Caerwin II – work in progress

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Dear Readers — I haven’t forgotten about you! Thanks for all the great reviews on Caerwin and the Roman Dog. Just to show my appreciation, here’s an excerpt from the second novel in the Caerwin series. Love, Liz

Her horse spun as she wheeled around trying to stay outside the reach of the attackers. By now Marcellus and the legionaries had dismounted to form into tight knots, fighting outwards with their backs together. As she watched, one after another of the thugs fell back clutching mortal wounds.

A man ran up to her and seized her horse’s bridle. A dense beard covered his lower face. He wore a dark cloak thrown over his shoulder. A knife glinted in his hand. She plunged her boot into his chest. He grabbed her foot, but she yanked away. She kicked the horse’s sides but the man’s grip didn’t relent.

Another man appeared on the other side of her horse. “Your gold,” he yelled in coarse Latin. “Give it.”

“Curses on you!” she shouted, trying again to pull her horse free.

The horse circled the man, rearing as she kicked its sides. Its front hooves nicked the man’s legs coming down and the man cursed as he lost his hold on the bridle. The second man grabbed her clothes as he tried to pull her from the horse.

Caerwin leaned forward to urge the horse to run, but the first man grabbed her leg and pulled her from the horse. She fell sideways, hitting the ground hard on her side. For a moment, she couldn’t breathe.

He stood over her with his knife held to her throat.

“We’ll take it then,” he said, crouching beside her.

She felt the knife blade press her skin. She watched him with a strange detachment. His breath stank. A scar marked his cheek. His hair hung around his face in oily strands. Yet there seemed to be some questioning in his stare. He hesitated.

“You’re of the tribes, are you not?” he said. As he spoke, the other man seized the familiar gold band. It yielded to his grasp, twisting off her neck. Visions of the salt man rose in her mind. This time she had no knife to defend herself.

The second man’s hands skimmed her breasts and down past her waist as he searched for more valuables.

“She’s got nothing,” he said.

“Go on then,” the first man said.

The second man ran away with her torque. Sounds of fighting continued. Dimly, she heard men shouting from the woods. Had all the legionaries died? Had Marcellus?

“Are you of the tribes?” the first man repeated.

“Cornovii,” she said hoarsely. “Of Britannia.”

His eyes flickered. She had thought he would mount her, but he stood up, holding the knife loosely as if he hadn’t decided what to do. She licked her lips.

He turned at the sound of a horse approaching at full gallop. Before she could speak, before she could even comprehend what was happening, a sword flashed through the air and the man’s head flew off his body. His torso bent slightly as he fell backwards.

The horse’s hooves skidded to a stop, throwing up dirt. In moments Marcellus knelt beside her, his eyes black as night.

“Are you harmed?” he said.

Stay tuned for more excerpts as this project rolls forward! So excited to see what happens next!

A Tale of Two Lovers

real wolf

 

Thunder cracked and rolled, shuddering the ground under Inka’s feet. She felt it through the stiff hide of her boots, through the thick fur lining. Peering into the downpour, she tugged her cloak tighter around her shoulders and tried to dismiss a lurking sense of apprehension. Trees bent and tossed in the cold wind, sending rain spray against her face as she stared into the gray deluge.

She saw no one. But she couldn’t make herself close the door.

Someone was out there.

Moments later, the dark figure of a man loomed, walking and leading a horse. As they neared, she could see another man slumped on the horse’s back. Inka briefly considered whether she should seize the heavy dagger she kept by her bed.

She should have felt them coming. How had her vision failed?

They approached her entry and stopped, giving her time to read their energy. It radiated in pale blue waves.

“We need your help,” the walking man said. “Will you provide succor?”

Inka locked eyes with the man, searching within him for evil intent. Sending blue energy could have been a shield. His weathered face streamed with water. Peering from under his soggy hood, his pale eyes reflected the gleam of her fire pit and spoke of his desperation. And his honesty.

“Come in, then,” she said, opening her door wider and stepping back.

He turned to his companion, pulling him off the horse and holding him up with his shoulder as they staggered into the cabin. Inka seized the horse’s reins and led it through the opening as well, walking it past the fire to a bed of straw where her own horse had once bedded. The horse shook itself, rattling the ornate breastplate. She slipped off the bridle and left the weary beast to the hay cradle.

With the door firmly fastened against the howling wind, she turned to study these strangers. The injured man had collapsed at the fireside as his companion peeled off his wet hat. With their hooded cloaks removed, she could see that both men wore a small dotted line along the right jaw, the mark of the distant Eirikr tribe.

“You’re far from your home,” she said, squatting to add more wood to the fire. Coals shifted and sent sparks into the air. Water droplets fell through the smoke hole at the top of her roof and vaporized in the flames with tiny hisses.

“Three days,” the man said. “I’m Darnoc. This is Conrad.”

The injured man lifted his head enough to make eye contact with Inka. His pale blue eyes created a shocking appearance in a face so dark with grime and blood. But it wasn’t the appearance alone that caused her breath to catch in her throat. His gaze conveyed a message so unexpected that her hand dropped to her waist belt to clutch her pouch of talismans.

“He’s a seiðmaðr,” she said in a hushed voice.

“And you a seiðkona,” Conrad said. His voice, though weak, cut through the roar of thunder and rain crashing outside, as though his lips moved only inches from her ear. His stare burned into her briefly before he shivered and his head dropped again.

“He’s suffered grievous wounds,” Darnoc said. “For myself, I ask nothing. But can you help him?”

Inka reached her hands to the fire. It wasn’t the weather that chilled her fingers but the sudden shift in her blood flow. What must she do? She had made oaths to the gods.

She stood with her fists on her hips, considering. At least she could offer brief shelter. “Remove your wet garments and warm yourselves.”

Darnoc hesitated then pulled off his outer vest and heavy tunic. A baldric with long sword clattered to the ground. His hands lingered at the waist tie of his trousers.

“I’ve seen men before,” she said, briefly glancing to his groin.

