Expanded Free Read: Bloodgate

Now available for free download at Smashwords, the short fantasy romance tale (7,600 words) “Well of Sky” has been expanded and renamed “Bloodgate” to help celebrate Tecun’s upcoming release.  This story will be available at Amazon too — I’ll update those links once the short story is available (and marked as free, which takes a little while).

Blurb:

As a child, Lady Jade Mirror was tossed into the Sacred Cenote to appease the gods.  She survived, but whatever message the gods gave her has been forgotten as she struggles to return to a normal life.   Now drought threatens to destroy the once-great city of Itza’s Well and an eclipse may claim the sun for all time.  Unless Lady Jade Mirror is willing to make the greatest sacrifice of all.

Friday Snippet: Lady Wyre’s Regret

Sorry for my absense the last few days.  I’ve been working on more edits for Vicki (YOURS TO TAKE) and this weekend I’ll be tackling line edits for Tecun (THE BLOODGATE WARRIOR) so it’s been a bit hectic around here!

This is the final section of the free read prequel (previous snippet), Lady Wyre’s Regret, that I currently have.  My goal is to intrigue people enough to go in search of Lady Doctor Wyre – not provide a complete short story…while still balancing a satisfying ending.  What do you think about this final section?  Is it satisfying without giving away too much?  Or do you feel robbed that no actual consummation happens…?

Sig healed so rapidly that it scared her.  Before Charlotte’s eyes, his skin seemed to knit together.  Within a matter of hours, the fever had raged in him so hotly she’d feared the chills would break his bones, but suddenly broke into a sweat and left him sleeping like a baby.

My assemblers not only repaired the damage to his heart, but compressed the normal healing time into hours, not weeks. 

After just forty eight hours, she was having a hard time keeping him in bed.  Which was why she’d left him tied up.

“I have to see if the bounty hunter tracked us down!”

He’d given up on a reasonable tone of voice, but his increased volume only made her arch a brow at him.  No one had ever been able to intimidate her by yelling.  “We’ve already scavenged everything useable from the wreckage and I went over it with a fine-toothed comb to make sure nothing was broadcasting any sort of electronic signal.  I’d use the Razari crystal to destroy the entire ship but I’m afraid that hot of a fire would draw unwanted attention.  If the bounty hunter was able to track our crash, he’ll still have to brave blizzards and snow drifts to get here, and I’m assured by Gage that no one is foolish enough to brave these woods until spring.”

“That information is only good if you trust Gage and I trust no one.”

Obviously not even me. 

The flat tone of his voice combined with the blank empty-eyed stare finally made her lose her temper.  She slammed the datapad down on the bedside table and poked him in the stomach hard enough he grunted.  “That man has done everything possible to help us.  You’d better not even think about killing him.”

“He’s a loose end.  If the Queen’s Ravens find him, he will talk, eventually.  I don’t care how much you like him.”

Mild irritation flamed into full-fledged fury, fed by anxiety and stress of the last few days.  Where his volume went up, she pitched her voice low and vicious.  “Do you honestly think I’m nothing but a fluff-brained chit out on her first Season?”

She poked him again for good measure.  “Gage has agreed to go on an expedition with some of his aboriginal friends far to the west as soon as the snows begin to thaw.  He’d already planned to join them—we just moved up his timetable.  He won’t be here for anyone to torture.  We won’t be here either, even if I have to keep you tied up and drag you by your hair!”

Now it was his turn to arch a brow at her with surprise.

Shame churned in her stomach.  Here she’d pinned him down, trapped him against his will after everything he’d done to help her, and then she abused him when he was hurt and unable to defend himself.

“I can’t help being suspicious of everyone,” he said slowly, eyes narrowing in on her reaction.  Because he was watching so carefully, she refrained from wincing or dropping her gaze.  “Besides, you could drag me around by much more willing body parts than my hair.  And if you don’t know that I trust you after you saved me during the crash and healed me, I don’t know what else I can say to convince you.  So what’s really bothering you?”

She put on a clinical air and picked up the datapad, even though the numbers on it made her heart go cold and heavy in her chest.  “You’re recovering rapidly.”

“So I see,” he said dryly.  “Considering I was knocking on death’s door, I hardly see why that’s a problem.”

She’d run scan after scan, trying to make sense of what was happening inside his body.  Staring down at the numbers, her eyes burned hot and dry.  I learned nothing from my mistake with Majel.  I shouldn’t have risked another human experiment.  It’s too risky.  Dear God, what have I done to him?

She dragged her gaze up to his face and made herself tell him every gory detail.  “I injected you with an invention I call my assemblers, which are extremely tiny nanobots that work inside the body.  I’m afraid they’re working a little too… well.”

He didn’t appear alarmed that microscopic robots were roaming around inside his body.  “I’m not complaining, Charlie.  I’m thankful to be alive, whatever you’ve done.”

She sighed heavily.  “I made the mistake of leaving them inside my first subject indefinitely.  They integrated themselves into her biological systems to the point where they couldn’t be safely extracted.  I thought to counteract that risk with you by recalling the assemblers as soon as they’d repaired your heart, but I can’t, Sig.  I’m sorry.  Your heart was too damaged to beat on its own without them.”

He gave a brief jerk on the rope binding his right hand to the bed, as though he reflexively reached to touch his chest.  “It’s still beating, though.  I feel it.”

