Embracing Obscurity

Uploading all my three books on Smashwords marked the end of my formatting  adventure. I left Smashwords for the end because I believed its style guide was complicated. It isn’t; it’s only written in an unnecessarily complicated manner, but once you separate the unimportant from the important, it’s a piece of cake.

Khafre’s Pyramid

Smashwords distribution is another story. Days after my books were accepted for their Premium Catalogue, they still can’t be found on OverDrive. I asked my librarian colleague to purchase them from Draft2Digital.

D2D and Smashwords distribute to the same vendors, but I wanted my trio on Smashwords because it allowed me to offer two of them for free. It could be the way to reach potential readers and it might help the third book, which isn’t free, to gain momentum.

I’m not sure if this strategy is going to work or not, but this is the only one I’m going to employ.

Otherwise, I’m ready to embrace obscurity, as the owner of Smashwords suggests in his book, “Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success.” For him it’s a cause for optimism. After all, he says, even if you sell 30,000 books and become the NY Times bestselling author, you’re still obscure for the rest of humankind and, besides, being obscure is a chance to become visible.

I can’t say I share his enthusiasm. For me obscurity is reality, a roadblock I’m not going to be able to walk around. After months and months of getting my books ready for publishing, after all the money spent on editing, proofreading and various courses on how to do this and that, I have no energy and no financial means for promotion. And I certainly don’t want to explore those free options such as pestering my friends and family to read my books and write me reviews.

Fortunately, I don’t need more than I already have: I created an entire world, populated it with people who breath, dream, love, cry. Who search for happiness, who try and fail, and try again. By publishing my books I made them alive. Everyone is welcome to enter it, but this world is now my happy place. It’s no less real than the bottom of the Khafre’s Pyramid, where I sat once, back pressed against the warm limestone, and starred into the Great Sphinx, experiencing almost an otherworldly connection to something or someone, and thinking, if I died now, I’d die a happy person.

I dedicated Guardian of the Realm to my two close friends, Zlatko D. and Nada S., with whom I traveled to Egypt a lifetime ago, and with that I closed the circle, connecting my then with now, and my here with there.

 

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DIY Formatting? Not so Sure.

It’s been said over and over again that you should never edit your own book. After three months of preparing my three manuscripts for publishing, I’m not sure that self-formatting is a good idea either.

Cover design by Srdjan Filipovic

Having said that, formatting isn’t difficult, just detailed and tedious, and takes a lot of time and patience. I formatted each book for three different platforms. No wonder it took me forever: the Legacy has 71 chapters and 467 pages, and the Guardian (now published!) 77 chapters and 524 pages. In comparison to these two, Best Friends and Other Lovers, my contemporary love story collection, was child’s play–it has a different structure (no formal chapters) and “only” 250 pages.

I first prepared my books for Amazon KDP e-book and paperback. KDP has excellent step-by-step instructions for both formats. They also have two types of templates for paperback, but they didn’t work for me so I took the safer yet longer route and followed the procedure for formatting MS Word files.

Cover design Meera Thakore

To get my books into libraries, I used to use Smashwords, which has quite a complicated style guide. My friend J. P. McLean told me to try Draft2Digital, the vendor that also distributes to all the major retailers online, including OverDrive, which is often the only pathway to public libraries.

D2D is easy to use, despite the occasional glitches. There are limits to what you can do in D2D, and you reach them fast. D2D offers several templates, three to four for each major genre and non-fiction. Comparing to the sleek, elegant look of KDP e-book/paperback, D2D is more basic, but overall, I was happy with the result, and would recommend it to anyone who wants her/his book to be added to the OverDrive collection without too much fuss.

Cover design by Srdjan Filipovic

So why did I say I should’ve stayed away from formatting my own books? Because I couldn’t stop making changes, finding small imperfections, adding a space here, changing a word there. I couldn’t get myself to press the “Publish” button, leaving it for the next day, after just one more checkup, after another go through all 71 or 77 chapters again. And again. And again. (And I’m sure I missed something.)

I would format a book for someone else, but next time I might just pay a formatter to do it for me.

