Rise Like a Phoenix Tammy Lowe (The Acadian Secret, #3) Publication date: November 22nd 2023 Genres: Time-Travel, Young Adult
When Elisabeth London travels back in time to the 14th century, she is transported to a world straight out of the pages of a fairy-tale. Swept away by the adventure and romance, Elisabeth follows her heart—and Aquarius—into this whole new world.
But Elisabeth soon learns her father has discovered where (or rather when) she is. He’s sent a bounty-hunter to bring her home. Although a million questions buzz through her mind, there’s one thing she’s certain of—her parents will never let her hang out in the 14th century with a guy she met in Ancient Rome.
With her heart at stake, can Elisabeth avoid the bounty-hunter and find a way to stay in this fairy-tale world?
Or is her love-life about to take a rather grim twist?
Find out in Elisabeth London’s timeless story of love, danger, and adventure.
When Crooked Nose punched, David blocked. Then, with a quick elbow movement, he smacked the man’s face with the end of the rope before stepping back. The effect was rather comical.
Crooked threw another punch.
David pounced, wrapping the rope around the man’s wrist. Yanking the tied arm back made him double over. His eyes turned cold and hard. “Who sent you?”
The man’s breath sawed in and out. “You’ve no idea whose daughter you’ve run away with, do you?”
He pulled Crooked’s arm straight back some more. “Enlighten me.”
“Make her tell you,” he hissed.
David swallowed a lump in his throat. “She hides nothing from me.” He then snapped the man’s arm at the elbow, and grabbed Elisabeth’s hand, pulling her to a run.
Her breath hitched, and the colorful bouquet of wildflowers dropped.
“By the gods!” David led the way through a field of grazing sheep, toward a grove of trees. “Your father is here?”
“No…” She shook her head in denial. “No, he can’t be…can he?”
“You tell me!”
Elisabeth let out an uncontrollable whimper.
If Dad found out she was time-traveling—she was so grounded.
An adventurer at heart, Tammy has explored ruins in Rome, Pompeii, and Istanbul (Constantinople) with historians and archaeologists.
She’s slept in the tower of a 15th century castle in Scotland, climbed down the cramped tunnels of Egyptian pyramids, scaled the Sydney Harbour Bridge, sailed on a tiny raft down the Yulong River in rural China, dined at a Bedouin camp in the Arabian Desert, and escaped from head-hunters in the South Pacific.
I suppose one could say her own childhood wish of time traveling adventures came true…in a roundabout way.
Pariah’s Lament Richie Billing Publication date: March 17th 2021 Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Young Adult
“So often it’s the forgotten who possess the power to change the world.”
When an attempt is made on the life of Ashara, Keeper of Yurr, his young, hapless advisor Edvar must uncover and stop those behind it.
With enemies in the capital city and the belligerent Tesh, Keeper of neighbouring nation Karrabar stirring trouble in the Borderlands, can Edvar hold together Ashara’s brittle reign?
The troubles ripple throughout Yurr, affecting an ancient race of people known as the Amast, who in their time of utmost need, turn to pariah Isy for salvation. Rejected by society, kith and kin, can Isy guide the Amast to safety during the greatest turmoil Yurr has known since the War of the Damned?
Pariah’s Lament will take you on a rollercoaster of an adventure ‘that will keep you spellbound as you traverse the world alongside Isy and Edvar’ (Books Behind The Title). And along the way you’ll experience ‘intense fighting scenes, a little romance and flawed characters’ (Sarah Lillian Books).
If you love to explore fantasy worlds, this book won’t disappoint. Part of a shared universe populated by other authors, the setting in Pariah’s Lament has proven a huge hit with readers, with some praising the ‘insane level of detail’ (The Book Suite) and vividness of its descriptions.
Like a flock of dive-bombing gulls, the great stones of the Yurrish trebuchets and catapults twisted and turned in the air. One jagged chunk struck the bow of a Karraban galley and splinters and shards burst forth to a chorus of cracks and screams. Another great boulder obliterated the masthead of a nearby ship, hurling those upon the deck overboard.
More missed than struck. The yellow tide did not falter.
Driven forward by oars, the Karraban fleet ate up the water, moving in a diagonal line. The trebuchets were taking an age to reload. From his vantage point, Jem could see those on the quay hurrying to winch back the catapults. At the sound of a frantic horn, the arms of the catapults were unleashed and clusters of iron balls, stones and rocks rained down on those ships leading the Karraban charge, puncturing hulls, sails and decks.
Still they came.
The trebuchets, ranges adjusted, loosed again and once more struck a destructive blow. The Karrabans still persisted. Yurrish archers upon the quay walls unleashed their first volley. Unfortunate rowers upon the open decks screamed, and the momentum of a number of ships waned, oars falling slack or tangling with others. One talented, or lucky, archer struck a helmsman and the galley veered into another, scraping its side and snapping its oars, and, no doubt, the arms of a few oarsmen too.
The Karrabans answered with arrows of their own, their archers placed in crow’s nests and platforms built amongst the rigging. The air quickly grew thick with darts. The persistent shouts and cries of men were incrementally drowned out by the great crashes of stone against wood as the loads of catapults and trebuchets fell. The frenetic scene around the quay wall absorbed Jem’s attention. Creeping into the top of his vision, looming behind the chaos, came the first of the great galleons. Its rowers slowed, turned portside, level with the quay gate.
“Sir, the galleon carries the thunder. You must stop it!” Jem shouted.
Gundar looked to where he pointed and nodded. He dispatched messengers to the quay and artillery stations. Jem spotted hatches opening on the portside of the ship. Catapults continued to fire at the galleys, though some quick-thinking engineers had turned their aim to the galleon. Their loads fell short. The trebuchets were still reloading. They were the only ones who had a hope of hitting it, if any of their operators had the presence of mind to know where to aim.
One by one, their great wooden arms swung forwards. Huge rocks hung in the air like eagles. Everyone upon the wall had their eyes upon them, hoping they struck, willing them to do so, and despairing as they watched each one splash harmlessly into the water.
Richie Billing writes all kinds of stories, but mostly fantasy fiction. His tales often explore real-world issues, zooming in on his characters and their troubles.
His short fiction has been widely published, with one story adapted for BBC radio. And his debut novel, an epic fantasy called Pariah’s Lament, was published by Of Metal and Magic Publishing in March 2021.
Richie also hosts the podcast The Fantasy Writers’ Toolshed, a venture inspired by the requests of readers of his acclaimed craft book, A Fantasy Writers’ Handbook.
When not writing, Richie works as an editor and digital marketer and teaches creative writing both online and in his home city of Liverpool.
Most nights you can find him up into the early hours scribbling away or watching the NBA.
A Beast Within Aidan Lucid Publication date: November 10th 2023 Genres: Adult, Horror
Have you experienced true terror? For three criminals, they’re about to face it head-on!
