I am prey.
This is not pity talking, this is an acknowledgment of a fact.
I am small and weak; I am an Omega. I am a prize that men war over.
For a year, I have hidden in the distant corner of the Empire.
But I am running out of food, and I am running out of options.
That I must leave soon is not a decision for today, though, but a decision for tomorrow.
Only tomorrow's choices never come.
For tonight brings strangers who remind me that I am prey.
Publisher's Note: Prey is a fantasy reverse harem omegaverse with three stern Alphas, an Alpha wolf-shifter, and a stubborn Omega prey. It includes smoking hot sexual situations, spankings, and domestic discipline.
I'm roused from wishful considerations by a thumping on the door.
I freeze; a sweeping current of energy rushes up my spine. My ears strain, but all I can hear is the gentle patter of rain hitting the roof and the gust of wind. I rack my brains for an explanation, something coming loose in the wind perhaps, and yet that sound was distinct…deliberate.
Shep, my dog, is outside. Maybe he’s trying to get in?
The heavy thud sounds again, and this time I know someone or something far bigger than Shep is at my door.
“Members of the Imperium Guard seeking shelter for the night,” a gruff voice calls from beyond the door.
I jump out of bed and stare around the darkened room in mindless terror. I need to run or hide, but I don’t do either of those things.
“Please leave! There is no one here!” This is possibly the most ridiculous statement I’ve ever made in my entire life. In one short speech, I’ve proclaimed myself as both female and alone. Further, that I’m either stupid or have been made so by my fear! “I have the pox!”
“Bollocks, she has the pox,” another voice says, muffled behind the door. This one sounds younger. “I know that scent. There’s an Omega in there.”
Those words tip ice into my veins and finally rouse my wits. I shove my feet into my boots. A muffled thud and grunt comes from beyond the door—goddess help me they are fighting now! It pokes my flight mode with a great big stick, and without a backward glance or consideration, I’m prying open the window at the back of the house and making my escape
She wanted to find her place in the universe. She never imagined it might not be on Earth.
When Emily Murphy over slept the morning of her college entrance exam, she thought missing her test was the worst thing that could happen. She never expected she would wind up lost halfway across the galaxy, battling aliens with laser guns and mages hurling lightning.
Like most seventeen year olds, Emily's main concern had been navigating the perils of high school, not surviving shootouts and sorcery. That changed when her school was attacked and a student was kidnapped. While everyone else smartly fled from danger, she recklessly ran toward it mounting an impossible rescue that would lead her on a journey unlike anything she could have imagined.
Dropped into a strange world teeming with merciless criminals and ruthless aristocrats, surrounded by violence and betrayal, Emily must untangle a web of intrigue and deceit to solve the mystery behind the abduction, save her classmate, and discover the destiny which awaits her.
It is either that, or die trying...
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Charley is a cleaner by day and a professional gambler by night. She might be haunted by her tragic past but she's never thought of herself as anything or anyone special. Until, that is, things start to go terribly wrong all across the city of Manchester. Between plagues of rats, firestorms and the gleaming blue eyes of a sexy Scottish werewolf, she might just have landed herself in the middle of a magical apocalypse. She might also be the only person who has the ability to bring order to an utterly chaotic new world.
This is the first book in The City Of Magic series.
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*New and Lengthened 2018 Edition*
How well do you know yourself?
Sixteen-year-old Elle thinks she's got life in Shady Oaks all under control until new boy Asher comes to town. Elle can't explain it, but she can't deny the connection she feels to him. Things with Asher are going great until they're out one night and nearly attacked by a large wolf. Before she knows it, Elle's life is spiraling out of control: Maddox is in love with her, she and Asher are in danger…
and she learns she's a shifter!
If that wasn't bad enough, she finds herself in the middle of an ages-old war between shifters and hunters.
What else can she do but join the cause?
Will Elle stay with Asher or break-up with him to be with Maddox? What does it mean to be a shifter? Who will emerge victorious in the battle?
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As if on cue, a wild and ferocious animal broke through the brush and leaped through the air, landing only inches from where Asher and I were standing. It was a wolf, gray and brown with golden yellow eyes and a muscular frame.
Blood dripped from the predator's sharp fangs. I couldn't help but stare in wild fascination as the animal sauntered toward us. Its grin seemed to grow with each deliberate step, as though the beast was mocking us. My heart began to race, and my breath faltered as I took in the beast gnashing its teeth in front of us. I could see its wild hairs as they moved in the wind as it stared at us, standing there, frozen with fear.
I slowly turned my head to look at Asher, hoping he'd be able to offer me something to help calm my growing fear. Instead of seeing nervousness like I'd expected, I saw a fuming mad Asher staring daggers into the eyes of the wild animal across from us. I moved toward the animal and saw a similar heated and irritated glare staring back at Asher. It was as though the two were in a standoff, both equally livid and irritated by the presence of the other.
My eyes found their way to the beast, and I couldn't help but linger on its shape, size, and color. One small glimpse into its golden eyes and I had no choice but to observe its every move. I watched its massive and muscular chest rise with rough breaths. I should have been stricken with fear. I should have been crying and begging the animal not to tear open my throat and eat me for a snack, but I wasn't. Instead, I regarded the animal with fascination. There was something about the creature that had lured me into its presence.
Without thinking, I took a step forward, gaining the creature's interest. It tore its snarling gaze from Asher and seemed to calm as the golden eyes drank me in.
"Elle, stop," Asher whispered. He reached out and grabbed my arm.
