February 24, 2020

Harlequin Blog Tour Promo Post: Before He Vanished by Debra Webb

at 2/24/2020 04:00:00 AM 0 comments


Twenty-five years ago, Halle Lane’s best friend vanished from their Tennessee town. When a childhood photo brings Liam Hart to Winchester, Halle is certain the man is the same child who vanished. Now Liam seeks out Halle to help him investigate the circumstances of his mysterious past. Can Liam and Halle uncover the truth before a killer buries all traces of the boy Halle loved—and the man he may have become—forever?

Pre-Order Your Copy Today!

Amazon  |  Kindle



The shower was like heaven on earth. Her body had needed the hot water so badly. Her muscles relaxed and she took her time, smoothing the soap over her skin and then shampooing her hair. She was grateful for the toiletry pack that included not only soap, shampoo and the usual, but disposable razors, as well.
By the time she was finished, her bones felt like rubber. She dried herself, slipped on underwear and the nightshirt and then used the hotel dryer to dry her hair. That part took the longest of all. When she exited the steamy bathroom the delicious aromas of room service had her stomach rumbling.
“Oh my God, that smells good.” She rushed to the table where the silver service sat. “Why aren’t you eating?”
“I was waiting for you.” He joined her at the table.
Ever the gentleman.
Halle curled her feet under her in her chair while Liam removed the covers from the dishes. Fish, chicken, vegetables. He had ordered all sorts of dishes and they all looked amazing.
“I thought we’d try a little of everything.”
A bottle of white wine as well as a bottle of rosé had her licking her lips.
“I wasn’t sure which one you preferred.” He gestured to the iced-down bottles. “And I didn’t forget dessert.” The final lid revealed a heavenly-looking chocolate cake with fudge icing.
“I may die right now.” She wanted to taste it all.
“Eat first.” He placed a linen napkin over his lap and stuck his fork into a tiny, perfectly roasted potato. She watched him eat and it was the sexiest thing she had ever seen. She didn’t fight it. Surrendered to instinct and that was how they ate. No plates, just taking whatever they wanted with a fork or fingers and devouring. They drank the wine and laughed at stories from their respective childhoods. From all the stories he’d told her, she could not wait to meet his sister, Claire.
By the time they were finished, she was feeling a little tipsy. The food was mostly gone and both bottles were drained. She felt more relaxed than she had in decades. They had discussed the day’s events and Burke and Austen—and Derrick. The man was still convinced she had a thing for Derrick. No way. She’d also told him what her mom had to say about any friends from Nashville the Clarks might have had, which was none who ever appeared at their door. She and Liam agreed that was somewhat unusual considering how social the Clarks had been in Winchester.
“You know,” she said, after polishing off the last of the wine in her glass, “I wrote you dozens of letters.”
“Me?”
She frowned and shook her head. “Andy.” Then she stared at him. “No. You. I mean you. Whatever you believe, I know you’re him.”
“Okay.” He laughed, his eyes glittering with the soft sound.
God, his mouth was sexy when he was relaxed. She put her hand to her mouth just to make sure she hadn’t said the words out loud.
“Tell me about the letters,” he prompted.
“I told you what was going on in Winchester. Who was doing what at school. I even put pictures with the letters.” She laughed. Placed her glass on the table. “It was silly, I know. But I wanted to still feel you and that was the only way I could.”
She blinked. He had moved. He was suddenly next to her, on his knees, staring into her eyes, and her breath caught.
“I don’t know if I’m this Andy you loved so much when you were a kid,” he said softly, so softly she shivered, “but I would really like to be the guy you care about now.”
Her heart swelled into her throat. She started to suggest that it was the wine talking, but it wasn’t. The truth was in his eyes. Those blue eyes she knew as well as her own. And despite her wine consumption, she was stone-cold sober as she considered what could happen between them tonight.
“I’m really glad, because I would hate to think I’m in this alone,” she confessed.
He kissed her so sweetly that tears stung her eyes. Then he stood and pulled her into his arms. He carried her to the nearest bed.
No matter what happened tomorrow, she would always cherish this night.

###

About DEBRA WEBB


DEBRA WEBB is the award winning, USA Today bestselling author of more than 150 novels, including reader favorites the Faces of Evil, the Colby Agency, and the Shades of Death series. With more than four million books sold in numerous languages and countries, Debra's love of storytelling goes back to her childhood on a farm in Alabama. Visit Debra at www.DebraWebb.com or write to her at PO Box 176, Madison, AL 35758.

