Heiress of Secrets

After I lost my beloved and married a king, I vomited up mutton stew on my royal spouse’s shoes at the first official hanging.

Who was hanged is not important.

That the ill-ingested mutton rolled like a half-gulped beast in my belly isn’t important.

Nor that its fatty remnants climbed up the inside of my throat like something that still longed to crawl back out alive.

What is important is that I wasn’t breathing.

One breathes differently after breathing in freedom and then trying to breathe in captivity.

And the sight of that man’s feeble kicks while he struggled for air—as I had been struggling for air—proved too much.

All of it was too much: the tawdry sun that blistered my scalp, the brassy sheen it cast across the wooden stalls, the wisps of hair that stuck to my temples, the clammy strands that straggled into my mouth, the nauseating taste of dead meat that clotted there too thickly.

I bent forward on the velvet-upholstered bench and spewed poorly digested sheep and chunked carrots across my magnate’s burnished, buckled shoes. It stung my throat like acid, mixed with the lemon-peel bitterness of cumin.

My magnate rose at once to his feet.



All the spectators silenced. A sweep of hushes swept over those garbed in both silk and homespun.

Thousands of breaths held themselves in time with mine, motionless in sunlit faces.

Thousands of heartbeats went unheard above my own heart’s erratic thud.

Only the creak of the rope swinging the first executed body from the scaffold disturbed the quiet—disturbed me—while the executioner waited. His boot poised on the block beneath the next victim whose breath would be quashed.

I wiped my mouth and formed a crooked rictus, a garish endeavor at a smile. Readjusting my knocked-askew crown, I peered up at my new husband: his youthfully slender figure in immaculate white hose, his bejeweled, embroidered burgundy waistcoat… and vomit-spattered buckled shoes… his face an emptied silhouette against the pavilion’s striped tarp overhead.

Always, ever mild behind his neatly trimmed beard, he compressed his jaw into complete non-expression, his eyes as unreadable as his blandly shaped mouth.

Had I possessed my current forty-six summers behind me then, as now, I might have offered up a poisonous smirk. “Oh, darling, look. I’ve spewed a carrot on your buckle.” And to the blue hell with consequences.

But back then, having just stepped into a royal marriage, I had no notion of how deeply I’d stepped.

How deeply I’d sunk.

I’d only begun to suspect that marriage had granted my husband mastery over my autonomy.

I could expend gold to impact the lives of those unfortunates even more powerless than I, but as for me—well.

No queen chained to power can stray far from its whim.

At a tug on her chain, she must kneel like a supplicant before the true power on the throne, or she must spread herself submissively on her marriage bed for that true power to plow her form.

Now I’d just humiliated my monarch before all. And he—

—knelt down and lifted me into his arms… his hardly breathing wife, in front of the hardly breathing populace—

And he carried me away from that unbreathing man.


Any executions after that were performed out of sight, in the dungeon.

I didn’t care how many my monarch killed, as long as I never had to watch someone’s breath being taken away like that again.

And, eventually, I learned to breathe once more myself.

Such a mechanical thing—the lungs’ expansion in, out—so easy to relearn.

And I was never weak, for a queen must never crumble—ever—and must never cave, even with the entire world gone rampant against her.

But now?

I am sick of it all. I did everything right, all that they bade, and what have I to show for it?

No true husband; no sons; no lover; just scorn. I am trampled, spurned, unloved, used up. Filled up with sorrow.

Here, in my empty room, my empty bed, my empty life taxes my every breath.

And all these wanderings on the bleak and barren moor of my despondency lead me only to search futilely for what I had, once.

Before my marriage.

Before this prison.

Before my breath stopped.

With the boy.

My beloved.

The freedom—more like flight—for a girl whose life had drooped as flightless as a bird with clipped wings.

Freedom… when every scent erupted to life in things precious, vivid, simplistic yet stupefying: the burst of sweet strawberries, the tang of tart cheese, the crumbling of honeyed comfits, the heat in my belly from crusty, steaming bread, and the unconstrained laughter—breathing fully for the first time in my life—and the boy’s innocent, inexpert kisses, with my own earnest and artless attempts.

Not to mention the hope.

Only once, then, donning borrowed bravery, did I strive to fly the boundaries of my tyrannical world.

