Save An Ent – Read An Ebook Giveaway

Since Tecun arrives 8/6, I’m going to celebrate ebooks the entire month!  I’ll be doing several guest posts again throughout the blogosphere, so this entry will be updated as those links become available.

What’s up for grabs:  WINNER’S CHOICE EREADER up to $200 (USD) value.



  • Love the one-click buy at Amazon and want to upgrade to a new Kindle Fire?
  • Have you been lusting after the Nook GlowLight?
  • Or maybe the Kobo Vox is more your style.

The winner picks whichever eReader you want.  I will ship internationally, but please make sure the device you select will work in your country and that I’m allowed to ship it there without violating any customs regulations.  I do not retain names or email addresses after the giveaway closes.

How to enter:

  • Comment as many times as you want on this post through Aug 31st, midnight CST.
  • Comment as many times as you want on any of the guest posts I’m doing the month of August (I’ll add the links to this post).
  • Rate or Review The Bloodgate Warrior on any online book site and post a comment here with the link.
  • Post about this giveaway on your own blog or website and make a comment on this post with the link.  (A cool giveaway icon is coming soon!)

I’ll accumulate a spreadsheet of everyone who comments throughout the month on the above posts and use to select the winner on Sept 1st.  The winner will have 3 days to respond.  If I’m unable to reach the winner, I’ll pick a new name until I have a contact.

To get the comments started:  are you an ebook lover, a possible convert to electronic reading, or a take-my-paperback-from-my-cold-dead-hands reader?

Comment at these guest posts for an extra entry:

Artwork courtesy of S.J. Collins

Crazy Busy

I’ve been so busy this past week, and we’ve had a lot of drama and stress.  I also had galleys to get back on Yours to Take – which I’m ashamed to admit I ended up turning in late.  I’ve never been late before, but with everything going on, I just got behind.  So that was my main push last week.

That Man has a job and he starts tomorrow.  I started school shopping this weekend.  I got several business casual outfits for myself to prepare for my upcoming trip to MN.  I found some great vegetarian recipes (watch out family, I might be pulling them out on everyone, not just Princess!).  The fridge is well stocked for a week of healthy meals, including lots of smoked chicken That Man cooked today.

Now let me buckle down and finish the additions to Lady Blackmyre…  And the expansion to Bloodgate… then I’ll be in good shape for this month.  Nose to the grindstone!

Weight Watchers: When Points Don’t Matter

I knew this all along, but it really came home to me this past weekend.  Sometimes, you can eat within your points and smugly think you’re doing so well….and gain.

It’s not just the weird and frustrating way the scale can lie sometimes when my body retains fluid for whatever reason.  The FOOD I choose to eat does MATTER.  Points — or calories — are not created equal.  Those choices affect my weigh in.

I chose to go back to Weight Watchers because I was tired of having a near-panic attack because I ate something that wasn’t on the “allowed” list.  Struggling all the time.  Making two separate meals everytime I had to cook.  I’ve been on diets that involved no salt.  No carbs.  No meat.  No sugar.  No fat.  You name it.  I didn’t want to be that exclusive.  I wanted to eat with my family on a normal basis and not have to worry that I’d just blown it.

In that regard, Weight Watchers is perfect.  Most of the time, we all eat the same thing.  I just choose parts of the main meal to replace with something slightly healthier.  More and more, the family is also joining me.  Tonight, Middle ate sauteed cabbage and loved it.  That’s 4 out of 5!  Just one more monster to convert…

But I blew it this weekend.  The stress of That Man’s job situation got to me, combined with travel to the in laws and frustration because I didn’t have time to get my workout in before heading out.  I ate my healthy brunch at home while the family ate fast food in the car on the way over.  I made the mistake of not taking some healthy snacks to tie me over… and dinner couldn’t come quickly enough.  I was starving.

And out came the chips and dip.  Sigh.  My old nemesis.

I resisted for at least an hour, but I just got hungrier and hungrier.  One taste of that evil salty goodness and the old addiction kicked in.  I wanted more salt.  More fat.  It was soooo good.  I made myself leave the area and managed to avoid it the rest of the night, but the damage was done.

I indulged in chips again on Sunday while watching movies with the family.  Then we ordered in pizza.  Sigh.

I counted EVERYTHING.  I had to guessimate on a few things, but I did the best I could.  I had the activity points to cover everything, limited myself to only two pieces of pizza, and thought I was okay.  I didn’t even touch my weeklies.  People eat all their APs and weeklies all the time, right?

