The Rest of the Story

Have you ever fallen so in love with a story it seems you’re right there sharing the adventure? If so then ‘The Regards of Shadows’ might be the book for you!

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. None of the characters, places, or anything else is meant to be represented by anything in reality. Duh! Fiction, get it? I the author reserve the rights, so please don't go posting this anyplace else without my permission. Very special thanks go out to Cathy, who despite not being able to proofread this one for me, took the time to remind me to check for my usual errors.

Dedicated to Catherine Linda Michel and all others who love to read.

The Rest of the Story
By
Grover
11/25/2010

Robert de Lascy, Duke of Ironwood, Protector of the Kingdom, glared at the useless ceremonial guards standing before the richly finished ornate doors. They’d stayed safe cowering within the walls of Londinium while he and his stalwart men faced the Black Necromancer Mortis and fought back his godless undead hordes from the gates.

A low growl came from Robert’s loyal man at arms, Percy, who always stood at his back. Beside him, the Druidess Heather in her green robes held her staff of office. The same that had defeated the evil magic of Mortis and enabled them to win the day, despite the weak willed King whose actions were the catalyst for this entire disaster.

Like curs, the guardsmen slinked away …

***

“Oh come on!” I exclaimed, “It can’t be that easy! You know Neville was behind this. Do you really think he’s just going to give up? Sure those Praetorian wuzzies sure as hell aren’t going to give you and Percy any flack, but what about those assassins he hired? They almost nailed you once before you know.”

A deep rumble from my ample spare tire signaled it was past time to raid the kitchen. Sighing, I slipped my makeshift bookmark between the pages and levered myself off the threadbare couch.

Pickings in the fridge were slim with me being out of work, but I managed to find something that hadn’t turned green or tried to escape yet. Sitting back down plate in hand, I shook my head. Who would’ve thought it? Me, Jerry Reynolds of all people, reading a beefcake romance?

A life long compulsive reader, I usually preferred science fiction or sword and sorcery fantasy. However, being broke the bookstore was out which left only the public library. Living in an ultra-conservative county meant it really didn’t get the good, hard, cutting-edge stuff that was my favored literary addiction.

So browsing the new books I didn’t have much in the range of choices. These days many romance writers had branched out setting their soft porn novels in pseudo urban fantasy environments or even thinly disguised as science fiction. Not really my cup of tea if you know what I mean.

Today was different. I was desperate for a book to escape into. After pounding the pavement in vain trying to find employment, any work at all and coming up with nothing, I was seriously in the dumps.

The only possible opening I’d found was doing phone work. That was out not only because I didn’t much care for those people calling me, but because I have one of those soft tenors those of Celt ancestry have sometimes. Along with my southern accent, I’m frequently mistaken for female on the phone. No thank you, my fragile male ego had already taken enough of a beating with my fiancée dumping me, and losing my job.

Not finding anything deepened my depression, and searching for some solace I hit the library on the way home. Predictably, they didn’t have a damn thing. What was weird was this one book that caught my attention. The moment I saw the cover of ‘The Regard of Shadows,’ I knew it was nothing more than a romance. The half-naked beefcake hero holding an improbably huge sword while a woman swooned against his muscular bare chest said it all.

Closing my eyes in pain at the very thought of reading this, I put it back, but damn it, my eyes kept wandering back to it. Reaching the end of the shelf still empty handed, I knew I was going to hate myself, but like I said I was desperate.

Fortunately for my self-respect this branch had a do it yourself checkout. The thought of someone knowing I was reading tripe like this was mortifying. What was weird was ‘The Regard of Shadows’ didn’t seem to be in the system although the freaking out computer let me check it out.

I just stared at the checkout receipt that listed the book, but lacked a due back date. I almost took the thing to the main desk, but along with the embarrassment with being caught with a book like this, I was seriously not having a good day. The way I was feeling, I’d probably rip though this story pretty fast and have it back by tomorrow anyways.

Dragging myself home, I wasted no time becoming acquainted with Robert, Percy and Heather. As advertised, the Duke of Ironwood was a manly man with of course the required six-pack abs and chiseled physique. Faithful Percy was the man mountain side kick with surprisingly wry humor.

That left Heather the female lead of this drama who was the druidess who had the knowledge and skills to defeat the oncoming crisis. Frankly, while her description painted her as everything a man wanted, I thought she was a bitch and a half. High maintenance didn’t come close to doing her justice.

The kicker was I found myself enjoying the hell out of this. You see there was a wildcard character in the story. Robert kept hearing this mysterious feminine voice that gave him a heads up when bad stuff was on the way as well as making these hilarious comments. It had me wondering if Heather really was the romantic interest in this or not.

