Meet Marmalade

Marmalad Prize Rooster

Tyler stalked thru every last tent, and he literally crawled between them as well. Still no bird. And no one had seen any more roosters running around.

He checked out the main entrance and wished he hadn’t left his jacket in the pickup. A fine drizzle and diminishing light were going to make the next half of his search miserable. For Kolby, he would do this in his bare feet in the snow. She had kissed his face, and her lips had felt like clouds. He stepped out into the weather.

After a fruitless search that took longer than he wanted, and probably not half the time that was needed, Tyler returned empty-handed to the rooster tent.

Kolby sat on the table. Her torso and arms draped over the crate holding the smaller of the two roosters. Her dark hair, in a thick braid, hung limply over her shoulder. She wiped at her nose, still sniffling.

His heart broke to see her so sad. He had watched, from too far away, as she established herself as a Marans breeder. Her birds consistently produced the desired dark brown eggs. Her hens were full and fluffy with dark feathers, and the roosters were picture-book quality. To lose her spokesmodel and top show bird had to feel like a kick in the teeth.

And here he was again, watching her from too far away.

He would give anything to be her hero but he’d failed miserably.

“Kolby?” He didn’t want to startle her, didn’t want to cause her any more grief.

Her puffy red eyes lifted to meet his steady gaze. When she saw he had no bird in his arms, she didn’t smile the way she usually did when she saw him.

He shook his head and opened his empty arms. He was so sorry, so unbelievable sorry. He would give anything to see her smile again, but he was only able to deliver bad news.

Kolby rushed into his arms, holding onto him as fiercely as if he was the only person who could save her.

©2017 Lulu M Sylvian. Three French Cockerels from The Twelve Strippers of Christmas. Available October 2017

Meet Tom

Meet Tom. The Twelve Strippers of Christmas by Lulu M Sylvian

 

How’re you doing?” The man she’d inadvertently ogled had a square jaw lined with a thin beard, nice lips, and a voice like liquid chocolate. He gave Alexa a little upward nod of his head. It was a shapely head with close-cropped, tightly curled hair. He had everything nice, and that was why Alexa figured he had mesmerized her as he carried cases of beer and water from a delivery pallet on the sidewalk into a building.

No, no, I’m good,” she stammered. Oh my God, wrong answer stupid. And he’s wearing a Santa hat.

Red stocking cap with white pom-pom, tight jeans, and a T-shirt with the long sleeves pushed up. He didn’t seem to be bothered by the cold. Alexa sighed as she watched him pick up another box and disappear into the dark of the building. His jeans displayed his ass to perfection. He even whistled. Could he be any cuter?

You sure you don’t need anything?” he asked again. This time she registered hints of a British accent.

Just enjoying the show,” Alexa gushed.

By all means, enjoy away.” He rolled his shoulders, did an extra flex of bicep, and carried another box into the building.

Alexa’s brain, not firing on all cylinders, took a moment to realize that she had just come across as the vilest, most sexist pig ever. Had she been a man doing that to a woman, she should have been slapped. Instead, he flexed for her.

I just objectified you in a very demeaning manner, and you don’t mind?” she asked him after he jogged down the few steps to the sidewalk.

The man paused. Damn, he was tall. Then he shrugged. “It’s all part of the job. Look, if you want to objectify me without guilt and enjoy a real show, come by tonight. Doors open at eight.” He pointed to the marquee on the building behind him. Manfred’s Manly Male Review.

Oh. Right.” Alexa felt a little awkward, but she smiled. Alliteration always made her happy. Manfred should have used manifestation instead of review…more Ms that way. She had been ogling a stripper in his day wear, and he had just invited her to ogle him some more. “I think I just will.”

©2017 Lulu M Sylvian. Perfect Cup from The Twelve Strippers of Christmas. Available October 2017

 

Meet Seth

Meet Seth, The twelve Strippers of Christmas by Lulu M Sylvian

 

Bethy stared mournfully at the remnants of Christmas tree selections. The live trees were all dead and brown, and of the pre-lit trees, the only choices were too big and expensive or unnatural colors. She was not convinced this was going to be a good idea.

Seth tossed another box of frozen appetizer snacks in the cart. “I don’t know about you, but on Thursday I think snacks and movies all day sounds perfect.” His smile faded when he looked at her.

