Live Now: The Two-blood Legacy

The first book of the Red Cliffs Chronicles is now available on Amazon and Draft2Digital. If you want to read it, please contact me and I’ll send you a free copy.

Cover design by Srdjan Filipovic

 

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A-R International: J. F. Kaufmann

Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

J. F. Kaufmann
Authors-Readers Internaional

Not unlike my characters, I lead a double life: by day I’m an employee in a public library, mother of two teenage boys, a friend, a colleague, and the Queen of my kitchen. When the moon arises, however, I shift into my other self and, as Queen of the Night, reign in the magical world of Langaer.

As long as I can remember, my life has been centered around books, reading and writing. I studied linguistics and literature; I worked as a magazine and newspaper editor, literary fiction editor and teacher. For the last eighteen years I’ve been working for Calgary Public Library, in different capacities, surrounded by books and people who love to read.

Currently, J. F. Kaufmann works for the Calgary Public Library as a reference assistant and cataloguer, helping readers discover great books and creating book lists of recommended reads.

She is the author of two novels of…

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When Books Talk Among Themselves (and Chapter 2)

Chapter Two

In which our heroine learns some new words from an old language and contemplates toothbrushes, pajamas, and an 18th century opera singer, whose name was Rosalie. Then she makes a terrible coffee.

This chapter subtitle is not part of my book; it’s a sort of homage to one of my most beloved novels, The Name of the Rose. Eco’s work is divided into seven days and each day into periods corresponding to liturgical hours. Each hour/chapter begins with a subtitle that highlights some interesting moments, and it’s added in third person even though the novel is told in first.

The Name of the Rose is mentioned in both of the Red Cliffs novels. In The Legacy, it’s Astrid’s current read, even though, judging by the condition of her copy, she read it quite a few times already. (We have that in common–I’ve been reading it annually since 1985.)

joshua-rawson-harris-LX0pplSjE2g-unsplash

Books, as Umberto Eco says, “always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told”. Moreover, in the beautiful world of literature, it’s possible to have an unknown fantasy book to talk to a masterpiece.

The notion of intertextuality is postmodern; in other words, it’s been formulated relatively recently. But intertextuality, that chit-chatting among books, is nothing new, of course. It’s as old as literature–oral and written–itself.

There is another kind of dialogue in books. All stories are reflections of their authors inner selves. Consciously and subconsciously, we give bits and pieces of us to our characters. Through them, we leave clues about our personalities, our views, our likes and dislikes. My best-loved composer is Mozart; my favourite opera is his Magic Flute. I’m a great admirer of the Holy Roman Emperor Josef II, so I found the way to sneak him into my stories.  I let Jack, at one point, quote Mahatma Gandhi. I love Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, Tina Turner; I like medieval history, the Age of Enlightenment, the Baroque and Art Deco styles, horses, dogs and cats.

And yes, I’ve always dreamed of driving the red Ferrari.

As of the Legacy, I’m still formatting it, while combing through it to find hidden typos.  Here is the second chapter.

Cover design by Srdjan Filipovic

Astrid

I WAVED TOWARD THE SOFA. Tristan and Jack sat on opposite ends, while I took a seat across from them, in the armchair.

“It looked like you left your aura at the kitchen table,” my visitor said. “A nice little trick.”

“I knew you were close, watching me. I didn’t see you, but your scent was all over my backyard.”

He shifted in his seat and smiled. “Good to know you detected it.”

“Would’ve been hard not to.” His scent was strong. And pleasant.

“And an unfamiliar scent didn’t scare you?”

“No,” I said. “My instinct told me there was nothing to be afraid of.”

Jack laughed at that. “Yet you perform your Vulcan nerve pinch on me, huh? Just in case?”

“Right. Instincts are great, but they can be wrong.”

“Clever thinking,” he said.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” He moved his head from left to right to stretch his neck muscles. “You caught me by surprise, I have to admit. Where did you learn that little maneuver?”

“A friend of mine taught me.”

“You have a strong grip.”

“Strong? I was careful not to hurt you.”

“Better to remember not to upset you then,” Jack said with a lopsided smile.

After our little verbal tennis match, which Tristan watched with an amused expression, we fell into silence.

Jack looked around the room, his gaze shifting from my bookshelves to me, from me to the sumi-e paintings on the wall, and from the paintings back to me.

I watched him from under my lashes. He was a man who felt comfortable in his own skin. Confident, strong. Funny, but it seemed he belonged here, in my small living room, sitting on my sofa with his long legs outstretched and his arm relaxed over the back of the sofa.

I couldn’t help but also notice his clean, proportional facial features, beautiful amber eyes, light brown hair and powerful physique. And, oh, his scent. Soap, clean clothes, musk, a hint of sweat. He smelled good.

Just before the quietness had become too long, Tristan broke it. “Astrid, Liv and I have known Jack for years. You’re safe with him. And you know why he’s here. I think you should consider what he has to say.”