With his movement, the creature growled and let out an ear-piercing and heart-stopping howl. I swear, it was as though Asher's grabbing me had enraged the animal. I knew that sounded wildly insane, but something was off about our encounter, and I couldn't stop myself from being drawn to its existence.
"Watch out," Asher yelled again, pulling me protectively behind him.
He stood tall in front of me, using his body as a shield, trying to form a wall between the beast and myself.
BOOK 3 OF THE SERIES COMING SEPTEMBER 13TH
Synopsis: For Elle, she thought the day she learned she was a Shifter was the most frustrating day of her life. Well, that was until she found herself in the middle of a war between her best friend and boyfriend. Now, everything is about to change for this trio as a known Witch in Shady Oaks has decided to wage a war against the Shifters and Otherworldly Creatures. This time, Elle may find herself battling with new powers and without her trusted best friend, Maddox. Discover how hearts are broken and mended in this exciting third installment of the Shifter Chronicles, Everlight
Book Title: Evernight
Release Date: September 13th, 2018
Publisher: Kingston Publishing
About the Author: Michelle Areaux is a wife, mother, educator, and young adult author. Her love for coffee helps drive her to create magical, fantasy stories.
Purchase Links: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07DYJKBRZ?pf_rd_p=d1f45e03-8b73-4c9a-9beb-4819111bef9a&pf_rd_r=KEC0BPYKMT52XYRPD0HQ
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Sixteen-year-old Brieze is the apprentice and adopted daughter of a powerful wizard. She never met her biological father, a merchantman from the faraway Eastern Kingdoms who had a brief romance with her mother, then disappeared. When Brieze discovers her mother is still secretly, crazily in love with this man, even after seventeen years, she decides to find him, confront him, and get some answers from him for her mother's sake.
In her small airship the Devious, she makes the long and dangerous journey to the Eastern Kingdoms. Along the way, she confronts pirates and the nocturnal ship-crushing beast known as the Nagmor. She survives a harrowing trip through the legendary Wind's Teeth. She discovers why her father disappeared, and in the process she learns the true version of her own story.
When Brieze's boyfriend, Tak, receives word she's in danger, he sets out on his own journey east to help her. Will he be able to rescue her, or will she end up having to rescue him?
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Brieze’s mother was acting strange. She’d been moping and sighing around the wizard’s house all day, doing dumb things. She’d left her hairbrush on the stairs of all places, where Brieze had nearly tripped over it and broken her neck, and she’d forgotten to feed the wizard’s exotic birds, which squawked hungrily from their cages in the parlor. Brieze was pretty sure her mother’s state of mind had something to do with Tobias the handyman. The two had stopped talking to each other, and Tobias was moping around the house too.
Her mother had wandered outside to the wide front lawn that stretched to the edge of the wizard’s floating island. Brieze kept an eye on her from an upstairs window as she played chess with the wizard. The wizard took a long time making his moves, and she went to the window and watched while she waited.
Now her mother was doing more dumb things. She wasn’t wearing a cloak, even though the fall chill outside hinted strongly of the winter to come, and she was standing much too close to the island’s edge, especially for such a windy day. And it was hard for Brieze to tell at this distance, but she didn’t seem to be wearing a parachute pack, which was not just dumb but dangerous.
With the late afternoon sun low in the sky and the island positioned near the Highspire Mountains, the view was spectacular. From horizon to horizon, silvery gray clouds blanketed the surface of Etherium, as they always did. To the east, the mountains rose tall and craggy and green out these clouds, reaching for the sky. The mountain range stretched northward and southward in lazy zigs and zags, the farthest mountains fading off into the distance. The sky was a pretty shade of pinkish-purple. Banks of cumulus clouds piled high on the horizon like echoes of the mountains.
The nearest mountain was so close that, if her mother were looking at the view, she could have made out the terraced fields and orchards on its lower flanks. She could have glimpsed the tiny specks of ox- and donkey-drawn carts making their way along the roads that spiraled or switchbacked up the mountainside. Further up the mountain, she could have seen the city of Selestria in all its sunlit splendor, the brightly-colored pennants flying from the roofs of the stone houses, the airships swarming about the city like busy bees—constantly touching down and taking off—their silvery sails glinting when they caught the sun. At the mountain’s crown, she could have admired Castle Selestria, which seemed as much a part of the sky as part of the earth, its tallest towers and turrets lost in the clouds.
But Brieze’s mother wasn’t looking at any of this. She hadn’t gone outside for the view. She stood with her head down, shoulders hunched, and her hands thrust deep into her pockets, muttering to herself. She didn’t notice the gusts of wind tugging at her skirt. The knotted bun of her hair had come undone—it whipped around her face in a frenzy.
Brieze unclipped a brand-new spyglass from the belt of her black flightsuit. It had been a gift from the wizard for her sixteenth birthday. She studied her mother through it. The house’s rafters groaned in the wind.
“Ah ha!” the wizard said, and advanced one of his pawns with a satisfied little clink. “Your move.”
“She’s not wearing a parachute,” Brieze said, peering through the spyglass.
“Hmmmm…?” the wizard looked up from the chessboard, his blue eyes blinking beneath bushy white brows.
“It’s windy out there and she forgot to grab a chute from the porch.”
The wizard came to the window. He frowned at the distant figure of Patentia Crofter standing near the island’s edge with her shoulders hunched against the wind, her hands in her pockets, her hair flying. “That is exceedingly dangerous,” he said, his brow furrowing and his eyebrows squinching closer together.
