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First pages

1

Time to Grow Up

 

Sam flopped onto Jen's bed, knocking a pile of shirts to the floor. The shirts scattered, covering a heap of shoes and discarded pants.

"Going a little overboard, aren't you?" Sam lifted a perfectly shaped eyebrow as she examined the mess in Jen's small room.

Jen huffed and held a black, lacey blouse across her chest, then threw it on the bed. Eyes narrowed, she examined the few remaining shirts in her closet.

Sam sorted through a pile of discarded clothing, laying a few pieces aside. "What if he's ugly, or old, or a creep or something?"

"He isn't a creep. And so what if he isn't Mister Universe? I'm not exactly a supermodel either."

Sam made an unhappy sound and stood to root through the pile of clothing on the bed.

"Try this" – she handed Jen a bright-red long-sleeved shirt with a scalloped hemline and dark-blue skinny jeans— "and don't be stupid; you could get any guy you wanted if you'd talk to one."

The blue eyes Jen met in the mirror were full of concern. Even concerned, and wearing a frown, Sam was effortlessly beautiful. Her golden-blond hair curled naturally and picked up glittering highlights from the sun without a salon. Long and thick, it reached the middle of her back in loose, rolling waves.

An hour ago, Jen had given up trying to mimic the look and scraped back her straight, brown hair into its usual ponytail. Jen's shirt, which Sam held against her chest, would swim on Sam's petite full-busted frame.

For the billionth time, Jen felt like a geek beside her best friend. A tall, plain, flat-chested geek. She took the makeup kit Sam handed her and stuffed it into her carry-on bag. No eyeshadow on Earth would give her Sam's sparkly baby-blues. Thick, black lashes framed Sam's sky-blue eyes, shadowing her delicate cheekbones. The best she could say about her own face was it wasn't ugly.

Resigned, Jen put on the clothes Sam handed her.

Sam smiled as she continued speaking. "No, Ethan Lance isn't a creep; he seems nice, but what do we really know about him? And really, even if he's amazing, what's the point of all this? He lives in Ireland, and we live here, in Bristol. You can't have a real relationship online. Someday, you'll actually have to date a real boy."

Jen snorted. "He is a real boy. And it's just a short flight away…" She gave Sam a hug and crammed the clothes she'd picked into her suitcase. "Stop worrying. I realize he's a fantasy guy."

"You just love his accent."

Jen giggled. "That and his mad skills. I tried to recruit him to replace Miguel, but he won't leave Jon. You know how rare that is? I think that's the first time anyone ever turned down a chance to join our guild."

An apologetic grimace on her face, Sam shrugged lightly. "Not very. Jon's guild is the second-best guild on this server. Frankly, Genesis is falling apart a bit. I hate when they add legendary items to the game. All of a sudden, no one wants me along."

Jen winced and turned away. Sam got invited to raids because of her. Mostly the guild didn't mind when she tagged along, and in fact treated her really nicely. The pictures Jen had posted on her website of Sam wearing a bikini on their vacation in Mexico saw to that. But Genesis was made up of serious gamers, and carrying Sam through a hard dungeon meant no one got the loot.

Sam gave her a rueful smile. "It doesn't bother me unless they're dicks about it." She folded the black, lace shirt and tucked it into Jen's bag. "I'll never be good at the game, and I don't care."

Jen turned back to pack her laptop and mouse. "As long as you keep playing with me when you're famous."

Pink crept across Sam's cheeks. "It's just a small production company." She jumped to her feet and twirled. "I'm going to be Clara in a real ballet in three weeks. Can you believe it?"

Jen laughed as Sam continued to pirouette around her bedroom, leaping over the piled clothes.

"I believe it. You're amazing. Thanks for taking the week off and coming with me. We're going to have a great time in Japan."

Sam flopped on the bed again and grinned. "It'll be fun, and I'm bringing my practice clothes. Besides, if you win, you're paying for my ticket, and you've got a great shot. If Philip and Miguel can get along for five minutes, that is." She winked and batted her lashes. "And, if you can keep your mind off Ethan."