“So, you and Liv knew about this?” I said. It was more a statement than a question. Of course, they’d known.

“I asked them not to tell you,” Jack said in Tristan’s defense, before Tristan could say anything. “I didn’t want you to take a hike.”

“Jack phoned two days ago,” Tristan said. “I’m sorry, Astrid.”

I waved him off. “It’s okay, Tristan. I understand.”

I did, really. When it came to me, nothing was simple. Liv and Tristan were my friends, but also my protectors. My safety took priority over friendship and loyalty. I wouldn’t have run away even if I’d known Jack Canagan was coming, but he couldn’t know that and had all the reasons to be wary. I had a reputation of being uncooperative. In the past, I had refused to have anything to do with my Red Cliffs’ family and my clan.

“Take a day off tomorrow,” Tristan said. “You’ve been working for ten days in a row.”

I shook my head. “I can’t. Mrs. Fontaine is getting a new kneecap. I have her scheduled for 8 a.m.”

“I can operate on her,” Tristan said.

He could, of course. In addition to being the Rosenthal Hospital CEO, Tristan was an exceptional surgeon. But Charlotte Fontaine was my patient and she expected me to fix her knee. “I’m not tired. I’ll be fine.”

“Okay, then.” Tristan slapped his palms to his knees and stood up. “Keep your mind open, Astrid. That’s all I ask. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“I will. I promise. Say hello to Liv,” I said to Tristan as I walked him to the door.

***

“I’VE BEEN EXPECTING SOMEONE FROM Red Cliffs to show up sooner or later, but now that you’re here I don’t know how to feel about it,” I said when I returned. “You want me to go with you.”

“That’s right,” he said simply.

I shook my head. “I can’t just pack and leave. People know me here. I have a house. I have a job. I have several surgeries scheduled for the next couple of weeks, and I plan to do them all.”

“Then we’ll leave when you wrap things up.”

“We? You plan to stay here until I’m ready to go?”

The corners of his lips tugged into a smug smile. “I’m not leaving without you.”

Yeah. I guess he wasn’t. “It could be a long wait.”

“I’m not in a hurry.”

I sighed. “I need coffee. Do you want a cup?”

“Please. Half teaspoon of sugar.”

I almost reached the kitchen when he added, “Is it okay if I stay here with you? At your house? I think that’s easier for both of us.”

At my house? Did I hear that correctly?

I glanced at my guest. He didn’t look as if he’d been joking.

His request, natural and crazy all at once, brought up all sorts of conflicting emotions. Why would I allow a man I’d met less than an hour ago to stay at my house? Because Tristan and Liv knew him? Because he was my kinsman? Because he looked and smelled sinfully masculine? Or because of that wonderful warm current that had splashed over my body when I had touched his throat?

I could still feel the traces of it. I wanted to feel it again.

“Er, sure,” I heard myself saying. My blood hummed with excitement I didn’t dare to explore further. “You’re welcome to stay.”

***

“YOU’VE LIVED AMONG WIZARDS AND humans, but how much do you know about us?” Jack asked when I returned from the kitchen with two mugs in my hands.

I passed him one and took my place on the armchair. “A little. I wasn’t aware of my connections to Red Cliffs until my teenage years.”

“It wasn’t your fault, I know. But you were born in Red Cliffs and your father was a werewolf. You’ve known that since you were a teenager. This is your world, too.”

I moved my finger around the rim of my cup several times before I set it down on the table. “Yes. Of course,” I said, glancing at him from under my lashes. “Did my uncle send you?”

He confirmed with a nod. “Very few things in Red Cliffs happen without your uncle’s knowledge. He and your grandparents agree that the safest place for you is Red Cliffs.”

“I’m aware of that,” I said. “I’m not sure if you know, but last year Seth’s people tried to kidnap me. My grandfather and my uncle decided I had to go to Red Cliffs. I was supposed to drop everything and go. I couldn’t do that.”

“So, you chose to drop everything and come to Rosenthal instead. Why? It wasn’t an idle threat.”

I took a sip of my coffee and grimaced. It was too strong and too hot. “Because at least it was my decision; that’s why. Uncle and Grandpa treated me like a child. Like someone who wasn’t capable of making her own decisions. Besides, Tristan and Liv offered to come here with me to protect me. It was enough.”

“Well, your uncle thought that might not be enough. Six months ago, he sent two of our people to watch over you.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head. Why wasn’t I surprised? Because one way or another, somebody had been watching over me my entire life, that’s why. “How come I haven’t noticed anything?” I asked.

“They masked their scent and they didn’t come close enough for you to sense them.”

But I’d sensed him. “You wanted me to find your scent, didn’t you? Why? To test my sense of smell?”

“Yes,” he said with no hesitation. “We don’t know much about your werewolf side.”

