timofiy shadura on a background of the Ukrainian flag in the shape of Ukraine
I’ve been working on edits for my next Redemption’s Price release for what feels like forever now. It follows the Boulder Pride alpha’s oldest son as he’s taken captive by the Soviet Army when they invade Berlin. He becomes trapped in Russia and trapped in the horrors of the Soviet system. He rebuilds a pride shattered by Soviet cruelty and sacrifices himself to that cruelty to save them. He refuses to stop fighting against the regime trying to destroy him. This is a book I’m immensely proud of as a writer and as a historian.

But I cannot in good conscience publish this book while Russia is engaged in a genocidal war against Ukraine. I refuse to even accidentally play into any kind of Russian propaganda about the greatness of Russian culture while their entire culture is focused on committing genocide and some of the most horrific war crimes the world has ever seen. 

I’ve been fascinated by Russian history since I was 13 and saw the Palaces of St. Petersburg exhibit in Jackson, Mississippi. At the time, I was reading a series called The Russians by Michael Philips and Judith Pella. The things I had read about the day before were on display right in front of me, from this far away place that a girl from a dying Louisiana cotton town couldn’t imagine. Ever since then I’ve devoured Russian history and read every novel I can get my hands on set in Russia. Pre-internet, that was no easy feat.

It’s because of my deep love and interest in Russian history that when I woke up on February 24, 2022 and looked at the hundred or so messages on my phone from my editor, I knew exactly where I stood in this war. I #StandWithUkraine, now and always. I continue to be in awe of Ukrainian courage, tenacity, and humor. I’ve cried with them, rejoiced with them, and participated in the fight against Kremlin propaganda. I’ll keep doing these things for as long as it’s needed, because my historical knowledge of Russia gives me an edge in the fight when it comes to exposing Kremlin lies. My main hobby for relaxing is counted cross stitch. I’ve done a deep dive into Ukrainian cross stitch motifs and I design cross stitch patterns with them. It’s a way for me to work through my grief and contribute to raising awareness of the beauty of Ukrainian culture. 

I won’t say the last 16 months (at the time of this writing) have been easy. There have been so many days where I’ve cried most of the day. And nearly as many days spent in almost paralyzing rage. Then the day after, I go right back to work helping Ukraine fight for their right to be free and make their own choices. I refuse to actively cause pain to any Ukrainian anywhere in the world by publishing a novel set in Russia. To do so right now, for me, is morally wrong.

The art is of Tymofiy Shadura. He was brutally murdered via beheading in February of 2023. His last words were “Slava Ukraini.” Glory to Ukraine. The response to this is Heroyam Slava, glory to the heroes. Ukraine is a nation of heroes and I’m proud to fight alongside them.

Слава Україні!


To Hold A Siren's Heart is here!

Release day has arrived! To Hold A Siren's Heart, my shifter debut, has landed.

It combines many of the things I love. Ancient Egypt, cat shifters, sexy winged men, Colorado, and a hefty dash of Greek god jealousy. Oh yeah. The Egyptian god of war is also a main character, as he seeks vengeance on those who wronged him.

You can get it on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, and Google Play.

Redemption has a price. Paying it could cost him everything.

David Michaels is a celibate siren, cursed to never know love and fighting his nature every minute of the day so his brother won't fear him. He knew better than to have a one-night stand with a total stranger. The last thing he expected was to see her show up claiming his little brother is the long-lost next alpha of the Boulder pride.

Megan Kincade, daughter of the Boulder pride alpha, hasn't stopped dreaming about the dark-haired man she slept with in Florida while chasing down a lead on her missing brother. The last thing she expected was to find him living as the little brother of her dream-man--a man with a voice smooth as Belgian chocolate.

Taking his brother back to his pride is the only way for him to live, yet if David reconnects with his symphony, a pantheon war will set Colorado on fire. And he really shouldn't be falling in love with the alpha's daughter.

When David's symphony comes for him, he gives himself up to save Meg and Owen. The love he thinks himself incapable of is the only thing that can save him. Provided Meg can find the courage to defy her pride and save her siren's heart.

Chapter One

It had been seven years, eight months, and sixteen days since David Michaels wanted to seduce someone. The woman sitting on his neighbor’s porch, with her purple hair falling across her shoulders and neck, made every inch of his body strain to go to her. Made his throat ache to release his siren song and carry her off.

He slid out of his SUV and slammed the door hard enough to make her look toward him. She did. Then stood and poked her head through Dante’s front door. A moment later, both of them headed across Dante’s yard.

David rounded his car to meet them halfway. And froze, breath stuck in his throat. She wasn’t just any woman, but the one from the hotel bar in Orlando seven years ago. The one he’d shared his bed with that night in a one-night stand he hadn’t forgotten. Nights with a girl were so rare he remembered all of them, but judging by the blank look on her face she didn’t recognize him. Probably not a bad thing.

Dante stopped at the edge of the driveway and shoved his hands in his pockets. David sucked in a breath. “How was your trip?” He didn’t want to know the answer to his question, but his little brother’s life depended on it.

Dante had spent the last week in Denver meeting with the Boulder Pride leadership to see if Owen had come from there. Being a form-bound cat shifter wasn’t in doubt. Just where he’d come from. “I have enough information to believe I’m right. If I am, Owen may be an alpha.”

