Friday, February 28, 2014

The end of the month... the loneliest month?

Posted by: Sheryl Nantus
Poor February.

First up is Groundhog Day when we either cheer or jeer the poor bunch of rodents who are dragged out of their warm habitats to either see their shadows... or not. The threats are fast and furious along with the analysis and disputes of who has the better record. And with most years people are pretty darned tired of winter and just want it all to go away...

Then we move into the middle of the month,  all happy and sweet with Valentine's Day with all the chocolates and flowers that you can stand. Lovers coo to each other and people race around to declare their undying love for at least a single night or a weekend. School lockers get clogged with valentines stuffed in the hinges and shoved in the air vents or the ultimate embarrassment - giving and receiving cards in front of the whole class. Old married couples sit and hold hands and watch their younger selves do the mating dance as the romantic scenarios play out over and over again because Valentine's Day is VALENTINE'S DAY, DAMMIT!

Then... it's over. We're stuck with half-price bags of candy, unused Valentine Day cards and loud red socks competing with wooden roses to see who gets picked up first.

And not too soon after that the month is over. Poof. 28 days, or maybe if you're lucky, 29. Worse if you're a Leap Year baby and only get to celebrate your birthday every few years.

February never gets the loving, in my opinion. It's just too soon after Christmas and is more of a precursor to Lent and Easter and all that spring stuff.

I think there are genres who are, in their own way, February. They're special in their own way with unique aspects not found anywhere else but they just don't get a whole lot of attention or support because they're so small.

Which genres? Which pairings? I wish I could say but it tends to shift every time I look at it. One month shifters are the December of books, everyone wants one and celebrate every day it's out. Then they become February and no one's interested except if there's a candy attached. One month fae are in and it's all the rage.... then it flares out and no one gets what the fuss was all about.

As writers I think we have to accept that February is always going to happen and we need to drift through and wait until March and the cool rhymes and flowers and all that.

As readers... why not embrace February by picking up a lesser-known book by an author you might not know much about. Take a chance on a new genre or a new pairing, a new publisher or a new author and see where it takes you.

Power. Out!

*drops mike and leaves stage*

;)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Win-A-Book Wednesday with Seleste deLaney

Posted by: Jax Garren

SELESTE DELANEY



Seleste discovered early the trick to not being afraid of the monsters under the bed was to turn them into heroes. Since then, she has seen enough of human monsters that she prefers escaping to worlds where even the worst demons must play by the rules and the good guys might end up battered and bruised (or even dead), but they always win.

She resides in southeast Michigan with her kids and a pair of fierce slobber-monsters of her own. In those moments when not battling terrorists, vampires, or rogue clockworks, she loves to interact with readers all over the Internet.



Pen Holloway’s done with men—in real life. Guys in game are so much less drama. But when her partner from Heroes of Fallen Gods invites her to the convention of the year, she panics. What if he’s another jerk? What if he’s not?
Cal Burrows is living his dream of being a spy. One of TRAIT’s misfit spies, but still a spy. It’s the perfect job… until an arms dealer with a taste for blood invades his not-so-secret geek haven. All Cal wanted from ConDamned was to meet his on-line girl. Now, with the threat of mass murder looming, he’s forced to choose between keeping his mission a secret and protecting the girl of his dreams.
Despite their attraction, Pen can’t help but suspect Cal’s hiding something. She also can’t shake the feeling he’s not as much of a stranger as he seems.


The sequel to this book, Conning for Keeps, recently released. I know even with books that can stand alone, a lot of readers prefer to get in on the ground floor and start with the first one. Besides, geeks, gaming, a sci-fi convention, and spies. What more could a girl want? 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Here Be News

Posted by: Eleri Stone

New Releases


Two decades ago, assassin Katherine Zhang faked her death to escape the Keepers, a secret council of witches who use magic to kill those who pose a threat to their kind. Once a powerful Keeper, she lives a solitary-but peaceful-life as a tattoo artist. Until a strange, handsome lone wolf named Marcus Delgado walks into her shop.

Marcus has his own reasons to hate the Keepers. A scientist who sacrificed himself to test the fragile boundaries between witch and wolf, he believes there's a way to harness the combustible power between the two species. If he succeeds, he'll be protected from the Keepers, but he needs a willing partner-and the delicious Katie just might be the perfect test subject.

Katie knows working with a wolf, an adversary she's undeniably attracted to, is a dangerous proposition...no matter how tempting she finds Marcus's proposal. But when a common enemy from their past threatens them both, working together might be the only option.

Buy

***

Book four of The Triune Stones

To fulfill her destiny as the Wanderer of legend, Ilythra needs to find the last of the Triune Stones. But its music has gone silent, its owner, the dark sorcerer Bredych, nowhere to be seen except in her dreams. Dreams that are getting ever more frequent, and more troubling.

Unrest is sweeping the land, and Ilythra's allies are paying the price as Bredych subsumes more and more kingdoms to his will. Armed with only her sword and her friends--stoic elderborn Arien and passionate warrior-prince Ryliann--she sets out to win her people back and train them to fight for themselves.

Her cause is clear, but her feelings for the two completely different yet equally admirable men, less so. With the fate of both humanity and elderborn on the line, how can she dare choose love over her destiny?

Find out how it all began in Journey of Awakening.

Buy

***

In the fourth fiery installment of Jeffe Kennedy’s scintillating Master of the Opera, a woman surrenders-body and soul-to the one man who is everything she desires, everything she craves, and, possibly, everything she fears…

Reeling from the discovery of a dead body in the Sante Fe Opera House, intern Christy Davis is forced to reassess the strange, erotically-charged relationship she’s forged with the mysterious masked man who lives in the labyrinths below. Could her masterful lover be capable of murder, and worse? Perhaps it was the thrill of danger that drew Christy to him in the first place-like a moth to the flame-instead of a more conventional romance with the opera house’s handsome benefactor, Roman. For the sake of her sanity, she must at least give Roman a chance. But for the love of her master, she must give in to every wild fantasy, every wicked game, and every whim he commands…

Is Christy prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice? To surrender her heart, her soul, her everything? First she must acknowledge the truth: a woman in love can serve only one master…

 Buy

***

Book two of Country Roads

Jonah Alcott found his true calling as the PR director of Hawkins Hardwood. He's a master of mediation, but the Black Cherry Canyon project has pushed him to his limit--beautiful but obstinate park manager Zury Castellano crossed a line when she enlisted the help of known eco-terrorists to protect "her" land.

For Zury, the unspoiled, scenic Black Cherry Falls State Park is more than a job--it's the only place she's ever considered home. And she'll stop at nothing to ensure Hawkins Hardwood doesn't touch a single twig in it, even if that means agreeing to spend the weekend with corporate drone Jonah. He might think they're working toward a compromise, but Zury has no intention of backing down.

Infuriating but irresistible, Zury teaches Jonah that the beauty of the mountains can't be bought. But Jonah will need to prove he's on her side--in life and in love--and show her who the real bad guys are, before it's too late...

Buy

Links of Interest: 
Veronica Scott shares the latest Katy Perry video for "Dark Horse", which has a very cool Ancient Egyptian magic vibe, as do Veronica's paranormal novels! (Although Veronica's "Gods of Egypt" series is a bit more rooted in historical reality LOL.....)


Eleri Stone: I'm starting up a new feature on my blog called Writing Speculative Fiction and Romance where I have authors talk about different writing topics, give tips and share processes. Today is Jody Wallace with Details and Dialogue Beats. Stop by and check it out! 

Win-A-Book Wednesday Winner

Congratulations to Fedora, the winner of last week's Win-a-Book Wednesday! Cindy will be contacting you soon about your prize.

This Wednesday we'll have another mystery giveaway; stop by for more chances to win!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Umm…really?

Posted by: Shona Husk
Okay everybody has their pet peeves in books, but lately I’m finding some of mine appearing everywhere (maybe it’s me and I’m just reading the wrong books).

The first one is the hero who just keeps going and going and…he’s instantly ready to go again and again…

I know it’s fiction but after a while it kind of bugs me (not enough to throw the book, but enough to pull me out of the story).

