A Love Like Fire

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Book Title: A Love Like Fire

Author: Tricia Owens

Publisher: Self-Published

Cover Artist: Tricia Owens

Genre/s: Fantasy, M/M Romance

Heat Rating: 4 flames

Length: 50 000 words

This is a re-written, re-edited version of the title, The Sorcerer’s Betrayal.

Release Date: March 14, 2019

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Blurb

When the mercenary Caledon meets a young man named Hadrian, he falls instantly, hopelessly in love with him. Black-haired and silver-eyed, Hadrian is unlike any man Caledon has seen before. His uncertain responses to Caledon’s advances only make the mercenary more determined to pursue and win him.

But Hadrian is a mystery, and harbors untold secrets. He hails from an island inhabited by sorcerers and has come to Caledon’s city to recruit the mercenaries for a well-paying job offered by Hadrian’s father. Except the job is a lie. Hadrian is far more dangerous than his disposition suggests, and what he wants with Caledon and the mercenaries of Rhiad will forever change the land and set in motion a prophecy that will bind two men together in love, lust, and hatred…until death.

A previous version of this book was published as The Sorcerer’s Betrayal. This book has been re-written and re-edited.

Excerpt

He could see now that he had erred when he had first tried to label Hadrian.

Caledon had been fascinated by the other man’s apparent inexperience and naiveté. But the truth seemed more incredible. Hadrian was untouched―untouched by affection, untouched by desire. How this had come to be, Caledon couldn’t imagine. But he knew it to be true. He felt it in his bones.

Nothing else could explain why Hadrian literally melted beneath his caresses. Every touch Caledon made upon the younger man’s skin left Hadrian trembling and breathless. Why has no one done this before me? Caledon wondered as he eased open the stall door with his free arm wrapped firmly about Hadrian’s back.

He should simply be grateful that it was he who had been the one to find Hadrian first. That was what his self-serving side told him. But a deeper, more empathetic part of him was saddened by the discovery. Everyone deserved the comforts of touch, of affection. Why hadn’t anyone offered those things to Hadrian?

Caledon’s body urged him to ignore the mystery. He wasn’t trying to develop a permanent relationship with the other man. Hadrian would be gone in a few days. This would be but an interlude for them both.

Even so, Caledon vowed to make it something worth remembering.

About the Author

Tricia Owens has been writing m/m fiction since 2000, after stumbling onto the term ‘slash’ and thinking it referred to horror stories. She is the author of the Sin City, A Pirate’s Life for Me, and Juxtapose City series, among several others. She lives in Las Vegas.

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Becoming D’Vaire

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Book Title: Becoming D’Vaire (D’Vaire, Book 11)

Author: Jessamyn Kingley

Cover Artist: LJ Anderson, Mayhem Cover Creations

Genre/s: M/M Urban Fantasy Romance

Heat Rating: 3 flames

Release Date: March 14, 2019

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Blurb

High Arcanist Delaney D’Vaire is the world’s only dark wizard, something that has alienated him from his people since birth. Orphaned as a child, he is shuffled around until the Prism Wizard sees his potential, steps in, and enrolls him in school. Though he never truly feels like he belongs, Delaney excels. Graduating at sixteen, he applies to a unique sanctuary, and his life forever changes when he is accepted. Delaney has the family he’s always wanted; surrounded by love and support, he’s grown into a young man, giving everything to help the people who still scorn him, though he continues to doubt himself. All he needs now is his mate, but Delaney is skeptical that even Fate could come up with his perfect match.

Vampyr Lord Grigori Volkov is the genius of his family. Numbers line up in his head, and he loses sight of the world around him. At fourteen, young Grigori creates a nearly synthetic version of blood to sustain his people, saving countless lives. Content to remain out of the spotlight, his involvement is kept from the general public. Since then, Grigori has spent most of his time alone in his lab, learning all he can and pushing his limits. At twenty-six, Grigori is content with his solitude and doesn’t believe Fate has him in her sights.

When the High Arcanist and the Vampyr Lord appear at the same event, they are stunned to find that Fate indeed has a plan for them. Reeling from their discovery, the mates set upon the task of getting to know each other. It does not take them long to find common ground, but as Delaney and Grigori build their life together, old foes will test them and their entire family. The path Fate has laid out for them is not simple, but they must be strong enough to trust in each other and stand together rather than alone to learn what it truly means to become D’Vaire.

