‘Forbidden’ (Book Excerpt) by Kimberley Griffiths Little

Kimberley Griffiths Little

Kimberley Griffiths Little grew up in San Francisco, but now lives in an adobe house on the banks of the Rio Grande with her chaotic, messy family. She thinks she has drunk so much Land of Enchantment water that some of that ancient magic got into her blood and now spurts out her pencil—read ergonomic keyboard. She has been scribbling stories since she was a kid and it’s a thrilling dream-come-true to see them on the bookstore and library shelves. She makes too many cookies when she’s revising and she’s got the best book trailers for reals! Check them out on her website or on YouTube. She has stayed in a haunted castle tower room at Borthwick Castle in Scotland, sailed the Seine in Paris, walked the beaches of Normandy, ridden a camel in Petra, shopped the Brand Bazaar in Istanbul, and spent the night in an old Communist hotel in Bulgaria. Read her interview here. Below you can read an excerpt from her novel, Forbidden. Courtesy: Kimberley Griffiths Little.

FORBIDDEN by Kimberley Griffiths Little

Harpercollins

November 4, 2014

Scene from Chapters 1-2:

            Hands and arms squeezed me, happy and envious as their fingers pressed into mine. A giggle came from behind. “I wish my father was a relative of Horeb. It’s just pure chance that of all the girls you will get him for yourself.”

            I gave a faint laugh, my face beginning to hurt. “Yes, lucky me.”

            “That’s the problem with betrothals when we’re children,” someone else added. “Nobody gets to chase the most coveted man in the tribe.”

            I shifted my legs and rose, unable to listen anymore. “I’ll get some more hot tea.”

            “Sit down, Jayden,” Hakak told me from the other side of the circle. “We are the ones to wait on you, like the princess you are. You only get a betrothal celebration once in your lifetime.”

            “But I love to serve, and I need to stretch my legs,” I said, as I quickly moved out of the room. When I passed my mother her eyes flickered to me, and I wondered if she sensed that I was ill at ease.

            “It’s time to give my gift to Jayden,” she announced, gazing at me as though relaying a message. “But I was in such a rush I left it back at our tent. Jayden, would you please retrieve my alabaster box? The chest is beside the baskets I packed this morning.”

            I smiled and nodded. A rush of love for my mother spread through my heart. She knew my discomfort and was sending me out for a moment of relief. “Of course, Mother. I’ll be right back.”

            Before anyone could stop me, I set down the tea tray and flew through Aunt Judith’s door into the night.

            Laughter followed me as I ran along the path back to my own family’s tent. I breathed in the cool, clean air as I jumped over saltbushes and skirted around a small hillock of sand, passing several black-and-white goat-hair tents. Hobbled camels muttered to one another in the distance.

            Close to my tent, I slowed, taking in the night, which was starkly beautiful under a canopy of jeweled stars. I savored my moments of freedom, which were marred by the realization that it was dripping away day by day.

            A moment later, I spied the clansmen seated around the hearth fire. My toes curled into the dirt as I realized I had to go directly past them to get to the safety of the women’s quarters. While the women had their celebration, the men gathered at another tent to talk and drink their own strong tea. I remembered the days when I was small and I’d curl up under my father’s cloak to rest my head on his knee and fall asleep to the sound of their deep voices.

            The sizzle of coffee beans roasting in the skillet floated across the still air. Cups clinked on a tray as my father passed them around the circle. The aroma of roasted brew spiced with cardamom seeped into the night.

            As I tried to slip past, Horeb’s eyes caught mine. Firelight flickered over his face, outlining his jaw and wind-tangled black hair. He was devastatingly handsome just as all the girls said, but his lips curled into a smile that sent shudders down my spine.

            Horeb’s glance lingered on my body, settling not on my face, but lower, as if he was undressing me right there on the dirt path.

            His eyes locking onto mine, Horeb rose from the circle of men. I jerked around, breaking off his stare. Walking faster, I turned the corner of the tent just as his arm reached out to stop me.

            “So, little cousin,” Horeb said. “Have you been enjoying the betrothal ceremony? Tell me, are the women telling stories of marital relations?”

            My breath caught like a thorn in my throat. The women’s ceremonies were not discussed with any male—only inside the privacy of a marriage bed.

