Thank you for following me through Moon Pack May. I have been busily working on the next Moon Pack and other stories. I hope to release it at the end of June! I’ll give you a sneak peak or two in the upcoming weeks.
Don’t forget to enter all the contests! I’m been working hard on producing some summer reading for you all. I’ve rewritten the beginning of three books at least six times LOL!
Here’s the latest first chapter of Gears. (not edited)
“I never met an obstacle that couldn’t be overcome with the proper tool.”
Gear Master’s Diary – Jonathon Torren
Warmth woke me. Not the burning heat of a roaring fire, but the soothing, comforting press of warm bare skin against mine. The unexpectedness of it jerked me awake and sent me tumbling out of bed. I hit the dusty bedroom floorboards with a hard thud, and lay there while my sleepy brain tried to piece together reality.
“You all right there, love?” Justin’s handsome face appeared above me. Lips that had traced every inch of my body last night, turned traitorously amused at my misfortune. A duke shouldn’t have a mouth made for mischief.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.” My face burned, but I met his eyes with forced nonchalance. Justin had only stayed over a few times so I could still pretend he was unaware of my zombie-like shamble before I’ve had at least two cups of strong tea.
“Are you going to stay down there?”
I gave an indignant sniff. “Yes, I think I am. The mice are better company than my current lover.”
“Ouch.” Justin flashed me a far too cheery grin for the barely lightened sky. “Whatever can I do to win you away from your vermin swain?”
Scrambling to my feet I ignored his extended hand. I offered another sniff instead. “That last grey mouse was a fine fellow despite his prepopencity to steal my crumpet crumbs.”
Justin roared with laughter. “You are quick-witted even half asleep, little wren.”
My lover often called me bird pet names. So far I’ve been wren, chick, falcon and robin. I’ve asked him about this odd obsession. He claims it’s because of how I introduced myself, but I remain suspicious. Months ago my foolish infatuation for a man far above my station had me sending him one of my mechanical birds as a gift. A follow up introduction from Oss set the stage for our current involvement. Oss titled it a relationship, but I was resisting any labels until we went public. Currently only city rumor, and a few bedroom romps, made us a match. I might not have much pride and little money, but I greedily coveted everything I claimed as mine.
The solution for my latest design problem flitted through my brain. “I’m off to the workshop.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to come back to bed? I’m sure I could occupy that busy mind of yours.”Justin’s seductive grin almost had me sliding back between my worn bedsheets.
Only iron resolve, and a solid deadline, helped me resist. “While you are tempting, I promised Mr. Fernhan that I’d have his gift finished in time for his son’s birthday next Sunday.”
Justin’s sigh could’ve powered a sailing ship. “Fine, go be a genius. I have another hour’s rest before I have to rise.” Justin’s fond expression warmed me better than the summer sun. As a duke he didn’t offer smiles as freely as his brother, Thorne, making me cherish each one as the present they’ve become. Foolish sentiment perhaps, but an ex-street rat doesn’t often get to bed a duke, and I was going to savor every second of our relationship while it lasted. My ridiculous little heart had little hope of surviving this affair, but maybe after twenty or thirty years I would rebound.
“You do that.” I pressed a quick kiss to his forehead before he could break my shaky resolve.
After a quick cup of invigorating black tea, I took my second cup with me to my workshop. In all of the city this was my favorite spot. A conglomeration of messy worktables filled the room covered with overflowing bins of metal. One entire wall held examples of my work. I tried to keep a sample of each new invention but some of them, like Oss’s bunny, Amalia, couldn’t be replicated. I had no intention of repeating Oss’s odd rabbit who knew what it would turn out to be. Since we opened the gate between the City of Keys and the City of Magic, my personal magic had been fluctuating. I’ve animated a few mechanicals a bit more than usual and have taken to using gloves while working on the off chance their unusual liveliness is due to my touch.
The sound of someone at my front door had me rushing upstairs before they woke up Justin. I scampered up the stairs and opened the door to find my charwoman, Janet. She greeted me with a bob halfway between a curtsey and a bow, her worn skirts swept the sidewalk for a second before lifting again bringing some dirt along.
Some days I wonder if she likes to give herself more work. It wasn’t as if I was so clean she needed to add to the mess.
“Good morning,” I greeted her, stepping back to let her inside.
