#3 Excerpt – Night Betrayals
Laylah’s life is in flux. She’s got unexpected abilities to master and more questions than answers about her past and future.
Isolated and forced to bow to Were societal rules, she tries to navigate the minefield of her new life.
She only wants to be happy, but there are two things in her way: Werewolf Alpha, Dayid Yon, and the New Florida Were Council.
She heard a rustling and her eyes flew open. Laylah stuck her head outside the door and did a quick check of the hallway. No one was in sight. She sighed in relief. She turned around to go sit back down, when her eyes were covered. She yelped and froze, her breath coming out in a frightened gasp.
“Miguel!” she growled and then gave an indignant snort when he removed his hands. She turned and glared. “That wasn’t funny. You scared me!”
“Shh, Milady!” He gave her a conspiratory wink and pulled a key out of his pocket. He gestured for her to follow him down the hall.
Laylah hesitated, Yon’s warning ringing in her ears. Dare she follow Miguel? If she did, what would happen to her if Yon found out?
“Please, my Lady? I know you won’t be disappointed,” he cajoled.
She frowned, but stayed silent and followed him down the corridor to a set of double doors. Laylah wondered if she would regret this impulsiveness, but her purring inner voice was urging her to follow her instincts; instincts that told her Miguel was to be trusted.
He unlocked the door and bowed. “This way.”
They stepped outside and Laylah was momentarily blinded by the sun. It was mild outside, not too hot or cold, almost spring-like though they were in the middle of winter. Back home in Invarnash, there would be snow on the ground. She smiled wistfully at that thought.
Miguel took her across a wooden bridge and over to a rather large building. She hadn’t known much about the buildings and lands outside the main house. Yon kept her locked up inside, except for the rare trip into town. The building was made of tinted glass, making it difficult to see in. Once they were at the door to the building, she realized it was a greenhouse.
Miguel pushed the door open and ushered her inside. It felt like she had entered another universe. She peered about, astounded by the myriad of colors, plants and foliage that surrounded them.
“Miguel, it’s so…so beautiful.”
He smiled at her and she blushed. She probably sounded like a babbling teenager, but words were failing her. Too many emotions were vying for dominance. She opted to just enjoy the view.
“Pretty isn’t it? C’mon, I want to show you something.”
Eagerly she followed after him, breathing in the scents of the various flowers. She felt all her problems melting away as she relaxed and enjoyed the moment. There were no expectations here. No pain. No negativity. Only peace.
He led her to the middle of the building and she saw a newly tended flower bed. Beside it sat a carton of flowers and gardening tools.
She turned to Miguel. “What did you want to show me besides the flowers?”
He grinned. “Sit. C’mon sit down, my Lady.”
Wary of his intentions, she sat, keeping an eye on his every move.
“Here,” he shoved a tool in her hand.
“Um, what is this?”
“It’s called a spade. And, what you’re going to be doing, my dear Lady, is helping me plant flowers.”
“I am?” Had she misheard him?
“Yes, trust me. You’ll like it. It’s very…therapeutic.”
A twinge of worry hit her. She probably should get back to the house before she was missed. But she was loath to leave such a serene place.
“This is how you use a spade.”
His words jolted her and she focused on the present and the task he was giving her.
Miguel had her kneel first and then moved behind her. He reached around her and she tensed.
“It’s okay, Laylah.” His voice was low in her ear.
Miguel’s informality flustered her and she couldn’t relax. It wasn’t only that, but the way they were positioned.
That was how Yon…her mind skittered away from that thought. It wasn’t Yon behind her. It was Miguel who wasn’t trying to hurt her. In fact, he hadn’t even touched her.
“I’m okay,” she gasped. She didn’t know who she was trying to reassure. Her heart was beating a rhythm too fast for her chest to contain.
“My Lady, I’m not going to hurt you. Look, this is how you use the spade.”
He took his right hand and covered hers, keeping the grip loose. Stretching her arm forward, they put the spade in the dirt and dug into it. Laylah forgot about his nearness as she watched the hole that formed.
“That’s all there is to it?”
“Yes. See, simple.”
“Oh! I can do this.”
He moved back a little, giving her space.
“I know you’ll do just fine. You’re a quick learner, my Lady.”
Laylah didn’t know why, but a blush stole across her face. She was pleased by his praise. She wasn’t often given any and his sincerity moved her.
It wasn’t until Miguel went to get one of that plants, that she realized she was no longer tense. Miguel wasn’t threatening like Yon or her father. In some ways, he reminded her of Donil. She felt tears sting her eyes and fought them back. Donil was lost to her as was the rest of her old life. The life she led now was different and she had to accept it.
Miguel returned with a flowerpot. He upended the pot and held the plant in his hand.
“Milady, see this? These are the roots of the plant. You want to put them into the dirt, cover them, and make sure that the roots aren’t showing. Remember to pat the dirt into place. Are you ready?”
“Yes, I’m ready.” She took the plant from him and did as he instructed, making sure to pat the dirt into place. “These are beautiful flowers. What are they?”
“I like the red color. It is very vivid.”
Miguel chuckled. “Red is pretty. I have other colors including pink, yellow, and purple. Some places even have black ones.”
“Black roses? Why would anyone want that color?”
“The color symbolizes many things to many people. I don’t grow black ones but I like the color. They make a nice contrast to the white ones.”