Fresh out of prison, Jeremy vows to steer clear of a life of crime and clean up his act. But he quickly realizes that to the world, he will always be an ex-con and plunges back into his old ways. The perfect opportunity presents itself in the form of his best friend, Stephen, and his spunky girlfriend, Natalie.
After a failed bank robbery, Jeremy and his accomplices’ identities are made. So, they find refuge in the home of a typical Christian family. Their getaway should have been smooth sailing…after all it was three armed criminals against the wholesome Boyd family.
But the Boyds are hiding dark secrets of their own…
Malcolm looked in his rear-view mirror at the car and its driver growing smaller by the second. “I feel bad about leaving him there.” He slowed to a stop, then shifted the stick into reverse.
“What are you doing? This is insane!” Helena protested as he reversed the Wagoneer.
“Yeah, but if anything happened to him, I’d never forgive myself. Besides, I can’t just drive past him.”
“Course you can. Just press the accelerator and go.”
He brought the Wagoneer to a halt a few feet from the Buick and yanked up the handbrake. “I won’t be long.”
“Malcolm. Malcolm!” Helena hissed as he got out.
The stranger stood staring at the front left wheel, not acknowledging Malcolm’s presence.
“Howdy, sir. Having car trouble?” he asked the chubby driver who appeared to be in his fifties.
“Got a flat. Can’t change it with my back.”
“I can do that if you like? Got a spare?”
“That’s mighty kind of you, fella. Uh . . . yeah, in the trunk.”
“Let me get my wrenching nut.” Malcolm opened his own trunk and took out the tool. He kneeled down and began unscrewing the nuts. “You from around here?”
“The next town a few miles ahead. You?”
“We live about three hours away. Hartford Town. Ever heard of it?”
“Never, sir. Thanks for doing this. I’m starvin’, I’m just waiting for my brother-in-law to come. Lazy bastard probably hasn’t even left the house yet.”
Malcolm chuckled. “Got one of those myself. Just don’t tell her I said that.”
“Yeah, God I’m hungry. Good thing you came along.”
As Malcolm continued to unscrew the nuts on the flat tire, he noticed the driver walk a short distance away from him. Next, he heard the cracking of bones and popping sounds, as if joints were being dislocated. Low grunts soon transformed into growls.
Malcolm turned to look at the man but stood up, his jaw hung in terror.
“What…the…fu—” he uttered while retreating slowly to the Wagoneer.
The stranger’s shoulders grew wider as his shirt tore. Black fur replaced the man’s chubby stomach.
“Holy crap!” Malcolm exclaimed.
The only reply he received was a quick snarl as the man turned around, no longer bearing a human face but a wolf’s instead. Sharp, yellowed teeth dripped with saliva.
Helena’s screams confirmed she saw it too.
“Hurry, Dad, get in,” David cried, as tears streamed down his pale face.
Malcolm threw the wrenching nut, hitting the beast on the forehead. It staggered back, shaking its head, momentarily dazed.
Malcolm dashed into the driver’s seat, his trembling hands fumbling for the keys. He jumped when the creature let loose a feral howl.
“Come on, start the damn car! David, honey, lock both doors and get down,” Helena said.
The werewolf started walking towards the driver’s door as the engine roared into life. As Malcolm pulled out onto the road, the beast ran after them, leaping into the air. A thud let them know he was on their roof.
“Oh, Christ. Lose him,” Helena shouted.
Malcolm let loose a few expletives as an enormous paw smashed into his window. He swerved left and right to throw the monster off. Malcolm then slammed the brakes.
The beast rolled forward, digging his claws into the metal to keep himself on the car. Malcolm feared that they were so sharp, if the werewolf reached the windshield, it would slice or tear off the roof.
“Crap,” cursed Malcolm as he drove again, unable to loosen the monster’s grip and knock it off.
The tormentor crawled up towards the windshield. When it was on the hood, the creature went on all fours. He reached back his arm, ready to smash into the glass.
“Oh no you don’t.” Malcolm slammed on the brakes again, catapulting the beast off the Wagoneer. When it hit the ground, the werewolf tumbled and rolled around before coming to a stop, its left arm bent out of shape.
All the Boyds stared on in disbelief. Helena glanced down at her skirt; shame washed over her face as a circular patch of urine soaked her crotch.
Malcolm gave another quick glance in the mirror. David’s face was whiter than normal, his eyes wide in horror. Malcolm grabbed his own right hand to stop it shaking.
They all jumped when the beast grunted again and raised its head, his bright green eyes locked menacingly on them.
Aidan Lucid began his author journey after a spiritual experience in 2002. Two years later, he sent several short stories, articles and poems to magazines and was published seven times that year. Having successfully completed courses in creative writing, writing for TV and radio, and freelance journalism, Lucid went on to have even more poems, articles and short stories appear in national and international magazines and anthologies over the years. Between 2019 and 2023, he published five books. Aidan is the author of a YA horror series titled, “The Hopps Town Series” and also a YA epic fantasy novel, – The Lost Son (Second Edition), the first in a YA fantasy quadrology – The Zargothian Saga. A few stand-alone stories have been released also. In his spare time, Aidan likes to listen to music (being a huge Elvis and Shakin’ Stevens fan!), read, go for walks and see the latest cinema releases with his wife, Claire.
The Withering Trials of Gwendolyn Gray B.A. Williamson (The Chronicles of Gwendolyn Gray, #3) Publication date: November 18th 2023 Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult
She Saved the City, But Lost Her Life
What would you do if your parents disappeared? How would you live, barely scraping by, lying to everyone in your life?
Two years ago, Gwendolyn Gray saved the City. But The Blackstar stole her parents and took them to another world. She lost her powers, her portals, and even her hair. So while the rest of the City is reveling in its newfound freedom, Gwendolyn has spent two years dodging the clutches of the Childkeeper and the Home for Unclaimed Children. Balancing work and school and impersonating her own parents hasn’t been great for her bipolar disorder, either.
So when a school bully and a vengeful faerie bring her carefully constructed lies crashing down around her, Gwendolyn seizes the chance to travel through the realms of story again, trying to find the world where her stolen parents are hidden. But battling bills is nothing compared to the gothic vampires and eldritch horrors she’ll meet along the way. And on a world of smoke and lightning and metal, a teenage rebel holds the key to saving her parents and getting back the life she lost.
Because growing up isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The phone rang, and Gwendolyn squealed in surprise. She sprang out of bed and dashed into the ruined living room, but she tripped over something dark and furry, and fell flat on her face.
The black cat rubbed itself against her cheek.
“Ugh.” Gwendolyn shoved the cat away and got to her feet. “As if destroying my home wasn’t enough. This is the last time I take in a stray.”
The cat bounded away and Gwendolyn started toward the phone in the kitchen, but at that moment, there was a knock at the door.
She froze, torn between the ringing and the knocking. But an unexpected knock was almost certainly a sign of trouble, the kind that made scratched up furniture seem tiny in comparison. The kind of trouble where polite men would politely tip their pointed caps and politely pack her away to the Home for Unclaimed Children.
