Meanwhile, I'm getting some work done, throwing more things on the fire and getting back to my creative brain. It's strange how you never know what goes into books and the industry until you're knee deep in it. I wrote a post earlier about how I, like most readers, just saw the end result of books ending up stores. I never knew how they got there. But even as we speak, distribution is changing and that quick, satisfying feeling ordering a book in minutes has become a bit of an addiction. I've tested the Kindle publishing end myself and am really enjoying the process of bringing some of my works directly to readers. Of course, that's another end result process. I'm still working the indie level with creating my covers, have beta readers and editors help me clean up the manuscript, formatting, copy editing, etc. everything but it's always awesome to hear from a reader who won of my books and/or who's bought them, read it and enjoyed it. I can't wait to see how the Apple tablet and the next gen readers make the industry change, hopefully for the better.
I want to toss something out to readers, so I'd like to do a giveaway along with posting this week's excerpt of Within the Shadows of Mortals. Leave a comment here about how you buy your books (whether ordering them online, at e-stores, at the good ole traditional bricks and mortar, etc) and I'll pick a random person who will win their choice of a book from my backlists. If anyone gets a chance to try out the new iPad come on back and let us know what you think of it!
On to the excerpt after the jump!
Within the Shadows of Mortals
Victim of Solace
“Tell me what your world is like.”
Ariya gazed at the moonlight streaming through the wide window of her room that morning. It was a long time since she felt this serene calm feeling wash over her. Coming home had been a last minute decision but she was glad when Jace agreed to join her back home in the Aziza realm. They had made their escape during the Ashen Twilight House’s trek across the states to the west coast. Jace’s skin couldn’t take the harsh sun’s rays and live to see the night. It had been a concern she didn’t have to consider before. Then again she hadn’t been aware of Nightwalkers before now. Once she fell into the care of the house after escaping her world, a whole other underworld opened up to her. One filled with Nightwalkers, Lycans and Shifter Elves. It was nothing like she had ever encountered before. Now her life had taken a dramatic turn once she lost her heart to Jace Archane, Regent in the House of Blood. His uncle Julian hadn’t been so welcoming at first and Ariya didn’t exactly extend a welcoming hand herself. Of course a bloodthirsty elemental creature was after her.
Now it was time to return to the beautiful green lands that served as her home. After almost having the life sucked out of her, being nearly beaten to death by a shifter renegade, or Shifter Ren as the house calls them, and passing through the portal of death, she could afford some time to get away from it all and return home to serenity. After all they had promised to meet the members of the Ashen Twilight House in Los Angeles for a new start. Their time to join them would be gone soon and she wanted to enjoy every moment she could.
Jace’s cold touch brought her back to the present. His hand wrapped around her chin, gently stroking the skin with his thumb.
Slowly she turned back to the bed where Jace Archane, her love, watched her from the soft ivory folds of her bed sheets. He was beautiful. Perhaps the most beautiful creature she had ever laid eyes on. Dark strands of his wavy shoulder length hair fell over his strong, smooth pale visage. He was in his early twenties at the time of his change and so he would be forever. A boyish charming face he would always wear with cupid’s bow lips, bright blue eyes and a strong sharp nose. His handsome face was curious, waiting with the question of his words. His muscled chest was bare between the dark red shirt that lay open over the rise and fall of his breathing.
“Soft damp green hills fill every part of our lands. With cool springs and large bodies of water in between.”
Jace chuckled deep and soft. “Sounds like Scotland.”
Ariya nodded, smiling. “It does have similarities. Like with the hunters we worked with when we ventured to Dahomey in the mortal realm. Different worlds yet so much alike.” Her forehead wrinkled with thought. “In the mortal realm, I notice the men are bred to be warriors since the dawn of man. Here the warriors, my guard, are women. We have a specialized guard here of men in the outskirts but the tradition has always been the women for the castle.”
“Hmm, well the House of Lycan is the only similarity in that structure.”
“But not bred. They’re born into their strength.”
Jace nodded. “You have a point there. So girls grow up to be in the guard?”
