Flight of the Golden Harpy Excerpt and Giveaway

susan klaus
Flight of the Golden Harpy Excerpt
by Susan Klaus
Reprinted with permission by Tor Books.

1
Kari crouched as motionless as a doll beneath the ferns and stared across the lake carpeted with purple lilies to the trisom trees on the opposite shore. The towering trees swayed in the breeze; their branches overloaded with sweet fruit at this time of the year. After an hour of patient waiting, the eleven-year-old brushed her sweaty locks from her forehead and fretted. Her two-mile hike through Dora’s hot jungle had been in vain. Nothing but birds and small-winged mammals had come and feasted on the fruit.

She heard a pair of squabbling kilts, squirrel-type creatures, and lowered her gaze to watch them as they tussled, rolled, and chased each other up and down the vines. So entranced with the kilts, she failed to notice the male harpy who had flown in and landed in the trisom trees. She rose to leave and saw the flutter of his pale yellow wings before he folded them against his back.

She ducked back down and swallowed. “He’s a golden. A real, true golden harpy,” she muttered, watching him. He picked a ball of fruit, leaned his slender, humanoid frame against the white bark, and nibbled.

Her chest pounded with excitement, realizing she gazed at the rarest creature on the planet. Numerous times, she had seen brown-winged harpies, but the blond, yellow-winged species were nearly extinct. Prized by hunters, the goldens were considered the ultimate game animal and slaughtered for their trophy wings. The golden flung the shoulder-length hair from his boyish face and sniffed the air before hopping to another limb, out of view.

Kari dismissed her father’s warnings about dangerous harpies and crawled from her hiding place for a better look. Approaching the lake’s edge, she was so captivated she never noticed the ripples of water created by a stalking mogel. It shot out from the murky depths and latched its mouth around her leg. The giant eel-like beast knocked her down on the muddy bank and dragged her toward its watery domain. She screamed for help, but was too far from home and her father to be heard.

With her free foot, she frantically kicked the beast’s leathery black head and silvery eyes, but the mogel remained undeterred, holding on to its meal. Its sharp fangs clamped down and released their venom. While thrashing in the shallow water she felt a burning pain enter her bite wound. She grabbed a large rock and clung to it, but with the mogel’s strength and steady pull, her hands quickly slipped over the algae-covered stone. Total paralysis from the poison and drowning would soon end her struggle.

Through a haze of tears, she glimpsed a flash of yellow. Like a seabird after bait, the harpy dove toward the lake surface and dropped on the mogel. The startled creature let go of her leg, and she scrambled backward to the shore. From there, she watched the battle: sky creature versus water. Half bird, half mortal, the light weight harpy was pitted against a six-hundred-pound mogel. The harpy wrapped his arms around the wide girth of the mogel’s neck, and throttled the alarmed water monster. The fifteen-foot-long indigo body broke the surface and swirled in a circle, its huge jaws wildly snapping at the elusive harpy that rode its back. The tranquil lake erupted with splashing, and the fight flattened the lilies. The mogel, like a boa that constricts its prey, coiled and heaped layer upon layer of its thick body over the golden, engulfing him within a massive ebony ball. The two adversaries vanished below the surface.

Kari brushed her tears away and stared at the calm lake. Had the harpy drowned? After a minute, the mogel’s head broke the surface. Its mouth gaped and its silver eyes closed. Its whole limp body soon floated on the water with the harpy still maintaining his stranglehold.

The golden unclasped his arms, made a reprimanding hiss into the mogel’s tiny ear, and slipped off its back. Wading waist-deep toward the shallows, he glanced over his wing at the dazed monster and made a sniffling sound. The mogel swished its fanned tail and plunged to the lake’s depths. The harpy stepped from the water and ruffled his wet feathers before walking to Kari.

For the first time, she saw a harpy up close. His sleek frame was tall, nearly six feet, and his bronze muscles shimmered with dripping water. The creamy birdish wings lay tightly folded against his back, and he moved with a graceful tiptoe stride. He bent down alongside her and tossed the wet, glittering locks from his flawless features. Softly panting from the battle, he stared at her with intense royal-blue eyes. Only one word could describe him: beautiful.