“Whats wrong, Bethy girl?”

Bethy sighed, the sweet and the bitter all mixed up into one. Seth already had a nickname for her, that made her heart soar. But the lack of tree options felt like a holiday kick in the backside. “No trees.”

“What do you mean no trees? There’s this one over here.” He gestured broadly at the huge example.

“Too big.”

“Okay, then we go avant-garde and get the white one and do all black and silver ornaments.”

Bethy giggled. “That sounds too chic for me.”

“Then we do white with candy colored ornaments. It will be festive.”

“A white tree? Will it work? Maybe no tree is best.” She shook her head skeptically.

“Of course it will work. It will be Whoville meets Willy Wonka. Ridiculous and sweet. C’mon.” Seth spun a pirouette in front of the tree then slid across the floor on his knees to be right in front of Bethy. “I’m begging, can we can we can we? Huh?”

Bethy’s face felt like it was going to crack in half with her smile. An older lady paused and said, “When a boy that good looking is on his knees in front of you, you had better say yes.”

Bethy started laughing. “Okay, okay, we can get the white tree.”

©2017 Lulu M Sylvian. Partridge in Her Pear Tree from The Twelve Strippers of Christmas. Available October 2017

Teaser Tuesday: All I Want

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Jason led Amy out of the restaurant. He dropped her hand and then he spun on the ball of his foot, completing several full turns. He stopped with a jump, planting his feet. “Whoo!”

“I guess you enjoyed your supper?” Amy ran after him as he danced down the street.

Jason leaped onto a planter before jumping and landing with another spin.

“If you were singing, I would think I’d been transported into a musical,” she said, looking up to Jason as he spun around a lamp pole.

He smiled down at her.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because you’re dancing up the street like a mad man.” She laughed.

Jason twirled and executed an undulating body wave before coming to a stop in front of Amy.

The breath caught in her throat as he merged their personal spaces. “You are music that makes me feel like dancing,” he confessed in a low whisper.

Amy expected her face to burst into flames with the heat of her flush, but instead it suddenly was cold and wet. She lifted her face to the sky to watch the sudden downpour overtake them.

She laughed. “It is like a musical, and now it’s raining.”

“You know what that means, don’t you?” Jason asked.

Amy shook her head.

“It means the hero gets to kiss the girl now.”

 

©2017 Lulu M Sylvian

Victoria Raschke, author interview

Victoria Raschke wrote her first short story at 10. Her mother said it was brilliant but pointed out she had written cereal” instead of serial.She still cant spell but did manage an M.A. in English from the University of Tennessee and a Culinary Arts degree from Nashville State Community College. Extensive travels in Eastern Europe led to spending a year in Slovenia, where her daydreams and upcoming book are set. Victoria lives in Knoxville with her cats and human family who really appreciate that culinary arts degree.

Who by Water is out today, links below for acquiring a copy!

Cover

If I were interviewing you for TV, is this a late night comedy show or a daytime talk show? Are we gonna have a lip-sync battle, or dance badly and give stuff away?

I think a late night talk show, something in between couch chatting and dancing badly.

This is your first novel with Griffyn Ink, have you been published previously?

I haven’t published a novel previously. I’ve had a couple poems published (ages ago) and I write for a beer magazine as my side, side gig.

Tell us a bit about Who by Water. How many books are planned for the Voices of the Dead?

Who by Water is an urban fantasy novel that colors outside the lines of urban fantasy. It isn’t set in London or L.A. or New York. It’s set in the small Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, and draws on Eastern European history but isn’t about vampires. The protagonist, Jo Wiley, is a fortysomething mom who refuses to act her age. Though there is a vein of romance, finding love isn’t Jo’s focus in life. It’s also in third person rather than first person, but the dialogue is still pretty snappy.

When I started thinking about the long arc of the series, I thought there were five books but when I finished WBW, I realized it was really better as a quartet. I’m about halfway through writing book two now.

When did you first get the urge to write?

In fifth grade, when my English teacher had us all write limericks and haiku. I’d kept a diary as soon as I could write sentences, but that was the first time I realized writing stuff other people would see was an option for me. It spurred a very bad mystery short story called “The Corporate Cleaners” about a janitor who discovers her murdered boss. I’m pretty sure it was a pastiche of Murder, She Wrote episodes or something like that.