David turned his back on Dante and the girl he knew only as C. Anything but an alpha. He closed his eyes, beyond certain they were turning red and would give him away. Owen was his link to emotions, to seeing humans as people instead of food. Without his brother, David was just another siren doing anything to feed. Including trampling other people’s privacy and right to self-determination.

Owen was also the only person or thing standing between him and a loneliness so deep it might drive him to do something stupid. On the other hand, Owen was dying. With months to live, instead of the two centuries plus he’d have if he were really an Egyptian cat shifter.

A familiar hand landed on his shoulder. Squeezed. “I wanted to be wrong, David. You’ve no idea how much. All the evidence says he’s Owen Kincade.”

“Who’s the girl?”

“His sister, Megan. We decided she’d be the least threatening.”

David opened his eyes. Found his hands choking the life out of the strap on his messenger bag, talons slicing out between his fingers and digging into his palms. Better that than lose another bag, especially when it had his work laptop in it. “Did you tell them anything about me?”

“Just that you’re very close, and if they want Owen back they have to accept you as well.”

David let out a soundless laugh. “Yeah, right. Once they find out what I am, one way or another I’m dead.”

“Maybe, maybe not.” The weight of Dante’s hand disappeared. “We should take her inside and get this over with. Owen’s running out of time.”

David faced the girl again. It was her. No doubt about it A little older, a little curvier, a little more beautiful, but standing with the same easy grace that should have told him back then she was a cat. He hadn’t exactly been paying attention to details, though. Kinda hard to do when lust crowded everything else from his brain.

She met his stare with a cool, distant one, full of an odd kind of dominance he’d never seen before. “Megan Kincade.”

“David Michaels.”

“What are you?” Megan crossed her arms, cocking her head and continuing to stare at him.

“None of your business right now. I’ve protected Owen from our world. He’s not going to believe this.”

“I’m prepared to demonstrate.”

“Good. You’ll have to.” He put his back to her and headed for the front door. Her dominance had nothing on his, despite the fact she never dropped her gaze while speaking. He focused on his hands and pulled his talons back in. The way they came out and curved would give him away in a heartbeat. He managed to get the door open without dropping his keys.

Silence met him. Owen was stretched out in his recliner, both cats in his lap, eyes closed. David took his bag off and set it on the couch, then went to Owen and flattened his hand on Owen’s forehead. A little feverish still.

Owen’s eyes fluttered. It took him a moment to focus, and one side of his mouth lifted. 

“You’re late,” he whispered.

“The design meeting got a little heated. Apparently I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to pressure tolerance.”

“He’s an idiot and you’re a genius.”

David ruffled Owen’s hair. “Thanks, bro.” He settled on the recliner arm, unable to hold 
Owen’s gaze because of all the pain in it. The temptation to feed on it was a daily fight, and right now he was off enough he might give in.

“What’s wrong?”

“You’re too perceptive for your own good.”

Owen swatted at his leg. A very feline move, now that David knew for certain what he was. Sure, he’d suspected it for several years. But without proof, he’d ignored it. “You know that trip Dante took to Colorado?”


“He went out there looking for your birth family.” David looked at Owen so he wouldn’t miss his reaction. Owen’s reactions tended to subtle, but David had over fifteen years’ experience reading them. To him, they were as obvious as another siren’s cloaked wings.

Owen’s forehead creased. “Why Colorado? I thought I was from here.”

“Dad suspected how you got here was illegal. You were so scared and traumatized they couldn’t be bothered to care about the means. You needed a family to protect you from whatever monsters haunted your dreams.” Dad knew those monsters were real, but he’d never figured out what they were.

Owen shuddered. “The dream monsters are back, David. They’re bigger now. Scarier. With more teeth.”

“They won’t get you, Owee, I promise.”

Owen leaned into him, and David wrapped his arms around his brother’s shoulders. “Dante really thinks he found my birth family?”

David held him tighter. This family wouldn’t want him around. They’d make him leave, tell him to never contact Owen again. By the time Owen cemented his place in the pride hierarchy, it’d be too late for David to hold on to the humanity he’d found. “Yes.”

“So why are you scared? You’re my family, too.” Owen paused. Pulled back and touched David’s face to get him to make eye contact. “And why does Dante care about finding my birth family? You’ve never explained that part of it.”

“I was honoring Dad’s wishes.” But now he faced watching his brother die if he didn’t break his promise to Dad. The way he’d watched his father die. The way Owen had watched their mother die. “But I don’t want you to die.”

“I’m too young to die,” Owen whispered.

“I agree. If Dante is right, you won’t, for a very long time. It’s a chance I think we have to take.” Finagling it right meant he could keep the spirit of his promise to Dad, while saving his link to real emotion and keeping himself from becoming a monster. He shifted on the arm to ease the metal digging into his ass. “He brought someone back you might be related to. They’re waiting outside.”

Owen sighed, and settled into the recliner again. His breathing shifted into one of his pain patterns. He wore both of his wrist braces, both ankle braces, and the way he kept his legs said his knees and hips hurt as well. The rheumatoid arthritis was eating him alive, creating a cascade of health problems that had required Owen to first give up working on his accounting degree, then forced him to quit his job. “I want my life back, David. They can come in.”