The harpy wrinkled his small nose and sniffed her. Animal-like, he lacked the ability to smile or frown, but his large eyes displayed emotion—curiosity at first, but when she cringed with pain from her injury, his eyes narrowed with concern. He picked her up and carried her from the shore. Under the giant blue ferns, he placed her on some velvety moss and examined her wound.

The searing pain shot through her leg, causing her eyes to water. “I must get home,” she cried, and pointed to the wound. “The mogel poison—it will kill me.”

Not understanding her human language, he tilted his head like an inquisitive dog. He stood and spread his wings. With a leap, he became airborne.

“No, come back!” she called, but he disappeared into the trees. Harpies were terrified of people, and she had obviously scared him. She struggled to rise but was too weak as the venom took hold. A feverish sweat now covered her body, her heart raced, and she felt nauseated. The wound stung, and she detected the numbing pain moving up her leg. Her face in her arms, she wept in anguish.

A few minutes later, the golden sailed down and landed beside her. Holding a fine green moss, he smashed and rolled it in his hands, turning it into a gummy paste. He crammed the paste into her punctures, and her pain immediately subsided. He tore off a strip of the sash that hung on his hips and hid his genitals. She recognized the webbed linen that the groff insect wove within caves. He wrapped the material around her leg to hold the paste against her wound.

Kari watched him treat her wound. “Dad is wrong. Harpies aren’t evil monsters.”

He tilted his head again. Her sound apparently puzzled him since harpies were silent creatures, known to be mute.
“You must understand. I have to get home or I’ll die,” she said, attempting to rise.

He clenched his teeth and created a low hiss that conveyed discouragement. He swept her up into his arms. She gasped, unsure of his intentions. With his nose, he nuzzled her cheek like a gentle pony, reassuring her before he bounded toward the sky.

Just above the multicolored tree canopy, he flew west over the logging road, the same road she had traveled to reach the lake. In a short time the harpy landed in the sprawling meadow that surrounded her large home. Still cradling her in his arms, he nuzzled her again and laid her down on the soft grass, but then the dogs barked and men yelled. They had seen the harpy.

The golden released her and stood, facing his enemies. He arched his wings, angrily tossed his long locks, and seethed at the approaching men. The goldens were known for their bold nature and only these blonds had the nerve to stand their ground, but Kari had also noticed his shorter wings and pale yellow color, proving he was not full grown. Now he foolishly challenged armed men—further evidence that he lacked maturity. A laser blast came dangerously close.

“Go,” she pleaded. “Leave before they kill you.”

He glared at the men, his ruffled feathers displaying irritation. A second blast zipped passed his head. He longingly glanced down at her before fleeing into the sky.
Kari struggled to her feet and screamed at one of the men. “Charlie, he saved me. Don’t hurt him.” She collapsed on the ground unconscious.

Kari woke in her bedroom as Maria, the plump Hispanic housekeeper, bent over her and wiped her forehead with a cool towel. “Miss Kari, you gave us quite a scare,” she said, and called to the open doorway, “Mr. Turner, she’s awake.”
Her father came in and sat down on the edge of her bed. “Thank God, you’re okay.”

Kari gazed up at her strapping father and his concerned eyes. Day-old beard stubble told her that he had not taken the time to shave. “The golden harpy,” she said, and tried to sit up. “Charlie didn’t kill him, did he?”

Her father grinned and stroked her head. “No, sweetie. That cocky young male got away, but you need to lie still. Doc just left and said you were very lucky. He recognized the mogel bite and caught the venom in time.”

“A mogel grabbed me at a lake, and the harpy fought it and brought me home. He saved my life, Dad. And he was so handsome and gentle. Promise you’ll protect him. You can do that … just keep the hunters off your estate and he’ll be safe. Please, Dad.”

He forced a weak smile and petted her head, but didn’t answer.
Over the coming days, Kari had numerous arguments with her father over the harpy.

