A MelanieM Review: The Wolf and the Sparrow by Isabelle Adler

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Rating: 3.25 stars out of 5

Derek never wished to inherit his title as a result of a bloody battle. With the old count dead and the truce dependent on his marriage to the rival duke’s son, Derek has no choice but to agree to the victor’s terms in order to bring peace to his homeland. When he learns of the sinister rumors surrounding his intended groom, Derek begins to have doubts—but there can be no turning back from saying I do.

After the death of his wife, Callan of Mulberny never expected to be forced into another political marriage—especially not to someone like the new Count of Camria. Seemingly soft and meek, it’s only fitting that Derek’s family crest is a flighty sparrow, worthy of nothing but contempt.

Another war with the seafaring people of the Outer Isles looms on the horizon, and the reluctant newlyweds must team together to protect those caught in the circle of violence. Derek and Callan slowly learn to let go of their prejudices, but as they find themselves enmeshed in intrigue fueled by dark secrets and revenge, their tentative bond is all that keeps their world—and their lives—from plunging into chaos.

 

I  enjoyed the sort of mystical historical fantasy novel, The Wolf and the Sparrow by Isabelle Adler. I thought it worked very well on some levels and less well on others.   From the moment I met the main characters of Derek, son of the fallen Count of Camria and now the new “head” of house, and Callen, first son of the Duke of Mulberny, victor of the war, the author eases of us the perspectives of both men and their various different worlds.    The gulf between them necessarily wide due to the losses of war, Derek his father and the fear of losing his small fiefdom and all that entails for his people and family. For Callan?  It’s merely one more political move by his father with himself as the chess piece, one he doesn’t want to make but will for duty.

The young men as characters are well thought out and presented, less so some of the people around them.  I am not sure if this is the first story in a series but much is made of Derek’s brothers, an older scholarly brother Ivo and a sullen teen brother who constantly acts up, putting his brother’s safety and that of any  political agreements in danger.  That it is allowed to continue makes no sense in this narrative other than for dramatic purposes.  The brother is unlikable, the author makes no attempt  to layer him into anything other than a cardboard character and eventually he disappears completely two thirds of the way from the story leaving the reader to wonder why he was inserted at all.  Ivo’s character  did a flip flop at the end and then exited as well after being used as a potential red herring for a relationship with Callan’s sister.  Both examples of throwaway characters that had way too much page time.

The relationship development between Callan and Derek moved along nicely when they were allowed to be out in the field doing exactly what warriors like themselves were allowed to do, bonding over field maneuvers and showing their skills at taking down marauders.  That made complete sense and I loved it.  The other   element I started to get into and I thought was absolutely underused was that of magic.

What a waste.  It was, in my opinion, such a great part of the narrative and yet so underwhelming at the same time.  One, the effects were only related  by one of the  main characters not both.What a loss because while we get the maelstrom of physical, emotional, and magical elements happening from one side, we never get to “see” it from the other’s.  Which is weird because this whole story is a two narrative novel.  Why reduce to one now?  When we want to “see” what is happening at it’s most wildest and wonderful?  Makes no sense.  The best part and powerful potential of this story is lost.  And not for the last time.

If the author was laying the groundwork for a series, that would be different, but I believe this is a standalone novel, so here is all this great promise for magic within this novel and character and quite frankly, it gets tossed away, not one but twice, because the author holds back, throwing out tidbits instead of going full throttle.  This character can control animals, have them do his biding.  Do we see it?  Uh, off stage sort of.  Control the wind and seas?  Does that come into play?  Nope.  Other cool stuff?  Pretty much no.  Just one more “bunny out of the hate” and done.

What a shame.

The end comes off the same way. Characters disappear,  there is an odd resolution that feels sort of inadequate, magically speaking.  and yes, a HEA for this couple, which seems odd, because, other than Ivo, Derek’s family is never mentioned again.

So yes, I enjoyed it but so many questions kept popping back up into my head about other characters, universe building, and the holes in the magic that it wasn’t a smooth read for me. If you are more of a surface reader than I am, perhaps this story is more in your wheelhouse than mine.  Either way, I found it went pretty quickly and the main characters were enjoyable.  I just wish the promise I saw had been fulfilled.

Cover art by Natasha Snow is eye catching and dramatic.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 300 pages
Published November 25th 2019 by Nine Star Press
ISBN139781951057893
Edition Language English

New Release Blitz for The Wolf and the Sparrow by Isabelle Adler (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title: The Wolf and the Sparrow

Author: Isabelle Adler

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: November 25, 2019

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 72000

Genre: Fantasy, LGBT, fantasy, nobility, arranged marriage, abduction, enemies to lovers, witches, magic users, action/adventure, family drama, pansexual

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Synopsis

Derek never wished to inherit his title as a result of a bloody battle. With the old count dead and the truce dependent on his marriage to the rival duke’s son, Derek has no choice but to agree to the victor’s terms in order to bring peace to his homeland. When he learns of the sinister rumors surrounding his intended groom, Derek begins to have doubts—but there can be no turning back from saying I do.

After the death of his wife, Callan of Mulberny never expected to be forced into another political marriage—especially not to someone like the new Count of Camria. Seemingly soft and meek, it’s only fitting that Derek’s family crest is a flighty sparrow, worthy of nothing but contempt.

Another war with the seafaring people of the Outer Isles looms on the horizon, and the reluctant newlyweds must team together to protect those caught in the circle of violence. Derek and Callan slowly learn to let go of their prejudices, but as they find themselves enmeshed in intrigue fueled by dark secrets and revenge, their tentative bond is all that keeps their world—and their lives—from plunging into chaos.

Excerpt

The Wolf and the Sparrow
Isabelle Adler © 2019
All Rights Reserved

“Derek, you lucky devil,” Macon said. “A marriage proposal the minute you inherit a title. How propitious.”

Derek ignored the note of bitter mockery in his brother’s voice. Instead, he focused on the letter lying on the table in front of them. Words were scribbled across thick paper in an almost careless hand, with nothing to indicate its earth-shattering contents at a casual glance. The red wax seal bore the emblem of a wolf’s head, and an unpleasant jolt went through him as he recalled the same sigil splashed over black-and-silver banners streaming above a bloody battlefield. Pain flared in his injured shoulder, as if in response to the memory, and Derek shifted uncomfortably in his chair, adjusting the sling that held his left arm. He made himself focus on the words again, tracing them as if they could somehow magically rearrange themselves into a different message upon rereading.

“Macon, this is not helping,” Lady Casea chided.

Macon threw their mother a sullen look that clearly indicated he wasn’t there to help. He was sixteen, the age when everything was painted black and white, right and wrong, with nothing in between. Both Derek and their mother knew all too well how washed-out those colors became with time.

They were all sitting at the round table in Lady Casea’s drawing room. The upheaval of the last few days hadn’t seemed to reach it, unlike the rest of the keep. Embroidered tapestries lined the walls, displaying flowers in fanciful patterns, and the chairs were lined with soft cushions. A familiar scent of lavender and sage permeated the warmth from the fireplace. How strange it was to discuss the grim future of their family in this cozy room, with the only reminder of the presence of death in the gray mourning ribbons tied around their sleeves.