February 7, 2020

Blog Tour Promo Post: An Everyday Hero by Laura Trentham

at 2/07/2020 06:00:00 AM 0 comments

Laura Trentham, the author of The Military Wife, is back with an emotionally charged novel about redemption and second chances. In the vein of Josie Silver’s One Day in December, An Everyday Hero, explores the challenges of a relationship and ultimately discovering that love…and joy is worth fighting for.  

At thirty, Greer Hadley never expected to be forced home to Madison, Tennessee with her life and dreams of being a songwriter up in flames. To make matters worse, a series of bad decisions and even crappier luck lands her community service hours at a nonprofit organization that aids veterans and their families. Greer cannot fathom how she’s supposed to use music to help anyone deal with their trauma and loss when the one thing that brought her joy has failed her.
Then there's Emmett Lawson, the golden boy who followed his family’s legacy. Greer shows up one day with his old guitar, and meets Emmett’s rage head on with her stubbornness. A dire situation pushes these two into a team to save a young teenager, but maybe they will save themselves too. . .


BUY LINKS
Macmillan  |  Amazon  |  Barnes and Noble  |  BAM!

Chapter 1


“Disorderly conduct. Public intoxication. Resisting arrest.” Judge Duckett put down the paper, linked his hands, and stared over his reading glasses from his perch behind the bench with a combination of exasperation and fatherly disapproval.

Greer Hadley shifted in her sensible heels and smoothed the skirt of the light pink suit she’d borrowed from her mama for the occasion. “I’ll give you the first two, Uncle Bill—” The judge cleared his throat and narrowed his eyes. “Excuse me—Judge Duckett—but I did not resist arrest.”

“That you recall.” Deputy Wayne Peeler drawled the words out in the most sarcastic, unprofessional manner possible.

She fisted her hands and took a deep breath. The impulse to punch Wayne in the face simmered below the surface like a volcano no longer at rest. But ten o’clock on a Monday morning during her arraignment was not the smartest time to lose her temper, and she’d promised herself not to add to her string of bad decisions.

She sweetened her voice and bared her teeth at Wayne in the facsimile of a smile. “I recall plenty, thank you very much.”

Truth was she didn’t recall the minute details, but the shock of Wayne’s whispered offer on Saturday night to make her troubles go away for a price had done more to sober her up than the couple of hours spent in lockup waiting for her parents.

Dressed in his tan uniform, Wayne adjusted his heavy gun belt so often she imagined he got off every night by rubbing his gun. Giving him a badge had only empowered the part of him desperate for respect and approval. His nickname in high school, “the Weasel,” had been well earned.

Unfortunately, she was the unreliable narrator of her life at the moment and no one would trust her recollections. Judge Duckett, her uncle Bill by marriage until he and her aunt Tonya had divorced, rustled papers from his desk.

The ethics of her former uncle acting as her judge were questionable, especially considering they had remained close even after he’d remarried, but if nepotism is what it took to make this nightmare go away, then she wouldn’t be the one to lodge a complaint.

“A witness claimed you were sitting quietly at the end of the bar until a song played on the jukebox. What was the song?” Her uncle glanced at her over his glasses again, which made him look like a stern teacher.

“‘Before He Cheats’ by Carrie Underwood.” She forced her chin up.

His mouth opened, closed, and he dropped his gaze back to the paper. A murmur broke out behind her.

She would not cry. She wouldn’t. She blinked like her life depended on a tear not falling. Later, in the privacy of her childhood bedroom, she would bury her face in the eyelet-covered pillow and let loose.

Beau Williams, her cheating ex-boyfriend, was only partially to blame for her embarrassing behavior. It was a confluence of setbacks that had had her holding down the end of the bar. Hearing Carrie’s revenge anthem had hit a nerve exposed by the shots of Jack. Rage had quickened the effects of the alcohol, and that’s when things got fuzzy.

“Yes, well. That is a rather … Let’s move on, shall we? The witness also claims after a heartfelt, albeit slurred speech about the vagaries of relationships and how the moral fiber of the Junior League of Madison was frayed, you fed five dollars into the jukebox and played the same song for over an hour. ‘Crazy’ by Patsy Cline, was it?”

