Log in

[icon] Rowyn
View:Recent Entries.
You're looking at the latest 50 entries.
Missed some entries? Then simply jump back 50 entries

Subject:The Message (88/141)
Time:01:30 pm
RA Header 088

Justin and Wisteria were in her office with her father and one of her brothers. Lady Striker and her greatcat had gone in person to impress the seriousness of the situation on the Watch. Justin had no intention of leaving the matter to whatever staff the authorities decided they could spare, in which respect he and Wisteria were in perfect accord. They were bringing Wisteria’s relations up to speed and going over maps of Gracehaven to organize the search. They intended to decamp to Anverlee after allowing a decent interval for Lady Striker to arrive ahead of them, in the event that Lord Striker was still being an ass.    

Wisteria was focused, intelligent, and efficient on the task of using their joint available resources, which Justin appreciated as he found himself checking his own temper at every foolish question or delay from some third party. Marshalling dozens of other people for the search was far more constructive than pacing the streets in person and demanding passerbys tell him where Nikola was, but Justin would far rather have been doing the latter.

As they finalized their search pattern and priority list, Anthser entered the study, brushing aside the footman who tried to present him. “I found his cufflink. I think,” the black greatcat said without preamble. The fel’s ears were canted backwards and whiskers against his cheeks, fur bristled. He lifted a paw to drop a gold cufflink on the table. “In an alley off Third, two blocks east and one north of Anverlee Manor. Too many other scents around, couldn’t trail him. No blood, no signs of fighting. Not positive he was there last night, but I think he was. Would guess he got into a cab or was otherwise carried away from the spot. Do you have anything?”

“Not yet,” Wisteria said. “We’re organizing the search now and will meet Lady Striker back at Anverlee Manor soon; she’s filing a report with the Watch.” Justin picked up the cufflink. He did not pay close attention to fashion in general, but Nikola only had two pairs of good cufflinks, and Justin had undressed him enough times to know both. This was one of his, gold with ruby chips on the face and a pivoting rod that served to clasp it.

Fel Fireholt gave a brusque nod and was about to go when Justin asked, “Did you find it like this?” He pointed to the rod, pulled straight.

The greatcat twisted to look at him, nodding again. “Why?”

“There’s a trick to straightening these, a push-then-pull. It doesn’t happen by accident.”

“So he dropped it on purpose?” Wisteria asked.

“Or someone took it from him and then dropped it?” This from her brother.

“I’d expect a thief to rip it off, not carefully unclasp it.” Justin stared at the cufflink, as if it could give the whereabouts of its owner.

A nervous young maid appeared in Wisteria’s office door with a folded note on a tray. “Begging your pardon, miss, but there’s a message just arrived, from Lord Nikola.”

All eyes went to the girl. Anthser, nearest the door, dropped his head to the paper and sniffed. “Who brought this?” he demanded.

“A street boy, fel—” she stammered.

“Is he still here?”

“I don’t—”

The greatcat didn’t wait for her to finish: he pushed her aside and bolted for the servant’s entrance. Wisteria, with perfect calm, had approached the door. She took the note and thanked the girl as she opened it. She read aloud, “‘Miss Wisteria Vasilver: We have your betrothed.’” Justin blinked. Betrothed? “‘If you wish to see him again, you will be at the corner of 8th and Valence, alone, at half-past two. If you value Lord Nikola’s life, you will tell no one of this. Come alone and without being followed or he dies. Notify the authorities and he dies.’” She paused. “It has the Fireholt seal.”

There was a brief, stunned silence. Well. Now we know what happened to him.

“Of course you can’t go,” her father was saying.

“The Watch already knows he’s missing.” From her brother. “We ought to give this to them.”

Wisteria glanced at a clock. “It will take twenty-five minutes on foot to get there from here. That leaves me fifteen minutes to prepare. Gentlemen, I am going. I would appreciate your help in this.”

Anthser reappeared, carrying a squirming ragged boy by the collar. The boy was trying to worm his way out of his clothes to escape. “I din’t do nuffin’ let me go!”

The greatcat deposited him on the office floor just inside the door. “This is the messenger. What did it say?”

The boy tried to dart past Anthser, saying, “I din’t bring no message!”

The black greatcat pinned him to the doorframe with a casual paw. “Your scent was on it.” He was looking at Wisteria. She repeated the contents back to him verbatim. His paw on the boy didn’t waver; there was something uncanny, shocking about the greatcat’s implacable use of force. Greatcats by nature did not use violence or even force against humans: warcats underwent extensive training that made them capable of violence in the execution of their duties, but even so Justin had never seen Anthser manhandle anyone before. The greatcat swung his head to regard the boy when Wisteria finished. “Who gave it to you?”

“Dunno – ow!”

“Describe the person.” Anthser didn’t appear to have moved. It struck Justin just how easy it would be for the greatcat to kill a man.    

“Dunno – grown-up, big guy. Like him.” The boy pointed to Justin: Anthser had his paw against the boy’s chest with his back pressed against the doorframe, so the urchin’s limbs were still free. “But not posh. Wharf guy. Wearin’ a scarf n hood. Din’t see no face.”

“Did he tell you to return with any message, or to let him know it had been delivered?” Wisteria asked. The urchin shook his head.

“How long ago?” Anthser asked.

“Dunno. Couple hours?”


“By the harbor, near dock three.”

“Thank you.” Wisteria retrieved a moneyclip from her desk and walked to the door to give the boy a mark. His eyes widened as his fist closed around the bill, jamming it into a pocket even as she said, “I’ll give you two more if you will accompany Mary here to the kitchen and stay there for the remainder of today. Agreed?” He nodded, and Wisteria continued, “Please let him go, Fel Fireholt. Unless you’ve more questions for him?”

The greatcat lifted his enormous black paw away from the boy, and Mary sidled out with the urchin and instructions from Wisteria to feed him.

“If he didn’t have instructions to say the note was delivered, they can’t know we got it,” Mr. Vasilver said. “Surely they wouldn’t kill Lord Nikola when you might not even be aware of their demand!”

“Perhaps they had someone watch the boy deliver it. It does not matter, Father: I am leaving here in twelve minutes. I suggest we focus on what precautions we might reasonably take.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Wisteria. I’m not letting you be taken as well!”

“Please stop posturing, Father. I am going.”

“You are not, not if I have to lock you in your room to stop you!”

“Fel Fireholt.” Wisteria was going through the drawers of her desk again. “This man is threatening to prevent me from helping you locate your master. Would you be so good as to assist me if he attempts to make good on this threat?”

Gladly,” Anthser growled.

Mr. Vasilver looked outraged, but intelligent enough to realize that Anthser was the trump card in this situation. His own greatcat servants wouldn’t obey an order to restrain anyone, and human ones stood no chance against a determined greatcat. “I – you can’t do this! Wisteria, please see reason. Byron, tell her not to be ridiculous.”

Byron Vasilver jammed his hands in his pockets, looking like the sort of man who knew better than to try to talk his sister out of anything. Justin had held his peace through all of this, in part because Wisteria and Anthser had done without prompting everything useful he could think of, and in part because his mind was paralyzed by shock, churning out useless noise like find them and kill them all. He had reservations about Wisteria meeting Nikola’s abductors as well, but not sufficient to stake Nikola’s life on the chance their threat was empty. He found his voice to say, “We’ve already violated their command that you tell no one. I assume you do not intend to abide strictly by the other orders?” His own ability to sound calm astonished him.

“I intend to keep any that they might reasonably notice if I violated. Such as not appearing, or having someone beside me. Being followed by someone suitably distant and inconspicuous seems appropriate. Ah.” She produced a whistle from a lumpy envelope in her desk drawer. “This produces a sound inaudible to human ears.” She blew on it.

Nothing happened except that Anthser’s ears flatted back. A moment later, they flicked up again and the greatcat’s whiskers relaxed into a more natural posture for the first time since he’d arrived. “Really? You can’t hear that?” At the blank looks from the humans, he shook his dark head. “It’s piercing. I bet I could hear it from five blocks off. At least.”

“Good. I may need you to. I’ll bring this with me if I need to signal you.”

Byron Vasilver cleared his throat. “Teeri, audible or not, a hardened criminal won’t let you blow on a whistle!”

“I’ll put it in a handkerchief and pretend to be blowing my nose or somesuch.”

You’re going to fake a reaction?”

Wisteria paused, considering this. “I’ll wear Mother’s lavender perfume. That always makes me sneeze and I want to have a scent that will be easy to track anyway.” She rang for a servant.

“Wisteria, what can you hope to accomplish from this?” her father asked. “Are you trying to get yourself abducted as well?”

“That’s one possibility,” she said, matter-of-fact. “I think it’s more probable that they intend to tell me their ransom demand, negotiate the terms of his release, and impress upon me their seriousness by frightening and threatening me.” A new servant appeared, and Wisteria continued without pause, “Oh, Richard, would you bring me a phial of Mrs. Vasilver’s lavender perfume? At once, this is urgent. Thank you.” As he departed, she returned without break to her earlier train of thought. “But if they do attempt to abduct me, I want Fel Fireholt and any other available greatcats to follow us at a discreet distance. Assuming they don’t take me, I’ll try to mark them with a scent so that the greatcats can follow them. Trailing the kidnappers is our best chance of finding Lord Nikola.”

“Teeri, why’d the note call him your betrothed?” Byron Vasilver asked. “Uh…you’re not betrothed, are you?”

“Of course we aren’t, and why they think we are – in fact, why they’re contacting me at all and not the Strikers about a ransom – is an interesting question. It suggests information a few weeks out of date, that they know the Strikers can’t afford a ransom, that we can, that marriage was considered but not that it was rejected. I am not sure what source would provide such an angle. Be sure to tell the Watch about it.” She walked to the door as a breathless lady’s maid returned with a bottle. “I should be going now. Here’s a sample of the scent.” She dropped a dollop on a spare handkerchief and dropped it on the table. “Do arrange for the greatcats – oh, hello, Sally,” she said as a grey-and-black-striped greatcat appeared in the doorway. “I’m sorry about the whistle. The gentlemen will explain. It’s very important. In any case, the address is on the note if you need it for reference. I wish to have support out of sight and via an indirect route. Be careful about leaving the house so that it doesn’t appear you’re following, in case someone’s watching for that. I’ll try to whistle once if my position changes but I believe I am safe and do not want intervention, twice if I believe I’m in danger and desire intervention. Good day.” She walked out with her father still sputtering objections.

Anthser stared after her. “She is my new favorite human ever.”

Mine too. Justin leapt to his feet after her. “A moment, Miss Vasilver.”

She did not turn, striding through her antechamber and into the hall. “My mind is set on this point, Lord Comfrey.”

“I do not wish to alter it.” He touched her arm, turning her to look at him. “Thank you,” Justin said, forcing the impotent rage at Nikola’s abductors aside. More than I can ever say, thank you. “And – if it comes to a question of money, I will pay any price. Any price. So long as his safety is assured. And yours.” He wanted to add more, to kiss her again while he still could. I love you went through his mind, sentimental foolishness that could not be true, brought on by the stress of the moment. He confined himself to a nod in response to hers and released her arm. He returned to the office and the task of determining how many of Vasilver’s greatcat employees could help.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now, while it's on sale for $4.99: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 7 comments or Leave a comment Share

Tags:, ,
Subject:Fifth Monthiversary Sales
Time:04:24 pm
These are the sale figures for my polyamorous fantasy romance novel, A Rational Arrangement. (Buy it here! Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print).

Sales Graph from June 24, 2015 through November 28, 2015.

Sales Graph 2015-06-24 to 2015-11-28.jpg

(This graph is only Amazon sales, because only Amazon breaks out sales by day. I generated it in Excel, though, since Amazon will only generate a graph for the last three months or less.)

Total Sales:

Pre-launch: 36
1st Month: 507
2nd Month: 292
3rd Month: 146
4th Month: 68
5th Month: 75
Total through 11/28: 1124

Average unit sales:
1st Month: 16.9
2nd Month: 9.4
3rd Month: 4.9
4th Month: 2.3
5th Month: 2.4

Woohoo! UNIT SALES DID NOT FALL! For the first month ever! I credit this to the sales price of $4.99 (down from $6.99) which began on 11/6: you can see the sales bump it created, and sales have been steady since. The halcyon days of summer have not returned, but I'll take it.

Draft2Digital sold a book, as did Createspace. Amazon didn't have any zero-sales days this month, so that was cool.

Net income is down from October, due to the lower price. But I will happily accept that! For one, I think more readers is better in the long term than more money is right now, and at $4.99 I figure these are buyers who plan to read the book, not people getting it because it's really cheap and they might read it one of these years. For another, it was not that large an income drop; less than 20%. Given that net income has been falling by 40-55% each month, having it drop by only a little is quite comforting.

Also, apparently the people who bought it on sale liked it!  RA picked up five new five-star reviews in November. ♥

The sale ends on December 11, so it'll be interesting to see if the monthly sales decline resumes when the price goes back up to $6.99.
comments: 1 comment or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Missed (87/141)
Time:01:30 pm
RA Header 087

Justin woke too early the next day, or “later that morning”, to be accurate. He felt refreshed despite having slept little, and basked in the remnants of an impossible but delightful dream involving a nude Nikola and Wisteria disporting with him in an enclosed coach that was somehow also a sizable canopy bed. He spent some minutes daydreaming a continuation of the theme before conceding that neither sleep nor the actual dream was going to return. He hauled himself from bed and went downstairs to perform his usual morning routine of calisthenics and weightlifting. Justin lacked his usual focus, distracted by the memory of Wisteria half-naked beneath him in the carriage. Mmm. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d fantasized about a woman.

Justin was still thinking of her after washing off and breakfasting. As he dawdled at the dining room table with a disregarded newspaper at his side, he knew he wanted to see her again. Today. Now was good. This was a terrible idea. For one, they’d parted just seven hours ago. For another, dancing half the night with one woman and then calling on her the next day was sure to excite hopes and gossip.

…Do I care if I excite hopes and gossip, here? Some gossip that he was serious about a girl would do his reputation good, at this stage of his life. He’d so studiously avoided anything that would appear to oblige him to a girl that his reluctance itself was a topic of gossip. That would make a break in the pattern juicy to gossipmongers, but even so it would be more normal than his current habits. Not a bad thing, for a man with secrets such as his. As for hopes—

well, if undressing her in my carriage did not excite any hopes in Wisteria, I can’t imagine what would. Unless she’s one of those who believe that men despise any sign of sexual interest in a prospective bride, and so assumes that her complaisance puts her outside the bounds of such a possibility. Which, given her remarks last night, she might well think.

That Wisteria might regard herself as unfit for marriage was an oddly unpalatable thought. Justin rose and rang for his valet. Screw this. I’d rather she think I am courting her than that I find her unsuitable for such, and no one else’s opinion matters.

When Justin arrived at the Vasilver residence, he wasn’t surprised to see the Anverlee gig there. Nikola must be here to apologize for his inability to return last night.

He was surprised, however, when Anverlee’s greatcat stepped out of harness to call out to him. “Lord Comfrey!”

Justin blinked; the individual was vaguely familiar – a very large specimen, with blue-gray fur turning white about the muzzle – but he could not place the gender, much less name. “Yes?” He glanced over his shoulder but continued up the steps to knock at Vasilver’s door.    

“Begging your pardon, Lord Comfrey, but did Lord Nik stay at Comfrey Manor last night?” The impertinent draycat followed him, head raised almost to his level as the greatcat stood with forepaws on the lower step.

What? “No, he did not. Did he never come home?”

The greatcat shook his head.

“That’s odd. He left the ball early for some sort of medical emergency; perhaps it’s still keeping him?” Justin hazarded. Twelve hours later?

But the greatcat was shaking his head again. “No. The emergency was at Anverlee and he finished with it not long after midnight. He went back to the ball.”

A chill stole over Justin. “No, he didn’t.” Vasilver’s footman opened the door and Justin entered mechanically, waving the Anverlee greatcat to follow and nevermind propriety.

“You’re sure of that?” the draycat asked.


He could hear Lady Striker in the Vasilver parlor, and caught the end of her question: “—did you last see him?”

“Shortly before midnight, my lady,” Wisteria answered in her calm way. “I stayed until around five. He did not return. I’d assumed the emergency took longer than he anticipated.”

“It’s not – did you by chance quarrel or anything, any reason that he might not have wanted to see you?” Lady Striker asked. Justin entered the parlor without waiting for the footman to present him. Lady Striker stood before Wisteria, stout and round beside Wisteria’s graceful slim height. Lady Striker looked older and grayer than Justin had ever seen her, the lines in her face engraved by worry. Wisteria didn’t answer her question at once, and Lady Striker placed one hand on her arm. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean that you would have, it’s only—”

“I did not see Lord Nikola after midnight, either,” Justin interrupted. “He would not have been avoiding both of us.”

“Oh! Lord Comfrey!” Lady Striker turned to him, arms extended in a beseeching motion. “He did not stay with you last night either? I know he was avoiding us at the ball, but he would be, yet I was sure he’d be home by now. Rukert says he was probably dodging – everything, because with the Blessing over he could, and that he was out all night doing – well – and I am a silly old woman for expecting my grown son to answer to me. But I…” She ran out of words, blinking, then added, “Am I a silly old woman?” As if hoping she was.

Justin looked to Wisteria. “Lord Nikola told you he’d be back last night? If he could.”

“Yes, my lord, if he wasn’t kept too long. But perhaps he was only being polite?”

“No.” I might excuse myself thus, but Nikola never would. “Something must have prevented him from returning. Which greatcat was taking him back?” Justin asked Lady Striker.

“I don’t know.” Lady Striker wrung her hands.

From the parlor entrance behind him, the greatcat answered, “He told the night footman he’d get a cab. There were no greatcats at Anverlee last night.”

Justin turned to stare incredulously at the greatcat. “He went to get his own cab?”

“He always does that sort of thing,” Lady Striker said. “Too impatient to wait.”

Wisteria asked the greatcat, “Then the last anyone saw him was when he left Anverlee Manor at half-past midnight? Have you sent runners to check the Gracehaven infirmaries?”

“Gunther, Meredith, and Kevin are checking the infirmaries. Anthser is trying to track him by scent, but none of us expect that to work,” the greatcat answered. “His scent’s all over Anverlee anyway, and once you get to the street there’s been too much other traffic to cover it.”    

“Have you reported his disappearance to the authorities?” Wisteria asked.

“Not yet,” Lady Striker said, at the same time as the greatcat said, “I sent Kathy to tell the Watch, but without the Strikers making it official they won’t do much of anything, unless he ended in lockup somehow.”    

Lady Striker stared at her greatcat. “Jill! I gave no such order.”

“You sure didn’t, m’lady.” The greatcat sat on her haunches, green eyes unblinking. “Kathy doesn’t work for you, neither.”

“Well, I – he’s my son! How dare you! Think of our reputation if this turns out to be nothing!”

“With all due respect—” and her insubordinate tone made it clear Jill did not consider much respect due at the moment “—I am thinking of Lord Nik’s well-being, and whatever happened to him is definitely something.” She snarled the last word, and glanced back to Wisteria. “Meredith’s gone to my son’s place with a message asking him to get the neighbor greatcats together. They’ll start searching the streets.”

Justin was not in the habit of involving himself in other people’s disputes with their servants and had little tolerance for backtalking himself, but in this case his sympathies lay with Jill. He ignored the squabble, thinking about what they might be overlooking. What were the possibilities? An accident was most likely, which would leave Nikola at an infirmary if he were lucky, or on the street somewhere between Anverlee and Dawnfell if he were not. “That’s something. I’ll send one of my draycats to mobilize my own people,” Justin found himself saying. Mechanically, he stepped outside to give the instructions. Lady Striker made some confused noises combining appreciation and objection, which he ignored. If Nikola hadn’t been in an accident, then he’d been assaulted. If he’d been murdered—

Don’t think that. You don’t need to think of that. If he’s dead nothing matters. Therefore, he cannot be dead.

Wisteria cleared her throat. “I am sure we have some people who could be spared, as well. It would be best if we coordinated our efforts. Preferably from Anverlee Manor, as that’s closest both to where he was last seen and where he was last headed.”

Justin nodded agreement; that was sensible. If Nikola’d been injured or knocked unconscious (not killed he can’t be dead) during a robbery, he might have been left in some out-of-the-way place by the robbers. It’d be worth broadening the search from the most probable routes between Anverlee and Dawnfell. Focus on the sketchiest neighborhoods? There were only a couple of miles between the two, and the area as a whole had historically been the best in the city, but some of those old entailed estates were in the hands of other impoverished nobles like the Strikers. Those ill-tended grounds could make for good hiding places. Searching private property was best done by the law – “Lady Striker. You are his next of kin. You must give the Watch official notice that Lord Nikola is missing and ask them to assist in the search.”    

“But…Rukert thought…” Lady Striker quavered under Justin’s stare. “…do you think it best, Lord Comfrey?”

“I do.”

“Very well,” Lady Striker agreed meekly. From the doorway, Jill gave an un-servant-like snort.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now, while it's on sale for $4.99: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 27 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Going Under (86/141)
Time:01:30 pm
( You are about to view content that may only be appropriate for adults. )
comments: 3 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:The Information Age
Time:10:12 am
Tuesday: Lut: "The thermostat says "low battery"."
Me: "I didn't know it used batteries. Or how to get at them."
Wednesday: Me: *tries to pry open the thermostat, unsuccessfully* "I should look for the directions."
Thursday: Me: *looks at the thermostat for a model number. It doesn't have one*
Friday: Me: "Well, I'm renting a car today anyway, I can get whatever batteries it takes when I go for groceries."
Saturday morning: Thermostat: *display is dead*
Me: "I guess I should figure this out now." *does Google search for the brand name of White-Rodgers, which is the thermostat's only identifying mark*.
30 seconds later: Me: *removes faceplate, puts in fresh AA batteries*

That was ... unexpectedly easy.

Also, I can't believe that my thermostat ran for 12 years on two AA batteries. o.O
comments: 4 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Motivation (85/141)
Time:01:30 pm
RA Header 085

The captain's mind clung to the demon, resisting treatment. He jerked his knife backwards and cut the gag free at the same time that he yanked his other hand out of contact. "None of your tricks now!" He pointed the tip of the knife at Nik's face.

I am dealing with a madman who does not want to be cured. Nik shivered violently. “What tricks? What do you want of me?” he asked, voice hoarse and shaken.

Another grim smile. “Same thing I’ve wanted all along, m’lord.” The door opened, and the demon-ridden man turned to it. “Thank you, Crit.” He took a woman’s arm and guided her into the room. She was middle-aged, with similar features to the captain. Her eyes were vacant, gait a clumsy shuffle. “I want you to heal my mother.”

Nik’s stomach sank as recalled them both now. They’d come to petition a few weeks ago: the woman was unresponsive but was not demon-ridden and had no deformities in her mind that Nik could detect. Her son had threatened him then too, but Anthser had intervened before it came to blows. “Sir, the reason I did not heal your mother is that I cannot.” What was their surname? Brock? So many petitioners since then.

“I don’t think you understand your position here, m’lord.” The captain’s thin brows drew down. “You will heal my mother. No warcat is going to turn us out now, and I don’t care how much time it takes or what you expect to be paid. You will cure her.”

“It is not a question of time or money, sir. I cannot diagnose her. I cannot heal her.

The curly-haired man released his mother’s arm and stepped forward to strike Nik with the back of his hand. “You lie!” he snarled. “You are the best! I know you can do it and you will!” Even as Nik reeled, whimpering, he tried to cast out the demon again at the contact, and felt the Savior’s sorrow at being refused. The captain shook his hand as if it stung. “What are you trying to do to me?”

Nik hunched his shoulders against another assault. “Mr. Brock, you are not in your right mind. You’re possessed by a demon. You must allow the Savior to cast it out.”

“Brogan.” The captain took a step back, reaching into his pockets for thick gloves. “My name is Brogan, and I am not the one who needs healing. Look at my mother!” He grabbed Nik by the hair with one gloved hand, hauling his head about to force him to look at the woman. “Look at her! Are you trying to convince me she doesn’t need help? Do you think I’m stupid?”

Tears stung at Nik’s eyes and he hated the whimper that escaped as he tilted his head further to ease the tug on his hair. “I am not saying she doesn’t, but I can’t—”

“Shut up! Shut up!” He moved to hit Nik again and this time Nik raised his bound hands in time to deflect the blow.

“Don’t hit me!” Nik yelled back, wishing he sounded angry and not pitiful, begging, trembling with fear. “I’ll try, all right? Let me try again with her. Please don’t hit me.”

Brogan grunted and released his hair. Nik swallowed, still shaking. I can’t. I know I can’t. What is he going to do to me when she’s not healed? Brogan led his sleepwalking mother closer. Nik licked dry lips. “I need to touch her face to mine. I can see her mind best that way.” His captor pulled another chair adjacent to Nik’s and sat her in it. Awkwardly, Nik leaned over to rest his forehead against hers. Her mind was much as he remembered it: he’d spent several minutes studying it the last time. It’s not that I didn’t try. I tried. Looking again isn’t going to change what I see, and everything is…fine.

Minds were astonishingly complex and varied, and it was all but impossible to learn what was wrong with a defective mind without guidance of some kind. Most of what he’d learned about non-demonic problems had been from either his great-grandmother, who had shown him what to do on her petitioners, or from her grandfather’s papers. The rest had been from observation of healthy minds: studying all the ways a particular mindshape might look when functioning properly helped in recognizing when it wasn’t. On rare occasions, re-examination of those he could not quickly diagnose let him see a problem he had missed, but it had never, not once, taught him to identify a new cause of dysfunction.

Maybe this time would be different. Or maybe it was something he’d missed.

Nikola subjected her mind to the kind of scrutiny he reserved for study, the kind he’d given to his great-grandmother when she was teaching him to identify various mental structures and how they interacted. He’d examined perhaps a dozen volunteers – greatcats, family members, Fireholt subjects – this closely. He mapped the shapes of Mrs. Brogan’s mind now, outlining each part, the borders of different emotions, types of memories, connective webs, the texture, color, shape, feel of each piece. The last time, he’d focused on motor control and the centers that controlled sleep and dream states. He intensified that search, looking for any granule that might be an irritant, any hint of wrinkling that might indicate dysfunction, anything at all.


He invoked the Savior anyway, to wash over the seemingly undamaged mindshapes, and felt his god’s too-familiar sorrow, unable to help. Nik moved to the other parts of the mind, though he could imagine no way a defect in hatred or love or compassion could cause her condition. He examined slowly and thoroughly, aware that he was stalling, aware there was nothing he could do but stall.

About halfway through this examination, Brogan hit Nik, knocking him out of the trance. “What are you doing?” Brogan snarled. “Why haven’t you cured her yet?”

“I am looking for the problem, you imbecile!” Nikola yelled back, and received another blow for it.

“I don’t believe you.” Brogan glared at him, eyes narrowed.

“Demons and angels! What possible reason would I have to lie?”    

Brogan flexed his fingers. “Reputation. You don’t want anyone to find out you’ve been turning away petitioners you could cure out of greed. I won’t tell a soul, I swear. I just want my mother back.”

Nikola stared at him. “Sir, you are not in your right mind. There’s a demon—”

“SHUT UP!” Brogan punched him again and Nik cringed, whimpering. “Stop lying! Stop wasting my time! I know what your problem is – you’re just not motivated yet.”

Nik swallowed against mounting terror. He’s insane and I can’t cure him because he doesn’t trust me and I can’t make him trust me because he’s insane and oh Savior he’s going to kill me because I can’t   

Brogan turned away, moving out of sight behind him. Nik twisted as much as he could while secured to the chair, trying to project calm, willing it to be contagious. “It’s not a matter of motivation, Mr. Brogan. I am doing everything in my power—” which is nothing there’s nothing I can do Savior help me “—please let me—”

From behind, Brogan struck the back of Nik’s head with something hard. “Don’t lie to me! If you were doing ‘everything in your power’ she’d be cured now!”

Dazed, Nik said thickly, “I need time—”

“Shut UP!” Brogan forced another gag into Nik’s mouth. “I don’t need to hear your excuses! I don’t need anything from you except for you to cure my mother, and you needn’t talk for that.” He knotted the ends of the gag behind Nik’s head then circled around to his front. He dropped a leather roll onto the tabletop nearby – something inside it clinked – and grabbed Nik’s bound hands to tie his left wrist to the arm of the chair. Panicking, Nik struggled. He nearly toppled the chair he was secured to but Brogan just backhanded him until Nik was too dizzy to resist. Then his captor finished tying down his left arm, cut apart the rope holding his wrists to each other, and tied down his right. His feet remained bound to the legs of the chair. Brogan removed Nik’s gloves next, then tilted Nik so that the side of the lord’s head touched the cheek of the unresponsive woman in the chair beside him. “This stops,” he told Nik, “when she’s better. Not before.

Nik tried to focus on the woman’s mind again, but his heart was hammering, eyes tracking Brogan as the man unrolled the leather wrap he’d set on the table. It was a toolholder, little pockets holding an array of metal implements, from long thin needles to slim metal picks, pliers, tongs. Brogan fetched a pot and filled it with glowing coals from the stove. He pulled several needles and a pair of pliers from the toolkit, and dropped them into the pot.

Brogan positioned a chair before Nik and sat, splaying Nik’s shaking fingers and eyeing them with a clinical detachment. “Cure her, Blessed,” he growled.

Nik choked around the gag, struggling to breathe. If he could have willed himself to faint, he would have. Savior oh Savior please – eyes squeezed shut, Nik scanned desperately over Mrs. Brogan’s mind – how can he do this in front of her, Savior, unresponsive is not the same as unaware – praying for some new insight, invoking his god anyway, feeling the Savior’s grief mingle with his own despair.

Brogan used the toolkit’s small tongs to pluck a needle from the brazier. Nik could feel heat radiating from it, Brogan’s hand forcing his fingers straight when he tried to fist them, the shocking, excruciating pain as the searing needletip bit into his finger just under the nail.    

The only thing that stopped him from screaming was the gag.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now, while it's on sale for $4.99: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 13 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Call for Beta Readers!
Time:12:40 pm
I've finished my initial edits on two novellas in the same setting as A Rational Arrangement:

"His Angel": a prequel about how Justin and Nikola first became lovers. (20,000 words)
"Inconceivable": Sequel to A Rational Arrangement, about Wisteria trying to get pregnant. (17,500 words)

I am looking for beta-readers for these! I primarily want people to look for:

  • Spelling/grammar/editing artifact errors

  • Continuity errors

  • Overused words

  • Confusing text: (eg, if you find yourself confused about what's going on, or what this word the characters keep using means in the context of the story, or things of that nature)

With "His Angel", I have a few additional things I want beta readers to look at, which I'll go over with the specific volunteers once I've got some.

"Inconceivable" is best read if you've already finished A Rational Arrangement.

If you'd like to beta read either or both, please leave a comment with your email address and which one(s) you want to read, and I'll pick a handful of people for each story. Comments are screened so your email address will not be made public. I'd prefer to have feedback within 30 days.

Thank you!
comments: 9 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:A Man Possessed (84/141)
Time:01:30 pm
RA Header 084

Nik lost track of time as well as distance while the cart rolled along. His captors spoke little aside from directions like “Stop” or “Wait” or “Left here” from Knife-man. Uncomfortable and frightened, Nik alternated between uselessly rehashing every mistake that had led to him to this predicament – not waking Meredith to take him back, letting Anthser have the night off, not telling the footman to find a coach-for-hire for him, not taking the glass coach back to Anverlee Manor – and speculating just as uselessly about where he was going and what these men wanted of him. Whenever he heard the sounds of a carriage or other voices, he considered making a commotion to draw attention to his plight. The sting of the cut on his cheek and Knife-man’s threat deterred him. Miserable coward.

After an unknown interval, he heard the susurration of waves in the near distance. We’re by the harbor? The clatter of cart wheels over stone changed to the quieter but less even rhythm of crossing wooden planking. They’re taking me out of Newlant? Savior, what if they’re not planning to ransom me at all? Maybe they mean to sell me to some foreign king as his pet mind-healer. Saints, no, I can’t let them take me out of the country. I have to get away. The sack over his head wasn’t tied in place; by pressing his cheek against the bottom of the cart and wriggling, he worked free of it. He shifted position, trying to minimize the noise as he got into a posture where he’d be able to rise quickly. His mind recited a litany of terror: This won’t work, I’ll get myself killed, I can’t stand fast enough, they outnumber me, these curst dress shoes are not meant for running, how far can I get with my hands tied, oh Savior I don’t want to die.

But above all was a mortal certainty that if his captors took him from Newlant, he’d never see anyone he loved again. I have to try.    

The cart rolled to a stop. He heard one of his captors call out a hallo. A new voice answered from some distance. “Any trouble with the job?”

“Nope, all clear.” Footsteps moved away from the cart.

Now. Nikola surged upwards, staggering as he threw off the tarp. Even without the sack, he might as well have been blind: no light on the dock save the directed beam of a shuttered lantern, which swung towards him as the holder yelped. “Hey!”

Nikola jumped the side of the cart, landed awkwardly, and ran in what he hoped was the direction they’d come and not, say, off the pier and into the water. The sound of feet behind him spurred him to greater speed despite his bound hands. One captor cursed as he made a lunge for Nik and missed, but Nik’s triumph was short-lived as another man tackled him to the dock. He struck the wooden planking face-first with a cry muffled by the gag, unable to use his hands to break his fall. Knife-man yanked Nik’s head back by his ponytail, bodyweight pinning him to the dock. “Bad move, yer highness. Shame. Been doing so well. C’mon.” Knife-man stood and hauled Nik upward by his hair; Nik scrambled to get his feet under him, teeth gritted around the gag and whimpering.

Nik complied as Knife-man steered him to the boat, but made another attempt to escape as they lowered him into it, kicking and writhing in their arms as a man in the boat grabbed his legs. Taken off guard, his captors dropped him into the water. The weight of his Ascension finery dragged him down; Nik kicked frantically for the surface. He was almost grateful when strong hands from the boat seized his collar and shoulders and hauled him into it. Saltwater stung his cut cheek.

“Feisty, is he?” the newcomer remarked.

“Must be you, Brick. Was sweet as a lamb til e heard your voice.” Knife-man kicked Nik into a prone position on the floor of the rowboat. “Just row, will ya?”

Three of his captors manned oars on the boat and rowed. Knife-man watched Nik for the first few strokes, then aimed an impersonal kick at the small of his back. “Jus’ makin’ it harder on yerself, yer highness. Gonna stay put this time?” Nik nodded, face screwed up against the pain, half-drowned and hopeless.

Knife-man manned an oar then. In the dark still night, they rowed for the distant pinpricks of lantern-light from a ship moored out in the bay.

