Friday, October 28, 2016

Second Edition Reminding Me of You

The second book I ever got published is now out again - edited and with added scenes. I've learned so much about writing since then and I wanted to make my novella juicier and more grounded - it was a bit flighty first time round.

And the new cover is so stunning!


On Valentine’s Day, the day before Mia is to travel to London to start afresh, she meets the dark and mysterious stranger, Luke, in her friend’s card shop. He asks her to help him write a Valentine’s Day Card for his girlfriend. Then he disappears. Mia has fallen in love with him at first sight and can’t help thinking about him, but she’s planned to live in London for a while to experience the world. Once in London, she discovers that Luke had written the card for her. Her feelings for this romantic man deepen, but how can she pursue anything when she lives across the ocean and has no idea how to find him again? When she meets Bryn, a Welsh, Luke-look-alike, they travel to Paris together and strike up a friendship due to their shared loss of a love-at-first-sight romance. Feelings between Mia and Bryn blossom in the city of lights, but Mia can’t forget the “card guy.” What will Mia do when she finally gets his email address? Pursue the budding relationship with Bryn or follow her heart and find the guy who’d made her fall in love at first sight?

A New Scene Excerpt:

The sleek train proved a luxury to ride in and they reached the Museum of Modern Art in minutes. Bryn paid the entrance fee and they walked into a bright, upbeat place that, although not as elaborate and classic as the Louvre, proved to be a real treat.
Bryn led her around and showed her things as though he knew the place. It felt like a surprise to discover a place she wouldn’t have dreamed of visiting on her weekend Paris trip, and leaving Polly and Donald behind felt almost clandestine.
“Here’s Matisse,” he finally said as they reached the section with her art idol’s works. She walked around from painting to painting, wondering if she could capture the memory of the moment for later on, but felt rather inadequate. Bryn sat on a bench, watching her with interest.
“You don’t like Matisse then?” she asked, feeling bad about leading him on a detour.
“I can see something magical about his work. I like to sit and take them in all at once, not focus on one painting at a time. I’d love to get inside his head and see how he evolved as a painter and artist in his life. What inspired him, what drove him.”
She sat next to him. “That’s such a deep thought.”
“When you reach your thirties, you see how you’ve changed over the years—how your passions and desires have morphed. I also wonder what transition or transformation famous artists like Matisse go through. You can see his style has changed. As he aged, the colors in his paintings became deeper, richer almost. And his lines less defined, the human figures less generic. Like, when you’re younger, you’re so certain about things and seem to follow the crowd, but as you mature, the more you know, the more you realize, the less you know. And the more individualistic you become in your mindset.”
Mia couldn’t help snuggling up against him, her thigh touching his firm, manly one. She wanted to drink in his philosophical thoughts. The man put her to shame by highlighting her shallowness, but deep inside, she resonated with what he said. It made sense. So, maybe she wasn’t so shallow. Hadn’t she only ever been with mostly shallow men? It was as if they’d only touched the surface of life and emotions with her.
“I love the way you analyze the art. It makes it so much more meaningful.” She rested her head against his arm, unable to resist the close contact. He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close into the nook between his arm and chest. He didn’t bend to kiss her. It was as if he knew the timing didn’t work now. The moment was a thoughtful one—soaking in the atmosphere of the place, the beauty and majesty of a truly talented person’s life displayed before them, and he sensed that. Also, she couldn’t help drinking in Bryn’s energy through his contact. She felt a strength from him, a wisdom beyond his age, and she considered herself deeply privileged to have met someone like him.
A noisy crowd comprising several families with young kids broke the contemplative silence. Bryn pulled away, stretched, and walked with a limp to one of the paintings. She stared at him, shocked at the path which her thoughts had tread. Since when did she go for deep yet funny elf-like men? Ones who limped and spent so long choosing flowers for their mum? Had his similarity to Luke taken away her common sense? She walked to a Matisse painting and pretended to study it, but all she could think about was how it felt in his arms. And how the depths of her crush didn’t make sense at all.

You can purchase here:

Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo Books

Publisher Page here

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

14 Nights of Halloween Blog Hop and Giveaway

I'm taking part in the 14 Nights of Halloween Giveaway and Blog Hop. The task is to talk about our favourite spooky or funny spooky movie / book. So, here goes:

Well, I don't enjoy horror movies, so I'm going to go with my favourite spooky movies which are more fantasy - the Harry Potter movies. Although I loved the books even more - yes, I'm a potterhead - I thoroughly enjoyed the movies. They were enchanting. And who doesn't like sweet Daniel Radcliffe? Dreamy when he's older. All the characters are so real and so interesting from clever and dedicated Hermoine and bumbling but loyal Ron. And who doesn't love McGonagall and Dumbledore and dear Hagrid? The story is so magical and if you want scary, the last few movies in the series really keep you on the edge of your seat.

One of my favourite scenes is when Harry saves his own life using his patronus spell with the help of the time travel device. I think it's called the time turner.

I also belong to Pottermore and have a wand, a house, an Inverness house and a patronus. Mine is a dolphin.

It's that time of year again. The days are getting shorter, the air is
getting cooler and the nights are getting spookier. Yes, it's time for
tricks and treats, goblins and ghouls, chills and thrills and huge
amounts of sugary sweets. But at the Laughing Vixen Lounge blog it's also time for the 5th annual Attack of the 14 Nights of Halloween Giveaway. Join Laughing Vixen Lounge and our bewitching co-hosts The Kids Did It, The Mommy Island, Herding Cats and Burning Soup, The Hopping Bloggers, Mama Smith's Reviews and Women and Their Pretties for a spooktacular Halloween event.

