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Amazon | Amber Kell Books | ARe

For those of you who haven’t gotten a chance to purchase Mate Call yet. I thought I’d help you choose your weekend read🙂

Chapter One

Colton Lanx clenched his fingers around the console, clinging for his life as the starship shuddered through a meteor field. The large planet quickly growing closer on their right sent tendrils of fear through him. This wasn’t the course he’d set. Somehow they’d strayed far from his original coordinates.

“We’re too close!”

“Don’t be an idiot!” Captain Jael snarled. “I did those calculations myself.”

Colt’s short temper spiked. “What do you mean you did them?” Anger pushed down Colt’s fear. He’d spent hours making sure they had the proper trajectory to make it safely through the narrow slice of space between Dragait and the planets, moons, and meteors surrounding it. The slightest error could result in being pulled into a planet’s gravitational field. Any change in Colt’s numbers could be catastrophic.

“I didn’t trust your calculations, so I entered my own.”

Jael’s smug tone had Colt biting the inside of his cheek until he tasted blood. His self-control, never strong on a good day, broke under the pressure. “Do you have a degree in starship navigation, Captain?”

He didn’t bother to keep the sharp edge out of his voice. As far as he knew, the captain only had degrees in starship management and tooth whitening. Neither skill gave Captain Jael the ability to properly compute the correct passage around any spot in space.

The captain bristled. “Watch your tone, Lanx. Any idiot can type in a few numbers. The ship does all the real work. I don’t need any fancy papers to do your job.”

Colt had suspected the captain’s stupidity before, but it had never been so clearly exhibited as then. He brushed off Jael’s slights on his training. After two months on board, he was no longer surprised over the captain’s opinion of navigators.

Colt was careful not to look at his hands as he discreetly slid his right index finger beneath the console to press the record button. Despite changing the coordinates, Jael would blame him if they crashed. Jaw clenched, he made a quick examination of Jael’s numbers… he’d need dental surgery after this flight, if the crash didn’t kill him first. “You entered the wrong trajectory!”

“Then fix it! What the fuck do we have you for?” Captain Jael’s shout reached ear-splitting levels.

Colt winced and frantically tried to input new coordinates. Before he could tap more than a few keys, however, warning lights lit the panel brighter than the fire planet Freil.

The proximity siren blared, alerting the crew of their dangerous closeness to the planet Dragait.

If the captain had listened to Colt yesterday, they wouldn’t be in this situation. He’d told Jael over and over that they were too close to the planet’s gravitational field, but as usual, Jael had ignored his advice. Colt should’ve jumped ship at the last port. Instead he’d ignored his instincts for the chance to see Dragait, the planet where his father had grown up but never returned to. Now, instead of a nice flyby with a few memorable photos, they would all be crushed by the ship’s kiss with Dragait’s gravity. Maybe his father had been right when he called it a dangerous planet.

Colt’s father, Seltin Lanx, had left Dragait as a young man and always claimed he’d gone because of a compulsive need to explore the stars. Maybe Colt would’ve believed him if his father didn’t always change the subject when Colt asked why he never returned.

Colt’s parents had been planetary travelers since before his birth and had continued their journeys after Colt left them to pursue his own schooling. He’d never met any couple as in love as his mother and father. Dragon-bonded, his father had declared them. Maybe one day Colt would find a bondmate of his own. Even if he couldn’t shift into a dragon like his father, he longed for the same connection his parents shared. But none of the men or women he’d dated came near to inspiring any kind of devotion.

Colt joined the Exploration Guild fresh out of training, eager to continue his space study. The Guild’s stated mission was to act as mediators between worlds in order to smooth out shipping lanes and political differences. Unfortunately, Captain Jael didn’t have the sense of a Mecrofilian mud bunny. How Jael had reached the rank of captain baffled Colt on a good day and irritated him on the other ones. Jael must be related to someone influential, otherwise his crew would’ve stripped him of his duties years ago, or beaten him to death.

“Bear left,” Lieutenant Phelps, Jael’s right-hand man, ordered.

Colt privately believed the lieutenant had his lips surgically attached to the captain’s ass. Not once had Phelps contradicted any of Jael’s orders, no matter how idiotic they were.

“I’ve got it!” Colt snapped. Typing madly, he tried to counteract Jael’s coordinates. Now wasn’t the time for Phelps to try to learn how to navigate.

“You’re going to crash us, you fool,” Jael shouted.

“I’m trying to countermand your ridiculous orders!” Colt banged on the console when the computer beeped its disdain over his input.

“Address me with respect, Navigator!” Jael’s blustering demand rolled off Colt’s emotional shield of indifference.

“I will when you earn it.” Colt typed in another set of coordinates, barely holding back a scream when it had little impact. Nothing he entered appeared to make too much difference. “Right now I’m trying to save us from crashing and dying.”

“Phelps, take over. Ensign Talword, go lock Navigator Lanx in the brig for his insubordination,” Jael ordered.

“Are you fucking crazy? We’re about to crash, and you’re worried about protocol!” Colt shouted.

Jael’s blotchy face turned redder in his fury. “Remove him!”

Colt glared at Phelps, then Jael. “If you get us killed, I will haunt you both into the afterlife!”

Phelps paled.

Talword grabbed Colt’s arm and dragged him away.

“When I’m done reporting you, you’ll be lucky if they put you in charge of a barge!” Colt shouted as Talword pulled him off the bridge.

Guild Admiral Killan Stanforth would demote Jael to scrubbing ship floors after he heard the recording. Uncle Killan had been the reason Colt joined the Guild instead of going independent.

“You should’ve kept that threat to yourself,” Talword warned. “You don’t want to have an accident while in the brig.”

“If I’m killed, my uncle, Admiral Stanforth, will destroy everyone on this ship. You don’t want to know what happened to the pirates who attacked my parents’ vessel. They were begging to die in the end.” Colt didn’t usually like to name-drop, but he’d reached the end of his patience with this crew. A bunch of sheep, led by an idiot, who would be Colt’s downfall.

Talword opened the door to the brig, then pushed Colt inside, making him stumble and topple onto the only bunk.

“Brace yourself, Tal, we’re going to crash. You’d best go find an escape pod instead of going back to the bridge,” Colt warned.

Talword made a scoffing noise in the back of his throat. “We’ll be fine. Captain Jael will get us out of this. You’re just trying to scare everyone.” But Talword’s worried expression didn’t match his words.

Colt snorted. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“I won’t.”

Talword’s scornful glare didn’t reassure Colt. People who depended on others to think for them were dangerous. But even with his blind belief in the captain, Talword didn’t deserve to die—none of them did.

Talword programmed the door shut before walking away; his stomping steps echoed against the metal floor. Colt hoped Talword would pass the news of their imminent demise to the rest of the crew. The sooner people headed for the crash pods, the better their chances of escape before the ship collided with Dragait. The crew’s survival rate would plummet if the pods were sucked into Dragait’s atmosphere.

It wasn’t ego that had Colt declaring he was the only one who could fix the navigation problem. He had been running his father’s ship long before the legal age to fly. Colt’s flying skills saved more than one mission. Navigation school had been an easy pass, and he had graduated with honors with little effort.

