Tag Archive: Tales of the Grove


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?

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Writing about… NOT writing

Muirfinn

 

Today I go back to writing, after a self-imposed one-month hiatus. (Well, mostly a hiatus… more about that later.) I had to move out of my home of 15 years and downsize into an apartment, over the course of the month of July. I figured, mostly correctly, that my Muse would spend July sulking – I’ve hated moving ever since a two-year period 30 years ago when I lived in six places over the course of two years. Add in the fact that this move was involuntary, and you have a perfect recipe for a sullen, pouting Muse. So it seemed like the perfect time for my first real break in close to three years of doing my damnedest to write Every. Single. Day.

Easier said than done.

I really intended to stay away from my next project. My last big project, the fifth Fae novel, was one of those stories where what starts out as a perfectly clear vision ends up feeling like wading through quick-drying cement, and I thought some “down time” was going to feel fabulous. And I was kind of right. I made it almost halfway through my “vacation” – it was almost two weeks before Muirfinn and Cass started hectoring me. I tried to placate them by outlining. Look, I’m not REALLY writing, I’m just, um, getting some ideas down. But one thing led to another, and pretty soon I was cruising Tumblr for pictures of hot models. And Googling the ferry and bus routes serving the Isle of Lewis. And checking out traditional homes in the Hebrides. And checking sunrise and sunset times (if you’ve read either of my Tales of the Grove novellas, you’ll know why that matters).

In other words, so much for all my good intentions. And the boys STILL wouldn’t let me be. Outlining wasn’t good enough for them, no sir no ma’am.

I’m not sure why I still set up these little tests for myself – “I’m a real writer if I do X.” Because I’m probably a “real writer” by any measurement that doesn’t involve hitting one or more national best-seller lists, winning a major national book award, or being able to quit my Evil Day Job. But I do. I test myself. And now I’ve passed another test. “I’m a real writer if I can’t stay away from the friggin’ computer for more than 10 days at a time.”

*rolls up sleeves* Back to work… I hear a reclusive Gille Dubh and an emotionally scarred artist yammering at me….

Happy Prideanniverthday!

TiernanMikeGrell

 

This weekend hits a lovely trifecta — it’s Pride weekend, and tomorrow (June 28th) is both my birthday and the second anniversary of the day I signed the contract for my first books, the SoulShares series (featuring the exquisite Tiernan Guaire, pictured above.) To celebrate, I’m offering y’all, in a very hobbit-y fashion, presentses! — an (unedited) excerpt from Blowing Smoke, the fifth Fae novel and the first in the Broken Pattern series, and a giveaway. Comment below with your e-mail address by 8:00 p.m. Central time on Sunday, June 29th for a chance to win YOUR CHOICE of: (1) an autographed paperback of your choice of any one of the SoulShares novels (Hard as Stone, Gale Force, Deep Plunge, and Firestorm), (2) Kindle copies of both Tales of the Grove novellas (Heart of the Oak and Tempted from the Oak), or (3) an autographed (by me) copy of the lovely picture above, drawn for me at ComicCon Minneapolis by the amazing Mike Grell).

Happy Pride! And it’s been an amazing couple of years, and I’m looking forward to many more!

 

Excerpt from Blowing Smoke, Chapter Two:

It took a while to get up all the glass slivers, find the mop, and mop the floor, but it was time well spent. Ever since coming home to the stench it had cost him five grand to get rid of, Bryce had a horror of having anything around the apartment that might smell.

He stowed the mop back in its cupboard. There was a place for everything, and everything in its place, especially in a little New York apartment.

Of course, he’d been that way for a long time. His grandfather had moved in with them when he was seven, after his first stroke, and overnight his room had become the one place where he’d been able to have things the way he wanted. Most of the time, anyway.

He limped back to the table, nursing a bruise on his hip where he’d fallen against the counter. Funny how he’d never managed to pair up with a man as fastidious as he was. Or even close. Aren’t we all supposed to be fussy? He usually drove most of the men he picked up, or who latched on to him, completely bugfuck crazy in the space of a few days.

Terry hadn’t minded, though. He’d been perfectly happy to let Bryce be Bryce, all the while scattering costume sketches and leotards and water bottles and leg warmers everywhere. On purpose, sometimes, he suspected. There had been one time, when Bryce had started to pre-heat the oven for coq au vin, and the strange smell that had filled the apartment had turned out to be roasted ballet slipper.

Bryce’s throat felt tight. He tried so damned hard to drag me out of myself. Drag my head out of my ass. Why the hell did I throw him out? He still couldn’t remember, even after almost a year. He’d asked Terry, but Terry hadn’t wanted to talk about it. Bryce supposed he wouldn’t, either, under the circumstances, but it still would have been nice to know, to get back some of those lost memories, even second-hand. Even painful ones.

Painful? Who am I kidding? I’m a dick. I probably laughed when I did it. Though he couldn’t have treated Terry any worse than he’d treated the parade of men who had followed him–

Bryce froze. What was that?

A barely audible sound, but he realized it had been there, on the very edge of his hearing, for a while. A soft whimpering. And, just as he started giving the sound his full attention, a tiny howl.

What the hell? The guy on the second floor, whose name Bryce had never bothered to ask, had a Rottweiler, but it had a bark like you’d expect from a monster that size and he’d never heard it whimper or howl. Besides, the noise sounded like it was coming from downstairs, not upstairs.

Fucking wonderful, an animal of some kind trapped in the basement. The landlord had a strict policy, all vermin were supposed to be reported to him so he could take care of them before the city caught wind of any problem. Not that Bryce gave a shit about anyone’s policy, but having someone other than him take care of rodents in the basement was his idea of common sense.

Another faint howl.

Rats don’t howl.

No, but dogs did. Bryce hated dogs. Not just Cujo upstairs, he’d hated them all as long as he could remember. His grandfather had kept mastiffs, before his stroke, and Bryce had been about four years old the day one of them had run him down on the front lawn until he tripped and fell, and had gone for his throat. He’d pissed himself from fear before his grandfather called the dog off. His mother had demanded the dog be put down, his grandfather had laughed, and dear Daddy had taken a belt to him for wrecking his new trousers.

The howl didn’t sound like a mastiff, though. Not even close.

I should at least find out what it is.

Bryce methodically unlocked all the locks on the front door, turning the second deadbolt on his way out so the door wouldn’t lock behind him and leave him in the foyer in his underwear. The door to the basement was closed, but not locked; he let himself in and left the door ajar.

