Title: Sea Lover
Author: J.K. Pendragon
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 06/28/2021
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, MM-trans romance, merman, fisherman, interspecies, fantasy
Title: Sea Lover
Author: J.K. Pendragon
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 06/28/2021
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, MM-trans romance, merman, fisherman, interspecies, fantasy
DescriptionIan is happy with his life in a remote Canadian fishing town, where he has only the sea and his fishing crew for company. People say being alone is terrible, but he’s never had any problems with it. Then his peaceful life is thrown into upheaval when he finds an injured merman washed up on the shore. With no idea what else to do, Ian takes the merman home and nurses him back to health. But as he helps S’mika heal, a bond begins to form, and Ian starts to wonder if maybe there is more to life than being alone…
ExcerptSea Lover J.K. Pendragon © 2021 All Rights Reserved He found the merman on the beach as the sun was setting orange over the horizon and the waves were turning a deep green with foamy, silver tips. The tide was going out, and every time the waves washed over the body lying prone in the surf, they took swirls of dark blood with them. Ian’s first thought was that it must be a seal, injured and washed up on the beach. He resolved to come back in the morning, drag the thing up to his cottage, and burn it so it didn’t rot and stink to high heaven for the next couple of weeks. But as he got closer, another wave washed in and rolled the figure up and over, so that it was lying on its back. As it rolled, Ian saw a long, spindly arm drop to the side and a mess of shiny, black hair. He dropped the net and tackle he was carrying and ran, his heavy fishing boots sinking into the sand and catching on the rocks and seaweed as he sprinted towards the figure. He fell to his knees at the man’s side as the waves washed up over his body once more and was distracted for a moment, frantically checking vitals before he glanced over and saw the tail. Ian sat back on his knees and gave a weak laugh. It had to be a joke. Some very realistic art project that had befallen unfortunate circumstances. But then the figure breathed and convulsed forward, coughing and spitting. Ian stared as the man, or boy—he didn’t look older than twenty—frantically pulled himself over onto his side and pressed his head to the sand, gagging. Then his face tightened, and he made a keening, painful noise, before glancing down at the thick, blubbery, black tail. Without thinking, Ian lunged forward. “Don’t move,” he said hoarsely, and the boy looked up at him, his dark eyes showing no sign he understood what Ian was saying. His hair and skin were both dark, too, and Ian wondered briefly if the tail was some sort of cultural attire. Or maybe there was a movie filming in the area that he hadn’t heard about? Then he decided that it didn’t matter, because the boy was obviously badly injured, and he needed to get whatever it was off. He reached for his knife at his side and swore when he realised he’d left it in the bag with his tackle. “Shit. Lie back.” He gently pushed on the boy’s shoulders so he understood. The boy complied, lying back with another whine of pain as Ian moved his hands down his torso, desperately trying to find the place where the brown skin met black pelt. He couldn’t. “What is this?” he asked, flabbergasted. “How do I get it off?” He glanced up in time for the boy to make a twisted face. The boy opened his mouth, obviously frustrated, and let out another high-pitched cry, followed by a noise that was halfway between a growl and a bark. Then his head whipped back, and he convulsed again, bringing the full weight of his tail up, and Ian saw the injury—a gash, deep enough to cut through the muscle and possibly tendons. It was difficult to see the depth of the injury, because blood was gushing up out of it as he thrashed. The blood spattered Ian in the face, and he wiped at it, stunned. This was not normal. Being a fisherman meant he had to be able to handle himself in tense and stressful situations, and usually he was great at it, but this…? This was something else. “Hey,” he said sharply as the boy writhed on the blood-soaked sand, obviously in terrible pain. “You need to stop moving. You’re only going to make it worse. Do you understand me?” He didn’t know what he was going to do. He couldn’t possibly carry him, and trying to move him would only make things worse. He had his cell phone on him, but there was absolutely no reception out here. He should go and get help. Get his truck and drive it into town, letting emergency services know. But what would they do with something like this? Ian stared at the limp tail on the sand, blood gushing out of the warm, velvety, and obviously very real tail. His mind was in a fog, and all he could think about were news crews and scientists and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The boy was looking up at him now, his eyes glazing over a little. “I-I’m gonna be back,” Ian stammered, standing jerkily. “Stay here.” He ran the rest of the way home, not bothering to pick up the net and tackle he’d left on the ground, not letting himself think about anything until he’d jumped up into the seat of the old Chevy pickup and revved the engine. He stared at his wild eyes in the review mirror for a moment, wondering if he was going crazy. Then he put the truck into gear and screeched out of the driveway. The seal-boy wasn’t moving when he got back. Ian drove the truck up next to him on the beach, tires skidding in the soft sand, and jumped out to check on him. His eyes were shut, the silvery sand coated his face and body, and his skin was cold and clammy. But he was still breathing. Ian got up again, pulling his heavy raincoat off as he lowered the tailgate. Then he went to the boy and wrapped the raincoat around him, moving his arms into position and rolling him onto the coat and into a bundle. He staggered a little as he lifted. He was strong, but the boy was deadweight, and the tail was ridiculously heavy. The bleeding seemed to have slowed, and Ian hoped it wasn’t because he had bled out completely. He dropped the prone body onto the tailgate and jumped up to roll him onto his back again, checking for vitals. He was still alive, breathing shallowly, but Ian didn’t know if he was going to make it. Normally, he’d apply a tourniquet to the limb, but in this case, that didn’t seem to be an option. He swore and pulled the tailgate shut, jumping over the side of the truck bed and hurtling himself into the cab. He tried to drive carefully, but he knew it wasn’t going to matter how gentle the ride was if the boy bled out before Ian could get at him with his medical supplies. The sun had set completely by the time he pulled up to his cottage, and the porch light flicked on as he hurriedly unlocked the door and let himself in, swatting at the mosquitoes buzzing around him. He grabbed at the old striped couch, dragging it around so it could be easily accessed from the door, and then rifled through a cupboard, pulling out the old, dusty first aid kit. When he got back out to the truck and lowered the tailgate, the boy was awake again, staring at him with glazed, frightened eyes. “Come on,” said Ian in what he hoped was a gentle voice. He reached out and slid the raincoat forward, hauling the whole bundle up into his arms. The boy groaned, his voice sounding more human now, and distinctly pained, and Ian carried him into the house. He kicked the door shut behind him and deposited the boy as gently as he could onto the couch. His hands were bloody again—Ian noticed as he fumbled for the light switch, illuminating the room with dusty, orange light that definitely wasn’t bright enough. Next to the couch, there was an old end table with a lamp, and he grabbed for it, fumbling to knock the shade off and set it up next to the tail, which was drooping off the couch and oozing blood onto the hardwood floor. “Okay,” he said as he reached for the first aid kit. “It’s been a few years since med school. How many…five? I dropped out too.” He gave a hoarse little laugh. The boy was looking down at him through groggy eyes, and Ian knew he didn’t understand a word he was saying. But talking helped. “Not that I have any idea how to patch this up anyway,” he continued, pulling on his gloves hurriedly and opening a package of sterilized wipes. “I was trained to treat humans. And I’m guessing you are not that. This is gonna hurt, by the way.” A morphine drip would be nice. So would a sterile hospital bed. But this was as good as it was going to get. The boy hissed as Ian wiped the wound clean, and when Ian pulled out a needle and cotton thread, he lifted his arms and tried to sit up. “No!” said Ian sharply, raising a hand, and the boy sank back down, his eyes wide in a mixture of anger and fear. Ian finished sterilizing the needle and thread and held them out to show him. “I’m going to stitch the wound shut. I need to, okay? Or it’ll keep bleeding.” The boy didn’t look reassured. “I’m trying to help you,” said Ian firmly, eyes locked with him. “You need to trust me.” “Trust me,” repeated the boy, so accurately that, for a moment, Ian thought he must speak English after all. He looked like he was thinking hard, which must have been difficult, considering the amount of pain and blood loss he’d suffered. Then he glanced down at the wound and back at Ian. Ian took that for permission and started stitching. The boy was quiet as he did it, and Ian was worried he’d fallen asleep again. It was best he stay awake, at least until Ian could get some water into him. But when he glanced up, the boy was staring at him, flinching only slightly as the needle pierced the flesh. “I’m Ian,” said Ian, touching his hand quickly to his chest. “I-an.” “Ian,” said the boy, emphasizing the an a little too much. His voice was clear, and surprisingly deep, considering how young he looked. “Sss…” he said, and broke off into a hiss as Ian tightened and tied off the first stitch. “S’mika.” “Smika?” mumbled Ian, wiping away a trickle of blood and pulling another stitch through. The boy frowned at him. “S—” He made a glottal stop. “—mika.” “S’mika,” said Ian, and laughed a little at how ridiculous this was. “What are you, S’mika?” S’mika rattled off something in a language that Ian was absolutely certain he’d never heard before, but S’mika’s tone suggested he’d said something like “I can’t understand you, dumbass.” Ian shook his head and continued working, his hands thankfully steady. S’mika groaned and lay back, and Ian quickly tied off the last stitch and moved up to check on him. He was shaking, and the skin around his mouth was dry and crusted white. A hand on his forehead confirmed he was clammy and feverish. “Damn it,” said Ian, and he stood and rushed to the sink to pour a glass of water. He brought it back to S’mika, who looked at it, confused. “Like this,” said Ian, taking a drink of the water. After watching carefully, S’mika took the glass in shaky hands and brought it to his lips. He made a face at it, as if it wasn’t acceptable somehow, before downing the whole glass and passing it back to Ian. Ian took it, feeling like he was the one in shock, and went back to bandaging the wound. “We need to elevate your…um, legs,” he said, once he’d finished taping the gauze to the soft pelt. “It’ll help with the blood loss.” S’mika looked annoyed that he was talking so much, so Ian shut up, and S’mika let him lift his tail gently onto the arm of the couch. He’d never been too up close and personal with a seal, but he was pretty sure this was a seal tail. It was thick and blubbery, ending in two stunted flippers with claws. “I must be high out of my fucking tree,” he muttered. “Maybe I’ll wake up in the morning and this’ll all have been a really weird dream.” He glanced at S’mika to see that his eyes were closed again, and Ian decided to leave him like that. If he died in the night…well, Ian would deal with that if it came to it. He suddenly felt incredibly tired. He’d been up before dawn and pulled a long day, and although he’d just celebrated his twenty-ninth birthday a month ago, he was starting to feel the wear and tear of hard living in his bones. “I’m going to bed,” he said, gesturing at the door to the bedroom. “Call me if you need me.” S’mika just looked at him, eyes heavy, but reassuringly a little more alert. “Ian,” he said, and Ian supposed that meant “Thank you.”