He yanked the tie and the garment fell in a soggy heap. She diverted her gaze from his cold-shriveled organ and muscled thighs and turned to her bedding where she gathered up two blankets of rabbit skins. At Conrad’s side, she helped Darnoc remove the baldric, vest, and woolen shirt. A long wound oozing blood crossed under Conrad’s arm along the bottom of his ribcage.

“Hold him,” she said, dropping the blankets at Darnoc’s feet. She knelt, tugging down Conrad’s wet trousers and lifting his feet one at a time to remove his boots. His skin felt like ice.

She grabbed a woven cloth from her basket and scrubbed his legs dry. Conrad grunted but did not flinch away. The force of her rubbing caused Darnoc to stagger slightly in his effort to hold Conrad’s weight and well he should. Conrad stood taller than Darnoc and every limb wrapped in muscle. A powerful man in more ways than one.

She swallowed in renewed apprehension.

“He’s lost too much blood,” Darnoc said. “I feared he’d die before we found you.”

“How did you know to come here?” She wrapped the rabbit skin blanket around Conrad and held it secure as Darnoc lowered him to the ground. Already she felt the force of his lovemaking against her breasts and thighs.

These two men did not arrive by accident. The gods had guided them here. Could she trust her instinct? The words of her oath haunted her.

“He told me the direction,” Darnoc said. “As if he followed scent.” He grabbed up the other blanket and tied it around his waist.

Inka briskly turned to the bronze cauldron she had earlier placed in the fire’s edge. The rabbit stew had cooked down. She lifted a nearby pitcher and poured more water into the thickened broth, then crouched at the far side of her hut to dig through her store of roots and herbs. Kneeling at the fireside, she quickly sliced a handful of parsnips into the pot as well as a measure of angelica seed. Dried chives sent up pungent scent as she stirred. With a smaller clean pot made purely of copper, she sliced angelica root and burdock root and added water before placing it into a nest of coals she mixed carefully with ash to yield the desired amount of heat.

Her shelter had long since provided ample space for her life. Built by men who came to her from the tribes of the river lands and mountains in search of her healing sorcery, the sturdy log and stone structure divided into three parts. To the right of the door, a line of hanging skins, baskets, and hay-lined pits held her food and medicines. To the left, a long bench separated the entry area from her sleeping space with its sumptuous bed of skins stuffed with straw. Beyond, a large work space held her loom, extra skins, tools, snares, cooking utensils, and weapons. At the back in her stabling area stood the horse, the first to occupy the space since her aged horse had died the previous year.

She was not yet old, but the years continued to pass. Nothing of the future held promise or threat and her days had lapsed into a monotony that she feared worse than age. She didn’t mind dying alone, only that whoever found her long-dead body would finally hold power over her. Not since the slavery of her youth had she yielded to another man’s will. The gods had been kind. If their kindness continued, if she upheld her oath, she would not rot but dry like fine herbs or meat hung to smoke. She wished her dried remains to be kept in a cairn or cave in the old way of the ancestors.

But her family had died long ago and as pledged, she’d borne no children. No one attended but for occasional tribesmen with offerings and requests. As the years passed, fewer tribes than ever knew she existed.

But now? Her future suddenly seemed irrevocably changed. Her blood ran hot. She saw herself in the hands of both men, her skin flushed, her legs spread. Why had her prophecies not shown her this?

As she stirred the stew, she studied these two men. The strong lines of their bodies bespoke their abilities as huntsmen and warriors. Whatever evil had fallen upon them, they must have fought bravely. Several gashes marred Darnoc’s chest and arms, and besides the wound on Conrad’s side, there were cuts on his arms and a bloody patch on his head that required attention. Despite the injuries and weakened condition, their powerful presence piqued her awareness in ways she had nearly forgotten.

If she broke her vow, what would be the outcome? She felt no more able to resist this fated meeting than to cut off her own hand. Her energy flowed in great looping spirals so strong she could see the purple color against the shadowed walls of her shelter. With her pulse rising, she checked the small vessel with its burdock and angelica root. The steaming concoction had turned dark.

She padded her fingers with a square of leather and lifted the medicine pot out of the fire pit, then retrieved the cloth she had used to dry Conrad’s legs. Squatting beside him, she examined the spot on his scalp where blood had dried black in a knotted mass of hair.

“He complained more of the head injury than his side, but the blood has long since stopped flowing there,” Darnoc said. “It’s his side that needs attention.”

“If the head wound is deep, it could be the source of his weakness,” Inka said. “I need to see it.”

She wet a cloth in warmed water and squeezed it partly dry, then began sponging the matted hair. Her gentle pressure on the area elicited faint groans from Conrad, who otherwise lay motionless on the skins. The wash water soon turned brown but her efforts revealed a short cut in his scalp. Probing gently with her fingertips, she examined the cut and the rest of his scalp before satisfying herself that the wound was, as Darnoc had said, the lesser of his injuries. The bone was not broken. With the healing liquid drained into another container, she mashed the softened roots and placed a poultice on the gash.

Inka pulled the rabbit skin blanket back from Conrad’s body. A trickle of blood oozed from the upper section of the wound on his side. She refreshed the bathing water and started sponging the area, careful not to tug at the wound. The swollen area around the cut had become an angry red color and felt hot to the touch.

Scenes flashed in Inka’s mind, his body healed and hovering over her, his lips sending magic through her veins. As she wiped his chest to remove the last of the blood stain, her brief glance caught his gaze, a thin glimmer of blue from slatted eyes. Her nostrils flared and she looked down.

Did he incite her wayward thoughts or did they spring from her long celibacy? She had sworn never again to mate with a man. Why did she suddenly think of such things?

“The wound requires stitches,” she said roughly, glancing at Darnoc. “You may have to hold him.”

“I can hold myself,” Conrad said. As before, his voice came clearly to her ears. Did he speak at all? “How deep is it?”