“Let us go through this again,” Ivo said, picking up the letter. His tone was neutral, as if he were discussing a passage from a recently read book. He was the scholar among Derek’s siblings, but Count Johan had long refused to send him to one of the royal colleges in Oifel, the capital. Father hadn’t approved of bookishness, especially not in a nineteen-year-old man who was perfectly capable of holding a sword.

“Duke Bergen offers Lady Casea condolences on the passing of her husband, and asks for Derek’s—the new Count of Camria’s—hand in marriage to his eldest son and heir, Callan, ‘to secure the recently signed truce in hopes of reaching a standing peace treaty between our fiefdoms and show goodwill.’”

“‘Passing,’” Macon sneered. “‘Goodwill.’”

“Derek, have you even met Callan?” Ayleen asked, turning to him. “I had no idea he was interested in you.”

“I doubt he’d know me from a signpost,” Derek said dryly.

He’d only ever seen Callan in passing while visiting the Royal Palace a few years ago, and they had paid each other little heed. Undoubtedly, Callan had been in the field along with his father, Duke Bergen, when they fought Camria’s forces, but fortunately, Derek hadn’t encountered them directly, and neither of them had been present during the signing of the truce, delegating it instead to their field commander.

Ayleen was only twelve, and still somewhat charmed by the notion of romance. Derek was a little sorry to disillusion her, especially so soon after all the other shocks she’d had to endure in the past few days, but it was better if she knew exactly what was going on. Ignorance and pretense weren’t going to help any of them when their situation was so precarious.

“The proposal isn’t coming from Lord Callan, but from his father. There’s nothing to it but politics.”

Ivo looked up. “I fear Bergen’s essentially trying to annex us. Derek would keep the title while he lives, but with him being a lower noble, it’d eventually pass to his husband or to their heirs. Not to mention that his spouse—whoever they are—would be an equal ruler of Camria while Derek lives.”

While he lives. The words sank into Derek’s mind, laden with meaning. The marriage contract would still be valid, even if he were to die, effectively passing the fiefdom of Camria to the duke’s family. And with Derek out of the way, they’d be free to do what they wished with it.

He said nothing aloud.

“Can we possibly refuse? Find some pretext to decline the offer?” their mother asked.

Ivo shook his head. “I cannot see how. This is not exactly an offer. More like an order, if courteously worded. The letter continues on to stipulate that the wedding take place as soon as possible. In fact, as soon as it would take Derek to arrive at the duke’s ancestral castle at Irthorg.”

“What about postponing it, then?” Lady Casea turned to Derek in concern. “You’re badly injured. Surely, they cannot expect you to stand at the altar, still bleeding. At least a few months, until you’re well. It will give us time to petition before the High Queen. This is nothing short of coercion under duress.”

There were fading bruises on her neck peeking above the collar of her dress, a yellow imprint of fingers that had nothing to do with the recent battle. Not for the first time, Derek thought that perhaps their father’s death was more of a blessing than a tragedy. It felt treasonous to entertain such notions, as though he was betraying his father’s memory, but he hadn’t imagined the relief in his mother’s eyes when the messenger delivered the awful news. He was ashamed to admit, even to himself, that he’d felt the same relief.

But it also meant he was now the head of the family. It was his duty and his responsibility to protect them after Count Johan had failed to do so. Even if it meant marrying a man he’d never met, who’d nearly destroyed everything he held dear, who might still want him dead.

“I’m not hurt that badly,” Derek heard himself say. “Besides, I hardly think they’d care—or if the Queen would see it quite the same way. The truce expires in a week. If I don’t give an answer by then, I’m afraid there will be no long-standing treaty.”

Casea frowned and was about to say something else, but Derek forestalled her.

“I don’t see any solution other than conforming to Duke Bergen’s wishes. I’d rather not aggravate him while his troops still have free rein within our borders. There would still be an opportunity to do something when we’re not in such dire disadvantage. A marriage can always be annulled should the Queen prove sympathetic to our case.”

“So, we just roll over and give the duke our land?” Macon said. “That’s what he’s really after, isn’t it? He basically threatens us with another war, and he has the audacity to call it a gesture of goodwill!”

“It is goodwill,” Derek said quietly. “He doesn’t need this union to take the land away from us. In fact, nothing is stopping him from storming the keep and killing us all when the truce ends. It would be his right to do so since he was provoked, and frankly, we’ve already seen that Camria cannot hold its own when it comes to military strength.”

As a warrior himself, Derek was loath to admit it. But Camria was a small fiefdom, and its contingent consisted of the Count’s Guard, which numbered only two hundred men, while the rest were mostly peasants who had been hastily called to arms and had little to no fighting experience. That was hardly a match for Mulberny, a much larger and more prosperous domain with a long and bloody history of fending raiding sea pirates off its shores. But of course, these considerations had meant little to his father in the face of a perceived slight.

“You seem very eager to go through with it,” Macon sneered. His eyes were rimmed in red and recessed in deep shadows. “Can’t wait to become the bed toy of our father’s murderer?”

“Macon!” Casea said sharply. “Watch your tongue.”

“I will not!” Macon slammed his hand against the table, making everyone save Derek jump. “He’s only trying to save his own hide while his new husband turns us out of our own home!”

“Will you stop that?” Derek said levelly, fixing his gaze on Macon. He kept a tight rein on his anger. There was no point in getting into a shouting match with his brother, whose grief was perhaps the most acute of all of them. “No one said anything about turning you out. I’m trying to keep all of you safe, and it would be much easier to do from within the duke’s castle than from the chopping block.”

“Yes, much easier for you! You’d be the duke’s lapdog while the rest of us are reduced to beggars!”

Derek’s patience, already frayed, finally snapped.

“Maybe Father should have thought about that before he waged war on Bergen over a fucking river dam and got himself killed!”

Macon rose to his feet so abruptly he knocked over his chair. Without another word, he stormed out of the room, slamming the door with enough force to rattle the flower vase on the side table.

There was an awkward silence while everybody avoided looking at one another.

Derek sighed and ran a jerky hand over his face. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

Lady Casea got up from her seat. “I’ve had quite enough of this squabbling. There are still soldiers’ wages and widows’ allowances to be distributed, and I have work to do. Ayleen, come.”

With an apologetic glance at Derek, Ayleen followed Casea out the door.

Derek slumped on the table, propping his head with his right arm. He wasn’t used to being in his mother’s rooms without her there; however, he was in no hurry to leave. They were all tired, hurt, and confused. Derek had barely slept since signing the temporary truce between Camria and Mulberny. The nagging ache in his shoulder had worsened, and now his head was throbbing as well. But he welcomed the pain. It was the only thing keeping him from numbness—and he couldn’t afford to sink into it at the moment.

