Category Archives: Dionne’s books

My New Paranormal Cozy Mystery Series is Almost Here!

I’m alive! Yes, it’s official. I haven’t blogged in a very long time, but it’s only because life has been so busy. For those of you who don’t know, I’m an editor, author, mother of two, I run Booktastik, and I’m a part-time property valuer, plus I help my husband run his business. I’ve also recently taken up hapkido, because I’m trying to stay, or is that get, fit. It’s a losing battle, but I’m stubborn, so I’m not going down without a fight, literally. In the work-crazed madness that is my life, I’ve finally started writing consistently again.

There are some readers out there waiting for the next book in my epic fantasy series, The Rose of Nerine. I’m so sorry it’s not out yet, and I feel guilty, but I want it to be awesome, so it won’t be out until next year. I’ve more than half written that book, but it became a struggle. Life pressures, plus the pressure I put on myself to make it perfect had me stuck for words. I’d never believed in writers’ block before, but after suffering it for eighteen months, I realized it is totally a thing. A depressing, horrible cow of a thing. So in that time, around all my other commitments, I read, and I read, and I read. I discovered paranormal cozy mysteries, and I ended up reading a book a day. It was costing a fortune, so I decided, why not tell myself the story—it will take longer and it won’t cost me anything. And so I did :). I will be coming back to my epic fantasy, but I’m allowing myself a break to write some cozy mystery first.

The result of this decisions had my fingers flying over the keyboard. I wrote the first book in eleven days and the second in twenty. I’ve just started the third. I’ve almost finished final edits on the first book, which is coming out on the 29th of July. The second will go for first edits on 15th July and will be out on the 29th of August. I’m just waiting on the covers, which my awesome cover guy, Robert Baird is doing. I so can’t wait to see the final product, which will be totally original artwork. Eek!

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to introduce you to Lily, the main character in the Paranormal Investigation Bureau series. She’s a twenty-four-year-old Aussie photographer who finds out she’s a witch on the same day she discovers her brother’s been kidnapped, but he’s all the way over in the UK, in the quaint Kent village of Westerham. A witch from the Paranormal Investigation Bureau (PIB) turns up on her Sydney doorstep and convinces her to come with. They hop on a plane bound for the UK, and that’s where her adventure starts. I hope you’ll take this journey with her. So here are the first two chapters. And if you feel compelled to preorder it, it’s only 99 cents, and the links are after the sample. It’s available wide—Amazon, Kobo, iBooks (coming to Barnes & Noble soon). Enjoy!

WITCHNAPPED IN WESTERHAM

CHAPTER 1

The bride’s nasally whine cut through the string quartet’s soft music. “Hey, photographer, not there. Move that way a bit.” She waved a large knife, indicating where I should go, the glossy white ribbon tied around the handle rippling with her efforts. “Remind me again why I’m paying you when I’m giving all the direction?”

God help me, but I wanted to shove her face into the wedding cake. Deep breaths. I tried to smile while I took a step to the left. I looked through the viewfinder of my Nikon and assessed the shot. The whitewashed weatherboard walls and iron chandelier holding candles created a magical backdrop. So pretty.

“No! Oh my God, do I have to do everything myself?” she shrieked, and I started. The bride bore down on me, knife still in hand, and pushed my shoulder until I was situated exactly where she wanted.

Who said weddings were an easy way to earn money? The bride retreated to her spot next to the groom. At least he had the good grace to blush. I wondered if he was reassessing his choice of a life partner. Bad luck, buddy; you already put a ring on it. “Are we ready to cut the cake now?” she asked, heavily pencilled eyebrow raised, as if I’d been the one holding things up. Sheesh.

“Look this way,” I said, my eye twitching. The bride, Tracy, rolled her eyes. I guess I was stating the obvious, but her husband had been looking at her, so what was I supposed to do? They both turned to the camera, Tracy’s scowl quickly switching to a glowing smile. I snapped a few shots while they poised the tip of the knife on the icing then pushed the blade into the four-tiered work of art.

With Tracy occupied, I quickly stepped back to my original position and clicked away as they fed each other cake. Why hire me if you’re not going to trust my judgement? It wasn’t like I was the cheapest photographer out there, and I doubted Tracy had a degree in visual arts. Who’d come up with the “the customer is always right” saying? Honestly, most of the time, the customer had no idea about shot composition and lighting. A headache threatened as I thought about the editing suggestions that would be coming my way next week.

Her parents joined her, and her father leaned in for a hug. I quickly moved forward, focused the lens and clicked some close-ups. That would be an amazing shot—the emotion in his face brought tears to my eyes. I couldn’t wait to see it on my large desktop screen. Except…

I blinked and stopped clicking. I must be tired, because her father seemed see through, like I imagined a ghost would be. I could see Tracy’s mother through him. What the hell? I lowered the camera. And, of course, he was solid, normal again. I must need more coffee. Maybe Tracy’s whole crazy-bride thing had me so stressed that I was hallucinating.

Feedback exploded from the speaker system, destroying my hearing with laser precision. A giggle followed, and then a woman’s voice slurred out of the speakers. “Oopsie. Time to dance! Get your arses on the floor, peeps!” Taylor Swift blasted over the partygoers. So that was it for any conversation. I pulled my phone out of my back pocket and checked the screen. 8:45 p.m.: forty-five torturous minutes to go. At least the bride would be too busy to harass me, as her bridesmaids had dragged her onto the dance floor.

I slipped my phone back into my pocket and hoisted my camera in front of my face. This was probably one of my favourite parts of a wedding—the candid shots where everyone was having fun. Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned.

The bride’s father stood there, solid as ever, thank God. He even smiled. “Hi, Lily. I wanted to say thank you very much for today. You helped make this an incredible day for my daughter. I know she can get a little carried away sometimes.” He shrugged, as if to say “what are you gonna do?” Hmm, I could think of a few things. “Anyway, here’s an extra something to show our appreciation.” His smile was genuine when he handed me a white envelope. It all felt a bit Mafia.

“Um, thank you, Mr Papadakis. That’s very kind of you.” He had already paid me the full amount for the job via direct debit, but I could only assume this was extra cash. I really wanted to know how much, but I wasn’t sure if it was polite to open the envelope in front of him.

“It’s my pleasure. My wife and I can’t wait to see all the pictures. Thanks again.” He smiled and made his way to the dance floor to bust some moves with his daughter. What a nice dad.