“Not into your vitals, for that we can be thankful,” she said. “The ribs are bruised but not, I think, broken.”

He grunted. She glanced up at Darnoc then returned her attention to Conrad’s wound. She took her time to examine the length and breadth of it, calculating the best method of closure and where she would need to leave a wick of cloth to drain off infection. Conrad stiffened as she rinsed the opening with root tea.

“Will you need mandrake?” she asked.

“No, woman. Do your work,” Conrad grumbled.

forestWith her bone needle, she drew thin threads of sinew through his flesh, tugging the gaping opening together. He flinched and his hands formed fists as she worked. She knew the force of those hands on her body, how he would lift her up in violent lovemaking. So great was the impact of her imagining that by the time she had fully closed the wound, her breath came in short gasps and moisture beaded between her thighs.

Again she found his eyes barely open, watching her. He sent thoughts to her, scenes of her ravishment, of the pleasure wrought by his hands and mouth. Again she turned away with the weight of desire in her chest.

She smeared root paste along the seam then placed a clean cloth over the long line of stitches before helping Darnoc move Conrad to a sitting position. She secured the dressing with a wrapping around his torso. Her fingers lingered on his skin, the muscle of his back and chest, the lines of his abdomen. A man of substance and intrigue—she wondered at the scene she suddenly viewed of him fighting, men on all sides, his sword breaking…

“Did your sword break?”

“Yes,” he said. “Why bother to ask?”

Gooseflesh spilled down her sides. Hurriedly, she fastened the binding and adjusted the rabbit skins, causing it to slide away from his loins. His prick had awakened and loomed half stiff in its thicket of hair. Her breath caught as she quickly covered him.

“Already your magic heals me,” Conrad said. The corner of his mouth lifted in a half smile.

She fled to the far side of the fire to dip out bowls of stew. What of her oath? This man’s magic equaled hers. The old taboos of men who practiced seiðr rose fresh in her thoughts. Despite the myths, this man exhibited no signs of unmanliness. How could that be?

Ancient tales exalted men with the same or greater powers than the vǫlur even though in her lifetime only women practiced the craft. It must be true that some of them remained. In Conrad’s presence, she struggled to remain earthbound. Her thoughts flew from her in streams. No doubt he heard them.

Inka delivered two steaming bowls of rabbit stew to the men and sat across the leaping flames to enjoy her dinner. Darnoc, freshly washed and his hair tied back, made quick work of the food. Conrad’s hand shook as he lifted the bowl to his lips, but he refused Darnoc’s assistance.

“Spring comes in anger,” she said, seeking to ground herself. “The river will flood.”

“As we traveled here, the lowlands stood in water,” Darnoc said agreeably.

She dipped more stew for the men and gave them dried apples. They spoke of the season, the growing numbers of small-eared men infringing from the south, the need for new seed for their grain fields, the increasing value of amber. Conrad spoke little but the force of his thoughts overshadowed Darnoc’s words.

“What happened to your people?” she said finally. It was the question he wanted her to ask.

Shadows crossed the men’s faces. Darnoc spoke.

“The invaders came first as traders, only a few. Still, despite our desire to exchange goods, Conrad knew them as enemy. They wanted our gold and our women. By night, we sent the women to the caves with the children and gold, led by some of the older men. The rest of us prepared to fight.”

“The full force came at first light two days later,” he continued. “They arrived like ghosts with the rain, slipping in silence through our outposts.”

Conrad’s eyes opened fully as he gazed on her. “They threw a hare into our midst. Owls called from the forest, and it was not night.” He seemed to strengthen as he spoke. “From that we knew their spinners wove us in their magic.”

“Even with their magic, they fought like men,” Darnoc said. “They outnumbered us, but we killed and injured many as they came against us.”

“I fended them off with the force of magic. And I paid the price,” Conrad added. “They struck my sword and shattered my staff. They must have had a prophecy.”

“Why would the Norns weave against you?” Inka said. “Have you angered the gods?”

Conrad’s eyes flashed intense blue in the fire’s light. “This was not the will of the gods,” he said. “Men of the south have disturbed the work of Odin’s loom. I flew above them and danced to the drum. The blood stopped flowing from my wound.”

“He had no strength after that,” Darnoc said.

“The most grievous wound he suffers is not of the flesh,” Inka said. The truth of this test came fully to her thoughts. She turned her gaze to Conrad. “Their magic still binds you.”

“Hence my coming,” Conrad said, as if he had waited for her realization.

For the first time, the course of her life, her hard work, the long waiting, all made sense. This was the moment she had prepared for, the man who’d been promised. It had been so long, she had nearly forgotten she’d ever expected it. Now, with him here, she trembled at the prospect of their entanglement.

The storm raged as she instructed Darnoc. With Conrad resting full length on her bed, she removed her clothing. His prick stood erect without her touching it. She placed more wood on the fire and took her wand, brushing her breasts and thighs with its distaff head as if she spun linen threads for the loom. Her voice rose in a chant.

Lǫng es nótt, lǫng es ǫnnur,

hvé mega ek þreyja þrjár?

Opt mér mánaðr minni þótti

en sjá halfa hýnótt…

Soon Conrad’s voice joined hers. His words called to her. They held hands with Darnoc and spiraled above the clouds and into the starry night sky. She knelt at his side, placing her wand first on his chest where it rose and fell with his breath. Briefly she held it across his wound then lowered her lips to the line of stitches.

With soothing caresses, her lips urged the spirits of destruction to leave his body. Her incantations rose and fell, at times matching the howl of the outside storm. She draped her body over his.

Her form took the shape of a whirlwind teeming with insects, leaves, and hail. She became a turbulent stream  and flowed over him, touching him with her lips and sweeping him with her long scented hair. Voices rose and fell, voices of spirits both fair and foul. She hovered in the air above him, reaching with her wand to touch his hands, his feet, and his forehead.

He seized her wrist. “Make me whole,” he said. “It is our fate.”

The strength of his grip told her what she needed to know.