What kept me fascinated was the mystery of this enigmatic woman. She filled the role of mentor like Gandalf did for Tolkien, but used a lot of modern pop references that gave a nice T.H. White ‘The Once and Future King’ jibe to the story.

Soon I found myself completely absorbed lost in the pages. I’m one of those people my friends hate going to the movies with because I can’t help but make comments aloud about what’s going on. Much to their dismay it also happens when I really get into a book. What made this a blast was that the mysterious voice’s commentary was much like my own. It was a ‘Breaking of the Fourth Wall’ that had me glued to the pages.

I was going to have to look up this author tomorrow, but first I was gonna finish this bad boy. Flipping to my bookmark, I continued.

***

“Indeed my fair, but unseen enchantress,” Robert replied. “I pray that he does contest me. As for his lackeys, I have no fear for my sword arm is strong and faithful Percy is watching my back.”

“Would this be a good time to ask for a raise, m’lord?” The aforementioned asked. “Always wise to make sure of your allies don’t you know.” Percy said jokingly.

“Are you talking to that voice again?” Heather whined. “You don’t need to listen to her. My spells shall protect you my love.” She said wrapping an arm possessively about his.

Rolling his eyes, Percy cleared his throat glancing significantly at the doors to the throne room.

Robert, disentangling himself from Heather, nodded his understanding.

“What he said,” His Seer’s voice dryly pointed out.

“Shall we dear friends? Into the breach!” He dramatically declared, kicking the doors open.

***

“Knock, knock,” I chortled.

As I expected Sir Neville had the stacked the deck assigning his hired guns positions next to King Wishy Washy. Of course all hell broke loose, but Robert kicked ass and took names.

No, the real problems didn’t start until after the climatic fight. You see, Heather was all ready to depose the monarchy and set up herself as Queen. That is while riding on Duke Ironwood’s shirt tails. That witch had her claws in him and she wasn’t letting go for anything.

On the other hand, the King was Robert’s brother even if he was an idiot you couldn’t trust to tie his own shoes. Besides, the Duke knew enough that he really didn’t want the job. Try telling that to Miss-I’m-going to become Queen even if it kills you and see how far you get.

I was still holding out for his ‘fair enchanting seer.’ She seemed like she had her head in the right place, and would make a much better match for him. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a happy ending.

Looking for her and seeking haven from the shrew from hell, Robert and Percy adjourned to the old court wizard’s tower. Well, it’d used to be before the late Sir Neville arranged to have the Wiz repeatedly pushed down several flights of stairs. Accidents happen you know.

Anyways, at the start of the story the Wiz had shown Robert the cliché ‘magic mirror.’ It hadn’t done them much good since Mortis’s spells were protecting all the guilty parties from scrying, but it wouldn’t have made a very interesting story otherwise would it?

Robert was hoping he could use it to find his enchantress. He really needed a little help handling Heather. Hack and slash his way though hordes of mindless undead critters from hell, yes. Deal with a conniving, ambitious witch, not so much.

***

The Duke stood in front of the mirror studying the silvered surface set within the ornate craved wooden frame. So finely made it gleamed like a pool of the purest water.

“Do you really believe you’re going to find the face of your true love in there Sherlock?” His enchantress asked unseen using yet another term he’d not a clue to the meaning.

“If you mean do I hope to finally find who you are, then the answer is yes. You’ve aided me against men and beasts saving my life time and time again fair one. I would tear away the veil separating us to give you my thanks in person.”

“Oh come on, Duke! You haven’t a clue as to my appearance anymore than you have to my identity.” She responded, her strange accent exotic and enticing to his ears.

“Perhaps so,” He replied. “But actions speak far more forcefully than words. Regardless of your beauty or lack thereof, it’s the song you’ve sung to my heart that holds me captive.”

Only a humorous snort rejoined his riposte.

Turning to the mirror he commanded, “Mirror of Ages, I beseech thee to reveal my veiled guardian to mine eyes.”

The luminous glass swirled, as searching the whole world. Slowly it grew calm like the fading ripples in a pool.

“The one you seek is not of this world, and can not be seen.” A siren sang.

“We're sorry, you have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service” His Seer intoned cryptically, but he could hear her silent laughter.

The proud man bowed his head as if feeling an unbearable pain. Then as fighting his way past an unbeatable foe he tried another tactic.

“Not of this world? I remember the old wizard telling me you were a window into all that was and what could be. If you can not show me the fair one can you bring her to me? I fear she will be most distraught with me because of this, but I fear I can not live without her.”

“Only true love has the power to conquer space and time.” The mirror bargained. “I can bring her to you, but there is a price to be paid. If you fail to win her love with a kiss full of tenderness and devotion the two of you shall be forever parted till the end of time your souls never again meeting in any of your lives to come. Do you dare strike such a bargain Son of Adam?”

