January 8, 2015
Title: Lanterns of Love
Author: Susan Laine
Pairing: Bro and Lacey from The Sweetest Scent
“I’m scared.” Lacey’s voice shook slightly as she stared at her reflection in the tall oval mirror. She swallowed, hoping her frayed nerves would calm.
“You look beautiful.” The hollow, low voice behind her echoed in the room, and she smiled at the encouragement. A strong hand came to rest on her shoulder, radiating warmth through her body.
“Thank you, Sebastian,” Lacey said, grateful of the praise, beaming at him from all her heart. “You don’t think it’s… too yellow…?” She signed the last two words to ensure Sebastian understood her. Over the past four years she’d learned how to sign adequately to converse with Sebastian who’d been deaf since childhood.
Sebastian cocked his head to the side, assessing her in the mirror. “No. It’s perfect.”
His hair was so black it glowed blue under the lights, adding to the blue of his piercing but always kind eyes. He had such an expressive face, concealing nothing, and when he smiled it was like the sun coming out from behind dark clouds. His appearance was almost identical to that of his younger brother, Bro—who happened to be Lacey’s boyfriend of four and a half years. But where Sebastian was slender, Bro was more muscular like an athlete.
Next to Sebastian, Lacey saw herself as petite, yet never weak. For a twenty-one year old young man who preferred to wear women’s clothes, Lacey was small in size. She was dressed in roaring twenties style, in a mid-thigh, gold-and-pink sequined vamp flapper dress, with a fringe hem reaching down to her knees. On her legs she wore glimmering fishnet silk stockings
Her vintage glamour look was crowned by a tucked, pinned hairstyle, with a few cascading honey-blonde curls to frame her delicate features. She had a golden-colored headband also with a yellow tea rose attached to the side of her head. The tea rose symbolized her relationship with Bro who gave her a yellow rose at their every anniversary as a couple.
The elegant costume was completed by a twice-looped long pearl necklace. Her full, pouty lips shone with pink lip gloss, and her hazel eyes had dark golden eye shadow.
Not many would be able to look at her and know she was a boy underneath her pretty dress. Well, she was twenty-one now, so she was more a young man than a boy.
Today was going to mix styles radically, but so what? This was her special day. Her dress signified the raucous jazz playing that would follow the ceremony.
With trembling hands Lacey checked herself once more from top to bottom.
Sebastian laughed in his hiccupy way. “Stop. You look beautiful.”
Lacey chuckled, her anxiety gone and replaced by bubbling happiness. “Thanks.”
The door cracked open with a minor creak. In peeked a handsome, muscular man with a head full of platinum-blond curls, mischievous emerald-green eyes, and loads of black and gray tribal tattoos. “Guys, you coming out eventually, or what?” He made a theatrical point of tapping his wrist watch, his eyebrows quirked in query.
Sebastian rolled his eyes. “Ignore the rushing joker at the doorway. Jordan’s opinion doesn’t count. Take all the time you need.”
A feigned disgruntled hey! came from the doorway. “It’s her day, yeah, but others are waiting too, honey-muffin.”
Lacey glared at him. “You didn’t just call me that, did you?”
“Of course not, sweetie-pie.” Showcasing cute dimples, Jordan flashed an irreverent grin, a gesture Lacey was sure he’d learned from Bro. The two men were so alike sometimes it was freaky. It was hard to believe they were brothers-in-law, not actual flesh-and-blood brothers. “Now hustle, you two.” Then he retreated quickly and shut the door, probably to escape scolding.
Lacey faced Sebastian. “You’re positive he’s the man for you?”
Sebastian laughed loudly, his unusual voice tinted with humor, tickling Lacey’s funny bone too. “Yup.” He gave Lacey one last once-over. “You look perfect. It’s time to go. Ready?” His long, elegant fingers moved in time with his words which he pronounced better than some people. He had a habit of speaking and signing at once sometimes.
Lacey loved him like a brother. She nodded. “Yes.” She readjusted Sebastian’s black tie an inch, then nodded her own approval, at which Sebastian grinned.
He held an arm out for her, and she took it. Together they stepped out of the room to outside and to the white graveled lane through the trees and bushes, past the flowerbeds and moon doors, the view to the artificial pond and the arched bridges over it in the distance.
