Sample (from Chapter 12)
bedroom where Çifta and Gemma had been catching up after dinner. She was indulging in her
favorite sport of people-watching. When she’d married the elderly Hashe and moved to his
estate, she’d claimed a bedroom for herself that was perfectly positioned to look down into the
busy courtyard. Çifta was sitting cross-legged on Gemma’s bed, leaning against a pillow set
against the headboard, laughing as Gemma—her ample bosom resting on the windowsill—gave
a running commentary about the goings-on in the courtyard.
“There’s my dashing husband, stooped of back and with mismatched socks, bless him.
He’s got a bottle of wine tucked under his jacket, which he and the bookkeeper will polish off as
they review the week’s expenses. He doesn’t know that I know that the accountant’s office is
where the majority of our spirits go to die, but it’s better he doesn’t realize that he married a
“Just an adulterous one,” Çifta injected with a laugh.
“Yes, well, lucky for me, old Mr. Hashe would rather I’m kept occupied than taking note of
his less admirable habits. You see that box in the rear pocket of his trousers?”
“No, I can’t see anything from where I’m sitting.”
“Then let me describe it. It’s small and square and hand-carved and it contains a very
expensive substance known to induce an altered state. He’s addicted to faerie wort. I keep telling
him it’ll kill him one day, but what do I know? I’m just the silly young wife.” Gemma turned
back to the window. “And there goes Endyr. Not the brightest guard in Father’s ranks but
definitely one of the bulgiest.”
“Gemma!” Çifta blushed and covered her eyes. “Have you no shame?”
“No. You should know that by now. Shame is the enemy of fun. Haven’t you figured that
out yet? Did I ever tell you that I went through a phase when I was about eight or nine when I
made an academic study of the bulges in men’s pants—the ones in the front, not the
back—trying to figure out what they were hiding and why they varied so much in size?”
Çifta had forgotten how much Gemma could make her blush. She still found it amazing
that they were even related. “You did not! And you can’t tell they vary in size when they’re all
“Want to bet? I whittled it down to an art. Bulges can be misleading. They look big when
they’re actually small because the tip of the business sits where it can make a little tent, which
looks like it’s packed full but really it’s mostly air.”
“How did you know it was mostly air unless you were—”
“Spying?” Gemma waggled her eyebrows. “Because I was spying. The reason Father
moved some of his men from the east wing of the manor to the west was because I’d winkled out
all the best spyholes.” She looked suddenly serious. “I wonder what kind of goodies Prince
Faraçek is hiding inside his bottoms. You’ll have to write and tell me.”
Çifta choked and reached for the glass of water on Gemma’s bedside table. “I’ll do no such
thing. You’re terrible.”
Gemma put on a look of false offense. “These things are important, little sister. This is the
man you’re going to spend the rest of your life with. He’d better have the goods to make you
happy. If he doesn’t, then he’d better be man enough to admit it, like my dear Hashe, and let you
sort out an alternate source of happiness.”
“A young prince would never be as generous as your old man,” said Çifta. “And even if he
was, I don’t have it in me for improper dalliances.”
“You say that now,” Gemma warned, “because you’re a virgin and you don’t know what
you’d be missing. Stop thinking about what’s right or what’s wrong in love and passion. Life is
short. Sometimes you just have to have the guts to go after what you want.” Gemma arched a
blond brow and pursed her cupid’s-bow mouth. “I did, and things turned out alright for me.” She
turned back to the courtyard and took a breath. “Oh, hello. Who is this fellow? Well, well.
Speaking of bulges—”
Çifta thought she knew who Gemma was talking about. “Does he have red hair?”
“Hard to tell in the torchlight but it looks that way. Goodness, what a stallion.”
“I’d tell you his stallion’s name is Grex, but I have a feeling you aren’t referring to his
“No, I wasn’t. Is he one of Father’s new men?”
“No, he’s a loner we came across in Syrgana. We got him out of some trouble. He’ll travel
with us as far as Solana.”
“He’s gorgeous. Is he approachable?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean… does it seem like he’d be open to an invitation to become better acquainted with
a plump naked lady in a hayloft?”
“Isn’t one lover enough?” Çifta felt a hint of annoyance. Sometimes Gemma didn’t know
when to quit.
Gemma shrugged, her gaze still outside. “Percy is lovely, but a pass for one is a pass for a
dozen, as far as I’m concerned. Estate life is boring. I miss Kirkik. I have to get thrills where I
can. I wonder why he’s not wearing a shirt.”