David didn’t move. “There’s one more thing. The world you can see…it’s not the only one.”

“I know.”

“You just think you do. Enjoy this moment, little brother. The world you know is about to disappear forever.” David left the recliner and went to the door. Motioned Dante and Megan inside. His fingers itched to run through her hair, see if the new color changed the texture he remembered. In Orlando, her hair had been plain old brown. But he kept his fingers to himself. Giving himself away accomplished nothing.

She shook her head. “I’ll stay out here until Dante has filled him in.”

David closed the door most of the way and returned to his spot on the recliner arm, but on the other side this time.

“Hey, kiddo.” Dante ruffled Owen’s hair.

“I stopped being a kid a long time ago.” Owen stuck his tongue out at Dante. “David told me what you think you found.”

Dante dropped onto the couch, closest to Owen. “I’m as positive as I can be without a DNA test. There’s a catch, though.”

“There usually is.”

Dante bent forward, rested his forearms on his knees, and looked at Owen. “We have to go out there to prove it.”

Owen’s hand found David’s. Squeezed so hard David heard his talons crunching against bone. “Why?”

“Did David mention to you this world you see isn’t the only one?”

Owen nodded. David didn’t free his hand. Owen needed it to keep him grounded. Having one’s world turn inside out wasn’t easy.

“David and I are part of this other world. So are you. The problem is, you’ve been locked out of it. To get you back in, we have to go out there. I need their help to get you back in.” Dante’s gaze flicked to David for a moment.

“We can’t do it with them coming here?”


Owen tilted his head to the left. “I’m not sure I believe you.”

Dante sighed. “I don’t expect you to. That’s why I brought your sister back with me. You probably won’t recognize her, but she’ll recognize you.”

“I was a little kid the last time she saw me, if she’s my sister.”

Dante stood. “She’ll know. Trust me, Owen. Please.”

Owen looked to David. He wanted to tell him no, he didn’t have to trust Dante. Didn’t have to let this woman in. Didn’t have to accept his birth family might want him back. But the price of that answer was Owen’s life. David squeezed Owen’s hand again. “He’s right.”


Dante went to the door and opened it. Megan Kincade sauntered in like she owned the place, her gaze fixed on Owen. David had to remind himself to keep breathing. Nothing good could come of his being attracted to the daughter of one of the most powerful shifter alphas in the world.

He’d sworn to Dad he’d protect Owen no matter what. Twice already he’d failed. A third time was not going to happen. No matter what it cost him along the way.

Owen stared at her. Leaned forward a bit in his chair, but didn’t release David’s hand. And David didn’t pull away. They faced things together or not at all. “Why do I feel like I know you?”

“Because you do.” Megan perched on the edge of the couch, in the space closest to Owen. “Your cat recognizes me.”

Owen shook his head. “I don’t have a cat.”

“Yes, you do. It’s locked inside you and can’t get out.” She held her hand out, palm up, claws extending from her fingertips. “I have one too.”
Those hands knew his body. Had done magical things to it and left him bordering on incoherent.

Owen ran his index finger across her palm, and up each finger to touch all five claws. Claws coming from her fingers marked her as Egyptian, whereas David’s talons between his fingers marked him as Greek.

Owen pulled his hand back. “Prove it.”

Megan stood, went to the hearth, closed her eyes, and the shift happened in an instant. One millisecond she was a human woman with purple hair, wearing jeans and a Disney t-shirt. The next she was a sleek, tawny cougar with amber eyes and brown-tipped ears. Owen gasped. David didn’t move a single muscle. She was magnificent. And just as beautiful in cat form as she’d been in human form. Every part of his body went up in flames with the need to feel her fur.

Super bad idea.

“This can’t be real,” Owen whispered.

Megan took a step toward Owen. David leaned forward, eyes narrowed, vision tinted red. Shit. His eyes were turning again and giving him away. The list of creatures whose eyes went red was very short, and none were welcome in Egyptian shifter lands. Megan stared at him and her own eyes narrowed, in response to his going red, no doubt.
No one was hurting Owen, least of all a member of the family who hadn’t spent the last twenty-two years searching for him.

“Easy, David. She means no harm.”

David transferred his glare to Dante. The fact they could communicate telepathically meant Dante had god blood in him. But he guarded his true identity with the same zeal as David did his. “You’re not the one with a sworn oath hanging over you. I wouldn’t change it for anything, but you know what’ll happen to me if Owen gets hurt.”

“If she makes a move on him, I’ll flash her out before she can make contact. Happy?”

Yes.” David returned his attention to Megan and Owen. She now sat at his feet as he scratched her head. When he stopped to rest his hand, she rubbed her cheek on his pants. Her purr filled the room.

The next sound made him snarl inside. Owen’s purr, for the first time, was audible. Owen put his hand to his chest. Looked at David, his eyes wide and the rings of brown and blue in them being swallowed by the green. Also a first. Meg was reaching his cat. “Why am I purring?”

David sucked in a deep breath and held it a moment. His inner siren—the one no one alive had ever seen or ever would see—screamed for blood. Owen’s purr belonged to him, not Megan Kincade or Dante. Owen’s sub-vocal purr soothed his siren madness and provided the harmonic resonance his bones needed. It wasn’t to be shared with anyone.