I took a deep breath and fought an unexpected tear. If I ever got married, I didn’t have a dad to celebrate with, or a mum. They disappeared when I was fourteen, presumed dead. Maybe I would just avoid the whole “getting married” thing, then I wouldn’t have to worry about missing them being there. At least I still had my older brother, James. After my parents disappeared, he took care of me. Then later, he met and married a London girl. They lived just outside London, but he called me every week, and I knew I’d be getting a call later for my birthday. He’d been over there for six years, but he never forgot the important dates.

I nabbed the last of the shots for the night, said goodbye to the bride and groom without too much drama, then lugged my equipment to my Subaru and packed it into the back seat. Once behind the wheel, I locked the doors—one could never be too careful—and opened the envelope. I simulated a drum roll by vibrating my tongue on the roof of my mouth—okay, it didn’t sound anything like a drum roll, but it was better than nothing. My ears rang from the loud music, but the crinkle of the envelope opening was still loud in the quiet car. I held my breath as I pulled out the contents… green plastic notes, which meant, oh my God! One thousand Aussie dollars in hundreds.

“Woohoo!” I screamed. This called for a song. “Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday, dear Lily. Happy birthday to me!” Best present ever. One-thousand un-taxable dollars. I grinned. Maybe I could duck over to the UK sooner than I thought. This money was so going into my holiday/visit-my-brother fund. I turned the radio on and sung along with the latest pop tunes all the way home. Maybe turning twenty-four wasn’t so bad after all.

Except, I may have spoken too soon.

CHAPTER 2

 

I walked in my door at 10.45 p.m., and I was ready to go to sleep, but I didn’t want to miss James’s call. There was a hot shower with my name on it, after which I replied to a couple of texts from my friends wishing me happy birthday and begging me to come out with them, but I wasn’t in the mood. My birthday brought out the worst in me. I was normally a happy person, but depression came calling every birthday. It was easy to feel sorry for myself when I had no family to celebrate with. I missed the unconditional love I’d had when I was a kid—my parents’ and grandparents’ faces would light up when they saw me. The meals we’d have as a family, usually finished off with my grandmother’s apple strudel, were always a delicious feast with much arguing and laughter.

Comfy in my jammies, I settled onto my fawn-coloured couch and flicked through the channels. Yay that Bridesmaids was on, but boohoo that it only had twenty minutes left. It was my favourite comedy movie of all time. Maybe the universe was trying to make it up to me. I lay back on the couch, clutching my phone. At the end of the movie, I checked the iPhone screen. Nope, no calls, which I already knew, because the phone hadn’t rung, but I had to be sure, like sure, sure.

I yawned. 11.30 p.m., which made it 2.30 p.m. over in England. He should’ve called by now, unless he got caught up at work. Maybe there’d been a coding emergency, and all his company’s websites were down. That was more likely than him having forgotten, wasn’t it? Although, we all forget things sometimes. Disappointment settled over me. Tears burnt my overreacting eyes. Dammit, Lily, he’ll call. Stop being such a baby. I sniffled and wiped the heel of my hand over my eyes. No more crying.

Some other show called Dating Naked came on, where the contestants go on dates, you guessed it, naked. Oh, the horror of seeing people horse riding naked. Ew. I wouldn’t want to be the person cleaning that saddle afterwards. And I had no idea about anyone else, but the last thing I wanted to see on a first date was the guy’s junk, and trust me, I wasn’t a prude; it just wasn’t the most attractive part of a man. I was more of an “eyes and face” girl. Ah, late-night television, how you mock me. But I watched it, because it was better than staring at my phone. Okay, it wasn’t really, but whatever.

Shortly after 1:00 a.m., and two god-awful episodes of Dating Naked later, I fell asleep, clutching my silent phone.

Argh, morning. I turned my face away from the gross damp spot on my favourite cushion and wiped dribble off my face. There was nothing like waking up on the couch with an emotional hangover. I squinted and could just make out the time on my phone. No missed calls. No messages. It was too early for more disappointment. Time for coffee. Until my first coffee of the morning, I was only capable of grunts, but when James called, I’d have to do words.

I turned the machine on and filled the thingamajig—I had no idea what it was called, but that lack of knowledge didn’t affect my operating skills—with coffee grounds before screwing it into the main part of the machine. I pressed another button, but instead of hot water cascading through the grounds, sparks showered from the back of the machine.

“No!” I leaned over and ripped the plug from the wall, coughing through the smoke.

My coffee maker was dead. And what the hell? It was only twelve months old. I’d have to get the backup out—my stovetop percolator my grandmother left me when she died.

As I reached into the cupboard, my phone rang. It rang! Hmm, I didn’t recognise the number. Maybe James had trouble with his phone and had to borrow someone else’s?

“Hello?”

“Hello… Lily?” A woman’s voice broke through the static, and it sounded like Millicent.

“Hello, Millicent?”

“Lily, hello? Are you there? It’s—”

The line went dead. That was two deaths already this morning. Yes, they were metaphorical deaths, but the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end anyway, and I shuddered. Today was not looking good. Maybe I should’ve just gone back to bed.

However, I wasn’t a giver-uperrer, so I pressed redial. It rang, but as soon as someone answered, the line cut out. Hmm. The reception in my apartment was always fine, but I moved to the window anyway.

I pressed redial. This time, it didn’t even ring. I blew a raspberry, frustration lacing each droplet of spittle that flew from my tongue. Okay, then. Time to get dressed. I was failing at life this morning, so I’d let someone else make my coffee. The café down the street made a decent brew. Maybe I’d take a walk along the beach after I grabbed my coffee. That sounded like a plan.

I found black sports tights and a red T-shirt in my clean-clothes basket—I hated putting clothes away; it was so time-consuming and boring—and put them on. I dragged my sneakers out from under the bed and put them on too, grabbed my wallet, keys, and phone, and opened the door… to a slim, fifty-something-year-old woman in a grey suit, her hand poised to knock. Huh?

“Can I help you?” I couldn’t see any brochures, so I was probably pretty safe from a religious lecture—not that I hated religion; I was agnostic, and I believed in my right to live peacefully in un-annoyed bliss with my choice, just as I believed others had a right to their beliefs without me judging them and demanding they all become fence-sitters, like me.

Her stern gaze raked me from head to toe and back again. Was my appearance the cause of her frown—my T-shirt was a little creased—or was it her super-tight bun? Actually, I didn’t really want to find out.

“Look, I’m just on my way out, Ms…?”

“Angelica Constance DuPree, but Ma’am to you.” Okaaay. As well as being bossy, she had a refined English accent, which gave her words more gravity. She tipped her head back so her nose pointed higher: all the better to look down at me. “And you’re Lily Katerina Bianchi. You’re about what I expected.”