But now it was time to abandon ship and use the survival instincts instilled in him by his father.

“Computer, release lock.” Colt could almost hear Seltin’s calm voice in his head: Expect nothing, but anticipate everything. After meeting Captain Jael, Colt reprogrammed the ship’s computer to accept his orders. He hadn’t anticipated this exact event, but he’d suspected Jael’s ego would eventually put them in a situation where Colt would need to escape.

A shudder shook the ship.

Fuck!

“Command acknowledged.” A loud click reverberated through the small cell before the door slid open.

Colt peeked through the doorway, but no one stood outside his prison cell. No doubt Talword expected him to stay put and had gone to save his own ass instead. Colt couldn’t blame him. The culture on the ship was to save yourself first; there was little honor among the crew. They all wanted to be the one to discover a new species or planet, or to bring back a new alien contract to the higher-ups. They might claim to be a pacifist company formed to spread interplanetary peace, but underneath all the hype lived a soulless corporation that wanted to reap whatever it could from other civilizations.

Since all the people who knew of Colt’s incarceration were on the bridge, he didn’t bother hiding. He nodded to other crewmembers as he passed, but he didn’t speak. He couldn’t risk them putting him back in the brig.

Colt wished there was another way he could warn the others, but he hadn’t grown close to any of them during his time as a crewmember. As far as he could see, they all thought the captain knew what he was doing. None of them listened when Colt tried to tell them otherwise. After enough scornful looks and whispers that he was trying to start a mutiny, he stopped cautioning the rest of the crew and left them to their self-inflicted blindness.

The corridor split before him. Colt headed right. He might be court-martialed for this, but he refused to go down with the ship. Emergency pods were at the end of the corridor, and Colt planned to be on one when the ship broke apart. He’d just reached the first stairwell when the ship-wide emergency announcements began.

“Prepare for impact. Prepare for impact,” the ship’s computer blared.

Colt ran back to the computer panel he’d just passed, and activated the preparation of the pods. He doubted the captain would think of emergency procedures during an actual emergency. Jael had no common sense, and Phelps didn’t seem to have any either.

Pods prepared for evacuation.” The computer’s voice echoed through the hallway, repeating the phrase over and over, accompanied by flashing arrows lighting the way to the transports.

The escape pods would drop from the ship as soon as they reached capacity. Colt’s conscience assuaged, he continued to the stairs and toward the hatchway. He would bet good money that Jael had already abandoned the ship. The captain kept a small shuttle to fly to other planets and scout before the official parties landed. It was an open secret, but Jael thought his sly maneuverings went undetected. Colt didn’t trust him not to flee and leave the crew to deal with the aftermath.

The starship tilted again. Colt’s foot slid on the metal stair, sending him tumbling to the bottom. His face slammed against the steel floor, his ears rang, and liquid trickled down his right cheek. In shock, he grabbed the railing to pull himself upright. He wavered for a moment before stiffening his spine and releasing his grip from the support.

He didn’t have time to deal with minor injuries or possible head trauma; he could worry about the damage after he got off the ship and avoided imminent death.

The thunder of footsteps above propelled Colt farther down the corridor. If he didn’t hurry, all the pods would be taken. No one cared about courtesy during an evacuation.

Proximity alarms blared louder. They were getting closer to Dragait.

“Fuck!” Colt’s ankle throbbed, and a stabbing pain speared his head with the agony of a thousand fiery knives. Sucking in a breath, he hobbled to the pods. With his luck, he’d be the one who missed out on escaping because he’d tried to alert everyone else to danger.

Dragait’s gravitational field must have completely taken control of the ship’s trajectory despite Jael’s bravado. Sweat trickled down Colt’s spine as he limped as fast as he could toward the escape hatches. Blood dripped from his cut and slid down his face. Each siren burst added to the brutal pounding inside his skull. Only his survival instinct kept him moving instead of giving up. His parents hadn’t raised a quitter, and he wouldn’t shame them now.

Even with a pod, the odds of surviving weren’t great. Colt was counting on his half-dragon-shifter genetics to help him through his injuries. He’d always been quicker to heal than ordinary humans had. Now, it might be the only thing keeping him alive—if he avoided Dragait’s pull.

He purposely headed to the last section of escape ships. The other bays would empty first, and he didn’t want anyone seeing him before he escaped. If Jael and Phelps hadn’t already abandoned the vessel, he didn’t trust them to prevent him from leaving.

A door slid open as he approached. Colt stumbled through the opening, collapsed against the wall, and didn’t move again until he caught his breath. A few minutes and a couple of siren alerts later, he gathered enough energy to slide along the wall and reach the keypad. He activated the external camera, looking for stragglers, but didn’t see anyone else heading his way.

Evacuate ship. Collision imminent,” the computer warned once again.

“Computer, is anyone entering the hallway?” Colt wouldn’t release the pod if someone remained behind.

“No other life forms remain on board.”

As he’d expected, no one had gone looking for him.

He strapped in. With the crew evacuated, his conscience was clear. “Release the pod.”

“Command acknowledged.”

A loud snapping noise had Colt gripping the handrails mounted on either side of the seat. The tiny ship must have broken free from the main vessel. The pod’s jets activated to push away from the larger ship. Colt focused his attention on trying not to hurl as his headache caused his stomach to swirl uneasily.

Heartsick with dread, he lifted the window flap, revealing a sea of stars. Abruptly the pod spun, and before Colt’s horrified gaze, the main ship crashed into Dragait’s atmosphere. The explosion wasn’t any less terrible for the lack of sound.

A lump of terror grew in his chest as he watched a string of pods sucked into the planet afterward. Flares of bright red around the emergency shuttles weren’t reassuring.

“I hope someone finds me before I join them.” The pod had limited jet capacity. Unless he floated closer to the atmosphere, he wouldn’t waste the little craft’s energy.

Colt leaned against the headrest, trying to breathe through the pounding in his head.

Would anyone come looking for him and the rest of the crew when the ship didn’t make contact? Had Jael pressed the emergency tracking button and ejected the beacon? Captains were responsible for alerting the authorities if a ship was going down so rescuers would know where to look for survivors. Colt couldn’t depend on Jael to be that responsible.

He pulled open the small cabinet beside him, revealing dozens of energy bars and rows of bottled water. “At least someone did their job.”

His fear of being in an unstocked pod faded. If he rationed his supplies, and barring a collision, he could survive for a few weeks.

Coordinates?” the computer asked.

“I don’t know,” Colt whispered.

What the hell did he do now? Pods weren’t meant for long-range travel. The most he could hope for was to make it to the next space outpost, but without the larger ship’s computer, he had no way of knowing which direction to travel.

Colt gripped the safety harness, clinging to his sense of security. His gaze kept drifting back to the other pods. Dozens of orbs floated in space around him. How many of them were going to survive?

A large eyeball appeared outside the window, and all his thoughts derailed.

Whoa!” Colt jerked back, only to be held tight by the safety harness. The belt allowed him a mere few inches of movement, and he’d used them all when he tried to scoot away. He resisted the urge to unbuckle and flee to the other side of the pod. It wouldn’t do him any good if the creature decided to attack.

