Hello readers and fellow travelers! As many of you know, Luki Vasquez and Sonny James have been on a road trip vacation, celebrating their survival after yet another harrowing episode in Saving Sonny James, the fourth book in the suspense series. It’s been crazy fun–the boys have thus far visited across the Atlantic, the eastern seaboard, a future Yukon, the South Seas, and the lone star state. Here follows the precise links to “where they’ve been,” and the list of what’s yet to come. Please feel free to read up and join in. Most of the previous prizes have been awarded, but there will be more prizes to be had between now and the end.
10/18: Sonny James and Luki Vasquez start their trip home from France, taking the Chunnel train, at The Novel Approach. 1st prize Saving Sonny James signed paperback (or ebook if preferred) and $15 to spend at Dreamspinner Press; 2nd prize Saving Sonny James ebook
10/29: Back to the States once again–in Texas! San Antonio, the lovely, romantic Riverwalk, made (even more) famous by the sexy characters of our host, Carol Zampa!
11/2: Chris T. Kat will be our host! Hmmm… what to do, what to do?
11/5: Luki and Sonny will take Rhys Ford’s blog and San Diego, CA by storm. (They will… just wait and see. And I’m pretty sure a prize will be up for grabs, too.)
11/8 through 11/11: Well, I’m going to Bent Con in Burbank (yeah, like Los Angeles and Hollywood, only not…) and since the Vasquez-James boys are my transpo, they’re going, too. I’ll post their odd adventures here, at sylvre.com.
Just Eight Days until Saving Sonny James is officially released by Dreamspinner Press (Yes that’s a buy link, and it’s already available on pre-order… jus’ sayin’). Between now and then, I’ll put together a calendar of related events, which should include some fun stuff including giveaways, and character shenanigans. I’ll be posting information here, facebook, Goodreads, The Romance Reviews, and possibly elsewhere, too. Keep an eye peeled, because I truly hope you’ll join me for some good times. Meanwhile: beautiful cover! (Again)
Well, I’m behind… who is surprised? I was supposed to put this part two up yesterday. But (insert credible excuse here) so I’m racing to try to catch up. The $25 prize is still up for grabs. If you offered an excerpt to be considered for my five-minutes-in-heaven reading (9/14, Seattle, happy hour following GRNW), then your name is in the bucket once. But now vote, and you enter again. If you didn’t offer a selection, you can still enter by voting! There are seven selections, please vote twice. The entries are here, I’ve linked here from facebook, twitter, and goodreads. You can vote at any one of the sites (whatevers easiest for you). Voting is open for one week, through 8/7/13. on 8/8, I’ll announce a winner and which excerpt I’ll read.
#1 (Lou’s own selection) On the Hilltop Before the Wedding, in Finding Jackie 823 words)
THE Hawaiian sky stretched wide, exactly the hue of Delsyn’s Blue #3, which would make it all that much easier for Sonny James to eventually weave a tapestry commemorating the day of his marriage to Luki Vasquez. The lava at Sonny’s feet seemed peculiarly lumpy; he studied its color as he stepped across the nearly flat-topped hill where they would be wed. Splashes of dark red lay almost hidden in the surface. From a distance, one would never guess they were there. If Sonny had encountered that coloring a year ago, he would have woven it with judicious touches of Sonny’s Red, a dye that had long been his trademark. But once he’d been forced to stand and watch his nephew’s precious, red blood drip into white porcelain, Sonny’s Red was dead and gone, and even scarlet and carmine no longer held a prominent place in his art.
“No,” he said, forcing the horrors from his mind. “Happier things today.” He half turned just as Luki—his lover, fiancé, groom, and at the moment the most breathtaking part of the scenery—stepped near. Thinking “groom” made Sonny smile, and when Luki held out his big, capable hand, Sonny recognized the invitation and held out his own, letting Luki twine their fingers together.
“Hey, sweetie,” Luki said, his scratchy voice nevertheless deep and musical.
“Hey,” Sonny answered, feeling suddenly shy under Luki’s gaze—an inexplicable reaction, though not unusual. Their eyes met as they leaned toward each other for a kiss, and even though the sight was far from new, Luki’s pale blue irises, bright eyes surrounded with black lashes and dark skin, startled Sonny, and he caught his breath in surprise. Sometimes those eyes were like ice. Used to be that way more often than not, but lately the irises were nearly always dark-centered, wide open with love when they looked at Sonny, and the corners of Luki’s eyes often crinkled with a smile that didn’t quite reach his lips. He smiled like that now, in that very moment on the lava hill, and his eyes danced, reflecting blue sky, blue ocean, sunlight. The grooms shared their kiss, chaste but full of promise. Then, Luki pulled Sonny’s hand to his lips and kissed the finger that bore the fire opal engagement ring. Sonny’s mouth went dry.
“Kaholo’s on his way up the mountain,” Luki reported. “We’ll be saying our vows in just minutes, baby.” His voice held an edge of excitement that Sonny would have bottled if he could. Miracles like that thrill in Luki’s words, like that flush over his dusky skin, were not things that happened every day—even now, even after Luki had learned how to love. Sonny breathed deep in an effort to slow his thoughts enough to savor that and everything beautiful about the day. And Sonny was honest enough, and artist enough, to admit that he was part of the beauty—he and Luki both.
Both men wore white. Luki’s suit fit loosely, almost blousy, giving him plenty of room for his muscled chest and shoulders, yet at the same time it had been tailored so perfectly that, while it only showed off some of Luki’s curves and planes, it eloquently promised the rest. He wore a tie of barely blue silk, woven by Sonny with a subtle, obscured pattern of lauburu—the Basque Cross. They’d gotten legally married at home in Washington State, but they were both thinking of this Hawaiian ceremony as their real wedding. Luki had asked for that, in honor of his Hawaiian ancestors. But Sonny had thought it proper to have something to honor Luki’s Basque heritage too, and when he found the lauburu, a simple, ancient, pagan symbol of prosperity, he took some joy in weaving it into the tie.
