In a relationship that violates rules and expectations, Mayr and Tash have found their perfect match in each other. Despite their fears and difficult pasts, they hope for a shared future with security and a family. When Mayr’s secret first love, Arieve, proposes they create that family with her, it seems dreams could become reality.
But life is complicated, and so is the delicate balance between duty and love. While Mayr protects the Dahe family at all costs, Tash is determined to succeed as a priest. Both positions require sacrifice, forcing their relationship into painful choices. To make matters worse, criminals lurk in the shadows, seeking revenge on them and those they guard.
The life they want risks losing everything—including Arieve and each other. Even if they can have it all, keeping it may take more than they can give.
Warnings: “Soulbound” contains some explicit content, references to self-harm, suicide, and mentions of suicide-related behavior and intent. This story also contains instances of graphic violence, references to rape and domestic abuse, and depictions and mentions of depression.
About the Series:
With the right people and the right price, the Republic of Kattal can be brought to its knees. But for every line crossed, someone waits on the other side, ready to push back.
Armed and ready to defend their lives, these heroes are not afraid of the fight. They stare adversity in the eye and dance with the darkness within. But in their justice, there is wisdom. In wisdom, there is protection. In it all, there is love. Sometimes it’s a matter of saving a village; sometimes it’s a matter of saving the one they can’t live without. Sometimes it’s just about doing the right thing and learning to love oneself.
Magic may lurk in the shadows. Crime may never sleep. But love doesn’t back down.
Silence fell, deep with meaning conveyed by long gazes and soft smiles. Why had he expected Aeley to say anything different?
Three loud knocks rapped the door, scaring them both. Cursing under his breath, Mayr opened the door.
Every foul word tumbled back down Mayr’s throat. “Hey.” He leaned against the door, one arm sliding up the side.
In an instant, he tripped on his own feet and stumbled into the door, swinging it open further.
“You can’t possibly be drunk already.” The corners of Arieve’s eyes crinkled with her smile, her glossed lips painted pink like her cheeks. Dark curls and plaits cascaded over her shoulders, the firelight lending a golden hue to the white-blonde streaks in the fringe of hair across her forehead. She held a silver tray, presenting two glass goblets filled with a bluish-purple drink and fragments of gold leaf sprinkled on top. “Otherwise, this might be a bad idea.”
“What’s a bad idea?” Mayr grimaced, his mouth suddenly dry as if filled with pillow stuffing. Quick to recover, he smoothed his shirt, resettled his belts, and slicked back his hair, pretending he meant to be clumsy.
“Your after-dinner drinks. Lira was going to bring them, but I thought I’d save her the trip. She’s having fun trading stories with your mother.” Arieve cleared her throat. “I didn’t want to interrupt your conversation.”
The tray rattled in her hand. The drinks threatened to slosh over the rims.
Mayr steadied the tray. “Thanks for that. This. These.” He offered her an awkward smile and took the goblets. “I’ll let you get back.” So you won’t see me kick my own ass for being completely inappropriate.
“Thanks, Arieve,” Aeley called from her desk.
“You’re welcome.” Arieve hesitated as she lowered the tray. She swayed gently, the rich green layers of her tiered, ruffled skirts moving with her. “I’ll let you finish.”
Before Mayr could say anything else, Arieve hurried down the hall and around the corner.
“I wonder what the mix is this time.” Aeley snatched one goblet to sniff it. “Hint of gaffa nectar, soured pamolea extract, and a bite of fulore. Plus maybe, probably—” another sniff “—syrup from the Sailor’s Sweetheart bush.” She took a sip and nodded. Flakes of gold leaf clung to her top lip. “Not as fun as last night’s concoction, but I could get used to it.”
“That’s what you always say.” Mayr brushed the flakes from Aeley’s lips with his thumb.
Aeley wiped her mouth on her sleeve. “Not always, just a lot. Cook knows her stuff. To be fair, she’s known me since I was three, getting into her puddings and tarts anytime she turned around. I trust that when she serves up a hodgeypodgey drink, it’s got personality.” She tapped her goblet against his. “I’m heading back to our guests. You should, too, considering it’s yourparty. We can resume this conversation later.”
After a kiss to his cheek, Aeley flounced out the door and through the corridor, humming to herself.
Mayr stared into his goblet, watching the gold swirl in an abstract pattern. My stomach. My head. I can’t even…
He set the goblet on Aeley’s desk. He needed Tash’s forgiveness more than he deserved a fancy drink.
As he exited the room, questions assaulted him hard enough to drown the sound of the door latch as it caught. One question practically shouted above all the others: how much had Arieve heard of his conversation with Aeley?
His heartbeat faltered. He was mortified. The door was not impervious to sound. What would Arieve think of him had she heard…
Hey, stupid! It doesn’t matter.Mayr grumbled and hooked his thumbs around the back of his belts. It still comes out to you’re taken and happy, so shut up.Dragging his heels, he wandered through the corridor and turned into the next, towards the ballroom.
Around the corner, Arieve leaned against the wall, head bowed, with her face hidden by her hair. She twined the trailing black laces of her bright green tunic around her fingers and pulled taut, then released them only to repeat the process. The empty tray rested beside her, abandoned against the wall.
