Fiction

Cinderella Castle – Photo inspired short story

Cinderella Castle

I’ve had a crazy couple of weeks, but I finally managed to carve some time to write and visit my online friends. The following story is inspired by the above photograph. It was taken by a friend, Jarno Willemarck, in the French part of Belgium (he’s not allowed to give exact location). He titled it Cinderella Castle, so I’ve used that (you know how I struggle with them anyway!) I hope you enjoy.

Cinderella Castle

Garrett timed his movements to the haunting whistle and wail of the breeze through a barren landscape. The old house was a ghost of her former self, the old girl about ready to collapse and spill her secrets.

Let’s raise a toast to our freedom.

The voice, floating to him on the wings of times past was followed by the remembered echo of breaking glass. Pausing from the pursuit to gain freedom from his bindings, Garrett’s gaze fell on the table he had carried into the room at Fiona’s request almost fifteen years ago.

He took in the solitary glass, its twin littering the ground by the exit after Fee’s explosive declaration.

Here’s to a taste of freedom and the chance to blow this godawful joint.

The words echoed around the room, ghosts pulling at his memories until she appeared beside the table, her unruly gold curls bouncing as she moved, her graceful body bowing as she raised her glass and hurled it at the closest wall.

The wine they had been drinking had splashed back at her laughing frame, droplets of crimson soaking into the simple cream tunic she wore.

Garrett’s muscles bunched in response to the memory and he saw glimpses of his former self rushing to lift her from harm’s way. His Fee rarely wore anything on her feet, and he had been possessed by a need to protect her from further pain, a need made sharper by the sight of the growing patterns on her dress. Patterns that reminded him of the times the dark rich colour had been evidence of the beatings she had taken.

Let’s do what we should have done years ago and cremate the bitch.

His eyes closed as the soft, vulnerable note to her voice. It wasn’t real, but here, where memories were being drudged up with the filth in the room, past and present merged.

To centre himself, Garrett pulled on the wrist attached to the radiator, and the scrape of metal on metal screeched in a pitch that rivalled the wind.

Fiona had been talking about the house, though neither of them had truly blamed the ancient walls for the atrocities that took place here.

Still, they had tried to burn Gillingworth Manor to the ground. The scent of petrol and red-hot flame rose up to scorch his nose, trapping him with the sounds of burning timber. This room had been among the few that had survived their wrath, and it hadn’t gone unscathed.

When he glanced around, he saw the scorch marks on the ceiling and the debris scattered across the floor like pieces of his past. The rough bite of fabric scratched across his bare chest as the heavy curtains shivered in the breeze. They were darker than they had been. Garrett remembered them blooming as green as the walls, before water had soaked into the fabric and sealed in the house’s weary screams.

It had once been an opulent space, the furnishings a mask for what true horror took place behind the scenes.

Garrett raised his free hand to wipe the sweat from his face. He flinched in pain as the grime from his fingers caught in the open cut on his left cheek. The opposite eye was swollen shut, perhaps the reason his vision was so hazy and his mind flickering between the then and now montage to showcase his predicament.

The bruises across his torso added insult to injury because he swore if he took a snapshot the they would be an exact replica of his first foray into the room.

As though pressing a button to play a soundtrack to his misery, the punch of flesh against flesh echoed around him. He might have dismissed the thud of a body hitting the floor as a painful memory if it hadn’t been for the vibration that shook his bones.

“Fee.” His voice came out on a rasping breath, like the fire had been real again and he’d inhaled too much smoke.

Fiona stepped into the room carrying twin batons and a frown that could make a hardened criminal search out his weapons. She wasn’t bare foot now. The ghost of the girl she had been evaporated in the presence of the fierce woman she had become.

Dressed in black, from her boots to the cap she wore to tame the curs, Fiona looked like a fallen angel. He was afraid he was hallucinating until she spoke.

“What did I tell you about taking side gigs. You never go anywhere without backup.”

Despite feeling repentant for his stubborn actions, Garrett grinned at her. The cut on his lip seared fire across the skin and he knew the fresh flow of blood must have made for a macabre smile, but he didn’t care. They had been searching for Gillingowrth Junior for five years and he was certain his Fee had just made mincemeat out of the sick fuck.

She would never have been taken unaware, as he had been, but then she had always been smarter than him. He’d always followed her. Into the army, the security firm, he would follow her into hell itself.

It took her less than a minute to free him and then she was pulling him to his feet. He swayed until she caught him, and again when she pressed her lips to his.

“Ouch,” he whispered, making no move to step back.

“Stop being a baby. It’s just a scratch.”

He laughed at the words, ones she had spoken many times as a nod to their past. There was little that compared to the wounds inflicted by Rory Gillingworth.

“Can you walk?” she asked in a more serious tone, her pale brown eyes showing the first hint of concern.

“I’ll aim for a hobble and go from there.”

Her musical laughter bathed the room in a soft playful light, banishing every dark corner.

Using Fee for support as he’d been doing most of his life, he let her guide him from the room, confident he provided the same – the security of home.

The house would never be that, not for them, but someday perhaps it would be restored and filled with the kind of joy they had found in each other.


Thanks for stopping by

Mel

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Introducing Born In A Treacherous Time by Jacqui Murray

I am delighted to help Jacqui celebrate the release of her latest novel Born in a Treacherous Time. I would highly recommend visiting Jacqui’s post, where she has provided a schedule for the blog hop (here). You will find a lovely interview here, and a review of the book here.

I have my copy, and will provide a review within the next couple of weeks. I can’t wait to join Lucy and her band on their adventure!

Find out more about the book, including an excerpt, below.

born in a treacherous timeBorn in the harsh world of East Africa 1.8 million years ago, where hunger, death, and predation are a normal part of daily life, Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive. It is a time in history when they are relentlessly annihilated by predators, nature, their own people, and the next iteration of man. To make it worse, Lucy’s band hates her. She is their leader’s new mate and they don’t understand her odd actions, don’t like her strange looks, and don’t trust her past. To survive, she cobbles together an unusual alliance with an orphaned child, a beleaguered protodog who’s lost his pack, and a man who was supposed to be dead.