Sonny wore white silk, an Italian cut customized for his height and slightly broader shoulders, following closely the slim lines of his elegant frame. He wore a white ribbon shirt, with the remaining three sacred colors in the ribbons—narrow strips of a blue so deep it was almost black, golden yellow, and dark red. They crossed his chest and climbed his shoulders, then hung from his shoulder blades in the back, hidden now under his jacket. The two silk-covered buttons of Sonny’s light-weight, summer wool jacket had been set with diamonds at the center. A silk scarf woven—like the ribbons on his shirt—of the four sacred colors from his tribal heritage, fluttered at his chest in the slight breeze. Sonny had created both Luki’s tie and his own scarf, and they carried meaning—almost as much as the rings they would exchange.
Reality check, Sonny thought. Nothing meant nearly as much to him as Luki himself, as he was just then, awaiting their wedding—his eyes excited, his smile nervous, his touch warm on Sonny’s hand.
#2 The Wedding Ceremony suggested by Traci from Finding Jackie 597 Words
The ceremony involved simple words, panic, laughter, and tears.
First, Kaholo led them through some traditional vows. To have and to hold, to love and to cherish, and so forth. Luki stopped himself from thinking, yada, yada.
Then it was Luki’s turn to wing it. He’d rehearsed only a little and never really planned the words. He was surprised how easy they came, how good they felt. “Sonny, I promise to love you, never to try to change you, to trust you with my heart and with everything I have, and always to remember how precious, how fine, how beautiful you are to me. And I’ll keep you safe, Sonny. I’ll always keep you safe.”
Panic entered the picture when it came time for Sonny to respond—which he couldn’t seem to do, really. “I… I… Luki, I… oh.” Tears started, and Luki had no idea what to do until Josh nudged him and mouthed the word handkerchief.
“Oh!” Luki said. “Yeah. Here, baby.” He held the snowy-white square out as if he was going to wipe his groom’s nose, but Sonny snatched it away, swiped it down his face, and then grabbed hold of Luki’s shoulders, bending slightly to bury his face in Luki’s neck. Luki reached up and put his two big hands over Sonny’s slender ones—Sonny’s trembling hands that seemed so vulnerable. “Shh, sweetie. It’s okay. You don’t have to say anyth—”
“Shut up, Luki, of course I have to say something.”
Those words left Luki slack-jawed again, but the need to decide what to say or do was swept away from him as Sonny stood away once more, grabbing both of Luki’s hands and holding them to his chest, where the many-colored scarf buffeted against them in the breeze, tickling. Luki met his lover’s dark, dark eyes, and found them smoldering despite the rim of moisture, smoldering with such intense sincerity or need that Luki wondered absently if a spark would ignite them like oil on water.
“Yes, Luki. I have to say things. I have to tell you that I… will love you and no other, body and soul… will honor your strength and cherish it. And, Luki, I promise to give you what I am. Every day I want to show you beauty—the beauty I see in the world. That vision is the best I have to give, the best of what I am. And….” His voice trailed to a whisper. “Thank you, Luki, for loving me so much.”
“The rings,” Kaholo said, somehow managing to put an audial eye roll in the words. Josh passed one to Luki, and Jackie passed one to Sonny, and chuckling with their guests they pushed them past knuckles that seemed to have recently grown too large.
“Kiss, then,” Kaholo ordered, and pronounced them a pair of husbands.
Everyone had survived. The boys began to help the guests line up for congratulations. Neither of the men had wanted a receiving line, but Kaholo and Leilani insisted. Both of the men looked a little shell-shocked, but a worried look suddenly flashed across Luki’s face. “Wait!
All eyes turned Luki’s way as he dropped Sonny’s hand and reached into his vest pocket. “I forgot something important. Sonny, this is a wedding present. I know it isn’t all glamorous or anything, but… I hope you’re happy with it.” He held out a hand to Kaholo, a hand holding a half-smoked pack of cigarettes and his dad’s USS Vincent/Dennis the Menace vintage lighter. “Uncle, please take these. I’m quitting. As of right now, I don’t smoke.”
#3 from Bluesimplicity First Meeting from Loving Luki Vasquez 557 words
BRIGHT clothes, sunburns. Summer had arrived, and Port Clifton was awash in tourists. Since Juan de Fuca Boulevard constituted most of the town, they had nowhere else to go. They chattered and milled about, and Sonny Bly James wasn‟t in the mood for chatter or milling because he was worried about his nephew, Delsyn, who always stayed gone for days, but who should have come home by now. Sonny quickened his long-legged strides and slid through the crush, trying to disturb the air as little as possible on the way to his truck.
Then he saw a man.
Which in itself wasn‟t unusual, but this man, an islander, maybe Hawaiian, by the look of him, lounged cool and beautiful in loose summer whites, half-sitting on the fender of an ice-blue Mercedes, a strip of sand beach and the blue straits for a backdrop. Dark chestnut curls shining; straight, white teeth softly teasing a lush, plum-red bottom lip. His eyes, startling pale blue against brown skin, roved all over Sonny; the islander made no effort to pretend otherwise, and besides, Sonny could feel them. Their touch trickled over him like ice water, exciting every nerve he had, even those he‟d never heard from before.
Which scared Sonny, a recluse by choice—and, he knew, because he‟d always managed to be socially… well, clumsy. So, he turned to the weapon that had been his first line of defense since adolescence, when all the reservation had noticed that their star young grass dancer didn‟t mind being gay: a smart mouth.
“What are you looking at?”
Even though the islander had responded by looking away, Sonny knew he hadn‟t—couldn‟t have—intimidated him. The stranger might have been a few inches shorter than him, but judging by his physique, and despite his laid-back manner, Sonny guessed the man could have dropped him with a cold look and a slap. It would have been less of a blow if he had. Instead, he freed his lower lip from his teeth and spoke.
“I beg your pardon.”
Sonny wanted to let a whole raft of words spill out, starting with “I didn‟t mean it,” and ending with “so kiss me, now.” But the man‟s attention had turned away. A baby in a stroller dropped a floppy brown bear at his feet. The young mother looked frazzled, at her wit‟s end, carrying another child and trying to keep a third from making a dash down the boulevard. The islander squatted down—a graceful move—and picked up the bear. Right before Sonny‟s eyes, his icy exterior melted, and though he didn‟t smile and couldn‟t pass for cheerful, he somehow seemed kind. He handed the stuffed creature back to the baby, who seemed to like him. She expressed her gratitude by spouting a number of syllables that all sounded a lot like “da.”
