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Lady of Thorns: Many Happy Returns

For those of you who read yesterday’s Mid Week Tease and wanted to know how the rest of that scene turned out, I live to serve. Enjoy!


“Well, it could have been worse, milady,” Jeanette said judiciously, holding up the stained copper silk and studying it. “At least you didn’t make the entire tree blow up.”

“That’s not nearly as helpful as you think it is,” Amelie muttered, getting the last bit of sticky juice out of her hair. She slid under the water in the tub to rinse, shaking her head from side to side to sluice out the suds, then resurfaced. “You should have seen their faces.”

Her maid made a noncommittal noise. “But the apples ripened.”

“Yes, the apples ripened, which means the Harvest Festival is officially underway. Hopefully that will keep Maman satisfied.” Amelie stood up, accepting a bath sheet and wrapping it around herself. “And I can get back to my real work.”

Jeanette helped her out of the tub and shooed her over to the vanity table. “Excuse me for being blunt, milady, but these will be your duties someday. You can’t stay in your office forever.”

Amelie wished she was still young enough to stamp a foot, absurdly petulant as that would be. Instead she dropped onto the padded chair, allowing the maid to work on her hair with a drying cloth. “Perhaps Maman should have made Sibeal her heir after all. She could have blown up the entire square and everyone would have congratulated her.”

“Mayhap, but Lady Sibeal isn’t a Terra magistra,” Jeanette said mildly, pulling out a comb and running it through Amelie’s damp locks. “You are. And frankly you have the better mind for governing a province.”

“So you say. Maman says I’m too cold and analytical.”

The maid sighed. “Her ladyship has a different view from yours on what makes a good countess. It doesn’t meant that hers is the only correct way.”

“Oh, isn’t it?”

Both of them started, turning guiltily towards the tall woman standing at the bedroom door. With her titian hair coiled into an elegant updo, hazel eyes that changed color depending on what she wore, and a form-fitting maroon gown that highlighted both a heavy strand of emeralds and creamy décolletage over the square cut neckline, Henriette le Clerq looked like the harvest personified. “Do go on, Jeanette,” she suggested.

Blushing, Jeanette dropped into a deep curtsey. “I’m sorry, my lady. I didn’t mean—”

“Of course you did.” Henriette swept closer, holding a piece of rolled-up paper in her slender hands. “And you’re quite right. My daughter’s views are different from my own. When she becomes the Lady, she may rule Lierdhe as she sees fit. In the meantime, however, I am still the Lady of Lierdhe and must do as I deem best for my province and my people, even if that runs counter to my daughter’s views.”

Jeanette bowed her head. “Of course, my lady. I apologize.”

“Mm. You may go.”

The maid bobbed another curtsey and left. “I wish you wouldn’t scold Jeanette, Maman,” Amelie said wearily. “She did nothing to deserve it.”

“Oh, my dear, that wasn’t a scolding,” Henriette said, waving the roll of paper. “That was merely a reminder.” She pursed her lips. “I heard about the little contretemps at the ceremony today. Apple juice everywhere, the mayor said.”

Leave it to her mother to bring that up. Controlling her temper, Amelie picked up the comb Jeanette had dropped and went back to work on her hair. “I was distracted by one of the children. It won’t happen again.”

“Oh, I’m sure,” Henriette said idly. “Practice makes perfect and all that, and it’s not as if I can step down until I know the family line will continue.” Before Amelie could come up with an appropriate reply she continued, “Speaking of that, however, I just received the most wonderful news from your sister.”

“What does Sibeal have to say?”

A beaming smile crossed her mother’s face. “She’s with child. She writes that she should give birth in the spring, and we’re to come to Wolf’s Lair to see the baby.”

For someone who had resisted the match so severely, Amelie thought, her mother certainly seemed happy with it now. It was ironic, considering the chill that had dropped over their own relationship ever since the King of Ypres had ridden to Lierdhe at Amelie’s request to stop the forced wedding of her younger sister Sibeal to Clement Reynard. The wedding had been Henriette’s way of dealing with rising debts from her drought-stricken province; she’d made an arrangement with Gregor Reynard, the Earl of Leuven, for a loan of two million gold soleils to cover seed costs in exchange for one of her daughters marrying the Earl’s heir Clement. When Amelie had broken off the engagement due to Clement’s boorish behavior, the countess had thrust Sibeal into her place, locking Amelie in a mage-warded cell to keep her “out of trouble.”

