Enjoy the first chapter of Tattle Tail! The normal warnings about typos apply. This is an unedited draft and may change.
Two Years Ago
This was not a test, but it very much felt like a test. Peaceable stood in the shade of a large tree, clutching her drink like a lifeline. Cold beads of sweat dripped down the glass, making it slippery and difficult to hold.
A house warming party, which made no sense to her. It was summer, so the house did not require warming.
Idioms were tricky. She understood it to mean a celebration of a new home. Even in that context, it made no sense. Mr. Cayne had owned the property for several years and his mate moved in nearly a year ago. An anniversary party would make more sense. When she pointed this out to Mr. Cayne, her boss, gave a weary sigh. The matter was beyond his control.
And that made even less sense. Winter Cayne was a wealthy male and headed a successful company. If he did not wish to have his house warmed, that should be the end of the issue.
Yet here she was, an awkward guest, sweltering in the heat at a party she did not understand, surrounded by people she barely knew.
This was agony.
“You have a very muddle aura,” an older human female said. She peered at Peaceable, as if inspecting her. Sunlight gleamed on the silver strands in her hair. “The colors are lovely but you need a catalyst, I think, to shake off this malaise.”
“Thank you?” Peaceable was unsure how to respond. She knew this female to be Mr. Cayne’s mother-in-law, Valerian Moonquest, recently arrived on Corra and for whom the house was warmed.
The older female perked, a smile on her face. “I know just the person. Come along and meet my son, Joseph. His aura won’t settle, you know.”
Peaceable definitely did not know how to respond to that but allowed herself to be led by the hand across the garden. They approached Mr. Cayne’s mate, Marigold, and a human male, deep in conversation.
“This environmental fine is ridiculous. If I was flying the ship, yes, but charging a daily fine when it’s not in use?” The male gestured wildly with his hands. He had a pale complexion, pale from a lifetime of artificial lighting, even though the sun tinged his skin pink. His dark, curling hair was pulled back, allowing a few curls to escape. The familial resemblance was obvious. This had to be Marigold’s brother.
“Then fix what needs to be fixed and make it compliant,” Marigold said.
“It’s new! There’s nothing to be fixed.”
They failed to notice Valerian and Peaceable.
“Corra takes environmental protection seriously. It would be foolish and expensive to maintain a vessel not in compliance,” Peaceable said. “A few filters, perhaps a filtration system upgrade, is what most vessels require. It is not difficult.”
The male frowned. His gaze swept over her, as if judging her. His lips quirked at the corners.
Peaceable knew that look. It was the calculating look of male who only valued opinions from attractive people. Already she disliked the male.
“And you are…” His voice trailed off in a question.
“An engineer who is mindful of environmental regulations.” She had to consider several planets, their laws and requirements, when designing CayneTech products. Not that she was the lead designer on any project at the moment.
“Oh, an expert.” His tone sounded mocking.
Marigold jabbed him with her elbow. “Be nice. This is my brother, Joseph.” She made quick work of introductions. “Joseph, this is Peaceable. Winter’s assistant.”
Peaceable extended a hand for the traditional human greeting.
Joseph ignored her outstretched hand. Instead, he said, “My ship meets Interstellar Union standards.”
“Corra is not an IU member planet.”
“I would expect that the standards for the largest interplanetary alliance in the universe would be good enough for Corra,” he said.
“That is a very arrogant attitude,” she replied, not even bothering to hide her dislike.
“I bought that ship for the journey here. It’s new. It should be good enough for this planet.”
“Then you should have done adequate research before making such a purchase.”
“New vessels should qualify for a waiver. The plastic film is still on the screens.” He folded his arms over his chest, as if that was a valid point and not the petulant complaints of a kit.
“New does not mean environmentally sound. Newcomers should respect a sovereign planet’s regulations and not whine because they failed to do a simple search on the network,” she said. There. That was a valid point.
Valerian clapped her hands together. “Oh, this is lovely. I knew you’d get along.”
“Mother–” Words failed him. He didn’t even know where to start.
“You add vibrancy and she helps calm all this,” Valerian said, waggling her fingers in his general direction.
This was mortifying.
He didn’t want a party and who threw a housewarming party when someone else moved into your house? Winter Cayne, apparently. Bazillionaires– or however much he was worth– played by their own rules.