The next thing happens mostly in mmf erotic romances and it’s what I politely refer to as double dipping (use your imagination here as I’m not explaining it any further) and it is often a result of always being up and ready and needing to stick it somewhere else.

Seriously wipe that thing before sticking into the heroine or I’m spending the next 3 chapters wondering if she got an infection!

Lastly I’d like to talk about size. If your hero is a horse shifter I totally get that size is an issue. Romance-land (as well as being full of green eyed, red-haired, virginal heroines) seems to be full of guys with enormous attributes. Seriously if the heroine can’t get her hand around it I’m praying there’s lube or wondering what is wrong with her hands (although she’s probably been described as petite—how is it so many women in Romance-land are tiny and bird like? That might be another post).

I’d much rather my heroine be impressed with the hero’s skills as a lover than his size.

So, what is it about romance heroes that makes you go umm…really?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Win-A-Book Wednesday with Cindy Spencer Pape

Posted by: Jax Garren


Cindy Spencer Pape

Cindy Spencer Pape firmly believes in happily-ever-after and brings that to her writing.  Award-winning author of the best-selling Gaslight Chronicles, she has released 16 novels and more than 30 shorter works. Cindy lives in southeast Michigan with her husband, two sons and a houseful of pets. When not hard at work writing she can be found dressing up for steampunk parties and Renaissance fairs, or with her nose buried in a book.

ASHES & AlCHEMY

Police inspector Sebastian Brown served Queen and country in India before returning to England to investigate supernatural crimes alongside the Order of the Round Table. If his wifeless, childless life feels a little empty sometimes, that's not too great a price to pay in the name of duty. 

Minerva Shaw is desperately seeking a doctor when she mistakenly lands on Sebastian's doorstep. Her daughter Ivy has fallen gravely ill with a mysterious illness—the same illness, it seems, that's responsible for taking the lives of many of Ivy's classmates.  Seb sniffs a case, and taking in Minnie and Ivy seems the only way to protect them while he solves it. 

But as mother and daughter work their way into his heart and Seb uses every magickal and technological resource he can muster to uncover the source of the deadly plague, it's he who will need protecting—from emotions he'd thought buried long ago.


Ashes & Alchemy is a little different from the rest of the Gaslight Chronicles, mainly because it focuses more on the lower and middle-class people living in my steampunk version of London. Seb has connections in high places, but mostly he lives on his police inspector's pay. Minnie is a seamstress, struggling just to feed herself and her daughter. This novella is mostly about ordinary people--who find themselves in extrodinary danger. But of course you'll see a little bit of the Hadrian family. What Gaslight Chronicles story could be without them?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

That Old Black Moment

Posted by: Jeffe Kennedy
Want some GOOD news from the SFWA front? Really, there are so many amazing, talented members of the organization and I'm honored to be part of it. Several of us have put books on sale this week. A great opportunity to check out some excellent writing! See more here.

I've been working hard on the third book in my Covenant of Thorns trilogy, ROGUE'S PARADISE. I'm right at the midpoint and I knew what I thought should happen. In fact, I had a very strong idea of what the next chapter's events would be - which is not often the case for me.

And, it turned out, I was dead wrong.

Things did not go smoothly at all, and my hero and heroine, Rogue and Gwynn... well, let's just say they hit a Big, Black Moment right when I thought they had it all handled. Gwynn was devastated and I was devastated right along with her.

I retraced my steps, to find out what went wrong, but no - everything had happened exactly as it should. Except that it all turned out so badly.

So, I did what one does in these instances: I complained on Twitter.

Several people who also love and cheerlead for Rogue and Gwynn to triumph chimed in immediately with support, among them the lovely Eleri Stone who sets up our weekly Here Be News posts. Their hand-holding really helped.

Along with their faith that things would work out.

That night I watched Thor: The Dark World and, not something I usually do, I stayed for all the special features after. (This might have been prompted by the desire to soak in as much Tom Hiddleston's Loki as possible - but that's neither here nor there. *cough*)

One of the features analyzed why a certain shocking and very sad event had to occur. Because Thor and Loki had to hit rock bottom, to have incentive enough to make a change in what they'd been doing. It hit me then that this was why Rogue and Gwynn had hit this particular wall.

They needed to make a change.

The black moment feels black indeed when you're in it. But it's also when things can turn in a new direction. This is true, not just of fiction, but of our lives.

That old black moment fate weaves so well.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Here Be News

Posted by: Eleri Stone

New Releases


Six years ago Filid made the mistake of falling for another officer in the Allied Planetary Military.
He walked away before they both did something they'd regret. Yet he can't get her out of his mind, even now.

Silva has never forgotten Filid, but he is the last person she expects to see on the pleasure resort of Decadent Moon. This time she won't let him walk away without exploring the fantasies she had about being with him.

Filid wants more than one night. And this time he is determined to hold onto her no matter the cost.

Inside Scoop: Filid comes equipped with sexy tentacles that cannot be missed!

Amazon:http://www.amazon.com/Lunar-Reunion-2-Decadent-Moon-ebook/dp/B00ID8MAO0

Kobo:http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/lunar-reunion


Win-A-Book Wednesday Winner

Congratulations to Shadow, the winner of last week's Win-a-Book Wednesday! PG Forte will be contacting you soon about your prize.

Heart Shaped Box

If you missed the Heart Shaped Box flash fiction pieces last week, be sure to check them out below. There are some great stories! 

Violets in the Snow by Veronica Scott
A Pledge of Devotion by Regan Summers
The Knowing and the Myst by Danube Adele
Destiny in a Box by Angela Campbell
The Birthright by Shawna Thomas

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Why Did We Heart the Box, Anyway?

Posted by: Jody W. and Meankitty
The past two days, we've posted the results of a writing prompt many Here Be Magic contributers worked on together to create flash fiction, or at least short fiction, about a heart-shaped box. Here's why we did it!

Danube Adele: "I loved the challenge of creating a new set of paranormal characters within a short time frame with a limit placed on number of words, which I think we all broke, but there you have it. It seemed like fun!"

Jody Wallace: "I talked everyone else into doing it, so I figured I'd better write a story, too."

Shona Husk: "I’d never written flash fiction before (or anything so short) so I thought it would be a fun challenge to do while I was stuck in edits on To Love a King. And it was!"

Nicole Luiken: "Short stories are not my forte, but once I heard the prompt heart-shaped box my mind started playing with the idea--and once I have an idea, it stands up on it hind legs, whines, and begs to be written."

Shawna Thomas: "Sometime short stories are the perfect creative outlet. The image for this story, the heart-shaped box, caught my imagination so I couldn't -not- write a story."

RL Naquin: "The talented authors at Here Be Magic are awesome, and missing the last group project with them made me sad."

Shawna Reppert: "For me, writing a flash story from a prompt is like coming home. My first fiction sale was to an e-zine, 10Flash Online, which had 10 flash stories per issue, all written around a prompt provided by the editor. I made several more flash sales to that ‘zine, and one to Everuday Fiction, which also specializes in flash. Although the novel is my preferred form, I do enjoy the challenge of writing flash fiction. With the tight word limit, the writer has to rely on subtext to develop the story and deliver the emotional impact. It’s a useful exercise.

This is the second Holmes flash piece I’ve done. ‘The Devil Went Down to Reichenbach’, unrelated to this story, is part of The Three Tunes, a set of three short stories around the power of music.

My first instinct when I saw the prompt ‘heart-shaped box’ was to write a story in the universe of my novel Ravensblood. But I couldn’t come up with an idea that would work as flash and didn’t contain spoilers for the novel, so I started to search for an idea for a story that would stand alone. It’s entirely too easy for a Valentine’s Day story to venture into the maudlin. I wanted to avoid saccharine sentimentality at all costs. So I turned to that paragon of rationality, Sherlock Holmes. . . and just the right touch of the softer emotions in a character not given to such things is like Godiva chocolate, bittersweet and rich, with a satisfying complexity."

***

Thank you for reading all our stories! We hope to revise and update them and publish and easy-to-download anthology in the next month or two.

Sincerely,

The authors of Here Be Magic


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Take One Heart-Shaped Box....

Posted by: Jody W. and Meankitty


Welcome to Chocolate Day 2014, or, as a lot of the world thinks of it, Valentine's Day. Despite being shunned by many as a too-commercial holiday with too many sour memories, the authors of Here Be Magic decided February 14, 2014, was a good day to share stories.