This was not how he’d imagined coming into his inheritance. Shouldering responsibility was not unfamiliar to him. His father had been more than happy to let Derek handle the more mundane affairs of daily life in the keep and the surrounding villages—though Derek sometimes thought it was so he’d have someone to criticize. But this…this was almost too much to take on. He was good with a sword and possessed sound common sense, which was perhaps enough for a minor ruler of a small fiefdom, but now he had to admit he was in over his head. Despite trying to present a solid front to his family, he had no idea what to do to prevent more harm coming to them.

Ivo coughed delicately, drawing his attention.

“I didn’t want to say anything in front of Mother, but there is something you should know before you make a decision.”

Derek raised his head. He didn’t like the sound of that, but what could possibly make this entire affair worse than it already was?

“What is it?”

“Did you know that Lord Callan was married before?”

“No.” Derek straightened in his chair. He didn’t like the look on Ivo’s face, the one that said he was troubled. It was a bad sign. Unlike Macon, Ivo was rarely visibly upset over anything.

“Well, he was. To an Agiennan clanswoman, no less. I don’t recall her name, but it was about two years ago. Apparently, the duke has a thing for offering his son in marriage to secure his peace treaties.”

“What happened to her?” Derek asked, already knowing he wasn’t going to like the answer.

“She died. Some sort of accident, but…there were whispers about something not being quite right with that story.”

“And you know all of this how?”

Ivo smiled faintly.

“Unlike you, dear brother, I pay attention to rumors. Most of them are nothing more than idle gossip, but some contain a kernel of truth.”

“All this might be just that—nothing more than gossip,” Derek said.

“I’m absolutely certain he was married,” Ivo repeated. “Accidents do happen even to the most lofty, but you’d better be careful. Some people have an unfortunate tendency to bury their spouses all too often.”

“What are you saying?”

“You should consider why Callan wants to marry you—or why his father wants him to. Camria is a well-off fiefdom, but it’s hardly of much strategic importance. The duke’s heir could set his eyes on a much more advantageous match, striking a union with a foreign noble, or even marrying into the royal family. Your nuptials could be nothing more than a stepping stone for whatever larger scheme he envisions.”

“He can’t subjugate Camria based on a marriage contract alone, not until Callan and I either name or produce heirs. The law is clear—if something should happen to me, the fiefdom would pass to my next-of-blood kin. To you.”

“I am not yet of age to inherit. Your husband could be legally appointed regent, and if that is what they’re after, they don’t need you for any longer than your wedding night.” Ivo shrugged. “Once you say your vows and the marriage is consummated, he could contest the inheritance of your fiefdom at the Queen’s Court if you happen to die under tragic circumstances. And then Callan is once again free to take another spouse. Maybe someone more lucrative.”

It appeared Derek had not been the only one to have thought of that, but again, Ivo had always been the smartest of his siblings, and the most astute, despite his age.

“You make him sound like some sort of fairy-tale villain,” Derek protested, out of some stubborn determination to refuse to be intimidated, whether by Ivo or by his own apprehension.

But he couldn’t help feeling there was something odd about the proposal. It seemed entirely extraneous. Whatever treaty Bergen wanted to sign would have been achieved without a marriage contract to strengthen it, given that Camria was at a dire disadvantage. And Derek entertained no illusions about being so desirable a match as to be of particular interest to the other party. Moreover, while arranged marriages were par for the course among the aristocracy, nobles of similar rank (in this case a newly minted count and the heir apparent of a duchy) did not usually enter such unions for precisely the same considerations of seniority of inheritance Ivo had voiced earlier. If this was all about upholding the peace, it would have been much more reasonable for Duke Bergen to ask for Ivo’s hand in future marriage for his son, as he was the only one of Derek’s younger siblings close enough to the age of maturity.

“I’m saying that by agreeing to accept this proposal you might be placing yourself in danger,” Ivo said.

An Alisa Review: Hybrid Incubator by Meraki P. Dark

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Rating:  4 stars out of 5

The conspiracy theorists of the world might have gotten something right. Maybe not the details, but they got something right. Secret experiments exist!

The details they didn’t get right were probably down to not having the imagination for what an ass can be used for.

A Ph.D. in one hand and a dream in the other, Alex strikes out multiple times getting the job of his dreams. One job interview left him feeling so down that he needed a stiff drink. Depressed, slightly drunk, yet still obsessive enough to believe in a brighter future, Alex makes the mistake of trusting the wrong person.

Enslaved, marked as a lab rat, and stuffed into a windowless room to await testing to be conducted on him. That’s the future for Alex. Until one of his captures overhears half a conversation. Maybe his ass isn’t the only useful thing on Alex. And maybe even the worst roads ventured can lead to fulfilling a dream.

THIS BOOK CONTAINS: non-con, dub-con, fisting, tentacles, sex between animal Hybrids and humans, master/slave, voyeurism, power struggle, sensory deprivation, abduction, exhibitionism, slavery, psychological mindfucks, dystopia settings, mpreg in the form of eggs going…places, gestation, and a surprise ending with a HEA feel to it.

This was quite an interesting story.  Alex basically set himself up for something to happen to him but ends up finding happiness and love in the end too.

There were parts that were hot and some that bugged me to, but I expected that to an extent.  When Alex is with Cooper and even those showing kindness I absolutely loved those scenes but when it came to the punishing scene that Alex went through it made me sick to my stomach and no matter what they was flat out violent rape.

I liked how Alex was able to accept his fate but also grabbed on with both hands to help save the world too.  How the scientists were going about everything wasn’t quite right but I like that it seems Alex will be the big change for that, even if we don’t get to see the details.

I don’t usually bring this up, but considering I was provided a “final proof” it’s going to be out there to everyone, this book needed an editing overhaul.  There were quite a few incorrect work choices (i.e. tracks instead of tracts, they aren’t even the same thing) and at times the language or phrases the characters used just didn’t sit right with how they were portrayed.

I love the cover art and think it is perfect for this story.

Sales Links: Smashwords

Book Details:

ebook, 258 pages

Published: May 24, 2019 by Taboo BooxXx

ISBN-13: 9788797090442

Edition Language: English

Love Fantasy in Your Romance? Check Out the Release Blitz for The Best-Laid Plans (Plans #2) by Addison Albright (excerpt and giveaway)

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RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: The Best-Laid Plans (Plans, book #2)

Author: Addison Albright

Publisher: JMS Books, LLC 

Cover Artist: Written Ink Designs 

Genre/s: M/M Fantasy Romance

Tropes: abduction, hurt/comfort, princes

Heat Rating:  3 flames

Length: 28 130 words

Release Date: June 1, 2019

Add on Goodreads

 

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Blurb

A death that wasn’t what it seemed… 
A kidnapping that isn’t what it seems… 
Time is running out. 

The morning after his wedding night, Prince Marcelo thought he’d be embarking on a journey to his own personal fairytale happily ever after with his husband, Efren, the crown prince of Zioneven. But when news arrives indicating his sister’s death wasn’t as accidental as previously thought, that journey becomes fraught with danger. 