The Chinese pavilion they were headed for was open on all sides. Though the day was cloudy and gray, drizzly and windy, the structure was large enough to block the elements. It was well illuminated by ninety-nine red paper lanterns hanging above them, from the roof beams and up-curved eaves. Red silk curtains with Chinese calligraphy—Chinese characters for words like happiness, joy, and love imprinted on them—hung from the rafters between the red-painted wooden pillars.
Lacey had seen it all before during their preparations and rehearsals. Today her sole focus was the gorgeous dark-haired, fair-skinned, blue-eyed angel waiting for her.
Bro, my love.
Unable and unwilling to keep the smile off her face, Lacey walked confidently to the young man waiting for her. Bro had grown a lot bigger since the two of them had met at the tender age of seventeen. His beefy, ripped physique was the result of him having gotten into the practice squad of the Washington Redskins only a few short months ago, right after his graduation from Howard University. But the wicked twinkle in his blue eyes and the open, blissful smile on his lips was born from his affection for Lacey.
God, but he looks yummy in that tuxedo. The James Bond outfit definitely suited him to a tee, showcasing his broad shoulders, narrow hips, long legs, and delicious bulge. Lacey’s heart skipped a beat and she damn near tripped over her high heels. Bro winked at her, as though he could read her mind and see all the saucy, naughty thoughts running through her head.
Lacey stopped in front of Bro, who took her hand. His grip was firm and feverish, like he too felt the current sparking between them. He looked as happy as she felt. There’d been a time when she’d feared they would never get to this point in their lives, that there were simply too many things pulling them in different directions.
But Bro was nothing if not adamant. What he wanted, he pursued with enthusiasm and vigor. And since their teens, Lacey had been Bro’s heart’s desire.
Exactly as Bro was Lacey’s heart and soul.
Faintly aware of her surroundings, Lacey knew they were surrounded by friends and family. They had all come here to celebrate on an autumn’s afternoon: Sebastian, Bro’s big brother; Jordan, Sebastian’s husband and detective in MPDC; Jack, Jordan’s younger brother and fireman; Kevin, Jack’s fiancé and Jordan’s partner in MPDC; Bradley, Bro’s best friend and offensive lineman for the Washington Redskins; Audrey, Bradley’s girlfriend, Lacey’s best friend, and paralegal at a private environmental law firm; Parker, Lacey’s other best friend and pianist, both jazz and classical; Deacon, Parker’s boyfriend; Luke, Jack’s best friend and fireman; and Ricky, Bradley’s twin brother and sous chef for a three-star Michelin restaurant in DC.
Last but not least, close by stood Roger, Lacey’s father. There was a good reason why it was Sebastian who escorted her to Bro, and not Roger—who was a recovering abusive alcoholic. On his formal jacket, Roger wore four bronze chips to mark four years of sobriety plus a single dark gold one for the additional two months into his fifth year. They were symbols that both reminded him of the past and dedicated the milestones of getting past his prior hardships. He even held a steady job at an accounting firm.
Their relationship remained enflamed and awkward most days, as the memory of hate-filled words and outright violence was too vivid and stark to forget. At least it was for Lacey.
Nonetheless, Roger was there, cleaned up and sober. His shy smile had a mildly rigid, insecure quality, since he still felt weird about his only son preferring female attire, appearance, and identity. He was trying to make amends, so Lacey tried to bury the past too.
Lacey smiled quickly for her father’s benefit, and then refocused on Bro. He squeezed Lacey’s hand, the soft touch at once a reassurance and a question. Lacey nodded firmly. I’m fine, I promise.
The woman priest stepped forward, her smile genuine and kind. “Dearly beloved. We have gathered here, in the China Garden, today to celebrate the loving union of Bro Sumner and Lacey Adair.” A couple of loud claps and whoops, plus a distinctive wolf whistle accompanied the statement, and Lacey and Bro both giggled. Yes, this was only her second week as Lacey Adair, not Lance as she had been born. She’d had her name legally changed. “Bro and Lacey have written their own vows. Please.” The priest gestured for them to begin.
Bro cleared his throat, and for the first time in ages he appeared nervous, his hand hot and trembling, his forehead sweaty, and his voice cracking. “Lacey. The first time I became aware of you was through your music. I heard your violin’s sad song play in the high school halls. I had to meet you. It was fate, I think.”
Lacey could scarcely draw breath, she was so flustered and heady and excited.
“During your darkest hour,” Bro went on, soft and solemn, “I told you I knew you, heart and soul. That I’ve never known anyone as full of light as you. That you shine bright as the sun, blinding me with your brilliance. So… as you and I stand here, underneath these red lanterns that pale in comparison, I say to you again: You shine, Lace, and I’ll love you forever.”