You’d think a rich guy’s party would be fun, with over-the-top spectacles but it was mostly filled with the kit’s school friends and some CayneTec employees. As far as Joseph could tell, Winter and Mari had no friends. The booze was practically water, the only music was from the kits clumsily strumming instruments, and the sweltering weather added to the misery. People clumped together for awkward conversations. No one appeared to be enjoying themselves but no one had the nerve to leave, lest they upset the boss man.
Boss cat. Boss alien. Whatever.
“This party makes me sad, Mari,” he said.
He wanted a drink, a real drink, and some time away from his family. He loved his mother but it had been a long journey in a small ship. He wanted a minute alone to recharge his battery. Valerian was the one in the family who thrived on social functions, flirting from conversation to conversation like a butterfly. Mari did alright, as far as Joseph could tell, but he craved quiet and solitude.
Piloting cargo ships meant he had plenty of time by himself or a small crew. Just when he had reached the limit and started craving social contact, the ship would dock and he’d spend a night in a bar or club. Maybe he’d take someone home, maybe not. The next day, it was time to leave and no feelings were hurt. It was the perfect system, as far as he was concerned, but Mari had to ruin it by running off to marry Winter Cayne.
He didn’t like the male on principle. The first time they met, Joseph arrived at Mari’s apartment with dinner, and Winter immediately started throwing punches. Who skips who are you and what are you doing here and goes straight to physical assault? Winter Cayne, apparently.
Then they got married, because of course his sister married the guy. Joseph was absolutely ready to believe it was for the money, even if that painted Mari in a crass light. Then he thought it might be because Winter had a teenage son and manipulated Mari’s emotions. No. It was love. Even Joseph had to admit that the devotion between Winter and Mari was obvious.
Then his mother decided to sell the family company and relocate to Corra, to focus on her family and new grandchild.
And that was how Joseph was stuck standing around in the sun with sweaty balls and a hot alien giving him the side eye. Well, hot in a judgey, better-than-you way.
Marigold rolled her eyes. “You’re welcome. Nothing makes me happier than throwing a party that makes you sad.”
“Happy to help.”
“And don’t be a dick to my guests. I’m sorry, Peaceable,” she said to the Tal woman.
“It is not a problem,” Peaceable answered. Collected and elegant in a light, summery outfit, not a hair on her head was of place. Everyone else was melting in the heat and she looked perfectly fresh. He wanted to see her messy. Make her messy. The uptight ones were always wild once you got them going.
“I’m only a dick to people who invite themselves into private conversations. This is an A B conversation, so see your way out,” he added, just to get a reaction from her.
Color rose in her cheeks. Success.
“You’re unbelievable,” Marigold said, disapproval dripping from her voice.
So what? He wouldn’t apologize. Peaceable butted into their conversation. She was rude first.
He felt the need to add, “For the record, the ship is scheduled for upgrade next week to make it compliant, but it’s the principle. I shouldn’t be fined for the time my ship is grounded and not actively ruining the atmosphere.” Or, at the very least, he should get a refund on those days.
“Wow, you are extraordinarily rude,” Peaceable said, as if anyone asked her opinion.
“Wow, you’re slow at realizing things,” he snapped.
Her entire body tensed. Joseph wondered briefly if he had gone too far, but quickly dismissed the thought. She interrupted his conversation with Mari and gave her unwanted and unasked for opinion.
“Thank you for the invitation but I am leaving now,” she said to Mari.
Joseph watched the alien woman walk away. He couldn’t imagine a more uptight, high-strung person. Pretty, yes, but not pretty enough to carry off that judgemental attitude. It might be fun to melt that icy exterior, though.
He shook his head and said, “She’s not my type.”
Just a little lie… a fake fiancé fib.
Peaceable needs a man to get her parents off her tail and stop their matchmaking. Desperate, she blurts out a made-up, surprise engagement to the worst, most aggravating man in the galaxy: Joseph Moonquest.
The problem is that Joseph is the most insufferable, arrogant and wildly attractive human male she’s ever met. Worse still, he takes news of their surprise engagement in stride.
He’ll play her games.
Joseph and the stunning alien woman have been circling each other for months. Peaceable is the least fun, most goody-two shoes person he knows. She’s so prim and proper, colder than the stars in deep space.
He might ask why she’s so desperate for a fake fiancé but he’ll enjoy tempting and teasing the uptight alien. She’s the one woman he’s never been able to charm. He’ll melt that icy exterior and make her come undone.
Her little lie? He’ll play along until she’s at his mercy and the fussy female is in his bed.
He’ll be the best fake fiancé in the cosmos.
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