Enmeshed in political intrigue, death, and a kidnapping that might not be what it seems, will Efren untangle the web of misleading clues in time to save the naïve young man he’s already come to admire, or will Marcelo dig deep to discover a previously untapped inner strength and determination to facilitate his own survival?

 

Excerpt

Chapter 3: …Oft Go Awry 

Efren

Efren blinked rapidly as he came awake with a start. He stared into the darkness and mentally shook the cobwebs from his mind. What had awoken him? Marcelo lay softly breathing in his arms, as relaxed and peaceful as only the innocent can truly be.

Around him, the night was silent. Too silent? He strained to hear the patrols rustling through the grasses, or the faint trills of their signals to each other.

A breeze swirled through the branches of the trees in the distance, rippling the leaves. Crickets chirped, apparently unconcerned about whatever either was or wasn’t going on in the meadow.

And footsteps. Quiet, approaching footsteps. It must be time for the shift change. That’s what had awoken him. Efren relaxed and nestled Marcelo tighter against him. One at a time, the guards would come in and wake their replacements.

Except—Efren tensed, then maneuvered his arm out from under Marcelo’s head and eased himself from under the blankets—the footsteps, furtively stopping and restarting, were approaching from multiple directions.

Efren shivered as goosebumps rose on his naked skin in the chilled night air and soundlessly slipped his broadsword and knife from their leather scabbard. He glanced at Marcelo, still sleeping, although less serenely with the sudden loss of the warm body next to him.

Guilt pinged his core as he shook off a strong desire to waken and forewarn Marcelo, but he pushed it down. Marcelo, completely untrained in warfare, would be safer in here. He seemed a heavy sleeper, likely incorporating outside noises into his dreams, unused to a need to be readily alert. He might even doze through the skirmish.

Or was that just wishful thinking? Because there’d be no hope that Marcelo could escape unseen, if it came to that.

Surely it would be better for such an innocent to be killed in his sleep, or with scarcely a brief moment of shock beforehand than to spend minutes quaking in terror, unable to defend himself.

Efren shook off his doubts and quickly pushed out the weighty flap, sword raised ready, and opened his mouth to yell an alert to awaken any of his warriors who hadn’t already sensed the looming danger, same as he had. But the breath he drew to strengthen his voice instead choked him.

He’d never before smelled these fumes, but the pungent, wet-dog odor had been described to him. The material of their tents was heavily treated to keep the toxin producing that odor from permeating the walls and closed flaps.

Icy apprehension slithered across Efren’s skin before settling in the pit of his gut. This was a completely unexpected development. The alchemists from the kingdom of Proye who’d developed this toxin—and unfailingly guarded the recipe—called it “Knockout.”

As Efren’s sword arm dropped, followed swiftly by his eyes rolling back in his head and his body slumping in a boneless crumple, a corner of his brain recognized how fittingly it was named, and hoped that enough of it had entered the tent through the briefly opened flap that Marcelo would succumb before Proye agents executed whatever they had planned. They’d been married for less than two days, and already he’d failed his innocent, young husband.

Copyright 2019 Addison Albright

 

About the Author 

Addison Albright is a writer living in the middle of the USA. Her stories are gay romance in contemporary, fantasy, and paranormal genres. She generally adds a subtle touch of humor, a smidgen of drama/angst, and a healthy dose of slice-of-life to her stories. Her education includes a BS in Education with a major in mathematics and a minor in chemistry. Addison loves spending time with her family, reading, popcorn, boating, french fries, “open window weather,” cats, math, and anything chocolate. She loves to read pretty much anything and everything, anytime and anywhere.

 

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3 winners will each get to choose 2 ebooks from Addison’s backlist

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Looking for Something Dark and Different? Check the Blog Tour for Sweating Lies (Criminal Delights: Taken Lies #1) by Emma Jaye (excerpt)

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NEW RELEASE

Book Title: Sweating Lies (Lies #1): Criminal Delights – Taken

Author:  Emma Jaye

Publisher: Purindoors Publications

Cover Artist: Natasha Snow

Genre/s: Contemporary M/M Thriller/Romance

Trope/s: Enemies to lovers, Protector, Tortured hero.

Themes: Crime,  Slavery,  Mental Health Issues,  Dominance, Abduction.

Heat Rating: 4 flames    

Length: 81 000 words

Release Date: April 28, 2019

Add on Goodreads

 

Blurb

“Gladiator or toy?” Kaspar asks, as if it’s the easiest choice in the world.

It might be an easy answer for someone branded, brainwashed, and who remembers no other life. But that’s not me, not yet anyway. I’m a cop—or at least I was until my cover got blown. 

Now, I’m one of the trafficked people I vowed to save.

Kaspar’s a toy —a pleasure slave— content to warm our sadistic owner’s bed; he laps up the abuse he’s conditioned to associate with affection.

He’s my only way out. To gain our freedom, I must play the hardest undercover role of my career and be everything his fractured mind needs: a more controlling bastard than the man who turns people into grateful slaves for a living.

Officer Jiao Sweatt thinks I’m a victim. 
He has a lot to learn. 
And it’ll hurt.

This book is part of CRIMINAL DELIGHTS. Each novel can be read as a standalone and contains a dark M/M romance. 
Warning: These books are for adult readers who enjoy stories where lines between right and wrong get blurry. High heat, twisted and tantalizing, these are not for the fainthearted. 

 

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Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

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Excerpt 

He accepted, absorbed, and floated in the serenity of obedience. His physical pain became walled up in a corner of his mind. The only thing that mattered was his master’s will.

“Fuck, I didn’t see you down there. Why didn’t you say something?”

“It’s not my place to disturb my master.”

Jiao frowned. “Don’t call me that. I’m nobody’s master, and you’re nobody’s slave, Kaspar. Come on, up you get. You don’t have to kneel to me.”

Kaspar didn’t move. He didn’t know if he could get up, but they needed to establish something first.

“I do have a master, and right now, it’s you.” He handed Officer Sweatt the Chorbaji’s note. He hoped Officer Sweatt wouldn’t mind that it was a little damp and crumpled from being in his hand all this time.

Jiao glanced at it and scowled. “Well then, as your master, I order you not to kneel to me.”

Kaspar didn’t resist smiling. A pet’s duty was to adapt to his master’s needs. Officer Sweatt clearly liked teasing, playfulness, that he could do.

“That’s going to make blow jobs a little uncomfortable, but–”

“You don’t have to do that either; now get up and talk to me like a man.”

“Can’t men kneel?”

“Just get up, will you? You make me feel uncomfortable.”

That got him moving. Making your master uncomfortable, unless it was to entice him to pleasure, was not good pet behavior. He tried for his normal graceful, hands-free stand, but ended up on his ass; his sore, bruised, battered, and cut ass. Rolling to his side he sucked in a breath, trying to contain the bright flare of pain while expected a kick for his lack of grace.

“Shit, how long were you down there? Never mind.”