“They’re reinforcing your heart, forcing it to pump, but…”  She hesitated, her mouth dried with decaying dust.  “They won’t stop there.  You’ve already received miraculous healing.  Your strength has returned, if not increased from even before the accident.”

“What else?”

His voice remained even and calm, as though they talked about a fine new carriage equipped with the latest racing technology, not his life.  “I don’t know!  I don’t know what else they’re capable of.  I’m going to need to extract a few and download as much data as possible so I can figure out the best way to proceed.”

“So they’ll still respond to your programming.”

She nodded, relieved that he wasn’t horrified at what she’d done, and yet also crippled with her own guilt.  “I don’t know how long they’ll run, Sig, let alone what they’ll do now that you’re out of danger.”

“Your other subject,” he said with emphasis, confirming he knew exactly who her first test subject had been, “is still living.  I’m not concerned, but if we have a problem, the famous and dashing Lord Regret has the most talented and brilliant Lady Doctor Wyre at his disposal.”

“I’m terribly sorry,” she said each word low but vehement.  “You asked me to let you to die, but I couldn’t.  Not after you’d risked so much to save me.”

“No regrets, Charlie” he whispered, twisting his body toward hers.

He curled his lower body around hers and her determined guilt was shaken by his very evident interest.  Oh dear.  He very well can’t be that incapacitated if he’s aroused, yet here I’ve kept him trapped for days in bed.

She reached up to untie his hands.

“Leave it,” he said in a husky voice that fired her blood.  “I like being bound for you.”

Sliding her palm over his bare chest, she watched the darkness spread in his eyes.  “This is all very new to me, but I admit, the idea has merit.”

He nudged harder against her back and let out a soft groan that tightened her body.  I wonder what sort of sounds I can draw from him if I stripped him nude and stroked every inch of him with my mouth.

As if he heard her thoughts, he groaned louder.  “Charlie.”

She leaned down and rubbed her mouth against his, letting her breath become a caress.  “Sig?”

“When we’re away from here and you’re safe, I hope very much that you’ll experiment on me some more.”

Friday Snippet: Lady Wyre’s Regret

Continuing the free read prequel to Lady Doctor Wyre:

Sig was awake enough to know that he shouldn’t be alive, but he couldn’t seem to make his body work.  His eyes refused to cooperate and his head weighed like a ton of bricks.  He fought harder, swimming laboriously through layers of gray fog.

“Shhh.”  A gentle hand touched his face, but that only made him struggle harder.

Charlie.  I have to get her to safety.

It took all his strength, but he finally worked his eyes open.  She hovered over him, her dark hair smooth and tidy.  How could she look so elegant after crashing on a barely-populated colony?  He tried to sit up, or at least lift his head, but nothing responded.  He couldn’t feel his fingers or toes, couldn’t sense whether he was cold or hot, dressed or nude, on a bed of feathers…or nails.

She leaned down and pressed her mouth to his ear.  He felt that much at least.  “We’re safe, for now.  A colonist named Gage has taken us in.  As best as I can tell, he’s living in the wilderness between Bostonia and York.”

“Henry.”

She sat back up and raised her voice slightly.  “Yes, your name is Henry, and my name is Charlotte Wilder.  Do you remember now?”

A man loomed into Sig’s vision, a large, broad shadow that dwarfed her.  Danger sent shards of ice through his body.  No, that was his heart pounding harder.  His heart.  Hadn’t it been cut all to hell?  What did she do to me?

“Well, I’ll be, he’s awake,” Gage said with a huge smile.  “I didn’t think he was going to make it.”

“He’s not out of the woods yet.”  Charlie pulled at something on his chest.  From the sting and tug, it must be a bio-bandage.  He welcomed any sensation, even pulled chest hairs.  “But he’s doing much better.  How do you feel, Henry?”

“Danger.”  His lips fumbled the word, but he was sure she understood.

Humming as though they hadn’t crashed, he wasn’t on death’s door, and a huge wild man didn’t loom behind her with God only knew what kind of weapon, she prodded his chest with gentle but sure fingers.  “Yes, you’re still in danger, but the wound is healing nicely.”

He gritted his teeth, silently screaming at the stranger to go away so he could talk to her.  There’s so much we need to do.  If the bounty hunter tracks us down, while I’m sick and weak…

“Everything’s taken care of.”  She leaned down, her gaze heavy with significance as though she knew he was desperate to gain information.  “All you need to do is heal.  Right, Gage?”

“Aye, Miss Wilder.  I wiped away our tracks and fetched the other things you asked for.  Not much I could do about the debris other than toss some branches on the hull to disguise it.  The winter snows have even York piled up to their ears.  No one’s going to be coming out here any time soon to look for you.”

He knows too much.  Sig tried to convey the urgency with only his eyes.  Don’t trust him.  Don’t trust anyone.

Maybe all this concentrating was doing his frozen limbs some good, because he managed to shift his head enough to look down at himself.  Pale pink skin covered his chest, not a gruesome gaping wound.  Dread tightened like a fist in the pit of his stomach.  How long have I been unconscious to heal like this?

Terror pounded in his skull and he struggled harder, thrashing his entire body.  We have to get away from here!

Charlie pressed against him, using her slender body to try and still his struggles.  His strength ran out quickly, leaving him shaking and so sick with worry he wanted to weep.  I’ve failed her.  Snows or no, the Queen’s Ravens won’t be far behind.