The whimpering continued. Bryce reached around the doorjamb and fumbled for the light switch. The light didn’t stop the sound, either. Frowning, he bent to peer down the stairs.

A man lay unmoving on the grey cement of the basement floor. A man with long blond hair curling in soft waves around his face and an amazing body in what looked like someone’s idea of a Ren Faire costume, dark green. Wrapped around in silver chains, so tightly he wouldn’t have been able to move even if he’d been awake, and the linen charred where the chains touched it. And a whisker-faced brown and grey puppy lay on the man’s chest, sprawled out on its side, shivering, its belly rising and falling with rapid panting breaths.

Bryce took a few steps down the stairs. The pup stirred, raised its head maybe an inch, and howled. Not really a howl, more like a pitiful wail. Then it turned away from him, nosing at the man, crying.

He was confused as fuck, and he didn’t like the feeling. What the hell was going on with the man? He tried to imagine some combination of circumstances that could have ended with a Robin Hood type–a fucking gorgeous Robin Hood type, probably a model, just the kind to put a tent in his shorts under other, less bizarre circumstances–chained up in his basement. Unconscious. Smelling of smoke. With a dog. He came up blank.

Great, now the puppy was looking at him. There was something strange about its eyes, he could see that even from this distance. It was having trouble holding its head up, too, he thought.

What the hell am I supposed to do about this? About a dog he was supposed to hate, and a man he was supposed to… well, what? Catch and release?

One thing, at least, was clear. Bryce owed the intruders as much as he’d ever owed anyone else.

Nothing.

Clear, right?

 

I couldn’t say no, when asked by Susan Mac Nicol to participate in a blog hop. (Of course, it didn’t hurt that she asked Toby to bat his eyelashes at me to seal the deal…. or maybe I just imagined that part.) My only obligation (apart from finding and tagging the next generation of participants) is to Tell All about my writing process. I’m not entirely sure “process” is the right word to use, in my case – I’m reminded of my priest, when she’s asked why she’s an Episcopalian, she generally replies “Because I can’t stand organized religion.” But I’ll give it my best shot!

What am I working on? I’m currently on Chapter 26 of Blowing Smoke, which is the first in a new four-book cycle of Fae novels, the Broken Pattern. All the Fae novels are SoulShares stories, really, but only the first four are the “official” SoulShares four-book cycle. (I feel a little like George Lucas. “No, only the first movie is Star Wars. Oh, okay, the first three are the Star Wars trilogy. Oh, wait, now there’s the Star Wars original trilogy and the Star Wars prequel trilogy.”) After I finish with Blowing Smoke, it’s going to be an interesting summer, since I’m moving all through the months of June and July and I really don’t want to be fighting with deadlines till I’m done. But I want to work on a shifter short story to submit for a DSP Christmas anthology, and that has an August deadline, so I suppose there’s no getting around that. Then it’s on to Bound in Oak, the third Tales of the Grove novella.

How does my work differ from others of its genre? Is it really bad of me to say that I have no idea? I’ve always had a problem with reading while I’m writing – I soak up literary styles like the proverbial sponge, and I’d purely hate for anyone to think I was plagiarizing them. But after I’d been writing for a year or so, I realized I was having serious withdrawal symptoms, so I started (in my copious spare time, cough cough) reading contemporary m/m. And I found out that I’m pretty safe with that. But I still don’t dare go near paranormal. So I guess you’ll have to tell me how I differ from other paranormal/urban fantasy m/m writers!

Why do I write what I do? Oh, wow. Let’s see… I got back into writing after about 30 years away, role-play writing on Facebook, just for fun. Strictly m/f, because those were the authors I was reading at the time, and I honestly didn’t think I could write m/m. I’m a stickler for accuracy, and for fairly obvious reasons, both anatomical and social, I didn’t think I had it in me to write m/m. But a dear friend begged to differ, and begged me to try. So as a surprise for her, I found a writing partner and gave it a shot. And I’ve never looked back. And it’s funny – another dear friend of mine, the only gay man I could even think of asking to, um, fact-check my first book, read the first few chapters, and his first comment was “Who are you? – have you been a gay man in drag for the last 20 years and you just never told me?” And there are days when that’s very much what it feels like. Writing m/m is a continuous voyage of self-discovery, and I love every minute of it. And I love the community I’m part of, too.

How does my writing process work? Saving the hardest part for last. (Incidentally, in her blog, Susan posted a picture of her lovely writing nook at this point. I’m not going to do that, because I’m too busy trying to write to evade the men in white coats with butterfly nets who would be descending on me in hordes.)
I usually get story ideas in one of two ways. Most often, I’ll hear characters talking to me before anything else. (I am, incidentally, a firm believer in muses, even if I’ve never gotten a good clear look at my own.) Once I know the characters, I start trying to work out what it was that made them who they are, or what got them to the point they’re trying to tell me about. That’s their story. So far, my characters have been kind to me for the most part, and have told me stories that fit into either my Fae stories or my Gille Dubh stories. I don’t have nearly as much time to write as I’d like, and if I had a bunch of unruly guys trying to tell me stories in a half-dozen worlds at once, I think I might have to be sedated.
Sometimes, though, it’s the story idea that comes to me first. And then I have to work backwards from there, to figure out who would be telling that particular story, and how they got involved in it. That’s the case with the short story I want to start after I finish Blowing Smoke – I was given the premise of “Christmas outside the United States”. And at a panel I was on at RainbowCon, the idea came up of doing a benefit anthology of HEA m/m stories set in Russia and the Ukraine, and the two ideas merged perfectly. Like chocolate and peanut butter. Only including a hot wolf shifter, which is a trope I’m pretty sure never came up in the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercials. Unfortunately.
The actual “writing it down” part of the process is fairly straightforward. I’m mostly a pantser, but I’ll usually outline the first five or six chapters of a book, very generally. Maybe a paragraph per chapter, sometimes just a sentence. By the time I’m on four or five, the next four or five have usually come to me, so I add them in. A few more chapters, and I’m ready to fill in the rest of the book. Though the outline of the last third of the book or so is never set in stone, because later chapters tend to calve off new chapters I hadn’t planned on. And in Blowing Smoke, I’m encountering a new phenomenon (new to me, anyway) – usually, my chapters are each told from a single point of view. There are unquestionably writers who can do head-hopping and not be confusing, but I’m not one of them. But the later chapters in Blowing Smoke are breaking up into scenes, each scene with a different POV character. We’ll see how that works out…
And now I turn you over to my fellow hoppers, my partners in crime, my willing victims- er, dear friends. (A number of whom are, I think, still either at or recovering from RT2014, so it may be a little while before their posts are up!) Angel Martinez, Dean Pace-Frech, Leta Blake, Nicole Dennis, Pamela Pelaam-One, you’re up!