“What are you doing so far from home, little dragon? You should be down below.”

The words whispered in his head like a warm, calming breeze and vanished his panic.

“Who are you?” The beast outside must have sensed Colt’s dragon-shifter blood. The fine scales around the visible eye reminded him of a dragon, but he’d never seen one so large before, and how could it survive without oxygen?

“I am Baroy, Duke Tor’s bonded space dragon. You must go down and find your mate. Shifters shouldn’t be alone.”

“I don’t think I have a mate, and I’m only a half shifter.” Colt didn’t have enough dragon DNA to transform into a dragon. “Besides, entry into the atmosphere may kill me.”

Escape pods were meant to remain in space and keep you safe until help arrived. According to the studies he’d read, pods had a 50 percent chance of survival when crashing through a planet’s atmosphere. Colt didn’t like those odds. He preferred a 100 percent survival rate.

“I will keep you safe.”

Colt didn’t know what to say to Baroy. What limited information he knew about space dragons rattled about inside his head with less content than a particle of space dust. He’d never met anyone who’d seen one before, not even his parents, and they’d traveled across several galaxies. “Thanks. I’d appreciate your help.”

Any other response could get him crushed in his tiny space pod, like a walnut in a nutcracker. He didn’t know why the large dragon wished to save him, but he was short of options or a proper plan at the moment. He would take any help offered.

A low rumble rolled through Colt’s head. It took him a second to recognize the sound as Baroy’s laughter.

“Be safe, little dragon.”

Colt didn’t know how he was a little dragon, since he’d never transformed, but he didn’t plan on arguing. If Baroy wanted to call him a little dragon, he’d take it. Most creatures in the universe were little compared to a space dragon.

The pod jerked and shook like a boat on rough waters. Colt tightened his grip on the handles on either side of his seat and swallowed back a scream. It wouldn’t matter if he made it to the surface if the descent killed him. The pod’s sensors blared a proximity siren as he plummeted toward Dragait. Colt’s stomach roiled, his knuckles turned white from the force of his grip, and his hands went numb.

“Please don’t let me die, please don’t let me die,” he whispered to any higher power that might be listening.

Fear chilled him, twisting him up inside. He’d never known true terror until right then, and he barely remembered to breathe. For countless minutes there was nothing but spinning and falling, and his fear only grew as he kept tumbling. He stayed focused on the window, but all he could see was clouds and more clouds. Was he passing through a storm, or did the planet generally have clouds around it? Just as he got used to nothing but clouds and blue sky, areas of green came into view. Lush vegetation passed by the window and caught Colt’s imagination as he pictured all the animals that could be living there.

He didn’t get much time to wonder before the pod slammed into the ground.

Colt’s teeth rattled in his head, and his body shook as the pod slid across the ground then rolled over and over until the lunch Colt had eaten earlier threatened to decorate the inside of the ship.

Finally the pod crashed against something hard. Colt smashed his head against the metal wall.

Then everything went black.

Out Now!

Keeping Kylen It 400

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A volte, innamorarsi è la parte più facile.

Kylen è diventato sovrano del popolo fatato, ma sente la mancanza del suo compagno. Il dubbio se i fatati siano o meno capaci di legarsi ad altri è risolto quando Kylen scopre di non riuscire più a mangiare o a dormire. Il suo popolo teme che non sia un buon re e, a onor del vero, Kylen non vuole esserlo. I suoi unici desideri sarebbero coccolare Farro, giocare col loro figlio e vivere per sempre felice e contento. Ma a volte la vita non dà quello di cui si ha bisogno.

 

* * *

“Papà, dov’è il papi?”

Sammy era fermo sulla soglia della camera di Farro, l’orsacchiotto che gli penzolava dalla manina. Il pigiama blu lo copriva dalla testa ai piedi. Farro scacciò via le lacrime che gli inumidirono gli occhi al ricordo di come Kylen avesse insistito per comprare a Sammy una coppia di pigiama di ciascun colore. Lui si era opposto solo quando il suo compagno aveva indicato quelli con le orecchie da coniglio. Nemmeno il sorriso colmo di speranza di Kylen era riuscito a persuaderlo a vestire suo figlio, per metà mutaforma, come una preda.

Allontanando il ricordo, Farro andò da suo figlio e si inginocchiò per portarsi al suo livello. Prese tra le mani quelle, più piccole, di Sammy.

Il groppo che aveva alla gola rendeva difficile parlare, ma ce la fece. “Il papi non tornerà a casa. Ne abbiamo già parlato. Ha trovato un lavoro che lo ha obbligato a trasferirsi. Ti vuole ancora bene, ma non tornerà mai più.”

Nonostante fosse furioso per il modo in cui Kylen li aveva lasciati, Farro non dubitava che il suo compagno volesse ancora bene al loro figlio. Aveva solo bisogno di un bel calcio nel sedere. Negli ultimi quattro mesi, Farro aveva offerto a Sammy diverse variazioni sul tema ‘il papi non tornerà più’, e ogni volta le parole gli avevano lasciato l’amaro in bocca. Sammy, dal canto suo, rifiutava di credere che l’uomo che lo aveva adorato follemente lo avesse abbandonato con una breve lettera e senza guardarsi indietro.

Farro non poteva farne una colpa a suo figlio. A volte, lui stesso aveva difficoltà a crederci. Sfortunatamente, aveva dovuto accettare la verità: Kylen non sarebbe tornato. Mai più. Il lupo interiore di Farro guaì infelice.

“Perché non può tornare?” Sammy, con l’innocenza di un bambino, si aspettava una spiegazione semplice.

Prima che potesse trattenersi, a Farro sfuggì un sospiro. “Ora è il capo del popolo fatato. Loro hanno bisogno che li governi.”

“Noi abbiamo più bisogno di lui. Dovresti andare a prenderlo.” Sammy inclinò la testa e fissò il padre con severità. Nel suo mondo, non c’era nulla che il papà non potesse fare. E Farro odiava deluderlo.

“Non è così semplice.” Si alzò e incrociò le braccia. Aveva bisogno di ogni genere di vantaggio. Diversamente dalle altre occasioni in cui aveva spiegato la scomparsa di Kylen, questa volta Sammy non pareva incline a lasciar cadere il discorso. Beh, lui non intendeva essere da meno. Non aveva la minima intenzione di andare a riprendersi quello stronzo che aveva abbandonato la sua famiglia con delle parole scritte su lettera. Non gli importava quanto l’idea di andarsene avesse fatto soffrire Kylen, almeno secondo Anthony. Kylen se n’era andato – fine della storia. Il lupo di Farro poteva anche struggersi per la perdita dell’altra sua metà, ma la sua parte umana era più tenace e non intendeva sottomettersi ai bisogni della bestia.

“Ma si è perso!” strillò Sammy – un suono stridente, acuto, che fece sussultare Farro.

“Cosa te lo fa pensare?” Quello era un approccio diverso dagli altri usati in precedenza da Sammy, e lui doveva ammettere di essere curioso al riguardo. Suo figlio diventava sempre più creativo quando si trattava di invocare il ritorno a casa di Kylen.

