Although this isn’t a New Years post, I am still celebrating the successes of last year. I think I’ll be celebrating 2012 for many years to come, too. 2012 was a year of change for me. Some good, some not so good. But through it all, I found within myself such strength at times I had to step back and say, “Slow down, girl!”
For my writing, this past year has been one success after another. I moved out from Noble Romance Publishing to work with Total E-bound and the transition has been wonderful. I still shudder at the memory of working with Noble and take the time to express my thanks to the great ladies and gents I work with at TEB. Sometimes life works that way – you learn through tough times, to appreciate the good times even more.
My first two novels, Midnight Star and Silver’s Chance are still ‘owned’ by NRP, but TEB was kind enough to let me continue my stories in a sub-series, entitled, Sisterhood of Jade. Tabithia’s story, A Spartan’s Kiss, starts this new series with some hot sparks, and I hope a loving, warm tale of two people finding true love.
I can’t say enough good things about working with TEB and won’t bore you with all the differences I’ve found, but I do have to mention that not only is TEB right on the money with their professionalism, but they take the time to ensure each and every sentence is formatted correctly and there are no errors, prior to print. In other words, you won’t find the ending to my book in the middle! J
Tabithia’s story deserved this tender care.
Here’s a small snippet from when Aeros is confronted with Tabithia in all her glorious badness – in other words, being the powerful witch she is.
“Stop.” Tabithia’s whisper had him halting a breath behind her. She smelled fresh, like some sunny field of jasmine, sweet and pure. “Back up a step, would you, Sparkie?” Grumbling something under her breath, she held a hand up when he opened his mouth. She took a step like a blind man would when entering an unknown room. “Not good. Not freakin’ good. Shit.”
“What is it?” He saw nothing. No difference that he could see or feel. Well, he felt something but it was a familiar pulsing beneath his trousers. Merely the sight of this woman had him gritting his teeth and clenching his hands to fight the urge to pull her close.
“Shhh…” Cocking her head to the side, she lowered her arm and slowly crouched down on the trail. A huge root criss-crossed at the toes of her boots, the thick moss-covered appendage bigger than his waist. He watched her reach out and run a small hand over the bark much like he’d fantasised about her stroking him. Under her hand, the root arched for more of her touch. His hand tightened on his machete.
“Ah…good, very good, but not good enough. You’ll have to try a bit harder, won’t you?”
Before Aeros could ask what she meant, her hands glowed green and she wove them in a complicated pattern. A cold breeze blew against his back and the small hairs on the back of his neck tingled. The men behind him shifted quietly, but didn’t move from their positions.
The breeze grew to a strong wind. Around them the jungle quieted. The immense kapok trees to either side of the trail suddenly made a sound as if struck by lightning. The crack had his rifle in his hands and his attention fixed on the path ahead of her. Behind him, he sensed his men doing the same. Near his head, flowers the size of dinner plates suddenly snapped shut, hiding their oddly coloured yellow, purple and pink petals.
Acting as if nothing had happened, Tabithia stood gracefully from her crouch, patted the kapok tree next to her and tilted her head up at him. A shiver settled over his back at the calculating look in her eyes.
“I thought I said you didn’t need that?”
He re-slung his rifle and ran a hand through his short hair. What to say?
“Mmm, well, whatever makes you feel better, I suppose. So, this godhead.” Her gaze turned into something powerful. “This is some kind of relic, don’t you think? She’s tricky, huh?”
She? Before he could ask, Tabithia shrugged.
“No worries, we’ll figure it out. Watch out for the vines, boys.” She tapped a long, thick one with her finger and tutted at him. “Poisonous, you know?”
Behind him, Narc cursed and stepped away from where he’d been leaning on one.
“Yep, best not touch anything, ’kay?”
Again, she turned without waiting on a response. She stepped over the now motionless root and waved them on.
“Come on, they should behave for a while now, but we need to speed the pace up a bit.”
Narc lifted a shaggy brow. “Behave?”
“Did you see that root move?” the Bard demanded.
She’d spooked his men. All of them wore worried scowls, even Ajax. The silent assassin looked like he’d just been floored by her power.
“We move on. She’s a witch. She’s doing what she can to make sure we get the relic back.” He hoped. He drew his machete and the others did the same. The Bard had never sheathed his, he noted. Aaron grimaced but nodded. Narc simply scowled and fell back next to Ajax. Assured they all were paying attention, Aeros turned and caught up to her within seconds.