Born in a Treacherous Time is prehistoric fiction written in the spirit of Jean Auel. Lucy is tenacious and inventive no matter the danger, unrelenting in her stubbornness to provide a future for her child, with a foresight you wouldn’t think existed in earliest man. You’ll close this book understanding why man not only survived our wild beginnings but thrived, ultimately to become who we are today.

This is a spin-off of To Hunt a Sub’s Lucy (the ancient female who mentored Kali Delamagente, the female protagonist).

Kirkus Review:

“Murray’s lean prose is steeped in the characters’ brutal worldview, which lends a delightful otherness to the narration …The book’s plot is similar in key ways to other works in the genre, particularly Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear. However, Murray weaves a taut, compelling narrative, building her story on timeless human concerns of survival, acceptance, and fear of the unknown. Even if readers have a general sense of where the plot is going, they’ll still find the specific twists and revelations to be highly entertaining throughout.

A well-executed tale of early man.”

–Kirkus Reviews

Click here for the entire review

An early reader’s review

Born in a Treacherous Time sheds light on a period of time that gave birth to the human race, and allow us to bear witness to the harshness and tenacious spirit that is uniquely human—to survive and endure. Readers with a thirst for knowledge and who enjoy historical fiction, this is a must read. I am looking forward to reading book 2 when it is published.

“I devoured the book in 2 sittings.”

–Luciana Cavallaro, author of Servant of the Gods series and webmaster of Eternal Atlantis

series logo born in a treacherous time

Book information:

Title and author: Born in a Treacherous Time

Series: Book 1 in the Man vs. Nature series

Genre: Prehistoric fiction

Cover by: Damonza 

Available at: Kindle

Author bio:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Wild seriesShe is also the author of over a hundred books on integrating technology into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Social Media contacts:

http://twitter.com/worddreams

http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

https://worddreams.wordpress.com

https://jacquimurray.net

 

Excerpt

Chapter One

Lucy Leaves Her Homeland

The scene replayed in Lucy’s mind, an endless loop haunting her days and nights. The clear sun-soaked field, the dying Mammoth, the hunters waiting hungrily for its last breath before scavenging the meat, tendons, internal organs, fat, and anything else consumable—food that would nourish the Group for a long time.

But something went horribly wrong. Krp blamed Lucy and soon, so too did Feq.

Why did Ghael stand up?  He had to know it would mean his death.

Lucy wanted to escape, go where no one knew what she’d done, but Feq would starve without her. He didn’t know how to hunt, couldn’t even tolerate the sight of blood. For him, she stayed, hunting, scavenging, and outwitting predators, exhausting herself in a hopeless effort to feed the remaining Group members. But one after another, they fell to Snarling-dog, Panther, Long-tooth Cat, Megantereon, and a litany of other predators. When the strangers arrived, Feq let them take her.

By this time, Lucy felt numb, as much from the death of her Group as the loss of Garv. Garv, her forever pairmate, was as much a part of her as the lush forests, Sun’s warmth, and Snarling-dog’s guidance. Now, with all the other deaths, she could leave his memory behind.

Forests gave way to bushlands. The prickly stalks scratched her skin right through the thick fur that layered her arms and legs. The glare of Sun, stark and white without the jungle to soften it, blinded her. One step forward became another and another, into a timeless void where nothing mattered but the swish of feet, the hot breeze on her face, and her own musty scent.

Neither male—not the one who called himself Raza nor the one called Baad—had spoken to her since leaving. They didn’t tell her their destination and she didn’t ask, not that she could decipher their intricate hand gestures and odd body movements. She studied them as they talked to each other, slowly piecing together what the twist of a hand and the twitch of a head meant. She would understand it all by the time they reached wherever they headed.

It was clear they expected her to follow. No one traveled this wild land alone but her reasons for joining them, submissively, had nothing to do with fear. Wherever the strangers took her would be better than where she’d been.

Lucy usually loved running through the mosaic of grass and forest that bled one into another. Today, instead of joy, she felt worry for her future and relief that her past was past. She effortlessly matched Raza’s tread, running in his steps at his pace. Baad did the same but not without a struggle. His sweat, an equal mix of old and stale from the long trip to find her and fresh from trying to keep up, blossomed into a ripe bouquet that wafted over her. She found comfort in knowing this strong, tough male traveled with her.

Vulture cawed overhead, eagerly anticipating a meal. From the size of his flock, the scavenge must be an adult Okapi or Giraffe. Even after the predator who claimed the kill—Lucy guessed it to be Megantereon or Snarling-dog—took what it needed, there would be plenty left. She often hunted with Vulture. It might find carrion first but she could drive it away by brandishing a branch and howling. While it circled overhead, awaiting a return to his meal, she grabbed what she wanted and escaped.

Feq must smell the blood but he had never been brave enough to chase Vulture away.  He would wait until the raptor finished, as well as Snarling-dog and whoever else showed up at the banquet, and then take what remained which wouldn’t be enough to live on.

Sun descended toward the horizon as they entered a dense thicket. They stuck to a narrow lightly-used animal trail bordered by heavy-trunked trees. Cousin Chimp scuffled as he brachiated through the understory, no doubt upset by the intruders. Only once, when a brightly-colored snake slithered across her path, did Lucy hesitate. The vibrant colors always meant deadly venom and she didn’t carry the right herbs to counter the poison. Baad grumbled when her thud reverberated out of sync with Raza’s, and Cousin Chimp cried a warning.

Finally, they broke free of the shadows and flew through waist-high grass, past trees laden with fruit, and around the termite mound where Cousin Chimp would gorge on white grubs—if Cheetah wasn’t sleeping on top of it.

I haven’t been back here since that day…

She flicked her eyes to the spot where her life had changed. Everything looked so calm, painted in vibrant colors scented with a heady mix of grass, water, and carrion. A family of Hipparion raised their heads but found nothing menacing so turned back to their banquet of new buds.

