Author: Amber Kell

Moon Pack Birthday!

It’s a little short but sweet.

I know I usually do an Anthony and Silver, or Dare and Steven story ,but this time I’ve decided to go with Dakota and Henry.

***

Dakota opened the oven door then grabbed the hot rack with a potholder to protect his fingers. A waft of heat infused with cinnamon bathed his face. He gave the cake tins a dubious look.

“How are they doing?” Dare asked over his shoulder.

Dakota pressed one of the cakeish disks with a cautious finger. “It’s not rising.”

“Did you remember the baking powder?”

 Without responding, Dakota slid the rack back in, then closed the door. A growl preceded him flinging the potholder across the room. “I followed the directions, exactly.”

He folded his arms across his chest and pouted.

“There, there.” Dare patted Dakota’s shoulder in a condescending show of support.

“You’re not helping.”

“I’m only here for moral support. I’m not much of a baker.”

“I’m not either but this was under Henry’s list of ‘impossible to screw up’ desserts.

“You are usually quite good in the kitchen,” Dare said, supportively. “Maybe one of the ingredients was off.”

Dakota scowled at the oven. “Or maybe I’m off.”

“I doubt that, love.” Henry appeared in the doorway.

Dakota saw Dare slink off out of the corner of his eye.

“What are you doing in here?” Henry’s gaze took in the batter coated bowls, the dirty mixer and the containers of ingredients Dakota had yet to put back.

“I was trying to make you a birthday cake.” He wasn’t pouting. He wasn’t!

Henry came closer. He towered over Dakota and generally he liked that. Not today. Not when he was feeling out of sorts.

Henry traced Dakota’s shoulders with his big hands. “You don’t need to fuss over my birthday, darling.”

“But you always do for mine.”

“Because I enjoy it. Not because I want you to reciprocate.”

“I wanted to do something nice for you.”

Henry pressed a soft kiss onto Dakota’s bowed head. “Having you wake up beside me every day is a gift. Having you part of my life is a gift.You don’t have to bend yourself into knots to make me happy, Dakota. You are everything to me.”

Dakota sniffed. “Does that mean you don’t want your flat cake?”

Henry laughed. “I’ll try the flat cake if it makes you happy. Or we could scrap it and make a fresh one together.”

“I’d like that.” Dakota loved days where it was just him and Henry in the kitchen cooking. “I was trying to make your spice cake.”

Henry peeked into the oven. “Hmm. Well there’s a few things that could’ve gone wrong but how about we don’t worry about them and just start over.”

“Are you sure you want to be cooking on your birthday?”

Henry’s warm smile wiped away the last of Dakota’s sulk. “Baking with you will be the best present yet.”

“Does that mean you don’t want your gift?” Dakota teased.

“I’m pretty sure I didn’t say that,” Henry replied. “Where is it?”

“Upstairs in our apartment.”

“Turn off the oven.”

Dakota clicked off the stove and removed the flat cakes for good measure. He didn’t want them burning while they were gone. Hopefully it will take a while for Henry to examine Dakota’s new underwear and the selection of toys he purchased. After listening to the antics of some of the people in the club Dakota began a list of things he wanted to try out. What better time to try some of them out than on Henry’s birthday. One of them had a vibration and heat option.

He might feel a bit guilty about giving such a self-serving gift if he didn’t know Henry would enjoy them too.

“Happy birthday, Henry,” he whispered.

Pilgrim

I know I said I’d have a Moon Pack snippet but I was busy writing today..yay writing. Instead I’m posting the first chapter of what I’m tentatively labeling Pilgrim.

The jingle of harnesses and mist from the horse’s breath brought Xaylon to reality. He was really doing this. Escaping. Running. Whatever you wanted to call the coward’s way out, he was doing it.

Xaylon ran his thumb beneath the satchel strap bisecting his chest. Only a few more minutes and he would leave Raven’s Hallow, possibly forever. Pilgrimages were hazardous and often set upon by bandits. A quick glance at their escorts banished most of his worry but not completely silencing the terror nibbling at his subconscious.

Could he do this?

Xaylon would be the first to decry himself as an adventurer, but his father’s actions were forcing him to these steps.

“You all right there young one?” A loud, brash voice jolted him out of his introspection.

Blinking he focused on the person speaking. The very tall, warrior with dark braids and shoulders one and a half the size of Xaylon’s. Only the kind concern in the man’s eyes stopped Xaylon from squeaking in terror.

“I will be.” He offered a nervous smile.

The warrior’s expression didn’t change with Xaylon’s convincing argument, but he nodded and moved onto the next pilgrim.

“Running away from home?” A silky female voice asked.

Xaylon spun around to discover a thin waif like woman, even smaller than him, standing in the shade. It was easy to miss with the way the shadows folded around her. A shiver of unease winnowed down his spine.

“Not exactly.” Caution kept him from blurting out his story.

She slinked out of the shadows with a disturbing grace that hid the fact she had a skeletal structure. “How not exactly?”

Her dark eyes trapped him in her unnerving gaze like a mouse before a viper.

“Come. Let’s get you to your mount.” A heavy hand clamped down on Xaylon’s shoulder moving him along. He’d never been so happy to be manhandled away.

A quick glance up revealed the warrior from minutes before. “Thank you.”

“You’ll want to keep a distance from that one. The priestess of the shadow Queen will use any scraps of information you grant them for their own means.”

Xaylon nodded furiously. “I’ll do my best to avoid her.”

“Good man.” He patted Xaylon’s back with a friendly pat that could’ve been an iron bar for the heaviness of his touch.

 Instead of protesting, Xaylon gritted his teeth. It would do no good to start the pilgrimage on a bad note. He had to keep positive relations with his travel companions especially the guards.

“Which group are you traveling with?” The guard, whose name he still didn’t know, asked.

“Lady Selene.”

The warrior stepped back to see Xaylon’s face. “Why would any man want to visit the goddess of magic?”

“I found a notebook from my mother stating she was a priestess of Lady Selene and I would like to give an offering in her honor.” It was a partial truth but a truth all the same.

His answer appeared to calm the warrior and whatever existential crises he experienced over having a man visit a female goddess. “I hope you find the peace you are seeking.”

Maybe Xaylon wasn’t as discreet as he hoped. “Thank you.” He offered a short bow. Not deep enough to indicate a higher status, but low enough to show appreciation.

“Your caravan is over here.” He waved to a group of five wagons with over a dozen women inside. “There will be more guards here than with the others due to the high number of females.”

“Makes sense.” It didn’t really unless they were completely incompetent. Xaylon would pit his sister against any hardened soldier. She not only was a vicious harridan, but she would stab someone without remorse if they thought to take advantage of her, or her little brother.

A smile curved Xaylon’s lips. It was because of Lila that he was following through on this wild plan. If he kept out of his father’s way and went on an adventure maybe he could avoid the ridiculous marriage his father was binding him to. Xaylon had no interest in becoming the bonded spouse of a man with six children and three dead wives. Especially when no one was certain what happened to them.

Still pondering terrible life choices, Xaylon headed for his assigned group trying not to choke on the dust being kicked up by the horse’s hooves.

He reached the group and stood unmoving at the stare from at least a dozen pair of eyes. “Hello,” he offered a small wave and an equally small smile.

“What do you want?” The tallest of the group stepped forward, a hard expression on her face. “If you think you can take advantage of us because we are women I am happy to disabuse you of that notion.”

A scoffing laugh escaped before he could prevent the sound. “My sister is far tougher than me and I have no interest in defiling anyone. I’m a pilgrim same as you and take my duties with a serious mind.”

His words must have been convincing. Most of the group lost their scowls and tension, the girl before him did not. “And what use do I have for pretty words.”

Xaylon shrugged. “I don’t know. My mother was a worshipper and I am here to fulfill her life’s dream.”

She sniffed at him as if he were something foul that came out of a horse’s ass. “We’ll see.” She spun around and stalked back to the watching group.

A sigh slid from between his lips and his shoulders sagged. This would be a long journey.

“Don’t take it personally, Deta has had a hard time of it, and she hates men.” A plump girl with springy brown hair and a wide smile scampered up to him emitting cheery.

Xaylon instinctively smiled back. “I’m both sorry and happy to hear that. At least it wasn’t as personal as it felt.”

Her laughter danced on the air. “You’re funny. I think I’ll choose you as my companion. I’m Sahra.” She held out her hand.

Xaylon gave it a friendly shake. “What do you mean companion?”

“Every person had to have a travel partner. The guards don’t want anyone to be alone.” She lost her cheer as she continued. “I’m not much of a fighter but I can do this.” She held up her hand. Her brow wrinkled as she stared at her fingers. Before Xaylon could comment lightning crackled across her fingers in an arc of sparkling lines. She kept it up for a minute before dropping her hand. Sweat beaded her brow which she wiped with the back of her hand while she took a deep breath. Her skin had a new pallor. “As you can see it takes a lot out of me but I could zap a few people so we can get away if needed.”

“Sold. I’ll be your partner.” Xaylon grinned.

“Great.” She went back to bouncing on her heels. “I don’t suppose you have any powers? I know Lady Selene usually only grants females powers but you never know.”

Xaylon shook his head. “I am good with a staff though.” He lifted his walking stick up for inspection.

Sahra eyed the intricate engravings with proper respect. “Nice. I’m sure between us we can live to escape any bandits.”

“We can hope.” Xaylon nodded. He didn’t want to admit it, but the guards had an excellent idea of teaming people together. “How many people are in our caravan?”

