'I love you' is just the beginning of the story.

Mermen of Ea Series 25% off at Dreamspinner Press!

MermenofEa_FBThe entire Mermen of Ea Series is 25% through June 25th at Dreamspinner Press! That’s both ebooks and paperbacks, by the way, in case you prefer your beach read to be a “real” book! And if you’ve read the entire series and still crave a little more, I’ve posted the entire cabin boy free ficlet, Wind and Water, here on my website!

The Mermen of Ea stories are romance above everything, but they also combine mystery, magic, and adventure. Think along the lines of Lord of the Rings and other fantasy series, but with an HEA (always!).

I’m so excited to share the complete saga of my mermen, and I’m thrilled to see all the wonderful reviews for the series and this last book! Don’t forget to enter the blog tour contest to win some cool mer-themed prizes (and there are prizes for non-US entrants as well, including an audiobook copy of Stealing the Wind! Here’s the link to the giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You can read an excerpt from Running with the Wind below (spoiler warning for books 1 and 2!). Happy reading! -Shira

RunningWithTheWind-colorsREVHearts on Fire Reviews:

5 stars – “I’ve never been a fan of fantasy, yet this fantasy series ranks high on my list of all-time favorite series, and I can’t recommend it highly enough to all lovers of M/M romance.” -Barb

My Fiction Nook:

5-stars. “Running” is smart and fun, not to mention well-written. And, *gasp*, the intricate plot actually makes sense, so I was engrossed from start to finish.” -Todd

Carly’s Book Reviews:

5 Stars – “Dramatic, sensual, emotional, suspenseful, romantic, fantastic… there just aren’t enough words to adequately describe this stunning series!”IntoWind

Bike Book Reviews:

5 pink shells – “After all the anguish and uncertainty from Into the Wind, we get to finally know all the turns in Taren and Ian’s life to fulfill their Destiny, and wow, I couldn’t put this book down… My heart went out to Ian and Taren, while they tried to put their fears and doubts to rest and trust in their bond, in the love, so prepare yourself for one more great ride through the EA world.

Prism Book Alliance:

4.75 Stars – “What a treat you have in store if you have yet to read these books.”

Stealing the Wind Cover - FINALScattered Thoughts and Rogue Words:

4.5 Stars – “It was a wonderful ride, I loved every minute and word of it.”

The Novel Approach:

5 Stars – “I absolutely, whole-heartedly recommend it. Go! Read! Now!” – Jules

Here’s the list of blogs participating in the tour and links:

1-Jun Elisa – My Reviews and Ramblings
1-Jun Tara Lain
2-Jun Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words
3-Jun My Fiction Nook
4-Jun Amanda C. Stone
5-Jun Carly’s Book Reviews
8-Jun Bayou Book Junkie
9-Jun Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews
10-Jun Decadent Delights
11-Jun MM Good Book Reviews
12-Jun Inked Rainbow Reads
15-Jun Divine Magazine
16-Jun Book Reviews, Rants, and Raves
17-Jun BFD Book Blog
18-Jun The Novel Approach
19-Jun Because Two Men Are Better Than One
22-Jun Kimi-Chan
22-Jun Happily Ever Chapter
23-Jun Prism Book Alliance
24-Jun Cate Ashwood
25-Jun Love Bytes
26-Jun Molly Lolly

RunningWithTheWind_headerbannerBlurb: Sequel to Into the Wind

With the final confrontation between the island and mainland Ea factions looming, Taren and Ian sail with Odhrán to investigate a lost colony of merfolk in the Eastern Lands. Upon their arrival, the King of Astenya welcomes them as friends. Odhrán, however, isn’t so quick to trust the descendent of the man who held him prisoner for nearly a decade, especially now that he has someone to cherish and protect—the mysterious winged boy he rescued from the depths.

Armed with the knowledge he believes will save the Ea, Taren returns to the mainland. With Ian at his side, Taren convinces Vurin that their people must unite with their island brethren before it’s too late. When Seria and his men attack, Taren must call upon the ancient power of the rune stone to protect his comrades. But using stone’s immeasurable power commands a hefty price—and Ian fears that price is Taren’s life.

RunningWithTheWind_headerbannerSPOILER WARNING: This excerpt contains spoilers for the first two series books!

Running with the Wind

Excerpt from Chapter One

Ian leaned over the railing as the morning sunlight warmed his shoulders. A few feet away, Taren wrapped a blanket around the shivering boy, who sat with his knees hugged to his chest. He tenderly ruffled the boy’s fiery red hair. The boy leaned into Taren’s touch and made a satisfied sound much like the purr of a cat.

Not a boy, Ian reminded himself. Bastian. An Anuki. The heavenly brethren of the Ea. A dragon shifter reborn from the ashes. True, this freckle-faced dragon child looked nothing like the full-fledged beast who’d nearly killed them the day before, but they knew little of the Anuki. Had it only been a day since Seria’s men had attacked them and they’d lost Rider to Seria’s bullet?

Ian met Taren’s gaze and his grief eased slightly. Taren smiled back, his warm brown eyes hooded with exhaustion and grief, his shoulder-length hair having dried in a tumble of waves. From where he sat on the deck, Bastian watched Odhrán, keenly interested. The sphere they’d discovered not long after the destruction of the Sea Witch—an egg, Ian now knew—had dissolved beneath the water. Bastian had been choking and spluttering when Odhrán had carried him aboard. Since then, Bastian had done little but watch Odhrán with rapt attention.

Like a baby bird watches its mother. Ian frowned at his folly. How easy it was to forget this pathetic creature had destroyed the Sea Witch and nearly killed them all. If Odhrán hadn’t killed the dragon Bastian had become, they’d all have died. And yet Bastian had been reborn.

Bastian glanced up at Taren, blinked several times, then shifted his gaze back to Odhrán, who spoke in hushed tones to one of his crew. The long blond braid down Odhrán’s back dripped onto the deck and left the back of his woolen jacket sodden. Despite the bright blue of his eyes and his youthful features, Odhrán appeared as exhausted as Ian felt.

“A moment of your time?” Ian said after the crewmember trotted off toward the stairs, leaving the four of them alone on the foredeck.

Odhrán nodded and followed Ian amidships, far enough away that Bastian wouldn’t hear.

“Do you think this is wise?” Ian asked with a quick glance back at Taren and Bastian.

“What would you have me do? Leave him to drown?” Odhrán, too, appeared weary. Ian knew he still regretted having killed the fully transformed Bastian.

He couldn’t live without Rider.” Taren’s words echoed in Ian’s mind. Rider—Ian’s oldest friend—had taken a bullet in Ian’s stead. There’d been no time to grieve.

“No.” Ian sighed. “Rider would have wanted us to care for him.” Taren would never have forgiven him for suggesting they leave Bastian to drown, and they’d lost too much to even consider it.

Odhrán nodded curtly and turned his gaze eastward. Now calm in the wake of the storm, the water sparkled with sunlight. Nothing remained of the Sea Witch but a few bits of broken timbers floating restlessly on the waves. Later, all of the men now aboard the Chimera would gather on the deck to remember the Witch’s captain, but for just a moment, Ian could almost imagine Rider at the wheel of his beloved ship.

I’ll miss you, old friend. More than you’ll ever know.

Ian shrugged off his dark thoughts and walked back to Taren. “You should get some sleep.” He squeezed Taren’s shoulder. “Odhrán and I will not let Bastian out of our sight.”

Taren pressed his lips together and nodded. How tired Taren must be that he didn’t even argue!

“I’ll join you in a bit.” Ian pressed his lips to Taren’s warm cheek.

Taren retrieved the blanket that had fallen off Bastian’s shoulders and wrapped it around him again. Naked as Bastian was beneath, Ian caught a glimpse of the wings they’d seen when they’d discovered him on the ocean floor. No longer scaled as they’d been when they’d first pulled Bastian from the water, Bastian’s wings were now covered with feathers and shimmered red, yellow, orange, and fuchsia, iridescent in the sunlight.

“I’ll be back later,” Taren told Bastian with a barely repressed yawn. “I promise.”

Bastian’s eyes revealed little understanding. Had he forgotten everything of his former life? Perhaps he was still too overwhelmed from the shock of the past day’s events to fully comprehend his situation. He’d not uttered a word since they’d brought him aboard.

Taren kissed Ian—a fleeting kiss, but one Ian needed to reassure himself that all had not changed—before heading belowdecks to rest.

Ian met Odhrán at the bow. “He’s like a fledgling,” Ian said, inclining his head in Bastian’s direction, “watching you like a bird might his mother.”

Odhrán’s brow knitted. He’d clearly noticed it as well. “I’ve asked Garan to reinforce the enchantments on the ship’s masts and sails. There’s nothing more to be done.”

“Aye. But if Bastian threatens the ship—”

“Then I’ll be forced to subdue him. Not a prospect I relish, although in his current state, he appears far less powerful than before.” Odhrán studied Bastian once again. “For now, at least, he’s content to be in our company.”

“What do you know of the Anuki?”

“They’re much like the Ea in their ability to shift to human form. I met one centuries ago, but he was nothing like this. Not a child. But what happened with Bastian….”

“Reborn from the ashes.” Ian’s heart ached once again for the loss of Rider.

“My time with one of their kind was brief.” Odhrán stared past Ian as if remembering.

Ian didn’t press the issue. Later, perhaps, he’d ask Odhrán about that encounter. “And his memories of his life with Rider?”

Odhrán shook his head. “I don’t know. I suppose only time will tell.”

Ian clenched his jaw. The realization that Bastian might not remember anything of his love for Rider made Ian’s grief that much greater.

 

Sale and Free Fiction: Mermen of Ea Series

MermenofEa_FBThe entire Mermen of Ea Series is 25% through June 25th at Dreamspinner Press! That’s both ebooks and paperbacks, by the way, in case you prefer your beach read to be a “real” book! And if you’ve read the entire series and still crave a little more, I’ve posted the entire cabin boy free ficlet, Wind and Water, here on my website!

I’m so excited to share the complete saga of my mermen, and I’m thrilled to see all the wonderful reviews for the series and this last book! Don’t forget to enter the blog tour contest to win some cool mer-themed prizes (and there are prizes for non-US entrants as well, including an audiobook copy of Stealing the Wind!

Hearts on Fire Reviews:

5 stars – “I’ve never been a fan of fantasy, yet this fantasy series ranks high on my list of all-time favorite series, and I can’t recommend it highly enough to all lovers of M/M romance.”

My Fiction Nook:

5-stars. “Running” is smart and fun, not to mention well-written. And, *gasp*, the intricate plot actually makes sense, so I was engrossed from start to finish.” -Todd

Carly’s Book Reviews:

5 Stars – “Dramatic, sensual, emotional, suspenseful, romantic, fantastic… there just aren’t enough words to adequately describe this stunning series!”

Bike Book Reviews:

5 pink shells – “After all the anguish and uncertainty from Into the Wind, we get to finally know all the turns in Taren and Ian’s life to fulfill their Destiny, and wow, I couldn’t put this book down… My heart went out to Ian and Taren, while they tried to put their fears and doubts to rest and trust in their bond, in the love, so prepare yourself for one more great ride through the EA world.

Prism Book Alliance:

4.75 Stars – “What a treat you have in store if you have yet to read these books.”

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words:

4.5 Stars – “It was a wonderful ride, I loved every minute and word of it.”

The Novel Approach:

5 Stars – “I absolutely, whole-heartedly recommend it. Go! Read! Now!” – Jules

The Mermen of Ea stories are romance above everything, but they also combine mystery, magic, and adventure. Think along the lines of Lord of the Rings and other fantasy series, but with an HEA (always!).

Don’t forget to enter the Running with the Wind Blog Tour Giveaway contest at Rafflecopter. I’m giving away some fun, nautical themed prizes. The grand prize is a mermen gay marriage ornament from December Diamonds. Here’s the link to the giveaway, which ends July 1st:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You can read an excerpt from Running with the Wind below (spoiler warning for books 1 and 2!). Happy reading! -Shira

Here’s the list of blogs participating in the tour and links:

1-Jun Elisa – My Reviews and Ramblings
1-Jun Tara Lain
2-Jun Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words
3-Jun My Fiction Nook
4-Jun Amanda C. Stone
5-Jun Carly’s Book Reviews
8-Jun Bayou Book Junkie
9-Jun Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews
10-Jun Decadent Delights
11-Jun MM Good Book Reviews
12-Jun Inked Rainbow Reads
15-Jun Divine Magazine
16-Jun Book Reviews, Rants, and Raves
17-Jun BFD Book Blog
18-Jun The Novel Approach
19-Jun Because Two Men Are Better Than One
22-Jun Kimi-Chan
22-Jun Happily Ever Chapter
23-Jun Prism Book Alliance
24-Jun Cate Ashwood
25-Jun Love Bytes
26-Jun Molly Lolly

RunningWithTheWind_headerbannerBlurb: Sequel to Into the Wind

With the final confrontation between the island and mainland Ea factions looming, Taren and Ian sail with Odhrán to investigate a lost colony of merfolk in the Eastern Lands. Upon their arrival, the King of Astenya welcomes them as friends. Odhrán, however, isn’t so quick to trust the descendent of the man who held him prisoner for nearly a decade, especially now that he has someone to cherish and protect—the mysterious winged boy he rescued from the depths.

