Friday Snippet: Lie to You (Part 1)

(I know it’s not Friday my time yet…but it is Friday somewhere.  Right?  I didn’t want to torment my Twitter buds until tomorrow!)

When the beta readers replied back after reading Victor’s story Hurt Me So Good, several people mentioned wanting to know more about how he and Shiloh first met.  There’s a reference in the opening chapter about how that interview “set his desk on fire.”  That sounds like a great free read, right?

Luckily, Victor agreed, so he’s here to tell you all about that first meeting in a short story “Lie to You.”   Over the next week or two, I’ll serialize it for you here, and then you’ll be able to download it in pdf or epub. 

Warning:  BDSM and sexual content.

 

Victor Connagher stared at the nearly nude woman squirming against her bonds and felt nothing but boredom.

Silken, Dallas’s exclusive bondage club, was packed with eager, fawning submissives and spectators alike.  A few Dominants mingled in the crowd, but only two that he knew, and they were both already involved.  Oh, there were posers who flapped around and crowed like roosters in the hen house, but if they obviously couldn’t control themselves, they wouldn’t be getting too serious with anyone. 

The owner would be desperate for an unattached Dominant to give a real show tonight.

Victor knew he ought to leave, no matter how much he needed to do something, anything, to ease this brutal need.  There was no way in hell he’d play it cool enough to pull off a demonstrative scene, not when he felt this raw and out of control. 

Once upon a time, he’d been able to put on a pretty good show.  He’d drawn out every sweet cry of his submissive, taunted the audience to a fevered pitch, and endured the torment of his own unanswered needs.  Even that denial had been a secret pain that he’d enjoyed. 

Nobody had known he’d been playing a game.  Lying.  To himself and everyone.

A pained gasp drew his gaze back to the bound woman.  Her lover—because if that moron fumbling with a velvet flail was a Dominant with a capital D, then Victor would eat his own crop—landed a blow to her buttocks that wouldn’t have killed a fly.  She squealed dramatically, and Victor clenched his jaws to keep from letting out a derisive laugh. 

So fake.  So scripted.  So boring.

He glanced at the sweating, eager faces watching so avidly and he wanted to scatter them with a few well-placed blows.  Bored out of his skull and pissed that he’d lied this game for years, he turned around to leave but jerked up short.

His ex-fiancée, Kimberly, stood in front of him, twisting her delicate hands together with anxiety, as beautiful and fragile as he remembered.  She’d never kindled any true passion in him, which is exactly why he’d chosen her.  Another lie, that he could pretend long and well enough that she’d never find out what he hid beneath the constant mask he wore. 

I can’t believe I was stupid enough to date her so long, let alone ask her to marry me.

The man she was with wrapped an arm around her waist.  Victor tracked that male arm up to his face and bit back a curse.  Ryan, the owner of the club, boomed a welcome.  “Victor!  It’s so great to see you again!  We’ve been wondering where you’d been lately.”

At least Victor’s boredom was gone, but his stomach churned with a multitude of emotions, shame and regret leading the charge.  He tried to think of something he could say that didn’t make him sound like a jealous asshole, because he really wasn’t jealous.  Not even when Kimberly turned more into the other man’s embrace, clutching him frantically like she thought the big bad wolf was going to eat her whole. 

Eyes bright with hope, Ryan asked, “Could you do a scene for us tonight?  You’d bring the house down!”

For the briefest moment, blinding terror flashed in her eyes, and Victor knew she must be remembering their last night together.  The illusion that he could be a loving, protective husband had been shattered that night, when he’d hurt her so badly that she’d fled, still babbling her safeword.

He felt his face freeze into a cold, empty, and terribly familiar mask.  “No.”

Ryan said something else in that jovial blustering way of his but Victor didn’t hear him.  Without another word, he turned away.  He strode to the exit, his pace measured but determined to get out of there as quickly as possible.  He didn’t let them see the terrifying need hammering away inside his body, or the disgusted shame burning like acid up his throat.  He didn’t let them see him run.  Another lie, because he fled into the night. 

Only when he made it to the privacy of his car did he let the rage bubble free.  He trembled with the force of it.  God, he’d been such a fool.  He’d deliberately hidden his true nature from the woman he professed to love and honor.  He’d lied to everyone, especially himself.  There was no way in hell he could ever step foot back in that club and pretend to be a normal, sane Dominant having a little fun with a willing submissive.

Not with this darkness clawing inside him.

He reached beneath his seat, fumbling a bit until he found what he was looking for.  In the shadowed parking lot, he couldn’t see the details of the crop, but the leather wrapped around the shaft bit into his palm.  He cast a furtive glance to make sure no one was around, and then he brought the crop down across his thighs.  The steering wheel and close quarters hampered his blow, but blissful pain still cut across his skin. 

The sharp crack dissolved some of the desperation shrieking inside him.  So sweet.  It’d been so long since he’d indulged.  Since Kimberly dumped me months ago.

He laid the crop in his lap, started his car, and drove home, fingering that leather with anticipation.  In record time, he stood in his bedroom.  He forced himself to methodically strip and put away his clothes.  He yanked out the band holding his shoulder-length hair back so tight from his face and he felt his control falter. 

Some days the only thing holding him back was that fiercely tightened hair, the constant dull ache on his scalp reminding him to keep the monster at bay.  Tonight, the beast refused to be denied.  Yet he still made himself wait, letting his need build in intensity. 

He tried to imagine a submissive waiting for him to begin.  A woman, bent over the side of his bed, every sweet curve of her body begging for the crop to fall. 

He brought the crop down on his right thigh in a whistling blow that made his entire body jolt, but it was her scream he heard.  She’d be loud, rewarding him with every cry, curse, and shout.  She would be afraid of him…but not terrified.  Not disgusted.  She would endure the pain because he willed it, because he needed it, and she needed and wanted to please him above anything else in this world. 

If he were incredibly lucky—and since this was a fantasy, he might as well enjoy it fully—she’d even get off on the pain, too.  No silly games, no bondage or role play to distract him, only the ecstasy of pain.

