Sneak peek Classified Planet: Turongal

I know I usually do the first chapter as a sneak peek, but in this book the first chapter is in space before arriving planet-side and gives you some good background information but isn’t quite as fun as chapter 2 when they arrive on Turongal. So I am giving you chapter 2 instead! The valuable thing to keep in mind that you would have known reading chapter 1 is that human civilization has reached a point where Earth became united but to deal with population concerns and global interests in offworld colonizing, they managed both affairs by creating three distinct classes: citizen, soldier, and the non-gratis. The latter class does not possess any rights of citizenship. They must obtain licenses to have children, relocate etc, their lives completely controlled by government assignment/ supply and demand. They are also entered into lotteries for initial colonization efforts on unknown worlds. That is what we find on Turongal. The heroine, Charlie, is from the non-gratis class sent to be part of the colonization team. Those who have read the short erotica Serpent of the Abyss might recognize the Exploratory company name.

Chapter 2

Movement on the planet surface felt sluggish. Despite the slightly lower gravitational pull that should have made walking easier, the weight of Charlie’s environmental protection suite, was crushing. The EPS was made from heavy synthetic materials that covered every inch of her body, the thick gloves magnetically sealing to the suite as did her boots. If that weren’t heavy enough, her standard issue rifle was heavy as fuck, and the helmet and filtration unit added considerable weight. The air was breathable on Turongal, but everyone was required to wear the unit and helmet as a safety precaution. Altogether, it made for a heavy fucking load. It wasn’t quite as bad as it had been during drills on board the colony ship, which had kept its artificial gravity set to Earth standard, only adjusting to Turongal gravity in the final weeks before landing, but it was still a bitch.

At least it was warm on the planet surface, despite the frequent windstorms that swept the landscape. She couldn’t feel the temperature of the air, but between the sunlight and her TRS that she wore close to her skin, she was no longer freezing like she had been for the last three years on the lower deck. Instead, she was uncomfortably hot, the sweat gathering between her skin and suite making it stick in places. She almost missed the wretched cold…at least then physical exertion was welcoming for the warmth it brought.

Squinting at the dome reflecting light in the distance, Charlie cursed. She swore it was no closer than it had been over an hour ago. The miles between the safe landing zone and the colony settlement seemed to stretch on forever. She didn’t know which sadist decided that all the non-gratas would walk to the colony, but she wanted to kill them. Already the land vehicles had disappeared into the distance carrying essential personnel, leaving them to catch up or fall over and die where they stood on the alien world. The sector head wouldn’t give a shit. He would merely cross them off his list. No doubt, somewhere eyes were watching them to keep count of how many made it alive to the colony and who were not traveling quickly enough to garner full rations when they would finally arrive. Assholes.

A drone flew by and she groaned. Yep there it was. She just barely resisted the urge to raise her middle finger at her superiors doubtlessly watching at the other end. She shouldn’t antagonize them, not when she was already going to get her ass jumped for what she was about to do. Fuck it, she needed to rest for a moment. She wasn’t killing herself for anyone.

Ignoring the people passing by, Charlie leaned against a rocky outcropping, dropped her rifle to her side and tilted her head back in disgust. A low groan worked its way out of her.

How much hotter was it going to get?

She was tempted to disobey direct orders and shuck the EPS off. Sure, there might be some toxin in the air that might kill her, but the first touch of air on her skin would almost be worth the poisoning. Come to think of it, she would happily peel herself out of the damn TRS and walk the rest of the way nude if they would let her. She examined the rocky ground. Ok, she would keep her fucking boots.

            Doug grunted as he stopped at her side, shouldering his rifle. “Home, sweet home,” he muttered, his eyes scanning the gray landscape. Everything was just miles of gray rock and bluish gray brush with scattered trees of similar hue that had the faintest green tinge to them.

            Jace dropped beside her, pulling at the neck of his EPS, allowing his weapon to fall at his side loosely from its strap. “I feel like I am being suffocated. I can’t believe that they are making us walk all the way to colony wearing this shit.”

“Probably thinks it is a good practice for when we are out there working,” Ben retorted wearily. The strap of his weapon hung from one shoulder as he braced his hands on his hips and he glared at the distant colony dome. “We are going to be expected to be out here for hours every day laboring. Besides, they probably didn’t want to expend the gas sending the land rovers back and forth to transport us all.”

“Of course, we would be worth less than the fucking gas,” Jace sighed. “Sadistic motherfuckers.”

Exhausted, Charlie leaned forward allowing her upper body to sag over her knees. Turning her head to the side, she gave Jace a tired grin. “Look at the bright side. Apparently after we get our quarters and assignments, we will have the rest of the remaining daylight hours free.”

Jace snorted. “Do you suppose they have an operational tavern? If so, I am planning on getting wasted and trying to forget I was sent it this wasteland.”

“It ain’t so bad,” Doug retorted gruffly as he slapped Jace on the back. “It reminds me of the small laborer’s town I grew up in near the Badlands in South Dakota. Color is off, and this place has more trees, but it reminds me of home all the same. A lot of open terrain—a lot of possibilities.”

“Whatever dude,” Jace sighed, bracing his hands behind his head. “I don’t see it. Everything just looks gray and dull, like something from the old twentieth century Twilight Zone vids. I expect at any moment for someone to start telling me all about a fifth dimension beyond light and shadow.”

Ben rolled his eyes and shoved Jace, upsetting his twin’s balance. “I keep telling you those old vids are going to rot your brain. They are on the restricted list for a reason.”

“What’s new? All the fun shit is. Anything that makes you actually use your brain.”

Charlie grimaced in agreement. She wasn’t Jace. She never had the nerve to download forbidden content from illegal servers. At thirty-two, she spent her entire life playing by the rules hoping that she wouldn’t get sent to the colonies. She kept her head down and worked her ass off. In the end, it hadn’t done a damn bit of good. Her name had still been entered into the Lottery and no one had been willing to write her a recommendation to get an exemption.

“Do you think they will have uplinks ready to the planetary data system?” she asked aloud as she pushed herself off the rock. She was curious just how cut off they were in their little part of the galaxy.

“Yeah,” Doug sighed, wrinkling his brow. “They have key satellites orbiting designated planets and a few space stations between here and there. They newest that have been set up were scheduled to go live a year ago. Earth isn’t going to let us do anything without their stamp of approval. No doubt the sector head will be in contact with them daily in regard to our progress.”

“Planning a little illicit viewing, Charlie?” Jace grinned as shoved himself back onto to his feet. “I hear on some of the outer space stations they broad cast some really freaky alien-human porn. Illegal as hell, but I bet I can find it. It certainly would be a way to wile away many lonely nights,” he chuckled with a gleam of avarice in his eyes. “They let it slide on the colonies because they would rather everyone just be wanking off in their quarters instead of stirring up trouble. What do you say—planning on rubbing one out?”

“After three years shut in with Doug, probably more than one,” she retorted, falling easily into the camaraderie she enjoyed with the men.

“I would certainly volunteer to be used,” Ben offered with a flirtatious grin as he walked with a relaxed gait at her side. A little swagger going on…but both brothers were good for that. She wasn’t so easily taken in. Especially when she knew full well that he didn’t mean it in any way that mattered. He offered his services widely.

Charlie raised an eyebrow. “Are you built like an Aturian and did not tell me?”

“Damn, that’s a low blow,” he laughed. “I’m only human, Charlie. But we could have some hot, sweaty fun. I’ve certainly had no complaints.”

She chuckled and shook her head. “Thanks, but I seem to recall how quickly you got around on the ship. I think I will be quite happy with my vibrator and some tawdry visual stimulation.”

Charlie felt a tingle between her thighs thinking about it. It had been a while since she had enough privacy to rub one out, and even longer since she had sex. The thought of watching Aturian porn in the privacy of her own quarters, even if it was literally a hole in the wall, sent a hot lick of desire through her, leaving behind a needy edge that demanded satisfaction. Like many human women, Charlie definitely appreciated the aliens and their extremely exotic dicks. It was a shame that they were nowhere near Aturian space.

“What about you Doug, any plans for a little R and R…recreational release that is?” Jace asked impishly as he skirted around their larger friend and swung his weapon over his shoulder once more.

Doug leveled him with a hard glare. “None of your damned business, fuck-head. Keep your mind on what you are supposed to be doing, you can go waste brain cells later when you are alone. We need to catch up to the group. The sector head isn’t going to like the fact that we are lagging so far behind intentionally.” As if to lend weight to his words, a drone zipped overhead and circled low before heading back toward the colony.

Yeah, they had fucked around long enough.

Picking up their pace, they trod after the rest of the colonialists, silence stretching out among them as they focused on their destination. It took all that Charlie had just to keep her going. Gritting her teeth through the suffocating heat, she continued to put one foot in front of the other, her attention locked on colony settlement. One foot in front of the other and eventually she would get there. It became her mantra. Even when sweat slicked her entire body and her breath came out in miserable pants, she forced herself to continue walking as she watched the settlement get increasingly closer.

At midday when the sun beat down on them with a blistering, ceaseless heat and the horizon wavered in and out like a mirage, their group passed between two tall, rocky cliffs. The relief as they entered the heavy shade was instantaneous. Captivated by the rugged beauty of the cliffs, Charlie slowed her pace as she stared up at them, an awareness skittering over her that made her muscles tighten with apprehension. A few bent trees and thick brush bent as a hard wind blew through, beating at her helmet, and several small, loose stones tumbled down the side of one slope. Her mouth went dry as her gaze drifted over the incline.

She felt watched.

Her heart sped up as she slowed even more. Her head turning as she kept the cliff to her left in sight. What the fuck was out there?

Doug turned his head and glanced back at her, his brow slamming down into a scowl. Hoisting his rifle onto his shoulder, he walked back to her side and nudged her gently with his elbow.

“You okay, kid?”

Charlie jerked her head around and swallowed thickly. Nodding her head, she dredged up a tight small. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just freaking out for a moment there. I could have sworn that there was something out there.”

Her friend narrowed his eyes as he looked at the same cliff she’d been staring at, his lips tightening. He shook his head slowly as he grabbed her arm, pulling her ahead of him. “I don’t know. Let’s keep moving. We don’t have much further until we are at the settlement. Just stick by my side.”

Nodding wordlessly, she dropped her head slightly against another burst of wind, eager to get away from the cliff. Whatever was watching them had felt distinctly threatening, like a predator weighing its next meal. Perhaps intelligent? She let out a humorless laugh as she clutched her rifle tighter to her. Had all those years in the dark of the lower deck succeeded in fucking her head up? She had to have been imagining it. Durval Exploratory would have known if this world was inhabited, and they would have told the Earth Government. There was nothing to worry about.

Sighing, she focused on Doug’s steady, reassuring steps behind her as they breached the canyon and made their way over the comparatively flatter landscape that led to the settlement. Although the sun still beat down on the mercilessly and the wind was sharper in their exposed location, the terrain was easier to walk over, and they made good progress. The dome loomed over them as they passed the large field droids grinding deep furrows into the earth, the blades of the dangerous machines whipping at high speeds. They gave them wide berth, none of them wishing to get too close to the machines and risk losing a limb or worse should they fall near one.

When at last they arrived at the entrance, Charlie let her breath rush out of her in relief. The guard at the gate peered at them disdainfully as they stumbled through the gates. She shifted her weight from foot to foot as the antechamber air was scrubbed. A green light flashed, and the gate opened, permitting them entrance to Delta Stargazer colony.

Charlie stared at the uniform gray buildings uncomfortably. Everything was cold, gray and sterile…but for better or worse, it was home.


            A lone male glared from where he was crouched among the rocks, his four long limbs braced with tension as his tail half curved around him, aiding his balance the side of the cliff. His nostrils flared and a low growl rattled from his chest. He felt his long, blade-like claws slide out from his four paws and the fingertips of all four of his hands, wanting nothing more than to bury them in the flesh of the alien invading his planet. Lips pulled from large fangs as he issued his warning, his angry roar echoing through the canyon. Let the strangers hear it and tremble. Let them cower in their settlement. They would find no mercy or kindness on this planet. Inara Tahli would destroy them if he did not.

