Book Chat with Cindy Lynn Speer

Continuing our chat about The Chocolatier’s Wife and Beautiful Death, here’s the next questions I asked Cindy and her response.  Head over to Cindy’s blog for my questions/answers re: BD.

How long have you been writing, and where does TCW fit in your bibliography?  And what’s in the works for you next?

I’ve been writing since my teens…about 20 years.  The Chocolateir’s Wife is my third completed book.  Of my first two, Blue Moon is, ironically, my second book.  The first I wrote, Balancing Act, will be out in a year or so.  I’ve also written a lot of short stories and poems.  I wanted to write longer works, but when I was a teen I was more interested in expressing myself…my emotions, what I was going through…in a descriptive way, and I loved poems because I could finish them.  Then I did short stories…when I finished my first novel, it was really a relief! 

And since I missed a week or so over the holidays, I’ll post another.

What’s next for the world of Chocolatier’s Wife? 

As for what’s next for that world…I have several plans.  Someday, I think William is going to have to face the sea…I imagine a mystery, perhaps, happening while he and Tasmin go on a voyage, perhaps to visit cocoa plantations?  I’m not sure.  But I am working on a story set in the “enemy” empire of Pandroth.  I don’t know if I ever will truly write about William and Tasmin again…but I love them so much, it gives me comfort to think I might just.   

Book Chat with Cindy Lynn Speer

Continuing our ongoing book chat, the next question I asked Cindy about The Chocolatier’s Wife:

How did you come up with the idea of the letters between Tasmin and William?  I loved the way the two storylines unfolded!

Her answer:

The letters came about because I needed to create a history between Tasmin and William.  In the story, they aren’t allowed to meet, technically, until their wedding day, a rule that goes out the window when he’s accused of murder, since she is now able to break her promise to be his wife with no repercussions.  So, why would she risk everything to go and see him and help him?  The letters seemed like the only solution, and as I wrote them, I realized that they could tell a completely different second story.  They were a lot of fun to write. 
 

Head over to Cindy’s blog if you want to hear about what attracted me to the Hades myth.

Come back next week for her next question,

Now I have to ask you…are any of your characters partly inspired by actors or actresses? 

Book Chat with Cindy Lynn Speer

Last weeks’s chat and Cindy’s post with my answer about the original inspiration for Beautiful Death.

The question I asked her next was what movie and characters had inspired TCW?  Her response:

Well…I have always loved the movie Master and Commander, and I thought Edward Woodall’s character, William Mowett, was just a lovely, wonderful and much under used person.  Since I’ve seen him in a handful of other things, and he’s a very good actor, he puts a lot into his roles, even the smallest parts become full, perfectly realized people.  So, in a way, that’s where our William gets his sea faring past…and his first name. 

 
I probably shouldn’t have confessed that!   
 

Ha, I love that she confessed it!  If you’re curious to see how I would “cast” Beautiful Death, head on over to Cindy’s blog.

Next week, we’ll continue our chat with my question to her:

How did you come up with the idea of the letters between Tasmin and William?  I loved the way the two storylines unfolded! 

Book Chat with Cindy Lynn Speer

This summer, I was priviledged to chat in depth with Cindy after reading The Chocolatier’s Wife released by Drollerie Press around the same time as Beautiful Death.  Events conspired against us so we’re just not getting this “chat” published on our blogs, but we had a great time discussing the story behind the books and general writing.  We plan on posting part of our “back and forth” chat every Friday until we finally stopped talking shop.  This is very informal, so there may be some overlap…or some juicy tidbit extras!

First off, let me say how much I enjoyed The Chocolatier’s Wife (TCW).  This sweet romance really tugs on the heart-strings.  I absolutely adored the little touches between Tasmin and William.  For most of their lives, their courtship happens through letters.  It’s sort of a fluke, really, that they were even “matched” by the magic that determines who should marry. 

Little things speak so loudly, though.  It’s the care and consideration between the two of them that really makes this story so sweet, long before they ever meet face to face.  The small considerations between these characters really shows how they fall in love bit by bit.  Love comes softly for these characters, and it’s beautiful to watch.

We thought it would be interesting to delve deeper into our stories, because they are on opposite ends of the spectrum, really, for what our niche micropress Drollerie Press is really all about.  Beautiful Death is violent and quite sexy, where TCW is softer and subtler, but BOTH stories combine magic and romance into what we think is a rather rich and unique tapestry.  Both stories are transformative, because I assure you, William is never the same after Tasmin blows into his life, and Isabella can only learn what it truly means to be a “monster” after she becomes a monster herself. 

So the first thing we started talking about was the “story behind the story.”  Here was Cindy’s response:

What started my book was a sort of goofy confluence.  It was nearing Christmas and my then department chair had given me a tower of chocolate…different boxes with all these lovely things inside.  And I had just watched a movie with an actor in it who I was wishing was in more roles…and as i was opening the box, I was wondering what I would like to see him in.  And I took a bite of this square of chocolate…it was, sincerely, one of the best pieces of chocolate I’d ever eaten…and the idea flooded into my head, even the title.  