“I don’t know if that’s such a good deal there, Chief.” She argued. “You’re risking all your future lives happiness, just so you might have a chance for a little joy in what remains in the one you’ve got. Besides, listen to that thing talk. Sounds like a deal with the Devil to me. Not a good idea.”

He sighed deeply. “My whole life has been spent either training or fighting. Now that I know, I can not forget or ignore the possibility there can be more to my life.”

“You’ll be sorry,” she chimed in determined to have the last word.

“That might be so,” He agreed. “But it won’t be because I’m afraid to face any challenge of steel or the heart.”

Turning to the Mirror of Ages, he commanded, “I agree to your bargain. Bring my enchantress to me.”

***

I was just getting to the good part when my apartment blew up!

Gas main must’ve blown, but instead of throwing me backwards, I was sucked forward, Holy Shit! The wall was completely gone, but I couldn’t see a thing. Everything was flying wild, books, papers, and everything else not nailed down.

I don’t know what happened to ‘The Regards of Shadows’ because I was too damn busy holding onto my couch for dear life. For once the worn out furniture served a useful purpose as my desperate fingers clawed into the frayed material.

Like something out of a demented video, I was yanked off my feet anchored only by my frantic grasp. Then the whole damn couch started sliding forward in the gaping maw, Oh Frakk!

***

On a world far, far away, a man waited for some sign of his hopes and dreams were coming true. After a long moment, he turned and walked away his shoulders hung low as if carrying an unbearable burden.

Closing the door behind him he began the long decent down the tower stairs missing the shimmer within the depths of the glass.

***

Hysterical strength gave me the power to pull myself further onto the sliding furniture, but I was ripped away as it struck the edge of the wall. Screaming my lungs out, I fell into a vortex of stars.

How long can you scream on one lung full of air? I don’t know, but I was still going at it when I passed though, well, something. Damn if it didn’t feel like being covered in goo the way it stuck and the sudden wet sensation. I was still flailing wildly and I believe I hit couple more of those things. It was as if parts of I was being squeezed while others felt like they were being pulled and stretched.

I was still trying to yell when a spark of light grew into a bright star. Passing entire galaxies, I shrieked my panic as I hit.

The terrified pounding in ears let me know I was still alive. Shaking like a leaf, I cautiously opened an eye. I was sprawled face down on a cold dusty wooden floor. Looking up, I hadn’t a clue where I was.

Closing my eyes again, I tried counting to twenty to calm myself and hoped for a reasonable explanation. Damn it, but the only thing that came to mind was that my first thought was correct, a gas explosion. I must be unconscious, maybe even in a coma, and having some kind of weird dream.

I did know my chest hurt and every inch of me still seemed peculiar and out of sorts. Wondering what that sticky stuff was, I dragged my trembling hand up to see.

For a long moment, my brains froze. That was not my hand!

The slim delicate fingers with their long nails didn’t belong to me! Ignoring the little fact they wiggled when I wanted them too, they were, they were … feminine?

My whole body continued to feel kinda wet and my skin very sensitive, which reminded me strangely enough of the days right after I’d shaved off my beard. When the wind blew across the newly exposed area, it felt as if I still had hair there. Phantom beard syndrome I’d joked. Now I wondered just what my senses were mistranslating considering what my eyes were telling me.

Grimacing, triage demanded I look to my chest as my first priority. Even now I was as weak as a kitten. Stark raving terror from free falling for what seemed like eternity will do that. I knew it had to be shock, and my ongoing discoveries weren’t helping one damn bit.

A cautious grope didn’t discover any good news. You really have to question your state of mind when you find those twin bloody spikes that have driven deep into your chest are really nothing more than you crushing your breasts into the floor, and that’s bad news.

Breasts? I’m not supposed to have breasts damn it! On the other hand, at least the pain is easily taken care of. Groaning, I roll over onto my back, tears leaking from my eyes. Gingerly, touching the aching orbs it was a lot like a shot I’d taken between the legs once. It seriously hurt!

All my senses were misfiring, and the jiggling with every breath was hmmm … distracting. Okay, I didn’t know where I was, but right now I was helpless and in trouble. Making myself focus, I looked for something to prop up my feet, the most basic first aid for treating shock.

There was a table with old fashioned low cross-pieces off to my side. Laboriously twisting around, I got my feet up. Sighing with relief, I concentrated on taking deep slow breaths.

As my heartbeat finally approached something near normal, I stared upward in relief. People had died of fright from a hell of a lot less than what I just went though. Carefully holding my aching breasts, ‘still going though,’ I amended.

Then it registered just what was almost directly behind and above me. The mirror was a huge antique looking free standing floor model whose wooden frame was covered in all kind of weird symbols.