Ugh. She didn’t recall how much money she’d fed the machine, but it sounded like something she would do. “Crazy” was one of her favorite songs. A master class in conveying emotion through simple lyrics. She was just sorry she’d wasted five dollars on Beau. He didn’t deserve her money, her heart, or Patsy.

“No one can fault my taste in the classics.” Greer tried a smile, but her lips quivered and she pressed them together.

Her uncle continued to read from the witness statement, “You proceeded to throw two glasses on the floor, shattering them, and attempted to break a chair across the jukebox.”

She swallowed hard. A vague picture of a frustratingly sturdy chair surfaced. The fact the chair remained intact while she was falling apart had sent her anger soaring higher and hotter. A glance from her uncle Bill over the paper had her giving him a nod. She couldn’t deny it.

He continued, “A patron called 911. When Deputy Peeler arrived, he pulled you away from the jukebox and forced you outside. That’s where, he claims, you kicked him … well, you know where.”

“Wayne dragged me down the stairs—”

“Deputy Peeler, if you please.” Wayne sniffed loudly.

“As Deputy Peeler escorted me down the stairs, I lost my balance and fell. The heel of my shoe jabbed into his crotch. Sorry.” Greer didn’t make an attempt to mask her not-sorry voice with fake respect.

If she accused Wayne of misbehavior on the job, he would deny it and spin it somehow to make her look even more irresponsible. Lord knows, she’d embarrassed her parents enough for a lifetime. Anyway, seeing him rolling on the ground and cupping his crotch had been sweet payback.

“I sustained an injury where that spike you call a heel caught me.” Wayne half turned toward her.

Instead of playing it smart and soothing his delicate male ego, she batted her eyes at him. “I’m sure that’s left the ladies of Madison real upset.”

Wayne took a step toward her. “You are such a—”

The gavel knocked against the bench and her uncle stood, looming over them. “I’ve heard enough, Deputy. Sit down.”

Wayne turned on his heel and left Greer to face her uncle Bill. This was where she would promise such a thing would never happen again, and he would give her a stern warning before dismissing all charges.

“I’m striking the resisting arrest charge. It was an accident.”

Greer forced herself not to look over her shoulder and stick her tongue out at Wayne. That left only two misdemeanors, which her uncle could expunge with a swipe of his pen.

He settled behind the bench and picked up his pen, his gaze on the papers. “You will pay for any damages.”

“I’ve already reimbursed Becky.” Technically, she’d had to use her parents’ money, considering she’d crawled home from Nashville broke. “And apologized profusely. You can be assured there will not be a repeat performance. I’ve learned my lesson.”

“Good. As for the other charges…”

Her deep breath cleansed a portion of the tension across her shoulders, and a smile born of relief appeared.

“You will perform fifty hours of community service.”

Her smile froze on her face. It sounded like a lot, but she’d been stupid and immature and deserved punishment. “I understand. Clean roads are important.”

“Litter pickup? Goodness no.” He took his glasses off and smiled at her for the first time, but it wasn’t the jolly-uncle smile she was familiar with. “You have talents that would be wasted on the side of the road picking up trash, Ms. Hadley. You will spend your fifty hours working at the Music Tree Foundation.”

“I’m not familiar with it.” She swallowed. The mention of music set her stomach roiling. “Highway 45 was in terrible shape on my drive in last week.”

“The foundation is a nonprofit music program that focuses on helping military veterans and their families cope with the trauma they’ve endured serving our country. They’re in need of volunteer songwriters and musicians.”

“I can’t write or play anymore.” Her dream of hearing one of her songs on the radio had died. Not in a blaze of glory but from a slow, torturous starvation of hope. At thirty, she was resigned to finding a real job and cobbling together a normal life in the place she’d tried to leave behind.

“My decision is final. As far as I can determine, your brain—despite this lapse in judgment—is in fine working order. You can and will help these men and women heal through your gift of music. Unless you’d rather spend thirty days in county lockup?”

Would her uncle actually throw her in jail? For a month? “No, Your Honor, I don’t want to go to county lockup.”

“Good. Once you turn in your log with all your hours signed off by the foundation’s manager, your record with this court will be cleared.” He handed her file to a clerk. “Case closed. Next up is docket number fourteen.”

She stood there until he met her gaze with his unflinching one. “Go home, Greer.”

