The Midnight Sea
My eyes flew open at the crack of dawn. I groaned and rubbed my forehead. My scalp tingled, an icy, unpleasant sensation. I knew right away where Darius was and what he was doing. It was another side effect of the bond, I’d discovered. I could feel his heart beating. I knew that one of his boots was too tight. I could shut my eyes and tell you exactly where he was, even if he was hundreds of leagues away.
Why had no one told me what it would be like? I supposed Tijah did, but this was much worse than I’d expected. Much, much worse.
I threw on my new scarlet tunic and marched down to the river. Tendrils of mist swirled through the dead reeds at the edge. It was late autumn and the air had a dank chill that promised snow.
My daēva stood there, stripped to the waist, pouring water over his head with his right hand. He wore a gold faravahar on a chain around his neck, its eagle wings spread wide. His left arm lay at his side, grey and dead. I stared at his shoulder, at the juncture where smooth skin met rough. His Druj curse.
It slowed me for a moment, seeing that pathetic arm, but I wasn’t yet ready to forgive him for waking me. That was my excuse, anyway. Of course, what really angered me was the terrible realization that I was burdened with a sorrow not my own, but that bled me nonetheless. What really angered me was him—everything about him.
He was calmer this morning, but I wasn’t. I stopped about twenty feet away. He didn’t turn around although he knew I was there.
“It’s nice that you’re so pious,” I said. “But don’t you think it’s a little early to be down here performing the morning rites?”
He paused, then dumped the last of the water from the bowl. I felt the cold trickle down my spine and my lips tightened.
“I was taught by the magi to come at first light,” Darius said. “Did you expect to sleep in? I’m afraid that’s not the way it works for Water Dogs.” He smiled, and we both knew it was fake. “I’m sorry if I’ve offended you in some way.”
I stared at him, at the dark hair plastered across his forehead, his stubborn mouth. He looked so human. And yet there was something in the way Darius held himself, perfectly at ease in his own skin. Still but coiled, like the wolves I’d seen in the mountains.
“You haven’t offended me in the least,” I said. “I suppose you need the blessing more than I do.”
I spun on my heel and walked away, knowing I had wounded him. A small stab to my own heart. And I felt slightly ashamed. But that wasn’t the end of it. Then I felt his satisfaction at my shame. And my own anger that he knew and was glad.
And then his amusement at my anger!
I stalked off, determined to think nothing, to feel nothing, ever again.
If only it were that easy.
Conflicted by Ruby Black Publication Date: April 27, 2016 Genres: New Adult, Contemporary, Romance
About Ruby BlackRuby Black is the pseudonym for a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. She likes angsty romance, alpha males, and full bookshelves. Her novel Conflicted will be available April 27, 2016.
A Criminal Magic
GUEST POST by LEE KELLY:
The pitch for my latest book, A CRIMINAL MAGIC, is THE NIGHT CIRCUS meets THE PEAKY BLINDERS, and for anyone who’s seen that twisty, violent BBC drama, you’ll know this means there’s some pretty hardened criminals in this one. My story takes place during an alternative Prohibition-era America, but instead of alcohol, magic has been prohibited. And just like during real Prohibition, gangsters have created an extensive, lucrative underworld to make sure people still get what they want, despite the letter of the law.
Because the magic in this novel is tricky and dangerous by nature, I knew I needed gangsters that weren’t just ruthless – these wise guys had to be clever, driven, and one step ahead of the sorcerers they employ in all aspects of their illegal trade. For inspiration and ideas, I naturally turned to history. Here are some of the notorious, hardnosed gangsters that most inspired me while writing A CRIMINAL MAGIC:
Owen “Owney” Madden was a New York gangster nicknamed “the Killer,” and aptly so as he was known for his very public executions. Madden more than once gunned down his rival gang members in the streets, and he allegedly shot a man on a trolley for flirting with his date. Despite being a hothead, he was also a shrewd businessman, and ran The Cotton Club (as well as some other swanky speakeasies) in New York City. In my novel, Erwin McEvoy, the boss of the Irish Shaw Gang, is loosely based on Madden (with a little Boo Boo Hoff thrown in there too. Boo Boo’s up next).