But when Gwendolyn opened the door, it was not to a man in a blue uniform and shiny badge, but one in a grey suit and black bowler hat.
“Excuse me, Ms. Gray, er… Gwendolyn, is it?”
Gwendolyn squinted warily. “Yes? Can I help you?”
He took off his hat and held it in front of his chest. He had thinning hair and round features. “My name is Mr. Mason. I’m here on your mother’s invitation. Might we come in?”
An icy rush of terror swept over her. Mr. Mason was her publisher, and one of the richest men in The City. Well, he was her parents’ publisher, or so he thought. Gwendolyn had never actually met the man before. All their correspondence had been by mail (and one awkward phone call where Gwendolyn had done a passable job of imitating her mother’s voice). If he was here, he would know that his star authors were really a fifteen-year-old fraud, and would find out that her parents were missing, and he would call the police, and the Childkeeper would come and take her away—
But a word tripped her racing thoughts.
“Invitation? What invitation?” She darted into the hall and closed the door behind her, blocking his view of the wrecked apartment.
Mr. Mason took a startled step back, and produced a card from the inside pocket of his coat. “Your parents’ dinner invitation. I would have RSVP’d earlier, but I didn’t see it in the mail until a few hours ago. I’d have overlooked it completely if my daughter hadn’t found it just in time, thank goodness.” He stepped aside to reveal a girl Gwendolyn’s own age, but taller, slimmer, blonder, and prettier in every way.
Cecilia Forthright. Standing at Gwendolyn’s door with the posture of a gladiator who has scored a lethal blow on his opponent, and is preparing to feed him to the lions. It was a very specific sort of posture.
“Ce—Cecilia, what are you doing here?” Gwendolyn tried to adopt some semblance of normalcy, but her hands decided that this was the time to start trembling violently, and had persuaded her legs to join in the shaking. It seemed Cecilia would not confine her bullying to the walls of the School. “Mr. Mason, I didn’t know… I mean, my parents never mentioned that you had a daughter.”
A wicked gleam shone in Cecilia’s eyes. “Silly Gwendolyn, I’m sure I’ve mentioned him before. After all, he knows your parents so well.”
Mr. Mason nodded. “I must say, I was quite flustered when Cecilia brought me your invitation. I hope you’ll excuse the state of me.” He gestured to his wardrobe, which was perfect in every respect as far as Gwendolyn could tell. “And since the two of you are such good friends from the School, I didn’t think you’d mind if I brought her along. She did quite a bit of begging, and I can never seem to say no to her.”
He gave his daughter a adoring smile, and Cecilia beamed up at him, as innocent as a baby. Then she turned back toward Gwendolyn, innocence melting into malicious glee.
“But…” Gwendolyn murmured. “Your last name is Forthright, not Mason.”
Cecilia’s grinned even wider. “Oh, Mason is just the name he uses for business. Daddy hates it when people make a fuss over him. Always pestering him to read some manuscript or other.”
Mr. Mason shifted his weight. “Er, may we come in? I’m quite anxious to meet your mother and father. They’re so terribly secretive. Between you and me, I was hoping to convince them to do some book signings. Did you know they’ve never made a public appearance?”
“No!” Gwendolyn shouted to absolutely everything he had just said. “Father isn’t feeling well. I’m sure they wouldn’t want company just now, I’m sorry—”
“Oh, pish-tosh. Go and fetch your mother darling, Marie and I can sort this out.”
His tone turned hard. “Stop. I will not have my business dealings dictated to me by a child. Go and get your mother.”
“I can’t! I mean, not yet. Mother’s not done straightening up, and I know she wouldn’t want you to see an untidy home. So, forgive the awkwardness, but if you could just wait out here for one moment…”
“It’s no trouble, we’re more than happy to wait in the living room—”
“Take your time, Gwenny!” Cecilia said, her voice dripping with sickening sweetness. “Believe me, we’re in no rush. We’re looking forward to a very enjoyable evening. Oh, and here. You dropped this at the School today. I begged Daddy to let me come along just so I could give it to you in person.”
Cecilia held up a notebook. It was blue, with white flowers on it. She let the front cover flop open, and there the words Property of Gwendolyn Gray were written in a flowing hand. “I know how important it is to you. I couldn’t wait to see the look on your face when you got it back.”
The phone rang again.
“Oh! Excuse me, I have to get that.” Gwendolyn snatched her notebook, darted back inside, and slammed the door before either of them could get a good look. She pressed her back against the door and tried to slow her breathing.
Gwendolyn flipped through the notebook, noting her drawings, her stories, and more importantly, her journal entries. No doubt Cecilia had read every word. How her parents had been taken by the Faceless Gentlemen, and how Gwendolyn had spent the last two years impersonating them, making a living as a writer under their names, and dodging the clutches of the Home for Unclaimed Children. And likewise, there was no doubt as to who had written this “invitation.”
Knowing all of this did nothing to fix the situation. Gwendolyn looked at the apartment. The place was an utter disaster. The torn furniture bled stuffing, the dining room was in disarray, and the kitchen wasn’t so much cluttered as it was downright unhygienic. She hadn’t exactly been the best housekeeper before the cat had ripped the place to shreds.
But how long could she stall them? And what sort of dent could she make in this war zone? And that blasted phone just wouldn’t stop ringing.
Maybe she could whip something together in the kitchen. She’d just gone to the store, so she could pretend both of her parents were sick in bed and send Cecilia and her father away after a quick bowl of oatmeal—
“Oh, poor Rosecap, what have we here?”
Gwendolyn whirled to see someone sitting on the counter. A man, barefoot and clad in tight black trousers and a tight black jacket over an orange tunic that was open nearly to the naval. He was androgynous and beautiful, the very picture of eternal youth, with rich brown skin and a tousled mop of dark hair. He glowed, quite literally, filling the kitchen with a soft orange light. His pointed ears twitched as he casually flipped through Gwendolyn’s copy of The Annals of the Fae. He looked up, cocked one eyebrow, and gave her a fox’s grin.
“Dost mischief come and pluck my ear?”
Gwendolyn could not have been more surprised if a dozen dwarves had shown up on her doorstep. She stood frozen, with nothing but the incessantly ringing phone to break the silence.
“Puck Robin!” she cried out when she had found her jaw and picked it up again.
“A fellow now, as you can see, so Goodfellow is what I’ll be.” Robin gestured to indicate that they were currently in their male form, when they went by Robin Goodfellow. When in their female form, they preferred Puck Robin. Of course, there were those times when Robin was somewhere in between, but everything about Robin was fluid and unpredictable. For example, turning up uninvited in Gwendolyn’s kitchen.
“Where did you come from?” Gwendolyn asked. Then she noticed the green book he was holding, full of the stories of the Fae. “Did you come out of the book?”
