Centenary Rhodes is an old soul with a well-traveled name, but she doesn’t know this yet.
Growing up in southern Appalachia wasn’t easy, so Cent left home as soon as she could, but the post-collegiate happiness she’d expected has never occurred. She can’t find a decent date, much less find that special someone and, after losing her job in a corporate downsize, she’s struggling to meet her most basic needs. Her car has been repossessed, her bills are piling up, and her questionable North Chicago neighborhood is dangerous to navigate.
Returning home to Hare Creek, Tennessee, never crosses Cent’s mind until her Great Aunt Tess contacts her with an offer she can’t refuse. The family’s southern Appalachian homestead must be sold, and Aunt Tess needs someone to clean it up. Cent will have access to Aunt Tess’ garden and truck and can live on the homestead rent-free for as long as it takes. A part-time job is waiting for her as well.
It’s a chance to solve some of Cent’s financial woes, but will her return be enough when evil sets its sights on Embreeville Mountain and the homestead?
Cleaning House is a carefully woven Appalachian tapestry of granny magic, haints, elementals, and the fantastic diversity of the human condition – served with a delicious side of fries and a generous quart of peach moonshine.
“Of all the— here!” Cent dropped her pack of Lucky Strikes onto the floor and kicked them under the outhouse door to Pyre. They’re almost gone anyway.It was the middle of the night, and she’d gone to the outhouse to sneak a smoke. One, that was all, and the rush felt so good. It was the best she’d felt in days, and—
“Drop that lit cigarette down the hole. Stowne’s on their way.”
“Dangit.” Cent took a long drag, exhaling as she rose. She couldn’t hide that she’d been smoking again, and—
“Centenary, please come out.” Stowne knocked on the outhouse door.
“We must discuss this.”
“I was just going,” Pyre’s light drifted away.
Coward. Cent tied her robe and stepped out the door. Fall had rolled in early and wet, setting her up for a rough bout of bronchitis that wouldn’t go away. “Fancy meeting you here at two in the morning.” She cleared her throat to stifle its perpetual tickle.
“Centenary.” Stowne folded their arms across their chest. “You should not be out here this time of night, especially in these cooler temperatures.” Stowne held out the quilt from their bed. “You should be inside where it is warm and dry.”
“I had to pee. It’s something Humans need to do regular.”
“There is a night bucket beneath our bed for you to use when the weather is bad.” Stowne caught her before she moved away, wrapping her in the blanket. “You gave Pyre the cigarettes, but where are the matches?”
“You already took my lighter.”
“And I am removing every pack of matches from the homestead.”
“But what if we need to light a new fire?”
“Centenary!” Stowne pointed to where Pyre hovered on the porch. “That is not a legitimate argument.” They lifted her into their arms.
“Put me down.”
“Please see reason.” They turned toward the house.
“Put. Me. Down!” Cent all but fell from Stowne’s arms before they turned her straight. “You and me, we gotta talk about this.”
“About what?” Stowne towered over her. “Your refusal to care for yourself?”
“About the elephant in the dang room!”
“El-e-phant?” Water ran off Stowne’s head as they stared at her. “Those large gray mammals you told me about? There is one in the house? Brownie or Birdie surely would have sounded the alarm if—”
“No, honey. I…” Cent shivered as the rain began falling harder. “Let’s go inside and talk.”
“That is what I wanted when we began this elephant-filled argument.” Stowne walked beside her up the hill, helping her at the slick spots until she was inside the door. “There. Safe and warm.” Stowne unwrapped her blanket and pulled off her rain boots. “Sit. I will stoke the fire and heat water for your tea.”
“Chamomile, please.” Nothing else agreed with her stomach anymore. “And do it over the fire so I can watch. Pretty please?”
“Such simple things bring you pleasure.” Stowne set her favorite earthenware mug on the table beside her chair and another blanket across her lap.
“Tell me a story from our pastlives together.” She watched as Stowne talked and worked, admiring the ever-changing lines of their body. Larger or smaller depending on what was needed, delicate as they poured water over the tea strainer but strong in the way they held the steaming cast-iron kettle without using a potholder.
“Cream and sugar?” Stowne peered up at her.
“Sugar, yes. But cream?” Cent blanched. “But I used to like it, didn’t I?”
“Until this life, yes. And you like it in your coffee now, along with lots of sugar.” Stowne slipped into the kitchen to get the sugar bowl and a spoon from the table, dropping three heaping teaspoons into Cent’s mug and stirring. “There. Now we discuss this elephant.”
“Sit down first, honey. You’re pacing.”
“I cannot help it. I worry.” Stowne turned their rocker to face her. “Tell me why you do not care for yourself like you should.”
“It’s hit the point of why bother.” Cent pointed to the medication bottles beside her. “I take something to sleep. Something for pain. Something for my stomach. Something for— Smoking calms me, all right? It helps with the— I’m afraid.”
“What are you afraid of?” Stowne seemed genuinely puzzled.
“This ain’t about dyingif that’s what you’re thinking.” She pulled the blanket higher on her chest and reached for her tea, cursing softly when her hands shook too hard to lift it without spilling it. “I’m afraid of hurting more, of leaving you with horrid memories before I go. Lung cancer is an ugly death.”
“What about the radiation your doctor spoke about?”
“It’ll only delay the inevitable and make me nasty-sick until then.” Cent smiled when Stowne lifted the mug to her mouth. “Thank you.”
“That is why I am here. Never forget that.” Stowne knelt before her. “I will be here the entire time.”
“You’ve never seen me like this.”
“I have watched you die from battle wounds, from Small Pox, and countless other ways. None were attractive, but I have been there every time to walk you across the veil. This will be no different.”
“But I don’t want to leave you alone.” She reached out to stroke Stowne’s face.
“I will wait for your return, same as always.”
“But this land…”
“Yes, there is that.” Stowne kissed her palm. “It must be handed down correctly.”
“I know.” Cent took Stowne’s face into her hands, pulling them up to kiss them firmly on the mouth. “All right. I’ll think on it.”
“Thank you. Does this mean the elephant is gone?”
“Not gone, but it certainly shrank. Take me to bed, baby.”
Writing Fantasy is a hard turn when you consider that I’ve been a LGBTQIA+ Science Fiction author for over a decade. Sure, Fantasy has its place in my reading life… J. R. R. Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey and Stephen R. Donaldson are among the authors I grew up reading, but I’d never attempted to write inside the Fantasy genre until last year because my mind didn’t run that direction.
It does now.
What prompted the change? Experience, returning home, road signs, and being queer, though not necessarily in that order.
Experience – I’ve experienced paranormal events and seen things I probably shouldn’t have, among them an elemental like being crossing the road as I was driving home after teaching a night class. I’ve also heard fae speak to me, telling me not to pick flowers from the garden of a property we rented (the entire property was magical, and all our images of the house show what’s called spirit smoke no matter the time or day or level of sun). And I experienced an active haunting when we lived in West Virginia. He wasn’t an evil haint. In fact, he was mischievous in a flipping on the overhead light at three AM sort of way, until we accidentally ticked him off. Even then he wasn’t bad, but he was certainly insistent. Perhaps my nature-based spiritual path has led to these experiences. Maybe it helped me see when others couldn’t. Whatever the reason, they happened, and those around me shared the experiences. The sight (intuition, ESP… call it what you will) runs in my family, and I know I have a bit, as does my mother. We know people, generally family, have died before we otherwise hear about it. We’ve dreamed of things that have happened soon after. I can tell if a house is haunted by looking at interior pictures. I’ve been inside a home and known for certain that it didn’t like my presence, an experience so unsettling that I immediately left. It wasn’t someone there (a ghost) or other sort of spirit. It was the house.
A good smudging was in order that day.
Returning Home – I’m from the Appalachian foothills of Northeast Tennessee, and there’s some ancient magic here. You’ll find fossilized shells on the mountain tops, bibliomancy and cartomancy are still being practiced (as is snake-handling, but I’ll not go there), and granny magic is on the resurgence (though in a modern context). These mountains hold 400 million-year-old secrets. I’ve lived other places – Connecticut, The Texas Panhandle, Charlotte, and Chicago among them, but none of those felt like the Appalachians. This is home. I’m bound here by my history and my blood, and now I’m hearing stories from the mountains in the form of delightful characters that I simply must share.
Road signs – Seriously, a road sign prompted the start of the Appalachian Elementals series. When I first taught in rural West Virginia, I drove back-and-forth to my home in Tennessee on a weekly basis. Each trip, I passed a sign for Centenary Road. I thought it’d be a great character name, and it is. Centenary Rhodes (Cent) is the protagonist of the Appalachian Elementals series and one of my favorite character creations.
Writers find inspiration in the strangest places.
On Being Queer – I am. I always have been, but Appalachia was a place where the term still meant odd or strange when I was young. Words like gay and lesbian were spoken in hushed voices and accompanied by the word “them.” I didn’t want to be a “them.” Who would? So I wondered through life, depressed, discouraged, and making a lot of mistakes until I reached my thirties, returned to college, and woke up to who I am. There’s comfort in knowing your identity and place in the world. I’m a queer Appalachian, a pansexual, a bit genderqueer (though not enough to prompt me to change my pronouns of she/her), an author, and a differently-abled woman married to another queer woman – a retired USMC Gunny who now calls Northeast Tennessee home.
And there’s nothing wrong with any of that.
Born and raised in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Science Fiction and Fantasy author Jeanne G’Fellers’ early memories include watching the original Star Trek series with her father and reading the books her librarian mother brought home. Jeanne’s writing influences include Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Isaac Asimov, and Frank Herbert.
Jeanne lives in Northeast Tennesee with her spouse, Anna, and their five crazy felines. Their home is tucked against a small woodland where they regularly see deer, turkeys, raccoons, and experience the magic of the natural world.
New Hopeland City may have been built to be the centerpiece of the technological age, but some remnants of the old world still linger. The tools of the trade have changed, but the corruption remains the same, even in the criminal underworld …
When PI Cassie Tam and her girlfriend Lori try to make up for their recent busy schedules with a night out at the theatre to watch the Tech Shift performer Kitsune, the last thing they expected was for Cassie to get a job offer. But some people are never off the clock, and by the end of the evening, Cassie has been drawn into a mundane but highly paid missing pet case. Unfortunately, in New Hopeland City, even something as simple as little lost dog can lead you down some dark paths.
Until now, Cassie wasn’t aware that there even was a rabbit hole, let alone how far down it goes.
“I’m sorry, but did you want to get changed before we speak? We’d be happy to leave the room while you get ready. It must be hard work performing in both the TS gear and a kimono thick enough to house projectors without them moving out of line with each other, even if they are the smaller, lightweight models.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Kitsune sighs. “There’s a wireless motion detection system in each hand too,” they add, waving two metallic, clawed paws. “You’ll note that my tails are missing. They don’t yet make multi-tailed suits, you see, and the number is important within the folklore, so we had to find other solutions. The projector tucked under the obi sash keeps the back open nicely, and it allows movement, both in animation and in the actual device, but it’s a bit stronger than the main ones.”
“Meaning that it’s heavier,” I reply.
“Indeed. The way the system works is identical to the tail guidance in regular suits though.”
I frown and Lori clarifies, “Regular Tech Shift gear uses two small wireless touchpads to control tails, one for the bottom half, and one for the top half. They’re embedded in the hand rest of Ink’s front legs. For hybrid-style gear, they usually sit inside the thumb of each hand. It’s the same concept in each one, but animal-style gear allows for bigger movements, while hybrid gear measures micro movements.”