As though nothing happened…

Lucy sprinted. Her vision blurred and her head throbbed as she raced flat out, desperate to outdistance the memories. Her legs churned, arms pumped, and her feet sprang off the hard earth. Each step propelled her farther away. Her breathing heaved in rhythm with her steps. The sack around her neck smacked comfortingly against her body. Her sweat left a potent scent trail any predator could follow but Lucy didn’t care.

 


Thanks for stopping by

Mel

Mirror to the Soul

This story was inspired by a beautiful young woman who battles her demons every day.

When I was a girl, my grandmother gifted me with an antique mirror. It belonged to a set, a pretty, gilded looking glass that should have been a prized possession. Instead, it became a curse, the object of my obsessive need to understand why the man I trusted above all others wanted to hurt me.

Each time I stared into my reflection, the girl looking back at me disappeared a little bit more. I saw the pain, the longing to be free, and the desperate need to run from the monster who stole her innocence.

He was the first, this man who was meant to protect and to cherish. I wish I could say he was the last. He wasn’t. Others recognised the broken pieces of the creature he left behind and felt compelled to play in the tortured ruins.

It took years to find the girl again, the one who loved with all her heart and found joy in the little things.

Years when the only way I could face each new day was to begin it by punishing myself. Countless professionals tried their best to put me back together. At least internally. The cracks on the outside I put there myself.

It wasn’t until I forced myself to look, really look, at my reflection that I began to heal. It became my new daily routine. I put down the blade, and forced myself to absorb the pain of what stared back at me in the glass. Cut after cut I endured as I stared at the evidence of my self-loathing and recounted each separate slice of the knife.

There are times I still see the damaged soul I became at the hands of a monster, but it’s rare. Today, standing in front of a full-length mirror in my hotel suite, there is only excitement in the deep green eyes staring back. The scars on my arms and legs are mostly hidden by the dress, and the gossamer material of the sleeves. My hair is no longer dull and lifeless, hanging like rats’ tails around my shoulders. It is layered in soft glossy waves that add to the romantic cut of my outfit.

“Yes, my sweet, gorgeous girl, you are the fairest of them all,” Drew says from the doorway.

Turning, I beam at my best friend. “Well, don’t you look dapper.” His dark suit fits his tall, lanky frame to perfection. The exuberant yellow bow tie is so very Drew. A ray of sunshine in my once dark world.

He takes the hand I offer and twirls me around, a series of dizzying turns that has me laughing in delight. “We both scrub up pretty well. The schizophrenic and the…what is your diagnosis these days?”

“Who knows. I’ve lost count.” Pulling out of his grasp, I reach to the dressing table for the two champagne flutes.

Drew tilts his head to the side, considering. “Hmm…how about the schizo and bridezilla?”

“I have been a little obsessive, haven’t I?” Handing him a glass, I clink mine against it before taking a sip. “I just wanted the day to be perfect.”

“All Jack needs is you, decked out like that, to make it so.” He winks and downs the contents of his flute. “And speaking of the gorgeous groom, you’ve kept him waiting long enough.”

My stomach flutters, a nervous excitement I’ve managed to hold onto all morning. “I’m ready.”

Drew takes my glass and gulps down the champagne. If I’m high-strung, his swirling energy is set to combust. He takes his responsibilities as Man of Honour seriously, but I had no doubt he would. The title fits him for more reasons that the duties he will perform today.

Without another word, he places my hand in the crook of his arm and guides me out of the suite. We walk down the stairs and along the corridor that leads to the terrace. Drew and I have taken many journeys together, walked hand in hand as we faced our demons, and we’re both a little worried about what the future holds.

Those worries fall from my mind as we enter the gardens and I spot Jack waiting beneath an arched trellis. Besides Drew, he is the only other person who truly sees me, and more, he sees the battles I’ve fought and won, alone or with my best friend by my side.

I can’t tear my eyes from his as I begin to walk down the aisle towards him. The dark blue reflects a heart as big as an ocean and a love that is never ending.

My breath catches when he smiles. It always has. There’s something about the way he looks at me that wipes out the ugly and fills me with beauty. This big, intimidating man with hair the colour of desert sands will always be my oasis.

When we reach him, his eyes dart briefly to Drew. He takes in the yellow accessory at Drew’s neck and grins. A moment later his gaze ensnares me once again, and I’m lost. I can barely keep it together when Drew kisses my cheek and steps back.

“You look exquisite,” Jack murmurs, though he’s barely looked at the dress. His grin gets bigger as he leans down to brush his lips against mine.

I want to reciprocate, tell him how handsome he looks in his dark suit, but he’s rendered me speechless. I could make this my new hobby, staring into his beautiful eyes, and it hits me hard that I can. For the rest of my life.

I’m still thinking about that when the vicar begins to speak, still captured in his intent gaze, and I’m okay with that. His eyes are the best kind of mirror, they reflect everything I’m feeling and give the lost girl I was the chance to finally be free.


Keep fighting

Mel

Alphabetti Spaghetti – A pasta free word game!

 

After reflecting on my A to Z challenge (I know, I know, I was supposed to provide evidence of those reflections…say in a post for example!). Ahem…anyway…

It occurred to me that I need to work on my writing muscles, since my exercise regime is somewhat lax at the moment (okay, fine…I’m not great at the whole exercise thing). So, with that in mind, I decided to get a little creative. It’s a writing game I can take part in each week, and invite others to play along, working through the alphabet and utilising a version of the 7x7x7 exercise. I will take a letter, choose seven random words (or readers can suggest them), each with seven letters, and a maximum word count of seven hundred words.

Since I’m starting with A, I used a random word generator to get the ball rolling. The results were interesting, since one of the words is obsolete, and another is questionable. Still, I went with it! If you decide to play, let me know how you get on.

The words used are; abandon, abdomen, abalone, abashed, abaser, abactor, and arrghh.

 

Abandoning Reality

“Abandon your post, Jefferson. That’s an order.”

Craig met the CO’s steely blues head on, communicating without words that he wasn’t going anywhere.

Amidst the sound of heavy artillery, the smell of gunpower and smoke, a pocket of silence closed in around them. The stubborn and the heroic. Craig held strong. He ignored the pain in his abdomen, the tension in his legs, and pretended he wasn’t swaying like a leaf in the breeze.

