Xander stared broodingly off into the setting sun. Sandy, gold-highlighted hair fluttered over his handsome, chiseled face as he stared head-on into the eastern wind as he awaited the arrival of his love….
Jen Penrose (known to the world of self-published eBooks as Ms. Carolina North) typed those words with an enamored sigh and a flourish of the keyboard (a most challenging feat).
His tanned, muscular arms longed to embrace her. His incredibly toned abs ached loneliness with every passing moment he was apart from her.
Jen had been curled up on the couch, writing nonstop, for a good five hours. Outside, the smog-filled skyline had turned a murky shade of gray. Indoors, as usual, she was all alone with Ruffles the cat, Yuri On Ice, and a glass of red wine, busily turning her deepest, darkest dreams into reality.
His deep, cobalt eyes…
No. Not cobalt. Sapphire. Or, better yet, something different and altogether magical…. Fuchsia.
She sighed deeply and took a sip of wine as she envisioned Xander’s perfect visage, complemented by a pair of smoldering fuchsia eyes. Her handsome protagonist was part Liam Payne and part Hugh Jackman, with a bit of Guy Fieri thrown in for good measure.
At last, he thought, as the footsteps of his love approached from behind. In his mind’s eye, he saw her, Lady Jen Mondegreen, she of the elegantly largesse figure and mousy brown hair. Eagerly, he turned to greet her and said—
Jen paused. She could have sworn she’d heard another voice. She’d taken to murmuring the dialogue, filled with passionate declarations of eternal love, to herself as she wrote, but—
“No, really. Excuse me!”
Now, Ruffles – usually such a lazy, docile cat – stood up with uncharacteristic abruptness, mrowling bloody murder. He leaped behind the couch in apparent fear.
Clutching her Macbook to her chest, Jen looked cautiously around her tiny studio apartment. Someone had definitely spoken. “Who’s there?”
That deep voice, smooth and syrupy as molasses, that she’d only heard in her wildest dreams, answered her back. “It is I, Xavier Portmanteau.”
And it was coming from … inside of Ruffles?
“I implore of you, woman, command your foul beast to un…hand me!”
“Unhand…?” Jen repeated in that squeaky voice she’d always found herself using around the football players in high school.
Ruffles the Cat had an odd expression on his feline face, which Jen ventured to guess was one of excruciating pain. His eyes were scrunched up tight, and he mewled piteously between clenched teeth, as though he was struggling to keep something very unpleasant down.
“Rather,” the voice continued, now sounding quite strained, “it has me clamped in a vise-like grip between its jaws and … oh, I believe it has just swallowed me!” As he said those words, his voice grew ever more distant, muffled.
“Oh?” Jen said. “Oh, uh… Ruffles?”
As if he understood his mistress’s hint, Ruffles proceeded to make very unpleasant ratchety, coughing sounds until a moist ball of cat fur and other unidentifiable things was deposited upon Jen’s lap.
From this deposit emerged the tanned, muscular limbs of a man the size of a plastic toy soldier. And yet, this tiny, animated figure had the unmistakable likeness of Jen’s roguish rogue, Xander Portmanteau.
Jen rubbed her eyes to make sure she wasn’t hallucinating. She hadn’t drank more than usual this evening, even though the latest episode of Yuri had made her most distressed. When she put her hands down, he was still there, looking up at her with a somewhat broody, somewhat inquisitive expression on his tanned face.
“Well, er, you sure look different,” Jen stammered, looking down at the miniature image of the literal man of her dreams. He stood barely taller than a thimble, but he was the spitting image of the concept artwork Jen had requested on DeviantArt only weeks before, which was currently her desktop background. In a flurry hurried of clicks and taps, she maximized her web browser, obscuring the image.
“Well, you’re gigantic,” Xander snapped haughtily.
Jen spluttered indignantly. “How dare you! Why, I’m no more … gigantic … than your beloved Lady Jen!” (The similarities between the author and Xander’s fictitious lover did not end there.)
“My Lady Jen must stand on the tips of her fair toes to kiss me,” Xander Portmanteau retorted. “I say, lips the size of yours would crush me.”
Jen chose to ignore Xander’s insensitive remarks about her figure. Surely even this flawless man was as shaken up as she was to be here.
Clearing her throat uncertainly, Jen resolved to start over again, hopefully on the right foot. “So, tell me, Xander, how and why did you come here?”
Stepping gingerly around the paws of his new feline nemesis, Xander stood in front of Jen’s laptop screen, gazing broodingly at the brightly lit pixels. “How I arrived in this infernal place, I am uncertain. All I know is that I finally thought of the most accurate way to verbalize a puzzling question, and everything around me vanished!”
“What question was that?” Jen recalled what she’d last written. Ah, yes. Xander’s quick-witted mind was full of questions right now, one of which was most certainly, Oh, Lady Jen, the moonlight of my day, the sunshine of my night, will thou marry—
“Why do you spend such an inordinate amount of time writing about … my … as you say, abs?” Xander looked down at his own stomach for emphasis. “Such a peculiar word,” he added in a husky undertone.
Jen gasped. “You can see what I write?!”
“I hear your words within my mind as though they are my own,” Xander replied solemnly. “They compete with my thoughts, dictating my every word and action. Try as I might to resist, the words always win in the end.”
Jen found herself blinking back tears of remorse. When put like this, wasn’t she being downright cruel to her beloved charact— cast of characters?
“At least,” she said slowly, cautiously, “you have your dear Lady Jen!”
Xander Portmanteau coughed. “Lady Jen? I must say, when I am in your world, my thoughts are free of the infernal words. Painful as it is to shatter your childlike expectations, I must set this account straight: I am not in love with Lady Jen.”
“You’re not in love with Lady Jen?” Jen cried out, dreading each word she repeated. “How could that be?”
“She does not please me.”
Xander crossed his arms obstinately. “Her ideas, they are like yours. She thinks too much, and worse, shares her outlandish thoughts to all who care to listen … or who are forced to act as though they care.”
“Lady Jen believes in progress,” Jen exclaimed, unable to put up with these awful words coming from her own character’s lips. “Lady Jen wants women to rule the Kingdom of Landria, as they rightly should, and contribute great innovations to society!”
“And I tire of pretending to agree with that ridiculous sentiment,” Xander retorted. “It’s dangerous putting the womenfolk in charge of running a country. Why, our kingdom of Landria would declare war on our Jeddan neighbors over the pettiest of affairs, like the type of shoes the other queen is wearing!”
Jen felt her face flush hotly. She was appalled by the things Xander – her Xander – was saying. A thought went through her own mind that she was sorely tempted to sic Ruffles on him again, and instantly squashed it. (For all she knew, a spirited feminist author was filling her own thoughts with “the words” Xander so feared!) Deep down, Jen knew she still loved Xander as much as her protagonist did.
I can change him, she resolved. For however long he is here, I’ll show him my world – the real world, and how much good we’ve done. Then, when he returns to Lady Jen’s arms, he’ll truly love her and all she stands for!
Did you enjoy this preview of Cliche by Allison Rose and Aerin S. Grey? It’s now available in print and on Kindle! https://www.amazon.com/dp/154302355X/ref=rdr_ext_tmb