And, as if to prove him right, a huge gust of wind ballooned Patentia’s skirt, lifted her off her feet, and carried her tumbling end-over-end off the island’s edge.
He was forsaken but not forgotten.
Nine months have passed since Grace Fortune saw the boy she loves, Jared Lorn, die before her eyes. But Grace’s suspicions have her wondering if Jared really dead. Along with her friends, she sets out to find answers, and the investigation leads to an unexpected place: Silo City, an abandoned silo complex that houses as many dark secrets as it does forsaken people.
Very much alive, Jared’s on a mission to save the girl he loves by collaborating with the enemy—a young, brash rock star named Lester Crow who fronts the punk metal band Blood Moon. Jared’s “deal with the devil” will take him on a cross-country journey into the heartland of darkness. The music of Blood Moon is a weapon against God, and Jared must wield this weapon while trying desperately to preserve his mind and soul from its power.
Jared and Grace are desperate to be reunited, but first, they must defeat the demonic forces arrayed against them. And pray that Jared, a Nephilim forsaken in God’s eyes, has a chance at a future.
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What would you do if you were the monarch of a
perfect, tropical paradise without a care in the
world? Well, King Norr would like to leave, and
"Where else but Nibb?" his subjects would contend.
Venturing away from Nibb was only inviting misery
Nevertheless, the King was intent to experience
the world beyond and this is the story of the
adventures that found him during that pursuit.
Telling too much would ruin the surprises in store,
but some of the mysteries include --
Who was the curious, little girl who would not speak?
Had Doctor Hinkus fallen prey to marauding drumbkins?
Whose prank set the Palace afloat?
What's a spudcake?
Do pirates bathe?
Did Uncle Fenwad roll out of the Palace?
What's a Sober Tooth Tiger?
Do Nibbian pigs have a future in aviation?
These questions and more arise just as Norr may
have found what he had always wanted. Never
mind his world had become perfectly chaotic. It
was also chaotically perfect, and nothing that
couldn't be remedied with an additional nap.
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R E V I E W S --
Marigold Deidre Dicer @ Versus Blurb -- Brisbane, Australia
Maxine @ Parakeet Book Reviews -- California
Deborah Gafford -- writer & book blogger -- Texas
Bethanie Armstrong @ Bethanie's Books -- Alabama
Laura W @ Blue Eye Books
Trang @ Bookidote -- Montréal, Québec
Saradia Chatterjee @ The Page-Hungry Bookworm
AUTHOR'S BIO --
The Gift of the Quoxxel is Richard's debut novel. His life
experience includes visual arts, freelance graphic design and
illustration, truck driving, verb conjugating, military service,
and mastery of an adequate meatloaf.
A Michigan native and parochial school survivor, Richard resides
with wife Marina close to, but far enough from New York City.
Brandon Cass is not your average teenager. He has a taste for blood—human blood. For sixteen years, he stumbled through life without a hitch until the enigmatic aroma of blood awakened something dark within him. Visions of a beautiful young woman with chocolate brown hair and ocean blue eyes haunt his mind, yet her identity is a puzzling mystery.
His hunger for blood strengthens, and the cravings become too powerful to control. No one is safe, not even his family. To safeguard all he once found dear, Brandon sets out on a quest for answers. In an unfamiliar city, he comes face-to-face with the beautiful young woman, confronts the dark force which controls him, and learns what he must endure to reclaim his soul.
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Nora knows three things: she is a servant, her parents are dead, and she lives in the kitchen house with her adoptive family. But her world is torn apart when she discovers that her birth father has always been right there, living in the house she serves.
This discovery leads Nora to more questions. Why was she thrown in an ash-covered room for asking about her father? Why is a silver-bladed knife the only inheritance from her birth mother? Why is magic forbidden in her household—and throughout the province of the Runes? The answers may not be the ones Nora hoped for, as they threaten a possible romance and her relationship with the adoptive family she loves.
With the announcement of a royal ball, Nora must decide what she is willing to give up in order to claim her stolen birthright, and whether this new life is worth losing her family—and herself.
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I sat at the window with the sun on my face, slicing tomatoes I picked from the vine that climbed the back of the kitchen house. On the other side of the room, Greta hummed an old tune. The words tickled at the fringes of my memory, not quite making their way to my lips. I hadn’t heard them since she used to sing me to sleep almost seven years ago. When I was six, old enough to hold my knife, hearth-lit songs and dreams had been replaced with work.
Tomato juice sluiced across the cutting board as I bore down with my blade. The carvings that covered its handle had practically tattooed themselves on my palm. I imagined it had been the same way for my real mother—the knife had once been hers.
“Nora, Robert stopped by while you were outside,” Greta said, arm-deep in a bowl of dough. “He said there’s a new woman and her son coming sometime this week. They’re going to work here with us.”
“Why?” I said, glancing up from the mess of tomatoes on my board. The kitchen house already felt small with Greta, Peter, and me living there.
Greta shrugged. “Sir Alcander must have thought we needed the help.”
Bright pain burst through my hand. I drew a breath and looked down at where my knife had bitten into my finger.
“Are you okay?” Greta asked.
“I’m fine.” I hid my finger under the table until she turned back to her dough. I didn’t want her to take away my knife.
“Anyway, we’ll need to clear out some space in the loft.”
“Mm-hmm.” I held up my hand and stared at the red teardrop of blood glinting in the sunlight. It was beautiful, I decided. Like a jewel. I wrapped a rag around my finger before Greta could see it.