And, naturally, I ended up where such foolhardy creatures do: crumpled up in a daze of wrecked wits and things (like hopes) smashed and mashed where the world can never see.

That’s what happens to foolish creatures with clipped wings who fly their cage.

Mindless metaphorical poultry. Winded and cracked and fractured.

I’d deserved it.

Asinine creature.

I lean from my bedchamber window and out into the bracing night, into the swirling wind that blasts past. It smarts my eyes and whips the sash around my waist as I set my elbows on the stone sill.

Stretched out below, the First Demesne’s labyrinthine streets create a scenic artistry, turrets and cupolas and cobbled lanes all daubed in layers of ashen monochrome.

Overhead, pennants flap on the castle’s moon-blanched towers, banners as powerless as my hair in the wind’s assault. They snap like cracking bones, reminiscent of those who crushed their dreams inside these castle walls of apathetic stone.

Even farther away, the stars above leak light like injuries cut into the sky. Perhaps some wild goddess suffused with rage seized hold of the crescent moon like a sickle blade and perforated this firmament a thousand times.

In the battlefield of my mind, I emulate that goddess’s rage. I fell unfavorable thoughts like enemy warriors.

If only my king permitted me a real weapon, I would impale my own heart.

He wouldn’t notice.

He wouldn’t care.

So why does he deny me escape?

Is it only from cruelty?

I can be cruel, too, and I am now, for I shut my eyes inside the girl I once was—back when, in a world of gilded mirrors, gilded smiles, and gilded lies, I adhered to rigid strictures.

I painted my face into a formidable mask, laced up my frailty in steel-boned corsets, and schemed beneath teardrop chandeliers.

As insignificant as all the rest, I never once considered I might one day be queen. Not when I was more stork than girl, all gangly and squawky.

On the night before I almost—almost—escaped, I and other pinch-faced noble-girls were trading caustic calumnies on the castle’s airy terrace.

With our giggles a-slosh with intoxication, we hoisted our wineglasses aloft beneath aloof and unfriendly stars.

The scents of pinecones and apples suffused the moonlit gardens below, where lamps scintillated amid the stifled mirth of faithless lovers, who snatched ardent embraces behind screens of foliage.

I hardly heeded their vapid laughter.

I leaned into the misting drizzle that cooled my flesh, for I overly sweated from the packed ballroom, my curled hair plastered moistly to my crane-like neck.

As my companions’ mouths as red as roses burgeoned words as sharp as thorns, I drunkenly decided their lips resembled creatures—or slashes open to raw pink tongues, their mouths a-swarm with chortles. Their skirts all rustled like legions of snakes.

Slick and slithering oil across their souls.

It was then, with my mind a-brim with uncharitable thoughts, my face uplifted to the misting rain, and my gaze defying the inimical stars, that the carnival arrived.

It swept in on a nocturnal wind that whisked sand and promise and raindrops across my lips.

Within it dwelt a hint—a thread—of unfamiliar things: uninhibited hilarity and merriment and spun sugar; fried bread, crisp and hot and succulent with flavor from seasoned oils and piquant spices.


For a moment, I almost—almost succumbed to the temptation.

But then, with a silent titter, I batted aside the carnival’s promise as gauche.

It was here at the castle that sumptuous dishes and lavish riches splayed themselves out for our esteem.

Here, the possibilities unspooled to infinity as the royal court inundated our senses: dizzying dances with the First Magnate’s impassive sons; perfumes jamming our breath with lilac and jasmine.




But later that night, ground down by the meaningless swaths and sounds of frivolity, I fought, fraught, in uneasy slumber.

And like an extension of those bad dreams, my mother swept grandly into my chamber.

Although she sought to disguise her flinty eyes by swaddling her supple limbs in silken robes of gentle pastels, she couldn’t hide her real nature.

She alighted on my bed like a hawk by a dove.

She loved nothing more than to rend the flesh from my hopes; already, she had pared them down to tendon and bone.

I didn’t bother fleeing—to what end? She controlled my life.

I only straggled up, mussed and morose in my nightmare-drenched gown.

“Your father’s arranged a marriage for you,” she pronounced without preamble.

My senses went even duller as she relayed my imminent engagement to a vile, unsightly man, a man thrice my age and distantly related to the magnate of the Second Demesne.

I would be ousted from everything I knew, dispatched to a demesne where I’d never been, to belong to a man I would never want.

