The shady side of Victorian London

The shady side of Victorian London

My about-to-be-released book, A Case of Possession, is set a slightly alternate Victorian London. There’s magic, but otherwise it’s not unlike the real city. So, since the Wellcome Collection have just made an incredible archive free to use, here’s a glimpse of what Stephen and Crane’s London looked like.

My hero, Lord Crane, is a smuggler, China trader and recently promoted earl. That means he gets to live somewhere very nice, with things like gas and hot water and personal space.  He is more interested in his business than high society and glittering parties, so he’s generally at his office in Limehouse, in the East End, right where the Thames does its bendy thing and the Da! Da! Dadadada’ drum starts off. (If you have never watches EastEnders, that will make no sense to you, but console yourself with the thought that you have never watched EastEnders.)

Limehouse

In the 1870s and 80s, the East End had taken over from the now-demolished rookeries as the place with the worst reputation in the country. The (tiny) Chinese immigrant population became the centre of novelists’ lurid imaginings and newspaper racism. Dickens put an East End opium-den scene in the Mystery of Edwin Drood. Here’s the popular image (note the three kinds of scary foreign people for extra racism).

L0017427 J.C. Dollman's"London sketches-an opium den at the East End"

Interestingly, it seems that all the newspaper reports of opium dens were based on just one place, run by a Chinese man and his English wife, and presumably doing a roaring trade in getting lazy journalists stoned.

The East End was the dark, foreign, dangerous bit of London, the no-go area, where gentlemen went to slum it and Jack the Ripper added to the appalling total of murdered women. Oscar Wilde sent Dorian Grey off to Shadwell and the Docks, and had him hanging around ‘foreign sailors in a low den in the distant parts of Whitechapel’ to show just how debased he was. Mostly, it was horrifically, disgustingly poor. This image of Whitechapel is pretty romanticised, in that the kids look quite clean and not drunk.

L0000878 Wentworth st, Whitechapel

London was grossly overcrowded, and it didn’t help that vast swathes of slum housing were torn down to make way for railways, without any provision for rehousing. At the same time immigrants were piling into the city (mostly from other parts of England), which led to a chronic housing shortage.

L0073465 Illustration depicting cramped and squalid housing conditions

There was enough poverty and desperation and brutality that it’s amazing anybody needed to invent any. I like to write horror and grotesque dark magic in my books, but the real stories of the seething, overcrowded, callous Victorian city beggar belief.

Here’s one of my favourite examples of that. Let me tell you about Enon Chapel.

Enon Chapel was a chapel built over a burial vault. Its minister had offered burials for a bargain price, and made the sums add up by cramming twelve thousand corpses into a pit measuring twelve by sixty feet. Right under the chapel. Separated only by a board floor. Where they stayed, rotting, for seventeen years before people wondered why the smell was so bad. (Worshippers regularly passed out. You have to wonder what the rest of London smelled like that it took seventeen years for anyone to say, ‘Do you think there might be something dead under there?’)

Unsurprisingly, the chapel was closed as a place of worship. Slightly more surprisingly, it was bought by new owners who reopened it, in an impressive PR coup, as…a party venue.

Enon Chapel – Dancing on the Dead – Admission Threepence. No lady or gentleman admitted unless wearing shoes and stockings.

L0073464 Illustration of a dance hall above a cemetary area

 

Which is something to think about the next time a politician talks about Victorian values.

 

(All images courtesy of Wellcome who have just made a vast swathe of images freely accessible. )

A Case of Possession by KJ Charles comes out on 28 January. KJ is on Twitter @kj_charles and blogs at kjcharleswriter.wordpress.com.

 

Blurb:

A Charm of Magpies, Book 2

Lord Crane has never had a lover quite as elusive as Stephen Day. True, Stephen’s job as justiciar requires secrecy, but the magician’s disappearing act bothers Crane more than it should. When a blackmailer threatens to expose their illicit relationship, Crane knows a smart man would hop the first ship bound for China. But something unexpectedly stops him. His heart.

Stephen has problems of his own. As he investigates a plague of giant rats sweeping London, his sudden increase in power, boosted by his blood-and-sex bond with Crane, is rousing suspicion that he’s turned warlock. With all eyes watching him, the threat of exposure grows. Stephen could lose his friends, his job and his liberty over his relationship with Crane. He’s not sure if he can take that risk much longer. And Crane isn’t sure if he can ask him to.

The rats are closing in, and something has to give…

 

New Release: The Gasman Cometh by T.J. Masters

Gasman-for-Amazon

 

The Gasman Cometh by T.J. Masters

All Romance ebooks
Amazon.co.uk

Blurb:

This is the first of a new monthly series of short stories with the collective title: Working Hard. Loving Harder.

Have you ever wondered about the endless possibilities for engagement and interaction with the great variety of workmen that we welcome into our homes in times of need? Whether it be true romance or just a moment of hot and horny fun, this series aims to explore all the options. These are chance encounters leading to amorous advances and hot sexual episodes. Often there is a kinky element to it but always there is the suggestion of something longer term developing between these chance players.

This first story tells the tale of Chris, a sexy young central heating engineer. Chris is sent to the home of the older and much more confident Colin to investigate a fault he has reported about his heating. Up to that point Chris’ life has not amounted to much. In fact with a catalogue of bad choices behind him and an oppressive family running him down at every turn Chris is feeling utterly miserable. Colin takes a shine to the lad and offers to help him turn his life around. Of course mistakes have to be punished, but who says that love cannot start with a sound spanking!

New Release: Capture by Annabelle Jacobs

CaptureFS

Capture by Annabelle Jacobs

Capture is the first book in my trilogy, Torsere. It follows the lives of Ryneq, the King of Torsere, and Nykin–a dragon rider in the king’s army. They are an unlikely pairing from the beginning, with Nykin admiring the king from afar but knowing that nothing will ever come of it, and Ryneq refusing to acknowledge he feels anything other than duty and loyalty for one of his men.

Circumstances force them together, and suddenly rank and position no longer matter.

Author Links

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AJacobs_fiction

FB: https://www.facebook.com/ajacobsfiction

webpage: http://annabellejacobs.com/

Buy Link

http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=4641

Blurb:

Over two hundred years ago, when dragons were hunted for their blood, the King of Torsere offered them sanctuary. In return, the dragons bestowed a magical gift on the King’s people, allowing those born with the mark to become dragon riders and forge a mental connection between dragon and rider.

King Ryneq of Torsere is undeniably attracted to Nykin, a young dragon rider. Ryneq’s sister, Cerylea, encourages him to pursue the relationship. But with the stresses of ruling Torsere, a romantic attachment is low on Ryneq’s list of priorities. Nykin admires the king from afar, but wants more than to warm his bed for a night or two.

Torsere remains under threat from the lowland armies of Rodeth and Athisi. To protect their kingdom, Ryneq and Cerylea intend to form an alliance with the elves through Cerylea’s marriage to elf prince Morkryn. On the road to the wedding, the lowland army attacks the party. Cerylea escapes, but Ryneq is captured and taken to the impenetrable Risvery Castle. In the aftermath, Nykin volunteers for a perilous mission, endangering the lives of him and his dragon. The odds are against him, but Nykin will risk everything for his duty and his king.

Excerpt:

“ARE YOU sure about this, Cerylea?” Ryneq handed the proposal back to his sister and watched her carefully tuck it into the pocket of her cloak. Her long blonde hair fell forward slightly, obscuring her face, but Ryneq still caught the resigned look.

Cerylea shivered against the chill and pulled the heavy fabric tighter around her shoulders. She stepped up to join him at the window and laid her hand on his arm. “A union with the Hervathian elves is the only way.”

“Father would never have wanted this.”

