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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

Deathless Bite

Today is a deathless day…or should I say, the day of Deathless? Now on early release at Pride Publishing, this second Tale of the Eight Kingdoms starts in the ancient woods of Britain, ten thousand years before the events of book one, and takes us to the meeting of Kas and Myrddin, and the first Spring Rite.

Enjoy this exclusive excerpt from the very beginning of Deathless!

 

Chapter One

The nights were growing chill, but the change of the autumn foliage had turned the river valley into a sea of flames. Leaves fell like sparks, browned the underbrush and bared the branches of the wood, but not only the canopy was failing. On a bier in the open, breathing slowly and quietly, Myrddin’s mother, the old chief’s daughter, lay dying.

“Mother, you can’t go!”

“Oh, it’s time. It’s past time, Myrddin. Look at you, my little shoot. You don’t change any more, but you’ve grown, and your mother is old and only a woman. Now is my time.”

Myrddin gripped her fingers tightly. The lines of her face were smooth, but worn, and her hand was limp in his grasp. The only brightness left in her was in the green shimmer of her gaze. Already he could feel her slipping away.

He supposed he should be grateful it was happening now, at the end of autumn, and not when he’d already begun his winter sleep. But how could he be? Grateful. He could have hated it—her dying—if she didn’t look so much like she was letting go of something heavy that she’d carried for far too long.

It was still agonizing to watch.

Why did death have to come so gently? Like a fall of rain—like falling asleep after making love. Myrddin could have hated it, except that she welcomed its coming.

“You’re going where I can’t follow, Mother. I won’t have anyone if you…when you die.”

She laughed, or at least she made a sound that was something like it, and he winced. “You have to learn to let go. Let it be. We’re all mortal, aren’t we? Yes, all of us but you. And you…my son, if you can’t learn to let us go, you’ll have no companion but pain, and that’s…not…what I wanted for you.”

“Mother…”

Red leaves fell onto the furs that covered her, then mingled with her hair as she tried to lift her head. One descended lightly into the spread-open fingers of her unclasped hand, and she smiled. You’ll have to learn. You will, won’t you? Promise me you will.

“I—promise.”

Good boy. Now, let them bring me where I want to go.”

Myrddin lifted his gaze. Her bearers were already waiting around them, their eyes averted from the final parting of mother and son. “Mother. You don’t have to do this. What good is it to just—

I want to die where it began. That’s all. For you, and for me. Won’t you come with me? I won’t make a journey in this world again.

He stared at her, almost shook his head, then squeezed her fingers and let go. “I’ll be watching. I can’t… I’ll just…be watching.”

She sighed, reached up and patted his cheek with her free hand, and the bearers came forward and took up her bier with careful hands. His mother’s fingers slipped out of Myrddin’s grip, and he stepped back, and back, watched her go into the forest then turned and fled up the side of the valley. The sun was setting, and the evening came full of swallowing shadows that he followed along the ridge above the crest of the valley.

He couldn’t stand it, couldn’t bear it, but he was equally incapable of avoiding it, of denying her or leaving her behind. Even at a distance, even in darkness, he could see the cortege accompanying his mother’s body, heard the wails of the tribe’s women as they fell in line behind. He wanted to go to her, stand with her, wait until the end, but he couldn’t do it. Not this.

As he thought it, the wind moved, a sudden hush of gusts that nearly blew him over. It was only then, forced out of his grief, that Myrddin felt the oncoming tide. Power was flowing around him, the green whispering. The wildlife was growing awake, aware, and the blood of his father inside him, the immortal link that connected Myrddin to the growing and greening of the world, pulsed alive.

The whisper rose through the wood until it was a roar among the leaves, a howl in the throats of wolves. The sudden baying of stags mingled with a thousand fluted melodies as the birds scattered from the trees, and the trees bowed, bent, rolled their shoulders and tossed their heads with no need for the wind.

Still, the wind was rising, carrying whispers and roars, howls and birds. Awake! Wild spirits of the spring sped past Myrddin, not focused on him, not paying him any attention, and he closed his eyes but couldn’t close his mind to the message. Awake! He comes, He comes.

Myrddin didn’t need to wonder who. There was only one reason for this much excitement in the wild. My father is coming and why? Now? When it’s too late for him to do anything. A flush of rage replaced his grief, but it was rage tempered by truth and sense. His mother had been an offering since before he was born. That had been the reason why he was born. She had belonged to his father from the moment she had chosen to give herself as a gift to the God.