Excerpt

Hours later, Grigori was deeply troubled by his desire to ensure Delaney’s life included everything he wanted. He’d teleported to D’Vaire after sharing a lovely meal with his family where he filled them in on the details of his upcoming ceremony. Grigori was greeted with an enthusiastic kiss from Delaney, then found a cuddly familiar on his shoulder.
However, his pretty mood popped like a bubble when they started talking. He was thrilled to be handed one of the new D’Vaire stones, but it was the subject currently being discussed he would do without given the opportunity.
“Is Dre’Kariston sure he wants to wait to shadow walk? He could move it up a day instead,” Grigori tossed out, treading carefully as he rubbed a hand over Delaney’s leg. The wizard was sprawled out over him on the couch. They’d ditched their shoes, and his initial intention was to get them undressed, but that was not anywhere on his radar now. He hated to think of Delaney on the other side of the veil for any reason at all.
“Yeah, another day isn’t going to matter. Besides, it gives us more time to fine-tune our plans for how we’re going to root Carvallius there.”
“This is something you really want to do?”
Delaney nodded with a smile. “Absolutely. It’s so cool. It’s one of the perks of being a dark caster. I’m lucky enough to have a powerful enough necromancer who can take more than one person with him when he crosses.”
“This is safe?”
Delaney’s grin disappeared. “Shit, you’re worried. Dre’Kariston said Somerly was shitting bricks over him going again. We talked about this before, and you seemed okay with it. I don’t want to make this a thing between us. If it bothers you, I can stay here. I mean, they’ll tell me all about it, and I’m just going to explore. They don’t need me to be there for any of this.”
The wizard’s willingness to drop his idea of going made Grigori feel small and awful. “No, I think you should go. I’m nervous but not like sweating-profusely-going-to-faint-any-minute crazy. I trust you, and I trust the Arch Lich.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I can’t keep you from doing things because it’s not something I’d want to do or because I’m scared. This is something you want, so I think you should go. Somerly and I will just hold each other tight until our men return from their trip.”
“You might be careful embracing him too snugly. Dre’Kariston’s got a lot of power, he might flatten you.”
“Well, then I hope you like it on the other side of the veil, because he’ll send us both there, and I won’t have you saying ‘Oh, for fate’s sake, Grigori, now we’re fucking dead and this place sucks.’ ”
“I won’t. I’ll start out by reminding you that you missed our first date, and you got yourself killed by cuddling the fuck out of Somerly.”
Grigori kissed his welcoming mouth. “I only cuddle the fuck out of you.”
“Then we just might be safe. You sure you don’t want me to skip it?”
“I want you to go. Well, no…that’s a lie. I don’t want you to go. I want you to stay here with me but I’ll get over it, because that’s selfish. You’ll only be gone for a little while, then you’ll have this amazing experience to tell me about.”
“It’ll be okay, I promise.”
“Just like when I drink from you the first time.”

About the Author

Jessamyn Kingley lives in Nevada where she begs the men in her head to tell her their amazing stories which she dutifully writes it all down in what has become a small mountain of notebooks. She falls in love with each couple and swears whatever book she wrote last is her absolute favorite.

Jessamyn is married and working toward remembering to start the dishwasher without being distracted by the scent of the magical detergent. For personal enjoyment, she aids in cat rescue while slashing and gashing her way through mobs in various MMORPGs. Caffeine is her very best friend and is only cast aside briefly for the sin better known as BBQ potato chips.

Visit her website and follow her on Facebook. She loves to engage with readers there.

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Beau and the Clockwork Girl

 
Title: Beau and the Clockwork Girl
Author: Kami Bryant
Genre: Steampunk Fantasy Romance
 
Blurb:
In this steampunk, fantasy, romance, Beau’s lost love has been enchanted to forget her memories and to suppress her emotions. Beau meets a dragonfly fairy, Juniper to assist him in the quest to save his love and break her enchantment. Beau has to teach his princess to feel, for she replaced her heart with clockwork and now she has become evil and cruel. Beau has loved his princess Em, since they were children but Em has forgotten what it is to feel because, if you decide to give up your emotions so that you are not in pain, you will also lose your ability to love.
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Kami lives in the Pacific Northwest with her son and her two cats. She has been writing stories since she was six, when she wrote a story about a white cat who wanted to be a black cat for Halloween.
Beau and the Clockwork Girl is her first published novel and she intends to write more gender bending, genre mixing, fairy tale re-imaginings.
She thanks everyone for their support as she continues her journey as a self-published author.
Author Links:
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Twitter: https://twitter.com/kamib_good
 
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Emberlyn’s thighs gripped her sturdy mount as the black horse galloped through the forest. Her painfully tight plaited dark brown hair pinned in an intricate knot held back at the nape of her neck with a brass comb. She laughed as she and the large horse flew down the path, the wind hitting her in the face. It was the smell of freedom. Out here no one could tell her how a proper princess should act. There were no rules out here and she loved it.
“Faster Onyx,” she urged. Princess Emberlyn wore black leather pants much like the ones her mother wore. She also wore a black leather corset that was a twin to her mother’s and a bright, blood-red blouse. Her heavy black leather boots, adorned with buckles, gripped the sides of her horse as she urged him to a faster pace. She risked a quick glance behind her shoulder and saw the pale horse named Buttermint and the mare’s rider quickly gaining on them. Onyx tossed his black  mane and seemed to chuckle a horsey nicker as he continued racing down the forest path.
The mare Buttermint and her rider quickly overtook the racing Onyx and pulled abreast of Emberlyn. The princess squealed as the rider reached over with his long arm and pulled her out of her saddle with his left, while holding Buttermint’s reins tightly in his right hand. He plopped the princess in the saddle in front of him, pushing her firmly against the pommel. Emberlyn squirmed in Buttermint’s saddle and slid her bottom farther down and settled against the boy’s strong, broad chest. The youth reached over and grabbed Onyx’s reins. The black stallion shook his mane and whinnied his chuckle. Buttermint answered with a softer neigh.
“Whoa,” said Beau as he slowed down the two horses. Emberlyn was trapped in his muscled arms and his broad chest which was her favorite place to be. She felt safe and loved. She loved the feel of the vibrations of his deep voice rumbling against her back and her nipples hardened with her excitement. Emberlyn squirmed away from Beau’s right arm that trapped her against his body as he struggled with Onyx with his left. Emberlyn gripped the pommel of Buttermint’s saddle and lifted her body up, sliding her right leg underneath her bottom and then slid her right leg across the back of the horse until both of her legs were leaning against Buttermint’s left flank. Gripping the pommel tightly with her right hand, Emberlyn shouted “Watch out!” Beau dropped Onyx’s reins and leaned back into a laying position, his head resting on Buttermint’s rump. Emberlyn lifted her body up with her right hand, balancing on her tail bone and kicked her left leg up and over Beau’s reclining form, and then sat up in the saddle facing Beau. The boy with the dirty blond hair sat up and tightly grasped Emberlyn’s waist keeping his balance on the horse with his strong thighs.
“What are you doing?” he chuckled in his deep voice.
Emberlyn’s brown eyes gazed into the boy’s bright blue ones and she leaned into his strong torso, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling herself closer against his chest, her warm lips meeting his in a deep passionate kiss as her breasts pushed up against her corset. She pulled back and smiled shyly as Beau smiled back at her.
“That was extremely dangerous,” Beau admonished. “What would I tell the queen if you fell?”
“You would never let me fall,” replied Emberlyn.
Beau shook his messy, long, loose dirty blond hair. “Of course, I wouldn’t, but what if…”
“I was taught that move by the best horse rider in all of Mirovia. Maybe the best rider in all the land,” interjected Princess Emberlyn. “Want to see what else I can do while on top of this horse?
“No. Enough of your trick riding,” scolded Beau. “How can you even do all that while wearing a corset?” he asked running his hands down the tight binding and boning of the princess’s garment.
“You would be amazed about the amount of things I can do while wearing a corset,” she replied with a grin.
“What can you do out of your corset?” purred Beau.
Em arched her brow and slapped Beau’s arm playfully.