Her parents were waiting at the door to the courtroom. While they’d faced the horror of having to bail their only child out of jail stoically, her mother’s embarrassment and disappointment were ripe and all-encompassing. Greer wilted and trailed her parents out of the courthouse.

She felt like a child. An incompetent, needy child living in her old bedroom and dependent on her parents for emotional and financial support. She thought she’d hit rock bottom many times over the years, but her situation now had revealed new lows.

The silence in the car built into a painful crescendo.

“The tiger lilies are lovely this year, don’t you think?” Her mother’s attempt at normalcy was strained but welcome.

Her father’s hands squeaked along the steering wheel as an answer.

Greer huddled in the backseat and stared out the window, the clumps of flowers on the side of the road an orange blur. As a teenager, she’d chafed at her parents’ protectiveness and had wanted nothing more than to escape to Nashville, where she’d been convinced glory and fame awaited. Now she was home and a disappointment not only to her parents but to herself. Even worse, she hadn’t come up with a plan to turn her life around.

“Ira Jenkins is back in the hospital. I thought I’d run by and check on him. Since Sarah passed, he seems a shell of the man he once was.” Her mother turned to face the backseat. “Would you like to come with me? I’m sure he’d be happy to see you.”

“He won’t remember me, Mama.”

“I’m sure he will.”

Greer scrunched farther down in the seat. The last thing she wanted was to make small talk with a man she hadn’t seen in years.

“You’ll have to get out eventually and face the music.” Her mother’s smile wavered and threatened to turn into tears. “So to speak.”

Her mother was trying, which was more than could be said for Greer at the moment. Her parents deserved a better daughter. Someone successful they could brag on at the Wednesday-night potlucks at church. Not a daughter they had to bail out of jail.

“I will. I promise. Just not to see Mr. Jenkins.” Greer leaned forward and squeezed her mother’s hand over the seat, needing to give her something to hope for even if Greer wasn’t sure what that might be.

Her father cleared his throat. “You need to think about the future.”

He ignored her mother’s whispered, “Not now, Frank.”

“A job. Or back to school. We’ll put you through nursing or accounting or something useful.” He shifted to meet her gaze in the rearview mirror. “But you can’t keep on like you’re doing. You need a purpose.”

“I’ll start looking for a job tomorrow.” School had never been her wheelhouse. She’d been sure she’d make it in Nashville and had never formulated a backup plan.

They pulled up to her childhood home, a two-story brick Colonial on the main street of Madison, Tennessee. Oaks had been planted down a middle island like a line of soldiers at attention. They had grown to shade both sides of the street. It was picturesque and cast the imagination back to a time when ladies lounged on porches with their iced tea and gossiped with their neighbors to escape the heat of summer. Air-conditioning had altered that way of life.

At one time, as a kid, she’d known every family up and down the street well enough to knock on their door for help or run through their backyard in epic games of tag. Now, though, the houses were being bought up by people who used Madison to escape the bustle of an expanding Nashville. They built pools in the backyards and fences and weren’t outside except to walk their trendy dogs.

The march of progress through Madison added to her melancholy sadness. There was a reason not being able to go home again was a recurring theme in books and songs.

“We love you, Greer. You know that, don’t you?” Her mother’s voice was tight with emotion, but she didn’t turn around, thank goodness.

Her mother never cried and if Greer witnessed tears, she would burst into sobs herself and embarrass everyone.

“I know. Thanks for everything. I’m going to do better. Be better.” It seemed a wholly inadequate promise she wasn’t even sure she could keep, but it was all she could manage. She ducked out of the car and skipped around to a side door of the house that was always unlocked.

Her room was both a haven and a mocking reminder of the state of her life. Posters of album covers papered the wall behind her bed, the colors faded from the sun and the edges curling with age.

In high school, she’d gravitated toward indie folk artists and away from the commercially driven country-music machine located a few miles south. Joan Baez was flanked by Patty Griffin and Dolly Parton. Even though Dolly veered more country than Greer, no one could deny the legend’s songwriting chops. The guitar Greer had hocked for rent money had borne Dolly’s signature like a talisman. Sometimes Greer ached for her guitar like a missing limb.

The flashing glimpse of a woman in a pale pink suit stopped her in the middle of the floor. She turned to face the full-length mirror glued to the back of the closet door. God, it was like glimpsing her mom through a time warp.