What was that supposed to mean? I blinked. My brain had nothing. Coffee. I needed coffee. Also, how did she know my name? I supposed she could have found it on the Internet. Was she a stalker? She could have a knife or something tucked into the back of her skirt under her suit jacket.

“…Ma’am, would you like to chat while we walk? I have to get… somewhere.” Coffee didn’t sound important enough a reason to rush outside, but believe me, it was almost life and death. I’d have a migraine by lunchtime if I missed my daily caffeine hit. I eased past her and shut my door, the deadbolt automatically locking in place. It would probably be safer to talk to her in public. She gave off a cranky and slightly scary vibe, to be honest, oh, and she knew my name; let’s not forget that.

“Very well, then. Once you get your coffee, we can come back here and talk. This is a matter to be discussed in private.”

Say again? How did she know I was going out for coffee? Did I look like a coffee junkie in withdrawals? Nah, someone suffering coffee withdrawals didn’t look like anything, at least not until I opened my car door, leaned out and threw up from a migraine. Yes, it had happened. More than once. Don’t judge me; Ma’am’s judgey glares were all I could take right now. Ooh, she was also looking smug, like she had one over on me. I suppose being able to mind-read would make you feel like that. I wanted to read minds, dammit! I didn’t really believe she could do that, did I?

Gah, I wanted coffee, like really, really badly, but this was crazy. I didn’t know this woman. I was not letting her tag along, but how to say it? I wasn’t usually one to speak my mind and be “difficult.” Which was probably what got most women into situations they wished they’d avoided. Maybe it was time to learn to annoy people and not worry.

“Look, Ma’am, I don’t know you, and I have no idea why you’re at my front door, or how you know my name. I suggest you tell me what you want now, and get it over with. Frankly, I don’t have the energy for weirdness today.”

She narrowed her eyes, probably assessing my likelihood of running before she could stab me. I edged towards the stairs, ready to sprint one floor down to freedom.

Ma’am rolled her eyes and sighed. “Honestly, Lily, what are we going to do with you? I’m not here to hurt you; I’m here to protect and guide you.”

And that didn’t sound freaking weird at all. Stuff it. I took off, bounding down the stairs two at a time until I was out the door, on the footpath, in public. Safe.

The sun shone on a cool morning, and it looked like the day was going to be gorgeous—weather wise, at least. It may have been rude of me to just leave like that, but I preferred to be safe now rather than dead. And that’s not an overreaction. Trust your gut was one of those sayings I lived by. If I was wrong about Ma’am, I could always apologise later, and we’d laugh about it. Yep, or she wouldn’t laugh and hold it against me forever.

I hurried along the footpath, past an assortment of unit blocks, from red-brick two-storey ones to rendered brick twelve-storey ones. Monday morning brought out a mixture of joggers, surfers, and people dressed for work. I crossed at the traffic lights and soon reached Surfer’s Brew. The delectable fragrance of fresh coffee swirled around me. I breathed it in and sighed. Ah. That was more like it.

Just before entering, I looked back. No sign of my weirdo morning visitor. Maybe my morning was improving. I smiled and stepped up to the counter. “Morning, Frances. Can I get a regular skim cap?” I didn’t get coffee here every day—because I had my coffee machine, or used to have—how depressing—but I visited regularly enough that they knew me. Sometimes I wanted something frothy with chocolate on the top, and I was too lazy to do that at home.

Frances was in her mid-thirties, had gorgeous straight blonde hair, which was pulled back in a sleek ponytail, and an infectious smile. “Hey, chicky. Coming right up. A little birdie told me it was your birthday yesterday. Happy birthday!” She banged used coffee grounds out of the thingamajig and filled it with new ones.

“Aw, thanks. Did you run into the girls last night?” The girls being my besties, Sophie and Michelle.

“Yep. How come you weren’t there? They told me you piked.” She screwed the thingamajig into the machine and pressed the button. And wouldn’t you know, it worked. I wish my machine still worked.

“Big day photographing a wedding. One drink and I would have fallen asleep.” I laughed—it wasn’t too far from the truth. So what if I left out the bit where I had a pity party because my brother hadn’t called. I’d try calling him later. Knowing him, he had a good reason for missing my birthday, and I would keep reminding myself until I knew for sure.

Frances frothed the milk and poured it into the coffee before sprinkling lots of chocolate on the top—she did extra for me, because it was my favourite part. Then she did some magic with a spoon and made a cute little heart on the top of the froth. “There you go.” She smiled, and I handed her four dollars—coffee habits didn’t come cheap.

“Thanks. You’re a lifesaver. See you later.” I waved. She waved. The usual. I stopped just outside the shop, unpopped the lid and licked the chocolatey goodness off it before taking a sip. Heaven. The simple things were really the best.

I replaced the lid and started down the street, contemplating whether I should return to my apartment, and possibly run into Ma’am, or go for that walk. There was nothing like a stroll on the beach to settle my mind. The rolling surf was calming. During summer, I’d go body surfing, but the water was a bit cool now, and I was the first to admit, I was soft.

Hmm, if I went back now and had to deal with Ms Crazy-pants, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my coffee properly. That was an easy decision: walk it was!

But since when was life that easy?

I reached the end of the path and the beginning of the sand. Salty sea spray hazed the air, seagulls wheeled overhead, and the sun warmed my face. Surfers bobbed in the water, waiting for the next wave, and a young mother watched her two kids build a sandcastle. Before I could absorb the peace of the scene, I noticed something, or rather someone, that was out of place: a woman in a drab but well-tailored business suit and low heels with her arms crossed in front of her chest and another self-satisfied smile. Seemed like she only had two expressions: pissed off and smug. I breathed in deeply, and when I exhaled, my serenity went with it. Wasn’t it supposed to work the other way around?

“You can run, but you can’t hide.” Great, she was intimidating me with clichés.

“On a scale of one to ten, your creep factor is about an eight. Think you could tone it down?”

She smiled. It could have even been genuine this time. “At least you have some spunk. You’re going to need it, missy.” Her expression morphed into sad then quickly into serious.

I sipped my coffee. I had a feeling I was going to need all the caffeine support I could get before she was done with me.

Angelica nodded. “Unfortunately, you’re right.”

Not again with the mind reading. How was she doing that? “Can you please tell me what you want?”

“Look, we don’t have time to dilly-dally. You appear strong enough, at least, and there’s no way to say this nicely, so I’ll just say it. Your brother, James, is missing. He disappeared seven days ago.”

No amount of coffee could have prepared me for that. My stomach fell as fast as my cup. It hit the ground, still half full, dammit. The lid came off, splashing brown liquid on my runners and shins. A chill sluiced the sun’s warmth from my arms like the reaper’s scythe, leaving goosebumps in its wake. I shivered.

