Here’s a sneak peek of the upcoming volume of Sophia’s War (Sophia’s War: Veil of Secrets), coming January 2015! Keep in mind, if you haven’t read Book 4 (Hidden Halos), there will be some spoilers in this excerpt! Thanks, and I hope you all enjoy!
Sophia sighed, looking up at the sky once they’d finished dessert. She could just make out the stars past the yellow haze that enveloped them. Adrian was gulping down the rest of his Apfelwein as she checked her watch.
“I suppose we should be going back,” Sophia said. “It’s almost eight.”
Adrian came up for air, bringing his glass down on the table harder than he needed to. She laughed.
Some of the people who had been there when they arrived had already left. One couple that had been on the trolley with them had finished eating, drifting around the pond, and a trio of women who’d also ridden with them were getting up to leave. Adrian was laying marks on the table when the hum of a trolley making its way toward the mansion could be heard. The waitresses were starting to pull the empty tables and chairs inside. Another couple stood, heading toward the path to leave.
“Ready?” Adrian asked.
Sophia nodded, picking up her purse and flower from the table.
“I hope you had a good day,” Adrian said, putting his cap on as they trailed after the group heading for the trolley.
“I did,” she replied. “I’m actually not looking forward to going home—for a few reasons,” she said, remembering Diedrich. “I wish we could have come here earlier. I would have liked to have seen the whole park.”
Adrian didn’t speak, though he was right by her side. One of the women ahead of them gave a high-pitched laugh at something.
“It’s so quiet and still out here,” Sophia mentioned, looking out over one of the gardens they’d passed on the way in. “I’m sure it would have been my favorite if…”
Adrian pulled her into him with a motion so graceful that her lips found his as if it had been perfectly planned. They were kissing right on the path where anyone could have seen. She should have been embarrassed; she should have protested. That would have been the respectable thing to do.
“Come with me,” he whispered, his voice rough in her ear.
He had a hold of her hand, pulling her away before she could even gather a response in her head. They weren’t taking the pathways that had already been made, instead stepping over bushes and weaving through flower gardens. The dwarfish tower was becoming clearer in the dark, its medieval archways showing through to the grassy knolls that lay beyond it.
“Won’t someone see us?” she asked through a giggle, noticing the light from the mansion radiating above the trees.
“Probably,” he replied.
The mortification that would come with being caught made her apprehensive, but it wasn’t enough for her to make him stop and turn around. Kissing him had been in the back of her mind all day, but it would have been puerile to mention it, and it required more boldness than she had to initiate it again. Though she wouldn’t have dared to tell him, she felt relieved that he’d finally done it.
Underneath the tower now, they held onto each other the way they had outside the doorway to the clock shop. Anyone could walk up and catch them and she would have no excusable justification. There was nothing suitable about a young, unmarried woman being alone in the dark with a man—even if they were married, it would have been considered uncouth.
His hands were bracing her jaw, the skin on his formerly smooth upper lip and chin scratching her face. He pulled away, resting his forehead against hers. His thumb caressed her cheek, and she closed her eyes, savoring his touch.
“I don’t want to go back yet,” he said. “I want to stay with you a little while longer.”
“Okay,” she said as he kissed her again.
They walked around the gardens, finding an open patch of velvety grass underneath the sable sky. Adrian had laid down beside her, keeping the proper distance of a gentleman.
“I like this,” Sophia said. “I haven’t been able to do this in a long time, and I needed it. Sometimes, at home, when I was frustrated or sad, I would go lay out in the field below my parents’ house. I’d pour my heart out to God in the quiet, or just lay there, taking in His stillness in the stars. It made me feel at peace, like my head had been emptied of all the clutter. Lately, I feel like I need Him more than ever. I can’t seem to shake the fear or worry, no matter how much I pray. I wake up and it’s all still there. I know He’s listening. I just don’t understand.”
“Sometimes, I don’t either,” she heard Adrian say, commiserating.
“Tell me about your faith,” she said.
“What about it?”
“Everything,” she said. “You said Luther introduced you to Christianity.”
“I suppose I should have said he’s the one who introduced me to the idea of having a relationship with Christ,” he said. “My grandparents were Christians. They did good things, but they made sure everyone knew about it. They also made it their business to police others’ good deeds, or lack thereof. They weren’t bad people, necessarily, they were just…”
“Misguided?” Sophia offered.
“That’s one way of putting it,” he said. “I went to church with them, repeated all the same prayers, but that was as far as it went for me. I didn’t have much accountability, besides what is considered to be good or bad in general. That wasn’t good enough for Luther. He said that if I was going to work for him, it required utmost dedication, unrelenting focus and a superior comprehension of morality.”
Sophia studied him. “To be a photographer?”
She could hear the smile in his voice. “There’s a little more to it than that, but I suppose, yes. His standards are high.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because when I’m given a task, I’m supposed to accept it without hesitation. When I’m executing that task, it has to be precise. The bible helps me cope, sometimes. It helps keep me focused, finding acceptance and validation in God instead of elsewhere. Luther suggested it as a precaution at first, but I gave my life to Jesus when I was seventeen. Does that mean I haven’t failed on occasion and that Luther hasn’t struck me upside the head with a bible once or twice? No,” he said. Sophia chuckled. “But I do my best.”
“He’s hit you with a bible?”
“Yes. I deserved it, though.”
“What did you do?”