Greer touched the delicate pearls that had been passed down to her on her eighteenth birthday. They were old-fashioned and traditional and stereotypical of a Southern “good girl.” Not her style. She’d left them in her dresser drawer when she’d left home the day after high school graduation.

A tug of recognition of the women who had come before her had her clutching the strand in her hand as if something lost were now found. Was it her circumstances or her age growing her nostalgia like a tree setting roots?

She turned around to break the connection with the stranger in the mirror, stripped off the pink suit, and pulled on jeans and a cotton oxford. Her mother would appreciate seeing her in something besides the frayed shorts and grungy concert T-shirts she’d lounged around in the last week. She reached behind her neck for the clasp of the necklace, but her hands stilled, then dropped to her sides, leaving the pearls in place.

She stepped out of her room and was enveloped in silence. Her father had returned to his insurance office and her mother must have set off for her hospital visit. The house took on an expectant quality, as if waiting for its true owners to return. She was no longer a fundamental part of this world. Not unwelcome, perhaps, but a loose cog in her parents’ lives.

She tiptoed downstairs to the kitchen and made herself a ham sandwich. May was too early for fresh tomatoes, but in another month or two her mother’s garden would make tomato sandwiches an everyday treat.

Craving an escape, Greer grabbed a book and settled in her favorite window seat. The rest of the afternoon passed in the same expectant silence. The chime of the doorbell made her start and drop her book. If she pretended no one was home, maybe whoever was on the front porch would go away. The last thing she wanted was to face one of Madison’s gossips masquerading as a do-gooder.

The creak of the door opening had her bolting to her feet.

“Greer? I know you’re home. Are you decent?” Her uncle Bill’s booming voice echoed in the two-story foyer.

She propped her shoulder in the doorway of the sunroom. “Letting yourself in people’s houses is a good way of getting shot around here.”

“While your mama would have liked to have shot me during the divorce with her sister, I hope we’ve made our peace.” He closed the door behind him and Greer did what she’d wanted to do in the courtroom—she threw herself at him for a hug.

He lifted her off her feet and spun her once around. Her laugh hit her ears like a foreign language. It had been too long since she’d laughed from a place of happiness.

“You could have just come out to the house. You didn’t have to get arrested to see me.” Bill let her go, and she led him into the sunroom.

“Do you want something to drink?” Greer asked, already turning for the kitchen and the fresh brewed pitcher of sweet iced tea.

“No, thanks. Mary has fried chicken ready to go in the pan, so I can’t stay long.”

Bill had divorced her aunt Tonya more than a decade earlier and married the choir director of the biggest black church in town. A scandal had ensued not because he’d married a black woman, but because he, a long-standing deacon in the Church of Christ, had converted to a heathen Methodist.

“How is Mary?”

“Always singing.” He shook his head, an indulgent smile on his face, as they settled into their seats.

His comment sprinkled salt on an open wound. She’d begged off going to church with her parents because of the questions she was sure to face and the hymns she couldn’t bring herself to sing. Some of her earlier happiness at seeing him leaked out. “Good for her.”

“I came to make sure you weren’t mad at me.”

“Why would I be mad?”

“I got the impression you expected me to dismiss the charges.” His smile turned into a wince.

“I wouldn’t have been upset if you had, but I get it. I was an idiot and deserve punishment.” She picked at the fringe on a decades-old needlepoint pillow and cast him a pleading glance. “I’d rather pick up trash, though, if it’s all the same to you.”

“It’s not the same to me.” He crossed his long legs and tapped a finger on the cherry armrest of the antique chair that looked ready to surrender at any moment to his bulk. “Do you remember Amelia Shelton?”

“Mary’s daughter? She was a couple of years ahead of me in school. We didn’t hang out or anything, but she seemed nice.” Greer couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen Amelia. Greer’s side of the family had skipped Bill and Mary’s small wedding ceremony; the acrimony between him and her aunt Tonya hadn’t faded at that point.

“Amelia is the founder and director of the Music Tree Foundation and is desperate for qualified volunteers. You’ve been playing and singing and writing music since you were knee high. It was meant to be.”

“It’s not meant to be. I’ve got to get a real job.”

Her uncle made a scoffing sound. “You’re too much like my Mary. You could never leave music behind.”

