Teaser scenes for Sanguine – Sentinels of Eden #2
Does not contain spoilers (but probably won’t mean much to people who haven’t read Songlines)
Here is the Instafreebie link if you prefer to download it as an ebook: https://www.instafreebie.com/free/C7M5q
Sanguine – Teaser Scenes
Melanie felt angry and perhaps, for once, she had a right to be. Perhaps it was time she allowed it to show. So she began to stomp around the flat, gathering all the little items that she’d left behind as a subtle hint. She threw them into her oversized handbag while Bane watched from the couch. She had tried. God knows she had tried, but she just couldn’t get through to him. As he wordlessly handed her the magazine she’d left on the coffee table, she tried to decipher what he was feeling. He looked resigned. Or was that relief? Melanie threw the magazine into her bag so violently that the cover tore in half.
How easily she had been charmed that first night at the pub, his army uniform looking so out of place at the smoke-hazed gig. Captivating her with his serious smile – not to mention those luminous grey eyes – he’d confided in her about how lonely he was. That honest need had drawn her in until she’d come to realise that he was still just as lonely with her around. Something about him was…unreachable. At first she’d thought it was sweet, the way he flirted and yet never pushed for any kind of physical intimacy. It was as if he honestly wanted to become friends first, which was an uplifting change after her recent string of relationships that were all about self-gratification on both sides. And he had been a perfect boyfriend. Not too clingy, and always attentive. He’d taken her to nice restaurants with live jazz and sweet Burmese tea, he’d bought her little gifts that proved how well he’d paid attention to the things she said and liked – still, something was never quite right. It had taken her far too long to finally pick up on the problem. He had her in a holding pattern. Like an unfriendly ally in a war game. He was working hard at retaining good diplomatic relations but was defending his territory with an unspoken warning. She was only allowed to get so close to him without triggering his hidden defences. Snipers so cunning that it wasn’t until hours later that she’d realise she’d been hit. When she’d suggested going away for the weekend, he’d bought tickets for the theatre instead. When she’d asked him what it was like to grow up in a country town, he’d spent ten minutes expounding on all the wonderful things the city had, that he’d had to grow up without – and had neatly managed to avoid revealing anything personal at all. When she’d hinted that one day she’d love to live by the sea, he’d suggested she should invest in shares for a while to build up some equity. Adorably clueless? She was no longer fooled. His shots were designed to push her away without hurting her feelings. Still, she had the patience to get around his reluctance to commit, but the problem extended a bit further than that. In the four months they’d been together, not once had they kissed without her initiating it. Sure, she respected his Christian values and all that, but if he’d at least shown that he was even slightly tempted, she might have believed they had a future. Was it her? She prudently dismissed that as unlikely. None of her previous partners had seemed to have any reluctance when it came to physical intimacy. Perhaps he needed to re-evaluate his sexual orientation. Or perhaps there really was another woman, despite his assurances to the contrary.
Melanie zipped up her daffodil-coloured tote and headed for the door. She paused with her hand on the frame and turned for one last look at the enigmatic man she’d been prepared to give everything to. He smiled back with an emptiness that she couldn’t fill. There it was, in his eyes. That subtle hint of deep sadness that he refused to admit to. That denial was why they had no future. He had a good heart. It wasn’t enough.
As she walked out, she didn’t need to look back to know that he was pulling out the fine gold bracelet that he always kept in his right pocket.
‘I’m telling you, Bane’s being wasted in the Reserves. He could go a long way with the Military Police. Why won’t he apply to the Academy? Can’t you talk to him again?’
‘What exactly would you have me say this time?’ Staff Sergeant Tolman asked, fiddling with his pen.
The Major had been trying to line up this meeting for weeks, and so although the Staff Sergeant wasn’t being particularly forthcoming with helpful suggestions, he was determined to get something useful out of it.
‘Tell him if he joins full-time army he has a good chance of becoming a Close Personal Protection Officer. I know he was eager to apply for that area when he first started,’ the Major suggested. ‘Tell him I’ll give him my personal recommendation.’
‘I can try, but I think it’s a waste of time. Bane is passionate about his training, and yet every time I suggest enrolling at the Defence Academy he backs away. As far as I can tell he has no other career plans, but he won’t commit to long term service.’
