The Viking and the Witch – Chapter 5

Over the next few days, Asmund put all of his returning strength to repairing the broken boat. At first the barbarian girl, Maeve, just watched him from the cliff when she wasn’t busy with her own work. But at midday on the second day, she brought him food and stayed, still watching at first, then helping. She obviously knew nothing about boats, but she was strong for her size and very clever, he soon discovered. Even with him speaking in broken pidgin and gestures, she was able to understand and follow his instructions better than most of his own men.

He also couldn’t help noticing how beautiful she was. His late wife had been his ideal of feminine beauty, tall and fair, an icy Valkyrie. Maeve was just the opposite, small and dark, his little fire goddess with flashing green eyes. Watching her sleep in the tiny hut at night, he ached for her, memories of his fever dream driving him mad. But he was a man, not an animal, and wiser than his desire. He would not risk offending her goddess.

On the morning of the fourth day, the boat was almost done. Maeve was repairing rips in the sail, and Asmund was making pitch and coating the fresh wood he’d put over the hole to seal it. He was just starting a fresh batch when he saw an old woman coming toward them from the woods.

Maeve saw Asmund stand up. She looked back and saw Vivian bearing down on them like an angry crow. “This brute?” she said, waving her stick at Asmund. “This is what you dragged out of the sea?”

“Quiet yourself, auntie,” Maeve said, going to meet her. “What are you doing here?”

“You used your sacred art to heal a Viking?” the old woman said. “You are mad, as mad as your mother!”

“I said hush!” Asmund was watching them with a curious look on his face, almost as if he understood what the bothersome crone was screeching. But when he saw Maeve watching him, he went back to his work. “It doesn’t matter,” she went on to Vivian. “He knows how to fix this boat, and when he’s done, he’ll go.” She went back to her seat and picked up her needle. “What business is it of yours, anyway?”

“Listen to me, girl,” Vivian said. “For three nights running, I have had a vision.”

“You always have visions,” Maeve said, sewing the sail. “You eat too much cheese at night.”

“A terrible vision, always the same,” the crone went on undaunted. “Raiders like this one under the banner of a wolf. They have broken Asha’s magic; they’re destroying our village, slaughtering our men. It is a warning from the goddess!”

“If the goddess is speaking to you in your dreams, tell your queen,” Maeve said. “Asha is your priestess, not me.”

“You think I have not told her?” Vivian said. “She calls me a crazy, deceitful old woman and tells me to keep my peace. But she is afraid.” She grabbed Maeve’s arm in a grip like talons. “I can see it in her eyes. She has seen these visions, too.”

“You see what you want to see,” Maeve said, pulling free, but she was troubled. Vivian was a scold and a troublemaker, but she did not lie.

“So you have seen nothing?” she said.

“Nothing,” Maeve said. “But I have no gift for prophecy.”

“You are stronger than you know,” Vivian said. “Did you not bring this Viking back from death?”

Asmund kept his expression blank as he listened. Some of the old woman’s words were new to him, but he caught the gist, and it worried him. The leader of the other party, his father’s retainer, Stian, sailed beneath a wolf’s head banner. If the old witch was truly a seer, she might have seen him.

“That was the goddess,” Maeve said. “I only did what she told me to do.” So she did remember the fever dream, Asmund thought. He had to fight to hide a smile, but he was troubled, too. His little one was truly a witch.

“Come home,” Vivian said to her now. “Your people need you.”

“They are Asha’s people,” Maeve said. “And she has turned me out.” She stood up, dragging the sail behind her as she went to Asmund. “It is finished,” she said to him in pidgin.

“It’s good,” he answered. “Can you put it on the mast?”

“I can do it,” she said.

“So you will not heed my warning either?” Vivian said. “You will send me back alone and unheard?”

“I have heard you!” She took a deep breath, pulling in her fury like holding back a vicious dog. “Go or stay as it pleases you, auntie,” she said more calmly. “It is nothing to me.”

She went back to work, and eventually the old woman went back into the woods the way she’d come. Painting on pitch and watching her attaching the sail to the newly-fitted mast, Asmund could tell Maeve was on the verge of tears, but she was holding them back—his brave little flame. The boat was almost finished. If the weather stayed dry, the pitch would cure enough in a day or so to risk sailing away. In the back of his mind, a plan began to form.