Sounds yummy, yes?  So head over to Cindy’s blog and read my response about Beautiful Death and its original inspiration.

Next week, we’ll continue with the next question, where I said: 

Oooh, so you know I’ve got to ask:  who was the actor and what was the movie?  

Then we got to talking about “casting” our characters.

And since it’s been quite a while since I posted anything about Beautiful Death, I’ll post an excerpt.  This piece provides some of the backstory about how Isabella became “Beautiful Death.”  Although she doesn’t know it at the time, this “alien” is Hades.  Not exactly your everyday run-of-the-mill “first meet” in a romance.  :roll:  :wink:

Without opening her eyes, she knew someone watched, very close, the stirring of air warning her that a hand stretched toward her.  She exploded into action, rolling to the side and scooping up the knife that she always kept nearby.  Huddled with her back to the wall, she felt her heart stutter with dread.

This monster was the real thing. 

The alien spun silvered rainbows through the alley, leaving her nowhere to hide.  He squatted down to her level, as though that would fool her into trusting him.  “Isabella.  I’ve come to help you.  Your father–”

A cold sweat coated her skin, but she couldn’t hold back the laughter.  Ragged, shrill with grief and rage, her voice grated like broken glass.  “Even if you weren’t a monster, I’d know you were lying.  My father’s the last person I ever want to see again.”

A sound jerked her attention behind him.  More aliens had her sister.

“I’m tired.”  Amelia lay in one of the alien’s arms like a helpless baby, and the look of resignation on her face made bile burn up Isabella’s throat.  “I’m dirty and cold and starving.  I just want to go home.  He said we’d be safe, Bella.  If not…”  she shrugged, “at least it’ll be over.”

Fight!  Why don’t you fight?  Don’t lie there and let them kill you!  “There is no home.  Mom’s dead, and Daddy’s never coming back.  Don’t you understand?  There is no safety!  If they don’t kill you, their virus will!”

Choking on tears of rage, her throat hurt, her eyes burning.  Otherwise, she’d have seen the alien coming at her.

The bastard was good, she’d give him that.  He seized her right arm, his thumb pressing on her tendon until her nerveless fingers dropped the knife, while he pinned her against his body with his other arm.  For all his size and power, he made one monumental error.  He treated her carefully, as though she were just a fifteen-year-old kid, half starved and scared shitless, as though she hadn’t seen people tearing each other apart for food or killed to keep herself alive.

She lunged up and buried her pitiful human teeth in his neck, tearing at that vulnerable pale skin.

The alien’s body jolted against hers, silver burning higher.  Glass shattered in the windows of the abandoned highrise.  Street lamps that had long ago quit working exploded like fireworks.  The ground trembled, glass and metal tinkling, debris falling all around them.

“Bella.”  The alien’s voice sounded shaken, hushed, not filled with fury or pain like she’d expected.  The fool released her hands and cupped her head tighter to his throat, curling his body around hers protectively.  “Your father sent me to you.  I mustn’t…”

Then you’re dead, she thought, fisting her hands in the ridiculously long, pretty hair about his shoulders.  She yanked his head back further and tore deeper at his throat, determined to rip her way to his spine, but he still didn’t release her.  His power burned higher, sinking into her, melting her bones, and swirling rainbows sucked her down into an endless pit of darkness.

Her heart pounded harder, her mind screaming with terror, but her body slipped into neutral while he siphoned off her energy.  Her strength, hatred, and rage that powered her ferocious will to live disappeared in an instant.

He’s feeding on me.  He’s eating me alive.

She’d seen the horrors, watched as the aliens drained their victims and left them mindless shells to die twitching and screaming when the virus struck.  She’d hated those weaklings and despised their stupidity, never understanding the horrific compelling need to give up the fight. 

There was nothing she could do to stop him; worse, the longer he fed, the less she wanted him to stop.

Rest, peace, safety, all lies he silently promised while he crushed her against him and drained her lifeforce.  Surrender, his body purred against hers.  Death won’t be so bad.  I’ll be gentle, sweet, good, I promise.

His blood coated her face, filled her mouth, and slid down her throat in a hot, liquid flood, but she was the one dying.  Little by little, Isabella flickered lower, a candle guttering in the silent, cold night.  Her defenses crumbled.  He was all around, inside her, soaking her up, drinking her most horrible dreams and memories, seducing her to death.

Lost, all she could think about was how incredibly good his blood tasted.

Beautiful Death Excerpt

Available from Drollerie Press.

“Damn, Thanatos, who pissed you off this time?”

“No one,” Isabella Thanatos replied as her second-in-command fell into step beside her. No matter the hour, the skyways were usually packed with busy citizens heading to MedCorp offices or one of the exclusive shops that crowned Athens the diamond of New Olympia. Today, the pathways circumnavigating their City were deserted. “Oracle simply ordered me to an audience with the Pantheon Council before reporting for duty.”

