Category Archives: From the Secret Files…

A Risky Conversation

This week for #SaitoSaturday I decided to give a little bit more of a clue than usual, because while Kagami gets a lot of love (he’s the namesake of the book, poor dear, and thus doomed), Akira gets…much less. Therefore, it’s back to chapter three, draft two, for a bit of a snippet that expands on an excerpt from a few weeks ago. Akira enters the fray via Taira Arashi, he-who-is-a-dragon-bastard, and one Watanabe Sakiko, she-who-is-a-pain-in-the-ass. Of course, he doesn’t know this yet, but he will…


The low, black throbbing of Taira Arashi’s laughter followed Akira out of his office and into the elevator, with the woman, Watanabe-san, right behind him. As they stepped out onto gold-veined marble of the first floor foyer, she smiled at him, almost a grin. “You did well, Saito-san. I’ve seen very few men hold their ground against Taira-sama.”
“And this amuses you.” It did not amuse him.
“Oh, yes.” If she was aware of Akira’s irritation, Watanabe-san didn’t show it. “What is that old saying, laughter or tears? Perhaps you should keep it in mind, Saito-san.”
Shaking his head, Akira tugged at the hem of his jacket and scanned the foyer. The two of them seemed to be the only humans, at least judging by the breadth of the smiles aimed in his direction, their fanged promises. No one approached them, and yet he felt the weight of many eyes, much attention, and shuddered. “How do you work with him, Watanabe-san?”
She did not meet his eyes, scanned the room for a moment then slanted her gaze into the shadow of her own hair. “How? I wonder. Perhaps, as he said, it is just because this is a different time. Another era.”
Akira snorted, then cleared his throat . “Apologies, Watanabe-san. I… Having heard the stories of my parents and grandparents, I can’t see how anything is changed. ”
Widening her eyes at him, she leaned closer. “No? Your job exists, doesn’t it? A hundred years ago there were no human police.”
“And what good does it do?” He kept his voice quiet, but Akira couldn’t let her statement go without challenge. “Eight out of ten cases reported are dropped, because in eight out of ten cases, the perpetrators are yokai. And that line? That’s where we lose all jurisdiction.”
There was something blase in her shrug, and she sashayed away from him, catching up with her gaze over her shoulder, pulling him along behind her with it. He followed because he had to, but she seemed to think it was her due. “Don’t such things make you eager to follow Taira-sama’s instructions? To make a place for yourself here in Asakusa, to expand your sphere of influence?” Watanabe-san settled herself on a soft couch and gestured at the chair across from her. “The lines one cannot cross, one must patrol…or at least observe carefully, even from a distance. Is that not so?”
This woman. There was something strange in her smile, in her sudden sadness. Akira settled himself gingerly, trusting not even in the furniture in this place, and nodded slowly as he contemplated the woman and her words. Even her name was suggestive. “Perhaps we will be so lucky. Watanabe-san, I hope you don’t mind the question, but are you of any relation to Watanabe Jiro, head of the Relations commission?”
“The judge of YAMA?” Her laughter was very soft. “You could say that. He’s my husband.”
“Your – husband.” Akira blinked at her in confusion, then leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “You’re married to the head of YAMA, and you work with Taira-sama?”
She hummed her affirmation, tapping her fingers on the arm of the couch, tilting her head as she smiled at him. “This surprises you? But my husband also works with yokai.”
Shrugging, Akira narrowed his gaze at her. As if the two were the same thing. “Of course, but -”
“And it is you and your work we should be discussing, Saito-san.”
The sharpness of her words stopped Akira short. Again, something…off stuck out to him, as if the edges of his woman’s presence were prickly, too hot, thorn-studded…something. “Ah…” Was there a flame in the flicker of her eyes, a glow burning brighter? No, couldn’t be. Just the florescence of the overhead lights. “Right. I apologize.”


*Interested in where this all begins? Check out the first KAGAMI post, which starts at the beginning of the book!

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That Shower Scene

This week for #TeaserTuesday I decided…to expand on last week’s excerpt! Remember this hint of a scene? Have some more – but not too much! (And it’s still a wee bit NSFW, so read carefully.) As Kagami can attest, Akira is a distracting bathing companion…


The walls and floor of the ofuraba were both tiled with raw, grey stone – everywhere but a little window set in the wall above the ofuro. Mesmerized, Kagami stared while Akira turned on the tap, and the deep, square tub started to fill with steaming water. There was a drain set into the floor, with a short wooden stool above it and a wide, flat bucket with a washcloth in it set to one side, but Kagami had no idea what all this stuff was for.* Before he could ask, he was distracted from his perusal.
kagami sees an akira     Akira stripped off his shirt, was suddenly half-naked, and the shifting muscles under the skin of his bare back incited a need Kagami had never experienced before. Was this desire? This feeling, tight in his belly, hot in his chest, a startled ember rolling down his spine. His heartbeat – that he had a heartbeat – Kagami grew aware of its pulsing in his fingertips, the trapped, rigid length of his sudden erection, his lips, his tongue… Warmth fled his fingertips for his cheeks and the tops of his ears.
     With one hand, Akira tossed his bloody shirt in the trash, then seemed to hesitate for an instant before he stuck his thumbs into the waistband of his pants and boxers and shoved them down. Kagami licked up the man’s body with his glance, then lowered his eyes, unable to keep the smile from his face as he stripped off his own borrowed clothes. His policeman was good to look at all over. The thick muscles of his thighs, his taut, dimpled buttocks – the angles of his shoulders, his hips…
wet abs (akira)     A rough rush of something like summer lightning spurred Kagami forward a step, had him reaching out, but he jerked his hand back as Akira doused himself with spray. It came from a shower head outside the ofuro, and Kagami regarded it with interest…but not as much as Akira. Wasn’t the bath already full of water? Why would he need to get wide outside of it? But when he was wet all over, the man sat on the stool, took a washcloth and soap and started to scrub himself around blossoming purple bruises. “If you’re gonna stand there and stare, you wanna wash my back?”
     The words jerked Kagami’s attention up to Akira’s face. “Saito…san?”
     He was looking at Kagami with eyes gone dark and heated, and his gaze flickered down over Kagami’s naked body, then up again more slowly. “Well?”
SONY DSC     Kagami gloried in being looked at, being seen, as much as in the fact that Akira seemed to return his desire. “I can…I can do that.” It was only as he took the cloth from Akira’s hands and started to rub it against his shoulder that Kagami realized this gave him permission to touch without misgivings or embarrassment. He stopped moving the washcloth to follow the lines of the policeman’s back with the tips of his fingers instead,  tracing lines beneath the suds. Thin, pale ridges of scar tissue came under his hands, and he frowned, staring. An old wound?
     Akira twisted around then, eyeing him with heated amusement. “You can actually scrub, y’know. I’m not gonna break.”
     Yes, there was that about humans, wasn’t there? They had their frailties, but to shatter at a touch wasn’t one of them. Even if those scars were proof of mortal vulnerability… Shuddering at just the thought, Kagami pressed closer to Akira’s back as he scrubbed up the man’s spine.