 

 

Welcome to my stop on the Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia! May 17th is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia – find out all about it, including all the events going on all over the world, at http://dayagainsthomophobia.org/.

HopBadge

The Hop doesn’t end today, though! The HAHAT is here until late in the day on May 27th. And if you comment at the end of this post, with your e-mail address included (even if you know darn well I have it already *winks*) two things will happen. One, you will be entered in a drawing to win your choice of any of my books (listed off to the right, I’ve finally learned to put badges on my Web site, I’m so proud of myself….) And two – for everyone who posts, I’ll contribute a dollar to the Ali Forney Center in New York City (http://www.aliforneycenter.org/), a safe space for homeless LGBTQ youth. (Heck, if you’re the drawing winner and you already have all my books, I’ll add the value of the book to the donation!) I’ll put up a post on the 28th, announcing the winner. I’ll also e-mail the winner, so don’t forget to include your address.
And, to get you back to the main post for the hop when you’re done here, to find all the other terrific authors who are participating – http://hopagainsthomophobia.blogspot.com.
Now, to the point. The reason we’re all here.
I’ve been struggling with writing this post. I really have. Trying to find something meaningful to say, to people who have probably experienced a lot more trauma because of other people’s misunderstandings and phobias and hatred than I ever will. (Well, okay, genderfluidity has contributed to the loss of a couple of marriages and any kind of meaningful sex life, and the one date I’ve been on since my last divorce couldn’t handle a book cover with a shirtless guy on it, but still, that’s small potatoes.)
Finally, though, it dawned on me. I’m a writer. That’s what I do, that’s how I let what’s inside of me out. So I’m going to share a bit from one of my books. In Heart of the Oak, Trevor, an American architect on holiday on the Isle of Skye. He’s met a tree spirit, a Gille Dubh, or Dark One, named Darach. At this point in the story, they’ve been lovers, but Trevor has seen something about Darach, something so alien, non-human, that he’s terrified. He’s running. He’s on the bus back to Glasgow, ending his holiday early, haunted by his dreams. And Maggie is the grandmotherly bartender he met at a pub several nights before. I’m going to let the two of them say what I think needs saying.

 

“Trevor? Lad?”
There was a hand on Trevor’s shoulder. He woke with a start, tears streaming down his face and his breath catching.
In the seat beside him sat Maggie, the bartender from the Broadford Hotel, regarding him with a grandmother’s concern. “Is everything a’richt, lad? I thought I saw ye get on th’ bus in Kyle, but ye were gone sae quickly, I wasnae sure.”
Trevor would have laughed, if the last remnant of the dream in his memory had left any laughter in him. “No, Maggie, not really. But I’m glad you’re here, I didn’t mean to run out on my bar tab.” He shifted his weight to enable him to get at his wallet.
Maggie laid a firm hand on his arm. “Money is th’ furthest thing from my mind, this maement.” Her brows went up and didn’t start to lower until he eased his hand away from his pocket. “Guid lad. Now, what has ye in such a state? Surely ye werena planning tae leave sae soon?”
His throat went tight all over again and he had to cough before he could answer. “I wasn’t, no. But I have to.”
“Naething’s wrong tae hame, I hope?”
Only everything. “No. Thanks. I just have to leave.”
Blue eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. “Have to?”
Trevor nodded miserably. His head fell back against the seat. He closed his eyes for the space of a deep breath. Any longer and the dream started crowding back into his mind again, Darach pacing the bounds of what had become a prison.
“Wi’ ye humor an auld woman, and let me tell ye a bit story?” Her voice was oddly gentle, her gaze a little less piercing.
“Sure.” Maybe hearing a voice that wasn’t leaves and wind would help chase the dream away.
“Nae sae much a story as a memory.” Maggie smiled and the lines around her eyes creased and deepened, but it was an unreadable smile even so. “Ye remind me of anither lad, years ago. Near enough your age, he was, but a ginger. Though he hated tae be called such.” She laughed softly, nearly inaudible over the motor. “He was a sweet lad and a gentle one, wi’ no taste for the tales of gingers stealing souls or haein’ none themselves, e’en in jest.”
Trevor managed a little smile and the old woman nodded as if encouraged, even as her own smile faded.
“A sweet lad he was, but one who ever kept himself to himself. Feared tae be known for wha’ he was. For back in that day, ’twas few there were on this island who would hae left him untroubled had they known.”
Oh, Christ, she knows. “Is it any different now?”
“Among the young, aye. And those of us wi’ the sight tae see past the ends of our own noses, and our own pasts. But this was monie a year ago, and folk were nae sae forgiving as a’ that.” Just for a moment, Maggie’s lips tightened into a thin line. “And this lad, his life was unco’ lonely, and full of the thoughtless cruelty of others, who would speak athout knowing hae they wounded him. Until he fell in love.”
“Why would that remind you of me? No offense,” Trevor added hastily, wishing he could take back the edge to his words.
Maggie completely ignored the interruption. “For years, he kept that love close tae his chest. For ’twas a lad he’d grown up with who took his heart, and he kenned that tae speak it would be his ruin. But the day came when the other lad was tae be wed.
The night before the day, a group o’ them went up tae Portree. For a celebration.”
A chill rippled down Trevor’s spine. “What happened?”
“I dinna ken.” Blue eyes welled up with tears. “But he was pale and drawn, at the wedding and left airlie. And when I came tae hame masel’, that night, ’twas I wha’ found my own son hanging from th’ shower head, and it too late to do aught.”
“Dear God.” Trevor reached out and rested a hand on Maggie’s, where it was clenched into a fist in her lap. “I’m so sorry.”
Maggie shook her head, wiping at her eyes with her free hand. “Dinna be sorry. Only keep your own feet off that path.”
“But I—”
“Follow your heart, Trevor, lad. Dinna hide from it. And for the guid God’s sake, dinna run from it.”
Trevor wanted to close his eyes but Maggie’s wouldn’t let him. “Thank you.” No sound came out but Maggie nodded as if she’d heard, patted his hand gently and eased out of the seat beside his, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
He almost called her back. What if my heart has gone somewhere I don’t dare follow? he wanted to ask. Into another heart, the heart of an ancient oak.
But she was gone. He settled back in the seat, drawing a deep, unsteady breath, and closed his eyes. Deliberately, knowing what was coming.
Again he watched Darach in the moonlight, pacing. Seeking. Alone. So unlike the memory of what had actually happened, the light in the tree spirit’s eyes at the sight of Trevor. The light had stayed there, too. All through their lovemaking. Both times. He came back to life, he rediscovered what it was to be alive.
But Darach hadn’t known the full joy of that life until he shared it. With me.
The light had left those beautiful eyes, though. It’s not what you did, it’s what you are. Dear God, had he been that afraid? Had he really been so cruel? To someone who had given him his heart?
Someone he needed. Someone he loved.
Awkwardly Trevor levered himself out of the pair of high-backed seats. Across the aisle, Maggie caught his eye and nodded. He nodded back, then made his way up the aisle for a brief and urgent conversation with the driver.
Minutes later he found himself at the side of the road, cursing the lack of reception on his phone as the bus rumbled off. He hefted his bags, walked a hundred yards or so up the road, set them down and tried again. He had to reach the bus company, warn them to expect an unscheduled roadside pickup.
He needed to get home.