He brought the crop down again.  He didn’t need to slowly build intensity, because the need was always there, digging vicious claws into his spine.  He knew exactly how hard he could strike without cutting his skin wide open, but tonight, he did it anyway.  He bled.  He cursed.  And he came with such intensity that his bad knee gave out and he nearly planted his face on the carpet.

He’d punished himself because he had to have pain, and without a willing submissive, his own would have to do.  Most of all, he’d punished himself for the greatest lie of all.

There was no submissive out there somewhere, waiting for him, his pain, and his love.

 

Victor’s story HURT ME SO GOOD will be released Oct. 5th from Samhain Publishing.

Friday Snippet

My apologies:  I don’t have a Shadowed snippet this week.  Honestly, I haven’t worked on it since last week — just too busy getting the kids registered for school, etc.  However, I hope that once you see what I *have* been working on this past week, that a few of you will forgive me.

First draft, subject to heavy revision.  Warning for language. 

What the hell is she up to?

Elias shifted on her bed, trying to figure out what was taking her so long in the bathroom. Last night, they’d been too frantic to even make it to the bed for the first three or four times…and now she wanted him to sit here and wait while she primped.

God, I need a drink. A couple of shots of whiskey would take the edge off, mellow him out so he didn’t fall on her like a raving lunatic. That’s the only way he’d survived three whole months without her. That, and of course driving by like a love-sick fool to make sure her place was okay. Sometimes he’d even sat outside in the wee hours of the morning in his truck for hours, just watching, remembering, trying to let go of his damned fool pride.

If he’d used his key and come to her one of those dark nights, would she have forgiven him? If he’d called, just once, instead of sitting in his empty apartment staring at the phone all fucking night?

Or did it take a half-starved homeless kid to bring us back together?

The bathroom door opened, and Elias damned near choked to death because his heart tried to crawl up his throat. He couldn’t breathe as Vicki came near her bed.

She wore a filmy white negligee that tied beneath her breasts and fluttered about her hips, oddly demure but so damned sexy he couldn’t remember his own name. Her dark hair fell loose and soft about her shoulders and her molten chocolate eyes shimmered in the candlelight. She picked up an opened bottle of wine on the bedside table and calmly poured two glasses of red. Still silent, she handed him glass and sipped hers, watching him with those dark, mysterious eyes.

He tipped his head back and drained the whole thing, even though he hated wine.

“What do you think?”

It had to be a trick question. Narrowing his eyes, he tried to make a joke. “Did we get married and I forgot about it?”

Her eyes caught fire and she slammed the fragile wineglass down so hard he feared it might shatter. “I told him this was a stupid idea.”

“Jesse?” Elias fought to keep an even voice. “What the hell does he have to do with…with…” he swept his hand at her negligee, fighting not to fist his fingers in that transparent material and rip it off her.

“He swore you’d like it.”

“So what, now you’re letting your cabana boy pick out sleazy underwear and babydolls? For me?”

“At least I’m not wearing it for him.” She whirled away. “Forget it, Reyes.”

Jumping up, he whipped out his arms and caught her, drawing her back toward the bed so he could sit back down. Snarling, she jerked and fought his grip, but he wrapped his arms around her, trapping her arms with his, and simply held her until her ire faded.

When he saw the tears on her cheeks, he cursed beneath his breath and held her tighter. He’d forgotten that sometimes anger from her hid her true emotion: hurt.

“I never should have worn this thing. I hate it.” She sniffed, a tiny little sigh of her breath, which in another woman would have been full-blown wailing and sobs. He tucked his head close to hers, even if she skull-slammed him. “I told him it was a stupid idea. Just forget it.”

“How could you hate this gown when I’d like nothing better than to rip it off you and ravish you senseless?” She shook her head, so he drew her harder into the cradle of his thighs, making sure she felt his erection.

“That doesn’t mean anything. I bet you had a hard on as soon as you walked into my bedroom.”

“It wasn’t this big, babe, this hard, this painful.” He lowered his voice and nuzzled her neck. “I’d like to think that you might say ‘I do’ to me someday.”

“You’d have to ask me first,” she retorted.

She had him there. He’d thought about it, sure, even when she was still an attorney. Even if she had to stand between the law and the very criminals he was putting away. But then his bigger head started working again and he remembered how quickly a marriage could go down the shitter when he worked his kind of hours. “I can’t stop being a cop.”

“And I can’t give up Jesse.” She whispered, but her voice rang like steel. “If you love me at all, don’t ask me.”

Not even for me? The words thundered in Elias’s head, but he refused to voice them. He did love her, and he’d had his chance. He’d fucked it up and walked out three months ago. That she’d let him back in this far was more than he deserved. He had no right to demand her whole heart for himself.

God forgive him, she’d already given up her career. Maybe not for him, not in so many words, but he couldn’t ask for anything else. It was his turn to sacrifice to be with her, and the only damned thing he had was his own fool pride.

His stomach churned like he’d swallowed a fist-full of razor blades, but he said nothing.

Nothing at all.

Friday Snippet: Shadowed

Continuing from last week, this is Gregar’s story.  Note:  first draft, subject to change and heavy revision later before I compile the complete short story.

With Kae’Shaman’s instruction, I parted the mark’s dream as easily as a tent flap and stepped within. I had no need of the man’s name or Camp to know he was my target, because Vulkar’s Call pounded fiercely in my head, thundering hooves to split my skull wide open.

Kae’Shaman had assured me that a mark eliminated in his own dream would also die in the waking world unless he was an extremely strong dreamer, but I had to be certain of the blow. I had no guilt to weigh my heart, but I did have my pride and my kae’valda, the honor I wore in my hair and colors I wore about my hips. I was the best Death Rider and I would kill appropriately, cleanly, while awarding the most blood sacrifice to Vulkar.

Wrapped in Shadow to hide myself, I crouched in a corner of the man’s dream and paused to gain my bearings.

Despite being Sha’Kae al’Dan, the man dreamed of an outlander place, not the tents of our Plains. Cold stone pressed against my back and the rank odor of fear, blood, and urine burned in my nostrils. Distant screams and wails echoed eerily so I could not tell the source. This was no pleasant dream I had stepped into.

My mark dreamed of the Endless Night, confirming the necessity of his death.