Yeah, but not with a SALT fest.

(Top that off with a trip to see Brave last night.  That Man couldn’t pass on the popcorn.  I had to listen to that endless munching and resist.  I did it, but man, it was hell after all that salty evil deliciousness I’d allowed back onto my tastebuds.)

So this was week #2 that I saw a 2 lb gain.  That’s right, I’m up 4 pounds in two weeks.  Do you know how long it’ll take me to lose 4 pounds again?  Probably 4-6 weeks.  I’m so mad at myself I could cry.  I know it’s just fluid retention.  I know it’s not really 4 pounds of fat.  But it’ll still take me weeks to get it off again.

On the bright side, I am still managing to do Power 90.  I only made 4 days in a row (instead of 6 as the program specifies) but as sore as I was, I needed the weekend to recover.  I’ve made it 2 days this week.  Even if I can only manage 5 days a week and skip the weekends, that’ll still be a really good goal until life settles down.

I know what the stressor was.  Looking back, I can see the signs.  I don’t know what I could have done to prevent it, but I know working out would have helped.  Next time, if we have to be late for an event, then we’ll just have to be late.  If nothing else, I have to get my workout in!

There are still chips in the house, but hopefully I’ve got the lid clamped back down and my willpower is fully in place.  It’s so funny–the family can indulge in ice cream all the time and it doesn’t tempt me.  Birthday cake.  Even donuts.  Very little temptation.  But oh man the chips.  It doesn’t matter what kind.  Plain.  Cheetos.  Fritos.  I can sometimes handle them in small measured amounts, but when the stress is too high, I can’t.  I can’t even see the open bag on the counter (a huge no no but the monsters continue to forget), I have to really physically rein myself in and get that evil bag shut and put in the cupboard.

Out of sight.  Out of mind.  The points may fit in my plan, but the salt is crack for me.  I just can’t risk it.

Secret Project is Live

A few weeks ago I might have mentioned something about a big secret project that wasn’t a *specific* writing project.  Well it’s live!  I’ll be adding more as the details come in but I hope you’ll stop by and say hello!

Review Roundup

Wow, I hadn’t realized it’d been so long since I’d posted here.  I can’t believe June is already half gone!  Let me catch up with some awesome reviews for Yours to Take.

First up is an incredible review by Whitney at RTBookReviews:  4.5 stars and a Top Pick!

Book three in the Connaghers series will delight readers whether or not they have read the first two stories. With concrete world building, multi-layered characters and a dynamic plot, this story is an excellent portrayal of a woman taking her first steps into the world of BDSM and struggling to hold onto the two men who have stolen her heart. Readers will be swept up in this emotional, extremely passionate tale and root for this threesome every step of the way.

She writes more in an extended review here:

Ultimately, Burkhart does a fantastic job of illustrating this new BDSM ménage relationship as it cracks out of its vanilla shell like a baby bird and then takes its first few steps. The story moves beyond interesting to downright fascinating, and is one that readers will feel comfortable with even if they tend to take their erotic romance sans ménage or BDSM elements.

Nancy’s review is also up at Queen of the Night Reviews:

Joely sue Burkhart has a talent for creating worlds that suck you in and make you feel like part of the story. This story is no different, and I felt like I was seeing and feeling everything Vicki was at times. The characters in this are strong and well written and the interaction is fully believable throughout the story.

Thank you so much! If I’ve missed posting a review, feel free to comment or drop me a note (joelysueburkhart AT gmail DOT com). I’ve been discombobulated this summer!

Power 90 Round 2

I decided I’d better post this and make it public before I wimp out.

I’m going to do another round of Power 90, this time all at level 3/4.  Today was day 4 for me.  I only managed a handful of exercise days in May, so I decided I’d better get my fanny in gear and make a commitment.  This gives me a deadline of about the time the monsters head back to school this fall.

I’m a little behind where I was before RT but not bad at all.  I can still get through the cardio portion without having to stop, but I can’t quite do as many pushups.  Hopefully that’ll come back after a week or two.  I’ll probably need to move up in weights sometime in the first 30 days, but I’m not sure when.  I guess I’ll play it by ear.

I’m not traditionally very prolific in the dog days of summer, so I’m hoping the exercise commitment won’t interfere with heavy-duty writing.  I’m nearly finished with the first draft of Lady Blackmyre – just one more scene.  I could have finished it this evening after work, but we had two neighbor kids over and it was raining.  Five kids in the house.  Yeah, wasn’t happening.