Sonny, angry with himself for blowing his chance to meet this chill but beautiful stranger—who might be trying to hide a kind heart—pretended he hadn‟t seen. He turned his faux-stoic shoulder and walked away. A little shaky, perhaps; already sorry. Three strides and he heard a voice, unexpectedly scratchy, even hoarse.
The man took a deep, lovely breath, flashed his cold-fire eyes at Sonny, and said, “I have coffee most mornings at Margie‟s. In case you‟re interested.”
#4 Suggested by Juliana The Tucking-in Scene at the Hotel from Loving Luki Vasquez 418 words
After a while Sonny‟s breathing calmed. Luki flared his nostrils to draw in the smell of Sonny‟s sex, like saving it up, and rose to his knees.
Sonny looked spent. Not necessarily in a bad way, but Luki hoped he hadn‟t overtaxed him, what with his injury and all. He moved up next to him, handed him the water glass, and propped him up to drink from it. Not at all sure what to make of his own feelings, Luki nevertheless curled up around Sonny, cradled his head and kissed the top of it.
Sonny said, “You?”
“No. Another time. This was for you, Sonny.”
Sonny pulled his head away to look at him. After a time he whispered, half asleep, “You‟re smiling.”
“I guess I am. I‟ll probably have to rectify that.”
“Punctures the tough-guy image.”
“Almost irreparably. Are you hurting, now that you‟re awake and not being driven into a sexual frenzy? Do you want some more pain meds?”
Sonny hesitated. “Yeah, I think so.”
Luki extracted himself from his cozy situation reluctantly, then resisted the instinct to rush after
Sonny, who had rolled off the bed and set off for the bathroom.
Damn, Sonny, what if you fall! Damn, Luki, give it a rest!
Sonny made it back in one piece and, breathing again, Luki brought him his pill and plumped his pillows and helped him lay down without straining his injured muscle and pulled the blanket up and….
“What are you doing, Luki?”
“I‟m tucking you in.”
“Tucking me in?”
“Yes.” He hoped he was managing a cold and intimidating expression. “You have some sort of problem with that?”
Sonny laughed hard enough that Luki worried about his stitches—what the hell is going on with me—and kept laughing when Luki turned the lights out and stepped to the balcony to smoke, flopping on a cushioned wicker chair with one leg draped loosely over the arm.
Sonny fell silent, and a moment later his drowsy advice floated out to the balcony. “You should quit.”
“News,” Luki said. He found the night air, the lights on the water, the faint noises of traffic a lot more satisfying than would usually have been the case. He suspected he was still smiling, even though it wasn‟t stretching his scar.
Sonny‟s low, buttery voice came again, softly, from the edge of sleep. “Luki?”
“Uh… thank you?”
Luki smiled some more, which should have alarmed him but didn‟t. “You‟re welcome, sweetie,” he said. “You‟re more than welcome.”
#5 Suggested by Kat The Ambulance Ride (Neck Collar) Loving Luki Vasquez 473 words
The EMT had already checked Luki over, catalogued cuts and bruises and—mostly on his hands—relayed information about body temperature, pulse, and respiration to the ER. He moved on, and Luki tried to catch glimpses of Sonny as the EMT moved up and down the narrow aisle between them. He saw bloody patches on his clothes, gashes on his arms, one place on his left shoulder where both shirt and skin had been peeled away. A cotton pad had been laid under his back, and blood oozed into it, blooming along the edge near Luki.
Just when Luki felt despair looming over him, Sonny inhaled sharply, cleared his throat.
“Mr. James,” the EMT said. “Glad to see you‟re with us.”
Sonny said nothing. His breathing sounded ragged.
The EMT moved into Sonny‟s line of sight, which meant Luki could see Sonny too. Alive. Awake. Relief struck so fast and hard it hurt. Luki thought that, though he‟d survived everything else, this just might stop his heart.
“Mr. James, can you hear me? Do you know where you are?”
Which is when Luki realized that his own hearing had returned. Though a bit muffled, it was acute enough to hear Sonny rasp his answers.
“Can hear. I‟m in hell. Delsyn? Luki?”
“You know damn well you‟re not in hell, Mr. James.”
“Okay, Sonny. Delsyn was airlifted about three minutes before the blast; they got away clean and will be at Nebraska Hospital in about ten, I‟d say—”
“Yeah, that turned out well. Mr. Vasquez‟s folks had the stuff in spades. Not quite sure how they got it, but I imagine that little breach of legal etiquette will be overlooked in light of the outcome. He‟s getting factor and red cells, and they‟ll transfuse him as soon as they arrive at the hospital. I can call and see if I can get an update, if you like, as soon as we clear this mockery of a road and reach the highway.”
“He‟s right here, to your left—that‟s the side that probably hurts the most—and he won‟t stop staring at you. Not sure what that‟s about….”
It looked like an effort, but Sonny turned his head. Luki crinkled his brow, thinking they should have had a neck collar on him. What’s wrong with these people? But when Sonny locked his soft brown eyes on him, Luki forgot about his complaints. It felt like forever that they stared at each other. To him, it seemed they floated in a vacuum; nothing else existed but his lover and the small part of him that was good enough to let Sonny love him back. Finally, the ride smoothed out as the aid van pulled onto the highway, and the two of them spoke at once.
“What,” they said, “are you looking at?”
#6 The Blood Bowl Loving Luki Vasquez suggested by Cynthia 712 words
The ATF experts confirmed that, indeed, there were explosives in the van. They confirmed that the hardwired device did appear to be a detonator. They were a little surprised, and alarmed, at the ingenuity Royce had used in rigging the heat-sensitive switch. Maybe it wasn‟t a first, but this bunch hadn‟t seen that twist before.
“We don‟t have any way to be sure about the remote detonator because we could set it off while trying to find the closed signal. Cell phone controlled detonators are pretty common, easily done, and it seems he‟s got the know-how, so I think we‟d best assume it‟s real. As far as that heat-activated switch, we‟ve got a solution.”