With surprising strength, his new master lifted him to his feet, one hand on his bicep, one across his chest, under the brands, and helped him limp across to the bed. He climbed up and lay on his side, head resting on one fist while he balanced himself with the other in front of him. He hoped he looked at least a little enticing. Flirty and playful, that’s what had put a smile on his new master’s face in the gym.

“You’ve been on a drip.” Jiao nodded toward the small cotton ball taped to his inner arm.

“Not a lot gets past you, does it, Ma–” he paused at Jiao’s frown. “Well, what would you like me to call you? Sir? Officer Sweatt? Chief? Boss? Please, don’t say Daddy, anything but–”

“Would you shut up?”

Kaspar’s mouth snapped shut. At least he’d got him to give an order.

A hand pushed through the inky black hair. “Look, Jiao is fine. I got called ‘Sweaty’ enough as a kid never want to hear ‘Sweatt’ again.”

Kaspar frowned. “I’d never call you that, and your first name hardly seems respectful. I–”

“This is important to you, isn’t it?”

Kaspar’s frown deepened. Understanding this new master was a challenge. “Of course it is. The higher the status of my mas–” he paused, grinning “–special friend, the higher I–.”

As he spoke, his new master grabbed a bathrobe from the back of the bathroom door and draped it over him.

Humiliation hammered. He dropped his forehead to the mattress. He was useless, unworthy, and unwanted. He disgusted this man he had been instructed to please. His failures swirled and thickened in his mind like fog.

You deserved what Azur did to you; he should have finished it. Put you down like a useless old dog.

 

 

About the Author

I have a reputation for writing dark, angst filled stories in a swathe of genres, from Sci-fi and paranormal, to contemporary romance and erotica with m/f, m/m and multiple partners. I blame my rebellious muse (who looks like Chris from the Paint Series) for the erotic aspects tickling the angst, and the humour cuddling up with the erotic. You’ll find all this and more in my books!  No matter the genre, I can promise different characters, dark themes, steamin’ sex, laughs and a HEA or HFN.

When I’m not writing or reading, in leafy Sussex, England, I herd Birman cats and sons. Both groups argue that the other is too large.

 

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An Ashlez Review: Sweating Lies – Criminal Delights: Taken (Lies #1) by Emma Jaye

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Rating : 4 stars out of 5

“Gladiator or toy?” Kaspar asks, as if it’s the easiest choice in the world.

It might be an easy answer for someone branded, brainwashed, and who remembers no other life. But that’s not me, not yet anyway. I’m a cop—or at least I was until my cover got blown.

Now, I’m one of the trafficked people I vowed to save.

Kaspar’s a toy —a pleasure slave— content to warm our sadistic owner’s bed; he laps up the abuse he’s conditioned to associate with affection.

He’s my only way out. To gain our freedom, I must play the hardest undercover role of my career and be everything his fractured mind needs: a more controlling bastard than the man who turns people into grateful slaves for a living.

Officer Jiao Sweatt thinks I’m a victim.
He has a lot to learn.
And it’ll hurt.

This book is part of CRIMINAL DELIGHTS. Each novel can be read as a standalone and contains a dark M/M romance.
Warning: These books are for adult readers who enjoy stories where lines between right and wrong get blurry. High heat, twisted and tantalizing, these are not for the fainthearted.

Overall this book was great, it was very well written and the story progressed nicely.  I had a problem with the older terminology for the whole organization and I could have done without that, as Jiao mentioned early on.
Kaspar was great – he was a very well rounded character and it takes you into a psyche that I don’t think normally one would get to look into.
Jiao was just an average character – I felt he 100% had a hero complex.
I don’t think that this book progressed in a particularly fast fashion like the other criminal delights book I had read – but it did manage to weave a story that was quite spellbinding.  So apart from the lack of movement in the story (which honestly was moving fast .. I can’t describe that) the story was awesome and well worth a read.
Cover art by Natasha Snow: overall makes sense and matches the book.
Sales Links:  
Book Details:
Kindle Edition, 286 pages
Expected publication: April 29th 2019 by Purindoors Publications
ASINB07PHZQFBB
SeriesLies #1

Check Out the New Release Blitz for Where Song Replaces Silence by Layla Dorine

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Title: Where Song Replaces Silence

Author: Layla Dorine

Publisher: NineStar Press

Release Date: April 22, 2019

Heat Level: 2 – Fade to Black Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 33300

Genre: Fantasy, LGBT, abduction, anger, Brownies, faeries, gay, hurt/comfort, mythical creatures, nymphs

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Synopsis

Raze halts his midnight joy ride to give chase to twinkling lights that appear in the road before him and then lead him deep into a forest, where he falls into another world. There, magic is real, wishes are granted, and no one is considered odd or out of place.

Raze has never fit in anywhere in his own world and uses his angry attitude to keep others at bay and mask his anxieties and fears in this new place. A dangerous combination in Loas, where rudeness is frowned upon and foul language can land him in a dungeon.

Rurin, an inhabitant of Loas, tries to teach Raze about their world, its magic and its residents, but he faces Raze’s stubborn resistance at every turn. Bitter about his past, pessimistic about his future, Raze sees what could be, but he struggles to accept it. In the meantime, his encounters with the Fae range from hostile sarcasm to potential danger. While he attempts to keep the promises he’s made to Rurin and follow the rules laid out for him, Raze grows more and more curious about the place where he’s landed. It’s too bad he keeps making poor choices.

As the connection between them grows, Rurin works to keep Raze from being banished, but Raze may be cast out of the Loas before he has the opportunity to discover the true reason he was led there in the first place.

Excerpt

Where Song Replaces Silence
Layla Dorine © 2019
All Rights Reserved

Heavy, the steady thud, thud, thud of the base rocked the back windows, and poured from the open driver’s side where the scent of rain flowed freely, mist lightly splashing on Raze’s face. “Four Rusted Horses” blared from a radio cranked so high the rain-covered glass vibrated with the force of the speakers’ efforts.

Thud, thud, thud, “forbidden…” Raze growled along, more snarl than song. Thud, thud, thud, “heaven…” Every word committed to memory. Thud, thud, thud, “useless…” Despite the slickness of the road, he drove with just two fingers, his free hand tapping out a beat on the shifter. Thud, thud, thud, “hell…” Glowing red numbers on the dash flipped from 2:59 to 3:00, the witching hour, the night so dark the headlights struggled to pierce the dim and fog.

The old Charger’s purr was a gospel choir of spark plugs and gears. His steel and chrome baby was the only thing in life Raze worked hard to care for. Some might even say he worshipped her power and speed, stroked her like a lover, and spent more than one night curled against the supple leather of her seats. He called her Rhea, after Saturn’s second largest moon. As a kid, he’d had a collection of beautiful photos of the ringed planet.

For most, this might have been motivation to aim high, study astrophysics or astronomy, anything that might put them closer to the cosmos. Not Raze. If he was behind the wheel, space and time were irrelevant; the world shrank, melted, and faded away. The song reached its crescendo, and he drummed along, eyes half closed as he pressed harder on the gas, felt the wind snarl and tug at his hair—sharp, like cold teeth. Tensing, he belted out the final verse, barely keeping Rhea on the road.