            “You shouldn’t be saying these things to me,” I said.

            Running his fingers down my arm, Horeb continued to study me. “There are many things I’d like to say to you, Jayden. Do to you.”

            There used to be a time when my throat pounded every time Horeb turned my direction. A time when he was growing into those big, dark eyes and that hard, muscular body. Moments when I wanted to touch his thick, black hair, or run my finger along his jaw to discover what a boy’s skin felt like with a newly growing beard. But now that I was sixteen, and he twenty, his stares made me uneasy. My heart still pounded, but not from love. And I wasn’t sure what it was or what to call it.

            Wary of the strength in Horeb’s hands, I bit my lip. The fire crackled behind me, and I could hear the men’s low murmurs. My father and Uncle Abimelech wouldn’t mind Horeb talking to me, but they wouldn’t let it go on too long.

            “Better to get to know each other before the wedding day,” my father always said. “As long as you’re in sight of other members of your family.”

            I lifted my chin, pretending I was Leila who never worried about what to say. “You used to call me a whipping stick.”

            “I did? You were probably only nine years old.”

            “And you said my nose was big enough to scare a scorpion.”

            He laughed now, as if pleased with his creative insults—and still his gaze did not leave me. “A few months from now we will be wed,” he said. “You will be queen of our tribe. How fortunate for you and I.”

            “What are you saying? Our fortunes have only grown because Zenos was killed. An event we all still mourn.”

            “Zenos was never a great warrior.” His voice grew stony. “A daydreamer who empathized with our enemies when we needed to make sure they didn’t return to their wives and children.”

            A cold chill seeped through my bones. “How can you speak so cavalierly about your own brother? Zenos died a hero.”

            His face steeled, an expression I’d seen more often since that tragic war with the Maachathites. “You are ignorant, Jayden? What do you know of war and raids?” he hissed.           Questions ran unheeded through my mind. “But didn’t you say upon your return that Zenos died while you were scouting ahead as spies?” As soon as I spoke the words, I wanted to take them back. I was questioning his skill as a warrior and his courage.

            Horeb’s voice was low and fierce. “I barely managed to escape certain death myself on that ill-fated raid. Which was fortunate. What if my parents had lost both of us? I did what I had to do.”

            There was something he wasn’t admitting. “Tell me what happened that day, Horeb,” I urged. Perhaps it was evil on my part to suspect that Horeb ran away and left Zenos to die. That he was a coward. War was harsh. Who was I to judge?

            Horeb bent over me, his expression hardening. “I advise you never to speak of it. As my wife and queen I’ll expect you to fully support my decisions—in everything.”

            We stared at each other and I couldn’t stop myself from remembering the many times Horeb had to win over Zenos in their games and warrior training while growing up. The time Zenos had pinned him to the ground and Horeb, at twelve, had actually burst out in tears.

            I was the only witness that day, accidentally coming upon the brothers as I was delivering sewing items to Aunt Judith.

            Horeb told me he would slit my throat if I ever told another person.

            My eyes flickered and Horeb grabbed my arm as though seeing the memory in my face. I swallowed hard, wondering if he’d hurt me now. To deflect him, I quickly added, “Zenos was like an older brother, kind and thoughtful. I deeply regret his untimely death.”

            “Let’s not speak of the dead any longer,” Horeb said, purposely softening his voice. “Our tribe is moving forward, moving toward our marriage and a new leadership.” Before I could speak again, Horeb bent over me and ran his hand down my neck, not stopping when his fingers reached my chest.

            I jerked backward, stunned. “What are you doing?”

            His eyes were black and intense on mine. “A little taste before the wedding, Jayden?” he said in a low voice.

            “You’re mad. And rude.” Pushing him away, I raced for the back door of my tent, hearing his laughter and hoping he wouldn’t follow me.

            When I yanked the door in place, I sank to my knees before the wooden chest in the corner, trying to catch my breath. Was Horeb’s behavior normal for a betrothed couple? Perhaps I was the rude one by not allowing him to touch me, since tonight it was official? Nobody had talked about this part of betrothal.

            I’d always assumed any physical affection was strictly for the marriage bed. For a moment, I tried to picture kissing Horeb and then stopped, not wanting to imagine it. I realized more and more that I did not want him, and the knowledge left a bitter taste in my mouth. 

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