“Morning, sir.” She flashed me a glance through her lashes. “I wasn’t sure if you would be up to me coming today.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” A frown formed between my brow at her strange behavior. I could already feel the headache building.
“Um.” She bit her lip. “Because of the rumors, sir. I’m just saying I’m glad to hear they aren’t true.”
“That your sweetie is expecting a baby to join his family soon.”
Cold sank into my chest, hallowing out my previous warmth. “A-and who is he having this baby with?”
Janet tugged on one escaped girl on her shoulder. “I didn’t hear that. I figured it was one of those posh ladies that are in his circle.”
“Yes, that is what I would’ve expected too.” My mouth dried up until the lack of moisture. I reached into the jar I kept on the secretary in the entry way. Reaching inside I blindly grabbed a coin and pressed it into her hand. Could you come back tomorrow. I have something I need to do this morning.“ My words stumbed across each other as I rushed them out of my mouth.
Janet examined by face for a few seconds before patting my cheek. “Of course. Same time?”
“Yeah.” I cleared my throat. “I mean, yes, that would be fine.”
It was difficult to speak over the lump in my throat. Dating a duke meant I knew we’d have to separate eventually. I couldn’t give birth to the next duke or duchess of Lear’s line. However, I would’ve appreciated a warning, a note, some preparation before I was cast aside. That he still felt comfortable lounging in my bed while he waited for his heir to be born broke my trust in him.
She patted my arm. “Give him hell,” she whispered. She left without looking back. As soon as the door clicked shut I crumpled to the floor. Maybe I should try Oss’s approach. I kept my gifted daggers sharp.
“Marbrey, love, are you all right?” Justin’s rich voice rolled across me like thorns, pricking my soul with his traitorous affection. “I thought I heard someone.”
I gathered the tattered bits of my pride and forced my body off the floor. Channeling my inner Oss, I straightened my shoulders. “That was my charwoman bringing me some unexpected news.”
The silver candlestick to my right tempted me to throw it at his stupidly handsome face.
Justin’s gaze swept the room as he entered. Not finding anyone else there he turned his attention to me. “What news?””
“Oddly enough it was bout you. I had no idea that you were expecting a child in the near future.” I lifted and eyebrow and stared him down.
“Marbrey, let me explain!”
“I am ready for your explanation. I’m sure it will be complete and include why you didn’t share this news with your lover. I can’t tell you how much I didn’t appreciate hearing about this from the Janet, instead of the man I was having sex with!” My voice shook at the end as I battled tears.
“Love. I was going to tell you.” He took one step forward.
I abandoned my shaky willpower, and chucked the candlestick at him.
Duke Justin Lear, Lock Lord and my soon to be ex-lover, jumped to the right avoiding the missle. It slammed spectacularly into the wall, chipping away at the worn brick.
“What’s to explain?” I didn’t shout. That wasn’t my way. I chucked a small metal sculpture at him. It hit his thigh. “You explained how unimportant our relationship was when you didn’t tell me.”
“I didn’t want to upset you. You can be sensitive about things.”
“Sensitive! I’ll show you sensitive.” I grabbed the marble bookend sitting on entry table and threw it at his head.
“Why are you acting like this? The baby won’t impact our relationship.”
The ire ran out of me. He couldn’t have hurt me more if he had stabbed me with one of Oss’s daggers. “You’re right.”
“I am?” He put down arms and relaxed his stance.
“Yes. If we even had a relationship you wouldn’t think that way. There is obviously nothing to salvage between us. Get dressed and go.”
“Marbrey, don’t be like this. I love you. I need a child to continue the dukedom.”
“Leave.” I pressed my lips together fighting to hold in words that would be a combination of begging and sobbing. I might not have much but I still had my pride. I would learn from my mistakes. A harsh lesson but one I’ve learned well.
My mistake was falling for a duke. Accordingly, my life spiraled out of control. My latest foray into romance lasted approximately seventeen weeks and three days before ending in a flood of tears and fury.
A personal best.
Relationships weren’t my strength, but until this morning I had been living under the foolish belief that I’d finally managed to get one right. Now, staring at the traitorous creature who had cracked my fragile trust along with my heart, I understood Oss’s occasional foray into homicide with perfect clarity.
“Marbrey, love, she means nothing to me.” Justin’s words fanned the fading embers of my anger back into a towering inferno.