I don’t know much about my werewolf side either,” I said. “Nor have I a clue how to deal with the little I know about it.”

He gulped his coffee. I couldn’t help but smile at his expression. He didn’t enjoy it any more than I did. “It’s, er, strong. Anyway, we can help you to understand it. I can help. You are our kin, you are not alone.”

I rubbed my forehead. “I want an ordinary life. Here I can have it.”

“You can only pretend to have it, and you know that. You’re a half wizard, half werewolf. Not an orthodox heritage. As a werewolf, you don’t belong to the human world.”

“Which world do I belong to? I’m a wizardess who can’t use her powers and a werewolf who can’t control her wolf. Do you know how much trouble I have with my transformation?”

“I’ve heard. We’ll see why. Your werewolf is not a wild, crazy ‘someone’ living inside you. It’s a part of you, a mirror image of your wizard side, only more intense. Your asanni and your blaidd benywaidd are in harmony.”

He knew our word for a wizardess—asanni—but I had never heard the word blaidd benywaidd before. The meaning wasn’t difficult to guess, though. “Blaidd benywaidd? Is this what you call a werewolf?” I asked.

“Werewoman; she-wolf. You’re a blaidd benywaidd. Well, a half, to be precise. I’m a blaidd.”

“And my other half? What do you call it?”

“It’s called dynes,” he said and explained that dynes—and its masculine equivalent, dyn had a dual meaning. Depending on context, they referred to both our human spirit and our human physical form. Our people were called gwerin y blaidd and the humans that lived among us and knew about our existence—gwerin. “All these words are from Hen Iaith,” Jack summarized his concise werewolf vocabulary lesson, “our old language, related to Archaic Welsh.”

“Dynes. Blaidd benywaidd”, I repeated softly. I liked the sound of those words. So soft. They carried more meaning than “human” or “she-wolf.”

For a while, we talked about our old languages, of which we—werewolves, wizards and Tel-Urughs, the ancient race Tristan and Livia belonged to—had only limited use. We lived among humans, we needed to blend with them, so adopting their languages as our lingua franca had been a practical solution.

Still, we kept our old languages alive. We learned them as children, we spoke them among ourselves, we read and wrote in them. Wizards perhaps had the most concrete benefits of their ancestral language, Mál, similar to Proto-Norse. Our spells would work only if cast in Mál, otherwise they didn’t work at all.

Werewolves, as I learned from Jack, used their old language not only for ceremonies but to communicate with their kind, who were dispersed all over the planet as well. For werewolves, Hen Iaith functioned as their common language. Jack mentioned what I’d learned from Livia before—that Tel-Urughs had also preserved their old tongue, High Akkadian, the predecessor and the only surviving relative of the long-ago lost tongues of Summer.

Jack’s smooth baritone put me at ease, made me lower my guard. He was a friend, not a foe, I thought. Someone I could trust. My kin.

Bizarre as it was, I had a feeling that this man sitting across from me wasn’t a stranger, but someone who’d been part of my life forever.

He told me of the clans that lived on the American continent, their origins, history, traditions.

“I’ll need to learn a lot,” I said. “I know very little about this part of my heritage.”

“You’ll learn, don’t worry,” Jack said gallantly. Then he looked at me for a long moment. “Is it just your difficult transformation or is there something else?”

Did I imagine a touch annoyance in his voice? “I’m sorry?”

“Why can’t you accept your blaidd benywaidd?”

No, I hadn’t. The feeling of closeness vanished. “When you see my change, you’ll understand my lack of enthusiasm,” I said sharper than I’d intended.

“I’m sometimes too frank. I’m sorry.”

I took a deep breath. “Don’t make assumptions, you don’t know me. I don’t have a problem with what I am. Or, I wouldn’t if I could control my, er, blaidd benywaidd. But I can’t. It scares me that I don’t know what happens to me during transformation. I black out. I can’t initiate the change, I can’t turn back by will. It makes me weak and vulnerable. You can’t call this ‘harmony’ of my two parts.”

Jack leaned forward. “I can help you go through it the next time and every time after that. As long as you need me. You’ll have memories, you’ll be able to connect time. You have to learn how to control the change. It’s easy and natural.”

“For you. You are not a half wizard.”

Jack ignored my remark. “Do you change every month? No exceptions?”

“It was irregular at the beginning, every three to four months, but I always knew when it was coming.” I rubbed my forehead. “Look, can we stop here now? I have to be at the hospital at six o’clock in the morning.”

He rose. “You know, you can be a doctor in Red Cliffs. We need occasional medical attention. Not too much, but still.”

I glanced up at him from under my lashes. “I’m an MD, Mr. Canagan, not a veterinarian.”

It flashed through my mind that he might feel offended, but he just laughed. “I’m sure we wouldn’t mind. By the way, where am I going to sleep?”