Tales of love, tales of alien technology, tales of the mists, tales of the paranormal. We took one heart-shaped box, gave it to the authors, and stepped back.

Just wait and see what they created with it.

We hope you enjoy our flash, and not so flash, fiction offerings, which we'll be posting every couple of hours today and tomorrow. Eventually, all the stories will be further tweaked, possibly expanded, and put into an easy-to-download free anthology like A Pixie's Tale. Here's the list of stories.

Violets in the Snow by Veronica Scott
A Pledge of Devotion by Regan Summers
The Knowing and the Myst by Danube Adele
Destiny in a Box by Angela Campbell
The Birthright by Shawna ThomasUnmatched Cupid by RL Naquin
The Silver Prison by Shona Husk
The Shape of His Heart by Jane Kindred
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Heart-Shaped Box by Shawna Reppert
A Box Full of Faerie by Jody Wallace
Heart-Shaped Box of Memories by Nicole Luiken



Happy Chocolate Day!

Sincerely,

Hera B. Magic

Violets in the Snow by Veronica Scott

Posted by: Jody W. and Meankitty

Violets in the Snow

By Veronica Scott


Free image from http://www.sxc.hu/ used according to the Image License Agreement.


It was just a little heart-shaped china box, with one gorgeous violet painted on the lid. Every day as she walked past the window of Celia’s Closet on her way to work, Amy would check to see if the box was still there, nestled in the corner of the display. Sure, violets were her favorite flower, but something about the tiny container itself appealed to her.

Celia’s store was crammed to the rafters with knick knacks, vintage clothing and fashion jewelry of every era, but Amy rarely allowed herself to venture inside. She never had extra money to spend and certainly not on decorative dust catchers. But yesterday at the diner someone had left her an unusually large tip and today Amy found herself turning to enter the enticing store without even thinking about it.

“Did you come for the violet box?” asked Celia as soon as she saw who’d walked in.

Stripping off her purple mittens, Amy did a double-take. “How did you know?”

“You spend five minutes every morning staring at it.” Celia laughed and went to pluck the item from the crowded window.

The box felt cold on Amy’s palm but gradually warmed as she turned it this way and that, admiring the delicacy of the painted flower. The box seemed perfect—its gold colored trim bright, no glazing to mar the smooth surface. When she fumbled with the miniature latch, however, nothing happened.

“I don’t know why, but the lid won’t open,” Celia said, watching her. “Maybe someone glued it shut at some point. Or the hinge broke. Certainly it’s too small to hold anything inside.”

“How much?” Amy braced herself to give the box back if the price Celia named was too high. Some of the vintage items in her shop were worth amazing amounts of money, which the tourists paid without question.

“Oh, say $5.00? Even though the flower’s obviously hand painted by a real artist, there’s no signature and it’s so petite.” Celia shrugged. “I found it at the bottom of a box of things the executor consigned from the old Winters estate.”

“I’ll take it.” After handing over the money, Amy tucked the box in her pocket and left, rushing not to be late to her job at the small diner down the block.

*

After work that night, Amy set the little box on her nightstand, smiling at the single beautiful flower as she turned out the light. Somewhere around two AM, she sat up with a start, clutching the blanket and staring around at the room. It was snowing. Inside the room.

I must be dreaming.

Reaching out, she caught a sparkling flake on her hand. The snow promptly melted into a drop of cold water. Rubbing her palm dry, Amy burrowed under the blanket. If I had air conditioning in this place, I’d say it was seriously malfunctioning.

She watched as the snow fell, unsure what was going on. After a few moments, the flakes turned to flower petals and then stopped. Peeking over the side of the bed, Amy realized she now had a carpet of velvety purple petals.

“Too much wine at dinner,” she said, shaking her head. She punched the pillow and lay back. “I’m asleep, this is a dream and the alarm is going to buzz all too soon.” Closing her eyes, Amy rolled over and pulled the blankets closer. “Or they put the wrong kind of mushrooms on the pizza maybe.”

*

Sure enough, in the morning there was no sign of snowflakes or flower petals in her single room apartment. Sun streamed in the window, glancing off the sparkling china box. Amy kept glancing at the painted violet as she rushed around to get dressed and do her minimal morning routine. I hope I’m not going to have weird dreams about flowers and snow every night.

Business was slow at the diner, as things were all over town. Edwardsville was a ski resort, high in the mountains, but this had been an unusually dry year. No snow meant no tourists. Amy hoped her boss wouldn’t have to reduce her hours even further.

On her lunch, bored, she surfed the net to distract herself from worrying over the lack of tips. Somehow Amy found herself looking at legends and myths involving violets. Her favorite was an old English variation on the story of Persephone and the god of the underworld. In this tale, the lovers were the King of Winter and a girl named Violet. Amy had to return to waiting tables before reading the end of the legend but was sure she could guess the outcome. “Happily ever after,” she said with a grin as she tied her apron on.

*

That night, she woke at 2AM, shivering, covered by a blanket of sparkling, soft white snow. “Oh, this is too much,” she said, sitting up and shoving the snowdrift to the floor. Picking up the little box as snow continued to fall around her, Amy said, “I love you but I can’t have these dreams every night.”

As if her words had been a magic spell, the snow stopped and the box lid sprang open. Something glittered inside. Rising to turn on the bedside lamp, looking more closely into the box, Amy retrieved a stunning platinum ring, set with a pure white diamond, held in the center of a white gold snowflake by four prongs. “Wow!”

“Violet Winters, you’ve waited too long to wear the Snow King’s ring,” said a deep voice.

With a small scream, Amy turned to find six feet six of Tall, Dark & Handsome Male occupying the center of her small room. Hands on his hips, the man was glaring at her, brows drawn together in a frown, violet blue eyes blazing. His old fashioned clothes were silver, tight breeches doing nothing to hide his superb physique, topped by a cloak trimmed with ermine. On his head was a white gold crown, accented with diamond crusted snowflakes.

“The Snow King who gave you that pledge of true love is long dead and you’d better not be expecting me to honor the terms.”

“Um, I’m not Violet Winters, I don’t even know a Violet Winters.” Amy backed up until she ran into the nightstand. “I’m Amy Smith and I bought this box from a secondhand shop yesterday.” Why am I answering him, this is a crazy dream! Wake UP!

The man pointed at her hand. “But that’s the Snow King’s ring and you did say you loved—”

“The box. I love the box and the flower. Violets are my favorite flower.” She thrust the ring at him. “Here, take this and get out however you got in. It’s too flashy for me anyway.”

He took the ring and the touch of his fingers against her hand was curiously warm. Her flesh tingled and she took a deep breath. “Look, I know this is just a dream, so can we be done, please? Can you just poof? Leave?” She snuck a glance at the clock and moaned. “I have to be at work early tomorrow, I mean later today, oh God, it’s 3AM—”

“My apologies for frightening you.” He tucked the ring into a pocket on the inside of his sweeping cloak.

“Why were you so angry at this Violet person?”

“She’s kept us waiting for centuries, in case she decided to redeem the honor given to her by my grandfather and marry one of my bloodline. He wanted to wed her himself but eventually he married a snow nymph.” Her uncanny visitor grinned. “They can be very persuasive.”

She realized she didn’t even know his name. “Are you Jack Frost?” Amy asked, sitting on the bed, then standing right back up again.

“That jester?” The man’s disdain was plain. “I’m Gaimhreadh, Ruler of all Winter.”

“Pleased to meet you, sir.” Should I curtsey or something? “You know, the lady who owned this box before me was named Winters. She was really old, over 100 maybe, but not centuries. Not old enough to be the woman your ancestor wanted to marry. She didn’t leave any family.” Amy looked at the box. “Do you want this too?”

“No, although ‘tis kind of you to offer. I can see how much you treasure it so please retain the trinket, with my blessing.” He bowed. “I guess the mystery of the original Violet will never be solved now but I’m glad to have met you. Winter owes you a debt, for removing us from the shadow of a very onerous pledge.”

