Thursday, May 28, 2015

Review: Cracked (Soul Eaters #1) by Eliza Crewe

Release Date: November 5, 2013
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Source: Library
Author Links: Goodreads | Website | Twitter
Meet Meda. She eats people.
Well, technically, she eats their soul. But she totally promises to only go for people who deserve it. She’s special. It’s not her fault she enjoys it. She can’t help being a bad guy. Besides, what else can she do? Her mother was killed and it’s not like there are any other “soul-eaters” around to show her how to be different. That is, until the three men in suits show up.
They can do what she can do. They’re like her. Meda might finally have a chance to figure out what she is. The problem? They kind of want to kill her. Before they get the chance Meda is rescued by crusaders, members of an elite group dedicated to wiping out Meda’s kind. This is her chance! Play along with the “good guys” and she’ll finally figure out what, exactly, her ‘kind’ is.
Be careful what you wish for. Playing capture the flag with her mortal enemies, babysitting a teenage boy with a hero complex, and trying to keep one step ahead of a too-clever girl are bad enough. But the Hunger is gaining on her.
The more she learns, the worse it gets. And when Meda uncovers a shocking secret about her mother, her past, and her destiny… she may finally give into it.


Fuck yeah! Can I give the book 5 stars and give Meda 10?! Is that possible?
Love her. Just...
Meda..ALL THE STARS! Just take them, you snarky little bitch!  
She is, hands down, the best female protagonist I have ever had the privilege to read about.
It's not that she' really evil, per say. I mean, she does sort of eat people occasionally, but most of them deserved it. *cough*
But what really impressed me was her inner dialogue. Crewe has created a young female character who thinks exactly the way I wish every young female character would think! When I rolled my eyes at something the inspirational boy-hero said, so did Meda! When I thought, "She should probably just eat that nice idiot and make a run for it.", wouldn't you know she was thinking the same thing?! 
I mean, sure, he seemed nice and all, but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do!
And yes, I realize I'm overusing exclamation points! I just can't help myself right now!



It's taken me forever to write this review, and I still can't process the right words to say how much I loved this book. I have nothing. NOTHING!
{insert mindless squealing here}
Ok.
Meda...is so AWESOME!


Wait! Stop! Come back! I swear I'll think of something...
*deep breath*
What I'm trying to say, I guess, is that it's not the journey you take with plot, so much as it is the journey inside Meda's mind that makes this one so much fun to read.
Also, there's no romance for our main character. But there is a romance. The one between the other two characters. In fact, those guys are the traditional hero & heroine we're used to seeing in young adult novels.
The guy is handsome, strong, talented, and good. The ladies want him, and the men want to be him.
He is...The Golden Boy.
Or as Meda calls him...The Idiot.
The girl is tough, self-sacrificing, and smarter than everyone else in the room. She has an injury that makes everyone else feel the need to protect her, but she just want to prove that she can fight along side the other hunters.
She is...The Wounded Warrior.
Or as Meda calls her...The Gimp.
And these geeks are who Meda gets stuck with while she's trying to figure out who what she is, and why she does the things she does.




How does she get stuck with them, you ask?
Well, she ate the wrong bad guy, got jumped by some demons, rescued by Golden Boy, interrogated by Wounded Warrior, and sort of passes herself off as a victim to gain access to this group of demon hunters with all their knowledge about soul-suckers like herself.
'Cause she's sorta in the dark about who she is, and why she does the things she does. Her mom was the only one who knew about her appetite, and (quite rightly) kept her away from the other people. But her mom died without explaining much of anything to her, and she's been on her own for a while now. And the only thing keeping her from going full-on chompy is the conscience she borrowed from her mother.

M'kay. There were SECRETS regarding her mother that I figured out fairly early on. I think they were supposed to be revelations. Alas, no...
Did that lessen my enjoyment of the story, you ask?
Were you skimming this review?! I mean, did you not read the first bits where I was all screaming, and fainting, and flailing around?!
Sheesh!
Come on, people! Keep up!