Then I’ll have some edits I want to do on another story so I can decide what to do with it, and then I’ll grind through a second draft of Blackmyre so I can get it submitted in the next month or so.  I need to finish plotting Lord Regret’s story too.  Hopefully I can continue exercise while managing all my To-Dos.

I only need to lose a little over 16 pounds to hit my next major milestone.  Maybe this round of Power 90 will get me there!

Practicing Maintenance

I have good news and bad news on the Weight Watcher front.  Since RT in April, I’ve pretty much been hovering up and down 2 pounds.

The bad news:  I’ve been gaining and losing the same 2 pounds.  Only this past week did I edge slightly deeper into VFT (virgin fat territory).  I’ve been *this close* to losing 80 pounds for weeks now.

The good news:  that’s well over a month of maintenance.

See, one of the huge reasons I’ve bailed on diets before is this exact phase.  I get tired of the ups and downs without a steady downward trend.  I start feeling sorry for myself.  “Gee, I’m working so hard.  It’s not fair.  Whines.  I didn’t eat this or that and the scale is stilllllll up, so I should definitely polish off that bag of chips in the pantry.”

I get in a rut.  I’m tired of tracking.  For seemingly “valid” reasons (RT travel, Lady Blackmyre’s whip), I can’t get my normal exercise routine in.  I’m stressed out (That Man’s job situation).  Maybe we eat out a little more because of traveling (Mother’s Day trips).  I might overeat a little at birthday celebrations (mine in May, Littlest in June, That Man’s in July).

I’m sick.  I’m tired.  I’m sick AND tired.  I’ve got a release out.  The kids are out of school.  That Man’s out of a job.  Ahhhhhh!  *runs away tearing out my hair*

Once you’re derailed, it’s really really hard to get back on track.  Danger, Will Robinson!  Here be Dragons!

The good news this time around is that I’ve basically been practicing maintnenance.  I haven’t gained more than 2 pounds, which I immediately lost over the next two weeks.  I’ve not blackslid into poor eating.  While I did indulge at Mythos for my birthday and a patty melt and fries (my all-time favorite) once at Smith’s, I’ve always gotten back on track the very next meal.

My usual breakfast.  My normal veggie side dishes and homemade dressings.  My faithful snacks of fruit and protein and healthy oils.

My smallest jeans still fit.  My favorite jeans are still too big.  I keep putting them in the sell pile and then pulling them on “one last time” even though I know they’ll stretch out and drive me nuts because I’ll be hauling them up all day.

Maybe it’s wisdom in my old age :mrgreen: but I’ve come to realize these periods are not failures.  In some ways, they’re necessities.  This is time for my body to adjust to a new weight.  Maybe it’s all in my head, but I really think it gives my skin time to shrink in and adjust to my smaller body.  I feel tighter and smaller, even if the scale doesn’t budge…ESPECIALLY if I get my Power 90 routine in.  (I’m working on it – I’m hoping to log a steady 5 weeks while That Man is training for his new job.)

If I’m bored with food, then that gives me a reason to research new menu options.  I pulled out my old WW cookbooks.

If I’m bored with my clothes, then I try on my drawer things for new inspiration.  By the way, I wore my first pair of shorts in at least ten years last weekend on a family trip to Silver Dollar City.  Small children did not run in horror at my deathly white cellulite that still lingers.

It’s just like writing (or any other Hero’s Journey).  Some days the traveling is joyous and easy and exhilarating.  I can’t wait to get up in the morning to see what new low the scale has given me.

Other days it’s a struggle to even get out of bed and trudge in there to see what that lying cheating box of metal is going to shovel on me today.  I don’t wanna exercise.  I can’t gag down one more bowl of yogurt for breakfast.  I want chips, damn it.  Or homemade bread!

But if I stick to the path, eventually these periods of Inner Cave and Dark Moments will pass.  I will only contine my journey by passing through these moments of boredom and fear and laziness.  There is light at the end of the tunnel.  If I do the right things and eat the right foods, the hateful lying scale will eventually be forced to cooperate.

I can’t use the cave as an excuse to leave the journey entirely.  In some ways, this phase is more MENTAL than physical.  I have to let my mind adjust as much as my thinner body.

So the journey continues.

Happy Book Birthday to Vicki!

I told @s_muha on Twitter the other day that it seemed like *forever* since I’d finished Vicki.  But it’s finally her day – Yours to Take releases today!

