FOR THE ONE, William & Jenna’s story, will be released on
~ May 10, 2016 ~
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(Please note: Nook pre-order not currently available, but it will go live on Nook on the same day as the other sites!)
***Read on for an unedited teaser of the first pages of the book…
Sometimes there was no other word to describe my life besides absurd. It’s a good word, actually. It rolled off the tongue easily. Sounded better when you said it aloud than when you heard it in your mind. And sometimes, in the middle of a situation where you’re outside of your own body looking at events taking place around you, the word just fit so well.
That was the word that popped into my mind that hot Saturday morning in January. I sat in the front row of an outdoor amphitheater at a local park watching two grown men in full medieval-style armor hack at each other with long swords. The reflection of the slanted morning sunlight glinted off the metal and stung my eyes as they faced off against each other. The shorter man was Doug, the guy I’d been seeing for the past few months. The tabard draped over his breastplate was brilliant scarlet trimmed with gold. The other man was taller, and though his head was hidden beneath a metal helmet and visor, I knew him to be William Drake.
“Huzzah, Sir William! You can do it!” Shannon called. She was one of a group of women I liked to refer to as his fangirls. William seemed to have obliviously acquired his own little collection, and they alternated between trying to date him and trying to mother him, almost always failing on both counts.
However, he didn’t seem to show much interest in the women in the group, no matter how many times they threw themselves at him. I could see why they did it though. He was, in fact, almost too handsome to be real—dark hair, square jaw, excellent bone structure, tall and strong. His features were marred only by that tiny scar across his chin, which only lent ruggedness to his beauty.
Armor clanked as swords crashed against each other with surprising speed. These weren’t padded or wooden swords, the usual choices for medieval recreation battles. No, this was the real deal.
The rules of Historical Medieval Recreation Combat—as the formal organization was called—required real but blunted weapons. The injuries, however, were real. Given the way that Doug’s left shoulder sagged where William had savaged it in the first bout, I was certain he was feeling the realness, too.
Currently, Doug was down by one, and they were fighting the second bout out of three now. I looked on with only mild interest. I had no dog in this fight.
Well no, that wasn’t exactly correct. I had one dog in this fight—Doug. I wanted him to win so that when I broke up with him later today, it wouldn’t be as big a blow to his already enormous ego.
Clang! William’s weapon landed on Doug’s armor, followed by a series of aggressive blows. He appeared to be overwhelming Doug, who clearly had not expected him to be this good. Actually, Doug had said as much to me this morning before the duel. He’d even laughed and made some disparaging remarks about the competition—“who could barely be called that,” he’d sneered.
Doug was an ass sometimes, but that was only part of the reason I was done with him. The winds had changed, and I had that familiar aching feeling that I needed to cut ties and move on. It was my fate to never be tied down, especially by a mediocre relationship.
Behind me, another group of people also cheered for William. They were friends of mine as well and most definitely not fangirls. Mia, one of my best friends, was whooping and hollering over the crowd, and Alejandra, my roommate, had started a chant while clapping in rhythm. “Sir William! Sir William!”
I inhaled a breath and let it go. It would serve Doug right to learn some humility at William’s hands. But I couldn’t really break up with him on the same day he’d been defeated in battle, could I? What would a medieval lady do?
Thank the Goddess, I’d never actually know the answer to that question, nor would I act on it. I had a lot more choices than that proverbial medieval lady.
Doug straightened after being driven back by William’s blows and began swinging his good arm wildly, causing William to retreat. He cut in at the waist, and when William went to block with his buckler, Doug smashed his own buckler into William’s helmeted face. A perfectly legal move, if an assholish one. Doug was clearly pissed that not only had the “easy competition” wounded him in the shoulder, he’d also won the first bout.
In minutes, the second bout was over, Doug declared the winner by the judge. It was a tie, with one bout to go. The first combatant to score three hits on his opponent would be declared the winner of the final bout and thus, the entire duel.
William and Doug were given a few minutes to catch their breath. With purpose, Doug strode right over to the railing, stopping in front of me. He bowed with a loud clank and then lifted the visor on his helmet. Absurd.
“My lady,” he called, still breathing heavily. “Your favor, if you please.”
I raised my brow. He did not actually believe that my hair ribbon or handkerchief would help him, did he? I pressed my lips together when Caitlyn, at my right side, jabbed me in the rib cage with her elbow, giggling. “You lucky wench. Give him something!”
I blinked and pulled the ribbon out of my hair. As it was holding my long hair out of my face, my hair promptly fell over my eyes. I held the ribbon, dangling between my thumb and forefinger, toward Doug. He extended his sword, hilt first.
“Tie it around the pommel, my love,” he said again in that loud, sing-songy voice.
Acid filled my stomach at the term of endearment—and at his stupid grandstanding. My cheeks burned in embarrassment. He’d been calling me that for the last few days—loudly, and in public only. It was about fifty percent of the reason that I’d decided to cut and run now instead of later.
My gaze flicked to the other figure in the arena. William had switched out his small, round buckler for a tall shield, which was used for the third round of a duel. He was still as a stone as he silently watched us through his lowered face guard.
I rose from my seat and quickly tied the ribbon in a bow around the pommel of Doug’s weapon. Then I sat back down before he got really obnoxious and asked for a kiss or something. Doug then held up his sword, facing the crowd. A loud cheer went up as the third bout was announced.
William had not moved. His helmeted head was still pointed in my direction as if he was still watching me. Disquieted, I demurely clapped my hands, my applause lost in the clamor behind me. People were stamping their feet on the wooden bleachers and whistling. William’s helmeted head swung in the direction of the bleachers, his shield lowering a fraction. Then, he spun and turned his back on the crowd, his head drooping.
