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Excerpt from Forged by Desire by Bec McMaster - September 4, 2014

Please welcome Bec McMaster to The Qwillery with an excerpt from Forged by Desire, the 4th novel in the London Steampunk series.

Excerpt from Forged by Desire by Bec McMaster - September 4, 2014

It all starts with a dare.

Garrett Reed, Master of the Nighthawks Guild of thief-catchers, has always equated his partner, Perry, with breeches. For a man who knows women through-and-through, he rarely thinks of her as feminine. And when a case requires Perry to go undercover in a gorgeous red dress, Garrett cannot even imagine his friend pulling it off. Perry? In a dress? The idea is utterly ludicrous.

For Perry, who's been half in love with him for years, Garrett's laughter is like a red flag to a bull. She'll show him - and then the joke will be on him. The problem is, she never expected it to change matters between them forever...

Here's a little excerpt from Forged By Desire, following that life-changing mission:

       Garrett closed the black lacquered door to the steam carriage as he stepped down. Perry had swept her driving goggles up on top of her head, the glossy black strands of her hair tumbling in disarray. Cursing under her breath, she pulled the lever that shut off the oxygen valve to the boilers and waited for the steam carriage to hiss itself into a whispered death. Little half-moons of soot stained her cheeks, a sight that almost brought a smile to his face.
       She didn’t look at him. She hadn’t in over a month, not directly. As though looking at him meant she too would have to confront what had happened at the opera. The turning point in both their lives.
       A sudden reckless frustration swept through him. “Here,” he said, stepping forward and offering her his arm to help her down.
       “You’ve never helped me down before,” Perry said with a sudden scowl. “I know you’re struggling to reconcile the fact that I’m actually female, but that doesn’t suddenly make me useless. Just because I wore a dress, it doesn’t change anything.”
       Swinging her legs off the driver’s seat, she slid down into the spare few inches between his body and the carriage. For a moment Garrett was tempted to step back, give her space.
       Instead he stilled.
       Perry realized only too late, freezing in place as she brushed her gloves off against her tight leather breeches. Slowly she lifted her head, gaslight catching the gleaming gray of her eyes. There was an inch between them at most. A single tantalizing inch that he was too aware of.
       “It’s difficult to stop picturing you in that dress,” he replied, forcing his voice to stay soft. He could almost feel the heat of the hunger swimming through his eyes, threatening to drop him over the edge. “Considering how much of you it flaunted.”
       “You can’t help yourself, can you? I never should have worn the dratted thing.”
       Reaching up, his gloved fingers swept at the sooty rings her goggles had left on her cheeks. The motion soothed some part of him. Maybe this was what he needed. Something to ground him. “I said that you could never pass as a female and you wanted to throw my words back in my face. You succeeded. Admirably.”
       Twirling at the bottom of the stairs, the red skirts sweeping around her and the thick, luscious curls of her wig trailing over her shoulder as she shot him such a direct look he could hardly breathe all of a sudden… “Well?” she’d challenged.
       That moment. The moment it all changed. Like some enormous hand reached out and closed its fingers around his heart and lungs, squeezing, forcing the breath out of him.
       Garrett didn’t know how to react now. Perry had recovered flawlessly, resuming her aloof, taciturn persona as though nothing remotely unusual had occurred that night. Gone was the practiced flirtation, the smiles that lit her from within… But he couldn’t forget them. How did you forget something like that? Pretend it had never happened? Pretend that his eye wasn’t drawn to her now, in a way that was distinctly masculine and not at all friend-like?
       The problem was that he now knew a sensual woman existed beneath her logical, focused exterior. If she were any other woman, he would have pursued her relentlessly until he had what he wanted. But this was Perry. Someone he admired, respected, someone he’d give his life for. To cross that line meant their entire friendship - which was evolving, admittedly - would change. And then? He didn’t have a bloody clue what that would mean. But he knew it meant more than sex, more than friendship. Perry deserved nothing less - he just wasn’t certain he could give her what she wanted.
       “You enjoyed making me act like a fool,” Garrett murmured. “Don’t even try to deny it. And now you have to deal with the consequences.”
       Her eyes suddenly gleamed. “You’re right. I did enjoy making a fool of you. The problem is, that I only ever intended for you to act a fool for one night. Not this whole bleeding month.”
       Sliding past him, leaving behind the ghostly fragrance she washed her clothes in, Perry strode toward the factory.

Forged by Desire
London Steampunk 4
Sourcebooks Casablanca, September 2, 2014
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 448 pages

Excerpt from Forged by Desire by Bec McMaster - September 4, 2014
Ten years ago, Perry fled her thrall contract to find sanctuary among the Nighthawks. In that time, she’s become a respected woman of the Guard, and she’s wanted Garrett Reed for as long as she can remember. But when a new case takes a chillingly familiar turn, Perry finds herself once again in the path of a madman…only this time, there’s nowhere left to run.

Out of their depth and racing against time, Perry and Garrett must learn to trust the desire sparking between them…or risk losing themselves forever to the darkness stalking London’s streets.

And there is a prequel novella to Forged by Desire. It's free until the end of September!

The Curious Case of the Clockwork Menace
London Steampunk 3.5
Bec McMaster, August 14, 2014

Excerpt from Forged by Desire by Bec McMaster - September 4, 2014
Friends, partners, and professionals. So just why is this case coming between them?

In a Victorian London ruled by the blood-drinking elite, Perry Lowell is a logical and accomplished Nighthawk: a rogue blue blood who tracks murderers and thieves for the Guild. So when she and her charming-but-reckless partner, Garrett, are charged with finding a missing theatre starlet, it should be a simple solve.

But with an entire theatre of suspects, including a flirtatious understudy and whispers of a Clockwork Menace haunting the place, tension is brewing between the pair of them. Can they come together to solve the case - or will it be too late, when the murderer turns his gaze on Perry herself?

Warning: This is not a complete HEA. It's a pre-romance novella featuring the couple who will find their HEA in Forged By Desire (available Sept 2014). Heads will butt, tempers will flare - and perhaps one of them might come to realise just what the other truly means to them?

Previously in the Darkest London series

My Lady Quicksilver
London Steampunk 3
Sourcebooks Casablanca, October 1, 2013
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 448 pages

Excerpt from Forged by Desire by Bec McMaster - September 4, 2014
In the mist-shrouded streets of a steam-fueled London, a clockwork army is on the rise, vampire blue bloods rule the streets, and war is brewing...

I Will Come For You...

He will find her no matter what. As a blue-blooded captain of the Nighthawk Guard, his senses are keener than most. Some think he's indestructible. But once he finds the elusive Mercury, what will he do with her?

It's his duty to turn her in—she's a notorious spy and traitor. But after one stolen moment, he can't forget the feel of her in his arms, the taste of her, or the sharp sting of betrayal as she slipped off into the night. Little does Mercury know, no one hunts better than the Nighthawk. And his greatest revenge will be to leave her begging for his touch...

Heart of Iron
London Steampunk 2
Sourcebooks Casablanca, May 7, 2013
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 448 pages

Excerpt from Forged by Desire by Bec McMaster - September 4, 2014
In the mist-shrouded streets of London’s dreaded Whitechapel district, werewolves, vampires and a clockwork army are one step away from battle…

No One to Trust

Dangerous. Unpredictable. That's how people know the hulking Will Carver. And those who don't like pretty words just call him The Beat. No matter how hard Will works to suppress his werewulfen side, certain things drive him beyond all control. And saucy Miss Lena Todd tops the list.