Both Heart of the Oak and Tempted from the Oak have moms in small but important roles.  Maggie, in Heart, isn’t Trevor’s mother, but she shares a mother’s story that’s such an important plot point I don’t want to give it away here. *laughing* And Maura Cross, Gavin’s mom, from Tempted, tries to get hold of Gavin at just the wrong time — when Jeremy’s given him notice to get out of their apartment, just before Christmas, in a frigid, snowy Minneapolis winter (which I wrote long before it became apparent just how frigid and snowy our Minneapolis winter was going to be this year!). And Maura, like pretty much all of us moms, just wants to make things all right for her son…

So here’s the beginning of Chapter Twelve, from Tempted from the Oak. With love to all the moms out there…

GavinAustinSanderson5

Chapter Twelve

“He’s only letting you stay one more week and you still haven’t found a place to live?”
Why can’t a phone ever lose signal when I want it to? Gavin grimaced. He could always fake it, sure, but as far as he was concerned, there were some things a guy just never did to his mother. No matter how tempting the idea was. “Yeah, that’s about it, Mom.”
At least she wasn’t giving him crap for his lousy taste in men. She’d taken care of that in the first ten minutes of this phone call from hell. He’d had his phone muted at work and when his mother hadn’t been able to get hold of him, she’d called the other number he’d given her—the one he’d forgotten he gave her. The apartment’s number. Jeremy’s number. And the son of a bitch had told his mother that he, Gavin, was moving out, but wasn’t sure where he was going. Exactly the information he’d been very carefully keeping to himself because he hadn’t wanted to have the conversation he was presently having.
Still, it could be worse. She could have found out that he’d almost fallen in love with a tree spirit. Almost.
“You should come home, sweetie.”
Of course I should.
The bus crept forward another few feet. It wasn’t that there was a lot of traffic, not at six o’clock on Christmas Eve, when anyone with anything better to do than drive or ride a bus home from work was undoubtedly doing it. But the near-blizzard had brought everything more or less to a standstill. He kept clearing a circle in the frost riming the window, trying to see where he was and the circle kept freezing back over before he could see much of anything other than his own reflection. Which he barely recognized, swathed in every scarf and hat and sweater he’d been able to come up with before leaving the apartment this morning.
“I’d have to rent a car, Mom. I have too much stuff to bring home on a plane.” Shit, he was calling Seattle “home” again. Had he already given up? “I can’t afford that.”
“I’ll send you the money.”
“No, Mom—”
“Don’t you ‘no, Mom’ me.” Her tone was light, but Gavin knew from experience that Maura Cross was deadly serious about anything affecting the well-being of any of her children. And when his mother was deadly serious, nothing opposing her stood a chance. “You hate your job—you’ve told me so I don’t know how many times. You don’t have any reason to stay in that godforsaken glacier now that Mr. Wonderful has turned into Mr. Self-Absorbed-Head-Up-His-Ass.”
Gavin choked a little. “Mom, you’re not supposed to talk like that.”
“Someone hurts my baby, I’ll talk however I want to.”
“I love you, Mom.” Which was the truth and which was what made this whole conversation truly miserable. He loved his mom, his mom loved him, his mom wanted nothing more than for him to be happy. But his mom couldn’t understand what made him happy. She’d never understood his dream of working at the Guthrie or how much it had meant to him to move to the city where he might be able to make his dream come true. And she would sure as hell never understand his hopeless longing for the other dream he’d left behind in what he was pretty sure was the Scottish Highlands.
How could she, when he didn’t?
“I love you, too. Now promise me you won’t do anything stupid.”
“Mom, I haven’t—”
“And that you’ll be home for New Year’s. I’ll have the champagne iced.”
God damn it. His throat was squeezed tight and his eyes were burning. It was time. He needed to give up his dream—both his dreams—because that was all they would ever be. Dreams. And he had to get on with his life. “All right, Mom.”
“Thank you, sweetie. That’s the best Christmas present you could have given me.”
Gavin clenched his teeth. He should be relieved. Should feel lighter, without the burden of needing to find a place to live. Should be overjoyed at the thought of being able to wish Jeremy’s new boyfriend luck on his way out the door.
To hell with how he should be feeling. He reached up and yanked the cord to signal a stop. “Mom, I’m at my stop. I have to put the phone away. I’ll call you later. Merry Christmas.” Fortunately, he touched off the phone before she could hear how his voice caught on those last words. There was no way he was at his stop but he didn’t care. Wherever he was, he could probably walk back to the apartment faster than the bus was moving. Getting numb would just be a bonus.
Jesus, listen to me, I’m turning into an honest-to-God drama queen. Complete with M.F.A. Gavin shook his head, pulling out his gloves and tucking his phone into the empty pocket as the bus came to a stop.
“Merry Christmas,” the driver called out down the aisle of the nearly empty bus as he made his way down the steps to the back door of the bus.
Minnesota Nice. “Same to you.” He pushed the door open and stepped down into the street.
A blast of snow-laden wind hit him in the face, just as he went into a bank left by a snowplow almost up to his knees. Maybe this was a bad idea. Behind him, he heard the bus pull away from the curb, or the part of the street that was as close to the curb as anything with four wheels and an engine would be able to get for a while.
Well, shit. Gavin pulled his scarf up from where it had fallen while he sat in the comparatively warm bus. He looked around, making his way to the sidewalk and trying to get his bearings as he wound the wool more tightly around his face. How do people get used to this?
Not his problem anymore.
The unmistakable sound of church bells was muffled by snow and wind. He recognized them, the bells of St. Mark’s Cathedral, probably ringing for a Christmas Eve service. He’d disembarked at the Loring Park exit. If he were able to see at all through the blinding snow, he’d see the tree he never wanted to see again.
Thank God for blizzards then. The words hurt. He wanted them to hurt. That was how a person learned, right? By avoiding pain. Maybe next time he wouldn’t be such an idiot. Snow stung his eyelids, the tops of his cheeks where the scarf left them exposed.
He pulled his knitted hat down further until it nearly met the top edge of the scarf.
Gavin…?
Faintly, the whisper of leaves and an impossible hint of moonlight.
Shielding his eyes, Gavin started to look in the direction of the old oak, then caught himself. Even a drama queen knows better than to go chasing off after his own wishful thinking during a blizzard.
Wishful?
Hell, yes. He wished. He was never going to learn.
Gavin…please.
Gavin lurched aside to avoid a very determined older woman, barreling down the middle of the sidewalk like a wool-clad, fur-hatted tank.
Cold.
The muted clamor of the bells was starting to subside. Gavin missed the noise. It helped. Though it apparently wasn’t loud enough to drown out an imagination desperate to hear Tearlach’s whisper one last time.
Sleepy
No one had shoveled the walkways through the park since the storm started. It didn’t matter. He was being drawn to the source of that last faint, despairing sigh as fast as he could plow through the accumulated snow.
Faster, even. He stumbled, going to hands and knees in the snow when he stepped off the paved path. His chest heaved, drawing in great lungfuls of burning-cold air. He fought down a cough, trying to listen.
Nothing. No sound except the blowing snow, the whipping wind that sounded nothing like a lover.
He staggered upright, covered with snow now, brushing at himself as he trudged forward. His feet were burning in a way that suggested they were going to be completely numb before long and his eyelashes kept trying to freeze stuck together. Where the hell is the goddamn tree? The blizzard was changing everything. Every shape, every sound, every breath. Nothing looked familiar in what little light there was. Jesus, if I’m not careful I’m going to go too far and end up in the lake.
In the end he tripped over what he was looking for, going face first into the snow. Tearlach was curled in on himself, knees drawn up against his chest, arms wrapped around his shins, covered with a coating of snow that looked like it had only been knocked off when Gavin stumbled over him. He wasn’t moving. And it didn’t look like the snow was melting on him.
Cursing, Gavin struggled to his knees, peeled off his gloves and started shucking his coat. “Tearlach!” He wrapped the coat around the motionless spirit, then manhandled Tearlach awkwardly across his lap, holding him as close as he could with one arm while reaching for his phone. Which wasn’t in his pocket. Son of a bitch. No doubt it was out there in the snow, where he had fallen.
Let me sleep