That night as every night, she performed prayers to her goddess under the rising moon. Asmund watched from the door of the hut, and he could hear the unshed tears in her voice. The old woman had spoken of a village and a queen. What evil harpy would exile a beauty like Maeve? But that would be the reason; this old queen must have been jealous. Maybe she and her people deserved to be raided.

When she was done, she came in and lay down on her pallet like always. But this time instead of making his own bed on the far side of the hut, he lay down close behind her. When she didn’t move or protest, he put his arm around her and pulled her close.

“You’re sweet, Viking,” she said in her own language, obviously not meaning for him to understand. “Don’t worry; I won’t tell anybody.” He kissed the top of her head, and she pulled his arm tighter around her, nestling back into his embrace. “That was Vivian, my grandmother’s sister,” she explained, still speaking Gaelic. “She lives in my village—my mother’s village. I don’t live there any more.” She was crying now; he could hear it. He turned her over to face him and framed her face in his hands, searching her eyes with his in the moonlight.

“It’s all right,” she said. “I know you don’t understand.” He brushed a tear from her cheek with the pad of this thumb, and she curled against his chest. “My mother sent me away,” she explained. “She’s the queen of our tribe, the high priestess. She was always very wise and good, but…she took this harper to her bed. Baird is his name, and he’s no one, much less than you. He was a lost traveler, he said. But he has bewitched her somehow.”

He rested his chin on the top of her head, glad that she couldn’t see his face. He doubted he could have kept his feelings hidden. “He tried to seduce me,” she went on. “And when I said no, he tried to force himself on me. I told Asha, my mother, but…she didn’t believe me.” He could hear her choking on the injustice of it even now, and he struggled not to let his own arms go tense with anger around her. “Baird denied it, of course, and she believed him instead. I am her daughter, another daughter of the goddess, hers in blood and spirit. But she believed him.” She sounded calmer now, as if telling her tale was a comfort of its own, even if he couldn’t understand her. But he did understand, probably better than she did herself. There was a reason Odin turned his face against any woman ruling in the North. “She commanded me to admit that I was lying and beg the dog’s pardon. And when I said I wouldn’t, she exiled me from our home.” Her tears were hot on his bare chest, and he cradled her close, kissing her hair. “So I came here.”

“My little logi,” he said in his own language “Little flame.” He turned her face up to his and looked into her eyes, sparkles of life in the moonlight. Moving very slowly, giving her time to pull back, he kissed her.

Maeve had already decided she’d have no more such games with this Viking, that she would help him mend his boat and send him on his way. But she was so lonely and still so angry and hurt, and he was so warm and strong. She couldn’t resist the comfort he offered even if he was just a brute who didn’t understand a word she said. The look in his eyes was so tender, it melted her heart, and she felt so safe crushed in his arms, she wanted to stay there forever. When he kissed her, she opened her mouth to his, surrendering completely, and when his tongue touched hers, she shivered all over.

He rolled on top of her, still kissing her, and she lifted her skirt over her thighs, ready for him. But he propped up on his arm and looked down at her, his body a pale shadow in the moonlight. He untied the bindings on her short tunic and opened it, exposing her breasts to the cool night air. She raked her fingertips along the hard, curved muscles of his arm as he cupped her breast in his warm hand, teasing the nipple with a slow, gentle thumb until it hardened to a nub. She arched her back and sighed with pleasure as he put his mouth over the nipple and gently sucked, still moving so slowly. His hand moved to the other breast as he suckled her, warming it, teasing it, and she moaned, her hips twisting on the pallet of their own accord. When his mouth moved to the other breast, she whimpered, clutching a handful of his hair. But he didn’t stop; his tongue drew  her tortured little nipple to a peak so hard it hurt, an exquisite little pain. He took her hand and guided it to her own sex, schooling her to touch for a relief that was no relief at all.

At last he raised his head, and she ran her hands up his arms to his shoulders. “Do it,” she urged in her own tongue, the movements of her body making her meaning clear. “Put it inside me.” He kissed her mouth as if he were as desperate and hungry as she felt, and she wrapped her arms and legs around him. But after a kiss that made her shudder to the marrow of her bones, he pulled back again, ignoring her protests and holding off her efforts to hold him fast.

