Monday, July 31, 2017

Here Be News

Posted by: Veronica Scott
New Releases:
The story:
Empathic priestess Carialle has escaped the evil Amarotu Combine, but she's hardly out of danger. Not when she risks everything to rescue a drugged man from a crooked veterans' clinic. By lulling the clinic staff to sleep, she reveals her powers. And once again, criminals are after her and her rescuer.

Marcus Valerian, a wounded Special Forces veteran, never expected to have his life threatened by the clinic that's supposed to help ex-soldiers like him. But when he wakes from a drugged state to find a lovely woman urging him to run--he does. In his family's remote fishing cabin, he suffers the agony of withdrawal, soothed only by her powers.

In their idyllic hideaway, the two also discover a nova-hot attraction flaring. But can they stay alive long enough for it to become more? Not if the Combine has anything to say--they are not giving up until Marcus is dead and Carialle is their tool.

Buy Links: Amazon     iBooks     Barnes & Noble  Kobo

CHILDREN OF NIGHT series by PG Forte

The first six books in the series are being re-released through Entangled Publishing--with pretty new covers. These "deliciously dark" tales of undying love and vampire family values are currently on sale for .99 each.

Other News:

Now Available as an Audio Book!

Sweet Sci-Fi/Fantasy Romanceby Linda Mooney
Word Count: 60K
$3.99 e / $9.99 p / $19.95 a

Narrated by Barbara Nevins Taylor
Length: 6 hrs, 28 min
Hear a Sample.

She sold herself to a dark and angry master. 
He bought her, hoping she would save his world, and himself.

Tired of letting his people down time and time again, Egan Pri, costell of Unurit, has decided to do whatever it takes to save his people. A Charm is coming to town, and if he can scrape up enough money to buy her, his people could reap the benefits…but he's skeptical. Still, he'll try anything. The only rule? Keep her happy. He could do that.

Genesee ii Duuru, a magical gypsy of sorts, is ready to be sold. She feels the pull of a planet desperate for her help. The sadness, the hopelessness—it's time for her to do her part, what she was born to do. With two offers on the table, does she go with her heart, or the betterment of her tribe?

Genesee finds herself wanting to heal more than just the land and the people. But with this being her first sale, she fears she's gotten in over her head. What had started out as answering a call for help had morphed into her becoming a pawn in a political game she had no business being a part of.

Forgotten enemies, unexpected allies, and a love forbidden.

Warning! Contains puffy balls of light, drought, glass weaving, near starvation, budding knives, internal conflicts, revenge years in the making, and one woman's attempt to revive one man's cold and lifeless heart with her own warmth and love.

NOTE: This is a sweet romance, but you can get the love/consummation scene IN E-Format for free by clicking this link. This scene is NOT included in the print or audio edition

Bring It Back(list) Feature
X-TROLLER by Linda Mooney

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Bring It Back(list): X-TROLLER

Posted by: Linda Mooney
Do you like action and adventure?
Time travel?

A post-apocalyptic future?
A kick-ass heroine?

A dark, moody hero?
Scorching romance?
Blood-thirsty monsters?
An evil corporation?

Sci-Fi, Futuristic, Post-Apocalyptic, Paranormal, Time Travel  Romance
by Linda Mooney
Word Count: 62.9K
$3.99 e / $9.99 p / $19.95 a

Also available as an Audio Book!
Narrated by Kay Webster
Length: 6 hrs, 45 min
Hear a Sample.

Emotionally scarred and physically weary, Dwan is ordered to go forty-seven years into the past in a last ditch effort to find the one man who can help her fight the monsters created decades ago by a company called Lambruchet. Monsters that have since devastated mankind and the world.

Eli Voight has been battling the Lambruchet demons ever since the company had his father killed. As the first Troller, he’s made it his duty to bring down the creatures and find a way to permanently stop them. He’s skeptical of Dwan's claim that she’s from the future. But her skill is undeniable, and her presence becomes an all-consuming passion for the man who had pushed aside any thought of a personal life in his quest to drive the demons to extinction.

Dwan never expected to fall and fall hard for the emotionally unapproachable soldier. Worse, she knew what kind of death lay ahead for Eli, which meant there could never be a future for them.

Together, they must fight to take out the monstrosities, or else Earth as it is will cease to exist. And the Earth that could be, Dwan’s world, will only hold a future of horror and hopelessness.