“Aw crap,” I moaned somewhat surprised my voice hadn’t changed while every damn thing else had. “Please tell me this isn’t what I think it is?”

Just before my apartment freaking blew up, I’d read, ‘Bring my enchantress to me.’ Oh please, dear God, why me. Didn’t my life suck enough already? All I was doing was reading a frigging library book for crying out loud.

My hands informed me that at least I was dressed, but not the same comfortable old t-shirt and shorts I’d been lounging in. I really didn’t want to move. However, if I was where I seemed to be there wasn’t any choice.

The wiz’s tower had been abandoned since Sir Naughty Pants had offed the old man. There wasn’t any food or water, and sure as hell no sanitary facilities up here. If I wanted out of here, I would have walk down five or six flights of stairs. Wasn’t this just absolutely freaking lovely. I could only hope I hadn’t picked up a case of acrophobia or vertigo from my delightful fall though the looking glass.

Sitting up was a job in itself. Looking down at myself, I sighed at the cleavage blocking so much of my view of the new me. The creamy pale curves were very different from the old, hairy, freckled me. My twin peaks were shrouded by a rich blue satin-like fabric. The dress appeared to go all the way down to my ankles where I saw a pair of heeled shoes not too unlike those things little girls wear, Mary Janes.

Using the table to help my shaky knees stand, I decided to put that mirror to use, before I questioned it.

The woman in the blue dress the mirror revealed was undeniably attractive. Her bosom was pushed up and displayed by a darker indigo corset like thing which made her waist look very small, while the rest of the dress flowed all the way to the floor. Full sleeves reached all the way to her hands. Taking a wild guess, even with those heels on, I’m shorter now, using the height of the table as a rough guide. While I had thinning red hair, this girl had these shiny black braids put up in an elaborate construction on top of her head. And while her complexion was damn near perfect, it’d never seen a sunburn like I had all too often. She could’ve been a vampire especially along with that hair, if you know what I mean.

It was her other features that were unusual. Instead of an epicanthic fold that gives Asians their almond shaped, hers were actually canted rather like a cat’s. Her long dark lashes framed her striking emerald green eyes. Being a long time fantasy fiction fan, she looked rather like I imagined real elves would. What ruined that illusion was her lips were rather full, and was missing the pointy ears.

Her elegantly long neck shifted things back towards the Sylvan, and the slim build did so even more so. Regardless how much that helped her elvish elegance, her um… sizable assets made her voluptuous. The blue dress didn’t, couldn’t, hide a figure like that. The overall effect was of a slender woman with about five or so extra pounds that all went to her tits and ass.

It wasn’t freakish looking, but sure as well was an attention magnet. That pushed her into movie star gorgeous or maybe Playboy Bunny. The fly in the ointment here was this woman was me, damn it to hell.

“Crap!” I grasped out, struggling not to hyperventilate again. “Why do I look this?”

“Because,” The Mirror of Ages rippled as it replied, “Neither you nor Duke Robert de Lascy exists in each other’s worlds. Just as you imagine how he looked from the words you read, he imagined you from the words you spoke.”

The room swayed a bit as I digested the idea that magic mirrors were real. Blinking away the darkness around the edges of my vision, I carefully asked, “So this how Bob the Hero envisioned his Seer?”

“Yes,” It responded simply.

Resisting the urge to curse like a sailor, I recalled from those early chapters the Mirror of Ages was like a computer. You have to ask the right questions in the right way, or you got nothing, but garbage back.

Okay asking why I was here was a waste. It was because frakking Robert told the mirror to drag his invisible enchantress here.

“Mirror,” I said, formally addressing the thing that’d dragged me extremely unwillingly here. “I think you’ve made a mistake. I’ll admit the dialogue in the story is much like the comments I made while reading, but they weren’t exact. I’m not the Duke’s unseen guide.”

Thinking I’d made my point, I closed, “There forth if you would please send back to planet Earth and my right identity and body, I promise I’ll forget all about this.”

“No,” The damn thing answered.

“Why the frakk why not?” I angrily demanded, forgetting to keep calm.

“Duke Robert de Lascy has until the next moon to win your love with a kiss full of tenderness and devotion. If he fails, the two of you shall be forever parted till the end of time, your souls never again meeting in any your lives to come.” It recited the bargain Duke Tin Pants had made.

“Argh! I’m not the one you wanted you piece of bad plagiarism! You got the wrong damn girl, I mean guy. Crap!” I was so mad, I couldn’t speak.

“Yes, you are.” It said back never changing its calm tone.

“No! I’m not!” I yelled aware my throat was still raw from my disturbing arrival.

“Yes, you are,” repeated the damn thing.

Fuming, I could see this was going nowhere. Ask the right question, I reminded myself.