He kissed her throat then pinned her down as he kissed his way down her stomach, pushing and ripping her clothes aside until she was naked. She clutched at his hair and writhed as his mouth moved to her inner thigh, then screamed as his tongue slipped inside her. The goddess herself must have surely felt her climax as it rocked her to her soul, but the Viking wouldn’t stop, teasing and tormenting her sex with his tongue, making the waves come over and over. Only when she screamed his name and begged him did he flip her over on her stomach and take her from behind, filling her up, driving her on until she felt him shoot so hot inside her that she screamed again, trusting him to hold her as the whole world went away.

She came back to herself curled up on his chest with her cheek pressed to his heart. He was caressing her back and speaking to her softly in his own language as if he thought she was asleep. “You’re mine now, little flame,” he said. “I will take you with me when I go.” She closed her eyes on burning tears and fell asleep to the beating of his heart.

End of Chapter 5

 

If she could read his mind, love – A romance writer’s take on POV

GeminiThe biggest news in romance writing the past month or so has been the publication of Grey, author E.L. James’ follow-up to her wildly successful Fifty Shades trilogy, written from the point of view of her problematic hero, Christian Grey. When I heard this book was coming out, my first thought was, “Jeebus Krispies, you mean those first three books were all written from the POV of that dippy Ana girl?” My second thought was a suspicion that a lot of the reviews have borne out – that seen from inside his own head without Ana’s romantic projections to diffuse the light, our boy Christian is at worst a dangerous sociopath and at best just kind of an ass. Sales queen Stephanie Meyer ran into a similar problem when she thought to rewrite her Twilight series from the POV of her vampire hero, Edward – that project was so unsuccessful that it never made it to publication. A copy leaked on the internet, and the response was so hateful, she pulled the plug.

Generally speaking, romances are written to engage the tastes and instincts of the female psyche in a relationship – they know what girls like, and they give it. A lot of smart people will tell you this is why these books from the man’s side of the bed just don’t work–they can’t work because men don’t think like women want them to think about love connections; therefore, any attempt to portray the inner life of a dude in love is going to either be unrealistic or unromantic. To which I say, bullshit. It’s perfectly possible and highly desirable to show the male point of view in a female-male romance. You just have to let your guy be a guy–and a guy worth wanting. I totally understand writers who don’t want to risk it–they don’t want to write a woman with a penis or expose the hero they love to the scrutiny of readers who might not understand him the way they do. And it’s perfectly possible to write a great book entirely from one point of view; some books need that. But at some point, the romance reader needs to know how the hero feels, which means the writer has to either show him feeling it or have him say it or both. And if he’s been the strong silent type through the whole book then suddenly pops out with a love sonnet that would make Lord Byron blush, it’s going to play fake; as a reader, I’m not going to believe him. (This is where that whole ridiculous romance cliche of, “Okay, yeah, he slayed the dragon, saved my ranch, and made me orgasm four times in three minutes, but he’s never said he looooooves me!!!!!’ came from, heaven save us.) It’s much better, I think, if she’s not keeping us in the thoughts of her heroine for some other good reason, for a writer to give us at least a peek inside the poor boy’s head or heart as we go along–we need to see him falling in love at the same pace as the heroine, just not necessarily the same way. Basically, let the poor guy be a person. You know guys, right? Write one you could love not as you think every woman would want him to be but as you know he is and trust your reader to fall in love with him. Odds are good she will.

kingspossessionThree of the books we’ve got coming out this month from Little Red Hen Romance give a nicely broad spectrum on this topic. In The King’s Possession (Chapter 2 of her For the Love of the King series), Delilah Dove stays entirely in the point of view of her heroine, Catriona, a former mistress of Louis XIV who is attempting to teach his twin brother, Phillipe, to impersonate the king and hopefully replace him. And of course, in the process of doing so, she falls ever more deeply in love. Cat and Phillipe are an interesting reversal of the usual historical couple–he’s the wise, loving innocent and she’s the damaged rake. By keeping the story in her point of view and letting her discover that Phillipe really is as wonderful as he seems gives the reader a journey that a mixed point of view couldn’t.

AnnabelNew hen Malinda Mockingbird starts a new steampunk series, The Clockwork MacGuffin, July 17 with Miss Annabel Lee and the Clockwork Wolf. Annabel is a scientist turned schoolmarm who finds a gravely injured airship captain, Nick, and brings him back to almost too much health–he’s half werewolf and not entirely in his right mind when she wakes him. While most of the action in this first installment takes place from Annabel’s point of view, Nick’s perspective is presented, and seeing him come back from animal to intelligent charmer is what makes us–and Annabel–fall so hard for him.