But King Matthias had put a stop to all that. Now Sibeal was happily married to Duke Tomas Villiers, the man who had ridden at the king’s side to her rescue, and Lierdhe was safe thanks to the earl forgiving half his loan (at sword point, admittedly) and a generous wedding gift of one million soleils from Villiers, the crown, and Prince Marcus of Illium.
Amelie ignored the sharp pang at the thought of Marcus. He’s gone, and that’s all there is to it. “How wonderful. I’ll write to Sibeal tonight.”

“I’ll have the seamstress start on a layette immediately,” Henriette said, pacing now as she tapped the rolled letter against her chin. “White and green, I think, with our sigil worked in silver thread. And some new gowns for Sibeal, of course. And we must have a purse for the child.”

Amelie thought of the ledgers in her office. “Don’t make it too extravagant. This year’s harvest was much better than the last two, but it was hardly a bumper crop.”

Henriette stopped in mid-stride, the doting grandmother-to-be replaced by the shrewd countess. “How bad?”

“Not bad, but the farmers say it won’t be up to the amount we’re used to, either. They estimate we’ve had an eight percent decrease in yield.”

“Drat.” The duchess resumed her pacing, but this time her smile was gone. “I thought the spring rains had taken care of the drought.”

“They eased it, yes, but it will take more than one wet spring to fully heal the land.” Amelie toyed with her comb. “You might want to reconsider my proposal that we send a request to the Aeris chapter house. If we can have a team of their mages generate a steady amount of rain through the winter—”

Henriette shook her head, two delicate curls bouncing with the movement. “The Aeris don’t believe in interfering with natural weather patterns. And even if I could talk them into it, it doesn’t sound as if we have enough money to pay their infernal fees.” Her hazel eyes narrowed in thought. “Besides, we don’t need Aeris help with this. We can install an irrigation system fed directly from the Lier. And our farm workers can create the irrigation channels, with help from us as required.”

Creating a ditch via magic was certainly one of the easier tasks a Terra mage such as her mother or herself could perform. “That would certainly be practical,” Amelie allowed. “But how would we go about planning such a thing, much less installing it?”

“I’ve already contacted the Earl of Bertrix. He’s willing to lend us some engineers for the project.”

Amelie felt her mouth drop open and closed it quickly. “You must be joking. You loathe Stefan Vandenberghe. I’ve heard you call him a dirt-grubbing troglodyte to his face.”

Henriette flicked long fingers. “That was only because he called me a high-handed harridan. But I’ll admit the blasted man is clever when it comes to earthworks. He’s already agreed to help us plan and install an irrigation system for a share in our harvests over the next five years.”

Amelie ran the figures in her head. Much depended on what the earl considered a share, but if Lierdhe’s fields had access to guaranteed water then their house could afford to give up a certain percent of each harvest. And the earl, ruler of a dry and rocky province on the border of Ypres near Munoz, was known for his brilliant aqueducts and other strategies to transfer water across his lands. If anyone could design a functioning irrigation system for the rolling fields of Lierdhe, it was the Earl of Bertrix. “Does that include this harvest as well?”

“No, not until the system has been installed and is working properly. I’ve invited the earl and his entourage to come to the Harvest Ball so that we can discuss terms. You’ll have a full report on this year’s harvest by then, of course.”

The Harvest Ball. Amelie wanted to groan in dismay. In previous years her mother had used the ball to trot potential suitors in front of her like some fairy tale come to stiff, uncomfortable life. She’d been allowed to skip it last year due to her doomed betrothal to Clement, but clearly her mother had the matrimonial bit in her teeth again.

The only boon about that was that Henriette had been forbidden from having any say in Amelie’s future consort, by both royal and magical decree. Lette Melliers, the Terra Grand Magistra of Ypres, was an old friend of her mother’s but hadn’t been happy about Henriette’s actions in the spring. Both King Matthias and Lette had laid down the law; Amelie’s husband would be her choice, and her choice only.

Which meant she would be expected to make an appearance at the ball and view whatever potential suitors could be scrounged up, as well as sit in on the negotiations with Vandenberghe and provide facts and figures as needed. Her head started to hurt at the thought. “I take it we’re lodging Vandenberghe’s people at Ardenhaal?”