Cerylea snatched her hand back and glared at her brother. “Our parents are dead, Ryneq. Or have you forgotten?”

“No, I’ve not forgotten.” With a heavy sigh, he let his head rest against the thick glass and looked down at the lands below. The view was breathtaking. KalethTor sat high in the mountains. Built by the first king of Torsere, and named after his young wife. The thick walls had weathered over the years and blended easily with the surrounding mountains—so much so, that most people now referred to it as the Stone Palace.

From here one could see past the villages in the south of Torsere, all the way down to the Nalvaq Sea. The dark-blue water shimmered in the distance as the early-morning sun danced off its surface. “I’m sorry.” Ryneq reached out and took Cerylea’s hand to pull her against his side. “I just don’t want you to leave.”

She laid her head on his shoulder, and he realized with a sudden jolt just how much he was going to miss her. They’d ruled Torsere together for the last two years, ever since the king and queen had been brutally murdered during a Rodethian raid. Neither of them had been ready to rule a kingdom, but Ryneq had dutifully stepped up to take his father’s place as king, with Cerylea at his side.

“It’s not as bad as you seem to think,” Cerylea said eventually. She tilted her chin to look up at him; her deep-blue eyes were so like their mother’s that his breath caught in his chest. “I actually like Morkryn.” She smiled softly, and the tight feeling in Ryneq’s lungs eased just a little.

He raised an eyebrow at her. “Is that so?”

“Yes. He’s intelligent, kind, and has a wicked sense of humor.” She nudged Ryneq in the ribs with her elbow. “Besides, you’ve seen him.” Her voice had a teasing edge to it, pulling them out of the somber mood. “He’s very easy on the eye.”

“Hmm….” Ryneq had to agree with her there—the elven heir was incredibly beautiful. He had thick dark hair—which was short by elven standards—large chocolate eyes, and high cheekbones. Morkryn was a little too feminine for Ryneq’s taste, but he couldn’t deny the prince was indeed very easy on the eye. “I suppose, if you like the pointy-eared look.”

“Ryneq!”

He grinned down at his sister, laughing at her shocked expression as she slapped him on the arm in retaliation.

Cerylea narrowed her eyes. “I hope you show him a bit more respect when he arrives in two days’ time.”

“Of course, Sister.” He offered her an exaggerated bow. “I will be on my best behavior.”

“Thank you.” She shook her head at his antics but then turned serious again. “I know you think Father would never have made an alliance with Hervath this way, but I believe he would have done the same thing to ensure the safety of Torsere.” She moved away from the window and headed toward the fireplace on the far side of the room. It used to be their father’s study, but had since become their war room—the sturdy old desk replaced by a long oval table and strong, upright chairs. Ryneq followed her, and they both took a seat in front of the roaring flames.

“You know they’ll never stop,” she whispered, and Ryneq knew exactly who she meant without her having to say the names.

He leaned forward and let his elbows rest on his knees. “I know.”

Since the death of their parents, the Rodethian army had made several attempts to break through Torsere’s borders again, but Ryneq had shored up their defenses and doubled the dragon rider patrols. Although they had good trade relations with the cluster of small lands west of Torsere, none of them were large enough to offer any assistance against the lowland armies.

Cerylea’s voice was still quiet when she spoke again, her gaze focused back out through the window. “So far, their attempts have failed, but with Rodeth’s new alliance with Athisi, it’s only a matter of time before they manage to find a way through.”

The leaders of the lowland provinces had joined forces six months ago, their mutual distrust for one another temporarily put aside in order to fight their common enemy—Torsere. Although Torsere had never attacked either Rodeth or Athisi, it had something both of them were prepared to kill for.

Dragons.

Cerylea pulled her knees up onto the chair, looking all at once like the little sister Ryneq used to tease before they were suddenly thrust into adulthood. “The treaty with the elves is the only way.”

 

 

NYKIN STRETCHED over the back of his dragon and unstrapped the thick leather harness that held the saddle in place. He could just about reach when Fimor settled low on the ground—the top of Fimor’s back coming an inch or two above Nykin’s shoulder. “There. Is that better, Fimor?” They’d just come off border patrol, with a little detour out over the sea that hadn’t gone exactly as planned. He stroked his gloved hand over the rust-colored scales on the dragon’s flank, then jumped back, cursing when Fimor huffed a small jet of fire in Nykin’s direction. “Hey! You know it wasn’t my fault.”

Fimor swung his head around to regard Nykin with large obsidian-colored eyes, and Nykin immediately felt the pulse of the connection being made. The triangular-shaped fire mark on the inside of Nykin’s left wrist glowed brightly with magic. The intricate mark swirled with thick interwoven strands in the center, the burnt orange twisting outward to form three defined peaks. Nykin closed his eyes and focused on the dull throb under his skin as Fimor’s voice sounded in his head.

“You must be more careful, Nykin.”

Nykin sighed and leaned against the hard wall of Fimor’s cave. “I know. But—”

“It’s not just your life at stake! You know this. I would have survived the fall, but you would not. And while I might not die if your heart stops beating, it would certainly take me many years to recover. You cannot afford to be so reckless.”

“Okay, I admit that maybe I misjudged it slightly—”

Fimor’s long barbed tail snapped from side to side. “Slightly? You almost crashed us into the rocks.”

Nykin sighed and stepped closer, smiling softly as Fimor obligingly lowered his head. “I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you.” He ran his fingers over the hard ridges along either side of Fimor’s jaw. “I thought I knew better, and I was wrong.”

“We are bonded, Nykin, and as such, I am bound to follow your commands. You must learn to trust in me and know that I would never put you in harm’s way. Ever.”

The mark flared briefly before settling back down, and the connection between them fell away. Nykin watched as Fimor shuffled back away and turned toward the mouth of the cave. He flexed his wings, the very tips brushing the walls on either side, before launching into the sky beyond. Nykin continued to follow his progress. The sight of a dragon in flight never failed to take his breath away. He was a dragon rider, marked from birth and born to ride in the sky, but a dragon flying on its own was a sight to behold.

Soon Fimor disappeared up into the mountains above and out of sight. The landing caves—huge areas in the rock that opened out into the sky—were built into the east side of Mount Tors. They were connected to the main rooms of the Eyrie by a series of winding tunnels. Nykin hauled the leather harness and saddle onto his shoulder and carried it down toward the main storeroom.

“I thought I heard you fly in.”

Nykin looked up to see Selene already stowing her harness on one of the waiting racks. Her long hair, the trademark of a rider, trailed down her back in a thick black braid. “Yes, just a moment ago.”

“And you’re down here already?” she asked, turning to give him a curious look. A dragon and rider usually spent time together after a ride, before the dragon retired to its lair farther up the mountain. “Is everything okay, Nykin?”

Nykin hefted his gear onto the empty rack and leaned against it. “No. I made a mistake.” He scrubbed a hand over his eyes and sighed. “We were flying out over the sea. Fimor told me the angle was too steep and the wind too strong, but I ordered him into the dive anyway.”

“What happened?” Selene’s voice had an edge to it all of a sudden. Rider and dragon always worked together—they were taught that as soon as they’d bonded.

“We nearly crashed onto the rocks,” Nykin continued, wincing at the scowl on Selene’s face.

“Nykin, you sh—”

He held up his hand to cut her off before she could chastise him further. He didn’t need anyone else telling him how badly he’d messed up. “I know, Selene. I know.”

She looked like she was ready to say more on the subject, but the sudden appearance of Jaken saved Nykin. He came skidding into the storeroom, out of breath, and it took him a few seconds of gulping in air before he could talk.

Selene raised an expectant eyebrow, still clearly in a pissy mood, and Nykin shook his head when Jaken glanced over at him as if to ask what’s her problem?

