Tag Archives: grotesque

It’s Alive!

A few weeks back I met with my agent and her interns to discuss my book, Grotesque.  One of those interns told me that the manuscript reminded her of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and suggested I read it for inspiration.

So I did.

Boy, let me tell you, I was way off base about how this book was going to play out.  Turns out the various movies about Frankenstein and his monster may have exaggerated certain details.  As a result, this was what I thought the plot of Frankenstein was:

Wrong-Frankenstein

And here I thought Mel Brooks’ interpretation of the classic tale was super accurate!  (If you haven’t seen Young Frankenstein, you’re missing out).  But no.  As it turns out, the plot of Frankenstein actually goes something like this:

Frankenstein

That being said, what did I think of the book?  Well, it definitely resonated with me.  The subject matter Shelley touches upon is exactly what I want to do with Grotesque.  In a slightly different way.  I mean, my book has just a little bit more action, for starters.  Plus, a happier ending (spoiler alert).  But the themes are all there – loneliness, playing God, desperation for approval and acceptance, the juxtaposition of a humane(ish) monster and monstrous humanity.  It was a really interesting and inspiring read, and I have to thank the intern who recommended it to me.

Shelley also has a way with words.  I particularly enjoyed this sentence:

“I never beheld any thing so utterly destroyed.”

It’s beautiful, isn’t it?  I can’t begin to describe the impact those words had on me, especially within the context of the book.  They are perfect in their simplicity, yet they say so much more than you’d expect.  “Utterly destroyed.”  It’s almost foreshadowing, too.  The way so many lives are so utterly destroyed over the course of the book, including those of the creator and the created.

I also underlined a couple vocabulary words I love.  “Indefatigable” and “Purloined.”  Those are great words, aren’t they?  The former means “incapable of being tired out,” and the latter basically means “stole” or “pilfered.”

I’ll wrap up with a line I marked that pretty much sums up everything I want to encapsulate with the character of my Grotesque.  It was spoken by Frankenstein’s monster.

“Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.”

Such beautiful words coming from such a horrid creature.  Shelley really could use words as an art form in a way that I can only hope to accidentally achieve from time to time.

Now all that’s left is to take what I have learned from this book and apply it to my newest rewrite of Grotesque.

Wish me luck!

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Grotesque Success

Phew!  After many grueling days of procrastinating, I finally managed to:

  • Rewrite the first half of Grotesque.
  • Edit the second half of Grotesque to accommodate the rewrites.
  • Reread Grotesque twice in order to edit, proofread, and check for continuity errors.

It’s finally done.  And I am so much happier with the result than I thought I’d be.  It’s honestly very difficult to write a book without rereading at all until you’re done, because the whole time you’re writing, you’re thinking…

Book Ruiner

My fears were assuaged after my first read-through of the completed draft.  I’m not exactly going to post a compare-and-contrast look at the old manuscript and the new one, but here’s a list of problems I addressed:

  • Historical inaccuracies
  • Forensic inaccuracies
  • Pacing problems
  • Repetitive/formulaic plot
  • Unresolved subplots
  • Underdeveloped characters (namely the villain and love interest)
  • Unbelievable scenarios (Grotesque waking up with instant knowledge of the world around him, ability to walk, talk, eat, etc.)
  • Other things as well, probably.

What I want to talk about in this post is the method I used to bring the changes I wanted to see into fruition.  My friend Evelyn taught me a method of outlining called “story beats.”  It’s my kind of outlining because you literally just write a numbered list of things that are going to happen in the book, in the order that they happen.  You can use casual language, and you can write out details that will help you to write the book, even if those details are never explicitly stated in the manuscript.

I’d like to provide an example from the story beats I wrote out for Grotesque, so what you’re going to see is two story beats (written in block quotes so you can identify them easily) and then the corresponding section of book.  It’s amazing how much you can get out of just one paragraph of quick description of a scene.  The text of the book sample is going to be in italics because this part of the book happens to be in all italics.