But Owen’s cat seemed to think otherwise, and it was a good sign of his cat still being alive and able to get out. “You’re purring because you’re a cat.” He leaned in. Whispered. 
“You always purr when I hold you. You’ve just never heard it before.”

Owen’s hand cupped his neck and held him in place. “I can feel something scratching at my mind, like it’s trying to pull a wall down.”

“That’s exactly what’s happening, Owen.” Dante knelt in front of him and put his hands on Owen’s knees. “Your cat knows Megan, knows she can help free him from his prison.”

“How can this be real?”

David kept his attention totally on Owen. He had to ignore Megan’s presence or he’d end up going for her throat. “Cats have always followed you. Remember? They do whatever you ask. They protect you. Strays were always following you home. You remember the zoo field trip when you were twelve?”

Owen nodded. “The lions laid down when I looked at them. And the leopards, the jaguar, the cougar, and the tigers. But why?”

Dante let out a low whistle. He’d never heard the story before. “You’re not just a cat, Owen.” He paused a moment. “The evidence says you’re an alpha. Every animal you encounter knows it. Whatever was used to bind you into human form is so well done, I had no idea you were alpha until your father told me you were showing the signs. There are no alphas your father trusts to take his place. If we don’t get you home and freed, your pride will be torn apart by internal and external war.”

Owen leaned into David. “I don’t want that much responsibility.”

“You’ll grow into it.”

Owen shook his head, then collapsed against the back of the recliner, eyes closed. David pressed his palm to Owen’s forehead and grimaced. Spiking fever. “You need to go. He’s exhausted.”

Dante stood. Megan’s cat disappeared and she once again became the woman who heated David’s blood past boiling. Really, he had no business being so attracted to someone from another pantheon. Besides, a happy ending was impossible for him, even without that little wrinkle.

He watched them leave. Megan threw one last glare at him over her shoulder before Dante hauled her outside.

“Are they gone?” Owen whispered.

“For now.”

Owen’s eyes fluttered open, and he stopped trying to hide the wheezing taking over his lungs. “Why have you never mentioned any of this?”

“Dad made me promise not to. He thought it’d be safer for you.”


David shrugged.

“Are you a cat too?”

“No.” He stood. Sitting on the recliner arm for one more second might split his tailbone. 
“It’s safer right now if you don’t know what I am. Dante does, and he won’t let anything happen to me.”

Owen narrowed his eyes and frowned. “You told him, but you won’t tell your own brother?”

“He guessed. I’ve never willingly told anyone what I am. It’s too dangerous.”

Owen’s frown relaxed, but didn’t go away. “For you, or the person who knows?”

“Both. Once you’re capable of protecting yourself, I’ll show you what I am and what I can do.”

Owen lifted his left hand, pinky extended and his other fingers folded against his palm. David swallowed a sigh and hooked his left pinky around Owen’s. “Promise. But when you’re alpha of one of the biggest prides in the world, you don’t need to go around making people pinky swear with you.”

The last vestige of the frown disappeared in the light of Owen’s smile. Which David met with his own. These were the moments he lived for, when Owen’s illness disappeared and he was once more the happy-go-lucky little brother who’d died the day he found their mother dead in her bed.

“I’m hungry. Then I need to get in the hot tub for a while.”

David nodded and left Owen in the recliner while he put supper together from the week’s leftovers. If they were heading for Colorado, he needed to get the fridge cleaned out.

He sagged against the stove. Colorado. Shit. The one place Dad had made him swear to never go back to. And the one place he had to go to if he wanted his brother to live.


Hidden In Ashes is here!

After two years, intense editing, and redoing Sunny three times, Hidden In Ashes is finally here! I love this novel, and I love Lorin and Sunny. There's an awful lot of me in both of them. I hope you enjoy learning about their world as much as I did.

I'm guesting on some blogs this week. First up is Celebrate With A Book and The Romance Studio on 5/16, then I'm visiting Courtney J. Hall on 5/18.

You can grab your copy of the book on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, or Google Play.

Back cover:

Childhood enmity turns to love, with one problem: his heart isn't his to give.

Lorin is a daro, a Lokmane trained to make humans feel special and valued. As Prime of Arkos House, no one stands between him and the safety of the daros under his care—except his mistress. The dead one, and the new one. He needs to focus on the Essence crisis infiltrating the Houses, and his sister's safety. Not figure out how to balance his duties with falling in love.

When her mother dies, emotionally wounded Sagira Memeos becomes the Marcasian Empire’s newest High Lady. And reluctant owner of the most sought after daro in said empire. He’s her childhood nemesis, and way too sexy for his own good. With his kindness finding its way into her bruised soul, asking for his help to navigate her succession to ruling high lady probably isn't her brightest idea.

Lorin wants Sagira. But not if he has to pay for it with innocent lives. She’s a distraction he can't afford while the bedrock of Marcasian high society is under attack. Not to mention facing losing his sister to the man who wounded Sagira. If the daro houses fall, all hope of freedom goes with them.