Lena makes the perfect spy against the ruling Echelon blue bloods. No one suspects that under the appearance of flirtatious debutante lies a heart of iron. Not even the ruthless Will Carver, the one man she can't wrap around her finger and the one man whose kiss she can never forget. He's supposed to be protecting her, but he might just be her biggest threat yet...

Tarnished Knight
London Steampunk 1.5
Bec McMasster, April 1, 2013
eNovella, 162 pages

Excerpt from Forged by Desire by Bec McMaster - September 4, 2014
In the steam-fuelled world of Victorian London, vampires, werewolves and slasher gangs stalk the night and a man made partly of metal is about to discover just how far he’ll go to protect the woman he loves…

After a vicious vampire attack left him struggling to leash the dark urges of the craving virus, John ‘Rip’ Doolan, thinks he’s finally starting to master the darkness within. The only thing that threatens to shatter his hard-won control is Esme, his closest friend and the only woman he’s ever wanted. If the stubborn beauty ever realised precisely what was going through his mind, their friendship would be ruined…

For six months Esme has waited for Rip to recover and take her as his thrall, not daring to hope for more. Too afraid to put her heart on the line, she’s devastated when Rip reveals that he never had any intentions of making her his.

But when a savage gang of Slashers start causing havoc in Whitechapel, Rip and Esme have no choice. They must face up to the depth of the passion that burns between them and forge a new relationship… or risk losing each other forever.

Kiss of Steel
London Steampunk 1
Sourcebooks Casablanca, September 4, 2012
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 448 pages

Excerpt from Forged by Desire by Bec McMaster - September 4, 2014
He craves her like no other…

Honoria Todd has no choice. Only in the dreaded Whitechapel district can she escape the long reach of the Duke of Vickers. But seeking refuge there will put her straight into the hands of Blade, legendary master of the rookeries. No one would dare cross him, but what price would he demand to keep her safe?

Ever since Vickers infected him with the craving, Blade has been quicker, stronger, almost immortal—and terrified of losing control of the monster within. Honoria could be his perfect revenge against the duke…or the salvation he never dared to dream of.

About Bec

Excerpt from Forged by Desire by Bec McMaster - September 4, 2014
Award-winning author Bec McMaster lives in a small town in Australia and grew up with her nose in a book. A member of RWA, she writes sexy, dark paranormals and steampunk romance. When not writing, reading, or poring over travel brochures, she loves spending time with her very own hero or daydreaming about new worlds. Read more about her at or follow her on Twitter, @BecMcMaster.

Excerpt from A Curse Awakened by Cecy Robson - August 29, 2014

Please enjoy this excerpt from Cecy Robson's A Curse Awakened, a Weird Girls novella that was published by Loveswept on August 19th.

Excerpt from A Curse Awakened by Cecy Robson - August 29, 2014

(from Chapter One)

       Danny shook his head. “No. He mistook them for Mafia, but I think at best they’re vamps with Mafia ties. There’s this female among them that seems fixated on my father. I think she’s been drinking from him. It’s odd. She’s odd. The whole thing is . . . odd.
       Shayna grimaced. “You mean aside from her drinking blood?”
       Danny tried to stand. “Yeah. I don’t know if vampires can be mentally ill. From what I’ve researched so far, they’re immune to diseases. But nothing I’ve read mentions anything about being immune to insanity.”
       I steadied him with my hand. “Why have you been reading up on vamps? I mean, I know since you’ve learned about us, you’ve been curious, but . . . I’m not a vampire.”
       He sighed, watching me with his dark sad eyes. “Believe it or not, I thought I could help you. You and your sisters have something special.”
       “Ah, no, we don’t.” Taran glared his way. “At best we’re atom bombs ready to detonate.” As if to make a point, a puff of blue and white smoke from her fire popped and sizzled above her head.
       Danny returned the glasses to his face. “I don’t agree. There’re not a lot of books available here in the U.S. about the supernatural―the real kind, I mean―weres, witches, vamps, those types of beings. But I’ve purchased a few ancient volumes from old libraries in Europe, where most legends stem from actual truths. I haven’t been able to find much about what you are or what you could be. In fact, I’m positive you’re different from any race of humans or preternaturals on earth.”
       “Yay for us,” Taran muttered.
       Danny offered a sympathetic smile. “One thing I have learned a great deal about are curses and magic in general.” His gaze skipped to each one of us. “I think you’re all in a bind.”
       “No shit,” Taran snapped. “I’m surprised we haven’t killed each other.”
       Danny held out a hand. “No, that’s not what I mean. I think you’ve been bound―in the magical sense. Sort of like a noose or tie that holds your powers back, and therefore your control.” He focused on me. “Celia, I think you can manage your powers best because your tigress gives you added strength. Picture a pit bull on a leash. You’re going to pull harder against it than another, smaller breed, making it harder to hold you back.”
       Shayna inched forward. “Um, Danny, maybe you should watch the dog references. I understand what you’re trying to say, but Taran’s a little touchier.” She motioned to Taran with a jerk of her head. “Know what I mean, little guy?”
       Taran narrowed her eyes, proving Shayna’s point.
       Danny’s mouth popped open. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to insult you, ladies.”
       I barely heard his apologies, my ears homing in on the rumble of motors. Two cars entered the dead-end street leading to the field and to us. The roar of their engines didn’t sound familiar or appropriate for the area. We were in blue-collar territory and these vehicles were definitely not your standard beaters. And instead of slowing down when they entered the narrow street, they sped faster, like cheetahs who’d found a herd of wounded gazelles.
       My tigress growled a warning. Taran’s blue eyes blanched to white, her magic sensing another’s approach.
       Danny jerked around upon seeing the first car barrel up the small incline. “It’s the vampires. Run!

A Cursed Awakened
A Weird Girl Novella
Loveswept, August 19, 2014
eNovella, 84 pages

Excerpt from A Curse Awakened by Cecy Robson - August 29, 2014
Discover Cecy Robson’s sensational Weird Girls series—or return to where the magic first began—with this eBook original prequel novella about four sisters coming to grips with their unique supernatural powers.

Celia Wird shouldn’t possess the ability to transform into a tigress. Her three sisters should never be able to burst into flames, heal wounds, or transform common objects into deadly weapons. And yet they do.

Before they were born, the Wird Sisters were cursed by a spell that was intended to destroy them, not endow them with extraordinary powers. The sisters’ magic is untamed and explosive at best, and time is running out for them to take command.

Vampires have targeted Celia’s sweet, tragically human ex-boyfriend Danny. The sisters rush to his aid, but in order to take down the vamps, first they must face their dark past and break a spell that’s screwing up their powers. Except this curse wasn’t meant to be broken . . . and the witch who cast it isn’t done toying with them yet.

Qwill's Thoughts

Strap yourself in and get ready for a wild ride as you meet the Wird sisters in this prequel novella to the the Weird Girls series. Cecy Robson walks on the dark side with this after the fact series opener. I'm not going to say much about about the story itself (you can read the description above). This is an extremely fun, somewhat gory, introduction to the sisters, their powers, their background, and Danny!

The novella moves at an extremely fast pace, with crisp and descriptive writing. I really enjoyed this prequel. Robson packs a lot into this novella so if you've never met the Wird sisters A Curse Awakened is a great place to start. However, no matter where you are in the series, this is a must read.

Cursed by Destiny
Weird Girls 3 
Signet, January 7, 2014
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 368 pages

Excerpt from A Curse Awakened by Cecy Robson - August 29, 2014
Celia Wird and her three sisters are just like other 20-something girls—with one tiny exception: they're products of a backfired curse that has given each of them unique powers that make them, well, weird…

Celia’s a girl in trouble. Her heart is bound to Aric, but he is a pureblood were who must deny her or risk condemning his species to extinction. And that’s just her love life. She’s also been called to take down a group of demon terrorists looking to overthrow the paranormal world. (No pressure.)

