Paranormal Romance

Chapter reveal: Kaitlin’s Tale, by Christine Amsden

Title: Kaitlin’s Tale
Genre: urban fantasy/paranormal romance
Author: Christine Amsden
Publisher: Twilight Times Books
Get your copy at Amazon OmniLit
Read an interview with the author on USA Today
Kaitlin Mayer is on the run from the father of her baby – a vampire who wants her to join him in deadly eternity. Terrified for her young son, she seeks sanctuary from the hunters guild. But they have their own plans for her son, and her hopes of safety are soon shattered.
When she runs into Matthew Blair, an old nemesis with an agenda of his own, she dares to hope for a new escape. But Matthew is a telepath, and Kaitlin’s past is full of dark secrets she never intended to reveal.

Chapter 1

To: Cassie.Scot@gmail.com

From: Kaitlin.Meyer12@gmail.com

Re: Jason is Dead

Jason is dead.

Go ahead. Say “I told you so.” You never do, but just this once could you stoop down to the level of us mere mortals long enough to sneer like a ten-year-old? Put a little hip wiggle into it and wrinkle your nose. Roll your eyes at me like I’m the biggest moron on the planet.

After all you did, in fact, tell me so.

And when you’re finished, I need you to do me the biggest favor I’ve ever asked in my life. In all likelihood, the last favor I’ll ever ask. I need you to take Jay. I need you to keep him safe, because you and Evan are probably the only two people who can. I hope that one day you can find it in your heart to love him like you lo ve your own daughter.

* * *

“It’s time, Kaitlin.”

Kaitlin rocked her one-year-old son back and forth, trying to convince him to go down for a nap, but Jay wasn’t having it. He was teething, and it seemed to hurt him worse when he lay down in a horizontal position. He was so tired that Kaitlin swore she’d hold him upright for eight hours if he’d just fall asleep, but he seemed, paradoxically, too tired to sleep.

Jason’s intrusion wasn’t helping. Jay turned his head and reached his arms out for his father – or the vampire who had once been his father – instinctively begging for the love that should have been his by right. But Jason had never taken an interest in his son; he could barely stand to look at him. In fact, if anything had finally convinced Kaitlin that Jason was dead, it was the fact that the real Jason had died for his son. This thing now inhabiting his body wouldn’t even live for him.

“Did you hear me?” Jason asked.

Jay cried harder. Kaitlin shushed him and rocked still more furiously, pretending she hadn’t heard. Pretending she could delay the inevitable for a few more days. But she’d known this day was coming for a while now. Had sensed it would be soon. It was why she had e-mailed her best friend in the world, begging for help, prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of her son. But Cassie had not responded, and Sara, the nanny who had agreed to transport Jay, had disappeared two days ago.

“Answer me, Kaitlin,” Jason said in a voice that at one time would have compelled obedience. It no longer did, even though Jason continued to feed from her daily, simultaneously injecting her body with a venom that should have kept her in thrall. She wasn’t sure why the thrall had gradually dissipated over the past few months, but her new clarity of mind had bigger problems to work out – like the fact that Jason wanted to make her just like him.

Jason took another step into the nursery. He rarely ventured inside these hallowed walls, but Kaitlin had spent more and more time there of late, requiring him to come inside if he wanted her.

“Can’t you make him shut up?” Jason asked.

“I’m trying! Can’t we talk about this later?”

“Can we? You never leave this room.”

And he never came in. Would Kaitlin come in after she turned? Or would she forget Jay’s existence, the way Jason had? Her nightmare was that of Jay screaming for his mother, but she never came. Eventually, he would stop crying. Then after a few days, when no one came to feed him, he would stop doing everything else.

“Please, just let me get Jay down for his nap. Then we can talk.”

“There’s no need to wait.” Another man came to stand just inside the doorway, a man who made Kaitlin’s blood turn to ice whenever she saw him. Xavier looked so deceptively ordinary; it was part of his power. But she had seen him rip the throat out of men and face an entire heptade of vampire hunters without breaking a sweat.

He wasn’t superhuman, though; he was inhuman. She couldn’t fathom his purpose, but she suspected his goal was to create an entire new race of vampires under his control. At least, that’s what she assumed happened to the dozens of people who came into their lives for varying lengths of time, most of them nearly catatonic from the vampire’s thrall. She was not permitted to speak to them, and when they left, she never saw them again.

Xavier was over two hundred years old, but he didn’t look at Kaitlin as though she were a child. He looked at her as though she were food. Kaitlin had long sensed that he was no longer human, that he was somehow alien. She had sensed it in him before the thrall had worn off, though she hadn’t cared. The realization had taken much longer with Jason. Perhaps that sense of other increased over time.

Even Jay could sense the evil in Xavier. The boy started bucking and twisting, his tiny face turning red. He might have had his supernatural strength bound so he didn’t accidentally hurt someone, but even without it he was a marvel of physical strength. He had crawled at about two weeks old. Now, at a year old, he could run like a ten-year-old.

“Please, leave us alone!” Kaitlin cried, trying with all her might to cling to the wriggling child.

“Sara can take him,” Xavier said.

He stepped to the side and Kaitlin’s heart leaped. Oh thank God! Not that she wanted to give up her son. It was the hardest thing she would ever do in her life, but she had gone over it and over it in her mind. She had no choice. Jason would not take no for an answer any longer. He would turn her into a vampire tonight and when he did, Jay would need protection. Even from her.