“Hey.” Mayr stopped, careful to leave two foot lengths between them. “I thought you went back?” He toyed with his marriage ring, twisting the band nervously. Memories of Tash surged forward, the airy weight of his kisses almost real enough to feel.
“I wanted to wait for you.” Arieve raised her head and offered a tender smile. “I probably won’t get a word in the rest of the night given the company, so I thought…”
She was in his arms before he could reply. Her hug stole his surprise, shredding it until all that remained was stunned.
“Congratulations,” she murmured, her forehead tucked beneath his chin. “He’s got a good heart, solid. You’ve found your match. If the Four could grant me one wish tonight, it’d be for you two to have everything you desire.”
Mayr hesitated, his hands hovering over Arieve’s back. Touching was a bad idea, especially while he kept Tash from the truth. “Thank you.” Quick as he could, he embraced Arieve and pushed her away, feeling worse than the coward he was. “Let’s go back. I need to stop my mother from revealing every baby story she has or everyone’s going to hear about my naked backside and trailing diaper crowns.”
Arieve picked up the tray and started up the hall. “I’m sure Tash is soaking them up as we speak.” She laughed, the joyous sound digging up a dozen memories.
Memories he needed to lock up and burn down.
He followed Arieve and cast his gaze to the ceiling. Please, Reverent Goddesses, get me through tonight. Then let’s talk about strength of will, because one of these days I’m going to have to confess everything and it’ll hurt more than scorching my pride.
Archer Kay Leah was raised in Canada, growing up in a port town at a time when it was starting to become more diverse, both visibly and vocally. Combined with the variety of interests found in Archer’s family and the never-ending need to be creative, this diversity inspired a love for toying with characters and their relationships, exploring new experiences and difficult situations.
Archer most enjoys writing speculative fiction and is engaged in a very particular love affair with fantasy, especially when it is dark and emotionally charged. When not reading and writing for work or play, Archer is a geek with too many hobbies and keeps busy with other creative endeavors, a music addiction, and whatever else comes along. Archer lives in London, Ontario with a bigender partner and rather chatty cat.
Hello readers! Romance Cross the Rainbow is happy to host Tucker McCallahan today, who’s touring the virtual world with her new release, The Boys of Summer.
Lead singer Ash Redvers needs a drummer. When Dustin Davis shows up, ready, willing, and able to play – not to mention gorgeous – Ash thinks it’s going to be the best season yet. But Ash has never had a boyfriend, and Dust isn’t willing to be a quick hook-up. As the summer heats up, they’ll have to decide whether all they can make together is music, or if there’s something more for them after the Boys of Summer are gone.
Hi! My name is Tucker McCallahan, and I’m the author of The Boys of Summer, the first book in the Dust & Ash Saga. I’m so grateful to Lou Sylvre for hosting me today! (From Lou: You’re welcome, Tucker! My pleasure.)
One of the reasons I ended up choosing to self-publish the saga was because it’s a little unconventional. The novels follow an ensemble cast (a rock band – The Boys of Summer) over the course of the summer of 2011, and every single aspect of the sexual spectrum ends up represented: straight, bisexual, pansexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, polyamory, monogamy, monandry… You name it, if it exists, there’s a character repping it in the Dust & Ash Saga.
I feel like that representation is very important. My sole exposure to LGBTQ+ anything while I was growing up was Clive Barker (and yes, I also write erotic gay horror – mostly because of that). I didn’t stumble onto LGBTQ+ fiction until I was in college, and then suddenly it was like the sun came out, the birds sang, and I knew I wasn’t alone. But in reading those early tales, it seemed like the LGBTQ+ world was somehow separate from the reality of my daily life. Like the things those novels encompassed – while being titillating and wonderful – also existed in their own little world, separate from work, school, and most of all, my family.
In The Boys of Summer, I explored the idea that the LGBTQ+ community didn’t have to ever be separate from any other community; that we could all live, work, and love side by side. I wrote it to be realistic, and chose to tackle some of the trope events of LGBTQ+ life: coming out, having a first relationship, and how friendship effects love.
From The Boys of Summer:
Two hours later Jared was pulling his shirt back on when he heard footfalls on the gravel. He turned to see Ash, wide-awake and his usual charming self, striding toward him.
“Hey, man, place looks good.”
“Thanks. You meet the new drummer?”
“Not yet. I saw you guys moving his massive drum kit and beat feet back to bed.”
Jared’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline. He crumpled the empty cigarette pack in his hand and threw it at Ash’s head. He missed by a mile.
Ash grinned at him. “What? No way was I moving all that shit in the hot sun. I needed my beauty sleep.”
“His name is Dustin. He has more bathroom junk than you do.”
Ash stared at Jared for a minute, slightly nonplussed. “Uh, okay.”
“I put him in Arden’s room, but there’s no bed in there except that mattress from—”
“Ugh, that’s nasty.” Ash made a face. “Okay. As soon as he’s done, uh, doing whatever it is he’s in there doing, we’ll go buy a new bed.”
“Cool. He seems like a nice guy. Kinda quiet.”
“He looked like a Marilyn Manson reject, but honestly, as long as he can play the drums, I don’t really care.”
“Well, hopefully I’ll improve your opinion of me over the course of the summer.”