“You leave me no choice, son. I have-“

A loud explosion cut through whatever threat he intended to serve. It was followed by a visual Craig could live without – if he got to live – that being his CO’s body exploding into a cloud of matter so fine, the only blowback was akin to dust. The molecules brushed across his face, making him want to scrub at his flesh, abandon his post, and scream at the injustice simultaneously. He didn’t do any of those things.

No, he remained in position, staring now into a new set of eyes. These not human.

His enemy did not speak. Perhaps it couldn’t. The creature’s face was partially covered by a shell-like protrusion that started beneath its eyes and extended to a hooked chin. It was flat, with a slight spiral in the centre and holes along the outer edge. Bizarrely, it reminded Craig of an abalone. If only that was his strangest thought of the night. It wasn’t by a long shot. He’d been in a state of shock since the base came under attack by beasts who were impervious to their weapons.

“CJ. Heads up!”

Craig knew that voice, and his body acted on instinct. He dropped into a crouch, fighting off a wave of nausea when his brain caught up. It didn’t stop him from watching the show, this one worth seeing, as his buddy swung his kukri in a wide arc and cut their enemy down.

The bastard’s head made a satisfying thump, thump at his feet. One down, only about a dozen to go. They hadn’t been able to get close enough, until now. But they were learning.

“We need to fall back,” Jax said, twirling his blade as though the thing were hungry for more blood.

“No can do, buddy. Those things will have to go through me if they want to get into the bunker.” He realised how ridiculous he sounded. Their enemy didn’t need explosives to blow people up, and they didn’t leave a mess either.  Christ, but he missed home, where the only problem his family faced were castle rustlers, the avaricious abactors, as his grandfather liked to say.

“The bunker was evacuated twenty minutes ago. You need to stand down, soldier and fall the fuck back.”

Craig’s gut cramped at the words. He’d put his CO in harm’s way for nothing. Abashed, he hung his head. “Sorry, man. I thought-”

“Who gives a shit what you thought? You’re not paid to think, grunt.”

His head snapped back up. That wasn’t fair, nor was it right. Jax could be a prick, but he wasn’t an abaser. Besides, he fell beneath Craig on the food chain so, even in the height of battle, he’d show respect.

Don’t forget. They play to win, and they never play fair.

One of their allies had warned him about the tricks the enemy pulled, and the manpower they brought to a fight. That had to be it. He was being played.

“Aarrghh!” Anger exploded in his belly, obliterating the pain. He threw himself at whoever, or whatever was pretending to be Jax, and took him to the ground.

The instant they hit the dirt, the illusion dropped, and as he stared at the decapitated head of his CO, he feared nothing was as it seemed. He had no clue who to trust, or what to believe. The only thing he knew for sure was that he had a job to do. So, he would guard his post, and continue to do so until he was no longer standing.

 

Thanks for stopping by

Mel

Worth the wait

I apologise for posting twice in one day (sort of – it’s after midnight here), and a largely unedited piece at that. I would have waited, but it seemed a good example to complement my A to Z posts. Sam has been in my head for the last two days, and has been driving me mad! 

Worth the wait

“Talk me through the risks again.”

Sam barely resisted the urge to roll her eyes as she turned to look at her best friend. “Talk you through it, huh?” Oh, what the hell. She let her eyes roll and watched Michael’s lips twitch. “Tell me…who’s having this operation?” she demanded, even as she swallowed down her own amusement. She couldn’t help it. His green eyes were dancing with devilment, despite the underlying concern.

“You.”

“And who has considered every single angle when it comes to the procedure?”

“You,” Michael said, though he jabbed a thumb to indicate himself and pulled a laugh from her.

“Uh-huh. So, one more time, who should be freaking out about being put under the knife?”

“Nobody should be freaking out.”

They both turned at the reprimand, eyes to the door where Sam’s father stood with his arms crossed over his chest. “And don’t talk about Dr Conners like he’s a butcher. He wields a scalpel not a cleaver.”

“You two are as bad as each other,” Michael grumbled.

That earned one of her father’s grins; wide and unapologetic – just like the man. He walked over to the bed and placed a hand on her shoulder. “You’re going to be fine.” His voice held the kind of authority others feared, like his word was law.

So, when he placed his other hand on Michael’s shoulder, and said, “You too, Mikey,” her friend visibly relaxed. Or he did until a porter entered the room with a thick folder tucked beneath his arm and a harried look on his face.

“I’m here to escort you down to theatre,” he said, as though the operating rooms were situated in the bowels of hell. Hmm, she was more nervous than she thought.

Time to pull up your big girl panties. The thought made her snort out a laugh when it dawned on her she would need them soon enough.

“Okay, let’s do this,” she said, slipping out of bed, even as her father was slipping her robe around her shoulders.

“You’ve got this, kiddo,” he whispered.

Calm washed over her at the familiar words because, after everything she had endured, every treatment, the endless therapies, his reassurance had been the glue that kept her together. It was the reason she walked out of the room with her head held high.

***

Michael squirmed in the hard-backed chair, staring into his cold coffee so he didn’t have to meet David’s knowing gaze. Christ, but he wanted to pace. If he didn’t do something with the excess energy his emotions would strangle him.

The waiting was killing him, or perhaps it was the knowledge he would soon have everything he wanted – Sam.

It had been so easy in the beginning. She had asked for his patience, and he had given it to her. He loved her, so how could he not? But the longer they waited, the more their need grew until friendship wasn’t enough for either of them. Of course, Sam was strong one. She wouldn’t even kiss him. Not until after the surgery.

“You know,” David said, conversationally. “You have every right to be angry that she held out on you for so long.”

The laugh tore loose from his aching chest. He was shocked that he had it in him to laugh, though Sam’s father had a way of cutting to the heart of the matter. That, at least, wasn’t a surprise.

“I understand why she wants to wait,” he said, because it was the truth. This was about her, it had always been about her, and she gave him everything he needed. It wasn’t Sam’s fault that he was an impatient fool desperate to begin their life together.

“Thank you.” David’s large hand covered his own, and he looked up into watery brown eyes the colour of his daughter’s. The man never hid his emotions, yet in all the years Michael had known him, David had only cried once – at his wife’s funeral. “Thank you for always seeing her.”

