Thursday, March 31, 2016

Backtrack 17: The TaP Team by L.j. Charles



And the countdown begins…

Vlad Koslov has a vendetta, and Tynan Pierce is his target.

Pierce has sworn to protect two material witnesses—a routine job for his company, TaP Security, until Koslov accepts a contract with organized crime to assassinate the witnesses.

Seventeen years of history and hatred explode when Koslov discovers Pierce is the obstacle protecting his targets. The evil born deep in Koslov’s psyche pushes him to delay fulfilling the contract so he can achieve his vendetta by eliminating Pierce’s family and friends. One. By. One.

Everly Gray, Pierce’s wife and partner, isn’t about to allow Koslov to murder the people she holds dear, especially not her husband.

Pierce and Everly stand together as the TaP Team. Their mission: to protect the innocent in the chaos of a perfect storm.

An Officer and a Gentlewoman by Nathalie Noire Excerpt

$1.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers


Warning: For ages 18+, contains elements of BDSM

Judge Jessica Bellingham was living a comfortable life. She was content and safe but she wasn’t satisfied.

Sean O’Fallon was a Detective by day and a Dom at night. He didn’t form attachments and didn’t play with the same sub twice.

All of that changed when Jessica ran a stop sign.


Jessica was running late for an appointment. An understatement. She’d just rolled two stop signs and had run a questionable yellow-red light. So she really wasn’t surprised by the flashing red and blue lights.
“Damn!” she said leaning over to get her insurance card out of the glove box. Her tight, pinstriped pencil skirt gave no purchase and made her topple over, giving the policeman a nice view of her ass when he walked up. “Great,” she mumbled under her breath.
She righted herself and rolled down her window. She searched through her wallet for her Minnesota driver’s license before looking up. When she did, she temporarily lost her breath. Tall dark and handsome had just ridden his horse up to rescue her. Hello! Well, it wasn’t so much a horse as a nondescript sedan.
“Ma’am, do you have any idea how many citations I can give you?” he all but growled at her from behind his aviators. Why do they always wear aviators? You can’t see what they’re thinking.
“No, officer. I don’t.” Jessica fibbed, praying that he hadn’t been behind her when she’d swerved around the cat. She smiled her sweetest smile, the one where her dimple showed. He planted his feet firmly and pulled his ticket book from his back pocket. Damn!
“You almost hit a cat, you rolled through two stop signs, speeding, you ran a red light…”
“That light was yellow when I started into the intersection…” she interrupted. He raised an eyebrow, effectively shutting her up.
“I could write you about a dozen tickets today.”
“Please don’t. I’m running late for an appointment. I don’t usually drive like this. I don’t have any points on my record.”
“I know. I checked your record when I was trying to determine whether the car had been stolen. Where were you going in such a hurry?”
“I’m late for court.” Jessica’s face reddened. “I’m a judge, in the county court.”
“You know that doesn’t give you any special leverage, right?”
“Yes, sir.” She thought she heard him take a big breath but wasn’t sure. She looked up at him and he still had that impenetrable expression most cops have when they work the streets. Damn he was fine though. She had to stop thinking of this, she was in too much of a hurry. Her first case would have to be rescheduled at this rate.
“I can offer you a deal, Your Honor, if you’re interested. Meet me at this address tonight and we’ll discuss your infractions.”
“Yes, Officer…” Jessica faltered on his last name.
“It’s Detective, Detective Sean O’Fallon,” he said as he tore off a piece of paper from a little notebook he kept in his jacket pocket. He quickly scribbled an address on it. “And Jessica?”
“Don’t mention this to anyone or I’ll lose my job.”
“I understand, Detective O’Fallon.”
“Have a good day, Jessica, and drive the speed limit the rest of the way to court, please.”
“I will, thank you.”
She pulled out carefully and made sure her toes stayed at an easy angle on the gas pedal, haunted by his words. Her hands tightened on the steering wheel and her temperature rose. Why should she go to see him tonight? So she ran a light and was speeding. She was late, dammit, and it was important. She was a judge. Didn’t he get how important her job was and how stressful? She had to be on time or it affected the lives of the citizens of St. Paul. Her mind was whirling with all this as she slipped into her assigned parking spot.
Jessica slid sideways on the marble floors as she went around the corner. She could see her assistant standing in the hall motioning her to hurry. Entering her chambers she straightened her wild hair and shimmied into her robe. Her aides handed her the first case and knew better than to ask where she had been.
The case coming up was the opening arguments for a murder/rape case. Nothing pretty about it. Jessica had already gone through the preliminaries of picking a jury and countless filings by both parties. Hopefully, the family would finally find justice. Hopefully they had the right guy. But that was her job, listen to the evidence and make a ruling. Then find a suitable punishment. In this case Minnesota didn’t have the death penalty so the most severe punishment would be life in prison without parole.
St. Paul had a slightly larger number of murders compared to other cities its size. That made her think of the police and then a certain Detective. She wasn’t aware of the smile she was sporting until the prosecutor gave her a funny look. She reigned in her hormones and concentrated on the opening arguments.

Sean had a hard time concentrating on the road as he watched the tail lights of the BMW pull away. Fuck, she was hot with her pouty lips, rosy cheeks and raven straight hair. She was a petite woman from what he could see. Demure, but he knew she could be tough. He had heard about her Honor Jessica Bellingham. She was hard but exceedingly fair. The cops liked and respected her. Lawyers were always surprised by her creative judgments. The kids were the winners with her, though. She worked on rehabilitating children through innovative programs and ideas. That was what impressed Sean.
As a Dom he thought she would be a natural Domme herself with a position of power like that, but when she said ‘yes, sir’ to him, it surprised him. She definitely needed to be punished and he wanted to explore that delectable body. The glimpse of her ass he got was enough to tell him he would like to see it naked and nicely pinked. Those perfect lips would look gorgeous around his cock. Sean got back into his car and adjusted his swollen appendage.
The day went slowly for Sean. He normally didn’t get excited about a piece of ass. He got mildly interested in a new sub to play with but always just played. Why was he preoccupied with this woman? She had invaded his mind in the most pleasant way, yet she was distracting him from his job. He wasn’t even supposed to give traffic tickets unless it was an extreme situation. And now he was thinking of her again.
Mind back on work. He was a homicide detective and he was working on a serial murder case. The kind of case that made him glad he wasn’t a judge. He couldn’t see any way to be partial on this one. The evidence was scarce. All they knew was that the killer sent a bouquet of thirteen red roses in the week before he killed his victims. So far they had lost three girls. Each tied up, raped and then strangled. It was weighing heavily on him. He badly wanted to catch this guy before the monster targeted someone else. The killer had escalated fast. It had only been five weeks. His time frame was getting tighter. The killer was acting like he couldn’t stay away as long before he got his next fix.

