Legal Theft Project: Ripples in Time

The ashen clouds began to clear, letting sunlight stream into the twisted wrecks. The siren avoided the slashes of light, slipping herself between broken boards and crushed hulls. Countless ships had crashed and sunk on the surrounding rocks. Whether from sea, storm, or siren the end result was the same, wreckage, bones, and the detritus of human endeavor. Swimming through the shadows in the broken galleon she ran her webbed hand against the splintered wood, tugging more of it into disarray. There a chest buried in silt, there a rusted cannon, and here, the clean bones of a man. She grasped the skull and lifted it to her eyes, turning it this way and that.

And it looked like bone. Incredibly clean bone. She smirked, hiding her teeth. It elicited nothing in her. Not even when it had held the mind of a man and the muscles to move and a fair and pleasing shape did they ever mean more than a challenge or a diversion. A hunt, then satisfaction, of either or both kinds.

She thought of her sister, the rituals, the oaths, the promises spun fragile as still water and twice as deep, now binding her to the world of flesh and death. Of the mortals who danced and cheered as their prince wed. Of herself walking into the sea queen’s halls and telling her sisters what Liira had done. Of the bafflement and rage so counter to the fire and welcome of the mortal rite. And she wondered at the transmutation of it all.

Her liege would call it true love. He flattered the couple with gifts, with rewards for a state that he believed they’d earned. The fool would call it folly, if he thought of it at all. In all aspects it was as foreign to her as touching the surface of a star. Singular. Untenable. She leaned back against the hull of the ship and held the skull in both hands. It revealed no new mysteries.

Yet it could bind her. One day it could be a nephew, a grandniece, or… she shuddered and released the skull. She would handle that duty when it descended on her. If it did. For all she knew the mortal customs would demand her sister remain landlocked with her lover for eternity. She bared her teeth at the skull now settled on the seafloor. How dare it mock her with the folly of time. She swam through the wrecks to the dark open water and dove deep. Away from the slashing beams of light and into the unsettling depths that would crush a mortal man. Drawing her blade, she held it close to her arm to minimize drag and looked for trouble. But as she swam, she could not escape the trickling sense of mortal time passing far above, the niggling thought that a ship with one of her blood could be sailing by without her blessing, in danger from those in the deep who frown on those who cross the lines the wrong way. The deep did not give up its takings without a fight.

She soared through the water, challenging the menaces of the deep to dance with her. To take up a fight that was as much a part of her as teeth and song and scale. None answered her. She swam back up. Past the wrecks. Up to the rocks, where she sheathed her blade and pulled herself out of the water. It wasn’t a song that burst from her lips, but a scream. It did not in the least resemble something human. It pierced the air and seemed to make the sun waver as she sustained it. The water seemed to slow its swell, and gulls froze, gliding or standing. Then she let it die and waves rushed away from her. Empty of… something. And yet… she felt no better. She stood upon the rock and shed her scales, shaking back her hair, and donning her armor. It was enough.


I stole this first line from that machete wielding rogue. She wrote about “Illusions of Home.”

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Legal Theft Project: Caging Waves

She couldn’t leave the river, and she was malevolent. They’d bound the curse in iron wrapped around the bones of dead boys and staked it across the mouth of the river. To swim near the sea was to have their curses seared into her flesh. She retreated up the river, tested her palms against the land, but they’d barred her from the banks with the hair of weeping mothers and the blood of fathers. Trapped. Her rage grew. Two lives or ten, they thought they could bind her. Starve her. Her lips curled. Tame her. Chain her in a pen and keep her from their kin, watch the monster so she cannot get you. She screamed her defiance to the stars and dove beneath the white water. The people shivered and shook, but she did not emerge from the river and so they were relieved.

The moon waxed to full and no sound, scale, or claw emerged from the river. The town recovered. The story moved to boasts from the young and cautionary tales from those who had spilled blood to make the binding. She bided in the water. Waiting. Weighing.