He was too overwhelmed to reply. Thankfully, David took pity on him. He pulled his hand back and rose to his feet. “Why don’t we take a walk through the grounds. If nothing else, it will settle that nervous tick you seem to have developed.”

Michael looked down to where his leg was bouncing, and then back up. Like Sam, her father understood what he needed, and right now, he needed to move.

They had just left the cafeteria when David’s phone buzzed, thwarting their plans. Not that it mattered. The alert was from the nursing staff. Sam was in recovery.

“You’ve got this, kiddo,” David said, making him laugh again. It didn’t shock him this time. Not now the wait was over.

***

The moment Sam awoke, she was hit by a wave of pain so strong it took her breath. She knew she should hit the morphine button, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Not yet.

Instead, she concentrated on what was beneath the pain, a dual sensation she struggled to process. She certainly wouldn’t have been able to put it into words. She felt at once complete and empty, though the latter was more an absence of the weight between her legs. That heavy, awful appendage that seemed to pull on her soul. And really, wasn’t that the thing she couldn’t truly explain, the loathing she’d felt for something that formed part of her body. It hadn’t belonged. She might have been born with male genitalia, but she didn’t have to like it.

Now it was gone, and the knowledge made her breath hitch. It was finally over, and regardless of whether it made sense to anyone else, she could finally be who she was meant to be, without a physical reminder that there had been a mix up in the organ department.

“I can’t decide if that’s a smile or a grimace,” her father said, rising from the chair beside the bed. “Press the button, stubborn girl.”

Her finger moved to trigger the morphine into her system as she turned to look at him. When their eyes locked, her father smiled so wide it had to hurt. Her cheeks certainly did. “I’m okay, Pop.” Everything they felt passed silently between them – there was no need for further words.

Her father nodded, glancing briefly across the room before he turned to leave.

A second later, Michael was filling her field of vision. “Hi,” she whispered.

“Hi.” His smile lit the green of his irises. “How do you feel?”

Sam didn’t even need to think about it. “Whole. I feel whole.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” he said, running a hand down her cheek. And then he kissed her. It was everything she had hoped it would be.


Thanks for stopping by

Mel

 

Badge of Honour – A Maddison Wood Story

As you may know, instead of publishing the first season of the Collective, as I had intended to do, the plan changed. Quite drastically. I will now be publishing several books in the series, starting in February 2017.

So, to satisfy fans of the Fractured, I wrote a companion story featuring Maddison Wood. Badge of Honour is now available on Amazon. I’ve added a sneak preview below.

badge-of-honour

Cover Art by Alfredo Pachicano. Character Sketch by Rebekah Reece. Title Work by Kathryn Jenkins @MagicalDesigns

When the Fractured descend on the mortal realm, and the Demonic War begins, Maddison Wood is the first to sign up. But when she follows her brother into the enemy camp, things go terribly wrong.

What began as a rescue mission, becomes her worst nightmare. Maddison is forced into slavery and stripped of all her power.
Trapped, she finds strength in the relationship she shares with her brothers, Zachariah and Michael. Together, they form an unbreakable, if unorthodox bond. The witch, the elf, and the vampire; a powerhouse of three.
After months in captivity, Maddison is offered a chance to escape. A chance that, for one of her brothers, comes too late. Michael finds his way out of one prison, only to be locked in another – the hell inside his own mind. Now Maddison faces her toughest challenge yet. She must find a way to bring her brother home, before they lose him forever.
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Maddison felt a swell of anticipation as she followed Kian to the large rock face. He touched his hand to the rough surface and the concealment spell dropped away, revealing an enormous door. Above the carved stone and glass entryway sat the family crest. It shone with the aquamarine and dark juniper shade of the house colours.

She couldn’t dredge up her natural armour, or the prickly barb she used as a shield to deflect deep emotion. So she couldn’t distance herself from the awe that encased her heart. This was Michael’s home, and she felt him everywhere. If she hadn’t already accepted their connection, she might have been afraid. The affection she felt made her almost giddy.

She had a hard time processing the softer side to her nature. Only with her family could she drum up the nice. Well, most of the time.

Oh, she could be reticent, and sometimes a total bitch. She had never been very good at all the touchy-feely crap. The vulnerability that came with sharing her innermost thoughts. And her barb could sting.

But Michael was part of her, too, so he evoked the gentleness that was all but choking her. She would give him that. She would give him anything if he came back to them.

It was easier now that she could feel him. So much easier to shake off the guard that usually had people reaching for the nearest weapon, and relax.

Kian paused when he crossed the threshold, as though anticipating her need. And because she wanted to soak in her surroundings, Maddison stopped too. She let her head fall back onto her shoulders, and took in the way the room went up, up, up. So far, she could barely make out the roof.

She couldn’t see with any detail, but she recognised the material. A mixture of glass and stone, infused with the house colours. They lit the space, flooding onto the levels beneath. Floors that wound around and around the room, before coming to a stop about fifteen feet above her.

Maddison righted her head until she was looking at the elegant staircase. Beneath it, a series of corridors led off from where they stood.

“You have a beautiful home,” she said, glancing at Kian.

He smiled. “There is much to explore. Come.”

Maddison followed him down one of the corridors, and into a room on the left. Two alcoves drew her attention. Carved out of the wall on her right, they held a complex series of multifaceted shapes within the stone.

Then her gaze swept left, to the large circular bed, and to Michael in the centre.

He was lying against sheets of emerald green. A colour that should have complimented his honey toned skin. Instead, they accentuated his grey pallor, and Maddison’s chest tightened. She knew the signs. His organs were failing. Again. The first time they were able to slow the process. This was different, and it made her want to scream.

Without conscious thought, she moved. One minute she was in the doorway, the next she was scrambling across the bed. Somehow, she had the foresight to look at Kian, to prepare him for what he might see. “Whatever happens,” she said, untangling her hair. “I would never hurt him.”