But my favorite new story this month also presents the most interesting point of view challenge. The lovers in Gemini, a sci fi romance by Sonja Sparrow, have been bio-engineered as a symbiotic couple, created to fight as dual assassins and to be entirely interdependent emotionally as well as physically–they don’t so much love one another as need one another to survive. When the story begins, Kaia is rescuing her beloved Xander from a frozen prison, so we see the action from her perspective. But once he’s awake, their thoughts become one–they can literally see through one another’s eyes. For us mere earthbound lovers, that sounds a lot scarier than any killer robot, but these two make it work beautifully–it’s a gorgeous romance right in the center of some genuine hard sci fi world building.

The King’s Possession and Gemini are both available right now from Amazon–and they’ll be free all through the holiday weekend, so snag your copy now. Miss Annabel Lee and the Clockwork Wolf will be out July 17 and free the weekend of July 17-19.

Because life is too short to read crap

the king's tutor coverLike more than 20 million other people, I read e-books on a Kindle, and my favorite genre is romance. A quick search on Amazon for romance titles this morning yielded me 365,065 options to choose from. I know from experience that there are treasures to be found all the way up and down the charts. But the vast majority of these 365,065 e-books calling themselves romances are total, unmitigated, stinky, slimy, sloppy crap. The Wild West world of e-publishing combined with a media that continually broadcasts romance as that world’s most popular and therefore most potentially profitable genre have shaken stuff out of the bushes that would make Grace Livingston Hill say “Fuck this noise” and switch to thrillers. Well-meaning amateurs who couldn’t write their way out of a wet paper sack with a box cutter and a blowtorch have unwittingly conspired with cynical assholes who say flat out they hate romance as they write the dumbass porno to prove it. Together they’ve created a digital Bog of Eternal Stench where readers who actually love the genre can only cling to the few writers they already know they can trust and pray for daylight—and better pricing.

Life is too short to read crap. That’s the idea that inspired Little Red Hen Romance, a smallest-of-the-small-time e-book publisher that I hope will give me and readers like me a better option. The plan is to publish at least four new romance short story titles every month starting on May 1. The stories will be absolutely free for their first week of release (and only available through Amazon) then 99 cents forever thereafter (and available from B&N and iTunes, too). If things go well, we’ll do longer anthologies and maybe even full-length books, but for now, we’re trying it out with the shorties, 3000-8000 words each. But short as they are, every story will be an actual romance by a criteria that might be entirely subjective to me but that I really think a lot of readers have been missing. When I started thinking about what I wanted and wasn’t getting from new romance, I came up with a list of three things:

1 – Sparkling dialogue: Nothing kills a love connection for me faster than dull, flat, lifeless talk, and what passes for romance these days even on the bestest of bestseller lists is full of it. Before I can care about people falling in love, I have to like them; I have to want to listen to them; I have to see the sparks fly between them. Not every story has to be a laugh-a-minute romantic rollick (though there will definitely be some of that, too), but I promise, the characters in the stories from Little Red Hen will be able to carry on a conversation before they start stripping off their clothes—and after.

 2 – Tender sensuality: I love me some smut. Explicit sexuality has been a hallmark (and some would say the major selling point) for romance since the 1970s, and as a reader, I want and expect it. And I’m not squeamish about the mechanics—twosomes, threesomes, up, down and sideways, with handcuffs or without; I’ve read books that rocked my world from all of these, books that I would definitely call romance. What set them apart was the attitude of the characters getting it on toward one another, their reasons for hopping in the sack (or the haystack or the space bunk or that big ol’ hot tub full of banana puddin’) in the first place. Not every character who has sex in a Little Red Hen book will be madly in love when they start, but they’ll at least be considering it by the time they finish. The person or persons they’re sexing will have value to them as people, and their physical actions toward them will reflect that. Nobody is going to get genuinely humiliated in a LRH book (and no monster will ever “turn anybody gay” because that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard of in my life, and I work at a law firm). We in the Hen House want to turn our readers on and make their toes curl but let them still feel clean and able to look their preacher in the eye afterwards.

