July is going to be a busy month! I’m heading to a conference, and I’m doing a book reading in Raleigh, and I’m moving. So lots of opportunities for you to hear a reading from Five Moons Rising, my new book. You can also check out the reading I did for The Lesbian Talk Show Podcast. But if you want to hear me live, keep on reading!

gclsI’ll be at the GCLS (that’s the Golden Crown Literary Society) Annual Convention in Chicago next week! I’m really looking forward to this. My first one was last year, and I feel a little better prepared for it this year. At least this time I know to leave room in my luggage for the books I’m going to pick up.

I’m participating in a panel called Not Your Mama’s Paranormal on Thursday, the 6th. This is one I’m really looking forward to. The other panelists are RG Emanuelle, Jeanine Hoffman, D. Jackson Leigh, Alex Westmore, and it’s being moderated by none other than Barbara Ann Wright!

My actual reading is the next day (the 7th for those following along at home). Last year’s experience was great. The audience was super engaged and asked fantastic questions. Best of all, I got to rub elbows with more authors, including the incomparable Lee Lynch (She told me she liked my reading and I about died right there!)

Then of course, there’s the author autograph session. That was fantastic! It was definitely a high point for me, and I’m an introvert. Sessions like that are usually my kryptonite, but the excitement of all the readers rushing around the room to get everyone’s signature, and those who were seeking out their favorite authors, well, it was contagious. I’m looking forward to it again this year.

lgbtlibrarySo that’s GCLS, but that’s not all! I’m doing a reading for the Queer Women’s Book Group at the LGBT Center of Raleigh, or as I like to call it the LGBT Library, since that’s how I know it best. Five Moons Rising is the book for July, so I get to meet with the group, do a reading and chat about the story. It sounds like it’s going to be pretty low key and super fun!

And then the move. We bought a house, so I get to move to my fifth address in five years. My wife promises me this is going to be the last one for a while. So even though I’m sick of moving, I’m excited to be heading to a more permanent address. And there’s the fact that not only am I down to a minimum of stuff (except for my workshop of cosplay-making stuff), I still have the original boxes I moved everything in the past few times. I don’t even have to relabel! So a couple of silver linings there, but I have to try to shoehorn this in around my other stuff.

That’s it for now! Keep it tuned, as I have some exciting news coming up in the next month or so (once the boxes are all unpacked).

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Five Moons Rising is out!!

That’s right, you can get it in your hot little hands. Right. Now! I’m excited (and a wee bit terrified), and I hope you are too.

This book was a long time coming for me. I first started writing it as part of NaNoWriMo. I knew I wanted to write something paranormal. Part of the fun of the paranormal universe is that there are so many different myths and legends to choose from and incorporate, and I was looking forward to doing that. I got to pick and choose what my beasties could do. For example, in this universe, werewolves are not negatively affected by silver. They don’t do much to discourage that assumption, though. Silver makes for crappy weapons, and they’re happy to keep would-be werewolf hunters at a disadvantage.

The other thing I wanted was to write something dark. There are certainly very dark moments in my On Deception’s Edge trilogy, but overall, I see it as a very hopeful story. This one was going to be different. I relished the chance to write about monsters of all stripes, including the human variety. As I wrote it, I came to realize that for my characters being a monster was about the choices they made, not whether or not they were human. I certainly wasn’t looking to make my supernatural creatures cuddly. (In this book, I use the term supranormal instead of supernatural. In terms of the story, it’s a term developed by the government that means those beings that are beyond or who transcend “normal.” After all, if supras are being kept under wraps, there can’t be people wandering around talking about the supernatural all the time.)

So I started writing. A lot. For those of you who aren’t aware, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. (My wife likes to refer to is as FroYoPoMo, though I can never get a straight answer as to exactly what that’s supposed to stand for.) Sadly, my plans for NaNoWriMo were derailed by life, as so often happens. That November was the same month my relationship of fourteen years ended. I had far less than the 50,000 words one has to write to “win” NaNo, but the timing simply wasn’t there.

The following year, things had calmed down significantly, so when November rolled around again, I dusted off the Five Moons Rising manuscript. To my surprise, I really liked what I’d written so far. The first couple of days of NaNo were spent reading it over, which put me at a deficit to begin with. For me, NaNo works best if I write about 1700 words a day. When I start slacking is when I get into trouble, and here I was slacking by getting into my own story. Still, I prevailed and was able to complete NaNoWriMo that year. I wrote my 50,000 words and was most of the way done with my manuscript. Those of you who have read my other work, you’ve probably realized that I don’t do short well. There was definitely some writing that had to be done to complete the story, but that was going to have to wait.

When I wrote my debut novel, Depths of Blue, I had no other demands on my writing time. In fact, I wrote the first draft of the entire trilogy back to back to back. Five Moons was my first experience of having to juggle multiple novels at various points in the publishing pipeline. While I was trying to finish up my latest manuscript, I had to put it aside to work on edits for Heights of Green. By the time I got back to Five Moons, I simply wanted to finish the manuscript. As a result, the pacing felt strange to me, and I really wasn’t certain if I’d written a decent story or not. I put the manuscript aside for a few weeks before starting on revisions, which is pretty typical for my writing process.