Sneak Peak Chapter 1 Forest of Spirits

**Forest of spirits follows where the Epilogue of Havoc of Souls leaves off…this is the story of the silvani lucumo (the king of all the silvani) and a mortal huntress who stumbles into the Eternal forest where he rules. But there is something not right with the Eternal Forest as of late.***

The woods were possessed an eerie watchfulness. They had been that way ever since the wulkwos ravaged the world, throwing the worlds of men and spirits back together. Things still lurked in the world. Ancient creatures that had been half-forgotten as human civilization had proudly grown. Since the mist came, the things of nightmares and legends returned, and people began recounting the old lore of spirits and monsters in common fairytales. Forget Disney and sweet images of happy, playful beings. The old tales were darker and far more complex tales of the other worlds that men did not dare pass into. It was whispered about among those who knew, the wild places were full of watchful eyes and predatory teeth. The woods themselves were alive in a way that was beyond all modern reckoning.

Don’t go into the woods. People disappear in the woods.

That didn’t stop hunters. Many of the young men saw it as a challenge to court the dangers of the woods and bring back food. It was a matter of survival. Though the community joined in their effort to toil on the farms, it never seemed to be enough. So, the hunters chanced the forests, whether out of bravado or need. People had to eat.

  A lone huntress stood on a hill with her bow just outside the forest that bordered her town. Diana was wise enough to never trust the forest. When the mists came, enveloping the world in its impenetrable cloud, it let monsters loose on the world. The people huddled in their houses, trembling at the sound of every terrible cry that came from within the unknown void of the white barrier, waiting for the day that it would leave. When it withdrew, it left behind an expansive dark forest in its wake.

There had always been a small forested area that had provided modest game, but nothing like what had come with the mist. During that brief span it stretched out over the landscape swallowing everything in its path, miles of highway and grass fields until it crept within a short distance of the town and finally stopped. She didn’t know why it didn’t just swallow the entire town and just get it over with. The town itself was only a shadow of what it had once been as people clung desperately to what was familiar. They shunned the unnatural forest that stretched for miles in every direction. The forest meant death for the towns bordering it. All had the same rumors of disappearances.

The rumors were what made “sensible people” stay well away from the woods and the wide game trails cut through the woods by some unknown force. Even most hunters spent as little time the forest as possible, driving into the woods via that same mysterious path to quickly fetch any game that they could find. Even the most reckless thrill-seeker among them was afraid of what had come with forest. Fewer went by foot along smaller paths. It was a form of suicide to trust a forest where people went missing, no bodies were recovered, no cries were ever heard. It was as if they had disappeared off the face of the earth. In response, all those who went to into the woods banded together to hunt in groups…all except the huntress who watched as a vehicle rushed toward from the town.

The jeep pealed up the dirt road and swung into a sharp left, skidding and spraying dirt. The men inside let out excited shouts, their spirits high as they foolishly expended fuel. Diana huffed in amusement as she watched the vehicle disappear from sight into the tree line. She felt that they were monumentally stupid driving into the forest but couldn’t help but to enjoy their exuberance. She didn’t even mind that they excluded her from their hunting parties. She didn’t like relying on anything that she couldn’t control by her own hand. Technology hadn’t survived since the mist came, all that was left was flawed, dangerous remnants—gas powered vehicles when there was fuel to spare and guns, both with the habit of malfunctioning. She trusted neither with her safety.

Laying her bow across her shoulders, she hooked her arms over the ends of it and stretched as she took in the vision of the woods. It watched it, so she watched it back. It was only fair.

Despite the dangers, she could not hate the forest, nor did she fear it enough to stay away. Every breath brought with it the musky perfume of the wood, familiar and comforting. It had been her one sanctuary when madness struck the populace sending her fleeing to the secluded property she’d inherited from her grandparents. She’d had memories of childhood summers playing at her grandmother’s cabin at the lake and then later when she had lived beside it after her parents died and her grandparents took her.

Her grandfather had taught her to hunt and be self-sufficient in the woods near their home. More importantly, to respect the woods and the tales of the fae folk that he had so often entertained her with during their treks. She had those memories to cling to when the world went dark, and the thick woods had encroached to gather at the edge of the lake like a protective sentinel watching over her.

She wasn’t a fool, however. She didn’t trust the forest…or rather, she didn’t trust the beings that had crossed over to inhabit its dark depths. Still those beings had been more reliable in behavior than most people she knew. When the mists receded, Diana had been equipped to take care of herself.

She went in quietly and respectfully, made a small gift to the denizens inhabiting the woods near her home to leave her at peace. It was common sense really. A gift exchanged for a gift. Wasn’t that what all the old stories recommend. In turn, she stayed only long enough to check her traps or bring down game if she was so fortunate. She never ventured deep into the forests and never forgot to leave a small portion of the bloody meat behind as payment. Always she was watched and could feel the eyes of strange beings touching her, cold and alien…and always hungry. She never forgot to feed them.

Perhaps that was why she was left alone when others reported disturbances that plagued them. The sort of idiots who wanted to drive deep into the woods to hunt for game, intruding empty-handed. Let them. They were always chased out for their efforts, even when they managed to bring down game to carry with them in their escape. Diana had no such problems.

Dropping her bow to hold it gripped comfortably in one hand, she strode into the trees taking the same route she always took along the smaller game trails. The breeze ruffled her bangs and toyed with the long end of her braid. The lower three quarters was platinum blonde from her last dye job that faded abruptly into the lengths of her natural brown hair. She felt it swing behind her, safely out the reach of treacherous branches.

Just within the woods, it didn’t take her long to arrive at the fallen trunk where she left her offerings. As always, the immediate area was absolutely silent of life. Though ragged from where it split, the rest of the length buried in the grasses and brush to the left of it, the tree trunk was like a short pillar that came up to her hip when she stood in front of it. The papery gray bark of the birch tree peeled in numerous places. On the altar, dipped at a slightly angle in the only smooth part of the trunk, a small bowl and cup sat on it in the same place as always, never moved. Not once in the months she’d been coming into the forest had it been visibly disturbed, nor was there any trace of animal presence anywhere near it. Yet every time she entered the woods, the dishes were clean and waiting for her. A movement in the distance drew her attention and she squinted through the trees.


A puzzled frown marred her brow, but she bent to leave her usual offerings. In the bowl she placed a small hunk of bread and several strawberries from her garden. She removed the flask from the inner pocket of her leather vest and poured out the mixture she’d made earlier that morning of honey and milk into the cup. Returning the lid to the flask, she tucked it back into her vest pocket and stepped back from the makeshift altar. Her eyes scanned the trees surrounding her as she spoke.

“Whoever you may be, accept this small gift for safe passage in my hunt. A gift for a gift.”

She waited for the usual sign of acceptance, not daring to move so much as a step away from the altar, not daring even a breath. The branches rustled as a wind blew through from deeper in the woods, the limbs bowing slightly to her. Her breath left her in a loud exhalation. She never took it for granted that the whatever lurked nearby in this part of the wood would comply and was always relieved when permission came. On the same token she never breached the creek some few miles away that bisected the woods. Although it was possibly not a territory boundary, she chose not to take the chance with anything unknown at the other side.

Whispering her thanks, Diana strode deeper among the trees, heading toward where she knew that the fist of her traps awaited. The change in atmosphere was immediate. The moment she cleared the area and lost sight of the altar, birdsong burst around her, and the hum of insects filled the air. She relaxed moderately, as much as she could with the awareness of being watched skating over her skin. She’d become used to it, and so it had become more as background noise over the months.

The brushes rattled to her side with another flash a movement at the edge of her vision. Diana stopped and frowned at the spot. That was unusual. She waited to see if any animal would suddenly dart out, but all movement disappeared as quickly as it had come. Her skin crawled. She didn’t feel threatened in any way, but the feeling of being watched weighed far heavier on her than it had been even moments before.

Minutes ticked by and nothing further happened.

Diana chuckled quietly to herself in attempt to ease her nerves. She could be getting worked up about nothing. It was likely just an animal that caught sight of her and hid. It didn’t ring true, but she clung to it as she walked further into the forest and approached her trap.

The box trap was simple in design, ideal for catching small game. She knew that some hunters preferred to use snares, but Diana avoided the use of them. She wasn’t always successful with her traps, but she fell into a comfortable rhythm with the forest near her house.

Spying the box laying flush to the ground, her nervousness was forgotten, and elation filled her at the sight. Very slowly she lifted the trap, revealing a fat rabbit hunkered in place. Whispering her thanks, she dispatched the animal quickly, dropping it into the small leather bag that hung from her belt while she reset and baited the trap. She didn’t linger even a minute longer than necessary, immediately she moved off, striding through the brush. Diana didn’t want to test the conditional benevolence of whatever watched her. Instead, she visited her other traps, only two of which held animals. Another rabbit was added to her catch, providing a spare to be added to the slowly growing storage of meat in her freezer. The weasel, however, she released and watched as it darted away.

Pushing back to her feet from where she was crouched, Diana brushed her hands off on her pants. In the distance she could hear the jeep in another part of the woods, the sound of the loud engine carrying. She’d hoped to come across a buck, but that wasn’t going to be possible with those fools in the woods frightening away all the game. She scowled in its direction, kicking a small stone out of her path as she turned her back away from it and began her trek home.

The jeep roared in her direction, the distressed sounds of human screams of terror becoming apparent the closer it got, the sounds of terror alternately separating and merging again with the mechanical rumble of the engine. Her blood chilled and she stumbled over the thick root of a tree, startled at the sound. Catching her balance, just barely, she glanced around warily for but a moment. Her breath panted in and out of her lungs with increasing distress only to choke when the loud roaring of some unearthly beast broke through the woods, nearly eclipsing the noise of the fleeing hunting party. Whatever it was, the idiots were bringing it her way!

Jerking forward into a run, Diana darted through the trees at full speed. She hissed with displeasure, knowing without a doubt that her actions were stupid. She wouldn’t be able to outrun the jeep, never mind whatever was chasing it. All the same, she wasn’t going to stand about and wait for them to catch up either. The muscles in her thighs burned and protested as the trees whipped around her, half blinding her in mad rush.

Why the fuck did they have to come this way? And where the fuck was the treeline? Diana turned her head this way and that looking for anything all familiar. This wasn’t right. She couldn’t just run madly through the woods. She pulled to a stop, hissing between her teeth as she attempted to reorient herself. She’d been so close to the altar near the edge of the woods, she should have run right into it. Shaking her head, she squinted at the sun and cut to the immediate left. The altar should have been right there!

As she delved further among the trees, her a frown knotted her brow. Where was it? Her breath was starting to come out in short, ragged pants as she broke through unfamiliar brush. Had she somehow become turned around?

She could hardly think as she attempted to mentally backtrack the route she’d taken. The sound of the jeep roared closer as she gasped for breath. Every branch on the trees quivered and trembled as if something monstrous was moving through them. Clutching her bow tightly to her, her head whipped around as if trying to make sense of what she was seeing. The leaves quaked and shimmered and tiny living lights bounced all around the woods in a dizzying swarm. A bulge in the brush raced in a line toward her, filling the air with savage vicious snorts as it came closer. Diana shook her head in denial as she stumbled away.

This wasn’t her forest!

Sneak Peak at the Prologue and Chapter 1 of The Mirror

(rough draft, unpolished, unedited and subject to change)


            Isabella leaned out the window in an attempt to get a better view of the traveler heading up the steep mountain trail. It had been some weeks since they had a visitor, but that was nothing unusual. In truth, they could go long periods before seeing another traveler approaching their remote villa. Once a month a trader came, and every so often he brought with him another client seeking her mother’s wisdom and magic. It was usually pertaining to some perfectly dull subject too, but that didn’t stop Isabella from eagerly awaiting their arrival.

            Especially lately. All signs pointed to a momentous event coming following her sixteenth birthday that would take her far from these mountains. She couldn’t see much into what was set out ahead of her by the fickle fates, but she knew it was coming in the form of a shrouded stranger who’d haunted her dreams for weeks. With her birthday nigh, she’d waited patiently for the relentless march of hours until finally the day arrived. Today she turned sixteen, and today there was a stranger on the mountain.

            Was it her stranger? She was fair certain. Or, at least, everything within her seemed to have become alert in anticipation of the arrival of the traveler drawing increasingly nearer. Her heart pulsed a quickening beat and her belly fluttered in agreement. Even her skin tingled with the fine hairs on her arms rising. Surely, it had to be him!