“The harpies aren’t dangerous,” she said. “People kill the poor harpies, and they’re the ones that are evil and dangerous.”

“Look, young lady,” said her father, “you don’t know anything about those flying devils, and furthermore, your days of wandering in the woods and searching for harpies are over. I want you in this house or at school. That’s it. End of discussion.”

She glared at him. “You can’t keep me from him.”

* * *

Ten long years had passed since those events in the jungle and Kari’s encounter with the golden harpy. Now a young woman, she sat aboard a spaceship bound for Dora and recalled those childhood memories. Unfortunately, she had learned that her father could keep her from the harpy. Once her mogel injury had healed, she was placed on a spaceship bound for Earth and its schools.

Arriving on Earth, she found that the trees, animals, and all of nature had long ago disappeared. Nothing remained but vast concrete cities that lay under see-through domes revealing a sunless sky. Her classmates, as inhospitable as the chilly climate and the hard, gray buildings, chastised a girl born of the jungle. They claimed her home was barbaric, that only an idiot would want to dwell on the uncivilized and obscure planet of Dora.

Over the years, Kari became quiet and aloof to avoid criticism. She prayed for the day when she could return to her jungle home and walk beneath the towering fan trees, hear the songbirds, and breathe the fragrant, humid air.
Her only relief from despair and homesickness had been a weekly visit to a small solarium. Sitting under the modest trees, she told an elderly gardener about Dora, a small planet similar to Earth during the Jurassic period, when giant reptiles and colossal ferns and trees ruled the landscape. And, of course, she talked about the harpies, and the stunning teenage golden who had rescued her.

The gardener would always end their visit by saying, “If I was young and had the credits, I’d move to your home, Kari.”
The old guy was her only friend and reminded her of Charlie, her grandfatherly Indian companion on Dora. During her last week on Earth, she went to the solarium to say good-bye but learned the gardener had passed away in his sleep. Perhaps he had needed her as much as she needed him.

* * *

Kari now gazed out the window at the twinkling stars as the mammoth starship made a path through the deep void in space. She pressed her forehead against the cool window, feeling the vibration of the vessel’s engines. “Five more days,” she sighed. “Just five more, and I’ll finally be home.”

Still thinking about the golden, she reached in her handbag for a small box. Opening the plastic lid, she took out a strip of tattered material and carefully twisted it through her fingers before bringing it to her nose and lips. His sweet, kittenish scent still lingered. The web linen from the golden’s sash had sustained her on many a lonely and desperate night. Gazing at the insect material, she still saw the faint bloodstains from the mogel wound. “I’m coming back to you.”
Her thoughts drifted to her father. After all these years, she remained bitter toward him and his decision to banish her to an Earthly prison. She had refused his trans-planet com calls and tossed away his gifts, but she’d soon have to face him. During the five-month space voyage, the meeting with her father lay heavy on her mind. Could she control her anger to even say hello to him?

She glanced out the window at the approach of Duran, Dora’s sun, and smiled. Sitting at a stainless-steel table, she took a few raisins out of a bowl, popped them in her mouth, and gazed at the empty dining room. She heard the muffled laugh of a kitchen cook through the closed door. Shortly, this large room would fill with hungry passengers, and Kari would slip out, seeking solitude in her cramped cabin. She twisted her long blond hair, dreading her confined quarters, but she dreaded people more. Her lonely existence on Earth had turned her into a recluse.

The dimly lit dining room flooded with bright lights, Kari’s cue to leave before the other passengers arrived and filled the vacant seats. She stood as several people entered the room, laughing and plainly happy that the voyage was ending.
“More colonists,” she grumbled to herself, “to destroy the jungle, hunt the animals and kill my harpies.”

“Harpies?” said a man’s booming voice. Kari turned and saw a tubby, balding man and a woman as they seated themselves at a table. “If you want to see one, there’s a few at Hampton Zoo, but the wild ones have been exterminated. And good riddance to those thieving, raping pests.”

“Rape?” the woman exclaimed.

The man grinned. “Yeah, male harpies use to raid towns and steal women. Even if a poor girl was found, she was suicidal or her mind was gone. But like I said, most of the flocks have been wiped out.”