The middle-aged woman who had helped Kaitlin with Jay over the past year strode into the room as if she hadn’t just disappeared without a word for two days. Kaitlin didn’t need a nanny; as she’d told both Jason and Xavier a hundred times, she could handle Jay on her own. But Sara had provided some companionship and comfort to her, especially in the months since the thrall had worn off. Sara always had a friendly smile on her face, was infinitely patient with Jay (something Kaitlin definitely wasn’t), and despite their age difference, they seemed to have a lot in common. They read the same books, liked the same movies, and both feared the men who haunted this house alongside them.

Kaitlin smiled at Sara despite the churning of butterflies in her stomach. Sara knew what to do. She’d pretend to take Jay for a quick drive to the store, but she wouldn’t stop for diapers. She’d keep going, leaving their two-story house in Virginia and not stopping until she reached Eagle Rock, Missouri.

“Let me try getting him to sleep,” Sara said, striding over.

“It’s no good,” Kaitlin said. “Maybe you could take him for a drive.”

When Sara reached the rocking chair, Kaitlin kissed Jay on the head, surreptitiously saying good-bye. Then she handed Jay to the nanny.

The baby cried harder still, his wails threatening to shake the house down. What was the matter with him? Jay was often quiet for Sara when he refused to settle for Kaitlin.

That’s when Kaitlin recalled the coldness of the woman’s arms as she’d passed Jay into them. The pallor of her skin. The slight yellow tinge to her eyes.

“No!” Kaitlin screamed, trying to get Jay back.

Jason got between the two women, using his superior strength to stop Kaitlin from moving at all. He had her arms pinned to her sides and then, inexorably, he pushed her out the door.

“It’s really not so bad,” Sara said to Kaitlin. “I know you’re scared of turning, but it’s really very liberating.”

“No!” Kaitlin tried to dig her heels into the thick blue carpeting, knowing it was useless. Knowing Jason and Xavier had the strength to make her do anything. Knowing she was as dead as Jason. Knowing, but not yet accepting. “No! Not now! It can’t happen now!”
Jason picked her up easily with one arm and clamped his other hand over her mouth. She fought. She kicked and strained with all he might, but to an outside observer she probably looked as docile as a kitten.

Xavier followed in their wake as Jason made his way down the elegant, hardwood stairs to the sparsely furnished living room. Xavier was rich. Filthy rich after centuries of whatever he did. But he kept few creature comforts. When it came to houses he preferred quantity to quality – he had safe houses all over the world. In the past year, Kaitlin had lived in four of them.

Jason set Kaitlin down on t he beige couch then sat beside her, pinning her there with his size and weight. She had already stopped struggling however; it did her no good. She would have to think of something else, but what? She had been prepared to die to get her son to safety, but now it seemed that she was the only one who could save him.

With that thought steeling her resolve, Kaitlin calmed down. She might be the biggest moron on the planet for agreeing to run away with a vampire in the first place, but she was smart enough to know that if she had any hope of getting out of this, it was through words and cunning. She had no physical strength to pit against a vampire, one of the strongest creatures on the planet. Also, one of the fastest.

Jason placed a heavy hand on her pajama-clad thigh, squeezing slightly through the silky material. Kaitlin felt nothing but cold dead fingers, but she pushed away her revulsion the way she’d been pushing it away for the past few months. Closing her eyes, she melted against him, emitting a soft sigh of surrender.

“There, that’s better,” Jason said as he continued running his cold hand up and down her thigh. “Xavier, I don’t think you need to be here for this.”

“You’ve never watched anyone turn,” Xavier said smoothly. “And you’ve always been a bit of an idiot where that girl was concerned.”

Jason growled and Kaitlin tensed once again, not sure which of the two vampires she feared more.

“She’s mine.” Jason tightened the possessive hand squeezing her thigh; she struggled to keep from crying out in pain. “That’s what we agreed before you ever turned me.”

“She doesn’t want to turn and she’s immune to thrall.”

Immune? Did he know why? She dared to look at him; Xavier smiled, fangs bared, eyes yellow with bloodlust. He had looked at her just that way so many times she had lost count, but still she shivered.

“I can handle her,” Jason said. “But not with you here. She doesn’t trust you.”

“Have it your way.” Xavier supplied a mock bow to Jason, shot Kaitlin another malicious look, then backed out of the living room by way of the kitchen. Since the vampires didn’t eat food, she was sure he meant to go through it to the garage and indeed, a few seconds later, she heard the garage door open.

“Sorry about him,” Jason said. “Now where were we?”

Kaitlin drew in a deep, shaky breath and forced herself to relax as he moved his hand away from her thigh, running it up her hips, around her waist, and then with an almighty tug, he pulled her forward so she sat atop his lap.

“We can’t do this now,” Kaitlin said, keeping her voice gentle and sweet. “I’m weak. You forgot to give me that blood replenishment potion yesterday.”

“I didn’t forget,” Jason said. “It’s time, Kaitlin. Time for you to join me for real, the way you promised you would when you left Eagle Rock last year.”

“I will. Of course I will! But you know how important it was for me to nurse Jay. I want only the best for our son, like you do.” She held her breath, wondering if the lie would continue to hold one last time. She hadn’t actually nursed Jay in at least six months. Apparently, exsanguination isn’t good for a woman’s milk supply, even with regular blood replenishment potions.

Jason frowned, but she forced herself to remain outwardly calm. He might not have seen through the lie; he often got that look on his face when they discussed the baby. If he’d paid any attention to Jay at all he would have noticed the feeding change months ago.

“Isn’t the baby a year old now?”

“The World Health Organization recommends two years.”

“I’m not waiting another year,” Jason growled.

Kaitlin drew in a startled breath but forced herself to continue looking into his inhuman eyes. “I’m not asking you to.” She wound a hand around Jason’s neck and leaned in close to place a soft kiss on his lips that he didn’t return. Not a good sign. “But I should at least wean him slowly.”