Do you have a favorite author who inspired you to start writing?

There wasn’t an author who inspired that bad, fifth grade poetry, but there were several writers who inspired me to write more speculative fiction. I adore British sci-fi and fantasy writers: Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Warren Ellis, and Jasper Fforde. I’ve also always read mysteries and have spent the last few years actively seeking out women writing speculative fiction and mysteries because that list of British authors I love was all dudes.

If you could sit down and interview any fictional character, who would it be and why?

It’s probably cliché, but I would love to have a cup of tea with Dr. John Watson. I’m fascinated by sidekicks and how much they shape and steer protagonists. I love all the permutations of Watson’s character over the years in books, films, and television. My current favorite Watson is Lucy Liu’s portrayal on Elementary.

If you could sit down and interview any of your characters, who would it be and why?

I am all about the sidekicks, so I would probably interview Jo’s best friend and business partner Vesna Kos. She’s a bit of a still pond in the first book but her character and story develop more in the second book. Of all the characters in the series, she’d closest to being like me and I’m overly interested in getting into and rooting around in my own brain.

You used to be an instructor for a college culinary department. Do you have any plans on incorporating that into your writing?

There’s definitely some of that in Who by Water. Jo, Vesna, and Gregor own a punk teahouse together and there are kitchen scenes plucked straight out of my past in the restaurant industry. Jo is obsessed with Indian food and winds up eating or cooking it at some point in both books to date.

As someone who knows how to make good foods, which makes you cringe more: blue foods or bright red foods?

Definitely blue food. There is no natural food that color – not even blueberries. They’re purple. My family laughs at me because I love M&Ms but I pick the blue ones out.

What’s higher up on your list of things-I-would-buy-when-I-start-making-all-the-money-from-my-books shoes or tattoos?

Definitely tattoos. I have one, a seagull for my mom and the women in my family. I already have ideas for ones for writing, Slovenia, and ginkgo trees. Don’t get me wrong, I love shoes but I’m practical about them.

The first time we met, you had recently returned from Slovenia, and you just returned a few weeks ago again. How many times have you visited Solvenia? Did visiting spark the idea for your novel, or did you first visit as research for your novel?

I studied at the University of Ljubljana in the early 1990s when Slovenia was a brand-spanking new country. I lived there for about 15 months during very formative years and always carried that time around with me. Life intervened in a big way and it took me about 20 years to go back. In the last four years I’ve been three times and am perpetually planning a way to go back again.

When I went back the first time, I thought I was going to write a memoir about that formative experience there. I did write it but it’s god awful and will probably live in a virtual drawer forever. I’ve joked with my son that he can publish it after I’m dead. When I went back the second time, I was touring Roman sites and had this vivid flash of a body on an ancient piece of mosaic floor. That sparked the novel.

Do you travel a lot? Any plans of joining the Traveler’s Century Club and visiting 100 countries?

I love to travel, as does my family, but I like to marinate in a place more than just going to say I’ve been there. A weekend or a whirlwind trip isn’t as interesting to me as the opportunity to spend weeks or months getting to know a place and absorb the rhythm. I feel like I could visit a place like London every year and still not really ever know London. I’ll probably never make it to 100 different countries just because I keep going back to the same places to try to figure them out. I’d also really like to improve my Slovenian which seems to only get better when I’m there as I’m too lazy to practice much at home.

 

Victoria Raschke headshot

I’ve included the opening chapter. It sets the scene and tone for the book and therefore has the setup built right in. 

Who By Water Final [Excerpt]
click to download the first two chapters

 


 

Victoria is totally cool, you need to follow her on ALL the social media outlets!

Blog: victoriaraschke.com or readvictoria.com

There’s also an easter egg blog that Jo “keeps” for the shop: www.jowiley.si if you think it makes sense to include that somewhere.

Preorder the paperback on Amazon

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Autographed copies

facebook: https://www.facebook.com/victoriaraschkeauthor/

twitter: https://twitter.com/vraschke

pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/vraschke/

Interview with author D.B. Sieders

3wishes

So, if we were sitting somewhere out with drinks having a conversation, are we at a bar or are we at a coffee shop? Just so we know the mood for the rest of this. And what would you be drinking?

