I haven’t gotten any requests for my free ebook so I’m going to try and entice you by offering an excerpt. Here you go!
“Oh, my God! Have you heard?” Mariana gushed. She balanced two pillows over an outrageously thick comforter. All that could be seen of her was the bun poised at the top of her head.
“No, and I don’t care,” Elvira muttered, pulling tightly on the edge of the sheet before tucking it into the side of the bed. Dinis would be by within the hour to inspect her work; there would be hell to pay if there was a single wrinkle across Princess Kylee’s bed. Not that the princess herself would’ve noticed. That was just the Marques motto: if it’s in your power to make something look perfect, do it. If not, do it anyway.
Mariana leaned to the side to give her sister a chastising look. “Well, you should care because it’s about the Mirelings. You know, the alien race that threatens our very existence? Maybe you’ve heard of them?”
“Yes, unfortunately, I have.” Elvira plucked one of the pillows from the top of Mariana’s stack. It didn’t need any more fluffing but she fluffed it anyway before placing it on the bed.
“Saleh heard from Anaura, who overheard Respen talking to one of the guards. Our spies confirmed what the Mirelings claim; they have these plasma weapons that are strong enough to—”
“You shouldn’t spread that kind of gossip, Mari. It’ll only give those Mireling bastards more power over us.”
Her face scrunched in anxiety. “But what if—”
“Don’t go freaking yourself out, either.” Elvira relieved her sister of the remaining pillow and then the comforter, arching an eyebrow. “You don’t want to go prematurely bald like Auntie Bia, do you?”
Mariana slapped her hands over her bun as if it could fall off at any moment. Her round face paled. “No.”
“Didn’t think so. Now, help me finish so we can go on break.” Elvira waited for Mariana to scurry around the princess’ bed before opening up the comforter and tossing it over the mattress. It billowed gracefully out before settling down. Mariana got to work flattening the creases she could see while Elvira did the same on her end.
The clichéd nature of her family’s chosen profession was not lost on Elvira.
Her ancestors had hailed from Portugal on the planet Earth, which had been destroyed by an asteroid a hundred and fifty odd years ago. The language was dead, the culture and religion blended thanks to inter-species marriages, but whatever genes that produced the distinguishing golden brown skin, black hair, and thick eyebrows had managed to survive. (Elvira’s siblings, like the rest of their family, had been blessed with these attributes while Elvira had not. Their mother had freckled skin, soft brown eyes, and copper colored hair; of course, one of them would take after her.) Despite the advancement of humanity and artificial intelligence, there were still rich people around who preferred humans to wait on them hand and foot.
So, even though the royal family that ruled over most of humanity was “progressive” enough to let their women be the figureheads, they still had (formerly) Latin American servants. How much had humanity evolved, then? Really? Not much in Elvira’s opinion. Not that anyone had bothered to ask her.
She begrudged her great-grandfather for taking a “temporary” job as the staff manager for the palace. Doeline was the biggest country on Jurthaan IV (humanity’s new home planet). Of all the jobs in all the cities in the entire country…he’d chosen to grow old within the palace walls and bequeath the role of staff manager to his son. This seemingly inconsequential decision had resulted in the life-long employment of almost every Marques that came afterward, including Elvira’s father.
Aurelio had been born in the servants’ quarters of the palace, had grown up with Miyako when she was a princess, had taken his first job as a chauffeur for the late Queen Hua, had married the palace chef. Now, he raised his daughters to be the best damn maids the palace had ever known. His son was training to take over the much-coveted role of staff manager.
The Marqueses were proud of their line of work. They were professional in every way, borderline obsessed with the cleanliness and hospitality of the palace, and passionately loyal to the crown. There were other members of the royal staff who weren’t related to the Marqueses; the Mistsinger family (also lifers) along with a handful of stragglers. But they weren’t nearly as dedicated or distinguished as Elvira’s family. This was just a job to them. It wasn’t their entire life.
Elvira retightened her ponytail for the hundredth time that morning as she led her sister out of Princess Kylee’s bedroom. Mariana tugged on the cuff of her uniform, chewing on her lips. Her thoughts, no doubt, still lingered on the Mirelings’ superior military strength. It wasn’t as if Elvira never thought about it; the impending war between the Mirelings and the citizens of Jurthaan IV was the main topic of conversation on every news program, gossip column, and blog on the planet. She just didn’t obsess about the conflict like other people did.