Lacey blinked hard but the misty, blurry veil of unshed tears remained. She coughed to be able to speak from the heart. “Bro. In every dark hour of my life, you have been there for me. You never ask or demand, you always give, freely and without expecting anything in return. You are the best person I’ve ever known, and I’m proud to stand here with you, to tell you how much you mean to me.”
The sudden flash from Bro’s eyes, a sultry heat burning in blue flames, almost had her stumbling in her speech. But the vow came from her heart, so even with different words than what she had planned, they still rang true.
“We’ve been through a lot, haven’t we?” Lacey continued, a swift chuckle following her words. Bro wasn’t the only one to react with a snort. They all knew the details of the path that had finally led them here. “I admit, there were trying times when I was positive we’d never get to this point. But like you always said, love conquers all, and so does family. No matter how much time or space is between us, we’re bound together with unbreakable ties. Our own makeshift family of oddities and crazies.”
Bro grinned, a cocky swagger to his approach. “I’m just overjoyed you agreed to move with me to Fredericksburg, so we both have a reasonable commute.”
Lacey laughed. “One hour or so. We can both work with that.”
“And make our future work,” Bro said, his brashness paving the way for shyness.
It was true their lives took them in opposite directions. Lacey had finished her studies at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and her career as a rising star with a violin was about to lead her to a six month artist-in-residency at a prestigious university in Italy. Bro, on the other hand, divided his time between the Redskins training camp in Richmond, Virginia, and teaching various ASL classes in the DC metropolitan area. They’d bought their small house smack in the middle, in Fredericksburg, to ensure their job commutes rarely were more than an hour, an hour and a half.
“Yes, to make our future work, together as a couple.” Lacey admired Bro’s strength and total confidence that everything would turn out okay. He was an optimist, and Lacey tried not to be a pessimist and ruin what they had. “I love you, Bro. Because of you, I have faith in the future and in us. You’ve changed my life for the better. You say I shine; I say you glow. When I look into your eyes, I see the light that guides me to you, always. I love you.”
Bro’s eyes shimmered with tears.
At that exact moment it started to rain. The big droplets pattered on the roof tiles, like nature herself serenaded in honor of their marriage.
Then Bro pulled Lacey into his arms, and they embraced one another with the certain knowledge that be it the sheen of the candles inside the paper lanterns or the brightness of the sun in the sky, their love would continue to shine and guide their path forward—together.
“And now, the rings….”
Did you enjoy Susan Laine’s story? If so, check out the rest of her books and take 25% off at checkout with the code SusanLaineFlash. Coupon code is good for one order per customer through February 8, 2015.
January 8, 2015
Thank you so much everyone! It’s been a wonderful day.
I will leave you with links to my social media — please stay in touch!
HERE is the link to my page at DSP, where you can find Natural Instincts and Another Healing.
And what’s next? I’ve just finished the rough draft for a novel called Jai. I’ve been working on it for almost a year, and I’m really excited. Stay tuned…
January 8, 2015
Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the email you use at DSP, and we’ll get you a copy ASAP
January 8, 2015
I’m back from a rolicking time over on the DSP Twitter. Last chance to leave me a comment to be entered into a drawing for a free copy of Natural Instincts. Last chance to ask me anything. I’ll do the drawing at nine o’clock.
January 8, 2015
So, I’m off to do my DSP Twitter Takeover HERE
While I’m gone, HERE is a link to my free story that was published on this blog a few days ago. I wrote it based on a prompt given to me by a reader. It features James and Ambient, the characters in my Dreamspinner novel Another Healing.
Watch for my second free story, Flying, which will be published on this blog sometime later this month.
Remember, anybody who leaves a comment on any of my posts today will be entered into a drawing for a free copy of Natural Instincts. I will do the drawing around nine this evening. Keep chatting — I’ll be back!
January 8, 2015
Okay, I’m here live, more or less, for the rest of the day and evening, except for when I’m doing a DSP Twitter Takeover from seven to eight.
I really, really had good intentions of responding to comments during the school day, but midterm exams are next week and it’s the end of second quarter, so the darn kids kept me hopping all day. Didn’t they know I needed frequent breaks? But it’s kind of a bad example for educators to be on their phones all the time. I did manage to hide occasionally and see all your wonderful comments coming in. Thank you SO much for that. I’ll get to them all as soon as I can.