Vicki’s the youngest Connagher yet she’s just as headstrong as her brothers, Conn and Victor.  I hope you enjoy her story as she finally faces her Domme side.

To celebrate, I’ll be giving away a $100 gift certificate to any online book retailer(s) of the winner’s choice.  More details to come in a separate post.

Buy Links


Taking Dictation

Enter the freaky Twilight Zone of writing when I sound like a wingnut in need of psychiatric care.

Sometimes I can plan a book out in painful detail before I ever write a word.  I know the characters’ background, greatest weakness, and every secret fear.  I might run them through the Emotional Toolbox half a dozen times and even create a storyboard to capture elements of the story.  Once I even needed three or four spreadsheets to track all the threads.

Othertimes, the story just comes from nowhere.  Plop.  Right into my head.  I don’t know how it happens.  I certainly can’t FORCE it to happen.  I can’t recreate the situation at will in order to encourage a new story to take up residence.  Sometimes it’s just there, almost fully fleshed out, characters living and breathing with wills and voices that I have not created.

That’s how Lady Blackmyre’s story has been.  I told my friend Diana it was like taking dictation.  Violet’s voice is so clear, so distinct, I can’t do anything but write down what she says.  She came with a complete shitload of baggage that I keep trying to tone down and she just laughs and keeps right on telling me what to do.

I keep trying to tell her that maybe her name really isn’t Violet at all.  I mean, I’m pulling some historic figures into this story — granted, with significant creative liberties! — and I have no idea what Wellington’s wife’s name was.  I should go research that, I think.

But she keeps going on and on about why that doesn’t matter and I should just listen to her and go with the flow.  It’s not like the real Duke of Wellington would ever have done half the things she’s telling me and the Britannia of Lady Wyre’s world isn’t real anyway, so who cares if Blackmyre steps in?  Okay then, Violet it is.

I couldn’t sleep last night.  By the time we finally went to bed, I’d broken 6K.  I found myself lying wide awake plotting out each scene.  Not just an idea of what would happen – the scene down to dialogue and action and everything that needed to happen.  I figured out how Wellington plays in all this — and not the Wellington you met in yesterday’s snippet.  *I know you’re confused but you’ll see how it all plays out in by the end.  I was confused too but Blackmyre insists this is the way it is.*

I know how the end comes together.  It’s just a matter of getting there before I lose it.  And that, my friends, is what really terrifies me.  All these immense passages of dialogue are solely in my head.  I cannot type fast enough to capture it all.  I also have this thing called a J.O.B. and K.I.D.S. and not to mention dinner and all the other things my family demands of M.O.M.  I can type 100+ words a minute but that isn’t fast enough this time.

Lady Blackmyre had me up at 5 AM before my alarm even went off.  We’ve almost hit 8.5K today between Dark & Early and lunch.  No I didn’t work out today — I haven’t been able to get back in the swing of Power 90 since I got sick after RT.  Besides she wouldn’t allow it.  My mind is utterly consumed, filled to overflowing with her story.  I have to dump it on the page before I either lose it or accidentally overwrite something else trying to hold it all in.

I just hope my wrists hold up.  Hoping to break 10K before I go to bed tonight.

Next snippet:  unedited first draft.  This is where you figure out why she insists her story is titled  Her Grace’s Stable.  Squick warning:  pony play ahead, some language.  This snippet is also long – there just wasn’t a good place to break and the conversation with Dottie at the end is too fun not to share.

“I put him in here.”  Cole paused outside the last stall in the far corner of the stable.  “Forgive me, Your Grace, but I took him without permission.  They’ll know I’m your man and someone will come to collect the expense.  I’m afraid we busted up the place rather badly.”

“No matter, Cole.”  At her voice, something thudded against the heavy stall door.  “You know I trust your judgment.  Tell me what happened before I see him.”

“Twas awful, Your Grace,” Cole whispered.  Head down, he stared at his trembling hands.  “He was screaming with fury and pain, enraged like a beast.  They had him in a cage and kept poking him, stirring him up more and more.  If he could have gotten a hand on them, he would have killed them.  He’s that bad, Your Grace.  I couldn’t leave him like that.”

Dread tightened her throat.  “Who, Cole?  Who did this?”

“I don’t know.  The ladies and gentlemen weren’t known to me.”

So they weren’t part of Violet’s small, private circle that knew her proclivities and indulged in the same kind of play.