A chirrup of delight sounded outside. Siobhan and Annabelle had come out to play. Even though they rarely acknowledged me, I swore that the girls, the daughters of Sir Alcander and Lady Portia, played in view of the kitchen house just to remind me that they had the time and leisure to play when I did not.
“Greta!” Siobhan ran up to my window and leaned inside. “Do you have any chocolate?” Her voice was sweet, a voice that tried to please.
Greta knew better. “No dessert before tea.”
Siobhan’s innocent mask fell off. “I said give us some chocolate. I’ll tell mother if you don’t.”
There was a fleeting moment when I thought Greta might say no. Tell them to say please. Make them ask nicely like she would make me do if I ever talked to her like that. Instead she shook her head and went to the shelf to get the chocolate. She never would have given in to me, but my mother wasn’t the lady of the house.
“Ella-Della!” Annabelle peeked her head through the window as she reached for the chocolate.
“Not Ella-Della,” I said. “Nora.” Della was the name of the simple milkmaid in one of Annabelle’s favorite stories. Her stupidity always got her in trouble with the lord of her household. Once I had the misfortune of walking by with a bucket of water while Portia was outside, telling the story to the girls.
“Look, there goes Della now,” Portia said. At the time, I didn’t even know what the name meant, but the way she laughed let me know it wasn’t a compliment. Siobhan and Annabelle echoed her laughter and her words, and the name stuck.
“Ella-Della, we heard a secret,” Annabelle said through a mouthful of chocolate.
Siobhan shushed her. “I said I was going to tell her!”
She picked up a piece of tomato from my cutting board and threw it at my face. Warm, acidy juice trickled down my cheek. I wiped it off with my rag. Annabelle murmured in disgust at the blood that streaked the cloth.
“You’re going to want to hear it,” Siobhan said as I moved the cutting board out of her reach. “It’s about you.” She looked at Greta, who pretended not to pay attention, then back at me. “Meet us by the tree.”
“Race you!” Annabelle shouted and ran into the field. Siobhan followed. I imagined them tripping in their silk slippers and staining their dresses with dirt.
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I was curious about what they had to say. But I also knew Greta would not let me leave until my work was done. I picked another tomato out of my basket, cut a slit into the side, and squeezed it so the slit cracked into a mouth.
“I have a secret! It’s about you, Ella-Della. Now give me chocolate!” Pulp lolled out of the tomato-mouth.
I wished Peter were here. His stories full of chivalrous heroes, brave maidens, talking animals, and the occasional fairy always made time go faster. But Peter was up on top of the main house, patching the roof again. I wished I were up there with him, outside and above everything, but Greta had insisted I stay with her.
“What if you fell off the roof?” she said as we ate breakfast.
“Then you’d heal me and make me all better,” I replied.
“Lucky.” Peter grinned as he drank the last of his tea. “She’d leave me for dead.”
“You know that’s true,” Greta said, and we all laughed. She and Peter had been married for so long that she liked to say that their jokes about killing each other were sometimes serious.
I looked out the window at where Siobhan and Annabelle had settled themselves under the hazel tree in the middle of the field.
“Greta?” I said. “Can I go outside?”
Greta tsked and shook her head. “You know those girls don’t have anything worthwhile to say.”
I bit the inside of my cheek. I wanted Greta to be right, but there had been a wicked delight in Siobhan’s eyes that made me think that she really did have a secret to share. There was no way I was going to let her keep it to lord over me later.
Greta waved her hand. “Put the soup on, then go.”
I diced the rest of the tomatoes and carried the cutting board to the pot that hung over the fire in the hearth. The tomatoes went in on top of the carrots, parsnips, and rosemary that I threw in earlier that morning. I poured a pitcher of water on top of the vegetables and wiped my knife on my apron. The tomato pulp left an orange swath across the fabric.
Greta nodded. Her long braid fell over her shoulder as she worked. She pushed it back behind her. “Go. But you’re a glutton for punishment. And I’m not going to stop your soup from boiling over.”
I untied my apron and hung it over my chair by the window. I usually took my knife outside with me so I could use the handle to smash open the skins of the hazelnuts. Greta watched me with a raised eyebrow and the hint of a smile on her face. I left the knife behind.
I could feel Greta watching from the window as I crossed the field behind the kitchen house. Smoke meandered from the chimney, a reminder of the soup that would boil soon. The kitchen house was a squat brown-and-grey stone block compared to the massive size of the main house next to it. I could walk to the main house in minutes, but it felt like it was miles away. I’d never been inside. Greta always murmured something about my being too young when I asked if I could help bring in dinner.
Siobhan and Annabelle sat on the grass under the hazel tree. I bristled at their presence. I claimed the tree for myself long ago. It was close to the rest of the forest but set off by itself, pulsing with a secret, solitary life. I used to climb over its branches, rubbing my feet over the smooth bark and leaning my ear against the trunk to listen for a heartbeat.
It was my tree, alone and proud. I didn’t want them playing near it.
Siobhan sat with her legs tucked under her skirt, pulling up blades of grass, knotting them, and throwing them at Annabelle. She threw a clod of roots and dirt at me. It landed harmlessly an arm’s-length away. I was sure that if I hadn’t already gathered most of the hazelnuts from the ground that morning, Siobhan would be throwing them instead.
“What took you so long?”
“I had work to do.” I put my hands on my hips, trying to look imposing. Siobhan stood up and brushed off her skirt. Even though I was more than a year older, she was taller and always managed to look down on me.
“Of course,” she said, miming forgetfulness. “Ella-Della is our servant.”