Reminded, Jen turned back to the mirror and frowned. "I hope he isn't too good-looking."

"You better hope he isn't gay or married." Sam jumped up to answer a knock on the door.

"I hope he's interested in me too," Jen said, but too softly for Sam to hear over Randy's boisterous greeting.

She finished packing and brought her bags into the tiny, main room. The all-in-one kitchen and living space barely fit a couch and small table.

She and Sam had shared this apartment for three years now, but she didn't think that would last much longer. Sam and Randy were in love and serious.

"You've got thirty minutes to say goodbye," Jen called after them as they headed to Sam's room separated from hers by a bathroom. "I'll be downstairs." She stifled her giggle, doubting they heard her, and locked the door behind her.

Neither she nor Sam made much money. Their small apartment was in a crappy section of town above a Vietnamese restaurant. She loved the apartment and her neighbors though. When Sam moved out to live with Randy, she would miss this.

Soon, she'd have to decide what she was going to do with her life. In six months, she would graduate from college, and she couldn't count on winnings or her parents to support her. Without her to worry about, Sam would've moved in with Randy a year ago. Jen's neediness was straining her friendship with Randy, and she couldn't blame him. It was time to grow up.

For a moment she paused, clearing her head before banging on Kuan's door. Kuan was surprisingly sensitive to moods for someone so out of touch with reality.

She banged again before he answered, but she'd expected that. Real world interruptions from his gaming came hard.

She was struck again by his beauty as he answered the door. Unusual genes had produced high cheekbones and brilliant, periwinkle-blue eyes. When they'd first met, she'd assumed he'd gotten his blue eyes from his American father, but his Vietnamese mother had the same startlingly gorgeous eyes. His height and the shape of his face were from his dad, smooth cheeks and silky black hair from his mother.

To Jen's surprise, he answered the door freshly showered with a bag packed. Wet, black hair held back in a tight ponytail left a damp spot on his clean, black sweatshirt. Baggy jeans slid from his hips, exposing blue boxers. Neither the hairstyle nor the jeans were a fashion choice, he just couldn't be bothered with eating or grooming.

"Did you eat yet?" Without waiting for his reply, she pulled him from the apartment. "Let's go get your mom to feed us."

Downstairs in the restaurant, his mother greeted her with a smile and prepared two plates, which she and Kuan ate standing in the back of the busy kitchen. Kuan's older brother handed her a soda and Kuan a bottled water.

"Good luck, Bro. I really hope you win the money." He gave Jen an anxious glance. "You'll take care of him, right?"

"Sam and I will take care of him, and he'll be staying with Kirk. Besides, we all know he won't leave the tourney grounds." She had to glance away to hide her guilty wince about Kirk. If Kuan's parents knew Kirk was a drug dealer they'd never approve of the association.

Jen didn't like it either, but Kirk kept his private life out of the game. His crush on Sam was growing wearisome, but he was, hands down, the best warlock in the game. She was willing to overlook his marijuana sales for a chance at a half-million-dollar prize.

Kuan snorted. "Why would I? that's the entire point of going."

"True." She exchanged smiles with Kuan's brother. His brother didn't understand Kuan's gaming obsession but did his best to support him anyway.

His mother wiped her hands on a dishtowel and brought Jen an envelope containing Kuan's passport, plane tickets and spending money.

"Genevieve, I can't thank you enough. His father and I worry so, but if he can support himself like this…" She kissed Kuan's cheek and fussed with his clothes. Tears filled her eyes, and she hugged him hard a moment before stepping back. "Go be the best druid you can."

"Don't worry about me," Kuan said, then kissed her cheek. "I love you guys, but I was meant to be a druid."

His mother winced and turned to Jen again. She kissed her cheek and whispered, "Take care of him."