Janine helped him pull a cut-off, dark green, insulated ATF vest over his head, which covered the face of the lens but missed the various wires. “There,” she said, in a voice like everybody‟s kid sister. “Now we‟re all a notch safer and you‟re more stylish into the bargain.”
Sonny actually smiled at that, which he found unbelievable. But it did feel good, like it untied one of the numerous knots in his belly.
“Hey, Sonny,” Duff said. “We‟ve got some of Luki‟s people here—employees, we call them. We‟re kind of snooty so we don‟t call them agents even though they‟re damn good ones. And our folks are calling in from Kaholo‟s. I‟m supposed to be the boss, so I need to hear everything. I‟m going to leave Janine here for company. She likes to gossip, so just tell her to button up if she‟s bothering you. And, Sonny, calm is the word. If it helps, I‟ve done this job for twenty-two years, done dozens of situations, and I can tell you the odds are on our side.”
Sonny nodded as the fiftyish man walked away. It surprised him how much calmer he did feel, just having the agents there. Have faith. Luki was right of course. There would be a way out, even if it hadn‟t come into view. He looked into the windows at Delsyn‟s blood. Still dripping. Still a steady rhythm. He reminded himself that, though it seemed a lifetime, not much time had passed. Del would be alright as long as they could get him out of that van alive.
He saw a black speck in the left hand blood bowl. It moved.
(Passage of time)
SONNY could see nothing but the black fly in the bowl of blood. It had subverted every cell capable of forming thoughts. It didn‟t move, and Sonny wondered if flies drown. But, still as it was, he soon forgot that it was a fly at all. Just a dot of black on a field of red. Red that didn‟t quite match Sonny‟s red, the dye no one could copy, but almost. Whoever made this red, he thought, should be proud. He wanted that red, wanted to weave it through weft of the same hue….
“Mr. James… Mr. James!”
For a split instant, Sonny wondered why the young woman was bothering him, couldn‟t she see he was working? He lifted his eyes from the porcelain bowl in order to scold her. On the way to do that he saw Delsyn, then the van, then remembered the monstrous device strapped to his belly, and he came back.
He breathed a deep and quivering sigh, licked dry lips, and focused on Janine. “Sorry,” he croaked.
“Mr. James, did you hear the explosion?”
He realized that he had, though he‟d shut it away.
The sergeant, Duff, trotted toward them. “Are you holding up okay, Sonny?”
“Yeah, that‟s what I want to talk about. We got a radio call from the agents who went upstream, following the trail Vasquez left, presumably for us. An old powerhouse on the river is what blew.” He slicked his hair back, as if stalling. As if he didn‟t want to say more. “It‟s pretty clear that the bomber was in there. Since the remote detonator signal, apparently, did not come, we‟re operating on the assumption that the bomber went down with the building.
“We don‟t know. We haven‟t found him, but he‟s always been crafty. And strong. There‟s hope.”
“He told me to have faith. In him. In chances.”
#7 First Reunion Love Scene Beginning Delsyn’s Blues (Lou’s own selection) 607 words
An hour later, Luki stepped outside to smoke, no jacket against the cold, dry wind, nothing between his eyes and the stars. Dry, cold, and clear—a rare March night here on the Olympic Peninsula. He walked out to sit on the drift log halfway between Sonny’s house and the water. A square of artificial daylight lay on the sandy grass to his left, bursting out through the window of Sonny’s studio, where he was probably hard at work.
“I’m going to my studio,” he’d said a short while ago. “See if I can clean it up some.”
One word answer, “No.” And he walked away.
Luki refused to wonder if now, inside his studio, something bad was happening to Sonny—emotions, memories, dope, whatever. He told himself for the hundredth time it was about trust. Soon, his cigarette had come to its predestined seven-minute end, and he was starting to feel the bite of the cold. But instead of going in, he walked down to the edge of the water, dark as it was, with stars sprinkled in the quiet waves. At the edge of his vision, he noticed the studio light disappear from the ground, and moments later he felt, more than heard, Sonny coming out of the house, walking toward him. He didn’t turn
around, but when Sonny reached an arm over his shoulder, Luki took Sonny’s hand and kissed it, not surprised at all, and led him back to the driftwood seat.
Sonny straddled the log next to Luki and leaned in to kiss Luki’s neck. Which tickled in a most seductive way. Sonny’s long legs grabbed hold of him like pincers, and he dragged his lean fingers over Luki’s chest, leaving heat trails on Luki’s night-chilled skin. The whole event felt like a stroke of better-than-luck to Luki because, though he refused to jump to conclusions, he was pretty sure Sonny was making sexual advances. And it had been a couple or a hundred months since any such thing occurred or even was hinted at. So if his response was a little too enthusiastic, a little too heated, he hoped Sonny would forgive him for that.
Better than forgiving, Sonny matched him flame for flame, and pretty soon hands were inside clothes and doing some exquisite touching, tickling, rubbing. But it wasn’t all that comfortable—cold and clothed—so Luki breathed, “Bed, sweetie.”
“Yeah,” Sonny answered, but he didn’t stop what he was doing, and Luki didn’t really want him to.
It made it all the more difficult to insist. “Come on, baby, let’s go.” He took Sonny’s hand out of his clothing and they both jogged, holding hands and holding up their unzipped pants with their free hands, moving about as gracefully as contestants in a three-legged race. Which made Sonny guffaw. He did it from time to time and it always delighted Luki—made him sort of laugh too.
When they reached the house, Luki slammed the door behind them with a foot and rushed to catch up with Sonny, who was already shirtless and dropping his jeans and a step away from the bed. All Luki could think about was skin, Sonny’s skin: bare, sweet, brown skin over legs and ass and chest and shoulders and toes and fingers and yes, penis. Perhaps the sweetest skin of all, that. He wanted so badly to taste it.
When Sonny’s jeans came off and he stood bare and enflamed, molded by lamplight, Luki’s entire being—every sense, every belief, and everything he knew in all the world—was about Sonny, the beautiful, breathtaking, heart-stealing man standing naked before him.