Six o’clock and her hair was slipping out of its top knot. The case had just finished for the day. Such a sad story today and since it was Friday she would be going home to an empty house and a frozen dinner to look over the cases for next week. Wait. Sean. She said she would meet him to ‘discuss her infractions.’ Her cheeks heated up and her panties started to feel moist. He was seriously beautiful. Except she had never seen his eyes. That could make or break it for her. The eyes were the window to the soul, or so they said and Jessica believed it. She watched her defendant’s eyes in court all the time.
She could make it to the address he gave her if she didn’t go home and change. He’d just have to take her as is. It wasn’t like it was a date and if they were negotiating a penalty of any kind, she wanted to look imposing.

Match Point by Kyan Christopher and Kris Kendall


Blake’s life seems to be one of perfection. A medical student and ranking tennis champion, he never has the time to realize what’s missing in his life. A chance encounter at a charity auction sends his life into a tailspin. Now with his sights set on a new love, can he be the person everyone expects him to be and still keep the man of his dreams? 

Being the friend everyone loves to hang out with is great. But being the one always going home alone isn’t as much fun for Ricky. So when his luck seems to change, Ricky can’t believe he catches the eye of a gorgeous young guy. But as his insecurities mount, Ricky’s inability to love himself may cost him the one man who’s grown to love him for who he really is. 

For mature readers only.
My mom couldn’t have been more ecstatic that I donated funds on her firm’s behalf. “Oh, honey. That’s great. I’m ashamed to say that we’ve been lax on donating to LGBT organizations lately... Something I will have to remedy. But thanks to you, we’re off to a great start.”
I didn’t bother telling her I used it to buy a date. Although my parents both put on a good show in support of gay rights, having a gay son isn’t something they care to talk about. When I came out, they promptly told me they accepted my ‘choices,’ but pushed me back in the closet. If I was discreet, they didn’t care. However, I was always expected to show up to their galas with a young lady in tow. Thank god I have a few lesbian friends I can always count on to help me in that department.
“You should, Mom. LGBT organizations don’t get enough exposure.”
“We will, honey. I’ll get with Francis first thing in the morning and we’ll get right on it. How’s school? Your father and I are a bit disappointed you aren’t coming home for spring break.”
And here we go. “School’s good, Mom. I’m sorry I’m not coming in for the break, but I want to get caught up on studying. My clinical class is taking up a lot of time I used to have. Being at the hospital, classes, and studying is like having two full-time jobs.”
“Okay, okay. I know, honey. We just miss you. Will you be able to make it to the spring social next month?”
“I don’t know, Mom. April is going to be even busier.”
“Well, I do hope you’ll try. Maybe you can even bring that darling girl Sharon with you. She was such a delight.”
I’m sure her girlfriend thinks so too, I can’t help thinking. “We’ll see. I’m not making any promises.”
“Well, just think about it, dear.”
“I will, Mom.”
“I love you, Blake.”
“Love you too, Mom.” We both hang up and I sigh in relief. Josh looks up from his phone.
“’Rents giving you a hard time?” he asks.
“My mom. She wanted me home for the break, but I can only take so much of them, you know. I mean... I was just there for two weeks at Christmas and they about drove me bonkers.”
Josh laughs. “Well, at least you have your hot date to look forward to.”
I perk up at the topic of conversation. “Isn’t he cute?” I ask, imagining Ricky’s face and his piercing hazel eyes.
“Yeah, he’s okay.”
“I know, he’s not some muscle-bound god, so he couldn’t possibly be attractive.” My voice drips in sarcasm, with a slight edge of annoyance.
“I didn’t say that. He is attractive, just not my type. But I know he’s yours.”
“Yeah. That smile, those eyes...”
Josh bursts with laughter and rolls back on the bed. “Now who’s like a boy with a crush?”
“I know, I know. I gave you grief.” I think back to all the conversations Josh and I have had about Kimball over the last few months. I picked on him constantly for his overly enthusiastic view of his boyfriend. Now, I kinda get where he was coming from.
“You did, and payback is a bitch.” Josh giggles.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Audiobook: Ceann - Caitlin's Tarot by L. j. Charles


This is a bundle of the first three episodes in Caitlin's Tarot:

"The Fool":

You can never escape from murder....

At least that's how it seems to Caitlin Connor. Blessed with funky DNA, she's able to see auras, read Tarot cards, and oh, yeah, she also packs the powerful ability to manipulate energy - the same energy that was instrumental in her mother's death.

Ready for a new beginning, Caitlin leaves her estate on the English Riviera in her aunt's capable hands, and with a hefty dose of optimism, travels to Hawaii's North Shore to practice her newly learned art of reading Tarot cards.

Day one: Caitlin is faced with her personal prophecy. Day two: she trips over a dead body and hits the Honolulu PD's suspect list. Whoever said life in paradise was idyllic didn't know Caitlin Connor.

Can she find the killer and get on with living her dream, or will her future be limited to a jail cell?

"The Chariot":

It was going to be a witchy kind of day....

Working at the Ola Boutique wasn't in Caitlin's plans, but it provides the perfect opportunity to build a following for her Tarot readings and to search for whoever killed Ted Thatcher. Her destiny, standing for truth and justice, demands she find the murderer and free Ola Boutique's owner, Hannah Matthews, from being convicted of a crime she didn't commit.

New to working with her Wiccan heritage, Caitlin accidentally summons an apparition of Thatcher. His only message is a single word - witch. Like Hannah. And like Caitlin.

How will Caitlin find the guilty witch when she's barely dipped her toes into the craft? And what if the guilty witch really is Hannah?

"The Moon":

She stands for truth and justice....

Hannah is still in jail. The person who killed Ted Thatcher is still at large. And Caitlin is determined to track down the real killer, even if it means she has to join a coven.

