Friday Reveal Blood Road by Amanda McCrina @9inchsnails #BookReveal #FridayReveals #Month9Squad #Month9Books

 
Today Amanda McCrina and Month9Books are
revealing the cover and first chapter for BLOOD ROAD which releases April 25,
2017! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to
receive a eGalley!!
A quick note from the author:

 

 
The funny thing about historical fiction—or
historical fantasy, in this case—is that it often reveals more about the
present than it does about the past. It provides a lens through which we can
understand and contextualize our own experiences. BLOOD ROAD is a tribute to my
love of Roman history, but it’s also very much a product of its time. It’s a
story about corruption and injustice and empire and a young soldier who stands
up and resists, and writing it gave me the opportunity to ask hard questions
about my own present and the part I play.
 
 
Title: BLOOD
ROAD
Author: Amanda McCrina
Pub. Date: April 25, 2017
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 329
Find it: Goodreads
| Amazon | B&N
| TBD
Nineteen-year-old Torien Risto has seen
dissidents dealt with before. He knows the young local girl who just knifed him
will hang for assaulting an Imperial officer, unless he can stop it.
Someone inside the provincial government
is kidnapping Imperial citizens and selling them across the desert to the salt
mines, silencing anyone who tries to intervene. The girl’s brother is one of
those who has been taken. Rejected by the corrupt courts, she’s waging a
personal war against the Empire.
Determined to save her life, Torien sets
out in search of answers on the Salt Road, the ancient trade route running deep
into the heart of a desert—territory claimed by the hostile Mayaso tribe.
Now, Torien is no longer sure where his
own loyalty lies, or how far he will go to break the cycle of tyranny,
political bullying, and social injustice in an empire that seals its borders in
blood.

 

 

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONEHe could see the sky in pieces between the tenements, bruised purple now with dusk.

At first he was glad for the darkness, because it meant they would be firing the beacon in the lighthouse at the point. He leaned on his saddle-horns, craning his neck to look down the narrow cross streets, trying to catch a glimpse of the great light burning in the distance. By means of the lighthouse he could reorient himself. But the cross streets twisted away into deep shadow between the tenement blocks, and there was the irksome thought at the back of his mind that if they had wandered so far into the city as not see the lighthouse, then they had wandered so far as to be where Imperial control was more a matter of theory than practice—at least at night.

Earlier, when the young summer sun was glaring white in a blue- glaze sky and the air under the awnings still and close and hot enough one could feel one’s skin baking in it—the tenements shut out the harbor breeze—the streets had seethed with people: sellers of figs and dates and pomegranates and honeyed almonds and goats’ milk and flavored ices and sour wine; and potters and silversmiths and leatherworkers and basket-weavers at their shopfronts; and housewives browsing the market stalls; and slave girls with water in sloshing panniers over their shoulders; and naked children playing sticks-andhoops along the foot-stones; and now and then a mounted official in white linen, shouting and swearing until the crowd shuffled aside to let him pass. Now in darkness they were alone in the street. It was as though the rest of the city had died with the sun. The air was dry and rapidly cooling, heavy with silence like a bated breath. He would not mind the darkness if not for the silence. In a city such silence was unnatural.

“Do you suppose they’ll look for us?” Alluin said. “Or just wait until our bodies turn up in an alley in a week or so?”

“I imagine they’ll expend the effort for me, if they wouldn’t otherwise trouble about you.”

“So there is some benefit to your acquaintance, after all.”

“If not for my acquaintance, you’d be just finishing the first course at the officers’ dinner.”

It had been his idea to explore the city. Alluin was city-born and indifferent—all cities were the same when you got down to it; there came a point when unwashed bodies and stray dogs and bad wine in dirty shops ceased to be as interesting as bed. But he, Torien, still had 3 Blood Road a provincial awe of big cities—an itching, impatient need to see and hear and know. He had been determined not to idle away his time in Modigne behind the fort walls. True that he and Alluin had no more than a smattering of bastardized Modigno between them, and that Modigne was a rabbit’s warren of nameless, ancient streets, built and overbuilt in incongruous layers—in daylight that had seemed far less important than it did now. In daylight it had been enough to know he was an officer of the Imperial army, and a Vareno nobleman, with sufficient coin on his person for any foreseeable difficulty and a sword at his hip in the event his coin should fail. It was remarkable how in darkness one saw things more clearly.

Certain things, anyway—other things than the way back to the fort or the direction of the harbor light.

The street, so narrow now that Alluin had to rein in his horse and fall in behind, plunged into a honeycomb of tight-packed adobe huts, each no wider than the span of Torien’s arms, joined to its neighbors by rickety wooden ladders running an uneven line from flat rooftop to flat rooftop. He took the downward slant for a good sign: he knew, from studying the maps on the wall of the headquarters at the fort, that Modigne, built as it was along a volcanic crater, went down to the ocean like the insides of a bowl, and so for the street to be sloping downward meant it must be working its way however haphazardly to the harbor.

He leaned on the saddle-horns, lifting himself a little to see if he could pick out the lighthouse below.

There was a rustle on the rooftop above. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a darker shadow take shape against the darkness. He recognized the glint of metal in time to jerk around in his saddle, hauling on the reins as he turned. He took the blade in the back of his left shoulder rather than in his throat.

He had braced for it and did not slip from the saddle, though for a moment he thought he might: his knees, pressed against the horse’s ribs, went as weak as water. He lost the reins from his left hand. Above him, he heard very clearly the patter of footsteps as the knifeman fled across the rooftop for the nearest ladder. Just as clearly, he heard the thin cry and the muffled thump as the knifeman lost his footing on the ladder and fell back to the roof.

Silence followed.

Torien brushed away Alluin’s hand and propped his right shoulder against the wall. He nodded to the hut. “Bring him,” he said—calmly, though his heart was pounding. “That fall won’t have killed him.”

He saw Alluin’s face as a pale blur in the darkness. “Tor—”

“It’s nothing. It’ll wait. Our friend won’t.”

In truth, his knees were still trembling, and he was speaking through clenched teeth because he knew if he unclenched them they would chatter. There was blood seeping through his tunic and jerkin, and he was conscious, as he hadn’t been at first, of the knife blade sunk to its hilt just beyond the cuff of his shoulder. His body was revolting against the thought, sickness threatening in the pit of his stomach.

Lamplight blossomed inside the hut. Low voices filtered out through the reed curtain in the doorway. Torien dipped his chin again, with effort. Alluin swore and swung from his saddle and drew his sword. He pushed into the hut through the curtain, and Torien heard him issuing orders in a clumsy hybrid of Modigno and Vareno—heard the crash of pottery breaking, the scrape of wood dragging across stone, a child’s whimper. A moment later, Alluin’s head and shoulders and sword hand emerged above him from inside the hut. Alluin pushed himself up on his hands from the opening, landing lightly on his feet on the roof. Picking up his sword, he vanished beyond the roof edge.

Torien leaned carefully back against the wall. He glanced down the street. There were no other doorways lit, no other sound than the clatter of Alluin’s hobnailed boots on the rooftop above. In Choiro, there would have been a crowd by now. Modigne lay as still and silent as a plague city.

Alluin reappeared at the roof edge. He had sheathed his sword. He was handling the knifeman along by the shoulders—no, not a man, Torien thought, certainly a boy: he came barely to Alluin’s chest. His arms and legs, silhouetted black against the sky, were thin, stick-like things around which his tunic fluttered shapelessly.

Torien pushed up from the wall and gathered himself together and dismounted. The ground was springy under his feet. He wavered for a moment as his heels touched, swallowing back the sickness. There was a ringing in his ears. He blinked in the sudden brightness of lamplight as Alluin flung aside the curtain in the doorway and shoved the boy before him out into the street. Behind him the hut’s occupants—a man and a woman and an assortment of half-dressed children—gathered silently in the doorway to watch.

The boy had stumbled and fallen in a heap of skinny limbs and wool rags. He caught himself on his palms. He adjusted the cap on his head and sat back awkwardly, keeping his knobby legs to the side. In the dim light, Torien could see enough to know the left ankle was broken. There was blood dribbling from the boy’s nose, and he was sucking breath low and softly through his teeth. His eyes darted over Torien’s face, lingering for a moment at Torien’s shoulder. He looked quickly to the ground. He was, Torien judged, eleven or perhaps twelve—not yet old enough to face execution for an assault upon an Imperial soldier. He would go to a slaver’s block instead. There would be an examination to determine the guilt of his family.

He caught Alluin’s eye and jerked his chin to the sullen family in the doorway. “Wine if they have it. Water otherwise—and something passable for bandage cloth.” The pain had started, and he was leaning into his horse’s shoulder for balance.

The woman in the doorway said something in Modigno. He recognized the word for wine. He said, “What did she say?” Alluin’s Modigno was bad, but better than his own.

“They have wine, but it’s for a wedding,” Alluin said, “for her sister’s wedding—I think.”

He was irritated and impatient now. “Water, then. Tell them I’d have paid for wine.”

Alluin stood at his shoulder and unbuckled his cuirass while the woman went into the hut. “Do you want to do this inside?” he said. His voice was quiet.

“Not until I know he acted alone.” Torien nodded to the boy, who had sat motionless all this while, studying the ground as though he were reading something written there. “You. You speak Vareno?”

The boy looked up incuriously into Torien’s face. He had determined not to speak: Torien could see as much from the set of his mouth, the hollowness of his eyes. His thin brown hands were clenched to fists on his lap.

From the doorway, the man spoke up in rapid Modigno.

“He’s reconsidered about the wine?” Torien said. The shoulder was hurting fiercely.

“He says he knows her family,” Alluin said.

“Whose family?” There was a moment’s silence in which he suddenly understood.

“A girl,” he said, stupidly. “He says he knows her family and will tell us where she lives,” Alluin said.

“Also, he would appreciate very much his lord’s kindness if his lord would consider a pittance in return for the service.”

The girl flung up her head suddenly to spit at the man’s feet. The man seemed embarrassed. He hunched his shoulders and looked at his hands. The woman came out from the hut with a water jug and a cloth. She held them out to Alluin at arm’s length, making a quick, nervous gesture with her hands. Alluin shook his head. “Hold them. Quedas—hold them, you understand?”

“Give them to me,” Torien said.

“Don’t give them to him,” Alluin said. “He’ll drop them when I do this.”

He jerked the knife from Torien’s shoulder. Torien folded to his knees. The street swam around him. He heard Alluin’s voice as though it were carrying to him underwater. He shook his head. Alluin was prying the cuirass from his shoulder and tugging the jerkin down his arm. The night air through his blood-soaked tunic was sharp and cold; he shivered. The girl’s eyes were on him. She was watching with the same flat-eyed incuriosity. There was blood trickling over her lips from her nose, but she made no move to wipe it away.

“Her ankle,” Torien said. For some reason, her silence shamed him.

Far above him Alluin said, patiently, “What?”

“Tie up her ankle. And tell the Modigno he can show us where she lives, because I don’t trust the word of a coward.”

****

The Modigno walked ahead, self-consciously, shoulders still hunched in embarrassment. Alluin followed on foot, leading his horse by the reins. The girl huddled in his saddle with her hands outstretched to the horns, her face buried in the horse’s mane, her bare legs dangling limp against the horse’s belly. Torien rode at the rear. The street, which turned this way and that through the honeycombed huts, ran steadily downhill all the while, and he knew they must be close to the water because there was a stiff salt breeze rising to his face. It cut through his soaked tunic like a knife. His fingers were numb on the reins. He had knotted them in the horse’s mane to keep himself upright in the saddle.

He could have ordered the Modigno to show them instead to the harbor light, of course, or to the fort itself, and they could have delivered the girl into the prison on the hill, and very soon now he might have been enjoying the comfort of his own quarters and a skin of wine to ease the pain in his shoulder—but it might easily be a month before the girl’s case went to the governor, and he was due to report at Tasso in a week, and he had too many questions of his own to let it go like that.

Only after they had gone on for near half an hour, the adobe huts having given way to ramshackle wooden shanties and the street sunk in soft, rank mud, the air heavy with the smell of brine and rotten fish, did it occur to him that most likely the Modigno had no idea about the girl’s family and no idea where she lived—had grasped for the chance to make a quick coin and come away with more than he had bargained for, and was looking for the opportunity to dart down an alley and vanish into the night.