When Jen had first moved in, Kuan had really struggled with the realities of life, having heated arguments with his family about his gaming and refusal to do anything else. Loud arguments she and Sam heard through the floor. To get any studying done, Jen had looked Kuan up online. Finding his screen name was easy. That was all he ever talked about.

Until that time, she'd been a casual gamer, but she'd been inspired to get him tournament ready. And it worked. His parents had stopped complaining once he began making money. By the time he graduated high school, he made enough to support himself, and she made enough to pay her half of the bills.

She and Sam made sure Kuan ate, showered, exercised, and slept in real life, and kept him focused in the game, making sure he spent time getting good gear not just attractive gear, and attending raids, not just wandering through the forests being a 'druid.'

Twice a week, she dragged him to a karate class with her. And twice a week, Sam took him jogging. Grateful that Jen took care of their son, his parents lowered their rent and gave them free meals.

Together, she and Kuan ran their guild. He had a real knack for finding so-so players and teaching them to be amazing players, leaving the planning to her.

With his help, she'd developed ideas for a video game of her own. When she graduated this spring with a computer science degree, she'd have time to work on them. And, if they won the tourney, she could afford to stay in the apartment alone and do it.

At the door, Kuan paused and glanced back. "They don't see it, Jen. To them, it's just a game. But that's who we are." Before Jen could decide if she should try to break his delusion, he bounded up the stairs to her apartment. A twinge of guilt slowed her pace. Normally, she took every opportunity to convince Kuan he wasn't really a druid, but now she needed him to be the best druid he could be.

"Let's pry Sam from Randy and get to the plane. This is going to be amazing," he called over his shoulder.

 

* * *

 

"Would you relax?" Sam plucked Jen's hand from her arm and placed it on the plastic seat rest.

Jen absently apologized, her anxious gaze scanning the crowded airport waiting room for Jon.

"Oh, there he is. Should I go say hi or wait and let him come here? Or—"

"Chill." Sam pulled Jen's fingernail from her mouth. "Let him gather his team, and we can check Ethan out from here. And stop biting your nails."

An excited tingle built to a knee jitter as Jen stared at Jon. She knew his entire team from prior tourneys— except Ethan. Maria, Ascendant's druid, entered the waiting room and hugged Jon, then Josh their team's shaman entered followed by Lindsey the team's sun-priest, trailed by her family. Jen let her breath out in a whoosh as Maria hugged a tall, black man.

"Ethan's black," Sam said and giggled as she smacked Jen's jittering knee.

"He's beautiful," Jen said and frowned and slumped back in her seat. Broad shouldered and clean-shaven, Ethan's tight white T-shirt showed off muscled arms and a narrow waist.

"He sure is," Sam said, sounding impressed. "Go say hi."

"What's the point… look at him. He's way out of my league."

"Don't be stupid; go say hi." Sam rose.

Jen snatched at her and missed. She debated following or hiding. The thought of Sam catching Ethan's interest first decided her.

"Watch our stuff," she said to Kuan who didn't glance up from his laptop, and ran after Sam. By the time she reached her, her palms sweat. Butterflies danced in her stomach, turning to flip-flopping fish when Ethan turned to them and smiled, revealing perfect, white teeth.

"Jen, Sam, I looked forward to meeting you guys in person."

She shook his hand, the contact sending a tingle straight to her loins.

"You too; hey guys." Sam hugged Jon and his team, then elbowed Jen hard.

A hot blush covered Jen's cheeks as she realized she'd stood gaping like an idiot for minutes. "I'm glad you came back to the game. We missed you." She gave Jon a sickly smile. "Did he tell you I tried to poach him?"

Jon winked at her. "Yep, try all you want; it won't work. Ethan and I have been friends for years. I even went to his wedding."

Jen's gaze flicked to Ethan's hands, and sure enough, he wore a wedding ring. Of course, he's taken, she thought to herself and stood stupidly, not knowing what to say. A hot blush burned across her cheeks. Sam jumped in, making small talk and plans to meet for lunch.