Kari sank back into her seat and listened to the man ramble as others joined his table. Was he telling the truth? She closed her eyes and felt ill. Over the last decade could the harpies have been so hunted that they were on the brink of extinction? Was he dead—her majestic golden whose image had kept her from going crazy all this time?

She wondered about the man’s accusation that harpies were thieves and rapists. Her father apparently believed these allegations. The mere mention of a harpy had sent him into a rage, cursing them as his worst nemesis and often calling them monsters or thieving winged devils. She glanced at the linen strip still in her hand. The golden would never harm me. She straightened. And he just can’t be dead.

She stood to leave as the man talked about the gruesome harpy hunts. “Hunters hang the wounded ones from trees,” he said, “so the wings bleed out before they’re cut off. Amazingly, those ugly beasts don’t make a peep while they’re being dressed out.”

Kari could handle no more. On her way to the exit, she stopped at his table. “I heard you talking about the harpies,” she said politely.

The man gazed up with a looming grin. “Aren’t you a pretty thing? What would you like to know about them, honey?”

“I am not your ‘honey,’” Kari said. “And, sir, you’re lying to these people about the harpies.” She turned to the woman.

“I’ve seen them. Harpies are harmless and resemble a gorgeous angel. It’s criminal they are hunted and killed.” She turned and glared at the crude man. “The only beast I see is one you’ll find in a mirror.”

Kari bit her lip and hurriedly left, hearing chuckles in the dining room. Back in her cabin, she drifted to sleep still clutching the woven strip.

* * *

The following day Kari again sat in the deserted dining room. A young man with wavy brown hair entered and walked to her table. “Hi,” he said. “I had to meet you. One of the stewards said you come here when the place is empty. May I sit down?”
Reluctantly, Kari nodded.

He took the seat across from her. “I heard you last night.” He grinned. “You were terrific. You really put a gag in that windbag’s mouth. It was hilarious.”

She lowered her gaze. “It was impulsive and wrong. I shouldn’t have embarrassed that man and made him the brunt of a joke.”
“I see.” He raised his eyebrows. “Well, look. My name is Ted. I’m hoping you can tell me about Dora and its wildlife. Have you really seen them—the harpies?”

“Yes, I was born on Dora.”

“Wow, a real native,” Ted said, and leaned closer. “I didn’t know Dorians were so attractive.”

Kari blushed with the compliment, but it wasn’t her first. As a teenager, she had many boys ask her out, but the dates always ended uncomfortably. Years of seclusion had made her reserved, and she hid her true passions. Having no interest in their modern machine-run world, she ended the dating drudgery, declining their offers. She sensed that Ted was more interested in her than in Dora’s wildlife, but she tried to be courteous. “What do you want to know?”

“Well, everything,” said Ted. “Tell me about the harpies.”

“The harpies are very intelligent, but shy creatures. They have striking human bodies and large wings that—”

“I’ve heard their mounted wings are worth twenty-thousand credits,” Ted broke in. “That’s a year’s salary for me. Is that true?”

“I wouldn’t know,” she said, standing. “I have to go.”
“Wait a minute. Since you know Hampton, maybe you could show me around. I’d love to buy you dinner.”

“I don’t think so, but you’ll find plenty of Hampton girls who will give you a tour and tell you the price of a dead harpy’s wings.”

Kari left the dining room and walked down the long corridors that led to her cabin. Halfway down the empty hall, she stopped and leaned against a railing. A tear rolled down her face. “What is wrong with me?” she stammered. The friendly young man couldn’t have known that the subject of trophy wings repulsed her. She heard footsteps and glanced up. It was Ted.
“I’m sorry. I apparently upset you.” He kicked at the floor and shook his head. “I get so darned nervous around a pretty woman and always end up putting my foot in my mouth. You really care about harpies.”

