2 Excerpts from the Fighter and the Baroness

Excerpt 1:

HELENA

My cheeks warm with embarrassment at the people waiting behind me. A female employee helps me unclasp the diamond bracelet and matching necklace. The crown though is impossible to get out of my princess ’do.

Can I wear it through the security portal?” I ask, broken shoes in one hand.

No, I’m sorry. It will buzz,” the security person explains. “The portal is created to alert us to most metals besides gold and silver.”

I can’t tell him I wear gold. Real, irreplaceable, century-old heirlooms. He wouldn’t believe me anyway. “If it’s okay with you, I’d like to try.”

He lifts his arms in subtle agreement, a have-it-your-way, and I enter the booth, walk out without incident. Employees from two checkpoints stare at me while I pick my stuff off the band. I shake my head, slowly at first, but then I have nothing to say, no witty comeback, and my flight instinct kicks in. I get up on my toes so I don’t stumble in the too-long skirt and stride as slowly as I can into the transit hall.

I need to not stress the hell out. Just, I wish someone was with me to talk me down. I could call Elfriede. I don’t have my phone. I need a new phone. God, how pathetic am I?

Once I’m sure security isn’t following, I haul butt down the corridor. Tiles are cold under bare feet, it turns out. I’d step into my shoes again, but one of them is broken. Would people stare less if I limped and my heels creak-clacked against the floor?

A high-end fashion store beams in the distance. “We’ll help you blend in. Hurry, hurry,” it calls. I run. Benches are in the way. I’m getting clumsy. I’m panicking. Suddenly, a potted palm tree appears out of nowhere, half-blocking my view of the Promised Land, and my torso doubles around it as I slam to the ground.

I let out an ungraceful oomph. And realize I’m not on the ground after all. No, there’s an arm around me, and miraculously I’m on my feet, wobbly but sort of erect.

You all right?” an American accent asks.

I was going to Cloe’s over there,” I explain in German, pointing feebly and not feeling as regal as I’ve been taught. Dark eyebrows contract from within a tanned face above me.

Sorry?” His arm is still strong around me, really freaking strong, and somehow I’ve got a death grip around it while trying to pry him off.

I translate the same stupid sentence to English. “I was going to Cloe’s. It’s over there.”

His brows are perfectly thick or thin and their arcs are so perfectly perfect they look like they’ve been combed, but then the furrow between them smoothens and I discover his eyes.

Oh.

***************************

Excerpt 2:

VICTOR

I’d rather not mull over what’s going on right now.

The guys and I’ve been on a seven-day trip—five days in Munich working with a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu guru—and now I was just going to mosey on back home. Until this girl appeared out of nowhere, a wild dream in a flurry of white fluff and lace, breezing through security.

Disheveled and beautiful. Fairytale features and yellow hair flowing thick down her back. But what got me were the shoes in her hand. Until I bent and realized her feet were black with crap from the airport floor. She was mad and anxious and flustered. Oh hell, I couldn’t walk away.

Now we’re at another airport, and I still can’t walk away. On the flight here, I prodded more about her life than I’ve done with any girl before. It’s a risk to prod—the more you know, the more interesting they can get.

I guess I am mulling over what’s going on after all. Am I taking these chances because Maiko didn’t come along? Since her angina episode, she’s been avoiding abrupt ambience changes, which in my mother’s mind equals risks.

The flight has been delayed overnight.” Keyon’s face is dark with annoyance.

All right, I’m getting a hotel,” I mutter.

The plane leaves at six in the morning.”

Well, transit hotel then. I can’t stay in a pub for eight hours.”

Helena trails after me with her giant purse full of jewelry. She’s a freaking vision. “So there’s a hotel in the airport?”

Yep. With the delays though, chances are everyone else will want a room. Better hurry.” I squint at her. “Are you doing it too?”

She huffs. “What, you think I want to loiter in the transit hall all night? Get drunk with the guys? Oh wait, Zeke will take good care of me. That’s right.”

I chuckle at that.

I was right. The lobby of the only hotel in the transit hall is packed with travelers. I’m sure I’m out of luck once it’s my turn, but the receptionist copies my documents and hands me a keycard. “Here you go, Mister. Enjoy your stay.”

I thank her and exchange a relieved look with Helena. “I’m in three-oh-seven if you want to grab a bite to eat.”

She’s got a pretty mouth. It widens now, in a smile. I grab my backpack, hike it up on a shoulder, and lumber toward the elevator.

I’m sorry, Ma’am. We have full occupancy tonight,” the same receptionist I spoke with tells Helena.

No way?” Helena says. “Please, I’ll take anything. I’m not picky.”

The receptionist shakes her head, repeating that she’s sorry.

Okay,” I break in. “We’re changing this up. She’ll have my room.”

Helena’s grip on the countertop loosens as she turns to me. “Oh no, you don’t.” She returns to the receptionist again, shaking her head. “I don’t want his room.” She tucks her hair behind an ear and bends to her oversized purse on the floor.

I eliminate the distance between us. “Helena. Wait.”

She does, eyes round.

How many beds are there in three-oh-seven?” I ask the receptionist.

The girl tells me there’s only one but that it’s big. Clearly, she’s onto my idea.

Can we have some extra sheets and pillows sent up, maybe a few extra towels?” I ask.

Victor, no…” From Helena’s tone she’s more surprised than against my idea.

Why not? We’ll watch films. Maybe we’ll find Cinderella,” I say, which makes her laugh.

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