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Wrought-Iron Roses Sneak Peek – Chapter One

Ready for a peek at Chapter One of Wrought-Iron Roses? How about the entire chapter?!

If you haven’t read Book One, Carved in Cherry yet, I suggest starting there! You can find it here in this collection, with 21 other amazing Paranormal Romance novels! If you’d prefer, it’s also available on its own in both audiobook and paperback!

Mure

Sisters Rachel, Angie, and Jo may have survived their first encounter with a curse, but hundreds more are lurking within their aunt’s antique shop. There’s just one problem: Peter, the apprentice, has no idea how to start teaching two untrained rune-casters and keep them safe at the same time.

Naet

It isn’t fair to Jo that she has no magic, but her sisters both do. She feels useless and left out. Worse yet, she knows that she’s a liability. She would leave… but, something in the shop is calling to her, reaching out … and she won’t leave until she finds it.

Ail

Every night, Angie’s dreams are haunted by a man who claims he was cursed, and she’s the only one who can save him. When she starts to get sick, Peter and her sisters are sure the cause is her mysterious dreams. How can they convince her that the person she’s determined to help could be the one killing her?

Eles

Rachel never expected to get a magic power and a boyfriend when she inherited the antique shop. Better yet, she’s actually good at curse-breaking. It seems as though she’s found exactly what she was meant to do. But, when a curse strikes two people she cares about, Rachel is faced with the harsh truth that she might only be able to save one.

**Disclaimer: This is the original, unedited draft of Wrought-Iron Roses. There may be typos, spelling errors, and (hopefully not) continuity issues. Should you read this chapter in the final, published edition, you may find changes. Please also excuse any formatting issues that arise going from Word Document to Blog post! Thank you**

Chapter One

Curses.

Runes.

Magic.

It’s crazy. All of it.

Angie punctuated each thought by shoving another article of clothing into her suitcase. On the other side of the bed, she could see her younger sister slowly, reluctantly packing her own. Jo glanced up and her large brown eyes met Angie’s green ones. They both quickly looked back at their clothes.

This is going to be such an awkward road trip, Angie thought, heaving a sigh. She was willingly leaving the runes and all that magic stuff. Jo was going because she had no reason to stay. It was a cruel twist of fate that Angie had a power she never wanted while Jo, who would have given anything to have magic, had nothing. Angie knew that her sister couldn’t fathom how Angie could give up a chance to become a rune-caster.

A shiver ran up Angie’s spine, remembering the tendrils of evil magic reaching out for her. She tried to turn her thoughts to returning to med school and picking up her normal life. But all she could think about was how strange it would be. In less than a day she’d be back in her apartment, just like before. Yet, it had only been a few hours since she had used the runes to break a curse that was killing her older sister. Somehow Angie knew things about rune magic that nobody had told her. She just knew how to use them. And that had saved her sister’s life.

She shoved another shirt into her suitcase with a soft growl of irritation. Packing felt wrong. In spite of the fact she had been eager to leave ever since arriving, a part of her wanted to stay. Maybe she was being hasty… it had all happened so fast, after all.

How many weeks had it been since she and her sisters were told their aunt had died and they inherited her antique shop? Only a few. Angie hardly even remembered Aunt Lydia, let alone that she had an antique shop.

Angie and her sisters had planned on taking some time off from work and school to clean out the shop and put it up for sale. It was supposed to be a short vacation and a chance to spend some time together. Instead, in just the span of a few short days, Angie found out that magic was real, she could cast runes, and then she and her aunt’s apprentice saved Rachel from the curse.

Funny, Angie would have thought that being cursed would have driven Rachel from the shop. Instead, she was the only one of the Shaw sisters who had decided to stay. Peter was going to teach her what little an apprentice could about rune-casting.

With another sigh, she half-watched Jo walking to the dresser to get more clothes. It would be hard enough to go back to school pretending none of it had happened. Angie knew she’d be a nervous wreck half the time, wondering if Rachel was alright in the shop or if she was cursed again.

Angie shook her head, as if it could clear away her confusion. This wasn’t the life she wanted. She couldn’t let worrying about her sister stop her from choosing her own path.

“Hey, check this out!”

Angie turned away from her suitcase, just in time to see Jo pull a drawer completely out of the dresser and hold it up. She raised an eyebrow at her sister. “What are you doing?”

“I think our grandfather did this. Peter said he was an apprentice here, right?” Jo held the drawer out. “Look!”

Angie shoved a wad of clothes into her bag and crossed the room. She frowned into the drawer. There, carved into the wood, were three names. One of them was her grandfather’s. A symbol—a rune, she realized—was carved beneath it. There was something really neat about seeing his name there, knowing that the grandfather she had never met, had touched it.

“Rachel is going to love that!” Jo thrust the drawer at her, forcing her to grab it, and started for the door.

With an amused snort, Angie started to set the drawer down. She took one last look at the names as she did.

Harold

Benjamin

Ethan

Her breath caught and a chill went up her spine. She stared at the name and an image drifted into her mind. She could see a young man, with sad blue eyes and a sweet smile. Angie could feel his warm hand in hers.

A promise.

“Ethan,” Angie whispered.

“Huh?” Jo said from the doorway.

Angie ran her fingers over his name and murmured, “I’m staying.”

“What?” Jo demanded.

“I changed my mind… I’m staying.”

“Why?”

Angie shook her head. “I don’t know…”

“Please tell me you aren’t cursed.”

Angie turned toward the doorway, where Jo was eyeing her nervously. “What? Why would I be cursed?”

Jo edged further into the room and pointed at the dresser drawer her sister was clutching. “You’ve been itching to leave the shop since we got here. I handed you that drawer and you made this weird face and decided to stay. That’s… a little odd, isn’t it? Was it because of our grandfather’s name?”

Their grandfather had died very young, decades before the sisters were born. They were told he was killed in the war, but the truth was that he had been cursed. Unless the sight of her grandfather’s name had stirred something in Angie, Jo couldn’t think of any other reason – save for a curse – that her sister would have changed her mind so abruptly.

Puzzled, Angie stared at the names. Harold, Benjamin, Ethan. “No…” Ethan. Angie shook her head. “I have to stay. I…” The strangest feeling that she had made a promise kept nagging at her.

“Peter!” Jo yelled down the stairs. “Rachel?”

“Yeah?” The eldest Shaw sister’s voice echoed up from the kitchen, laced with irritation. If she hadn’t been worried about Angie, Jo would have laughed. No doubt Rachel was enjoying getting a moment alone with their aunt’s apprentice. In the few short days since they had arrived at the shop, she and Peter had gotten very close.

“I think Angie’s cursed!”

Almost immediately Jo could hear the pair pounding up the stairs. They practically flung themselves into the bedroom.

“What?” they chorused.

Angie was still standing by the dresser, holding up the drawer. “I’m not cursed,” she protested. “I just…”

“I handed her the drawer and she decided to stay here,” Jo said, snapping her fingers. “Just like that.”

Peter narrowed his brown eyes. “Nothing in this room is cursed.”

“Then why the abrupt change of heart?” Rachel asked.

Angie shook her head and shrugged.

“What exactly happened?” said Peter.

Jo gestured to the drawer. “I found our grandfather’s name in there.” The thrill of telling Rachel was gone now that she was worried about Angie. Nevertheless, Jo was pleased by the way Rachel’s face lit up as she hurried to check out the drawer.

“Oh wow!” Rachel said as she took the drawer from Angie. After years of working in a museum, she had seen plenty of initials and names. Even though the small glimpses into the past had yet to lose their charm for her, seeing her own grandfather’s name carved was enough to make her throat tighten with emotion. It was the only physical object she could link to her grandfather that she had ever seen. She wondered how old he had been when he carved it, what he was like. According to Peter, all three of the apprentices had been killed. It was strange, sad, to know that all three of the people who carved these names had died young. It was chilling too, to know they died because they were rune-casters.

She started to run a finger along the H when she saw the rune carved next to it. The other names had runes too. The runes were more complex than the few symbols she had seen. What if the drawer was cursed? “What do these runes mean?”

Peter was across the room in a flash, but relaxed the moment he saw them. “They’re trisk-runes.”

All three sisters sighed in relief. One of the few things they had learned about runes was that each rune-caster’s powers were affected by a combination of three runes.

“So… you saw this and?” Rachel prompted.

Angie shook her head again. “I don’t know. I saw the name Ethan and I… I don’t know. I just know I have to stay.”

“Weird, right?” asked Jo.

Rachel peered into the drawer again. “What are the runes?”

“Your grandfather’s are shal, orin, and une,” Peter read.

“Healing,” said Rachel, suppressing a smile. Shal was part of her trisk-rune as well. “And?”

“Water and warmth. All good for curse-breaking.” Peter inspected the other runes. “Benjamin’s is geil, mure, and wyt. That’s nature, protection, and life. And Ethan’s is ail, pathe, and lyde.

“Light and empathy,” Angie said. She shared two of the three.

Peter nodded. “And shelter.”

Angie took the drawer from him and traced her finger over the symbol for light. “He’s a double-ail like me.” The rune determined by her birthday and the most powerful rune in her trisk-rune were the same.

“You do both have ail,” Peter said, “but there’s no way to tell a birth-rune from a trisk-rune. It’s just a combination of your power runes. There’s no way to be sure that ail is his first rune either.”

“He’s a double-ail,” Angie insisted. “I know it.”

Peter studied her. “I believe you,” he said after a moment.

“How can she know that?” Rachel asked.

“She’s known things all along,” Peter said. Ever since he started teaching them about runes, Angie had known things before he said anything. Breaking the curse on Rachel was a blur, but Peter remembered Angie suddenly joining him and blocking the curse’s attack, without any prompting from him. “Maybe…” he said, thinking aloud, “it’s because she’s a double-ail. It gives her the power to see more than we can.”

The words sounded almost familiar to Angie. As if someone had told her something similar. The image of the blond man came back to her. It was Ethan, she was sure of it. And she knew that she had spoken with him… but how could she possibly have talked with someone who died decades before? She frowned down at his name, trying to remember. It was like trying to remember a dream.

A dream.

Angie couldn’t remember the dreams themselves, but she had been having strange dreams ever since arriving at the shop. They weren’t the only strange thing she was experiencing, other than rune-casting itself. She was hearing things and seeing them as well; a hazy figure kept appearing behind her when she saw her reflection.

Frustrated, she plunked the drawer down on the dresser.

“Angie?” Rachel spoke her sister’s name softly.

“I can’t remember,” snarled Angie. “I’ve been having dreams. Weird dreams. But, I can’t remember anything about them. There’s a guy in them. Talking to me. But… they aren’t dreams. I think they’re real. I think I’m dreaming about Ethan.”

“So what, he’s a ghost or something?” Jo asked.

“No… he’s cursed…” The thought drifted into Angie’s head, but as she spoke the words aloud she knew she was somehow remembering one of the dreams. “He’s not dead, he’s cursed! And I… I promised to help him. To save him… I…” That was all she could remember. The sudden rush of memory was gone as quickly as it had hit her. She shook her head and threw up her arms in aggravation. “I know there’s more. Is that even possible? A dream that’s real?”