She sensed his sudden reluctance to speak. He gave a nervous laugh under his breath. “Let’s just say it was something bad enough that it could have jeopardized both of us.”
Though her curiosity was killing her, she decided to leave it alone, mindful of the fact that he didn’t want to talk about it.
“Have you ever seen a falling star?” she asked him, after they’d been quiet for too long.
“Yes. A few,” he replied.
Sophia sighed. “I’ve never seen one.”
“You’re joking,” he said, turning his head toward her. “As often as you look at the stars, you’ve never seen one?”
She looked at him, shaking her head.
“Hmm,” he sounded. “Maybe you’ll see one tonight, then. Do you have a favorite star?”
“Three. Orion’s Belt,” she replied. “There’s nothing really special about them. They’re just the first thing I look for when I look up at night.”
“Orion is one of my favorite constellations. His mythology is laced throughout the entire sky.”
Smiling, Sophia adjusted herself, moving a little closer to him. “Show me.”
“Okay,” he said, removing the hand behind his head to point. “There are many myths about Orion. Pictures often depict him as hunting Taurus, the bull, but that’s not entirely true. See that cluster of stars? That’s the Pleiades—or, the Seven Sisters. One myth says that Orion fell in love with the sisters. Zeus didn’t like that, so he picked the sisters up and put them in the sky to separate them from Orion. If Orion is looking at anything up there, it’s not the bull. It’s the Seven Sisters within the constellation.”
“Zeus could, and did, have any woman he wanted. That was selfish,” Sophia said, joking.
“Yes, and poor Orion had no luck with women in the first place. He fell in love with a king’s daughter in one story, and the king blinded him. He got his sight back eventually, but still. And then the next one he fell in love with was Artemis, and she was the one who brought about his demise, though the details vary, depending on who you ask. Some say he wasn’t such a nice guy to her, and she set a Scorpion on him which stung and killed him. Another version is that he bragged to Artemis that he was such a skilled hunter, he could kill any creature on earth, so she set the Scorpion on him and it killed him. That’s why Scorpius rules the summer skies, while Orion rules the winter. He asked to never be in the same sky with the scorpion. They’re always half a world away from each other.”
He lowered his hand, searching for hers.
“How do you know so much?” she asked.
“It’s a bunch of useless information, really,” he said with a sigh. “It’s what a man gets when he reads meaningless books that have nothing to do with what his occupation will be.”
She squeezed his hand, more out of sorrow than anything else. She knew he didn’t really believe that.
“You are full of so much fire to learn and understand everything,” she said with admiration. “You have compassion, and sometimes, I swear it feels like you know what I’m thinking and feeling without me even having to say it. And then something happens, like today, and I see someone else. I heard you laughing with him, Adrian.”
Adrian released her hand, sitting up. She propped herself up on her elbows as he looked away from her.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m not saying you did something wrong. I just…I don’t know how you do that.”
He seemed distracted, in a stupor of introspection. She wondered if he was contemplating telling her the truth, or if he was ferreting about in his psyche for an exoneration. He cracked a knuckle, shaking his head to himself.
“I turn it off,” he finally replied, looking at her. “Whether it’s for a second, a week, or for months, I turn it off. All of it. Because if anyone knew the truth, it would all be over. When the situation is so dire that we could face an interrogation right now for having this conversation because someone overheard, it’s not worth the risk. I have too much at stake, too much to protect, too many people who would be destroyed because of a single, trivial misstep on my part. I am a war photographer for the Third Reich, Marelda; an inconsequential peon for a propagandist. Not whatever it is you think I am. Not anymore.”
She stared at him in the dark. He blinked away, his voice having been stern. Though it was clear she had no insight to all the things he felt he had to lose, she understood his desperation. The lives of two human beings were fully dependent on her; one slip up, and their lights would be extinguished forever. Though he had no hand in her decision, Diedrich would go out with her—perhaps even Adrian, all because of her association with them. It was a bittersweet truth, and though in a perfect world it was all wrong, in theirs, she had no other choice. Neither did he.
She sat up, cupping his face as she kissed his cheek.
“To them,” she whispered, “you can be Heinrich the photographer. But to me, you are Adrian the historian, the scholar…a man who can still find beauty and goodness in a very dark world.”
He turned his face against hers at her words. Soon, they were kissing just as before. He cradled her, and his arms tightened as she caressed his face.
Flashes, visions of them smiling and laughing, lying in a bed of white flickered in her mind. She watched him touch her bare skin with the kind of casualness that he’d walked through the city with, as if it was something he’d always done. The strength of the senses in her imagination caused chill bumps on her skin in the present; she had been naked—physically, emotionally. It didn’t matter if it was a premonition of what was to come, or a mere reflection of her innermost desires for him. In that moment, she knew she was going to spend the rest of her life with him, no matter how short it might be.
She pulled away from him, overcome with emotion.
“Do you love me?” she whispered looking up at him through tears.
There was a crinkle of concern in his brow. She watched it slacken in the faint light coming from the sky. He swallowed, his nose brushing against her own.
“If I was Orion, and Zeus had put me in the sky, then you would be Pleiades, and I would spend the rest of eternity looking at only you.”
She clung to his neck in response, comprehending the fact that his answer didn’t surprise her. She wondered just how long she had already known.
“Do you love me?” he asked.
“Yes,” she murmured. “I love you very much.”
“What’s wrong, then?” he asked as she battled tears.
“Nothing,” she whispered, kissing him. “Everything’s perfect.”