Chapter One

Karnak, Marcase Prime
Earth Year: 5236

Lorin, Prime of Arkos House, sank into the hot water of his private mineral pond. Every inch of his body ached from exhaustion, despite the last twenty-four hours spent sound asleep. Mistress didn’t believe in allowing him to actually rest during his two week sabbatical every year. No. He had to keep her pleased and sated, while ignoring his own needs.
As a daro, and the Prime in charge of his House, he had legal protections other Lokmane didn’t. Not that Mistress cared about any of them, as she’d spent the last eleven Earth-years proving to him. Nor did she care he knew Taran, Prince Nicco, Princess Honor, and the emperor, and could make Mistress’s life miserable if he chose. Then again, she knew it wasn’t in him to do that. Even to the one woman alive he hated and wished dead.
He went to the side, folded his arms on the ledge, and rested his head on them with his eyes closed. Air jets kept the water moving. Soft splashing at the steps told him Cynda, his sister and caretaker, was coming in to rub his back. Three seconds later, her hands began working with slow, gentle strokes. He sighed in pleasure.
Too bad no magic hands existed to ease the soreness of his tongue.
I don’t understand why she won’t let me come with you.” Cynda focused on the knot in his neck driving him nuts.
Because she knows you’ll make her leave me alone, and she can’t have that.”
You’re a daro, Lorin. Not a common whore.”
Except when he spent time with Mistress, he felt like a common whore. Even when he was flawless, in his opinion, she found something to criticize. “Maybe she’ll drop dead. I don’t think any of the girls would care about claiming me.” He groaned as Cynda pressed into one of the knots in his shoulders. “I just want to be left alone to do my job.”
He loved being a daro—a Lokmane trained to provide a safe, intimate place for the humans of Marcasian high society. Soothing hurts, watching ignored men and women bloom under his attention, helping abuse victims move into the role of survivor, were all things he excelled at. He had a purpose larger than himself, and wasn’t locked into an identity as slave and property. Something he wanted every Lokmane on Marcase to experience.
All ability to talk disappeared for several dizzying minutes as Cynda dug her thumb into each knot. While his massage training focused on erotic pleasure, her’s was all about pain relief and relaxing him. She switched from digging knots to kneading muscles, and his powers of speech returned.How are the novices settling in?” One of the things he hated most about his forced sabbatical timing was missing the arrival of three new daros. Ones he’d chosen to complement Arkos House, and fill the gaps in his daro family.
Kell befriended one of the boys. The girl is hanging out with Keesa, thinks Garin is crude, and can’t believe any Prime would let him in a house.”
Lorin chuckled. Garin was crude, in an endearing sort of way. He almost had more clients than he could handle, despite being from the provinces and only four M-years of daro training, which made him a four in daro-speak. “And Yev’an?” The one ten he’d picked, even though he wasn’t a good candidate to be Prime one day. His personality fit Arkos.
Cynda sighed this time. “He’s a little thing, like you. I haven’t heard him speak, and he keeps to himself. I think he’s terrified.”
If I can move better after another nap, I’ll send for him. And the others.”
Good. Minton is trying to convince them you don’t care and that it’s normal for you to ignore novices.”
If he had the energy, he’d go punch Minton. He wasn’t claimed, and didn’t understand how difficult it was to balance Prime responsibilities with his obligation to Mistress. She didn’t care about his responsibilities either. “Why did I say yes when Teeg asked me?”
Cynda kissed his cheek. “Because you care, brother. You don’t think your daros exist to make you look good. I’ve heard some horror stories about other Primes letting the wrong client into a novice’s bed and breaking them.”
No one gets broken on my watch. Teeg would kill me.”
If I didn’t beat him to it.”
Lorin focused on relaxing, letting Cynda and the water do their jobs and rejuvenate his exhausted body. And mind.
Another set of feet entered his private room. The heavy tread and jingle of ankle bracelets signaled Garin’s arrival, the only daro Lorin allowed to join him in here without an invitation. Garin sat on the edge of the pool, legs dangling in the water. “Gonna live this time?”
Probably.” Lorin forced his eyes open to look at his friend. At six-six, Garin towered over him. Something about him put Lorin at ease to be himself, and he didn’t mind accepting Garin’s help when he was too tired to walk up three flights of stairs. “I asked you to keep Minton away from the novices.”
I’m doing the best I can. I can’t exactly punch him in the mouth when he starts yakking in front of everyone. Though I’d love to try.” Garin waggled his eyebrows and grinned.
Lorin laughed, as always. “Before you do, give me warning so I can sell tickets.”
Garin’s grin faded. “Kell told them about the time you dragged Camden Hart out of here by his ear. Yev’an believed it, but I’m not sure the other two did.”
Cynda said he’s little, like me.
Garin nodded. “About your height. May not be finished growing yet.” He kicked at the water, splashing it into Lorin’s hair. “He’s claimed too. He hid it well, but he was relieved when the man left.”
Lorin knew the feeling. Relief at being out of her bed gave him the strength yesterday to get in the car on his own, though Garin had carried him upstairs.
Arkos said to tell you don’t feel like you have to come down tonight.”
He says that every year. I’ve never taken him up on it and I never will, no matter how tired I am. Especially if Yev’an is so scared. I wouldn’t have made it through my first open night without Teeg.”
Garin splashed again. “I don’t understand why claimed daros are always eights and tens, and tend to be so scared. You have more protections and rights than the rest of us.”