2. Bastien returns home after a long day, ignores his parents as he goes straight to his room. He opens and closes the door very quickly. His room is strewn with books, and there is a large shelf stocked with potion ingredients. A small toy knight is sitting on his bed waiting for him. When it sees him, it jumps up and down, making tiny clanking noises. Bastien urges it to hush and calm down. His parents can’t hear what he has done because it was illegal.

3. Flashback: Bastien remembers going before the council. He has been researching the art of creating life for years, and he believes he can master it. He believes that with the right technique, certain objects could be made to understand and carry out tasks, maybe even help fight should another war begin. Some of Bastien’s cold ruthlessness begins to shine through as he talks. The Council is outraged by his speech and they tell him if he ever attempts anything like that, he will be banished or jailed or something.

That job had taken much longer than he had hoped. The moon and stars were shining brightly from the inky black sky as he walked home.

“Sweetheart, you’re back late,” his mother said as he pushed his way through the front door.

Bastien didn’t even glance her way as he headed to his room. He slipped inside as quickly as possible, shutting the door firmly behind him.

Little Lance was sitting on the bed, his tiny metal feet dangling over the edge of the mattress. He jumped up when he saw Bastien, ran over to him, bounced excitedly. Bastien tried to shush him. Little Lance was small – his head barely made it to Bastien’s shin – but his every movement resulted in metallic clanking that was loud enough to draw suspicion.

“Hush now,” Bastien said, patting the knight’s tiny helmet to calm him. “We can’t let Mother and Father hear you. Why don’t we do some quiet reading?”

The knight nodded its head excitedly, its miniscule visor flapping up and down with the movement. Bastien lifted him up and put him on the desk. The knight used his miniature lance – for which he’d been named – to help him balance as he crossed his legs and sat down. Bastien took off his robe and hung it by the door. He looked at the gold bands on the sleeves and the crown that was embroidered onto the right shoulder. A symbol of his rank. He was one of the most important crafters on the council. But it didn’t matter. It hadn’t mattered at all in the end. When he’d gone to them, asked them to listen to him.

♦     ♦     ♦     ♦     ♦

“Manus knew it, too,” Bastien had said, referring to the man who had trained him in this trade. “We are taking on too much responsibility, Head Councilman. Many people here work the jobs of three men. I have been studying this subject for years. I can do it. Think of the possibilities!”

“That is enough, Councilman Garrison,” said Head Councilman Stefan Wiel. “Just saying these things out loud borders on illegal. You have been honored with the position of Royal Healer. Your lack of gratitude is disgraceful.”

“Why should I be grateful for a job that was forced on me?” Bastien demanded.

Stefan’s eyes had gone cold. “You will do a job that is worthy of the crown on your shoulder, or you’ll be stripped of your title and your council status. We will leave you with nothing. Do I make myself clear?”

♦     ♦     ♦     ♦     ♦

Bastien let the memory fade as he reached out and ran his hands over the robe that had been made just for him when he was inducted into the council.

“I don’t know how much longer I can do this,” he said, turning to Little Lance.

The knight cocked his head at him. Bastien sighed and shook his head.

“You wouldn’t understand. Don’t worry about it.”

[End book passage]

There you have it.  Hopefully you were able to see the difference between a story beat and the polished writing that comes out of it.  I highly recommend this method because it helps to prevent writer’s block before it even happens.  You set up the entire plot ahead of time, and it’s much easier to edit and tweak the story because instead of changing an entire book you’re just deleting/editing/moving a bullet point.  Over all, this method makes it much easier to put words to paper.  I am going to use it from now on.  That’s right.  I’m finally going to start outlining.  Hell probably just froze over.

That’s all!  I’ll write again soon.

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Filed under art, books, Humor, writing

Dusting off the Cobwebs

Hello again.

It’s been months since my last entry, hasn’t it?  I checked and my last thing was that flowchart in April.  Jeez.  Where have I been?  What have I been doing?  Surely whatever was keeping me occupied was important, otherwise I would have been updating this blog regularly.