Feeling slightly foolish, but figuring anything goes in a dream, Amy said, “If you do owe me a favor in return, can you make it snow? The town is dying without snow for the ski runs, to bring the tourists. There isn’t even enough for making a decent snowman. It’s been a—” She bit her lip.

“A what?” He smiled and the effect was devastating.

Well, I can’t very well tell him it’s been a bad winter. She could feel her cheeks growing warm.

“I’ll leave you to your slumbers, Amy. Sweet dreams.” He bowed like an actor in a BBC historical series and was….gone.

Feeling a bit bereft and lonely, Amy set the box on the nightstand again, closing the lid with one hand before turning off the light. “He was a very nice dream,” she said as she drifted back to sleep.

*

Walking to work later in the morning was a joy, as snow fell gently from a leaden sky. It was the kind of steady snowfall that would stick and build up into wonderful powder for the ski runs. Amy felt like skipping along the sidewalk and she knew she was smiling ear to ear, even though she really couldn’t take credit for the turn in the weather. Could she? Just because I had a crazy dream -

She’d barely gotten her coat put away in the cramped break room and her apron tied on when the bell on the front counter rang. Hastening into the dining room, Amy stopped in the threshold, riveted by the sight of the man from her dream, dressed more prosaically today in very expensive but practical European ski wear. No crown, no ermine cape.

Grinning, he winked. “Is this what you had in mind when you asked for snow? Or must I do more to win your favor?” He held out his hand.

“Oh come on, this can’t be happening!” She barely noticed his heavy gold signet ring, with a crown and a snowflake, because she was staring at the heart-shaped bouquet of very out-of-season purple violets he was offering.

“My favorite flower,” she said.

“And mine.” He bowed. “I’m hoping that isn’t all we’ll find in common.”

As she led him to the best table, the one next to the fireplace, Amy said, “And they lived happily ever after?”

“Something like that might be possible,” he agreed with the warm smile that lit up his face.

“I’m off at five.” She placed the menu in front of him.

---February 2014

Find out more about Veronica Scott!

A Pledge of Devotion by Regan Summers

Posted by: Jody W. and Meankitty

A Pledge of Devotion

By Regan Summers

(The only one of us who actually abided by the “flash fiction” word count!)

Free image from http://www.sxc.hu/ used according to the Image License Agreement.


“That better not be a ring,” John says, feet shuffling as he stares down at the box. He pauses, then says in his instructive voice, “That’s a human custom. Of courtship.”

I know the custom, have read the stories and viewed the scenes of one lover on his—usually his—knee, offering love. Pledging devotion.

“It’s not a ring,” I say, insides fluttering. He takes up the box, recovered from the bottom of the sea, and dull bits of barnacle shell fall to the floor as he removes the top with his pale, thick hands.

“I’m not good with your art,” John says, squinting at the note.

I look down at the crisp white paper, the even black script. I worked so hard, so hard on forcing my bones to bend so that I could grip the pen. So hard on keeping the paper dry as I etched out the symbols.

“It’s not art.” I gesture toward the three distinct words. How can he not see? “It says…”

He makes an impatient sound, a sound of finality. The world is suddenly blurry and a noise escapes me, a low whistle that makes him wince.

“Sorry.” He shoves the box onto the table. “I’ll have one of the techs document it. To…to chart your progress.” He marches out of the room, not as fast as his two legs can carry him but fast enough.

The page curls in the humidity of the room. The words droop, the ink bleeding away. I sink back into my tank.

“It says ‘I love you’.”

The Knowing and the Myst by Danube Adele

Posted by: Jody W. and Meankitty

The Knowing and the Myst

By Danube Adele


Free image from http://www.sxc.hu/ used according to the Image License Agreement.


“I know you’re there.”

Bryland said this casually, the deep timbre of his voice giving me those warm, swirling tingles in my tummy. He donned his shirt over his sweaty chest. I pursed my lips with pouty displeasure. One of my favorite activities was sitting up on a leaf in the old oak tree closest to his home and spying on him. It was a plus if his shirt was off.

I wasn’t going to lie. I loved looking at his big man muscles. He was tall and broad, his dark hair tied back at his nape, and with a presence that commanded the respect of those from his village, Tregarsby.

“You aren’t very subtle.” He grinned, leaning his ax against the bottom of my tree and pausing, as though waiting for a response. Strange.

Who was he talking to? I did a curious scan of the immediate forest. No one was on the path. There was no other cottage for several miles. Was someone in the house?

“I’m talking to you, little sprite.” He smiled warmly, reaching to put a hand on the trunk of my tree. A faint blue light glowed under his palm. “I can’t see you, but I can feel you.” He closed his eyes and sudden warmth pulsed through the tree surrounding me.

Mother of the forest, he was talking to me! My heart fluttered. Escape? I pushed off my comfy seat to hover above it, but he opened his sparkling, green eyes and turned a wolfish grin my direction.

“I’ve surprised you.”

That was an understatement. It was unheard of for anyone of the Myst to be discovered by those of the Knowing, or anyone else for that matter. How in the worlds had he done it? Apprehension began to stir. This was unacceptable within the Myst community. We weren’t supposed to show ourselves to anyone. Ever. There were horrific consequences for such actions.

He frowned. “Don’t be afraid, sprite. I’m not sure of your exact words, but I can feel you’re worried.”

Yes, I was worried. This was wrong. Very wrong.

“I’ve enjoyed feeling your presence. It’s given me comfort. I’m sure you’ve heard talk of coming war. The Vieshins are in preparation.”

We’d heard rumor, but the Myst didn’t involve themselves in the affairs of the humans. We’d seen many battles over time, and this one would not be the last, but it would likely weave threads of destruction that would be devastating to the forest. We were nurturers. Healers. Helping the forest grow was our primary job. We would have much to do after the battle with repairing the forest. There would also be human death.

A sense of anxiety washed over me.

Could Bryland be killed in the coming battle? The Knowing were strong and skilled warriors and many had mastery of their blue magic. But even if they won, some might die.

“Don’t worry, little sprite. We’ll be fine. Guards are posted all over the forest. We’ll know the moment they come.”

At least that was something. There was nothing the Myst could do in any case, and besides, we tended not to become involved in human matters. Feeling a sense of heaviness, I realized this was more time than I’d ever spent spying. I had work to do.

“You’re leaving.” He seemed disappointed. “I understand. I thank you for listening.”

I didn’t know what to say, or if he’d even be able to interpret my thoughts, so I left. I spent the rest of the day mysting through my trees, creating the life-giving nutrients to spread within their veins and deep into their roots, accepting their thanks and feeling their renewal of strength and growth; however, a feeling of dread held me in a strong grip by the end of the day.

“Eadaya! Come quickly to the West Valley!” My sister Harine sent her message on a breeze. I could hear the urgency. Mysting to her at nearly the speed of sound, I covered hundreds of miles quickly and found her deep within the crevice of two boulders on the edge of a human encampment. A campfire was melting metals into the shape of a strange looking harness.

“They have strange winged creatures.” Harine looked to me with fearful eyes. “Look.”

Penned across the way were enormous, half-grown humans covered in scales, with reptilian-skinned wings that looked to span twenty feet. More than a dozen were chained together. When had they come?

“I heard the humans talking. They plan to drop liquid fire and burn the forest within the in a matter of days.”

“Oh no!” I thought of Bryland. They would expect an attack from the ground, not the sky. They would all die for certain. “You need to find the Council of Elders.”

“I told them. They said not to interfere, but that doesn’t seem right.”

“No. It doesn’t.”

“Eadaya?”

My sister called after me as I mysted through the forest faster than I ever had before. I went straight to Bryland’s home, but found it empty. Where would he be? The village? I knew where it was.

Only a few moments later, I was there, weaving undetected through people, between the buildings, and within village stores, trying to catch sight of him. He was on a training field not far beyond the village’s boundaries wearing breeches and a wielding a large sword.

He felt me immediately. A look of concern touched his face as he turned in my general direction.

“Little sprite?”

“Who are you talking to, Bry? Did I knock your senses loose just now?” His sparring partner chuckled, but frowned, not having any sense of my presence.

I tried to tell him about the attack, but Bryland only shook his head, frustrated.

“I can feel your fear, but I don’t know what you’re saying.”

