Friday, February 23, 2024

A Sword of Blood and Roses by Jessica Ash



A Sword of Blood and Roses
Hunted by the Faerie Queen 
Book One
Jessica Ash

Genre: Dark Fantasy Romance
Date of Publication:  June 30, 2022
ISBN: 9798201496227 
ASIN: B0B1XQTX28 
Number of pages: 322
Word Count: 85,000
Cover Artist: Firda Graphic

Tagline: When the Queen of the Fae is after you, sometimes your best bet is falling in love with the enemy.

Book Description:

Enemies to Lovers Dark Fantasy Romance...

He was supposed to kill me...Now I'm his prisoner.

I was supposed to hate him...Now I'm falling in love.

But neither love nor magic can save me. And Now time is running out.

When the Queen of the Fae is after you sometimes your best bet is falling in love with the enemy, even when he's your kidnapper…

Read all five books in Kindle Unlimited. Discover enemies to lovers romance like you've never read before.


Excerpt:

Riding into the dry-as-bones mountains on the back of the puca, Logan’s anger seared bitter in his chest. It rolled off him in waves, pulling thunder down from the sky. He toyed idly with the storm letting his anger draw the danger of the lightning to him as he seethed.
Fifteen years away from his hounds. Fifteen years of Solanum’s running wild, the puca causing havoc wherever he went. Fifteen years of Logan’s life eaten away in the hole of the queen’s dungeons.

And now he was to kill witches for the queen—a fact that rubbed him raw.

Humans were amusing companions, why create trouble? Irritated with the brief flare of morality, he smothered it with brutal force. It didn’t fucking matter what he wanted. It never had.
Lightning cracked. The eerily silent hounds of the Dark Hunt tightened around him, their tense glances and snapping teeth reflections of his flaring emotions.

He had no room for second thoughts tonight. The Black Queen had given him no reason why she needed these witches killed, but if he satisfied her it might give him his freedom. At the very least it would give him some space. Maybe some time to figure out a way to stay out of the dungeons. And time to figure out how to truly extricate himself from her bloody dominion.

Because no matter what she had promised him, he knew, there was no way she would simply let him go. Not after the way he had betrayed her.

Solanum tossed his head and bucked. “Quit squeezing my ribs.” Lurid green faery flames leapt from his hooves, igniting short-lived cold fires in the dry Wyoming brush.

“Cease, horse,” Logan said, squeezing his legs a little more. Punching Solanum’s buttons felt good, really good. Just like his wrath at the queen felt good. Justified.

The puca tossed his long mane into Logan’s eyes. “Lay off, or you’ll be eating dirt,” he snarled, nostrils flaring red in the dimming light.

Solanum’s irritation put a hard smile on Logan’s lips. He tightened his legs and drove the puca harder down the hill through the brewing storm.

A hound pushed in too close. Solanum’s hoof lashed out, connecting with a solid thud. The hound’s yipe sounded inside Logan’s head as he regained his balance, cursing the hound’s behavior and the puca’s intolerance.

He was back. The hounds would get used to him again. And Solanum too.

Thunder crashed in the sky, following him down into the shadowed hills as he approached the witches’ lair. Nostrils burning from the ozone, nerves tingling, he distracted himself with the dark moist wind, manipulating it to blow through the dry autumn brush like a child's tantrum.

He laughed, the spiteful wind stealing away the dark sound as cracks of thunder echoed off the mountains. He let the anger simmer and the lightning moved further away. He wasn’t free yet, and he wasn’t suicidal. What he was, was trapped. And it pissed him off, the frustration riding him like a hag.

What could he do when the queen changed her mind and refused to release him from her service? What if the bitch thought she could use him then put him back into her dungeons Underhill, calling him to her side like a lapdog? He needed a way to show her there would be repercussions. He needed leverage.

In the distance, thunder rumbled. They tipped over the edge of the valley in search of the witch. A wavering glow of candles shone above the last few rocks.

Almost there.

The telltale traces of a spell raised the hair on the back of his neck. He extended his Gift to perceive what he couldn’t yet see. A labyrinth set by a single inexperienced witch. His lips twitched. As protection it might have worked, had the Faery Queen sent her regular henchman. Unluckily for the witch, the queen had unleashed him. The Dark Huntsman.