I was transported back to the day my mum’s best friend sat James and me down and explained that our parents weren’t coming home. Ever again. I remembered James gripping my hand and squeezing for dear life. We’d held fast to each other since then, until he’d gone off to the UK. Tears spilled down my cheeks. I wanted to fall to the ground and curl into a ball, but making a scene wasn’t going to help. Was James’s disappearance somehow related to my parents’? Was I next? No, don’t be stupid, Lily. Coincidences exist. That’s all it is.

Ma’am stepped closer and laid a stiff hand on my shoulder. She patted me awkwardly then dropped her hand. I appreciated the gesture: I wasn’t much of a hugger either. My personal space was just as important to me as my right to believe in nothing.

“You look a little pale, dear. I’m sure you have many questions. Let’s return to your apartment and grab your things. We have a plane to catch.”

What? “Where to?”

“Why, London of course. Then we’re driving to Westerham. You’re going to help us find your brother. Hopefully he’s still alive.”

Hopefully? Nausea clutched my throat and squeezed. There was nothing I could do. Nothing. And who was “us”? Common sense wormed its way into my head, or was that avoidance? This wasn’t really happening, was it? I shook my head slowly and tried to clutch onto something normal, safe. “I have work to do, photos to edit. I can’t just leave.” Not that I didn’t want to find my brother, but this was beyond crazy. Was he really missing or was this some farce to kidnap me? Although I wasn’t really kidnap material—there was no one rich who would pay ransom to get me back. Although, my parents hadn’t been kidnap-worthy either, and they’d disappeared, and my brother? Deep breaths, Lily.

I bent and gathered the cup and lid. No matter how loopy things got, I wasn’t a litterbug.

“You can edit the photos on your laptop on the plane or when we get to England. I could even have your desktop delivered, if you’d like. I know this is hard to believe. Just bear with me, and I’ll explain everything while you’re packing. Come on.” She started walking towards my apartment block.

I shuffled along next to her, my legs heavy as if they were weighed down with lead boots. My gut told me she was telling the truth, so I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. I bit my lip to keep from crying. Now wasn’t the time to fall apart. My brother needed me.

And I never let down those I loved.

Never.

***

I hope you enjoyed this sample. You can preorder your ebook copy from: Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. The paperback will be out on the 29th too.

Thanks for stopping by :).

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Sneak Peak at WIP Little Dove—Book 1 of My New Fantasy Series

Sorry it’s been so long between posts. With work, kids, and running Booktastik, life has been hectic. I’ve also, finally (after much angst because I wasn’t writing) started working on the first book in my next fantasy series. I’m hoping the first draft will be finished by February with a release date at the end of March. So please cross your fingers for me :). I hope you enjoy this little teaser first chapter.

Laney is a princess dispossessed. Sworn to protect her world as a caretaker for the long-disappeared dragons, she lives a relatively idyllic life with her royal parents. But darkness is closer than they realize. After Tyrk the Destroyer kills her family, she is forced to flee to a neighbouring kingdom, revenge in her heart. But there are secrets even she isn’t privy to, and she is likely to learn about them the hard way.  Because now that Tyrk has taken her kingdom, he is preparing to destroy her world.

Little Dove

Chapter 1

Laney ran across the field, her breath burning in her throat. Billowing behind, her green dress left her ankles bare, allowing stiff stalks of yellow grass to whip and scratch her skin. Not far now. The leaden granite walls of the keep beckoned. She hoped she wasn’t too late.

In her mind, Frederick’s urgent parting words sounded. I have taught you all I can. The time has come. You must do everything in your power so that all is not lost. I fear the blood of the Varians has already been spilled. He had pushed her out of the door before he finished speaking, only to yell after her as she sprinted away. “Do not lose the bird, whatever you do!” She had hardly heard the last but knew the dove was her only salvation.

Glancing down, her eyes met those of the silver-colored bird at her waist. Its wings were secured with thick woollen twine, which wrapped around its body; its body secured in a netted pouch fastened to her dress. Warmth from the small bird radiated against her stomach. “It’s okay, bird. I won’t hurt you. You can trust me.” She panted, looking up. Almost upon her home, her feet slowed. What would she find? Was there a chance her family was still alive?

The guards standing tense at the spiked iron gates—black breastplates gleaming, hands resting on the pommels of swords hanging at their sides—were strangers. Frederick was right, she thought, they are dead. Laney swallowed the sorrow threatening to undo her. If only her brother hadn’t listened to their parents, the king and queen, when they forbade him and Laney from visiting Frederick, the strongest sorcerer in the small kingdom of Arbalion. Rumours had persisted for weeks about the foreign king’s march upon her father’s throne, and though King Bastian had sent a force he deemed sufficient to annul the threat, and word had reached them of their success at pushing Tyrk the Destroyer back, Frederick was one of the only people who had smelled falsity in such reports.

Laney had learned much, over warm deelvine tea, in her many illicit visits to the wise man’s cottage with her guard, Hazine. But had she learnt enough?

One of the dark-bearded guards, a soldier of Tyrk the Destroyer, turned his head toward Laney and spat. The shaggy-furred black dog at his feet looked at her, slowly stood and growled. Laney stopped, wishing she were invisible.

The soldier regarded the large animal before following its gaze. He would see her in three, two, one…. Now only yards away, Laney’s blue eyes connected with his. Desire and cruelty lit up his eyes — a look she had seen before — and twisted the corners of his mouth into a greedy smile. The bravado with which she had left Frederick’s fled, leaving her empty and frozen. She had envisaged herself striding into the keep, meeting her family’s bitterest foe on her own terms, but now all she could do was stand and wait as the enemy made confident strides toward her. Thankfully, he had bade the dog heel before he approached. I am a coward, she thought.

Resting her hand protectively over the bird, she trembled but met the man’s gaze. No words separated his upturned lips as he closed a rough hand around her slender arm. As he dragged her past the other milling guards, all fell silent. Laney heard gravel crunching beneath their feet and horses whinnying in the distance. They passed through the main gates into the outer courtyard then Laney felt firm stone underfoot, signalling their entry through secondary gates.

Felches, the bright blue beetles whose sustenance was the flesh of the dead, scurried across the inner courtyard, leading the way to the formal entry. When Laney looked down to negotiate the two steps to the main doors, she saw a dark stain of dried blood, the road the scavengers followed into the main hall.