“Ryneq has requested all dragon riders come to the great hall,” Jaken managed eventually.

Nykin felt the familiar prickle of heat, low in his belly, at the mention of the king’s name, but he resolutely pushed it away. “Now?”

“Yes.” Jaken was already trying to usher them out the door. “Everyone else is there already. We’re just waiting on you and Selene.”

Nykin frowned and looked down at himself. It had been a hard ride earlier, and he was covered in sweat and salty spray from the sea. He didn’t need a mirror to know that his dark-blond hair, thankfully not anywhere near as long as Selene’s, hung limp and matted around his shoulders. He looked a mess and had no intention of going to see the king without at least changing his clothes.

“I’ll meet you there.” He gestured at himself with a wave of his hand and grinned. “I just need to get cleaned up first.”

“Oh.” Jaken scrunched up his nose in distaste as if only just noticing the dire state of Nykin’s attire. “Yes, okay.” He shooed Selene through the door before casting one last glance over at Nykin. “You need to hurry, though, Nykin. You know Ryneq hates to be kept waiting.”

As soon as they’d left, Nykin hurried through the storeroom to the large changing areas at the back. The Eyrie itself was connected to the palace by a steep set of steps cut into the rock. It was a long walk to the lower town, where most of the dragon riders lived, so each rider kept a few spare sets of clothes and other essentials at the Eyrie. The room behind the storeroom split into two just after the entrance, since there were more or less equal numbers of male and female riders, and Nykin veered off to the right.

He sighed and quickly peeled off his filthy clothes, only shivering a little in the cool air. The wash areas basically consisted of a continuous stream of water, coming from high up in the mountain. It flowed in through the roof and fell in four long showers before disappearing back into the ground and away again. The dragons’ lairs lay all around the source of the water, and more often than not, they would heat the water with their fiery breath so their riders wouldn’t have to bathe in the cold.

But judging by the way Fimor had left so abruptly, Nykin doubted very much that he’d be getting any help from the dragons today. He rubbed his thumb over his mark and concentrated. The burnt-orange flames of the fire triangle glowed brightly, warmth flaring over Nykin’s skin as the telepathic connection was made.

“Fimor?” Nykin tried, only to be met by silence. He waited a moment before trying again. “Fimor?”

Nothing.

“I know you can hear me, Fimor.” Nykin shivered again. “And I know you’re mad at me.” He heard an annoyed huff in his head. “With good reason,” he added quickly. “But I need to go meet Ryneq, and I’m in a bit of a state. A little hot water would be much appreciated.”

He felt the connection break without an answer and resigned himself to a very fast and very cold wash. At least he’d be quick this way. He was already taking longer than he should, and he didn’t want to provoke Ryneq’s temper. Nykin took a deep breath and braced himself for the inevitable shock as he stepped fully under the water.

The water felt… warm. Okay, so not piping hot like it would have been if Fimor wasn’t upset with him, but not the freezing cold he’d expected either. He smiled to himself and proceeded to scrub at the dirt in his hair and on his body as quickly as was humanly possible.

 

 

THE SOFT black leather of a dragon rider’s uniform hugged the body like a second skin, and Nykin wriggled into the pants as fast as his damp legs would allow. He quickly tied the laces at the front before pulling on a cotton undershirt and then the matching jacket. His dirty clothes lay in a crumpled heap on the floor, and he hastily shoved them out of sight and tugged on his boots. Nykin cast a quick glance in the mirror and straightened out his uniform. His hair still hung around his shoulders, but at least it was clean now.

It took Nykin longer than he would have liked to reach the entrance to the palace. He imagined Ryneq’s annoyed face as he paced up and down, waiting for Nykin to arrive. When Nykin finally reached the great hall, he pulled open the heavy doors and slipped inside.

The doors opened silently enough, and Nykin managed to enter relatively unnoticed, but as he turned to push them closed, a horribly loud creak echoed around the large room. Everyone turned to stare at him—all his fellow dragon riders, a handful of soldiers from the Torserian army, an amused-looking Princess Cerylea, and a not-so-amused-looking King Ryneq.

The king glared at him for several long moments—Nykin tried hard not to blush or squirm under the intensity of it—before turning to address the lead rider. “As I was saying….” Nykin slunk to the back of the dragon riders and slid into line beside Selene and Jaken. Neither paid him any attention as the king carried on speaking. “Prince Morkryn and a contingent of his elven guard will arrive tomorrow to discuss the terms of our proposed treaty.”

Ryneq walked back over to stand beside his sister, pausing a moment to smile softly at her. He didn’t often openly show affection in front of his subjects, and it transformed his usually handsome but cold face into something warm and wonderful. Nykin felt his stomach flutter.

But when Ryneq looked back over at the people assembled before him, the hard edge was back. “Nysad and I, along with thirty of the guard, will meet them at the edge of the Forest of Hervath and provide an escort to the palace.” He leaned in to talk quietly with Nysad—the captain of the guard, and Ryneq’s second-in-command. Nysad nodded quickly before saluting and leading his men out of the room. “The armies of Rodeth and Athisi have been quiet of late, and our scouts report no movement near our borders.” Ryneq paced in front of the gathered riders, looking over them as he spoke. “This treaty is of paramount importance and we can’t afford to take any chances.”

The king’s gaze landed on Nykin, and his eyes narrowed for just the barest of moments before sweeping over to Selene beside him. Nykin watched his every move. Ryneq cut a formidable figure—taller than almost all his guard, with short, dark hair and broad shoulders. Nykin wished for the hundredth time that he would be noticed in return. The dragon riders were held in high regard by the people of Torsere, but to the king, he was just another member of the royal army, and nothing more.

“Eldin.” The lead rider snapped to attention as Ryneq spoke his name. “Take ten of your best riders and follow Prince Morkryn’s escort from the sky. I want you to watch for any signs of trouble from the lowlands.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“We leave the castle early. Have your riders ready to depart after breakfast.” Ryneq nodded once and turned toward Princess Cerylea, effectively dismissing everyone else.

“So,” Selene whispered as they filed out. “Do you think we’ll get to go?” She smiled, her eyes shining with excitement, and Nykin couldn’t help but return it.

“Maybe, if we’re lucky.” He really hoped they’d be chosen.

They all made their way back up to the Eyrie, since Eldin would no doubt want to go through the plans for tomorrow and pick out his riders. To be chosen for the king’s escort was a great honor, and it also meant Nykin would be able to get back out on Fimor. He needed to prove that he trusted his dragon, and the best way to do that would be to ride him. Nykin very much doubted Fimor would come now if he summoned him. It’d be at least a few days before he deigned to answer Nykin’s call. But if the order came from the king, then Fimor would be much more likely to respond.

They followed the rest of the riders up the steep stone steps and into the wide entrance to the Eyrie itself. Once inside, Eldin stopped and turned to face them all.

“It takes roughly a day and a half to reach the Forest of Hervath on horseback, so we’ll take turns to patrol and return to the Eyrie to rest. I’ll be the lead rider tomorrow, so that leaves nine places to fill. If I call your name, make your way to the storeroom and wait for me there.” Silence fell over the group of anxious riders as everyone waited to hear the list of names. “Selene,”—Nykin winced when she squealed in his ear before leaving for the storeroom—“Chaiss, Tirak, Hidor, Korad, Leyer, Nalec, Rakar, and…” He held his breath as he waited for Eldin to say the last name. Please. Please. Please. “… Nykin.”

“Yes!” Nykin hissed and headed for the storeroom to join the others.

 

 

THE PLAN for escorting the elven delegation was simple—circle the area and watch for signs of a possible attack from the lowlands. They had orders from Ryneq to deal with any incursions as they saw fit.