“The spell they cast is weak magic,” she said, settling her hips astride his loins. “But they will return, and with greater force. Your people must hurry to these hills and start anew. That is your future.”

He grasped her breasts as she straddled him and his touch sent lightning through her veins. The swollen tip of his prick found her wet opening and with a thrust of his hips, he drove himself into her.

“So it shall be,” he said.

The powers of wind and rain held nothing to compare to the storm that broke between them. Inka bucked and cried as his organ fed her long hunger. Her juices flowed. His stones gathered to hard knots that teased her buttocks at each full seating. Up then down, they danced the oldest dance. Her breasts swelled in his grasp. Her hips spread and opened to bring him deeper.

His ardor bloomed, increasing his girth until he stretched her belly with his manhood. She shook in need, called on the gods, and uttered Conrad’s spirit name. She had not known it before now.

“Vili!”

She saw in his eyes the truth of her knowledge, demanding,. His eyes, now fully open, shone with his gifts. The fire leapt and curled and in its golden light, she saw them both transformed.

“And you Vé,” Conrad said. “Darnoc, fulfill us with your ecstasy,” he commanded.

Inka glanced at Darnoc and knew his hands had long since caressed both their bodies. His blue eyes glimmered as she stared at him. He was the vardyger, the spirit of Conrad present in equal time. He grasped her thighs, moving her legs forward as he too straddled Conrad’s thighs.

“Give me your mouth,” Conrad said. His eyes darkened. “Your lips like honey, your skin like the petals of flowers. I have never known a woman so fair. Even the gods desire such a woman as you, dear Inka, sacred made flesh.”

Her lips brushed his jaw, the sharp jut of his cheekbone, the line of his brow. When her mouth touched his lips, a fresh spike of need pierced her so intensely that she cried out and shuddered. Sweat covered their bodies.

Conrad’s tongue thrust and licked in her mouth. Darnoc’s teeth nipped at her shoulders. Their hands moved over her shoulders, her breasts, her buttocks until she didn’t know which man touched her in which place.

The ride rose and fell over rough land, hooves clattering as the wolf’s teeth nipped at her heels. Darnoc tugged her hair back, holding on as if a horse’s reins. Sheets of fire coursed over her skin. Her nipples stood at hard points. Waves of need lapped in her center, circling ever tighter until their breath came as one, their voices mingled.

Wanton desire had been denied to her for so long. Now this man with his broad shoulders, with his clever glance, this man whose life fit hers like a hand in a glove—he had arrived. Tears filmed her eyes. Her body trembled with his sorcery.

Hot seed burst from his prick to fill her center. For a moment, she hovered at the brink of a precipice. Then his thumb found her stiff clitoris and pressed. Her hips shook as her vagina brought him to her sacred altar.

Together they flew skyward, arms outstretched to the stars. Joined, they kindled fire and lightning. Their voices mingled in primal song, the song of songs from whence flowed the wealth of life itself. For unmeasured time, Inka knew nothing but the spell of Conrad’s arms.

“The magic is not yet complete,” Conrad whispered. His hand motioned to her. She watched as he lifted himself, turning over her. She saw that he was Darnoc then, holding the lengths of her golden hair in his fists as he spread her legs with his knees.

With her legs pushed open, Darnoc thrust his erect organ into her cleft. The force of his taking shocked her. She turned to look at Conrad lying beside her. His blue eyes watched her, his white teeth gleamed in his smile. Her gaze fell to his bandages. No blood marked the white cloth.

They slept in each other’s arms. Darnoc fed the fire during the night and she fed their appetites during the days. Each day Conrad grew stronger, driving out the threads of the Norns to block their wicked loom of fate.

Each day she rode Conrad, shielding him from the infecting spirits. Each day he grew stronger, his gaze more provocative, his words more enchanting. She sat beside him while they spoke of mysteries in their lives that they now knew they had shared. Her need to understand slipped away. She accepted the truth before her eyes.

Hours slipped past as the men changed from one to the other, one man in two forms. They dipped their lips between her legs, tasting honey. Her breasts swelled. Essence fed to her and from her, freely given. The room whirled with purple and blue light as Darnoc then Conrad quenched her long hunger, as she fulfilled her destiny.

Full of health and strength, Conrad took his cock in hand. He called her name. She rode like a Valkyrie, bringing his semen to flood inside her. The room spun with light. Their chants rose and fell. Her loom of linen thread sang. Their song wove a cloth of bright colors, red crossing blue, yellow crossing red.

“Will you have me?” Conrad sat across the fire, slowly chewing his dried apple slices. Perspiration shone on his chest. His long hair fell across the side of his face, hiding part of his blue gaze. His image shifted and she saw both men.

“Both of you,” she said, smiling. “My oath barred me taking a man. It did not ban me from taking two. But what do you take in return?”

“Long life in our joined magic,” he said, his face gleaming in the firelight. “Wood for your fire, meat for your hearth. In turn you will weave our cloth in all three colors. You will join me in serving our tribe.”

“So the gods have asked,” she replied.

She lifted her mug of mead and watched as he lifted his mug in their promise.

magic

Visit my Pinterest board “Magic” for some enchanting images.

Jarrod’s Valentine

manin suitA new short story starring Jarrod Bancroft

 

Macie’s face reflected the subdued outdoor light that filtered in through the restaurant window. Ignoring the clench in his chest, Jarrod studied her from across the noisy room. She looked like a work of art, the planes and lines of her face cast in shadow, her delicate skin framed by luxurious lengths of dark hair. One of those exquisite images painted by some long-dead artist where the woman’s pensive expression signaled vague internal conflict. His impulse was to rush over to the table, take her hands, and slip to his knees to ask what he could do to brighten her day. His mouth twisted and he turned back to his newspaper.

Whatever appetites Macie Fitzgerald provoked, today the situation at Bancroft Investments demanded his full attention. The stock report only reiterated what he already knew—their standing had slipped again. Somehow rumors had leaked. It was a matter of time before this blew wide open.