            From her vantage point she could see the mules picking their way along the steep slopes. The trader was recognizable even at this distance, but the other was indistinct beneath the layer of furs they wore. The only thing she could discern was that it had to be a man of some substantial size. His size practically dominated that of the trader in front of him.  He would doubtlessly dominate over her in every way. Her breath caught in her throat as she imagined the way he would lean over her and…


            Jerking back guiltily, she spun around to face the source of the sharp, scolding voice. The woman filling her doorway was tall and graceful, her dark hair twisted elaborately away for her face. Wearing a long tunic of Tyrian purple and light mauve dress pulled over it, her mother could have passed for a noble woman save for her eyes which were such a pale shade of blue that they appeared nearly white. They were a sign of her mother’s inhuman lineage that marked her as a sorceress, one that was passed on to Isabella in a slightly bluer variance. She gave her mother a sheepish grin. “Hello mamma.”

            Ivana Norveau strode in, her face set in cool lines of disapproval. Her eyes passed through the room almost casually before they focused on Isabella. A thin, dark eyebrow arched as Ivana scrutinized her. “What are you doing Isabella? You know I disapprove of having the windows open this time of the year. It is hard enough to keep the villa comfortably warm without you casting them wide enough to fall out of.”

            Isabella could barely contain her excitement. She tried not to bounce in place, but she couldn’t help but to note that her steps had a decisive spring to them as she rushed forward to lightly pull her mother to the window.

            “Yes, mamma, I apologize, but there is a traveler coming!”

            Her mother glanced out the window, her lips down turning. “Yes. I was aware that we would have a visitor arriving with Gunthor. It is a bad omen so near the snowy season for a king to risk themselves so.”

            Isabella glanced over at her mother eagerly. “Have you foreseen something of him?…The visitor I mean.”

            Ivana’s eyes snapped up, sharpening on her. “Yes. I have. I came up here specifically to speak to you on this…”

            Isabella felt hope swell in her chest. If her mother brought news of a vision, it could be more momentous than she thought. She clasped her hands in front of her eagerly.

            “…You are to stay in your quarters for the duration of King Herald’s visit. I know you usually come down and trade news, but not this time. I want you nowhere near this visitor…do you understand?”

            That quickly, her heart plummeted. “But, mamma…”

            “Do you understand, Isabella?”

            Swallowing back frustrated tears, she nodded miserably. “Yes mamma, I understand.”

            Her mother’s forbidding expression relaxed into a sympathetic grimace as she lifted one hand to caress the side of Isabella’s head in a gentle, maternal caress. “I am sorry, daughter. I know you feel stifled here on the mountain but trust me…he will bring you much sorrow before you would know a moment of joy. You must trust me on this.”

            “Yes, mamma,” Isabella choked out.

            “I will return in the evening with your supper. When they leave tomorrow, everything will return to normal and we will take a stroll around the gardens…wouldn’t that be nice? I think we have a couple more nights before the hard frost comes. It has been a while since we have enjoyed such a leisurely activity, and you are progressing remarkably well with your spells and conjurations.”

            Isabella forced a smile and nodded her head. “Yes mamma, that sounds wonderful. Thank you.”

            “We deserve a small treat, I think,” Ivana agreed, her lips curving with affection for a moment before she straightened and drew her staff up beside her. “I best go down the courtyard and see to our visitors. I will be back with your supper as soon as I can get away.”

            “Thank you,” Isabella whispered, her heart crushing under the weight of her disappointment as her mother spun away to exit the room and pulled the door firmly shut behind her.

            Lingering by the window, slumping against the windowsill, her pale blond hair scattering around her shoulders and falling over the ledge as she dismally watched the men enter the courtyard. Eyes filling with tears, she blinked in surprise when the stranger drew up short. He looked to his left and right, and then looked straight up at her! Isabella’s breath caught in wonder at the dark green eyes that stared up at her.

            A golden circlet around his brow, the king was the most handsome being Isabella set eyes on. His hair and beard were black as a raven’s wing except for where a few threads of gray were just barely visible. His heavy, dark eyebrows rose, and his lips quirked into a smile as he raised a thick, calloused hand in greeting. A hard look crossed his face…one of absolute determination. He was magnificent, a blend of grace and power. Isabella felt her heart tip with infatuation. This was the man who would take her away. Her stranger in her dreams. The look he threw her was one of such promise that she knew that her mother’s interference would not succeed. He would take her away with him. She could hardly wait.

            It was still early the next morning when she was summoned to her mother’s reception room. Dressing in her best sapphire tunic with a dove-gray apron dress belted over it, Isabella contained her tresses beneath an ivory veil that she wore only when propriety demanded among more esteemed company. She descended the stairs, near giddy. She had taken great pains to make certain that she looked as mature and regal as possible for this meeting.

            The master guard, her mother’s dearest lover and friend, was waiting for her just outside the closed doors of the room. She smiled at Emver as she approached. He’d been with her mother for as long as she could remember and had been almost a father figure to her in her youth despite being wholly another species. It was funny how few visitors could see it, though Emver took pains not to draw attention to his otherness. He once told her that it was the best way to protect Ivana and herself. No one expected anything from what they assumed to be a common guard.

No one seemed to notice the way his eyes were sharply tilted at an inhuman angle, nor did they comment on the strange hood he always wore that concealed much of his head. A hood that was necessary to hide the long, pointed ears and the strange scroll-like patterns that ran like moonbeams along his cheekbones, marking his race. Even his body was covered in a long surcoat that obscured more of such markings, much of his tunic and hose, as well as a bevy of weapons. He was dangerous and intensely private. Even the sharp edge of his teeth which he often concealed behind a tight-lipped glower bespoke of his predatory, lethal nature. Yet, he’d always had a warm smile for her in the mornings.

            This morning was different. He did not smile. His expression was stressed, and a sadness lingered in the golden depths of his eyes as he peered at her. His only greeting was to lean forward and press his lips to the top of her head before drawing back abruptly. When she would have asked him the reason that he looked so forlorn, he turned away and pushed upon the door. With the attention of the occupants now upon her, Isabella was left with little choice but to follow Emver into the reception room.

            Entering the room, Isabella stopped just inside the entrance, her hands folded in front of as Emver strode to his place at Ivana’s side. Her mother sat in her high-backed seat with her small table to her left containing a scrying bowl and a small brazier that was already lit, the flames snapping in the air. Her mother was scowling at the king, but at Isabella’s entrance he turned to face her, his face lighting up.

            Flushing brightly, she tried to adopt an unaffected air of a sophisticated young woman. It was embarrassing to be blushing as if she were still a child. She was sixteen. She was a woman now. More than anything she wanted Harold to see her that way.

            “You summoned me, mother?”

            Ivana’s tumultuous gaze fell on her, seething with restrained anger. “Isabella,” she greeted tightly. “You haven’t met King Harold.”

            Isabella inclined her head politely the king, unable to meet his eye for fear that she would start giggling nervously. “Your majesty.”

            Smile widening, he bowed and greeted her, his foreign accent settled on her ears, making his voice seem all the gruffer and more exciting. “Isabella, I am delighted to meet you at last. Never have I lain eyes on a fairer face than yours. To think I came all this way to inquire of the sorceress where I might find the perfect bride to rule by my side only to catch sight of you like some spirit sent to haunt me. I decided that moment I saw you leaning out of the tower that I had to have you as mine.”

            A small tremor of excitement spread through her at that husky promise. He desired her and wanted her for his wife. She would be a queen, loved and adored by her husband, and he would show her the world that she’d never seen from her isolated home on the mountain. She turned hopeful eyes to her mother, but Ivana wasn’t looking at her. She was glowering at King Harold, her spine stiff and her fingers clenching tightly around her staff. Emvor shifted with agitation beside her.

Harold turned and arched a dark brow at Ivana as he continued to speak. “Your mother, however, is quite reluctant to part with you, even though I offered to pay a very generous bride price. It is quite fortunate that she finally agreed to bring you down at last in the spirit of friendship between us. Cooperation is always better, especially given how superstitious many common people can be,” his eyes lingered thoughtfully on Emvor.

Isabella repressed a shudder. She knew very well from her mother’s stories just how fearful people could be. A sizeable enough mob could be a genuine threat to the lives of both Ivana and Emvor. Her mother they would either burn or hang, depending on their mood. As for Emvor…well there were plenty of cruel methods for dealing with the fae. She cast a worried glance toward them. An alliance with a powerful king would certainly keep her family safer, there was no doubt about that.

Emvor met her gaze, silently entreating her toward caution, but it was Ivana who spoke, her normally cool façade broken as she beseeched her. “Isabella, you do not have to do this, we can leave this place…”

“It is fine mamma,” she interrupted with a smile. If Harold was willing to protect her family and cared for her as much as he professed, she couldn’t think of finer man to join her life with. She met the king’s eyes and curtseyed briefly. “I would be most honored to join my life to yours.”

A triumphant smile broke over his face. “We leave with the merchant within the next hour. Hasten to ready your belongings. I will send him up shortly to collect them.”

She inclined her head in a manner which she hoped was regal enough before flashing her mother a wide smile and rushing back to her room to pack. She had so much to get ready!

It was in high spirits that Isabella flew through her room, seeking out her most prized belongings that she couldn’t bear to leave behind. She was just finishing when her mother entered. Ivana ran her hand along one empty shelf, her mouth tugging downward. At last she faced her and leaned back against the bookcase.

“I see you have gathered most of your belongings, but it worries me that you are not taking even one of your tools, or any of your supplies for your magic.”

Isabella laughed as she folded another tunic and set it in her trunk. That would do it for her clothes. Brushing her hands off she gave her mother a fond smile. “I doubt I will need it mamma. I am going to be a queen…what is the likelihood I will need sorcery? I shall have no worries for how to procure coin.”

“It is always best to be prepared,” her mother insisted. “Please, let me help you pack just a few essentials. You may be right, and you may never have an occasion to use them, but it doesn’t hurt to have them available just in case.

“Of course, mamma, you are right,” she agreed easily enough. If it would make her mother feel better, then it was worth hauling it. She doubted she would need it and was loath to add another two trunks to her load to carry the spell books her mother meticulously copied for her, rare herbs and various tools. It seemed so unnecessary for a soon to be queen. She would never be in the position to barter her magic for coin like her mother did. Still, she had to admit that it was possible that there could come a time when she might need…or her husband might need her powers to come to his aide. She’d been studying magic since she was five years old and was able to properly say her first incantation, that was more training than some apprentices saw.

“I know I cannot talk you out of this foolishness,” her mother said at last, her brow furrowing. She held up a hand when Isabella opened her mouth to protest. “No. I know what you will say…the same thing all girls say when they are smitten with an idea who comes walking through their front door. You will not listen to my council on that, but heed me on this at least, daughter…never relax your guard. Keep your heart protected. The things that come to pass will only be for a moment in your life, but I fear that there is great struggle that lies before you and that one that you love will cut your heart in two before you have aged even twenty-five years, bringing you nothing but great sorrow.” Her mother’s hands caressed the sides of her head, tucking in a stray lock of hair back into her wimple. “Be strong, Isabella, and above all, stay vigilant and see to your safety. Not everything is as Harold speaks,” Ivana whispered just before she pressed a kiss to her forehead.

Just that quickly the moment was gone, and with a sad smile, Ivana stepped back and set her simple black, cotton robe on top of everything else within the final trunk. The ritual blade just below it glinted in the candlelight just moments before Ivana pushed the lid shut and firmly latched it.

They did not share any further words. Even Emvor whispered lowly in her ear so that Harold would not hear the strange resonating, multi-tonal quality of his voice as he whispered for her to stay safe and speak his name or the name of his kin to the wind should she need their aide. With her own whispered assurances that she would, Isabella quickly made her way to Harold’s side where he waited by mule. Giving her an impatient look, he hoisted her up onto the creatures back. She wobbled with uncertainty, nearly pitching when he pulled himself behind her. His arms locked around her, the only thing keeping her from falling to the ground. She was held so firmly that she couldn’t even look behind them to get a last glimpse of her family before the mules descended the mountain.