“Is everyone clear?” Eldin asked, looking around at the nine riders in front of him. A chorus of yeses replied. “Good. I suggest you connect with your dragons and then turn in for the night. We all need to be alert tomorrow.”

They filed out and made their way through to the landing caves. Nykin entered the same one he’d been in earlier that day and pulled back the sleeve on his jacket. He closed his eyes and rubbed his thumb over the mark in slow, measured circles. He didn’t actually need to touch his rider’s sigil, but the steady contact helped him focus his mind.

“Fimor?”

Just as Nykin expected, he didn’t get an answer straightaway.

“I know you’re still upset with me, but I need to talk to you. We’re to be part of the escort tomorrow when Ryneq goes to meet the elven delegation.” Nykin knew that Fimor would never refuse an order from the king, especially where Ryneq’s safety was concerned. But he still made Nykin wait.

Finally, Nykin felt the fire triangle pulse, and his skin tingled with the warmth of their connection.

“Congratulations, Nykin. It is a great honor to be chosen to escort Prince Morkryn.”

“Yes, I know.”

“What are our orders?”

Nykin told him, word for word, what Eldin had said.

“Hmmm…. We will need to be vigilant in the skies and protect the king and his guests to the best of our ability. You know what I’m saying, Nykin, don’t you?”

Nykin sighed and leaned back against the wall of the cave. “Yes. I need to trust you.”

“And I, you. You are my rider, bonded by blood, and I will do as you ask. But you must listen when I speak, for it will always be the truth. If I cannot trust you to do that, then our bond will be greatly weakened.”

“Really?” Nykin stroked his mark, looking down at his wrist. The bond between rider and dragon was forged by blood and magic. It was how they worked so well together. To ride without it would be dangerous for both of them. “I didn’t realize.”

“Magic can only do so much. My blood can heal you if you’re injured, Nykin, but only if our bond is strong. And to keep it strong, we must trust each other without hesitation.”

Dragon’s blood was part of the reason the lowland armies attacked Torsere. Dragons were magical creatures, and their blood was believed by some to cure all illness and disease and in some cases even prolong life. As far as Nykin was aware, a dragon’s blood would only heal its rider, and even then, he didn’t think it could bring anyone back from the dead.

“I will do better this time,” Nykin said at last. “I promise.”

“Very well. Good night, Nykin.”

The connection ended, and Nykin rubbed at his eyes. It had been a long day, and he was tired. As he made the long walk back to his home, Fimor’s words sat uncomfortably under his skin. He hated the thought of their bond being weakened, especially through his own doing. Nykin trusted Fimor, of course he did. He just had a hard time accepting the fact that he could be wrong sometimes.

Nykin readily accepted it was as arrogant as it sounded, and something he really needed to work on. If Eldin found out they couldn’t trust one another, he would have every right to replace Nykin as Fimor’s rider. A person only got one chance as a dragon rider—once the bond was broken, that was it. The very idea of losing his connection with Fimor made Nykin feel physically sick, and he resolved to keep his word. He would do better.

 

 

BREAKFAST WAS served early in the palace next day, so the five riders accompanying Ryneq out first were up even earlier than usual. It took a decent amount of time to get the dragons down from the mountain and harnessed, and they needed to be ready by the time Ryneq and the palace guards were set to leave.

Nykin, having being named in the first patrol, collected his harness from the storeroom and made his way to the landing caves. Once there, he placed the harness carefully against the wall, walked to the edge of the cave, and called for Fimor. He could see for miles from here, all the way out to the Nalvaq Sea. It was a long way down to the ground below, but Nykin had never been afraid of heights—which was just as well, considering what he was about to do. The connection hummed, getting stronger and stronger until he heard the familiar sound of wings.

Nykin looked up, squinting in the early-morning sun, just as Fimor came into view. The sunlight caught the red scales covering Fimor’s body, setting him aglow. He looked like he was on fire, and Nykin was still awed that this magnificent beast allowed him to ride on his back.

“Good morning, Nykin.”

Nykin moved farther back into the cave so Fimor could fly in and land. “Fimor.” He grinned and reached out to run his hands over the tips of Fimor’s wings as the dragon settled into position. “Are you ready?”

“Always, Nykin. Are you?”

“Yes, I am.” He turned to grab the harness, and Fimor dipped his neck so Nykin could strap it around him. “Have you eaten?”

“Yes, Kalesh and I flew out over the sea earlier—the fish were abundant, if a little on the small side”

“Maybe later you can have some beef when we return to the castle.” Although the Stone Palace was built high in the mountains, the surrounding flat lands were full of rich soil—perfect for growing crops and keeping livestock. The dragon’s main diet was fish, but they often supplemented that with cows from the king’s stock.

“Yes, perhaps I will.”

Nykin double-checked all the fastenings before hoisting his body up into the saddle. There were thigh straps on either side—dragons had a tendency to roll during battles, and this ensured their riders remained seated. Nykin hated these though, and only wore them in extreme circumstances. “Let’s fly.”

“As you command.”

Fimor turned around to face the cave entrance and spread his wings wide as they neared the edge. Nykin felt his heart pound, adrenaline coursing through his veins as they got closer. Flying always affected him like this, the slight rush of fear as they prepared to leap out into the air, and Nykin would never tire of it. He gripped the leather harness tight in his fists and yelled out his delight as they dived off the ledge and into the sky.

New Release: My Boyfriend’s An Alien

My Boyfriend's An Alien

Print Release 31 January 2014 pre-order here

Blurb

 

Zak, an alien from the planet Trimmeron, is a member of a race of beings who transform into other species during their years of puberty. It’s customary for the youngsters to be fostered to the worlds native to their new forms, to study and learn about the races who will play an important part in their lives.

When Zak turns into a human, it comes as a surprise to everyone, for only one other before him has ever done so. Nevertheless he is sent to Earth, a world he views as primitive and barbaric. He arrives with a chip on his shoulder and attitude to spare. He does not believe that anyone on Earth could have anything to teach him.

When Zak meets college student Sam he soon discovers he has a lot to learn, not only about humans, but also about himself.

Trapped on an unfamiliar world and in a strange body that seems to have a mind of its own, Zak has no idea what is happening to him—only that Sam seems to be the key to the strange afflictions he is suffering from.

But can an alien find love with a human being?

 

Excerpt

Zak practically ran from the office, the swelling in his trousers even more painful than it had been before he’d gone into the room.

He dug the map of the college out of his backpack and looked for the showers. He knew they were there somewhere.

“Where are you?” he muttered to himself as he searched the map, finally locating them on the ground floor near the sports complex. “Yes!”

He hurried down the corridor and raced down the stairs. Most of the students from the last sports class were getting changed back into their clothes. A few still lingered in the showers, washing off the grime and sweat of their lesson. Zak stripped off his clothes and hopped into the showers, determined to get rid of this problem once and for all.

Out of the corner of his eye Zak could see a few of the other young men looking in his direction. He ignored them and leant forward, bracing one hand against the wet tiles. He gripped his penis with his other hand and stroked up and down the length in the same way that the man on the computer screen had done. It was too dry so Zak reached across and turned on the shower. The water made it a little smoother going, but he wasn’t entirely sure he was doing it properly.

Zak tried to recall what he had seen on the monitor and remembered that one of the images was of a man using both hands, one to touch his length and the other to cup his testicles. Since he needed one hand to brace himself against the wall, he let go of his dick and directed his attention towards his balls, squeezing them and learning to his surprise that it felt pretty good.

He shivered as he found a particularly sensitive spot. Damn, this human body was like nothing he had ever had before. It was so responsive to his touch. Why hadn’t he tried a little exploration before now?

Of course the answer was simple—until now he had not been interested in the body he was stuck in. It had been merely a vessel and something he had to endure.

Now he saw things differently. He needed to touch every single spot and discover all of its secrets.

