Happy birthday Amber! Thanks to everyone who is joining us to celebrate this month – be sure to read to the end of this post for a giveaway treat in honor of Amber’s birthday.
So keeping in the spirit of birthdays, here’s a snippet from Stealing the Wind, the first book in the Mermen of Ea Trilogy . I hope you enjoy this sexy little birthday surprise!
Taren was an indentured servant—a slave, in reality—forced to work long hours at a tavern. One day, he’s kidnapped by Jonat Rider, a lusty pirate captain, and offered his freedom in return for three years of sexual servitude to the captain and his first mate, Bastian. Taren, who is attracted to both men, agrees. Little does Taren know that his new adventure aboard the pirate ship will unlock the truth of his existence: Taren isn’t human at all, but an Ea, a mer-shifter.
The island of Lurat was a frequent stop on the Sea Witch’s travels and one Taren loved. Hundreds of vividly painted clapboard houses dotted the green hillsides surrounding Newtown Harbor like flowers blooming on a vine. Vendors selling fruits and vegetables alongside exotic treasures from the farthest reaches of the seas filled the bustling market near the town’s main square. Lurat’s economy thrived upon trade, and the Witch’s crew always felt welcomed.
“We will sail for the mainland in less than a month,” Bastian said casually as he and Taren strolled through the marketplace in the bright morning sun. He regarded Taren with quiet interest, clearly hoping to glean his reaction. “Does this please you? To be going home?”
Taren just smiled and ran his palm over his mouth and chin. “My home is aboard the Witch. I have no need to revisit my far-from-blissful childhood.”
Bastian’s expression told Taren this was just the reaction he had sought. The realization that the other man had been concerned that he might feel differently about returning to his childhood home warmed him. Bastian needn’t have been worried—Taren wanted nothing more than to stay aboard the Witch, and he intended to make that clear to Rider when his three years were paid.
Bastian clapped Taren on the shoulder. “Good man.”
They walked onward, stopping when they smelled meat cooking over open flame. How long had it been since Taren had eaten anything but fish? His mouth watered. Bastian must have noticed, for he gave the vendor a few coins and handed Taren one of two small skewers. The meat was spicy and sweet, with a hint of coconut and tomato that was heavenly. Taren finished his share in a scant minute, then licked each of his fingers in turn. This garnered a lecherous look from Bastian. It thrilled Taren to know he was the cause.
“Later,” Bastian said as they walked once more, “you will have to lick my fingers as well.”
“I heard Rider say he’d bought more honey. He said he wants to watch me lick it off of you.” Taren chewed his lip and smiled at the memory.
More often than not, Rider liked to watch him with Bastian before joining in, although sometimes Rider sent him up on deck and Rider and Bastian spent the evening in bed. Taren didn’t mind; he was happy with his place aboard the Sea Witch. He had no need to possess either man’s heart—his only wish was to serve them faithfully and bask in the warmth of their affection.
“Aye. He does like that.” Bastian’s eyes glittered. Taren could see his love for Rider as clearly as he could the ship in the harbor. He wondered if someday he too might look the same.
“I heard the men talking at the docks,” Taren said, changing the subject. “Seems we nearly had company. The Phantom. Do you know her?”
Bastian’s expression changed markedly, becoming quite serious. “I know her only too well. And her captain, Ian Dunaidh.” He spoke the name in something approaching a hiss. “A rat bastard who would sell his own mother to the devil. He and the captain knew each other. Went to school together when they were boys. Captain won’t abide his name spoken aboard the Witch.”
“Oh. What did he do?” Taren knew little about Rider, but he’d never known Rider to hold a grudge.
“No one knows.” Bastian spoke in a low voice. “Some say Ian betrayed him and left him to die. Others say they were lovers and Ian ripped out the captain’s heart and spat upon it. Me, if I ever see the dog, I’ll make him pay.”
Taren didn’t know what to say so he held his tongue. Taren could not imagine Rider with anyone but Bastian in his bed. He knew it was childish and even naïve, but he couldn’t imagine anyone else in Rider’s arms. Except perhaps himself, although he knew well enough that Rider’s heart belonged only to Bastian.
A few minutes later, they arrived at the edge of the square, where Bastian stopped and handed Taren a small bundle of coins. “Run along and find something for our master’s birthday next week while I arrange payment for our cargo.”
“Me? But I—”
“You are more than capable of finding something the old man will enjoy,” Bastian said with a laugh and a wink.
Taren nodded, brightening. He had seen something that had caught his fancy in one of the stalls hidden behind the fish vendor. “I have an idea,” he admitted as he pocketed the silver. “Shall we meet back at the docks?”
“Aye. Captain’ll be wanting to leave before noon. He’ll not want to weather the coming storm in port.”
Taren had felt the storm’s approach two days before—a distant rumbling in his bones that grew more urgent the closer it came—so Rider had adjusted their course to avoid the brunt of it. Taren could sense changes in the weather long before the other men aboard the Sea Witch, and Rider had come to rely on Taren’s instincts to keep the ship out of harm’s way. They would not be able to outrun this particular storm. The best they could hope for was to catch only the leading edge and seek safe harbor to ride out the rest.