Armed with the knowledge he believes will save the Ea, Taren returns to the mainland. With Ian at his side, Taren convinces Vurin that their people must unite with their island brethren before it’s too late. When Seria and his men attack, Taren must call upon the ancient power of the rune stone to protect his comrades. But using stone’s immeasurable power commands a hefty price—and Ian fears that price is Taren’s life.

RunningWithTheWind_headerbannerSPOILER WARNING: This excerpt contains spoilers for the first two series books!

Running with the Wind

Excerpt from Chapter One

Ian leaned over the railing as the morning sunlight warmed his shoulders. A few feet away, Taren wrapped a blanket around the shivering boy, who sat with his knees hugged to his chest. He tenderly ruffled the boy’s fiery red hair. The boy leaned into Taren’s touch and made a satisfied sound much like the purr of a cat.

Not a boy, Ian reminded himself. Bastian. An Anuki. The heavenly brethren of the Ea. A dragon shifter reborn from the ashes. True, this freckle-faced dragon child looked nothing like the full-fledged beast who’d nearly killed them the day before, but they knew little of the Anuki. Had it only been a day since Seria’s men had attacked them and they’d lost Rider to Seria’s bullet?

Ian met Taren’s gaze and his grief eased slightly. Taren smiled back, his warm brown eyes hooded with exhaustion and grief, his shoulder-length hair having dried in a tumble of waves. From where he sat on the deck, Bastian watched Odhrán, keenly interested. The sphere they’d discovered not long after the destruction of the Sea Witch—an egg, Ian now knew—had dissolved beneath the water. Bastian had been choking and spluttering when Odhrán had carried him aboard. Since then, Bastian had done little but watch Odhrán with rapt attention.

Like a baby bird watches its mother. Ian frowned at his folly. How easy it was to forget this pathetic creature had destroyed the Sea Witch and nearly killed them all. If Odhrán hadn’t killed the dragon Bastian had become, they’d all have died. And yet Bastian had been reborn.

Bastian glanced up at Taren, blinked several times, then shifted his gaze back to Odhrán, who spoke in hushed tones to one of his crew. The long blond braid down Odhrán’s back dripped onto the deck and left the back of his woolen jacket sodden. Despite the bright blue of his eyes and his youthful features, Odhrán appeared as exhausted as Ian felt.

“A moment of your time?” Ian said after the crewmember trotted off toward the stairs, leaving the four of them alone on the foredeck.

Odhrán nodded and followed Ian amidships, far enough away that Bastian wouldn’t hear.

“Do you think this is wise?” Ian asked with a quick glance back at Taren and Bastian.

“What would you have me do? Leave him to drown?” Odhrán, too, appeared weary. Ian knew he still regretted having killed the fully transformed Bastian.

He couldn’t live without Rider.” Taren’s words echoed in Ian’s mind. Rider—Ian’s oldest friend—had taken a bullet in Ian’s stead. There’d been no time to grieve.

“No.” Ian sighed. “Rider would have wanted us to care for him.” Taren would never have forgiven him for suggesting they leave Bastian to drown, and they’d lost too much to even consider it.

Odhrán nodded curtly and turned his gaze eastward. Now calm in the wake of the storm, the water sparkled with sunlight. Nothing remained of the Sea Witch but a few bits of broken timbers floating restlessly on the waves. Later, all of the men now aboard the Chimera would gather on the deck to remember the Witch’s captain, but for just a moment, Ian could almost imagine Rider at the wheel of his beloved ship.

I’ll miss you, old friend. More than you’ll ever know.

Ian shrugged off his dark thoughts and walked back to Taren. “You should get some sleep.” He squeezed Taren’s shoulder. “Odhrán and I will not let Bastian out of our sight.”

Taren pressed his lips together and nodded. How tired Taren must be that he didn’t even argue!

“I’ll join you in a bit.” Ian pressed his lips to Taren’s warm cheek.

Taren retrieved the blanket that had fallen off Bastian’s shoulders and wrapped it around him again. Naked as Bastian was beneath, Ian caught a glimpse of the wings they’d seen when they’d discovered him on the ocean floor. No longer scaled as they’d been when they’d first pulled Bastian from the water, Bastian’s wings were now covered with feathers and shimmered red, yellow, orange, and fuchsia, iridescent in the sunlight.

“I’ll be back later,” Taren told Bastian with a barely repressed yawn. “I promise.”

Bastian’s eyes revealed little understanding. Had he forgotten everything of his former life? Perhaps he was still too overwhelmed from the shock of the past day’s events to fully comprehend his situation. He’d not uttered a word since they’d brought him aboard.

Taren kissed Ian—a fleeting kiss, but one Ian needed to reassure himself that all had not changed—before heading belowdecks to rest.

Ian met Odhrán at the bow. “He’s like a fledgling,” Ian said, inclining his head in Bastian’s direction, “watching you like a bird might his mother.”

Odhrán’s brow knitted. He’d clearly noticed it as well. “I’ve asked Garan to reinforce the enchantments on the ship’s masts and sails. There’s nothing more to be done.”

“Aye. But if Bastian threatens the ship—”

“Then I’ll be forced to subdue him. Not a prospect I relish, although in his current state, he appears far less powerful than before.” Odhrán studied Bastian once again. “For now, at least, he’s content to be in our company.”

“What do you know of the Anuki?”

“They’re much like the Ea in their ability to shift to human form. I met one centuries ago, but he was nothing like this. Not a child. But what happened with Bastian….”

“Reborn from the ashes.” Ian’s heart ached once again for the loss of Rider.

“My time with one of their kind was brief.” Odhrán stared past Ian as if remembering.

Ian didn’t press the issue. Later, perhaps, he’d ask Odhrán about that encounter. “And his memories of his life with Rider?”

Odhrán shook his head. “I don’t know. I suppose only time will tell.”

Ian clenched his jaw. The realization that Bastian might not remember anything of his love for Rider made Ian’s grief that much greater.

 

EM Lynley’s Sexy Gem Boys are back and they’re 24-Karat!

24-Karat Conspiracy and Lapiz Pendant Giveaway

 

Action? Check. Suspense? Check. Romance? Check, check, CHECK!

24-KaratConspiracyLG

I’m so excited to announce my upcoming release 24-Karat Conspiracy!

The ultra-talented Anne Cain hits it out of the park again with a cover that conveys the excitement of this book, a golden blend of action, romance, adventure and mystery.

24-Karat Conspiracy is Book 4 in the Precious Gems Series, but I’ve been planning this book since I wrote Italian Ice in 2011. This installment in the series is truly Reed’s story. You’ll learn things about him I’ve had to keep under my hat for ages, and I’m thrilled and relieved to be able to share them with you now.

And if you pre-order, you’ll also get a bonus freebie story! To claim your bonus, e-mail your pre-order receipt to me (emlynley@gmail.com)

But wait, there’s more:

Win this gorgeous lapis lazuli pendant!

lapis pendant300

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Here’s more about 24-Karat Conspiracy by EM Lynley

Love is the only gold

Former Ranger turned FBI agent Reed Acton faces his biggest challenge yet: a Christmas visit from partner Trent Copeland’s parents. He’s less equipped to handle hugs and holidays than the Taliban or international art thieves. When he’s assigned to track down a set of gold Babylonian artifacts looted from the Iraqi National Museum after the fall of Baghdad, things start to look up.

 

This time, Trent’s part of the mission, which takes them to exotic Istanbul. The crowded streets and labyrinthine markets fascinate Trent, but soon murder is on their trail. The investigation continues as Reed goes undercover at a US Army base, with Trent masquerading as his spouse. Surprisingly, fastidious and ever-fashionable Trent fits into base life right away and soon takes one of the suspects’ wives under his wing when domestic abuse rears its head.

 

Their faux marriage leads Reed to appreciate Trent in ways he never expected, strengthening their bond—until Reed has to confront the worst demons from his past: his relationship with his estranged family.

You can (pre)order this book at Amazon, Dreamspinner Press and All Romance

Read an extended excerpt at my website.

Please check out the rest of the Precious Gems Series at Amazon, Dreamspinner, All Romance, or your favorite bookseller. (24-Karat Conspiracy may not be available at all distributors until release day, 12 June).

About EM Lynley

EM at GRL book signing3EM Lynley writes gay romance with a touch of mystery and suspense. She loves books where the hero gets the guy and the loving is 11 on a scale of 10. A Rainbow Award winner and EPIC finalist, EM has worked in high finance, high tech, and in the wine industry, though she’d rather be writing hot, romantic man-on-man action. She spent 10 years as an economist and financial analyst, including a year as a White House Staff Economist, but only because all the intern positions were filled. Tired of boring herself and others with dry business reports and articles, her creative muse is back and naughtier than ever. She has lived and worked in London, Tokyo and Washington, D.C., but the San Francisco Bay Area is home for now.

She is the author of Sex, Lies & Wedding Bells, the Precious Gems series from Dreamspinner Press, and the Rewriting History series starring a sexy jewel thief, among others.

Visit her online WebsiteBlogFree ReadsFacebookTwitterNewsletterPinterest

 

 

Release Day: Running with the Wind!

RunningWithTheWind_FBbanner_DSPToday is release day for Running with the Wind, the final installment in the Mermen of Ea Series from Dreamspinner Press. Haven’t started the series yet? The first book, Stealing the Wind, is 35% off at Dreamspinner Press through midnight tonight, June 8th!

You’ll find the 2nd installment of the Mermen of Ea mini-fic over at Bayou Book Junkie today. The 1st installment is at Amanda C. Stone’s blog. And, of course, the blog tour contest is ongoing at Rafflecopter. It’s easy to enter (and you can enter daily) to win one of the cool nautical-themed prizes! Here’s the link to the Rafflecopter giveaway (open for entries until July 1st):

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You can read an excerpt from Running with the Wind below (spoiler warning for books 1 and 2!). Please help me celebrate the completion of the Mermen of Ea Series! Oh, and happy reading! -Shira

Here’s the list of blogs participating in the tour and links:

1-Jun Elisa – My Reviews and Ramblings
1-Jun Tara Lain
2-Jun Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words
3-Jun My Fiction Nook
4-Jun Amanda C. Stone
5-Jun Carly’s Book Reviews
8-Jun Bayou Book Junkie
9-Jun Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews
10-Jun Decadent Delights
11-Jun MM Good Book Reviews
12-Jun Inked Rainbow Reads
15-Jun Divine Magazine
16-Jun Book Reviews, Rants, and Raves
17-Jun BFD Book Blog
18-Jun The Novel Approach
19-Jun Because Two Men Are Better Than One
22-Jun Kimi-Chan
22-Jun Happily Ever Chapter
23-Jun Prism Book Alliance
24-Jun Cate Ashwood
25-Jun Love Bytes
26-Jun Molly Lolly

RunningWithTheWind_headerbannerBlurb: Sequel to Into the Wind

With the final confrontation between the island and mainland Ea factions looming, Taren and Ian sail with Odhrán to investigate a lost colony of merfolk in the Eastern Lands. Upon their arrival, the King of Astenya welcomes them as friends. Odhrán, however, isn’t so quick to trust the descendent of the man who held him prisoner for nearly a decade, especially now that he has someone to cherish and protect—the mysterious winged boy he rescued from the depths.

Armed with the knowledge he believes will save the Ea, Taren returns to the mainland. With Ian at his side, Taren convinces Vurin that their people must unite with their island brethren before it’s too late. When Seria and his men attack, Taren must call upon the ancient power of the rune stone to protect his comrades. But using stone’s immeasurable power commands a hefty price—and Ian fears that price is Taren’s life.

RunningWithTheWind_headerbannerSPOILER WARNING: This excerpt contains spoilers for the first two series books!

Running with the Wind

Excerpt from Chapter One

Ian leaned over the railing as the morning sunlight warmed his shoulders. A few feet away, Taren wrapped a blanket around the shivering boy, who sat with his knees hugged to his chest. He tenderly ruffled the boy’s fiery red hair. The boy leaned into Taren’s touch and made a satisfied sound much like the purr of a cat.

