Now available, The Fugitive Snare, book 3 of the Adventures of Matt & Michelle. Click the title to view it.
Chris and Jade adjust to their new life as the toast of Aashla.
Chris and I sat through tons of interviews with journalists. We attended two or three receptions each day, all held in our honor. Callan even had us pose for a portrait artist, telling us she wanted to hang the painting in the palace’s main hall. Chris, of course, wore his dress uniform to every occasion, and I thought he looked quite dashing in it, too. I, on the other hand…
I had to wear a different gown to every single reception. The gowns were all lovely and each of them was worth more money than the combined cost of all the clothes I’ve worn throughout my seventeen years of life. I’d never even worn a gown until the day Callan presented the Princess’s Star to me. Yet, here I was, a year later, spending my day having Callan’s ladies-in-waiting dress me, coif my hair, apply makeup, and hurry me out the door and into a waiting carriage. At the parties, Callan took me under her wing, guiding me through meetings with kings and queens, princes and princesses, admirals, generals, powerful merchants, high-ranking clergy, and God only knows who else.
David did the same with Chris—except for all the dressing and coifing and makeup and stuff. The two of them just relaxed and waited while what seemed like half of the female population of Morda buzzed around their newest fashion doll—me. In fairness, the ladies were always friendly, and apologized for putting me through the all of the rigamarole, but I could tell they were having the time of their lives dressing me.
Apparently, dressing Callan—only the most beautiful woman in, I don’t know, the entire history of mankind or something—had become boring to them. Having a new subject to demonstrate their expertise on made them giddy with excitement. For some reason, the ladies were particularly pleased with my blonde hair. They claimed it opened up a lot of color combinations that Callan’s raven tresses—yes, they really said ‘raven tresses’—wouldn’t support. The ladies tried explaining all of it to me and were quite disappointed when my eyes just glazed over.
Taking pity on them, I asked Callan to send for my little sister, Sasha. She might only be seven, but Sasha really has an eye and a mind for fashion. Once she got over her initial shyness, Sasha really got into the spirit of things, asking a lot of questions and, soon, offering her own suggestions. Everyone had a grand time. Well, everyone but me. I just did what I was told to do. But, I got my own special reward when the ladies finally finished with me.
After each change, Callan and some of the ladies preceded me out of the dressing room. Through the ladies’ bobbing heads, I watched David and Chris jump to their feet. David’s eyes always sought out Callan. No surprise, there. But, Chris craned his neck and tried spotting me among the other ladies. Each time I came into view, Chris’s eyes sparkled and he flashed his infectious grin.
“Jade, you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen!”
He said that for every gown, every coiffure, and every makeup job. I mean, Callan—Callan—was always standing right next to me, but he still said it. And, I could tell he meant every word of it. If that’s not proof that love is blind, I don’t know what is! Still, I felt a special warmth inside me every time Chris said it.
That is why I tolerated all of the primping and fussing and the hurrying. For that look, for those words, from my man.
Then, someone always ruined the moment by saying, “Look at the time! We’ve got to hurry if we’re going to be fashionably late to Lord Whosit’s party!”
That broke the spell and my fleeting reward was over. I still had the memories, though, and they helped me smile brightly through every reception. But, as I found out the very first day, I always had one last special moment. It happened after the gowns were returned, the makeup was removed, my hair was let down, and I was wearing my much-missed blouse and trousers. I’d come through the changing room door to find Chris, also changed into less formal clothes, waiting for me.
Every night, he stood, grinned, and said, “Jade, you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen!”
And he meant it just as much then as he’d meant it when I was all done up like a fairytale princess. That’s why, regardless of who was watching, I always gave him a long, loving kiss as his reward for the hours of waiting around he’d done for me. Then, he would escort me home.
All things considered, I thought I was adjusting to our burgeoning fame quite well. But, the thing about being famous is that you begin thinking you understand what it all means to you. I mean, it’s pretty heady when truly important people know your name and show interest in your opinions on worldly matters. But, there’s more to fame than simply flying in rarified air.