Lorin pushed back from the ledge, moved to the built-in bench, and let his arms float so Cynda could work on them. He’d often wondered too, and the only explanation he’d come up with was the value of their training, eight M-years and ten M-years. An eternity and a fortune went into making eights and tens. “The claiming, mine in particular, removes most of those rights and protections. Which is a big part of the tension between Minton and I.”
Minton, bane of his existence. A ten who believed he’d been cheated out of his rightful place as Prime of Arkos House. Didn’t matter there was no way in hell, or every inhabited planet in the galaxy, Teeg would’ve chosen a pompous, selfish ass like Minton to lead the most respected House in Karnak.
Garin sighed. Of all the daros at Arkos, he knew the most about Lorin’s lack of protection when it came to his mistress. “I’ll never figure out the inter-house politics and all the posturing. What’s wrong with focusing on satisfied and happy clients?”
Nothing. It’s why I like you and wish to the gods I could get rid of Minton.”
Garin didn’t respond. His legs kept moving in the water, lapping waves against Lorin’s shoulders and splashing into his hair. Cynda worked on his arms for half an hour then washed his hair and rubbed conditioner in it from roots to ends. She rinsed and repeated twice more.
The stiffness and bone-deep ache were gone, but getting out took Garin’s help. He sank into the nearest lounge chair, resting his forehead on Garin’s shoulder as Cynda rubbed the straightening cream into his hair. Mistress hated his curls. The thought made him want to beg Cynda to leave it out for a change. Let him have control of something he ought to have control over.
When he stood, he wobbled. Garin picked him up and carried him to bed. He hadn’t the energy to fight it. Cynda arranged the pillows, pulled the sheet and blankets up to his chin. He closed his eyes and fell asleep again to the sound of Cynda’s bedroom door slamming shut.
Two hours later, his eyes fluttered open. Cynda sat in the chair by the window, using the sunlight to illuminate her sewing. He sighed and stretched then curled around a pillow. “What are you working on?”
She lifted her gaze for a moment to smile at him. Her cheeks were flushed, eyes sparkling. Garin had carried her off for some wild sex, no doubt. “Putting new buttons on your white shirt.” She returned her attention to her work, a faint tinge of pink creeping up her neck.
I don’t mind you being with him, Cynda. How many times do I have to say it before you believe me? I trust him to be gentle with you.”
She rubbed her hand over the scarred left side of her face. “I’m just a way to gain favor with you. I know that, and it’s okay.”
Lorin slid from between satin sheets to kneel beside his sister. He caressed the scars. Kissed her forehead. “With Garin, it’s not about me. He’s falling in love with you, Cynda. Don’t turn him away because you think you’re nothing but an avenue into my good graces.”
She turned her head to break the contact. “How do you know he’s not lying?”
He pushed to his feet, steadied himself with a hand on the back of the chair, and kissed the top of her head this time. “No one can lie to me when my tongue is in his or her mouth. You know that.” He tilted her head back to look at him. “His deepest desire is to buy his freedom and marry you.”
We all have scars, Cynda. Garin’s aren’t visible, but they’re still there. I’m not afraid of you being with him.”
As long as you’re active, Lorin, I’m not going anywhere.”
He knew better than to keep pushing when she trotted out this line, so he backed away and went to his closet for clothes. His hangup about being clothed all the time had disappeared years ago, but Yev’an no doubt used clothing as a shield. Lorin had too, eleven years ago when he arrived at Arkos House as a young man afraid he wouldn’t be able to live up to Mistress’s demands and keep his sister safe.
Once dressed in his softest cotton lounge pants and an open shirt, he paged Ali, the house schedule keeper, and asked for the novices to be sent up. He opened the drapes in his receiving room, and two of the windows to let in the summer breeze and the scent of the lush rose garden below.
A bowl of fruit sat on the coffee table, with ripe apples on top. His favorite, but the fruit would inflame the sore spots between his tongue piercings. The oranges looked good too, but then he’d have to pick pulp out of the holes and off the stud posts. He picked up an apple anyway and inhaled the sweet juicy scent, weighing whether or not he wanted to deal with the trouble.
Cynda tugged him away from the fruit. “I’ll go get something that won’t require twenty minutes with the mirror.”
Thank you.” He retrieved his tablet from the drawer in his cabinet desk and stretched out on the chaise end of the sofa to start catching up on messages while waiting for the novices and food.
Half a dozen were stupid jokes from Markos, one of his clients and a dear friend; one from Teeg with a picture of his two-year-old twins; a couple from Amun, another client and friend, asking advice on a present for his wife.
He paused at the two from Mayara, Prime of Echis House in Nubia, subject line: Essence. He groaned a little. Essence meant he had to deal with the woman, instead of deleting the messages. Knocking on the door kept him from opening it. “Yes?”
Ali poked his head in. “They’re here. One at a time?”
Please.” Lorin turned the tablet off. Tucked it between the cushion and arm of the sofa as Ali showed the first novice in. She bowed her head to him. He motioned for her to sit beside him and she did, her floor-length silk gown whispering over the rug. The side slit went halfway up her thigh and revealed a perfectly shaped leg when she sat, and a stack of silver ankle bracelets two inches high.
Welcome to Arkos House, A’rika.” He brushed her chin with the pad of his right thumb. She opened her mouth. Six copper-colored studs, the mark of the Sekhmet school. He’d hoped Keesa would take her in. Sekhmet daros tended to stick together since they weren’t as valued as Pater and Maxim daros. He leaned forward to cover her mouth with his. Field focused on her core personality, he swept his tongue across the roof of her mouth and the inside of her upper lip.
Adventurous, with a bit of a wild side. Not even a hint of fear. Excitement bubbled through her, infusing her mouth with the taste of honey. He broke the kiss and smiled at her.