Warning: Contains living nightmares, impromptu dentistry, great beef stew (with real meat), screwed DNA, deadly broom handles, a shave and a haircut, coded writing, and two people fighting against a future that gives mankind only two more decades to exist.

Excerpt and buy links.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Not the Table

Posted by: Cindy Spencer Pape
A while ago, I was asked to write a piece about motherhood for a local event. The first person I thought of, of course, was my own mother. She was a bit of an odd duck, a tomboy living in a Leave-it-to-Beaver world. But of course, that’s not what I was supposed to talk about tonight. Then I thought about my favorite fictional moms—everyone from Sharon Gless on Burn Notice, to Brak’s mom from the Adult Swim cartoons. My husband and I are both—well, intellectual would be the nice word, but what comes out is “nerds.”  Our nearly 30+ years together have often left both of us wondering if there’s actually a sadistic sit-com writer sitting behind the scenes of our day-to-day life. But no, not TV moms. This is supposed to be about me, and my own experience as a mother. That took a while to sink in. After all, I’ve only been a mother for 25 years. What kind of expertise do I have? It’s not like I’m a real grown up or anything.

Oh. Wait. Not only am I a grown up, but so are my sons, at 24 & 25. I even have an adorable (of course) granddaughter. I guess that counts. So here we go.

Going back to the TV references, I don’t live a shiny Brady Bunch life. I really don’t think anyone does, and if they did, I’d probably be scared of them. Real life is a lot messier, sillier, harder, and more joyful than that—sometimes all at once. Parenthood, especially, has been a series of moments and emotions that are often so outrageous, my publishers would probably make me cut some of my own memories because they were “unrealistic.” Like my younger son looking up at my mother and saying, “Tristan no eat bugs.” Because he’d clearly just hidden the one he was about to pop in his mouth.

Starting at the beginning, when you first find out you’re going to be a parent, you’re bombarded with frantic emotions. Whether you’re pregnant or adopting, I’m told, the roller coaster is there, just the same. There’s hope, joy, awe, excitement, anticipation, love—because, yes, you already love that child even before you see him or her—and also there’s a hefty dose of unremitting terror.

What if something goes wrong? What if I screw up? It’s that terror that stalks you and robs you of sleep. And it doesn’t go away. Ever. Along with the love, joy and pride our kids bring us, the terror is still there, even as they move on to families of their own. Because that’s what parenthood is all about. Being a mom means you will love that child and worry about that child every single day for the rest of your life. Oh—and trust me. You will screw up. It’s part of human nature. In my house full of men, there aren’t a lot of language filters. Basically, our motto is “Suck it up and cope.” Crass, but it honestly has gotten us through a lot of rough times.

So do nerd parents raise nerd children? Sometimes. Neither of my children are readers on anywhere near the scale of myself or my husband, but they’re both avid video gamers and Live-action-role-players. That means they dress up in armor and smash at other young adults with pool noodle and duct-tape swords.  Honestly, it sounds like fun, but I’m pretty sure I’d break something if I tried it, so I leave it to them. Would I have been happier if either of them had developed a more academic bent? Sure. But they’re both taking community college courses at their own pace, both working, and one is learning to be a single parent—while fighting tooth and nail for his daughter’s well-being. So while they’re not living MY dreams for them—I still have to say I’m proud.

How did I get such great kids? I’m honestly not sure. One thing I do know is that whenever we could, we sat down to dinner as a family.  Our table is a big, old oak monstrosity that my husband and I bought in a yard sale in our grad-school days. The finish was so bad, we never cared if it was damaged further, so it’s been home to crafts, games, homework, and dinners for decades.

We had kids when our friends didn’t, so the gaming was usually at our house. Our kids grew up being passed from lap to lap while we played everything from Trivial Pursuit to Dungeons and Dragons. They also grew up at a table where everyone was welcome. There was always room for a friend to drop in, and somehow the food always stretched, even when we were broke.

Around our table, there were no taboos. Any subject could be discussed. And usually was. With lots of laughter. Sarcasm sort of runs in the family. If the boys didn’t know a word that came up, we’d chorus “look it up.” First one to find it in the dictionary didn’t have to do dishes.