Not a boy, Ian reminded himself. Bastian. An Anuki. The heavenly brethren of the Ea. A dragon shifter reborn from the ashes. True, this freckle-faced dragon child looked nothing like the full-fledged beast who’d nearly killed them the day before, but they knew little of the Anuki. Had it only been a day since Seria’s men had attacked them and they’d lost Rider to Seria’s bullet?

Ian met Taren’s gaze and his grief eased slightly. Taren smiled back, his warm brown eyes hooded with exhaustion and grief, his shoulder-length hair having dried in a tumble of waves. From where he sat on the deck, Bastian watched Odhrán, keenly interested. The sphere they’d discovered not long after the destruction of the Sea Witch—an egg, Ian now knew—had dissolved beneath the water. Bastian had been choking and spluttering when Odhrán had carried him aboard. Since then, Bastian had done little but watch Odhrán with rapt attention.

Like a baby bird watches its mother. Ian frowned at his folly. How easy it was to forget this pathetic creature had destroyed the Sea Witch and nearly killed them all. If Odhrán hadn’t killed the dragon Bastian had become, they’d all have died. And yet Bastian had been reborn.

Bastian glanced up at Taren, blinked several times, then shifted his gaze back to Odhrán, who spoke in hushed tones to one of his crew. The long blond braid down Odhrán’s back dripped onto the deck and left the back of his woolen jacket sodden. Despite the bright blue of his eyes and his youthful features, Odhrán appeared as exhausted as Ian felt.

“A moment of your time?” Ian said after the crewmember trotted off toward the stairs, leaving the four of them alone on the foredeck.

Odhrán nodded and followed Ian amidships, far enough away that Bastian wouldn’t hear.

“Do you think this is wise?” Ian asked with a quick glance back at Taren and Bastian.

“What would you have me do? Leave him to drown?” Odhrán, too, appeared weary. Ian knew he still regretted having killed the fully transformed Bastian.

He couldn’t live without Rider.” Taren’s words echoed in Ian’s mind. Rider—Ian’s oldest friend—had taken a bullet in Ian’s stead. There’d been no time to grieve.

“No.” Ian sighed. “Rider would have wanted us to care for him.” Taren would never have forgiven him for suggesting they leave Bastian to drown, and they’d lost too much to even consider it.

Odhrán nodded curtly and turned his gaze eastward. Now calm in the wake of the storm, the water sparkled with sunlight. Nothing remained of the Sea Witch but a few bits of broken timbers floating restlessly on the waves. Later, all of the men now aboard the Chimera would gather on the deck to remember the Witch’s captain, but for just a moment, Ian could almost imagine Rider at the wheel of his beloved ship.

I’ll miss you, old friend. More than you’ll ever know.

Ian shrugged off his dark thoughts and walked back to Taren. “You should get some sleep.” He squeezed Taren’s shoulder. “Odhrán and I will not let Bastian out of our sight.”

Taren pressed his lips together and nodded. How tired Taren must be that he didn’t even argue!

“I’ll join you in a bit.” Ian pressed his lips to Taren’s warm cheek.

Taren retrieved the blanket that had fallen off Bastian’s shoulders and wrapped it around him again. Naked as Bastian was beneath, Ian caught a glimpse of the wings they’d seen when they’d discovered him on the ocean floor. No longer scaled as they’d been when they’d first pulled Bastian from the water, Bastian’s wings were now covered with feathers and shimmered red, yellow, orange, and fuchsia, iridescent in the sunlight.

“I’ll be back later,” Taren told Bastian with a barely repressed yawn. “I promise.”

Bastian’s eyes revealed little understanding. Had he forgotten everything of his former life? Perhaps he was still too overwhelmed from the shock of the past day’s events to fully comprehend his situation. He’d not uttered a word since they’d brought him aboard.

Taren kissed Ian—a fleeting kiss, but one Ian needed to reassure himself that all had not changed—before heading belowdecks to rest.

Ian met Odhrán at the bow. “He’s like a fledgling,” Ian said, inclining his head in Bastian’s direction, “watching you like a bird might his mother.”

Odhrán’s brow knitted. He’d clearly noticed it as well. “I’ve asked Garan to reinforce the enchantments on the ship’s masts and sails. There’s nothing more to be done.”

“Aye. But if Bastian threatens the ship—”

“Then I’ll be forced to subdue him. Not a prospect I relish, although in his current state, he appears far less powerful than before.” Odhrán studied Bastian once again. “For now, at least, he’s content to be in our company.”

“What do you know of the Anuki?”

“They’re much like the Ea in their ability to shift to human form. I met one centuries ago, but he was nothing like this. Not a child. But what happened with Bastian….”

“Reborn from the ashes.” Ian’s heart ached once again for the loss of Rider.

“My time with one of their kind was brief.” Odhrán stared past Ian as if remembering.

Ian didn’t press the issue. Later, perhaps, he’d ask Odhrán about that encounter. “And his memories of his life with Rider?”

Odhrán shook his head. “I don’t know. I suppose only time will tell.”

Ian clenched his jaw. The realization that Bastian might not remember anything of his love for Rider made Ian’s grief that much greater.

Free Mermen of Ea Flash Fiction!

MermenofEa_FBJust a few more days to go until June 8th, when Running with the Wind, the final installment in the Mermen of Ea Series, will be released by Dreamspinner Press. And what better way to celebrate than with some original free fiction based on the series characters!

Today I’m sharing the first of three installments in a flash fiction story featuring Aine and Fiall, the cabin boys of the Phantom and the Sea Witch. Set sometime during the last book in the series, the story is a short look at a budding friendship between these two teenagers that may just turn into something more.

You can find the first installment on Amanda C. Stone’s blog today. Follow the tour for the last two installments! Oh, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway for some really cool prizes. Also, read down for an excerpt from the final series book (Spoiler warning for the first two series books!). Enjoy! -Shira
Here’s the link to the Rafflecopter giveaway, which is open for entries until July 1st:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here’s the list of blogs participating in the tour and links:

1-Jun Elisa – My Reviews and Ramblings
1-Jun Tara Lain
2-Jun Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words
3-Jun My Fiction Nook
4-Jun Amanda C. Stone
5-Jun Carly’s Book Reviews
8-Jun Bayou Book Junkie
9-Jun Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews
10-Jun Decadent Delights
11-Jun MM Good Book Reviews
12-Jun Inked Rainbow Reads
15-Jun Divine Magazine
16-Jun Book Reviews, Rants, and Raves
17-Jun BFD Book Blog
18-Jun The Novel Approach
19-Jun Because Two Men Are Better Than One
22-Jun Kimi-Chan
22-Jun Happily Ever Chapter
23-Jun Prism Book Alliance
24-Jun Cate Ashwood
25-Jun Love Bytes
26-Jun Molly Lolly

RunningWithTheWind_headerbannerBlurb: Sequel to Into the Wind

With the final confrontation between the island and mainland Ea factions looming, Taren and Ian sail with Odhrán to investigate a lost colony of merfolk in the Eastern Lands. Upon their arrival, the King of Astenya welcomes them as friends. Odhrán, however, isn’t so quick to trust the descendent of the man who held him prisoner for nearly a decade, especially now that he has someone to cherish and protect—the mysterious winged boy he rescued from the depths.

Armed with the knowledge he believes will save the Ea, Taren returns to the mainland. With Ian at his side, Taren convinces Vurin that their people must unite with their island brethren before it’s too late. When Seria and his men attack, Taren must call upon the ancient power of the rune stone to protect his comrades. But using stone’s immeasurable power commands a hefty price—and Ian fears that price is Taren’s life.

RunningWithTheWind_headerbannerSPOILER WARNING: This excerpt contains spoilers for the first two series books!

Running with the Wind

Excerpt from Chapter One

Ian leaned over the railing as the morning sunlight warmed his shoulders. A few feet away, Taren wrapped a blanket around the shivering boy, who sat with his knees hugged to his chest. He tenderly ruffled the boy’s fiery red hair. The boy leaned into Taren’s touch and made a satisfied sound much like the purr of a cat.

Not a boy, Ian reminded himself. Bastian. An Anuki. The heavenly brethren of the Ea. A dragon shifter reborn from the ashes. True, this freckle-faced dragon child looked nothing like the full-fledged beast who’d nearly killed them the day before, but they knew little of the Anuki. Had it only been a day since Seria’s men had attacked them and they’d lost Rider to Seria’s bullet?

Ian met Taren’s gaze and his grief eased slightly. Taren smiled back, his warm brown eyes hooded with exhaustion and grief, his shoulder-length hair having dried in a tumble of waves. From where he sat on the deck, Bastian watched Odhrán, keenly interested. The sphere they’d discovered not long after the destruction of the Sea Witch—an egg, Ian now knew—had dissolved beneath the water. Bastian had been choking and spluttering when Odhrán had carried him aboard. Since then, Bastian had done little but watch Odhrán with rapt attention.

Like a baby bird watches its mother. Ian frowned at his folly. How easy it was to forget this pathetic creature had destroyed the Sea Witch and nearly killed them all. If Odhrán hadn’t killed the dragon Bastian had become, they’d all have died. And yet Bastian had been reborn.

Bastian glanced up at Taren, blinked several times, then shifted his gaze back to Odhrán, who spoke in hushed tones to one of his crew. The long blond braid down Odhrán’s back dripped onto the deck and left the back of his woolen jacket sodden. Despite the bright blue of his eyes and his youthful features, Odhrán appeared as exhausted as Ian felt.

“A moment of your time?” Ian said after the crewmember trotted off toward the stairs, leaving the four of them alone on the foredeck.

Odhrán nodded and followed Ian amidships, far enough away that Bastian wouldn’t hear.

“Do you think this is wise?” Ian asked with a quick glance back at Taren and Bastian.

“What would you have me do? Leave him to drown?” Odhrán, too, appeared weary. Ian knew he still regretted having killed the fully transformed Bastian.

He couldn’t live without Rider.” Taren’s words echoed in Ian’s mind. Rider—Ian’s oldest friend—had taken a bullet in Ian’s stead. There’d been no time to grieve.

“No.” Ian sighed. “Rider would have wanted us to care for him.” Taren would never have forgiven him for suggesting they leave Bastian to drown, and they’d lost too much to even consider it.

Odhrán nodded curtly and turned his gaze eastward. Now calm in the wake of the storm, the water sparkled with sunlight. Nothing remained of the Sea Witch but a few bits of broken timbers floating restlessly on the waves. Later, all of the men now aboard the Chimera would gather on the deck to remember the Witch’s captain, but for just a moment, Ian could almost imagine Rider at the wheel of his beloved ship.

I’ll miss you, old friend. More than you’ll ever know.

Ian shrugged off his dark thoughts and walked back to Taren. “You should get some sleep.” He squeezed Taren’s shoulder. “Odhrán and I will not let Bastian out of our sight.”

Taren pressed his lips together and nodded. How tired Taren must be that he didn’t even argue!

“I’ll join you in a bit.” Ian pressed his lips to Taren’s warm cheek.

Taren retrieved the blanket that had fallen off Bastian’s shoulders and wrapped it around him again. Naked as Bastian was beneath, Ian caught a glimpse of the wings they’d seen when they’d discovered him on the ocean floor. No longer scaled as they’d been when they’d first pulled Bastian from the water, Bastian’s wings were now covered with feathers and shimmered red, yellow, orange, and fuchsia, iridescent in the sunlight.

“I’ll be back later,” Taren told Bastian with a barely repressed yawn. “I promise.”

Bastian’s eyes revealed little understanding. Had he forgotten everything of his former life? Perhaps he was still too overwhelmed from the shock of the past day’s events to fully comprehend his situation. He’d not uttered a word since they’d brought him aboard.

Taren kissed Ian—a fleeting kiss, but one Ian needed to reassure himself that all had not changed—before heading belowdecks to rest.

Ian met Odhrán at the bow. “He’s like a fledgling,” Ian said, inclining his head in Bastian’s direction, “watching you like a bird might his mother.”

Odhrán’s brow knitted. He’d clearly noticed it as well. “I’ve asked Garan to reinforce the enchantments on the ship’s masts and sails. There’s nothing more to be done.”

“Aye. But if Bastian threatens the ship—”

“Then I’ll be forced to subdue him. Not a prospect I relish, although in his current state, he appears far less powerful than before.” Odhrán studied Bastian once again. “For now, at least, he’s content to be in our company.”

“What do you know of the Anuki?”

“They’re much like the Ea in their ability to shift to human form. I met one centuries ago, but he was nothing like this. Not a child. But what happened with Bastian….”

“Reborn from the ashes.” Ian’s heart ached once again for the loss of Rider.