Rachel and Peter exchanged a look. Ever since Rachel’s arrival at the shop the two had been dreaming about each other. It had taken several dreams before they realized they were both sharing the same dream. Just as Angie said, the dreams were mostly forgotten the moment they woke up.

“I don’t know anything about dreams,” Peter said, “but it is possible to have one that is… more than a mere dream.” He frowned in thought. “I wonder if there’s something we can do to help you remember. I have several tomes I can read over. If you’re right and Ethan is cursed and not dead, we have to help him.”

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Weekly Serial Lion’s Pride Chapter Three

Hello again! I’m so glad you’re still reading! If this is your first week reading Lion’s Pride, head over to the main page to learn more and catch up! 

Miss Chapter Two? Click Here!

Chapter Three

My nice, long run should have tired me out. Instead, meeting Piter had just keyed me up. At first, I just stayed awake, excited to have met a shifter, maybe even a friend, who wouldn’t awkwardly treat me like a princess. Unless he was from Glenhela, I wasn’t his princess anyway. And there was a very slim chance he was actually from Glenhela. There were only a handful of wolves in the kingdom.

Somewhere along that train of thought was when I realized that Caernen was the closest wolf kingdom. The odds were good, too good, that Piter was from Caernen.

After that, I just stared into the darkness, up at the ceiling above my bunk. I couldn’t decide if making a friend from Caernen would be good or bad. It could be quite positive. Becoming friends with Piter could give me a look into Caernen that I couldn’t get from Danica, or even my brother. Piter would be a source outside of the palace. Heck, he could even talk to Danica and my brother and help them understand what the people of Caernen were thinking.

Or it would be terrible. If I announced my brother’s wedding to the future Queen of Caernen and people opposed to it found out I had gone to school with someone from that city. Would they think it was a conspiracy? What if Piter himself was against the wedding?

It was just all one massive headache. So much for escaping to school…

I felt like I was up the entire night, head spinning. I was almost dreading our next romp.

***~***

“You look tired,” Amanda said to me, while we waited in line for breakfast.

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“That sucks.”

I nodded in agreement. After our plates were loaded up, we joined Olga and Janice at what had become our “usual” table. Partway through breakfast, a couple of male humans and a female came over.

“Mind if we join you?” one male with blond hair asked.

“Of course!” said Janice. “This is Devon,” she pointed to the blond. “And Alan and Edith. They’re in my English class. Guys, this is my roommate, Olga, and our friends Amanda and Lani.”

Devon sat down next to me and smiled.

“What are you studying?” he asked me.

“Undeclared,” I said. “I’ll figure something out eventually.”

“Laid-back, I like it! I’m doing Computer Science.”

“Sounds tough.” Shifters kept it simple. We had access to the same technology, but had kept our lives much less advanced than humans. I liked it that way.

Devon nodded. “Worth it though, I think.”

The two of us talked for the rest of the meal. He seemed like a fun human. The university had an Ultimate Frisbee club that Devon had joined. They met every Thursday and he convinced me to give it a try.

When breakfast was over, all seven of us walked across campus together, gradually splitting off for our classes. As chance would have it, Devon and I had class in the same building.

“Three hour class?” he asked me. When I nodded he said, “Me too. Wanna get lunch after?”’

“Sure.”

I assumed he meant at the dining hall, but when we met up after class, he started walking the other direction.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“There’s a little shopping center up here, right off campus,” he said. “They have a good pizza place.” Devon stopped walking and turned to me nervously. “If you… like pizza.”

I laughed. “Yeah.”

“Great then, okay.” He kept walking and I hurried to catch up to him.

It was the first time I had left campus since the semester started. Although the shopping center was literally right next door. We crossed a street that led into campus from the main road and boom, we were there in the parking lot. The restaurant was a small, family-owned pizza parlor. Cozy, in fact. The walls were painted with scenes from Italy, mostly obscured by university memorabilia. It looked like the place had been open nearly as long as the university had existed. They had tons of black and white photographs from old college events and things like old jerseys and pennants. They even had a retired crew boat hanging from the ceiling.

Lunch was served by an extremely friendly woman who insisted we call her Mama. She asked our names and I had a feeling that she’d remember them if we came back. When the check came, Devon snatched it and paid for both meals.

“You don’t have to pay for me!” I cried.

“I invited you,” he said with a smile.

Had I just… wasn’t that what people did on dates? Had I just gone on my first ever date? And with a human at that! Could I ask if this was a date? Would that be weird?

“Fine,” I said instead. “I’ll just owe you.”

His smile turned shy. “You can pay next time… if you want to do this again.”

A second date? If that’s what this was. Well, why not? “That’d be great.”

Devon’s shoulders visibly slumped with relief. It was a date! “Awesome.”

We walked back to campus in comfortable silence. Was I crazy to go on a second date with a human? I half expected a kiss when we split up for our classes, but it didn’t happen. I couldn’t decide if I was disappointed or not. It would be my first kiss, after all. Did I really want to share that with a human? Did it matter that much? Maybe first kisses weren’t all they were cracked up to be.

I was still feeling a little torn when dinner time rolled around. Devon wasn’t in the dining hall, which didn’t help my indecision whatsoever. As I ate, I glanced around. It had become habit to look for the guy who had been staring at me the first night. I hadn’t seen him since. At first, I looked for him because he made me nervous. I wanted to catch him staring again. But, as time went on, I felt more like I was keeping an eye out just to be sure I hadn’t imagined him. Where was he? One paranoia-fueled possibility was that he was deliberately staying out of sight. I hoped not.

No sign of him. Now, I was free to start thinking about my upcoming run with Piter. Great. One more thing to worry about; a wolf who might have been from Caernen. Less than a month and I had a potentially imaginary stalker, a human who might want to date me, and a shifter who could be from the worst kingdom he could possibly be from.

“Only me,” I muttered.

When I got back to my room, I called my brother.

I opened with, “I need advice.”

“Okay.”

“So, there are three guys.”

“Good lord, Lani. You’re skipping the love triangle and going straight for the square?”

“Larkin,” I groaned. “Not like that… not all of them.”

“Then, like what?”

“Well… one I only saw once.”

“Um… okay?”

“He was staring at me. Like, creepy staring.”

I could hear concern in my brother’s voice. “You think he recognized you?”

“I don’t know. But I haven’t seen him since. It was only one time. I just… I dunno, I can’t forget it.”

“Keep your eyes open, I guess. Don’t let Mom’s paranoia rub off on you though.”

“Yeah,” I laughed.

“Next?”

“He’s human and… I think we went on a date today.”

“Whoa!”

“Is that a bad idea?”

“Why? It’s not like you’re going to marry the guy.”

“Well, no.”

“So? Date. Have fun. Isn’t that what college is all about?”

I flopped back onto my bed and smiled. Talking things over with my brother always made me feel better. Sometimes I just needed a second opinion. I hoped that wouldn’t change when we got older. Once I was Queen, I’d need him more than ever.

“You really are helpful, Larkin.”

“I know.” We both laughed. “Sooo?” he finally drawled.

“He’s a shifter.”

“Ouch. Does Mom know there’s another shifter there?”

“No.”

“Where’s he from?”

“I didn’t ask! I know better.”

“What is he?”

I sighed. “He’s a wolf.”

“Oh…”

“Yeah.”

“How far from you is Doreva?” Another wolf kingdom.

“Further than Caernen.”

“What do you guys… do?”

“So far we just shifted and went running. Doing it again tonight.”

“Remember what I said about a love triangle…”

“No! He is not on the table. He’s just another shifter.”

“What if he wants more?”

“I’m the Princess of Glenhela.  I can’t get involved with him, especially if he’s from Caernen.”

“He doesn’t know that.” Larkin hesitated. “Uh… does he?”

“No!”

“Well, then that’s what your human boyfriend is for. Now you have an excuse to not date the wolf.”

“I don’t know if I want a human boyfriend either.”

“Sucks to be you.”

“Brat.”

“Jerk-face.”

“Punk!”

“Butthole… don’t tell him you’re from Glenhela, Lani.”

“I won’t.”

“And I know it’s hard, but don’t do anything stupid.”

“Aww, it’s almost like you care, Larkin.”

“Almost.”

My door opened and Amanda came in with Olga.

“Gotta go. Love you.”

“Yeah, you too.”

I hung up and smiled at them. “Hey.”

“Who was that?” Amanda chirped.

“My brother.”

“Ahh, I thought it was Devon.”

“What?!”

“I saw how he was looking at you during breakfast,” she teased. “You guys would be a cute couple.”

I laughed nervously. She and Olga exchanged a knowing look. I considered just skipping running. How had things gotten so complicated so quickly?

~~~*~~~

In the end, I decided that I needed the exercise. I met Piter back on the stairway.

We talked, briefly, as we walked toward the woods. Just about our classes and how we were enjoying school. Nothing about where we were from. In fact, we could have been humans for all we talked about being shifters. And then, we ran. No words at all. Sometimes we kept pace, other times we spread apart. Wolves were marathon runners, lions were sprinters. When it was over, we walked back to the dorm together.

I felt relieved. This was the level of relationship I could safely maintain. Maybe even a bit more friendly. I hoped that Piter felt the same way. With any luck he didn’t want to get too close to a lion.

“I don’t think we should risk this three days in a row,” he said when we reached the stairway.

“I agree.”

“Tuesday, again?”

“Perfect,” I said in relief. Nothing as humans. Keep it shifter-business. I liked it.

“Night then.”

“Goodnight.”

I lay awake again, tumbling it all around in my head. Maybe I was overcomplicating things. I didn’t know the guy was staring at me. And, even if he was, what were the odds that it was because he knew my identity?

And Piter… I’d deal. I came to college to get away from the worries about the future. Who cared, really, if he was Caernen? One lone college friend wouldn’t affect the fallout from the marriage one way or the other. If we even stayed friends. Maybe he’d transfer after this semester. Maybe our schedules wouldn’t line up. Maybe another wolf shifter would show up and they’d become best buddies and forget all about me.

As for Devon… who cared? It was just as uncertain as Piter. And what was the harm of having a human boyfriend?

Feeling much better, I snuggled under my covers and fell asleep.

~~~*~~~

Breakfast was just me and Olga, until Janice’s classmate Edith joined us.

“You cool if I sit here?” she asked.

“Of course,” said Olga. “So, where are you from?”

“The northwest,” said Edith. “Little podunk town that nobody has ever heard of. This is the big city for me.”

We laughed.

“Some big city,” said Olga, who I knew was from Boston. “You’re likely to get eaten by a coyote here.”

I bit back a snicker. Or a lion.

“Come to my town, you’ll get eaten by a bear,” Edith said.

“Bears?” Olga cried. “Not like in town?”

“Yeah, they go through the garbage and stuff. See ‘em all the time.”

“Jeez!”

Edith grinned. “So, either of you have a homecoming date yet?”

Olga snorted. “No way. Dances aren’t my scene. I’ll be at the football game though!”

I was excited for homecoming. Not so much the dance, but the entire package of celebration and school pride.

“Not yet,” I said.