Before they were a quarter of the way there, Nik was shivering violently and blue with cold, only the gag keeping his teeth from chattering. His captors had a brief argument over his state, which Knife-man ended with: “Need im alive. Which there ain’t no point to havin’ taken im if e up and dies of exposure. Get im out of those clothes and give im your coat, Red.”

“Why my coat?” a thickset man whined.

“On account of I said so. Shut yer yap or e gets yer trousers too.” Knife-man cut Nik’s bonds. “Ya hop outta this boat, yer majesty, and I’m gonna let ya drown this time, got it?” Nik nodded. He knew how to swim, but suspected the cold would kill him before he could make it to shore and shelter, even if his captors didn’t grab him again. He needed no encouragement to strip out of his icy soaked clothing and hunker inside Red’s coat. Knife-man re-tied his hands, in front this time, and put the sack over his head again.

When they reached the ship, they used a sling of canvas and rope to raise Nik into it. Brick said, “As I’ll tell the captain”, and two sets of footsteps departed. The remaining three led a shivering Nik across the deck and handed him below through a hatch. After a dozen paces and a turning, Knife-man pushed Nik into a cushioned wooden chair and tied his feet to the chair legs.

Nik hadn’t heard the sounds of anyone else aboard so far. Shouldn’t there be more? Could the rest be asleep? He knew little of ships, but had a vague idea that a vessel large enough to have multiple decks required a sizable crew, with sailors up at all hours. Perhaps not when moored? Perhaps they were on holiday for Ascension, like so much of Newlant.

“Can I’s have my coat back?” Red asked.

“No. Set a fire.” Knife-man said.

Nik’s mouth was dry and his throat ached from choking on seawater earlier. He tried to moisten his tongue, wishing they’d take off the cursed gag even more than he wanted to drink. He tried to muster some outrage to combat the sick sense of fear that made him tremble almost as much as the cold. He was still wet under the coat, his long ponytail dripping cold saltwater down his back. Though warmer than the frigid winter night outside, the cabin was still chilly. Nik turned his head and started to lift his bound hands.

Knife-man snapped, “And what do ya think yer doin’, yer majesty?”    

Nik rolled his eyes beneath the hood. Ungag me and I’ll tell you, cretin. Moving slowly to show he planned no surprises, Nik brought his tied hands to the back of his neck.

“Hoy! Don’t ya be tryin’ ta get that hood off, boy. What’re ya thinkin’? Answer me!” Knife-man’s voice moved closer. Nik cringed, spreading his fingers in the most placating gesture he could manage.    

“’E’s gagged, Crit. E can’t answer,” Red commented, mercifully.

“…I knew that. D’ya think I’m stupid? What’s the matter with ya? Get that fire goin’!”

With the man no longer yelling at him, Nik clawed the ribbon from his hair with numb fingers, leaving the hood in place but separating strands of hair so it’d eventually dry and be less cold.

Red finished lighting the stove. Footsteps sounded outside the cabin door and Nik’s captors rose. At the opening of the door, the bully-boys murmured, “Cap’n” in respectful tones.

“This is him?” a new voice asked, dubious.

“Which as it is, sir. As there was a mishap what ended with him sopping, we shifted im outta is fancy clothes. But got im coming out of that big fancy house o’ his. Caught im all alone, sir, so’s we didn’t need the catsbane neither.”

Catsbane? Nik hadn’t heard of that before.

“Mph. Good enough. Dismissed.” Feet shuffled out the door, but the captain must have signaled for Knife-man-Crit to lag behind, because a moment later he muttered, “Bring her up, Crit.” Crit assented and left.

The new man pulled the hood off of Nik. A single lantern and the faint glow from the stove illuminated a cabin furnished as combination dining room and study. The captain was better-dressed than his men, clothing unpatched and a warm ivywool frockcoat left open in the growing warmth of the cabin. He had curly brown hair and a narrow face with a pointed chin, looking young to be in charge of a ship. The man’s mouth twisted in a grimace of a smile. “Hello again, Lord Nikola. Want that gag off?”

Again? Nikola nodded, trying to place the man’s face.

“All right. I didn’t want to do it this way, you know. Tried doing it your way, but you wouldn’t oblige.” The man slid the blade of a knife under the gag to cut it off, and Nik winced involuntarily. His captor steadied Nik’s head with a hand on his hair. Savior! Nik reflexively reached for his god as he saw the man’s mind:


Don't want to wait until the next post to find out how bad it is to be the captive of a demon-ridden man? Buy it now, while it's on sale for $4.99: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 19 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Not Even Wrong At All (83/141)
Time:01:30 pm
RA Header 083

Justin had not meant to do more than kiss Wisteria; certainly not to undress her less than twenty minutes from her home. But she had been so much more encouraging than he’d anticipated that he had let impulse get the better of him.

He had been hyperalert, concerned that her neutral expression and few nonverbal cues would make it difficult to take the proper measure of her interest. In the event, it had been obvious: she was no passive fainting creature, merely allowing him his way, but an active participant who stripped him with a flattering eagerness, as ready to caress and kiss as to be touched. Her enthusiasm had been unmistakable.

As unmistakable as the moment when it ended. As those flat words: “I hate this.” Which proved as effective an antiaphrodiasic as any icy plunge, unpleasant in the moment and surprisingly painful in recollection. Had he misjudged her earlier interest? What else could have been signified by her eager touch, her passionate embrace? What had he done to make her hate the experience? Was it specific to him or something about the act itself?

Let it go. You pushed beyond what she would accept, you stopped, done. Forget it.

But despite his success in smoothing over the awkwardness with her, his mind continued to pursue the question. Why had she said she was sorry? What could she have been sorry about? Why not demand an apology of him? He was the man, the instigator. Why wasn’t she angry? Was she angry? He studied her sidelong in a vain effort to gauge her mood. Her expression was exactly the same as on the dance floor, or at the poker table, or even while he cupped her bare breasts. A total cipher. You are not going to read the answer in her eyes or manner. If you want to know, now or ever, you will have to ask.

Everything in him rebelled against asking. To speak of such actions was a greater breach of etiquette than to commit them, especially after such an unequivocal rebuff.

“I hate this.”

Curse it all. “Forgive my impertinence, Miss Vasilver, but I must ask – when you said you hate this—”

Wisteria interrupted him before he could finish, though her gaze remained fixed on the carriage seat opposite. “Oh, my lord, I did not mean you, or what we were doing,” she answered at once. “I was thinking of the greater society, of the unwritten rules that dictate something so wonderful and desirable is also forbidden. That I am wrong for wanting your attentions and worse for permitting them. I hate that I am a whore if I do not object and I hate that I objected, if that makes any sense. I wish I could just be normal, or failing that, embrace my abnormality and be indifferent to all expectation. I am so very sorry to have led you on as I did.”

The intensity of Justin’s relief surprised him, heart gladdened by the assurance that she did want him. It took him a moment to marshal his thoughts and reply. He took her hand politely, like the gentleman he so often pretended to be. “Miss Vasilver, I will allow no one of my acquaintance to employ such an epithet as that against you, and that includes you yourself. I must insist you retract the slur at once.”

Wisteria still wasn’t looking at him, but she tilted her head to cant her ear to his voice. “Or what? Will you pout at me again?”

“Were you a man, I would be forced to challenge you to a duel for your honor. As you are not, I must consider what options are available to me. I hope you will not force me on this.”

“I must note that, technically, I did not ascribe it to myself but merely noted that there were possible conditions that would make it truth.”

“Weasel words; the insinuation remains unacceptable and moreover—” Justin lifted one hand to her chin and turned her face gently to meet his gaze “—untrue. There are no possible conditions, no actions you might take or refrain from taking, which would make you anything less than a gentlewoman in my eyes. My dear, I ask you again: withdraw the remark.”

She regarded him with pale brown eyes, beautiful, unreadable, the skin under his fingers smooth and soft, unwrinkled by expression. “I rescind it. I intended no offence to you, my lord.”

“Thank you, my dear.” Justin dropped his hand before his thumb could wander to trace her lower lip. The urge to kiss her again nearly overwhelmed him. Just one little kiss – no. Down, boy. “And, indeed, the problem is that you intended no offense to me. Had you insulted me I could have laughed it off, a matter of no consequence. But an insult to my friend Miss Wisteria Vasilver: that I cannot overlook. I hope you appreciate the distinction.”

Her eyelids drooped, lending her features a sensual cast. Knowing her, an unintended one. “I do appreciate it, my lord. Very much indeed.”

Justin caressed her knuckles; holding her hand had seemed harmless at the time he took it, but now he was less certain. Down, boy “Newlant is stuffed full of narrow-minded busybodies, Miss Vasilver, a fact beyond your power or mine to change. But I do not care for anyone who would demean my friends or soil their reputations with foul accusations, particularly about something so harmless as one’s very private and personal desires. I imagine that unfortunate souls blessed with fewer privileges than myself, without title or wealth or the right to issue a challenge, may find they must tolerate such gross wrongs. But happily, I need not.”

“But what if the accusations are true?”

He gave her a significant look. “A true accusation? That is even more intolerable. I would never sit by while my friends were dragged through the muck by the truth.”

“Not even if the truth was, let us say, that he had defrauded your company through a series of corrupt loans funding nonexistent capital improvements?”

Justin raised an eyebrow. “A man such as that I need not consider my friend. Now, my dear, I apologize: it is too late an hour for me to attempt this fencing with words. Let me try speaking plainly instead, and forgive my lack of polish at it: I so rarely do. I do not think you are ‘all wrong’ or even wrong at all. Normal people are a myth: I have never met one, only a great many of us gifted at pretending we are. I am glad you are not one, for it would mean you did not exist and I should be very sorry if that were the case. Furthermore—” Justin crossed his eyes, trying to recall what other points he had wanted to make and failing. Ten years ago he would have thought ‘screw this, let’s screw’ and tried to overcome her objections. But he could get a lay anywhere, and people he truly liked – not just ‘was entertained by’ or ‘found amusing’ or ‘had a use for’, but those who held his attention with their ideas and conversation – well, those were far fewer. “…furthermore, I have had a delightful evening, so thank you. And I must remember to thank Lord Nikola for abandoning you as soon as I get the chance. And do not fret for my discretion, not least because nothing happened but also because if I said anything to impugn your honor I would be forced to challenge myself to defend it and where would we be then?”

Wisteria tilted her head at him, the red jewels still studding her black hair glittering in the lantern light. “You truly do not have much practice at speaking plainly, do you?”

“None at all. Terribly sorry.”

“I forgive you. Would it be very awful of me to want another kiss? Just a kiss and nothing more?”

“It would not be awful of you at all,” Justin said, and kissed her.    

He was still holding her – chastely, and proud of himself for that fact – when the carriage slowed as they neared Vasilver’s drive. The lead greatcat announced their approach, and Justin reluctantly released her. He checked them both over to make sure all was in order: becoming tendrils of hair had escaped from her elaborate style, but that had begun when she was doing no more than dancing and should not excite comment at this hour. The sophisticated fabric of her gown had resisted wrinkling despite the treatment it had received. Her calm expression betrayed nothing, and he trusted his own would do the same. He escorted her to the door and left her in the capable hands of Vasilver’s night footman.

As his carriage bore him to his own home, it struck Justin that all those improper things he’d wished to do with Wisteria would be legal – well, with certain exceptions and no one cared about those laws – had they been married. It was a thought he’d rarely had, first because he’d long ago stopped caring about a certain subset of laws and second because marriage had never been an option before. But it is here. Isn’t that interesting?

I wonder if it would be so bad?

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now, while it's on sale for $4.99: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 5 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:No Regrets (82/141)
Time:01:30 pm
RA Header 082

Wisteria shouldn’t have been surprised when he kissed her, but she was anyway. Oh. That’s how you do it without asking first. It did feel natural, as if the logical consequence of bantering was of course kissing. What a splendid result. It was different than with Lord Nikola: Lord Comfrey was more assured, firmer, and tasted of wine instead of champagne. Of course they would both taste intoxicating. She closed her eyes and drank him in, lightheaded, eager; her hand slid of its own accord from his cheek to cradle the back of his neck. His arms enfolded her, one around her shoulder and the other her lower back, kissing hungrily, nibbling at her lower lip, kissing the corner of her mouth. She was dizzy with desire as his lips pressed against her jawline. He shifted, moving her as if she weighed no more than a doll, laying her back against the seat with himself on top, one leg braced to support some of his weight. One of his hands was at the nape of her neck, deftly undoing the tiny buttons. This struck her as a fine idea, as she was suddenly much too warm. He must be too warm, too: she ought to help him with that jacket. This was difficult, since she had her head tilted up so he could kiss the underside of her chin. But he paused when she tried to worm her hands between them, then he lifted away enough that she could start unfastening the buttons. Lord Comfrey’s expression turned from sober to smiling, chuckling as he drew the jacket off and tossed it to the bench opposite them.

“Let me help you with that, my dear,” he murmured, rolling her over to unfasten the buttons down her back. For each loosed button, he pressed a kiss in its place, pushing aside the cloth to caress the soft exposed skin of her back.

She arched into his touch, not sure if she wanted him to hurry or stop or continue at exactly this pace. Her behavior was immoral, she knew, but her mind was much too incoherent to marshal the willpower to stop him as he unlaced her underclothes. His caress felt better than silk against her shoulders, hands easing the sleeves from her arms. She turned over to help him, then a shred of modesty made her catch up the cloth and hold it to her exposed chest. “It’s not fair.” Holding the front of her gown to her chest with one hand, she sat up, reaching for him with the other.

Lord Comfrey had dropped his hands when she held her gown up, and he perched sideways next to her as her legs were stretched out on the seat. “What isn’t, my dear?”

“You’re still all dressed.” Wisteria fumbled one-handed at his waistcoat.

He laughed again and helped her with the buttons, opening shirt and waistcoat for her. She’d seen bare-chested men before, sailors on her brother’s ship, but Lord Comfrey was different, as muscular as the largest of them but with unmarred skin, smooth and rich golden-brown by the light of the carriage’s lantern, dusted in dark curly hairs. “Better?” he asked.

“Some.” Wisteria tried to push the shirt and waistcoat off one-handed, and he helped her again by removing the garments and sending them to join his jacket on the opposite bench. She let the top of her gown pool around her waist as she ran both hands over his chest. It was nothing like she’d imagined, muscles firm but not unyielding, skin velvety, warm, inviting. She curled a few of the chest hairs around a finger: not so soft as his hair but not as wiry as beard hairs either. “You feel wonderful.”

He ran his hands down her bare sides, then back up to cup her breasts. “As do you, my dear.” His thumbs brushed over her nipples and she gasped with the intensity of the sensation, aching with need. At her sound, he shifted to kiss her, pulling her hard against his chest and then laying her back against the seat again. She writhed under him for the pleasure of feeling his bare skin against her, hands stroking his back. His hips rubbed against hers and she arched into him instinctively, wanting so much to feel more. He shifted lower, kissing her throat, her collarbone, mouth engulfing one breast. She whimpered again, and he covered her mouth with his hand to muffle the sound. “Shhhh,” he said, breath cool against her damp skin. He shifted some of his weight from her and tugged her gown down her hips.

Abruptly, the situation became more real. A refrain of I shouldn’t be doing this whispered in her mind, alongside whore and slattern and other designations she was no longer sure she wanted to accept as the price for her choices. Is this what I want? Well, yes, but ought I want it? Her hands fell away from Lord Comfrey’s back, fear spiking through her. You already invited this, you cannot stop him now. It was almost a relief, not to be responsible any more.

But he did stop, a few moments later, with her clothes still half-on. He scooted high enough to look into her eyes, brushing a few wisps of hair from her face. “Is something amiss, my dear?”

Everything. She could hardly breathe, never mind explain. “I hate this – I’m sorry, I shouldn’t – I – I am all wrong, please, I—” Wisteria tried to pull up her clothing, to put herself back into the same stupid safe facade she’d worn for so many years.

“Shhh.” He kissed her lips, lightly, and then her forehead. “It’s all right.” For a moment she was half-afraid and half-hoping that he wouldn’t let her withdraw, that he would continue anyway. But then Lord Comfrey shifted his weight from her to perch at the edge of the seat once more. She sat up, wriggling back into her clothing, putting her arms through the sleeves. “Let me help you.” He stood so she could put her feet down, then turned her back to him. With a gentleness at odds with his earlier passion, he laced her underbodice back together, smoothed the straps, and buttoned the gown over it. Then he put his own clothes back on with smooth professional care, as if he dressed in carriages without the aid of a valet every day. “Better?” he asked, shrugging into his jacket and pulling his long hair free from the collar.

Wisteria nodded, ashamed of herself. “I’m sorry, my lord. I did not mean to—”

Lord Comfrey laid a finger across her lips, as Lord Nikola had, and she felt worse. “This was not at all my intention when I offered you a ride, but I have no regrets, my dear. I forbid you to have any either.”    

“You forbid me?”

“Indeed. This carriage, I will have you know, acts an extension of Comfrey’s demesne; I am therefore lord here. As viscount of Comfrey, I thereby insist that you regret nothing.”

She tilted her head at him. “Is it in truth?”

“No, but I am going to make this irrational and baseless demand anyway. I hope you will be so good as to humor me.”

“…and if I do not?”

“You leave me no choice. I will be forced to pout at you.”

“Pouting does not work on me, my lord.”

“Does it not?” Lord Comfrey gave the most exaggerated, comical pout she’d ever seen: outthrust lower lip, dipped chin, wide puppy eyes peering at her from beneath arched eyebrows. Even she could tell his pout was insincere. She would have wagered it was less convincing than her own smiles.

“…I yield, my lord. I will not regret, I promise.”

“Splendid.” His expression cleared, smile returning to narrow lips. Wisteria suspected her promise would be easier spoken than kept, but in the moment, with Lord Comfrey beside her and his manner so ordinary and kind, her heart was at ease.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now, while it's on sale for $4.99: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 5 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Perhaps You Are Right (81/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 081

By half-past four, Wisteria was certain Lord Nikola would not be back at the party, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that. On the negative side of the ledger, it meant no opportunity to steal back to that study and continue their earlier…activity? Conversation? Either. Both. On the positive side, it meant no opportunity to disgrace herself further.

Or rather, no opportunity to disgrace herself with Lord Nikola.   

She found Lord Comfrey’s company dangerously enjoyable. She rather suspected she’d been flirting with him. And he seemed to understand, to believe her when she’d explained why she didn’t smile. Which was on her list of Things Not to Talk About, not only because her parents had cautioned her against it but also because in the past such explanation had made communication more awkward yet. But Lord Comfrey had adapted by asking her direct questions about what she wanted instead of trying to guess. Which was exactly how she wished to be treated. It was marvelous. The whole evening had been filled with marvels. Wisteria usually retired by midnight and as such was flagging at this hour, but for all its imperfections she did not want this night to end.

She was seated at one of the chairs beside the ballroom floor; Lord Comfrey had left her there while he hunted down refreshments for them. Wisteria had her eyes closed, indulging in a confused daydream wherein she was alternately embracing either Lord Nikola or Lord Comfrey. Part of her felt irritated by herself over this: she had just been engaging in highly inappropriate behavior with Lord Nikola, and she felt that she owed, or at least ought to owe, some fidelity to him over that. Even a mistress was faithful to the man who kept her, if Wisteria understood correctly. Only a prostitute would go from one lover to the next as if the act was no more meaningful than a game of cards. Is that what I am, a whore? A number of conversations on the subject had given her to understand that decent, virtuous women not only did not engage in carnal activities, but indeed did not even have the desire for such. Wisteria had always been a failure at the latter, but until tonight she’d done tolerably well at avoiding the former. For all the good it’s done me. Whether I’m virtuous or not, no man’s going to marry me anyway. I might as well satisfy my lust. With – whomever.

Experimentally, she tried substituting other men into her daydreams. Invoking Lord Dunsang spoilt the fantasy entirely. Her affable clerk was less absurd – she’d always been fond of him – but not appealing. Byron’s valet was a handsome man with a strong jawline, trim build, and a pleasing professionalism, but imagining kissing him was nonetheless dull. I guess any man won’t do.

She was just imagining how Lord Comfrey’s shoulders would feel under her hands when a voice broke into her reverie. “Should I have brought back tea instead of wine, Miss Vasilver?” She opened her eyes to find Lord Comfrey standing by her chair, holding two wineglasses. He offered her one, continuing, “The champagne is undrinkable by this hour, I’m afraid. But you do not look in need of a soporific, my dear. Should I have called for your carriage instead?”

Wisteria thought about riding home alone in that glittering glass coach, and the prospect of the spectacle was far less attractive than when she thought she’d be with Lord Nikola. Will it look odd, me being all alone? If I wait longer to leave, will it be more likely to go unnoticed? She took the glass and shook her head. “No, thank you, my lord. I am—” she rose as she spoke, forgetting the weight of her beaded gown, and tripped over the train. Lord Comfrey caught her about the shoulders with one arm, cradled her to his chest, and steadied her glass with his free hand so she did not spill it. “—fine?”

“You’re quite sure of that, my dear?” He smiled down at her. She could feel the curve of his glass against her opposite shoulder. He had not spilled a drop.

Mmmm. For the first time, Wisteria understood why women did ridiculous things like ask for help on problems they knew the answer to, or drop items so men would retrieve them, or behave as if they could not cross a street unassisted. It would never have occurred to her to stumble just so Lord Comfrey could catch her, but she was aware she was in no great hurry to regain her feet. “Oh. Well.” She was more tired than she’d realized, to be tripping over her own feet. Not to mention to be taking advantage of the chance to rest in Lord Comfrey’s arms. Usually she had more self-control than this. Not as much more as her family might wish, but nonetheless. If he minded either her delay or her clumsiness, it didn’t show: he felt strong, capable, and alert, which was comforting when she felt none of those things. But I hardly know him: ought I be trusting him? Mustering all her available willpower, she withdrew from his arms. “Perhaps I am a trifle weary.”

“A trifle?”

“I may understate.” Dancing was not a good idea if she was falling over just standing. She tried to think what else she might do that would be fun without requiring her to be fully conscious. Other than falling back into Lord Comfrey’s arms. That sounded like a lovely idea. “…perhaps you are right about the carriage after all.”

Lord Comfrey offered his arm. “Seldom do I so regret being correct.”


Justin sent for his coach at the same time as Wisteria’s. Had Nikola been there he’d have stayed for hours longer, but tonight no one remaining could command his attention. Miss Vasilver had made an impression on more than just him, Justin had noticed. Not only the married Lord Dunsang, but a handful of bachelors who’d been observing her or dancing with her over the course of the evening. She had not noticed their regard, and Justin suspected his own looming presence had kept anyone from daring to be forward. The poor girl was struggling even to make small talk at this stage, so he waited in companionable silence with her in one of the studies. When a servant let them know her coach was without, he accompanied her down the broad palace steps. She seemed in actual need of the support, leaning into him and almost resting her cheek against his shoulder. False dawn lightened the eastern sky to a paler blue. One of the coaches before the steps was the gaudiest Justin had ever laid eyes upon, an absurd assembly of gilt wire and clear crystal plates. He chuckled at the spectacle. “I wonder what lord brought that contraption?” he said in an aside to Miss Vasilver.

One of the coach’s pure white greatcats stood by the door and opened it when he saw Miss Vasilver coming as the two of them descended the steps. Justin halted, realizing his tactical error. “Lord Nikola?”

“It’s a gift from a petitioner. Well, a gift in the form of lending it for the night,” the beautiful woman replied.

“Ah. Of…course. No wonder you didn’t wish to go home, alone in that thing.” With the eyes of every gossipy bystander wondering why Lord Nikola wasn’t with her, no doubt. “You know, my offer to take you in my carriage stands.”

She shook her head. “There’s no need to put you out of your way.”    

“My dear.” He turned to her on the palace steps and took her chin gently to tilt her face to his. “It would be an honor and a privilege.”    

“Oh.” She blinked at him a few times. “…then I accept. Thank you, my lord.”

Justin patted her hand and told the greatcats they could leave – Nikola was surely not returning, and there was no sense making them stay all night for nothing. The greatcats looked disappointed as they departed. Justin had to admit it wasn’t how he wanted the night to end himself, although escorting Miss Vasilver home was no small consolation.

After handing her into his own far more traditional carriage, he noted that she had chosen the far side of the forward-facing seat, leaving plenty of room for him to sit beside her. He accepted the tacit invitation, although he did not crowd her. They could not sit in silence for the entire length of the drive, so he selected an unchallenging topic. “Now that you have seen Newlant’s most famous ball, my dear, what do you make of it?”

“It’s very large,” she said, her eyes looking at the Ascension lights lining the drive as the greatcats trotted down it.

Justin chuckled. “Were you expecting a modest gathering? I am afraid the Crown always disappoints on that count.”

“Not modest, exactly. But intimate. Everyone speaks of the royal Ascension Ball as terribly exclusive, so I did not expect so many attendees.”

“Ah, of course. The other royal events of the season are far more exclusive, in that regard. But none of them are as grand.”

“It certainly is that. It made me wonder at the logistics involved. Do they normally have furniture in those vast halls?” she asked, and he nodded in answer. “Where do they put it?”

He blinked at her. “Do you know, I’ve never thought about that? In the attics, perhaps.”

“The palace has an attic?”

“Several. One of them is stuffed full of old family portraits. They keep past kings and queens on display but there’s not room on the walls for all the princes and princesses and their children and third wives and what not.”

“Oh, I thought that was why they needed such a large palace. Enough wall space for forty generations of grandchildren portraits.”

“And thus the current fashion in miniatures, inspired by Dawnfell Palace running short on blank walls?”

“I knew there had to be some excuse for those tiny pictures.”

They spoke for some time about the ball. Justin found her perspective both refreshing and intriguing. Everyone noticed the costumes, the elaborate displays, the exquisite food, the awe of the Blessing. Miss Vasilver, by contrast, was curious how they managed to park all the carriages and what system they used to retrieve them. Or how they managed staffing – “they cannot have all those servants on retainer; some must be on loan, but what do they do the rest of the year?” Whether there was a discreet second-hand market for Ascension garb, catering to all those courtesy-titled lords and ladies with Blessings but no fortune.

As Miss Vasilver discussed the potential in the latter – “I know the average peer would be horrified to see her castoffs make an appearance at the ball, but they could be modified—” she interrupted herself. “I am dreadfully sorry, my lord. I know I oughtn’t speak of business on such an occasion.”

He grinned at her. “I cannot say I mind at all, Miss Vasilver.” Justin leaned closer and murmured, as if fearing to be overheard even though they were alone in a moving carriage, “I am far more accustomed to having to check my own impulses in this regard. Lord Nikola would flay me alive if he heard me criticise another over it.”

“Would he? I thought him a very even-tempered man.”

“Did I say he was not? I promise that he would be quite cool and calm as he set about removing my hide one strip at a time.”

“With the razor-sharp edge of his tongue, my lord?” By now, they were more than halfway to Miss Vasilver’s home. The gaslit streets outside the carriage no longer commanded her attention: she was leaning into him, eyes on his face.

“Indeed. I trust you have not experienced it.” Justin touched his fingertips to the smooth skin of her cheek, which was of course Entirely Inappropriate and he fully expected her to respond by blushing or retreating. His caress was featherlight, experimental. “I cannot imagine he would risk damaging a work of art such as yourself.”

Instead of withdrawing, she mirrored his gesture, her fingertips against his own cheek. “Then why would he risk damaging one such as you?”

Justin smiled. “I am a big strong man, my dear. I can take it.” Slowly, so she’d have ample time to draw back, he dipped his head to kiss her.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now, while it's on sale for $4.99: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 20 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:What Could Possibly Happen? (80/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 080

The ranks of dancers had thinned from earlier in the evening, and the four of them naturally stood up in the same set. Now that Justin knew Miss Vasilver’s neutral expression was the product of neither deliberate concealment nor actual indifference, dancing with her took on a different cast. It was peculiar to rely on words alone in an effort to gauge her mood, but her light-hearted banter indicated contentment. He did notice one giveaway in her body language, however: she often glanced to the entrances, doubtless to see if Nikola had returned.

By three in the morning, Meg’s unbounded enthusiasm for dance was losing the battle with her need for sleep: she and her husband did not keep Gracehaven hours. Lord Dunsang was reclaimed by his wife. Meg suggested she go home and Justin stay. “I can send the carriage back for you, and I know you don’t want to leave this early. Stand up with Miss Vasilver, Justin, I’m sure Nik would want you to keep her company.”Justin acquiesced, amused by the coincidence of social duties with what he wished to do anyway. He might have suspected Meg of matchmaking had they not had a history free of such machinations.

Miss Vasilver also agreed, lightfooted and grave as the music began. “It is curiously difficult, not reading feeling into your expression. Are you enjoying yourself, Miss Vasilver?” he asked as they took the first turn together.

“Oh yes, my lord. Far more than I expected to, in fact. The whole event has been most delightful and entertaining.”

“Were you not anticipating delight and entertainment, my dear, at the social event of the year?”

“I do not have very high expectations of social events, my lord. We cannot all have your problem.”

“My problem?”

“Of being too well-liked.”

“It is not the most onerous of curses,” Justin conceded. “But I do not see why you should not share it.”

Miss Vasilver tilted her head at him as they circled in the dance. “Do you not, my lord?”

On the point of a glib reply, he hesitated, contemplating her composed unsmiling face, her cool tones and peculiar expectations, her exquisite long-limbed elegant form wrapped in glittering cream and crimson. Justin discarded his half-formed whimsical untruth and said instead, “It is a fool’s Paradise we live in, where one such as you is not valued as she should be.” The dance took them apart before Miss Vasilver had to compose a response.

When the orchestra took a break, Justin led Wisteria to one of the palace’s drawing rooms to sit for a bit. Guests still filled the palace, even at close on four in the morning, but he found them a quiet corner in a chamber with walls covered in cream-colored damask velvet. “How long does this event continue, m’lord?” Miss Vasilver asked, taking the offered seat on an antique sofa.

“Oh, most guests leave by dawn. Their Majesties don’t throw us out until noon, as I recall.” Justin sat beside her and stretched his legs before him. He flexed his toes inside his gold-inlaid dress leather boots, wishing he could take the curst things off.

“Noon? Noon tomorrow? People stay that long for an evening party?” Her voice was uninflected as always, but Justin fancied he read disbelief in her tone just the same.

“Well, I did. Twice. When I was a young man and it seemed a good idea. Their Majesties retired before dawn but Prince Edgar was awake to show the last guests to the door. Or to their chambers. Some of them are staying at the Palace – the Queen invites a hundred or so houseguests for Ascension, many the poorer Blessed who would not be able to make the trip for the Blessing of Newlant elsewise. If one stays until seven or eight in the morning one may even speak with the prince for more than three consecutive minutes.”

“But…don’t they have services on Sunday afternoon?”

“Sunday evening. It’s not until six. His Highness told me one year that he takes a nap after the ball, goes to service, and then goes straight back to bed.” Justin did not think Miss Vasilver would last until dawn, much less noon. Her face was relaxed and unlined, eyes alert enough, but her movements were slower and clumsier than earlier in the evening.

“Oh. Do you think Lord Nikola might yet return?”

The question spurred a sudden irrational surge of anger at Nikola, for bringing this poor lovely girl and then abandoning her. She did not sound wistful or heartbroken, merely factual, but then she would, wouldn’t she? Justin wondered if Nikola’s certainty that the girl was not attached was correct, or if Nikola had been misled by the indifference in her expression. Fool of a boy. How could she not love you? He hesitated, considering his reply. “It’s not outside the realm of possibility…but I believe in most prior years he’s left by this time of the night.”

“Oh.” Her face was turned to the drawing room door, calm, untroubled.

“Are you stranded, Miss Vasilver? I would be happy to take you home if you choose.”

She shook her head. “No, not at all. Lord Nikola left his carriage; the greatcats will take me back to Vasilver Manor whenever I ask. I…I am a little surprised he’s sent no message.”

Justin suspected the Strikers didn’t have the staff to send a message in the wee hours of Ascension night, but he did not like to say so. “He goes into a sort of trance when he’s working. I doubt he’s even aware of how much time has passed.”

“I suppose not.” Miss Vasilver considered this. “You don’t think something might have happened to him, do you?”

“Happened to him?” Justin tried to imagine mischance befalling his friend. Nikola had no enemies, no known wealth, and would have his warcat to protect him; no common footpad would risk an altercation with a greatcat. “What could possibly happen to him?”

“I don’t know. An accident?”

Justin smiled. “I promise you, Lord Nikola is the finest rider in Newlant. No one is less likely to have taken a fall. I am sure the emergency took longer than he’d expected, or attending to it was more tiring.”

She nodded. “Of course.”

He put his hand over hers, where it lay on the cushion between them. Did she fear Nikola had abandoned her deliberately? Was it advisable to reassure her on that count? While Nikola would not be so rude as to desert the girl on mere whim, Justin knew how little hope she had of attaching the man. Is it kind to assure her of his courtesy and friendship, when I know that’s the sum of it? “However unfortunate it may be for him or you, I cannot say I regret Lord Nikola’s absence.”

Miss Vasilver tilted her head. “Whyever would you not? I thought you and he were friends, Lord Comfrey?”

“Certainly we are. But we see one another often, whereas I have never before had a chance to speak with you outside of business. My motives are selfish: I could not have kept you all to myself for so long had Lord Nikola been in attendance.”

Her light brown eyes looked to his face for a long moment, and then away as if she feared staring. “My lord is very kind.”

Justin laughed. “I am many things, my dear, but ‘kind’ is not one of them. Never that. As I said: entirely selfish.” He rose and offered his hand. “I believe I hear the orchestra resuming, if you would care to dance again, Miss Vasilver?”

She placed her hand in his, pale brown fingers caressing his palm. “I would be delighted to join you, my lord.”

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now, while it's on sale for $4.99: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 2 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Unaware (79/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 079

Dawnfell Palace had a series of rooms devoted to every kind of indoor game, plus a few not usually played indoors. Justin brought Miss Vasilver to a chamber that was cosy by comparison with the vaulted ceilings and grand vistas of the ballroom or petitioner’s hall. This room was built on a more human scale, ceiling a mere nine feet high. It had ample space for a parquet-topped table with knotwork legs and matched chairs – chosen by Prince Edgar, a man with a passion for parlor games, and so they were comfortably padded with cushioned arms. Servants in royal livery patrolled the tapestry-carpeted floor, bearing trays of refreshments. Four men and three women were at the table when they arrived. Justin introduced Miss Vasilver after the current round – he knew each player already – and they took seats to join in. Justin covered Miss Vasilver’s stake as a matter of course, without comment, and it was gratifying to have her accept it likewise with a simple “thank you, my lord”: no profusion of gratitude or demur of need. I’ve had a lifetime’s worth of those fights with Nikola already. I don’t need any more, he thought, and smiled to himself at the recollection that the question with Nikola had been permanently settled.

