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Welcome to the 53rd stop on the Young Adult Summer Scavenger Hunt! If you don’t know what that is, visit the YA Bookshelf for all the rules. On your quest to uncover the secret short story, you should have visited author Chanda Stafford‘s website before this. After you’re done here, move on to author Melinda Cordell‘s site!
Everyone who’s reading this gets a FREE e-copy of my spooky YA short story, Drowned Silence! This story includes samplers for all of my other current YA work, too.
Click here for your free copy!
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My YA romantic fantasy, Nobody’s Goddess, the first book in The Never Veil Series, went through so many revisions that I have a number of deleted scenes to show. Here’s one of the openings the book used to have. Visit Wattpad or Amazon and compare it to the finalized opening chapter!
First Draft Chapter One to Nobody’s Goddess
I’d known him my whole life, but until one year prior, I had never seen his face. The fact that I could now bask in the fire in his eyes meant he was lost to me forever. Not that there was ever any hope. Not for me.
With my free will to love whom I would, I loved the man who sat beside me in the violet lily-covered hilltop before the woods. And it mattered not.
Still, how many women could say they could hold the man they loved in their arms? Intertwine their arms with his, rest their heads upon his shoulders and breathe in the flowery scent of his shoulder-length black hair?
I suppose if they were like my mother had been, quite a lot. When the time came, anyway.
But I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there had to have been other women like me. The fact that their husbands still walked around with their faces a secret made it impossible to deny.
Had those women loved another? Had they chosen not to love at all? Of those who had foolishly let their hearts take hope in another, as I had, how many even managed to get those men to look their way? To see the woman as anything more than another person in the village, a forgettable face in the background obscured by the goddess whom he loved?
I had to believe that I was the only one. I wouldn’t feel the glares at my back, hear the rustle of whispers as I passed if there had been another.
“Noll,” came a kinder whisper than the type to which I was used, “you’re awfully quiet. Is something troubling you?”
I flinched. And with my hands so tightly wound around his upper arm, I’m sure he felt it.
“No,” I lied. As if speaking the lie aloud could fool my own heart.
Of course, Jurij would not be fooled. Not entirely. He gently pulled apart from my grip and put a few more inches of the grassy hilltop between us. Just a few more inches, but he may as well have put the entire village between us. Not that it wasn’t already.
His face was pained. “I wish you wouldn’t keep secrets from me.”
I scoffed—not at him, but at myself and the inanity of it all. If Jurij knew my secret, he pretended not to know it. I liked to think that it was impossible for him to know it because asking me to speak it aloud would be too cruel. Maybe he couldn’t know. Men were said only to gain a bit of awareness once they got married. And only even then if they experienced the Returning first.
I sighed and let go of Jurij’s arm. If I spent one more moment looking into the flames in Jurij’s eyes, I felt I may burst. I wished he did not look so sad—not for me, anyway. What he likely guessed to be the topic troubling me was something else entirely. How could he know that it was my love for him that pained me? How could he even fathom that I was someone capable of his love?
“It’s getting late,” I said, brushing grass off of the front of my skirt.
Jurij nodded and jumped upward. “Elfriede will be wondering what’s keeping us.”
Ah, yes, Elfriede.
I grabbed the picnic basket that had held a few of Elfriede’s crispels. We walked in silence down the grassy hilltop outside of the woods and back onto the dirt road. In the distance, the mountains that encircled our village completely soared far beyond the fields of crops on the western side of the village. I liked the mountains for the most part. From the north, the south and the west, they seemed to embrace our village and protect us with their jagged peaks. But then I thought of the mountains behind us, the ones that towered above the woods on the eastern side of the village. I felt a cold breeze hit my back, and I trembled. I always tried to avoid looking toward the east. There was something there on which I would rather my thoughts not dwell.
I shoved the idea of the looming eastern mountains aside. Elfriede awaited us.
Elfriede was Jurij’s goddess. Even if I meant something more to Jurij than just another young woman in the village, it wasn’t enough. In fact, it was worse.
But I suppose it could have been worse still, if his curse had chosen anyone but Elfriede. My golden-haired, lovely sister, so pale and oak-fair and delicate in nature that a gust of wind could surely blow her away. My trustworthy sister, who would never think ill of me for spending so much time with the one to whom she had so willingly performed the Returning. For what if he had loved a shrill woman of the village, one who, Returning to him or not, got angry at the mere sight of him with another woman? It hadn’t really happened before—a man spending so much time with and giving so much affection to a non-related woman who was not his goddess—but the way the women scoffed at me, you’d have thought that Jurij was theirs, and my actions were a personal affront.