Enter to win a $250 Prize Pack filled with goodies from 10 wickedly
fabulous shops. All shops are offering Gift Cards or your choice of
item(s) so there will be something for everyone. Many of the shops have items perfect for any book lover along with lots of
unique, handcrafted and custom designs to choose from.

Visit the Laughing Vixen Lounge
blog daily during the giveaway for the Halloween Movie Marathon. Test
your movie knowledge with the Guess the Movie Game. Then try to solve
the Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt, if you dare! Each event will get you
daily entries in the giveaway plus a special giveaway for the Scavenger
Hunt. Find full details for these events HERE.

Guess which Harry Potter movie this quote is from. Write your answer in the comments below to enter.

“We’ve all got both light and darkness inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” — Sirius Black

And a question for you:

What is your favourite spooky movie / book? I'd love to know?

You can start by entering the Rafflecopter widget below. To
experience all the games, movies, shop features, giveaway info and all
around awesome fun make sure to stop by the Laughing Vixen
Lounge blog HERE

The giveaway runs October 18th - November 1st and is open worldwide to
anyone 18+. 1 winner will win the Prize Pack and 1 winner will win the
Scavenger Hunt Prize Pack. Laughing Vixen Lounge is responsible for all
giveaway details. Click HERE for full details.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, October 7, 2016

Empower by Ashley Stambaugh

Today, I want to welcome Ashley Stambaugh who is talking about her urban fantasy novel, Empower. It's the third book in the Collide Trilogy. The excerpt looks very interesting! The first in the series is also on sale for the month of October for only $0.99!

You have to have the dark to see the light...


Over a month has gone by since Melina won her internal battle between good and evil. She and the elders have been vigilantly waiting for Maura and Adelia to enact their plan, but there have been no signs of them anywhere. Then one day, Melina sees a Noxin demon lurking behind an old building. As more and more demons start to appear around town, she begins to worry that their plan may have already been put into play.

While Melina tries to figure out what the demons are up to, she starts to notice a sudden increase in her negative emotions, which in turn seem to be amplifying her powers. At first, she likes how strong it makes her feel. But when she realizes that her newly acquired demon powers are the cause of her sense of empowerment, she wants nothing to do with it. Even though she has reversed her demon powers to do good, she still sees them as coming from an evil source and fears that by using them the evil she fought so hard to overcome will rise up in her again.

But as the demon activity increases, and the people in her town, including all the people she cares about the most, start to display strange and violent behavior, Melina finally understands that if she wants to stop the demons and help her friends, she must embrace not only the good in her but also the bad. Because the only way to truly empower herself is by finding a way to use them together.


She turned to look at the front of her store and saw that the huge front window had been completely busted in, allowing the chilly winter air to blow right through the room. The rest of the store wasn’t in any better shape. Broken glass, splintered wood, and burnt, ripped up books and paper covered the entire floor. She felt like she should be having déjà vu, seeing as how her store had been destroyed by Noxin demons before, but there was a difference this time. She didn’t have her friends to help her pick up the pieces.
Before she was able to get teary-eyed again, she heard footsteps coming from behind her. She turned around and saw that Walter was back, and he had Phinneas, Cecil, and Helene with him. They all nodded at Henry, who nodded back at them, and then they all returned their focus to Melina.
“Hi,” Melina said as she gave them all a slightly confused look. “What are you all doing here?”
“I thought it was necessary to tell them what’s happening with you,” Walter said.
Melina pulled her robe a little tighter around her and turned her gaze down to the floor. She wondered if they were disappointed in her for not telling any of them sooner.
“Melina,” Phinneas said as he took a step toward her. “None of us blame you for feeling the way you do. The fear you have of your anger and of your demon powers is completely valid. But it’s nothing to be afraid of, or ashamed of. I’ve told you before, not everyone is all good or all bad. We all have good and evil in us.”
“Yes,” Melina said as she nodded her head. “I remember you saying that. But then you also said that we just have to choose which one is going to win, and I chose good.”
“And I’m so glad you did,” Phinneas said. “But just because you chose good and were able to reverse the demon powers to use them for good, doesn’t mean that the bad aspects of the demon powers aren’t still a part of you, too.”
“Melina,” Walter said as he took a step toward her. “To truly embrace all of your powers, you must accept not only the good aspects of them but also the bad. I can only imagine how strong it must make you feel when your emotions amplify your powers, but instead of fighting them and trying to stop them, feel all of those emotions and use them in a good way. Use them to empower yourself.” He paused for effect and then continued. “You have become a force to be reckoned with. You just need to learn to accept them and then control them.”
Melina’s eyes were filled with tears again. His words reminded her of what Lee had told her—that she needed to accept all of herself. She knew they were both right, but she still couldn’t let go of her hesitation and fear.
“But what if it makes me susceptible to being taken over by evil again?” She bit down on her lip as she stared over at Walter with eyes full of distress.
He gave her a reassuring smile. “I know you’re scared, but I also think that you know, deep down, that you’re not going to be taken over by evil again. This is just how the demon powers are going to work in you. We all experience negative emotions, Melina. But it's what we do after the emotions arise that matters. We can act upon those negative feelings and let them control us, or we can feel them, acknowledge them, but then choose not to act on them. And instead of letting them control us, use them as motivation for something good.” He was silent for a moment then said, “You have to have the dark to see the light.”
Melina sat quietly as his last words sunk in. She had never thought of it that way, but he was right. She had both light and dark in her, just like everyone else, but she just needed to make sure that her light always shone brighter.