And then, finally, I did click on that button, and the last one in the row, the paperback format of Guardian of the Realm, is up. When it comes to my books on Amazon, I don’t hold my breath, however. I have neither time nor money for any kind of promotion. The paperbacks are for my pleasure only anyway — I like to be able to touch my books. But the D2D versions have already achieved their purpose. The Legacy and Guardian are on OverDrive now, and I expect the third one to join them soon. My library is going to buy them and the readers will find them. They always do.

Voila!

And, before I forget,

CHAPTER 4

A part of me was relieved when I dropped Astrid off at the hospital.

Before last night I hadn’t even been sure if I believed in werewolf bonding. I’d always thought that it was wrong to be left without a choice. There was nothing great about some random, unknown power ruling one of the most important aspects of your life.

Then Astrid’s fingers had touched my throat, and the shock of our irreversible, unchangeable, eternal connection shot from my neck down my spinal cord, spreading through my body, my soul, my mind.

I had never met Astrid before yesterday. I knew she existed—back home, her name was on everybody’s lips—I’d seen her pictures many times in the last six months. Nothing had foretold one of the greatest events of my life. Her lovely but serious face and smart, deep-blue eyes hadn’t evoked any specific emotion. The only detail that had stuck in my mind was her luxurious hair—a long, silky golden-copperish cascade that looked like a halo around her face.

She too had felt the bond, but didn’t seem to know what it was. I knew, which didn’t prevent me from feeling like I was struck by a thunderbolt when it happened.

I didn’t want to be bonded, not to her, not to anyone, yet I could do nothing about it. I found comfort in the fact that she would’ve attracted me anyway. Probably. Physically, she wasn’t my type, but she did have that something that I liked in women: confidence, a brilliant mind, wit and charm.

Later, watching her sitting across the table, her arms crossed over her chest, I tried to imagine her reaction when she learned we were bonded. I could see her cool wizard mind struggling to grasp the concept of the bond and many others she was about to discover. Oh, that was going to be interesting. She’d been ready to jeopardize her safety by refusing to come to Red Cliffs because her opinion hadn’t been considered. Wait until she learned she had no choice but to fall in love with me.

The other part of me, the one that wasn’t relieved, didn’t like being separate from her. The darned bond had already started working. That was a new feeling, both exciting and frustrating. Annoying because, again, it had been forced upon me. Exciting, well, because I could hardly wait to have that not-my-type-of woman beside me again.

I shook my head and smiled. Seven-of-Nine from Star Trek Voyager, exactly my type of woman, would say that resistance was futile.

***

I returned to Astrid’s house. Her scent was all over it, and I inhaled it thirstily. She smelled fresh, of rain and wind, of a clear spring morning, of the sea breeze. Deep, deep under all these elemental essences, there was a subtle touch of musk, earthy and tangy.

All insanely arousing.

I talked to James and my mother, without revealing too many details of my first encounter with my step-cousin, then spent several hours on my laptop trying to catch up with my work.

It was around eleven when I became restless, so going to see Tristan seemed like a good idea.

***

The hospital administration, including Tristan’s office, was on the fourth floor. I asked to see him and he instructed the receptionist to send me up.

A brass plate on the door read Dr. Tristan Blake, and under that CEO, Hospital Services, without the usual string of titles that people from the medical profession were sometimes so fond of. Tristan had several medical specialties, but he was one of the most laid-back people I’d ever known.

He was reading a medical journal when I opened the door, and rose to greet me.

“The first thing Astrid asked me this morning was if you were her blood relative, then if you were married,” he said, gesturing toward an empty chair across his desk. “Interesting, isn’t it?”

I felt a surge of primal male pride. “Did she now? What did you tell her?”

“That you are not married and, to the best of my knowledge, not her blood relative. She’ll kill me if she knows I told you, so don’t mention it to her. And no reason for that cocky grin; she asked that for practical reasons. You are about to camp at her place for several weeks, so she would prefer you were unmarried, cousin or not. Espresso?”