But there was another reason why my affection for Jurij irritated the villagers, I knew. I just didn’t like to think of it too often.
A gust of wind blew up from behind us, rustling through my skirt and knocking loose one of Jurij’s smooth black curls. It bounced absently against his cheek. Jurij didn’t move to readjust it. He walked forward, his face fixed toward home, a glow of sunshine spreading warmth throughout his features.
Against my better judgment, I reached over to brush that loose lock of hair behind Jurij’s ear again. My fingers glided across the pointed edge, and I felt a rush of hot blood spread from my hand to my toes. I shivered.
Jurij snapped out of his daze and gave me a smile. Without pausing, he removed his cloak and slipped it over my shoulders. Then his gaze returned forward and his pace quickened.
“Thank you,” I murmured. I gripped the cloak around my shoulders so tightly I swore my fingers would start to bleed. I tore my eyes from his features and focused instead on the dirt on the ground.
But his face was impossible for me to forget. It’d only been a year since I saw him—truly saw him—for the first time. I had been so happy… And yet his face made it so much harder. I supposed his features were no more or less remarkable than any of the men’s faces I could see, but somehow they came together in just the right way. Perhaps because I had been projecting my love onto that face for years, ever since we were kids, and Jurij was always hidden from me behind one mask or another. Perhaps back then, I thought the impossible might come true.
“Jurij!” called a sweet voice on the wind.
“Elfriede!” echoed Jurij back. His feet practically turned into wings, and he closed the final distance between us and my front door before he could even let out another breath.
But it probably had become impossible for him to breathe until he found his way to her embrace. Literally, even more so than figuratively.
They kissed. A thousand snowy mountaintops would have melted under the light of that one kiss. It was as if they had been parted a lifetime instead of just a short while. To them, it probably felt as long.
On deeper thought, Jurij’s goddess being Elfriede was the worst possible outcome. Something sharp stabbed my stomach every time I thought of how much she deserved him. And frankly, he deserved her. I was the only one not deserving—of either of them.
“Good evening, Noll,” said Elfriede as I finally managed to catch up to Jurij with my mere mortal legs.
“Good evening,” I mumbled. I wouldn’t let my eyes do more than flicker up at them, still intertwined in their embrace. I shuffled through the doorway and into the kitchen, dumping the picnic basket on the table with a little too much force. I tore off Jurij’s cloak and hung it on the back of my chair.
If Elfriede or Jurij had heard the commotion, neither said a word. They both entered, and Elfriede returned to the fire, where I saw she had been cooking a large pot of stew for dinner. Jurij slinked behind her, his steps echoing hers. He put his hands atop her shoulders and peered into the stew as she stirred it with a ladle.
“Smells divine, my love,” he purred before kissing the top of her head.
“Thank you,” said Elfriede. A blush leaked onto her cheeks.
Every moment with them was excruciating.
I had to stop myself from stomping as I made my way to the cupboard to put away the picnic basket and grab the table settings. After all, I was almost seventeen, hardly young enough to get away with such repugnant behavior. Not that even kicking and screaming in the middle of the table would tear those two away from one another. But at least the thought of doing just that was enough to loosen the tense feelings in my shoulders and make me grin.
“Will you be joining us for dinner, Jurij?” I asked with as much serenity as I could summon to my voice.
“Yes, thank you.” He had both arms wrapped around Elfriede across her shoulders.
I took a deep breath. I have a choice in this matter. He doesn’t. I can do this. I can let go.
I absently placed bowls and spoons for four people at the places at our table. I felt a brief jolt of pain as I set Jurij’s setting down next to Elfriede’s, but for once it wasn’t for my foolish feelings. It was for my mother, who once occupied that seat, and the loss of whom nearly drove my father to madness a few years ago. If a man were truly immortal until he experienced the Returning, and the loss of his goddess was enough to kill a man as the stories claimed, why was my father still among the living?
“Ah, good evening, Jurij,” said the very man who had occupied my thoughts. I glanced up to see my father in the doorway. For a moment, a trick of the light perhaps, his figure seemed as dashing and as tender as I remembered him from my childhood. But he took a few steps more into the room, stumbling his way to his chair, and I saw him for what he was: a shade of my father.
