Ruri stared at herself in the mirror. Her long black hair fell over her shoulders in a silken curtain, bone straight and heavy. Light golden brown skin glowed with health under the white rice flour makeup she had applied, but her black eyes were shiny with nerves.
She pulled her hair up into a ponytail and knotted it with a few deft twists before sliding ivory and jade hair sticks in to hold it in place. She inspected the results carefully. It looked good and sharpened her cheekbones. Not that they really needed it. Her whole body was sharp angles and muscles with only the slightest hint of soft curves.
Taking a tiny brush, she slowly painted her full lips with a red stain. Once she finished the small chore she shrugged into an ivory kimono with jade green embroidery. It had been a gift from her mother, passed down from her grandmother. They had hoped she would wear it for her wedding.
Ruri didn’t remember her wedding. She had slept through it.
Over a year had passed since she had awakened to find a strange man leaning over her. He was strange in more ways than one. His hair was a pale rose-gold. She had no idea how much dye he had used to create that color and wondered a bit wildly if she had been kidnapped by a gay serial killer. His pale red-brown eyes were solemn as he watched her.
He had spoken to her in a liquid language she should not have been able to understand. “Hello, lovely blossom, I am Kiger. Your husband.”
The he had leaned down, lips puckering slightly.
He’s gonna freaking kiss me
! she had thought hysterically. Not one to tamely accept anything, she had swung a fist, sending him stumbling back when it connected with his cheek.
And that had set the tone of their marriage. She had not handled being taken with good humor. Not that she was the most even-tempered woman to begin with. Polite people called her tempestuous.
Not so polite people called her bitchy.
Her husband had spent several months trying to reassure her and spend time with her. She realized now that he was trying to give her time to get to know him. However, his methods had made her feel like a hunted animal and filled her with a helpless rage that caused her to lash out, usually in a physical manner.
Kiger had suffered numerous bruises and a few broken bones in his quest to claim his wife. She had finally told him to leave her alone and go find someone else to screw.
His downcast expression had made her feel like she had just kicked a puppy, but she had hardened her heart to him and left the words hanging in the room. He hadn’t bothered her as much after that. Now it was as if they were roommates thrown together by necessity, and they barely tolerated each other’s presence.
Ruri didn’t like the person she was becoming, but she felt she was helpless to stop it. The anger festering in her heart drove her to hurt the people around her. It had taken her a very long time to understand that she wasn’t angry with Kiger so much as she was angry with her situation. The helplessness and vulnerability she felt spurred her to lash out at everyone around her.
Her first reaction to feeling scared or hurt had always been anger but, even now that she felt more in control and less vulnerable, the anger had become a habit and she didn’t know how to break it. She had managed to alienate everyone around her except Thea. It was not a pleasant feeling to know the people around you barely tolerated you and only did so to make another person happy. If anything it magnified her loneliness, which in turn fed her bitterness and created a downward spiral.
After spending time on Ta’e with Sya’tia’s family she had come to understand the Ta’e’sha better and learned more about their culture and habits. It had put a very different slant on Kiger’s actions. What had made her feel stalked was actually his culture’s courting customs. She had spent much of her time with Sya’tia’s mother, Kokia, during that stay and had learned quite a bit from her.
Something about Kokia had soothed Ruri. Maybe it was that Kokia reminded her of her grandmother. Or, it could have been the instant acceptance by Sya’tia’s family. Since Thea had introduced Ruri, Zinnia, and Cristabel, the other to witches who made up Ruri’s small coven, as her sisters they were considered family and treated as such.
Between that acceptance and Thea’s unflagging friendship she had something to hold onto. A foundation that had been missing since the day she had awakened to find Kiger leaning over her. It had given her time to catch her breath, and since they had no expectations about how she would act, she could be herself for the first time in a long while.
The other two witches were slowly warming to her and she was learning that she actually liked Sya’tia. Hell, she even liked Kyrin and Daeshen, Thea’s husbands. They, on the other hand, were very wary around her after being the victims of her sharp tongue many times. It would take time before they relaxed around her. At least they were willing to give her another chance.
Thinking of second chances, she was hoping that Kiger would give her another one too. This evening, a week after returning to the ship, she felt ready to accept Kiger and spend time with him. And, she hoped, find a man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. She knew that she had a lot to make up to him and it was her turn to make the first gesture.