I couldn’t hide my smile. No, she hadn’t asked just for the practical reasons. “Sure,” I said. “She made something undrinkable this morning. So, what did she say?”

“Nothing. Hard to tell if she was relieved or disappointed. Wizards are not easy to read.” Tristan walked to the small table beside the window that held a coffee machine. He took two cups from the top of it, set them on the drip tray and filled the filter with ground coffee. The fresh aroma of Arabica beans filled the air.

Tristan pressed the power button and leaned against the windowsill. The machine made a soft hiss and started dripping coffee into the cups.

“She was relieved, take my word for it,” I said, and took a deep breath. “She’s my bond mate, Tristan.”

For an instant, he didn’t get it.

“You’re kidding!” he said when the meaning reached his mind. “Wow. What now? How did Astrid take it? How come she hadn’t mentioned it this morning?”

“She doesn’t know. I’m afraid to break the news to her.”

“She’ll freak out. And if you tell her you snooped around her house yesterday, she’ll kick you out. And what then?”

“You have an excellent nose,” I said. “At this point, she doesn’t need to know about the bond. Or that I was in her house. After she spends some time in Red Cliffs, she’ll understand us better. She’ll learn such things are necessary.”

Tristan smirked. “Good luck with that. So, what about you? How do you feel about the bond?”

“I’ve already freaked out. It’ll take a while to accept it, mentally and emotionally.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Proceed with the plan. Take her home. I don’t know more than that.”

“Do you like her?”

I raked my hand through my hair. “As if I have a freaking choice. Man, I met her yesterday. People think that bonding is romantic. It’s damn scary. Your finger touches a stranger and the next thing you know you’re tied to her for the rest of your life.” Which could be (and most of the time was), very, very long.

The dripping stopped. The coffee machine pipped a signal that the espressos were ready. Tristan grabbed them, placed them on the desk and pushed one in my direction. “Sugar?”

“Thanks,” I said, taking a spoon and a small crystal bowl with white cubes. With something that looked more like an old-fashioned surgical instrument than sugar cube tongs, I picked one piece and dropped it in my coffee.

“All species have bonding of one kind or another,” Tristan said, taking back his seat. I passed him the bowl and the tongs.

“Yes, but ours is a more complex process. We bond on two different levels: our human and wolf spirits. Everybody must be in sync with everybody else. It usually happens easily and instantly, but it can also be a lengthy process.”

“It’s not always simple for us, either. Outside of our own kind, we most often bond with humans. No matter how civilized we are, on the subconscious level, we still consider them a source of ‘food’. An inferior species, on the bottom of the evolutionary scale, although, in terms of survival, it’s just the opposite—they’re above us since they don’t need us, we need them. Still, we are predators, they are prey. And then, poof—you found yourself bonded to a human. No, my friend, bonding often doesn’t go smoothly.”

“To be honest, it never made much sense to me. Relationships are messy enough without it. It only complicates things even more.”

Tristan shook his head. “Here you’re wrong. We might not understand many aspects of it, but bonding doesn’t happen haphazardly. That wouldn’t make any sense. Regarding Astrid, you should cheer up. It’ll be easy to love her. You’ll see when you know her better.”

“We’ll see,” I said, stirring my coffee. “There’s nothing I can do about it now anyway. Bonded or not, Astrid still needs my help to learn how to control her changes.”

“It’s more than that. Her transformations are not only uncontrollable but difficult and painful as well.”

“Painful? She said she blacked out, but she didn’t mention it was painful,” I said, feeling a strange tightening in my chest. I wanted to find her, hold her tight so that nothing could hurt her anymore.

Where was she now, I wondered, trying to pick up her scent.

The bond seemed to be interfering with my common sense. I made an effort to refocus on the conversation.

“It’s always been painful for her, and it’s becoming worse. She does it quickly, faster than you. Maybe that’s the reason. She’s an enormous wolf, way bigger than her human size would suggest. But then, when she turns, she’s nothing like you guys. There isn’t that burst of energy and life that always impresses me when I see you changing. She’s exhausted.”