“If I want to return home right now, what would I need to do?” I asked.

“Duke Robert de Lascy would have to default on his bargain and concede defeat. The failure would mean the two of you shall be forever parted till the end of time, your souls never again meeting in any your lives to come.” It said yet again.

“Yeah, I know.” I sarcastically pointed out. “You’ve said that before.”

“Just in case you’ve not being paying attention I’m a guy, male, you know the sex with a penis.” I argued. The right question, I reminded myself again. “You’ve made this sound like despite the little fact I was born a man, that Bobbie and I are some kind of star-crossed lovers or soul mates. Answer this. Have the two of our souls ever met before in this life or any other before?”

“No,” It said.

“Thank you,” I spat out. That was what I wanted to know. It didn’t matter if Robert’s and my soul never met again, because we weren’t anything at all to each other. After all I reminded myself, he was just a character in a book. I didn’t have a clue how this got so screwed up, but by God, I was going to straighten it out.

Spotting the door across the cluttered tower room, I got moving. Just like you expect it was full of all kinds of odd and weird supposedly magical stuff. Either that or Wiz used to be one hell of pack rat. Not wanting to blow myself up, I skirted around it all. Reaching the door, I took a deep breath. I was a man with a mission. Get my balls back.

***

To an empty room, the Mirror of Ages spoke, “The unasked question was the correct one. Yes, the two of you are, and it does matter.”

***

Percy met him on the way down. Robert could tell from his man’s expression it wasn’t good. He had some guesses as to why and none of them boded well.

“I would really wait if I were you. Could be worth your life if you know what I mean, Milord,” his faithful friend informed him standing in front of the door.

The noble sighed, “Heather?”

“Aye, Herself has been sniffing around,” Percy confirmed.

His friend made her sound as if she was only a bitch in heat. However, it was much more complicated than that. When politics got involved, it always was.

To many his choices appeared clear. Depose the King and make Heather his Queen. Despite King John being an idiot, Robert loved his brother and didn’t want to put him on the chopping block. The problem was he would have to in order to keep other idiots from trying to use him and plunge the kingdom back into yet another war.

And Heather, as comely she might be in her own slender, sun-browned way, she was also ambitious, jealously possessive, and a royal pain. Additionally, she was a pagan dead set on bringing back the old ways which would make the Church very unhappy.

Not that the Church would be very pleased with his own preference for a wife, although he’d never seen her. Seers and others, who used magic, weren’t held the in the highest esteem by the clergy. However, he simply didn’t care. He had to finally meet her. There lay his dilemma. The Mirror of Ages was his last real hope of meeting the owner of that bewitching voice who’d guided him though such travails that would make even the strongest men quake. However, it was more than just the aid she’d freely given.

As a noble who was in the line of succession, he’d quickly grown jaded as others showered attention upon him. Always they had exterior motives wanting to use him or desiring something from him. To have anyone, much less a woman with a voice like hers humorously bicker with him while giving advice that’s not only saved his life, but had defeated a dread threat to the country he loved, was priceless.

Percy glanced up the stairs. “I take it the news isn’t good?”

Robert shook his head not wanting to say his quest had ended in failure. “Is she still out there?” He asked, changing the subject.

Percy clasped his friend’s shoulder. He knew exactly how much finding the Seer that’d guided them though such treacherous times the bards were even now composing their saga, would mean.

“I check to see if the way is clear,” He said easing the door open. Not seeing anyone, he signaled quietly the way was clear.

Together they slipped out and started to secure the court wizard’s door behind them.

Out of the jumble of roses surrounding the tower, Druidess appeared like a ghost. Her cold blue eyes flashing with anger as she stalked towards them.

Percy and Robert looked at each in dismay. This was not good.

***

Standing on the landing, my resolve wavered. Peering down the stairs, it was a long way to the bottom. The problem was, moving in this dress complicated things and that wasn’t counting the awkward shoes.

I might not be the most manly dude on Earth, but sure as hell I’d never worn a dress before, much less heels. On the other hand, I already knew the floor was ice cold, and my feet would freeze long before reaching the bottom.

Awkwardly lifting my hem, I started down.

By my second step, I knew this was gong to take awhile. Between lifting that damn long dress out of the way and clinging for dear life to the wall for support, while I felt for each step with these damn shoes from hell on, I was a wreck. Hadn’t these people ever heard of handrails? Let’s not forget not being able to see my own feet for God’s sake! That double, no, triple damned, dress pushed up these boobs providing the perfect obstructions.

Like most red blooded men, I have nothing against ‘cleavage.’ However, from my few female friends, I’d heard they did nothing, but get in the way. At this point I agreed. On the other hand, I never recalled a single one ever complained their ‘assets’ were too large.