Jen heard none of it. Her wits felt frozen along with her smile. She managed to mumble goodbye and followed Sam back to their seats without tripping.

"Well, crap." She grabbed a magazine to fan her burning cheeks.

"Sorry, Jen, but I warned you," Sam said, smiling but looking concerned.

"Warned her about what?" Kirk asked as he dropped his carry-on by his feet and kissed Sam's cheek.

He slapped Kuan's shoulder and nodded to Jen. He too wore his hair long and pants loose, but his scruffiness was a fashion statement. So was the five o'clock shadow, dark sunglasses, and gold jewelry. Jen spent a second admiring the large diamond in his ear, sure it was real.

She wondered how Kirk always managed to show the same exact extent of scruffy. His facial hair always seemed like he needed a shave. He never grew a full beard, yet she'd never seen his cheeks clean-shaven. The look suited him, giving him a sexy, dangerous air.

She answered him while speculating on how much he made a year selling drugs to afford such expensive jewelry. "Nothing. You get the email I sent about chipping in to buy the locate spell for Philip?"

"I'll lend him the gold, but I'm not giving it to him." Kirk sat beside them and peered over Kuan's shoulder to view his screen.

Kuan glanced up. "Sorry, Jen; I don't have much at the moment. I just bought new vanity spells— look." Kuan turned his screen to show her.

Jen admired the pictures Kuan showed her as she said, "I like the black bird best too."

Sam giggled.

"Stop," Jen hissed. "Black Raven form is dramatic. I love how the designers made the feathers shimmer with that hint of blue," she said to Kuan.

"Too much gold and way too much time spent farming for a vanity spell." Kirk patted Kuan's shoulder. "It's pretty though."

Sam put an arm around Kuan's shoulder. "I think making them hard to get makes them special. If everyone had the black panther and bear, it wouldn't be as cool."

Kuan tapped the keys that transformed his character into a bear. "Look how awesome I am now. This is how I'm meant to be. It was totally worth all those quests and gold."

"Sure, it was." Sam leaned over to admire the bear.

Kuan grinned at her. "Did you check your mail? I sent you a tamer spell I found yesterday. Thought you might like to have ten lesser animal pets at once."

"Really," Sam said, sounding thrilled. She opened her laptop and logged in.

A frown furrowed Kirk's brow. "I'd have got you one if I knew you'd like it. I didn't realize…" He sighed and watched glumly as Sam oohed and ahhed over the spell.

Jen bit back her laugh. Sam would've gushed over anything Kuan gave her, but she did love the vanity spells. Her armor was crap because she spent all her gold on special effects for her spells and pets.

"I can't help either. I spent all my gold on Improved Scare Beast," Sam said.

"Seriously?" Kirk's eyes widened, and he took Sam's laptop. "Holy crap, you did. I think there are only two guys on this entire server with that."

"Because it costs a ridiculous amount of gold for a spell that does nothing except change your form," Jen said as she leaned over Kuan to see the screen in Kirk's lap. "If they'd let you use it to fly beyond six hundred yards, then I'd be interested."

Jen grinned at the dragon on Sam's screen. "Sweet, you picked the blue one. You're enormous…"

"Look." Sam leaned over and tapped a key. A gout of flame shot from the dragon's mouth. "Wouldn't it be cool if you could use the dragon indoors? I would totally raid like that, breathing fire and clawing my enemies."

Kirk and Kuan continued to admire Sam's dragon. Jen flipped open a magazine and pretended to read it while staring at Ethan.

Sam was right, meeting someone in a game was stupid. She'd gotten her hopes up for nothing. So what if he was super nice if he was married? If she'd met him in person, she'd have known not to waste a second thought on him, his looks alone would've dissuaded her. No one that good looking would go for the plain girl.

She pasted a fake smile on her face and stood to greet Philip and his girlfriend. Sam glanced up, then turned to Kirk, pretending great absorption in the game. Jen wished she could do the same. Philip's girlfriend, Sue, was a real bitch, and she'd hope they'd have broken up by now, but she should've known better.

