If 2016 were one of my characters…

If 2016 were one of my characters, Jolene Faraday would have punched it in the face until it screamed for mercy. And then she would have punched it some more. While cursing. A lot.

If 2016 were one of my characters, Sophie Turner would have absorbed every bit of its Shadow power, taking the burden from everyone else to save us from its horrors.

If 2016 were one of my characters, Eunomia would have stabbed it. And then stabbed it again for good measure. And then she would have brought it to Molly, where it would be punished further.

If 2016 were one of my characters, Shannen of House Lyon would have ridiculed it until it cried. And then someone would have stabbed it through the eye. Because Shannen has shit to do and she recognizes that others are better at stabbing than she is.

And if 2016 were one of my characters, Mollis Eth-Hades, Goddess of Death, would have ripped into its very soul, turned it into a blubbering void of nothingness… and then sent it to the Furies for its eternal punishment.

…It is possible that I tend to write violent heroines. Heh.

 

On a more serious note, it’s no secret that 2016 has generally been one of those years many of us would like to forget. In my case, 2016 was one of the best years of my life. And, it was also one of the worst years.

Talk about feeling conflicted.

This was a year in which I spent most of my time feeling like I was failing miserably, in just about every area of my life. So that’s one thing, and I’m taking as many lessons from that as I can and moving forward into 2017 (more on that later.) The worst thing, though, was losing my beautiful, hilarious mother-in-law to cancer. It’s hard to explain my relationship to my mother-in-law. She took me in when I left home at 17. I finished high school living in her house. She became a mother figure, a friend, a confidant, and still, yes, very much a mother-in-law. I was very close to her and we got on each other’s nerves sometimes, but I loved her to bits. Losing her, at the age of 67, when there were plans for things we all wanted to do together… I’m still reeling a bit. I’m so grateful for all of the love I’ve gotten from my author pals and readers when they learned of our family’s loss. One particular author friend still asks me every once in a while how I’m holding up, and those moments in which it’s okay to talk about grief are gifts. I don’t know if she realizes how much those little check-ins mean, but they mean a lot. So thank you, author friend. You know who you are.

So, yeah. In some ways, 2016 was THE WORST.

And yet…

In 2016, my family finally realized our dream of moving to not just a house in NW Michigan, but a cute little, quirky fixer-upper on acreage with woods and hills and hawks and deer and… gah! I still get chills when I think about the fact that we finally managed to do it. I’m so grateful that we were able to make this happen, and a lot of that is thanks to the lovely readers who have bought and loved my books and supported me since 2013. I could not do this without you. The books keep coming because you keep asking for them, because you keep checking in with me and letting me know when you love something and when you want MORE MORE MORE of a character. Thank you for that.

So 2016 was bittersweet, and tomorrow is uncertain. But even in uncertainty, we need to dream. And so, I’m looking forward.

What to Expect From Me in 2017

In addition to the books, I’m taking editing and proofreading clients again (so, hey, if you know someone who needs an editor… I’m your girl!). It will be good to diversify my business a bit, and I already have two authors I adore who have signed on with me for editing next year. So I’m very excited.

But then, there are THE BOOKS. Next year, you guys will get the third Copper Falls book (yes, finally!). You’ll probably get a StrikeForce book. But the thing I’m most excited about is Molly’s new series.

Yes. Molly Brooks is coming back!

She and Nain have a new adventure ahead of them, following the events of Zealot. And oh, is it a doozy! I’m planning to have three books in Molly’s series out next year, so if you love Molly/Nain, you’ll have plenty of foul-mouthed, badass, sexy goodness. 😉 I’m also going to get at least the first of the Bloodborne series out, which is urban fantasy that focuses on Rayna of the Detroit vampire family. So that will be a lot of fun. I also want to finish Shifting Fate somewhere in there, because I love Jamie and I want to give her the story she deserves.

There will be other things, too. But I’ll keep them to myself for now. 😉

It’s gonna be fun, guys.

Thank you!

So, finishing up here, I need to thank a few people who made this year better, and, at times, even wonderful:

  • My husband Roger, of course. My partner in all things, my therapist, my best friend, my rock. Every hero I write has a little bit of Roger in him, whether he knows it or not.
  • My kids. I can’t even express how proud I am of them, and how grateful I am for them every single day.
  • The Vanderlinden and Gregory families. I love you guys.
  • My author pals: a million hugs to Elizabeth Hunter, Grace Draven, Mel Sterling, Tiffany Freund, Kelly Thompson, and Matt King, especially, for their support and encouragement this year. You’re the best.
  • The amazing narrators who worked on my audiobooks, bringing my characters to life. Julia Knippen and Chloe Cole — you are both amazing. Thanks for putting up with my scatterbrained self. 😉
  • To all of the amazing women on my beta reading team. Huge thanks to Susan, Rachel, Sarah, Brenda, Sarah, Danielle, Jo, Jayna, Kari, Amber, Kathy, and Samantha.
  • And, of course, everyone who reads my books. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being here. Stephen King says that books are magic, that the characters and settings begin in an author’s mind, but they become real in the reader’s. It’s a dance between the two of us, dear reader, and I’d look pretty damn silly dancing here all by myself.

Happy New Year, all. Here’s to a happy, healthy, peaceful 2017.

XO,

Colleen

 

 

What Happens Next for Shannen and Daarik?

If you’ve been waiting for the next part of the story that started in Exile, today’s your lucky day. 🙂 Riven, Exile #2, is available now on Amazon and in Kindle Unlimited.  The book also contains a reprint of my Exile prequel story, Silent Witness, which kind of shows, in its own little way, where the story in Riven began.

I had so much fun writing this book. Shannen is, at her heart, an “unlikable heroine.” By that, I mean that she’s cocky, abrasive, and cares very, very little (AKA, not at all) about what most people think of her. Yet for all her bravado, she has her insecurities and moments of doubt. Her evolution has been a joy to write. And, I’ll just admit, I got a chuckle out of a few of her lines while I was writing them.

Daarik… Daarik, as I’ve mentioned before, was inspired by an orc from a World of Warcraft fanfic that I’ve been writing on and off for several years now. It’s kind of my “when I’m feeling stuck, write this for a while” project. Anyway, he’s very much a monster boyfriend, Beast, type of guy. He’s not pretty. He’s honorable and brave, but where Shannen is cynical and a bit coarse, for all of his experience, he can be quite naive and uncomfortable with change. So writing him and Shannen together, and seeing them evolve and grow and overcome their faults, was the most fun I’ve had writing in a while.

Thank you to everyone who bought Exile and the many of you who told me how much you loved my weird little dystopian fantasy/science fiction romance story. Riven brings the story to a close, and I hope you love it as much as I do.

Cover reveal: Riven!

I will be releasing the second Exile book later this month!  We’re going with a soft release on this, meaning I can’t give you an exact date, because as soon as I have edits and layout finished, we’ll be putting it up on Amazon. I’ll send a newsletter and post on my social media when the book is available. Holiday week + planning ahead… not gonna happen. 😉

If you read the first Exile book, you know that our hero and heroine, Daarik and Shannen, had certain things they were setting out to accomplish in the next part of the story. Riven picks up a few weeks after the end of Exile. How about a synopsis?

When Shannen of House Lyon found herself wed to the alien Maarlai prince, she was certain that her marriage would be the strangest (yet most wonderful) part of her life. She did not expect to find herself thrust not into a war, but also a quest for the crown that should have rightfully been hers.

Shannen’s journey to claim her crown leads her to friends, allies, and enemies, and, when the absolutely unthinkable happens, she learns what responsibility and leadership truly is.

As Daarik works to unify the Maarlai, he remains conflicted about the task his wife is undertaking. Strong-willed as Shannen is, he regrets agreeing to her insane plot to overthrow the human king.

In the end, all of them: prince, princess, human, Maarlai, traitors and faithful, must unite to face a foe none of them could have ever imagined. Loyalty, love, and unity are the only things that will allow them survive, but only if they are strong enough to put aside the ills of the past.

And… how about that cover???

I can’t wait to share the next part of Shannen and Daarik’s adventure with you!

Teaser: Between the Lines (Paradise Bay #1)

I’ve mentioned here and there that I’ve been working on a contemporary romance series. I’ll likely release this under a pen name to keep my paranormal stuff separate from my contemporary stuff so it’s easier for my readers to find what they want without having to hear about the stuff they’re less interested in. More details on that later. But, for now, here’s a little peek at the beginning of Paradise Bay #1, Between the Lines.

 

Chapter One

Olivia turned her Jeep off of the highway and onto the dirt road she remembered so well from her childhood. She looked further down the road, just able to see the front of the little white cottage peeking through the swaying branches of a row of weeping willows. A red pickup truck was parked in the driveway, and, as she got closer, she saw a logo that said “Paradise Bay Animal Care” emblazoned on the side. She grinned to herself. The only thing better than being here was being welcomed by her cousin, Jack.

She pulled into the driveway behind the truck and got out. As she was shutting the driver’s side door, she saw Jack coming down the stairs of the wide front porch of the cabin.

“Cuz!” he shouted, and he came to her, arms open. She laughed and folded him into a hug, and he gave her one of his usual bear hugs. “Good to see you, Livi,” he said as he released her.

“Good to see you, too,” she told him. She looked him over. “You still look the same. Shouldn’t you have aged in the last few years or something?” she teased, and he shook his head. It was true. Jack still had the same unruly dark brown hair, the same stubbled jawline, and she swore there were still no lines around his dark brown eyes.

“Forget me. You look great,” he said, and she smiled. She didn’t have any siblings, but she and Jack had been close as kids, and he was the closest thing she had to a big brother.