“Why don’t you want to turn?” Jason asked.

“Don’t be silly.” Kaitlin ran a finger across his smooth, pale jaw, remembering how it had sported a five o’clock shadow the first time she’d seen him. The first time they’d made love. The night they’d unintentionally made Jay – not that she’d change that part now. Only what came later. “Of course I want to live forever. You know me. I live for ‘happily ever after.’”

“I had to drag you down the stairs,” Jason said. “You’ve been distant since the thrall wore off. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”

Kaitlin’s mind raced. What were the right words? What would put off the inevitable? She had no idea, so she ended up blurting, “Why did the thrall wear off?”

“Something Xavier did,” Jason said dismissively. “He says it will make you a stronger vampire.”

Will it make me stronger now, when I really need it? Kaitlin wondered, but did not ask.

“Now answer my question” Jason continued. “Why don’t you want to turn? You weren’t in thrall when you first ran away with me.”

“I’m nervous. Weren’t you nervous before you turned? Xavier said it took months to convince you.”

“I was a hunter, brought up within my order to believe vampires are soulless monsters.”

Are you? Kaitlin wanted to ask. Even now, she wasn’t sure “soulless” was the right word. Something lurked behind Jason’s eyes – and even Xavier’s. She just wasn’t sure it was anything she wanted to be a part of.

“Well, I may know better,” Kaitlin began, “but I’m still not sure… I mean…” She cast about wildly for an idea. Something to delay the inevitable. Anything. And finally, she settled on the truth. Or part of it. “You’ve changed. I don’t pretend to understand how. I didn’t know you well before I ran off with you; we only had the one night together. Mostly, I knew you from stories your cousin Cassie told.”

“You know me now,” Jason said, sliding a finger down her slender throat. “You’ve known me for a year. Haven’t I treated you well?”

“Of course you have,” Kaitlin said. “You know I love you.” She leaned forward, letting the top of her button-down silk shirt part slightly, though Jason didn’t seem as taken with cleavage as normal men. His favorite parts of her were the throat, wrists, and inner thighs.

“I haven’t cheated on you,” Jason said. “I haven’t hit you. I haven’t even asked you to get a job. I take care of you.”

“And Jay?” Kaitlin asked, because what he said was sort of true. It wasn’t a high standard, but she’d chosen some real losers in her time who had done all those things – cheated on her, hit her, and sponged off her hard work while they decided they didn’t need a job.

Perhaps if she’d known Jason better in life she could be more certain now that he wasn’t the same man. After all, aside from the bloodsucking thing there wasn’t anything she could specifically put her finger on that was any different from regular imperfect mortals. Some men ignored their children. Some men were up at all hours of the night and slept all day. Some men only seemed to notice her when they needed something from her – blood or sex, it was all the same.

But it all came down to the one thing she knew for sure about Jason: He had loved his son. He had cared so much that he had died to protect the baby from his own father, who had planned to body-hop into Jason, then again into Jay when he was old enough. Jason even turned into a vampire – a being he’d been trained to hate – so he would still be able to guard his son in death. And maybe the vampire Jason would protect Jay if ever put to the test, but Kaitlin wasn’t sure how he would even know the baby was in danger.

The vampire almost didn’t seem wholly connected to this world. He didn’t see it the same way humans saw it. There was something alien in his eyes and cold in his touc h – and it wasn’t just the fact that no blood ran through his veins. Maybe the vampire hunters had it wrong, maybe he wasn’t entirely evil (though she wouldn’t say the same about Xavier), but she didn’t trust the vampire sitting beneath her. He wanted to seduce her into turning for reasons she could not possibly fathom, like trying to understand the will of God.

“Who will take care of Jay after I turn?” Kaitlin asked.

“You will.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

“Sara will. Or we’ll hire someone else. What does it matter?”

Indeed. “Just give me a few days. I told you I need to wean the baby. I can do it quickly. We’ll drop one feeding per day so that will be…” Kaitlin tried to think. How many times per day did a one-year-old nurse? Well, she’d go with the number of bottles she gave him a day and figure it was close enough. Jason wouldn’t know the difference. “… four days.”

“And in four days you’re going to want to turn?” Jason asked. “I want you to want this, Kaitlin. Xavier says it goes better when they want it.”

“I do want it. Of course I want it.” She placed soft kisses on his cheeks, his forehead, his ear. He lifted his face to give her better access, making her think she had convinced him. Lulling him into a false sense of security.

“Liar!” He shoved her off his lap, not onto the couch, but onto the ground. Kaitlin, not expecting the movement, fell heavily to the hardwood floor and yelped when her bottom connected with the unyielding surface.

“Jason?”

He stood, towering over her, and she scooted backwards on hands and knees, getting tangled in her long blonde hair.

“Xavier intercepted that e-mail you sent to Cassie the other day,” Jason said, stalking her as she scuttled across the floor.

“What?” Oh no. But that did explain Sara. And why Cassie hadn’t replied.

“You were going to give away the baby.”

“Why not?” Kaitlin asked. “You don’t want him! You said it didn’t matter who raised him. You can’t even call him yours! Or even by his name.”

“He’s not mine,” Jason said. “But this host wants him, and so do I.”

Kaitlin’s eyes widened. This was the first time Jason had ever let slip a hint that he was not now the same person he had been before he’d turned.

“You can’t run from this fate,” Jason said.

Kaitlin’s scrambling hands had found the edge of the stone fireplace and she stopped, able to m ove no further. Jason knelt to loom over her, cupping her face in his hands. From anyone else, it might have been a caress.