 Again, it's the trip within Meda's mind that's the real draw to Cracked. The plot is almost a parody of all the other young adult books out there. I mean, it's not that it's uninteresting, it's just wouldn't be anything special without Meda pointing out all the inconsistencies and plot holes in her head.
In other words, Meda is AWESOME!
Ok, ok! I'm done!



Monday, May 25, 2015

Spotlight & #Giveaway - The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose!


The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose
Genre: Gothic – Erotic
Publisher: Atria/S&S
Date of Publication:  March 17 2015
Number of pages:384


New York socialite Sandrine Salome flees an abusive husband for her grandmother's Paris mansion, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is closed and under renovation. Her grandmother insists it's too dangerous to visit but Sandrine defies her — an unexplainable force is drawing her home. 

There she meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing architect, who introduces her to the City of Lights — its art world, forbidden occult underground, nightclubs — and to her own untapped desires. 

From a mysterious fire at the Palais Garnier opera house, to a terrifying accident at the Eiffel tower and classes with Gustav Moreau at the École des Beaux-Arts, Sandrine's experiences awaken her passions. Among the bohemians and demi-monde, Sandrine uncovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. 

Then more ominous influences threaten — her husband is tracking her down and something insidious is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She's overcome by the spirit of La Lune, a witch, a legendary sixteenth-century courtesan, and an unsung artist in her own right, who exposes Sandrine to a darkness that could be a gift or a curse. 

This is Sandrine's "wild night of the soul," her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love and witchery, and not until she resolves a tragic love story and family curse will she be free of the ghost's possession. 

Effortlessly absorbing and richly imagined, with sumptuous detail and spellbinding suspense, The Witch of Painted Sorrows conjures the brilliance and intrigue of Belle Époque Paris and illuminates the fine line


Available at:    Amazon     BN    iTunes     IndieBound


Paris, France April 1894 

I did not cause the madness, the deaths, or the rest of the tragedies any more than I painted the paintings. I had help, her help. Or perhaps I should say she forced her help on me. And so this story—which began with me fleeing my home in order to escape my husband and might very well end tomorrow, in a duel, in the Bois de Boulogne at dawn—is as much hers as mine. Or in fact more hers than mine. For she is the fountainhead. The fascination. She is La Lune. Woman of moon dreams, of legends and of nightmares. Who took me from the light and into the darkness. Who imprisoned me and set me free. 

Or is it the other way around? 

"Your questions," my father always said to me, "will be your saving grace. A curious mind is the most important attribute any man or woman can possess. Now if you can just temper your impulsiveness..." 

If I had a curious mind, I'd inherited it from him. And he'd nurtured it. Philippe Salome was on the board of New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art and helped found the American Museum of Natural History, whose cornerstone was laid on my fifth birthday. 

I remember sitting atop my father's shoulders that day, watching the groundbreaking ceremony and thinking the whole celebration was for me. He called it "our museum," didn't he? And for much of my life I thought it actually did belong to us, along with our mansion on Fifth Avenue and our summerhouse in Newport. Until it was gone, I understood so little about wealth and the price you pay for it. But isn't that always the way? 

Our museum's vast halls and endless exhibit rooms fascinated me as much as they did my father—which pleased him, I could tell. We'd meander through exhibits, my small hand in his large one, and he'd keep me spellbound with stories about items on display. I'd ask for more, always just one more, and he'd laugh and tease: "My Sandrine, does your capacity for stories know no bounds?" 

But it pleased him, and he'd always tell me another. 

I especially loved the stories he told me about the gems and fate and destiny always ending them by saying: "You will make your own fate, Sandrine, I'm sure of it." 

Was my father right? Do we make our own destiny? I think back now to the stepping-stones that I've walked to reach this moment in time. 

Were the incidents of my making? Or were they my fate? 

The most difficult steps I took were after certain people died. No deaths were caused by me, but at the same time, none would have occurred were it not for me. 

So many deaths. The first was on the morning of my fifteenth birthday, when I saw a boy beaten and tragically die because of our harmless kisses. The next was the night almost ten years later, when I heard the prelude to my father's death and learned the truth about Benjamin, my husband. And then there were more. Each was an end-ing that, ironically, became a new beginning for me. 