Justin prefered more active games than cards; he spent plenty of time sitting still for business purposes and liked to be moving when at leisure. Even so, competition invigorated him as he rose to the challenge. Luck wasn’t with him but his play was good for what he had to work with, and he had a magnificent time observing his fellow players. Especially Miss Vasilver.

Miss Vasilver was as impenetrable at the poker table as Justin had suspected, and no fool either: not a woman who would chase a busted flush or draw to an inside straight, Justin concluded after an hour or so of play. Her success relied on a combination of skillful management of the odds and that no one could discern when she bluffed; she had limited skill in detecting a bluff by others.

Having spent some time with her now, Justin could appreciate why Nikola liked the girl. She was neither a gay nor lively companion to be sure, but her quiet composure in the face of all things made for a beguiling picture in contrast to, say, Lady Olivia’s pouting at her losses or unseemly triumph in her successes. Neither Mr. Burgess’s posturing nor the Duke of Junmont’s title could intimidate Miss Vasilver, and her dry wit charmed Justin. Justin suspected her apparent coolness was what had made Nikola remark her unsuitable for wife or lover, and indeed it was hard to imagine Miss Vasilver in the throes of passion. But the contrast between her cool expression and her bold touch when they’d been alone in her office made sense now. Does it matter if one cannot read desire in her face, as long as she feels it? Assuming she does feel it. Would it make any difference in the dark? Would she moan and tremble with pleasure, or would her impassivity extend to unresponsiveness in that as well?

This distracting if delightful train of thought contributed nothing to Justin’s play. That it was ungentlemanly did not trouble him; part of his mind was often occupied with such fancies regardless of his primary activity. That the current object was female still surprised him, however. He was unsure if or how to act upon it. Most of his experiences with women had been of the paid variety, with a couple of flings when he was still in school with forthright married women who would not take ‘no’ for answer. An affair with a single gentlewoman involved various potential complications that he’d never had to worry about before. Do I want that? Does she? There was one particular study in Dawnfell Palace whose interior door was locked during the ball, but the door from it to the balcony was left unlatched because certain of the staff used it to sneak in and out. Justin had discovered it some years ago and at one memorable ball he and Nikola had stolen away to make use of it. He was strongly tempted to show Miss Vasilver to the room and…see what resulted. You’d think by my age I’d’ve learnt more caution than that. He had no intention of acting on the impulse – if nothing else, it seemed rude to hide away with Nikola’s guest when Nikola was expected back soon.

And where is Nikola, in any case? The servants at the cloakroom had been instructed to tell Nikola when he arrived that Miss Vasilver was in the game room, so he oughtn’t have had any difficulty finding them. Surely he ought to be back by now, if he’s going to be back at all. What sort of emergency could it be, that he’d need to leave the Ascension Ball for it, much less take this long to resolve? And he wouldn’t avoid the game room just because he doesn’t wish to wager. He’s usually willing enough to kibbitz, if nothing else.

Meg tracked them down around half-past one. She was kinder to Miss Vasilver now, after learning that Nikola had been called away for an emergency. “You can’t expect anything else of him, dear. His blessing is the only thing he takes seriously,” Meg told the girl with a pat on her hand and a meaningful look which Justin suspected was wasted. Meg even surprised him by sitting to play instead of imploring him to return to dancing.

They spent another amiable half-hour at cards, until Lord Dunsang lost the remainder of his stake to a gloating Lady Olivia and implored Miss Vasilver to rescue him from buying in again by agreeing to dance. Miss Vasilver hesitated at first, but Lord Dunsang pressed her on it and she agreed in her usual calm manner.

There was no reason whatsoever to think Miss Vasilver might need rescuing herself or that Lord Dunsang, a stout round-faced married man of middle years, posed a threat of any sort. But Justin took advantage of the pause in play to invite Meg to dance anyway, and they returned with the other couple to the ballroom.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 4 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:October in Review
Time:06:15 pm
Uhh. I went to a health clinic and got a flu shot? I ate way too much junk food during work bake sales. BAKE SALES MY NEMESIS YOU WIN AGAIN omnomnomom.

Barely. I don't think I wrote a thousand words of fiction in the whole month.

The Business of Writing
Nominally, I am editing. This has not been a complete failure, but it's going badly. At least I figured out the ending I want for "His Angel". So that's something.

At last! An area where I didn't fail. I finished 22 RA headers in October, or 7 weeks and 1 day.

I did thirteen color pictures and one pencil sketch in October, too. I pretty much drew pictures because I couldn't muster the mental energy/willpower for editing.

Just the usual: computer board games on weekday evenings with Alinsa and Terrycloth. I am still playing some ARK with Lut, but the shiny has worn off on that.

I don't think I got out to see people at all in October. Oops.

I was reasonably content during the month, even if my lack of progress on editing stories annoys me.
comments: 4 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Cliffhanger Sale!
Time:05:20 pm
If I were a terrible human being, I would raise the price on A Rational Arrangement after today's cliffhanger ending. But, to prove that I'm not a monster, I'm putting it on sale instead. It's now just $4.99!

The good news: this sale will last until the present predicament resolves, in five-six weeks.

The bad news: that's how long it takes to resolve in the serial. You may want to buy it if you hate suspense. Just sayin'.

About the book
comments: 7 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Taken (78/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 078

When Nik returned to himself, Sharone was asleep, curled sideways on the chair with her head on his shoulder. For his own part, he was resting against the chair with one arm on the seat cushion, legs folded half underneath him, the buckles of one dress shoe digging into his thigh and both legs numb. I really need to stop doing this when I’m not in a comfortable position. Or clothing. The Whittakers were standing nearby, watching him anxiously. Meredith was sprawled and asleep in a boneless heap on the floor.

“Ess she…will she be well, my lord?” Mrs. Whittaker asked, voice hushed.

He nodded, shifting Sharone’s head gently from his shoulder to the seat. “She’ll be a while recovering and it may be some time before her behavior is fully normal for a girl of her age. Being so long possessed took a toll on her. But the demon is gone now. She’ll no longer have spells of violence or wild uncontrollability or hallucinations.” Bracing against the chair, Nik heaved himself to his feet. Mr. Whittaker stepped forward to steady him as Nik winced at the prickle of life returning to half-asleep limbs.

Mrs. Whittaker gave a little gasp and covered her mouth with both hands, eyes watering with grateful tears. Mr. Whittaker pumped Nikola’s right hand in both of his, indifferent to the lack of glove. “Thank you, my lord, thank you, I don’ know how to tell you how grateful we are, for all tha’ y’ve done.” His mind was sturdy and well-balanced, especially for one whose life had been unsettled for so long.

Nikola waved off their thanks and their eagerness to press a gift on him now – “there will be plenty of time to deal with that in the morning. I need to return to the Palace – what time is it?”

It proved to be half-past midnight, which did not delight him. Still, the Ascension Ball lasted until after dawn, and even his parents rarely left before two in the morning. There would be time yet to enjoy Miss Vasilver’s company – not to mention the carriage ride home.

Nikola took his leave of the Whittakers, who were still thanking him, and made his way in long strides to the front door. Anthser had the night off, of course – even if the greatcat had not been independently wealthy, Nik would scarcely have asked any employee to work on Ascension when he himself expected to be out all night at a party. If it were up to him, there wouldn’t even be a footman made to wait by the door to let in returning houseguests and hosts. Gunther and Jill had taken the carriage and his parents to the party. After Meredith – who was not even an employee, for all love – had run all the way to the Palace and back again with a rider, Nik was not about to wake her from her well-earned sleep and ask her to repeat the trip yet another time. No, he’d find a cab, or one of the street runners – greatcats with riding seats who took fares. He paused by the hall mirror and used the lint brush from the bureau by the door to clean stray fur and dust from his coat and breeches, with help from the footman. “Do you need anything else, m’lord?”

Nik waved him off. “No, thank you, Robert, I’ll be fine.” His mother would have sent the man find a cab for her and bring it back, but Nik was too impatient to wait. He stepped out into the night and strode briskly down the drive, through the gates, and out to the quiet street beyond. Most of the cabs will be near houses that are hosting a celebration, Nik thought. I’ll head for the Palace and hope to catch one on the way. Or walk the whole way, if I must – it’s not that far.

The icy night could not chill his spirits, which were warmed by the lingering joy of healing Sharone Whittaker. He felt vindicated in his determination to help her, and beyond that elated by her recovery. On a considerably less altruistic note, the prospect of seeing Miss Vasilver again warmed him further still.

Distracted by the memory of her lips against his, Nikola paid little attention to his surroundings. He did not notice the three men trailing behind him until after he’d turned onto one of the darker streets.

Sensing someone behind him, Nik glanced over his shoulder, and was startled to see a burly figure lunging for him. Nik ducked by reflex and dodged to one side, only to collide with a second man. The first grabbed one of Nik’s arms while the second seized the other. “What—?” Nik started to say, kicking at the legs of the man behind him and trying to twist his arms free, when he felt a knifepoint at his back.

“’s enough of you,” one of the assailants hissed in his ear, pressing the blade hard enough to prick through the layers of frockcoat and jacket. Nik stopped struggling as a third man dropped a sack over his head. “Handsomely now, and there’s no one as gets hurt. Step along.”

Nik stumbled forward blind and unwilling, men herding him. “Where are—”

One arm wrapped over his chest and he felt cold metal slide beneath his jabot as the attacker pressed the blade against his bare throat. “Happens as I don’t need your tongue, yer majesty, so’s you can hold it or I’s can cut it out and hold it me own self,” the man at his back growled in a low voice. Nik closed his mouth and tried not to swallow. The knife felt razor-sharp against his skin. “Good choice. Which there’s less mess this way.”

They walked him several yards deeper into the alley. “Get the cart,” the knife-man said to one of his fellows. “Gag im. Don’t want his majesty gettin’ any ideas.” Someone pulled the sack up enough to force a gag into his mouth and tie it behind his head, then pulled it down again. They tied his hands behind his back as well, but left his feet free. So they want me to walk somewhere. Like this? Someone must notice. Nik did not struggle; the knife was too close to his throat. They must plan to hold me for ransom. Hah. At least I can afford to pay a ransom now. I just need to make sure they don’t have a reason to hurt or kill me before they make the exchange. He could imagine his father’s rebuke already: “What were you thinking, boy, walking about after midnight unescorted, in all your Ascension finery? You might as well have hung a sign about your neck reading ‘ABDUCT ME’.” Part of him was outraged by the whole situation: what kind of person assaults a Blessed on Ascension? Affrontery, anger, irritation (curse it I wanted to get back to the ball!) all vied with fear for dominance.

So far, fear was winning. He tried to think past the varied emotions: what can I do that might be useful but won’t get me killed? Leave a sign? He twisted his bound hands until his fingers reached the shirt cuffs, and worked off one of the links. He held onto it for the moment, afraid the men would notice the noise it would make falling.

A few minutes passed before the slow rattle of wheels against cobblestone approached. Nik considered the wisdom of causing a commotion in the hopes of attracting some attention versus the possibility of having his throat slit now. But the wheels stopped nearby anyway, and he realized this was the assailants’ own cart. As the men shoved him into it – it was small, some kind of pushcart rather than greatcat-driven – Nik dropped the cufflink, grunting and stumbling to cover the sound. One of the men cuffed him. “Shut up, you.”

Knife-man leaned down to whisper, “We’re gonna be right here pushin’ this cart, yer majesty, an’ they’ll hang a man for abduction sure as for murder.” He drew a shallow line in Nik’s cheek with the knife; Nik whimpered involuntarily as blood trickled from the cut. “So’s don’t be thinkin’ as anyone might save you afore we can kill you. Which you jus’ keep still and quiet and there’s no one as gets hurt.” They threw a tarp that reeked of seaweed and mildew over him, and the cart jolted into motion.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print. Now on sale for $4.99, in honor of the cliffhanger ending of today's entry!
comments: 14 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Wisteria’s Smile (77/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 077

“Certainly.” She rested her hand lightly against his forearm: even through the layers of dress jacket and cloth, the hard underlying muscle was evident, thick but with no trace of fat. “Elsewise you might see fit to end your ceasefire with yourself, and I would not wish to be responsible for that.”

“So you are defending me. Cleverly done. You ought to teach my sister that trick: she’s been trying to get me to stop for years. On second thought, don’t. I cannot allow it known that I am so easily thwarted – I shall have to master some way around your gambit.” Lord Comfrey steered her to the nearest door leading to the third-floor hallway, scarlet and gold coattails flaring behind him.

“I hope you do not; I have no better ploy in my mind if you defeat this one. Where are we walking to, my lord?” Wisteria resisted the temptation to caress his arm. It took a surprising amount of effort.    

“I don’t know. If you were me, which way would you expect me to go?”

“Oh.” Wisteria was not very good at guessing what other people would do. “Right, towards the grand staircase and the petitioner’s hall? For refreshments.”

“Well enough.” He turned left, strides brisk but not so quick that she could not readily keep pace.

She tilted her head at him as they walked. “Would you have done the opposite of whatever I suggested?”

“Of course.” Lord Comfrey nodded to the liveried greatcat at the end of the hall. The servant pawed open the door with a bow, and they walked through.

“Oh. Are you thwarting my prediction in retaliation for my successful defense of your character?”

“Hmm? No, not at all. I am defending myself from a few overeager acquaintances.” He glanced about the exhibit hall, then drew her to a spot to one side of the doors, half behind the display of mannequins in Abandoned World dress. He leaned against the same wall that had the doors.

Wisteria blinked at him. “Are you hiding, my lord?”

“Me? Hide? No. Not at all. Never. What reason could I possibly have to hide? Inconceivable.” He gave a sidelong glance to the closed doors. “…all right, perhaps a little.”

“I thought I was the only one who did that at balls.” She fell silent as he touched a finger to his lips. The doors swung open inwards, several feet to their right. A group of two men and a woman spilled through. They chattered merrily as they gave a quick look about the room, but the door and the exhibit combined to screen Comfrey from their glance. “We’ll catch up to him,” one of the men said, and the three continued to the next hall.

As the newcomers left, Lord Comfrey took Wisteria’s hand and led her quietly back out the doors through which they had just entered. As the liveried greatcat closed the doors behind them, the lord set her hand back in the crook of his arm and they moved at a casual stroll. “Now, what possible reason would a beautiful gentlewoman such as yourself have for hiding during an evening of such splendid entertainments?”

“I am not good with people. What reason does a handsome lord such as yourself have?”

“Possibly I am too good with people. My dear, why would you say such a thing about yourself?”

“Because it is true? How can one be too good with people?”

He smiled, watching her sidelong as he said, “What sort of reason is that? Where would we be if everyone said things only because they happened to be true?”

“In a more perfect Paradise? I daresay I might even be better with people. Is there a disadvantage to being too good?” Wisteria remembered moments too late that she ought not repeat a question if it went unanswered.

“That depends on whether or not one minds hiding from them occasionally.”

She tilted her head at him as they paced down the long, wide hall, this one adorned with enormous portraits of past rulers encased in heavy gilt frames. Most of the guests were in one of the main rooms; only a few couples were promenading along it as they were.

He must have seen something in her expression – Wisteria had no idea what – because Lord Comfrey tossed back his long black hair and laughed. Sobering, he patted her hand and said, quietly, “Lord Micheldon – the particular individual whose notice we just escaped – is a perfectly harmless, amiable man with a great fondness for fencing, an interest I happen to share. He is also a voluble man who can speak at the sort of length that makes it nigh-impossible for almost anyone else to get a word in edgewise. Now, I am not the sort of man to be silenced easily – or at all, as you may have already learnt to your dismay – so if I wish to discuss fencing or sport or indeed anything else with Lord Micheldon, he is a fine companion. However, if I wish to talk with anyone else about any other topic, I have found it simplest to avoid his attention entirely.”

“Oh. So the downside is that people will seek you out whether you wish to be sought or not?”

“Precisely. I would apologize for bragging, but I gather you have an inexplicable fondness for honesty and I am not in fact remorseful.”

“I am afraid you have the wrong of me, my lord. My fondness for honesty is entirely explicable.”

“Is it?” Lord Comfrey tapped one tan finger against his slightly crooked nose. “It does not seem a passion that brings you any pleasure. Have you considered cultivating a taste for a more conventional interest?”

“What makes you think it brings me no pleasure?”

“Why, because it does not make you smile.” A crease formed between his narrow eyebrows as he drew them together. “…or perhaps it is I who do not make you smile.”

Wisteria shook her head. “I am afraid that nothing makes me smile, Lord Comfrey.”

“Nothing?” he asked. “Not jesters? Roses? Fluffy bunnies? Chocolate?” She shook her head in turn to each item. “I truly have no hope of seeing you smile, Miss Vasilver?”

“You truly do not want to see me smile, Lord Comfrey.”

“But I do, I assure you. I have been curious to see your smile since the first time I saw you, and having it cruelly withheld from me thus has made my interest keener still.”

“You only say that because you have never seen my attempt at a smile.”

“Undeniably I would not yearn to see for the first time your smile had I already done so.” He was smiling at her now. She liked the way he looked smiling, the lively animation it gave his features. “You have the most remarkable control over your expression, Miss Vasilver. I shall not see you smile even a little?”

“You mistake me entirely. I exercise very little control over my expression at all. That is the problem,” Wisteria said. Lord Comfrey did not respond to that, and she knew that he did not understand. “Oh, very well.” After glancing about to make sure no one was paying attention to them, she drew him to one side of the hall, near the far end from where they had begun, stood to face him, and turned the corners of her mouth up.

He burst into laughter, and covered his mouth with one hand, trying to turn the laugh to a cough. “That’s – er – that’s the most impressively fake smile I have ever seen. You may stop now.”

“Do I not have it right? Let me try again.” She let her mouth relax, then tried harder, turning the corners up and exposing her teeth. Lord Comfrey choked on laughter. “No? How is this?”

He shielded his face with one hand from the others in the hall, still struggling to control his laughter. “All right, now you’re not even trying. Enough, I beg you.”

Wisteria let her expression return to its usual default. “I did warn you.”

“So you did. Consider me schooled.” Lord Comfrey offered his arm again, and she took it. He smoothed his features into composure and they resumed their stroll. “I am impressed you can pull such faces and not be the least diverted by it.”

He doesn’t understand. He is not going to understand. It took your parents years to grasp it at all and they live with you. Let it go, Wisteria thought. “But I am diverted by it. I find it deeply amusing, especially your reaction. It just doesn’t show. There’s something wrong with my body; it doesn’t reflect my moods the way people expect it to.”

Lord Comfrey stopped and looked at her for a long moment. “Truly?”

“Truly. Even when I was an infant. I so seldom cried that I am told I suffered – silently – a host of simple childhood ailments – dehydration, ear infections, the like – because no one could tell when I was hungry or thirsty or otherwise in need of attention. Healers treated those ailments, but none could discern the underlying cause. I have conscious control of my body, obviously, but those things others do automatically in mirror of their mood – laughing, smiling, crying – my body does not do naturally. I can try to fake it, but, well, you saw the result of that. It’s better if I don’t.”

“I…see. That certainly explains a great deal.” The dark-haired man resumed their walk. He turned them when they reached the far end of the hall. “You must be a brilliant poker player.”

“My brothers will no longer permit me to sit down with them at it.”

“Hah! A grave injustice. I observe that there is always at least one table in the gaming room at this event, if m’lady wishes to indulge.”   

“I should be very happy too, if my lord would join me? Or – have I kept you from your sister too long?” Wisteria belatedly realized she was monopolizing someone else’s companion, and she was not at all sure of the etiquette involved in this case.

But Lord Comfrey smiled at her. “She knows where to find me, if she runs short of dance partners.” He steered her to the grand descending staircase at the center of the wide hall. “So, do you mean that ‘very happy’, then, and it is not mere politeness?”

“Oh, I mean it, my lord. I do not say things I do not mean for the sake of courtesy; I find interaction complicated enough without adding well-meant falsehoods to the mix. That’s why I prefer truthfulness. I am no better at reading the moods of others than I am at expressing my own.”

He covered her hand on his arm with his own. “I shall endeavor to bear that in mind, my dear.”

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 5 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:All By Yourself (76/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 076

“Miss Vasilver.” A masculine voice broke into her thoughts, and she turned to see Lord Comfrey’s handsome, broad-shouldered figure. He was not so tall as Lord Nikola – only a few inches taller than herself – but his deep-chested frame gave an impression of such power that he seemed larger, magnificent in a long scarlet jacket patterned with gold. He took her breath away; an uncomfortable reminder that Lord Nikola was not the only extraordinarily handsome man of her acquaintance. “What are you doing up here all by yourself?”

He was smiling; as was her usual default, she took the question for factual and not accusatory. “Watching the dancers.”

Lord Comfrey chuckled. “That answers the ‘what are you doing’ but not the ‘all by yourself’. Lord Nikola cannot have abandoned you so early? Or, wait – you found his company so tedious that you abandoned him?”

She shook her head. “Not at all. He was called away by an emergency, but he plans to return.” Soon, I hope.

“What sort of emergency? Is his family all right?”

“Oh, nothing to do with them, my lord. A petitioner.”

“Ah.” Lord Comfrey rested a hand against the railing next to her, but turned sideways to face her, rather than watching the dancers.

Wisteria searched her mind for useful small talk and fell back on imitation. “And you, Lord Comfrey? What are you doing up here all by yourself?”

“Why, making conversation with the most beautiful woman at the ball,” he answered. Puzzled, Wisteria looked about to see whom he meant, and Lord Comfrey laughed. “I am referring to you, Miss Vasilver. You are meant to take it as a compliment.”

“Oh.” She felt more as if he were making sport of her. No one but Byron and her mother ever called her beautiful.

“I see Miss Vasilver is not to be flattered for her exquisite looks. Am I forced to confess my wish to speak with the most intelligent woman at the ball as well?”

Now he had to be mocking her, even if calling her smart made more sense than calling her beautiful. She leaned on the railing, watching the glittering guests turn and bow below. “You’d best start looking for her, then. It’s early yet, you might have time to find her.”

He laughed again. “I daresay I already have.”

“Then perhaps you should screw up your courage and speak with her instead of me,” Wisteria said.


She stole a glance at him; he looked unhurt, although no longer smiling. She didn’t know what that signified. “Shouldn’t you be entertaining the young lady you invited to this occasion?”

He smiled again. His features did not have the stark perfection of Lord Nikola’s: nose slightly bumpy instead of straight, lips narrow, dark eyebrows low and a bit crooked, face rather triangular – but the imperfections did not detract from the overall appeal. Added to it, perhaps, making his face more interesting. She looked away quickly before she started staring, listening as he said, “Alas! The weakness of the flesh forced me to withdraw from the dance floor earlier, and when I returned – mere minutes later! – my partner had already been cruelly stolen from me. My sister even now dances with that cad Blackwell, leaving me no choice but to inflict my presence on innocent young women such as yourself. Or sulk in a corner, I suppose, but what sort of a man would I be if I did that?”

“Your sister?” I must have missed that in the introduction earlier. “What terrible plague do you have that you had to ask your sister to the Ascension Ball?” Wisteria asked without thinking.

That made Lord Comfrey laugh again. “The kind that makes one procrastinate until it’s too late to ask anyone else who is not already engaged. Fear not, I am assured it’s not contagious.”

She realized belatedly how insulting that must have sounded. “I apologize, my lord, I intended no offense – it’s just something Lord Nikola said to me earlier—”

“Ah, so Lord Nikola is the one who intended to offend me?”

“No, no, not at all, he was speaking of what other people would say if…oh, I am not going to recover from this, am I? Please forgive me, Lord Comfrey.”

“Forgiven.” Lord Comfrey smiled at her again, and gave her a slight bow. “In return, might you be so good as to tell me what I did to annoy you, that I might ask forgiveness for that?”

“Oh…” Wisteria hesitated, suspecting she had completely misread the situation. As usual. “I thought you were mocking me, my lord. With that exaggerated flattery.”

“Ah.” He leaned against the rail, watching her. “I will confess to occasional use of hyperbole, miss, although in this particular instance I do not believe I resorted to it. Certainly it was not my intent to make mock of you. Why would you think that?”

She was facing the opposite balcony, her ear to him to hear him better. Does he truly think me beautiful? She could not ask. The crystals on her dress and in her hair caught the gaslight from the chandeliers and reflected it back, scattering spots of light around her. “I am…very bad at discerning intent, my lord. I took you for serious the other day when you made sport of Mr. Edgewick, and now I am wary of making the same mistake again.”

“I see. I know I warned you not to take me seriously, Miss Vasilver, but I assure you I would not sharpen my tongue at your expense. I save my mockery for deserving men – fortunately there’s always at least one around who suits, if the mood strikes me.”

“Always?” Wisteria glanced about them; their section of the balcony was clear of other traffic for the moment.


“And who would be that man now?”

“Why, myself, of course.”

Amusement bubbled inside her. “And what have you done to deserve such abuse, my lord?”

“Oh, the list is endless, my dear. The ball would be over before I was half-done. Why, I am so well-known as a monster that entirely blameless young women must assume I approach only to demean them.”

“It may be that these young ladies are a trifle oversensitive.”

“I would never say that.” He turned to rest his hands on the railing beside her, not close enough to impinge on her personal space, but she had the sense of his presence anyway. She caught the faint musk of his cologne, pleasant but curious, like chocolate and leather.

“Think it, perhaps?” Wisteria offered, stealing a sidelong glance at him. Lord Comfrey was not merely handsome but disturbingly attractive. It seemed especially wrong of her to find him so after she’d been kissing a different man not an hour ago.

“…perhaps.” He smiled for a moment before sobering. “But no, I do believe the fault is mine alone. I am quite the monster, after all.”    

“And in what way are you monster, my lord?” Does your monstrosity extend to ravishing purportedly blameless young women? May I volunteer? Accustomed as she was to having her thoughts run on inappropriate topics, this one surprised even her. Am I so much the slattern that I crave any man’s touch now? She knew nothing of Lord Comfrey’s reputation on this point, but she’d made no specific inquiries into it either, so that meant little.

“All men are monsters, Miss Vasilver. Did no one warn you?”

“Too many times to count, and I give it no credence whatsoever,” Wisteria answered at once. “It is nonsense designed to rob men of agency and lay the blame for their faults upon their sex. It not only insults men but makes a tiresome excuse, as if one’s gender robbed one of…I was not supposed to take that seriously, was I?”

“Not a bit, but please, do not let that deter you.” Lord Comfrey faced her again with a smile. “What are we robbed of?”

“…responsibility for one’s actions.”

“Ah! That sounds refreshing. I have always longed to be irresponsible.”

Wisteria was beginning to catch on to the dark-haired lord’s irreverence. “Is this where you mock yourself, my lord?”

“You have caught me at it indeed! I hope you do not intend to defend me; I should hate for you to join on the losing side.”

“Should I be part of the attack, then? I might have some ammunition from the Colbury file.”

He considered this for a moment. “All things considered, I’d prefer you didn’t. I have sufficient ammunition against myself already.”

“Am I condemned to the role of mere spectator, in that case?”

“That doesn’t seem gentlemanly, does it? Now that you mention it. Very well, I will abandon my quarrel with myself in the interests of serving the greater conversational good.” The man paused, dark eyes studying her with such exaggerated scrutiny that even she could not miss it. “That was your plan all along, wasn’t it?”


“Well-played.” Lord Comfrey turned from the rail and offered his arm. “Will you walk with me, Miss Vasilver?”

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 11 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Reflections (75/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 075

Wisteria drifted through the grand petitioner’s hall, even less adept at small talk than usual, her mind elsewhere. She could never tell whether people were greeting her only to be polite, or because they truly wished to talk. The plump brown-haired Mr. Willsham came upon her and introduced her to his escort, Lady Jessica, an even rounder young woman whose gilded gown constrained an astonishing quantity of bosom. They spent a pleasant quarter of an hour discussing spice and vegetable imports from western Cambrique and various applications, which as far as Wisteria could tell was the topic they and not she had chosen and so was acceptable. She did not mind speaking of that, or anything else, but what she most wanted was to talk to Lord Nikola.

Or to do anything else with Lord Nikola. Her mind replayed the feel of his hand against her leg, the shameless way she had clung to him, the taste of his skin. She did not want to be among these however many hundreds who did not care about the things that mattered to her. If she could not be with the one person who was willing – even eager, she thought – to discuss those subjects, at the very least she wanted to be somewhere private where she could daydream about him uninterrupted. Will he be back tonight? Perhaps I should have gone home after all. And looked like a failure to my family, I suppose, for leaving a social event when it was not even midnight yet. And missed the possibility of more time with Lord Nikola.

It was worth it for that chance, Wisteria considered, even if it was as poor as one in two. Also, the ball was hardly an unpleasant place to pass the time. It only suffered in comparison to how wonderful it had been with Lord Nikola at her side.

She made her way back to the ballroom. Rather than wait to see if a man would ask her to stand up with him to dance, Wisteria ascended the steps to the interior balcony that ringed the dance floor. Though the orchestra playing for the dancers below remained audible, the reduced number of people made it quieter up here. The lovely top-down view lent the dance a mathematical precision, glittering pieces in an enormous living kaleidoscope.

She wondered at the all-human composition on the dance floor after she noticed a couple of greatcats also watching, from the far side of the balcony. Do they have their own dances? They cannot do these, certainly, but there are so many varieties of human dance, performed in distant lands. Surely they could do something akin to dance, if they chose. Do they dislike the idea of trying, or does the Crown discourage such an attempt? She knew from history lessons that it had been quite controversial when Blessed were first discovered among the greatcats, over century ago. The Assembly had passed a resolution to bar greatcats from the nobility, a resolution the Crown overturned to bestow a courtesy title and a stipend upon the first greatcat healer. King Kevin’s service prior to that act was famous for its beauty and simplicity: “When the Savior himself has shown the way, it is the duty of mankind to follow it, not to turn petulantly aside because it looks a little different from the path we have followed thus far.” But while that settled the legal question, it left social and theological concerns.

The theological issue was particularly interesting, because traditional Savior theology held that Blessings were passed down the family line through marriages sanctified by the Savior. Most denominations accepted that marriage traditions from nations which did not worship the Savior were nonetheless sanctified by him anyway, because otherwise the mere existence of pagan Blessed invalidated the whole theory. It was true that there were no proven instances of Blessed born to women out of wedlock (although there were always rumors), and the vast majority of the Blessed could trace their line back to a Blessed of a prior generation. The humans who could not were assumed to have a Blessed farther back than they knew their family tree – few people knew their full family tree for forty-odd generations, after all. But none of that explained where greatcats could have gotten Blessings. Greatcats had not even existed as a species until Lord Ferran used his Blessing for minds to create them almost a century and a half ago, by making a number of Paradise’s native wildcats sapient. That alteration had been controversial in its own time, though Wisteria could not see how. It was unnatural, perhaps, but if one believed Blessings were the work of the Savior, it followed logically that any miracle performed by a Blessed must be the Savior’s will. Most denominations explained the later appearance of Blessed among greatcats as Lord Ferran being the spiritual father of the race. This did not strike Wisteria as one of her religion’s more convincing contentions.

Thinking about greatcats reminded Wisteria of Lord Nikola, how he’d said he identified better with their lessened interest in hierarchy. Hadn’t he said once there was something different about their minds? I wonder what. There were obvious differences – greatcats were far, far less inclined to violence: one never heard of greatcat criminals. But she doubted that was what Lord Nikola had meant. Maybe I should ask him when he gets back. I don’t think it even need be on my forbidden list. Her heart warmed at the thought of the list and Lord Nikola asking for the first item on it. Not to mention his wondrous answer to it. I wonder if he’ll ask for the second, or if we may continue…discussing…the first. That thought heated a part rather south of her heart. Her whole body ached to feel his touch.

Desire was by no means unfamiliar to her: her craving for a lover was one of the reasons she had not abandoned her search for a husband years ago. Although, ironically, her desire to marry – to have a legitimate lover, sanctioned by the Savior and approved by family and society – was one of the factors that had prevented her from ever having had a lover. No man in Newlant would want ‘damaged goods’, or a bride of questionable virtue. Why virginity was desirable at all, much less a virtue, mystified her. Inexperience was not valued in any other endeavor in life: why this one? There were obvious advantages for children to have two parents committed to their relationship, but pregnancy could be avoided by a number of means less drastic than abstinence. In prior centuries, some dangerous diseases had been spread through sexual congress, but these days the Blessed could treat them easily and such were now both rare and trivial. It was, granted, a trifle daunting to imagine her fumblings being compared to the acts of Lord Nikola’s prior lovers. But the obvious solution there was that she needed more practice, not that he needed less.

Not that she’d had any real opportunity for practice anyway. Men that she could have been tempted by, certainly, but if they’d been interested she had not noticed, and her desire had not been strong enough before to outweigh the expectations of her family, society, and position. She understood intellectually that any liberties she allowed – never mind encouraged – would be a stain on her reputation. That men could not be trusted to protect such a secret, and that any man with whom she indulged in such behavior would think less of her for it. None of which made the slightest hint of intuitive sense, of course. Nonetheless, family, teachers, and classmates had all agreed that anything with the slightest hint of sensuality to it must be avoided outside of marriage (and possibly inside of marriage too, depending on whom she consulted). That had been enough in the past to deter her from any attempts.

But she’d never met anyone as attractive as Lord Nikola, nor anyone who had so encouraged her to be bold with him. And she had been shockingly bold, and the result had been amazing. Better than anything she had fantasized. She had longed to be touched before, but never like this, a sensation so overwhelming it eclipsed all other feelings. All she wanted was to do it again, only more, and not care about the consequences.

It would be nice if he were interested in marriage, but she found it hard to care that he was not. They were wrong about men not being trustworthy, or at least wrong as it applies to Lord Nikola. We did not do much that was so wrong and he was still taking measures to make sure that it went unnoticed. And he said he respected and admired me. That memory glowed like an ember inside her, bright and full of joy. She knew what she wanted was something everyone had told her she should not want and could not have, but it was impossible to care. I ought to talk myself out of this resolution. I am not good at secrecy. What if I blurt out the truth or something that makes the truth apparent to everyone and my whole family hates and disowns me? Well, Byron would not disown me, I think. Everyone else, then. This truly ought to be more important than satisfying my lust. No matter how intense that lust might be. Wisteria leaned against the rail, not seeing the dancers or anything else, but remembering the feel of Lord Nikola’s caress down her back.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 11 comments or Leave a comment Share

Tags:, ,
Subject:Fourth Monthiversary Sales for A Rational Arrangement!
Time:09:21 pm
I thought I'd do this on time this month, just for contrast with the third-month anniversary. These are the sale figures for my polyamorous fantasy romance novel, A Rational Arrangement. (Buy it here! Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print).

Sales Graph for the last three months.  I may stop including a graph on these posts, given that I can't give the Big Picture in one image any more. Also, I could just say "It's a line dropping by 40-55% per month" and that'd give the right general idea.