Officer Jace Porter believes in Hannah's innocence and wants to help Caitlin, but getting involved puts him in the uncomfortable position of butting into a forbidden case - one his captain considers closed. Determined to discover the truth, Caitlin learns to use her gifts in unexpected ways, and when she's forced to confront hidden evil, she begins to accept the true beauty of her midnight energy. It's only a matter of time before Caitlin will need to unleash her power to balance the scales of justice.

Whispers in the Dark by Kris Bock - FREE



Young archeologist Kylie Hafford heads to the remote Puebloan ruins of Lost Valley, Colorado, to excavate. Her first exploration of the crumbling ruins ends in a confrontation with a gorgeous, angry man who looks like a warrior from the Pueblo’s ancient past. If only Danesh weren’t so aggravating… and fascinating. Then she literally stumbles across Sean, a charming, playful tourist. His attentions feel safer, until she glimpses secrets he’d rather keep hidden.

The summer heats up as two sexy men pursue her. She finds mysteries – and surprising friendships – among the other campground residents. Could the wide-eyed woman and her silent children be in the kind of danger all too familiar to Kylie?

Mysterious lights, murmuring voices, and equipment gone missing plague her dig. A midnight encounter sends Kylie plummeting into a deep canyon. She’ll need all her strength and wits to survive. Everything becomes clear – if she wants to save the man she’s come to love and see the villains brought to justice, she must face her demons and fight.

Whispers in the Dark is action-packed romantic suspense set in the Four Corners region of the Southwest.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Must Love Ghosts: A Haunting Paranormal Romance by Ani Gonzalez

$0.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers


A fun, humorous romance...with ghosts!

Abby Reed believes in faery tales, and ghosts, but she doesn’t believe in love. She lost her soulmate when her fiancé died while deployed in Afghanistan, but she still has her music, her crazy spectre-filled town, and her pen-pal-slash-best-friend, Mike Stone. It's a good life and she's happy, but when handsome Mike arrives in Banshee Creek after his last tour of duty in Afghanistan, Abby starts to have doubts, about music, ghosts and, most

Like a good soldier, Mike Stone follows the rules, and Rule #1 is: Don't Fall For Your Buddy's Fiancée. His relationship with Abby has been strictly platonic, and will remain that way, if he has anything to say about it. But when he arrives in Banshee Creek, a town where the impossible is an everyday occurrence, he'll find out that sometimes rules are meant to be broken.



A willowy girl was locking the door. She was tall and slender with medium-length brown hair, styled to curl at the ends in an old-fashioned way.
Mike wasn’t looking at her hair though. He was looking at her costume, a skin-tight black leather cat suit that outlined every single curve. His fists clenched and he swallowed hard. He tried to walk towards the house, but his feet wouldn’t move.
He couldn’t bring himself to approach her.
He’d faced enemy fire, ambushes, and IEDs. He’d trained himself to overcome his fears. He’d walked through nightmares and survived.
But he couldn’t bring himself to face this girl.
Time to retreat and regroup. He’d continue on his way to Arlington and figure out a different way to make his delivery. Maybe he could hire a courier, or a parcel delivery service.
A group of costumed partygoers blocked his way as he turned to walk away. He tried to push his way through what appeared to be a werewolf punk rock band, but had to swerve to avoid the fur-bedecked subwoofers.
Mike?” The throaty, sexy voice was unmistakable. “Is that you?”
There was no fighting the siren appeal of that voice. He sighed in resignation and turned.
The girl ran down the steps of her house and her smile was as enthralling as her voice. Mike forced himself to smile back as he greeted the girl he’d loved for the past five years.
Abby Reed. Singer, songwriter, enchantress.
And his dead friend’s fiancée.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Stairway to Addiction by Mark Whitney



This book is a collection of funny stories about drinking and drug use. Alcohol and drug use causes us to make irrational decisions we would not normally do when we are sober. This is one mans account of how addiction affected his life and how he finally broke free. We hope this book will be an inspiration to all who read it.

Crazy adventures about a man who went from alcoholic and drug addict to a clean and sober entrepreneur. Whats it was like to grow up in a family where everything revolved around alcohol. The process of climbing up the stairway to addiction and the slow and painful process of climbing back down. How a hand rail was finally found to help climb back down and break the hold addiction had on him. Millions of people go through the same struggle and hopefully this book will shed some light on how to break the cycle of addiction. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Randi Glazer's 12 Strategies for Surviving a Career in the Insurance Industry

$0.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers


An insightful look into the unique situations and circumstances that shape a lengthy professional career as an underwriter, “Randi Glazer’s 12 Strategies for Surviving a Career in the Insurance Industry” draws on the author’s many years of experience as an industry insider to provide readers with valuable advice and practical skills for succeeding in the complicated world of insurance. Covering everything from how to identify the ideal organization to work for to the inherent difficulty of working alongside aggressive agents and brokers, Glazer provides a number of personal and professional anecdotes that help illustrate how she was able to achieve such a great deal of success in a constantly changing industry.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Soldier of Love by Allie Boniface Excerpt



Franny Thompson has owned a bed and breakfast in Lindsey Point for the last five years, ever since a family tragedy left her broken. Running The Hideaway has been good therapy, but this thirty-year old doesn’t have the slightest idea about dating, fashion, or men. When a lonely soldier comes to town in need of a place to live, she offers him an empty room to rent, never dreaming he’s about to change her world. 

Heath Garrick has spent the last 17 years as an active duty solider, but when he retires from the Army, he finds himself plagued by PTSD and no place to call home, until he moves to Lindsey Point and Franny offers him a room. Franny is quirky and naive, everything he’s never wanted in a woman – and everything he might just need.

As Franny and Heath find comfort in each other’s friendship, a powerful attraction develops. But when a national magazine chooses The Hideaway for a makeover, they are thrust into the spotlight. For Franny, it’s a dream come true. For Heath, it’s the worst kind of trouble. Can two lonely souls help each other find love and hope again, or are some battle scars too deep ever to heal?