“Going to the dance?” Olga asked, wrinkling her nose.

I shrugged. “No reason not to.”

“Except for the dance part,” she said dryly.

Olga’s reaction didn’t seem to dim Edith’s enthusiasm. “It’s going to be fun! Just gotta get my guy to ask me…”

“Ask him,” I suggested.

“He doesn’t even know I exist,” she sighed.

“You have two weeks,” Olga told her.

Edith nodded. “I do. I’ll just bide my time and wait for the right moment.”

We finished eating and headed off to our classes. My stomach was a nervous knot by the end of class. Lunch, English, and then Ultimate Frisbee… I counted down in my head.

~~~*~~~

Ultimate Frisbee, as it turned out, was nothing to be nervous about. In fact, it was a blast! Devon showed me the basics before the game started and then we weren’t even on the same team. I was a little stronger and faster than the average human, but none of that was an advantage in the unfamiliar game. I thought that, at first, I’d have to act more normal. By the end of the game I was using my supernatural skills just to keep up! Some of the humans made the most incredible catches. Devon, in particular, was quite agile.

Tired, but giddy, I accepted Devon’s invitation to dinner after the game ended. We ate a quick bite in the dining hall, much later than I usually had dinner. We were heading toward the doors when they opened and Piter walked in.

“Oh, Lani,” he said, looking surprised.

“Hey.”

And then he walked in. The guy who had been staring at me. His eyes widened. If he didn’t know who I was, he sure looked stunned to see me. He stopped in his tracks, then his shocked expression cooled into a neutral one.

For a moment, none of us spoke.

“Who’s your friend?” Devon finally asked. Did I hear a hint of jealousy in his voice?

“Sorry, this is Piter,” I said. “And this is Devon.”

They shook hands and I was glad to see that Piter didn’t display any tell-tale signs of possessiveness. My brother’s love triangle joke seemed like just that. What a relief.

“This is my roommate, Jory,” Piter said. “This is uh…” He cleared his throat. “Lani.”

Jory looked at me with piercing dark blue eyes. They flicked to Devon, narrowed, and then burned back into me.

Undeterred by Jory’s reaction, or perhaps unaware, Devon stuck out his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“Same,” said Jory flatly. He pushed between us and stalked off into the dining hall.

Piter smiled awkwardly and hurried after him.

“Great guy,” Devon said.

“Piter is,” I said, compelled to defend another shifter. “His roommate… not so much.”

“Is he now?” Devon asked. “How uh… how great?”

He was jealous!

“Well, I mean. A friend.”

“Just a friend?”

“Yeah.”

“Hey, you wanna…” Devon sighed and trailed off.

“Yeah?”

“Gotohomecomingwithme?”

“What?”

Devon laughed nervously. “Homecoming. Do you want to go with me? To the dance?”

~~~~

I hope you liked Chapter Three!

I’m currently snowed in with a record breaking snowstorm, so I’m running some sales! The 2nd book in my More than Magic series is currently free from Smashwords, using the coupon code WK67M (Book 1 is 99 cents) AND the first book in my Curse Collectors series is on sale for 99 cents as well! If you’re enjoying Lion’s Pride and haven’t read my other books, you’ve picked a great week to start!

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Blizzard Sale!

You’ve seen them on Facebook all week; memes about the upcoming snow storm. They tell you to buy anywhere from 1 bottle to 15 cases of wine, based on where you live in the blizzard’s path. Or how many books to buy. Or whether your okay, in trouble, or totally screwed…

Well…

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Yeah, that’s me. In the darkest, reddest, snowiest part.

So, time to celebrate! In honor of my predicament, my book Snow Bound is FREE, using the coupon code: WK67M

And my paranormal romance, Carved in Cherry, is on sale for only 99 cents!

Happy reading! If you enjoy them, please feel free to use the below images and spread the word! And to anyone else in this with me, stay warm and safe!

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Weekly Serial Lion’s Pride Chapter Two

If you missed it, head back to Chapter One!

I hope you enjoyed the previous chapter! Thanks for coming back for more!

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Chapter Two

Amanda, my roommate, kept up a steady stream of chatter as we walked to the dining hall together. It was refreshing to be with something who wasn’t a family member actually talking to me. Most people I met either weren’t sure how to talk to their princess or wanted to woo me into giving them stuff. But Amanda just wanted to be friends. She was genuinely nice to me. I admit, I sort of tuned out as we walked, just basking in how different and how great college was going to be.

“Right, Lani?” she said.

“I… uh… sorry, what?”

Undaunted, Amanda gestured to the forest that our path had brought us closer to. “I said, it’s creepy, right? All dark and spooky.”

Dark was the only part I thought she had right. The only word I would have associated with the forest less than “creepy” was “spooky”. “I guess?”

She shuddered. “I don’t know why the path comes so close to it. I wonder if there’s a better route to the dining hall. That or we’re just going to have to get dinner before the sun goes down from now on!” She pulled out her cell phone and opened her flashlight app, in spite of the sporadic streetlights along the way.

“You’re that freaked out?” I asked.

“Aren’t you? Who knows what’s in there! I heard there are coyotes around here.”

“If we’re attacked by a coyote, I’ll protect you,” I promised, trying not to laugh. Being afraid of an animal was absolutely baffling to me.

Amanda grinned and thanked me, with no idea that I was being completely serious. We shifters liked to keep our existence a secret, but the odd human now and again figured things out. I certainly wasn’t going to let a coyote drag my roommate away when I was more than capable of saving her. I knew it was there, but I semi-consciously felt for the claw under my shirt, like I often did when I thought of shifting. I was pretty sure even the biggest coyote around wouldn’t stand a chance against a lioness.

She picked up her pace and I followed. The path was nearly deserted, which pleased me. I was planning on running wild in the forest when I got the chance. My only concern had been getting out of sight of the students. If all humans were as paranoid about being near the trees at night as Amanda was, it would be easy for me to slip on and off campus.

We made it to the dining hall without any coyote sightings and lined up for dinner. I rarely got to choose what I ate. The cooks stuck to their own menu, amending it now and then to suit my parents’ fancy. The buffet style dining hall was like heaven. In spite of wanting to fit in with the humans, I loaded up my plate with a little bit of everything. Luckily, it looked like everyone else wanted to sample the food too, so I wasn’t the only one with a full spread.

Amanda and I sat down at the end of a long table and were soon joined by a couple more girls. We went around with introductions. Crown Princess Lelania Galonllew of Glenhela was a mouthful that I was happy to shed in favor of Lani Grant. Short and sweet.

Halfway through dinner I got the eerie feeling that someone was staring at me. I looked around, hoping to catch them in the act, but couldn’t see anyone who looked like they might have been watching me. Nobody still staring, no heads rapidly turning away.

Probably guards.

Then again… I cast another glance around. Unless my mother had sent a second pair, there was no way they would already have arrived. Not to mention I didn’t recognize anybody. Surely the guards would at least look familiar. And only students could eat in the dining hall. As worried as she was, I couldn’t imagine that my mother would have gone to the effort of posing a guard as a student just to keep an eye on me.

The feeling kept nagging at me as I ate. I finished quickly. I didn’t like feeling nervous. Maybe my mother’s concern about assassins or kidnappers or whatever was rubbing off on me. As soon as I was finished I grabbed my tray and headed for the nearest trashcan. There was a line of people, scraping off their trays. I joined it, practically bouncing in place, eager to escape.

And then, I saw him.

The tall window next to me was reflecting the dining hall as clearly as a mirror. And there, a few tables away, was a boy. He was staring intently in my direction, brows furrowed, eyes narrowed. If he was a guard, my mother had found one I had never seen in my life.

His eyes moved to my reflection and somehow seemed to meet mine. His shoulders stiffened and he jerked his head back down to look at his plate.

A throat cleared behind me. The trashcan was free and I was just standing there like a spaz. I muttered an apology and quickly slid the trash off my tray. I whirled back to face the boy, but his chair was empty. Shoot. I looked around and spotted him; at the far door, hurrying out of the dining hall.

If he was a shifter, he’d be long gone before I could get to him. Especially with the woods nearby. Not that I wanted to call attention to myself by running across the room either.

I swung by the table where Amanda was still eating.

“Something didn’t agree with me,” I lied, patting my stomach. “I’m going to head back to the dorm.”

“Alone?” Amanda asked in alarm.

Our new friend Olga stood. “I’m heading back, I can walk with you.” She turned back to Amanda and her own roommate, Janice. “If you two are cool alone.”

Janice nodded. “We’ll go back together.”

Good grief. Did all humans flock like this? I understood the benefit of safety in numbers. But shifters mainly formed packs to guard against the threat of rival alphas and other packs. Humans didn’t have the same feral desire to fight and dominate that we did.

Like Amanda, Olga seemed uncomfortable by the trees. If Amanda was so worried about coyotes, I wondered how she would feel knowing that soon a lion would be running around in there too.

~~*~~

Sadly, there wasn’t a lion in the woods “soon”. It was nearly three weeks before I felt comfortable enough to venture out. I wanted to make sure my roommate was a sound enough sleeper and to be certain that, no matter what night it was, the path into the woods was clear. I also wanted to make sure the moon was bright, until I got more comfortable in the strange woods.

It seemed like Tuesdays were the best day. Late nights on Thursdays and Fridays were usually full of people coming and going to parties. Forget about weekends. But early morning classes on Wednesday seemed common enough that campus was empty after dinner on Tuesday. I snuck in and out of the room, pretending to take late night showers, to test my roommate. Lucky for me, she was a sound sleeper.

School itself was great. I was still an undeclared major and taking my ‘gen-ed’ classes. My favorite was an art class, where I could just get my hands dirty sculpting. The rest weren’t so different from my lessons at home, except for the group setting. History, though, was fascinating. I knew so little about human history.

The staring incident had also kept me inside longer. Without outright asking, since I didn’t want to worry her, I had managed to figure out that my mother had not sent more guards. Whoever that guy was, he wasn’t a royal guard. Thankfully, I hadn’t seen him again. I was hoping he was just a weirdo. Maybe he thought I was really pretty or had a bad dye-job or something.

I slipped quietly out of bed, already wearing my “running” clothes. My roommate didn’t stir as I tip-toed out of the room and eased the door shut. Home free. I practically skipped down the hall, giddy with the thought of finally shifting.

I jogged down the stairs and nearly crashed into the door that led to the third floor as it swung open in front of me.

“Sorry!” a guy gasped.

You have got to me kidding me. I almost never saw people on the stairs. Why now?!

He stood there, looking at me like he had been caught doing something wrong. I was sure I had the same expression. Relax, I told myself. He would never, ever suspect that I was sneaking out of the dorm to turn into a lion and go gallivanting around in the woods. I wasn’t even sneaking, really. There was no curfew, we weren’t forced to stay in the building all night.

The boy slipped past me and went up a couple of stairs, toward the girls’ floor. He was wearing only a t-shirt and boxers. “Don’t tell the RA,” he said with a wink.

He had just unknowingly given me a great excuse. I caught the door to the boys’ floor before it shut and matched his sly grin. “Only if you won’t.”