Fog stole out of the river and over the town. No moon brightened the dark. She rose from the water onto a thin rock in the center of the river. Her gaze raked down the river to the sea and she began to sing. Wordless and quiet, the new sound wove under the fog. Slowly, people ceased their talking and turned their heads toward the windows. Her song beckoned, the soft shush of waves against the shore, the promise of cool dark relief, the play of light along waves that hinted at wealth and pleasure. Yet none felt called to the water. They heard the song and thought of danger, of treacherous rocks, of ropes and lives and caution. The song paused, an interlude of fog and water and smug satisfaction that the siren was still trapped.

The next notes rang out as clear and sharp as a war cry on a still morning. A series of notes the merging of a call to arms and the rumbling rise of thunder. This was no defiance. The song that poured out of the woman in the river was made of war and wicked weather. Her sisters answered. Voices rose from the sea and sinuous scaled women stepped from the waves. Blades of coral and bone held loose at their sides. Men who woke to the danger and sprang to defense were cut down as waves crash against a shore. Mothers gathered children and lovers close and guarded their doors. The sirens ignored those smart enough to cower before the storm and joined their voices to their sister’s in the river as they rent the bindings caging her.

When the sun rose, none could remember if there had been a true storm or if it was the only way to comprehend the voices of raised together in violence. The river ran red with the blood of those fool enough to try and fight the sea. Of the sirens there was no other sign. Except when storms roll in from the sea they carry the voices of war.


 

Yes, I still commit first line larceny. This first line was filched from Kathryn. See what else lurked in the river here.

Legal Theft Project: Seas Full of Starcatchers

Lea’s little sister had spent nine tenths of her life with her head tilted back, sedately keeping a watch on the stars. She would anchor herself with the tops of the kelp beds, like an otter, and float on the swells as she searched for patterns in the sky. Lea had tried floating with her once, looking up at what she thought of as the sky’s scales. It had bored her after a short time and she had gone down to explore the depths.

It wasn’t like her sister was obsessed with humans, like some of their shoal mates. They could read the sky and tell you if a ship was coming, the wind to tell you how far and how fast, all to so they could watch the crews. Lea’s only interest in humans was when they were sinking below the kelp, if they would swim, if they would sink. Their faces when they saw her. The thought made her smile. Lea loved the sea. The sea was mother, home, and mystery all dressed in rippling blue. She spent her time exploring the bright and the dark of the ocean and came up to share her treasures with her little sister. Seren would smile at some of them and go back to looking at the stars while they spoke. Some days it angered Lea that she was less interesting than slow swimming dots on a dark current, but mostly it didn’t. Seren was Seren.

~~~~*~~~~

A slender shadow crossed over Lea and she looked up in surprise at her little sister. Teach me to race? Seren signed. I want to be as fast as you.

Of course, Lea signed back. But why?

Seren worried her lip for a moment. I’d like to be better at it. There is something I want to catch, but I am not fast enough.

Lea could have demanded more. But she liked cutting through the water more than prying secrets out of her sister. Top side, I assume?

Seren grinned.

~~~~*~~~~

“What is it?” Lea asked. The sun had set and the rest of their sisters had swum down to the caves to sleep. Seren was treading water and watching the sky with bright anxious eyes.

Lea asked again when Seren showed no sign of answering her. “Is there something wrong, Seren?”

Seren laughed. “Is change wrong?” She took her eyes off the sky, briefly, to look at her older sister. “The stars haven’t been steady for months. And soon… tonight, I think they are going to come tumbling down. And I want to catch one.”