I knew intellectually that being top heavy could cause all kinds of back and other problems. It was just hard telling my primitive hind brain that. Maybe, finally, brain number two was gaining some wisdom. I very carefully didn’t think about the very real possibility that ‘he’ didn’t make the trip with me. The boobies and rest of the package were a strong hint if you know what I mean. With this dress being so constrictive, finding out for sure would’ve been a battle in itself. Better to use the energy to getting me back to Earth in my right body. Who knows maybe I can work a deal to get some improvements added as compensation since someone else for damn sure screwed up big time.

After another couple of steps I’d started working a method to deal with the problems. Beginning to breathe hard now, I’d already had a love/hate relationship going with whatever the hell was binding me so tightly. Okay, it was good those bouncing ‘things’ were restrained. From the way they quivered like jello with every breath and step, I wouldn’t be able to walk other wise. On the other hand, being able to breathe would be nice too.

Speaking of the front, didn’t make me forget about the aft. Yes, compared to the itsy bitsy waist, I had a big caboose. That was something that I wouldn’t have complained about before. At least as long as I kept moving slow and deliberate, that part wasn’t giving any problems.

Used to using humor to help myself though the bad times, I had to grin at the irony. Here I was in a real honest to God fantasy world, and I couldn’t wait to get the hell home!

I couldn’t remember the number of times I’d daydreamed of being like John Carter of Mars, and being the hero on some other world. Just maybe ending up some place where an oddball me fit in.

Yeah, I knew if it ever happened for real, I’d be very lucky to last out the night. Let’s face it. While I’d been around the block a few times, I wasn’t a bad ass solider or martial arts expert. History buff or not, I simply lacked the skills that survival in a places like that demanded.

Only a dream, but now it’d turned real, being that history buff, I knew exactly how tough it’d been to be the ‘weaker’ sex in more primitive times. Might makes right. If I’d still been me, I might’ve risked it. As a gorgeous, voluptuous woman all gift wrapped for a big brute to sweep me off my feet, no way Jose!

At last, reaching a point where I could see the ground floor, I felt like a tube of toothpaste from being squeezed by my clothes. My poor ribs felt bruised from fighting to breathe past what to be I decided had to really be a corset.

Nothing like seeing the ending to make the rest of the way goes by faster. As I got nearer my goal, I heard a man and woman arguing. Loudly, I might add. She was so screaming mad, I’d no idea what she was so pissed off about.

The man’s baritone wasn’t so much as angry as seriously ticked off, and yelling back just to be heard over her banshee wails. From him I picked out enough to guess he had to be Duke Robert giving reasons why he wanted the job of King about as much as he wanted a hole in the head.

Okay, there was one confirming clue that I’d really was in the world from ‘The Regards of Shadows.’ I made a silent promise to never again read another romance book no matter how damn bored I was. Not really wanting to, I cracked open the door. From the racket going on, no one sane would want to step into the middle of that.

After catching my breath, it appeared that they weren’t going to wind down any time soon, Oh Hell! Alrighty then! Nothing ventured, nothing gained, here goes nothing!

I stepped outside.

***

Wisely, Percy used a long practiced skill. As Robert’s ostensibly man at arms, most nobles ignored him treating him as if invisible. He’d refined that tendency into an art form.

With Heather’s ear-piercing rant, it was more than the better part of valor. He might be Robert’s illegitimate brother, and best friend, but no amount of loyalty could make him tempt fate that much.

That was why he saw her first. As hesitant as any church mouse she cautiously pushed the door open. Considering some of the old wizard’s experiments, his hand dropped to his sword just in case, but his mouth gaped as she stepped out into the evening.

It was obvious she was a Lady of quality from the fine, rich, blue dyed gown she wore. Her hair was as dark as night and done up in intricate braids while her skin put the finest porcelain to shame. However, while her cast of features was exotic and very fetching, it was her eyes that were truly beautiful. They were so large and such a vivid green that you simply knew she was from some far away place.

However, it was the humor that twinkled in those eyes and the smile that brightened her face that told him exactly who she must be, Robert’s Seer. The Wizard’s bloody mirror must’ve worked after all, which was a miracle in of itself when he remembered the number of explosions and accidents the old man used to have up there in his tower.

His half-brother’s slack jawed, amazed stare as he finally saw her had Percy smirking. That lasted, but a fleeting moment, as Herself twisted to see what had stuck the man she was so vainly chasing.

While Heather’s earthy beauty mayhap be more to his personal taste, it was the Druidess’s ugly hate filling her face that made Percy wisely vow to stay well away from that one. Some things a man simply doesn’t need and that was one of them.

The air itself seemed to shiver. Alarm filled him as he recognized the signs of Heather calling her magics. Long weeks on the trail with her had educated Percy in just how deadly she wielded such powers.