“In the spare room down the hall. The bedsheets, pillows and blanket are in the closet. I believe you have your pajamas and a toothbrush with you.”

We stood across from each other, with the coffee table between us.

“I have a toothbrush,” he said with an innocent grin.

Right. He didn’t look like someone who wore pajamas. “I have just one bathroom, and I’ll need it between five and five-thirty. After that, it’s all yours.”

“Yes, ma’am. My car is parked a block from here. It’s going to take a minute to get there and back. Don’t get into trouble in my absence.”

“I’ll do my best, I promise,” I said and walked toward the kitchen.

“Astrid?”

“Yes?” I stopped and turned to him, surprised to find him right behind me. I took a small step back. Jack reached for the cups I was holding, both still almost full. “Let me help you with that.” His fingers lightly brushed mine. The same warm sensation I’d felt when I’d touched his throat earlier that evening ran from my fingers through my entire body.

“Out of curiosity, why Rosalie Duplant?” he asked.

I smiled. “She was an opera singer from eighteenth-century England, the most famous Queen of the Night of her time. You know, from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Good night, Jack.”

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The Legacy – Chapter One, etc.

If you want the moon, don’t hide from the night.

If you want a rose, don’t run from the thorns.

If you want love, don’t hide from yourself.

Rumi

Photo by Peter Lewicki on Unsplash

I’ve chosen these three lines as the beginning of each of the three parts of Guardian of the Realm, the second book of the Red Cliffs Chronicles. They fit the story perfectly, but I’m mentioning it now because I’m up to my eyebrows in formatting the e-version of the Guardian. It’s a tad easier than my first project, The Legacy, true, but it’s still maddening.

I did the Draft2Digital formatting of The Legacy as well, and the Kindle version is now available for preorder. It’ll be published on June 30th.

To give myself a break from formatting, I’ll be working on the translation of a beautiful poem, My Brother’s Hands, written by my high school friend, an ER doctor and writer, Jasmina Hanjialic.

And now,

Chapter One

Three weeks earlier

JACK

 

THE PHONE ON THE NIGHTSTAND made a hum, jerking me upright. I glanced at the display and felt a prickle at my nape. A call from Tristan Blake at 1:35 a.m. could only mean trouble.

I pressed the answer button. “Is Astrid okay?”

“She’s fine,” Tristan said. “We’ve just got a call from Copper Ridge. The same woman who phoned us before. She says a month ago Seth sent a couple of his people to look for Astrid.”

“A month ago? Why didn’t she tell us until now?”

“Because she didn’t know until now. Seth’s up to something again.”

I rubbed my chin. “That’s what we heard, too. Did his people come close to Astrid?”

“No,” Tristan said. “They looked for her in the wrong place. Dallas.”

“Dallas? Hmm. I wonder what made them go there. She’s never had any connections to Texas.”

“A smokescreen? Perhaps they wanted us to believe they had no clue where she is.”

“It’s possible,” I said. “Or perhaps someone sent them on a wild goose chase. But who? That lunatic Seth must be stopped. The sooner the better.”

“Copper Ridge may need some help to take him down.”

“I know. We’ll help them.”

“We can keep Astrid safe as long as it takes,” Tristan said. “Between Liv, me and your people here, she’s well protected, but it’s a band-aid solution.”

Brother and sister team, the Falconers, had been sent to Rosenthal a while ago to watch over Astrid.  Not that Tristan and Livia Blake needed help; their job was to monitor her surroundings for anything unusual. They’d been told to keep a distance so that she didn’t know about them, but to stay close enough to protect her, if necessary. It was time, however, for a more radical move.

“She should come to Red Cliffs,” I said. “She’s too precious to us to risk anything happening to her. I’ll talk to James. If he agrees, I’ll come to Rosenthal and talk to her. Convince her to come with me to Red Cliffs.” I let out a frustrated sigh. “Stubborn little mule. She should’ve come long ago.”

“Astrid’s been reluctant to go to Red Cliffs, true, but she had reasons to be. Try to understand.”

“She’d better come this time.”

“That depends on you, Jack,” Livia Blake said in her slow, sensual drawl. The voice came from somewhere behind Tristan. With her sharp hearing, could hear all of our conversation. With my sharp hearing, her voice was as clear as if she were talking on the phone.

I smiled. Some of the tension caused by Tristan’s call eased. Livia Blake could have such an effect on people. “Hey, beautiful. I was wondering where you were.”

“Hey, handsome. Haven’t seen you in ages.”

“Okay, that’s it,” I heard Tristan again. “I am not teleconferencing again. Livia, if you want to talk to Jack, keep the phone pressed against your ear, not mine.”

I heard Livia sigh. “Okay. Pass me the phone, love” Then, a moment later, “Jack, Astrid’s a sensible person. She’ll listen to you. By the way …” She let her voice drift off. I knew Liv long enough to know what was coming. I could picture the spark in her eyes and a hint of a smile in the corners of her mouth. “She’s beautiful, you know.”