Meet the AuthorJ.K. Pendragon is a Canadian author with a love of all things romantic and fantastical. They first came to the queer fiction community through m/m romance, but soon began to branch off into writing all kinds of queer fiction. As a bisexual and genderqueer person, J.K. is dedicated to producing diverse, entertaining fiction that showcases characters across the rainbow spectrum, and provides queer characters with the happy endings they are so often denied. J.K. currently resides in British Columbia, Canada with a boyfriend, a cat, and a large collection of artisanal teas that they really need to get around to drinking. They are always happy to chat, and can be reached at email@example.com.
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Author: Brenda Murphy, Megan Hart, Fiona Zedde
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 06/07/2021
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, romance, paranormal, BDSM, lesbian, demon, blood magic, D/s relationship, sex club, spirit, witch, hemomancer, Rosh Hashanah, established couple, reunited, demi-goddess
DescriptionHaunted? Hunted? When you need a safe place from disaster, heartbreak, or gods trying to break you and drain your blood… come to Sanctuary. It’s New York’s most exclusive club for magical beings and the backdrop of three sexy stories from three award winning authors. We Choose to Be by Megan Hart Love is in the air…and the blood. When hemomancer Hadassah meets the woman of her dreams, she has no idea that Yael is actually a blood demon. Is it only the draw of Hadassah’s talents that brings Yael into her bed? Or is there something more. Something that could last. What is love, after all, unless it’s bound by blood? Sanguine Faith by Brenda Murphy After a messy break-up leaves Laurel homeless and unemployed, she accepts her great-uncle’s offer of a townhouse and a job. When a seductive spirit trapped in the town house offers Laurel a means of escaping the life her uncle has planned for her, she learns that free does not mean without cost. Promises Made by Starlight by Fiona Zedde Abandoned by her wife years before and left devastated, Izzy has recently lost nearly everything else. Her credit is abysmal, she’s underemployed, and her successful best friend treats her like a charity case. But when her wife reappears, breaking her heart all over again, Izzy finds that not everything is as it seems. Blood gods walk the earth, and the one she once welcomed into her bed is back—ready to reclaim what’s hers.
ExcerptLove, Blood, and Sanctuary Brenda Murphy, Megan Hart, Fiona Zedde © 2021 All Rights Reserved From Sanguine Faith The rap on the car window rattled the glass. Laurel started and slammed her knee into the steering wheel. She cursed softly as she jabbed the window control button. The demon was dressed as a policeman. He wore dark glasses and his beefy hands rested on his thick duty belt nestled between the pepper spray canister and his pistol holster. A slight glow from a pouch near his hip was the only clue to his true identity. Huffing out her frustration at the window’s lack of response, Laurel shoved open the car door. “You okay?” The officer leaned closer and peered into her face. His feet were squarely inside the circle of salt Laurel had spread around the car the night before. “Yeah.” Laurel cleared her throat. “I’m okay.” “You can’t sleep here.” He gestured to the street lined with ancient brownstone townhouses and graffiti covered buildings. “It’s not safe.” “I’m sorry—” Laurel wiped her hand over her face and squinted at the officer’s name badge. “—Officer Sullivan, is it? I worked a late shift and didn’t feel safe driving anymore. I pulled over here to catch a nap.” “Stow it. I passed this way last evening, and you were parked here. Your car hasn’t moved.” He leaned closer and removed his sunglasses and slipped them into his shirt pocket. “I know your uncle.” “Great-uncle.” Laurel stared at his face and inhaled sharply. His eyes were light gray rimmed with red, her image mirrored in their shallow depths. His practiced glare was that of an experienced centurion. Laurel shivered under Sullivan’s gaze, unable to look away from the magical enforcer. He was bound to her clan, sworn to serve and protect. Loyal to a fault, willing to die for the family. Her great-uncle had a legion of centurions, all more than willing to aid and abet his less than legal business dealings. “Is that so? Why are you here? What do you want?” Laurel pressed her lips together and rolled the hem of her shirt between her fingers. Officer Sullivan leaned down and spoke softly. “You’re royalty in our world, Laurel. He know you’re sleeping in your car?” His melodious tones seeped into her body as he used the old language, the language of secrets, curses, spells, and death. Laurel suppressed her shudder. “My roommate kicked me out.” She scrubbed her hand over her face in an attempt to hide the lie. “It was sudden.” The centurion straightened and pursed his lips. He drummed the fingers of his hand on his holster. “All right, Laurel, if that’s how you want to play it. You need to discuss this with your great-uncle. If you don’t, I will. I don’t want to find you sleeping in your car again.” He tilted his head. “You may not have inherited your family’s abilities but you’re still family. We take care of our own. I can’t spend my nights watching you sleep, keeping watch for the Orions.” Laurel gripped her keys tightly. Orions. The hunters. So many missing. So many gone in the blink of an eye, their bloodless and mutilated bodies found months or years later. Or worse found still smoldering, their mouths open in voiceless screams. She had taken a chance last night, but after walking in on her girlfriend eyebrows deep between their neighbor’s legs she had stuffed her car full of what it would hold and fled. “I’ll be safe.” She lifted her shoulders and let them fall, straightening her posture before she settled her hands at nine and three on the steering wheel. “I’ll talk to him today.” Officer Sullivan stepped back, smearing the salt of the circle she had spread around the car. He pointed at it, lifted his chin, and smirked. “Seriously? It doesn’t work unless you infuse it with energy.” Laurel inserted the keys into the ignition. “I know.” She looked away from her feeble attempt to protect herself and his smirk. After snapping her seatbelt in place, she waved at him and closed the door. She banged her hand hard on the steering wheel when the telltale click-click-click of a dead battery echoed in the car. “Fuck me.” Officer Sullivan opened her door. “Come on. I’ll give you a lift.” Laurel chewed her lip as she looked down at her paint-stained black T-shirt and tatty jeans. “I can’t go like this.” Officer Sullivan rapped on the top of the car. “Get out. Now. I don’t have all day to deal with you, Laurel. And it’s not worth my life to leave you here with a broken-down car.” He stepped back and crossed his thick arms. “Do I need to assist you in exiting the car?” Laurel shivered. She had experienced a centurion’s assistance just once and the memory of it still woke her at night. She trembled and wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans. “Let me grab my backpack.” “Good choice.” Laurel gathered the few things she didn’t want to leave in the car. After jamming her sketchbook next to her ancient laptop in her bag, she zipped the top closed and grabbed her hooded sweatshirt from the backseat before she exited the car. “You hungry?” “I’d really like coffee. I can’t talk to Great-uncle Marcus without some caffeine on board.” “Come on, I’ll buy you breakfast.” “Why’d you let me sleep there last night if you were just going to take me to my uncle today?” “I didn’t want to wake you.” Laurel glanced at Officer Sullivan walking beside her. “Thank you.” “No problem. To serve and protect. Even if it’s from yourself.” He held the car door open, and she slid onto the cool leather seat. She settled her backpack between her feet and pulled on her black hooded sweatshirt. The car shifted to the side as Officer Sullivan entered and levered his bulk behind the wheel. He waited until she had fastened her seatbelt before he started the car. Laurel’s gaze slid over the array of weapons lining the car. Magical weapons clipped into racks side by side with conventional firearms, their soft glow visible to Laurel. Able to see magic, unable to wield her own power, the last female of a clan stretching back eons, unwilling to assume her role as clan leader and unwilling to produce an heir, Laurel chewed her lip as the car shot forward bringing her closer to her great-uncle’s house. Laurel shifted in her seat and drummed her fingers on her knees. “You worked for my mom and dad, didn’t you?” “I did.” Laurel stared out of the window. A familiar ache settled in her chest. There were some things even magic couldn’t protect you from. The ratty buildings gave way to well-kept streets and high-rise buildings. The sidewalks were crowded with people scurrying to work and school. “Do you think the humans ever get it? Like, do they know about us? Really get it? Other than the ones we make consorts?” “Humans see what they want to see. If they ever understood how powerful supernaturals are, they would freak right the fuck out. And try to exterminate us. Again. All of us. Their unwillingness to see and believe is what keeps us safe.” He tapped the pistol on his belt. “And this.” Laurel shuddered as the car slowed and stopped. Officer Sullivan turned off the engine and preened in the rearview mirror a moment before he turned his head to face Laurel. “How do you take your coffee?” “Black. Unless it’s that dark roast crap. Then make it white as a virgin’s wedding dress.” Officer Sullivan’s loud guffaw exploded in the quiet of the car. “You got it.” He left the car. Laurel glanced at the tarnished Saint Christopher medal stuck to the car’s headliner and rolled her eyes. A group of humans rushed past, small children and their adults, animated and laughing, their voices muffled by the car window. The gentle ache in her heart blossomed into full-blown longing. Laurel blinked the grit of exhaustion from her eyes, leaned back against the headrest, and rehearsed the story she would spin for her great-uncle, hoping he would listen, knowing he would not.