Turning back to her friend, her brother of the heart, she positioned herself next to him. Power was already pulsing along her skin, so she released it. Her hair began to seep across Michael’s body. A dark silken blanket that wrapped him up tight. She didn’t stop until he was completely covered. Only his head was visible above the cocoon she created.

Maddison ignored the startled sound Kian made, and instead focused on Michael’s energy. She reached into his mind, followed the echo of him that wanted to pull her under, and let go.

Thanks for stopping by

Mel

One the Twelfth Day of Christmas my Crazy Muse sent to me…

Welcome back to the twelve days of Christmas, fantasy style. So far, we’ve had a god with a secret, two changeling cats, three fearless hunters, four lightning birds, five gold rings, six members of the Battalion, seven of the Elite, eight greedy goblins, nine brave soldiers, ten borrowed shapeshifters, and eleven Noble Shields. If you’re just joining the story, a small estate within the mortal realm has collapsed. All twelve days relate to the rescue effort.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my Crazy Muse sent to me…Twelve Fallen Guardians.

Orion sat beneath the large tree in the centre of the newly built site. He studied the tidy structures that were so different to the original design, but sturdier – harder to crumble. Not that he would allow his asinine cousin to make a repeat performance.

His attention was caught by a small group of children racing across the path above him. They were laughing, a sound that felt good and right. It drifted into the night, relieving some of the guilt that still weighed heavily in his gut.

The children couldn’t see him. He’d used a cloak to conceal his presence. It would risk his mission to be seen here, not to mention his reputation for being a cold-hearted bastard. The ice had cracked a long time ago, and the damn thing wouldn’t stop thawing. It was good that his acting skills were as flawless as his complexion.

Orion rose to his feet when he heard a heavy crash, followed by sound of shattering glass. A horrified gasp, had his attention returning to the group.

It took him a few seconds to figure out what happened, and he had to smile. One of the children had been carrying a jug of liquid – that smelled of summer mornings – and had stumbled. The boy had tried so hard to save their treasure as he fell, but the jug had dropped from his grip and now lay shattered on the ground.

Unable to help himself, Orion donned a disguise and dropped his cloak. He watched four sets of eyes widen as they spotted him.

“Shh,” he put a finger to his lips, glancing around to make sure they were alone.

“Are you Santa?” one of them asked, voice so low he barely heard it.

Orion almost laughed out loud as he looked down at the red tunic he was sporting. He’d meant to come across as unassuming, and had chosen an elderly, grandfatherly skin. The white beard did feel rather long, but the effect was purely coincidental.

The thought of all they had been through, stopped him from denying the character they cast him in. He preferred a different kind of magic, but if this was what they needed, then so be it.

He winked, but didn’t say another word. He didn’t need to. The excitement was palpable. How easy they were to please. How wonderfully innocent they were. It made him feel lighter, almost giddy with shared delight.

Taking a step forward he used his power to gather and lift the broken shards. When they were hovering before him, he chanced a glance at the group and saw he had their undivided attention.

He let the glass spin in front of him, faster and faster until it fractured into tiny splinters. They twinkled, like tiny specs of light, and it gave him an idea. Turning, he slowed their progress and blew hard.

Now, almost as fine as sand, they drifted through the air and coated the tree he’d rested against.

A collective gasp rippled through the group as the glass settled, shimmering against the branches.

“Cool,” one of the children murmured, and Orion grinned. He sounded like Blade.

Moving back to the group, he snapped his fingers and a jug appeared in his hand – this one plastic. He handed it to the clumsy child with another wink, and searched his memories for something appropriate to say. Something befitting of the legendary figure.

“Go. Share your drink, and go quickly to your beds,” he whispered, conscious that he felt an adult presence close by. A mother worried for her children.

Before they could respond, Orion disappeared. Or rather her used concealment magic to hide himself from view.

Several hours later, and still firmly cloaked, he watched as the community came out on masse to witness the Christmas miracle. A large, sparkling tree, with a pile of brightly wrapped presents beneath.

“Are you going soft on me?” a voice said beside him, a beat or two before Lucas showed his angelic face. The Guardian, the angel on his shoulder, liked to make an entrance.

“If I am, then you made me this way, brother.” Orion shrugged. “This eases some of the guilt for what happened here.”

“You’re not responsible for your cousin’s actions. And you’ve been acting on that guilt all along. For you, this is overkill.”

“And you always have my back.” Orion smiled when Lucas feigned an innocent look. “Do you think I don’t know about the Fallen?”

“It’s their job to protect,” Lucas countered, as though he hadn’t gathered them to watch over the small community. A temporary assignment or not, they had done more than protect. They had soothed, eased and in some cases healed.

The Fallen were former Guardians. Angels who chose to fall from Empyrean to take a more proactive role. Orion counted twelve among the gathering group. It was their job to blend in, but he saw them. Saw the light shining from each of them. It was almost as strong as his brother’s blinding energy.

“Perhaps we both got a little carried away.” Lucas’ mouth twitched. “Perhaps it’s the spirit of the season.”

“Ho, Ho, Ho,” Orion muttered and transported himself home. Lucas’ laughter followed closely on his heels.

And that concludes my Twelve Days of the Fractured. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Have a wonderful Christmas.

Thanks for stopping by

Mel

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas my Crazy Muse sent to me…

Welcome back to the twelve days of Christmas, fantasy style. So far, we’ve had a god with a secret, two changeling cats, three fearless hunters, four lightning birds, five gold rings, six members of the Battalion, seven of the Elite, eight greedy goblins, nine brave soldiers, and ten borrowed shapeshifters. If you’re just joining the story, a small estate within the mortal realm has collapsed. All twelve days relate to the rescue effort.

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas my Crazy Muse sent to me…Eleven Noble Shields.

Blade’s eyes narrowed, his cat pushing against his skin as he watched the procession flying across the sky. The Siren Queen was surrounded by her guards, but they couldn’t hide Constance’s power; her shimmering glory. Perhaps it was the wings, so dark they seemed to blot out the landscape, or the blue at the edge of her primaries that blended with the sky. It made her wing span seem endless.

His gaze flickered over the guards. There were thirteen Noble Shields in all. Constance always left two to hold down the fort, and there were ten in the sky, which left one on foot. The one the queen never went anywhere without – her golden boy. So to speak.