Easy Chair

Uhhh…

I wrote an 80,000 word romance novel in three weeks and submitted it to Harlequin?

They haven’t written back.  I don’t think they’re gonna.  But the status on their website still says “In Progress” whatever that means.  I didn’t really have high hopes for it.  It was just a side project that was fun to write.

Let’s see, what else?

A serendipitous event led me to meeting a woman by the name of Evelyn Gabai.  You probably haven’t heard of her, but I guarantee you’ve heard of some of the cartoon shows she’s worked on.  I was talking to her on the phone about a completely different project when I happened to mention Grotesque. I said something like, “It’s based on this really old show I used to watch called Gargoyles” and her reply was something along the lines of, “Oh, how funny!  I was part of the team that developed that show for Disney.”

At this point Bex transformed into the spazziest fangirl who ever existed.  I full out thirteen-year-old-girl-seeing-Rob-Pattisoned this woman.  After a lot of stuttering and squeaking, I asked if I could write about her on my blog.  She agreed, bless her, so now I get to tell the whole world (or the ten people who read this) that I met someone who worked on the show that inspired Grotesque!  It was absolutely amazing, and she is a fantastic person.  So knowledgeable about the animation business and the process of story writing.  I learned so much from her and it was such a stroke of good luck that I met her.

Naturally I sent her Grotesque so she could read it.  It’s still not polished or edited yet, but I’m sure she’ll get the idea.  And hopefully she’ll be able to confirm that Disney won’t sue me for any similarities they might notice.  Which I have to admit are very few and far between.  Disney doesn’t have a monopoly on inanimate objects coming to life or things turning to stone, though perhaps they’d like to.

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve been working on lots of little side projects, but haven’t been doing anything that merits sharing at the moment.  However, because I’m a generous soul, you can read the first chapter of my super steamy romance novel, Demon Heart, right now!  And before you start laughing at me and my cheesy book, remember: It’s a romance novel.  It’s supposed to come with an extra side of cheese.

Enjoy!

One

“I’m not looking for anything in particular. Just maybe a copper chain with turquoise stones? On the shorter side, but not a choker. Nothing too flashy. I need it for a wedding.”

Naomi nodded along with what the young woman was saying, trying to maintain her smile.

“Maybe something from my newest collection?” she offered, steering the young blonde over to a display by the register. “I use a lot of different stones and metals in these necklaces, and they’re very delicate. Not overbearing or flashy at all.”

The girl looked them over, taking her time to try on each one as she inspected herself in the mirror from all sides. Naomi glanced at the clock. She had just opened up shop, so Farrah wouldn’t be arriving to start her shift for another hour.

“Which do you like better?” the young customer asked, drawing Naomi’s attention once more.

She held up two necklaces that were nearly identical except for the number of stones. Naomi never made exact duplicates, but this style of necklace had been selling well so she’d been sure to make a set of similar ones. It seemed her instincts had been right.

“Hmm…” she mused, pretending to mull over the decision. “The one on the right has more potential, I think.”

That sounded like something Farrah would say. Naomi couldn’t believe that a teenager who was approximately seven years younger than her would have taught her so much about sales.

“How much?” the girl asked, looking at the tiny white tag. “Forty-five? Oh, I don’t know…”

“There are some earrings over on the other display here that I can give you for half price if you buy them with the necklace.”

“Oh! Let me see.”

It didn’t take long for the girl to select a pair – chandelier, brass and turquoise, two and a half inches long – and take the jewelry to the register.

Finally, something Naomi was good at. She happily rung the girl up and made sure to wrap her purchases in tissue paper so they wouldn’t be damaged.

“Enjoy the wedding!” she said, trying for cheeriness but coming off a little too manic.

“As if,” the girl said. “This is the third one.”

She left without offering any further details, and Naomi breathed a sigh of relief. Just forty-seven more minutes until Farrah arrived.