Desperately, he moved to protect his brother and the unarmed Seer.

***

Out of habit, I checked out the woman who must be Heather first. Despite my unwanted change, these people were still, until recently, only characters in a book. To see them in the flesh was a wild experience.

For instance, the Druidess from the Sacred Groves was an incredibly beautiful woman. In the real world, we’re talking supermodel here, baby! Her slender, well-toned, tanned body was a 10, and after adding her long blond hair, sapphire eyes, and very kissable lips into the equation, Heather was seriously hot!

However, like the song goes, ‘On the inside, baby ain’t so pretty.’ After a couple hundred pages, I’d learned that the Druidess had a cruel streak that made me think of that bumper sticker. ‘Mean people suck.’

Even though I was in the wrong body it was still a little disturbing to look at her and not feel any ‘reaction’ regardless of how much I knew she really wasn’t a nice person.

Sighing, I looked the guy over, and gasped as our eyes met. Just like his description from the book, Robert, Duke of Ironwood was a huge man closer to seven feet tall than he was to six. Broad of shoulder of and slender of waist he could’ve won the Mr. Universe title without breaking a sweat. I involuntarily stared at his handsome face and into his hazel eyes.

What the hell was I doing? My heart was beating like crazy, and the rest of this unasked for body of mine was going nuts. I felt like Artoo Detoo when he’d plugged into a power outlet by mistake the way lightning danced over me, woweee!

I’m not gay, I’m not gay, I’m not damn it. Maybe I knew that, however, this traitoress body of mine had other ideas, and it wasn’t shy about making them known.

It didn’t help one damn bit when Duke Bob over there broke out in the goofiest schoolboy grin I’d ever seen. I couldn’t help myself from glancing … hmmm… lower and yeah, sure enough, he’d risen to the occasion.

Oh Crap! I’m not that way, damn it. Despite myself, I sneaked another peek. Oh my Gawd, Woof!

Heather’s stopped in mid rant, as she finally noticed Duke Bob was completely ignoring her. The look on her face as she saw me was a study. The pure fury that poured out of her eyes was something else altogether different. Nope, baby wasn’t so pretty on the inside for sure!

I opened my mouth to reassure Miss Screaming Banshee that I only wanted to go home as soon as we both could convince Bobby boy to talk to the Mirror. That died on my lips as she wound up a humdinger of a magic spell. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that she meant for me to become a crispy corpse.

Icy shivers flashed up my spine seeing the death in her eyes. Then I remembered. Mortis had almost foiled her back in chapter 26, because he knew of her weakness or at least thought he did, Heather’s true name. However, while he didn’t have it right, I was privy to her very thoughts recorded in black and white in the pages of ‘The Regards of Shadows.’

“You don’t want to do this, Heather,” I warned her, half frightened out of my wits.

She shot me an evil glare and didn’t even pause in casting her mojo. Okay, then, I had no choice.

“Be quiet *Heather,*” I ordered using her true name.

Her eyes widened in shock as her voice abruptly stopped. I could see the energies from her interrupted magics swirl madly right before they discharged as a lightning bolt striking the high peaked roof of the tower behind me. Thank God the Wiz knew about lightning rods.

“Heather, I’ll restore your speech, but you have to understand that there is precious little I don’t know about you. If you come after me again, I will silence you, permanently. Do you understand? Nod please.” I asked still feeling weird myself. The only thing normal about me was my voice box. It was everything else that’d changed.

The fury in her eyes couldn’t be mistaken, but there was fear there too. For those who used magic, their true names were a great weakness, because if you knew how to, you could command them. Hell, I was still surprised it’d worked for me, especially since I’d be a smoking smear if it hadn’t.

“Be as you were *Heather*,” I said, releasing her.

She grasped a squeal and ran like death himself was on her heels. Hey, I’m not that damn bad. No matter it happened having someone as incredibly attractive as her running from you kinda kicks you where it hurts, bitch or not.

Okay, now all that’s left is to tell Beefcake Bob he’d made a teensy little error, and get back home. That plan lasted all of a heartbeat as I turned and ran straight into a brick wall.

That’s if brick walls were 6’8” of solid muscle and bone. Throwing out my hands to lessen the impact on my damn still sensitive boobs, I found myself feeling up his steel band-like six-pack abs.

Looking up, he had to be at least a foot taller than me, and maybe more than that wide. My breath caught and it sure as hell wasn’t from fear either. The words awe-inspiring come to mind as I was exposed to one hell of a fine example of animal magnetism.

My holy mantra of I’m not gay evaporated as my body forcefully disagreed as I tingled from the tip of my toes to the top of my head. Catching the wonderful scent coming off of him I think even my freaking hair follicles were in lust!