“My time with one of their kind was brief.” Odhrán stared past Ian as if remembering.

Ian didn’t press the issue. Later, perhaps, he’d ask Odhrán about that encounter. “And his memories of his life with Rider?”

Odhrán shook his head. “I don’t know. I suppose only time will tell.”

Ian clenched his jaw. The realization that Bastian might not remember anything of his love for Rider made Ian’s grief that much greater.

It’s all over!

MermenofEa_FBWhen June 8th arrives, I’ll be saying a sad goodbye to the characters of my Mermen of Ea Series. That’s when Running with the Wind,  the final installment, will be released by Dreamspinner Press. And man, has it been a great ride!

Many of you know that the series started out as a pirate romance, single novel, with a captor/captive vibe. But about three chapters into the original story, one of my characters, Taren Laxley, decided he was a merman shifter.

I’ve never been a huge shifter story fan, although I’ve read some I’ve RunningWithTheWind-colorsREVenjoyed. So here I am with this character who won’t stop telling me he’s a merman and a shifter. And did I mention my husband and I had just gotten our open water scuba certification in the Caribbean? Or how we’d recently seen a huge school of dolphins from our sailboat at the North Carolina coast? I’m not a pushover, but I know when I’ve lost the battle….

I’d never read a story about a merman before. And honesty, that’s probably a good thing, since I wanted to come up with my own take on mermen. So building on the idea of The Little Mermaid, by Hans Christian Anderson, I imagined merfolk who could shift in and out of their merfoms and live on either land or under the water. And huge fantasy reader that I am, that led to thoughts of magic and an overarching mission along the lines of Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Ring trilogy.

So a single book became and epic three-novel series that follows Taren Laxley from slave to savior of his people. And as I envisioned that huge project, the first thing I said (other than, “Holy shit!”) was, “I need help.” That help came in the form of nearly a half a dozen 55-90824_december_diamonds_ornament_groomsbeta readers who held my hand through the books and gave me their unvarnished criticism and valuable advice. I owe special thanks to Tali Spencer and Cody Kennedy, who went beyond the typical beta read and helped me work through some particularly challenging scenes.

Is there a future for my mermen beyond the Mermen of Ea Series? There is a story involving two secondary characters I hope to someday tell, but which would not have worked in the context of Taren’s story. If that story is written, it will certainly include some of the other series characters. You’ll also find a very short flash fiction story during the Running with the Wind Blog Tour featuring the two cabin boys, human and merman, from the Phantom and the Sea Witch.

Haven’t read the first two books? Looking for the last one?  I’ve got excerpts here on my website you can find by clicking on the “Books” tab, and I’ve got an excerpt from the last book below (spoiler warning on that one if you haven’t read the other 2 series books) Here’s the buylink for Running with the Wind: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=6455! And you can find the complete series on Dreamspinner Press’s website: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=914

Be sure to get yourself entered in the blog tour giveaway for a chance to win. There are 3 great prizes up for grabs, including this amazing ornament from December Diamonds. Not in the US? I’ve got some great alternative prizes, including a free download of the audiobook version of Stealing the Wind if you win the grand prize!

 

Here’s the link to the Rafflecopter giveaway, which is open for entries until July 1st:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here’s the list of blogs participating in the tour and links:

1-Jun Elisa – My Reviews and Ramblings
1-Jun Tara Lain
2-Jun Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words
3-Jun My Fiction Nook
4-Jun Amanda C. Stone
5-Jun Carly’s Book Reviews
8-Jun Bayou Book Junkie
9-Jun Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews
10-Jun Decadent Delights
11-Jun MM Good Book Reviews
12-Jun Inked Rainbow Reads
15-Jun Divine Magazine
16-Jun Book Reviews, Rants, and Raves
17-Jun BFD Book Blog
18-Jun The Novel Approach
19-Jun Because Two Men Are Better Than One
22-Jun Kimi-Chan
22-Jun Happily Ever Chapter
23-Jun Prism Book Alliance
24-Jun Cate Ashwood
25-Jun Love Bytes
26-Jun Molly Lolly

I can’t wait to share this last series book with you! I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Read on down for an excerpt from the beginning of series, when we first meet a very young Taren Laxley. -Shira

RunningWithTheWind_headerbannerBlurb: Sequel to Into the Wind

With the final confrontation between the island and mainland Ea factions looming, Taren and Ian sail with Odhrán to investigate a lost colony of merfolk in the Eastern Lands. Upon their arrival, the King of Astenya welcomes them as friends. Odhrán, however, isn’t so quick to trust the descendent of the man who held him prisoner for nearly a decade, especially now that he has someone to cherish and protect—the mysterious winged boy he rescued from the depths.

Armed with the knowledge he believes will save the Ea, Taren returns to the mainland. With Ian at his side, Taren convinces Vurin that their people must unite with their island brethren before it’s too late. When Seria and his men attack, Taren must call upon the ancient power of the rune stone to protect his comrades. But using stone’s immeasurable power commands a hefty price—and Ian fears that price is Taren’s life.

RunningWithTheWind_headerbannerSPOILER WARNING: This excerpt contains spoilers for the first two series books!

Running with the Wind

Excerpt from Chapter One

Ian leaned over the railing as the morning sunlight warmed his shoulders. A few feet away, Taren wrapped a blanket around the shivering boy, who sat with his knees hugged to his chest. He tenderly ruffled the boy’s fiery red hair. The boy leaned into Taren’s touch and made a satisfied sound much like the purr of a cat.

Not a boy, Ian reminded himself. Bastian. An Anuki. The heavenly brethren of the Ea. A dragon shifter reborn from the ashes. True, this freckle-faced dragon child looked nothing like the full-fledged beast who’d nearly killed them the day before, but they knew little of the Anuki. Had it only been a day since Seria’s men had attacked them and they’d lost Rider to Seria’s bullet?

Ian met Taren’s gaze and his grief eased slightly. Taren smiled back, his warm brown eyes hooded with exhaustion and grief, his shoulder-length hair having dried in a tumble of waves. From where he sat on the deck, Bastian watched Odhrán, keenly interested. The sphere they’d discovered not long after the destruction of the Sea Witch—an egg, Ian now knew—had dissolved beneath the water. Bastian had been choking and spluttering when Odhrán had carried him aboard. Since then, Bastian had done little but watch Odhrán with rapt attention.

Like a baby bird watches its mother. Ian frowned at his folly. How easy it was to forget this pathetic creature had destroyed the Sea Witch and nearly killed them all. If Odhrán hadn’t killed the dragon Bastian had become, they’d all have died. And yet Bastian had been reborn.

Bastian glanced up at Taren, blinked several times, then shifted his gaze back to Odhrán, who spoke in hushed tones to one of his crew. The long blond braid down Odhrán’s back dripped onto the deck and left the back of his woolen jacket sodden. Despite the bright blue of his eyes and his youthful features, Odhrán appeared as exhausted as Ian felt.

“A moment of your time?” Ian said after the crewmember trotted off toward the stairs, leaving the four of them alone on the foredeck.

Odhrán nodded and followed Ian amidships, far enough away that Bastian wouldn’t hear.

“Do you think this is wise?” Ian asked with a quick glance back at Taren and Bastian.

“What would you have me do? Leave him to drown?” Odhrán, too, appeared weary. Ian knew he still regretted having killed the fully transformed Bastian.

He couldn’t live without Rider.” Taren’s words echoed in Ian’s mind. Rider—Ian’s oldest friend—had taken a bullet in Ian’s stead. There’d been no time to grieve.

“No.” Ian sighed. “Rider would have wanted us to care for him.” Taren would never have forgiven him for suggesting they leave Bastian to drown, and they’d lost too much to even consider it.

Odhrán nodded curtly and turned his gaze eastward. Now calm in the wake of the storm, the water sparkled with sunlight. Nothing remained of the Sea Witch but a few bits of broken timbers floating restlessly on the waves. Later, all of the men now aboard the Chimera would gather on the deck to remember the Witch’s captain, but for just a moment, Ian could almost imagine Rider at the wheel of his beloved ship.

I’ll miss you, old friend. More than you’ll ever know.

Ian shrugged off his dark thoughts and walked back to Taren. “You should get some sleep.” He squeezed Taren’s shoulder. “Odhrán and I will not let Bastian out of our sight.”

Taren pressed his lips together and nodded. How tired Taren must be that he didn’t even argue!

“I’ll join you in a bit.” Ian pressed his lips to Taren’s warm cheek.

Taren retrieved the blanket that had fallen off Bastian’s shoulders and wrapped it around him again. Naked as Bastian was beneath, Ian caught a glimpse of the wings they’d seen when they’d discovered him on the ocean floor. No longer scaled as they’d been when they’d first pulled Bastian from the water, Bastian’s wings were now covered with feathers and shimmered red, yellow, orange, and fuchsia, iridescent in the sunlight.

“I’ll be back later,” Taren told Bastian with a barely repressed yawn. “I promise.”

Bastian’s eyes revealed little understanding. Had he forgotten everything of his former life? Perhaps he was still too overwhelmed from the shock of the past day’s events to fully comprehend his situation. He’d not uttered a word since they’d brought him aboard.

Taren kissed Ian—a fleeting kiss, but one Ian needed to reassure himself that all had not changed—before heading belowdecks to rest.

Ian met Odhrán at the bow. “He’s like a fledgling,” Ian said, inclining his head in Bastian’s direction, “watching you like a bird might his mother.”

Odhrán’s brow knitted. He’d clearly noticed it as well. “I’ve asked Garan to reinforce the enchantments on the ship’s masts and sails. There’s nothing more to be done.”

“Aye. But if Bastian threatens the ship—”

“Then I’ll be forced to subdue him. Not a prospect I relish, although in his current state, he appears far less powerful than before.” Odhrán studied Bastian once again. “For now, at least, he’s content to be in our company.”

“What do you know of the Anuki?”

“They’re much like the Ea in their ability to shift to human form. I met one centuries ago, but he was nothing like this. Not a child. But what happened with Bastian….”

“Reborn from the ashes.” Ian’s heart ached once again for the loss of Rider.

“My time with one of their kind was brief.” Odhrán stared past Ian as if remembering.

Ian didn’t press the issue. Later, perhaps, he’d ask Odhrán about that encounter. “And his memories of his life with Rider?”

Odhrán shook his head. “I don’t know. I suppose only time will tell.”

Ian clenched his jaw. The realization that Bastian might not remember anything of his love for Rider made Ian’s grief that much greater.

Running with the Wind Blog Tour and Giveaway!

RunningWithTheWind-colorsREVRunning with the Wind, the final installment in the Mermen of Ea Series from Dreamspinner Press, will be released a week from tomorrow, Monday, June 8th! The book in ebook and paperback formats is now available for preorder. Here’s the link: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=6455! You can find the complete series on Dreamspinner Press’s website: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=914

Starting this Monday, June 1st, I’ll be counting down the days to the release with the Running with the Wind Blog Tour! I’ve got a great giveaway set up on Rafflecopter which will go live on Monday. I know some of you don’t enter because you think you’ll “never win.” It’s really easy to enter, and you can’t win if you don’t try! 55-90824_december_diamonds_ornament_groomsThere are 3 great prizes up for grabs, including this amazing ornament from December Diamonds. Not in the US? I’ve got some great alternative prizes, including a free download of the audiobook version of Stealing the Wind if you win the grand prize!

Haven’t read the Mermen of Ea Series yet? This is a perfect time to start, since Running with the Wind is the final book in the series. The books are high fantasy, adventure, and romance set on the high seas and follow the story of Taren Laxley, an indentured servant who works as a rigger repairing the ropes of ships putting into port in Raice Harbor. When Taren is kidnapped by the lusty captain of a pirate ship, he finally realizes his life-long dream of sailing on the ocean. After Taren falls overboard trying to save a fellow crewmate, he is plucked from the water by the crew of the Phantom, a mysterious ship captained by the StealingTheWindFSseemingly ageless Ian Dunaidh. What Taren soon learns is that Ian and his crew are not human at all, but Ea, merfolk shifters who can take human form. More surprising still, Taren discovers he, too, is Ea.

The final book in the series, Running with the Wind, takes up where the second book, Into the Wind, left off after a battle at sea that culminates in the destruction of the Sea Witch. Haven’t read any of the books yet? You’ll want to start with the first book, Stealing the Wind. If you love adventure, romance, hot sex (yes, there’s plenty of that in the series, too!), and a hard-earned HEA, I think you’ll enjoy this series.