The alien species humans shared Jurthaan IV with were called the Folinar, a simple people built like tailless primates with gooey pink skin, flat faces, and glowing red eyes. They were friendly enough, just a little weird. They worshiped a cloudy white rock that vibrated (it had other special qualities but Elvira had never bothered to learn what they were). The Mirelings wanted to use that rock to rebuild and expand their underwater cities. Why that rock specifically? It had something to do with those “other special qualities.” The Folinar were unwilling to part with their sacred rocks. This made the Mirelings mad.
Humanity was caught in the middle. On the one hand, they were indebted to the Folinar; the creatures allowed humans to settle peacefully on their planet, asking only for help in the first war against the Mirelings. Humanity wanted to side with the Folinar in this rock issue to preserve that alliance. On the other hand, the Mirelings had learned from their defeat. They’d created weapons of mass destruction, unrivaled by anything Jurthaan IV’s people could produce. They had the upper hand this time. Humanity thought it wise to appease them to keep Jurthaan IV’s population from being conquered or destroyed.
The only rumor Mariana had shared that had sort of interested Elvira was also the only one she’d been able to prove; Queen Miyako was working on a compromise. Elvira had walked past the meeting rooms while the queen had been in video conferences with the Mirelings and the other leaders of Jurthaan IV. For all the queen’s faults, she was doing everything in her power to ensure a peaceful resolution to this conflict. There was hope that war could be avoided. That was enough to keep Elvira from worrying. The same couldn’t be said about her eighteen-year-old sister, however.
“Stop it,” Elvira said, tugging on Mariana’s wrist. “You’ll wear the Ersatz and Grandpa will throw a fit.”
Everything that looked like cloth nowadays was actually Ersatz, the latest synthetic fiber that was softer and more durable than any other textile known to man. It came in all sorts of colors and nostalgic textures like imitation leather, silk, satin, denim, and numerous others. Even the body armor the palace guards wore was made out of a hardened version of Ersatz called imitation ceramic.
Mariana clasped her hands before her. Her fitful energy was transferred to her mouth, which squirmed from one side to the other.
“You’re too young to be worrying about politics. Try thinking about something else,” Elvira said.
“I couldn’t care less about politics!” Mariana gulped and looked around to see if anyone had heard her. “What if there really is a war, Vy? The Mirelings are going to want to eliminate the planet’s leaders. They’ll come here first. It’ll be a massacre!”
“No, it won’t.” Elvira stopped to point out the window. “See those guards? The cameras? The ten-foot-thick wall separating us from the rest of the city? The shield generator by that guard tower? We’re safer here than we could be anywhere else.” She gave her sister a stern look. “If there was a threat, the palace would be evacuated. We’ve run the drills. You know we have a plan to meet up with our great uncle in Statine if the worst should happen. We’d be fine.”
Mariana bobbed her head in nod, smiling faintly. “I know, I know. I just…I can’t shake the feeling that something awful is going to happen.”
Yes, that was Mariana. If there was a creak on the stairs at two in the morning, it was due to an intruder coming to murder them in their sleep. It couldn’t possibly be Dinis, sneaking back into his room after rolling around in the grass with his latest conquest. If one of the other servants was curt to her, it was because Mariana had offended them in some way. It couldn’t possibly be because they were in a hurry or upset about something else or preoccupied by personal matters. If their parents were arguing, it was because they were going to get a divorce. It couldn’t possibly be because their mother was easily offended and their father was often careless with his words after a long day of driving Queen Miyako around.
Elvira grinned affectionately as she looped an arm through her sister’s. “You’re definitely going to go bald.”
“No! Vy, don’t put that evil on me!”
“Then stop stressing,” Elvira said, bumping Mariana with her hip. “We have twenty minutes before we have to load the laundry into the washing-drying-pressing machine. What do you want to do?”
Mariana exhaled, lips flapping. “Oh, I don’t know. What do you want to do?”