He quietly folded the paper, signaled the waiter and paid his check before slipping out the side door. Much as he wanted Macie right now, the ugly responsibilities in his real life could not wait.

The door to his dad’s office was slightly ajar. His father stood at the windows in the far corner, his back turned as he stared out into the city. The older man’s shoulders triggered Jarrod’s memory, all the times those same shoulders had loomed over him, an impenetrable wall of dark against dim light. An immovable object. Jarrod swallowed an ugly taste in his mouth. And it had nothing to do with his lunch.

So the bastard already knew.

“Took your time,” the old man said. He didn’t bother to turn. “You’ve never appreciated the value of a full day’s work.”

“Fuck you, Preston,” Jarrod said. He slipped off his overcoat and dropped it on the chair. He stood beside the desk and folded his arms, facing his father’s back.

“What do you plan to do?” Preston said. “Are you riding your white horse, ready to save the world?”

“Anything to sidestep the facts,” Jarrod said. “That’s been your strategy all along. I remember my first weeks here, when I went through the files for that mutual fund and asked you, and you shifted blame to Evers. Always somebody else’s fault. Always something I made up or misinterpreted.”

“So you’re going to bring the house down around our ears, is that the plan?”

“You assigned me the dirty work thinking I wouldn’t put it together.” Jarrod spun the desk chair around and gripped the thick leather back. “I’ve dug all the way down. I’m not buying any more of your bullshit.”

Preston whirled to face him. The flesh around his nose had turned white. “Whine, you little fuck. You have no idea. I’ve worked my ass off, dedicated my life to giving you and your mother the very best. I don’t answer to you.”

Jarrod swallowed his rage, sinking his fingers into the chair upholstery to keep from planting a fist in that smug face. The man might be a despicable cheat, but he was his father. “You’ll answer to the prosecutor. Evers won’t take this sitting down.”

“Evers is as big a baby as you are. Suck it up, boy. This is how things get done.”

Jarrod closed his eyes then slammed out of the room. Nothing he could say would change Preston Bancroft. Why had it taken him twenty-eight years to accept that fact? \