After getting the manuscript polished to the point where I felt I had a decent final draft, I sent it off to my publisher and promptly got sucked into edits for Vortex of Crimson, then working on some short stories before starting a new project. (Actually, I started a few new projects, but the one that stuck was Demon in the Machine. Look for that one next year.)

So imagine my surprise when I got Five Moons back for edits and I found that I really liked the story. I’d gotten so sick of it, and the experience of writing it had been so disjointed compared to my first go-around, that I was half convinced it was terrible. It turns out it wasn’t! The big problem during edits is that I’d find myself reading the story instead of working on changes. The more time I spent with Malice and Ruri, the more I fell in love with them all over again. And as usual, my editor (the incomparable Medora MacDougall) had excellent suggestions. With her help, Five Moons Rising became a book I knew I could truly be proud of.

So here she is, finally. My fourth-born, of whom I’m inordinately proud. I hope you’ll come to love her as much as I do.

 

bel-fivemoonsrisingFive Moons Rising, now out!

Unknown to regular citizens, nightmarish creatures lurk in the dark underbelly of human civilization. The presence of these supranormals (“supras”)—werewolves, vampires, demons—is a closely guarded government secret, as is the existence of a cadre of specially engineered Hunters charged with exterminating them.

Code-named Malice, Hunter Mary Alice Nolan was genetically modified and rigorously trained to use her great strength, heightened senses, and killer instincts to track and eliminate supras who prey on the innocent. A loner by choice, her only real link to the human world is her close connection to her mother and sister—until the unthinkable happens…
Ruri Samson has been a werewolf for more than a century and is comfortably situated as the Beta of her peaceful pack. Until she is betrayed by the woman she loves and an evil outsider massacres her Alpha and his most loyal followers. Barely escaping with her life, Ruri is forced to tread the perilous path of a lone wolf while vowing vengeance against the usurper and his minions.

Although these two powerful women should rightfully despise each other, fate will soon compel them to join forces on a dangerous quest to avenge their loved ones—and will ignite a forbidden passion that neither of them ever imagined.

Available directly from Bella Books or Amazon.

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Five Moons Rising, Meet the Characters: Ruri

No romance is complete without another main character. While Five Moons Rising may be paranormal fiction, there is a strong romantic subplot, and who better to play the counterpoint to dark and brooding Malice than Ruri Samson?

Ruri has been a werewolf for over a century. She knows her place in the world and she’s very content in it. Ruri is her pack’s Beta, and she has a knack for werewolf middle management. While she could probably have been Alpha to her own pack, she is happy in her role as Beta. She gets to do the fun stuff-taking care of her packmates, making sure their situation is stable and comfortable-without any of the pesky challenges and much fewer of the day-to-day dominance games that go along with being Alpha.

Above all, Ruri is responsible, so when things go terribly wrong and her Alpha is killed while her pack torn apart around her, she blames herself. Not only that, but she’s suddenly thrust into the human world as a lone wolf, with no pack bonds to fall back upon, and no experience being on her own in the 21st century. She has no official identity and no legal avenues through which to make money. All she has to keep herself focused is a thirst for revenge against the rogue Alpha who destroyed her life.

And then she crosses paths with Malice…


bel-fivemoonsrisingFive Moons Rising, out June 20, 2017

Unknown to regular citizens, nightmarish creatures lurk in the dark underbelly of human civilization. The presence of these supranormals (“supras”)—werewolves, vampires, demons—is a closely guarded government secret, as is the existence of a cadre of specially engineered Hunters charged with exterminating them.

Code-named Malice, Hunter Mary Alice Nolan was genetically modified and rigorously trained to use her great strength, heightened senses, and killer instincts to track and eliminate supras who prey on the innocent. A loner by choice, her only real link to the human world is her close connection to her mother and sister—until the unthinkable happens…
Ruri Samson has been a werewolf for more than a century and is comfortably situated as the Beta of her peaceful pack. Until she is betrayed by the woman she loves and an evil outsider massacres her Alpha and his most loyal followers. Barely escaping with her life, Ruri is forced to tread the perilous path of a lone wolf while vowing vengeance against the usurper and his minions.

Although these two powerful women should rightfully despise each other, fate will soon compel them to join forces on a dangerous quest to avenge their loved ones—and will ignite a forbidden passion that neither of them ever imagined.

Available directly from Bella Books or Amazon.

 

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Five Moons Rising, Meet the Characters: Malice

Holy crap, what happened to the time? I knew it had been a bit since  last posted, but I had no clue that was in February!

A lot has happened since then. I’ve been doing some custom work as a result of my Etsy store, so that’s been fun and interesting. It turns out that I’m not very good at estimating prices on first-run objects, so that’s been less good, but it’s meant some more money has been coming in.

I’ve also completed the final draft for my next-next release: Demon in the Machine. I actually sent that in to Bella Books yesterday, and on time no less, so yay there!

I managed to get the page proofs for Five Moons Rising taken care of also, which is good as that one is out in something like six weeks. Six weeks!!! (Or maybe less, I’m apparently not good with how time goes by, as we’ve just now established .)

Oh yeah, and I got a job. No big thing there. (It’s totally a big thing!) I’ve been unemployed since last August, so that one’s really a load off my mind. And no, I’m not making enough money from my writing to do that full time, so I’m safely in the same boat as the majority of the other writers out there.