Seren looked back up to the sky and Lea looked at her. Her little sister was not so little anymore, and if anyone knew the stars, she would be the one. As much as the ocean changed and stayed the same, why couldn’t the sky? She watched the stars as they flickered into view, treading water at her sister’s side. Softly, Lea began to sing. She sang to the stars, lifting her voice gently to the sky. Letting the notes linger as the final stars glimmered in the night sky. She sang, and sang, and then the stars rushed from the sky. Not one after another, but all together like a shoal of fish rushing away from a shark, they stars streaked out of the sky. Lea kept singing as her sister shot out across the water chasing stars. Lea followed more slowly, trying to keep her in sight. She finished the song and struck out after her sister, diving beneath the water to get a clearer view of the ill lit night. Seren was just on the edge of her vision when she leapt out of the waves, reaching for a bright glow. Lea saw her sister glow, and then she did not see her at all.

~~~~*~~~~

Months later, Lea explored a narrow channel between two islands. It was deeper than it looked and the currents were slow but strong. But she was drawn by the faint blue light that shone intermittently near the bottom. She pulled herself down the rocky wall and knelt on the seafloor near the light. She brushed through the sediment until she uncovered a stone about twice the size of her fist. Brushing off some of the hardened muck, she saw a blue shine. She tucked the stone to her chest and kicked herself slowly out of the channel. Once out of the depths, she swam to a rock near the inlet where she and Seren had talked. Slowly, she picked and chipped at the layers of dirt until she uncovered an irregular blue stone, shining star like in her hand. Lea sighed. “Seren, you better not be a rock.”

“Lea, oh Lea, can you hear me?”

Lea almost dropped the rock. She brought the stone close to her face, looking inside the blue for any sign of her sister. “Seren? If you are trapped in this rock, I have no idea how to get you out.”

Seren’s answering laugh definitely came from the rock. “I’m not in the stone, Lea. Look up. Please. Look up.”

Swimming across the sky, body made of stars, was the shape of her sister. Since the stars had fallen, Lea had avoided the surface. The others had told her that the sky held few stars, none of them consistent. “You look great, Seren.”

“It’s good to see you Lea. I’m glad you found another star. I missed you.”

“I missed you too.”

Lea asked her sister about the heavens and Seren asked her about the sea. Both where they wanted to be, they had much to talk about. They both travel, and they both spend periods away. But on the dark of the moon, when the night sky is full of stars, Lea swims to the surface, carrying her treasures, and Seren circles in the sky and they share all the things they have learned and discovered through the fallen star Lea wears around her neck.


I’m a thief! I stole this first line from Gwen. See what she wrote, and then check out the entire ring of star thieves.

Legal Theft Project: Salt, Citrus, and Certain Truths

The hall was wide enough for two fat carriages with drunken drivers to dance past each other comfortably, but the crowd had still slowed to a sluggish crawl as they turned down it. A melding tapestry of bright clothes and dark bodies eddying and swirling through the channel and from archway to doorway and back. Rania took two steps into the swirl and watched them send ripples through the natural curling patterns. Spreading circles of silence, then rustling whispers and second glances. She continued forward and a perfectly straight line opened up before her. She wished it was due to the guards hovering behind her shoulders, their footsteps echoing her own, but they weren’t given as much space as she was. It could have been attributed to her foreign dress, the faint squaring of her shoulders in challenge and power, or any number of small signals that marked her as an invader, a stranger. But they weren’t.

Raven’s wing black hair, grey eyes, and skin the rich brown of ripe dates, not too unusual among the similarly dark complexions surrounding her, but the combination marked her as of the family who owned this hall, this isle, and the ships that harbored there. They saw a lost heir. She saw strangers who were not strange enough.

Rania’s smooth strides had carried her from the hall. She smiled, thinking of the people in it as birds in an elaborate cage, still silent though the danger or darkness had passed. She entered the garden and breathed deep. Jasmine, citrus, and salt burned deep into her lungs and stuck near her heart with the burn of memory. She walked slowly down the path, breathing it in, feeling a sense of home seep through her skin. Let it wash over her with the rush of waves that formed a gentle background to every hour of the day. Walking past lush hedges and bold blooms, under the spreading branches of old twisting orange trees, she felt safe.