Meet the AuthorsBrenda Murphy Brenda Murphy (she/her) writes erotic romance. Her most recent novel, Double Six, is the 2020 Golden Crown Literary Society winner for Erotic Novels, and Knotted Legacy, the third book in the Rowan House series, made the 2018 The Lesbian Review’s Top 100 Vacation Reads list. You can catch her musings on writing, books, and living with wicked ADHD on her blog Writing While Distracted. She loves sideshows and tattoos and yes, those are her monkeys. When she is not loitering at her local library, she wrangles twins, one dog, and an unrepentant parrot I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it. For a free short story, information on book signings, appearances, work in progress snippets, previews and sneak-peeks, sign up for my email list at: http://www.brendalmurphy.com/ https://www.facebook.com/brenda.murphy.75 https://www.instagram.com/quinbysideshow
Megan Hart writes books. Some of them use bad words, but most of the other words are okay. Some of them hit bestseller lists and win awards and some don’t, but that’s the way it goes. She can’t live without music, the internet, or the ocean, but she and soda have achieved an amicable uncoupling. She loathes the feeling of corduroy or velvet, and modern art leaves her cold. She writes a little bit of everything from horror to romance, though she’s best known for writing steamy fiction that sometimes makes you cry. Website: www.MeganHart.com https://www.facebook.com/
Fiona Zedde was born under the Jamaican sun but now makes her home in Spain. Since getting the writing bug, she’s published around thirty books and short stories, mostly about black queer romance, including the Lambda Literary Award finalists, Bliss and Every Dark Desire. Her novel Dangerous Pleasures received a Publishers Weekly starred review and was winner of an About.com Readers’ Choice Award for Best Lesbian Novel or Memoir. At this very second, she’s probably writing another book, and it has 100 percent chance of having queer romance and queer women in it. Her pseudo-healthy obsessions are French pastries, English cars, and Jamaican food. Website: www.fionazedde.com http://www.facebook.com/fiona.
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My friend Jodi Payne has a new book out, and it sounds great!
Mergers & Acquisitions, by Jodi Payne
M/M, Contemporary, Opposites Attract, White collar/Blue collar, set in NYC
New York attorney Teague Whitaker is so close to making equity partnership he can taste it. He’s spent two years cultivating a relationship with the Avenstone Group and he’s finally landed them, bringing in a big-money deal in a big-money industry.
Jason Kovacs is…from Jersey. He’s been a barista, a bike messenger, a third-shift stocker at D’Agostino. He tries out new jobs and quits them all the time, not because he hates them, but because he doesn’t love them. But that changes when he lands a job dancing at The Wiggle Room.
When Teague bellies up to the bar, Jason can tell he’s had a bad, bad day. Jason also knows money when he sees it, so he swoops in on the polished hottie, hoping to make bank. Stunned by the unexpected loss of his career-making deal, Teague is there to drink. He’s looking for a distraction, and chatting up the buff and pretty boy that just swiped the cherry from his whiskey sour is a damn good start.
Neither expects sparks to fly with one unplanned kiss, but that’s just the beginning of the unexpected for Teague and Jason. They’re from the same city, but they’re living in two different worlds. Their relationship may be unconventional, but if they can meet in the middle—halfway between Wall Street and Jersey—they just might make it work.
Jodi Payne takes herself way too seriously and has been known to randomly break out in song. Her men are imperfect but genuine, stubborn but likable, often kinky, and frequently their own worst enemies. They are characters you can’t help but fall in love with while they stumble along the path to their happily ever after. For those looking to get on her good side, Jodi’s addictions include nonfat lattes, Malbec and tequila any way you pour it.
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Series: Artemis, Book Three
Author: Mary Eicher
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 04/05/2021
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, Lit, sci-fi/fantasy, action family-drama, ancient aliens, good v evil, end of the world, astrophysicist, pope, refugees, war, four horsemen of the Apocalypse
DescriptionThe moment is rapidly approaching when humanity must choose its future. What appears a simple choice between love and fear is complicated by the desires of two opposing cosmic forces. Artemis Andronikos rushes to discover a message the ancients left in stone ruins around the Earth. Aided by her partner Lucy and the rogue astrophysicist Wolfgang Strang, Artemis assembles a team of brilliant young scientists to decode when, where, and how the choice is to be made. Convincing the former Harbinger children to grow beyond their Ivy League training and listen to their inner voices is the first step. Preparing them to accept a new version of reality proves more difficult. And Artemis must deal with an existential threat of her own; one that could separate her from her soulmate for eternity. Theories of consciousness and philosophy battle as the cosmos bears down. How does one select a future when everything one has been taught is wrong? When knowledge fails, only the gods of one’s own heart remain.
ExcerptRevelations Mary Eicher © 2021 All Rights Reserved The absence of a single speck of light in the night sky was hardly a catastrophe. Except to Dr. Wolfgang Strang. Mystified, the astrophysicist removed his reading glasses and rubbed his temples. Objects, even unexplained objects, did not simply vanish. Suspicious of the sterile numeric data, Strang set it aside and stepped into the yard to inspect the cosmos with his own eyes. The “great river,” as the Inca had called the Milky Way, floated serene and seemingly unchanged in the southern sky. But to Strang the universe was regrettably diminished, and he felt the loss deep in his soul. “Stargazing, Wolf?” Strang turned to find a tall, slender figure emerging from the shadows. “No, my dear. I am merely looking for an old friend.” He flashed a self-deprecating smile and accepted an affectionate hug in response. The astrophysicist offered his arm to his companion and noted how well moonlight suited her. The pale rays illuminated Artemis’s ebony tresses and lent a violet cast to her pale, intelligent eyes. “What causes your noctambulant wanderings this night, Temmie?” Artemis closed her fingers about his arm and gently nudged him to walk with her. “You know me, Wolf. I came to commune with the moon as usual.” Strang chuckled. “Ah yes. Artemis and the moon are legendary companions.” Echoing the small laugh, Artemis glanced at her friend, noting how the light deepened the lines at his eyes and accentuated the folds on his bristled cheeks. Strang was looking older of late, as if he were struggling with a burden grown too heavy. “What is it, Wolf?” she asked, pausing their leisurely stroll. “The object has vanished.” Strang motioned to the lower edge of the Milky Way. There, amid a plethora of unnamed bits of light, a single object had captivated him seventeen years ago. It was the birth star marking the moment the Harbinger had awakened and reality had vaulted into chaos. Artemis glanced at the familiar stellar formation Strang was indicating and shook her head. “You can’t possibly tell just by looking, Wolf. Perhaps it has merely dimmed once again.” Strang patted her arm. “No, no. My darling girl, I realized the object has never been visible to the human eye. I am referring to the latest information from the observatory. I assure you there is no mistake. The object is no longer there.” A chill skittered down Artemis’s spine. She had not expected a sign. The question of the Harbinger’s purpose had faded over the years. A generation endowed with precognition had reached maturity. Gifted. Blessed. Awakened with the ability to foresee events. To most, the Harbinger was considered an evolutionary gift to the human race. And Artemis had chosen to merely let it be. Allowing herself to cease the quest to understand the reason behind the Harbinger, she had put away her suspicions for a decade. She could feel apprehension in Strang as well. He shared her concern, she knew, just as it had been with the Harbinger’s mysterious awakening, the object’s sudden disappearance presaged an approaching danger. Artemis closed her eyes and willed a nascent panic to subside. Taking a calming breath, she lifted now darkened eyes to Strang and whispered, “Then it has begun.”
Meet the AuthorI live in Southern California with my two daughters. I have degrees in English and Psychology from the University of California and twenty plus years of writing experience from technical manuals to short stories. As an executive with a major computer firm, I managed customer documentation and field training and have traveled extensively. I have a passion for history, alternative theories about life’s mysteries life and dolphins. Find Mary on Facebook.
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Title: We Cry the Sea
Series: The Moth and Moon, Book Three
Author: Glenn Quigley
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 03/15/2021
Heat Level: 2 - Fade to Black Sex
Pairing: Male/Male, Female/Female
Genre: Historical Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, Action/adventure, Age-gap, Bears, Bartenders, Established couple, Illness/disease, Over 40, #ownvoices, Pirates, Sailors, Tattoos, Fishermen, Criminals, clockpunk
DescriptionAfter the explosive events of The Lion Lies Waiting, life has returned to normal for burly fisherman Robin Shipp. That is until the innkeeper of the ancient Moth & Moon approaches him with a surprising proposal, and an unexpected arrival brings some shocking news that sends Robin on a perilous journey alone. While he’s away, his lover, Edwin, anxiously prepares for the birth of his first child with his friend, Iris. Her wife, Lady Eva, must travel to Blackrabbit Island for a showdown over the future of the family business. Meanwhile, Duncan nurses an injured man back to health but as the two grow close, the island’s new schoolmaster makes his amorous intentions clear. Robin’s search for answers to the questions that have haunted his entire life will take him away from everyone he knows, across a dangerous ocean, and into the very heart of a floating pirate stronghold. Pushed to his limits, Robin’s one last chance at finding the truth will cost him more than he ever imagined.