“Me lo hai detto tu che se non sono dove dovrei essere, vuol dire che mi sono perso. Il papi dovrebbe essere qui, dunque si è perso anche lui. Devi andare a cercarlo.” Gli occhioni di Sammy erano colmi di lacrime.

Farro non aveva alcun bisogno di andare a cercare Kylen – sapeva benissimo dove si trovava. Glielo diceva il suo spirito. La presenza di Kylen permaneva nella sua mente come una ferita infetta, procurandogli un dolore costante. Era connesso per l’eternità a un uomo che aveva abbandonato la sua famiglia, ma che non avrebbe mai potuto lasciarlo del tutto. Ora si spiegava l’aria afflitta di Silver dopo la scomparsa di Anthony. Farro aveva già scritto una lettera in cui affidava a Dare e Steven la custodia di Sammy nel caso in cui lui avesse perso il senno per lo stress dovuto all’abbandono del compagno. Dare adorava Sammy come se fosse figlio suo e Steven gli avrebbe impedito di viziarlo troppo.

Farro riportò l’attenzione sul figlio. Gli occhi di Sammy luccicavano per le lacrime e la stretta sul peluche gli aveva sbiancato le nocche. Mordendosi il labbro inferiore, Farro annuì.

“Andrò a parlare con lui,” acconsentì. Il suo lupo ululò di gioia al pensiero di rivedere il loro compagno. Quell’impresa avrebbe guarito Farro, oppure lo avrebbe distrutto.

Ma doveva tentare, se non altro per poter dire a Sammy che aveva fatto del suo meglio per recuperare l’altro genitore. Il posto di Kylen non era presso il popolo fatato; era con lui e Sammy. Farro si era trattenuto dal fare alcunché perché pensava che Kylen preferisse essere re piuttosto che il suo compagno. La lettera che aveva scritto era servita a chiarire la situazione, ma almeno quel bastardo avrebbe potuto recarsi di persona a spezzare il cuoricino di Sammy. Dopo aver decantato l’importanza dei bambini presso il suo popolo, aveva fatto presto ad abbandonarne uno che aveva dichiarato di considerare come proprio.

“Andrò a cercarlo domani,” promise Farro, il cuore che pulsava in preda all’ansia. Non sapeva cosa sarebbe accaduto, ma non poteva deludere Sammy. Doveva almeno provare.

“Portalo a casa. Nessuno racconta le storie bene come il papi.” L’espressione di Sammy non mostrava il minimo dubbio: il bambino era certo che Farro gli avrebbe riportato il suo papi.

“Farò del mio meglio.” Farro non aveva grandi speranze di tornare a casa con Kylen. Quella non era una storia romantica dove una singola occhiata al suo compagno avrebbe spinto Kylen a rinunciare a un regno per amor suo. Se fosse stato quello il caso, Kylen avrebbe già fatto ritorno.

Ma Farro avrebbe fatto qualunque cosa pur di rendere felice suo figlio, e se questo significava rapire il sovrano del popolo fatato e dare inizio a una guerra tra specie… beh, a volte alcuni sacrifici si rendevano davvero necessari – inclusi quelli di esseri viventi. Aveva rivendicato il possesso di Kylen con tutti i crismi; era ora di riprenderselo.

 

Farro attese fino al mattino per recarsi dai capibranco. Anthony venne ad aprirgli con indosso solo i pantaloni del pigiama e in braccio il suo adorabile figlio. Farro lanciò cautamente un’occhiata al bambino. Trin posò su di lui uno sguardo fisso che, proveniente da un bambino così piccolo, risultava molto snervante.

“Cosa posso fare per te?” Anthony voltò la testa. Una zampa di lupo argentata brillava in alto sulla sua guancia come un tatuaggio magico. Zeus gli aveva lasciato il suo marchio; non solo il dio era il nonno di Anthony, ma lo considerava anche uno dei suoi pochi discendenti favoriti. Farro si sentiva ancora in colpa per ciò che Anthony aveva dovuto soffrire a causa della sua ostilità.

“Posso entrare?” Non voleva chiedere quello che doveva chiedere in corridoio.

“Ma certo.” Anthony si fece da parte. “Ti chiedo scusa, ma questo qui ha deciso di voler giocare di mattina presto.”

Farro annuì. “Sammy ha avuto una fase durante la quale mi svegliava tutte le mattine.”

“Davvero? E lo faceva generando una tempesta in salotto?” Anthony aggrottò la fronte all’indirizzo di suo figlio, il quale rispose sorridendo e dandogli una pacchetta sulla guancia con la manina paffuta.

“Ehm, no.” Forse le loro esperienze non erano poi tanto simili.

Anthony sospirò. Agitò una mano e il salotto si rimise a posto da solo. L’acqua svanì e il divano si asciugò.

“Comodo.”

Silver entrò nella stanza annusando l’aria. Diversamente da Anthony, indossava una maglietta e un paio di pantaloni della tuta. “Solo io sento odore di pioggia?”

“Lasciamo perdere,” rispose Anthony.

Lo sguardo di Silver si posò sul figlio. “Come non detto.”

Prese in braccio Trin e lo cullò. “Buongiorno, Farro. Vuoi del caffè?”

“No, grazie. Speravo che Anthony potesse portarmi nella dimensione del popolo fatato. Sammy insiste nel dire che devo riportare a casa Kylen. Speravo di poterlo convincere a scrivergli una lettera o qualcosa del genere. Una prova concreta del fatto che il suo papi non tornerà.” Farro sapeva di suonare amareggiato, ma non poteva farci nulla.

Anthony si accigliò. “Non puoi attraversare il portale senza avere con te un membro del popolo fatato.”

“Tu non vai da nessuna parte,” intimò Silver al compagno. “Io non tornerò mai più in quel regno e non lo farai nemmeno tu.”

Il tono dell’alfa era talmente autoritario da spingere Farro a pensare che persino Anthony non avrebbe osato contraddirlo. Vide il semidio aprire bocca e chiuderla senza parlare. “Già, di sicuro non tornerò da quelle parti per un bel pezzo.”

“O mai,” aggiunse corrucciato Silver.

Farro seguì con lo sguardo l’alfa andare in cucina per preparare il caffè. Anthony mise a terra Trin. Il bambino si mise a gattonare, senza dubbio in cerca di altri guai.

“Come faccio ad andare di là, allora?”

Dopo un attimo di riflessione, Anthony rispose: “Potrei mandarti assieme ai gemelli. L’ultimo re dei fatati oscuri è morto; dovresti essere al sicuro anche se a scortarti saranno solo loro.”

“Credi che sarebbero disposti a farlo? Non amano lasciare solo Gabe.” I gemelli fatati, Viell e Vien, era notoriamente ossessionati dal loro compagno mutaforma. Farro si stupiva del fatto che gli avessero permesso di continuare a lavorare nello studio di Anthony; probabilmente confidavano nel fatto che il compagno dell’alfa lo avrebbe tenuto d’occhio al posto loro.