The one thing I am now sure of is that if there is such a thing as destiny, it is a result of our passion, be that for money, power, or love. Passion, for better or worse. It can keep a soul alive even if all that survives is a shimmering. I've even seen it. I've been bathed in it. I've been changed by it. 

********* 

Four months ago I snuck into Paris on a wet, chilly January night like a criminal, hiding my face in my shawl, taking extra care to be sure I wasn't followed. 

I stood on the stoop of my grandmother's house and lifted the hand-shaped bronze door knocker and let it drop. The sound of the metal echoed inside. Her home was on a lane blocked off from rue des Saints-Pères by wide wooden double doors. Maison de la Lune, as it was called, was one of a half dozen four-story mid-eighteenthcentury stone houses that shared a courtyard that backed up onto rue du Dragon. Hidden clusters like this were a common configuration in Paris.These small enclaves offered privacy and quiet from the busy city. Usually the porte cochère was locked and one had to ring for the concierge, but I'd found the heavy doors ajar and hadn't had to wait for service. 

I let the door knocker fall again. Light from a street lamp glinted off the golden metal. It was a strange object. Usually on these things the bronze hand's palm faced the door. But this one was palm out, almost warning the visitor to reconsider requesting entrance. 

I was anxious and impatient. I'd been cautious on my journey from New York to Southampton and kept to my cabin. I'd left a letter telling Benjamin I'd gone to visit friends in Virginia and assumed that once he returned and read it, it would be at least a week before he'd realize all was not what it seemed. One thing I had known for certain—he would never look for me in France. It would be inconceivable to Benjamin that any wife of his could cross the ocean alone. 

Or so I assured myself until my husband's banking associate, William Lenox, spotted me on board. When he expressed surprise I was traveling by myself, I concocted a story but was worried he didn't believe me. My only consolation was that we had docked in England and I had since crossed the channel into France. So even if Benjamin did come looking, he wouldn't know where I'd gone. 


That very first night in Paris, as I waited for my grandmother's maid to open the door, I knew I had to stop thinking of what I had run away from. So I refocused on the house I stood before and as I did, felt an overwhelming sense of belonging, of being welcome. Here I would be safe. 

REVIEWS

April Indie Next List
March Library Reads List
Big Spring Books – Amazon
#1 Historical Fiction for 2015 - Goodreads

"This bell époque thriller is a haunting tale of obsessive passions." —People Magazine

"Provocative, erotic, and spellbindingly haunting...will have the reader totally mesmerized cover-to-cover....a 'must-have' novel." —Suspense Magazine

"A haunting tale of erotic love.... M.J. Rose seamlessly weaves historical events throughout this story filled with distinctive characters that will keep the reader captivated to the end." —Examiner.com

"Rose has a talent for compelling writing, and this time she has outdone herself. Fear, desire, lust and raw emotion ooze off the page." —Associated Press

"Haunting tale of possession." —Publishers Weekly

"Rose's new series offers her specialty, a unique and captivating supernatural angle, set in an intriguing belle epoque Paris — lush descriptions, intricate plot and mesmerizing storytelling. Sensual, evocative, mysterious and haunting." —Kirkus



New York Times Bestseller, M.J. Rose grew up in New York City mostly in the labyrinthine galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, the dark tunnels and lush gardens of Central Park and reading her mother's favorite books before she was allowed. She believes mystery and magic are all around us but we are too often too busy to notice... books that exaggerate mystery and magic draw attention to it and remind us to look for it and revel in it. 

Rose's work has appeared in many magazines including Oprah Magazine and she has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, WSJ, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio. Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the '80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors - Authorbuzz.com

The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose's novels in the Reincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and currently serves, with Lee Child, as the organization's co-president.

Rose lives in CT with her husband the musician and composer, Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled and often photographed dog, Winka.











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Sunday, May 24, 2015

[Coffee Shop Talks] Favorite Teaser Graphics!



I honestly don't pay much attention to teaser graphics unless they come from Darynda Jones. Her Charley teasers and quotes are cute and funny and her Reyes teasers are always hot.

Do you have any favorite teaser graphics?