He had opened his mouth to say this to Alluin when the Modigno swung about suddenly and said something in his own tongue, gesturing with his hands. The shanty at his back was threesided, sheltered from the street by a tattered sailcloth curtain, unlit.

“He says it’s here,” Alluin said.

The girl shifted in Alluin’s saddle. A shudder ran through her shoulders, but she did not raise her head.

“Tell him to lift the curtain,” Torien said. He was cold and aching and the Modigno was a fool, but that was no reason to abandon caution.

The Modigno lifted the curtain. The shanty was empty. There was a fire pit dug in the bare-dirt floor, but the coals were dead.

The Modigno spoke very quickly in his own tongue, his eyes going from Alluin to Torien and back again.

“He seems to think we think he’s lied,” Alluin said. “He wants us to ask the girl.”

“Tell him the girl’s our concern.” Torien dismounted, cradling his left arm against his stomach. He was too tired for anger. Anyway, it was pointless to threaten reprisals: they would not find him again if they tried. He fumbled at his belt and withdrew a bronze from his wallet. He flicked the coin in the Modigno’s direction. “Bayas—go.”

The Modigno dropped to his heels to dig out the coin from the mud. He made a mockery of a bow as he straightened: it had occurred to him that they had been essentially at his mercy. His shoulders were straight as he walked away back up the street.

Alluin pulled the girl down from his saddle by the waist and held her before him, as easily as though she were made of straw. “I’ll have a look around. The harbor can’t be far.”

“No. We can spend the night here.”

“That shoulder needs more than water, Tor, and sooner is better. Though I appreciate your faith in my medical ability.”

“I don’t like the idea of splitting up. It won’t do my shoulder any good if you end up in the harbor with your throat cut. And I couldn’t drag myself back into a saddle right now if I wanted to.”

Alluin was silent, studying him. He had the girl’s shoulder in one hand, his reins in the other. He let go the girl’s shoulder, reluctantly. “Adienta—inside,” he said. And to Torien: “I’ll see to the horses.”

Weak moonlight filtered through the roof of the shanty, which was nothing more than a reed lattice tied down with leather strips. The girl sat down against the left-hand wall, stretching her bad leg straight before her. She watched silently and unmoving while Torien crouched on his heels at the fire pit and searched one-handed through the ashes for salvageable tinder. By the time he had built up a decent pile, and had found flint and iron to strike a light, Alluin had ducked in from the street with a saddle on each arm.

“I’d have done it if you’d waited,” he said. He deposited Torien’s saddle against the right-hand wall and sat down with his own against the rear wall.

Torien unbuckled his helmet and leaned his head back against the wall. He sat with the helmet on his lap, his eyes closed. Beyond the crackling of the fire and the rattling of the lattice in the salt breeze, the silence stretched vast and hostile. “If you speak,” he said, “it goes better for you.” He opened his eyes and looked at the girl across the fire pit. In the firelight, he could see the details of her bony bronze face. She was older than he had thought at first—older than he’d thought when he’d thought her a boy. It was possible she was fifteen. The smallness of her limbs and the sunkenness of her cheeks made it hard to tell. She was looking into the flame in silence, her eyes halfclosed, her face magnificently blank, but he knew she had heard and had taken his general meaning by the way her shoulders tightened against the wa

ll. “Tell me if there were others,” he said. “Tell me how many.”

When she said nothing, he said to Alluin, “In Modigno. Tell her if she doesn’t answer to us now, she’ll answer to the governor in court—she and her family.”

The girl jerked her chin, suddenly. “No others,” she said. “I understand what you say.” Her eyes came up to his. Her voice was low but hard. “I do it alone. No family. The cobarte he lies when he brings you. No family. He says it because he wants your coin.”

“Why did you do it?”

She turned her face back to the fire.

“Answer me,” Torien said.

“I go to the slavers anyway,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if I answer you.”

“Possibly you’ll go to the slavers. Possibly they’ll decide you’re old enough to face execution. My word means a great deal, either way.”

“I do not care,” she said.

“My word can spare you an examination.”

“I do not care.”

He glanced over to Alluin, who shrugged very slightly against the wall. Torien could sense his discomfort in his silence. He looked back at the girl. “Speak now and I’ll listen,” he said. “Come tomorrow in the city prison, it’ll be too late.”

She said nothing. He saw there was no use in it. He said to Alluin, “We’d better set a watch.”

“I’ll watch,” Alluin said. He seemed thankful for something to do.

“I’ll take it over in a few hours,” Torien said. “Wake me if you need to.”

He did not sleep. He lay against his saddle, carefully still on account of the shoulder, watching the sky through the cracks in the lattice and waiting for sleep to come, but his mind was moving on and on through the streets of Modigne, and in the silence he was restless. At length, he got up. The fire had died to embers. Across the room, the girl was huddled shapeless in the darkness. He could not tell if she was asleep. He went over to the doorway, where Alluin sat cross-legged against the corner post. “You sleep,” he said. “I can’t.”

“Your shoulder?” Alluin’s voice was tight. “You should have let me go for help, Tor.”

“It’s fine. It’s just that I can’t sleep and you might as well.”

“Next time you’ll listen to me. Next time when I say I can see enough of Modigne from the fort walls, and you say—”

“You talk like you’re the one who took the knife.”

“That’s the difference between us,” Alluin said. “I don’t have to take a knife in my back before I recognize a bad idea.”

Torien sat with his back against the post, his sword unsheathed across his lap. Through the gap between the post and the curtain, he could see the horses and the moonlit street beyond. He watched a cat come noiselessly down the street. It saw him as it approached the shanty, and it paused and watched him and went on again when it decided he was no threat. Behind him, in the shanty, Alluin was breathing long and steadily in his sleep. It was perhaps midnight or a little past. He heard a noise like a muffled laugh or a cough, and he started, fingers seizing instinctively on his sword grip. At his movement, the noise stopped. Across the room, the girl was struggling to hold herself still against the wall. Her shoulders shook with trapped sobs.

He pulled himself up to his feet, supporting himself on the sword. He crossed the room to her. She heard him approaching and drew herself stiffly up, but she did not raise her head. He knelt beside her. In the moonlight through the lattice, he could see the tear streaks on her cheeks. Leaning on the sword, he said, quietly, “Tell me why you did it.”

Another tremor ran through her shoulders. She bit her lip. Alluin’s untroubled breathing was loud in the silence.

“Give me the truth and I may be able to help you.”

She shook her head, once, sharply, her eyes squeezed shut. “You lie. I know you lie.”

“I don’t lie.”

“All Vareni lie. I know this.”

“Maybe. But I’m Cesino blood through my father’s line.”

“Then to your people you are a traitor.”

She said it flatly, without interest, as though it were as obvious as the weather, and he understood the absurdity of trying to explain to her, in that moment, how one could feel loyalty to homeland and to empire without hypocrisy. He said, instead, “I’m trying to help you.”

“Why do you want to help me?”

“I care to see proper justice done.”

“I know your justice.” She lifted her face to his, finally. Her voice was thick with anger and tears. “I know what you mean when you say justice. You take Mahlan when he does nothing wrong. I know what you mean by justice.”

The curtain rustled in a draft of cold salt breeze. Torien was on his feet and spinning to the doorway in one motion, his sword ready in his hand. Behind him, Alluin sat bolt upright, flinging aside his cloak. He drew his sword and scrambled up, his back to the wall. The figure in the doorway stood frozen at Torien’s sword point. For a moment, there was silence in the shanty. Then Torien jerked his chin over his shoulder and said, “Sit—slowly. Linta.”

He kept his blade leveled at the newcomer’s throat while the newcomer slid down beside the girl. He said to Alluin, “Light.”

Alluin dropped to his knees at the fire pit. There was another stretch of silence while he coaxed a flame from the spent tinder. In the moonlight, Torien could see the newcomer’s arms tight around the girl’s shoulders, head bowed against the girl’s head. He lowered his sword. After a moment’s consideration, he sheathed it. He turned on his heel and went to the curtain and looked out into the street. It lay empty and silent as before. The horses stood tethered at the post. He drew the curtain shut. There was a tightness in him that had nothing to do with the wound.

Feeble light sprang over the shanty walls.

“It won’t last long,” Alluin said.

“Use this.” With one booted foot, Torien prodded the bundle of sticks that the newcomer had let drop in the doorway. The girl watched him over the newcomer’s shoulder. Her face was set as hard as stone, but he saw the flicker of fear in her eyes. He crouched on his heels, facing her, the fire pit at his back. “No family? So it’s not only Vareni who lie.”

The girl said nothing. The newcomer straightened slowly against the wall and looked at him. He saw the girl’s face in near-exact duplicate, but duplicated as it would be in twenty years’ time: bronze skin prematurely lined, lips cracked by the sun, dark eyes sunken with hunger and hardship and grief. There was neither fear nor defiance in the woman’s face, but rather a resignation which shook him. “I give you what you want. Do not ask it of the girl.”

“You can give me satisfactory answers. Otherwise the girl goes before an Imperial court for sedition and attempted murder.”

The woman looked at the girl, the girl at the floor. Neither spoke, but in the firelight Torien watched the color drain from the woman’s face.

“Dependent upon her age, the penalty is enslavement or death, so I advise you to consider your answers carefully. Who is Mahlan?”

The woman was silent. The girl raised her eyes briefly from the floor.

“Silence does your daughter no good,” Torien said.

“My son. He is my son—Mahlan.” Her mouth contorted as though the name pained her.

“Where is he?”

“They take him,” the woman said. She swallowed. “This spring when the harbor open they come and take him.”

“Who?”

She said nothing. Her fingers were tight around the girl’s arms. They were bony fingers, bent and blunted from work, the knuckles swollen, the nails split. The backs of her brown hands were traced over with lines like dry leather.

“Vareni?” Torien said. “Answer me.”

The woman closed her eyes. “Of the jente.”

He did not know the word. He darted a glance to Alluin, who was sitting and watching from the other side of the fire pit. “One of the crime lords,” Alluin said, quietly.

Torien said to the woman, “This jente took your son?”

“When the harbor open, they take him.”

He supposed in her mind and in the girl’s the Imperial governing authorities were partially culpable in that they had not stopped it; and he supposed he had made more accessible a target than the jente for the girl’s retribution. It was a stupid reason to be knifed in the street, and a stupider reason to be executed. He was irritated. “You should have gone to the governor. He might have explained to you the difference between justice and vengeance before the girl need hang for it.”

“I go to your courts.” The woman flung up her head. “I am a citizen. My daughter she is a citizen. My son he is a citizen. I go to your courts for justice. They say to me I have no case, and they tell me if I am not silent then they will silence me. Always it is the same. Always you pretend you do not see, because the jente he pays you not to see. I know what is justice and what is not justice. What you hang my daughter for it is not justice, and you know this too.”

“How many others besides your son?” There was a moment’s silence. He could sense Alluin frozen behind him across the fire pit. He said, “You say always like it’s common practice. How many others?”

The woman drew up a little. Her eyes were flat, her mouth tight. She thought he was mocking her. “There are hundreds the jente take. You know—”

“I know nothing. I’ve been two days in Modigne, and despite the fact I just took a knife in my shoulder, I hope to be shipboard and gone tomorrow.” He kneaded his temples with his fingertips. “So the jente takes them—why? As slaves?”

“He sells them into the salt mines in Tasso. I hear it from the sailors.”

“And you say the governor knows and does nothing.”

Anger flashed across the sun-cracked face. “I say because I know. We tell him what happens. We tell him the jente he takes us to be slaves in the mines. We ask his protection. ‘We are citizens,’ we say. ‘Help us against the jente.’ But the ones who speak out he gives their name to the jente, and the jente he kills them or he takes them to the ships. I have seen this. The jente he kills us in the street, and your governor and your courts and your garrison they do nothing.”

“Every ship coming into or going out from an Imperial port is inspected—slave ships more closely than the rest. Every manifest is reviewed, every cargo taxed. So many kidnapped citizens would hardly escape notice. It would take more than the governor turning a blind eye. At the least, it would mean the city guard, and the harbor master and his agents, and the harbor master at Tasso, and every level of the administration at the mines. This jente can’t have bought them all.”