“And yesterday was simply a parade, right?” Herakles laughed, a grim, hard sound that sent Isabella’s hand sliding down to grip the gun on her hip. “Our perfect City still simmers with rage at such injustice.”

All citizens had selected new names when they were accepted into New Olympia, and it hadn’t surprised her when he’d chosen Herakles. He was the biggest human she’d ever seen. Unfortunately, he also had an equally big mouth. “Our citizens would follow Beautiful Death all the way to Olympus.”

Isabella shot him a dark look. “You’re talking about treason. I ought to terminate you.”

“But you won’t.” Grinning, Herakles shook his head. “I’m talking about justice and you know it.”

They paused at the entrance to Omonia Square, the most famous shopping mall in all of New Olympia. Nearly deserted, only a few people huddled in the corner shadows after yesterday’s riots. Demanding the immediate dissolution of the Pantheon Council, the rioters had tried to throw the Councilors outside Athens to face the rampant pandemic.

She’d stopped them, despite the dread banding her chest in agreement with the angry Citizens.

“Listen to them,” Herakles whispered, motioning his head at the patrons in the corner.

At the sight of the two black-clad Marshals striding through the empty café tables and abandoned benches, they chanted, low and fierce. “Beautiful Death. Beautiful Death. Beautiful Death.”

“Shit,” Isabella muttered. Responsibility weighed on her shoulders as heavily as the soaring biodome on the City’s massive cement pilings. Her throat tightened, her jaw clenching. I must keep them safe, even from themselves.

“I’ll never forget how they celebrated when you decked Councilor Perikles,” Herakles said so cheerfully she ground her teeth. “It was a thing of beauty.”

“I never touched him.”

Against the stark ebony of his face, Herakles’ ear-to-ear smile damned near blinded her. “One glare from the infamous Marshal and he fainted dead away. A very, very large sum of money must have been involved to put such a bunch of worthless morons in control of New Olympia. They couldn’t find their asses with both hands.”

“The only reason I requested an audience with the Pantheon Council yesterday was to stop the riots.”

“Requested?” Herakles guffawed, slapping his right thigh. “You charged inside the Parthenon with a fully-charged stunner in one hand and a sword in the other. No wonder they agreed to vote again.”

“They’re the idiots who decided to open the Gates in the first place.” Her stomach wrenched, clawed by dread and anger. Did they honestly expect her to kill innocents? “Why open our Cities and then kill anybody who steps inside? Especially when the biggest monster holds a chair on the Pantheon Council!”

“I know how much you love to hate Hades, but he’s not that bad.”

Jerking to a halt on the marble stairs to the Parthenon Building, Isabella turned and squared her shoulders. She gripped the butt of her gun so hard she was afraid it would crack. “Have you forgotten who brought the virus to Earth? Who started the pandemic?”

Standing at the base of the steps, Herakles slowly shook his head. He held his big hands up and out, well away from his own weapons. “I lost my parents and my baby brother to the virus. I haven’t forgotten one damned thing. Nobody in New Olympia ever will.”

Finger by finger, she unclenched her hand from the stunner. Herakles knew the cost of paradise as well as she, and he’d stood at her back countless times. But he hadn’t survived the streets in the midst of starving, suffering, dying multitudes. He didn’t know how the monsters feasted on the weak.

“Hades is responsible for thousands of deaths.” Her voice sounded harsh to her own ears. “Millions. Yet he sits safe and sound on the Pantheon. He even calls himself Lord of the Underworld now, while he’s the worst murderer in the history of our planet.”

“And every time you see him, you end up trying to kill each other.”

Clenching her jaw, Isabella fought to keep her hand off the gun. She took a deep breath, another, forcing her shoulders to relax. Her heart hammered in her chest, though, and she could feel her palms grow clammy. Every instinct that had kept her alive for two long years on the streets urged her to draw the weapon and hunt down every single monster still alive, starting with their leader, the worst monster of all.

“I’m just trying to finish what he started.”

“Yeah, well, if anyone can actually kill him, you certainly will.”

Herakles winked and turned back toward the skyways of Athens. “From what I hear, though, he’s one tough bastard. After all, he’s still alive with Beautiful Death gunning for him, what, five years, now?”

He paused, glancing back over his shoulder. The wicked glint in his eyes made Isabella groan. “By the way, I have a little bet with the First Marshal in Sparta. See if you can make Perikles do something worse than faint this time.”

Shaking her head, she laughed. Leave it to Herakles to make a joke. Butterflies still swarmed in her stomach, but at least she could smile without her face shattering. “I’ll see what I can do.”

#

“Kill any monsters today, Marshal?”

Halting before the ornate table, Isabella attempted a casual, confident stance, which was damned difficult considering she gripped a sword hilt with one hand and a gun in the other beneath her ankle-length coat. “Not yet, Councilor. My duty interval just started.”

Six chairs were occupied by the esteemed members of the Pantheon Council, leaving two chairs empty, including the position of honor at the head of the table. Founder of New Olympia and CEO of MedCorp, Zeus never actually made a personal appearance on the Pantheon. In fact, no one had seen him outside Olympus in years. Isabella swore to gleefully shoot him as soon as she caught sight of him.