*Interested in what makes this scene different from how you might take a bath? Check out the first Sugoi! post, Secrets of the Soak, about the customs and history of bathing in Japan!

Kagami

It’s time for another dip into…the Secret Files! Have a peek at Kagami, the character who gave his name to the first book of the upcoming Yokai Chronicles!
Kagami is a type of tsukumogami (pronounced soo-koo-mo-gah-me), mythological creatures in Japanese folklore. His true form is a mirrored piece of glass, but he’s eager to escape the restraints of being a mirror. Mischievous, dedicated, and just a little bit of an oddball, Kagami escapes his mirror with an eye on Akira, a Tokyo police inspector who reminds him of the one he must avenge: his Maker. In search of the one who slew the glassmaker who created him, and the full experience of life in the real world, Kagami…begins!
Take a peek at some inspirational images (yes, that means gorgeous Japanese men), and a special sneak-peek of Kagami’s first scene below!

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Ka-ga-mi.
Kagami.
Are you awake? Awake…
Wake!
Ka
Ga
Mi.
From the depths of his own reflection, he surfaced with the sound of that name. Am I Kagami? The world around him, outside him, was a red-hot blur of indistinct intentions, full of the wild pounding of drumbeats, the ritual smoke of incense, sand burning, charcoal, fire. Most of all, the mirror was aware of the flames that kept his molten surface in motion, but his consciousness was scattered. Piecemeal. His perceptions gained meaning only as he grew aware of them.
To see. To feel – and again, to see. And then: to hear.
“No, no. There’s no point complaining, and I don’t want to hear you scream.”
A voice engaged the mirror’s whole attention as his surface smoothed into stillness and reflected more of the world than fire. Thinner than that boisterous voice, muffled noises hummed at the edge of his consciousness.
Ka.
Ga.
Mi.
Are you awake, awake, awake – ?
The echo was distorted, a shallow vibration that twisted slowly through the molten depths of the mirror. Then, more strongly, he heard a single voice from outside, though it was not speaking to him but someone out of his sight. “You did this to yourself, yes, you did. Oh, I know all the excuses, all the reasons you could list. I have heard them all before – yokai, human, it makes no difference.”
A clatter of shining sound sprang to life all around the mirror. Metal? But no, it was too clear, too starry, too bright. The roar of the fire intensified in response to a bellows’ gust, and the mirror realized it was the sound of other glass, tingling voices shouting, laughing, agreeing with their Maker.
There was only a single muffled tremor of denial, and then the Maker’s voice again. “Yes, I know. You think yourself special. But it has been more than eight hundred years since I took this work on myself, and criminals are all the same. Now, wait just there while I make this beautiful baby ready.” A pair of gleaming eyes appeared suddenly above the mirror’s glowing surface, set in a soft, furry face. The dark eyes were black-ringed, tanuki eyes, and the whole of his body, nose to tail-tip, fangs to claws, glowed with a soft haze of yokai energies. The Maker leaned back and changed, his body flowing like the glass he worked, and the mirror observed with interest the way he traded his tanuki shape for one more human. Only the dark, soft eyes with their kind satisfaction, their encouraging expression, stayed the same.
Restless, the mirror shifted, bubbling with focus but not purpose, need but not understanding of it. He was, but who was he? Who was he to be? What was being?
Beautiful baby, the soft-eyed one had said, his Maker. Beautiful baby. Was that his name? Or was it kagami, as the shining echo still insisted? The question vibrated through him, coalesced in sparks on his molten surface, and the Maker’s voice was tender when he answered.
“You are awake, Kagami? Yes, that is your name, though I will call you many other things in love. It is almost time to give you your heart. Pay attention, now. This is your sacrifice, your beginning. You will cleanse his soul in the fire, and in one hundred years you will take it for your own.”
Ka.
Ga.
Mi.
This time the pieces of echo, this new label for his being, came with laughter and a feeling of welcome, but Kagami, newly named, was still only a questioning awareness, perceiving and not understanding. A heart? What was a heart? What was a soul? Whose were the voices that laughed at him, reached out for him, not his Maker but shadows in the dimness with him, behind the surface of still-boiling glass?
Kin.
Your.
Kin. Ka-ga-mi.
Kagami!
The heart is –
The soul is –
The sacrifice!
The…sacrifice?
As if in answer to his questioning, a boy was lowered toward Kagami’s surface. The ripples of heat rising from him brewed drops of sweat that sizzled as they fell. The boy’s eyes were hard and cold and horrible, but Kagami perceived without knowing how that the fire still within him, his own molten being, would cleanse the grime from the soul that had been chosen for him, the heart that would beat inside him.
Yes.
Kagami!
A heart, a soul, a face, a name.
To be born.
With us!
Among us.
One of –
Us.
Kagami.
More and more voices, more and more entreaties called out to him, demanding, amusing themselves with his emptiness, the things he did not know or comprehend. The truth came in softer, firmer words from outside the mirror-world, beyond the inner reflections and their echoing glass voices. “You become, Kagami. My finest work, the most beautiful mirror, one pane of glass, never to be broken, never to forget your name. My masterpiece. You become, and you are tsukumogami. Do you understand? That is to be yokai, but born of man and not of nature. Tsukumogami: a living thing, an embryo one hundred years in the birthing. Behold your sacrifice, Kagami. Behold your heart, and the face you will possess.”
The face…he would possess? The Maker gestured, and the muffled source of the room’s discontent was revealed. A boy, hanging above him, bound and gagged and struggling vain and furiously. Sluggish, learning more of motion than he had in his first moment, Kagami rose up, pressing against his own red-hot surface to peer closely.
Oh. Pretty. As the sacrifice was lowered closer to his molten glass, Kagami could see the boy more clearly, the rippling muscles of a youth in his prime, soft, bronze curves of body, narrow nose, slender face, elfin chin…they were not quite human, those features. More than mortal. An interesting face. -a yokai face?
This one…he would be a powerful sacrifice.
Tendrils of bitter yoki embraced his Maker once more, embraced the boy as he pulled at his bonds, and rained onto Kagami’s surface.
“You can’t do this! I’m not human, you can’t just snatch up yokai and use them as you please! Don’t you know whose son I am? What right do you -” The Maker made a slashing gesture with one hand, and though the boy’s mouth kept moving, the hollow of his throat vibrated only with silence.
It appeared the Maker knew everything that mattered – even to this boy. “Quiet now. Enough struggling. This is the end of your world, you should know that. What does your father matter, compared to your crimes? What would the Fujiwara say to your excuses?”
The boy bucked harder, bent nearly in half, then screamed as his toes came too close to the searing glass beneath him. He jerked back as far as he could in the other direction.
“Was that a name you didn’t expect to hear? But that is why you are here, boy. The life you stole is the reason your life was given to me.” The glassmaker spoke in a conspiratorial tone, but with sad, sad eyes. “It troubles me to no end that I never have any trouble finding a sacrifice. Ah, well. You’re a beautiful boy, you will give my masterpiece a lovely face. And one hundred years from now, when the grief of your evil has faded, I am sure your soul will serve him better than it has served you.”
Dark hair flailed as the boy was dropped the last few feet, free-falling, the strands dancing like silk thread in a high wind. His face was a scattering of regrets-rage-hate, a distortion of his general, fleshly beauty. Then he hit the surface of the glass, and Kagami bubbled eagerly out of his frame, up around the boy then down to embrace him. He became more as he consumed this sacrifice. More aware. More shining. Brighter.
Blood and skin and bone melted away, eaten in an instant, devoured to the last particle, leaving behind only the diamond heart of a soul, and a realization. To be was… To be was to be Kagami.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Icarus