He would kill the wench, and be done with this thing between himself and the queen of the Tuatha De Danann. And when the queen refused to release him? He’d deal with that when the time came.

The wind carried the hot dry smell of sage mixed with the smell of fear and musky female. He inhaled the raw flavor of the witch, the taste of her fear and anger and power, slid down his throat, easing his rage.
The anxious hounds shifted around him, sensing the proximity of their prey. Solanum rounded the rock.

And there she was.

The sight of her rocked him back like a blow, almost knocking him to the ground. And he realized—despite the stasis, fifteen years had been too long a time to be without a woman.

Glimmers of power limned her naked body and the silver blade of the athame that gleamed between her breasts. Her legs were spread slightly apart, tensed for battle. Long black hair crackled and lifted with static. Her expressive face was poised on the edge of dilemma, her body caught between the need to hold the spell and the need for action.

He paused to let the feel of power and woman roll through him.

Beautiful.

Unexpected.

Green, almond-shaped eyes widened. Her stance firmed, her shoulders pulled back, and her full breasts rose, nipples tightened with cold or fear. Something wild and raw he hadn’t felt in a hundred years stabbed low in his gut.

His agenda changed.

The queen wanted to kill the witch. Why? His plan of placating the queen suddenly seemed weak. She’d never let him go without leverage, and here was leverage standing naked and lovely before him. He had a new plan.

Screw the queen.

 

***

Thunder boomed.

Trina glanced up the valley. The dying light made it impossible for her to see much more than the silhouette of a horse and rider barreling through the boulders and uneven terrain, tearing down the rocky hillside at an impossible speed. But no barrel racer would endanger their mount careening down the mountain in a thunderstorm. Or ride a horse the color of the absence of light with freakish red eyes. Only something truly inhuman would light up her inner sight with that particular eerie blue glow.

The acid in her stomach rose into her throat.

An elven lord.

Oh fuck! I’m screwed.

She swallowed the fear down. Her trap, her best effort, all her hard work. Dumb. Stupid.

Pathetic. None of it would hold an elven lord—a full adult fae whose power would make her trap look like an art project. She wished she could hide the evidence, like a small child wiping up the crumbs of stolen cookies.

Horse and rider skidded and slowed in a shower of ricocheting rocks. The enormous red  hounds flowed out, surrounding the labyrinth as the cloaked rider and his dark mount advanced.

She held still, athame at the ready in sweaty hands, prepared to bolt if she had the chance. Her eyes flicked from the approaching rider, distracted by the lesser threat of the huge, sharp-toothed,  yellow-eyed hounds encircling the labyrinth like silent sharks waiting for the command to take their prey.

Her.

“Damn shame to kill you, witch.” His voice was smooth, well-aged whiskey with a hint of brogue.

 “Then don’t.”

“What will you give me instead? A life requires a powerful exchange. And I was sent for your death.”

Trina tried to keep her face even and not reveal her panic. She had nothing he could want.

Anything of true power that a fae like this one might consider valuable, was safely out of reach and driving down the road in the van. Gone. Along with any reinforcements.

“How about honesty?” She offered in desperation.

“Funny girl.” The dark presence leaned forward, his impatient mount’s feet shifting on the gravel.

The nervous sweat on her back grew cold.

“Although I would enjoy taking the time,” his voice carried easily over the wind and thunder, “we shouldn't stand here bargaining. The queen awaits my report.”

The lord’s level tone distracted her and she was unprepared when the horse moved. The pair crashed effortlessly into the labyrinth, cutting a destroying swath across the short, brushy sage and heading for her at the center. Spectacular violent explosions burst into cascades of colored lights, as if her carefully constructed wards were merely firecrackers, instead of huge magical grenades.

The overwhelming smell of crushed sage rose, and she swore the evil-eyed horse laughed. She reached inside for what was left of her power, losing her grip on it when he leaned over and grabbed her arm. With no apparent effort, he hoisted her up.
She scrabbled for a handhold in an effort to not fly over the horse into the waiting sea of teeth and dogs. She tangled one hand in the long black mane and held tight to her slippery knife with the other.