Her smile brimmed with schadenfreude. “Why frown, my babe?” she trilled at my deadened reaction. “Do you think anyone better than a nobody would have you? You’re thin as a starved stork, taller than most men, breasts as flat as runny eggs. And those eyes! So weirdly dark. Skin pallid as a lizard’s belly. And this.” Puckering her mouth, she flicked her fingernails over my almost-white hair. “So wispy, you’ll certainly go bald when you’re older.”

I mashed down my retort, because every word I spoke would become a weapon she wielded better.

At last, she left, but her schadenfreude hemmed me in, its needles sewing my burial shroud up.

Slumped in my plush bed, heartsick and bloated with the day’s cruelties, I envisioned my fate spanning the decades ahead.

Was this the life that awaited me?

Relegated to a minor nobleman’s wife, in a distant demesne, with the same indifferent people, only with different names?

My obedience to this duty would become a changeling at my breast. A maddened creature sharp of tooth and gimlet-eyed, my rancor fused with my sinew and bone.

I would become as bitterly virulent as my mother: a vinegar-sour purse of lips, a curdling of expiring spirit.

I would pucker up like a mouth as dark as blood.

I wanted to gnash my way from this pomp and glory’s noose.

But my fate was closing around me like a circle of foes.

And then, through the open window, the carnival’s hint of forbidden adventure skimmed its invitation past me once more.

It thumbed its nose at my misfortune and made me yearn for more than this uninviting fate.

The glass window reflected me as I slipped from the bed: a too tall, too mannish form without womanly curves, ribboned in cascades of frills and lace.

I looked outlandish, bizarre, with my unusual black eyes combined with the fine, pale hair and how the berries of the wine I’d imbibed earlier had painted my lips a poppy-blossom red.

Wide eyes and petulant mouth too plum-dark in the night.

I smiled at my frothily fierce reflection and licked a cake crumb from my upper lip, a relic of the moist confections on which I’d supped.

Everything in this place strove to sugar me to tedium, but I did not have to bow.

I would not.

I would tiptoe tomorrow into the traveling fair.

What harm, after all, could venturing into the forbidden do?


Once a year, the carnival swept into our gates, and tagging along behind it like a snotty child trotted our unwilling admiration, because these people risked traveling outside the walls of our seven demesnes.

They plodded a stoic course on wagons and fainhorses across wide expanses that were littered with perilous pockets of shapeshifters around shoddily built cities of banished humans.

Out there, criminals who’d been expelled from our protective walls raised undisciplined spawn nearly as undomesticated as the shapechangers.

The night after the carnival arrived in the First Demesne, I cajoled my noble-girl friends to join me in transgressing into the taboo.

Proudly, we promenaded past the castle portcullis and its stern-visaged guards and we traversed streets where our hauteur dissolved into giggles and shushes.

Just inside the city’s north entrance, in the First Demesne’s largest park, the carnival workers had set up their tents and magic.

For a few coins surrendered to a boggle-eyed boy who manned a rickety stand, we entered another world.

A wondrous world, where strings of hanging lamps lit golden-skinned people in patched clothes. They worked colorful stands, their eyes opaque as buttons flickering in faces full of mystery.

I roved between the stalls with my twittering friends, savoring the heady scents of roasted nuts, hot caramel, ripe oranges, cinnamon wine, and a briny scent like the saltiness of the sea.

We gawped at every sight: a juggler cartwheeling between spinning knives, his puffy trousers billowing out; past him, a contortionist collapsing her body into a tangle of limbs encased in material as shimmery as water; past her, a shirtless man swallowed a writhing, flaming serpent, his chest agleam with oil and tattoos that seemed alive.

Ribbons and cheap plushies lured us into games of darts and targets and tossing rocks into buckets. Rides clanked for shrieking kids. Cleverly geared horses rose up and down on a carousel whose mirrors reflected the rapturous children clutching the gold-painted poles that spiraled from sculpted horses. A man pedaled a contraption that tugged a train of attached carts in which siblings gibbered and dogs yipped.

And the greatest: a massive upright wheel that reached up into the night and dangled swinging benches, which it arced up to its apex as it turned. It bore snuggling couples and prattling commoners straight into the sky.

I enticed my friends to try it, and at the top, the world felt altered.