Here’s a preview of the Rafflecopter giveaway, which goes live on Monday and will be open for entries until July 1st:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here’s the list of blogs participating in the tour and links:

1-Jun Elisa – My Reviews and Ramblings
1-Jun Tara Lain
2-Jun Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words
3-Jun My Fiction Nook
4-Jun Amanda C. Stone
5-Jun Carly’s Book Reviews
8-Jun Bayou Book Junkie
9-Jun Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews
10-Jun Decadent Delights
11-Jun MM Good Book Reviews
12-Jun Inked Rainbow Reads
15-Jun Divine Magazine
16-Jun Book Reviews, Rants, and Raves
17-Jun BFD Book Blog
18-Jun The Novel Approach
19-Jun Because Two Men Are Better Than One
22-Jun Kimi-Chan
22-Jun Happily Ever Chapter
23-Jun Prism Book Alliance
24-Jun Cate Ashwood
25-Jun Love Bytes
26-Jun Molly Lolly

I can’t wait to share this last series book with you! I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Read on down for an excerpt from the beginning of series, when we first meet a very young Taren Laxley. -Shira

RunningWithTheWind_headerbannerBlurb: Sequel to Into the Wind

With the final confrontation between the island and mainland Ea factions looming, Taren and Ian sail with Odhrán to investigate a lost colony of merfolk in the Eastern Lands. Upon their arrival, the King of Astenya welcomes them as friends. Odhrán, however, isn’t so quick to trust the descendent of the man who held him prisoner for nearly a decade, especially now that he has someone to cherish and protect—the mysterious winged boy he rescued from the depths.

Armed with the knowledge he believes will save the Ea, Taren returns to the mainland. With Ian at his side, Taren convinces Vurin that their people must unite with their island brethren before it’s too late. When Seria and his men attack, Taren must call upon the ancient power of the rune stone to protect his comrades. But using stone’s immeasurable power commands a hefty price—and Ian fears that price is Taren’s life.

RunningWithTheWind_headerbannerNSFW/18+ Excerpt from Stealing the Wind (Mermen of Ea #1):

Chapter One

The sound of thundering hooves outside the door of their one room hut caused the wooden table to shake and the lamp light to flicker. Surprised, Taren met Borstan’s wide, fearful eyes over the top of the book he’d been reading.

Borstan jumped up from the bench. “Hide, boy! Quickly, now!” he hissed as he shooed Taren up and away from the table.

“Who—?”

“Go! Now! And not a word from you!” Borstan shoved Taren hard and he scrambled behind the stores of rope and flour.

The heavy thud of a battle-axe nearly shook their wooden door from its ancient hinges. “Rigger Borstan Laxley! By order of Lord Grell, we seek recompense for your gambling debts!”

Taren peered around a flour sack. Borstan stood next to the door, his back flat to the wall, his eyes squeezed shut.

“Who are they?” Taren whispered loudly.

Borstan put a finger to his lips to silence Taren just as the men broke through the door, only Borstan’s body kept it from banging against the wall. Borstan yelped as four ironclad giants stormed the room. “Borstan Laxley!” the leader shouted as he dragged a terrified Borstan from behind the door. Another man pulled the bench, their only bench, from the table and aligned it in front of the fireplace. “Tie him!” the leader commanded.

“No, please. No! I told his lordship I’d have the money to pay in a fortnight.” Borstan shouted as they lashed him, face up, to the bench with his own finely crafted cordage.

Taren started when the first blow landed. He huddled in the corner, trembling like a newborn leaf, and buried his head beneath his arms. He couldn’t bear to hear Borstan’s mewling cries with each successive blow. Hot tears quavered on his cheeks for the only master he’d ever known.

“Use the tar!” the leader shouted.

Taren’s head snapped up. No. The cauldron over the fire held the boiling tar they used to coat the rigging they made. Borstan began to scream in earnest and Taren, no longer able to contain himself, shot to his feet with a shriek, his voice cracking with emotion and youth. “No!”

The four soldiers turned to Taren in unison, one holding the dripping tar swab in his hand.

“Y-y-you… you cannot do that to him!” Taren forced out in terrified effort, fists balled at his sides.

The leader advanced on Taren, a wicked grin of rotted teeth filling his rat’s nest of a beard. “What have we here?”

Taren backed up quickly. His heels met a flour sack and he fell on his ass, the sack bursting and caking him in fine white powder.

The brutes roared in laughter as the leader’s beefy hand claimed the front of Taren’s cotton shirt and hauled him into the air with a single, powerful arm. The man’s odor was an acrid stench in Taren’s nostrils as his feet left the floor. “Who are ye?” Taren’s shirt pinched his throat as the man shook him violently.

Taren desperately batted at the man’s powerful forearm in an effort to loosen the grip on his shirt. “Taren.” The single word was a strangled breath on the air.

The leader leered at him. “Yer a right pretty one, boy.”

“Leave ‘im be! He’s mine!” Borstan mewled.

“Yer what?” he demanded with another suffocating shake to Taren. Spots of gray filled Taren’s vision. His tongue felt thick from the lack of oxygen. The soldier who had held him put Taren back on his feet. Taren struggled to stay standing.

“He’s my apprentice! Leave ‘im be. Leave ‘im be.” Borstan struggled against his bonds. Taren saw the red marks where the soldiers had beaten the old man begin to blossom into purple.

The soldier who’d held him now looked Taren over, head to toe. “He’s yer pretty little slave, ye mean to say!” All four soldiers roared in laughter.

“He’s mine.” Borstan’s voice was less forceful this time. His eyes darted between Taren and the men, as if he were considering something.

“He’s a bit spare, but he’d be an extra pair of hands for Lord Grell,” said one of the other men. “No doubt he’ll grow.” In two big strides, Taren found himself thrown over one of the men’s shoulders like the sack of flour he resembled. Blood rushed to his face as he gulped air into his lungs.

“Aye,” Borstan agreed. Taren looked at his master with a dawning sense of horror. Surely Borstan wouldn’t let them take him away?

The leader strode back over to Borstan. “Yer debt is ten silver coins, Laxley. Ye willing to trade ‘im?”

“He’s worth more than ten,” Borstan replied.

“Master?” Taren looked to Borstan, but the old man would not meet his eyes.

“Fair recompense, I’d say. Will ye sell the lad, or not?” The leader made a fist and covered it with his other hand. “Or perhaps we should talk some more.”

Borstan’s eyes widened and he nodded quickly. He did not look at Taren. “Aye. Fair recompense.”

Cold terror clawed at Taren’s gut and he fought the powerful arms that held him fast. “No! No! You can’t sell me! I’ve worked hard for you. I’ve done all you’ve asked of me. Please, Borstan, no!”

The leader nodded to one of the other men, who untied the bloodied and beaten Borstan. A moment later, the soldiers walked out the doorway with Taren, who continued to fight to free himself. “Borstan, no! No! No! Borstan, please! I beg you! Don’t do this! Please, I beg you!”

Two years later

Taren huddled beneath a tattered blanket as an icy wind blew through the cracks of the ramshackle dormitory. The mortar between the bricks had crumbled and the fire was a good twenty feet away, providing him little warmth. He didn’t dare move closer—he had been beaten more times than he cared to remember by the other, bigger men with whom he shared the drafty sleeping quarters of Lord Grell’s Inn.

He’d lost track of time since he had come to this place. The living quarters at the inn were far less comfortable than Borstan’s hut on the edge of the docks, but the work wasn’t nearly as strenuous. Still, Taren longed for the freedom of climbing the ropes of incoming vessels and standing atop their masts with the wind in his face. More than a warm place to sleep, he wished to work at the harbor once more, where he could pretend he was sailor or better, that he captained one of the great ships.

More than anything, Taren dreamed of the ocean. He closed his eyes and imagined the spray against his face, the rocking of the vessel beneath his bare feet. He imagined crouching on the masthead, looking out through the telescope, trying to spot approaching boats. He imagined hoisting the sails, watching them billow and fill, and feeling the vibrations of the deck beneath his feet as the ship caught the wind.

Sometimes he dreamed his parents’ home had been one of the far-flung islands, or that he’d been born at sea aboard a great vessel. Sometimes he dreamed he was a creature who lived under the waves, chasing schools of fish and watching the waves overhead as he lay in the sand at the bottom. Sometimes he dreamed he was an admiral in the King’s navy, ordering his men to fire their guns at an enemy vessel as he defended the Kingdom of Derryth. But whatever Taren dreamed, he always dreamed of the ocean.

Dreams were all they were, for Taren had never been to sea.

“You, boy,” a sturdy woman called from the doorway. “What’s your name?”

“Taren, ma’am.” He got to his feet and repressed a shiver. It would do him no good to irritate Madame Marcus at such an ungodly hour—she would see his weakness as a complaint, and he didn’t want another whipping.

“Cook’s needing you in the dining room. A new ship’s put into port. He wants an extra pair of hands.”

“Of course, ma’am,” Taren said, dropping the threadbare blanket by the wall.

Dining room duty was better than some chores. Cook might even let him scrape the dregs from the pots as they cleaned up. Taren’s empty belly growled at the prospect and he followed the woman across the open courtyard, past an angry rooster who pecked at him when he strayed too close, and into the warmth of the kitchens.

“Cook, sir,” he said to the large man standing at the ovens, his face dirtied with soot from the fires. “What do you need?”

“Grab the soup from off the counter, boy, and ask the gentlemen if they would like more.”

Taren nodded and pulled a potholder from a hook beside the smallest of the ovens. The fabric of the potholder was, as with everything else, worn thin, and he felt the heat from the iron handle as he reached for the pot. A few months before, he’d have struggled to lift it, but his arms had grown stronger and he lifted it with ease. He ignored the pain as the metal burned his palm and scurried out into the dining room, retrieving a large ladle hanging near the doorway along the way.

The light in the dining hall was far more subdued than in the kitchen. The candles burned a warm yellow and made the faded red fabric wall coverings less tawdry than in the daylight. Men crowded around the long wooden tables that ran the length of the room laughed and shouted, some singing off-key, most with large tankards of ale in their hands. The warm smell of sawdust and the sour tang of sweat mingled with the scent of the stew. At first, Taren had found the odors overwhelming. Now they comforted him.

Taren met Verita’s gaze. She was one of the other servants and old enough to be his mother, but her inclinations were hardly of the maternal kind. Still, she had always been kind to him—as kind as could be expected in a place such as this. She nodded and got back to filling tankards, leaning over as she poured the men’s drinks so they could easily see her full breasts, and cackled when the men fondled her ample bottom. Later, he guessed, she would offer her services in their rooms, as many of his fellow servants did for the paltry coins they might receive in return. The master never complained about such activities, but Taren knew he expected half of what Verita and the others earned with their bodies. Taren had never been tempted to follow a guest to his or her bedroom, although he had been presented with the opportunity on many an occasion.

He felt a rough hand on his forearm and nearly lost his grip on the pot. “You’re a pretty one,” the owner of the hand said in a low voice. “Ain’t he, Captain?”

Pirates, thought Taren, judging by their looks and their rough manner.

“Please,” Taren said in a trembling voice. “I must serve the soup.” Another hand grabbed his buttocks and squeezed. He couldn’t pull away or he’d spill the hot soup on himself and possibly the man seated to the left of his antagonist.

The man seated at the head of the table—the “captain”—pursed his lips in appreciation. He raked his gaze over the open collar of Taren’s shirt and the tight fit of his too-small britches, Taren felt hotter than he had under the blanket only minutes before.

In the past year, Taren had begun to grow from a boy to a man. He now stood taller than the Verita and the other women at the inn, and although most of the male servants were larger than he, Taren guessed it was only a matter of time before he reached and perhaps surpassed their stature. This transformation had come as an enormous relief. He had no idea how old he was—eighteen or nineteen, perhaps?—and he didn’t know his parents. For as long as he could remember, he had been the smallest of all the boys at the inn, and he had been given no reason to expect that it would ever be otherwise.

One of the men at the other end of the table laughed as he squeezed Verita’s bottom. “Nice ’n meaty,” one of the men said as Verita cackled and wiggled her hips. “Nice tail on ye’, woman.”

“I want me a mermaid,” another man interjected. “Now that would be a nice tail. Hear you have a few ’round these parts.”

“Only a fool believes those stories,” the first man said. “Don’t you think we’d’ve seen ’em if there were any?”

The captain, whose eyes hadn’t strayed from Taren, shook his head. “Something so beautiful wouldn’t go near the likes of you, Charlie.”

“They’d’ve swum away from you!” shouted another man.

Taren had long heard the stories of mermaids here in Raice Harbor. One of the other boys at the inn swore there had been a woman with a tail like a fish found near the water’s edge. Taren spent enough time down at the docks to know that if the merfolk existed, they would hardly be whiling away their days in the filthy water of the harbor. Still, he often imagined what it might be like to swim beneath the water without having to surface.

