Bright light shone through the burgundy framed windows of the communal study room as nineteen-year-old Gissandre entered. A group of younger girls who’d dyed their hair in an attempt to match the pale shade of hers trailed behind her. She was relatively new to the exclusive school, but she’d made friends easily as she always did. There were only a few older, influential girls who snubbed her. That didn’t concern her very much, because she had many larger issues, like trying to remember that her nickname here wasn’t Giss as it had been her whole life. She’d promised her sister she would keep the details of her identity secret, like her name, her home planet, and, most importantly, the reasons she was currently in hiding at a secure school for wealthy young women.
A commotion caused Giss to turn and stare as Cleery and her set rushed to the windows. Cleery, who ruled the school, had a lovely, plump figure, but her too sallow complexion often had to be covered with heavy makeup because it was spotted with a rash. Giss thought she needed to give her skin a rest from the harsh products she favored, but Cleery insisted they were “nourishing.”
“There! The smoke. I told you he was out there,” Cleery said, pointing triumphantly.
Her three friends tittered, and Lyris, a skinny, freckled young woman, knelt on the sill, pressing her nose against the glass.
What’s this? Giss wondered, strolling closer to them. “Who’s out there?”
With a smug expression, Cleery said, “The one they call the golden hunter. The most magnificent specimen to set foot on this desolate planet!”
Giss froze, her stomach lurching. A magnificent looking man with golden hair? That matched the description of one of the men who might be looking for her. Her heart thumped heavily in her chest. The planet of Junistar was only sparsely populated, which was surely one of the reasons it was chosen as the current secret location for the school.
“What are you talking about?” Giss asked.
“A young man adventuring here,” Cleery said, without bothering to turn her head. “His golden hair is definitely Linzen. Though it’s wildly tangled!”
Giss’s breath caught. Was it Larsinc? When she’d last seen him his hair hadn’t been wild or tangled, but since then he’d been through an ordeal.
Junistar, a distant outpost from the more fashionable worlds, was home to people who were fairly poor. The bloodline of the Linzen people was considered so valuable that generations back, when they were enslaved and captured for breeding, they’d been bought by people on very wealthy planets, like her own home world of Orius. That was why descendants of the lost Linzens were usually highborn and well moneyed. She and her older sister Zawri had light hair, green eyes, and features that looked somewhat Linzen themselves. Although no one had ever confirmed whether there had been a Linzen in the family line, they suspected there might have been.
Giss moved to a smaller window in the room’s corner and squinted at the sky. There did seem to be smoke curling up from the frozen landscape beyond the hills. Was he out there? She chewed on her lower lip, unable to keep a flood of emotions from hitting her. Regret, lust, longing, and some fear mingled in her blood.
She told herself to settle down. It was unlikely he was here. How could he have found her? She licked the corner of her mouth where she’d bitten it. He’d said he was a Ketturan warrior, though she wasn’t sure whether she believed it. And even if his family had settled on Kettura when Larsinc was a boy as he’d claimed, that wouldn’t explain his finding Junistar. The fierce, normally dark-haired and bronze-skinned Ketturan warriors traveled all over the universe as mercenaries, but they’d never have had cause to know about this world because the planet had never been under siege. Junistar had too few resources to be a target for off-world aggressors, which meant its people—even if they could’ve afforded to hire Ketturans as protectors—wouldn’t have needed to.
The last she’d heard, Larsinc was still imprisoned in the Wilds, a prison colony on her homeworld. She swallowed against an uncomfortable lump in her throat, trying not to think about the details of what had landed him there. Or the unfortunate part she’d played.
If he’s here, he survived.
If he’s here, he’s angry. And he came for revenge.
She turned from the window and walked away. She needed to go to her room so she could try to contact Zawri. She wasn’t supposed to talk by com with anyone from home since an off-world com transmission might be intercepted by someone on Orius who would tell Urcolin, the other man who was probably looking for her.
She shuddered, slowing her stroll to her room. She should never do anything that would allow Urcolin to find her. The banker-magistrate was more than corrupt and manipulative; he was evil. Just before Zawri had sent her away to this school, she told Gissandre all the ways Urcolin had brutally beaten his slaves. Some had died. Giss’s stomach churned, threatening to empty itself at the thought. She’d known instinctively that she had to escape him at all costs. It’s why she’d been driven to do something that was as drastic and desperate as an act could be. She’d walked into the sea during a storm. She shouldn’t have survived. She still wasn’t completely sure how she had. Larsinc had claimed he’d rescued her. Maybe he had.