“The city guard always they belong to the jentes,” the woman said. “Anyway, the jente he doesn’t use the slave ships. I see it myself. In the night they put the slaves on trade ships—hundreds of slaves into hidden holds. In the day they fill the ships with jugs of wine, jugs of oil. That is what the harbor master sees. They put water in some of the jugs so it doesn’t show on the manifests that they carry water for the slaves. I don’t know about the mines.”

Torien was silent. The girl was looking at him over the woman’s shoulder—unblinking, contemptuous, as though she were daring him to call it a lie. Alluin sat motionless behind him, waiting for him to speak, because in the end the decision was his alone, but he knew Alluin’s thoughts like his own, and he knew Alluin, too, was thinking of the empty streets outside the shanty and the silence like a bated breath—fear hanging over the city like a plague.

He rocked back on his heels and got to his feet. The shanty spun as he stood. “This is what will happen. In the morning, I take ship for Tasso. You’ll go with me down to the harbor, and you’ll show me the jente’s ships, and I’ll investigate crew and cargo for myself. If I find nothing to convince me of this slaving business, then I’ll leave it for the governor’s court to decide your fate. Otherwise I’ll do what I can from Tasso to see this thing ended and those responsible made to pay for it—Modigno and Vareno alike. In any case, I swear to you I’ll see justice done. If you’ve told me the truth, you’ve nothing to fear by that.”

The woman’s fingers were tight on the girl’s arms. “I tell you the truth,” she said. Her voice was low and hard, and in it he heard what she left unsaid: that she knew the value of Vareno oaths just as she knew the value of Vareno justice. The truth made no difference to whim.

He ground out the fire under one boot heel. “I’ll take the watch,” he said to Alluin. It was perhaps four hours to dawn, and he knew he would not sleep.

 

 
Amanda McCrina has studied in Italy,
taught English in Japan, and currently tutors Latin in Atlanta, Georgia. She
received her BA in History from the University of West Georgia, and is now
pursuing her MA. She writes stories that incorporate her love of history, languages,
and world travel. She drinks far too much coffee and dreams of one day having a
winning fantasy-hockey season.

 

 

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this post.
 
Title: THE
ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK BONES: DOGGONE
Author: Lauren
Baratz-Logsted
Pub.
Date:
February 21, 2017
Publisher:
Month9Books
Format: Hardcover,
eBook
Pages: 150
The Adventures of Sherlock Bones turns snooping on its floppy ear when
one day, Dr. Jane Catson, a surgeon injured in the Cat Wars has an afternoon
nap interrupted by a most unusual occurrence.
On the front lawn of her home, rather loud footsteps disturb her peace as
Sherlock Bones, a Great Dane in a deerstalker claiming to be the greatest
detective in the world arrives.
After a quick critical examination of the intrusive dog whose enormous
body blocks the entire sun from view, Catson has her doubts. But that’s not
all. The monstrously-sized creature makes an even more astonishing claim. He
has come to live with her!
Before Catson can collect her thoughts into an intelligent rebuttal,
Sherlock Bones has made himself quite at home, inventing things like a jetpack
for her Castilian housekeeper-cook, a turtle named Mr. Javier and placing his
gigantic food and water dishes next to hers.
But there’s no time for protest. The great detective and Dr. Catson have
caught themselves their first case: A suspiciously dead human in a nearby
abandoned building. Can Sherlock Bones and Dr. Catson crack the case before the
killer strikes again? Or will their differences get in the way of solving Case
File No. 1? One thing’s for sure, that would be a doggone shame.
Title: THE
ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK BONES: DOG NOT GONE
Author: Lauren
Baratz-Logsted
Pub.
Date:
February 21, 2017
Publisher:
Month9Books
Format: Hardcover,
eBook
Pages: 150
After being introduced to Sherlock Bones, the Greatest Detective in the
World, in Case File #1: Dogged to Death, Dr. Jane Catson – surgeon and veteran
of the Cat Wars – is back to share an all-new mystery adventure with readers.
Despite all of Jane’s resistance, Bones is now living with her and her
housekeeper/chef, the turtle with a jetpack, Mr. Javier. This time out, the
mismatched duo’s investigations lead them to a case involving murder, of
course, and – wait for it! – Utah. If there’s one thing readers can be certain
of it’s that in this world, the animals are always smarter than the humans.
Also, did we mention…Utah?
 
 
 
 
Excerpt:
 
“You can’t be serious!” I practically shouted, outraged.
If a murder really had been committed, I couldn’t believe he wasn’t going
to do anything about it. I also couldn’t believe that I was arguing with him
about this. I’d never wanted to get involved with him and all his craziness in
the first place.
“Oh, but I am, my dear Catson.”
My dear … Who did this dog think he was?
“And why is that, Bones?” I demanded, determined not to let my right eye
squint.
“Because I am tired of not getting credit.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Here’s how this kind of case always goes: a crime, usually murder,
occurs. The professional, public detectives—the so-called ‘experts’—are called
in. They fail to solve the case. Then I am called in. I solve the case, but
they take all the credit. End of story.”
As he spoke, his eyes shifted sadly from me to the floor to studying his
toenails.
I found myself, for the first time, starting to feel sorry for him. Then:
“Wait,” I said, this time letting my right eye go ahead and twitch.
“You’re not going to investigate, you’re going to let a murderer run
free—because your feelings are hurt? Because you feel you don’t get enough
credit?”
“Well,” he said, now looking slightly embarrassed, “yes, that is exactly
what I plan to do. Or rather, not do.”
“You can’t be serious! If you think you can help, it is your duty to do
so!”
“I suppose … ” His eyes met mine. “Do you want to come with?”
“Come with where?”
He eagerly un-crumpled the crumpled piece of paper.
“There,” he said, pointing to an address.
I thought of my lunch, which was still sitting on the table. I thought
longingly of the cushion in front of the bay window, my nap long overdue. And
then I thought of the adventure of potentially aiding to solve a murder. I must
confess: I was curious. It also occurred to me that perhaps since returning
home from the Cat Wars, my life had been a little dull.
“Fine,” I said, mildly exasperated with myself.
“Great,” he said, all smiles once more. “I’ll go get my hat.”
About Lauren:

 

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of over 25 books for adults, teens
and kids, including The Sisters 8 series for young readers which she created
with her husband and daughter. She lives in Danbury, CT, with that husband and
daughter as well as their marvelous cat, Yoyo.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Giveaway
Details:
 
(1) winner will receive a pair of Great Dane Socks (pictured below) and a
Bag of Wellness Brand Dor or Cat treats, US Only.

 



a Rafflecopter giveaway




I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl

THE TICK TOCK MAN by R.M. Clark #CoverReveal @vandalrmc #FridayReveals #Month9Squad #Month9Books



Today R.M. Clark and Month9Books are
revealing the cover and first chapter for THE TICK TOCK MAN which releases May
2, 2017! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers
to receive a eGalley!!


A quick note from the author:

 

 


The Tick Tock Man is my
first foray into the world of speculative fiction. Here in New England, we are
fortunate to have many wonderful clocks around. We have clocks in church
steeples, parks, above banks and other locations. My idea for this story came from
a simple “what if”. What if there were a community of “clock
people” who kept all these great clocks running? Furthermore, what could
go wrong? Then I made something go wrong and the story “clicked.” The
Tick Tock Man takes place primarily in this fictional clock world, but the
issues, conflicts and resolutions are not unlike those in the real world.

 

 
Title: THE
TICK TOCK MAN
Author: R.M. Clark
Pub. Date: May 2, 2017
Publisher: TantrumBooks
Format: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 237
Find it: Goodreads
|
Amazon | B&N | TBD
When the clocks in town stop,
thirteen-year-old CJ discovers an unusual “clock world” where most of
the citizens are clock parts, tasked with keeping the big clocks running. But
soon the seemingly peaceful world is divided between warring factions with CJ instructed
to find the only person who can help: the elusive Tick Tock Man.

With the aid of Fuzee, a partly-human
girl, he battles gear-headed extremists and razor-sharp pendulums in order to
restore order before this world of chimes, springs, and clock people dissolves
into a massive time warp, taking CJ’s quiet New England town with it.

 

Excerpt

Chapter OneSomething wasn’t right.

I’d planned on sleeping in Thanksgiving morning because, hey, it was Thanksgiving, and that meant no school and no stupid alarm to wake me up. Well, that was the plan.

At precisely eight a.m., the clock sitting a mere two feet from my head wailed.

Thunka thunka thunka thunka.

Stupid clock. That wasn’t even a real alarm sound. It was just an invented strange noise to annoy me. I checked the buttons on top. No alarm set and no radio. Maybe it was a dream? Just to be sure, I gave the clock a good whack.

All was well. Back to sleep.

Bonka bonka bonka bonka.

Now it was nine o’clock. I sat up and grabbed the clock with every intention of tossing it against the back wall. What a pleasure it would have been to see it smash into a million pieces. I win!

But, this clock was a birthday present from Uncle Artie. He’d said it was “a special clock for a special kid.” I didn’t like being called “special” because that had a different meaning at school. But it was a cool clock.

Until now. I mean, what kind of noise was that? Certainly not the alarm sound I was used to.

I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t help but wonder what crazy not-real-clock noise Uncle Artie’s “special” clock would make next. So I got out of bed.

Since it was Thanksgiving, I was not at all surprised to see my mom up and in the kitchen. The turkey was on the counter in a large pan. Her arm was halfway up the turkey’s you-know-what. Not what I wanted to see this early in the morning, thank you very much.

“Good morning,” Mom said. “You’re up early.”

“Couldn’t sleep.” I wanted to mention the special-but-stupid clock that made strange noises at weird times, but she had grabbed another handful of stuffing and stuffed it “up there.”

“We’ll need a few guest chairs from the basement when you get a chance. Nana and Papa are coming over, of course. Plus Grandma and Grandpa Boyce. And Uncle Artie too.”

“Sure thing, Mom.” I was barely awake and she was already asking me to do math. Nobody was coming over for quite a while, so I wouldn’t need the, let’s see, two-plus-two-plus-one chairs for several hours. I had tons of time.

What better way to spend it than on the couch watching TV? It would probably be the most fun I would have all day, with both sets of grandparents coming over. It was annoying enough that they had different titles: “Nana and Papa” on the Barnes side, “Grandma and Grandpa” on the Boyce side.

Then there was Uncle Artie. He wasn’t really an uncle but that’s what we always called him. I’ve also heard him called a “distant cousin,” whatever that means. He said his job as an “importer” took him around the world to some pretty exotic places such as Vienna and Timbuktu and South America. No matter what faraway land he went to, he almost always brought us back a clock. We had wooden clocks, metal clocks, cuckoo clocks, and some that were just too odd to describe. Mom would open a package from him and say, “Hey, look. It’s a clock. Imagine that.”

Each clock came with a wonderful story, so my parents loved to get them for just that reason. Unfortunately, both of them hated having all those clocks, with their constant ticking and chiming, so we kept them stashed away in the spare room upstairs until Uncle Artie came to visit. And since he was on his way, I sat up, knowing what was coming next. In three … two … one.

“CJ! Your Uncle Artie’s coming over, so you’ll need to set the clocks out.” Mom could sure belt it out when she needed to.

I knew the drill. I went to the spare room, pulled the special box out of the closet, and lugged it down the stairs. The crescent moon clock went in the living room, replacing a family portrait, which was fine with me since I looked like a dork in that picture, anyway. There was a special cuckoo clock for the bathroom that was pretty cool. The doors on the upper level opened at the top of the hour, revealing either a boy dancer or girl dancer. I set the correct time and adjusted the weights at the end of a long chain to keep the gears going. Six clocks later, I had completed the task, finishing it off in Dad’s basement shop with a clock made from a circular saw blade.

Uncle Artie’s favorite saying was, “You can never have too many clocks.” On this Thanksgiving Day, it was certainly true, even though I was sure my parents would disagree. Not me. Although I never paid a lot of attention to the clocks, I felt something strange as I took each one from the box and hung it in its rightful spot. The crescent moon clock had two huge eyes, one on the crescent side and the other on the orange side that completed the circle. The eyes were painted on but I swear they followed me as I moved around the room.