With no other customers in the shop, Naomi returned to doing inventory, which the early shopper had interrupted. She settled back into her usual rhythm, embracing the cold comfort of numbers and percentages while the shop’s ambient music wafted around her.

She didn’t look up from what she was doing until the shop bell trilled again.

“Welcome to Sarla’s,” she said without looking up.

“It’s just me,” Farrah said.

Naomi glanced up at her, shocked. “Is it ten already?”

“Yeah. You been crunching the numbers again?”

“Oh…yeah. It’s that time of the month. I mean…not…not that time of the month.”

Farrah laughed as she hung her coat on the rack by the door.

“I love you. You are so crazy.”

“That’s me,” Naomi mumbled.

The younger girl pulled her wavy chestnut hair into a ponytail. Even pulled back, her hair hung well past her shoulders. Naomi envied the girl. Her brown hair was rich and thick. She also had the ability to tan in sunlight, rather than burning. And her hazel eyes changed color in certain lighting.

Meanwhile, Naomi had to deal with deathly pale skin and stick straight red hair. Her eyes were a boring shade of brown, too. Nothing spectacular there. At least she had a slender nose and nice lips, in her own opinion, but Farrah’s overall look was much more enticing.

“I thought Sarla had the morning shift today,” Farrah said conversationally.

“She called me last night. Her son has the flu and she doesn’t want to leave him alone.”

“Oh, wow. So are you working a double?”

“Yep.”

“Jeez. On a Friday, too.”

“It’s alright. I would’ve been closing tonight either way. It’s not like I had plans.”

“Maybe you should start making some plans.”

“My social life is none of your concern.”

Farrah pressed her lips together and nodded. Naomi felt her stomach clench with guilt. She hadn’t meant to snap at the girl. If it weren’t for her, Naomi and Sarla wouldn’t have been able to keep the shop running.

Farrah had come in to browse a couple weeks after Naomi and Sarla had opened the shop. They hadn’t been looking to hire help at the time, but Farrah managed to sell one of Sarla’s handmade gowns and a matching bracelet – made by Naomi – to a fellow customer. After conferring in the back room, the two women had decided to offer the girl a job. She had readily accepted, and they had worked with her to create a schedule that wouldn’t interfere with Farrah’s classes.

That had been a little over a year ago.

The shop’s success had floored Naomi. She couldn’t believe that only a few years ago she was renting a kiosk in the mall, peddling her homemade jewelry to random passers-by.

She had thought Sarla was just another customer, there to browse but not buy. But Sarla had something else in mind.

“You do well here?” she asked, her words lilting from her Indian accent.

“I make enough to get by,” Naomi said carefully.

“You could do better. You make all this yourself, yes?”

“Uh-huh. I converted one of the bedrooms in my apartment into a workshop.”

“I do the same. With clothes. I’ve been thinking of opening a boutique, but that is too much for one woman to handle, don’t you think? Have you ever considered opening a shop?”

“Uh…uh no,” was Naomi’s flabbergasted reply.

“When do you get off?” Sarla had asked. “Let me buy you dinner and we can talk. But first I will buy these bangles. They are lovely.”

Sarla purchased the bracelets and handed Naomi her card, all business.

“Call me when you are done with work. We will talk.”

Naomi had watched the woman flounce away, her new bangles clinking along with her steps. The business card was clutched between her thumb and index finger. She almost crumpled it up and threw it away, but she didn’t.

Later that night, she called Sarla and agreed to meet her for dinner.

In no time at all, they had opened a shop in a strip mall that got a lot of foot traffic. They named it Sarla’s. Naomi’s suggestion. It was all Sarla’s doing that she was even in this position, and she was so grateful. She was able to return the favor by starting a Facebook and Twitter account for the shop, which happened to generate a lot of business. Especially since every one of Sarla’s female family members had liked and shared the Facebook page.

Sarla, unlike Naomi, had a very large and welcoming family.

