Friday, July 21, 2017

For Readers and Authors - 5 Suggestions When You Attend a Booksigning

Posted by: Linda Mooney
It's that time of year! Authors and readers are attending all sorts of get-togethers. Whether it's your first booksigning, or one of many, here are a few tips and suggestions for both authors and readers. And, trust me, these are things I've learned first-hand.

Readers:
1. 
If you've read that author's work, and you enjoyed it, please tell them! Knowing that others appreciate their book(s) is what gives authors the inspiration to keep writing! You might be on the shy side (and they probably are too – many authors are notorious introverts but we do love to meet readers!), but a little conversation goes a long way

2. Tell the author what you like to read, even if it's "a little bit of everything". Or ask "What's your best-selling title?". Better yet, "What would you suggest for a person who's never read anything sci-fi (or other genre)?"


3. 
Don't be afraid to pick up a book and read the blurb. Or glance inside and read a page or two. Don't hesitate to ask for help, such as, "Do you have any shifters that aren't wolves?"

4. You can always ask for the author's business card or bookmarks so you can check their website at a later date, at your leisure. Sometimes authors also have little giveaway items like pens and candy, which they brought just to give away so please don’t hesitate to pick some up. The author will be happy you did!


5. Get autographs and take pictures! 

Authors:
1. Say "Hi." Make some kind of small talk. Try to avoid making the reader feel as if you're swooping down on them. Worse, don't make it appear as if you're ignoring them by reading your phone.


2. Give the reader/would-be buyer an inkling of the genres you write, including if any are sweet, steamy, erotic, etc. They may be open to trying something new.

3. Yes, money is tight, so you have to be choosy about your giveaways. I try to be practical (pens, notepads, lip balm) and try to come up with inexpensive items that readers will use and not throw away once they get home.

4. Be open to both cash and credit card sales. Don't restrict yourself to one form of currency. Price your books to avoid having to mess with change, and include tax in the price.

5. Mingle with the readers when you get the chance. Don't forget to thank the person(s) who make the event possible. And if it's at a hotel, take a moment to chat and be friendly with the staff. A little kindness goes a long way.

* * *


Now Available as an Audio Book!

KNIGHT OF DARKNESS
Sci-Fi/Urban Fantasy Romance
Word Count:  45.4K
$2.99 e / $9.99 p / $19.95 a


Narrated by L.J. Hofer
Length: 5 hrs, 27 min

Sorrow Knight knew that at any time the U'Nar would attack Earth, but he needed a few more days to come out of chrystasis before he could fight the deadly enemy. With his soul sword, Rall, he and the handful of other Surge Knights would gather wherever the enemy landed, and drive them off this world. A world with so many wonderful sights and surprises. A world that contained a woman named Rachel, who had captured his heart and his imagination, but who was forbidden to him by his laws.

Rachel Grohl often wondered about the skinny, dishwater-blond young man living in the apartment across the breezeway from her. His shyness, as well as his clean but well-worn clothes, tugged at her heart. They'd barely spoken a dozen words to each other since he moved in a few weeks ago, but she had to thank him for helping her the other day. Maybe asking him over to dinner would work.

They shared one dinner, one touch, and one kiss that led to one night of love. A love which could ultimately avert the total eradication of the human race.

Warning: Contains tiny men skirts, lasagna, human metamorphosis, glass table tops, IOUs, comrades-in-arms, bomb shelters, an invading alien force that will haunt everyone's nightmares, and two people's determination to find love despite the increasing danger.

Excerpt and buy links.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Counterfeit Cupid

Posted by: R.L. Naquin
Remember that time a Cupid from the Mt. Olympus Employment Agency was sent to a fire station in Dallas to fix a bad love spell gone bonkers? Well, now Ellen is in charge back at the Cupid office, and she's got a troublemaker to deal with. What better way to straighten him out than to send him to the same place that gave her life the overhaul it needed?     

                                               

                                                Counterfeit Cupid


Josh is a horrible Cupid. The matches he makes are sloppy and fall apart by the third date, and he tends to forget his wings and his bow and arrow in the back seat of his car instead of bringing them into the office.