She let her breath out and sat on the wide tiled rim of a squat fountain. It was only the eye of the storm. She needed to deal with her feelings. Terre was right, her normal coping mechanisms weren’t going to work here. She closed her eyes and felt her anger batter against the base of her throat. It was familiar and she twisted it and twined it into a tapestry, contained, but purposeful and wrapped it around her fear, worry, and loss. But… it wasn’t just her own pain she was carrying. No. She knew all too well what her brother would be carrying and knowing it, she carried his pain as well.

She couldn’t afford for it to weigh her down, so she faced it. Edan’s face formed in her mind, so similar to … -She imagined him finding out the events of the last weeks and the shock and rage that made his face a battlefield. But she knew that pain was in three parts. The deepest hurt would settle deep in his heart. The aching of absence and loss that woke one up in the middle of the night with a tear streaked face and little explanation. Everyone excused that pain, pretended to ignore it when it showed. But with Edan, only those who shared his blood would see it.

The second pain straightened his spine, lurked in his eyes and the set of his shoulders. The ghost of the boy in a dark hold shielding his younger siblings would be crying out that he had failed them, that he had failed to protect his family, and demand he save them. Now. Anyway, anyhow.

But the ache and the cry were never be seen behind the tempest of her brother’s rage. Fear and failure turned to kindling for the hot lick of his wrath and he would not rest, think, or breathe until his family was safe and the heads of those that harmed them were sitting on pikes. He would descend upon this isle in a rain of angry swords and everything would drown in the grief and rage and pain.

This was truth.

Rania breathed deep, matching the rhythm of the distant waves until the borrowed anger had ebbed and she set it aside. The music of the fountain brought her back to herself and she rose with a sweep of her skirts. Now that she was thinking more clearly, her priorities were rather simple: stay near her sister, and learn everything she could. Thamina didn’t need to be coddled, but they each drew strength from the continued presence of the other. As to learning, well, nothing was out of the question, the isle, its politic, its people, the past, the rigging of its ships, the way it smelled during and after a storm. She would absorb it all, one question at a time. And when her brother’s did arrive, she would put it to use. Till then, she would take a page from her sister’s book and be slightly less combative. There was no purpose to wasting her energy.

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I stole the first line of this piece from Gwen over at ApprenticeNeverMaster. So did a few others. Check here for the whole ring of thieves. I also borrowed a character [Edan] from Kid over at TheGateintheWood.

Legal Theft Project: Siren

Waves churned under the heavy grey sky. The wind whipped the waves into white capped chargers crashing and careening around Thana’s rock. Thana grinned into the wind and hoisted herself fully out of the sea. Wrapped around the top of her rock, she gloried in the difference in the world above and the world below. The sky grumbled with thunder and Thana laughed at it. No giant storm was brewing. She and her sisters had not called it, and nature was far more fickle than fey. There was the promise of dangerous weather, but Thana doubted nature would fulfill it. There was not enough depth to its growls and the wind only whistled, it did not howl. It was not a day for wrecking.

Thana stood on her toes and spun. A dress swirled around her, simple grey shift and slate blue bodice and skirt. She stayed barefoot and left her dark hair loose and wild. The unwary would see a fisher girl. She didn’t care for them. But those who looked again, she would hold out her hand. The clever would shake their heads, offer her a trinket and be on their way. Those that dreamed, or those with more heart than sense, would take her hand, and she would take them dancing. Some would go back home with a story and a sense of pride. Some would flee in fear and tell the tale from the safety of a warm fire. And one, if she found one that suited her fancy, would not go back at all.

On the rocks in the sea, she threw back her head and sang her plans to the wind and sky, and the weather answered. Her voice carried over the waves and those tucked safely within shuttered houses ignored it. The few with open windows or out walking heard her voice. Most took it as a warning and scurried inside. A few stopped and wondered at the voice. The dare it flung into their lives.

Challenge issued, Thana danced over the rocks to the shore. Today was a day for mischief and she intended to fill it well.

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My friend Bek stole the first line of this piece to write “Beaches and Beauty.” Check it out.

Legal Theft Project: Curses

When caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, Mack picked the sea. Boarding a cursed ship known to toss men overboard on a whim, and a Captain who’d shrug and leave you to drown may seem like the same thing, but Mack knew better. He wasn’t a priest to charge at the villains of the world with a flask of holy water and a bit of faith. Better to go where there was a chance of risk and reward, than stay on land where you would be lucky to die. In all the rumors surrounding Defiance Mack had never heard she failed to live up to her name.