As the kids grew up, that often included their friends. It shocked me to realize that many of them had never experienced this kind of, “It’s dinnertime, let’s all sit down and eat,” scenario. Don’t families do that anymore? I’d hear comments from the friends, like, “Your parents are weird.” Well, yeah, we know that. But I’d also see kids laughing so hard they could barely eat. And kids who were shocked that their comments were taken just as seriously (or not) as anyone else’s. I also heard someone say to my son, “So that’s how you know so much, even though you sleep through school.” And my son agreed. Politics, science, pop culture, history, everything was fair game around the dinner table. Over the years, I’ve been thanked by a number of those friends for giving them that experience. Just something as simple as sitting down to dinner.

Now our kids are grown, and the table is literally on its last legs. The glue joints are shot and the top needs at least another coat of marine varnish to keep it going. We had the offer from a relative to give us a nearly identical table, but one that’s in pristine condition. “Perfect!” I said.

“No,” said my sons.

“No,” said their friends. Really? My kids’ friends care about our table? Ooookay.

“No,” said a number of our friends. That really raised eyebrows.

“Not the table,” explained my husband’s best friend from childhood, who met his wife over a game board at our house. “You can’t get rid of that.” Apparently, it’s a symbol—of something.

I honestly don’t know if we can salvage the table. It’s really wobbly. But I suppose we have to try. If not, its memory will live on as the main set of the sitcom that has been our family. It’s where we paid bills, worried about major and minor decisions, discussed baby names, sorted through paperwork after my mother’s death and spent time with our friends. It’s where I wrote most of my stories and novels. But more than any other single location, it’s where we raised our kids. If it does go, I have to admit, a little bit of my heart will go with it.

Cindy Spencer Pape firmly believes in happily-ever-after. Multiple award-winning author of the best-selling Gaslight Chronicles, she has released almost sixty novels and stories, which blend fantasy, adventure, science fiction, suspense, history and romance. Cindy lives in southeast Michigan with her husband and a bunch of spoiled dogs. When not hard at work writing she can be found restoring her 1870 house, dressing up for steampunk parties and Renaissance fairs, or with her nose buried in a book.
Newsletter group:  

Thursday, July 27, 2017

How Reading a Good Story is Like Going Home

Posted by: Maureen
by Maureen L. Bonatch 
The other day I came across a picture of my childhood home where my parents still live. I don’t live very far away, so I still visit there often. Yet, I almost didn’t recognize the house in the photo. It seemed too small. Too ordinary to hold so much of my life story behind it’s walls. In my mind full of decades of memories this ranch house looms extraordinary and larger than life. That’s because it’s more than a house—it’s a home.

There’s No Place Like Home

Photo of my parents yard courtesy of my sister- the better photographer
Each time I return to visit my childhood home, when I walk in the door I’m comforted by decades of good, bad, ordinary and extraordinary stories contained within the walls. I don’t see rooms. I see memories. 

I remember the room I shared with my sister before moving into my own one once my older sister moved out, the coveted one bathroom for a family of seven, the living room where so many get togethers occurred over the years, and the kitchen where I washed (and still wash) more dishes than I could ever count.

Over the years the furnishings and paint color may have changed, but the exterior of the house remained basically the same. If the walls could talk—oh the stories this home could tell about love and life. Kind of like the experience when you pick up a new book.

When a Book Becomes a Story

Whether it’s a paperback or an ebook, when you first choose it, it’s just another book. Stores have shelves of them just waiting to share their story. Some might have a fancier cover, or be longer or shorter than the other, but for the most part they look about the same on the outside. But that's where the similarities end.

You can tuck a book into your purse and forget about it when you take it with you. That is, until you open the cover. As a reader, you have an amazing ability to carry around an entire world, perhaps a new universe, in the palm of your hand.

Once you begin to read and turn the pages the characters, and the story, come to life. Then you no longer only carry the book in your bag, but you take the story with you in your mind. The author may have lived in this imaginary world with their characters for years as the story was written, but now you’ve come to visit their home.

When You Just Want to Go Home

One definition of the word home is that of a place of refuge. There are days when many of us want nothing more than to go home. To find that familiar, to go where we seamlessly blend in and are welcomed with open arms to forget about that bad or dull day. 