I was just the result, not the fulfillment. My mother, but she belongs to Father as she has always done.

There had never been any doubt about his father. His mother had been taken, and given a child, and returned…and he was that child, bound to the spring as much as to the mortal world—or more, maybe.

Immortal powers were stronger. Immortal purposes were more demanding than anything but death, and Myrddin remembered his birth—remembered his first year as well as yesterday.

By the end of his first summer, dressed in a loincloth of leather and painted with the brown mud of the forest, he had toddled behind the hunting men. By the end of his first autumn, he’d been strong and straight enough of limb to walk with them. He’d had the look of a boy of ten years, though he couldn’t yet count even one, but he had carried no weapon and only clung to the edges of their sight.

It hadn’t been their prey that he was after, only the wilderness that ran before their footsteps…until autumn had ended, and the first snow had begun to fall.

Snow. Timeless and endless and white, it had fascinated him, then made him irresistibly drowsy. He’d gone to his mother and spoken his first words.

“Mother, I’m tired.”

“Then sleep, dear one. Sleep…”

And then, and every year since, her lullaby had gentled him into the dark. He had slept through the winter and its whiteness, the long, cold months. Only his mother had never been surprised. Like the spring shoots, he had grown and blossomed with the passing of the seasons. She had thought it only natural that winter was time for him to sleep.

“But there won’t be anyone to sing me to sleep this year.”

The flush of anger at his father gave way to grief again, and Myrddin looked up and saw that his mother and the villagers who followed her had almost passed out of sight. He caught up quickly, with the feeling he was stepping in his father’s footsteps as he crossed the ridge line back down toward the floor of the valley.

The procession wound through the trees, bringing his mother one final time through the wood she loved. Myrddin stopped when it stopped, and stood still, arrested in place for no reason he could explain. It felt wrong to move forward, though he could sense his mother’s death coming for her, walking toward her. It was here, in the wood! On the path—in the clearing—right in front of him…

A silence the likes of which Myrddin had never experienced came crashing down.

He tried to take another step forward, but the air was heavy, liquid and too thick to move through. In the same instant, Myrddin saw a shadow dart from the forest with the speed of a fleeing beast, the speed of a predator following. He saw a moment in which darkness lay itself like a shroud of shadow over his mother, a shadow the shade of the forest canopy at night.

Then, color flowed into the dark. His father. The God was green, green and growing as the vivid earth, green as the forest leaves, and He was brown, as the eyes of the stag and the pelt of the stag, and His eyes were black as the rich, turned earth of spring.

“Father… What…are you doing?”

The words fell heavy as stones from Myrddin’s mouth and disturbed the silence, but not the frozen moment. He took a breath and held it as his father bent and lifted his mother in his arms.

And now it is time for you to come with me.” His father’s voice did not disturb anything, nor his mother’s, as it came just after.

“Is this what dying is?”

Myrddin heard his father laughing.

Yes. No.”

The world snapped open and shut.

Want more? Grab Deathless here, on early release at Pride Publishing, before it’s out anywhere else!

Shadow Bite

To celebrate today’s early release at Pride Publishing,  today I’m sharing an exclusive excerpt from chapter one of The Shadow Road, Eight Kingdoms book four! 

Enjoy this crunchy little bite, and of course, if you want more, grab a copy here!

Through the barrow, across the ice, over the bridge and the river’s black water, Macsen ran quickly, following the promise of heat. Summer fire was making its presence known in the middle of Winter, fire and coiling smoke and the scent of golden power.

A smile crawled across his face, eager with anticipation. He knew where Bran was now, and he stalked around the palace, through the green of the orchard. Yes. Yes. He could see through the open spaces of the entryway that Bran was at his forge, muttering to himself, shaping the precious metals Macsen had left for him with practiced movements.

Bits of work were scattered here and there on tables. The beginnings of what might be a silver bridle, golden baubles filled with fire and a dozen gossamer lengths of chain were coiled and piled on each other.

Macsen’s attention was drawn to Bran’s hands, the smoothness of their movements, the easy way his fingers shaped the softness of the gold. There was something sensual in the motions, in his perfect focus, the way his eyes didn’t wander at all and a tiny wrinkle deepened between his brows. The intensity of his attention to his work was such that he still hadn’t noticed Macsen’s presence.