Father had the same features he always had, but they were muted somehow. His strong, dark chin poked through a rough, unkempt black and gray beard. His curls drooped and stuck out in all directions, although somehow the pointed tips of his ears made a slight appearance through the wild tangle of knots. His eyes, they sparkled, but in a different way than they once had. The flame in those eyes burned as lightly as a candle in its final few moments before the wick withered away.
And perhaps that’s exactly how I could think of my father.
“Good evening, Gideon,” said Jurij. He tore himself from Elfriede long enough to come and put his hand on my father’s shoulder. “How was Vena?”
“Huh?” asked Father absently. Often you had to ask a question more than once before he had any idea you were talking to him.
“Vena,” I reminded him, referring to the tavern’s barkeeper. Of course. Who else would my father see in town? No one else drank before dinner, so my father alone practically kept Vena and her husband Elweard in business while the sun was still up.
“Oh, fine, fine.” Father’s eyes glossed over, and I swore the flicker of light was extinguished for a moment. I sat down in a panic.
“Father?” I asked, reaching my hand out to cover his, which was shaking on the table.
He said nothing. But after I squeezed his hand, he turned to look at me, the smallest of smiles edging onto his lips. The light flickered. It was still there. Of course it was. But only just.
Jurij picked up my father’s bowl and then my own and brought them over to the fire. I tore my eyes from Father’s and watched as Jurij and Elfriede worked in perfect harmony, one ladling the stew and the other holding the bowls out to receive it. It was my turn to feel a squeeze on my hand. I turned back to my father and offered him the same tentative smile he had given me.
“Vena asked about your wedding,” said Father as he redrew his hand. For a moment, my heart nearly stopped.
“And what did she want to know?” asked Jurij jovially. He returned to the table and put the stew bowls in front of Father and me.
I felt a rush of relief. Of course. Their wedding.
Father smiled, his face almost as warm as it had once been, his eyes almost growing brighter with a small spark. “How much ale you’ll need for the festivities, of course!”
Jurij shook his head, but I noticed the smile on his face lacked much of the life shown in the grins he gave to Elfriede. Or even the ones he gave to me.
“Oh, Gideon,” laughed Jurij as he grabbed the empty bowls for himself and Elfriede. “You know we only want a few bottles at the most.” He paused a moment as he slid soundlessly next to Elfriede. Even from the table, I could see the lines burrowed deep between her brows.
“Or maybe none at all,” whispered Jurij. Elfriede plopped the stew into their bowls with a little less tenderness than was her custom.
My father’s face fell. “I’ll be on my best behavior. I promise you.”
No one spoke.
Father and I sipped from our stew for a few moments longer, and Jurij sat down next to us, placing the bowls on the table and picking up his own spoon.
Elfriede lingered back at the stew pot for a few minutes longer, stirring and stirring. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her dab her cheek with her apron.
“Noll,” spoke Elfriede tentatively. I allowed myself to turn my head to see if she was finished composing herself. She seemed a bit less troubled, and she stirred the stew with a little too much interest. Oh, no. I knew what type of question was coming. “Would you be willing to help Albin deliver the bread to the castle?”
I drummed my fingers on the tabletop. “I didn’t think the bakers were so busy they couldn’t spare a few dozen members of their tremendous family to deliver bread to his lordship.”
“Noll, please help Albin deliver the bread,” interrupted my father. He tried to take a sip of his stew, but his hand shook, and the stew slid off the spoon and spilled onto the table. Whether because he had now likely gone a short while without his bottle, or because he could barely contain his rage at me, I could not be sure.
He only managed to truly seem among the living these days when it came to rejoicing in Elfriede’s Returning and lamenting my unspoken opposition to my own.
I glanced out the window. Albin, the baker’s youngest son, stood in front of our house next to his cart full of bread. Father had no doubt come straight with him from the village and had let Elfriede know ahead of time that they both would be coming.
I did the only thing I could. I bolted out of the door, past Albin—no doubt fuming with impatience under his ugly fox mask—and ran straight into the woods.
There was one thing worse than a foolish heart loving a man it could not have and watching that man be so in love with your sister. And that was realizing that you could never love the man who was yours—but the whole village expected you to perform the Returning with him anyway.
One e-copy three-pack of NOBODY’S GODDESS, NOBODY’S LADY, and NOBODY’S PAWN, the complete trilogy (my YA romantic fantasy The Never Veil Series) One e-book copy of BALLAD OF THE BEANSTALK, my YA romantic fairy tale fantasy One e-book copy of FALL FAR FROM THE TREE, my dark YA fantasy One e-book copy of JOSIE’S COAT, my YA sci-fi novelette