Panic fueled my determination. There was only one thing left to do. I would need to morph into form on the human plane so he could see and hear me. However, stepping through the myst might mean never again being able to return.

I couldn’t let him be murdered. Concentrating on the film between my world and his, I created the light, and it enveloped me. Sticking my hands out, I pulled the film apart, tearing it, and stepped through one foot at a time into the cold air. Unused to the weight of the world, I fell weakly to the ground, my long black hair covering most of my pale naked body, and looked up, gasping for breath.

All of the men were speechless.

“The Vieshins created flying creatures,” I said with a soft, shaky voice. I’d never used it before. “They plan to pour fire from the sky.” The energy it took to move so quickly through the forest and undergo change from one dimensional plane to another drained me. I could only put my head down as darkness blacked out the world.

*

Bryland was watching over me when next I woke. I rested on a bed, likely at his house, with a sheet pulled over me. His expression was one of no nonsense as he captured my eyes, refusing to let me look away for a moment, but something he was holding caught my attention. It was a heart-shaped box he was pulling apart. Two small stones, soft and pearlescent, spilled into the palm of his hand.

“What is that?” I asked faintly.

“A conduit, from my heart to yours. It will give you energy to heal. It will also allow you to know my thoughts, and for me to know yours. Is that all right?”

I hesitated.

“With war coming, we need to be able to communicate.” His green eyes were piercing with their intensity. “We can help each other.”

I realized it was for the best and nodded.

Holding one of the stones over his heart, it came alive, turning into blue light and sinking harmlessly beneath his skin. Holding the second stone over my breast, I saw his hand glow a light blue before the heat of the stone sank through me.

“A time of reckoning has come.”

---February 2014

Find out more about Danube Adele!

Destiny in a Box by Angela Campbell

Posted by: Jody W. and Meankitty

Destiny in a Box

by Angela Campbell



Dee lifted the packaging paper out of the box that had come in the mail this morning. The box she knew contained some inheritance from her late grandfather. She’d barely known the crotchety old man, but his death, just before the disappearance of her fiancĂ© six months ago, had been a heavy blow.

The police believed Liam had gotten cold feet and taken off of his own accord. She’d had a hard time believing her grandfather’s devilishly handsome assistant had fallen for her anyway. Dr. Jeffrey Smith had been her only living relative, a mostly absent figure in her life, but she’d loved him. Now both men were gone, and she truly was alone in the world.

“Meow.”

As warm fur brushed against her elbow, Dee jumped. No. She wasn’t alone. She still had her faithful cat, Loki, a gift from her grandfather when she’d been 16. Her lovey dovey, cuddly wuddly baby boy.

As the cat jumped into the medium-sized UPS box, the crinkling of the paper inside rattled her nerves for a reason she didn’t understand. Foreboding settled heavy in her gut, stilling her actions.

Did she really want to know what was inside this thing?

Peeling back the paper, she saw a book. The Heart-Shaped Box by Destiny S. O’Connell.

The air left her lungs on a gasp. “What is this? Some kind of joke?”

Destiny Smith was her full name. Destiny O’Connell would have been her legal name had she married Liam on Valentine’s Day as planned.

“Meow.”

Loki dug at the paper, revealing two small, velvet boxes. His head nudged one toward her hand, but her gaze was focused on the envelope wedged between his body and the cardboard. She lifted the paper out of the envelope, her heart beating a steady rhythm in her ears.

Dearest Destiny. I know what happened to Liam. If you want to discover the truth, put on the ring. Make sure Loki is fitted with his charm first. The book is included in case you need convincing. Yours, J.S.

She read and re-read the letter numerous times. But it didn’t make sense! How could her grandfather have possibly known what happened to Liam when he’d died before Liam had disappeared? Flipping through the book only inspired more confusion. Its copyright was 1927. The pages were filled with nonsense about a young woman who went back in time to help her grandfather, a scientist/time traveler, battle a race of alien monsters in the Victorian era after receiving a package she fondly referred to as “the heart-shaped box.”

“Ow!” The swipe of Loki’s claw against her arm left behind a trail of blood and stinging pain.

His furry, gray head again nudged one of the black velvet boxes toward her. Frowning, she lifted the lid, exposing a gleaming silver charm with Loki’s name on it.

Hand trembling, she attached the charm to his collar. Heart doing laps around her chest, she slid the ring onto her finger, too.

*

“All right, then. About bloody time.”

Dee glanced around at the unexpected voice. A man’s voice. British. Suave. Kind of 007-ish.

She saw no one. “Hello?”

“Down here. Hello? It’s me. The, uh, cat.”

Eyes wide, she stared at her pet. “Loki?”

A long sigh preceded the voice again. “My proper name is Baron Von Brohemeaus Jones. I suppose you can continue calling me Loki if your feeble mind can’t comprehend the other. I’ve been tasked with guarding you. A bit boring, I must admit. Absolutely no one has tried to kill you yet. The pity.”

“Uh.”

“Very well. We mustn’t dawdle.” Loki pounced out of the box and darted toward the fireplace. “I didn’t think your communication device would ever arrive.”

“Communication device?” Oh dear lord. She had finally gone off the deep end. Flipped. Gone bonkers!

A whistling snapped her attention back to the feline. “Tick tock, Miss Smith. This way!”

The room threatened to spin around her as she watched, befuddled, as Loki nudged a brick beside the fireplace with his head, causing the wall to slide open and reveal another room.

Holy—!

“Your grandfather saved my father’s life when the Crickatar invaded our planet, and now, my family is indebted to yours. Ironically, your planet’s feline species closely resembles my people, allowing me to pass as your pet.” He waited until she followed to close the wall—how? She had no idea. “There’s another box on that desk. Open it.”

This time, it was a heart-shaped box. A thick and wide wristwatch was curled inside.

“Program it to 1888 Whitechapel, and for the love of Phalamacktal, make certain you’re holding onto me when you press Send.”

The digital interface on the watch allowed her to type a date and city. Her fingers trembled as she hit the buttons. Was she even entertaining the idea any of this was real?

Wait. “Whitechapel?”

Loki’s little head nodded as he jumped up and clung to her sweater, pulling himself up so that she had to either lift him or be clawed to death. “As in Jack the Ripper. Your grandfather is hot on his trail. He’s actually a Crickatar. Nasty creatures, those Crickatars.” Settled in the crook of her arm, he reached over and pushed the button with his paw.

A burst of white blinded her momentarily as ringing deafened her ears. Blinking, she realized she now stood in some kind of alley. Cobblestones were uneven beneath her booted feet, a thin layer of fog curling around her legs.

The ringing sound faded away. The click clack of a horse’s hooves grew louder and passed.

Loki leapt from her arms, so she called, “Wait!”

But the cat had already disappeared into the shadows.

Heart thumping, Dee pinched herself and felt the slight sting of pain. This was real? How could this be real? In the distance, a man’s familiar voice yelled, “Stop!” The slap of feet on pavement stampeded closer, and Dee shrank against the nearest building to get out of the way.

A dark-clad figure barreled past her hiding spot. An older man, gray hair curling at his ears, glasses perched on his pointed nose, gave chase. Dee’s eyes widened. Holy crap! That man looked exactly like her grandfather!

Another person, younger, handsome, with thick dark hair and an aristocratic profile, followed and caused her heart to leap into her throat. “Liam!” she yelled.

He turned, his eyes widening when he spotted her.

“Dee?” Giving up his pursuit, he approached her warily. “Is it really you?” Before she could speak, he tugged her into his arms. “I didn’t think you’d ever get here.”

She shoved him away. “What is going on?”

Three sharp bursts of a whistle blew in the distance, followed by, “Over’ere.”

Liam’s face grew more serious. “I’ll explain everything, but know this. If you come with me now, your life will never be the same. If you prefer, I can send you home. It’s not too late.” He swallowed a deep breath and held out his hand, prompting her to take it. “Your choice.”

As if.

Without any protest at all, she took his hand.

---February 2014

Find out more about Angela Campbell!

The Birthright by Shawna Thomas

Posted by: Jody W. and Meankitty

Birthright

By Shawna Thomas


Free image from http://www.sxc.hu/ used according to the Image License Agreement.