About the author

Ashley Stambaugh grew up in a small town in Illinois where she and her two siblings created some of the best memories playing on their family’s farm. She stayed in the southern region of the state to attend college where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree and also met her husband.

Now, she and her husband live in central Illinois and spend their time creating new memories with their two rambunctious boys. She also enjoys reading, taking long walks, and finding great bargains. When her sons are a little bit older, she has a great desire to travel with her family. Oh, and she also has a slight obsession with chocolate.

When she’s not busy chasing after her two young children or losing herself in a good book, you can find her curled up on her couch with her laptop, writing.

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Happy Release Day to Me!

Today my last album book is out! I can't believe the series is over. I'm feeling satisfied and a little sad. It really was such fun to write. I loved carrying the same characters forward to each book. I loved the friendship between the four friends and how they helped each other through their difficult times and their adventures. I loved the romances. It was such a satisfying series to write.

I'm so grateful to my editor, Zee Monodee, who was thorough in making sure my characters and stories shine. And the way she picks up sentence structure and grammar in such a simple way without cluttering the editing process. Thanks, Zee, you're a pleasure to work with and a great friend.

So, partly, I'm sad that the series is over, but I'm also excited about a new idea that's brewing in my mind and heart. Because I enjoyed the women's fiction side of The Album series - the idea of woman friends helping one another and the dynamics of their relationships, I'm looking at working on a woman's fiction novel next. It will have a bit of romance in it, but that won't be the main theme. This book will be about three woman who get together to do something special. Each of them are in a bit of a crisis in their lives and they're there for each other. In the story, they grow and become the people they were meant to be.

Anyway, when I read through The Album 4, I felt quite emotional. Because of my painful divorce, which I definitely did not expect to happen at all, I could so identify with Andrea, the heroine in my book who's been hurt by past relationships and break-ups. Trent brought such healing into her life, but she had to follow her gut feel and trust that they'd work as a couple. I've been thinking about having to find another man one day and it's been stressing me a bit. I was cautious in marrying my first husband. I can imagine I'll be worse second time around. So, I'll need a little bit of encouragement from Andrea to take the plunge one day. :) Oh, if only I could use The Album's magic to tell me whether the relationship would work.

In some ways the series isn't over yet. I have a short story coming out in an anthology (a group of short stories by several authors). If you've read The Album 3 and are going to read The Album 4, you'll remember Bridget. Well, this is her story. I will go into more detail in another post as I think I've gone on long enough.

Here it is:


Carol stashed The Album into Andrea Reave's handbag, much to her dismay. The magic scares her so she promptly ignores the artefact. Andrea is not in a good place. Instead of the promotion she’s been working toward for years, she’s been let off and is now without work. When she’s offered two part-time jobs, she has no option but to take them. Pity the one job means she will have to confront the very thing that makes her fear losing control - magic. Now, she’ll have to work with other people who’ve encountered magic first hand. And it turns out, the woman she will work with has a cute son, just the type of guy she wouldn’t go for, but one she can’t ignore. Enter Trent Dublin, arty-farty, casual as anything, and too jolly chivalrous for his own good.

Just as she comes up for air, her aunt and uncle pass away, making her the legal guardian of her teenage niece, Lucy. When she brings Lucy home, she doesn’t realise how much the girl’s grief affects her and those around her. Trent proves to be more than a friend in a time of need, but Andrea doesn’t do romance. She's never been good at making it work with a man. Why would it be any different with Trent, no matter how attractive and kind he is? Could magic heal Andrea's jaded heart? Or is it too late?


Sighing, she found the path to the studio and knocked on the open door.
“Yo,” he yelled in his deep, bellowing voice.
She tiptoed in, her high-heel shoe straps still hanging from her fingers.
Large, bold, colourful canvases filled every wall. The overpowering smell of paint, dust, wood, and mustiness met her nostrils. She coughed.
Trent came up to her, his smile so gentle and beautiful, she had to swallow. How could a man be beautiful? They were supposed to be tough and strong and able to handle everything that came their way. She’d always been attracted to the professional, CEO type, not to a pretty boy.
“Can you let me out?”
“Leaving so soon?”
He seemed amused again. Did everything about her amuse him?
“I’m coming back. I’m moving into the granny flat. At the bottom of the garden.” She sent a clumsy hand in the direction of the miniature house she’d noticed on her way up. He must have seen the deep blush that heated her face because he stared at her.
“Oh.” That sounded odd. “That’s nice,” came out half-hearted.
He didn’t sound so sure that her living here would be a good thing. She supposed she hadn’t been very polite to him in the past.
“Don’t worry. I won’t get in your way,” she muttered.
He pressed her gently on the small of her back to lead her back to the house. His touch sent shivers through her. Gripping her arms around her stomach, she tried to act nonchalant and moved away from him.
“I’m sure you won’t get in my way.” He laughed. “Unless you want to try art and take over my studio.”
“Most definitely not.” She whipped her head around to glare at him. “I can’t even draw a stick figure.”
“That’s what they all say.” He shook his head and sighed.
She continued to glare at him. “Don’t even think of making me get into art. It’s never been my thing.”
“Fine.” He held up his hands in self-defence. “I won’t ever mention it again.”
Had she hurt him? But the amused smile on his face told her otherwise.
The guy was so irritating and relaxed. Did nothing ever faze him? Was she just a joke in his eyes? Had her previous rudeness put him on the defensive with her? It wasn’t right that the thought bothered her so much.