ExcerptWe Cry the Sea Glenn Quigley © 2021 All Rights Reserved Chapter One Finding a gull in one’s bathroom has a way of bringing into sharp focus just what massive beasts they truly are. They certainly appear large when harassing people at the seafront, or circling overhead, but coming face to face with one in a domestic setting really shows them in a whole new light. It wasn’t actually using the privy, of course, though its demeanour suggested it could have if it wanted to. Rather, it seemed content to simply sit there and wait out the bad weather. It wasn’t until Robin Shipp approached that it began to caw and squawk furiously, flapping its wings with an air of indignity, as if protesting at him having the temerity to walk in without first knocking. Which, in all fairness to the gull, he had done, but then it was his lavatory and up till that point he’d never known it to be frequented by any type of wildlife whatsoever. Despite his name, Robin had little affinity for, or interest in, birds. Especially gulls. He found them pests, for the most part. He was a fisherman and spent more time than he’d like trying to shoo them away from his catch. This one in particular was known to him as the Admiral, one of a pair of seagulls who fought a never-ending battle for supremacy of the harbour. Robin stood there, in the whitewashed room, shouting at the bird to leave for a good five minutes before accepting it wasn’t going to be quite so easy. He slowly slipped off his woollen overcoat and held it open, advancing as cautiously as his enormous frame would allow, then flung it quickly over the toilet. The gull was not amused, nor was it shy in expressing as much. After some kerfuffle, Robin managed to bundle it up in his coat, fearful the whole time of injuring its wings. He didn’t like gulls, but he’d never be needlessly cruel or violent towards them either. He wrestled the creature out of the room, across the narrow hall, and into his bedroom. The doors to his balcony were open. The method of admission, he suspected. He shook his coat open and the gull tumbled out, mewing loudly, before plodding to the balcony and flying away into the rain. It looked back to squawk at him one last time. An insult, Robin was certain. He shut the doors and sighed. He was late. He pulled closed the front door of his tall, thin house and trudged down towards the harbour. He tugged his flat cap low over his eyes though the weather was already beginning to ease. With his meaty thumb, he rubbed the palm of his left hand. Injured the previous year, on the night of the winter solstice, it had never properly healed. His hand was always stiff now, with a deep ache and a white, weblike scar. Rubbing helped as he found it seized up if he neglected it too long, especially in cold weather. He’d been advised by the local doctor to keep rubbing it as often as possible as it kept the blood flowing, or some such. Robin didn’t really understand the mechanics of it. He’d been eager to resume fishing after the worst of the winter season had passed but quickly discovered his efforts hampered by his injury. He tried to pass it off as a minor inconvenience, but deep down he knew it was serious. He’d been a fisherman all his adult life, and before. He’d started when he was a young boy after his father had died and he couldn’t imagine any other way of living, didn’t want to imagine it, even. The hurricane of the previous summer, just over a year ago, had turned his whole world upside down and while he couldn’t have been happier about it, the upheaval had been daunting. What he craved now more than anything was some peace and quiet. With his bull neck, jug ears, and hooded eyes, Robin had never considered himself an especially attractive man, so quite what the undeniably handsome Edwin Farriner saw in him, he couldn’t rightly say. Yet there Edwin was, sheltering from the rain against a market hall pillar, waiting for him. He was tall, though not as tall as Robin, in his early forties, so ten years Robin’s junior, with receding and close-shaved ginger hair. His smile never failed to light up Robin’s heart. “You’re late,” Edwin said. “He won’t be happy.” “Ho ho! When is ’e ever ’appy?” The rain stopped and the clouds broke. They stood gazing at the roof of the Moth & Moon, shielding their eyes from the midday sun. Atop the enormous inn, workers hammered nails and sawed wood. A framework was coming together—six sided and spacious enough to comfortably fit ten men. Robin pulled his cap lower and cupped a hand around his mouth. “Oi! Duncan!” His deep voice carried clear across the little harbour. “Time to eat! Come on!” From the rooftop, Duncan Hunger waved and began to climb down the many ladders strapped to the rain-slick tiles. The Moth & Moon was expansive and ever-changing. A hunk of wood, glass, and lime wash, which seemed to regularly sprout fresh bay windows, bud whole new rooms, and blossom balconies. Its roof, or rather roofs, rose and fell like the sea—a tiled wave here, a slate swell there—and took some skill to navigate. Duncan grasped one of the numerous chimney stacks and used it to swing himself around to firmer footing. When his boots finally touched the ground, he shook raindrops from his coat. “You’re late,” he said. “Only a little!” Robin said. “I ’ad a visit from the Admiral.” “It’s all well and good for you two to swan up whenever the mood strikes you,” Duncan said, “but some of us have work to be getting on with.” Robin chuckled again. Duncan’s natural state was irked, and he never needed a particular reason to complain. He cleaned all the lenses in his unique spectacles with a handkerchief. Small, round, and fixed with multiple thin armatures, they were of Duncan’s own design. He was forever fiddling with them, setting first one lens in place and then another. Robin wondered if Duncan would be forced to add even more arms with even more lenses as he grew older. Duncan was Edwin’s age but a couple of heads shorter. He was squat, burly, with wavy black hair, long sideburns, and an expression that indicated he had somewhere more important to be, so if you wanted him to stay, you’d better make it worth his while. “’Ow’s it goin’?” Robin asked, pointing upwards. “Slowly,” Duncan said, fixing the spectacles back into place on his button nose. “We should have been finished with the basic frame by now. The others are dragging their heels.” “Nothing to do with you resetting the wood every ten minutes and telling everyone they’re doing it all wrong?” Edwin asked. “Whoever could have told you such a thing?” Duncan asked. “It’s a gross exaggeration and a terrible slight on my good name. Can I help it if I’m a perfectionist? I want this new bell tower to stand the test of time, to be…” Duncan trailed off and pointed out to sea. “That boat’s coming in a bit fast, isn’t it?” Robin turned and squinted before reaching into the pocket of his long, navy-coloured overcoat from which he produced a battered copper spyglass. He extended it to its full length. The glass was a touch foggy, but it was enough to determine a single occupant at the helm of the lugger. “Can you see who it is?” Edwin asked. “No,” Robin said. “I can’t see ’is face. But whoever ’e is, ’e needs to slow down or ’e’ll run aground.” Robin ambled down to the pier, quickly overtaken by the much sprightlier Edwin and Duncan. All three men frantically waved their arms and shouted, trying to alert the sailor to the danger. The sailboat began to turn, taking it away from the harbour and straight towards the headland. Straight towards the rocks. With a terrifying crack that landed like a lightning strike, the boat splintered against rocky outcrops, and its occupant was flung into the water. Without a moment’s thought, Robin ditched his cap, overcoat, and jumper. He hopped around, pulling off his boots, before diving into the sea. Edwin followed suit. They splashed about in the choppy waters, unable to find the man. “Robin!” Duncan said. “Over there! To your right! No, the other way… Starboard, man! Starboard!” Robin kicked his massive legs furiously to avoid being dashed against the rocks himself. With one deep breath, he dived beneath the surface to search where Duncan had indicated, but there was no sign. Underwater, Edwin was pointing furiously. Robin turned to find the figure of a man floating limply. Together, he and Edwin grabbed the victim and brought him to the surface. Robin’s lungs were burning, and he gasped for air. Once ashore, they lay the drowning man on his back. He was breathing and coughed up some seawater. Blood poured from his left eye, dying part of his white beard crimson. He was huge, as big as Robin himself. A crowd gathered around them. Robin brushed the man’s lank hair away from the wound. “Easy, easy,” Robin said. “You’re safe now. What… Wait. Vince?” “Hello, brother,” Vince said. His usually growling voice was weak and cracked. “Let’s get him to the inn,” Edwin said. “No,” Vince said, grabbing firmly onto Robin’s arm. “Too many people.” “We’ll take you to my ’ouse, then,” Robin said. “It’s not far.” They loaded Vince onto a borrowed cart and took him up the steep slope of Anchor Rise. He placed one huge arm across Edwin’s shoulders, the other across Robin’s, and together they all sidled through the blue front door of Robin’s home. Scarlet dots gathered on the black and white tiles of the hallway floor as blood dripped from Vince’s eye, yet still he stared at the oil painting on the upstairs landing. Once inside Robin’s front room, they put him by the fireplace and wrapped bandages around his head and leg. They would have to do until Doctor Greenaway could be summoned. “I didn’t recognise you under all the hair,” Duncan said. “Haven’t had much chance to get it cut,” Vince said. “Been busy.” “Too busy to visit us, like you said you would.” “Here now, aren’t I?” Edwin handed him a mug of water and Vince sipped it, then pawed at his throat, obviously in some discomfort. “How did you end up running aground?” Duncan asked. Vince sipped his drink again but said nothing. Robin frowned. “Vince? Did you ’ear ’im? What—” Edwin coughed and placed his hand on Robin’s arm. “Let’s just give him time to get his head clear. He’s obviously had a terrible shock.” Robin had only met Vince once before, around the same time he’d injured his hand. Before then, he didn’t even know he had a brother. They’d promised to stay in touch, and they did, after a fashion. A couple of short letters had been exchanged but nothing more. “Well, you can stay ’ere as long as you like, of course,” he said. “My ’ome is your ’ome.” “How’s he going to manage all those stairs with his leg the way it is?” Duncan asked. “You’d be better off staying with me, I suppose.” Vince growled something approaching gratitude. “Help me up,” he said. “You don’t ’ave to go right now,” Robin said, as he once more he let Vince lean on him. “Hallway,” Vince said. Robin guided him back out onto the black and white tiles. Vince pointed at the painting upstairs. “Who’s he?” “Oh, right, you never met ’im. It’s our dad, Captain Erasmus Shipp,” Robin said. “It were painted a few years before ’e died.” Vince shook his head. “Can’t be Dad.” “Why not?” “Because just this morning, I saw that man in Wolfe-Chase Asylum.”
Meet the AuthorGlenn Quigley is a graphic designer originally from Dublin and now living in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He creates bear designs for www.themoodybear.com. He has been interested in writing since he was a child, as essay writing was the one and only thing he was ever any good at in school. When not writing or designing, he enjoys photography and has recently taken up watercolour painting.
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Title: Dawn's Light
Series: Duskblade, Book One
Author: Shannon Blair
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 02/22/2021
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, Royalty, first time, sexual discovery, elves, goblins, duplicity, mercenaries, kidnapping, revenge, action/adventure, coming out, enemies to lovers, in the closet, slow burn, road trip
DescriptionMoranthus is an elf who has lost everything. With his lover dead and his career stagnating, he jumps at a chance to redeem himself by rescuing a human prince from the goblins hunting him—even if failure means death or eternal exile from his homeland. Gerrick, a human soldier who bears an uncanny resemblance to his prince, has always chosen duty over desire. As the sole parent of his young daughter, he needs the extra coin that working as the prince’s body double provides—even if it may one day cost him his life. When a case of mistaken identity puts the prince in the hands of a goblin raiding party, Moranthus’s and Gerrick’s paths collide. With winter closing in and miles of hostile goblin lands ahead, they must set aside their differences and work together to bring the prince home safely. Their deepening connection comes with a growing certainty that rescuing the prince may be fatal. Moranthus and Gerrick must each find a way to reconcile his heart’s desires with his homeland’s needs—or die trying.