“Music dumped me on the side of the road, gave me the finger, and peeled out.” Greer shook her head and touched the string of pearls, her gaze on his polished black dress shoes. “I’m a mess, Uncle Bill. I have nothing to offer. In fact, I’ll probably make things worse for whatever poor soul I get paired with.”

She expected him to argue, but he seemed to be weighing the truth in her words like the scales of justice. His shrug wasn’t in the least reassuring. “Amelia has done something really special with her foundation. It might do you a world of good to focus on someone besides yourself.”

“Dang, that’s harsh.”

He patted her knee. “I’ve seen all kinds come through my courtroom. The ones who turn it around are the ones who quit feeling sorry for themselves.”

“But—”

“But nothing. Beau is an asshole. Not the first or the last you’re likely to encounter. Don’t you deserve better than him?”

“Yes?” She wished she’d been able to put more conviction into the word.

Beau was successful, nice-looking—even though a bald spot was conquering his hair day by day—and respected in their town. They’d known each other since high school, but had only started dating in the last year.

He was solid and steady and comfortable. Three things lacking from her life. Catching him cheating with the president of the Junior League had been another seismic shift in her world, leaving her unsure and off balance.

“If you can’t believe in yourself yet, then believe me. You are talented, Greer, and you have the ability to help people find their voice.” He slipped a card out of his wallet. When she didn’t reach for it, he waved it in her face until she took it.

A tree styled with musical symbols of all different colors decorated one side of the card. She ran her thumb over the raised black ink of Amelia’s name and an address on the outskirts of Nashville. “I don’t have much choice, do I?”

“Not if you want to stay in my—and the court’s—good graces. She’s expecting you tomorrow at three.”

“No rest for the wicked, huh?” Her smile was born of sarcasm.

Bill rose and ruffled her hair like he had when she was little. “Not wicked. Lost.”

Greer walked him out, brushed a kiss on his cheek, and murmured her thanks. She leaned on the porch rail and waved until he disappeared down the street.

I once was lost, and now I’m found. She’d sung “Amazing Grace” so many times that the lyrics had ceased to have an impact. But, standing on her childhood front porch, having come full circle, a shiver went down her spine, and goose bumps broke over her arms despite the heat that wavered over the pavement like a mirage. Her granny would have said that someone had walked over her grave. Maybe so. Or maybe change was a-coming whether she wanted to face up to it or not.

Copyright © 2020 by Laura Trentham

About the Author
Laura Trentham is an award winning romance author. The Military Wife is her debut women’s fiction novel. A chemical engineer by training and a lover of books by nature, she lives in South Carolina.

SOCIAL MEDIA




February 4, 2020

Blog Tour Promo Post: Cast in Wisdom by Michelle Sagara

at 2/04/2020 10:30:00 AM 0 comments



In the aftermath of the events in the High Halls, there are loose ends. One of those loose ends is the fieflord, Candallar. In an attempt to understand his involvement—with the Barrani, with the High Court, and with the much hated Arcanum—Kaylin has been sent to the fiefs.

She has mixed feelings about this. There’s nothing mixed about her feelings when she discovers a very unusual building in the border zone between two fiefs, and far more questions are raised than are answered. Her attempt to get answers leads her back to the Imperial Palace and its resident Dragon librarian, the Arkon.

Things that were lost in the dim past were not, perhaps, destroyed or obliterated—and what remains appears to be in the hands of a fieflord and his allies—allies who would like to destroy Kaylin’s friends, the Emperor, and possibly the Barrani High Court itself. This is bad.

What’s worse: The librarian who hates to leave his library has a very strong interest in the things that might, just might, have been preserved, and—he is leaving his library to do in person research, no matter what Kaylin, the Hawks, or the Emperor think.

He is not the only one. Other people are gathering in the border zone; people who believe knowledge is power. But power is also power, and it might be too late for the Empire’s most dedicated Historian—and Kaylin and her friends, who’ve been tasked with his safety.