I tasted something foul in my mouth as though I had been sick. My stomach churned. Inside my own gift of Shadow, my skin felt cold and clammy. No one could see me. No mortal eyes would pierce my invisibility.

But if I had stepped into a shadowed nightmare, a place ruled by the Endless Night…

Vulkar, let me strike quickly and leave this dream unnoticed.

Straightening, I glided silently after my mark. Creeping down a tunnel, he hunted someone, unaware that Death was already on his trail. Shadows cloaked the narrow way, thick and suffocating. They felt hungry, alive, and all-too knowing. My dark gift from Vulkar shivered on my skin, slinking and winding about me like snakes.

Shadows flock to me. As though they recognize me.

Furious, I sliced my left palm with the rahke. Pain cleared away the terror worming into my brain. I gave every drop of my blood to the Great Wind Stallion and His fire burns away the Endless Night!

Immediately, the tainted shadows flinched away from me. My mark was not so lucky. Shadows encircled his throat and winded about his limbs, pinning him against the wall. His eyes bulged and he opened his mouth to scream. A wrist-thick vine of shadow eagerly slithered around his throat, tightening like a noose.

I moved forward to put an end to the man’s suffering, but a voice echoed in the tunnel.

COME, RIDER OF DEATH, AND SEE THE MARK I HAVE SELECTED FOR YOUR RAHKE.”

I scanned the tunnel, but no one was there, just the voice that made my teeth and bones ache. The man I’d come to kill struggled against the shadows binding him. “Never! I kill for Vulkar, not for you!”

Another Death Rider? Startled, I searched the mark’s hair, but in the darkness of the tunnel, I couldn’t tell if he wore red beads. However, his rahke shone in the darkness, pure bone against the black.

Exactly like my ivory rahke.

Chilled with foreboding, I drew my gift tighter about me, making myself as small and invisible as possible. If this mark was a Death Rider, lured specifically for some dire purpose, then I had to know the Endless Night’s schemes, not just to protect myself but all Death Riders who roamed the Plains in Vulkar’s name.

HER DREAM AWAITS. STEP INSIDE AND MEET YOUR DESTINY. I GIVE HER TO YOU.”

Released from the shadow bonds, the man staggered backwards and instinctively brought his rahke up. “Death Riders never kill women.”

SHE YEARNS FOR THE EMBRACE OF SHADOW, EVEN WHILE SHE RAILS AGAINST MY MIGHT.”

The voice crooned, still vile but sleek and soft and slick with oiled promises. The opposite wall swirled with shadows, opening to reveal a woman, asleep in a high bed. Her black hair gleamed against the sheets like a raven’s wing, and her skin was as luminous as though she’d swallowed the moon.

“ALREADY, SHE DREAMS OF YOU.”

Friday Snippet: Shadowed

Some men tremble in the face of death.

Others bare their teeth and fight to the very end.

While I’m the cold Shadow that glides forth from darkness to slit your throat before you even know I’m there. 

My name is Gregar and I’m the deadliest, most honored assassin on the Sha’Kae al’Dan’s Sea of Grass.  They call us Death Riders, for we ride death like the wind across the rolling Plains.  My hair is heavy with red kae’als, each bead a life that I have snuffed out in the Great Wind Stallion’s name.  Vulkar, may He sire many foals.  

My ivory rahke is silent and swift.  When I draw it, I will not sheathe my blade until it is red with blood, whether yours or mine.

Nothing short of death will stop me, but you cannot kill me.

For I am already dead.

~ * ~

Years ago, I died on the jagged slopes of Vulkar’s Mountain.  Shards of obsidian sliced me to ribbons and the rocks glistened with my blood.  Yet I made it to the top.  I crawled into the fiery caldera and gave my broken, crippled body to Him.  Vulkar found my sacrifice acceptable and rewarded me this ivory rahke, a death sentence for any who endangers the Plains. 

Even now, I heard an insistent whisper of rolling thunder in my head, insisting another shadowed soul darkened our hills.  A life that I must claim.  He must die to protect all we hold dear.  I am Vulkar’s right hand of sacrifice.  Let His will be done.

Before I could mount Shaido and ride through the night to claim my prize, Kae’Shaman stopped me.  Older than the hills, his eyes gleamed with the wisdom of Vulkar.  When he spoke, it was Vulkar’s voice on the Plains, so I entered his tent at once.

“You feel the Call.”

“He’s far to the north.”  I nodded with a cocky smirk that I didn’t bother to hide.   “He lives a night longer than most but I wager he’ll be dead on the morrow.”

Even my own people didn’t understand how I could find humor in the face of death.  Why I felt no guilt when I tracked my next mark.  Why I joked and smiled while another life wavered in the shadow of my rahke

They never felt the heartfires of the earth crisp the flesh from their bones in Vulkar’s molten lake.  They never suffered the cold embrace of Death’s Shadow, the insidious creep of darkness into my very soul, which makes me invisible for the kill.  If I could not laugh, then I knew I would at last be wholly dead.

 “He mustn’t live so long.”  Kae’Shaman’s kindly face hardened with grim certainty.  “He plots to allow outlanders access to the Plains.  He must die this very night.”

“Tell me how and I shall make it so.”

“You must enter the Dream.”

I had heard whispered tales of such a feat but had never attempted a mark from inside his own dreams.  The thought made my stomach tighten and my heartbeat quickened.  In the dream realm, the Endless Night could easily reach out and taint any man.

“You are correct to fear.”  I twitched with surprise that he’d read my reluctance so easily, and Kae’Shaman spared a slight smile.  “Walking the Dream will draw heavily on your gift of Shadow, endangering your soul more than ever.  The Endless Night waits, crouched like a starving wolf in the dead of winter, and he hungers for you, Gregar.  You must dance on the rahke’s edge of Shadow and Light, becoming that which you fear in order to save that which you love most of all.”

Why did shamans always speak in riddles and grim prophesies I had no hope of understanding?  Quirking my lips, I shrugged and forced a laugh despite my unease.  “I love nothing so I risk nothing.  Show me the way, Kae’Shaman, and my mark shall be dead before I wake.”