Jack walked to the back of the Jeep and opened the gate. “You didn’t bring a lot,” he said, glancing at her.

“Well, I knew Aunt Daisy and Uncle Rob had this place stocked with furniture and dishes and all that.” The cabin was one that she’d spent childhood and teenage summers in, but her aunt and uncle had built a new one in an even prettier location and rented this one out to tourists every summer. She’d lucked out and snagged a claim on it before tourist season started, and she was grateful she had.

“They wanted me to tell you they’re not taking any rent money from you,” Jack said, reaching into the back of the Jeep and pulling out one of the boxes.

“Oh, yes they are,” Olivia murmured. “Even if I have to force it into their hands myself.”

Jack paused and looked at her, and she glanced up at him. “I’m glad you left him, Livi. He never was good enough for you.”

Olivia felt the words wash over her. “It was time for a change. Many changes,” she added. “He just made it really easy for me to finally move forward.”

“You could see it, seeing you two together,” he said. “It was like watching Wonder Woman preparing to marry Mole Man or something.” They carried the boxes to the front porch and set them in the small, bright living room of the cottage, then went back to the Jeep for another load.

“You’re crossing your universes again,” Olivia said with a laugh.

“Still true,” he shot back, and she shook her head, still grinning.

She and Jack carried the rest of her boxes in, and she stood in the cabin, looking around. The cabin was just as she remembered. The oak floors on the main floor gleamed in the mid-morning sun that slanted through the kitchen windows, and the white walls made everything feel clean and fresh. The furniture was newer, a kind of casual, shabby chic look to it all, painted wood tables and bookcases. A sleeping nook was tucked into one corner of the living room, a daybed that could be used as an extra bed if there wasn’t enough space in the sleeping lofts upstairs. Out of the back of the house, through the kitchen window, Migisi Lake shimmered, the old gray wooden dock stretching out into it just as it always had.

“I can run into town with you if you want. I bought a few things for the kitchen. There’s tea and milk and some sandwich stuff in the fridge. I wasn’t sure what else you’d want,” Jack said.

Olivia smiled up at him. “You didn’t have to do that.”

He shrugged. “It wasn’t a big deal. I am glad you’re here.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, and she gave him a quick hug. Growing up, she and Jack had been inseparable during the summers she’d spent here at the cabin just outside the limits of the town of Paradise Bay, and they’d kept in touch all through their college years, though their contact became more sporadic once Olivia had gotten involved with Jon, mostly because being with Jon was, eventually, what she imagined it would be like to have a very loud, very needy toddler, except not nearly as cute and there was no hope of him ever growing up.

“i am too. I love this place so much. If I’m going to start over, it might as well be in my favorite place on Earth,” she said with a grin.

“Hell yeah. My mom and dad can’t wait to see you. They’re getting back from Austin later today.”

“Visiting Jason?” I asked, and he nodded. His younger brother, Jason, was going to college down in Texas. She liked Jason well enough, but he was kind of the opposite of Jack in every way: loud, brash, outgoing. Jack, on the other hand, was a sweet, quiet introvert. But like most introverts, once he was around his people, he could be as loud and gregarious as anyone else. He’d been a comic book nerd, too, and they’d never run out of things to talk about during all of those long, humid summers on the lake.

“I’m looking forward to seeing them, too. Can you tell them I’ll be by tomorrow evening?”

Jack nodded. He was about to say something when his phone rang. He glanced at the screen. “I need to take this,” he said apologetically, and she waved it off, indicating that he should do what he had to do. He stepped onto the porch, and a moment later, she heard him talking. She looked around at the cardboard boxes and suitcases in the living room, and grabbed one of the boxes labeled “books.” Honestly, most of the boxes were either books or art supplies. She’d donated or sold anything else she could before she’d left Detroit. She had a few boxes of knickknacks and collectibles, and several bags of clothes. Anything that had felt like it was weighing her down or taking up space had been sent off. Including her fiance.

She tore the box open and started lining the books up on the bookcase at the end of the living room. It was large, painted a soft, distressed white, just like most of the wooden furniture in the cottage. She liked it. It felt homey and relaxed, the way a lake house should. Whenever she bought a permanent place up here, she’d make it feel like this, she decided.

She continued putting her books on the shelves, and a couple of minutes later, Jack stepped back into the cottage. “Sorry, Livi. I have to go take care of this.”

She nodded. “It’s fine. Not too serious, I hope?”

He shook his head. “A horse with a sliced foreleg. But it’s the owner’s first horse and she’s freaked out.”

Olivia smiled. “Go do your thing, then. Thanks for all of the help.” She hugged Jack again, and he drew back.

“You’re going to need a job while you’re here, right?” he asked, and she nodded.

“I figured I was showing up at the right time for that. Every place will be looking for help in preparation for tourist season.”

“You did. You still like comics, right?“ he asked.

“Of course.”

“Lauren is looking for full and part time help at the comic shop and bookstore she opened with Holly Fitzpatrick. You remember Holly, right? Her grandparents had a cottage here a few doors down.”

‘I remember,” Olivia said. “I read about the shop when it opened. How’s it doing?”

“Great. Business is steady, and they’re able to do a lot of events for the community. Holly and Lauren are actually thinking about expanding the shop soon, if they can manage it.” She walked Jack to his truck, glancing over at him.

“And… how is Lauren?” she asked. Her cousin looked down at her and smiled.

“She’s good. She’s looking forward to seeing you.”

“And you two…?”

Jack sighed and let his head drop forward. Olivia laughed.

“Same as we’ve always been. I don’t know why anyone expects that to change.”

Jack Weston and Lauren Bailey had been best friends since ninth grade, and just about everyone who knew them, including Olivia, expected them to take that next step toward something more. All Olivia knew was that her high school summer visits had been spent as much with Lauren as with Jack, but that she’d never seen the two of them do anything more than push or smack at one another while the three of them played video games at Jack’s house.

“Go see her about the job, okay? She already said it’s yours if you want it. You’ll have to have a sit-down with Holly first, but that’s mostly a formality.”

“I will. Thanks, cuz,” Olivia said. Jack climbed into his truck, gave her a wave, and pulled out onto the road, heading back toward the highway. She watched the truck until he turned off their quiet road, then she turned to look at the cottage.

Olivia took a deep breath. This was really happening. She’d really driven the over three hundred miles from Detroit. She’d really left all of the bullshit, including Jon, behind. She was giving herself until fall to figure something out. Hopefully, she’d be able to find a permanent place here, or at least nearby. Hopefully, she’d finally make some headway on getting hired for work at one of the big two comic book publishers.

She’d been supporting herself with her freelance illustration and design work for a few years, and her webcomic had a decent fanbase. All of which was great. What kind of jerk would complain about being able to work for themselves, from wherever they want, and make decent money at it? But it wasn’t her big dream. The big one was drawing the superhero comics she’d loved as a kid. She’d keep trying. She’d keep putting herself out there, and killing it on her webcomic. She’d keep improving. She knew it was a long shot. She knew there were a hell of a lot of talented artists out there. It didn’t make her want it any less.

She let her eyes wander toward the lake. She peeled off her sweater and kicked off her shoes and took a running leap off the end of the dock, clad in her shorts and t-shirt. She was here now, finally. She was going to make the most of it.

After Olvia pulled herself out of the lake and dressed in some dry clothes, she spent a little bit of time getting settled in. Unpacking the books and the few decorative items she’d brought took about an hour. Her clothing went in the armoire in the upstairs sleeping loft, and she spread the faded old quilt she’d inherited from her grandma over the double bed. She smiled as she did so. This one simple thing, using the blanket she wanted to, was indicative of just how real this life change was. Jon hated this quilt, and she hadn’t felt like he was worthy to sleep under it anyway.

Why she’d agreed to marry him still mystified her. Mostly, she supposed, the idea of not being alone for the rest of her life appealed to her. What she knew now was that being alone was better than being with someone who sucked the life out of you with their constant bitching and complaining. What had seemed like sarcasm and bad-boy cynicism at first had turned out to be nothing more than negativity from someone who couldn’t envision something bigger, something better. He’d had no imagination, in any area of his life, she thought with a wry grin.

Olivia ran her hand over the quilt, smoothing it. She fluffed the pillows on the bed and glanced out the small round window that looked out over the lake. Waking up here every morning would be a nice way to start the day.

She sat down on the freshly-made bed and pulled her phone out of her pocket. She looked up the number for Gutters Comics and Books and sat listening to the phone ringing. After a few rings, a female voice answered.

“Gutters Comics, this is Lauren.”

“Lauren! Hi, um. This is Olivia Marquis. I’m—“

“Jack’s cousin!” Lauren said, her normal quiet, slightly husky voice raised in excitement. “How the hell are you, Livi?”

Olivia laughed. “I’m great. You?”

“Cannot complain. You’re gonna come and work here, right? You better say yes because I need another girl for derby and you’d kick ass at it.”

“I—“

“Do you want full time or part time, because we have both available right now?”

“Uh, it depends. How early would I have to work?”

“We need afternoons and evenings, so whether you pick full or part time, that’s when we’d need you.”

“Perfect. That’s what I was hoping for. I think part time, but if you guys need extra help at times, I can work a little more some weeks.”

“Great. When can you come in and talk to Holly? You remember her, right?”

“Yeah, I remember Holly.”

“Yeah, she’s still a bossy pain in the ass,” Lauren said with a laugh, and Olivia heard a female voice in the background.  “Holly says hi,” she said.

“Well, tell her I said hi, too.”