Her lips opened to his, and streaks of pleasure moved through her.  A sound halfway between a cry and a gasp broke from her throat, and Heath smiled against her mouth. He cupped his palms against her backside and held her in place, until she could feel him grow hard and hot against her. His hips began to move in slow circles and she responded without thinking. I want him. I want this. Around them, the candles flickered on the walls.
            “You’re an amazing woman,” he whispered. He moved his mouth to her neck, his breath hot against her skin. She raised her hands to the back of his neck, stroking the short, soft hair there and then daring to let her hands fall lower until they rested on his ass. Everything in her caught fire, from the tips of her ears to her toes digging into the floor.
            Finally he raised his head and ran one thumb down her cheek. “Damn, but I like spending time with you.”
            “I like spending time with you too.”
            He dropped a long, wicked gaze down to her toes and back up. “But as much as I’d like to stay here and continue this, I think maybe we should take things slow.” He kissed her again. “I’m a broken mess of a man, Franny.”
            “You’re not.” She wrapped her arms around his waist. “Stop saying that.”
            “I’m not sure how much I can give you.”
            “I’m not asking you to give me anything.” Truly, she wasn’t. Conversation, companionship, maybe a few more of those luscious kisses, and she’d be happy.
            “You’re too good,” he said. He squeezed her fingers. “Too good for a guy like me.” He took a step back and then winked. “Of course, sometimes a good girl needs a bad boy in her life.” He rubbed the back of his head and grinned. “What do you say? Want to give this bad boy a chance?”

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Heather House: Witch of the Moors by Carmen Caine

$2.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers


Readers say "Captivating", "Riveting", and "A heartrending story you wish would never end" about "Heather House: Witch of the Moors", the latest Scottish Romance from Award-Winning and bestselling author, Carmen Caine! 
Scotland, 1589 - As the spare for the heir, Alec Montgomery devoted his time to the pursuit of pleasure.

Lighthearted and fiercely loyal, Alec spent his days as his brother's right-hand man while avidly thwarting the matchmaking attempts of the king and his mother's desire that he join the priesthood. But on one stormy night, a mysterious crone and a chance meeting on the moors bring his fate full circle.

To escape a Montgomery raid as a wee lass, Sorcha Cunningham and her mother fled into the forest and stumbled upon the refuge of Heather House with its ancient stone circle. The dreams came to Sorcha that night, dreams that would portend the horrors of her future, forcing her to face a destiny written in the stars.

As the age-old feud between the Montgomery and Cunningham clans ignite, Alec and Sorcha walk a precipice of desire and danger as King James VI of Scotland ushers in the age of witch-hunting and the North Berwick Witch Trials threaten to rip them apart.

Wicked Wager by Mary Gillgannon


Barnes & Noble
The Wild Rose Press

When hardened gamester Marcus Revington wins Horngate Manor in a card game, he's delighted to finally own property, and undeterred when he learns he must marry the heiress of the estate to claim it.

The heiress, Penny Montgomery, is happy with her life raising horses at Horngate and has no desire to wed anyone. When she discovers what her guardian has done, she comes up with a scheme to convince Marcus she's unsuitable as a wife so he'll give up his plan to marry her.

Who will win in this battle of wits and wills? Or will they both discover the name of the game is love?


She halted the stallion and, before either of them could assist her, leapt down and faced them. The woman wore soiled men’s clothing, and her brown hair hung down in messy wisps around her face. “So, which one of you is the London bloke I’m supposed to wed?”

James gestured to Marcus. “This is Mr. Revington. I’m James Ludingham, his solicitor.”

The woman extended a grimy hand to Marcus. “Pleased to meet you.”

Marcus stared. “You’re Miss Montgomery?”

“Yes, but you can call me Penny, everyone does. The house is there, see.” She pointed. “Mrs. Foxworthy will offer you something if you knock. I really can’t be bothered with playing hostess. I’ve got to get back to the stables. We’re gelding the colts today, and they need me to do the cauterizing. Good meeting you though, Mr. Revington, Mr. Ludingham.” She turned and mounted the stallion, then cantered back down the lane.

“Hmmm,” James said. “What were you saying about marrying the woman sight unseen?”

Marcus swallowed. “I’ll allow she is a bit eccentric, but that hardly matters. It’s really quite simple. She’ll go her way, and I’ll go mine.” His words belied the uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. Gads! The chit was an utter hoyden. He’d encountered Covent Garden orange girls who had more polish than Miss Montgomery. But at least she wasn’t unattractive. Despite the dirt and her disheveled hair, she had huge blue eyes and pert, pretty features, and the masculine clothing only served to emphasize her leggy but clearly feminine form.

Lilith & The Human, Short Story Ten by Jordan K. Rose



Lilith has not tasted a man in more than a decade, but not because she doesn’t want one. Truth be told she’d love one or two or three. But over the centuries she’s developed certain control issues that are best left un-tempted.

When a tall, handsome stranger baits the first vampire to walk the earth, Lilith bares more than fang and throws her already strained control right off with her clothes.

Welcome to Seductions. Step into the most popular bar in New England and enter a world where Others live side-by-side with unsuspecting humans. At Seductions the drinks are always tasty, the romance is always hot, and the patrons aren’t always human.

The Short Seductions Series is a collection of ten spicy paranormal romance short stories, each of roughly 8,000 words in length. These hot little love stories are short enough to enjoy on your lunch break, but long enough to satisfy any romance reader. Each sensual tale tells the romantic journey of a different hero and heroine.

Come on in. Have a drink. Enjoy a quickie happily-ever-after.

Stories in the Short Seductions Series

Shana & The Vampire, Story One- release date July 10, 2015
Delia & The Werewolf, Story Two- release date July 17, 2015
Tess & The Demon, Story Three- release date July 24, 2015
Jenna & The Telepath, Story Four- release date July 31, 2015
Liza & The Dragon, Story Five- release date August 7, 2015
Beatrice & The Shifter, Story Six- release date September 4, 2015
Maria & The Angel, Story Seven- release date November 6, 2015
Raquel & The Necromancer, Story Eight- release date December 4, 2015
Abigail & The Warlock, Story Nine-release date February 5, 2016
Lilith & The Human, Story Ten- release date March 4, 2016


Another winner. In fact, every story in this series is awesome. I loved that this story seemed to complete the circle. Bringing Lilith, the vampire that turned Max, into the series was genius. She's a strong character with her own secrets and her human is oh so yummy. Problem is she wants to keep him as far away as possible. Otherwise, there's no telling what she'll do. Can Lilith calm her urges and can the human survive? You'll have to read to find out.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Read Chapter 4 of Whispering Mist by Marley Kin