Ariya’s shoulder rose in a slight shrug. “Some do. If they wish it.” She waved a hand before poking Jace in the chest. “Anyway, I was describing. The days are longer here than the nights in the mortal realm. They have been since I can remember. We can bring the rain whenever the crops need it. And we celebrate every aspect of life’s changes. From life to life passing on. To birth, the changes of the season and betrothals followed by wedded unions.”
Her fingers traced the hard line of his chest as he spoke.
“And what of your betrothal?” Jace caught her finger and peered up at her, his blue gaze focused on her.
Ariya shook her head. “I never really considered it growing up. I guess I always had my head in the books, learning about the mortal realm. Teaching the young ones and honing my own powers.”
“And then you found me.” A sly smile sneaked across his lips. He brought her finger up to his lips and gently kissed it. “Tell me more.”
Ariya shrugged. “There’s much more and yet not much that is terribly interesting.”
“It’s of interest to me. What if an outsider wanted to stay here?”
“I—I don’t know.” She looked away, deep in thought. “I don’t think it’s ever happened before. Before I met you and the other immortals, there were only the mortals. Everything else was myth or the inhabitants of our world.” She smiled. “Why do you ask?”
Jace had turned away, staring ahead into space as he spoke. A crease formed in the middle of his forehead and his lips had formed into a straight line as he thought. In the silence that followed, he finally looked up at her. The hard gaze melted into a warm one as he smiled.
“Curiosity is all.”
Ariya cocked a single eyebrow in her own curious gaze. “And that’s why you blocked your thoughts from me?”
“Privacy, my love,” Jace said, grinning. Traces of his Scottish accent filtered in and out. She noticed it tended to mix with others, mostly American. Probably due to America being his home for the past few decades.
“You would miss your home if you stayed here,” Ariya said. She meant it more as a question but the statement was clear.
Jace idly ran his hand along her warm, dark skin. “I already miss it. I often wonder what my kids were thinking, even this very moment. Or my faculty bosses. Do they think I died in the chaos? Or just up and left?” He shook his head. “Not sure which I think is worse.”
Ariya remembered Jace loved to teach. When she first met him, he appeared aloof and full of himself. But as she got to know him, his shell opened and she discovered the love he had for teaching.
“Traveling for so long and seeing so many things can be like inhaling a well of knowledge,” he had once told her. “Like water. Sooner or later that excess has to come out one way or another. I wanted to share mine.” And so it did as he shared his knowledge and experience—albeit sold as second hand or his reading from books rather than first hand experience to keep his secret—to the students he taught at the local college.
“Enough of that now,” Jace said smiling up at her. He slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her close. “I think we’re both in need of a break once in awhile.” His voice grew softer, huskier as he drew near. She anticipated the kiss that lingered in the next moment.
Ariya felt her stomach flutter as Jace’s lips brushed hers. Her eyes closed and only touches remained to overtake her senses. Jace’s strong yet gentle hand moved up her arm, the warmth of his tongue and mouth welcomed her at the same time. How much her life had changed since she loved him. The single act of being in his presence had changed the moment her heart became his. No more was he just a man, a Nightwalker, that she felt drawn to. He was hers, an extension of herself in a way that had broken the barrier of personal space to become apart of her that she was free to touch and love anytime she pleased.
The moonlight in the dark sky had shifted, bathing them in darkness while the room fell in light.
“Taste me,” Ariya said, feeling Jace move to her neck. She felt his grip on her once he froze.
Morning would be upon them soon and it would be awhile since she would feel Jace again. For as the sunlight drew upon the lands, the rise and fall of his chest would cease, his breath would be frozen and death would claim his body.
“You want me to feed upon you, Ariya?”
His breath brushed against her neck as she spoke, his hand caressing the dark curves of her.
Ariya arched her head to look at him in the dark room of night. Already she could see the bright white shine of his elongated fangs peeking out from between his parted lips. The sight made her heart race, her breath shallow and her wings flutter slightly against her back. A tingle of anticipated pleasure formed at her center as her desire for him grew.