Oh, we’re at a bar, a very specific bar in Nashville called Holland House. They have amaaaaaaazing cocktails. If I’m not having something seasonal, I’ll be drinking the Blood and Sand (Pig’s Nose Scotch, Chai Vermouth, Orange Juice, Cherry Heering) – I don’t know much about all of the fancy-schmancy spirits in the mix, but I do know it’s tasty and that I’ll be feeling no pain after one.

And I won’t be driving. Safety first, boys and girls.

What do you write? What have you written, and what’s the next thing we can expect from you?

I started with contemporary romance and have done a couple of contemporary romance microstories for anthologies, but I’m more at home in the paranormal romance/urban fantasy genre. My big projects include the Southern Elemental Guardians Paranormal Romance Series and a soon-to-be-published Urban Fantasy Series. I need to come up with a title for the series before my publisher shoots me, but I’m still brainstorming. Waking the Dead is the first book in that series and the first book I ever wrote. I thought I was going to sit down and write a short story back in 2008. Boy was I wrong! And I’m glad!

In the Southern Elemental Guardians, Bruce, hero of Firestorm, and resident smart-ass in the other books is my favorite. Where did he come from? As a character did he just fill a need, or did he stroll in open his arms wide and say he was the answer to all your problems–ok that last bit is totally how I picture it, but what really happened?

Bruce is one of those characters who appears out of nowhere, comes and goes as he damned well pleases, and steals every scene he’s in. He was part of a subplot in Book 1, and he just came to life as I stared at my computer screen thinking, “What the hell? Who are you and what are you doing in my scene, man?” I had no choice but to sit back, follow his lead, and let him add humor, heart, and a bit of whimsy to Book 1, and then Book 2, and Book 3 (his own – also figures big in Novella 2.5). He’s already weaseled his way into Book 4 and will probably just keep on popping up because that’s just how he rolls. He’ll tell you that he has the answers to all of your problems—and as an empath and purveyor of happiness and light, he probably does (the cheeky bastard)—but he won’t just tell you. He’s all about the journey, meaning you take the journey and he cheers you on/wheedles you/watches you fall/picks you up along the way.

Yeah, I love him. Don’t tell him, though. It’ll go to his big fat head.

I’ll include a little excerpt from Firestorm (Southern Elemental Guardians Book 3) at the end so your readers can get a sample of the Bruce experience.

Where do your ideas come from?

Hmm, on some level they come from my long-standing fascination with mythological creatures and tales of gods and goddesses of old. I rather like the older notions of divinities as flawed entities that represented all of the best and worst of humanity. I love what old myths can tell us about the people who once embraced them. That’s definitely where the supernatural stuff comes from, which is weird given my uber-rational/skeptical brain. Then again, I see them as metaphor and that’s how I use them. On a psychological level, it’s kind of a safe place to explore scary experiences and ideas. I do more of that in Waking the Dead. Of course, every character a writer conjures has to be some part of herself or himself. I can see that in my work for sure!

Not to sound crazy, but do your characters talk to you? Do they contribute to their stories or do control everything about them?

See above with Bruce. Most of the time they just appear. When I’m writing the first scene (total pantser here), I get am image of the character doing something while they’re thinking. I get to be a voyeur as they go about their business, and they’ll reveal something to me that’ll be important to their story. That’s how it usually works. If I already know a character from a previous book (side character or character who’s come back to help/hinder the protags of a subsequent book), it’s easier to dig in because I already know that character and have a good idea of the motivation and obstacles. With a new character, it’s wonderful and exciting to “meet them.” Take Vance Idol from SEG Book 1. He showed up sitting on stage in an empty venue, looking wounded and sexy (as rock stars do), as he played and sang with his whole heart and soul. It was beautiful, but there was no joy in it. All of that talent and he just…didn’t seem to care. It made me mad. And, by extension, it infuriated his heroine, a mermaid who couldn’t sing because of her deadly siren call and would give ANYTHING to have the freedom he had. That’s how it started with Book 1. Seems to be my process.

For your day job you are a heavy duty medical scientist, how do you mesh your worlds of science by day and author of magic and myth by night? Do you have any internal conflicts as a scientist when it comes to writing about the supernatural?