Odd how familiar this all felt. As if he’d seen it in a dream. As if he’d wished it a thousand times and only now realized it. He strode to his office and slid open his desk drawers looking for anything that might hold value, but after a few minutes, he grabbed his overcoat and stalked out.

~~~

Jarrod had no idea how long he’d walked. Traffic had thinned slightly but people still crowded the sidewalks. Snow whirled down from a pale gray sky obscuring the tops of the taller buildings. Even jammed deep into his overcoat pockets, his hands felt like chunks of ice. Kind of like his stomach.

What if his father was right? Jarrod released his breath between pursed lips. Did the world of corporate finance require this kind of deception and manipulation? Law school hadn’t prepared him for this. Would he look back in twenty years and realize he’d been hopelessly naïve?

Maybe he would. But right now, this day, he had to sit down and think about his options. Carefully. With whiskey.

He shook his head as the image of Macie formed in his mind. Macie in her boots and corset standing over him, her gorgeous breasts bulging at the neckline, her green eyes flashing as she demanded his complete obedience. He longed for the dungeon, the reassurance of bonds strapped firmly on his wrists and ankles, the blessing of a lash stinging his back and buttocks. He wanted to crawl to Macie’s feet and never leave, live by her command.

He snorted in disgust. What would Preston say if he had any idea about his role with Macie and her Academy? Jarrod couldn’t even imagine. He’d gone for the training to satisfy a long-held secret desire, the overwhelming need to explore an aspect of himself that he’d always managed to suppress. What he’d found there shocked him, even now. Every day of his enthusiastic submission to pain and discipline shocked him.

But he loved it. Craved it. Felt blissfully happy in ways he’d never imagined.

And finding Mrs. Fitzgerald? Macie Fucking Fitzgerald? How many restless nights in high school had he imagined touching her? How many history classes had he watched her walk across the front of the room, write on the chalkboard, pierce him with her intense gaze while he hunched over in his desk trying to hide his erection?

He’d been a boy then, but he wasn’t a boy now. The discovery that the harsh mistress overseeing his training at the Academy had been the same woman who opened his mind to the triumphs and foibles of human endeavor had left him without defenses. It wasn’t just her beauty or her unflinching skill at domination that awed him. It was the depth of her understanding of human nature.

Even more intriguing was the mystery in her that broke to the surface in unexpected moments. When she was vulnerable. When they had reached the point of exhaustion and satiety and she curled in his arms.

Jarrod stopped, staring blindly into a store window where a display of Valentine hearts and cavorting cupids barely penetrated his consciousness. A tall man with dark hair and a worried expression stared back at him. Fucking Valentine’s Day.

His arms felt empty without her. In the dark eyes gazing back at him in the glass, he saw the truth of what he really wanted from her.

Forever.

He wanted forever.

Backyard barbeques. Dogs. Long rainy evenings snuggled on the couch together. Walks along the beach. Macie watching him undress, opening her arms to his embrace. Her lips curved in that entrancing smile.

Jarrod shoved the heavy glass door open and stopped at the counter. The air smelled of warm chocolate, sugar, and a hint of cinnamon. Stuffed animals, shiny heart-shaped balloons, and confections of every shape and flavor crowded the surrounding tables. What the hell was he doing?

Would Macie take offense at a display of affection? He couldn’t exactly break out of a slave’s expected behavior and vow eternal love. He was acting on impulse. She might reject him entirely. He glanced up at the woman standing on the other side of the counter,

“Something small,” he said. “Friendly but not too much.”

She studied him, her carefully sculpted eyebrows knitted in a frown. “Chocolate?”

“Definitely chocolate,” he said.

The clerk’s thin shoulders jutted against her draped red sweater as she lifted a small heart toward him. The cellophane wrap rustled as she placed it on the glass countertop. “Top of the line chocolate truffles,” she said. “We also have creams or assorted bonbons in this size. What does she like?”

Jarrod paused, staring at the glistening red package. He had no idea what she liked. Maybe he was way off track with this idea. She’d never given him a gift. At her invitation after Academy graduation, he’d moved into her townhouse as her slave. It was a vacation from reality and the most fulfilling experience he’d ever known. A strict protocol ruled his activity there. Each day when he walked away from Bancroft Investments and the world of business, his existence narrowed down to Macie. He took off his real world life at the same time he took off his clothes. What she wanted, what she demanded. Macie in control.

But despite her assured control, he suddenly realized he’d always sensed an opening. His face heated as he remembered his brash act the night of Academy graduation. He’d taken her. The need she’d teased along for six weeks boiled to the surface and he barely been able to ask permission before throwing her back on the bed. She acted as though she expected it, as if she’d been waiting for him.

What the hell could he assume from that?

Even in high school, some part of him understood that he had the power to take her. At that point, he had no clue how to use that power on a woman ten years older. With the many females he’d bedded over the years, his actions had seemed like play. He toyed with women, watched them from a distance, predicted what they’d do or say. Teased them along. All of it bored him.

A few times since then, even as Macie’s slave, he’d pushed the boundaries.  Much as he loved pleasing her, he also loved the undercurrent of as-yet-unfulfilled promises they both knew but never discussed. That he would, someday, pin her against the wall and rip off her clothes one piece at a time. Hold her hostage at the end of his cock. Watch her nipples tighten under his gaze until they protruded like chocolate candies waiting for his mouth.

“The creams,” he said, jerking out of his reverie. His cock had stiffened. “Assorted creams.”

With the package caught under his arm, he stopped to wait for a light surrounded by a dozen other pedestrians bundled against the cold. Traffic snarls backed up to the next block, a typical Friday afternoon. Only it didn’t feel typical. It felt charged, like the ground could erupt any moment, like a tsunami rolled toward him.

He pictured her townhouse, the fireplace, the look in her eyes when he would start unbuttoning her blouse. How her skin would glow in the firelight as he leaned over her. How her dark hair would pool against the rug. How she would taste. The sound of her voice protesting.  How he would hold her wrists and make her gasp.

“Taxi!” he called, stepping to the curb. Yeah, the ground could erupt. To hell with Preston Bancroft and his criminal enterprise. To hell with doubt and protocol and silly rules meant to be broken. He knew what he wanted. He was taking it.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Read the full incredible story of Jarrod Bancroft. On sale half price on Feb 14 ONLY. Your Valentine from me! Enjoy!

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Christmas Ice — new short story, free!

christmas ice freeNow through December 25 — a fun, sexy holiday romance!

Alise wasn’t expecting an ice storm when she hid away in a remote cabin to finish her novel. She also wasn’t expecting a pesky park maintenance man to keep interrupting. But the snow keeps falling and the temperature keeps dropping. What could possibly go wrong?

One click at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B019LLDAV4

New Release Giveaway!

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Three signed copies of Caerwin and the Roman Dog will be given away at the end of the Goodreads Giveaway Event! From now through December 1, you can sign up for your chance to win a copy at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27235437-caerwin-and-the-roman-dog

This is a completely free, no obligation event.

Selling Indie

Cartoon Technology 0115The biggest upside to Indie publishing is getting your work out there without trying to squeeze through the bottleneck of agents and publishers. The downside is that no one may ever read your work. Hordes of writers have become Indies, a gaggle of writhing hopefuls who fell away from the bottleneck, all wildly optimistic that this one story will be the one that lights a readership fire. They’re tired of waiting, infuriated by the industry profit margin, and disillusioned by the insider game. Most would prefer not to become rich and famous posthumously.