The sympathy on the holy man’s face made my blood freeze in my veins.  “You will, Gregar.  Some day you will love more than life itself.  You will hold that precious heart beneath the weight of your rahke.  May Vulkar guide you in your darkest hour, when the Endless Night will lure you to ravage and destroy the last light of the world.”

Resolve, cold and grim, made my heart feel like an iced boulder in my chest.  “I may be shadowed, but I kill for no one but Vulkar.” 

 

Gregar is Coming…Again

I’ve been thinking about another short read before Return to Shanhasson, the final book in the trilogy, comes out in October.  Last night, Gregar walked in my dreams and gave me this, below, the opening to a new short project I’m working on.  Depending on its length, it’ll either be a standalone or combined with my other Blood & Shadows short stories for Kindle in the next month or two. 

I sure wish I had his image for the cover of Shadowed.  *hint hint*

Some men tremble in the face of death.

Others bare their teeth and fight to the very end.

While I’m the cold Shadow that glides forth from darkness to slit your throat before you even know I’m there. 

My name is Gregar and I’m the deadliest, most honored assassin on the Sha’Kae al’Dan’s Sea of Grass.  They call us Death Riders, for we ride death like the wind across the rolling Plains.  My hair is heavy with red kae’als, each bead a life that I have snuffed out in the Great Wind Stallion’s name.  Vulkar, may He sire many foals.  

My ivory rahke is silent and swift.  When I draw it, I will not sheathe my blade until it is red with blood, whether yours or mine.

Nothing short of death will stop me, but you cannot kill me.

For I am already dead.

Friday Snippet: Lady Doctor Wyre

I’m madly revising the holiday novella to get it submitted in time (by July 15th) and I’ve almost reached the halfway mark.  My goal is to finish this pass by Monday and then work on a brief synopsis and blurb to accompany the submission.  Interested beta readers will hopefully hear from me around Monday.

Skipping ahead a bit from the last excerpt I posted for you, this snippet takes us into the “dark outlaw’s” POV that Lady Wyre briefly referenced.  Yes, I know, another assassin, sigh.  But this man is not Gregar, although I think the Shadowed Blood approves most highly of him.  *grins*

     When a man killed for money—and was damned good at his trade—his price eventually went so high that few could afford him. Luckily for Sigmund Regret, there were plenty of millionaires as long as he was willing to traverse the universe. In his one-of-a-kind mega catamaran built to cut through space like a hot knife through butter, he lived a life of luxury purchased by the blood of others.

      But no luxury in this galaxy could satisfy the abominable ache of loneliness or erase the scars of his childhood. Nothing could ease that ache…except one Lady Doctor Wyre who literally held his heart in the palm of her dainty little hand.

      The miserable run-down nag he’d leased from the livery stable in this equally miserable hovel of a town snorted and gave one last weak jerk on the reins, trying to go back home to its dank stable.  Finally the beast surrendered to its duty with a jerky pace that jarred Sid’s teeth. With the Solstice a fortnight away, the hours of darkness seemed eternal, so the few precious hours of thin, cold sunlight would be welcomed by most. Not him. He did his best work at night, and as the sun began to peek over the horizon, he urged the horse to a shambling trot.

      In the cold and dark just minutes from her home, it was easy to let fantasies fill his mind. He imagined slipping the silver and ivory-handed pistols into a chest and locking them in a dusty, forgotten place or better yet, throwing them into an Imperial bin. Removing the slim, wicked little blades he hid all over his body one by one and tossing them out into endless space. Waking up to her each morning. Watching her wide smile of pleasure when he surprised her with little gifts like tea and ribbons and frivolous silk stockings that she adored so much.

      Sig had many regrets from his sordid past, but he couldn’t bring himself to regret leaving her each Solstice. Not when it meant keeping her clean of the blood on his hands or protecting her from the dozens of agents and bounty hunters constantly seeking Lord Regret. God knew she had enough danger of her own. The last thing he needed to do was drag a man into her vicinity who’d sell his own mother to the Ravens for a fraction of the coin Britannia would pay to get the great scientist back.

      In the narrow alleys, darkness still cloaked the rutted, snowy path with too many shadows that might hide some fool thinking he’d be the one to snag Lord Regret, but he didn’t deviate from the shortest path toward her. This close, he could feel a frisson of energy zinging through his body to which he was normally oblivious. Fire ants crawled through his veins, driving him closer to his target. Absently, he slipped a hand beneath his coat, rubbing his breastbone, but he’d never been able to feel her treatment. Just the scar where his heart had been.

      He’d never been able to decide if the tiny machines living inside him were responding to their Creator with joy, or simply feeding off his own spike of emotion as he neared her. Energy rose in his blood, as though lightning would begin arcing about him. He was tempted to simply spread his arms out wide and see if he could soar into space, riding the pulsing waves of energy.

      She’d not only saved him; she’d managed to increase his very normal human gifts until he felt invincible.

      Yet no matter how arrogant he might be, he was not stupid. A lifetime of protecting his own skin drove him to ride past her snug cabin on the edge of town. He hadn’t been followed, but if anyone had noticed that he always fell off the grid around the holiday season…and decided to put a few eyes and ears at the most likely locations…the last thing he wanted to do was kill a man in her house.

      She’d never forgive him if the blood splattered onto her fine silks.

      Shaking his head with an amused smirk twisting his lips, he dismounted in a grove of trees. Snow blanketed their branches and the ground. A great hush hung over the town, an expectant silence in the absence of the prevalent winds, a drawn breath held without release. He listened for any sound out of the ordinary, stretching his ultra-sensitive senses for any sign of pursuit or a hidden trap.

      The front door of her cabin slid open and a man stomped out. Tugging on his coat while he muttered beneath his breath, he headed downtown, casting a wary glance about him. Of course he didn’t even think to look at the grove of trees on the outskirts of town; he was too worried about gossipers seeing an unwed man leaving a lady’s house in the dead of night.

      Sigmund did not fail to note the state of the man’s dishabille, nor did he miss the silver star on the lapel of the man’s rebel coat. A sharp pain in his thumb made him look down at his hand.  Dumfounded, he stared at the slender blade in his palm. He didn’t remember drawing one of his throwing knives.