It’s a strange dichotomy, but I’m lucky that it doesn’t come with conflicts. A wise person once told me that today’s magic is tomorrow’s science (AJ Scudiere), so I figure there’s a logical explanation behind the mermaids, dryads, flying men, and Phoenix I write about even if I don’t yet understand it. I even have a few characters in Book 2 who are working to map genetic similarities and differences between shapeshifting merfolk, humans, and hybrids. Maybe they’ll tell me what they find out someday, and then I can tell you.

Have you been able to integrate your real world thesis work into your fictional world? Is that something you have thought about?

Oh, man, I TOTALLY did that in my first published work, Red Shoes for Lab Blues. Cancer researcher juggling biomedical research with a social life? Yeah, that one’s close to home. It was fun, but I’ll tell you, writing something that close to what I do was a challenge! My editor and betas had to help me cut out the mundane details of laboratory work that I included that, while interesting to me personally, were total pace killers. I may revisit the lab in a future story, but for now it’s more fun and easier to escape into fantastical worlds where I can make it up as I go along.

As an unapologetic feminist, how do you justify/defend being a romance author?

Women love sex, and feminists are no different. We love sex with men who are our equals and who view us as equals, so I *try* to write heroes who respect their heroines. Consent is a must, and often enough my heroes ask for it directly or make certain their ladies are on board with the program. They respect the heroine’s intelligence and work with them rather than trying to think or act for them. That’s sexy as hell. Plus, often enough, my heroines are the powerful paranormal creatures falling for mortal/hybrid men. I love that twist and I hope readers enjoy it as well.

When did you start knowing you wanted to be an author?

Around 2008, when I figured out my short story was going to be longer—like maybe 2-3 books!

Can you remember the first romance novel you read?

I don’t know if it was the first, but an early one that really sticks out for me is Montana Sky by Nora Roberts. It made a pretty big impression and I became enchanted with the romance genre after that.

Where you a big reader as a kid and teen? What do you like to read?

HUGE reader! I loved (and still love) Stephen King. Right now I read an eclectic mix of romance (all genres), mysteries and thrillers, and nonfiction related to my field and personal interests. I’m in the middle of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and HIGHLY recommend it. It’s a great (true) story that touches on cancer research, medical ethics, issues of class, race, politics, and the molecular genetic revolution that does and will continue to affect us all.

Tesla or Edison?

Tesla! He was robbed. Big time. Didn’t seem to have Edison’s PR skills, at least from what I’ve read. Plus, as a fan of The Oatmeal, I have a Tesla bias.

How much time do you get to focus on writing, actual writing? About how many manuscripts do you average in a year?

Wow, that’s a tough one. I don’t have a set schedule (advantage of being Indie/Small Press), but I try to write a little bit each day after 8:00 pm and whenever I can squeeze in more words throughout the day. If I have a deadline, I tend to do lots of sprints and exhaust myself. If not, I take my time. I actually had 2 ½ books written in SEG before I started publishing, along with 2 ½ novels from another series and a half-written Rom Com. This year, I wrote 2 novellas from scratch, finished one novel, revised and edited another, and am 1/3 finished with another SEG Book. I published 2 novels and 2 novellas this year, so 2016 has probably been my most productive year.

Do you work on multiple ideas at a time, or do you focus on one story until it’s finished?

I used to work on multiple projects, but now that I’m focused on new material in a single series, I work on one project at a time.

Names are hard, your characters have great names. Do your characters show up with their names, or is that sometimes a struggle for you?

I STRUGGLE with names! Seriously bad at them, and often enough my publishing partners talk me into being sensible and changing difficult to pronounce ancient mythological names with more conventional names.

What’s your not so secret party trick?

Does making Sangria and other wonderful boozy concoctions count as a party trick?

(me: I’m pretty sure it does.)

Any hobbies?

Adult coloring books (including Psychedelic Marbles), kitchen experiments, and backyard bug hunts with Kid 2.0.

Do you model any of your characters off of any favorite actors or characters?

I do, but after the fact. The character comes first, then an actor/actress with those physical attributes or charisma.

Which would you prefer to have your books to be picked up for a feature film with theatrical release and be true to the story, or a cable TV series where they veer wildly off your established plot?