‘Commit? He is the most committed recruit I’ve come across in years! He’s done everything that’s been asked of him and still requests more. He spent all his annual leave from his paid job volunteering to build schools in Tanzania for heaven’s sake.’
‘Well maybe he’s not cut out for a combat career? Maybe he’ll be more tempted if we guide him towards leading more of the aid projects?’
The Major frowned. Soldiers suited for aid work were easy to come by. What they needed were more people that weren’t afraid to get the fighting done. There were plenty of those too, just not of Bane’s calibre.
He placed his palms on the desk in front of him and looked the Staff Sergeant in the eye. ‘Have you seen him in action? Have you seen his knife skills? If you had, you wouldn’t be talking about aid projects.’
The young soldier had become a bit of a local legend with a blade. He’d taken up that area of training as if it was his ultimate goal in life to master the art. The seasoned commissioned officers had been lining up to try to challenge him. Now he was beating them all. No one was even bothering to bet against him anymore, much to the Major’s disappointment. Not that he could indulge in the betting himself, of course, but he’d enjoyed the nice bottle of Scotch that Sergeant McCartney had generously gifted him with for no reason at all after Bane’s spar with Captain Hughes.
‘I’ve seen him,’ Staff Sergeant Tolman nodded. ‘I’ll talk to him again.’
Music that was full of the soothing energy of the autumn sun echoed throughout the Garden. Everyone played or sang. I was learning to play a flute-like instrument and was slowly improving. The others were very patient with ‘Shaky Tune Lainie’, considering they’d all been practising for centuries. All of them indulged me like a child learning the recorder, except they never tried to find any lame excuses not to listen. My dancing was a bit better. I was no longer in the least bit worried about how I looked in front of others, which made it much more fun than ever before. I spun and skipped and twirled and laughed, even throwing in some gymnastics my new family had taught me. I wasn’t quite as daring as they were though, because I couldn’t afford to get seriously injured. The few times I had hurt myself I’d needed solitude to recover so I wouldn’t be pestered by people offering me Fruit. They always got so confused whenever I refused to eat.
When the music twisted into an even more rollicking tune, I joined in one of the more organised dances. This one had steps I had learnt. It was extremely complicated which was what made it so much fun. We swapped partners every couple of minutes and sometimes someone would think of a new sequence and we would all madly try to learn it, laughing at ourselves when we got it wrong. As Dallmin swung me around I noticed someone new out of the corner of my eye. He had light hair and pale skin which was a little unusual for this valley, although not unheard of. Remembering what Annie had said about someone new arriving, I tried to feel if he had some sort of an aura that I could perceive with my cool preternatural Cherub-detector. All I had to do was focus on his vibe while keeping up with the slide-step-and-spin tempo shift while changing my grip from my dance partner’s shoulder to his elbow… Luckily Dallmin caught me before I hit the floor.
The newcomer was not the person I’d been sensing, but I was still curious. He was watching me with sparkling blue eyes as he tried to learn the steps. Although quick on his feet, he wasn’t just trying to learn the newest variation but the whole sequence at once. I giggled as he spun the wrong way, colliding with us in a predictable misstep. Both Dallmin and I gripped the stranger’s elbows and guided him out of further harm’s way by moving him along with the fast-paced flow of dancers. Dallmin placed my hands around the man’s waist and then demonstrated the steps for him again. The visitor looked pleased with himself when he got it right in the next progression. Dallmin nodded and then grabbed hold of Annie’s hand as she swung past us, and she spun into his arms with a laugh. I danced with the stranger through another sequence but when it came time to swap partners again the guy didn’t let me go. We stopped dancing and I blinked at him. He kissed the inside of my wrist in a formal greeting, and then led me from the dance floor. Curious, I followed him out. I liked meeting new people.
Heading away from all the noise, the stranger took me up to the top of a grassy hill where we sat and looked up at the stars.
‘Pallano,’ he said in a sweet husky voice, hand to his chest.
‘Lainie,’ I replied, still puffing from all the dancing.
Narrow path? he signed.
I looked at him in confusion.
‘Lainie,’ he repeated. Narrow path.