“Which would be rather fiddly, given the level of movement that I require. These are built into the paw pads and are set to register larger movements so that the tails can move in time with the different dance routines and my more flamboyant gestures,” Kitsune explains, demonstrating one of the hand flourishes from the show. They pause then and chuckle. “Ah, but I’m rambling. I am afraid that changing is, contractually speaking, impossible. Will my appearance be a problem?”
“No, I’m used to Tech Shifters…”
Lori laughs and cuts in with, “You are so not used to us yet.”
I laugh quietly, despite myself. The miserable old loner that still lives in my head says I should be angry about that; I’m working after all. But the part of me that was enjoying the evening is far more prominent and reminds me that this was supposed to be Lori’s evening too. I can allow her a small jab or two on that basis. “My early experiences with Tech Shifters were not positive,” I say, addressing Kitsune. “I’m getting better, though. What do you mean by ‘contractually speaking,’ if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Not at all. It is essentially as it sounds. The Kitsune brand is a joint venture between myself and Kevin, and there is a lot of paperwork involved dealing with how the whole thing is to be played out in every mundane situation that you could imagine. What it means is that I can boss Kevin about and make him my dogsbody as much as is required, but at the same time, I must respect his rather brilliant marketing strategies. Part of that means that the mystery of the Kitsune’s true identity is to be protected at all times. As such, I do not meet with anyone without my professionalface on. It seems a little strange, I know, but he was previously a historian of certain old-world sporting brands by trade and thought that applying a degree of what he called kayfabewould help give the whole thing a new edge. I can’t say that he was wrong.”
“So, are you Kitsune when you’re around family too?” Lori asks. “Or partners?”
“Oh, I have no time for partners, not with mytouring schedule. With family, I can be myself, though Kevin did insist upon them signing a gagging order to prevent them from revealing my identity to anyone who hadn’t signed a similar contract. You should have seen my mother’s face when he brought that up. I honestly thought that the rolling pin she was holding was going to be put to nefarious use. Outside Kevin, even my oldest friends do not know who resides beneath the mask.”
“That must be hard to maintain,” I say.
“Oh yes, I have cover stories and everything. It’s somewhat akin to witness protection if television is to be believed. As far as most know, I am simply a touring stagehand for the great performing fox spirit.”
I nod. “Kitsune, as pleasant as this is, I assume there was a reason that you wanted to see me?”
“Oh yes, of course. I saw the news coverage of your recent success with that Gary Locke character,” they say, and Lori flinches slightly. “As far as local detectives go, there are plenty of them about, but you are certainly the most well regarded. I have actually been in town for a week now, and I am due to remain here for a further two. I am afraid that, over that initial period, I was subject to a crime of the nature I am led to believe the police do not take overly seriously.”
“The police wouldn’t be happy about not knowing your identity, regardless of the crime. If it’s one that they won’t usually touch, that doesn’t leave many possibilities. What are we talking about?”
“It is rather lonely on the road,” they sigh wistfully. “A few months ago, we stopped in Toledo, and I was awoken from a post-performance nap by a clattering outside the tour bus. I wandered out, expecting to find a fan or two hunting autographs, and instead found this charming little thing skulking around the bins. I named him Fish.”
Kitsune produces a phone from their kimono, loads up a photo, and passes it over. It shows a snow white American Shepherd dog sitting on one of the tour bus seats and giving the camera a suspicious look. It’s too big to be a puppy, but certainly not big enough to be fully grown.
“You named your dog Fish?”
“It seems strange, doesn’t it?” Kitsune laughs. “There’s a reason, though.” They take the phone back and enlarge the picture, revealing that the dog’s tail is about half the length it should be. It was easy to miss at normal size because the single colouring made it seem like it was tucked under its legs. “When I was young, my parents had some rosetail betta fish. One of them was pure white, and it had a habit of nibbling through its tail fin. When we took Fish to the vet, they said that the tail damage, judging by the angle of the marks, was likely self-inflicted. I couldn’t remember what my parents called the fish, so I just stuck with Fish.”
I nod. “And I assume that Fish is now missing?”
“I am afraid so. It happened yesterday, during the early hours. I was woken by a loud bang and found that Fish was gone, and the tour bus door was open.”
“Could Fish have run away?”
“It would have been difficult for him to open the door, but not impossible. I don’t think that he would have run, though. We were lifelines for each other, you see. He kept me company during the day, and when he had nightmares, I comforted him. If he was spooked, he would usually run and hide near my bed. I heard something else too, a van door being slammed shut maybe? And then an engine.”
“So you’re thinking that he was stolen.”
“Honestly? I don’t know. Do you think that you could take the case? How much would it cost?”
Matt Doyle lives in the South East of England and shares his home with a wide variety of people and animals, as well as a fine selection of teas. He has spent his life chasing dreams, a habit which has seen him gain success in a great number of fields. To date, this has included spending ten years as a professional wrestler, completing a range of cosplay projects, and publishing multiple works of fiction.
These days, Matt can be found working on far too many novels at once, blogging about anime, comics, and games, and plotting and planning what other things he’ll be doing to take up what little free time he has.
Today, Romance Across the Rainbow is happy to host the Blackwood Series Tour.Mary Rundle has a new MM paranormal mpreg book out in her Blackwood Pack series:
About the Series:
Join the journey of the Blackwood Pack, seven brothers who are gay wolf shifters in search of their fated mates – stories about love at first sight with twists and turns, angst and humor, romance and adventure. Each book has two main characters who meet, fall in love, mate and achieve an HEA but the stories also chronicle the continuing saga of the Blackwood Pack. The series is best appreciated by reading the books in order.
Mary is giving away a $15 Amazon gift certificate with this tour – for a chance to win, enter via Rafflecopter:
Steel, one of the last Dire Wolves on earth, has searched more than 100 years for the special mate promised by the Fates. Discouraged after meeting his latest prospect, he sees a naked hitchhiker on his way home who’s everything he’d envisioned the man of his dreams would be. His wolf and body tell him he’s found his fated mate but why can’t he pick up his scent?
Robbed of his car, clothes and money, Jackson, Alpha of the Blackwood Pack has no choice but to thumb a lift, frantic to get home to his six brothers. He’s been protecting them from a rival pack who massacred most of his family and wants to finish off the rest. When Steel rolls down his window, Jackson knows he also has found his fated mate but it would be too dangerous to claim him with his pack under attack.
After the intervention of an Oracle and a Witch, Jackson discovers why the Fates made him unique-just for Steel. Navigating the mine field this revelation brings, Jackson and Steel must figure out how to make their relationship work while dealing with forces determined to kill the Blackwood pack – and them.
Steel’s wolf was snarling and snapping as he drove away from Jimmy’s after leaving Jackson behind. He just couldn’t understand his wolf. What am I missing here? Jackson is not my mate.His mate had to be a wolf—he knew it because he’d been told not only by his mother who was an Oracle but by no less than three other Oracles. His mate would help save his species of wolves.
The importance of this was impressed upon him throughout his life. He stepped on the gas, eager to get home to do some research. He needed answers because he had a feeling of foreboding about what was going to happen to Jackson and that was driving his wolf crazy.
Finally arriving home, he stopped at the fifteen foot high gates, keyed in his passcode and then drove up the long driveway to his sprawling house, nestled among the trees on the knob of a small mountain. Although there were taller mountains to roam on his 200,000 acres of land, this spot spoke to his wolf spirit. He inhaled deeply as he got out of the truck, feeling his body reacting to the sights and smells around him.
Looking around, he wondered if Jackson would like this spot as much as he did. And that did it—his cock hardened in a second and his blood started to heat up. What the fuck? He drove the image of Jackson’s firm body from his mind and thumped his cock several times to get it to go down.
Hmmm, what to do first?Decision made, he stripped out of his clothes and stood still for a second before he called on his wolf and shifted. Birds scattered as the noise of bones cracking and stretching filled the air. When the sound faded away, Steel stood in his wolf form, shaking out his fur and scenting the air. Deer to the east, a small black bear and her cub ambling along the trail to the south and, yes there it was, a path that was free of any animal—Steel knew it wouldn’t be a good day to engage in a sparring match. His wolf was too unsettled for that.
He struck out at a full run for the trail leading north to one of the tallest mountains on his land. His large paws made no sound on the thickly carpeted forest floor. Steel had gotten so many mixed signals from his wolf today he needed this time to figure out what was happening. He knew his wolf needed it also. While he was running, Steel examined his wolf’s feelings regarding Jackson because it was much easier to understand his wolf when they were one, especially now, since he hadn’t understood his wolf’s reaction to a man who had no scent. Taking in the smells and sounds of his forest, his mind searched and filtered through his wolf’s feelings.
Dr. Ian Wallace, a rare Scottish Wolf, has dedicated his life to saving and healing wolf shifters by joining Frontline Doctors. Determined never to take a mate, he avoids relationships and is content to live a nomadic life, taking assignments to wild and remote places. That is, until an old friend asks him for a favor which Ian’s wolf will not let him refuse. Now on his way to the Blackwood Pack compound, his wolf becomes frantic and Ian learns not only that he has a Fated Mate, but that his Fated Mate is in danger.
Colton was forced to give up his dreams of becoming a nurse and joining Frontline Doctors when tragedy befell his family. Instead, he healed sick animals around his home while hiding from a pack who wanted him dead. Given the chance to use his skills, Colton seizes it and embarks on a journey that will reveal just how special he is.
A kidnapping, slave auction, revelations of long-kept family secrets and a rare, powerful gift from the gods are some of the surprises in store for both of them until they finally find their way into each other’s hearts after discovering neither is who the other thought he was.
His wolf surged forth, claws grew, teeth dropped, fur sprouted and he vibrated in Colton’s arms trying to fight the shift. But did he want to? Ian wasn’t sure. He and his wolf needed to avenge the wrong done to their mate. If Colton wasn’t going to kill Pablo, Ian’s wolf would. Then, mind made up, he pushed out of the arms holding him and landed with all fours on the floor. Snarling and growling, Ian’s wolf wanted his prey—to kill him and remove any threat to his mate. He lifted his head, opened his mouth and issued his challenge. Howling loud and long his wolf wasn’t going to quit until his mate was safe.
Stunned, Colton looked at the small yet fierce wolf in front of him—a rare golden-tipped, white wolf with deep golden eyes—the stuff of legends. Holy Shit! Before he could do anything, the room was filled with six, very large bodies, ready to handle the threat of Ian’s howls. In a blink of an eye, Ian’s wolf turned, facing the perceived threat against Colton. Hackles raised, saliva dripping, he looked as if he’d take on everyone now crowding the space.
Colton knew this had the makings of a disaster; he needed to calm his mate so he could shift back. Slowly he slid off the loveseat and knelt next to his mate. “Ian, please babe, stop. I’m safe. These are my brothers and Steel. You know them, please babe.” Colton put his arms around the neck and buried his hands in the soft fur. Rubbing his face against his mate, Colton inhaled deeply, marveling again at the scent. He felt Ian’s wolf slowly relax as he reassessed the situation. That was, until Colton heard Jackson.
Jackson waddled into the room, bellowing, “What the fuck is going on?”
And just like that, Ian’s wolf turned to face the new threat, growling, tensing, ready to spring. Colton saw Steel move in front of Jackson, the rest of his brothers moved and stood in front of Steel, forming a wall of muscled bodies, intent on protecting Jackson and his unborn pup.