Anthony si strinse nelle spalle. “Non possono portarlo con loro. Come ti ho detto, non dovrebbero esserci problemi. Posso darti un braccialetto del ritorno automatico in modo che tu possa rientrare alla conclusione del viaggio, nel caso dovessi rimanere bloccato. Oggi chiederò loro di farmi questo favore.”

“Grazie.” Farro si sentì travolto dal sollievo. Perlomeno stava facendo qualcosa. Avrebbe potuto dire a Sammy che avrebbe parlato con Kylen. Non poteva promettergli il suo ritorno, ma se non altro avrebbe potuto dirgli di averlo visto. “Credi che Dare potrebbe occuparsi di Sammy mentre sono via?”

“Alleggerirò il suo carico di lavoro come barista, se dovesse servire,” si offrì Silver.

Era quello il motivo per cui Farro era felice di far parte di un branco: in caso di necessità, tutti si facevano avanti per aiutare chi ne aveva bisogno. Silver sembrava non aver nemmeno pensato di dirgli di trovarsi un babysitter meno impegnato o di cavarsela da solo. Entrambi i membri della coppia alfa si erano subito offerti di fare del loro meglio per aiutarlo a risolvere i suoi problemi. E nessuno di loro aveva cercato di convincerlo a cambiare idea.

“Grazie. Vi sono grato per il vostro aiuto,” disse in tono formale. Un groppo alla gola lo costrinse a ricacciare indietro le lacrime.

Anthony gli strinse una spalla. “Ehi, andrà tutto bene. Vai a trovarlo. Se non altro potrà scrivere una lettera a Sammy.”

“Il minimo che quel bastardo possa fare,” ringhiò lui.

“Chiamo i gemelli per chiedere quando potrebbero partire,” si offrì Silver.

Farro annuì. “Va bene.”

Trascorse il tempo a camminare in cerchio mentre Silver telefonava. L’alfa tornò qualche minuto dopo. “Se vuoi andare a casa e fare le valigie, loro saranno pronti tra qualche ora.”

Farro scosse la testa. “Grazie.” Si chiese se Gabe fosse consapevole del fatto che c’era un viaggio in programma.

Blog Story Post #15

Sorry I didn’t get this to you last week. I had to review the story since it had been so long since I’d written it. I’m still not sure where I’m going with this. Feel free to offer suggestions. LOL!!

Vin rubbed his eyes relishing the burn. If his eyes still hurt at least he knew he was awake. Teleporting every night to see his mate took more out of him than he thought it would. He still had a few years left at college he didn’t know if he could keep it up at this pace. His classes this term had become harder as the year progressed and once he went to see Loren, the vampire didn’t want him to study. It hadn’t take more than a few visits for Vin to realize Loren didn’t care if Vin did well in school or not. As far as Loren was concerned Vin’s job was to be Loren’s mate and anything else he wished to do was secondary. If he never finished school Loren would be fine with that.

He teleported from his dorm room into Loren’s bedroom. A soft pop followed his leaving.

“Evening my mate,” Loren said.

“Good evening.” Vin wrapped his arms around Loren and rested his head on Loren’s shoulder.

“Tired?”

“Yes.”

Loren rubbed Vin’s back. A long sighed slid out of him as tension fell away beneath his mate’s touch. As much as Loren was a difficult vampire with old-fashioned ideals Vin couldn’t say Loren didn’t try to show he cared. As the vampire leader Loren didn’t show much emotion outside their bedroom but he never held back a smile or the soft squeeze of his hand if he thought Vin needed a bit of affection.

“Maybe you should cut back on some of your classes. Your schedule appears to be wearing you down.”

Vin laughed as he stepped out of the shelter of Loren’s arms. “I don’t think it’s the schedule. If I got some sleep I’d be doing fine. Between my early morning classes and late nights with you I’m running on fumes.”

He ignored the fact he was taking a heavy load. If he took both non-magical and magical classes he would learn more. Only studying one half of the world’s population didn’t help anyone. If he was truly going to be a cop he needed to understand all people not just the ones he knew best. Paranormals were easier to understand than humans. Humans made no sense.

“Come. Let’s get you some food. We’ll have to readjust your schedule next semester so you have later classes.”

Vin dumped his backpack on the bed ignoring Loren’s wince. He followed Loren out of the room as he tried to explain how that wouldn’t work. “A lot of the classes I can get into only have morning options. Afternoon and evening classes are harder to get since a lot of working professionals snatch those up first.”

Loren rubbed Vin’s shoulder. “We’ll work it out. I know some people on the school board. If I have to I’ll have them override your class schedule.”

Vin opened his mouth to object then closed it. It was an ethically questionable way to get his schedule and he didn’t want special treatment. But then he had to consider how many more of his classmates had to deal with late nights with their vampire mate while taking twenty credits. “Fair enough.”

He tried not to resent how much Loren’s wide smile made him warm inside. It was almost disgusting how easily Loren manipulated him.

 

Moon Pack Monday – Anthony

wolf

*waves* I got it done on Monday. Well it is in my time zone so it counts. :p

****

People always assumed it was the wolf or vampire or fae partner in a relationship that had all the possessive urges. Anthony swirled his cognac a few more times as he watched another shifter sidle up to Silver with flirty eyes and a beguiling smile. He’d lost count of them since they’d walked into the statewide wolf shifter meeting. He resisted the urge to start a lightning storm in the middle of the ballroom…barely.

“Are you going to do anything about that?” Ben scooted closer to Anthony and nodded toward the group around Silver.

Anthony flashed a man sniffing too close to Ben a murderous look. The shifter must’ve sensed Anthony’s power, he spun around and rushed in the opposite direction. “Like what? If I challenged them I would look insecure. It’s not like Silver is suddenly going to decide he’d prefer a wolf mate.”

If he told himself that enough times he might even start to believe it. There were many shifters at the meeting who would give up a wolf paw if it meant a spot in Silver’s bed.

Ben laughed and almost spilled his beer. “I don’t know which would be more dangerous. Silver’s reaction to someone trying to take your spot by his side or your reaction. Just remember incinerating people doesn’t build positive connections with the other packs.”

“That’s why I’m over here,” Anthony said wryly. He couldn’t chance punching anyone who crowded him while trying to get closer to his mate. “I’m practicing my control.”

Ben eyed the tight grip Anthony had on his glass. “So far so good.”

“It’s only for another hour.” Anthony cast a longing glance toward the big clock on the wall. He could hold out.

“That woman is touching Silver’s chest. I might not be the most dominate wolf but I’d rip out the throat of anyone doing that to one of my mates.” Ben’s calm, casual tone held the low growl of his inner wolf.

Anthony smiled at Ben. Everyone underestimated the shy accountant. Ben might not be as big and bulky as an alpha or beta shifter but he had reserves of strength and he would protect his own.

“I promised myself I wouldn’t interfere with Silver talking to other wolves. It’s one of those things. You wolves are touchy feely. If she kisses him I’ll fry her where she stands.”

The brush of someone to his left had Anthony turning to face a handsome wolf shifter with striking blue eyes and an Alpha aura. “Excuse me beautiful but I hate to see a gorgeous man standing alone.”

Anthony raised an eyebrow before turning to Ben. “I had no idea you could turn invisible.”

Ben choked on his beer.