Sue wouldn't leave Philip until after the tourney and then only if he lost. Already she eyed the members of Ascendants, Genesis' toughest rivals, planning her next conquest. How Philip could miss her contemplative stares Jen didn't know. Sue ogled Jon as if he were a side of meat she was considering buying for dinner.

"Let's get a snack. Save our seats, Jen." Philip pulled Sue with him to the nearby food court.

"Maybe he isn't as oblivious as he seems," Sam said, making Jen laugh.

Sam always knew what she was thinking.

"This is going to be a nightmare," Jen said as Sue hugged Josh, Ascendant's shaman while Philip glowered.

2

Still Be Friends

* * *

Ethan handed Jen a soda, then offered the tray to Kuan and Sam. "Team Valor is playing amazingly well."

Jen nodded her thanks. "I ran into them in the hall yesterday as they were leaving. They were very ill, sweaty and pale. Can you imagine their times in the games if they weren't?"

"They'll for sure be the team to beat next year when they're old enough to play in the majors."

Ethan sat beside her and crossed his legs over the empty seat in front of them.

"Hah, you don't have this tourney sown up yet."

He grinned and winked at her. "No shame in second place."

"Glad you think so." Jen smirked and smoothed her hair, then wanted to smack herself for forgetting he was married. So what if her ponytail was a mess or her mascara smudged. All the worry and effort to look good was wasted when a simple question could have saved her weeks of angst.

He threw his head back and laughed completely oblivious to how he flustered her.

Jon sat behind them and leaned forward. "I've been thinking. Team Valor is going to be hard to beat. Maybe we should merge our guilds."

Jen frowned. "What would we do for tourneys? Two tanks and two druids. You just want Kuan and Kirk."

"True…" Jon grinned and slapped Kuan's shoulder. "Think about it though. You could have an all-girl team. You as the tank, Maria as an elemental druid, Lindsey as a sun-priest—"

Jen eyed Maria and Lindsey speculatively. Both were very good players. "That would be kind of cool. I'm not saying yes, but let's plan a raid together and a few PVP matches. You can bring three of my top five-man teams with three of yours. We likely have enough skilled players to do three complete thirty-man assaults on Higard Castle, which is one extra then if we stuck to our own guilds. And we'd need some way to disperse gear fairly between the two guilds, although we'd get more and better gear working together."

Jen pursed her lips and eyed Jon thoughtfully wondering how long he'd been planning this and if he had ulterior motives. Cooperation in the game would get them farther than competition, but there were sure to be problems from her guild members who would see a merge as losing their raid position or competing against Jon's guild for the limited gear.

Video game raiders took such things very seriously. Especially as until this year, Genesis was the undisputed, top ranking guild on her realm until Jon's guild, Ascendants, had nudged them out. Maybe her guild would welcome fresh new players of equal skill?

Jen's gaze traveled to the corner of the room where Philip and Miguel argued.

Ethan nodded toward them. "Both good players, but ego's the size of the Atlantic. They're really going to bring your score down if they bicker the entire time."

"I know." Jen heaved a sigh and went to break them up.

"I really like that about you, Genevieve Frey, how hard you work to keep your team happy," he called after her.

Despite herself, she felt a little tingle from his compliment. A bubble of happiness surrounded her until she reached Philip.

"Don't even talk to her," Philip was shouting in a furious whisper as she approached.

Damn it. Miguel was a horn dog, always flirting. The bigger the wedge he could drive, the happier he was. Thin and wiry, he wore his black hair short and spiked. His entire personality was spiky, she thought as she stepped between them.

She'd invited him to the guild, and to the team, against Kuan's wishes when Eric had backed out and had been regretting it ever since. Her greed was going to ruin her guild, but this one win would support her and Kuan for five years, and despite his major personality flaws, Miguel was a skilled rogue.

"Hey, guys, come watch the matches. We can argue three days from now." Jen took Philip's arm and tried to lead him away.