Blade tensed the moment he felt him. The vampire was a sneaky son of a bitch, but they had known each other too long, too long to think the cat didn’t smell his arrogant stench.

Smiling, Blade allowed his cheetah to take over; exploding in a blur of movement. Before his friend could react, he spun and barrelled into him. Blade took the favoured Shield down with enough force to knock the wind out of him, or maybe that was because he was sitting on his chest.

Come on, Pan. I thought we were over this? Aaron’s mental voice brimmed with good humour, though Blade didn’t miss the hint of confusion. The fact they were now on the same team had softened Blade’s anger a little. But that was before he was reminded of Aaron’s juvenile prank.

No. I still want to chew on your bones. I just hide it better.

Aaron laughed, bending his neck to look behind him as Constance and her guards came to land. They shifted seamlessly into their half forms; downy feathers covering tall, lean bodies – a natural uniform.

“Panashe Rivera,” Constance said in that lilting tone she had. The one that made him want to obey her every command. “What have I told you about trying to snack on my head Shield?”

Blade reined in the cat, shifting as seamlessly as the sirens had done. His own body suit settling into place. “Connie,” he said, grinning when she arched her brows.

She gave an exasperated little sigh, before waving her hand in permission. Blade moved to her, leaning in briefly to rub his face against her inky hair. “Your majesty,” he said, then. “This is a pleasant surprise.”

“I couldn’t talk her out of it,” Aaron grunted, already on his feet. “One of the soldiers you’re treating is a friend.”

That wasn’t a surprise. Of the squad still recovering, all but two were human. The siren in their group had yet to regain consciousness. She had a nasty head injury, and even with her healing capabilities, the prognosis wasn’t good. Not if she didn’t wake up.

“I’ll take you to her.” Blade stepped aside as Aaron took his position beside Constance. Even inside the secure compound, none of the Shields would take chances.

They followed him to the infirmary, and not for the first time, Blade was grateful for the sense of community that had only grown in strength. The shapeshifters had gone all out to boost morale, and it worked like a dream.

Constance and her guards moved directly to the siren in the first bed. All but Aaron. He hung back, standing beside Blade as the others formed a half circle.

The space was filled with a hushed silence. Those who lay recovering, looked on with matching expressions of awe and curiosity.

Then Constance began to sing, her voice so soft, so beautiful, Blade almost staggered on his feet. His cat was purring in his mind, the compulsion in the queen’s gentle tone relaxing his animal like little else could. When the others joined in, Blade thought he could happily bathe in the glorious sound. The safety in it, the pride they were projecting to their fallen comrade.

As her guards took control, Constance leaned forward and put her lips close to the wounded siren’s ear. No matter how much Blade concentrated, he couldn’t hear the words she spoke – not above the lyrical music still filling his ears.

Whatever it was, the siren’s eyes opened. They were a tawny colour, still clouded with prolonged sleep, but she recognised her queen and her smile was radiant. After a few seconds, her lids drooped again, but the smile remained.

Blade glanced at Aaron. That is the coolest damn thing I’ve ever seen.

You always say that. Aaron grinned. But I must admit, Constance is scary good.

Good? She’s extraordinary. My cat his half in love.

Now Aaron rolled his eyes.  I’ve heard that before, too. And you don’t fool me. Your cat is the reserved one.

Yeah. Consider yourself lucky Constance lulled him into sleep.

It is a treat, isn’t it? Smooth and soft…kind of like honey.

Blade laughed and slapped his friend on the back. He could never stay angry with the son of a bitch for long.

Thanks for stopping by

Mel

On the Tenth Day of Christmas my Crazy Muze sent to me…

Welcome back to the twelve days of Christmas, fantasy style. So far, we’ve had a god with a secret, two changeling cats, three fearless hunters, four lightning birds, five gold rings, sixe members of the Battalion, seven of the Elite, eight greedy goblins, and nine brave soldiers. If you’re just joining the story, a small estate within the mortal realm has collapsed. All twelve days relate to the rescue effort.

On the Tenth Day of Christmas my Crazy muse sent to me…Ten borrowed Shapeshifters.

It’s a little crazy, this one. I think I have Christmas fever or something 😉

Maddison worked a cloaking spell as she slipped into the large tent assigned to the hympe family. She felt a moment of unease for spying on them. The feeling evaporated when she spotted their visitor.

For a moment, she fought the urge to drop her cloak and berate him for slipping into the site unannounced. But she had a feeling that wouldn’t go down too well. He was the Hympe King after all.

They had never met, not officially, yet she recognised him at once. It was his air of dominance, the way it filled the space. The way he filled the space, with his wide shoulders and long limbs. Tobias Locke, like all hympes, had a haunting kind of beauty. He kept his dark ebony hair long, which strangely fit with his regal appearance, and those damn shirts he wore. Made from the finest silk, they should have looked ridiculous on his large frame. They didn’t.

Okay, Maddy, stop drooling over the monarch.

Backing up, she left the group to their privacy. In her haste, she forgot to drop the spell, and she was glad of it when she collided with one of Tobias’ guards. She knew Marcus, and she didn’t like him very much. The feeling was mutual. Since becoming one of Tobias’ three, his arrogance was off the charts.

“Is that you, witch?” he asked, his voice mocking.

Sighing, Maddison dropped the cloak. “Marcus. It’s a pleasure, as always.”

He didn’t answer right away; his gaze was fixed on her suit. She was used to that. Yes, so the elves had gifted her with a uniform, get over it already. “Are you finished ogling?” she asked, and barely held back a laugh when his eyes jerked up.

“Why are you sneaking around?” he demanded.

“Not that it’s any of your business, since you didn’t announce your presence on a secure site, but I’m trying to find a way to make our guests more comfortable.” She sighed, thinking of the Mizon family.

They still knew so little about the group. Jacob, the patriarch, along with his wife and siblings, had found a way to serve their contract in the Hympe Trials together. It wasn’t the only unique thing about them. Jacob had eight siblings, which was rare in their community. Hympe parents tended to avoid big families because they knew what fate awaited them.