She took it all in, fascinated by his knowledge. Miguel was easy to talk to, like Britta, and she craved the attention and friendship he was extending to her.
“So, my Lady, shall we continue?”
“Yes, of course!”
They settled into an easy pace with her digging the holes and Miguel planting the flowers and covering them up. She watered them and they moved on to the next one.
Engrossed in the planting, time passed swiftly. Laylah didn’t even notice, she was having that much fun. Not only did they plant roses but lilacs too. All the flowers were stunningly beautiful. Miguel eventually called a break.
“You need to take a rest, Laylah. I also need to tend to your hand.”
She glanced down and frowned. “I didn’t even know I was hurt.”
“I know they are minor cuts, but they still should be treated to prevent infection. They are from the thorns on the roses.”
“Why does such a beautiful flower have thorns?”
“To protect itself.”
“Protect itself? From what?”
“Well, from other creatures that may break it. I like to think of it as punishment for those that desire its beauty. They just have to have it, but must get hurt in order to obtain it.”
She laughed. “That was rather deep. Not that I understood everything you said, but it sounded profound.”
Miguel only shook his head. “It’s all right. One day you will. Here, drink.”
He handed her a water bottle. Grateful for it she gulped it down, wiping away some sweat that rolled down her face.
“Now, that we have those flowers done, would you like to help me with some fruits and vegetables?”
“You do those, too?”
“Yes, I do a lot. Not just flowers for decoration, but also the food we eat on the table. I grow many things you can find in the market, but it’s more fun to do the work yourself. Watching them mature and enjoying the fruits of one’s labor. That’s what life is all about.”
Laylah wasn’t so sure about that, but his passion for gardening was contagious.
“Give me a second to get more tools. We’ll move to the other side of the greenhouse and plant there.”
He hurried away and she obediently stayed in her spot, studying the roses in front of her. Her gaze went to the thorns and she pondered his earlier words. When Miguel had talked about the roses, it was as if he were trying to tell her something.
“Here we go. This is a rake and this is the fertilizer we have to use. Shall we go?” He held out his arm.
Laylah rose, hooked her arm through his and let him lead her along the marble path toward the veggie and fruit patch.
“You are a very interesting person, Miguel.”
He smirked. “Thank you. Here we are.”
They got down to the business of planting the seeds. The silence was companionable and she enjoyed it. Laylah was glad to have made another friend.
“Do you agree with me that this is therapeutic?”
She chuckled. “Yes, you’re right. I do feel better. Thanks, Miguel.”
“My pleasure. I’ve got a shoulder to lean on and an ear for listening if you ever need them.”
“I’ll remember that. Miguel,” she paused, struggled with what she wanted to ask. She didn’t want to upset him but she was curious about him. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure.” He took a swig from his water bottle, giving her his full attention.
“You’re really smart. You could do anything. Why gardening?”
“I like to watch life.” He smiled gently at her confused expression. “What I should say, is that living things fascinate me. I know that plants can’t think in terms we understand but watching them struggle and still survive, always gives me hope and faith in my own dreams.”
She gaped, unable to come up with anything else to say. Really, what more could she add or even ask after that explanation? She dropped her head. She reached up and tugged nervously on her braid. Her hair had grown long in the months since her haircut at the mall. It was almost back to the length it had been when she was in school.
After a moment, he broke the silence. “We only have three rows left. Shall we continue?”
“Yes!” she eagerly took the out he offered. They went back to work and she lost herself in the rhythm of planting.
“Hmm,” she grunted, not stopping to see what he wanted, intent on getting the seeds in their respective spots.
“Laylah, can you please turn around and look at me?”
Her head snapped up and she blushed. “Oh! Sorry!”
He stared at her for a long moment and she fidgeted.
He leaned forward, putting him within inches of her. “Forgive me, my Lady.”
“Yes, for this.”
It was the only warning she had. She blinked and he was there, cupping her face in his hands. His lips descended, capturing hers in a kiss. She stiffened, shocked at his nearness and the invasion of his tongue in her mouth. She panicked and started to struggle, but froze when he gentled the kiss.
She’d never thought a person’s lips could say so much, but his was speaking volumes. She wasn’t sure she was ready to listen. She jerked back and peered into his dark brown eyes. They were stormy and she glanced away, confused by his actions and her reaction to his kiss.
The kiss wasn’t horrible and it hadn’t hurt. It had made her heart race a little, she admitted to herself. Yon’s kiss didn’t make her feel this way. His kisses hurt and were used to punish. She instantly felt shame. She was in love with Donil. She shouldn’t be getting stirred up by another man’s kiss.
“Laylah, will you please look at me?”
Miguel sounded contrite, but she wasn’t quite ready to glance into those probing dark brown eyes. His finger caressed her cheek and her head flew up. She was captured by his gaze.
“Shh.” he placed his finger on her lips. “I couldn’t resist. You are an amazing woman, Laylah. I just wanted you to know that. I had to show you. I don’t expect anything from you right now. Just think about it.” He moved his finger and scooted back, giving her space.
She felt bereft and even more lost. She needed to get away and be alone. Her hands strayed to her lips. Laylah felt dirt on her lips and dropped her hands. That didn’t bother her. She regarded Miguel in silence, unable to say anything as her thoughts scattered.