“Cassie and Evan can’t protect you or the boy, you know,” Jason said. “Evan’s strong, but he’s never been much use against a vampire. I should know. I saved his life once.”

“You did? Or your host?”

Jason scowled. “There’s no place you can run. No one to protect you. Give up. Give in. Come gracefully.”

He still wanted her to agree to this, Kaitlin realized. He still wanted her willing cooperation. She had no idea why, but she’d take any opening she could get. “Three days. Give me three days.”

“We have your blood,” Jason said.

“So?” Kaitlin asked.

“Didn’t you learn anything about magic from Cassie? I haven’t just eaten from you. I have your blood, and I’m a sorcerer as well as a vampire. I can use it to find you anywhere on this planet, so unless you can get to Mars, you can’t hide from me.”

“Oh.” Kaitlin was shaking now. She wished she’d thought to start a fire in the fireplace behind her, though she doubted the warmth would have penetrated.

“Tomorrow night,” Jason said. “That’s as much time as I’ll give you to prepare.”

A reprieve. She had no idea how, but she had a reprieve. Twenty-four hours wasn’t much, but it was more than she’d had a few minutes ago.

“Tell me you understand,” Jason said. “Tell me you’ll come to me tomorrow. Tell me like you mean it.”

“I understand,” Kaitlin said.

And then she wound her arms around Jason, kissing him for all she was worth. She explored his mouth with teeth and tongue, tracing the outline of his fangs. He bit her lip, stinging her for a moment before the pain-numbing property of the vampire venom set in. After a minute, he drew his head back, traced the column of her neck with his index finger, and sank his teeth in with such force that for a moment she thought he’d snapped her neck.

“Oh!” she cried, trying to make it sound like a moan. It didn’t hurt, but it didn’t feel as good as it once had, especially now that she worried Jason wasn’t planning to wait another night after all. What if he took every last drop? What if he drained her dry? He had never pulled from her so hard or drunk so long.

“Jason!” Kaitlin finally cried. “Please. You said tomorrow.”

He pulled back, fangs and lips stained red with her blood. The venom coagulated the wound so she wouldn’t bleed out, but she felt so lightheaded she wondered if she’d lost too much blood anyway.

Jason ran his thumb across his lips. “Yes, tomorrow night.”

“Blood replenishment potion?”

“No.” Jason rose to his feet, taking several deliberate steps away from her. “I don’t think I want you strong enough to escape.”

“You said there was no escape.”

Jason didn’t answer, he just turned and walked away, leaving Kaitlin on the floor, her head spinning, her breath coming in shallow gasps, her pulse weak and thready. But she wasn’t dead yet, and as long as she wasn’t dead, there remained hope.

Categories: Paranormal Romance, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Excerpt Reveal: ‘In Time for You’ by Chris Karlsen

In Time for YouXXTitle: In Time for You
Author: Chris Karlsen
Publisher: Books to Go Now
Genre: Time-travel romance

While horseback riding in the English countryside, sisters Electra and Emily Crippen find themselves trapped in a tear in time. Thrown back to 1357 England and caught by a local noble, they are in a place that is home but as frightening and unfamiliar as an alien world would be. With no idea how the tear in time came about, the one thing they do know is: they must stay together and stay near to where the event took place in hopes of discovering the way back to their modern life. That certain need to stay together is the first certainty taken from them when one sister is forced to remain in England and one is sent miles away to Wales by royal order.

There is one other hope for help the sisters don’t know exists. It’s Electra’s lover, Roger Marchand. A time traveler himself, he never told her of his past. When he realizes what has happened to the sisters, he enlists the help of a scientist friend to help him open the suspected passageway through time. Any effort to save Electra and Emily will likely cost him his life. This was the time Roger came from, a time when his country, France, was at war with England. If he is discovered on English soil while searching for the sisters, he will either be killed or taken prisoner of war. Any risk is worth saving the life of the woman he loves.

Amazon B&N / Kobo Smashwords 

EXCERPT

While she ate, the button on Electra’s sleeve fell out of the frog loop. She didn’t hook the button again, reaching for her wine instead. The sleeve pulled back from her wrist to expose her watch, which she hadn’t thought to remove.

“What is that?” Simon asked and pointed to her Seiko.

“A watch.” What a bizarre question. There wasn’t a corner of the planet that people didn’t recognize a wristwatch.

A frown slowly formed and he stretched across Emily and took hold of Electra’s hand to tug it toward him for a better look. He turned her hand over and in a matter of seconds had the clasp undone.

He brought the candle in front of his trencher closer and held the watch under it. “What do the numbers mean?”

“It’s a clock, a miniature timepiece you wear on your wrist.”

From his expression, the explanation puzzled him. “Do they not have candle clocks in this Greenland you claim you’re from?”

How to explain the abundance of various clocks to a man who apparently has no context for the anything beyond a candle clock or similar ancient means of telling time?

“Are you saying you’ve never seen a clock?” Emily asked.

“One like this? No, I have not.”

Emily bent her head nearer Electra and whispered, “Are you thinking what I am?”

“Sadly, yes.”

Simon ran his finger over the watch face. “These small digits, what is their meaning?”

“It’s the date and year: 5.14.15.”

He shook his head. “What year is 15?”

“2015, of course.”

“You are mad. It’s the year of our Lord, 1357.”

“What year were you born?”

“1327, why?”

Electra didn’t care for the speed which Simon answered. She held onto the small hope this was some odd reality show and that he’d stumble or hesitate before coming up with a year. “No reason, I was just curious.” She turned to Richard who’d been chatting with the serving girl. She tapped his arm. Getting his attention she asked, “Richard, what year is this?”