I heard you don’t choose from Sekhmet often. I’m honored to be here.” The words came out a little breathless, as usual after a first kiss from him. Eleven years and he still had it.
I liked what I saw. Do you have any preferences?”
Studs clinked against her teeth. He shook his head. “You can chip a tooth doing that. I don’t recommend it.”
Her cheeks flushed and she glanced at her lap. “I don’t have any that I know of.”
If it changes with experience, tell me. I was told Keesa has taken you in. Take questions to her first, and if it needs to come to me, she’ll tell you. Unless you have problems with a client. The moment they’re formed enough to speak, bring those concerns to me.
She nodded. “Minton said—”
Ninety percent of what Minton says is a lie. I’m your Prime, which means I’m here to help you and protect you.” He smoothed hair from her face and smiled. “I take my responsibilities seriously.”
Is my dress acceptable for a debut?” She stood and turned a slow circle. The blue silk fell in sheer waves from a high waistband.
It’s perfect. There’s a house jewel collection for you to use until yours is built. I’ll see you in a couple more hours.”
Another nod and she left the room with the graceful walk of a daro who excelled at dancing.
He repeated everything with Emrys, who preferred women but was willing to take men if they showed true interest. Eight black tongue studs showed he’d been to Maxim. Paired with Kell was perfect, since he’d been at Maxim too. Something about Emrys made Lorin hesitate, though. The boy harbored a great deal of anger. He hid it well, but Lorin’s ability to find lies with a kiss meant none of his daros could hide their true feelings from him for long. He’d have to get to know the boy before he could find the source of the anger, though.
Lorin stayed in his seat because, like Garin, Emrys towered over him at six-five. Not only was he the youngest reigning Prime in the empire, but he was the shortest active male daro. Every male daro he met made him feel like a shrimp.
Until Yev’an entered, trying to hide in his clothes. He pressed his back against the door, eyes darting back and forth, chest moving in a rhythm Lorin recognized—concealed panic. He stood and held his hand out. Gentled his voice and tried to keep the bedroom timbre out of it. “It’s all right, Yev’an. I don’t bite.”
Yev’an swallowed hard, but left the door and slid his hand into Lorin’s. He squeezed. Turned his head for Yev’an to see the gold coil pierced along the outer edge of his left ear, another sign he was claimed, in addition to the gold collar around his throat instead of the daro chain necklace. The boy collapsed onto the sofa, rubbing his coil with his left hand. “I hate him,” he whispered.
I hate mine too. I’ve never met a claimed daro who feels any different.” Lorin didn’t need to kiss this one to know fear ruled him. One harsh word from a client and he’d shatter. “What do you want?”
To never be touched by another man as long as I live.”
Done.” Lorin released his hand. “But I can’t keep you from your master. I wish I could.”
Yev’an relaxed a little, leaning into the cushions.
Do you have your own caretaker?”
Yev’an shook his head. “He wouldn’t let me.”
Lorin swallowed his anger. As a ten Yev’an, had earned the right to choose his own and have one already familiar with his needs and how to relax him. A year from now, he’d have the clients, gifts, and wardrobe to require his own. “We’ll find you one.”
Studs clinked against teeth. This time, Lorin stayed silent. The boy might not react well to being chided during their first meeting. He needed gentle, tender care to build his confidence. There was one I wanted, and nobody picked her. She’ll be too old next time, won’t she?”
Probably. We’ll find her, and if she’s willing, mine will finish training her.”
Yev’an smiled. Some of the fear left, and he straightened.
Lorin returned it. “Have you had sex with a woman before?”
Once.” He fixed his gaze on his knees. “I wasn’t very good at it.”
The first few times are always awkward, no matter how much training you have. Mine was a disaster and I was so upset when the floor didn’t open and swallow me. I have the perfect person in mind for you. If she doesn’t come tonight, you can keep an empty bed if you like.”
His head came up and blue eyes widened. “Really?”
Really. You’re safe here, Yev’an. I will never pair you with someone capable of hurting you.”
But you’re so young.” His neck flushed and he looked down again.
Lorin lifted Yev’an’s head with a finger to his chin. Showed him all seventeen gold studs pierced through his tongue. “I may be young, but I know what I’m doing. All I need to figure out what a client wants is one kiss. My prime taught me how to do it, and I’ll teach you, if you want. The better your client list, the easier it is to petition for your freedom.”
Unless you were owned by High Lady Lapis Memeos. Damn that woman, holding him so tight it was a miracle he hadn’t suffocated. Drop dead, bitch, please.
I’ll think about it.” Yev’an smoothed his silk pants. “Do I have to change?”
No.” But who he could pair the boy with for the night? Garin’s clients would scare him spitless. Minton would lie to him. Kell ignored women. The number of people Lorin needed to greet tonight made him a bad choice. Braith was perfect, but not due back from his sabbatical—a real one—for another week. Damn. “Is there anyone you feel comfortable shadowing tonight?”
Garin seems nice. He scared my master into leaving early, and helped me choose a room. And he didn’t touch me.”
Too bad Garin was ineligible for Prime; he had a knack for soothing nervous daros. “All right. For now, you can share a caretaker with him and Kell. She’s very calm and sweet, and they do whatever she says.”
Yev’an nodded and stood. His shoulders were straighter, his eyes a little less haunted. With protection and time, he’d come out of his shell and become very popular. Though his unwillingness to see men made grooming him as a possible successor for Arkos almost impossible.
I’ll see you in an hour.”
Yev’an left. Two minutes later Cynda came in with food. The Essence messages would have to wait.