“I heard tell of a mermaid who led a pirate ship full o’ gold to wreck upon a reef,” Charlie said as he emptied his tankard of ale. “They say the pirate Odhrán keeps merfolk as pets. Like dogs. Uses ’em to lure ships.”

“Come here, boy!” the captain shouted, interrupting the men.

Taren did as he was told, trying to ignore the lecherous gaze of several of the men seated nearby. “What can I get for you, sir?” he asked as he’d been taught.

The captain, middle-aged with a coarse beard peppered with gray, was a broad-chested bear of a man whose relaxed manner and intense gaze spoke of confidence and power. Taren had to admit he was attractive. His skin was weathered from the sun and the wind, his eyes were a piercing blue. The weight of that gaze and the raw desire in his eyes frightened Taren and made him dizzy. The master won’t abide a servant taken without consent.

Taren began to ladle the fragrant soup into the captain’s bowl. He would endure the wanton looks and the fondling in silence, as he had done in the past. Then he would retreat to his duties in the kitchen, safe once more behind the wall that separated servant and guest.

“What’s your name, boy?” The captain’s voice was a deep rumble that seemed to work its way through Taren’s ears and into his body.

“Taren, sir,” he answered as he did his best to control the trembling of his hand. “Taren Laxley.”

“Charlie’s right. You are a pretty one.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The captain rubbed Taren’s ass before Taren realized what was happening. He couldn’t move away or he’d spill the soup, and he couldn’t put the pot down on the table and risk Cook’s wrath either. The captain pulled Taren’s shirt from the waistband of his trousers before he could protest, and moved his hand from Taren’s ass to Taren’s hardening cock.

“Now there’s a tempting treat,” the captain rumbled appreciatively.

Taren’s legs shook at the contact. The touch of the captain’s hand was practiced, sensual. Taren tried to repress the moan that escaped from his lips.Taren was surprised that the captain’s musky scent aroused him even more.

“You like that, don’t you, Taren Laxley?” The pirate let him go and Taren sighed in disappointment. “Don’t worry,” the captain added, “I just wanted to make this a bit easier for you.” He took the pot from Taren’s hands and set it on the table, then pulled Taren closer to him by his shirt.

Taren looked around the room. No one seemed to notice that he now stood in front of the pirate with his back against the table, or that his cheeks were surely now as bright red as the feathers of the rooster in the courtyard. Whereas before he’d have tried to escape the touch if given the chance, his own growing desire to experience the captain’s touch once more had him frozen in place. He swallowed hard and trembled not out of fear but with desire.

What is wrong with me?

“I won’t hurt you,” the captain said, his voice low, his expression unfathomable.

“I know,” Taren whispered. He shuddered in anticipation as the captain reached around him and slid his large hand under Taren’s trousers and over his buttocks. This time, however, his hand was slippery. Taren caught the faint whiff of butter from the table and saw the smile on the pirate’s face.

“Better like that, isn’t it?”

Taren nodded, too overcome to speak.

The captain found the soft flesh of Taren’s sac with his free hand and rolled it around. Taren gasped as he pushed back the foreskin of his cock with his large finger and swept over the crown. Taren nearly fell forward, but the captain held him upright with his muscular thighs.

He had never known such pleasure. The captain’s scent was powerful, adding to the intensity of the sensations that ran through Taren’s body like fire. The man’s eyes held him captive as much as his hand. Taren fought the urge to reach out and touch the captain’s rough jaw, to feel it beneath his fingertips.

The captain continued to play with Taren’s balls, caressing the sensitive skin behind them and straying close to the hidden opening between his ass cheeks. Taren moaned and shuddered with each slippery tug on his cock. The captain pulled and stroked until Taren bit his tongue to keep from crying out. Taren no longer saw the room or the other men as the captain rubbed his hand up over Taren’s tip and probed the slit.

“Ahhh,” Taren groaned. He didn’t care if anyone else heard. He couldn’t hold back anymore. The captain found the tight ring of muscle with a buttery finger, not breaching it but stroking it tenderly.

“Lovely,” the pirate captain said. “You please me well, boy.”

Taren relaxed at the man’s appreciative smile and reassuring words. He closed his eyes and gave in to the heady sensations, spellbound by the touch. He wouldn’t have moved if he could have stayed there; he didn’t want this pleasure to end. And when the pirate pressed his finger so that it barely breached Taren’s opening, Taren came hard, his body shuddering with his release, his head reeling from the intensity of it.

“Thank you, sir,” he managed to croak as he came back to his senses.

The captain chuckled and licked his hand as if it were covered in honey. “No need to thank me, boy,” he said. “The pleasure was all mine.”

Taren tucked himself back into his trousers, escaped from between the captain and the table, and picked up the soup. Thank goodness his long shirt hid the evidence of his release! He walked back toward the kitchen with a heated flush still on his cheeks, and he stood at the entrance, trying to calm his racing heart as his breath came in stuttered gasps.

Oh God! Had Verita witnessed the entire sordid act? And what of himself? Had he enjoyed it?

No. Anyone would respond to such a touch. The thought didn’t comfort him. And yet the warmth he had felt, having been satisfied by a hand other than his own—a man’s hand, no less—still lingered.

He set the soup down on the fire to keep it warm and glanced over at Cook, who was happily tasting an aromatic stew in large spoonfuls, oblivious to Taren’s return.

“I’ve finished, sir.” Taren set about washing the dishes while he awaited further instruction. Perhaps he might be able to explain away the embarrassing stain as water from the sink.

He needn’t have been concerned. Verita returned a short while later with a stack of bowls for washing, then left with the stew on her arm. She didn’t say a word; she didn’t even attempt to catch his eye.

More than an hour later, the dishes dried and replaced on the shelves, Cook gave Taren leave to return to the sleeping area. Taren had avoided any further contact with the pirates, and Verita had vanished after the tables were cleared, most likely to spend what remained of the night with a guest.

The faint color of dawn lit the horizon as Taren stepped into the courtyard. The rooster who had scolded him before crowed from atop a stone wall. Taren yawned deeply and strode with purpose across the dirt, taking care to steer clear of the other birds that were already pecking the ground in anticipation of breakfast.

He was nearly to the doorway of the building when he heard footsteps from behind him. He turned in surprise, confused as to why any other servants were up before the morning call. But it was not a servant he saw—it was one of the men from before.

“What can I get for—” he began to say, but a hand clamped tightly over his mouth from behind cut short his words. His heart pounded with fear as the hand pressed a piece of cloth against his mouth and nose and he inhaled a pungent odor. The world seemed to dim, and he remembered nothing more.

“Stealing the Wind” is now available in audiobook!

StealingTheWindFSStealing the Wind, the first book in the Mermen of Ea Series is now available in audiobook format! The timing is perfect, since the final installment in the series, Running with the Wind, will be released on June 8th.

I love the narrator for the series, Michael Stellman. He really brings the characters to life, and I love the great accents he uses for some of the pirates, in particular. His voicing of Taren is perfect–vulnerable and naive. I’m enjoying listening to the complete recording. You can hear an excerpt by clicking here. You’ll see a “Listen: Play Sample” link right below the book cover.

Just a reminder that you can pre-order the final book in the series at Dreamspinner Press and AllRomanceEbooks right now. I do promise a hard-won HEA, of course, since I don’t write books without HEAs. But that’s all I’ll say! You can read excerpts from the first two books here on my website, or stay tuned for excerpts from the final book in the series!

The Running with the Wind blog tour starts on June 1st, so stay tuned. The grand prize is 55-90824_december_diamonds_ornament_groomsa December Diamonds mermen marriage ornament, and there are other fun prizes too! You can find the giveaway here: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/cf0ba94912/?

For those of you in Raleigh, North Carolina this weekend, I’ll be manning a table with authors Venona Keyes and Jordan Hawk at Animazement. Feel free to stop by! We’ve got lots of great paperback books for a big discount off retail. Or just say hello and pick up some fun swag! Have a great weekend. -Shira

******

Blurb: Taren Laxley has never known anything but life as a slave. When a lusty pirate kidnaps him and holds him prisoner on his ship, Taren embraces the chance to realize his dream of a seagoing life. Not only does the pirate captain offer him freedom in exchange for three years of labor and sexual servitude, but the pleasures Taren finds when he joins the captain and first mate in bed far surpass his greatest fantasies.

Then, during a storm, Taren dives overboard to save another sailor and is lost at sea. He’s rescued by Ian Dunaidh, the enigmatic and seemingly ageless captain of a rival ship, the Phantom, and Taren feels an overwhelming attraction to Ian that Ian appears to share. Soon Taren learns a secret that will change his life forever: Ian and his people are Ea, shape-shifting merfolk…and Taren is one of them, too.

Bound to each other by a fierce passion neither can explain or deny, Taren and Ian are soon embroiled in a war and forced to fight for a future – not only for themselves but for all their kind.

 

The Complete Mermen of Ea Series is 30% Off!

RunningWithTheWind-colorsREVThe complete Mermen of Ea Series is 30% off at Dreamspinner Press right now to celebrate DSP’s 8th anniversary! You can find all three books here: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=914

The final book in the series, Running with the Wind, will be released on June 8th, so if you haven’t already started the series, or haven’t finished the second book, now’s a great time to catch up! Not sure about hot, mermen shifters? Check out the NSFW excerpt below for a taste of what’s to come.

The Mermen of Ea Series is high fantasy, adventure, Stealing the Wind Cover - FINALand romance set on the high seas. It follows the story of Taren Laxley, an indentured servant who works as a rigger repairing the ropes of ships putting into port in Raice Harbor. When Taren is kidnapped by the lusty captain of a pirate ship, he finally realizes his life-long dream of sailing on the ocean. After Taren falls overboard trying to save a fellow crewmate, he is plucked from the water by the crew of the Phantom, a mysterious ship captained by the seemingly ageless Ian Dunaidh. What Taren soon learns is that Ian and his crew are not human at all, but Ea, merfolk shifters who can take human form. More surprising still, Taren discovers he, too, is Ea.

IntoWindThe final book in the series, Running with the Wind, takes up where the second book, Into the Wind, left off after a battle at sea that culminates in the destruction of the Sea Witch. Haven’t read any of the books yet? You’ll want to start with the first book, Stealing the Wind.

I can’t wait to share this last series book with you! I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. -Shira

~*~

Blurb: Sequel to Into the Wind

With the final confrontation between the island and mainland Ea factions looming, Taren and Ian sail with Odhrán to investigate a lost colony of merfolk in the Eastern Lands. Upon their arrival, the King of Astenya welcomes them as friends. Odhrán, however, isn’t so quick to trust the descendent of the man who held him prisoner for nearly a decade, especially now that he has someone to cherish and protect—the mysterious winged boy he rescued from the depths.

Armed with the knowledge he believes will save the Ea, Taren returns to the mainland. With Ian at his side, Taren convinces Vurin that their people must unite with their island brethren before it’s too late. When Seria and his men attack, Taren must call upon the ancient power of the rune stone to protect his comrades. But using stone’s immeasurable power commands a hefty price—and Ian fears that price is Taren’s life.

RunningWithTheWind_headerbanner

NSFW/18+ Excerpt from Stealing the Wind (Mermen of Ea #1):

IAN led Taren to a secluded cove about an hour’s walk from the village, where they sat and ate the meager lunch Ian had purchased on their way. Taren knew they would fish later, but the small meal satisfied him like a feast, and the crisp scent of the salt water reawakened his spirit.

They undressed in silence under the shade of the palm trees. Taren admired Ian’s beautiful skin as it shimmered and rippled with each of Ian’s movements. Once beneath the waves, Taren swam against the current, his belly full, the water warm on his skin. How long had it been since he’d felt the sun on his back? It had rained nearly every day in the prison, the weather mirroring the bleakness of his future. He’d expected to die there. Worse, he’d wanted to die.

At this thought, the warmth of the sunshine seemed to fade, and Taren let himself sink to the sandy bottom. He wished the dreams would find him once more, but they did not. A wave of grief and the memory of pain washed over him as surely as the sun had only minutes before. His eyes burned. Could an Ea cry?

“Taren?”

Taren felt the reassuring pressure of Ian’s hand clasping his own, willing him back from the depths of his despair. He forced a smile before taking off in the direction of the dark shadow of a reef in the distance. He didn’t want to show Ian his weakness. Ian had done enough already. He didn’t need a simpering fool for a companion.

“You’re running from me.”

I’m fine. He knew that would do little to assuage Ian’s concern. Just tired.

“You lie. I can sense it as clearly as I hear your thoughts.”

Taren swam away, slipping between two large protrusions of rock and coral and out of the sunlight. A parrot fish swam up to him, eyed him warily, then darted away. He turned to find Ian directly behind him, blocking his exit. I thought you couldn’t read my mind unless I wanted you to.