He tipped his head like a dog hearing a strange noise. She assumed he too thought her mad for asking. “1357. Do you measure your years differently in your native country?”

“Yes, it’s a different time there.” A different world. She looked over at Emily, who’d been listening. The color had drained from her face.

For both their sakes, Electra fought to keep from falling apart in front of the whole room. She failed and began to tremble uncontrollably. She balled her hands into fists and turned from Simon to Richard. “I need to go outside. I feel sick.”

“I’d like to go too,” Emily told Simon.

“I’ll go as well.” He smiled. “Just to make certain nothing untoward befalls you.”

#

About the Author

SONY DSC

Chris Karlsen is a Chicago native. Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was in her late teens where she later studied at UCLA. She graduated with a Business Degree. The daughter of a history professor and a mother who was a voracious reader, she grew up with a love of history and books.

Her parents were also passionate about traveling and passed their passion onto Chris. Once bitten with the travel bug, Chris spent most of her adult life visiting the places she’d read about and that fascinated her. Her travels have taken her Europe, the Near East, and North Africa, in addition to most of the United States. She most frequently visited England and France, where several of her books are set.

After college, Chris spent the next twenty-five years in law enforcement with two agencies. Harboring a strong desire to write since her teens, upon retiring from police work, Chris decided to pursue her writing career. She writes three different series. Her historical romance series is called, Knights in Time. Her romantic thriller series is Dangerous Waters, and he latest book, Silk, is book one in her mystery/suspense series, The Bloodstone series.

She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and five wild and crazy rescue dogs.

My website is: http://chriskarlsen.com/

My FB page: https://www.facebook.com/chriskarlsenwriter

My Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/chriskarlsen/

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B005HYTQQI

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4822048.Chris_Karlsen

Categories: Paranormal Romance, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: ‘Ashamet, Desert-Born’ by Terry Jackman

Ashamet-CoverTitleAshamet, Desert-Born

Genre: Fantasy/adventure/romance/paranormal

Author: Terry Jackman

Websitewww.terryjackman.co.uk

Publisherwww.dragonwellpublishing.com

Find out more on Amazon

A desert world. A warrior nation that worships its emperor as a god. But for Ashamet, its prince, a future filled with danger…

Ashamet is confident his swordsmanship, and his arranged marriage, will be enough to maintain the empire’s peace. But when a divine symbol magically appears on his arm, closely followed by an attempt on his life, he no longer knows who to trust. Worse, the strange attraction he feels toward a foreign slave could be another trap. As events unravel, too fast,Ashamet must find out if this innocent young male is a tool for his enemies–or the magic key to his survival.

“Ashamet, Desert-Born” is a debut adventure fantasy with an exotic Arabian-style setting and elements of same-sex romance.

Chapter One

The king my father named me Ashamet. It means a copper-coloured whirlwind off the desert (colour of our own Kadduchi flesh). It’s meant to be poetic. Huh. Apart from that a princely life was pretty good – until my taster went into convulsions. Happily, they pinned it on some merchant’s less-than-healthy crawlfish. Panic over then; I didn’t bother witnessing the execution. But I was that rarity, a single offspring, and I’d been a single step from danger, and I didn’t have an heir yet.

Quite enough to make my father’s mind up; I was sentenced to be married…

Now, a thread of moisture trickled down my backbone as I took my seat again for yet another day upon the royal dais, formally escorted by my Uncle Raggesh. I had picked a sleeveless tunic in my lightest silks, a minimum of jewels, my thick, black hair lay braided at one shoulder, but it didn’t help. The Gate Hall, grandest audience chamber in our empire, had descended to a rowdy, yellow marble sweat-box.

Rag sat too, his longer robes spread out to swamp his sandalled, copper-coloured toes. Today he’d left his close-trimmed claws their natural white as mine were. Bet he wished he’d dressed like me as well. The tiny windows in the blue-enamelled arch above our heads were meant to keep this stage-like alcove cooler. Meant to, but the Gate – the famous golden screen of star-shaped so-lar lamps, at present dropped between us royals and the outer chamber – turned it back into an oven. Gods, I could have been up on a horse. In the fresh air. With a few companions I could actually trust.

I should have been receiving end-of-year assessments from my generals about our southern army’s readiness for action, given that my father had been taking more than normal interest in our southern borders lately. I suspected that our empire was again expanding.

But instead I blanked my face and scanned the throng beyond the ornate, semi-private metal filigree that dangled inbetween us.

Out there, thin coils of vapour from the ordinary iron lamps obscured the vaulted, gold and turquoise ceilings. Below, my father’s hairless, ochre-hided Kemik guard, exotic giants of our kingdoms, lined the path toward us, fangs retracted peaceably. The flame-reflections dancing off their breast-plates were the only movement there but outside them… Alpha Lords of every size and shade and all their twittering attendants skittered back and forth like termites, and the piled-up offerings destroyed the last pretence of taste the place had ever managed. I jerked my beard-point at the nearest jumble. ‘Look at it, we’ve swapped the Gate Hall for the Grand Bazaar.’

My uncle didn’t blink. ‘Show some grace. They’re your wedding gifts.’

I might have growled. It didn’t help that he was right. With five days still to go my marriage had progressed from bore, to stinking torment. Every perfume in the world was up my nose today, but none of them could mask the ripened bodies. Worse, my sword arm itched like seven hells, and with so many watchful eyes I had to curb an uncouth urge to scratch it.

Muffled creaks, from chains and pulleys underneath our feet. The Gate began to shiver upward, to disclose… ‘Gods, forget bazaar. It’s a cattle market!’