“I meant without a mate. You are obviously only friends,” the Alpha persisted.

Since Anthony didn’t recognize the wolf beside him he didn’t take offense at the stranger’s lack of knowledge. Most everyone knew Anthony and Silver were mates but if he were new to the territory this Alpha might be unaware. He decided to give the Alpha the benefit of the doubt. “My mate is over there.” Anthony pointed only to find Silver missing from where he stood before. “Well he was there.”

“Is there a problem, Mate?” Silver’s deep voice thrummed through Anthony, a familiar and welcome vibration.

“I was just telling this gentleman asking about my mate that you were over there,” Anthony said.

Silver smiled, his teeth gleaming white and sharp. “Don’t ever think because I’m not beside him that my mate is available for anything.”

The stranger’s face became three shades paler. “I meant no offense.”

“Good.” Silver stared at the newcomer until the blue-eyed man turned away then scurried off into the crowd.

“Huh, I didn’t even get a name,” Anthony said watching the strange Alpha disappear.

“You don’t need one,” Silver growled.

Ben’s sharp laughter drew Anthony’s gaze from the crowd. “What’s so funny?”

“You two. You honestly thought Silver wasn’t watching your every breath. As soon as you turned your attention away from him he ditched his fans and rushed over here.” Ben shook his head. “I’m going to go find my mates, you two are too funny.”

“I’m glad we can amuse him.” Anthony watched his friend walk away.

Silver gave him a sideways hug. “Never doubt my attention is always on you. If you aren’t in my sight, I focus on our link until I know you are fine. You are my entire world, sweet Anthony and no one and nothing is more important.”

Anthony tilted his head and grinned at his mate. “I know, that’s why I reserved the romantic getaway package at this hotel. Why don’t I remind you why you picked me as your mate.”

Silver’s low growl shivered across Anthony’s skin. “I don’t need a reminder but I never turn down time with you.”

“Call it what you want but there will be strawberries, chocolate and a lot of nakedness before the night is through. Go say goodbye to everyone and I’ll wait for you in the lobby,” Anthony said.

Silver turned toward the crowd. “Goodnight everyone, I’m going off to ravish my mate. I might be down for breakfast.”

Before Anthony could say anything else, Silver picked him up and tossed Anthony over his shoulder.

“Silver!”

Silver smacked Anthony on his ass. “I should punish you for thinking I could ever consider anyone else for my mate. I see I have to reassure you of your place in my life.”

Anthony didn’t speak again until they made it to their room and even then he only communicated in whimpers and grunts. Sometimes even the closest mates needed a little time away.

 

 

 

 

Feral Friday

Okay it was supposed to be Moon Pack Monday but I’ve had a rough week. LOL

***

Elliott scowled at the spreadsheet mocking him on the computer screen before him. No matter how many times he ran the numbers they didn’t quite match his estimated amount. He had to be missing a receipt or two.

The door to his office swung open but he didn’t look away from his computer until his chair was spun around and he found himself staring into the flashing eyes of his mate.

“What’s wrong?” Every instinct had him freezing in place. He’d never seen Parker look that enraged.

A low growl poured from Parker sending all of the hairs on Elliott’s arms on edge. When Parker finally spoke his words had a hard edge. “What’s wrong? You’ve worked late every day this month. I’ve hardly seen you and when I do you’re so exhausted you can barely hold a conversation before you fall asleep.”

Elliott sighed. “I know. I’m sorry. Once I get this all straightened out I’ll have more time. I probably have a couple more hours here then I’ll be home.” He tried to keep the exhaustion out of his voice. If Parker knew how tired he truly was his mate would drag him from the office. Frankly he couldn’t remember the last time he slept a full eight hours before getting back up and coming into work.

“No. You’re done now. We’re going to change your schedule to part time. I won’t have you wearing yourself down to nothing.” Parker’s tone didn’t leave room for argument.

Elliott opened his mouth to object but then shut it again. Why would he argue with Parker? It wouldn’t do any good. His dominant had been lecturing Elliott for weeks about his overworking and he’d obviously reached a breaking point. Nothing Elliott said would change Parker’s mind.

Secondly, it wasn’t as if Elliott was having such a great time. Along with the lack of sleep he’d been skipping meals to get more things done. “What about Anthony?” A spear of pain went through him over the thought of disappointing the pack’s alpha mate.

“He’s the one who contacted me.” Parker pressed a soft kiss to Elliott’s forehead. “We’re both worried about you. Anthony has said he’s offered you help before but you always turn him down. I told him to go ahead and hire you an assistant so we can cut your hours.”

Elliott nodded. “I didn’t want him to think I’m incapable of doing my job. He did me a big favor when he hired me.”

“A favor you’ve more than repaid over the last few years.” Parker squeezed Elliott’s shoulder. “And I’m sure Anthony isn’t sitting around counting what you owe him. He wants all the members of his pack to be happy.”

“True.” The two alpha mates were very protective of the health and welfare of their pack. If Anthony knew how many hours Elliott put in Anthony would be extremely unhappy with him. Elliott raked his fingers through his hair, tugging at the thick strands.

“Stop that.” Parker grabbed Elliott’s wrist in a gentle grip and pulled his fingers from his hair.

Elliot smiled. Even the least bit of self-harm wasn’t allowed. “I wasn’t going to yank any out.”

Parker slid his hand across Elliott’s hair as if trying to apologize to his scalp for Elliott’s actions. “Let’s go home and I’ll help you deal with your stress. I have new cuffs and some lemongrass massage oil I want to try out.”

Elliott stood up so fast Parker had to step back to avoid collision. “Why didn’t you say that before?” The thought of Parker’s strong hands kneading his body had Elliott more than eager to abandon everything and focus on his mate.

“I was hoping to rely on your common sense. I see I’ve taken the wrong approach.” Parker cupped the back of Elliott’s head and pulled him close for a kiss, melting any remaining arguments Elliott might have.

“You have a convincing argument.” Elliott said once Parker released him. He couldn’t stop the smile from spreading across his lips.

“I also have food and wine. How about a nice rare steak before your massage.”

Elliott sighed. “If I didn’t already love you I would fall all over again.”

Parker pulled him into his arms encasing Elliott in his warmth. His mate’s scent surrounded him and he let out a sigh.

Perfection.

My First Cozy Mystery is Out!

A Frosty Reunion jpg.jpg

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Welcome to Magehaven Cove, where most of the town are witches, wizards, or some other supernatural being.

Hanna Frost always wanted to be like everyone she knew… magical. But born without a single spark of power, Hanna stands out as the odd duck among her family, and not in a good way. When Hanna grew up, she left the magical town to embrace normalcy, and she stayed away even after her husband died. Still grieving, she spends her days at home immersed in her painting and drawing, with only an oddly devoted pixie for a companion.

At her mother’s insistence, Hanna attends a family reunion, only to find herself embroiled in family politics, a death, a group of attractive would-be suitors, and the secrets of a mystical mansion. With magic, mischief, and murder all around her, Hanna will have to quickly figure out who killed her aunt—if she wants to avoid being the murderer’s next victim.