“Della, Della, Ella-Della,” Annabelle sang. “Fetched some milk and met a fella.” She was ten, a year younger than Siobhan. Her face screwed up in an expression of intense concentration as she tried to remember the next part of the song.
“What is it?” I asked. “You said you had something to tell me.”
“You need to earn it, Ella-Della.” Siobhan pointed to the top of the tree where the tail end of one of Annabelle’s bird-shaped toys stuck out between the leaves.
“Why don’t you get it yourself?” I said.
Siobhan snorted. “Climbing trees is not ladylike, Ella-Della.”
Annabelle, having given up on the song, fit a chain of clovers on top of her golden curls. As she and Siobhan waited, ladylike, on the ground, I grabbed the lowest branch and swung up into the tree. There was a curved branch halfway up that I liked to sit on. I stopped there, balancing with one hand against the trunk. The toy was stuck between the branches far above my head.
“Just because it’s a bird doesn’t mean it can fly,” I called down.
Cocooned among the dark, jagged leaves, I couldn’t see Siobhan. But the leaves didn’t stop her voice from reaching me.
“Just because you look like a horse doesn’t mean you can run.”
I continued to climb. Greta was right. They didn’t have anything useful to tell me. They just wanted someone to get Annabelle’s bird.
The cloud-dappled sky came into view near the crown of the tree. The toy’s red body stood out from the green around it. I stood on my tiptoes on a thin branch and stretched to reach it. My fingers brushed against the painted wood, and it plummeted out of the tree, hitting branches and smashing to the grass below. I climbed down as slowly as I could.
Annabelle held the bird’s wooden body in one hand and the wing that had broken off in the other. Her cheeks were reddened with anger. She started to speak, but Siobhan brushed her off.
“Father will buy you a new one,” she said. “Tell him that Ella-Della broke it. He’ll take it out of her wages.”
I shuffled my feet, which smarted from landing on the ground. What did they even know about my wages? I’d never seen any of the money due to me—I always assumed Peter and Greta kept it safe for when I was older. What did I need it for, anyway? When he went to the Market, Peter used his own wages to buy me small toys or the charcoals and chalk I used whenever he or Greta had time to give me lessons. Did Sir Alcander take from my wages any time I did something he didn’t like? I’d only ever seen the man from a distance, but he seemed imposing enough that I could imagine him doing it.
“Ella-Della,” Siobhan said, “don’t you want to know the secret?”
“No.” I turned back to the kitchen house.
“I heard Mother and Father talking in the parlor. They thought I was in bed, but I was getting those black biscuits from the servants’ rooms.”
Annabelle dropped her toy back on the ground. “You said I could come with you! I wanted biscuits, too!”
“Those were for the house servants,” I said. Greta and I made the thin bilberry biscuits a week ago. It was my idea to smash up the berries to give the dough its dark color.
Siobhan went on as though she hadn’t heard me. “Mother and Father were talking and Mother said, ‘Someday she’s going to find out, and when she does, she’s going to want to know why, Alcander.’” She did a pitch-perfect impression of her mother, cocking her head just like I’d seen Lady Portia do.
Curiosity won out. “Why what?”
Siobhan opened her mouth to answer, but Annabelle got there first.
“Why you live in the kitchen house when your father is in the main house.” She gasped and clapped a hand over her mouth. Siobhan looked around. Her haughty expression was gone, replaced by guilt. She was not good at burying her thoughts. They were telling the truth.
Siobhan’s moment of humility didn’t last long. “I always thought your father lived in the oven,” she said. “That would explain why your arms are all messed up.”
I crossed my arms behind me, trying to hide the pink burns scarred onto my skin.
“You’re lying,” I said. Even if they actually heard Lady Portia say those words, what she said wasn’t possible. Greta and Peter were my parents. My real mother died in childbirth, and my father followed her to the World Apart soon afterwards. That’s what Greta and Peter always said. But the hazel tree brightened behind Siobhan’s head, and my feet felt lighter than before, like they weren’t quite touching the ground. It might have been hope.
“Am not,” Siobhan snapped. “I’m being nice. I just thought you’d want to know that your father threw you away in the kitchen house so he wouldn’t have to see your ugly face every day. See if I ever do anything for you again.”
She turned on her heels and hauled Annabelle back to the main house. I stood there for a moment, letting the colors of my small world return to normal. I couldn’t go back to the kitchen house, not yet, not if what they said was true. Why would Greta and Peter tell me that my father had passed? Was his presence the reason I wasn’t allowed in the main house? He could be there, waiting for me to come find him. Did he know who I was? Did he even want me?
“Nora!” Greta’s voice pierced through the fog of questions swirling around me. “The soup is burning!”
I ran back to the kitchen house and hefted the pot off the fire. I hadn’t put in enough water, and what I did add had boiled away. I poured in two pitchers this time and put the pot back on the hearth, hoping no one would notice the vegetables’ smoky taste. I barely heard Greta’s reprimands as I ran through the list of men who worked in the main house. There were three male servants: Matthew, Sir Alcander’s valet, was married to Sarah, the head maid. They came to work at the Runes when I was eight, so it couldn’t be Matthew. Victor, the footman, was only seventeen. The only one left was Robert, the butler. He began working at the Runes before Greta and Peter, and he was certainly old enough to have a daughter my age. He had only ever been kind to me when he came to deliver messages or get food from the kitchen house.
Someone knocked at the door. Greta opened it, and there he was. Breath caught in my throat.
“Robert.” Greta nodded, and he came inside.