Hades, too, was absent. The knots in her stomach loosened along with her grip on the weapons. Still, a twinge of disappointment fluttered through her stomach. She’d been looking forward to a good fight.

Already clammy and rather pale, Councilor Perikles cleared his throat loudly. “How many contaminants have you terminated for Athens?”

Isabella shrugged. “I lost count.”

“Marshal Thanatos has successfully terminated nine hundred ninety seven contaminants.” Oracle’s annoyingly helpful masculine voice sounded both in her earpiece and from the large monitor on the wall.

Beaming, the Councilors nodded and murmured with approval, their gushing goodwill as fake as the idyllic view of sparkling ocean waters and blue skies on the screen.

“Your service to Athens and New Olympia as a whole has been exemplary, Marshal.” Councilor Perikles’ face scrunched sourly despite his praise. “Without you, the peace our Citizens enjoy would be lost to chaos like the rest of Earth.”

Isabella’s face tightened, her jaw aching. She forced her fingers to unclench from the stunner before she shot someone. He had no idea what life was like Outside. He’d never killed to protect someone he loved. He’d never watched his family suffer the ravages of the virus, or worse, watched them be dragged off by the aliens who’d released hell on Earth.

She ground her teeth and glared at the empty chair on the end. The aliens should all be exterminated for what they’d done.

“To thank you for your faithful service these past five years, the Pantheon is pleased to promote you to First Marshal of Athens.”

Why did he glare at her like a beady-eyed gutter rat? He didn’t even mention yesterday, when she’d threatened them at gunpoint until they’d agreed to vote again.

She hated politics. As long as MedCorp kept churning out the latest and best vaccinations, she’d keep the skyways of Athens clear of trash. Too bad she couldn’t throw out the Pantheon as so much rubbish.

Councilor Perikles smoothed the front of his heavily embroidered robes with jeweled, well-manicured hands which had never picked up a weapon. The golden chain holding his Pantheon medallion of wreathed laurel leaves dug into his fat neck. “Aren’t you going to thank us, Marshal? The extra compensation should be quite welcome if your taste for clothing is any indication.”

His envious gaze trailed down her favorite On Death’s Wings original outfit: black neowear slacks gleaming as brightly as her polished boots; exquisitely cut coat with wide flaring tails perfect for concealing weapons; and a brilliant indigo blouse that matched her eyes perfectly, trimmed in cascading ruffles at the neck and wrists. Her best friend owned the shop, and Icarus always managed to design practical clothes that looked good. Even the ruffles never got in the way of her gun.

A wry smile curved her lips. The Councilor would probably suffer an aneurism if he knew she got her clothes at cost. “What’s my first order?”

Councilor Perikles looked down the table for assistance. Dressed in the unadorned white robes of Sparta, Councilor Helen answered in her usual brusque manner. “We have two orders, actually. There are rumors of a new monstrosity breeding near the Lost City of Argos. We suspect that Hera has continued unauthorized research.”

Isabella’s stomach clenched. The original virus mutated at an alarming rate all by itself, turning humans into ravenous beasts feeding on flesh and blood. Why would anybody tamper with such a thing?

“We authorize an expedition Outside to investigate these rumors. Any…creature…you encounter must be terminated on sight, of course.”

Her hand hurt, and she realized she gripped her stunner again. She hadn’t been Outside in five years. Even then, any sort of civilization and culture had already been abandoned in mankind’s desperate attempts at survival. How bad would it be now? “And the second order?”

“Oracle has sighted a criminal inside Athens. You will proceed to the specified coordinates and terminate Sybil of Delphi at once.”

Heat suddenly flared down her body, instant sweat dotting her skin. Two orders involving the Lost Cities exiled years ago? Something smelled bad and it wasn’t a decomposing, virus-induced, shapeshifter. “Is Sybil contaminated?”

Councilor Perikles wouldn’t meet her gaze. “Not exactly.”

“Kill the monsters before they kill you. That’s always been my motto.” Isabella smiled but shook her head stiffly, her neck and shoulders straining with tension. “I never kill humans.”

“Delphi was in full cooperation with Argos at the time of their exile. If Hera continued her research, Delphi must be assisting her. Sybil is a criminal and must be terminated at once! Monsters, they’re breeding monsters!”

An appallingly bouncy ditty from Athens’ tourism campaign played in Isabella’s head. We guarantee safety and purity for our Citizens’ health and security! “Look, we went over this yesterday. You’re the ones who voted to open the Cities again, making us vulnerable to Hades only knows what sort of mutations left untreated all these years Outside. Delphi and Argos may be exiled as far as you’re concerned, but if this woman’s not contaminated, I won’t kill her. I refuse to kill Outsiders just because they enter our City!”

Sweat oozed down the Councilor’s face. A sharp, bitter stench emanated from him. “I want Athens and our Citizens protected at all cost. You must terminate Sybil of Delphi at once.”

