In many ways, it all started when we moved.
Stick with me – this story really is about digital publishing.
After 21 years in the same small town, the man and I picked up and moved to a totally different state. We went from a bigger house to a smaller one and moved everything ourselves, which meant trimming away a lot of things we’d accumulated over those years. And, even though I felt like I gutted my library, easily one-third of our U-Haul Truck held boxes and boxes of books.
I thought the man might kill me over it.
To this day I think a great ad would be the mean-looking husband with a dolly and a moving van full of books, compared to the happy husband standing next to his wife holding an eReader.
I wasn’t sure I’d like reading on my Kindle, but I quickly found I loved everything about it. Not just that I could have thousands of books that took up zero shelf space, but the instant access, easy gratification, even the more comfortable ergonomics. Love love love.
Most importantly – I discovered that a book was a book to me, regardless of medium.
So, having dashed myself against the high uncaring wall of traditional publishing for some time, I seriously considered digital-first presses for the first time.
Loose Id was my first digital-first publisher, with Petals and Thorns, a BDSM version of Beauty and the Beast. They were great to work with, paid me royalties every month via direct deposit, and sold enough copies for me to meet the RWA requirements to be considered a published author.
Then Carina Press, which is the digital-first imprint for Harlequin, bought Sapphire, a contemporary BDSM (and have now bought the follow-up, Platinum.) Ellora’s Cave, one of the very first digital-first presses bought my short story Feeding the Vampire, and now will also publish Hunting the Siren, as the second in this Blood Currency series. Finally, Carina also snapped up the fantasy romance novel I’d been trying to sell to New York City for so long, but was too cross-genre for them. Rogue’s Pawn, first in the Covenant of Thorns series, comes out July 16.
These presses have all been so good to me, with excellent editors and true enthusiasm to see my books succeed. I’ve been thrilled with the whole experience.
To celebrate this, and the Digital-First Read-a-thon, I’d love to give away a copy of Sapphire, a copy of Feeding the Vampire, and a copy of Rogue’s Pawn, to three randomly selected commenters. Just say which one you’d like. Country does not matter as I’ll email the electronic versions. One caveat: I don’t have Rogue’s Pawn just yet, but I expect it any day now and promise to send as soon as I have it. You could be the first on your virtual block to read it!
Giveaway: 1 lucky winner will get a digital copy of Sapphire, 1 lucky winner will get a digital copy of Feeding the Vampire and 1 lucky winner will get a digital copy of Rogue’s Pawn. Leave a comment with your email address on this post no later than 7:00pm on June 17th to enter to win. (Please put down what book you would like.)
Kirliss captured her other wrist and held them close in front of her, his warm fingers massaging her skin, while he studied her face.
The boat surged over a wave, disturbing her balance. Kirliss’s unusual eyes caught the light, boring into her. “This is silly,” she tried.
“Do you want me to make you stay?”
“What?” Taylor choked. She couldn’t let him treat her this way. “No! You’ll do no such—” She lost her breath entirely when he pressed up against her. Thinking he was trying to embrace her, she pulled away and found herself backed against the brass railing. By the time she gathered her flustered thoughts, her wrists were handcuffed to the rail behind her. Mortified, a bit afraid and—worse—suddenly and wildly aroused…
Feeding the Vampire
The wedding ceremony took place deep in the woods.
The chapel looked innocent in its white prettiness, as if a normal wedding took place there instead of this monstrous farce.
At first Amarantha had wept. When her father had arrived home on the magnificent stallion, his arms overflowing with luscious red roses and saddlebags full of gold coins, and told the wild tale of the Beast who wanted Amarantha and only her, she’d been at first astonished, then enraged. She’d thought of running away, but her father and sisters had talked Amarantha around. The Beast had promised wealth to restore her father’s fortunes and more. They assured her that the Beast wouldn’t kill her.
“He saw your portrait and finds you beautiful,” her father crooned. “It will be a marriage in name only. You need not lie with him” — he snickered — “if the creature is even able to perform as a man. Likely he is too deformed and wants only a pretty wife to look upon.
“Remember” — the merchant took his youngest daughter’s slender hands in his as they stepped down from the carriage — “if the marriage is not consummated within one week, then he has agreed to have it annulled and to settle upon you half of his fortune! All you must do is retain your chastity for one measly week, and any ninny can keep her legs closed that long. Remember it every day, and the week will fly by. Soon you’ll be at home again with us, our fortunes forever secured.”
“He only has to take her by force,” Anastasia scoffed.