The truth is, Josh doesn’t actually believe in love. 

Annie believes in love with all her heart. She watches it happen every day at the hotel where she works. Unfortunately, true love hasn’t come calling for Annie yet. 

The truth is, Annie believes so much, nobody can live up to her dream.

When Josh shows up in Dallas with a special assignment to save true love, Annie is stunned to discover Cupids are real. She’s certain this one doesn’t deserve the title or the tools of the trade. But an untrained believer with sticky fingers may be every bit as bad as a Cupid who doesn’t care.

Between them, they may have everything they need to save true love. But only if they work together. 

Counterfeit Cupid is available in the Kindle Worlds store on Amazon.  And don't worry. If you missed Emergency Cupid, it's still available, and you don't necessarily need to read them in order.

               

          Emergency Cupid


When someone sets off a homemade love bomb in the middle of a Dallas fire station, Ellen is the obvious choice to clean it up. After all, she’s the number one Cupid in the department. 

Wild love magic is everywhere, creating bad matches and causing chaos wherever Ellen turns. But Chaos itself has an interest in the situation and sends an agent from its own department to show Ellen there’s more than one way to approach a problem. 

Ellen expects to take advantage of the variety of sexy, single emergency responders to add to her already impressive record of love matches. But nothing is going right, and her impressive record may not be what she thought it was. People aren’t statistics. Love is more than finished paperwork. And maybe she needs to think about a happily ever after of her own before she can help others find theirs.

Both novellas are part of Paige Tyler's Dallas Fire & Rescue Kindle World series, along with over fifty other novellas by loads of talented authors. Take a look here to see all the fabulous titles from the Dallas Fire & Rescue Kindle Worlds series.

That's a lot of words to read. Better hurry, though! Another batch is coming in October, including my final Cupid installment, Runaway Cupid. 

See you in October!

Rachel writes stories that drop average people into magical situations filled with heart and quirky humor.

She believes in pixie dust, the power of love, good cheese, lucky socks and putting things off until the last minute. Her home is Disneyland, despite her current location in Kansas. Rachel has one husband, two grown kids and a crazy-catlady starter kit.

Sign up for her newsletter for news, extras, and exclusive stuff: Newsletter
Hang out with her here: Website Blog Facebook Twitter
Buy her books here:  Amazon B&N Carina Press

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Dogs and Death - the Psychopomps of Colima

Posted by: Dani Harper, AUTHOR
by Dani Harper


Dancing dogs from Colima, Mexico
Photo: Dani Harper
I added another psychopomp to my collection last week. As a lifelong fan of legend and lore, it was inevitable that I would end up not only collecting folktales and myths, but tangible items related to them. In this case, it’s a group of little clay dogs…

The job of a psychopomp is to guide souls to the afterlife, or sometimes simply to warn mortals of their impending death. Various deities and angels act in this role. Ghosts or spirits can be psychopomps too. The word comes from the Greek psukhopompos, from psukhÄ“, meaning ‘soul’ + pompos, meaning ‘conductor’ or ‘guide’. 

In many cultures, animals act as psychopomps, and pre-eminent among them is the humble dog. This includes the great black dogs or grims, from the Welsh faery lore that inspires my novels, since their primary mission is to foretell the death of humans.

But I learned about another canine associated with the afterlife when I was in one of the oldest cities in Mexico – a charming place named Colima (koh-LEE-mah), which means domain of the ancestors or domain of the old gods. In addition to a couple of volcanoes and the BEST coffee I have ever tasted in my life, there are no less than nine museums.

One was filled with little clay dogs.

Each clay dog has an opening to
receive the spirit of the deceased. 
Some dogs have funnels on top of
their heads or on their backs.
Photo: Dani Harper
At the Museo Regional de Historia de Colima, I learned that the number one spiritual guide to the hereafter was a red clay dog that looks like an inflated chihuahua. They’re called perros cebados (round dogs) and have been unearthed by the thousands in this small area of western Mexico. They are found nowhere else.