Tempted From the Oak Cover

 

It’s release day for TEMPTED FROM THE OAK (Tales of the Grove #2)! The Tales of the Grove tell the stories of the Gille Dubh, or Dark Men, a race of male tree spirits native to Scotland. The Gille Dubh and their daragin, the sentient oak trees in which they live, were thought to have died out thousands of years ago, but one by one (two by two, actually), the Gille Dubh and their daragin are reawakening.

 

In celebration of Tearlach and Gavin, please enjoy Chapter Two from TEMPTED FROM THE OAK!

 

 

 

Gavin turned up the collar of his leather jacket as he walked and tugged his hat down around his ears then plunged his hands back into the pockets as deep as they’d go. Which wasn’t nearly deep enough. Fortunately it wasn’t all that windy anymore and the snow they’d been predicting all day was apparently going to hold off long enough for him to get home, at least.
Home. He tried not to wince as he trudged along the path through the park in the darkness, new snow crunching under his thrift-store boots. He had a home for a few more days, at least. Jeremy hadn’t wanted to kick him out at Christmastime. Sleeping on the couch, though, didn’t feel much like any kind of home he’d ever heard of. Especially not with a tipsy ex-boyfriend and his equally tipsy new boyfriend tiptoeing past him in the middle of the night, trying to make it to the bedroom without turning on the lights.
It’s my own damn fault. Gavin wondered how people ever managed to take comfort in the thought that they’d brought their troubles on themselves. Maybe that was the kind of thing people only did in books. The notion—the entirely true notion, unfortunately—that he was wholly responsible for his current predicament left him feeling nauseous rather than comforted.
He’d been an idiot. The ink hadn’t even been dry on his diploma—Gavin Cross, M.F.A. in Scenic Design—when he’d met Jeremy at a performance at the Bathhouse Theater. He’d thought it was kismet, meeting a hot and available guy who just happened to be looking for a roommate in the same city as the Guthrie Theater, the very place he’d had his heart set on working ever since his undergraduate days.
Maybe it had actually been kismet. But just because something was fated to happen didn’t mean it was a good idea. Moving halfway across the country and moving in with a guy with the emotional maturity of Miley Cyrus had been a spectacularly bad idea. One step closer to his dream, sure, but maybe he wasn’t supposed to be getting closer to that dream just yet. Or ever for that matter. Now here he was—four days before Christmas—looking at ringing in the New Year sleeping on the street in the middle of a Minnesota winter unless one of the leads he’d found on Craigslist surprised the hell out of him by calling him back.
You, my boy, are a fucking idiot. Which was news to absolutely no one, least of all to the fucking idiot himself. Gavin had a long and ignoble history of deciding he “ought to” be in love with someone for whatever reason—because everyone said a guy was perfect for him, because a guy had smiled at him when he was having a bad day or because a guy offered him half a bed in the city of his dreams and ambitions—and then making himself do what he “ought” to do. It was kind of like crushing except that a crush was something mindless and whatever it was he did, he always did it to himself with his eyes wide open. Which broke his heart every time. And this time, it had also brought him halfway across the country to a deep freeze in which he knew essentially no one and committed him to a future with a man who saw him as a temporary decoration rather than a permanent fixture.
You could always go home, you know. Gavin hated the sensible voice in the back of his head with a passion. It’s not like you stand a chance at the Guthrie, not for years yet. Why hang around here and let the man you convinced yourself you loved treat you like shit when your only reason to stay is a pipe dream?
Well, at least the being-treated-like-shit part was getting taken care of.