“Love? What do you know of love? Love involves trust. and two people talking before they make big decisions, like having a baby. Especially when it is with a person not in the relationship.” I threw the other bookend. The books tumbled to the floor. It made a loud thud but landed too far from Justin’s handsome face for any satisfaction. “I had to hear about the upcoming birth of your spawn from the washerwoman. If you really loved me you would have told me what was going on.” And hadn’t that been a blow to my already dangerously low self-esteem. I blinked rapidly, holding back my tears. He didn’t deserve the satisfaction.
“This has nothing to do with our relationship.” Justin smoothed down his already perfect hair not even giving me the courtesy of appearing rumpled. “It doesn’t change anything between us.”
The worst of it was I could tell he believed the idiocy he spewed. I wanted to punch his pretty face. “How doesn’t it affect our relationship? You are bringing another person into this world. It will have an impact on your life.” Or it should. So help me if he passed his child off on nannies I was going to cave in his skull.
My fingers curled around the rim of a small metal snuffbox a client had given me as a gift. A sympathetic judge wouldn’t arrest me for bashing in a Lock Lord’s head, would he? Memories of the corrupt magistrate, Phenius Calter, changed my mind. I reluctantly let go of my latest weapon. A few deep breaths in and out still didn’t regain my usual even temperament. “At this point, even your death won’t affect our relationship, because apparently we don’t have one!”
Ashamed at my loss of control, I took a long, slow breath. My curled fingers itched with the urge to throttle my beloved.
Justin stepped closer and placed his hands on my shoulders. “Inheritance can only be passed through my bloodline and we both know Oss would gut Hawthorne if he even looked at a female.
“Let’s not blame Oss for your shortcomings. When were you going to tell me about the baby? After it was born? Or maybe you were going to wait for the washerwoman to tell me about his birth too!” Better to channel my anger than allow heartbreak to destroy me…and I was running out of objects within reach to throw.
“I’m sorry you heard about it from someone other than me.”
I have never envied a woman the trials of childbirth before, but a female could give Justin what I could not. Not only an heir, but the means to silence the critics who considered his relationship to me a death to his bloodline. Unfortunately for Justin, understanding doesn’t necessarily breed forgiveness. I hated being the last to know anything, especially when it involves me.
“And who was the lucky woman you decided was worthy of bearing your heir?” I stepped away from his calming touch. I refuse to accept comfort from the one causing me pain.
“Why do you want to know?” Justin’s forehead crinkled as if he couldn’t understand why he wasn’t winning this battle through faulty logic and repetition. “I contracted with her before we met.”
“Who is she?” He was stalling.
Justin turned away from me to pace. He flailed his arms around as he walked, his entire body a picture of frustration. “You have to understand I didn’t do this to hurt you. I don’t want to lose you over this.”
If Justin had moved from confrontation to avoidance I wouldn’t like the female he chose.
Justin stopped his infernal motion, and let out a sigh. “Minerva,” he confessed.
Bile stirred in my gut. “Minerva Grace?” The dark-haired lady had both political and monetary power within the Lock Lord circles. A direct contrast to my less than stellar standing.
She also hated me.
“Yes, that Minerva.” Justin took a deep breath before speaking again. “I know you don’t like her, but the two of you hadn’t met before we made our agreement. Once she gives birth she will be gone. I had her sign a contract regarding her responsibilities to my heir. Once he is weaned, she will be moved into the lodgings I’ve procured for her, or return to live with her mother, it matters not to me. She won’t be involved in his raising.”
“And if you have a girl?” I scratched viciously at the back of my neck trying to ground my emotions. A habit Justin despised. Right now I could find a reason to care about Justin’s likes or dislikes.
“There are no laws banning a female from being a Lock Lord. It has been done in the past. Although whomever my daughter marries will have to take her name in order to keep the family line alive.”
With the low birthrates encouraged within a walled city, the proud Lords had to bend and allow women in their ranks. Still, those females were rarely given more than a fraction of the respect offered freely to their male counterparts.
I folded my arms. “And you don’t plan on having a spare heir?” With infant mortality rates most lords tried for at least two sometimes three. To only have one and hope it survives childhood was the height of folly.
Justin cleared his throat. “Not right away.”