“Fifteen women, including me. One male pilgrim, you and six guards.”

“That’s not a lot of protection,” he commented.

“It’s two more than the others. Pilgrims aren’t a high priority with the crown.” Her bitter tone turned Xaylon’s attention back to her. “Not a crown lover?”

“They’ve done little for the citizens. My mother worked for them once. They killed her because she tripped and spilled some sauce on the prince’s robes.”

Xaylon winced. “You have my sympathy for your plight.”

Sahra gave a sharp nod. “Thank you. You said you are doing this for your mother. Has she also passed.”

Xaylon swallowed the lump in his throat. “She died giving birth to me. I’ve only known her by her journals.” Journals that revealed a vibrant woman who had goals and dreams that were never experienced due to her untimely death. “I thought if I lived out some of her dreams it would ease her spirit closer to Lady Selene.”

“That’s so sweet.” Sahra sniffed and discretely wiped at her eyes.

“I know I can’t bring her back, but it makes me feel closer to her.” Xaylon gave a helpless shrug. The gods knew his father never brought out any positive feelings. The typical lord, he only interacted with his children to make sure they were obeying their tutors and following the paths he laid out for them. There had never been a kind word or gesture granted by their father and his parents hadn’t married due to any warm relation between them. Xaylon hadn’t been neglected because of his father’s distress over his mother’s death. That had only been an inconvenience to his schedule. Xaylon firmly believed his father never married because he didn’t want to be bothered with a bride and since he had his son he had no use for one.

Xaylon scratched at his arm glad that his thick shirt protected the vulnerable skin beneath. Nerves had his arms scratched bloody at times.

“Hey.” Sahra grabbed his scratching hand. “It will be fine. We will do our pilgrimage and come back home hopefully with a gift from the Lady.”

“Hopefully.” Xaylon returned her smile. Pilgrims were often granted small powers by their chosen god or goddess if their hearts were pure and their belief strong enough. Xaylon had neither a pure heard nor a burning belief in his goddess, unlike his mother. Instead he had the token she had crafted for the pilgrimage she never had the chance to go on. The small stone figurine sat heavy in the lining of his jacket. If they were robbed it might be overlooked if the bandits were particularly stupid. Almost every thief knew that was where pilgrims hid things but there was no better place. They would just take his bag anyway whether they found anything or not so it wouldn’t be a wise spot to hide anything.

“Let’s get the best position,” Sahra nudged him, knocking him out of his thoughts.

“What do you mean?”

“We are assigned places in the caravan. I’m going to go flirt with a guard and get us a prime spot.” She offered a smug smile before skipping away.

Xaylon remained standing unsure of his next move. If Sahra wished to go flirt with a guard he wouldn’t stop her but he watched her just in case she got into trouble. She all but danced up to the guard who had helped Xaylon find the right group. Her lashes fluttered furiously and she played with the long curl laying against her shoulder. The guard appeared unmoved until she pointed at Xaylon. He remained still while the guard inspected him from head to toe as if he hadn’t seen him before.

After that unnerving stare he returned his attention to Sahra and said something in words too quiet for Xaylon to hear that far away. Sahra gave a loud squeal and nodded enthusiastically before scampering back to Xaylon.

“I should’ve sent you to talk to him.”

“Why?”

A smirk curled her unpainted lips. “Because he was unmoved until I told him you were my partner. Then all of a sudden we had the best spot in the middle. I knew being your partner was a great idea.”

Xaylon laughed. “I’ve never brought anyone luck before. We’ll have to see if it holds out.”

“We shall.” Her eyes continued to dance with amusement. She looped an arm through his. “Come, they are going to leave soon and we don’t want them to leave us behind.”

“No we don’t.” Xaylon let her drag him along with no protest. They really needed to be gone before father noticed him missing. His sister could only hide his absence for so long.

Third part of my Jeweler book

I had been planning to do a Moon Pack short today but I had to go to the eye doctor to get new glasses and that took a surprisingly large part of my day. Instead I’ve decided to post a bit more of my previous story. Enjoy! Please note this is unedited. Thanks.

It took two days before they had a design they both agreed upon. In that time three lamps were broken, one jewel box had been shattered and they had to close the shop two times for damages.

Merek concentrated his magic at the room for the third time that morning. “Are we done, or are we going to use all our magic making repairs instead of jewelry.”

“You’re the one who threw the marble statue at me,” Ulric snarled.

“You called my design pedestrian!” Merek shouted back. He still stung from that comment.

“I liked you better when you were under my thumb,” Ulric sneered.

“I’m sure you did.” Merek snapped together the broken lamp with a pulse of power. Sweat beaded his brow. As much as he disliked Ulric these days, he refused to leave his shop in shambles.

“I think this is the best one.” Merek leaned down, shuffled through the parchment scraps covering the floor and snatched up his favorite. He straightened out the wrinkles and spread it across the glass countertop.

Ulric leaned over to take a look. He turned it back and forth and frowned. “You like it better than this one?” He grabbed a different paper and slid it beside the one Merek had chosen.

“Yes. The emeralds don’t blend as well into the pattern.” Merek compared the two pieces. That one matches a bit better, but I think this one will come across as more elegant.

Ulric spun the design around to look at it from different angles. “All right. I’ll agree to this design.”

“Good.” Now that they agreed it would take at least a week for Merek to have enough energy to power the necklace. Emerald were difficult to use magic on. Something about their makeup absorbed energy instead of transforming it. Tricky but not impossible to work with, it took several days because Merek would have to wait for his magic to come back to high enough levels to power each spell. Ulric was older and insisted Merek should use his magic since he would recoup his energy faster. “I will start it in the morning unless you have different plans.” Technically Merek was still under Ulric’s employ until the necklace was finished. As such he needed to make sure he wasn’t needed elsewhere.

Ulric stood there a moment as if considering his options. After a few minutes he nodded. “This has priority.”

“See you tomorrow then.” Merek exited the room out the back to reach the stairs. He didn’t want to deal with Ulric any more that day. He might say something he shouldn’t. Ulric might have magically agreed to sign off on Merek’s apprenticeship but that didn’t mean he couldn’t ruin him before he got his career off the ground. Old ladies at a tea party gossiped less than the old men in the jeweler’s guild. In order to keep a positive impression, he had to keep Ulric happy with his work if nothing else. Ulric’s own reputation would take a hit if his apprentice was rumored to be less than skillful. Despite knowing that, Merek still had a bad feeling about the older jeweler’s compliance.

The stairs gave a familiar creak as Merek climbed their shaky steps. Soon he would have to find his own rickety staircase. He needed to make plans for after the necklace finished. Merek didn’t have a place to go after his apprenticeship ended, not officially. Hans would let him stay with him if he asked, but he didn’t like to impose. Maybe he should make plans to take the first carriage out next week to the dwarves mines? There wasn’t any transportation that would go all the way, but he could join a caravan and continue on his own by foot when they got close enough. Pleased with his planning Merek went to sleep planning to speak to Hans in the morning. His old friend had a lot of connections and would know who had the best route for Merek’s needs.

“It would be the Banders caravan you want.” Hans took a sip of tea.

“Where are they going?”

“To the Northern Kingdom. They trade with the druids up there since they are magic sensitive and can’t go into town.”

“How do you know that?” He had known Hans all his life and his friend had never mentioned knowing any druids before.

“Do you remember Peter?”

Merek searched his memory. “Tall, skinny with ratty blond hair?” The image appeared in his mind’s eye, diamond bright.

“That’s him. He was part of that magical accident three years ago.”

“Oh, hell.” Merek could still remember the fallout four years ago when an unskilled magical practitioner tried earth manipulation. Unfortunately he wasn’t an earth elemental and the site he chose to practice had been storing chemicals. The explosion had caused more than one magical to have odd side effects.

“Yeah, he had to leave the city. Couldn’t handle all the pressure. He said it made his head ache.”

“So he became a druid?”

Hans nodded. “Sends me a letter every now and then to tell me how things are going.”

“And how are things going?” He didn’t really care about Peter, but his curiosity had always been his downfall.

“Fine I guess. He was invited into the order of the White Tree and he seems happy enough. It must be hard on him being such a social soul, but I guess you do what you have to in order to survive.”

Merek winced. “Probably a lot more than exile myself. You think you can get me passage on that caravan? I should finish my last piece for Ulric this week. I won’t have a place to stay once I’m done. I’ve decided to start traveling instead of renting a room I don’t plan on staying at for very long. I can’t afford to finance an empty space even if it’s only a room.” He had run all the numbers and even getting a shady bed in a questionable part of town still dug uncomfortably into his tiny stash.

“I can get you on, especially if they know you won’t be there the whole trip and you know better than to be messing up their negotiations with the druids, they’ll be more than happy to have you along.”

“Great.” He had a plan. He could do this. It was just one more step in becoming a Master Jeweler.

“If you need to stay some place overnight between your apprenticeship and your trip you can stay at my place. I recently got a large feline that keeps the rats at bay.”

“That is oddly not as reassuring as you might think.”

Hans laughed. “I’ll miss you. What is it three or four days to get to the dwarves?”

“About. Depending on how fast the caravan travels. I’ve heard it can take up to four days by carriage and then another two by foot. I need to get a tent or something. I’m unsure of the weather this time of year.”

“I have a tent you can borrow if you’d like. I use it when I have to supervise a caravan.”

“That would be great Hans. How can I repay you for all your help.”