He almost took a step forward, arm outstretched, but caught sight of his own fingers, dark with bloodstains, and grimaced. Quietly, still unnoticed, he slipped away, up to their room and the bath. Macsen stripped out of silk as bloody as his body, and the water went red as he stepped into it. It grew redder still as he bathed, scrubbed gore from his face, his hands, even his hair.

When it flowed clear, he lingered for only a moment before he grabbed a towel and wandered back into the bedroom, considering. Talaith was gone. He would have to do everything himself, or find some other servant, and even the thought made him scowl. When Macsen opened the wardrobe, it was empty, nothing hung. His clothes, where were they? But then she did that too, didn’t she? He’d have to go down into the storage closets and find everything there.

He wrapped his towel around his waist, pushed wet hair back out of his eyes and contemplated a secondary irritation. His comb, where was that? He scowled, then turned to face the door as it opened.  It wasn’t Bran, he knew that instantly, and who else would dare? But he saw first not the one who had come, but what they had brought with them—his clothes, and things glinting silver. Momentarily, a familiar face emerged from behind the pile.

“Saoirse! What are you doing?”

“I… Since Talaith… I thought you…” And she stopped dead, but still peered up at him, curious and perhaps confused. “Should I leave? I didn’t mean to be trouble, but I helped Talaith sometimes and I never once saw you come down where everything is, so I thought you would need…” Again she stopped. “Red King?”

He had too many thoughts for words, and only shook his head and turned away. Whatever she thought of that, he didn’t know. Her stillness dissipated and she came into the room, began to lay things out on the bed. Tunics and trousers in red and silver, blue and gold, more choices than he needed and some that weren’t even his clothes.

“Girl—”

“There’s things for Bran, too. He likes new clothes after he’s been working. And I brought combs and brushes, but not jewelry. Bran doesn’t need it, not with your gift, and I haven’t seen you wear anything but your crown. Do you, Red King? If you do I’ll bring it next time but—”

Next time. Have you appointed yourself my keeper, Saoirse?” But he was already laughing before she could answer, laughing and shaking his head. “Do what you please, I won’t complain. You’ve done well. I don’t know where anything is, not after so long. But how did you know? How did you know I needed you?”

“I told you, I helped Talaith—and I was watching for you. Bran asked me to. He said he gets distracted when he’s working. He said he wouldn’t notice when you’d come back. I don’t know why he wanted to know, it’s not like you wouldn’t go to him first. You always go to him first. But you looked like you wanted to surprise him and you were very bloody, so I haven’t said anything, not anything. I went downstairs instead.” She wrinkled her nose. “Red King, tell him please that I did notice, and it’s only your fault that I didn’t say.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You think he’ll be angry?”

“Not Bran. It’s not easy to make him angry—you know that.”

Macsen studied her more closely when she smiled. Subtle changes that he had missed were making themselves known to him now, and he was…confused. Were her features sharper, her teeth more pointed?

She is not the same as she was.

“Girl, you’re changing.”

“I am. I am!”

“And you like it.”

“Yes.”

“Good.” And as if he had never said anything else, he returned to the previous subject. “Since you’ve done so well, this will be your responsibility. You’ll be our handmaid, mine and Bran’s.” He met her gaze. “You don’t mind? You were a princess once.”

She dimpled, grinning, and he saw that, yes, her teeth were sharper. “This is more fun, Red King.”

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! 

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

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.

 

Tenth Entry: Gǎ-oh

 

indianwoman5

From the edge of the sea, we come to a new land, the westernmost reach of our journey so far. The coast leads inward to a wide land peopled by many nations, the world growing green and gold around us. At the edge of a lake so wide it might be a sea, the feathered warriors tell their stories, and we listen with interest.

Here, among other tales, the people speak of the wind as a giant, four reins in his hands, holding the Beasts of the Wind back from destroying the world. He is Gǎ-oh, King of Winds, but we do not speak his name in his presence.

His home is in the far north, and we follow the legend, rumor that flows inland and upward, over the water to the lands of ice. When we come to his home there is the blast of the tempest to greet us, and dark haired in the distance we see him shining at the horizon’s edge.

From the north of the world he controls the four winds – Ya-o-gah, bear of the north, breathing cold fire. The fawn in the south, Ne-o-ga, who sits waiting, gentle as morning. The wild panther of the west wind, Da-jo-ji, who bears the whirlwind on his back and raises the waves…  O-yan-do-ne, the moose of the east wind, chills newborn clouds as they drift into heaven.

In silence, contemplating, we watch the reins snap, the wind’s release, howling out of the north and down to the nations of men.