Mamma. Pappa. Her legs lost strength, and she fell. The guard’s fingers dug painfully into her arm, jerking her upright before she hit the ground. She stumbled forward. Her shoes trod upon the recently warm vestiges of people she had known, and, as the soldier hauled her onward, half-digested food exploded from her mouth, covering the soldier’s black boots with barely recognizable splatters of milk, carrots and cheese. He stopped, dead. Turning swiftly, he dealt a backhand blow to her cheek, the force cracking her head to the side. Again, his grip prevented her from falling, and she cried as quietly as she could as the brute pulled her down the hall, towards the throne room. Reaching her free arm up to wipe her mouth, she remembered the bird and quickly lowered her hand to cover it.

The oak double doors to the throne room stood open. The man stopped at the entrance, shoving Laney down. Her knees slammed into the flagstone floor, and a cry escaped her. “Do not move.” The guard growled before approaching the throne and bowing. Muffled voices reached Laney, but she couldn’t make out what was said.

Breathing in a metallic tang, Laney sat back, bottom resting on her heels. Looking around, she hoped to see her parents, but also hoped not to. Her heart pounded. She gazed to her left, where a stone dragon deity stood — Avindar — wings outstretched, head almost touching the twenty-five foot ceiling, light gleaming off its polished black surface. Laney and her parents were sworn to the old ways, and Avindar represented their custodianship of the land and their promise to protect peace and fertility until the long-disappeared dragon race could return and claim their home. More of the black-breasted guards ringed the statue, mallets in hand. Oh, no. They’re going to destroy it!

Laney swallowed, and after hesitating, looked to her right, the vein in her neck beating so hard, she could feel it. Her sight rested on a pile of limp bodies thrown into the corner, clothes bloodstained, limbs tangled in a lifeless embrace. She blinked, her breath coming in short bursts. None of the corpses appeared to be wearing clothes she recognised as her parents’, but lying on the top of the macabre mound, she saw the long, black, plaited beard of her father’s chief guard, Lucas. His once stern, battle-scarred face was hidden by his burgonet, but Laney could see the fatal wound; a slice rent from his side: red, gaping, final. The fiercest of her father’s soldiers, he had always had a smile for the princess. Laney held back a sob.

The bird at her waist squirmed as a shadow fell across them. So engrossed in the horror of what she saw, she hadn’t heard the man approach. She looked up at the dark shape of her captor. He grabbed her arm once again and hauled her to her feet. Staying behind her this time, he jabbed his fingers into her back, prodding her forward until she stood at the foot of her father’s throne. She had never seen anyone sit there but her father, except when she was a child and her older brother, Marcus, pretended to be king as they played. Laney blinked back tears, squared her shoulders and looked Tyrk the Destroyer in the eyes.

Tyrk rose, his wide-chest and black cloak blocking Laney’s view of the Arbalian throne. Stepping down, he stood within touching distance of the young princess. Tyrk placed a hand on Laney’s shoulder, gripping harder and harder until he saw her wince. He relaxed his grip, but left his hand to rest on her slender frame. When Tyrk smiled, wrinkles fanned out from the corners of his dark eyes, like cracks shearing the surface of a frozen pond. “So, the little bird flies home. But, as you can see,” he gestured extravagantly with one arm until his hand waved towards the carnage Laney had seen piled in the corner, “you have arrived too late. Imagine; one day you are rejecting the marriage proposal of a prince, and the next, you are dead. Life’s funny like that.” He raised one arm, and Laney couldn’t help but flinch. Instead of the blow she expected, Tyrk waved to the men at the statue. “Darnil, attend me.”

A young man, Laney estimated his age at maybe twenty-five, approached, his face too stern for a young person, two short, deep lines marking the space between his brows. The thick beard that was cut in a straight line under his chin mirrored the color and style of the king’s. When he reached them and looked into her eyes, she could see the family resemblance—his dark eyes were as intense as his father’s, intense to the point of madness. The princess tried to hold his gaze, but discomfort won, and she looked to the ground.

“So, father, this is the bitch.” Darnil prodded Laney’s leg with his boot. “Not so smug now, are you, princess?” He raised his voice. “Look at me when I talk to you.”

Laney cringed, but brought her head up and looked at him. He would have been handsome, she thought, with his high cheekbones and thick hair, except for the unsettling twist of his mouth and dangerous glint in his eyes. Even though she knew she would soon die, she would rather that than marry him. Her father had agreed, thank Avindar, refusing Tyrk’s proposal on behalf of his son. Not four months later and Laney and her family were paying the price.

Tyrk watched his captive’s face. Laney blinked, but the usurper saw no tears in the wake of her lids. She stared at him without expression, although it took great self-control. Trained to keep her feelings hidden, she tucked her sorrow behind her heart, keeping it warm for later. She let it flow through her veins; the blood feeding her body with oxygen, the misery feeding her determination, determination she would surely need to accomplish what she was about to attempt.

The king squeezed on her collarbone again, so hard she expected to hear the crack of bone. He leaned down, his face inches from hers, his menacing voice so quiet that none but she could hear. “I know your little secret.” His breath smelled of wine. Laney coughed, disgusted to be breathing his recently expelled air. “You thought your alliance with Carthain would save you, but I’m coming for them, too. All they’ve worked so hard to protect will be mine. I know about Avindar’s Blessing, and I will have the Dragon Throne.” Taking his hand off the girl, Tyrk turned to the soldier who had dragged Laney in. “Let’s do this in the courtyard; I don’t want any more blood on the floor in here — I’d hate for it to stain. Bring her.” His stride was long and powerful, the set of his head arrogant.

What was this secret—Avindar’s Blessing? Laney had studied the Book of Avindar, and there had been no reference to any blessing in the nine-hundred pages. Her musings were interrupted by another bruising grip on her arm. She winced as the soldier jerked her to her feet.

As Laney was dragged to her death, she sent her thoughts to the wind. I’m not ready for this, Frederick. I don’t want to say good-bye. Nausea born of fear rolled through her stomach. A memory from two weeks ago came to her, and she saw her reflection in her bedroom mirror. She would never look into her own azure eyes again. Now, saying a final farewell to herself, she touched the smooth rise of her cheek, slipped a finger to trace her full lips, lips that had only kissed a boy once, and finished by reaching into the hidden pocket at the hip of her skirts.

Her unsteady fingers touched steel.

Reaching the courtyard, the red wetness upon the ground drew Laney’s attention. Thinking of her parents — her dead parents — the anticipation of revenge gave her the strength to close her fingers around the hilt of the dagger. When the guard stopped her in the middle of the courtyard by yanking her hair until her head snapped back painfully, she grunted and gripped the dagger even harder. What she wouldn’t give to slit his throat with it, but she wasn’t here for that. Don’t mess it up now, she chided herself.