In a moment, Çifta was off the bed and crowding her sister at the window. Gemma was
right. Laec stood in a pair of breeches and nothing else, not even boots. His broad shoulders and
pale skin were dusted in torchlight as he wrung out wet fabric. His saddle and bags and other
gear sat on a low table near a trough, items set out in rows, like he was taking inventory. The
muscles of his back flexed as Laec shook out and then hung the tunic over a rope strung between
two posts where a pair of socks had already been strung up.
A warm feeling pooled in Çifta’s belly. “He got muddy earlier. He was also robbed. I guess
he doesn’t have a spare outfit.”
“Lucky for us.”
Çifta barely heard her sister’s comment. Why did she find even the sight of Laec’s naked
feet arousing? She should look away, she should retreat, leave Laec to do his laundry and sort his
tack without being spied on, but she felt rooted to the spot. He was so… beautiful. He had all the
features of a man at the height of maturity, plus something more, something Çifta could only
credit to his faeness: The slightly too-long eyeteeth, the violent shade of his hair, the naked look
of appreciation he’d given her in the streets of Cardagenya. Even now, remembering that look
made her stomach float. How could he have such an effect on her? They’d only just met. Did he
also feel the magnetism between them, or was she just being a silly, naive girl? He might even
have a woman back in Stavarjak.
If Laec knew he was being watched, he didn’t show it. A couple of guardsmen came over
and began to talk with him. He stood with his weight on one hip, so casual, so confident. The
way he moved his hands when he talked was mesmerizing. Çifta hadn’t spent much time around
fae men, all of her father’s men were human, but meeting Laec made her wonder if all fae were
so self-assured. He was accustomed to having magic. Was that what made him dauntless and
unabashed? Even after he’d been beaten and robbed, he’d carried on with his day as though not
much had happened. He’d admitted to feeling humbled, but he hadn’t acted embarrassed. Maybe,
back in Stavarjak, he was used to such clashes.
“—tongue back in your mouth.” Gemma bumped Çifta’s shoulder.
Çifta yanked her gaze away. She felt another flare of annoyance, but it wasn’t at her sister,
it was at herself. What was she doing? Drooling over a stranger when she was set to meet her
own betrothed in the next day or two? And a prince, besides. A prince who was leagues more fae
in appearance than Laec. She hoped she’d feel half this attracted to Faraçek. She went back to
the bed but didn’t sit down, instead she began to pace, until she felt Gemma’s eyes on her, then
she stopped and forced herself to sit. “What?”
Gemma narrowed her gaze. “You like him.”
“I only just met him.”
“Time isn’t always a factor in attraction. I’m your sister. Your secret is safe with me, just
like I know mine is with you.”
“I don’t have a secret, and I don’t know anything about him.”
“Is he nice?”
“He’s… direct but aloof.”
“Hmm. Is he single?”
“I don’t know,” Çifta cried, exasperated. “It doesn’t matter. After tomorrow, I’ll never see
him again. I’m betrothed.”
“You can dissolve it.”
That brought Çifta up short. “What?”
“Father built an escape clause into the agreement.” Gemma’s look turned sly. “He didn’t
tell you? I shouldn’t be surprised.”
Çifta was astounded. “No. How do you know that?”
“It was my idea. I made him promise that whoever he betrothed you to, he would negotiate
an eight-week window so you could get to know your fiancé. If you write to him that you’re
unhappy with the arrangement for any reason, he is within his legal right to dissolve it. If the
deadline passes and you are happy, then the marriage will be ironclad and the bride price will be
delivered. The terms are why it took so long for him to find a match for you. Not a lot of families
would agree to such a clause. A canceled betrothal means rumors, and no one important wants to
deal with those.”
Çifta could hardly find words. “But I… You didn’t… None of you had such a clause.”
Gemma came to sit by her younger sister, tucking her skirts up under herself. She took
Çifta’s hand. “Things turned out okay for me because my husband doesn’t want to be bothered
trying to keep me satisfied, but when I first got here, I was miserable. Miserable and angry.”
“I remember.” Çifta had the letters to prove it.
“I was angry with Father for hitching me to a man who already had one foot in the grave. I
understood my duty, so I didn’t complain, but deep down, I felt betrayed. I thought he loved me
more than that.”
The urge to defend Kazery rose in Çifta’s breast. “It’s complicated with Father. He’s risked
so much to get where he is. We’ve all benefited from that. It’s only fair that we shoulder some
Gemma’s marriage, like Fetre’s and Una’s, had increased the family’s revenues by orders
of magnitude. Çifta’s would as well.
“Yes. I know. Duty over all.” Gemma’s mouth flattened. “I was still upset. I’m still not
happy that he made the match for me that he did, but it helps that I have some freedom. I didn’t
want the same thing to happen to you. It’s a testament to how much he loves you that he agreed.”
Çifta squeezed her sister’s hand. “Thank you. I’ve never received a better gift.”