Her words came back to me. “When you see my change, you’ll understand my lack of enthusiasm.” And I had all but accused her last night of being prejudicial. “Why are they painful? Why is she weak afterward? Do you have any explanation?”

Tristan scratched his head. “I believe it’s because she’s an ellida. Alas, that’s all I can say. As you know, very little is known about them.”

He was right. Ellidas were rare and mysterious female offspring of rare unions between werewolves and wizards. There had been only a handful of ellidas in our history.

“Every ellida is different, but there are still some things they all share,” I said. “Their first change happens in late puberty. After that, they quickly establish control over the process. It didn’t happen with Astrid.”

“Well, she’s just different. Despite all her difficulties, she comes out of her shifting just fine. I always check her after the transformation. There is no damage, nothing unusual. She needs a day or two to become herself again.”

Two days! Of course she hated it, I thought, trying hard not to imagine her curled up in pain, exhausted, unable to move. “I’ll find out why she suffers through the change,” I said. “What can you tell about her genetic makeup? That’s your field.”

One of Tristan’s specialties was in medical genetics.

“She combines the best of both kinds, of course. She’s an ellida.”

“I know that. But emotionally, socially? Privately?”

“Astrid’s much more emotional than wizards in general. You know them; they’re like a crossover between Tolkien’s Elves and Mr. Spock from Star Trek. Their rational side is prominent. Not that they do not feel, they do, as intensely as we do, they just don’t show it. She does.”

Tristan smiled at some private thought, then took a sip of his espresso and continued, “She’s fiercely independent. Don’t expect her to be submissive to you or anybody else. Or dominant, for that matter, at least not in her human form. Those concepts are still alien to her. She’s a private person. A loyal friend. Smart, well-educated and sophisticated. She’s very serious but can be funny to the bone.”

“As a doctor?”

Tristan’s face lit up. “Born to be one. She is both an orthopedic and trauma surgeon, and brilliant in both fields. Wizards are doctors par excellence, but she’s exceptional even by their standards. I’ve haven’t seen anything like that in a long time.”

“She doesn’t resemble Rowena.”

“No, she took after Hal. From inside? We’re all a combination of inherited and acquired characteristics. She has the best of both in her.”

“She seems more levelheaded than her mother was,” I said before I could think twice.

Tristan gave a sharp look. “Oh, for Chrissake, Jack! Rowena was eighteen, a teenager caught in serious grownup circumstances. Passionate, impatient. Too young to be married, too young to have a child. Hal was a great man, but he could be reckless and irresponsible. Like it or not, Astrid has her mother’s passion, her feistiness.” He pointed his finger at me. “And I’ll tell you something else. No matter what Red Cliffs thinks, Rowena had nothing to do with Hal’s and your father’s deaths. No one can convince me otherwise. No one!”

“She set things into motion, but it was Seth who killed them, not Rowena. I’m aware of that.”

“Jack, Astrid’s a mature and responsible young woman,” Tristan said, his voice softening with true affection for his young friend. “An old soul. I tease her sometimes that she was born as a twenty-five-year-old woman. She had a few stormy teenage years, but even that was just a typical hormonal rebellion, although Gottfried and Ella probably wouldn’t agree.”

Tristan’s phone buzzed. He took it out from his pocket and read the message “Astrid’s done for today. By the way, Liv expects you two at our place tonight. I mentioned it to Astrid. She said she’d talk to you.” He gave me a devilish smile. “Oh, Liv will be ecstatic when she hears about the bond.”

I bet she would be. “Don’t mention it in front of Astrid. I’ll tell her.”

“No, I’ll only tell Liv,” he said with a wicked grin.

I ignored it and checked my phone for messages. “I told Astrid to text me when she was done so that I could pick her up.”

“Next time ask her, don’t tell her. Then she might do it. Why don’t you surprise her? She’ll be down in five minutes.”

I rubbed my chin. “Damn. I’m bonded to her, she’s not even my type,” I said and stood. “She’s too serious. And too slim.” I meekly tried my futile resistance one more time. And no boobs. I added another irrelevant complaint to the whole list of other ridiculous ones, but at least I knew better than to say it aloud. Tristan was a first-rate old-school gentleman, and Astrid was his protégé.