Strong arms wrapped in leather tightened around her, forcing her upright, her toes dangling sidesaddle. Everything happening too fast. She barely had a grip in the long black mane when the creature flexed under her and they flew over the candles.

The flames blew out.

They landed on the other side of the labyrinth in a hard jolt. She slipped.

If I fall, I could run.

Before the thought had been and gone, her grip on the mane loosened. She slid to the side. Hot breath and the scrape of teeth on her ankle warned her, just in time. She yanked her foot out of range of the snapping jaws, and lost her balance. Making an instinctive grab for the mane with her right hand—she dropped the knife.

Her kidnapper growled and tightened his grip on her stomach.

She gasped for her voice. “Put me down!”

“I’m afraid it’s too late for that. I either kill you or take you with me.” The sparkling black blade of his laughter cut deep into her soul.

Accelerating faster and faster, they wove in and out of the treacherous rocks in a mad, blurring rush up the side of the valley. If she fell off now and hit a rock, she’d be roadkill. She anchored both hands firmly in the mane and leaned back into the solid chest of her attacker.

They raced on, licks of green fire lighting up the hill behind them. A deep maw of black within purple mist formed ahead, transforming the familiar landscape into a horror. The knowledge of where they headed slammed inside her brain.

Trina’s heart sped into a sharp staccato.

Words of denial formed in her constricted throat, gone long before she had a chance to know what they were.

Don’t make me go.

They rocketed to the top of the valley, the piranha hounds schooling tightly around them as they raced to the looming mouth of the portal. Steely muscles bunched and flexed under her.

Launching into the air, they flew into the mix of fog and darkness encased in the sound of her scream.


About the Author:

Jessica Ash loves dragons, magic, and romance, and is lucky enough to write about all three while consuming boatloads of chocolate. Her favorite fantasy is taking a luxury cruise up the Rhine where she could stare at the castles along the water and dream of faery. She writes dark fae fantasy romance where evil queens are on the hunt and strong heroes and heroines fall in love.



Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/jessica-ash                                                                                                                                






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Guest Blog - Aestrangel the Fallen by Maria DeVivo #DarkUrbanFantasy


Since I started writing professionally in 2010, I’ve had to be very disciplined in my writing routine.  I came to the realization pretty fast that I have to be structured and hold myself accountable or else it just isn’t going to get done. Setting a routine is a very personal thing and what works for me might not work for others, but I stress that it is vital to have some sort of regiment. 

As a teacher, I always knew that I would set aside summers to write. Teach 10 months, write for 2. Put out 1 book a year. Seemed like the perfect plan. But when 2022 rolled around and I signed a major contract with 4 Horsemen Publications, I knew the heat was on when I committed to writing two books a year.

So, here’s what I do, in its simplest form: 

- In the summer, I write three days a week. I start around 9am with a cup of coffee and write until I pump out 3,000 words. Some days I can knock it out in a few hours, some days I get super distracted, and it takes a little longer. But always 3k. That’s my accountability threshold. 3k is roughly a complete chapter in most of my worlds. At that pace, I finish a novel with some time to spare to enjoy the rest of the summer. Ahhh, the teacher-life.
- During the school year, I write three days a week. But this time around, I commit to 1,000 words a night (so roughly a chapter a week). Depending on my “distractability”-factor, I can get this done in as little as an hour, or as long as two. This allows me time to be mom and wife and decompress after a long day of teaching middle school. At that pace, I can complete a novel in 5-6 months.

Bottom line is this… write. If you want it bad enough, figure out a routine that works for you and WRITE. Books ain’t go’ne write themselves, ya know? If you’re making the attempt, progress will be made. Stick to something that is consistent. Research counts, too. Notes count, too. On days that I’m not actively writing, I’m researching or jotting notes, so if you’re working on SOMETHING, you’re still working. Everyone’s process is going to look different, but at the end of the day, having a defined process is going to make the flow and construction of your work come to fruition in a much smoother way.   