Exhilaration warred with exhaustion, the miles piling up for hours. A quick glance at the dash showed the gas tank was drifting below a fourth, dangerous territory when he had no clue where to find the nearest station. Common sense said he should have stopped at the last place he saw, but the rebel flags in the window made him wary. He’d always had a tough time understanding how people could hate someone so absolutely over something as simple as the color of their skin.

His own varied, based on how much time he spent in the sun. Most days, his skin glowed like the beach at sunrise, the sand shimmering a glowing golden hue. In the summer, though, his skin grew three shades darker, and if he wasn’t careful, a crop of freckles would appear splattered across his nose. He hated them as much as he hated the odd, three-toned hues of his hair, and how, no matter how many times he dyed the messy mane, he could never quite get his locks to turn out one color.

The long strands needed another treatment, the rich reds were like blood and rubies, or at least, that’s how a multitude of people had described the color over the years. A few, being kind, had likened the shade to fall leaves or a sunset, but kindness hadn’t been a common occurrence growing up. His so-called oddities had always made others uncomfortable. Funny, but ever since he’d learned the meaning of normal the idea had freaked the hell outta him. One of the many reasons he was still drifting.

Shit!

Slamming on the brakes, he jerked the wheel, sending Rhea spinning through the dancing green-gold figure appearing out of nowhere, swathed in a halo of lights. Somehow, despite the rows of waving trees, he got Rhea stopped without clipping one. His throat hurt, and his chest was pounding, lungs heaving as he sucked in air. Breathing and trying to relax the death grip on the wheel at the same time was a struggle. His fingers ached. Stiff and cramping, they refused to cooperate, no matter how hard he focused. Shaking, he collapsed against the wheel, the weight of his body sounding the horn, the echo a forlorn cry above the howling wind.

Shit shit shit shit shit

The only word he could formulate, shit, a mantra, running through his brain. There hadn’t been a thud. He hadn’t felt one, hadn’t heard one, meaning he’d missed them, right?

He didn’t want to look, but he knew he had to. Maybe they’d tripped, fallen, dived out of the way, rolled. They could be hurt, but not as bad as if he’d struck them with nearly two tons of metal. Swallowing, he told himself to man up, jerked his fingers free of their grip on the wheel, and sucked in a deep breath as he fumbled in the darkness for his phone. Three bars. Good, he could get them help if they needed it.

He fumbled with the door, got it open on the second try, and practically fell getting out, his body rebelling with every movement. For a moment, he stood in darkness, disoriented as he tried to figure out which direction he’d been coming from. When he spotted the twinkling green lights over the road, he blinked and stumble staggered toward the glowing apparition, watching the fragments of gold swirl and take shape, hovering, the form human, but not.

The fuck?

About fifty feet away, he could hear laughter, a mocking, teasing jangle of bell-like notes.

“You missed me, you missed me.”

Huh?

Squinting, he struggled to assess the situation, even as the words continued.

“Now you gotta kiss me.”

Oh, hell no. Either he was hallucinating, or he’d smacked his head on something. Either way, he was gonna wake up in a few minutes to darkness, a whining engine, and a pounding headache even the best painkillers wouldn’t cure.

Scrubbing a hand over his face, he pressed his fingertips against his temples, counting to ten, but the laughter and singsong words continued.

“You think this is funny!” he roared, hands dropping to his sides, fingers curling into fists. He took a step forward and then another. “You could have gotten me killed; you could have fucked up my car; how fuckin’ stupid do you have to be, playing games out here in the middle of nowhere! Do you get off on fucking with people, huh? I swear to god, if there is a fuckin’ piston outta place in Rhea, you’re gonna pay to have her fixed.”

The laughter grew, even as he stalked the light. Only when he was within grasping range did it turn and flee toward the forest, glancing back every now and again to taunt him more.

“You can run, run, run, but when you’re done, you will never catch me.”

“Oh, you better believe Imma catch you, and when I do, Imma beat the sparkle offa you!” he screamed, crashing through the underbrush after it. It occurred to him, as he slipped and floundered, like as not, he was chasing swamp gas or some fucked-up idea of a joke involving holograms and projectors. They were probably sitting in a tree laughing at his stupidity. Didn’t stop him from continuing to give chase.

Tripping, he landed facedown in prickly brambles.

“FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!”

Yowling, he carefully tried to detangle himself while the laughter continued to grate on his nerves.

“Clumsy, aren’t we? My, my, my, that’s a very fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into.”

“Me? You’re the one who led me into this crap.”

“If you’d been faster, or smarter, perhaps you’d have used your wings, instead of stumbling around like a blind Alp-luachra searching for its next joint.”

“Wish I was sitting somewhere warm and dry smokin’ a joint right about now,” he grumbled beneath his breath, even as the sparkling flake of glittery light continued to cackle, twinkling like a firefly with every high-pitched note.

“Ah, but your wishes matter little to me. I lack the ability to grant them, and even if I could, I wouldn’t, until we’ve finished our game, though you are a poor, poor chaser. Perhaps you would be a better seeker. Shall I hide and see if you can find me?”

“Please don’t; actually, no, wait; please do. Yeah, that’s brilliant. You go hide, and I’ll come find you…in a century or two.”

Purchase

NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Meet the Author

Layla Dorine lives among the sprawling prairies of Midwestern America, in a house with more cats than people. She loves hiking, fishing, swimming, martial arts, camping out, photography, cooking, and dabbling with several artistic mediums. In addition, she loves to travel and visit museums, historic, and haunted places.

Layla got hooked on writing as a child, starting with poetry and then branching out, and she hasn’t stopped writing since. Hard times, troubled times, the lives of her characters are never easy, but then what life is? The story is in the struggle, the journey, the triumphs and the falls. She writes about artists, musicians, loners, drifters, dreamers, hippies, bikers, truckers, hunters and all the other folks that she’s met and fallen in love with over the years. Sometimes she writes urban romance and sometimes its aliens crash landing near a roadside bar. When she isn’t writing, or wandering somewhere outdoors, she can often be found

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A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Wrong Way Home (Criminal Delights: Taken) by K.A. Merikan

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

This series has very dark themes. Each book is by a different author and can be read as standalones. Please pay attention to the trigger warnings and tags.

The first two chapters are Colin’s POV as he takes a new route home to visit his parents and ends up seeing a murder. The horror elements are well done. I understand the negotiating–believing maybe if Colin tried to offer favors it might save his life or improve his quality of life in the situation. I think for me, the attraction was too quick on Colin’s part after what he witnessed. Chapter three shows Tarin’s POV. He’s not a psychopath, but he is a survivalist and definitely follows his own rules and moral code. After the initial awkwardness in transitioning them from captor/hostage to actual lovers, the book gets very intriguing when absorbing the reader in what might be Stockholm Syndrome. The sex here is raw, wild, and brutal the first few times and then gets intense with intimacy as the book progresses. As the rest of the book alternates between them, both characters get their layers peeled away.