“Yes Jace,” she breathed.
Ariya sucked in a breath sharply, feeling the brush of his sharp fangs against her soft tender chest.
“I, Jacinus Aurelius Archane, now take you Ariya to be my wife.” His hand slipped behind her back, brushing against her wings before resting against her shoulder blades. “In the presence of God and before the Aziza realm and the mortal realm, I promise to be a loving faithful loyal husband to you, for as long as we both shall live.”
Ariya grinned, feeling his lips move into a smile once he leaned to kiss her.
“Both technically and figuratively,” Jace added.
Ariya brushed her fingers through his hair, peering down at him. “I, Ariya, now take you Jacinus Aurelius Archane to be my beloved husband and lifemate,” she spoke softly against the crown of his hair, cradling him against her chest. “In the presence of Mawu-Lisa and before the Aziza realm and the mortal realm. I promise to be a loving, faithful and loyal lifemate, wife and friend to you, for as long as we both shall live.”
She felt his hand grab hers and raise it between them. Despite the darkness, the bright shine of the moonlight hitting the ring he gave her shined between them. The Claddagh ring he had called it. The very ring that had belonged to his mother who handed it down to him to give to his own beloved. Ariya remembered the tale he shared when he gave it her.
When worn as a ring it’s supposed to symbolize friendship and love, he had told her. Jace’s mother had come into contact with the woman who had the ring. Along with it came the legend of the goldsmith who molded it for his love. Shortly after, he was kidnapped and taken aboard a pirate ship and thus began their five year separation and still he promised to marry her.
“Thy beauty and brightness/And lightness is going/Under the bonnie brown waves of thy hair/Thy lips red and luscious/And blushes bright glowing/Smote me with love and sweetest despair,” Jace said softly, then kissed the ring. He wrapped his hand around hers so that their rings touched in a quiet clink. “Mo ghaol ort.”
I love you.
“My heart is yours,” Ariya said, her dark eyes sparkling above him.
Jace peered up at her. “Ariya. My sweet, Ariya.” He leaned in, breathing deeply to take in her scent.
Never did he think he would feel this. A love of his own. A woman who freely gave her heart, body and soul to him. She wasn’t just another woman he gave his body to. Nor was she one of the mortal women he kept at a distance. She was an immortal like him, one of the illustrious Fey he learned about growing up. And she was in his arms.
He still couldn’t believe the moment she repeated her vows. Now he wanted to seal their fate as he took her. Their lives were now as one and they merged in the beauty of Ariya’s land.
Jace couldn’t bear it any longer.
Feeling her heart race, he opened his mouth and dove down into the soft, velvet skin of Ariya’s dark neck. The sweet coppery liquid was like wine as soon as it hit his tongue. It coursed down his throat and went straight to his heart. As he drank and drank, his body came to life and he breathed, feeling the mortality of his body once his heart started beating. His body grew hard, his hands slipped around Ariya’s hips and lowered her, feeling the warmth of his body welcomed into her.
A primal feeling took over him right then. He wanted to give her his seed and plant the beginnings of a child that would carry on the Archane name. A child that would be born of the love between them. But it couldn’t be.
As if sensing his thoughts, Ariya slipped her hands around his face, urging him to look up at her. In the darkness of the room he saw her warm expression, heard her soothing hush and felt her enclosed him. He arched his hips up to meet her, feeling her blood nourish him and spread throughout his body. He wanted her, couldn’t get enough as he moved her hips against him. It ignited him like tiny sparkles rising toward a pleasure where he would be forever lost.
He moaned, hearing Ariya breathe his name before she leaned back to arch into him.
Jace held one hand against her back and the other fell to his side to anchor himself deeper into her. Ariya, her name, essence and body were imprinted on his body and his very soul.
“Give yourself to me, Ariya,” Jace breathed in a harsh whisper. “Now.”
A strangled moan fell into the silent air once he plunged into her again and again, lifting her hips over his before thrusting deeply into her. Sparks like electricity shot through his body as she felt her grip him, urging him to his own release.
