Catriona sat in her car, head bowed and white-knuckled hands clenched on the steering wheel. She leaned her head back against the headrest and tried to absorb the test results. It couldn’t be worse.
Stage IV ovarian cancer.
Intensive chemotherapy might--might--give her a few more months, but would those months be worth living? Should she call hospice care now or wait, because she was fairly sure she did not want to endure the misery of chemotherapy. She sighed and let the tears fall unheeded as she wrapped her mind around the dismal prognosis.
She was going to die, sooner rather than later.
How would she tell her husband? Her children? Her grandchildren? Her elderly parents? Should she quit her job now and enjoy what time was left to her? What about insurance? She sighed again, sniffled, not knowing the answers and too stunned by the diagnosis to fully accept it yet. It didn’t seem quite real.
She drove home, went about her usual routine, claimed to be tired, and went to bed early. Her husband glanced after her retreating figure, questions and concerns unspoken. Catriona would tell him what was bothering her when she was ready and not a minute before.
The next day she got up and went to work as usual, letting her subconscious mull over her situation until she could figure out what to do. Her coworkers never suspected anything.
Thelan, captain of the palace guard, led three of his most trusted warriors through the dim, oily interior of a building where the horseless chariots of humans waited patiently for their owners’ commands. He could hear their thoughts: What is this place? What are those hulking metal beasts? In all his seventy thousand years, Thelan never thought to be grateful for such a distasteful environment as the humans built themselves. But it was there the oracle had sent him, there he would find his fate.
They heard a mechanical noise, the din of human voices discussing inconsequential things in their rough, rude tongue. A box opened and disgorged its passengers. Thelan had ridden in one during one of his intelligence-gathering sorties. It was called an elevator. He wasn’t entirely sure how it worked, but the mechanism performed with admirable efficiency. Humans, for all their shortsightedness and crudity, exhibited amazing ingenuity.
There she is, he alerted his men, communicating with them mind to mind across the common path. They followed the direction of his gaze and found themselves puzzled. The woman identified was no beauty among humankind. She bore a weary expression on her aged face and wore unflattering garb.
You must be mistaken, Captain, his lieutenant protested. Surely, the oracle would not burden you with an old woman.
Thelan, too, had been surprised by the woman revealed by the oracle; however, he could not argue. One only argued with the oracle at great peril.
The oracle identified this female and provided the coordinates to secure her.
The other three warriors did nothing so crass as shake their heads with disbelief, but he could feel their tamped-down incredulity.
You have the simulacrum? he confirmed.
Aye, his lieutenant replied.
We’ll need a few drops of her blood to activate the decoy.
The three warriors nodded.
The woman walked toward one of the shiny metal carriages parked in a somewhat darker corner of the parking garage than most of the other vehicles. Emerging from their concealment within a separate plane of existence, the four warriors surged forward and surrounded her. The abduction took all of three seconds. A silver blade pricked her arm which bled several drops onto the golem. The lieutenant tossed the activated simulacrum into the vehicle. It twitched and grew and transformed until a perfect facsimile of the woman rested unmoving in the driver’s seat.
“Sleep,” Thelan commanded, exerting his will upon her unprepared and unprotected mind. The woman slumped in his arms. He spat a quick spell that transferred the unattractive garments she wore to the golem. In deference to his mate’s modesty, one of Thelan’s guard shook out a blanket and wrapped it around her aged, pudgy body.
Remind me never to seek the oracle’s assistance in procuring a mate, one of the other warriors commented acidly as Thelan hoisted the unconscious woman in his arms. His captain threw him a dark look that promised retribution sooner rather than later.
This year's mass cancellations of events shifted my in-person event participation to 2021, assuming COVID-19 paranoia fades and the nation regains its common sense. Signs like the Northwestern Band Association's Arts & Crafts Show and last weekend's Crafts & Vendor Fair at the Clark County Fairgrounds indicate that society is more than ready to return to normal.
The virus isn't going away, folks, so we have to live with its presence. It's best to figure out how, rather than subject this nation and others to a global depression.
So, back to the topic.
I discovered the Fall Arts & Vendors Fair just a few weeks ago and contacted the fairgrounds for information. They sent me to the organizer who then sent me to the online registration form. I filled it out and submitted it. She called me, concerned about the genre(s) of books, because she didn't want duplicates. Fair enough. "I write romance," I said. Next came the concern that I wanted to peddle pornography. Egad, when will people learn that romance does not equate to pornography. Yes, most of my books contain some explicit content--some even come close to the blurry line of erotica--but they're not pornography.
Remember, the difference between romance and erotica is that romance focuses on the relationship between the protagonists--the story of that relationship. It may (and often does) contain explicit content, but it need not. Erotica is basically sex scenes strung together by a thin plot. It's a matter of degree, rather than of type.
So, back to the topic.
After being accepted for the event, I contacted my bestie to see if she'd join me as my "booth buddy." I offered to set up a table for her in my vendor space where she could sell her paintings. She accepted.
The set-up date arrived. My bestie and I arrived at the fairgrounds and found the vendor space. We set up the tables. Then, the organizer came by and nixed the addition of paintings to the vendor space. Since the space was already paid in full, neither of us understood why the additional merchandise was forbidden. The organizer mentioned not wanting duplicate vendor offerings and said she'd turned down some vendor applications offering redundant merchandise.