Olivia waited as Lauren passed it along. “Okay, so when can you come in?”

“Whenever Holly wants me to. I’m all gross from the driving and getting settled here today, but anytime other than that is totally fine.”

“Good.” There was more discussion on the other end of the line, then Lauren came back on. “Tomorrow at like eleven, then? Is that okay?”

“I’ll be there. Thanks a lot for this,” Olivia said, plucking at the quilt a little bit as she talked.

“No, thank you. Seriously. I freaking hate having to interview people, so you just cut the interviews I’m gonna have to do by half. Plus it’s going to be awesome catching up with you.”

“It is!” Olivia said, smiling. “Um. What was that about derby, though?”

Lauren laughed. “See you tomorrow, Livi.” Then she hung up and Olivia was left looking at her phone in confusion. Then she laughed a little and shook her head and headed back downstairs to make a quick dinner and some tea. She was practically dead on her feet after the drive, and if it was still the way she remembered it, she’d sleep like a baby here.

Chapter Two

Olivia woke, snuggled into her blankets, curled up at the edge of the bed the way she usually slept. The room had that soft purplish-gray color to it that told her it was just before sunrise. She’d slept with the window open, and she could hear birds in the trees outside, ducks quacking quietly as they glided on the water.

She realized how she was positioned, and rolled over onto her back, spreading her arms and legs out, covering as much of the bed as possible, and then she smiled.

After a while, she pulled herself out of bed, showered, and headed downstairs to get her computer and other art supplies set up. She’d already chosen a bright corner of the main room of the cottage, one that looked out over the lake. There was already a small desk there, painted chippy white just like the rest of the furniture, and she pulled a kitchen chair over to it. She’d have to find a better chair later, one that wouldn’t have her back in misery after a few hours working in it, but for now, that would do. Once that was set up, she went to work re-assembling her drawing table, then she moved it across from her desk. She glanced at the wall nearby. She’d have to buy some cork board or something. She did most of her work on the computer, of course, but she still liked to use pen and ink for warm up drawings and to work out how she wanted to handle a panel.

Speaking of which. She booted up the computer to check her website and make sure that that morning’s installment of her web comic, Welcome to Paradise, had posted. Everything looked good ,and she was happy to see that several of her regulars had already checked in and commented. She took a few minutes to answer questions or comment back, then she headed into the bathroom to dress and get ready for her meeting with Holly.

She slipped into a nubby vintage skirt she loved and a sleeveless white blouse, then put a gray sweater over that and cinched a narrow belt at her waist. She looked herself up and down, from her bubble-gum pink hair, to her rounded hips, to her vintage-style heels, and nodded.

She ran some serum through her thick mass of pink curls, then quickly did her makeup and put some earrings on. Then she went back out into the main room and jotted down a few things in the small sketchbook/notepad she always kept in her bag. She’d have to stop at the market after her meeting. Her cousin had done a fabulous job making sure she was okay for a day or two, but eh cabinets and fridge needed to be stocked, and she wanted to check out the one little resale shop she knew of near Gutters to see if maybe they had a decent office chair for her desk. She added that to the list, then glanced at her phone to double check the time.

She grabbed her bag, hunted for her car keys for a good five minutes before finding them in her hand, and then finally was able to leave and make the short drive into town.

She drove with the windows down, the cool, clean northern Michigan air tousling her curls as she drove down the highway. She tapped the steering wheel in time to the music on the stereo, driving past parks, beaches, and shops that held memories. Good ones.

Paradise Bay was a small town, but its gorgeous location amid the bays of Lake Michigan, as well as its rise as a center for Michigan’s burgeoning vineyards, orchards, and small farms had turned it into a tourist destination for both nature lovers and foodies. Dozens of trendy little eateries and shops lined the streets of downtown Paradise Bay, and Olivia promised herself that she’d take the time to check at least some of them out in between working and planning whatever it was that she was going to do next. She found the block where Gutters was located and snagged a parking spot near the corner. A quick glance told her that she was lucky to find it; the street-side parking was fairly packed. She got out and fed the meter, then she looked around. She knew from her quick check online that Gutters had a black awning and an old-fashioned red brick facade, which it shared with the three shops that neighbored it, a brewery, a tattoo parlor, and a small used book store. She spotted the brick buildings, the black awning, at the far end of the block and started walking that way. As she did, she glanced at the names and in the front windows of the businesses she was passing. Most of the cafes along the block were trendy looking and full, but she passed a little coffee and tea shop that didn’t look too bad and promised herself she’d check that out at some point. She neared the brick-fronted buildings at the end of the block, first passing the brewery with its large plate glass windows and generally unadorned entrance, a metal sign with the name “Daniels Brothers Brewing Co.” next to the front door. A quick glance inside showed that the place was pretty busy, definitely more so than she would have expected for a weekday afternoon. As she passed that, she came to the front of the little secondhand book store, glancing in to see shelves that looked like they would burst, overstuffed with books as they were. She would definitely be going in there. Probably right after her meeting with Holly, she thought.

Then she reached the front of Gutters Comics and Books. The front of the shop had a row of windows, their panes painted a glossy black that matched the awning. The entranceway was flanked by two planters, classic urn shapes that looked like they’d been decoupaged or painted with black and white comics pages, lush green ferns swaying gracefully in the breeze.

Details. That would be Lauren’s doing, from what Olivia remembered. She glanced at the front of the shop again. It definitely didn’t look like most of the comic shops she’d visited over the years. Very upscale, perfect for a trendy tourist town.

She opened the door and stepped inside, barely having a chance to appreciate the gleaming wood floors, streamlined shelving, and bare brick walls on the inside of the shop before her inspection was interrupted by the sound of raised voices . The shop was empty except for a man and woman in the far corner of the sales floor, clearly and loudly arguing.

The woman was Holly. Olivia knew that at once. Coppery hair, tall and preppy looking. She was gesturing toward the back of the shop.

“You knew I had a shipment coming in today. It’s Tuesday. I always have a shipment on Tuesdays, for like, what? Four years now?” she was saying as she gestured to the back of the shop.

“Yeah, well this was the one day I could finally get those new coolers delivered anytime soon. It was today or two weeks from now,” the man said in a calm voice. He was nice looking. Okay, better than nice looking. Dark hair with a bit of a wave to it, blue eyes, nice build. “Am I supposed to put my business on hold to accommodate you, Fitzpatrick?” he asked, a hint of a smile on his lips.

“You could have at least said something. Now I have to cart those freaking pallets all the way down the block because the truck couldn’t get back here—“

“I’ll help,” the man said.

“I don’t want your help,” Holly hissed, and the man just smiled, which only seemed to annoy Holly more.

“I think you have a customer,” the man said, just as Holly was opening her mouth to say something else.

Holly spun around as the man gave a low chuckle.

“Livi!” Holly said, coming toward her. “Oh my god you look great!” She reached Olivia and gave her a quick hug.

“You too. This place is amazing!” Olivia said. “Man, I wish I’d had a place like this to go when I was a teenager,” she added.

“Right? Remember that shop over in Avisport? I drove you and your cousin and Lauren there a few times before you all got your drivers licenses.”

“Ugh, that place. Only comic shop within like a hundred miles of here and it smelled like bologna and feet,” Olivia said, scrunching up her nose at disgust at the memory.

“And the guys who worked there,” Holly said, rolling her eyes.

“The worst,” Olivia agreed, remembering how annoying, how condescending the clerks had been toward her, Holly, and Lauren while talking to Jack like an actual person… despite the fact that all four of them had been absolute comics geeks.

“I am so happy you’re here. You wanted part time, right?” Holly asked, and Olivia nodded.

“So, I guess I’ll just go, then,” the man Holly had been arguing with called. Olivia and Holly turned around, and he was standing there, arms crossed over his chest, slight smile on his face.

“Are you still here?” Holly asked archly, and it only made him grin more.

“One of these days, Fitzpatrick, you’re actually going to hurt my feelings.”

Holly rolled her eyes and turned to Olivia. “Livi Marquis, this is Scott Daniels. He owns the brewery a couple of doors down.”

Scott came and shook Olivia’s hand.

“Nice to meet you,” Olivia said, and he smiled.

“He’s also an enormous asshole,” Holly added.

“Just admit that you love me,” Scott said, turning that smile completely on Holly.

“I’d rather run naked down Eighth in the middle of a snowstorm,” Holly said.

“That would be a sight,” Scott said dreamily.

“Out!” Holly said pointing at the door, and Scott went, chuckling.

“My guys’ll move your shipment down here,” he said as he walked out. “But only because you were so sweet and understanding about the whole thing.”

Before Holly could respond, he was out the door. She shook her head, then turned to Olivia.

“He is the worst.”

Olivia hid a grin. “Is he in here often?”

“Only when he’s being a pain in the ass. Which is always,” Holly said, rolling her eyes. “I was planning on doing this meeting back in my office, but Maggie was supposed to come in and work this morning and she’s out with a stomach bug. Okay if we talk out here?”

“Sure.” Olivia glanced around. “”Let me guess. You organized the place, but Lauren was in charge of decorating it.”

Holly nodded. “Pretty much.”

“It’s awesome that you two went into business together. How is that going?” she asked curiously. They’d all known each other growing up, but Holly was a couple of years older than Lauren and Jack, and Olivia was two years younger than them. Plus, as far as personalities went, Olivia couldn’t think of two people more different than Holly and Lauren. At least, that had been the case back when they’d all been teenagers, anyway.

Holly gave a small smile. “Mostly, it’s going great. We’re both stubborn, but we also both recognize that we each bring something different and necessary to the table. We love this place, so we make it work, even when we disagree about something.”

