Archive for September, 2014


Greetings from MBLU!

MBLU

In just a few more hours, I’ll be off to Midwestern Book Lovers Unite! Where I’m looking forward to putting a lot of faces to names I’ve only known online so far, and socializing with a few hundred other romance aficionadas! If you’re one of them, finding this page for the first time, welcome! — have a look around, check out the book links and my post library… and enjoy an excerpt from my current work in progress, Bound in Oak, the third novella in the Tales of the Grove series.

 

Cass Argall felt naked.
He wasn’t, of course. He was perfectly sensibly dressed for the weather BBC.com had told him to expect, in a black woolen pea-coat he’d dug out of a bin in a charity shop back home in Bridgeport last winter. He hoped he looked at least a little authentically Scottish, but he was willing to settle for not looking authentically like the fucking idiot who had been locked out of his own apartment and his own bank account, forced to scavenge other people’s cast-offs.
BBC.com, unfortunately, hadn’t managed to convey the entire experience of going for a stroll less than half a kilometer from the western coast of Scotland’s Isle of Lewis on a wet February morning. Cass was pretty sure pneumonia was going to be his next great adventure.
“Are ye sure ye’r a’richt?” The estate agent tilted her head as she looked at him, like a sociable bird.
“Fine.” Cass pulled the lapels of the jacket closer around his throat and tried not to sound surly. The weather wasn’t Ainslee MacDonald’s fault, and neither was his touch of agoraphobia. “I’m fine. Just a little jet-lagged still.”
The curly-haired young woman looked dubious, but seemed willing to take him at his word. “I dinnae ken how ye cuid hae done it, cooped up in a plane sae lang.” She glanced around, at the sullen grey sky and the tumbled, rugged landscape. The comforting bulk of Mealisval, a very large hill the maps charitably called a mountain, was behind them and their path was strewn with rocks, from boulder-sized to gravel.
Cass could already hear the sea, or he thought he could, and the thought of all that open space made him sweat despite the chill in the air. “I don’t see very many trees,” he blurted, grimacing as the wind caught his words and scattered them.
“That’s an odd thing tae be noticing.” Ainslee–Miss MacDonald, as she’d assured him with a flirtatious flutter of lashes when she’d turned up at the bed and breakfast a half hour ago. “But ye’r right, they dinna care tae grow against the wind.”
Either the estate agent’s accent was becoming less pronounced, or Cass was having an easier time understanding her. He suspected the latter, as she probably wasn’t toning down the brogue. Just the opposite, she was doing her best to be charming. In an innocent way he might have fallen hard for, had Miss MacDonald been a Mister.
Except, of course, that he would do no such thing. Never again.
“Then why did Uncle Eonan call his estate Last Oak?” He realized as he asked that he was genuinely curious. The phone call three weeks ago had been short on details–his mother’s uncle had passed away last summer, Cass was his only living heir, sorry for how long it had taken to find him, and would he be willing to come take a look at the property to decide whether it was to be sold?
“Estate?” Ainslee laughed delightedly. Cass tried not to flinch. “That’s far tae grand a word for an auld blackhouse, though I don’t doubt it would have pleased him to hear it called such.”
They both leaned into a sudden gust, and Cass found himself acutely nostalgic for the cozy comforts of his bed and breakfast. Even a car would have been nice, but he hadn’t dared to rent one and Ainslee had left hers at the bed and breakfast, pointing out that the road didn’t come close to going all the way to the sea.
“Even stranger, then.” Cass gave up trying not to gasp with the damp chill. Let Miss MacDonald think him a soft American. He was a soft American, one who avoided the cold winter winds off Lake Michigan whenever possible. “Why give a name to a–did you call it a blackhouse?”
“Aye, richt enough.” Ainslee’s sensible wellies crunched dirt and gravel underfoot. “An auld form of house in this part of Scotland, built of earth and stone and low tae th’ ground. Nae sense in standing up tae th’ wind.” She laughed again, as if she’d told a good joke. “And Eonan MacKinnon didnae give the name tae th’ house. Nor a’body else, for that matter. It’s always been such.”
Last Oak. Thinking about the name helped distract Cass from too much contemplation of the wide cold emptiness around him, and of the way it seemed to be getting wider and colder and emptier the closer he got to his destination. The name sounded…wild. Romantic. And from what little his mother had ever said, her uncle Eonan had been neither. He remembered a single photo in a family album, taken on his mother’s single childhood trip to Scotland to visit her kinfolk. Uncle Eonan had been a beanpole of a man, towering over the little girl beside him, one large hand resting awkwardly on her shoulder, as the two of them squinted into the camera. And hadn’t they been standing under a thick-trunked tree?He thought so, but it had been a long time since he’d been welcome in the house where that album sat on the coffee table.
“An’ thare it’s!”
Ainslee had reached the top of a slight rise ahead of him and was looking down the other side. Cass hurried to catch up to her.
And stopped, staring, the salt-smelling wind tugging insistently at his shaggy blond hair and his coat. The sea was still some way off, but the only thing between him and the vast expanse of it was a stone house, long and low to the ground, just as described, with a thatched roof and a chimney at either end. The mostly-bare branches of the crown of a tree were visible on the far side of the house. Cass’ heart raced at the sight, and he wasn’t sure why. It couldn’t have been the giant tree he remembered from the picture, and surely couldn’t be the oak the place had been named for.
Yet he felt drawn. He was winded by the time he reached the front door, set into the side of the house facing the sea and guarded by the young tree. He stopped to catch his breath, one hand on the doorjamb, waiting for the estate agent to catch up. From this side of the house, he could see how the land fell away to the ocean, the surf crashing against rocks and sending up spray. He even dared a look out across the water at the rows of white crests riding steel-gray waves to be broken on the rocks, one after another.
The whistle of the wind through the branches over his head called his attention back to the tree. An oak, a young one. Growing out of the split and weathered and rotted remains of a once-mighty trunk. Cass knelt, running a hand over one of the bits of greyed wood sticking up out of the stony earth like shards of wooden teeth, and smiling as a tingle ran up his arm. He loved working with ‘found’ wood for his sculptures. It was so easy to believe stories were buried in it, running with the grain, and all he had to do was set the stories free–
“I see ye’ve found the auld oak.”