He finally gave in and fell like a man freefalling through the open air. Nothing mattered now. Not what tomorrow would bring nor where they came from. Only now as Jace felt his body claimed by pleasure. He didn’t want to come off this high. For only he and Ariya remained, as it should be, sealed with an indecipherable union that had started before time and would end long after man ceased to exist.
“My Queen!” A stifled knock occurred in the deepest part of Ariya’s mind, rousing her out of her sleep. It took her a moment to focus in the darkness of the night. The absence of the moon high in the dark sky told her it was still late at night but not quite morning. Jace stirred next to her. A soft moan fell from his lips and the arm that held her tightened.
“What is it?” He whispered softly.
“My Queen! You must come quick!”
Ariya remembered Rasia’s soft voice on the other side. “I’ll be right there,” she called out to her handmaiden. She moved to slide off the bed when she felt Jace’s cold hand wrap around hers. He peered up at her, his ice blue gaze watching her intently.
“Do you have to?”
She nodded. “I still have a duty to finish, Jace.” She leaned down and kissed him softly, caressing his chin at the same time. “I will return as soon as I can.”
Ariya retrieved her robe hanging near the door.
Ariya made sure to open the door slightly before closing it behind her. The first thing she noticed was Rasia’s wings floating up and down restlessly behind her. Her young face watched her with agitation as she tried to steady her shaking hand holding a ball of light over her open palm.
“Rasia, what is it?”
“Tera, Dara and Komi’s baby is rooting.”
Ariya felt her senses on immediate alert. Her mind raced and she quickly stood straight. “Alright. Run back to their home and tell them I’m on my way. I’ll grab my cloak.”
“Right away.” Rasia turned to rush off.
Ariya ran back into her room, slipping off her night robe and replacing it with her cloak on the hook near her door. She barely heard the large door click and the sound of Jace’s voice reminded her that she wasn’t alone in the darkness.
Wrapping the cloak around her shoulders, she looked over at Jace who leaned over his knees. In the blink of an eye he appeared before her, his hand cupping her cheek. A concerned wrinkle formed between his arching eyebrows as he studied her. “I don’t know what that means but I can tell it’s serious.”
She looked at him, knowing time was short. Stepping away she nodded. “An Aziza child of about three years old begins growing wings. It’s a painful and frightening process that needs the support of the community and the Queen near.”
“Do you want me to do anything?”
“No.” She squeezed his hand to cushion the hard quickness of her answer. “No,” she said again softly. “It’s best if you stay here. It’s almost morning. I shouldn’t be too long.”
Ariya turned from Jace, already thinking of the procedure she would need to undertake to help little Tera. She gathered the ingredients in her mind: passion flower for restful sleep, peppermint leaf for sleep and calm visionary dreams, valerian root for the calming process, and lavender flowers.
The little girl was screaming by the time she arrived. Much of the surrounding village stayed outside. The little ones cuddled to their parents. All held a look of worry. Ariya followed the man and woman of the house to the back where their daughter’s room sat. Tera cradled her body in a fetal position as she lay on the table in the middle of her bedroom. Her back was to Ariya as she entered the room and already two thin lines between her shoulder blades began to protrude through the skin. The girl screamed in pain.
Ariya removed her cloak and turned to the mother, Dara. “Have you done anything to sedate the breakage?”
The woman shook her head, her long dark hair waving. “No,” she whimpered softly. “We called for you as soon as it started. We didn’t believe it would happen so soon. It was to happen many days later.”
“Well, we’ll handle it now. Get me some allspice extract. Make sure you crush the items and mix it with lavender. We’ll try to soften the process before it gets any further.”
Ariya walked around to face the little girl who had thick tears in her red eyes. She reached over and gently began to caress her little hands in her own. “It’s okay, little one. It’ll be okay.”
The girl peaked out at her through the thin slits of her half closed eyes. Her little body writhed as she tried to bear through the pain. Every moment would feel like a lifetime, Ariya knew this feeling as she remembered her rooting well. The fruits were brought in and crushed immediately. Some were not ripened and others were well developed into the spring season. The scent of lavender and spicy pimento filled the air as the women brought Ariya the lightly oiled mixture.