ExcerptDawn’s Light Shannon Blair © 2021 All Rights Reserved Moranthus had spent the better part of a fortnight chasing his quarry along the Dawn’s Gate edge of the Ghostwood. His meager diet of chalky waybread and oversalted jerky did little more than take the edge off his hunger, and spending weeks on horseback had left him beyond saddle sore. His days blurred together like the colors of the glowstone he kept cradled in the center of his palm. Though it was his only reliable guide at the questionably mapped edges of this unfamiliar country, the strain of determining where each of its shades faded into the next, counting off one less mile between him and his ever-moving destination, left him with a near-constant headache. The wide, hilly landscape around him certainly didn’t offer much else to guide him on the rare occasions he glanced at it to ensure he hadn’t strayed too far from the Ghostwood’s edge in his search. Dawn’s Gate’s northern plains didn’t look so different from the southern steppes of Moonridge, his homeland, but in the absence of the bone-chilling winds that screamed across Moonridge’s southern steppes, the still air around him felt foul and stagnant, as though a dozen people had breathed it before him and sucked all the life from it. But Moranthus wouldn’t have traded any of it for the world. This was the first real hunt he’d seen in over a decade, after he’d made a pariah of himself by getting caught on the losing side of the coup that had killed his Patriarch and set his Patriarch’s illegitimate daughter on Moonridge’s throne. A few minor discomforts were nothing to complain about. Even the solitude came as a welcome change after finding himself at the center of attention in every human village he passed through. The adults gave him veiled stares and treated him with just enough politeness to make him feel unwelcome. Their children’s endless questions over what had made his ears so long and pointy and whether he’d gotten his purple skin from frostbite, of all things, made him feel like one of the framed butterflies his Patriarch had kept in his study. Moranthus wondered if they treated all elves that way. Or if they knew the shaved sides of his head marked his probationary status in Moonridge and didn’t want him trying to find a place for himself in their community. Not that anyone in Moonridge had treated him much better lately. * Just over two months earlier, he’d lounged on the narrow, rickety bed pressed against the left wall of his rented room, happy to be home after the latest in a series of jobs only marginally more interesting than watching snow melt. Beside him, his amethyst cameo of his former Patriarch sat in its usual place near his pillow. Moranthus absently rubbed the carved likeness of his Patriarch with his thumb, missing the days when his work left him feeling fulfilled instead of frustrated. In his service, Moranthus had spent his days tracking down fugitives, missing persons, and lost or stolen valuable objects. His Matriarch’s latest orders had gotten his hopes up by sending him in search of a messenger who had vanished en route to his destination while carrying sensitive correspondence. But when Moranthus found the messenger’s belongings and gnawed bones strewn about an abandoned wolf den, the “sensitive correspondence” in question turned out to be nothing more than a dinner invitation to the head of a minor noble household. Moranthus had been reduced to a glorified follow-up letter. The room’s low ceiling and windowless walls made him wonder if it had been part of an attic before its conversion into a living space. The cramped space around him—occupied by a table and single chair pressed against its right wall in addition to the bed and chest of drawers that lined its left—felt comfortable enough compared to the inns he stayed in on the road. After ten years, he hardly noticed the draft his poorly sealed walls let in. The fire he kept blazing in the small fireplace against his back wall kept the worst of the cold out anyway. The smell of blood from the butcher’s shop beneath him wafted through the gaps between his thin floorboards, mingling in a not entirely unpleasant manner with the crisp, sweet taste of the bowlful of plums he’d made into his evening meal. As he finished each plum, he tossed its pit across the room, where it bounced off his doorknob with a sharp ping before clattering along his floor. It made a completely unreasonable amount of noise, really. But that was the point. He’d done it as his latest mild act of revenge against the butcher downstairs, who had woken well before dawn that morning for what seemed to be the sole purpose of loudly and thoroughly fucking his wife. For the past several years, the butcher had made a point of waking Moranthus that way every morning after Moranthus returned from a mission and wanted nothing more than a good, long sleep. Moranthus still hadn’t decided whether the butcher did it as a backhanded reminder that Moranthus wasn’t getting any, or as a bizarre way of marking his territory. More than once, he’d considered pulling the butcher aside and explaining that, if he had any intention of running off with a member of the butcher’s household—which he did not—he would’ve been far more interested in the charming young fellow the butcher had recently brought in as an apprentice. If the charming apprentice in question hadn’t already taken up with the butcher’s wife, anyway. But pointing out that the butcher had an attractive apprentice and an unfaithful wife would probably get him banned from the butcher’s shop, and he didn’t want to go to the trouble of finding another reputable place to buy meat in the lower district of Aurora, Moonridge’s capital. Or a new landlord, for that matter. The first knock at his door caught Moranthus off guard. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a visitor. He’d halfway decided to dismiss it as a trick of the wind, or a child throwing rocks as an ill-advised form of amusement, when a second knock echoed through his room, followed by several more in rapid succession. Moranthus slid off his bed and retrieved the dagger he kept beneath his pillow before padding, barefoot, across the floorboards between him and the door, careful to avoid the ones that creaked. No one who’d come to his door unannounced was likely to have anything pleasant in store for him. Not anymore. He opened his door to find one of his Matriarch’s messengers standing outside, an official-looking satchel in his arms. In that moment, Moranthus wanted nothing more than to tell the bastard that his next set of orders could wait until he asked for them and slam his door shut again. Instead, he sighed and asked, “What do you want?” “I am looking for Moranthus. I’ve come to the wrong place, I take it?” The messenger frowned as he cast a disdainful glance over Moranthus. His eyes lingered on the shaved sides of Moranthus’s head and the thick stripe of red hair—the only thing separating him from a clean-shaven full exile—that ran down its center, woven into a disheveled, three-strand commoner’s braid. Outside of Aurora’s upper district, Moranthus rarely bothered with the elaborate, seven-strand affair that marked him as a veteran duskblade. In Lower Aurora, it only served as a marker of how far he’d fallen. “Not at all. You’ve already found him, in fact.” Moranthus flipped his dagger so its blade rested in his palm and presented its pommel—engraved with a stylized snowhawk, the duskblade insignia—to the messenger for inspection. The messenger’s face snapped into a toothy smile, oozing false cheer as he presented the satchel to Moranthus. “Excellent. I come bearing orders from our most esteemed Matriarch,” he said, each syllable accompanied by a tap of his well-fitted, overembroidered right boot. The steep, narrow streets that wound their way through Lower Aurora—slick with mud and whatever other refuse trickled down from the upper city—had left it and its twin covered in a layer of filth that would never quite wash off. It served him right for wearing that sort of footwear on the job. He was a mousy little thing, with pale, watery eyes set in a bland, but well-proportioned face, his ears perfectly pointed and skin a flawless shade of dusky lilac. Probably hadn’t set foot outside Upper Aurora before their Matriarch had sent him on this delivery, no doubt as a punishment of some sort. Moranthus would’ve much preferred the sight of the butcher, his face flushed ruddy-violet from exertion and his blood-stained apron draped over his ever-growing paunch. At least he’d earned his place in the world. “So I noticed.” Moranthus made no move to accept the satchel. The messenger blinked at him, brow furrowed in an almost comical display of confusion. “Would you like to invite me in then? I’d prefer to conclude my business here as soon as possible.” “Not particularly, but I take it I don’t have much choice in the matter.” “You don’t. There are certain…details our Matriarch insisted I explain to you in person. To prevent any misunderstandings.” Moranthus opened his door wide and gestured for the messenger to step through. “Let’s get this over with.” Before he lost his temper at being forced to offer hospitality to a highborn busybody, who’d no doubt leave grimy footprints all over his floor. The messenger made himself comfortable in Moranthus’s chair, his hands folded over the satchel on his lap. Well aware the messenger expected him to remain standing as a way of acknowledging that the messenger acted as an extension of their Matriarch’s will, Moranthus seated himself on his bed and leaned back against the wall behind him. The frustrated glare it earned him made him confident he’d chosen the right course of action. “So, what’s this all about?” Moranthus gave the messenger the most ingenuous smile he could manage. Best not to press his luck too far. The messenger took a deep breath, pinching the bridge of his nose as though he meant to fend off a headache. “Our Matriarch has, for reasons far beyond the comprehension of one such as myself, chosen to entrust you with a highly sensitive mission of the utmost urgency. I would advise against treating it with the same flippancy you have shown me thus far.” Moranthus sat up straight, eyeing the satchel with a sense of curiosity he hadn’t felt in years. “Is that why she was so adamant about you explaining my orders to me?” When they’d last spoken, their Matriarch had told him in no uncertain terms that he should consider himself lucky she’d spared even his life after he’d chosen his master so poorly. She’d then evicted him from his hard-won room in Aurora’s palace and made a point of restricting him to assignments well below his rank, most of which took him as far away from Aurora as possible. Putting this sort of trust in him wasn’t like her. “Because that won’t be necessary. I’m sure our Matriarch has told you all sorts of wild stories about me—most of which, in her defense, are probably true—but I assure you, I am perfectly capable of reading and understanding whatever’s in that satchel of yours.” “The orders themselves aren’t what she asked me to explain,” the messenger replied. “In fact, I couldn’t explain them if I wanted to. Our Matriarch felt that sharing the exact nature of your orders with me would compromise their security. They should be self-explanatory once you’ve taken the time to read over them.” “So, if I can’t ask you anything about my orders, what did our Matriarch want you to explain to me?” “That a great deal depends upon your success in this matter, and that you may find yourself in a more…favorable position upon your return so long as you do not disappoint her. She also instructed me to give you this, to be used in the unfortunate event of your failure.” The messenger retrieved a razor from a pouch on his belt and tossed it onto the bed beside Moranthus. Even tucked inside its wooden handle, its steel blade had a cold, sobering shine. “Does it clarify the gravity of the task that lies before you?” Using only his fingertips, Moranthus picked up the razor, casting a wary eye over the ceremonial carvings that adorned its handle. So, that was his Matriarch’s game. Either he returned home with news of his success, or he faced the grim choice he’d so narrowly avoided ten years ago: death or exile. Whichever he chose, the razor’s edge would suit his needs. “That it does. I suppose I’d best get to work,” he said. His voice sounded hollow, like a distant echo carried on the wind. “Indeed, you should. Sooner, rather than later, if you’ve any sense left in that space between your ears.” The messenger got to his feet and placed the satchel on Moranthus’s table. “This contains your orders, as well as everything you’ll require to carry them out. I wish you the best of luck. You’re going to need it.” With that, the messenger let himself out of Moranthus’s room, leaving the door open behind him. The autumn air it let in felt warm compared to the ice in Moranthus’s veins.