 

Jaclyn and the Beanstalk

 
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Jaclyn and the Beanstalk
by Mary Ting
 
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Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
 
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What fate awaits a girl who hears monsters at night …
 
Sixteen-year-old Jaclyn looks up to her father. An honest man who once fought for the king, he now teaches Jaclyn how to use her wits — and her sword. But he has a secret. And his secret may have a connection to the one thing Jaclyn is hiding from him.
 
Upon hearing “monsters” are terrorizing the small villages around Black Mountain, Jaclyn’s father and his friends head out to hunt them … but they don’t return. Armed only with her sword and three magic beans — a gift from a mysterious old woman — Jaclyn sets out for Black Mountain to save her father.
 
On her climb, one bean drops and grows into a beanstalk, catching her when she falls.
 
She isn’t the only one that takes the ride. Jack, her childhood friend and secret crush, is following her.
 
Together, Jaclyn and Jack must battle to save not only their fathers, but the townspeople the beasts plan to lay waste to before it’s too late.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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International Bestselling, Award-Winning Author Mary Ting writes soulful, spellbinding stories that excite the imagination and captivate readers all over the world. Her books run a wide range of genres and her storytelling talents have won her a devoted legion of fans and garnered critical praise.

Becoming an author happened by chance. It was a way to grieve the death of her beloved grandmother, and inspired by a dream she had in high school. After realizing she wanted to become a full-time author, Mary retired from teaching after twenty years. She also had the privilege of touring the Magic Johnson Foundation to promote literacy and her children’s chapter book: No Bullies Allowed


Mary resides in Southern California with her husband, two children, and two little dogs, Mochi and Mocha. She enjoys oil painting and making jewelry. 



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Dragon of Eriden

                                               
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Genre: Fantasy
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Whisper of Suffering 
(Dragon of Eriden Book 1) 
 
410 Pages 
 
King Ziradon… Supreme Dragon of Eriden. He is overthrown; imprisoned in a stone fortress to watch as his kingdom is plundered by his once trusted adviser, Gwirwen.
Princess Kaliwyn… Dragoness and heir to the throne of Eriden. She is cursed to human form, stripped of her memory and cast out of the magical kingdom. But her dragon heart is strong, and it is her destiny to return and set right the grievances her people have suffered.
And so, the Dragon of Eriden begins…
 
Amicia Spicer led a simple life, until she discovered it had all been a lie…
On her deathbed, Arely Spicer confessed to her only daughter that she had been found by, not born to her mother and father. Sad news to be certain, the idea of having a family of flesh and blood waiting to be reunited sent the young, independent woman on the adventure of a lifetime. Little did she know, a dragon’s heart beat within her chest and her journey would be more perilous than she could have imagined…
 
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Journey of Darkness 
(Dragon of Eriden Book 2)
410 Pages
 
Within Amicia’s chest beats the heart of a dragon, if she can discover it in time…
In her deathbed confession, Arely Spicer opened Amicia’s eyes to the truth about her past, sending the young woman running for her life. Fleeing the port town of Nalen, Ami quickly fell into a surreal nightmare, where dragons hunted her and her new friends to exhaustion, giving them little option but to hide in fear. 
Refusing to simply accept their circumstances, first mate Piers Massheby leads the group out of their refuge at Esterbrook, home of the nymphs and satyrs. Crossing the wilderness and vast desert of Peaswan, they are shadowed by their hunter, the great dragon who seeks to destroy them. 
Meeting friend and foe along the way, they question the wisdom of leaving the safety of the glen as they encounter new discoveries and dangers on their march to the north. In search of a way out of Eriden and back to their home in the Rim of Mortals, peril looms in the shadows, and they fear with each battle they face that it will be their last. 
Amicia’s magical powers grow, but will they be enough to hold off the trolls that yearn to tear them to shreds?
 