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Gǎ-oh References
Gǎ-oh Wiki
Iroquois Legends

Have a suggestion for a creature that belongs in the Bestiary? Leave it in the comments!

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.

 

It’s Coming!

Hello, glorious beings! It’s been a while since I’ve ranted!

With roughly ten days left in October, (Hallowe’en doesn’t count as a day, it’s a magnificent entity which has its own tender, juicy post coming) a glorious beast is approaching. And no, I’m not talking about Hallowe’en there either. What I’m talking about is…wait for it…

NANOWRIMO! Or, to the uninitiated, National Novel Writing Month. It’s an exciting bit of exasperation, for those of any type of writerly persuasion. You can be straight-laced, follow all the (exceedingly lax) rules, and produce 50,000 words of one novel project. Or you can be a rebel, and write a first draft, an erotica short, something involving a Zoroastrian deity and…oh, no. I’m informed that’s just me. But you CAN be a rebel, and write whatever you like.

The point is just to write 50,000 words in a month. It’s quite a few, but comes down to the crunchy total of 1667 words per day, and it’s lovely watching those words add up as you go along! Not, of course, that this removes the agony of editing from the equation, but hey – can’t win all the time, right?

If you’re in the mood for a bit of masochistic malarkey, visit www.nanowrimo.org and add your name (and novel) to the roster of insane wordsmiths!

I’ll be there, plugging along toward my own crazy goal of 100,000 words – I’ll get there with a few erotic shorts, and the first draft of Eight Kingdoms, book five! (It’s tentatively titled “In A Land Of Fire” but dear monkeys above, don’t quote me on that.)

Come join the fun! This year. Is the year. Of conquest!

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.

 

Alpha Lick

This  Lick comes  from  The Other Alpha, book two in the After The Pack side series! This excerpt is a site exclusive,  celebrating the full release of The Other Alpha today – check at the bottom for links! 

Remember, Licks are NSFW excerpts, so read carefully – and look forward to another erotic excerpt next month!

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Luka’s brother turned and glanced at him, a glance that became a slow, smoldering stare. He looked Niketas up and down, and Niketas felt every place his eyes lingered—the hard bulge of his cock in his jeans, his fists clenched by his thighs, the lip he was biting…

Then he looked into Niketas’ eyes, and despite himself Niketas couldn’t defy him directly any more than he could defy Luka.

He whined softly, tilted back his throat and cast his gaze off to the side—and then, much to his surprise, felt a wet, hot lick of tongue go up his throat. Then teeth, pressed gently into his skin, holding him still and arousing him beyond belief.

Luka had never done that to him while he was still in a man’s shape, no one had. Niketas moaned before he could stop himself, pressed his hips up and then froze as he felt an erection even thicker than his own pressing right back against his cock.

He sucked in a breath, heard Luka laughing in the background while a warm hand took hold of his chin and forced him to look into blue, burning eyes. “Well, aren’t you something. Niketas, are you? I’m Stelios.”

“I know that—”

Good.”

He bent over Niketas’ mouth and kissed him. Niketas gasped in surprise. He’d never kissed a man before, and Stelios had Luka’s blue eyes, yes, but with a fire in them that promised much more than just a kiss even as he deepened it. Niketas opened his mouth when Stelios licked his lips, accepted Stelios’ tongue and moaned at the hot touch of it on his tongue, against the roof of his mouth. His eyes drifted closed, and he started to reach up, wrap his arms around broad, hot shoulders.

Stelios pulled back, and left Niketas standing alone in the middle of the room, flushed and harder than he’d ever been in his life.

“You see what I mean?” It was Luka’s voice, and Niketas couldn’t help looking over at him. “He’s perfect for you, Stelios. He wants me too much, and I can’t keep—”

“Tell me you haven’t been trying to punish him the pack way.” Stelios’ amusement was obvious, and Niketas stared straight at the floor. Luka cleared his throat, and Stelios started laughing. “Well done, little brother. Well done. I’m sure that made him want you so much less. All right, I’ll take him off your hands. For a while, anyway. Until I decide if I really like him or not.”

Niketas scowled and looked up, but Luka was just nodding, zipping up his jacket, turning for the—door? “Luka, don’t just—you can’t just leave me here with him!”

“Yes, I can. I’m Alpha, remember? And I already told you, as far as you’re concerned, so is Stelios.”

 

Want more? Pick up a copy of The Other Alpha here!