Elvira pretended to think about it as they walked down the grand staircase and into the main hall. The marble floors had been waxed recently; they reflected the artwork of the domed ceilings above. Decorative columns lined the walls on either side, broken up by scenic paintings, artistically framed mirrors, or tall windows with thick crimson curtains. The tassels fluttered as the air conditioning kicked on. Sleek, modern furniture had been placed in the alcoves littered along the hall, uncomfortable-looking chairs and oddly-shaped end tables that had never been used nor would they ever be. The plants in their exotic pots were all real, cultivated from the royal gardens and immaculately cared for by the Mistsinger family.
That’s what Elvira always wanted to do during her early morning break: visit the gardens. Right now, the light from the sleepy sun would make the dew on the petals shimmer. The air would be crisp with the smells of wet grass, fresh mud, and different floral combinations. The birds would be twittering. The fountains and man-made ponds would be gurgling. The statues of various angels and deities would shine among the multicolored sea. And Ulfric Mistsinger would be doing his daily pruning rounds. It didn’t matter if they had machines that could do the job faster than he could. Ric was determined to do this himself.
Elvira loved nothing more than to watch him wander among his flowers, stopping frequently to whip out his shears and rid his precious garden of even the slightest imperfection. Because of his irrational hatred of tan-lines, he usually did this while wearing only a pair of cut off shorts, much to the delight of all the female servants working the palace grounds.
But Elvira couldn’t suggest a walk in the gardens. Not again. She already shared her room with Mariana, her meals with the extended family, her days off with Dinis (they went into the city together to attend the community center for higher education), and her dream of eventually leaving the palace with the few cousins who hadn’t been brainwashed into believing this was the only life for them. Her feelings for Ric were hers alone.
“How about…?” She was saved from having to answer by the princess’ sudden appearance.
One moment, they were walking toward the front doors and the next, Princess Kylee was standing outside the main dining room, wiping under her eyes. She looked up and gasped as if the maids were the ones who had suddenly materialized before her.
Elvira and Mariana dipped into low curtsies and stayed there, knees bent, hands holding the edges of their skirts, eyes on the floor. Good servants were never seen or heard. The only evidence that they existed at all was the fresh laundry and lavender floor cleaner smells they left in every pristine room they walked out of. Consequently, Elvira had only ever seen the princess from afar.
“Please, rise,” Kylee said. She had the loveliest voice; clear, kind, delicate. It made someone want to lean in and pay attention (useful, given her title).
The maids obeyed, but even while standing straight they didn’t meet the princess’ eyes. It was forbidden. Not by the royal family but by Grandpa Tiago. (He was the patriarch of the Marques family. He also trained everyone who worked within the palace walls.) But Elvira couldn’t help glancing at Kylee’s face.
This nineteen-year-old girl with oriental ancestors had been pampered her entire life. Her hair was so straight and soft; it looked like fresh black paint on a canvas. Her skin was as smooth and radiant as a newborn’s. She oozed grace even while standing still. Her dresses were always extravagant, and gorgeous, tailored to accentuate her petite frame. She smelled like honey and vanilla, subtle but striking. She was basically a walking, talking porcelain doll.
Mariana adored her.
Elvira pitied her. Because while everyone saw the princess’ radiant smile, swam in her cute almond-shaped eyes, hung on her every benevolent word, and envied her privileged life, Elvira saw different things. Like the tightness of her smile, the sadness behind her eyes, the restraint behind her voice, the suffocating routine she kept to like a windup toy that couldn’t do anything else. And now, the frustrated tears she was trying to hold back.
“Are you well, Highness?” Elvira asked.
Mariana stiffened. They were supposed to stand there quietly, staring at the princess’ chin until dismissed. Their grandfather would be so upset; spit would be flying as he screamed at them about protocol. But Elvira couldn’t help it. Princess Kylee wasn’t just an icon. She was a person. Surely, she’d appreciate being treated like one…?
Kylee smiled, inclining her head slightly. “Quite. Thank you.” She started running her hands down the bodice of her dress but stopped. It was a nervous tick of her mother’s. With a grimace, the princess walked away.
Mariana exhaled as soon as Kylee was out of earshot. Turning to Elvira with bulging eyes, she hissed, “What were you thinking? Grandpa will kill you!”
“Not unless you tell him,” Elvira hissed right back. She took her sister by the arm and dragged her out the front doors. “Come on! Let’s visit the horse hybrids.”
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Merry Christmas from the Foxes! Ain’t we cute?