She’d agreed to live here now because of financial desperation, but would it be a good move for her soul to see him all the time and know he didn’t like her? Why did I agree to stay here? Rose gardening aside, it was a stupid idea.

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Monday, October 3, 2016

Missing Person by William Davidson

Today I want to welcome fellow Clean Reads author, William Davidson, who is talking about his thriller called Missing Person. It looks fascinating.


Brett Cole is one of the nearly three thousand Americans who go missing every day; however, in Brett’s case, he disappears willingly. Thirty years old and disillusioned, he packs his bags (including his Smith & Wesson) and vows to reach Mexico.

Halfway there, Brett stumbles upon a kidnapping and FBI Special Agent Hayden makes it clear that Brett has stumbled upon something far greater: Operation Ethereal (OE), an ultra-secret branch of the FBI in operation since the Hoover Administration, “took” Brett as a young boy because of his ability to pick up timeprints, impressions of the past. After erasing memories of the first eight years of his life, OE reinserted him into society for observation. Now that he has gone off the map, they want him back in their custody.

As Brett flees from the FBI, he must come to terms with his newly awakened gift and what it means. Can his past be redeemed and his future rewritten?


The Dark Man stepped out of the shadows, and they could see him more clearly. A grave, serious expression. A face that suggested years of some kind of suffering—worry, addiction, and pain. It was a face that may have at one time looked attractive but had been worn down by whatever burden it had carried. Dark eyes squinted. His hand reached to the back of his pants where something—perhaps a gun—was probably kept. But one thing was for sure: he was intent on them and them alone. No mistake about it.
           “We need to get out of here,” Brett said, pulling Chelsea by the arm. He moved toward the edge of the dance floor and, sure enough, the Dark Man followed.
           Brett looked at the exit. He would be able to beat the Dark Man there, but once there, he’d be in a pickle. The Elevator Man in his top hat would be standing there, leaning against the wall and reading his copy of H.P. Lovecraft, but no way would they have time to wait for the elevator before the Dark Man arrived. They could take the short flight of stairs up to the bar, but once there, then what? No way down other than out the massive windows, and that wasn’t an option.
           Brett remembered there had been a stairwell also going down that had been chained off. He had glanced down on his way up to the bar earlier and looked down at the dizzying, disorientating abyss of stairwell. This is what infinity looks like, he’d thought while looking down a small, rectangular shaft with endless stairs descending on all sides like an Escher painting. How many stories was it? Thirty? Forty? Fifty?

           Without thinking, Brett charged for the exit. Chelsea kicked off her heels and followed him. The Dark Man came charging after them.

Buy Link:

Author Bio:

William Michael Davidson is the author of the children's book, The Dragon Who Pulled Her Scales (Winner of the 2013 OCD Book Festival Award), The Dragon Who Tamed Her Temper, Missing Person, and Living Sacrifice. He lives in Long Beach, California, with his wife and two daughters. Always reading, always writing, Davidson is drawn towards stories of suspense and adventure that delve into man's inherent desire for redemption.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Edenhart's Rivalry

Today, I want to welcome fellow Clean Reads's author J.N. Tomczak who is talking about her fantasy novel, Edenhart's Rivalry.


Title: Edenhart's Rivalry


Genre: Paranormal Fantasy

A dark power is rising, and a kingdom is in dire need of a leader when the King of the Faeries falls in battle. Or so, that’s what they’re led to believe, but his only heir and daughter, Aurora, suspects murder. But when she and her loyal friend Percy, the Captain of the Elite Guard, discover an ancient prophecy foretold by the enigmatic Faerie Sorcerers, Aurora finds herself an unwilling pawn in a dark plot that will threaten everything she holds dear. Her courage and magic will be her greatest weapons if she hopes to succeed where all others have failed. But will she? Aurora must ask herself this very question: just how far is she willing to go to save her kingdom, and at what costs?


Author Bio

Author Pic

Julianne Nicole Tomczak (Tom-Zack) is the writer of Kingdom of the Faeries: Edenhart’s Rivalry so here's a little bio. Julianne grew up on a small farm in central Arkansas and now lives in Tucson, Arizona with her husband. When not writing, Julianne loves playing video games, listening to music, hiking, and binge-watching Falling Skies while eating non-nutritional food.

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Amazon: The Kingdom of the Faeries: Edenhart's Rivalry



Shadow of the Storm

Aurora’s blade whirred through the air of the empty training yard as she blocked and exchanged blows with imaginary foes. She delivered a killing stroke and then whirled around to ward off another fictitious attack. A sharp ring pierced the air and stung her senses as her sword struck metal.

Her eyes flew wide finding herself face-to-face with Percy, who stood in the raiment of the Elite Guard—the faeries’ special select force, handpicked by the king himself.

Percy’s lips lifted into that familiar yet annoying smirk of his. But at that moment, it was the most welcoming sight Aurora had seen all day.