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Betrayal of Honor 
(Dragon of Eriden Book 3)
410 pages
 
The princess has yet to hear her dragon heart, but many have seen the truth within her…
Deeply disturbed by the deathbed confession of the woman who raised her, Amicia Spicer left her home far behind. She has crossed an impossible ocean and landed upon a magical shore, but a fierce dragon hunts her, putting all those who dare to walk by her side in mortal danger… 
The group has made a home in the north and formed an unlikely alliance with the trolls, but their peace is short lived. An evil has settled across the kingdom, one that must be faced if the group will have the means to survive, much less return to their families across the sea. Friends and enemies are difficult to discern, and the intentions of all they encounter are in doubt. 
On the move again, they are taken in by the dwarves, but King Baeweth has his own agenda. Forced to flee in the dead of night, no haven is safe as the battle between the dragons grows, engulfing all the kingdom and setting each against his own in every corner of the land. 
Will any take their side in the end, or will they be left to stand alone against the enemies of the realm?
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Kingdom of Ruin (Dragon of Eriden Book 4)
 
410 Pages
 
Amicia has discovered the secret of her line, and the heart of Kaliwyn beats within her chest…
Ami could not have faced the truth without the support of her dearest friends. Her plans for the future irrevocably altered, she must take on the dragons and stand for what is right over what is easy. Forgiving her mother and father for their deceit, she has made the choice to move against the dragons; but the price has already been high, and the battle has hardly begun…
Only through the help of her comrades can the civil war be brought to an end and the shadows that threaten all of Eriden be removed. The finale is near, but the danger will be greater than the group has ever faced. Her power matched by her resolve, Kaliwyn gathers her forces and prepares for the bloody stand they must make by enlisting unlikely supporters wherever she can.
Elves, trolls, dwarves and daemons all take sides in the battle that threatens to rip their kingdom in two. Friends turn and allies fall, but the will of the group to prevail remains strong, even in the darkness of all they have lost.
Can they survive the great war that threatens to leave both Eriden and the Rim of Mortals in ruins?
 
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Dragon of Eriden: The Complete Collection
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Anyone who knows me could tell you, I am a friendly kind of person, never met a stranger and take up conversations anywhere at any time. I work hard, and my mind never seems to shut down, as I wake up often in the middle of the night with ideas pouring out and demanding to be dealt with. Of course that means much of my books were written in the middle of the night.
I grew up and still live in the great state of Texas where everything is bigger, where we have warm weather and a central location. I love my state, my town, and my family, which includes my four sons, my significant other, and many friends as well.
I have thoroughly enjoyed writing the books that are currently available and hope you will enjoy reading them just as much. And of course, there will be many more stories to come.
 
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Apple Boy

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Book Title: Apple Boy (The Quiet Work #1)

Author: Isobel Starling

Publisher: Decent Fellows Press

Cover Artist: Valentine Pascadian (Lennel)

Genre/s: Fantasy, M/M Romance

Heat Rating: 3 flames

Length:103 600 words/ 556 pages

Release Date: February 15, 2019

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Blurb

After a traumatic event, Winter Aeling finds himself destitute and penniless in the backwater town of Mallowick. He needs to travel to the city of Serein and impart grave news that will bring war to the Empire, but without a horse, money, and with not a soul willing to help him, he has no choice but to line up with the common folk seeking paid work on the harvest.

As wagons roll into the market square and farmers choose day laborers, Winter is singled out for abuse by a brute of a farmer. The only man who stands up for him is the farmer’s beguiling son, Adam, and on locking eyes with the swarthy young man Winter feels the immediate spark of attraction.

Winter soon realizes there is a reason he has been drawn to Blackdown Farm. The farmer possesses a precious item that was stolen long ago from Winter’s family, and he determines to retrieve it. He also cannot take his eyes off the farmer’s son, and as the young man opens up Winter can’t help wondering if Adam is just kind or his kind!

Excerpt

“Apple Boy” by Isobel Starling

CHAPTER 1

MARKET SQUARE

“You boy, aye, YOU. Ain’t never seen ye round ‘ere before,” The farmer directed his bellow at me.

It was sunrise, and at last, I’d found the courage to step out of my hiding place and join the common laborers who gathered in Mallowick market square. We were waiting for the farmers’ carts to come by and choose their day workers. I’d watched this ritual each morning for the past three days, peeking out from shadowed doorways, or while crouching behind barrels.

It was harvest time, and it appeared to be routine for peasants to walk from the surrounding hamlets before dawn and assemble in the square to seek work on the farms. There was wheat, barley, root vegetables, and tree fruits to be gathered before the weather turned. I was informed by a ruddy looking fellow in the tavern that anyone could get work on the harvest, and so, with my pride cut to ribbons and my pockets empty, I’d stepped out of the safety of my hiding place and joined the commoners.

“Does ye wants work or no’? Look at me when I’m talkin’ to ye. What’s yer name?” The burley farmer roared. I looked up, stunned to be singled out from among all of these strapping men and hardy looking women, for I felt invisible. Four carts had already passed and taken their pick of the young, strong peasants, but none of those farmers gave me a second glance. I should have known something was afoot, for when this particular wagon turned up the women in the square shrank back into doorways, and men sidled away to lean against buildings. On the side of the wagon, writ-large in bold off-white letters were the words BLACKDOWN FARM. There were around thirty of us left on view, like cattle.

I had never partaken in manual labor or any kind of work before. I was a gentleman and far more familiar with spending my days relaxing, reading, attending social events in the city, or taking a horse for a gallop in the country. But my life had changed since I’d become stranded here in the Pasturelands provincial town of Mallowick two weeks earlier. Now I was living on my wits. Each day was a fight for my life, and I’d sold all of my fine belongings, intending to pay for passage on the stagecoach from Mallowick to the city of Serein. But I had not thought things through, and it did not happen that way. My body’s needs took precedent. I’d become so ravenous, and therefore the meager coin I’d gathered from selling my finery was spent on what I could afford—basic rough barley bread and ale, just enough to stave off the gnawing pangs of hunger in my belly each day. Now, I had no belongings, and the money was all but gone. I was no thief, and the only thing I had left to sell was my body. Looking like a wretch, I did not believe I could earn even a copper that way! Before I left on my travels, I was warned that the province of Erias had strict rules about men bedding other men and I did not want to tempt fate. I was at a loss—hard labor or starvation were the only choices available to me. Gods, if my father could see how far I’d fallen in such a short time, he would be thoroughly ashamed. I was living hand-to-mouth, and if I dared to seek out my reflection and observe my disreputable state of dress, I was sure I would see I was no longer a gentleman at all.