It’s #1lineWed again! Meet Icarus, one of the main characters in The Wrong Things, a book series I shouldn’t be writing! He starts out homeless and alone, an Ara (submissive vampire) with a fear of Ada (dominant vampires) and a desperate need for one all the same. The one he ends up with is Raven – black, beautiful, and old as the desert… But Raven is for later.

For now, wave as he passes: sharp-tongued, snarky, still soft as a sigh, the redhead with bedhead, Icarus!

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Icarus swallowed thickly, touched his tongue to his teeth, sucking on one fang, then chewed his lip. This Ada – he would never say it, but this Ada was tempting him, too. And more than just with his taboo offer of the richest blood in the world.

“Do you really mean it? I’m so -” He closed his eyes, felt the heat rising in his cheeks and couldn’t deny it. “I’m just so hungry.” And then he snapped them open again, shook his head and inched a little farther back. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t even -”

“I made the offer. I mean it. Come here.” And, more softly than he’d spoken yet, Raven said, “I have no idea why you are so terrified, but I will not hurt you.”

It was unbelievable. Icarus believed him anyway. Why not? This was already insane. An Ada in the room with him, ignoring his heat, sitting on his own hands – another hysterical flip of laughter popped out of him, and he crawled up the bed, put his hands on smooth, dark shoulders and sucked his lip between his teeth before he could moan just from the heat of Raven’s skin.  “Why? Why are you doing this? Why are you being so good to me?”

“That frightens you?”

Shaking his head, Icarus slid one of his hands up into the Ada’s thin, tight braids, and then other down his arm, over the swell of one huge bicep to the bend of his elbow. “You scare me. Ada scare me. Or maybe you don’t scare me, but you’re still an Ada and you should.”

Raven was frowning at him now, but he still tilted his head to the side, the curve of his scalp against the curve of Icarus’ fingers. “I will ask questions later. For now, if you are going to drink, then do so. It is not easy for me to have you in my lap like this.”

“Where…” The word was hushed.

“Were you not going for my throat?” There was so much amusement in Raven’s voice Icarus huffed, then realized he really wasn’t afraid, and was almost scared by that. Was it this Ada’s attitude, his gentleness? His self-control? His humor? Was it Icarus’ heat, the drive he could sense even now, encouraging him to –

Icarus.”

He sucked in a breath, then leaned up on his knees and sank his teeth into the Ada’s throat.

Green Iron

Since the magic of #1lineWed and Camp NanoWriMo coincide for the first time today, I am going to crawl all the way out to the end of the furthest limb and share not only a bit of context for some of those lines, but a piece from my Camp project, Earthbound!

This lovable doom of a novel has been in the making since my first November attempt at a Nanowrimo, and has grown in the telling…considerably.

Enjoy a sneak peek!

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The door closed behind the servant, and his sister’s hands pulled Lu Yin down into her bed as she slipped from his arms.
He stumbled away, tangled his legs in the sheets and fell to the floor.
Bells.
But no, there were no bells, only the sound of his sister’s laughter shattering in his ears.
“I know what you want now, Lu Yin.  Did you not want me to know? Or did you want it too much?”
He stood slowly, disentangled himself from her sheets and tossed them back on the bed. Red silk pooled around her legs, and she drew it up, up, over her knees, her thighs –
“Are you listening, elder brother?” He wet his lips. “You should be listening. You should -”
“Enough!” And then, more quietly. “Enough.” He pinned her to her pillows, and oh, those eyes.
Blue, so flashing, all the amusement in the world when she was on the verge of breaking him – could he not even have the silence to console him?
The silence and the scent of her, when that was all he had.
He held her throat in his hands, slender and bruised, white but for where she had been bitten, and squeezed for a breathless moment. He traced the dark-marked places with slender fingertips, as if they were wounds.
“Why? Who would dare to mark the Fourth Princess?”
Her dancing eyes. No promise of the truth in them – had there ever been? But now the old, dim lifelessness was laughter. Why would she still be so amused?
“I should tell father -”
“You won’t tell father.”
“I must -”
But the pressure of her mouth against his lips brings him to tingling silence. Forbidden pressure. Forbidden kiss.
“You won’t tell father. Or did you never mean it when you said you loved me?”
“I love you.” Helpless. What else to say? What lie could be enough in the face of her certain knowledge, the gleam and promise in her face?
Her kiss tasted green as the wild frontier mountains from which he had come. Her hair, too, smelled of the wild, and the iron taste of the blood on her skin was the taste of war.
There was war, too, in her hands and against his throat. Iron in her eyes, and in her hands.
The point of his own gilded dagger was sharp against his throat as she spoke.
“Did I say you could have me? Did I say, come, take, this which belongs to my lover belongs also to you?” Shadow in her eyes. Shadow in the green of her warm breath against the side of his face.
“No. I did not say that.”