These plump canines are depicted sleeping, sitting, standing, eating, and even appearing to dance on their hind legs. Many of the dogs are smiling but all have one important thing in common. There’s always an opening in the clay creature. Sometimes the mouth is open, sometimes the tail has been made into a tube or a funnel, and occasionally there’s even a funnel on top of the dog’s head or back! Anyone who’s worked with clay knows that a piece has to have a vent in it somewhere to release heated gases during firing to avoid breakage but, according to the museum guide, these openings are thought to have a much higher purpose: to allow the entry of a soul so it can then be carried to the afterworld.

The ancient residents of Colima – Toltec, Aztec, Mayan, Zapoteca, and Colima Indians – buried their dead in deep shaft-like tombs, and provided the deceased with everything they might need for their journey to the next life. This always included a pot-bellied clay dog to carry their spirit. The museum featured a room with a plexiglass floor where you could look down into an exact replica of one of these tombs. Little clay dogs are arranged amid mummified bodies and bundles of belongings, exactly as they were found.

The Xoloitzcuintle has been around for over 3000 years
and is the National Dog of Mexico. 

Read about it here:
http://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/xoloitzcuintli/
Photo credit: Bigstock.com
Usually a grave contained more than one perro cebado. The red clay dogs performed double and triple duty for the dead because the real-life animals they resembled – the Xoloitzcuintle*, or Xolo for short – had many roles. Many were fattened and used as food. Some were highly valued as watchdogs, some were much-loved companions. And some were believed to be holy; these ones were said to heal the sick, and to safeguard the family home from evil spirits. 

The Xolo dog occurred in different sizes. The clay figures that represent it have been found in many different sizes too. Some of the dogs are very tiny, less than 3 inches tall, yet they were held to be powerful psychopomps just the same. In the ancient cultures of the region, it simply did not matter what kind of a person you’d been in life! Despite how virtuous you were, if you weren’t buried with one of these canine spirit guides, you were doomed to wander the unknown realms, never to enter paradise. The inverse was believed to be true as well. Even the most horrible person imaginable was assured safe passage to the heavenly realms as long as he or she was buried with a perro cebado!

Maybe I should have my collection buried with me. You know, just in case…

Part of Dani Harper's collection of clay dogs from Colima, Mexico
Photo by Dani Harper
..................................................................



Love Faeries? These ones aren't cute...
Love dogs? These ones aren't cuddly...
 Check out The Grim Series by Dani Harper

STORM WARRIOR, STORM BOUND, and STORM WARNED
Upcoming release, STORM CROSSED now available for pre-order !

Note: Every book in this series is designed to stand alone. It's more fun to read them in order, but not necessary.
Legend, love, lore, and magic...
See ALL my novels on my Amazon Author Page
or go to my website at http://www.daniharper.com

Monday, July 17, 2017

Here Be News - July 17th

Posted by: Veronica Scott
New & Upcoming Releases:



Bringing ancient faery legends into modern-day America...

STORM CROSSED, the 4th book in the Grim Series by Dani Harper just became available for pre-order on Amazon. 

Cover reveal coming soon! In the meantime, you can read an excerpt from Storm Crossed at https://daniharper.com/grims-and-faeries/storm-crossed-book-4/ 


Other News:

TONIGHT (July 17th) Dani Harper will be one of the authors chatting with readers at Night Owl Romance at 8 pm Eastern. 

Dani takes center stage at 8:45 to talk about about her upcoming release, STORM CROSSED, for the first time.

https://www.nightowlreviews.com/V5/Chats


Veronica Scott was last week's guest on the SF&F Marketing Podcast.


Bring It Back(list) Feature:
Veronica Scott's WRECK OF THE NEBULA DREAM: Excerpt and also a sound sample from the audiobook


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bring It Back(list): WRECK OF THE NEBULA DREAM with Excerpt

Posted by: Veronica Scott
It's my day to talk about a favorite backlist book, so I'll go to my first published science fiction adventure with romantic elements, Wreck of the Nebula Dream (or "Titanic in space..." as it's also known). Yes, I usually call all my books scifi romance but in this one the romance is there, but not the focus. Surviving the wreck is front and center! When I was writing the book, I did try to find a place and time in the narrative for Nick and Mara to have more than a kiss or two but it just...did...not...work. So yes, they fall in love and there's an HEA ending, but there's less 'romance' content in this one than any of my other, subsequent novels.

