QSFer Vivien Dean has a new MM sci fi book out:
Nothing has ever excited Tylen Merodine more than being invited by the Regent himself to celebrate the first solar eclipse in his planet’s recorded history. It’s the party of the millennium, and if he has to restrain his normally exuberant instincts to fit in, that’s what he’ll do to be a part of it. His good intentions vanish, however, the moment he’s presented to the Regent. Because there, in a gilded cage, playing music unlike anything Tylen’s ever heard, is the most beautiful alien he could imagine.
For more than twenty years, Dek has lived in captivity, performing at the whim of those who see him as an animal. The Regent is just the latest in a long line of owners, and while he’s kind, he’s still blind to Dek’s sentient nature. Only music gives Dek a voice, until Tylen breaks the rules and sneaks in to see and speak to him alone.
The time they have together is stolen and precious, the minutes ticking away until the eclipse is past and they have to go back to the way their lives were before. But when the Regent shows an unexpected interest in Tylen’s future, they begin to wonder if their worlds need to remain so separate…
He talked. Of all that was holy, he actually spoke to me, in words not music, language I understood. I mean, I knew he was smart, I knew he understood me. Even if the Regent hadn’t said so, I only had to look at him to know that.
But nobody had said one word about him being able to communicate in a way that wasn’t music. I guess that makes me as bad as Dourack that I assumed the most basic explanation, but I’d thought the so-called songs—and come on, they were more than that, no matter how the Regent wanted to label them—were his means of expression.
I’d never been so excited about being wrong in my entire life.
And scared. Let’s not forget scared.
Because if he could talk, what was going to stop him from telling the Regent that I’d broken into his conservatory to gawp at his newest toy?
I took a step back, ready to run, potential lies already flashing through my head to explain my presence, when Dek stiffened.
“Please don’t go.”
His speaking voice rumbled deeper than his singing one, but it was just as mesmerizing. I froze, partially because I didn’t actually want to have to leave him yet, partially because I was insanely curious about why he’d want me to stay.
“I’ll get caught,” I said.
He shook his head. “Nobody is out there. I can hear if anyone approaches. I can alert you so you have time to hide if someone does. But please…you don’t have to leave.”
I’m not sure his definition of “have to” was the same as mine, but when he looked at me with that kind of desperation, I couldn’t just say, “Sorry, I’m a social-climbing jerk who doesn’t want to chance getting ostracized by the Circle and never getting a formal invitation again.” That was Dourack’s spiel. Hadn’t I thought myself better than that?
“I guess the Regent wouldn’t have all these tall plants in here if he didn’t use them for the occasional refuge.” I smiled, hoping it would relax both of us again. It did for me, at least a little, but Dek remained wary a few seconds longer before I caught the barest easing of his shoulders. “He said you’ll be singing again at supper. Aren’t you tired?”
“I sing at most of the Regent’s gatherings.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“It doesn’t matter if I’m tired.” He glanced at the golden bars of his cage. “My life is not my own.”
I scowled at his confinement. “Yeah, I noticed that.”
When Johaf had bragged about the Regent’s new songbird on the way to presenting us, I’d expected an actual bird, even if the music it played as we got closer didn’t sound like it could possibly be created by a single creature. But seeing him for the first time…yes, he was alien, and there was something slightly unsettling about the way his hands twisted and turned through the air as he sang, but Dek was no dumb animal to be locked away in a cage.
Dressed in appropriate attire, in dim lighting, he might be mistaken as human if he remained completely still. Though his cage was a foot off the ground, I could still tell he was taller than me, taller than most people I knew, six and a half feet at least if not closer to seven. In clothes, he’d be slender, but dressed in the loose red pants he wore, the only word to describe his long arms and legs was willowy, as graceful as an exotic dancer. His skin was pale but not unblemished. Light gray freckles speckled his chest, with matching arrays along the back of his arms, across his shoulders, and up the sides of his neck. They were the same color as his hair, pulled off his face and bound in thick bunches that fell almost to his waist.
But look at his eyes and hands, and anyone could see he was alien. His irises were nearly black, the pupils almost indiscernible. He didn’t seem to need to blink as often, either, which probably didn’t help the unfortunate bird label.
And his hands…I’d never seen such things before. Fine strands ran between his long fingers, angled from tip to base. They were nearly invisible when his hands weren’t moving, but while he played, they floated and vibrated in the air, caught on the breeze his movements created. Sometimes, he would pluck them to create more notes, like a miniature harp. But I’d watched him closely as he played, and I would’ve sworn that he could pluck the very same spot and get a completely different sound from it. I hadn’t studied the right kind of science to figure out how it worked, though.
“What if you told the Regent you were tired?” I tried. “He’s not a tyrant. I’m sure he’d understand.”
“That would require me speaking to him.”
“Aren’t you allowed?”
“He doesn’t know I can.”
“What? That’s ridiculous. You sing.”
“Birds sing, and yet, they’re not capable of speech.”
“You’re not a bird.”
“I am to them.”
Which brought us back to his imprisonment, the indisputable reality of his existence. “But if you just spoke to the Regent, he’d see how wrong this is. You could still play if you were a member of court.”
One delicate brow arched. “I have lived in cages for almost two decades, and you are the first being to ever try conversing with me. Do you really think the Regent is different than all those others?”
I didn’t have an answer to that. Especially since he implied that I was somehow different because of the choice I’d made. “If nobody ever talked to you before, then—”
“You are also the first I’ve spoken to, yes.”
I’d come in to bask in his wild beauty, but he’d stunned me with far more than simple appearances. “Why?”
“Because you do not treat me like the rest do. You treated me like…” His voice trailed off, his head cocking slightly as he searched for a word.
I gave it to him. “A man.”
He bowed his head, in agreement, in gratitude, I didn’t know. I didn’t really care, because I felt guilty that it had taken—how long had he said he’d lived like this? Twenty years? I would’ve been five when his life turned into this. How old had he been?
The one word that best describes me? Geek. Book geek. Theater geek. Movie geek. All I need is a story to get lost in. The rest takes care of itself.
It all began in Michigan where living in the middle of nowhere forced me to escape to stories and my imagination. High school introduced me to the joys of performing, while college expanded those horizons to include filmmaking. When I met my geek soulmate, a British expat who encouraged me to dream, I spent two years rediscovering the world before he whisked me away to the UK to get married. It was there, as we started our family, that I turned to writing again. I haven’t stopped since.
In 2006, I teamed up with fellow erotic romance writer, Pepper Espinoza. Together, we wrote as Jamie Craig for five years. I currently reside in northern California with my husband and two children.