It took them only a day to descend the mountain, but then many days afterward traveling by carriage through the countryside. They stopped only long enough to pass a night at an inn before they were continuing on again. Harold didn’t even wait a night before he took her innocence. The pleasure only briefly outweighed the pain, but then the encounter was over. That was the way it seemed to pass night after night. He indulged himself in her body only to sate his need before he drifted off to sleep snoring beside her. Almost worse was the fact that he practically ignored her while they were traveling unless he was proudly showing her off. Any attempts at starting conversation she made, he responded with only a handful of terse words. Isabella blamed it on the circumstances of traveling, certain that things would settle down and they would enjoy some privacy and time to get to know each other once they arrived in his kingdom.

That was until she met, Katerina, a precocious nine-year-old who also happened to be his daughter. The girl had been waiting in the courtyard for their arrival with her nanny and tutor, her brown eyes shining with happiness only to dull when Harold patted her dismissively on the head as he passed. Isabella gaped after her intended but didn’t follow after him. Instead, she crouched in front of the girl with a gentle smile and performed a simple illusion to coax a smile out of Katerina, though her own grasp of saxon was limited. Though she hadn’t realized that she was coming into a relationship with a ready-made family, she sought to make the best of it. The wedding ceremony itself was a grand affair, promising a long, happy life with her husband. Yet, as time passed and she grew closer to Katerina, her relationship with Harold fell apart.

He was cold and aloof at the best of times, only attempting to be charming when it suited his purpose. Even then it was insincere. She didn’t understand how she’d never noticed until then that his smile never reached his eyes. He rarely extended more than a glimmer of kindness, and when she’d failed to provide him with an heir in that first year, he quickly became disenchanted with her. He ceased to spend time in her company and only brought her out as one would show off a fine work of art before setting her aside again to pursue his interests elsewhere. She was embarrassed and spent more and more time in her own chambers, her sorrows slowly mounting as month to passed to month. Despite the charming company of her stepdaughter, nothing could ease the turmoil she was filling within.

It was in that state of mind that one night, as the winter storms were moving in, that Isabella open the trunks that had remained unopened in the corner of her room. The moment she threw them open, she could feel her magic leap in response and all the months of cowering like a wretched beaten beast sparked a rage inside of her. The winds howled and raged as her fury fed them. Raising her hands to the heavens, Isabella swore an oath that she would never bow to a man again…that none would rule her heart unless she willed it.

Less than a month later, well into their third wedded year, Harold suffered a fall during a riding accident. His body was recovered by his Paige who was tasked with accompanying him on the hunt. Though rumor flew threw the kingdom of the suspicious way the king met his end, Isabella rose to power. Despite what rumor claimed, she hadn’t disposed of her husband, she didn’t grieve for him either. Instead, she assumed the throne with Katerina at her side and ruled with an iron will that brought the kingdom into a new era of prosperity.

Though she’d hardened her heart to all save her stepdaughter, she was certain that her time of sorrows were over. Although her powers of sight failed to show anything beyond the misty veil that closed off her own future against her, Isabella settled into disciplined routine, confident in her power over her own fate and for those under her care.

Chapter 1

            Isabella adjusted the ornaments holding the blue dress strapped in place over her long mauve tunic and frowned at herself in the mirror. Her blonde hair was parted and flowed over her shoulders, nearly touching the floor. It was mostly concealed behind a long white veil set over the crown of her head, upon which her diadem rose from her brow. Jewelry hung from where it was pinned to her dress, concealed in some places by the fur-line surcoat she wore against the cool air. It seemed even after seven years she was unable to tolerate the cooler lands into which she’d been transplanted.

Picking up a goblet, she briefly studied the red contents before returning her gaze to her reflection. It had been five years since Harold’s passing. Five years of ruling an ungrateful kingdom whose subject whispered and gossiped about her. The witch-queen they called her. They followed her not out of any sense of love but out of fear. She had no doubt that many of the inhabitants hated her and would have ousted her from her rule long ago if they’d possessed sufficient courage.

            Her fingers tightened around the stem of her goblet. For a moment she considered throwing it against the mirror, its reflection betraying her inhuman eyes for the world to see. It hadn’t taken her long to realize that Harold had used her eerie beauty to his advantage. Having a sorceress wife put his rivals and the populace into the palm of his hand and he was lauded for possessing that which any other mortal man would fear to have in his bed. She snorted humorlessly. Within the three years prior to this death, he’d devised such a reputation for her that even after his passing she’d been unable to undo the damage. No amount of charity or just ruling could mend how everyone saw her.

            The endless whispers—she couldn’t endure it much longer!

Though no one outright spoke out against her, she could feel them in the shadows, like vermin, eagerly waiting for an advantageous opportunity to attack. Her only saving grace was that the new religion with all of it fervor hadn’t yet pushed too far yet into dark forests where her kingdom lay. Though the people feared the power of sorcery for the misfortune that the superstitious said they brought to their communities—and would attempt to seal her in a bog if they had the opportunity—they were far less likely to act on it without an external power backing them. All they needed was the right spark to strike to inflame the fear of the people.

It would have been a far easier thing if she’d married one of the many noble suitors who’d attended her after her husband’s passing. The people would have been reassured by a powerful male controlling the kingdom…and her. She was advised to take a husband many times, but every time a man approached her, she refused. She couldn’t bare to be under the power of another man again—besides, she’d already come the decision that Katerina would inherit the kingdom. She just awaited the day when she could safely turn the kingdom over to her.

She certainly wouldn’t be sad to see the last of the castle. Even in the summer, its gray, drafty halls and narrow windows that didn’t let enough light for even a shade-loving plant to survive were the definition of misery to Isabella. The Apennine mountains where she’d spent much of her life were cold in the winter and plentiful with snow, but never had she felt so starved for sunlight as she’d been for the last seven years. Even the woods around the castle and neighboring fields surrounding the village were a dark testimony to the land itself, and the sky frequently gray with the clouds throughout much of the year. Her chambers had become her solace. Shortly after arriving she’d made it her task to drape her room in the brightest of fabrics. Harold had scoffed, and after his death it was with no little satisfaction that she moved all of her beautiful things into the somber master chamber of the king. If her room had to be the only splash of real color in her kingdom, then it would be the shining jewel of Naples itself. Yet, even that didn’t stop the march of time from weighing heavier on her spirit with each year that passed.

Likewise, with each annum, Isabella felt like she was dancing closer to the edge of precipice. It was ironic that through much of her youth she’d longed to leave her mother’s villa to find a new adventure, and now she wanted nothing more than to retire in peace somewhere. She wondered if her mother had once felt that way and that was what finally took her, with her only family in tow, into the mountains. She supposed she could always ask her. Sorceresses were notoriously long-lived, especially those bonded with fae and other spirits that abounded in the world unseen around them. Her mother would always be there waiting, for Ivana never seemed to age and would likely outlive Isabella herself. The thought was both comforting and mildly depressing.

She took a long drink of the honey-sweetened wine from her goblet and wondered if her mother had received her letter yet. A lot of it depended on if her messenger arrived in time to make the trip up the mountain with the merchant. If things timed right, he could nearly be back with correspondence for Isabella. She looked forward to news from home.

A sharp rap at the door of her chambers alerted her to the presence of a servant waiting outside. With a sigh she set her cup down. “Enter.”

Her personal serving woman appeared, her face ruddy from the cold morning air. Cynewise had tended on her from the very day she arrived and had quickly become one of few people in the castle she trusted, and at nearly twice Isabella’s age, a surrogate mother figure when she’d needed one. The serving woman bobbed a bow. “Good morning your majesty.”

“Good morning, Cynewise,” Isabella returned, the clipped tones of the saxon language falling effortlessly from her tongue though it was still strange to her ears.

The older, matronly woman smiled warmly and set a tray containing a simple morning meal on the small, fabric-draped wooden table. The toasted bread lay in a dish soaked in wine, a simple but luxurious repast for her morning. Isabella nodded her thanks and sat on the pillow laden bench beside the table and picked up her eating utensil.

“Has the messenger returned?” she inquired as she tore off a small chunk of the bread and popped it into her mouth.

Cynewise nodded. “Yes, he arrived just this morn. He was accompanied by a young man from the southern lands, driving a wagon laden with goods from Naples, as you requested. There was also a massive, well-wrapped parcel that he claims is from your mother.”

Isabella’s brows winged up. “My mother sent something?” That was entirely unheard of. The most she and her mother had ever exchanged were lengthy letters. Never had she received a parcel from Ivana in all the years they’d been apart. “Please send him up with it immediately.”

“Of course, mistress” Cynewise agreed and bustled out of the room at a swift pace. She’d been one of the castle housekeepers before Isabella had arrived. She hadn’t been the first to be assigned to Isabella’s comfort but had quickly gained that position on the first day when she’d made more effort of kindness toward a new, homesick and bewildered queen. Ever since then, Cynewise had not only been a faithful servant and close confidant but had also taken to her new duties with a passion that had surprised Isabella. For not the first time, as she consumed her meal, she considered taking her south with her when the time came.

She’d finished her meal and poured some cider from a jug left earlier that morning by the maid when the messenger arrived, followed by two stable boys who struggled with what turned out to be a very large parcel. Cynewise had not exaggerated. It stood easily eight feet tall, and though clearly padded with swatches of fabric, it was of a particular narrow shape. At her gesture, they sat it down against wall while the messenger bowed and handed her a sealed letter. Murmuring her thanks, she accepted the letter, her gaze still mostly on the large object leaning against the wall as the messenger quickly departed. The sound of the door closing brought her back to herself and she turned away from it. She turned the letter over in her hands and broke the wax sealed with her mother’s crest.

The letter was unusually brief, only a few lines scrolled in her mother’s precise pen. She read the contents aloud, a puzzled frown marring her brow. “Isabella, seven years you have been away and for seven years I have been locked by fate from interceding. Nigh is your time, promised since your birth to arrive with the dawn of your twenty-fifth year. Unlock the portal to your future and forgive your mamma for meddling.”

She turned the letter to see if there was anything else on the reverse of the creased parchment, but there was nothing more. How strange.

Setting the letter on the tray she went to her writing table and picked up a jeweled blade and approached the parcel. She eyed it for a long moment before she brought the edge of the blade up to the ropes binding it and quickly cut them free. The outer wrapping immediately fell free with the ropes, but she was left facing what she knew was many more layers between herself and whatever her mother had sent. Working tirelessly, she felt the sweat build up on her brow and the nape of her neck even as sweat dampened her skin beneath her clothes from the exertion of her labor. Loose strands of hair stuck to her skin in many places by the time she came to a finely woven dark fabric tightly swathing whatever it concealed. She didn’t need to touch to feel her mother’s magic in the weave. The magic paired with her mother’s odd missive gave her a pause. Stepping back, she regarded it, steepling her fingers in front of her lips thoughtfully.

Although it was doubtlessly an item of magic, she was at a loss as to what it could be at such size and shape. Most tools she’d used under her mother’s tutelage had been easily held, the largest she’d ever seen was her mother’s staff with which she conducted her greater magics. It was a mystery, and that sent a shiver of apprehension through her.

Even as she was contemplating it, that fabric suddenly punched outward, straining though it didn’t rip or part beneath the internal pressure. Whatever was fighting against the shroud, her mother’s ensorcelled weave was containing it. She didn’t want to open it.

“Release me,” a deep, resonating voice filled the air. The hairs which were stuck so resolutely to her rose at the power contained within that simple command. It was a good thing that she had gained a level of mastery. She had no doubt that such a voice could easily command those of weaker wills.

“I think, not yet,” she returned. “I am not so foolish as to endanger myself at the bidding of one unknown to me.”

“Did you not already bring that misfortune to yourself,” the voice demanded. “You have nothing to fear against one contained such as myself. I only wish to look upon my new abode and be released from this infernal shroud.”

“If that were the case, why would my mother shroud you?”

A bitter laugh came from behind the cloth. “Your mother trapped me in here by her own error in her youth, and unable to free me, she shrouded me so that she would not have to look upon my anger and the consequences of her own failing. So I have lived in this darkness for thirty cycles of the sun, my only comfort was the promise of her daughter. Now let me look upon the child of the sorceress,” the voice growled.

“Speak truthfully…can you harm me?”

A silence fell, and the words when they came were gruff and begrudgingly spoken. “Because I am compelled by the spell of this mirror, I shall answer you truthfully. I can do naught to you, not even touch you unless you touch the mirror. Only a fragment of my power can extend a short distance from the mirror itself.”