In order to bring them down, Celia must ally herself to Misha, the master vampire who has made no secret of his desire for her.

And if that weren’t enough misfortune for one girl, a clairvoyant’s prediction could destroy Celia and Aric’s love for good. The only way to protect the world from unbridled supernatural terrorism is for Celia to bind herself to her destined mate. And that doesn’t appear to be Aric…

A Cursed Moon
A Weird Girls Novella
Signet Eclipse, December 3, 2013
eNovella, 98 pages

Excerpt from A Curse Awakened by Cecy Robson - August 29, 2014
Meet the furry big brother that the Wird sisters never had…

Bren is a cocky, brash hound of a werewolf who loathes the idea of belonging to Aric’s pack—much less finding a mate. But Bren’s hotheaded behavior lands him in the doghouse when he defies Aric’s authority in front of his pack, bringing up a sore subject that’s bound to make the Alpha wolf’s blood boil…

Luckily for him, no one can stay mad at Bren and his wild charm for long. And when some frightening ghosts launch a hostile paranormal takeover, Bren will team up with Celia Wird to take down the evil ghouls before they hurt someone they both love…

A Cursed Embrace
Weird Girls 2
Signet, July 2, 2013
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 368 pages

Excerpt from A Curse Awakened by Cecy Robson - August 29, 2014
Celia Wird and her three sisters are just like other twentysomething girls—with one tiny exception: They are the products of a curse that backfired and gave each of them unique powers that made them, well, a little weird.…

After Celia Wird and her sisters help master vampire Misha save his family, their powers are exposed to the supernatural community of the Lake Tahoe region. But fame comes at a price, and being “weird” isn’t always welcome.

To make matters worse, Celia desires the love of Alpha werewolf Aric, but his pack is bent on destroying their relationship to preserve his pureblood status. And once weres start turning up dead—with evidence pointing to the vampires—she must face the prospect of losing Aric forever. But the chaos only masks a new threat. An evil known as the Tribe has risen—and their sights are set on Celia and her sisters.

Sealed with a Curse
Weird Girls 1
Signet Eclipse, December 31, 2012
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 368 pages

Excerpt from A Curse Awakened by Cecy Robson - August 29, 2014
Celia Wird and her three sisters are just like other 20-something girls—with one tiny exception: they're products of a backfired curse that has given each of them unique powers that make them, well, weird…

The Wird sisters are content to avoid the local vampires, werebeasts, and witches of the Lake Tahoe region—until one of them blows up a vampire in self-defense. Everyone knows vampires aren't aggressive, and killing one is punishable by death. But soon more bloodlust-fueled attacks occur, and the community wonders: are the vampires of Tahoe cursed with a plague?

Celia reluctantly agrees to help Misha, the handsome leader of an infected vampire family. But Aric, the head of the werewolf pack determined to destroy Misha's family to keep the region safe, warns Celia to stay out of the fight. Caught between two hot alphas, Celia must find a way to please everyone, save everyone, and oh yeah, not lose her heart to the wrong guy—or die a miserable death. Because now that the evil behind the plague knows who Celia is, it’s coming for her and her sisters. This Wird girl has never had it so tough.

The Weird Girls
Signet Eclipse, December 4, 2012
A Weird Girls Novella

Excerpt from A Curse Awakened by Cecy Robson - August 29, 2014
Celia Wird and her three sisters are just like other 20-something girls—with one tiny exception: they're products of a backfired curse that has given each of them unique powers that make them, well, a little weird…

The Wird sisters are different from every race on earth—human and supernatural. When human society is no longer an option for them, they move in among the resident vampires, werebeasts, and witches of the Lake Tahoe region. Could this be the true home they’ve longed for? Um, not quite. After the sisters accidentally strip a witch of her powers in a bar brawl, they soon realize the mistake will cost them. Because to take on a witch means to take on her coven. And losing the battle isn’t an option.

Includes a preview of the first full-length novel in the Weird Girls series, Sealed with a Curse—as well as introductions to the Weird World, and a letter from the author.


A Cursed Bloodline
Weird Girls 4
Loveswept, November 18, 2014

Excerpt from A Curse Awakened by Cecy Robson - August 29, 2014
The Weird Girls return in another edge-of-your-seat novel from Cecy Robson! Just when Celia thinks the supernatural world can’t turn deadlier, a new rival emerges, proving just how dangerous a power-hungry were can be.

Since being cursed with unique abilities, Celia Wird and her three sisters have fought the most bloodthirsty preternaturals in the Lake Tahoe region. But Celia’s greatest threat is someone she would have never suspected: Anara, a werewolf Elder who has allowed his hatred for Celia to spiral out of control. In a play for dominance, Anara tortures Celia and gives her an ultimatum: sever her mate bond with pureblood were Aric—or Anara will kill everyone she loves.

From the instant they met, Celia and Aric have shared an attraction that cannot be tamed. So keeping Aric away is impossible, and Aric would sooner die than allow anyone to hurt the woman he loves. Misha, master vampire and Celia’s sworn protector, also finds his way into the chaos, seeking blood from those who have harmed her.

Now Celia and her sisters are caught in the middle of a war driven by lust, fueled by hatred, and destined to end in tragedy. For Anara is a force to be reckoned with, and he will not succumb without robbing Celia of those who hold her heart.

About Cecy

Excerpt from A Curse Awakened by Cecy Robson - August 29, 2014
Cecy (pronounced SESSY) Robson is the New Adult Romance author of Once Perfect, Once Loved and Once Pure and the award-winning author of the Weird Girls Urban Fantasy Romance series. A self-proclaimed professional napper, her list of talents includes jaw-dropping knowledge of useless trivia, the ability to make her hair big, and a knack for breaking into song despite her family’s vehement protests. A full-time writer, registered nurse, wife, and mother living in the Great Northwest, Cecy enjoys spending time with her family and silencing the yappy characters in her head by telling their stories.

Website  ~   Twitter @cecyrobson  ~  Facebook  ~  Goodreads

Excerpt from The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton - August 22, 2014

The Qwillery is thrilled to share with you an excerpt from Jessie Burton's debut, The Miniaturist.

Excerpt from The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton - August 22, 2014