Of course, he was a pirate and so much of what he’d told her that night was unlikely to be true. Her steps slowed as she pictured him, tall and strong, his skin faintly golden in the low light of the cave. How many times since they’d met had she woken from dreams of him with an ache between her thighs? How many times had her mind tried to recall every detail of his face and body? So many times. Too many.
Don’t, she chided.
Let go of that disastrous night, and be grateful you get a second chance at life.
Larsinc dipped a cloth through the hole he’d cut in the frozen lake. He brought it up, exhaling hard as he used it to wash away the soap on his face and beard. He gritted his teeth and cursed as the water threatened to freeze on his face. He leaned closer to the small fire for a few moments, then turned back and shoved the cloth into the icy water again. He dragged it over his chest, growling at the frigid bite. Discipline was a way of life, but that didn’t make the needles of pain easy to take as he washed.
When he’d emerged from the Wilds prison encampment, he’d been thin, wounded, and worn to the bone in some places. In the Wilds, food had been scarce, and fighting required. Seven months was a long time to live in harsh conditions while constantly under attack. So though he’d been living rough while watching Gissandre’s school, he went frequently to the villages for meals and supplies and ate more than his fill. He’d regained his muscle, and the evidence of the wounds faded more with every week of freedom.
Linc paused, closing his eyes as he pictured the girl’s beautiful, treacherous face, the curves of her flushed cheeks, the full lips, the bright eyes. He remembered the texture of her smooth skin and silky white-blonde hair. Despite the bitter cold, his cock rose.
He dropped the rag on the ground and stroked himself, licking his chapped lips and contemplating his plans for her. During the reckoning, he would punish and enslave her until she’d paid for her betrayal.
He tipped his head back, drawing deep breaths as he gripped his cock hard, trying to recall the scent of her sea-soaked skin. It had been a light, sweet musk when his face was buried between her legs. And the tangy salt had been nectar in his mouth as he’d licked her pussy. His cock erupted as the vividness of the memory took him back to that night eight months earlier.
It had been Linc’s first time on Orius, which was one of the old and wealthy worlds of the federation. It was a relatively peaceful place, not often attacked because of its own peace-keeping force and its powerful allies. Before he’d become a mercenary crew member to a pair of Canypscan brother pirates, he’d hired out as a Ketturan warrior, so the planets he knew best were war-torn or under siege from off-world invaders.
He remembered glancing upward on Orius. The light was fading fast as a storm rolled in. He and his companions were on the top of a cliff overlooking the sea. Their goal was to unearth a long root of an Orium Manden tree. The species of tree grew wild all over the planet, but most of the land was privately owned. The roots they were interested in were from a tree that fell from a lightning strike. The wood had been reclaimed, so only a stump had been left. There were some young offshoots, but the most valuable piece of the tree was left underground.
“There isn’t time to dig it out with care before this storm makes it too dangerous to be on a hillside,” Linc said. “See the flashes? Electricity in the clouds. Let’s shelter and come back when nature’s spent its voice.”
“What she’s doing?” Wexler, the younger of the two pirate brothers, asked.
Linc turned and walked to the edge of the cliff, joining Wex. Larsinc looked out and saw a vision. There was a young woman, slim and tall, walking toward the water. Her hair was the color of moonlight. She wore a shift that glowed; it was made of a rare fabric that came from very few worlds. He hadn’t seen hair the color of hers since he was a boy in the homeland of his birth.
“Hey!” Wexler yelled as the girl climbed over a rock barrier that had been placed to hold the sea back. She dropped a few feet into the water, which was to her thighs. The storm was pushing high tide in fast.
Linc thought she might have left a net to trap fish that she was going to retrieve. She might not want to lose it in the storm. But as she walked farther out, he knew that she had a more sinister mission in mind. The water was to her chest now, and the waves crashed onto the shore. She was very close to the rip currents that the signs warned about. They’d be dangerous on even calm days, which this night was not.
She needed to turn back immediately. Any moment, she’d be caught in the currents and, in this storm, she’d never survive. She must realize it. His muscles bunched in frustration. What could have driven her to this? Where was her family? Her friends?