“Rule number one,” he said, dropping his blade. “Always be aware of your surroundings.”

“Percy!” Aurora abandoned formalities and grappled him in a hug. “When did you get back from Dragonspire?”

“Today,” he said, returning her hug with equal fervor. He broke the embrace first and smiled, but his hands still lingered on hers. “It’s good to see you.”

She punched him in the shoulder. “That’s for leaving me with no one to spar with!”

“I was only gone for two months!” He laughed, rubbing his shoulder even though Aurora knew it didn’t hurt. On a more solemn note, he added, “But they were the most brutal two months of training I’ve ever received. I never want to do that again.”

“Congratulations.” She treated him with a smile but was reluctant to pull away from his touch to sheathe her weapon.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Something is bothering you, or you would have noticed me watching you for the past five minutes. You’ve never let anyone take you by surprise before. Are you not happy to see me?”

He sounded a little hurt.

“Of course I am!” she said.

“Then what’s wrong?”

Aurora knew he wouldn’t relent until she told him.

“I’m not sure, really,” she said.

“It’s your father.” He said it without question.

She sighed and lowered her gaze. “Every time he leaves I can’t help but worry if he’ll ever return.”

Percy shook his head. “Aurora, you’re worrying over nothing. He’s the king. He can look after himself. Or have you forgotten he single handedly defeated a goblin Cabal? Not many can say the same.”

Now it was her turn to shake her head. “This time it’s different.”

“He’ll return,” he assured her. “You’ll see.”

Aurora nodded, but his words did little to quench the ache deep inside her chest.

He shifted, and the golden pendant holding his cape together winked at her. A closer look revealed the crest of a phoenix in flight. Only high-ranking officers wore them.

“Your new rank fits you well, Captain,” she said and gestured at the emblem on his chest.

The sharp points of his ears reddened under her compliment, but then he said, excitedly, “As does this sword. I call it Phoenix.”

He extended his blade, hilt first. Releasing a quick breath, Aurora found it surprisingly light. The polished hilt and cross guard sported golden floral embellishments, and a glazed blue stone beamed within the pommel. This was dweor work at its best. Even though it looked like a gilded side ornament, Aurora knew better. All dweor weapons were forged for one purpose—killing. The adornments made it no less deadly.

Aurora slid one finger down the blade’s spine then gave it a few practice swings for good measure. Percy gulped and took a step back as she thrust and twirled the sword through the air with practiced ease before presenting the hilt toward him.

"This is a good blade," she mused. Percy beamed and slid it back into the sheath at his side.

"Of course it is. It was made by the dweor," he said as if it were obvious. "No faerie could hope to wield a finer blade."

Aurora sized him up and down as she circled him. "I said it was a good blade, but I wonder how well its master can handle it?"

Much to her surprise, he didn’t rise to the bait. “I’ve no time for sword games, Aurora,” he said. “I’ve now got responsibilities that your father—I mean, the king—has entrusted to me.”

She brought the circle to a close. “So am I to understand the new Captain of the Elite Guard is…a coward?”

Still he refused to be baited. Before, she’d had no trouble in goading him into a duel. Now, it seemed he’d finally learned patience. Even now she could see him sizing her up, as if he were debating if he could actually best her. After all, her skills with a blade were renowned throughout Silverbroke—and unmatched. Save for her father, who’d trained her himself.

“Come, spar with me,” she insisted when he said nothing. Then, with a wicked smile that often made him blush, she added, “I command it.”

Both of them knew he couldn’t refuse her challenge now. He stood calmly for a moment, his expression betraying nothing, when finally the slither of his blade answered her.

They circled each other, eyes locked, as the tips of their blades skimmed one another in a lethal dance. This was a game they were all too familiar with.

All her focus on him, Aurora tightened her grasp around the hilt of her blade.

His gaze didn’t vary as he spoke, “No magic—and the first one to drop their weapon loses.”

Her blade twitched in response, and Aurora smiled. “And no mercy.”

She rushed forward with the speed and ferocity of a charging lioness and swung her blade. When their swords met at the center, she relished the welcoming sting it left in her hand but stood firm.

Aurora steeled herself against him, their swords the only thing keeping them apart. Her arms shook. Then he pushed forward with a grunt and shoved her to the ground. Before he could disarm her, Aurora retaliated with a swipe of her leg. He staggered, knocked off balance, and fell on top of her.

For a moment, they locked eyes, their lips almost touching. Her stomach fluttered, but then she elbowed him in the side and jumped to her feet. Percy was just as quick.

He surprised her afterward with his sudden aggressiveness which forced her in the defensive. His blows came fast and hard, barely giving her enough time to shield herself.

A sharp sting landed across her face, and she stumbled back. Her hand flew to the wound as warmth trickled down her cheek.

When she pulled her hand away, beads of blood appeared on the tips of her fingers. Percy frowned and reached toward her, unknowingly falling for the ruse. She sprung to life and thrust her sword with a quick jab to his exposed front.

He threw his blade up, blocking it, and staggered back, shaking his head.

“Rule number two: never underestimate your opponent,” Aurora mocked.

Out of breath, he countered, “Rule number three: pointless chatter is a waste of energy.”

For the next several minutes, they blocked and traded blows across the training yard when Aurora’s blade came crashing down hard over his. While their blades were locked, Percy managed to jab her in the ribs, hard enough so he could shove her away from him. He rewarded her with a daring smirk.