I’m lucky that distance doesn’t prevent me from visiting my childhood home almost anytime I want. But there are times when I just want to go home for a quick escape of the demands of the everyday but I can’t, luckily I can escape into a story. My body might remain at the office, the airport, or in the waiting room, but my mind can visit the characters I’ve grown to love, and explore the world created in the story that lives within my imagination. 

Because I believe what they say is true, you can always go home again—if you have a good book. 

What about you, do you believe that there's no place like home?

Need a New Home for Your Stories? Don’t Miss Your Chance at Winning a New Kindle Fire Tablet. Follow the Rafflecopter Link Right Here.

Maureen Bonatch grew up in small town Pennsylvania and her love of the four seasons—hockey, biking, sweat pants and hibernation—keep her there. While immersed in writing or reading paranormal romance and fantasy, she survives on caffeine, wine, music, and laughter. A feisty Shih Tzu, her teen twins & alpha hubby keep her in line. Find Maureen on her websiteFacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cover Reveal--new series

Posted by: Janni Nell
I've always enjoyed cozy mysteries, so it was a no-brainer that one day I'd venture in that direction. Although my work had hedged around the cozy genre for years, I'd never jumped in boots and all. That changed with my latest book Secrets, Spells & Murder. Once I'd started it, the darn thing just poured out as though it couldn't wait to be written. I'm currently editing like crazy to get this ready for a September release.

In the meantime, I'm thrilled to share my cover, which was designed by the totally awesome Viola at Estrella Cover Art.

Janni Nell writes mysteries, sometimes paranormal, sometimes not. Join her on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Christmas in July

Posted by: Jenny Schwartz

Aussie Christmases are summery and hot, so to enjoy traditional Christmas feasts, we celebrate "Christmas in July". It is awesome! In midwinter we get to enjoy the glorious traditional foods that northern hemisphere people have over Christmas. But life can't be all about food - there are also the great books you read while devouring bowls full of trifle and sipping hot chocolate.

Actually, if there's one food I miss in my not-so-cold corner of the world, it's roasted chestnuts. Buying them from a vendor, cracking open the hot, hot, hot shells and eating the sweet, smoky chestnuts is heaven. But I digress.

I was going to discuss how binge reading while eating yummies is my utter indulgence, and how Kindle Unlimited has rescued me from breaking my book budget. I now binge read with total disregard for cost by selecting books that are in Kindle Unlimited. Amazon's subscription service only opened in Australia in December (yes, in time for our real Christmas - it was awesome!) and for roughly the equivalent of US $10 a month I read, and read, and read.

One of the biggest challenges of Kindle Unlimited is finding the great books in it. Some get hidden away, overwhelmed and lost in the avalanche of new books. So I've started a Facebook page where I share the great books I've discovered in Kindle Unlimited (authors are welcome to share their Kindle Unlimited books in the pinned post at the top of the page): Always Another Great Book.

Consider Always Another Great Book my Christmas in July gift to you - and happy reading!

P.S. All of my independently published books are available in Kindle Unlimited. If you haven't discovered them, my Amazon author page lists them:

Monday, July 24, 2017

Here Be News

Posted by: Veronica Scott
New Releases:

Counterfeit Cupid
A Dallas Fire & Rescue Kindle Worlds/
Mt. Olympus Employment Agency Crossover
by R.L. Naquin

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.

Available here in the Kindle Worlds store on Amazon

Other News:
Now Available as an Audio Book!

Sci-Fi/Urban Fantasy Romance
by Linda Mooney
Word Count:  45.4K
$2.99 e / $9.99 p / $19.95 a

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

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.

Bring It Back(list) Feature:
Excerpt from  Where Light Meets Shadow from Shawna Reppert here

A M/M high fantasy romance that won a sliver medal in the Global Ebook Awards in the category of other world fantasy

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Bring It Backlist: Where Light Meets Shadow

Posted by: Shawna Reppert


Today's backlist offering is a M/M high fantasy romance that won a sliver medal in the Global Ebook Awards in the category of other world fantasy.  A bit about Where Light Meets Shadow:

The Scathlan elf Kieran journeys through mortal lands in search of new songs and tales to renew his people’s dying culture. His most cherished, most impossible hope is to rediscover the powers of bards from legend in order to wake the queen, in a stupor since the end of the war between his own people and the Leas elves.