“She’s pretty, yes,” I said. “I saw her pictures. Liv, darling, if this is one of your little matchmaking schemes, you shouldn’t bother. You know they don’t work with me.”

“Should I remind you that your last girlfriend was your own choice, yet it didn’t work either?”

She was right there, I’d give her that.

“Astrid is exquisite, you’ll see,” Livia said.

“I believe you. Liv, listen, don’t tell Astrid Seth’s people were looking for her. I’ll talk to her. Keep her safe until I take over.”

“Pfft, a piece of cake,” Liv said. “They can only get to her over our dead bodies, and that won’t be easy, you must admit.”

“Next to impossible,” I said with a chuckle.

“Are you coming alone?” Tristan asked, half joking, half serious. “Maybe we should have two guest rooms ready? Knowing James, I won’t be surprised to see him, too.”

“It’s understandable. She’s his niece, and he worries about her.” Liv said.

“I’m going to bring her to him.” This time she was coming with me even if I had to tie her up, toss her over my shoulder and carry her to Red Cliffs. “See you soon, then. And don’t worry about the room. James’s not coming with me if I can help it. And I plan to stay at Astrid’s. I need to know her better.”

Before Livia could make a comment, I finished the call.

***

TWO DAYS LATER, I STOOD behind an old spruce tree in Astrid’s backyard, waiting for Tristan.

She’d just returned home. I watched as she unlocked the door, turned the light on and stepped in. One by one, the other lights went on.

I followed her aura—the clear outline of the body heat some of us were able to see—as she moved through the house. It was bright blue, unlike the deep red of typical wolf-peoples’ aura. From the hallway to the kitchen, to the living room, bathroom, bedroom and back to the living room again, where she walked to the window and closed the blinds.

Did she find my scent inside the house?

Probably not. The search seemed to be over. She was back in the kitchen, opening the fridge and bending over in front of it.

***

I HAD ARRIVED IN ROSENTHAL earlier that morning. Astrid had been already at work, so I’d taken the opportunity to look around her house. I wasn’t proud of it, but I wouldn’t apologize either. The Falconer siblings’ reports were focused more on her surroundings and the potential dangers than on the things I needed to know: what kind of person the young surgeon Dr. Astrid Mohegan, alias Dr. Rosalie Duplant, really was.

The reason was simple: unbeknown to her, Astrid, the daughter of a wizardess and a werewolf, was a rare, precious, powerful ellida, the mighty force of good and the highest authority of a werewolf clan. That’s why I had to bring her to Red Cliffs. She belonged among us and we needed her as much as she needed us.

The other reason for this incognito visit was more mundane—I’d wanted to look for traces and scents of other people in and around her house—werewolves, wizards, Tel-Urughs, humans. Anyone who could do her harm. I knew Liv checked her place twice a day. It’d be hard to imagine anything slipping her attention. Still, another pair of eyes—or better, another nose—wouldn’t hurt.

Astrid’s house was small and had only two bedrooms. The interior was clean and simple: modern, dark brown furniture, plenty of free space, sliding doors dividing the kitchen from the sitting area and her small office. Natural colors prevailed: butter-yellow walls, a beige sofa and armchairs, dark parquet floor. It would’ve appeared gender neutral if it hadn’t been for the decorative accents in different shades of pink: the cushions, the carpet under the coffee table, the lampshade, the woolen blanket on the sofa, a big bouquet of pale pink roses in a vase.

Hanging on the wall there were several Japanese ink paintings with a four-season theme: orchards, bamboo, chrysanthemums and plum blossoms. More sumi-e artworks of misty landscapes, flowers and small animals adorned the opposite wall.

When I stepped into her tidy, almost spartan bedroom, the floor made a high-pitched squeak. I nodded in silent approval: a nightingale floor, designed to make a sound when walked upon. The dry boards creaked under the pressure of footsteps and the flooring nails rubbed against clamps, producing chirping noises. A simple and efficient security device assuring nobody could sneak into her room. I’d heard about it, but never seen one. Smart girl.

She loved music. I’d heard she had an exceptional singing voice, trained for years. It was so beautiful that she could be an opera singer if she wanted. Or rather, if she could afford the fame and publicity that would come with such a voice.

I checked a pile of CDs in front of her stereo: Guns’n’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion was the last one she’d listened to. The jewel case lay open, and the disc was still in the player.

I shook my head, smiling. Who on earth still listened to CDs?