 3 – Heart-melting romance: This one is the most important. It’s what’s most often missing from the books I hate, and I think it’s what embarrasses the haters most about romance, far more than any kind of sexual content ever could. If a story is going to be a romance by the genre definition (not the literary, which is a whole different thing involving a much wider range of happy endings), it has to be a love story; it has to be the series of events which leads the characters into (or deeper into) love. It doesn’t have to end in marriage or a marriage proposal or a declaration of eternal devotion. But it’s got to mean more than an orgasm, a contract, or the acquisition of a business partner to pay the household expenses. It’s about people touching soul to soul, something I believe in very strongly. Otherwise, for me, it’s not a romance. Every Little Red Hen story, whether it’s historical, contemporary, paranormal, steampunk, straight, LGBT, funny, dramatic, or just plain weird will be a love story by this definition.

For more information about the press or the individual titles coming up at our launch on May 1, please drop by the website at http://lucybluecastle.wix.com/littleredhenromance or come like us on Facebook. And by all means, come hang out at our Facebook launch party on Wednesday, April 29, at 8 pm EDT—yes, we’ll mention the books, and yes, there will be preview giveaway swag, but mostly it’ll be a bunch of romance lovers chatting and snarking and having fun, and we’d love to see you there: https://www.facebook.com/events/807514879343283/

Tender Bites Contest Running All Month Long

Don’t forget, kittens, I’m doing a contest!  The rules are simple – review Tender Bites somewhere on the interwebs, email me the link at lucybluecastle@gmail.com, and you’re entered to win.  At the end of the contest I will literally put everybody’s email address into a literal hat and draw out a winner.  And the winner will get autographed paperback copies of all three books in the Bound in Darkness medieval vampire romance series, written, obviously, by me.  (To get a peek at what those are exactly, click this link:  https://lucybluecastle.wordpress.com/bound-in-darkness/)

The Details:

1 – Reviews do NOT need to be positive to be considered contest entries.  One review = one entry, regardless. 

2 – If you do more than one review or post your one review more than one place, send me each link separately – every link counts as its own review and its own entry in the contest. 

3 – You don’t have to buy your own copy of the e-book to review it – how would I even know?- but I do insist that you actually read it.  If it’s obvious from your review that you haven’t read it yet, that you’re reviewing the promo materials or me as a writer in general or life its own self, I won’t enter it, and you can’t make me.  I can’t imagine anybody doing that, but gurus tell me that stuff I can’t imagine happens online every day of the week, so I figured I’d just mention it.

4- The contest is open as of right now, and closes at midnight on December 1, 2012.  I’ll do the drawing later that day and post the results here.  Obviously make sure I have a good email address for you with your entry so I can email you if you win. 

And that’s it.  Or at least I think that’s it – if you have any questions or I’ve left anything out, tell me so in the comments so I can address it.  Thanks, kittens!  Tell me what you think!

Tender Bites Contest – I’m suppressing the urge to use yet another exclamation point . . .

Don’t forget, kittens, I’m doing a contest!  The rules are simple – review Tender Bites somewhere on the interwebs, email me the link at lucybluecastle@gmail.com, and you’re entered to win.  At the end of the contest I will literally put everybody’s email address into a literal hat and draw out a winner.  And the winner will get autographed paperback copies of all three books in the Bound in Darkness medieval vampire romance series, written, obviously, by me.  (To get a peek at what those are exactly, click this link:  https://lucybluecastle.wordpress.com/bound-in-darkness/)

The Details:

1 – Reviews do NOT need to be positive to be considered contest entries.  One review = one entry, regardless. 

2 – If you do more than one review or post your one review more than one place, send me each link separately – every link counts as its own review and its own entry in the contest. 

3 – You don’t have to buy your own copy of the e-book to review it – how would I even know?- but I do insist that you actually read it.  If it’s obvious from your review that you haven’t read it yet, that you’re reviewing the promo materials or me as a writer in general or life its own self, I won’t enter it, and you can’t make me.  I can’t imagine anybody doing that, but gurus tell me that stuff I can’t imagine happens online every day of the week, so I figured I’d just mention it.

4- The contest is open as of right now, and closes at midnight on December 1, 2012.  I’ll do the drawing later that day and post the results here.  Obviously make sure I have a good email address for you with your entry so I can email you if you win. 

And that’s it.  Or at least I think that’s it – if you have any questions or I’ve left anything out, tell me so in the comments so I can address it.  Thanks, kittens!  Tell me what you think!