      


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Giveaway - The Big Fix (Ciel Halligan #3) by Linda Grimes (US/CAN)

 Ciel Halligan (Book 3) | Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Tor Books | Release date: May 12, 2015

Linda Grimes's sexy and hilarious urban fantasy series that began with In a Fix and Quick Fix continues in The Big Fix.

Aura adaptor extraordinaire Ciel Halligan, who uses her chameleon-like abilities to fix her clients' problems--as them--is filling in on set for action superstar Jackson Gunn, whose snake phobia is standing in the way of his completing his latest mega-millions Hollywood blockbuster. There's only one thing Jack fears more than snakes, and that's the possibility of his fans finding out he screams at the sight of one. Going from hero to laughing stock isn't part of his career plan. 

Seems like a simple enough job to Ciel, who doesn't particularly like snakes, but figures she can tolerate an afternoon with them, for the right price--which Jack is offering, and then some. What she doesn't count on is finding out that while she was busy wrangling snakes for him, his wife was busy getting killed. When Ciel goes to break the sad news to the star, she finds out Jack was AWOL from her client hideaway at the time of the murder. 

Ciel begins to suspect Jack's phobia was phony, and that he only hired her to provide him with an alibi--but if she goes to the police, she'll have to explain how she knows he wasn't really on set. Up against a wall, Ciel calls on her best-friend-turned-love-interest Billy, and her not-so-ex-crush Mark, to help her set up the sting of a lifetime.


Linda grew up in Texas, where she rode horses, embarrassed herself onstage a lot, and taught teenagers they’d have to learn the rules of English before they could get away with breaking them for creativity’s sake. She currently resides in Virginia with her husband, whom she snagged after he saw her in a musical number at the now defunct Melodrama Theater in San Antonio. (There’s nothing like a rousing chorus of “If You Wanna Catch a Fish You Gotta Wiggle Your Bait” to hook a man for a lifetime.) Like IN A FIX's globetrotting main character, aura adaptor Ciel Halligan, Linda has spent her fair share of time overseas, though fortunately under less stressful circumstances. Kidnapping and daring rescues are all well and good in fiction, but she prefers sanity in her real life.







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Friday, May 22, 2015

Review: Gathering Darkness (Falling Kingdoms #3) by Morgan Rhodes

Release Date: December 9, 2014
Publisher: Razorbill
Source: Library
Author Links: Goodreads | Twitter | Website
In GATHERING DARKNESS, book three of the New York Times bestselling Falling Kingdoms series, the stakes have never been higher as three teams push forward on a race to find the Kindred, the four elemental crystals possessing ancient all-powerful magic, first:
Prince Magnus has just witnessed torture, death, and miracles during the bloody confrontation that decimated the rebel forces. Now he must choose between family and justice as his father, the cruel King Gaius, sets out to conquer all of Mytica. All Gaius needs now are the Kindred - the four elemental crystals that give godlike powers to their owner. But the King of Blood is not the only one hunting for this ancient, storied magic...
• THE KRAESHIANS join the hunt. Ashur and Amara, the royal siblings from the wealthy kingdom across the Silver Sea, charm and manipulate their way to the Kindred, proving to be more ruthless than perhaps even the King of Blood himself.
• THE REBELS forge ahead. Princess Cleo and vengeful Jonas lead them, slaying with sweetness, skill, and a secret that can control Lucia's overpowering magic - all so they can use the Kindred to win back their fallen kingdoms.
• THE WATCHERS follow Melenia out of the Sanctuary. They ally in the flesh with King Gaius, who vows to use Lucia's powers to unveil the Kindred.
The only certainty in the dark times is that whoever finds the magic first will control the fate of Mytica... but fate can be fickle when magic is involved.


Just finished Book 3 in the Pushy Librarian series, and it was AWESOME!
How did I not know about this series before a month ago?!
I'm guessing it was because Pushy Librarian wasn't quite pushy enough.
Anyway, this is a reallyreallyreally good mature young adult fantasy. If you're into that sort of thing, you should really give these books a shot.



The main thing that I love about these books (as I've mentioned before) is that you never know who the hell is going to end up getting offed by the end of the book. Some of the characters that I thought would make it to the end of this one most certainly didn't.




And to top it off, there were a few unexpected saves, as well!
Only not by a mini-Godzilla...