Mid-October 1686
The Herengracht canal, Amsterdam

Outside In

         On the step of her new husband’s house, Nella Oortman lifts and drops the dolphin knocker, embarrassed by the thud. No one comes, though she is expected. The time was prearranged and letters written, her mother’s paper so thin compared with Brandt’s expensive vellum. No, she thinks, this is not the best of greetings, given the blink of a marriage ceremony the month before—no garlands, no betrothal cup, no wedding bed. Nella places her small trunk and birdcage on the step. She knows she’ll have to embellish this later for home, when she’s found a way upstairs, a room, a desk.
        Nella turns to the canal as bargemen’s laughter rises up the opposite brickwork. A puny lad has skittled into a woman and her basket of fish, and a half-dead herring slithers down the wide front of the seller’s skirt. The harsh cry of her country voice runs under Nella’s skin. “Idiot! Idiot!” the woman yells. The boy is blind, and he grabs in the dirt for the escaped herring as if it’s a silver charm, his fingers quick, not afraid to feel around. He scoops it, cackling, running up the path with his catch, his free arm out and ready.
        Nella cheers silently and stays to face this rare October warmth, to take it while she can. This part of the Herengracht is known as the Golden Bend, but today the wide stretch is brown and workaday. Looming above the sludge-colored canal, the houses are a phenomenon. Admiring their own symmetry on the water, they are stately and beautiful, jewels set within the city’s pride. Above their rooftops Nature is doing her best to keep up, and the clouds in colors of saffron and apricot echo the spoils of the glorious republic.
        Nella turns back to the door, now slightly ajar. Was it like this before? She cannot be sure. She pushes on it, peering into the void as cool air rises from the marble. “Johannes Brandt?” she calls—loud, a little panicked. Is this a game? she thinks. I’ll be standing here come
January. Peebo, her parakeet, thrills the tips of his feathers against the cage bars, his faint cheep falling on the marble. Even the now-quiet canal behind them seems to hold its breath.
        Nella is sure of one thing as she looks deeper into the shadows. She’s being watched. Come on, Nella Elisabeth, she tells herself, stepping over the threshold. Will her new husband embrace her, kiss her or shake her hand like it’s just business? He didn’t do any of those things at the ceremony, surrounded by her small family and not a single member of his.
        To show that country girls have manners too, she bends down and removes her shoes—dainty, leather, of course her best—although what their point has been she can’t now say. Dignity, her mother said, but dignity is so uncomfortable. She slaps the shoes down, hoping the
noise will arouse somebody, or maybe scare them off. Her mother calls her overimaginative, Nella-in-the-Clouds. The inert shoes lie in anticlimax and Nella simply feels a fool.
        Outside, two women call to each other. Nella turns, but through the open door she sees only the back of one woman, capless, golden-headed and tall, striding away toward the last of the sun. Nella’s own hair has loosened on the journey from Assendelft, the light breeze letting wisps escape. To tuck them away will make her more nervous than she can bear to seem, so she leaves them tickling her face.
        “Are we to have a menagerie?”
        The voice sails sure and swift from the darkness of the hall. Nella’s skin contracts, for being right about her suspicions can’t banish the goose bumps. She watches as a figure glides from the shadows, a hand outstretched—in protest or in greeting, it is hard to tell. It is a woman, straight and slim and dressed in deepest black, the cap on her head starched and pressed to white perfection. Not a wisp of her hair escapes, and she brings with her the vaguest, strangest scent of nutmeg. Her eyes are gray, her mouth is solemn. How long has she been there, watching? Peebo chirrups at the intervention.
        “This is Peebo,” Nella says. “My parakeet.”
        “So I see,” says the woman, gazing down at her. “Or hear. I take it you have not brought any more beasts?”
        “I have a little dog, but he’s at home—”
        “Good. It would mess in our rooms. Scratch the wood. Those small ones are an affectation of the French and Spanish,” the woman observes. “As frivolous as their owners.”
        “And they look like rats,” calls a second voice from somewhere in the hall.
        The woman frowns, briefly closing her eyes, and Nella takes her in, wondering who else is watching this exchange. I must be younger than her by ten years, she thinks, though her skin’s so smooth. As the woman moves past Nella toward the doorframe, there is a grace in her movements, self-aware and unapologetic. She casts a brief, approving glance at the neat shoes by the door and then stares into the cage, her lips pressed tight together. Peebo’s feathers have puffed in fear.
        Nella decides to distract her by joining hands in greeting, but the woman flinches at the touch.
        “Strong bones for seventeen,” the woman says.
        “I’m Nella,” she replies, retracting her hand. “And I’m eighteen.”
        “I know who you are.”
        “My real name is Petronella, but everyone at home calls me—”
        “I heard the first time.”
        “Are you the housekeeper?” Nella asks. A giggle is badly stifled in the hallway shadows. The woman ignores it, looking out into the pearlescent dusk. “Is Johannes here? I’m his new wife.” The woman still says nothing. “We signed our marriage a month ago, in Assendelft,”
Nella persists. It seems there is nothing else to do but to persist.
        “My brother is not in the house.”
        “Your brother?”
        Another giggle from the darkness. The woman looks straight into Nella’s eyes. “I am Marin Brandt,” she says, as if Nella should understand. Marin’s gaze may be hard, but Nella can hear the precision faltering in her voice. “He’s not here,” Marin continues. “We thought
he’d be. But he’s not.”
        “Where is he, then?”
        Marin looks out toward the sky again. Her left hand fronds the air, and from the shadows near the staircase two figures appear. “Otto,” she says.
        A man comes toward them and Nella swallows, pressing her cold feet upon the floor.
        Otto’s skin is dark, dark brown everywhere, his neck coming out from the collar, his wrists and hands from his sleeves—all unending, dark brown skin. His high cheeks, his chin, his wide brow, every inch. Nella has never seen such a man in her life.
        Marin seems to be watching her to see what she will do. The look in Otto’s large eyes makes no acknowledgment of Nella’s ill-concealed fascination. He bows to her and she curtsies, chewing her lip till the taste of blood reminds her to be calm. Nella sees how his skin glows
like a polished nut, how his black hair springs straight up from his scalp. It is a cloud of soft wool, not flat and greasy like other men’s. “I—” she says.
        Peebo begins to chirp. Otto puts his hands out, a pair of pattens resting on his broad palms. “For your feet,” he says.
        His accent is Amsterdam—but he rolls the words, making them warm and liquid. Nella takes the pattens from him and her fingers brush his skin. Clumsily she slips the raised shoes onto her feet. They are too big, but she doesn’t dare say it, and at least they lift her soles off the chilly marble. She’ll tighten the leather straps later, upstairs—if she ever gets there, if they ever let her past this hall.
        “Otto is my brother’s manservant,” says Marin, her eyes still fixed on Nella. “And here is Cornelia, our maid. She will look after you.”
        Cornelia steps forward. She is a little older than Nella, perhaps twenty, twenty-one—and slightly taller. Cornelia pins her with an unfriendly grin, her blue eyes moving over the new bride, seeing the tremor in Nella’s hands. Nella smiles, burnt by the maid’s curiosity, struggling to say some piece of empty thanks. She is half grateful, half ashamed when Marin cuts her off.
        “Let me show you upstairs,” Marin says. “You will want to see your room.”
        Nella nods and a look of amusement flickers to life in Cornelia’s eyes. Blithe pirrips from the cage bounce high up the walls, and Marin indicates to Cornelia with a flick of her wrist that the bird must go to the kitchen.
        “But the cooking fumes,” Nella protests. Marin and Otto turn back to her. “Peebo likes the light.”
        Cornelia takes up the cage and starts swinging it like a pail. “Please, be careful,” says Nella.
        Marin catches Cornelia’s eye. The maid continues to the kitchen, accompanied by the thin melody of Peebo’s worried cheeps.

From The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. Copyright 2014 Jessie Burton. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

The Miniaturist
Ecco, August 26, 2014
Hardcover and eBook,416 pages

Excerpt from The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton - August 22, 2014
Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam—a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion—a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery, in the tradition of Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Dunant.

”There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed . . .“

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office—leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist—an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .

Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand—and fear—the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?

Enchanting, beautiful, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

About Jessie

Excerpt from The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton - August 22, 2014
Photo by Wolf Marloh
Jessie Burton was born in London in 1982. She studied at Oxford University and the Central School of Speech and Drama, and still works as an actress in London. She lives in southeast London, not far from where she grew up.

Web  ~  Twitter @jesskatbee

Feature: Excerpt from A Better World by Marcus Sakey - June 25, 2014

The Qwillery is thrilled to share with you an excerpt from A Better World, the second novel in the Brilliance Saga, by Marcus Sakey.