Robin hopped down from the counter. “No, I’ve been here since the break of day, you brought me in and bade me stay.”
“What? You certainly have not, I… No, no, no, you were the cat, weren’t you?”
“You’ve seen that I can change my shape, it’s not just biped forms I take.” He started rifling through the cabinets and plucking out all the dishes.
“Stop that!” Gwendolyn snatched a plate from his hands. “You ruined my apartment!” She slapped him on the arm, which she knew was only possible because he chose not to dodge the blow.
Robin grinned again. “A bit of fun is all I’ve had, and what’s more fun than being bad?”
“Is that why you’re here? For fun?”
The faerie began juggling cups and plates, a dozen at a time. “A favor, I recall you owe. It’s time to pay, so off we go.”
“I can’t leave now! This is a very inconvenient time for me to have a faerie in my kitchen, and—oh, for heaven’s sakes, hang on—” She picked up the still-ringing phone and slammed it back down again, silencing it.
Robin stopped juggling, and the dishes crashed to the floor and shattered. “An inconvenient time? Do tell. Have I the chance to raise more hell?”
“I don’t have time for this, I have to…” But Gwendolyn had a sudden idea. “Robin Goodfellow… How would you like to help me play a little trick?”
Robin crossed his arms. “A trick, you say? A game to play? On whom shall we this mischief lay?”
Gwendolyn put on a somber face. “On a girl most foul and loathsome. She has brought her father here to trap me and take me from my home. You say you can take any shape you wish. So how about my mother?”
“I’m no ones’ mum, you little sprite. That is not my kind of night.”
“But think it through! You can pretend to be my mother, help me with dinner, and play a grand game of pretend to fool these… uh, foolish mortals. Such good fun. And then, once our trick is played, I’ll take you to the Revels.”
Robin put a finger to his chin. “A revel, eh? That just might do. Show me a good time, and I’ll help you.”
“And then we’re square, yes?” said Gwendolyn. “No one owes anyone anything?”
“If I have a night of fun, then we’d be square, our bargain done.”
Gwendolyn was about to clarify what Robin’s idea of fun was, but there was a sudden banging at her front door. She groaned in frustration. “Just… stay here! I’ll see if I can stall them a little longer.” She dashed out of the kitchen and through the living room. “Though I’ve no idea what we’ll do for dinner…”
But no sooner had she turned the handle than Mr. Mason burst through the door. “Young lady, I won’t be made to stand out here in the hall like some common salesman. I demand that you fetch your mother, and—” He stopped, glancing around the room.
“Let me explain—” Gwendolyn whirled around. Then she nearly fell over in shock.
The apartment was clean. More than that, it was immaculate. It hadn’t looked this good since Gwendolyn’s mother had been here to clean it. And maybe not even then. The black leather upholstery had been restored, the glass topped coffee table was clean enough to be nearly invisible, and all the chrome furniture legs had been polished to a high sheen. Pictures hung on the walls again. The carpets were free of the stains that had built up over the past two years. Even the air was fresher, carrying a hint of the woodlands of Faeoria.
And then Gwendolyn’s mother came out of the kitchen.
“Oh. Hello there. I wasn’t expecting you.”
Of course, it was merely Robin Goodfellow under one of his glamour spells, the image of Mother no doubt plucked from Gwendolyn’s mind by magic. But knowing this did nothing to stem the impact of seeing her mother for the first time in two years, standing right there in a red evening dress with white polka dots, her platinum hair styled up and sculpted into large curls that framed her face.
Gwendolyn felt as though she’d been hit in the gut by the monorail. She couldn’t breathe, her throat tightening, her eyes stinging.
I don’t have time for that, she thought. She had to stay in control of herself, and the situation. She’d had enough trouble balancing her bipolar disorder today, and she couldn’t afford an anxiety attack.
Yet, she still found herself throwing her arms around the woman and giving her a fierce hug. “Mother. You look lovely.” And even if it wasn’t really her mother, it still felt wonderful to hold her, to feel her, to smell her. Good lord, she even smelled right. If it was all an illusion, she might as well enjoy it while it lasted. But if she wasn’t careful, she would slip into a manic phase and start glowing as brightly as the faeries.
Mr. Mason and Cecilia traded an awkward glance. He cleared his throat. “Yes. Right. Er, did you say you weren’t expecting us? I have your invitation right here—”
Robin-Mother pulled away from Gwendolyn and swooped toward Mr. Mason. “No, I only meant that I wasn’t expecting you so soon. What a pleasant surprise.”
Mr. Mason looked down at the phony invitation Cecilia had made, then at his watch. “But you said to be here at six, and—”
“And you are right on time.” Robin-Mother took him by the arm and patted his elbow. “But punctuality is such a rarity that I’m surprised when anyone is on time for anything. There is an appalling shortage of manners these days, don’t you agree?”
Gwendolyn marveled at the speed and cleverness of Robin’s lies. Of course, to Robin lies were as natural as breathing. Faeries couldn’t tell an outright falsehood, but they could bend and twist the truth in ways that would make a contortionist blush.
Robin turned toward Gwendolyn. “Darling, you haven’t properly welcomed our guest.” She raised an eyebrow and gave a subtle nod at Mr. Mason.
Gwendolyn took the hint, and prepared to drop some names. “Thank you for coming, Mr. Mason. Mother, I don’t believe you’ve met his daughter, Cecilia.”
“Charmed.” Cecilia gave a snarky smile that was anything but charming.
Robin shot back a look of mocking disdain, one that was safely hidden from Mr. Mason’s view. Then she led him to a door in the hall. “Come, Mr. Mason, I’ll show you around and we can give the girls a chance to catch up.”
“This is a coat closet.”
Robin shot a glance at Gwendolyn. “Of course it is, I was only offering to hang it up for you.”
“But I’m not wearing a coat.”
“And yet it is still polite to offer, isn’t it? I pride myself on being a gracious hostess…” And their voices trailed off down the hall.
Cecilia whirled on Gwendolyn and planted a finger on her chest. “All right, oddling. What are you playing at?”
Gwendolyn swatted her hand away. She wanted to snap back, to shout at Cecilia for starting all of this, but now that she knew Cecilia was her boss’s daughter, shouting hardly seemed wise. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said haughtily.
“Yes, you do!” Cecilia seemed to have no problem shouting. “I read your diary! I know that’s not your mother. Your parents are missing. You’ve been living here, all by yourself. Playing house, pretending to be a grown up, living off my daddy’s money, you lying little—”
Gwendolyn forced a laugh, which stopped Cecilia mid-rant. “Oh, that! A bit of fiction. All those stories of monsters and men with no faces kidnapping my parents. Surely you’ve wished the same thing sometimes.” She put on a look of mocking concern. “You didn’t think it was real, did you? Silly Cecilia.”