Suddenly the image popped into his head of Sam being the one doing the touching. Sam’s fingers ghosting over his cock and touching him intimately. Sam stroking his back and arse and all those places Zak couldn’t quite get to. Were there any more spots just out of his reach that he and Sam could discover together?

He returned his attention back to his erection, stroking the length more rapidly as he strained to reach some pinnacle he didn’t completely understand. He felt out of control, his body no longer entirely his own.

“Sam,” he groaned as he touched himself. “Oh, God, Sam!”

His legs buckled and he braced himself to stop from falling to the ground. His vision blurred as he lost what little control he had left and semen shot from the end of his penis, hitting the tiles opposite him.

When he had recovered himself a little, Zak became aware of the sound of clapping and laughter behind him. He turned to see a crowd of students in various stages of undress watching him with wide eyes and open mouths. He had a feeling he had done something wrong again, even though all he’d done was follow Darren’s advice.

 

 

 

 

Review: Worth Waiting For by Kim Dare

JPEG - Worth Waiting For

When Colby earned a swimming scholarship to the Falconer Institute of Training, he expected to spend all his time either training or studying, but that was before he looked out of his living room window and straight into the dance studio opposite.

It’s taken Noah years, but he’s finally got his life in order. He teaches dance classes all day, hits the clubs every night and he’s not looking for complications—especially not in the form of overly-innocent swimmers who like to spy on him from across the street.

The first time Colby approaches him, Noah has no trouble turning him away. It’s only when Colby returns years later, to collect on a casually delivered promise, that Noah finds himself incapable of keeping Colby locked out of his carefully re-constructed life.

Their kinks may match up perfectly, but their lives and their pasts couldn’t be more different. Years have passed, but will what they have together turn out to be worth waiting for?

Buy Links:

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Review by Aurore Rose:

Worth Waiting For by Kim Dare is a page turner.  Colby and Noah seem to be all wrong for each other at first glance. Colby is sweet and innocent and only fifteen years old and lives with his older brother. He’s on the swim team at his school and always does what he’s told.  Noah is old enough to get into clubs without a fake ID and  has had a troubled past not to mention been around the block a few times.

Colby has been watching Noah dance from across the street in his apartment since before he was fifteen bordering on stalking and voyeurism. Then one day when he was fifteen he decided to follow the man when he left his apartment. He knew he was going somewhere to pick someone up to bring home. Colby followed Noah to this club where Colby proceeded to use his brother’s ID that he took to get in. He found Noah at the bar and asked if he could buy Noah a drink. He told Colby he could have anything he wanted when he was old enough to get into the club without a fake ID. They had three years to wait.

Colby watched Noah dance everyday and waited. The time came to go back to the bar to buy Noah that drink. He caved and gave in and ended up taking Colby home to his place. The only thing that was promised was sex. No feelings, no dates just sex. Noah couldn’t help himself around Colby because he was a submissive and Noah knew just how to play Colby’s body and give him just what he needed.

Time passes and without either one of them noticing they become close emotionally.

At times in the story it seemed that Colby had the old soul and Noah was the one learning from him. He had certainly taught Noah that he deserved more than what he settled for and love was strong enough to last until the time was right.

If you like light D/s stories, this is for you. It is well written and deals with a tough subject but not in a really dark way.

I would give this book four and a half stars.

 

Book of the Day: Capture by Annabelle Jacobs

 

Capture by Annabelle Jacobs

Blurb:

Torsere: Book One 

Over two hundred years ago, when dragons were hunted for their blood, the King of Torsere offered them sanctuary. In return, the dragons bestowed a magical gift on the King’s people, allowing those born with the mark to become dragon riders and forge a mental connection between dragon and rider.

King Ryneq of Torsere is undeniably attracted to Nykin, a young dragon rider. Ryneq’s sister, Cerylea, encourages him to pursue the relationship. But with the stresses of ruling Torsere, a romantic attachment is low on Ryneq’s list of priorities. Nykin admires the king from afar, but wants more than to warm his bed for a night or two.

Torsere remains under threat from the lowland armies of Rodeth and Athisi. To protect their kingdom, Ryneq and Cerylea intend to form an alliance with the elves through Cerylea’s marriage to elf prince Morkryn. On the road to the wedding, the lowland army attacks the party. Cerylea escapes, but Ryneq is captured and taken to the impenetrable Risvery Castle. In the aftermath, Nykin volunteers for a perilous mission, endangering the lives of him and his dragon. The odds are against him, but Nykin will risk everything for his duty and his king.

Extract:

“ARE YOU sure about this, Cerylea?” Ryneq handed the proposal back to his sister and watched her carefully tuck it into the pocket of her cloak. Her long blonde hair fell forward slightly, obscuring her face, but Ryneq still caught the resigned look.

Cerylea shivered against the chill and pulled the heavy fabric tighter around her shoulders. She stepped up to join him at the window and laid her hand on his arm. “A union with the Hervathian elves is the only way.”

“Father would never have wanted this.”

Cerylea snatched her hand back and glared at her brother. “Our parents are dead, Ryneq. Or have you forgotten?”

“No, I’ve not forgotten.” With a heavy sigh, he let his head rest against the thick glass and looked down at the lands below. The view was breathtaking. KalethTor sat high in the mountains. Built by the first king of Torsere, and named after his young wife. The thick walls had weathered over the years and blended easily with the surrounding mountains—so much so, that most people now referred to it as the Stone Palace.

From here one could see past the villages in the south of Torsere, all the way down to the Nalvaq Sea. The dark-blue water shimmered in the distance as the early-morning sun danced off its surface. “I’m sorry.” Ryneq reached out and took Cerylea’s hand to pull her against his side. “I just don’t want you to leave.”

She laid her head on his shoulder, and he realized with a sudden jolt just how much he was going to miss her. They’d ruled Torsere together for the last two years, ever since the king and queen had been brutally murdered during a Rodethian raid. Neither of them had been ready to rule a kingdom, but Ryneq had dutifully stepped up to take his father’s place as king, with Cerylea at his side.

“It’s not as bad as you seem to think,” Cerylea said eventually. She tilted her chin to look up at him; her deep-blue eyes were so like their mother’s that his breath caught in his chest. “I actually like Morkryn.” She smiled softly, and the tight feeling in Ryneq’s lungs eased just a little.

He raised an eyebrow at her. “Is that so?”

“Yes. He’s intelligent, kind, and has a wicked sense of humor.” She nudged Ryneq in the ribs with her elbow. “Besides, you’ve seen him.” Her voice had a teasing edge to it, pulling them out of the somber mood. “He’s very easy on the eye.”

“Hmm….” Ryneq had to agree with her there—the elven heir was incredibly beautiful. He had thick dark hair—which was short by elven standards—large chocolate eyes, and high cheekbones. Morkryn was a little too feminine for Ryneq’s taste, but he couldn’t deny the prince was indeed very easy on the eye. “I suppose, if you like the pointy-eared look.”

“Ryneq!”

He grinned down at his sister, laughing at her shocked expression as she slapped him on the arm in retaliation.

Cerylea narrowed her eyes. “I hope you show him a bit more respect when he arrives in two days’ time.”

“Of course, Sister.” He offered her an exaggerated bow. “I will be on my best behavior.”

“Thank you.” She shook her head at his antics but then turned serious again. “I know you think Father would never have made an alliance with Hervath this way, but I believe he would have done the same thing to ensure the safety of Torsere.” She moved away from the window and headed toward the fireplace on the far side of the room. It used to be their father’s study, but had since become their war room—the sturdy old desk replaced by a long oval table and strong, upright chairs. Ryneq followed her, and they both took a seat in front of the roaring flames.

“You know they’ll never stop,” she whispered, and Ryneq knew exactly who she meant without her having to say the names.