I have to admit, I was first attracted to Max “Boo Boo” Hoff because of his name, but the more I read about this Philly-based crime boss, the more fascinated I became. Hoff was a boxer turned gangster, and his bootlegging operation was so successful during Prohibition, it’s claimed he had an office of operations with 175 phones and a weekly payroll of $30,000 (in the 1920s)! Also known for his partying and extravagant lifestyle, Hoff frequently rubbed shoulders with celebrity types at his lavish affairs.
Also intriguing was Guiseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria, the head of the New York Italian-American mafia – the city’s powerful crime alliance known as the Five Families – during the later years of Prohibition. But Masseria was a bit of an underworld dictator: he even required monetary tributes from other Families as testaments of their loyalty. His reign naturally didn’t last: several families declared war on Masseria, which broke up the crime dynasty and led to his execution. I loosely based my novel’s Italian-American gang, the D Street Outfit, on Masseria’s New York operation.
And of course, no list of Prohibition-era gangsters would be complete without Al Capone. Though my novel’s young gangster-on-the-rise, Harrison Gunn, is actually nothing like media-hungry Capone was, I couldn’t believe that Capone was at the height of his power and became a Chicago crime boss in his mid-twenties. So I made Gunn younger (originally he was going to be middle-aged), to help rev up the tension between him and my female protagonist, Joan.
For the One
“What the hell was that? Why did you storm off?”
“Because I didn’t want to say anything rude, and you made me angry.”
“Because I asked you to look me in the eye?”
“Well, maybe I’m just tired of you looking everywhere but my eyes.”
He blinked. “It’s difficult.”
He shook his head. “Because when I’m looking in your eyes, I’m too distracted to hear what you are saying. It’s intense.”
“What’s intense? I mean, I know I’m beautiful, but…” I joked in an effort to lighten the mood.
“Yes. You are beautiful. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
I sucked in a breath. Wow. He’d said it in a matter-of-fact tone as if stating that the sky was undeniably blue. There was no art to the words, no obvious attempt at flattery. Why was my throat closing up like this?
“I was joking.” I laughed self-consciously. “I’m not really that full of myself.”
“I don’t know what that means. But you shouldn’t joke about being beautiful. It’s not a joke.” He stuffed his hands into his pockets and waited.
“I didn’t realize,” I suddenly blurted, my voice trembling with regret.
“That it was so hard for you to look in my eyes. I thought that was a myth. I don’t spend a lot of time around autistic people.”
“It’s hard to look in anyone’s eyes, but easier if I know the person.” I was flooded with relief that he seemed okay discussing this. “Mostly it keeps me from focusing on what is being said. It also makes me feel like I’m violating that person’s privacy.”
“By looking in their eyes?”
“Like I’m seeing things that I shouldn’t see.” He shakes his head. “I get tired of having to explain it to people. And you aren’t going to get it so—”
“The eyes are the windows to the soul,” I interrupted quietly.
“Eyes are not windows.”
“It’s a metaphor, Wil. It means that a person’s eyes can show what’s going on with them beneath the surface. So maybe you’re feeling like a Peeping Tom?”
He was quiet for a long time, shifting from one leg to the other. “Yeah, so maybe if I make eye contact with you as long as you want, you’ll let me peep through your window.”
I opened my mouth, about to lodge a protest, when I saw the smile on his face. He was rather pleased with himself and his joke. “Ha ha. Then again, you do stare at my boobs enough.”
“I like your breasts.” His eyes darted to my chest, causing my nipples to tighten under my t-shirt.
I folded my arms to cover my unconscious reaction and laughed. “I can tell.”
“And your butt. And your legs. And—”
“All right, all right. I get the picture. Let’s get in your car,” I said with an exasperated sigh. Typical man.
The Neverland Wars
A flash of lightning electrified the sky, shooting light through the forest with a jarring pang. The boom of thunder followed immediately after. The sky was grey and the clouds shifted like a swarm of dark fish in a pond. Gwen feared she would be caught in a storm, but not a drop of rain had fallen yet.