Carrying a tray holding tea and cups she walked with the careful mincing steps required to move in the kimono. Her cerebcom had told her that Kiger was in the bathing area and she wanted to serve him the tea and talk with him while he was relaxing in his bath.
The door slid open at her command and she entered with her head down to concentrate on not spilling the hot beverage.
A soft masculine gasp made her look up. Pain knifed through her heart when her husband slowly looked up from the man his arms and his prehensile hair were twined around. Dimly, she admired the man’s dramatic, turquoise and pale green shaded hair and tail curling around her husband’s rose-gold form.
Her shocked gaze locked with Kiger’s. He lifted an eyebrow in slightly irritated inquiry. When his expression flowed from irritation to curiosity and settled into nervous bemusement she knew he hadn’t recognized her at first.
“Ruri,” he blurted out, trying to pull free of the man’s lingering grip. “Is something wrong? I thought you were still at work.”
“No, nothing is wrong,” she replied through numb lips. “I left early because I thought we could spend the evening together.” She carefully drew herself together. “But I see you already have plans.” Her vision grayed out a little as she glanced at the man lounging in the water with her husband.
The man smiled in a cool but friendly manner and stroked his fingers down Kiger’s chest. His skin had a faint bluish cast while his hair and tail seemed to absorb light and fling it back out like sunlight through a stained glass window. He was the most beautiful Ta’e’sha male she had seen. None of the others she knew had clear, glasslike hair and scales similar to his. It was as if his gods had created him from the blue seawater of the Caribbean Sea. I bet he’d make pretty babies
, she thought, feeling dazed.
Feeling like someone had hit her between the eyes with a brick, Ruri turned on her heel and quietly exited the room. She tried not to hear the hushed conversation that was taking place in the tub. The door slid shut, silencing the splashes and deep murmurs issuing out of the men’s mouths.
Under the white makeup on her face Ruri’s cheeks burned with humiliation. Tears stung her eyes and eased down her cheeks. She didn’t stand a chance of making up with Kiger now, and it was her own fault, her words were coming back to haunt her.
With studied care she set the tray on a counter and untied the kimono so she could move easier. Once in her bedroom she slowly stripped off her clothing and scrubbed the now gooey makeup off her face with some of the towelettes she kept on her dresser. Then she carefully pulled on one of the black jumpsuits the Security personnel wore. It didn’t have the badges and insignias that would mark her as a member of Security, and it was the best thing she could find to use as exercise gear. Next she pulled the sticks out of her hair and carefully put them away.
She had a vague thought of going to the gym to practice with her sword since it was something that always soothed her. Not that she held out much hope that it would help.
A knock on the doorjamb made her turn slowly.
Kiger stood in the doorway looking ill at ease. “Are you all right, Ruri?” he asked cautiously. Water dripped from his hair and rolled down his chest to be absorbed into the towel he had snugly wrapped around his trim waist. Like most Ta’e’sha his body was slender with the lean muscle that was developed from swimming often. Unlike most of his people his body shimmered all over as if had been sprinkled with ultrafine gold dust. It should have made him look feminine, but somehow he still managed to retain his masculinity.
“I’m fine,” she replied. Her voice sounded tinny to her ears. “I’m sorry I disturbed your” -- she paused and struggled to find something noncommittal to say about what she had walked into -- “festivities,” she finished lamely.
His worried expression hardened. “You don’t have any right to be snide!”
“I wasn’t --”
Kiger cut her off with a sharp jerk of his hand. “Nothing ever makes you happy does it?” He ran a hand through his writhing hair in agitation. “I can’t live like this, damn it!’
“I didn’t --”
He continued as if she hadn’t said anything. “I have tried so hard to make you at least like
me. I wanted you from the moment I saw you and felt full of possibilities. But, you wouldn’t give us even a chance.” He stalked into the room and began pacing as he warmed to his subject. “You’ve hurt me physically, emotionally, and mentally since the moment you met me. I don’t know what you want, Ruri, but obviously I can’t give it to you. You told me to find someone else. So I did. I’m happy with Hadri and I have no intention of letting you ruin it for me. I give up. Live your own life and let me live mine.” He ran his hands through his wet hair again and sighed tiredly, his hair now drooping listlessly around his shoulders. “I’m so tired of the fighting. I understand that you can’t forgive me and that nothing I ever do will make things right between us. I can only say I’m sorry so many times.” He looked at her, both sad and hard at the same time. “I’m not going to try anymore. Just leave me alone.” Saying that, he turned and left the room.