Henriette sighed. “Unfortunately. I’ve also asked the king to send that lawyer of his to assist us with the negotiations.”

That came as a surprise. Counselor Alain LaPorte was the lawyer who had advised King Matthias on the unlawfulness of Sibeal’s betrothal agreement. Amelie wondered if her mother was going for some kind of record in personal shocks. “I thought you called him a duplicitous snake.”

“He is. But if I’m to deal with Vandenberghe, I’d prefer to have a duplicitous snake working on my side.” Henriette pointed the rolled-up letter at her. “As you take on more of my duties, you’ll learn that ruling a province isn’t all pretty dresses and balls. You’ll often be called upon to do things that go against your personal preferences.”

Such as marry a rich boor. “Forgive me for not being able to stomach Clement Reynard, Mother,” Amelie said through her teeth. “But if you had gone to the king as I’d begged you—”

Henriette held up a hand. “We don’t need to rehash this, Amelie. The de Clerqs still rule in Lierdhe and Sibeal is happily married with a baby on the way. Things have turned out for the best, which is all I can ask for.”

Which was completely false. Her mother could, and would, ask for the sun and moon on a silver chain if the mood struck her. “If you want me to have the latest figures for the negotiations, I’d best get back to work tomorrow. Was there anything else you wanted to tell me?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Henriette said, attention straying back to the letter in her hand. “I’ll let you get ready for bed. Good night, my dear.”

So much for that. She tried for a polite smile, but her mouth wouldn’t cooperate. “Good night, Maman.”

The countess swept out of the room. After a moment, Jeanette came back in, one hand behind her back. “Is the coast clear?”

Amelie slumped on her chair. “As clear as it’ll ever be. I’m sorry about her scolding.”

The maid shook her head. “It was my own fault, milady. My mother always said my tongue will get me into trouble one of these days. Now, shall I help you get ready for bed?”

After the disasters of the day, all she wanted was to be left alone. “No. I think I can do that much for myself. But thank you.”

With a surprising hesitancy, Jeanette approached the vanity, bringing out what she had hidden behind her back. “Then I’ll give you this, milady.”

She put down a small plate that held an iced almond cake. Amelie stared at the pastry, her throat tightening. Someone had remembered, after all.

“I—thank you,” she stammered. “That was very kind of you, Jeanette.”

“I know it’s not much, but everyone should have a cake on their birthday.” The maid gave her a sympathetic smile. “Many happy returns, milady, and good night.”

With a quick curtsey she was gone. Blinking back tears, Amelie reached out and broke off a bit of the cake, wondering if its sweetness could offset the sour thing that had become her life.

Happy twentieth birthday to me.

Want to win a new Kindle Fire AND a copy of Degree of Resistance?

Have you seen this awesome giveaway from BookSweeps? You can win my book Degree of Resistance, plus books from authors like Evangeline Anderson and Cara Bristol, and a Kindle Fire. This giveaway ends soon, so make sure you hurry and enter! Good luck!

Join the fun here! bit.ly/sfr-apr-17

Shifter Woods: Howl now available for pre-order #PNR #NewRelease

Woohoo! My spandy new paranormal romance novella Shifter Woods: Howl is now on Amazon for pre-order at only 99¢, and will be available on Kindle Unlimited for the next three months.

Some deets: Shifter Woods: Howl will release on 4/18 (aka Tax Day, if you need something to take away the pain) and is the first in a four-part series set in fictional Esposito County, New Mexico which is home to coyote, bear, cougar, and eagle shifter clans. The next novella, Shifter Woods: Roar, will be out in a month or so. Once all four novellas are out, I’ll combine them into a box set and a print version. Ooh, I’m so excited about this, and I LOVE the fact that I finally get to use that male model on a cover (I’ve been faunching over him since Empress of Storms).

Laurie wants a news story. Caleb just wants to be left alone. But when the coyote shifters’ paths cross in New Mexico’s Sandia Mountains, Fate steps in and gives them something they never expected—each other.

Reporter Laurie Rivera is on the trail of a white slavery ring when she’s forced to run for her life in the foothills near Sandia Crest. Widowed sheriff and Alpha coyote shifter Caleb Lynch comes across the exhausted reporter and discovers to his shock that Laurie’s also a coyote shifter—and his new heart’s mate.