“The new kitchen maid will arrive from the Vale the day after tomorrow.”
“From the Vale?” Greta sounded surprised, but I didn’t understand why. “Is she Kindred?”
“She and Alcander are like-minded when it comes to”—he glanced over at me—“the goings-on at the Vale.”
I held Robert’s gaze for as long as I could, scrutinizing his features. He carried himself with a dignified air, stately even. He took pride in his work, which was probably why he’d been employed at the Runes longer than any of the other servants. His hair was wiry and grey. I ran a hand through the scraggily, dark red tangle on my head. I’d never met anyone else with my thick, ratty hair. Greta’s braid, while heavy, was smooth and dark. Annabelle and Siobhan’s curls were always brushed to perfection. Robert’s hair reminded me of trees I had seen in the woods that had been struck by lightning, an image I often associated with myself when I looked in the mirror. I could imagine his hair being the same color as mine once upon a time. His eyes were grey instead of gold like mine, but I could have gotten my eyes from my mother.
Had Robert ever been married? He wasn’t now. Maybe he had a wife who died in childbirth, and he couldn’t bear to have the child near him because she—I—reminded him too much of her. It was all very romantic. I wanted to rush over to him, but I held back. What if I were wrong? I would just embarrass myself.
Robert and Greta’s conversation ended with the determination that Peter would meet the new servants in the woods west of the Runes proper the next day. Robert brushed past me on his way out.
“Nora.” He nodded at me.
I wanted to follow him back to the main house, but as soon as the door closed behind him, I turned to Greta.
“My parents,” I said. “My real parents—do you know who they were?”
She startled at the abruptness of the question. “Why are you asking this now? Did the girls say something?”
“I just want to know.”
Greta beckoned for me to sit down with her.
“You know the answer. The couple who worked in the kitchen house before us gave you to Peter and me.”
“But those people weren’t my parents,” I said.
“They didn’t say who your parents were,” Greta continued. “Only that they’d passed, and you needed someone to take care of you. We always wanted a child, and—” She stopped talking when it became obvious I wasn’t listening. This was a story I knew by heart, but it wasn’t mine anymore.
Greta narrowed her eyes. “What did the girls say to you?”
I stood up. “Nothing.”
I went back to my seat by the window, put my apron on, and began to mash up a pile of sprigberries that Greta had put on the table while I was outside. If she and Peter knew anything about my real parents, they would have no reason to hide it from me. They gave me my mother’s knife, after all. Sir Alcander and Lady Portia obviously knew, but I couldn’t ask them. Lady Portia’s visits to the kitchen house were rare and always came with demands. Less salt in the soup or an extra dessert tart for Siobhan and Annabelle. She gusted in and out, never staying for longer than her words and never looking in my direction. Sir Alcander never even set foot near the kitchen house. The only times I’d laid eyes on him had been through a window when I brought something to Peter while he was patching the exterior of the main house. I knew Sir Alcander more by his maps. Peter had one in the kitchen house, and he used it to teach me the geography of Colandaria. Sir Alcander’s intricate compass roses were more familiar to me than his face.
No, I would not get answers from either of them. But I would go to the main house. I had to talk to Robert.
“Good morning, early riser. Any chance you made breakfast while we were sleeping?” Peter said as he climbed the ladder down from the loft and joined me in the kitchen, where I’d been trying to quiet the pounding of my heart since before sunup. He put his arm around me and kissed my forehead. The bristles of his short beard tickled my chin. All fathers should feel like this, I thought.
I had to keep myself from trailing behind him when he brought breakfast to the main house. I would have to wait until everyone was doing their work before I could go inside. I’d seen Greta and Peter go in the back door of the main house as often as I’d seen Robert, Sarah, or one of the other servants come out of it on their way across the field. The servants’ quarters were supposed to be right near the entrance. There had to be something there that would tell me about Robert.
I picked at my breakfast. The nervous flutter in my stomach made me too nauseated to eat. I’d occasionally thought about my real parents resting in the World Apart. Their ashes would have been given to the wind somewhere meaningful. Someone would have held me nearby to ensure that their spirits would watch over me. Growing up, though, I had the parents I needed. Greta and Peter gave me a fire burning in the hearth, a garden to pick food from, and stories to fill warm nights in the loft.
Now, with just a few words from Siobhan and Annabelle, I needed more.
No one would be in the main house servants’ quarters after breakfast. I waited until Peter went outside to repair the fence around the chicken coop and Greta began making her daily bread at the counter that faced away from the window.
“I’m going to see if any more tomatoes are ripe,” I said as Greta took out caraway seeds and flour and put them next to the eggs that I gathered from the coop before breakfast.
She nodded, and I headed out, glancing back to make sure that she had started on the dough. While she was busy measuring ingredients, I ran across the field to the main house and went in the back entrance. Once inside, I cracked open the first door I came to. The room I entered was about the size of the floor of the kitchen house, large enough to fit six beds. Some belongings—probably Victor’s, since Peter always complained what a mess Victor was when he came back from bringing in supper—were strewn about the floor, while others sat on shelves or against the wall. The largest bed would belong to Matthew and Sarah. That left only a few beds that could be Robert’s. A green satin vest with gold edging hung on a stand across the room. That had to be his. He would wear it to serve at Sir Alcander’s and Lady Portia’s banquets. Robert’s shelves were bare except for a few books and a tin of my bilberry biscuits. I warmed at the thought that my father had a stash of my cooking. There was something else on the shelf, something flat enough that I couldn’t see what it was. I stood on my tiptoes and retrieved a palm-sized agate cameo. The carving was of a young woman not more than twenty years old. She was lovely, with long, wavy hair tied back with a large bow.