Other gamers watching the bouts on the big screens lining the convention hall while waiting for their turns glanced over but Team Valor confronting a red dragon on the screen drew their attention away.

"This asshole thinks he can make a move on my girl—" Philip pulled away and turned back to Miguel. "I don't give a shit what's at stake. You think I won't bug out and leave you stranded for a fifth player, you're fucking wrong." Hands on his hips, he leaned forward and glared at Miguel.

Jen forced a smile and stepped between them. "Miguel, just apologize already. And leave Sue alone." She wanted to smack him and yank Philip away. Hell, she wanted to smack them both for fighting over a skank like Sue.

A half-smile on his face, Miguel leaned against the wall with his arms crossed. "I'm willing to call his bluff. And can I help it if she digs me?"

Jen's shoulders relaxed when Sam appeared.

Sam took Miguel's arm, leaning really close. "If you aren't going to watch the matches, how about taking me for lunch?"

'You owe me,' Sam mouthed over her shoulder as she led a grinning Miguel away.

Jen rubbed her temples where a headache throbbed. "Where's Sue now?"

"Getting us sandwiches. He's such a dick, Jen. We really need to replace his ass."

"Can we talk about this after the tournament? Whatever else he is, he's a good rogue, and we need one if we're going to win. And I don't know about you, but I could sure use the money. Think of the vacation you could bring Sue on."

She felt like a heel, manipulating him like this. He was crazy about Sue and Sue took advantage, making him nuts by flirting with everyone. Sue was pretty in a cold, overdone way, and Philip a classic geek, a chubby nerd with acne, glasses, and no fashion sense. He was trying way too hard to keep her interest. Jen pulled him back to her seat and pushed him down in Sam's vacated chair.

"Where'd Sam go?" Kirk asked.

"Lunch."

"With Miguel, that fucker." Philip slouched in his seat and glared at the big screen showing the dragon convulsing on the ground while Team Valor huddled under a priest shield.

Jen wanted to smack him. Now Kirk was angry too, and she'd missed the last bout.

Ethan snickered.

Jen said, "Sam is keeping Miguel occupied instead of letting him incite Philip to leave. Let's all thank her when she gets back. And where the hell is Josh?"

Ethan shook his head and glanced at Philip.

Jen closed her eyes and rubbed her temples hard. Of course, he was with Sue. This was going to be a long three days. Next time Kuan could pick the team.

 

* * *

 

Jon strode onto the plane at the head of his team. Jen whistled and clapped despite her disappointment. Beside her, Sam clapped too, then Kuan and Kirk joined in.

In moments, most of the returning gamers clapped for team Ascendants. Gamers filled two-thirds of the economy section of the plane. Almost all the European players were on this flight because of the discounted ticket prices the tourney had arranged. A few from other places were taking advantage of the cheaper fare to travel to England before returning to their homes.

A flight attendant holding a mic stepped beside Jon. "Hello, I'm Ramiro one of the stewards for this trip. For those passengers who are wondering what's going on, we have the winners of the Ultimate Battle Magic tourney onboard. Although I see most of you have attended the tourney by your sweatshirts."

Loud cheers from the other players were joined by a polite scattering of applause from the passengers.

Jon grinned and held up both hands in a victory sign.

The steward smiled and handed him the mic.

"Thanks, guys. It means a lot to me that we can all play so hard for our teams and still be friends at the end of the day."

"Oh, barf," someone called out.

"You got lucky," someone else shouted.

"Yeah, lucky Genesis couldn't get along to save their lives— literally."

Loud laughs and jests greeted that, making Jen's ears burn. The constant bickering had gotten them killed more times than she liked to think about. Every second spent resurrecting had lowered their score. They'd even had to redo scenarios completely because they couldn't cooperate enough to get a resurrection off. The memory burned like acid because it was all her fault for inviting Miguel to the team in the first place.