He looked at me as if I’d suddenly sprouted a second head. “She’s beautiful. You should think beyond bonding. Believe me, you’ll be eating out of her hand before you know it, and you’ll love it.”

I heard my friend’s hearty laugh as I closed the door behind me.

***

Handbag over her shoulder, her light coat draped over her arm, Astrid stepped out of the elevator. She tilted her head and looked at me with an arched eyebrow.

I walked to her, I took the coat from her hands and helped her to put it on. I rested my hands on her shoulders and let the warm current run between us for a moment.

“I came to see Tristan,” I said before she could ask me what I was doing in the hospital.

She turned to me. “Ah. To talk about me.” The little smile that lurked in her blue eyes reached her lips. In a split second, I realized what Tristan had tried to tell me just a few minutes ago. You are beautiful! I almost said aloud, looking at her as if I hadn’t seen her last night at all.

She opened her coat to smooth the blue dress under it. Last night she was in an oversized shirt. This morning she’d been fully dressed when she left her bedroom, her coat included. Now I realized I was mistaken about at least one more thing. Or rather two. The boobs.

I laughed aloud and wrapped my arm around her shoulders. She glanced at me from under her lashes, but stayed close, the smile still lingered on her face.

I had a secret, and for the time being, I wasn’t going to share it with her. For a while, I’d decided, I would enjoy the fact that she didn’t have a clue that I was about to happen to her.

 

 

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The Best Spaghetti Carbonara, Served with Chapter 3

One thing that you can learn about me through my stories is that I love food. There are quite a few dishes mentioned in my books (my supernatural creatures eat human food. Mostly); some of them come with the cooking instructions, simplified so that they don’t sound like recipes.

Photo by Pinar Kucuk on Unsplash

My first encounter with the ‘edible reads’ happened many years ago when I stumbled upon It can’t Always be Caviar: the Fabulously Daring Adventures and Exquisite Cooking Recipes of the Involuntary Secret Agent Thomas Levin by a German author, Johannes Mario Simmel.

The self-explanatory subtitle suggests a fun combo of culinary adventures and spying escapades, and rightly so, but It Can’t Always be Caviar is more than that – it’s a literary gem. It was an international bestseller in the late 1960s (when I still didn’t know how read), and the Continental Europe answer to the British spy-fiction invasion embodied in John Le Carre and Ian Fleming.

Books like Simmel’s novel were welcome literary breaks from marvelous but often heavy, heavy classic reads from our high school and university programs. Soon I discovered Ephraim Kishon, Peter Ustinov, Jerome K. Jerome, as so on.

(One of my favourite “novels that cook” is One Woman’s Island by Susan M. Toy. A great mystery with tested recipes.)

Back to the recipe. I love pasta, so The Chronicles are seasoned with some well-known starchy wonders of Italian cuisine. I make a killer Tagliatelle Bolognese — I might share the recipe in one of my future posts — but my hero, not very skilled in the kitchen, needed something simple.  I picked Spaghetti Carbonara for him.

The key for great Carbonara is in using only egg yolks for the sauce, not whole eggs (because you don’t want pasta with scrambled eggs). Jamie Oliver will back me up – check out his own approach to Spaghetti Carbonara. It is very similar to mine.

It goes like this:

Start by cooking a package of dry spaghetti (Italian, if possible, although the No Name Superstore kind works just fine) in plenty of salted water.

You’ll need about 100-150 g of pancetta, cut into small cubes (if you use bacon instead, it won’t be the end of the world). Place a large frying pan over the medium heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil and cook the pancetta until crisp (don’t blacken it!). Add finely chopped garlic (2 cloves), making sure that the temperature is low enough that the garlic doesn’t burn.

You might need some of the cooking water, so save about 1/4 of cup.

In a bowl, combine 3-4 egg yolks with 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Regiano, or Pecorino Romano (saltier and sharper), or Grana Padano (sweeter and milder), then grate some more to sprinkle the pasta before serving. Add freshly grated black pepper to taste.