“Why her?”

Councilor Perikles stared down at the cold, smooth marble of the table, gripping the edge so hard his fingers turned white. Shoulders hunched, he forced the words out. “You know how instrumental both Hera and Apollo were in our initial vaccine trials, but you don’t know the entire truth. No one knows outside the Pantheon Council. At first, they merely studied the monsters. Who cared if they experimented on them? They were going to die one way or another anyway. However, their Cities were exiled when they–”

His voice broke, trembling and breathy. His gaze darted up to hers, his eyes wild and dark with the fear of a trapped animal. “They began deliberately contaminating people, twisting innocents into monsters in the name of science.”

A fist slammed into Isabella’s abdomen, talons unsheathing to twist and shred her stomach. Her skin felt tight, prickling with heat and stinging with cold chills. Sheltering monsters was bad enough, but the thought of somebody experimenting on humans–deliberately infecting them with the virulent virus–made her want to commit murder.

Her pulse raced. Her chest ached until she finally hauled in a deep breath. She knew first hand what atrocities happened to specimens in a laboratory. She’d grown up as little more than a lab rat. The sharp bite of antiseptic, the cold metal of the table, the instruments: the stuff of nightmares that she’d never forget.

“Sybil is Apollo’s research assistant. Who knows how many people suffered in Delphi’s labs at her hands.”

Isabella forced hoarse words through her tight throat. “Call the Erinyes down from Sparta. I’m sure–”

“Zeus recalled the Erinyes to Olympus,” the Spartan interrupted. “Besides, we do not send our most elite executioners after a simple criminal.”

No. You send me. Isabella tried to think of a valid excuse, but her head was stuffed with memories, whirling from nightmare to nightmare: her childhood, her father, the virus, and the hard years of life on the streets. Constantly searching for food, she’d fought off the maddened humans transforming into monsters before her eyes, keeping hope alive that her father would eventually come for her as he promised. He’d never come, though, and her hope had died with her mother. She’d lost her sister to the aliens and had almost died herself.

Athens had saved her. She’d dedicated the rest of her life to protecting the City and the Citizens within. If she could prevent Hera–and now Sybil–from deliberately torturing people, maybe someday the dismal failure and killing rage she carried in her heart would ease.

The thought of killing a human–no matter how justified–made acid burn in her stomach. “All right.”

They surrounded her, talking excitedly and patting her on the back. Even Councilor Perikles smiled, although the sour twist of his mouth betrayed him. Underneath their jovial praise, Isabella saw the truth.

They were afraid of her.

Within moments she found herself outside in the hall with the door slammed in her face. She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the cool marble wall. Her hands trembled and her stomach churned.

As if it were yesterday, she saw her sister slung over an alien’s shoulder all those years ago. She’d never struggled, cried out for help, or tried to escape. A look had come over her face that would still send Isabella shooting up out of nightmares in a cold sweat if she slept for more than an hour or two. Her sister had surrendered to the inevitable. She’d given up.

“Never,” Isabella whispered. “I will never surrender.”

“Ah, but what a sweet surrender that would be.”

Stiffening, she tried to whirl and draw the weapon, but it was too late. A hard male body pressed against her, pinning her to the wall. She knew that sinfully low voice, smooth and dark and rich. An alluring scent filled her nose, whispering of a decadent, secret world far away.

This alien starred in her nightmares as often as her sister. Her heart pounded in her chest, pumping adrenaline through her veins. She was going to get that fight after all. “Hades.”

He breathed in her ear, his long silvery hair caressing her face. “You thought to avoid me? How rude, First Marshal. I treasure each rare appearance you make to the Pantheon.”

“They call you Lord of the Underworld, Master of Erebus and Ambassador of the few aliens who miraculously survived your kamikaze mission of destruction. They even gave you a seat on the Pantheon, however reluctantly. But I will never call you anything more than a murdering monster.”

“They also call you Beautiful Death, my lovely Marshal. Have you killed any of my people today?”

Menacing power slid along her skin until she shivered. She hated the immediate thudding pulse of her blood at his touch. “Get off me and I’ll terminate you now.”

“I think not. No, I must take advantage of this rare moment of surprise.”

“So you can feed on me again?” Throat tight, she bit off the words, refusing to allow her voice to tremble. He would pounce on any weakness. “So you can drain me dry? Is it my lifeforce you want to steal this time, or my blood?”

He shuddered against her. “Both. I can’t get you out of my mind.”

Silver radiance filled the hallway, sizzling through her clothes, through her mind, stroking deep inside her. His power touched where no hand could reach. Breathing shallow and fast, she fought to remain calm and control her body temperature. For his kind, scent was an aphrodisiac. She certainly didn’t want him to know how much he affected her.

“Since I tasted you, I haven’t fed on any other woman. I need you, Isabella.”

What a liar. “You’re a monster. A murderer!”

“I never murdered a single innocent. Look into my mind and know the truth for yourself.”