It’s simple, really. I’ll be reading my work at the Gay Rom NW meet-up happy hour on 9/14 in Seattle, and I can’t decide what to read! 5 minutes, 550 to 700 words, on the theme 5 minutes in heaven. That means the readings have to be sweet stuff, happy, sexy, poignant perhaps but not angsty or scary, etc. 2 part contest, double-down by playing both parts. PART ONE (starts now!): nominate a favorite passage from any Vasquez and James book! Make your nominations here in comments. Every nomination get’s your name in the hat! PART TWO (starts Tuesday 7/28) I’ll post a link to all possible passages nominated or selected separately by me, and you vote. Your vote gets your name in the hat again. Summary–play either part or both, help me out (save my butt), and maybe win a bunch of book money!
“The last of your line will be in the embrace of a dragon.”
Aric, Crown Prince of Astria, has been brought up to believe that all dragons are evil. But when he speaks with one, he finds himself questioning those beliefs. The dragon tells him to find a sword in Sherwin Forest to save not only his kingdom but also his sister, Georgia, who must otherwise wed the prince of a neighboring kingdom.
At the start of his quest, Aric dons a disguise and meets Denys, an archer and herbalist who lives alone at the edge of the forest. Denys agrees to guide Aric into the forest, but then Georgia appears, revealing Aric’s true identity.
However Aric learns he is not the only one keeping secrets. Denys has a few of his own that could change both of their lives forever.
Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She shares her home with two cats who are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.
In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.
She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth.
“You said you had something to tell me.” Aric cleared his throat, not wishing to reminiscence about such things, at least not now. He was losing his mind, he must be. This was a dream, it had to be. Yet why did it feel so real? “And my name is not Brandric. It’s Aric. Brandric is what my father calls me.”
“Aric, then.” The dragon inclined its head again, lowering its voice. “Your sister is to marry the prince of a neighboring kingdom. This must not be allowed to happen. It will not unite your kingdoms, but is merely a ploy to gain your father’s trust.”
“I already know that.” Aric had heard two of King Malachite’s men talking. Once the marriage had taken place, King Malachite planned to invade Astria and claim it in the name of Logan, his own kingdom. “He… they talked about using magic.” Aric had told his father about what he’d overheard, but he hadn’t been believed. King Malachite, King Brandr assured his son, would not attempt to betray Astria by using the evil that was magic. Nor would he use their children’s marriage to gain control over Astria. He was an honorable man who had stood by Astria and its people many times, their armies united against a common foe. Together they had triumphed over those who might use magic against them, and worked to rid both their lands of the threat of dragons.
Aric had never trusted King Malachite. There was something about the man that made his skin crawl, but if asked to explain, he couldn’t. Only two people had ever believed him: Georgia and Aunt Hannah.
“The only way to fight magic is with magic.” The dragon looked around, then cocked its head to the side as though listening to something Aric could not hear. “You must seek the Sword of Sherwin, Aric. The quest will not only save your kingdom, but also your sister.”
“I….” Aric stared at the dragon. He’d heard of the sword, of course he had. It was an old tale told to him by both his aunt and his mother. The sword was a thing of power. “It doesn’t exist. It’s just a story. Or if it did, it was lost generations ago.” He shook his head. Surely the dragon couldn’t be serious?
“Then it is time it was found again, isn’t it?”
“You make it sound simple. It’s not.” Aric looked up at the dragon. Its eyes were the same color as its scales. They seemed to bore into his own, searching his heart, and his soul. There was something ageless about it, powerful yet lonely. He shivered, and averted his gaze.
“You see what others don’t, young Aric.” The dragon opened its wings. Aric gasped. They were the length of several men, black cobwebs of fine leather and scale. “Follow your heart, and trust your instincts.”
“But I don’t know where to look.” Aric wanted to believe the dragon, he truly did. Georgia couldn’t be allowed to marry Prince Thorold, and Aric could not stand by and let his kingdom fall. Killing dragons had only been part of the oath he’d taken. He might not intend to keep that part of it, but he certainly would keep the other.
The dragon had already begun to flap its wings. It was preparing to leave, and Aric knew once it took flight he’d never be able to stop it. “Follow your heart, Aric. Do what is right.”
Aric stumbled back, his sword falling to the ground. He couldn’t kill the dragon, but more than that, he didn’t want to. “I don’t know where to look,” he yelled after it. The dragon did not reply but instead took to the air, gliding, hovering above him, its movement graceful, majestic. Something about it called to him, touched him.
Hello blog-hoppers! This post is my contribution to the Blog Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia, or HAHaT 2013. I hope tons of you visit, and we can discuss some serious matters, while having some fun, too. Read all the way to the end to find out about the small but noticeably free-of-charge thing I’d love to give you…
“But,” you or someone you know says, “it’s all coming up roses, isn’t it? Laws are being passed, people are getting married. It’s a brighter day!”
Yes! It is a brighter day, indeed!
But before we assume that laws leaning more toward fairness and equality mean the demise of fear and hate, let’s think about history. Some questions to ponder:
Did legalizing the right of women to vote and work give them equal standing in the community? (If you think so, you and I should talk.)
Did abolishing legal slavery create attitudes of fairness and equality toward African Americans?
Did laws prohibiting brutality lead to the end of child abuse?
In the USA, we’ve had eleven states (I think) pass laws saying GLBTQ people can marry. In some of those states, the spouses can also adopt children, should they wish. These changes have led to many lovely, loving moments and years, and beautiful images, for us all to cherish, that have made it into our lives.
Like this one:
And this one:
But eleven states is only twenty-two percent of all the possibilities. To me, the progress of human rights in terms of marriage equality has seemed like a snowball rolling downhill. But there is no guarantee that the ball will keep rolling! If anything, I think this is the point in the battle when so much can go wrong, simply by virtue of a broader, shifting field–and this is even more true because the fight for fair laws is an international one.
And the fight for legal equality is also, moreso, a fight for the hearts of all good people.