Aestrangel the Fallen 
The Aestrangel Trinity 
Part 1
Maria DeVivo

Genre: Dark Urban Fantasy
Publisher: 4 Horsemen Publications
Date of Publication: September 2023
ISBN: 1644509261
Number of pages: 240
Word Count: 63K

Tagline: Hell hath no fury like an angel scorned!

Book Description: 

Aestra, favorite teenaged angel of The Lord, has been sent to Earth to ensure that high school senior, Jake Parker, pursues the correct path. He is teetering between two options that may seem innocuous, but only one will lead him to positively impact the lives of millions of humans.

But what happens when the heart chooses love over responsibility? For Aestra, one fateful night will set into motion a chain of events unforeseen by even her infallible Creator.

Excerpt

From Chapter One: Learning the Ways

They tell me I should be dreaming by now, that the images and scenarios should be well-embedded into my brand-new subconsciousness, but for me, all there has been is color. No. That’s not right. When I close my brand-new eyes, all that consumes me are the shifting shades of grays and blacks, and I’m not sure if this is something I should be worried about or not. I’ve been in this human simulation environment for quite some time now, and I’m guessing that part of my “humanness” hasn’t kicked in yet. But I’ve heard the others talking and describing their dreams, and I’m getting anxious for my first one. Revalia, the closest thing I have to what humans call a “best friend,” has told me the fabulous tales of her dreams. She says sometimes she doesn’t even want to wake up. She says the images and sounds and smells are so overpowering, so overwhelming, that when she wakes up, she desperately longs to go back to that dreamy, lazy place between the conscious and unconscious mind. I wish I knew what she was talking about.

I know my lack of dreams worries Camael. He has told me many times the human experience is multi-pronged and multi-faceted, and in order for me to complete my calling, I must be immersed in the most basic of human functions. There’s no other way for me to complete my mission because there’s no other way for me to be a “believable” Guardian to the human I am assigned. And if I don’t complete my mission successfully, I will never move up the ranks and become a Guardian Angel. Camael is in a higher order of angels than I am—the Dominions. He’s my mentor, and it’s his job to prepare me for the journey that I’m about to embark upon.

Yes, I’m an angel—we all are: Camael, Revalia, the others, and me. But, my rank right now is that of angel—the lowest rung on the ladder. My goal is to move up to Guardian, and hopefully beyond. It’s the natural progression for my kind, and I’m excited to serve the Creator (or God, as the humans refer to Him) and all of His glorious wonders.

There is no time—not the way humans divide time up at least. I’ve always existed, yet there are others and elders who were here in Ilarium before I was created, and since I’ve been given the ability to communicate in human language, it seems hard for me to put into words all the thoughts and feelings that I had before. Before, there was just love and peace and a willingness to serve and please, but now there is an actual lexicon, a vocabulary of tens of thousands of words, that I’m still trying to figure out how to effectively communicate and verbalize what’s in my heart. Never having had a heart before, it takes some getting used to.

We angels who are preparing for our callings have been thrust into a human-like world in order to become accustomed to the actual life of a human. The Powers That Be have replicated the physical world and have created buildings and structures for us, given us languages, infused us with feelings, and given us body shapes all in preparation for our descent to Earth.

While angels are neither male nor female, I have the body of a woman now, and I will be assigned female attributes from here forward. I rather do like the contour of the female form, I always have, and perhaps my partiality towards women is what prompted the Creator to put me in a woman’s body. My wings are more defined too; they are heavy on my shoulders with the feathered tips almost irritating the backs of my arms and legs. As the human notion of time becomes more ingrained into our routine, the weight of my wings becomes more and more cumbersome. Camael has said that the awareness of our wings was important so when we lose them on our descent, the shock wouldn’t be so bad. I don’t know; I’m still trying to understand all my teachings. Like how we’re going to be given a set of human memories specific to us and our assignment, yet have all the knowledge of our angelic lives. The thought of blending the two perplexes me.