      He jerked his gaze back up to the back of the retreating man. Such a throw would be child’s play for Lord Regret and he certainly had no compunction against killing an unaware target. Lord Regret had no scruples. He had no heart, no mercy, no regret that he couldn’t laugh off or at least drink into oblivion.

      So why do you wish to murder this stranger without a single coin to show for it? A sly voice whispered, mocking such a supposedly immoral and cold, unfeeling heart.

      With a self-depreciating grimace, he slipped the knife back into its leather brace beneath his coat sleeve, tilted his bowler at a jauntier angle, and led his poor mount to the small shed that served as a stable when he arrived. Usually she’d prepared a spot for his horse with fresh hay and feed, for her locket warned her of his nearing vicinity, yet this time, the makeshift stall was bare. Another sign that she hadn’t any notion of his impending arrival.

      Shrugging, he tossed straw down for the horse while his mind gnawed like a rat trying to escape its cage. He was much earlier than usual, thanks to the engines he’d upgraded just last month, enabling a faster, more direct jump through the galaxy. If anything could lure Lady Wyre to the dark side—touring the universe with him—he’d thought it would be the most expensive and advanced technology, which had been founded on none other than Lady Doctor Wyre’s original experiments.

      If that doesn’t work, he reminded himself wryly, I have a dozen pair of pink silk stockings in the hold.

      Sliding from shadow to shadow was second nature, as was slipping inside her back door without knocking. He had to know the truth. Perhaps she’d been forced to remove the locket for some reason. It had to be working, or he’d be gasping on the frozen ground, waiting for the rest of his body to die.

      She sat at a plain wooden table sipping from a heavy cup much too big for her delicate hands.  Candlelight glowed upon her face, soft yet regal and so damned beautiful she might have been a queen herself despite the plain, standard-issue furnishings which surrounded her.  She couldn’t live lavishly and expect to avoid the gossipers, even though he knew she had enough coin to buy anything she wanted in York. She could buy the entire colony if she’d tap the funds he’d set aside for her. He knew she would have no qualms about using his blood money; no, it was her pride that objected.

      Even stripped of her title and House and position in Society, every fiber of her being screamed Her Grace. How she’d been able to keep her secret on Americus this long escaped him entirely, for he could see nothing but the grand Duchess sitting among peasants.

      “It’s no use,” he said in a low, deliberately Britannian drawl. “I see through your disguise.”

      She stiffened but didn’t jump from her chair or whirl to face him. Instead, she set her cup down and reached for the kettle. “Would you like a cup of tea?”

      As she refilled her cup, he noted that her hand trembled. He sat across from her, the spot the other man had just vacated. He dipped a finger into the still-full cup of lukewarm tea. Slipping his finger into his mouth, he watched her reaction through veiled lashes. “Your guest likes a little tea with his sugar.”

      Her eyes flared wide and her hand fluttered up to wrap her fingers about the locket—his locket, the key to his heart and life. She flinched at the energy she must feel sparking inside that metal heart, yet until she’d touched it, she hadn’t noticed his approach. That told him more than any words that she’d already made her choice before he could ask the question. She’d been too distracted by this other man to notice the metallic firestorm brewing on her breast.

      She’ll never sail space with me.

      “You’re early, sir.” Her words rang in the small room and her nose tipped to a haughty angle. Lady Wyre made no excuses or pretended regrets, which was one of the reasons he admired her so much. That steely pride and determination would help her succeed in any endeavor, whether in surviving a reduced situation on a colony or the Queen’s wrath if she were dragged back to Londonium. “Is the device malfunctioning?”

      He, too, could play the privileged lord, although that would ill serve his intentions with her, for ladies of Britannia held all the power. Such an act would immediately put him in an inferior position. He chose instead to slip on the dread role of the gentlemanly assassin, the man who both repelled and attracted her.

      With a flick of his wrist, the slender blade hidden in his coat fell down into his palm. He cut a slice of bread from the untouched loaf between them. “Would you like a piece, Charlie?”

      Shaking her head, she eyed the blade like a poisonous serpent had uncoiled on her table, but she made no objection to the familiarity of her nickname.

      He smirked and kicked back in his chair, nibbling on the coarse bread. Without looking away from her face, he rolled the blade from finger to finger on his left hand as though he didn’t have a care in the world. “So what’s his name?”

      “Who?” The word came out as a croak, so she cleared her throat. Narrowing her gaze, she hardened her voice. “Oh, I presume you saw Sheriff Masters as he left.”

      Sig deliberately let his gaze roam down her body, noting the filmy lace robe and her obvious nakedness beneath. “Was he as good as me?”

      As soon as the words came out of his mouth, he knew he’d made a grave error. One did not push Lady Wyre and think to sway her affection or decision. A push would simply cause her to push back harder or charge in an entirely different direction than which he’d intended.

      With a lazy smile to match his, she leaned back in her chair, all her tension and haughtiness traded for indolence. “Actually, he was very good, and I did not have to tie him up first to have my way with him.”

Holiday Novella: First Draft Snippet

Wheeeeee, it’s done.  It’s done!  The holiday novella is clocking in at 30,958 words total, putting today’s count at just over 5,800 words.  It still needs quite a bit of work so the next two weeks will still be full.  However, I’m taking a few days off from the novella to work on the Maya #2 synopsis.  That way I’ll have a somewhat fresh eye when I come back to revision.

This is first draft only, subject to heavy revision, and like I said earlier, an entirely new endeavor for me, but one I’ve been thinking and planning for a long time.

Lady Doctor Wyre’s
Solstice Eclipse

        “I cannot marry you.” Charlotte Wilder struggled to take a deep breath through the heartache banding her chest, made even more difficult by her corset. A lady could have some luxuries even on a backwater colony planet deemed too insignificant to draw the Empire’s notice despite their pitiful attempt at rebellion. “I’m sorry, truly.”

      “I mean no disrespect, my lady.” Sheriff Gilead Masters stiffened but kept his voice mild. “I know it’s customary on Britannia for the lady to make the proposal but we don’t hold to such rigid tradition here.”

      “I’m not offended, Sheriff, but my answer is still no.”