Forgive me, for I am about to commit the fiction writer’s sin of thinking all points can be illustrated by a scene in their novel. No, really. This is a very brief excerpt from Saving Sonny James, the finale to the Vasquez and James series, which has been submitted to the publisher a few days ago, but not yet accepted. Here, Luki and Sonny have recently been through hell (which anyone who’s read the series has come to expect 🙂 ). In this case, hell is in Paris, France, where equal marriage has recently been codified as law, in the real world.
The black car rolled up to the embassy, an elegant building with an expanse of lawn, a pair of huge flags—US and France, and a red-trimmed, white fabric canopy over the entry walk. Jean Baptiste let them out at the street curb, and they walked along a paved semicircle drive, hand-in-hand, though they weren’t conscious of it until they got some looks from the Gendarmerie in their peaked hats. Sonny might have tried to extract his hand, but Luki held on tight and gave one or two of the gendarmes his iciest look.
When they reached the canopy, he quietly said to Sonny, “Tell me those bigots don’t have the power to make you ashamed of me… or of who you are.”
“Of course not, Luki!” Sonny was emphatic, but he chuckled and added, “But they do seem to have the power to make me nervous.”
Luki glanced sideways at him and back at the police—whose attention had gone elsewhere, now—“Fuck ‘em, baby. We’re legal in this country, you know. Just like at home.”
“Yeah but honey, when Washington State decided we could marry, that was a vote of the people, and the people that didn’t like it didn’t join up in mobs and start beating people up and killing folks wholesale in the street. Here…”
Luki heaved a tired sigh. “I know, but it’s—”
“Safer to be right up front with it. I agree. Thanks for holding my hand, husband.”
I invite your comments and discussion! I’d love to hear about fictional characters (movies, books, TV, ballads, whatever) that have put the haters in their place. Can be humor or badass-ness, or whatever. Tell me about your fave, and you’re in the drawing for a $15 certificate for Dreamspinner Press, anything at all from their catalog. The contest runs all ten days of the blog hop, and you can enter more than once as long as you have new material in your comment. ‘Kay? Please play! (By the way, I’ve had to put comments on moderate for awhile because of ugly spammers. Please don’t worry if your comment doesn’t show up right away.)
Welcome Elizabeth Noble! Readers note that as usual on sylvre.com, the cover image is the buy link. Enjoy! Elizabeth: Hello, and thank you to Lou Sylvre for giving me a spot on her blog. Actually this time the spot will go one of my favorite tough guys, Todd Ruger to answer a few questions. Todd: Only one of your favorites? Elizabeth: Shhh, we don’t want the others getting jealous. Lou doesn’t have all day, she has her own tough guys to cater to so, let’s dive right in. Lou: Luki Vasquez you get back here right now! Todd is not going to bother Sonny at all. He loves Nick! Elizabeth: Recently, within the covers of Collared Souls, you had to do something very difficult for you. Tell us about it. Todd: You’ll have to be more specific, I was sort of kept busy start to finish with difficult things. You never gave me a moment’s rest. Elizabeth: You and Nick had to return to the village Nick grew up in, Eldrid. How’d that go for you? Todd: You wrote the book, don’t you remember? Elizabeth: *clears throat* Why don’t you share, for all the nice readers? Todd: Okay, no need to get testy. Taking Nick back there, the way we had to go about it, was a fat pain in the ass. Chancellor Clarke likes to pretend he’s our friend, but he really just uses us. I would have rather gone back for our own reasons, but that’s not how things worked out.
To be honest, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Nicky was scared going back there, even though he did a great job of covering up how he felt. It was like a constant itch, the vibes I got from him the whole time we were there. Elizabeth: But you both got things done? Todd: Of course we did! I was a bit sad because I didn’t have a chance to blow the place up. Elizabeth: You did speak to a very important person from Nick’s past, however. Todd: Yeah, that was a highlight. See, Nick had a tutor the entire time he was growing up, a guy called Linn. He was a real prick and thought a good way to get a kid to behave was to hit them. I’ve spent a few years fantasizing about snapping the little twerp in half. I held back and only hit him a few times. Elizabeth: There was another thing you did for Nick while you were there, can you tell us about it? Todd: My biggest problem was making these people see Nick as my mate and a sentry. Not a little slave kid. He had strict instructions not to kneel to any of them. I had to make him stay on his horse to be sure and threaten to restrict his coffee drinking. Luki: Oh my god! Lou: Luki, relax. One more outburst and you’re out of here! Elizabeth: The ultimate punishment for Nick! Todd: You got that right. Elizabeth: Thank you for sharing with us today. Todd: Don’t you want to talk about the hidden archive, or the bombs and shooting, or… ? Elizabeth: We don’t want to spoil things. Todd: Not even my Dad? Elizabeth: No. And don’t sulk. Nick: Todd says I pout when I don’t get my own way. And I loved what he did to Tutor Linn. Talk about revenge. Todd: Where’d you come from? Did you hear all that? Nick: *nodding* Where do you think I came from? Don’t tell me I have to explain that to you. Elizabeth: Nick, since you’re here, tell us, how did you feel going back to Eldrid. Nick: There’s a saying ‘you can’t go home again’, but that’s not really true. You can go home, but you can’t go back to the way things were when you were a child. I could never have stepped foot in that village without Todd. He really made me see I could go back a different person, not a slave, but a sentry. Todd’s my hero. Todd: *Groan* Maybe we should give these nice readers an excerpt. Nick: And don’t forget the blurb. Luki and Lou: Bye, you two. Thanks for stopping by!
Freedom is within reach for Todd and Nick Ruger, but their dreams of Elk’s Ridge are dashed by Vice-Chancellor Raleigh’s troops. With his mate imprisoned, Nick searches for help and finds an unlikely and unexpected ally, but Todd’s release leaves them once again in debt to Chancellor Clarke.
Their mission sends them to the small village of Eldrid in search of a historic record of owners and slaves with unique abilities. Eldrid holds even more secrets from the past—including the origins of sentries—as well as conspiracies of the present that are set to launch a new battle that will turn lover helplessly against lover. Though Todd and Nick know the realities of war are hard lessons, it will be a fight to draw on the strengths of their bond, survive, and learn to forgive.