Was this my mother? In profile, it was difficult to make out anything specific about her features. I wished her image were in color so I could see if she had my gold eyes. I had to talk to Robert before I lost my nerve. I went back to the hallway with the cameo clutched in my fist. I didn’t know where to go, but I did know that I would be in trouble if I were caught roaming the halls. I picked a direction, glancing around each corner before proceeding as I looked for a shock of steely grey hair.
Portraits lined the hallway. All of the subjects wore the same shade of dark green that marked them as the noble family of the Runes. I stopped in front of a painting that depicted Sir Alcander and Lady Portia posing with younger versions of Siobhan and Annabelle. The artist captured the girls’ smug expressions well. The paint in Siobhan’s eyes shined with mischief. Lady Portia’s every hair was defined. The painter had arranged his light source to highlight her sharp, elegant cheekbones. Sir Alcander’s eyes were duller than those of Lady Portia or their daughters. Even Annabelle’s eyes twinkled with specks of white that were missing in her father’s.
I wheeled around to face Sarah, the head maid.
“What are you doing here?”
I looked at the floor. The grey and green grain of the marble flowed like the lines on one of Sir Alcander’s maps. I ran the tip of my shoe along one of the paths.
“I’m looking for Robert,” I said. “I need to talk to him. It’s important.”
“He’s taking dictation for Sir Alcander.” Sarah looked past me down the hall. “He’ll be done soon. Come with me.”
She put a hand on my back and ushered me in the direction from which I’d come.
“You’re not supposed to be in here,” she said.
“I know.” I tucked the cameo into my pocket. “But it’s important. Don’t tell Greta, please.”
Sarah glanced behind us. The pressure of her hand on my back became more urgent.
“It’s not Greta I’m worried about.” She opened the door to the servants’ quarters and pushed me inside. “Stay here. I’ll get Robert.”
She left the door open a crack and hurried down the hall. I sat on Robert’s bed. A long piece of straw poked out of the mattress. I pulled it out from the fabric and broke a piece off the end. By the time Robert arrived, shutting the door behind him, there was a small pile of straw on my lap. I leapt off the bed, spilling it on the floor.
“Sorry.” I bent down to sweep the straw into my hand. Robert knelt to help me.
“Nora, what are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be—”
“I need to talk to you,” I said. “It’s about my—” The word stuck on my tongue. “Um, Siobhan and Annabelle said that…” I took the cameo out of my pocket. “Who is this?”
Robert snatched it out of my hand. “What are you doing with this?”
My cheeks burned. “I found it on the shelf. Is it your wife?”
The angry lines on Robert’s face softened. “No, it’s my sister. She died a long time ago. Why do you ask?”
I sat on the bed. I felt heavy enough that I might sink into the straw and never come out.
“Siobhan and Annabelle said they heard Lady Portia and Sir Alcander talking, and they said that my—” I choked out the word. “—father was in the main house. I thought that you might be—”
Robert moved away, dropping the straw into a bucket next to the bed. I sank farther into the mattress. Being poked with spindles of straw was preferable to the silence in the room.
“Your father?” Robert said. “Nora, the man who was your father is long gone.”
“But you have to be,” I protested. “Your hair, it’s just like mine.”
“What, this old mess?” Robert ran a hand through his hair and sat down next to me.
My voice dropped to a whisper. “It has to be you.”
“I’m sorry, Nora. I don’t have any children. Peter’s been a good father to you, hasn’t he?”
“Yes.” I could feel each razor of straw jabbing into my skin. “I just thought—”
Wait. What did he say?
“You know who my father was!” It came out as a statement, not a question. Robert jumped up from the bed.
“No, Nora, you misunderstood. I—”
“Yes, you do!” I leapt up after him. “You said he was gone, but you know who he was. Tell me!”
Robert’s eyes darted back and forth as if he were looking for a way to escape the conversation before fixing on a point behind me. Panic tinged his voice.
“She was just bringing a message from the kitchen house.”
I turned to see Lady Portia standing on the other side of the door. I hadn’t heard it open. Waves of anger passed through her cold ocean eyes. I had only ever seen Lady Portia angry, but this was different. This was rage, and it was aimed squarely at me.
Robert put a protective arm around my shoulders.
“I’m sending her back right now.”
“Eleanor.” Lady Portia’s voice was ice cracking. “You are not permitted in here.”
“I'm sorry,” I croaked. “I’ll go back.” This was different from Sarah’s confusion at finding me in the hall or Robert’s initial anger at discovering his cameo in my hands. Different, and infinitely more dangerous.
Before I could move, Lady Portia was in the room, grabbing my arm and wrenching me from Robert’s grasp. I could feel her breath on my cheeks as she pulled me close.
“You are supposed to stay in the kitchen house,” she hissed. She jerked me out of the room and down the hall.
“Ma’am—” Robert started after us.
“Stay where you are,” Portia said without turning to look at him. “This is none of your business.”
I looked back, panicked, as I flailed in my attempt to keep up with Lady Portia’s long stride. I heard the sound of the back door being thrown open. I could only hope Robert was going to get Greta or Peter.
Lady Portia’s fingers burned on my arm as she pulled me behind her, making a series of turns through the hallways. Anytime I opened my mouth to protest, to apologize, to cry, she jerked me forwards, and my words were swallowed in a yelp of pain. She finally stopped in front of a plain, wooden door. It felt out of place next to the other doors in the hallway, which were lacquered and covered in carvings. Its austerity didn’t belong, just like I didn’t.