Colton panicked. He jumped up and moved in front of Ian’s wolf. Nobody was going to touch his mate. Now Colton was the one fighting a shift as he listened to his mate issue howls and growls, warning everyone he was ready to fight. Colton knew everything was going to hell in a handbasket but he didn’t know what to do. He needed help to defuse this right now—but who?
Suddenly, he heard an Alpha voice so powerful and overwhelming that Colton immediately tilted his neck in submission as did all in the room. Maximus, in Dire Wolf Alpha mode, strode into the room, immediately sussed out the situation, and commanded, “Stand Down! Now!!” he roared those words, enveloping the room in his Alpha power.
Enforcer Dylon Royd worked for the notorious Silver Point Pack until they accused him of disloyalty. Imprisoned and beaten to within an inch of his life, he’s dumped at the side of a road and left for dead. Waking up in the Blackwood Pack’s hospital, he’s shocked to discover his Fated Mate is one of the pack’s members he’d been ordered to kill.
Cody is a seer and has grappled with visions all his life, but after most of his family is massacred they have intensified so fiercely he begins to make plans to escape his pain and suffering. Thinking no one wants a freak for a Fated Mate, he tries to reject Dylon until he realizes his salvation depends on accepting him.
A life or death situation for Cody, a rare gift to both from the Fates, a dangerous mission, and an unexpected surprise are some of the challenges they face. Together they begin a journey to save Cody’s life while forging a partnership that requires absolute trust for both to survive.
Low hanging, heavy, cloud cover. A pitch-black night in the Tajikistan mountains. It were as if the gods were blessing his commitment to stop the bloodshed so many of his people had experienced over these long years. Ulfric tried to recall a time in his life that was free of the beatings and killings that Arald had inflicted on his pack. But he could not remember such a time. Now his wife was expecting their first pup, and as much as he was excited about it, he dreaded it just as much. So, when this chance arose, he had to try, for the sake of his family.
After telling his wife he was leaving, Ulfric slipped out the back door and paused. Lifting his nose, he sniffed but found no other wolf nearby. Sticking to the shadows, he quietly made his way out of town, hoping his luck held. Right now, Arald was meeting with the representative of Dire Enterprises in a pre-conference meeting. He hadn’t wanted to wait this long but it was impossible to even contact the other pack Alpha until today.
As he saw it, this was his final chance to stop the tyranny he and his pack lived under. But he couldn’t stand alone. He needed the other pack to join with him during the conference if there was ever a chance his pack would be free of Arald and his goons. Pausing often to check for anyone following him, he crept down to the mountain waterfall where they could talk where not even wolf hearing could distinguish spoken words.
Apologizing to Arald and Slate Valentin for his need to get home to help his wife, Ordovic left the building, nodding to the guards who stood outside the meeting room. He wasn’t sure why his presence was required since nothing would change for his pack. No, Arald controlled this land—something even a young shifter knew. And even though he tried to tell himself there wasn’t anything he could do about it, Ordovic hoped that this time might be different.
That was the reason he gave himself for heading to the agreed meeting place instead of home where his wife and children slept. But he wanted a better life for his children. A place they could grow up and not fear being attacked every time they left home. And as the leader of his pack, he owed it to his pack members to at least try to free them from the oppression they now lived under.
Fading back into the shadows at the top of the mountain path, he waited to see if anyone had followed him. His ability at camouflage was superb, though it was a well-guarded secret. After a few minutes he continued down the path. At least he didn’t have to worry about being attacked—killed, yes—but the guy from Dire Enterprises made the three leaders sign a contract agreeing to not attack another pack while the peace conference was in session.
Kieran was sold into slavery where he was forced to care for other prisoners held by a shifter trafficking ring. But that changed when a Blackwood brother freed him and the others. Now for the first time in his life, the world beckons and he can plan his future. That is, until he discovers why the Fates brought him to the Blackwood Pack.
Logan, one of the brothers, has become a virtual recluse, spending hours at his design table, unable to shake the horrible memories of his family’s massacre and an unhappy childhood under the fist of his father, a dictatorial and abusive Alpha.
When Kieran appears, Logan is smitten with this pink-loving twink who tries to use his sassy and irrepressible wit to win his heart. After Logan claims Kieran, he finds keeping him is not easy. When both realize Logan can’t give himself completely to his Fated Mate, Kieran takes off but tells no one where.
A frantic search, rejection, dark secrets revealed, ghosts exorcised- these are just some of the obstacles Kieran and Logan must overcome as they embark on a mission of discovery that will make their love for each other stronger. Only then, will these two unique wolves fulfill their destinies decreed by the Fates and gods and prove worthy of the powerful gifts bestowed on them.
Kieran saw Lizzie coming in from the kitchen and said to her, “Miss L, what fantastic taste you have. I’m so glad they have you supervising their clothing choices otherwise, who knows what they would learn from their daddies?” Then, turning back to Dylon and Cody, “No offense big guys, but you really should let Miss L do some shopping for you, too. I mean, I know you are mated—I mean Fated Mated—so there isn’t going to be anyone else for you but still, you should look good for each other. Hey Miss L, do you think Dylon could use a facial mask? Maybe something to soften his skin so Cody will want to kiss him more? You know, that’s the first thing to go when you have kids. No time to take care of yourself. But I bet with a little help from Miss L and me, we could have you looking like you did before you had kids. Do you take bubble baths? You know, they’re great for softening all parts of your body, well maybe not all parts, if you catch my drift. That’s another side benefit for new parents who aren’t getting all they want in the sex department. Maybe Miss L and I …”
“Stop!” yelled Dylon, startling Jessica who let out a wail while most everyone else was doubled over with laughter. “Now, look what you did!”
“Don’t you blame Kieran, Dylon. You yelled, causing your daughter to cry,” Lizzie scolded, taking Jessica from her son’s arms, “Shush there, sweetie, grandma has you.”
“But did you hear what he was saying to us? He said we had sex problems!” complained Dylon, handing Jessica’s bottle to Lizzie.
“Kieran was only trying to help, weren’t you honey?” Lizzie asked Kieran. “All new parents can do with a little help.”
“That’s right, Miss L. I have some ideas to spice up their sex life I can run past you, and if you agree, then I can find out where to buy the items online—you know since they are new parents and all.”
Growling, Dylon spat, “You are not going to discuss my sex life with my mother—do you understand? No way! No how! Never! Kieran, am I making myself clear?” Then turning to his mother, he said, “Mother, don’t, just don’t. This is embarrassing me and my mate.”
Holding up his hands, Kieran said, “Whoa, big guy! If you don’t want my help, then no problemo. I’m sure Jackson or Colton will appreciate my help in getting their sex life back on track. If you want to suffer, then who am I to interfere? But you really ought to think about Cody before you go issuing your orders. Right Miss L? It takes two to tango.”
Handing Jake to Dylon, Cody said, “Kieran, that’s enough. While I appreciate your offer to help us, there’s no need as we’re very happy with our ‘sex life’. You and I are going to have a talk later about boundaries, or the lack of them, in this case.”
Author’s Note: Oh my gosh! I am so excited to be here and thank you for hosting my blog tour. The Blackwood Pack series tells the story of seven brothers meeting their Fated Mates and so much more. Each book has HEA for the mated pair but it also brings the reader along as they find out what happens to the whole pack. The exclusive excerpt I have for you today is from Raphael’s Power, Book 2 and tells the love story of Colton and Ian. I hope you enjoy it!
Colton heard a soft knock and then smelled food. Oh my gods! Just what the doctor ordered. He snickered and carefully slipped out of bed. Pulling on jeans, he walked barefoot to the door so as not to wake Ian. Quietly opening it, he saw Dakota behind a serving cart covered an array of mouth-watering dishes. His stomach grumbled loudly as he smiled at his brother. Holding a finger to his lips, Colton whispered, “Shh, Ian’s still sleeping. Let’s take this into the sitting room.”
He wondered where Dakota had gotten the serving cart with the quiet rubber wheels as they stealthily rolled it into the next room. Colton turned to Dakota. “Thanks, bro. You have no idea how hungry I am.”
Dakota slapped his brother’s hand away from the bacon. “Hands off. This isn’t just for you, dumbass. It’s my mating gift to you and Ian. You wait until he wakes up.”
“Oh, my gods, did you make this for us Dakota?” Ian asked, standing in the doorway with a sheet wrapped around him.
Dakota smirked at Colton before turning to Ian. “Yes, it’s my mating gift to you and Colton. I hope you enjoy it and if there’s anything else you want, just let me know.”
“That is so sweet, isn’t it Colton? What a great present. Thank you. I know I’ll enjoy it,” Ian said as he wandered over to the cart. “Wow, everything smells so good.” He then reached over and gave Dakota a hug.
Colton’s wolf growled. He didn’t care if Dakota was his brother. All of Ian’s hugs belonged to him. Grabbing Dakota’s arm, Colton yanked his brother away from his mate and shoved him towards the door. “Thanks for your gift,” he growled, “But I’ll take it from here.”
“Stop it Colton,” cried Ian. “That’s no way to treat your brother who spent his time making us something special to eat.” He marched over to Dakota and said, “Regardless of the brutish behavior of my mate, I really appreciate your thoughtfulness. I’m starved and I know Colton hasn’t eaten either.” Then he looked at his mate and said “Well?”
Colton sighed. “I’m sorry brother. Please chalk my behavior up to my lack of food.”
Dakota chuckled and said, “Sure bro, lack of food…uh huh.” His chuckle morphed into loud endless laughter as he left their suite.
Ian stared for a few minutes at the door before turning to his mate. “I think it’s time you and I have a chat. That display of possessiveness doesn’t work for me. I’m a doctor and I touch many wolves each day while I’m treating them. I receive thanks and sometimes hugs from the patients and their family. If you plan on going all-Alpha on me every time it happens, you better rethink it. Practicing medicine is important to me not only because I help people but because it makes me happy. And from what I’ve heard, it’s the same for you.”
Colton’s jaw dropped at Ian’s tirade. Holy Crap! What the fuck has happened to me! Taking Ian’s hand, he tugged at it a little before his mate gave in and followed him to the love seat. After sitting down, he looked up at Ian and said, “Will you join me so we can talk? I’m really very sorry about my reaction. This is all so new to me and I think you’re right, we need to clear the air.”
Ian looked at his mate, searching his face to see the truth of the words and, finding them, he sat facing Colton. He regretted his outburst not because of what he said—as it was the truth—but for the way he said it. Medicine was his life and when he discovered his fated mate was also in medicine, he was overjoyed. Being a doctor or a nurse was a hard life—it meant long hours, roller coaster emotions at successes or failures and devotion to your patient even if it meant personal sacrifice. That’s why he never wanted a mate.
“Ian, I’m truly sorry. I know you’re right. The only explanation I can offer is that my wolf is so dammed possessive right now. I’m hoping he’ll settle down after awhile. I’m going to talk to Jackson or maybe Steel, about how they handled it and get some suggestions. I absolutely will never stand in your way of practicing medicine. Being a doctor is part of you and I love all of you.”
Colton’s declaration of love brought tears to Ian’s eyes. He was loved—something he never realized was missing from his life. Looking back, he clearly saw how lonely his world had been. His parents loved him, but his wolf was right all along, he was alone in the world. Finding Colton changed him—and his world—in ways he was still discovering.
