Here we are. All ready for The Love is in the Air Blogfest. Hosted by the group who run Unicorn Bell who say...
"It's a celebration of that little thing called love. Be it steamy or sweet, puppy, kitty, teen, aggravating, first kiss or final goodbye, let your scene tug at our heartstrings."
In that note, here's a little something from the beginning of The Rogue King seeing as its release is likely to be delayed for at least a month, if not longer...
Koral scratched on Cesei's tent flap. Like the unsecured canvas, his stomach fluttered. He carefully fingered the pale flower. Its fragrance wafted up through the half-open petals to greet him. Hopefully she would like it. That's what you were meant to give women, wasn't it? They liked flowers.
What if she doesn't? They'd only begun speaking to each other a week ago. A scant eight days was hardly enough time to know anyone, but if he was to try his hand at courting it might as well be now, where his failure wouldn't be quite so embarrassing. After all, he was to leave in three more weeks.
He was ready to admit to anyone he'd no idea what he was doing beyond a few glimpses of Jacob's romance films. All the kissing and ridiculous situations the people got into, especially the brainless men, hadn't interested him back then. Now he sorely wished he'd watched at least one of the movies to their conclusion.
The tent flap opened. Cesei's lithe form filled the entrance. "Koral?" She smiled and it was like greeting a new day. "Why this is a pleasant surprise."
Koral took in her delicate, clinging gown with a single heart-stopping sweep. All the moisture fled his mouth. "I—" His gaze dropped to the flower. The warmth flooding his face had little to do with the setting suns at his back. "I picked this." He thrust it towards her. The bud trembled in his grip. "F-for you," he managed to say before he lost full control of his tongue.
Laughter, deep and undoubtedly male, came from inside the tent. "A flower?" the unseen man jeered. "Is that miserable plant the best you can do?"
His heart plummeted to his talons. Of course she would have other suitors. He expected nothing less when it came to someone as beautiful as her. Tears stung his eyes and threatened to blur his vision. Koral blinked them back. He would not cry over this, wouldn't give his mocking rival the satisfaction of more ammunition to taunt him with.
Cesei's delicate nose wrinkled. She rolled her eyes. "Oh give it up, Qwir. You think picking on him is going to impress me? Here!" She threw something over her shoulder at the man. It landed with a jingle. "You can keep your cheap bracelet. Maybe that tart of a katess, Osala, would spread her legs for your dross, but I won't." Her teeth bared in a dangerously cheerful grin, she turned back to Koral. "Care to go for a walk?"
He blinked and struggled to find his voice. "S-sure."
They strolled in silence through the camp until they left the tents behind. He followed Cesei as she wandered between the mostly-vacant walfre pens. A few of the animals lifted their heads as they passed, watching whilst they chewed, only to return to grazing on the scant grasses and flowers dotting the sand. The place would be packed come the dawn when a fresh herd was expected from up north.
Finally, before they came upon the sturdier pens corralling the walfre bulls, Cesei stopped walking. "So, even you come bearing a gift to my tent." She leant against a crate and tapped the pale bud against her chin. "What do you think a flower is worth?"
Koral rubbed the back of his neck. "Worth?" he echoed, struggling to understand what she was asking. Why would she care about its value? Was she expecting jewels? But she'd tossed the bracelet away, had left Qwir's side to be with him and the man was a fit, skilled raptereon. Everything Koral wasn't. I am never going to understand women.
She waved the flower about like a knife. "A woman only gets gifts when a man is looking for a little something, be it a kiss or marriage. The more impressive the prize, the more he's looking for." She swept her hand, indicating the surrounding pens where dozens of the same flower sprinkled the sands. "Your gift clearly didn't cost you a thing." Her bright blue eyes narrowed. "So are you the type who wants something for nothing?"
Never before did he think it possible to feel the blood draining from his face. His thoughts rushed back to what she'd said about Osala. "N-no. I ... I didn't expect anything in return. I..." He swallowed, desperate to be rid of the horrible papery sensation coating his tongue. "I just thought you might appreciate the smell." He ducked his head and, with his cheeks burning, mumbled, "It reminds me of you."
She arched a brow at him. "The walfre's might go mad for these, but they don't have a scent."
That can't be right. He had smelt their fragrance from the first time he went near the pens. "They do."
Pursing her lips, Cesei buried her nose into the flower and inhaled deeply. She shrugged. "Like I said. Nothing."
Koral frowned. It didn't make sense. Why could she not smell what he did? His gaze slid back to the pens. The flowers dotted the sands like weeds, growing stronger than the grass. Was he the only one who could smell them? "But they smell amazing," he mumbled. They were the most fragrant flowers he'd ever come across, almost delicious in their appeal.
"Really?" Cesei shoved the bud under his nose. "Then describe it for me."
He gently took the flower from her and breathed in its aroma. "It's like how I imagine the summer rain smells after a drought: fresh and sweet, yet still a little bit ... hot." The longer he lingered over the flower, the surer his opinion of his comparison grew. "Do you remember the how it smelt when they stewed those bushels of freshly-picked gukoh contra last week?" Having skipped breakfast, the faint hint of the cooking fruit had set his stomach rumbling for hours.
She licked her lips, clearly remembering more than the smell, and nodded. "Does it really smell that good?"
Her mouth curved into a smile, the tip of a fang poking out between her lips. "It sounds divine." She leant over and he felt the hot brush of her lips against his cheek. Plucking the flower from his unresisting hand, Cesei held it up to her nose. Her snout scrunched in regret. "I do wish I could smell it like you. It's so weird that you can."
He jerked back. "Weird?" So she was more fascinated by him than flattered. He should've known he couldn't compete with the other young men. She must think I'm an idiot.
"Don't pull that face, Koral. I didn't mean you, personally, were weird. I think you're sweet." She patted his other cheek, turned his head and gave him another peck. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Unable to speak, he watched her walk back towards her tent, brushing the flower against her nose. She kissed me. Koral touched his cheek. She kissed me! Twice! He let out a whoop and, his face flaming, dove behind the crate just as she turned around.
Cesei's laughter reached him, melodious without a trace of mocking. She thinks I'm sweet. He sat down and leant his head back on the crate, the planks giving a faint, protesting creak. His heart hammered so fast he expected his chest to explode at any moment. Unbidden, his hand brushed his cheek again. He could get used to this feeling.
Maybe when it became his time to leave, he could convince Cesei to come with him.
Don't forget to pop over to Unicorn Bell and see the other participants.