I had no idea my name meant anything, but ‘narrow path’ seemed appropriate for the way my life had funnelled me towards my destiny. It made me smile.
‘Pallano?’ I asked boldly, drawing my knees up.
It means ‘new moon’, he signed, pointing to the moon. It wasn’t new. It was almost full. Again I wondered how much time had passed since I had come here.
Still catching my breath, I lay back and stared at the stars. They looked the same as they did in Nalong. All the familiar constellations waved at me happily. I guessed that meant we were still on Earth, or some alternate version of it, anyway.
You dance well, Pallano said with an adorable smile, watching me with an open expression as I pretended to watch the sky.
Thank you. It’s fun. Would you like to go back and dance some more? I could teach you, I signed.
He shook his head. I would like to talk to you some more.
Propping myself up on one elbow, I tilted my head at him and waited for him to speak first.
You were not here the last time I visited this valley. Are you a new child or did you come from far away? he asked.
It was a common question. For people who lived for such a long time it was unusual to meet someone new unless they travelled very far.
Both, I guess. Sort of. How was I supposed to explain? I didn’t try. I haven’t been here for long, I replied. I had learnt early on that even Annie was still considered a fresh new arrival, despite well over a decade of residence. My short time here was nothing. Has it been a long time since you were here last? I asked.
Not really. I travel a lot. I follow the moon shadows.
Moonshadow? Like the Cat Stevens song? A giggle escaped my lips as I had a sudden vision of him dressed in hippie clothes. Maybe I could tie-dye something for him. Composing myself quickly, I had to ask. What are moon shadows?
With a gigantic grin he lay back and pointed at the moon again. That is a moon shadow. Watch closely, it is beginning.
I mentally kicked myself for being so slow as I stared up in wonder. The moon wasn’t almost full, as I had first thought – it was completely full, except for the shadow that had been creeping over its surface as we talked. Pallano had come outside to view a lunar eclipse, and his timing was impeccable.
Sometimes this world casts a shadow on the moon, and I think it is beautiful. This valley is one of the best places to see them, so I watch many of them from here, he continued, before crossing his fingers behind his head.
How did you know it would happen tonight? I asked, astonished. The calculations for predicting eclipses were seriously complex, as far as I knew.
Pallano shrugged. There is a rhythm to them. Not difficult to work out. You just need to pay attention for a few decades and you will soon see the pattern. In forty five more season cycles the glow-star will visit again, and in just two hundred and four more cycles the sun will be completely shadowed. I will return here for that one I think.
Oh. Right. Long lives. Still not used to it.
He turned to me with a cheeky smile. When you watch the sun shadow, hold some Fruit. Last time I watched, my eyes burned and I ran straight into a Tree trying to find some. It was pretty funny.
When I watch. In 204 years’ time. The next total solar eclipse. Oh boy.
For a long time we just lay there as the moon slowly deepened to a slight reddish glow. I had read once that the dustier the Earth’s atmosphere was, the deeper red the moon would appear, and that a volcanic eruption prior to an eclipse would make it redder. Were there any volcanoes on this side of the Boundary? Or did the volcanoes on the other side still affect the moon we were seeing now? What would happen if the people here ever discovered space flight? Would they pass through some Boundary in the sky and not be able to return? And why did my brain always wander off on these weird tangents?
Pallano was leaning on his elbow watching me, not the moon, and I started to feel strange. Not uncomfortable, exactly, just unsure of what to do. I never questioned the motivations of anyone in Eden. Everyone here was completely trustworthy, but something was making me…nervous?
With a twitch of a smile he picked up a lock of my untidy hair and tucked it behind my ear. His touch came with a sudden flashback of Bane doing the exact same thing, and I sat up so rapidly that I nearly knocked him out with my elbow. Pallano looked amused, probably wondering what new game I was about to suggest. My heart was beating a million miles an hour. He smiled again, showing his dimples, and I stared back in confusion. He would be fun to learn about. Why was I so uneasy? I didn’t enjoy feeling like this. It was messy. So I stood up and left him alone on the hill and ran towards my sleeping tree. With a last glance back, I saw him watching me. His expression was wistful, but not hurt.
Sanguine – Sentinels of Eden Book 2
Coming April 12 2017
Pre-order now via Odyssey Books