“It’s different with you.” Ian did not move—a challenge, no doubt.

Taren was half-tempted to simply accept Ian’s dominance. He wanted to go home to Rider and Bastian; he wanted to go back to his life aboard the Sea Witch. He knew he could do neither. How could he? He wasn’t one of them and he never could be. Now that he understood what he was, he wished he could forget it and return to the simple life of a slave. What Ian asked of him—whatever it was—Taren feared it. He feared a future with choices and uncertainty.

Leave me be. Taren pushed past Ian, brushing his slippery skin and emerging on the other side only to feel Ian grab him around the waist. Still weak from his time in the prison, Taren struggled to escape Ian’s grasp. He finally gave up and laid his head on Ian’s shoulder. Ian stroked his hair, calming him. For the longest time, Taren allowed Ian to hold him.

You’ve suffered.” Taren sensed the guilt in Ian’s words. He knew as surely as if it had been his own thought to share. “And you fear the future.” Ian kissed Taren again, and Taren released a long, slow breath. Ian’s tender embrace seemed to ease the painful turbulence in Taren’s heart.

They continued to float, Taren’s face pressed against Ian’s chest. Taren could sense Ian’s physical desire for him, but Ian waited patiently and held him close. The feeling of peaceful repose settled deep within Taren’s heart, and Taren became slowly aware of how much he wanted Ian. Not a new feeling, but this time Taren’s doubt had fled with the onslaught of Ian’s embrace.

Taren reached up and kissed Ian. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected of the kiss. He’d never kissed anyone under the water. Ian’s mouth felt hotter than before. The saltwater caused Taren’s mouth to vibrate with sensation, as if Taren could taste Ian’s desire. Ian’s scent was powerful and primal, more like those of the other creatures Taren had smelled beneath the waves. No longer human. Taren’s body responded to the scent even more strongly than to Ian’s touch. The stirring inside his body felt both strange and wonderful. They swam side by side a few feet above the sand.

Taren’s heart beat a steady tattoo, and his body heated under Ian’s intensely possessive gaze. Taren’s need to submit was primal and demanding. Ian flicked his tail and moved to nuzzle Taren, brushing against Taren’s skin in a sensual and dizzying dance. Around and around they swam, spiraling, their bodies always in contact. Without thinking, Taren nipped at Ian’s neck. Ian swam on his back, exposing his neck to Taren’s mouth and teeth. Taren continued to bite and lick until Ian hissed in reply. The sound was like a soft whistle, audible through the water.

“Goddess!” Ian’s voice in Taren’s mind was a husky growl. “Where did you learn to do that?”

Taren had no answer except that his body knew this. He floated just above Ian, their bellies now pressed together, tails propelling them in unison. They moved in a slow, languid line above the sand. Taren nearly laughed to feel Ian’s cock hard against his own, where before they’d been hidden inside their bodies. He stopped moving and reached down to clasp it, surprised at how human it felt, hard and veined. He wanted to taste it, to learn its secrets with his lips.

Ian gazed down at Taren and stilled so Taren might better explore his body. Taren wrapped his arms around Ian’s tail and hooked his own tail around Ian’s body so they floated as one, their bodies rocked on the gentle current. With a quick glance upward at Ian—Ian’s expression was serene, even vulnerable—Taren took Ian in his mouth.

Ian’s cock was long and thick. Taren licked around the tip, flicking his tongue in tiny circles until he felt Ian’s body shudder with pleasure, then swallowed Ian’s erection until it tickled the back of his throat.

Ian moved his tail just a bit, sending them spinning again as Taren continued to explore with his tongue, reveling in Ian’s sweetness. How strange it felt to hear the surf as he coaxed Ian’s body to the brink. Stranger still, Taren’s mind filled with images from Ian’s thoughts, as if by giving his body over to Taren’s attentions, Ian had given all of himself to Taren.

Through Ian’s eyes, Taren saw the waves buffet the Phantom and felt joy stir in his heart as the mighty ship rode the crest of a wave and fell, the spray cool on his face. He saw himself asleep on Ian’s bed, his head in Ian’s lap as Ian stroked his hair and spoke softly to him. He felt Ian’s concern for his welfare, Ian’s need to reassure himself of Taren’s well-being. He felt the freedom of Ian’s transformation, the power of Ian’s body as it cut through the water and chased dolphins in the surf. He felt his own lips on Ian’s member, his mouth hot and hungry, and Ian’s climax as it exploded through Ian’s body. When Ian finally spent himself in Taren’s hungry mouth, Taren experienced Ian’s climax as if it were his own. Taren’s orgasm sent him over a cascade of emotion and physical sensation.

 

THEY drifted near the sandy bottom, and Ian held Taren as he dozed. “Do you know how truly beautiful you are in this form?” Taren had also been beautiful as a human, but there was something about him now, when his mind was open and his heart full, that Ian found particularly striking. To Ian, finding Taren felt like a homecoming after years spent at sea. Was this the connection of which Renda had spoken?

Taren awoke and stretched catlike, arms over his head. Ian secured Taren around the waist and sucked at a pale nipple. He flicked it between tongue and teeth, continuing to work the flesh until it pebbled. Taren arched his back to meet Ian’s tongue, and Ian moved his hands over Taren’s tail, cupping Taren’s ass and squeezing it.

“What was that? Before, when you spent, so did I, as if I were the one…?”

It isn’t just thoughts we share, Taren. When Ea mate in this form, they share sensation as well. Ian didn’t need to hear Taren’s thoughts to know this pleased Taren. He smiled, then went back to work, making sure to give Taren’s other nipple its due.

Ian. Please don’t make me wait.

 

“Running with the Wind” Now Available for Preorder!

RunningWithTheWind-colorsREVRunning with the Wind, the final installment in the Mermen of Ea Series from Dreamspinner Press, is now available for preorder here: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=6455! You can find the complete series on Dreamspinner Press’s website: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=914 The gorgeous cover art is by the incomparable Anne Cain. Read to the bottom for an extended NSFW excerpt from the first book in the series.

The Mermen of Ea Series is high fantasy, adventure, and romance set on the high seas. It follows the story of Taren Laxley, an indentured servant who works as a rigger repairing the ropes of ships putting into port in Raice Harbor. When Taren is kidnapped by the lusty captain of a pirate ship, he finally realizes his life-long dream of sailing on the ocean. After Taren falls overboard trying to save a fellow crewmate, he is plucked from the water by the crew of the Phantom, a mysterious ship captained by the seemingly ageless Ian Dunaidh. What Taren soon learns is that Ian and his crew are not human at all, but Ea, merfolk shifters who can take human form. More surprising still, Taren discovers he, too, is Ea.

The final book in the series, Running with the Wind, takes up where the second book, Into the Wind, left off after a battle at sea that culminates in the destruction of the Sea Witch. Haven’t read any of the books yet? You’ll want to start with the first book, Stealing the Wind.

I can’t wait to share this last series book with you! I hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. -Shira

RunningWithTheWind_headerbannerBlurbSequel to Into the Wind

With the final confrontation between the island and mainland Ea factions looming, Taren and Ian sail with Odhrán to investigate a lost colony of merfolk in the Eastern Lands. Upon their arrival, the King of Astenya welcomes them as friends. Odhrán, however, isn’t so quick to trust the descendent of the man who held him prisoner for nearly a decade, especially now that he has someone to cherish and protect—the mysterious winged boy he rescued from the depths.

Armed with the knowledge he believes will save the Ea, Taren returns to the mainland. With Ian at his side, Taren convinces Vurin that their people must unite with their island brethren before it’s too late. When Seria and his men attack, Taren must call upon the ancient power of the rune stone to protect his comrades. But using stone’s immeasurable power commands a hefty price—and Ian fears that price is Taren’s life.

RunningWithTheWind_headerbannerNSFW/18+ Excerpt from Stealing the Wind (Mermen of Ea #1):

Chapter One

The sound of thundering hooves outside the door of their one room hut caused the wooden table to shake and the lamp light to flicker. Surprised, Taren met Borstan’s wide, fearful eyes over the top of the book he’d been reading.

Borstan jumped up from the bench. “Hide, boy! Quickly, now!” he hissed as he shooed Taren up and away from the table.

“Who—?”

“Go! Now! And not a word from you!” Borstan shoved Taren hard and he scrambled behind the stores of rope and flour.

The heavy thud of a battle-axe nearly shook their wooden door from its ancient hinges. “Rigger Borstan Laxley! By order of Lord Grell, we seek recompense for your gambling debts!”

Taren peered around a flour sack. Borstan stood next to the door, his back flat to the wall, his eyes squeezed shut.

“Who are they?” Taren whispered loudly.

Borstan put a finger to his lips to silence Taren just as the men broke through the door, only Borstan’s body kept it from banging against the wall. Borstan yelped as four ironclad giants stormed the room. “Borstan Laxley!” the leader shouted as he dragged a terrified Borstan from behind the door. Another man pulled the bench, their only bench, from the table and aligned it in front of the fireplace. “Tie him!” the leader commanded.

“No, please.  No!  I told his lordship I’d have the money to pay in a fortnight.”  Borstan shouted as they lashed him, face up, to the bench with his own finely crafted cordage.

Taren started when the first blow landed. He huddled in the corner, trembling like a newborn leaf, and buried his head beneath his arms. He couldn’t bear to hear Borstan’s mewling cries with each successive blow. Hot tears quavered on his cheeks for the only master he’d ever known.

“Use the tar!” the leader shouted.

Taren’s head snapped up. No. The cauldron over the fire held the boiling tar they used to coat the rigging they made. Borstan began to scream in earnest and Taren, no longer able to contain himself, shot to his feet with a shriek, his voice cracking with emotion and youth. “No!”

The four soldiers turned to Taren in unison, one holding the dripping tar swab in his hand.

“Y-y-you… you cannot do that to him!” Taren forced out in terrified effort, fists balled at his sides.

The leader advanced on Taren, a wicked grin of rotted teeth filling his rat’s nest of a beard. “What have we here?”

Taren backed up quickly. His heels met a flour sack and he fell on his ass, the sack bursting and caking him in fine white powder.

The brutes roared in laughter as the leader’s beefy hand claimed the front of Taren’s cotton shirt and hauled him into the air with a single, powerful arm. The man’s odor was an acrid stench in Taren’s nostrils as his feet left the floor. “Who are ye?” Taren’s shirt pinched his throat as the man shook him violently.

Taren desperately batted at the man’s powerful forearm in an effort to loosen the grip on his shirt. “Taren.” The single word was a strangled breath on the air.

The leader leered at him. “Yer a right pretty one, boy.”

“Leave ‘im be! He’s mine!” Borstan mewled.

“Yer what?” he demanded with another suffocating shake to Taren. Spots of gray filled Taren’s vision.  His tongue felt thick from the lack of oxygen. The soldier who had held him put Taren back on his feet.  Taren struggled to stay standing.

“He’s my apprentice! Leave ‘im be. Leave ‘im be.” Borstan struggled against his bonds.  Taren saw the red marks where the soldiers had beaten the old man begin to blossom into purple.

The soldier who’d held him now looked Taren over, head to toe. “He’s yer pretty little slave, ye mean to say!” All four soldiers roared in laughter.

“He’s mine.”  Borstan’s voice was less forceful this time.  His eyes darted between Taren and the men, as if he were considering something.

“He’s a bit spare, but he’d be an extra pair of hands for Lord Grell,” said one of the other men.  “No doubt he’ll grow.” In two big strides, Taren found himself thrown over one of the men’s shoulders like the sack of flour he resembled. Blood rushed to his face as he gulped air into his lungs.

“Aye,” Borstan agreed.  Taren looked at his master with a dawning sense of horror.  Surely Borstan wouldn’t let them take him away?

The leader strode back over to Borstan. “Yer debt is ten silver coins, Laxley.  Ye willing to trade ‘im?”

“He’s worth more than ten,” Borstan replied.

“Master?” Taren looked to Borstan, but the old man would not meet his eyes.

“Fair recompense, I’d say.  Will ye sell the lad, or not?”  The leader made a fist and covered it with his other hand.  “Or perhaps we should talk some more.”

Borstan’s eyes widened and he nodded quickly. He did not look at Taren.  “Aye.  Fair recompense.”

Cold terror clawed at Taren’s gut and he fought the powerful arms that held him fast. “No! No! You can’t sell me! I’ve worked hard for you. I’ve done all you’ve asked of me.  Please, Borstan, no!”

The leader nodded to one of the other men, who untied the bloodied and beaten Borstan.  A moment later, the soldiers walked out the doorway with Taren, who continued to fight to free himself. “Borstan, no! No! No! Borstan, please! I beg you! Don’t do this! Please, I beg you!”