Besides heavy metal and hard rock, the recordings that had been recently played contained Amy Winehouse, Queen, Santana. Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing. I smiled—my all-time favorite. Then I’d opened a big box on the bottom the the bookshelf, filled with classical music: Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Haydn—symphonies, concertos, operas. Several different productions of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

I browsed through her books, hundreds of them packed tightly on shelves that covered a whole wall. Her literary tastes were also interesting. “Tell me what you read, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Hmm. In Astrid’s case, it wouldn’t be so easy. She seemed to like everything from Aristotle to Asterix. Classic titles stood side by side with contemporary bestsellers and graphic novels. A lot of supernatural romance fiction. On the floor beside the sofa, with a bookmark tucked somewhere in the second half, lay a signed copy of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, read numerous times, judging by the condition of the book.

Lots of medical books and magazines, but that was hardly a surprise.

Astrid’s neat, modest little nest didn’t reveal much about her except that she was a down-to-earth young woman who loved books, music, movies. And the color pink.

At least I was sure about two important things: no one had looked for her here, and she wasn’t in a relationship. The only scents in the house except hers were Liv’s and Tristan’s.

It didn’t seem right to further invade Astrid’s privacy. I looked around to make sure everything was as I’d found it. I’d only leave traces of my scent outside her house. I was curious to see if she would notice it.

***

I KEPT MY EYES ON the house, following her from the fridge to the kitchen table. She pulled out a chair and sat.

I expected her to start eating, but the blue outline of her body was still, like it was frozen.

Something is wrong, flashed through my mind only a second before her scent reached me from behind and her cold fingers closed around my throat in a strong grip.

At the precise moment when her hand touched my neck, a gentle, warm wave washed over me, reaching every cell of my body and every corner of my soul. She winced, and I knew she’d felt it too. Her grasp first loosened then tightened again.

Oh, God.

“Who are you and why are you watching me?” Her voice was soft, alluring. A tell-me-the truth-and-I might-let-you-live kind of soft and alluring.

Before I could answer, Tristan appeared in front of me seemingly out of nowhere.

“Wrong time to be late,” I said to him.

“Tristan.” Astrid acknowledged his arrival.

“It’s okay, Astrid,” Tristan said with suppressed laughter. “You can let him breathe.”

My attacker released my throat and I turned. She took a step back and, tilting her head, studied me with open curiosity.

***

“SORRY YOU TWO, TRISTAN SAID. “I see you’ve already met but let me make a formal introduction. Astrid, this is Jack Canagan from Red Cliffs. Jack, this is Astrid Mohegan. Why don’t we go inside the house?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Jack Canagan. I’ve heard of you. You’re my Uncle James’s stepson.”

With a curiosity that matched hers, I took in the tall, slender, golden-haired and blue-eyed young woman I knew only from photographs. They didn’t do her justice.

I cleared my throat. It didn’t hurt, but her grip had been strong. Good. She was nobody’s fool. “It makes us some sort of family, doesn’t it?”

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The Two-blood Legacy – Chapter Zero

Or, in other words, the Prologue.

(You’ll find it further down.)

The publishing industry seems to have something against prologues and epilogues. However, many bestselling authors, including the top names in their genres, use them. I would say that nothing is black and white, and that sometimes they are not necessary for the story, and some other times they make sense.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

As a reader, I usually don’t mind them; when I did, it was often because I didn’t like the book itself. On the other hand, Julia Quinn, one of my favourite romance authors, has gone so far as to write the second epilogue for each novel of her Bridgertons series. Written in the form of short stories, they tell us what happened to the main characters a few years after their first happily-eve-after. It worked, and her readers welcomed them.

They might not be officially popular, but prologues and epilogues are more common than they appear to be, and not only in fiction.  What are all these prequels and sequels of Star Wars (1977) if not an endless parade of more or less meaningful prologues and epilogues?

I believe that the prologue/epilogue feature works well in the Legacy. The narrative alternates between the two main characters. The Prologue is Astrid’s chapter; Chapter 27 is Jack’s, and it describes the same event from his perspective. I tweaked the epilogue a bit, turning it into a bonus story, “The Wedding Gift”, which also serves as a bridge between book 1 and 2.

The legacy has two parts, Asanni and Ellida, which correspond not only with Astrid’s inner metamorphose from a reluctant wizardess (asanni) to a blaidd benywaidd and the powerful leader of her clan (ellida), but also with the two settings, both fictitious — Asanni happens in a small town of Rosenthal, and Ellida in Red Cliffs.

At the very end of the Legacy is the glossary of uncommon terms, in case that the readers need additional explanation. The supernatural inhabitants  of my world have adopted human languages for their everyday communication, but they also use a number of words from their native tongues: Mál (M), Hen Iaith (HI) and High Akkadian (HA).

Some of the terminology is inspired by real languages, some invented. Among them are these few used in the Prologue:

asanni, pl. asinjur (M)—wizardess, female wizard in Mál (M), the wizard tongue. Asanni and related words are derived from the Old Mál word Asair/Æsair, which means life force, life light, but it also was the name of the territory they once occupied.

blaidd benywaidd (HI)—she-wolf, female wolf, the female counterpart of blaidd. Also, the wolf form of a she-wolf, as opposed to her human form called dynes.

dynes—woman (HI). The human form of a blaidd benywaidd, or she-wolf. Also, her human spirit.

ellida (M)—“the one of the two bloods”, a firstborn daughter of a wizard and she-wolf, or a wizardess and a he-wolf. She is a symbol of the ancient alliance between the two peoples. A powerful force of good, she is the highest-ranking member of her werewolf clan and its ultimate authority.