“Now I feel ridiculous,” she said, wiping away the tears. “I should be apologizing to you. I don’t deal well with people, and become overly offensive when it comes to harpy hunting. I should’ve explained that I owe my life to a male harpy.”
“Really?” Ted leaned against the railing. “I can see why mounted wings would rub you wrong. Do you think you could give me another chance? I left everyone I knew back on Earth, and I’m rather lonely here. I’m hoping to make Dora my home, so I’d like to learn more about your planet.”

“Okay,” she said, and they walked back to the dining room. Sitting down at the table, Kari told Ted about her home. “Dora is half the size of Earth, but similar to Earth; it’s mostly a freshwater ocean with one large continent and hundreds of islands to the west. Except for the cold mountains, the tropical temperature doesn’t vary much, warm during the day and cool at night. There are two seasons, the wet and dry. The multicolor jungle trees are enormous. Timber is Dora’s main export. Like the harpies, half the animals have wings to navigate through the thick foliage. But Dora’s most notorious creatures are the large, warm-blooded reptiles.”

“Dora sounds like one great adventure,” said Ted.

Kari smiled. “It’s a dangerous adventure if you don’t know your way around. There’re man-eating plants, and the red dragons resemble a giant T. Rex. During the wet season, the torrential rains and storms are hurricane strength. That’s why you won’t find any high-rises on Dora. Even technology is limited due to the wet climate and since Dora is off the beaten path.”

She then talked about the harpies, and the young golden male who had risked his life to save hers.

“I always thought harpies were nasty female monsters.”

“That’s Earth’s old fabled definition, but it doesn’t apply to Dora’s harpies. In fact, I’ve never seen one of the females.”
Ted leaned back in the chair. “Fighting that eel creature, harpies must be pretty gutsy.”

“Actually, they’re terrified of people and very elusive, so little is known about them except they’re voiceless, tree-dwelling vegetarians. The brown-winged, dark-haired harpies are the most prevalent. The goldens were a rare subspecies, more aggressive, and known to dominate the flocks. Sadly, hunters want them the most. When I left, they were nearly wiped out.” She bit her lip, and said softly, “I hope the golden I met is still alive.”

Ted reached across the table and took her hand. “I hope so, too. I can tell you care about him.”

“Very much.” She smiled and changed the subject. “So, why are you going to Dora? You don’t look like a lumberjack or hunter.”

“Hardly.” Ted chuckled. “I’m afraid I’m your average city boy. I have a degree in computers and spacecraft repair, but jobs are scarce on Earth, so I answered a Dora ad for a job in Hampton Port. I hope it works out.”

Kari heard his uncertainty. “It will. And once you see Dora, you won’t have any regrets.”

“I don’t regret this trip. After all, I met you. I sure hope we can be friends, Kari.”

Kari stared into Ted’s brown eyes and had noticed his good looks. They were both the same age of twenty-one and recent college graduates. More important, she detected his sincerity and kindness. “Ted, I believe we are friends.”

“Then as a friend, Miss Kari Turner, I’ll make you a promise. I’ll do all I can to help your harpies.”

* * *

Ted was delighted to spend the next few days aboard the ship with the stunning blonde. His heart fluttered every time he gazed into Kari’s big blue eyes. The ship maneuvered into orbit around Dora, and they wandered to the crowded observatory to see the planet. “I need to start work as soon as we land,” he said, “since I’m low on credits.”

“You asked me to dinner when we met. How were you going to swing that?” Kari joked.

“If you had said yes to our date, I would have gladly spent my last credit and slept in the streets.”

Kari’s eyes brightened. “That’s sweet of you.”

A woman standing nearby talked to her small daughter about their new home on the planet.

Kari leaned toward Ted. “I wish I had known my mother.”

Ted had heard about Kari’s father and their rocky relationship. After all this time, she still resented him. But she had never mentioned her mother. Turning from the window, he asked, “Where is she?”

“She’s dead. She died when I was a baby—some kind of accident. My father refused to discuss it. I just wonder how my life might have been if she had lived. Would she have saved me … stopped him from sending me to Earth? Would she have understood my love for the harpies? Just questions I have.”