“Trust me, Henry.”  She kissed his cheek and rubbed her palms on his shoulder in a soothing circular motion.  Bare skin.  He felt that much.  “I’ve got everything in hand.”

“I can’t move,” he whispered, his voice more broken than he cared to admit.  “I don’t even feel my arms.”

“I’m so sorry, but I had to tie you down.  You thrashed too much with fever and I was afraid you were going to harm yourself even worse.  Let me loosen the ties and see if you feel better.”

Tied.  Thank God his eyes were closed, so she wouldn’t see the horrible darkness that knowledge must be spreading in his eyes.  He hadn’t been tied up in a very long time.

Dark memories threatened from his childhood.  Memories he’d killed a long time ago.  He’d always thought those feelings of helplessness would stir him into a murderous rage, but all he felt…

Whatever bound his wrists loosened.  His fingers tingled, cramped muscles stretched, and a surge of enormous relief washed over him.  Peace.  That’s what this feeling was.  After all the suffering he’d survived as a child and the countless executions he’d committed in effort to blot out those memories, he’d never felt this completely at peace.

He flexed his fingers and turned his head to see his arm stretched out on a pillow.  A strip of white cotton still tied his left wrist to the simple wooden headboard.  His other arm sagged, too, still bound but looser and more comfortable.

Sensation coursed through his body, tingling like fire ants nibbling his extremities.  Charlie finished loosening the tie and turned back, leaning down over his chest.  “Better?”

He closed his eyes and nodded.  So much better.  Impossibly better.  He’d hated the last woman who made him helpless.  Every time he accepted a contract on a female mark, it was her face he saw when he terminated the target.  He often made wry jokes about all his regrets, but in truth, his only true regret was that he hadn’t killed her himself.

So why don’t I hate Charlie?

Friday Snippet: Lady Wyre’s Regret

Continuing the free read prequel for Lady Doctor Wyre:

As Queen’s Physician, Charlotte had enjoyed every luxury Londonium had to offer as well as full backing for every scientific exploration she’d ever wanted to undertake.  Yet she’d never crashed a ship on an unknown planet before.

“Another thing I need to learn,” she muttered, pushing up out of the cupboard into which she’d tumbled.

Sig was sprawled on the floor and half buried by rubble.  From the brief look she’d gotten at his chest before the crash, she didn’t hesitate to grab the small black case containing her most prized research.  Tossing the broken panel and twisted hull aside, she called out to him.  “Sig?  Are you still with me?”

“Charlie.”  He tried to laugh but his chest wheezed like a ghastly broken pipe organ.  “Did we make it?”

She dug into her case and pulled out a pair of sharp scissors to cut open his lawn shirt.  A pity, because the fine linen and delicate hand-woven lace looked like it’d come straight from Parisii.  “A bit worse for wear, I’m afraid.  I hope you weren’t terribly fond of Henry for I’ve broken him beyond repair.”  She kept her voice light and cheerful, despite the severity of his wound.  Any other physician would merely make him comfortable until his final moments.  But not I.  “What manner of planet have you sent me to, Lord Regret?”

“A colony.”

“A rebellious colony.”  Not good.  The shard had pierced his heart, possibly beyond even her repair.  “It won’t surprise me if Majel simply blows the entire planet out of the sky for their audacity.”

“Safest I could find on such short notice.”  His voice weakened, breathy with pain.  His pulse fluttered in his throat, frantic and uneven.  “Don’t bother, Charlie.  I know it’s bad.”

As if to illustrate his words, he wrapped his hand around the shard and yanked it out of his chest.  Blood spurted immediately, his life draining away in an alarming fountain.

Planting her right hand over the wound, she laid the precious glass tube out on his heaving chest.  Inside, tiny bits of silver metal glinted in the emergency lights.  She leaned down over him so he could see her face despite his weakened senses.  “I can save you, if you want to live.”

“Too many regrets,” he whispered, his words stumbling together until she could barely understand him.  “Let me die.”

She hesitated, searching his face.  The lines of pain eased about his eyes, smoothing into acceptance.  He’d risked his reputation as the galaxy’s most famous assassin to help her.  He could have left her at Pier 371.  He could have tossed her to the bounty hunter and escaped unscathed.

But he didn’t.

How can I stand by and watch him die without at least trying?

She flipped the cork out of the tube.  She removed her hand from his chest, braced for spraying blood, but he’d already lost too much.  In the open wound, she could see the torn remains of his heart and the white of broken bone.  Into that cavity, she sprinkled the metal bits from the tube.

All of them.  The more assemblers in his body, the more likely they can repair the damage before he dies.

She pulled out the datapad and typed in simple commands.  Heart. Infection.  Blood loss.  Her assemblers weren’t sentient, so without programming, they’d simply be bits of debris in his wound.  While they worked their magic, she gave him a shot for pain.  At least he’d be comfortable if they failed.  Then she spilled a bio-bandage over the wound and hoped for the best.

Settling back on her heels, she closed her eyes and allowed emotion to wash through her for one brief, luxurious moment.  Relief, joy, terror, heart-pumping adrenaline.  Her hands trembled, and with no one to see her moment of weakness, she even allowed a few tears to fall.  She was so close to freedom!  So close to losing the man who’d helped make it all possible.  So close to death herself.  But at least I’ll die fighting for my freedom, not trapped in the Tower while Majel scribbles down every secret her torturers yank out of me.