Naomi had her dad. And he lived in another state.

“How long are you staying today, Farrah?” Naomi asked.

“‘Til three. I have class at four.”

“Okay, that’s good. That means you can watch things while I grab some lunch later.”

“Aren’t you the one who makes up the schedule?” Farrah asked, teasing.

“Your schedule changes every semester. Don’t ask me to memorize it.”

“But you do, don’t you? In a week or two, you’ll know which classes I have better than I do.”

“I just pick up on things.”

“Right.”

Naomi was saved from further conversation by the arrival of a string of customers, which kept Farrah occupied for the next couple hours. She took a break from budget reports and inventory to man the register when it was necessary, but for the most part she sat at her desk and got work done. It was a very productive morning.

Around one in the afternoon, when there was a lull in the rush, she told Farrah she was going to run out to get some lunch. Farrah suggested picking up something to eat for dinner later as well, but Naomi just shrugged. They closed at eight, so she’d pick up a late dinner after locking up.

There was a Panera that was located in the center of the strip mall. It was probably going to be busy from the lunch rush, but Farrah said she was fine if Naomi needed to take a little extra time. It would be her only break in the day, after all.

The line wasn’t too long, thankfully. There were a couple people in front of her, giving her plenty of time to decide what she wanted to get. She had to lean to one side in order to see the menu around the tall guy standing in front of her, but that was a minor inconvenience.

When it was the tall guy’s turn to order, Naomi was close enough to hear that his voice was very deep. It was almost melodic. She wondered if his face was as attractive as his voice, but there was no subtle way to sneak a peek.

Then he was done and moving out of the way. She pushed the thought of his possibly handsome face from her mind. No time for relationships anyway when one is running a business.

She placed her order with the teenager at the register, accepted her receipt, and went to wait off to the side for her food.

While she waited, she pulled out her phone to make sure Farrah hadn’t called. She had a text from Sarla asking if all was well and thanking her again for taking the extra shift, but that was it.

“Those earrings are awesome.”

Naomi jumped and looked up from her phone right into the twinkling gaze of the sexy-voiced man who had preceded her in line. No need for a subtle peek at his features after all.

His skin was a shade darker than tan, and his hair was jet black. It was styled with a little gel so that it spiked upward, but it was cut short enough that it didn’t look too obnoxious. His biceps bulged under his tight blue shirt, and his eyes were a tantalizing shade of green. He was smiling at her, his lips accented by a faint scar.

She had been silent for too long.

“Thank you,” she said. “I made them.”

“I thought you might have. You look like the creative type.”

“And what does that type look like?”

He shrugged. “Unique jewelry. Quiet. Observant. It was pretty much the earrings that tipped me off.”

“Oh. Well…hm.”

She didn’t really have anything else to say. The guy seemed to fill up the room. He was ridiculously handsome, and she kept noticing more scars on his exposed skin. There was also the hint of a tattoo beneath his sleeve. Barbed wire perhaps? And a piece of unique jewelry around his neck.

“Yours, too,” she said, suddenly.

“Mine, too, what?” he asked.

“Sorry. Your necklace. Your necklace is also…um…cool.”

He had a single charm hanging around his neck by a black leather cord. It also looked handmade. Lots of looping metal. It almost looked like a Celtic knot, but something about it was different. It was unlike anything she’d seen before. And it had the added bonus of giving her an excuse to stare at his perfectly sculpted chest.

“Thank you,” he said, smiling like they were sharing a joke.

His buzzer went off then and when he left to grab his food she thought that would be the end of it. But then he returned to her.

“You sell that jewelry anywhere?”

“Oh! Y-yes.”

Naomi bit her lip, not sure if she should divulge the location of her shop. This guy was intimidating, and he seemed way too interested. She knew nothing about him. He could be a rapist or a thief. She doubted he had gotten all those scars from a weekly sewing circle.

He raised his eyebrows, waiting for her to continue. She couldn’t think of a way to avoid telling him that wouldn’t be completely rude.