Angelique

Another tasty morsel from Tender Bites, coming this weekend from Amazon.  This is the only first-person story in the batch, told from the point of view of Amadeo, the hunky vampire in question.  He goes to Paris during the Terror to do murder in the streets and ends up discovering his soulmate . . .

Angelique

Paris 1792

 

Chaos breeds vampires as a plague breeds rats; one feeds off the other so efficiently that matters of cause and effect become mere questions of philosophy.  Commit enough mortals to the cause of carnage, and the vampires simply appear; like the rat, we cannot choose but to respond.  And rarely had rats and vampires alike smelled such a feast as could be nosed in the madness of Paris after La Revolution. 

I hadn’t intended to partake.  I had entered one of those tiresome stages in a vampire’s eternity when the whole world seemed a pointless cesspool.  Born in the cruel savagery of the ancient world, I had watched the progress of civilization make art of madness, order from chaos, grace from the random superstition of human faith.  But over the course of the last century, I had seen this beautiful new world ripped apart brick by brick by its so-called great minds.  I was not a fan of revolution, even in the name of justice.  What is justice to a predator?  Paris had once been the jewel of the world, the center of learning and culture, my favorite spot on earth, more dear to me even than Venice or Rome.  Now the streets ran with offal, and great stinking apes more thirsty for blood than any vampire held sway.  But my friends insisted the hunting was too good to resist, and so I came.  And it was there that I met my Angelique.

Angelique Dumont was the daughter of two of the most pinched-nose blue bloods in France.  On the night I first saw her, she already wore a red ribbon at her throat in bitter remembrance of a father and two brothers sent to the guillotine.  She, her mother, and a single plump cherub of a sister were defiantly established in a flat within sight of the palace of Tuileries.  Like most of what remained of the aristocracy, she passed her days making desperate plans to escape to England with the family fortune and her nights in desperate gaiety, pretending flight was the furthest thing from her mind.

The ballroom at the city palace was not so grand as the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, but it was dazzling nonetheless, lit by hundreds of flickering candles and packed from wall to wall.  So when the painted doll of a girl stumbled out into the midnight garden, her green eyes were as blind as an infant’s.  “Merde,” she swore, tripping on the hem of her gold-embroidered skirt as she dove gracelessly for the support of a nearby column.  Glancing back over her shoulder toward the ball, she didn’t see me in the shadows.  I watched in amusement, arms folded on my chest, as this delicate blossom of the uppermost crust vomited into a hedge.

“Too much wine, mam’selle?” I inquired politely, offering her my handkerchief.

She screamed another oath and straightened up so quickly her heavy powdered wig slipped precariously to one side.  But she collected herself quickly, giving her head a slight jerk that caused the wig to right itself as if by magic.  “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur,” she said as she turned around, smiling prettily. 

Then she saw my less-than-glittering attire.  The men she was accustomed to meeting in gardens wore jewel-encrusted silks and gold-embroidered velvet.  I would sooner have had a stake carved from the True Cross driven through my heart.  I was wearing leather and a servant’s broadcloth coat with my own hair pulled back in a simple ribbon.  I wouldn’t even pass for a footman.  “How did you get in here?” she grumbled, snatching the handkerchief from my hand and spitting the last of the sourness from her mouth into its plain linen folds.  “Go back to the stables where you belong.”

“Your gratitude warms my heart.”  Truth be told, her snobbery made me adore her at first sight.  She was all I could wish in a quarry, sleek and impudent as a vixen.  “No wonder votre famille is beloved by all in Paris.”

The color rose in her cheeks luridly enough to show pink through the heavy powder.  She raised her little hand to slap me, and I smiled, knowing when she struck me, I would take her.

But she did not strike.  “A thousand apologies, Monsieur Stableman,” she said, making a deep, graceful curtsey that must have been the envy of every royal ass-licker at court.  “I thank you for your kindness.”  She rose and turned away, leading me deeper into the garden, the last thing I expected.  And the one thing I have never been able to resist is a surprise. 

The Haunting of Goody Crum

So later this week, I’m releasing my first ever self-published e-book, Tender Bites.  It’s an anthology of vampire romance stories, some historical, some contemporary – kind of my private stock of vamp swoon.  As I’m doing the last little tweaks of pulling it together, I thought it might be fun to feature a snack-size nibble of each story here on the blogness, a sneaky-peek for my nears & dears. 