“What was that back there?”
She frowned. Her delicate eyebrows were shades darker than her stunning hair and angled down whenever she seemed to worry over something. Her bangs blew in the soft breeze, revealing the frown marring her perfect forehead. On the flight, she’d also nibbled her finger, analysing something in her mind for hours without speaking. What, he didn’t know, but he wanted to. Now he needed to.
“I need to know so I can be prepared, Tabithia.”
“Yeah, got the memo,” she grumbled. “The first spell. She’s good. And I have a feeling we are dealing with something altogether different, or maybe not different… Maybe she wanted out of your god’s little altar and out here in this realm. Whatever, she’s tricky, very tricky, but we’ll see who wins in the end, right?”
“Why do you keep refereeing to the relic as a she? Why can’t the godhead now be in the hands of a witch?”
She stopped and met his eyes steadily. Hers were the deepest green he’d yet seen on her. Serious. Deadly serious. Centuries before, he’d once passed through the far north, well past Hadrian’s Wall, and found a field, lush and deep green, on the edge of an ancient forest. Her eyes reminded him of that lush clover-filled field. “Well, because this godhead, or whatever you call it, is a creature, not a thing.”
“How can you be sure of this?” He was stunned. How could he not know this?
“I felt something, when I took it. I felt something.” She broke off suddenly with a frustrated sound. “But we were kinda in a hurry. Now?” Her look said she’d had more time to think, and what she thought just might kill any chance he had with her.
“It’s a female. What species, I’m not certain, but I soon will know. Soon. Maybe we’ll all know.”
He didn’t stop her when she moved ahead. Instead, he frowned at his men. Ajax caught his eye before he turned back to the trail. All of them were too far back to have heard her, but he doubted he could convince the playful witch to keep that bit of information under wraps. He still tried.
“Let’s keep that on the lowdown for now. You don’t know that and your guesses merely make this more difficult.”
She glanced back at him, frowning thoughtfully. “More difficult?”
He nodded sharply, hoping she’d see reason. Until they knew what the chalice actually was, it made sense not to say anything.
“So, keep the boys in the dark, huh?”
“They follow orders. They don’t need to know your guesses.”
Why did he suddenly feel like he’d stepped into a minefield? The next moment, she halted him again, this time with a hiss and a hand on his chest. There was no time to savour how good her small, warm hand felt. A deep unease rushed up his system. He’d lived too long to ignore the warning. Death Stalker attacks usually triggered his instincts, but this felt different. Still, he grabbed hold of her arm and jerked her protectively behind him. Seconds later, all hell broke loose.
Tabithia turned into a shrieking banshee. With more strength than he thought she should possess, she broke his hold. Around them, the jungle erupted in howls, and something small whizzed by his head. Another something—much bigger—crashed through the jungle, making more noise than a nuclear bomb. His men cursed, pulling in tight, guarding Tabithia in a diamond formation.
Her green eyes glowed bright emerald, the colour matching the glow surrounding her palms.
“Hell, hell, hell. What the hell is this?” she screeched.
Behind him, he got the full force of something hitting him hard enough between his shoulder blades that he stumbled forward only to be jerked backward again by the little banshee’s grip on his shirt.
“Oh, no. You stay here. Get out of my way and stay put!”
She tried to shove him back. If she’d slapped him, he’d not have been as surprised. He didn’t budge. She glared up at him then spun in front of him, hands up, to face a stampede of what looked like jungle animals—wild boars, bristly rodents the size of house cats, monkeys screaming from the vines, and even a jaguar—charging them from the trailhead.
Before he could open his mouth or drag her to safety, she started chanting. The glow around her grew almost blinding. Around him, he heard his men swearing, but her voice, her musical song, distracted him. She pitched her tone so low he was surprised the beasts could hear her.
“By Maiden, Mother, and Crone, I bind you to obey me. By the three goddesses, you will listen. Three words I call, three words I evoke, three gods I choose. Go, obey me. Go, obey me! Go! Obey! Me!”
The last she shouted with such power his eardrums felt near to breaking. His men groaned, and the wild pigs squealed. The monkeys’ screams grew louder and turned into a frenzy. The jungle shuddered as the animals turned, frantic to be anywhere but near Tabithia.