Ian launched himself into Colton’s lap. “I love you so much. I never knew what I was missing until I found you. You complete me and make me so happy. You’re my world!” he said, nestling into his mate’s arms, kissing his chest, while grinding his ass into his mate’s groin. “I’m sorry I was angry before. This is all new to me, too, and I growled in Mexico when you were hugged as you said good-bye. I never thought I’d have a mate and now I do and I’m all mixed up trying to sort out my feelings.”
I never went to school to learn writing nor attended a writing workshop, but it didn’t stop me from entering a writing contest and from that came my first book, Dire Warning. Readers loved it and I was on my way to chronicling the Blackwood Pack, seven brothers who are gay wolf shifters in search of their fated mates– stories about love at first sight with twists and turns, angst and humor, romance and adventure and, of course, happy endings.
My stories come to me as if they were being channeled by my characters, all of whom I love (except for a few villains). They are eager to recount their lives, loves and adventures and are not inhibited when it comes to revealing steamy details. I love the M/M paranormal genre because it gives my imagination a lot of territory in which to roam. My mind can really run wild and come up with some amazing stuff when it doesn’t have to stay inside the box. Although my writing is sometimes raw—that’s the way I like to tell my stories—readers love it and are clamoring for more. I currently live in the Northeast and love the beautiful change of seasons, my husband, and our quirky calico cat, though not necessarily in that order.
Wow, I’m impressed. Not only with the fabulous trailer above—with the way news has spread about QSF’s Impact flash fiction anthology released yesterday. It’s on fire! It hit the top of the Amazon charts for LGBT science fiction the same day. It’s no wonder! I’ve read only ten or so of the 300 word micro-stories, and so far they all seem to be my favorite. I mean, they’re different, they’re interesting, they’re well-written worlds, and how can one choose? It’s like comparing apples and oranges (and avocados and peaches and grapes and tomatoes…).
Romance Across the Rainbow is pleased to host Natsuya Uesugi, author of the cyberpunkgrydscaen series. Enjoy the fine cover, blurb, excerpt. Find out how to enter the giveaway, and scroll down to read an exclusive article from the author.
Natsuya Uesugi has a new book out in his dystopian sci fi series grydscaen:
A clandestine meet occurs in the Echelons under cover of darkness where Top Secret intel on the stock market changes hands. The insider tip gets the gothic hacker Jester engaged in a high tech game. Parliament votes to lower harsh stock market regulations fueling the Corporation’s bottom line, a payoff from ministers who were propped up by illegal corporate campaign donations. Ordered by Jester, the teenage hacker Rom infiltrates the largest high volume brokerage house causing wild gyrations in trading. When Jester triggers an insidious stock market payload, all hell breaks loose threatening the pristine City. Will Zoon, the leader of the Triumvirate, get roped into the fray? Can Raven, the government hacker, put the cryptic clues together before the market crashes? Find out in grydscaen:dark. Whose side are you on?
Lino just wanted peace. All he got was war.
In the year After Colony 2055 there was the Great War. SenseNet government scientists harnessed their knowledge of nuclear weapons and created a new form of energy. This kedek energy was a natural found occurrence that existed in pools far inside the planet. Harnessing this energy into weapons called kedek bombs, scientists warned these weapons were unsafe and should never be used.
The draconian Atlantea Federation conquered more than half of the world’s territories. A group of islands and nation states formed the Pacific Territories and in a single brave act retaliated in a battle known as the Blood Red Incident. The Atlantea Federation responded with wrath releasing the kedek-based Dionysis Effect nuclear bomb stolen from the SenseNet. The untested weapon’s radioactive fallout created Codesswhich manifested as psychic powers.
Pacific Territories’ society was segregated into citizens and non-citizens. Only citizens could reside in the pristine City. Non-citizens were left with poverty and strife in the Zone where the bomb had gone off, or in the Echelons with the Red Light District, drugs, and crime.
A group of hackers rose up to combat government oppression and injustice by the Zone Police. Enforcement squads rounded up psychics nightly taking them to work camps in the toxic kedek mines. The Terror Hack used guerrilla warfare to fight the Elite government. The Packrats, a cyber terrorist organization vowed to regain control and free society through cyber revolution. Run by the elite hacker Faid Callen, he created the Packrat Sprawl and set up the Runners, Wastes, Acolytes, Hosts, Prophets and Mobile Command. Each faction possessed deadly skills and laws in the Packrat Code that ruled their actions. Civil war ripped at the heart of society.
The son of the Viceroy, Lino Dejarre had psychic power. All he wanted was peace. He joined the Psi Faction as a clandestine psychic operative and was tasked to capture Faid Callen and quell the violence. When the Atlantea Federation attacked the City, Lino found himself once more answering the royal edict and forced to become Sub Viceroy and rule as war raged around him.
Separated at age nine and banished from the royal family, Riuho Dejarre’s hatred for Lino grew as he tried to scrape out a life in the slum level Echelons while Lino lived in the pristine City. Stripped of his citizenship, Riuho vowed he would get revenge and did everything in his power to thwart Lino’s every move. From his first encounter with the Atlantea Federation, Riuho found his place and the resources to get what he desired.
The Atlantea Federation attacked brutally on the ground and also threatened the Pacific Territories’ space colonies. Lino and his Psi Faction team were roped into global diplomacy, inter-colony politics, covert missions, battleships, and space battles where they encounter the Atlantea Federation head on. When Riuho once more enters the fray, the high stakes game threatens to destroy everything for which Lino has worked.
Intrigue, psychic powers, clandestine operations, treaties, politics and a hacker revolution. From space battles, to kidnappings and assassinations, and battleships off the coast, grydscaenis filled with in depth characters and richly detailed storylines that peak your interest and keep you coming back for more.
“Not here. Hide the data till we are off the street. This way,” Toapfyl hurriedly motioned to the data messenger in the blue military coat, dark cargo pants and combat boots who followed him off the sidewalk and down another alley. He was wearing the typical garb for a data messenger which made Toapfyl comfortable when he met the stranger in the alley leaning against the wall, easily identifiable.
Toapfyl, a Level 3 hacker, was wearing maroon jeans and a zippered black hoodie pulled over his ebony half shaved head, exposing a slap of dirty brown dreadlocks gathered in a ponytail at his forehead hiding his right eye.
A prostitute wearing a pink miniskirt and fishnet stockings kissed a businessman in a black suit under a sickly yellow streetlight. Toapfyl and the data messenger were once again shrouded in shadow by the derelict buildings as they passed leaving the two to their pleasure.
Toapfyl pushed in a dilapidated door at the end of the alley, grime from the street creating a dusty haze in the air leaving a putrid stink. They entered a staircase. There was no light as they descended. Toapfyl sparked up his aegis to his hand, the manifestation of his psychic power, and lit a path to the basement.
He pushed in the door onto a dimly lit room and revealed Jester, the leader of the Jester hacker guild sitting in a rickety folding chair in the center of the empty room smoking a cigarette from a long black holder. A soft haze filtered over him from a light fixture dangling precariously from ceiling wires, the glass cover filled with dead moths that had happened their way inside and lived out their final days circling the artificial sun. The wan flickering light cast shadows that danced at the corners, the bulb swinging back and forth, moved by the basement door opening.
Legs crossed, Jester was wearing black patent leather platform boots, a shiny mahogany lace skirt, skintight black denim jeans, and a slick dark vinyl blouse with embroidered crimson roses, He sported an elaborate olive short coat with a high collar and dark cuffs and epaulets. A monocle optical sensor over his right eye, he was wearing a green top hat with a scarlet rose perched at the brim. His pink straight, shoulder length hair shined in the light.
He made an irritated gesture with his hand. “Don’t keep me waiting. Where is it?” Jester took a long drag from the cigarette and blew out a puff of smoke. He waved as Toapfyl closed the door.
“Not until I get paid.” The shocked data messenger prompted pulling out a red etched credit sized data card shaking it.
“Do the needful,” ordered Jester raising an eyebrow. He turned his back to them as he continued to smoke his cigarette taking a long drag.
Toapfyl pulled a platinum credit card out of his back pocket. The data messenger pulled his. They locked the two cards at the long end, pins embedded in the technology. Toapfyl typed out the amount of 55,000 credits on the virtual keyboard appearing on the face of his card. The cards chimed signaling the encryption key matched and the credits transferred from Toapfyl’s account.
The data messenger released his card and ran it through a handheld confirming the amount. He nodded stashing the handheld in his chest pocket.
“Done,” responded Toapfyl.
Jester turned back around not witnessing the exchange purposefully and stuck out his hand with his black lacquered fingernails in the knitted fingerless gloves. The stitching was coming apart at the seams on the thumb and index finger, the gloves covered in little white pills. Where everything about Jester’s appearance was immaculate, the gloves gave away an underlying confusion or sloppy disregard for his perfect veneer.
Jester was one of the hacker guild leaders who almost never showed his face in public. It was well known that Jester did not make meetings with data messengers or low level hackers, like a Level 3. He couldn’t be bothered with them. The fact that the data messenger insisted, and that Toapfyl made it happen, kept the data messenger on guard. He placed the red card in Jester’s palm and turned to leave.
Toapfyl jerked raising a gun to the data messenger’s temple. He touched skin. “No one leaves until the data is confirmed.”
Rom, the teenage Level 9 hacker, emerged from the shadows behind Jester. Eyebrow raised, he was annoyed with Toapfyl. Rom pulled a handheld out of his tan trench coat as he came into the dim light. His dull blonde unkempt hair gleamed with a blue streak at the front. He took the data card from Jester and swiped it in the port on the handheld reading the file as the system ran the security check. He typed on the deck triggering an encryption key prompt as the handheld’s computerized female voice spoke the request.
“The data is encrypted? Why didn’t you mention that?” questioned Toapfyl suspicious. He pushed the gun barrel closer taking a step in and made the data messenger move his head back.
“No problem,” interrupted Rom. “Most data messengers are Packrat Runners smuggling data from the City into the Echelons. It should take a Packrat decrypt key. I have access to the Packrats’ archive of one-time, pre-shared obscure keys. What I need for this, right?”
“That is why I wanted Jester at the meet. Toapfyl, all data messengers use encryption. If you don’t know that, you are an idiot. No self-respecting hacker attached to Jester would even ask the question you did just now. Only a Level 9 can penetrate. Jester would know a Level 9. Rom is one of the best in the business,” the data messenger revealed his disgust with Toapfyl and yanked the gun out of his hand pointing it back at the hacker.
Toapfyl blanched confused how he had been disarmed and lowered his eyebrows at the disrespect. Rom shot him an angry glare silencing him.
Jester smirked giving Rom permission to engage and waved the data messenger off. The messenger lowered the gun handing it back to Toapfyl.
Toapfyl opened the basement door and motioned the data messenger out accompanying him up the stairs leaving Jester in the room with Rom.
Natsuya Uesugi is a systems analyst and ethical hacker by day and a manga artist and a writer by night. With an MBA in International Management and a minor in Japanese, Natsuya insists on showcasing diversity in his writing using his Japanese, Native American and African American heritage.
He studied animation and game design in art school and has published the grydscaen manga “A Storm’s Coming” which features the LGBT teen Rom from “grydscaen: dark,” and two manga in the yaoi series “graphic noiz.” Two episodes of the short anime “A Storm’s Coming” is available with a third episode planned. Four counseling centers are currently using the “A Storm’s Coming” novelette to help LGBT homeless youth and troubled teens with self esteem.