“It’s so great to see this place. Really, you both should be so proud,” Olivia said, looking around again.

“We are. And we are both looking forward to having you on board. By the way, I am a huge fan of ‘Welcome to Paradise,’” Holly said, and Olivia felt herself blush a little.

“Really? Thanks,” she said.

“I think pretty much everyone who works here reads it. Of course, I didn’t realize it was you until Lauren said that Jack told her it was you. So finding out that I knew the creator makes it just that much more awesome,” Holly said.

Olivia didn’t answer, just gave a small nod.

“So you want later hours, right? Afternoons and evenings?”

“Yes, please. I usually work at night, so mornings are a killer,” Olivia said.

“Which works perfectly for us. We’re both pretty much always here because we’re obsessed and we clearly have no lives,” Holly said wryly, and Olivia laughed. “Other than us, there’s a part timer, Maggie, and I’m hoping to bring in one more part timer soon, now that we have you here.”

“I’m only going to be here for the summer, probably. I just feel like I should let you know, so you’re not planning on a long-term thing,” Olivia said. “I need a few month of extra money so I can afford at least a down payment on something up here, and I’m short right now.”

“And that’s totally fine. You’ll help us get through tourist season, and if you decide not to stick around, we’ll look into hiring a replacement. I’m just happy to have you here.”

Olivia nodded. She was about to say something when the door opened, a small bell dinging to announce whoever had walked in.

She glanced toward the door, where a dark-haired man with a neat goatee had just entered the shop. He looked like he was maybe forty or so. She was about to turn her attention back to Holly when he caught her eye… and winked before walking toward the new releases.

“Hey, Andrew,” Holly called.

“Why do you always insist on saying hi to me?” the man, Andrew, answered as he glanced over the display. Olivia looked at Holly to gauge her response. Holly was smiling and shaking her head.

“It’s called customer service,” Holly said as if they’d had this discussion before.

“Totally unnecessary,” the man muttered.

“I’m setting a good example for our new girl here,” Holly said, and Olivia shook her head. The man turned back to them, studying Olivia for a moment. She met his gaze, and the corner of his mouth lifted, just a little.

“I never realized how much this place needed a touch of pink,” he told her, and then he turned away again and Olivia glanced at Holly.

“That was almost a compliment, Andrew. Careful,” Holly said, holding her hands out as if she was trying to hold him back.

Andrew let out a small snort of a laugh and turned back, heading toward the counter where Holly and Olivia were sitting. He stopped in front of Olivia.

“What’s your name, new girl?” he asked, meeting her eyes with his dark brown ones.

“Olivia.”

“Olivia. It was a compliment. You’re cute as hell and I happen to like pink. Can I have my comics now?”

Olivia smiled, and he gave her a small smile in return. She tore her eyes away from him to look at Holly, who was giving him a somewhat shocked look.

“Now that was almost charming, there,” Holly said. Andrew rolled his eyes and Olivia couldn’t help laughing.

“I’m wounded. Are you saying that I’m not normally charming, chivalrous, an absolute freaking delight to be around?”

“You’re normally kind of a dick, really,” Holly said, grabbing a stack of comics from one of the cubbies behind the counter. Olivia noticed that each one was labeled with a customer name. This one said “Andrew S.”

“Now what kind of an example is that for your new girl?” Andrew asked.

“The best kind. The sooner she realizes it, the better,” Holly said sweetly.

“And yet everyone loves me. Weird,” Andrew said. He drummed on the countertop while he studied Olivia again. She studied him right back, noticing the occasional silver strand in his hair and goatee, the long dark lashes framing his eyes. “Are you going to be on Lauren’s derby team?”

“Why does everyone keep asking me about derby?” Olivia asked.

“If she joins, I might actually come to a bout,” Andrew said to Holly, handing over some cash and taking his bag of comics from Holly. “Tell Lauren I said hey. And stop being mean to Scottie.”

“Scott is an asshole.”

“Scott is a damn saint.”

“Says you, an unapologetic dick,” Holly said with a grin. “What, did he tell you I yelled at him today?”

“He likes it when you yell at him. I’m just saying, maybe try being pleasant sometimes.”

“Like you, you mean?” Holly asked with a laugh.

Andrew turned back to Olivia. “Was I pleasant to you, Liv?” he asked, that corner of his mouth turned up again in a cocky smirk.

“Define pleasant,” Olivia said, and his smile widened. He turned back to Holly.

“She classes the place up. You should give her a raise,” he said. Then he glanced at Olivia again and turned, walking out the door without another word.

“So you’ll get to go through that every week. Andrew is one of our best customers,” Holly said with a laugh.

“He’s… different,” Olivia said, and Holly nodded.

***

–I’m still working on this one, so I’m not quite sure when it’ll be out. Sometime in early 2017 probably. I hope you enjoyed it!–

 

How I Develop Characters

One of the things that makes me happiest as a writer is when I hear that a reader has connected with a character of mine. When I read reviews and see someone comment that my characters feel like people you might know, that they feel real enough that they wonder about them and care about what happens next… that is the absolute best.

I want to stop here before I go any further. As with any of these posts about writing, I’m going to be showing you how I do it. It’s not advice or instruction so much as it’s my personal way of handling things. This might be interesting to my readers, who wonder how I came up with their favorite character (and I’ll have details below for how each of my heroines came to be). If you’re a writer looking for advice, the best I can hope for is that all of these posts just show you one more possible way to do things. So this is not a “how to do this” post. This is a “here’s what I do” post.

Okay. I feel better now.

Anyway.

I almost always have a character before I have a plot. Someone dances into my imagination, and  once I spend some time with them, I start to figure out what kind of story he or she needs. Molly, Jolene, Sophie, Shannen… all of them were there before the story I eventually told for them. It might be a flash of something. A jaded, angry vigilante with a secret. A thief who feels no guilt about what she does. A witch who is much stronger than she thinks. A haughty princess with a brain.

I usually have some idea almost immediately about how she looks. (My books always start with a “she.” The heroes come later.) I knew Molly would be tiny and kinda goth. I knew Jolene would look like a cross between Courtney Love and Ronda Rousey. I knew Sophie would look a lot like one of my favorite plus-size fashion bloggers, and I knew that Shannen would be curvy and gorgeous, and that she’d use those assets to her advantage without the slightest hesitation.

Oh, look. See what I just wrote there? Personality starts coming in, just by getting an inkling of what they look like.

After that, there’s a lot of sitting around, wondering what my character’s going to do now that she exists, and as a result, the plot ends up devloping along with my character. For me, those two things, plot and character,  are inseparable.

Molly Brooks

I knew from the beginning that Molly would save women. And the reason I knew that is because thought of Molly and the next day I was horrified about a story in which a local man murdered two women, one of whom was his ex-girlfriend. And it pissed me off and I remember thinking how amazing it would be if there was someone who could swoop in and save people before nightmares like this happened, or who could find them before it was too late — in the case of these women, they’d been missing for days before they’d been killed. But how would you know where to find them? It’s not like the bad guys were just out there telling everyone where they had someone stashed or what their plans were. Oh, but if the heroine could hear their thoughts… yeah, that could work. And from there, Molly evolved. I already knew I wanted to do some kind of play on the Greek gods, and once I had Molly with her empath and telepath powers, the rest fell into place. Realizing she’d be a perfect Fury, because empath powers would be really, really helpful in that role, was the final key. But wait, Furies, by their nature, wouldn’t just go around having babies. They’re supposed to be maidens. Ooh. So that’s interesting. What would happen if a Fury had a child, going against what she was supposed to be? And who would a Fury have a child with? Oh! Well, that union wouldn’t be looked on kindly by many…. lots of drama there… and I had my story, which is still going.

Jolene Faraday

I saw a picture of Ronda Rousey at the same time I was seriously thinking about the superhero series I wanted to write, and Jolene was born. Ronda Rousey is a badass, and she has a superhero build. But as I thought about it more, I started to think that my super heroine would be a little… off. I didn’t want a Captain America type. I wanted Deadpool and Harley Quinn’s love child. I wanted someone who never, ever intended to be a hero. Someone who was actually  just fine being the opposite in many ways. But I knew, too, that there had to be some good in her. So Jolene developed as a Robin Hood archetype, someone who was on the side of the little guy. When I was developing Jolene, I was also reading a lot about the gentrification of some of Detroit’s neighborhoods and the plights of families who had lived in those neighborhoods for generations, in some cases, and now couldn’t afford to stay. I was reading a lot about distribution of wealth in the U.S.. And, let’s be totally honest… I was remembering my own childhood, growing up occasionally on food stamps and welfare while everyone else I knew seemed to be doing just fine. So what if there was a chick with these kinds of sensibilities, and what if she ended up with superpowers? What would she do with them? Because she could totally go either way. She could be a villain, taking whatever she wanted and giving it to whoever she wanted to, and who the hell would stop her? Or she could continue to be a Robin Hood type, watching over the little guy. How would she feel? What dangers would her life involve? How does someone with so many secrets learn to trust, and is she ever tempted to go bad, because let’s face it, I’d be tempted, I think. If her team knew who she really was, how would they treat her? So I had StrikeForce, which, like Hidden, is still ongoing.

Sophie Turner

I’ll just say it flat out: Sophie Turner is who I want to be when I grow up. Sweet and soft, but strong as hell. Gardener, herbalist, beekeeper, goat herder, chicken wrangler, living in a little house in the wilds of northern Michigan. And being a witch, with powers that work in tandem with nature? That would be awesome.