“You’re welcome. I hope that Faraçek turns out to be everything you want, but if he’s not,
promise me you won’t settle just to make our father happy. We’re rich and powerful enough. We
don’t need Rahamlar in our pocket. Promise me that you’ll take into consideration the rest of
Çifta hesitated. These were just the kind of words Kazery despised. Still, it warmed Çifta’s
heart that Gemma would have her happiness foremost in mind.
Gemma pushed her. “Don’t just promise for yourself. Promise for me and Una and Fetre.
We would have loved to have had a choice.”
“I get that, and I love you for it, but I also promised myself that I’d go into this marriage
with a positive and hopeful outlook. I can’t greet my future husband thinking that I might need a
way out. We weren’t raised to give up.”
“I’m not telling you to give up. I’m just telling you to be careful. That’s all.”
Çifta kissed Gemma’s cheek. “I promise.”
Frequently Asked Questions
What are you working on right now?
Aquamarine, Pretty Little Mermaids, book 1.
Will you write more for Akiko & Petra?
Yes, I plan to. The stories for these characters are both in the early plotting stage, but they are never far from my mind. I'm sorry I can't commit to an exact timeline just yet.
Why can't I buy "specific title in a specific format" here?
I built my career as an author by putting my books exclusively into the Kindle Unlimited program. That program has become less and less worth it over the years, so I plan to take my full catalog wide and sell it here, in my store, but it will be a slowish transition.
Will you read my manuscript?
I only wish I could read every manuscript I'm asked to read. On top of having a TBR a mile high, I have a full schedule producing content and running this store. I don't have enough hours in my day where I'm not staring at a screen. I'm so sorry, but please don't sent me your manuscript. I do congratulate you on finishing it, though!
What is your policy on AI?
There's three parts to address on this topic: digital narration, digital art and digital writing.
Digital narration: while I believe that no one can narrate a story better than a human (I adore my narrators; Marni Penning, Manon Kahle, Gabra Zackman, and Mikael Naramore) there are challenges to using human narration. Good quality narration starts at around $300 per finished hour. For a full length novel of 10 hours, you can do the math. Also, human narration takes a long time. Sometimes VERY long. Just ask the listeners who have been waiting for A Memory of Nightshade for over a year now. So, while human narration is always my first choice, it is dependant both on time and on funding. Since I'm spending more than $30k in 2023 into French translations, I don't have the budgets I would normally have for audio. Digital narration is a good solution to offer readers until I'm able to hire my favorite humans.
I have readers who are visually impaired who use Alexa to read books aloud to them because they can't afford to buy all the human narrated audiobooks they would like to consume. I feel that providing a digitally narrated file is a step above Alexa, and a service they appreciate.
Regarding digital art: all of my covers and banners are made by human artists, and they always will be. Many professional artists are now utilizing digital art to help them create their masterpieces. If they do, then that is their choice.
I have and do use digital art to produce character images which helps both my human artists and my readers understand my vision. For example I developed many images to illustrate the cast from The Scented Court. To have hired a human to produce these images would have taken months and cost thousands. I wouldn't have been able to afford that, but with Artbreeder, I was able to produce them in a few hours. So while human artists will always be my go to, I will use digital art when it makes sense from a budget and time perspective.
I have paid human artists somewhere in the region of $100k over the course of my career as an author, maybe even more, I haven't calculated the exact number. I don't plan to withdraw that support, ever. If you weren't aware, AI artwork cannot by copyrighted, this is an important factor that keeps the power in the hands of human artists.
Digital writing: I'll never use AI to write my stories. I might use it to help me work through a complex plot problem, or to perfect a blurb, but it will never write chapters for me. Full stop.
Final thoughts: I am not fully comfortable with any kind of AI because no one knows where it's going to go, but I don't buy into the hysteria that its going to put artists out of business any more than escalators made staircases obsolete. I think it far more likely that artists will use AI as a tool to help them (they are already doing this), just as writers are already using AI to help them fix plot holes, and the visually impaired are using AI to be read to.
As I type this, Amazon is being flooded with AI written books. Are they hurting the sales of human authors? No, not the good ones who focus on producing the best quality story that they can. AI books get bad reviews and subsequently sink to the bottom of their categories where they languish like a pile of rotting leaves. AI will improve at storytelling over time, yes, but I'm not a catastrophizer and I don't believe in living in fear or hysteria about what might happen. I have to live in the moment, keep creating, and fearlessly live day by day.
AI can't be stopped by campaigning against it, although I sympathize with those who are trying. We will just have to wait and see how the landscape forms itself over time.
For the record, I do wish engineers would focus on making robots that can take over mundane jobs so that humans can be free'd up to create. I believe to be human is to be creative, and inventions should support that, not usurp it.