“I’m Robert de Lascy, Duke of Ironwood,” his deep voice rumbled sending even more delightful shivers I was hopeless to ignore. “Who do I have the pleasure of thanking for your timely rescue?”

Me rescue him?

“Jerry Dean Reynolds,” I blurted out my full name, rattled by my body’s irrational responses.

“I’m so honored to meet you, Gerri de Reinold. Excuse me, but I must know if you’re the enchantress who aided me so recently against the Necromancer Mortis?” The way he looked into my eyes took my breath away again.

Growing faint, I tried to answer, but was damn tongue tied, I couldn’t say a thing. The big lug took that as a yes!

“You’re exactly as I envisioned and dreamed,” Robert huskily whispered his face dropping close to mine.

Oh Gawd! Oh Gawd, he’s going to … hmmm!

An endless moment later I trying and failing to blink away the ‘fireworks.’ Hell, it was more like a nuclear meltdown, because my whole body felt molten from heat burning within.

A man kissed me. A man kissed me.

However, the absolute worse of it was Bob’s own smitten expression. His blue eyes smoldered as his arms pulled me close.

I wanted, should’ve pulled away, but I was helpless as he leaned downward again.

“My Lady de Reinold,” He whispered. “I think I’m going to kiss you again.”

I think Percy might’ve been smirking, but conscious thought had left me. Somewhere a part of me was mortified, but I was too busy wrapping myself around the man holding me so tight.

We both parted not to end whatever the hell had just happened, but to see each other. We each had to know what the other felt. Me, I was glowing, but it sure as hell wasn’t because of magic. It was all Duke Tin Pants fault, and damn it to hell I wanted more.

The question was what the hell was that? I’d never felt anything like that before. Was this how a woman normally felt? Damn it! I’m a man inside. I’m not supposed to be acting like this no matter what body I got dreamed into by a freaking fictional character from a library book.

Wordlessly, he reached out and took my hand. As his fingers closed about mine, a smile grew from within me despite my resistance.

A matching smile appeared on his lips.

I felt a connection. Somehow with him I was whole. My entire life had been spent looking fruitlessly for where I belong. As the old song goes, for my place in the sun, but I’d found only shadows and darkness.

The Wiz’s tower was right there waiting. All I had to do was push this big lunk up the stairs and make him send me home. I’d not a doubt he would do so. Hell, if I told him to jump off a cliff right now, he only would ask which one.

The truth was there in his eyes. If I did it would hurt this man right down to his very soul. I didn’t think I could bear that, because his pain would hurt me too. It was that connection thing again, both wonderful and yet so very terrible.

I closed my so much smaller hand about his big paw. The Mirror and the tower weren’t going anywhere. We did have 28 days. After being alone for so long, I had to know if just maybe this was where I really belonged. Besides, I’d always prided myself on having an open mind. We would see. This was definitely a put up or shut up situation.

Finding myself growing lost the longer I smiled into his eyes, perhaps both of us deserved a happy ending.

Percy’s very amused baritone reminded us we had an audience. “Perhaps My Lord we should find rooms for Lady de Reinold. It appears she’s going to be staying a while, or perhaps should I alert Brother William to dust off his tomes on marriage?”

My own face mirrored Robert’s as he blushed red. However, that did remind me of his more immediate problem.

“Excuse me, Robert, but talking about ceremonies, I know you really don’t want to be King. With that in mind have you considered a Parliamentary style of government?” I asked, desperately striving to change the subject.

His blank look told me all I needed to know. Oh this was going to be fun!

***

Cindy wandered the stacks of books waiting for her turn to get online using one of the library’s computers. She was on the waiting list, but instead of browsing the magazines today, she wanted something different today.

Never a big reader, she’d seen that Twilight movie and it’d gotten her interested in the genre. Slowly she’d worked her way thought the Sherilynn Kenyon Dark Hunter series, and J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood stories. They all shared the theme of some real bad boy, who just needed the right woman to turn them around.

She was the first to admit her life sucked. The few hours she spent lost in the comfort between those pages helped. For just a little while, all the problems of her life could be forgotten.

A glitter of gold caught her notice. Pulling the gilded book with the fancy scroll-like title lettering, she read the back cover blurb. It kind of sounded interesting, but today she needed more.

Cheating, she turned to the last page to make sure. It was just what she wanted to see. There in black and white it read.

The newly wed Gerri de Lascy turned to her husband. “What do we do now my love?”

Lifting the veil to reveal the woman he adored with all his heart, he looked into her bright green eyes. Tilting her face up to his, their lips met with tenderness and devotion forever sealing their bargain with love.

He whispered, lovingly in her ear, “Why we live happily ever after of course.”

The End


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