He held her in that position for the scrutiny of a circle of sneering, road-stained soldiers. Laney stared at the sky and imagined what it would be like to escape into its cerulean heights.

Tyrk’s chin was tipped upwards as he took casual steps around the courtyard. Passing the soldiers, he looked each in the eyes before halting in front of Laney. Darnil stood by his side, a smirk on his face, hands clasped behind his back.

The king spoke louder than he had in the throne room, and his voice echoed off the courtyard walls, carrying a short way into the fields beyond. “You are about to witness the end to the royal Varian line. Standing before us is the youngest, and only, living child of the recently deceased King of Arbalian.” Tyrk paused to allow the audience’s laughter to subside. “Remember this day well, for this is what happens to those who refuse me. We will send you to the heavens, Little Dove. It will be quick — let no person say I am a king without mercy.”

Laney’s eyes widened momentarily. How does he know my father’s name for me? Her free-spirited ways as a child, following her brother and his friends climbing trees, participating in mock battles and championing injured animals had earned her the pet name of Little Dove.

The guard holding Laney’s hair released his grip. He put his mouth so close to her ear that the touch of his foul breath caused her to shiver. “King Tyrk likes to. . .” his tongue slid along her ear, “. . . to watch the life drain from the eyes.” Laney shivered involuntarily and gripped the dagger hard enough that her fingers ached.

The guard stepped away. Tyrk drew his sword from its sheath. The hiss as it left its scabbard seemed to Laney to be the loudest thing she had ever heard. Had Pappa thought the same thing before he was murdered?

Laney ignored her shaking fingers as she slid her hand from her pocket, adrenaline drying her mouth. One of the soldiers shouted, “She has a weapon!”

Laney rushed, almost dropping the dagger—she would only get one chance. She saw Tyrk’s eyes widen before he lunged his sword toward her stomach. She sliced the dagger across the bird’s bonds before dropping the blade to grab the dove, Frederick’s words in her mind: You must be touching the bird when your soul leaves your body. So much could go wrong, and the few seconds she had to consider it seemed an eternity.

Tyrk’s sword nicked the tip of the bird’s wing before splitting the fabric of Laney’s dress and piercing the porcelain skin of her stomach. Laney grunted. The bird fluttered in her hands as she tried to hold it, the pain of her injury almost too great to ignore.

The king held the princess’ shoulder, forcing her to stand while he stared into her eyes. Feeling cold and light-headed, yet strengthened by a blossoming flame of hatred as heady as the scent of one of her mother’s vermillion roses, she smiled and whispered, “You are wrong, usurper, the Varian line lives on.”

***

Tyrk’s grin as the verve in Laney’s eyes glazed to stillness was for the benefit of his soldiers—the truth in the girl’s words reaching his ears. What did she mean? Was there a relative they knew naught about?

Laney’s limp fingers fell to dangle at her sides. Scarlet bloomed, seeping into her dress, staining the green fabric black. The silver-colored bird, a red blemish upon its wing, was free. With frenzied flapping of desperate strokes, it sent a scatter of feathers to land softly upon the bloody ground.

Tyrk released his grip on Laney, dropped his sword and leapt for the bird, his hands catching the air beneath its swiftly rising form.

 

The bird flew—Laney’s awareness gazing out of its eyes, to look upon her home and the lifeless body of the young princess slumped in the courtyard. Deep sadness welled within her, the lack of avian tears a confirmation she no longer resided in human form. The castle’s towers and turrets receded as she soared west, to a different land. She cawed a final goodbye to her family.

 

Tyrk watched his men drag the girl’s body away. They would throw her on the substantial pile of dead already in the field beyond the castle, to be burned in two days. Wind, newly risen from the south, gusted into the yard, sending goose bumps slithering along his arms. Ignoring the chill that settled in his belly, he cast superstition aside. Omens are for the weak, he thought, before shivering. Striding into the cold embrace of his ill-gotten keep, he hadn’t noticed his youngest son watching, gray eyes peering from a second-floor window.

Erendol, tears grazing his face, whispered a promise so quiet it was barely the caress of breath over his lips. In that moment, in the smothering iron-laden seconds between one fate and the next, a traitor was born.

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Realm of Blood and Fire is Here!

realm-blood-fire_ebook_resized

This is a little post to let all those Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo readers know that Realm of Blood and Fire, the last book in the Circle of Talia trilogy, is out in five days! Amazon have, surprisingly, just made preorder available for everyone, so you can preorder it now if you click here.

Those who may ask why it was out in the iBooks stores first, well, they’ve been super supportive of my writing so I gave them a one-month exclusive on the book. I do admit to waiting anxiously for it to be available everywhere as I know there are a few readers ready to do damage to my person because it’s taking so long ;). If you’re one of those readers, your wait is almost over and I want to say thank you for being so patient. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

So, go now, click that link! Ciao :).

 

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It’s Incredible! Realm of Blood and Fire Cover Reveal

I’m taking a break from madly writing to reveal the most incredible cover I’ve had the fortune of having for one of my babies. The Circle of Talia series has awesome covers, done by Robert Baird, but he has outdone himself with the cover for the final book in the trilogy: Realm of Blood and Fire. I know it’s my cover, so I’m not exactly unbiased, but I think it’s one of the best covers I’ve ever seen for a fantasy book, and it’s mine, yay! (and yes, I made it huge in this post lol). Readers will be happy to see Flux and Phantom in the foreground. It was amazing for me to see some of my characters come to life on the cover.

realm-blood-fire_ebook_resized

Realm of Blood and Fire will be released on the 21st of July. The paperback will be available from Amazon but the ebook will only be on iBooks—I’ve given them a one-month exclusive because they have been extraordinarily supportive of me throughout my writing career and they let indie authors do preorders. Readers can preorder their copy by clicking on the cover image in this post. The ebook will be available from all other channels as of the 21st of August.

For those who are waiting for Realm of Blood and Fire, I would like to say thanks for giving my first book, Shadows of the Realm, a chance, and thank you to all those who have let me know how much they are loving the series. It will be sad to say goodbye to Bronwyn and the gang, but there is room to write another series later, if I miss them too much. And here’s the blurb:

While the realmists watch, powerless to intervene, the gormons lay waste to Talia, city by city, moving closer to Vellonia each day. As the final battle nears, The Circle can’t meet the conditions of the prophecy, and hope is dwindling. But even if they can unite Talia, the prophecy demands that someone be sacrificed. Can Bronwyn and Blayke do what they must — destroy those they love to save their world?