So what if there was this witch, and she was hiding from someone terrible? I didn’t know why she was hiding, or who she was hiding from, but I knew that northern Michigan was her safe place, and that she was trying to get her life back (from who or what, again, I had no idea.) I knew the land would be magical, that her powers and it would be entwined. I knew that, once she was there, she would feel safe. She would feel like she was finally becoming what she hoped she would be.

So, what would happen if that land was suddenly threatened? What if she was in danger of losing it? And what if the person she was in danger of losing it to was someone she loved? Ooh! Wait! This is a Beauty and the Beast type of story, maybe. Maybe he’s cursed, and maybe since she’s a witch, she’s the only one he knows who can break the curse. So he’s awful and angry and he doesn’t care, at first, what it takes to break his curse. He wants it broken, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen. Because his time is running out and he needs a witch….

But the only witch he finds, the only one who can break the curse, isn’t all that strong and knows nothing about curses. But because Sophie has to save her land, because it is her safe place and it calls to her in ways she still doesn’t understand, she’ll do whatever it takes to save it. But how’s she going to do that, when she’s a fairly weak witch and it’s an insanely strong curse? And how’s she going to manage it before his time runs out AND before whoever she’s running from catches up with her? That’s when I knew what the story behind Copper Falls would be.

Shannen of House Lyon

I love unlikable heroines. I do. Shannen is my least likable heroine, in my own opinion. She’s haughty and privileged and kind of a bitch. I knew she was a princess from the very beginning.

I should back up. I’ve said before that Exile started out as fan fiction I was writing about one of my World of Warcraft characters.

Yeah, I’m a nerd. Shut up.

Anyway. This character, in my mind, is a member of the Alliance but falls in love with an Orc. Which, if you know the game, you know that the orcs are aliens and also deeply-hated enemies of the heroes of the Alliance. So I was writing this fan fiction as I played this character in the game. I do that sometimes, because it’s fun and I can write smutty scenes between humans and orcs.

Hey, you have fun your way, and I’ll have fun my way.

But… the story started evolving into something else. Soon, the characters had nothing to do with the world of Azeroth. Soon, they became a haughty princess and the alien she was forced to marry. I started over again. It became another take on Beauty and the Beast (can you tell what my favorite fairy tale is?) but with an arranged marriage aspect, which was something I’ve never written before but thought it would work, especially in this situation where the hero and heroine are on opposite sides and their people have been fighting for years.

I should admit now that other than knowing that Shannen was a spoiled princess and a bit of a bitch and also a book lover, I really didn’t have much about her. She evolved as the story did. That happens sometimes, and it’s fun, but I’ll also admit to feeling less sure about Shannen sometimes than I do with my other heroines. But maybe that’s also part of Shannen’s character: she’ll do whatever the hell she wants, because she’s a goddamn princess.

Pinterest and Other Distractions

So there are my four main heroines. I didn’t explain E because E came to life as part of Molly’s story, so when I started her Soulhunter series, her character was already there. Once I have these general ideas for characters, I usually end up going to Pinterest and putting together an inspiration board. Hair, eyes, clothing styles, scenes that, to me, evoke the character’s personality. When I’m writing, I usually have that character or book’s inspiration board up as well, so if I’m feeling less inspired or just need to get into the groove again, I can look through my board and start getting back into it.

Almost always, my characters have a theme song. It’s a song that I end up playing on repeat sometimes when I’m writing. Each book has a playlist, too, but the character theme song really  helps me a lot. Here are the theme songs for my main badasses:

  • Molly: “Survival” by Eminem
  • Jolene: “How Dirty Girls Get Clean,” by Courtney Love
  • Sophie: “Shake It Out,” by Florence + the Machine
  • Shannen: “Chandelier,” by Sia
  • E: “Kashmir,” by Led Zeppelin
  • Shanti: “What Now?” by Rihanna
  • Meaghan: “Breathe,” by Faith Hill

So, there it is! How I came up with my heroines, and how it generally evolves into a story. I hope you found it interesting!

(This month, I’m participating in NaBloPoMo — National Blog Posting Month — and I’m trying to write a post here every day. If there’s a topic you’d like me to address, drop me a note in the comments!)

 

 

 

 

How I Juggle Multiple Ongoing Series

ColleensCovers_2_4_16I asked over on Facebook which topics people wanted to hear about during my NaBloPoMo attempt, and a few people asked for a post about how I juggle multiple ongoing series.

Right now, I have five ongoing series in progress. Five.

I just realized that.

I must have lost my damn mind. What the ever-loving hell am I doing??

FIVE?

Holy shit.

Ahem. So, right now, I’m working on Hidden, StrikeForce, Copper Falls, Exile, and the upcoming Paradise Bay series. One urban fantasy, one superhero series, one science fiction/dystopian/ fantasy romance mashup series, one paranormal romance series, and a contemporary series. In all honesty, the fact that each series is in a different genre helps. It enables me to keep the tone unique for each of the ongoing series, and makes it easier to remember story arc details.

I think the question of how I juggle these series really consists of a few questions, so I’ll try to address those.

How Do I Decide What to Release/Write Next?

In all honesty, I don’t really plan this all that much. I know, before the beginning of the year, which books I’ll be working on that year. Once I know that, I really just tackle whichever book I feel like writing most, and, usually, I’m working on a couple of those books at a time so that if I get stalled on one, I can still make progress on the other book. I want to be more strategic about this. I think there’s a lot of benefit in writing and releasing books in a series or story arc one after another before moving onto something else. That was how I handled the original Hidden series, and I think it’s part of the reason that series did as well as it did. My goal for next year is to get back to that, rather than switching back and forth between series. It’s easier to stay in flow and I’m less likely to forget details.

One reason I’ve switched back and forth was that I was trying to make sure that people haven’t had to wait years between books in their favorite series. Not all of my readers love every series, and I want to be able to ensure that it’s only a few months between books in a series. Copper Falls is coming up on almost a year between books two and three, and I am really annoyed by that. I just haven’t gotten it together enough to do book 3 justice, but I’ll be working on it soon.

How Do I Keep the Details Straight?

How do I remember whether Jolene’s eyes are brown or blue, and what kind of food Molly likes, and what Nain’s term of endearment is for Molly when I have so many series going on? In some cases, I have it written down in the notebook I keep for each series. In others, I find myself going back through the books to refresh my memory. I know there are very organized writers out there who keep “series bibles” for each series, which includes timelines and character details and backstories and information about settings…. I’m not that organized, but I’d like to be. Right now, I’m winging it and relying on my really amazing memory. (My husband and kids are laughing right now. I have the worst memory ever.)

How Do I Plan Each Series?

I know, when I start a series, how the series or story arc is going to end. So I start each series with a general idea of where my main character is starting, and where they have to end up. From there, I try to figure out what the individual stories are that will lead the main character to that point. For example, Molly’s main arc in Hidden took this path:

  • Book 1: Molly starts realizing she’s more than she thought she was.
  • Book 2: Molly discovers who and what she really is.
  • Book 3: Molly is forced into her birthright, whether she wanted it or not, and has to learn how to make it her own.
  • Book 4: Molly starts to grow into the hero she was meant to be.
  • Book 5: Molly accepts and owns her destiny.

Obviously, a lot of stuff happens in those five books. Molly falls in love (more than once). She loves and loses and fights and mourns and makes friends and loses some more. Because it’s a romance-focused urban fantasy, a lot of her individual character arc is tied to her relationship with Nain (who has his own story arc in there as well — I love this stuff!)  Once I have a general idea of where I want my main character to end up, I can get an idea of where each book needs to go. And then from there, I do a detailed outline for each book.

I should say… this sounds like a lot of work, maybe. This shit, though? It’s so much fun. I love the whole planning part of the process. And sometimes, things go off the rails and the series doesn’t go exactly as I planned. Characters evolve in ways I didn’t plan. It’s good to be flexible. I can always tell when I’m trying to force something. The writing is much harder when I’m forcing it. When I’m playing, and letting the characters grow into themselves, it is always a lot more fun.

That’s pretty much it. I take a lot of notes. I mark up my paperbacks and Kindle files for my books, highlighting stuff I might need to remember. I outline and write and when I’m done, I get going on whatever seems the most fun. It isn’t the most business-like, organized approach, but it’s mine.

I hope you enjoyed this little look at my process. Thanks for stopping by!

(I’m participating in NaBloPoMo this month — National Blog Posting Month — with the goal of posting every day in November. Is there a topic you want me to tackle? Let me know in the comments!)

Why I Participate in NaNoWriMo

Screen Shot 2016-11-01 at 5.23.29 PM

This will be my 6th year in a row participating in NaNoWriMo (if you haven’t heard of it, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, and the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.) I’ve been asked a few times over the past couple of years why I participate, since I’m always writing anyway.

For me, NaNoWriMo is a time to play. It’s a time to mess around with one of those dozens of little  “side project” ideas I have, a chance to see if it goes anywhere. Sometimes, my NaNo project ends up being something that I work more on, revise, edit, and eventually publish. Almost as often, though, it doesn’t go very far, and I know it’s an idea that maybe didn’t have much merit to begin with. I can happily abandon those ideas, knowing that I at least gave it a shot.

NaNoWriMo: A Personal History

I was looking over my novels on the NaNo site for the past six years. Here’s what I found:

2011: I had a book tentatively titled “Guardian.” This ended up being the second draft of the book that became Lost Girl and was published first on my blog and then as a book in 2013.

2012: I worked on Broken, which was a first draft to the follow-up for Guardian. This title stayed the same, and Broken, book two in my Hidden series, was also published in late 2013.