We both laughed and he jogged up the stairs. I waited a moment, then hurried on my way. There was nobody else around and I made it outside without another incident. The windows from the rooms looked right down onto the path, so I did a few token stretches, just in case anybody was watching. They’d think I was a bit weird going for a midnight run, but with luck wouldn’t read into it further. Then, I broke into a brisk jog down the path. As soon as an empty building was between me and the dorm, I veered off the path and into the woods.

The nearly full moon made it just bright enough for my weak human eyes to see where I was going. After I felt like I was far enough away from the path, I stopped. For a moment I just took deep breaths, inhaling the crisp air and getting back in touch with nature. It wasn’t necessary for shifting, but I liked to get in the mood. I could hear a couple of owls and a whip-poor-will calling in the distance.

At last, I pulled out my claw and clutched it in my fist. I closed my eyes and focused on the image of a lioness. Shifting wasn’t painful, but it wasn’t exactly painless either. Since it had been so long since my last change, I felt especially stiff. My body ached as my bones and muscles stretched and rearranged. The small patch of fur over my heart itched more and more, until it suddenly rippled and began to spread out over my skin. I felt a weird tugging sensation as any clothing the fur touched was pulled taut and absorbed into it. It was almost painful as my tail sprouted and my spine elongated.

Done. I was shifted. I shook myself off and stretched. Then I took a deep breath, opened my mouth and… crap. I couldn’t roar, not this close to campus. I let out the breath as a growly-sigh and shook again instead. I set off slowly, getting my feel for the forest floor and enjoying the crunch of leaves under my paws.

Being a lion always felt… right. Even though I spent most of my time in human form, there was something indescribably perfect about shifting into my animal body. I didn’t mind being human. In fact, I enjoyed. But there was a sense of contentment, inner peace, that I felt when I was a lion. I knew that my family felt the same way, and assumed that most shifters did.

I picked up my pace into a brisk trot, then a lope. I jumped a fallen tree and broke into a flat-out run. Lions were made for sprinting, not distance running, so I didn’t go far. I eased back into an easy jog and alternated between that and sprints for a while.

As I explored, I wondered if any shifters did spend more time as animals than humans. There was no reason not to. I could, if I wanted to. It just wasn’t convenient. Our home, heck our entire kingdom was built to accommodate our human bodies. It had plenty of room to shift, but our buildings were all human friendly. We had human sized doorways, and chairs, and beds, and everything had to be manipulated with fingers, not paws. Where there any shifters out there who did the opposite?

I was so busy imagining what my room would look like if it were designed for a lioness instead of a girl, that I almost didn’t notice the deer. I spotted her at the last possible second and froze. The doe was drinking out of a small stream. She jerked her head up, wide eyed, and lifted her tail in alarm. I held perfectly still until she bent to drink again. Slowly, slowly, I lowered myself into a crouch.

Should I?

I certainly could. It would be easy. I measured the distance. A quick step-step-step-step-step-step- step-step-step-step-pounce! A single bound would take me over the stream and onto the deer. If she ran, it would be easy to turn my momentum into a second strike and catch her.

But should I? We followed three rules for hunting.

Pick your prey carefully. We weren’t animals. An animal would kill whatever prey was easy. Young, slow, injured. If it was time to hunt, an animal would take what it got. This deer was young, probably her first winter. She looked healthy and strong. Killing her would impact the population. A hungry lion would strike, a shifter wouldn’t.

Only kill what you’ll finish. I wasn’t that hungry. A rabbit would do, if I saw one. Not a whole deer.

Never kill for sport. We weren’t animals, but we weren’t humans either. Humans took trophies. Shifters took only for food. Even if I wanted to break that rule, I’d leave evidence behind. I didn’t want to chance on a human finding it and thinking the kill was suspicious. The last thing I needed was humans swarming the woods looking for some big predator.

The doe was safe tonight.

Even as I made up my mind, she flicked her tail in alarm again. This time, she bounded away into the woods. The bushes on the other side of the stream moved and a huge coyote stalked out.

No, not a coyote. It was a wolf! It saw me and froze. I wasn’t afraid, I could take a wolf. Then again, I had only ever done basic self-defense sparring. I had never actually fought another predator. I hoped a wolf would have the sense to not mess with me.

Unless…

“Good evening,” I said. A real wolf wouldn’t understand me. But a shifter…

The wolf looked surprised, then its tongue lolled out in amusement. “I was wondering if mountain lions range this far.” Its voice was distinctly male.

“I’m not a mountain lion.” I was slightly insulted by being compared to a small cougar.

“I see that now.”

“You go to school here?” I asked.

The wolf nodded. “You?”

I nodded too. Meeting another shifter without your pack was often a delicate process. It was something I was taught to handle, but had never experienced. Everyone I met in Glenhela knew I was the princess. And I often met them while sitting next to my mother’s throne.

The first rule of thumb was that we wouldn’t ask where the other was from. Shifters stuck together. While feuds between packs were rare now, it was better for us to be allies, not enemies. Finding out we were from packs that weren’t on great terms would only lead to problems. There were still a few roaming Alphas and wild packs out there. They’d force you to join if they could. I doubted any were nearby, but this wolf and I could protect each other from them.

Luckily, even if this wolf was an Alpha, we wouldn’t be compelled to fight since I was underage. Then again, he was probably younger than twenty-four as well.

Our next step was to shift. As the stronger shifter, I was supposed to go first. Sort of a trust-submission thing. I slowly began to change. If he attacked or didn’t shift soon, I’d quickly return to my lion form. After he realized what I was doing, he started too.

Once we were both human, we laughed at each other. It was incredibly dark, but I could see just well enough to recognize him. It was the boy from the stairway.

“I thought you were going up to the fourth floor,” I teased.

“I thought you were coming down to mine.” He smiled at me. “I’m Piter.”

“Lani.”

“I’m jumping over,” he warned, gesturing to the creek. I backed up to give him some space.

“Nice to meet you,” I said, as we shook hands.

“Likewise. I thought I was the only shifter at the school.”

“So, you don’t know any others?”

“No. No, just me. I’m the only shifter. Do you know more?”

“Nope. As far as I know, we’re the only ones.”

“Good,” he said. “That’s good that… you know, we met.”

I laughed at his sudden awkwardness. “Yeah.” A cool breeze made me shiver. My light clothes weren’t meant for standing around in the cool night air. It had gotten colder since I had left the dorm. In fact, it was probably getting quite late. “I should get back soon. Before my roommate wakes up.”

“Yeah, that’d be tough worrying about your roommate finding out.”

“Aren’t you?”

“Yes, of course. I meant it is tough.” Piter rolled his shoulders and started shifting. “We should get back, you’re right.”

He stood patiently while I shifted and soon we were trotting through the woods together. It was obviously a much better environment for a wolf. He set a brisk pace that I found almost challenging to keep up with, as he wove through gaps between trees and bushes, and ducked under things I had to jump.

But it was still nice to be with another shifter. Even though we didn’t talk as we went, the companionship was there. All too soon we reached the path and changed back. We continued in silence, back to the dorm.

“Well, goodnight then, Lani,” he said as we stopped on the stairwell where we had unofficially met.

“Goodnight, Piter. Guess I’ll see you around campus.”

“Yeah. And if not, same time tomorrow night?”

“That’d be great.”