“He’s magnificent, Your Grace.  Huge, powerful, a beast of flesh, and so damned defiant.  Proud.  Even what they’d done to him, he was still fighting, still determined to break free.  He’d have killed them all.”

Her heart quickened desperately.  The last thing I need in this condition is a challenge.  “Let me see him, then.  But if he’s that far gone, Cole, I don’t know what I can do for him.”

“You can help him.  I know it.”  Cole cracked open the door.  “Shh, now, big fella.  It’s me, your friend Cole, remember?  I’ve brought some help.  Nobody’s going to hurt you.  I give you my word.”

Violet held herself very still, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the darkened interior of the stall.  Straw rustled and something thumped against the wood again.  A low growl came from the opposite corner, a raw animal sound of pain and hatred.

Cole turned up the lantern.

Dottie gasped.  “Dear Lord, a man!  I thought…”  Her words stumbled into silence, as though her brain couldn’t even comprehend what she saw.

Even for Violet, the scene was bad.  The poor man had been whipped and beaten so often that his body was a mass of bruises and welts.  Even crouched in the corner, he was huge.  His broad shoulders and heavily muscled arms looked like the work of a blacksmith.  Still growling that low, vicious warning, he rose to his full height and her gaze went up and up.  He had to be nearly seven feet tall.  A veritable giant.

“The way your man was talking, I thought they’d trapped a bear or something.  A man.  God, Violet, what kind of person does this to a living, thinking human being?”

Me.  Violet swallowed hard but she didn’t dare turn her gaze away for a single moment.  Any sign of weakness or hesitation from her now, and he’d be gone.  He’d be on her so quickly that Cole wouldn’t have a chance to shoot him before he’d snapped her neck like a twig.

“It’s all right now,” Cole soothed, his voice the singsong chant he often used on frightened horses.  “She’s the Mistress I told you about.  She’s come to help you.”

Calmly, she laced her fingers together at her waist and simply looked at the man, letting him look upon her likewise.  “Dottie, I think you should wait outside.”

“I’m not leaving you.  Violet, have some sense.  He’ll kill you in a heartbeat.”

“No, he won’t.”  She smiled at him serenely, ignoring the snarl that rattled from his chest.  “I’m not going to touch him.  I’m not getting any closer than this.  I respect his space and his warning. He’s not ready for a woman’s touch.  Cole, do you know his name?”

“No, Your Grace.  If he can still speak, he refuses.”

“Dottie, be a dear and fetch that bucket I saw outside the door.  We need some water to wash away the blood.”  Grumbling beneath her breath about fools, Dottie passed the bucket to her.  Violet set the bucket in front of her on the stall floor and backed away to the wall.  “Cole, take off your shirt and use it to clean him off as gently as possible.  We may have to sedate him if he requires stitches.”

Cole did as she ordered, still talking in that low, gentle voice that was almost a lullaby.  With sure and gentle hands, he washed the other man’s upper body, stretching up to reach the top of his shoulders and his back.  The man glared at Violet, his eyes black with malice, but he allowed the care and stood quietly under the other man’s touch.  At least he was sure and steady beneath knowledgeable hands.  Someone had handled him like this before, so his experience hadn’t been all fear and pain.

She knew firsthand the soothing, therapeutic strength in Cole’s hands.  Muscle by muscle, the man relaxed under the thorough massage and Cole managed to slip the horse blanket off the man’s groin.

He hissed in pain, his muscles tightening, fists clenched at his sides.  Violet closed her eyes a moment to try and make sense of what she’d seen while still giving him at least some privacy.  A cruel trap enclosed his entire groin, tight wires digging into the tender flesh, and weights dangled between his thighs.  Every time he moved, the agony must be unbearable.  And if he became aroused…

She shuddered and forced her eyes open.  Engorged and trapped by his own desire, his cock was swollen and so purple that she feared he might actually lose it.  They’d tormented him not just with pain, but with desire, too, knowing the agony it would cause him.  He’d been mutilating his own flesh, and yet powerless to stop it.  No wonder he was lost in a killing haze.

“Get that abomination off him.”  Cole flinched at the brittle, cold tone of her voice.  “If he can release, let him, whatever it takes.  But he might be in too much pain to even get the slightest relief until the swelling goes down.”

“Yes,’m.”  Cole bobbed his head but kept his gaze down, his shoulders low and submissive.  He knew that tone of voice all too well.  “May I have permission to stay with him until he can be moved?”