Little spots of cold stung his face. Great, the snow decided not to wait. There was already a good foot of it on the ground, more than he’d ever seen in one place at one time before. And Jeremy had said earlier in the month, when the two of them were still on speaking terms, that Mother Nature was just getting warmed up. Mother Nature can take this particular twelve inches and she can shove it where
Gavin blinked, then squinted. Loring Lake was up ahead on his left. And— impossible on this overcast night—a huge oak tree on the shore was bathed in the cool white of moonlight.
A spotlight? Gavin studied the tree and the ground around it. But there was no light source, no reason for there to be one—and judging from the shadows, the light was coming from above. The way moonlight was supposed to.
Bemused, he did a quick three-sixty. He hadn’t seen many people out tonight to begin with—apparently, even hardy Minnesotans preferred to spend the longest night of the year indoors. This end of Loring Park was nearly deserted, but there were a few other people on the paths and not one of them seemed to be paying any attention to the odd phenomenon, despite the way the clear light bathing the tree made it stand out from the darkness around it.
Gavin shrugged. It’s not like I’m in a huge hurry to get home. Damn, there was that word again.
As soon as he stepped off the path, the snow was over the tops of his boots. It clung to his jeans and fell into his boots, one soft clump after another as he slogged through the unmarked snow. He hardly noticed, though. His gaze was fixed on the tree.
That’s odd. The moonlight—if that’s what it was—cast no shadows anywhere but under the tree itself. He was almost to the overhanging boughs now and glanced up— having a snow-covered branch dump its load down the back of his neck a couple of weeks ago had been enough for him.
The snow on the branches was melting.

Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.

Gavin stepped into the circle of moonlight.

He was still under an oak tree. A completely different oak tree, one growing out of bare and rocky soil, its roots visible in places. The sounds of an urban park, cars and planes and dogs barking, were gone, replaced by a profound silence. Only the moonlight was the same, pouring down through the branches and dappling the ground.
Gavin spun around to look back the way he’d come. There was no sign of snow or park or lighted walking path. Only darkness and a sense of something massive, looming, blotting out the moonlight. Something that definitely hadn’t been there a few seconds ago. The lake was gone too. Where it had been was a rocky slope scattered with patches of scrub grass. Down the slope, a few hundred yards or so, he could make out water, gleaming in the clear white light. And the stars were glorious.
Shouldn’t I be panicking? Gavin looked past the tree, down toward the water. I’m not. Not yet, anyway. Maybe I would, if this were even a little less impossible. As his eyes adjusted to moonlight and starlight, he could make out shadows rising around the lake. Great hills or small mountains, their tops mostly bare, pale stone. Chances were the presence he could still feel at his back was another one. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Minneapolis anymore.
Wherever he was, it was warmer than Loring Park had been. The leather jacket was still a good idea but he pulled off his knit cap and stuffed it into a pocket, running his hand idly over the short dark fuzz the barber had left him yesterday. Jeremy liked his hair long. Which was a reason for a buzz cut if he’d ever heard one.
Maybe I’m dreaming. Though if he was, why he’d started dreaming in the middle of an after-work stroll through the park was an open question. Unless the whole day had been a dream. Surely, though, there were better things to dream about than spending six hours explaining the difference between a tall, a grande and a venti. Still, dreaming was the only explanation he could come up with off the top of his head that didn’t somehow involve total insanity on his part.
Gavin tipped his head back, looking up through the branches and the sparse leaves into the impossibly beautiful night sky. If it was a dream he’d wake soon enough. Hopefully not when Jeremy or his Quentin or Benton or whatever the hell his name is trips over me again.
He shook his head. There was no place, no time for idle thoughts here, or fear, or nursing a grudge. It was just too damn beautiful. Stark, silent and peaceful. Exactly what he needed.
The space around the oak was a little more grassy, a little less rocky. Gavin slid down the trunk to sit. He’d almost touched down when he lurched to one side, as a rock rolled out from under the heel of his waterlogged boot. The heel of his hand skidded off more stones as he caught himself and he felt the slam all the way up to his shoulder as he finally fell against a gnarled tree root.
Cursing under his breath, he fell back against the trunk of the tree and rolled his shoulder, shook out his hand. Bleeding. Hell. But it wasn’t the ache or the scrape he minded so much as the broken spell.
“Damn it.” His voice sounded much too loud in the stillness and he lowered it to a murmur. “No peace even in my dreams.”
The crown of the oak tossed as if in a wind.

But there was no wind.
Peace is here. Leaf on leaf, the tree whispered to him. Wait for it.

 

 

For the whole story, check out:  http://www.amazon.com/Tempted-From-Oak-Rory-Coileain-ebook/dp/B00J8N6SY2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1396035509&sr=8-1&keywords=Tempted+from+the+Oak+Rory+Ni+Coileain

 

And the story begins with HEART OF THE OAK (Tales of the Grove #1):  http://www.amazon.com/Heart-Oak-Boys-Will-Do-ebook/dp/B00FBF4XIY/ref=pd_rhf_dp_p_d_2

Firestorm for Kindle — http://www.amazon.com/Firestorm-Soulshares-Rory-Ni-Coileain-ebook/dp/B00IOWB2BW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1393540924&sr=1-1&keywords=rory+ni+coileain

Firestorm for Kindle, UK — http://www.amazon.co.uk/Firestorm-Soulshares-Rory-Ni-Coileain-ebook/dp/B00IOWB2BW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1393543044&sr=1-1&keywords=rory+ni+coileain

Firestorm for Nook — http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/firestorm-rory-ni-coileain/1118761114?ean=2940149592579

Firestorm for Kobo — http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/firestorm-45

Firestorm, Ravenous Romance — http://ravenousromance.com/fantastica/firestorm-soulshares-number-iv.php?keyword=firestorm&search_by=all

Firestorm, All Romance eBooks — https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-firestorm-1436511-340.html

Firestorm, Bookstrand — http://www.bookstrand.com/firestorm-3

Heart of the Oak for Kindle — http://www.amazon.com/Heart-Oak-Boys-Will-ebook/dp/B00FBF4XIY/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1380206135&sr=1-4&keywords=Heart+of+the+Oak

 

Heart of the Oak for Nook — http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/heart-of-the-oak-rory-ni-coileain/1116996454?ean=9781419948145