I double-checked the time on the cuckoo clock in the bathroom and admired the details in it. The entire clock was a house from a German village, with people dressed in lederhosen on the lower level. Lucky for me it was the top of the hour and the clock chimed, revealing the bird from a door at the top and children dancing in the two small doors just below it. Why hadn’t I noticed that before? What awesome detail!

I completed the clock replacement task, storing the non-clock items in the same box and returning it to the spare bedroom. That practically wore me out, so it was back to the couch. The smell from the great stuff Mom was cooking drifted into the room, reminding me I hadn’t eaten yet.

“I made you some scrambled eggs.” Mom smiled as I entered the kitchen.

“Thanks. I’m starving.”

She held out a plate then pulled it back, still smiling. “Just as soon as you bring up the chairs from the basement.”

This wasn’t fair, but it was the second time she’d asked. The third time would not be as charmed. On my way to the basement, I realized my early morning math was wrong. There were four chairs already in the dining room, so I only needed four more. I could easily get them all in one trip.

I passed Dad’s shop right at 10:30 and the heard the blade clock begin to make noise. I turned on the shop light to get a good look and, sure enough, the blade was slowly turning. Clockwise, not surprisingly. Even stranger was that the numbers never moved as the blade turned. A few seconds later, it stopped and went back to normal. Another clock I had never paid much attention to was suddenly freaking out. I hurried back upstairs with two chairs on each arm.

I got my scrambled eggs, finally.

***

At 11:00, things got even weirder. Dad was up by now, sitting in front of his computer, but that wasn’t the weird part. When the hour struck, the crescent moon clock made a strange clicking noise, and those crazy eyes began to wink at me. The painted-on lips between the four and eight went from a Mona Lisa smile to a full-blown grin. I wanted to say something to Mom or Dad, but who would believe me? I went into the bathroom, and the boy and girl dancers in the German village twirled next to each other while the bird stayed home. This was quickly moving into “bizarre” territory. It didn’t help when my watch—another gift from Uncle Artie—started chiming a sound I had never heard before. I took it off and stuffed it in my pocket. Problem solved.

***

I played video games in the back room, trying my best not to look at or listen to any of the suddenly crazy clocks in the house. It was working too, as I finished off another level of Mortal Warfare IV.

“CJ,” my mom called. “Please set the table.”

“Okay. Just one more level.” I sat up as the battle intensified.

“Now would be better. They’ll be here in less than an hour to watch the football game.”

“I’m on it.” I made it past the gatekeeper to complete the level, which allowed me to save my spot in the game.

I grabbed plates and set them out on the table. I took one plate and placed it on the TV tray next to the window. That’s where I would sit. The rule was: adults at the big table and kids somewhere else. Sometimes it was a card table when my cousins showed up. Since I was the only kid this year, I would have to settle for a TV tray.

My mom’s cell phone rang, and she talked with the phone squeezed against her shoulder as she mixed something in a large bowl. She stopped mid-mix and put the bowl down. “I’m sorry to hear that.” Her voice was all serious. She walked out of the room before I could hear any more of it.

I returned to my table-setting duties, grabbing forks, knives, and napkins. The smell of turkey and all the fixings hit me hard as I placed the silverware around the table. Maybe all this work would be worth it. I took another whiff. Maybe.

Mom returned to the kitchen, put the phone down, and stopped stirring.

“Mom, you okay?”

She looked up at me with moist eyes. “Uncle Artie is in the hospital and can’t make it for Thanksgiving. He hasn’t missed one since your dad and I have been married.” She dabbed her eyes with her apron. “Fortunately, it’s nothing serious and my parents are heading there right now, so they can’t make it until the weekend. I’d better go tell your father. Looks like we’ll only need five plates at the table.”

No Nana and Papa Barnes? No Uncle Artie? I truly hoped Uncle Artie was okay, but this was my big chance to sit at the head of the table, something I’ve always wanted to do. The head chair was bigger and had arms, and it felt like a throne. Uncle Artie always got the honors while I was stuck with the TV tray under the window.

I followed Mom out to the garage where Dad was cleaning out the van, getting it ready for our traditional late-afternoon drive. Dad didn’t seem too bummed to hear the news about Uncle Artie or his in-laws. He barely looked up as he polished the dashboard. “Yeah, well, sorry to hear about Uncle Artie. He’s never down for very long.”

The time was right to pounce. “Mom? Dad?”

Dad turned toward me and nearly bumped his head on the visor. “Yes?”

“I wish Uncle Artie was coming today, I really do.” I tried my best to act like I was crying. It must have worked because I felt my throat tightening. “His are some tough shoes to fill, but I bet he’d want me to sit in his spot at the head of table. After all, he gave me this watch for my birthday last year.” I pulled it out of my pocket to show them. “And we have the same middle name and everything.” I, Carlton James Boyce, was merely guessing at his middle name, hoping neither of my parents knew the truth. “Please? I think I’ve earned it.”

Neither of them thought about it for too long. “It’s all yours, kid,” Dad said as he leaned on the roof of the van.

“Remember your manners at the table,” Mom said. “Uncle Artie would want it that way.”

Manners? Oh, please. Uncle Artie smoked a lot, drank a lot, and sometimes swore a lot. In spite of all that, he was my favorite relative. Over the years, besides the watches and clocks, he had given me several toy cars, baseball cards, stuffed animals, and even a five-dollar bill. These gifts were always “our little secret.” Plus, he told the greatest stories.

Grandma and Grandpa Boyce arrived a little later, and each gave me a quick hug. It’s a terrible thing to say, and I know I’m supposed to love my grandparents without question, but Mom’s parents—the “good ones” who actually liked me—weren’t coming. If Mom and Dad ever found out I felt that way, I’d be grounded for a month—Dad’s typical punishment.

Dad and Grandpa went to the living room to watch the game while the women got the food prepared. I tried to help, but I mostly got in the way.

Everything was ready just before two o’clock, and I grabbed the spot at the head of the table, with Grandma and Grandpa to my right and Mom and Dad to my left. Everyone sat down except Grandpa. He placed his hands on the table and leaned toward my dad.

“I guess this doesn’t rate as a special occasion, eh, George?”

“How’s that, Pop?” Dad said.

“The Hoffhalder. It’s a Thanksgiving tradition, isn’t it?”

“You bet it is.”

The Hoffhalder was a large mantle clock that sat in the corner of the dining room on what mom called the buffet. The Hoffhalder had been in the family for decades, and Dad would only wind it on special occasions. Uncle Artie always had the honors when he came over.

“I’ll do it, Dad,” I said.

“Can he handle it?” asked Grandpa. “He’s just a child.”

I’m right here! I thought. And I’m not a child anymore. I’m thirteen.

“Sure he can,” Grandma said. “Now, make Uncle Artie proud.” She gave me her patented don’t-screw-it-up look.

“CJ, just be careful, okay?” Dad said.

“Sure thing.” I had seen it wound a thousand times. I took the key from the drawer of the small desk nearby, carefully opened the glass in front, and put the key in the keyhole near the number four. There was another near the number eight. I knew it wound clockwise on the right and counterclockwise on the left.

“Whatever you do, don’t overwind it,” Grandpa said. He gave anyone who ever got near the clock got the same warning.

I started winding. One turn. Two turns. Then it started to get tight, so I stopped. I placed the key in the left hole and began to turn in the other direction with my left hand. One turn. Two turns. It wasn’t getting any tighter. Three turns. That was odd; it usually tightened up by now, but I figured it had just been a while. Four turns and still not tight. I switched to my right hand to finish it up. Five turns. Surely it would start to get tight. Then I heard a faint click, and the key wouldn’t move anymore. Uh-oh.

“Everything all right?” Dad asked.

I pulled the key out and put it back in the drawer. “Everything’s great.” I looked at my watch, and then spun the Hoffhalder’s minute hand around until the time was five minutes until two. After closing the glass, I gently moved the large pendulum at the bottom, and the Hoffhalder began to tick. Whew! All was well.

When the Hoffhalder chimed, it made a beautiful sound. In fact, it seemed to be the only clock sound my family liked. It was a perfect combination of bells and gears and springs working in harmony. We now had three minutes until it would chime on the hour, and everyone at the table waited patiently for the moment to arrive. As the last thirty seconds ticked off, Grandpa nudged Grandma. “Here it comes,” he said in a low voice.

The Hoffhalder struck two and began to chime. Once. Then another.

But the second chime lingered way too long and the pendulum began to swing wildly, knocking into the side walls. The chime sound turned into a grinding noise, and the pendulum stopped.

“CJ!” Dad yelled. “What have you done to my clock?”

“He overwound it,” Grandpa said while making a turning motion with hand.

“Clearly,” said Grandma. “And I’ll bet Uncle Artie is rolling over in his grave as we speak.”

“Artie’s not dead,” Mom said. “Just in the hospital.”

“I’m sorry, everyone,” I said. “I didn’t mean to. Honest. It was an accident.”

“You’re grounded,” Dad said.

“For how long?” I asked.

“A month.”

“A month? Mom?”

“Don’t you think that’s a little harsh?” she said.

I looked around the table, and three sets of eyes were on me. Mom reached out and touched my hand. At least someone was on my side.

“That clock’s been in the family for four generations,” Grandpa said. “Built by the finest clockmaker in Germany.”

“And smuggled out on a steamer ship during World War I,” Grandma added. “Truly one of a kind. Irreplaceable.”

I knew the details by heart, and it just made matters worse. “I’ll get it fixed, okay? I have some money saved up.”

“Sounds like you snapped the mainspring,” Grandpa said, adding a “break in half” motion with his hands.

Grandma leaned over and got as close to me as she could. “It’ll never be the same.”

“A month,” Dad said. He put a finger in my face to make his point. “For breaking my clock.”

He continued to glare at me as Mom began to serve the turkey. We ate in near silence.

I had ruined Thanksgiving.

 

 
R. M. Clark is a computer scientist for
the Dept. of Navy by day and children’s book writer by night. He lives in
Massachusetts with his wife and two sons.

Website
|
Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

 
3 winners will receive an eGalley of THE
TICK TOCK MAN. International.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl

SUMMONER RISING by Melanie McFarlane #CoverReveal #FridayReveals #Month9Squad #Month9Books

 
Today Melanie McFarlane and Month9Books
are revealing the cover and first chapter for SUMMONER RISING, which releases March
28, 2017! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers
to receive a eGalley!!
A quick note from the author:
After writing my YA debut,
There Once Were Stars, I never imagined that another full story idea would come
to me so quick. But sure enough, in Spring of 2015 I finished playing a round
of Final Fantasy (old school) and the thought came to me of creating a character
who could summon demons, like the characters in FF can do in battles. From
there I created my main character, an indie-outcast kind of girl, who listened
to bands like Nirvana and Small Brown Bike (like I did in college), and always
want to fit in but never really felt like part of the gang. I made her broken
and dark, not naive and protected like Natalia from There Once Were Stars to
ensure they were nothing alike and so they would face different challenges.
From here, Dacie was born – a complicated girl who wants to be normal but
doesn’t want to conform. A girl with ghosts in her closet, demons under her
bed, and an inner power so strong she’s going to have to learn to control it or
suffer the consequences. Dacie is a combination of who I was and who I wanted
to be when I was a teenager. And we all have to deal with our demons at some
point.

On to the reveal!

 
Title: SUMMONER
RISING
Author: Melanie McFarlane
Pub. Date: March 28, 2017
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 300
Find it: Goodreads
|
Amazon | B&N | TBD
Excerpt from, The Book of Summoning:
Law One: A summoner is responsible for
all creatures it lets through from the netherworld.
Dacie Cantar wishes someone had
explained the Laws of Summoning to her before she watched a shadowy creature
crawl out of a painting at the local arcade. At least it explains the strange
things she’s witnessed since moving in with her great-aunt, after her mother’s
untimely death. But who wants to be followed by shadows the rest of their life?
Add that to being stalked by a strange boy at school, who just might be her
Tovaros (aka soulmate), it’s about all Dacie can handle in her new life.