“You just remember that when I find someone to bond with. I expect an amazing ring.”

You’ve got it.” It was easy enough to make promises on future events. “I’ll design you the most incredible bonding set you can imagine.”

Considering Hans’s reputation for bedding anything that moves, it was an easy promise. Merek had years before he had to worry about keeping that promise.

A week later he went with Ulric to deliver Carvelle’s necklace. Once again the dragon lord was sitting beside Carvelle when they entered the room.

“Thank you for accepting the commission to design a necklace for my bride,” Carvelle said.

“We are honored at the opportunity,” Ulric replied.

Merek remained silent. This wasn’t his show. For a newly minted Master jeweler he didn’t want his first official client visit to end with a bad impression.

Ulric motioned him forward. Reaching into his satchel Merek removed the velvet covered case. “I hope it meets your expectations,” he said before lifting the lid and tilting it to display the necklace at the best advantage.”

A low gasp had Merek looking up from the necklace. Both lords stood over the piece, their mouths dropping open. No one spoke for several minutes. Merek started to close the box only to have his wrist grabbed by Blackflame.

“Leave it open for a bit. We’re still taking in all the artistry.”

“Very well.” He set it on the table before Lord Carvelle.

“I hope it meets your expectations, my lord,” Ulric said. The complete oiliness of his voice left a film of disgust on Merek’s skin. He struggled against a shudder, not wanting to give the lords the wrong impression.

“This is the most beautiful necklace I’ve ever seen and my mother has some dwarven jewels.”

Merek flushed beneath the praise. He always seems to be blushing when in the company of these two men.

“Which of you made this?” Blackflame’s eyes examined them closely as if daring them to lie.

“Merek made it as we discussed in our previous meeting,” Ulric said in a calm tone as if they hadn’t had a row over the entire thing.

“I’ve never seen an apprentice with this level of skill before, and I know my jewels,” Blackflame mused.

Merek ducked his head, avoiding Blackflame’s searching gaze. What did the lord mean? Did he question if Merek had produced it, or complimenting him for his skill?

“I can assure you that it was all Merek’s work. He has learned much under my tutelage.”

And there was the self-congratulating Master Merek had worked under for all those years. Ulric had the pride of a king and the temperament of a feral cat.

“I wasn’t doubting you, Master Ulric.” Blackflame held his hands up in a placating manner. “I’m quite impressed with the both of you.”

Merek bowed his head. “Thank you, your grace.”

Unfortunately he drew more of Blackflame’s attention than he had planned. The dragon lord smirked. “And what are your plans now that your apprenticeship has ended?”

“I’m going to the dwarven mines.” It was he dream of every jewel mage to have access to the highly coveted mines. The dwarves would only accept Master Jewelers, apprentices wouldn’t even get into the first cave. The dwarves were strict over who they allowed access and Merek would have to bring his journal with all of his ideas illustrated with the processes he used. He had all the necessary papers. He’d been planning for this moment the first time he picked up a jeweler’s hammer.

“I wish you luck.” Carvelle said. “I’ve only met two jeweler’s in my life who’ve successfully petitioned for an explorer permit.”

“I hope to be the third,” Merek refused to explain how he had been in contact with the dwarves for the past five years. They knew him well and had already agreed as long as he followed their reasonable guidelines and claimed everything before he left. Merek would split any finds with the dwarves. If he discovered a new source of materials, he would split the gold or gems as they were uncovered. Most of the dwarven mines consisted of veins of gold but Merek had strong jewel finding magic and was confident he could expand on their caches.

“Before you go I have a gift for you,” Blackflame said.

“I appreciate you thinking of me sir, but a gift was unnecessary.”

“This one was. I don’t want someone of your talent to be unable to progress in your field due to a lack of support.”

Merek could tell from the expression in Blackflame’s eyes that he’d done his homework and knew of Merek’s background and how he had struggled to reach his current level of training.

“That isn’t necessary, your grace, but I appreciate the thought.”

“It is more than a thought, it is a gift.” A smug smile crossed Blackflame’s handsome face. “It is just a trifle, but I think you’ll find it of interest.”

Now his curiosity had been engaged. “All right then.”

Blackflame handed over a red velvet sack. “I can think of no better person to have these than a jeweler.”

Curious, opened the bag. Dozens of shiny black scales glowed inside. “Are these..?” Excitment clogged his throat.

“Mine. Yes, they are. I expect you can find a good use for them?” A quirk of the lips was the only sign of Blackflame’s amusement.

“I-I can’t take these, your grace. These are too valuable.” His hand shook around the bag he cradled between his palms. Even as he rejected the gift, his more artistic side floated with all the ideas he had of what he could do with them.

“Do you know what dragon scales are good for?” Blackflame asked, instead of immediately taking back the bag.

“Protection from physical and magical assault,” Merek said, recalling the section in Properties of Materials the first source of jewel mage’s everywhere.

“That is correct. What they don’t tell you is that if willingly given they bring the wearer luck. I have a bit of the family intuition and I have a feeling you will need all the help you can get in the future.”

Silence fell between the four men. “Um, thank you then.” No way was he giving these back. If a dragon lord told him he needed luck he was grabbing them with both hands and taking those scales to his grave with him.

“You should craft them into your talisman soon. They can’t be stolen once you’ve set their shape and either put them on or gifted them to someone. If they are taken against your will the thief will be cursed so watch that bag with care.”

Merek couldn’t help but notice Blackflame’s gaze flicker over to Ulric’s greedy expression. Whether dragon scales are cursed or not the change in Ulric’s expression convinced Merek that if his mentor stole his scales he would meet an unfortunate end cursed dragon scales or not.

“Thank you sir, I will take good care of them.”

Ulric puffed up a bit. “I’m sure my apprentice appreciates your gesture. If you are satisfied with your necklace we should be on our way, my lord.”

“Oh yes, sorry about the distraction.” Lord Carvelle’s insincere smile gave Merek a sliver of hope.

If Carvelle disliked Ulric he might seek out Merek for the next design for his jewelry loving wife.

“Here you go.” Carvelle handed over a clinking bag to Ulric and another to Merek. At Merek’s surprised expression he offered a more sincere smile. “Ker isn’t the only one who can give a promising new Master a congratulations gift.”

“Thank you, my lord and thank you again, your grace.” He bowed to the men, letting his gratitude show. He set the bags in his inner pocket. The jeweler mage protections on the garment prevented it from being pickpocketed. Most thieves knew the coats on site with their burgundy sheen and knew most of them had a lightening charm to shock any who dared to try and steal from them.

Ulric weighed the bag with his hand, and offered the lords a wide smile. It must have been of a generous heft to remove the normal scowl from his master. “Good morning, my lords. May the rest of the day bring you joy.”

They both offered bows again, then made their way out of the manor. One the trip back to the jewelry store they didn’t speak. Merek because he had nothing to say to his now former master. Ulric kept eyeing Merek’s jacket and was no doubt plotting how to get his hands on Merek’s bag of scales.

As soon as they left the carriage Merek went to his room and collected the bag he had left there. His satchel held all the belongings he had in the world which consisted of two changes of clothes, his jeweler’s kit, and his mother’s journals. Three precious books that discussed her own trials and tribulations of being a jewel mage. He came down the stairs to find Ulric waiting for him.

“Here are your papers, if you find yourself without a place to work ,you’ll have to buy your spot in my shop,” Ulric scowled.

Merek accepted the papers. Before Ulric’s sneer, he unrolled the packet to verify it was what they had agreed to. The words Master of Jewel Magic made his stomach swirl. After so many years he had finally made it to the first step in a long journey to his ultimate goal of being a Premier Mage of Jewel Magic. Only two people have ever made that distinction and it was decided by magic not by the fussy old men at the Jewel Guild. It was a matter of designing a fully magical piece of jewelry that has a sentience of its own. It took years of devoted study and a large magical talent that most jewelers didn’t have. Of course he had to reach Jewel Master before he went to Jewel Sorcerer, but with dedication and practice, he had confidence in his skills.

There were many parting things he had dreamed of telling Merek over the years. Instead he offered a shallow bow. “I will keep that in mind. Thank you for your training Jewel Master Ulric.”

Before Ulric could respond, Merek turned and marched out of the store. The only sound to his leaving was the tinkle of the bell dangling from the front door and the sigh that passed his lips as he left.

A Little Different

I’m posting something a little different. This is the first chapter of the sequel to A Frosty Reunion published under my RD Fitzgerald author name. If you haven’t read the book it can be bought here

This blurb is my unedited first chapter of the sequel. It is a paranormal cozy mystery and it’s not m/m but still fun 🙂

Chapter One

Some mornings it doesn’t pay to peel back the covers, get out of bed, or even open my eyes. This was definitely one of them.

“What about this one?” My oldest sister Jane waved a fuchsia monstrosity, drowning in lace and swathed in bad taste. I clenched my jaw so I didn’t recommend setting it on fire.

“I wouldn’t put that dress on my dog.” Luckily my middle sister, Farah had no such compunction.

I could have hugged her.

“You don’t have a dog,” Jane snapped.

For the hundredth time that morning I wished our mother hadn’t bowed out of the shopping trip. She and Jane had already bought her Mother-of-the Bride dress. She had pitched this outing to us as a ‘bonding’ experience. If Farah and I bonded any more with Jane, she’d be bound in ropes and thrown off the pier before she ever had the chance to hold  her overpriced, overblown, wedding extravaganza.

Between trying on bridesmaid dresses, each more horrifying than the last, Farah and I have been subjected to a pompous glorification of her perfect impending nuptials.