I consciously wrote this like a classic disaster movie. One reviewer even quantified for me that the the first 19% of the book is the 'getting to know the characters and the ship' stuff, and then BOOM, the wreck happens and everything kicks into high gear.

The book is loosely based on, and inspired by, the Titanic sinking, but set in the far future on an interstellar cruise liner. It was the recipient of the SFR Galaxy Award.

(It's available as an audiobook too!)

The story:
Traveling unexpectedly aboard the luxury liner Nebula Dream on its maiden voyage across the galaxy, Sectors Special Forces Captain Nick Jameson is ready for ten relaxing days, and hoping to forget his last disastrous mission behind enemy lines. He figures he’ll gamble at the casino, take in the shows, maybe even have a shipboard fling with Mara Lyrae, the beautiful but reserved businesswoman he meets.
All his plans vaporize when the ship suffers a wreck of Titanic proportions. Captain and crew abandon ship, leaving the 8000 passengers stranded without enough lifeboats and drifting unarmed in enemy territory. Aided by Mara, Nick must find a way off the doomed ship for himself and several other innocent people before deadly enemy forces reach them or the ship’s malfunctioning engines finish ticking down to self destruction.
But can Nick conquer the demons from his past that tell him he’ll fail these innocent people just as he failed to save his Special Forces team? Will he outpace his own doubts to win this vital race against time?
The excerpt:
There was no time to waste. Disasters in space tended to be abrupt, over with in a violent moment. Whatever had happened to the Nebula Dream, it was nothing short of amazing they weren’t all dead already. Can’t push luck too far. He caught the eye of the D’nvannae Brother, standing a few feet away, an appalled frown on his face, probably over the loss of critical time.
Nick jerked his head in the direction of the LB portal. “Watch my back,” he yelled, wading into the crowd without waiting to see if the man would come to his aid or not. This had to be done, with or without support.
Nick tried not to hurt people, but he forced his way through the throng with ruthless intent, stopping short about a yard shy of the door. Exactly as the woman had told him, two men were on the deck, kicking and clawing at each other, fighting over access to the locked LB. No one else could get by.
Reaching down, Nick grabbed one man by the scruff of the neck, hauling him to his feet. He was mildly pleased to find the D’nvannae Brother was right beside him, dragging the second belliger­ent combatant to the other side of the LB access portal.
Nick sensed the crowd preparing to surge forward in blind panic, now the human obstacles were removed. He wheeled, shoving the man he had grabbed roughly away, knocking down two or three other passengers in the process. People stepped on or over them in an instinctive rush to get closer to the presumed safety of the lifeboat.
 “Nobody moves until I say so!” Holding up one hand, he used the tone of voice he would employ on a batch of unruly, raw recruits, awesomely commanding.
“Quiet down now,” he said, watching the people in the front row of the mob, getting eye contact, to personalize his commands, make them feel like responsible individuals, not a mindless, panicking herd.
The blaring sirens and recorded emergency warnings cut out, resumed briefly and then died away in a slowly fading gibber­ish. The lights in the corridor flickered, causing gasps here and there in the crowd.
“Are there any SMT officers or crew here?” Nick said.
Desperation, fear, and puzzlement on the faces in front of him. Many sidelong glances, mute head shakes.
Silence.
“All right, then. I’m Captain Jameson, Sectors Special Forces. I’m taking charge of this LB portal. I need four volunteers besides this man,” nodding at the D’nvannae, “to help me keep order here. You can’t all get into this LB. No one’s going to make it off unless you keep your heads and we go about this calmly and quickly.” He pointed at some likely candidates. “You, you, you and you.”
He’d picked out a quartet of fairly good-sized men, who seemed calmer than some of the others ringing him. Pointing at the Broth­er, he said, “What’s your name?”
“Khevan.”
“Fine, Khevan, you and these four gentlemen form a ring. No one gets by until I say so. Watch my back while I open this damn portal.”
Nodding, the D’nvannae and the four men linked arms and established a peri­meter. Nick gave his attention to the locked access. Damn, there should have been at least one SMT crew person at each LB by now, with the unlock code, getting the civilians safely off the ship as fast as possible. Nick spared a second and a small part of his mind to swear at the inefficiencies and lax disci­pline of this ship’s captain. Lucky for all these nice people I know how to open the thing.
Nick scanned the portal info display as he keyed in a code on the access panel. “Capacity one hundred sentients,” the label declared in Basic and the other five languages. Okay, Jameson, quick, calculate what the limit really means, what the margin of design safety probably was. How many extra oxygen-breathers can I shove onto the thing without killing them all?
As the door cycled open, Nick assessed the waiting throng. The crowd, even larger now, probably in excess of two hundred men, women and children, pressed forward. They were pushing his ring of volun­teers closer to him before the men dug in and shoved resolutely back.
“This LB can only support one hundred and twenty-five,” Nick announced to the assembled passengers, pitching his voice to carry to the edge of the crowd. “I’m not allowing one more person to board beyond the limit. I’m taking children and their caretakers first, followed by as many other adults as possible. Anyone with children, come forward now. We’ve got no time to lose. No luggage! No pets!” Nick pointed to the stout woman, who had followed in his wake through the crowd. “You, what’s your name?”
She stepped forward. “Maud Panula.”
“All right, Maud, come stand right here next to me and keep count. Shout it out for me every ten heads, then every five as we get closer to capacity.”
“Who appointed you Lord of Space?” shouted a red-faced man in the middle of the crowd, as the first nervous children and their relatives came forward, passing through Nick’s cordon. The complainer found a few kindred sentients who appeared to agree with him. An undercurrent of ominous murmuring increased in volume.
 “There’s only a few of them –”
             “No weapons – let’s rush them!”
“The officer and I can kill with our bare hands,” Khevan said softly from his place in the center of the cordon guarding the LB access, his voice carrying as easily as Nick’s had. “You won’t gain entry to this LB by challenging his order, I guarantee you.”
Nick listened to the count rapidly climbing, as more and more children and adults streamed past him. Where the hell had they all come from? “We’re at eighty already,” he announced to the crowd. “If you don’t like your chances here, better go find the next LB.”
“Where?” screamed several despairing voices.
Nick cursed the SMT Line again for its lack of prepara­tion. “There are LB portals every few hundred yards, going both directions, all three passenger decks and on the Casino Deck.”
Buy Links:
Audiobook Sample:


Friday, July 14, 2017

should vs want

Posted by: Shona Husk
Sometimes there are books that I know I should be writing (or need to if they are contracted) and then there are the books that have been rolling around my head for three years patiently waiting to be written.

I try and stick to the list. Tick off what needs to be done in the hopes of getting to the fun project. It doesn't always work as the list just grows longer (having 2 pen names has only added to the list).

In the first half of the year I spend 4 month on revolving edits for 3 different books. I did no writing at all. By the time I emerged from the editing cave I was frazzled. I needed something fun, and the book that had been waiting burst forth. I started scribbling a few notes, knowing that I had to finish 2 other WIPs and get them to my critique partners because they needed to be turned in later in the year. But as I finished one (which came out in a rush--I think writing 200w/day while I was editing the other books really helped because I stayed in the story and my brain had time to plan the rest in great detail while I edited) I decided that I was going to give myself 4 weeks to write the fun thing. My very own novel in a month in June.

I took a week in May to plot and plan and research (and tidy up other bits that needed doing) then I went for it.

It was one of those books that was so easy to write. maybe because I'd been thinking about it for so long or maybe because my creativity was all coiled up like a spring and ready to release all that energy in the form of words. I don't know.

And it didn't last as the book I've just finished was the kind that hurts to even get 1000 words on the page.

