Friday, June 24, 2011

#FridayFlash - Apples

The old man shuffled through the apple orchard. Branches intermingled overhead, muting the sunlight, creating a verdant world beneath. Fall was coming, and the first of the rosy fruits were ready.

Smoke and death were carried on the autumn breeze.

He stopped beneath the oldest tree. The original tree, from which all others had been grown. The ancient bole was bigger than two men could wrap their arms around, the bark gnarled and weathered. Branches extended in every direction, strong and thick with leaves. For hundreds of years, this tree had been cared for by his family.

And now war threatened to destroy a thing of beauty.

Tears filled his eyes, and he rested a palsied hand over the crest carved in the bard. "I can't save you this time." Grief choked him, and he hung his head.

"Why do you cry?" a young woman asked.

His head snapped up and his heart raced. Spry even in his eighth decade, the apple farmer looked around with wide eyes. The women folk had evacuated months ago. "Who are you?" Had someone's granddaughter gotten lost?

She stepped around the mother tree, a young woman dressed all in pale leather. Her voice had been that of a girl, but she looked like a woman grown; round hips and full breats, long limbs and knowing eyes. She cocked her head, amber hair cascading around broad shoulders. "Kwyneth."

Her name was foreign and exotic, matching her pointed ears and uplifted gold eyes. Joy filled him as he gazed at her, but the dread would not release him. "Kwyneth, these are not safe lands."

"Is that why you cry?" She took several steps closer, barefoot, head still cocked.

"War comes." He frowned, legs trembling from the excitement. "Armies and raping and pillaging. Hadn't you heard?"

Understanding crossed Kwyneth's face. "That's why so many are gathered near my lair." Her voice was soft as she glanced over her shoulder.

"You live around here?" Never in his life had he heard of such a strange woman living in the region. The farmers were too insular for her to remain unnoticed.

Kwyneth nodded once, then turned her attention to the crest on the progenitor tree. "I've been asleep for a very long time. Those ruffians woke me." Sharp nails dug into the bark. "And they want to burn my orchard. My apples." Her voice became a growl.

"You're..." His eyes went wide, voice dying in his throat. The name had been lost to the ages, but his family was under geas to protect this apple tree for a great dragon queen. They were to keep the fruit alive and healthy for her return, for she loved the taste of apple.

Golden eyes glittered as she stared over her shoulder. "Yes, little human." Sharp teeth peeked from behind full lips. "Rest assured the war will never touch your lands. Your family will remain safe."

"My family has already fled," he whispered. "But someone had to watch the tree. Be here if she was killed."

Kwyneth's smile deepened. "Your loyalty will be rewarded." Nodding a farewell, the dragon queen moved to leave.

"Wait!" He reached a hand toward her. Head cocked with curiosity, she halted.

Straining upward, he grabbed a large fruit, pulling it free. "Take the first of the season."

Face lit with wonderment, Kwyneth took the apple. Craddling it like a precious object, the dragon sniffed the red and gold skin. Then she bit, the flesh crunching beneath sharp teeth. Juice stained her mouth as she savored each chew.

"Handsomely rewarded." Grinning like a child, she ran to face the army.

The farmer felt sorry for anyone who threatened the dragon queen's apples.

Friday, June 17, 2011

#FridayFlash - Ryujin

    We were brought before Ryujin, our hands bound behind our backs.  I could smell dragon power on the air, like desert winds and spice, and my nerves danced in time with unknown music.  The sense of peace and belonging that had filled me grew stronger as were escorted into the lord's sitting room.

    The walls were hardwood, a deep red color, hung with paintings of dragons in various poses.  There were no windows here, but I could feel a breeze coming through a door to my left.  The wood support beams were exposed, carved to be part of the design, meant to be admired.  Rugs and furs were thrown haphazardly across the polished floors, divans and cushions gathered in clusters, but randomly arrayed.  Censers trickled fragrant smoke into the air, causing me to relax despite being held prisoner with my two friends.

    One of Ryujin's guards announced us, and a shadow stirred.  I hadn't been aware of the dragon lord in the room, and my heart started racing at the rustle of silk a Ryujin came to us.  Our eyes met briefly, and my mouth immediately went dry.

    Seeing his unearthly good looks, the elegant way he walked, and the richly embroidered robes he wore made me feel shabby, almost ugly.  Thick black hair was pulled into a sever top knot, the tail hanging heavy nearly to his knees.  His skin was like ivory, with silvery highlights, slightly weathered and lined.  His eyes were shaped like almonds, with deep folds over the upper eyelid, his eyelashes a thick fringe around the haunted depths of his irises.  Ryujin smiled at each of us, a triumphant twist of his sensuous lips.