Buy Links



Books-A-Million  |  Target  |  Google  |  iBooks


Excerpt

“You are such a coward,” Bellusdeo said when they’d reached the relative safety of the street. The roads in and around Helen were sparsely populated at the busiest of times, which this wasn’t. They would soon join roads that were crowded at the slowest of times, but Kaylin was dressed for the office. The Hawk emblazoned on her tabard encouraged people to make space.
Had Bellusdeo hit the streets in her Draconic form, she’d have cleared far more of it—but some of that space would be created by panic, and panic could cause both accidents and the type of traffic congestion that caused the Swords to investigate. Also, it was illegal.
“It’s not cowardice,” Kaylin replied, scanning the windows of the buildings above ground level.
“What would you call it?”
“Wisdom.”
“Oh, please.”
“There’s no point in arguing with them now. Sedarias thinks it’ll be months before this ridiculous command performance occurs. We have months to attempt to talk her out of—”
“Out of expressing any appreciation or gratitude?”
Ugh. “You know they’re grateful. This isn’t about gratitude. It’s about rubbing that gratitude in the faces of the Barrani who attempted to brand you a—an army. An attacking army.”
“I believe the term you want is Flight.” Bellusdeo’s eyes were orange.
Hope squawked at the Dragon. Kaylin didn’t understand what he was saying. Bellusdeo did, but her eyes didn’t get any lighter.
“You know as well as I do,” Kaylin said, emboldened by Hope’s entry into the discussion, “that this is not the time to visit the High Halls. I’m not sure the Emperor has ever been a guest there.”
“We visited the Halls—more or less—when they came under attack, and the Barrani needed our help.”
“From the outside. No one invited the Dragon Court in.”
The chorus of Barrani voices that sometimes offered entirely unasked for opinions on the inside of her head maintained their silence for half a beat. The first person to break that silence was the fieflord. His words were tinged with amusement.
You cannot expect that the cohort would suddenly cease to cause any difficulty, surely?
I’m almost certain that the cohort understands why inviting a Dragon—any Dragon—to attend the High Halls would be a disaster.
For the Dragons?
For everyone.
I believe some of the more conservative High Lords might be surprisingly supportive of such an invitation.
Of course they would. It would be their best shot at killing Bellusdeo. If Bellusdeo died, there would be no new Dragons. No hatchlings.
There’s no way the Emperor would give her permission to attend.
Nightshade concurred. In his position, I would not. But I would be prepared, should I refuse to grant that permission, for all-out war. My brother has grown inordinately fond of her; living with you has made him reckless.
He’s not—
He has known Bellusdeo for even less time than you. He is willing to trust her in a fashion no one older would. And do not cite the Consort, please.
Kaylin hadn’t intended to. The Consort seems to like her.
Kaylin, the Consort “likes” me. But she does not trust me.
She does.
“Stop making that face, or it will freeze that way.” Kaylin reddened.
I understand that you are attempting to avoid the Emperor’s ire. I consider this wise on your part. It is not, however, the ire of the Emperor that will be your most significant problem; he will do nothing to harm Bellusdeo.
I know that.
It is the ire of the High Lords. Sedarias is, I believe, genuinely grateful for Bellusdeo’s intervention. She does wish to honor her. But gratitude can be expressed privately—and in most cases, it is. Only rulers feel obliged to make that expression public because the public expression elevates those to whom one feels gratitude. It makes clear to witnesses that the aid tendered—in whatever fashion—is important and significant. The Emperor has codified such significance in public ceremonies and public titles, has he not?
Kaylin shrugged.
For Sedarias, however, genuine gratitude is not an impediment to political displays. She can be genuinely grateful and simultaneously, extremely political. She wishes to highlight Bellusdeo’s aid and import to Mellarionne. Why do you think this is?
Kaylin thought about this. After a long pause, she said, She wants to thumb her nose at the rest of the High Lords, many of whom weren’t helpful at all?
Nightshade’s silence was one of encouragement.
Bellusdeo’s a Dragon. So…her presence means that even Dragons—with whom you’ve had a war or two—
Three.
Fine, a war or three, were more helpful, or at least more of a genuine ally, than any of the Barrani.
Yes. I believe that is some part of Sedarias’s intent. That’s not going to help Mellarionne any.
Perhaps, perhaps not. She will do so as An’Mellarionne. It would be considered a very bold move—but there are those who would assume that Sedarias is confident in her own power, and they would hesitate to challenge her.