Meet the AuthorShannon Blair is a fantasy author with a fondness for elves, goblins, and general otherworldly goodness. Their love of fiction and storytelling drove them to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing from Regis University, where a short writing exercise spiraled out of control and eventually became their first novel. When they aren’t on a quest to make the fantasy genre a more LGBTQA-friendly place, Shannon can be found inventing whimsical backstories for the colorful crafts and vendors at the craft market where they work. They live on the outskirts of the Denver metroplex with their partner and two spoiled rotten cats.
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Title: Pyotra and the Wolf
Author: Elna Holst
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 02/15/2021
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, Paranormal, Russia, Arctic, oligarchy, shifters, FF romance, supernatural fiction, dark contemporary fantasy, Nenets, wolves, taiga, tundra, adventure, quest, fairy tale retelling, polar night, Northern Lights, cats, budgerigars
DescriptionFor the space of a breath or two, that wolf had entranced her, mesmerised her, made her believe—the impossible. And that was all it took. Nothing about this wolf was as it should be. Pyotra Nikolayevna Kulakova lives in a small Russian settlement in the northern Siberian taiga, where the polar night lasts for a good month out of the year and the temperature rarely reaches above freezing point. Pyotra’s days, too, seem congealed and unchanging, laden with grief, until her baby brother’s close encounter with a tundra wolf upends the lives of the three members of the Kulakov family in one fell swoop. Pyotra and the Wolf is a queer retelling of Sergei Prokofiev’s symphonic fairy tale, structurally influenced by matryoshka dolls and memory castles. This is a story of darkness and light, love and loss, beast and human. Whichever way the spinning kopek falls.
ExcerptPyotra and the Wolf Elna Holst © 2020 All Rights Reserved On the day that was to change the lives of the three remaining members of the Kulakov family forever, it was night. Pyotra Nikolayevna Kulakova lived with her grandfather and younger brother outside a minuscule Russian settlement in the northern Siberian snow forest, where the polar night lasts for a good month out of the year. According to the unsmiling face of the clock on the wall on Boris Ilyich’s izba, however, it was in the early hours of the morning that Pyotra pushed her weight against the door, caught between the dread of the freezing cold without and staying trapped inside, unable to procure sustenance for the two men under her care. Her brother, it might be argued, was too young to be called a man, and her dedushka was worn and grey, an old curmudgeon who had lost his eyesight, if not his wits. Pyotra loved them dearly, desperately, with the parentless child’s determination to cling to what has been left her. Boris, in turn, doted upon his grandchildren: Pyotra, the twenty-two-year-old, and Sergei, nearly twelve. Not that he ever told them as much. It was not his way. Pyotra sighed as the door refused to budge. A metre of snow had fallen while they slept. “Come help me, duckling, if you want to see the sun again.” Sergei made a noise through his nose. He sat by the fireplace, fiddling with his tackle, oiling his rod, making sure the lines were not tangled. It was a new favourite pastime of his. Lately, he had taken it into his head that he was to be the future provider of the family. Pyotra assumed it was a notion he had picked up at the village school. Their father had never been much of a provider; he had made sure he had his vodka, and that was that. Sergei was too young to remember. “There won’t be any sun for another week or so,” he replied, holding his rod up for inspection. “And stop calling me ‘duck.’” Pyotra hid a smile. She was by no means ready to let go of her private memory of Sergei taking his first waddling steps towards her, as their mother, Serafima, gasped, “Look, look who’s walking. My little duck!” It was all that Serafima Anatoliyevna had left her offspring; that and her grey-blue eyes, her peculiar-coloured curls, and her steely resolve to survive, to thrive, even in the most austere and unforgiving corner of the world. Except, she hadn’t. She had walked out into the Arctic night, only to be brought back by a search party a few days later. Parts of her, at least. Bones, hair, ravaged flesh, the gold wedding band by which she had been identified. Attacked by a pack of wolves was the universal verdict. Their father could not cope, it was likewise said; he drowned his sorrows in liquid comfort and went down with it. And then they were three. Pyotra Nikolayevna had never been able to forgive her parents for dying. But she could not give up on their little duck, bright-eyed and pink-faced, holding his chubby arms out to her as if she was the centre and epitome of existence. His arms were not that chubby any more, but still. At the table, Boris moved uneasily, his unseeing eyes directed towards the unflinching darkness of their one grimy window to the outside world. “Let it be, Pyotrushka,” he burred, winding his fingers through his beard. “There’s an ill wind blowing. It smells like…wolf.” Pyotra clicked her tongue. Shaking her head at her grandfather would be a waste of energy better employed in breaking out of the snowed-in log cabin. “For pity’s sake, Ded. This isn’t the nineteenth century, nor even the twentieth. The weather holds no omens to be deciphered. If you smell something off, it’s probably Sergei.” “Ey!” Her brother looked up at her for the first time, adorably affronted. Pyotra winked at him and turned to give the door another mighty shove. It cracked open a centimetre or two, a small avalanche of fresh snow tumbling in through the opening. “Bring me the spade and the bucket, duck,” she called over her shoulder to Sergei, her tone of voice forestalling opposition. As she started shovelling, clearing a passage out at less than a snail’s pace across a rugged cliff, Pyotra Kulakova sighed anew. This was going to be one long day, irrespective of the lack of sunlight. * It was past noon before Pyotra and Sergei—who eventually grew bored with his own resistance—had managed to come as far as to the communal road leading down to the village, which had been cleared by the local snow removal team. Pyotra took one look at Sergei’s blanched face and sent him back to fill up the samovar for Boris, while she proceeded down to the one shop within an eighty-kilometre radius. “I will be back in a couple of hours,” she told him, pinching some warmth into his cheeks. “Don’t do anything stupid, please.” “I’m not the stupid one.” Sergei stuck out his tongue and batted her hands away. “That hurts!” “Not as much as frostbite, let me tell you. Or better yet, let Dedushka tell you. That’ll keep you both occupied.” With a rude sign—another new trick they had that eminent educational institution to thank for—Sergei ran back to the alluring warmth of the hearth. Watching him go, Pyotra felt a sting of loneliness. Of loneliness, but also of the constant worry that came over her whenever she had to leave him, leave them both. Since her father’s earthly remains had been lowered into the ground to join her mother’s, two years after their first, gut-wrenching loss, Pyotra Nikolayevna had lived with a droning terror at the back of her mind, which she hadn’t any better name for than Things Could Happen. The namelessness of it only served to magnify her dread. Shaking herself, Pyotra straightened her headband torch, hiked her empty rucksack higher onto her shoulders, and set off.
Meet the AuthorOften quirky, always queer, Elna Holst is an unapologetic genre-bender who writes anything from stories of sapphic lust and love to the odd existentialist horror piece, reads Tolstoy, and plays contract bridge. Find her on Instagram or Goodreads.
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Series: Staying Afloat, Book Three
Author: Isabelle Adler
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 02/15/2021
Heat Level: 3 - Some Sex
Genre: Science Fiction, LGBTQIA+, sci-fi, spaceships/pilots, action-adventure, space battles, abduction, aliens, alien ships, bisexual, demisexual, military
DescriptionNo place is safe anymore. Matt and his crew know it all too well—and it’s especially true now as the war with the Alraki has reached the heart of Federation space and struck close to home. Suddenly, Matt is faced with a difficult choice. He has the opportunity to sway the tide of the war and rectify a past wrong by helping the Fleet obtain a groundbreaking Alraki technology. But to do so, he must risk his ship and the lives of his crewmates. With Matt’s archenemy, the infamous Captain Rodgers, still on the loose and bent on revenge, the Alraki aren’t the only ones who pose a deadly threat to Matt and the people most dear to his heart. With danger and betrayal haunting their steps, Matt and Ryce must find a way to save their friends even as sinister secrets from the past threaten to tear them apart. This time, the price of staying afloat might be higher than what Matt is willing to pay. Afloat is the third book in Isabelle Adler’s exciting debut series, Staying Afloat, and concludes the series. For best enjoyment, advise reading the books in order.