 

Two years later

Taren huddled beneath a tattered blanket as an icy wind blew through the cracks of the ramshackle dormitory. The mortar between the bricks had crumbled and the fire was a good twenty feet away, providing him little warmth. He didn’t dare move closer—he had been beaten more times than he cared to remember by the other, bigger men with whom he shared the drafty sleeping quarters of Lord Grell’s Inn.

He’d lost track of time since he had come to this place. The living quarters at the inn were far less comfortable than Borstan’s hut on the edge of the docks, but the work wasn’t nearly as strenuous. Still, Taren longed for the freedom of climbing the ropes of incoming vessels and standing atop their masts with the wind in his face.  More than a warm place to sleep, he wished to work at the harbor once more, where he could pretend he was sailor or better, that he captained one of the great ships.

More than anything, Taren dreamed of the ocean.  He closed his eyes and imagined the spray against his face, the rocking of the vessel beneath his bare feet. He imagined crouching on the masthead, looking out through the telescope, trying to spot approaching boats. He imagined hoisting the sails, watching them billow and fill, and feeling the vibrations of the deck beneath his feet as the ship caught the wind.

Sometimes he dreamed his parents’ home had been one of the far-flung islands, or that he’d been born at sea aboard a great vessel. Sometimes he dreamed he was a creature who lived under the waves, chasing schools of fish and watching the waves overhead as he lay in the sand at the bottom.  Sometimes he dreamed he was an admiral in the King’s navy, ordering his men to fire their guns at an enemy vessel as he defended the Kingdom of Derryth.  But whatever Taren dreamed, he always dreamed of the ocean.

Dreams were all they were, for Taren had never been to sea.

“You, boy,” a sturdy woman called from the doorway. “What’s your name?”

“Taren, ma’am.” He got to his feet and repressed a shiver. It would do him no good to irritate Madame Marcus at such an ungodly hour—she would see his weakness as a complaint, and he didn’t want another whipping.

“Cook’s needing you in the dining room. A new ship’s put into port. He wants an extra pair of hands.”

“Of course, ma’am,” Taren said, dropping the threadbare blanket by the wall.

Dining room duty was better than some chores. Cook might even let him scrape the dregs from the pots as they cleaned up. Taren’s empty belly growled at the prospect and he followed the woman across the open courtyard, past an angry rooster who pecked at him when he strayed too close, and into the warmth of the kitchens.

“Cook, sir,” he said to the large man standing at the ovens, his face dirtied with soot from the fires. “What do you need?”

“Grab the soup from off the counter, boy, and ask the gentlemen if they would like more.”

Taren nodded and pulled a potholder from a hook beside the smallest of the ovens. The fabric of the potholder was, as with everything else, worn thin, and he felt the heat from the iron handle as he reached for the pot. A few months before, he’d have struggled to lift it, but his arms had grown stronger and he lifted it with ease. He ignored the pain as the metal burned his palm and scurried out into the dining room, retrieving a large ladle hanging near the doorway along the way.

 

 

The light in the dining hall was far more subdued than in the kitchen. The candles burned a warm yellow and made the faded red fabric wall coverings less tawdry than in the daylight. Men crowded around the long wooden tables that ran the length of the room laughed and shouted, some singing off-key, most with large tankards of ale in their hands. The warm smell of sawdust and the sour tang of sweat mingled with the scent of the stew.  At first, Taren had found the odors overwhelming.  Now they comforted him.

Taren met  Verita’s gaze. She was one of the other servants and old enough to be his mother, but her inclinations were hardly of the maternal kind. Still, she had always been kind to him—as kind as could be expected in a place such as this. She nodded and got back to filling tankards, leaning over as she poured the men’s drinks so they could easily see her full breasts, and cackled when the men fondled her ample bottom. Later, he guessed, she would offer her services in their rooms, as many of his fellow servants did for the paltry coins they might receive in return. The master never complained about such activities, but Taren knew he expected half of what Verita and the others earned with their bodies. Taren had never been tempted to follow a guest to his or her bedroom, although he had been presented with the opportunity on many an occasion.

He felt a rough hand on his forearm and nearly lost his grip on the pot. “You’re a pretty one,” the owner of the hand said in a low voice. “Ain’t he, Captain?”

Pirates, thought Taren, judging by their looks and their rough manner.

“Please,” Taren said in a trembling voice.  “I must serve the soup.”  Another hand grabbed his buttocks and squeezed.  He couldn’t pull away or he’d spill the hot soup on himself and possibly the man seated to the left of his antagonist.

The man seated at the head of the table—the “captain”—pursed his lips in appreciation. He raked his gaze over the open collar of Taren’s shirt and the tight fit of his too-small britches, Taren felt hotter than he had under the blanket only minutes before.

In the past year, Taren had begun to grow from a boy to a man. He now stood taller than the Verita and the other women at the inn, and although most of the male servants were larger than he, Taren guessed it was only a matter of time before he reached and perhaps surpassed their stature. This transformation had come as an enormous relief. He had no idea how old he was—eighteen or nineteen, perhaps?—and he didn’t know his parents. For as long as he could remember, he had been the smallest of all the boys at the inn, and he had been given no reason to expect that it would ever be otherwise.

One of the men at the other end of the table laughed as he squeezed Verita’s bottom. “Nice ’n meaty,” one of the men said as Verita cackled and wiggled her hips. “Nice tail on ye’, woman.”

“I want me a mermaid,” another man interjected. “Now that would be a nice tail. Hear you have a few ’round these parts.”

“Only a fool believes those stories,” the first man said. “Don’t you think we’d’ve seen ’em if there were any?”

The captain, whose eyes hadn’t strayed from Taren, shook his head. “Something so beautiful wouldn’t go near the likes of you, Charlie.”

“They’d’ve swum away from you!” shouted another man.

Taren had long heard the stories of mermaids here in Raice Harbor. One of the other boys at the inn swore there had been a woman with a tail like a fish found near the water’s edge. Taren spent enough time down at the docks to know that if the merfolk existed, they would hardly be whiling away their days in the filthy water of the harbor. Still, he often imagined what it might be like to swim beneath the water without having to surface.

“I heard tell of a mermaid who led a pirate ship full o’ gold to wreck upon a reef,” Charlie said as he emptied his tankard of ale. “They say the pirate Odhrán keeps merfolk as pets. Like dogs. Uses ’em to lure ships.”

“Come here, boy!” the captain shouted, interrupting the men.

Taren did as he was told, trying to ignore the lecherous gaze of several of the men seated nearby. “What can I get for you, sir?” he asked as he’d been taught.

The captain, middle-aged with a coarse beard peppered with gray, was a broad-chested bear of a man whose relaxed manner and intense gaze spoke of confidence and power. Taren had to admit he was attractive. His skin was weathered from the sun and the wind, his eyes were a piercing blue. The weight of that gaze and the raw desire in his eyes frightened Taren and made him dizzy. The master won’t abide a servant taken without consent.

Taren began to ladle the fragrant soup into the captain’s bowl. He would endure the wanton looks and the fondling in silence, as he had done in the past. Then he would retreat to his duties in the kitchen, safe once more behind the wall that separated servant and guest.

“What’s your name, boy?” The captain’s voice was a deep rumble that seemed to work its way through Taren’s ears and into his body.

“Taren, sir,” he answered as he did his best to control the trembling of his hand. “Taren Laxley.”

“Charlie’s right. You are a pretty one.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The captain rubbed Taren’s ass before Taren realized what was happening. He couldn’t move away or he’d spill the soup, and he couldn’t put the pot down on the table and risk Cook’s wrath either. The captain pulled Taren’s shirt from the waistband of his trousers before he could protest, and moved his hand from Taren’s ass to Taren’s hardening cock.

“Now there’s a tempting treat,” the captain rumbled appreciatively.

Taren’s legs shook at the contact. The touch of the captain’s hand was practiced, sensual. Taren tried to repress the moan that escaped from his lips.Taren was surprised that the captain’s musky scent aroused him even more.

“You like that, don’t you, Taren Laxley?” The pirate let him go and Taren sighed in disappointment. “Don’t worry,” the captain added, “I just wanted to make this a bit easier for you.” He took the pot from Taren’s hands and set it on the table, then pulled Taren closer to him by his shirt.

Taren looked around the room. No one seemed to notice that he now stood in front of the pirate with his back against the table, or that his cheeks were surely now as bright red as the feathers of the rooster in the courtyard. Whereas before he’d have tried to escape the touch if given the chance, his own growing desire to experience the captain’s touch once more had him frozen in place. He swallowed hard and trembled not out of fear but with desire.

What is wrong with me?

“I won’t hurt you,” the captain said, his voice low, his expression unfathomable.

“I know,” Taren whispered. He shuddered in anticipation as the captain reached around him and slid his large hand under Taren’s trousers and over his buttocks. This time, however, his hand was slippery. Taren caught the faint whiff of butter from the table and saw the smile on the pirate’s face.

“Better like that, isn’t it?”

Taren nodded, too overcome to speak.

The captain found the soft flesh of Taren’s sac with his free hand and rolled it around. Taren gasped as he pushed back the foreskin of his cock with his large finger and swept over the crown. Taren nearly fell forward, but the captain held him upright with his muscular thighs.

He had never known such pleasure. The captain’s scent was powerful, adding to the intensity of the sensations that ran through Taren’s body like fire. The man’s eyes held him captive as much as his hand. Taren fought the urge to reach out and touch the captain’s rough jaw, to feel it beneath his fingertips.

The captain continued to play with Taren’s balls, caressing the sensitive skin behind them and straying close to the hidden opening between his ass cheeks. Taren moaned and shuddered with each slippery tug on his cock. The captain pulled and stroked until Taren bit his tongue to keep from crying out. Taren no longer saw the room or the other men as the captain rubbed his hand up over Taren’s tip and probed the slit.

“Ahhh,” Taren groaned. He didn’t care if anyone else heard. He couldn’t hold back anymore. The captain found the tight ring of muscle with a buttery finger, not breaching it but stroking it tenderly.

“Lovely,” the pirate captain said. “You please me well, boy.”

Taren relaxed at the man’s appreciative smile and reassuring words. He closed his eyes and gave in to the heady sensations, spellbound by the touch. He wouldn’t have moved if he could have stayed there; he didn’t want this pleasure to end. And when the pirate pressed his finger so that it barely breached Taren’s opening, Taren came hard, his body shuddering with his release, his head reeling from the intensity of it.

“Thank you, sir,” he managed to croak as he came back to his senses.

The captain chuckled and licked his hand as if it were covered in honey. “No need to thank me, boy,” he said. “The pleasure was all mine.”

Taren tucked himself back into his trousers, escaped from between the captain and the table, and picked up the soup. Thank goodness his long shirt hid the evidence of his release! He walked back toward the kitchen with a heated flush still on his cheeks, and he stood at the entrance, trying to calm his racing heart as his breath came in stuttered gasps.

Oh God! Had Verita witnessed the entire sordid act? And what of himself? Had he enjoyed it?

No. Anyone would respond to such a touch. The thought didn’t comfort him. And yet the warmth he had felt, having been satisfied by a hand other than his own—a man’s hand, no less—still lingered.

He set the soup down on the fire to keep it warm and glanced over at Cook, who was happily tasting an aromatic stew in large spoonfuls, oblivious to Taren’s return.

“I’ve finished, sir.” Taren set about washing the dishes while he awaited further instruction. Perhaps he might be able to explain away the embarrassing stain as water from the sink.

He needn’t have been concerned. Verita returned a short while later with a stack of bowls for washing, then left with the stew on her arm. She didn’t say a word; she didn’t even attempt to catch his eye.

 

 

More than an hour later, the dishes dried and replaced on the shelves, Cook gave Taren leave to return to the sleeping area. Taren had avoided any further contact with the pirates, and Verita had vanished after the tables were cleared, most likely to spend what remained of the night with a guest.

The faint color of dawn lit the horizon as Taren stepped into the courtyard. The rooster who had scolded him before crowed from atop a stone wall. Taren yawned deeply and strode with purpose across the dirt, taking care to steer clear of the other birds that were already pecking the ground in anticipation of breakfast.

He was nearly to the doorway of the building when he heard footsteps from behind him. He turned in surprise, confused as to why any other servants were up before the morning call. But it was not a servant he saw—it was one of the men from before.

“What can I get for—” he began to say, but a hand clamped tightly over his mouth from behind cut short his words. His heart pounded with fear as the hand pressed a piece of cloth against his mouth and nose and he inhaled a pungent odor. The world seemed to dim, and he remembered nothing more.

 

 

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