A large creek ran adjacent to the main road into the village, then around one side to the farm. Todd seemed to know there was an irrigation system from that creek to the farm, but he couldn’t remember if he’d seen it as a child or if Nick had told him. A wooden track had been built a few feet above the ground and wound through the farm and converged at the opposite end of the village to the creek. In several places it branched off and looped around parts of the village, following the gently rising and falling course of the land.
Small carts could be hand cranked or pulled along the tracks, moving harvested crops to various parts of Eldrid. Close to the main part of the creek was a mill, powered by a paddle wheel. Just beyond was a wooden watchtower, though Todd had never seen anyone inside when he’d passed through as a child and younger adult. He supposed it was probably more for weather keeping and observation, though at some point in the past it might have been used for security.
The entire village looked like it had been carved out of a mesa. The reddish-brown stone and adobe buildings were a stark contrast to the dull gray of the wood tracks and buildings that intermingled with those of rock and stone. Wooden steps had been built to wind around the taller rock-tower structures, with platforms leading to second story entrances of the wooden buildings.
Like the farm surrounding it, the village was horseshoe shaped, with a large, open space nestled in the middle of the three-quarter circle. It was that space the road led to, directing anyone coming into the village to the flat stone building housing the offices of the elders. Todd’s gaze was immediately drawn to the metal cages in the village center. At no time when he’d come here before taking Nick away with him had he ever seen anyone or anything in them, but Nick had told him sometimes children were put in them.
“Outsiders are always told those cages are for livestock. To keep them in temporarily when they are first shipped in, or just before they are shipped out,” Nick said softly. He was rubbing a small scar on the palm of his left hand. Todd realized that, wherever he looked, Nick’s gaze followed right along with him.
Todd picked up the reins of his horse and gently squeezed his calves against Arenite’s sides. At the same time, he clucked softly. As the horse set into motion again, Todd glanced over at Nick. “Let’s get this over with.”
Nick nodded and nudged Obi forward, staying back so Obi’s shoulder was even with Todd’s leg. Todd considered holding back until Nick was even with him, but the look on Nick’s face when he turned to his mate stopped Todd. Nick was tense and stressed just coming here. Pissing off the elders and tutors by having Nick ride abreast of Todd wasn’t going to help them and would simply increase Nick’s anxiety even more. Todd reached back, dug around in one of his saddlebags, and extracted Nick’s tether. He held it out to Nick. “Stick that in your pocket in case you need it fast.”
That forced Nick to urge Obi’s stride to lengthen so he could take the tether from Todd’s hand. When Todd glanced back as the tether transferred from Todd to Nick, Nick ducked his head and smiled shyly. Todd winked and returned Nick’s smile with one of his own.
Even though the village was a mixture of stone and wooden structures, where the slave children were housed and where their overseers lived was obvious. The stone structures had small gardens near their entrances, and some of the windows had flower boxes drilled into the stone. The weather in this part of the protectorate was warmer than in the north and more humid. Stone houses were cooler and more comfortable. Solar panels installed into the sides of each one and the windmills scattered around the village told Todd they were powered.
The slave dorms were the two-story wooden structures, all grouped to the eastern end of Eldrid, closer to the farm entrances and the grain mill. They had none of the amenities, such as window boxes or a place for gardens, the other structures had. Between that and the main part of the village was a small group of wooden buildings constructed into the rock.
“Those are the school buildings,” Nick said. Todd heard Obi trot a few steps, bringing Nick more even with him. “Up there”—Nick pointed to one of the second-story windows—“is where my room was. Behind that building is livestock barns. I used to work there and on the farm sometimes.” He tapped Todd’s shoulder and indicated another fenced-off area set between the farm and village, but more to the center. “See that?”
“Training and workout grounds. That’s where we’d have exercises, and those of us who did actual weapons training and hand-to-hand type stuff practiced there.” He pointed to a series of small buildings near the western edge of Eldrid. A few were freestanding, the others built into the side of one of the buttes, with wooden balconies and stairs leading from the ground to the entrances. “Those are the guest accommodations.”
“You don’t kneel.”
“Todd.” Nick’s eyebrows pulled together, and the muscle along his jaw knotted.
“I mean it, Nick. Not to these bastards. No coffee for a year.”
Todd’s gaze slipped to the side for a quick look at Nick. He winked, hoping to reassure his mate.
Luki Vasquez and Sonny Bly James finally have their Hawaiian wedding, and it’s perfect, almost. But their three-phase honeymoon is riddled with strife. Luki’s status as a working badass spells discord for the newlyweds. A former informant from Luki’s days with ATFE brings a troubling message (or is it a warning?) from a Mob hit man. When Luki’s sixteen-year-old nephew, Jackie, is lured into capture and torture by a sadistic killer, the honeymoon is well and truly over.
The couple put aside their differences and focus on the grueling hunt, which takes them from leather bars to dusty desert back roads, and calls on Sonny’s deep compassion as well as Luki’s sharpest skills. Their world threatens to fall apart if they fail, but their love may grow stronger than ever if they succeed in finding Jackie—before it’s too late.
I’m thrilled that this is coming out soon from Dreamspinner Press. I don’t have a release date yet, but I’ll post it as soon as I do!
After an unintentioanal hiatus, sylvre.com is back this week, hosting Grace R Duncan. What better way to break our silence? Take a moment to feast eyes on the wonderful cover by Paul Richmond (who just keeps getting better in this bloggers opinion), check out her bio and links, and then scroll down for Grace’s engaging post. And yeah, there’s swag! (As is usual on sylvre.com, click the cover for the buy link.)
Born and raised a gypsy in the late eleventh century, Teman values freedom over everything. He and his best friend, Jasim, are thieves for hire—until one night they’re caught and their precious freedom is revoked. Given the choice between the dungeons or palace pleasure slavery, they become slaves, but Teman vows to escape someday.
Bathasar doesn’t want the throne. He supports his brother instead, which suits their sadistic father, Mukesh. When Teman, the handsome slave Bathasar has secretly been watching, saves his life, Bathasar requests a slave for the first time. Before long, Bathasar and Teman fall in love. But all is not well. One day Mukesh brutalizes Teman before the court, angering the empress of a neighboring nation. To appease her, he then offers her Jasim as a gift, and Teman decides to stay with Bathasar for now—despite the abuse he may suffer.