Easing closer to the mirror, for she had no doubt that her mother would place such a spell if intending to capture a being within a mirror, she asked, “What are you?”

“Remove the shroud and you shall see me well enough of eyes of your own.”

Pinching her lips together against the elusive non-answer that was truthful even if vague, she resisted scowling at the dark cloth knowing full well that at current it would be wasted on whatever was on the other side of the shroud separating them. Careful to not get too close, she gripped a loose corner of fabric, the soft weave filling her hand, and tugged.

The cloth fell free with little effort at her touch, but her gaze was transfixed on that which was glaring impatiently at the other side of an ornately framed mirror.

A pair of cat-like eyes the shifting hue of embers regarded her from a sharply masculine face of darkest indigo. Black brows arched in a high slant toward long, pointed ears that extended far pass his skull. Dark hair fell in cascades over his shoulders and down his back, interrupted with thin, strategically placed, braids decorated with small gems and fragment of what appeared to be bone. His chest was bare and broad, and his limbs lean and defined with muscle. He wore little except some golden and silver chains around his neck, and highly ornate bands on his arms and ankles. What little clothing he wore was confined to a pair of high boots and a knee length band of cloth intricately around his hips in a manner not unlike what she imagined may have been an ancient style. The fabric itself was of an excellent weave and highly detailed in its design as it flowed with hues of purples and blues churning to golds and ambers set it artful patterns.

She pulled back a little when she realized that he was also returning her scrutiny, his bright eyes sliding over her in a lingering, far too-familiar way. She fought a blush that threatened to steal over her cheeks. She had fallen victim to blushes since the second year after Harold claim her innocence in all manner of things. She’d thought she could no longer be uncomfortable or embarrassed, nor aroused if truth be told after some of his more distressful ideas for bed-play before he’d tired of her—but this male suddenly threatened to bring all of those sensations flooding back.

Suddenly a tail, long and thick, though tapered to a delicate point at the end, rose from behind his legs almost carelessly. Isabella jerked back in surprise, her eyes widening.

“What are you?”

His dark lips curved into a sneer. “I am a silvanus. Though I expect you to at least know the difference between the fae. For my part, there is no mistaking what you are, sorceress.”

Isabella regarded him speculatively. “Where are your horns, then?”

His expression turned more mocking. “I suppose you consider all of mine kind nothing more than hapless fauns roaming the woods. We all look quite distinct I assure you.”

“I see,” she murmured thoughtfully. “Will you tell me why my mother would trap a silvanus in the mirror? What use could she have of you there?”

The feline eyes narrowed on her briefly and his smile dropped away, replaced with a scowl. “Ivana was foolish,” he retorted. At her look of surprise his smile returned, sharp and predatory. “Oh yes, I know your mother’s name. I have plenty of time to know her well even behind the cursed veil. I know she mated another of my kind who rules the forest around the mountain where she dwells. I spent many nights listening to them rut while I’ve been helplessly contained.”

Isabella grimaced. She’d heard enough of her mother’s passions through the halls of the villa in her youth. She didn’t need any more information on the matter from the silvanus watching her so closely.

“But you asked as to my imprisonment, didn’t you,” he purred menacingly. “She sought to harness a spirit to aid her with her magic. She desired one of wind and smoke that would be able to move between the worlds by use of the mirror. One misspoken word of her enchantment ripped me from my wood near where she’d been settled at the time with her first lover, your father I assume. Since silvani are closely bonded with this world, it did not act as it should have for its intended target, but captured me within it, unable to operate outside of the mirror except by request from my ‘mistress,’” he hissed furiously.

“And my mother just covered you upon discovering that she had the wrong spirit?” that did not sound like her mother. Ivana was one who would at least attempt to make best use of what she had. She rarely easily abandoned anything.

His bark of laughter was unkind. “She thought to engage me to her bidding, even though I was trapped within this glass prison. We were able to learn that I could send parts of myself in certain limited forms at her behest, but she was unable to discover the means of freeing me from the mirror. I became angry and out of fear she silenced me the only way she knew how, though not before promising me that one day the offspring growing within her womb would be mine even as much as I would be hers. It would seem that she kept her end of the bargain. For I see in truth the daughter of Ivana before me.”

His eyes glinted mercilessly, and Isabella felt faint under the weight of his gaze. It promised all kind of retribution to be visited upon her. That even as she was compelled now by her mother’s spell knitting them together beneath her skin, she could feel the effect of it even now, she would never be free of the creature that watched her with a mixture of loathing and desire. A shiver raced over her body and her breath parted from her in a nervous puff. She was close enough to the mirror that she knew when her breath fanned over the glass, slightly fogging it. The silvanus within shuddered, and his eyes brightened, promising more than she believed herself capable of imagining.

Part 2 Note about A Mate for Oigr

I talked to Amazon and apparently I missed the GMT deadline (midnight on the dot!) so as far as they’ve told me, the preorders will cancel once the preorder goes live and I will be able to upload the file. Hopefully it will get processed quickly from there.

My sincerely apologies to all of my fans! Fingers crossed that it gets approved same day. It’s happened before!

A Note about A Mate for Oigr

This is an important fyi for everyone who has preordered A Mate for Oigr (or who are planning on buying it as soon as it goes live)…I went to load the manuscript and it was locked. This means that I likely somehow, when I was setting up Havoc of Souls, accidentally uploaded the file there, or somehow I missed the deadline (it was due today to be uploaded) and it locked the preorder before I could get the file in there. Needless to say I am rather frustrated as this would be a first time for me for either case (grrr).

The good news is, I plan on staying up late to fix the problem as soon as I am able to access it once it goes live. So if you open it before the file updates and either see no content, or another book in there (such as Havoc of Souls) please be aware that I am on top of it and will have an update.

If you have any trouble at all getting your book please don’t hesitate to message me.

Havoc of Souls

As I am nearly finished with my Mate Index Halloween novella, I am turning my attention to my novel for October. It is appropriate themed for the season! Havoc of Souls, once again bringing in Sam Griffin (the artist who brought us the cover of Red) on the coverart, is in progress to be released on Halloween with a mixture of horror and romance.

What happens when infernal spirits and maddened souls break free on the Earth and a merciless guardian of the gates is sent to retrieve them? Destruction sweeps the world as he ruthlessly and mercilessly roots out those his is sent to contain and return to Aites, the land of the dead. Many die by his hand, yet when he is moved by a moment of pity to spare the life of a human woman, will she be enough to save the world in the wake of his bloody pursuit.

Below is the Prologue and Chapter 1 of Havoc of Souls.


Havoc of Souls

S.J. Sanders


            The road was silent of life, dark and barren beneath the watch of a cold, uncaring moon. Few would risk being out in the night. Though the ravage could happen at any time, the dark made it all the more terrible. Anything could creep through the darkness unseen, and so people huddled in what was left of their homes, their windows boarded, and doors barricaded, in horror of what lurked since the ravagers came into the world upon the first mist of autumn.

            It had been as if a gate had been thrown wide as every corner of the world reported hearing the load moaning crack like hinges breaking free from a frame. Then the icy mist had spilled forward that night, rolling over every bit of ground, and with it bringing the ravagers.

            That is what everyone called them. They wreaked havoc and destroyed everything in their path. Life seemed to wither and die even quicker than usual for the season. Some said that they were demons sent to punish the people, with their heavily muscled, massive bodies, long thin tails and curving horns, some said they were unnatural spirits that had awoken from a long slumber to cleanse the earth. Then there were those who claimed that they were angry souls. No one could agree what they were dealing with, other than the fact that they indisputably ravaged the world within a matter of weeks.

            They favored the night, that much was certain. That was when the worst of their number came out to hunt. The smaller ones who fed on the scraps of the living braved the daytime where there was fewer dark places to hide and hunt their prey. These were the ones that often burrowed into vulnerable humans, consuming them from the inside as the grew stronger like a parasite.

            And then, sometimes, you got something much more dangerous hiding within people that no one would expect.

            One traveler, five days after the first mist, came to Ashton. He’d shuffled into town, dirty, his boots worn as if he’d walked for miles, and his windswept hair hanging in tangled knots around his face. When people inquired, he said that his vehicle broke down miles away on the interstate. That was nothing unusual. With the ravagers, gas supplies dwindled and fewer people had working vehicles.  He ate and drank like a man. In fact, he consumed food and drink like one starved. He always had plenty of coin with which to pay, so no one thought much of it.

            Not until night came.

            He’d been sitting in pub, consuming an order of wings, a lovely young woman on his right, and a good-looking man on his left laughing flirtatiously and talking with him. Although he hadn’t bothered to rent a room or groom himself, his generosity had quickly endeared people to him. They became less wairy and more eager to please.

Word was that when the last of the sun’s rays fell from the doorway that he’d smiled. A truly cruel and maddened smile. He dropped the wing from his fingers and his body had twisted and changed until the beast that was among them had nothing of humanity lingering to him. He’d grabbed the woman at his side and dug a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth into her throat, gnawing into the flesh as her blood ran over his lips, spilling down her neck. The man at his other side had attempted to flee while the creature was distracted but it had sprung upon him with the reflexes of a panther, pulling him down and tearing into him before going after another and another person trapped inside with him.

Only a handful of people managed to get away, braving the darkness, chased by the savage sounds of the ravager. Though they were scared of other ravagers hiding in the darkness, they had, each one, reported of being more terrified of the ravager beast.

People turned against each other, afraid that anyone could be harboring a ravager within them. Families became insular, trusting no one outside their tightknit bonds. What was left of their town disintegrated even further people began to strike territories and jealously defend them. They would draw together, hesitantly, reluctantly, during the daylight hours to exchange provisions in the town center, but the community itself died on that night.

That was what the world had become, what Ashton had become, since the ravagers came.

Chapter 1

            A scrap of old wet newspaper, one of many strewn about the street with their shocking, damning headlines, flapped with a sudden gust of wind. The echo of an eerie moan stirred the crows, their wings flapping suddenly as they rose like a black cloud, blotting out the moon.

            Meredith tilted her head up, her body crouched low at the sudden burst of movement. She watched as the crows disappeared from sight, doubtlessly looking for a more preferable perch. She didn’t blame them. The sound had bore through her down to her bones, icing her blood in her veins. It was inhuman.

            She was a fool to be out so late. She knew that. Foolish as it may be, it was the best time to scavenge for supplies when she wouldn’t have to compete with other people looking for food and resources. When she wouldn’t have to worry about cross into another family’s territory.

            Her boots hit the pavement with more sound that she’d like as she rushed between the buildings. Every time she slowed, every time she waited, she took a dangerous chance. The ravagers couldn’t enter the abodes of humans without invitation, but on the street, she was completely exposed.

            The traveler, the first ravager majorum as she liked to call it, the first of the larger breed to come into Ashton, was still out there in the city. The behavior of the other ravagers that came on the first mist changed since that night the traveler arrived…it became organized. The ravagers slowly over the weeks began to hunt in coordinated attacks. It was not only alarming, but it made her sojourns into the city increasingly dangerous.

            Another moaning bellow. It sounded closer. Her booted feet skidded as she rounded a corner. She was nearly to the superstore. Meredith put another burst of speed. She could hear the crunch of numerous feet rushing through the garbage and dry, crunchy autumn leaves on the road. She leaned forward, reaching with her entire body as she saw the glass doors of the entrance.

            Breath behind her panted in between low snarls and vicious growls. Interspersed beneath it all she swore that they were speaking to each other, numerous layered voices.

            Mine. Back off.

            No, she is mine. Tasty female flesh.

            Leave the bones! I will break the bone and eat the marrow. Sweet, so sweet.

            A feast for us, a feast of death. We will bleed the body, gnaw the flesh, and drink the blood.

            She bit back a sob, her breath closing off in her throat as the air moved behind her as if a large hand or paw had swept through the air just inches away. A cold sweat popped out over her skin. They were closing in. She wasn’t going to make it.

            “Not a fucking chance,” she cried and pushed her muscles for all they were worth. She didn’t even slow as she approached the open door, she catapulted through. Her boots scuffed over the linoleum, and she tripped, her body careening into metal carts. She slid, pulling the carts with her by her momentum, until they all landed together in a loud crash. Meredith lay there among the tipped over baskets, staring up the ceiling with disbelief. Once again, she’d made it.