Imagine a civilization with a caste system that is shackled by an oppressive government and trapped by geological barriers, where the only means of escape is to join an underground community, to follow the cryptic guidance of an advanced race that lives on the far side of a perilous sea, which is veiled by a mantle of fog. Whispering Mist is the tale of Rayna, an ironically rebellious young woman, and Nyle, her treasonous yet honorable lover, and their quest for political and personal liberation. Supported by multiple subplots and comic relief, the central narrative is set between the intertwined worlds of Valaycia and Yugatania, which are ruled ambiguously by the alchemistic Vudaki, a godlike race of semi-benevolent beings who swim beneath and fly above the Sea of Smoke. As an epic fantasy, Whispering Mist employs a unique vocabulary to describe atypical creatures that populate an original world with two moons of different colors. If you seek an author who writes concisely with precision, Marley Kin will satisfy. If you seek an unconventional story, Whispering Mist will mystify.


Rayna waited for her second visitation, meandering along the lake's lapping fringe, her mind preoccupied with the wobbly balance between history and folklore. According to her native mythology, long ago, before the Vudaki emerged from the depths of the sea with their canopy of gloom, the people of Yugatania could safely visit Valaycia, and they lived in harmony with their neighbors across the sea. With the Vudaki’s appearance, such voyages became impossible, cleaving the two worlds, and life became darker on her side of the vaporous, sprawling inlet. The passage of time has blurred the vision of history, concealing this evolution and the truth of its myth.
Many questions swirled through Rayna’s head, and Evak’s indifference to search with her for the answers was discouraging. Squatting, she dipped her hand into the water. The key was out there, and she would find it, even if it meant diving to the bottom of Phantom Lake. She smeared the rusty-colored water on her lips, and its musky taste infused her body with a cool sensation.
It was a sealed mystery why the Vudaki allowed the Valaycians to cross the sea, but after a thousand years of silence, ambassadors began to visit Yugatania, and secrets from Valaycia were smuggled across to guide selective candidates to freedom. Magically, the Vudaki permitted the liberators to cross the sea safely, only stopping those citizens of Jelico who tried to escape without the proper guidance. As the Movement mounted for dedicated liberators, its teachings granted more knowledge and power than the governors of Yugatanian could ever achieve, and it became a heavy political threat. The situation eventually led to a cold war of social pressure, as the government desperately tried to thwart the clandestine importation of influence from Valaycia, forbidding anyone from trying to escape, trapping its people in cultural chains of comfort and control. Truth or legend, the specter of the past left a legacy that was suffocating most citizens of Yugatania, whether they were conscious of it or not.
Her thoughts drifting to more recent events, Rayna paced the tiny beach, trying vainly to exorcize her disappointment over Evak's choice to join the Rebellion. How could he know which path to freedom was better when he was so ignorant about the Liberation? Faith told her that Evak would soon collide with the wall of disillusionment, and that she would tumble that wall with the hammer of truth, urging her partner on that day to walk beside her. For now, her love swaddled him, nonetheless. But who were these strangers from across the sea? What more could they give her that would guarantee her freedom besides transportion on a ship?
When she stopped pacing to consider this, an army of frogs penetrated the surface of the pond to croak in unison like before, but this time there was no wind, only the elusive spark of radiance. She felt a presence and turned to encounter it. Melodius was already standing several feet behind her, wearing a lengthy, burnt-orange cape. Her head jerked when the frogs went mute and sank into the watery shadows.
These grand entries are a little spooky.”
It can't be helped,” Melodius said with a laugh. “My name is Melodius. I'm the Chancellor of Manganeer and the Minister of Arts in Valaycia.”
As he moved closer, her eyes adjusted to the moonlight that spied from behind a barricade of clouds. Tall and husky with a bushy beard, he looked more like a lumberjack than an artist.
What kind of arts?”
Playful”, was all he said. “I've come to grant your second gift.” He revealed a green bottle. “This is a year's supply of Valaycian water.” He handed her the stout vial. “Only found in one location, it’s a unique compound with healing properties, especially for your people since the ingredients don't exist here. To extract its deeper power, you must have faith in its magic.”
His tenor voice sounded just as magical. She stared at the rare gift. “What should I do with it?”
Drink one drop every day for the next year, then we'll supply you with another bottle.”
If I drink the whole bottle, can I leave right now?”
Melodius bellowed with laughter, his merriment both enchanting and unnerving.
Forgive me if I sound dense, but what's the connection between my liberation and this ritual?” Rayna asked.
Telling you that would spoil the purpose. But I can promise you this ritual works wonders, especially if you do it once a day along with the other rituals.”
She struggled with doubt. “What if I miss a day now and then?”
That would just extend the amount of time it takes for you to be ready.”
Confusion possessed her. “Ready for what?”
Freedom,” Melodius said with a lilt.
She nodded. “Oh. But how will I know when I'm ready?”
That's our responsibility. If you have a true desire to reach Valaycia, then you need to trust our instructions. You can reduce the training time by using your gifts every day.”
Seized by a streak of angst, Rayna asked, “If I do these things every day, how much time will it take?”
It takes the average liberator about four years.”
Four years? But I thought my Aunt Loreen escaped in two and a half years?”
Melodius shook his head. “Because of her dedication, it took her almost three years.”
Her eyes wandered. Three long years.
The way to freedom is rarely what people expect, Rayna.”
I guess I had this fantasy of an exciting boat ride sometime in the next twelve months.”
A snicker preceded the Chancellor’s response. “Be here at dusk in two days to receive your third gift from Chancellor Semanni.”
Wait. There's so much I need to know about you and your people.”
I'm sorry, but there's a limit to how much knowledge we can share.”
The biggest complaint I hear is how secretive you are, and I guess it makes a lot of people suspicious.”
The raspy hoot of a blackangel drew his eyes to the creature’s lofty perch. “Does it make you suspicious?”
Rayna hesitated. “A little, but more than anything I think it hurts your cause.”
Our purpose is to offer you a better life, Rayna, and if you accept it, then the first thing we ask is that you trust us and follow our guidance.”
Which means what, Chancellor? Following blindly?”
Melodius stared at her before answering. “That's one interpretation. But I would call it faith.”
Following blindly is what people in the Rebellion would call it.”
It’s always nice to have choices.” He reached out his hand. “I hope to see you again.”
When she shook his bulky palm, a wave of heat surge through her body with the power of a trance, causing her eyes to close. What a strange sensation. Did he do that? When Melodius released her hand, she detected the portal of light bursting through her eyelids, but when she opened her eyes, he had vanished, along with the marvelous illumination. As Rayna faced the lake, it ignited, surprising her again, transporting her with a brilliance that gave the water an almost gaseous texture. She wondered what could cause the water to emit such a radiant light, since the Liberation folklore never mentioned this mystery. Her body tingling, she stood transfixed, unable to choose among the beliefs that competed for her allegiance. Baffled, she stepped closer to the lake. Something splashed, and her eyes followed the sound. Was it her enchanted frog?