With that out of her system, she forced herself up and moving.  She couldn’t assume the bounty hunter had given up on them so quickly.  They were down in strange territory, helpless, unable to flee, and one of their party severely wounded.  If they had to make a run for it, she needed to gather the most crucial supplies.  There was nothing else she could do for Sig at the moment, although she couldn’t help stealing glances at him to see if he were still breathing.

Packets of food.  Every weapon she could find.  Anything she might be able to sell or trade for information or protection.  She had a tidy pile by Sig when she heard the first rustling and cracks of undergrowth outside the ship.  Arming herself with a lazor he’d thoughtfully installed beneath Henry’s main dash, she wiped all emotion from her face, hit the button to open the hatch, and walked outside with all the regal confidence of the Duchess of Wyre.

“Hello, there!”  She called in her most imperious voice as though summoning the butler for her afternoon tea.  “We need assistance immediately.”

A man stepped out of the shadows, crossing the torn earth and smoldering tracks of their crashing descent.  He approached with hands palm up and empty, his manner hesitant despite his lumbering giant-like size.  She kept the lazor hidden against her skirts, ready to slice his head off if he even thought about attacking them.  His much larger bulk wouldn’t matter one iota against the razor-sharp weapon.  Dressed in a strange mishmash of furs and leathers with the skin of some small rodent wrapped around his head, he appeared to be a colonist, not the bounty hunter who’d shot them down.

“Are you hurt, my lady?”

English, at least.  She could thank her lucky stars a Britannian colony had been close, although she hoped the colonists weren’t too sympathetic to Her Majesty’s command.  Americus had been the first colony to attempt to cast off Majel’s yoke.  If she hadn’t been busy wiping out the Razari, she might have already destroyed Americus’s pitiful little rebellion.

“No, but my companion is.  Do you have shelter nearby?”

“Only my cabin, my lady.  I’m afraid we’re several klicks from any real civilization.”

Perfect.  She stepped aside to allow him to peek inside the ship at Sig.  “That’ll do.  What’s your name, sir?”

“Gage, my lady.  I’m no bloodletter, but your friend doesn’t look well at all.”

Briskly, she gathered up her research equipment and as much of their provisions as she could carry.  “Bloodletting is for ignorant fools who know nothing better.  Now make yourself useful and help me get my friend to safety.”

The man easily scooped Sig into his arms like a child, emphasizing his bear-like size.  I have no contacts in this place.  My title and House cannot help me here.  All I have are my research—which I daren’t use too openly else Majel will catch wind of it—my feminine wiles, and my wits.

Putting as much seductive sway as possible into her hips, she stepped out of the wreck and cast a flirtatious glance back at Gage.  The poor bumbling man gaped at her like she’d sprouted another head and almost dropped Sig.

It’s a damned good thing I’ve been blessed with a brain.

Friday Snippet: Lady Wyre’s Regret

Continuing from last week, the free read prequel to Lady Doctor Wyre:

“So you’re a pilot as well as an assassin.”  Lady Wyre had traded in the slightly scorched gown for a high-waisted spotlessly delicate linen that made Sig shake his head.  “What other talents do you possess?”

The linen was so fine and thin he could see the darker hint of her thighs despite the petticoats she wore.  The hem and bodice were thickly covered with silver embroidery and pearls.  On Britannia, she’d be the perfect picture of a genteel lady heading to her country house.  She’s got a lot to learn about living on the run.

They slipped through the heavily armed Britannia shields using a tiny backdoor loophole he’d paid a small fortune to open.  Breathing a little easier, he initiated the illegal contraband engine he’d acquired from a desperate Razari.  It’d need a bit to warm up, but once charged, they’d hit Kali Kata in a matter of hours.

If one of Her Majesty’s ships happened to board him, they’d take one glance at that tiny crystal powering the ship to unheard-of speeds and throw him into the Tower before finding his female partner aboard.  Luckily they won’t be able to catch us once we hit Razari speed.  “Do you have any gowns a little less conspicuous?”

Up went her nose and she gave him that delightfully regal stare that somehow made him appear shorter than her slight five foot height.  “A Duchess has a duty to always look her absolute best.”

As gently as possible, he pointed out the obvious.  “You can’t be the Duchess of Wyre any longer, sweetheart.”

She sniffed and a sudden bolt of terror struck his heart at the thought that she might burst into tears.  He hated crying.  He’d actually botched a few marks in the past because he hurried up to silence all the moaning and messy sobbing.  If she was a crier, it’d be damned tempting to slit her pretty throat and toss her into deep space.

“I hope you stocked tea on this miserable little boat.  I need a cup.  Badly.”

Suspicious, he risked a glance at her and thankfully found her eyes completely dry.  “I’ve got a nice black from Zijin.  Just whirl your chair around one eighty degrees and hit the replicator.”

She didn’t fuss about having to make her own tea or complain that a replicator’s brew wasn’t as good as the real thing, a pleasant surprise.  After leading a life of privilege, she couldn’t be faulted for snobbish ways, as long as she wasn’t a bloody prig at the same time.  That he couldn’t abide.

She surprised him yet again by handing him a cup, too and also asking—instead of ordering.  “Where are we going?”

“It’s going to be hard to disappear off the grid, unless you leave Britannian space entirely.  We’ll have to fuel up somewhere, so I planned to stop at the Colony.  Then beyond, wherever you want to go.”