I grinned and jogged up the stairs to my floor, pleased to have made friends with a shifter.

~~~~

Chapter Three

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Weekly Serial Lion’s Pride Chapter One

Welcome to the first chapter of my weekly serial novel! For news and the latest chapters, head over to The Weekly Serial Page.

I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer: This has not been edited and may contain typos. Formatting may be off after being pasted into my blog. The final version which I am compiling into a book may have slight alterations.

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Lion’s Pride

Chapter One

There.

All done.

I stood back to admire my half of the dorm room. My drawers were full, my bunk was made, and my desk was organized.

“Home sweet home,” I said.

The sun was just starting to set. My first sunset away from home. Leaning my elbows against the windowsill, I watched as the campus started to turn pink. Carrying my things up to the fourth floor had been a pain, but at least it gave me a decent view. My bedroom back home was much higher up. A hill stretched out away from the dorm, sloping down gently into a parking lot. Beyond the parking lot was a forest and beyond that, just barely visible, the mountains. And on the other side of the mountains lay my home; the city I had rarely left.

I lowered my gaze to watch a lone human hiking from his car up to the dorm. The parking lot had been buzzing with cars, students, and parents earlier today, but aside from him, it was just full of parked cars and growing shadows.

Wait no, he wasn’t the only person there.

There were two men, loitering under a lamppost.

I practically shoved my nose against the glass, straining for a good look at them.

They weren’t loitering. Oh no. They were watching.

They were watching me.

I pulled out my cell phone and punched in my mother’s number. No answer. I tried the land-line. Same thing. My little brother was glued to his phone, so I tried him.

“Hey, sis!”

“Where’s mom?”

“Gee, not even a hello for-”

Where is mom?” I growled.

“Hang on.”

Larkin yelled for our mother, without bothering to cover his phone. I pulled mine away from my ear with a wince and replaced it in time to hear a shuffling and a muffled “It’s Lani, she sounds pissed.”

“Honey?” came my mother’s voice.

“You promised!” I snarled.

“I’m sorry?”

“You promised. No guards.”

“I know. I didn’t send any.”

I glared out the window at the parking lot. “Then why are there two royal guards standing in front of my dorm?”

A pause. “You must be mista-”

“One of them is Shea.” I leaned closer to the window, trying to make out the faces. “And I’m pretty sure the other is Robinson.”

My mother sighed. “I didn’t think you’d recognize them…”

“I’ve only been stuck in the palace my entire life. I know every guard. Send them away.”

“They aren’t bothering anyone, Leilania.”

“They’re bothering me.” I took a deep breath, bracing myself for the same argument once again. “I just want a chance to experience a normal life for a little while before I ascend. I’m pretty sure queens don’t take time off from ruling to go to college. I want to see the world and pretend for a few years that I’m nothing special. Just an average girl. No palaces, no crowns, and no royal guards.”

“But you aren’t an average girl,” my mother said. “You’re the crown princess of Glenhela. What if somebody recognizes you?”

I knew, honestly, that she wasn’t wrong. And it made arguing that much harder. It probably wasn’t the best idea for the future queen to leave the safety of the palace, not to mention the barrier, and go running around with humans without any guards. But, it was my only chance. I could count the number of times I’d been allowed to go beyond the barrier around the city on one hand. I needed to get away for a while and college seemed like the perfect chance.

Besides, it wasn’t that dangerous. I could handle any human threats on my own. I hooked a finger on the chain around my neck and pulled it up out of my shirt until the ancient lion claw hanging from it slipped free from the fabric. The chain glinted in the fading sunlight and the claw twisted slowly in the air. I looked up at my reflection in the window.

I don’t recognize myself, Mom.” Not with my hair chemically straightened and dyed so brown it was almost black. I tucked the claw back into my shirt, fingers brushing against the tiny patch of fur over my heart. It was the same golden-blonde my hair should have been and the only outward sign I wasn’t human. “And so what if somebody does? No Glenhelian would want to hurt me.”

It was true. I doubted there were very many shifters outside of our kingdom that even knew what I looked like. And since everyone in Glenhela had sworn submission to my parents, hurting me would never cross their minds.

“You’re an Alpha.”

“I’m an underage Alpha, Mom. Nobody is going to even know.”

“What about someone who opposes the marriage?”

“The secret marriage?”

She snarled into the phone in irritation. “You know that not everyone on the Omega Council agrees with it. And the ones who are opposed are the ones who are most likely to talk about it!”

“I’m not the one getting married, Mom,” I reminded her.  “Plus, they don’t know what I look like either.”

“But what if someone from Caernen –” she started.

“Assassinates the future sister-in-law of their princess?” I cut in. “Because of a wedding in six years they don’t know about yet?”

“What if they want your claw?”

I lifted my claw out again and clutched it in my palm. The ancient tip was still sharp enough I could feel it pressing painfully against my skin. It was one of only nine surviving lion claws from the first King of Glenhela; one of the original members of the first Omega Council. Any shifter with one of these nine claws could control the magical stone that protected our kingdom. Any shifter, that is, who was also an Alpha Lion.

“Again, Mom, any lion who knows what I look like is probably from Glenhela. They’re not going to come after my claw in some crazy attempt to overthrow our family. Plus, you’d know the moment they cross the barrier with it. And any lion from a different kingdom would probably try to take a claw from their royal family. Not ours. And I’m not of age yet. Taking my claw is pointless while someone else is ruling the kingdom.” Before she could say more I added, “We’ve had this argument again and again, Mom. I dyed my hair like we agreed, I went to the school you chose, and I’ll call you every night at nine.”

“Eight?”

Nine.”

She sighed and I knew I had won. Of course, I had already won several times before. I wouldn’t be at the school if I hadn’t. “You know I just worry. With the stones failing…”

“Look at it this way, if the stones fail while I’m away at school, I’ll be the safest member of the family.”

She laughed weakly. “I love you, Leilania. I miss you already.”

“Same here, Mom. I love you too.”

I hung up and slipped the phone into my pocket. As I watched, Shea pulled out his cell phone and answered it. A moment later, he said something to Robinson. They both looked up toward my dorm room. Shea grinned and tilted his head, just slightly, into a bow. I had been exaggerating, I didn’t know every palace guard. But, I did know Shea. He was one of the younger ones who – respectfully – treated me more like a friend than his future queen. I smiled and waved, unsure of whether or not they could actually see me. The pair turned and walked away. I watched until they got into a car and pulled out of the parking lot.

Much better.

I wouldn’t be surprised if my mother sent replacements. As long as I didn’t know they were there, I supposed it wouldn’t bother me as much.

As much as I hated to admit it, she was probably right. Coming here was reckless and just a bit stupid. I was needlessly putting myself in danger. It would probably have been easier if I just opened up and told my mother the truth about why I wanted to get away so badly. I hadn’t. I wouldn’t. It was still complicated, even to me. I was a mess of emotions and – one reason I did want to go to school – I needed a big change to get my mind off of things and reset myself.

On my twenty-fourth birthday I would gain the ability to control the golden stone that shielded Glenhela from danger. At the same time, the magic that bound the loyalty of the people of Glenhela to my parents would divide between the three of us. Shifters, particularly Alphas, needed a ruling Alpha to keep the peace. When the bond divided, it would weaken and could lead to fighting, rioting, even attempts to overthrow our family. The only solution would be to perform a submission ceremony that would transfer full loyalty and power to me. It had always been a bit daunting, knowing the exact, inevitable day I would ascend the throne. But now…

The magical golden stones that protected every shifter kingdom were failing. Nobody knew where they had come from. Dragons made them, they say. Assuming dragons ever really existed. It didn’t matter. The stones were failing and no one knew how to fix them or make new ones.

Some claimed their stones had visible cracks. Others said the golden glow was fading. Still more ruling families said they had even noticed a weakening in the barrier; weather was getting fouler, humans were straying closer, it was even getting harder to sense all of the shifters within the barrier.

The stones did more than just protect us. They allowed the Alpha who controlled them to dominate other Alphas. Thanks to the stones, we could live in huge, peaceful packs filled with Alphas. Everyone was afraid that if the stones grew too weak, that power would fade. We’d be left with a pack full of rival, feuding Alphas and everything – the kingdom itself – would fall apart.

Would they continue to fail gradually? Or would each stone just suddenly crack one day and lead to a sudden, massive civil war within each kingdom?

The state of our stones was a carefully guarded secret among the royal families, certain trusted court members, and the Omega Council.

That alone made the prospect of becoming queen downright terrifying. How long would I rule before the stones failed? A day? A year? Ten? After my reign was over?

I wasn’t sure how to express it to my mother, she’d probably tell me not to worry, but that was part of why I wanted to go to college. My life had been planned out ahead of my from the moment I was born. Every detail, down to the minute, was laid out before me. Classes all day on reading, writing, history, and politics, and being a good queen, and everything in between. Everything except what to do when the barrier fell. I had learned how to rule a peaceful kingdom, protected by a powerful stone. Not how to cope when the stone failed and I was left with chaos. I thought, maybe, getting away would prepare me somehow. I could learn how to fend for myself and think outside of the box. Even learn what life outside of the barrier was like. And… maybe forget for a few years what waited for me in Glenhela.

Of course, it didn’t end there.

The Omega Council was going crazy trying to figure out how to save the stones. They had come up with desperate, last ditch hope: a wedding. I guess they were trying everything. Different types of shifters rarely married. It happened in smaller packs, usually those outside of the kingdoms. The stones only let us control Alphas of the same species. Our kingdom was nearly all lions. There were scattered Betas of other species, but if any of them gave birth to an Alpha, that child would be forced to leave before they turned twenty-four.

So, a wedding between kingdoms was absolutely unheard of. And that was exactly what the council was hoping. They chose at random from neighboring kingdoms with eligible heirs. The lucky winners were Glenhela and Caernen. Since Caernen’s only royal heir was a girl, they picked my brother for her mate.

A lion and a she-wolf. It made me laugh just thinking about it.

Princess Danica would become Queen of Caernen, with my brother by her side. And then I would be forbidden from having children. When I died the loyalty of my pack would pass to my brother or his children. And, assuming the stones lasted that long, there would be a child who would be able to control one of the stones and both kingdoms. In theory anyway. I guess the Omega Council was hoping that suddenly doubling the size of a pack would give the stones some sort of power boost.

The wedding was the other reason I wanted to go to college. Was I running away? Maybe, sort of. Even though it was six years off, not a day went by when someone didn’t bring it up. Always followed by sympathy for my brother. Poor Larkin. What a burden. How scary. How brave. What a challenge.

It wasn’t that I didn’t agree. I did feel bad for my brother. It was a burden and a challenge, not to mention daunting. All those things and more. But, it seemed like people forgot that it would be my burden too. I’d be the queen of a potentially doomed kingdom. Danica and I would do more co-ruling and collaborating than she and Larkin would. We’d have to figure out how to guide our kingdoms toward a union, while my brother was more like a figurehead.

And oh yeah, no children for me. I didn’t want them yet, but the option would have been nice.

Nobody, ever, stopped and told me I was brave or expressed sympathy about my upcoming challenges. Poor Larkin, bravely marrying a she-wolf from Caernen to unite the kingdoms. What about poor Lani having to figure out how to get close enough to another Alpha to decide how to move the kingdoms forward? How scary for Larkin to go live in Caernen. Never how scary for Lani to take control of a kingdom with a failing stone and announce to the masses that she was going to ally with Caernen by marrying off her brother. Let’s teach Larkin everything we know about Caernen, but never even glance at Lani and ask if she wants to know too.

I was scared, forgotten, and nobody seemed to realize it. I supposed I could have said something. But, everything people said to Larkin was true. I had always been the optimistic one. Larkin was always my shadow. He was younger, shyer, and scared too. He needed the attention and the confidence. I felt like I could get by without it. It sucked. It was hard. But, I felt like Larkin needed it more than I did.

Going to school was letting me get away from that. If they weren’t going to be teaching me how to deal with Danica or the failing stones, then my tutors had nothing left to teach. Striking out alone was what I needed now. Both to grow and to get a chance to relax, for once.

When college was over, I was going to be months away from becoming Queen. It always seemed so far away, I always felt so ready. And now… it seemed like the closer the day came, the more unprepared I felt.

The doorknob rattled. My roommate – my human roommate – was unlocking it. I quickly tucked my claw back safely under my shirt and leaned casually against the windowsill.

~~~~

On to Chapter Two!

Exclusive Thanksgiving Story

Happy Thanksgiving, American readers! And Happy last Thursday in November everyone else!

writing

I initially started writing this story as a bonus ‘track’ for the paperback version of Danio’s Prelude. If you haven’t read that (or Soul Choice) yet, I strongly suggest you read Prelude before you read this story, as there are some major spoilers. 

In fact, all four More than Magic Series books are on sale for 99 cents starting today through Cyber Monday!

Semester Aboard: Book 1  — AmazonSmashwords

Snow Bound: Book 2 — AmazonSmashwords

Danio’s Prelude: Book 2.5 — Amazon Smashwords

Soul Choice: Book 3 — AmazonSmashwords

Anyway, I intended to release the paperback on Dani’s birthday (November 14) and thought that a Thanksgiving theme for the final story was appropriate. Life happens. I’m not done with the story and nowhere near ready to format and release the paperback.

I also don’t want to wait another year to release it. I figured since the first half of this story takes place the day before Thanksgiving, why not put it up on my blog as a little gift to you? So, here it is. This is the first half of the extra story that will be appearing in the paperback when it’s released.

I hope you enjoy it, Happy Thanksgiving!

Ember Pelagos

2006

The trek from the gate to baggage claim would have been a lot better if one of my legs hadn’t been asleep. I paused, trying to shake the pins and needles out, before jogging to catch up to my dad.

Rubbing at a knot in my neck, I muttered, “I wish I could just swim across the lake.”

He turned, giving me a look that plainly said he thought I was nuts. “You what?”

“Instead of having to fly.” I gestured around the airport. “It’d be nice to just swim.”

Laughing, he shook his head and resumed his brisk walk. “You are the strangest fire elemental, I swear.”

We waited for a few minutes at the baggage claim and, at last, Dad spotted his suitcase. He grabbed it off of the conveyor belt, just as I caught sight of mine on the other side, about to go back out of reach. I sprinted over to it and dragged it to safety. A familiar face caught my eye, as my father wound his way through the crowd toward my dad. They greeted each other, then stood there for a moment, obviously trying to decide whether or not to kiss. They ended up doing a really awkward looking bro-hug, complete with manly back thumping. My father won the who-carries-the-bag fight and slung it over one shoulder, before inclining his head in the direction of the exit.

I didn’t hear what Dad said, but I could guess easily enough. My father looked confused and then scanned the crowd. His eyes widened in surprise when they landed on me and he broke into a grin. I couldn’t resist smiling back. It was my first Thanksgiving in Michigan, and he hadn’t been expecting me.

“Hi, Dani!” I said with a grin, when I reached them.