Cecilia’s eyes flicked side-to-side and she bit her lip. “No. You weren’t making that up. You… it was too real…”
Gwendolyn laughed again. “Don’t be so gullible.” She leaned in close, right into Cecilia’s face. “But making up fake dinner invitations? Whatever it is you’re planning, it’s not going to work.” At least, Gwendolyn hoped it wouldn’t. There was no telling what Robin might do. And she hoped Cecilia hadn’t noticed how her hands were shaking.
Cecilia narrowed her eyes. “You think you’re so clever, don’t you? Well, you’re not the only one who’s clever. Just you wait and—”
Laughter interrupted the two girls’ argument, and Gwendolyn’s not-mother came back into the room, leading Mr. Mason by the arm. “What an amusing anecdote. I had no idea that a publisher’s accounting practices could be so funny!”
“Thank you for that… little tour,” he said. “It was a very interesting, er, hallway.”
Robin shot a withering glare at Gwendolyn that looked all too much like her actual mother. “Yes, this place does have much fewer rooms than one would expect… hard to imagine how one could live in such a cramped little hovel. Now, if you could all have a seat in the living room, I’ll get dinner on the table.”
Robin went into the kitchen, and Gwendolyn followed. “What are you doing? We don’t have anything to feed them. Do we?”
“Double, double, toil and trouble, cauldron burn and cauldron bubble,” Robin said with a wink. She did entirely too much winking for Gwendolyn’s taste.
“Is that a yes?”
Robin rolled her eyes. “Please, child. Who do you take me for? So far, this night has been quite a bore. Your revels best be quite the show, or my displeasure you shall know.”
Gwendolyn frowned. “You’re speaking in rhymes again. You weren’t doing that a moment ago.”
“That would ruin the trick, wouldn’t it? I’ve told you before, I can speak however I please.”
Gwendolyn gave a groan of exasperation. “Then why do you do it at all?”
“Because I’m terribly clever. Now, go care for our guests, young lady!” And she pointed to the living room.
“All right. Don’t get too into character.”
B. A. Williamson is the award winning author of The Chronicles of Gwendolyn Gray. When not mining the unfathomable depths of consciousness for new words to sling, he can be found wandering Indianapolis, directing plays, taming children, and probably singing entirely too loud. Direct all complaints and darkest secrets to @bawrites and bawilliamson.com.
Love Songs and Ferry Tales Julie Farley Publication date: November 14th 2023 Genres: Adult, Comedy, Contemporary, Romance
Romance is what Ferry Tales are made of….
It’s been a not-so-great-year. Divorce. Check.Living on pennies. Check. All I need is a quiet summer back at my childhood home on Greensea Island-sitting on the deck with a glass of rosé, savoring one of Dad’s legendary charcuterie boards, and catching up on all the Sherman Family news. But instead, I find myself in an unexpected conversation with a random British guy in my parents’ kitchen who just casually mentioned he’s rented their house for the summer. My carefully laid out plan has just hit a turbulent wave.
She honestly doesn’t know who I am. I can see it in her gigantic green eyes. I didn’t get the oh-my-gosh-you’re-Johnny-Nickel eyes or the swoon here-are-my-underpants look. She’s standing at the end of the kitchen counter, brown hair in one of those cattywampus buns, in an oversized white tee hanging off one shoulder and ripped jeans. Looking hella sexy even if she tried to stab me with a house key when I walked in. I just wonder how long I can keep my identity hidden from her…
And now they’re stuck together…for better or worse!
Love Songs and Ferry Tales is a hidden identity, forced proximity, closed door rom-com with a quirky small town and an anonymous gossip reporter. You won’t want to miss it!
She honestly doesn’t know who I am. I can see it in her gigantic green eyes. I didn’t get the oh-my-gosh-you’re-Johnny-Nickel eyes or the swoony here-are-my-underpants look. She’s standing at the end of the counter, brown hair in one of those cattywampus buns, in an oversized white tee hanging off one shoulder and ripped jeans. Looking hella sexy as she tried to stab me with a key.
Paul walks in, rubbing his eyes. “It’s early, man. What’s with the commotion?”
“This here is Jac, and she claims she lives here.” I point to the room we’re standing in.
“I do live here! I’m not just saying I live here! Well, I mean. I used to live here. I grew up here. My parents live here now. Who are you?” She stares right at Paul.
“Paul Brown, and there must be some mistake. We rented a house from a couple who’s away for the summer. Clearly, you’re not away. I hope you’ll be able to find another place to stay,” says Paul.
Her cheeks are red, and her green eyes look teary. She sniffles. Please don’t cry. She bites her lip and picks at her nails.
“Yeah. You’re right. I probably should find a place to stay. I’m the idiot who thought a surprise visit was a good idea. But I have nowhere to go because my husband left me six months ago, and I had to give up my apartment. And I just really needed to sleep in my bed with the comforter my mom made from all my t-shirts.” She takes a breath. “I can call my brothers. They’ll take me in, but I didn’t want to have to ask them for anything. I wanted to do this on my own. Which doesn’t even make sense because I ran home to the house I grew up in, but I at least wanted to do most of this without anyone’s help. I wanted to prove to them, to myself, that I am ok.” She takes a big sniff and wipes her nose with the back of her hand. “Oh my gosh, I’m sorry. I’ve only just met you and I’ve already jumped up on my emotional soapbox.”
Her speech grabs at my heart, and I want to help this adorable creature.
“Hold on a minute,” I say, turning toward Paul. “Let’s talk about this. It’s her house. She doesn’t have to go anywhere yet.”
“It’s not her house,” he says, with quotes around her. “It’s her parents and we have an agreement with them.”
“Surely we can be gracious until this gets figured out,” I plead.
“Regardless, we’ll need you to sign an NDA,” says Paul and walks out of the room.
“An NDA?” Jac’s eyes get even bigger when she looks at me.
“Sorry about this. He’s kind of a stickler for procedure.” I shrug my shoulders because the actual answer is way more complicated.
“Why is there an NDA and a procedure for me staying in my house?” she asks as Paul returns with papers and a pen before I have to answer.
“Ok. So, these are legally binding. Once you sign, you agree you will not share any information you overhear or anything you see with anyone or discuss it in the future. Any mention of anything you see or hear will result in a penalty and a date in court.”
Her eyebrows arch up her forehead. “Who are you guys? Mafia? Drug lords turning the house into a meth lab?”
“I told you. We’re in tech. No need to worry about your safety.” I glance at Paul, who looks at me and mouths, really?
Julie Farley loves writing books filled with big families, lots of heart, and plenty of laughs. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four amazing kids. Julie has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a graduate degree from DePaul University. When she’s not busy with her family or writing books, you’ll find her watching reality tv…of any sort!
The Doomsday Code Sara Yager Publication date: November 14th 2023 Genres: Adult, Thriller
In an artificial intelligence lab in Shanghai, something has gone terribly wrong. Days after a major breakthrough in machine learning, CyberGen Industries’ lead AI scientist is dead—and their precious prototype has vanished into the ether. An investigation reveals that, against all odds, the lab’s “unhackable” system has been breached.