Doug strode to the center of the battlefield where the referee stood. Haltingly, William turned toward them, stumbling as he walked to take his place. I frowned. What was up with that? He’d seemed so confident in the first bout. Maybe the defeat in the second bout had shaken him.
The two knights faced off again, swords poised as they awaited the lifting of the yellow flag between them. The moment it did, they began banging on each other again. I couldn’t help but wonder how surreal this was—to watch men playing at war when I had lived through a very real war. In fact, I’d been born in the middle of a war zone, shells dropping all around, and survived in a city that had been under siege for years. I shuddered, forcing the dark memories from my mind.
William was heading toward Doug again, but his movements were halting and haphazard. He swung and hit only the air, and his shield was cocked at an awkward angle, almost as if to block the spectators from watching them fight. The crowd cheered louder and stomped harder.
William stumbled as he tried to approach Doug. At the same time, his sword came down hard on Doug’s injured shoulder. Doug let loose a loud string of curses that could be heard over the din of the crowd. The referee blew a whistle and called for them to separate. Both knights lowered their weapons and raised their visors.
“Foul, Black and Silver, for attacking a previously injured portion of the opponent’s body in an unchivalrous manner. Black and Silver, you have been warned! This is a yellow card warning. One more such penalty will disqualify you. And you—Red and Gold. You are hereby warned about your unchivalrous language. Have a care, sir.”
William nodded, his eyes fixed on the ground, but Doug was staring at William through narrowed eyes. I couldn’t tell whether he was angry or calculating something. His lips thinned as he turned to the crowd and raised his sword to drum up more noise. The crowd happily complied.
William’s entire body stiffened—if such a thing could be detected under all that armor. I wondered what the hell Doug was up to. Earlier, he said something about knowing an opponent’s weakness being the key to winning a duel. Until a few minutes ago, William hadn’t displayed any weaknesses.
The crowd was clearly bothering William. I hadn’t noticed it until Doug approached me and asked for my favor, then roused the crowd to cheer. Had that been a calculated move on Doug’s part? It sure as heck hadn’t been sentimental. Doug didn’t work like that. He’d had a reason for asking me for that favor when he did and making such a production of it.
Doug pushed forward the minute he was given the signal by the ref. He landed two direct hits in quick succession. William was pushed backward without making a single attempt to block. The crowd roared. One more and the bout—and the fight—would be Doug’s. And though I’d originally felt it would be good for my purposes if he won today, I suddenly wished he wouldn’t.
William readjusted his large shield against his side. Doug raised his sword again, but this time as a signal to the crowd to cheer louder. They complied, doing so in earnest by stomping, yelling and whistling with even greater fervor. I, however, was focused on William. It was hard to read body language under a layer of steel, but with his shield sagging and his sword jutting at a strange angle, he clearly looked uncomfortable.
Doug moved toward him and William suddenly charged, moving faster than he had before. William snaked a hit in on Doug before fending off what would have been the final blow. The crowd was on its feet now, including me. It was so close.
The ref stopped play again and William paced in circles, his gauntleted fist opening and closing at his side, his helmet turning as if he was shaking his head inside there. The referee held out a yellow flag between them to begin again. Doug turned to the crowd, lifting his hand as if to get the crowd to shout louder. A shudder passed through William’s whole body.
When the flag between them lifted, William lunged almost too soon and started chopping away at Doug haphazardly. Gone was the precise, staid style of fighting—that consistency that had worn Doug down during the first bout. Now William’s energy almost seemed chaotic and Doug fended him off easily.
Until William’s sword landed on him once again…at the juncture of his breastplate and helmet. We were all jumping up and down screaming. William had gotten his last hit.
And yeah, I was probably happier about it than I should have been. Everyone was cheering so loudly that no one heard the ref’s whistle until both contenders raised their visors. It took a few minutes, but the crowd quieted down. Something was wrong. The ref was not declaring William the winner.
“Due to another yellow card violation—a strike against the neck piece—I hereby declare the Knight of Black and Silver disqualified. Red and Gold, you are the winner of this duel.”
The group of people behind me—William’s friends and family—were questioning each other in tight voices. I turned around to look at them. Mia was watching William carefully, her pretty face creased in a frown. Alex was complaining loudly, and Adam and Heath had their heads together, conversing. Others were in a similar state of confusion. Doug’s friends, of course, were ecstatic, and Caitlyn and Ann, who sat on either side of me, cheered. “He won! Your man won!”
Doug raised his visor his face in a grim smile, appearing supremely satisfied. A chant went up. “Sir Douglas! Sir Douglas!” Inexplicably, my stomach bunched in a knot. I couldn’t help but feel bad for William. He had fought such a good fight with quick and powerful hits.
Within minutes, there was a crowd around Doug, and William retired to the camping site where the sleeping tents were set up. As a group, we had camped the night before in preparation for the weekend’s events. Beyond watching the duels, we non-fighters also had work to do. After lunch, there would be yearly planning meetings for our club, a tradition held at the beginning of every spring.
Two more knights filed into the ring for a practice duel. I took a breath and let it go. Might as well get this over with. Perhaps he wouldn’t take it too hard on the tail end of his “great victory.”
……To be continued on May 10th!!!
Goodreads Giveaway (open April 16th through May 8th) …
Also … coming THIS SUMMER….
A free web serial by Brenna Aubrey
An “Adam & Mia” Prequel.
Chapters will be published regularly on Brenna’s Blog.
More info to come! Keep your eyes peeled 🙂