She felt the subtle stirring in her mind, a tendril of alien thoughts uncurling in the innermost chambers of her brain. She slammed every mental door she had, locking him out forcefully. Her stomach clenched and dread boiled up in her throat. If he ever got a solid foothold in her mind, she might never be free of him.

Shifting between him and the wall, she drew the stunner out from beneath her coat. Calibrated to short out a contaminated human, it probably wouldn’t do more than give him a little jolt, but she always felt better with a weapon in her hand.

“I understand your fear, and I assure you, I will not lose control again.”

She slid the gun slid out of the holster. “I’m not afraid of you.”

His mouth grazed her neck and her knees turned to water. He didn’t hurt her, far from it. Heat coiled in her stomach, reluctant attraction stirring despite her loathing and fear, the memory of his ravenous power draining her dry. This damned desire terrified her more than facing a whole army of monsters without a single weapon in her hand.

“You’ve run from me so long, Isabella. When I do see you, you annoy me with threats and weapons. Let me show you how it could be between us. Feel me, now, instead of fighting me.”

His aura rubbed against her, tasting of his scent and dark, seductive power. His hair slid across her shoulder, pooling between her bare neck and the wall. He didn’t touch her with his hands. He didn’t have to. His power seeped into her, spreading a heavy, liquid heat through her body.

For a moment, she let herself forget what he was, what the aliens had done to her people, and how she’d nearly died at his hands years ago. Instead, she imagined his incredible silken hair trailing across every inch of her skin, his power sliding like velvet inside her, his lean, hard body beneath her…while his teeth sank into her neck and he sucked her down to the biggest surrender of all.

I must never forget that he’s a monster.

Hades whispered low tonal words in his language against her ear. Bathed in his purring energy, she turned her head to give him better access. Murmuring appreciatively, he kissed her neck, sliding his mouth higher.

Fangs scraped her skin.

Gasping, she arched against him. Her heart tried to claw its way out of her chest, even while her blood heated, burning with a terrifying need. His tongue stroked over the minor sting, easing her fear, and his hands came up to draw her hips harder against him.

“Feel me, Bella. No fear this time, only pleasure.”

She slammed her skull back into his face.

He grunted and eased back enough to let her turn around. She shoved the stunner’s muzzle into his chest.

Even now, his beauty stole her breath. His angular cheekbones and high forehead gave his face an exotic triangular shape, balanced by full lips and stunningly large, tilted eyes sparkling with all the colors of a rainbow. Waist-length silver hair fell thick and luxurious about his shoulders. Taller than her by a foot, he was deceptively lean and graceful like a dancer, when she knew that his species carried enough juice to shatter the biodome protecting Athens. In the worst of the chaos, she’d seen an alien demolish a skyscraper, burying the rampaging humans in rubble to protect himself.

His delicate, alien features should have made him look feminine–or at least sent her running in the opposite direction–but the untamed power rolling off him was wholly masculine and attractive. Her breath hitched in her throat and her body tightened, whether with desire or anticipation of all-out warfare, she refused to consider. “I said, get off me, Hades.”

Carefully, he moved his jaw back and forth, testing for damage, but he didn’t withdraw. He smiled. He enjoyed their occasional bloody squabbles as much as she did.

He stroked his fingers down the long column of his neck, drawing her attention to the scars framed by his high-collared shirt of glistening silver the same color as his hair. Those scars were hers, left by her pitiful human teeth and nails when he’d tried to feed on her, another brutal reminder of what he was capable of, and what she in turn was capable of when cornered.

Blood trickled down his chin. One of his fangs must have punctured his lip. “I’ll have you one way or another.”

“Never,” she replied automatically. But she couldn’t look away from the slow trail of red. She knew what his blood tasted like. Forbidden jungle fruit, ripened in the blazing summer sun, flavored with spicy flowers and wine to intoxicate her. The memory rolled on her tongue as fresh and real as five years ago. Had she really been fighting him so long?

His low, rumbling growl thrummed down her nerve endings to pool at the base of her spine. His rainbow eyes darkened, swirling with light and shadow both. This was not good. If his eyes went glistening black, she was in seriously deep trouble.

A sharp pain thrust through her stomach, startling a gasp from her lips. She actually glanced down to make sure he hadn’t stabbed her. Her skin suddenly felt too tight, too hot, too confining. Something deep in her gut crawled and pitched uneasily, as if her organs were in the wrong position.

He leaned closer, and the scent of his blood made her mouth water. “You will soon have need of me.”

Her finger tightened on the trigger, even while she felt her face slacken at the thought. He was so close, so warm, so powerful, so damned tempting. Was that her tongue gliding across his chin, making him tremble? Did she actually make that pitifully weak sound of pleasure at the heady taste of his blood?

His lips pressed against hers, silken heat and strangely gentle. All the times she’d woken up shuddering with a weapon gripped in her hand from the latest nightmare, he’d never been gentle. Monstrous, yes; arrogant, always; powerful, manipulative, merciless, all apt descriptions for her nightmares of him, but never tender.