Mack eyed the lethal shape of the ship and wondered about her other name, the one whispered in ports she’d already left, the one spat into half empty tankards late at night when the booze made everything safe. Dead Man’s Dance. Lips twitching in a bitter smile, Mack walked up the gang plank. Sailors were rare on the decks this late at night, and the few lanterns did little to banish the predatory darkness. Mack strode onto the deck and halted. A line on the far rail unknotted and dropped to the deck, a sailor took the loose end and coiled it. Mack’s shoulders tensed as an unnatural chill lingered among the sails and shrouds, sinking into his clothes.

“Welcome aboard.”

Mack turned and eyed the sailor. The man’s blue eyes twinkled faintly. “You didn’t jump ship. That’s a point in your favor.”

“I figure she’s going to do what she wants, may as well provide a poor target,” Mack held out a hand. “You the Captain?”

The man laughed, a surprisingly warm and welcome sound in the shadows of the Defiance’s sails. “No,” he managed on an exhale. “I’m the mate. Ian Drake.” He took Mack’s hand and shook it. “You a fool or a fighter?”

Mack responded with a head tilt. In a long drawl, “Not quite sure what you mean.”

“Only a certain kind of person takes a jaunt with us. Most are fools, or came for the challenge – fighters. Not sure where you fit.”

Drake’s gaze was too damned level. Guess you had to have a sane mate to balance a crazy captain. Not too much to lose anyway. “Cursed.” Mack said it as easily as naming a hair color.

Suddenly Mack could feel the interest of the ship. It had to be the ship, or else the crew had all sprouted extra eyes. It was a little like watching a mastiff guarding a house while standing on the edge of the property line. No, it was closer to standing on a cliff and feeling hands heading toward your shoulders. “I figured you could do with the warning.”

Drake shook his head. “You’ve got a bit to learn, mate.” He closed his eyes and ignored Mack for a few beats. When he opened them again, he seemed puzzled. “She seems to have reserved judgment on you. Not sure why.” He shook his head. “Get your stuff stowed below and report for duty in the morning.”

Mack nodded. Ian turned to the quarter deck and checked in at the helm.

We’ll talk later. You and I.

Mack felt cold. Maybe there was a reason the sea and the devil were equated.

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Gwen and I stole from each other this week. Check to view the entire ring of thieves!

Legal Theft Project: Second Chances

He’d take a vow of silence and murder ten kings before he’d let them scuttle the Defiance. As he doubted they’d wait for him to hunt down and slaughter ten kings, he’d better hurry. Dawn was not far off. He clambered aboard and walked to the center of the deck. Long and rapier sleek, Defiance stood against horizon, man, and sea daring anyone to take her down. The sky and sea let her be, and if he didn’t speak quickly, she’d strike down the foolish man who dared to set foot on her dark planks.

“You know those fools want to scuttle you in a few hours,” he said.

The sails unrolled and snapped forward. The cannon rolled forward to the ports, unloaded, but the message was clear. They can try.

“They call you a jinx ship. Cursed. No longer fit to be sailed. I say they’re right.”

The deck pitched, he stood firm. A line lashed his cheek, leaving a red welt.

Brandon raised his voice, “You don’t need anyone to sail you. You’re your own Captain. You scare them. They’re scared of dying.”

The ship bobbed on the swells. Brandon felt the ship lean in to listen to him. He’d fought in battles that turned the sea-foam red, he’d warred with men whose name brought nations to their knees, and if he’d still been somewhat sane the attention of the Defiance would have frozen his marrow. Instead Brandon’s blood fired and he dropped his hands to his sides and spread them palms out.

“I saw you in the harbor before I heard them whispering tales. I don’t care which of them are true. I don’t care how many men you’ve killed. I don’t care how many more will join them. All that matters to me is that when some man broke faith with you, you fought back.”

He stepped toward the quarter-deck and the slowly rocking helm. “And it wasn’t enough, so you lashed out and took vengeance on any man who crossed you. Death and Fire! Wasn’t that a kick in the ass.” Brandon’s eyes blazed and he paced the deck. “You’re the most gorgeous thing on the water because you stand up and fight. You never rolled over, turned to drink, disrepair, or dissolution. You never ran your hull into rocks and let them get away with the hurt they caused you. You never believed for a moment that you deserved one lick of bad fortune. You-”

Very clever. He could feel the scorn and anger in the interruption. But pretty words and sob stories will not save you. A loose line dropped in front of him and formed a quick noose, then unwound again. What do you want, dead man?