Ugh, that’s tough. I’d love to see an adaptation and, let’s be real, the cash would be awesome. But given what HBO did with True Blood after Season 3, um, yeah, I’d rather have an adaptation stay as true to the plot as possible.

What’s the funniest thing you have ever read/ seen?

That’s so hard, because I know LOTS of funny people (present company included) and spend way too much time on Facebook. The funniest thing I’ve seen recently is Granny Potty Mouth. Check her out. Seriously. You’ll pee your pants laughing! I want her to adopt me.

Oh, and someone keeps sending me really awesome/funny short stories about strippers. Good stuff!

Bio:

DB Sieders

Award-winning author D.B. Sieders was born and raised in East Tennessee and spent her childhood hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains, wading barefoot in creeks, and chasing salamanders, fish, and frogs. She and her family loved to tell stories while sitting around the campfire.

Those days of frog chasing sparked an interest in biology. She is a working scientist by day, but never lost her love of telling stories. Now, she’s a purveyor of unconventional fantasy romance featuring strong heroines and the heroes who strive to match them. Her heroes and heroines face a healthy dose of angst as they strive for redemption and a happily ever after, which everyone deserves.

D.B. Sieders lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband, two children, three cats, and her very active imagination.

You can find her on her Website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

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Firestorm Excerpt

Can your brother fly?” he yelled over his shoulder, surprised and pleased that Sera had followed him rather than trying to escape or staying to sulk back at the clearing. He scanned the skies, reaching out with his senses, but he got nothing out of the ordinary.

No. We don’t fly. Too risky.”

Bruce snorted. “Right. Too risky to spread your own wings, but perfectly reasonable to strap yourself to a mortal and jump out of one of their flying machines.”

Uh-oh. Just got a little warmer.

The air vibrated around them with something akin to water on the verge of boiling. He turned to find Sera standing in the middle of the small clearing, stiff with tension, her brother’s urn in hand. Her eyes screwed shut and her lips pursed, she held her hands in tight fists at her side. Probably counting to ten. Maybe one thousand. He had that effect on most people and was self-actualized enough to admit it.

Oh well. She’d calm down. Eventually. Time was wasting.

It wasn’t the best plan, but it did have advantages,” she said, opening her eyes and staring him down with defiance.

Oh? Do tell.” Learning about this harebrained scheme might give him clues as to where and how it had gone wrong. “I doubt it was coincidence that a rogue hybrid interfered with your plans.”

Probably not,” she conceded, blowing out a breath and looking around. She bent and ran a gentle finger over one bit of scorched earth. Gods, the weight of her sadness nearly brought him to his knees, as did the reek of failure and regret. “Hawk masked his signature well. Almost as well as I can.”

Bruce shook off the vile taste of her negative emotions and tried to lighten the mood for both their sakes. “So you do have some skills. Concealing that level of power isn’t easy.”

She shrugged. “It’s what I’ve been doing since I was twelve. Brandt taught me as soon as my powers started to manifest. It’s probably why his trail’s gone cold. He’ll have gone into hiding.”

Who taught him to mask his power?”

Rising, she dusted bits of ash off the clothing she’d conjured, a tight, shimmering body suit of gold that accentuated subtle curves he hadn’t fully appreciated before. She wasn’t buxom, but her sleek, streamlined form would work well in flight and held a natural grace. The wings were gorgeous. Yeah, the ancient Phoenix race had been feared, but also held in awe and venerated. Bruce could see why.

He learned a bit from other elemental guardians, or so he told me,” she answered with some hesitance. “I think he disguised himself as a low-ranking Lampade hybrid and sought help with the basics. He didn’t like to talk about it. I think whoever helped him must have grown suspicious.”

So he could add Lampades to his list of elementals to investigate. A clue and more questions. So many questions. Where to begin?

Well, the beginning would probably be a good start. “Who and where are your parents? Why didn’t they train you? And how many others of your kind are there, anyway? As far as we knew, the Phoenix went extinct ages ago.”

She scanned the skies and scented the air. Good instincts, this one. He could train her in more than the basics given enough time. Whether that was a good idea or not remained to be seen.

We never knew our father or mother. Brandt rose from ash with little memory of a former life, assuming he had one. Whoever sired us left his urn, a book of instructions for hiding and surviving in the mortal world, and my ashes. I rose later.”