2013: I worked on a project called “Last Chance.” This project went nowhere, and rightfully so. It was my first attempt at a contemporary romance, and it was terrible. But I learned a few things, such as what definitely does NOT work for me in writing contemporaries!

2014: My project that year was just called “Copper Falls 1.” It eventually became Shadow Witch Rising, which is the first book in my Copper Falls paranormal romance series.

2015: The “Untitled YA” I started last year went nowhere. My heart wasn’t in it, no matter how much I wanted to write something my daughters could read.

And this year, I’m working on the first book in my Paradise Bay contemporary romance series. I’ve been playing with the idea for this series for a while, writing notes, writing bits of dialogue and character bios and all of the other fun stuff I do to prepare for a series, and so far, I’m off to a decent start.

But here’s a dirty little secret. Well, not so secret if you look closely at my NaNoWriMo profile page. I have never won NaNoWriMo.

Never.

Even though my writing pace is usually somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 words per month, I’ve never managed to complete 50K of my assigned NaNo project. Part of this is my own work process: I’m almost always working on a  couple of scheduled books, things that I know I want to release soon. And before I was actually publishing, for those first three years or so of participating in NaNoWriMo, I was working as a web content writer, editor, proofreader, and garden writer. So I just didn’t get it done. And I get that, really, that’s the whole point of participating in NaNo: starting something, and finishing at least a loose, rough draft of it.

But one thing I’ve learned in the last few years is that the best thing we can do as writers is find our own way of doing things and then honor that. Don’t compare  your way to mine or anyone else’s.. just do what feels right. For me, these past few years of NaNo have been periods of stealing time for side projects, for playing, for making myself stretch beyond my schedule and grow as a writer. I’ve tried genres I don’t ordinarily write in. I’ve made myself work that extra time in.

No time spent writing could ever be considered wasted. You’re always learning something, either about writing or about yourself. At best, you’re doing both.

So as we begin NaNoWriMo, I encourage you to be unapologetically yourself. To write the things that make your heart beat a little faster. To work within even a rigid framework like NaNoWriMo, and make it your own. This is a time to have a deep and obsessive love affair with your story. I do my best writing when it feels like I’m almost having too much fun, like this can’t possibly be work that people will someday, maybe pay me to read.

So that’s my NaNoWriMo story, and it will continue this year. If you’re participating and want to be writing buddies, you can find me here, and I will cheer you on.

And if Paradise Bay ever becomes something I release into the wild, you’ll be the first to know.

(I’m also participating in NaBloPoMo this month, which is National Blog Posting Month. My goal is to post something here every day. I find that writing begets writing, that the more I make myself write, and the more varied the writing is, the more fun I have. So if there’s something you’ve always wondered about in regard to my writing or my books, this is a good time to ask — I’m still looking for post topics for this month. Feel free to leave a comment below!)

September Reading Wrap-Up

September was a month full of good reads. You know how you’ll go through a period in which nothing you read really seems to hold your interest? And you’re just not sure  what you’re really in the mood to read? I hate periods like that. September was the exact opposite — it seemed like almost everything I read was so good I had to force myself to stop reading and do other things.

More months like this, please. 🙂

Here are the books that kept me up past my bedtime last month:

The Handmaid’s Tale

91LKGqgWzYL._SL1500_This book. Holy shit, this book. I am actually annoyed with myself for not reading it sooner. I was pretty sure I had read it, and maybe I did pick it up in college at some point but I know for sure now that I definitely did not read it back then. This is the kind of book you just don’t forget. A future dystopia in which everything is neat and orderly and all the more haunting for it, because this dystopia is built fully on the backs of women. And now every time I see some asshat talking about regulating women’s bodies, I find myself thinking “do you want The Handmaid’s Tale? Because this is how we get The Handmaid’s Tale.

And then I realize that in many cases, they kind of do and then I want to hit things. And when it’s a woman saying it, I can only ever think of her afterward as a Serena Joy fuckwit.

Don’t read it if you are looking for something uplifting, is all I’m saying. But everyone should read it. Yes, everyone.

 

The Girl with All the Gifts

careyI never really got into the whole zombie thing. I think the only zombie book I read before this was Amanda Hocking’s Hollowland, so when I originally heard that this one was about zombies, I wasn’t interested. Then, people I know who have really good taste in books started talking about it. And then it was on sale pretty cheap on Amazon, so I decided to give it a try.

I was not disappointed. This book is full of action, characters you both love and hate (sometimes at the same time) and the kind of attention to detail that makes you feel like you’re living it. And now, even though I’ve never had any interest in zombie movies, either, I want to see the movie. Amazing book, but again… not at all a “gee, this makes me happy!” kind of read. Sometimes, those are just what you need, though. Highly recommended.

 

Trickster’s Choice

pierceTamora Pierce has been on my “why the hell haven’t I read any books by her yet?” list for a while now (what, you don’t have lists like that? Interesting.) so when I saw this one at my library, I grabbed it.

And now I will read everything I can find by Tamora Pierce. This is a YA fantasy novel about a smart, shrewd young woman who knows what she wants, and, maybe even more importantly, what she does NOT want. Her life is thrown into chaos when she finds herself captured by slavers and ends up in service of a household of royals. Where she goes from there is a tale full of twists and turns, gods and warriors, politics and betrayal. I have the second book (Trickster’s Queen) and am reading it now. Loved this book, and if you’re looking for a fantasy with a really well-written heroine and very little romance subplot, this is a good one to check out. (I was surprised how little the lack of romance bothered me. I usually love that stuff, but this book did just fine without a major romance plot.) Highly recommended.

Daughter of the Forest

forestI loved this book for the deep characterization and worldbuilding, and for the nearly impossible task the book’s heroine, Sorcha, undertook. Everyone loves an underdog, and Sorcha is most definitely that. You spend most of the book wondering how in the hell she’s going to manage what she has to do, especially when her life seems to never stop twisting and turning long enough for her to breathe, let alone try to save the people she loves most in the world. This was another book with a strong, intelligent heroine. As much as I loved it, I found myself frustrated at times because it felt like things could have moved along faster, but I also recognize that I prefer books with a fast pace, while others are perfectly happy with a book with a more sedate plot. The combination of mysticism and romance in this book was beautifully done, and I will definitely be reading more by Marillier. Definitely recommended.

Shadow and Bone

bardugoI picked this up because I was trying to distract myself during the long wait for the second of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows books, Crooked Kingdom. It was SO MUCH MORE than a distraction, though. I absolutely fell in love with this book and its heroine, Alina, who is intelligent, devoted, and love that about her. To me, there is nothing more unrealistic than a hero or heroine who always knows, for sure, that his or her path is the right one. I love that she doubted, and I loved that sometimes, she was wrong. I loved the Russian-inspired setting, the magic, the relationships that developed between the characters. I’m stuck waiting to read the second book in the Grisha series becuse my daughter is currently reading it. Said daughter is also reading Crooked Kingdom right now (she seems to inherited my tendency to read more than one book at a time) and so I am sitting here, utterly Bardugo-less.Yes, I said Bardugo-less. It is a sad state of affairs, but there it is. I knew after Six of Crows that she was an author I would read again, and now that I’ve read the first of the Grisha books, she has moved on to my automatic one-click authors list. (You have that list too, right?) 🙂 This was my favorite book this month. Very highly recommended.

Yes, I said Bardugo-less. It is a sad state of affairs, but there it is. I knew after Six of Crows that she was an author I would read again, and now that I’ve read the first of the Grisha books, she has moved on to my automatic one-click authors list. (You have that list too, right?) 🙂 This was my favorite book this month. Very highly recommended.

 

Heartless

renshawThis was the only romance I read this month (weird) and it was a really, really good one. Winter Renshaw did an amazing job bulding the realationship between her heroine, Aidy, who is a makeup artist, and her hero, Ace, a former baseball star who was forced to retire due to injury. It’s definitely an opposites attract, enemies-to-lovers type of story, both of which are among my favorite romance tropes.

While Ace was definitely a swoon-worthy hero, it was Aidy who made this book. Aidy had the kind of strong personality that, in less-skilled hands, might have come off as annoying, but the way Renshaw wrote her was absolute perfection. Aidy’s strong, free-wheeling, adventurous personality was the perfect foil for Ace’s more cynical, taciturn nature. I absolutely loved them together and I need to read more by Renshaw. Definitely recommended for lovers of contemporary romance.

That was it. I read a few nonfiction books in September as well, but these were the highlights. Have you read something amazing lately? Tell me about it, please, so I can have more months like September!

Shadow Sworn is Now Available in Audio!

ShadowSworn_AudiobookCoverI am so excited to share that the second Copper Falls book, Shadow Sworn, is now available in audio! The ultra-talented Julia Knippen is back as the voice of Sophie, and she did an absolutely amazing job. I feel like she really, really gets Sophie’s personality and I was just blown away by how well she brought her to life again.  Want to hear a sample?

It’s available at all audiobook retailers. If you are not yet an Audible member, you can get your first audiobook order free, so that’s a great way to get started on a series as well.

 

Sneak Peek: Zealot, Chapter One

We are just ONE WEEK away from the release of Zealot, you guys. Eunomia’s story arc ends with a bang, and I cannot wait to share it with you.  To get us ready, here’s chapter one of Zealot!

 

Zealot, Hidden: Soulhunter Book Three

Chapter One

The air hung heavy and damp around me, the glowing streetlights along the narrow street haloed in a misty glow. My footsteps were silent, my breath slow. I followed a trail few others could see or feel.

This would, barring any nonsense, be my forty-eighth soul in one day.

In one neighborhood of one city.