I’m almost certain she was trying to see how much we’ll tolerate before we snap, so she can tattle to our mother about our bad behavior. That was the only excuse that could explain why my exquisitely tasteful sister could possibly believe fuchsia was a valid choice in any form.

Farah shrugged. “I’ll get a dog just so I can refuse to dress it in that.” She ate another teacake and scowled at the dress selection from her padded window seat. Apparently giving birth to twins had also eliminated her brain to mouth filter. I flashed Farah a fond smile.

“What do you think Hanna?” Jane’s narrow-eyed glare dared me to say anything negative about her abysmal choice.

“I agree with Farah, not my favorite color.” I offered a cheery grin hoping to soften my harsh words, but not really caring either way. Maybe if I pushed my luck I could be banned from the wedding. I’d only have to listen to mother scold me for the next thirty years or so. I tapped my chin as I considered my options.

Jane growled and tossed the dress onto the couch to join the pile of other rejects. Her engagement ring caught a stray sunbeam and almost seared out my eyeballs. I turned my head and stepped to the side, away from the reflected glory of her enormous rock. It could be a diamond or a small planetoid. Either way, unless she planned to change careers from businesswoman to guiding planes down a runway, she should’ve chosen a smaller stone.

“Gaudy isn’t it,” Farah whispered.

“Amazingly,” I whispered back.

Last month Jane had become engaged to Greg Hardin in a practical merging of cold finance and family magic. I could only hope they planned to hire nannies for their future spawn, because they couldn’t produce a warm emotion between them with a gallon of lighter fluid and a forest-worth of kindling.

“How about this one!” Jane’s voice had taken on the brittle quality of someone who had been shopping far too long and would snap at the next negative response.

I examined the quarter length, midnight blue dress she crumpled in one white-knuckled fist. It had less lace and sparkle than the others and I might be able to wear it as an evening gown later if pressed for a fancy outfit. The glint in Jane’s manic eyes alerted me to the perils of refusing.

“What do you think Farah?” With a breathless disregard for her safety I transferred responsibility over to my other sister.

“It has possibilities.” For the first time Farah stood to examine a dress. She brushed the sugar crumbs off her fingers and onto her neatly pressed jeans before approaching the gown. Snatching it from Jane’s clutches, she carried the dress over to the full-length mirror and held it against her body. She twisted left then right watching how the garment moved. “I like it.”

“You could try it on.” Jane’s biting tone had me holding back a laugh.

The only reason we agreed to participate in this farce of a wedding was because mother had promised Farah a new roof for her house and me that I wouldn’t have to attend any more formal events for an entire year. I still think I’m getting the better deal no matter how much Farah complained about roofing costs.

Farah peeked at the size tag. “My birthing hips won’t fit into this. Hanna, come try this on. You can model for both of us.”

“Fine.” I accepted the dress from her, then scampered to the changing room. I’d agree to pretty much anything to get out of this shop except the previously mentioned fuchsia horror. I had minimal interest in what I wore for a single day. As long as I didn’t have to listen to Jane whine about our wedding outfits for the rest of my life I was pretty happy with anything.

“Let me know if you need a different size, dear,” the shop owner offered.

I’d forgotten her name. No doubt it was etched on the frosted glass of the exclusive boutique’s front door, but I had buried that memory beneath a mountain of scratchy organza and sparkling rhinestones. I referred to her in my head as the Toothy Lady. I suspect her sharp, white incisors will follow me into my dreams like a human Pac Man. I grudgingly held back the urge to ask if she were a vampire. It took the little resolve I had remaining after examining dozens of dresses, but I ruthlessly resisted.

Times like this I wish I had a female twin. A girl Harvey would’ve been a hysterical shopping partner. I would’ve invited Harvey himself to our shopping odyssey, but Jane banned him after he referred to her engagement ring as a the ‘bad taste boulder’. I’m not even sure if he’s still invited to the wedding. Lucky man.

As I tried on the dress I wondered how long this merger, I mean wedding, would last. Jane’s strong will, aka bitchiness, had caused issues in all of her previous relationships, and Greg appeared to have a similar temperament. I had a bet with Harvey whether one of them would snap and kill the other before the ink had dried on their marriage certificate, or if they would wait until after their first-born child to insure their genetic immortality.

My macabre thoughts kept me amused while I tried on the dress. The blue silk flowed nicely across my figure and hid my flaws in the way only really expensive clothing can. I headed out for my critique as soon as I zipped the gown as far up as the sample would allow. I might be able to get it on, but it would take a month of living on air and ice chips to slide the zipper to its final destination.

I swept the dressing room curtain aside then sashayed into the main area, placing my hands on my hips, and sucking in my cheeks in my best super model pose. Mother had reserved the entire store for Jane’s shopping trip so I didn’t have to worry about strangers judging my ridiculous behavior.

Farah applauded.

Jane rolled her eyes before assessing my attire. “That’s nice.” Jane circled, studying me at every angle.

“What do you think Farah?” I asked. After all we were the ones who’d have to wear it.

Farah tucked a hank of hair behind her right ear as she examined the garment. Several minutes later she nodded her approval. “I think we have a winner.”

“Good.” I didn’t bother hiding my relief as I rushed back to the dressing room as if my feet were on fire.

“We still need to shop for shoes,” Jane shouted after me.

“Have some dyed. We’re both a size seven.” Isn’t that what fussy bridezillas did?

“Good idea,” Jane replied. I tried not to let her obvious surprise dint my ego.

“I have them sometimes,” I replied in a dry voice.

 “Not very often.” Jane smirked.

I had to remind myself it would be bad etiquette to punch the bride before her wedding. Mother would probably double my formal events if I gave in to temptation.

“Give me a minute to measure you, then you can be on your way,” the store owner said.

She must have taken Jane’s disdainful sniff as agreement because she led me to a small pedestal in the corner of the shop.

“Sorry about her, she’s high maintenance.” I mentally patted myself on the back for my lack of foul language.

The seamstress flashed me a sharp-toothed grin. “I’m used to it. A lot of people don’t like vampires, but they come here because I have the best selection.”

I gave my imaginary inner me a high five. I totally nailed her species. “Don’t worry, Jane would’ve been rude no matter what you are. She’s an equal opportunity hater.”

The vampire giggled as she quickly finished my measurements and declared me done.

“Make sure you get these delivered on time,” Jane snapped.

“There’s a form on the counter. Please write down your address and the date you need them by.” She spoke in a kinder tone than I would’ve been able to pull off. Probably why she’s still in business.

People like Jane are the reason I have someone else running my coffee shop. I dislike the public as a group. Luckily I can use my eccentric artist personality to get away with mood swings and introversion. Jane didn’t have the same handy excuse.

A few minutes later we were done. A subtle nod to Farah had her making our excuses while Jane was distracted by the shoe catalog. Not to say we had organized a signal ahead of time…but we did.

“Well, now that we have that all finished. I’ve gotta get back home. I’m sure Brent needs a break from the twins by now. I’ll drop Hanna off on the way to save you a trip.” Farah flashed Jane a sweet smile as she grabbed my wrist in a bruising grip, and dragged me out of the shop behind her.

I didn’t speak until we were in Farah’s minivan and gleefully driving away. “I don’t think Brent has set those babies down for more than five minutes since birth. In fact he smacked the hand of your oldest when he tried to cuddle his new sister.”

“Mmhmm.” Farah pressed her foot harder on the gas pedal.

“So why the rush to go home?”

“Oh, we’re not going home. We’re eating lunch at this new place I found. I couldn’t spend the rest of the afternoon listening to Jane discuss her imported hand-knotted bridal veil, or whatever the hell she wants to brag about next. You don’t mind, do you? I didn’t think to ask you if you had time.” She took the corner a bit sharp. I clutched the seat and tried to speak over the roar of my thundering heartbeat.

“I think Jane’s trying to make up for the fact both of us eloped. Mother has never actually been able to plan a wedding before. Jane is taking full advantage of her enthusiasm.”

“If they hadn’t objected to our choice of husbands we would’ve let mother plan them. We eloped because we didn’t want to listen to her complaining.”

“Well now she can live out her wedding fantasies with Jane.”

We both let out happy sighs.

“Don’t forget she still has Harvey to torture,” Farah reminded me.

“I think Harvey is running away from marriage, not toward it. If he ever elopes there will be a shotgun involved.”

Farah laughed. “True.”

“Where is this new place?” We’d been driving for ten minutes and we had just left the town limits.

“Remember that old seaside diner? The one that went under when the owner ran off with a mermaid?”

I searched my memory. It’s a small town so it didn’t take very long. “You mean the one that’s been abandoned since we were in high school?”

“Yep. Apparently one of their kids got ownership. I heard about it in my mothers’ group. They say the food is really good.”

“What do they serve?”

Farah gave me a strange look before thankfully turning her attention back to the road we were careening down. “Seafood of course. What else would they have?”

“Tacos?” I grinned.

“Maybe fish tacos,” Farah offered.

“Maybe.” I thought about it for a bit. “Now I really want fish tacos.”

We spent the rest of the drive bantering over how many stock options father would have to sell to finance Jane’s wedding. After a few more hairpin curves we reached our destination. The old seaside restaurant showed signs of life. A glossy coat of paint across previously weathered boards, a shiny new front door, and fresh gravel covering the parking lot screamed of new occupation. Smoke puffed from the small chimney in silent welcome and a neon blue open sign buzzed cheerily in the window.