But!!!

That’s not what I wanted to talk about today. As I mentioned, Five Moons Rising is out soon, which means I need to tell all of you a bit more about that project, and I thought I’d do that by introducing you to the characters.

So… Malice. How does one explain Malice?

To start, Malice is the code name for Mary Alice Nolan. She is a genetically-modified super soldier who is tasked with keeping the worst elements of the supranormal community in the greater Chicago area under control.

It turns out that our worst nightmares are real, and they inhabit a strange place between myth and real life. Werewolves, vampires, demons, and even faeries live in the seams of human society, doing their best to go undetected , and our government is happy to keep it that way. So happy, in fact, that they created a cadre of soldiers who make sure that those supras who may be on the edge of going rogue are taken out before humanity can confirm their existence.

These soldiers, called Hunters by the supra community, are few and far between. The process for creating them is long, grueling, and often deadly, and that’s just for getting the modifications. Once the Hunters are out in their communities, the mortality rate of their profession is pretty staggering, and there’s a high incidence of destructive behaviors that go along with this. These are people who live with one foot in the human world and the other in the supra world. To say that their lives are highly compartmentalized is an understatement.

Malice has managed to stay ahead of the curve. She isn’t dead, yet. Nor has she fallen into the clutches of addiction, but she doesn’t have the healthiest sex life. Since the establishment of personal relationships is frowned upon by her superiors, she’s coped by having a string of one night stands, but she’s starting to lose interest in those. What keeps her grounded is her relationship with her family. Any familial ties are a rarity among her group, but she’s especially lucky in that her sister lives in town. Her mother, Sophia, lives in New York, but little sister Cassidy moved out to Chicago for university. Mary Alice is as close with Cassidy as she’s able to be. They meet up for dinner or lunch once a week, except during mid-terms and finals.

So when the worst comes to pass, Mary Alice’s carefully balanced life is thrown into disarray. The parts of her life that she’s worked so hard to keep in their separate boxes start to become jumbled together. Her response to the crisis is logical, but not necessarily sane.

In Malice, I’ve created a character who is physically about as strong as she can be, but circumstances have created some pretty glaring weaknesses in her mental and emotional well-being. To a certain extent, she’s aware of these deficiencies, but she ends up in a very dark place as she works to hold together a life that is unraveling around her.

Malice is a take-charge, get-the-job-done kind of woman, but she’s about to find out there’s more to life than completing the task in front of her, and that sometimes even the right choices have devastating consequences.


bel-fivemoonsrisingFive Moons Rising, out June 20, 2017

Unknown to regular citizens, nightmarish creatures lurk in the dark underbelly of human civilization. The presence of these supranormals (“supras”)—werewolves, vampires, demons—is a closely guarded government secret, as is the existence of a cadre of specially engineered Hunters charged with exterminating them.

Code-named Malice, Hunter Mary Alice Nolan was genetically modified and rigorously trained to use her great strength, heightened senses, and killer instincts to track and eliminate supras who prey on the innocent. A loner by choice, her only real link to the human world is her close connection to her mother and sister—until the unthinkable happens…
Ruri Samson has been a werewolf for more than a century and is comfortably situated as the Beta of her peaceful pack. Until she is betrayed by the woman she loves and an evil outsider massacres her Alpha and his most loyal followers. Barely escaping with her life, Ruri is forced to tread the perilous path of a lone wolf while vowing vengeance against the usurper and his minions.

Although these two powerful women should rightfully despise each other, fate will soon compel them to join forces on a dangerous quest to avenge their loved ones—and will ignite a forbidden passion that neither of them ever imagined.

Available directly from Bella Books or Amazon.

Posted in Five Moons Rising | 2 Comments

What’s up in 2017?

bel-fivemoonsrisingWhat is up in 2017? As usual, I have lots of plans for my writing, and as usual, that’s the easy part. It’s becoming painfully obvious that the writing-adjacent stuff is as important as the actual-writing stuff, and I need to be more diligent about it, too.

So the writing stuff… This year, Five Moons Rising comes out. Already, I’ve been working with my editor on getting it polished up for publication in June. In fact, I returned the manuscript to her for the final time yesterday, now it goes to the proofers. I’m extremely excited about this one. It’s a departure from Jak and Torrin’s story, but I guarantee the readers will fall in love with Malice and Ruri like I did.

I’m also working my way through drafts of my next novel: Demon in the Machine. I don’t have a publication date for it yet, but I’m thinking either very late 2017 (which is probably a stretch), or more likely 2018 sometime. This one is a lot of fun. It’s not nearly as dark as my offerings to date, and since Five Moons does stray into rather dark territory on occasion, that’s probably a good thing. This one is steampunk set in Victorian London and features a half-demon archivist and a cat-burgling debutante.

I’m working on one short story right now, and I have plans for at least one more this year, maybe more. Like last year, these will probably be a combination of brand new characters/locations, and revisiting old worlds. That I’ll have to play by ear…

And of course, I’ll be starting another big project, once Demon is in the can and off to Bella. I have a lot of ideas (as usual), so picking one is going to be the hardest part. My little book of notes and ideas gets more and more full as time passes. If I ever lose it, I’m sunk.