The voice was deep and sultry. Ash instantly thought of Jim Morrison from the Doors growling “Break On Through” or crooning “Love Her Madly.” Ash hoped he wasn’t blushing as he turned around, but when he saw the vision of total fucking hotness on his front porch, he gave up. Ash’s face went as red as a chili pepper.
Dustin was a towhead, that uncanny, natural white-blond that some males were blessed with at birth and never escape with age. Even Dustin’s eyebrows and eyelashes were white, and of course, the very first thing that went through Ash’s filthy mind was that Dustin’s pubic hair would be that same wonderful white-blond too. That thought, and the accompanying mental image, gave Ash a raging hard-on. Fuck.
Aside from the gorgeous color, Dustin’s hair was cut in a skater’s asymmetrical shag, longer on top than it was in the back, and he used some kind of styling gunk to stand it up into an artful pile of spikes. His eyes were toffee brown and positively danced with mischief as he stood on the porch in tight, skinny jeans, an Affliction hoodie, and Chuck Taylor All-Stars.
Yup. Ash was hard as granite.
“Well, goddamn!” Jared said with feeling. “Where’s the little punk I helped with the drums a few hours ago?”
Dustin laughed and jumped off the porch. He landed in a graceful crouch, standing to stretch like a cat, which made his clothing ride up and showed off a sweet little six-pack, complete with a pierced navel.
Oh motherfucking hell. Ash was going to have to go inside and adjust. He contemplated the physical tightness of Dustin’s jeans and cocked his head, trying to decide if the hard-bodied little drummer wore boxers, briefs, or—groan—nothing at all.
“I washed him off. You’re stuck with me.”
Ash stared, filled with simple but intense desire. Everything about Dustin turned Ash on fiercely, right down to the multiple piercings in Dustin’s ears.
Jared laughed and looked sideways at Ash, who was unusually quiet. “Uh, Dustin, this is Ash, our singer. Ash, Dustin.”
Dustin’s gaze devoured Ash from the top down. The singer and leader of the Boys of Summer had skin the color of teak, a tawny dark brown that gleamed in the golden sunshine. Dustin had to put effort into not straight-up ogling the guy, because Ash looked like a hero from some romance cover, complete with long, windswept black hair, fiery dark eyes, and oh-so-kissable lips. “You look like a lead singer. Tall, gorgeous, pretty eyes…. Can you actually sing too?”
Ash’s mouth went bone-dry and his heart pounded like a bongo. Had he heard that right? Did Dustin just call him gorgeous? Ash mumbled something unintelligible.
Jared stared at him. “Ground control to Ash, you okay over there?”
Ash looked at Jared, slightly panicked. He could hardly admit to macking on their new drummer in front of the guy. Plus, there was the whole bit about being told he was gorgeous by somebody he wanted to knock down and fuck senseless on the front porch. What was he supposed to say? Tell Jared he was fine except for the massive erection that was currently preventing any blood from getting to his brain and causing a huge case of stupid? Oh yeah, that would go over great.
Ash managed a vague sort of nod and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He tried to keep his eyes glued to the ground, but it didn’t work. They kept flipping up to gaze at their new drummer. Ash jerked his head toward his SUV. “Guess I’ll drive,” he mumbled.
They were all headed in that direction when Jared’s cell phone rang. Ash’s Sketchers crunching on the gravel didn’t quite mask his growl as he glared at Jared’s retreating back and the phone plastered to his ear.
“Hey, I can sleep on the floor, if getting a bed is a problem.” Dustin’s concern was audible in his voice. “Or if the money’s the issue, a futon would be—”
Ash’s beleaguered brain finally clicked on and he turned his attention back to Dustin. “No. No problem. Sorry, man. I just got done with a killer semester. If I space out, or just kind of stare off or something, smack me. It’s totally posttraumatic stress.”
“If you say so.”
Ash furrowed his brows as he glared at Jared, still talking on his phone. Damn it, Ash needed a wingman here. He hooked his thumbs in his back pockets and cocked his head, pivoting on his heel before dancing from foot to foot as if music played somewhere. Dustin smiled, watching him. Ash’s hair swung around his shoulders as he came to a stop, facing Dustin once again as Jared finally came toward them with an apologetic look on his face.
“Sorry, guys, I gotta bail on the bed trip. I have to go see a… a friend.”
“Dealing during daylight hours?” Ash quipped. “Damn.”
Jared made a face, his voice taking on a very serious tone. “I suggest you tell Dustin that you’re merely attempting to be amusing, because everybody in our band knows that I have no sense of humor whatsoever about being referred to as something so onerous as a purveyor of narcotics.”
Ash abruptly stopped dancing about, straightened up, and nodded. “Right dude, sorry. So… you gotta go?”
“Yeah. That was Tracy.”
“Oh,” Ash said, surprised. “I didn’t know you guys were talking again.”
“On and off.”
“I didn’t know she’d finally gotten a divorce.”
Ash cringed. “Jared, man….”
“Stay out of it, Ash.”
“Yeah, okay. Just… be careful.”
“Have fun buying junior there a bed. Don’t embarrass him too badly.”
Jared jogged off to his ancient Bug, leaving Ash and Dust alone.
As they drove out toward the shopping mall on the edge of the county line, a comfortable silence filled the SUV. They used the time to size each other up, taking the first leg of the journey for some thorough studying. Dustin decided Ash was simply the best-looking man he’d ever laid eyes on. From his long black hair with its natural red highlights, to his rangy hard body that seemed full of childish, happy energy, the lead singer of the Boys of Summer was completely gorgeous. And firmly in his closet, Dustin was sure, which was a problem.