Making our way to the entrance I inhaled the delightful fragrances of cooking meat and toasting spices. “Smells great.”

“Let’s hope it tastes as good as it smells.” Farah opened the door and led the way inside.

Warmth wrapped around us taking away the afternoon chill I hadn’t noticed before. Since gaining my frost magic the cold didn’t bother me as much, both a plus and a minus. I didn’t freeze when I went outside, but warm days were extra miserable.

“Hello dears, welcome to John’s Salmon Shack. Take a seat wherever you’d like,” a raspy voice called out from the greeting podium.

It took a minute for my eyes to adjust from the brightness outside to the darker interior, but when they did I tried not to squeak out my surprise. The ugliest woman I had ever seen stood before me, and that was the nicest I could say about her appearance. I nodded my greeting, not daring to speak. Not everyone could pull off seaweed colored hair and yellow eyes.

Appearing unfazed Farah slid into the closest booth and motioned me to join her. Without a word I sat on the other side.

“Here you go. Let me know if you have any questions.” She handed us each a glossy menu. “Can I get some drinks started for you?”

“Just water for now,” Farah said.

I nodded my agreement, still not speaking until she left. “You didn’t tell me the restaurant was owned by a hag!”

“Shh, she might hear you. Maybe the mermaid story wasn’t true after all. Besides who cares who runs it if the food is amazing.” Farah perused her menu with the avid greediness of a treasure hunter examining the map to a treasure trove.

I didn’t bother arguing. Farah never listened to anyone but her husband and even then it was on a limited basis. Instead of wasting my time trying to convince her to leave the restaurant, I read my menu. If I ignored the circumstances I had to admit that I wanted to eat all of the food described. “What are you going to get?”

“I’m thinking the sea bass with fennel fronds and basil sauce.” Farah made yummy noises like a little kid offered a bar of chocolate.

I shook my head at her antics. “The snapper with pasta looks good.” If the food was half as tasty as described I would be coming back.

After the hag returned with our water, we placed our orders. She jotted them down in a faux leather notepad before vanishing into the kitchen.

Farah propped her right elbow on the table and planted her chin on her palm giving me her entire focus. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. “Tell me, has Harvey caved on any of mother’s marriage choices?”

I took a sip of water before speaking. “He took Mari, something or other, out last week. He called me when he got home early.”

“Oh, that’s not a good sign.” Amusement gleamed in her eyes.

“According to Harvey, she’s a manager at one of dad’s companies and spent the entire date telling him everything she thought he was doing wrong with his bakery. Apparently he lacks business acumen and should put someone more experienced in charge. I have a feeling if they got married she’d take over whether she can operate an oven or not.”

“Huh, I’m sure he didn’t appreciate her comments.”

“No. He didn’t. You know how careful he’s been with his expansion. In his words. ‘she offered to come up to my apartment and I told her I had to go run my business into the ground.’”

“Oh dear.”

We laughed.

“Poor Harvey,” I agreed. “You’d think on a first date she’d try to be more charming and work her way toward complete domination over time.”

Farah scrunched up her nose. “It would be like marrying mother. Harvey is too laid back for that.”

“I don’t think he’s in a rush for date number two.” I smirked, remembering the outrage in Harvey’s voice when he told me about his date.

“Mother will be disappointed.” Farrah grinned.

I swirled the ice cubes around with my straw. “I’m not sure. From past comments she’s made I think she sees his lack of a love life as a challenge. It gives her the thrill of the hunt without having to kill anything, kind of like a really good shoe sale.”

“I’m sure she’s fonder of Harvey than a pair of shoes.” Farah frowned.

“You didn’t see her at Holly Haven’s last week.” I refused to take back my analogy. The crazed look in mother’s eyes when she saw her favorite designer pumps fifteen percent off had me snatching back my fingers. Why someone as rich as Mother feels the need to go to sales I’ll never understand. I do it out of necessity, or did. Now I can buy whatever I wanted, but I still have a frugal heart. Hmm, maybe that’s how she feels.

“He might just prefer to be single,” Farah said.

I shrugged. “His last five dates had nothing in common. Do you think he just doesn’t know his type?” I tried to remember the women Harvey had dated in the past, but didn’t see a pattern.

Farah shrugged. “He could just be trying to keep his options open. No sense ruling someone out unless you know for sure you won’t get along.”

“Yeah, like Greg.” I shuddered. It baffled me how my sister could be so excited to marry such a slime ball. Maybe Jane’s strong personality could keep him in line.

“Here you go, ladies.” The waitress set plates of food down before us. The smell alone caused saliva to pool in my mouth. I swallowed to keep the drool from spilling out.

“Thank you,” we said in unison.

“You need anything else?” she asked.

“No. I think we’re good.” I looked at Farah who nodded her agreement without taking her fascinated gaze from her food.

“Enjoy.” The waitress’s knowing chuckle made me smile in response.

“I think you made an amazing restaurant choice.” I scooped up a fork of pasta.

Farah hummed over her bite of fish. She chewed it carefully closing her eyes at one point before popping them back open when she swallowed. “I did pick a good one, didn’t I?”

“Yes you did. Good job. We’ll have to bring Harvey here sometime.” He loved seafood.

“Or you could bring the sheriff, or that hot selkie who works for you. I think you’re too invested in Harvey’s love life, you should get one of your own.”

I set my fork down. It took more effort than it should to swallow the pasta. “I can’t. I’m not ready yet.”

Farah nudged my foot under the table. “You’re never going to be ready, but you do have to move on. Don would want you to be happy.” Her soft, understanding tone increased my urge to cry.

“I am happy,” I protested. “Well, as happy as someone who has to participate in Jane’s wedding. I’ll never understand why mother just didn’t hire a wedding planner.”

“Mother wanted to be involved.” Farah rolled her eyes. “And stop changing the subject.”

“I wasn’t changing the subject, I was pondering mother’s lack of common sense. A wedding planner would’ve been a good idea. Maybe that should’ve been our gift.”

“I already got her an enchanted tea set,” Farah admitted. “It keeps any beverage at the perfect temperature.”

“She’ll like that. Maybe I should check out the attic. She likes old things and I haven’t examined everything in there yet.”

“I thought you set the kobold on that problem.” Hannah took another bite and made a sound suited more for the bedroom than a diner.

“I did but he put things he didn’t know what to do with aside for me to look through. It’s a pretty big pile. At least he got rid of everything broken or cursed. I boxed up all Aunt Phyllis’s clothes and sent them to charity and I’m going through her collection of old newspaper articles to see if I missed anything. There has to be a reason she kept them.”

It would be an understatement to say Aunt Phyllis had been a packrat. Hoarder would be a better description.

“Well, that’s a start at least. Let me know if you want any help. If I need to escape the kids for an afternoon I can use you as an excuse to come over.”

I snorted. “You and Brent are disgustingly happy parents. Those kids are going to be hopelessly spoiled. I doubt the twins will need shoes before they start kindergarten the way you and Brent carry them around.”

“They’re babies. You tend to carry them when they can’t walk.” Farah’s nose crinkled. “The older ones walk.”

I shook my head and took another mouthful. We spent the next hour on small talk and making obscene noises over our food. “Maybe I shouldn’t tell Harvey about this place. Who knows what kinds of sounds he’d make in front of his date. It could be embarrassing.”

Farah laughed. “I think he’d be fine. He might enjoy the attention.”

“Maybe.” I didn’t have as much confidence as my sister about Harvey’s dates. I tended to be overprotective of my twin, not that he appreciated it.

We finished our delicious lunch but declined the seductive call of the dessert menu. I did look the list over and make a silent vow to come back later to try their blackberry cheesecake.

Farah dropped me off at my house before heading to her own. I waved goodbye and entered the Victorian monstrosity I now called home. I’d become quite fond of the mansion I’d inherited, even with the freeloading gargoyles.

“Hey, you’re back.” Roan, my selkie employee, stood below the archway that led to the coffee shop portion of the house.

“Were we terribly busy?” I had left during the least hectic time of the day, but sometimes we got an odd rush. Not that I cared if we lost customers, but I had to at least pretend to worry about the solvency of my business, or my employees got cranky. The last one tried to kill me so I did at least pay better attention to who I hired if not their employee performance.

“No. Everything was fine but we do need to hire another person soon, unless you want to pitch in.” He gave me what he probably considered a winning smile. After growing up in a family where my father’s business acquaintances tried to sweet talk me to strike a deal, I was immune to charm. I could admire a good-looking man with the best of them, but one couldn’t change my mind.

“Good idea. I know Willow was trying to hire more help before she turned into a homicidal maniac.” I offered a bright, innocent smile of my own.

Roan chuckled; a low gravelly sound that I had to admit persuaded me more than his shiny, white teeth. “I’ll ask around. I’m sure someone around here needs a job.”

“All right.” I didn’t know how diligently Willow had searched. She wouldn’t have wanted anyone watching her too closely. “Do you have any relatives who need a job?”

Roan froze. “You’d hire another selkie?”

I shrugged. “Sure, why not?” Roan might need days off to swim around in his sealskin, but he proved to be a reliable employee and any entrepreneur would tell you dependable workers were worth their weight in pearls.

“Not worried we’ll rob you blind and pawn all your stuff?”

“I’m pretty sure the kobold would curse you if you tried to steal anything or the gargoyles would hunt you down, and don’t forget my house is semi-sentient.” I really didn’t care for most of the stuff inside and I had questionable trust in the gargoyles after they allowed the last home invasion. If a robber stripped down the house I would just call Farah and have a redecoration party. Despite the house supposedly decorating to my needs it had a different idea of my taste than I did.