Freedom's Embrace Is Here!

It's here! Book four of A'yen's Legacy, starring Taran and Ro's sister Da'Renna. Get it at Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, and Google Play.

They made the wrong choice. Putting it right requires going into a war.

A'yen's Reign: Year Two
Taran has served Nicco, prince of Marcase, for twenty-three years. While on a fact-finding mission to Corsica--a planet annexed by the empire thirteen years ago--Taran and Nicco are kidnapped by the Freedom Alliance and taken deep into the Corsican hardwood forests.

Da'Renna, sister to King A'yen's linked bodyguard, has loved Taran since the moment he saw her. Leaving him behind wasn't easy, but her brother needed her more. Hearing about Taran's kidnapping makes her wonder if she made the right choice.

With the help of a friend from Corsica, Da'Renna and her brother sneak in to find Taran. When mercenaries take her hostage, Taran must make the choice he dreads most: his master, or his soul-mate.

If Taran loses his girl, he'll never find his way to freedom.

Note: This novel stands alone and is a great entry point into the A'yen's Legacy futuristic romance series.

I also present to you an excerpt from the novel, the first time Taran sees Ren.

 Nic’s driver parked three blocks from the brothel in question, as instructed earlier. Taran gripped the handle. “Stay here. I’ll be back with the samples in thirty minutes, tops.”
“Yes, Mother.”
Taran slipped out, stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets to keep them warm, and headed for the brothel. This was the biggest Morrison house in town, and one block outside the boundary of upper South Market. Why couldn’t Nic tumble with daros? Or be on a Favored list somewhere? Getting in and out of daro houses didn’t require facing memories Taran wanted to forget. Didn’t keep him scanning every face looking for his brother.
He slipped into the brothel and waited for his eyes to adjust to the dim light. This one tried to emulate a daro house, but he wasn’t fooled. He’d been in real ones. Everything about this building was a cheap imitation. Daros created true intimacy, and cared about their clients as people.
“Can I help you?” A hulking human male crossed his arms, probably to make his muscles bulge. Which they did, straining at the sleeves of his shirt.
“I’m here to investigate the claim one of the women had a child by Prince Nicco.”
The human cocked his head, staring at him. “And you are?”
Taran lifted his chin and stepped into the circle of light from the fixture above. Green and gold threads, the Faroukh royal colors, were woven into his hair above his left temple. His collar bore an etching of a lotus blossom—the Faroukh family crest. His clothes were tailored and of the highest quality fabrics available, just like Nic’s. “Taran, the prince’s steward.”
“Follow me.”
The human led him into a small sitting room, indicated he should sit, and left. Taran didn’t sit. He stood in the middle of the room, unzipped his jacket, and studied the furnishings. Everything looked expensive, and most were probably fooled by it. But to someone who lived in true luxury, surrounded by marble and precious metals, he knew it was a front. One hiding Loks men and women who wished for death.
Heels clicked in the hall, and a woman’s voice drifted through the closed door. At least he didn’t have to deal with Morrison.
The knob turned, and the door creaked open. Taran almost stopped breathing at the vision making eye contact with him. Luscious honey-blonde hair a man’s fingers could get lost in. Legs stretching for miles. Delicate hands.
She closed the door, and the sound made him jerk in a breath. “Lights on. I’m sorry you were left in the dark.”
Sweet Isis! The most beautiful woman he’d ever seen stood ten feet from him. Her eyes were darkest blue, with a ring of lighter blue around her pupils. A full mouth begged to be kissed.
“I’m Da’Renna. You must be Taran.”
“Yes.” It came out more like a croak, which made her lips twitch.
“Is something wrong?”
He shook his head. “No. Nothing’s wrong. Uhm… I’m here about the girl…”
Da’Renna pressed her lips together. “Are you always so tongue-tied in front of women?” Amusement filled her tone.
Another shake of his head. Geez, he was going to give her the impression he was a blithering idiot if he didn’t get it together.
She came closer, and her perfume—jasmine and violets—filled his head. “It’s kind of nice to meet someone who’s dumbstruck by me, instead of trying to rip my clothes off.”
He scanned her body, hugged by skin-tight leather pants with red lacing up the sides showing bare skin underneath, and a matching top with more red lacing holding her breasts in. Which were a little too big, in his opinion, and detracted from her beauty. “I’m usually more suave than this. I do belong to the biggest womanizer in town, after all.”