Ash, on the other hand, decided he was getting laid tonight. He was going to take a man home, alone, for the very first time. No girls allowed this time. He didn’t want anything distracting him from the unbelievable bounty that was Dustin the drummer. Ash had Plans (with a capital P) for this boy, and the more he thought about it, the more excited he got. Why the hell hadn’t he ever done something like this before?
“So… thought about what kind of bed you want?” Ash asked.
Dustin cocked his head and frowned. “The kind you sleep on?”
“Smartass. I meant, like, a queen, a king, a firm mattress, a soft mattress? You ever try one of those Tempur-Pedic beds?”
Dustin stared at him with his mouth hanging open. It was kind of cute. Ash wanted to lean over and suck on Dustin’s lower lip, which probably meant he was going to have a car accident if he didn’t stop thinking with his dick and pay attention to the road.
“What are you, like, the Jacques Cousteau of beds?”
“We spend a third of our lives asleep, Dust. It okay if I call you Dust?”
“Sure, I don’t care,” Dustin said, shrugging. Ash beamed at him.
“I happen to like sleeping, so I have a thing for comfortable beds.”
“Okay.” Dustin slowly nodded. “What kind of bed do you have?”
“At the farmhouse?”
“I have a king-sized double pillow-top that I roll a two-inch layer of memory foam over. It’s not ideal, but it does the job for the summer.”
“What’s ideal?” Now Dustin was interested, because thinking about how serious Ash was about his bed was kind of hot.
“The house I live in up in Pittsburgh? I have a California King up there, one of those Sleep Number jobs with separate adjustment areas on each side. It’s on a custom-built spring platform, and it’s fucking amazing. I sleep like a baby every night, even if I’m not wrapped in flesh.”
“Excuse me?” Dustin choked.
“Yeah, uh, I don’t like to sleep alone. It’s kind of a fetish. You’d have found out anyway, living with me. It’s not so much a sex thing as a skin thing. I just sleep better if I’ve got skin on either side of me.”
Dustin stared at him and decided to jump in with both feet and see where he landed. “Well hell, Ash. Why are we wasting money on a bed? Why don’t I just sleep in your room?”
Ash’s heart pounded, and he chose his speech carefully. “Uh, as much as I… appreciate… your offer, you’ll find out pretty quick that our band is really popular. Most of the guys pick up bed-warmers, whether they have sex or not.” At the look on Dustin’s face, Ash’s words spilled out. “I’m not making any assumptions, Dust. What you do is your business. I’m just saying, I don’t doubt you’ll have plenty of offers for—”
But Dustin interrupted him with the one thing Ash totally didn’t expect to hear. At least, not that way.
“I’m gay, Ash. I really don’t think I’m gonna be picking up anybody at a wedding and bringing them home for sex.”
Ash swung the SUV into the furniture outlet and shut the engine off. He pulled the keys from the ignition and turned to look at Dustin, who sat quietly, staring at him, obviously waiting for Ash’s reaction. “Just so you know, I haven’t had any problems picking guys up at weddings for sex. Hell, I ended up with the groom once.” Ash’s face flushed as Dustin’s eyebrows flew up in surprise. “And no, I’m not telling that story. Falling Banks may be a small town, but they aren’t stuck in the dark ages. There are gay couples. There’s even a gay bar.”
“So you expect me to discover the pleasures of hooking up with small-town gay guys?” Dustin’s voice had a hard, sarcastic edge Ash really didn’t like.
“That’s not what I said.” Ash looked decidedly uncomfortable. “I’m just saying, if you’re, uh, out, then you should have your own space.”
Dustin sat back, a contemplative look on his face as he eyed Ash. “I take it, despite your hookups and the fact that you ooze metrosexual all over the place, you’re not out.”
Ash flushed an even deeper shade of scarlet, but decided it was probably better to have this conversation now. He stuck the keys back in the ignition, started the engine, and flipped the air-conditioning on so they’d have both some air—and some cover—then leaned back and turned to his sexy new bandmate.
“No, I’m not. Not down here. Up at school it’s another story, but here at home? No. Jared knows because he lives with me and has seen who I bring home, but since I know he’s a fucking drug dealer, we keep our mouths shut about each other’s business.”
“You mind telling me why? I mean, no offense, but I knew the minute I saw you.”
“I’m not gay.”
“Yeah, okay, dude, whatever.” With a tired sigh, Dustin completely disengaged from the conversation and turned away from Ash to get out of the truck. God, this guy was so far in the closet, he couldn’t even see the door!
Ash reached over and grabbed Dustin’s arm before he could open the door. Strange electricity arced between them, pulling a gasp from Ash and stiffening Dustin’s spine. Reacting on instinct, Ash yanked, and Dust bounced across the seat like he’d been shot from a cannon right into Ash’s lap. Dustin slapped one hand against Ash’s chest to stop the singer from hauling him any closer, and it only made things worse. Unbelievable heat arced up Dustin’s hand into his arm, drawing a hiss from between his clenched teeth. Ash couldn’t think; he hummed with need. He wrapped his fingers around Dustin’s upper arms. Dustin shoved both of his hands into Ash’s chest with a sexy little growl. Their eyes locked, and the wrestling went from a surprised struggle to something downright erotic.