ExcerptAfloat Isabelle Adler © 2021 All Rights Reserved “Can’t wait to get the hell out of here,” Matt muttered to himself. A Federation space map slowly revolved on the large canopy screen, illuminating the darkened bridge with the light of distant stars. A red dot flashed sedately at the very edge of the map, marking their current location. The Elysium system was as remote as an inhabited corner of the galaxy could possibly be. Unfortunately, as it turned out, “remote” didn’t always mean “out of harm’s way.” Matt set the empty coffee mug on the edge of the console and leaned back, linking his hands behind his head as he considered the vastness of the galaxy, sprawled before him in all its unassuming majesty. At first glance, it appeared to hold endless possibilities, but as it turned out, they were unfortunately limited by constraints that had nothing to do with Matt’s dreams and preferences. Even the parts of the galaxy ostensibly under Federation control weren’t always safe for humans, and out of those, quite a large number of places weren’t safe for him personally. “Permission to come on the bridge,” a voice chimed over the speaker. Matt smiled and spun around in his chair to greet Ryce as he walked in. “So formal. Are you going to salute me next and call me ‘Captain’?” Ryce grinned back at him and leaned down for a quick kiss before sitting beside him in the copilot seat. “Now who’s being kinky? I thought adherence to a chain of command wasn’t your thing.” “It’s not. But it’d still be nice to get some respect around here.” “Knowing your crew, there’s not much chance of that,” Ryce remarked and cocked his head as he studied the map. “Have you been here all morning?” “Pretty much. And where were you? I didn’t see you at breakfast.” “I was playing chess with Val in the rec room.” “Really? Two geniuses playing chess? Could you be any more cliché?” “Neither of us is technically a genius,” Ryce observed, his eyes still glued to the screen. “Close enough from where I stand.” “Val and I have also tested the new power converter for the engine, and, as far as he’s concerned, it’s all systems go.” The digitalized starlight reflected in Ryce’s eyes as he pulled up the specs at the bottom of the screen, making Matt’s attention momentarily slip. “We can be out of this system the second you decide where we’re going. Have you?” Matt sighed and ran a hand through his hair. His auburn locks had grown a bit too long for his taste, but with everything that’d been going on lately—namely, his engineer having been kidnapped and his pilot having been roped into participating in deadly drag races—he hadn’t had a chance to cut them. “Not really. Since we’ve changed registration twice in one year already, there are only so many sectors where we could apply for a working permit, and a lot of the others are now a warzone. This whole war business is a real nuisance when you’re on the run.” “Do you think Griggs is still after us?” Ryce asked. “It has been rather quiet lately.” “I don’t know, but I’m not planning on hanging around much longer to find out.” Griggs, the black-market king of the Freeport 73 station, was the man behind their crew’s recent misadventures, and though they’d managed to strike an uneasy truce, Matt wasn’t naive enough to believe the crime lord would swallow the bitter pill of blackmail without some kind of payback. Having to—literally—piece his engineer back together was more than enough incentive for Matt to look for opportunities elsewhere. “Tony says we’re due a vacation, and for once, I tend to agree with her. We’ve all been through some tough shit in the past few months, and we all deserve a break while we have the cash to afford it. But before we go booking that luxury resort stay on Nova, I’d like to have all my bases covered.” Matt shook his head and looked at Ryce. “What about you? Is there anywhere you’d like to go, even if it’s just for a little while?” he asked gently, reaching out to stroke the other man’s hand. “Have you considered getting in touch with your mother?” “I don’t think it’s time for that yet,” Ryce said, looking away. “I’m grateful for the money she sent me, of course, but it still doesn’t mean she wants to see me.” There was something evasive about the way he said it, as if he wasn’t completely sure or completely truthful in his answer. “Okay,” Matt said slowly. It really wasn’t his place to pry or push Ryce into being more open about this particular subject; God knew, Matt was prickly about discussing his own family with other people. But he couldn’t help but feel a pang of disappointment. It was silly, really, but there he was, unable to hold back a frown because it implied Ryce didn’t trust him enough to share something a little more personal. But his disappointment was his hang-up, not Ryce’s. So instead of quietly sulking, Matt squeezed Ryce’s hand in reassurance. The feel of Ryce’s skin against his was still wondrous to him, despite them spending barely any time apart, his own private miracle. Not only because he still couldn’t quite believe a man like Ryce could love someone as flawed as him, but because after everything they’d been through, they were incredibly fortunate to be alive to enjoy their happy ever after. This was what he should be focusing on, not some imaginary slights he was learning to recognize as self-sabotage. Ryce smiled and covered Matt’s hand with his own, his cool touch sending sparks of excitement down Matt’s spine. “What are you thinking? You have that funny look on your face.” “Must be the aftermath of last night’s dinner.” Ryce scoffed. “You didn’t have to be quite so unequivocal about how bad you thought it was,” he chided, but there was a spark of laughter in his eyes. “I’m actually glad you suck at cooking. Just goes to show nobody can be perfect at everything. And if you’re not perfect, there’s hope for the rest of us mortals.” “Remind me to gloat with the same level of delight when I discover something you suck at.” “So pretty much anything?” “I can think of a few things you’re good at,” Ryce murmured, sliding from his seat and onto Matt’s lap in a fluid motion. Matt’s heart sped up. He pulled Ryce closer, greedily drinking the kiss as he closed his eyes and lost himself to the whirlwind of stars around him. He slid his hand over the front zipper of Ryce’s fatigues, but then Ryce withdrew abruptly, frowning, and touched the adapter on his temple, the one linked to Lady Lisa’s computer. “There’s an incoming call,” he said. “They’ll call later,” Matt said impatiently. Whoever it was, they could damn well wait another ten minutes. “We’re kind of in the middle of something here.” “It’s a military channel.” Ryce’s frown deepened, and he stood up to sit back in the copilot seat. “Damn it.” Matt sat up in his chair, pushing down on his arousal and frustration. His disdain for authority didn’t extend as far as ignoring contacts from the military. This could be Nora, of course, but his sister rarely used encrypted communications simply to check up on him. “Bring it on-screen.” The face that appeared in front of them wasn’t Nora’s, but it was familiar. The bright white background didn’t look like the bridge of a ship. Something beeped steadily just out of sight, jolting unpleasant memories of Matt’s several stays in medical facilities. “Commander Walker,” Matt said, trying to keep the worry out of his voice. “Not to sound rude or anything, but why are you calling?” Matt had been questioned ad nauseam by the man almost eight months ago, after their unfortunate stint on the Colanta-3 moon and the discovery (and subsequent destruction) of a Mnirian superweapon. He hadn’t liked Walker then, and he wasn’t thrilled to see him now, but he couldn’t deny he owed the commander his life after being saved from a slow, oxygen-deprived death in the depths of the alien bunker. “I’m contacting you on behalf of Major Cummings.” Walker sounded unusually subdued. The stress lines around his eyes and mouth seemed deeper, marring his otherwise classically handsome features. “I thought you should know your sister was gravely injured in the line of duty.” Ryce’s sharp intake of breath indicated that Walker had said something terrible, but for some reason, the moments stretched and stretched until the meaning of the words finally registered in Matt’s brain, hitting him with the force of a freight barge. “How gravely?” he asked, digging his fingers into the arms of his chair. Walker pursed his lips. “Enough for me to contact you on my own initiative,” he said, his voice clipped. “What happened?” Ryce asked while Matt was busy remembering how to breathe. “We were deployed back in the Sonora sector, and our ship, the Lennox, was on her way from Freeport 16 to the Sonora-11 outpost when we were attacked.” Even though they weren’t touching, Matt felt Ryce tense beside him. “Attacked? By whom?” “An Alraki frigate,” Walker said after a pause. “A torpedo took out a portion of the bridge. Major Cummings was lucky to be able to get out before the shields gave and the section was sealed off.” Matt and Ryce exchanged a look. Judging by Ryce’s startled expression, the same thought must have occurred to him, one that made Matt’s stomach, already tied in knots by the news, lurch with awful premonition. “I haven’t heard anything about the fighting reaching as far as Sonora,” Ryce said, frowning. “The military bases in this sector are designated mainly for training and redeployment.” “It hasn’t,” Walker said. “This was…an isolated incident.” “An Alraki frigate attacking a destroyer battleship in the heart of Federation space?” Matt said, barely recognizing his own voice for the strain. “That’s—” “Disturbing. I know,” Walker said. For the first time since Matt had met the man, he looked troubled, but a second later, he visibly pulled himself together, as stern as ever in his officer uniform. “By rights, I shouldn’t even be telling you this. But I know how much your sister cares for you, and I thought you should be here by her side. Before it’s too late.”
Meet the AuthorA voracious reader from the age of five, Isabelle Adler has always dreamed of one day putting her own stories into writing. She loves traveling, art, and science, and finds inspiration in all of these. Her favorite genres include sci-fi, fantasy, and historical adventure. She also firmly believes in the unlimited powers of imagination and caffeine.
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Title: Catch Lili Too
Series: Gamin Immortals, Book One
Author: Sophie Whittemore
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: November 16, 2020
Heat Level: 1 - No Sex
Pairing: No Romance
Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, Contemporary, paranormal, lit, asexual, demisexual, trans, lesbian, gay, siren, ghost, necromancer, shapeshifter, vampire, murder, coven, monster hunters, poltergeist, zombies, humorous
SynopsisLili is a Mesopotamian siren, and life as an immortal being is hard enough as it is. She’s asexual (which is incredibly difficult to reconcile if your entire point as a mythical being is to seduce people to death). She’s also struggling with depression from being alive for so long. Lili is an absolutely shoddy improv-detective trying to track down a serial killer so ruthless that it makes even her murderous soul uneasy. However, there’s something larger at work than just one serial killer. A small town is hiding an even deadlier, global-scale secret. Forget Area 51 conspiracies. This one beats them all. With magic. So, what better way to spice up her eternal life than being hired as a vigilante detective to stop a serial killer? Anything, literally anything. She’d trade her left lung to get out of this. Or, perhaps, somebody else’s.