Total Sales:

Pre-launch: 36
1st Month: 507
2nd Month: 292
3rd Month: 146
4th Month: 68
Total through 9/28: 1049

Average unit sales:
1st Month: 16.9
2nd Month: 9.4
3rd Month: 4.9
4th Month: 2.33

The sales drop-off picked up a little speed, declining 54% over the last month. Non-Amazon sales dropped to zero this month (you're letting down the team, Kobo/B&N/iTunes). Amazon finally had a zero-sales day, on October 17th. Surprisingly, that remains the only zero-sales day, despite a string of days with one sale.

Still psyched that RA broke one thousand sales this month. \o/ I can't believe that many people have found and bought my book. Go, little book! Be read!

As mentioned earlier this month, RA will go on sale on November 6. I am curious to see if that will affect overall unit sales! haikujaguar's experience is that November/December/January is generally a good time of year for sales, but I don't know if that will impact me, given that I only have one book out. (Still plugging away at my next book!)

Tune in next month to see if the approximately 50% downward trend continues!  
comments: 2 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:I Should Like to Help (74/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 074

Various acquaintances greeted him as he made his way out, but he rebuffed all attempts at conversation with the briefest of explanations: “petitioner emergency”. Fortunately, it was an excuse everyone accepted without question.

In short order, he retrieved his overcoat and hurried down the long wide marble steps of Dawnfell Palace, drawing winter gloves on in place of dress ones. The gaslights that outlined every column, ledge, and window of the palace illuminated the grounds almost well enough to make the additional lights along the steps and drive superfluous. The greatcat waiting for him on the drive gave him pause: she was a pubescent calico he recognized as Meredith, one of Gunther’s daughters. Someone had given her a dish of punch, and she jerked her head from it, licking her whiskers clean as she gave him an anxious bow. “Lord Nik – sorry bout your party but Mr. Whittaker said—”

“Not at all, Meredith, you did well. Thank you. Ah…” He considered her size; she was far smaller than a full-grown greatcat, about four feet at the shoulder, but even so she was several times the mass of a grown man, and around the size Anthser had been when Nik first started riding him. Of course, I was smaller then too. “I hate to ask more of you yet, feli, but do you think you might be able to bear me back to Anverlee? I don’t wish to overburden you, but speed—”

She splayed her ears to the sides. “I don’t mind, m’lord, but I hasn’t got no riding seat—”

“I assure you, I can stay on without one. If that is the only difficulty?”

“Sure. I carry Kris alla time, you ain’t much bigger.” Kris was the cook’s adolescent son and half Nik’s size, but perhaps to even a young greatcat that did not signify. Meredith lay down for Nik to mount, though she hardly needed to.

Nik settled behind her shoulders, thighs holding him snugly in place, fingers wrapped around the upper strap of her harness. “Thank you, Meredith. Let me know if the weight’s too much, I’m sure there are other runners about.” Although between the greatcats who chose not to work on Ascension night and the additional demand for transportation, it’d be faster to track down Hughbrant or Northholt and ask either of them to take him without the carriage.

Meredith started down the palace’s long tree-lined drive at a walk, glancing nervously over her shoulder at her illustrious passenger. He offered a reassuring smile. “When I was about your age, Anthser and I used to rampage across the Anverlee countryside. We didn’t use a riding seat because Anthser was too small for the ones we owned. There’s one particular orchard where we’d pretend the ground was lava, and he’d try to negotiate it as quickly as possible without falling into the ‘lava’. A few times, as I recall, he did miss a jump. But I never fell from him during that game.” At other times, granted, but not then. “Whatever speed you consider sustainable, I promise you, I will manage.”

“Oh!” She splayed her ears again. “As you like, m’lord.” Meredith faced forward, squared her shoulders, and began to trot, then loped with ground-eating strides. Her pace was markedly different from Anthser’s, all long limbs and without his practice in managing the shock of a normal run. But she wasn’t vaulting over carriages or running up trees, which more than made up for the difficulty of not having a proper seat. The jolting discomfort also drove any question of amorous activity entirely from his mind. The wintery air and darkened streets brought their own kind of exhilaration; Nik crouched low on the greatcat’s back, hunched to shield himself from the wind of their passage and glad he’d thought to switch to warmer gloves before mounting. The neighborhoods near the palace were all brightly lit by Ascension lanterns, but as they drew farther away Meredith traversed back alleys and ill-lit side streets with a surefootedness that made Nik especially glad for a greatcat’s eyes to guide them.

They made excellent time back to Anverlee Manor, although Meredith slowed by the end, tongue lolling from her mouth as she panted from the exertion. Even so, her muzzle crinkled in dismay when he suggested she get a drink and snack from the kitchen as well as some rest. “But can’t I watch, m’lord?” she asked, disappointed.

“There’s nothing to see, in truth, but…yes, of course you may watch.” Assuming Sharone doesn’t refuse me again. Well, if she does, it won’t take that long to get back to Miss Vasilver. All the lights were extinguished at the manor; everyone but a skeleton crew of servants was out at one Ascension event or another. Nik took a candle from the footman who answered the door and waved off his offered escort. With the young greatcat at his heels, Nik made his way to the Whittaker’s suite.

The soft, inconsolable sobbing just audible through the closed wooden door was not heartening. Nik rapped lightly on it, and an anxious Mr. Whittaker answered. “Lord Nikola! So sorry to have disturbed you—”

Nik could not imagine how it felt to spend your whole life apologizing for things outside your control. “Thank you for sending word,” he said to head off the rest, stepping through the doorway and onto the sitting room’s plain green threadbare rug. Sharone was curled up on one of the mismatched armchairs before the hearth in the sitting room, knees hugged to her chest, face dipped and hidden behind a mass of tangled curls. She rocked in place, whimpering. Her mother was in the other armchair, pretending to read while she stole glances at her daughter.

Meredith sidled in around Nikola. “Hey, don’t cry, kiddo. Look, I got Lord Nik for you! He’ll fix it.” The young greatcat ambled to Sharone’s chair and leaned over the arm to nose at Sharone’s hunched back, oblivious to Mrs. Whittaker’s attempt to caution her against it. The girl screamed and whirled around to flail at the greatcat’s orange, black and white face. Meredith danced out of reach, startled. “Oops! Didn’t mean ta upset her more.”

Sharone scrambled to stand on the seat cushion, small hands fisted before her, dark brown eyes glaring at Meredith and then the rest of the room. When her eyes fell on Nik, she froze. Her hands dropped but remained clenched, a small defiant figure with a round dark face half obscured by tangled black hair. “Said y’ wo’ na come.”

“But I did. You asked for me, Miss Whittaker?” Nik approached her with casual, unhurried steps.

I told ya he’d come!” Meredith protested indignantly. Nik realized at last that Meredith must have been the designated greatcat-on-duty, with Anthser out celebrating and Gunther and Jill taking his parents to the Ball. He winced at the thought. Poor child.

“Missus Square said he wo’ na. Said better if he dinna.” Sharone looked like a wild animal, ready to bolt or attack. She took a step back on the seat cushion as Nik approached, pressing against the chair back.

Nikola stopped a couple of yards away from her. He tried to put his hands in his pockets, forgetting that neither the breeches nor the formal jacket had front pockets. He clasped his fingers loosely behind his back instead. “Why did she say it would be better if I didn’t come, miss?”

“’cause then no one’d ge’ hur’.”

“I am not going to hurt anyone, Miss Whittaker. I am not going to do anything at all without your help.”

She sniffled, dragging her sleeve across her nose. “Wha’ d’y’ want?”

His mind flicked back to the Ascension Ball for an instant, to Miss Vasilver’s embrace, to Justin dancing in the ballroom. Nik pushed the images aside and gave her a lopsided smile. “Now, that is my question to you. You asked for me. What would you like, Miss Whittaker?”

Sharone sniffled again. “I don’ wan’ anybody hur’.”

“A worthy goal,” he agreed. “I can help with that, if you like.”

She shook her head. “Missus Square says y’ won’. ll be worse if I don’ do wha’ she says.”

“Who’s Missus Square?” Meredith asked, whiskers splayed in confusion. Sharone didn’t answer.

Nik kept his attention on the little girl. “You understand that Mrs. Square is not being honest with you, do you not, Miss Whittaker? The things she makes you do hurt people.”

Sharone sank down in her chair, hugging her legs again. She gave a small nod, but added, “’ll be worse if I don’.”

“It will not,” Nik said, with quiet conviction. He took a step forward and knelt before her chair, putting his head a little below hers, and looked up into her face. “She is lying to you and using you.” He cast his mind back to the game with the dolls and blocks and animals, trying to recall what Sharone herself had said and done. “You cannot negotiate with her in good faith. She will not learn. You cannot reason with her. You know that, don’t you?”

Another small, scared nod. “Why d’ y’ care?”

He blinked at her. How could I not? Nik offered as simple and honest an explanation as he could manage: “Because the Savior loves you, Miss Whittaker, and he wants you to be well and whole. And he’s my friend too, so I should like to help.”

“Will it hurt?”

“No.” He drew off his right glove and offered her his hand.

With her face screwed up tight, shoulders hunched, she forced forward one trembling arm. It was as if the air were mud she had to push through. When she touched his fingers at last, her mouth opened: “AAAA—” The scream cut off an instant after it began, as the demon infesting her mind evaporated like mist under the Savior’s radiance. Sharone stared at him, breathless and shocked.

Nik cupped her little hand lightly between his. With the demons gone, he could see the extent of the developmental damage in her mind, the gaps and warping where her mindshapes had grown into and around the demon. That seldom happened – demons altered the mind’s behavior by adding to it, leaving the underlying structures untouched, so the petitioner was cured once they were gone. But he rarely saw demonic infestation so thorough in one so young. The wave of the Savior’s power suffused them both, her mind open and trusting to him. “You’ll be fine,” he said, softly. He started constructing scaffolds, building missing connections, knitting injuries closed, easing apart damaged mindshapes so they would have room to grow properly. “You’ll be fine now.”

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 13 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:An Evening Interrupted (73/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 073

His hand strayed to caress her cheek of its own accord, Nik forgetting he’d taken his glove off. “Your mind is beautiful.” He drew his hand away quickly. “You don’t know how hard it is not to touch you.”

“I like it when you touch me,” she said with perfect innocence. She laid her fingertips against his jaw, undoing his reserve. “I didn’t know minds could be beautiful. I thought they would be…grey and wrinkled and squishy. Like cows’ brains.”

He shook his head, breath catching as he laced his fingers through hers. “No, the brain is where the mind is housed but the mind’s appearance is…wholly other. The mind dissolves on death, did you know? One cannot see what the mind of a corpse had been.”

“Oh. No, I did not know that.” Miss Vasilver traced her thumb over his lower lip and he swallowed, closing his eyes. “What does it look like?”

“Magnificent. Indescribable. Shape and color and texture combining in endless variety.” He let his mindsense linger on her, exploring the softness of her capacity for love, the warm velvet of desire, the web of reason that wrapped through every structure, strong but flexible, yielding. “I love how rational yours is, so elegantly arranged,” he murmured. Some of the structures were unusual shapes: senses were all normal but most of the usual interconnections with interpersonal skills were replaced by reason instead. In fact, her entire social skills web was heavily reliant on rationality, when not outright displaced by it, which perhaps explained her charming willingness to consider any subject.

“Oh,” she said faintly, cuddling closer, burrowing her face against the lace folds of his jabot, and he realized he had dipped his mouth to kiss her thumb, then nibble at the pad while she wriggled in the most appealing fashion against his thighs—

—I need to stop this. He pulled his head away to press against the sofa backrest. “You’ll not make Vasilver’s daughter one of your whores,” his father had said, and as insulting as the man had been he was right. She was a gentleman’s daughter, never married, taking her innocence was wrong, a sin of an entirely different magnitude from sleeping with a courtesan or a widow or even another man’s wife. Even sitting with her like this would destroy her reputation if they were seen, and she might not understand that but he did. I will not, cannot abuse her trust. He hugged her again, more tightly than intended, then removed her from his lap and stood.

“My lord?”

He heard the rustle and tinkle of her dress as she shifted position, but he had his back to her, a hand over his face. I need to say something or she’s going to apologize again and I don’t think I can bear that. “I’m fine, Miss Vasilver—” the formality automatic and yet absurd after such intimacy “— but I – I fear I have entirely exceeded the bounds of your question.”

“What question? Oh, that question. I don’t mind, my lord. The subheadings on the first item were extensive.”

Her reply was so free of artifice, so very her, that Nik choked back laughter. “What were the subheadings? No, no, don’t answer that, I have no business asking such a thing.” He turned to her again, fell to one knee, reached for her hand and stopped himself from taking it. “I—” His mind was a confused jumble as he searched for a way to explain how he was at fault without implying that she was.

A voice calling from the balcony, a little ways off, broke into his thoughts with a faint but distinct, “Lord Nikola?”

Nik nearly swore despite the presence of a lady. He scrambled to his feet. “I’ll get rid of him,” he growled, pulling his glove back on, straightening his jacket and the ribbon holding back his hair. He strode decisively out the balcony door and closed the door quietly behind him to ensure the searcher would not find the two of them together in such an out-of-the-way spot. He turned and walked towards the sound of the voice.“Yes?” He used his most imperious voice, glowering in the direction of the speaker as his eyes adjusted to the darkness.

The other was a boy in the livery of a royal page. He bobbed a bow as Nik approached, saying, “M’lord, there’s a greatcat messenger for you, says she’s come from Anverlee.”

Sudden fear chilled Nik more than the cold night air did. “Is something wrong? What’s the message?” It can’t be my parents, they’re here and avoiding me. Lysandra? Daphne?

“Don’t know, m’lord, the message was only ‘Sharone Whittaker requesting treatment’. Said you left instructions that you wanted to know right away, m’lord,” the boy said. Nikola did swear this time, and the page cringed. “Sorry, m’lord, the messenger carried Fireholt’s seal—”

Nik tried to keep the frustration from his voice and did not quite succeed. Of all the times she has to pick now “You did right. If the messenger’s still here, tell her to wait for me at the foot of the palace steps. I’ll be down in a moment.” After the page bowed and withdrew, Nik returned to the study. His thoughts churned in a half-dozen different directions. Part of him wanted to ignore the message. What difference would a few hours make? Why should he, lord and Blessed, be continually inconvenienced by a young girl’s madness and obstinacy? Who was to say she would not have changed her mind by the time he made it to Anverlee Manor anyway, even if he left at once?   

Excuses. I have to go.

Miss Vasilver had risen and met him halfway to the balcony. “What is it, Lord Nikola?” Her serene expression was at odds with the disheveled hem of her dress, fallen partway back down but left unattended.

“One of my petitioners – a difficult and troublesome case – I don’t wish to bore you with the details, but I must leave at once. I am most heartily sorry for it.”

“I understand, my lord. Of course you must,” she said, her voice betraying neither disappointment nor offense.

He smiled at her quick grasp. “I – do you wish to go home, my lady? Miss Vasilver,” he corrected himself. “I shouldn’t be long. I hope I’ll be able to return within an hour, an hour and a half, perhaps.”

“Should you like me to go with you?” Miss Vasilver offered.

“More than anything.” Nikola briefly indulged the fantasy – he could not hold her in that glass carriage, but the round trip would give them considerable private time for conversation – “But no,” he said, reluctantly. “Speed is essential – it’d be a quarter of an hour at least for the greatcats just to extricate the coach from the warren of them, and even on the road it’s heavy and slow. I hope to ride the messenger back.”

“Then I will wait at the ball for you. If you wish.” She lifted her hand as if to touch him, then hesitated.

Nik caught her hand and pressed her palm to his lips, then drew her into his arms and lifted her into a kiss, spinning her about as her feet left the floor. She looped her arms around his neck, as eager as she’d been earlier. After breaking off the kiss, he held her fast and whispered in her ear, “You are magnificent, my dear lady. If I am unable to return – unavoidably delayed – know that it is not because I wish to be anywhere else or with anyone else. You have my deepest admiration and respect. Never doubt that.”

He could feel tension leave her, that slim, straight body melting to conform to his. “Thank you, my lord,” she said. “You do not know how good it is to hear that.” Strange how she never looks worried about what anyone might think. But she is.

Nikola pressed his lips against her temple, luxuriating in the warmth of her mind. “Thank you for sharing your list with me, my dear. I – we need to go, or I will never tear myself away.” He released her with an effort of will, taking a moment to straighten her gown and ensure she looked unexceptionable before offering his arm to her.

Miss Vasilver did not take it at once. “…I thought I might stay here for a bit.”

He blinked at her a few times, thinking, then shook his head. “It…would be better if you did not, miss.”

She tilted her head at him. “Why does it matter?”

“Someone noted that we’d come this way or that page would not have known to look for me on the balcony. To have the two of us taking air on the balcony is not itself remarkable, but if I’m seen returning inside without you and then leaving, while you’re not seen by anyone for some time thereafter…well. It would excite talk.”

“Oh. I see.” She slipped her hand against his arm, and he fought off the urge to embrace her again. “You have a great deal of experience with this sort of thing, do you not?”

“Some,” Nik admitted, and wondered if he should not have. But she has always been honest with me. “Does that trouble you?”

“No. It’s comforting.” Miss Vasilver had her long face in profile to him as they strode along the balcony to its legitimate entrance to the exhibit hall.

Startled, Nikola laughed. “Comforting?”

“Well, one of us ought to know what we’re about, don’t you think?”

What are we about? He had a brief vision of carrying on a clandestine tryst with Miss Vasilver, arranging stolen moments in secrecy, avoiding the eye of their families, friends, everyone, for – how long? The idea was – sordid. Unappealing. I don’t want to hide how I feel about you. I don’t want to be guarded and careful. I want everyone to know. I want to marry you.

The thought shocked him. I can’t mean that. Can I? I don’t want to marry anyone. Marriage means obligations, expectations, fidelity—    

—to an ordinary woman. But Miss Vasilver is anything but ordinary. He hardly dared look at her as they moved through the exhibit hall, her steps quickened without comment to match his urgency. He thought of her document, still kept close to his heart even tonight. To her, the meaning of marriage is something one may negotiate.

He wrestled down the impulse to propose. This is madness brought on by frustrated lust. I can’t propose to her in the middle of the Ascension Ball, in the thirty seconds before I rush away to a petitioner. I need to give this serious consideration before I do something rash and irreparable.

Shaking off the reverie, he took his leave of Miss Vasilver when they returned to the main hall. As he kissed her hand, he wondered if he looked half so convincingly unaffected as she did. She did not smile at him – she never did – but she did squeeze his fingers as if reluctant to release them.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 18 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:The First Item on the List (72/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 072

The pages of her guideline sprang into her mind, neatly printed in her own hand, stark black letters at the start of the first line: Do not whatever you do under any circumstances say this or anything like it. There truly was no way even she could forget she wasn’t supposed to say it. But the reasons why were so nonsensical, unfair even, and her will to follow convention blindly so weak…Wisteria had her face turned to one side, too focused on her planned words to think about where she ought to be looking. The study’s wallpaper had a runner patterned in silver filigree, right under the molding around the ceiling. “Now is either the very worst time for it or the very best,” she said, “and I cannot tell which.”

“Ah. Tell me what it is, and I will tell you which it is?” Lord Nikola offered.

Wisteria swallowed. Her eyes still on the glittering filigree on the walls, she asked, “May I kiss you, my lord?”

In the silence that followed, she heard his indrawn breath, sound sharp and meaningless to her. Was that Yes or No or Next topic please? I need words, my lord, I cannot guess the answer. Still he did not speak. She glanced to his face and could read nothing in his countenance, not even a smile. This cannot be good. “I apologize, my lord. I should – please, forget I—”

He laid a finger against her lips and she fell silent. Lord Nikola licked his lips. “You have a way of catching me by surprise, Miss Vasilver. I – I do not suppose it will shock you to know that I have kissed and been kissed more than once, but – do you know – I do not think that before today anyone has ever actually asked me.” He shifted his hand to cup her cheek.

Wisteria met his gaze in blank incomprehension. “But how else would you know if you could or not?”

“That is a very good question and I wish I had a good answer for you.” He leaned close enough that she could catch the faint scent of champagne on his breath. “But I liked your first question better still.” His head was tilted to avoid bumping noses, lips not quite touching hers. “In answer: yes, absolutely, please do.”

She let her eyes close – it was strange to see his face so close and she wanted to focus on how he felt – and touched her mouth to his. The sensation of that contact ran through her like a transmitted shock, warming her face, fingers, toes. She was not at all sure what she was doing, apart from it being Number One On the List of What Not to Do, but his lips were soft and gentle and tasted of champagne, his touch delectable as his hand slid over her cheek to the nape of her neck, and she wanted to do more of it. Wisteria dipped her chin after the kiss, touching her forehead to his. “Oh. May we do that again?” she asked in a whisper, and he answered by tilting her face up for another kiss.


She had the most incredible mind, unlike any Nik had seen before. The web of rationality and logic seemed to weave through every part of it, as if nothing could happen inside her head without her conscious awareness of the how and why of it. He’d seen people whose emotions were stunted or warped by layers of intellectualism and had more than half-expected that to be the case with Miss Vasilver, but it didn’t seem to be. Affection, desire, anger, fear, love, compassion – all were present in the usual size and textures, albeit united by cool strong threads of reason. The texture and feel of her mind was delightfully intricate, as welcoming as her lips under his, an open invitation to lose himself in exploration. He wasn’t interested in analysis – his first impression was that he’d never seen a mind so organized, so fully sane – but he gloried in the vista.

Her question had astonished him, not only unlike a gentlewoman but at odds with Miss Vasilver’s entire dispassionate demeanor. When he’d finally parsed it, he’d thought perhaps she was intellectually curious even if emotionally unengaged. Their tentative first kiss did not contradict that hypothesis, but with the second she slid one hand to the nape of his neck and curled her fingers through the hair at the base of his ponytail to hold him as she shifted closer. Her other hand caressed his chest through his shirt, above the waistcoat and under his jabot, crystal beads on her trailing sleeve tinkling. Her mouth moved uncertainly against his. Nik was reminded powerfully of his own first experience: lacking the slightest idea what he was about and desperate to learn. He parted his lips enough to nibble at hers, and she responded enthusiastically, fingers clutching in his shirt to pull him nearer. Nik wrapped his arms around her waist and tugged. Her body curved to slide into his lap, ruffled skirt rustling as her legs stretched sideways on the upholstered cushion next to him. She pressed him against the sofa back, fingers sliding under his waistcoat to caress his shoulder as she kissed him with unashamed longing.

Her passionate intensity caught him off guard, as unexpected as her question but even more welcome. One hand stroked down her thigh, over the curve of the ruffle, feeling the smoothness of silk under his fingertips and the tiny bumps from the glittering crystals in the dress. His other arm cradled her back, hand on the fine mesh that covered her shoulder. The layers of cloth between them felt like an unwanted barrier; he ached to touch her skin, to strip off his gloves and unfasten the row of buttons under the silken waterfall of the gown’s one-shouldered cape. He gripped her shoulder to keep that hand from wandering to the buttons, but his other hand made its way down the length of her long leg to find her stockinged ankle. She made no missish objections; instead she snuggled closer as his gloved fingers pushed her skirt higher, baring her calf to his caress. He left her lips to kiss his way along her jawline, nuzzling at her hair, breathing in her scent, overwhelmed by the sensation of her. “Oh, my lord, that feels wonderful,” Miss Vasilver murmured in his ear, her voice strangely level but the truth of her words made plain by the way she held his head close, body squirming deliciously in his arms. Maybe this is like her, he thought, intoxicated by desire. She is so forthright in everything else, why not about this? His hand reached to her knee beneath the skirt, then her lower thigh as she slid down to push his hand higher, rubbing her soft cheek against his, fingers tangled fast in his hair. The layers of fabric were pushed thick and snug enough to give more resistance as he tried to move higher still. The difficulty forced Nik to think for a moment, and realize what he was doing. You’ve taken this well beyond a kiss, boy. He drew his hand away, moving it to rest atop the skirt, and then wrapped both arms around her back. Withdrawing entirely seemed far too much to ask, but he could try to get some control over himself.

His breathing was ragged as she pressed a kiss against the top of his ear, the sense of her mind so close a sensuality of its own, her fingers warm beneath his jacket. The intimacy was maddening, demanding reciprocation. She must know what she’s doing to me. His hands behind her back pulled off one of his gloves as if of their own accord. Her tongue stole along the curve of his ear and he whimpered, lust so acute it was almost painful.

Miss Vasilver paused at the sound. “My lord?”

Nik clung to her, knowing that he ought to move away, back off before he carried things too far, and unable to bring himself to do so.

“I’m sorry…I did something wrong, didn’t I?” Miss Vasilver’s voice was hushed but even. “I did not intend…I know I should not have even asked, I—”

Nik kissed her to stop the flood of words. “Shhh.” He stroked her back beneath the cape, touched her hair, ached to feel it between his fingers but knew better than to disturb its carefully crafted perfection. “You did nothing wrong, my lady, not in my opinion, I just…need a moment.” She ducked her head in a nod, shifting as if to move away. His arms remained locked about her, unwilling to release her even as he struggled to master his desire. Which he knew logically would be easier without her warm appealing form pressed against him, but logic did not enter into it. “Please don’t go,” he whispered.

“I should be very happy to stay,” Miss Vasilver replied, just as soft, and tucked her head against his shoulder. “I like kissing you,” she added, so matter-of-fact that he laughed.

“And I you,” he told her, kissing her forehead, careful to keep his hands on her back and not move them to any place more dangerous or tempting. “But I…I do not wish to lead you into…anything you would regret, my lady. I give you my word, I did not seek out privacy in order to take advantage of you.”

“Oh.” She stilled, half-sitting sideways in his lap, her cheek against his jacket.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 14 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:On Problematic Tropes
Time:10:54 am

I have a couple of conflicting principles that I don't know how to reconcile:

* Fiction at its best illuminates reality. This includes all genres, even the obviously fantastic and implausible. Fiction has the ability to make us understand one another better, to let us see through another's eyes. This is amazing and powerful and should be used wisely.
* Daydreams and fantasies are harmless fun. Fantasizing about things that are unrealistic, as long as you know that they're unrealistic and have no interest in making them reality, is fine.

There's no conflict between the two when one's fantasy is something socially-acceptable if impossible, like "having a telepathic bond with a friendly dragon".  Things where, if you could make them real, it wouldn't be particularly detrimental for the world at large.

But lots of fantasies are not socially-acceptable, nor a desirable/plausible reality. Twilight, for example, gets a lot of flak for its romance between a century-old vampire stalker and his 17 year-old love interest*. There's a novel I won't name about a romance between a Nazi concentration camp commander and a  Jewish prisoner that ends with him rescuing the internees and her converting to Christianity. Master/slave romances are commonplace.

I've named all romance tropes here because those are the ones I hear discussed. Maybe in horror circles they discuss whether their monsters are too monstrous or the events depicted too awful, and I just don't hear it. I hear occasional decrying of the Chosen One trope of fantasy, or more rarely, on the idealization of feudal societies and tyranny.

In general, I am talking about tropes that entertain but appear to do the opposite of illuminate: dehumanise, debase, disinform. Tropes that turn things that are devastating and awful in reality into light entertainment, or portray those things as acceptable and even enjoyable in the context of the story.

I believe in free speech, so obviously I think people should be allowed to read and write what they please regardless of whether or not I think it has merit. That part is easy.

But when I run into a trope that deeply offends me, I feel this conflict over whether or not condemnation is appropriate. How dangerous are fantasies? Does it make a difference if you draw on real history or use a fantasy world for the setting? (Eg, would the Nazi/Jew romance be less offensive if the same tropes were used in fictional countries with fictional religions?) How much does tone matter? I can't help thinking that tone has an impact, that some things are written as escapism and the author and readers are aware that it's Not Realistic, and that's different from a book written seriously. From one where the author's style suggests "this book is illuminating, resonant, true" and I am all D:

But I don't know. Maybe what I want is a bright line between someone's goofy dubcon fanfic and a mainstream novel glorifying rape, and maybe there can't be one. Maybe judging works case-by-case, and recognizing that what I think is offensive and repugnant may be someone else's harmless fantasy (and vice-versa) is inevitable.

I remain curious about how other people feel on the topic: Of the principles I opened with, do you find one one or the other unconvincing? If both are relevant, how do you handle the conflict?

* On this subject: I half-joked last month that 'I'm not saying it's not possible to write a good romance between a first-person young woman narrator and an ancient superpowerful male jerk. Wait, maybe I am'. But I remembered later that there's a book I liked which used this trope! N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. So yeah, apparently I judge based on execution as well, even when I feel strongly about the trope.

comments: 48 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Potentially Compromising (71/141)
Time:02:12 pm
RA Header 071

A curious Wisteria accompanied Lord Nikola as he led them to one of the doors leading from the balcony that overlooked the ballroom to the adjoining hallway on the Palace’s third floor. The heels of their shoes clicked against the tiled floor as they proceeded down the hall, Lord Nikola offering cordial nods to the warcats in Palace livery that they passed. They stepped through open double doors into an exhibit hall. In honor of the season, perhaps, the display featured historical artifacts from the first arrival of humans in Paradise, at Salvanton, and even a few relics reputedly from the Abandoned World itself. A number of other guests wandered the exhibit hall and they had to negotiate a gauntlet of amiable greetings. Lord Nikola took the time to introduce her to several of his acquaintances. As large as the event was, with so many attendees from across the nation, Wisteria was struck by how many not merely knew Lord Nikola but wanted to stop to exchange pleasantries with him. None of these little conversations turned strange the way the one with Lady Beatrice and her husband had.

Lord Nikola made the social niceties effortless, finding no difficulty in beginning or ending each encounter. Wisteria found it a tremendous relief to be on his arm, relying on his ease with banter to maintain the flow of talk and trusting that he would let her know plainly and without fuss if she was doing anything wrong. Perhaps if I attended every social event with him, they would not be such a trial. She stole a glance at his tall elegant silhouette, and admired the contrast of his long golden hair against the black of the jacket, the way it caught the light just like the jeweled design did. He glanced down at her at the same moment with a smile that made her forget she wasn’t supposed to stare. “This way,” he said softly, leading her past a diorama of mannequins in Abandoned World clothing. He opened a glass door onto an outdoor balcony, and a cold wind blew in. With an involuntary shiver, she followed him into the night.

“Don’t worry, I’m not keeping you out here,” Lord Nikola said. The balcony was dark; puddles of light cast through the windows splashed the paving stones.

“It’s certainly private.” Wisteria took the excuse to huddle closer to his arm; the balcony was deserted but for them.

“True, but I intend both privacy and comfort. I am a demanding man.” He set a brisk pace along the balcony, fingers unfastening his formal jacket as he walked. “It’s not far—” He shrugged out of the jacket and settled it on her shoulders, still warm from his body heat. She was touched by the gesture even though snuggling up to him for warmth was far more appealing, and held it closed before her – the draping sleeves of her gown would not fit under the jacket’s sleeves. Papers rustled in the inner breast pocket, but she paid it no heed. Lord Nikola’s waistcoat inverted the design on the jacket, she saw now: orange with stylized black flames trimming the back. He paused by one door and rattled the handle, but it didn’t open. He shook his head and moved to the next, which unlatched. “Here we go.” He pulled the door open and gestured her through with a graceful bow.

The room beyond was unlit; Wisteria stepped to one side of the door and stopped, uncertain where to go. Lord Nikola brushed past her, as if his feline grace extended to seeing in the dark. A moment later, he’d lit a candelabra-styled gaslamp. It illuminated a cozy study lined with glass-fronted bookcases of blond wood, and furnished with a claw-footed sofa and matching chair. Lord Nikola checked the door leading back to the hall, and another door leading to the side. “Are we supposed to be here?” Wisteria asked, watching him.

“Now, if we weren’t, the door would have been locked, would it not? And the warcats would have guided us back to the main areas, of course.” Lord Nikola turned back to her with a smile. As logical as the statements were, Wisteria suspected she was not to take them at face value.

“And yet no one else is using this room at all.” Wisteria stroked the lapel of his jacket against her chest for a moment, then drew it off to return it to him.

“They must all find the rest of the palace more interesting.” Lord Nikola shrugged back into his jacket and smiled at her. “Why, this is an unremarkable space; it might be a study in any noble’s home. Nothing to compare with the grandeur of the petitioner’s hall or the ball room. Are you reconsidering the merits of this plan, my dear Miss Vasilver?”

Wisteria shook her head and took a seat at one end of the couch. “Not at all.” She was all at once aware of being in private with a man, with a known rake, one who’d just checked to make sure the doors were secure. That she had come to this potentially compromising situation of her own accord and would be considered responsible for anything that happened as a result. These were the sort of circumstances she had been warned all her life to avoid. She would be in no position to fend off any advances Lord Nikola made. But her main thought was I truly hope he makes some. She cleared her throat and tried to think of something else to say before she made an irrevocable mistake. “For my first inappropriate topic – may I ask the significance to Lady Beatrice and yourself removing gloves before you took her hand?”   

Lord Nikola chuckled. “I’m not sure that even counts as inappropriate. Was it on your list?”

“Not as such, but it seemed like the sort of thing that would have been if anyone had thought of it beforehand.”

He took a seat sideways on the couch beside her, facing her so that their knees nearly touched when she turned to regard him. “There’s three reasons. The nominal, official explanation is that it’s a gesture of equality, one way the Blessed acknowledge each other’s status. The second is that the Blessed understand – like you do—” he smiled at her again, the corners of his eyes crinkling “—that we can’t read minds or see each other naked by touch, so it’s a sign of understanding, kinship: ‘Others may not understand you, but I do’. Third, and the real reason that mind-healers do it: to check to see if we’re crazy.”

That surprised her; she tilted her head at him. “But why would you need to do that? Wouldn’t you see it if you were? Or – is it like trying to see your own face without a mirror, and you cannot tell?”

“No, I can diagnose myself. But my diagnosis is imperfect – just as I cannot tell how to correct the problems of some of my petitioners, I may not be able to detect my own problems. Or be aware that I have one.”

Wisteria digested this. “What would Lady Beatrice do if she diagnosed a problem in you? Or vice versa?”

“Oh, if it were a demon, banish it at once. There’s a code if it’s something complex – you squeeze the other’s hand once if you don’t see anything, and twice if you want to do a consultation. So if she signaled me, I’d call on her at a later date.”

“Has anyone ever signaled you so?” Wisteria asked.

He shook his head. “Not a healer of minds, no. Physical healers, a couple of times. Nothing serious – minor problems that I had not realized were issues.” Lord Nikola took her hand in his gloved one, his thumb stroking over her knuckles, the movement so unaffected he hardly seemed aware of it. “So…may I ask for the first item on the list now, or must I yet wait for the ride home?”