Finally, the writing-adjacent stuff. On the fun end of the spectrum, I’ll be continuing to review books for The Lesbian Review, and I’m working with The Lesbian Talk Show on a new project! That’s right, Andi Marquette and I have teamed up to put on a podcast!! It’s called Lez Geek Out! and it explores where the lesbian community overlaps with popular/geek culture. Our first episode is up, and the next one should be out next week. I’m looking forward to this little adventure.

I’m going to the GCLS conference again this year! I had a really great time last year, and I got to meet lots of readers and fellow authors. This time, I’ll be going with a fresh new release, and I couldn’t be more excited!!!

On the less fun end of the spectrum is the beast I’ve been wrestling with since the publication of my first novel. That’s right, I still need to slay the marketing beast. But! I’ve been talking to people, and I have some ideas, so all I have to do now is implement them. Watch this space for an email newsletter. It’s my top priority once I get my current project put to bed.

So that’s it for me. I’m sure I’ll pick up some extra things as I go along, but for now, that’s the plan!

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2016 revisited

bel-vortexcrimson_2I wasn’t feeling too great about what I accomplished in 2016 until I took a look at what I actually did. Turns out I’ve been beating myself up for nothing, I actually got a decent amount of work done. There’s been a lot of upheaval in my life this year, what with a move across country, my current lack of a job, and the results of the election. This is why I do these posts. It’s easy to lose sight of what you’ve been working on when life happens.

So to recap, here was what I had planned for 2016:

  • Polish Five Moons Rising for delivery
  • Write a romantic short story for Bella
  • Write a freebie short to be posted here
  • Get Vortex of Crimson into shape for publication in October
  • Start a big new project for the second half of the year

I managed to get all that done, and then some! Five Moons Rising was delivered on time, even a couple days early, if I remember correctly. It’s currently slated to come out in June 2017, which is a bit of a bump back from its original release date of April 2017. That actually works pretty well with what else I have going on, so I’m not going to fret too much about it. My big hope is it comes out in time for the GCLS con, so I can do readings and some marketing then.

I wrote the romantic short story written for Bella. It ended up being called “The Getaway,” after a few title changes, and was published in Bella’s Happily Ever After anthology.

Not only did I get that freebie short story written, but I actually ended up writing two! The first is called “Touched,” and stands on its own. It’s pretty damn hot, but I hope it also makes the reader think. The second is “Landing Day,” and it’s a novelette featuring Jak and Torrin in their first major holiday together after the events of Vortex of Crimson. I had a lot of fun writing it. It felt like writing fanfic for my own characters. It’s been a while since I wrote those two, and getting to revisit them was fun. It also allowed me to start setting things up for more stories in that universe down the road. Was that a giant tease? Why, yes! Yes, it was. Anyway, they’re both available in PDF as free downloads. I’d like to get them converted to other formats so they’re more easily read on ereaders, but that’s yet to come, I’m afraid.

Vortex of Crimson did come out in October, so that was good. Less good was that I didn’t do all the marketing with it that I’d been planning. The election threw a wrench into a lot of things I was working on, and my marketing efforts, such as they are, took a big hit. So my biggest disappointment this year is in my inability to market myself under adverse conditions. It’s hard for me under the best of circumstances, but November definitely wasn’t that. So if you haven’t picked it up yet because you didn’t know about it, it’s out now! It’s the third book in the On Deception’s Edge trilogy. I know there are people who won’t start a series unless it’s finished, and this one is definitively done. Jak and Torrin’s story has come to a close (except for the little epilogue which is “Landing Day”), so you don’t have to worry that I’ll never finish it.

Finally, I more than started a new project for the second half of the year! I pretty much finished it too. My newest project, and one I’m currently working to get into submittable shape is Demon in the Machine. If you read my previous post planning for 2016, I had a few ideas for what the second big project was going to be. And I did none of them. This one is all new! Demon is steampunk set mainly in Victorian London. It features an opposites-attract romantic subplot between Briar: a half-demon archivist, and Isabella:  a high-society cat-burgling debutante. Their attraction grows at the intersection of a plot involving demonic forces and technological intrigue. They have no idea how high the stakes are, or how they’re going to handle the forces arrayed against them and the ones pulling them together. It’s great fun. I had a blast writing it. It’s much lighter than my previous novels have been. After Five Moons Rising, I was ready for a change of pace. Not that I didn’t have fun with Five Moons, but the story there is much darker.

So that’s what I was up to last year. Check in again when I try to wrap my arms around what 2017 will look like.

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Landing Day – Chapter 4

The fourth and final installment in Jak and Torrin’s holiday novelette, in which we find out exactly how big a mushball Torrin is.

The happiest of holidays to all my readers! I know 2016 was a rough year, but I’m thankful for each and every one of you. May 2017 be a far better year than the last one!


Chapter 4

Torrin was having second thoughts, which she didn’t care for at all. Jak already had one, hells she had two and access to others on the base. The gift idea that had seemed so genius to Torrin at the time ate away at her. Though from the way Jak kept eying the large brightly-wrapped package in the back seat of the car, she was intrigued. Covered as it was in traditional wrappings of yellow and orange, the box looked even bigger. There were other gifts piled back there, but Jak’s eyes had homed right in on her name on the tag.