“And what do you think you’re doing here?” he asked with a mock glare.

“Thanksgiving dinner, of course,” I answered with an innocent shrug.

He laughed and messed up my hair, before pulling me into a big hug. He grabbed my bag from me and led the way to the car.

As we walked, Dad leaned over to me. “Thanks for coming, Ember.” He whispered it, even though my father couldn’t understand Sadehic. “It means a lot to him.”

“It was my idea,” I reminded him. “Since neither of you idiots ever thought I’d rather be here, with both of you, than in Arizona alone.”

“With your grandparents whom you never see,” he corrected. “Not to mention your aunt.”

“I see them more than…” I just barely bit back the retort. Instead, I said, “I practically live with Aunt Callie.”

We made it to the parking area and piled into the car. Loud music started blaring. My father quickly turned it down with a sheepish grin.

“Sorry.”

“You’re going to make yourself deaf,” Dad said.

“Don’t even! My mother already has my tolerance tank running on empty; I can only handle so much!”

They both laughed. My father leaned over to the passenger side, initiating a kiss. Then, we were off through the parking lot.

“How was the flight?”

“Not bad,” I said.

“Nice and short,” Dad agreed. “How’s the Pelagos family?”

He was answered with a long-suffering chuckle. “I’ve decided that Brook’s size is inversely proportional to my brother’s level of sanity. And Ma is already trying to figure out how to celebrate the baby’s first Christmas. I’m pretty sure she forgot that Pike and I have a Name Day before then… Oh, and I told Ma that I’m your legal guardian now.” Dani’s eyes met mine in the rearview mirror. “She will probably hug you death. If I had known you were coming, I would’ve spared you.”

“I’ll try to be careful, Baba,” I told him.

I couldn’t see his expression, but thanks to the mirror, I could see a little ripple of bright blue cross his eyes, from my use of the Greek word for dad.

A weird, wailing cry emanated from the speakers.

“What are you listening to?” Dad asked.

“It’s the new Tenacious D album.”

“Huh. I assumed it was one of your silly musicals.”

“You are so weird.”

Dad looked at him indignantly. “Why am I weird? You’re the one listening to…” He gestured at the radio.

“Because you don’t like musicals.”

“You knew that when we started dating.” Dad crossed his arms and leaned back in his seat.

“I assumed that I’d find one you liked. Eventually. I refuse to believe that there isn’t a musical out there, somewhere, that you’d like.”

“You and your musicals,” Dad sighed, shaking his head.

“You and your… not musicals! It’s weird.”

“Why is that weird? Plenty of people don’t like musicals.”

I leaned into the front seat. “It’s weird that you don’t.”

My dad turned incredulously to me. “What?”

“Because liking musicals is like the number one gay stereotype. And you…” I grinned sheepishly. “You’re kind of the poster boy for gay stereotypes. So it’s weird because it’s the only ‘gay’ thing you don’t do.”

Dani threw back his head and guffawed. I flopped back into the backseat with a grin.

Dad smacked his arm. “You shut up, Danio. It’s weird you do enjoy musicals.”

“Were you paying attention to what we just established? That makes me perfectly normal, thank you.”

“No, because it’s the only gay thing that you do.”

Without even hesitating, Dani smoothly replied, “I do you. And since your kid thinks you’re a walking stereotype that should count for double.”

My dad made a small choking sound in response. I leaned forward again, this time to help him out.

“He meant it’s the only stereotypical thing you do.”

“It is not,” Dani protested. He thought for a moment and then said triumphantly, “I like brunch!”

“Only because you don’t wake up early enough to eat breakfast like a normal person,” Dad said.

“Okay, fine. I uh …”

Chuckling, Dad leaned back and propped his feet up on the dashboard. “Told you so.”

“Hang on, I’m thinking. Mm… oh! I gesture a lot with my hands when I talk!”

I caught his eye in the rearview mirror. “I’m pretty sure that’s Italians, not gays.”

Dani’s eyebrows flew up in shock, then narrowed at me. “I swear, I will leave you by the side of the 75, young lady!”

Dad cleared his throat. “Are you watching how fast you’re driving?”

The car noticeably slowed. “Of course. Hey, I drive fast. Is that a thing?”

“A thing?”

“A stereotype.”

“Gays drive fast?” Dad said skeptically. “No. No, that is not a thing. You’re still at one.”

“Crap.”

A thought crossed my mind and, before I could stop myself, I blurted it out. “Did you know I thought you were straight for like, two weeks after I realized Uncle Charlie was gay?”

They both started laughing. Giggling along with them, I leaned back and turned my attention out the window. Who would have thought that just a few years later my uncle and his roommate would become my biological father and his boyfriend? Certainly not me. I grinned at my faint reflection. No, I realized, it hadn’t been a few years, it had been quite a bit longer. I was fourteen then… jeez, it had been twelve years.

My ‘mother’ and I had moved to New York when I was eight, just about a year after Uncle Charlie. We rented a small house, near where he lived with his roommate. A couple of years later, all four of us started renting a home together. I never once wondered why my uncle’s roommate moved in with us too. I suppose, looking back, that if I hadn’t liked Dani, I might have started to wonder why he had lived with Uncle Charlie for so long. But, I did like him, so I never wondered.

I’m not sure when I first realized what homosexuality actually was. I just sort of knew, even though it wasn’t until I was fourteen that it started to become more of a topic around school. All I know is that, one day, people were talking about some student who was gay at lunch and how they could tell he was. I went home that afternoon and suddenly was struck by the fact that Uncle Charlie totally fit their description of how a gay guy acted. His Arizona-twang was undeniably punctuated by a “gay lisp” and he walked “like a gay man” too. For the first time, I realized why he never mentioned a girlfriend. It made perfect sense.

I started keeping a close eye on him, trying to spot him doing something gay to prove my theory. I have no idea what I was actually expecting to see, but I started sneaking around quietly and trying to catch him unaware. Just a couple of days in, I saw him talking to Dani and briefly entertained the idea that Dani was gay too. I quickly dismissed it. Dani didn’t act the way a gay guy was supposed to. Since Uncle Charlie perfectly fit the stereotypes I had learned, I had no reason to think that they were wrong. I didn’t know any better.

Sometimes, I did wonder if Dani had always been like this or if fourteen years pretending to be straight in the Legion had changed him. I doubted I’d ever know. It certainly wasn’t something I’d ask him. His family hadn’t been much help either. Yia-yia said she had always known; she was his mother after all. But Uncle Pike said he had been completely blindsided when Dani came out to him. So, who knew?

I, for one, went another two weeks before I finally figured it out. Part of my strategy to catch Uncle Charlie had been to stop yelling hello when going to his house. It was on my way home from school and I usually went there instead of home, especially since my mother was working. I let myself in quietly and crept around, hoping to catch him. This time, I found Dani sleeping on the couch. That wasn’t entirely out of the ordinary, he usually took a nap when he worked nights. But Uncle Charlie was on the couch with him.

More specifically; Dani was using my uncle’s lap as a pillow. Uncle Charlie had a book in one hand, his other arm was draped over Dani and their fingers were tangled together. There was nothing platonic about it. That was when I knew that Dani was more than just my uncle’s roommate.

It wasn’t long before I started calling him Uncle Dani. It was natural to me. I had very few memories of my childhood in Arizona, with or without Charlie. Most of my memories of him were in New York, which meant Dani was there too. I knew him nearly as well as Uncle Charlie. They were both stunned the first time I did it, but I could tell they were pleased. And I was pretty happy. I had my mom and I had two great uncles. Who needed a dad?

We passed a sign for the city limits and I felt a little nervous knot in my stomach. I had no idea what to expect from Thanksgiving in Michigan. The holiday was my least favorite. I felt like the older I got, the more I hated it. It had actually all started around the time I found out my uncle was gay. The following year he asked if I’d mind if he spent Thanksgiving in Michigan with Dani and his family. It became tradition for him to alternate the holidays in Michigan and Arizona. I never asked why Dani didn’t come to Arizona. He was a water elemental; it made sense to me. But, as I got older and lost that innocent, child oblivion, Thanksgiving seemed to get worse and worse.

The entire day was a stressful, frantic mess. The kitchen was packed with fire elementals, which is just a recipe for disaster. Sooner or later someone had an opinion about the way someone else was cooking or took offense to what someone said and tempers flared. We always ate late and something was always forgotten. It was just a nightmare of bad tempers and melt-downs. I didn’t know why we bothered.

Uncle Charlie was given barn duty every year and never failed to find a way to spend the entire day out there. He would always claim he needed my help. Then, I’d escape the madness of the house and spend the day with the uncle I adored, grooming horses and talking. But, once he started spending Thanksgiving in another state, I ended up in the kitchen and hated every moment.

The chaos didn’t stop once the food was served. There were loud arguments, and quiet sulking, and my great-grandfather ranting about everything that everyone did he didn’t approve of. The older I got, the more they started trying to involve me. The entire meal was torture.

I missed my uncle whenever he was in Michigan, but as I grew more observant, I started realizing that there was a reason he hid in the barn when he was here. I had always known there was some sort of tension between him and my grandfather. I couldn’t identify it until one year, when Grandpa came into the barn, while I was reading in the hayloft, and they started arguing. Grandpa was pissed that my uncle had already decided to go to Michigan again next Thanksgiving. It quickly became clear that he wasn’t mad because Uncle Charlie was spending Thanksgiving away, but because he was spending it with another man. I knew my grandfather was a little homophobic, but I assumed he made an exception for his son. Apparently I was wrong. I listened, stunned, while they argued. At one point, Grandpa said something about how he hoped Uncle Charlie wasn’t letting ‘that man’ be a bad influence on me. I was so enraged, it took all of my will-power to not leave the hayloft and get into the middle of things. When it was over, Uncle Charlie packed and left before dinner started. It was four years before he went back for Thanksgiving. Grandma had a little pity party about how she had failed as a mother and my whole family spent dinner trying to comfort her.

That, at least, wouldn’t be an issue in Michigan. Yia-yia had embraced us as her own family. But, I really wasn’t looking forward to yet another chaotic Thanksgiving of fighting in the kitchen and gobbling down food, eager to escape the awkward dinner. I hoped it wouldn’t be like that here.

At last, we turned onto a familiar driveway. We rolled up past the boathouse and parked in front of the garage. I hopped out, stretching my legs, and grabbed my bag. I followed my fathers up to the house, burning with excitement and nervousness. Once inside, we kicked off our shoes in the entrance and moved into the living room.

“We’re back, Ma!” Dani yelled.

An excited squeal came from the kitchen and Amphitrite rushed out. Yia-yia was a fascinating conundrum of a woman. She was wearing yoga pants and a t-shirt, underneath a flowery, almost gaudy apron. Her hair, which was an extremely long, beautiful mix of blues, was bundled up under a kerchief. She looked like some insane clash of modern college girl, 50s housewife, and traditional Greek woman. She was also absolutely gorgeous; she was half-siren and it showed.

“Ah, my boys!” she cried. She planted two big kisses on Dani’s cheeks, as if she hadn’t just seen him a couple of hours ago, then grabbed my dad and pulled him into a big hug. She gave him several, wet-looking kisses on the cheeks, followed by another hug. “I’m so happy you’re here for Thanksgiving!”