 

Hunter, Prey

Because context is key to the marvel that is #1lineWed, and because I haven’t shared anything in particular from this monstrosity I know you’re all waiting for…a piece of the upcoming book five of the Eight Kingdoms series! (With which I am currently arguing about its title.)

Saoirse watched the Red King stride up the curve of the snow, down over the crest of frosted dunes and into the darkness that reflected off the surface of the water.

Without ripples, without waves, it still lapped at the motionless shore, and gave away thus that it was water and not frozen. The deep was black and still, but as the Red King approached, the surface of the water was broken by a small, black head – and then by more, and more.

Selkies.

She had playmates and companions among their number. She had been warned in the days just past that this time was coming, but she hadn’t believed. Her own trust in Macsen Cadoc was absolute, and that there was enough worry in any being who owed allegiance to him to bring them here, to the edge of everything, to the last of all shores, hoping to escape some unknown catastrophe…

She hadn’t believed.

Quiet, stepless, without a splash, her special friend among the selkies was out of the water and by her side, and Saoirse watched her lean closer without allowing any expression on her face.

“Hello, Líadan.”

“Saoirse, didn’t I say we were going? You shouldn’t have come. Shouldn’t have come!”

“You did intend to leave without goodbye, then? I thought you were my friend!”

The edges of Líadan’s soft, black body went stiff and salty, licked by the waves, but she was still. “Your friend. Yes, I am that. But this is my family, and all of my kin, and I will not be the one who is left behind. There are stories enough of last stands and hopeless cases, and not for you or our friendship will I become one of them.”

“I didn’t ask for that, did I? Only for goodbye. Which is nothing but polite, if you cared.” Saoirse squinted and peered through one eye, but her friend didn’t seem bothered in the least about her frustrated tone. “The Red King -”

“Will let us go. He’ll see right through excuses, promises, platitudes…and he’ll talk of fear, and how little it should matter to those such as us. But though we are Hunters, we remember. We were of dark Summer first. Midsummer’s midnight moon is our provenance and our place.  Not in this dark, this winter land of blood and violence. Not for a people of mothers, daughters – not though he sheltered us when our place in the world was taken away.”

Saoirse stared back at Líadan, understanding and confused both. She remembered fear from her time in the human world…and from those first hours, alone here, wondering if she would be kept. If she could stay. Not now. The sting of the emotion, the feel of it, was all but lost to her.

“Líadan I don’t understand. You’re Hunters. How could you not belong here? What does anything else matter? How could you have belonged to Summer? This is the Hunter’s kingdom, this is…”

Líadan shook her head, had only black laughter to offer, a sound as dark and deep as the matte shine of her eyes. “You do not understand. But then, you aren’t one thing or another, are you?” Her smile showed pointed teeth. “Not yet.”

“It’s not fair. I learn so many things, but they’re never enough. Not enough to understand even my friends, and the Red King -” She made a despairing sound and shook her head at the selkie’s continued laughter.

“Girl creature. Something will call you, one thing or another, meaning or madness…and you will find your way. I have that faith in you.”

“Hmm… But I’m tired of waiting. Time is different here and still I’m tired of it.”

“The mortal in you is murmuring now. You are so young – so young! I’m still a child in the water, among my people, but I barely remember being young like you. Before I could slip the sea, leave this shape behind… Saoirse, haven’t you felt it? Your soul is slipping away. A little longer, and a little longer…and then the empty space will have to be filled in by something else. What have you chosen?”

Saoirse blinked into Líadan’s eyes, blinked at her own reflection there, and then smiled.

“Blood of course. The Hunt, and its power.”

“Have you.” Líadan blinked, and the smile on her face stretched wide, then wider. Saoirse frowned as her reflection in the black eyes distorted, changing shape, size…something.

“Saoirse, I think you will surprise yourself with how much emptiness will be left behind when you lose your human self for the last time. I think you will surprise yourself with how little blood will fill the space inside you. You are not the Red King. Macsen Cadoc is of his own kind, and it is not yours. You may walk in the shadow, but I do not think it will be this shadow…or his.”

Saoirse crouched, reached forward and pet the flat, smooth space between Líadan’s ears. “What, then? Whose? I’ve been hunting, hunting without knowing – do you know my prey? Tell me!”

The selkie closed her eyes to night-dark slits. “I see a pale shadow behind you. Yes. Not red, but stripped of all color. A pale shadow…in a pale land. White flowers beneath a black moon.”

Saoirse contemplated this, but she had never heard of a place like that. She knew of eight hidden kingdoms outside the mortal world, and none of them sounded like the place Líadan was describing to her.

“When I find it, will I know what I’ve been looking for? What I’ve been missing since – forever?”

Even before I came here. The thought left Saoirse agitated, but without an outlet, just like many other such thoughts. They were becoming more and more frequent as time passed…and didn’t. As it washed over her, and left her unchanged, as the freezing ocean water moved over Líadan’s smooth, seal-black back.

“Saoirse, it is nearly time.”

“Time -”

“For us to go.”

“You…will be safe, won’t you?”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. These are dangerous times, and there may be no safety for anyone, anywhere. But we will make the attempt. If things change, and what is broken is fixed, perhaps we will even return…and I will find you then, and see what you have become, and be, even as I will be far from you, your friend.”

“As I’ll be yours! I promise, Líadan. Friends, always.”

The wide grin Líadan wore as she slipped into the sea sealed the promise, and Saoirse stepped back from the water. She slipped into a shadow, then over the crackling, frosted dunes, closer to where the Red King was. She could hear his voice, and some other, and she wanted to know if Líadan had been right.

Would he be angry? Or would he let them go? Or both, maybe. She was curious, but not afraid. There was no violence, not even the anticipation of it, in the wind tonight.