“Thought you said you weren’t gay,” Dustin said, a little breathless.
“Thought you said you weren’t out.” Dustin’s arms trembled and started to weaken. God, Ash smelled good, and he was so pretty….
“I’m not!” Four more inches. Just four more fucking inches, and Ash could devour that mouth.
“You kiss me in the front seat of your truck in broad daylight while they load that sofa, and you will be,” Dustin breathed.
Ash whipped his head around. Four men from the furniture store were loading a large sectional sofa into a 4×4 about twenty yards away. Ash immediately let go of Dustin, but couldn’t help raking his eyes over him again.
Dustin felt the heat of Ash’s gaze and knew he had scant seconds before Ash decided he didn’t care about having an audience. Dust had to stop this now; he just met this guy.
“Look, Ash, I don’t want there to be any problems between us, and I don’t want to cause any problems with the band.” Dustin scooted back over into the passenger seat. He tugged his hoodie down, and only then did Ash realize Dustin’s shirt had ridden up over his abs. Ash bit the inside of cheek to hold back the whimper.
“I’m not usually this—” Ash didn’t know how to say it. “Fuck.” He’d never wanted a guy like he wanted Dustin, but if he said that, it sounded stupid and purely physical—which, well, maybe it was. Damn.
Dustin watched the thoughts flicker across Ash’s face as clearly as if he’d sung them. Dustin had never met a man with a more expressive face. A bolt of lust stronger than anything Dustin had felt in a year struck and left him smoldering. Dustin’s chest seized with actual pain as he recognized the feeling and squashed it flat. He couldn’t afford to take any chances. He was in Falling Banks to play the drums, not find a boyfriend. He took a slow, deep breath to ease the ache in the center of his chest and gazed at Ash.
“Look, I felt it too, okay? There’s definitely some kind of crazy attraction between us, but I’m shambling here. I played an all-nighter last night, and we still need to buy a bed. Then, if you don’t mind, I need to get something to eat—something, you know, real. Not fast food. Energy drinks stop working after you’ve been using them for a few days, so—”
“Dude, when did you sleep last?”
Dustin rubbed his beautiful toffee-colored eyes and offered Ash an exhausted smile. “What day is it?”
“I am so sorry.” Ash turned the SUV back off and pocketed his keys. “Let’s pick out a bed. I gotta drop your contract and tax forms off at my parents’ house, but we can grab food after that. I promise not to make a run on your virtue until you can appreciate it.” Ash’s wink was downright lewd.
Dustin took a deep breath and climbed out of the SUV. He followed the tall, sexy singer into the large furniture depot and tried to focus on the rectangles made for sleeping.
I hope you enjoyed the excerpt. The Boys of Summer is the first book in the Dust & Ash Saga and is available now on Amazon and Smashwords. The second book is scheduled to come out in the spring; there are six books in all.
To celebrate the first release in the saga, I’m sponsoring a giveaway! There are three ways to enter: like my author page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or – if you’re already following me on FB and Twitter – leave me a comment about your favorite music to listen to at a wedding reception. I’ll be giving away three gift cards, and the winners will get to choose what they’d like to receive! Winners will be announced on my blog on September 30th.
Once again, I’d like to thank Lou for hosting me and the Boys today. Enjoy the end of summer! Thanks for being here, Tucker. Be sure to visit again!
About the author
Tucker McCallahan has been lots of places, seen lots of things, and is still learning new stuff on the regular. Multi-published, bisexual, polyamorous, and slave to a big black cat named Emperor Inka, Tucker is a long-time member of the LGBT community and a proud educator/activist.
Romance Across the Rainbow is happy to welcome Eric Allan Westfall today, touring with his new release, Of Princes False and True. Read on for buy links, an excerpt, and exclusive interview, and a giveaway.
A tennis match? Starting a war between the Duchy of Avann and the Kingdom of the Westlands?
Only in a fairy tale.
When Prince Henry hurts a young ball boy who told him Danilo’s ball was inside the line, Danilo’s response is automatic. Punch the prince’s face, pick him up left-handed, and break the royal jaw. Unfortunately, there’s another “automatic” at work: a death sentence for whoever strikes royalty.
King Hiram can’t—won’t—change the rule of law to rule of royal whim. But he grants the Heir of Avann fifteen days to find words that will allow Danilo to live.
In those fifteen days: Magick. The gods, goddesses and gender-fluid deities on Deity Lane. Kilvar, the assassin. A purse which opens in a bank vault. A mysterious old man. The Lady of All. The Magickal Hand writing, rewriting. A fairy tale within a fairy tale. A huge horse called Brute. And at the end…perhaps the right words and a most unexpected love. Plus a deity-supplied dinner with just the right amount of garlic.
All royalties will go to a local LGBT organization.
The Small Throne Room The King of Westland’s Castle Late Morning, the Day The Story Starts
“Sit,” King Hiram commanded. The young man, still head-bowed, didn’t move. The guards squeezed the prisoner’s biceps, half-marching, half-dragging to the chair at the opposite end of the table from the king. With four guard hands occupied by flesh or chains, the difficulty in moving the chair was obvious. The wizard’s spell removed the chains; they reappeared with a clunk!on the floor beside the table.