The air turned crisp, and the heat of crowding bodies and too much shouting melted away like hot crystals into spun sugar, its sound now like chatter muted around a turned corner.

The carnival’s bright flurry of striped tents spread out below like teacups in hues of canary yellow and robin’s-egg blue, interspersed with glittering metal constructions. The strings of lamplights swung and blinked like lightning bugs among them.

I tilted my wondering gaze to the sky above.

Up here, the firmament circled us darker and more mysterious than ever before, as if our drawing closer made the stars retreat, their glitter a warning to stay back. My uplifted hands cupped frail fronds of silver light that dissipated during the descent back down into golden radiance.

My friends abandoned me afterward, unimpressed, and left me to my own rebellious devices.

After all, they weren’t being sold into a foul union in another demesne.

Only I wished to shove back the walls closing in, to find some adventure or unravel some secret.

In my search, I sought the mechanisms behind the enchantment: what drove the rides to work.

Furtively, I ducked near the metal base of the giant wheel, flitted flirtingly through the shadows to win deeper into their heart, and crept around the unlit side to an open door.

Within that space, someone was cranking a cylinder to keep the ride’s gears spinning: a boy scarcely older than I.

On time-eroded planks, he knelt in rags chafed to holes at his knees, his feet bare and grubby. His too-skinny arms made me imagine him nibbling scrappy chicken meat off miniature bones, and yet he possessed a face so pretty I thought, strangely, that his lips must taste like the sweetest of cherries.

The idea of tasting him so scandalized me I must have made a sound—a little bit of agony, a little bit of wish—and he glanced up.

In the glints of fiery lamplight that slanted in, his silvery hair matched his metallic-silver eyes, and the golden lamp-glow gilded both.

As wind brushed sand across my toes in my slippers, I shivered, unable to look away while he said nothing, only kept spinning the lever, round and round—almost magically, almost like a mesmerizing melody which made my soul whirl around in the same dizzying musical round.

Round and round and—

“Who are you?” My surprised speech sprang out, strung tight as a spring, or a tentative string ready to knot around his existence.

“That one doesn’t speak. Can’t.”

The new voice behind me, gruff and abrupt, startled me into a witless turn.

The bear of a man who stood there sprouted hair and beard like shrubbery from a forest, making him seem an enchanted woodsman. Even their greenish tinge hinted at leaves and ensorcelled woods. “His tongue is there,” this affable giant went on, “apparently not cut out, but the boy pointed to his mouth when we found ‘im and shook his head to show that he couldn’t utter a word.”

“You… found him?” I was so taken by the idea of someone finding him outside the walls, as if he’d been deposited on the earth directly by the Absent God, that I didn’t realize I was interacting with a man socially far beneath me.

“Yup.” The bearded man rocked back on his heels and stuffed his thumbs into his belt. “We camped on the beach one night and here he come out of the dark, hair dusted with sand, that pretty face of his sunburnt rubicund as a starfish, and his skin salted from the ocean like he come from it.”

“Where did he come from?” I breathed, still aware of the boy behind me with the crank going round and round and round.

The bear man shrugged. “The stars? The sea? Looks ethereal, don’t he? Can’t tell you where he’s from, my girl. He can’t write, and we couldn’t read it even if he could. Been with us for years, though, and works hard.”

I peeped back at the boy, finding him watching me still. He possessed such an uncanny, unearthly aura that I wasn’t certain he truly was human. “Has he ever been on the rides, or does he always just run them?”

“Don’t think he’s ever been.”

“Can I crank the lever so he can try the ride?” I blurted out, and then faltered on the offer, mortified. Kneeling on that floor in my pale lace and ruffles was the last thing I wanted.

Fortunately, the woodsman bear was already shaking his head. “Can’t let you dirty up your prettiness. But I can take over for a bit if you want the boy to accompany you for a time. Just don’t be too long.”

Unbalanced, I stared at the woodsman as though he’d walloped me in the gut. He expected me to accompany this unspeaking, raggedy boy in public?

The boy was still watching, hanging on every word, cranking round and round, and the flames of shame burned up my reason. I couldn’t refuse and leave him here now, after offering him hope.

And surely no other nobles besides my friends had come to the fair, so what harm in… whatever this was?

“What’s his name?” I heard my own question as though I were underneath bathwater.

“Don’t know. We call ‘im Mute. Since he’s our mute foundling.”