       He made no hasty retort, but the tightening of his eyes and the flexing of his jaws betrayed him. Once a colonel in what the Americus colonists called the Revolutionary War—where they’d managed to take over the small Imperial space port and cut communication with Britannia—he rarely showed any emotion. Only someone who knew him very well indeed would recognize his silent growl of frustrated agony, and Charlotte had come to know him very well indeed in the past months.

      Oh, how she knew…and appreciated…him: broad shoulders to block the miserable heat of the fiercest summer sun; powerful chest and arms to hold a woman through the long blizzards; and big, rough body strong enough to separate a foolish man from his gun without drawing his own weapon. Although she bemoaned the provincial cut and cloth of his coat, he’d never looked at her with scorn like the grand ladies and their lords at Court, or worse, fear at what she had wrought.

      Because I haven’t dared tell him the truth, she thought with a wince.

      “I thought,” he rasped out in a graveled voice as he twisted the brim of his old cavalry hat in both big hands, “that you…that we…”

      “I do,” she whispered, blinking the tears from her eyes. “I never meant to mislead you in any way.”

      He gathered his tattered pride about him, looking anywhere but her face. He jammed his now lopsided hat on his head and whirled to leave. Spurs jingled, a merry sound punctuated by the heavy thud of his boots as he retreated. “I’m sorry to have inconvenienced you in any way, my lady.”

      It would be better, safer, for him to leave. Even after the spectacular incident in which she’d presumably died seven years ago, she couldn’t count on safety from Her Majesty’s Guards. Eventually even this insignificant colony would fail to provide sanctuary. She’d be forced to run and hide again, no matter how much it galled her pride.

      The heavy outer door beeped at his approach and automatically slid open, letting in blowing snow. Winds moaned and howled, an endless agonizing wail in the dead of winter. Her first winter on Americus had almost succeeded where the Queen’s torturers would have failed. She would have babbled every last research secret she knew in order to escape the endless winter. Others looked forward to the Solstice, but she dreaded it more and more each year. A holiday of renewal and hope had come to mean only one thing to her: loss.

      And if the Solstice had come to represent loss, then the Solstice Eclipse every seven years was even worse. She’d died on the last holiday. Now, she faced losing her only friend on Americus. Another holiday, another loss.

      Befriending Masters had provided a charming outlet to pretend that she was simply a lady he fancied and not the feared Duchess of Wyre, the traitorous doctor whose experiments had worked entirely too well. Her harmless flirtation had become something dreadfully more important to her, no matter how hard she tried to pretend otherwise. I can’t bear to lose him, too.

      She rushed after him. “Wait, Sheriff Masters. Don’t go yet!”

      “You have made your affections—or rather the lack thereof—perfectly clear, my lady. I won’t bother you again.”

      She laid her hand on his straining back and he quivered beneath her palm. “Gil, please. Let me explain.”

      Slowly, he allowed the door to whoosh shut against the blowing snow and howling winds, but he didn’t turn around.

      “Don’t you want to know why I can’t marry you when I love you so very much?”

      “You love me?” He whirled around so quickly he knocked her off balance. “Then why can’t you marry me, Miss Charlotte?”

      Seizing both of her arms above her elbows, he hauled her close so her skirts tumbled against his thighs. At least her gown was sensible, warm homegrown wool and not fine, crushable linen. Or silk. How she longed to wear silk again! Every night she pored over cycles-old transmissions of the Royal Gazette, though she knew she’d never again have cause to wear such wondrously frivolous clothes.

      She let him hold her for a moment, enjoying the feel of his warmth, protection, and yes, his respect. He’d been so courteous these past months that she’d never allowed herself to contemplate a physical relationship with him. With his arms around her and his heart pounding beneath her cheek, she suddenly ached to take him to her bed.

      He smelled of wool, tobacco, and some sort of sweet oil that she suspected he used to polish his pistol. The antique weapon gleamed from his exceptional care, even if he chose not to use it unless forced by necessity.

      I wonder if he’d let me modify it slightly…

      No.

      She pushed out of his arms as she pushed that traitorous thought away. She couldn’t indulge in her hobby for it would bring the Raven Guards flocking upon her like a fresh corpse, for that was exactly what she’d be.

      A corpse.

      Years of running and constantly being on guard, jerking awake at the slightest noise, denying her intellectual and scientific gifts that burned to be used…all weighed upon her shoulders like the massive Tower of Londonium, which would no doubt be her future home if Queen Majel found her.

      “Sit down,” Charlotte sighed. “I’ll tell you everything.”

      Or at least not enough to get you killed.

      In her tidy kitchen, the tall, muscular soldier turned lawman sat down at her table and folded his rugged, scars hands together. She’d reluctantly fallen in love with him and those hands, so incredibly gentle in their ruthlessly slow attack against her every resistance without ever once touching her intimately. Slow, careful, and deliberate, he’d groomed his horse until the animal drooped with sheer bliss, polished his silver star and glossy boots until they blinded her, and gently wiped a child’s tears who’d lost her mother to influenza. Yet she’d also seen him plow a meaty fist into a miscreant’s jaw and haul him off to jail and yes, she’d seen him shoot and kill a criminal in the act of robbing the town’s only bank.

        Gentle but strong and unwavering when the town—and I—need him the most.  How could I not love him? 

      She’d known scores of men, from Court dandies to sheepherders, princes to highwaymen, and none had ever touched her heart like Gil. Not even him, the dark outlaw standing in her memories between her and this honorable man.

      Lightly, she touched the locket hanging around her throat, the gold glowing hotter than her skin. The delicate filigreed heart made a beautiful piece of jewelry, but costly metals didn’t make the simple heart so irreplaceable. Inside, the last of her most skillful technology resided, keeping a violent, wounded man alive and providing a tie to her that would never be broken.

      Silently, Gil watched her stir the coals, add a few sticks of wood to the stove, and set a small coffee pot on the hottest spot. She’d nearly starved and frozen to death before she’d learned how to work the medieval stove, so she was quite proud of the skills she’d learned without the shining technology to which she was used. After rumors began trickling in from other conquered planets, she was extremely thankful for that lack which she’d once sorely rued, for once the Empire had ultimate control of one’s food, drink, and housing, then they could do whatever they wished. Including the injection of experimental “enhancements” into meals, water, even the air.