“You’ve improved, I see,” she told him.

“You couldn’t expect me to come back from Dragonspire without having picked up a few tricks, now could you?”

“Now you’re just boasting. Remember, over-confidence can get you killed.”

While he caught his second wind Aurora waited, when she could have taken advantage of the situation. But where would be the fun in that? She watched him carefully from a safe distance. His short blond hair stuck to his brow, sheened with sweat whereas she barely perspired beneath her chainmail and long hair.

“Had enough?” she goaded with an energetic twirl of her sword.

He wiped the sweat from his eyes and snorted. “You wish.”

If he’d said anything less, Aurora would have been disappointed. One of the things she loved about Percy was his tenacity to see a fight through, no matter the odds. The determination reflecting behind his sea green eyes did not go unchecked. Percy was amongst the few who relished every opportunity to test his luck against her.

But his luck, it seemed, along with his strength, were wearing thin.

Aurora allowed him only a brief respite before she lunged at him again. This time with a means to finish this as she abandoned all formalities.

He confronted her forthright attack as if he’d been expecting it, resulting in a crisscross of steel. But a weakening in his stance turned against him—one she was quick to exploit. Aurora wound her sword around his and jerked up. The sudden movement disarmed him before he could register what had happened.

With the point of her sword trained below his neck, he said, between breaths, “Your father…taught you well.”

Aurora smirked and sheathed her blade. “Only fair since you snuck up on me. Your reflexes are sharper, I noticed, but then you lost the angle to your blade. Watch your stance.”

He retrieved his blade form the ground. “Sometimes I forget how light this sword actually is,” he said, giving the sword a spin. “But I’ll take that as a compliment, my lady, even if I’m half the swordsman you are. What I or anyone would give to train with your father. You’re lucky.”

Aurora frowned. “You’d come to regret saying that if you had the chance. With him it’s learn fast or fail. He was not gentle.” She winced from the memory. “But he saw it necessary I learn at a young age.”

“And I agree with him. Danger lurks everywhere. Even in places where you think you’re safe.” He offered her a consoling smile. “Well, at least no one was here to witness my disgrace. I’m sure the men would have liked nothing better than to witness their new Captain shown up by a woman.”


Both of them turned and shared a look of surprise, finding an audience. From the visible carrot-colored beard beneath the helmet, Aurora recognized Flynn, the Warden of the Elite Guard. On one shoulder sat his silver-speckled falcon, Aeris. Despite the collected stature the Warden posed, he suppressed an amused grin.

“What are you gawking at?” Percy snapped.

Flynn’s grin disappeared. “N-nothing, Captain! I didn’t see anything.”

The Warden wheeled around and left in a hurry, as if he had something more important to do. Percy glared daggers in his direction while Aurora stifled a laugh. Percy gave her a look as well that said he didn’t find anything amusing.

“You’re a good soldier, Percy,” she reassured. “Better yet, you’ll make a good Captain of the Elite Guard.”

“You think?” He sounded uncertain at first, then cleared his throat. “I mean, of course I will. I admit, it was unexpected that I took over Captain Urien’s position after he…”

His gaze dropped to the ground, and his shoulders sagged. “I wished I’d been there.”

It pained her to hear him say that, and Aurora reached out to console him. “If you had, you wouldn’t be here. The goblins wiped out their entire patrol. Urien would’ve been proud to know his son succeeded him. It’s what you’ve always wanted.”

“And the reason I went through with the training. I’m just…surprised, that’s all. I expected it to be Flynn or someone else. I…I just hope I don’t fail in my father’s place.”

“You’ll make him proud, Percy. Or should I say Captain.”

He allowed the barest of smiles to slip. Then, without warning, he brushed away a lock of golden hair from her face, his thumb pausing to graze the side of her cheek. She stiffened beneath the timid touch, and her stomach twirled. A soft green light illuminated against her skin proceeded by a tingling numbness. But when he drew his hand away, the warmth and light vanished. She touched the side of her face.

The cut was gone.

“Thank you,” she said, hoping she wasn’t blushing. “I could have done that, you know.”

Percy smiled sheepishly at her. “It’s the least I can do,” he said, and then added: “By the way, I heard Mitas is looking for you.” Now it was his turn to grin. "Wouldn't want to keep her royal highness from her royal studies. Back to the tower with you, milady!"

Aurora scowled and clipped his ear, making him cry out. "Tease me all you want to, but I actually enjoy my lessons."

"I'm surprised Mitas hasn't bored you to death yet.” He snorted. “A hundred and twenty years cooped up with him would drive anyone over the brink.”

This time, he dodged her incoming hand to his ear.

"He's not just an old, kooky hermit like everyone believes he is," Aurora defended. "He’s the eldest amongst our people, and I believe in his wisdom…however far-fetched it might sound at times.”

Percy didn’t grace her with a reply, instead shrugging his shoulders with a deep sigh. It wasn’t the first time they’d had this argument, nor would it be the last.

“If you see him, let him know I'll be with him shortly," she added stiffly, putting an end to the conversation.

He crossed his arms. “Yes, princess.”

“Percy.” She narrowed her gaze. “You know I hate it when you call me that. I have a name. Use it.”

“I'll try…princess.”