The primary benefit that derives from gaining a publisher—aside from the obvious ego boost—is the possibility of a few ‘mainstream’ reviews. That’s the stamp of ‘legitimacy’ that many readers want. It’s the advantage that Indies can’t get.

Unless they pay for it. One industry staple, Romance Times, dispenses reviews at a cost of $450. Per review. Kirkus Reviews, a longtime respected reviewer, charges $425—if you can wait 7-9 weeks. An expedited review costs more.

Not only are there significant ethical issues in paying for reviews, most authors don’t have that kind of money. To be competitive, ebooks are priced between 2.99 and 3.99. The profit margin is at most $2 per book. The book would have to sell 225 copies just to earn back one review fee.

By necessity, then, authors ‘buy’ reviews in other ways:

  • Book giveaways wherein months (even years) of work are handed out like candy at a Christmas parade in the hope that recipients will post a favorable review. Which many don’t.
  • Contests, a more costly and time-consuming method of giving away books in hope of gaining attention and reviews.
  • Blog tours, a service authors usually pay a promoter to handle and which, in theory, presents the book, excerpts, an author bio, and often the blogger’s review to all the fans and followers of the blogs participating in the tour. Unfortunately, blogs aren’t faithfully attended by their fans and followers so there’s no guarantee that the days a particular book is featured are days that more than a handful of potential readers see it. Worse, popular blogs quickly develop a backlog of review and tour requests. Worse yet is feedback from authors who say they’ve found no measurable increase in sales from blog tours.
  • Review tours, similar to blog tours. Either pay a promotions person to handle this or spend countless hours submitting review requests and getting back two responses (if you’re lucky). There is at least the hope of gaining legitimate reviews.
  • Goodreads is an important place to set up an author page. But don’t get your hopes up. The site is primarily for readers to discuss and review books. Various discussion groups cater to specific genres/subgenres, but most have a specific thread where authors are allowed to pitch new works, and most readers seem to ignore this thread like the plague. Seeking reviews is mostly a cry in the wilderness.
  • Authors must have a marketing platform whether they’re Indie or not. Books and articles abound with advice about how to set up such a platform. The primary objective with a platform is to develop an audience who will purchase and, secondarily, review books. Venues considered critical include Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Goodreads page, Amazon author page, website… In truth, if a writer tended to all these venues as conscientiously as advisers recommend, he/she would have no time left to write.
  • Posts to an author’s Facebook page could, in theory, generate an appreciative following willing to read and review a new release. Authors are advised to build a fan base by posting personal bits and fun stuff along with book excerpts and clever visuals alternately called ‘memes’ or ‘teasers’. Authors are advised to post often so that the Facebook algorithms keep you in a high volume category.
    • Building a social network smacks of ‘buying’ fans and reviews. When was the last time George R. R. Martin posted to your Facebook page? Or any serious author? It’s potentially counterproductive to ooh and ahh over someone’s cute baby post or rave over her recipes and then hit her up to buy your book.
    • Accounts versus pages, a little Facebook 101. A person’s Facebook account allows that person to invite friends and establish a variety of Facebook connections. The account person can join groups and connect to authorish places like Goodreads, which will happily post your most recent book reviews and other Goodreads activities to your account page. If an account person wishes to separate his/her account (with all its friends, relatives, and personal information) from his/her author information and promotions, he/she can set up a separate author page. The author page cannot invite friends, but you as the account person can invite your friends to ‘like’ your author page. Absurdly, the author page cannot connect with Goodreads or join groups. So unless the author sets up a false identity account with Facebook, he/she will be limited to what can be accomplished through an author page. Or suffer through the mingling of personal and author friends, groups, and posts on the main personal account.
    • Contrary to logic, Facebook does not share your posts with all your friends, or if you have an author ‘page,’ with all those who ‘liked’ your page. If you fall into a low volume category, as few as five people might see any given post. Even posting multiple times per day to keep your volume high will not assure that everyone on your friend or like list will see your post. Facebook does not fully distribute your posts.
    • No one watches Facebook all day. A person’s newsfeed on Facebook scrolls along either in real time (“Most Recent”) or as ‘Top Stories.” Facebook’s default sequencing for the news feed is “Top Stories,” meaning that a post that gains the most comments/traffic gains top placement on the feed. Whether a viewer sets his/her newsfeed to Most Recent or Top Stories, the more Facebook friends and likes that viewer has, the greater the number of items showing up on the newsfeed and the less chance he/she will ever see a particular post.
    • Of particular concern to romance authors, Facebook restricts its ‘boost’ options by disallowing ‘adult’ content. A ‘boost’ changes your post into an advertisement. You pay a certain amount and specify how long the ad will run. If you are advertising a spicy romance novel or using any exposed skin in your image, you run the risk of receiving a refusal to your ‘boost,’ as in: “Your ad content violates Facebook Ad Guidelines. Ads are not allowed to promote the sale or use of adult products or services, including toys, videos, publications, live shows or sexual enhancement products.” [You might, however, post a Facebook link to a blog post like this one and thereby put your name out there without violating these Puritanical policies.]
    • Facebook groups theoretically offer authors multiple marketing opportunities. Many such groups, such as All About Books, Great Reads, or Book Heaven, enjoy well over 10,000 members. Authors quickly find, however, that posting to such groups yields pretty much nothing. It seems that all 10,000 members are other authors. Some groups might have more potential in connecting potential readers with the author’s works, but these are specialty groups focusing on one particular sub-genre (e.g., Domination Romance, Band of Dystopian Authors & Fans). Often such groups do not allow book promotion posts unless the author is a regular participant in group discussions, if at all. Which again brings up the thorny issue of exactly how many hours there are in a day. Still other groups which potentially attract readers are the discount groups (99¢ Kindle Reads, Free Books or Us) where the author opens a vein in order to gain one purchase.
    • For authors of non-romance, forgetaboutit. There are no Facebook groups for promoting biographies, memoirs, history, and other categories. Such works can be advertised on some of the general Facebook groups such as All About Books, but again, posts zoom by fast, about one every three minutes. And it’s preaching to the choir.

While Amazon offers promotional opportunities to authors, like Facebook it refuses ads to authors who write sexual content. [No such restrictions exist for authors of gore, horror, and other bloody narratives. It’s sex that sets their hair on fire.]

Gaining readers and reviewers has always been the challenge for writers, whether aided by a publisher or not. With all the free or 99 cent books out there, it’s a miracle that anything sells for more. At least as frustrated as the authors, however, are the readers who want a good book and can’t find it amid the rabble. Various review scams, paid or not, mean lousy books may gain high reviews and good books never hit the radar.

At the least, authors need to advertise their credentials—so many years studying literature and English, so many years writing, so many publications under their belt, and average review ratings for those publications. For a reader seeking quality, this information along with the book content preview offered on Amazon sale pages may be the most consistent metric by which to judge Indie books.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy vs Historical Fiction — What’s the Shared Ground?