“It’s great to see you, Miss Pelagos.”

Without hesitating, Yia-yia smacked him on the back of the head. “I am your mother now, silly boy! You call me Mama, yes?”

“Yes, of course. Sorry, Mama.”

“Better.” Then, she caught sight of me. Her eyes swirled with bright blue and she threw up her hands. “Ember!” she shrieked. She dove forward and caught me in a hug. “Oh! My granddaughter! Now, the entire family is here with me!”

“Hi, Yia-yia,” I gasped as she hugged me tightly.

She released me, whirled, and whacked Dani upside the head before he could dodge. “Why did you not tell me she was coming? What is wrong with you, paidi mou?”

“I didn’t know, Ma. It was a surprise.” Dani winced and rubbed the back of his head.

“We don’t have enough food! Theos mou! I must make a list! We must shop!” She sprinted into the kitchen.

Dani heaved a sigh and followed her. “Ma! We don’t have to go shopping. We have enough food to feed an army. Literally. Trust me on this.”

I followed and Yia-yia rounded on me the moment I was in the kitchen. “What is your favorite Thanksgiving food? I make it for you! Tell your Yia-yia what you will eat. You name anything, I will make it!”

“I’m fine with whatever you’re already making. Really.”

She looked like she didn’t believe me. “You are sure?”

I nodded. “Absolutely.”

My Uncle Pike walked in. He grinned when he saw me. “Hey kiddo, I thought I heard Ma screaming your name.” He hugged me and swiftly hissed into my ear. “Leave while you can, save yourself!”

His wink let me know he was kidding, but I felt another nervous twist in my stomach. It seemed like the kitchen chaos had already started. I hoped I was doing the right thing.

“Pike, I make a list.” Yia-yia held out a piece of paper. “More potatoes, go. And flour. The good flour, I give you money.” She started rummaging through her purse while Pike looked over the list.

“Didn’t I buy enough potatoes yesterday?” he asked.

“Don’t argue, child. To the store with you!” She thrust a twenty at him.

“Now?”

Yia-yia looked scandalized. “Of course now!” Dani started to chuckle. “Danio, go with him! Spend time with your brother!”

He groaned. “Why am I only Danio when you want something?”

She snapped a dish towel at him. “Don’t be smart mouth. Go! Before the store closes!”

I bit back a laugh of my own. As a water elemental, Yia-yia was perfectly capable of speaking in any dialect or voice she chose. Dani and Pike both used a fairly generic, American accent, with a subtle Michigander spark. If I didn’t know any better, I would never guess that English wasn’t their first language. Thanks to their ability to mimic, they spoke flawless English without even a hint of a foreign accent. They also both – although I hated to admit it – had sexy sounding tenors, which they claimed were their unaltered voices.

Yia-yia, on the other hand, spoke ‘Greeklish’. Her thick Greek accent and broken English sometimes made her hard to understand. She also usually pitched her voice to sound like a much older Greek woman than she was physically. She claimed that she was proud of being Greek and used the Greeklish as a way to stay in touch with her heritage. Dani said that his mother could speak perfect English if she was so inclined, not just mimicking an American accent, but grammar-wise as well. I wasn’t sure I believed him, I had never heard it.

Not certain if I wanted to be stuck in the kitchen alone during the Thanksgiving rush, I retreated into the living room. I heard voices and saw my dad vanishing around the corner upstairs with his suitcase. A moment later, Aunt Brook took his place. I watched her slowly make her way down the stairs. A wide, yet tired, smile crossed her face when she saw me.

“Hello, Ember! I’m so glad you could make it.”

“Hi, Aunt Brook. You look…” Gigantic. I hadn’t seen her since she was just a couple of months along. “Great!”

“Oh, please,” she laughed. She sat heavily on the couch and rested a hand on her massive stomach. “I look like a beached whale.”

“I think you look absolutely ravishing!” Dani called from the foyer. “I can hardly keep my eyes off of you.”

“Splashy,” Brook said with a wry grin. “Now I look enormous and like a man.”

Pike jogged over to give her a kiss goodbye. “Can I get you anything from the store, Brook-itsa?”

She hesitated, but clearly wanted something. Pike knew it too.

“What is it, zargana mou? I’ll get you whatever you want.”

“Sushi?”

“Done!” He hurried back to the front door, grabbing his coat. “We’ll be back!”

I joined my aunt on the couch. “When are you due?”

“December seventh,” she said. “Pike and Danio are rooting for her to come a day early and be born on their name day. We’ll see.”

Yia-yia bustled through, on her way to the stairs. “Brook, are you hungry? You tell your mother if you are hungry, yes?”

“Pike’s getting me sushi.”

“Sushi? We have food here! Oh, that boy. Why should I cook at all, if my children are always buying the take-out?” She continued upstairs muttering.

Trying to stifle a laugh, I turned back to Brook. “So, how are you feeling?”

She patted her belly with a smile. “Ready to be done.”

“Have you picked out a name for her?”

“We’ve got it narrowed down in English. We’re decided on her name in Panth.” Brook studied me for a moment and then leaned in my direction. “Want to know a secret?”

I eagerly nodded.

“We’re naming her after Danio. In Panth,” she said with a smile.

He was going to flip! “What does that sound like?”

Brook whistled and hummed in Panthalssish for a long time. It sounded more like a song than a name. Either way, it was beautiful. Instead of telling her that, I pulled a classic fire elemental problem and blurted, “That’s a long name!”

Before I could apologize, she laughed. “Panth is a wordy language.”

“It’s beautiful,” I said, hoping it would still sound sincere.

“Thank you.”

I was still thinking about the name and reminding myself to not tell Dani, so I was only half paying attention to a voice saying, “I put your suitcase up in your room for you, Ember.”

“Thanks, Uncle Charl—” I caught myself, “dad.”

He laughed and stopped by the couch, holding up a couple of throw pillows. “These were on the guest bed, so I grabbed them in case you wanted one, Brook.”

Without hesitating, Brook reached for one and stuffed it behind her back. “Oh, you are amazing! Give Pike some pointers, will you?”

Chuckling, he leaned against the arm of the couch and gently ruffled my hair. “I’ll see what I can do.”

A cell phone started ringing and Brook groaned. “Ugh, that’s mine.”

My dad leapt up. “Where is it?”

Sheepishly, Brook shrugged. “I don’t remember.”

The call was probably seconds from ending when my father found the phone – in a little basket for mail in the foyer – and dove for it.

“Hello?” He actually yanked the phone away from his head and I could hear the caller’s voice. “Whoa, whoa! Relax, Pike! She’s fine!”

Aunt Brook slapped herself on the forehead. “That man.”

Shaking his head, my dad crossed the living room back to us. “She misplaced her phone and I figured an unanswered call would just worry you more. Here she is.”

Brook smiled in thanks, as she took the phone. “Pike?” She rolled her eyes. “Honey, we’re both healthy, everything is normal, and I’m not due for two more weeks. Stop worrying. You’re worse than your mother.”

Biting back a laugh, I exchanged an amused look with my dad. If Pike was anything like Dani, comparisons to his mother were not considered complimentary.

“Oh, um… don’t they have some dinner box I love? Box C, I think… yes, that’s the one… no wasabi, at all. Not even in the box… I know I love wasabi, but thinking about the taste right now makes my stomach churn. None of it touches my food! Thanks… mm, hold on.” She turned her attention to us. “What do you want to order?”

I hadn’t been expecting sushi for dinner and was caught off guard. I liked it well enough, but didn’t get the chance to eat it often. “Do they have anything cooked and spicy?” I asked.

She relayed the question to her husband, then laughed. “Danio says he’ll find something for both of you.” Then, she let out a loud series of whistles. A moment later Yia-yia whistled back and Brook changed back to English. “She says you’re crazy for ordering sushi when there’s plenty of food here, but she said there’s some sashimi plate she likes… no, I will not ask her if she sees a comparison between this and her need for more potatoes… right, I love you too. Thanks for getting me sushi, my dear.” No sooner had she hung up, when her eyes widened in alarm. “I’m so sorry, I dictated dinner for everyone! I didn’t even think. I just…”

“Had a craving for sushi?” Dad supplied. “You’re pregnant, you have an excuse.”

“I just feel like I’ve been such a pain.”

With a dry chuckle, my dad said, “Don’t worry, you have nothing on a pregnant fire elemental.”

“I can’t even imagine,” she laughed.

“Were you there the entire time she was pregnant with me?” I asked. Calling her “mom” just didn’t seem right.

Dad looked surprised by the question and I considered retracting it. I rarely asked about her. It wasn’t that I was angry or even upset with her for leaving me; furies don’t make good parents. But, I wasn’t curious about her either. I had all the mother I needed in my Aunt Callie. I sometimes thought that being an accident should have bothered me more. It didn’t. I had never, not once, felt like I was treated like one. No matter who I thought they were – my mother and my uncle or my aunt and my father – I had never doubted how much they loved me.

His eyes dimmed and flickered. He wasn’t sure how to answer the question. After a moment, a shadow of guilt crossed his face and he whispered, “No.” He stood, turning to face the dying fire in the fireplace, and continued. “I spent a few months trying to convince myself that she was lying to… I don’t know. Maybe she had realized I was gay and was trying to keep me around longer or something. Then, after she started showing I knew it was true and… well, I freaked out a little. Okay, a lot. Your Grandpa is a very… traditional man. He probably would be more upset that I had gotten a girl pregnant without marrying her, than he is about who I am dating.” I could hear bitter sarcasm in his voice as he added, “And you know how happy he is about that.” He heaved a sigh and I wished I hadn’t asked. “Anyway, I sort of resigned myself to the idea that I was going to have to marry her, right around the start of her third trimester. So, I was there for all of that.” At last he turned back, as I watched his eyes brightened again and he smiled. “And, of course, I was there when you were born.”

“If my daughter,” Brook said softly, “is half as wonderful as yours turned out, I’ll be a happy mother.”

I don’t know which one of us blushed more.

Dad cleared his throat and practically sprinted to the fireplace. “Why don’t I stoke this back up?” He started to reach in which his bare hands, but then reached for the poker instead. Probably trying to add a bit of challenge to help distract him.

Watching fires was always soothing, and just a bit mesmerizing. I gazed into the flames as they grew, listening to the crackling and popping. When I was little I used to sit on the hearth, trying to hear Sadehic words in the sound. I realized that my mental image of young me was in the house in New York, where we had all lived together, even though I had long since grown out of the silly game by the time we moved there.

My dad leaned into my line of vision, reaching for a stray log, and I studied him. It must have been strange for non-magics to watch their parents age. His face was just how I had always remembered it. My Uncle Charlie. My dad.

Only four years, more like three and a half, had passed since they told me the truth. I had been stunned, but embraced it almost right away. I was still getting used to it though. Twenty-three years of saying Mom and Uncle Charlie was a hard habit to change. I had only just started getting used to saying Uncle Dani when suddenly he wasn’t my uncle anymore. I was already picking up Greek from him, so I thought it was only logical to call him Baba. I knew he’d like it and it wouldn’t be nearly as confusing as calling both of them Dad!