A pair of pure-bred white camels were being tugged forward, their plate-like pads scraping over the marble. Their willowy necks hung with ropes of pearls? Was the sheer volume of these eccentricities meant to make up for their inanity? As if it heard, one of the brutes chose to relieve itself, while the lordly fool in front attempted to pretend he neither heard, nor smelled, the ‘splop’ of brittle yellow crap behind him. Rag’s long nose pinched shut as brown-robed clerks made clucking noises. Slaves were chivvied forward. I think I sighed. ‘At least the colour complements the marble.’

Raggesh choked behind his drooping moustache. ‘Keep it down, Ash.’

I’d have given him a sharp retort except a guard distracted me with, ‘Highness? There’s a message from the outer gates.’

I tossed the message tube back at him and unrolled the paper. ‘Oh joy, the bride’s finally turned up… horsemen, eight baggage carts and three horse-drawn litters? My fingers tightened, crumpling the flimsy paper. I relaxed with conscious effort. ‘How many crones have they sent with her? No wonder they’re so late, they couldn’t use a desert route with those things.’

‘Uh.’ My uncle watched the frantic sweeping, quite ignoring my reaction. I obliged him with a beaming smile instead. At least my mouth did. She was here then, the daughter of our newest vassal-king, Farad of Sidass.  The bigger picture: the last of our smaller, paler, snubber-nosed Chi cousins were finally merging into the empire; a fading dynasty was being swallowed by a newer, fiercer bloodline. From where I sat I was stuck with her, unless she proved infertile.

Small chance of that. Females were rare enough. There was nothing rarer than one barren. I resisted growling at the luckless messenger. ‘Have someone send a message to the Inner Palace, to the closter-eunuchs. Tell them to unbar their doors, their future mistress is arriving.’ Though they’d very likely known as soon as I had, maybe sooner. They’d been looking forward to it.

I read on, since cleaning up the hall had halted the proceedings. Heavens forfend a lord should step in something. ‘Looks like the rumours about King Farad’s health could be true; he’s not with them.’

‘Uh.’ Rag at his chatty best. ‘Prince Effad?’

‘Not him either. This says Prince Thersat leads her escort. That’s the lesser son, right? The one who wasn’t there for the surrender?’

‘Uh.’ Rag  (another lesser son, and cut accordingly, to centre our succession) raised a lordly finger. The next noble was ushered in. The Gate lowered.  More gems.  They moved him on.

‘So what do we know about this Thersat?’

The Gate lifted again. One out, one in. Another gift, then Rag could answer. ‘At the time we assumed he’d been wounded, but now we’re told he’s “prone to illness”.’ Rag maintained his bland expression.

I drew breath. ‘Farad can’t travel, Effad’s tied to his side, so we’re lumbered with a permanent invalid?’

‘Uh,’ denoted end of topic as the Gate reopened.

‘Great.’ The cursed itching made a fresh assault. It had to be insect bites. I looked about for some distraction and spied a short, bald figure, absent from the court since summer; yes, the tubby Sheshman, copper-skinned but built more Chi than Kadd, and strident in his household’s blue and orange. Ah, and something loomed behind him.

My spirits rose. If anyone would bring me something more amusing, surely it was Sheshman, of the rolling gait and wicked chuckle. There was more trader there than noble, so my father said. More pirate too, he’d added, laughing.

I must have grinned. I felt my uncle’s disapproval so I faced toward the lord approaching, nodding gravely, like a bigger, younger copy of my stately father. But I glanced aside again to guess what Sheshman might have brought me. Four slaves were moving up a heavy-looking, box-like… something… swathed in dull grey fabric. Hmm. A cage? An animal? The male knew better than to insult his prince – and thus his king – with something paltry.

Meanwhile, the slightly slimmer northern Chi in front of us, distinguished by his nose, his browner hair and pale red skin, had bent a creaky knee before us. I shouldn’t have frowned, but it was difficult to see how the Chi, so often weaker than the other races, had been dominant so long, for all their boasts of direct bloodlines from the Ancestors. As for this one, kneeling made him look like a slave. Our own Kadduchi lords would never kneel, except to Father. Though of course these gifts were really for my father; vying for the notice of our gods-protected Voice of Heaven.

Possibly my frown grew darker; certainly my thoughts did. If I was ever crowned – I tried not to plan that far ahead – I figured their loyalty to me would be less certain. The lord before us, backing off again, looked troubled; probably convinced his present hadn’t thrilled me. ‘What was it?’ I muttered.

Rag almost shook his head. ‘Deeds to an orchard,’ he gritted. ‘Listen, will you!’

‘What-’ Now I was offended.

‘Wine, nephew, and Sultaki brandy.’

‘Ah.’ A gift worth having.

Despite his flash of temper Rag gazed calmly outward. To those who watched, he was my father’s only sibling, and his twin and his most loyal kinsman. Or to put it bluntly he was here to keep his royal nephew out of trouble. Headstrong was the least I knew they said about me; unpredictable, both in or out of battle. Rash, impetuous, a wicked sense of humour? Gods, I hoped so. Almost thirty now, and still no wiser? I ignored the carping. Sober was for years yet to come. And there was only one more presentation left before I got to see that odd-shaped box of Sheshman’s.

I turned back to my duty long enough to marvel at the antique bowls a Kemik lord brought forward. They were delightful; translucent porcelain, hand-painted by a master. Not a gift one would expect from any of the rough-skinned Kemik either, who were prone to value battle gear or horses. In fact the only gift of real taste I’d seen all morning. ‘A rare possession. I am honoured, sir.’ They moved him off. I signalled to the clerk that he record my personal approval. Now for Sheshman.