He leaned forward and let his elbows rest on his knees. “I know.”

Since the death of their parents, the Rodethian army had made several attempts to break through Torsere’s borders again, but Ryneq had shored up their defenses and doubled the dragon rider patrols. Although they had good trade relations with the cluster of small lands west of Torsere, none of them were large enough to offer any assistance against the lowland armies.

Cerylea’s voice was still quiet when she spoke again, her gaze focused back out through the window. “So far, their attempts have failed, but with Rodeth’s new alliance with Athisi, it’s only a matter of time before they manage to find a way through.”

The leaders of the lowland provinces had joined forces six months ago, their mutual distrust for one another temporarily put aside in order to fight their common enemy—Torsere. Although Torsere had never attacked either Rodeth or Athisi, it had something both of them were prepared to kill for.

Dragons.

Cerylea pulled her knees up onto the chair, looking all at once like the little sister Ryneq used to tease before they were suddenly thrust into adulthood. “The treaty with the elves is the only way.”

 

 

NYKIN STRETCHED over the back of his dragon and unstrapped the thick leather harness that held the saddle in place. He could just about reach when Fimor settled low on the ground—the top of Fimor’s back coming an inch or two above Nykin’s shoulder. “There. Is that better, Fimor?” They’d just come off border patrol, with a little detour out over the sea that hadn’t gone exactly as planned. He stroked his gloved hand over the rust-colored scales on the dragon’s flank, then jumped back, cursing when Fimor huffed a small jet of fire in Nykin’s direction. “Hey! You know it wasn’t my fault.”

Fimor swung his head around to regard Nykin with large obsidian-colored eyes, and Nykin immediately felt the pulse of the connection being made. The triangular-shaped fire mark on the inside of Nykin’s left wrist glowed brightly with magic. The intricate mark swirled with thick interwoven strands in the center, the burnt orange twisting outward to form three defined peaks. Nykin closed his eyes and focused on the dull throb under his skin as Fimor’s voice sounded in his head.

“You must be more careful, Nykin.”

Nykin sighed and leaned against the hard wall of Fimor’s cave. “I know. But—”

“It’s not just your life at stake! You know this. I would have survived the fall, but you would not. And while I might not die if your heart stops beating, it would certainly take me many years to recover. You cannot afford to be so reckless.”

“Okay, I admit that maybe I misjudged it slightly—”

Fimor’s long barbed tail snapped from side to side. “Slightly? You almost crashed us into the rocks.”

Nykin sighed and stepped closer, smiling softly as Fimor obligingly lowered his head. “I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you.” He ran his fingers over the hard ridges along either side of Fimor’s jaw. “I thought I knew better, and I was wrong.”

“We are bonded, Nykin, and as such, I am bound to follow your commands. You must learn to trust in me and know that I would never put you in harm’s way. Ever.”

The mark flared briefly before settling back down, and the connection between them fell away. Nykin watched as Fimor shuffled back away and turned toward the mouth of the cave. He flexed his wings, the very tips brushing the walls on either side, before launching into the sky beyond. Nykin continued to follow his progress. The sight of a dragon in flight never failed to take his breath away. He was a dragon rider, marked from birth and born to ride in the sky, but a dragon flying on its own was a sight to behold.

Soon Fimor disappeared up into the mountains above and out of sight. The landing caves—huge areas in the rock that opened out into the sky—were built into the east side of Mount Tors. They were connected to the main rooms of the Eyrie by a series of winding tunnels. Nykin hauled the leather harness and saddle onto his shoulder and carried it down toward the main storeroom.

“I thought I heard you fly in.”

Nykin looked up to see Selene already stowing her harness on one of the waiting racks. Her long hair, the trademark of a rider, trailed down her back in a thick black braid. “Yes, just a moment ago.”

“And you’re down here already?” she asked, turning to give him a curious look. A dragon and rider usually spent time together after a ride, before the dragon retired to its lair farther up the mountain. “Is everything okay, Nykin?”

Nykin hefted his gear onto the empty rack and leaned against it. “No. I made a mistake.” He scrubbed a hand over his eyes and sighed. “We were flying out over the sea. Fimor told me the angle was too steep and the wind too strong, but I ordered him into the dive anyway.”

“What happened?” Selene’s voice had an edge to it all of a sudden. Rider and dragon always worked together—they were taught that as soon as they’d bonded.

“We nearly crashed onto the rocks,” Nykin continued, wincing at the scowl on Selene’s face.

“Nykin, you sh—”

He held up his hand to cut her off before she could chastise him further. He didn’t need anyone else telling him how badly he’d messed up. “I know, Selene. I know.”

She looked like she was ready to say more on the subject, but the sudden appearance of Jaken saved Nykin. He came skidding into the storeroom, out of breath, and it took him a few seconds of gulping in air before he could talk.

Selene raised an expectant eyebrow, still clearly in a pissy mood, and Nykin shook his head when Jaken glanced over at him as if to ask what’s her problem?

“Ryneq has requested all dragon riders come to the great hall,” Jaken managed eventually.

Nykin felt the familiar prickle of heat, low in his belly, at the mention of the king’s name, but he resolutely pushed it away. “Now?”

“Yes.” Jaken was already trying to usher them out the door. “Everyone else is there already. We’re just waiting on you and Selene.”

Nykin frowned and looked down at himself. It had been a hard ride earlier, and he was covered in sweat and salty spray from the sea. He didn’t need a mirror to know that his dark-blond hair, thankfully not anywhere near as long as Selene’s, hung limp and matted around his shoulders. He looked a mess and had no intention of going to see the king without at least changing his clothes.

“I’ll meet you there.” He gestured at himself with a wave of his hand and grinned. “I just need to get cleaned up first.”

“Oh.” Jaken scrunched up his nose in distaste as if only just noticing the dire state of Nykin’s attire. “Yes, okay.” He shooed Selene through the door before casting one last glance over at Nykin. “You need to hurry, though, Nykin. You know Ryneq hates to be kept waiting.”

As soon as they’d left, Nykin hurried through the storeroom to the large changing areas at the back. The Eyrie itself was connected to the palace by a steep set of steps cut into the rock. It was a long walk to the lower town, where most of the dragon riders lived, so each rider kept a few spare sets of clothes and other essentials at the Eyrie. The room behind the storeroom split into two just after the entrance, since there were more or less equal numbers of male and female riders, and Nykin veered off to the right.

He sighed and quickly peeled off his filthy clothes, only shivering a little in the cool air. The wash areas basically consisted of a continuous stream of water, coming from high up in the mountain. It flowed in through the roof and fell in four long showers before disappearing back into the ground and away again. The dragons’ lairs lay all around the source of the water, and more often than not, they would heat the water with their fiery breath so their riders wouldn’t have to bathe in the cold.

But judging by the way Fimor had left so abruptly, Nykin doubted very much that he’d be getting any help from the dragons today. He rubbed his thumb over his mark and concentrated. The burnt-orange flames of the fire triangle glowed brightly, warmth flaring over Nykin’s skin as the telepathic connection was made.

“Fimor?” Nykin tried, only to be met by silence. He waited a moment before trying again. “Fimor?”

Nothing.

“I know you can hear me, Fimor.” Nykin shivered again. “And I know you’re mad at me.” He heard an annoyed huff in his head. “With good reason,” he added quickly. “But I need to go meet Ryneq, and I’m in a bit of a state. A little hot water would be much appreciated.”

He felt the connection break without an answer and resigned himself to a very fast and very cold wash. At least he’d be quick this way. He was already taking longer than he should, and he didn’t want to provoke Ryneq’s temper. Nykin took a deep breath and braced himself for the inevitable shock as he stepped fully under the water.