His fingers fluttered across her cheek to tangle in the tight coil of hair at the base of her neck. She braced for the crushing strength of his body, the commanding press of his hand on her nape, but he simply stroked her ever so lightly. A soft, aching sound of need from deep in his throat broke through her defenses.

Wrapping her free hand in his hair, she jerked him closer. The heat of his body, the taste of his mouth, she couldn’t get enough. Hunger flooded her, roaring through her body. Every inch of her burned with need.

She wanted him frantic against her, power drowning her while he hammered into her hard and fast. As if he knew her thoughts, his scent spiced with musk. He smelled incredible, good enough to eat. She pushed her tongue into his mouth.

Fangs.

Wrenching her mouth aside, she laughed harshly. Foolish tears burned her eyes. She was so stupid to fall under his seductive spell for even a moment. One puncture, even accidental or innocent, would seal her death warrant. “I should have killed you when I had the chance.”

He sighed and backed away reluctantly. His hair slid through her fingers, a silken cascade that made her shudder. Despite every logical warning surging through her–shoot him, shoot him now!–she ached with longing. In fact, she ached so badly she couldn’t muffle a groan of pain. She sagged against the wall and concentrated on not sliding to the floor. “What did you do to me?”

“I hoped to spare you this.”

The regret in his voice sent her defenses screaming to full alert. She raised the weapon, struggling to hold her aim steady at his chest. “What did you do?”

“Come to me, Isabella.”

Horror roiled in the pit of her stomach, that terrible shifting sensation of imbalance inside her own body. What was happening to her? She swiped a hand across her damp forehead and shivered. Her teeth chattered.

“I’m the only one who can help you.”

“I’d sooner kill you first.” Her threat would have sounded better if her teeth didn’t punctuate each word with a jarring crash.

Hades turned and glided away with a boneless grace more animal than human. “You may wish yourself dead when next we meet.”

Every time she saw him, he pushed a little harder. The raw lust between them worsened. Somehow he even made her feel pain this time. He weakened her, left her trembling against the wall, dizzy and breathless and sick, her weapon forgotten in her hand. Damn him. Stiffening her spine, she shoved the gun back into its holster.

Come to me.

Like hell she would, unless she carried enough firepower to blow him back to his planet for good.

Mythomorphoses

The cultures in this series are based on Ancient Macedonia, Thrace, Greece, and Rome, mixed with a healthy dose of both mythology and technology, and then warped just a little by yours truly. This page contains all the historical facts, legends, and myths that I used to create this world.

Post-Apocalyptic New Olympia

After a pandemic outbreak decimated the visiting aliens and spread to the human population, New Olympia rose from the chaos as a gleaming haven of technology and science. The City-States are: Argos, Athens, Calydon, Corinth, Delphi, Mycenae, Olympus, Sparta, and Thebes. Of course, MedCorp, the founding medical research corporation, is housed in Olympus. These City-States are the brightest and the best, proudly dedicated to the golden age of Earth’s ancient civilization. Upon acceptance of application (which included thorough medical and financial screening) to enter New Olympia, Citizens chose appropriate new Greek names to signify their commitment to the new world.

Each City has a biodome to protect its Citizens from the mutating virus. Beneath the biodome, circular skyways connect residential towers, shopping areas, entertainment facilities, and of course, the local MedCorp offices. Each City is connected to the others by the Odyssey, the super-fast sleek trains that whisk from City to City in a matter of minutes.

The Pantheon Council rules New Olympia in name only. Each City sits a member on the Council, but as president of the Council and CEO of MedCorp, Zeus is the ultimate authority in New Olympia. Rarely seen outside Olympus, he communicates his orders to the Council via Oracle, the super-computer powering the Cities’ technologies.

Marshals keep the peace in the Cities, but their main duty is extermination. Anyone infected with the mutating virus is called a contaminant and is terminated on sight. Only in recent days have the gates of New Olympia been opened to the Outside world, but few monsters have made an appearance. That might have something to do with the outstanding termination order still in place…

Argos and Delphi were exiled in recent years, and their Councilors, Hera and Apollo respectively, were also kicked off the Pantheon. No one knows why, exactly, although some disagreement with Zeus was obviously the culprit. Since the Odyssey no longer connects them to the rest of the City-States, Argos and Delphi are known as the “Lost Cities.”

Macedon and Thrace

Loosely based on ancient Macedonia and Thrace, these two planets have been at war for centuries. Only in the last ten Macedonian years has a ragged treaty been accepted between the two species. The Macedonians are known as skyrs (Greek for lords), or as Masters on Earth, and are both vampiric, feeding on lifeforce energy, and noctural. The Earth’s sun is so powerful and damaging to their delicate skin that they can actually burst into flame. Their leader, the Megaskyr, (great lord) rules from the capital of Vergina. (Ironic, isn’t it, that their Megaskyr is known as the Sun of Vergina?)

Vergina is a lush jungle of massive choka trees, the largest of which the Megaskyr molds into the Sun Palace. The greater the Megaskyr’s power, the greater the Palace must be as a symbol to the other Houses of the land. It takes constant power to sculpt the tree and power the palace, so only the strongest skyr dare attempt to rule.