It was funny, I thought, rather than being angry about the truth, I was just mad they hadn’t told me sooner. After they explained why my Aunt Callie had taken my mother’s place, I couldn’t be upset. I understood why they had waited until I was “older” to tell me. They couldn’t risk a young fire elemental blurting it out. Everyone was told the same lie. Even Dani was told that I was Callie’s daughter for years. Even now, twenty-six years later, my grandparents would probably still erupt if they knew the truth. The less people who knew, the better. It decreased the risk that one of us would accidentally slip up in front of my grandparents.

My dad was convinced I’d hate him for not “being there”, but with the exception of one sole year, I had lived with or near him my entire life. He had always been there, as far as I was concerned.

I don’t think I ever went through a phase where I needed my father, back when I thought I didn’t have one. Aunt Callie was a wonderful mother and my dad, and later Dani, had been all the father I needed; even though I didn’t know how true that was. Once it was all flipped upside down, I realized that was fine too. I still had all three of them in my life, just in a different way than I thought.

When the fire was roaring, he rejoined us on the couch and the three of us sat in peaceful silence. Yia-yia came downstairs and I could hear her bustling around in the kitchen. My stomach was just starting to rumble when Dani and Pike got back. Yia-yia had impeccable timing and was out of the kitchen with plates and chopsticks before they had even kicked their boots off. Pike turned on the TV and found a Thanksgiving themed movie. We ate an informal dinner right there in the living room, sometimes talking, sometimes all quietly watching the movie.

All in all, it was a normal night visiting Yia-yia. I had only been to Michigan a few times, but it was always like this. Going out to eat or having leftovers in front of the TV; all very casual. It gave me hope that Thanksgiving Day would be equally relaxed, but I kept thinking of Arizona. Other visits there were fun too. Everyone was in a good mood, we went horseback riding, and I baked cookies with Grandma. Then, something about Thanksgiving turned everyone crazy. I hoped that, maybe, it wouldn’t happen here.

Brook was the first to go to bed. When she left, Yia-yia returned to the kitchen. I settled in on the couch with my dads and Uncle Pike to watch another movie. I didn’t last long, and neither did my dad. It had been a long day of travelling. It was quite a bit like a usual night at home. Dani was always the last to go to bed. It seemed like it was a family trait, because he and his brother were debating between finishing the movie or starting a video game and Yia-yia was still banging around in the kitchen, when Dad and I headed up to bed.

“Thanks again for coming, Ember,” he said, hugging me.

“I wanted to,” I laughed.

“Well, we’re both glad you’re here. See you in the morning, little spark.”

“Night, Dad.”

I quickly got ready for bed and climbed in. Yia-yia always provided more than enough blankets. I didn’t need them all to sleep comfortably, but I liked being snuggled beneath a heavy pile of them. I was tired enough to fall asleep, but my thoughts started running wild. I was still nervous about what Thanksgiving would hold. I hoped I wasn’t making a mistake.

For all of its chaos, and fighting, and the misery of Thanksgiving in Arizona, most of my other visits were pleasant. Nobody was frantically trying to get all of the dishes cooked and everyone seemed less stressed out. The atmosphere was so much less stressful and instead of forcing the family into the same room for the holidays, everyone just sort of mingled and did their own thing. That was how visiting Michigan always was. Granted, I had only come a few times, but it was always casual. Like tonight had been. We watched TV, got take-out or went out to eat, took walks, played games. It was just plain fun. I hoped that tomorrow would be the same way, but if Yia-yia was already trying to prepare food, I could only imagine how stressful tomorrow would be. And since Brook wasn’t exactly in shape to do much cooking, I had a feeling I’d end up in the kitchen.

And, deep down, I was a little worried about being the “new” member of the family. My dad had been joining them for Thanksgiving for over a decade now and Brook had been a part of it since, I didn’t even know. Forty years, at least, if my math was right. Going from niece to daughter surely complicated things. The first few times they had met me, I was introduced as Charlie’s niece. True, they had welcomed me into the family, even then. But, it had been less than a year since Dani and Charlie took the plunge and told the rest of the Pelagos family I was Charlie’s daughter.

Yia-yia had been beside herself to have a surprise granddaughter. But would her enthusiasm hold true at the Thanksgiving table? Pike and Brook had welcomed me with open arms too, but what if I was stealing the spotlight from their upcoming daughter? She’d be a real Pelagos. They had just barely had a year to get used to the idea what I was Dani’s ‘daughter’ and now I was crashing Thanksgiving.

And it sounded like Dani had just told Yia-yia that he had recently signed the papers that made him my legal guardian.

I felt a shiver and snuggled deeper, even though I wasn’t cold. One of their coworkers had died a few months ago and everyone at MES was shaken up. It sounded like the entire company was scrambling to make sure everything was in order to take care of their loved ones. One night, I overheard my dad whispering with Dani about what would happen to me if he died, since I was under thirty. If something happened to my dad, my aunt was my legal guardian, but when my dad died the truth would come out, and if my grandparents got involved… It sounded like neither of them was sure whether I’d want to live with my aunt or stay with Dani. And neither of them wanted to ask, because they were afraid of the answer. Idiots. I ended that discussion by saying of course I’d choose Dani, whether my grandparents wanted me to or not. From there, it was an easy decision to get some legal papers. And now, if something happened to Dani, I got survivor benefits from MES and the Legion. At least until he and dad got married anyway.

I considered, not for the first time, changing my name to Pelagos. Dani asked me a thousand times if I was sure I wanted him to be my legal guardian. In spite of insisting that I was sure, he was my father after all, I had a feeling he still wasn’t convinced about how I felt. If taking his name wouldn’t convince him, nothing would. I’d have to wait until I was thirty, to do it without adult permission. That wasn’t too long from now, I could wait. Ember Caldera Pelagos had a nice ring to it.

With that thought, I told my brain to shut up. I sat up and created a big ball of fire between my hands, burning off energy. I stared at it, trying to clear my thoughts, until I felt even more tired. At last, I was able to curl up and fall asleep.

*~~~*~~~*

Well, I hope you enjoyed your sneak peek! Once again, Happy Thanksgiving! Oh, and if you haven’t, be sure to sign up for my mailing list! Every month I’ll be including free books, writing updates, and sneak peeks! The next issue will include the first chapter of Wrought-Iron Roses!

Writing, Blogging, Formatting, Homemaking, and Crafting!

Phew!

Remember when I said exciting things are coming? They’re here! Some of you may be familiar with my book formatting logo:

EK Formatting

Well, I’m expanding the EK brand to all manner of ventures. Instead of spreading it all out, I’m going to start by consolidating it onto a single blog. I also plan on blogging more frequently. In order to help you know what each post is about, they’ll have a lovely logo like that at the top! A general post, much like this one, will be tagged with this:

blogging

So, what else can you expect to see from me? First up is the newest:

homemaking

The Homemaking tag is one I’m particularly excited about, without it the rest of these ventures wouldn’t be possible. You see, I’m staying home with my son! Expect posts with the homemaking tag to involve stay at home mom sort of things. Cleaning, decorating, child-raising. It will probably be the most infrequent of my tags, but I thought I’d include it while I was going logo design happy.

I regret, that I’m not 100% sure how long this stay-at-home gig will last. Life outside of DC is expensive, especially with a new mouth to feed. My hope is that I’ll be able to earn enough from my formatting, writing, and crafting to make staying home continue to be possible.

Which, leads me to more tags!

writing

This might be the one that you’re most excited about, assuming you follow my blog because you’re a fan of my writing. Well, I’ve got a lot in store. Now that I’m staying home, I hope to be quite prolific in the coming months! What’s on the list you may ask?

Wrought-Iron Roses will be releasing December 8. I do apologize for the postponement. Writing with a newborn turned out to be quite a bit harder than I expected! I’m still settling into a routine, but I’ve gotten over the hump.

If you missed the Curse Collectors book trailer, do check it out! I’m pretty pleased with it! Special thanks to the wonderful voice actress Emily Wood for providing the creeptastic voice.

Wee! What did you think?

More than Magic fans will be excited to know that I’m working on a new story for the paperback release of Danio’s Prelude. Never fear though, I’m not going to force people to buy a paperback just to get a short story. There will be ways to get a digital copy as well. The Soul Choice paperback should be out in November. I am sorry to say I still don’t have set plans for a sequel to Soul Choice, but yes, I did emphasize the word set. The characters are always nagging at me and I’m sure that a plot will come to me one of these days. There is, however, a More than Magic universe short story coming up in an anthology this spring!

Observant readers who follow me on Facebook may have noticed that I’m secretly, not-so-secretly gathering followers to a pen-name. I’m working on a couple of new series that I’d prefer my YA readers not accidentally buy, if you get my drift. Those will be out starting in 2016. If you haven’t caught my alter ego yet, but are interested in those series, I’m happy to let you in on the secret.

Last, something I’m super excited about. The original version of Semester Aboard was published one chapter at a time online. I miss doing that. I miss the instant chapter-by-chapter feedback and reader reactions, as well as the pressure to keep writing because people are waiting. So, I’m thrilled to announce that I will be posting a serial on my blog! Currently, I’m planning to do a chapter a week. The question now is, what will I write? I have plans for two series that I think would both translate well to serial form. I’d love to get your feedback on which one you’d like me to start with. Don’t worry, if it works out I’ll do both. They’re both YA series, one is a high fantasy with elves and unicorns. The other is a sort of urban/high fantasy hybrid featuring shifters. Drop by this link to vote and please leave a comment here with your preference as well!

I’m also finally going to start a monthly newsletter! Go ahead and sign up! Subscribers will get sales, freebies, sneak peeks, and more!

That wraps up my busy world of writing. I’ve got one more logo to show you! I’m also really pumped about this one. I’ve always wanted to open my own Etsy store, I’m a big crafter. I just never knew what to sell. I used to sell crocheted goods on a forum long, long ago. But those take ages and are tough to ship. I had a vision for art that I wanted to hang in the nursery, but couldn’t find what I was picturing. I’ve been on a painting kick recently, so I made them myself. After some great feedback from friends, I decided to sell them!

Without further ado:crafting

And behold, my own Etsy Store!

In addition to selling, I’ll also be posting here and there with crafting updates, patterns, and ideas. I’m brainstorming More than Magic and Curse Collectors themed paintings as well. If you can think of anything along those lines that you’d be happy to hang on your wall, please let me know!

And that brings you up to speed! Thanks for taking the time to read it all! Do please let me know which serial you’d like to see first and if you have a painting idea for me!

Until next time…

Same Blog – New Stuff and Re-branded Content

Hello! A lot has been going on since my last post! Among other things, I’ve decided that I don’t blog nearly often enough. Keep an eye here and, if you haven’t, be sure to subscribe! There’s going to be a lot of new stuff! I’m also going to be going back over old posts to sort them and add a series of new logos, inspired by my fantastic formatting one, courtesy of Inked Phoenix Design.

Here’s just a tiny teaser of what’s to come…logoblogging

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