“Oh. So it’s not that you trust me.” Roan looked oddly disappointed.

“No, I do trust you. I’m just saying I’m not foolishly naïve. My last employee did try to kill me.” I’d researched selkies since Roan came to work for me. The seal people didn’t respect anyone who couldn’t or didn’t at least try to protect their belongings. In their opinion if someone couldn’t keep their stuff from a selkie’s grasp, they didn’t deserve it.

“Good.” Roan smiled again, before turning back to the coffee bar.

Why did it feel as if I’d just passed some kind of test?

Blog Story #24

I feel like this story is getting away from me but I promise to fix it all later. 🙂

Chapter Eight

Turns out being a necromantic fae didn’t give him any super powers when dealing with crime scenes. No ghosts drifted into being for easy interrogation.

Krane scoffed when Finn expressed his dissatisfaction. “You have to build your skills up, pretty. Necromancy is a discipline. You will have the ability after training but until then you probably won’t be able to connect to the dead.”

Finn raked a hand through his hair. “I don’t have time to stop for dead people training. I’ll have to use old-fashioned detective work. W”

Amon grinned. “I’m sure you’ll do fine. We have confidence in you.”

Finn snorted. “You have never seen me work. Why would you think I can find the killer?”

Krane snaked an arm around Finn’s shoulder. “Your boss wouldn’t have let them try to change you into a fae if you weren’t skilled.”

“Finn?”

He spun around in response to his name, and out of Krane’s touch. “Axel?”

The vampire grinned wide showing off his sharp teeth. “I found you!” He stepped forward but his path was blocked by Criss.

“Who are you?” Criss asked, a chill rolled across the room, pebbling Finn’s flesh.

“This is my partner.” Finn tried to step forward only for his way to be blocked by Krane.

“Partner?” Krane’s tone made Criss’s positively warm.

“He’s my detective partner. We investigate cases together.”

“Not here you don’t,” Amon interjected.

“Easy.” Axel raised his hands, palms out. “I’m just checking on my friend. He vanished from the station and everyone was worried about him.”

Finn couldn’t imagine ninety percent of the station giving a damn that he disappeared. Unless it was because they needed someone to fill out their paperwork. “I’m fine, Axel. I’m going the job they wanted me to.”

Axel frowned. “When do you think you’ll be able to return?”

“Never,” Criss answered. “He’s ours now.”

“I want to hear him say that,” Axel insisted.

A groan escaped. “I am staying here at least until we find the killer. I doubt I can return.”

“Why not? I don’t want to get a new partner.”

“I’ve inherited necromantic powers,” Finn interrupted. Axel could rant for a while if given the time.

“Oh.” Axel slumped. “I’ll let the captain know.”

“Thank you.”

Axel straightened his shoulders. “I still will work as your connection to everything up above. Do you want me to bring you your cat.”

Finn bit his lip as he considered his options. “Not yet. After the investigation is over, I’ll decide then. I don’t know where I’ll be staying.” He had a room in each court but no home yet.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get him settled and then you can bring him all his things,” Krane said.

Finn had never seen anyone weaponize a smile before.

“I’d like to speak with Finn alone,” Axel bravely insisted.

“No!” the guards said in unison.

Finn flinched. “You are loud.”

“Sorry.” They replied together.

“I’m fine Axel, not great but getting better.”

Axel’s iron-hard expression softened. “Call me when you get a minute. We have things to talk about.”

“What things?” Krane asked.

“Not for you to worry about.” Axel spun around and marched away with the flare only a vampire could pull off.

“I really hate vampires,” Amon muttered.

“Do you know a lot of them?” Finn still hadn’t figured out the relationship the fae have with other species. He thought they stayed separate but that was before they easily talked about having a non-fae train him. This spoke of familiarity with other beings.

“Enough to hate them,” Amon smirked.

Finn didn’t scream. It was close.

“Let’s focus on the case.” If they were going to solve these murders they needed to block out unnecessary interruptions. “I think we should interview the non-royals first, then maybe the staff of the king and queen.”

“You don’t want to interview the king and queen directly?” Krane smirked.

“The royals wouldn’t kill their fashion designer.” Finn smoothed down his shirt.

“You don’t think the royals would kill?” Criss’s incredulous tone riled Finn’s feathers.

“Don’t put words in my mouth. I’m sure any of them could kill if they had enough incentive, but they wouldn’t waste the time to kill her themselves. I need the information about the other murders. The files I had before weren’t complete.”

“We can do that.” Amon patted Finn’s shoulder. “Do you need anything here? My people are collecting information. We will give you an office for you to work out of.”

“Which court will I be based out of?” So far he didn’t know enough about the light and dark courts to have a preference.

“The Dark Court. King Eohric will insist,” Krane said.

“What about Queen Titania,” Amon protested. “She is keeping a close eye on the investigation.”

“Is there a place between the courts. Some place neutral?” Finn didn’t want to be a chew toy between two powerful entities.

The trio exchanged looks.

“There might be a place,” Criss offered.

The hair on the back of Finn’s neck stood up.

Snippet Part 2

So many people liked yesterday’s snipped that I’m posting a second part. Please ignore errors, it’s unedited.

Chapter Two

After growing up the poor son of a drunk Merek rarely stepped foot into a bar. Tonight, was an exception. Only two steps in and he was waved over.

“Hans!” he called. Pushing his way through the crowd he settled on the opposite side of his blond-haired friend.

Hans’s wide smile brightened Merek’s terrible mood. “Merek what are you doing here?”

“I needed a drink.” No sense avoiding the issue. His voice must have held more bitterness than he planned if Hans’s change of expression was anything to go by.

“What happened?”

“Ulric happened. He kicked me out.” He waved down the bar maid and gave her some coin for a pint. She quickly returned with a tankard that he drained a third of with a few gulps.

“What? Why?”

Merek set down the brew and rubbed his eyes. “Nothing out of character. I designed an amazing wedding set for Lord Carvelle. Ulric took complete credit for my hard work. Carvelle called him on it and demanded he turn in my paperwork to declare my Mastery. Ulric waited until we were back then claimed since I wasn’t an apprentice any more I should leave. I doubt Carvelle will follow up in checking if I he turned in my paperwork. Ulric might just wait to see if he checks and screw me over if he doesn’t.” Merek’s shoulder’s hunched as he curled around the flagon. “I don’t know what to do. I worked so hard and I only had six more weeks until the official end of my training. I just know Ulric will ruin my reputation before I even begin.”

“Don’t worry about it now. Let’s have a drink to your Mastery.” Hans tapped his flagon against Merek’s. “The best you can do is hope Ulric doesn’t try to get you blackballed before you even start displaying your own work.”

“I know.” Merek ran a finger along the top of his mug as he tried to convey why it was so hard for him to let go. “I just don’t think this will be the end of it. Ulric is a vindictive bastared.” Frustration had him tugging at his hair.

Hans patted Merek’s hand. “You are an amazing jewel mage. No one can take that away from you. Ulric’s going to suffer more than you. He won’t have access to your skills and power and people will go elsewhere for their pretties.”

“I hope Ulric really does sign off my apprenticeship papers. He can deny me saying I need more training. He has enough of a silver tongue he can probably convince the guild that I am trying to use influence to end my apprentice before time. That will result in me getting no apprenticeship finalized, a wrecked reputation and no place to live.” Voicing his fears out loud magnified them instead of making them fade. He couldn’t meet Hans’s eyes while he spoke his worries.

“Hey.” Hans shook Merek’s shoulder. “If he pulls that bullshit you can go to the jewel league. Isn’t that why they are there? I know that the one for traders keeps things on the straight and narrow.”

“For anyone else it would work but Ulric’s cousin is the head of the local league. I doubt I’ll be able to have the country league listen to me.”

“Don’t borrow trouble. Why don’t you see what happens and if he tries something else I’ll have a message sent by one of the caravans. I doubt you are the first person who had this issue with him. Ulric is the type to pull this on one apprentice after another, especially if he knows he can get away with it.”

 “All right. I’ll wait and see.” He took another gulp of ale and looked around. Soldiers and tradesmen filled the pub. The noise overwhelmed each conversation until all they heard was a cloud of sound. He turned back to Hans to find his friend studying him like a particularly difficult puzzle he needed to decipher.

“What?”

“What do you want to do now that you’ve finished your apprenticeship?”

“I want to travel and learn about different techniques and collect materials to create more.” A dreamy tone entered his voice as he imagined all he could learn and discover if he ever made it out of this town. Merek wanted to have a few adventures before opening a shop of his own. “One day people will know my work by sight.”

“To being famous.”

They clanged they flagons together. It might be forced cheer but talking to Hans eased Merek’s fears. The storm in his chest calmed over his friend’s support. He might not have found any solution to his problems, but he felt a bit better. He brushed away the thought that the mead probably had more to do with his lighter soul than the talk.

He spent the rest of the evening with good company, decent mead and a few bites of the small fare the pub had to offer.

He slipped up the back stairs to a room he hastily rented above the pub.

Bang.

Bang.

Merek jolted away his head fuzzy and his mouth dry. A beat pulsed in his head, a tormented drumming sent by the gods to push him over the edge of sanity.

“What!” He shouted.

“Get up. Lord Carvelle had demanded we show up.” Ulric shouted through the door.