ExcerptCatch Lili Too Sophie Whittemore © 2020 All Rights Reserved Chapter One A Scandal in Gamin The first killing had been easy. A little girl wandering the woods with a storybook under her arm. She hardly looked up; why would she? There were no tales of the killer in the wood. Not unless you count fairy tales, that is. And who believes in those until it is too late? She had books about fantastical heroes who go on quests to fight Evil that had a very purposeful capital E. She had colored in the pages of the black-and-white line drawings with pencils, with sweeping trains and glittering scales of armor. The pencils scattered on the ground, pages torn up and trampled underfoot. A halo around her perfect, little angelic head. For that alone, the killer decided, she deserved to die. She was simply too good for this world. She would never have made it anyway. It was a mercy. The second killing was more difficult. The killer, a little dirtier with a couple of claw marks on their face that would need to be fixed with a potion later, dragged their feet in the mud. The river was close; they could feel it. The sheer power emanating from it. Their tongue darted out between their lips, tasting it. Death. Destruction. Power. How long had it been since they’d felt it? The killer scaled the little inn while everyone was sleeping. The owners had tried to modernize the inn to become an unremarkable hotel, the kind with a front desk and plastic keycards, and a swimming pool with far too much chlorine. Unremarkable except for one guest they had staying there. A guest who would check out and be replaced by someone far more powerful than he. Not that he knew it yet. Who would know if they were in the presence of a god, anyhow? He wouldn’t, surely. He’d be dead before she arrived. The killer knocked on the door of room 217. They hadn’t forgotten their manners in all their years of living. A curious figure came to the doorway, pressing their bespectacled face to it. They were a poet, fingers stained with ink and mind humming with words. Black hair swept through like a Romantic in the eye of the storm. That’s the trouble with this town, the killer decided. Everyone believes in stories. That someone will try to save them. “Are you all right?” the poet asked. “If you’re looking for the receptionist, everyone’s already gone home…” The killer knocked the poet into the room and slammed the door shut behind them. A length of rope fell from their jacket. “Come mierda, you’re crazy! What do you want with me? I don’t have any money. I’m a writer. I’m broke.” The killer put their boot on the poet’s throat, uncoiling the length of rope. The poet choked and gargled and gasped in agony. “I don’t want your money,” the killer cooed. “I want your room. At first, I thought I would just leave a note for the next guest. A little calling card to say I’m here. But I found something better than paper.” They leaned down and traced the poet’s jaw with a gloved finger. “Blood and flesh, for example.” The poet died an unremarkable death for an unremarkable life. He’d most likely come back as a ghost, the killer decided. Violent deaths always got sentimental. But that would suit the killer just fine. He wouldn’t remember a thing, not in life or in death. The killer’s power made sure of that. Anonymity was annoying most of the time, but sometimes it was useful. “A very powerful immortal will be the first to find you. You’re my welcome gift to her. No other will find you until then…” The killer pressed upon the body, sealing the contract in blood, flesh, and skin. The killer yearned to look upon the immortal themselves, but that would ruin the ultimate plan. The immortal was so remarkable they might have been called a god if humans took kindly to that sort of thing. And nobody knew it yet, not even the immortal in question. That was why the killer did what they did. Killed anyone at all who might strike the immortal’s fancy. It was unusual, but that’s what the killer wanted. The killer, strangely enough, wanted to get caught. Just not yet.
Meet the AuthorSophie Whittemore is a Dartmouth Film/Digital Arts major with a mom from Indonesia and a dad from Minnesota. They’re known for their Gamin Immortal series (Catch Lili Too) and Legends of Rahasia series, specifically, the viral publication Priestess for the Blind God. Their writing career kicked off with the whimsical Impetus Rising collection, published at age 17. They grew up in Chicago and live a life of thoroughly unexpected adventures and a dash of mayhem: whether that’s making video games or short films, scripting for a webcomic, or writing about all the punk-rock antiheroes we should give another chance (and subsequently blogging about them). Sophie’s been featured as a Standout in the Daily Herald and makes animated-live action films on the side. Their queer-gamer film “IRL – In Real Life” won in the Freedom & Unity Young Filmmaker Contest (JAMIE KANZLER AWARDS Second Prize; ADULT: Personal Stories, Third Prize) and was a Semifinalist at the NYC Rainbow Cinema Film Festival. Their prior works include “A Clock’s Work” in a Handersen Publishing magazine, “Blind Man’s Bluff” in Parallel Ink, a Staff Writer for AsAm News (covering the comic book convention was a dream), and numerous articles as an HXCampus Dartmouth Correspondent. Ultimately, Sophie lives life with these ideas: 1) live your truth unapologetically and 2) don’t make bets with supernatural creatures.
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Title: Daughter of the Moon
Series: Tales of Inthya, Book Five
Author: Effie Calvin
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: November 9, 2020
Heat Level: 2 - Fade to Black Sex
Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA+, Mythical creatures, shifters, trans, royalty, war mongering, exile, gods, magic, student
SynopsisFour months ago, Netheia Isinthi failed to take her father’s throne from her older sister. After refusing to publicly support the new empress, she is banished to Ieflaria’s capital city, Birsgen, where she anticipates a long and uneventful exile. Klavida of Nalova is a student at the university established by Princess Esofi for the study of magic. She has come from the far north researching Talcia’s creatures—or so she claims. After a chance meeting brings the two together, Klavida wants nothing to do with the angry, ill-mannered princess. But when Netheia offers Klavida access to the royal library, Klavida decides she can tolerate her after all. As they spend time together, Klavida realizes that Netheia is intensely lonely and has never known genuine friendship. She becomes determined to show her that there is more to life than the pursuit of power and that a peaceful life of freedom can be more satisfying than ruling an empire. But Netheia’s patron goddess is not ready to accept that she has lost the Xytan Empire—and neither are Netheia’s most ardent supporters.
ExcerptDaughter of the Moon Effie Calvin © 2020 All Rights Reserved NETHEIA Netheia Isinthi supposed things could be worse. She could have spent the last three months in a prison cell rather than her own familiar rooms. She could be dressed in rags and manacles instead of a silk dress. She could be awaiting the headman’s axe instead of a meeting with the newly crowned empress. Outside the door stood four guards—too many for Netheia to fight, no matter how her blood sang at the thought of a challenge. To make matters worse, all her weapons had been removed from the room, even the well-hidden ones. Ioanna had always been good at finding hidden things. Netheia paced the room from end to end. Outside, rain fell softly, and a thin layer of silver mist blanketed the palace grounds. If she looked out the window, she could see more guards posted below. All the guards assigned to her were strangers, obviously hired on to replace those loyal to her. She wondered what had happened to them. Execution seemed unlikely, given Netheia still lived. Nobody tried to contact her, including her own mother. Perhaps she was similarly confined, but probably not. Most likely Enessa didn’t want to be seen associating with Netheia anymore—once the favored daughter, now a failure, a traitor. What would her father say if he could see them all now? Netheia spent most of her time exercising until she couldn’t move, finding the burn in her muscles familiar and reassuring. She examined her arms and legs every day, terrified the long confinement was destroying her body. What would everyone say if she emerged from her room as thin as Ioanna? They might even stop supporting her—for surely they still supported her? They were only biding their time, wise enough to not stand openly against the new empress now that the Order of the Sun was here to be her own personal army. Nobody answered her prayers anymore. Netheia swallowed and tried to push that thought away. She ought to be grateful for the respite, but instead found herself fantasizing about ways to win her patron goddess back, to prove her worthiness. The door opened, and Netheia turned to face the guards standing there. “The empress will see you now,” one said. Her fantasies often began this way, and always ended with Ioanna dead on the floor in front of her. In those fantasies, Netheia tore through the guards like they were made of parchment paper, and Ioanna put up less resistance than a rabbit might. But as she observed the guards now, she realized nothing would play out like in her imaginings. They would be on her as soon as the faintest glimmer of rust-red magic appeared at her hands. Netheia’s stomach churned, but she refused to allow them to see her distress. She lifted her chin and strode past them out of the room. * Ioanna Isinthi, firstborn daughter of Emperor Ionnes, sat on the carved marble throne that should have been Netheia’s. She wore a beautifully embroidered crimson-and-violet gown and a heavy golden crown on her head. Netheia had not been asked to attend the coronation, but the noise from the celebrations afterward had reached her rooms. On either side of the throne stood two paladins from the Order of the Sun, a man and a woman. The woman was some foreigner of no importance, but the man was Knight-Commander Livius. He had been exiled from Xytae about fifteen years ago, along with the rest of the Order of the Sun, after their refusal to fight in the emperor’s wars. After his death, the Order quickly reemerged to support Ioanna—almost too quickly. Netheia suspected her sister had been in contact with them long before their father’s death. “We have discussed the matter.” Ioanna glanced over at the knight-commander. “And we have decided to be lenient. You were led astray by the priestesses of Reygmadra.” Netheia wanted to object, but Ioanna went on. “Your actions have cost the empire valuable resources, and you nearly plunged us all into a civil war. But if you agree to help undo the damage you have caused to our nation, I will be lenient. All I ask is you give me your support, publicly. Our people must know we stand together. Will you do this for me?” “Yes,” said Netheia. Ioanna’s face fell. “You’re lying.” She sounded exactly like a disappointed child. “Netheia—” “Well, what did you expect?” snapped Netheia. “You think I’m going to sit back and watch you undo everything our father accomplished? You think I’m going to tell our people I’m proud of you for spitting on our family legacy? That I don’t know how weak you are?” “I was strong enough to defeat you,” said Ioanna. Netheia found herself with no retort. “Netheia, I didn’t want to do this, but you’ve left me no choice. I am sending you to Birsgen.” “What?” cried Netheia, shock momentarily replacing rage. They were sending her out of the country? “Do not argue. It is only a temporary exile. You will remain there until Xytae is stable again. As long as you conduct yourself appropriately, the Ieflarians will treat you as a guest, not a prisoner. Your movements will only be minimally restricted, and you will receive a stipend to live on. Do not throw away this gift, Netheia. We both know your sentence ought to be much harsher.” Ioanna paused, apparently wanting to give her sister the opportunity to speak. But Netheia had no words for her. “Perhaps this is foolish, but I hope that when you return, you will be more amicable to an alliance. I do not wish for us to be enemies all our lives. I know you are not ready to think of such a thing yet, but I would like you to reflect on it while you are away.” Netheia continued to stand in stoic silence. Ioanna rubbed at her forehead with one thin, pale hand. Netheia hoped their father’s generals were making her life miserable. The thought cheered her when she remembered how the army had been ordered to withdraw from Masim, undoing decades of progress in a matter of days. But really, Netheia had no idea what happened outside her private rooms. None of her friends were allowed to visit her, nor the priestesses of Reygmadra that had been her most powerful allies in the weeks after her father’s death, including Archpriestess Seia herself. She could only rely on what tiny details she managed to press out of the servants delivering her meals and whatever gossip she overheard from behind her door. At least, she hoped her friends were not allowed to visit her. What if they were deliberately distancing themselves? Netheia shoved the thought away, refusing to even consider the idea.
Meet the AuthorEffie is definitely a human being with all her own skin, and not a robot. She writes science fiction and fantasy novels and lives with her cat in the greater Philadelphia area.
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Antonia is a writer and a reader. She loves books, travel, art, photography, baking, pasta, and shoes.