“Sweet, you do not want to mess with me.” Her hand shot out in a dismissive gesture.
A branch fell, almost knocking her off her feet. She hissed at the tree and sidestepped the branch easily. Throwing her arms up as in frustration, she glared up at him and blew out a breath.
“Well, she wants to play, huh?”
An evil grin lifted her pink lips and before he could stop her, she leapt up on a tree branch two feet above his head.
“Sparkie, never get in the middle of a cat fight.”
He growled a curse, and her eyes widened before she muttered something at him about his language. How she stood on the tiny branch he had no idea, and didn’t want to find out. Instead, he wanted her down. Now.
“Tabithia, you need to—”
Of course, she cut him off.
“Release them! You have no hold on such. Release them! Return them to their own. Release them!” She lifted her arms high above her head, weaving them so fast they left a green glowing pattern. As he watched, the green light spilled from her fingertips, like lightning from the clouds, built up to a brilliance that had him grimacing and his eyes watering to keep her in sight. Her red hair blew on a breeze, her heavy bangs lifting and revealing her determined expression.
Power sizzled to a point of almost pain around them. Next to him, a tree split in two, crashing heavily to the jungle floor. Another made an ear-splitting explosion behind him. As Aeros watched Tabithia, she flung up a hand and murmured something low. The tree veered left and landed a hundred feet to their left in the jungle. A branch followed, then another. Something sounding like flowing water began to penetrate his brain. Tabithia jumped down, landing lightly next to him in a crouch before slowly standing. Suddenly, everything around him dimmed compared to the powerful ten-foot-high wall of water cutting a path through the jungle towards them.
“Fuck!” Ajax made a jump closer. Aaron dropped into a crouch, looking stunned. Narc grabbed the Bard by the back of his BDUs to drag him closer. All of them looked out of their depth. He knew the feeling.
Eyes back on Tabithia, he watched as she lifted her hands, palms together until they were even with her face, then shoved them apart and out, making a sound like a shriek, wild and powerful, as she did. The wall of water parted close on either side of where they stood but not so much as a drop touched them. Around them, though, dark water the colour of mud, filled with debris, swirled and arrowed by them in a moving wall. Tabithia stood in the middle, the point deflecting the power attacking them while he and his men stood and watched.
Gods, she was magnificent.
Just as suddenly as the flood had begun, it slowed to a trickle around them. Silence filled the damp air. After the attack, the now quiet jungle almost hurt the senses.
Checking in on his men, he saw amazement on their strong faces. They’d faced many battles, some with magic spewing the land from under their feet, or attempting to slice them to pieces, but never once had they seen the kind of power this tiny witch called forth. And, even more incredible, she appeared as steady as usual. As if she’d not just held back a storm, parted a flood, and single-handedly saved their asses.
The beasts were gone. The jungle lay in wet, muddy destruction as far as he could see. Water flowed around their trail, in front and behind them, too, no doubt, but on the patch they stood it was dry, free of the wreckage littering the surrounding area. Dropping a bomb wouldn’t have caused as much damage.
A shriek cut through the air, ending the silence.
Tabithia crouched lower and nodded. “Aye, I agree, sister. But not a chance of it. Bring it on again, and I retaliate in kind. Let us come. We will anyway.”
Nothing met her soft-spoken words but silence.
In front of him, Tabithia lowered her arms. The brilliant green blaze flowing from her simply disappeared. Slowly she glanced up and nearly had him stepping back. Pain, rage, and something else, something dark swirled in the depths of her eyes.
“This is going to cost you more than I think you realise, Spartan.”
The fury in her tone gave him pause. The lack of nickname hit him harder. Something had changed. Correction, something had changed her. In place of the mischief, the prankster, was a cold, hard anger, and if he had to guess? Something close to disgust. Or disappointment. Or perhaps all three. Her gaze flashed up at him, then swept to his men. He shouldn’t have felt better that his men were earning her wrath as well.
She turned without another word and headed off with a muttered, “Don’t fall behind.”
He watched her step over a dead but still wild and dangerous-looking boar with enormous yellowed tusks. She didn’t even glance down at the creature. Somehow, he doubted she’d missed the beast.
‘This is going to cost you more than I think you realise, Spartan.’
What he had to pay for, he had no idea, but he was beginning to realise Ares had led him into a trap. A trap impossible to get out of without alienating the one woman Aeros wanted more than his next breath.