Magnus & Cleo are the heart of this story, but the other characters are all well fleshed out and just as important, in my opinion. However, I could probably stand to lose any of them. Whereas, Rhodes needs to keep in mind that I Will Not Tolerate anything happening to either of my favorites!
Because I'm sure she cares what I think. Really.

Alright.
*takes deep breath* 
So the mystical gateway Road-thingy is almost finished, the rebels are still getting slaughtered every time they turn around, Nic may have fallen for a treacherous prince, the evil Watcher chick has all of her nefarious plans in motion, Lysandra has her head (quite literally) on the chopping block, a hawk turns into a human and renounces his immortality, Jonas has been befriended by an assassin with a dark past, Cleo is playing a dangerous game inside the palace walls, Magnus has to decide whether or not he's going to stand by his father, and it looks like Lucia has totally trusted the wrong guy!
Oh, yeah. It's getting goooood.



I can't believe it took me this long to discover this series! The next book doesn't come out until December, but you can bet I'll be standing in line to get my hands on it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review: X-23, Vol. 1: The Killing Dream by Marjorie M. Liu, Alina Urusov (Illustrator)

Release Date: April 20, 2011
Publisher: Marvel
Source: Purchased
Author Links: Goodreads | Website | Twitter

X-23 has spent her short life being used by those in power, from the military to the X-Men. But when she is forced to confront a being who can control her life with nothing but a thought, will X-23 finally learn how to fight -- not for others, but herself? Guest-starring NYX! COLLECTING:X-23 #1-6


This is Marjorie Liu's take on X-23, and the first solo tile I've read about the character.
I liked it!




Now, even though this is volume 1, this is by no means an origin story for Laura. In fact, there seems to be quite a bit of backstory to her that I'd love to find out more about. However, this does give you everything you need to get started with this story arc, so even if you've never heard of X-23, you'd be ok starting off here, I think.

It starts off with X-23 feeling isolated and ostracized among the X-men. Or at least the teenagers. Not everyone was ok with her participation in the X-Force, but she still has several loyal friends.
In an effort to work through some of her issues from the past, she takes off on her own.
Or so she thinks.
Gambit decides she needs a friend, and follows her.

Here the thing, I don't think I've ever really liked Gambit...until now. Liu really did a good job making Gambit seem more like a cool Cajun and less like a rednecky douchebag.

So.
I don't want to give the whole story away, but these two go on an adventure.
Pssst...Miss Sinister shows up!
Anyway, it's good stuff, and I'm all aflutter to read the next volume.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Spotlight, Excerpt, & #Giveaway - The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy!


A HEAVY CROWN

Three daughters were born to High King Uorsin, in place of the son he wanted. The youngest, lovely and sweet. The middle, pretty and subtle, with an air of magic. And the eldest, the Heir. A girl grudgingly honed to leadership, not beauty, to bear the sword and honor of the king.

Ursula’s loyalty is as ingrained as her straight warrior’s spine. She protects the peace of the Twelve Kingdoms with sweat and blood, her sisters from threats far and near. And she protects her father to prove her worth. But she never imagined her loyalty would become an open question on palace grounds. That her father would receive her with a foreign witch at one side and a hireling captain at the other—that soldiers would look on her as a woman, not as a warrior. She also never expected to decide the destiny of her sisters, of her people, of the Twelve Kingdoms and the Thirteenth. Not with her father still on the throne and war in the air. But the choice is before her. And the Heir must lead…

The Talon of the Hawk | The Twelve Kingdoms, Book 3 | Author Jeffe Kennedy

Publisher: Kensington | Date of Publication: May 26, 2015 | Number of pages: 438

Genre: Fantasy, Fantasy Romance | Cover Artist: Design by Kristine Mills, Illustration by Don Sipley


                