My shoulders sank. I had no fight left. “You’ll have to hope the baby doesn’t inherit her temperament,” I taunted. The one time I met Minerva Grace she sniffed at me as if I were a pile of dung she longed to scrape off Justin’s shoes. My fondness for her didn’t increase when she subsequently flashed my lover a coquettish smile and tried to drag him from my side. She failed, but I still remember the scheming light in her eyes. Now that I know she was pregnant with Justin’s seed, her behavior made far more sense than mild jealousy. She had plans and with his baby she had the means to get her way no matter how pretty the contract. No legalese would stop a pregnant woman with a marriage glint in her eyes. I knew when I was outmatched.
“Like I said, she will have little to do with the child once it is weaned.”
Poor delusional man. Minerva would have years of contact with Justin. Despite what he might think, they would share an emotional connection through their child. For all that he was hailed as a political genius, he showed little sense when it came to his personal life.
I was an excellent example.
“I think you should go,” I blurted out. No sense in dragging our relationship through its funeral dirge. Justin and I might not have been a grand romance, but I had trusted him with my heart. It proved to be a bad, but not irrevocable, decision. I planned crawl into bed and stay there for the next month, or until Oss came to haul me out.
“Dear, be reasonable.”
“I’ve lost my reason along with my heart. Just leave.” I lacked the spark of true fury. He had taken away my fire.
Justin straightened his waistcoat, then brushed imaginary dust off the shoulder of his bespoke suit with a flick of his lean fingers. His outfit probably cost more than the building we stood inside. I forced my attention to the other side of the room toward the cobweb trailing across the corner of my parlor window, and away from memories of what else those skilled, elegant digits could do. He was too handsome for my shaky resolve.
He cleared his throat. “I can see you aren’t ready to discuss this like civilized gentlemen. When you wish to speak rationally, send me a message.”
”I am being rational. My daggers are still upstairs.” They were a particularly fine set. Last year’s birthday present from Oss.
“Did Octavius teach you how to throw them?” Justin’s voice took on a nervous edge.
It might be petty, but it brought out the first smile from me since we started this conversation. Octavius Septimus Stark, also known as Oss, might be a mean fucker, but he was also a good friend, and the lover of Justin’s brother Hawthorne. Oss had a vicious reputation with his blades, well-earned, and constantly reinforced.
“Yes, he did.” A vicious smile curved my lips. I dared to glance over to admire the pleasing pallor of Justin’s tanned skin.
“I love you, Marbrey, please remember that.”
“I’ll remember that I heard the news of your baby’s impending birth from an almost stranger because you have no spine,” I spat. I might not be the best choice for a duke’s lover but until now I had been his choice.
Justin’s expression went from pleading to stern. “You knew about my family obligations when we first got together. I can’t just set them aside to follow my heart.”
“I didn’t ask you to abandon your obligations. I just expected you to keep me informed about any decisions involving us.” I’d stated and restated my complaints for the past hour, and I was tired to the bone.
“This has nothing to do with us. It happened before there was an us.” Frustration filled his voice as he repeated the same false words, he insisted were true.
“And it will continue to happen after.” I sighed. “Out. Justin, go away. I can’t deal with you right now.”
“I’ll await your message.” His stiff voice lacked its usual warmth.
“You do that.” Let him wait forever. The pain from this failed relationship would haunt me for many lonely years.
“Come lock the door behind me.”
Obediently I followed him to the front door. My entanglement with aristocracy was never going to have a happy ending. Better I learn that now. Oss might be able to fall into bed and in love with a second son, but I had set my sights too high when I tumbled for a lord.
Our relationship would have gone smoother if Lear wasn’t a duke and I wasn’t an ex-street rat who lived only a few tottering baby steps from squalor. Differences between us, both social and economic, had never been more apparent.
Justin opened the front door. After a final forlorn glance, I slammed the door behind him then engaged the multiple locks with vicious tugs. It was only after I heard him whisper goodbye, and the click of his expensive boots walking away that I freed the tears I’d been holding at bay.
Harsh sobs burst from my chest, releasing the torrent of sorrow my pride had held back. I collapsed against the door then slid to the carpet, shaking. Minutes, hours, I lost track of time as I purged my body of every inch of moisture. Eventually my throat became too raw to continue and the bitter ashes of my relationship rested sourly on my tongue.
I had wanted Justin to tell me that the washerwoman’s words had been unfounded; a product of base lies and unsubstantiated rumors. Most of the city knew Justin had taken me to his bed and only a handful approved. Two out of the three of them were friends of mine, the last my erstwhile lover.
No one warns you that when you finally touch a star, the heavens punish you for your temerity.