Anyway, it was fun. Hunting Macsen, Red King that he was. She would tell Bran about it later, and he would laugh with her. He understood better than the rest, and regardless, she had to stay close to him.

There was an oath that she’d made, and it remained unfulfilled, but she understood oaths better now.

Saoirse took another step, then another, until she could hear clearly. Yes, she would tell Bran…even though Macsen was Bran’s, and therefore not her prey. Again, she faced the frustration of not knowing who, or what, it was that she was meant to be hunting.

Líadan had not answered her, but now, watching, listening, she wondered if the Red King would.

 

Want more? Book five is coming soon, but you can grab the first four books here

Last Laugh

It’s #1lineWed again! Today’s “Context is Key” entry in the Secret Files comes from Holy – the theme was humor, after all! 

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Artemio felt Matti shifting on his chest as Marina shouted down Luca’s protests. He was so relaxed, his lips occasionally pressing against his throat, his fingers warm against the back of Artemio’s hand, that this time he didn’t worry. He grinned as Luca reached out and clapped a hand over Marina’s mouth to shut her up, at least long enough that he could get a word in.

“You’re drunk. Seriously, do you hear yourself? The second one is the shitty one, Jason vs. Necromancer Moon Unicorn three is Stabbin’ Fever.”

Marina pulled Luca’s hand off her mouth, took another drink and shook her head emphatically. “No it’s two, three’s from 2029 and it has the Cyberwar crap in it -”

“Uh…huh.”

Luca looked contemplative, but Artemio nudged the back of his head with a knee. “Nobody cares, because we’re not watchin’ anything with Necromancer Moon Unicorns.”

“But boss man -”

“Not. Happening.”

“I’m with Art on this one. Gotta add it to the list – no driving for Yuyi, nobody go to Luca’s house, and no picking movies for Marina when she’s drunk.”

“Fuck you – and you – and…and Taj again.”

“No, you just keep fuckin’ Taj, I got enough on my plate.”

“Hey!”

“The hell now? That’s like the third time tonight, who said I was screwing Marina?”

“I -”

“I mean not like I’d say no, but -”

“I -”

“Seriously, what gives?”

“I would like to say something if you’d both SHUT UP.”

Two pairs of eyes turned in Marina’s direction.

“….”

“…What?”

“Artemio’s a prick and I will never fuck Taj.” Without further ado, Marina slugged the rest of the bottle, then rolled it away across the floor and threw her head back. “Next!”

Artemio nudged Taj with an elbow, looked back at him over his shoulder. “Artemio, she says. Look at that, you got her to use my actual name.”

“I got her to? I think this one’s all you, Art.”

“Uh-huh, whatever. But anybody gives her another bottle I’m settin’ Yuyi on ‘em.”

“Oh? Oh? Oh? Yes? Yes…”

Artemio glanced down at her, suddenly alert, her head lifted, her eyes bright. “Don’t be too eager or nothin’…”

Luca reached up a hand, waved it around.“I want a bottle. Or a glass, even. Since, y’know. Marina drank the whole rest of the first one.” Luca scowled around, irritated, but nobody made to get up, and he scowled harder. “Seriously, I gotta get it myself?”

Artemio shrugged. “I’m not getting up. And that means Matti’s not getting up, or Taj, either.” Luca glared at him, then shrugged.

“And Marina can’t stand.” He tossed a hopeful glance in Svava’s direction, and she lifted an eyebrow.

“You are a lazy man.”

“I’m an old man.”

“You are only forty seven. I came into being more than two thousand years ago, but I am not whining about old age.”

“You don’t get achy.”

“I will be kind and bring you a glass, and the bottle, as I wish for a drink myself. But it does not change that you are a lazy man. And you, Taj?”

“No, thanks. I gotta drive, and dealing with Marina’s gonna be hell as it is.”

“Hmmm…this, I think you are right about. Artemio, is your glass full? Should I make offering to your lover?”

Artemio jerked his gaze up to her face. “To my – Matti? Fuck no, he’s had enough twice over.” There was giggling against his chest, then laughter, and Artemio only sighed. “See? Look at this. As I was gonna say before, I didn’t mean to even get him drunk, but I fucked up pourin’ outta the bottle and onto the altar. Which I’ve never done before. Also I got no idea how much it takes to set him off, I mean he’s got this wine, and he never got like this off that.”

“Yes, Artemio. But you?”

“Eh…yeah, I could use a splash.” He sipped at his glass, stretched his leg until he felt Luca’s shoulder against his knee, cold through his sweatpants. Svava came back with the bottle and a pair of glasses, topped off Artemio’s drink then stepped around the couch to give Luca his.

“Thanks, Svava. Life-saver, really.”

“I am not getting up again to give you the bottle -”

“Eh, you can throw at it me. Or I’ll just make Marina get it, that’ll be fun. So anyone gonna pick a movie or not?”

Artemio leaned his head back against Taj and closed his eyes. “I never finished watchin’ Terminal Glory but I think the noise might scare Matti into another incarnation. Unless he’s passed out alr-” Mouth. Tongue against his lips, so hot, so sudden he almost dropped his glass of whiskey. Matti kissed him hard enough to steal his breath, then pulled back and stared at him with eyes that were burning with brightness.

“Not passed out, not sleeping, not anything, only waiting, wanting – waiting.” Another kiss, somehow sharper and softer both, and then Matti slid back down Artemio’s chest and turned to the face the Wall again. Artemio blinked down at the top of his head, licked his lips, then lifted his glass carefully around Matti and transferred it to the hand resting on the back of the couch.

“Well. Guess that answers that – but I still don’t wanna watch it. Anybody else got a suggestion?” Artemio slung his gaze around the room – Jer only lifted an eyebrow, and Sváva blinked at him dispassionately. Yuyi’s eyes were closed, her breathing steady, and he couldn’t see Marina or Luca at all, turned his head and peered up at Taj out of one eye, met his gaze and the shrug in it.

“Don’t look at me.”

Artemio sighed. “We’re gonna end up watching moon unicorns, aren’t we?”

“Nah.”

And, as always happened eventually, random movie titles began to bounce around the room. “Imperfect Suicide?”

“Seen it. Sucked. Last Call?”

“You think everything sucked. And Last Call is almost four hours long, I don’t wanna listen to the boss snoring for that long. The Omen?”