Two of the mercenaries marked off a circle with twine, roughly twice a man’s height in diameter, while Captain Harlan and another man began stripping off their shirts and pants. To keep from watching, I pulled up a bench and set to polishing my sword. Not that I hadn’t seen plenty of men unclothed—field outposts and battle left little room or reason for modesty—but Harlan’s muscled physique seemed unduly attention-grabbing. 
His all-over golden tan hinted that he often went unclothed outdoors, and his fair hair barely showed, leaving the rippling cuts of his muscle plainly defined. He seemed more lithe, more like a male animal, without the hardened leather armor he typically wore. Fortunately he and the other man retained strips of cloth over their groins, though their buttocks were bared. 
Unfortunately, they commenced applying some sort of oil, the morning light catching it and making Harlan’s golden skin gleam over taut muscles. I resheathed my sword when I came close to slicing off a finger, Danu take him.
“Now, that,” Jepp said, coming to straddle the bench next to me, “is a fine way to start the day.”
“I thought you were teaching those mercs the Midnight form.”
“This is much more interesting. Everybody is coming to watch.”
Indeed, the other female Hawks had drawn quite close, expressions avid with more than casual interest. Marskal circulated, taking more bets, no doubt, but everyone else watched Harlan and his man. At the far end of the practice yard, Madeline and some of the maids and kitchen ladies gathered, their giggles carrying on the air like birdsong. The castle ladies would likely be sorry that they were not early risers and had missed the spectacle. 
“Nice of you to grab us a ringside seat,” Jepp continued, sounding entirely too casual, “but then, this is staged for your benefit, isn’t it?”
I was sorry I’d put my sword away, as I had nothing to do with my hands now and seemed to be unable to look away from the glistening display of Harlan’s masculine form. “Yes. Marskal knows I’m keen to learn more about how these Dasnarians train and fight.”
“Oh, Captain, we are all keen to see more,” she drawled. 
“No consorting,” I snapped, without thinking it through. Always a bad sign.
Jepp gave me an astonished—and terribly disappointed—look. “You can’t mean it.” 
She leaned in on the pretext of drawing her knives to polish and dropped her voice. “If we’re to get out, it will be through them. I’m working on making some special friends.” 
“Duly noted. But you needn’t do anything you don’t wish to.”
“Not exactly a sacrifice.” She boldly eyed the near-naked men. “I don’t mind fucking one or two. Or five. Possibly all at once.” The two men in the ring circled each other, thighs flexing in their half crouches, backs rippling, as they flexed muscles in display. “Do you think they all look that good under their clothes? I need to know. Call it scouting. Postcoital glow is excellent for extracting information from a man. Danu, I love my job.”
“You worry me, Jepp.”
“I won’t touch the captain, but say I can try a few of the others. Please?”
“Danu. Fine. Have any of them—even the captain. I don’t care. Just watch your own glow and what gets extracted from you.”
She tore her gaze away to cast me a quick, delighted grin. “You’re flustered. I’ve never seen you flustered.”
“Shut up, Jepp.” 
The men connected, grappling, their hands sliding off the oiled skin of the other before catching to hold. They strained to master the strength of the other, their muscles hardened and impossibly bulging. 
“I missed my workout is all,” I added. “All this waiting and wondering. It’s making me restless.”
Harlan flipped the other man and they went down in a tangle of limbs, the oil gleaming bright. The other man slipped partly free and Harlan laughed, exultant, scrambling to lock him into another hold. 
“Uh-huh,” Jepp breathed. “I feel exceptionally restless this morning also.”
The maids and kitchen ladies had made bold to press through the ring of onlookers now—else they wouldn’t have been able to see through the crowd—and cheered wildly, cheeks pink and eyes bright. No one blocked our view, however, much as I wished they might.
“We’ll have a crop of Dasnarian-made babies in nine months,” I predicted. “And likely no Dasnarian fathers about to help feed the lot.”
“Mmm,” Jepp hummed, not listening to a word I said, fascinated gaze locked on the men as they tumbled over each other. Harlan had the other man pinned, facedown, locked so that he could barely struggle. Another mercenary counted in what must be Dasnarian, slapping the ground on a shout.
Thankfully that ended the match, the mercs, Hawks, and overexcited ladies cheering alike. Even Jepp leapt up from the bench, squealing in most un-warrior-like fashion. Harlan and the other man rose to their feet, now swarmed by the onlookers with much congratulating and slapping of backs. 
“Not bad for a little rabbit!” The loser clapped the mercenary captain on the shoulder, shaking his head as he did.