Wex shouted again.
Linc doubted the girl could hear him. She never turned her head, and the wailing wind drowned out everything. Linc didn’t believe she would’ve turned back anyway. She had not hesitated, even when the water crashed over her head. If she wasn’t rescued, she’d be dead in minutes.
Linc glanced down at the rocks below them. There was no time to deliberate.
He turned and stalked several feet from the edge. Then he turned, sprinted, and leapt off the cliff. He arced outward to clear the rocks, diving into the sea. The water was cold when he crashed into it.
When he surfaced, he couldn’t see the girl, but on and off the fabric that glowed caught his eye. He swam hard. Cresting waves engulfed him as the wind howled. The current had caught him, and he wasn’t sure he could pull himself free of its grip. He fought, his heart hammering, muscles burning.
A pale hand darted above the surface and then sank. She’d reached up, but there was nothing to catch. She couldn’t save herself.
He doubled his efforts. If he died it would not be for lack of the will to live.
He choked on water, sucking in breath whenever he could get his mouth above the surface. Under it, the gown still glowed with moonlight, like a beacon that matched her hair. He caught it and followed the billows to her body.
His foot hit the sandy floor of the ocean, so he was on a sandbar. Better luck than he could’ve counted on. Her limp body swayed in his arms. He battled to get her face above the water and dragged her back toward the shore against the sea’s sucking grip.
The work was hard, but when his shoulders were above the surface, he knew he’d won. He’d stolen their lives back from the ocean.
He carried her to the barrier and lifted her over it with shaking arms. He dropped her onto the sandy ground then he hauled himself over the barrier, his muscles quaking with fatigue. He knelt, panting for breath.
She lay like a carving in alabaster, pale and still. Her face was delicate and breathtaking. “Traced by a bird’s wing” was the expression in Linzen to describe features so beautiful that they stole one’s breath.
Her eyes opened and were a glittering green. Linzen green, he realized with a jolt. She turned her face to cough, a faint mist of water escaping on her breath. Relief flooded his body. When she looked back, her brows drew together. For several long heartbeats she didn’t speak, then she finally asked, “Where’s your forked blade?”
He learned forward, not wanting to miss her words.
“Aren’t you a Median warlord?” she asked.
He laughed, surprised by the unexpected folklore reference. The legends claimed the Linzen people had risen from the mythic Medians who guarded the riches of the sea.
“If I were Median, I’d have dragged you down,” he said in Orium.
She offered him a faint smile, then had to shield her face from the driving rain. She turned and crawled to her feet.
He rose too. He was taller than her, but not by as much as he was with most women.
She shivered and dashed out of the clearing to some nearby trees for shelter.
“No,” he said, grabbing her arm. “Lightning is coming.”
“I can’t stand out there. And the caves are so cold!” she called out, trying to overcome the noise of the storm.
He ignored her protests, taking her arm and pulling her with him. A streak of light lit the night, and a loud crash drew their attention behind them. The tree that she’d been holding had been cleaved in half.
She stood frozen for a moment. Then he jerked on her arm, and she followed him with swift steps, leading her to the nearest cave. Inside it was cold, but he pushed her onto the soft ground. “Wait here.”
Back in the driving rain, he dragged a fallen branch into the cave. He cut away the soaked outside with his knife and then cracked the inner pieces. He piled them and poured liquid fire over the splinters. The flames ignited immediately, and she shuddered, crawling closer.
Her lips had a bluish purple hue. He knew his must as well. They needed to warm themselves.
He fashioned an arm of wood to hang near the fire, then he stripped off his skin shirt and pants and hung them. The fabric of skin clothes was meant to dry rapidly. Steam rose off the garments instantly from the fire’s heat.
Her gown’s glow faded, and it no longer billowed. Instead it clung to her body. The peaks of her breasts were puckered underneath. He glanced away, the temptation of her body making him as hard as stone.
“You should take that off. It’ll hold the cold against you.”
“I can’t do that,” she whispered. “If I’m going to die from the cold, I’ll do it covered.”
“You’re not going to die of the cold or anything else. Not while I’m here.”
“Who are you? Where did you come from?” she asked.
He glanced at her face. In the darkened cave, the color of her eyes was closer to moss, but no less stunning.
“Larsinc, once of Linzir, now a son and warrior of Kettura.”