Feature: Excerpt from A Better World by Marcus Sakey - June 25, 2014

       Air Force One was an hour shy of DC when the Secret Service agent told Cooper that he was wanted in the conference room.
       Across a military and agency career, Cooper had ridden on posh private jets and rattling Army transports, had soared in a glider over the Wyoming desert and jumped out of a perfectly good C-17 with a chute on his back. But Air Force One was unlike any aircraft he’d ever been on.
       A customized 747, the plane had three decks, two galleys, luxury sleeping quarters, a fully-equipped surgery, national broadcasting capabilities, first-class seating for the press corps and the secret service, and the capability to fly a third of the way around the world without refueling—which it could do mid-air.
       Cooper unbuckled his seatbelt and walked fore. The agents at the door of the conference room nodded at him.
       The room was a mobile version of the situation room, with a broad conference table and plush chairs. A holo-conferencing screen showed a sharp tri-d of Marla Keevers in her office at the White House. The president sat at the head of the table, with Owen Leahy at his right and Holden Archer at his left.
       Archer glanced at him, said, “Tulsa, Fresno, and Cleveland have lost power.”
       President Clay said, “Marla, how bad is it?”
       “Based off satellite imagery, we estimate that the entire metro area of all three cities has gone dark.”
       “Why based off satellite imagery?” Clay asked.
       “Because engineers in charge of the power grid for each region report no unusual activity. All substations report back green.”
       “A cyber attack,” Leahy said. “A virus tells the system to send massive amounts of power from the grid to individual transformers, blowing them out, while at the same time co-opting the safety systems so that there’s no warning indicator.”
       “Yes,” Keevers said. “That’s what’s got the engineers rattled. Work crews say there’s no damage to the substations. The transformers are working. They’re just not providing power to the cities.”
       “How is that possible?”
       “The Children of Darwin,” Cooper said.
       Keevers nodded. “It would appear our protocols have been rewritten. It would take abnorm programmers to pull that off.”
       “So what you’re telling me,” the president said, “is that a terrorist organization has turned off three cities like they flipped a switch?”
       “I’m afraid so, sir. With some anomalies. In each city, several regions still have power. Two in Fresno, three in Tulsa, and two in Cleveland.”
       The image of Keevers was replaced by live satellite footage. The view was haunting. Instead of the riotous glow of cities at night, the holograms showed deep black marked by faint ribbons of light that must have been highways. The only bright spots were in discreet blocks, roughly rectangular, where things looked normal.
       “So the virus wasn’t a hundred percent effective,” Archer said. “It’s a small comfort, but it’s something.”
       Cooper leaned forward, staring at the maps. There was a pattern, he was—
       Two areas in Fresno, three in Tulsa, two in Cleveland.
       What connects them? Some are on major highways, some nowhere near. Some downtown, some not.
       And yet this doesn’t look random. The virus was too successful everywhere else to have failed completely in these spots.
       These areas were left powered on purpose. Which means that they hold some value.
So what unites these seven areas?
       —certain. “Hospitals,” Cooper said.
       Archer looked at the screens, then back at him. “What?”
       “Those regions all contain major hospitals.”
       “Why would terrorists take out the power to three cities, but leave hospitals functioning?”
       “Because they need them,” Leahy said. He turned to the president. “Sir, I’ve spoken to the director of the FBI and the DAR, as well as the head of the national institute of health. They all believe, and I concur, that this may be the precursor to a biological attack.”
       “That doesn’t make sense,” Archer said. “Why leave the hospitals running if they’re trying to release a biological weapon?”
       “Because,” Leahy retorted, “hospitals are the best way to spread one. People get sick, and they go to the hospital. While there they infect others. Doctors and nurses and receptionists and janitors and patients and families. With a really infectious biological agent, the number of cases can expand massively even under normal circumstances. But because these three cities are lacking food, and now power, the situation is far worse. Instead of resting at home, people will flee. They’ll go to stay with relatives, or to second homes. And in the process, they’ll swiftly vector the disease across the entire country. Sir, we believe the COD created this chaotic situation to mask their real attack.”
       “That’s a huge stretch,” Cooper said. “Abnorms would be just as vulnerable to infection. What good would a biological attack do the COD?”
       “I don’t know,” Leahy said, with a hard look at Cooper. “But the COD are terrorists. We don’t know what their endgame is.”
       “Of course we do. They’re upset over the treatment of abnorms, and they want change.”
       “What are you basing that on, Mr. Cooper? Abnorm intuition?” Leahy smiled coldly. “I understand your sympathy for their situation, but that can’t be allowed to color our response.”
       Would you count my response colored if I called you a close-minded bigot mired in old- world thinking? Instead, Cooper said, “Response to what? You’re wasting time on a hypothetical situation when we have actual disasters in these cities. People are starving. With the power out, they’ll be freezing, getting desperate, violent. Instead of worrying about phantom attacks, why don’t we start getting them some goddamn food and blankets?”
       On the screen, Marla Keevers coughed. Press Secretary Archer made an elaborate show of looking at his watch. Leahy fixed Cooper with an icy stare. “Mr. Cooper, your passion is quite touching, but you’re a bit above your pay grade here. And you’re not qualified to speak to what is or is not hypothetical.”
       “Maybe not,” Cooper said. “But I can speak to what’s right.” He glanced around the room. You guys don’t get me, do you? I don’t even want this job, so I’ve got nothing to lose by telling the truth. “The people need food. They need medicine. They need electricity. That’s what we should focus on. That’s our job.”
       “It’s also our job to protect them from attack,” Leahy fired back. “Food and blankets in Cleveland don’t protect people dying in Los Angeles.”
       Before Cooper could respond, the president said, “Owen, what exactly do you suggest?”
       “Immediate quarantine of all three cities, sir. The National Guard has already been called up. Assume federal command, back them up with Army troops, and shut these cities down completely. No one in or out.”
       For a moment Cooper thought the plane was banking wildly, until he realize that was just his head. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
       “I don’t find anything about this funny.”
       Cooper turned to Clay, expecting to see the same thought, the belief that this was beyond preposterous. Instead, he saw that the president was nervous.
       “Sir, you can’t possibly consider this. You’d be ordering military action on domestic soil. Turning three cities into police states, revoking people’s basic rights. It will cause unimaginable chaos. These cities are already on the brink. Instead of helping, we’re locking them up.”
       “No,” Leahy said. “We’re temporarily suspending freedom of movement for fewer than a million people. In order to protect three hundred million more.”
       “Panic. Hate crimes. Riots. Plus, if soldiers are busy quarantining the city, they can’t distribute food. All based on nothing but a wild theory.”
       “Based,” Leahy said, “on the collective analysis of the best minds in the intelligence and health services. A group that includes plenty of abnorms. Mr. Cooper, I know you’re used to doing things your own way, but this isn’t your personal crusade. We’re trying to save the country, not play some moralistic game.”
       Cooper ignored the barb. “Mr. President, when you asked me to join you, you said that we were on the edge of a precipice.” You’re an intellectual, a historian. You know how these things start. World War One was kicked off when a radical killed an obscure archduke. And nine million people died. “If you do this, we step toward that precipice. Maybe over it.”
       “And if you’re wrong?” Leahy asked. “You say the COD is interested in abnorm rights, but they’ve made no effort at dialogue. What if what they really want is to kill as many Americans as possible? There are a hundred biological weapons against which we have no ready defense—except quarantine.”
       The president looked back and forth between them. His hands were on the table, the fingers knit. His knuckles were pale.
       Come on, Clay. I know you’re scared. We’re all scared. But be the leader we need you to be.
       The president cleared his throat.

Excerpted from A Better World by Marcus Sakey. Copyright 2014. Published By Thomas & Mercer. Used by permission of the publisher. Not for reprint without permission.

A Better World
The Brilliance Saga 2
Thomas & Mercer, June 17, 2014
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 390 pages

Feature: Excerpt from A Better World by Marcus Sakey - June 25, 2014
The brilliants changed everything.