 

As she nears her seventeenth birthday,
will she be ready for her new responsibilities, or will the shadows that
stalked her mother until her death, finally consume Dacie, too? And then
there’s Law Two…

 

Excerpt

Chapter OneBroken. That’s how I feel inside. It’s as if something ripped out part of me and won’t give it back. That’s what death does to you when it touches those you love; it’s not rocket science, but it’s definitely not what I thought it would be like. In movies it is cold, pale, and filled with sadness and longing, or sometimes so predictable and eye roll worthy with its Hollywood special effects. But the death I’ve experienced has been more horrifyingly real; filled with personal loss, haunting dreams, and shadows that run around in the night.

The therapist they assigned me back in California said I needed to move forward. Keep on, keeping on. As clichéd as it was, I agreed. I’d spent most my life fighting to thrive, practically raising myself. Now wasn’t the time to give up. Death was inevitable; if I let the fear of it hold me back, I might as well roll over and die right now. Survival meant I had to push those feelings deep down inside and forget they were there.

“Daciana!”

Great Aunt Katya’s voice calls from the hallway while I stand in front of the bathroom mirror, playing with concealer to cover the dark circles under my eyes. Sleep doesn’t come easy when you’re trying to be someone new.

She appears behind me in the mirror, her long white hair a contrast to my dark locks. “Are you sure you won’t change your mind?” Her thick accent is still a novelty to me.

Katya has spent the entire summer trying to convince me that I’d be better off stuck here with her, getting homeschooled like everyone else does in our family, back in Romania. I’m not against it; I’d just like to try to fit in first.

I shake my head and mimic a cheer. “Go Greystone High!” My knotted bracelets slip from my wrist, bumping against the rolled up sleeve of my plaid button-up shirt, and my chipped black nail polish is the opposite of anything bright and cheery. I’m not about to give up my first chance to have a different life.

Katya throws her head back, letting her multi-hooped earrings clink against each other, mingling in the air along with her laugh. She dresses like a bohemian, but flashes way too much cleavage. She wears more bracelets than I do, and a lot more rings. All her jewelry looks like it was forged by hand in one way or another, and I’m sure if I ask there’s a story behind it all. She looks back down and shakes her head at me with a smirk across her burgundy painted lips. She looks amazing for sixty-five.

“Don’t be late your first day.” She pats my shoulder before leaving. In her reflection I see a shadow chasing after her, along the cracks of the old wooden floor. My heart jumps and I spin around, but both of them are gone. I run to the door and peek around the corner, but Katya is alone as she disappears down the creaky old stairs.

I sigh and return to the bathroom to grab my backpack, glancing in the mirror one last time. My dark brown eyes stare back at me; when will they stop playing tricks on me? This isn’t the first shadow I’ve seen dashing about, but every time I try to chase after them, there’s nothing there. I’m obviously losing my mind.

Downstairs, I pop a waffle in the toaster and stare out the patio doors at the trees that line the back of our yard; but I’m not really watching the trees; I’m trying to convince my nerves that this school will be like every other new school I’ve attended my entire life. Only this time I don’t have my mother to send me off in the morning.

I snap out of my thoughts as the toaster pops.

Outside, my little four door hatchback sits in wait. Katya found it for sale at the side of the road and bought it for me my first day here. Its navy blue paint is peeling, and there’s a bumper sticker that says My Kid is a Greystone Grad, but now that I’m going to be a student there I may as well leave it. Plus I’ve never had my own car before; the freedom is exhilarating.

As I pull up to Greystone High I realize the concept of being normal is harder to carry out in person. The stone exterior of the school is as old as the rest of this coastal town; its interior was modern twenty years ago with its classic cement block walls and color themed lockers. The students are familiar with one another, as if they all grew up here in Greystone, Maine.

Most of them turn their heads as I walk down the hall, not even hiding their curiosity. As soon as I find my locker I duck my head inside and finally breathe. I expected things to be different. I should’ve known a new location wouldn’t change anything; being different is always the same, no matter where you go.

“You’re new,” a boy’s voice comes from the locker next to mine.

I take a deep breath and grab my sketchbook with trembling hands, from my bag. “Sure am,” I say turning, and walking away.

I hear his footsteps run after me. “Hey, I’m Brennan. Where’d you move from?”

“Hey,” I mimic him. “That’s pretty personal when you don’t even know my name.”

His eyes grow wide and a twinge of guilt pokes me in the gut. “I—,” Brennan stammers.

“California.”

He looks confused. “That’s your name?”

“You asked where I moved from. It’s California. I’m Dacie.”

A smile jumps across his face showing small dimples on either side of his mouth. He’s kind of cute with his short brown hair and sparkly blue eyes, that match his jersey with the Greystone High logo; that is if you like that sort of jock look. It’s never been my thing, not like I’m an expert or anything. I’ve never dated anyone before. Not a hand held, first kiss, or grope. But hey, nothing screams normal like Mr. Football standing in front of me.

“Why would you move here?” he asks, still flashing that all-American smile.

There’s a question I’m not ready to answer. “Sorry, I-uh, have to go. I’m going to be late for Art class.”

“Come find me and my friends at lunch!” Brennan calls out as he backs into a group of girls who start squealing and hitting him with their books. I can’t help but smile.

I turn toward my classroom, but I’m just as clumsy as Brennan. As I turn around I run smack into someone. My sketchbook falls to the floor, scattering my drawings everywhere. I look up and see I’m leaning against the chest of a tall boy.

“Sorry,” he mumbles.

He kneels down to pick up my papers and I drop to the floor, grabbing them away from him. One of my bracelets falls off on the floor and he picks it up.

“It was my fault,” I say, stuffing them back in my book.

We both stand up at the same time, only inches apart, and so close I can see his chest move with every breath. I don’t think I’ve ever had this much contact with a boy before.

“No harm done.” He gives me a crooked smile and, is that an accent I hear? What is it? European? He holds the bracelet out to me, rousing me from my thoughts.

I stare at him for a moment. His hair is a little longer than I like, but it suits him as it falls into his eyes. What are they: green with flecks of brown and yellow like a starburst from his pupil? His jaw line has a slight shade of stubble on top of his tanned skin. He’s practically poetic; I finally exhale and can feel my face warm up from thinking about him.

“Thanks.” I grab the bracelet diverting all attention from my face.

“Shall we enter class?” Shall? Who says shall?

“Yes, please,” I say raising an eyebrow. The green hues in his eyes flicker for a moment with a hint of amusement. Is he laughing at me?

I put my head down and scoot past him, brushing my arm against his. My body tingles at the sensation of his skin. Enough, Dacie! I hurry to the first empty desk I see, which is close to the back; usually I chose a seat in the front row but right now my face is so flushed I need to hide.

But the boy follows and takes a seat behind me. I shift in my plastic seat and focus on the front of the room, but the hair on my neck raises, as if someone’s watching me.

My teacher is an older woman with curls so tight they create the impression of dreads around her freckled face. Her clothes are an odd assembly of ballet flats with gaucho slacks, topped with a frilly apron splattered in paint. She gives us a short lecture then has us begin working on pointillism. I check out some Escher and decide to sketch my hand. It’s not copying if I draw my own, right?

I struggle to make my fingers look real. They come out more sausage-like than human, which makes me frown. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get it right, and I’m not about to reference my Escher print again or I might as well just copy it. Half way through class I give up and look around; everyone else is working diligently on their pictures.

I peek over my shoulder to see what the boy is doing. I should have asked him his name. He’s sitting against the back of his chair with his arms crossed, staring at me. I spin back around, reaching for my pencil in an attempt to look busy and knock it off my desk. I scramble to grab it before it falls, but it hits the floor and rolls to the back of the class.

I turn my head after the pencil, and hang half way out of my desk to catch it. My fingers brush against the floor and a dark black boot stops it in the middle of the aisle. I follow the boot all the way up to the boy’s face. He lets a small smirk spread across his mouth. Wow, he’s fast.

I force a smile. “Thank you.” I sit up straight in my desk and spin around.

He leans over and grabs the pencil. “Anytime.” He sweeps his hair from his eyes and holds it out to me.

I get out of my desk and walk over to him. “Are you already done the project?” He nods. I look down at his drawing. What the—he’s drawn a picture of me as I was drawing. Even worse, it’s good, really good. My cheeks flash hot with irritation; I’m not sure if it’s from the invasion of privacy or pure jealousy. I manage to twist my face from a glower to a frown: “We were supposed to do pointillism.”

He keeps staring at me. “I saw something I liked more.”

A sharp pain stabs my gut and my face feels even hotter than it did a second ago. “Whatever,” I say as I grab my pencil and hurry to my desk.

Thankfully he does not attempt to talk to me the rest of class. When the bell rings he pauses at my desk still holding the drawing in his hand. I grab my things and leave as quickly as I can. I’m not interested in any explanations. Who does he think he is?

My next class is History, where I get a long-winded account of the colonization of Maine starting back in the 1600s. Lucky me, we’re going to move through the centuries. After that it’s Math and then finally lunch.

I throw my books in my locker and head for the cafeteria. I manage to find a sandwich and an apple that look edible but when I turn to look for a seat, I see Brennan standing up waving at me. I force a smile and wave back; pretending to be normal can’t be that hard, right? He’s sitting with another boy and two girls. The boy smiles at me and the girls just stare.

“Hey everyone, this is Dacie,” Brennan says.

I meet Zack, Sophie, and Chantal. Everyone has their perfectly normal names and is coupled up, in the order they are seated. They all wear smiles except for Chantal, who stares me down. I’m pretty sure she’s interested in Brennan, the way she keeps her eyes glued to him, but he seems oblivious as he sits next to her.

“Dacie moved here from California,” Brennan says, flashing me another one of his full face smiles.

Sophie flicks her long blond hair over her shoulder and laughs. “Ewww, why would you move here? It’s always so cloudy.”

“Long story,” I say, taking a bite of my sandwich.

Chantal rolls her eyes. “It’s so boring here, but you’re too new to know.”

I swallow my ham and cheese and shrug. “I’ve been here all summer.”

Brennan’s eyes light up. “Really? Where’ve you been hiding?”

“I live with my aunt up at the end of Marlborough Lane.”

“Oh my god,” Chantal says. Her mouth hangs open with a smile playing at the edge. “You’re her.”

Sophie shoots her a dirty look. “Shhh.” Chantal stares down at her lunch.

I raise an eyebrow. “What do you mean ‘her’?”

Sophie’s cheeks turn red. “We heard, you know, about your mom.”

My throat is suddenly dry and I have to force down my next swallow. “So everyone knows?”

“It is a small town,” Chantal says, staring at me.

“Okay, hold on everyone. Dacie, we just mean we didn’t know you’ve been here all this time. I would have come by to meet you.” He flashes me one of his full face smiles.

Right. Come meet the freak. I put my half eaten sandwich down on my tray and stand up. My chair scrapes against the floor, echoing in the cafeteria. It seems everyone around us has gone silent to listen in on our conversation.

“Don’t go,” Brennan says. The rest of the table looks away, except for Chantal.

“Sorry.” She doesn’t seem sincere.

“It’s fine. I just need some air.”

I take my tray and deposit it near the exit as I leave the cafeteria. As I go to push the doors open a black streak flies out of the corner of my eye. I know better, but still run after it. Nothing is there—argh!

The double doors to the cafeteria bang closed behind me as my frustration builds. I walk to a quiet corner and lean my back against the wall as I exhale. I hadn’t realized I was holding my breath, again. Some girls giggle as they pass by. This normal thing sucks.

I close my eyes and think about my mom. Six months wasn’t long enough to numb the pain. The mention of her, and the fact everyone knows the story, stings like it did when I left the west coast. Now I want nothing more than to go back there. What’s the point of being here now if I can’t escape the past?

“You alright?” a familiar, accented voice comes from next to me.

I startle, opening my eyes and see the boy from art class. “I’m fine.”

I push myself from the wall and continue down the hallway to the doors outside. As I reach the exit, I turn and see him staring at me as I walk away. My body shivers from the cool fall air.

When the bell rings, I go back inside, making a b-line for my locker. A slip of white paper hangs halfway out of it. I pull it out and right away recognize it: it’s the picture of me from art class, but the boy who drew it is gone.

I stomp through the hallway, determined to find him but he’s nowhere to be seen. Brennan sees me and waves, but lowers his hand when I shoot him a glare. I ignore him and continue down the hallway. The second bell rings for classes and the hallway empties but I am too worked up to stay. I crumple up the paper and throw it in my backpack. Again I catch a black streak in the corner of my eye. I really need to get more sleep.