Chop a handful of Italian (flat) parsley and set aside. Do not subsidize it with curly-leaf variety. (This would be the end of the world -:)

Drain the pasta (don’t forget to save some water). It’s needless to say that it should be cooked al dente. Toss the hot pasta over the pancetta and garlic; if it’s too dry, add a splash of cooking water). Pour over the egg yolk and Parmesan sauce and gently coat the pasta.

Sprinkle each serving with extra cheese and parsley and serve immediately. I guess that some fruity Chardonnay would go well with Pasta Carbonara, but I’m no expert for wines.

I’ll serve it with:

Cover design by Srdjan Filipovic

Chapter 3

WHEN JACK INSISTED ON DRIVING me to the hospital the next morning, leaving no room for negotiation, I reconsidered my still unannounced decision to go with him after my next change. I had less than two weeks before the next full moon, but that would give me enough time, I’d calculated, to do the surgeries that had already been scheduled. Now I realized that I was stuck with him in my house for the time being.

I felt ambivalent about his visit. On the one hand, it was a relief. I did need help. My uncle knew that, and I’d been expecting him to step in. On the other hand, my life here in Rosenthal, a small town in the Pacific Northwest, had been safe and pleasant, and I was reluctant to change it. I’d come to like its unhurried, familiar routine, and the way I blended in among its inhabitants.

I couldn’t imagine more capable safeguards than the Blakes—Tristan and, especially, Livia possessed immense strength and powers.

I’d moved from Seattle to Rosenthal about a year ago, accepting the position of trauma surgeon that had to be reposted three times before I applied for it. I bought the smallest house I could find in this town of wealthy retirees, artists and amateur golfers, and a nondescript car—a five-year-old cobalt blue Honda Accord—which I almost never used. The hospital and pretty much everything else in Rosenthal was within ten to twenty minutes’ walking distance from my tiny house on Bergamot Drive, depending on whether you were in a hurry or not.

I missed my grandparents, of course. My job at the ER, my new condo, which I hadn’t had time to turn into a home, my best friend, Ingmar. And the rain. Not that it didn’t rain in Rosenthal. But even when it rained in earnest, it still wasn’t that magnificent curtain of water that was possible only in Seattle.

My seemingly ordinary life in this small town was a temporary solution, I was aware of that. Or, better, a temporary illusion. I wasn’t an average young woman and my life had never been conventional.

Although I was of two bloods, I had been brought up as an asanni, a wizardess. I’d been put through rigorous training not only to master my abilities but also to bring them under perfect command. It’d been a crucial part of my upbringing—we had to learn from an early age to never draw attention to ourselves.

I’d been raised by my wizard grandparents, Ella and Gottfried. My grandfather was a brilliant lawyer, who currently worked for the UN as a human rights advisor. Grandmother was a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital in Seattle. They both enjoyed equal respect among Langaer, what we called the three non-human races. Werewolves, Tel-Urughs and wizards also needed legal minds and, occasionally, doctors.

Unlike the gwerin y blaidd—I really needed to start using the proper terminology—the asyngaer—the wizardkind, that is—didn’t have their own physical territory. We lived in the human world. Or rather, we shared the same world with them, for it was ours as much as it was theirs. We tried to blend in among humans, adopting many of their customs and habits. It was easy to forget sometimes that we were different.

To hide in plain sight, we had to resort to our significant powers creating tallins and Talsyns. The first ones were small, short-lived conjures like the one that I had tricked Jack with, “leaving” my aura in the kitchen. Talsyns were more powerful, long-lasting or sometimes permanent manipulations of space, time and, occasionally, human consciousness to create the appearance of a different reality in the eyes and minds of humans. Talsyn meant “great shield” and, in many ways, it was. It was real magic. In comparison, tallins, “little shields”, were harmless magic tricks.

