Her Beauty Within was originally published by Still Moments Publishing. When they were absorbed into another company, I received my rights back with no strings attached. I then had it published by the now defunct Breathless Press. Getting it out there for publishing again is just not an option. It’s a short and sweet story that two great editors helped me make better–A. J. Nuest and Leona Bushman.
So, I present to you–in four parts during my NaNo blitz–the story for free.
Before you go on, here is the link(s) to previous chapters:
Adele gasped for breath, gazing at her new surroundings. Lush green blades of grass and gnarled dark roots wove around her. Protection from the dangers in the forest her mother instilled on her at a very early age. Mother Oak seemed to stretch to the heavens from her perspective. Speckles of glimmering light filtered through the leaves. A majestic sight she’d never laid eyes on in the upper boughs. A whimper expelled from her lips as she touched her head. Her hair was a gooey mess.
“You can’t banish me! I’m a princess!” she screeched. Silence answered. She sniffled before composing herself. One of her stature did not deserve to be down at the base of Mother Oak.
After gathering herself up, Adele tried to take flight only to fall back to the ground. Dirt mixed with the sap clung to her body, heightening her misery. She searched her back and spun around, trying to get a peek.
“My wings.” She gasped as she noticed the drab clothing underneath the muck of sap. “My clothes.” She stepped forward, and her legs wobbled. Without the aid of her wings, her balance was off. Down she went into a mossy bed. Her head spun like she drank too much dewberry punch.
“Do you need some help?”
Adele stared into the brown eyes of a wingless male. From her perspective, he didn’t seem as small as he should.
He smiled. “The first time a sprite navigates the life’s blood of the sacred oak is a bit disorienting.”
“If I had wings, I wouldn’t have to.” She crossed her arms, sniffing.
“Yes, but that is not our purpose. Mother Oak allows us passage.” He sat beside her on the moss. “So why were you sent down here?”
He waved at their surroundings. “The only reason sprites like us get sent down to the roots is if we displeased the pixies.”
“Well it’s a mistake that I’m here.” She stood. He joined her and grasped her elbows as she teetered on unfamiliar legs.
“My name is Jareth.”
“Like I care. Don’t touch me.” She jerked away from his hold and almost fell. “How do I get back the higher branches?”
“If you got sent here, you can’t go back until the fae who banished you, or another fae, allows it.” Jareth gazed off into the distance. “Which means I’ll be stuck here for the rest of my cycles,” he muttered.
A group of ladybugs scrambled in front of Adele, a few flitting their wings. She pouted. The little insects were more beautiful than she’d ever be again.
“If you don’t need my help, then?”
“I’m fine.” She huffed, tentatively stepping forward. Her ankle twisted, and she flopped onto the dirt. The ladybugs took flight to avoid getting squished. She sniffled and began to cry. Her new body was just too awkward. Honeysuckle had to change her back! She was a princess of the realm!
Comforting arms circled her waist and propped her on her feet. Through the tangled mass of her hair, she gazed at the chocolate eyes of Jareth. If it wasn’t for him being wingless, she might call him handsome. Impossible, really. Only pixies had beauty unmatched. Sprites were too uncultured.
“The ground is really uneven here. I’ll show you where we gather for the night to rest, okay?” Jareth clasped her hand to further steady her stance.
“If you insist.” She couldn’t stop staring into his eyes. Something about his face seemed so familiar.
He supported her more than she liked to admit, but they made it without her face meeting the blades or low, feathery grass. A small stream flowed through the area, and many of the sprites splashed in the water. Jareth lowered her to the edge of the pond and her feet sank below the surface.
“I figured you’d like to get a little of the sap off your skin. The pool is magical. See?”
Gently, he lifted one of legs out of the water. The difference was like night and day. Her dark skin almost glowed. “Once you get used to becoming one with Mother Oak, the sap won’t stick,” he said.
“Thanks.” She wiggled her toes. “I’m never going to get used to this. Hmph.” She folded her arms and kicked at the surface. Ripples spread out, and a few of the sprites giggled when the small waves reached them.
A waterfall splashed onto Adele, and she let out a high-pitched shriek. The little ones, thinking she’d started a water game, barraged her with wave after wave. Her already deflated and tangled hair stuck to her face as the deluge from the merry sprites drenched her body.
“Stop it, stop it, stop it!” She scrambled up and fell into the arms of Jareth.
“They’re only playing. ‘Tis all the little ones have on this level.” He brushed the hair from her face.
“I don’t like it,” she cried. “I don’t like any of this!”
Fireflies zigzagged along the small grove, lighting the way in the fading sunlight. Adele stumbled over the landscape, away from the water and Jareth. She didn’t need or want his help. She wanted to go home.
The other sprites found anywhere from moss-covered rocks to crumbled leaves to bed down for the night. Gone was the four-poster bed with sheer fabric to keep the airborne grime and grit from her skin. Cold and alone, she pulled her knees to her chest.
She had to find a way out.