The water felt… warm. Okay, so not piping hot like it would have been if Fimor wasn’t upset with him, but not the freezing cold he’d expected either. He smiled to himself and proceeded to scrub at the dirt in his hair and on his body as quickly as was humanly possible.

 

 

THE SOFT black leather of a dragon rider’s uniform hugged the body like a second skin, and Nykin wriggled into the pants as fast as his damp legs would allow. He quickly tied the laces at the front before pulling on a cotton undershirt and then the matching jacket. His dirty clothes lay in a crumpled heap on the floor, and he hastily shoved them out of sight and tugged on his boots. Nykin cast a quick glance in the mirror and straightened out his uniform. His hair still hung around his shoulders, but at least it was clean now.

It took Nykin longer than he would have liked to reach the entrance to the palace. He imagined Ryneq’s annoyed face as he paced up and down, waiting for Nykin to arrive. When Nykin finally reached the great hall, he pulled open the heavy doors and slipped inside.

The doors opened silently enough, and Nykin managed to enter relatively unnoticed, but as he turned to push them closed, a horribly loud creak echoed around the large room. Everyone turned to stare at him—all his fellow dragon riders, a handful of soldiers from the Torserian army, an amused-looking Princess Cerylea, and a not-so-amused-looking King Ryneq.

The king glared at him for several long moments—Nykin tried hard not to blush or squirm under the intensity of it—before turning to address the lead rider. “As I was saying….” Nykin slunk to the back of the dragon riders and slid into line beside Selene and Jaken. Neither paid him any attention as the king carried on speaking. “Prince Morkryn and a contingent of his elven guard will arrive tomorrow to discuss the terms of our proposed treaty.”

Ryneq walked back over to stand beside his sister, pausing a moment to smile softly at her. He didn’t often openly show affection in front of his subjects, and it transformed his usually handsome but cold face into something warm and wonderful. Nykin felt his stomach flutter.

But when Ryneq looked back over at the people assembled before him, the hard edge was back. “Nysad and I, along with thirty of the guard, will meet them at the edge of the Forest of Hervath and provide an escort to the palace.” He leaned in to talk quietly with Nysad—the captain of the guard, and Ryneq’s second-in-command. Nysad nodded quickly before saluting and leading his men out of the room. “The armies of Rodeth and Athisi have been quiet of late, and our scouts report no movement near our borders.” Ryneq paced in front of the gathered riders, looking over them as he spoke. “This treaty is of paramount importance and we can’t afford to take any chances.”

The king’s gaze landed on Nykin, and his eyes narrowed for just the barest of moments before sweeping over to Selene beside him. Nykin watched his every move. Ryneq cut a formidable figure—taller than almost all his guard, with short, dark hair and broad shoulders. Nykin wished for the hundredth time that he would be noticed in return. The dragon riders were held in high regard by the people of Torsere, but to the king, he was just another member of the royal army, and nothing more.

“Eldin.” The lead rider snapped to attention as Ryneq spoke his name. “Take ten of your best riders and follow Prince Morkryn’s escort from the sky. I want you to watch for any signs of trouble from the lowlands.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“We leave the castle early. Have your riders ready to depart after breakfast.” Ryneq nodded once and turned toward Princess Cerylea, effectively dismissing everyone else.

“So,” Selene whispered as they filed out. “Do you think we’ll get to go?” She smiled, her eyes shining with excitement, and Nykin couldn’t help but return it.

“Maybe, if we’re lucky.” He really hoped they’d be chosen.

They all made their way back up to the Eyrie, since Eldin would no doubt want to go through the plans for tomorrow and pick out his riders. To be chosen for the king’s escort was a great honor, and it also meant Nykin would be able to get back out on Fimor. He needed to prove that he trusted his dragon, and the best way to do that would be to ride him. Nykin very much doubted Fimor would come now if he summoned him. It’d be at least a few days before he deigned to answer Nykin’s call. But if the order came from the king, then Fimor would be much more likely to respond.

They followed the rest of the riders up the steep stone steps and into the wide entrance to the Eyrie itself. Once inside, Eldin stopped and turned to face them all.

“It takes roughly a day and a half to reach the Forest of Hervath on horseback, so we’ll take turns to patrol and return to the Eyrie to rest. I’ll be the lead rider tomorrow, so that leaves nine places to fill. If I call your name, make your way to the storeroom and wait for me there.” Silence fell over the group of anxious riders as everyone waited to hear the list of names. “Selene,”—Nykin winced when she squealed in his ear before leaving for the storeroom—“Chaiss, Tirak, Hidor, Korad, Leyer, Nalec, Rakar, and…” He held his breath as he waited for Eldin to say the last name. Please. Please. Please. “… Nykin.”

“Yes!” Nykin hissed and headed for the storeroom to join the others.

 

 

THE PLAN for escorting the elven delegation was simple—circle the area and watch for signs of a possible attack from the lowlands. They had orders from Ryneq to deal with any incursions as they saw fit.

“Is everyone clear?” Eldin asked, looking around at the nine riders in front of him. A chorus of yeses replied. “Good. I suggest you connect with your dragons and then turn in for the night. We all need to be alert tomorrow.”

They filed out and made their way through to the landing caves. Nykin entered the same one he’d been in earlier that day and pulled back the sleeve on his jacket. He closed his eyes and rubbed his thumb over the mark in slow, measured circles. He didn’t actually need to touch his rider’s sigil, but the steady contact helped him focus his mind.

“Fimor?”

Just as Nykin expected, he didn’t get an answer straightaway.

“I know you’re still upset with me, but I need to talk to you. We’re to be part of the escort tomorrow when Ryneq goes to meet the elven delegation.” Nykin knew that Fimor would never refuse an order from the king, especially where Ryneq’s safety was concerned. But he still made Nykin wait.

Finally, Nykin felt the fire triangle pulse, and his skin tingled with the warmth of their connection.

“Congratulations, Nykin. It is a great honor to be chosen to escort Prince Morkryn.”

“Yes, I know.”

“What are our orders?”

Nykin told him, word for word, what Eldin had said.

“Hmmm…. We will need to be vigilant in the skies and protect the king and his guests to the best of our ability. You know what I’m saying, Nykin, don’t you?”

Nykin sighed and leaned back against the wall of the cave. “Yes. I need to trust you.”

“And I, you. You are my rider, bonded by blood, and I will do as you ask. But you must listen when I speak, for it will always be the truth. If I cannot trust you to do that, then our bond will be greatly weakened.”

“Really?” Nykin stroked his mark, looking down at his wrist. The bond between rider and dragon was forged by blood and magic. It was how they worked so well together. To ride without it would be dangerous for both of them. “I didn’t realize.”

“Magic can only do so much. My blood can heal you if you’re injured, Nykin, but only if our bond is strong. And to keep it strong, we must trust each other without hesitation.”

Dragon’s blood was part of the reason the lowland armies attacked Torsere. Dragons were magical creatures, and their blood was believed by some to cure all illness and disease and in some cases even prolong life. As far as Nykin was aware, a dragon’s blood would only heal its rider, and even then, he didn’t think it could bring anyone back from the dead.

“I will do better this time,” Nykin said at last. “I promise.”

“Very well. Good night, Nykin.”

The connection ended, and Nykin rubbed at his eyes. It had been a long day, and he was tired. As he made the long walk back to his home, Fimor’s words sat uncomfortably under his skin. He hated the thought of their bond being weakened, especially through his own doing. Nykin trusted Fimor, of course he did. He just had a hard time accepting the fact that he could be wrong sometimes.

Nykin readily accepted it was as arrogant as it sounded, and something he really needed to work on. If Eldin found out they couldn’t trust one another, he would have every right to replace Nykin as Fimor’s rider. A person only got one chance as a dragon rider—once the bond was broken, that was it. The very idea of losing his connection with Fimor made Nykin feel physically sick, and he resolved to keep his word. He would do better.

