I hope to write more someday, because Nollie's actually kind of special to me. And, her story is different from what I usually write (I can't say how, because SPOILERS!). Plus, she lives on a sheep farm and sheep are really cool. I like sheep.
It's a bit like The Crimson Banner in that it's set in a made up kingdom, but the world is realistic enough it's not really a fantasy. Her country is slightly based off of Australia in the 1800's, except the whole deal with there being a king who lives in the country instead of the country being a colony thing thrown in.
And, you should know before you even start reading it that Riff and Nollie are not a couple. They're like siblings, basically, except with the fact that she's his employer to complicate things the tiniest bit. But, only a tiny bit. They're basically brother and sister. So, don't try set them up with each other, because then when I write more your hearts will be broken.
And, I'd rather not break your heart over something so silly.
So, I'll stop talking now and let you read. Here you go, Chapter One of Nollie's story:
“Nollie, come on!” Riff’s voice came up the stairs. I could hear the annoyance that tinged it and felt sorry for having risen a little later than usual. Riff’s father- who was also my foreman, Brahms- was away at market, selling our sheep and wouldn’t be home for another few weeks. Riff had taken it upon himself to see that Benson Heights thrived in his absence and, nobility or not, I had my fair share of work to do, from which he wasn’t about to let me slack.
“I’m coming, Riff,” I called back. “Hold your horses.”
“Stop worrying about the horses and get down here!”
I hurriedly plaited my dark hair into a simple braid. “Come up and get me,” I challenged, tying a scarf over my head.
“Don’t tempt me,” he grumbled.
I grinned as I moved quietly toward the casement. I heard Riff’s boots on the stairs as I eased the window open. Swinging my legs over the sill, I climbed onto the lean-to roof and slid the window closed. I heard Riff pound on my door as I moved across the roof.
“Nollie, come on. We haven’t got all day, you know.”
The pounding and pleas grew quieter and died as I eased toward the roof’s edge. Thankful that Brahms saw fit to let me wear jeans, I grabbed the edge and slipped over. I dangled for a second before I let myself drop and fell with a small thud.
Rising to my feet, I dusted myself off and went inside. Riff wasn’t in the kitchen or main room, meaning he was still up trying to coax me from my room.
“Riff,” I called up the stairs. “Are you coming or not?”
I heard his boots on the wood as he came down the stairs, each step making a solid, ringing thump.
His stern green eyes took me in when he reached the bottom. “How?”
I grinned impishly. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Nollie Benson, I’m going to get you,” he muttered.
I darted out the back door toward the barn and he followed.
“You can’t catch me,” I called over my shoulder, as I rounded the corner of the barn. I stopped in my tracks. In the short time it had taken me to go into the kitchen and tease Riff, the yard had filled with men on horseback. There were about fifteen of them, all of who save one wore blue uniforms with yellow sashes tied around their waists. Royal Guards?
The other man was dressed richly in clothes of deep red with golden trim. He wore a thin circlet of gold around his head.
He couldn’t be who I thought he was.
Riff came around the side of the barn and his grin faded. He moved to stand beside me and tower over me protectively. That’s what I loved about Riff- one minute he was chasing me, intent on making me pay for my tricks, and the next he was my gallant protector. Yes, Riff Ramsey was definitely the ultimate older brother figure.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
The lead rider stepped off his horse and gave me a judgmental sniff. I suddenly realized how terrible I must look in my jeans and t-shirt. “A female laborer,” he said. “How… modern. Please inform your master that His Highness the king of Stratus is here.”
He was who I thought he was. The king. In my yard. I felt a little faint.
“I’m Lady Magnolia Benson of Benson Heights,” I told the lead man. He eyed me again and raised an eyebrow skeptically.
“I really am,” I felt the need to add.
The un-uniformed man dismounted and approached us. I curtsied as best I could in pants.
“I’m very sorry, Lady Benson, if this is an inconvenient time,” he said. “I was passing by and I thought perhaps I might trouble you for a drink of water.”
Seriously? The king stopped by for some water? Wow…
“I am very sorry to have bothered you,” he continued. “This is obviously not a good time and I apologize for-”
“Oh, it’s fine,” I hurried to tell him before considering that perhaps it was unwise to interrupt one’s king. “That is, it’s no inconvenience at all, Your Majesty. The- the well’s just over there.”
Riff looked at me like I was insane. “You don’t offer a king well water,” he hissed. “At least, not like that. You could at least offer him a cup.”
But, it was too late. King William had already moved to the well and had his man draw a bucket. Unlatching the dipper from the well’s side, he dipped it in the bucket and took a swig before handing it to his man.
“That was the very best water I’ve had in years,” he said, coming back to where Riff and I stood. He smiled a very charming smile. “Thank you most kindly, milady.”
My heart did a strange pitter-patter and I smiled back shyly. “You are most welcome, Your Majesty.”
He took my hand and kissed it. “Good day, milady,” he said, before turning and remounting his horse.
We watched him and his men ride away before Riff turned to me and said, as if none of that had just happened, “So, where did we leave off?”
With a squeal, I darted for the barn, Riff close behind.
And there you have it! The only decent scene of the whole book. I hope you enjoyed it because, as I said, I would love to write more about Nollie someday. Especially Riff. I adore Riff.