Before she could retort, he lent her a swift bow and left her standing in the training yard. As he went, his red cape billowed out behind him, trying to catch up with his long strides.

She crossed her arms in his direction and blew out a frustrated sigh. But as always, she did not stay mad at him for long. Something else distracted her thoughts.

A wind had risen, blowing her long hair into her eyes and obscuring her view of him. A low rumble off in the distance disturbed the peace settling over Silverbroke. She glanced northward through the square of stone colonnades that bordered the training yard.

There, a migration of dark clouds gathered and shrouded the northern kingdom of Rimscour in shadow. She watched it, wary. Every so often pulses of sporadic light seared the sky in half, followed closely by a low, menacing rumble. Even with miles between them, the storm looked fierce. She trembled inside.

With an audible sigh, Aurora tore her gaze away and started from the training yard, when a braying horn cut her short in her steps. She smiled with uncontained joy and hurried to meet the sound. As she ran, her chainmail jingled loudly down the side passageways as those she passed bowed after her retreating form.

Arriving at her destination, Aurora paused, out of breath, and looked out over the terrace overlooking the high-walled garden courtyard.

Another horn blast echoed down the path followed by a troupe of faeries on horseback. A line of palace soldiers formed an honor guard on both sides of the walkway and lifted their swords high in salute. At the head of the Elite Guard stood Percy. He caught her gaze and winked up at her with a look that said, I told you so.

At the troupe’s lead rode her father, King Homleck, ruler and protector of the kingdom of Edenhart, clad in the ornamental armor of the Elite Guard. The golden-feathered pauldrons and gilded crown above a head of long, silky auburn hair shimmered in the sunlight. Behind him flew the banners of the king: a phoenix needled in gold thread on a red velvet background. Its wings were opened, with the head bowed amongst its breast.

She caught her father’s gaze, but his eyes quickly averted when a guard strode forth from the ranks and took the reins of his white mare, Sassafras. Her father slipped free of the saddle, landing with graceful poise. Aurora counted the soldiers with him. Only a few saddles lay bare. Upon their return, it was clear the threat of recent goblin attacks had been dealt with.

Aurora yearned to greet him. It had been weeks since she had last seen him, but she knew he had other important matters to deal with before they would have time to talk. She’d learned long ago that matters of the kingdom always came first. She would never be first in his life.

Her smile slowly faded as she watched him walk away with his entourage into the palace. Aurora drew back from the balcony and slipped away quietly, where she retreated to the training yard.

She took up a bow and a quiver full of red-tipped arrows from one of the training racks, then lined herself up with her first target: a stuffed, makeshift dummy of a goblin.

Aurora nocked an arrow to the bow then drew the string taught. She held it steady for a moment to build the tension in her right arm but kept her sights on the target in front of her before releasing. Arrow after arrow she freed from her bow, not even caring that she missed her mark. That wasn’t the point of this exercise.

When she ran out of missiles to shoot, Aurora retrieved the arrows and took up her stance once more, fitting another shaft to the bow. Within a second’s calculation, she let the arrow slip through her fingers. A soft thud greeted her ears as it lodged itself an inch from the center. Aurora sniffed disdainfully. She had never cared much for archery, preferring a blade to a bow, but right now it made the perfect excuse to vent some anger.

Just as she made ready another arrow, Aurora jumped when something whirred past her head.

She blinked and found a stray arrow sunk into the epicenter of the red circle where the goblin’s heart would have been. Aurora whirled around to find her father standing behind her. Startled by his unexpected presence, her anger dissipated, and she wondered how long he’d been there watching her.

With calm poise, which her father so often exuded, he replaced the bow he held on the rack next to him.

"I take it the battle went well?" she asked, breaking the awkward tension that had fallen between them.

"We drove the goblins back into their mountain," he answered. Even though he carried himself tall, his voice came out drawn and hoarse, raw from constant fighting and shouting. And his bright blue eyes, sunken and heavy with fatigue, observed her from beneath a brow strained with tired lines. From this, she gathered that he had not slept much or not at all.

“I noticed the bare saddles when you arrived,” she said.

“Our casualties were minimal compared to our enemy’s. For every faerie they felled, we killed a dozen goblins in their place,” he said.

Aurora decided now was a good time to voice one of her concerns and boldly stated, “These goblin attacks are becoming more and more frequent as of late. With every raid it seems they are reaching closer to our borders.”

“Probably a new, ambitious leader,” her father surmised without much concern. “It’s my job to put them in their place, which is why I came to see you beforehand. Scouts have discovered the source of these skirmishes. I’m going to lead the attack that will put an end to all resistance.”

Aurora blinked. "But you just got back!”

He sighed, making it clear he had been expecting her reaction. "There's trouble near the Border Mountains. We believe their leader has taken root there."

The way he frowned caused a sinking feeling to settle in her stomach. “What kind of trouble?”

“There have been reports of goblins amassing near the Wall. Strange, even for them, to wander so close to the northern rim.”

She knew what he referred to as the ‘Wall’ as the ‘Golden Wall’. A massive dweor fortress that’d been abandoned several thousand years ago when the dweor had been driven into the mountains by the elves. Built out of the mountain crags, the towering stone wall overlooked all who entered and left the kingdom of Rimscour. Where its parapets were once manned by thousands of dweor, it was now only kept by a handful of wary human guards. The territory was known to be thick with goblins and other monstrosities, hence why it had been built in the first place—to keep them out.