But Caleb never expected to have another chance at love, and Laurie has a good reason to fear being claimed, especially by an Alpha. As a snowstorm traps them in the sheriff’s cabin, Caleb must find a way around the barriers surrounding Laurie’s heart, and Laurie has to confront her past—and the humans who want her dead—if she wants a chance at her very own “happily ever after.”

And that’s a novella done

Yay, just finished Shifter Woods: Howl and sent it off to the betas to read. It’s only 23,000 words so I should be able to polish it this week, get the cover finalized over the weekend (I am SO happy to be using this one male model that I’ve been lusting after since Empress of Storms), put everything together and have it up on Amazon by next Tuesday.

And since I don’t remember if I explained the concept behind this one, Howl is the MF coyote shifter story, to be followed by its MM bear shifter companion piece Shifter Woods: Roar. There will be two more novellas set in the same world (Claw and Scream, respectively), after which I’ll compile them all into an ebook box set and a print version.

In the meantime, back to work on Uncertainty Principle I go!

It’s time to pull on my Big Writer Panties

degreeofresistancecoverDegree of Resistance has now been out for a shade over a week, and the bulk of my wonderful ARC readers have left reviews (thank you all, *mwah*). I have requests out to a slew of reviewers, advertising going on at various locations, and I’m in the process of getting my media pack out to various bloggers who are kind enough to host my stuff.

And so far … yeah, the sales are perhaps a touch disappointing. The folks who have read the book so far say it’s hella good (and these people have no reason to blow smoke up my ass. If I’d produced something crappy, they would’ve told me). So what that confirms is that my marketing plan is not optimal and I have to come up with a better method of getting Evie and Ben’s story out in front of readers who love smokin’ cyborg romance.

To that end, the lovely and talented Cecilia Tan (my first editor and now my cherished colleague) was kind enough to spend an hour on Skype with me on Thursday going over various battle plans and ways to promote DoR. Some of them, I must admit, had simply never occurred to me but seem obvious in retrospect (e.g. find ways to write blogs posts that will appeal to girl geek-slanted publications such as The Daily Dot and io9, since a significant proportion of my SFR-loving readers will be found there). Others will require careful use of SEO terms to boost exposure, creative use of graphics, or just plain throwing money at the problem. As I am a poor but honest writer who is still paying off the costs of Wild Wicked Weekend (Tl;dr I had a frigging ball and sold more books than last year)  I’m hoping to keep this last method down to a minimum, at least until the end of the month. I still want to try submitting Empress of Storms to BookBub, but I need to save up for that as well, plus I have to wait until I’m past the 90 day limit on sales prices (since it was on sale along with Palace of Scoundrels in December, that should take effect later this month).

So goes the life of a modern hybrid author. Still the best job I’ve ever had, though.

Cover Reveal: Degree of Resistance #SFromance #cyborg

And here, finally, is the cover for TNFKAI, now titled Degree of Resistance. The manuscript is off with the betas and editor (three betas have already contacted me to say they’re loving it), I’m about to set up pre-ordering on Amazon, and I am VERY excited about this. Release date will be 2/21 and I’ll be throwing a release party on FB to celebrate with giveaways and lots of hilarity, so mark your calendars!

degreeofresistancecover

State of the Writer

melwritingHeya. You haven’t seen hide nor hair from me for the last week or so because I’ve been editing TBFKAI. I’m currently working on the last chapter, after which it goes off to the betas for critique and review and I pour myself a large Angry Orchard and enjoy some season 5 Longmire. Here’s my schedule between now and 2/21, which will be the release date:

  • Send MS off to beta readers and editor
  • Finalize cover for ebook and print
  • Set up pre-sales in Amazon
  • Start doing teasers on FB, Twitter, and Google+
  • Send out teasers, cover to newsletter subscribers
  • Set up a release day party
  • Get crits back from beta readers and editor
  • Incorporate comments/corrections into MS
  • Do a third editing pass
  • Do a spelling/grammar editing pass
  • Do a weasel word editing pass
  • Do a polishing pass
  • Format .mobi version, upload to Amazon three days before release date
  • Format .epub version, upload to Smashwords for distribution to B&N, Kobo, iTunes, et al
  • Format print version, upload to CreateSpace
  • Release book on 2/21 with FB party and wild shenanigans

After which I may sleep for a day. But only for a day because after that I have to finish Behind the Iron Cross and start the whole thing over again. Plus there’s the alternate history mystery I’d like to finish editing and publish. *rubs face* It shall get done somehow, selah.