braid promo copyI think every reader shares a fascination with alternate worlds. Thus the appeal of not only science fiction and fantasy but also historical fiction. In Caerwin and the Roman Dog, I explore the past as it existed at the height of the Roman Empire and the end of Celtic control over Britannia.

In my work over the last year in putting this novel together, I reached the obvious conclusion that research is the key to authoring a good book. It doesn’t matter if the story centers in the past or the future, or even in the present day. Building a believable setting where the characters will interact means making sure that the ‘world-building’ is effective. What did they eat? What was the weather? What were their daily routines?

In my novel, the setting is the Shropshire area of England, a place near the River Severn that borders Wales. Elusive mists shroud ancient hillforts where Rome’s legions pursue their conquest of the native tribes. Despite greater numbers, native warriors wield weapons and armor far inferior to Roman arms. (Details of Roman armor can be seen on my “Romans” Pinterest page.) The biggest difference, however, rests in Rome’s military organization—the army functions like a well-oiled machine.

It’s fascinating to study the chain of command that Rome perfected and which is used by today’s writers even in the most far-flung fictional world of the future. Obedience to the command hierarchy and to the operational rules of a legion creates a strict dynamic for any character caught up in that reality. In my story, that character is Marcellus. As the book opens with Legio XIV’s assault against the Cornovii tribe, the tribe’s defenses have been breached and action quickly devolves to a mop-up operation. Marcellus rounds the hillfort perimeter and spots a young woman, Caerwin, trying to make her escape. Instantly enchanted, he brings her back to camp and embarks on seduction.

And yes, in the midst of its historical action and setting, this novel is a sexy romance with a big dollop of BDSM.

At any time of man’s history or future, the introduction of an attractive woman into a man’s camp is certain to cause trouble. But Marcellus’ infatuation with a blue-eyed Cornovii princess takes second place when his superior officer succumbs to his battle wounds. His death propels Marcellus to sudden promotion as the legion’s commander. He’s not of the regular army serving a twenty-plus year term, but rather a young professional of privileged rank meant to gain a taste of military life before returning to serve Rome’s senatorial or merchant class. His crisis isn’t just rebellious tribunes or a young woman he can’t get out of his mind, but also the heavy burden of responsibility that comes with leading a force of ten thousand men in a hostile wilderness.

The struggle for Caerwin focuses on her stubborn refusal to accept her change of circumstance. No longer part of her ancestral family and tribe, she’s suddenly enslaved to a Roman commander. Can anyone ever come to terms with such a loss of freedom, family, and home?

The greater context encompasses two worlds. Dying on the Roman sword are the ancient traditions of Britain’s Celtic tribes: allegiance to spirits embodied in springs, rivers, hills, trees, and other natural elements, a social order strongly resembling modern democracy, and advanced skills in metallurgy and weaving, to name a few. Many of the mysteries of that world are lost forever because the Celts did not have a written language. Building a fictional world based on this relative dearth of information forces an author deep into archaeological records.

At the time of our story, the last one hundred years since the triumph of Julius Caesar has seen the erosion of Rome’s early republican political system. In its place is a sprawling empire under the sole control of its emperor. The Senate has been reduced to a rubber-stamp function in state affairs. Appetites of all kinds are indulged in hedonistic lifestyles, and this reality shows up in the backstory of some of our characters.

Rome depends on its army and the conquest of new lands to produce its wealth including precious metals and gems, agricultural bounty, and that ever useful commodity, slaves. Since the initial invasion of Britannia in 43 A.D., Emperor Claudius has made it clear to his governor that the four legions under his command must subdue and occupy this island and seize its treasures for the greater glory of Rome. Marcellus has no options. Even in a foreign winter’s cold, he must lead his troops on search and destroy missions.

Restrained in his bedchamber, Caerwin awaits his return knowing that he spills the blood of her people. She hates him. And yet, because he has favored her with his affections, she fares far better than the rest of her fellow countrymen. How does she negotiate that conflict? What is the emotional toll in knowing that she is the survivor? Can a vulnerable young woman resist her body’s urges at the hands of an experienced lover?

Caerwin can never return to the home and family she once knew, but she can at least plan to escape the hated bonds of Roman captivity in the hope of living again among others of her own kind. Will she attempt such a dangerous venture?

Much as he is drawn to this rebellious young queen, Marcellus can’t walk away from his duty to Rome. The concessions he makes to Caerwin soon result in mutterings among his tribunes. Personal and professional crisis ensues.

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Amazon → http://www.amazon.com/dp/B016LA6ZVA

Originally posted at http://jimbossffreviews.blogspot.com/2015/10/guest-post-lizzie-ashworth.html

Caerwin and the Roman Dog

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I’m so excited to finish my first draft of a new novel! Set in 47 AD, the story follows a young Briton woman caught up in her tribe’s struggle to fend off Roman invaders.

Here’s a scene from the early pages of the book:

Horses appeared at the edge of the clearing. A white horse came first, a massive beast draped with red saddlecloth and gold ornamented breastplate and bearing a man of Roman rank. His red cloak swirled and the red plume cresting his fearsome helmet bristled as he pulled his horse short. Two dark horses came up on either side, also mounted by cavalrymen cloaked in the hated Roman red and bearing weapons of war. They held their shields close on their bared thighs and carried short swords dripping with the blood of her kinsmen.

For a long frozen moment, Caerwin stood without moving as her eyes locked with the dark stare of the man on the white horse. As if the ground could swallow her. As if she could summon the powers of the ancient ones and rise to the sky to fly away.

As if he spoke to her in some forgotten language.

Motioning toward her, he shouted words she did not understand. Immediately one of the men at his side kicked his horse forward. He came directly toward her, galloping across the clearing.

Virico’s ghost whispered in her ear. Run, Sister. We are dead.

Caerwin dropped the bucket and ran. She leapt over rocks and thickets of dog violet, struggling for balance along the precipitous slope. Her feet flew over the ground as the sound of hoof beats came ever nearer. Plunging into thickets of young rowan and yellow-blooming broom too dense for a man on horseback, she ignored the gorse thorns tearing at her flesh and deftly wove her steps southward across the familiar landscape.

Blood pounded in her ears. She would escape to the river and float downstream to the caves. She could hide there, wait until danger had passed then return to help the survivors. She ran headlong, ignoring the lash of limbs and stones that bruised her feet. The ground dropped sharply. She gasped for air, dodging side to side to keep from tumbling headfirst off the incline.

She strained to hear hoof beats over her ragged breath and pounding heart. She risked a glance toward the hilltop as she broke free from the thicket of gorse. Smoke rose in thick black plumes.

Strong arms grasped her midsection and hauled her upward. In one unceremonious thrust that knocked the breath from her lungs, the Roman hauled her belly down against his battle-stained thighs. He stank of gore and sweat.

“No!” she shouted, fighting against his grip as he swung the horse around. She cursed him, pounding his legs with her fists.

He pressed her down against the horse’s withers and made no response to her insults. As they galloped back, she twisted and fought against his grip. His strange words issued in a torrent then a hard blow struck her head. Light flashed across her eyes. Then her eyes stared and saw nothing.

Stay tuned for the final version, coming soon!