But now I’m home, I’ve filled my birdfeeders, changed into something comfy, made myself some hot chocolate, and have settled down at my computer. I’m very glad to be here for a number of reasons, but most importantly because it’s ten very cold degrees outside right now. This morning when I left, it was fifteen below zero. Even for Vermont, that’s COLD, especially with a windchill making it feel like thirty below. I don’t know how to do math conversions, so for those of you who aren’t in the US, just know that thirty below zero is the cold where frostbite sets in within minutes, you can’t breathe, and your eyeballs freeze if you look into the wind.
So ask me anything. I’ve got a warm cat next to me and I’m not going anywhere.
January 8, 2015
Here’s another little tidbit from Natural Instincts to whet your appetites:
I spread my legs a little to give the fullness of his jeans room to press closer into me. He had to clear his throat a little before he went on, the fingers of his right hand moving ever closer to the place that was aching to be filled by him again. “You know how in Greek mythology, the gods often had their way with humans?”
…I nodded, pressing as close as I could. The irony wasn’t lost on me that he could play with this human all he wished.
January 8, 2015
Natural Instincts is set on a small lake in northern Vermont. I combined features of several of my favorite Vermont State Parks in the story. My family and I have camped in the site I describe, with its own little beach, a big flat rock, and a bathhouse just up a hill.
I have a thing about loons. There’s just something about their mysterious beauty and haunting calls that evokes the wilderness and the past and something mystical. They are a very old species in terms of evolution, and they don’t adapt to humans very well. They are quite rare, but thankfully, after years of careful conservation, they are making a come back. It’s a tradition for me to find at least one pair every summer and photograph them, without disturbing them, of course. This past summer, I saw more loons than I’ve ever seen before. At least seven. One pair swam clear across the opening of a bay directly to where I was sitting, watching them. How did they know I needed inspiration?
Anybody ever been lucky enough to see a loon?
(One of the loon pairs I photographed this summer. These were actually in Canada, not Vermont. Don’t tell.)
January 8, 2015
Here’s an excerpt from Natural Instincts. These are Kyle’s thoughts on camping, at least at the beginning of the story.
By now it was near midnight, pitch-black, and to my overwhelming joy, it began to rain. I sat there, looking through my mud-spattered windshield at the thick, dark forest I’d been driving through, and wondered what a guy like me was doing here. The road looked less passable beyond the building—I was going to have to go through a mud-bogger’s dream before the road went up a steep hill that looked like something out of a motocross rider’s course. This place had no resemblance to its website’s images of happy little tents in a grassy field on the shore of a lake with maple trees in the background. The crowning image for me had been an artist’s rendition of a loon looking over its shoulder, perfectly feathered, its red eye burning, wild and mysterious and free. The campground looked like the perfect setting for an overworked financial analyst who’d never taken a vacation to relax, rejuvenate, and find himself.
A man with perfect recall, but with so much he wished he could forget.
Who agrees with Kyle’s first impression that camping is no fun? Or who has has some wonderful camping experiences?
(My tent. The tarp over the table is because it ALWAYS rains.)
January 8, 2015
Natural Instincts is about Kyle, who has been abused in the past and feels that he was damn lucky to get out of love alive. He won’t speak aloud to anybody because, as he puts it, he used up his voice screaming. He is a math genius, a financial wizard, and a city boy to the core. His memory is so good that he can never forget a single detail of what happens to him. The only reason he’s doing the tenting thing is because his therapist has talked him into it. He does not want to be here, though he admits that seeing a loon would be very cool.
Jon couldn’t be any more different. He has a deep, magical connection to nature, and he is self-assured and powerful. Neither of them wants to fall in love, especially not with each other. In fact, the first time they meet, Jon is so angry that Kyle fears for his life. But there is common ground for them, and by the end of the story, Kyle gets way closer to nature than he ever expected.
Writing from the point of view of a character who doesn’t speak aloud was a challenge, but it allowed me to get very deeply into Kyle’s head. I should confess that when Kyle is desperate, he will take out his phone and type a message, but that happens rarely. Even though I am far, very far, from being a math genius and finances make me nauseous, I feel a strong connection to Kyle. My favorite scene is when he is learning how to canoe. Canoeing is actually one thing I’m really good at (she said modestly) since I grew up on a lake.
Any canoe enthusiasts out there? Most people, I’ve found, either love canoes or wouldn’t be caught dead in one.
(This is my canoe. It’s old, but a very fine boat.)