“You didn’t give him a name?”

He either didn’t care or pretended not to notice my outraged disapproval. “Most people here don’t want a name. Running from somethin’ or other. So we’re called what we do. I’m Woodsie, ’cuz my green beard. There’s also Acrobat, Ropewalker, Fire-eater, Big Contorts, Lil Contorts—and Mute. Boy fits right in. Never complained.” Laughing at his joke, he set me bodily aside before I could protest the effrontery of his paws. “Let me at that crank, boy.”

Like well-oiled choreography, boy and man changed places, and the woodsman knelt while the boy walked free. I stepped back, unprepared for him to tower so tall. Already, I’d shot up above half the nobles at court, and a thrill spiked inside at being reminded that men—and growing youths—still existed who diminished me in height.

I wasn’t sure what to do with him, though.

Strange, having someone silent waiting on my whim when I was usually surrounded by babble.

Rendered as silent as he, I started walking, and he came along like someone charmed on an invisible chain.

Aware of our short time, I took him on the giant wheel that he ran first.

Like me, he cupped the moonlight.

Secretly, it amazed me that someone else besides me felt as though starlight held the sweet milk of dreams, which we could drink of if only we weren’t too substantial for it. What wonders might we taste if we could drink light from the sky?

Afterward, I motioned to the carousel, but he shook his head.

We meandered back for him to resume his place inside the wheel’s gears, but another man knelt there. He grinned and waved us off. “Go enjoy yourself, Mute.”

Him being freed somehow felt like a continuation of magic.

“What do you want to do?” I asked him, and I sounded… excited.

Smiling, he motioned to a game. I didn’t understand the impish smile until I found myself jumping over a wooden staff that was raised higher after each successful jump.

We were competing, he and I, both jumping in turn, and I found myself actually trying to win, lifting up my skirts to make the jump.

What am I doing? I wondered. Actually enjoying the novelty of competing for fun?

He lost only because he looked at me once while jumping and knocked the staff off.

It made me powerful, pretty, having even slightly distracted him.

As I claimed the prize, he gamely mussed his hair and shrugged and smiled.

He conveyed everything through endearing gestures: a duck of head, a sheepish blush, the hangdog ruffle of his hand through his hair, or through a luminous smile.

Whimsically, I tied my won ribbon around his wrist, at which he jestingly covered his face, miming embarrassment.

I’d never in my life witnessed anyone so—happy? Refreshing? Uncomplicated?

It was so easy, being with him. I felt like a feather pulled free of the preening plumage of the court, no longer having to posture for anyone. I could float where my windy will wished.

Such an odd night, really—unreal, unlike any other I’d experienced before, full of magic despite nothing actually being magic at all—only, perhaps, my wondrously silent companion, found by the sea.

But then I caught sight of the magnate’s eldest son: the heir to the monarchy of the First Demesne, the young man who would one day rule as our highest king and magnate.

He strolled with a barefoot young woman who was flushing even while reprimanding him. The familiar way he touched the base of her back made me think this wasn’t simply an innocent flirtation, either.

Was he courting a commoner for our queen?

Would he defy the decrees that demanded he marry a noble?

I ducked before he could turn and see me with this boy.

My companion, quick-witted, caught on and dodged along with me. He snagged my hand and zigzagged a way to a stand where a plump woman bouncing a toothy child on her hip gave us almond-dotted cherry cakes, which were moistened with liquor and crunchy with flakes of toffee.

Slightly pickled, we ventured into another game. It required bare feet, and I, rebellious thing, refused to think of my future cage. I kicked off my slippers and leaped from puddle to puddle, passionate with joy, all while keeping the boy from catching me.

Being soused, though, I inevitably slipped and was caught by sturdy arms. I slid my smile toward—

The heir himself.

Our next king, Declan Feylinn, had caught me while I was barefoot and sweaty and giggling drunken as a goose-girl.

Even more shocking, he was partly smiling back, amused rather than appalled, but before that sank in, I was already splashing out and uptight and cold and bowing—curtsying, dripping, wondering wildly what he could drive me to with this knowledge.

I belatedly panicked—why hadn’t I been watching for him? “Prince, I—I…” I found no excuse for my behavior at all other than being besotted by a silent boy.

“It’s quite all right, Trista.”