Don’t wait; run and preorder yours now! 🙂

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What … I’m a Must-Read Author? Woohoo!

If you hate people patting themselves on the back, leave now :). Well, it’s not just a case of that, but also of taking a moment to appreciate how far I’ve come and know that no matter how hard it gets in this writing game, someone values my work.

When I first started my writing journey, I dreamed of success, but my realistic hope was that a few people, outside the safe-haven of family and friends, would read my books. Well, I’ve achieved that with the added bonus that this month I was named by iTunes Australia as one of “10 Emerging Fantasy Authors You Must Read.”

That’s so exciting (well it is for me)! I’m so happy and can’t quite believe I get to say that someone’s said that about me. I’m sure you all know what I mean; you strive so long for something, and it’s your dream to be recognised as someone with at least a little bit of skill or talent and then one day someone does it in a very public way. Praise doesn’t come along every day — indeed sometimes it’s the opposite — so I’m going to enjoy it. Whenever I doubt myself, I can look at my screenshot and smile :).

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 10.54.57 AM

Thank you to the peeps at iTunes for giving me such an awesome accolade and for supporting indie authors alongside the traditionally published ones, and thank you to all the readers who have bought my books — I get excited every time I know someone new is going to read one of my books.

It’s time for me to go as I have to finish writing the third and last book in my fantasy series. Have a great day everyone!

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Close Call: A Doris & Jemma Vadgeventure Cover Reveal

Well, here it is, the moment I’ve been waiting for. My alter ego, Eloise March, has written something exciting, fresh and fun — think Bridget Jones Diary meets The Vagina Monologues. And now I get to reveal the most amazing cover done by awesome cover artist and graphic designer (among other things) and dear friend, Sol Pandiella-McLeod. So, here it is. Drum roll….

Doris jpeg ebook cover

Close Call: A Doris & Jemma Vadgeventure is chick lit, or as they now say, contemporary women’s comedy fiction. It’s the first of a series of novellas, each one it’s own story but with the same characters — kind of like a tv series. So, what is it about? Read on.

Twenty-two year-old Jemma can’t seem to get her life in order. Her track record with men stinks, she constantly worries about getting fat and ending up a spinster at thirty, and to top it off, she has to be a bridesmaid at her most-hated cousin’s wedding. She feels like her life is over, until Doris decides to help out. Who’s Doris? Doris is Jemma’s vagina and she thinks more of Jemma than her own brain does. Doris is on a mission to save Jemma from herself, but is the task too much for one vagina to handle?

If you’re as excited as I am, don’t worry; it will be available as an ebook and paperback from all the usual outlets on 1st December, 2013. Visit the Facebook page or twitter to get the links when it goes live.

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Little Dove—Epic Fantasy WIP

I wrote this short story to submit to fantasy magazines in the hope that I would gain some kind of recognition. After three rejections, and wonderful feedback from Aurealis Magazine, I’ve decided to abandon the farce that this is a short story. From the moment I wrote the first sentence, it seemed like something bigger. I have tweaked the ending to make it less like a short story, since I submitted. It is with great joy that I present the first chapter of the New Adult epic fantasy that I will be writing when the third book in The Circle of Talia series is finished. I hope you enjoy it :).

Little Dove 

Laney ran across the field, her breath burning in her throat. Billowing behind, her green dress left her ankles bare, allowing the stiff stalks of yellow grass to whip and scratch her skin. Not far now. The leaden granite walls of the keep beckoned. She hoped she wasn’t too late.

In her mind, Frederick’s urgent parting words sounded. I have taught you all I can. The time has come. You must do everything in your power so that all is not lost. I fear the blood of the Carthans has already been spilled. He had pushed her out of the door before he finished speaking, only to yell after her as she sprinted away. “Do not lose the bird, whatever you do.” She had hardly heard the last but knew this bird was her only salvation.

Glancing down, her eyes met those of the silver-coloured bird at her waist. Its wings were secured with thick woollen twine, which wrapped around its body; its body secured in a netted pouch fastened to her dress. She felt warmth from the small bird’s body radiate against her stomach. “It’s okay, bird. I won’t hurt you. You can trust me.” She panted, looking up. Almost upon her home, her feet slowed. What would she find? Was there a chance her family was still alive?

The guards standing tense at the spiked iron gates–black breastplates gleaming, hands resting on the pommels of swords hanging at their sides–were strangers. Frederick was right, she thought, they are dead. Laney swallowed the sorrow threatening to undo her. If only her brother hadn’t listened to their parents, the king and queen, when they forbade him and Laney from visiting Frederick, the strongest sorcerer in Arbalion. Rumours had persisted for weeks about the foreign king’s march upon her father’s throne, and Frederick was one of the only people who had taken it seriously or had offered a real solution–a solution her parents had feared. Laney had learnt much, over warm deelvine tea, in her many illicit visits to the wise man’s cottage. But had she learnt enough?

One of the bearded guards, a soldier of Tyrk the Destroyer, turned his head toward Laney and spat. Laney stopped, wishing she were invisible. He would see her in five, four, three…. Now only metres away, Laney’s blue eyes connected with his. Desire and cruelty lit up his eyes and twisted the corners of his mouth into a greedy smile. The bravado with which she had left Frederick’s fled, leaving her empty and frozen. She had envisaged herself striding into the keep, meeting her family’s bitterest foe on her own terms, but now all she could do was stand and wait as the enemy strode toward her. I am a coward, she thought.

Resting her hand protectively over the bird, she looked up, trembling but meeting the man’s gaze. No words separated his upturned lips as he closed a rough hand around her slender arm. As he dragged her past the other milling guards, all fell silent. Laney heard gravel crunching beneath their feet and horses whinnying in the distance. When she looked down to negotiate the two steps to the main doors, she saw that a dark stain of dried blood led the way into the main hall.

Mamma. Pappa. Her legs lost strength and she fell. The guard’s fingers dug painfully into her arm, jerking her upright before she hit the ground. She stumbled forward. Her shoes trod upon the recently warm vestiges of people she had known, and, as the soldier hauled her onward, half-digested food exploded from her mouth, covering the soldier’s black boots with barely recognizable splatters of milk, carrots and cheese. He stopped, dead. Turning swiftly, he dealt a backhand blow to her cheek, the force cracking her head to the side. Again, his grip prevented her from falling, and she cried as quietly as she could as the brute pulled her down the hall, towards the throne room.

The oak double doors to the throne room stood open. The man stopped at the entrance, shoving Laney down. Her knees slammed into the flagstone floor, and a cry escaped her. “Do not move,” the guard growled before approaching the throne and bowing. Muffled voices reached Laney, but she couldn’t make out what was said.