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 6 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:The Complete Experience (70/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 070

They stood up through two dances – a good three-quarters of an hour – after which Nik thought Wisteria looked winded. The measured pace of the dance was little more strenuous than walking, but it was still exertion and Nik didn’t mind a chance to sit down himself. Justin was, of course, tireless and Meg would not sit down for anything while musicians yet played, so Nik and Wisteria left them to form a set with new participants. With Wisteria on his arm, they ascended one of the spiral staircases to the balcony that ringed the ballroom and overlooked the dancers. Nik left her in a chair while he chased down one of the servers with drink trays, but when he returned she was resting a hand on the railing, looking down. “They look so wonderful from here,” she said, turning to glance at him. Her fingers brushed over his as she accepted his offered flute of champagne. “Not that dancing is unadmirable from the same level, but it’s far more impressive to take it all in at once like this, all those people moving in such remarkable synchronicity.”

“Doing credit to scores of dedicated dance tutors, no doubt.” Nikola stood beside her to watch as well. He judged less than half the attendees were still on the dance floor, many having taken breaks or gone to other rooms to converse or play cards. Even so, that left several dozen sets moving in unison to the music of the royal orchestra. They were by no means all exact in their timing, some half a beat ahead or behind, and the occasional dancer forgetting his place and hurrying to the correct next position without taking the requisite turns or appropriate steps. But taken as a whole, the proficiency of so many hundreds in executing the proper moves in correct time and sequence was striking.

“It’s quite an achievement, when you think of it. I’ve watched professional dance troupes that were not so well-choreographed.”

“Truly? Even considering the likes of…oh, Lord Cambrunt?”

“Who?” Miss Vasilver followed Nik’s gesture to a portly man in brown and yellow. As she watched, the figure missed a step, recovered badly and took two steps to one side, colliding with the adjacent man in his set. “Well…perhaps nothing quite on those lines, my lord. But I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a performance on this scale, either. Making allowance for the outliers and the sheer numbers, I remain amazed and enrapt. It’s even more enjoyable to watch than to be a part of it.”

“Do you not like dancing, Miss Vasilver?” He glanced to her profile: her calm tones were hard to read and her face impassive as always, but he could see hints of the pleasure she spoke of, in her eyelids slightly lowered and the lack of tension to her features.

“Oh, no, I love it, my lord. It’s so delightfully straightforward.”

“Lord Cambrunt might beg to differ.” Nikola half-smiled. “Straight and forward he might be able to manage.”

“A literally straight-forward dance would be more a march, would it not? But I meant metaphorically.” She looked to him, the stones in her dark hair glittering like embers with the movement. His eyes caught on hers, their light brown highlighted by gold in the gaslight, her flawless skin inviting his caress: would it be as warm and soft as it appeared? Guarded, he reminded himself, and looked back to the ballroom floor as she continued, “When one is dancing Andelrick’s or Through and Under, there’s no question of what the right thing to do is: step here, turn now, step back, all exact. One might misstep or forget a move, but there is only ever one right answer. It’s soothing in that respect, if that makes sense.”

“It does indeed.” At the moment, having one right answer struck Nik as extremely appealing.

“What of you, my lord? What is your favorite part of this ball?”

“The Blessing of Newlant,” Nik said automatically.

“Oh, so the highlight is already passed? Might we as well go home, then?”

Nik started to shake his head, then glanced to her with a grin. She was deadpan, but something about the set of her eyes convinced him she was teasing. “Well, that would net me a nice quiet carriage ride with you. But I can wait a few more hours to collect on that, miss. I do not wish to deprive you of the full Ascension Ball experience.”

She tilted her head, watching him again. “Thus far I have arrived in a gilded glass carriage, admired a vast quantity and quality of couture, drank champagne from a fountain, felt the annual Blessing at its source, supped, danced, and admired the dancers. Do enlighten me, my lord: what else remains for the full experience?”

“Let’s see: there’s drinking too much champagne from the fountain, being violently ill in the restroom, having one’s outrageously expensive Ascension garb spoilt after slipping and falling in a muddy spot in the dark on the lawn, losing an unfortunate string of games at cards before realizing that one has inadvertently sat at a table with stakes, engaging in conversation with distant relations whom one sees far too often at twice a year…” Nikola paused, as if reflecting. “Some of these may be missable experiences, come to think of it.”

“Have you already had all of them?” Miss Vasilver started to take a sip from her champagne flute, then reconsidered and rested the stem against the railing instead.

“At least once,” he assured her. “…most of them exactly once.”

“I see.” She looked grave. “Are there remaining experiences you would recommend, my lord? I have enjoyed my time so far and would be perfectly content were I to continue to do so. Even at the cost of leaving my evening incomplete.”

“Understandable, miss. In that case, there’s – no. We could – wait, not in an even year. If one…no, that never has gone well either. Hmmm.” He raised a hand to his face, tapping his cheek thoughtfully. A couple promenading along the broad balcony stopped to greet them; an elderly lord whom Nikola had cured a few years ago of senility, and his wife. Nik introduced Miss Vasilver to them. As they were chatting, another small group came by and joined them, and it was several minutes of small talk before he was able to extricate himself and Miss Vasilver again.

As they strolled away, Miss Vasilver glanced upwards to him. Her fingers felt very comfortable against the crook of his arm. “Random brief conversations with whatever acquaintances stumble upon one?”    

It took him a moment to realize she had returned to their earlier topic. “Ah! Yes, but we’ve already done that one. Several times. How’s this – hiding with a friend in a forgotten corner of the palace to converse upon dreadfully inappropriate topics?”

She tilted her head at him. “Oh, now that does sound promising. Has it gone well for you in the past?”

Technically I have not engaged in it, personally.” Nikola gave her a mischievous grin. “But I do know a good hiding place or two.”

She nestled a little closer to him. “Then it is a part of the full Ascension Ball experience neither one of us has had?” The young lady gestured before them with the champagne flute in her free hand, long beaded sleeve swinging with the motion. “Please, do lead on, my lord, that we may rectify this oversight at once.”

Still grinning, Nik sketched the hint of a bow to her. “As my lady wills.”

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 10 comments or Leave a comment Share

Tags:, ,
Subject:A Rational Arrangement: Third Month Sales!
Time:09:43 am
It's been over three full months since the official launch of my polyamorous fantasy romance novel, A Rational Arrangement. (Buy it here! Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print).

So: sales data time!

I can no longer get Amazon to give me the full history in one handy chart! Here's most of it, from 7/1 to 9/28:

Total Sales:

Pre-launch: 36
1st Month: 507
2nd Month: 292
3rd Month: 146
Total through 9/28: 981

Average unit sales:
1st Month: 16.9
2nd Month: 9.4
3rd Month: 4.9

Sales continue to fall off by 40-50% a month. It's most of the way through the fourth month now, and that trend looks likely to continue in October. It's close enough to October 29 that I was tempted to wait and post months three & four at the same time. Then I realized I will probably be slow about posting month four too, so let's just get this one up. As always, the vast majority of RA's sales are from Amazon, though sales through Draft2Digital stayed flat at 6 copies so they've gone from 2% of sales to 4%. (Go non-Amazon bookstores! Provide some competition!) Despite the continuing drop, I remain pleased by overall sales and rather boggled that it hasn't fallen to zero yet. Not even for one day. O_o (Though that day is presumably coming, perhaps even this month.)

I've gone from checking on sales a few times a day (when it first came out) to checking a few times a week. Maybe my desire to check is tied to "whenever 5-10 copies have probably sold"?

I did nothing to affect sales in September, and have no plans for October, either. On November 6, I'll be putting the book on sale for $4.99; this timing is connected to events in the serial. I may buy some advertising at the same time, depending on whether or not Marketer Rowyn comes out from under the kitchen table.

In one last piece of sales news: RA didn't break 1000 units in September, but it did hit that milestone in the first week of October. \o/ SO EXCITED.

I'll close with a link for those interested in publishing numbers in general: Kameron Hurley's fascinating post on the average sales of published books.
comments: 7 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Guarded (69/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 069

Nik was guarded now, and uneasy. During the meal, he had glanced in the direction of Miss Vasilver’s table enough times that the lady to his right had teased him about it. At that moment, he realized he was inviting the very speculations his father had warned him would occur. Not merely because he’d brought Miss Vasilver, but because he was acting besotted. Gazing off into space with a smile on his face as he thought about their earlier conversation, waiting impatiently for the meal to end so he could rejoin her, looking towards her table to catch a glimpse of her again – this was the kind of thing that made people talk. He might as well be Miss Dalsterly trying to catch Justin’s eye, the way he’d been carrying on.

Realizing this bothered him on several levels, the least of which was exciting gossip. He and Miss Vasilver were single and of an age and as long as he spoke to her at all, people would speculate about their potential as a match. But it would hardly be juicy gossip: scarcely a whiff of scandal to it apart from the attitude of Nik’s parents towards her.

What troubled him more was that he was used to being guarded, to schooling all inappropriate emotion from his face, to showing only what he intended to show. He had to be; it was vital that his interactions with Justin excite no interest whatsoever in any observer. With women he was less scrupulous, but even that was to a purpose. He’d had several affairs with women, but by flirting shamelessly with any lady young or old, people were less likely to take his behavior with any particular woman – married or otherwise – seriously. Not to mention less likely to consider that his interest might not be confined to women. In any case, unwittingly signaling an obsession with Miss Vasilver was unlike him, unlike his usual control.

Worse still, it meant he was obsessed with Miss Vasilver.

I just like her company. I’m not infatuated with her, he tried to tell himself, long-legged strides carrying him quickly through crowds, gracefully weaving past the other guests to reach her side. And that thought alone was the height of folly. No one ever thinks ‘I’m not infatuated’ unless they are. If I wasn’t infatuated it wouldn’t be a question. I wouldn’t even think about this. As he reached her table, his heart caught at the sight of her. She greeted him in her usual calm, grave manner, and placed her hand in his offered one to rise. Her words were kind, but nothing in her face or voice suggested any particular affection.

He confined his expression to a neutral smile and received, as usual – as always – no smile in return. Savior help me, I’m infatuated with her and half the time I’m not sure she’s anything but tolerating my company. What kind of fool am I?

But when she tucked her fingers into the crook of his arm, they stroked over his jacket and nestled into place with an unnecessary squeeze, and Nik thought, well, perhaps she has some interest in me.


Dance at the Ascension Ball was traditional, in sets of four couples each arranged in rectangular formations – gentlemen on one side, ladies on the other – about the palace’s marble-tiled ballroom. Ascension blossoms, winter-blooming purple flowers with yellow streaks, overflowed from stone planters topping chest-height columns all along the walls. The arched ceiling, some four stories high, was a latticework of steel frame and clear glass panes. With the chandeliers blazing within, the glass mirrored the brilliance of the room below and the bejeweled, gaudy guests. Midway up the walls, a high balcony ran about the room, overlooking the dance floor.

With Meg’s cooperation and the unspoken assistance of Nikola, Justin timed his arrival in the ballroom to coincide with Nikola and his companion – Miss Vasilver, of all women. She looked coolly ravishing in a white gown wreathed by a scarlet ruffle, like an icicle set ablaze. Justin wondered at Nikola’s reasoning in bringing his anti-betrothed – and even more, at her motive in accepting. Did she take him as seriously as he thinks when he told her he would not wed her, or does she reason he’ll come around to another way of thinking given time? For that matter, will he change his mind? She was, after all, a strikingly handsome woman and an heiress of considerable means (though a matter of less consequence to Nikola now), as well as intelligent. Nikola had already acknowledged an appreciation for her conversation. Knowing Nikola, having his parents take a dislike to her probably counted to her advantage. Why wasn’t he interested in her, anyway?

The four exchanged cordial greetings as they took their places in the dance, Nikola introducing Miss Vasilver to Justin’s sister. The structure of the dance involved a stately procession of couples through the eight-person formation, with the couple at the lead falling to the end of the formation as the three other couples processed upward. Only a handful of different movements were involved in the first dance, but they were combined in a variety of ways to make up the set, which included frequent changes of partners in crossovers. Meg was, as always, delighted to dance – her husband hated it – but Justin suspected she’d taken an immediate dislike to Miss Vasilver. Meg never cared for any woman who accompanied Nikola. Sometimes Justin wondered if she was jealous of them: Nikola flirted with Meg almost as shamelessly as he did with Lady Dalsterly, and with the same conviction that his attentions would never be taken as serious. Meg responded with a motherly affection – indeed, the blond man was only a few years older than her eldest son – but Justin could not help wondering if she was as immune as Nikola assumed.

The pacing of the dance was such that one would spend a minute or so at a time close enough to converse with each woman in one’s set. Etiquette required one make small talk during these stylized interludes, while the timing mandated it be very small talk indeed. “How are you enjoying the Ascension Ball, Miss Vasilver?” Justin asked as the dance brought them together, right hands raised to shoulder height and touching lightly palm to palm as they turned a measured circle clockwise, side by side and facing opposite directions.

“Oh, I am delighted by it, my lord,” she replied, flat voice belying her words. “Feeling the Blessing of Newlant in person was quite the experience.”

“Your first time here then?” The measure closed and the next began, signaling each dancer to make a half turn and touch left hands instead, moving counterclockwise now.

“A first for my family, even. It’s a great honor to me. Is it quite routine for you, my lord?”

Justin gave the question more thought than he usually did to his words during a dance. “The ball, yes. The Blessing – one does not ever become habituated to it, or at the least I do not.”

She did not smile, and her strangely expressionless tone remained unchanged in her reply of, “I am glad it is not just me, my lord. I do not even know what words to use to describe it.”

“Unsettling,” Justin offered, with a smile.

She tilted her head as the measure changed and they stepped apart, Justin bowing to her and her curtsying. “That would be one,” she agreed gravely, and then they were turning to their next partners.   

Justin watched Nikola and Miss Vasilver with half an eye through the next several measures – neither dance steps nor small talk were demanding activities in themselves, leaving ample opportunity to people-watch. Nikola was in usual form, smiling and charming with each woman in turn – a charm entirely lost on Miss Vasilver. It wasn’t just that she didn’t smile for Justin: she did not smile for anyone. The other two gentlemen in their set were oppressed by her solemnity, their own countenances sobering when they took their turns with her. Nikola showed no sign of such reserve, almost as amiable with Miss Vasilver as with Meg, whom he’d known far longer. Still, that explained Nikola’s stated disinterest in her: it would be unlike him to persist in the face of such obvious indifference, no matter how beautiful she might be.

Except, if she was indifferent, why accept the invitation? Meg would come for the Ball itself, regardless of who brought her, but Miss Vasilver looked as bland about her surroundings as she did about her fellow dancers. What an enigma you are, Miss Vasilver. I cannot make you out at all, Justin thought as he and Meg danced and chatted idly about her son Daniel. But I always have liked a challenge. He smiled, resolved to un-riddle her yet.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 7 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:The Difference (68/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 068

Wisteria waited at one side of the grand hall to be reunited with Lord Nikola; the crowd of other people who had accompanied a Blessed thronged about her. Inwardly, she still reeled from the Blessing of Newlant. Of course, she’d felt it before: all of Newlant knew when the Blessing was held at the Ascension Ball, because one could feel the sudden closeness of the Savior, whereever one was and whatever one was doing. But she’d heard the experience was far more intense for those at the Ascension Ball itself, and goodness, that had not been exaggerated. As she waited, she glimpsed Lord Comfrey through the crowd. Even in a sea of gorgeous costumes he was impossible to miss: waves of black hair swept to the small of his back, stark against a scarlet coat glittering with a knotwork design of gold beads. The coat-tails brushed at the top of knee-height boots of rich leather with a worked pattern that echoed the same knotwork pattern in gold inlay. He was smiling at a small pretty woman who clung to his arm. Wisteria didn’t try to catch his attention: initiating conversations about business was on her List of Things Not to Do (for some unfathomable reason she was permitted to continue the subject if someone else raised it, however), and she couldn’t think what else she’d say to him.

Wisteria recognized a number of people from this or that previous social occasion, and exchanged a few words of greeting as people strolled past. The scale of this event was perhaps the most staggering thing about it, thus far. Any number of parties took place during the Ascension season, from intimate gatherings of a dozen to grand galas for hundreds. The Ascension Ball was the most prestigious of all, by exclusive invitation of the Crown only to titled lords and ladies and their guests. Even the brothers of dukes and the children of princes did not receive invitations, nor untitled families like the Vasilvers, nevermind how wealthy. Somehow, Wisteria had thought that all the pomp and exclusivity would translate to one of the smaller events. Who knew there were so many with titles in Newlant? Of course, every healer had a title, which meant that right now this was the best place in the entire nation to be injured or sick. As she watched the crowd, she noticed others of the healers taking their gloves off before shaking hands, as Lady Beatrice and Lord Nikola had. I must ask him about that. It’s not on my list.

It would have been easy for a gathering so tremendous to feel common, but everywhere was opulence and grandeur. Wisteria found herself wondering practical things: how much did the Crown spend in heating these vast chambers, in maintaining its state of polished perfection? Where did they store those outdoor heating pillars when not in use? Did these vast corridors have furniture in them when they were not stuffed with guests, and if so, where did that go? How many of these lords and ladies had money troubles like the Strikers? Was there a secondhand market for Ascension garb? Surely there ought to be – these extravagances that were worn only once, that were unsuitable at any event but this one. The fashions changed from year to year, but altering one to look current and not reminiscent of a prior year’s outfit was not out the question, was it? But it would be considered gauche, as Lord Striker said renting a coach was, would it not? Perhaps if the service were offered with great discretion…

She was still musing on this when her eyes lit on Lord Nikola: he smiled as he saw her, strides lengthening until he reached her and offered his arm. There was an otherworldly quality to him, even more so than usual, as if he belonged to a more perfect Paradise and was only on loan to this one. Wisteria put her hand on his arm as she gazed up at his features, his slim straight nose and high cheekbones, the stark lines of chin and jaw, forgetting not to stare as she tried to pin her impression to a tangible thing. It was so rare that she had any sense of mood from the way anyone looked. But that was a smile of real joy on him, she thought, the hint of dimples showing and the corners of his eyes crinkling, in the way they didn’t when he was mocking himself. His pupils were dilated, round eyes widened slightly to catch the light. Is that what it means to see someone’s eyes light up? Or is that a different thing?

“Miss Vasilver?” he asked, and she realized that her free hand was half-raised to his face, unconscious expression of her desire to touch him, to learn if that otherworldliness was something she could feel. “Shall we walk in?”

Wisteria forced both her hand and her eyes away, turning to face forward and walk beside him. “Yes, my lord.” Then, not caring if it should be on the list or not, she asked, “What’s it like, for you, to be at the center of the Blessing of Newlant? Is it different from treating a petitioner?”

“It is almost entirely unlike it,” Lord Nikola said. “There’s nothing to diagnose or treat, no demon to cast out. Except – well, when I cannot diagnose a petitioner’s problem but call on the Savior’s help anyway, the Savior’s response is typically of grief, or regret. But when we call on the Savior on this night, there’s no regret. No sense that what we ask, he cannot give. It’s quite the opposite – one can sense him expecting it, looking forward to the event. I want to say ‘with excitement’ but that conveys the wrong impression: it is such a serene, calm sort of pleasure in the anticipation. I don’t – I don’t know, exactly, what he does. When I touch the land, I don’t sense anything you wouldn’t. The Blessed for plants and stone say it’s the same for them, they can’t sense anything but what’s right around them, not the whole nation. But he works through us anyway. It feels extraordinary. Glorious. Like being a part of the sun, giving light and life to the world.”

“It’s so different, being here when it happens,” Wisteria said. “The difference between seeing a beacon in the distance and being close enough to feel the heat of its lighting.”

“I’ve heard that,” Lord Nikola answered, still smiling. “I don’t know what it’s like, either way. I’ve never been anywhere but here for the Blessing.”

“Oh, of course. I apologize; you must hear this sort of thing every year.”

He shook his head. “Not at all, miss.” Lord Nikola covered her hand with his gloved one as they walked into the palace’s banquet hall. Paintings in wide gilt frames depicted the Abandoned World on the east wall, the coming of the Savior and the Ascension on the south, and the settlement of Paradise and the later founding of Newlant on the west. Round dining tables seating eight filled the room, covered in brocade and beaded cloth in Ascension colors of purple and gold. Gilt-edged chairs of carved wood had cushions to match. A web of curving carpet runners that must have been crafted specifically for this room and these tables wove around them. At northwest and northeast corners of the room were two tables scaled for greatcat guests, tall and with low cushioned platforms before them for seating.

One of many uniformed ushers directed them to their places. Lord Nikola escorted Wisteria to her place card and helped her to her seat, then kissed her hand before taking his leave for his own. It was traditional in Newlant to seat couples apart from one another at formal meals – a practice designed to give some time apart to marital partners who saw too much of one another already. Just now Wisteria rather missed Southern Vandu’s practice of letting guests choose their own seats. The host for her table introduced them all to one another, but she’d met not one person before.

For all that, it did not go badly, judging by her limited powers of observation. She was seated between Mr. Jenkins, an elderly and prosperous merchant married to one of the Blessed with a courtesy title, and Mr. Willsham, a pleasant if plump young gentleman escorting Lady Jessica, an earl’s heir. Mr. Jenkins said little to her, devoting himself to the gentlewoman on his left, but Mr. Willsham proved capable of making an astounding amount of conversation around the various courses of food. Wisteria’s appreciation of sustenance did not go much beyond ‘delicious’, ‘edible’, and ‘not in fact food’. Mr. Willsham went orders of magnitude farther, deconstructing the ingredient list, preparation method, cooking time and temperature, so that he might explain exactly why the food was delicious. Or, in the case of the unfortunate soup course, more in the ‘not in fact food’ category. (An ill-chosen blend of cilantro and lemon zest and too short a cooking time at too high a heat had rendered what was meant to be lobster bisque a watery dish that tasted rather like soap.) But he also explained the succulence of the roast pig (slow-roasted whole for some hours, before the fire and not above it, constantly turned and basting in its own fat), the fine subtleties in the sauce for the beef (rich and thick, with a flavor Wisteria could not identify until Mr. Willsham explained that it was a tomato base with onions, raisins, and – among other spices – cinnamon and cocoa, of all things). Although she had little to contribute apart from occasional comment on the country from whence a spice or foodstuff was imported, Wisteria found the conversation enlightening.

Even so, she could not regret when the meal drew to a close and the company rose to reassemble their partnerships. Lord Nikola arrived at her table to reclaim her faster than she would have thought possible, given the distance and the crowd to negotiate. She took his hand to rise from her seat. His smile was not the same as it had been after the ceremony – less wide, she thought, and did not know what that signified – but her heart lightened anyway. She felt as if she were dancing already as they joined the stately procession to the ballroom.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 8 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Columbus Day
Time:02:47 pm

My Twitter feed today:
"Why is this a holiday? Columbus was a horrible person."
"And the continent was already inhabited. He didn't discover it."
"Let's celebrate Columbo Day instead."
"Howabout this historical figure? I like him."
"No! He's also a monster!"
"Happy sanctimonious self-righteousness day! (Directed at both sides)."
"Sure, it's easy to call out Columbus, but you don't feel bad enough about the REAL oppression that you enable by existing!"

... Hey, look, we found a way to make Monday ineffably worse.

comments: 16 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:The Blessing of Newlant (67/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 067

Justin was at the center of a knot of people, in conversation with Lord and Lady Kimbrechton about the possibility of war in western Orlan. Meg, Justin’s sister, stood a few feet away and distracted some of his admirers. After waiting too long, Justin had invited Miss Rubane to the Ascension Ball and received a chagrined refusal: the girl had a prior commitment. He could doubtless have found another single young woman to bring, but this year the whole game struck him as even stupider and more irksome than usual. So he’d brought Meg, who adored the Ascension Ball and was excellent company at it, and who would not expect him to either wed or bed her afterwards. No doubt there’d be gossip about his decision to escort his sister; likely absurd gossip, such as that he was pining for Miss Rubane.

Sister or not, Meg certainly did him credit. She was forty-two and had three children, but was nonetheless in fine form in an Ascension gown of wine and gold that complemented Justin’s attire without mirroring it. She looked nothing like Justin: she was of medium height with a well-padded figure and a round pretty face with large hazel eyes. Her skin was nearly as light as Nikola’s, though not in the Haventure-pink hue, and her hair medium brown. While he was thinking of him, Justin took a moment to look around for Nikola, but the room was too crowded to see much beyond his immediate group. He did note a few furtive glances in his direction, and caught the sound of his name. Excusing himself from the Kimbrechtons, he slipped closer to the other group.

One young man, with his back to Justin, was relating the story of the race from two weeks ago. “No, no, Comfrey was losing the race.”   

A girl tittered. “I hear Lord Comfrey doesn’t lose at anything.”

One of the people turned in his direction noticed Justin’s approach and tried to get the first speaker’s attention, but the youth paid them no heed. “Well he was losing this time. Maybe it was his greatcat. So they’re trying to get up one of those steep cliffs, and that’s when he fell.”

“My dear sir,” Justin said from behind the youngster, “you are telling this all wrong.”

The boy almost jumped out of his finery, coattails fluttering as he spun about. “Lord Comfrey! My lord – I – that is—”

“Has no one ever shown you how to relate a tale properly? Here, allow me.” Justin turned to the tittering girl, who was blushing deeply. “First, you must understand that I was not merely ‘losing’. I was being thoroughly thrashed. Lord Nikola and Fel Fireholt knocked off halfway through the course, went back to the lodge for a snack, came back to the course, and were still ahead of us.” He went through the entire story again, with even more ridiculous exaggerations and hyperbole than the last time, while people gathered close to listen and laugh.   

When Justin was done, Meg reclaimed his arm: it was nearly time for the Blessing of Newlant. “I don’t see why you have to encourage them so,” she murmured, steering him towards their place. “Do you want to be the laughingstock of Gracehaven?”

“Why not? They need something to entertain them,” Justin replied, grinning. “Besides, if they hear it from me they’ll take it less seriously than if they hear it from anyone else.”

“Certainly I can’t take anything you say seriously,” Meg chided.

“Exactly, my dear. See how well my plan works?”

She slapped his wrist with the trailing end of her beaded sleeve, but her smile betrayed her amusement as they retrieved their coats and filed out through great glass doors to the rear lawn.

The Blessing of Newlant was held ‘outside’, nominally, although in inclement weather a vast canopy would be erected over the open lawn and snow cleared. Even on a clear cold night like this, large braziers on pillars burned gas to warm the wintery air and light the night. But there were plants and ground beneath their feet, which was what mattered. Outside, the Blessed gathered together, rank after rank of them. For this ceremony, every soul who carried a Blessing was welcome, even the untitled who held Blessings for plants or stone, or children too young for an invitation. Justin’s place was in the audience and determined by rank, which placed him in the second row of this assemblage of peerage – behind a row of royalty, dukes, margraves, and counts. The king and queen alone sat, in thrones placed prominently on the lawn before the gathering of Blessed. The ranks of peers stood to either side and behind their majesties. Meg craned her neck to peer between the duke and duchess in front of them, then seized Justin’s arm and pointed. “There’s Daniel, do you see him?” she whispered proudly. Daniel was her eleven year-old son; he held a Blessing for healing bodies. Justin gave her an indulgent smile and nodded as his own eyes scanned for Nikola. The tall blond lord was easier to spot; he stood head and shoulders above most of his fellows. It was too much to hope he’d have ordered a new suit, Justin thought wryly. Of course, he was magnificent even in a four-year-old suit, but people had expectations of a count’s heir and Justin was sick of having his friend maligned and snubbed for not meeting them.

A cold breeze swept through the crowd, and Meg pressed closer against Justin’s side, hugging her wrap about her shoulders. Justin made a stoic pretense of perfect comfort as he put an arm around her.    

It took some time for everyone to get into position, even with a small army of ushers to ensure each person knew where they belonged. A few stragglers were taking their places at the back when the heralds played the royal fanfare and the queen rose from her throne. The herald at her right hand barked, “All kneel to Felicia, Queen of Newlant, Protectress of Havenset, Guardian of the Riven Sea, Duchess of Viant, Lady of Anjaholt, by the grace of the Savior Blessed of stone.”

The entire crowd, both the ranks of Blessed and the audience, bent before her royal majesty. She stepped away from her throne to stand before the ranks of the Blessed, and turned to survey first them and then the crowd. “Peers, Blessed, and guests, my loyal subjects of Newlant, in the Savior’s name I bid you welcome to this Paradise, his great gift to us. Please, rise.” She was a small figure to bear so many titles, short and round and draped in a daunting array of jewels, a heavy crown upon her brow, gown stiff with layers to make it stand out. After all had risen, she continued, “On this, the anniversary of our Ascension to Paradise, we ask those whom the Savior has Blessed to bless our nation in turn.” In a strong chorus, the entire assembled peerage spoke with the queen for her next words: “O Blessed of the Savior, we petition you: heal what is sick, mend what is broken, and make right aught that is wrong in Newlant.”

Rank upon rank of Blessed knelt as one, the queen herself among them, gloves off, and extended their hands through the cropped frost-touched grass to touch the cold earth.

Justin was not a spiritual man. He’d hired a gentleman to preach for his people rather than do it himself, and what services he attended – he was not above skipping them if he had any reasonable pretext at all – rarely left him moved. But this ceremony – even if he were stone, it would touch him. The Savior’s presence filled the grounds, a palpable warmth that cut off the breeze like a windbreak. A sense of true, pure, unconditional love washed through Justin. For a few moments, he was suffused and transfixed, feeling both loved and loving, unable to conceive of ill-will, much less feel it. For a few moments, everything was right in the world.

Slowly, the sensation faded. Meg smiled and dabbed at her eyes; she was far from the only one weeping for joy. She hugged his arm, whispering, “Thank you for bringing me, Justin.” Justin flashed a half-smile to her. The experience discomfited him; it was not a rebuke, but as if the Savior had lifted and shaken him, saying however you may feel about me, I will always love and be there for you. Whether you realize it or not. It was unsettling. Justin wondered if Nik felt that way all the time.

The Crown offered a brief traditional speech in thanks, to both the Savior and his Blessed, to which the peerage lent their voices in closing. Then everyone filed back inside for the formal supper.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 7 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:The Ascension Ball (66/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 066

The wait through traffic to arrive at the palace had never seemed so brief. All too soon, Nik handed his guest down from the carriage and onto wide marble steps. The steps led to gigantic double doors three stories high, open to welcome the steady influx of guests.

They were not announced on entrance – it would take all night to let everyone in if the time were taken to announce each new arrival in turn. Attendants in the royal livery of gold and sky blue took their invitation and the two continued into Dawnfell Palace’s grand petitioner’s hall. It had an arched ceiling higher than the great doors; a dozen massive gaslit crystal chandeliers illuminated the criss-crossing scrollwork chased across the ceiling and between the floor-to-ceiling windows of the enormous chamber. The granite floor was polished mirror-bright to reflect the guests in all their Ascension finery, a glittering sea of glossy exotic fabrics, imported lace, and jewels. A multi-tiered fountain served as centerpiece for the room, engineered of nymphs holding porcelain vases that poured bubbling golden champagne into the overflowing trays of mermaids posed as if swimming below. Waitstaff milled among the guests with trays of filled glasses and canapes.

Nik was impressed by Miss Vasilver’s composure in the face of the most extravagant spectacle Newlant offered: her eyes swept over the room to take it in without staring at anyone or anything, her expression calm. “How did they celebrate Ascension in Southern Vandu, miss?” he asked her.

“Mm? Oh, they didn’t.”

He blinked. “They didn’t?”

“Not in the same way. They have a restrained holy day called imsharu, ‘the Arrival’, in late summer. Their religion holds that Paradise itself rescued us from the Abandoned World. Paradise – the world itself – is like a god to them. They’re one of the people who think that Blessings come from that mountain pool I told you about it – to them it’s another god, Paradise’s husband, who helps her care for her adopted children by granting power to the Blessed. They think the Blessed are demigods of a sort. Their major holidays are the equinoxes and the solstices, when they celebrate different facets of Paradise. Imsharu is a quiet day of thanks, with meditative services and no lavish ceremonies or parties. The Savior himself is a minor figure in their mythology, a prophet and one of the first Blessed, nothing more.”

Nik gritted his teeth. “The rescuer of all mankind and he’s a—” He cut himself off as Lady Beatrice called out to him in greeting and drifted over on the arm of her husband. For a moment, he’d forgotten they were no longer in private.

As if sharing his thoughts, Miss Vasilver murmured, “I need to stop mentioning the things on my list now, don’t I?”

He flashed her a quick smile and put his hand over hers where it rested in the crook of his arm. Why couldn’t the carriage ride have lasted another hour? I should have told the greatcats to walk slower.   

Then Lady Beatrice and her husband were upon them and they exchanged pleasantries and introductions between Miss Vasilver and – Mr. Carson, it turned out; Nik had completely forgotten the man’s name. They were a stout, well-dressed pair in their thirties. A massive necklace dripping with emeralds encircled Lady Beatrice’s plump throat, while the gold and onyx chain of a mind healer crossed an admirably ample bosom. Her dress was a concoction of green satin and gold beads. She wore elegant wrist gloves in matching green, but slipped off one glove to offer her bare hand to Nik. Nik reciprocated the gesture, removing his own glove to take her hand and kiss it. Lady Beatrice’s mind looked as he remembered it: no sign of demons, no unhealed traumas, no malformations in the shape. He squeezed her fingers slightly as he straightened from his bow, and felt her do the same before releasing his hand. He put his glove back on to shake Carson’s hand.

As they shook hands, Carson said to Nik, “Been a busy week for you, eh, m’boy?”

Hackles raised by the man’s excessive familiarity and something in his tone, Nik confined his reply to, “I beg your pardon?”

Next to her husband, Lady Beatrice grimaced, but the pudgy man continued, “Petitioners and all, heard you’ve got em coming out of your ears, what? Making the rest of the Blessed look bad, dunnit? Hah!”

What? Nik tried to guess what a reasonable response to this would be. Carson’s wife patted her husband’s left arm, her bejeweled bracelets tinkling. “We all do our part as the Savior wills, dear.”

“Hah! Yes, and some of us doing the parts of two or three others, what?” Carson gave Nik an inebriated grin, pumping Nik’s hand too hard, veiled hostility in his eyes.

“Is Lord Nikola’s diligence unusual in the field?” Miss Vasilver said, as if oblivious to the undercurrents in Carson’s voice and the undesirability of the topic. “I researched the matter but there were too many variables for me to reach a definitive conclusion.”

“It’s not at all,” Nik said quickly. “Some times are just busier than others.”

“Oh, aye, some times for some people, what think they’re the best—”

Carson was cut off as Lady Beatrice said loudly, “It’s always worst when one is travelling, isn’t it? All the people who couldn’t be bothered to travel ten or twenty miles to see you come out of the woodwork when you happen to be in their little locale.”

“It’ll be a relief to get back to Fireholt.” Nik exchanged glances with Lady Beatrice; her eyes offered a silent apology.