Jak held a small pile of packages on her lap. She’d refused to let Torrin handle them, for which Torrin really couldn’t blame her, not after the way she’d tried to find out what she was getting the other day, not the number of times Jak had caught Torrin snooping about their flat. She hadn’t managed to discover Jak’s stash. Where had she been hiding them? Her smuggler’s sensibilities were highly offended. Torrin excelled at hiding loot, and uncovering it, but somehow Jak had managed to foil her highly developed instincts.

They arrived at her mothers’ house, the little bungalow nestled among sandy hills. Brown grasses showing only the occasional clump of green were all that was left of Irenya’s lawn during the dry season. It was a hot day, even for Nadi. The car’s interior had been nice and cool, but as soon as they opened the door, the heat enveloped them. It was so dry, any sweat evaporated off her skin immediately without cooling her anywhere near enough.

Irenya peered out the front door, then came out to meet them. The heat didn’t seem to bother her at all.

“Pass me some of those boxes,” she said to Torrin. “Let’s get you two inside as soon as possible.”

Jak had acclimated well enough to many things on Nadierzda, but the dry heat wasn’t one of them. She smiled gratefully and hurried up the walk. Torrin passed her mother enough boxes to be able to handle the rest. She made sure to hold on to Jak’s gift.

“Thanks,” Torrin said to Irenya.

“Don’t mention it,” Irenya replied. “I need your help to finish our present to Raisa.”

“Of course. How did you keep her away from the room?”

“It was easy enough. I claimed it as a place I could use to change out of my work clothes. I’ve been using it for months since you and I started talking about the project.”

“Clever.”

“We’ll see about that when she realizes I’ll be changing in the bedroom again.”

They were at the front door, so Torrin didn’t have to respond further. As soon as she stepped inside the tidy little house, she was swept into a hug by Raisa.

“Safe Landing, Torrin,” Raisa said.

“And to you, Raisa.” She shrugged to indicate her arms full of boxes. “Let me put these by the fountain and I’ll greet you properly.”

“When you get the chance.” Raisa gave her a final squeeze then let her go. “I’ve been told you’ll be helping your mother with a mysterious project. I’m to keep out of your way.” Her eyes sparkled with excitement.

They’d set up the fountain in the living room, in the same place it had been placed for as long as Torrin could remember. The fountain had been handed down to her mama from Tamra’s mama. It was one of the few reminders of her first wife that Irenya had kept, and all the more precious to her for it.

She took her time putting out the presents, while searching for her gift from Jak. There was nothing.

“You’re taking your time,” Jak said from the doorway. “Is everything all right?”

“She probably threw her back out.” Nat joined Jak by the door. She leaned against the frame. “I hear that happens a lot when you get older.”

“Very funny.” Torrin deliberately arranged a package just so, then stood up.

Jak watched her with wide-eyed innocence. Nat made no attempt to hide a wide grin.

“I need to help Mother with some things,” Torrin said with as much dignity as she could muster.

Nat stepped into the room. “Maybe we should open one present now.” Her eyes raked the pile of gaily-wrapped packages with poorly-concealed avarice. It was a line she used every year. She squatted in front of the presents.

“Not a chance,” Irenya said.

“But Mother, look at all that.” Nat’s outstretched arms took in the substantial pile. “How can you expect me to wait until after dinner?”

“It builds character.”

“They have this argument every year.” Torrin’s loud whisper to Jak was ignored by Nat and Irenya.

“I have more than enough character,” Nat said.

The words were the same as they’d been in previous years, but Irenya’s reaction was vastly different. She hesitated, her eyebrows knit together for a moment.

“One present then.”

Nat rocked back on her heels and turned to give Irenya a shocked glare. “I’m going to see if Mom needs help with the baking.” She brushed between Jak and Irenya in the doorway.

Jak and Torrin shared a look while Irenya reached toward Nat. She let her arm drop back to her side.

“I’ll check on her,” Jak said quietly.

Torrin nodded, and Jak followed in Nat’s wake. Nat didn’t take offense at what Jak said. She probably thought the sniper was the only one who understood.

“I can’t talk to her anymore,” Irenya said.

“She’s not mad at you, try to remember that.”

“I try, but it’s hard.” Torrin’s mother smiled bitterly. “It’s hard for me not to give it back to her when she gets angry.”

“I know.” Torrin reached around and draped an arm across Irenya’s shoulders. “I remember.” She squeezed gently to show she wasn’t trying to get in a dig. “You’re doing better this time.”

“Raisa’s a big help.” She straightened her back and dusted her hands off on her thighs. “We have work to do.” Irenya strode from the room, leaving Torrin to follow along in her wake.

There was much more work to do than Irenya had implied. To listen to her talk, it had sounded like she was almost finished. If the loom was even halfway assembled, Torrin would have been surprised. They had a lot of work to do if they were to be done by dinner. Torrin picked up a spanner and stepped into the fray.