“Britannia space grows wider day by day.  The Razari certainly didn’t expect a warship to show up on their front door.”  She sipped her tea in silence for a few moments.  “I’m not afraid of correcting my mistakes, Sig.  As long as you’re not afraid to point them out to me.”  She chuckled at whatever she saw on his face.  “Besides, now I have a reason to go shopping again.  What do you recommend?”

“Dark colors, simple utilitarian materials.  No embellishments.”

When she pouted, he couldn’t help but laugh.  “No silk?”

“Absolutely not.  Only a woman of a blooded House would wear silk outside of Britannia.  If you look like a lady, there will be questions.”

She blew out a long breath.  “This is going to be harder than I imagined.  I expected to live without servants, high fashion, and the tedium of Society.  In fact, I relished the opportunity to live on my own for once in my life.  But no silk?  Oh dear.  That might…”  She sniffed and damned if her bottom lip didn’t quiver.  “Break me.”

Dread chilled Sig’s stomach.  Don’t cry.  Please don’t cry.  “Don’t make me toss you out the airlock, Charlie.”

She burst into laughter.  “You should see the look on your face.  Why, Lord Regret, I do believe you’re queasy.  Are you by chance air sick?”

An alarm blared, cutting through her teasing.  Instantly calm and alert, she set the cup of tea aside and took up position beside him.

He scanned the readings.  “Unknown ship.”

“Her Majesty’s?”

Sig shook his head.  “Not a warship.  I’m also not detecting a merchant signal.  Not good, not good at all.  Someone was waiting for us to lift out of port, probably a bounty hunter.  I need another five minutes before the Razari crystal is fully powered.”

“What kind of cannon do we have?”

He flashed a smile of appreciation at her.  No questions, no panic.  She leaped straight to the heart of the issue and prepared to blow them out of the sky.  “Henry might be little, but our ship is loaded for bear.”  He reached over and pulled up the armament program on her display.  “Fire at will.  We have plenty of ammunition.”

Concentrating on the controls, she still managed to quip.  “You named your ship Henry?”

“Be nice to him,” Sig warned as he programmed in a zig-zag flight pattern with a little more zig than zag to hopefully buy them time.  “He’s your ticket out of the Tower of Londonium.”

“Good boy.”  She patted the dashboard and winked at Sig.  “Fly faster, dear Henry.”

Taking return fire as quickly as she managed to get off a shot, the ship shimmied.  Sig kept a wary eye on the shields, which were dropping at an alarming rate.  Another hit and they might lose their port engine.  Come on, Henry.  Fire up that blasted engine so we can get out of here!

Lady Wyre whirled her seat around.  “Where are my trunks?”

“You don’t have time to change your gown,” he gritted out.  “I’m pushing the engines as hard as I dare to get us some breathing room, but I need you to keep them off my tail as long as possible!”

“Oh for goodness sakes.”  She left her chair, stumbling against the panel when they took another shot that rocked the ship sideways.  Fortunately, the panel she accidentally knocked open contained her precious trunk.  She rummaged in it and quickly returned to her seat.  “I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve, so to speak, Lord Regret.  I can help with the shields and possibly…”

She plugged a slim stick into the panel and her dainty hands flew over the keyboard.  “There.  I can’t wait to get my hands on Henry’s nether regions to fully explore that Razari engine.  All they brought to me to study was the crystal.”

Amazingly, the shields increased back to eighty percent capacity.

“You should have a bit more horses under the hood, too.”

Shaking his head, he increased the throttle and Henry leaped ahead like a charger taking the next fence.  “My dear Lady Wyre, if we weren’t getting chased by a bounty hunter, I’m afraid I might have to kiss you.”

“Bloody hell,” she muttered, slamming her fist down on the panel.

Taken aback, Sig kept his gaze straight ahead.  Stupid tongue.  Too familiar by half and me out of Society for years.  No wonder she’s offended.

“Oh don’t be a mamby-pamby.  If you dare to steal a kiss, give me your very best effort and I may reward you with a bedding you’ll not soon forget.  I’m frustrated because evidently I’m a wretched shot.  If we survive, I want your solemn word of honor that you’ll see to it that I receive proper training on marksmanship.”

“Done and done.”  Another blast rocked the ship, and this time poor Henry didn’t recover.  He wallowed to the port side.  Cursing beneath his breath, Sig hauled on the controls but the ship was sluggish to respond.  “Damnation, we’re sitting ducks here.  Don’t do this to me, Henry!”

“Incoming.”  Her voice was tight and low but not panicked.  “I’m trying to intercept.  Hold on…”

The explosion sent the ship rolling back to starboard.  Shrapnel splintered off the hull, jabbing into his left side and chest.  He fought to bring the ship out of the roll, but pain choked him.

No.  That was blood.

“The hull is compromised.”  If anything, Lady Wyre’s voice became even more measured and calm as their situation worsened.  “Redirecting shields with my device.  Hold on, Henry…”

Sig glanced down.  A long piece of twisted metal protruded from his chest.  Once he pulled it out, he’d probably die in minutes.  I have to find a place to land and fast.  A place where we won’t fall into Britannian hands as soon as we try to dock.

There was only one blip on the radar that was settled but not firmly in Britannian control.  Whatever she’d done with the shields had settled the ship’s roll, but the controls were still sluggish.  He tried to plot the new course, but his fingers were numb.  His hands felt like blocks of ice.

“Tell me what to do.”