The carriage jostled on the rutted road, further bruising Jareth’s already sore backside. He much preferred riding or even walking to a closed carriage, but he didn’t want to risk being recognized. Not now. He reached for the small package deep in his coat pocket and realized he’d done so at least two dozen times since retrieving it. As it had each time, his breath caught as he unwrapped the tattered cloth to stare at the plain brown heart-shaped box.

It was small, but heavy for its size, easily fitting in the palm of his hand. It was an unassuming box, unless you had the magic to sense what lay within. Jareth ran his hand over the smooth wood. Words flickered to life in the wake of his touch. Although he recognized the ancient language, they disappeared before he could decipher their meaning. He didn’t have enough magic to make them stay.

He didn’t, but she did.

Would Calli think he brought her a blessing or a curse? He shook his head, staring at the fine mahogany grain of the wood. “Power, so much power.”

Was she ready for it? He took a deep breath, letting determination fill him as he exhaled. It was time. He’d witnessed her power over the years. Small things. Her ability to heal the animals in the surrounding woods. Her knack for always knowing which herb to use. She didn’t have a clue. Of that he was certain.

Jareth sighed. He hated when Calli left the security of the walled manor, but not even his stern warnings could keep her in. She’d so charmed most of his guards, they let her wander at will but followed at a discrete distance. It was perhaps dangerous, but even he had a problem denying her anything. She was his world. Besides, they were so far removed for the nearest village and no one here knew he was anything more than a reclusive lord. Once one of the guards had frightened a small fawn and she had so scolded the battle-hardened man that he’d returned red faced and ashamed.

She had a power over men too. A born ruler.

He closed his eyes, once again smelling smoke, the clang of swords, and the screaming. Jareth swallowed past a dry throat. He’d been his outer chamber, collecting ancient scrolls to make a hasty escape when the door had burst open. He’d expected his death but found his king wild-eyed and frantic, thrusting a wrapped bundle in his arms as the halls echoed with thunder.

He’d followed the king’s instructions to the letter, not stopping until he’d traveled the underground passages and followed the river to the small fisher’s shack. He’d carefully unwrapped the bundle, already guessing what was inside. She’d been so tiny, so perfect. They’d drugged her with niander leaf and she still slept peacefully. Her tiny chest moved in a steady rhythm. He remembered wondering if she could fathom that her life had just changed.

Inside the bundle he’d found enough gems to run a small country for a lifetime, provisions for the baby, a scroll and the wooden box. Jareth hadn’t needed to open the box. He was the court historian. He knew what was inside.

Written in the king’s hasty scratching, the scroll warned him to hide the box and the baby far away from each other until the time was right and to keep her safe at all cost.

Was the time right? He was only an historian, a failed one at that. How was he supposed to know the time was right? He quickly replaced the box and closed his eyes.

Would she hate him for lying to her? That was his biggest fear. She thought she was the daughter of an eccentric minor lord, not the heir to the kingdom. He leaned against the jostling seat and closed his eyes, letting the weariness of the last few weeks lull him to sleep.

It took him a moment to realize the screams had not followed him from his dreams. His limbs went cold. Men shouted. The carriage was under attack. He peeked out the curtained window. They were not far from the manor. Calli.

A horse screamed followed by the sibilance of steel. He drew his own short sword. He’d asked his men to teach him the finer points of self defense, just in case. From the sounds coming from outside the carriage, he wasn’t wrong.

A thud hit the carriage a moment later. The box. He had to get the box to safety. If it fell into the wrong hands... Acid coated his stomach.

“Papa!”

His heart leapt in his chest. What was Calli doing out here?

Jareth kicked open the carriage door and rolled outside. His men battled twice their number. The attackers resembled bandits, except for their first class weapons and skill. An arrow flew overhead and thudded into the carriage wall behind him.

Two men ran into the forest toward where Calli had screamed. He ran after them. Fire pierced his thigh. He stared in stunned disbelief at the fletching sticking out of his leg. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he forced himself to keep going.

He whirled in time to block a downward arc of a sword and swiped blindly with his knife. The spray of blood almost surprised him. The man crumpled. He surveyed his surroundings as though in a dream. Where was Calli? Fewer of his men fought and more bodies littered the road. Lost. He had to get the box to safety.

Calli emerged from the forest between two men. He raced forward. A dull thud sounded and something hit him from behind. He looked down, shocked to see an arrow piercing his chest. He dropped to his knees and began to crawl toward his daughter.

“Papa.” The word was almost whispered yet he felt the reverberations of it through the ground. The heart-shaped box in his pocket jumped as though it was a living thing. The bloodstone. Blood calling to blood. That’s why the king wanted it far from his daughter. It recognized her. Filled with the blood and power of her ancestors, it now called to her.

“Stop!”

It was the same tone she used when she’d found two young guards teasing one of the kitchen boys in the yard. Only this time, the air vibrated with power. The bandits froze and then crumpled to the ground. He was close enough to see confusion replace the fear in Calli’s eyes and then she was hovering over him.

“Papa.” She sobbed.

He reached for the heart-shaped box in his pocket. “Your birthright.” Every breath hurt and his words gurgled in his throat.

“Papa, don’t leave me. They attacked the manor. I escaped into the woods but I heard your carriage. Everyone is dead. Papa.”

As though from far away, he felt his head moved to her lap. Tears pooled in her pale green eyes.

Jareth reached up and touched her face. “I have loved you.”

“Don’t.” She offered a wobbly smile. “We’ll get you to a healer. You’re going to be fine.”

He smiled and pressed the box into her hands. She gasped as he felt the magic within surge.

“Your birthright,” he repeated. “Show it to no one. Find Elodia.”

The world began to darken. He decided the box was both a blessing and a curse.

---February 2014

Find out more about Shawna Thomas!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Heart-Shaped Box by Shawna Reppert

Posted by: Jody W. and Meankitty

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret of the Heart-Shaped Box

By Shawna Reppert


Free image from http://www.sxc.hu/ used according to the Image License Agreement.


Sherlock Holmes’s top desk drawer held trophies of his many successes, plus a simple, wooden, heart-shaped box. One with Holmes’s skill in observation might note that the box was the sort of cheap trinket that a young person might buy with an allowance, painted after purchase with a tutored but inexpert hand.

I first encountered the box when he sent me looking for a tin of poisonous seeds that he thought might shed some light on a current case. I pulled out the thing with a laugh, for it seemed so unlike my friend’s tastes, and made some sort of jovial allusion to the tales of the monster who cannot be killed because he keeps his heart in a box, only this box was empty.

Holmes uncurled like a viper from his previous indolent pose and snatched the box from my hand.
Thinking I had offended him with my joke about heartlessness, I stammered out an apology—though he had said as much and more about himself on occasion.

Holmes waved off my contrition. “It is I who should apologize, my dear Watson. It is only that the box is a reminder of a matter most sensitive to me. While everything else you see in that drawer is a memento of my success, that box is a reminder of my failure. My very first mystery, which remains unsolved.”

Something in his face discouraged further questions and suggested to me that personal sorrow, not professional frustration, drove his somber mood. Though Holmes lived and breathed rationality, I have often suspected his cold logic to be a defense. One need only hear him play his Stradivarius to realize that he was a man of deep passions. Perhaps he kept tight rein on his emotions out of fear that they would otherwise run away with him.

Something ran away with Holmes that dreary winter. He was out all hours, sometimes not coming home for days, often returning very much the worse for wear. When I asked him about the client, he would only say that there was none.

My friend sometimes undertook odd exercises to keep his skills sharp and, I suspected, to alleviate boredom. Since this was less unhealthy than some of his other methods of combating ennui, I held my tongue until the night he came back with a bullet wound for me to dress.

“Damn it, Holmes, life isn’t something to be held lightly.”

He tilted his head back to look at me upside-down. “You are right, my dear friend. It is not.”

Holmes slept for a day and a half, rose in a better mood and ate breakfast with an unusual appetite. I tried to engage him in conversation on the previous day’s headlines. The Yard had solved a serious of murders of young women, some going back almost two decades, previously thought to be unrelated. Such a subject would usually interest him, but he only said ‘indeed’ and proceeded to fill his pipe from the store he kept in the Persian slipper on the mantel. Our rooms filled with the strong, harsh scent of shag tobacco, and all was right with the world.