I liked the blurb and got drawn into the possibilities presented, but the book ends up having a very different feel than what I thought it would be. The original murder is explained and Tarin ends up being quite thoughtful, if stubborn and damaged by past trauma. Colin starts out as not terribly happy and filled with anxiety about decisions and disappointing his family. He and Tarin are strangely well suited and while he may not realise it, his true personality comes out once he feels “safe” enough to fight with Tarin. The noncon/dubcon part of the scenario would have always hung over them unless it was addressed; so while it is addressed, I think I might have liked Colin and Tarin to have more time apart and Colin to have come back on his own, on equal footing. I’ll not spoil it, but there was an opportunity to bring some of the horror elements from the beginning, back into the story and the authors chose a different path. It is also awkward in parts and the plot is a bit thin. Overall, this is a surprisingly sweet romance about two men who might have never met but for fate. They both learn what having a relationship actually means (working together towards a common goal, compromise, listening to each other, respect) and that they are stronger and happier together than apart.

The cover design is by Natasha Snow. Almost all the covers by these authors are dark and stylized with bright fonts. The covers for this series are all similar. This shows Talin and makes sense to the story on more than one level, so I thought it was well done.

Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Universal LinkExclusive to Amazon and Available to Borrow with Kindle Unlimited
 

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 264 pages
Published April 15th 2019 by Acerbi & Villani ltd
ASINB07P9MVC31
Edition Language English

Review Tour for Wrong Way Home (Criminal Delights: Taken) by K.A. Merikan

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Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Universal LinkExclusive to Amazon and Available to Borrow with Kindle Unlimited
 
Length: 70,000 words approx.
 
Cover Design: Natasha Snow
 
Blurb
 

— ONE WRONG TURN. ONE RIGHT MAN. —


Colin. Rule-follower. Future doctor. Witness to murder. Captive.
Taron. Survivalist. Mute. Murderer. Captor.


Like every other weekend, Colin is on his way home from university, but he’s taunted by the notion that he never takes risks in life and always follows the beaten path. On impulse, he decides to take a different route. Just this one time. What he doesn’t realize is that it’s the last time he has a choice.
He ends up taking a detour into the darkest pit of horror, abducted by a silent, imposing man with a blood-stained axe. But what seems like his worst nightmare might just prove to be a path to the kind of freedom Colin never knew existed.


Taron has lived alone for years. His land, his rules. He’d given up on company long ago. After all, attachment is a liability. He deals with his problems on his own, but the night he needs to dispose of an enemy, he ends up with a witness to his crime.


The last thing Taron needs is a nuisance of a captive. Colin doesn’t deserve death for setting foot on Taron’s land, but keeping him isn’t optimal either. It’s only when he finds out the city boy is gay that an altogether different option arises. One that isn’t right, yet tempts him every time Colin’s pretty eyes glare at him from the cage.


*


“When Taron looped the heavy metal collar around the slender neck and closed the padlock, his body throbbed with the excitement of knowing he owned this boy.
Was it wrong? Yes, yes it was.
Was it so, so good? Definitely.”



Themes: prepping, alternative lifestyles, disability, crime, loneliness, enemies to lovers, forced proximity, fish out of water, opposites attract, abduction, Stockholm syndrome, family issues
Genre: Dark, thriller M/M romance
Heat level: Scorching hot, emotional, explicit scenes


This book is part of CRIMINAL DELIGHTS. Each novel can be read as a standalone and contains a dark M/M romance.
Warning: These books are for adult readers who enjoy stories where lines between right and wrong get blurry. High heat, twisted and tantalizing, these are not for the fainthearted.

Check out Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words review here.  We recommend it and the series.

K.A. Merikan are a team of writers who try not to suck at adulting, with some success. Always eager to explore the murky waters of the weird and wonderful, K.A. Merikan don’t follow fixed formulas and want each of their books to be a surprise for those who choose to hop on for the ride.


K.A. Merikan have a few sweeter M/M romances as well, but they specialize in the dark, dirty, and dangerous side of M/M, full of bikers, bad boys, mafiosi, and scorching hot romance.


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New Release Book Blitz for Ibuki by Kathryn Sommerlot (excerpt and giveaway)

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Title:  Ibuki

Author: Kathryn Sommerlot

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: January 29, 2018

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 26000

Genre: Fantasy, LGBT, lesbian, fantasy, cleric/priestess, magic users, abduction, royalty

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Synopsis

Ibuki: the gift of healing through breath. Chiasa has possessed the ability since childhood and shares it with her father as they care for their Inuru community. Chiasa has never doubted the stability of her simple life. That is, until Namika, a water-gifted priestess, shows up outside the Ibuki shrine gates with information promising Chiasa’s doom.

With Namika’s help, Chiasa is determined to find the secrets behind the ritual that will claim her life, but her growing feelings toward the other woman reach beyond her control, adding to the confusion. Time is rapidly running out, and Chiasa can’t seem to sort out the lies woven through the magic of Inuru and its emperor.

Caught in a tangled web of immortality, betrayal, and desire, Chiasa must find the right people to trust if she hopes to stop the ritual—or she will pay the consequences.

Excerpt

Ibuki
Kathryn Sommerlot © 2018
All Rights Reserved

When Chiasa first saw the young woman standing outside the shrine, her throat seized in fear around a single thought: the emperor is dead. A moment later, she realized the woman appeared far more nervous than grief-stricken, and she relaxed, only to wonder why a seseragi priestess would be on her doorstep before the sun had fully risen.

The woman was unmistakably one of the water-chosen. Her hands were fidgeting and pressing tiny creases into the telltale blue of her silk robe, its pale folds hanging uneven above her shell-lined sandals, and above the short collar, a silver clip in the shape of an ocean wave held her hair in two overlapping plaits. She glanced down either side of the empty road, shoulders bowed, before starting up the stairs.

Chiasa hung back to observe.

It took the woman a minute or so to climb the steps that led to the small fountain, and with the shrine deserted, her footsteps echoed through the grounds. Her hair seemed to have been hastily done as an afterthought—long strands had come free and hung down her back like splatters of black ink across parchment.

She did manage a jerky half bow when she reached the slotted board holding the wooden ladle, though most of the water she then tried to pour over her hands ended up splashing onto the front of the blue silk, a testament to the shaking in her arms. Chiasa let her continue without interruption until she reached the top of the stairs and clapped her hands together before the silver bell. Any farther, and the seseragi priestess would make her way inside the sanctuary, to where the ibuki power-stone was held, and the thought was unsettling enough to push Chiasa forward.

“If I can help you with something,” Chiasa began, slipping out from her hiding spot between the side of the sanctuary and the hall of worship where she spent many hours praying in solitude.

The young woman started, nearly tripping on the hem of her robe. One hand went to her mouth as she stared far longer than was comfortable, and then she bowed again, the force of the action throwing the loose tendrils of hair over her head.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t send word, and…well, I know it’s strange for me to be here, but I must speak with an ibuki priest, please.”