“Is it an online store or something?” he prompted.

“Ah. No. I’m still working on the website. It’s…uh…it’s actually a shop called Sarla’s. It’s four stores down from here.”

“Oh, cool. I’ve seen that place. Any reason you didn’t want to tell me about it?”

She opened her mouth to respond then closed it again. What could she say? She wished Farrah were here. She could distract him while Naomi ran.

Thankfully her buzzer chose that moment to go off, saving her from responding.

“I have to go,” she said quickly.

She rushed to the counter, snatched her food, and dashed out the door.

When she returned to Sarla’s, she was panting. The few customers in the store eyed her curiously for a moment before returning to their shopping.

“You okay?” Farrah asked as Naomi made her way to the back. “You look like you’re going to be sick.”

“I’m fine,” Naomi said quickly. “Just hungry. You doing alright here?”

“Absolutely one hundred percent alright. Go eat.”

Naomi slumped into her desk chair and took a second to breathe. Something about that guy had rattled her. She wasn’t usually a genius when it came to social interactions, but that one had been especially tough.

Pushing the image of his knowing smile from her mind, she began eating her lunch. She found time between bites to text Sarla back and let her know that everything was going fine.

When she finished eating, she pulled up her webpage designs and tried to get some work done on getting the site up and running. She had learned a lot about computers and coding in college, and she had picked up some books at Barnes & Noble when she needed a refresher.

The steady tinkling of the shop bell soothed her as she sank into her work. Knowing Farrah was able to man the sales duties meant she could worry less about the comings and goings of potential buyers.

In her downtime, she sketched ideas for new pieces. She was working on drawing out an intricate necklace when Farrah burst into the office.

“Naomi!” she practically shouted.

“Ah! What?”

“How? How did I scare you?” Farrah demanded, exasperated. “You saw me come in.”

“You’re just a surprising person, Farrah. What do you need?”

Farrah’s face brightened again as she remembered her reason for the intrusion.

“The hottest guy in the universe just walked in, and he is asking for you! Oh my God when did you meet him? Are you dating? Can we take turns?”

“First of all, um…I don’t even know who you’re talking about. Is it the guy from Panera?”

“Yeah, that’s what he said.”

“Well, no, we’re not dating. I don’t even know his name.”

Farrah squealed. “Does that mean I can have him?”

“Don’t you have a boyfriend?”

“Who Rich? I’d dump him in a second for this guy.”

“I think he’s a little old for you,” Naomi said, stalling. She did not want to have a second confrontation with this man today.

“I turn twenty next month,” Farrah said defensively. “He’s probably only a few years older than me.”

“Right, well…if he’s interested, you’re welcome to him,” she replied, heaving herself out of her chair.

Sure enough, she glimpsed Panera Guy towering over the displays in the front of the store. Steeling herself, she put on what she hoped was a friendly and not-at-all-terrified expression and went to greet him.

“Hi…again,” she said.

“Hey,” he said, smiling like he was meeting up with an old friend. “Sorry to crowd you. I just felt weird about the way we left things. Thought I could come over to apologize and introduce myself.”

“Oh…okay.”

He held out his hand. “My name’s Kai.”

She shook with him, feeling the roughness of his skin. It didn’t shock her. Jewelry making had left its fair share of calluses on her own hands.

“Naomi,” she said.

“Nice to meet you, Naomi. Do you mind if I look around? Not at the dresses, but maybe the jewelry?”

“Sure. All the jewelry is at the back of the store. We have a small collection of rings and necklaces just for men. Farrah can help you if you need anything.”

She gestured to Farrah, who was hovering conspicuously close to them, then beat a hasty retreat to the office.

When she’d first started out, she hadn’t concentrated on making any jewelry for men. She hadn’t thought there would be a market for it, but after the store gained popularity, she started receiving a lot of requests. Men came in shopping for themselves, or women came in insisting that they wanted to find matching sets of jewelry for themselves and their boyfriends. So she had made a point of designing a small, male-oriented collection. It turned out to be a good move. She sold several pieces from the men’s collection every week, and it was easy to keep stocked, as men’s jewelry tended to be simpler.