Merek stumbled out of bed and yanked the door open. “What do you need me for?” I thought you were done with me.” He held back the sneer trying to escape.

“You were requested.” Ulric’s sour expression conveyed his opinion louder than the disdain dripping from his words.

“Why?”

“Don’t ask questions. Get your lazy ass dressed. We don’t want to keep a lord waiting.”

“I’ll be right there.” Merek dressed despite fumbling hands and bleary vision, before presenting himself to Ulric. “Ready.”

“Took you long enough. You look like something the dog dragged around. You won’t last long in this business if you take to drinking at every setback.”

Merek winced. Anyone else and he would snap back, instead he let it slide with only a few internal rants. “I didn’t think I’d be needed today.”

Ulric’s eyes were bloodshot and didn’t look any better than Merek. They were certainly going to make an impression on Lord Carvelle.

To Merek’s surprise Ulric flagged down a carriage to take them to the end of town. Normally Ulric collected each of his coins as if he were starting his own dragon hoard. Brushing of his surprise, he climbed into the carriage before it could take off without him. He settled into his seat across Ulric.

“If he asks about future work tell him you need to consult with me for any custom jobs. If I find you going behind my back I’ll make sure your papers are misfiled.”

Merek pressed his lips together to hold back the brutal words aching to get out. Instead he kept his eyes on the view window. Ulric might be an ass but Merek had learned a lot during his training. Some of which he’d taught himself but there were some tips and tricks that could only be taught from one jeweler to another.

They didn’t speak while the carriage traveled over the cobblestone street. It took twenty minutes to get across town. The carriage’s driver tooled the vehicle through the wrought iron gates before sliding to a smooth stop before the front door.

“This is it!” He announced in a cheery voice. “All out.”

“Come,” Ulric’s sharp command, calling him to heel like a dog jerked Merek’s attention back to the matter at hand.

Why had they been called here? Had there been a problem with the design? Any issues with it would result in Ulric throwing the problem at Merek’s feet and complaining over his lack of skill. Deflection was Ulric’s path to getting out of trouble.

Merek didn’t bother to object to Ulric’s manner. Already, his smooth path to finishing his apprenticeship had turned shard filled and shaky. No sense in adding to the possible problems. Keeping his head down and staying beyond reproach would lead to a better results, or that was the hope at least.

Two guards stood on either side of the doorway, straight and focused on the newcomers. Had he missed increased thievery or political unrest? Why did Lord Carvelle need to see them, he already had his ring?

 An officious manservant opened the door when they approached and beckoned them inside. “Good morning gentlemen, his lordship is expecting you in the parlor. If you’d come with me.”

The servant made no motion to take their coats. Ulric puffed up a bit at the slight causing Merek to hide his smile. It would do him good to learn he isn’t top dog in the higher pecking orders. He might keep Merek under his thumb but with a powerful client he had less recourse unless he wished to lose a possible lucrative commission.

Each room they were led through dripped with ostentatious luxury and good taste. The mansion gave Merek an uneasy sensation as if he were sullying the interior with his less than high born birth. Luckily Carvelle had enough manservants to get rid of the blight against his house once they left.

They reached their destination to find two men waiting for them. Besides the known dark-haired lord another sat in an opposing chair. Merek caught his breath. Blackflame, the dragon lord sprawled in a high-backed chair. His silvery blond hair caught the sunlight beaming through the window as if even celestial bodies couldn’t resist his beauty. That was the problem with dangerous things they both lured and repelled. The dragon lord was famous for being as brutal as he was beautiful. Seeing him for the first time, Merek wouldn’t make the same mistake others did. Beneath the elegant sleep facade lived a beast that could rip apart his chest and eat his heart.

“Greetings Master Ulric, apprentice Merek.” Carvelle nodded his head, acknowledging their presence.

“Greetings, Lord Carvelle, Lord Blackflame.” He gave what he hoped was an appropriate bow. Carvelle dipped his head in return, Blackflame scanned his body like he was buying a horse and wanted to put him through his paces.

“Greetings, apprentice Merek,” they spoke together.

“Please be seated.” Lord Carvelle waved to a pair of chairs opposite them.

Merek tried not to die of shame when Ulric just grunted as his greeting.

Merek nervously took a seat. What could this be about? He settled on the edge of the seat, ready to jump up if needed.

No one spoke for a minute until Ulric broke the silence. “What can we help you with? Was there something wrong with your ring, my lord?”

Carvelle smiled. “Oh no. It is amazing, Master Ulric. I was hoping you could design a necklace to match it.”

Ulric flashed Merek a panicked glance. Merek didn’t bother hiding his disdain. If Ulric wanted to kick him out, he wouldn’t step in to help him without compensation. Ulric would walk all over Merek if given half the chance.

“I’m sure something can be arranged,” Ulric said, flashing a cautious look at Merek.

Merek refused to give any reassurance.

“Will you be able to match the ring, Master Merek,” Carvelle asked.

“I’m not a Master yet,” he replied without thinking.

“Oh?” Carvelle narrowed his eyes at Ulric. “I was certain you were to put in the paperwork, Ulric.”

“I haven’t had a chance yet.” Ulric didn’t meet Carvelle’s eyes.

“I’m sure we can come to an agreement.” Merek would be a fool to let this opportunity pass by. If it would pressure Ulric to sign off on his apprenticeship he could start off on his own.

“What are you going to do once you get your Masters?” the duke’s question pulled Merek out of his thoughts.

“I’d like to travel to the Dwarven mines and harvest my own materials. I’d like to design custom pieces.”

“Will you open a store?” Carvelle asked.

“Not right away.” There was dedication to having a store open all the time. It would anchor Merek to town and that wasn’t something he desired.

He smiled when Ulric’s shoulder’s relaxed at his words. Maybe his master didn’t have such a poor opinion of his work if he was concerned about competition between their shops. Hans made a good point that Merek wouldn’t have kept him on all these years if he were truly atrocious at his craft.

“I would be honored if the necklace I’m commissioning was your last piece before you became a master. If the ring is a sign of your talents, I’m certain you will craft many fine heirlooms in your career,” Carvelle said.

Heat bloomed across Merek’s cheeks. After years of having to prove himself, an unexpected compliment still sent him off center. “Thank you, my lord,” he managed to stay.

Blackflame’s smirk didn’t help his embarrassment at all.

“When do you think you can have my necklace by?”

Ulric rubbed his chin. “We can draw up a preliminary in a few days. Depending on the final approval and complexity it might take until the end of the month to finish. Do you need it sooner?”

It always helped if the client let you know when they wanted it by. Merek had witnessed too many times when they got a special order and the client returned two days later expecting it to be miraculously done. Customers didn’t understand that jewel magic wasn’t the same as other kinds of magic. Any magic applied to gems or stone has to be given time to settle between applications.

“No. The end of the month will be perfect. I’d like to present them to her for her birthday which is the beginning of next month.”

“Excellent, then unless you have other work for us, we will be on our way.”

Ulric gave a short bow and Merek did the same, not wanting to be left behind with the two powerful men. Blackflame’s beauty unsettled him in ways he dared not ponder. He didn’t plan on ending his career by geting his throat slit for his wandering eyes.

“Thank you for coming, I look forward to seeing what you two come up with.” Carvelle shook each of their hands.

“It was nice seeing you again.” Blackflame ignored Ulric and took Merek’s hand between both of his. Before Merek could do anything Blackflame kissed the back of Merek’s hand.

That damn blush was back. He swiftly retrieved his hand from the dragon lord’s capture. “Good afternoon.” He stepped back and gave a low bow before rushing out after Ulric.

“You’ve caught the dragon’s eyes, boy,” Ulric sneered once they had returned to the carriage.

Merek shivered. “I think it would be better if I hadn’t.”

“Perhaps.” Ulric gave him a long, considering stare. “Perhaps, not. A titled lord could make or break you. If you want to be a society darling while it lasts and a pariah after it ends, feel free to have a fling with the man.”

“I’d say you were over-exaggerating, but I know you’re not. I don’t have time for romance right now anyway, I have a mastery to finish.”

“That you do,” Ulric agreed. “I hate to say it but take the day off from the shop and work on the design. I expect something by tomorrow afternoon. You might be getting your master, but I still have approval of your work.”

Merek braced for the conversation. “I want a magical vow that you will sign off on my apprenticeship after this and let me stay in my old room until it’s done.”

Ulric glared. “Is my word not good enough.”

Merek didn’t say anything, just returned the stare.

Ulric snorted. “You’ve gotten smarter I see. Fine you’ll have your vow, but it better be a fine necklace.”

“It will be.” Merek brushed away his critical inner voice. He could do this. He knew he could. And if his work was admired by a certain icy-eyed dragon lord, well he shoved that in the back of his mind to think about later. He didn’t have time for romance…he didn’t.

Snippet

Here is the first chapter of a book I’m working on called The Jeweler and the Dragon Lord

Chapter One

Merek Stonefield delicately tapped his jeweler’s hammer against the side of the ring. Each movement precise and well-placed as the slightest irregular beat could cause a crater instead of a delicate pattern. It had taken three months to get Lord Carvelle’s engagement ring done before his engagement party in three weeks. Why Carvelle didn’t use any of the rings his family had no doubt stored in the family vault, he didn’t ask. Part of a craftsman’s training was to know when it was all right to question the client and interrogating one over his family’s jewelry collection was never acceptable. Especially if the rumors of Carvelle’s dead mother’s debts had any fact to them. More than one family fortune had gone by the wayside through gambling, man and woman.