Jepp turned on me with a stern, expectant expression. “You can count on me, Captain. I swear to extract as much as womanly possible”—she couldn’t suppress her grin at the thought—“and hands off Captain Harlan. Fair?”
“I told you, I don’t care if—”
“I’ll report!” She gave me a distracted salute and sauntered over to the man Harlan had defeated, a saucy sway to her trim hips. Harlan used her arrival to deftly extract himself from the cluster. For a big man, he moved with slick precision, and came toward me. 
I stood to go, but he stepped into my path.
“Not bad for a rabbit?” I echoed his man, raising my eyebrows.
Abashed by nothing, he grinned. “‘Harlan’ means ‘rabbit’ in Dasnarian.”
“Not very auspicious.”
“I don’t know about that. What did you think?”
“An interesting sport,” I commented, keeping my eyes on his, pretending that he wasn’t standing nearly naked in front of me, glistening with oil and sweat. “As you noted, not terribly useful on the battlefield.”
“Did you like what you saw, though?” he pressed.
“Not enough to be further interested.”
He smiled easily. “You’re not tempted—not even a little?”
“Tempted?” I had gone for arch, not breathless, Danu take it. 
“I think you are. We could trade lessons. You’d enjoy it.”
“You’re mistaken.” I deliberately looked at the sun, pretending to gauge the time. “I have no interest in learning a new sport; nor do I have free time to squander on pointless activities.”
“Never pointless, if done well.” 
Over his shoulder, Jepp had her hands splayed on the other man’s pecs, as if measuring, gazing up at him with a bright, teasing smile. Madeline had corralled the maids into heading back to their duties, but more than one gazed back longingly. We’d be in for a bumper crop of babies, indeed. 
Harlan turned, following the direction of my gaze. “Shall I order the men to keep hands off? They are accustomed to exercising that discipline.”
“As are you?” I riposted, seizing the opening and regretting it instantly. 
“As well you know, Your Highness,” he returned in that smooth, deep voice, a caress in it that reminded me of the feel of his hands. “I would never press an undesired advance. Nor would my men. But yon ladies look most willing. The men will resist any and all invitations, however, if I instruct them so.”
“No need,” I sighed, thinking of Jepp’s ulterior motives and enviable enthusiasm. “I’d have every woman in Ordnung out for my blood. But make sure they behave themselves—and that they pay up for any babies they start.” That should have been in his almighty contract. Docked pay for each child left for us to raise. 
“There won’t be any.”
“You’re so sure?” In my skepticism, I made the mistake of looking at him, his blond hair dark with the oil, the thick neck and corded shoulders. For some strange reason, my fingers itched to do as Jepp was even still—run my hands over the shape of those muscles, to feel that strength for myself, to discover if his skin was as smooth as it looked. I shouldn’t want that. Had never felt that desire. 
He knew it, too, Danu take him, eyes glittering with answering invitation. This is staged for your benefit, isn’t it? “We have methods for preventing unplanned babies. Our women are always safe with us. No Dasnarian man would have so little care for his lover as to expose her to that danger. I should have made that clear last night. It didn’t occur to me that it was one of your concerns.”
“I have many concerns—none of them to do with you. Believe me, Captain, I haven’t given you or your… offer the least bit of thought.”
“Liar.” He leaned in close to murmur the word, so I scented his skin. Man, sweat, and sunlight. “How did you sleep? I tossed and turned myself. I kept thinking of you and the way you taste. Imagining how your hands on me would feel.”
Calling it a strategic retreat, I stepped back, removing myself from the temptation to touch him, to run my fingertips over his oiled muscles. “How unfortunate for you,” I replied. “I had far more important things to think about and still do. Excuse me, Captain.”
Satisfied at having set him back on his heels, I strode away, ignoring the fact that his amused laugh once again followed me. 


Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook.  Her most recent works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and an erotic  contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, hit the shelves starting in May 2014 and book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review and has been nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose, has been nominated for best fantasy romance of the year. A fifth series, the highly anticipated erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, released starting with Going Under, followed by Under His Touch and Under Contract.  She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine. Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog, on Facebook, and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary.








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