Kieran accidentally wanders into Leas lands, and a fall from his horse leaves him injured and at the mercy of his enemies. 

He discovers that the Leas are not entirely as he believed them to be. He develops a friendship with the Leas healer-prince, and the two work together to recreate an ancient technique for melding bardic and healing magic, a technique he secretly hopes will wake his queen.

As friendship deepens into love, will they find a way to heal the rift between Leas and Scathlan, or will the old enmity destroy them?



Kieran had made a serious mistake; his stomach churned sourly with the realization. Wind blew as cruelly as the breath of the ice-dragon in the Ballad of Barran, driving white, wet flakes against his face, his hair, his already-sodden clothes. Despite the bitter cold, sweat darkened his mare’s gray coat in streaks. He patted her shoulder in apology and urged her on. The only slim hope they both had for surviving the night lay in moving forward.

He had only himself to blame if he died out here, but his poor horse had not taken part in that decision. 

Kieran was surrounded by snow and gray rock and the occasional bare, gray tree thrashing against a slate sky that darkened with encroaching night. He could see no sign of habitation, no shelter to speak of. 

Maybe over the next rise. 

He had though the path he followed was a bridle path or at least a peddler’s track, but now he wondered if it had just been a deer trail. It had risen, and dipped, and risen again, but here, clear of the thick forest, he could no longer deny he overall ascended the mountain. Did mortals dwell in higher altitudes? The ones he’d encountered before all seemed to prefer to farm the fertile valleys.

His hands ached with cold, and he wondered how long it would take for them to warm up enough to play, should he find some place to exchange a few songs for food and a roof to sleep under. The cobwebby tightness he felt in his chest did not bode well for his singing voice. Nor did the congestion that made his head feel twice its normal size. 

What was all this cold and damp doing to his harp? It nestled in its protective case, carefully wrapped in oilskin, but still the weather couldn’t be doing it any good.
The harp had been his father’s, as had the sword at his side. He was rather more skilled with the former than the latter, though he could take care of himself well enough.

He thought fondly of the warm, cozy village inn where he’d slept last night, of the orange glow of the fire in the huge hearth. His stomach rumbled, remembering the savory stew the innkeeper had been pleased to serve him in exchange for songs and stories to entertain his guests. 

That inn was nearly a day’s ride behind him. Yes, he could have asked them the distance to the next town, asked for advice as to the road ahead. But he’d been having far too much fun playing the mysterious, all-knowing elven bard, coming from nowhere to nowhere on a whim. 

A poor legacy he had become for the great bard his father had been if he ended up dead on the road like some beggar, and all a result of his pride and folly. Doubtless few he’d left behind would be surprised at his end. Likely they’d just shake their heads. Crazy Kieran. Talented, but impulsive. Entirely too foolhardy.
Some, at least, might miss him. Brona would. Surely more would miss his music.
The mare lost her footing in the snow just as the path dipped. She slid for a few dangerous lengths before regaining her balance. She snorted in alarm. Kieran murmured to her soothingly. 

The snow had started well after noon. By that time, he had gone hours without seeing an inn or even a farmhouse, and decided his best chances lay in pressing ahead, though all he could see was endless forest. Then even the trees became sparser, smaller, and bent, stretching away from the fierceness of the prevailing winds. Stark, black rock rose up through the snow drifts like the teeth of the mountain. The sun sank low, and the air grew colder still.

Kieran shivered convulsively. He could no longer feel his hands.

Fortune had favored him for weeks into his sojourn. The mortals were kinder and more generous than he’d expected, eager for music and in awe of his strangeness. A bard was a rarity, an elven bard something out of legend. That they recognized him at all, and that they were surprised at his dark hair, set whispers of caution running through his mind, but he ignored them. He’d shared songs and stories, gathered material to be worked into new tales and ballads. He represented an old tradition, and one nearly dead now. Kieran’s father had been the last elven bard to honor it, in his own youth, centuries before.

At least, his father had been the last Scathlan elf to follow the tradition. Kieran knew nothing of the Leas elves, nor did he care to know, so long as they stayed far away from him.

 By setting out in the world his own people had long abandoned, he risked encountering his people’s enemies—the Leas elves had been responsible for his father’s death and, indirectly, his mother’s, as well as his stillborn brother’s. Ironically, mere cold and snow proved a bigger threat.