“Linzen, that makes sense,” she said, licking her lips, her teeth chattering. “Ketturan, though? I’ve seen images of them; you look nothing like the people of Kettura.”
“Kettura becomes home to any woman or child who needs it. Ketturan warriors form a brotherhood of skill and merit. No one has to be born there to be Ketturan. Citizenship is granted to those who need it or earn it.”
She smiled so sweetly it was almost dizzying. “Is that so? They’re wild, aren’t they? And dangerous?”
“We can live in the wild if called to, which we often are. And we’re dangerous to some.”
She drew closer to the flames. He put out an arm to block her.
“That’s too close. You’ll singe your hair and if it catches, it could burn your face.”
“My hair’s wet. It won’t catch fire.”
She resisted his command and tried to evade his outstretched arm, which was silly of her.
Still, when he spoke, he kept his voice gentle. “The ends are drying, and there’s liquid flame in the fire. It can wick upward. Move back.”
She reluctantly did as he commanded, but wrinkled her nose.
“Here,” he said, holding out his dry skin shirt. “Take off that shift. Replace it with this. It’s warm and dry now.”
She took the fabric and touched it to her face. “Are you sure you want me to use it, rather than wearing it yourself?” she asked, extending it toward him.
He waved away the offer. “I’m sure. Put it on.”
She hesitated. Her society had a lot of rules, and she didn’t want to break them. At first.
He shook his head. That night was a thing apart, a sweeter piece of the past. The events that followed meant he shouldn’t look back fondly on his time with her. But as a twenty-four-year-old warrior mercenary, he worked most of the time, with only brief stops to holiday nights with women. He’d never spent time with a beautiful, untouched woman near his own age with eyes the color of Linzen grass, one he’d cheated death to carry from the sea. His attraction to her had beat through him like a war drum, driving him to take action. It was still driving him.
Gissandre of Orius was never far from his mind. He’d soon see to it that she wasn’t far from his body either.
Giss tried to raise her sister on her com, but got no response despite the message she’d sent that it was urgent. Giss’s brows furrowed. Where could Zaw be? They’d always been extremely close, and ever since they lost their beloved father, Zawri had been Giss’s guardian as well. Zaw took the responsibility so seriously that she sometimes put herself at risk for Giss’s sake. Giss felt the same way. She’d have done anything and sacrificed anything to protect her sister. She’d almost proven that once and for all. She shivered, trying not to think again about that turbulent night.
She studied the com. Zawri was most likely at an Orium High Council meeting. If so, it would be too risky to accept a com transmission from Giss. As a major property owner, Zawri was supposed to attend them all, but she didn’t always go because the men pursued her so relentlessly. As female heiresses, both Zawri and Gissandre were expected to marry highborn Orium male landowners. It was the ruling class’s way of consolidating and maintaining power.
The laws had been written such that a woman who broke faith with the planet’s elite by marrying a foreigner forfeited her property. And women who had sex outside of marriage were considered troubled and were forced to live under restrictions in a male relative’s house or, if there was no older man, a neighbor’s.
On the night Gissandre met Larsinc, she’d left the house after curfew, which was forbidden for a woman under the age of nineteen. She’d been driven to the act out of desperation. She hadn’t worried about consequences though, since she’d expected to drown before dawn. She winced, knowing how her death would’ve broken Zawri’s heart. That night though, Giss hadn’t seen any other option for herself, and Giss’s death would’ve freed Zawri to become full heir of the estate without any interference from a future husband of Giss’s. That had been important because Gissandre had run out of honorable potential matches. The sole option she had left was the corrupt Urcolin and that was by design. By his design. At first, she’d considered giving up and marrying him, thinking that though she’d be miserable, she’d be able to use her position and Urcolin’s power to protect her sister. Later she’d realized he didn’t intend to protect her or Zawri. His only interests were his own.
She remembered the wind whipping her hair across her face as she walked along the desolate beach. She remembered climbing over the stone barrier and how cold and shocking the water had been. She remembered the sea swallowing her up and dragging her down. She remembered panicking and knowing she’d made a horrible mistake. She remembered drowning, the water in her lungs, twisting in currents, churned by the sea.
The next thing she knew, she was on the beach, looking up at young man so stunningly handsome it was like he’d stepped out of a book of ancient myths. He refused to let her shelter under a tree, which was lucky since lightning struck it moments after he pulled her away.