To increase their power, skyrs form bonds with weaker skyrs and call them sarissas (a famous Macedonian spear). Always of the opposite sex, a sarissa compounds the controlling skyr’s power. However, this joining can be a deadly mating of powers when two equally matched skyrs fight for dominance. A spear can turn and skewer the hand attempting to wield it. The current Megaskyr, Kleopatra, took the Sun Throne of Macedon with five sarissas. However, all of them were killed in the war of succession, and only Xerxes still lives.

There are sixteen Houses of Macedon, based on the Vergina Sun which is also a symbol of the Megaskyr’s power. The most powerful House is likely Aegae (Philip’s house), but the current Megaskyr’s House is Attalus.

History tidbits: the historical Kleopatra was from Macedonia, but she had a brother named Attalus who mouthed off in front of Prince Alexander (insulting him and his mother, the Queen) and almost caused a war. So appropriately, Attalus became Kleopatra’s original House. Aegae was the ancient capital of Macedonia, and the site of Philip’s assassination.

Other Houses of Macedon include: Persia, Larissa, Rhodes, Pydna, Caria, Molossis, Illyria, Chios, Phocis, Strymon, Thessaly, Olynthus, Methone, and Pherae, all ancient cities of (or regions defeated by) Macedonia except Persia, which is a big cheat (see Xerxes below), and Strymon, which is actually a river.

Characters

Isabella Thanatos: As the First Marshal of Athens, she’s called Beautiful Death. She’s the most famous Marshal in all of New Olympia with nearly one thousand kills in her effort to keep Athens safe. She’s obviously based on Thanatos, the Greek god of Death.

Hades: An alien from Macedon, his name before he was exiled to Earth was Philip of House Aegae. Hades is loosely based on Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great. Why did he choose Hades, Lord of the Underworld, as his New Olympian name? Not for whiny Persephone, oh no. He wants to be Death’s Master. Of course, he named his ship Erebus and the village of contaminants and exiles who came to him for protection is named Asphodel.

Zeus: The great enigma of New Olympia, he’s a renowned hematologist who single-handedly developed the initial vaccines to counteract the pandemic. As the founding father of New Olympia, he obviously has a bit of a god complex.

Charon: Definitely not an old man in a loin cloth as this reference implies, he’s an alien from Thrace, Hades’ Enforcer, a shapeshifter known as a drakon. Although drakon means dragon in ancient Greek, he doesn’t resemble any of our Earth dragons, not with his feathered wings. He mirrors the ferryman mythology as Isabella’s guide to the Underworld. Her gift of books to him in payment mirrors the Sybillean Leaves.

Herakles: (Perhaps better known as Hercules) He’s a Marshal of Athens and Isabella’s second in command. Atalanta and Jason (from the Argonauts legend) are also members of Isabella’s squad.

Icarus: Isabella’s best friend, he owns an exclusive clothing shop On Death’s Wings in Athens and designs fabulous clothes that helped cement Isabella’s formidable reputation in the City. As his and the shop’s names imply, Icarus has a bit of an obsession with wings, specifically Butterfly wings.

Kleopatra: The Megaskyr of Macedon, she exiled Philip to Earth when he was too powerful for her to leash as sarissa. She’s loosely based on Philip II’s wife, not to be confused with Cleopatra of Egypt. Here’s an interesting link about Philip’s tomb that gave me the idea to spell her name with a K.

Xerxes: Yes, Xerxes was from Persia, not Macedonia, but I couldn’t resist. His name is too cool, and he was a great historical figure of the general time period (about 100 years earlier). Although Persia was defeated by Macedonia, it was under Alexander the Great, rather than Philip, who was assassinated before the war. Xerxes’ Macedon House is Persia. In Beautiful Death, we learn that Xerxes is the Megaskyr’s last surviving sarissa.

Apollo: Delphi’s Councilor now exiled from New Olympia, he was one of Zeus’s closest and most instrumental researchers at MedCorp. Now, Apollo has dedicated himself and his City to preserving the great artifacts of our world before they’re utterly lost.

Sybil: Apollo’s daughter, she’s loosely based on the Sybil or oracle, and serves to indirectly begin Isabella’s inner transformation. She loves antique books and risks running into the formidable First Marshal of Athens to retrieve some for her collection.

Hera: Argos’s Councilor now exiled from New Olympia, she continues to tamper with forbidden research. Specifically, she wants to create the perfect monster.

The Erinyes: Also known as the Furies in mythology, the Erinyes are not all female as in legend, nor do they reside in the Underworld, but they are punishers. These are Zeus’s elite executioners, sent only when all other means of termination have failed…or when a Marshal has been infected. Emotionless, efficient, and acting as one unit without words, the Erinyes are feared throughout all New Olympia.

The Keres: Sometimes called Demons of Death, they are Hera’s latest creation. They feed on fear, pain, and suffering. Mythological reference.