And I knew why they were dying at such a rate. Everyone knew it, now. Just as I could feel the fresh signature of the newly-dead, I felt the presence of the reason the young woman had died.

Undead.

They swarmed across the earth, leaving death in their wake. Multiplying.

My eight New Guardians and I weren’t enough. We had known it for weeks now. There was no way nine of us, most of them very new to this life, could thwart the unstoppable tide of undead that had been released upon the innocent mortals. Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, had died in the past month as the number of undead grew, as they devoured the bodies of the living in their endless, limitless hunger.

They grew stronger. They were learning, and their learning was a nightmare.

The first few undead had been aided, coaxed, fed the hearts of the living. Created as tools to unhinge my Queen, the Goddess of Death. But now, with so many of them around, they were watching one another and learning. And, as more humans died, many of them became undead, refusing to give in to death.

Refusing to go to my Queen for their final judgment.

We were losing.

And, still, I hunt. It is the only thing I know how to do.

I tracked the energy signatures to a dark alley. The new soul, who I knew to be Marilyn Smith, had been murdered by the very undead who now struggled with her. Marilyn wasn’t going down without a fight, even in death, and that was something I could appreciate. She hit the undead hard in the face, stomped his foot. The undead, now sated with Marilyn’s flesh, just wanted to get away. It had not counted on Marilyn’s rage. This was not the first such scene I had witnessed, and I had a feeling it would not be the last. People were angry. Some of them were angry enough to try to fight back. If only intentions and emotion were enough.

As they struggled, I crept up behind the undead and plunged one of my Netherblades into its back. It howled, screeched, flailed, and did everything it could to reach the blade. When it failed to manage that, it lunged for me, its breath stinking of decay and death.

This one was partially-corporeal. Two hearts eaten. It sickened me that I knew these things now the same way I know my own name or the tapestry of scars across my flesh. I punched the undead in the face, satisfied by the crunching, squishing sound its face made when met with my fist. It slumped, and I quickly pulled the large black sword out of the scabbard I carried it in and removed its head with one swift motion.

At least Mollis would not have to deal with this one. Its soul, anything that was left of it, had long since been destroyed in its lust for flesh, for a living body of its own. There would be no soul to judge.

But it was still a soul that Mollis would miss, knowing that a being had died and she had been unable to punish it. It was one of many things making life worse for the Goddess of Death of late.

I turned to the soul of  Marilyn Smith.

“Will you come quietly?”

She nodded and held her hands out.

“I am sorry you ended the way you did,” I told her as I fastened a gleaming black chain around her wrists. The words came automatically now. Too many of them had expired this way, murdered by the mindless beasts Mollis Eth-Hades’ enemies had created. I was numb. At a certain point, death becomes routine. The Black Plague, the second World War had both been like that for me, since Europe had always been considered my domain.

This… this was worse than that. This would never end, not the way it was going.

I shook my head. Such thoughts did not do anyone any good. All we could do was keep fighting, keep hunting.

Keep hoping my Queen managed to keep her sanity long enough to bring her enemies to justice for the devastation they’d caused.

I shoved that thought away as well as I glanced at the body of the undead I’d destroyed. It was already in the advanced stages of decay. The only good thing I could say about the undead is that at least we did not have to deal with the bodies after we killed them; they just sort of melted away like filth being hosed into a gutter. I put my hand on Marilyn Smith’s shoulder, then focused on rematerializing us to the Netherwoods, where she would face her final judgment.

Before, first working for Hades and then later for his daughter and heir, Mollis, we would simply bring the souls and be done with it. Now, with such a ridiculous number of souls needing to be judged, and only Mollis capable of doing the judging and sentencing them to their punishment, there were long lines of them waiting even to be admitted to the area where they would await their judgment. Each of the rooms of Mollis’s palace, other than her personal quarters, had become holding areas for the souls of the dead. Demons guarded each room, swords and axes in hand, their glowing red eyes constantly surveying their charges, watching out for trouble.

“Guardian, do you ever sleep?” One of the demons said when I walked into the least-full admitting room.

“Do you?” I asked him, and he shook his head tiredly.

“If I do, it’s likely happening when I’m on my feet,” he said, and I nodded.

“How are things moving along?” I asked, glancing around the room.

“Our Lady has been working tirelessly. We’re now grouping the souls in terms of how much evil they caused, and she’s sentencing them in groups.”

“Efficient,” I said.

“She hates it. You know she likes to give each soul her personal attention,” the demon guard told me, and I nodded.

“Let me guess: this method was her husband’s idea.”

The demon guard nodded.

“I thought so,” I said. Mollis’s husband, the demon Nain, was in charge of her army of demon guards, and it was easy to see his hand in the way the demons behaved. They were disciplined, but ruthless.

“So where do I put this one?” I asked, nodding toward the soul I’d just brought in.

“The room down the hall, last on the left, is for those we believe are low risk,” the demon said in its low, growly voice. “Still very well guarded, so don’t try anything,” he said to Marilyn Smith.

“I-I won’t,” she said, giving a small shiver beside me.

“I will take her down there now.” He gave me a nod, and I led the soul away. We made our way down the wide stone corridor, black stone beneath our feet, stone walls rising on either side of us. Elaborate iron chandeliers were spaced at even intervals along the ceiling, lighting our way.

In the distance, I could hear screams echoing off the stone; evidence that Mollis and the Furies were working.

I found the room the demon had directed me toward, and handed her off to one demon as another walked toward me.

This one, I knew. Unlike the others, he wore his human skin, even here where his demon form would have been totally acceptable.

“E,” Nain said as he stalked toward me. “Answer your fucking phone.”

“Hello to you, too,” I said, raising my eyebrow.

“Yeah, hi. Answer your fucking phone,” he repeated.

“My phone hasn’t rung in days,” I said, pulling it out of my jacket pocket to show him. It was only then that I saw that it had been punctured, a nasty-looking hole going from the screen out the back of the phone.

“I wonder why,” Nain said drily.

I tried to remember when that had happened. I remembered fighting an undead who’d had a spear-type weapon.

“Was Mollis trying to call me?” I asked him, tossing the useless phone into a nearby trash can.

“Not Molly. Brennan.”

I blew out a breath.

“When’s the last time you even talked to him, E?” Nain asked. I was about to answer when he stopped, stalked over to a soul, said a few low words, then came back.

“What was that about?”

“That one was trying to incite bullshit earlier. That was his second warning.”

“And when his third warning becomes necessary?” I asked.

“He’ll spend a little time with Megaera. She’s always good for helping to keep them in line.”

I nodded.

“So. Brennan? Call your husband, E.”

“He knows I am fine.”

“When’s the last time you talked to him?”

I rolled my eyes.

“I know how long it’s been. Do you?” Nain asked.

“I have a few things going on right now,” I snapped.

“Yeah, no shit. Call him anyway. Or, better yet, go home and get some sleep. You look like shit and if Molls saw you looking like this she’d want to kick your ass.”

“You do know that the flood of souls isn’t slowing, yes?”

“And you and your New Guardians are doing more than anyone ever thought you could do in terms of bringing them in. Every single one of you looks like a fucking zombie or something, which is saying something since you all have that Nether pallor going anyway.”

I gave him a dirty look.

“Quinn fell asleep while I was talking to him. Erin and Catherine both got injured because they were so tired they—“

“Are they all right?” I asked.

“Yeah. They’re okay.”

“Why didn’t anyone tell me? They know how to contact me,” I said. Quinn was going to hear about this.

“Because they’re just as busy as you are, and unless one of you has a limb cut off, you seem incapable of stopping.”

“It’s what we were made for,” I said with a shrug. “And she needs us to be doing this,” I said, nodding my head toward the rear of the palace, where I knew Mollis was working.

“She needs you. But even she rests sometimes.”

“Only because you insist on it.”

“And because seeing our kids helps her with all of the sick shit she has to see. Go home, E. Take a few hours to get some rest. All the undead fuckers will still be there when you go back out.”

“Except that there will be more of them,” I argued.

He sighed, and then he rubbed his hands over his face. “I know. But all of us running ourselves ragged isn’t working. There has to be something else. This isn’t doing it.”

I have rarely heard despair from the demon Mollis married. Only once, when we’d believed her dead. But I heard it now, and I well understood why: he was watching her slowly but surely lose her mind. She was losing herself in the constant evil she was faced with, with the mounting numbers of souls that were slipping away from us.

“I need to help her,” I said.

“You need to go home for a while. A few hours isn’t going to make or break any of this shit,” he said tiredly. And then he turned and walked away, taking a corridor that I knew would lead him to where Mollis was.

***

I glanced around, then rematerialized myself back to London, back where I’d collected Marilyn’s soul. I would make one more circuit of the neighborhood, and then I would take the demon’s advice and check in with Brennan.

I hadn’t even given it a thought, that he might have been trying to contact me. Hadn’t even glanced at my phone, expecting that it would ring if he really needed me for something. A wave of guilt crashed over me. I knew how he worried. And, more, I knew that he missed me when I was not there.

I was a few streets over from where we were staying, our little flat in Whitechapel, when I felt an immortal nearby.

I spun around, looking in all directions, trying to decipher where the power source was. It was not overly strong, the way Mollis or one of the other gods’ powers would feel. This was weaker, lighter, like one of the lesser gods.

Like my own power, I suppose.

I felt other energy signatures nearby as well, and I headed toward where all three were, cold rage already coursing through me. The last time I’d found a lesser god with the undead, it had been because my sisters were working with the undead, working to undermine Mollis.

Working to throw the world, apparently, into chaos. I did not understand it, but seeing the effect their actions had set into motion made me more angry than I’ve ever been.