“If you are speaking about me,” Bellusdeo said, her voice almost a whisper of sound, “I must insist that you include me.”
Hope squawked.
“Well, yes, that could cause some difficulty,” the Dragon replied. “But I dislike Kaylin’s worry. She is mortal.” Squawk. “The marks of the Chosen don’t matter. She’s mortal. I may be a displaced person in these lands; I may no longer have a home or lands of my own. But I am a Dragon.”
“I’m not exactly worried about you,” Kaylin said. When one golden brow rose in response, she added, “Not about you specifically. But—there’s no way for Dragon and High Halls to combine that isn’t political. Explosively political. On your own, you can survive more than any of the rest of the cohort—or me. But you won’t be on your own. The cohort won’t abandon you.”
It was the Dragon’s turn to snort.
Kaylin reconsidered her words and chose better ones. “Most of the cohort wouldn’t abandon you. Annarion wouldn’t. Mandoran wouldn’t. I don’t believe Allaron would either, from what I’ve seen. And you know what the cohort is like. The minute one of them enters combat to save you, they’re all going to rush in. It doesn’t matter if they’re there for your sake or their friends’; they’ll be there. But this is political, and anything political is far above my pay grade.”
“You don’t seem to find this insulting.”
“I consider it one of the biggest advantages of my rank. Which is the lowest rank I could be given and still be called a Hawk.”
“One of? What’s another one?”
“I’m not in command. I don’t need to make decisions that might cost the lives of other Hawks. No matter what happens in an action, large or small, I won’t have their deaths on my hands.”
“But you don’t like being a private.”
“Well, I could be a corporal, and it would still be mostly true. And the pay is higher.”
“It’s not much higher,” a familiar voice said. It was Mandoran’s. Of course it was. Kaylin didn’t miss a step.
“I don’t suggest you try to enter the Halls of Law looking like that.”
“Like what?”
“Like thin air.”
“Oh. That.” Mandoran caused other people some consternation as he materialized to the side of Kaylin that Bellusdeo wasn’t occupying. To be fair, most of the street didn’t notice; people always had their own problems and their own schedules. “I was going to follow Teela into the office, but Teela’s not heading there directly.”
“So you followed us?”
“Not most of the way, no. I decided to head straight here to wait, but I caught up because you’re doing the Hawk-walk.” He glanced at Bellusdeo. “For what it’s worth, I think insisting on your presence on the inside of the High Halls is suicidal.”
“Oh?” The Dragon’s voice was cool. “For who?”
Mandoran grinned. “Mostly Kaylin.”
Kaylin watched as flecks of gold appeared in Bellusdeo’s eyes. Mandoran had, once again, managed to set Bellusdeo at ease. Kaylin wondered if that was why he’d chosen to speak when he had. He never treated the Dragon with respect; had the Emperor been present for most of their spats, she wasn’t certain Mandoran wouldn’t be a pile of bleeding ash. Well, ash, because ash didn’t bleed, but still.
“You left the rest of the cohort behind?” Kaylin asked.
“We had a vote, and Helen decided it was safest to send me.”
“She was the tie-breaker?”
“Ah, no. She didn’t consider the first choice viable. But— we can all see what I see anyway, so unless there’s an attack, having more than one person here is superfluous. If Teela had been coming directly to the office, someone would have followed Teela.”
“Not you?” Bellusdeo asked.
“I had to live with Tain for a few years. Compressed into a few weeks, I might add. He’s stuffy and remarkably straightforward. Also, he hates fun.”
“He hates mess,” Kaylin said, as they approached the stairs that led into the Halls of Law.
“Define mess. No, wait, don’t. The problem with Tain—at least for me—is that Teela might actually kill us if we’re indirectly responsible for his death. He’s not like the rest of us; we can’t speak to him without shouting, and even if we can, he doesn’t listen half the time. So…it’s a lot less safe to tail Tain.”
“I imagine it’s safer to tail Tain than it is to tail Kaylin if you’re worried about Teela’s reaction,” Bellusdeo said, frowning slightly.
“You need a better imagination.”


Excerpted from Cast In Wisdom by Michelle Sagara, Copyright © 2020 by Michelle Sagara. Published by MIRA Books.

Author Bio


Michelle Sagara is an author, book­seller, and lover of liter­ature based in Toronto. She writes fantasy novels and lives with her husband and her two children, and to her regret has no dogs. Reading is one of her life-long passions, and she is some­times paid for her opinions about what she’s read by the venerable Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. No matter how many book­shelves she buys, there is Never Enough Shelf space. Ever.


Social Links


 

The Consummate Reader Copyright © 2010 Designed by Ipietoon Blogger Template Sponsored by Online Shop Vector by Artshare