What I have learned after 7 years as an author is that no one can tell which books were easy to write and which ones were hard. Some of my favorite books are the ones readers are meh about (I read an article about creators having no idea if their creations are good or bad, and I thought it was so very true).

The fun book is now on the editing pile for the second half of the year, along with the 2 others that I finished...the list just grew. But I already have an idea for my fun book, knowing full well that it will become work when I have to edit and submit it.
~~~
paranormal romance
contemporary romance

SHONA HUSK is the author of the Shadowlands, Blood and Silver, and the Face the Music series. You can find out more information about Shona at www.shonahusk.com or follow her on Twitter @ShonaHusk, Facebook www.facebook.com/shonahusk or join her newsletter: http://mad.ly/signups/119074/join



Thursday, July 13, 2017

ARCHIVE: Gifts for the Gods Excerpt from MISSION TO MAHJUNDAR #Scifi

Posted by: Veronica Scott
Veronica: Since this book is on sale right now for $.99, I thought I'd dust off this ARCHIVE post from a few years ago and share an excerpt!

The Story:
An attempted assassination left Princess Shalira blind as a child and, now that she’s of marriageable age, her prospects are not good because of her disability. She’s resigned herself to an arranged marriage rather than face life under the thumb of her cold stepmother. But then she meets Mike Varone, a Sectors Special Forces officer sent to Mahjundar by the intergalactic government to retrieve a ship lost in her planet’s mountains. After Mike saves Shalira from another assassination attempt, she arranges for him to escort her across the planet to her future husband. She’s already falling hard for the deadly offworlder and knows she should deny herself the temptation he represents, but taking Mike along to protect her is the only way she’ll live long enough to escape her ruthless stepmother.
But what should have been an easy trek through Mahjundar’s peaceful lands swiftly turns into an ambush with danger around every turn. Shalira’s marriage begins to seem less like an arranged union and more like yet another planned assassination. The more they work together to survive, the harder it becomes to stop themselves from falling in love. Caught in a race against time, can they escape the hostile forces hunting them, and make it off the planet?

In this scene, Shalira and Mike have to obtain the key to her mother's tomb so they've traveled to a half ruined temple to perform the ritual:
To Mike’s right, two snakes slithered away through cracks in the wall. He’d been warned about the highly venomous reptiles in the briefing before landing on Mahjundar. Since the briefing he’d received said a bite was invariably fatal in mere minutes, Mike was happy to see the creatures were nonaggressive today. It was anybody's guess how well the generic antivenom shots in Johnny’s medkit would work.
Chittering in protest at being disturbed, a flock of gray birds circled the room in a mad whirl of wings right below the ceiling before flying out a central skylight. When the room was still, Mike made a rapid survey. The walls had at one time been painted a bright white, but were now grimed over, with peeling plaster.
Ten mystical symbols had been painted at intervals on each wall, at what would be shoulder height for Mahjundans. The red, green, turquoise and yellow drawings had undoubtedly been blindingly bright at one time, but were now faded into near obscurity from sheer age. Mike found his vision blurred if he tried to stare at any one of the symbols for longer than a moment.
In the center of the room was a raised dais, edged in bright turquoise tile, supporting a waist-high, square block of dull red stone. The same ten symbols had been painstakingly etched into the altar’s sides, highlighted at one time with yellow, bits of which could be seen in the deep grooves of the carving.
Shalira stepped forward, going up onto the dais, drawing Mike with her. She was holding his hand so tightly he couldn't have stayed behind without violently pulling free. But I want to stand here with her, support her.
Leaning over, Mike realized the top of the red stone was polished enough for him to see his reflection in the surface. “No dust?” How is that possible?
The top had two perfectly shaped oval indentations, each about a yard long and half a yard wide at the center. Although several messy nests were in the rotunda directly above, there were no bird droppings anywhere on the stone. Flicking the safety before holstering his gun, Mike reached out to touch the gleaming surface.