I was called out to an emergency in the evening and did not return until the sky started to lighten, so I might be forgiven for being still abed when Holmes received his caller, a somewhat older woman by her voice, in our shared sitting room. Eavesdropping was unpardonable, but I had caught the vice of curiosity from Holmes.

The woman thanked him, over and over again, for some service he had rendered.

Holmes’s voice was gentle, almost fond, as he quieted her. “I fear, madam, that my services were too little, too late.”

“But at least now we know what happened to her. A bit of peace, after all these years. And you were practically a boy yourself, without resources or training, when Patricia disappeared. You never did say how you discovered her killer.”

“Detective Inspector Lestrade was going on in his customary monotonous way about his early years on the force. Usually I ignore such prattle, but he mentioned two unsolved disappearances from his early years. I saw the similarities he had missed between those two cases. Similarities Patricia’s disappearance also had in common. Those peculiarities helped me build a description in my head of the killer as sure as if he had provided me with a photograph and a personal biography.”

“So you hadn’t the information you needed all those years ago to find out what had happened to our poor Patricia,” the woman said. “There was nothing you could have done earlier.”

“Yet it was my fault to begin with that she was lost.”

“No, Mr. Holmes—Sherlock. We have never held you responsible.”

“If I had escorted her to that dance as she requested, the blackguard would not have had his opportunity.”

“She knew such things were not to your taste. She could have stayed home, or accepted one of a half-dozen young men who would have been happy to escort her. She was just being our Patricia—outrageous, irrepressible, and even more stubborn than you.”

I heard Holmes open a desk drawer, sort through the objects, close it again. “I still have this, you know. The box she gave me. She said I should take it so I had at least one heart, as it was clear that I wasn’t born with one.”

I winced for my friend.

“You know she only meant it as a jest. She admired you greatly.”

“And I her.”

“Did you sometimes wonder, if she had not been taken. . .”

I held my breath, expecting my friend to scoff at the idea that he might ever have married, but Holmes will never cease to astonish me.

“I did wonder. Do wonder, useless and unproductive as such thoughts are.”

“Here, I’ve brought you something. It was among her things, I’ve kept it all these years, but I think you should have it.”

I blush to confess that by this point I had cracked the door to the sitting room open that I might watch. The woman opened her reticule and handed to Holmes a small locket, tarnished with age.

Holmes opened the locket, gave a wistful, sad smile. “Thank you.” He opened the heart-shaped box, put the locket inside, and closed the lid.

I will never again say that Holmes has no heart, nor agree with anyone who says that heart is empty.

---February 2014

Find out more about Shawna Reppert!

The Shape of His Heart by Jane Kindred

Posted by: Jody W. and Meankitty

The Shape of His Heart

by Jane Kindred


Free image from http://www.sxc.hu/ used according to the Image License Agreement.


It was an extravagance. She insisted she didn’t need a gift. It was the same every year, and every year, he ignored her, presenting her with trinkets, dainties, and posies, which she accepted with grace, chastising him gently. And every year, his gifts were piled with the others from her many admirers and instantly forgotten. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate the gesture; she did say repeatedly, after all, that she didn’t need the gifts he insisted on giving. But the queen had many admirers, all of whom ignored her wishes on the matter.

One could hardly blame them. Male or female, human or hiddenfolk, one look upon her countenance and they were consumed by an inescapable obsession. He’d fallen for her himself so long ago he no longer remembered the life he’d once had in the world above. All that mattered was the queen. And all that mattered to the queen was conquest.

He had brought her the spoils of war—foreign princes from exotic lands in the upper realm, incomparable beauties of every hue and height who knelt before her, defeated, for her amusement. He supposed he might once have been one of them. The thought only bothered him a little. Those who resisted her pull amused her most, as they would be the ones who simpered and fawned over her to the point of obsequiousness after their ultimate surrender.

He had given her the daughters of princes, as well. Teary-eyed little things who missed their mothers, and who were easily enchanted by the maternal kindness she showed when she chose to. But she had so many of these tender morsels she couldn’t remember their names.

He’d gifted her with rare blooms from the most distant mountaintops and valleys, stunning and exceptional, for her ladies-in-waiting. She wore down their pride with her own grace and elegance until they went mute, with eyes downcast, grateful for the chance at servitude. She decorated herself with them, arranging them about her throne in fantastic flowing gowns of every color to kneel at her feet and lay their heads against her thighs and drape her arms to offset her own matchless beauty. They changed with her mood, and she had many moods.

But this gift…this one, he was certain would surpass all others. It was a gift no one had given her before. He wrapped it carefully in leaves of gold, tied with glistening gossamer. He allowed the others to go first, patiently biding his time from the back of the hall, where he leaned casually against a crystal pillar watching the queen accept her gifts with the usual graceful boredom. This gift would not bore her. It was a gift she would never expect.

Her tresses of midnight blue trailed down over her ladies-in-waiting, stunning in gowns of scarlet against her own golden sheath, the train of which pooled around them like molten metal. She’d gone with lighter gold for her skin, offsetting it nicely. And her eyes this evening were the color of amber; he could see them from here, glowing like a cat’s. The queen nodded and thanked her admirers with the presentation of each gift, tolerating the emotional ones who wept and kissed her feet, overcome.

The gifts piled up.

At last, the room had emptied. Sycophants and servants glared at him on their way out, knowing he was a favorite, or at least that he thought himself so. She beckoned to him with jewel-bangled hand.

He pushed himself away from the post and came forward, bowing low—but not too low—when he reached the dais. She liked that he had a bit of spirit. He supposed he must not have struggled much against his enslavement, for he wasn’t in the least obsequious.

He straightened and held out the gift.

“Darling, you shouldn’t have,” she said, as always, as she accepted it. “You know I want for nothing.”

“But you do not have one of these.”

She raised a poppy-colored eyebrow. “Have you brought me a pixie? I can’t imagine what other living thing could fit in such a package.” Her graceful hands pulled away the gossamer and layers of gold, revealing the claret-colored box. The thick, leathery fabric of the box was stitched together with sinewy cord in the shape of a heart. He’d made it all himself by hand—the hinge, the clasp, the intricate designs he’d carved into it.

The queen raised her eyes and smiled encouragingly, inquisitive. He’d captured her interest. She ran her fingers over the surface, admiring it, rubbing her thumb along the seams. He held his breath. She opened it.

Nestled inside, the bloody muscle beat steadily.

The queen frowned, lifting it out. “You think I don’t have one of these?”

“My queen, that is not the gift. I merely thought you would appreciate the symbolism of what could the gift could be used to hold. The gift is the box itself.”

She set the heart back in its nest and closed the box once more, examining it. “It is lovely.” She seemed puzzled.

“I made it for you myself, my queen.”

“Made it? Out of what?”

He unbuttoned his coat and unlaced his shirt, holding it open to let her see the jagged pink line of puckered scar tissue.

Her eyes went wide, the amber sparkling like fire. “It’s your heart in the box?”

“No, my queen. My heart is the box. I tenderized it and hollowed it out, and sewed it together with cord made from my veins. The hinge and clasp are the arteries.” He smiled at her incredulous gasp and took her hand from the box to bring her fingers to his mouth. He kissed them reverently. “Your heart will be safe inside it.”

---February 2014

Find out more about Jane Kindred!

A Box Full of Faerie by Jody Wallace

Posted by: Jody W. and Meankitty

A Box Full of Faerie

by Jody Wallace




Chapter One

Wham! Wham! Wham!

A thunderous pounding on the door disrupted Rachele’s daily yoga workout. Startled, she froze in the ‘cat’ segment of her cat-cow sequence for warming up the spine.

Wham! Wham!

She leapt to her feet. The hair on the back of her neck prickled a warning, like some kind of intruder alert. Her brain rapidly assessed threat responses—knives in the kitchen, vase on the table near the door, hand to hand, straight-up hiding.

None of that would help if they had a gun.

“Who is it?” she called, voice cracking.

When there was no response, she crept silently toward the front door of the cottage. Gene sat on the foyer table beside the vase, long, black tail curled around his paws.

Displaying zero alarm after the sudden racket, he swiveled an ear as she approached. Cats often sensed danger before humans, so if he wasn’t anxious, maybe she shouldn’t be either.