They’d gone unchaperoned into a cave, which she’d known wasn’t allowed. But nothing about the night had been in keeping with the law. She closed her eyes and let her memories take her back.
Gissandre had never seen a man who was quite so beautiful. She knew all the handsome boys from school and the male landowners who were neighbors on Orium. None of them on his best day looked as good as Larsinc. He belonged in an Endricane museum as a statue or holo art. The rumors about the beauty of people from Linzir had not been exaggerated. If anything, they’d been too mild.
Despite his being in skin clothes, with wild, wet hair and a big blade he’d drawn from a sheath on his thigh, there was refinement to him. His clothes and knife could’ve belonged to a Ketturan savage, but he certainly hadn’t adopted all their ways.
“I don’t think I should change here,” she said, thinking of all the warnings she’d been given throughout her life, to say nothing of the laws.
He was already naked. If she turned her head slightly, she could catch glimpses of the flat muscled belly, a pale hip and muscular buttock, and the thick cock that looked like it should’ve belonged on one of the stallions in her friend Yukor’s stables.
“What’s your name, girl?” he asked.
She forced her gaze to the wall, hoping he hadn’t caught her peeking. “Gissandre. You can call me Giss.”
“Giss,” he murmured with a nod. “Change now.”
“No. That wouldn’t be…appropriate.”
“Neither is letting your body’s temperature fall to dangerous levels.”
“We’ve been warned many times that undressing is a dangerous taunt to a man’s lust.”
He smirked, glancing at the fire. “Ketturan warriors don’t lose control when taunted. Besides, your beautiful face and long bare legs are taunt enough. If I were inclined to look for excuses to rape you, I’d have found plenty of reasons already.”
“If the skin shirt is dry, so are the pants. Will you put them on?”
“I thought I’d roll them up for us to use to cushion our heads while we sleep.”
“I’d rather you wore them.”
He reached out and plucked the pants from the branch, sliding them on smoothly.
“And turn your back to me while I change?”
He complied wordlessly.
She turned away, quickly dragging off the shift and then pulling the black skin shirt on in its place. The fabric was silkier than she’d expected. She stood, finding that the shirt skimmed her upper thighs, but no farther. Giss reached under and removed her tiny woven lace shorts, hanging them on the branch closest to the fire. They should dry quickly. The shift was too heavy for the makeshift drying stand, so she draped the gown on a warm rock near the fire.
“Done,” she said.
He looked over his shoulder, which like the rest of him was made of perfectly sculpted muscle.
“Will you tell me why you went into the sea?” he asked.
A knife of pain pierced her heart. “I don’t think so,” she said, tears prickling in her eyes. “I’d rather not talk about that.”
“It’s your story to tell or not tell,” he said, turning back to face her. “On Kettura, a girl whose life is saved by a warrior offers her body to him for the night as a reward.”
Giss perched on a rock, crossing one leg over the other and letting her toes dangle just above the flames. “Is that true? Well, things are very different here, as I’m sure you’ve guessed. It’s illegal for me to marry a foreigner. And it’s illegal and immoral to give my body to a man who’s not my husband.”
“Is it legal to murder yourself?”
She laughed bitterly. “You know, it probably isn’t.”
“If once an outlaw,” he said with a shrug.
Her smile softened. “Do you plan to seduce me with words and logic?”
“I plan to try to seduce you with anything I have at hand.”
She chuckled. “If anyone had a chance of succeeding, it’d be you. Where did you even come from? I looked around everywhere to make sure I was alone before I climbed over the barrier. Did your boat capsize?”
“No, I dove from the Obay point.”
She sucked in a breath. “That’s dangerous even when there’s no storm. Why would you do that in the battering rain? I bet you couldn’t even see where the rocks ended.”
“I knew more or less where they were. It was not a problem to clear the rocks. The rip currents and the storm-whipped waves were the only real danger.”
“Did you dive in because you saw me?”
Her eyes widened. “You couldn’t have known what I looked like from that distance. And even if you could…the risk of drowning was so high. No reward is worth that risk.”
“There is a reward worth that risk. Your life preserved. I’m Ketturan. It’s my chosen home, the one of my heart now. No Ketturan warrior lets the life of a woman or child be lost without risking all to preserve it. To have let you drown without diving in…I’d have suffered a shame so deep I couldn’t have lived with it. Better by far to drown in an attempted rescue.”