After recovering from his first dose of the Guardian’s elixir, Varacus felt invincible and decided to allow his wife, Sekura, and their son, Kian, to visit his tower chamber. Sekura was plainly troubled by the Guardian’s incessant staring, judging from her awkward demeanor, but the boy seemed fascinated by the animal. As usual, his wife was dressed like she was about to attend a semi-formal gathering. He often wished that she would wear a pair of slacks or a simple skirt at least once in a while.
What occupies your time up here, Adison?”
The sciences. How to conquer those vermin below.”
What does . . .” She nodded towards the Guardian without looking at her. “She do up here with you?”
Nothing. She’s usually a quiet creature, unless someone poses a threat. Her power lies in her poise and confidence.”
Unless she was sleeping, Sekura almost always had her long blond hair pulled back and pinned up with jewel-studded hairpins, a habit he found a bit annoying. She examined the room. “Does she eat much?”
He perused his wife’s carriage and expression. “Very little.” The Lukanda seemed to frighten her. “You never maintain eye-contact with the Guardian. Why is that?”
Hesitating, Sekura said, “She’s a disconcerting creature.”
So is the crimson cat and the mountain milander, but you feel at ease around them.”
This creature is too much like us.” Sekura looked away and frowned. “And she has an unpredictable nature that disturbs me.”
You like the Guardian, don’t you, Kian?” It always bothered Varacus that Kian looked so much like Sekura, yet it pleased him when the boy smiled at his powerful mascot.
Yes, Father. Her eyes are pretty like a rainbow.”
You see, he’s not the least bit frightened.”
Her voice had a tone of irritation. “He’s mesmerized by the beast like most other people.”
The Guardian shifted her stance and fixed her gaze on Sekura, but Sekura never noticed since her eyes were riveted on Adison.
He gave his wife a hard look. “You make that sound like a weakness.”
Isn’t it?” Sekura asked, turning away.
Still squatting, the Guardian took a graceful step in Sekura’s direction, which brought the creature closer to Kian.
The boy reached out to touch the Guardian’s fur, and this caught his mother’s attention. Sekura rushed over, grabbed her son’s hand and jerked the boy away. Her jarring movement took Kian by surprise, causing him to clutch at the Guardian’s arm. The Lukanda reacted by standing on her hind legs and growling, and the boy instinctively let go.
Sekura screamed, pulling Kian to her bosom.
The Guardian growled again and took an aggressive step towards Sekura.
Varacus moved between the beast and his wife. “Guardian, no!”
Adison, doesn’t she understand that we’re your family?”
Calm down, Sekura.”
I’m scared, Mother!”
Be quiet, Kian. There’s nothing to be afraid of. The Guardian won’t hurt you if you’re quiet.” He spoke firmly to the creature. “Sit down.”
The Guardian squatted where it was standing and continued to stare intensely at Sekura.
She reacts to fear as a threat like most other animals. You work with wild animals—You know that. Fear is just as dangerous to her as anger, especially when I’m near the source of it.”
Her eyes dilating wildly, the Guardian grunted.
Sekura’s voice trembled. “Can we leave now? Kian is still shaking.”
Adison escorted them to the door. “I’ll be down shortly.” They left the room.
Relieved to be alone again, he was determined not to let Sekura’s foolishness dampen his diffused triumph. Nevertheless, the Gurdian did seem to lack the discernment necessary to differentiate between innocent fear and the fear that often led to aggression. He wondered if giving her name would somehow make a difference.