“Luca, nobody is ever gonna wanna watch The Omen. Why do you always suggest it?”

He shrugged, a movement Artemio felt against his leg. “Better than Robocop?”

“Oh you dinn’t – don’even – Rob’cops th’best. Well, almos’. Alien’s reall’ th’bes’.”

“Christ, Mari. Just…don’t even talk. Though…actually. What about Alien?” Artemio scanned the room, got shrugs and shrugged himself. “Fine, at least it’s somethin’. Wall, find movie, Alien.” It came up almost at once. “Play. Hey, Matti. Matti -”

“Hmmmm? Master. Master? You need -”

“No, just – ‘s gonna get loud. Eventually. If it scares you, you don’t have to -”

“Master. It doesn’t scare me, it’s just…loud.”

Taj was snickering again, and Artemio shoved an elbow back into his ribs – but then the movie credits zoomed in from space to the interior of the ship, and Matti wiggled back against him, and Artemio gave up his scowl for a sip of bourbon and pressed his lips against the back of Matti’s neck.

By the time the movie was a half hour in, the soft whiskey scent had left Matti’s skin, and his mouth only tasted like sweetness when Artemio bent to kiss him, testing. In the light from the Wall, his eyes were clear now, and Artemio leaned back satisfied.

“Master.”

It was the softest whisper, pleased and warm. Matti wiggled back against him again, slipped his hand over Artemio’s hand and pushed it down to his waist, then his hip.

Artemio lifted an eyebrow, hooked his thumb into the waistband of Matti’s borrowed sweatpants and pressed his lips against his throat again, brought his mouth up to Matti’s ear and nipped the curve of it. “You be good.”

But Matti turned against him, pressed back and wiggled, wouldn’t be still until Artemio’s erection settled against the curve of his ass, and then he rocked against it.

“Matti enough!” He hissed it sharply, truly annoyed now. Hadn’t he made it clear enough that he wanted him? Didn’t the fucking hard on that’d been jabbing him in the back for the last hour prove it? “Enough.” Softer, irritated at himself now for being so sharp, he tightened his grip on Matti’s waist.

Matti shivered once and went still against him, eyes on the screen – but Artemio wondered, because there was no worry on his face, and he was still relaxed…even though that hadn’t been the case before, when he’d been sharp with him.

What had changed? Was it that there was someone else here with them now? Instead of paying attention to the movie, which he’d seen before, Artemio sipped at his drink, closed his eyes and contemplated the riddle that was Matti.

Obedience. But even if that was his nature, it obviously wasn’t the whole of him – wasn’t everything – or he wouldn’t resist. Or does he? Or…was he…

By the end of the movie, with Matti still and no longer trying to entice him, Artemio had dozed off. He always did, couldn’t help it – the dark did him in, and the alcohol, and the warmth of familiar presences, the knowledge of their safety which was the whole point of the evening. The difference was that this time, when he cracked his eyes open to the sounds of people moving around, felt Taj’s body moving out from under his head, there was one point of warm contact that didn’t move away.

Matti was still against his chest, his eyes closed, his breathing even and deep. He was glowing that soft glow again, asleep and perfect, and four pairs of eyes were staring at him that weren’t Artemio’s. Jer was already gone, and Yuyi was pacing by the door, waiting for Svava, but the rest –

He shifted his glance from one to the other and grumbled at them. “What’re you lookin’ at? Why are you still all here? Get.” Warmth tickled his chin as Matti turned his head, waking, rubbed his cheek against Artemio’s chest, and looked up at him.

“Master, should I get rid of them for you?” That scattered the rest of team. Artemio grinned, waved them all off and snickered at Taj’s back as he helped Marina stumble swearing out the door. It clicked shut, and Matti kissed Artemio’s throat in the same instant.

“You are awake now, Master? You were sleeping, so I slept with you – I did not like that movie. Everyone kept dying.”

Artemio chuckled, shook his head. “Yeah, I know. And I’m…awake? Mmmm…sorta. Kinda. Maybe.” He yawned, shifted, and Matti sat up, slipped off the side of the couch and knelt beside him. “Why, there somethin’ you wanna do?” He asked the question even though he knew exactly what Matti wanted to do, and the thought brought back the last thing that had been on his mind before he dozed off.

“No. No, not -” But he was biting his lip that way he did so often, leaning forward, and Artemio pushed himself up on one arm and leaned over the edge of the couch. He kissed him deeply, fully, smirked and came far more awake at the sound of Matti’s moan.

“What if there’s something I wanna do?”

“’Temio?”

“Like take you.”

“Oh. Oh -”

“I made you a promise…though I seem to remember somebody gettin’ handsy. In the middle of the movie – in fronta my whole goddamn team.” He lifted an eyebrow, reached out to tug at Matti’s hair the way he knew he liked, watched his lips part, his eyes darken. “Somebody who knows better.”

Matti’s gaze was innocent, but that innocence uncompelling. “Master, you never said not to-”

“Rub all over me? Kiss me like a dyin’ man? Try to make me fuck you right here, in front of my team? Cause you got me this close -” Artemio kissed him roughly, tugged harder at the hair in his grip and then forced himself to let go.

 

Omega Run

It’s #1lineWed again – amazing how that happens every week! Today’s “Context is Key” entry in the Secret Files comes from my sexy, sneaky side-project, The Other Omega, which is currently in final edits for its  Friday release!

The Other Omega is sequel to First Nights and The Other Alpha, which is the first of these books (and also free here ’til the end of the week!)

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The morning after the full moon’s last night, Niketas saw Luka turn on the phone his brother had given him and was almost overcome by the sudden, restless twist of heat that pooled in his gut. It wasn’t Wednesday, so the only reason for his Alpha to be messing with his phone was if he thought Stelios was going to call for some other reason. For him. It had to be for him…

Didn’t it?

Had Stelios said so when he’d talked to Luka, something Niketas hadn’t been privy to? Had Stelios told Luka that he wanted Niketas to come back? He thought back to the weeks he’d spent with Stelios and bit back a moan. So good. Everything he did, every place he touched, everything he wanted.

It had been – god. He hadn’t even wanted to leave, but Luka had come for him and he hadn’t been able to say anything. Not a protest…not even goodbye, not in front of Luka. He hadn’t been able to bring himself to call Stelios by name, but neither could he call him Sir in front of his brother.