All Langaer used tallins and Talsyns because we all needed to hide from, mingle with or sometimes protect ourselves from humans. They vary from race to race, of course, but we all share these two words that were the legacy of High Akkadian. Another curiosity—we all wrote tallin with a small “t” and Talsyn with a capital “T”.

***

I OFTEN THOUGHT THAT MY life would’ve been way less eventful if I hadn’t been of two bloods.

My asanni mother, Rowena was her name, was eighteen when she’d married my father, Hal, a blaidd from Red Cliffs. I was born a few months later. When I was less than a year old, my mother left my father for Seth Withali, the leader of the neighboring clan of Copper Ridge. She’d taken me with her, but it hadn’t been long before she’d sent me to Ella and Gottfried. She had remained in Copper Ridge.

Her decision to leave Red Cliffs and my father had triggered a series of tragic events. In an attempt to bring her back, my father was soon killed, along with Brian Canagan, Jack’s father, the clan’s then leader. Red Cliffs and Copper Ridge stood on the verge of war.

At the beginning too young to understand and later unaware of this turmoil, I’d lived my seemingly ordinary life, unaware of what my father was and that I had relatives from his side.

For years and years, my father had been a mysterious figure to me. An unknown man who’d died in an accident when I was a baby. I’d believed he’d been a wizard too. My mother had been equally unreachable to me even though she was alive. I knew she existed, but I’d never seen her and she’d never asked about me. It hurt me even more than the death of my father.

As I grew, my demands to know more about them became louder. My grandparents provided me with some explanations. I learned my father had been a werewolf. My mother had run away with Seth, my father had died trying to take her back. Too young to care for me, she stayed in Copper Ridge and I was raised by her parents.

These “answers” only intensified my curiosity, but my grandparents refused to tell me more.

I started putting the pieces of the puzzle together when I accidentally learned that Seth Withali was mentally ill.

I still remember my relief when my grandfather told me my mother had left him.

Even better I remembered how heartbroken I was when he added that she’d decided to stay in Copper Ridge nonetheless.

Why didn’t they divorce? I’d asked, demanding the truth. They didn’t have children.

It was complicated, my grandparents would say.

In the absence of concrete explanations, I drew my own conclusions. My mother either stayed because she had to, or because she didn’t want me, which was more likely. Some parents were like that, I told myself. After all, didn’t my grandparents seem to give up on her? If she’d been in danger, would they just sit and do nothing? No, knowing them, they’d move heaven and earth to save her. They loved her, she was their only child.

Yet they hadn’t done anything. As far as I knew, there had been no contact between my mother and her parents. Why?

Why had my mother run away with that man? Who was responsible for my father’s and Brian Canagan’s deaths? Why had they been killed? Had my mother somehow been involved? Why had she never contacted me? Why did nobody want to talk about it?

Questions, questions, questions.

***

WHEN I WAS SIXTEEN, GOTTFRIED and Ella explained to me that I might expect to go through the initial shapeshifting. Some children of parentage like mine became shapeshifters, some didn’t. Nothing to worry about, they said. It wouldn’t hurt. The first few transformations would be spontaneous, but soon I’d be able to change by will.

Year after year had passed and nothing happened. I started to believe—and hope—that I hadn’t picked up that particular trait from my father.

In fact, I was a late bloomer: my metamorphosis was just a few years overdue. And then, one morning, when I was just two months shy of twenty-three, I suddenly felt horrible pain all over my body, as if something or somebody was trying to turn me inside out. I didn’t remember much more than the pain, that ripping, dislocating horror inside me.

Darkness took me.

The next shapeshifting was even worse.

***

PRIOR TO MY FIRST TRANSITION, I hadn’t been in touch with my Red Cliffs family. I was convinced they didn’t want me because of my mother.

I was wrong. My grandparents, I soon learned, had been in contact with them all the time, keeping them up to date, even sending them my pictures. Concerned about my violent, irregular and out of control transformations, Gottfried had turned to my uncle for help. The two of them agreed I should go to Red Cliffs and stay with my father’s relatives until I learned how to tame my wolf spirit.