Tel-Urughs (HA)—the oldest of all Langaer, the descendants of ancient gods, demigods and heroes originated in Mesopotamia. Humans wrongly call them vampires based on Tel-Urughs’ feeding habits.

So, without further ado, I present you the Chapter Zero:

                    Prologue

Cover design by Srdjan Filipovic

Astrid

FEAR SWEPT OVER ME LIKE a tide.

Trapped in my wolf body that didn’t know how to fight and was too weak to run, I watched my stepfather’s four mercenaries closing in on Jack and me.

May Jack be safe. I prayed. May Jack be safe.

“No time for prayers!” A different voice inside my head snapped, startling me. The voice of my dynes, my other spirit. “We have to fight them.”

A miracle I didn’t have time to dwell upon.

I growled in approval, the feeling of dread evaporating like mist in the morning sun. My muscles tightened, my mind cleared. Strength replaced weakness, hope overlaid despair. “Tell me what to do,” I said.

“Let me take over!”

I chuckled, despite the grim reality. “The stage is yours, wizardess.”

Sensing something had shifted, Jack, also in his wolf shape, turned to me and paled, taking in my blue, wizard eyes instead of the amber of my wolf’s.

“The asanni has joined the team,” I said in my wizard voice, a tad less deep and husky than that of my wolf.

“No! Astrid, no. Run toward the forest! You must run!” Jack yelled, his voice thick with dread. Not for himself. For me. Jack was a great warrior, but I was his great weakness.

“Forget it, Jack! I’m not leaving you. Where is their weak point? Where should I aim?”

“Astrid, listen! The blond one at the front is the leader; the one on his left is the strongest. I’ll go after them. You try to outrun the other two. You can do that. Run now!”

“No! Where are they weak? Tell me!”

“Oh, God! Neck! Break the neck! And watch out for weapons!”

I murmured a spell in my old wizard tongue and found Jack’s eyes. “Jack, jump and roll over me!”

“What?!”

“Just do it!”

Jack knocked me down. We rolled several times, moving away from our enemy.

When we separated, two identical werewolves stood in front of them.

“What? What’s that? I told you to grab him first!” the leader screeched. “She’s a witch! Look what she did! They both look like him! Which one is she? Take them both! Take them both!”

“The hell you will!” I closed my eyes and cast a spell.

“Moðir Eldær vara hlíf … Moðir Eldær vara hlíf.”

Mother Fire, be my shield.

“Astrid, no! No!” Jack was shouting at the top of his lungs.

My big, powerful body burst into flames, charging toward the enemy with a speed I hadn’t dreamt I possessed.

My first prey dropped on the ground even before I reached him. I jumped over him and followed the other one, who pulled out a knife and bolted toward the woods, faster than a shadow.

Still not fast enough. A few long strides and I was in front of him. Our eyes met. His were filled with fear. Mine, I supposed, with anger.

“Drop the knife. I don’t want to kill you,” I said, but then remembered we couldn’t communicate telepathically. He was a Tel-Urugh, an ancient blood-drinker.

With a flick of his wrist, the knife flew low from his hand, catching a sunbeam on its curved edge, before its tip pierced my leg.

The world compressed into a single particle and I drowned in darkness.

 

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Welcome to Red Cliffs!

I’m adding the finishing touches to the e-book version of The Two-blood Legacy, the first book in The Red Cliffs Chronicles series. Once published, it’ll be free to download, if Amazon allows me this little generosity.

Cover design by Srdjan Filipovic

In any case, I plan to offer it here as well, chapter by chapter. I can’t afford any marketing and promotion, so maybe The Legacy can find its readers this way.

I’m taking this opportunity to express my gratitude to those who, one way or another,  were with me during this long journey. First of all, I’d like to thank the person I always call first when I’m stuck. Thank you, JP McLean, for helping me with the blurb(s) and the title, as well as for your continuous support. I’d like to mention Susan M. Toy and thank her for her tireless promotion of the work of her fellow authors, including mine. And of course,  Meredith Bond, another fellow author, who taught me how to do formatting in the middle of this pandemic madness. “Instead of paying me,” she said, “let me show you how to do it.” So she did, and that’s why I’m now formatting The Legacy.

Incidentally, two very special gals became part of this story: Judy Munos from Winnipeg, and Callie Jones from Glamorgan, Wales. I met them both through Voracious Readers Only, a free book platform. I had offered my Best Friends and Other Lovers (contact me if you want a free pdf. copy) to its readers in return for an unbiased review. Both Judy and Callie liked the book and asked me if I had anything else written. Did I ever! Callie and Judy ended up reading two unedited, raw, messy and huge Red Cliffs manuscripts. And they loved them!