She took the stone bowl in her hand as another scream erupted.
“Make it stop!” the girl yelled as she let her tears flow free. “Please!”
Ariya’s heart ached at the pleading girl’s cry. “Bear with me now, Tera. You’ll feel heat against your skin but it’ll dull the pain. Try to hold still.”
The thing lines had thickened to the size of branches about a half and inch thick. Ariya immediately felt the cool yet warm pulse of the herbs on her fingers when she dipped them in. Although the allspice was from the local Aziza realm fruit trees, it still resembled a combination of cloves, juniper berries, cinnamon and pepper.
Tera’s little body tightened as she cradled her body into her arms. Another scream erupted and her honey brown skin burned a thin shade of red along the areas where her wings stemmed. The thin skin tightened and grew like liquid burgeoning under a tight sheet. Until the moment when it broke in two, allowing a thin, wet membrane of skin to burst out from beneath the flesh.
The whole room felt like it held their breaths. Ariya leaned back as she watched the wings break through the skin and fold out against the girl’s back. Finally Tera’s body calmed and fell limp on the table. Her mother, Dara, rushed over with a wet towel to dry her daughter. She called to her maiden to bring a warm thick cloth to wrap her around in and held her tight to her bosom. Looking up, her dark almond eyes broke into tears and she smiled at Ariya.
“Thank you my, Queen,” she said. “This is a joyous day.”
Ariya smiled. “Indeed it is. Later tomorrow we will have to hold a celebration for Tera’s dawn of age. Soon she’ll be like the other little ones trying to fly.”
Dara laughed. “I’m sure. First she will have to get used to having these wings.”
* * *Ariya awakened to the bright sunlight streaming through her open window leading to the veranda overlooking the outside surrounding village. She stirred, feeling Jace’s arm beneath her shoulders as if he held her through the night. Had he woken up since then?
She shook it off and remembered the late night she had helping Tera with her wing birth. Afterward, she was half dead with sleep but still excited by everyone’s excitement for the little girl coming of age in her wings. On her way out, she passed Tera’s father who was eager to race upstairs and greet his daughter. He reminded her of her own father and how excited he was she, the last and youngest of his daughters, came into her own wings.
The thought made her heart heavy as she wandered back into her own bed. Although she was partly conscious of the fact that she removed her cloak, hung it up and changed, her mind was still far, far away. Perhaps it was then when she slid into bed next to Jace, slipped his arm around her and fell into a deep sleep for the next few hours.
Now she turned to look at him, noticing the stillness of his body. Seeing the peaceful look upon him, she quickly jumped to her feet, slid out of the bed and closed the shades a little to keep the rays from hitting his sensitive skin as the day fell upon them. Her mind wandered to the previous night and the promise they made to each other. Husband. Wife. Mate. Friend. Another tingle sluiced throughout her body and she wrapped her arms around her body, feeling the cool air of the morning drift into the room.
From the moment they stepped into the Aziza fairy realm, Ariya was careful to keep Jace hidden as they trekked to the castle. Thankfully there weren’t many outside enjoying the warm night. But the ones that were had thrown curious gazes and murmurs at the outsider who came into their world. No mortal, or other immortals for that matter, ever entered the fairy realm. For a long time none of the Aziza believed them to be real. Just apart of the stories living between the pages of a book. Ariya had been the first to break this mold when she first crossed over. And now she had been the first to bring one back. It was an unwritten rule that she had always believed should never be broken. But she had his blood running through her veins at that very moment and they were connected. Now, after last night, it had been official. It was his very blood and lifeforce that saved her when the same elemental creature that had killed her parents and sisters tried to suck the very life and power from within her. His Nightwalker blood tainted its power and allowed her to be free. Then it was Jace has brought her back by using his powers again to help her find life once more.
She chuckled. A Nightwalker, believed to be the walking undead, had given her his powers of life. An irony she couldn’t help loving.
