Excerpt from MATTOX

            “Wait!”

            Mattox stopped in his tracks and tried to smother the smile coming over him. By the time she caught up with him, he was able to present his stern face to her.

            “I think we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot.” She stopped less than a yard away from him. Holding out her hand, she identified herself. “Let’s start over, shall we? I’m Caralas Edge, Battle Princess of Vega City.”

            Princess?” The word came out of his mouth before he had the chance to stop himself. Worse, his next comment made him sound even more like an idiot. “You’re Edge’s daughter?”

            She batted her eyes a few times in confusion. “Well, yes. What did you think… Oh!” Caralas laughed, amused by his misconception. “I hope you meant that as a compliment.”

            “In what way?”

            “You thinking my father married a woman half his age, and not that I was some gold digger trying to cash in on a battle lord’s position.”

            He lifted an eyebrow at her. “To be perfectly honest, the second possibility never crossed my mind.”

            She scoffed at his remark. “Are you telling me you’ve never encountered a battle lord with a pretty young wife who wasn’t using her position for her own vainglory?” 

            “Personally? No.”

            The woman accepted his answer. Unfortunately, his next comment only made matters worse.

            “But I’m sure there are princesses out there who are just as guilty of doing the same thing.”

            That spark of anger returned to her eyes, and she pressed her lips together to form a thin line of rage. He wondered about her next action, debating if she’d go stomping off in a huff, or stand her ground and continue to verbally battle it out.

            Her hand came up and slapped the side of his face full-on. It was the one tactic he hadn’t expected, and it caught him by complete surprise. But what surprised him more was the fact that his first instinctive move was not to strike back. Instead, he walked past her, toward the square where the merchants were preparing for the day and influx of visitors. He no longer cared if she followed him or not.

            He kept going, ignoring the cries bidding him hello, welcome, and good day as he continued past them. He had no idea where he was going. The walking felt good. Cleansing, almost.  

            Reaching the second gate which separated the main part of the compound from the smaller, adjacent one, he passed through, still ignoring the hails from the soldiers and others who spotted him. No one said anything about him not returning their well wishes. They were used to his temperament, and brushed it off, especially when he wore that bright, red-eyed glare, and knew they were not the cause of his anger. Long ago, the populace had learned that whenever the battle prince was in a fit, he took it out on no one. Instead, he usually went to the practice field and vented on one of the poor dummies.

            He’d almost reached the outer gate when he realized someone was behind him. Coming to a sudden stop, he whirled around to discover Caralas had been tailing him since they’d left the square. “What do you want?” he demanded, not caring how she took it. To her credit, she didn’t back down.

            “I want to talk to you.”

            “About what? I thought you already made it clear you took offense to what I said.”

            “I did.” She nodded once. “But after thinking about…what I did, I think I misconstrued what you meant. You weren’t talking about me, were you?” She took a step closer. “Were you?”

            “No. Now go back to your father. I’m sure he won’t appreciate you keeping company with D’Jacques’ Mutah son.”

            That seemed to touch a nerve. “My father has no say-so over my actions, my thoughts, or my intentions. Nor do I pay attention to what he has to say about the friends or company I keep.”

            Mattox made no attempt to contain his snort of derision. “I bet he has many sleepless nights, worrying about you, then.”

            “As a matter of fact, he does.” She motioned toward the outer gate. “Where does that lead to?”

            “The practice field.”

            “May I come with you?”

            “It hasn’t stopped you so far.”