Reckless, old Cyrna would say. Reckless and irresponsible.
She’d said it often enough in the years she’d put into raising him to his majority. He’d given his old nursemaid plenty of opportunities.

The mare raised her head, alert, ears pricked hard forward. Kieran’s hearing, far keener than a mortal’s, didn’t quite match that of his elven horse. A few moments later, he heard what had caught her attention. 

Thunder of hooves, belling of hounds, and voices calling back and forth. He turned his mare toward the sound. She picked up the pace of her own accord, breaking into a trot.
Closer still, and he could make out the words. Could he be mad from the cold? That sounded like his own tongue which he had not heard spoken for nearly a month.
His own tongue, yes, but the accent was wrong. His people, and yet not his people. 

He reined the mare in. She pinned her ears and pawed but obeyed the command. The coming night meant certain death unless he found shelter and warmth. The Leas he was less sure of. They were still elves, after all. He was alone, and a bard, and a stranger in need. Even the meanest mortal crofter would not refuse him a place at the hearth under such circumstances.

He remembered the stench of blood and the moans of the wounded and dying, before the healer’s aide found him and shooed him from the infirmary. His four-year-old mind had struggled to grasp that other elves had done these terrible things. Not animals, not even mortal men, but elves. Leas. He’d had nightmares about Leas, fueled by what little he’d heard of them. Like his people, and yet unlike. Pale-haired, with mouths twisted in awful cruelty.

He had never met one face to face, though they were distant kin to his kind. He felt a morbid curiosity about those who had been responsible for the destruction of his family and his queen.

The sounds of the hunt came closer, and Kieran realized he had been sitting frozen, like a rabbit in the hypnotic stare of a fox. He shook himself. Maybe he was not the bard his father was, after all, but he was all the hope his people had, whether they acknowledged it or no. He’d be damned before he yielded meekly to the foe. 

Kieran turned his mare, ignoring her rumble of protest. He urged her to a gallop. She refused. He clapped his heels into her sides as though she were a mortal’s nag. She bucked in shock, then lunged forward. 

The shouts behind him changed in tone. He had been spotted.

The mare labored in the deep snow drifts, skidded, floundered, and pitched to her knees. His cold-stiffened limbs reacted too slowly. He tumbled over her head, landing on his back. His father’s harp broke beneath him with a sickening crunch that echoed forever against uncaring rocks.

The mare struggled to her feet, but the dark shapes of tall, powerful horses were coming upon him, close enough now that he could see the fair hair of the riders escaping from under their hoods. Not enough time to remount, and too many of them to fight. 

The horses pulled up in a semi-circle around him, blowing clouds of steam with each breath. Several of the riders dismounted. All wore swords, and all moved as though they knew how to use them. All were pale and eerie beings out of his nightmares.
Kieran spared a moment’s regret for the music that would die with him and for the home he would never see again. If this were the end, he hoped it would be quick and clean.
Alban shook his head at the sweat-streaked coat of the stranger’s mare. Irresponsible. He handed his reins to his squire, then turned his attention to the fallen rider who had just become his problem, at least until he could get the fool to his father’s hall.

Why had the man tried to flee? Yes, he was trespassing, but the Leas and the mortals were on good terms. The worst the interloper would face was a lecture from Alban’s father before he was returned safely home. No other shelter lay within half a day’s ride, and with night and the storm closing fast, being taken in by the Leas offered his only chance at survival. What was the man doing here in the first place, so far from any mortal settlement?

Best get the horse and the fool to shelter and sort it out later. He approached the stranger with a hand out to help him to his feet—and froze.

He registered features just as fine and angular as his own—elf!—and hair black as the heart of all darkness—Scathlan!

Alban had never expected see one in the flesh, though the war between their peoples had shadowed his life since before his birth.

Scathlan. Cold. Proud. Ruthless. Elves, yes, but elves bloodthirsty enough to slaughter their own cousins over a small slight of honor.

If the Scathlan had had their way, he would have never been born. The love that had brought him into being had also birthed the bitterest war in the long history of elvenkind.

Footsteps crunched in the snow. Alban turned to face Eamon, his swordmaster and hunting companion. Eamon knew far more of the Scathlan than did Alban. He had known them before the war, when there had been peace between their peoples and civil, if stiff, relations between them. He had fought them in the war, and still bore a nasty scar from a Scathlan arrow in his thigh that had left him with a limp in cold weather.