I assured myself that all would be well as soon as I could get to the city of Serein. There I would attend my father’s depository and obtain funds from his account—as had been arranged, and then, I could find my way to my uncle’s residence and attend to a much grimmer business.

So, with no other choice, I was here, standing in Mallowick market square with a bunch of rough-looking fellows and ruddy-faced women with just the ragged clothes I stood in to my name. I wondered if my visage had taken on the same gaunt, starved, haunted look some of them wore.

“WELL?” The farmer roared.

“Leave him be Pa; I think he’s a mute. P… p… please don’t—” A swarthy young man urged, stepping to the farmers’ side. The man appeared to be in his early twenties, with broad angular shoulders, slim hips, and wavy jaw-length hair that longingly reminded me of Montestein tea. When the morning sunlight broke through the clouds and caressed him, the strands of his hair revealed all the shades of autumn. It was beautiful. His eyes were bright emerald green, and his skin bore the wind-burned tan of a man who spent his days working the land. I met his gaze for a second that seemed to stop time, and I felt a flutter of longing erupt in my gut. I found myself mesmerized by him. He appeared a little embarrassed, for himself or for me, I wasn’t quite sure. The farmer turned to his son.

“Shut that filthy mouth o’ yours, apple boy!” he spat. His large meaty hands twitched. He sneered and glared at his son in such a wicked way I knew it should have been followed up by a sharp slap. I worried that the young man would endure further public humiliation at the hands of his father, but the farmer moved his disdainful glare back to me. I shuddered with fear. I had a feeling that he was saving his son’s punishment for later—away from the prying eyes of the townsfolk. I did not like that thought, not one bit. I did not know why the farmer was drawn to me, but he sized me up with a sweeping glance of consideration, then wrinkled his nose as if he’d sniffed a revolting stench—I hadn’t bathed in two weeks, so maybe I did smell a tad ripe!

“Is ye a mute?”

I shook my head. I would say, if anything, I was deeply traumatized by the unfortunate circumstance I’d found myself in, but no, I was certainly not a mute. I just wasn’t used to a lowly man speaking to me so roughly. Generally, men who dared to address me knew their betters and behaved appropriately. But here in Mallowick, in the province of Erias, I was no better than a beggar on the street. There was no one I could call on for favors, no one who, on hearing my family name, would loan me coin for the stagecoach or a horse to ride to the city and send word to my father.

When I’d first arrived in Mallowick, telling the truth of my station had gotten me dragged down an alley where my finger and earrings were stolen, and I’d received a beating. This farmer from Blackdown Farm had no idea who I was, and I would not make the same mistake again.

I took a breath and stepped out of line. “Master Irwin Harding, sir. You may call me Win.” I winced at hearing my own soft, well-spoken voice, with my accent, the clipped tongue of Thorn. I had not used my real name and wished I had not used my true voice either. The fact that I was the son of the Duke of Thorn meant nothing here. Thorn was west of Erias, on the other side of the Silua Montis Mountain range, and I doubted any of these illiterate souls in Mallowick knew anything other than that folklore passed around by storytellers.

The farmer stepped to stand in front of me. He was a big, bulky bastard of a man and stank of stale sweat and baccy. He had a grizzled podgy face and thick dark hair shot with strands of silver pulled into an untidy tail. The tension grew between us, and I worried I’d spoken out of turn. I looked down and watched my bare, filthy feet as if they held endless fascination. I’d seen men like him before. He had hands like shovels, and I’m sure they’d done damage in their time. My father would have used a man like him well, probably as muscle to intimidate the city folk while the Royal Chancellor did the rounds collecting taxes.

Afraid and sweating with anxiety, I glanced up and away, unable to look at the farmer directly and meet his fierce piggy eyes. Instead, I looked left and caught the eye of his son. I felt another flutter of attraction. I was grateful for it because it dampened my fear a little. The glance the farmers’ son sent me back was sheepish, apologetic. He shrugged and put a finger to his lips, signaling for me to hush. I’m sure now he knew what was coming.

Master, is it?” The farmer gave a raspy malevolent chuckle. “Well, well, well aren’t ye an uppity little scrote. Such a pretty voice an’ all. Have your balls dropped yet, lad?”

The townsmen men standing around me shuffled on their feet and snickered uncomfortably. I could tell from the tentative laughter they were afraid of this man too. My chest tightened with fury, and I felt the flare of heat rush to color my cheeks. If in Thorn I would have put this fellow in his place, but as directed by the farmers’ handsome son, I held my tongue.

I dared to look up as the farmer scratched his grizzled chin and consider me. It was then I saw it. A chill iced my bones. On his chubby right index finger, he wore a gold ring set with a large red gemstone that I was aghast to see held the intaglio engraving of a rose thorn—my family’s seal. How had this disgusting Pasturelands farmer come upon my family’s ring? Anger curdled my gut, but I forced myself to focus and fixed my features so as not to alert the man to what I was looking at. That ring was more precious than I could say. It was not set with any common gemstone, oh no, the setting was Star-fall. The legend was that mortal tools could not cut the rich-red Star-fall stone. The gemstone was shaped by sorcery, and the power that carved into the gem was stored inside it as if the Star-fall was a reservoir for the magic. It was illegal for any other than the Twin Kings of Osia to own Star-fall. The king’s men had scoured the Empire to remove all traces of the priceless gem from common and aristocratic hands and possessing it was a death sentence. Did this ruffian have any idea what he wore?