Heart of the Oak for Kobo — http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/heart-of-the-oak

Heart of the Oak, All Romance eBooks — https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-heartoftheoak-1374595-340.html

 

Deep Plunge for Kindle (US) — http://www.amazon.com/Deep-Plunge-SoulShares-ebook/dp/B00EV7OAYU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377825393&sr=1-1&keywords=Deep+Plunge+Rory+Ni+Coileain

Deep Plunge, trade paperback, Amazon — http://www.amazon.com/Deep-Plunge-SoulShares-Number-III/dp/1607779498/ref=la_B009M8XQP2_1_1_title_0_main?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1394317628&sr=1-1

Deep Plunge, Ravenous Romance — http://www.ravenousromance.com/fantastica/deep-plunge-soulshares-number-iii.php

Deep Plunge, All Romance eBooks — https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-deepplunge-1271533-145.html

Deep Plunge, Barnes & Noble (Nook) — http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/deep-plunge-rory-ni-coileain/1116795221?ean=2940148572602

Deep Plunge, Kobo — http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/deep-plunge

Deep Plunge for Kindle (UK) — http://www.amazon.co.uk/Deep-Plunge-SoulShares-ebook/dp/B00EV7OAYU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378063082&sr=1-1&keywords=Deep+Plunge+Rory+Ni+Coileain

 

Gale Force for Kindle (US) — http://www.amazon.com/Gale-Force-Soulshares-ebook/dp/B00BSEDKB8/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1363476525&sr=8-3&keywords=Gale+Force

Gale Force for Kindle (UK) — http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gale-Force-Soulshares-ebook/dp/B00BSEDKB8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363112251&sr=8-1

Gale Force, trade paperback, Amazon — http://www.amazon.com/Gale-Force-Soulshares-Volume-2/dp/160777934X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375935343&sr=8-1&keywords=Gale+Force+Rory+Ni+Coileain

Gale Force, Ravenous Romance — http://www.ravenousromance.com/fantastica/gale-force.php

Gale Force, All Romance eBooks — https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-hardasstone-977359-143.html

Gale Force, Barnes & Noble (Nook) — http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/gale-force-rory-ni-coileain/1114819137?ean=2940016296111

Gale Force, Kobo — http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/Gale-Force/book-Lcg0U_igUUyXOsufiKIvPQ/page1.html?s=GakQctslHkqvHH3JsFY8JQ&r=3

Gale Force, Angus & Robertson (Australia!) — http://www.angusrobertson.com.au/ebook/gale-force/40329536/

Gale Force, Amazon (Kindle) Germany — http://www.amazon.de/Gale-Force-Soulshares-ebook/dp/B00BSEDKB8

 

Hard as Stone for Kindle — http://www.amazon.com/Hard-as-Stone-ebook/dp/B009SX91JQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1355285138&sr=8-1&keywords=hard+as+stone+rory+ni+coileain

Hard as Stone, trade paperback, Amazon — http://www.amazon.com/Hard-as-Stone-Rory-Coileain/dp/1607779293/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1363476804&sr=1-1&keywords=hard+as+stone+rory+ni+coileain

Hard as Stone for Nook — http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hard-as-stone-rory-ni-coileain/1113526804?ean=2940015530766

Hard as Stone, Kobo — http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/Hard-As-Stone/book-06D0J5iMoEOk2FwhYFWLnQ/page1.html?s=1sR8MxtCREeacsxkHGm4gQ&r=2

Hard as Stone at Ravenous Romance’s Web site — http://www.ravenousromance.com/fantastica/hard-as-stone.php

Hard as Stone at Fictionwise — http://www.fictionwise.com/ebooks/b135271/Hard-as-Stone/Rory-Ni-Coileain/?si=0

 

Dangerous Curves (anthology) for Kindle (writing as Susan Swann) — http://www.amazon.com/Dangerous-Curves-Stories-Voluptuous-ebook/dp/B007ZE2H2S/ref=sr_1_18?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1355285356&sr=1-18&keywords=Dangerous+Curves

Christmas Eve on the Isle of Skye

As a Christmas gift to all of you… an original, unpublished Darach and Trevor story, looking in on them on the Christmas Eve after their Midsummer meeting.

                Darach is having trouble sitting still. Or sitting at all, really. Somehow he gives the impression of being a prisoner in his unaccustomed clothing, the outfit I’d picked up for him in town. As I watch from the kitchen doorway, he brushes his fingertips over the front of the shirt, tanned skin against white linen, hooks two of them in the collar behind the knot of his tie, just a shade darker than Christmas-green, and tugs.

                Am I supposed to feel as if I am being executed?

                I can’t help laughing. And I can see the change coming over his face at the sound. He keeps telling me how much he loves my laughter, can’t get enough of it. I pause for a kiss, and of course it isn’t a short peck on the cheek, before crossing to the far wall, to bend and flip the switch to turn on the lights on the little tree I’d found and cut.  Tiny lights, a few simple ornaments, and an ornate glass star, the darag’s gift. It had appeared under the oak tree one morning, without explanation from either the tree or my husband.

                Husband.

                “I’m sorry about the tie.” I slip my arms around Darach’s waist, and breathe in his scent, musk and woodsmoke. “I love you so much for being willing to do this for me.”

                I do this for her, even more than I do it for you.

                Sometimes he comes to me here in the cottage, and on some of those nights he wears a silk robe, but he does that mostly because he loves the feel of me removing it, and I love what happens to him when he feels silk against his skin. These clothes are meant to stay on for a while, though. Kind of a pity. But damn, he looks as fine dressed as naked, and I keep surprising myself with how much in love I am. Me. Who would ever have thought?

                 “I still love you for it.” I pull him closer, rocking my hips against his as he leans into me. Just a little, we can’t get too distracted with company coming, but enough to let him know his nearness is having the same effect on me it always does.

                Yet he tenses, a little. I can feel it. And that sensation saddens me, because it’s part of a loss of his innocence. I don’t avoid talking about the outside world with him, but neither do I bring it up any more often than necessary. But as little as we talk about it, he knows that the world he woke up in is almost nothing like the one he lost when the magick went away, and that it’s not a world likely to be kind to a magickal being most of it would refuse to believe in.

                I stroke his hair gently, urging his head down to rest on my shoulder, working my fingers into his unruly hair until I feel him relax against me. “It’s going to be all right.”

                I trust you. The whisper is faint, but resolute. You, and whoever you bring to me.