The peace doesn’t last. Mukesh plans to invade Jasim’s new country, and Bathasar must find a way to stop the destruction. But if he succeeds, he’ll ascend to the throne and have the power to grant Teman his liberty. Then Teman will surely leave him. What other choice could a gypsy make?
Grace R. Duncan grew up with a wild imagination. She told stories from an early age—many of which got her into trouble. Eventually, she learned to channel that imagination into less troublesome areas, including fanfiction, which is what has led her to writing male/male erotica.
A gypsy in her own right, Grace has lived all over the United States. She has currently set up camp in East Texas with her husband and children—both the human and furry kind. She also teaches information technology classes at a local college.
As one of those rare creatures who loves research, Grace can get lost for hours on the internet, reading up on any number of strange and different topics. She can also be found writing fanfiction, reading fantasy, crime, suspense, romance, and other erotica, or even dabbling in art.
Today, I want to talk about another portion of worldbuilding: history and politics. Like any other aspect of creating a world, it requires research because if I wanted to build a reasonably believable political system, I had to have something real to base it on. Politics in Choices matters because it affects the possible outcome of quite a bit
So I had to consider my political system carefully. I knew it was a monarchy, that part was easy, but not all monarchies are made the same and that was where I had to decide how it would work. Yet again, I ventured out to research.
Now, I am a history buff. I love history. I can read some of the driest stuff and still enjoy it more than almost anyone else (except maybe my history prof in college. That guy was quite insane. Wonderful, but insane.). But political systems and the various forms of monarchy soon had my eyes crossing. I decided that since the political system played a part but I didn’t have to be intricate about it, I’d go with a simplified version of the English system with Arabic names.
Part of my research led me to a delightful publication from the Society for Creative Anachronisms. Someone had done a good deal of research on using Arabic forms of address and naming within the SCA and I found it very helpful. It really made it easy for me to choose my titles and such for Neyem’s political system.
It also helped that I already knew I didn’t want to use sheik or sultan. Those titles have been overdone to the extreme in media, especially in romance. I wanted something different. I was very happy to see malik on the list and as soon as I spotted it, I knew I had my titles.
With that, the rest fell into place quickly. There was no malika (or malik’s wife), but I had two amirs – Bathasar, the crown amir and his brother, Seth. I didn’t want things too complicated. The English have an almost ridiculous number of nobility and the titles to go with it. Thanks to A.F. Henley and his research for Honour, I was well acquainted with just how complicated it could be. If I didn’t want to get lost in trying to keep it straight (and if I couldn’t, I knew my readers couldn’t), then I had to simplify.
Following the recommendations from the SCA publications, I chose a few other titles. They never made it into Choices, but will definitely make appearances in Deception. The one title I did use in Choices other than malik and amir was sayyid, meaning Lord. But as I wrote Deception, I had to include more ranks because more of the nobility would be making appearances, so it was time to choose.
Mushir, or duke was to me, a given. I’ve always liked the title of duke and the address of “Your Grace” (name puns not intended) really appealed to me. So that was easy. Next on the list was qadi – loosely count. Every time I hear the word “count”, I have unfortunate images of muppets crossed with Bela Lugosi pop into my head. But the next in line – viscount (naqib) wasn’t much better, so for simplicity, I stuck with qadi and moved on.
Next was one I’d wanted to avoid. Sheik. But I found a different spelling —shayk—that, at least, looked a bit better and I snatched at that one. I know it is, in the end, the same thing, but it worked better in my head. That was the English baron and, as far as the English are concerned, the last of the “Peerage”. From there, it includes Knight, which I liked (or faris) and the aforementioned sayyid.
It’s amazing how much can go into putting together what amounts to little more than a few dozen lines of text. I’d done hours of research and when I sat down to write this and saw how little of it made it in, I had to laugh at myself. Hopefully, it’ll work in Deception, though and it won’t be too wasted.
Neyem is, of course, not the only country in my world. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, the other two prominent nations are Saol and Tiantang. Saol was easy. Everything else had been based off of Medieval England and its political system was no different. Thankfully, I didn’t have to get specific as it hasn’t (as yet) been mentioned, so I could simply pick it and move on.
Tiantang, on the other hand, was more complicated. Because their empress was a main figure in the story, I had to give more thought to how that all worked. So, once more, to the Internet.
It turned out to be easier than I thought. Some basic research into Chinese history yielded information that showed that China’s dynastic period wasn’t too far off of a basic monarchy with a single ruler and nobility. It does, of course, change over time, but as I could choose for myself which I wanted to go with, keeping my eye ever on that simplicity, then a basic model with an emperor (or empress), some noble titles and not much else would work well.
It was even better that I didn’t need to consider the nobility themselves – yet. I have promised a short story to a very dear friend of mine featuring Jasim and his empress, Jielan. I have a feeling the Tiantang nobility will be much more prominent in that story. Even so, I can’t leave something like that unresearched and funny enough, when I looked… lo and behold the titles were not-so-amazingly similar to… you guessed it, British Peerage.
Duke (gōng), marquis (hó), count (bó), viscount (zǐ), and baron (nán) were all there. The Chinese didn’t, as far as I researched, include knights or lords so that made things quite neat. This, of course, changed often with the different dynasties, some using no titles and others getting even more complicated, but for my purposes, this worked and made me very happy.
I would never have thought I’d be working out a full political system for a book. When I sat down to write Choices, I had no idea just how much I’d put into it. I’m glad I had the chance to, though, because it was a great learning experience.
Now, if you haven’t fallen asleep, I’d love to hear from you. Do you like to read about these things in fiction? Or would you prefer to leave the intricacies of peerage and titles out of it? Any comments get you entered for a chance to win some great swag!
Free holiday novella with purchase of Vasquez and James Stories bundle!
Coming December 15 from Mischief Corner Books!
Sunset at Pencarrow
Donations to date: $500 to Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center!Thank you, readers! I hope Yes touched your hearts. I know our donation will touch peoples lives--in a small way perhaps, but every little bit helps.
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