He is author of the dystopian cyberpunk “grydscaen” series, the dark fantasy trilogy “”The Seer of Grace and Fire,” and the yaoi novels and manga “graphic noiz.” He enjoys skydiving, cosplay, watching anime in Japanese, watching French news, World Cub futbol, eating ramen and anything with matcha, and writing poetry.
So that is it, it is over. Net Neutrality is dead. The era of a free and open Internet for all has been threatened with a corporate hijacking of the liberty and right for free information. Will this spell doom for regular main street or will it just blow over and have no impact? Let’s look at what it is, look at what might happen and tie it in to the new book grydscaen: dark and how that relates.
Net neutrality is basically the fact that Internet Service Providers must treat all data on the Internet equally and not discriminate against users or charge different users different prices for content, websites, applications, equipment or method of communication. They cannot intentionally block, slow down or charge money for online content or specific websites and information. This had been enforced through government laws prior to it being repealed recently.
In the past broadband was possibly regulated as a utility which would have to follow rules and not treat customers differently or discriminate. The end of Net Neutrality causes a potential rift in this space. There are other principals like “discrimination by protocol” blocking based on the communication protocol, or “discrimination by IP address” which was to be likened to Internet censorship. Favoring private networks, peer discrimination and favoring fast loading websites over slower content are also items that need to be reviewed.
Proponents of Net Neutrality are consumer advocates, human rights organizations and online and technology companies. Supporters of Net Neutrality want to designate cable companies as common carriers which would allow them free access to cable lines the same aspect as seen in dial-up. They want to see that cable companies do not screen, censor or control Internet content. Rights and freedoms are on the line and some say that Net Neutrality supports free speech and information access which can make more informed consumers.
The FCC and the government repealed the rules that they deemed “unnecessary and heavy handed,” and will now make way for investment and broadband access. Technology companies are still pressing to save the Net Neutrality rules. The repeal means that the FCC will hand over control to the Federal Trade Commission which will only step in if there is unfair blocking and that companies must disclose throttling. This gives free reign for broadband provides to block or throttle sites with no one looking over their shoulder to make sure they are not being discriminatory. The change could also modify how content is billed and how slower and smaller providers will not be able to compete with large scale companies that have a monopoly like Netflix and Comcast.
Many states in the USA have filed lawsuits to keep the Net Neutrality rules and as of this week Washington state on its own is the only state in the USA at this time to have Net Neutrality. The FCC warns that they will go after states that try to enforce laws not in accord with the Net Neutrality repeal.
So, with all that said let’s look at how grydscaen predicted this would happen and how it plays out in the grydscaen series. The “gridscan” is the network of everything in the grydscaen series, the term “grydscaen” is the same word for network written in Packrat hacker code. The network is everywhere and we see Jazz on a jock rig when Rom is hacking accessing the network and getting in deep so they can hack the stock market. The Elite government in the grydscaen series controls everything in the Pacific Territories and there are government organizations like the SenseNet and the Corporation that oversee censorship and control of what information people have access to. The government also releases propaganda like the Facebook Newsfeed stacking we have seen recently and many have commented on about false and skewed news with Russia and influencing the Presidential election.
In grydscaen the Parliament votes to control rules and in grydscaen: dark we see the Parliament repeal a critical stock market regulation that basically allows hackers like Jester and Rom to infiltrate and take control of the stock market causing it to plunge hundreds of points in seconds. grydscaen: dark makes a commentary about the role of big government and corporate greed and how this basically enables hackers and those who want control to affect markets and consumers and in the case destroy the economy in the Echelons.
In grydscaen the Newsfeed never goes off the air, this is because they have a monopoly over the air and the government props them up. Even when hackers and cyber terrorists attack the infrastructure the Newsfeed continues to broadcast. In regards to Net Neutrality the Newsfeed’s control over what people see, when and where on the various gridscan channels or on handhelds and TVs means they can sway the popular opinion. In grydscaen this starts riots in the Echelons once the hackers take control.
We will see how Net Neutrality plays out and if the cable companies and Internet Service Providers will take advantage of regular consumers. Hopefully it will not pan out like grydscaen predicts.
Thanks to the author and Other Worlds Ink for letting Romance Across the Rainbow be part of the tour!
Direct Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/b60e8d4711/?
About the Books
Ardulum: First Don (book one)
The planet that vanishes. The planet that sleeps.
When Ardulum first appeared, the inhabitants brought agriculture, art and interstellar technology to the Neek people before vanishing back into space. Two hundred years later, Neek has joined the Charted Systems, a group of planets bound together through commerce and wormhole routes, where violence is nonexistent and technology has been built around the malleability of cellulose.
When the tramp transport Mercy’s Pledge accidentally stumbles into an armed confrontation between the Charted System sheriffs and an unknown species, the crew learns the high cost of peace—the enslavement and genetic manipulation of the Ardulan people. Now a young Neek, outcast from her world for refusal to worship ancient Ardulans as gods, must reconcile her planet’s religion with the slave child whom she has chosen to protect—a child whose ability to manipulate cellulose is reminiscent of the ancient myths of Ardulum. But protecting the child comes at a cost—the cultural destruction of her world and the deaths of billions of Charted System inhabitants.
The Charted Systems are in pieces. Mercy’s Pledge is destroyed, and her captain dead. With no homes to return to, the remaining crew set off on a journey to find the mythical planet of Ardulum—a planet where Emn might find her people and Neek the answers she’s long sought. Finding the planet, however, brings a host of uncomfortable truths about Ardulum’s vision for the galaxy, and Neek’s role in a religion that refuses to release her. Neek must balance her planet’s past and the unchecked power of the Ardulans with a budding relationship and a surprising revelation about her own genealogy.
Ardulum: Second Don blends space opera and hard science into a story about two women persistently bound to their past, and a sentient planet determined to shape their future.
Atalant is torn between two worlds. In uncharted space, head of a sentient planet, the new eld of Ardulum now leads the religion she once rejected. Emn is by her side, but the Mmnnuggl war brewing in the Charted Systems, threatening her homeworld of Neek, cannot be ignored. Neek must return to the planet that exiled her in order to lead the resistance. She must return home a god, a hypocrite, a liar in gold robes, and decide whether to thrust her unwilling people into the truth of Ardulum, or play the role she has been handed and never see her family, or her world, again.
“Were we just attacked?” she asked incredulously. Neek took a closer look out the viewscreen. The rectangular cutter that sparkled with pinpricks of light and the wedge-shaped, agile skiffs, were Risalian. The pods—both the smaller purple ones and the frigate-sized, maroon ones—were unfamiliar. Their fomations were just as strange, stacked in columns like stones on a riverbank instead of in pyrimidal and spherical formations like Systems ships would. “Are those all Charted Systems ships?”
Yorden threw up his hands in disgust. “They’re not just Charted Systems ships—they’re Risalian ships. The cutter and skiffs are, anyway. No clue on the pods. What those blue-skinned bastards are doing out here with fully weaponized ships, I can only guess. However, they’re firing lasers. If we lose our armor and take a hit from any of those, we are space dust.”
“Comforting,” Neek mumbled. She hadn’t noticed the laser ports on any of the ships, but now that she looked closer, all of the vessels were covered with armor plating and had at least two laser turrets each.
Neek continued to watch as the pods begin to cluster around a Risalian cutter. A pod ship zipped beneath the cutter, firing wildly at its underside, before making a quick right turn and heading back to a larger pod. Five others followed suit. The cutter’s shielding began to splinter, but the ship remained where it was.
Neek leaned into the viewscreen, still unsure what she was seeing. “The Risalian ships aren’t chasing, they’re just defending. What is going on? If they’re going to appoint themselves sheriffs of the Charted Systems, they could at least fight back.”
Yorden smacked his hand against the wall, loosing a shower of dust. “Something on that Risalian ship is holding their attention. Get us out of here, before either of them gets any closer.” He pointed to a cluster of ships to Neek’s right, and her eyes followed. Little flashes of bright light sparked and then died intermittently as ships were destroyed, their flotsam creating an ever-expanding ring. A large piece of metal plating floated past the Pledge’s port window. The edge caught and left a thin scratch in the fiberglass as it slid off.
“What are they protecting that is so damn important?” Neek wondered out loud and then snorted. “Something worth more than our hold full of diamond rounds and cellulose-laced textiles?” she added cheekily.
Scowling, Yorden pushed Neek’s hand away from the computer and began his own scan of the Pledge’s systems. “Communications are still up, but I don’t think either party is listening right now.” Frustrated, he kicked the underside of the console. “Try one of them. Better than being crushed.”
“Captain, come on. We are dead in space. If another one comes at us, why don’t we just fire at it? It’s better than being rammed.” She pointed upwards at a circular hole in the ceiling. “What’s the benefit of flying a ship so ancient it falls apart if you’re not taking advantage of the grandfathered weapons system?”
Yorden’s terse response was cut off when a short burst impacted the ship. Another group of skiffs flew past, depositing laser fire as they did so. The Pledge banked to port, carrying momentum from the impact. From the direction they had come lay a trail of shattered ship plating.
A panicked voice called down from the laser turret. Neek bristled, steeling herself against the inevitable irritation that came whenever their Journey youth spoke. “That skiff just fired at us. How does it even have weapons? I thought we were the only ones in the Systems with a ship older than dirt.”
Neek wrapped her right hand back around the steering yoke. Each of her eight fingers fit perfectly into the well-worn grooves, and the brown leather darkened a shade as her naturally secreted stuk smeared from her fingertips. She smiled to herself. Flying a geriatric tramp was still better than flying nothing at all.
“Look, Captain,” she said, keeping her eyes on the battle. “I can steer this thing if we get pushed, but that is it. We don’t have any other options. They have guns. We have guns. Well, we have a gun. Why don’t we use it?”
Second Don (Book Two):
“You have to tell her,” Nicholas said. He pushed himself out of a lean and pointed to where Emn’s blood had fallen. She’d been interfacing with the ship all the way through the wormhole and hadn’t noticed Nicholas return to the cockpit. That meant Emn was getting a lecture, one way or the other. Annoyed, she tugged at the fabric across her chest, the sensation something she was still getting used to, and turned to look at Nicholas. She’d have much preferred a lecture from Neek.
Nicholas’s eyebrow rose. “This is the fourth time I’ve seen you bleed from interfacing with the ship. If your physiology is so incompatible with it, then Neek needs to know. We need to find another ship.”
Emn dabbed at her ear with a finger, ensuring the canal was clean, and then straightened the front of her dress. She’d already stopped the bleeding. The blood vessel breaks had been small—only minor capillaries affected—and healing was simple first-don stuff. Except, each time she synced with the ship, the pain was worse. What had started as a light buzzing during her time on the Mmnnuggl flagship Llttrin, during the Crippling War, was now a pressure that thumped between her skull and brain. It was ever-expanding, pulsed behind her eyes, crushed blood vessels, and had her leaking maroon from her ears and nose.
After sitting down against the black paneling, Emn looked at her lap. The dress, which she’d managed to keep mostly clean of blood, was tight in areas she’d not anticipated. It clung to her hips and chest, highlighting the most notable changes since her metamorphosis. It was… Could something be uncomfortable and yet comforting at the same time? She was an adult. There was no denying that, not with something so formfitting. Emn enjoyed the visual reminder of who she had become.