 

 
Melanie McFarlane is a passionate writer
of other-wordly adventures, a little excitable, and a little quirky. Whether
it’s uncovering the corruption of the future, or traveling to other worlds to
save the universe, she jumps in with both hands on her keyboard. Though she can
be found obsessing over zombies and orcs from time to time, Melanie has focused
her powers on her YA debut There Once Were Stars, and her YA urban fantasy
Summoner Rising.
She lives with her husband and two
daughters in the Land of Living Skies.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | InstagramGoodreads

 

 

 

 
3 winners will receive and eGalley of SUMMONER
RISING, International.

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I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl

STATION FOSAAN by Dee Garretson #CoverReveal #FridayReveals #Month9Squad #Month9Books

Today Dee Garretson and Month9Books are
revealing the cover and first chapter for STATION FOSAAN, which releases February
14, 2017! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers
to receive a eGalley!!
A quick note from the author:
I’ve been a major science
fiction fan ever since I discovered A WRINKLE IN TIME. When I moved on to
watching STAR TREK every day after school, that hooked me. Spock was my first
crush. I don’t know what that says about me. Maybe it was his pointy ears,
because I’m very taken with the pointy eared elves in LORD OF THE RINGS too. It
wasn’t just Spock though. I loved all the strange new worlds. I was devastated
the day my father told me that even once I grew up, there would be no
Enterprise spaceships and I couldn’t be Lieutenant Uhura. I still remember how
I wanted that communication earpiece, the miniskirt and the boots.
 
So you might say STATION
FOSAAN is in response to that disappointment. I created my own science fiction
world, which has been influenced not only by STAR TREK, but by STAR WARS and
DUNE as well. And while it is a space adventure, it’s also a story of two
people who find each other only to discover their lives may have to follow
different paths. The essence of a story is always the characters. I love to
create ones I’d want to know in real life. And like in real life, these
characters face powerful forces who try to emphasize the differences between
peoples rather than finding common ground. It’s a test to see what they choose.
One of my favorite parts from the book is something that is also my personal
motto: “We have to take chances. I have to take a chance. It’s time to go
beyond the known.”
On to the reveal! 

 

Title: STATION
FOSAAN
Author: Dee Garretson
Pub. Date: February 14, 2017
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 300
Find it: Goodreads
|
Amazon | B&N | TBD
Scientists and their families stationed
on the remote planet of Fosaan were promised a tropical vacation-like
experience. But Fosaan, devastated from an apocalyptic event nearly
three-hundred years ago, is full of lethal predators and dangerous terrain.
Earthers are forbidden to go beyond the
safety zone of their settlement and must not engage the remaining reclusive
Fosaanians, native to the planet. Sixteen-year-old Quinn Neen is about to do
both of those things.
During an unsanctioned exploration of
the planet, Quinn discovers a beautiful Fosaanian girl named Mira stealing food
from his family’s living unit. But before he can convince her to show him
around, scientists are taken captive, leaving Quinn and the other young
Earthers at the mercy of space raiders.
Quinn must go from renegade to leader
and convince Mira to become an ally in a fight against an enemy whose very
existence threatens their lives and the future of Earthers stuck on Fosaan and
at home.

 

STATION FOSAAN is THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
meets STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN. 

Excerpt

Chapter 1When a civilization comes close to extinction, what emerges out of the ashes? On Fosaan, music did not, and art has turned to survival craft. Perhaps if I record what I know, some in the future will understand us better. The coming of the Earthers may be the end of us, and I do not want our memories to fade to ash. I may be giving myself too lofty a title, but for now I shall sign my musings,

Erimik, historian of the Clan

A flash in Fosaan’s sky distracted me from my work for a moment. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought a large ship just entered the atmosphere, but none were scheduled to land.

The flex wall rustled behind me. “Piper?” I said, not looking up from the display slip. One more minute and I would have the depiction of the snake-like creature completed, right down to the exact interlocking star pattern on the skin and the red speckling on the forelegs. Duplicating the vivid greenish yellow color would be trickier, but I had imaged it so there’d be a reference when I got down to mixing colors.

It was pure luck I had found a dead one on the walkway to study. I didn’t know what happened to the other deceased animals on Fosaan, but if the shrieks and howls that came from shore were any hint, I could guess. I’d just have to make sure I got rid of the thing before Piper got home. My younger sister hated seeing anything dead.

“Piper?” I turned around, but no one was in the unit. The rustling sound had moved into the kitchen.

Magellan squawked and flapped her wings from the window ledge, “Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!”

Since the parrot said the same thing at every sound she didn’t recognize, I wasn’t too worried. “Mags, relax. It’s probably just an olon.” I got up and grabbed the stick I always used to shoo away the tiny nuisances. If I let one in, a whole flock of them would follow, perching on every available surface, chittering and staring as if expecting me to put on a show for them. Me, Quinn Neen, whose talents, such as they were, did not include entertaining anyone or anything. It was even worse when they brought in their latest catches from the sea, treating the floating living units like their own picnic area, dropping bones all over the floor.

Now that Mags felt like she had done her guard job, she lost interest. Balancing on one leg, she examined a talon on the other. “Beautiful toe,” she declared.

“Yes, you’ve told me before,” I said, knowing I’d never be able to convince the parrot a talon was not the same thing as a toe. I wasn’t sure she grasped the concept of “beautiful,” but she applied it more frequently to herself than anyone else. Leaving the bird to her talon inspection, I pushed aside the divider to get into the kitchen. No olons. No more rustling noise either, just the faint splash of the waves rocking the walkways that connected the individual living quarters. A gust of wind brought in the briny scent of the water, sharper smelling than the oceans of Earth. It overpowered the pine scent I had set on the room control, which I liked to use as a reminder of the pine forest reserve my grandmother managed on Earth. Another gust rattled the beads Piper had attached to her favorite house droid, but there were no other sounds. Maybe an olon had come and gone.

I turned to go back when a flash of white caught my eye. Startled, I dropped the stick and then tripped over it. A girl, a Fosaanian girl, stood clutching a wafer loaf to her chest, a cloud of long shimmery white hair quivering. In fact, all of her was shivering. She was soaked, water dripping off her. I could see her wet footprints all over the kitchen. Her silvery eyes held mine and I couldn’t think of a thing to say. I wasn’t usually so speechless around girls with incredible eyes, but I’d never encountered one I didn’t know in my own quarters.

“What are you doing?” I finally managed to croak, even though it was obvious she was taking the loaf, or more accurately, stealing the loaf. Fosaanians never came out onto the Earthers’ floating compound.

“I’m sorry,” the girl said, putting the loaf back on counter and edging to the door.

“No, wait!” I didn’t mean to shout, but my words came out too loud. The girl froze like I had issued an order, though I could tell she was ready to bolt. “It’s okay,” I said. “I mean, if you’re hungry, take it.” Picking the loaf up, I held it out to her, hoping it would convince her to stay for a little while. She would be the first Fosaanian I had talked to, if I could get her to talk. The small population of Fosaanians, the descendants of the few who had survived the planetary apocalypse, kept away from all of us Earthers, except for the ones who worked at the supply depot or who delivered the iridium sulfide. None of those could be called the least bit friendly.

She didn’t take the loaf, but she didn’t run either. Instead, she stood there looking around the room, clearly curious.

“I have an even better idea,” I said, trying to come up with one. “How about I fix us both something to eat? I’m hungry too.” The girl was too thin, but then all the Fosaanians I had seen were skinny. I assumed it was a Fosaanian physical trait that went along with their long fingers and thin necks, but now it occurred to me that if she was here to steal food maybe they weren’t getting enough to eat.

“The food, it is not for me,” the girl said. “My little sister, she had an accident and some of her teeth were damaged. It’s easier for her to eat soft food….” Her voice trailed off, and she clutched her hands together.

“You can take it. We have plenty. I’ll find some other stuff too.” I grabbed a carryall and opened the storage cabinet, looking for soft food. “Why doesn’t your sister just get replacement teeth?”

Her eyes widened. “You can replace teeth?”

“Sure, people do it all the time.” I had two replacements already, from running into a low bulkhead when I was trying to get some exercise during the long dull journey to Fosaan from Earth.

“How much do teeth cost?”

“I don’t know.” I found some milk bars and added them to the carryall. “Not much, probably.” I’d never even thought about it.

“If it costs as much as wafer bread, then it would be too much.” She sounded angry.

“Maybe not. I have a friend up on the space station in charge of inventory,” I told her. “I can ask him if they have some extra teeth. They probably do.”

Her eyes narrowed and she took a step back. “What would I have to do for them?”

“Nothing,” I said. I was struck by how suspicious she sounded. “My friend, Gregor, he isn’t too strict about things. Giving you some teeth for your sister isn’t going to break the budget of the station.” I knew Gregor would actually be pleased to do something that was outside the rules. He took so much pleasure in breaking military protocol, I sometimes wondered why he had signed up for more service after the mandatory enlistment was up.

An olon flew in and perched on a stool, folding its wings into small pleats and settling down like it intended to stay. I recognized it from its abnormal markings. Most olons had a bright green streak under each eye, but this one was missing the streak on the left. It was also the one who seemed to have an uncanny knack for knowing when food was out. “You’re not getting any of this,” I said to it. “Don’t be lazy. Go find your own food.” It hooted at me.

At the noise, Mags hopped into the room and then flew up and landed on the counter, flapping her wings and screeching, “Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert! Dog! Dog!” She hated the olons and “dog” was her word for anything she hated.

The olon just gazed at the parrot, not moving. “Easy, Mags,” I said, “It’s ‘olon’. ‘Olon.’”

“Dog!” Mags flapped her wings threateningly. “Man the weapons!” My father had taught Mags the weapons line, and he and I thought it hilarious, though my mother wasn’t crazy about the parrot threatening any guest the bird didn’t like. When the olon didn’t move, Mags added in some incoming missile sound effects to indicate she was extremely displeased.

“Calm down, Mags.” The olon didn’t appear perturbed at all by the parrot. It sidled to the edge of the stool, its attention totally focused on the wafer loaf.

“Your creature talks? You communicate with them?” the girl asked, her amazing eyes widening.

It took me a moment to answer; I was so caught up in looking at her. “Uh, no, I sort of communicate with Mags, but I just talk to the olons. They don’t understand me. It’s a habit when I’m by myself.” Now she would think I was strange. I’d only started talking to myself once we’d arrived. There were fifteen other younger Earthers onplanet and an assortment of scientists who came and went to the orbiting space station for their shifts, but we often got tired of each other. I spent most of the time working on my own projects.

The girl eyed the olon. “I’ve never seen one without two markings on the face,” she said. “I did see one once with double markings, but never just one.”

“I’d like to see one like that.” I was intrigued that she had noticed. Most people didn’t pay much attention to them. When I had first observed the marking and pointed it out to my friend Lainie, she had pretended to be interested, but the way she smiled made it clear she was just humoring me.

The olon hooted once more and then flew back out the window, like it had given up on the possibility of a handout.

“All clear!” Mags announced, using another of the military phrases my father favored. She began to preen herself. “Beautiful feathers.”

“Quinn!” Piper shouted from the walkway. The bells my little sister wore in her hair jangled crazily as she ran into the room. “Quinn, guess what? The shuttle landed but nobody was on it. Not mom, not anybody. Nobody knows why.” Piper skidded to a stop, noticing the girl. “Why is a Fosaanian here?” she demanded, her eyes wide.

“Um…She was out swimming,” I said, not wanting to explain the conversation about the bread. There were never simple explanations for Piper. Everything always led to another why. “I invited her in,” I added.

“Hello,” Piper said, moving closer to the girl and sniffing the air. “You don’t smell. My friend Lia says Fosaanians smell.”

“That’s rude, Piper. I’m sorry,” I said to the girl. I had heard the same rumor, that Fosaanians smelled like the sulfur permeating the atmosphere.

“I said she DIDN’T smell.” Piper glared at me. “It would be rude if I said she DID. What’s your name?”

“My name is Mira,” The girl answered almost in a whisper.

Piper reached out and patted Mira on the arm as if she was some shy creature. “Mira is a pretty name. Mine’s Piper. How old are you? I’m seven. Why do you have that funny mark on your face?”