The guard on the young man’s left pressed a dagger-point against his throat. The other guard released him, stepped behind the chair and pulled it enough away for the young man to be maneuvered in front of it. Rough hands on shoulders forced him down. It was, of course, only happenstance the knifepoint nicked the neck, a drop of blood appearing when the blade was removed.
The recent command not to hurt the prisoner apparently didn’t apply to chairs in which the prisoner was sitting. The force used to propel it toward the table would have crushed the young man’s fingers if he’d rested them on the arms when he sat. Fortunately, his hands were in his lap. The young man’s head remained down as he was in effect caged by the chair and table.
He raised his head, looking straight ahead, but Hiram and his advisors could see he wasn’t seeing anything then present in the room.
Beneath the dirt, bruises, scrapes and crusted blood he was handsome. Sharp cheekbones, aquiline nose, thin lips, a faint cleft in his chin. Brilliant green eyes, flecked with gold. Unusual long hair tumbling near his shoulders, red-brown strands mixed with varying shades of gold. There was something almost familiar… The king chased a wisp of memory, but lost it.
The young man tilted his chin up enough to look at the king, apparently believing if cats could, so could he. There was no cringing in those eyes, no shame, no embarrassment. No anger or resentment. Perhaps, though, a tiny glimmer of…interest. As if this was some grand adventure and he needed to absorb everything happening to and around him for later remembrances.
Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be remembering anything again, in the not too distant future. A man doesn’t when his head has been severed from his neck, or he’s been hanged until a neck-snap or slow strangulation ends him. Hiram realized he didn’t remember what death the law required. He would, he knew, have to check.
In silence, the young man lifted his hands, and pushed the long, thick hair behind his ears, each movement telling a story of strain and pain. As did his face. One eye was swollen almost shut; a cut on his forehead still oozed blood; there was dirt on the bruising on cheeks and jaw; one lip was split.
“Did he resist arrest?”
“No, Your Majesty.”
“Did the prince do this?” The king refused to let himself display the tiniest glimmer of hope the answer was “yes.” The hope Henry fought back.
“Did he attempt to flee and have to be captured?”
“He is as the Guards found him on their arrival. I am—”
The young man interrupted with a laugh—a bright, beautiful baritone, filling the room with a joy entirely out of place in the circumstances.
The king’s low and angry voice in turn smashed the laughter. “You think all this is a joke?”
The young man blinked. “No, Your Majesty. I just thought it was funny someone thought I might run away. Only a coward runs, when he knows he’s done no wrong. I did what was right.”
“You struck my son.”
The young man shrugged. “I’ll strike any bully beating a child.”
Someone in the room gasped. The king merely thanked the Thirty-Nine it wasn’t him and pretended he hadn’t heard.
But as Hiram spoke he realized he was defending his son because of a father’s obligation, not from a belief in his innocence. “Prince Henry is my heir. He would never—”
“He did.” Kings do not flabbergast easily. Hiram was rendered so. Rogermight interrupt him in the privacy of the royal chambers, but elsewhere? No one dared. Until the young man.
Who had no idea what he was facing; had no idea of the inevitable outcome of his admission of guilt. Hiram did not need to hear more. The law was clear. The punishment was clear.
Yet if he was compelled to do as the law demanded, he would at least learn the truth first.
“Do you have any witnesses?”
The young man’s response was a scoffing, “Of course. Anyone there will tell you…” His voice faded away. “But they won’t, will they? He’s a prince, I’m a foreigner, and they’ll only tell you what a kingly father wants to hear: his son is as pure and innocent as the drifting…slush would be, in a kingdom where snow is possible.”
The chin-tilt this time was defiant. “So. What’s the penalty in this kingdom for saving a child from a beating which might have left him crippled?”
The young man paled, but didn’t flinch, and when he moved his hands to the table, there was no trembling.
Nor was there any in his voice. It was calm, almost matter-of-fact, and he didn’t avert his eyes from the king’s. “Interesting. I thought to rescue a child and instead I start a war.”
Old Moldy heard a threat and started to bluster. Hiram heard a statement of fact, or what the young man believed was truth. He told Old Moldy “No!” and the Chancellor slumped back in his chair.
“A man admits to a crime in my kingdom, for which the law demands the severest penalty. Why should anyone go to war over just punishment?” Everyone heard the silent question, “Who are you your death would cause a war?”
The young man’s bow—so far as he could in his seating situation—was formal. An objective observer might have called it regal.
“Your Majesty, permit me to introduce myself. I am Danilo ys Daeaen ys Cirill. I am the only grandson of the Duke of Avann.” The young man shrugged. “They call me the Heir of Avann.”
OF PRINCES FALSE AND TRUE
BLOG TOUR INTERVIEW
Is there a character in your work you feel especially connected to? Why?
Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes.
Me. And my partner of 30 years.
It was March of 1965. Although I’d known I was gay since I was roughly five, it took me until I was 21 to come out to my parents, and truly admit it to “the world.” I was in my senior year in college, in a town with not much by way of gay bars, so I headed to the “metropolis” with a date. Or meeting a date at the particular very popular bar. (Can’t quite remember because that fuzziness isn’t all that important.)
We met in…let’s say…a most unusual way.