Since 1980, 1% of the world has been born with gifts we’d only dreamed of. The ability to sense a person’s most intimate secrets, or predict the stock market, or move virtually unseen. For thirty years the world has struggled with a growing divide between the exceptional...and the rest of us.

Now a terrorist network led by brilliants has crippled three cities. Supermarket shelves stand empty. 911 calls go unanswered. Fanatics are burning people alive.

Nick Cooper has always fought to make the world better for his children. As both a brilliant and an advisor to the president of the United States, he’s against everything the terrorists represent. But as America slides toward a devastating civil war, Cooper is forced to play a game he dares not lose—because his opponents have their own vision of a better world.

And to reach it, they’re willing to burn this one down.

From Marcus Sakey, “the master of the mindful page turner” (Gillian Flynn) and “one of our best storytellers” (Michael Connelly), Book Two of the Brilliance Saga is a relentless thrill ride that will change the way you look at your world—and the people around you.

The Brilliance Saga 1
Thomas & Mercer, July 16, 2013
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook,  452 pages

Feature: Excerpt from A Better World by Marcus Sakey - June 25, 2014
A 2013 Edgar Award Nominee for Best Paperback Original

In Wyoming, a little girl reads people’s darkest secrets by the way they fold their arms. In New York, a man sensing patterns in the stock market racks up $300 billion. In Chicago, a woman can go invisible by being where no one is looking. They’re called “brilliants,” and since 1980, one percent of people have been born this way. Nick Cooper is among them; a federal agent, Cooper has gifts rendering him exceptional at hunting terrorists. His latest target may be the most dangerous man alive, a brilliant drenched in blood and intent on provoking civil war. But to catch him, Cooper will have to violate everything he believes in—and betray his own kind.

From Marcus Sakey, “a modern master of suspense” (Chicago Sun-Times) and “one of our best storytellers” (Michael Connelly), comes an adventure that’s at once breakneck thriller and shrewd social commentary; a gripping tale of a world fundamentally different and yet horrifyingly similar to our own, where being born gifted can be a terrible curse.

About Marcus

Feature: Excerpt from A Better World by Marcus Sakey - June 25, 2014
Photo by Jay Franco
Marcus Sakey's thrillers have been nominated for more than fifteen awards, named New York Times Editor's Picks, and selected among Esquire's Top 5 Books of The Year. His novels Good People and Brilliance are both in development as feature films. Marcus is also the host of the acclaimed television show "Hidden City" on Travel Channel, for which he is routinely pepper-sprayed and attacked by dogs. Prior to writing, he worked as a landscaper, a theatrical carpenter, a 3D animator, a woefully unprepared movie reviewer, a tutor, and a graphic designer who couldn't draw. Marcus lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @MarcusSakey

Excerpt from Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler - February 4, 2014

I'm delighted to share with you today an excerpt from Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler, which is out today from Tor Books. Look for a 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interview with Ramona next month! Ramona Wheeler is on tour along with James L. Cambias and Brian Staveley. Check the end of the post for the Book Tour stops. 

Excerpt from Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler - February 4, 2014