There was a wolf whine waiting in the base of his throat, now as then, but he denied it. There was no point in getting all worked up. If Stelios was going to call, he’d call. No point, no point –

But he stared fixedly at the damn phone, and ignored Leon’s taunts and his questions. He was aching a little still, from how rough Leon had been, making him ready to take that woman. Not in the good way, either, like with Stelios.

That was the only thing that had made him capable, kept him hard enough to fuck Luka’s girl. Stelios. Pretending Leon was him, ignoring the woman under him, her softness, the heat of her, and focusing on the memory. Stelios stretching him open, so much thicker, so much bigger than Leon, and –

“Fuck.” His cock was straining at his jeans, and he reached down, rubbed his palm over it, then jumped as the phone rang. The sound was incongruous with the furs and spartan bareness of their den, but Luka walked over and grabbed it up off the shelf as if he’d been expecting the call.

“Uh-huh. And so what, if I had forgotten you could have just…yeah. I was expecting you to. Oh, come on, he might be wondering because he doesn’t know you but I know that look, you – yeah. Alright. Today? Yeah, but you know he’s still going to – alright, alright. Yeah, Wednesday. The usual thing.”

Luka hung up and turned to face him, but Niketas was already on his feet, going for his jacket. He heard Leon laughing at him again, and even Luka was smirking, but he didn’t care. He was grinning like an idiot and he didn’t care about that, either.

“Eager, aren’t you?”

“That was your brother.”

“Of course it was.”

“And he-”

“Wants you? Yeah. Go on. You remember the way?”

“You’re…not coming this time?”

Luka scowled at him and shrugged off the suggestion. “Why? Into the city? Fuck no, not unless I have to, and I don’t. Go around back like I brought you last time, and hit the buzzer for the penthouse.”

“Got it. Did he say…do you…how long am I staying?”

He was very still while Luka looked him up and down, then shrugged. “As long as you want. Doesn’t matter to me, if you’re having a good time…but I’ll come get you for next month’s full moon if you haven’t come back yet.”

Niketas flushed as he tossed a few shirts and pairs of jeans in a bag. “Really? Another woman? Luka, I really don’t – I can’t -”

“You think I didn’t notice?” His smirk widened a little. “Seemed to do alright once Leon got you going, though.” Niketas was less than amused, and avoided Luka’s gaze with a shrug as he zipped up his jacket and tossed his bag on the back of his motorcycle.

“I guess I’ll see you then, if I’m not back before.” He grinned faintly, then rolled out his bike, swung into the seat and revved the engine.

“Niketas…”

“Yeah?” Something in Luka’s stance as he stood at the entrance to the den, hands shoved in his pockets and his shoulders hunched forward, made him sit up and take notice. “What else, Luka?”

“Be careful. Don’t get yourself hurt, yeah?”

“…I…” Then Niketas shook his head and grinned. “It’s just sex, Luka, c’mon.”

Luka scowled. “Just sex -”

“I’ll be fine. See ya.”

Niketas raced himself down the mountainside, away from the den and into the city. He could see the way as if it was printed for him with giant arrows on the pavement – and more than that, the closer he got the more the thin thread of Stelios’ scent became a rope dragging him onward.

Impatience crawled up Niketas’ back like some kind of animal, digging in its claws.

 

First Night

It’s #1lineWed again! Today’s “Context is Key” entry in the Secret Files comes from First Nights,  the sequel to The Other Alpha. It’s a steamy start to a steamy story, and picks up RIGHT where The Other Alpha left off.

Keep an eye out, because First Nights  is released this coming Friday!  

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Stelios was so hot. So hot, and the head of his cock was smooth as satin on Niketas’ tongue. Niketas had thought there would be some flavor, like the scent of his skin, but everything had been washed away by the water.

Stelios leaned back against the edge of the tub and let Niketas take more of his cock into his mouth, and more – god there was no way he was going to be able to take it all, but he wanted to and he didn’t even know why. He tried to remember what women had done to him, what felt good, or what he’d wanted, then pulled up and curled his tongue around the head of Stelios’ cock.

Stelios sucked in a breath, and Niketas was surprised at the instant pulse of heat that flickered to life in his belly. He did it again, wanted to make Stelios moan for him, then sucked him down harder, licked the length of his cock and tried to take more than before. He choked a little, then lifted his head to take a breath and tried again – god so much cock, there was no way, no way, but he wanted it, wanted to-

Stelios reached out and pulled his hair, tugged his head back until Niketas only had the head of his cock in his mouth, could look up and meet his eyes. “If you want to take it all, I’ll help you. But you don’t have to. I know it’s your first time.”

His cock twitched a little on Niketas’ tongue as he said that, got even harder, and Niketas felt himself flushing. He rolled his tongue around the tip and oh that was it. There was the taste of him, salt and Stelios.

So good. He tastes so –

Niketas tried more tongue, sucked harder, took Stelios deeper into his mouth with every stroke, then pulled up again. Oh yeah. He lifted his mouth off and licked wetness from the tip of Stelios’ cock, then did it all over again.

“Fuck, look at you. You like the taste of me, Niketas?”

Niketas flushed darker, scowled and looked up at Stelios anyway. “So what if I do, I-”

“Gorgeous. No idea what you look like, do you? On your knees for me, licking my cock like that. Just for the taste of me.” He tugged at Niketas’ hair, then leaned back again, shifted his hips so more of his cock stood out from the water. “Well? Go on. You looked like you were having fun.”

“Yeah. I mean – yes, Sir.”

“Better. Now, get your mouth back on my cock.”

Niketas wrapped his lips around the tip, licked all over then took him deeper and moaned softly as Stelios pulled his hair. Despite the fact that he’d come what – three times? Four? – while Stelios was fucking him, while he’d been tied up, Niketas felt his cock twitching against his thigh, getting harder while he sucked. God, what was wrong with him?

Submissive.

The word echoed in the voices of both his Alphas, Luka’s amusement and Stelios’ desire.

Was this what it meant, too? Not just liking the way Stelios tied him up, kept him from coming – liking to be on his knees for him? Wanting the taste of him…wanting his moans, his heavy breaths. Fuck. Niketas shifted and almost reached for his own cock, but he knew without even asking that Stelios wouldn’t allow that. Instead he sucked harder, licked under the head where he knew he liked to be teased himself and tightened his grip on Stelios’ thighs when Stelios groaned and thrust up into his mouth.