“No,” a deep voice rumbled behind them. They started like finches when a hawk flies over. No one had heard the Beast arrive.
He stood back, tall and broad shouldered as her father had said, watching from the depths of his cloak. The winter wind caught the black folds, whipping them tight against his massive body, but never stirred around his face. Amarantha couldn’t make out his features, though she thought perhaps she caught the gleam of a white tooth. And was that the shadow of a muzzle?
She shuddered, looking away quickly.
“No, Amarantha,” the Beast said, “I will never take you by force. I will only take you when you ask me to. That one choice, at least, will always be yours.”
Amarantha stirred uneasily inside the confines of her corset. Something about his words seemed…unwholesome somehow.
Angelica laughed brightly and clapped her jeweled fingers together in a graceful flutter. “Then we are saved! For, Sir Beast, though we cannot see you clearly, we understand that you are so hideous that no woman would willingly have you. Perhaps your beastly exterior reflects a similarly feral and corrupt heart?” She waved a languid hand at Amarantha. “Else why resort to blackmail to obtain a bride?”
“Indeed” — the voice sank into a near growl — “sister of my bride. You are undoubtedly correct. But since blackmail has, in fact, won me a bride, I’m anxious to take possession of her. Shall we?”
Amarantha gasped and stepped back when the Beast moved toward her, dark and sinuous. But he only offered her his arm to escort her into the chapel. She took a deep breath, as deep as her tight corset allowed.
After the short ceremony, Amarantha kissed her father and sisters good-bye. She couldn’t seem to hear what they were saying to her, only that she had promised to obey this man. This monster.
“Do you take this man, Sir Beast… Do you promise to love, honor, and obey?” the chaplain had asked.
The word seemed to reverberate in her skull. Obey. Chased by the image of how his eyes had glowed at her sparking amber from the depths of his hood. Love and honor seemed to pale before the other word. Amarantha possessed enough cleverness to avoid shaming him, and she could pretend to love him. Obedience might not be so simple. She almost felt his sigh of satisfaction at her promise, as if something that had pained him suddenly eased. Amarantha wished she could feel the same.
In his carriage, they rode facing each other, though Amarantha gazed steadfastly out the window as the forest deepened and thickened. The trees grew more gnarled, the roots thrusting up from the soil only to twist away again, diving into the moist ferns covering the soil. Still, it was easier to keep her eyes on the strange landscape than look at her husband’s shrouded form and wonder what horrors it might contain.
“Am I ever to see you?” she asked.
“Do you wish to?”
Amarantha glanced at his black silhouette. Looked away again.
“It occurs to me it might be easier to see you and” — get it over with — “learn to become accustomed to you.”
“Consider that I might be so frightening to you that you would be unable to bear coming near me again.”
“No” — the Beast chuckled darkly — “these things are best done in stages. I intend to win you over, lovely Amarantha.”
“I don’t see how that’s possible.”
“Because you are innocent,” the Beast said, his voice nearly a growl. “And you have not discovered how I can make you feel.”
“I have. You make me feel fear. And revulsion.” She looked out the window.
“None of those are real, Amarantha.”
She forced herself to look at him. “I must tell you, I don’t see how I can ever be your wife in truth. I cannot imagine asking you to — ”
“To take your maidenhead? To rend you with my cock so that you scream in agonized pleasure?”
The shock drained Amarantha’s cheeks of color. Even as the image somehow stirred her.
“Sir Beast, you cannot say such things to me.”
“It seems, my bride, that we must stretch your imagination as well. The only thing I may not do is take you by force. Everything else is open to me.” He settled back in a very masculine satisfaction. “If you intend to keep the bargain that saved your father’s life, that is.”
Amarantha bit her lip. Her father had wept even as he handed her into the Beast’s carriage. Had he realized? Her virginity wouldn’t matter at the end of the week if she was dead.
“Amarantha.” The Beast leaned forward. She shrank back, but he only laid a gloved hand over hers. “I swear I will not injure you. Your beauty is precious to me. I would not see it marred in any way.”
She restlessly moved her hands out from under the black leather of his glove. A mistake, since his hand fell to her knee instead, a heavy weight through the thin cloth.
“I will wish to see it, however,” the Beast said, gravel in his voice.
Amarantha’s heart stuttered. “See it?”
“You, in your naked glory. When we reach the house. In exchange, I will not touch you just yet.” He leaned back again. “I mention it now so that you might mull the idea over.”
Amarantha drew in a breath. “I do not think I shall become peaceful with the idea in that space of time.”