“Oh, but everyone wants to see Blessed Lord Nikola, who’s just the finest in the world, what?” Carson clung to the topic for reasons wholly unclear to Nik. Does he think I want to be mobbed by petitioners?

“That would be logical. Though is he the best in the world? I only did a comparison with other Newlant Blessed, where his cure rates are nearly twice the standard,” Miss Vasilver said, while Nik thought Twice? That can’t be right. “But again, there are so many—”

Carson rounded on her in a fury. “Are you implying my wife is less a healer than he is, miss?”

“Isn’t that what you said?” Miss Vasilver asked calmly.

Why is she needling him like this? Doesn’t she know this is a terrible topic? Nik thought, and blinked. …Maybe she doesn’t. Maybe I should tell her. Carson was sputtering as Nik said, making no effort to be subtle in the diversion, “Might we speak of something else? Have you tried this year’s champagne yet?”

“My husband has,” Lady Beatrice said, with an edge in her voice that made Nik regret his choice of alternative topic. “I find the fountain a torturous thing to do to a perfectly innocent champagne. The rumballs are delightful, however – have you had any?”

“I’ll match her against any Blessed in Newlant, young missy!” Carson got out, still glaring at Miss Vasilver.

Miss Vasilver opened her mouth, paused, and glanced to Nikola and Lady Beatrice. “We haven’t tried anything yet, my lady,” she said. “We just arrived.”

“Lawrence, be a love and find us a server with those darling rumballs? And some of those tiny mincemeat pies?” Lady Beatrice spun her husband around, stepped a few feet away with him, hissed something in his ear, and then returned to Nik as Mr. Carson stalked off. “I am so sorry about that, Lord Nikola. He simply doesn’t understand the way things work.”

“Quite all right, my lady,” Nik told her.

Lady Beatrice sighed. “He doesn’t quite grasp that twice as many petitioners wouldn’t make him a count or us twice as rich.” She took Nik’s hand for a moment and squeezed. “You know we all appreciate the work you do, don’t you, Lord Nikola?”

…I had no idea anyone save my family and my petitioners was even paying attention. “My lady is very kind,” Nik said, touched.

They spoke of trivialities for a few minutes after that, pleasant and comfortingly meaningless. After Mr. Carson returned, sullen but silent, Nik excused himself and his companion on the pretext of introducing her to another noble.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 14 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:So Many Strange Notions (65/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 065

Nik gazed at her, somewhat overwhelmed by so many peculiar notions at once. “But did you not resent it, the loss of your liberty like that?”

She considered this. “In some ways. I missed Byron, my nearest brother in age, dreadfully. But I corresponded regularly with him and my friends from Newlant, and Byron and Kilroy – one of my other older brothers – were able to visit me several times, along with our Aunt Clara as chaperone. Stephen, of course, could not. But, you know, I came to love the country. It was not unlike the time I’d spent at boarding school; I’d not had any choice about how long I stayed there, either, nor much control of the curriculum. The Kyr did ultimately license Vasilver Trading (though not Stephen) to do business in the nation, about six months into my time there. The Vandese were patronizing, and I won’t deny that grated, but they were also kind to me. I could not leave the country, true, but within it I enjoyed, in many respects, more freedom than I have in Newlant.”   

The carriage slowed as the white greatcats turned up a curving slope in the road: the weight of the vehicle showed in the additional strain on their muscles, but their pace remained steady and synchronized. As the sun hovered on the horizon, the stone buildings around them were gaily lit for Ascension, translucent purple and yellow paper wrapped about gaslights to give them a holiday feel. Some of the statuary adorning the cornices wore wreaths of Ascension flowers. “More freedom, miss?”

“Southern Vandu is very safe, my lord. There’s thievery and fraud, of course, but violent crime is extraordinarily rare, and even common harassment seldom happens. A woman might walk unaccompanied through the worst parts of town in the small hours and not hear so much as an uncivil word. And notwithstanding the reason for my nominal captivity, the kyriel showed complete faith in myself and my judgement. I could, and did, go wherever I liked, whenever I liked. My father forwarded my salary, so I had plenty of spending money for little luxuries. And while it was awkward or impossible to do most of my usual work, I was instrumental in getting that blighted license finally confirmed, and that was an extremely valuable concession. Their country has so much to offer – so many ideas, their civil engineering is a marvel and they have the most remarkable machines – and the opportunity to partner with their businesses was exciting.” She stopped in her narrative as Nik smiled, shaking his head. “What is it, my lord?”

“Nothing. It’s just – the most amazing tale. Like nothing I would ever imagine has happened to anyone, never mind to a person of my acquaintance.”

“Oh. You don’t believe me.”

“No!” He caught one of her hands, pressing it between his gloved ones. “Of course I believe you. It’s – too preposterous to not be true, even if I could conceive of you wishing to deceive anyone, which I cannot.”

Miss Vasilver curled her fingers about his hand. “Thank you, my lord. I’ve never spoken to anyone outside my family about most of it. It doesn’t reflect well on us.”

Nik curled his lip. “On your brother, no. For your own part…that was remarkably brave of you, Miss Vasilver. To tell that foreign king you would be responsible for your brother’s actions, when you understood how grave the offense was.”

“It is only what I had agreed to do before we left. I know it all seemed a preposterous joke to us at the outset, but it was deadly serious to the Vandese. And we were in their country. I had little choice.”

“Still. The entire mess was his fault, and you paid the price for it.”   

“It was not so great a price, my lord. And I do not mean to malign my brother. Stephen’s reaction was…not unexpected under the circumstances. I imagine most men of Newlant would do the same. An unfortunate chain of events.”

“Granted.” Nik stroked the back of her hand comfortingly, and her grip tightened around his. “I – do the Vandese truly consider such things, a man – er – making advances upon another man, to be, well, acceptable?” He couldn’t stop himself from asking.

“I gather it was unremarkable among unmarried men.” Miss Vasilver’s tone was as devoid of emotion as ever, holding no disdain or revulsion. “I found out later that the man who’d been tutoring us on the ways of Southern Vandu had even warned Stephen and the rest of the men of our party. The lesson was not recalled at the key juncture, I’m afraid.”

Let it go, Nik thought. Let it go. And then asked anyway, “Did it not trouble you, to be living among a people like…that?”

“Why would it trouble me? I received no unwanted advances.” Miss Vasilver’s eyes flicked to him and away again. “Is it very wrong of me, to find it inconsequential? Stephen thought their ways were corrupting me, but I rather think I was always like this.”

He caressed her hand. “I do not think it is wrong of you in any way, Miss Vasilver.” Quite the contrary, Nik thought, but did not dare say it. He lifted her hand to his lips, wondering if she would object if he actually kissed them and not just the air over them, if her pale brown skin felt as smooth as it looked, if the shapes of her mind would be as intriguing as the ideas that sprung from it. Nik released her hand before he embarrassed himself.

Miss Vasilver was watching him, her long face grave as usual. “You are very kind, my lord.”

He shook his head. “Only honest.”

“You know I regard honesty as the greatest kindness.” She slipped her hand into the crook of his arm and glanced to the side. “Oh. My. The palace looks wonderful from here.”

They had reached the crest of a hill and the greatcats were pacing alongside a small green park. Below them, the most exclusive parts of Gracehaven were laid out in all their Ascension splendor. Buildings of polished marble and granite with elaborate cartouches carved into the stonework were brilliantly illuminated in indigo and gold, paper lanterns suspended above the streets like a web of stars. Grand carriages, some already lit by lanterns, flowed along the streets at a stately pace as they bore other highborn guests to their destination. The setting sun painted the bay in deep reds and golds, highlighting the undersides of clouds, streaking the horizon, and silhouetting the grand towers and walls of Dawnfell Palace. As they watched, the palace lit, thousands of gaslight lanterns outlining each tower, column, and story. Tall arched windows glowed from within: the whole structure was a magnificent jewel for the city’s festival raiment.

Nikola leaned closer to look with her, even though every facet of their carriage was translucent. “When I see Gracehaven like this, I understand why Lord Comfrey loves her,” he murmured.

“Do you dislike it here, my lord?”

“Oh, ‘dislike’ would be too strong a word. Granted, it has my parents in it every time I visit, which might detract from its charms. Perhaps without them, it wouldn’t seem so overcrowded.”

“I should not think that two people more or less would make too much of a difference in a city as large as Gracehaven.”

“You’d be surprised. I think one father causes more inconvenience than several thousand strangers. At least.”

“Is your father the worst offender? He seemed the more reasonable of the two. Comparatively speaking. Not that I had much acquaintance.”

“It’s more as if they take turns. If one of them is being unbearably irritating the other will play good parent for a time, until the task of being tolerable becomes too much and they have to switch off again.”

“In truth?” She tilted her head, though her eyes were still on the vista spread below them. As the sun dipped lower, the gaslit streets seemed brighter still, mirroring the stars winking into view in the sky above.

He shook his head. “Not in truth. And I underrate them: they have many fine qualities, even if ‘tolerating their recalcitrant son’s wayward behavior’ is not among them. Perhaps such a thing would not be counted a virtue in any case. What of you, Miss Vasilver – which of your parents suits you better?”

“Oh, my father.”

“Your father?” Nik did not check his surprise in time, recalling with a surge of dislike the man insisting his brilliant daughter was mentally ill.

Miss Vasilver did not notice. “Oh yes. They’re both well-intended, but I am a cipher to them and they try to solve me by changing me into something more sensible to them. And incomprehensible if not impossible to me. With Father, I share a common language of business and we may converse intelligibly on that for hours. But with Mother – I might as well be speaking Vandese. We do not comprehend one another at all. I say the wrong thing and do not so much as realize it’s wrong.”

“You are perfectly comprehensible to me, my lady.” Nik covered her hand with his own, where it rested in the crook of his arm. She glanced from the window to him, and though she did not smile, the way she squeezed his arm left him certain she was pleased.

The carriage wended slowly through the thick traffic as their conversation meandered on about their families. Miss Vasilver’s favorite relation was her brother Byron: “He’s spoken of setting up a separate household on occasion, which would please me and which we’ve ample funds for, but he’s dreadfully fond of living at Vasilver Manor.”

“Please you? Why, do you want his suite?”

She shook her head. “Oh, no, my lord; so I could go with him. He’s not yet wed, so until he marries it would be much like having my own household.”

“Ah, that I can understand. You may not be able to credit it, after all the complaining I’ve done, but my relationship with my parents is much improved since I inherited Fireholt.”

“Do you know, I get along with Father and Mother very well by post? They hardly scolded me at all while I was in Southern Vandu, though Mother fretted endlessly.”

Nik laughed. “I should think sacrificing your freedom for the sake of your brother would garner you some moral advantage.”

“Perhaps it did, my lord. I never gave it much thought.”

“Managing my own staff is more work than I realized as a boy, however.” He smiled wryly. “Perhaps that’s why I get on better with my parents now: more sympathy for them.”

“It’s not the sort of work I mind. My second year in Southern Vandu, the Kyr permitted me to set up my own household – single women do all the time there, it’s wholly unexceptionable – and I miss it. I suppose it sounds strange, to say I miss the freedom I had in the country where I was held prisoner.”

“A little,” Nik conceded. “But understandable.” His mind drifted, thinking about the additional staff he still had to hire, wondering what it would be like to hand over that and the day-to-day tasks of management to Miss Vasilver and let her handle everything.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 11 comments or Leave a comment Share

Time:07:46 am
I was talking about dreams on Twitter on Monday, and realized that I didn't remember any of my dreams from the last few years because I stopped writing them down ever. So I may start writing bits down again. Maybe under a filter because most of them are dull. For instance: all I remember from my last dream this morning was that I was direct-messaging Krud on Twitter. I don't even remember what we were talking about in the dream: I think a Dr. Who RPG that he planned to run.

The dream that I woke up from before that was more interesting, although I remember very little of it either. The setting was "zombie apocalypse". I was with one group of survivors and we were attacked by another group, whom we defeated. Then one of their surviving members, who'd sat out the fight, threatened us with a submachine gun. I got the gun away from him, and told him to leave. He started to go, then turned and came back, with this leering, smug look, saying, "I know you're not gonna shoot me," and obviously planning to grab the gun back. I fired a warning shot, but he kept coming. So I shot him, walking the bullets up his body. He looked so surprised as he died.

As I woke up I was thinking, "What a waste of bullets." I felt regret over his death, too, but also that I'd need those bullets later (zombie apocalypse! Where'm I gonna get replacements?) and I shouldn't have used so many on one guy who wasn't even a zombie.

The funny part about this dream is that you'd think "zombie apocalypse with other humans also threatening me" would be a nightmare, but nope. No strong emotional response caused by the dream, neither fear nor anger. I've been more upset by the "surprise! it's time for the final exam in the class you'd forgotten you registered for and didn't attend all semester" nightmare.
comments: 7 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Under the Influence
Time:12:42 pm
RA Header 064

"At midnight, the feast was still going strong. Stephen was very drunk and relating his favorite story about repelling pirates in rather bad Vandese -- neither of us were fluent at this point, though we'd both been making an effort. Several Vandese had taken an interest despite the language difficulties. I was talking to Kyriel Aunles -- that's the Kyr's wife. One of Stephen's new friends asked Stephen to show him the constellations they use for navigation. So he and Stephen stepped outside, and I remember thinking 'Should I go with him? Does that count as 'unaccompanied'?' I asked the kyriel if it it would be a problem, and she told me no, it was fine.

"Some minutes passed, then there were shouts and a commotion outside. A few of the Kyr's honor guard rushed to see what it was. A few moments later, two of them hauled in my brother, who struggled and cursed them in Newlantian. A third was helping the Vandese man who'd accompanied Stephen outside. He wore, I noticed now, a gold torc with a tigereye amber set in it: that's the Vandese equivalent of your chain, my lord." She gestured to the seldom-worn chain that signified Nik's Blessing. "It meant he was a healer of flesh. I also noticed that his nose was bleeding and looked disjointed, and he had a few other marks about the face. I thought that strange -- why wouldn't he heal his own injuries?

"I started to make my way over to see what had happened, but the guards reached their kyr first. The Kyr asked something on the lines of 'What's going on here?' The local healer drew himself up and accused my brother of attacking him. The whole room went quiet at that; all the murmuring and jostling stopped. Stephen was, perhaps, too drunk to recognize the seriousness of this charge, because he said in Vandese, ''course I did!' And then he used some rude Newlantian words I shan't repeat, and '-- kissed me! What was I supposed to do?'"

Nik stared, shocked. "This Vandese man kissed him?"

"He did, my lord. The healer responded with something I didn't understand, followed by 'he agreed!'

"The Kyr turned about to me and asked, 'Do you take responsibility for this man?'

"Of course I replied, 'Yes, kyr imen, I do.'

"Stephen, who was perhaps starting to pick up on the gravity of the situation but remained the greater part drunk, said, 'Don't be ridiculous, Wisteria. I'm resp -- ' at which point I clapped my hand over his mouth, which startled him into silence.

"Our translator had scrambled forward to join the tableau, so I told him to translate and switched to Newlantian. And remembered to look at the Kyr as I said, 'My brother is not a wild animal that must be put down. He is within my influence. If he has erred, the fault is mine for giving poor guidance.'"

Nik cleared his throat. "I am unclear on how any part of this could be construed as your fault, Miss Vasilver."

The slender woman paused in her narrative. "As a practical matter, in a Newlant context, perhaps not. But as a legal matter in Southern Vandu, I not only was responsible for my brother's actions but had to be. If I disavowed him, or if he denied my influence, then Vandese law is clear: even as a blameless foreigner he would need to be expelled. As a violent criminal -- one who assaulted a healer -- he would be executed."

"Executed? You're never serious? For striking a man who'd insulted him?"

"I am entirely serious, my lord. By their custom Stephen had not been insulted, but it would not matter if he had: the Vandese have no tolerance for violence in private life at all. They are as peaceable as greatcats. One may not duel a man for an insult, or cuff a servant for slovenliness, or smack a child for backtalking, or anything of the sort. It is all criminalized. Only a soldier in battle or an officer of law may use brute force legally, and even officers exercise this authority with great care. A violent man who asserts that his female relations have no moral authority over him has declared himself both uncontrollable and unreformable. From the Vandese perspective, the only recourse is to put him to death."

"But -- he -- " Nik tried to wrap his mind around this concept. "That is insane. But if you take responsibility, doesn't that mean they'd -- ?"

"Oh, no, not at all. The Vandese regard all women as trainable. If I claim the fault, then I merely need to be educated to ensure the men within my influence behave appropriately in the future."

Nik stared forward, blinking. "These people are exceedingly strange."

"They are, my lord."

"Do they apply all this nonsense to their own people? I thought you said it was only foreign men they were terrified of?"

"Foreign men frighten them more, yes, and are under far more strictures. But the general theory that men need to be influenced by women to keep their bestial nature in check is also applied to themselves. However, they trust their own men to have internalized these lessons and therefore not need, for instance, a constant escort to remind them." After a moment, Miss Vasilver added, "It's all so condescending and degrading, my lord, the whole idea that men, especially our men, cannot control themselves. It infuriates me still." Her condemnatory words made a strange contrast with the even, nonjudgemental tone of her voice. "The worst of it was to have Stephen perpetuate their myth, of all things. Maddening to have my own brother's actions reinforce this mass delusion of theirs.

"In any event, we settled the matter that night. We could have requested formal legal proceedings, but our information on the Vandese legal system suggested that would not improve the outcome and would publicize the mess further. The Kyr removed us to a private council room. The Vandese Blessed, it turned out, had requested -- um -- certain intimacies of Stephen in a traditional Vandese manner. Which used language that we'd not covered in our lessons or heard during negotiations, and had flowery comparisons to stars and meteorites and the privacy of night. Stephen had not understood half of it and so went with the default of 'smile and nod'," Miss Vasilver said. Nik winced. "But that was not seen as exculpatory: the misunderstanding would have perhaps excused Stephen if he'd shoved him away or caused accidental injury, but Stephen had already admitted to hitting him with deliberate intent to harm. Kyriel Aunles told her husband how I'd asked if I should go with them and that she had deterred me, and that was counted in our favor, however. Ultimately, the Kyr decided that Stephen must be deported at once, and that I must remain to be educated in appropriate behavior. So that I might prevent other male relations from doing this sort of thing."

"But they had to know that their customs would not matter outside their borders?" Nik asked, amazed by the whole wild tale. "Why didn't they just have you leave as well?"

"It didn't matter to them. They know that other countries are full of what they regard as barbaric practices, and they see themselves as having a duty to improve those with whom they come into contact. I was in their nation, I had demonstrated imperfect understanding and influence, I was female and therefore capable of improvement, and accordingly I needed to be corrected. That was the legal reasoning as I understood it, more or less. There was more to it than law, however. The Kyr wished to open Southern Vandu to more nations, and expelling our entire expedition would only entrench their isolation. He and his wife thought keeping me would expose more of their people to foreigners and show that we were teachable people capable of being civilized. I had no notion of this at the time, of course -- Kyriel Aunles explained it to me months later.

"But you mustn't imagine that I spent two years locked in some dungeon cell and subsisting on gruel and water. I spent much of my time in the house of the Kyr and kyriel, and they treated me as an honored guest. There were mandatory lessons, but they were by no means onerous. It was fascinating, if perplexing and at times outright insulting. But I fear I am giving altogether the wrong impression of the Vandese. All of these things I've said, about women being accorded moral superiority and men considered innately violent and in some ways inferior -- it's not that they don't believe this true, but it has little impact on their day-to-day lives. It's not as if you see men constantly seeking the advice of a woman or submitting to one's opinions generally. Most positions of political power are held by men and most business is conducted by men, just as in Newlant. They are by no means subservient. The character of interactions between sexes is different in certain ways, of course, and in some rare cases one does see shocking occurrences. I did witness a man, a Vandese man, executed because his mother and sisters declared him uncontrollable and no other female relation would step forward to take responsibility for him. But it is not as if Vandese men live in fear of repudiation -- it's almost as rare as a Newlant duel ending in death."

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 5 comments or Leave a comment Share

Time:10:40 pm
I finished the first draft of "A Regular Hero" today. (It came out to 19 scenes, so tuftears wins the contest. :D )

So I spent the evening painting to celebrate. Or something like that. @_@

My thought process when painting is something like this:

This sketch is okay. It'll look better when it's colored.
... no, that made it much worse.
I have no idea what I'm doing. Why do I keep using the marker and airbrush tool for everything?
*zen-like state where I have no thoughts*
This part is a disaster.
Now it's just bad.
Let's just do a different part.
ZOMG painting with a reference is wonderful why do I not always use a reference?
Why do I ever paint anything but naked torsos this is the best ever. Except maybe horses.
actually this robe is kind of fun too.
ohh this looks pretty good I might even like this picture when I'm done
Why are hands so hard to draw?
no hands please just look like hands
just look a little like hands
I even have a reference why can't I do this?
and hands are so beautiful too whyyyyyyyy
*cries forever*
that's it I give up YOU ARE CRUEL, HANDS, CRUEL and I'm leaving you for hair.
*more zen*
*wonders why my hand hurts*
*goes back to ignoring pain because zen*
That's about done ...
... oh wait that one part is still bad. NO NOT THE HANDS I HATE YOU HANDS and you're just going to stay bad. That other part.
*tries to fix*
How did I not notice until now that the proportions are completely messed up here?
*tries to fix the proportions at way too late a stage*
uh okay.
I should do a simple background thing.
*plays with every tool in artRage*
Huh. Is that how it looks at the end? I thought it was gonna be better.
Oh well. Done now!
What how did it get be so late? @_@

I'll put the picture behind a cut-tag. It's a beefcake picture of Frost, because I decided if I'm mainly drawing him 'cause he's pretty I might as well go full objectification with it.
Cut for bare-chested male elf!Collapse )
comments: 13 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:September in Review
Time:10:10 pm
I ate too much this week, and didn't exercise enough. Baked-goods-for-charity-donations at the bank = EAT ALL THE JUNK FOOD for me. It's for a good cause so it doesn't have calories, right? I'm up a couple of pounds. I should crack down on this now before all the holiday eating starts in earnest. Eek.

I've written another 10,000 words or so of "A Regular Hero" for my Paradise collection, which as of now has the working title of Further Arrangements. So that's coming along. I had hoped to have it finished by now but let's just say that if I'm surprised, I shouldn't be. I think there's only another 2000 words or so to finish it, however.

The Business of Writing
Once I finish "A Regular Hero", I get to decide if I want another story in Further Arrangements or if two novellas and a novelette would suffice. I have a weird desire to include a short story just so I'll have a story eligible in every awards category. I don't remotely expect to be nominated for any regardless (and I'm not positive I'll publish Further Arrangements this year anyway), but the idea of being eligible amuses me.

I need to do a post for my third month of self-publishing. I got up to 982 sales through 9/28! Amazon will no longer give me my entire sales history in a graph! (The graph only goes back 90 days).

I have done a lot of art this month! Almost none of it was useful! Yay! \o/

I got on a kick drawing Frost, a character I don't particularly plan to write about and so he's making me draw him instead? I dunno how that works. Probably I just like drawing him because he has fwooshy hair and clothes. Anyway, I colored three pictures involving him and one of his apprentice, and I've got another picture in progress. And a handful of doodles that didn't work out for one reason or another. I may put together an LJ post of them.

I went to Panera once and drew five pictures there.

And I completed 12 headers for RA, so still keeping that 3-week buffer going. (In other news, I should do some more headers this weekend.)

I went to Renfaire for my birthday and bought some costume pieces I don't need. That was fun.

I know I should get out more but honestly I am just so happy to get home on Friday night and be all "YAY I DON'T HAVE TO GO ANYWHERE I CAN DRAW AND WRITE FOR 48 SOLID HOURS IF I WANT."

Much happier this month! See, self, admitting you're depressed DOES help. Also, RA's sales slowed down even more this month, so that wasn't the root cause. I bet drawing more helped, though. It feels more productive than playing games, even when I'm just doodling random ideas.
comments: 8 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Fourth and Eighth (63/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 063

“Why did you ask me to the Ascension Ball, my lord?” she asked, unhesitant.

Nik gave a startled laugh, but answered gamely, “Because I want to know more about you, and it’s a chance to get you away from your parents, if not mine. Because you are good company, and I admire – enjoy – your taste for honesty.” You make me forget Justin, and it has been a long time since anyone but the Savior has been able to do that. “And…as I already told you I wasn’t looking for a wife, I thought it was…safe.”

“As opposed to the usual threat a woman poses to life and limb?” Miss Vasilver was grave, making Nik laugh again.

“You know what I mean. The politics around balls – this ball, especially – are thick. If I bring one of my sisters, everyone wonders what plague I have that no unrelated woman would accept my invitation. If I ask a woman I’ve met more than a few times socially, then she must be a marriage prospect. If I ask a woman I’ve only met once or twice, it’s as likely as not an unbearably awkward evening as she tries to figure out how serious I might be, or if I plan to, I don’t know, assault her in the carriage or somesuch.”

“…assault her in the carriage? Does that happen often?”

“What, actual assault? In my own first-hand experience, never. For others—” Nik paused, watching the greatcats’ white tails swaying in perfect unison as they pulled the coach. “My information on that would be skewed, of course. One young lady I escorted, whom I will not name, was in any event quite terrified of me. I am not in the habit of asking people if they wish to petition me, but there were three or four points during that evening when I was on the verge of asking her if there was anything the Savior might do for her.”

“Why didn’t you, if her distress was so plain?”

Nik shrugged. “Because for all I know, it’s my Blessing itself that had her petrified. And some people become more anxious if you ask them about their anxiety, because ‘am I conspicuous?’ becomes a new source of anxiety. My great-grandmother taught me not to ask people who aren’t petitioners. They know I am Blessed, and they know better than I do what disorders they might have. It’s rude and presumptuous to imply that I, from a few hours of acquaintance, can perceive a problem they don’t.”

Miss Vasilver tilted her head. “But don’t some forms of madness keep the sufferer from realizing they are mad?”

He flashed a brief, lopsided smile. “One must make exceptions at times, true. But I don’t want to spend all evening talking about me, Miss Vasilver. Shall I ask some forbidden question of you? Did you have that dossier prepared on yourself?”

“I began it, my lord, but I fear I did not complete it. Byron thought you must have been joking when I asked him for a character reference for it.”

Nik grinned. “Half-joking, I suppose. But I am not joking about wanting to hear more about you.”

“Then I will finish it for you. But in the meantime, you may ask me whatever you please, my lord.” She had turned to face forward again, hands clasped in her lap, the long dangling beaded sleeves of her dress trailing over her skirt.

“I did, in fact, resort to interrogating Lysandra about you.” Nik felt odd about the admission – not normally something he’d confess to, although he’d pumped his sisters for information on people before. Yet it felt wrong to be less than straightforward with Miss Vasilver. “She said the two of you used to correspond after her graduation, particularly while you travelled the world.”

“Oh yes. When one is a passenger on a ship one has a great deal of time to keep up on correspondence. Although delivery is erratic.”    

“I can imagine. Lys told me you’d spent years in Southern Vandu, and she’d never been clear on why the long overseas stay there. Some course of study they provided?” His sister had several speculations to offer beyond that, but Nik withheld them to see what Miss Vasilver would volunteer.

“Oh. Southern Vandu.” Miss Vasilver was silent for a moment before continuing, “The reason for the two years I spent there is the eighth item on my list. I will tell you, my lord, but you must first promise me you will tell no other. Not even Mrs. Warwick.”

Nikola blinked at her. “Of course, you have my word. But you needn’t say if you’d prefer not to.”

“No, I should like to. You can tell me if it’s as horrifying a tale as my family thinks it. It’s rather complicated. It’s true that I undertook a course of study there – fascinating, actually – but it was not by my choice. Or my parents’. Technically, I was a prisoner.”

Nik gaped at the words, and the calm way she spoke them. “…what? Why did they imprison you?”

“Well, ‘imprison’ is perhaps the wrong way to describe it. Hostage? I did say it was complicated. Perhaps I should start earlier.”

“Perhaps that would be advised.” Nik remembered to close his hanging jaw.

“I don’t know if you’re familiar with Southern Vandu at all, my lord, but their textile industry is world-renowned: they have the most remarkable manufacturies, automated looms two stories high which produce tremendous amounts of wonderfully high-quality cloth. Three years ago, Vasilver Trading was negotiating with their Kyr for import/export rights to the nation. We wished to ship in raw ivywool, encotton, and agris, and export bolts of cloth. Southern Vandu is finicky about whom they’ll permit to conduct business in their nation, and no Newlant business at the time was licensed to operate within their borders. All the contracts for their goods were ferried through companies at third-party nations. Now, one of the peculiarities here is that Vandese law prohibits foreign men from venturing about their country unaccompanied by a female relation – wife, mother, cousin, what have you.”

Nikola blinked at her. “Truly? The man needs a chaperone?”

“Yes. It’s…perhaps not dissimilar to the anxiety of that woman you described. The reasoning – not all Vandese believe this, mind – is that non-Vandese men are uncivilized brutes who can only be checked by the presence of a woman. A relation, because an unrelated woman would not be able to exert moral authority over his bestial nature.”

Nikola snorted, trying to restrain a disbelieving laugh.

“This gets worse, I’m afraid. But let me continue. My father sent myself and my brother Stephen to negotiate. Stephen was our lead negotiator – women in Southern Vandu are not expected to engage directly in such things – and I was along in advisory capacity and to fulfill Vandese legal requirements. Along with two wives and one daughter, for the other men on the negotiation team. We made quite a parade. Our first problem was just a little bobble on the evening of the second day, when seven of us went out for dinner without Mrs. Hughes because she was unwell. One of the Kyr’s men chanced upon us on the street as we returned to our lodgings, and pitched a fit over Mr. Hughes being about without a female relation. At that point, we understood clearly that the men needed chaperones in this nation, but we’d quite forgotten that each man needed his own specific one. Miss Caphly made up some bit about her being Mrs. Hughes’ second cousin once removed and therefore a relation of a sort, and they got it smoothed over. After that, we were all careful and things went splendidly for the next three days. Then there was the evening of the fifth day.” Miss Vasilver looked straight ahead as she spoke, focused on her words and seeming unaware of Nik. “We had everything settled for the formal licensing the next day: the Kyr was having clean copies of the documents drafted for his stamp and print, and he was hosting a feast for us. There was a huge quantity of food and copious amounts of a local drink, misfil, served over ice. Stephen’s favorite dish was this spicy duck-and-spinach affair, and he was gulping down glass after glass of misfil to wash down the heat of it.”

“This isn’t going to end well, is it?” Nik asked.

“It’s going to end with me spending the next two years in an enforced stay in Southern Vandu, so no. But it could have been far worse.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 5 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:One Could Scarcely Do Anything Else (62/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 062

Fel Hughbrant, one of his snow-white draycats for the evening, stepped out of the harness to open the carriage door with one paw and a deep bow. Miss Vasilver paused before Nik handed her in. “What is this made of, may I ask, my lord?”

Nik laughed, having wholly forgotten the ridiculous vehicle he’d arrived in. “Do you know, I’m not sure?” He looked to the draycat by the carriage door. “Fel Hughbrant?”

“Steelglass. A new composite created by Blessed, m’lord, m’lady,” the greatcat answered. “It’s very sturdy. Scratch-proof, too.” He raked a casual paw over one of the clear plates, claws leaving the surface unmarked. “The frame’s gold-plated steel.”

“Remarkable.” Miss Vasilver touched one of the smooth panes. “I did not know even the Blessed could make steel transparent.”

“It’s not made with actual steel,” the other greatcat with Hughbrant said, watching them from her place in the traces. “Or glass, for that matter. The manufacturers just thought ‘steelglass’ had a good sound to it. It’s a tailored resin cured by a particular process.”

“Fel Hughbrant, Felis Northholt – Miss Vasilver is my companion this evening. If she needs your assistance with anything when I am not about, please oblige her,” Nik added, as Miss Vasilver nodded to the greatcat’s explanation. “Let me take your wrap, miss – it’s warm inside the box.”

As he followed her into the carriage, Nik tossed his outer coat and her fur-lined cloak onto the seat opposite before settling on the comfortable padded velvet seat beside Miss Vasilver. The edges of the carriage door were padded and sealed snugly when closed; while the day outside was cold and windy, it was almost too warm inside the glass coach. He smiled down at her, still giddy. “It’s not mine, you know,” he felt compelled to confess.

“My lord?”

“This…” He gestured to the gold and crystal surrounding them, sparkling in the late afternoon sun. “…contraption.”

“I am afraid my brother will be disappointed to hear that. He was terribly impressed when he saw it.” Miss Vasilver did not sound impressed herself. “You are borrowing it from a friend, then?”

“From a petitioner, actually. There’s rather a story behind it, if you’re curious.”

“I am, my lord. I’ve never seen anything like it. A transparent carriage?” She tapped one foot against a translucent floor panel, making a faint clinking with the sole of her jeweled slipper. “It seems so impractical.” The underside, which had been almost spotless when it arrived for Nik, was already dusty from the road.

“It does,” Nik agreed. “But for the story – a bit over two years ago now, I treated a greatkitten for developmental issues. Her grandfather, Fel Carthian, owned a carriage service, and he wanted to provide me transportation for life as gift in return. Which of course I couldn’t accept—”

“Why not, my lord?”

“The Code prohibits daily or frequent services,” Nik explained. Miss Vasilver still had her head tilted at him, so he added, “It’s akin to slavery, to accept an ongoing and constant service like that. I know, it’s not the same when he’s paying others to render the service for him, but the Code nonetheless prohibits such a gift. In any case, he amended the offer to ‘occasional services’ and begged me to call on him for removes or events. I decided to ask him that year for a carriage to the Ascension Ball. Which absolutely everyone thought was a terrible idea – even Lord Comfrey made sport of me over it: ‘You’ll attend the grandest event in Newlant in a common delivery coach?’ – but I was in a snit with my parents over some triviality and refused to go with them.”

Wisteria glanced about at the crystal carriage surrounding them. “But I gather you did not travel in a common delivery coach, either?”    

“Not at all! Though it was not this contraption. These greatcats, however. Dyed black that year – they’re bleached white this year, Felis Northholt told me. That year was an elegant and cozy two-seater, in black and silver. Fel Carthian told me later that he’d thought to extend his service from delivery and passenger coaches to rentals for special events. My father thought no one would be interested in such thing, because only an undignified fool like me would do something so gauche as to attend Ascension in a rental. So of course I had to do it again the next year.”

“Of course,” Miss Vasilver agreed, deadpan. “One could scarcely do anything else.”

“And Fel Carthian had decided the elegant two-seater was too understated, and sent Felis Northholt and Fel Hughbrant to pull this extraordinarily grand carriage of sky blue, adorned in silver-leaf scrollwork, with concealed wheels so that it appeared to float on a white cloud.”

“Oh, I recall seeing a carriage like that about town. I did not know to whom it belonged.”