The discovery, an algorithm mimicking human intelligence, is growing quickly—becoming more cunning and unpredictable with each passing hour. Soon its capabilities will eclipse its creators entirely.
Who stole it? And more troubling, what do they plan to do with it?
Ex-NSA hacker Adrian Pryor may be the only person on the planet capable of reining it in. He spent his career keeping the world safe, a vigilance for which he paid an enormous, personal price. Adrian knows there are people who will stop at nothing to control the powerful technology. He must find a way to do the impossible: to stop them, and to outmaneuver a rival more clever, more powerful, and more alien than anything he has ever seen.
Grounded in real-world science, Sara Yager’s wildly inventive debut brings advanced AI to life, illuminating a frightening, all-too-real truth about the future: we are one breakthrough away from inventing ourselves out of existence.
Adrian expected to see the other agents descend at any moment. Instead, a flash of movement from the top of the stairwell caught his eye. He looked up just in time to see a small metal object clattering down the stairs. A cold rush of panic coursed through him. “Run!”
He took two large strides and then shoved Olivia as hard as he could. They flew sidelong down the hallway, landing hard on stone, his body crushing hers in a protective shield. A second later, his night vision goggles flared painfully, and the entire room erupted in flames.
The grenade was as loud as a sonic boom in the silent chamber. The blast threw everyone to the ground. Shattered stone exploded from the walls and ceiling, followed by the thick pall of smoke and rock dust.
Adrian’s heart hammered in his chest.
Someone is still here.
His gaze shot to Wu. The agent was clearing rubble from around his legs and then proceeded to army-crawl back towards the stairwell, retrieving his CF-05 submachine gun. He pointed at the door. “You two—out, now!”
Before Adrian could react, a crack from overhead stopped him in his tracks. All eyes shot to the stairwell. A dark figure appeared, silhouetted by a hellish inferno behind him. Another gunshot blasted, followed by the whine of the man’s semi-automatic weapon as it unleashed a round past them. The attacker wheeled back from the force of the weapon’s discharge. Bullets rained from the ceiling, sparking, and ricocheting off stone. Adrian’s whole body tensed, pressing down tighter on top of Olivia.
When the bullets finally subsided, Agent Wu burst to his feet, streaking low across the chamber. He ducked into a cross-corridor and skidded to a stop, leaving only the barrel of his weapon visible around the corner.
Taking advantage of the momentary chaos, the assailant leapt from the stairs, charging headlong into the chamber and towards the solitary exit. He passed in a blur, leapfrogging over bodies as he went. He was almost to the door when another round cut the air, this time coming from Wu’s weapon. The fire caught the man on the back of his torso. Within seconds, his bullet-riddled form crumpled to the floor and the temple fell silent again.
Swearing, one of the agents next to Adrian rose to his feet. “You okay?”
“I’ll live.” Adrian’s eyes were on Olivia.
“How about you, ma’am?” the agent said.
“I’ve been better,” Olivia said, rubbing her arm.
“You’re lucky he got you out of the way before the grenade detonated,” the agent said. “If you had been at the bottom of that stairwell . . .”
Agent Wu joined them. “You’re safe now.”
Sara Yager built a successful ten-year career in the semiconductor industry before leaving to care for her children full time. With a unique perspective as a mother and former tech professional, she brings a fresh and insightful voice to the world of speculative fiction.
A mom of two young boys, Yager came up with some of her best concepts for The Doomsday Code while waiting in the elementary school pickup line. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. This is her first novel.
Infala: The Alien’s Bond Kira Quinn
(Mark of the Infala, #1)
Publication date: October 31st 2023
Genres: Adult, Romance, Science Fiction
As if alien abduction wasn’t bad enough, it seemed Darla’s captors didn’t want her for something as simple as breeding or even experimentation. The Raxxians were nasty pieces of work, and they had other plans in mind. Namely, they wanted to eat her, and not in the fun way. But the universe, it seemed, had other plans.
Spared a gruesome fate when the Raxxian ship crashed on a distant world, Darla found herself suddenly free. Free but on an alien planet with only the company of another former prisoner.
A tall, muscular, impossibly alluring alien.
One who didn’t seem thrilled about taking the little human woman under his protection, at least not at first. Little did either of them know just how hot their time together on this new world would become, and in a way that had nothing to do with the planet’s blazing sun.
Strangely, Darla found herself a bit torn as they trekked out of the village. Sure, Zepharos had a bit of a reputation. Okay, a lot of a reputation, but who didn’t? And who was she to judge without having all of the details firsthand? And it was nice having someone show such interest in her.
Then again, she had also been given that warning from someone who had nothing whatsoever to gain from it. Rohanna was just doing her a solid, as far as she could tell. But damn, he was one sexy son of a bitch. And unlike Heydar, Zepharos was actually available. Available and interested.
Ugh. This is all just so messed up.
She adjusted the small pack she had been given as she walked, the pressure of the straps annoying her tender shoulders. Heydar had taken care to ensure it was not overloaded, taking all the heavier items in his own backpack, sparing her newly inked skin from the inevitable abrasions and sweat it would otherwise cause.
Even so, she felt her skin drying out as the pigment set in. And boy was it itching.
“Do not scratch,” Heydar said as she finally gave in to the urge. “You must let the pigment bond uninterrupted for it to properly take hold.”
“Yeah, I know, but it’s annoying.”
“As is complaining,” he shot back.
Darla flashed an angry glare his way, and amazingly, it seemed to land. Heydar hesitated, stopping in his tracks. “Very well. Drop your pack and come here.”
She did so, more because the straps were itchy as hell than from a desire to do as he asked. In any case, that one action alone provided a modicum of relief. Heydar’s own pack remained on his broad shoulders, riding there as easily as if it was weightless to the massive alien. He stepped to her and took her arms one at a time, surveying the condition of her newly inked skin.
He nodded, satisfied, then unceremoniously lifted her top, surveying his work, tracing his fingers over the rapidly healing designs. He followed one of them up her flank, curving along the side of her breast where it rose to her collarbone.
Darla’s nipples had gone hard the second he had lifted her top, the skin straining and tight in the open air. Heydar didn’t seem to notice, but as his fingers followed the line higher, his thick wrist grazed the erect nub, sending a wild, electric buzz directly to her clit.
Darla forced down a gasp, clenching her teeth and flexing her legs and abs hard to remain in control. This was something new. She’d always had sensitive breasts, and she’d loved nipple play as long as she could remember, but this? This was a whole new level. It was like walking around resonating like a goddamn tuning fork.
Is it always going to be like this now? ‘Cause I don’t know if I’ll ever get anything done if it is.
She let out her breath, willing her pulse to slow. Heydar looked at her curiously.
“Are you ill? You look as though you may faint. Do you need to sit?”
Darla blushed. “I’m fine. Can we just get on with it?”