      The thought made her stomach twist painfully. If Gil knew that her research as Lady Doctor Wyre had made all these Imperial abominations possible, would he turn from her in horror? Or be the first to lynch her?

      He cleared his throat, but his voice was still ragged as he asked, “Is it another man?”

      Pouring a vile brew the colonists called coffee, she let her mind whirl through possibilities. Indeed, he’d given her a way out without having to tell him the full sordid story of her past. It would hurt him, but it was the truth as far as she could tell him.

      “Yes.” She straightened her shoulders, lifted her chin, and turned to face him holding two cups of steaming brew. “In fact, there is another man.”

      The look on his face would have made her laugh if her heart wasn’t weeping at the hurt she caused him. His dark eyes flared with shock, his mouth slackened, and the wooden table groaned beneath his fierce grip. To keep his hands from trembling, or from drawing his ancient six-barreled pistol? Was he the kind of man who’d hunt down his competition?

      She paled at the thought, for that would be far from an even match. Gil might be a respectable shot, but he didn’t have a prayer against a man rumored to have killed over a thousand men throughout the galaxy and beyond, sometimes for little more than an insult regarding the tie of his cravat.

      Fearing she’d caused Gil to leap from one threat to an even more dangerous situation, she quickly went on. “I met him my first Winter Solstice here on Americus and we have a standing arrangement to share each holiday.” She forced her voice to brighten, although the accompanying smile practically shattered her face. “Why, he should be arriving in the next few days at the latest.”

      “You haven’t mentioned him before.”

      She had to applaud the evenness of his voice, though he still gripped the table as though his life depended on it. “He’s not a very…pleasant man.” A perfect match for me. “I didn’t want to worry you.”

      “Do you love him very much?”

      So even and hard his voice, cutting her heart like the finest trillium blade. How can anyone love a murdering assassin? She took a drink from her cup, trying to buy a few moments for her to gather her thoughts, but the swill made her mouth twist. “It’s complicated.”

      Gil leaned across the table and she suddenly realized that he could be a very large and intimidating man when he chose. “Explain it for me. Please. Do you love him more than me?”

      Her heart thudded, blood pounding hot and frantic through her veins, her skin burning hotter to match the unnaturally warm locket. It seemed an eternity since she’d held a man and felt his heat and solid presence in her bed. She couldn’t count the man who came to her but once a year and almost always left the very next day. He needed much more…and less…than simple lovemaking.

      In the beginning of her exile, she’d been too consumed by survival to even think about selecting a lover. Then she hadn’t dared let alone too close for fear she’d unconsciously betray her breeding and heritage no matter how hard she tried to pretend to be just a common colonist.

      When Gil had come into her life, she’d enjoyed his gentle but insistent courting. It’d been nice to pretend for just a while that she was of no importance, that she had no duty to her House or dread threat from the Queen.

      The locket weighed very heavy on her chest, a fiery brimstone reminder of the man who’d be coming to her in less than a fortnight. He wouldn’t care if she took a lover and she’d never required fidelity from him. In fact, he’d likely find the very notion laughable at the thought of her pining away for him. Their relationship was based on need—base, raw, and primal. Not romance.

      Never love.

      Her mind wanted to probe that tender, sore spot in her heart, but she refused to dwell on what she could not have. Especially when a most pleasing male stood before her, jealousy pumping, muscles bunching for battle, and she knew very well that this one she could have, at least for awhile.

      She planted her hands on the table and rose up, leaning in so they were eye to eye. “I’ll explain it to you,” she said, letting her voice drop to a husky purr that darkened his eyes. “In my bedchamber.”

Friday Snippet: The Bloodgate Guardian

Since I’m not writing new material this month and June is not that far away, I decided to start teasing you with snippets of The Bloodgate Guardian, coming this June from Carina Press

You’ve been seeing bits of this story under several different names for quite some time.  The original first draft was my first NaNoWriMo project in 2007, then titled Night Sun Rising.  Over a year went by before I got around to the first round of Revision Xibalba.  I spent a lot of time expanding the book, adding subplots and tons of characters.  However, I kinda went overboard, and ended up cutting those subplots out.  Can you say too many characters? 

Now the story is leaner, tighter, and concentrates only on Jaid and Ruin (yes, he got to keep his name!!).  Ironically, exactly the story I ended up with in 2007, just revised, polished, researched, etc.  Not to worry, though — those subplots I spent so much time on will become the fertile soil for the next book.  *winks*

So, here’s part of the opening scene of The Bloodgate Guardian, Chapter One. 

He never hated his magic until it compelled him to kill.

From the broken shadows of his temple, the priest watched the encroacher attempt to work his doomed magic.  Brilliant ruby pooled in the pocked basin of the altar and overflowed, streaming across the hand-carved stone in vibrant filigree.  The blood glowed like molten rock hot from the earth’s heart, releasing magic into the night.

The once all-powerful priest shuddered, his skin crawling with the caress of power.  His nostrils flared to catch the tantalizing scent of sweet copper.  Such temptation.  He tightened his grip on the starved jaguar pacing within him.  Such power.

The city once known as the Mouth of Creation had kept his secrets for a thousand years.  Now he must kill this man to protect that forbidden knowledge.  Keeping to the shadows, the priest called out, “As Gatekeeper of Chi’Ch’ul, I command you to leave my city or die.”

The man whirled and whipped the bloody heart behind his back.  At least this one’s victim had been a goat and not human.  “Nobody else should know the name of my dig.  Who are you working for?”

The priest stepped into the moonlight, and the other man recoiled.  With the jaguar prowling the cage of his body, he knew all too well the image he made:  eyes gleaming like golden lamps, jaguar spots dotting his arms and blending with the tribal tattoos on his upper body, angular cheekbones and sharp forehead compounded by the stark topknot pulling his hair back from his face.   The man had discovered the city, unburied it stone by stone. He could not help but recognize a priest of what had once been a grand and powerful nation.  “My city has already been destroyed.  Would you destroy the world as well?”