“Some questions are never answered.” Ted put his arm around her slender waist. “I don’t know your dad, but I think I know you. With your passion for nature, Earth must have been a living hell. Whatever his reasons, your father was wrong to send you to those schools.”

She put her arm around him, and they gazed at Dora in silence.

* * *

The following day, large shuttles pulled up alongside the spaceship to unload the passengers and cargo. Kari and Ted were among the first to board for the trip to the planet. An hour later, the shuttle descended and landed inside Hampton’s spacious domed port. They gathered their belongings, departed the shuttle, and walked past the huge off-loaded crates containing small hovercrafts, terrain vehicles, and even cattle fetuses. On the other side of the port stood towering stacks of Dora’s exotic timber that would make the return flight. The blue, red, yellow, and white colors displayed the variety of trees on the planet.

They walked to an information counter and got in line behind a few people. “Ted, you don’t have to wait with me,” said Kari.
“I’m not scheduled for work until tomorrow. I’ll wait and make sure you catch the next hover to Terrance.”

Kari smiled, happy for the first time not to be alone.

Eventually, she approached the counter and a middle-aged woman. “I need a ticket for Terrance.”

“There are no more flights today,” said the woman. “The earliest one leaves at noon tomorrow.”

“I’ll take a one-way ticket on it,” Kari said, doling out her credits.

“We have one more night together. I’ll buy dinner if you show me around Hampton.”

“Don’t be absurd,” Kari said as they walked toward the exit. “I have more credits than you, and besides, I don’t know this city. I was here only once when I was a kid.”

“How about Dutch on dinner, and we’ll explore Hampton together, unless you’re tired of me.”

“Not yet.” She smiled.

“Great. Let me ask those cargo guys about a decent hotel. I’ve heard some places in Hampton are rough.” He jogged over to three men unloading crates and returned in minutes. “They say there’s one down the street that’s decent and reasonable. Prices are cheap here compared to Earth. I might also stay there.”

They stepped outside, and Kari paused to gaze at the two- and three-story wooden buildings that lined the street. A warm breeze pulled her long hair off her shoulders as she breathed deeply. After a decade of stale, filtered air, she inhaled the wonderful aroma of trees and flowers even in the heart of the large capital city of Hampton.

Ted stood back and watched her before glancing up at majestic blue trees that shaded the buildings and street. Ten-inch purple flowers adorned the spaceport and surrounding buildings. He reached down to pick one.

“Don’t touch,” she said, pointing to a warning sign. “They bite. They’re insect eaters but might mistake your finger for dinner. Like all of Dora, they’re beautiful, but hazardous.” Leaving Ted, she bounced down the port steps like a child at a theme park.

He caught up with her on the sidewalk. “Do you want to get a ride to the hotel?”

“I’d rather walk,” she mumbled, and stepped to the first tree. Dropping her bags, she put her arms around its trunk as if the tree were a long-lost friend. She stroked the bark and sniffed its sweet resin.

Ted put his hand over his mouth, concealing a grin. “You’re one unusual girl, Kari—definitely different from Earth girls. I’ve never seen anyone hug a tree.”

Kari withdrew from the tree. “I just missed them.”

They walked down the street, and periodically, she stopped to admire another Dora treasure. They arrived at the hotel and entered the quaint lobby adorned with massive yellow beams.

“Let’s drop our bags in our rooms and meet back here,” she said. “I can’t be indoors now.” Ted agreed, and they soon were back on the streets of Hampton.

Kari felt a renewed sense of well-being as though the humid air contained a magic potion that healed her tortured soul. They walked for miles, discovering the city of wood. Beyond the buildings, kaleidoscopic forests covered the distant hills. They reached the coast and stood on a cliff, overlooking the emerald ocean that blended with a pale purple and green horizon. The waves lapped against the black rocky shore, leaving white foam as they receded.

“Jesus, Kari,” Ted mumbled. “I’ve never dreamed a place could be so beautiful.”

She nodded and stared up the beach at the seaport. Several large hydroplane barges laden with lumber maneuvered into the docks. “I wonder if the timber came from my home.”

“Your home in Terrance?” Ted asked as they walked a winding, sandy path to the beach.