“New course.”  He tried to breathe shallowly to ease the pain.  “Americus.”  She said something, but pain blanketed him in a gray daze that words couldn’t penetrate.  He couldn’t help but laugh, even though it sent shards of agony through his heart.  I never thought I’d die in a shipwreck at the hands of a bounty hunter.

Friday Snippet: Lady Wyre’s Regret

As promised, I need to share the rest of what I’ve done for the free prequel to Lady Doctor Wyre — Lady Wyre’s Regret — and see what you think about the ending.  Of course as I give each snippet another light editing before I post it here, I’ll probably think of something else I want to add anyway.  *rolls eyes at self*  We’ll see how it goes.

I posted some bits of this during NaNoWriMo but I’ll back up a bit to the last “formal” posting here, continuing forward into the “assassination.”  It might be a re-read for some of you that were following along through NaNoWriMo, but I think the continuity and revisit will help me decide!

Waving regally, Charlotte paused on the front steps of Wyreton and awaited her public assassination.  Her heartbeat ramped to supersonic speeds, but she managed to smile for the millions of Britannians watching the Solstice Eclipse festivities.  Cameras flashed, broadcasting her departure for the royal ball.  As the Duchess of Wyre, she’d be fashionably late.

Eternally late, if Lord Regret manages to pull off this charade.

She heard the shocked whispers and gasps before the assassin’s blade dug into her neck.  This time he didn’t spare any pressure, deliberately drawing enough blood to leave DNA evidence on her spotless white marble.

It must look authentic beyond any reasonable doubt.

Drawing in a deep breath, she let a shrill scream echo across the plaza.  She clawed at his arm locked about her throat so tightly she couldn’t breathe.  Combined with the rigid corset, she was afraid she might actually pass out.

Pain burned across her throat and she tried to scream again, but she didn’t have enough air.  She hadn’t counted on being so terrified.  Her orders had been explicit.  He must rough her up enough to make it look real.  He must draw her blood, obviously wounding her severely enough that the general public would believe her dead.

Yet she couldn’t help that niggling doubt.  What if Majel had gotten to him?  What if someone had upped her price, making the amount on her head too attractive for the famous assassin to resist?  Every man has a price.  What is Lord Regret’s?

He picked her up, manhandling her down the impressive stairs to her gleaming carriage.  Her shoe fell off and she had the inane urge to laugh.  Cinderella would be late to the ball.  Would Prince Charming find her shoe and come to her rescue?

Lord Regret slung her inside the carriage so hard she fell face first against the floor.  Her head rebounded off the wall and for a moment, everything went black.  Outside, screams and chaos did nothing to help her regain her senses.  She tasted blood and her head throbbed.

The flash of heat stirred her numb limbs to life.  Fire exploded about the carriage, created by the Razari crystal she’d studied.  A deliberate message to Majel, as well as a plausible source for the execution to which she could claim ignorance.  Someone had to want Charlotte dead other than the Queen, enough to make her doubt Charlotte’s hand in her own execution.

Of anyone, the Razari would most want her dead for what she’d accidentally done to their planet.

Smoke choked her, making it impossible to see.  She ran her hands over the floor of the carriage, trying to find the escape hatch.  I have to get out before it starts moving.  Damnation, where’s the latch?

Panic made her hands tremble.  Sweat trickled down her face, the heat scalding her skin.  The stench of scorched silk and melting metal burned her throat.  Finally, she found the latch, hefted the small door open, and jumped through to blissfully cool darkness.  She pulled the hatch shut after her and nearly collapsed into a heap of smoldering skirts.

Too close.  Too real.  Her mind shrilled, her nerves raw with fear, but she forced her body to move.  She had to get off Wyreton lands as soon as possible.  Majel wouldn’t delay the search long, even if they managed to extinguish the blaze.

Her greatest fear was that someone would put out the fire before it managed to destroy the carriage.  The Razari crystals were powerful, flashing so hot that metal began melting almost immediately.  Definitely hot enough to combust a body into nothing but ashes, indistinguishable from the remains of the carriage.

I hope.

No one outside of Wyreton knew there were extensive tunnels beneath the estate, and her own people would never betray her House, not even to the Queen.  Yet she daren’t leave any trace behind, just in case.

From her reticule, she pulled out a thin canister of bio-bandage to seal shut the assassin’s wound.  She yearned for a mirror to see how badly she’d scar, resisting her vanity that insisted she cover the ugly cut with a scarf.  She didn’t feel much damage.  Sig knew very well what he was about.

She had no lady’s maid to help her strip off the gown, so she heaved her skirts up about her waist, picked up her remaining slipper, and ran down the corridor in her stockings with nothing but a hand on the wall to guide her.  No light, in case someone was watching.  No sound.  No trail for Majel to follow.

Once well away from the house, she exited the tunnel in a dim, empty stable.  No horses lived in these stalls, but Charlotte—and her mother before her—had always been careful and suspicious with private caches and safehouses throughout Londonium.  With ruthless House Krowe in control of Britannia, a lady never knew when she’d have to make a run for it, and a Wyre always went in style.

Donning a full-length cape, she hopped on a motorized scooter—her own invention, of course—and headed for their meeting place at the Thames dock.  She checked her timepiece and pressed the accelerator.  Regret had been adamant about the time.  Once the accident happened, the docks would close down within minutes just to make sure no one escaped.  Majel would claim she wanted to capture the assassin who’d dared harm her physician, but she’d also want to ensure Charlotte wasn’t escaping the net at the same time.  Five to ten minutes would be all they had to get out of the Britannian airlocks.