The Muse Is In Town, I see

museI can tell because the mojito-swilling lush just dumped a buttload of backstory on me about the book formerly known as Intersection and now I have to carefully work slivers of it into the edit. I was hoping to be finished by today and have the book off to the betas and editor. Now, maybe I’ll be done by Sunday. Maybe.

*rubs face, looks around for the rum*

On the plus side, understanding the backstory means that vague issues that have been nagging at me are finally quiet and I’m starting to feel good about where the book is headed, so I have that going for me. On the minus side, I couldn’t have figured out any of this stuff when I was working on the first draft?

Apparently not. Welcome to my PITA brain. Which also decided to entertain me last night with dreams about being arrested by NOLA police and having to go on the lam, and then a very weird interlude at a party where for some reason I was lazily making out with Alan Tudyk while Ramón stood by chatting with folks. While I am fully aware that Mr. Tudyk is a handsome man and eye candy for those who love gingers, he’s never really pushed any of my buttons so I don’t know why my subconscious decided to pull him out, so to speak.

Someone suggested that he represents myself and that I’m in need of some self-care. Of some sort, anyway. Ahem. Which is probably true, but will have to wait until after I get this book edited and off to the waiting readers. No, wait, then I have to do the print version of Palace of Scoundrels (PSA: for the love of all that’s holy, I’m begging you, PLEASE leave reviews on Amazon for Palace. Lack of reviews means the sales are tanking and I can’t justify writing another book in this series unless I can make money on it. Thank you for your understanding and support) so that I have print copies to take with me to Wild Wicked Weekend next month. And then I have to do the final edits, formatting, promotion, and release for TBFKAI. And, and, and…

I just got back from vacation, didn’t I? Doesn’t feel like it. Never mind, back to the salt mines…

Apparently I owe the producers of Longmire an apology. Kinda.

longmireIn my previous post, I lamented the last ep in Season 3 of Longmire because it pretty much blew my sense of disbelief on a number of points. That being said, one of those points was further illuminated in Season 4, where in ep 3 we find out that Barlow had hired a soldier from Jacob Nighthorse to kill Walt’s wife for what turns out to be a logical reason — she was campaigning against the construction of Jacob’s casino, and Barlow was counting on it to bring in people for his nascent golf course and other businesses. To the producers’ credit this was brought up in one of the previous seasons. It still seems a bit of overkill to murder a woman dying of cancer, but at least I can follow Barlow’s reasoning now (although it would have been nice if this had been made a bit clearer in the S3 ep. A line from Barlow saying, “I had her killed her to protect the family business that I’m giving to you, you little pissant” would have sufficed).

stayontarget2Still doesn’t excuse the other issues, but as a friend pointed out Absaroka County gets a surprising ton of dead bodies considering that it’s in a low-population state, so if you can buy that, you can buy iffy characterization choices and Walt and Henry getting away with stealing a dead body and having it accepted as evidence.

In other news, I’m closing in on the end of Intersection, as demonstrated by the already out of date target counter at right (word count is currently up to 62,058). With luck and a good tail wind, I should be typing “The End” sometime late tomorrow.

Which will be good, because it’ll give me the length of my upcoming vacation to let the backbrain cogitate on it and work out kinks, at which point I’ll be ready to edit it into shape when I get back. Release date is scheduled to be 2/7/17, and I’ll be making it available for pre-order as well as sending out ARCs to reviewers and bloggers. If you want to leave a review or do a blog post featuring the book, let me know and I’ll make sure you get one of the ARCs along with a media packet.

A Christmas Sale!

twothronesseriesheader

Which has much less Darren McGavin than A Christmas Story, but bear with me. In the spirit of the year (and because all of us need a bit of a lift right now) I’m putting both Two Thrones books on sale for 99¢ until New Year’s Eve. So if you’re new to the joint kingdoms of Hellas and Ypres, this is the perfect chance to check them out.

Empress of Storms

Palace of Scoundrels