 

******

CassArgall1

This, by the way, is Cass…

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Remember when summer was about sleeping as late as you could get away with, biking to the library once a week, and spending as much of the remaining time as you could curled up in your secret private reading nook, devouring one book after another at a pace that made the librarian assume you were the supplier for your entire family?

I wish that had been my summer. Really. Instead, mostly I just heaved a great big ol’ sigh of relief when I tore August off the calendar. Here’s why…

My original contract for the SoulShares was for four books — Hard as Stone, Gale Force, Deep Plunge, and Firestorm. And it specified that I had 15 months to turn in all four books. Now, if I were able to write full-time, that would have been no sweat. But between the Evil Day Job and my family obligations, I generally only have a few hours a night to write. So after four books in 15 months (plus a couple of novellas), I was a great big stressball. But I had a new publisher who really, really wanted the fifth SoulShares novel, so I kept pushing, and turned in the manuscript for Blowing Smoke at the beginning of June. Then there was a short story to write, to submit for a Dreamspinner Press anthology (look for “Ilya and the Wolf” in Celebrate! — the Dreamspinner Press 2014 Advent Calendar anthology, and also as a stand-alone story, the beginning of December!). (Yes, it’s shifters. *grins* You’re welcome.)

Then July happened. I had to move, and downsized from a house to an apartment in a suburb a half-hour’s drive away, chosen because it was close enough to my son’s college that he could commute by bus and because they would let me keep my elderly golden-retriever mix, Fiona, and my Cornish Rex kitty, Grace O’Malley. One (small) carload at a time, we moved that house, all through the month of July. Three days before the final move, Fiona died. (Needless to say, between being burned out and dealing with the move and my sweet girl, not much writing happened in July…)

Then August happened. I started writing again (Bound in Oak, Tales of the Grove #3). The publisher with which Blowing Smoke had been resting comfortably since June announced that it was terminating all its freelance editors, including mine, and that all outstanding manuscripts would be reassigned to its staff of in-house editors. Now, there’s a very good reason why I became a lawyer rather than an accountant, but some numbers even I can crunch, and I realized that I would undoubtedly be an old(er) gray(er) lady by the time SoulShares #5, which had not yet gotten as far as first edits, saw the light of day. So I exercised my contractual right to pull the manuscript… and on Labor Day I sent it off to another potential home. Any and all crossed fingers, good wishes, prayers, and the like will be greatly appreciated, and hopefully I’ll have good news to report in a couple of months!

Now it’s September. I’m still working away at Bound in Oak (which may end up being a working title only, as Ellora’s Cave only wants titles to contain the word “Bound” if they’re BDSM titles, which this definitely isn’t), which I hope to have done by mid-October. And come visit me at the Midwestern Book Lovers Unite Conference, September 26 to 28, at the Minneapolis Airport Marriott — http://midwesternbookloversunite.wordpress.com/ — I’m hosting a table at the Dinner with the Authors, and I know this really great Mongolian restaurant five minutes from the hotel….