She skidded to a halt at the dock, Pier 371 as he’d ordered.  The motor started in a rumbling roar of smoke.  Oh, dear, the Captain could surely use my assistance in fine-tuning his engines.  Perhaps he’ll allow me to make a few modifications as we sail…

The ship lifted off and she stared at it a moment, dumbfounded.  She opened her mouth to shout, but it would do no good.  No one would hear over the engines, and she daren’t draw attention to herself.  How ironic that she’d been betrayed by her own assassin.  “Dead” wouldn’t matter if she couldn’t get off Britannia.  There was only so long she could hide, so many favors she could claim, so many bribes…before the Queen’s Ravens found her.

She squeezed her eyes shut and fought for calm.  Think, Wyre.  Think!

A hand closed around her arm and she nearly shrieked like a fishmonger in Cheapside.  Her eyes flew open and met Regret’s knowing smirk.

“Doubting the trustworthiness of your assassin, Lady Wyre?  Surely not.”

He guided her further down the dock to a much smaller ship.  Fighting back shock and relief, she stared doubtfully at the tiny boat.  Would it even be large enough for the two of them?  Then an overwhelming sense of loss washed over her, weakening her knees.  My research.  Lost.  What if it falls into hands worse than Majel’s?  Her voice trembled as badly as her hands.  “My trunks?”

Inclining his head, he waved her aboard, smiling at her torn stockings and slightly scorched silk.  “Already aboard, Your Grace.  I thought it best to have my own red herrings.  Lord Regret would make almost as an attractive lure as Lady Wyre for the footpads and pirates lurking about the docks.  Shall we be away?”

Charlotte spared one last glance at the glorious city stretched out along the Thames.  The Tower of Londonium rose like a gloomy dark sentinel against the brightly-lit night.  Even at this late hour, crows flew about the tower, their eerie caws echoing like ghosts in the nearly silent city.  Britannians everywhere were pausing in their chores and celebrations to watch with awe and not a little dread as the small distant planet, Americus, began to slide in front of the silvered moon.  For almost an hour, the moon would be completely hidden in the dark of that planet.

While I slip far, far away.

“I’ll not regret it if I never see Londonium again.”

Halloween Free Read

Happy Halloween, everyone!  I thought people might enjoy a short, creepy free read today, so I worked on a secret project this weekend.

A word of warning:  I’m not a graphic artist like Dawn, Deena, Silvia, or Soleil.  So while I did purchase stock to make a cover, it’s not “art” or anything unique.  However, with My Beloved Sis’s help, I think I made something simple yet appropriately creepy.

This is my short story, “Broken Angel:  A Zombie Love Story”  previously published in Drollerie Press’s horror anthology, Things That Go Bump in the Night.  We were in a DP chat (back in 2007 or 2008) talking about zombies (like we always did!) and someone ::cough, Deena, cough:: challenged me to write a zombie romance.

I wouldn’t really call this “romance” but it is a love story and it definitely involves zombies.  I hope it makes you shiver delightfully this wonderful Halloween!

Click on the cover to dowload pdf.  I’ve also created epub and mobi for Kindle (although I haven’t tested the Kindle version yet – Littlest Monster ran off with my Kindle).

P.S. I might load this up to Smashwords and Amazon as practice for the Shanhasson books coming soon, so Broken Angel may not be available for free very long!

Vote for Ritual Ink at ARe

Voting is now open for the Just One Bite paranormal romance contest at All Romance E-books!  You must be signed in at ARe to vote, but there are TONS of great reads!

Here’s a bit about my contribution, “Ritual Ink”:

Known as “Dirty Deeds” for the dark violence she commits at the Church’s orders, Catherine is a half-demon assassin.  For years, she’s been paired with Father Liam MacRae, who tattoos artistic designs laced with holy water into her skin to help cage her demon.  However, the spells are failing quicker than ever, and Catherine fears the worst.  One of these nights when she goes to the priest for healing, she’ll accidentally unleash her succubus.

On him.

Unbeknownst to her, Liam gave up his oath of chastity when he joined the secret brotherhood.  When violence ceases to keep her hungry demon satisfied, he’s more than eager to feed her passionate side.  If he can overcome her reluctance to commit dirty deeds with a former priest.

Friday Snippet: Golden

In honor of Golden’s release this week from Carina Press, I thought I’d share a little “behind the scenes” from the writing/editing perspective. 

Even after a book is accepted for publication, there may still be some difficult edits requested by your editor.  In Golden’s case, Alissa suggested that I think about adding something before the first intimate encounter between the Emperor and Jin.  What I had written was a little too abrupt.  There needed to be a little more seduction before the “big event.”

Seems like a simple request…but in reality, it was pretty difficult.  Once I have a story in my head, playing like a movie from beginning to end, it’s extremely difficult to change that timeline.  It’s not as easy as adding a quick scene — I have to know WHY that scene is important.  How does it tie into the main story arc? 

Worse, you know the whole chaos theory effect:  a butterfly flaps its wings in chapter one and a hurricane sweeps through the book and changes the ending entirely.

I didn’t want that to happen — although filtering changes all the way through are necessary in my opinion if the addition is done correctly.  It’s not just a “stick this in here” and go on your merry way sort of change.