Nik inclined his head. “Just so. I understand Fel Carthian’s new division has been doing well since then. And of course this year brought…” He waved one hand and smiled, self-deprecating. “My life is a bizarre mix of absurd extravagances and humbling retrenchments, I’m afraid. I think I am the only person who arrives at Ascension in the same suit but a new carriage every year.”

“That does sound unique.” Miss Vasilver tilted her head at him. “Do you exercise any control over the gifts you receive? You cannot be the only Blessed with this issue.”

“By no means. My staff does nudge petitioners to contribute cash, and many of the gifts that are not, we sell. But.” Nikola watched Gracehaven roll by through the thick glittering panes. “I know many petitioners want to do something unique and special in answer to a healing, in a way that marks cannot be. Sometimes I want to accept a gift for what it is, instead of what I think I need most that day. Does that make sense?”

Miss Vasilver considered for a moment before she replied in her usual grave way, “I believe it does, my lord. Marks don’t remind you of that little greatkitten you helped two years ago, but this carriage ride does, doesn’t it? Of why it’s work worth doing.”

Nikola turned to her again, smiling. “Yes! Exactly so.” His eye was caught anew by the sparkle of jewels in her dark twists of hair, the quiet calm of her face. He laughed suddenly.

Miss Vasilver tilted her head at him. “My lord?”

“I just realized we’ll be spending the better part of an hour in this carriage, given the crush of traffic that’ll be around the palace. Alone, with no mothers or fathers or servants to listen in. We could talk about anything!”

“Oh, we could, couldn’t we?” She fluttered her hands, silk and jewels trailing from her wrists. “There’s no one to check me but you.”

He grinned. “And I have no interest whatsoever in checking you. What would you like to speak of? We should pick the most awful forbidden unsuitable topic imaginable.”

After a moment’s thought, she shook her head. “Perhaps we should save that for the return, my lord. I shouldn’t like to alienate you while we’ve the whole of the evening left to spend together.”

“I cannot imagine anything you could say that would alienate me,” Nik protested.

She turned to regard him with light brown eyes. “Perhaps I have a better imagination than you do.”

Nikola abruptly envisioned her asking the exact nature of his relationship with Justin, and swallowed. “One or two things that might alienate you from me, perhaps,” he admitted reluctantly. “Still, surely you wouldn’t waste this opportunity on mere small talk, Miss Vasilver?”

“My lord, there is no chance of that. My parents assure me that my idea of ordinary conversation is peppered with the outrageous, and that is when I am trying to be normal. If you are authorizing me to be unsuitable—”

“My dear Miss Vasilver, I all but insist upon it,” Nik told her, grinning.

“—then perhaps I may use something lower on my list of forbidden topics than number one.”

“You have a list?”

“An outline. With subheadings and clarifying points. It’s still not comprehensive. Will you promise me that If I broach some topic you do not care for, you will tell me so plainly and we may move on to another?”

“I give you my word on it.” Nik sobered his expression in the face of her solemnity. “What is, oh, the fourth item on your list?”

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 12 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Spectacle (61/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 061

At Vasilver Manor on Saturday afternoon, Helen was arranging Wisteria’s hair for Ascension when Byron’s voice yelled through the door to her suite, “Teeri! Thought you said your lordling was broke?!”

Wisteria raised her voice to call in return, “Certainly, you may come in, Byron.” Whatever he wanted to talk about, she wasn’t going to holler it through closed doors.

Her brother stepped through the suite door and then into her dressing room, saying, “Told me…he…was…”

Wisteria stood fully dressed before the mirror stand as Helen tucked jewel-tipped hair pins into the elaborate coif she’d crafted. Wisteria couldn’t move without disturbing the work of her lady’s maid, but she did glance to the mirror to catch her brother’s reflection. His jaw hung open, as if he planned to say more, but no sound emerged. Wisteria took the silence for her cue. “First, if I may presume we are speaking of Lord Nikola: he is neither mine, nor a lordling. Second, I never said Lord Nikola was broke; I described his assets as largely illiquid. That you choose to interpret this statement imprecisely is not a factor within my control. Whatever is the matter, Byron?”

Byron closed his mouth at last, then opened it again, and closed it again. Wisteria had no idea what to make of this performance: Byron was rarely at a loss for words. Helen made a clucking noise Wisteria had learned to interpret as disapproval, and stepped back to make final adjustments to the gown. At length, her brother said, “That’s a beautiful dress.”

“Thank you, Byron, that’s very kind.” Wisteria was surprised; Byron seldom paid any attention to what she wore.

A chambermaid came into the room and stopped behind Byron with a quick curtsey. “Oh miss, sir, oh, you must see the carriage come for you, miss!”

“Of course I will. Lord Nikola is arrived, then?”

“Yes,” said the maid.

At the same time, Byron said, “No. I mean, yes, he’s here, but you have to see this carriage. Now.”


“Just…have a look, will you?”

Helen clucked again, but the older woman had stood back and no longer fussed at her attire, so Wisteria let her brother lead her to a window seat that overlooked the drive. “Oh my.”

“You said he was poor,” Byron repeated.

“Is that made of glass? Whatever keeps it from breaking?” Wisteria asked.

“Abandon me if I know.”

The carriage in Vasilver’s semi-circular drive sparkled in the winter sunlight, a gilt framework holding hundreds of large, faceted, clear panes in place to form the body. The interior appeared to have gilt seats padded in velvet, though the view was distorted by multi-colored refractions from the carriage walls. Even the axles and suspension were picked out in gold leaf. The whole was drawn by two pure white greatcats matched in height, length, and powerful builds. They looked regal and dignified in their gilt harness. Wisteria wasn’t sure she’d ever seen anything more ostentatious outside of a royal wedding, which was quite the statement given the gown she wore. The vehicle was wholly unlike Lord Nikola.

“Can’t tell me that’s a family heirloom. Or part of an entailment,” Byron said, leaning over her to study it with her.

“I don’t believe any of my sources mentioned it, no.” Wisteria rose from the window seat. “Excuse me, brother, but Lord Nikola is waiting on me.”


The first time he went to the Ascension Ball, six years ago now, Nik had been excited. Even the second and third times had held a certain magic. This was his seventh, and by now he was accustomed to the simple truth that the most prestigious gathering of the year was, underneath all the ceremony and pageantry, still only a party. A party for nearly two thousand people, titled or accompanied by an individual with a title: the Ascension Ball was one of the few remaining bastions of rank and every titled individual in Newlant, from royal family down to the poorest Blessed with a courtesy title, was invited. Most of them, Nikola barely knew. As a rule, the best thing about it was that Justin was always there, and the worst thing was that Justin was mobbed by admirers and friends.

Today, Nik was if anything relieved by that last fact, as he still hadn’t figured out how to deal with Justin. “Do whatever he asks of me and hate myself” is not a long-term strategy, he thought wryly, and wondered at what point he would need the Savior to fix the addled mess of his head. Experimentally, he reached for the Savior’s aid. Golden warmth cascaded through him, with a sense of his god’s love, tinged by both sorrow and hope, as if to say Sorry I can’t do this for you, but I’m sure you can handle it on your own, beloved one. It did make him feel better, as long as he didn’t dwell on his angst.

No, the main thing he looked forward to tonight was speaking with Miss Vasilver. It had been over a week and Nik keenly anticipated seeing her again, so much so that he was impatient with the wait in Vasilver’s too-ornate parlor. Instead of sitting in one of the brocade chairs, he paced. He examined the room’s paintings and the curios in the display cabinets, the antemarkavian marble sculptures of elegant stylized figures, without attending to any of them. At least he was spared her parents’ company – the entire household would be readying for Ascension events of their own. When he recognized Miss Vasilver’s footsteps down the hall, he turned in relief to the parlor entranceway. “Good evening, Miss Vasilver,” was on his lips as she appeared, and he managed to get that much out before the rest of his greeting was wiped from his mind.

As Newlant’s foremost annual social event, Ascension Ball attire was an order of magnitude more elaborate than anything one wore in the ordinary course of life. Many of the poorer lords and ladies, those with courtesy titles or impoverished estates, declined the invitation because they could not afford the required standard of dress. Nik’s parents ordered new outfits for this occasion every year, despite the extravagant cost. Nik himself was wearing the same Ascension suit he had worn for the last four balls, because that was the last year he had let his parents bully him into buying a new one. It was in Fireholt’s colors of orange and black, which Nik seldom wore because if he was going to use holding colors he prefered Anverlee’s blue and silver. But in the ornate style of Ascension the former served well, with embroidered orange flames leaping and dancing against a midnight-velvet backdrop on the jacket, the flames accented by dozens of glittering faceted orange garnets. The jacket was cut high in front, revealing an orange waistcoat, but long in back, flaring down to mid-calf, with heavy epaulets dangling gold chains and studded by semi-precious stones. The gold chain of his Blessing, with its onyx pendant that marked him as a healer of minds, draped over one shoulder and across his chest – he never wore it unless required, but at this event it was. Black breeches laced up the sides with gold chain. Even the shoes were ostentatious, gleaming black leather with gold buckles and gemstone studs.

Dress at this event was spectacle, which Nikola knew well. He’d expected Miss Vasilver to be part of it – her taste in clothing had always been appropriate – but he was not prepared for the vision she presented.

Her gown fitted snugly from high collar to just above the knees, where it blossomed in a wide ruffled skirt. The body was white, with a ruffle of translucent orange-red that twined like a flame about the skirt and torso, then fell from one shoulder to trail behind her in a flowing cape. The shoulders were sheer at first, blending into solid sleeves that fell in a long graceful drape from elbow to wrist. The whole sparkled with hundreds if not thousands of tiny jewels, sending pinpricks of light dancing around the room as she moved. Her dark hair had been piled atop her head and pinned with fiery rubies, like sparks caught in her net. The effect was so magnificent it ought to have dwarfed the woman within, overwhelmed her. But Miss Vasilver did not recede: she wore this artwork as if it were any ordinary garment: an accessory serving a worthy purpose, nothing more. The white gown with its fiery accents complimented her pale brown complexion, long snug lines making the most of her tall slender build.

“My lord?” Miss Vasilver said, and Nik realized he’d been staring at her for half a minute, that she’d said something and he had no idea what, that she was ravishingly beautiful, that he was in imminent danger of embarrassing himself further.

He swept her a low bow. “Miss Vasilver. You are – beyond magnificent. Words fail me.” She accepted the compliment with a gracious thanks, betraying neither humility nor vanity. He kissed her hand and offered his arm. They paused to retrieve her wrap and his frock coat before he escorted her to the waiting carriage with a stupefied grin on his face.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 6 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Uprooted, by Naomi Novik
Time:09:58 am
This is less a review than me rambling about the tropes in the book. You've been warned.

Uprooted is a fantasy action/adventure novel. Reading this book was an odd experience. At about 30 pages in, I commented to some friends, "I'm trying to give this story a chance and not throw it across the room, but it's hard. I hope it doesn't turn out to be a romance between the 17 year-old first person narrator and her 150 year-old wizard-master who's a jerk. At which point I probably will throw it across the room.

"I'm not saying it's impossible to write a good romance with a first-person narrator who's a 17 year-old girl and a super-powerful 150 year-old male jerk, but ... actually, maybe I am saying that."

Shortly thereafter, one of my friends looked up the reviews and said, "It looks like it is a romance?"

But at that point I was 50 or 60 pages in, hints of a non-romance plot had appeared, and the narrator had stopped being a useless sack of self-pity, so I decided, somewhat grimly, to stick it out anyway. In part this is because I felt like I was being terribly unfair to the book. It has a bunch of elements that are similar to a story idea my brain keeps trying to convince me I want to write, and part of me is all "(a) you can't blame this book for not being the book you haven't written and (b) you shouldn't resent it for using tropes that you yourself want to use, seriously, how hypocritical is that?"

Anyway, Uprooted has a hate-at-first-sight romantic subplot between the 17 year old girl who's the first-person narrator and a 150 year old uber-powerful male jerk. There is pretty much nothing in that sentence that doesn't scream UNPROMISING at me. If that combination of tropes doesn't instantly rub you the wrong way, you should enjoy this book. For me, the romance turned out to be a minor enough subplot that I could pretty much ignore it.

The book contained a couple of other standard tropes that worked against it for me: a fairy-tale-medieval-European flavor to the setting, and a hand-wavey magic system where wizards could cast weirdly specific amazingly useful spells, with no clear demarcations on what can/can't be done by magic or why.

None of these tropes are innately bad. Some people like wizards who are very powerful and have no clear limits or thematic unity in their abilities. Magic is not used as a "cheat" in the story-- plot-critical spells are introduced before they become crucial. It's somewhat like the way magic is handled in the Harry Potter books. I like magic to be more clearly defined and thematically unified, and I like a sense that magic is integrated in the socio-economic fabric of the setting -- but that's a personal preference, not a reflection on quality.

What I'm trying to say is: this is a well-written, entertaining novel that happens to use a lot of tropes I don't care for. It's not you, book. It's me.

Tropes I dislike aside, the book had a number of qualities I did enjoy. The sinister antagonist embodies the Xanatos Gambit trope to good effect: many times that the protagonists think they've scored a win, it turns out the antagonist has a clever way to turn it against them. The descriptions of the way characters cast spells and their different styles of spell-casting are fun and elegant. The protagonists put their grab-bag of spells to good effect. While the narrator spends the early part of the book having things happen to her while she takes no effective actions whatsoever, she does spend most of the book asserting herself, often coming up with clever and useful ideas. The situations the narrator found herself in often changed quickly, and the suddenness and sometimes horror of these changes is well-captured. There really was a lot here to like. I do feel like some of the key plot points weren't telegraphed as well as would be ideal, but most of what I didn't like is covered by "tropes that don't suit my personal tastes." Anyway, I'll give it a 7, and am certainly open to reading more of Novik's work.
comments: 4 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:All the Mini-Reviews
Time:02:10 pm
I have not reviewed anything in forever. Like, other than the reviews that I timed for the book launches on Mating Flight and "The Three Jaguars", I haven't posted a review since APRIL.

I haven't been reading as much, either. My Kindle account is cluttered with unread books and samples. Still, I have read a bunch of stuff that I haven't written reviews for, and I am obviously not ever going to give them the attention they deserve. So: onward to the mini-reviews!

The Suffragette Scandal, by Courtney Milan: a Victorian romance novel. Like all of Milan's work, I enjoyed this book. It is noteworthy mainly for its contra-trope angles. For instance, the male protagonist is a rogue archetype, but instead of starting out by trying to trick the female protagonist into liking him, he generally tries to make her think he's much worse than he really is. There is the inevitable romantic-conflict silliness, some of which is sillier than is at all necessary. I'll give it an 8.

"The Young Lord's Servants", by Anna Waite: action/adventure middle-grade fantasy short story. A short, fun story about two kids facing off against a beast that threatens their village's property. I liked the way the author established the setting and made it feel unusual but still understandable -- hard to manage in a short story -- and the way the responsibilities of the boys are laid out by the adults, so that the absence of adults at the climax makes perfect sense. An 8.5.

Everything's Fine, by Janci Patterson: contemporary YA mystery/drama novel. I think I got this because it was on sale and because Ms. Patterson is sandratayler's sister. It's an interesting read, dealing with such heavy issues as suicide, child abuse, and date rape. I am not an expert on any of these topics, but I found the story hauntingly plausible on the whole. Not sure what number I'd give it, probably an 8.

A Bollywood Affair, by Sonali Dev: contemporary romance. This one is hard to rank. There were some things I loved about it, like the depiction of a wide cross-section of Indian society, ranging from immigrant Indians in America (at various socio-economic levels) to those in India. The clash between old traditions and roots and modern society is deftly handled and fascinating. On the downside, the typical romance-conflict silliness is gratingly absurd at times, and neither protagonist had the level of respect for the other's autonomy that I want to see (they both end up tricking/manipulating the other into doing things that they think the other should do/wants to do, and in both cases the narrative implies that this manipulation was justified). The characters also suffer from feminine and masculine stereotypes, and I do mean "suffer". Like "this is hurting you as a human being, please stop". The female protagonist seems more resilient by the end, but the male one remains stuck. I am not sure what this combination averages out to. Let's say 7.

Hugo-eligible reading:

Castle Hangnail, by Ursula Vernon: A charming, entertaining middle-grade illustrated fantasy. I liked Molly, the friendly, cheerful protagonist, and the way she generally took charge of her own story but also occasionally lost control or became overwhelmed, and the supporting cast was full of colorful characters. I didn't love it; it rates about an 8. My suspension of disbelief struggled to swallow the basic premise of the story: that there are castles and mansions of great power, populated by Minions, and these have to be occupied by Evil Sorcerers/Wicked Witches/Mad Scientists/other leaders of dubious morality, or they'll be decommissioned. And the protagonist is a Wicked Witch but not really wicked-wicked and ... this works better if you are just willing to roll with it from the get-go and are not giving the whole concept the side-eye. But I did enjoy it, which speaks well to the author's skill and humor. I might nominate it. We'll see how I feel about the other books I read from 2015. An 8.

"Penric's Demon," by Lois McMaster Bujold: action/adventure fantasy novella in Bujold's "World of the Five Gods" setting. Bujold is a splendid storyteller and this novella is a solid, enjoyable read. I particularly liked the final resolution and the relationship that develops between Penric and his demon. The build-up was somewhat slow, and the generic Euro-medieval feel of the setting in this time period doesn't appeal to me much, so it gets an 8 overall. Definitely recommended, and likely one I'll nominate.

"The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn", by Usman T. Malik

I bought this novella on Amazon because I find it incredibly annoying to use a webpage to read anything more than a few thousand words long. It was ... okay. Like a 6 or 7. I'm not sorry I bought and read it, but doubt I'll nominate it for an award, either.

Short Stories:
"Cat Pictures Please", by Naomi Kritzer (3400 words.)
I love this one. So nominating it. Both sensible and humorous, and full of charm. a 9.

"Milagroso", by Isabel Yap (4300 words)
OK. I wouldn't No-Award it. But probably won't nominate either. Vividly described, and I like that the family is family-like (imperfect but not dysfunctional) and that it's not about a physical conflict. Still, it didn't grab me, and the theme of fake vs natural food didn't work for me. A 6 or a 7.
comments: 5 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:You Don’t Show It (60/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 060

“Couldn’t you be just a little excited?” Mrs. Vasilver asked her daughter. “It’s the Ascension Ball. No Vasilver has ever attended an Ascension Ball before.”

“I am excited, Mother.” They were at Lamille’s, her mother’s favorite dressmaker. The shop was so busy at this time of year that not only was the price for her last-minute order exorbitant, but Wisteria also had to come to the dressmaker for a final fitting instead of the seamstresses coming to her. The private fitting room was lined with mirrors, with a raised dais at the center. Wisteria stood upon the dais with her arms outstretched while a squadron of assistants and seamstresses fluttered about her, pinning and adjusting and snipping and stitching. The gown was an Ascension Ball confection, unlike anything else Wisteria owned because such things were not worn at any other event. It had so many crystals hand-stitched into the fabric that it was heavy. It made use of some of the very latest materials: fibers from a patented hybrid plant created by one of the Blessed were woven into a fabric called silk opulence, which combined the smoothness and drape of ivysilk with the breathability of cotton, and added flexibility to prevent it from wrinkling and to allow it to move easily with the wearer. The chiffon-like trim was uncrushable, springing back to its original shape even if compressed for hours. Wisteria planned to practice walking around in the gown this evening at home, to get used to the feel of it and where the various parts of it would end up as she moved. The dress was a lovely piece of art; Wisteria hoped she wouldn’t spoil its effect by inhabiting it.

“You don’t show it,” her mother complained.

“It’s refreshing,” Mrs. Lamille murmured, checking the drape of the cape attached to one shoulder.

“What was that?” Mrs. Vasilver furrowed her lined face at the dressmaker.

The short, slender dressmaker cleared her throat, glancing to Mrs. Vasilver and then back to the daughter. “Meaning no disrespect, ma’am, but Miss Vasilver’s poise, calm, and patience make it a pleasure to work with her. Very…professional.”

“Why, thank you, Mrs. Lamille,” Wisteria said, touched. The older woman bobbed a curtsy, then stepped back to appraise her handiwork from different angles.

Mrs. Vasilver folded her arms over her chest. “All right, it’s very well for you to be collected at the fitting, but I wish you’d not be so cold to his lordship.”

“I don’t mean to be cold, Mother.”

“It’s just – an invitation to the Ascension Ball, for my little girl! I am sure Lord Nikola is fond of you, Wisteria. If you’d show him a little encouragement…”

Encourage him how? I already gave him a thirty-page document outlining my thoughts on our prospective marriage. How could I be plainer about my desires? “I don’t think Lord Nikola is looking for a wife at this time, Mother.”

Mrs. Vasilver waved a hand. “Oh, all men will give you that idea, Wisteria. They don’t know what they want themselves.”

“If they don’t know, how could I possibly?” Wisteria was used to hearing nonsensical statements treated as obvious fact, but they still bewildered her.

“You have to lead them to it,” her mother said. “Once you show one the advantages of the match – in a subtle way, mind you, you can’t just tell him, he needs to think it’s his own idea – he’ll come around to it.”

Wisteria thought again of that long document on the advantages of the match. “It may have escaped your notice, Mother, but subtlety is not my strength.”

The shorter, older woman heaved a sigh. One of the attendants re-positioned Wisteria’s arms at her sides instead of straight out, which was a relief as they’d started to ache from holding the heavy fabric up. “But you’re such a clever girl,” Mrs. Vasilver said. “I don’t see why this is so difficult for you.” I don’t even see how it’s possible for anyone else, Wisteria thought. “You unbent enough to flirt a little with Lord Nikola the other day, it seems you—”

“Wait, how is that? When did I flirt with him?”

“Why, when he called, of course. The day he invited you to the Ball – Thursday last, was it?”

“I was flirting?” Wisteria’s understanding of the word ‘flirt’ was purely intellectual. It was one of those things that other humans did with each other involving looks and gestures that she could not hope to interpret.

“A little. You might have been warmer – if you could only smile a bit, Wisteria—”

“What was I doing that was flirting?”

“Oh, you know.” Her mother waved a hand vaguely. “You needn’t be defensive, dear, there’s nothing wrong with—”

“I don’t know, Mother, or I wouldn’t ask.” Wisteria fluttered her fingers, excited, and clasped them together before her mother could comment. “Please, do you remember what, exactly?”

“Gracious, child, just the sorts of things young people say. Like when he said – what was it – that he was better for seeing you? And then you quoted it back to him when he asked how you were. And the two of you bantered about something or other inconsequential. The weather. You know. Flirting.”

“Oh my. Is that what flirting is? I was only trying to be pleasant and show an interest, and perhaps amuse,” Wisteria said. Next to her, Mrs. Lamille coughed politely and tugged at an ornate sleeve. Wisteria dropped her hands to her sides again so they could finish fussing at the dress.

“Dear, what would you think flirting is other than those things?”

Wisteria considered this. “It always sounded more arcane when people talk about it.”

Mrs. Vasilver laughed, and even the seamstresses suppressed smiles. “What strange notions you have, Wisteria.”

“And he was flirting with me?” Wisteria was still marvelling over the whole idea that she could actually do this strange thing and never notice. On the one hand, usually her obliviousness didn’t extend to her own actions, so this was something of a new low. On the other, perhaps flirtation wasn’t as impossible as she thought, if one could engage in it with just words and not significant looks and meaningful gestures. Whatever those were.

“Well, yes. Not that I would ascribe too much to it – some men are terrible flirts and from everything I hear Lord Nikola is one such – but , you know, I do think there’s some potential for you there if you’d just make an effort.”

For the first time, it struck Wisteria that Lord Nikola’s statement of ‘I am not interested in marriage at this time’ did not necessarily mean that, whenever he became interested, it would not be in her. Granted, that was the most likely outcome – at twenty-six, Wisteria was already old for a bride, and why trouble himself to tell her if he did not mean to discourage her? And yet… “I will, Mother,” Wisteria said, surprising a smile out of her parent. Probably not the way you’d want me to. But I’ll try.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 4 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:That Authors Guild Survey
Time:01:58 pm
In 2015, the Authors Guild surveyed their members about their writing income, for the first time since 2009.

Much has been made of this survey, particularly that the average writing income reported by members in 2015 was 30% lower than that on the 2009 survey.

I have worded that very carefully, because none of the articles I've read about this survey did.  This survey is touted as proof that writing income is down, that writers are living below the poverty level, and that authors just can't make a career out of writing any more, not like the Good Old Days.

But as far as I can tell, this survey has virtually none of the information one needs to demonstrate any of those things.

The survey data is divided between "full-time" and "part-time" writers. But the summary doesn't say how it defined those things. How many hours per week does a part time writer average on writing-related work? How about full time? Do these labels even have a basis in time worked, or is it self-reported by whatever standard the member considered?

That's the data I'd most like to know: how much are writers making per hour worked (and "work" here includes marketing, contract negotiation, book formatting, and all the other business tasks that go along with making money by writing.) The summary says that marketing time is "up 59%" but doesn't say how much time that is. (I wish I could find the actual survey data, but it doesn't look like AG has made that publicly available.)

Another thing I'd like to know: what are AG's membership trends? This is a membership survey, not a writer survey. Is AG's membership up since 2009? Have its services become more attractive to low-income members than high-income? I note that its membership criteria require new active members to either have a published book through a publisher on their list, or to prove income of at least $5000 in the last eighteen months. (Incidentally, I don't qualify yet, but it's likely that I will, probably by the end of this year.)

Which brings me to my next point: membership qualifications set an income floor. To participate in this survey, one has to not merely being trying to make money at writing, but to have actually succeeded to some degree.

I started writing with a goal of publication when I was, oh, 15 or so. I finished writing my first book when I was in college. I quit writing with the goal of publication for about a decade after college, but took it up again in 2003. I have finished three novels and a few dozen short stories since then, and started three unfinished novels.

From 1985 to 2014, my total writing income was $0.00.

Surveys like this one will tell you that my income this year -- the first year I ever made money from writing -- counts. But they don't count the $0.00 I made last year, when I edited A Rational Arrangement, or the $0.00 I made in 2013, when I wrote it. I'm not working any harder now than I have been for the last 12 years, on average. The only difference is that in 2015, I actually got paid for it.

In 2015, I took a weird polyarmorous fantasy romance, featuring a neuroatypical female protagonist and a word count that put it at almost twice the maximum length a traditional press would look at for a new author, and put it up for readers to buy. This is not a book I could sell to a large press. In 2009, before ebooks had taken off, it wouldn't've counted. Now it does.

So I look at this summary that claims author incomes are down, and I want to know: Are they really? Or is it just that now you have to count a whole bunch of people who used to make nothing at all?

Even now, I can't readily count the number of people I know personally who've written books -- plural -- and never been paid for their writing. Are writers making less now than ever? Or is it that instead of 1% of them averaging $25,000, now 2% are averaging $17,000?

That the income decline was largest for authors with the most experience (15+ years) does mean the decline isn't due just to new people entering the field. But then again, there've always been a lot of authors who vanish after an unsuccessful book. How many have been able to make a comeback now? If your career started  in 1996, died in 1998, and you revived it in 2014, how many years of experience does the Authors Guild count you as having?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions, and even full details of the Authors Guild's survey would only have the answers to a few. And this isn't even all the questions I have. Suffice to say that I am not sold on the narrative they are trying to push from their results.
comments: 8 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:At Your Service (59/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 059

It was a cold, crisp winter’s day, clear and still at the Markavian’s hunting preserve. The hunting preserve was mostly wooded hills surrounding a lake. In summertime, the ground around the lake turned marshy, but Newlant winters were dry and the earth was hard-packed now. The club stocked the preserve with a variety of game, much of it small: rabbits, pheasants, grouse, turkeys, stoats, waterfowl and wild pigs. But there were some large animals too: deer, elk, wild boar, plus some brown bears for the most adventurous – or foolhardy. Some members hired greatcats to ‘help’ with the hunting; Justin, like many others, felt this defeated the whole purpose of hunting as a sport. “You might as well call riding a sport. It is a skill, but it’s not as though you do anything but hinder a greatcat by clinging to his back while he’s racing or hunting.”

So, Justin and Nikola stalked their prey unmounted through the preserve, though Justin had brought a pair of hunting dogs to track, flush, and fetch for them. Nik had been surprised to find no one else was joining their party when they met at the main lodge. “What, no business associates? No assemblymen or chancellors or ministers?” Nik asked, teasing. Not even servants, in fact, which meant Justin didn’t plan to hunt large game today.

“Just us, Striker,” Justin said, walking boots crunching on dry leaves as they walked the trail through the preserve side-by-side, dogs obediently at his heels. “If you feel deprived, though, I’ll talk business anyways. I met your Miss Vasilver the other day at an association meeting, did I tell you?”

“She’s not my Miss Vasilver,” Nik said, the denial reflexive by now. “What did you think of her?”

“I don’t know.” Justin gave a mournful look skyward. “She is just as clever as you said, and therefore just as unimpressed with me as I said she’d be.”

Nik laughed. “Were you trying to impress her?”

“Of course! How do you think I interact with people, Striker? I have to get them in awe of me from the outset, so they’re too intimidated to look beyond my veneer of apparent well-bred, well-educated success.”


“Why? Why?” Justin gave him a look of mock amazement. “Because they’ll never be impressed with me if they look closely.”

“But why do you need them to be impressed, Comfrey?”

“How else am I going to get them to fawn and fuss over me?”

“…and you like being fawned and fussed over?”

“Of course! Who doesn’t? Other than you, I mean. Truly, Striker, you can’t expect the rest of us to live up to your standards of humility and quiet dignity. Be reasonable. How else will I maintain my over-inflated pride and arrogant attitude if I am not surrounded at all times by sycophants who tell me how important and amazing I am?”

Nik shook his head, smiling, and gave up on getting Justin to be serious. He’d seen the mindshapes of men whose self-worth was artificially inflated: narcissists unable to think of anyone but themselves. Justin, in Nik’s professional opinion, evaluated himself fairly at heart, notwithstanding all his exaggerations for comic effect. “So Miss Vasilver would not fawn and fuss over you?” Nik tried to imagine her doing so over anyone and almost laughed at the idea.

“Not even a little. Despite her mother’s noble efforts to show her the proper methods and induce her to follow suit, too. I ask you, what kind of Paradise is it where young single women do not trip over themselves to simper at a rich bachelor like myself? It’s almost enough to make one dare to engage one in conversation without fearing it will lead to engagement in marriage.”

After due consideration, Nik offered, “A more-perfect Paradise?”    

Justin chuckled. “All right, perhaps, but such a foreign and terrifyingly strange one. I might need your aid to let my poor brain adapt. If it ever came to pass. I may be able to handle just one woman unsettling my entire worldview. I’ll let you know.”

Nik gave a slight bow. “I am at your service, should you need me for anything, my lord.” It was an automatic quip, the kind of thing Nik had said many times before, but before he finished speaking this time he felt bitterness triggered by the sentiment now. After all, you paid enough for me, didn’t you?

“Always good to hear.” Justin’s eyes roved over Nik possessively, narrow mouth half-smiling.

Nikola forced an answering smile before he turned away and pretended to scan the woods about them. Justin had not asked about the account, nor had Nik mentioned it. Nor thanked him. Nik ought to thank him – propriety demanded at least thanks – but resentment and black misery stirred at the idea. The only way he could manage to behave somewhat normally was to put it out of his mind as much as possible. Fortunately, there was a natural lull in the conversation as they closed on a likely thicket. The two men stopped to nock arrows and draw bows by silent agreement before Justin signaled the dogs to flush out grouse.

A small unpredictable moving target was far more of a challenge to shoot with an arrow than a stationary target, even when one was not moving oneself, and hunting was seldom very rewarding. After a few hours and countless shots taken, they’d brought down three birds between the two of them and counted themselves fortunate to do so well. Justin had seen a deer, but passed on the shot: “I hate grazing the creatures when I can’t be sure of the kill. And then there’s dealing with the carcass – never mind.”

By the time they’d bagged the third bird, Nik’s fingers were numb despite ivywool gloves. Justin’s expensive angoraflax outerwear did a better job of keeping him warm, but even so his cheeks and nose were pink with the cold. “Let’s get inside for a bit to defrost,” Comfrey suggested, taking a path to one of the summer cottages isolated in the heart of the preserve. The cottages were primarily used during the warmer months, by members escaping the heat and noise of Gracehaven when business precluded going out to the country proper. During the winter they were shut up, but Justin produced a key and unlocked the side door to this one. The two men kenneled the dogs and shed frockcoats, hats, gloves, boots and scarves in the mud room. They left the bird carcasses hung over the utility sink, then proceeded to the front room. Nik didn’t see any servants about, but Justin must have told the staff to ready this cottage because a fire was lit in the front room’s hearth. The place was comfortably furnished, with a sofa and a loveseat bracketing the fireplace and a thick fleece rug over the hardwood floor between them. Other touches besides the fire bespoke recent attention: the air was clean with a faint scent of sandalwood instead of musty from being closed up, and fresh-cut flowers stood in the room’s vases. Nik went to the fire to chafe warmth into his fingers. Justin bolted the front door shut and drew the curtains, then joined Nik as the younger man pulled on his habitual thin dress gloves.

Justin caught Nik’s right hand while its glove was still held in his left. “You know you don’t need to wear those on my account, Nikola.” Warm tan fingers wrapped around Nik’s long pale ones, still cool from the hunt. Nik closed his eyes, lost in the familiar shapes of Justin’s mind, the weight and solidity of the viscount’s self-confidence and assurance, his educated and rational thought processes, the lively humor twining through all. It matched his body: handsome, powerful, well-developed. Justin brought Nik’s hand to his mouth, warming pale fingers with his breath before he kissed the knuckles, tongue flicking intimately along the line where digits met.

Nik could not stop his body from responding with a hunger only Justin could satisfy. At the same time, the level of the calculation involved struck him. It was not by chance that they’d hunted alone and unattended today, or that this cottage had been readied but no servant left to wait upon them. Justin had orchestrated this moment of privacy with considerable care. Not that this was the first time.

Not that this wasn’t every time. How much of his friendship is genuine, and how much is only a mask to cover for this? When does one of his invitations ever end in any way but this? ‘Never’ was uncomfortably close to the truth. Justin released his hand to draw Nik into his arms; Nik felt stiff and unsettled, pressing his face against Justin’s hair instead of yielding to the offered kiss. Undeterred, Justin nuzzled at the corner of his jawline, one hand untucking his shirt to slide beneath it and vest to stroke Nik’s bare back, the other cupping his rear and pulling him hard against Justin’s hips. Nik could feel the hard bulge of the dark-haired lord’s arousal. Part of Nik wanted to pull away, to refuse the intimacy, to make it stop. You don’t own me.      