Not getting a rise from me, the farmer stepped yet closer and found out for himself if my balls had dropped. He reached for my privates and squeezed.

Ahh, ye got some big stones de’re al’right, boy,” he said with a filthy sneer.

“Done any labourin’ before, lad?” My eyes watered. I shook my head and winced as the pressure on my most sensitive parts rose. I wanted to shout and push him away, punch him in that bristly pug face. I’d trained in hand-to-hand combat and swordplay, but that was of little use to me now that I had no sword and was cast as naught but a commoner myself. I stood frozen to the spot with fear, my cock, and balls in the hand of this brutish man. I was sure that clutching my nethers was not the best way to test if I would be a good apple picker.

The farmer let go, stepped back, and looked me over again like he was sizing up a prize pig. I wanted to keel over, hold my sensitive parts and howl, but, with my eyes watering, I kept my back ramrod straight and looked past the farmer, using his son’s regretful, pretty green eyes as my focus.

I appeared to be a boy, but I am nineteen and about to make my majority. I have a tall, willowy frame, and little muscle to show for my near twenty summers. Weeks before, I was clothed in the silken garb of a lordling, but all I wore now were my stinky silk britches and a once-white linen shirt. I’d even had to sell my fine leather boots. My flaxen hair hung loosely to my shoulders and was bedraggled. My mother had always told me my hair shone like a golden halo. I guessed that was no longer the case. I had not seen my reflection in two weeks so I could only imagine how frightful I appeared to onlookers. My circumstance was terrible, but I refused to let it defeat me. I was a son of Thorn, I was a gentleman, damn it, and I was prepared to do whatever it took to do to find my way to my destination and seek justice for all the ill-luck that had befallen me.

“Right, scrote, up on the wagon,” the farmer declared. “We can always do wit a few extra scurrier’s fer the windfalls.”

I had no idea what that actually meant, but strangely relieved to be selected, I nodded subserviently and then, ducking my head to avoid the farmers’ glare, I scurried to the wagon where I surreptitiously gave my aching intimate parts a gentle rub.

I’d heard from a fellow in the tavern that harvesting wheat at Robinswood Farm was backbreaking, as was digging root vegetables at Windy Oakes Farm. He advised that apple picking was easy work and if I could get employment at Weatherby’s or Blackdown Farm, they paid good coin. He said the mistress at Blackdown was particularly well-liked and always gave laborers a bread and cheese luncheon with last season’s cider. I was so hungry that bread and cheese sounded like a banquet. The fellow had neglected to tell me that the farmer was a brute!

The farmers’ son met me by the wagon and offered to help me aboard. For a moment, from the look of consideration in his eyes, I thought he could see past the disheveled state of me to the gentleman I’d once been. But that was ridiculous. The farmers’ son hopped up onto the back of the wagon with dexterous athleticism, and then offered me his hands. I took them without a thought. His warm touch and the strength in those work-roughened fingers twisted my gut into uncomfortable knots. He fixed my gaze as he gripped both of my hands and tugged me up as easily as if he were lifting feather down. He pulled me closed and pressed me to his hard chest.

“Don’t back chat him or it’ll be the worst fer you,” he whispered the warning to my ear. Alarmed, I eased back from him and cautiously met his eye for a split second. In the look he gave me I saw that the warning was well-meant. Bewildered, I nodded in thanks and understanding. I had no idea why this stranger was looking out for me, but the fact he was warmed my heart. I choked back a tear. No one had looked out for me over these past weeks, and I had been so terribly lonely. I’d learned some hard life lessons on this leg of my journey, and I’d come to understand that here my title was irrelevant, and without money I was suddenly invisible; therefore small kindnesses meant more than I could say.

My adventure into the provinces had been made to appease my father for my supposed ‘lack of direction.’ I’d become bored with my easy life in Thorn, and not intending to marry; I’d told my father that in-light of my upcoming twentieth Bloomsday I wanted to tour the Empire. If I were to one-day become Duke of Thorn, I needed to know a little of the politics of each province and so, pleased with my initiative and happy to be rid of me for a while, he’d set me on my way. I’d toured the provinces of Terria, Corvay, and Reuss and then continued to the province of Osia, spending time in the capital city Altea, at the court of the Twin Kings, Kristoff, and Fabian Von Harte. With this journey to Erias, I was to have the full set of provinces under my belt. But fate was not on my side.

On benches affixed to either side of the farmers’ wagon sat fourteen men morosely staring at their bare, filthy feet, not a word of chatter between them. They each owned a small pack of belongings and a wrapped blanket that each had stowed beneath the bench. At this moment they were better-off than me, for I did not even have a blanket to my name. There was space for me and five more, totaling twenty men. The farmer chose from the remaining laborers with less consideration than I had been afforded.

“Right… I’ll take Allin, Jed, Arthur, Bartram, and Matty, that’ll do me fer the week,” he hollered decisively.

The week? I thought I’d promised myself for a hard day’s labor? But then again, I considered the harvesters who were sitting in the wagon, and yes, they appeared to have prepared for an overnight stay. Confused, I sat down as the other laborers were pulled up onto the wagon by their comrades, and then we shuffled along the benches until we were all seated. I noticed the shoulders of the remaining men in the market square sag a little in apparent relief as if some mighty weight had lifted from them. I didn’t understand it. I thought they’d wanted to work?