She grabbed the bottom hem of her soft pillowy nightgown and walked back to the bed where Jace lay. She bent down to place her hand on his forehead. Cold. Once he awakened he would have to feed soon to keep going. She promised to be here when that happened.
Peering up at the day announcing its arrival behind the curtains, Ariya figured she would have the morning and afternoon to go see the dreamcaster, the man believed to be the oldest of the Aziza people. He knew what would happen in the near future. His visions always came in dreams or symbols but based on what the symbols meant to the asker, the answer was clear. She quickly changed into another soft dress. A pastel purple that appeared like a cloud around her body. It was one of her favorites. She then reached for her hooded cloak and slipped it on before heading to the door of her bedroom as she clipped the golden clasp, tying the cloth across her neck. First she would stop by her father’s library to check on something that had been in the back of her mind.
On the way over, she remembered the dream she had of Vladislav Tepes III and Alexandru Drago. In the car on the way to the West Coast, she remembered how Jace had tensed up at the mention of Drago’s name. Did she know him by any chance? Or perhaps she knew about his association with Vlad?
She didn’t remember much about Vlad in the history books, other than the fact that he was the inspiration for Stoker’s famous Dracula book. Strange that the famous fiction about vampires would lead to a possible connection to the real life Nightwalkers she had come in contact with. Ariya had asked Jace about the dream and despite his dodge to answer her question about whether he knew Drago or not, she noted his uncomfortable stillness. There probably wouldn’t be anymore information about Drago and Vlad’s connection, considering the former wasn’t mentioned in any of the history books she studied. But perhaps there would be more about Vlad’s connection to the beginnings of the three houses. She made a note to ask Jace about that when he awoke.
Outside she sent word for her handmaiden to bring Cidra, her trusted friend and leader of the Aziza Amazon guards.
“Please keep a watch at this door until my return,” Ariya said when Cidra arrived.
“Where are you going?” the tall Aziza guard peered down at her. “He’s still in there, isn’t he?”
Ariya froze, then took a step. Had she spotted them last night? She felt Cidra’s gaze pinning her on the spot. “Did you give yourself to him Ariya?” the taller Aziza fairy asked outright.
For a moment she thought about confiding in her friend. They had known each other for what seemed like a lifetime and there was nothing she could tell her. Well, almost nothing. “I have to go see Runin,” she said averting her gaze. “Please do not let anyone pass these doors. Especially when night falls.”
“Ariya, if I may speak,” Cidra said taking Ariya’s arm. “I don’t think it was wise bringing him here. He walks during the night and seems to disappear during the day. What kind of…man is he?”
Ariya peered into her friend’s dark eyes. “A man who saved my life more than once, Cidra. Please trust me on this. I need you to help me, not cause more obstacles.”
Cidra pursed her lips together to stop herself from speaking anymore. But still she continued as her wings fluttered upward then fell down against her back. “You have changed, Ariya. Ever since your return with him. You seem…different.”
Ariya stiffened as a shiver threatened to claim her body. She was different. Ever since she drank from Jace her senses were heightened, her powers stronger and she knew her physical characteristics were more magnetic.
The slightly elongated fangs she had forgotten about now popped in her mind as she remembered her image in the mirror that night Jace changed her. Even now, Cidra leaned forward, peering into her mouth that had fallen slightly open.
Ariya quickly straightened her back and cleared her throat, remembering herself and the elongated fangs.
Cidra followed the gesture with her own and quickly averted her eyes. There wasn’t anything Ariya couldn’t tell her young guard since they were children. Even though Ariya had sisters, she felt like Cidra was a third sibling. And now she was the only family she had left in this realm. Still she couldn’t bring herself to tell Cidra what had happened. Not until she could figure things out for herself.
After a moment the young guard finally nodded slowly. “I will get a few guards to stand watch.”
“One should be sufficient enough.” Ariya forced a warm smile despite her tumultuous feelings tugging at her heart. “I should be back before night fall.”
With that, she turned and closed her cloak as she headed down the stairs.