“For me to discuss any of this with Neek, she’d have to actually talk to me. Right after the Crippling War, I thought we had broken through that layer of self-doubt, or whatever makes Neek so rigid around me, but I guess not.” Emn went to pull at the front of her dress again before catching herself.
Nicholas ran his hands through his thick hair and shook his head. “You’re telepathically connected. You don’t have to be in the same room to talk.” Just as he had when she was in first don, Nicholas plopped beside her so she could lean into him. The reminder of their friendship helped ease the thumping in her head. She was forever grateful that Nicholas didn’t seem at all uncomfortable with the changes she’d undergone.
“Do you think it looks all right?” Emn asked, looking down at the front of her dress.
Nicholas snorted. “You look like a woman in a dress, Emn. It fits well. Your chest looks normal, if that’s what you’re asking, although you’ll crease the fabric if you keep pulling at it like that. If you want more specific feedback, there’s a different person you should ask. I know you don’t have a perpetually open connection, but even if she’s closed down, you could still nudge her. It’s good for her.”
Emn returned the half smile, imagining how Neek would react if she just started chatting to her through their link about mundane things, like constellations or cellulose biometals, or if she actually asked about the dress…
As if Neek had been listening, the door abruptly slid open, and the room was filled with the distinctive sound of booted feet. Emn and Nicholas stood up.
Neek took a moment to stretch, reaching her hands up over her head and letting her sixteen fingers, eight per hand, brush the ceiling. This was the only room in the small Mmnnuggl pod where any of them could stand upright, and it was blissful to do so. Stretching pulled the fabric of the flight suit taut against Neek’s chest and Emn let her eyes linger, careful to ensure the image did not leak across their bond. They needed Neek in the cockpit, captaining, not hiding in her room. She didn’t need to know about Emn’s burgeoning…something. Not yet, anyway. Still, Emn followed the tightly braided red-blonde hair to her narrow shoulders and then to her wide hips partially hidden in a baggy flight suit. Neek had her sleeves rolled up to her elbows, and Emn wrinkled her nose without meaning to. The lighting in the pod did not go well with Neek’s olive-brown complexion. Realizing that she had probably stared for a bit too long, Emn walked back to the viewscreen.
“Looks like such a harmless planet from out here,” Neek said as her arms fell to her sides. Currently filling the floor-to-ceiling viewscreen was Risal, its orange algae oceans and brown landmasses looming above them. Risal’s two moons, the red Korin and white Rath, buffered the planet on either side. At their current position, the shadows from the sun overlapped Risal in two intersecting crescents, leaving a thin hourglass shape of lit land. Two cutters were in orbit around Korin, docked next to one another near the moon’s north pole.
Emn knew more than she cared to about those moons. She had no firsthand memories, but being synced to the late Captain Ran’s cutter had given her data on both. Rath was used as an andal plantation, although it was not a very successful one. Korin, in contrast…Korin was likely where she had been born. Emn probably had had siblings there, perhaps other genetic parents as well. They’d be dead, of course, like all the Risalian Ardulans, but that didn’t make the moon any less oppressive.
Her focus was suddenly returned to the cockpit. Confused, Emn blinked, trying to clear her vision, and then realized what was happening. Her thoughts must have leaked. Now, instead of Korin, she was seeing herself through Neek’s eyes, their connection taut. It was strange to see herself from the back—a woman in a knee-length, gray dress with shoulder straps and a flared hipline, tracing a finger over the moon’s image. Her black hair held only hints of the red that shone in her youth, and the moonlight highlighted the dark veins that streaked across her translucent skin. Patterns emerged, if one looked long enough—and Neek was—patterns of geometric shapes bound tightly together, distorted and intersecting. Several words bounded across their link despite Neek’s best efforts to rein them in. One in particular struck Emn as odd.
Except, calling the markings such belied their daunting mythos and marginalized Neek’s history. Emn tossed the word aside, conscious of its relevance but unwilling to call it to Neek’s attention.
Third Don (Book Three):
I dislike this flight suit,Atalant muttered as her stuk absorbed into the rough material. The Ardulans did not refine the andalrayon as much as Charted Systems manufacturers did, and the fabric was full of rough, lumpish slubs.
If you could find some time for us to be alone and do away with the memories for a few hours, I’m sure I could arrange for my dress to make an appearance. The images that accompanied her statement flushed Atalant’s cheeks.
Maybe if we met onboard the Scarlet Lucidity , in orbit around Ardulum, where no one could interrupt us and I felt a bit freer… Atalant’s thoughts drifted into that delightful possibility. The Lucidity had soft chairs in the cockpit, wide beds in the quarters, a small bin of andal in case Emn got hungry…
Andal! Atalant’s priorities came crashing back down around her. The planet caught her wandering and whispered dreams of its own, dreams of saplings in open fields, of thick rains and busy pollinators. The collective consciousness of Ardulum sent a yearning desire for family, for a new place to call home.
“Home is overrated,” Atalant whispered.
“I don’t think so. What about your parents, Atalant?” Emn whispered into her ear, misunderstanding Atalant’s words. “Your father and your talther miss you, I’m sure. Your brother is there, waiting to see his sister.” Emn’s lips brushed Atalant’s forehead. “All the things you said at those political rallies, all the times the president cut you down, your exile, your uncle’s teachings… Could you just let all this hang? Can you let the truth, that you worked so hard to uncover, remain a mystery to the rest of your people?”
Atalant didn’t answer. When Emn didn’t press further, Atalant reached over Emn and lifted the window open to its full height. The sounds of reptiles croaking filled the silence between them. Atalant let the heaviness of her eyelids sink her into drowsy memories. She thought of the Lucidity, berthed and awaiting her return in a suburb of the capital. She thought of the gold robes she now regularly wore, of their similarities to the Heaven Guard robes she had so coveted in her youth. She thought of her brother, his pursuit of andal science over Ardulan religion, his urging her to join the Heaven Guard of Neek. She thought of soil barren from andal plantation farming, the decline of the forests on her homeworld, and the death of the Keft ecosystem. She thought of her uncle, the High Priest of Neek, of his teachings, the holy books, and of what the return of living gods could do for her stagnant planet.
The sound of Emn’s even breathing relaxed the remaining tightness in Atalant’s shoulders. As she drifted off into sleep, her mind wandered to the possibility: what would it be like for Ardulum to return to the planet Neek? What havoc would the mystic, traveling planet play on her world’s religion? On her family? Would she be welcomed as a hero, or still branded a heretic? Would she be shot on sight? Gold robes of the Eld or gold robes of the Heaven Guard? Did it matter?
What would it be like for her to come home?
About the Author
J.S. Fields (@Galactoglucoman) is a scientist who has perhaps spent too much time around organic solvents. She enjoys roller derby, woodturning, making chainmail by hand, and cultivating fungi in the backs of minivans. Nonbinary, but prefers female pronouns.
Fields has lived in Thailand, Ireland, Canada, USA, and spent extensive time in many more places. Her current research takes her to the Peruvian Amazon rainforest each summer, where she traumatizes students with machetes and tangarana ants while looking for rare pigmenting fungi. She lives with her partner and child, and a very fabulous lionhead rabbit named Merlin.
A group of strangers meets at Ragazzi, an Italian restaurant, for a cooking lesson that will change them all. They quickly become intertwined in each other’s lives, and a bit of magic touches each of them.
Meet Dave, the consultant who lost his partner; Matteo and Diego, the couple who run the restaurant; recently-widowed Carmelina; Marcos, a web designer getting too old for hook-ups; Ben, a trans author writing the Great American Novel; teenager Marissa, kicked out for being bi; and Sam and Brad, a May-September couple who would never have gotten together without a little magic of their own.
Everyone in the River City has a secret, and sooner or later secrets always come out.
Matteo stared out the restaurant window into the darkness of Folsom Boulevard. It was getting dark earlier as summer edged into fall. Streetlights flickered on as cars drifted by, looking for parking or making the trip out of Midtown toward home.
The sign on the window read “Ragazzi” (the boys), lettered in a beautiful golden script just two months old. Investing in this little restaurant his uncle had left to them when he’d passed away had been their ticket out of Italy. But now with each passing day, as seats sat empty and tomatoes, pasta, and garlic went uneaten, the worry was gnawing ever deeper into Matteo’s gut.
Behind him in the open, modernized kitchen, Diego was busy cooking—his mother’s lasagne, some fresh fish from San Francisco, and some of the newer Italian dishes they’d brought with them from Bologna. The smells of boiling sauce and fresh-cooked pasta that emanated from the kitchen were entrancing.
They’d sent the rest of the staff —Max and Justin—home for the evening. The three customers who had shown up so far didn’t justify the cost of keeping their waiter and busboy on hand.
Matteo stopped at the couple’s table in front of the other window. “Buona sera,” he said, smiling his brightest Italian smile.
“Hi,” the man said, smiling back at him. He was a gentleman in about his mid-fifties, wearing a golf shirt and floppy hat. “Kinda quiet tonight, huh?”
“It always gets busier later,” Matteo lied smoothly. “Pleasure to have you here. Can I get you anything else?”
“A little more wine, please?” the woman said, holding out her glass so the charm bracelet on her wrist jangled.
“Of course.” He bowed and ducked into the kitchen.
He gave Diego a quick peck on the cheek.
His husband and chef waved him off with a snort. “Più tardi. Sto preparando la cena.”
“I can see that. Dinner for a hundred, is it? It’s dead out there again tonight.”
Diego shot him a dirty look.
Matteo retrieved the bottle of wine from the case and returned to fill up his guests’ glasses. “What brings you in tonight?” Maybe they saw our ad.…
“Just walking by and we were hungry. I miss the old place though.… What was it called, honey?”
Her husband scratched his chin. “Little Italy, I think?”
“That’s it! It was the cutest place. Checkered tablecloths, those great Italian bottles with the melted wax… so Italian.”
Matteo groaned inside. “So glad you came in” was all he said with another smile.
Now an exclusive excerpt!
Brad was rousted from bed by someone pounding on the front door. Who the hell was coming by at ten thirty p.m.? He grabbed the bat he kept next to the bed.
“Who is it?” Sam asked blearily.
“I don’t know. I’ll find out.”
Sam sat up, and Brad smothered the urge to jump back in bed. Screw their visitor. Sam looked adorable with his sleepy eyes and blond hair sticking up at odd angles.
The pounding sounded again.
“Want me to come with?”
“No, just be ready to call 911.” They were downtown, after all. Things happened here, sometimes. “I’m coming!” Brad shouted to whoever was knocking. He pulled on his robe and clambered down the stairway to the front door. “Who is it?” he called, bat held at ready.
“Brad, it’s Marcos. I need your help.”
Marcos… the web designer? He unlocked the door. “How the hell did you get my home address?” he asked, staring at the man. “You do know I’m married, right?”
Marcos grinned sheepishly. “I know. You had a fundraising party here last year for the Center, remember?”
“Oh, crap. Yeah.” He’d forgotten all about it. “So why are you here?”
“I need your help. Remember that girl, Marissa?”
“Yes. What happened?” He was starting to regret having shared the information with Marcos. If anything had happened to her as a result, he could lose his job.
“She’s in trouble. She called me from the County Jail up on I Street.”
Brad scratched his chin. “Why did she call you?”
“I don’t know. I left my number for her where she hangs out. I guess I was the only one she could think of.”
“Maybe so. Many of these kids don’t have anyone. Hey, come inside. It’s cold out there.” He let Marcos in and closed the door.