Doesn’t he? Didn’t he pay enough? What right do you have to refuse the Viscount of Comfrey anything he wishes?

Even white teeth raked down the skin beneath Nik’s ear, nipped at the side of his neck. Nik moaned involuntarily, trembling with an aching need that fed his self-loathing but overpowered it just the same. “Justin,” he whispered, and surrendered his pride, yielding to the insistent demands of golden-brown hands and his own body.


Cut for sexCollapse )
Afterwards, with the mess tidied and disposed of, they lay intertwined on the couch. Justin curled half-atop Nikola, fingers toying with the fine blond hairs of his lover’s chest. The taller man wrapped an arm around Justin’s shoulders, nose and mouth pressed against dark hair. Justin felt gloriously alive and satisfied, deeply content with the company, the hunt, and the lovemaking. The one flaw in the afternoon was Nikola’s subdued mood. Justin knew he’d received the reward because Anthser had sent a thank-you note for his, but Nikola had said nothing at all.

Which was – what Justin had expected. They did not need to talk about it. He didn’t want Nikola’s thanks or gratitude or anything else that reeked of obligation. All Justin wanted was for his closest friend to have one less thing in his life to worry about.

And one less reason to rush to the marriage bed to settle his parents’ debts. No, Justin did not imagine it a wholly disinterested gesture on his part. And he did save my life. It is surely fair that I express my appreciation for that.

Even so, if he was honest, he knew he was a little disappointed. Not that Justin wanted Nikola to be grateful, but he wanted him to be glad. Pleased. Relieved. Something positive, not this flicker of melancholy hiding within indigo eyes. He needs time to grow accustomed to it, is all. And I no doubt handled it badly, because I always do. But all will be well in time. Nikola can’t be truly offended, or he’d have growled and snapped. Or thrown the bank ledger in my face and ordered me never to speak to him again before stomping off. Shivering in unpleasant recollection, Justin straightened and raised his head to claim a kiss. Nikola wrapped his other arm around Justin’s bare back and snuggled him close, curling a leg over his. “Cold?”

Justin shook his head and nuzzled Nikola’s cheek. “Not any more.”    

They remained comfortably ensconced together for some minutes more. Justin was trailing his fingers along Nikola’s abdomen and wondering if he could interest his friend in further bodyplay when the blond man stirred to glance at the mantle clock. “We should be getting to dinner.”

“Should we?” Justin kissed Nikola’s collarbone, tasting the salt of his skin. “I don’t have anywhere else to be until half-past eight.”

“I have an appointment—” Nikola swallowed as Justin licked a path down his sternum “—at six, Justin.”

“Mmm. With whom?” Justin curled his fingers to rake down Nikola’s side, making him arch his spine and press against Justin’s mouth as he explored the pale chest.

“With – ah! – a petitioner.” Nikola’s breathing quickened as Justin circled his tongue around a stiffening nipple.
Cut for explicit contentCollapse )

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 6 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:An Acquisition (58/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 058

Late on Thursday morning, Anthser interrupted Nik between reevaluations. The black greatcat stepped into Nik’s office as the young lord showed out the latest petitioner. Instead of bringing the next, Anthser had an adolescent greatcat courier beside him. “…message for you, m’lord.”

Nikola frowned at Anthser; the big feline had a glazed, stupefied expression. “Is something amiss, Anthser?” One man kept bringing back his unresponsive and sadly untreatable mother – the staff now turned him away before he got inside, but it still caused a scene. Nik hoped it wasn’t something like that again.

“I…uh…you tell me.” Anthser nudged the liveried courier forward.

The messenger pawed open a pouch and produced a packet and a courier’s receipt. “There’s a document inside for you to sign, if you would, m’lord. I’m to wait for it.”

Still frowning, Nik turned the packet over. It bore the seal of Michaelson’s Bank and Trust – not an institution Nik utilized. He broke the seal and opened the packet. Inside was a bank ledger in an embossed leather case with Fireholt’s seal on the front, a contractual document and its duplicate, awaiting signature and seal, and a sealed envelope marked “Nikola Striker, Lord of Fireholt”, in Justin’s casual, bold hand. With the weight of dread in his stomach, Nik sat in one of the office’s comfortable chairs. The contract was boilerplate, granting him possession of an account held in trust at the bank, his signature and seal meant to identify him for future transactions. It described the safeguards on the funds with a level of detail he couldn’t process; he got a vague sense that the trust was secured by several different institutions but accessed only through Michaelson. Nik opened the bank ledger. It had a detailed breakdown of the account in neat figures, which totaled an obscenely large sum. A sum large enough to pay the expenses of Nikola’s entire household for the next hundred years. It was more money than he’d seen in one place, ever. He knew that Justin was wealthy, but this – this – what kind of Paradise did they live in, where one man could have so much that he could give it away like this?

Over six years ago, due to a series of misunderstandings almost comic in retrospect, Justin had sent Nik a gift of cash – a humiliating gift that Nik had returned in fury at the presumption behind it, the idea that he had been bought. Justin had called it a ‘token’ then, and Nik had been shocked that anyone could refer to five thousand marks – more than Shelby’s salary for a year – as if it were a trifle. Looking at this ledger now, Nikola finally understood just how insignificant five thousand marks was to the Viscount of Comfrey.

Anthser had laid down at Nikola’s feet, great black head against his forepaws. The young courier-cat was sitting on her haunches, waiting politely. Nik drew an unsteady breath and closed the ledger. He moved to the desk to sign the receipt and then the account, setting his seal at the bottom before sealing the whole closed. He returned the document to the courier and let her leave before he opened Justin’s note.


My life is worth a great deal more to me than this, you know; I feel quite the miser for offering so little. I trust you will forgive me.

Michaelson’s is famed for their confidentiality. Only two people there know the origin of the funds for your account or Anthser’s; news will not spread from that quarter, nor from me. Whatever you would have known, or not known, I leave entirely to your discretion, my most excellent friend.

Thank you again for saving me. And for allowing me to repay you in some fashion for that priceless gift.

Your devoted servant,


Nik touched his fingers to the paper, an impossible mixture of emotions flooding him. Anthser’s name caught his eye, and he looked down to the greatcat sprawled on the floor.

Anthser had raised his head to look back at him. “So,” Anthser said, then stopped. He tilted his head to one side and tried again. “I think I just got a mountain of money from Lord Comfrey.”

Nik blinked at the greatcat. “…did you?”

“Unless it’s a joke. Or I’m dreaming. Either kinda seems more likely. When I think about it.” Anthser opened a harness pouch with one paw and pulled out a bank ledger with Anthser of Fireholt, Warcat embossed on it. “Is this real?”

Nikola took the ledger and opened it. It was identical to the one Nikola had just received, down to the same obscene total. Nik stared at it for a while, even more shocked than before. Justin – you – you – Justin. There were no words. Despite himself and all his inner turmoil, Nik realized he was smiling. You truly are making it about that rescue, aren’t you? He returned the ledger to Anthser and sat in the chair again. “It’s real.”

The greatcat pinned it to the floor before him. “Whoa. That is…whoa. I mean. Whoa. What do you do with that kind of money?”

“Whatever you want, I suppose.”

Anthser turned it upside down, as if the figure would make more sense that way. Perhaps it did. “Could I buy my own bowracing course?”

“I imagine you could, if you wished.”

“Huh. That…that’s a lot of marks.” Anthser looked up from the ledger at last. “Lord Comfrey sent a note with it. Said I should talk to you about, um, discretion. And money management.”

“Don’t spend it all in one place,” Nik advised, gently.

“Does this mean I have a big vault full of bills I could go roll around in?”

“I’m…not sure.”

“Because I want to, maybe? It’d be more real. Heh. I could hire Southing to race for me! She wouldn’t need to find another sponsor.” Anthser’s whiskers spread with pleasure.

Nikola marvelled at the greatcat’s uncomplicated delight at the funds: it did not occur to Anthser to wonder at the motives of the giver, to find obligation inherent in the gift. If he does not see it, curst if I’ll be the one to teach him. “Do I need to find myself another riding cat?” he asked, smiling.

Anthser started, and kneaded his claws against air, muzzle crinkled in thought. “Uh. I don’t know. I like being your warcat.” He sunk his chin against forelegs. “The riding part’s fun. And harassing you. I’d miss you if I didn’t have an excuse to hang about. And it’s not like anyone who doesn’t work with you gets a chance to see you for more than fifteen minutes. I could do without fending off petitioners and parents and stuff, though. Could you hire another greatcat to do all the crappy parts of my job and I’ll keep the good stuff?” His ears perked. “I mean, Lord Comfrey gave you a mountain of money just the same’s mine, right?”

“Exactly the same,” Nikola said. “And I could, if that’s what you’d like.”

Anthser opened his mouth in a feline grin. “That’d be great, Lord Nik.” The greatcat sat up and leaned forward to butt Nik’s chest with the top of his head and then slurp his face, making Nik laugh.

“Enough, enough, you great oaf.” Nik gave lie to his own words by wrapping his arms around the greatcat’s shoulders and burying his face against the thick furred neck. “On the matter of discretion…I should prefer not to be a nine-day wonder on account of Lord Comfrey’s absurd generosity. But I don’t want to ruin your joy of your new wealth, Anthser.” One of us ought to take joy in it.

“Eh, I don’t need to brag.” Anthser shrugged, then flicked an ear back. “I guess people’ll talk if I buy a bowracing course, though.”

“Don’t let that stop you. You can ask Mrs. Linden for advice on how to handle it with a minimum of gossip – but there will be gossip. It’s all right, Anthser. You’ve done nothing to be ashamed of. Quite the contrary.” Nik sat back to offer the greatcat an encouraging smile. Why is it that I can believe that when I say it to Anthser, yet not of myself?

The big feline scuffed the floor with one black paw. “Heh. Guess we did, didn’t we?”

Nikola ruffled his fur. “Though what I cannot do is hire someone to do these reevaluations for me. Unfortunately. Will you see the day out with me? I’ll speak with Mrs. Linden about hiring additional staff.” Spending Justin’s money. He was ashamed of himself for thinking about it, not just replacing Anthser but enlarging his entire support crew, enough people to manage the crowds, to work shifts, to keep the paperwork straight, to ease the burden on everyone. When he’d been sixteen and Justin had sent that humiliating gift, Nik had refused to touch the money, whatever the need, until he’d finally had opportunity to return it. Part of him wanted to do the same now, but it seemed such a petulant, selfish gesture. He’d agreed to take the money; what was the sense in refusing to make use of it? All that would accomplish was to hurt those around him, with no benefit to anything but his wounded pride.

Anthser was snorting in response to his question. “’Course I will.” He nuzzled the top of Nik’s head and padded to the door, to show the next petitioner in.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 9 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:You Cannot Reason With Them (57/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 057

Since Monday, Nikola had thrown himself into addressing the needs of his petitioners. He started appointments at seven in the morning and continued with them until midnight, and would have taken them later still if Shelby had not flatly refused to schedule them. He no longer attended the family dinners; he took meals alone and largely because his staff brought food and Anthser threatened to sit on him until he ate it. The whole was less out of a sense of mission than because there was nothing he wanted to do. Channeling the Savior’s power for every waking hour was not quite as numbing as spending them falling-down-drunk, but the former was more socially acceptable and at least helped some people. Also, no hangover.

He would have refused Justin’s invitation for Thursday, too, had his conscience not compelled him to accept. You are already spending the man’s money. You have no business rejecting him for anything. The thought sickened him. The entire interior of his head was a repugnant, unpleasant place, which perhaps explained why he spent as much time as possible absorbed in those of other people.

The crush of petitioners peaked on Monday at over four hundred during the course of the ‘official’ open hours from nine to noon. Tuesday and Wednesday saw fewer new people, although despite all the extra time as he’d devoted to appointments, the backlog of the treatable-but-not-yet-treated was larger than he cared to think about.    

Since Shelby wouldn’t let him take petitioners after midnight – all his staff had the ridiculous notion that Nik ought to get more sleep, despite all the years they’d known him – Nik would check on the Whittakers then. Sharone’s erratic behavior extended to her sleep schedule, and as a result the Whittakers kept odd hours. Every time Nik checked on them, a different greatcat was in their quarters: Anthser, Gunther, Jill. On Monday night Sharone was awake and raving in a low, steady monotone, making an elaborate abstract pattern in charcoal on the flagstones around the fireplace. Mr. Whittaker was watching her, and apologized to Nikola for all the trouble, as the Whittakers did whenever they saw him. “I don’t think she’s up to treatment but if you want to try…” Mr. Whittaker began.

Nikola waved it off. “I thought I’d just stop by and…be in her general vicinity without being scary for a bit.” He took a seat in an ancient battered armchair fetched out of the attic to furnish the shabby suite, and made desultory conversation with Mr. Whittaker. The man was a cobbler, or had been, until managing his daughter had become a full-time job for two people. His business was in the care of a brother; Nik got the impression that Mr. Whittaker had not worked regular hours for some time even before the nine-hundred mile pilgrimage to Newlant. After an hour or so, Nik was not sure he’d made any impression on Sharone, but at least her father was more at ease. Progress enough.

Tuesday night, Sharone was asleep, sprawled atop a curled-up dozing Gunther.

Wednesday night found Sharone, Jill and Mrs. Whittaker playing with blocks, dolls, and toy animals. The dolls (animated by Jill) and toy animals (by Mrs. Whittaker) were at war while the blocks (under Sharone’s direction) tried to negotiate a peace. Nikola watched them for three-quarters of an hour, waving Mrs. Whittaker to continue and not let him interrupt. Sharone directed the game, instructing her adult playmates in how their forces were to respond to overtures for peace and when to commit acts of war. It was the most normal thing he’d seen Sharone do. The child took little notice of him until Jill gave an ostentatious greatcat yawn and told Sharone, “’m tired. Howabout Lord Nik takes over the dolls for me? You too old to play with dolls, Lord Nik?”

“I think I have always been too old to play with dolls. I will have to pretend they are soldiers instead,” Nik said, mock-somber.

Sharone shook her head. “Nuh uh. Y’ play blocks, Lor’ Nik. I take dolls.”

When Jill scooted back, Nik lay down on the floor before her and leaned against the greatcat just as he had when he’d been a boy. The dolls were a vicious, backstabbing people under Sharone’s hands, much as they’d been with Jill. Sharone had a curiously sophisticated sense of the toys as individuals separate from herself: she would pause during play to apologize for the things the dolls did. “They don’t know any better,” she told Nik. “Ess why y’ have to teach them.”

“But you do know better?”

Sharone shrugged and turned back to the toys. Without her inner demon in evidence, the little girl was adorable: cloud of tight black curls held back by a headband that framed her dark brown face, round eyes animated and intent on the game. The blocks’ diplomatic efforts made little impact on the dolls’ actions. After a savage assault by the dolls on a toy animal found too near disputed territory, Sharone sat back. “Y’ can na reason wi’ them.”

“What do you think we should do, then?”

The little girl was quiet for a long moment. “Don’ know.”

“Perhaps we should banish them,” Nik said, gently.

Her eyes flicked to his, away. “Banch?”

“Put them where they can’t hurt anyone.” He sat up on the flagstone floor to open his after-supper jacket and show its inner breast pocket. “If you’ll give the dolls to me, I’ll put them in here and take them away. Then the animals can be safe from them.”

Sharone hovered her small hand over the toys, then drew back. “Can’t.”

“Yes, you can.” Nik offered his gloved hand, palm up. “I need your help, Miss Whittaker. I can’t do this without you.”

Her fingers closed on one of the dolls in a tight fist. Shaking, she brought it over Nik’s palm, and dropped it into his hand. Slowly, he drew his hand away and tucked the doll with care into his pocket. He extended his hand again, and waited. Sharone stared at his pocket, then gave a little shriek and scooped all the dolls into her arms. She paused, looking at Nik’s hand, then shook her head vehemently and ran behind her mother, dolls clutched to her chest. “can’tcan’tcan’tcan’t” she repeated over and over, huddled in a low crouch.

Mrs. Whittaker put her arms around the girl. “It’s all right,” she said, powerless. She tried to take one of the dolls away, but Sharone shrieked as if in agony.

Nik shook his head at the mother’s look. “I understand you can’t right now,” he said to the child. “Perhaps later?”

At first he wasn’t sure she’d heard or understood – he wasn’t sure he understood the girl’s metaphor properly – but then Sharone turned to look at him, falling silent. Little dolls peeped over her slender arms, chin tucked to her chest and shoulders hunched. She gave him a solemn nod.

Nik flashed her a quick smile. “Well enough, then. Sleep now, perhaps.” He rose and took his leave, not wanting to outstay his welcome further. As he walked back to his room, he took the one little wooden toy Sharone had given him from his pocket and turned it over between his fingers, thoughtfully.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 8 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Exact Thoughts (56/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 056

“What an unnatural creature,” Millson said as they stepped into the carriage.

“Mm.” Justin was irritated by the man’s tone, but he didn’t trouble himself to contest the point. She was an odd woman; as bright and perceptive on business matters as Nikola had said, but impenetrable as a person. He touched the back of his hand, where her fingers had caressed, wondering at the contrast between that intimate gesture and her expressionless features. Are you indeed too honest, Miss Vasilver? In business matters, perhaps. But it seems one of those personal cues is intended to deceive. Which one, I wonder? If she’d been a man, he would have thought her expression meant to fool any watching eyes while the touch communicated with him alone. But a woman flirting with a man – in private, at that – would have no need to worry about observers. Unless she wanted to signal an interest in a clandestine affair rather than a marital alliance. A curious notion; married women had flirted with him thus, on occasion, but an eligible single gentlewoman? All of them prized marriage above all else. Would this one be different? Justin smiled to himself. Why wouldn’t she? She’s unusual in every other way.

And she was a remarkably handsome woman, for all her peculiar ways. Justin found himself curious what she would find out about the companies he’d left her to evaluate, and whether his initial impression of her abilities would be borne out. If she was as clever as she appeared – hmm. Justin had never seriously considered or desired marriage. The miserable sham of his parents’ marriage was not something he ever wanted to inflict on children of his own. Beyond that, the well-born and eligible girls he’d met over the years were, at best, amusing company for an evening. They aroused little sexual interest in him and while fawning attitudes were entertaining at a ball, such were unlikely to survive a wedding and would grate after continual exposure in any case. They had not all fawned or simpered, but none had engaged his interest in any but the most superficial way.

Miss Vasilver was entirely different. The idea of marrying her was not immediately repugnant. Intriguing, even. Justin roused himself from his reverie. Let’s not get ahead of myself. First impressions can often mislead. For that matter, perhaps she prefers her affairs without attachment. He briefly imagined Miss Vasilver as irritated by the presumption of one-time-lovers as he was. It didn’t seem likely, but it was an entertaining notion.

On the opposite side of the carriage, Millson was still sulking. “Are you sure it’s wise to have business dealings with such a strange individual?”

Justin favored him with a dry look. “No doubt those are her thoughts exactly, but the poor unfortunate girl is committed now.”   

Flustered, Millson stammered out an unnecessary apology and explanation – “I meant she was strange, my lord!” Justin ignored him to gaze out the window, wondering what Miss Vasilver’s exact thoughts truly were.


If she closed her eyes, Wisteria could almost feel the weight of his hand on her shoulder, the smoothness of his skin beneath her fingertips, his body near enough to warm her with his heat.

Wisteria leaned back in her desk chair, eyes closed.

If she was honest with herself – and she was not in the habit of self-deception – she had to admit she’d liked it. A great deal. Not just as a companionable gesture – much the way Byron might look over an account with her – but as the touch of an extraordinarily handsome and definitely not-related man.

Who was unlikely to regard her in any way as an eligible match.    

On the other hand, it’s not his estate or his title that I’m craving. She thought again of Lord Comfrey’s golden-brown face framed by that perfect fall of long black hair, and wondered what it would be like to kiss those narrow lips. If only I were a man, no one would care in the slightest if I gave my virginity away.

Of course, if I were a man, other men wouldn’t want me anyway.    

Not that they want me now, as far as I can tell. Wisteria opened her eyes and pulled the Ellesex binder closer. She’d been told all her life that young men were akin to rutting beasts, interested in women for only one thing and always eager to get it. Young women, on the other hand, were supposed to be chaste, pure beings, untouched by desire. As far as she could tell from personal experience, the exact opposite was the case. Not that I’d notice if it weren’t. Also, if I have to obsess over men, couldn’t I do it one man at a time? She conjured up mental images of Lord Comfrey and Lord Nikola, trying to decide which was more attractive, Lord Nikola’s tall fair-haired lean grace or Lord Comfrey’s powerful dark frame. It was like deciding which was more intoxicating, red wine or white. I would gladly become drunk on either. Though I suppose at least Lord Comfrey hasn’t said to my face he’s not interested in marrying me.


If it came to a choice between the ineligible, Wisteria preferred Lord Nikola, who was easier to make sense of. More straightforward. She did not know what to make of Lord Comfrey. “You take me too seriously”. Wisteria wasn’t sure she knew how to take people lightly. Maybe she ought to practice sometime. Dismissing the whole chain of thought as unproductive, Wisteria opened her notebook on one hand and the Ellesex binder on the other, and set to work.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 5 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:Inappropriately Flirting (55/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 055

They stayed another quarter-hour, going over a few details from the binders and answering questions about their organizational system and notation. After a few minutes, Justin and Miss Vasilver sent Millson to the other room to sort out with her secretary the details of the additional documents she would require. When they were alone, Justin asked, “Do you truly suspect Colbury of fraud?”

“Fraud? No, not on the basis of that. If his accountants intended to deceive, they’d not have categorized the funds as a loan at all. But – mismanagement, perhaps.” Miss Vasilver showed no self-consciousness at being alone with a man. She was intent upon the older financials from the Colbury binder. “It does look like they used funds from the line to pad dividends for some time. Which is not criminal, but far from good practice either.”

“Show me?” Justin circled around her desk to stand beside her as Miss Vasilver flipped between old quarterly statements to show the changes over time, before the line had been maxed twenty months ago.

“See? There’s a rough correlation between these draws and the quarterly dividend payments – those are not supported by the net income, as shown here. Dividends didn’t drop much after the line was fully funded, however, and net income is up. Assuming it’s not padded from something else. No, my main concern is that the business doesn’t appear to generate enough profit to service that debt if the bank charged a market rate on it. Never mind repayment, were it called upon. Are you a guarantor on the debt, my lord?”

“No, Colbury and his father are.” Justin leaned over her shoulder to study the figures. “As I recall, the additional profits recently are from manufacturing-process improvements – the lowered levels a couple of years ago were attributed to the cost of implementing those.” He scanned the columns of labels and numbers. “Ah, here – see, cost of goods were up and total sales likewise rose, but labor costs stayed the same.” Justin rested one hand on Miss Vasilver’s shoulder as he pointed to the figures in question with the other, flipping between years to illustrate the difference.

“Oh, I see – was it an equipment purchase or training?” Miss Vasilver asked, shifting his hand from the binder so she could turn back further to search for the initial expenditure.

“Equipment, I believe, and a team of engineers to manage the installation. There.” Justin stopped her on a balance sheet from two years ago and flipped forward to the next quarter. “The total value of equipment rose in this quarter.”

“That makes sense,” Miss Vasilver said, turning forward again.

“I do sit on the board. I wouldn’t have you think I’ve paid no attention at all,” Justin told her with a wry smile.

The young woman half-turned and looked up at him with calm brown eyes as she placed one hand over his on the desk beside her. “Oh, my lord, I did not mean to imply you’d been remiss in your oversight.”    

“But I have been, haven’t I?” Justin was more amused than anything else by the situation. If she’d lectured him on the immorality of letting his partner take advantage of his connections at the bank, he’d have thought her insufferably naive. But the way her concerns were founded on business reasons was – perhaps a bit paranoid of her, but she had a point. And it was not the only oddity, now that he considered it. “If it’s a capital improvement, Colbury shouldn’t have used funds from an operating line to pay for it.”

“No – but you’re a director for them, not an accountant. And acquiring a loan with no interest charge is not the sort of thing most people would regard as a potential problem.”

“True. I should not expect myself to have the same perceptiveness you do,” Justin said, teasing.

Instead of flustering her, Miss Vasilver answered the remark with, “Isn’t that why you wanted to retain my services?”

Justin grinned, squeezing her shoulder. “True enough.” He became aware of how close he was, of her bare hand over his atop the desk, her face tilted to him as she sat at the desk and he loomed over her. I ought to step back, he thought, and didn’t. Miss Vasilver showed no sign of discomfort with his nearness; he wasn’t sure she’d noticed, which was stranger yet. And a little maddening: I am inappropriately flirting with you here, you could at least do the courtesy of objecting if you are not going to respond in kind.

“I don’t mean to be…arrogant, my lord. Or patronizing,” she was saying, expression solemn. “I am…much better with numbers than people.”

Justin shook his head at her earnestness. “My dear Miss Vasilver, you take me far too seriously.”

She tilted her head to one side. “How should I take you, Lord Comfrey?”

In bed is the most comfortable, Justin thought. He had the sudden urge to dip his head down and kiss her, to see if she’d notice that. I really ought to step back. Her fingers caressed the back of his hand for a moment – oh, she did notice – and then moved away to the desk. But no awareness was reflected in her expression: neither a coy downward glance nor a bold look of invitation. Also, I ought to say something. “In small doses,” he answered her. “I daresay one needs to build up a tolerance to me first.”

“Truly, my lord? You seem quite tolerable to me,” she said, deadpan. Her fingers shifted to stroke his hand again, pale brown eyes unreadable.

“Then you must be a tolerant woman indeed, Miss Vasilver.” Justin heard the scrape of chairs from the adjoining room. He drew away at last to sweep a self-mocking bow to her, then took her hand to kiss it as he rose. Millson re-entered the room and cleared his throat. “But I will not try your patience with prolonged exposure; I imagine you have other business to attend to, and we have your requirements in hand.”

Miss Vasilver stood, her head still cocked to the side as she regarded him. “As you say. Thank you for your time, my lord. I’ll get back to you next week about Ellesex; I’m afraid Colbury will have to wait until some time after the Ascension season before I may complete it.”

Justin waved one hand in dismissal. “No hurry.” He pressed her fingers gently between his before releasing her to take his leave.

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 4 comments or Leave a comment Share

Subject:All Business (54/141)
Time:12:30 pm
RA Header 054

The week before Ascension was crowded with a hundred little things that all had to be finished now, before the Season made all business impossible. Justin carved out time for a Thursday invitation to Nik anyway – hunting at the Markavian’s preserve and dinner afterwards – because it had already been too long since he’d seen his friend. Wednesday morning, one of his negotiations succeeded with unexpected speed, and Justin found an hour to call on Miss Vasilver. He’d already selected a handful of holdings that were good candidates for sale and had files prepared on two. Justin brought his secretary, Henry Millson, along as a resource for additional information.

At the front door of Vasilver’s house, Justin identified himself and the nature of his call: “Business with Miss Vasilver,” in the hopes that this, combined with his professional rather than social attire, would let him avoid a social reception. Vain hope: he was received in a parlor at least as stiff as his own formal one, where Mrs. Vasilver entertained him for a handful of minutes while her daughter did whatever it was women did before they would see callers. The older woman looked like a squishy version of her daughter, with none of the girl’s spine or cool reserve in her manner. She was obviously overawed by having Lord Comfrey in her parlor, falling over herself to make him welcome. He bore it with tolerant amusement. There were far worse fates than being fawned over.

When Miss Vasilver joined them, she wore not a morning-call dress but a professional suit: a slim straight skirt of sea blue pinstriped with pale blue and a tailored jacket that looked masculine on her tall, boyish frame. A lace scarf bloused between the jacket’s lapels, secured by a cameo pin. Matching lace cuffs draped over her wrists from beneath the jacket’s sleeves, unlike the plain cuffs under Justin’s business jacket. It was appropriate attire for an appointment with a colleague, suited to an office and not a parlor. Justin smiled in appreciation of that gesture as he rose to offer his hand – palm up correctly this time. He found himself amused that it took conscious thought to do so, as if the subconscious part of him had decided she was a man, or at least ought to be treated like a man. She certainly cut an appealing figure in that suit. “Miss Vasilver. Thank you for seeing me; allow me to present my secretary, Mr. Millson. We brought a couple of files for your perusal.” Millson, a dignified man of medium build some years older and inches shorter than Justin, inclined his balding head in acknowledgement, one hand motioning to the case.

“My pleasure, gentlemen.” Miss Vasilver’s manner was as reserved as before; she flicked her gaze over him impersonally before glancing away. “If you would care to discuss this business in my study?” She made a slight gesture to the door.

Justin inclined his head and took his leave of Mrs. Vasilver. The latter looked offput. “But, Wisteria, surely the parlor is more comfortable—”

“—for a social call, Mother, which this is not. We’ll need the space. Gentlemen.” Miss Vasilver led the way to an office suite on the first floor, beside the library.

A slim, puppyish clerk was working at a desk in the suite’s front room. He raised his head from his ledger to give Miss Vasilver a worshipful look. She returned a cordial nod and a “Carry on, Mr. Thackeray” that held no more cognizance of the clerk as a man than her reaction to Justin. She unlocked the office door and stood aside for her visitors to enter.

Miss Vasilver’s study was a long room, with a graceful sofa beneath the window along one side and a fireplace bracketed by bookcases of carved dark wood opposite. The walls were painted a warm light yellow with a runner of flowery trim along the floor. At the far end was a gigantic U-shaped mahogany desk, with shelves and little drawers atop the two sides facing the wall. Beneath were both large filing drawers and smaller drawers for other items. The free-standing side was more akin to a table, with three chairs ranged about it, and a fourth at the center of the U. Justin, who had a beautiful antique rolltop desk in his own office, found himself envious of this capacious monstrosity. The surface held no loose papers, but a few stacks of closed files and binders. The whole of the room was brightly lit by gaslight fixtures and heated by a central furnace: the flagstones of the fireplace were scrubbed clean, with no indication that the grate within had seen a fire in years.

The gentlewoman circled behind the desk with a whisper of cloth from the kick pleat of her ankle-length skirt and took her seat with a wave to the other chairs. Justin sat as well; beside him, Millson followed suit, but the older man bristled at taking direction from a woman in a professional setting. Miss Vasilver folded her hands in her lap. “How may I be of service, my lord?”

Justin ignored his secretary’s discomfort, gesturing to the man to produce the case. “These are a couple of privately-held businesses I hold an interest in: Colbury Textile and Ellesex Manufactory. Does Vasilver Trading have any interests in them?”

Miss Vasilver’s eyes unfocused for a moment. “No, we do not. Please, proceed.”

Millson removed two thick brown binders from the case and set them on the desk as Justin said, “I’m considering selling either or both of my stakes. Nothing against them, but I need the capital for another venture. I’ve a buy-out offer from Mr. Colbury for my share of Colbury Textile, but I’m skeptical of his valuation. The other partners in Ellesex do not wish to increase their stakes, so that one will need to be shopped around if I sell.”

The young woman nodded her dark-coiffed head, pulling the Ellesex file to her. She opened the binder, skimmed the table of contents, and flipped to the financials. “What part do you have in control of these businesses, my lord?”

“I am one of the directors for both so I am familiar with their performance and overall strategy, but I’ve no hand in the day-to-day management.”

Another nod as she took the binder on Colbury and glanced through it. “These were prepared internally by each business?”

Justin glanced to Millson. The secretary cleared his throat and said primly, “The quarterly financials are from internal accounting. We audit my lord’s larger holdings on a rotating basis; the last audit on Colbury was two years ago and Ellesex, fifteen months. The overviews in each were prepared by Comfrey’s accounting department.”

“Mm. No irregularities on either uncovered during audits?”

“Nothing extraordinary, ma’am. Exact findings from them are detailed in the appendices.”

She flicked to the back of the Colbury binder, scanned through a few pages, then flipped back to the financials, going back and forth a few times. “Colbury Textile has a two million mark loan on which they do not make payments?”

“An operating line, ma’am,” Millson said, as if he didn’t expect her to know what one was.

“It’s shown as fully drawn on the last quarterly balance statement.” She flipped through several pages. “And on the…five statements before that. Why aren’t they making payments on it?” She turned to the tab on contract details and scanned down. “There’s no interest charge on the loan?”

This had seemed vaguely familiar to Justin, and now he remembered why. “Ah, yes. The loan is from Indigo & Weston Bank. Mr. Colbury’s father-in-law is president and authorized a no-interest line for the business.”

Miss Vasilver turned from the binder to look at Justin. “I do not need to tell you, my lord, how irregular that is?”

Justin allowed himself a smile. “Nice deal if you can get it.”

“I would not describe a loan that has been fully funded for eighteen months as an ‘operating line’. With no interest, it sounds like a gift. I am troubled by the label of ‘loan’, however. It matures in the spring of next year.”

“Indigo & Weston renew it every year. It’s routine,” Millson said, patronizing.

“And if they did not?”

“Mrs. Colbury would go to daddy and bat her eyelashes at him until they did, I imagine,” Justin said.

“And when her father is no longer president of the bank? Or when Indigo & Weston folds and its assets are taken by its creditors?”

Justin raised his eyebrows. “Do you have reason to think the bank troubled, Miss Vasilver?”

“Its president is making large loans without interest charge to an institution with no apparent plan for repayment? Whatever short term advantage this loan may have for Colbury Textile, it is clearly not to the benefit of the bank.”

“So now would be a good time to sell, don’t you think?” Justin quirked one corner of his mouth up in a half-smile.

“Now is a good time never to have been involved. I’d take whatever Mr. Colbury offered and be glad to get out without having to explain or illuminate this situation to an uninvolved party.” Miss Vasilver betrayed no trace of humor. “Would you like me to investigate it still, my lord? I will need additional documentation if so – I’d want to see all their original contracts to see what other surprises might lurk in the terms and conditions.”

Next to Justin, Millson winced at the boxes of paperwork implied by that request. The viscount was about to say ‘no’ when he reconsidered, curious what else Miss Vasilver might uncover. If Colbury did have other skeletons to hide, threatening to shed a light on them might induce him to sweeten his offer. “I believe I would, Miss Vasilver, if you’ve the time for it. Do you have an estimate for your fee?”

“Around eleven hundred marks, my lord. Sixty marks an hour for my time and fifteen for my assistants,” Miss Vasilver said. “Colbury will be at least thirty hours, two-thirds delegated. Nothing jumps out at me on Ellesex, though that may change with a closer review; I could produce an estimate of value based on this documentation in three.”

Justin smiled again, admiring the speed of her calculation and her decision: a fair valuation of her highly-skilled time – if anything, it was on the low side of what he’d expect – given without hesitation or apology. Ignoring Millson’s ruffled attitude, he said, “Agreed.”

Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy it now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print
comments: 5 comments or Leave a comment Share

[icon] Rowyn
View:Recent Entries.
You're looking at the latest 50 entries.
Missed some entries? Then simply jump back 50 entries