Brandon looked down at his hands. He put his back against the mast, and the fire went out of his eyes. “I deserve to be dead.” He shrugged and looked back toward the helm, his hand falling to the small dagger on his belt and he tapped his fingers against it absently. “My life isn’t worth the air I breathe, and my heart is a sorry pile of shards.” He held out the hand that wasn’t tapping the dagger hilt. “But I’m all yours if you want me.”

The sails billowed in the slight natural breeze. Why should I let you call yourself my Captain?

“Because you and I know it’s just an empty title. I know I’m not worthy of you.” He dismissed himself with a smile. “But I’m here, and I can hear you.” He shrugged. “If you find someone better, you kill me.”

I’m going to kill you one way or another.

Brandon’s fingers stopped tapping an idle tattoo on his dagger hilt. “Then do it. We can both be dead come dawn, or you can take me and we’ll make a legend that no one will ever forget. It is and will always be up to you.”

The ship lurched, and Brandon stood. The sails furled inching back into rest with the precision of a naval crew. A single line dropped and twined around Brandon’s neck like the caress of a lady’s hand.

You’re mine.  Brandon tilted his head back and laughed. “By the stars and sea I am.” The line dropped from his neck and the door to the captain’s cabin swung open. The Defiance took Brandon’s offered heart and tucked it away far more carefully than he knew. But he would, one day.

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My friend, over at buildingadoor is a thief! Click to read what she did with this first line. I must say I loved it.

Legal Theft Project: Where Waves Are Kind

“It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it?” Sister Aloisia dabbed at her teary cheek. Down on the gravel shore, a man wrapped his arms around his wife’s waist. The woman turned her face into her husband’s chest and refused to watch as the novices sent the small coracle adrift in the currents. The man’s eyes were dark with exhaustion but his second arm came around his wife, holding her gently to him. The wind blew strong from the east, skimming the coracle quickly out of the rocky cove, the sacred stone point, and the grieving parents of its passenger. The spray plumed all around and salt water splattered the blue robes of the novices standing calf deep in the sea.

Mother Abbess Tessandra stood on the rocky ledge above the shore and listened to the novices recite the Leaving. No tears trickled down her cheeks. She slipped her hands into opposite sleeves of her dark habit. “They were heartbroken before they came here, Sister.”

“I know, it’s just, to lose a child…” Aloisia shook her head. “It’s too cruel.”

Tessandra hid a sigh. “Sister Aloisia,” she said her voice warming as the idea came to her, “would you lead the Shantare for the Living?”

“Mother Abbess-”

Tessandra overrode the breathy protest. “You clearly empathize with this family,” She unfolded her arms and took Aloisia’s hand. “They will see and it will comfort them.” Aloisia dipped her head in acceptance.

Tessandra waved her left hand over Aloisia’s head. “Go with Tuil’s blessing.”

She watched as Aloisia picked her way down the worn stone steps to the couple and said a few words before collecting the novices and raising her voice in the Shantare for the Living.

“Why did you do that, Mother?”

Tessandra looked over at the newest sister in the order. Kailash waited for a response, her arms resting lightly at her sides and her wheat gold hair dancing in the tricky wind.

“Because it eases the most hearts,” Tessandra replied at last.

“You are not doing them the honor of performing the chant yourself,” Kailash pointed out. Tessandra smiled, quiet insistence would work in Kailash’s favor here. If only she’d been as discreet at sixteen.

In response to the implied question, Tessandra shook her head. “What the Sisters of Tuil do,” she said, measuring her words, “may change like the light on the sea or the color of water, but the cycle is as unending as the moon pulling the tides. It is never exactly the same, but the heart is always there.”

The final bell like note of the Shantare for the Living rang across the water.

“Sister Aloisia said this was heart breaking.” Mother Abbess Tessandra watched the small grey dot of the coracle bobbing over the grey blue sea then looked back at the couple on shore thanking Sister Aloisia. “After ten years of this I discovered that hearts are stronger than we think. Hearts ache.” As the couple walked back toward the shelter of the point, the wife slipped her arm around her husband and he pulled her closer. “We share the ache and remind them that in time hearts ease.”

“The tides ever rise and fall,” Kailash murmured.

“Come, we’ll share a cup with them.” Tessandra glanced once more at the white caps on the sea before starting down the steps help the cycle along.

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I’ve joined an international ring of first line thieves! The first sentence of this story was stolen from my friend, Bekah, over at Building A Door. You can see what she wrote with this line on her blog tomorrow, and be sure to head over today and see what she stole from another of our friends.