    As he approached our group, the guards retreated, leaving the four of us alone.  My heart started to calm, but my skin felt flushed and too tight.  Rarck was breathing heavily at my side, straining at his bonds now that a blade didn't rest at his spine.  Shiogi was quiet, but I felt his restlessness, knew he was as dry mouthed as myself.  He'd shared my reaction at the sight of the dragon overhead.  Rarck still saw only a beast to be slain, but Shiogi and I had our doubts.

    Gazing longingly at the exquisite man pacing before us, my doubts continued to grow.

    "It's pleasant to meet the three of you.  Your reputations proceed you."  Ryujin's voice resonated, like a brass bell, raising the hairs along my arms.  There was power in even a few spoken words, and I was filled with awe.  Shiogi trembled, edging toward our captor, and I knew something wonderful was about to happen.

    Rarck snorted in derision, still struggling, not disguising his actions.  "So why aren't you scared of us?  We're your doom, buddy boy."

    The dragon lord chuckled, approaching my broad shouldered friend.  "You are of minotaur descent," Ryujin said, his nostrils flaring like he was scenting the fighter.  I trembled, biting my tongue, fearing what he would find if he scented me.  "Prey animals can be so aggressive when confronted by predators."

    Shiogi and I shivered at the disdainful tone in Ryujin's voice, wondering what he meant, yet subconsciously drawn to everything he said.  Rarck snorted, drawing himself up, topping Ryujin by a full head.  "Monsters are meant to be destroyed.  You're just another trophy."

    "Really?"  He arched one delicate eyebrow, his eyes gleaming as he glanced at Shiogi.  "Do your friends feel the same way?"

    The air grew thicker, choking me, the incense giving everything a dreamy quality.  I shivered, watching Ryujin approach Shiogi.  My fellow hunter groaned low in his throat, pulling at his bonds, seemingly entranced by the dragon lord.  "Well, dear boy?  Do you want to kill me?"

    Shiogi shook, and I watched him as he struggled to breathe.  The strange draw we'd been feeling for weeks was coming to a head, burning its way through us.  This was destiny.  This was where our power lay, where we were meant to be.

    With a man who could control dragons.

    "I don't know," Shiogi whispered, his voice tortured.  He was leaning toward our captor, straining to touch him.  Rarck made a crude comment, but I barely heard him as I watched Ryujin intently.

    The dragon lord smiled, flashing sharp white teeth, and reached for Shiogi.  The dark haired youth moaned as strong fingers cupped his scarred cheek, drawing him into a silken embrace.  Ryujin tipped the hunter off balance, wrapping an arm around his head and shoulders, bringing his other hand up to caress Shiogi's cheek.  Smiling triumphantly, Ryujin kissed him.

    Rarck gave a strangled cry, but he seemed unable to move.  I stared in awe, knowing the dragon lord was bonding with my friend.  Shiogi moaned, struggling only briefly, then relenting to Ryujin's demands.

    I saw a flash of black tongue as they parted, and was reminded of a reptile.  I wasn't aware of moving, but I found myself staring up in awe as Ryujin freed Shiogi of his bonds, draping the youth across a nearby divan.  I'd never seen him so out of it, even when drunk, and my heart raced.  What had Ryujin done to him?

    Heavy eyes turned to me, and I gazed up as the elegant lord approached me.  He licked his lower lip with a forked tongue, and my skin crawled, revelation filling me.  "You're the dragon we saw overhead."  Ryujin nodded, slowly closing the gap between us.

    "Beast!  Monster!" Rarck shouted, charging Ryujin.  The dragon lord - no, the dragon - backhanded the big man effortlessly, sending Rarck sprawling, all without taking his eyes off me.  He came to a stop just before my kneeling form, enveloped in the scent of spice and heat.

    "Yes, I am.  Is that a problem?"

    I shook my head.  Seeing Ryujin's triumphant smile, I reacted to an impulsive desire.  I leaned forward, pressing my face against his leg, lowering my gaze.  "Please, Lord Ryujin, accept my fealty.  Take me under your wing.  Let me serve-"

    He cut me off by kneeling, cupping my face with gentle hands.  Our eyes met, and I felt tears rising in mine.  "Sweet Moirna, I will gladly take you in."  His power brushed against my mind, causing my skin to pebble pleasantly.  "But are you sure this is what you want?"

    I nodded vigorously, tears spilling from my eyes.  Ryujin smiled gently, then pulled me into a kiss, sealing our deal.  I trembled, relenting, feeling complete at last.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Guest Post - Anna James

Please welcome romance author Anna James. She’s here to talk about her latest book Visions and will give away a free ecopy to one lucky reader. All you have to do is leave a comment with your email address and you’ll be automatically entered for a chance to win. Contest runs from Monday, June 13th until midnight June 16th.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sick and stuff

When I get super stressed at work, socializing is one of the first things to go. Haven't talked to anyone on Twitter, haven't replied to anyone's emails until today, haven't even thought about what to post on the blog. Just went to work, kept my head down, and slept when I came home.