We complied and took down the second table. My friend carried her paintings back to her car. I was embarrassed and angry, having let her down. However, she was gracious about it and still kept me company over the weekend. I credit most of Sunday's books sales to her salesmanship.
Wandering through the connected buildings of the event, we saw several duplicates in vendor offerings, from country-craftsy primitives to turned-wood pens to ribbon wreaths. (Those wreaths were really popular.) A lot of vendors sold the same kind of stuff. Several unique vendors were scattered throughout the event: one with fused glass objets d'art, another with pottery, one with honey from his own apiary, a baker offering bread, a jeweler selling glass and crystal beads and jewelry, and the artist next to us with a beautiful display of pour art paintings, coasters, and other objects. (My friend and I know her: the artist is the young woman who teaches the art classes we attend.) There was one other bookseller: she sold children's literature. I truly don't think that my friend's paintings would have been a detriment to the event and can only surmise that the organizer really wanted her to purchase her own vendor space.
As for my own efforts, this event did better than the arts and craft fair on October 3rd. Attendance was encouraging. Over the weekend, sales exceeded the vendor registration fee--only the second time that's ever happened. (I don't count my own book fairs, because I didn't pay a registration fee. That's the organizer's perk.)
What I did notice was that several attendees (i.e., potential customers) with whom I spoke squirmed when admitting that they enjoyed reading romance. Yes, Virginia, there's still a stigma surrounding the genre as if it weren't legitimate literature. One young woman confessed that she didn't want her parents to know that she read such stuff. Those people took business cards and muttered something about finding my books online to download the e-books. I reassured them that everything was on Amazon. I doubt they'll actually follow through.
The upshot, however, is that I consider the weekend successful. I did a bit better than breaking even. That assessment does not tally the net profit, of which there wasn't any. If I subtract the cost of the books from the revenue of books sold, the total would be much, much less. However, gross sales at the event was encouraging.
If the event will be repeated next year, then I'm signing up; but, before I do so, I'll see if my bestie will attend and whether she wants to sell her paintings. That way, I can alert the organizer when registering that the booth will contain both books and paintings. Heck, maybe I'll try to sell some of my own paintings.
October Book Of The Month
Cancer. The terminal diagnosis paralyzes Catriona. Both saved and imperiled, she must navigate a new, immortal life as mate to the Captain of the Seelie Palace Guard.
In obedience to the oracle’s command, Thelan abducts a human woman and takes her to the Deepwood where she is unmade and remade by ancient magic. Thus given his mate, he quickly finds himself enamored of her spirit, intelligence, and uncommon beauty. She arouses his passion and challenges both his control and authority at every turn. Thelan needs to win the heart and trust of this untraditional female whom he’s determined to keep and protect from those who covet control over the moon-born’s legendary influence.
Catriona resents the lack of choice. She also resents not knowing the rules that now govern her life in this realm of myth and impossibility. Forging her own path and upsetting ancient tradition, she befriends the mysterious archivist, learns to live in a sentient palace, talks to dragons, and discovers a puzzling attraction to cats. And she must come to terms with the handsome and powerful fae male who claims her as his own and stirs her blood like none other.
Gwenda was again ready with a tray of food when she woke.
“I need to get up,” Catriona insisted. “I need to figure out what happened.”
Gwenda, who had been nothing but caring thus far, assumed a stern expression and said, “My lord insisted you eat and eat you shall.”
Catriona struggled against the slippery silk sheets and found her strength quickly depleted. She sank defeated against the pillows and could not help the tears that trickled from her eyes.
“Go away. Please,” she begged.
Gwenda tilted her head as she pondered what to do. Should she obey her mistress’ request? Should she fetch the master and admit her inability to deal with his mate’s inexplicable distress?
“Do I not care well for you, my lady?” she asked, her voice beginning to tremble with the disturbing thought that maybe she would be punished for not alleviating her mistress’ distress. The captain had a reputation for being a demanding taskmaster.
“That’s not the problem.” A soggy sniff accompanied the denial.
Gwenda risked boldness: “I do not understand. You are the delight of the captain. You are given every luxury. Why are you not pleased?”
Catriona closed her eyes for several seconds, then struggled to sit up. The young woman aided her with gentle competence. She tried to explain: “I had a life. I was married to a good man. I had children and grandchildren. I had a job. My life was fulfilling and I looked forward to retirement if the cancer didn’t kill me first. Then one day after work, I was kidnapped, taken from all that was familiar. I remember pain, oh, God, the pain, but I was not conscious. I remember waking in unfamiliar surroundings beneath a man who used my body before I could even protest.”
“I can understand how the change must bewilder you,” Gwenda ventured with caution, “but why would you object to the captain’s touch? He is most handsome, as well as powerful. I have heard he generously rewards good service”
Catriona leaned her head back further against the soft pillows. “Because I did not choose this.” She lifted a hand, ran her gaze over the slender arm and noted the extra joint in each long finger, the ivory claws. She repeated, “I did not choose this.”
“You are exotic and rare,” Gwenda said and bravely offered a reassuring pat on her mistress’ shoulder. “Bards have already crafted ballads memorializing your transformation beneath the twin moons at the behest of the midnight and dawn swifts.”
Catriona sighed. “I don’t feel exotic and rare; I feel weird and … just weird.”
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Hard boiled, scrambled, over easy, and sunny side up: eggs are the musings of Holly Bargo, the pseudonym for the author.
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