The girl jerked back like the question shocked her. I didn’t understand her reaction, and after she didn’t respond, I said to Piper, “It’s a tattoo.” I didn’t think much about it because the small three-sided red mark on her check matched the ones on the two Fosaanians who worked at the station.

Mira’s lack of response didn’t stop Piper. “Why do all the Fosaanians have white hair? It makes everyone look old.” Piper moved closer like she was going to touch Mira’s hair.

“Piper!” Time to distract my sister before she did anything embarrassing. “What about the shuttle?” I asked.

“It landed without anybody on it, and nobody at the supply depot can talk to the space station. Is it true Fosaanian babies are born with black hair and then it turns white?”

Piper’s jumps in topics were hard to follow, and it took Mira some time to answer. “We all have white hair all along,” the girl said.

“That’s strange.” I was puzzled, not about the hair, but about the shuttle. There were always communication problems between the depot and the station because of the weird atmospheric components on Fosaan, and because of the frequent volcanic ash that spewed into the air from a nearby island, but I couldn’t think of a reason why the shuttle wouldn’t have anyone on it. “Maybe everyone decided to stay for a double shift. Mom said they were having problems with the newest version of the MIdroids.”

Piper shrugged. “Mick didn’t say anything.”

“What’s Mick doing about it?” I asked. Mick ran the depot, with the help of a few Fosaanians and some ancient droids he refused to replace. He was good with supplies and machines and droids, not so good with other people.

“He sent the second shift up. They’re supposed to report back.” Piper twisted her finger through her own hair, and the bells jingled softly. I knew the hair-twisting meant Piper was nervous.

“I’m sure they will,” I said to reassure her. I was about to go back to talking to Mira when I realized there was something odd about Piper’s last statement. “How are they going to report back if the link isn’t working?”

“I don’t know. Do all Fosaanians have such curly hair? I wish I did.”

“Piper, stop with the questions. You’re being nosy. Why don’t you see if you can get Mom on the comm here?” I suggested.

“Okay.” Piper darted out of the kitchen, and too late, I remembered what I had left on the work table.

Piper’s shriek came a second later. “Quinn! Disgusting! It’s dead! Get it away!”

“Sorry, Piper,” I said. The Fosaanian girl was edging for the door again. “Wait, don’t go yet. Maybe you could help me with something. It’s in here.” I didn’t want to let her go so I gestured towards the other room and walked out of the kitchen hoping she would follow me. She did, stopping in the doorway. I heard a sharp intake of breath.

When I turned around, the girl was staring wide-eyed around the room. “How is this possible?” she said, reaching out her hand to touch one of the holographic pine trees.

“Oh, I forgot,” I pointed at the scene setter on the table. “I had the scene set to be a pine forest. I really miss one I used to go to on Earth, so I like to set that surrounding when I work.”

“I didn’t know such things existed,” Mira said, kneeling down to touch the stream that ran around the chairs. I turned the sound up so the faint murmur of water came from it. The girl’s hand went into it and touched the floor. “This is amazing! It looks so real. I smell something strange too.”

“I’ve got it set to pine forest scent. I can switch it to something else if you like, flowers, or a camp fire. Do you want to see it snow?” I changed the scene to snowfall and immediately drifts appeared, covering most of the furniture. Holographic snowflakes fell from the ceiling, which had changed to the gray of a winter sky.

Mira lifted her hands out and smiled. “It’s cold! I have heard of snow, but I didn’t know it was cold.”

“Excuse me,” Piper said, standing by the work table with her hands on her hips, her face screwed up in disgust. “Does anyone besides me care that there is a dead thing here?”

“It’s okay, Piper.” I said. “It can’t hurt you. I meant to get rid of it before you got home.” I switched the snowfall back to the forest. The falling flakes were too distracting most of the time.

Piper stomped her foot. “Why do you have to drag stuff inside to depict it? Why can’t you just image things like normal people?”

“There’s no challenge to imaging it. Anybody can do that. Depicting objects sharpens a person’s power of observation.” I’d heard one of the tests to get into the reconnaissance corps training program measured how well the applicant could observe tiny details. “Besides, I needed to scan its measurements so I could record them.” We’d had this argument many times and I didn’t get why Piper couldn’t understand. It wasn’t like I kept the specimens around forever, though sometimes to tease her I pretended I’d accidentally lost one in her room. She fell for it every time.

The Fosaanian girl got up and walked over to the table, stepping around a moss-covered boulder that wasn’t really there. She looked down at the creature. “You didn’t kill this, did you?” she asked.

If I had been the type to lie, I would have told her I caught it barehanded as it ran past me. I was a terrible at lying though. “No, it was already dead when I found it.” I switched the room back to normal.

“I thought so. Most beings don’t survive getting close to an anguist.”

“I didn’t know,” I said, somewhat pleased I had managed to study something so lethal. “It’s called an anguist?”

“I don’t care what it’s called!” Piper wailed. “Just get it away!”

Since I was done with it anyway, and it was already starting to smell in the heat, I reached over to pick it up, intending to drop it out the window into the water.

“Wait!” The Fosaanian girl said. “How did you get it in here? Did you touch it?” She sounded horrified.

My hand froze. “Uh, yeah, I picked it up and brought it in. Why?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know the answer.

“How did you pick it up?”

I pictured how I had found the creature. “I picked it up behind the forelegs. Why?”

“They exude poison when they’re threatened, particularly from their tails.” Mira’s face showed the same alarm that her voice held. “It’s so lethal, it paralyzes you almost immediately.”

I couldn’t remember exactly where I had touched it. I’d moved it around a lot as I was measuring it. Was my hand feeling a little numb? I flexed my fingers. They still worked. “I feel fine. I guess I didn’t touch the poison part.” Good to know I hadn’t managed to paralyze myself. It had been idiotic of me not to think of that possibility. I knew there were dangerous life forms on Fosaan, and the Earthers were forbidden to go anywhere except the depot and the beach, but I hadn’t even imagined a small dead creature could hurt me.

“You shouldn’t just pick up what you find,” Mira said, putting her hands on hips just like Piper did. “There are many deadly animals and plants on Fosaan.”

At first I didn’t hear what she said. The amazing color of her eyes distracted me again. I had thought all Fosaanians had dull gray eyes.

“Quinn, didn’t you hear her? Deadly animals are a BAD thing,” Piper said.

“Um… I heard. Do you know how to identify them?” I asked the girl. She had just given me an idea.

“Of course I know,” she said, as if I were slightly dense. “I wouldn’t be alive if I didn’t.”

I tried to pick my words carefully so I could get her to go along with my idea. “Could you show me which ones are dangerous? I really want to know, because I’m making a guide.” Her expression grew more puzzled and I realized she didn’t understand, so I kept talking. “The life forms that survived the Apocalypse haven’t been completely logged, I mean logged by our people. If you helped me, I could make a real guide. We could work on it together. I’ve got some great recording equipment my friend on the space station lent me and I’ve made this capture device to get some of the smaller flying creatures, so I can observe them and then release them. I’ll show it to you…that is…if you want to see it….” Her face was expressionless, and I realized she might think it was all too boring.

Finally she said, “No…I don’t think my uncle would allow me to help you…I don’t know.”

Since it wasn’t a flat-out no, I persisted, “It wouldn’t take much time.”

“It’s not a good idea,” she said, sounding certain.

I slumped back against the table. At this rate, I’d never get the guide done before the deadline to submit my application to the reconnaissance corps. Without something unique like a guide to add to my application, I didn’t stand much of a chance of acceptance. My examination scores fell right in the middle of average. And if I didn’t get in, my grandfather would make sure I was assigned to one of the officer academies. I knew that would only lead to a spectacular failure. I’d make an even worse officer than my father.

Piper’s voice caught my attention. “Quinn, I thought we were going to talk to Mom.”

“You can speak to someone on the space station from your own home?” Mira drew close to the comm unit and put out her hand like she wanted to touch it.

“Yes, everyone has one of these,” I said.

“Haven’t you seen the ones inside the depot?” Piper asked.

“Fosaanians aren’t allowed inside unless they work there,” Mira said.

I hadn’t realized that. I just assumed the Fosaanians preferred to keep to themselves. “Why not? It’s nothing special.”

“It’s a rule. Are these hard to work?” Mira’s hand still hovered over the touchpad. “My uncle and my cousin operate the one at the depot, and they say you can get information from everywhere in the galaxy, and pictures of other places. My cousin told me he’s seen images of other planets, and they have giant buildings on them.” She said it like she didn’t really believe it.

“Sure, tall buildings are everywhere.” I wasn’t interested in ordinary buildings, but if she was and it got her to stay, I’d show her as many as she wanted. “We’ll look at some once I talk to my mother.”

I was about to speak the code to call up the Comm Center at the station when a voice said, “Incoming message. Secure channel. Turing Seven. Response.”

“That’s Grandfather!” Piper squealed.

I restrained myself from groaning. My grandfather was the last person in the galaxy I wanted to speak to. “Not good timing,” I said, turning to Mira. “I’m sorry, but it would be good if you go in the kitchen while we’re talking to my grandfather. I don’t want to have to explain to him what you’re doing here.”

She didn’t question me, which surprised me, though at the same time I was happy I didn’t have to go into more detail. My grandfather did not like to be kept waiting. I spoke the response. “Turing Five.”

My grandfather’s attaché appeared on the slip, a woman who Piper called Lieutenant Bark because every word the woman spoke came out short and abrupt. “Hold a moment for Admiral Neen,” the woman said.

It didn’t take a moment. Almost instantly the grim, lined face of my grandfather filled the display. I knew everyone remarked on how much I looked like the man, down to the dark brown eyes that were nearly black, the sharp lines of our faces, and the set of our jaws, but I hoped I never grew to look so rigid. In a dress uniform, the dark green sheen of it rippling in the sterile light of his office, the man would have projected authority even if you didn’t know he was head of the Konsilan.

“Good day, Quinn.”

“Good day, Sir.” I instinctively sat up straighter. I’d learned long ago not to slouch in view of my grandfather.

“Hi Grandpa!” Piper pushed in besides me on the chair.

“Hello, Miss Piper.” A smile appeared on the stone face, something rarely seen. “How’s my girl?”

“Good! When are you coming to visit?”

I hoped he’d say “Never.” The last argument between my father and grandfather had been so terrible, I couldn’t imagine them meeting again.

“I’m not sure.” The admiral turned and said something to the attaché and then turned back. “I’m sorry, Piper, but I don’t have much time and I need to talk to your brother.”

“Okay,” she said, sliding off the chair. I heard her move to the kitchen and begin chattering again to Mira. “That’s a pretty necklace! Can you show me how to make one like it?” I didn’t hear Mira’s reply and I tried to block out their voices so my grandfather wouldn’t comment on my lack of focus, an almost criminal offense to him.

The frown had reappeared on his face. “Quinn, I understand you haven’t yet submitted your application for any of the officer academies. The deadline is coming up.”

“I know, Sir. I…uh…wanted to speak with you about that.” I felt sweat running down my back and wondered why the room had suddenly gotten so hot. I tried to think of how I had practiced my speech to my grandfather, but instead all I could see in my head was the sweep of wall in the man’s office that contained image after image of Neen ancestors in all their military glory.

My grandfather raised an eyebrow. “Go ahead.”

I reminded myself that it was my future at stake, not my grandfather’s. “I…” Before I could say anything else, the slip went blank. “That’s weird,” I said.

“What’s weird?” Piper came back in the room.

“We lost contact with Grandfather.”

I spoke the code to call up the Comm Center. The display flickered, then the familiar logo of the station came up, the words Advanced Artificial Intelligence Research Center emblazoned across a rotating triple torus. I waited for the next slip. Someone on first or second shift communications should appear.

Instead, a voice said, “Due to technical difficulties, AAIRC is not available at this time.” The slip went clear.

 

Dee Garretson writes for many different
age groups, from chapter books to middle grade to young adult to adult fiction.
She lives in Ohio with her family, and in true writer fashion, has cat
companions who oversee her daily word count. When she’s not writing, she loves
to travel, watch old movies, and attempt various kinds of drawing, painting and
other artistic pursuits.

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I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl

SOULMATED by Shaila Patel #CoverReveal #FridayReveals #Month9Squad #Month9Books

Today Shaila Patel and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for SOULMATED, which releases January 24, 2017! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive a eGalley!!
 