All at once, Gwen found herself in a meadow. She had never been here before; she knew that. Wildflowers cropped up in sporadic clumps, and the long, green grasses were uncut at her calves. The tree line had suddenly broken. One minute, she was racing through the forest, the next, she was floating here. Pausing to catch her breath, she ironically felt safer in this open area than in the claustrophobic security of the forest. She landed gently, unthinkingly. Turning her head to the sky, she saw the faint grey clouds blowing and rolling away. Darker clouds seemed to be coming to take their place.
On the other side of the meadow, Peter burst into the clearing. Bramble was leading him, guiding the boy to poor, lost Gwen. If Gwen had understood the fairy language, she would have already known that.
“Peter?” Gwen shouted. She ran to him, and between her bounding strides and his quick flight, they met in the middle of the meadow, cornflowers and lilacs growing up around them. Perhaps if he had been on the ground initially, she would have hugged him. Peter lingered in the air for just a moment though, and by the time he landed, the impulse to hug each other had melted away into urgent discussion. “What are you doing out here?” His voice carried the sort of anger that only accompanied concern.
“I got lost in the woods; I was trying to come back. Is something wrong, Peter?”
Bramble flitted back and forth, pacing in the air, objecting to Peter and Gwen having this conversation now, rather than when they were safely underground.
“The opposition, they’ve launched an attack. We’ve got to get to cover.”
“What? No, it’s just a storm.” Gwen didn’t understand what Peter was telling her, but she had already made up her mind that she didn’t believe it.
The sky was suddenly drained of light. The thin, grey clouds that had blocked the sun were eclipsed by darker, brooding storm clouds, and as the daylight faded, small, grey flecks began to rain down. As they drifted softly, Gwen knew it wasn’t rain. Her attention was as captivated as Peter’s was, but she did not understand what it was the way he did. “Snow?” she asked quizzically, looking at the grey and dirty powder as it started to fall around her.
Peter held out his hand and caught a flake of it, crushing it in his hand. It left a smoky residue on his palm. “Ash.”
The winds picked up, and more of the ash furiously fluttered down. It became larger, and Gwen could hardly comprehend the charred flecks of paper that were plummeting down. Peter zipped up into the air, jumping more than flying, to grab a large square of it. He came back down immediately, a look of horror on his face.
“Peter, what is it?” Gwen pled, hoping that her fear was born of her unknowing, that if she only had answers she wouldn’t be afraid, but from the look on his face, she knew that answers would only bring more fear.
The invisible hand of the wind grabbed the paper from out of Peter’s hold. It blew straight to Gwen. Catching it, she realized it was a page from out of a newspaper; the title read—ISIS ATTACK ON ERBIL; HUNDREDS DEAD.
She had seen newspaper headlines before, but this news did not belong here. Not in Neverland. It was too dark, too terrifying of a thing to read amid the lilacs and cornflowers. Again, she begged, “What is this, Peter?”
The page was torn out of her hand by the vindictive wind. Peter answered her, with a word she had never feared so greatly. “Reality.”
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SNEAK A PEEK AT SCARRED:
“It’s a little late for you to be working out still, River. Rest periods are for exactly that, rest.”
She slowed the treadmill to a walk and stepped to the side. Never turning around to face me, she took a swig from her water bottle and meticulously closed the cap.
“I don’t need rest. It’s been six months, Ethan, and I know that eventually Derrick is going to find me. I don’t have the luxury of resting.”
“Pantera,” I corrected her.
She turned then, watching me with a question in her eyes. “Why do they call you that?”
“Because it’s my name, and it’s the one you will use.”
“Ethan Kendall is your name, and I’ve been calling you that the whole time,” she said. She had fire, I’d give her that. But this was my world, my rules. Ethan was a man I wasn’t. A figment of a cracked memory that didn’t mean shit anymore.