“What the hell?” His fingers stopped six inches above the block, as if he’d tried to press his hand through glass. Cursing, he yanked his hand away. His skin, reddened where it had met the invisible obstacle, felt if it had been scorched by open flame.
“Careful,” Shalira said. “The Altar of the Ten Gods deals harshly with the uninitiated.”
“I'll take your word for it. I meant no disrespect.” He blew on his fingers. “How old is this place? Why doesn't your father do something about fixing it up?”
“The temple dates to the earliest beginnings of civiliza­tion on Mahjundar. There used to be hundreds of these temples scattered throughout the empire. But the worship of the Ten Gods is fading, except perhaps in the most rural areas.” Shalira frowned. “Empress Maralika doesn’t believe in their power, preferring new temples, alternate beliefs.”
Mike considered the fading paint. “So she doesn't exactly encourage your father to spend money on the old gods?”
Shalira pursed her lips. “I was sure I heard my father approve funds for this work.”
Mike remembered what he’d been told in his briefing about the Empress Maralika's accounts in the big, secretive banks on New Switzer­land. I bet I know where the authorized funds ended up.
Vreely was tapping his booted foot impatiently on the bottom step. “We’re wasting time. Get the key, Your Highness, and let us get on with the journey.”
“What do you need to do?” asked Mike, pivoting her to face him.
 She faltered, closing her eyes and rubbing her forehead. “I—I'm not totally sure. I observed the ceremony performed in reverse at my great-uncle's funeral, when my father commended the key for his tomb to the keeping of the Ten.”
Of course, she hadn't been blind then. This whole errand must be stirring up powerful memories for her—better get it over with as fast as possible. Mike glanced at the impatient Mahjundan officer. Maybe Vreely’s right about some things.
“We must make an offering.” The princess freed her hand from Mike's. “Could you open this pouch for me and set the items in my hands?” Fumbling at her belt, she detached a small red leather purse, which she held out.
Unknotting the rawhide strip at the neck of the purse, he removed ten different things loosely packed inside, carefully depositing them in Shalira's cupped hands. There was an iridescent feather from some rare bird, a sachet of rich perfume, an exquisite jade carving of a deer-like creature, ten tiny golden bells strung on a fine chain, and other miniature treasures he’d no time to examine. One for each god, I suppose.
“This is the last item.” He laid an enameled brooch encrusted with baroque pearls on top of the pile in her hands and tucked the small purse away in a pocket.
Tightening her fingers around the precious hoard, Shalira raised her arms. Bathed in sunlight streaming from the sky­lights, she chanted in a variation of the Mahjundan language that his hypnotraining hadn’t included. Her voice was lyrical, mesmerizing in the way the rhythm rose and fell. Realizing he was dizzy, Mike blinked hard, reaching to steady himself against the red block.
Within the chamber, a humming had begun, like an accompaniment to the chanting, but in a much deeper tonal range. The strange sound vibrated through his spine and behind his ears in an un­pleasant way. As if a breeze had sprung up inside the room, the dust and debris on the floor shifted hither and yon, moved into small piles. It was as if he and Shalira were cut off from the others, isolated on the island of the dais by sound and a wall of wind. Now the princess lowered her offering toward the block’s sur­face. Mike reached out, guiding her hands toward the closer of the two oval depressions. Electricity tingled through his nerves, blue fire danced in the air and he couldn’t release her fingers. His hands supported hers.
This time there was no invisible shield to prevent him from touching the stone. Contact with the altar hit Mike like ice water. Shivering, he felt Shalira trembling violent­ly next to him, but the princess continued her ritual with no break in the song, although her voice grew wobbly. At last, their hands separated, and he jerked his fingers back. Shalira held one final, lingering note, suddenly opening her cupped hands.
The gifts she offered drifted the last few inches into the stone oval. One by one, as if falling through thick glue, the items touched the rock and disappeared in showers of red, yellow and turquoise sparks.
Shalira fell silent, licking her lips and lowering her head. She took a step backward. Hastily, Mike reached out to steady her and prevent her from toppling off the edge of the dais. Head against his chest, she leaned into him. “Is the offering accepted?” Her whisper was so thready he could barely hear the words. “Is there a key in the other bowl?”

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