This leads me to right now. This time. This place. The unfamiliarity of it all. Camael says this is a school, and the human I am assigned to help goes to one. I know this. I’ve seen them, the humans. I’ve watched them from up high, but actually being in a school—the four white walls and chairs called desks filed in rows with children sitting at them—is quite an adjustment. I sit in the front of a single aisle. We’re in alphabetical order, and I’m Aestra, so that means I’m first in the row. Revalia is a few desks behind me. I turn my head to try to catch her attention, but she’s staring out the window, deep in what Camael calls a “daydream.” I look at her a few seconds longer hoping my gaze can break her trance, but she’s too far gone, mesmerized in her human thoughts. The one disadvantage to being in this human shape is we angels can no longer feel the thoughts and emotions of others without speaking them. If I had been free from this woman body, I would have been able to read Revalia’s mind, but then again, if we weren’t in these human forms, Revalia wouldn’t be having such thoughts as hypnotizing daydreams…


About the Author: 

Maria is the Author of the Amazon bestselling and award-winning series The Coal Elf Chronicles, the YA psychological horror series The Altered Experience, and the NA Urban Fantasy series The Aestrangel Trinity. When not writing about dark fantasy and horror, she teaches Language Arts and Journalism to middle school students in Florida. A lover of all things dark and demented, she takes pleasure in warping the comfort factor in her readers’ minds. Just when you think you’ve reached a safe space in her stories, she snaps you back into her twisted reality.








 




Monday, February 19, 2024

False Haven by Rebecca Rook #YAHorror


False Haven
Rebecca Rook

Genre: Young Adult Horror
Publisher: Hellebore House
Date of Publication: February 13, 2024

ISBN: Print: 979-8-9894253-2-7 
ISBN: e-book: 979-8-9894253-3-4
ASIN: B0CNDX3SBY
Number of pages: 250
Word Count: 60,000
Cover Artist: Paper & Sage Designs

Tagline: Her last chance may end her life.

Book Description:

Seventeen-year-old Vivienne Barston’s life has fallen apart.

With her mother recently dead, her father disappears into his grief – leaving Viv to deal with her sadness and anger alone. To cope, Viv turns to destructive behaviors like petty vandalism, and after a disturbing stint in a juvenile detention center frightens her, Viv agrees to a court mandated service opportunity designed to expunge her record. The deal: work for six weeks with a trail conservation crew in the rural woods of southern Oregon, and she’ll be free with a clean slate.

She knows it’s her last chance to fix her life.

When Viv arrives at the small town of Hard Luck, Oregon, she meets her motley crewmates, all with troubles of their own. The unusual group travels to Grafton Stake, a remote and derelict former asylum with a haunted history–and now Viv must face the ghosts of the past while fighting for her future.

Excerpt:

Five faces looked up at her entrance: two girls and three guys. They sat around a conference table in office chairs that were sleek, professional, and out of place in the rustic lodge. An open box of cheap pastries rested at the center of the table, surrounded by water bottles, sodas, and napkins. A pile of hiker’s backpacks rested in the corner of the room. Viv cast the others a quick glance, then placed her pack next to the pile. She picked a chair at the end of the table, closest to the door.

Viv found five pairs of eyes studying her. She felt grubby after a long day on public transportation and tried not to squirm under the scrutiny.

“What’s your name?” one of the girls demanded.

“Viv.” She didn’t inquire about their names. None of them were there to make friends.

The girl who had demanded Viv’s name opened her mouth to say more but was interrupted by the arrival of a woman in her thirties with thin black hair pulled into a low ponytail, nut-brown skin, and a stocky, muscular build. The woman walked with authority and purpose, her shoulders back and her head upright, and when she came to a stop at the head of the conference table, she cast an assessing gaze over Viv.

“You must be Vivienne.” It wasn’t a question.

Viv nodded.

“Welcome.” The woman didn’t smile. “I’m Helen Whiteaker, and I run this program. You will report to me for the duration of your time here.” Helen’s dark eyes held a steel promise of order.

Viv found herself sitting up a bit straighter.

Helen swept a glance around the room. “We’re all here, so let’s start.” She then eyed the pastries in the center of the table. “I’d eat those if I were you. Our meals over the next six weeks won’t be spectacular.”

One of the boys reached for a Danish.