Chapter One

Chapter One

I stared at the blank canvas, with my paintbrush raised to dip into a color at the first twitch of a creative impulse. My landscape painting had taken four days of trying to achieve the right color of green, but I still wasn’t positive I’d gotten the shade quite right. I contemplated my choices, but none of the paints were calling to me. My inspiration was fading along with the sunlight.

“You need to stop wallowing.”

The lilting voice had the musicality of a thousand tinkling bells. If only the words were as pleasant.

“I am not wallowing!” I snapped, glaring at the tiny annoying pixie perched on the top of my canvas. “And stop dusting my canvas.”

Dandelion Thistleberry flicked her diaphanous wings, releasing another wave of rainbow-colored glitter. It flattered her sparkly pink doll dress, but my canvas—not so much. On the plus side, only happy pixies created the magical powder. On the negative side, it made a mess all over my house.

Dandy set her tiny fists on her hips. Her dress swirled around her as she pointed her toes and glared like an angry ballerina. “You’re wal-ohh-ing,” she mocked in a singsong tone.

I eyed my bright green flyswatter longingly. Only the knowledge I’d be fined for abuse of a pixie stilled my hand. “I’m in mourning,” I snarled.

I gave up trying to explain despair to a pixie. Dandy couldn’t keep any emotion longer than a wing flutter. My sorrow over Don’s death two years before was a gazillion minutes too many to my flighty friend.

Sighing, I tossed my brush into a nearby ceramic pot, then stood and stretched. I wouldn’t be getting any more painting done today, and my butt had grown numb while I stared at the canvas. It had been months since I last finished anything—a subject my agent continually harped on about. If she had any magic at all, I probably would’ve received reminders written on my bathroom mirror each morning. Instead she settled for emails and passive-aggressive texting.

I walked through my almost-empty house, forlorn and disheartened over my barren creative desert. The gaps in my household furnishings mocked me. They represented the holes in my life that I had surgically cut away to keep my mental health. After Don’s death, I’d packed up everything that reminded me of him and put it into storage. Only my paintings and my new furniture remained, like a showroom floor. All my personal items were stripped away, like a tree after winter hit, leaving behind only the skeleton of my life. It had taken me the first year to stop crying.

“Let’s go shopping,” Dandy said.

Her light weight landed on my shoulder as I headed for the kitchen. She grabbed onto my hair to keep her balance. Used to her behavior, I barely felt the tug from her tiny hands. My passion to avoid shopping was only surpassed by my love of art.

“How about a snack? I bought a fresh bag of gumdrops yesterday.” Most people thought of pixies as nature spirits, they didn’t know the dark side of a bored pixie with a credit card and a cable subscription.

“Ooh, yes,” Dandy squealed.

I set her on the kitchen counter while I fetched her snack. The pixie hummed an offbeat tune as I pulled the candy jar out of the cabinet. After popping open the container, I snatched up the one on top.

“Here you go.” I presented her with a red gumdrop.

“I want green.” She folded her arms as her mouth formed a petulant pout.

“You can have red or nothing.” The closest green gumdrop huddled in the middle of the candy jar. I wasn’t going candy-diving to fetch it.

Dandy sighed but held out her hands for the red one. The speed with which she polished it off told me the color hadn’t made any difference in her enjoyment, despite her demands. Pixies liked to push. I’d be at her beck and call 24/7 if I gave in to her every whim.

My phone rang, shattering my peaceful afternoon. I don’t like phones. No one ever called me with happy news. Not once had I been informed I’d won a million dollars or a mysterious benefactor had magically paid off all my debt. Phone calls were about unpaid bills and nagging parents. At least my twin brother had the good sense to email or visit in person.

“I’ll get it!” Dandy fluttered away, leaving a stream of pixie dust in her wake.

I treated the mess like regular dust and cleaned up after her once a week. Since only people with magical blood could see pixies, my neighbors thought I had a serious glitter addiction… and possibly a screw loose. I didn’t care. The crazier I appeared, the less they bothered me. Isolation suited me.

Dandy flew back carrying my cell phone. She landed in an ungraceful heap on the counter. Good thing pixies were abnormally strong for their size. A cloud of sparkle exploded around her, leaving a glittery circle. Hmm, maybe that was where fairy rings came from.

“Here you go!” She held out my phone with all the enthusiasm of handing over a birthday present.

“Thank you.” I blew on it a few times to clear the stubborn dust. More than one phone had met its untimely end beneath an avalanche of sparkle. I winced when I saw the name on the screen and took a bracing breath in and out before pressing the button to connect. “Hi, Mom.”

“Hello, dear, how are you doing?”

“Fine.” I waited for it. Carla Frost didn’t call for casual things. Life, death, and marriage were the minimum reasons she’d call. She never wasted her social niceties on a blood relative, but kept her best manners for congressmen, business leaders, and their accessory wives. For her children, she saved scolding and ultimatums.

“Are you still doing your little painting thing?” she asked in a condescending tone.

I should be used to it by now—the way she dismissed my art degree, awards, and the fact I earned enough to live on…well, almost. Boxed macaroni was a legitimate food group, right?

“Yes, Mom, I’m still painting.” I tried to keep the anger out of my voice. If I were smart, I’d see my therapist more than twice a week. I could talk nonstop for years about my parental issues, but I doubted my discount insurance plan would cover the cost.

“You haven’t gotten another job to pay the bills yet, have you?”

“No.”

Silence followed my response. I could almost see the tidal pressure of her will coming for me, but I lacked the lunar influence to push back.

“Then there’s no reason you can’t come to the family reunion, since you set your own schedule,” she replied with smug self-assurance.

I groaned. I didn’t even try to hide my dismay. I’d fallen for her trap with ridiculous ease.

“Mom, I don’t have time to go.” I didn’t hesitate to lie. No way was I going to my hometown, where I would be regarded with pity. As the only Frost child who didn’t inherit any of the family’s magic, I received scorn from my relatives and sad sympathy from everyone else.

Yeah, not in a hurry to rush back there.

“I’m in charge of this family reunion, and I expect all my children to attend. Now, wrap up whatever you’re working on and come home.”

She hung up before I could argue. Carla Frost always had the last word on everything.

I almost cursed—it took concentrated effort to bite back the words. Like a perpetual toddler, Dandy took great delight in repeating anything I said. I didn’t need to go back home with my pixie cursing like a sailor. My mother wouldn’t let me live that down, and my brother would delight in telling everyone he’d ever met.

I’ll be driving home this weekend,” I told Dandy, not looking at her.

Maybe if I didn’t make eye contact, I could escape the upcoming conversation.

“We’re heading home?” Dandy hopped up and down. “Yay! I always wanted to see your home!”

I winced at her shrill tone. I don’t know why I thought I could reason with a pixie. Maybe my lack of sleep had started to affect my reasoning. I gave it one last, probably futile shot.

“Wouldn’t you rather stay here? The weather is supposed to be nice for the next few days. You could play in the garden….” I let my voice trail off so she could imagine all the joys to be had.

She’d spent most of the spring and summer organizing my backyard to suit her needs. I knew she had fall tasks she planned to do. I didn’t know what, since I stopped listening when she rhapsodized about the varying depths of planting seeds.