Breathing in a metallic tang, Laney sat back, bottom resting on her heels. Looking around, she hoped to see her parents, but also hoped not to. Her heart pounded. She gazed to her right, and her sight rested on a pile of limp bodies thrown into the corner, clothes bloodstained, limbs tangled in a lifeless embrace. She blinked, her breath coming in short bursts. None of the corpses appeared to be wearing clothes she recognised as her parents’, but, laying on the top of the macabre mound, she saw the long, black, plaited beard of her father’s chief guard, Lucas. His once stern, battle-scarred face was hidden by his burgonet, but Laney could see the fatal wound; a slice rent from his side: red, gaping, final. The fiercest of her father’s soldiers, he had always had a smile for the princess. Laney held back a sob.

The bird at her waist squirmed as a shadow fell across them. She looked up at the dark shape of her captor. He grabbed her arm once again and hauled her to her feet. Staying behind her this time, he jabbed his fingers into her back, prodding her forward until she stood at the foot of her father’s throne. Laney squared her shoulders and looked Tyrk the Destroyer in the eyes.

Tyrk rose, his wide-chest and black cloak blocking Laney’s view of the throne. Stepping down, he stood within touching distance of the young princess. Tyrk placed a hand on Laney’s shoulder, gripping harder and harder until he saw her wince. He relaxed his grip, but left his hand to rest on her slender frame. When Tyrk smiled, wrinkles fanned out from the corners of his dark eyes, like cracks shearing the surface of a frozen pond. “So, the little bird flies home. But, as you can see,” he gestured extravagantly with one arm until his hand waved towards the carnage Laney had seen piled in the corner, “you have arrived too late. Imagine that; one day you are rejecting the marriage proposal of a prince, and the next, you are dead. Life’s funny like that.”

Tyrk watched his captive’s face. Laney blinked, but the usurper saw no tears in the wake of her lids. She stared at him without expression and couldn’t believe she had once entertained her father’s idea when he suggested Laney marry the prince from Enderling. If he was anything like his father, the man who stood in front of her, Laney was sure death was preferable. Trained to keep her feelings hidden, she tucked her sorrow behind her heart, keeping it warm for later. She let it flow through her veins; the blood feeding her body with oxygen, the misery feeding her determination, determination she would surely need to accomplish what she was about to attempt.

Taking his hand off the girl, Tyrk turned to the soldier who had dragged Laney in. “Let’s do this in the courtyard; I don’t want any more blood on the floor in here–I’d hate for it to stain. Bring her.” His stride was long and powerful, the set of his head arrogant.

As Laney was subjected to another’s will, yet again, she sent her thoughts to the wind. I’m not ready for this, Frederick. I don’t want to say goodbye. A memory from two weeks ago came to her and she saw her reflection in her bedroom mirror. She would never look into her own azure eyes again. Saying a final farewell to herself, she touched the smooth rise of her cheek, slipped a finger to trace her full lips, lips that had never even kissed a boy and finished by reaching into the hidden pocket at the hip of her skirts.

Her unsteady fingers touched steel.

Reaching the courtyard, the red wetness upon the ground drew Laney’s attention. Thinking of her parents–her dead parents–gave her encouragement to close her fingers around the hilt of the dagger. Clutching it with renewed hope, she hardly flinched when the guard stopped her in the middle of the courtyard by yanking her hair until her head snapped back painfully. He held her in that position for the scrutiny of a circle of smirking, road-stained soldiers. Laney stared at the sky and imagined what it would be like to escape into its cerulean heights.

Tyrk took casual steps around the courtyard, passing the soldiers, looking each in the eyes, before halting in front of Laney. He spoke louder than in the throne room, and his voice echoed off the courtyard walls and carried a short way into the fields beyond. “You are about to witness the end to the royal Varian line. Standing before us is the youngest, and only, living child of the recently deceased King Varian.” Tyrk paused to allow the audience’s laughter to subside. “Remember this day well, for this is what happens to those who refuse me. We will send you to the heavens, little dove. It will be quick–let no person say I am a king without mercy.”

The guard holding Laney’s hair released his grip. He put his mouth so close to her ear that the touch of his foul breath caused her to shiver. “K-K King Tyrk, likes t-t to, to watch the life d-d-d drain from the eyes.”

Laney slid her hand from her pocket as Tyrk drew his sword from its sheath. One of the soldiers shouted, “She has a weapon!”

Laney rushed, almost dropping the dagger as she saw Tyrk’s eyes widen before he lunged his sword toward her stomach. She sliced the dagger across the bird’s bonds, Frederick’s words in her mind: You must be touching the bird when your soul leaves your body. So much could go wrong, and the few seconds she had to consider it seemed an eternity.

Tyrk’s sword nicked the tip of the bird’s wing before splitting the fabric of Laney’s dress and piercing the porcelain skin of her stomach. The bird fluttered in her hands as she tried to hold it, the pain of her injury almost too great to ignore.

The new king held the princess’ shoulder, forcing her to stand while he stared into her eyes. Feeling cold and light-headed, Laney smiled and whispered, “You are wrong, usurper, the Varian line lives on.”

Tyrk’s grin, as the verve in her eyes glazed to stillness, was for the benefit of his soldiers–the truth in the girl’s words reaching his ears. What did she mean? Was there a relative they knew naught about?

Laney’s limp fingers fell to dangle at her sides. Scarlet bloomed, seeping into her dress. The silver-coloured bird, a red blemish now upon it’s wing, squirmed free. With a frenzied flapping of desperate strokes, it sent a scatter of feathers to land softly upon the bloody ground.

Tyrk released his grip on Laney and his sword and leapt for the bird, his hands catching the air beneath its swiftly rising form.

The bird flew–Laney’s awareness gazing out of its eyes, to look upon her home and the lifeless body of the young princess slumped in the courtyard. Deep sadness welled within her, the lack of avian tears a confirmation that she no longer resided in human form. The castle’s towers and turrets receded as she soared west, to a new land. She cawed a final goodbye to her family.

Tyrk watched his men drag the girl’s body away, while wind, newly-risen from the south, gusted into the yard, sending goosebumps slithering along his arms. Ignoring the chill that settled in his belly, he cast superstition aside. Omens are for the weak, he thought, before shivering. Striding into the cold embrace of his ill-gotten keep, he hadn’t noticed his son watching, dark eyes peering from a second floor window. The teenager, tears grazing his face, whispered a promise, so quiet it was barely the caress of breath over his lips. In that moment, in the smothering iron-laden seconds between one fate and the next, a traitor, and hope, was born.

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