“No one says…no one ever said your people were so heroic.”
He rolled his eyes. “Who would say it when Ketturan warriors are generally bronze-skinned, tattooed, and very dangerous. The community lives in a jungle full of raptors. To outsiders, of course the tribe seems savage. Also, other men are threatened by the fierceness of natural-born Ketturans. They’re few in number, but unparalleled in their deadly resolve to serve and protect the community. Corrupt men who understand honor have to be ashamed of themselves by comparison. So they must pretend Ketturans are less. In truth, they’re more.”
“They must be,” she said, tucking her hair back. “Everyone knows that any race would like to entice Linzen men and women to breed their looks and health into it. Someone like you could’ve requested citizenship on any world.”
“True enough. And when we don’t come willingly, they try to capture us and force us to.”
She glanced down at her hands. “I know a little something about that.”
She glanced up to look into his deep green eyes that reminded her of the leaves on the Grandmister tree in the valley. “You do?”
“A beautiful girl whose family can afford glow fabric doesn’t have very many reasons to walk alone into the sea. Did someone rape you? Or is someone planning to?”
“It’s not that. Well, not that exactly that.”
“It must be dire. Or else why take your own life?”
Tears filled her eyes, and she shrugged. “My future has been ruined. All the good options I had are gone. With only horrible choices left…I realized death seemed like the least objectionable one.”
He shook his head. “Orius is just one place. You don’t have to stay here. You can have a different future. One you like better.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“It is. It might not be without difficulties, but it can be that simple. You have access to a spaceship now, the one I came on. You can leave here without asking anyone’s permission.”
She tipped her head back, the tears leaking from her eyes and sliding over her temples into her hair.
“There’s someone I can’t abandon.”
“A man? Because death is abandonment, and you were willing to die.”
“No, I know. It wasn’t a man. If I die, my share of our family estate goes to my sister. If I leave, I’ll not only be forfeiting my part of it, but she’ll be at risk of losing hers. An Orium girl with no money or property has no say in what happens to her.”
“So you should both leave.”
“Leave with nothing? Because that would be the only way. I’d have to let my father’s estate and his memory die here. And we’d have no money or property. Our skills and education are all tied to this world. We’d be destitute.”
“Maybe at first, but not forever.”
“I promised him I wouldn’t give up.”
She nodded, tears spilling more freely. She wiped them away. “That’s enough. Please. I’ve grieved so much. Can you just talk for a while? Tell me about your adventures? Or more about your fierce countrymen. I’d love to hear about them. And about how you even got to be among them?”
“If you want a real distraction that will make you feel better, let me do something better than talking.”
She chuckled softly. “Let you ruin me, you mean?”
“No. I can do things that no doctor’s exam could ever prove happened.”
She looked directly at him then. “Like what?”
“Like kiss you in ways that will make your flesh hotter than that fire,” he said, nodding at the flames.
“How do I know you won’t go too far?”
“You’d have to trust me. And why wouldn’t you? If I wanted to go too far, you couldn’t stop me. You know I want you, but I haven’t touched you. I won’t lose control. At least not in the way you mean. I fully intend to be sexually satisfied.”
“What fun will kissing me be for you if it’s not going to lead to things that a doctor could detect? That’s all men want, isn’t it? To open a girl’s flower and get inside?”
He exhaled huskily. “Men do want that. It’s not all we want though.”
“What do you want?”
“I want you to reward me for saving your life. I want you to make me come with your mouth, the way I’m going to make you come with mine.”
Her cheeks flamed. “How does that work?”
“Let me teach you,” he said, holding out a hand.
Giss was jarred from the memory as the school’s cafe chimes sounded. It was time for the afternoon meal. She crossed her arms over her chest, her nipples tight and needy. An uncomfortable ache in her core plagued her, caused as always by memories of Larsinc.
She forced herself to open the door and exit her room. The man had given her a taste of the sensual side of life, literally, but she needed to forget that. Things were seriously complicated, especially if he’d tracked her down.
What should she do if he was on Junistar? Try to see and speak to him?
She needed to talk with Zaw about it. She passed down a school hall with its lavender walls and painted yellow railings. It was meant to remind the young women of flowers and gardens, and it did, up to a point. But that just made her miss home.
Where was her sister?