Eamon had twice his years and had been his mentor since he was a child. Still, he deferred to Alban here because Alban was the lord’s son, even though Alban wished he would take the decision from his hands. Alban couldn’t show hesitance or weakness by conferring in front of the enemy. The Scathlan was yet another responsibility on his shoulders, and none of his choosing. 

Maybe the Scathlan was a spy or perhaps an advanced scout. He didn’t look dangerous. To be honest, he looked scared, and cold, and miserable. 

Looks could deceive.

Everyone—the Scathlan, his own companions—were waiting for him to take charge of the situation. As King Toryn’s son, he had responsibilities. He drew himself up.

“What are you doing on Leas land?” Alban asked in his coldest voice.

The stranger gave a sharp laugh. “Believe me, if I had known this was Leas land, I would have stayed far, far away.”

“I don’t. Believe you, that is. I know how far your dwellings lie from here. How could you possibly end up here by accident?”

The stranger glared at him with eyes as black as a crow’s. “By following my nose.”

“To what purpose?”

The Scathlan’s smile showed false, his shrug insolent. “Only to chase songs from inn to inn, like a lark flitting from tree to tree.”

“Liar.” Alban stalked toward the Scathlan whose very presence threatened the peace and the lives of his people.

The stranger tried to rise and flee. He floundered, and his scream rent the darkening sky. The Scathlan must have injured himself in the fall and been too numb with cold and the shock of the fall to feel it until he tried to stand.

Alban pushed pity aside, pushed aside the healer’s instincts that were part of the Leas royal birthright. This was a Scathlan elf who would kill Alban if he could.

The Scathlan scrambled backward, dragging one leg and revealing the remains of a harp that must have broken beneath him when he fell. 

Alban knew a little about harps; his mother played and had even studied under an itinerant Scathlan bard before the war. From what he could see of the pieces that spilled from the smashed case, the instrument had once been a fine travel harp.
The Scathlan wrapped his hand around the hilt of his sword. Alban wondered if he even knew how to use it. He wore no armor, and wasn’t even properly dressed for mountain weather in this season. He looked like nothing more than the wandering musician he claimed to be.

Alban couldn’t kill the Scathlan in cold blood, not for merely trespassing. Leaving him here, injured and with the snow falling and night setting in, would condemn him to a slower death. Though every instinct screamed against bringing a Scathlan into his father’s hall, he had no other choice.

The wind blew harder. Alban pulled his fur-lined cloak closer about him. He wanted to get out of the cold and get the stranger to shelter. It would be easier if the stranger cooperated. Alban’s approach, to this point, had not been particularly conducive to encouraging cooperation.

He took a deep breath, concentrating on his empathy for the stranger’s misery and setting aside his antipathy for the stranger’s race.

He forced a smile and approached the Scathlan. “What is your name?”

“What business is it of yours?”

“I could say it is my business, as you are trespassing on our lands.” Matching the stranger’s hostility wouldn’t help; Alban took a calming breath. “But let’s set that aside for the moment. You’ve gotten yourself into a bad spot, Scathlan. Even an elf can’t survive a night on the mountain this time of year, and I take it you’re injured, besides.”
“Whatever you want from me, you’ll not get it. I’d rather die.”

For certain, the Scathlan had a bard’s flair for the dramatic. “I can’t imagine wanting anything from your kind. But tempting as it may be, I can’t let even a Scathlan elf freeze to death. My name is Alban, since you didn’t ask, and I am prince of the Leas. You will be a guest in my father’s hall.”

“Guest? Prisoner, rather. At least speak the truth.”

Alban’s tenuous hold on his temper started to slip. “Believe me or don’t, it makes no difference to me. But I can’t leave you here to die, and there is no other option. If there were a mortal village anywhere near, I’d be only too happy to dump you at the inn with enough coin to cover a bed and meals.”

The wind gusted, blowing snow into his face. He shivered. Past time to end this conversation and return to the warmth of his father’s hall.

Alban took a step toward the stranger, reaching out to help him to his feet.
The stranger crawled backward, struggled to his knees, and awkwardly drew his sword.

Alban stopped, more in astonishment than fear. The Scathlan had courage. Not much sense, but courage to spare. 

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