This seemed to satisfy Helen. “Welcome to the Conservation Corps for Teens. Let’s discuss what you’re here to work on for the next six weeks. At the direction of the Bureau of Land Management and the local county council, we’ll be providing the grunt labor for the demolition and cleanup of Grafton Stake, a local institution with several old buildings. We will also build a trail system, campsites, and recreational day sites around the area. The goal of our work is to help create a park-like setting for a future campground and visitor’s center.”
Helen paused. “Does anyone have questions?”

No one responded. The boy with the Danish ate loudly, without closing his mouth. Viv winced at the sight, then looked away. The squelching noise turned her stomach.

Helen eyed Danish Boy with a flicker of amusement in her eyes before continuing. “We have a tight schedule and will need to work fast. We work eight hours a day, every Monday through Friday, with lunches and breaks. Weekends will be spent at the campsite, or in town for short durations.”

Helen paused again and looked around the conference room with her eyebrows raised. When no one said anything, she sighed. “I’m going to be blunt: none of you are here because you want to be here.”

Viv felt the impact of the words like a dash of cold water across the face. She saw the others react, too, shifting uncomfortably in their seats or staring at the floor or the ceiling.

Helen stared at the table. “For various legal and privacy reasons, I do not know the specifics of why you are here, but I will not tolerate any insubordination or disruption on my team. If you misbehave, I will ship you home without a second chance. This is a job. You will be paid a stipend at the end of the six weeks—or a prorated amount for the time you’ve spent in this program. I expect professional behavior from each of you, towards me and towards each other.

That means no sex, no drugs, no shit talking, and no fights.”

The conference room was still. Viv’s stomach roiled with anxiety. She almost admired how efficiently Helen had asserted control over the group.

“Really?” Helen cast a skeptical glance around the room. “No questions at all?”



About the Author:

Rebecca Rook is a hard of hearing person who designs tabletop games, manages a little free library dedicated to sequential art and comics, and lives in the Pacific Northwest with two wonderful dogs. A 2021-2022 Hugo House Fellow in Seattle, WA, she also attended the 2021 Tin House YA Fiction Workshop in Portland, OR. Prior to this, she completed the wonderful Yearlong Workshop for Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction at Hugo House. She writes young adult fiction in the fantasy, thriller, and horror genres.








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Friday, February 16, 2024

Free Book Friday - Ausome Parenting: The Guide to Endless Love, Emotional Support, and Acceptance for Your Autistic Child

 Free Book Friday February 16, 2024


Ausome Parenting: The Guide to Endless Love, Emotional Support, and Acceptance for Your Autistic Child

Natalie Loveson

ASIN: ‎B0CSFRB4JS

Publisher: ‎Ausome Parenting

Publication Date: ‎January 31, 2024

Do you feel overwhelmed and alone in raising your autistic child? Are you seeking solutions and empowerment on this journey?

As a fellow autism parent, I understand those sleepless nights spent worrying about the future. I know the heartache when your child struggles with bullies or meltdowns. But I also recognize your child’s unique strengths and capabilities.

In “Ausome Parenting,” I invite you to join me in shifting the narrative. This is not a story of hardship, but of hope. Of forging a profound connection with your wonderful child. Of nurturing their growth in an environment of unconditional love and acceptance.

With research-backed strategies and wisdom from my own journey, I provide a practical roadmap so you can:

Deeply understand autism and embrace your child’s neurodiversity

Identify early red flags and signs of autism with actionable checklists

Uncover your child’s strengths and nurture their self-esteem

Advocate for your child’s needs at school and in your community

Build an empowering support network as a family

And above all, foster a life of belonging, compassion, and limitless potential for your child

This book acknowledges the realities, yet shines a light on possibilities. My goal is to equip you with resilience, optimism, and practical tools so you can help your child thrive.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Soul Masters: The Hunting Grounds by K.R. Gastreich #PNR



Soul Masters: The Hunting Grounds
Soul Masters
Book One
K.R. Gastreich

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Date of Publication: February 7, 2024
ISBN: 978-1509253302
ASIN: B0CP6GMWRK
Number of pages: 320
Word Count: 90k
Cover Artist: Kristian Norris

Tagline: He wants to claim her soul. But can she capture his heart?