            Outside the howls of anger where audible. Let them be angry. She would rest and eat and gather her supplies and then leave as the light of the sun rose with her goods.

            Pushing onto her elbows, Meredith rolled over onto her knees and rose to her feet. Strands of purple hair fell in front of her eyes as she looked out the glass windows facing her. The ravagers paced back and forth in front of the entrance, stopping every now and then to snarl at her, or fight amongst themselves. Shooting them a triumphant grin and the finger, she adjusted her backpack and wandered down the nearest aisle, pushing a cart in front of her.

            She couldn’t get greedy. There was only so much that she’d be able to carry with her. Still, the principle was, get enough things small enough to cram into her bag and longer she’d be able to put off a return trip.

            Wrinkling her nose, she surveyed the grocery aisles. Things such as bread, milk, eggs and meat had quickly become depleted. She knew that some families raised chickens and had tiny indoor greenhouses in which they grew vegetables and fruits. Meredith would have killed for one…not literally….well, maybe. Still, she contented herself with grabbing what was left of the remaining cans of tuna, canned beef, cans of green beans, stewed carrots and creamed corn. All the better vegetables had been picked over already. A lone can of fruit cocktail shoved far enough back on a lower shelf that it had gone unseen made her hoot victoriously as she tossed into her basket.

            Once she was satisfied that she had gotten enough food for several days she went to the hygiene section. The world may be ending but she refused to smell like death herself. New tube of toothpaste and deodorant quickly joined her belongings, along with a bottle of shampoo. She hesitated in front of the hair dye as she fingered her hair.

            The purple coloring that she’d applied before the world had gone to hell was quickly fading. It wasn’t a necessity…but, didn’t she deserve one small frivolous thing just because it made her happy? The small box certainly wouldn’t take much room in her bag. It wasn’t nearly sensible but what did it matter? With a tiny smile, she snatched up a box of purple hair dye before she could talk herself out of it and added it to her haul.

            Packing her belongings into her bag, aside from a can of stew and her new toothbrush and toothpaste, Meredith pushed her cart to the back of the store. The electric grid may be crap, but the water still ran. It was cold as fuck, but no one went thirsty and didn’t have to be dirty if they didn’t want to enough to grit their teeth and bear it as they washed beneath the frigid shower. More importantly, it made it a lot easier to cook.

            Going into the pitch-black bathroom, Meredith felt along the walls until she found the faucets. She cranked one and allowed the water to run for a moment before she placed her canteen beneath it, gathering water for her meal. Once the cold water overflowed into her hand, she pulled it back and replaced the cab before turning off the tap. She was walking out of the bathroom when she heard a distinctive crunch.

            Meredith froze in place, her sense reeling. Without the light of the moon, it was darker inside than it was even outside. She was nearly blind. Her heart sped up, beating out a staccato rhythm in her chest.

            Once, when she was young, she remembered seeing from her window a neighbor’s cat stalk a bunny in the yard. The bunny had barely looked old enough to leave the nest, but had known, instinctively, that it was in mortal peril. It had frozen in place, it’s tiny dark eyes staring with fear as its tiny body shuddered. At the last moment it had attempted to run but the cat had killed it with ruthless efficiency.

            At that moment she felt like the bunny.

            She was the helpless being paralyzed in the face of certain death.

            A stack of boxes fell over two feet away and Meredith cried out, shying away from them, her arms brought up to shield her from the sight of the attack. Stumbling over an obstacle, she found herself once more on her back, her eyes screwed tightly shut.

            A heartbeat passed, and then another.

            Feet away there was a mad scramble amid the fallen boxes and plaintive, indignant mew before a darker blur against the dimness of the room darted pass her.

            It was a fucking cat.

            Meredith threw her arms back, her hands cradling the crown of her head and her elbows pointing outward as she laughed in disbelief. She nearly killed herself over a fucking cat.

            Muttering beneath her breath she picked up her bag and canteen from where they’d dropped to the floor and continued through the dark store. Before long she arrived in the lawn and garden department. From between a pair of toppled shelves, she pulled out the grill she’d hidden there for nights that she’d be there. There was no longer any hope of finding any profane, but that was fine. The grill was a cheap metal charcoal grill, and charcoal bricks there was still plenty of bags piled on long shelves remnant from the summer barbequing season.

            By her calculation it was late October. Once this had been her favorite time of the year. The season for soft throws, hot chocolate and pumpkin everything, the latter of which she found rather disgusting on principle outside of pumpkin pie. She missed those simple luxuries.

            Sure, she was certain she could probably find a can of pumpkin puree and a box of graham crackers, but it wasn’t the same.

            Sighing, Meredith dragged out the partial bag of charcoal she’d been using and dumped a portion into the grill. A bit of lighter fluid and a flame later, she had a steady fire going. Meredith dug out the pot she’d hidden and dumped the contains of the can and canteen into it before setting it on the grill. Pulling her bean bag over beside the grill, she plopped down on it, relishing the aroma of cooking food.

            As with most nights spent within the superstore, she ate quickly, washed her dishes in the tepid water in the bathroom and stowed everything away again. The grill she left out so that she could savor what little more warmth she could get from them during the night.

            Curling into a pair of blankets, she tucked them tightly beneath her chin. On a nearby shelf, the Halloween décor that the store had begun to display at the end of August leered at her cheerfully from a shelf. She ducked further into her blanket and glared at the smiling witches, ghosts rising from tombs, and plastic skulls.

            She once loved Halloween, before. Now she hated everything about it. She hated the idea of spirits running the earth, of a day that celebrated monsters and things that went bump in the night. What was there to enjoy about that when that very thing terrorized her. It wasn’t a fun fantasy; it was all too real.

            Giving her back to the display, Meredith sank into an uneasy sleep. She never slept truly well, but every minute she could close her eyes and allow the world to disappear. for at least a little while, was one that she was ever grateful for.

Snippet from The Vori’s Secret

Uttering a hoarse shout, Eyuul plummeted, a thin barrier of branches breaking around him, dropping into a deep crevice. His tail and torso struck the walls painfully on his way down, but he was thankful that the drop itself wasn’t as deep as it could have been. Groaning, he laid there for several minutes, taking inventory of his injuries as he blinked up at the sunlight filtering through the trees.

            “Kashesh,” he muttered foully as he pushed his torso up from the ground, allowing the coil of his tail to support his weight. His crown coils whipping around his head, their lengths stretched out in an inspecting fashion, Eyuul surveyed the hole. A single frond dropped down to his head before slipping off to join the number of other of plantlife that had fallen inside with him. Someone had covered the fissure. Did the female set a trap for him? Fury and pride warred within him. He wanted to shake sense into her, and he wanted to shout out her praise.

            If she had set a trap, she was certain to be nearby, waiting.

            He turned his head slowly, looking along the rim of the crevice for any sign of her.

            “I know you are there,” he called out, allowing just enough irritation to creep into his voice that she would have no illusions of the reprimand. Very slowly a shine of dark red curls peeked over the edge of the fissure before showing a familiar feminine face only a few shades lighter than the deep hue of a Vori. A flash of teeth in human amusement quickly deteriorated much of his good feelings on the situation and he glared up at her.


            Watching the giant male fall into her trap had been a thrill like no other. Sure, Jenn felt a pinch of guilt, especially when hearing just how hard he fell, but his muttered curse from the bottom reassured her that he survived well enough. The irritate tone of his voice as he called out to her had, in turn, amused her. She slid over to the edge and glanced down as her prey, a wide smile blooming on her face. It had been a long time since she felt any measure of control over her situation and it felt good!

            He didn’t seem to have quite the same appreciation for it, however, judging by the way he glared up at her. He certainly seemed intent on intimidating her to some degree, and he was big enough to carry it off if it weren’t for the fact that she was the one with the upper hand at that moment. She draped her folded arms over one knee and grinned down at him.

            “Fancy meeting again, snake-man,” she called out.

            His brown puckered into a fierce scowl. “I am not ‘snake-man’, I am Vori. Eyuul is my name and by which you may address me.”

            “Okay, sure,” she agreed easily with a small laugh.

            “What is your name?”

            It was far more a demand than a request, and for some reason it just tickled her fancy. He was totally at her mercy and still gave pretense that he had some measure of control without any fit of temper. She almost had to admire that….safely, from a distance. She took her time answering, debating whether or not to give him a truthful answer. She could almost see the muscle jumping in his jaw, but he did not loose any blistering string of profanities in his impatience as her “mate” had. That was ultimately what decided on giving him that one small curtesy.

            “I’m Jenn,” she called back.

            “Jenn,” he spoke slowly as if savoring the taste of her name on his tongue. “It is good to finally know you. Now throw down that vine on that tree to her your left so that I may quickly pull myself out and join you.”

            She shook her head and laughed. “Uh, no. That’s a negatory slither-boy. Sorry. I am sure you can eventually get yourself out of there, but I won’t be sticking around. Do yourself a favor–give up and go home.”

            His eyes almost seem to take on a fiery cast as he glared up at her.

            “Jenn, don’t you dare,” he hissed out vehemently.

            She waved cheerfully and stood up from the edge, brushing the dirt from her dress. With only a brief glance at his fierce face, she turned and strode quickly away before she could change her mind. If there was one thing experience had taught her, it was that alien males could not be trusted.

            An angry shout dogged her from one very pissed off Vori.

            “Jenn!” �

Sneak Peak of chapter 1 from The Accidental Werewolf’s Mate

Chapter 1

            In my dreams I am happy. I have a home and a family, everything I’ve always dreamed of, even after the day arrived that I aged out of the state program. It is always a good dream, and I never want to wake. In this dream I have loving parents, siblings, and more cousins than I know what to do with. Waking just takes all of that away. It means once again facing a shithole apartment that my wages and tips barely manage to cover, and as with many mornings, it also accompanies whatever consequences are waiting for me from any foolish activities I’d indulged in the night before.

Like many mornings, I wake with my mouth tasting like old leather, the morning light pulsing nauseatingly behind my eyes, and my stomach threatening to heave with even the slightest movement. I groan, well aware that all the signs are in place for yet another morning suffering from the bitch of all hangovers. I lick my parched lips experimentally. The sour taste of whiskey still lingers on my bottom lip making my stomach twist. Bile rises in my throat and I shove my face into the pillow, breathing slowly until the urge to puke passes.

 “I need to either pick a new vocation, or stop drinking with Jinx,” I moan, wincing at the raw sound of my own voice.  Not only does it sound like I gargled with glass the night before, but it also increases the strength of the headache beating behind my eyes. Jinx, the night manager and unofficial muscle during the closing shift, makes it difficult to resist having a few after hour drinks once we’ve out the last of their patrons in the early hours of the morning.

After locking the door, we salute with shots of whiskey and then proceed to drink each other under the table, an activity for which I always suffered the next morning. Every afternoon when I go in, I promise myself that I wouldn’t drink with him, and every night we end up plastered singing Disney soundtracks of all things.

My brow furrows. Last night we sang through the entire soundtrack of Lion King. Mortification rears its ugly head as a memory crawls through the alcohol induced fog of my brain. After the third refrain of Can You Feel the Love Tonight, I’d broken down and sobbed into my drink until Jinx had gently pried my hand off the shot glass and bundled me into a cab. The fact that it wasn’t the first time I’ve been a completely wreck in front of my best friend is the only thing that made it possible for me to go in tonight able and face him just like any other day. That, and the fact that he got me this job when I had really needed something. Jinx is my one consistency in life that I can depend on. I never had to hide anything from him.

Together since we were thirteen and ended up at the same foster home together, we’ve been inseparable after I’d blackened the eye of an older boy who’d been bullying Jinx. Back then he’d been five foot nothing, scrawny, pale and possessing the brightest shock of red hair I’d ever seen on anyone. Like many girls my age, I was taller and thicker than many of the boys, my curling black hair doing little to lessen the affect as it always seemed to puff out around my head like an unruly lion’s mane even then. He’d affectionately called me his champion ever since, even after he’d hit his growth spurt when he was sixteen and shot up to a starting six-foot-two over the course of a summer. Only Jinx would I trust to get me hammered and make sure I got safely home.