I sped up. My sisters, other than my two missing Guardian sisters, Amalia and Zara, were all dead. If this was one of them, with the undead…

Well. Then at least I would know that my instincts had been correct, that if they were truly innocent of any wrongdoing, Amalia and Zara would have come forward to help Mollis.

As I got closer, I knew it wasn’t either of them. This wasn’t a Guardian or even a New Guardian power I was feeling. I ran around a corner, hearing the scuffling of feet, followed by a weak moan. Straight ahead of me, I saw four undead surrounding a lesser god I knew well: Lethe, the goddess of memory. She was fighting them back, but Lethe was never a warrior god. Most gods aren’t, especially not the emotion or nature gods; Poseidon and his family are the exceptions there.

I ran toward the group and started stabbing out at the undead, quickly taking two out as the other two started to run away.

That, in and of itself, was unnerving. That much immortal blood and flesh should have made them stay. It was usually irresistible to the undead. But just as they seemed to have learned, over time, how to gain a corporeal form, they seemed to have learned something else as well:

Fear of me.

I was about to chase them down when I saw Lethe stumble, then fall, a pale shadow glinting in the dark recesses of the quiet street. I ran over to her, noting with disgust the bite marks on her, the sickly pallor of her usually luminescent skin. Her eyelids were closed over her silvery eyes and her breathing was shallow. I gently picked her up and started to focus, attempting to rematerialize with her. She would need healing.

I had just started to feel the sense of coming apart that precedes rematerialization when I felt something hard strike the side of my face. My concentration broke, and we remained in the alley where we were. I looked around and spotted one of the undead who had run away with its arms raised, a large chunk of rock in its hand. I ducked away just as it sent the rock flying toward me. I set Lethe down, feeling momentarily guilty that I was using her as bait. It was too much temptation for the undead. It threw another rock at me and I leaned lazily to the side as it whizzed past me. It hurled another one, and I took a few steps away, quickly grabbing my Netherblades from under my jacket. The undead kept one eye on me, but was so hunger-crazed that even its unease about my presence there wasn’t enough to dissuade it from scuttling over to where Lethe still lay unconscious. It had gotten over its fear rather quickly, yet more evidence that the undead are less than animals, ruled by hunger. They could learn, but in the end, their desire for flesh would alway overrule sense. And immortal flesh was something none of them would ever be able to resist.

As far too many immortals had learned in the past few months, I thought as fresh rage coursed through me.

The undead, as I predicted, completely forgot that I was there, focused on Lethe’s still form. It had just started leaning over her prone body when I whipped one dagger at it. The dagger hit home, sticking out of the side of its neck, and it flailed and screamed and ripped the dagger from its flesh. It had just removed the dagger when I sent another one that embedded itself into the undead’s stomach. Another screech, and it dropped the first dagger to scrabble furiously at its stomach. It was nothing at all for me to walk up behind it, draw my sword, and remove its head.

When it fell, I pulled my dagger from its stomach, grabbed the other one where it had fallen, and wiped the blades of all three weapons off on the undead’s tattered shirt. At this point, I could not tell whether this one had been male or female just by glancing at it, and I surely did not care enough to try to investigate further. I looked at the undead again as I re-sheathed my blades, then went back to where I’d left Lethe. I heaved her body up once more, took a breath, and focused.

It was time to go home.

Moments later, we were standing in the living room of the small flat Brennan and I had moved into upon relocating to London. It was late, and the loft was silent. I settled Lethe on the brown leather sofa and tossed a soft maroon throw over her. There was still a lamp on in the living room, and my heart gave a little squeeze. I knew he left the light on for me, hoping, undoubtedly, that I would manage to make my way home to him this night, even though I had failed to do so so many nights before.

The wood floors gleamed, and the apartment was neat and organized. One thing Brennan and I had found after moving in together was that we had no arguments at all about the style in which we preferred to keep our home. My style could be considered “simple.” His could only be called spartan. The only extraneous items in the main living area were photos of Brennan’s son, Sean, either alone or with either Brennan or Brennan’s grandmother, Artemis. In the center of the cluster of framed photos adorning one wall, there was a photo of the two of us, Brennan and I, in an unguarded moment when we were both relaxed and smiling.

It had been taken the day we’d moved to London, and there had been far too few moments like it since that day.

I heard the floorboards creak, and a moment later, Brennan stepped out of the hallway that led back to the bedrooms in our flat. He was dressed only in a pair of loose pajama bottoms, and the sight of his muscled arms, wide shoulders, the golden hair sprinkled across his chest, was enough to nearly make me forget myself and everything going on around us. On his left hand, a silver band glinted. It matched the band I wore on my left hand, and it symbolized everything I never thought I’d have. All I wanted to do was touch him.

Instead, I stayed frozen where I was, standing beside the sofa.

Brennan’s gaze met mine for a moment, and I was relieved to see warmth there. Not anger. Not irritation. Certainly not rejection. So often already, I’d expected him to tire of the way our life was. I’d expected him to realize that the life he was sharing with me was not the one he desired. I knew this was not how he’d ever envisioned his life. He deserved more, but I was and continue to be too selfish to let him go.

We had promised one another that we would fight side by side. And we had, until it had become impossible to keep up with all of the souls that the undead were creating. Every supernatural being who could, including Brennan, spent most of their waking hours dealing with the chaos the undead were causing. Shifter packs and vampire families were on edge, and the humans were beyond terrified. My husband was already finding himself in the same position he’d left in Detroit; the de-facto leader of London’s shifter community, based on the fact that, like any wild being, shifters respect power above anything else. As the grandson of the goddess Artemis, Brennan had more than his fair share of power, and that plus his ability to work with and organize people earned him plenty of respect as well. We both hunted. It had just become impossible to hunt together, because I was forced to go wherever I felt a soul appearing, and he was needed in London, where the undead horde had begun and still continued to grow.

It all made me hate the undead and those who had brought them into being a bit more.

“Nice to see you, Tink,” he said in a quiet voice, and just the sound of it sent pleasant shivers down my spine.

“It is nice to see you as well, Cub,” I said. We held one another’s gaze for a few moments, and then I looked down. “I need to have Asclepius come here,” I said, gesturing to Lethe.

Brennan stepped toward me and looked down at the goddess. “What happened to her?”

“I am not entirely sure. I know these most recent injuries are due to the undead. I found four of them attacking her not far from here. But she seems weaker than she should be.”

“What’s she doing here in London?” he asked quietly, picking the phone up from the end table.

I shook my head. “I have no idea. It would have been safer for her where she was.”

He nodded, and a moment later he was speaking, to Asclepius, I realized. I bent down and gently brushed Lethe’s silvery hair back from her face. Not only was she pale, but her cheeks had that hollow look that comes when people have been sick for too long. That, and the deep, dark shadows beneath her eyes suggested that she had been through some things.

“He’s coming,” Brennan said a moment later.

“Thank you for calling him.”

Brennan didn’t answer. I stood up straight and looked at him. As near as he was, I could smell his warm, comforting scent, a hint of the soap he used when he showered. I looked up into his blue eyes, eyes that never failed to remind me of sky and sea, and raised my hand, gently running my fingertips through his flaxen beard. He leaned his face into my touch and closed his eyes, reminding me for just a moment of the giant cat he was when he shifted.

“I am sorry my love. I’ve been gone too long. And I should have called, if nothing else,” I said softly.

He took my wrist in his hand and brought it to his mouth, gently kissed the sensitive place where my pulse throbbed in my wrist. Then he held my hand against his chest. I could feel his heart beating strongly, and I stepped closer.

“You don’t need to apologize to me, Eunomia,” he said softly, his gaze capturing mine again. “I never want you to feel guilty for being who you are.”

“This was not what you signed up for when we pledged ourselves to one another, I think,” I whispered. He gave me a lopsided grin, one that still had the power to make me swoon, and more than a little.

“I signed up for eternity with you. This is what that looks like at the moment. I’m not complaining.”

“You have not seen me in, what? Days? Weeks?” I asked him. “It was inconsiderate of me not to at least call to tell you I was all right.”

“Nain would have let me know if you’d gone more than a few hours without turning in a soul. Based on how often they see you, I know you’re working your ass off. Stop beating yourself up for doing what you need to do.”

“I feel guilty. I am never here,” I said.

He gave a low laugh. “Imagine how guilty you’d feel if you were just sitting around with me all the time and letting the undead run rampant.”

I shook my head, and he pulled me into his arms.

“You’re exhausted, though, and that isn’t something I’m okay with. I’ll sit up with Lethe and see what Asclepius says. Take a shower and get some sleep.”

“Bossy,” I told him, standing up on my tiptoes to press a kiss to his lips. He kissed me back, and I sighed contentedly against his lips, just as he sighed against mine.  His big, warm hands immediately made their way under my leather jacket and t-shirt, and I shivered at the sensation of his strong hands touching the bare flesh at the base of my spine. Just that single touch was enough to make me feel more at ease than I had felt in days. “You are perfect,” I murmured before pulling away.

“Not even close. But I’m glad you think so,” he said with a grin. I kissed him again, and he pressed my body closer to his, his hands still resting at my lower back, and he gently trailed his fingers up my spine. He pressed a warm kiss to the side of my neck and slowly released me, tilting his head toward the bedrooms. I shook my head and started tiredly down the hall. I glanced back at him.

“You will wake me if I am needed?”

He nodded.

“And you will come to bed with me as soon as Lethe is settled?”

He smiled. “Obviously.”

I smiled, and it was the first time I had done so in quite a while.