Angry at my grandparents for keeping me in the dark, feeling betrayed by my father’s family who’d waited—or so I thought—to see if I would become one of them before accepting me, I’d refused to go. When Gottfried, Ella and Uncle James, Red Cliffs’ chieftain, or alpha—I was never sure about his official title, but he was a big gun there—combined their methods of persuasion in an attempt to reason with me, I put up such a fierce resistance that Red Cliffs was quickly taken off the agenda.

Following advice from my werewolf family, my grandparents helped me to cope with my transition.

Two years of random shifting had taught me how to recognize the symptoms. It helped me disappear in time, hide, go through the change and come back.

By then, the changes had become more and more regular until they came into perfect alignment with the lunar phases. The approach of the full moon—no surprise here—meant I’d soon shapeshift.

I hated it. I hated being weak and unable to control my body and mind. Having black holes in my memory. Waking up naked, on the cold, wet earth in the small cave on our secluded estate outside Seattle, where I would hide to shift. Feeling different, even smelling different as the change approached. Although, I could live with that part. The scent, no matter how hard I tried to dislike it, wasn’t unpleasant.

The werewolf scent. Unknown yet familiar, like Jack’s. His was similar to mine, only stronger, masculine and arousing. A perfect match to mine—more subtle, sweeter, feminine.

***

SOMEONE ELSE HAD BEEN WAITING to see if I was a shapeshifter or not—my stepfather, Seth Withali.

Last March he’d tried to kidnap me.

After my first, unexpected change, I had refused to shift in the house. Moreover, I’d taken a further step—I’d insisted on going to the little cave alone. Before that, Ella had always accompanied me.

The process was an ordeal. I’d be sick for a day or two before the change, exhausted, miserable, feverish. When the pain became unbearable, I’d shift, but that part was always lost to me. Then after about twenty-four hours, I’d return to my human body and my human mind.

That time, when I’d shifted back, two unknown men were in the cave with me. My hands and feet were neatly tied with a thin, silky rope, the kind that tightens more and more as you try to loosen it up. My vision was still hazy and all my senses dulled. The cave smelled of male sweat.

One of the men jerked me to my feet, brushing his big, dirty hand over my breast.

That sharpened my senses. I used all my energy to translocate far enough to get away from them. Still dizzy and weak from the change, the tranquilizer they’d used on me, as well as from translocation, I climbed up a tree and I watched them searching for me. They were mad with rage for losing me.

They mentioned Seth several times. What would they tell him about why they’d failed? Would he believe them?

Why had Seth wanted me? For blackmail? For revenge? Because he was crazy? Did my mother know what was going on?

Grandma and Grandpa didn’t seem to know either. Or if they knew, they didn’t want to share. They were super worried, though. Once more, backed up by Uncle James, they tried to persuade me to go to Red Cliffs.

Once more I refused. I changed my name and moved to Rosenthal instead. Livia and Tristan, Gottfried and Ella’s acquaintances, whom I’d known from before, came with me on Gottfried’s request. We quickly became friends.

***

NOW MY UNCLE HAD DECIDED enough was enough and sent Jack Canagan to bring me home.

Jack was my step-cousin, not a blood relation, as far as I knew (for a reason I didn’t want to dwell upon right now, this fact made me giddy with relief). We were family through marriage. A few years after Jack’s father had died, his mother—Eve was her name I believed—had married my uncle. Their daughter and son were Jack’s siblings and my first cousins.

Still, we could share the same ancestor. Werewolves were a small population, and if you go back far enough, we’re all related. That much even I knew.

We were somehow connected, however. When I’d touched him, first his neck and then his fingers later, I’d felt some sort of strange warmth rippling through my body. I’d never felt anything like it before. It was not only delightful but it also smothered the edginess caused by Jack’s sudden arrival. And like his scent, it had the same disturbing sensual component.

What was it? I didn’t know. I knew very little about the werewolf side of me.

It was time to learn more. Going to Red Cliffs with Jack might indeed be the best solution.

“Your family didn’t betray you, Astrid,” my grandfather often said. “Once you get to know your family, you’ll like them a lot.”

Soon we’d see.

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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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