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Fables & Other Lies
Author: Claire Contreras

Prologue

 

 

“I found her,” he said loudly.

Someone walked quickly into the room. I turned to see the guard who’d been standing by the door.

“Sir, I am so sorry, I didn’t—”

“The search is over. I found her,” River said again.

“What are you talking about?” My heart pounded in my ears.

“This woman will keep me company tonight,” he said, ignoring me.

I wasn’t sure who he was speaking to anymore, but then I turned and noticed the tent drapes had been pulled open and the line of women and the people standing all around outside the tent could see us. Maybe I’d drunk too much tequila, but I could have sworn he just said I’d be keeping him company tonight.

I turned to face him. “I’m sorry, my name wasn’t on the list. I wasn’t even—”

“You’re my pick, Penelope Guzman.”

“But I didn’t even sign up for this.”

“You didn’t have to.” His smile was wolfish, territorial. “I’m the host of Carnival this year and I’m choosing to spend my night with you.”

“I . . . ” I looked around again, at a loss for words. I was entirely too inebriated to fully grasp what was happening, so I said the first thing that came to mind: “Our families hate each other.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.” He was no longer smiling, but he looked just as amused as he did a minute ago.

There was a glow in his eyes, a glint. He still didn’t look nice, but the adrenaline coursing through me was too palpable for me to turn away, to yank my hand from his, and if I’d really been analyzing what I was feeling, I would classify it as excitement. The most powerful man on the island, the most sought after, the most mysterious, the one I was told to never, ever summon by name, was holding out his hand for me. I set my hand over his and he held it gently as he watched me. I left it there, ignoring the shiver that slithered down my spine. Wela was going to disown me for this. I felt that warning in the pit of my stomach and it was only then that I pulled my hand from his.

“What happened, little witch? You remembered who you were?” River chuckled.

“I’m not the witch here.” I met his gaze. “And I’m not little.”

“No, not at all.” He looked amused. I was annoyed.

“Why’d you pick me?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“There are a lot of women on the island.”

“Why’d you stand in line?”

“I thought it was the bathroom.”

“Really?” He brought a fist up to cough into it, hiding a laugh.

“I’m not joking.” I clenched my shaky hands into fists.

“I didn’t think you were.”

I swallowed. “So, why would you pick me?”

“Why would I not?”

I blinked, shaking my head. We were getting nowhere fast. “What am I supposed to do? As your chosen companion, I mean.”

“Spend the night with me.”

“Oh.” I was finding it difficult to breathe, let alone speak. “And if I don’t?”

“You have to.”

“Says who?”

“The law. You should thank your father for that one. Oh, that’s right, you can’t.” He grinned; it was a slow, sexy grin that made my stomach flip despite myself. “You either spend it with me or spend it in jail, and you know the conditions of these jails.”

“I don’t like to be given ultimatums.”

“If you don’t like ultimatums, you shouldn’t have come to Carnival. The moment you did, you sealed your fate.” He closed the distance between us again. “As a matter of fact, the moment you came back to the island, you sealed your fate.”

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

I closed my eyes as I leaned against the dirty window of the bus. We’d been riding for an hour and only had about fifteen minutes left to go, as long as Doña Mercedes didn’t raise her hand and decide she needed to stop at the rest stop.

Again.

“So, is this your first time in Pan Island?”

I kept my eyes closed even though I knew feigning sleep would be futile. I’d only met Martín one hour ago, when we boarded the bus. I guess he figured since we were about the same age, he’d sit beside me, instead of risking sitting beside a grandmother who would chat his ear off. He salvaged his own ear in spite of mine and by the way he kept staring at my breasts every time the street went from paved to gravel and bumps, I knew he had other things in mind as well. He could stare all he wanted. It wasn’t going to happen. A part of him must have known. He’d gotten less and less talkative as the journey went by and my eyes wouldn’t quit shutting from exhaustion, which he may as well have taken as disinterest. We were almost at our final destination now and he’d only said those nine words in at least ten silent minutes. At least he smelled good.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me.” His voice was resigned, and even though I’d been hoping he’d shut up, a part of me felt bad. I knew what it felt like to speak and not be heard.

“How many times have you been to Pan Island?” I opened my eyes and looked at him.

“About five. Mostly for haunts and excavations.” He nodded at my camera. “Is that why you’re visiting again?”

“No.” I gripped the camera a little tighter as the guilt gnawed at me.

In the last six years, Pan Island had received over 12 million tourists. Pan was tiny and cloaked in mystery, or at least it was before the tourists decided to make it their stomping grounds, and I was partially to blame for it, with my photographs and social media engagement. The bus stopped moving with a loud squeak. Even the tires were tired of carrying unwanted people through these unpaved roads.

“The ferry leaves in ten minutes,” the driver called out. “I tried to make it as fast as we could, but the stops . . . ” He shook his head, shooting a salty look at Doña Mercedes, who scoffed and proceeded to set him in his place.

We got off the bus and collected our belongings, walking over to the ferry and showing the attendant our pre-purchased tickets.

“So, what brings you all the way out here?” Martín walked faster to catch up to me.

“I’m from Pan.”

“You’re kidding.” He eyed me closer, looking at me up and down. “You don’t look like you’re from Pan.”

“If I had a dollar for every time I heard that.” I rolled my eyes. “What exactly does a person from Pan look like? What does a person from anywhere look like nowadays for that matter?”

“You’re right.” Martín nodded slowly. “It’s just, I’ve never met anyone who’s actually from there. I mean, aside from the business patrons, and they’re not exactly the most welcoming unless they want to rip you off.”

“Well, I don’t think they approve of people excavating.” I shot him a look. “If there was gold in our caves, we would have found it by now.”

“The Guzmans maybe.” Martín scoffed. “They’re the only ones with access to those caves.”

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