“Who was it?” Sam was standing at the top of the stairs in only his white briefs.
Marcos looked up and whistled.
“Just our web designer.”
Sam blushed. “Um, sorry. I’ll leave you guys alone.” He vanished into the bedroom.
“Come have a seat.” Brad ushered Marcos into their small living room.
“Congratulations, Brad. The hubby’s quite a catch.”
Brad cleared his throat. “Marissa?”
“Oh, yeah, sorry. She said she was framed. She needs me to come get her out, but I don’t think they’ll let me, since she’s underage. You know people there, right?”
Brad nodded. “What was the officer’s name?”
“Um… Donna? Dorothy?”
“Yes. I think so.”
“I’ll come with you and see what I can do. What will you do if they release her to you?”
Marcos shook his head. “I don’t know yet. Get her home and in a warm bed for tonight. I can figure out the rest tomorrow.”
Brad touched Marco’s shoulder. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because she’s me twenty years ago.”
Brad nodded. “Okay, let’s go. You brought your car?”
Scott lives with his husband Mark in a little yellow bungalow in East Sacramento, with two pink flamingos by the front porch.
He spends his time between the here and now and the what could be. Indoctrinated into fantasy and sci fi by his mother at the tender age of nine, he devoured her library. But as he grew up, he wondered where the people like him were.
He decided it was time to create the kinds of stories he couldn’t find at Waldenbooks. If there weren’t gay characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.
His friends say Scott’s brain works a little differently – he sees relationships between things that others miss, and gets more done in a day than most folks manage in a week. He seeks to transform traditional sci fi, fantasy, and contemporary worlds into something unexpected.
He runs Queer Sci Fi and QueeRomance Ink with his husband Mark, sites that bring queer people together to promote and celebrate fiction that reflects their own reality.
In this day and age, that’s not an earth-shattering headline. We want headlines that scream of life-altering events.
Terrorists Nuke Peace Conference!
Wow! What a gripping headline. This is something to change the world. Oh, wait! The world did transform. This ran as the lead story a few hours before the beginning of The Upheaval. The current world birthed in nuclear fire and electromagnetic disruption. Gone are the nations I grew up with. My life altered again.
Cain Slays Abel!
The truth behind such a classic story is far more complicated than anyone could imagine.
The brothers’ tale is a life-altering event, at least for me. Twice a report of murder transformed my life in an unpredictable way. I am Richard St. Martin, Master of Darkness. Before my story can be told, you need to learn the story of the first dark monster, Cain. My stepchildren call him Father Cain because he was the first. To find the actuality behind the myth, I recruited two talented mortals – Dr. Jeremiah Banks, Archaeologist, and Professor Juan Di Vargas, Theologian and Religious Scholar. Together they found the secret origin of the vampires:
JEREMIAH SURVEYED his clothing choices for the conference and grimaced. He hated suits, but Dr. Sinclair, the dean of his department, and Mrs. Pike, the dean’s secretary and sort of a second mother, both insisted he dress in professional academic attire.
“You’re representing the University of Arizona and the Republic of Texas, Dr. Banks. Think of the university’s reputation. Don’t appear like you are fresh off the boat following months in the field,” Jeremiah recalled Dr. Sinclair saying as he handed him his clearance to travel. During a visit to her house, Mrs. Pike said similar things before she called her late husband’s tailor and made an appointment to fit Jeremiah for new suits. Suits made Jeremiah uncomfortable, he preferred sturdy field clothing, but Dr. Sinclair held firm, no wild field archaeologist attire. Resigned to his fate, Jeremiah gave into almost all the dean’s requirements, but refused when the request came to cutting his long copper locks. Jeremiah brushed through his hair, twisted, and slid the length into a sapphire-encrusted leather tube to hold everything in check.
The Emir, who oversaw his dig on behalf of the caliph’s government, gave him the hair binder as a gift. The man developed a fascination with Jeremiah’s copper hair and its silky texture. With his hair under control, Jeremiah dressed to impress in a navy-blue suit with a subtle white pinstripe. Sapphire cufflinks and tie tack finished the ensemble. The cufflinks came as a second present from the emir after a night of admiring Jeremiah’s body in all its naked glory. The combination of Jeremiah’s pale skin and fiery chest hair and pubic region, plus the impressive prick and balls in their natural state, fascinated the noble. The emir never touched him or asked for contact; the man wanted to check if the red hair remained the same color all the way down.
All three pieces of jewelry helped to highlight his bright blue eyes. Jeremiah checked himself in the mirror before picking up his notes and slides for his lecture and heading down to breakfast. During the evening, the staff worked their magic, transforming the ballroom from reception hall into a dining room. A waiter led Jeremiah to his assigned table and seat right next to Prof. O’Grady. The rest of the table filled with other scholars from universities in the Republic of Texas. He found Dr. Lanister’s vacant seat next to his and opposite Prof. O’Grady. “Prof. O’Grady, I want to apologize for the rude comments last night at the reception.”
“No, Dr. Banks, if anyone got out of line last night, I did, and should be doing the apologizing. Thank you for correcting my attitude towards Dr. Lanister. I spoke way out of line. I wanted to apologize to him in person, but the hotel informed me Dr. Lanister checked out late last night claiming illness and returned home.”
“I’m sorry he departed. He stopped by my room last night reeking of alcohol, so I encouraged him to retire for the evening. I’m sorry to learn he caught something,” came Jeremiah’s reply as a waiter stopped and filled his coffee cup. “I wonder, are you familiar with Prof. Juan Di Vargas from the University of Madrid?”
“Only by reputation, Dr. Banks. I understand he’s presenting today on how the story of the Flood developed in several early cultures,” O’Grady remarked, signaling the waiter to take her plate. “Don’t you present today as well, Dr. Banks?”
“Yes, about an hour after Prof. Di Vargas. I hope to catch a moment of his time between lectures. His latest paper mentioned the possibility of the biblical city of Enoch being in the Tigris-Euphrates Delta. I think Enoch might be part of the culture, which produced the tablets I found. I wish to compare research with him.”
“Good luck in your endeavor. Di Vargas doesn’t often deal with those who pursue the more physical aspects of their researches, at least according to his reputation. I can arrange for you to speak with a scholar of the period more open to using archaeology. Let me introduce you to Prof. Chevalier from the University of Paris.”
She missed Jeremiah’s grimace of distaste, which he hid behind a sip of coffee. Chevalier’s research clashed with every line of the investigation he pursued while Di Vargas’s headed in a similar direction from a different angle. Jeremiah wiped his hands with his napkin, picked up his notes and slides, and rose from the table.
“Thank you for the offer, Dr. O’Grady. Perhaps another time. Please excuse me. I need to make sure the media team receives enough time to arrange the presentation before lecturing. I’m confident we’ll cross paths at dinner.”
“I think they plan to mix things up tonight, but there will be other meetings during the conference. Such a pleasure to meet you again, Jeremiah, or I should say Dr. Banks. You stood out, one of my more promising students, and I’m proud of how well you blossomed under Adamson’s direction.” O’Grady offered Jeremiah her hand. “I’m eager for your lecture this afternoon.”
Jeremiah shook her hand and left to track down the media team. He still needed to set up his slides before attending the lectures he wanted to listen to this morning.
Kethric Wilcox began writing and publishing as a personal challenge to be creative in a new medium. He was attracted to the LGBT Romance genre after reading several paranormal romances where it seemed like the shape-shifters never faced dangers outside the relationship issues thrown at them by their authors. Thus was born the shifter hunting House of Beauty on the premise of a twisted fairy tale. What if Beauty and the Beast didn’t end with happily ever after? Wilcox’s Legend of the Silver Hunter trilogy looks at this question and then asks what happens if a member of this family falls in love with a descendant of the Beast, can they find happily ever after or are they doomed to repeat the tale. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Wilcox now lives and works in Little Rock, Arkansas in a house that he and his partner renovated. By day Wilcox is a graphic artist and exhibit designer, and at night an author of paranormal romances.
Wilcox currently has two new trilogies in progress: Origin of the Vampires (The Curse, Lord Hunter, and Lord Slayer) set in a dystopian future of the Silver Hunter world; and Legacy of the Silver Hunter (The Goldilocks Pledge, Ruby Wine, and Black Snow) which continues the story told in the Legend trilogy from the view points of other couples in Kieran and Cory’s lives.
Babysitting a spoiled pop star? What kind of assignment is this for a skilled person like myself?” Newly recruited PROTEKT agent, Tryst Olivares grumbled to himself as he eyed his instructions from his boss, Wes Moreland. He hated them, and only wished to get this first task out of the way before the real deals came into play… or perhaps he wasn’t, since he had ulterior motives that went against everything he’d taken the PROTEKT oath for.
By the time his new “friends” got a load of what hit them, he’d be paid handsomely, lounging around on the beaches of St. Tropez with drink in hand along with plenty of tight asses to take pleasure in.
Despite his name, Tryst didn’t do long term relationships. He figured he was too young to be committed to only one lover. In most of his twenty-eight years, Tryst preferred to have a wide selection of partners to sample as if his love life was some all-you-can-eat dinner buffet. In his mind, why settle when you could have all the men when you want at any time?
No question, Captain Kimball Emerson, the leader of PROTEKT caught his eye, but he had an American bulldog for a man, who more than made his presence felt during their first meeting. Then there was Devlin Crawford and his hot husband Aiden Moriarty, his fellow agents who in a past lifetime, he wouldn’t have minded having in his bed. Yes, PROTEKT was full of hot men, unfortunately none of them available.
Tryst would have loved to add all three to the few notches remaining on his proverbial belt. Tryst loved variety and never allowed anything but another man’s commitment to stop him from jumping into bed with someone. He had to have some kind of morals, even if they meant nothing to him. Besides, his mother always berated Tryst about not following the Lord’s word and the one command he decided he’d follow would be adultery.
Never mind, murder, stealing, and lying.
Didn’t everyone do that just to survive?
In this dog eat dog world, only the people who did things underhandedly would be left standing. So Tryst chose to do everything else but steal someone else’s man. More than God, Tryst believed in Karma and he thought if he wanted to live happily, he’d better not test the bitch.
With his favorite drink in one hand and the tablet containing the instructions on where to meet the spoiled pop tart in the other, Tryst leaned back into the leather sofa at his new digs Wes gave him. Tryst had to say Wes’s attention to detail as well as the lengths he went through to care for his agents impressed him. In the few days he’d been in PROTEKT, he was awed by the manner in which the organization was run. From top to bottom, PROTEKT had ironclad leadership, teaching their agents how to spot and solve problems, as well as man-to-man combat. They thrived on picking the kind of people who wanted to take justice into their own hands.
If only there was a way to make his employers happy, but unfortunately, that would never occur. There were certain things he loved about both and wished he could merge them into one to be completely fulfilled. Perhaps this was yet another reason why Tryst decided to stay single because indecisiveness had always plagued him.
Saddened by that blunt realization, Tryst sipped from his glass again, tasting the sweetness from the liquor on his taste buds. He wasn’t sure exactly what it was, considering that before he’d joined the organization Tryst’s regular poisons were tequila and beer.
Regardless, he’d thoroughly enjoyed the flavorful liquid and relished in its tastes even though he’d been told not to indulge himself too much for fear of losing focus. After all, the time for operation revenge was on the horizon and according to his “actual” boss, he’d better not screw up or it would mean his untimely death.