I ditched my date—wasn’t that a queer thing to do?—to go to an after-hours party with him. I traveled back and forth a lot until graduation, and moved to that city in June of 1965 to be with him. The pejorative “instalove” is tossed around a lot these days, which is sad for you all. Love at first sight exists. Always has, always will, if you let it. It happened to me.
We were together until his unexpected passing in August of 1995.
The main characters in The Warlord and the Bard meet the same way we did, though in a much more royal and imperial way in that fantasy world. So, yeah. Special connection, indeed.
What is the hardest part of writing?
I don’t have the drive that other writers do, the kind which keeps them writing every day besides having full-time responsibilities with family and day jobs. For the most part, over the years, I’ve had difficulty in starting up and keeping in a productive writing mode with any semblance of regularity.
Here’s a list of what’s in progress, from a page or two to sixty percent or more, from short story to novella to novel: Adam’s Other Rib, The Assassin’s Song, The Bartered Bridegroo, bloodLight, Christmas at the Baths, The Dragon Winked, Dragonne’s Lair, hrny 4 u, 3 Boars & a Wolf Walk Into a Bar, The Truth About Them Damned Goats, Little Red’s Riding a Hood, Hath Not a Demon, The Prince and The Redneck, Sranjir in an Odd Land, The Serpent Mark, Strathairn’s Warrior, Taren’s Tale, The Biter Bitten, and Without the Cask.
These are good ideas. Some of them are great ideas. (You may have noticed my opinions are not very humble.) And they ought to be finished.
Since I committed myself to finishing Of Princes, and no way out (a Regency set in Another England) by signing up for back-to-back blog tours, I’m hoping that will provide the impetus to keep going. So I can get at least 3 Boars and Damned Goats out in 2019…and maybe whittle down the rest of that list.
I can but hope.
Where do you look for inspiration for new stories?
Please, no! You saw the list above.
New ideas? I’m the guy who strings large cloves of garlic around the doors and windows of his house, and adds crosses, to keep the vampires out. New ideas are, I believe, just like vampires.
So to the greatest extent possible, I keep my authorial eyes closed, and have a finger in each authorial ear, all the while going “La, la, la, la, la! I can’t hear you” as loud as I can, whenever I’m in the vicinity of a new idea.
But the sneaky things…sneak in anyway.
I saw a gorgeous male dancer in tights and “tanktop,” stand on his right foot, and raise his left leg until it was vertical, nose pressed to knee, hands above to calf and ankle in an incredible display of flexibility. Which somehow became a serpent shifter in that position, and then other positions calling for serpentine flexibility. “The Biter Bitten” was born.
A while back I watched Adam’s Rib (Tracy/Hepburn) on TCM, and the next day, there was Mike the Manly Muse tapping on my shoulder, then yanking me into the office and forcing me into the chair when I balked. “Shouldn’t there be a gay version of this?” he asked, turning on the computer and monitor without my agreeing, putting my hands on the keyboard. That’s how “Adam’s Other Rib” got started.
Bottom line: New ideas? Nope. Not for me. No way, nohow. La, la, la, la, la.
Uh…what was that you said, Mike?
What are you currently wearing?
Really? What an inappropriate, intrusive intrusion into my privacy. (That’s properly pronounced PRIV-ah-cee.) It’s a good thing this was the last question. Had it been the first I might have walked out of this interview with a display of some degree of dudgeon. I give very good dudgeon.
Eric is a Midwesterner, and as Lady Glenhaven might say, “His first sea voyage was with Noah.” He started reading at five with one of the Andrew Lang books (he thinks it was The Blue Fairy Book) and has been a science fiction/fantasy addict ever since. Most of his writing is in those (MM) genres.
The exceptions are his Another England (alternate history) series: The Rake, The Rogue and the Roué(Regency novel), Mr. Felcher’s Grand Emporium, or, The Adventures of a Pair of Spares in the Fine Art of Gentlemanly Portraiture(Victorian), with no way out(Regency) coming out a month after Of Princes.
Two more fairy tales are in progress: 3 Boars & A Wolf Walk Into A Bar(Eric is sure you can figure this one out), and The Truth About Them Damn Goats(of the gruff variety).
Now all he has to do is find the time to write the incomplete stuff! (The real world can be a real pain!)
There’s a new queer romance anthology out that benefits RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) – Summer Fair.
Summer festivals bring the aroma of popcorn, the excitement of rides, and the promise of real-life enchantment. Seven authors bring you original love stories, each set at a different summer celebration. You’ll experience the thrill of the Chicago World’s fair through the eyes of a plucky girl reporter and the quiet desperation of a teen working a summer job at a traveling carnival. Get whisked away on romantic journeys around the world from a sweet Texas Dewberry Festival to a lantern-filled temple celebration to a surprisingly rowdy New England Founders Day. Whether it’s the magic of a Renaissance Fair, the excitement of a Theater Retreat, or the pulse of a Music Festival, you’re sure to get geared up for all things summer with this delightful new collection.
Note: Most stories are fantasy, but this anthology also includes historical, paranormal and contemporary works.
She decided to do something bold. “Come up in the wheel with me.”
“I’ve been up in the wheel,” but Cathleen didn’t say no. “You don’t have to buy me a ticket.”