            I am wondering what could have possibly woken me, when the persistent ring of my phone penetrates through to my brain. Not for the first time I chastise myself for keeping it on the old tv tray at my bedside as I crack one eyelid open. Big mistake. I yelp and instantly regret it when the light coming through my bedroom window burns mercilessly into my brain. Screwing my eye tightly shut, I am determined to ignore it and go back to my much-needed sleep. I relax when the ringing stops, voicemail delivering me from the evil of whoever was calling, but two minutes later the phone begins ringing again, the shrill sound threatening my sanity. What did I ever do to deserve this merciless hell?

            Snatching up the phone, I press the receive button and hold it against my ear. “I don’t know who this is, but you better be injured or dying.”

            “Kora, get your perky ass up, and no threatening dismemberment this morning,” Jinx chirps cheerfully.

            “I loathe you,” I lie, my lips curving into a small smile despite myself. “How is it you never have a hangover?”

            “Probably a case of being lucky or just having good genes,” he quips.

            “I am still not disregarding the vampire theory.”

            “I suspect if I were a vampire, I would be the one still in bed and even more surly than you to be awake right now.”

I don’t even have to be face to face to know that his eyes are likely dancing with puckish laughter, his sexy dimples flashing in his cheeks. It is a shame that kissing him is too much like kissing my own brother. We’d made at once the first time we got drunk together, and neither of us had been drunk enough to forget just how bad it had been.

            “Give me time, I will narrow it down.”

            “Now babe, the fae and their pals have only recently reemerged. If anyone is to be pegged for a vampire, it would have to be Drew.”

            I groan with laughter. He is so wrong. Drew, the other closing bartender is about twenty-five and sports that baby vampire-goth look, complete with false fangs.

            “His fangs are completely fake.”

            “Decoys, love. How better to hide you’re a vampire than telling everyone you are into the vampire aesthetic lifestyle. No one takes the fake fangs seriously. Mission accomplished.”

            I stretches, my leg pushing aside the heavy weight of my cat laying beside me as I run my free hand through my hair, scratching lightly at my scalp. Already I’m starting to feel a bit more alive, I just need about two cans of coke, a crap-ton of aspirin, and I’ll be wide awake and ready to start my day.

            Holding the phone against my ear, I pad barefoot to the other side of my stupid studio apartment and yank open the fridge. The light is gentle, but I still squints against it as I pull out a cola, set it on the counter and take out a bottle of aspirin from a drawer. I crack the can open and swallow down a mouthful of the elixir along with three pills as Jinx is going on about vampire conspiracy theories.

            “Jinx, you know I love you, but you are crazy.”

            “Just you wait and see, babe, monsters walk among us.”

            “I am sure they do, but I think they are a bit harder to miss,” I return. “They have no reason to hide. They could pulverize us with little effort.”

“Look, just hear me out. You are a lonely vampire looking to find a missus, wouldn’t it be easier to play to our fantasies and join a safe aesthetic crowd where you can find the lady of your dreams, or your next meal, rather than advertise it?”

            “Fair enough,” I concede as I take another deep swallow.

            A plaintive meow pulls my attention to a large stripped tabby looking up at me expectantly with wide yellow eyes.

            “Hey Jack baby, are you ready for breakfast?”

            “Are you talking to Jack-o’-lantern again?”

            I hum in agreement as I dig through the cupboard for a tin of Friskies, and Jinx sighs. He knows better than to speak ill of my baby. He’d shown up last Halloween crying pitiful around the complex dumpster, as orange as my carved pumpkin which earned him the rather odd moniker. Over the last year, he had not only been a faithful loving companion but also an excellent mouser keeping my home pest-free. A gem for this neighborhood.

            Opening a can labeled salmon, I dump it into a small ceramic bowl and set it in front of Jack. The cat looks at it balefully for a minute, as if considering whether or not it is worth eating before he starts to peck at it. Apparently, it passes inspection because he begins to eat with gusto. I lean back against the counter and rub my temple.

            “Jinx, was there a particular reason you have called before noon?”

            “Yep. You need to get dressed because I am literally climbing the stairs to your place. Speaking of which, this is the twenty-first century, why does a twelve-floor building not have an elevator?”

            “Why are you on my stairs?” I ask, taking a sip of my coke and completely ignoring what would likely end up another wild tangent.

            “I can’t believe you forgot! It’s Halloween tonight. You promised we’d get costumes and some decorations for the bar.”

            “Boss-man approved this?” My eyebrows raised with surprise. The grump never approved our holiday plans in the past.

            “Yep, have it in writing and everything. Says with all the supernatural creatures coming into our world and what-not we might as well try to pull in some profit on the most monster-tastic night of the year…my paraphrase. I think his words were something more like ‘sure, might as well make a profit playing on the freak angle.’”

            “Charming. What happened to outfit coordinating with your girlfriend?”

            “Ah, about that, Trish somehow forgot to get her latest conquest out of our bed before they fell asleep. So, I got the pleasure of kicking them both out of my bed and apartment when I got home.”

            “Ouch,” I wince with sympathy.

            “Pretty much. Now I hope you are descent because I am outside your door. Little pig, little pig, let me in.”

            I glance down quickly at my oversized Garfield nightshirt and shrug. I’m calling it good enough.

“Alright Big Bad Wolf, I’m coming.”

I make my way to the door, slides free the four bolts and unlocking it before swinging the door open. Jinx leans in the doorway with a playful smile as he eyes me.

“Garfield this morning? I thought Snoopy was your Monday nightie.”

“The cat barfed on Snoopy yesterday, so the old dog had to go in for a wash rotation.”

Jinx slips in past me and plops on my bed, taking up the remote and flicking on the tv. Eleven-forty-five in the morning and Michael Meyer’s masked face takes up the screen. Only on Halloween would I see such a sight. Jinx barely glances at me out of the corner of his eye.

“Don’t take too long, babe, and do try to get into the spirit!”

Grumbling under my breath I pull out clean underwear, my favorite over-sized black tee-shirt printed with a Halloween witch, and my orange leggings boasting its numerous black cats, and take it all to the bathroom to get dressed.

“I hope you are planning on buying me breakfast,” I yell through the shut door.

“If you can be out of there in less than fifteen minutes we can stop at Dunkin’ Donuts,” he sings out merrily.

My mouth waters at the thought of a big and toasty breakfast sandwich. I make it out in under ten, and am pulling on my ankle-high boots, bouncing slightly at one leg as I do so as I exit the bathroom.

“Let’s go!” ��

The Vori’s Secret Prologue and Chapter 1

The Vori’s Secret

A Mate Index Alien Romance

S.J. Sanders


Jenn slipped onto the trading vessel with as little sound possible. The loaders were distracted, which worked to her benefit. She had no idea where the starship would take her and at that moment she didn’t care. All she needed to do was get off Agraadax, and far away from the Agraak Extermination Unit. Regardless of its destination, she would be sneaking off at the next planet.

She was well aware of just how dangerous her situation was. She could end up literally anywhere, and the universe was a very big place. There was a very good chance that she would end up on a hostile planet filled with predatory native life determined to kill her, but given what she was facing on Agraadax, that didn’t seem like too bad a trade. After several miscarriages over the years, interrupted by periods of recovery, her “mate” finally turned her into the breeding facility for termination.

It was only by the benevolence of some higher power that a sympathetic female guard risked her own life to smuggled Jenn out just hours before she was to be chemically injected with a substance that would bring about instantaneous brain death. Dropped beside the trading vessel, the guard had bid her good luck and hastened to return to her post, leaving Jenn to determine her own fate. She could live with that. Her daddy was an ex-Marine and survivalist. He taught all his children to be prepared to live off the land in foreign and hostile environments. As long as Jen got off this planet, she was good as gold. The fact that she didn’t have any credits or a single friendly face to help her was unfortunate, but she knew that she didn’t need to rely on such things to disappear.

When it came to her ability to disappear she knew that there were other things going on in the Intergalactic Union that could only work in her favor. Things that she’d heard by word of mouth from the disgruntled conversation of Agraadax’s citizens. She had been relieved to hear that the Intergalactic Council had discovered what the Agraak had been up to and had been sending out task forces over the last several years to inspect areas suspected of harboring humans. Unfortunately, she also knew that because the Agraak kept the location of the breeding facility a carefully guarded secret that there was little hope that the Intergalactic Council would find it any time soon, if at all.

Jenn didn’t have time to wait around to be found, but there was a chance that if she were lucky to escape onto a planet that was a member of the Union that she could get a message out to the ambassador. She could be rescued and returned to Earth. She certainly had enough of aliens to last her a lifetime.

She felt a twinge of guilt that she was leaving all the other women behind, but the way she saw it, at this point, she didn’t have any choice. She couldn’t do anything for anyone else until she got a message out to Earth’s representatives, and that couldn’t happen until she was well away from Agraadax.

As a foul odor drifted to her, she wished that she could be a bit more selective of the manner in which she fled the planet. The smell of livestock was particularly heavy in the cargo hold, as was the odor of various ice-packed fish, meat and eggs that added to the unpleasantly fragrant aroma. Pinching her nose shut and tucking her mass of red braids behind her shoulder, she ducked in between the bodies of some large alien bovines and made her way to the back of the pen. She dug herself into the reddish Agraadax straw and grimaced as a couple beasts ambled up to her, the nauseating scent rolling off their massive yellow bodies, the singular eye each beast sported blinking at her lazily as they nibbled at the offerings as their strange webbed and clawed tipped segmented hooves stomped the ground between her. More than one set of upper claws around the hocks came perilously close to slicing her as they edged closer to her.

Jenn muttered darkly to herself and settled in for a long flight. The lightweight Agraak dress that she’d worn since being dragged to the breeding facility was dirty and far too thin for a comfortable space flight. She only hoped she arrived someplace warm. She was going to shit if it was an arctic and subarctic climate like the last planet was.


Jenn woke when the ship suddenly lurched and the loading plank lowered with a dull thud. A muggy heat filled the cargo hold, immediately sinking into her stiff muscles. She bit back a groan of relief and tip-toed to the crates stacked near the entrance. Two voices drifted in from outside the door.

“Fucking Vora. I can’t stand this planet. I hope the boss changes our route with the Edoka pushing in on our routes. Picking are slim now that we cannot legally trade within the Union, but the Vori make my skin crawl,” one voice complained.

“Instructions are to just leave the crates. The Vori at least deposit the money ahead of delivery so we can just set it down and go. They won’t come out and get it until the weather gets cooler around evening. I don’t want to be caught lingering when they arrive,” said another.

“Yeah,” the first one returned. “Vori don’t like taking any chance anyone might follow them to their nest. Gods of the Death Plane, let’s get out of here.”

Jen crept out among the crates, watching two Buto males count the crates a final time before disappearing into the ship. She hunkered down between two of the largest as the engine started and the ship lifted rapidly into the air. Once the Buto trading vessel was out of sight, she slowly stood and took stock of her surroundings. At least she had a name. She had no idea what planet Vora was, or who the Vori were the alien traders spoke of, but given that she was standing in a small rocky clearing surrounded at all sides by tall leafy trees and thick stalks of fronds not unlike the ones that grew in the jungles on Earth, she knew at least that it was a planet that supported diverse lifeforms, including a sentient one. Whether that was a good or thing or not, time would tell.

Leisurely, she walked around the perimeter of the clearing, looking for any sign of a trail through the thick growth. She wasn’t equipped to hack her way through since she didn’t even have so much as a pocketknife on her. At the edge of the clear a river cut through the jungle, and she considered attempting to break open one of the crates to see if it had anything useful to offer her for a floatation device. She was inspecting one of the crates when she heard the brush crash around her, and threatening sound of rattling as if coming from a giant copperhead.

Terror thrummed through her veins as she looked for anything at all that she could possibly use to defend herself. She didn’t want to go head long into the river, but at this point it was a far more attractive option than confronting facing off with the mother of all rattlesnakes. Still, she would feel a lot better if she was armed with something. With nothing but a few fallen branches and a collection of miserable sticks, Jenn’s heart sank as the sound came nearer. Her choices were quickly becoming limited.

Fuck this.

With a shriek to bolster her nerve, Jen leaped into the roaring river below.

Chapter 1

            A pained smile twisted Eyuul’s lips as he watched his brother, Vadal, coiled up with two of his hatchlings as his mate beside him holding a wildly shrieking female, while Vadal’s nest-brother, Shaagra rounded up little Morpheus. Four healthy, albeit loud and mischievous, hatchlings and a beautiful mate. Eyuul couldn’t help but to envy his brother’s good fortune and feel the weight of sadness for the one thing he wanted more than anything in the world but could not have.