“I have powerful, rich friends,” the man said, backing away slowly.  “Name your price.”

So be it.  Small golden lights began buzzing around the priest and his bones throbbed with magic.  “Nothing you can offer will stay my hand.  As long as I live, these sacred waters shall lie still and silent.  My curse demands your death.  The Gates must remain locked until the Return.”

Ignoring his threats, the man smiled with elation.  “We were right!  I knew it.  After all these years, I finally found the center of the world!”

The balls of light blazed brighter.  A golden swirling wave obliterated his vision.  Bones cracked and twisted.  His scream of pain rumbled bass, a jaguar’s roar piercing the night. 

Tail lashing, the jaguar crouched in a pile of torn denim.  The sharp stink of his prey’s fear burned his nose. It had been a very long time since he’d hunted. The big cat knew his purpose.  He was only called forth to kill.

The foolish man turned toward his modern equipment stationed on the nearby boulder, presenting his back to the jaguar.  “Jaid, don’t come here!  Don’t trust anybody and don’t let the codex out of your hands!  Especially don’t give it to Venus Star!” 

The jaguar growled a threat.  If this person possessed the codex, he must die too.

Whirling, the man ran up the peninsula that extended over Lake Atitlan.  He slung the goat’s heart out over the water and threw his weight off the side, angling toward the beach instead of the lake.  Effortlessly, the jaguar leaped after him.  The man gasped in pain and rolled away, narrowly escaping the slashing claws.

Wet with rain, a sudden gust of wind swept across the shore.  Clouds boiled across the sky to hide the moon and stars.  Thunder rolled through the night and the ground trembled.  Lightning split the sky, winds increasing until the trees thrashed and waves whipped the surface of the lake.

A shape formed in the darkened waters.  Thrashing, bulging outward, a hand rose from the depths.  Water broke, cascading down the sceptered arm, which was white and blotched with spots of age and disease.

The jaguar clamped his ears and tail tight to his body and terror rippled through his fur.  Oh, stupid human fool!  Why had he opened Xibalba, with no wards to lock the demons beyond?

Shuddering with horror, the man whimpered.  “Where are the golden plumes?  The jade feathers?  This isn’t Great Feathered Serpent!”

The jaguar swiped at the man’s abdomen.  Jerking away, the man screamed and fell backward into the lake.  He thrashed helplessly, then sank like a stone through the Gate as a Lord of Death crawled onto the beach with another demon right behind.

Snarling, the jaguar slammed into the first demon, trying to knock it back through the Gate.  Even weak as a newborn babe, it refused to go back to the Place of Fright.  The other Death Lord crawled out of the lake clutching a small hunk of flesh.  Cradling the now-cold heart to its mouth, the demon feasted, while the other sniffed the air.  His gaze turned unerringly to the goat carcass above.

Every drop of blood would give them power.  Power that could destroy the world. 

 

Easter Egg Hunt & Vicki Snippet

Welcome to all the Long & Short of It Scavengers!  My egg should be easy to find (look in the right sidebar) but I hope you stick around awhile and at least check out the Free Reads.

And since I missed the Friday Snippet last week (we were on vacation), and I was generally missing Vicki and the gang something fierce, I decided to post a bit more of Vicki’s story.  This scene is after the last one posted at VCONN Tower and occurs in Victor’s penthouse suite.  Hopefully you remember Mal — e.g. Malindre Kannes, the Mistress of Dallas — from Victor’s book.  She’s not just a side character, because she’s been clamoring for her own book lately.   *headdesk*

Warning:  first draft, subject to heavy revision later.  Genre:  Contemporary erotic (BDSM) romance. 

Mal, on the other hand, took one look at the man hovering at Vicki’s back and a huge smile broke across her face. “I knew it.” She hugged Vicki and gave him a slap on the shoulder. “Good for you, hon. If you need help housebreaking him, you give me a call.”

“I’m not a dog,” Jesse muttered.

With a low, wicked laugh, Mal stepped around Vicki and leaned in close to him. “If I tell you to heel, you will.”

He tipped his chin up and broadened his stance, but he didn’t take his hand off Vicki’s back. “No, I’m won’t. Not for you.”

A sharp thrust of emotion tore through her. Rage, jealousy, she wasn’t sure. All she knew was that she didn’t want Mal touching him, or Jesse doing anything for her. “He’s mine.”

“Of course he is, hon.” Mal drawled, not at all fazed by the sharpness in Vicki’s voice. “But do you know what he likes? Can you take care of his needs, whatever they are?”

She started to open her mouth, but Mal cut her off.

“If he needs you to put a collar on him, strip him naked, and force him to sleep on the floor at your bedside, can you do it? If he needs you to pick up a paddle and whip him until he can’t sit down, will you do it?”

Vicki felt him hovering at her back, nervous, yes, but terribly eager, his muscles tight, his heat rising.

Her stomach churned with anxiety. Her mind felt jammed full of images: Jesse naked, Jesse bound, Jesse begging, helpless, crying, screaming…for me.

A shudder wracked her shoulders and he pressed closer, dropping his forehead against her neck, burying his nose in her hair. “Do you need stuff like that?”

“I don’t know,” he whispered raggedly, but she felt his erection like a steel rod against her ass.

She lifted her gaze to Mal’s face, thoroughly prepared for a smug I-told-you-so look, but the other woman only nodded solemnly. “People think it’s all fun and games being a Dominant, but it’s not. We have a huge responsibility not only to keep the submissive safe but to also learn what they need and then, we have to provide it, no matter what that need requires. It’s your job to help him find out what he needs. You have to push his limits, explore his fears and his desires, and those desires will not always coincide with yours. If you care about him, you’ll make sure he gets those needs met. Your boy claims he doesn’t know what he wants, but I guarantee he’s got a few things in mind that will knock you reeling, and you haven’t even gotten started yet.”

Shaken, Vicki turned her attention to her brother, checking to see his reaction. He nodded as solemnly as his friend, his eyes dark and grim. “When I first met Shiloh, she scared me shitless.”

“Aw, poor baby,” Shiloh purred, turning away from her glowering Master and offering a hand to Jesse. “Let’s all get comfy before we scare the big bad Dominants too much.”