The twilight sky was clear two nights later when Rayna returned for her next rendezvous. Anxious, she came early to see if her frog might perform another feat of magic, but the creatures of the pond were silent, and the water's glassy surface was sealed. She sat against the burly cranny tree, under a black cobweb of twisted branches, ignoring her nagging mind, her eyes adrift in the sky’s melting colors. She pretended to be a Vudaki ‘rider, soaring above the clouds to gaze upon her homeland. Snared on every side by perilous borders, Yugatania ran about 2,500 miles from east to west and approximately 3,000 miles from north to south. To the north lay the Frozen Peaks, a dizzy, infinite range of impenetrable mountains extending all the way to Valaycia. The western border formed a searing abyss her people called the Burning Sands, which wrapped around the southwestern corner to meet the tortured beach of the Typhonic Ocean that battered the southern coast with everlasting fury. The eastern rim waxed and waned with the tide of the Sea of Smoke, a pool of purple mystery, which served as the home for the Vudaki, a race of aerial, amphibious beings beyond comprehension. Sea and ocean mirged as one at the southeast peninsula where the former pacified its salty sibling. Where the Frozen Peaks met the Sea of Smoke, the mountains sculpted a sheer cliff that climbed at least a thousand meters, spanning the sea's width from one shore to the other. Trying to reach Valaycia by that treacherous route always failed or ended tragically, and attempting to cross the sea’s seven foggy miles of menacing water was simply impossible without guidance from the Valaycian guides.
The blue moon had fled south to avoid the path of its yellow sister. Their family reunion was a distant celebration, but Rayna could still dream of the glorious lunar fusion that would mark a night when anything seemed possible, even genuine freedom, not just the false freedom of a comfortable life in Jelico.
Nevertheless, she battled with frustration and helplessness, reluctantly conceding the requirement for a long period of preparation as a liberator, but questioning the need for so much secrecy and vague information. A rapid decision pushed the clutter aside: she would try again to get some straight answers from Chancellor Semanni. If that failed, there was always Uncle Keegan, because Aunt Loreen obviously knew more than she shared. Would Uncle be more open? As her question dangled in the cool night air, waiting for an answer, Rayna stood near the water's edge and pulled a sheer white scarf over her face to shield her eyes from the flash of light. She wanted to witness the Chancellor's arrival, to pinpoint the source of power, if she could; then, at least she would know one of their secrets.
To Rayna’s surprise, the wind was so strong on this occasion, she stumbled backwards, tripped on a root, and fell into the pond backwards. Drenched, from top to bottom, she sat up and wiped the water from her face. Chancellor Semanni stood on the shore with a smirk on her face and a hand stretched out.
Greetings, Rayna. Can I offer you a hand?”
I never see you people coming but you're all very punctual.”
Despite her long body and wide shoulders, the Chancellor’s laughter was feeble.
As she joined the outlander's amusement, a brazen frog hopped onto Rayna’s chest, croaked her name, then leaped into the water, causing her to flinch. “That was my frog—It said my name again.” She took the Chancellor’s extended hand and heaved her soaked body.
I'm Semanni, the Chancellor of Kumeron and the Minister of Sciences. I've come to grant your third gift and final lesson.”
Unless you have some dry clothing, I'll settle for the present.”
Semanni smiled and said, “I’m sorry to say I only have the gift.”
Rayna wrung water from her dress, which now hung below her knees. “Sometimes I swim here naked.”
Semanni chuckled, reached into the pocket of her deep yellow, pleated gown, and handed Rayna a metal pedestal with a stone sphere resting on the top of it. “We call this sweetrock. It's too dark to see it clearly, but the round stone is purple, and it produces a purple flame when you light it.”
A stone that burns like wood?”
You'll soon discover it doesn't produce any noticeable smoke, and it never gets any smaller, no matter how often you burn it.”
Rayna rubbed the round stone. “How's that possible?”
With a weak smile, Semanni said, “One of those mysteries of life.”
One of those riddles of your world, you mean.”
It also emits a sweet scent that you may find a little stimulating, but it's not addictive.”
As Rayna lifted her gift, she asked, “What exactly am I supposed to do with it?”
Light the stone every night, then watch it burn for a few minutes as you appreciate the fragrance. And don't underestimate its power. The scent will be a constant reminder of your future life in Valaycia. Using your three gifts on a regular basis will give you a wondrous power that grows stronger. If you miss a day, don't feel guilty, just do the best you can. And whether you move fast or slow, you'll still reach your final destination.”
She dropped her head. “It would be easier to follow your guidance if I knew a little more.”
Some decisions are more effective if they’re based on trust.”
Although she understood the Chancellor's point, Rayna was still disenchanted. She trusted the Liberation, yet she felt more challenged than ever before. Maybe that was a good thing. Either way, she had to make a commitment to be successful in her quest for freedom.
Semanni touched Rayna’s shoulder. “I understand how frustrating it can be not to know more about your future and how we can guide you, but the puzzle has a worthy design. Every destiny starts with a vision, and that vision has an impact on everyone one around you.”
Rayna held her breath. If they could hold back some of the truth, then it was fair for her to do the same. “I already made my choice. One day, with your help, I'll leave this place forever.”
Semanni pulled a small bottle out of her other pocket. “In Valaycia, we have a beetle called the happy widow who lives in the forsest that surrounds the ponds where the frogs migrate when they leave here each year. When the female beetle lays her eggs, her mate dies shortly thereafter, and the widow happily feeds herself to the frogs as a gift for not eating her before she gives birth to a new generation.”
So she’s a happy widow. I really like that, and I always loved insects. My mother has a vivarium with a lot of beautiful insects.”
She handed Rayna the bottle, which had tiny holes in the lid to allow the beetle to breathe. “Simply take off the lid and set the widow free. She’ll know what to do.”
Rayna stared at Semanni motionless. Uncle has a lot of explaining to do. Kneeling by the edge of the pond, she followed the instructions, and watched with reverence as the widow crawled out of the bottle and fell into the water. Suddenly, the head of frog broke the water’s surface, croaked Rayna’s name clearly, and then swallowed the beetle. A shiver coursed up her spine, as the frog vanished just as quickly as it appeard.
Putting the frog and the happy widow in the lake are rituals that protect your gifts and create a stronger bond between you, your frog, and the Valaycian people. A Liberation guide will notify you soon. For your protection, he should be the only person you talk to about your gifts. You won't meet with me again or Chancellor Prime Danar until you're ready to enter Valaycia.”
Please don’t go yet. How will I know when I’m ready?”
A mischievous smile snatched her face. “Your frog will know. Your readiness depends on how much you desire freedom. You make progress at your own pace, so have faith.”
A pang of sadness crawled into Rayna’s voice. “Please tell my Aunt Loreen and Valeena I love them.”
I promise I will. Farewell for now.”
The pond fired up again, blinding Rayna. When she opened her eyes, the Chancellor was gone. A tear threatened to squeeze its way to the surface, but she denied it access. Every liberator had to face the same obstacles, and if they could endure them, then so could she. After all, no one said she had to like the conditions; she only had to agree to them. The thing that mattered most was arriving at the final destination, but exactly how long that would take was impossible to know, despite their guidance. She could get arrested for breaking a law or marry Evak or die in some accicent. Along with Valaycia and the Vudaki, life itself was a mystery, which made it unpredictable. A part of her wished that she were a child again, when life was simpler.