Why did your brother allow you to rise?” he asked. “Seems risky for a race as dangerous as you claim yours to be.”

Anger flared from her essence. Good. If he could get her to question the necessity of this death wish she harbored, maybe he could convince her to stop pursing it.

He needed me!”

Why?” he asked. Given the latest spike in temperature, he was probably pushing his luck. Still, pushing boundaries was one of the things he did best.

She threw her hands up in the air. “To help him, of course. He couldn’t scatter his own ashes after immolating.”

Defensive much? He wondered if she’d ever pondered the conundrum inherent in her logic. Only one way to find out. “If that’s true, who was supposed to scatter your ashes? Did he have a plan, or did he leave you to figure that one out on your own?”

I told Brandt I could manage. And I would have, too. I will,” she said, more to convince herself than him, he sensed. “I owed him that much. As you said, he let me rise, gave me a chance to live for a time. It was good for him, too, I think. He wasn’t alone anymore.”

And neither were you.

The sweetest tastes of love and devotion swept from her and he drank deeply, inhaling great gulps of the goodness that sustained him.

What are you doing?” She’d stepped closer, expression painted with curiosity and a smile of reminiscence on those full, enticing lips.

No use being coy. “Sylph, remember? We thrive on positivity and light. Keep thinking about your brother. It makes you taste much better and will keep you focused on finding him.”

Her eyes went wide and she took a step back. “Taste? You actually taste emotions? I thought it was more like an extra sense kind of thing. More…cerebral.”

Oh, wasn’t she just adorable when she blushed? Maybe he could deepen that enticing shade of rose flooding her cheeks. “Little sparrow, it’s more than just cerebral, I assure you. It’s soul-deep, visceral, and can be quite carnal, at least for me. I’m a bit of an anomaly. It’s a family trait.”

With the added bonus of a curse that heightened his sensitivities, but there was no need to bring that up and spoil the moment.

Ah, that’s the shade he was looking for. She bloomed crimson, his favorite color.

Then she frowned and his sweet treat disappeared.

So what happens when you get a taste of something less pleasant?”

Shit. He gave what he hoped was a casual wave of dismissal and said, “Meh. A little heartburn. No big deal.”

The look she gave him practically screamed “bullshit,” but fortunately something else caught her attention. “Look! Over there.”

Sera jogged past him and over to a cluster of shrubs. The rich flavors of exhilaration and triumph flowed from her as she lifted a brilliant crimson feather. “It’s his!” she cried. “He left a trail— that way!”

He shifted his gaze to the direction she pointed, but she was gone before he could blink. Running gave her a bit of momentum and her wings lifted her a few feet from the ground with each leaping bound as she ran down the trail. Bruce followed until they reached a small clearing.

The grass appeared undisturbed, as did the surrounding foliage. Still, Sera seemed to sense something. Blood ties or experience, perhaps. Best let her sort it out. She moved with more confidence and grace when focused, her intensity masking those horrid emotions that rumbled just beneath the surface. How fascinating she was, such a small, delicate form filled with such untapped power. What would it be like to taste her heat flesh to flesh? He might not survive the experience, but he’d die a happy Sylph.

She bent low to examine the ground. Oh, gods. She had a great ass, too.

He’d best stop ogling, though, before she caught him and sent a jolt of fire to his balls.

The wave of triumph that surged through her inspired a much more pleasant sensation in his balls and had his cock standing up to take notice, too. She unleashed a small flame, fortunately not in his direction, but into the center of the clearing. Orange and red flashed, then blue and white-hot flames emerged and flowed until the seared earth spelled symbols in black char. He didn’t recognize the symbols, but clearly Sera did.

He left me a message. ‘Save yourself and the book. I’ll find you.’”

She hesitated, confusion and mistrust emanating from her aura. Lots of symbols littered the ground. Too many for such a short message. “You may as well tell me the rest,” he said, and then added, “I gave you my solemn vow of protection, remember? Trust me, Serafina.”

She turned to face him, eyes narrowed and jaw clenched. “Can I trust you, Bruce?”

Uh-oh. “Why do you ask?”

Because the rest of Brandt’s message reads, ‘Don’t trust the Sylphs.’