I winced out of his sight, my head still lowered. ‘Trista’, he’d said, not ‘Noble-girl Trista’; only that familiar, uninvited intimacy of my naked name in his mouth. I shuddered, thinking of what he could use me for now in order for him to keep secret that I’d been here.

He’d make me spy on someone, make me betray people who trusted me, turn me into the terrible mask I was already pretending to be at court.

I didn’t know what to do.

It was the mute foundling who saved me.

He plopped down beside me as if nothing were happening, not even bowing at Declan Feylinn. Smiling up at the heir, he set my shoes beside me and started putting his own back on.

Unspeaking, I put mine back on, too, glancing around and finding the heir’s female companion dawdling awkwardly nearby.

Hoping he’d leave, I rushed out: “Don’t let me keep you.”

“Do you want to keep me?” He laughed a little, and I failed to decipher whether he directed the laugh at himself or my blank, repressive response. He adopted a more formal tone, straightening with his hands hooked behind his back. “Do you have an escort back to the castle? You shouldn’t go alone.”

Nobody cares about me, I almost blurted out, but I recognized the meaning behind his words. Using the language of the court, he was appointing himself my chaperone home.

Possibly he did fear some retaliation on the streets, because his father had recently ruled on yet another unpopular edict. Even my noble-girl friends and I had worn disguising cloaks on our way here, to be safe.

And in truth, I’d mucked about enough for a noblewoman of my rank. If I refused the prince’s escort, he might send a guard to fetch me. If I left now, though, he might let my indiscretion slide. My mother never needed to know.

I sneaked a scrutiny of the boy, who was still sitting, contentedly clasping his ankles, head tilted. Understanding from my expression that our adventure had unceremoniously landed on its rump, he touched his palm to his chest and inclined his head at me in a blatantly elegant thank you.

I didn’t want his gratitude, though. Greedily, I wanted more hours with him and his invigorating uncomplication.

But I merely mouthed at him, so the heir didn’t see: I’ll come again. For the carnival would be here at least a month.

Then I resumed my snooty air and glided home through the streets with Declan Feylinn and his possible queen.

I didn’t speak. I pointedly looked away and showed as much disinterest as I could to indicate I had no intention of intruding. Because maybe if I overlooked the heir’s indiscreet foray into poor company, he would overlook mine.

They spoke amongst themselves, some discussion which became heated—an argument?

I didn’t care. At the castle portcullis, I gathered my skirts and sprinted away, leaving them to part without me witnessing any more.

It must have been a sight to the guards: a noble-girl fleeing her future king and his threadbare future queen.

The next night, I feigned an illness to avoid the ball and I raced out again, recklessly scurrying under a dark cloak through the streets.

I found Woodsie and came to a suitable arrangement.

I didn’t even mind his assuming smile.

The boy’s expression when he saw me made up for all the worst assumptions in the world.

Let anyone assume what they liked as long as I floated for a time through this velvet existence.

This time, I’d brought a candle.

I had my cloak.

I spread it on the planks and settled myself there while the boy cranked the lever.

He stopped the crank for people to get on and off the ride, their laughter mingling with the squeaking benches of the massive wheel, the autumn air from outside sweeping over us.

Here, beneath it all, shielded from the babbling throng, he and I dwelt alone in a nimbus of light in our nook of the world.

Nervous, I held up three books and asked which story appealed to him most.

After a moment of scrutiny, he motioned not to a book, but to my mouth. He shut his eyes while miming swaying.

“You want me to sing?” My horrid voice barely held any tune.

But then, he had no voice at all, and perhaps no one had ever sung to him in his life.

Shyly, I shut my eyes and haltingly began humming my favorite.

After a time, it blended with the creak of the lever as he resumed the ride and I risked opening my eyes.

I met his gaze above his hand going round and round, and my voice, emboldened, ascended into the lines of a song, with the ride’s workings becoming its melody.

He stopped again as my song faded away, and the chatter of those climbing on and off the ride drifted distantly in.

Never had silence felt so much like a friend sitting beside me—between us—a calmness inside me proving that life existed between words: between looks, between souls. I thought that I might happily exist without the weaponry of words for the rest of my life, sharing these tranquil waters only with this mute boy’s soul.

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Sonya Lano

Sonya Lano

Owner of two cats and huge dreams and author of any kind of love story so long as wild stuff is going on...

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