And finally… you’ve been waiting so long, and so patiently, for Blowing Smoke, it would be remiss of me not to leave you with at least a taste. Enjoy! — and comment!

 

 

Chapter Four

Greenwich Village
New York City

The first thing Lasair saw when he opened his eyes in the human world was an ass. A very nice, scantily-clad ass, although he might have been more appreciative if his face wasn’t bumping into it every few seconds. And if he felt even a little less as if he’d just been run over by the King’s best racing chariot and its entire eight-horse team. Over the thunder of his heartbeat in his own ears, he heard a muffled thumping noise and occasional grunts.

And a whimper. Culin was somewhere nearby.

Tipping his head back, Lasair saw a staircase, dull grey wood. Arching back as far as he could–not far, thanks to the chains–he could see as far as the floor at the bottom of the stairs.

He blinked. The floor glowed faintly, in the auroral hue of pure unbound magick. Not possible.

“Great, you’re awake.” The baritone voice was slightly out of breath, and the speaker sounded more than slightly put out. “Would you mind holding still until I get you upstairs? I’d rather not drop you on your head, you’d probably pull me down with you.”

I beg your pardon for occupying space. Lasair bit his tongue, kept the words to himself, and let his head drop. He could feel an arm now, wrapped around his thighs.

The jarring stopped, and he heard the creak of a door opening. His own personal scenery remained pretty much the same, but with poorer lighting. Then another door. Light. Furniture half-glimpsed, and other doors.

“Oh, fuck. The one door I forgot about.”

The floor suddenly came a head closer, and Lasair got a glimpse of beautifully muscled calves as his bearer bent his knees. There was a click, and another door opening.

Then, suddenly, Lasair was lying on his back, with Culin at his side. On a bed, he presumed. He was getting tired of presuming. The chains were bad enough–truesilver chains were forged to burn in the presence of a channeling, and they surely did–but being trussed like a roast made it much worse. He strained to sit up, but the chains made it impossible to do more than raise his head and shoulders.

Which was enough to let him see where he was, and who had carried him up the stairs. He was in a small bed-chamber, lit by pale sunlight from a single window. The first human male he had ever seen looked down at him, wearing nothing but short trousers of some soft fabric and a deep frown. His hair was nearly dark enough to be chort-gruag, bark-hair, like the tree folk out of legend. But on this male, it was nothing to be scorned. It suited him. So did his mustache, a rarity among Fae. Eyes of dark green watched him warily, glancing every so often at Culin.

He must be ravishing when he smiles.

“Do you have a key to those chains, or do I need to cut them off?” The male’s voice was rough, almost harsh.

“If I had a key, believe me, I wouldn’t be in this situation.” Lasair winced. He didn’t remember most of his transition, other than the agony of the beginning of it, but whatever had happened to him after that had left his head feeling as hollow as the inside of a great bell. And any word, any sound from him was a mallet pounding on the bell.

“All right. Wait here.” The male’s stare raked him from his head to his feet; he put up a dark brow, turned, and left the bedchamber.

Culin whined softly.

“It’s all right.” Lasair murmured. “It’s going to be all right, tréan-cú.” He had called Culin strong, a strong hound, since the pup’s birth. Names channeled power, even names given by one with little magick of his own.

Now all I have to do is be right.

When the male reappeared, he was carrying a long-handled pincers with a metal beak. This he fitted to the chains, and started to bear down on the handles. Doing so brought out splendidly defined arm muscles and a thin sheen of sweat. I would give my left nut not to feel like I’ve been pounded flat and scraped up off the stable floor right now.

“These are stronger than they look.” The male checked the wicked beak of the pincers, running long, slender fingers over the cutting edges as if he expected to find them notched by the chain.

Humans were very different from the way Fae lore drew them, at least if they were all like this one. This male was as handsome as any Fae, in his way, and the measuring intelligence in his gaze was as exciting as his strange beauty. “They’re meant to be. But you ought to be able to cut them.” Now that the links had no magick running through them, and had been given no new purpose to know.

One dark brow went up as the male re-set the pincers. “Mind if I ask what you were doing chained up in my basement at six in the morning?”

“Yes.” Shit, I should have expected that. One thing the old stories weren’t going to tell him was what humans thought of Fae, several thousand years after their parting of ways. Even the most trusting Fae–assuming such an exotic creature existed anywhere–would be skeptical under the circumstances. And he had even less reason to be trusting than most.

Why had he forgotten that?