“In a moment,” he replied, turning her to study the ink on her back and hips. “Your pigment is settling in much faster than normal. How very unusual.”
“Good unusual, though, right? Not something bad.”
“It is not bad. Just something I have not encountered in my years. The pigment is not only binding to your flesh, it is thriving, starting to move on its own.”
“What does that mean?”
“I told you the pigment is a living reservoir of power. It becomes a symbiotic part of your body in time, even shifting to form new runes, allowing you to tap into the galaxy’s power.”
“Okay, you already mentioned that before.”
“I did. But this process normally takes time. And you, my unusual human, are already showing progress most do not see for months if not years. It is no wonder your flesh itches as it does.” He slid the pack off his shoulders and dug inside. A moment later he produced a small tin with a painted lid. He popped it open revealing a thick salve of some sort. A musky-sweet aroma wafted from the container.
“What is it?”
“Gorram extract,” he said, scooping out a dollop with his long fingers. “Hold still, this will not take long.”
He ignored the question and began applying the substance to her tattoos, first the tender lines on her hips, tracing his way up her flanks and in along her interwoven back designs. The relief was almost instant and the Gorram extract was greedily absorbed by her healing skin.
“Interesting,” he muttered.
“You are taking it in much faster than I have ever seen. Normally, this merely sooths the itch, providing a healing, moisturizing coating to the decorated flesh. But in your case, it is almost instantly drawn in.”
“What does that mean?”
“It is nothing to cause concern. Gorram is used by the pigment as an alternate food and energy source while it is completing its bonding with your own body. Part of that process is what you feel in your skin.”
“The moving feeling?”
“That bit’s weird, I have to admit.”
“The shifting of the pigment to form and reinforce the runes that are most in tune with your own physiology is unique to every individual. Normally, it moves very slowly. In your case, however, the pigment is quite active. You are already forming power runes in your designs, and not just the weak trace beginnings.”
“So, that’s good, right?”
“Yes. It just normally takes much longer.”
“I’ve always been a fast learner.”
“Apparently so. It is no wonder your skin is sensitive,” he said, applying more of the Gorram extract, tracing the lines with his fingertips.
Whether or not he knew just what his touch was doing to her she couldn’t tell, his face was neutral even as he gently rubbed the substance into her skin. He finished with her back, switching to her flanks and frontal hip bones, then working up, following the different colored lines and designs as they traced her musculature, curving under her breasts and up to her collars and shoulders again.
Darla’s body felt absolutely electrically charged and for just a moment she wanted nothing more than for his hands to grab her breasts and pull her close, giving her nipples a delicious squeeze as her bliss crested like a tidal wave.
Heydar, however, merely continued the process, tracing back down between her breasts, over her breastbone and finally stopping just below her bellybutton.
“Your body is exceptional,” he said.
“Why, thank you,” she replied, a fine sweat on her brow. “I guess you could say—”
“Or a freak of nature,” he cut her off. “Time will tell.” He sealed the tin and placed it in her hand. “I will leave the application on your legs to you when we stop next. The sensation will lessen as your pigment settles, but for the time being it will continue to itch. Use the Gorram sparingly though. That is a normal supply for the entire healing process, but it appears your pigment would take it all in one sitting if given the opportunity.”
Darla was still tingling with arousal, and apparently the Gorram was fueling it further. But it was also reducing the itch, so it was an acceptable trade off, even if the gorgeous man in front of her was ignorant to her primed body.
“Thanks. I’ll be okay for now,” she said.
“I am pleased to hear it. Now, let it heal, and do not scratch.”
“I’ve got it.”
“Very well,” he said, shouldering his pack once more.
Darla picked up hers as well, the straps far less uncomfortable now. She felt his stare and turned to meet his curious gaze. He held it for a long moment, and she could have sworn there was maybe at least a hint of interest there. But with an alien, who could tell? In any case, a moment later he turned and continued their trek.
What is up with this guy? Darla wondered, falling in behind him. And what’s going to happen to me?
A longtime fan of both sci-fi and fantasy books, Kira has also enjoyed her fair share of steamy novels along the way. As is the case with so many indie authors, working a day job slowed her roll considerably, but with a lot of early morning and late night writing sessions she finally managed to chip away at the dream of becoming a published author, sharing the stories that have been churning in her head all these years with the world.
Touch of a Witch S.G. Slade (Darkness Rising, #1) Publication date: October 31st 2023 Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Historical
When visions of death haunt her every move, only the darkest magic can save her.
Sarah Stone’s family have always closely guarded the secrets of their witchcraft. Though they tend as healers to those that know them, few guess the truth of the family’s skills.
But others have secrets too, and when Sarah finds herself caught in the grip of a terrifying curse, she fears for the fate of all she holds dear. As a dark shadow haunts the taverns and brothels of Bankside, whispers of the curse begin to spread. Then she is accused of witchcraft, and there seems to be no escape.
In a world where the those called Witch end up on the gallows, can Sarah find a way to turn the curse aside? Or will the price be too high to pay?
Content warning: strong sex scenes and the occult.
Touch of a Witch is the first standalone novel in the seductive Darkness Rising series.
An earlier version of this novel was published previously as Shakespeare’s Witch
She dreams she is in a forest of pine at night, walking barefoot on the cold, soft earth. A full moon glimmers through the branches of the oaks overhead, brushing silver hues across everything it touches, and a stream trickles lazily beside her – she seems to be following its path upstream, searching for the source, and despite the darkness, she finds her way easily, unafraid.
In time she comes to a clearing where the stream begins, emerging from an outcrop of rocks to spill into a pool that fills before it overflows and runs off along its way. Stepping out of her shift, she slides into the water and lowers herself down until the surface laps around her shoulders. It is cool and clear and sweet, and she is tempted to submerge herself, to give herself to the sacred water and stay in this place always.
Then, one by one, four men approach to stand at the edge of the pool, one at each point of the compass. She feels no shame at her nakedness before them, no fear, content and at ease in the pure crystal water. She has no doubt this is where she is meant to be. Wheeling slowly, the rock hard and smooth beneath her legs, she regards each of them in turn. As she turns, each man holds out a hand to beckon her to them, and she sees then that they too are naked.
She goes first to stand before her father, out of habit of respect and obedience, and he speaks to her, though with no voice she can hear with her ears.
Bride thou shalt be, obedient daughter of Christ.
Placing one hand on her shoulder, and the other on her breast, he rests them there until she steps away and drops back into the water to wash herself free of the taint of his touch.
Then she turns to Simon.
Wife thou shalt be, loving mother of children, though none of mine.
He too places one hand on her shoulder and one on her breast, until she slips away from his touch also to rinse herself clean in the pool.
Then she goes to Tom, whose skin is taut and pale in the moonlight: his nakedness before her quickens her breath. He steps closer.
Lover thou shalt be, spirit of the earth.