As they worked, Torrin became uncomfortably aware that her mother was getting old. The sturdy muscles she’d developed over a lifetime of physical labor were still there, but they’d become ropey. Things simply took longer, which explained why there was so much to do on the loom. Torrin doubted Irenya had even noticed the decline. She’d put aside as much time as she’d normally needed for the project and was coming up short. Not that Torrin minded helping out. She liked to work with her hands, but if she’d known this was in the offing, she’d have brought her work gloves and coveralls.

The time passed quickly enough. Irenya responded with her typical monosyllabic answers when Torrin tried to engage her in conversation. Eventually, Torrin stopped trying, but she couldn’t take the refusal to chat personally. Irenya didn’t shut down conversation because she didn’t like Torrin, she simply didn’t like to talk. Torrin wished she’d realized that a couple decades ago. It would have saved her years of hurt feelings. Was this what growing up felt like? The ability to look at her parents’ actions and realize how little they had to do with her. For the first time, the silence between them didn’t feel awkward. Torrin hummed as she worked, a smile on her face.

By the time they finished, the sun had swung around to the back of the house and was barely kissing the horizon.

“Just in time for dinner,” Irenya said. She stretched broadly and rotated her neck until the joints popped loudly.

Torrin winced, she hated that sound. “I need a shower.”

“We both do. You take the one in the house, I’ll clean up quick in the outbuilding.”

When Torrin opened the door, the combined scents of goat and machinery lubricant in which they’d been laboring were wiped out by the smells of dinner. The top notes were savory, but she thought she could detect freshly-baked cookies and pudding beneath. She stood in the doorway, transported back to a time when she’d been young, when Landing Day had been the most anticipated time of the year, better even than the rodeo.

“Smells good, doesn’t it.” Irenya elbowed Torrin lightly in the side.

“It does.”

“Well, hurry up and shower so we can dig in. Sooner dinner’s done, sooner presents’ll be opened.” She looked behind her into the room. Irenya was as excited to give Raisa their gift as Torrin was to give Jak hers. Maybe. They shared a look of anticipation. “Go on.” Irenya pushed her out the door.

Torrin showered and changed in record time. The sonic shower made dealing with her hair a breeze, though it lacked the hedonistic pleasure of the water one she’d installed in their flat at Jak’s request. She had to borrow some of her mother’s clothes. They were a little short through the wrists and ankles and much more rustic than she preferred. No one would accuse Irenya of being fashion-forward. Still, the clothing would do for family. Torrin had nothing to prove here.

She made her way back to the kitchen. Jak and Nat sat chatting on one side of the counter while Raisa puttered about on the other, putting the finishing touches on dinner. Completely unaware of Torrin’s arrival, their discussion continued unabated,.

“How are the nightmares, then?” Raisa asked as she ladled gravy into a shallow dish.

“Getting better,” Nat said. “I sometimes get a full night’s sleep. My therapist is very pleased. The cats don’t like the nightmares at all, though. I wake up and they’re hiding under the bed. They don’t come out until I call for them.”

“Poor things.” Raise tutted sympathetically. “What about you, Jak?”

“It’s not so bad. Having Torrin there helps. I don’t feel like I’m so trapped in them.”

What Jak wasn’t saying was that she didn’t really want the dreams to go away altogether. They’d talked about it when the frequency of her nightmares had actually increased upon their return to Nadi. As terrible as the dreams were, they were Jak’s strongest tie to Bron.

Torrin crept a few steps back from the doorway, then entered the kitchen, making sure to scuff her feet. It was no mean feat in socks, but she managed.

“Oh wonderful, you two are finally done with your mystery project in Irenya’s mud room.” A small smile curled at the edge of Raisa’s mouth. If Torrin’s mother thought she was fooling her wife, she was sadly mistaken. Clearly, Raisa knew what was going on, she was simply much less of a snoop than the rest of her family.

“Yep. Mother should be in soon, she’s getting cleaned up.”

“Then we can start setting the table.” Raisa shooed Nat and Jak from their comfortable perches through the simple expedient of handing them dishes. They disappeared into the next room while Torrin accepted the first of the sides.

Irenya managed to time her entrance perfectly. They had just finished bringing out the last of the dishes and placing the cutlery when she walked in through the back door, accompanied by a blast of heat and sand.

They sat around the table. Irenya took her place at the head and carved the roast as everyone passed around the sides. Traditionally, the youngest members of the family would tell the story of how Zana Krikorian and her women discovered Nadierzda and settled on it. There were no children now, but someday soon there would be. Torrin smiled to herself as she looked around.

Nat had been the last one to tell that story, though she’d been prone to embellishment. When Nat told the story, the settlers were forced to fight off all sorts of beasts, each more ferocious than the last until Irenya had to tell her to knock it off and tell the story properly.

Conversation was quiet but animated. From the way Nat’s eyes kept straying toward the next room, she was distracted by the surprises waiting there. Torrin knew Nat would love her present. The time was right, though the idea still made her throat tighten.

Irenya seemed content to linger over her mug of bitrian after the meal while Nat’s fidgets grew more and more pronounced. Torrin caught the tiny smirk hovering around Irenya’s lips when she took another leisurely sip of the steaming beverage. Their mother was messing with Nat, and with no sign of remorse. Beyond that, Torrin also though it was time. Her palms were sweaty with excitement and worry. Would Jak like her present? Surely she would, but what if she didn’t?

“I think it’s time for presents,” Torrin announced, pushing her chair away from the table.