Hello, Sharita! I’m happy to welcome you as a featured author in my sylvre.com, Romance Across the Rainbow, 2018 “Community” series. Your support for the community of GLBTQ+ writers and readers is strong, and I do want to talk about that, but let’s start with a few questions about you and your writing.
Q: Just to break the ice, let’s start with something sort of standard for the author interview…. Oh, never mind that. How about this: What family member was the most influential, in terms of your eventual choice to write fiction, as you were growing up? How? What were their favorite things to read? Please feel free to define family according to your own lights—no limits.
A: Thanks for having me, Lou and for the kind words!
Honestly no one. (laughs) I come from a family of squares. It wasn’t until I joined the Erotica Readers and Writers Association that I was encouraged to write. My Durannie (Duran Duran fans) fanfic group encouraged me to publish so that’s as close as I can get to “family” who influenced me.
As far as books growing up, I read the classics as well as VC Andrews Flowers in the Attic. I loved romance early. Read some of grandma’s boring HQN and later, Jackie Collins as well as Fern Michaels.
Q: I admit to being intrigued by your bio. In particular, you name yourself a metalhead and say heavy music inspires your writing. As a founding member of the zine FourteenG, you’ve got some credentials! What first piqued your interest in heavy metal? How is it an inspiration for your stories? Do you have particular books you’d recommend to readers interested in seeing this theme reflected or explored in your writing?
A: Thanks for reading my bio! (laughs) What’s interesting is, I didn’t start out a metalhead. As a matter of fact, I didn’t start listening until I went to High School. I mean, my only exposure to heavy music was Def Leppard and Journey! (laughs) But when I attended an all-black high school, I met my metal tribe. Yes, an all-black (African American) High School. There were 3 white kids in our school and none of them liked metal. Go figure.
As far as what piqued my interest, I’d say the fashion, then the music. I’ve always loved men in makeup! (winks) And then, heavy guitar caught my attention. Once I graduated, I carried that all the way through adulthood. Although I love New Wave and most 80’s, I’ll always be a metalhead.
Inspiration? I have several playlists on my Spotfiy with old school metal or industrial music. Many times the harder it is, it fuels my paranormal work while some of the more soulful metal might be used for a rock and roll romance, or a contemporary with some angst. One example is my Immortals Series under Michael Mandrake. I listened to a lot of Opeth while doing Immortals, especially this last book I’m about to release entitled Calisto’s Quest.
As far as books that reflect the metalhead in me, check out my Wretched Series. Although The Wretched is about to be reworked, you can check it out in raw form on Amazon. It’s not a romance, but it’s full of drama and angst surrounding a fictional Heavy Metal Band.
Q: You say you always have stories waiting to be written, and your website upholds that claim. Writing under several pen names, your publications number at least dozens. Approximately how many books do you write in one year? How do you produce such high-quality books when writing top speed?
A: LOL Thanks for those compliments. Some are short while others are long. My busiest pens are Michael and BLMorticia so a lot of times, Rawiya gets the scraps. ☹ Veronica is new, and I’m about to release my second book with her.
As far as how many I write? I’d say anywhere between 12-15, but some don’t get published that year. I’ve slowed down on the self-publishing because its costly. I’ve also learned not to write long series, even though Immortals is 6 books. (oops) :/
High Quality? Maybe because I agonize over the stories all the time. I try to put out the best product I can in a timely fashion, but if the story doesn’t end well, or doesn’t sound right to me, I hold it until I can redo it.
I’ve written a large amount of novellas which is why I can produce a little more. Nowadays, both of the busy muses want War and Peace type books so it’s harder to release more, which is okay because readers prefer longer works anyway. 😊
Q: Michael Mandrake, Rawiya, BL Morticia, and Veronica Bagby—all of them are you, and each one has a distinct “author brand.” Is any one of these your “favorite”? How do you go about the process of determining “who” needs to be the author of a new story idea?
A: You wish to get me in trouble, right? 😀 Michael is my favorite, but BL is a very bossy bitch who likes to grab the spotlight. Michael loves a complex plot and he’s a lot more formal and long winded. I love writing paranormal with Michael because we always develop some twists together.
However, BL is the boss. She gets her way about 60 percent of the time because she’s my metal muse. Because I love writing musicians into romance, I’ll usually be in favor of writing her books first.
As far as brand, I’m not sure I can even call it that. I suppose style is part of brand, but at times they crossover. BL and Michael especially. 😊
I usually decide by flipping a coin. KIDDING. No, I usually know right away what muse is to write what story. If it’s a story with lots of plots and subplots, its Michael. Heavy on Angst and comedy is BLMorticia.
Q: Writing, as mentioned, under four pseudonyms, your character loves and liaisons certainly qualify as “across the rainbow.” Your stories, both erotica and romance, are invariably sexy. This leads me nicely to the question I’ve asked every author ever featured on sylvre.com: Give us, please, the fifty sexiest words you’ve ever written. Define “sexy” any way you want, and you can fudge a little on the word count.
A: Oh boy! Um… squirms in chair Let’s see… I’ll do Calisto’s Quest because its coming out soon, but 50 words? Ugh! It’s a tad over and I’m not sure this is the sexiest, but I had this doc open!
Despite those feelings of guilt, I attacked Valios’s mouth with all the fire and passion I could muster. I ran my hands all over his body, tweaking his nipples and pinching his abs. We tangled tongues furiously, making us both breathless.
“Calisto! I want you!
“Yes. I want you too!” I covered his lips with mine, sucking his tongue as if it were his hardened length.
Q: Not surprisingly many, if not all, of your books feature people of color. Tell us, if you will, about moving in your writing from one skin to another, so to speak, and about characters who are different from one another in background find common ground. How much or how little do you feel you have to reflect a difference in culture (wealth, status, race, religion, values, etc.) when writing your characters? Are differences a major source of conflict in your books? A major stimulus for attraction?
A: Really good question!
I do love opposites attract stories, and one is usually so different from the other, that its hard to believe they might click. When I have two or more characters falling in love, I try to get into each one’s head to tell me how they’d feel about that other person. How they could relate in some way, because all people are unique as are characters. I try to find some common traits beyond the, we’re all human, thing. I kind of interview each character and say, Seth what do you like about Malakei? (Seth and Malakei are characters from my rapper/rocker book) There has to be something else in common other than being human. They might like the same music, food, or traveling, or hate the same things. I usually write out a character ARC for both people and find their motivations. If they’re similar, I can match them.
Then there are times when they don’t necessarily match but the attraction is there. Hence, Where There’s Smoke. I had 3 very different men and they decided to be together because of attraction. Once they got to know one another, it worked. There’s more to it, but I can’t reveal the main plot. Lol.
I do like to point out differences in culture. This could be something as simple as the way they talk or their families around them. This all influences characters and what they’re makeup is. And yes, differences are a major source of conflict and its not based on their cultural or race differences. Its usually class, status, or something else a lot smaller because writing an IR book where it is just focused on racial differences would be boring in my opinion.
Q: The fact that you write characters from all walks, across the spectrum racially as well as in the expression of gender and sexuality, reflects your stance as what I’ve called a “warp thread”—a support—in the woven tapestry of the GLBTQ+ readers and writers community. Though you clearly stand against hate and public policies that produce and promote it, when I see you on social media, it always seems to me that, inside the community, you would rather bridge the gaps between people than choose a side. Do you feel that is an accurate statement? Is it a day-by-day, moment-by-moment choice, or does it more reflect your core?
A: You’ve been paying attention to me. Lol (Note from Lou: I’m not a stalker, really. It’s for the blog, that’s all!)
Yeah, I am that type of person. I’m not confrontational, and if I can avoid it, I do. Anytime you have a difference of opinion its always better to discuss it than jump to conclusions. I try to understand both sides of the argument, especially when it comes to matters of culture and race. Though I don’t stand for intolerance of any kind, I’d try to teach that person, why that doesn’t fly. And if they don’t agree, that’s fine, but yeah, I try to get people together. We need more togetherness in this world. Being on different sides hasn’t solved anything.
Q: A point of controversy at times within the community has been whether people should write outside their own gender, sexuality, or race. Some authors have said they are afraid of being offensive if they write characters from different racial or cultural backgrounds than their own. Would you be willing to share with us your stance, thoughts, or advice on the subject?
A: I’ve always said to do the research. I feel you can research cultural or gender differences just as you can for a doctor, cop, or a lawyer. Of course, talking to someone that’s part of that marginalized group helps more than everything, but you also shouldn’t take it as gospel. Not every ¬¬¬¬______ is the same. You can fill in the blank as far as what person.
For example, the controversy with Amy Lane about the “dark chocolate monkey of love.” Although I wasn’t personally offended, I know the negative connotations behind calling a black person a monkey. I’m black and never do it. On the other hand, describing someone’s skin like a food. Like saying coffee or honey. I don’t see an issue, but some do.
If an author decides to write outside of their spectrum, the best thing to do is ask for help. Read things on Quora or Reddit. Find people from that marginalized group. Use Youtube, everything you can. But don’t make stereotypical statements. That’s just a no no.
Q: You are part of a thoroughly fabulous idea called Queer in Color. Please tell us about that project—how it got started, who’s involved, what we can do to support it, anything else? Do you have any other projects promoting the reflection of the true diversity in GLBTQ+ people?
A: Thanks. It started with me and author Christa Thomlinson. Both of us wanted to do something to highlight books with characters of color. Through a survey in the multicultural queer group I run on FB, we gathered a small group of volunteers to help. Christa and I discussed doing a newsletter, Twitter, Facebook, and the website as a landing page. We started that late last fall and officially “opened” in November.
Of course with any venture there will be some kinks. The site isn’t as comprehensive as Queeromance Ink, but it doesn’t need to be. We are specifically looking to highlight books with CoC as well as spotlight authors of color. We do it all as volunteers and because this isn’t a paid venture, the amount of help has dwindled a little too. We make the best of it.
Q: What’s coming up, Sharita? Anything exciting in your author world you’d like readers to be on the lookout for?
A: Well, I have two releases coming under Michael this month. Caught in the Crossfire is PROTEKT book 3 and Calisto’s Quest is Immortals book four. Readers can read more info at Michael’s website. *smiles*
Also, for Veronica, a cougar IR called Teacher’s Pet.
BL is busy writing a small paranormal novella with a musician, but it is going to a publisher. I’m sure she’ll have a release soon enough!
I can’t thank you enough for letting me interrogate you here on sylvre.com, Sharita. I wish you the best in all your future endeavors. Please come back to visit again!
Thanks so much!
About Sharita Lira:
Romance and erotica author Sharita Lira believes that love conquers all. Writing sexy stories of people who might be complete opposites, but somehow make a lasting connection that often leads to a happily ever after.
Happily married and mother of two, Sharita never allows complex plots to deter her from writing the story. Inspired by heavy music, attractive people she’s seen in person and on the internet, Sharita always has a tale on her brain.
In addition to being a computer geek and a metalhead, Sharita loves live music, reading, and spending time with family and friends. She’s also a founding member and contributor to the heavy metal ezine FourteenG.
For more information, please visit http://www.thelitriad.com, and if you’re a fan who would like exclusive updates on her writings and chances to win prizes, sign up for the newsletter.
This blog is not pornography, however it will from time to time include material suitable for adults. If you are not of legal age in the country where you live, please leave the site. Thank you. Others, proceed at your own discretion, and please enjoy!