                Almost as if that were a cue, we hear the sound of a car engine. Darach hears it first, of course, he’s always the first to hear anything. But then I hear it too, an uneven drone that doesn’t sound much healthier than my old keep-the-hell-away-from-the-crazy-American-driver truck. We don’t break apart, though, not right away. The long nights of midwinter are a blessing, but that doesn’t mean we don’t fill those night hours  as full as we can. There’s something about knowing that we can’t touch at all during the daylight that makes the night precious. Not to mention the faint shadow of fear I still see in his dark, green-flecked eyes.

                Finally, though, the car grumbles to a stop next to the cottage, probably next to my truck, and we reluctantly step back from one another. The car door opens, closes. I exchange glances with Darach; while I don’t share his fears, it’s still a strange feeling, having an outsider within our perimeter. We’re isolated out here, him by necessity and me by choice, and I never would have imagined that a guy bred, born and raised in Manhattan would grow as attached to solitude as I have.

                Soft footsteps approach the door, but the knock that follows is firm. Which doesn’t surprise me. I give Darach a quick kiss on the cheek, squeeze his hand, and cross the little room to open the door. It’s never locked, not out here, and I pull it open.

                The woman standing on the flagstone step is bundled in a woolen coat, a little hat perched on top of her gray hair and a basket over her arm, its contents mostly covered with a cloth but flashing a flirtatious hint of shortbread.  And she gives me a kindly and delighted smile that makes me certain of my choice to invite her to share our Christmas Eve. She reaches up to hug me with the arm that isn’t holding the basket, and I return the hug one-armed while reaching to help her with the basket.

                And stop, startled, as Darach steps in and slides the basket down Maggie’s arm. She’s startled too, and turns, and as they each hold on to the almost-forgotten basket with one hand,  for a moment all she can do is stand and stare.

                I don’t blame her, he still has that effect on me at least twice a night. “Maggie, this is my husband, Darach. Darach, this is Maggie.” The lady who saved me from myself and my own stupidity, when I was about to run away from the most incredible thing that had ever happened to me. But, then, Darach knows that. I told him about that near-disastrous bus ride to Kyle of Lochalsh, and what Maggie did for me.

                The two of them look at each other, with almost identical studying expressions, and I wonder which will be the first to speak.

                Darach, as usual, surprises me. “I’m pleased tae meet ye at last, Maggie.” He’s been learning English slowly – he prefers his own language of wind and moonlight and whispers. Which is beautiful , but God, when he speaks in that deep voice of his, with the accent he must have picked up from the Scots of two thousand years before, I go weak in the knees. Better not do that now, though.

                Maggie’s eyes go wide at the sound of his voice, and she looks him up and down quickly, taking in the dark wild hair, tanned skin against white linen, tapered torso and lean hips and dark trousers. And bare feet. We’ve never been able to find shoes he can stand for more than a minute.

                Her gaze travels back up to his face, and I can see the pounding of his pulse in his throat. And then she reaches up, and cups his cheek in her hand. “Husband, is it?” Her smile trembles a little.

                “Aye, handfasted at Lammas, we were.”  Darach eyes Maggie uncertainly, but his hand comes up to cover hers.

                She turns to me, and blinks quickly to clear away tears before her smile blossoms.  “I was i’ the right, then, lad, or nearly so? ‘Twasn’t the land calling to ye, but someone very close tae th’ land. Close kin.”  She goes up on her toes a little, to look more closely at Darach.

                And he returns the gaze, steady now, no hint of fear, only a lively curiosity. This one sees, he whispers to me.

                Maggie pats Darach’s cheek, her eyes twinkling. “Each of ye a blessing tae th’ other.”

                My “He is” crosses with Darach’s “That he is.”

                And we all laugh, and walk to the kitchen, to have Maggie’s amazing and sinful shortbread and Drambuie. Darach’s first Christmas, and my merriest.

If you haven’t yet read Darach and Trevor’s story, you can find it here:  http://www.amazon.com/Heart-Oak-Boys-Will-ebook/dp/B00FBF4XIY/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1380206135&sr=1-4&keywords=Heart+of+the+Oak

And, as the Scots would say, Nollaig chridheil! — Merry Christmas!

The first in my new series of novellas (Tales of the Grove), Heart of the Oak, will be released by Ellora’s Cave in early December. And I’ve just started work on the second, Tempted from the Oak. Here’s the introduction — enjoy!

            Tearlach moved, restlessly, in darkness and the embrace of the darag.

            His oak, he knew, would have been happy, in the way of its kind, to set him free. Free to roam the rocky face of A’Chailleach, as far as the magick allowed; free to make his way down to the small loch down the slope, cup the chill water in a hand of flesh and blood and wood, ease a thirst two thousand years in the making.

            Two thousand years, and more, since he had ceased to exist as anything other than a faint memory in wood robbed of its magick. Somehow the darag had counted the seasons, the years. Or it had been told, by a voice Tearlach could no longer hear, another darag, awakened like his own.

            The Gille Dubh would have wept into the silence, had he but eyes. He had never been closed off from his darag before. He had always known the ancient tree’s thoughts, as it knew his.

            No longer.

            Tearlach and his darag were one, and yet they were not. Gille Dubh and oak were of one essence, yet they were separate beings. In the normal way of things, a spirit and his tree shared their substance by day, and separated by night, to remember their unique selfness, and in remembering it, to make it be what was. Without the nightly separation, in time the Gille Dubh and the darag would become one strange, living, breathing, yet barked and root-bound being.

            But Tearlach could not separate himself. He dared not. And his heart was breaking, for his darag was walling him off, a last desperate act of defense, both of him, and of itself. Trying to save them both, by cutting them off, one from the other.

            When the magick was stolen from them–from all the creatures who depended on it for life, from the very world itself–he had been in the act of emerging from the darag, into a moonlit night. Laughing with delight–he remembered it clearly, it had been less than a moon ago, for him–at the sight of a handsome human clansman, waiting for him with usquebaugh and roasted mutton and the promise of a night of pleasures.

            He had been half emerged from the darag, his face feeling the cool night breeze and a hand reaching out for the hammered silver cup the human had brought to honor their pleasure, when all the essence of what he was, was drained away. He shuddered now, remembering. For an instant that had lasted forever, he’d known what was happening to him, to his darag. He had felt himself die, and known his death.

            He would leave the darag, now, if he could. But he dared not.

            Not to save both their lives.