My wrist glowed red when Lady Portia let me go, and I rubbed my arm to quell the pain. My mouth ran ahead of me, spitting out every apology I could think of. She ignored me as she sorted through the keys on a ring she took from her dress pocket and fit a large iron key into the lock. The door creaked open. I couldn’t make out anything inside—there were no windows to let in the light. The darkness in the room felt different than when the kitchen house darkened after sunset. This darkness was hungry. I turned to run.
Portia caught my wrist and shoved me into the room. I fell on my hands and knees. Small pieces of something—dust? ash?—rose up around me, making their way into my throat. I started to cough.
“Never ask about your father again.” She slammed the door, plunging me into the dark. The door fit so snugly in its frame that there wasn’t even a sliver of light shining at the bottom.
It was a moment before my shock allowed me to react. The room smelled scorched with death, like it hadn’t been opened in ages. I coughed again, trying to get out the pieces of the room that had infiltrated my throat, my nostrils, my eyes. I shuffled forwards until I reached the door and felt for the knob. It was cold to the touch. I pulled as hard as I could, but it would not turn.
“Robert!” I screamed. “Sarah! Peter! Greta!” I kept screaming their names until my throat was raw. The fine powder that covered the floor stuck to me wherever my body touched the damp ground. There were voices down the hall, but they were too far away for me to hear what they were saying.
“Father?” I whispered.
My arm ached where I could feel a bruise blooming around my wrist. I wanted Peter and Greta. I wanted my father and my mother, but I didn’t know their names. Only the darkness held me as I cried.
I'm Mark Morrison. I'm originally from a teeny-tiny town in Ohio called Salem. My father used to say that it was the armpit of the country. Peeuuw! I have seven brothers and sisters, a slew of nieces and nephews and a couple dozen great nieces and nephews. I now live in Florida with my loving wife, four children and two beautiful grand-babes. It's hot, but it's just a sticky, obnoxiously wet heat. Hahaha!
My father used to say that I was an uneducated genius. I'm not exactly sure what he meant by that. I suppose it was because I spent most of my time in school more involved in sports and art classes growing up than mathematics, history or science. I did, however, sneak in several elective credits as a librarian's assistant. That was a whole lot of fun and I was able to read a ton of awesome books.
As a boy I grew up reading things like The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew mysteries, and the classics, like Huckleberry Finn and Charlotte's Web. I also read some outstanding comics and MAD magazines. But as I got older my taste changed. I was big into Isaac Asimov, George Orwell and Edgar Allen Poe. I didn't just read. I watched a little Television as well. Star Trek, Dark Shadows, The Twilight Zone, Dr. Who, Andy Griffith, Mary Tyler Moore, the Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island rounded out some dull afternoons.
As most folks with large families know, board games are an inexpensive way to entertain ourselves. We'd always get a batch of new games at Christmas along with a new pair of socks and underwear. On one particular low budget Christmas, my father introduced us to a game he claimed he'd invented called, “Uh!”
We'd all gather in the living room and one of us was elected to start. That person would have to create a totally fictitious story out of thin air. They'd pause mid-sentence and let the next player take over from there. This continued around the room until someone hesitated or said “uh”. That player was out and the game continued until only one person was left. The stories were creative and often incredibly strange, each of us attempting to make the next in line chuckle and fumble. It was an awesome game of improvisation and I credit my love of storytelling to that silly game.
Every night my mind is inundated with a fresh batch of unusual dreams and nightmares, always in outlandish worlds and dimensions fraught with bizarre characters who can do wondrous things. But through my writings I've allowed some of them to escape onto the freedom of the blank pages and into my first novel, Twospells. I'll pardon another batch of weird mind games and characters in future books.
TwoSpells is a magical tale about a set of teenage twins, Sarah and Jon, who find out that they're heirs to an ancient, magical realm containing an enchanted library that can transport a reader to anywhere or anytime the author has written into the story.
They're soon caught up in an inter-dimensional war between good and evil, both sides looking to claim the library's unique magical enchantment. Along the way, the twins meet astonishing and fascinating characters who can do amazing things, but not all are good. Some are of unspeakably horrific creation and are bent on one thing: destroying the two strange intruders who have entered and disrupted their sacred two-dimensional domain.
Sarah and Jon must leave behind their much simpler life as Regulars and embrace their new positions as successors to a very special kingdom designed for their kind only, the Irregulars. I truly believe you'll enjoy every moment of this story.
I've attached a snapshot of me and my daughter Sarah, whom the phenomenal heroine of TwoSpells is based. She's beautiful, tough and clever.
Here's a link to TwoSpells on Amazon:
Thanks for listening,
Sarah and her twin brother Jon are heirs to an ancient magical realm and its most valuable treasure, an enchanted library. The library endows readers with the supernatural means of crossing into the uncharted inner-sanctum of the second dimension, inhabited with peculiar and sometimes perilous creatures.
The children are emboldened with a wondrous mystical gift that no other being has ever possessed. But fate intervenes and triggers a disastrous inter-dimensional war that disrupts the fabric of time and space spanning multiple universes, tearing destiny a new and savage pathway.
The two must rescue their world from a phantom hybrid alien race controlled by a demented dark-wizard, Jeremy Sermack. They will either assimilate or be exterminated.
Will they be the saviors the prophets spoke of, or will they retreat to the perceived safety of their distant homeland?