Book Description:

On a hike through the forest, Mayela stumbles into a terrifying world where immortals hunt souls. To survive she secures protection from a Soul Master. When he demands payment, Mayela fights back. But how can she fight the desire consuming her heart?

Every soul Nathan claims expands the power of his realm. In Mayela, he finds a rare gift that could guarantee his place among the Soul Masters. All he must do is secure her allegiance without losing his heart. And Nathan has no heart to lose. Or does he?  

With eternity at stake, Mayela and Nathan ignite a transcendent passion that breaks all the rules. Among the Soul Masters, a malevolent force awakens. The final hunt is on…

Amazon      BN     Bookshop

Excerpt:

Then everything froze. Joni, the customers, the cars outside. All movement simply stopped. The chime on the front door sounded. My throat went dry. Somehow, I knew what was happening. I knew who had arrived, though I didn’t understand how or why.
Twisting around, I peered over the rim of the booth. Standing in the doorway was the man from my hallucinations, a creature of the dark plains. Tall and slim, broad-shouldered, dark in aspect. That same man had beheaded a snake in my kitchen. Not my kitchen, I reminded myself. The illusion of my kitchen, part of the same hallucination of an impossible world. The Hunting Grounds, he’d called it. Where we go to hunt souls.

My mind spun with the impossibility of what I was seeing. He couldn’t be real.  Yet here he was, in Joni’s shop. Except, he looked different. His hair was peppered gray instead of black. His skin seemed a shade darker. Or maybe lighter? It was like wrapping my head around a mirage, trying to remember what he looked like in my nightmares. But the simple force of his presence, the quiet luminescence of his spirit, was unmistakable. That was him.
Without so much as a glance in my direction, the man stepped into the shop and started toward the counter. Everything stirred at once. Several people looked his way. Joni let go a long, low whistle.

“Well, I’ll be!” she exclaimed. "We haven’t had anyone that drop-dead gorgeous walk in here since…Well, ever!”

She kept staring, mouth agape, as he ordered coffee. Then her face lit up, and she jumped into action, wiping down the table next to me.

“I’ve got an idea,” she said. “I think you should go for him.”

“What?” I croaked.

“He’s totally your style.”

“I don’t date men in suits.”

“What are you talking about?” She laughed. “Look at him! It’s fate. I can feel it.”

“Joni –”

“Sir!” She called. “Sir, we’ve got an empty table right over here. Next to the windows.”

Holy crap! I sank deeper into my seat. “I’m serious, Joni! Send him somewhere else.”

“Straighten up, beautiful.” She patted me on the shoulder. “Give it a shot. What’ve you got to lose?”

Then she was gone. I cast about frantically for an escape, but there was no back exit from the booth. Unless I wanted to crash through the window. Could I do that? Crash through the window?

Yeah, I could do that. But I’d have to leave my insects behind, and –
And there he was, taking the table next to me. His chair scraped against the floor. His clothes rustled as he settled in. Minutes passed while my heart pounded inside my chest. I kept my face turned, pretended to stare out the window, wondered whether it would hurt to feel the glass shatter against my skin.

Idle talk filled the coffee shop. Customers came and went, orders were taken, steam forced through frothing milk.

Still the man said nothing.

I snuck a glance in his direction. Damn, he was handsome. Heart stoppingly so. Desire tugged at my gut, a strangely familiar sense of attraction, as if we’d known each other before this moment. As if I’d been bound to him in a time before memory.


About the Author:

K.R. Gastreich is a recipient of the OZMA Award for fantasy fiction and the Andrews Forest Writer’s Residency, as well as a winner of the Women on Writing Flash Fiction Contest. Her fantasy novels feature high-stakes romance, gripping battles, and darkly lyrical prose. In addition to Soul Masters and The Silver Web trilogy, she has published short stories in Zahir, Adventures for the Average Woman, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, and World Jumping.

A proud native of the American Midwest, K.R. Gastreich lived for many years in Texas and then in Latin America before returning to the Kansas City Metro where she grew up. When not writing she enjoys hiking, camping, studying dance, and spending time with her family.

To learn about new releases and other events, visit K.R. Gastreich’s website at krgastreich.com, or follow her on Instagram @EolynChronicles.