“The Haunting of Goody Crum” is probably the sweetest vampire story I’ve ever written.  Since it begins with the gruesome aftermath of a Native American raid on a Puritan settler’s cabin, that might sound kind of strange, but those of you who know me probably won’t be surprised.  Trust me, this vampire, Wil, has a soft, mushy center that shows up in a big way before the end.

North American Wilderness, 1757

The vampire smelled the fire as soon as he came out of the ground, cured pine logs  burned down to smoky embers under the unmistakable pig-stench of cooked or cooking human flesh.  He turned his face up to the wind like a wolf, his senses honing in on the smell as he moved silently through the trees.  The last tribe he had seen had been days ago – Pawnee, he thought, though he had chosen not to approach their fires.  Since returning to the forest from the more subtle wilds of Europe, this death spirit had preferred to do his talking in the dark.

He saw the clearing well before he entered it, but the sheer size of it made him stumble in amazement.  For more than half a mile ahead, every tree was gone, cut down to ankle-high stumps.  The fire smell was stronger, and even in the dark he could see a thick column of gray smoke rising from the other side of the blank space in the woods.

Then he smelled the living blood.  The scent called to him; the heartbeat pounded in his ears like a war drum, dancing through the frozen marrow of his bones.  He broke into a run.  This had become his favorite way to hunt this endless wilderness, running through the dark, scooping up his prey with no words passed, no pause for breath or prayer.  Sometimes he even took them into the sky in a hawk-like swoop, dropping their empty bodies back into the black woods far below as he flew, never looking into their faces.  Sometimes he stayed on the earth, praying over the dead in the native fashion, thanking them for the lives they had given up as if they’d had a choice.  It had begun as a joke, a mockery of his prey, the silent warriors who prided themselves on running as swift and silent as the deer they hunted.  But since his return from so-called civilization, he had begun to take it seriously, to crave the wild ceremony of the hunt almost as much as he did its crimson fruit.

The heartbeat was coming from the center of the burning stench.  As he drew closer, the smell of rot turned his stomach.  He stopped at the glowing embers that represented all that was left of what had been a fair-sized cabin, English or Français.  That explained the stumps, he thought.  The Europeans encroached further into the woods every year, but he had never encountered settlers so far inland before.  He was running out of places to hide.

But whoever had lived here wouldn’t be writing home for reinforcements any time soon.  The war party had made certain of that.  He found no sign of bodies in the wreck of the cabin itself, but the smell could not be denied.  Maybe they ate the settlers, he thought, dropping gracefully to a crouch as he moved around the edge of the fire, moving closer to the source of the rotten smell and the ever-beckoning heartbeat.  Some tribes had been known to turn cannibal for a good cause, and so much the better for him.  Demon he might be, but not even God could fault him for feeding himself on a cannibal left behind.

But the heart wasn’t native, and it wasn’t the heart of a warrior.  Another fire was burning itself out just at the edge of the trees behind the ruined cabin.  Strung over it was a gruesome bit of native art the vampire didn’t need to see any more closely to recognize.  As a human, he had been a Viking marauder; he had been a vampire for centuries since.   But what the red men could think of to do to the corpses of their enemies still never ceased to amaze him.  This man had been flayed and gutted, probably alive, before being strung up to roast.  Nothing was left of his hair or his face, but a few burned rags of clothing still clung to his half-consumed flesh and bloody bones. 

A living, breathing, sobbing woman was crouched on the ground nearby.  She was praying in English, snatches of the Our Father and bits of rubbish he didn’t recognize, the guttural singsong of the Puritans.  She seemed to be trying to tear up the sod with her fingers as she prayed.  Her back was turned to the horror over the fire, but the stench must have made her stomach roll.  Just take her, the vampire scolded himself.  What do you care if she’s praying?  She’s crazy, run mad with shock—to end her misery would be a kindness.  He lunged toward her without a sound, the wolf springing out of the darkness—

Then she looked up.

Check out the backlist!

I just finished making spiffy new pages for the two trilogies I wrote for Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster:  The Falconskeep Trilogy and Bound in Darkness.  Check’em out – there are links for each at the top of the page.  And if you haven’t read these yet (or like so many readers find yourself missing an installment), by all means, watch this space.  I’m going to be giving away paperbacks as part of a contest to promote the new e-book anthology, Tender Bites, I’ve got coming out later this week.