Excerpt - Chapter 1 from Three Princes

LORD SCOTT Oken sharpened the focus of the opera-eyes so that a particular pair of legs filled the frame. She was the tallest woman on the stage, and to Oken’s eye, she was Golden Hathor with all her graces, a joy to behold. Certainly, there was not another pair of legs so exquisite, white thighs shaped by riding wild Cossack ponies as a child. In his better moments, Oken regretted the power he had over her intentions. In other moments, he simply had to admit that he loved his work.
His attention was interrupted by a knock on the door to his private viewing booth. It would be unseemly for a man of his rank to leap at an interruption.
The dancers sank into their final pose amid a swirl of silk and pearls. The gentle knocking became more insistent. The booth was small and carefully secured, so Lord Oken had only to turn in his seat to unlatch the door behind him.
The theater manager peered around the door, with only his self-important face and fashionably trimmed beard visible. He reverently held out a velvet cushion with a leather scroll-case. The gold-wax seal was the explanation for the manager’s excited decision to interrupt a dance scene. Oken took the case, thanking him with a casual word. The manager gave such a deep bow that he had to retrieve his top hat with a sudden snatch, and he retreated, struggling to balance his hat and the cushion while bowing as he backed away.
Oken shut the door and latched it. He sat, looking down at the golden seal on the case, feeling the familiar tug of duty and awe invoked by that familiar and historical icon. The Queen of Egypt was thousands of leagues away at Pharaoh’s Palace in Memphis, yet she could ensnare him with such a simple gesture. The blare of brass instruments striking up the final strains sounded, but he did not look up.
Oken unclipped his watch fob from its gold chain, a small, enameled-gold Watch It Eye. He tapped the snake coiled in the inner corner of the Eye and the cover opened, revealing a magnifying lens. The signs of tampering on the gold-wax seal were slight yet unmistakable: indentations in the bottom edge. Someone had read the Queen’s message, then skillfully resealed the case.
Oken closed the Eye and returned it to the chain, then broke the seal and unrolled the scroll. He raised it to his nose and sniffed gently. The unique incense of Pharaoh’s Palace was faintly present, evoking the majesty and wonder of Memphis. He was an agent of the Egyptian Empire. That thought had more power over him than the lure of those long, long legs.
The presence of Lord Scott Oken is requested at the palace in Memphis, for a presentation to Pharaoh Djoser-George. Life! Health! Courage! On Famenoth 30, commencing at 8 of the clock.
The handwriting was Lady Khamanny’s formal secretarial hand, signed with the hieroglyphic signet of the palace. Underneath it, however, was a simple sentence in the Queen’s familiar hand: We are counting on you to be there to dance with us, Scott, since poor old Dozey says his knees just won’t take the strain! Sashetah Irene.
Oken returned the little papyrus roll to its case and slipped it into an inner pocket, resettling his jacket around the stiff shape with a graceful shrug. He was smiling.
A reply to the Queen’s message could wait until morning. Oken returned to his close-up view of the stage.
* * *
HE LEFT his fur-lined overcoat in the booth. The manager would send it to the embassy hotel. Street carriages were heated, and Natyra kept her apartment unusually warm. She claimed she did so because she could spend more time in the bathing pool in the center of her bedroom. “Water, it keeps my body ready for the next dance!” Oken believed, however, it was more likely that she preferred being nude. This thought kept him warm as he climbed the nine stories to her apartment via the back stair, unheated and unguarded, lit only by small and ancient windows admitting the streetlights.
Natyra Arkadyena Solovyova lived in a great, round room in the sky above Novgorod, at the top of a stone tower in a western wall of the royal palace. Her sponsor, the grand vizier of all Oesterreich, Nevski XXI, was generous. Her room was as luxurious as any in the main halls of the palace, where the vizier and his many wives lived. It was also quite private, in its remote tower above the city.
Lord Oken found the door at the top of the staircase also unguarded, as he had expected. He removed his left glove and rested his fingertips against the touch-points of the ornate figure in the central panel. The hidden circuits in the silver inlay responded only to bare skin. Oken felt, rather than heard, the slight tremble as the panel activated; then it divided down the center and silently slid apart. He had to bend his head down and to the side as he stepped through the portal that had opened in the door. He was taller than most.
There were candles everywhere in her apartment, in silver and alabaster candlesticks. He could smell the soft, warm-wax scent of candles that had, until only moments before, been lit. The dying smoke made a sweet, mournful fragrance that told him the candles had burned while she awaited his arrival. He had known that they would not be lit when he walked in.
Oken asked her about it once. She told him someone (she would never tell him who, or when or why) had used candle flame to hurt her, badly. She showed him the pale scar still lingering on her sweet white breast. Whoever it was had used her own candles to burn her until she screamed her throat raw and confessed to things that she had not done and had never thought of doing until those ideas were put into her head. She had adored candles and candlelight from the first time she had been carried—small and helpless, and loving of the arms that held her—into a temple ceremony of the divine Neith, she of the wick and the lamps. Natyra’s first dances on temple stages had been to this ancient divinity. Natyra loved candles, the waxy scent, the yellow orange glow, the simple magic of light and heat that arose from string and wax and oil. She could not let that night of torture turn her away from her divine guide, but she could never bear to have anyone share them with her. She lit candles only when alone.
Oken, upon hearing this sad confession, had gotten up from her bed and taken a fat green candle from the mantel and set it on her nightstand. When he lit it, he saw her face go pale and her lips tremble. She held her chin up, still proud, yet a cloudy fear touched her green eyes.
He did not touch the lit candle. He held his hands out beside it, with the firm, tanned flesh of the backs of his hands and wrists close to her.
“Burn me,” he said to her, firmly. “Burn me with the candle.”
Natyra shook her head. He could see the candlelight gleaming in her eyes and on the smooth, polished skin of her shaved head.
“Do it.”
She stared at him, gauging his conviction, then took the candle and dripped hot wax onto the backs of his hands.
He winced.
He let her drip more wax, until he saw something fierce and clean shine in her perfect face. With a cry of alarm, she put the candle back into its holder and pushed it away. Oken blew out the flame, watching her face in the sudden twilight. He used a bit of ice from his drink to chill the wax on his hands until it was brittle and fell away.
Natyra had tears in her eyes as she kissed his hands then, the soft, unburned insides of his wrists and his palms. They never spoke of it again. She did not light candles when he was there, but she trusted him.
Her trust hurt Oken more than the mild blisters on his hands. He was testing a theory, doing his job. What truly mattered was that he discover the identity of her contact in Novgorod, in the palace of the grand vizier of Oesterreich, who was leaking vital information to Bismarck in Turkistan, the only nation in open resistance to Egypt’s embrace.
* * *
THE TAPESTRY that concealed the hidden entrance to her apartment was drenched with the fragrance of incense, oils and candles. Oken was familiar now with that mingled scent of smoke and time and he felt his pulse quickening.
He paused with the corner of the tapestry’s fabric in one hand, gazing around, adjusting to the dim light. At the far side of the room, tall windows looked out over Novgorod. City lights created an orange glow in the night sky. Opposite the tapestry was a fireplace, originally built to burn whole trees at once, radiating warmth into the room from the complex flutings of a steel radiator. White peonies filled the mantel, masses of them in crystal vases set between miniature lotus columns.
Oken could see the gold and silver threads of the tapestry’s design reflected in the mirror above the mantel, making the divine faces of Isis and Osiris shine softly in the darkness. They seemed to be smiling down benignly at his face, reflected in the mirror as well. For an instant he felt himself to be a part of their eternal scene. He pushed the feeling aside to focus on the moment. However lovely the scene, this moment was not benign. He was here on a mission, weaving lies in search of a truth.
Natyra’s pale form was outlined by blue radiance as she floated comfortably in the bathwater with an ivory headrest supporting her slender neck and shaved head. She raised her glass to him in salute when he stepped into sight.
Oken strolled slowly toward the glowing pool and her magical presence. He circled the pool so that he could see every curve in the water, then he stopped beside the ivory headrest. The blue radiance emphasized the pattern of veins in her throat and breast. Her eyes were deeper green in this light, large and luminous, gazing up at him with sultry promise.
He dropped to one knee beside her upturned face. “My mum spent a lot of her wealth to make sure that I had a proper appreciation of classical art. You are a classic, and I do appreciate perfection.”
“My compliments to your dear mum,” Natyra whispered.
“My mum would not like you,” he whispered in return.
“Good.” She reached up and drew his face close to kiss him.
Oken was careful not to let the cuffs of his jacket get wet. He tasted vodka and hints of absinthe along with her incomparable sweetness.
“Join me.” She gestured toward the pool.
“Your bed would be more comfortable.”
“I am comfortable here.” She waved her hand once slowly through the glowing water so that inviting ripples swirled over her creamy flesh.
“Yes, you are, but I’ve had my bath already.”
“Silly boy. You will need another bath when I am done with you.”
“I certainly hope so.”
“I am tired from the dancing. The hot water, it makes me relax.” A slight pout in her voice suggested Oken was going to give in to her.
“I can make you relax,” he whispered.
Natyra stretched lazily in the water, arching her back so that the pearl white mounds of her breasts rose out of the pool, sparkling with water drops.
Oken sighed. This was his favorite suit and he was on very good terms with the tailor. He did not want to get it wet. It was silk. Then he remembered the scroll in his pocket. He sat back on his heels.
“I’ll meet you there.” He stood up.
Natyra’s scrunched up her forehead, and she let her glass drop into the bath.
Oken stepped back, smiling down at her, then strolled over to the canopied bed. He settled onto it, bracing himself on hip and elbow and stretching his long, lean legs out across the silk quilts. He lazily undid the buttons of his jacket, thinking not of Natyra but of the royal wax seal on the scroll calling him back to Memphis to dance with the Queen of the world.
“You are a tyrant.” Natyra stood up in the pool. “You did not even give me a towel.”
“Do you need one?”
She pouted at him more firmly as she climbed out of the bathing pool and took a towel from the warming rack. She let it trail dramatically behind her in one hand as she stepped slowly toward the bed with the exaggerated grace of the stage. Droplets of water rolled down her perfect flesh, tracing the rise and fall of her muscles as she moved.
Natyra was forty-eight, almost twice Oken’s age. She always made sure that her lovers saw her only from the distance of the stage or in the twilight luxury of her private apartment. Oken was less mindful of her age than of her ageless perfection. He marveled at the good fortune that had brought him here. Were their ages reversed, he doubted she could have been more beautiful. She wore time better than most women wore youth.
She swirled the towel around and draped it across his hip as she knelt on the bed. “You must dry my back.”
Oken sat up, pulling her to him as he pushed the towel to the floor. She put her arms around him, stroking his thick hair as she kissed him. The bare curve of her skull fit his hand perfectly. Oken knew, whatever else happened, he would remember that curve of bare skin against his palm for as long as he lived, and not just because of his perfect memory.
She teased his teeth with the tip of her tongue, and Oken stretched her out on the bed.
There was a thunder of fists pounding on wood from behind the huge tapestry covering the far wall, then a crashing thud, and the corner of the tapestry was thrust aside as a man in uniform burst into the room. “Natyra!” he shouted when he saw them.
Natyra sat up as though stung, her eyes wide.
The man looked as big as a bear—not a big European bear, but some giant, golden animal from the deep, wild woods of Rusland, towering over everything and everyone, sleek and enormous. Even his blond mustache was waxed into giant curls. His bushy brows were drawn down into a fierce V of anger over his raging blue eyes.
Oken recognized him at once, with some surprise, as General Vladimir Modestovich Blestyak, in command of the vizier’s royal horsemen guard, and the last person Oken expected to see in Natyra’s apartment. Blestyak was a lowbrow from a famous family, never seen out of uniform and never seen when anything important or dangerous was happening. Oken was more curious than alarmed by his noisy entrance. He made himself remain still, ready to leap in whichever direction this invasion demanded.
Blestyak bellowed as he stalked toward the two poised on the bed. The size of his rage and his volume made his words incoherent. Even so, Oken picked up at once that the general was not happy about the “Egyptian pig” in Natyra’s bed.
Natyra reared up, defiantly nude, to stand between Oken and the general. She placed her hands on her hips and lifted her chin with regal disdain. “How dare you come in here uninvited!”
The general spat out a torrent of words, accusing Oken of being a spy for the Pharaoh. The sight of those perfect breasts, however, made the intensity of his rage falter. He hesitated before taking another step toward her. He repeated the accusation at a lower volume.
Natyra, speaking in the same language, reminded the general that he was also a spy. In Trade Speak she added haughtily, “Irrelevant! He is invited to be here—you are not!”
Oken had faked ignorance of the native tongue. He had just received his reward for the ruse. General Blestyak was not on the embassy’s suspect list. He was considered to be something of an idiot, fit only for horses and royal stables. Natyra’s single sentence, however, made pieces fall into place. The royal stables were part of the palace compound, with access to the entire grounds. The royal family worshipped their horses. The stables were temples to Epona, sacred ground. Blestyak was in a perfect position to observe anything happening there. His obscurity even made sense. Who would notice him?
Oken made himself lie still, resting back on one elbow, a hand draped across his hip. He let his gaze drift as if the glorious view of Natyra from behind were more important than a raging giant.
Blestyak’s step faltered again as he looked back and forth between the lovers. “I will have this pig arrested!”
“I will have you thrown out!” Natyra stamped once with her foot.
“That’s one big bear.” Oken spoke lightly, pretending to be entertained by the interruption. “What’s he shouting about? Does he plan to join us?”
She turned her head to glare at Oken. “Do not be impertinent.”
“Good.” Oken made himself relax back against the pillows. “I don’t much like animals, not in bed.” He waved the general out as he would dismiss a servant. “Make him go away, milya Natyra.”
Blestyak recovered his rage, flinging himself at Oken with a roar.
He landed on the bed with such a crash that the solid wooden frame creaked ominously. Oken, however, had neatly rolled away. He leaped to his feet as the general raised himself up to scramble after him.
Oken was glad that he had not yet taken off his jacket. He sprang around the bed to where Natyra was just regaining her feet. He picked up the towel and draped it around her shoulders like a dinner cloak.
Blestyak also regained his feet and was coming around the bed with an incoherent string of curses. Giant hands stretched out to grab Oken.
Oken kissed Natyra lightly on the tip of her nose, feeling, as he had from the first, a strange jolt when so close to her green eyes. “I’ll be back,” he said, knowing it was a lie. His work here was done.
He turned aside as the general reached them, thus Natyra intercepted Blestyak’s assault. Both of them fell heavily onto the bed, with the general’s arms tangled around Natyra’s long limbs. Oken sprang away, running toward the secret exit behind the tapestry.
The general moved with surprising swiftness, untangling himself and snatching up giant handfuls of the carpet with a fierce jerk. Oken went down. He rolled as he fell, and he came up just as Blestyak’s fist came down on the side of his face.
The buzzing in Oken’s head nearly drowned out Natyra’s scream. He tasted blood.
Even Oken’s eidetic memory recalled only a blur of pain and pounding fists in the next few seconds. His best training in martial arts could only keep him moving fast enough that the general could not kill him, not all at once. Natyra’s angry screams penetrated like darts in the fog.
There was an abrupt explosion of shattering crystal. Blestyak fell heavily across Oken, pinning him to the carpet.
Oken had a glimpse of Natyra’s nude form standing over them, holding the broken remains of the vase she had just smashed over the giant general’s giant head. White peony petals clung to the droplets of water on her arms and legs like stray feathers. She held that crystal weapon raised, prepared to hit Blestyak again if he stirred.
“Is he dead?” she whispered.
Oken could see the flutter of veins pulsing in the general’s forehead as blood spilled down across the huge face. Petals were caught in the hot, red blood. “No,” he managed to gasp. “Get him off me.” Then the lights vanished, and the world fell silent and still.
* * *
LIGHT AND sound returned with stunning cold.
Oken found himself lying on a mound of snow beneath a clear black sky of northern stars. His first thought was to regret that he had left his gloves on Natyra’s bed. The next was to hope that the blood staining the snow was not his own—at least, not all of it.
He tried to sit up, thought better of it, and settled for lifting his head enough to see beyond the bloodied snow. He was lying on the frozen drift at the base of a stone wall. He recognized the wall. He had been carried to the side entrance of his hotel. The Egyptian Embassy was across the street. He checked his jacket pocket with trembling fingers. The case was still there. He shook it, hearing the slight rattle that said the scroll was inside.
His body ached with the fierce cold and bruising and the hard, sharp pain of fractured ribs. He rolled off the snowdrift and into the road. Pain gave him the strength to pull himself up to his feet and he staggered over the pavement to the embassy building. His legs gave way as he reached the huge windows. The building’s automatic security system would alert the guards inside. He lay huddled around the pain, waiting for them to find him. It was time to leave Novgorod. He had accomplished his mission and his best suit was ruined.