A few more people called teasing comments, at least most sounded teasing to Jen. Her twinge of disappointment morphed to a wave of anger, turning her face red. Philip and Miguel had continued to fight and pulled Kirk into their arguments until she had to scream at them and watch every damned thing in their bouts. If they'd kept their heads in the game, they might have won.

She felt like she and Kuan had pulled their team through their PVP matches by sheer force of will. She spared an angry glare for Sue who encouraged the bickering by flirting ruthlessly. Sue sat between Philip and Josh, ignoring Philip with her hand on Josh's arm. If Jen never saw her again, it would be too soon.

Jon thanked them again, then waved for silence. "I spoke with Mrs. Hayes this morning. Team Valor isn't expected to last the day. Whatever the lightening was that irradiated them and caused their plane to crash is killing them. I know some of you were friends and all of us knew them. Let's take a moment to pray and send our good wishes to them and their families."

Sam squeezed her hand. "Those poor kids," she whispered.

A minute passed in silence. The plane engines built in noise, easy to hear in the quiet. Even the passengers who had no idea who Team Valor were or what had happened to them respected their moment and kept still.

Jon crossed himself, then cleared his throat. "I had an idea I want everyone to consider. Jen and I spoke about joining forces, but what if we all did? Let's face it, we're the best Ultimate Battle Magic players in Europe.

"By joining forces, we could take down any dungeon or castle and really gear our characters out. I realize we'll have too many tanks, but most of us have off-specs we can play just as well. We could take turns tanking and leading. Not only would we learn by watching, but keeping up with each other will inspire us."

He waited a moment for the excited response to die down. "We all have valued raid members and others who aren't so great. With the five guilds represented here, I'm sure we could do enough runs to keep everyone happy. Some dungeons are better than others loot wise for certain classes. With this amount of really great players to choose from, we can easily set up runs for everyone to try for the piece they're interested in."

"Who would be in charge?" Cass Lopez, the leader of Graveyard Shift, called.

"Overall, me, but we'd all get a say. My job as a systems analyst puts me in an ideal position to set up runs which would benefit the most players."

"You mean benefit you," Miguel hollered.

"No, I mean all of us. I have the equipment at work to write spreadsheets comparing loot to manpower. If you guys send me lists of ranked players, who you have available on what days, I'll set up a few runs and we'll see how it goes."

"Genesis is in," Jen shouted.

"Ether is in too," Tony reached over his seat to high-five her.

The plane jerked and began to move. Jon held up a hand. "This is awesome guys, and I look forward to playing with all of you. The steward needs his mic back for this plane to lift off, so we can talk more in the game. Let's aim to hold our first mixed raid this weekend."

An excited ripple of talk traveled the plane.

"Thanks again, and thank you, Ramiro." Jon handed back the mic.

"It's almost how it's supposed to be," Kuan said in a dreamy voice.

Jen glanced at him concerned by the tone. He'd taken their loss in stride with no sign of upset. Now he sat staring out the window across the aisle from them as if he expected Santa Clause to appear.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

S. M. Savoy lives and works on the family farm in Connecticut. Married with two grown children, she spends her free time writing. A lover of fantasy books since childhood, and at one time an avid gamer, she likes to think her two loves merge in this book where magic takes on a life of its own. Her two series, Valor and Return of the Fae were a labor of love as she explored the different beliefs her characters hold about the same phenomenon.

Q. What books have influenced your life the most?
A.
The Narnia stories. C. S. Lewis continues to inspire me. He wrote amazingly original and interesting tales with a message that was so subtle but so powerful. His books are loved by all ages and that's something I'm actively trying to emulate.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
When I wrote my first book, this one was percolating as a sister idea. Two different takes on the same event and how belief that you're right can change your life. This book is exactly the type of story I love to read, a what-if book based on time travel but with the added fun of magic.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
This cover was actually easy to design as the concept for it was clear in my mind. I wanted to show the moment, the fall into the past with the juxtaposition of magic and the normal clothing they wore.

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