A quick note from the author:
 
When people find out that I’ve written a book, invariably the first question is, “Where did you get the idea for the story?” If I had a quick and easy answer like, “I checked www.BookIdeas.com,” my phone calls with the family would be so much shorter! Anyway, the truth is a bit more complicated—much like my family’s recipe for the perfect cup of chai.
 
After years of writing literary short stories, I thought I’d try my hand at a paranormal romance. Perfectly normal leap of logic, right? (I have Twilight to thank for that!) For whatever reason, I’d been thinking of how emotionally perceptive my mom was and that if there were such a thing as an EQ test (where the E stands for emotional intelligence), my mom would score through the roof. She just always had this uncanny ability to read my feelings. I’d never seen a story about empaths—people who could read emotions like psychics could read thoughts—but the idea grabbed on and wouldn’t let go. And that, my friends, was the beginning. Soulmated is finally ready to be released, and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I had fun writing it!

On to the reveal! 

Title: SOULMATED (Joining of Souls #1)
Author: Shaila Patel
Pub. Date: January 24, 2017
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
Pages: 300
Find it: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | TBD
Two souls. One Fate.
Eighteen-year-old Liam Whelan, an Irish royal empath, has been searching for his elusive soulmate. The rare union will cement his family’s standing in empath politics and afford the couple legendary powers, while also making them targets of those seeking to oust them.
Laxshmi Kapadia, an Indian-American high school student from a traditional family, faces her mother’s ultimatum: Graduate early and go to medical school, or commit to an arranged marriage.
When Liam moves next door to Laxshmi, he’s immediately and inexplicably drawn to her. In Liam, Laxshmi envisions a future with the freedom to follow her heart.
Liam’s father isn’t convinced Laxshmi is “The One” and Laxshmi’s mother won’t even let her talk to their handsome new neighbor. Will Liam and Laxshmi defy expectations and embrace a shared destiny? Or is the risk of choosing one’s own fate too great a price for the soulmated?
Excerpt

CHAPTER 1 – LIAMThey’re calling this a test?

Not even a ping grazed my mind as the five Elders tried to slip past my mental blocks and into my emotions. A sheen of sweat over William’s lip proved he wasn’t faring as well. Of all the cousins now come of age, William and I were the last to be sitting before the Elders. I’d have felt guilty for his not doing so well had he ever shown an interest in leading the family. But, we all knew he’d rather have his head in a library. Now his heart was with his wife Colleen. He at least seemed to have a choice about his fate.

I sighed. Not so for me.

“Are we boring you, Prince Liam?”

I snapped my eyes up to Elder Adebayo. He wore his trademark bow tie with a traditional fila atop his head. In the fraction of a second it took me to untangle the meaning from his heavy Nigerian accent, I’d blanked my expression and sat upright. The Elders sat along one side of an antique conference table, facing William and myself. The manor staff had rearranged the study to hold both the testing and signing-over ceremonies. Gone were the leather club chairs and stained glass lamps normally dotting the large space, giving it the air of a posh library. Now it seemed more an election-night headquarters, like the sort you saw on the telly, with bright lights and a gathering of family strewn about, waiting for the results. A photographer hung out in one corner, camera in hand. Not far from him stood a team of solicitors guarding rolling briefcases that were no doubt stuffed with legal documents for the victor to sign.

My throat-clearing echoed in the now silent room, and my cheeks warmed. “No, sir, not at all. Although, uh … I’d like to know when it is you’ll begin with me.” I pasted on an oh-so-innocent smirk and watched William shake his head and smother a grin. I shrugged at him, hoping to lighten the mood.

Four of the Elders cocked an eyebrow—all except for Elder Claire Brennan, our lone Irish representative. She leaned ever so slightly forward from where she sat at the center of the group.

So much for having a bit of craic.

The familiar knocking on my brain—like the distant sound of drums—told me someone had got past my first line of defenses with their probe. The rest of my mental blocks held up though. The corner of Brennan’s lip stretched upward. Toying with me, was she? I leaned back with a matching smile and loosened my tie. Mum and I were the only ones in the family who’d mastered the skill of probing and manipulation. A handy skill that, especially when the burden of the entire clan’s financial success might well be resting on my shoulders.

As if sensing the end of the ritual, Mum whispered to the house staff and pointed toward the main doors, directing them to begin preparations, most likely. She turned and nearly ran into a Mediterranean-looking man with a grotesque mole on his left cheek. He wasn’t a relation or a solicitor, so I assumed he was a council minister. Their stances were stiff, and despite being too far for me to hear, I sensed Mum’s replies seemed short and clipped. He moved around her, and on his way out, his eyes met mine. He lifted his lips in a smirk.

Arse.

My attention darted to Mum. She was smoothing out the front of her dress, and her shoulders heaved a time or two before she turned back to face the room. I mentally sent her my curiosity, but she ignored me with a smile. She did at least send me her love before she weaved herself into the crowd.

Within a few minutes, Elder Brennan squared her shoulders and opened the portfolio in front of her. The rest of the Elders relaxed back in their seats and passed her folded slips of paper.

Jaysus Christ. Thank you. This bleedin’ muck-up was about done.

After tallying the results, she stood with the help of a finely carved cane. Rumors about her age had always been entertaining—the last one I’d heard was that Claire Brennan was well over 140 years old. Apparently, documents as to her history had disappeared. Her regal manner and piercing blue eyes—the sort that’d make a gutless gobshite piss his pants—set her apart from the rest of the Elders. She now set those sights on me.

“Prince Liam, please stand. It is our unanimous decision that the Royal Empath House of O’Connor will now be led by you, Prince Liam Joseph O’Connor-Whelan, on this day, the

sixth of June, in the year 2015.” Flashes from the camera punctuated every other word, and spots began to form in front of my eyes. “You have proven your worth to lead your clan by exhibiting the strength of your empath skills to the satisfaction of the presiding group and by extension, the Council of Ministers.”

Brennan rattled on about allegiances and legal mandates, all of which bore down on me like the weight of history, dry and inescapable, yet … a bit liberating. Now we could stop our search and stay in Ireland—better of two evils and all that. I could make that happen now.

An explosion of clapping hands, and thumps on my back from a relieved-looking William, forced me to plaster a smile on my face.

Mum hurried over with open arms. “Darling! We’re so happy for you.” Da and my older brother Ciarán, a non-empath, followed, both decked out in a suit and tie. After her hug and kiss and Da’s pat on my back, they congratulated William on his effort and made room for the Elders to come around with their well-wishing. Ciarán smirked and punched my shoulder. The strobe-light effect of the flashes had me squinting.

Elder Santiago from Spain shook my hand. He sported a thick mustache and proudly wore his Catalonian flag pin on his lapel. He’d been wooing our clan for support in Catalonia’s bid for secession from Spain. Ciarán had thought it a good cause to be getting behind—especially if we beat another royal clan from doing so first. We had several holdings in Barcelona, after all. Now that it was my call to be making, a hasty decision didn’t seem wise. Santiago always had the look about him of a tapas dish drowning in olive oil.

He sidled closer. “Your strength is most impressive. And at the age of eighteen too. It is not hard to believe you will be the next soulmated empath, in truth. Some have doubts though, eh?”

He wants to discuss this now?

Da pointed to his own temple, stabbing at an unruly black curl. “No need for doubts. If I’ve seen it, it’s as good as true.”

I resisted rolling my eyes. Admitting I had my own doubts about Da’s visions wouldn’t be wise. “Time will tell, yeah?” No point kissing Elder arse.

The other Elders came one by one, congratulating me and posing for photos. Brennan was last. The crowd dispersed enough to give us a bubble of privacy. She tipped her head back and studied my face.

Without being able to read her blocked emotions, her body language was all I had to go on. A smile like before tugged at her lips.

I leaned in. “So were you toying with me earlier?” My bold question would either be living up to the liberties given to the heads of the four remaining Irish royal houses, or it’d be taken as the yipping of a whelp learning to growl. I hoped for the former and straightened up just in case.

“The test need only be as strong as the weakest candidate.” She curved her gloved hand around the crook of my elbow and turned me to face the patio. “Come now. Walk me outside.”

Leading an Elder outside for a private conversation wasn’t as nerve-racking as I’d thought. With her hand resting on my arm, she exuded an unexpected grandmotherly warmth. The stone patio ran the length of the building on this side of our manor home. It overlooked the meadows of our property—now mine—and with the cloudless days we’d had of late, the scent of heated earth surrounded us. I inhaled deeply. Definitely better here than returning to the States.

The few who lingered outside turned and meandered back to the study once they spotted us. Elder Brennan patted my arm, then released it, flattening her palms upon the balustrade, her ever-present white gloves in sharp contrast to the weathered stone.

Her gaze floated over the view. “It seems you are to have a very interesting future ahead of you.”

“Possibly.”

Her features relaxed with another one of her enigmatic smiles. “When will you be returning to America?”

“I’m thinking to stay here,” I said.

A disapproving frown appeared, and she tapped a sole finger on the stone.

How the hell was this any of her bloody business? I forced my expression to remain neutral and unclenched the hands I’d not realized I’d fisted. If only Da had kept his mouth shut over the years.

“Choices are a funny thing, Prince Liam. We often treat them as black and white, but rarely are they.”

I pocketed my hands. What was I meant to say? Yes, Zen Master Brennan.

A breeze picked up and coaxed a few strands of her silver hair across her cheek. She tilted her face into the wind and closed her eyes. “You should return to your search.” She turned and pinned me with a stare.

“What? Why? Are you trying to boot me from Ireland? Away from the estate? Is something happening you’re hiding from me?”

She held up her hand. “The demesne will be in capable hands. Go now. Enjoy your celebration. Congratulations and happy eighteenth birthday.” With a nod, she summoned two of her gendarmes, who came to her side and escorted her down the patio.

Mum must have been watching because she rushed outside. “What did she want?” Her concerned gaze scanned my face as if to get a read on my emotions, but as usual, I had them blocked.

I rolled my shoulders and took a breath. “She wants us to go back to the States.”

Her mouth opened and closed.

I knew that look. “Just say it, Mum.”

“Your father had another vision during the night.”

I snorted. “Where now? Alaska?”

“Liam, you used to believe—”

“Do you think we’ll be seeing some actual igloos? We could even go to the North Pole and watch the ice cap melt—”

“What harm could one more year—?”

“Have you tried whale blubber, Mum? I hear it’s a right treat.”

An elderly couple came out onto the patio. With a huff, Mum crossed her arms and broadcast her emotions as clearly as any mother’s scowl would convey. Waves of her irritation registered in my mind like seaweed washing in and wrapping around my toes. I moved a few steps away and leaned over the balustrade, resting my forearms on the sunbaked stone. A good fifty yards out, a hare popped up to scan its surroundings and then chased a second one into the shrubbery.

After a few moments, Mum joined me. “We know this isn’t easy, Liam, but we’re doing it for you. We’ve sacrificed so much. Please understand.”

I ground my back teeth and straightened. So much for making it happen my way. “Fine. One more year.”

I stormed back into the study so the signing could begin, passing by several girls in long glittering dresses, tittering behind their fingers. No doubt my pain-in-the-arse brother had arranged for them to be here.

If the Elders knew about our search, so did the rest of the empath community. Speculation would be flowing like whiskey tonight, but it didn’t change the fact we’d not be finding our target in Ireland.

Want to read more? Shaila has chapter 2 on her website

 

As an unabashed lover of all things
happily-ever- after, Shaila’s younger self would finish reading Cinderella and
fling her copy across the room because it didn’t mention what happened next.
Now she writes from her home in the Carolinas and dreams up all sorts of
stories with epilogues. A member of the Romance Writers of America, she’s a
pharmacist by training, a medical office manager by day, and a writer by night.
She enjoys traveling, craft beer, and teas, and loves reading books—especially
in cozy window seats. You might find her sneaking in a few paragraphs at a red
light or connecting with other readers online at: www.shailapatelauthor.com
 
Find Shaila:

 

Giveaway Details:

 

3 winners will receive an eGalley of
SOULMATED. International.

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I love this quote, Diana
“I’m wondering what to read next.” — Matilda, Roald Dahl