Chiasa took a step back, one corner of the hall’s intersecting wall panels jabbing between her shoulders.

“My father is the head priest, but he’s not here. He’s out with the herbalist to tend the sick. If you wish, I can leave him a message for when he returns—”

“It’s urgent,” the other woman whispered. “Please.”

At a loss, Chiasa looked around the shrine grounds she knew by heart. There was no one else to summon. Her father wouldn’t be back until much later, perhaps even after midnight, and old Isao was seldom of much use anymore, relegated to menial groundskeeping tasks and selling talismans. As the morning breeze broke through the tree line and nipped at the exposed skin of her cheek, she felt acutely alone.

Chiasa tried to imagine what her father might do were he present as the young woman, still bent in an awkward bow, began to shake with the exertion of it. Chiasa, afraid she would topple over entirely, sprang forward and dropped the broom she was holding, the tool clattering noisily across the pathway.

“He’s not here,” Chiasa repeated, though she wanted to help the woman when she was in such a state. “But please don’t panic, I will not send you away. If you’d like, I could make you some tea?”

“Yes,” the woman said. Her hands went to her face, cupping cheeks that were tinged with an uneven smattering of powder. As Chiasa watched, her gaze seemed to get lost in nothing, until she finally blinked and focused once again, settling on Chiasa’s face. Again, there was something sparking in her eyes that Chiasa couldn’t entirely read. The woman lowered her hands and nodded. “Yes, I would appreciate it. I’m sorry to intrude.”

Chiasa thought briefly of disagreeing, but it felt best to avoid lying. Instead, she led the seseragi priestess into the hall of worship and through to the small back room where they kept a low, small table and supplies unrelated to the shrine itself. There was a heavy iron kettle, which was so old that one side of it was slightly lower than the other, making the whole thing lopsided. Chiasa placed it onto the small fire in the center of the room with care and waved the smoke up into the open flume built into the roof’s small, soot-blackened bricks. Her strange guest knelt at the table, smoothing her silks beneath her knees.

“I don’t know when my father will return,” Chiasa apologized as she waited for the water to bubble. The other woman deflated somewhat, her shoulders curving in and over on themselves as she ran a finger over the grain of the table.

“Is there no one else?” she asked. Then, a half second too late, her eyes snapped up, wide and frightened. “I didn’t mean… I meant no offense. I’m sure you are quite capable at the breath—”

Chiasa waved her apology away. “I’m not offended. But I am afraid there is no one else. It’s only my father, myself, and old Isao.”

“Then, your father is part of the emperor’s circle?” the woman asked. The expression on her features changed from nervous to suspicious, and Chiasa couldn’t follow the reasoning behind it. Her guest tapped her fingers against the tabletop as she pursed her lips together, and her gaze shifted away from Chiasa and the teakettle. “Perhaps it was unwise to come here. I thought there were more in the ibuki shrine.”

The kettle whistled its completion, and as she poured the fragrant hibiscus blend, Chiasa frowned, puzzled by the transformation in both the conversation and the woman’s demeanor.

“My father is not advising the emperor today,” she said, again, in case it had been missed, as she handed the other woman the small teacup of hollowed bone. Her guest held the cup between her fingers, but didn’t sip from it. Her gaze seemed lost again, her eyes focused on something far beyond the table and the crackling fire pit, in a place Chiasa could neither see nor touch.

After quite some time, the woman raised her head once more. “My name is Namika. I suppose with your father too close to the source I should not have asked for him at all. You are the youngest within the shrine?”

“Yes,” Chiasa answered, though she regretted doing so in the next heartbeat when the oddness of the question fully registered.

Namika’s brow furrowed as her fingers knit together around the bone cup. “Then I must tell you of my discovery.”

“Discovery?” Chiasa repeated.

“I’m afraid it’s not good news,” Namika said and grimaced. “I was tasked with sorting through our cellar, where many of the old texts and records are kept. The majority of them are simply logs of visitors to the shrine and the actions our priests performed at the emperor’s command. But within the piles, I discovered what seemed to be a set of entries detailing the truth behind the emperor’s longevity.”

“The gods have seen fit to bless him with immortality,” Chiasa said, but she felt suddenly very cold, crossing her arms over her chest and running her hands over her sleeves. The small room seemed to constrict even further around them, squeezing the air from Chiasa’s lungs until she was gasping for it. They should not even be discussing the emperor. They were far too young and unimportant to think they had more wisdom than a man who had been ruling Inuru for nearly three hundred years, and despite their solitude within the shrine, Chiasa got the distinct feeling someone, somewhere, could hear them. The sensation sent toe-curling shivers down her back.

“No,” Namika said. She leaned forward, like she, too, was reacting to the sudden chill permeating the air. “It’s unnatural, his lifespan— He is stealing it, all of it; he is stealing his life.”

“That’s impossible,” Chiasa snapped. “No magic could grant a mortal so much time.”

Namika shook her head and set the cup of tea down, still just as full as when Chiasa had handed it to her. “He is stealing it through blood. He’s drinking blood to absorb the life within it and add it to his own.”

Chiasa stood so suddenly that the table shook, splashing tea across the surface. The scent of steeped flowers and herbs grew even stronger.

“You’re lying,” she said through clenched teeth, hands curled into fists at her side. The flash of indignation that flared up beneath her skin came from a source she couldn’t identify, but she knew from years of practiced obedience that it was necessary. “My father is on the emperor’s circle, and he would never allow such a thing, even if it were possible.”

“But that is why I had to come!” Namika exclaimed. “It’s written in the documents, by the seseragi high priest himself. I swear to you I did not come here with a lie!”

Chiasa wove her hands through her hair, tugging bits of it free from the tortoiseshell clasp holding the twist snug at the nape of her neck. Her father couldn’t possibly be implicated in such a monstrosity—and beyond that, the insult to the emperor weighed like a stone within her gut. The emperor protected them all. The emperor loved them all.

“It’s impossible,” Chiasa said, letting her hands fall back down to her sides. “What blood could possibly grant such—”

“Those with the breath!” Namika cried out and then sat back on her heels, cheeks flushed and pink. As Chiasa stared at her across the table, the unwanted and uninvited woman with the poison-tipped tongue of lies inhaled deeply and then pushed the air back out, slowly, through red lips.

“He is drinking your order,” she said. Her voice was far quieter, filled with something that sounded an awful lot like sympathy. “He is drinking the blood of ibuki priests.”

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Meet the Author

Kathryn Sommerlot is a coffee addict and craft beer enthusiast with a detailed zombie apocalypse plan. Originally from the cornfields of the American Midwest, she got her master’s degree and moved across the ocean to become a high school teacher in Japan. When she isn’t wrangling teenage brains into critical thinking, she spends her time writing, crocheting, and hiking with her husband. She enjoys LGBTQ fiction, but she is particularly interested in genre fiction that just happens to have LGBTQ protagonists. You can find Kathryn on her Website.

 

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