Don had been the gardener.

“There are toads,” Dandy announced flatly. Scowling, she flapped her wings until her feet left the counter.

Pixies hated amphibians. I’m not certain where the animosity came from, but I’d never met a pixie who didn’t want to kill them all off.

“Be good. They’ll eat the bad insects.” I’d lost track of the number of times I’d repeated that mantra. I firmly closed the cabinet to hide the toothpicks, just in case she tried to skewer them again.

Dandy’s scornful sniff didn’t reassure me. “They’re nasty things. I don’t know why you don’t let me stab them.”

“I’m funny that way.”

Frog guts… ew!

She tried a different tactic. “You need me to go with you. I’m your familiar.”

I groaned but refused to get involved in another dispute over Dandy’s familiar status. I didn’t have enough magic to compel one, and even if I did, I’ve never heard of a pixie familiar before. A month after Don died, a storm had blown her through my open kitchen window.

Dandy had announced it was fate and never left. I’d been too heartbroken to evict her. Sometimes it was nice to have a companion, especially on the days when depression sank its sharp talons into my soul.

“Are you sure you want to come?” I had to give it at least one more try.

“You promised.” She stamped her foot on the counter.

Damn, she was right. I had said I would take her on my next trip; I just hadn’t planned on visiting my parents, but more along the lines of a drive down the coast or a visit to the ice-skating rink to watch the skaters. My parents weren’t the most tolerant of magical beings.

Maybe if I left her at my brother’s place, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. “Fine. We’re going home.”

Her sharp squeal threatened to pierce my eardrums. “I can use my new luggage. I’m going on a real trip. Yippee!”

She clasped her hands rapturously before flying off, no doubt to see how much of her extensive wardrobe she could cram into her trunk.

The last time I visited my agent in the city, I had purchased Dandy a Barbie trunk. It had more to do with self-preservation than anything else. Never annoy pixies. They have ways of getting even that involved itching powder in your sheets.

While I was gone, she ran up my credit card on Etsy, ordering an entire wardrobe of custom doll clothes.

I put the rest of the gumdrops away and went to examine my own wardrobe selection. Unlike Dandy, I didn’t enjoy clothes shopping, or any kind of shopping, really, but I knew my mother couldn’t have a reunion without throwing at least one formal event. My relatives were the stuffy type. My twin brother and middle sister were the only exceptions to the rule.

I opened my closet door and pushed past the casual garb. Way in the back I’d tucked my nicer clothes, still in their dry-cleaning bags. Why take them out only to get them messed up? Not to mention that the bags kept them safe from pixie dust. Honestly, it wasn’t pure laziness, no matter how much Don used to laugh at me. Common sense should be rewarded, not mocked.

I pushed away that pang of remembrance and grabbed my two nicest dresses. I didn’t care if my relatives had seen them before; I didn’t have a fortune to blow on clothing, and even if I did, I’d probably use the money for paint. I could get a lot more use out of a tube of cerulean blue than a fancy gown I’d only wear once or twice in a lifetime. I also included some casual clothes, because I always ended up helping Harvey with something that resulted in me being covered in either flour or grease, sometimes both. Between baking and working on his car, my brother never stayed tidy.

After setting my clothes on the bed, I dragged my suitcase out of the hall closet. As I propped it open, I smiled when I found it free of pixie dust. With my mind on my family, I absently grabbed my dress shoes. They were gold, sparkly, and one of the few pairs of girly footwear I owned.

Despite my wish to keep my packing light, I ended up filling my suitcase to the top. Not bringing the right clothes wasn’t an acceptable excuse for my mother. It would only end with me having to go shopping and wasting money I didn’t have on clothes I didn’t need. Luckily the reunion only lasted one three-day weekend. I could get in and out, and maybe hide behind my twin when I wanted to avoid anyone. Since Harvey was six foot two to my five foot seven, odds were good I could get away with it.

After I’d zipped up my suitcase, I headed back to the living room to grab my cell phone. I chose the first person on my speed dial. If I had to suffer through this reunion, I was going to line up support.

“Hey, sis. What’s up?” Harvey’s deep voice eased my anxiety over the trip.

“Mother just called.”

“I take it you’re coming to the reunion?” I could hear his amusement over the phone line.

I bit back a curse. “Yes. I’m coming. If I bring two dresses, do you think that’s enough?”

“There’s one formal dinner and a lunch thing. Other than that, I think it’ll mostly be casual. It’s only for the weekend. Didn’t you get the itinerary? There’s also some sort of party before everything starts.”

I vaguely remembered the piece of paper I’d chucked in the trash along with the vellum invitation. “I seem to have misplaced it.”

Harvey’s laughter told me he wasn’t fooled. “Uh-huh. I’ll email you the schedule.”

“Thanks, Harvey. How are things going with you and Valerie? Is she coming to the reunion, or has she gotten out of it?”

Harvey had been seeing the same woman for three months, a new record for him.

“She broke up with me last week. Apparently I ‘didn’t spend enough time with her.’” In my head, I could see Harvey applying air quotes to the last part of his sentence.

“Didn’t you tell her you were starting a new business?” I asked, indignant on my brother’s behalf. What kind of woman wouldn’t cut my wonderful twin a little slack? She obviously didn’t deserve him if she lacked the basic understanding of the hours required for a new business venture.

“I think that was her point. She felt I cared more for the bakery than for her. I think maybe she was right.”

Harvey’s warm laughter made me smile. My brother always had a way of cheering me up. After Don died, I emailed Harvey almost daily. I would have felt guilty for eating up so much of Harvey’s time, but we’re twins. You can’t impose on someone who’s the other half of your soul. Don always claimed he’d gotten a package deal when he married me. Luckily he’d always liked Harvey. I hoped whoever Harvey ended up with liked me too.

“You’re better off without her,” I soothed.

“Maybe, but that leaves me without a date for the reunion.”

“Hmm, I’m sure Mother will find someone for you,” I teased.

“I didn’t tell her Valerie and I broke up,” Harvey confessed.

“And you think that means she doesn’t know? Poor, foolish boy.” I clapped my hand over my mouth to hold back a giggle. Our mother was determined to marry off her only son to a good family. With three daughters and one son, my mother had dreams of making a political connection with one of the other powerful magical families. She didn’t much care which of us she had to use to achieve her goal. Right now, she had Harvey in her sights.

So far, Mother’s track record wasn’t so great. Harvey and our older sister, Jane, were single, our middle sister, Farah, had wed a blue-collar miner with little magic, and I had married a human. Since I didn’t have any magic of my own, Mother hadn’t expected me to marry well anyway, but Don had never found acceptance with my parents. One of the many reasons we moved several hours’ journey away. A newlywed couple didn’t need disapproving in-laws living nearby.

After catching up with the latest gossip and securing a spot on Harvey’s couch for the weekend, I said good-bye to him, then went to collect the rest of my belongings. I might as well get everything together now if I planned to leave in the morning. Best check on Dandy first and make sure she wasn’t trying to bring her Barbie Dreamhouse or the convertible. I’d always heard pixies preferred the outdoors. Leave it to me to find the only materialistic one.