In spite of this, the storm excited Taren. The Sea Witch had only seen a few tempests since Taren had come to the ship, but he enjoyed the excitement of the wind and the waves.
Bastian left Taren with a quick wave of his hand. Taren watched him for a moment, then turned and walked back to the stalls, his step light. It took him only a few minutes to locate the vendor he’d seen before.
“Back, are ye?” The small man sat behind a wooden crate, his goods set out on pale-yellow silk. The smell of fish was strong here, but it didn’t bother Taren. He found the familiar scent comforting. All around them, people chattered and did their marketing. Taren had spent many an hour at the market by the inn as a boy, although he had been there at Cook’s behest and had never shopped for his own pleasure. How much had changed in the two years he’d spent aboard the Sea Witch.
He smiled and picked up a delicate carving made from smooth green stone. A horse, judging by its tail and broad muzzle. “From the Eastern Sea,” the old man said with a glint of pleasure on his narrow face. “They say it takes months to sail there, and few ships return. Perhaps they never reach those shores. Perhaps they stay.”
Taren set the figure down and picked up another, rubbing his thumb over the cool surface of it. He held it up to the light, trying to make it out but without success.
“A dragon.” The vendor smiled broadly. “They say they are as plentiful as deer and that villages must sacrifice their most beautiful maiden each year to appease their angry spirits.”
Taren grinned and shook his head. He’d heard of the fire-breathing creatures, although he doubted that they or their sea-dwelling brethren ever existed. He eyed the dragon once more, then set it back down on the silk. He had not come here for the carvings, but had it been a gift for Bastian, he might have taken one—the dragon’s fire reminded him of Bastian’s hair.
He brought his fingers to his lips and eyed the object he’d spotted before, set in a small box lined in velvet. Taren tried not to smile as he reached for it and lifted it from its container: a large ring carved from the same cool stone. He held it between his thumb and forefinger, studying it as his cheeks warmed. He was not ashamed—far from it—he was imagining how Rider might use it on him or Bastian. The thought also heated his loins.
“I see you know of its uses.” The old man’s smile was broader still.
“I… have heard of such a thing.”
“In the East,” the old man explained, lowering his voice, “there are slaves who wear such jewelry and nothing else. Their masters might parade them through a market much like this one for all to see their—” The old man grinned, pausing for effect. “—charms.”
“How much?” Taren asked far too quickly. The thought of Rider parading him naked through the market, his manhood visible to all who passed by, aroused Taren. Two years before, he might have been ashamed to imagine this, but now it excited his passions.
The old man told him the price, which Taren paid with shaking hands. He headed back toward the port a few minutes later, his body thrumming, wishing Rider’s birthday were tonight so he or Bastian could demonstrate Rider’s gift.
He had almost reached the outer edge of the marketplace when he nearly tripped on one of the uneven flagstones. He caught himself before he fell, pausing with his hands on his knees, laughing at himself that he was acting just like a giddy child with a secret he couldn’t wait to share.
When he stood straight once more, he noticed a withered old woman sitting on a blanket in the shade of a tree. Her eyes were milky, unseeing, her hair white and thinning so that Taren could see her scalp beneath. By her side lay a small metal plate with several coins.
Taren reached into his pocket and retrieved a copper coin—far more than she’d expect, but he had nothing smaller. Rider had often teased him for his overly generous heart, but Taren knew Rider approved of it as well. The copper coin clattered against the metal, making the old woman turn her face toward her benefactor. Taren wondered for a moment if he’d misjudged her, if she could see. But her gaze focused on a place beyond where he stood, and he realized he’d correctly guessed that she was blind.
“You are kind,” she said in a voice that quavered and rasped. He wondered how old she was. Life on these islands was difficult. He’d seen few people as old. “Your kindness will serve you well.”
“May I get you some water?” he asked, noting the empty cup behind her. She nodded, so he reached for the cup. As he did, she grabbed his wrist with surprising strength, pulling him toward her.
“You will be tested,” she rasped in his ear. This close, she smelled of the ocean, salty and bright.
“What did you say?” He was sure he’d heard her clearly, but he did not wish to offend her. He knew that sometimes age clouded the mind as well as the eyes.
“The call is strong. Soon, it will claim you.”
He pulled away from her so abruptly that he collided with a woman doing her shopping. He apologized for his rudeness, then turned back to the old woman. She was gone. He looked around, but she was nowhere to be seen. How had such a frail woman moved with such speed? The blanket and plate were gone as well. For a moment Taren just stared at the stones.
Taren turned to see one of his shipmates waving toward him. He rubbed his chin and shook his head. How strange.
“Taren!” Charlie called once more. This time Taren shrugged, then went to join Charlie and the others as they made their way back to the ship.
Would you like to win a copy of Stealing the Wind in ebook or audiobook? Wish Amber happy birthday on this post, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for your choice of format! -Shira