The next day ushered in the autumn season, and Rayna woke up early, after a relentless night of grappling with her pillow, eager to watch the Harvest Parade that was about to begin on the busy thoroughfare below. As she sat on the second-floor terrace of her uncle’s antique shop, she read the daily newsprint, which declared that the tenth blistering sandstorm that year had hammered the western edge of Kryton with punishing results the night before, leaving four people dead.
She stared at the picture of the dreadful wasteland that magnified the histrionic caption, an image that would have sadden her, had she not been so confused. Charcoal grey, the desert sand was akin to the sandy beaches of the nearby ocean, which led scientists to believe it was a lost portion of the ocean's floor. Unlike the ocean, the desert allowed no space for life to take root: it was pure like the fiery star that burned above it. Running north along the western border of Kryton, the desert gradually mutated from gray to brown, finally colliding with the Frozen Peaks. Like a legion of sculptors waging an endless war, the sandstorms carved a wavy surface along a seamless perpendicular cliff, which migrated west, vanishing into the gritty unknown, climbing to altitudes that spawned the deadly spires the mountain range was known for. Over the centuries, untold generations of explorers had traveled west along the base of the cliff; many confronted death only to return disappointed; many more were devoured by the sandy void. Rayna wondered if any of the lost voyagers had ever found the Distant Land that filled the dreams of so many of her people.
Disgusted, Rayna dropped the newsprint. Her triad of visitations left her with a biting emptiness that breakfast failed to fill. If she joined the Rebellion, at least she could fight for the same cause as Evak. Rayna wanted the best life possible, refusing to settle for less, but attaining it through a four-year commitment to the Liberation was too long of a wait. If anybody knew a shortcut it was Uncle.
With Sheera in tow, wearing a blue cotton dress with yellow stripes and her second pair of new shoes in as many months, Celandra join Rayna on the external balcony of Uncle Keegan’s shop. Supervised by Uncle, Basha and his best friend mingled with the bustling crowd on the street below, anticipating the imminent spectacle, while expressive merchants peddled food and souvenirs.
It was never too late to convince Mother to join the Liberation; sympathetic at heart, all she needed was a good push. Rayna switched to a cheery persona, as she smiled at her baby sister. “Are you excited, Sheera?”
Grinning, Sheera ran to press her little face against the bars of the balcony’s gylion railing to get a better look at the festivities on the street beneath her. With a serious expression, Celandra asked, “Have you made a decision yet?”
Rayna knew her response might frighten her mother. “I’m feeling indecisive, but if I take that step I want my family and friends to join me sooner than later. I know that’s not realistic for you and father, but . . .”
It’s not.” Celandra stroked Sheera’s wavy hair. “And we're happy living here.”
You and Father don't look real happy to me.”
I know we don't always show it.” She looked away. “But your father loves his work, and Sovereign Varacus has a vision for the future that might improve life for everyone, not just the people who live here in Jelico.”
Mother, do you really believe that?”
She glanced at Rayna and then nodded slowly. “Yes. But if things get worse, your father and I can always join the Liberation after your brother and sister are grown.”
Discouraged by her mother’s lack of support, Rayna changed the subject to the very thing the Valaycian leaders asked her to avoid. Her mother would never betray her, and she was more likely to talk about this taboo than her uncle since he was a liberator. Sounds of excitement caught Rayna’s ear. The parade was starting. A troupe of sprightly fiddlers and dancers led the procession, followed by an army of laughing jugglers, who wore yellow feathers from head to toe. Amused by the panoply, Rayna asked, “How much do you know about the three gifts?”
The question seemed to cause her mother discomfort. “Not much, but some people believe the frogs are the key.” Squealing and giggling, Sheera clapped her tiny hands with exuberance.
How much do you think the government knows?” Rayna asked.
Her mother’s tone sounded impatient. “I'm sure they know more than most, Rayna.”
I don't think they know as much as Aunt Loreen did.”
Her mother’s expression became sullen. “Maybe not. Your Uncle Keegan says the riddle of the three gifts is never solved until someone’s been using them for a long while.”
Several wagons full of fruit and vegetables followed the jugglers. Rayna stood, her mind vaulting back and forth. “If the Sovereign knows so much, why doesn't he stop the visitations?”
It seems to me he doesn’t need to, like all the sovereigns before him. As you know, most people believe that those who try to escape get killed by the Vudaki or turn back before that happens. That’s what I believe.”
Rayna spoke with angry resignation. “Maybe it’s just a lie to keep us under control.”
Her mother sighed. “Many people we know might have escaped safely, but we’ll never know for sure.”
Maybe the government put Aunt Loreen and Valeena in prison like the retired citizens.”
They don't go to prison, Rayna, they retire to the Institute to be cared for when they're too old to care for themselves and they're a burden on their families.” As a generous postscript to the recent Bloodberry Jubilee, a long wagon filled with baskets of bloodberries lumbered by, while several attendants passed out free cups of berries to the emulous bystanders.
The Liberation says they're forced to do work for the Republic, and if they refuse, then their privileges are taken away, and sometines they're punished and beaten, just like criminals in prison.”
Celandra raised her voice a little and spoke more forcefully. “I've heard those stories, and I don’t believe them. Your grandfather's there. Do you want to believe he's being mistreated?”
I want the truth, Mother. Why won't they let us visit him anymore?”
A friend of your father who works there told him that your grandfather’s gotten worse these last few months.” An apologetic expression crossed her mother’s face. “And it's easier to accept the inevitable if all ties are broken.”
Rayna shook her head with force. “That's what they tell us, but they're hiding something.”
Although her mother often became impatient, it was rare for her to get angry. “I won't stand for any more fanatical talk—I want peace for once!”
Rayna was briefly distracted by a team of acrobats who thrilled the audience with amazing feats. Unfortunately, a young performer was injured doing a risky maneuver. She crossed her arms with a look of contempt. “Then maybe I should move out.”
Maybe you should.” A look of anguish twisted her mother’s face. “I’m worried that you're turning out to be more rebellious than Keegan.”
Frustrated by her mother’s attitude, she blurted, “I'll tell him that when I see him.” Glancing Celandra, she almost regretted her words.
A topless, horse-drawn carriage approached the shop with Sovereign Varacus and his fellow governors, prompting Rayna to lean on the metal barrier to get a closer look. Several armed guards on horseback surrounded Varacus and his precious Guardian. The governors waved, and most of the onlookers clapped or cheered. Then, with perfect timing, two men on the catwalk of the venerable Journey’s Inn, across the street, rolled out a huge sheet of white cloth that hung from the walkway’s railing, exposing a sign that read: STOP OPPRESSION. At the same time, an identical sign appeared above the bookstore on the opposite side of the road. A few of the mounted soldiers veered down intersecting byways, scattering the spooked spectators. The two men dashed along the catwalk down a narrow alley, trying to escape. Rebels. As the Sovereign’s carriage turned off the thoroughfare, apparently as a precaution, the Lukanda howled, frightening many of the children, including Sheera, who ran to her mother for protection.
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