“Yes.  I’ll send someone with more supplies and food as soon as I return home.  I’ll make arrangements with our host so that no one bothers you at least for a few hours.  Do you think you can get him to Blackmyre by dawn?”

Cole gently worked the metal loose and tossed it aside with a clatter.  Freed, the man’s erection rose hard and painfully huge.  His singsong voice went sultry as he wiped the man’s bloody thighs with his shirt.  “I’ll do my best, Your Grace.”

Keeping her head up and her manner as slow and regal as possible, Violet stepped outside the stall and firmly latched the door.  The low murmur of Cole’s voice echoed through the stall, and the ragged groan from the man, whether in ecstasy or pain she didn’t know.  Likely both.

She leaned against the wall for a moment and closed her eyes, concentrating on calming her breathing again.  Yet behind her eyelids, she saw the tall, proud man again, his eyes bleeding death and rage while his monstrous erection rose up in defiance.  A challenge indeed.  She’d never beheld such a fiercely proud man with the inclination of pony play.  He was truly a wild stallion, and potentially as dangerous.  Would his desire be as ferocious?

I hope so.

Dottie wrapped her hand around Violet’s arm, drawing a soft moan from her.

“So that’s what you’ve been hiding from me.”

Violet opened her eyes and searched her friend’s face, but Dottie’s carefully schooled features didn’t reveal her thoughts.   They’d known each other since their schooldays at Eton, and nothing had ever broken their friendship.  Not even when Violet had done her worst to gain the black reputation of her House’s namesake.  Losing her now would be a blow from which she might not recover, especially with her days already numbered.

Pushing that sobering thought away, Violet forced a light-hearted laugh and slipped into the practiced lazy saunter of the privileged upper class.  “That’s my great secret, yes.  The Duchess of Blackmyre occasionally finds herself rescuing poor mistreated creatures, yet I’m considered the vile blackheart of the ton.”

“That’s not what I meant.  God, Violet, what was that?  In all seriousness, I need to know.”

Violet let the fake mask of Polite Society slip away to reveal the harder, colder Mistress that Cole knew all too well.  “There are some of us who like to subdue our partners before we take them to bed.  In fact, some of our partners like to be trained and handled like fine horseflesh.”

“Like your man Cole,” Dottie dared, her eyebrows arching.

“Yes.  He’s been my pony more than once.”

Dottie’s lip twitched.  “Pony?”

“That’s the general term for people who like to be treated like horseflesh by their Master or Mistress,” Violet replied stiffly.  “I assure you, I’ve never done anything to him that he wasn’t perfectly eager to receive, nothing like that poor man has suffered.”

“And you know people who do this?  Regularly?  Both the… master… and the… er… pony?”

“Yes.”  Violet clamped her mouth shut, refusing to offer any entreaties or explanations.   She’d tried to deny the darkness inside her way too long, afraid of the condemnation of her friends, the same as her mother.  With Cole, she’d finally embraced her truest self.  She’d found something that she not only enjoyed, she excelled at, damn it.  She was a damned fine Mistress and had even competed in the ring.  Granted it was a small community of people and the title meant nothing whatsoever to anyone but them, but it was the first time anyone had ever accepted the truth about her without a single reservation.

Dottie squeezed her arm harder.  “And you didn’t tell me?”  She made a noise that Violet hadn’t heard since their schoolgirl days giggling about the first boy they’d caught for a kiss in the barn.  “Oh, Vi, I’m positively titillated.  I can’t stand that you never told me!”

Violet blinked and tried to keep the silly grin from spreading on her face, but it was a losing effort.  “Oh, Dottie, I never thought you’d care to learn about the pony games.  It never even occurred to me.”

“Whyever not?”

“Because you’re… so… normal.”  And I’m so abnormal.  She didn’t say that aloud, but it must be written in the sorrow on her face that had been present since her mother’s death.

“You’re the bloody Duchess of Blackmyre, easily one of the top five most powerful ladies in the known civilized universe,” Dottie said in a low, fierce voice.  “If anyone dares say a derogatory word about you they’ll be meeting me at dawn.”

Violet patted her friend’s hand soothingly.  “No duels, dearest.  You know Queen Majel’s opinion about such frivolous acts of honor.  Besides, I’m only Duchess at her whim.  She refused to hear the Dowager’s plea to disown me since there were no other living heirs to Blackmyre.”

“Pish posh, the Queen’s lucky to have you as Duchess.  Now about these ponies…”