“Didn’t think you’d be the one to crack,” Irenya murmured as they all moved to the next room.

The first person to mention opening presents after dinner was the last to open theirs. It was a cunning strategy her parents had developed to deal with Nat’s over-enthusiasm. In fact, Torrin couldn’t recall a year when Nat hadn’t been the last one to open her gifts. From the slightly stunned look in Nat’s eyes, she wasn’t sure what to make of the situation.

Torrin claimed one corner of the couch and pulled Jak against her. A sharp object poked into her ribcage.

With an evil smirk, Jak pulled a small box from her coat pocket. Torrin’s name was clearly visible on the tag.

“So that’s where you’ve been hiding it, you saucy wench!” She shook her head. “I’ve been trying to get a better look at that for days.”

“I know.” Jak looked so pleased with herself that Torrin stuck out her tongue at her. “You can open it now.” Jak tried to hand it to her, but Torrin held up her hands.

“Oh no, she can’t,” Irenya said. “Torrin knows the rules. She has to hand out the gifts and wait quietly until it’s her turn to open them.” She turned out the lights in the room, leaving only those from the fountain. The glow through the fountain’s water shone a shifting pattern of light onto the ceiling.

“Fine, but you’re getting your gift second to last,” Torrin said. “I think it’s only fitting that Nat gets the first present, since she’s never had the experience before.”

She made a show of perusing the small pile of gifts before picking out her present to Nat. It was a small package, easily among the least impressive on the pile, but it was heavy. “Here you go.”

“Thanks,” Nat said dryly. “Glad to see you’re starting with a bang.” For all her grousing, Nat tore into the package, showing no regard for the layers of thin paper Torrin had used to wrap it. She pulled a metal cylinder about the width of her hand from the box and held it up. “This is great! What on Nadi is it?”

“It’s the locking mechanism for the Calamity Jane’s airlock.” Torrin’s lower lip wobbled a bit as she smiled. “Do you know how hard it is to find something concrete to symbolize giving a ship to someone?”

“Hilarious, Torrin. Now where’s my real gift?” She craned her neck to look around Torrin at the remaining packages.

“That is your real gift. The Jane is yours.”

“It’s true, Nat,” Jak said from the couch.

“You’re shitting me.” Nat looked from Torrin to Jak and back again.

“Language, Natalya,” Irenya said.

“Yes, Mother.” The reply was automatic. Nat looked down at the cylinder and back up at Torrin. Her eyes shimmered wetly. She engulfed Torrin in a hug, squeezing so hard Torrin was certain she heard her ribs creak.

“You’re welcome,” Torrin said, laughing. If the laugh was a bit snuffly, no one commented. “I think we should give Raisa her gift now.”

Irenya leaped from her perch on the arm of Raisa’s chair and tugged her wife up to join her. She practically dragged Raisa down the hall. Nat and Jak followed along behind them while Torrin took a moment to wipe her eyes. She would miss piloting the Calamity Jane, but Nat had more use for her now. Torrin wouldn’t need her, not if she was staying on Nadi to have babies with Jak.

Raisa’s excited voice echoed down the hall when she saw the huge automated loom Torrin and Irenya had assembled. She joined the small group in time to see Raisa giving her mother the most thorough kiss she’d ever seen. It went on for quite some time. She exchanged awkward glances with Nat and Jak, who then looked anywhere but at each other and the spectacle in front of them. Jak leaned forward to examine part of the mechanism. Torrin studied the frayed edge of her shirt’s too-short wrist.

“Should we wait for you in the living room?” Nat finally asked.

“No need,” Raisa said. She gave Irenya a smoldering look that promised things Torrin never wanted to contemplate her mothers doing.

“All right, back to the gifts,” Torrin said, shooing Nat and Jak before her. The knowing chuckles of her parents chased them down the hall.

They must have indulged themselves in another kiss. By the time Raisa and Irenya rejoined them, not only were they quite mussed, but Torrin had sorted everyone’s gifts out.

What followed were a string of thoughtful presents that took much too long to open. To Torrin’s way of looking at things, there was far too much discussion over how lovely this gift was, or the usefulness of that one. She had to admit that the blanket Raisa had woven for her and Jak was beautiful.

When all the gifts had been opened, Jak tried again to give her the package from her pocket.

“Not quite yet,” Torrin said. She pulled her and Jak’s gifts to her mothers out from behind the fountain and passed them over.

Both women were entirely too composed about opening them. Torrin kept herself from snapping at them to move faster, but it was a close thing. Irenya and Raisa pulled the tiniest socks Torrin could find out of their respective packages at almost the same moment. They traded identical expressions of befuddlement.

“This is very nice, Torrin, but they’re not my size,” Irenya said.

“Oh, they’re not for you,” Torrin assured her. She bounced up and down a bit in her chair. “But you’ll want to hold on to them for later.”

“I don’t understand,” Irenya said.

“Oh, Torrin!” Raisa said over top of her wife. “Which one of you is it?” She looked back and forth between her and Jak.

“Both of us, actually.”

Jak put a hand on Torrin’s thigh. “Or it will be. I told her it was too soon to tell you, but she couldn’t help herself. We’ve been to see Kiera. They’ll extract our eggs in a couple weeks, then use the genetic material to fertilize us a few weeks after that.”