Copyright © 2014 by Ramona Wheeler

Three Princes

Three Princes
Tor Books, February 4, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages

Excerpt from Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler - February 4, 2014
Lord Scott Oken, a prince of Albion, and Professor-Prince Mikel Mabruke live in a world where the sun never set on the Egyptian Empire. In the year 1877 of Our Lord Julius Caesar, Pharaoh Djoser-George governs a sprawling realm that spans Europe, Africa, and much of Asia. When the European terrorist Otto von Bismarck touches off an international conspiracy, Scott and Mik are charged with exposing the plot against the Empire.

Their adventure takes them from the sands of Memphis to a lush New World, home of the Incan Tawantinsuyu, a rival empire across the glittering Atlantic Ocean. Encompassing Quetzal airships, operas, blood sacrifice and high diplomacy, Ramona Wheeler's Three Princes is a richly imagined, cinematic vision of a modern Egyptian Empire.

About Ramona

Excerpt from Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler - February 4, 2014
Ramona Wheeler grew up an Army Brat, shuttling from library to library with every move. She has written extensively on ancient Egypt and comparative mythology and her “Ray and Rokey” stories appeared in Analog magazine from 1998 to 2004. She now resides in Massachusetts. Visit her online at

Twitter @Ramona332

Book Tour

James L. Cambias, Brian Staveley (The Emperor's Blades) and Ramona Wheeler (Three Princes) will be touring together. Here is the schedule:

2/4, 7pm - Towne Book Center, Collegeville, PA

2/6, 7pm - Barnes & Noble, Holyoke, MA

2/7, 7pm -Annie’s Book Stop, Worcester, MA

2/8, 2pm - Barnes & Noble, Hingham, MA

2/11, 7pm - RiverRun Bookstore, Portsmouth, NH

2/13, 7pm - Harvard Coop, Cambridge, MA

2/15, 3pm - Bartleby’s Books, Wilmington, VT

2/22, 7pm - Flights of Fantasy, Albany, NY

2/24, 7:30pm – Housing Works Bookstore, New York, NY

Excerpt from Forged by Desire by Bec McMaster - September 4, 2014Excerpt from A Curse Awakened by Cecy Robson - August 29, 2014Excerpt from The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton - August 22, 2014Night's End by Yasmine Galenorn Blog Tour - Excerpt and More! - June 29, 2014Feature: Excerpt from A Better World by Marcus Sakey - June 25, 2014Against the Dawn by Amanda Bonilla - Excerpt and Giveaway - May 22, 2014Excerpt from The Ninth Configuration by William Peter Blatty and Giveaway - May 2, 2014Excerpt and Giveaway: Federales by Christopher Irvin - April 3, 2014Excerpt from Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler - February 4, 2014Mind Trace by Holly McCaghren - Excerpt and Giveaway

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