“But I want to,” Anna said. “I want to go up there with you. The line is long. It may be the last thing I get to do today, and though I’m terrified I can’t pass up the chance to do something that is once-in-a-lifetime.”
“No, I imagine you can’t.” Wiping her face, Cathleen finished her hot dog. Anna did the same, and they returned their glasses to the Pabst booth and then got into the long line for the wheel. Children bounced in line, excited to go up but bored with waiting. Men smoked and sent the wafts of smoke across all the people in line, and more than one person looked nervous about going into the sky in the steel contraption.
Anna and Cathleen bought tickets and, by virtue of space, were shoved together as they shuffled slowly to the front.
“Mercy, but it’s high.” Anna felt as if she might be sick.
“You don’t have to do it, you know.”
“But I’ve already bought a ticket.”
“Someone’d pay you for it.”
“But I’ve come all this way and I’m here standing underneath it. Besides, what’ll I do if I don’t—go look at the Fisheries?”
She felt a warm hand take hers and nearly fainted. Cathleen had taken her hand. “Don’t be afraid. It’s fun. It really is.”
“And if it collapses and we die, at least we’ll die together.”
Anna groaned but did not take her hand away. Hand in hand, they reached the front of the line and waited with a group of thirty others for the next car to come down and to board. Cathleen pulled them to a windowed corner where they could both press against the glass.
Still, they held hands.
And when the car started to move, Anna squeezed hard from nerves without thinking. Cathleen ducked her head in and put her lips to Anna’s. It was brief, just a momentary touch, but then she whispered into Anna’s ear. “Don’t be afraid.”
Anna wasn’t. Cathleen’s lips against hers had taken away all the fear she had felt about the Ferris Wheel, and then some. With Cathleen beside her, their fingers entwined, she rode the car that rose into the air and beheld the entire fair in all directions before her. She saw the Coliseum of the Wild West show, and the balloon in the sky, and all the trains, and all the people, and all the way back to the basin where she’d first entered the fair off the Lake. The sun was just beginning to go down in the sky. Soon, it would be evening, and Anna would need to get on her way—but with the incredible views and the hand of the lovely girl in hers, and Anna’s heart swelled about to bursting. She could have wept at it all, at this perfect day.
The car started to descend.
“We get one more loop,” Cathleen said.
“I wish it was a hundred,” Anna replied, turning to her friend. “I wish we could stay here forever.” It was an honest confession.
Cathleen smiled, but sadly. With the displays below, Anna felt as if she could see all the world ahead of her. And all the world seemed so small and unimportant.
About the Authors
The brain child of Chicago romance author Marie Piper, the StoryPenners is a collection of fiction and romance authors dedicated to producing independent anthologies to support charitable causes. The StoryPenners has members from the Midwest, the West Coast, New England, Canada, England, and Australia.
Original Members: Marie Piper, Harley Easton, CM Peters, S.B. Roark, and Sienna Saint-Cyr
Contributing StoryPenners: Randi Perrin, Annabeth Leong, Gregory L. Norris, R.L. Merrill, Katey Tattrie, R. Diamond, Arden de Winter
When I was younger, I’d kind of ‘shut off’ emotionally. Not much affected me by my teen years. I was depressed, into cutting myself (mostly because I wanted to feel something and that was something I could feel), and I ended up working for the local fair. While the fair was run by local folks mostly, the rides were brought in by another party. The folks that ran the rides referred to themselves as Carnies.
Many aspects of my story are real and likely have that feel for that reason. I’ve changed names and scenarios, but there really was a very sweet man running the Tilt-O-Whirl and my friend and I did indeed ask him to ride it with us. We were the first to ever ask him and it really did bring him to tears. I’ve wondered how he’s doing over the years but each year brought a new carnival and different crew, so I never found out. I was sad when I realized he was never coming back.
It’s true that the rules are different when you work for a carnival. I was only fifteen and constantly being hit on by older men. They’d slam cups onto the counter and say, “Do me,” and most of them were complete jerks. And worse, tolerated jerks. But not all were like that. The man that ran the Tilt-O-Whirl was good to me. He watched out for me (and my friend). I didn’t have visible cutting scars then because I mostly kept that to areas people wouldn’t see, but I suspect he saw pain in me, just as I have my characters experience in the story. I saw his pain to.
That’s why I wrote this story the way I did. He’d once told me that no woman could ever love him. I wanted to give him a better story than that. This stranger that I only knew as Carnie Nine was my inspiration for this story. I hope he’s still around, that he’s found someone to love him, and that he one day reads this story and remembers the teen girls that asked him to ride the Tilt-O-Whirl with him.
Sienna Saint-Cyr’s erotic fiction has appeared in the Love Slave books and Sexual Expression series; contemporary erotica in Silence is Golden and Goodbye Moderation: Lust, and romance in Melt, Haunt, and Summer Fair. She also writes nonfiction and flash fiction for several websites. Sienna owns and edits for SinCyr Publishing, an erotica company with a focus
on shifting rape culture one sexy story at a time. She also runs a nonprofit writing workshop and writes dark SF and literary fiction under her legal name.
Along with writing, Sienna speaks at conventions, workshops, and for private gatherings on such sex-positive topics as a healthy body image, using sexuality to promote healing, enthusiastic consent, LGBTQIA, CPTSD, and navigating diverse or non-traditional relationships.
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.
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