“Eggs?” Irenya’s eyes were ready to bug out of her head.

“That’s right,” Torrin said. “You’re going to be a grandmother, and before a year has gone by. Kiera foresees no issues for us. We’re genetically compatible and biologically fit.” When the expected dig about her age didn’t materialize, Torrin looked around. “Where’s Nat?”

There was no sign of her sister. No one else had seen her slip out.

“I’ll go find her,” Jak said. She scooted off the couch before Torrin could say anything, leaving Torrin to contend with her beaming parents.

They had all sorts of questions she couldn’t answer, reluctantly leading her to admit Jak might have been right about their announcement being a little premature.

Irenya launched into a history of the family, detailing what each illustrious ancestor had accomplished. Torrin assumed it was to help her with name choices.

“Then there was your great-great Aunt Hildie. She invented the opalescent glaze that’s still one of the most popular colors on Nadi porcelain today.”

“We already know one name,” Torrin said, gently but firmly cutting into her mother’s litany. “We’re calling one Brona.” Where was Jak? And Nat for that matter. She wanted to give Jak her gift.

“Of course.” Raisa nodded. “It’s a lovely name, and it makes so much sense.”

Jak finally reappeared. “Nat needed some air. She’ll be back. She said we should keep on without her.”

“All right.” Torrin rubbed her hands together.

“Just a moment, Torrin.” Irenya held a hand out toward her. “Maybe we should wait.”

“Nat thought you might say that. She doesn’t know how long she’ll be.”

“Very well.” Irenya lowered her hand.

“Here’s your present from me, Jak.” Torrin slid the long box out from behind the couch. “Don’t worry about the paper.”

Jak had methodically unwrapped each present so far as if she might give offense if she didn’t take her time. She flashed Torrin an excited grin and tore off the paper in a flurry of scraps, quickly revealing the metal box beneath. She thumbed open the catches and opened the lid.

Torrin slid to the side to get a better look at Jak’s face. It lit up with delight. There no question as to whether or not she liked it. Torrin exulted silently inside.

“It’s beautiful, sweetie!” Jak exclaimed.

“What did she give you?” Raisa asked. She and her wife craned their necks to get a view of was bringing Jak so much joy.

Wordlessly, she turned the case around on her lap.

“That’s very nice, but what is it?” Irenya asked when confronted with a case full of components.

“It’s a sniper rifle,” Jak said. “A really nice one.”

“That’s very…romantic.” Irenya might like Jak better than she’d thought she would, but she still wasn’t thrilled about her vocation. Her smile was wooden and not terribly convincing, but at least she’d tried.

“It’s custom-made,” Torrin said. “I had it built to your measurements. Everyone I talked to agreed those are the finest gas-propulsion rifles in the galaxy. You’ll be able assemble it to your own preferences. I made sure they included all the options.”

“I love it, baby. It’s perfect.” Jak turned the case back around and stroked the pieces reverently. “I can’t wait to try it out.” She looked over at Torrin and her face fell.

“What’s the matter?”

“This must have cost you a fortune. My gift for you is silly.”

“Nothing you could ever give me would be silly.”

Jak looked away, but Torrin placed a finger under her chin and gently turned her head back around.

“I mean it. I treasure everything you’ve ever given me. If you gave me pocket link and told me it was special, I would keep it always because it came from you.”

As Torrin hoped, Jak smiled. She fished the small package out of her pocket and handed it to Torrin. “For you, my love.”

Torrin accepted the box with a kiss. She weighed it in her hands. It was light. She turned it over in her hands and tried to find the tape Jak had used to fasten the paper together. There was no tape. Her clever love had figured out how to fold the paper so it stayed put.

The wrapping unfolded like a flower, revealing a simple wooden box. Torrin opened the lid and stopped, staring down at its contents. She didn’t know what she’d expected, but it hadn’t been this.

“You didn’t,” she whispered.

“Of course I did,” Jak replied as softly.

Torrin blinked rapidly to clear the tears from her eyes. They spilled over onto her cheeks in front of everyone, but now she could see the beautiful blue comb cradled in satin.

“What is it, Torrin?” Raisa asked softly.

She tried to tell them, but couldn’t get the words past the lump filling her throat. Torrin swallowed once, then again, but couldn’t force out more than a whisper.

“A comb?” Irenya said when she showed them.

She coughed once then cleared her throat. “Jak made me one after she rescued me. She saw how much trouble I was having with my hair. I had to leave it behind when we left, but I loved it. It was the first thing she ever gave me.”

“It’s not the original, of course,” Jak said. “That’s long gone. But Audra had the last Troika expedition to Haefen bring back various samples of wood. I was able to make another one. It’s even better than the first one. I was able to sand the wood this time.”

“It’s perfect.” Torrin cradled Jak’s cheeks gently between her hands and placed their lips together. Jak’s lips moved against hers for the softest, sweetest kiss they’d ever shared. “You’re perfect,” she said. “We’re perfect.”

Back to Chapter 3

Start on Chapter 1


 

Jak, Torrin, and Nat are characters from my series On Deception’s Edge. The trilogy is complete and available from Amazon and/or Bella Books.

 

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