For a long moment she waits before him, and when finally he lifts his hand to her breast, she gasps as a charge fires between them. She steps closer, her breasts pressing against his ribs and his member hard against her belly. Desire flares through her before he takes her hand in his and leads her to Nick. She waits, drinking in the beauty of the man who stands before her, his muscles strong and vivid in the silver light.
Mistress thou shalt be, if thou so wills it.
He reaches for her hands and lifts them to his lips, drawing her closer in towards him. Then she stands against him, and with his touch to her breast, she feels herself begin to fall, floating and free.
S.G. Slade was born and raised in the historic city of Bristol in England, and now lives in Sydney, Australia, with her husband, son, and a very small dog called Livvy. She has worked variously as a secretary, a teacher, a shop assistant and a nurse, but lifelong obsessions with books, history, and magic have never waned. When she isn’t reading or writing (which isn’t often), you can find her either doing yoga, going for long walks, or watching old movies. Touch of a Witch is her first historical fantasy book.
She uses the pen name S.G. Slade for her fantasy books, and also writes Historical Fiction under the name Samantha Grosser.
Red Winter – Special Edition Hardcover Omnibus Annette Marie Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Romance
A breathtaking fantasy romance inspired by Japanese mythology, with mischievous shape-shifters, treacherous gods, and forbidden love.
From Book 1: Emi has spent her entire life hiding from the creatures that hunt her. The savage earth spirits are determined to kill her before she can become the living host of a goddess, so she stays hidden–until the day she saves the life of one of her hunters.
Shiro isn’t the harmless fox spirit she thought he was. He’s mysterious, cunning, unpredictable … and now hers to command. He’s sworn to pay his debt to her, but he doesn’t know who she is. If he finds out, he’ll kill her.
But she can’t send him away–not yet. Her future isn’t what she thought. The lies surrounding her fate have begun to unravel, and she needs answers before time runs out–answers that lie in the spirit realm. Shiro can take her there … if she dares to trust him.
And only then will she find out how deep the gods’ treachery runs.
— Red Winter includes 30 full-page illustrations by award-winning artist Brittany Jackson.
— THE RED WINTER TRILOGY
Red Winter (#1)
Dark Tempest (#2)
Immortal Fire (#3)
All three titles: Red Winter, Dark Tempest, and Immortal Fire
New illustrated dust jacket by artist Brittany Jackson
All 30 full-page illustrations from the original novels
New interior layout & design
Foil-stamped typography on the dust jacket and cloth cover
Red sprayed/stenciled edges
Hand-signed and personalized by the author
Etched wooden bookmark, stickers, and more! (More via stretch goals)
Excerpt from Red Winter:
None too gently, Yumei forced Emi’s head one way then the other, examining her. Pushing her head back, he dipped his face down to her neck and inhaled through his nose.
“Is she human?” he asked Shiro, straightening. He didn’t release her chin. “She smells of human female and you. Did you bed her?”
She gasped, outrage and embarrassment flooding her face with heat. She tried to jerk back but his fingers tightened painfully, holding her in place.
“We rolled in the snow together some,” Shiro said, mouth quirking up in that sly grin of his as he met her furious stare, “but it was an act of survival, not passion. The ogres were something of a challenge.”
Yumei turned her face to one side and back again. “Are you certain it was she who removed the first binding?”
“There was no one else.”
The Tengu studied her a moment longer, then released her chin. She had time to take in a single relieved breath before he grabbed her wrist. He pulled her hand to his face, turned her palm up, and bit the side of her hand beneath her thumb.
She cried out and tried to yank her arm away from him. His strength was like the grip of a steel vise, unmovable. He held her hand in his mouth, his gaze distant. He let her go so suddenly that she lost her balance and fell on her rump in the snow.
“Human,” Yumei said decisively. “But I can taste divine power in her blood.”
Emi turned her hand up to see a small puncture wound in her palm from his canine. A single drop of blood ran down her wrist, tracing a crimson line on her pale skin.
A shadow blocked the moon above. Shiro reached down and touched his thumb to the trail of blood. He slid his thumb up her wrist to the wound, then brought it to his lips. He grinned at her as he licked her blood off his skin. She stared at him, too shocked and appalled to speak.
“Definitely human,” he said to Yumei without breaking eye contact with her, daring her to protest their treatment of her. “Do priestesses normally taste like gods?”
“I am not certain,” Yumei admitted. “I have never tasted a true servant of a shrine.”
She clutched her chest, her hand pressed against the hidden mark over her heart. Her pulse pounded in her ears, her fear almost too much to bear. She didn’t taste like divine power because she was a dedicated priestess, but because she was a goddess’s future host. If they realized the truth, they would kill her on the spot.
Annette Marie is the best-selling author of The Guild Codex, an expansive collection of interwoven urban fantasy series ranging from thrilling adventure to hilarious hijinks to heartrending romance. Her other works include YA urban fantasy series Steel & Stone, its prequel trilogy Spell Weaver, and romantic fantasy trilogy Red Winter.
Her first love is fantasy, while fast-paced adventures and tantalizing forbidden romances are her guilty pleasures. She lives in the frozen winter wasteland of Alberta, Canada (okay, it’s not quite that bad) with her husband and their furry minion of darkness—sorry, cat—Caesar. When not writing, she can be found elbow-deep in one art project or another while blissfully ignoring all adult responsibilities.
The Cat That Played Chess Catarrina Cummings Publication date: July 10th 2023 Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Mystery
Having received an eviction notice, Zapporah Leverne needs money fast. Her current job as a product tester will not meet the deadline. She believes her extraordinary cat named Rookie can fix this. This feline is so good at copying humans that she can move chess pieces on the chessboard.
Zapporah pulls ropes to land Rookie a part in a commercial. Her cat wows the director to the point he thinks she would be good in his reality television series. But Rookie is stolen from Zapporah’s apartment.
Although there are few clues to the thief’s identity, Sloth, Zapporah’s roommate, believes the landlady is the thief and attempts to prove it. When Zapporah receives a voice message with a cat meowing in the background from talent agent Gloria Stravos, her suspicions are confirmed. Whoever stole Rookie will put her in show business. Arriving at Gloria’s office, Zapporah discovers Gloria has been murdered. Things don’t look good for Zapporah when the homicide detective learns she and Gloria had a history of fighting.
Will Zapporah’s intuition and tech-savvy help find Rookie and save her from a cunning murderer hiding behind the cloak of a white nationalist organization?
Catarrina Cummings is an author from Baltimore, Maryland who now lives in San Diego. She is the creator of the Snooping While Black mysteries series, with the first book being The Cat That Played Chess. In addition to dedicated service to her feline overlord, Madam Scrunchka, she also hones her guitar playing under a master instructor.
Her love for chess began when she served in the U.S. Navy, traveling and engaging in tournaments. She’s thrilled that she found the chance to include it in her first novel.
Nowadays, Catarrina can be found solving chess problems and attending multiple book clubs. If she ever finds enough free time from these activities, she might wish to consider finishing the second installation of her mystery series.