“You done with that ring yet, you lazy oaf?” Ulric Green, Merek’s master, shouted from the display area.

“Almost,” he shouted back, not bothering to turn his attention from the piece. Merek tamped down the urge to scream at the Master Jeweler. He had only taken the apprenticeship with Ulric because Merek had wanted to be closer to his father. Apprenticeship lasted four years and halfway through his training his father had died in a carriage accident. Unfortunately it was a too late to try and find another master. His reputation was now tied up with Ulric’s and if Master Ulric claimed Merek was incompetent he would never get his official license. Even the enchanter’s jewel guild wouldn’t help him. Ulric was a star member while Merek wasn’t even accepted into the guild yet.

Having survived under the yoke of Ulric’s mentorship. Merek would be damned before he gave up in the last month. He just had to present examples of his work, jewelry that he had bought the supplies for and then stashed with great care away under a loose floorboard in the narrow room he called home.

Ulric stomped into the workshop, a cold smile on his lip, Carvelle sent his manservant over to pick up his rings.”

“Now?” His voice ended in a squeak. They weren’t ready and wouldn’t for at least a few more hours.

“This afternoon. Have them ready before the clock strikes two or I’ll throw you out.”

Merek didn’t bother to respond, He had three hours until two , and there was no way that Ulric would get rid of him, not now, not when it would mean Ulric would have to finish up the work. He mentally calculated the remaining steps in finishing the pieces. He could do it in that amount of time but it would take every second to get them ready. He muttered a curse. John would be angry that he was blowing off dinner, again.

He set down the ring and grabbed a bit of parchment. Better to let John know he wouldn’t be there than to risk standing him up again. This would end their relationship, shallow as it was. He held back a deep sigh as he scrawled out a note and sent it along with a messenger with a bit of coin.

He had been foolish to think he could handle a boyfriend and an apprenticeship at the same time. The door swung shut behind him as he returned to the workshop. No rest for him until he finished the piece. This would be the ultimate engagement ring. It could make his career. He set another diamond into the band pressing his magic to melt it with metal. The application of magic to metal took a find level of control not everyone could master. It had taken three year into his apprenticeship before Merek had any confidence he wouldn’t leave his work in a puddle of molten metal and liquified gems.

Two hours later, Merek rubbed a soft cloth across the ring to bring out the shine as he sang a soft stone song designed to bring out the best characteristics of a gem. “One day I’ll travel to the dwarven hills and dig up my own stones.” Dreams filled his head as he placed the now glowing ring into a jeweler box.

Snapping the box closed to entered the shop and handed over the finished product.

Ulric stared at Merek for a minute without speaking. “Done then?”

“Yes, Master Ulric.”

“Hmm, took you long enough. I might have to add a few demerits to your apprenticeship.”

Merek’s fingers curled. He tucked his hands behind his back to resist the urge to choke the life out of his asshole of a master. “You could sir, but you’d have to explain it to the guild.”

The guild had strict rules on how apprenticeships could be graded and any discrepancies could have Ulric lose his Master license.

“Hmm,” Ulric glared.

Merek waited, keeping his expression calm and untroubled. He should’ve signed up with the actor’s guild. “Does it meet your expectations, sir?”

Ulric snapped open the box, but didn’t speak.

Shit. He hated it. Merek bit the inside of his cheek tasting blood. It hadn’t occurred to him that Ulrik might not his work. His confidence began to sink faster than a freighter ship in a bad storm.

“You have done well. Very well.” Ulric snapped the box closed. “I have been an excellent teacher.”

Merek didn’t interrupt Ulric’s self-congratulations. If he spoke now he would say something he would regret. He still needed a letter of recommendation and his Mark for passing his apprenticeship.

“Thank you, sir.”

“I’ll deliver this myself. I can’t trust something this valuable to a servant. Come, you can go with me. It is always a treat to see how a client likes your work.”

Merek tensed at the unexpectedly generous offer. Ulric did nothing without compensation. What was his angle?

“Thank you, sir,” Merek repeated. What else could he say? He took off his jeweler apron and brushed his hair.

It took but a minute or two for Ulric to lock the store up behind them. Merek dutifully followed after his master as they traversed the cobbled lane leading to the better part of town. If the Carvelle family had lost most of their fortune, at least they hadn’t lost their manor house.

Three stories formed from a gleaming white stone, it shone in the afternoon sun like a beacon of wealth and beauty. The soon to be Mrs. Carvelle must be feeling quite smug about now.

They were met in the entryway by Lord Carvelle’s manservant who led them to the drawing room. “Master Jeweler Ulric Greene and his apprentice,” he announced in a grand tone.

One day soon Merek would be important enough to be given a name during introductions, but that wasn’t today.

“And what is this apprentice’s name?”

“Merek Stonefield, sir,” Ulric provided.

Merek didn’t dare speak. The man standing beside Lord Carvelle was uncommonly handsome with a sharp angular face, sparkling black eyes and the devil’s grin.

Fuck him. The Dragon Earl was in town.

“Greetings, Master Green, did you finish my ring?” Lord Carvelle brushed aside the Earl’s interest in Merek as if it didn’t deserve further attention.

“Yes.” Ulric handed over the ring.

Merek bit his lip to hold back his objections. He should’ve known Ulric would steal his work. It wasn’t enough that Merek would never see a dime of the profits and had to live off the pittance provided for his care, now he wouldn’t get credit for his work.

Carvelle flipped open the box and frowned. “This doesn’t look like your work, Master Greene. You have such a distinctive style.”

Merek switched his focus from Carvelle to Ulric , then back again. What would Ulric do?

With an oily grin, Ulric responded. “In order to finish off his mastery Merek had to design a final piece. I thought you would appreciate being the first piece of a newly granted Mastery but if you dislike the piece.”

“I thought you said you designed it?” the dragon lord said.

“I misspoke.” Ulric said smoothly. “I’m sure I can design another if this isn’t to your tastes.”

“And what is your opinion of this Mr. Stonefield, or is it Master Stonefield.”

“Not until Master Greene approves my final papers will it be Master. If the ring isn’t to Lord Carvelle’s tastes, of course Master Greene will provide another one. The client is always right.” A fact that doesn’t change no matter the craft.

“Oh no, you two misunderstood. I find the ring absolutely exquisite. I just didn’t think it appeared to be Master Greene’s style. My dear Ophelia will be enchanted to be first to receive such a modern piece from a new designer. She does love to set the fashion.” A wide smile crossed Lord Carvelle’s face and despite what the gossips claimed, the fond look in his eyes proved he had at least affection for his fiancé, if not true love.

A scowl crossed Ulric’s face, quickly banished before Lord Carvelle turned back. “I’m glad you like the ring, I’ll send the bill over tomorrow.”

“Let me take care of this.” The dragon lord offered a handful of gold to Ulric. “I’m sure you’ll have Mr. Stonefield’s apprentice papers filed tomorrow?” He turned to Merek and dropped two gold coins in his hand. “A tip for your excellent and timely work.”

Merek blushed then gave a hasty bow. “Thank you, your grace.” He kept his eyes lowered until the dragon lord walked away. He didn’t want his appreciation of the earl’s beauty to be obvious. Some people were too beautiful to be real and angering a dragon lord over staring wasn’t on his list of things he wanted to do. Blackflame was part of the royal dragon family and cousin to the king. Offending him would be the last thing Merek would ever do.

They bowed their way out of the room and left as fast as they came. Ulric didn’t speak until they returned to the shop. “Get your things and get out,” he snapped.

“What?” Merek froze, his feet stuck in place. “What have I done?”

“An up and coming designer as yourself should be able to handle life on your own,” Ulric sneered.

“But Master, I did nothing to instigate that,” he protested.

“The duke has spoken. Your apprenticeship is over. I can teach you no more.”

Merek swallowed the lump in his throat. As much as he longed to be free of Ulric the abruptness left him off-kilter. Without a word he climbed the stairs to his small room and grabbed a satchel he had purchased a few month ago. It wasn’t large but neither were his belongings.

Excitement and wariness battled for dominance. His hand shook as he pried up the loose floorboard and grabbed everything within. Before Ulric could barge inside he put back the board and shoved his clothing on top. His small jeweler took kit and his notebooks quickly followed. A visual sweep of the room proved he had left nothing behind. The duke had done him both a boon and a disservice at the same time. The few gold coins he’d been given would get him a bed at an inn but that little bit of gold wouldn’t get him far.

He went down the stairs to meet his Master, or ex-Master now.

Contest Winners!

My blog suffered from a sick puppy, my new computer getting a virus, and my son being out of school for a four-day weekend. But to make it up for my neglect I will pick two winners for the contest on the 1st. I’ve randomly selected Bobbi & crozzy67cinders. Please email me your email address at amberkellwrites@gmail.com and we will arrange your gift card. Thank you for entering.

Tomorrow I will have a more interesting post *crossing fingers*.

Lazy Sunday!

I went for a long hike today and I’m tired. So I’m going to do a second contest. In the spirit of birthdays list your favorite birthday activity. I like to drag my family to the art museum because I can look at everything and they can’t complain because it’s my birthday. bwahahah. The prize for this one is one of my backlist books. Five winners will be chosen. If you are a superfan and have all my books you may pick from one of my next 3 solo releases.

Contest Time!

I’ve decided to have a contest today. A $25.00 Amazon GC is in the offering if you tell me your favorite character from my books! One winner will be chosen next Saturday!