After one of our easier days—we’d only had one interview, two receptions, and another couple of hours posing for the artist—Chris and I decided to walk home rather than riding in one of the royal carriages. The sun was low on the horizon, but there were still a couple of hours of sunlight remaining when we left the palace. We had our arms around each other and our heads together, quietly discussing the events of the day, how much we wished it was time to leave for the Scout Academy, and were just enjoying the sunshine on our backs. That’s when we heard hushed whispers nearby.
“Look!” a girl whispered. “It’s them!”
“Are you sure?” a second girl asked, her voice equally low. “They don’t look much like the drawings.”
“Sure, they do,” the first girl argued. “Sorta, anyway. Check out the one on page forty-one.”
“Maybe… If you’re right, the drawings don’t do them justice,” the second girl mused. “He’s a lot cuter in real life and she’s…”
“Beautiful,” the first girl breathed. “Do you think we’ll ever look that good?”
By this time, Chris and I wondered who the girls were talking about. Had we forgotten about an evening reception, forcing David and Callan to come after us? No, they would send a messenger, not come on their own. Wouldn’t they?
I turned toward the voices and saw two girls who looked to be eleven or twelve. They were looking our way, so I followed their gaze. Not seeing anything out of the ordinary, I let my curiosity take over.
Steering Chris toward the two girls, I smiled at them. “Hi! I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. Did Chris and I just miss seeing someone important?”
“See, Miranda, I told you it was them!” the first girl exclaimed.
Whatever the first girl meant by that, her friend, Miranda, wasn’t entirely sold on it. “Chris isn’t an uncommon name, Sally.”
“Fine,” Sally retorted. Looking directly at me, she asked, “Are you Jade Cochran?”
I felt my eyebrows climb almost to my hairline. “Yes.”
Both girls gave high-pitched squeals and began jumping up and down in excitement.
“Chris? What’s happening here?”
Before he could say anything, Sally thrust a book at us. “Would you autograph my book? Pretty please?”
The book was Dancing in the Wind. Our story. Neither of us had even seen a copy, yet, though we knew it was out. Looking up, I asked, “Where did you get this?”
“Are you kidding me?” Miranda asked, thrusting her book into Chris’s hands. “It’s in all the bookshops! Well, until it sells out and they have to print more. Sally and I waited in line for an hour to get our copies!”
“I’ve already read it four times,” Sally added. “It is so romantic!”
Miranda’s head bobbed up and down in enthusiastic agreement. “I just love it when Chris swings on the rope and saves Jade. Um, I mean when he saves you!”
Chris leaned close, as if confiding in the girls. “I loved that part, too. It was the first time I got to put my arm around Jade.”
That set off more squeals and giggles from the two girls. I couldn’t believe how excited they were to meet us, but I recognized their enthusiasm. It’s the same way I felt the first time I met David Rice.
“I loved that part, too,” I added, “and not just because I didn’t die. I have never felt safer than I did when Chris wrapped his arm around me and pulled me close.”
More squeals and giggles erupted from the girls. By this time, their antics began attracting attention. Each time someone looked our way, one of the girls would say, “Look! It’s Chris and Jade! Our first Scouts!”
Before we knew it, the crowd around us grew quite large. Some people even waved copies of Dancing in the Wind, hoping for autographs. Those without books began asking for nearby bookshops. Before we quite knew what was going on, the whole crowd escorted us around the corner to a shop called The Book Nook. The owner, a spry old man named Mr. Hopkins, took full advantage of the opportunity. He sat us at a table inside the store, gave us each a pen, and happily sold every copy of the book he had in stock.
Chris and I signed each one put before us, and tried to spend a little time talking to each person we met. Sally and Miranda appointed themselves keepers of the line, and they did a surprisingly good job keeping everything moving. I don’t know how many books we signed, but my hand was sore long before the last book was sold.
Finally, we took our leave, shaking hands and accepting well wishes from those who didn’t get a book. Mr. Hopkins even summoned a carriage for us and paid for it, himself.
“Thank you, both,” he said as we climbed into the carriage. “Come back anytime!”
Just as the carriage pulled away, I heard Mr. Hopkins tell someone, “They’re a fine young couple, those two. Mark my words, they’ll do all of us proud out there among those galactic folk. Mighty proud, indeed.”
With the hopes of a world riding on their shoulders, will Chris and Jade be overwhelmed by the pressure? Find out more in Chapter 13, coming Monday.