The farmers’ son clambered over into the front of the wagon. His father climbed on, the man’s bulk shaking the timbers of the rickety wagon as he settled on the bench beside him. The son handed his father the ribbons, which the farmer greedily snatched up, and then with a fearsome bellow of “Geddup” and a thunderous whip crack, the large mottled grey workhorse began its cumbersome trot down the main street and onto the dusty road to Blackdown Farm.

About the Author

Isobel Starling spent most of her twenty-year professional career making art in Ireland. She relocated to the UK and, faced with the dreaded artist’s creative block, Isobel started to write and found she loved writing more than making art.

Isobel is currently working on her nineteenth book.

“As You Wish” (Shatterproof Bond#1) narrated by Gary Furlong won the Audiobook Reviewer Award for Romance 2018. It is the first M/M Romance audiobook to win a mainstream audiobook award.

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The Bitching Tree

The Bitching Tree

by Scott Hungerford

An urban fantasy novel about a very small crow.

Available on Amazon Kindle for $3.99

Set in the modern-day world of the Corax Chronicles, The Bitching Tree is a story about a very small crow named Cobb.  A crow that loves to fly, he lives in Seattle as a member of the great flock that congregates around the majestic Bitching Tree. Serving both as a site of governance and a place to cast grievances, the tree is the center of Seattle crow society – and also a potent source of nature’s primal magic.

But when news arrives that an ancient enemy named the Red Crow is coming to claim the tree for his own, Cobb is given the task of journeying all the way from Seattle to Cordova, Alaska, in order to meet his new mentor and undergo the training he will need to both protect his flock and keep the Bitching Tree from falling into the hands of evil. But the quest will require Cobb to maintain a delicate balance between the crow he is – and the hero he needs to become.

Opening Pages of ‘The Bitching Tree’

Dawn rises over the Seattle skyline, painting rose over gray at the beginning of an early October morning. Bands of color warm the sky, spreading out across the sleeping city, warming cold brick and chilled metal with the first rays of day.

Hungry, desperately so, he keeps moving along the edge of the rooftop, ticking his way alongside the gutters, scraping along the tar paper, occasionally stopping to check out a glistening tidbit or morsel stuck in the old metal edges. Hunched shoulders, bent back, intent eyes—a wriggling bug becomes another tasty, crunchy snack. It doesn’t satisfy his hunger, but it’s an early morning start. Other crows taw and fly by in the distance, on their way to meeting points and secret breakfast spots they keep to themselves. By the sound of their calls they’re nobody he knows, but they’re kin nonetheless.

Hopping down, he makes an outstretched landing on the edge of an open garbage dumpster below, then conducts a hurried, quick series of motions along the rim, trying to mimic grace, balance, and dexterity. But just as he’s about to reach the center, without fluttering or flailing even once, he slip-slides off the slick metal. Instead of falling in, he falls out—and makes a hard landing on the pavement five feet below, a crash hard enough to clack his teeth, rattle his bones, and leave him sitting sprawl-legged on the sidewalk with pebbles and grit stinging his palms.

“Fuck!” he yells at the world, at the rose color already starting to fade out of the morning sky. Hungry and wet and exhausted, he’s tired of being tall, of everything being so out of proportion, so giant, so skewed. He knows that after the long trip on foot up the hill from the University he’s almost to his roost. It’s just up there in the square of glass and concrete situated above the alley, in the place his body knows deep down as his home.

He. He calls home.

“Fuck!” he yells again, frustrated, dragging it out, making his displeasure known. A dirty gray gull on the wing, feathers ruffling with the sound of its passage, flies over the alley and steadfastly ignores his plight. His eyes follow the scavenger to make sure it isn’t going to circle around and pick a fight. When he is sure that the gull is gone, the man looks back at the ladder that led up to the roof of the three-story tenement—the accursed ladder that got him nowhere but standing above where he lived, and most certainly not within it!

Reaching into his jacket pocket, he pulls out the ring of metal bits, shiny and jagged. He remembers the fluid feeling of key in lock, of long appendages wrapping around a protrusion and clenching hard to open the portal wide. Getting up from the concrete, regretting the pain in his tailbone, he limps around the building to the glass entry at the front. He fumbles with the ring of puzzles until he finds the one he thinks he needs.

Following the man’s memories, he manages to insert the metal bit and deceive the door into opening for him. Once inside, he intuitively sprints up the carpeted stairs and down the hallway to his own scratched white door, number fourteen, as if he’s running for his life.

This door yields for him as well. Inside, it’s warm and safe. He knows he’s alone, in a small number of rooms with nowhere to hide anyone but him. After a lifetime under open sky and living at the roosting bridge by the University, the empty, low-ceilinged set of chambers seems impossibly vast and impossibly cramped all at the same time. Pictures, drawn with lead and charcoal and chalk, are displayed on the walls, showing people and places from all around the city. The bed is a mess. Clothes are scattered across the floor and the laundry basket is full to overflowing. The sink is filled with dishes that stink. The bag in the plastic bin beneath the sink smells of metal and spoil.

Taking off his coat, he drops it on the floor by the edge of the bed. Struggling, he manages to wrest off his shoes without untying the laces, mostly by standing on the heels and shoving down with his misshapen feet with all his might. When he is barefoot he feels better, he feels—

—like his mind is breaking. Wriggling, naked white toes instead of talons. His beautiful feathers are gone and his face is ripped apart, delicate beak replaced with brittle teeth that feel like they would break if he accidentally chewed a stone. Panicked, his body reacts, and he flees by instinct into the tiled room off the hallway. Presented with a low bowl of water and an empty knee-high basin partly protected by a hanging sheet of plastic, he chooses the latter to vomit and splatter into, not wanting to foul any water he might need to drink later. He messily throws up all of the bits and bugs he’s eaten since it happened last night at dusk. He is shocked at the fluid feel of his body giving up precious sustenance so easily.

