laughing. Because, of course, they had matched—up until a moment ago when, behind his back, he’d located the ticket in the book and used an elementary spell to exchange them with his own seating assignment.
So far no one, Thia included, appeared to have noticed the small use of magic. With any luck, the same could be said of the stewardess come to resolve the dispute. Easing by Thia, the petite blonde beamed up at him, her expression coy, not suspicious.
It was about time something went his way.
“What seems to be the trouble?” she asked.
“A bit of a mix-up.” He gave her a charming smile. It was entirely false, but Thia bristled at it nonetheless—and he found himself holding back a genuine one. “I think we’ve got it sorted.”
“I’m in the wrong row,” the man said dazedly, getting to his feet. “But it should be right.”
Cormac graciously stepped aside to let him pass. “These things happen.”
“Not to me, they don’t.” Looking lost, the man handed his ticket to the stewardess, and after a quick check, she gently took his arm to guide him towards the rear of the plane. The look she sent Cormac over her shoulder was unmistakably flirtatious, and he returned it. One never knew what might prove useful.
“Excuse me,” Thia said sharply, and without waiting for his response, she slid past him into the row.
Warm, lithe, soft.
The feel of her, that one quick brush, was enough to make him forget all about petite blondes.
It was enough to make him forget himself.
He needed to stay focused on the right things. The relic, and what Idris would do if he failed to get it. And most certainly not on how Thia McDaniel made him want to smile, or how much he wanted to touch her again. With deliberate ease, he took his seat. Next to him, her head was tilted down, her hands adjusting the belt she’d fastened across her lap. He could do this. He could remain detached, he assured himself, even as his pulse ratcheted up again.
He should have had the waitress last night after all, instead of spelling her to sleep as soon as she’d let him into her flat. Maybe if he’d had more than a restless night alone on an uncomfortable futon, he wouldn’t be so susceptible today, so aware of Thia not as a target but as a woman.
Or maybe not, he thought, feeling the threat of un-steadiness in his hands as he pulled his own safety belt taut. There was more at work here than physical attraction. There was a quality about her, so foreign to his experience that of course it would fascinate, drawing him like a moth to light.
Throughout the day, he’d watched her. Studied how she interacted with people, how she approached different situations. Despite her underlying anxiety, she’d done it all with an openness, a genuineness, that at first he’d judged as horrendously naïve. Perhaps it was, but it was also a gift to him, of sorts; a tool he could use.
Thia McDaniel trusted people.
And, after the thing with her backpack (another spell she’d apparently not detected), she now trusted him.
He’d worried she might not. Since he hadn’t wanted to risk the larger use of magic, he hadn’t glamoured himself. If Leticia had described him at all, or if Thia had seen him when he’d followed her from Eclectica…well, here he was. The souvenir t-shirt and designer scout jacket he’d picked up at the terminal’s shops could hardly be considered a disguise.
His eyes were the biggest risk, regardless. His presence on Main Street could be explained away. Granite Springs was, after all, a tourist destination. But if Thia recognized the eyes of the man who’d tried to carry her off last night, he was sunk.
Yet she hadn’t seemed to, so far.
He set a hand lightly on the gentle warmth of her shoulder, withdrew it when she looked over. “You wouldn’t happen to have any chewing gum, would you? I forgot to buy some. For the pressure change.” He pointed to his ear.
Surprise to curiosity, to concern, to dismay—all before he’d finished speaking. She was an astonishingly easy read.
“I’m sorry, no. I forgot too.” Regret, followed quickly by exasperation. “After five hours in the terminal, you’d think I’d be better prepared.”
He made a small smile. She was a pageant of expression. Her face, her voice, her gestures.
But did they show the truth, or only what she wanted him to see?
It was in his nature to distrust, to see the worst in everyone. But, try as he might, he couldn’t find it in her. He could see no lies, no artifice.
“Maybe the crew has some for sale,” she was saying. “Or maybe there’s some in here.” She took up one of the gift bags the airline had placed in each seat pocket.
As she began to search through it, he worked a quick spell, a modern twist to one learned early in childhood. It was more involved, more liable to be detected, but harmless in nature and thus likely to be ignored. No one looked his way, not even Thia, as she continued to rummage.
He’d done the spell for a woman back then too, he recalled abruptly. Girl, rather. A bright, cheerful little thing he’d wanted to…well, he’d been all of eight. He’d wanted to make a friend, and summoning a bit of candy floss had seemed a better way to go about it than tugging her hair like he’d seen the other boys do.
Guilt was a knife’s twist in his chest. He should never have done it. Should never have paid her any attention at all.
“Bingo.” From deep in the bag, Thia pulled out the pack of Trebor gum he’d summoned there. “It’s our lucky day.”
He tried to return her smile, but couldn’t shake the memory of the other time, the other girl. The magic hadn’t been overlooked then. Inside the stronghold, nothing he’d done had ever been overlooked. But because he’d hoped that time would be different, innocence had been lost. Not so much his, not by that point. But every scrap of hers.
“Would you like one?” Thia asked, jarring him out of his thoughts. She held up a piece of gum. “Save you the trouble of digging out your own?”
Summoning his own, more like.
“That’s lovely. Thank you.” This time, his attempt at a smile felt more successful.
Oh, man, was he trouble, Thia thought again, dropping the shiny pellet of gum onto his palm. It was a good thing he didn’t smile like that more often.
But where was the harm, really? For the next nine, incredibly long hours, she was going to be stuck on a plane. Until she got to Lettie’s residence, there was nothing she could do, no help she could give, no question she could hope to get an answer to. When the alternative was to worry herself into insanity, why not let herself be distracted by a charming, incredibly attractive man?
She put the gum in her mouth and bit down, instantly regretting it as spearmint flavor potent enough to peel paint flooded her mouth and seared her sinuses. She gasped, blinked away tears.
She heard that short, almost soundless laugh, then, “Strong, is it?”
She cleared her throat, managed a faint, “Oh, not too bad.”
He looked far too innocent as he tossed his piece into his mouth. Suspicious, she watched closely as he chewed. His expression didn’t change, but she knew. His eyes gave him away—too amused by half.
“You could have warned me,” she said crossly, then ruined it by laughing.
“I could have. Forgive me?”
“This time.” And easily, she realized. Far too easily. Normally, she hated being teased.
The cabin shifted, rocking slightly. A bell chimed, and pre-flight announcements began. This was it. The plane slowly backed away from the gate. She glanced out the window, fought a resurgence of nerves by instead trying to focus on the animated safety video playing on the small console set into the seat before her. It was a mistake, what with the graphic portrayal of impromptu water landings and sudden drops in cabin pressure.
Another bell chimed, followed by the captain’s instruction that the crew please take their seats. As they did so, she felt a light touch, quickly withdrawn, on her arm.
“I’m sorry if the gum isn’t to your liking.”
“No, it’s all right.” She stuffed the pack, which she’d been crushing unconsciously in her hand, into the laughably small storage pouch below the video console. “It was a surprise, that’s all. Came on a little strong there at first.” Wondering if he’d make the connection to his own behavior, she watched his eyes. “But I think I could like it. Quite a bit, actually.”
Blue-gray darkened, his pupils widening.
There. Hiding her smile, she returned her attention to the window.
The plane changed direction, moving forward. When it began its deceptively lazy turn onto the runway, she felt a sudden pang of loss. Life as she knew it was shifting, changing. From here on out, there’d be no going back.
© R. A. FINLEY — ALL RIGHTS RESERVED NO PORTION OF THIS TEXT MAY BE REPRODUCED OR USED WITHOUT PERMISSION