“You mistake me, my bride. Peaceful is not how I want you.”
If he’d intended her to think about it, to imagine herself naked and vulnerable in front of his black-cloaked figure, then he succeeded.
“Enough,” a male voice said.
As if I’d ceased to exist, Tinker Bell blinked her eyes and regained her lovely self, face smoothing, shining once again in sunny elegance. Reboot and resume program. She gracefully stood and glided to the tray, set the bowl precisely in the center, lifted the tray and left the room without hesitation.
Booted footsteps crossed the room toward me. Act II, scene ii. Exit Nasty Tinker Bell, Enter God-Only-Knows-What-Now. My face was sticky with whatever the brothy stuff had been, my hair wet and fouled. I stank. I hurt. I was chained to a bed in a place so completely unknown I couldn’t begin to understand it. I tried to squeeze my legs closer together, but the chains seemed at the limit of their reach. The energy of my brief triumph evaporated, allowing tears to well up again.
Oh, please, please, please, do not cry. The threatening sting worsened. I closed my eyes and one tear leaked out. He stopped next to me, surveying me.
“You’re certainly a mess.” His wry voice was rich and smooth.
My eyes snapped open to glare at him through the blur. Fifty different smart remarks flew across my tongue, most along the lines that any failures of appearance on my part could be laid on the doorstep of someone besides myself. But even the buzz of the first word on my vocal chords brought searing agony. Relieved to have a legitimate reason for the tears, I almost welcomed the searing sensation.
“No, don’t try to talk—no one needs to hear what you have to say, anyway. Not that we can help it, since you think so loudly. And you have a decision to make. We have a quandary.” He began pacing, boots echoing against stone. “No one can heal you while you’re bound in silver and we can’t release you from the silver until you have yourself under control. Which will take a considerably long time—perhaps years of training—if you’re even able to accomplish it at all.”
I thought of the birds crashing in increasing cacophony with a small shudder.
“Exactly,” he confirmed. “And yes,” he said from the window behind my head where he seemed to be gazing out, “I can hear most of your thoughts—another reason to save trying to speak aloud.”
My stomach congealed in panic. Had he heard my secret thoughts? Don’t think of them, bury them deep, deep. Think of other things…like what? Think of home, think of Isabel. Isabel, my cat—Clive hated her. What would happen to her now? How could I not have thought of her until this moment? Abandoned, wondering why I never came home for her… And my mother—she’d be frantic. How long had I been gone? They could be all dead and buried, lost to me forever. The anguish racked me.
“Shh.” The man sat on the side of my bed now, heavier than Nasty Tinker Bell. He brushed the hair back from my forehead, then placed his long fingers over my brow and, with his thumbs, rhythmically smoothed along my cheekbones, wiping away the tears that now flowed freely.
I stifled a sob. I had cried more in the past day than I had in years. The sweeping along my cheekbones soothed me, melting warmth through my skull. The rhythm became part of my breathing. Deep breaths. Smooth, easy. The awful tightness in my chest gave a little sigh and released.
“Let’s try again, shall we?” The man pulled his hands away. I could hear him brush them against his thighs. Soup, tears and blood. Yuck.
My eyes cleared enough for me to see him. Ebony-blue climbed over half his face. The winding pattern of angular spirals and toothy spikes swirled out of his black hair on the left side of his face, placing sharp fingers along his cheekbone, jaw and brow. For a moment, the tattoo-like pattern dominated everything about him. Ferocious and alien.
Once I adjusted, I could see past the lines. His face echoed Tinker Bell’s golden coloring. He could be her fraternal twin, with those same arched cheekbones. But where she was golden dawn, he was darkest night. Midnight-blue eyes, that deep blue just before all light was gone from the sky, when the stars have emerged, but you could see the black shadows of trees against the night. He shared Tinker Bell’s rose-petal mouth, but with a curious edge to it. I suppose a man’s mouth shouldn’t remind one of a flower, and there was nothing feminine about this man. Where she wore the pink sugar roses of debutantes and bridal showers, his lips made me think of the blooms of late summer, the sharp-ruffled dianthus, edges darkening to blood in the heat. His bone structure was broader than hers but still seemed somehow differently proportioned, his arms hanging a bit too long from shoulders not quite balanced to his height. Inky hair pulled back from his face fell in a tail down his back. One strand had escaped to fall over his shoulder and I could see a blue shimmer in its silk sheen.
He arched his left eyebrow, blueness in the elegant arch, repeating the deep shades of the fanged lines around it.
“Shall we?” he repeated.
I stared at him. What was the question?