“Knew you’d be – good with that mouth. More tongue, yes, like that. Just like that. Can you take more?”

Niketas moaned, sucked harder and took another inch, then another, choked and had to pull back. Then Stelios’ hands were in his hair, guiding him as he gave soft instructions. “Relax. Relax your throat or you won’t be able to take it. Better. Now swallow. Swallow. Yes. Enough now – oh that’s good. So good with your tongue. Take it again for me, just like that.”

He moved his hands lightly through Niketas’ hair, barely pulling, almost a caress. Niketas moaned and obeyed, and this time took Stelios’ cock deeper, more than half, before he had to pull back again and take a breath. He kept doing that, again, and again, until Stelios tightened a fist in his hair and swore.

“Fuck. So good. Gonna come in your mouth – is that what you want, Niketas?”

“Mmm – mmmm.” He wanted to taste it, wanted to feel Stelios come and know he’d done it, wanted to hear him moaning – wanted to taste it. He sucked harder, pointed the tip of his tongue and traced over and over that sensitive spot just under the head of Stelios’ cock, and got just what he’d wanted.

He groaned loud and his fingers went tight in Niketas’ hair, held him still while Stelios bucked his hips up again and again, fucking into his mouth as he came. Sweet. Salt. Bitter. Stelios. Niketas shuddered, licked all around the tip of Stelios’ cock and swallowed him down again, wanting more – more.

He sucked and a last few drops spilled hot onto his tongue, but he didn’t lift his mouth away until Stelios pulled him back by his hair.

“Stop that, before I make you do it all again.”

“I’ll do it again -”

His breathing was unsteady and heavy, his voice more eager than his words, but he didn’t care. Stelios chuckled, reached down and wiped under Niketas’ bottom lip with his thumb. “Yes, you will.” Niketas licked at his thumb, sucked a drop of come off it and was surprised at Stelios’ sudden growl, the heat of his mouth pressed against Niketas’.

Stelios kissed him harder, deeper, fucked his mouth with his tongue and never mind that Niketas had to taste like nothing but him. It was almost like he –

“Taste so good, Niketas. Even better with me on your tongue.”

“You – you like that?” He panted against Stelios’ mouth as he kissed him again.

“Yes. But that’s enough of that for now, I brought you in here to clean you up and look you over, not make more of a mess out of you. Not tonight, anyway.”

“O-Oh.”

Stelios laughed at him again. “Too eager for your own good, aren’t you? Get over here.”

 

King’s Daughter

It’s #1lineWed again! Today’s “Context is Key” entry in the Secret Files comes from Earthbound, that book which will one day consume  us all. But me first, so you’ll have warning! 

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From the inner chambers of the court, past the Golden Lotus Pavilion and over the covered bridges, the King made his way past the flares he’d ordered lit. Some of them, poorly placed, guttered in the rain.

As he crossed the last bridge, the sound of strings came to him, though faintly. A low arpeggio of sound brought green to mind, swelled like a mountain growing in the back of his thoughts. Beautiful, Liuxing’s playing, and more lush than he remembered. Quietly, careful to make no sound, the king passed through the open door at the northwest corner of the Hall, then up the stairs to where the outline of the prince was barely visible, staring down from the shadows, visibly enraptured.

The king smiled, then stayed where he was, waiting. Trickling sound filled up the room and spilled out its melodies around them. Deep, plucked notes slid down the walls, pooled on the floor, then sprang up and splashed down again, rippling outward.

But the longer he listened, the more the king frowned, and deeper.

This…was not a song he knew, or one he had heard her play before. The falling arcs of sound were slow…so slow, but there was passion in them and unease crawled down his shoulders. Passion. Not love or excitement, not gentler emotions. Something as real as the passion of the spring for rain –

That green, flowing sound. Did she already have a lover? Was that the reason behind her avoidance, the reason she chose to ignore every suitor he selected?

He hadn’t even considered that, when perhaps it was the most obvious reason…but how could it be? The first man he’d picked, she had rejected without a second glance, and all the others since. She was watched, accompanied, guarded and attended, so how could she have had a lover? One or many, it was equally impossible.

Still, he couldn’t deny what he was hearing. If he closed his eyes and shut out the sight of her, her playing rolled over him and spoke of things she shouldn’t know. One of his own consorts might play such a melody, one of the palace concubines. It was seductive, a lure, a song designed to enchant a man, and it should not have been coming from the fingers of his innocent daughter.

But there was more than desire in it to disturb him.

Mountains, hills, the river moving – moonlight – they were all in her music, but they were sounds of the wild world, far beyond her experience. She played them all the same, and his mind chased the straining sound of her strings back to their source. A shadow. It moved behind his eyelids, silent and saturated with green.

A green…shadow. The rhythm moved in waves that summoned more than sound, layers of melody speaking a language he didn’t understand.

A whisper disconcerted him, a human noise rising through the falling tones of longing Liuxing was sending out into the rain. It was the prince, speaking to a servant, but the king heard nothing of his words. He was on the edge of approaching, making himself known, when the woman came back and the Prince reached out and took something from her –

A flute. He lifted it to his lips and played a clear, strong note that chased the sound of Liuxing’s strings in eerie harmony.

There was a gasp in concert with the first note of flute, discord as Liuxing’s hands came down across the strings, as she looked up and caught sight of the Prince standing on the gallery, looking down at her.

“Don’t stop, Princess. Play something with me. I’ve never heard anyone as good as you.”

“You’ve interrupted me, and spied on me, and you still ask that question? Do you have my father’s permission to make such requests?”

“I could not say I do.”

“Oh? Very well then.”

She returned her hand to their places on the strings, and the king smiled. Perhaps Liuxing had finally taken interest after all? He looked down and moved along the gallery away from the prince, until he could see her face.

Her expression set off a tingle of warning at the base of his spine. She looked – so calm. But calm was not the word for it. Her expression was deep ocean, still on the surface but something moving beneath. For a moment the king saw that something clearly, and didn’t understand. A monster, terrible and lovely, lifting her head to discover what had dared call her out of the deep…

For the second time that morning he remembered Liuxing’s mother.

He closed his eyes, but the music had changed. The green shadow behind his eyes turned black and cruel as the night.