When Naomi saw the time on her computer, she groaned. It was a quarter past three. Farrah was supposed to have clocked out already. She took a deep, fortifying breath and returned to the sales floor.

The girl in question was drooling over Kai while he inspected one of the ring displays.

“You’re going to be late for class,” Naomi said.

“What?” Farrah asked, distracted. Then she looked at the clock. “Ah, crap. Thanks, Nomi. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Have fun.”

Farrah darted around clocking out, grabbing her stuff, and pulling on her coat. Then she was out the door.

“Nomi?” Kai asked.

For one blessed second, she had forgotten he was still there.

“Nickname,” she replied.

“It’s pretty. I like it.”

He held up a ring – worn silver with an opal set into the center, size ten – and asked, “How much?”

“Thirty-five,” she replied automatically.

“I’ll take it. I like the stone.”

“Opal. Good for protection.”

Naomi’s mouth snapped shut. That was the fifth time this month she’d let that tiny phrase slip out, and she never knew why she said it. She never said anything weird about other stones or gems. Just opals.

“You don’t say?” Kai commented, inviting her to elaborate.

“I really don’t, actually. I have no idea why I said that. You can come up to the register if you’re ready.”

She turned away so he wouldn’t be able to stare at her burning red cheeks any longer and met him at the counter. His fingers brushed hers as he handed the ring to her, and she tried to ignore the tingle that ran up her arm. Her imagination conjured images of his fingers brushing over other parts of her anatomy, parts that had been neglected for quite some time. She frowned slightly as she busied herself with the transaction, trying to push the errant fantasy out of her brain.

He stopped her when she went to put the ring in a jewelry box.

“I’ll wear it out,” he said, reaching out to take it from her.

There was no way to avoid feeling his touch again, the roughness of his skin, the way it made her warm inside.

He slipped the ring onto his right hand and flexed his fingers a couple times, inspecting it.

“It’s perfect,” he said.

Naomi’s eyes traveled over his body once more, trying to memorize every contour, knowing she’d never see him again. Perfect didn’t begin to cover it. Her hand moved to the delicate chain around her throat, and she began twisting it around her fingers. It was a nervous habit. Whenever she touched it, she heard her mother’s voice.

That necklace looks so good on you, dearest. Promise mommy you’ll take good care of it. It’s going to keep you safe.

Kai’s eyes traveled down to her neck and his expression hardened, his brow furrowing.

“What is…where did you get that?” he asked.

“My mother made it for me,” she replied quietly, not liking the intensity of his scrutiny.

Her mother had died when she was eight years old. She had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. A mugger killed her while she was leaving work.

A few months before she died, she had given Naomi that very necklace. It was a simple charm. Two interconnected circles, almost like a Venn diagram, except the circle on the right looked more like the outline of a sun. It had points going all the way around it.

Naomi’s mother had told her the necklace would protect her, that she should wear it all the time. And she had. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d taken it off.

Kai licked his lips, his eyes glued to the simple charm at the base of her throat. It had been a lot longer on her when she was a child. Her mother had made it long on purpose so she’d grow into it. She was always thinking ahead, planning everything out before taking action.

“Thank you for the ring,” Kai said finally. “It was nice meeting you, Nomi.”

“Naomi,” she said quickly, correcting him before she could stop herself.

A shadow of his earlier smile came to his face. “Naomi,” he repeated quietly.

He withdrew from the shop, leaving Naomi wondering what on earth had just happened. She was confused and aroused at the same time, and it was really pissing her off. Her body had no right to react this way. She didn’t even know this man.

After a moment, she shook herself and returned to her work. It was done now. She was never going to see him again, anyway, so it wasn’t worth worrying over.

But the memory of his gentle touch lingered much longer than she would ever admit.

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