‘My prince, I bring you every prayer for your approaching marriage.’ Old Sheshman bounced up, bowed outrageously, then watched me. Ah, the sight of simple, honest motives. Bribery. Ambition. Life-blood of the palace. Earlier I’d read his beaming smile with interest, now I noticed it had faded. Second thoughts? What had the scoundrel brought me?

Despite my sudden doubts I felt my back and shoulders loosen. Moments in the old rogue’s company and I was feeling more myself, I almost burst out laughing. Well, Sheshman was both small and round, a difficult shape to look dignified. It was amusing to see him try though. He squared his shoulders, sucked in his paunch beneath one of those bright sashes he loved, and waved a lordly hand. The slaves, their cropped heads lowered, brought their burden up the outer steps and forward to my feet, then grounded it on recessed legs and cowered.

It seemed to float above the floor. Silently I awarded him marks for detail, and waited for more. He actually lowered his voice. ‘My prince, I bring you a rarity I never thought existed.’ The old fool waved again. Two slaves pulled free the heavy draperies. I started frowning; couldn’t help it. First a puzzle, now a riddle? It was a cage right enough; rounded; big enough for a large hound. But this thing was a fantasy, its bars were curled and gilded. And there was silk now, white, stretched taut inside it. A silk-lined cage? I found I’d leaned toward it. Sheshman’s eyes had sharpened, and his face gone solemn.

‘Well?’ I challenged, but I smiled. I couldn’t help that either.

‘Well enough, I hope, my prince.’ He drew a breath. ‘Perhaps.’ He glanced around. ‘Would the prince deign to open it himself?’ The fellow offered a key, from around his own neck.

Rag had straightened, in surprise or in alarm, but Sheshman wouldn’t leave alive if there was anything in there to hurt me. Besides, the key was silver. I rather thought I’d guessed the secret. Not so tempting as it had been but a well-presented trifle, and the cage, and lowered Gate, would block the view of those outside it more or less politely. So I stepped down and took the key (and the unspoken challenge) and turned it in the lock.

Sheshman was murmuring in my ear by then, his voice gone knowing. ‘Your wedding duties draw close, my prince, and your subjects know you will perform with taste and honour. But afterwards…?’

I caught the bars and pulled. Hot air rushed past me as the twin doors of this almost-cage unfurled like curving wings about me, neatly blocking the interior from anyone not right before them. The light rushed in.

There was indeed a figure; half knelt, half seated on the silken cushions. Loose white trousers were the only clothing, as I’d guessed. And silver shackles, delicate as bracelets, etched with three-point royal stars. The chain that linked them had been pegged into the cage’s flooring. And the head was ritually gift-wrapped, mummy-like, in white silk wrappings.

‘Such as this would stir the blood of any male, much less my prince, whose appetite is fabled.’ The murmur made me turn my head. The beady eyes looked up at me, expectant, earlier nerves forgotten.

I drew a breath. ‘I may be about to marry, my lord, but I haven’t yet gone blind.’ I let my voice turn cold. ‘Nor stupid. This is no youth.’

“This” was too tall, even crouched as he was. The chest, the hands and arms stretched down toward the cage’s flooring all had shape, and muscle. Maybe twenty summers? Bodyslaves were usually at least a few years younger: newly-adult: left untouched, kept very private like a female. Hells, a bodyslave was often more exclusive. After all a contract with a female – where the cursed female wasn’t royal – could be drawn up for as little as a single year. Then her family would repossess her and consider bids from other males fit to breed with.

But this one… kept apart this long, till only ten years less than I was? Virgin white and silver, on a full-grown male? What did Sheshman take me for?

Behind me Rag had risen. Sheshman’s face, which should have been as yellow-eyed and copper-hued as mine was, turned a nasty shade of umber, likely both embarrassment and fear, but he stood his ground. ‘My prince, I swear to you, I swear he’s still a virgin: more than that, a holy male, taken as an infant, grown behind high walls. I would not cheat you, highness.’ Sheshman weighed my mood and laid a final hand down. ‘My prince, I trust you to decide my honesty.  I’ll wait upon your judgement. If you judge him less than I have said, I’ll… send my youngest son to grace your chambers, to expunge the insult.’

Had I blinked? I’d heard that Sheshman kept a real trader’s superfluity of children, but my eyes and ears said he favoured that one. Give him into bondage? He’d never offer – not unless… My eyes slid back toward the cage.

I’d thought him painted. Now I saw he wasn’t. Wherever Sheshman found him it wasn’t in any of our kingdoms, not with skin like creamy marble that looked unreal in the lamplight. I followed the line of his neck and shoulder, the swell of his chest. His skin looked… fragile, and there was no sweat, though when I’d opened it I’d felt the metal cage was hotter than this alcove; never good. Surely he barely breathed, there was so little movement. One leg was tucked beneath him, the other raised before. Unusual, but graceful. Then I saw the triple-knotted cord about his waist. My breathing deepened. Truth, or lies, a very fine body.

Trust my fond uncle to spoil the moment. ‘Keep your pants on, Ash. Believe this, you’ll fall for anything.’ Dry amusement on the surface. Mockery beneath?

I defended any outward sign of interest. ‘Might be fun finding out, though.’

‘Huh. You haven’t even seen the face yet.’ Ever the cynic.

My own thoughts shifted. ‘Curious, uncle? I’ll oblige you,’ I said outrageously. I stepped forward, right into the opening, and reached up to the wrapping. The knot, loose at the nape of the neck, slid free between my fingers. One gentle tug and the silk fell away in rippling folds.