“You’d better not break that vase,” she chided him. Gene was her destructo kitty. The blue willow vase was the fourth one to occupy the spot of honor in the foyer. This one, she hoped, was both heavy enough that Gene couldn’t knock it over and that it would make a good weapon.

Because that was the perfect criteria for interior decorating choices.

Gene blinked. The tip of his tail flicked an acknowledgement.

Reassured, Rachele pressed her eye to the peephole. A man in khaki clothing with a clipboard waited on the porch. A cap shaded the top half of his face from view.

Rachele laughed to herself. A delivery person. If khaki guy were a gun-toting villain, he wouldn’t have bothered to knock. She’d never get used to the way people here traipsed onto your porch like they were allowed on your property without an invitation, but that didn’t mean everyone meant you harm.

Not like where she’d grown up—not at all.

Which was exactly why she’d relocated to Shawnaville, North Carolina, in the first place.

Checking her clothing to make sure all the important ladybits were covered, she unchained and unbolted the door and swung it back. Pleasant afternoon sunlight streamed through the opening, warming her exposed arms and face.

“Can I help you?” she asked the man.

“Delivery for 802 Danube Street.” He tapped the clipboard. “Are you Rachele Waters?”

She peered past him to the medium-sized truck parked at the curb. Two other men busied themselves at the rear of the vehicle as if her delivery weren’t a small box or overnight envelope. She didn’t recognize the company name on the side of the truck—Summerland Express.

“I didn’t order anything,” she said automatically, although it was quite possible she had. She hated shopping— wearing clothes and shoes, going outside around all those strangers, in the stores, leaving her cats alone in the house when who knew what mischief they could get up to? The internet was her friend.

The man lifted his chin to look at her. The bored expression on his brown face didn’t flicker as he extended the clipboard and a large ink pen. “If you could just sign at the X?”

“But what is it?” she asked.

“I just drive the truck, ma’am. I don’t know what’s in your parcel.”

Bemused, Rachele accepted the paperwork. She glanced over the tiny print. Everything looked standard. The sender appeared to be an internet retailer she often accessed. Huh. Was it time for more cat food? Craft supplies for her online business? Oh, maybe it was that new yoga mat.

What a nice surprise. She loved presents.

Balancing the clipboard in one hand, she scribbled her name awkwardly with the pen. It was slick and unusually heavy, as if weighted inside. The pen slipped out of her grasp as she was writing the last letter. The sharp clip pricked her finger like a cat’s claw.

“Ouch!” A tiny bit of blood dripped on the signature line. Embarrassed, Rachele snatched her hand behind her back. “Sorry. I got a smudge on your paper.”

For a former...well, for a person whose employment used to involve slinking around and eavesdropping, she was so clumsy sometimes.

The delivery guy shrugged and handed her the customer copy. “As long as we get the signature.”

The two other guys pushed and tugged a large carton out of the back of the truck--a brown box about as tall as they were and almost as wide. They hoisted it between them easily—apparently it wasn’t too heavy—and toted it across her yard. Large arrows on the sides indicated “this end up”.



What in the miaow was that? Not a yoga mat, that was for sure. The box they supported could hold a refrigerator and a half.

“Do you need us to bring it inside, ma’am?” one asked.

“No.” She didn’t know what it was. No way was it coming in her house. “Just leave it there.”

They looked at each other as if she was dim-witted, set the box down near her stepping stone pathway, and returned to the truck.

The guy with the clipboard tipped his cap at her. “Have a nice day, Ms. Waters.”

She waited until the men drove off to fetch a box cutter, slip on her hated shoes, and head out to the yard to inspect her new possession. While she didn’t want it inside until she could figure out what it was, that didn’t mean she wasn’t dying of curiosity.

It wasn’t a fatal flaw...considering she was still alive...so why curb it when so many fascinating things awaited discovery?

Her name was clearly marked on the box, as was her address. Nothing was misspelled. Didn’t seem like a mistake. Hm, was it that new predictive delivery she kept hearing about?

She gave the box an experimental shove. It moved half an inch through the close-cropped grass. Probably too heavy for her to carry by herself, but she had several nice neighbors. Next she shook it.

Something inside, something large, thunked against the cardboard.

Rachele jumped back, box cutter held low. The better to slash with.

When the contents of the box didn’t thunk again, she straightened, smoothed her long, black hair, and casually glanced around to see if anyone had noticed her freak out over a box.

“Mrow!” Shona, her long-haired, grey tabby, minced through the flower bed. Her tail waved like a plume behind her. She was not accompanied by the jaunty jingle of a bell.

Well, turd buckets.

“Where have you left your collar this time, puss?” Rachele knelt and buried her fingers in the cat’s warm fur. Four collars, just this month. She didn’t want to keep the cats locked inside, but roaming the streets could be dangerous for critters. Even these streets. The least Shona could do was leave her collar on.

The cat rolled onto her back, purring. Guests to her home had been certain Shona was a Maine Coon, but she wasn’t. She was as mixed-breed as all of Rachele’s cats.

They were her kitties. Her charges. Her babies. She might be a bit of a crazy cat lady, but what did she care?

It was better than what she had been. Before.

In fact, everything was better than it had been before except Jacques, but he would never be okay again.

Never mind that. Never, ever mind that.

“Let’s see what’s inside.” Giving Shona one last pat, Rachele pushed thoughts of the past aside and felt around the edges of the parcel, looking for seams and tape. If Gene was her destructo kitty and Shona was her gorgeous wanderer, Luiken was her box lover. This box, however, was a touch larger than the shoe and paper boxes he favored.

She stuck the box cutter into the crack along the side of the box and sliced downward. Cardboard and glue parted ways with a long, dry rip that sent shivers up Rachele’s spine. Ack! It was nearly as bad as daggers on a chalkboard. She continued along the bottom, stood, and sliced along the top.

The front of the box eased open like a door. Inside the parcel was something she had definitely not ordered for herself.

A person-high wardrobe with a single door rested inside the box, no Styrofoam cushioning. Well, that didn’t seem like a very sensible packaging technique. The wardrobe was shaped oddly, almost triangular, with a bottom as wide as the box and a top that came to a point. Intricate carvings covered the aged wood—vines, fairies, unicorns, and other mystical creatures. The door, like the wardrobe itself, had three sides.

She took a step back and frowned. Cocking her head to the side, she realized it wasn’t a triangle.

It was an upside down heart.

Graceful swoops at the bottom rested on the ground, giving the wardrobe more stability than one might assume an upside down heart would have. The doorknob was also a heart, iron filigree and very fancy.

It looked expensive. And old. Leaning forward, she gave it an experimental sniff. Beeswax mixed with spice and hints of pine, though the wood itself appeared to be oak. The combination reminded her of something, perhaps something from her past, but she couldn’t recall what.

Whatever it was, it made her sad. Since she had no more room in her life for “sad”, she shrugged it off and continued her inspection.

She ticked the door with a fingernail. Solid. Next she rapped on it. The hollow clunk seemed to verify it was empty.

How lovely. Who’d sent it to her? And why? It wasn’t her birthday, and nobody in her regular life knew when her birthday was. Just the cats, who didn’t really care, but they did enjoy the fact she served them ice cream on her special day.

As for the wardrobe, she could place it in her craft room and fill it with yarn and beads and more yarn. She grabbed the doorknob and pulled it open, eager to see if had shelving inside.

A loud crack, like lightning, resonated across the yard. Bright blue light blasted out of the door. Rachele yelped. Stumbled. Fell on her bottom. Shona hissed and scampered toward the house in a flash of bushy tail.

After a moment, the blue dimmed until there was just a phosphorescent glow around the door edges.

Cautiously, she inched toward the wardrobe and stuck out a toe. She nudged the bottom corner of the door until it swung open on creaky hinges.

A swirling, glimmering portal greeted her stunned gaze.

Hastily she slammed the door. It had no lock but stayed shut.

For now.

Well, dammit! Dammit to Frell and dammit some more. Who had sent her a dog-damned door to Faerie?

After all she’d done to get away from that place.

*

To be continued in the HEART-SHAPED BOX anthology!

---February 2014

Find out more about Jody Wallace!
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