Despite being on writing strike, I did promise that if SECRET GIRLFRIEND by Bria Quinlan, my critique partner/buddy/savior’s book, made it into the DABWAHA tournament, that I would offer up a super secret excerpt from a super secret project.
So here it is! DABWAHA inspired me to put together an opening. Be forewarned this is unedited and certainly uncopyedited. You do, however, get to see what my first pass writing looks like. *ugh*
(The reason I’m so happy to have Bria in the tournament is because Lotus wouldn’t have been possible without her. Like, I was totally contemplating a not quite happy ending and she smacked me over the head and said, duh, romance? So thank you Bria.)
This is an unpublished and unedited excerpt from The Thief-Catcher, a follow-up novella to The Sword Dancer which features thief-catcher Zheng Hao Han and sword dancer Wen Li Feng in a whirlwind romance.
The Sword Dancer is available now. The release date for The Thief-Catcher is…um…TBD.
Tang Dynasty China, 849 A.D.
Zheng Hao Han came home to the lingering smell of smoke. The house was still intact and no one was rushing to douse a fire, which was promising. As Han crossed the small yard, he saw a flash of movement through the open doorway.
Inside, his wife was moving quickly as she set the table. That in itself wasn’t unusual. Li Feng always moved with grace and speed, but she was setting out bowls and chopsticks and cups for tea as she didn’t notice the burning smell that filled the room. Han glanced once around to make sure nothing had been set on fire. During the search, his eye fell onto the hilt of a sword peeking out from the quilt on the bed.
“Busy day at work?” Li Feng pushed a loose strand of hair away from her face and hurried out the back door toward the cooking stove. She called back at him over her shoulder. “Dinner’s ready.”
Han sat and looked over the table. “Only rice?” He resisted the urge to poke the mush with a finger.
“And boiled taro root.” Li Feng was back. She set a plate and a pot of tea in the center of the table. “Please, eat.”
Tea was poured and his first mouthful of rice answered the question of why the entire place smelled like smoke. The rice pot in back was probably charred black and Li Feng had just managed to salvage enough for two bowls. Valiantly, Han scooped up more rice with his chopsticks and washed it down with a good amount of tea.
Love meant enduring bad rice once a week. Sometimes twice.
He pieced together exactly what had happened that afternoon. Li Feng had once again set the pot to boil and wandered off somewhere. He knew it was hard for his wife to sit still, trapped within four walls. Li Feng had confessed to him that at times even the vast city felt confining to her.
Li Feng swallowed with some effort before speaking. “Did you catch any scoundrels today?”
“None. There was a dispute in the marketplace between the old lady who sells cabbages and the older lady who sells melons, but they managed to settle the argument without bloodshed.”
“Oh.” She looked crestfallen.
“A peaceful city means I’m doing my job,” he reminded her. Since Magistrate Tan had offered him a position nine months ago, Han had held a position as head constable in the city of Minzhou.
“I was just hoping for an interesting story, that’s all.”
She stared into her bowl of mush while he reached for one of the taro roots. The rough, brown skin had been left on them and it took some effort to peel it away. When he took a bite, his teeth crunched into raw vegetable at the center.
“It’s a bit undercooked,” he remarked, trying very hard not to spit it out. At least not while his wife was looking.
Before him, Li Feng maintained a straight face while chewing laboriously. “A little,” she admitted.
“Is that your sword?” he asked, with a nod towards the bed.
“Oh, why it is. I was straightening things up and must have left it out.”
Her tone told him she didn’t expect him to believe it. First, their house consisted of one main room and Li Feng never tidied it. She wasn’t accustomed to living in one place and claiming a space as her own. He wasn’t either, to be fair. Permanence was new to both of them and they were adapting….very slowly.
“I don’t mind if you practice,” he offered.
“My husband is so generous.”
“I wouldn’t want you to get lazy.”
She slitted her eyes with a disdain that he could only describe as cat-like. Cat-like and decidedly feminine.
If Li Feng decided right then to grab her sword, he wouldn’t have been surprised at all. The blade would come flying across the room at his throat. A fight would be overwhelmingly more enjoyable than this pitiful meal.
The small flash of fire in her made his heart ache. This was the woman who had driven him mad. He’d chased her across the province, over rivers and mountains, never able to catch her. The chase had brought them together. It had bound them together.
Now, three months into their marriage, he had to wonder if the thrill of the chase was what she had wanted from him. He’d brought her here, away from her family and into this small box of a home he could afford on a constable’s salary. All the while, he’d known that in her heart, Li Feng was meant to fly.
What he had to tell her next wouldn’t make her happy either.