When the spasms cease and he has the strength to stand again, he rises and washes his face in the sink. Cold water numbs his fingers and the skin of his face. He looks up, and that’s when he sees himself for the first time. Ridiculous rounded ears and brown hair and slight nose, the curve of his jaw and the strange hollow depression resting between his nose and mouth. He touches the weird spot, the inversion, marveling at its distinction, its lack of purpose, even as his wide brown eyes dart back and forth between his hands and the mirror, trying to make sense of his reflection’s naked truth.

Eyelashes are ridiculous, he decides, then looks away, unable to take the shame of his visage. No one would recognize him now, no one he knew and loved. He is a human now, with feet and hands and a history. He is a crow, too, lost in this skyscraper of a body, looking out through twin round-lensed windows at the ground far below, without wings to carry him and prevent him from falling. Just useless hands and elbows and knees, a featherless automaton that moves and repeats and remembers without being told.

Drying his face on a towel, he staggers into the kitchen looking for something to clear the taste of sorrow out of his strangely shaped mouth.

On the countertop he finds bread, a whole dark loaf of it, filled with cracked bits of grain and seeds. Stunned, never having seen such a cornucopia unguarded before, he messily tears open the plastic bag and lets the pieces of bread fall and tumble to the floor. Dropping to his knees, he begins to eat, cramming in mouthful after mouthful with both hands, ripping at the soft fabric of the food, stunned at the taste of freshness and softness that fills every bite. He resists the nearly primal urge to call out, to alert other crows to what he’s found so they can share the meal and safety in numbers together, proof from jays and gulls and whatever other thieves are nearby. But he manages to keep silent, to keep his mouth stuffed with bread, preserving the prize all to himself.

When he’s had his fill, when most of the loaf is gone, he lays down among the torn, yeasty remainders to make sure that no other crow gets his feast. There, half tucked beneath the sink, his head resting on a fallen hand towel, he looks at the art-covered refrigerator. He looks up at the early morning clouds moving slowly outside the window and feels a strange calm coming over him.

He remembers himself for a moment, from back when he had feathers instead of fingers. Amid all the noise and words and images that are in constant tumult within the human mind, he grasps a fleeting memory of why he is here in the human world, lost and alone. Of how it all started for him yesterday morning beneath the canopy of the Bitching Tree, a great sprawling oak with branches reaching high enough to meet the sky.

Protected by Old Thom, the sacred tree is the center of every crow’s world for three days’ flight in every direction. It is where the flocks that live throughout the vast human city come to argue disputes and serve justice upon one another with all the authority the tree offers. The old oak is the heart, their sanctum, the shared place where the old power rises up to aid those who seek wisdom or waking dreams within its sheltering branches.

But he knows the Red Crow is coming. He knows their most ancient enemy is coming to claim the Bitching Tree as its own, with a winged army big enough to blot out the sky. That is why he is here now, in this body. He must find the two-in-one who will teach him to fight. Not just as a crow, but as a man, before all he knows is lost to war and death.

But as terrifying as this knowledge is, he is exhausted. He lets himself fade into sleep, gently, bit by bit, until he makes himself dream of interlaced branches and the smell of warm feathers. But that soon changes and fades as the sacred tree vanishes from beneath him, from around him. Then he is gliding silently down into the unknowable darkness, with only the cold, wailing wind beneath his wings.

About the Author

Hello, there! My name is Scott Hungerford, and I’ve worked as a professional game designer and storyteller over the last twenty+ years of my career.  While by day I currently work as a virtual reality game designer on game apps for medical therapy and training, by night I’m an urban fantasy novelist, an improvisational piano player, and a board and card game designer who just likes to build neat stuff for other folks to enjoy.

Beyond writing tons of short stories, novellas, novels, and all manner of game-related stuff, I’ve worked as a professional game designer and storyteller for the twenty-five+ years I’ve worked in the game industry, even running story for brands like Magic: the Gathering and Mage Knight. Through the course of my career I’ve worked on more than thirty published computer game titles, written for more than fifty board/card/RPG products, and have touched the lives of more than ten million people with my creativity!

While I’ve been publishing books since 2013, the first few fantasy novels I launched on Amazon are pulled down for the moment, as I want to do some rewrites and let my new book editor take a crack at them. But back in the day The Fire Cage landed #1 in Amazon’s YA Steampunk category, Goblin Girl landed #3 in Amazon’s YA Fairy Tales, and Wish landed in Amazon’s Top 20 Sword and Sorcery. With the recent success of Crossroads in August 2018, hitting #2 on Amazon’s Urban Fantasy lists, I’m really looking forward to seeing how my current series is going to play out over the next twelve months!

Care to follow?

You can follow me on Facebook on my author page at @ScottHungerfordAuthor, or use the following link to jump directly to my page: https://bit.ly/2DaOITm

I accept invites to my author page all the time – but know because of Facebook’s policy, I don’t mix my personal page and my business page at all. So, if you want to see information about my books, sign up on my author page, as I rarely post anything about the books on my personal page to make sure Facebook doesn’t get cranky with me!

Also, if you want to know a little more about who I am professionally, or read the occasional essays I post, you can also check out my full presence on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scotthungerford/

 

 

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