The origins of my gwerin y blaidd, my wolf-people, is in Wales and I wanted to use some Welsh words and phrases. Beautiful as it is (I’ve fallen in love with Welsh; it’s so obvious in my books), Welsh is not an easy language system to grasp, not even for someone with a linguistic background like me. When I was just wondering how to make sure that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself  or, worse, offend Welsh speakers (and the language itself) with my well-intended but surely not competent use of their language, Callie burst into my life, like a shooting star. Maybe it was a coincidence — although I don’t believe in them, and I rather think it was one of these wonderful, mysterious connections between seemingly unconnected things — but it happened that Callie’s mother tongue was Welsh and she offered to help me with the terminology. Thus Callie became my Welsh language consultant on a purely voluntary basis (on her categorical insistence). Her assistance was beyond valuable; it was priceless.

Cover design by Srdjan Filipovic

And then, the covers. A few years ago — by pure chance — I came across a very, very talented but unknown young designer, Srdjan Filipovic. I commissioned two covers, which were beautiful, but I’d never used them because, in the meantime, I changed the titles of my books and many other things. I’m not sure if it was my review that set things in motion (it would happen sooner or later anyway, because he’s that good), but now Srdjan is one of the top cover artist on Upwork, with many wonderful projects in his portfolio, and, I believe, many, many ahead.

When, a few weeks ago, I asked him to do the covers for me again, he said he would, but only if I accepted them as gifts.

And finally, I want to thank my editor, Kristin Muraki, who had to go multiple times through almost 1,500 pages of the manuscripts and catch all sorts of my English-as-a-second-language mistakes, as well as some others, of course.

The first chapter, a prologue, will be here in a day or two.

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FREE DOWNLOAD – Best Friends and Other Lovers

Best Friends and Other Lovers is now available and it’s FREE on Amazon Kindle. If you have a Kindle reader, or a phone, or a laptop, please download it between March 29 and April 2.  

Cover design by Meera Thakore

This is a collection of three love stories — two quite hot and the third one, being a Christmas story, more sensual than spicy. It’s March, I know; I’d hoped to publish it for Christmas 2019. Alas. Now I don’t want to wait until the next Christmas. Beside, the cover is not very Christmasy. Just plain sexy 🙂

The stories are connected through the characters. The Cinderella-like Once Upon a Night is a modern fairy-tale about two ‘strangers in the night’, Nick and Angela. A bizarre and quite literal Blind Date happens two years later to Edward and Nick’s ex-wife, Hannah (how has a cameo appearance in Once Upon). Fast-forward one year, and we learn that Cupid’s job hasn’t been done yet. It’s Christmas time, and his arrow is aimed at Nick’s twin sister Deanna and her BFF Ted (Best Friends and Other Lovers), who we both briefly see in the first story.

Anyway, here are the blurbs:

ONCE UPON A NIGHT

At first glance, Angela and Nick don’t seem to have much in common: she’s a young widow trying to make ends meet, and he’s a successful businessman in his mid-thirties. He’s confident, well-educated and eloquent; she’s shy, has struggled through school and communicates more easily with horses than with people.

But they share an aching loneliness and the need for a brief escape – Angela from the ghosts of her past, and Nick from his uncertain future.

When the clock strikes midnight, will it bring the end or a new beginning?   

BLIND DATE

Two years after her divorce from Nick, Hannah is ready to move on. But when her friend pushes her to go on a blind date with a gallery owner, Hannah is hesitant. She’s attracted to Edward, an architect who works in the same building.

Edward also has a blind date. The woman he’s about to meet, according to his friend, is “brilliant and gorgeous”. Edward would be intrigued if only he could stop thinking of the quiet, shy and sexy-as-hell Hannah, the book editor from the top floor.

BEST FRIENDS AND OTHER LOVERS

Deanna is on a mission. Her best friend is about to propose to a wrong woman and Deanna has a few precious days over Christmas to save him from the worst mistake of his life.

Ted, a long-time bachelor, has decided to settle down. A ring in his pocket, he’s ready to pop the question. He just needs to be sure that his future wife loves him as much as he loves her. A relaxing holiday is an opportunity to get his answers.

With a dash of Christmas magic, Deanna and Ted’s wishes may come true.

 

 

 

 

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Island in the Clouds

This painting is named after the murder mystery written by Susan M. Toy. Long ago, I wrote posted my review here on my blog.

Island in the Clouds by Susan M. Toy

If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it.

Susan, thank you for the inspiration!

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Winter is coming.

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…but Max stepped into his private boat…

and waived good-buy

and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room

where he found his supper ready for him

and it was still hot.

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