“Do you know what Pantera means?” I asked her. My glide toward her was slow. I paused at random intervals, stalking her, pushing her. She was prey. She fought hard not to be, but I still smelled weakness on her, on the edges of her anger. She was always afraid, terrified of what was coming, and not knowing what the result would be. It was that fear that would destroy her.
That fear drew me in.
“Panther,” she said. “I looked it up on the laptop you gave me.”
“I earned that name, River. Carved it out in skin and made my enemies regret ever trespassing against me. What have you done? What have you been made to survive that would ever make you think you could stand on even ground with me?”
I could feel the heat of her anger, but it didn’t stop me. It couldn’t. Anger wasn’t what made me the demon that I was. It was pure, cold, unfiltered hopelessness forged into a blade to cut my way through life.
“You’ve never asked what I went through before,” she said.
I shook my head. “Because it doesn’t matter. I don’t care.”
“You cared enough to take me on after you saw me in the hospital,” she returned.
“That’s where you’re wrong, River. So wrong. I enjoy playing with my food. Your every breath marks you as a victim. Every time you freeze when Pavel attacks you from behind, I know you will fail. And every second you look at me with those fearful eyes, I know that whatever Derrick did, he did because you let him.”
She roared her anger, and I laughed. Even as she leapt at me, swinging her right fist hard, I enjoyed her anger. She was smart, sweeping her left leg to take me down, but I twisted my body into her so we were chest to chest. I sensed the shift in her stance and blocked her knee angled for my crotch and wrapped my arm around her neck.
“You can’t beat me, River. You never could.”
Two seconds. That was all it took to take her to the ground. And then she was under me, punching, twisting, and fighting to get away. I let her do nothing. I splayed out above her, pushing her into the mat beneath us. Then I gripped one wrist and planted it above her head. She fought harder, raking her nails down the side of my neck before I could grab that wrist too.
“You have claws, detenysh, but not like mine.”
I bit down on the soft spot of her neck, where it met her shoulder. Her pulse throbbed against my tongue. She screamed, but I didn’t clamp down. I didn’t need to draw blood or hurt her to prove my point. But, somehow, I lost what I had been trying to convey. Between her scent, filled with lavender, and the feel of her body against mine, I noticed her as a man would.
Her breasts were smashed against my chest, but I could feel their fullness. I was cradled in her thighs, a position that went from thinking of the fighting front mount stance, to darker needs. Blood rushed through my veins and pooled into my dick, short circuiting any rational thought.
I wanted her.
I eased my teeth off her and licked over the abused flesh. She froze, a casualty to my strength, my desire, and I couldn’t stop. I traced my way over her jaw and nipped her chin. Her small gasp was all the permission I needed to take her mouth with mine.
Flavor blasted over my taste buds. How long had it been since I kissed a woman? Since I felt one give under my hands? Of all the ones I’d known, I couldn’t place her taste. It was wild and free, and tinted with tears. I knew that place.
Between youth and cynical maturation brought on by fear.
I’d been there.
She was at a precipice she didn’t even realize. She wanted me to make her a killer and all I could think about was taking her body with mine. How fucked up was I that I wouldn’t stop?
I wanted to punish her for making me want something that shouldn’t exist in my life any more. My life was an abyss and she wouldn’t survive it. I hated her for wanting to make me try.
In Irina’s Cards
This section is taken from Chapter 4. Title character Irina is still coming to terms with the fact that ‘variant’ really means mutant with a noticeable gift or ability. We get a chance to see Irina having a vision. And we get a first glimpse at the aquakinetic, pyrokinetic, and impossibly strong variations in three other core characters.
We reached the end of the Harbour and the coastline opened up around the corner. I saw a sign for ferries to the US in front of a giant concrete breakwater and a pub decorated with a helm wheel and a mural with starfish and orcas. The hazy soft blues of the ocean and sky were broken by the jagged edges of American snow-capped mountains on the horizon. The seaside sidewalk had a mix of young families, dog-walkers, and spry seniors in trendy windbreakers.
Be Witched: A Paranormal Romance Boxed Set of Witches and Magic
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