What helped me get through this addition was thinking about a DVD extras segment.  What scene could have ended up on the cutting room floor that might have fit into this timeline?  Was there any element that came up later — that I could give some backstory for?  Of course, it had to be more important than backstory.  It had to beat the cutting room floor by becoming MORE meaningful, but that at least got me thinking about things I could add.

Finally, this element seemed to have possibilities:  the Emperor’s golden robe.  It’s mentioned much later in the story and becomes an important symbol of his acceptance.  How much better could I make that symbol if I expanded the background of that golden silk?

This was the outcome.  It also makes the later scenes involving the robe much more significant!  A win all around.

Since I’d last been called to the Emperor’s chambers, I had stitched day and night until my bleeding fingers threatened to ruin the golden silk of his robe. The few times I had left my rooms, I’d worn my hair loose as he’d commanded on the chance that he might take note of my eager obedience. From the strange looks and whispers I’d earned, I might as well have walked down the glittering hallways in no clothes at all.

I don’t care. Let them see me naked, bleeding, as long as it’s for him.

Laboring over his robe until dragons adorned every inch was a small price to pay for his attention. I’d walk across burning coals just to keep that gleam of satisfaction in his eyes.

Kneeling before him, I laid the neatly folded robe between us. “My punishment, Your Majesty.”

He unfolded the silk, spreading the robe out upon his lap with a low sound of approval. “Did you stitch this all yourself? In so few days?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

He traced his fingers along the sinuous creatures I’d created. I’d lost count of the dozens of reels of golden thread I’d added to the robe, doubling its weight. The Empress cluttered her embroidery with gems and beads, but my design relied on only tiny, intricate stitches.

“You may not care for such embroidery, Daughter, but your work is exemplary. This robe is as fine as any I’ve ever had the pleasure of wearing.”

Pride warmed my heart, even though I disliked being relegated back to Daughter. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”

He startled me by reaching out to take my hand in his. “Did you sleep at all since last week?”

Flushing, I bowed my head and hoped my hair hid the shadows beneath my eyes. I had slept very little these past days, but not merely because I was determined to finish the stitching before we met again. My mind had been too busy planning how to tempt him deeper into the darkness that threatened to consume me.

His thumb pressed against the pad of my finger still sore from the needle. Through my touseled hair, I watched his face and let a small moan escape.

His eyes narrowed, his nostrils flared, and he pressed harder, his grip tight on my hand.

Pain had a curious effect on me. Most people would have jerked back in an involuntary effort to escape that which hurt them. For me, even a small pain such as this pressure on my raw fingers made me melt. My bones seemed to dissolve. My skin came alive at the promise tightening his mouth into a hard slant and the coldness darkening his eyes.

“Well?” His voice remained soft while his fingers tortured my hand, pressing here and there to find every tender spot. “I didn’t intend for you to lose sleep for this punishment.”

I swallowed down another moan. “What is sleep when you set me to a task, Your Majesty?”

His thumb ground into the heel of my hand where the wooden hoop had worn a groove into my skin.  “I suppose you didn’t eat then, either.”

I bit my lip, fighting to keep my arousal at bay. My thighs trembled beneath me and sweat trickled between my breasts. It’d been so long since I’d been given sensual pain. So very long. My husband had never touched me tenderly or with great passion, let alone this slow exploration of agonized flesh. Did the Emperor know what effect his touch had upon me?

“Here, eat, Daughter.”  He held a small cake to my lips, insisting I take a bite. My mouth was so dry that I choked on the delicate crumbs. I tried to refuse, horrified that he served me with his own hand, but his grip kept me still. His thumb stroked circles against my palm, an intimate touch that made me pant with longing. “You mustn’t neglect your health. What if you carry our heir?”

“The Crown Prince hasn’t touched me in months. That would be impossible, Your Majesty.”

His upper lip curled as though he’d tasted something vile. Reminded of our untenable situation, he released me as quickly as if I burned his skin. “When I became Emperor, I swore to protect my people with everything I possess. How could I do less for my family, which I love above all? I give you my solemn oath, Daughter, that no harm shall come to you from my hand.”

My heart broke at that look of repugnance. Of all people, I’d thought he would most understand what I needed. What he reviled in himself, he would surely despise in me, as well.

Worse, a solemn oath was a serious obstacle to overcome. No man who’d broken his word would see himself as fit to be the Son of Heaven.

“I am already harmed, Your Majesty.” My voice trembled as badly as my hands clasped in my lap. “I’m cursed with a terrible need, and the longer this need goes unanswered, the more I hurt.”

“It’s your husband’s duty to care for you.”

Even before he finished the sentence, I shook my head so hard my hair whipped my cheeks. “He doesn’t even understand that this need can exist, let alone that I bear it. I need to be punished. I need outer pain to take away my inner pain. Only you—”

“Your punishment has been fulfilled,” he broke in before I could finish. “Your workmanship is exquisite. I require nothing else from you.”

I bowed lower, hiding my face with shame. Tears wet my hair and cheeks. How could I face the monotony of palace life without even these weekly visits to brighten my dreary existence? Day after day dressing in my finest silk and painting my face, only to sit in my chambers alone while my husband ignored me and the man I yearned for with every fiber of my being denied my existence?

In a voice I scarcely recognized as my own, I whispered, “Heaven endures, the earth comes to its end, while my unending sorrow goes on and on forever.”