            Oh, he supposed some female would have accepted him if he’d been able to adjust the mating norms of the Vori. He was of large size for a male, strong, patient, and an excellent hunter, he was also aware of the fact that he was considered an attractive male with his unique scale coloring that Reggie had likened to an earthen metal called bronze. No, his downfall was the one thing that the female-dominated Vori society considered unforgiveable: he was too possessive to be able to successfully share a mate and form nest-brother bonds.

            For many revolutions, his mother held high hopes in his youth that it was a phase that he would eventually outgrow, but when it became more apparent that it was an ingrained personality trait and his deepest desire that couldn’t be conditioned out of him she’d fretted and despaired over him. Eventually, even Eyuul had sank into depression, taking a post at a trading port far from his clan territory where he wouldn’t have to face his mother’s disappointment and look upon his clan increasing with matings and hatchlings that were painful for him to witness.

            In retrospect, he wished that he’d never left his home, then he would have been spared heartache and the ruin of his reputation among his clan. Foolish enough to fall in love with an offworlder, a hotblooded Edoka female, and to dream of forming a mating bond with her, he’d given himself to her pleasure for months while she was stationed on Vora. He hadn’t thought to be cautious or discreet about their relationship and knew that gossip had traveled to his mother of his illicit relationship.

When she commed him in a fury that he had gone to the port to engage in sexual relationships with offworlders, he had assured his mother that they would soon be joining as mates. She’d been temporarily mollified, and he was granted a reprieve upon his word that he would secure his mating soon. He had been in high spirits until the day the female he loved simply disappeared.

Eyuul clenched his jaw as his recalled how happy he was as he went to his female’s abode, a plan in place to woo her and get her permission that night to share his mating bite. Yet, when he arrived, he found all her possessions gone with only a note left for him that she was called to return back to Edokora. The note gave no promise for the future but had merely thanked him for keeping her company. The shame still burned him that she’d considered their time together as nothing more than a passing of time, a small pleasure that meant nothing when it had meant everything to him.

When he confessed his shame to his mother, the matriarch of his clan, she’d been furious and demanded his immediate return to their clan territory. With nothing left to keep him at the port, he’d acquiesced and went home where he found his tarnished reputation to have proceeded him and grown far beyond his actual deed. Suddenly, he was not only the unnatural one, but he was also the corrupted one who dallied with alien females at a whim. It was only by his mother’s compassion that she allowed him to remain as a hunter and retain some small measure of prestige among his kin, though he was trusted with nothing further. It was a bitter thing for him to swallow, even more so when Vadal returned from the Intergalactic Space station, abroad further than any of their kind ever had been before, with his own alien mate who not only returned his love but increased his nest with progeny.

It was worse though because his brother, like everyone else, seemed to believe the rumors going about the clan regarding him and had trusted him little with his mate. It had hurt more than he would have liked, and more than he would admit. Like always, he covered his pain with humor and played the flirt that everyone believed him to be. Reggie was the only one who seemed to see past that.

Reggie’s eyes rested on him sympathetically. “Eyuul, are you alright?”

He forced a nonchalant smile. “All is well. I was just thinking to perhaps go out a bit further and see if I can find any worthy prey to bring down.”

“Just not shoyla, huh?”

He laughed and shook his head. Despite being a delicacy, Reggie had a strange aversion to the giant arboreal arachnids. “Shoyla do not live at this elevation. I promise there will be no shoyla upon the tables. At least none from my hands. I can’t speak for any hunter who may have gone higher into the mountains,” he teased.

Reggie wrinkled her nose and adjusted her hold on her daughter Miree, whose brilliant blue tail flashed with ire and she attempted to wiggle out of her mother’s arms to join her brother, Morpheus as he darted into the nixai bramble bordering the River Omlo. Shaagra cursed and dived into the bushes after him as Eyuul picked up his spear resting against the thick trunk of a tree.

Vadal’s red eyes fastened upon him and they exchanged a polite nod before Eyuul slithered away from the small grassy clearing, disappearing back into the jungle. As he followed the path of the river, he allowed his mind to return to the subject of mating. Despite his envy over his brother’s happiness, he could not bring himself even imagine that their places were exchanged. The idea of even being in a nest with another male was distasteful to him and made his scales shudder with revulsion.

As much as he wanted a mate like Vadal had, he didn’t want the rest of it that came with typical Vori matings, even if his people considered it selfish and terrible. In the end, he was resigned to the knowledge that he would remain alone dwelling in his mother’s nest.

Gritting his teeth together against a wave of frustration, Eyuul wrapped his tail around the nearest tree and stabbed his spear into the river with more force than was necessary, pulling out a small fish. With his claws his pulled it off his blade, snapped off its head and gutted it before swallowing it down. He frowned as a small movement in the shallows of the river up ahead drew his attention. Concerned that it may be some injured Vori or a beast, he hastened down to the bank where it was safe enough to approach. There, he immediately came to a startled halt.

There, lying in the water was a human!

A female!

His head snapped around, looking for any sign of where she came from or if anyone might be looking for her. He hadn’t heard any news of humans arriving on Vora, but he wouldn’t discount the possibility. She couldn’t have materialized from the ether. Though he strained his eyes, all he could see was the raging white foam of the water. His hearts stuttered. She could very well be dead. The mass of red woven hair fell down her face obscured her features from him, and he couldn’t say with any certainty whether or not she was still among the living.

            Tentatively, he leaned forward and pushed the thick mass of wet hair away from her face, looking upon the sharply defined, beautiful deeply golden-brown features of the female. A hard lump marred her brow where she doubtlessly had struck her head on a rock or debris in the river. His eyes traveled down the length of her body to take in her features. Her limbs were long and covered with a thin brilliant green cloth that had become sheer from the water. Her dark nipples pebbled noticeably through it, though he attempted to not disrespect her so much as to leer at her lustfully while she was unconscious. Even more tentatively, he touched her chest and felt the soft intake of breath and the beat of her heart.

The Mother blessed her—she lived!

            Shifting her weight into his arms, he held her close to his body, enjoying the smell and taste of her on his receptors when he flicked his tongue. He wanted her. She was delivered to him, certainly the Mother of the Nest meant for her to be his to care for and protect. He was certain that she would agree to be his mate just as Reggie welcomed her males. She would care that he had no interest to share her with other males.

Eyuul’s eyes narrowed on the loud commotion coming from where his brother was at rest with his family. He didn’t want any of the clan to know of her, not yet. The matriarch would seek to influence her, perhaps even try to tempt her to join with another nest. Jealousy tightened in his chest. It would flaunt all of Vori customs, but he refused to let his clan females have access to her. He couldn’t let her go that easily.

A plan formed in his mind where he could keep her safe and nurture her back to health. He would take her high into the mountains and keep her secret from them all until the day that she either chose to leave on her own volition or willingly pulled him into her mating embrace. Until then, she’d be his secret, and Vora would keep it safe.

Tucking her against in his chest he moved with haste, leaping from one tree across the river to another before dropping back to the ground and making his way steadily through the jungle up the side of the mountain. All the while he kept her chest against his so that he could feel the measure of her heartbeat, and her face pressed against his neck where her breath could gently fan his skin so that he’d know that she was well.

At a relentless pace he climbed higher in the mountains, his tail whipping easily between the trees as he pushed himself. The female in his arms stirred a time or two which has caused him to briefly halt his progress, but other than furrow her brow with pain, she never wakened or even so much as opened her eyes. He wondered absently if she would have the blue colored eyes of his brother’s mate or another hue.

Adjusting his grip, he felt his body sway as his balance shifted as his coils glided over the rocks that increasingly rose in his path the higher up the mountain he went. The trees began to thin, leaving only the sparse canopy which shoyla preferred for their making their webs. Despite the potential danger that could spring upon him at any moment, he breathed easier knowing that he was now high above his clan’s territory and far from his matriarch’s oppressive, controlling reach. No doubt she would be very angry, and likely no little worried, when he returned that night. He only hoped that she would understand and forgive him when all was done.

It took some time for him to find the simple made hunters nest that he’d carved out many revolutions ago as a young hunter. In his youth, he would disappear for days in the mountains, enjoying the privacy that the mountains afforded him. It was in a secluded spot that not even the most relentless of his brother had ever been able to find. More than once since his return to his clan’s territory he had considered disappearing to his sanctuary and not returning. Always his sense of duty had prevented him and kept him returning to his mother’s nest. Now, however, it was easy to decide to remain in the mountains. Caring for the female was his prerogative.

Keeping an eye out for shoyla that might attempt to drop on them, Eyuul pushed himself into the crevice where he found the door barring the entrance of his private nest. The door resisted his effort to enter, having been unused for a number of cycles, but finally it gave way with a loud protesting creak. Draping the female over his shoulder, he dragged the long length of his tail after his through the door and braced both arms against the heavy wood to swing it shut once more.

The immediate darkness that descended was as unnerving as it always was, a stark reminder that this was no true nest with all its comforts and the technology. Instead there was only a simple oil lamp beside the door that he quickly lit and carried with one hand while his other wrapped around the female’s fleshly rear, holding her in place as he made his way further into the darkness of the nest until he reached the small hearth. A small bundle of wood already sat inside waiting to be lit below a long, narrow event that not even the smallest shoyla could get through.

Laying the human in his coils, he turned his attention to the wood and with a bit of kindling and the flame from the lamp, he quickly got a small fire going, illuminating the rest of the small single-room hunter’s nest. Thick dust covered everything, and the pile of simple hide pillows sat in a brown lump in the center of the room. He scowled at the sight. It was hardly worthy of a female. For a moment he had misgivings that perhaps he’d made the wrong choice. His mother’s nest would have offered more comforts, even as it would have been more restrictive toward any female within. He shook his head. No, his hunter’s nest might not have all the comforts, but it would offer more privacy as she returned to health and give her more freedom with your choices.

Thumping the pillows with his tail, he freshened them the best he could before gently laying her upon them. His tail coiled around to give her further support and comfort. Tucking a few tightly wound coils behind her ear, he smiled to himself as he looked down at her. Her brow furrowed and her eyes flickered before revealing dark greenish depths. She blinked groggily as her eyes struggled to focus on him. He leaned forward, eager to introduce himself but was utterly unprepared when her eyes widened and her lips parted to let out an ear-piercing scream. oll

Red, The Vori’s Secret and Other News

Red as of today is with my editor. Fingers are crossed that it will be available before the end of August, but if not expect it to be live in early September. Red is my largest book to date at 103,500 words in its current form, so it is hard to guess just how long it will take for it to go through its copy editing and proofreading stages. But I am optimistic!

As of today, I have started The Vori’s Secret. This book is the first time that we see the Agraak since the VaDorok. It is several years later and the Intergalactic Council has been searching for evidence of humans being kept involuntarily on Agraadax with little success. Our heroine Jenn (Jennifer) who escapes from the planet is the only one outside of Agraadax who has any knowledge of the human breeding facility. Her escape lands her on Vora where she is found by Eyuul, a male Vori (and younger brother of Vadal) who due to unsuitability for forming nest-bonds with other males which makes him an undesirable mates for female Vori, has been shunned by his family for his one failed attempt at forming a mating bond with an offworlder. He hides her away in the mountains where he nurses her back to health, unaware that an Agraak bounty hunter has arrived on the planet searching to exterminate Jenn on sight.

I know fans have been eager to get back to reading about the Agraak since things were left in the air with them in the VaDorok, and it has taken time to work my inspiration around to Agraadax (as well as distracted by several random books in the same universe such as the Valentines novella Hearts of Indesh, the Easter Novella Eliza’s Miracle and A Kiss on Kaidava), but considerable time is supposed to have passed for how I planned to write Heart of the Agraak (the book to follow The Vori’s Secret) and naturally things were to have happened since then in that universe. Since this series is constructed as a bunch of one shots rather than a cohesive typical series I have been taking my time writing as inspiration dictated, but I realize that folks are going to be excited to see the Agraak once again.

Chapter One of The Vori’s Secret will be posted here on my blog. If you wish to continue following the chapters in their raw form as they written please consider becoming a patreon supporter!