“They’re scared, hurting, and waiting for the other shoe to drop, so that might be a tall order,” Marcus said, but his tone held less bite than usual.

“Other shoe to drop?”

“They think they’ll be shipped back to the asshole who bound them for another century.” His lips tipped up. “Tobias is breaking the news that he took care of that little problem.”

Little problem? He called a powerful sorcerer with ties to the Fractured a little problem. Maybe she could grow to like Marcus after all. “How did he manage that?”

“He’s a king.”

That didn’t tell her anything, but it was the only answer she was going to get. “Okay, so they’ll soon have something to celebrate. How can we integrate them into the community? They barely eat, hell, they barely even sleep.”

“Why do you care?” he asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Because she knows how it feels to be a prisoner in this war,” said a deep commanding voice behind her.

Maddison turned and came face to face with Tobias Locke.

Shit, should she bow or something? She never felt this intimidated, but with his probing blue eyes and overwhelming presence, she felt trapped.

“Since you were eavesdropping, why don’t you tell us your opinion on the subject?” There went her mouth. She just couldn’t help herself.

Tobias laughed, and even that was appealing. “As a matter of fact.” He flicked a glance to Marcus, then back to her. “The Mizons would like to express their gratitude to their rescuers, and haven’t been able to visit with them since they arrived.”

In fairness, the troop hadn’t been up to visitors. They were all in the makeshift infirmary, and were still in bad shape. “That can be arranged,” she said, bowing her head slightly. See she could show respect. “In fact, there’s a custom in the mortal realm, which suits the time of year. How would they feel about entertaining the troops?”

“You’re joking, right?” Marcus scoffed.

“No. She might be on to something.” Tobias turned slightly, his expression considering. “They’re shapeshifters. What better way to make them feel welcome than to have a little fun?”

Maddison had to agree. If there was ever a time for laughter it was now, and her playful side had kicked into overdrive since hanging around with the damn cat. Blade would eat this up.

She turned to Marcus. “Don’t you have a thing for old black and white movies?”

The growl he gave her rivalled Logan’s. “So, what? You want us to act out the Wizard of Oz.”

“Perfect,” she said, letting her laughter free. “You could be one of the flying monkeys.” Winking at him, she turned back to Tobias. This time her bow was more pronounced. “Your majesty. It’s been a pleasure.”

He smiled. “Before we leave, you must tell me how you know Marcus. I have a feeling that’s a fun story.”

“Oh, it’s a barrel of laughs. Right, Marcus?”

He ignored her, well, except for the glare.

“I’ll look forward to it.” Tobias looked to his guard. “Marcus, do you want to share your excellent idea with the Mizons? There might even be a little role play involved.”

Maddison couldn’t help but smile as she walked away, heading to Blade’s tent. If there was one thing her new friend would appreciate, it was a roomful of shape shifters putting on a show.

Thanks for stopping by

Mel

On the Ninth Day of Christmas my Crazy Muse sent to me…

Welcome back to the twelve days of Christmas, fantasy style. So far, we’ve had a god with a secret, two changeling cats, three fearless hunters, four lightning birds, five gold rings, six members of the Battalion, seven of the Elite, and eight greedy goblins. If you’re just joining the story, a small estate within the mortal realm has collapsed. All twelve days relate to the rescue effort.

On the Ninth day of Christmas my Craze Muse sent to me…Nine brave soldiers.

Blade? What the hell?

Logan jumped from the vehicle he’d driven back to the site and stared. The security fence, the mechanicalised gate he’d expected to swing open, was gone. Now there was – nothing. Not the site beyond, or the newly constructed dwellings. Not the tents littering the outer edge. Nothing.

His mind struggled to process exactly what he was looking at; like a visual moratorium . An all-around blind spot.

It was instinct to defer to the wolf, to allow him to prowl closer to the surface, because the animal detected things the man didn’t. The scent registered first, a subtle blend of sophisticated magic. If concealment spells had a flavour – this one would be goblin.

Why are you standing there gawking? Don’t you have a truck full of wounded soldiers?

As though the sarcasm soaked voice in his head was a trigger, the spell dropped and Blade came into view. He was watching Logan from the other side of the open gate, and wearing a ridiculous grin that flashed his own animal.

Logan flipped him off as he climbed behind the wheel again. His brother was right about his precious cargo. He was carrying nine severely wounded soldiers. Brave men and women who had volunteered for a mission nobody else wanted.

It was no secret the Fractured were establishing camps across the realm. Logan refused to refer to them as clubs – recreational or otherwise. The bastards were conducting experiments, and had acquired a family of hympes. Borrowed. That was the term one of the soldiers had used. Because the family had a long history of forced imprisonment. It made Logan sick.

They had been placed together during the Hympe Trials – a hundred-year contract enforced on the race – and had been tricked into servitude.  The sorcerer who owned the original contract had convinced them to sign over their freedom for another century.

It was a gruesome history, and the soldiers in the back of the truck had risked everything to get them out. Logan was fucking proud to serve beside them.

Blade was waiting for him when he parked the truck. He left enough room for Riley, who was driving the second vehicle.

“How bad?” Blade asked, with no hint of his earlier humour.

“Bad enough.” He pulled back the rear doors and grimaced at the scent of blood and pain.

Zachariah was beside them in a flash, his dark skin pale. As though he were the one bleeding. And perhaps he was, in a way. The vampire could feel them, and had connected with the soldiers’ pain. It was Zachariah’s duty to protect humans, and the compulsion to help everyone at once was riding him hard. He was already fighting off exhaustion.

“Easy, Zac,” Logan said, placing a hand on his shoulder as he moved to enter the truck. “We’ve got this.”

When he felt Zachariah tense under his hand, he knew he wouldn’t see reason. Not without a little help. “Sorry about this, bud.”

Logan let out a low, high-pitched whistle, and right on cue, Maddison ducked her head out of the command centre. She had a connection to her brother, was likely fighting the urge to take his back, and Logan had just given her permission.

The sound was also a call to action. In seconds, he was surrounded by medical personnel, armed with stretches.

Thanks for stopping by

Mel

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