The head revealed stayed lowered, the eyes hooded. The hair, far from cropped, was long enough it would have brushed his shoulders, lighter coloured even than the Chi; not braided of course but tied back loosely. I had disarranged it somewhat. Below that a high forehead and good cheekbones framed curious brows, more delicate arches than our upswept wings. No sign of any beard, nor hair upon the chest, the face as pale as the body.

Still no movement? Perhaps the slightest swaying. As if the chains helped keep him upright? I caught the jaw and jerked it upward, gasped to feel a child-like softness, but then the eyelids lifted too, a reflex surely for he didn’t seem to focus.

Wide grey eyes, like still winter pools. Rag stirred, but I’d forgotten he was there. The eyes blinked twice, all up and down – no inner storm-proof membrane? – then gazed back at me as if he was my equal. I should have felled him, or had him whipped. Instead I stared back. My mouth dried up. I felt light-headed. This creature was weak, and confused, and more? Yes, surely. How much more though?

Curse these bites, my grip had tightened in reaction so I let my fingers drop away. I didn’t want my tougher skin to mark that silk-thin whiteness.

The lips parted. A tiny frown formed between the arched brows. ‘Are you… a vision? Or a nightmare?’

Faint, and husky. I doubted anybody else had heard him. ‘Call me either one too loud, they’ll cut your tongue out,’ I said softly.

He just looked back at me with those eyes. ‘No,’ he whispered. ‘Real..?’ His gaze lowered to the shackles at his wrists. ‘I saw this. I saw…’ Again his voice tailed off to silence. Then the white chest heaved, one huge, shuddering gulp of air. The tethered arms began to shake.

‘Call my slave master,’ I ordered. Someone scurried.

The world returned around me. Despite being shorter Rag was practically breathing down my neck. Indecent. I was stung to comment. ‘Put your tongue away, eh, uncle? If you’ve seen enough, I’ll shut this up again.’

Rag recovered with a warrior’s speed of reflex. His mouth did close, but only to reopen. ‘Aye, best keep it hid. There’ll be enough laughter as it is.’

He didn’t believe Sheshman, then. Not unreasonable, I conceded. To myself, not out loud. How in all the world could any male stay innocent this long past adult? But that face, those eyes. I’d never seen such innocence, even in youths whose balls weren’t dropped yet. And his words… My thoughts rebounded. If it was an act, it was a damn good one. And if that was so, I’d see both Sheshman and his slave regretted their performance. I shut the cage and turned. ‘I’ll weigh your claims,’ I said curtly.

Sheshman backed away as Medishel bustled forward, my half-Chi slave master, a swollen, amber echo of my own appearance in a red and yellow outer robe and broad yellow sash.  When I jerked my head he pulled at one door of the cage, peered in cautiously, then backed his head out and latched the thing up again. His manners were as excellent as ever. Not a word, not a look, just a polite, ‘My prince?’

‘Take him away, Medi. See if he’s ill, or drugged. Best keep him separate, in case, until I give you other orders.’

Medishel bowed, caught the key and waved to Sheshman’s slaves. The cage was carted off, which caused a lot of heads to turn, and furtive whispers. I wondered sourly how long it would take for the rest of the tale to spread. Have you heard the latest? Sheshman actually claimed he’d found a twenty-year-old virgin. Gods, how many of these visiting lords would ask each other if they had a complete fool for a prince, if he was even tempted to believe such rubbish.

But in my heart I think I always believed, right from the start. Some things can’t be weighed, or measured, can they?

Categories: Paranormal Romance | Tags: , | Leave a comment

LET US PLAY, A ROCK ‘N ROLL LOVE STORY by Karen Magill

Title of Book: Let Us Play, A Rock ‘n Roll Love Story
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Author: Karen Magill
Author Website: www.karenmagill.com
Publisher: Lulu Press Inc
Date of Release: October 2006
ISBN: 10:1847285198, 13:978-1847285195

BUY LET US PLAY BY KAREN MAGILL HERE!

SUMMARY:
In an uncertain time in the future, rock and roll music has been banned. Kaya More uses second sight to lead a group of rebels to bring it back. Their quest leads them from the streets of New York City to the peaks of the Canadian Rockies to the beaches of California. The pursuit heats up as combatants switch sides and the world joins forces as the rebels find adventure, music and love.EXCERPT:

PROLOGUEPeople ran from the concert hall, screaming in reaction to the horror they had just witnessed. Their clothes bloodied, assorted limbs broken and their minds numb by the massacre they had just seen, many fought their way to the ambulances that were just pulling up.

Appearing much calmer than the fleeing concert attendees, several identically black clad individuals emerged holding various assortments of weapons. Those waiting for services of the ambulance attendants cowered at the sight of these imposing figures and anyone who would manage to retain their sanity knew that they would never forget this horrific night.

In addition to their confusion, the earth began to shake violently. Buildings shook on their foundations; people struggled to maintain their balance as they attempted to assist those in need. Suddenly, a crevice in the ground began to form around the auditorium. Rapidly, it widened and the concert hall began a slow descent. Before the horrified eyes of the onlookers, the building slowly disappeared from sight and the ground sealed itself around the buried structure.

The earth stilled but was replaced by a forceful wind that seemed to approach tornado proportions. The gusts were so strong that people were thrown from where they stood and deposited a few feet away; trees were uprooted and vehicles were overturned. Sand from the nearby beach was lifted by the winds and created a sandstorm that was blinding.

As quickly as this chaos had started, it stopped with what many later claimed sounded like a great sigh. Two events of importance happened that night: Rock and roll music ended and a legend was born.

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Categories: Paranormal Romance | Leave a comment

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