Aurora shivered inwardly just thinking about it, having grown up on its horror stories.

“Once we find and kill their Cabal, they won’t be a problem anymore—until a new leader arises,” her father continued. “And that usually takes days and sometimes even months of infighting, which is just doing us a kind favor. Just another rabble, as far as I’m concerned. Nothing for you to worry your pretty head over.”

But she did worry, and she didn’t know why.

"You have soldiers who can fight in your stead!" she protested, trying to keep the rising anger from her voice.

“Aurora,” he said, giving her a hard look. Normally, she would have wavered beneath his tone, but her own fears made it anything but reproving. She took a timid step toward him, wanting so much to reach out to him. Instead, her eyes and her voice pleaded for her.

"Please...stay. I can’t…” She took a deep breath to steady herself. “I can’t bear to see you go. It doesn’t feel right. Please, just this once let someone else go in your stead."

She didn’t know what had come over her. She had never once gained enough courage to tell him face-to-face how she felt, how much she missed him whenever he left, or how much she feared he may never return.

Nothing changed in his expression, no tell-tale that he understood her plight. Nothing, except a growing hardness in his gaze that stilled anything else she might have said.

"Aurora, my duty is to the kingdom. I swore an oath to protect my people and defend them with my life if necessary. One day you will understand."

Stilling her words, she suppressed the emotions boiling inside. She didn’t want to understand! What she wanted more than ever was a father. Why couldn’t he see that for once? Now, more than ever, she wanted to shout at him. She wanted to tell him that he’s never been there for her when she needed him most—that he’s never once shown any love or adoration toward her, casting her off instead and making her feel like the unwanted heir. Yet even with all these thoughts going through her head, it all boiled down to a stiff, wordless nod.

As if to counteract her angry thoughts, something in the way he looked at her shifted, and as he drew nearer, the hardness within his gaze softened to the point where it looked like he was about to cry. This baffled her, and then she slowly came to understand what that twinkle in his eyes reflected: compassion.

"I know I haven’t been much of a father to you, Aurora, and you have every reason to hate me for it. But I want you to know: everything I do, everything I’ve done, has all been for you. The training I put you through was so that if I was never around, you would be able to protect yourself. I admit, I might have been a bit harsh on you, but it was the only way I thought best. I risk my life every day to make the kingdom a safer place for you. When I die—"

"Don't say that.” It was hard enough to keep her voice from shaking, but that? Just imagining her father dead brought tears to her eyes.

He raised a gauntleted hand for silence, and she fell quiet. Aurora wasn’t sure if she could bear what he had to say, but she wanted to know—she needed to know. So she forced herself to look him in the eyes, tears and all.

"I won’t be around forever and one day you will have to rule in my stead." He reached up and cupped the side of her face. Aurora stiffened at the sudden contact, unable to grasp why her father was telling her this now of all times. She remained mute, which was just as well, for she didn’t think she could speak without her voice breaking. "You’re all I have in this world, Aurora. You’re more precious than any dragon-coveted gold a cave could hold. Do not think because I put the kingdom first that I don't love my own daughter. I promised your mother I would keep you safe, and I will fulfill that promise till my dying breath.”

He closed the remaining gap between them and pressed their foreheads together in a lingering embrace. “Be strong,” he said, kissing her brow, then moved to whisper in her ear, “Hliallu.”

Aurora blinked, shocked by his proclamation of love for her. The word sounded almost foreign to her ears.

He withdrew, and the rims of his eyes were damp. Without another word, her father spun on his heel and left without a backwards glance. Aurora followed in mute despair, wishing there was something she could say or do to change his mind, especially now when she knew the truth, which made this goodbye the hardest of them all. But she knew her father. His mind was made, and she was powerless to stop him. When they arrived in the courtyard, a troop of guards awaited them on horseback.

As her father mounted Sassafras, Percy came and stood beside her. He must have sensed her discomfort, for he placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. But it did little to ease the pain inside as she fought to remain composed while forced to watch her father leave all over again.

Her father turned in his saddle to face them. The tears that had rimmed his eyes before were gone, as if they had never existed, and his eyes were as hard as blue marbles.

"Captain, keep my daughter safe," he said. Aurora caught the undertone in his voice, which hinted that it was more of a command rather than a request. But it wasn’t her safety she was concerned about.

"She'll be in good hands, Your Majesty," Percy replied with a slight bow. "Alonde yalla mara.”

Just as her father began to wheel Sassafras around, Aurora broke. She rushed forward and seized the reins, pleading, "Don’t go!"

Her father stared down at her, his eyes alive with mixed emotions, but he spoke nothing. Not even a simple phrase promising her he would return. Instead, he steered Sassafras around and set off down the path toward the eastern gate with a handful of his chosen men. And did not look back.

Aurora didn't wait to watch them leave. Once the king’s banners faded from sight, she rushed inside the palace, ignoring Percy's shouts behind her.

Soldiers and retainers bowed after her retreating form as she ran headlong through the marble hallways, which she barely acknowledged. At the end of the corridor she followed her feet carried her up a stairwell.
Chainmail rang loudly in her ears as she raced up the stairs. She dashed through the door at the top and came to an abrupt halt over a balcony. There she watched her father and his guards depart until the glint of their armor could no longer be sighted. Tears fogged her vision as she gave a silent prayer to their Creator to guide and watch over them.