“My father’s estate isn’t in Terrance,” she said, “but Terrance is the only town in the western outback with a large airport for commercial hovercrafts. My home is on the west coast near a little village called Westend. When I reach Terrance, I’ll rent a terrain vehicle and drive the five hundred miles on the dirt highway through the true jungle. It’ll take two days, but it’s worth it.”

“Alone? That sounds awfully risky. Maybe you should…”

She stopped walking to glare at him. “Ted, this is my home. I’m safer in that jungle than I was on the streets of Earth.”

“Okay, okay,” he said. “It’s none of my business.”

“Thank you,” she said, and resumed walking.

“Why did your father move so far from civilization?”

“It was my grandfather who settled the outback. He’d traveled to Russia and witnessed the fall of the last great forest. It disgusted him. When he, my grandmother, and a young Indian named Charlie came to Dora, they hacked out a living in the remote jungle. My grandfather was a great man and a nature advocate. For every cut tree, he planted a seedling, and he taught me everything about the jungle. I still remember our long trips with Charlie into the wild. When grandpa died, Charlie became my mentor and guide. I really have missed that old Indian. He’s the only person who never gave me grief for my fascination with harpies.”

Walking the coast, they came upon a run-down seafood shack, built half over the water. “I don’t know about you, but I’m getting hungry,” Ted said. “You want to try this place?”

“It’s perfect,” she answered. Sitting on the outside deck, Ted inhaled a large bowl of seafood chowder, and Kari relished a dish of Dora’s exotic fruit. They finished the meal with white cakes covered in a wine-drenched berry sauce.

Ted stretched back in the rickety wooden chair as a gentle ocean breeze whipped at his hair. “I’ve eaten in some fancy, expensive places,” he said, “but who would have guessed this shack offered the best food and scenery.”

“Dora’s fresh food is superior, and the ocean view is lovely.”
He leaned over the table and gazed into her eyes. “I wasn’t talking about the ocean.”

Kari grinned shyly. Ted was obviously smitten with her and was cute in his sometimes awkward hints to let her know.

Darkness crept into the sky, and the first of Dora’s twin moons appeared on the horizon. Kari and Ted made their way down the quiet streets until they reached the hotel. In the lobby, Ted took her hand. “I guess this is good-bye. I hope I’ll see you again.”

“You will. When you get settled, call me.” She got up the nerve and kissed his cheek before leaving for her hotel room.
Her room was small but comfortable. Kari took a quick shower and collapsed on the soft bed. She felt exhilarated. This had been one of the best days she could remember, and she liked Ted. He was easygoing and fun, but more important, he didn’t criticize her convictions. “Maybe there’s hope for me yet,” she thought, and snuggled under the sheets. She soon drifted to sleep.

In the middle of the night, Kari felt his lean-muscled frame over her and his soft panting breath against her neck. She opened her eyes into layers of tumbling blond locks that shimmered in the moonlight. Pushing his hair aside, she met his gaze—the same royal-blue eyes from the past. His yellow wings nervously fluttered, and she stroked his head. Calmed by her touch, he relaxed and the feathered limbs collapsed, encasing them. She was engulfed in his sweet animal scent as he nuzzled and tenderly nipped her neck.

“God, I’ve missed you,” she breathed.

The golden harpy lifted his head and stared at her, his eyes sparkling between the thick lashes. He made a subtle sniffle conveying that he, too, had longed for her. Kari’s heart pounded and she shivered, inflamed by the seductive creature. He pulled away and rose. His emotionless face gazed down at her, but then he swallowed down a sigh. In a puff, he was gone.

Kari jolted forward on the bed and looked around her empty room. Drenched in sweat and trembling, she made her way to the window and door. She found them securely locked. “It was a dream,” her shaky voice said, “but so real.” Never had a dream been so vivid. She sat down, collecting herself, and thought about the breathtaking harpy. Many times she had dreamed about him, but none of those dreams were this intense. Eventually, she drifted back to sleep.

Copyright © 2014 by Susan Klaus. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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