Stress sickness, blech.

But I did finish the first draft of the third book, Lugh's Reaping. Title is still in the works. Want to keep with the holiday title theme, but not sure if this one fits yet. That will be ironed out before publication, of course.

So what has everyone else been up to?

Friday, June 10, 2011

#FridayFlash - The Pact

The procession wound up the shale slope, burdened by the sacrificial palanquin. Ten strong men sweated and grunted, following the druid to the dragon’s cave. White-haired and wise, the druid chanted ancient blessings, claiming dragon magic as his own.

From the woman bound on the palanquin came silence. Ramrod straight against her bonds, she looked more like a royal on parade than a stranger being taken to her doom. Eerieness radiated from her pale eyes, chilling anyone she gazed upon.

Everyone would be glad when she was delivered to the beast.

They finally reached the summit, and gratefully set the heavy wood piece down. Every five years, they had to build a dais to truss a young woman to before carrying her up to the dragon’s lair. Sacrifice was the only way to keep them all safe, so the druid said, to keep his powers strong. After this last drought, many wondered if magic was necessary. Feeding the dragon seemed a waste of a good breeder.

A roar echoed from the cave, and they all scurried away from the palanquin. No one could remember the last time the beast had immediately taken his offering.

The druid chanted louder, arms raised overhead. He moved to the center of the men, but did not retreat down the slope. This was a rare sight, and he his renewal would be greater if he witnessed the feeding.

Bristling with horns and teeth, the dragon’s head appeared from the darkness. Drool splattered from his snout, igniting in little pools on the ground. A low croon came from him, and he halted.

The woman remained fearless. The dragon moved further from his cave, and she laughed. “Yes, I am your queen.” Another croon from the dragon. “His magic fails, and he couldn’t identify me. He saw only a woman no one would miss.”

She turned slowly to glare over her shoulder. “Indeed, the pact is broken. Kill them all.” On her command, the dragon began the slaughter.

Friday, June 3, 2011

#FridayFlash - Don't Leave

Marcus watched, heart in his throat. His sweet Karalana was leaving, packing her flat. Perched in the middle of the balcony, he decided it wasn't everything; just enough to start a new life somewhere.

"You can't leave," he said, pushing open the sliding glass door. Heat followed him, desert scents mixing with the aroma of green things. Kara had a talent for coaxing growth from anything, even in Las Vegas.

Like his heart.

She looked up, blue eyes wide, mouth parted in a gasp. Marcus felt life stirring in him. Nothing amazed him more than his reaction to her. Kara's pulse raced, and he longed to taste it against his lips.

"What are you doing here? Jackson can't find you." Her voice was more relieved than concerned; Kara was happy to see him.

"The book store is closed."

She smiled ruefully, returning to her task. With her back turned, he could so easily approach, wrap his arms around her, kiss her long neck. Her hair was already up, out of the way. Marcus took a step closer, letting desire move him.

"Of course it is. I'm moving on so Jackson can't hurt you, can't find me." Kara moved to her bedroom, and Marcus followed. There was no fear in her voice, though her shoulders were tense. He would do anything to relieve her stress. "He wanted to use me as bait."

Marcus growled. "Is this a trap?" His fists clenched on their own. It had been decades since he'd last done physical violence, be he would kill Jackson if the hunter laid a hand on Kara.

She turned, eyes wide, and closed the gap between them. Laying her hands on his chest brought him great relief. "No!" Karalana smiled, tilting her head. "I told my father long ago I wanted nothing to do with hunting vampires. I still don't." She shook her head, lowering her eyelids. "I want nothing to do with hunting you."

The young woman's hands were so warm on his chest. As soft as her name, Kara yet had a strength to her that could endure any pain. "Don't leave," Marcus said again, closing his eyes. "I'll go, draw Jackson away. Keep your life here."

Kara leaned forward until they were almost touching. "Where will you go?"

Anywhere to keep you safe, he thought. "Away. Some place Jackson won't be near you." Marcus dared to open his eyes.

She stared at him, tears brimming, cheeks flushed. She tightened her grip on his chest, and he couldn't stop himself from laying his hands on her shoulders. "I don't want you to leave."

Her plea was hardly a whisper, but it was a clarion call to his soul. This charming young woman wanted him, wasn't scared of him. How could he deny her?

Leaning forward, Marcus kissed her. One hand cupped the back of her head, the other traveled to the small of her back. Kara grabbed his neck, pulling him closer, opening her mouth. Passion burned them, and both would gladly be consumed by the fire.

Kara broke the kiss, drawing his mouth to her neck. Marcus groaned, fangs aching as need swelled. "Stay with me." She pressed the heat of her pulse to him.

Marcus obliged her, finding solace in her blood.