 

 

BREAKFAST WAS served early in the palace next day, so the five riders accompanying Ryneq out first were up even earlier than usual. It took a decent amount of time to get the dragons down from the mountain and harnessed, and they needed to be ready by the time Ryneq and the palace guards were set to leave.

Nykin, having being named in the first patrol, collected his harness from the storeroom and made his way to the landing caves. Once there, he placed the harness carefully against the wall, walked to the edge of the cave, and called for Fimor. He could see for miles from here, all the way out to the Nalvaq Sea. It was a long way down to the ground below, but Nykin had never been afraid of heights—which was just as well, considering what he was about to do. The connection hummed, getting stronger and stronger until he heard the familiar sound of wings.

Nykin looked up, squinting in the early-morning sun, just as Fimor came into view. The sunlight caught the red scales covering Fimor’s body, setting him aglow. He looked like he was on fire, and Nykin was still awed that this magnificent beast allowed him to ride on his back.

“Good morning, Nykin.”

Nykin moved farther back into the cave so Fimor could fly in and land. “Fimor.” He grinned and reached out to run his hands over the tips of Fimor’s wings as the dragon settled into position. “Are you ready?”

“Always, Nykin. Are you?”

“Yes, I am.” He turned to grab the harness, and Fimor dipped his neck so Nykin could strap it around him. “Have you eaten?”

“Yes, Kalesh and I flew out over the sea earlier—the fish were abundant, if a little on the small side”

“Maybe later you can have some beef when we return to the castle.” Although the Stone Palace was built high in the mountains, the surrounding flat lands were full of rich soil—perfect for growing crops and keeping livestock. The dragon’s main diet was fish, but they often supplemented that with cows from the king’s stock.

“Yes, perhaps I will.”

Nykin double-checked all the fastenings before hoisting his body up into the saddle. There were thigh straps on either side—dragons had a tendency to roll during battles, and this ensured their riders remained seated. Nykin hated these though, and only wore them in extreme circumstances. “Let’s fly.”

“As you command.”

Fimor turned around to face the cave entrance and spread his wings wide as they neared the edge. Nykin felt his heart pound, adrenaline coursing through his veins as they got closer. Flying always affected him like this, the slight rush of fear as they prepared to leap out into the air, and Nykin would never tire of it. He gripped the leather harness tight in his fists and yelled out his delight as they dived off the ledge and into the sky.

Book of the Day: Slam! by JL Merrow

 

Slam! by JL Merrow

Blurb:

Limericks, lies, and puppy-dog eyes…

Jude Biggerstaff is all the way out and loving it—mostly. The Anglo-Japanese university graduate is a carnivore working in a vegan café, an amateur poet with only one man in his life. His dog, Bubbles.

Then there’s “Karate Crumpet”, a man who regularly runs past the café with a martial arts class. Jude can only yearn from afar, until the object of his affection rescues him from muggers. And he learns that not only does this calm, competent hunk of muscle have a name—David—but that he’s gay.

Jude should have known the universe wouldn’t simply let love fall into place. First, David has only one foot out of the closet. Then there’s Jude’s mother, who lies about her age to the point Jude could be mistaken for jailbait.

With a maze of stories to keep straight, a potential stepfather in the picture, ex-boyfriends who keep spoiling his dates with David, and a friend with a dangerous secret, Jude is beginning to wonder if his and David’s lives will ever start to rhyme.

Excerpt:

There were three of them, all dressed in hooded jackets, as if they thought clichés were the best thing since sliced victims. Their hoods were pulled down low over their faces like cowls as they stalked towards me. The monks who mug, I thought, letting out a mortifying little hysterical giggle and desperately trying not to panic. I sped up a bit, but they sort of milled around me, and I found myself crowded into an alleyway.

My stomach roiled, and not just because I was crammed in next to an overflowing plastic rubbish skip with a pungent reek.

“What you got, Chinkie?” the biggest one asked. “Let’s have it.”

I hate that. I really hate it. I mean, if you’re going to be racist, at least get your facts right. “I’m not Chinese, I’m Anglo-Japanese. And I know martial arts,” I added desperately.

“Go on, then—let’s see you.” They stood around, laughing at me while I tried to remember the karate-kid pose and—crucially—what you were supposed to do next. Get your head kicked in, probably.

“You’re just a skinny little poof,” the big one said. “Come on, hand it over.”

“What?” I clutched my violin case a little tighter.

“Everything. You can start with that—might fetch a few quid on eBay.”

Another one laughed. “It’d make a good fire.”

I stepped back in horror, wincing as the back of my head cracked against the brick wall. Bright sparks of pain spread across my vision. “Please don’t hurt my violin!”

This time, they all laughed and came towards me.

I’ve never learned to fight. Always relied on my height to make people think twice about attacking me, and my long legs to get me out of any sticky situations that might nevertheless arise. All I could think of was protecting my violin. I hugged it close to my chest—which was apparently as good as painting a big Hit Me sign on my stomach, because that’s what the biggest one did.

My lungs seized, and I doubled over. I managed not to fall, but only because the wall was right behind me and the rubbish skip propped me up on one side. My violin was easily pried from my weakened fingers as I struggled to breathe.

I thought they were going to hit me again, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I curled up tight, my empty arms over my head. Oh God. I was going to die. I wondered if Stinky Cheese Guy would cry at my funeral. Would he even bother to turn up, the bastard?

Then a new voice rang out in the alleyway. A strong voice, booming with masculine authority. “Oi! Leave him alone!”

I risked opening one eye. Oh. My. God. It was Karate Crumpet. He stood at the mouth of the alley in front of a throng of gleaming white suits, bouncing on the balls of his bare feet, fists clenched in front of him and a snarl on his face.

I managed a gasping, wheezing breath. He’d come to save me, and brought the pyjama posse with him. I could have kissed every single one of them. Even the ugly ones, and the hard-faced girl with the Essex face-lift up-do.

The looks on my muggers’ faces was priceless, as they went from menacing thugs to would-be innocent bystanders in nought point three seconds. “Nuffin’ to get worked up about,” one of them said, holding up his hands. “We was just talking, all right?”

“Conversation’s over, gents. I suggest you be on your way.” There was a brief staring match, which Karate Crumpet won hands down—not that he ever did put his hands down; sensible man. I wouldn’t trust those bastards as far as I could throw them. Which was probably nowhere near as far as Karate Crumpet could throw them. The trio did that we’re going now but we could take you easy if we wanted to swagger out towards the main street.

“My violin!” I croaked, realising one of them still held it.

The hard-faced girl stepped forward and held out her hand, the ends of her black belt swinging with subtle menace. The hoodie thrust the case at her sullenly. She managed not to drop it, thank God, and cradled it lovingly as she brought it back to me. I felt horribly guilty about judging her earlier. “Here you go,” she said. “Are you all right?”

“F-fine,” I stuttered, hugging my violin.

Karate Crumpet came up to ask the same thing, his clear blue eyes staring into mine from about six inches away. I wondered briefly if a manly swoon was in order, but I didn’t want to drop my violin after they’d gone to so much trouble to keep it safe. Then I tried to take a step forwards and realised I might not have any choice in the matter.

His arm was around me in an instant. Warm. Solid. Supporting. Comforting. My libido decided it’d be willing to get mugged every day of the week if this was the outcome. My midriff, pain blossoming across it, wasn’t so sure.

“Did they hurt you?”

“M-my stomach,” I managed.

“Let’s have a look.” There was a tug on my violin case, which I resisted for a moment before common sense reasserted itself and I let it go, back into the capable hands of up-do girl.

And then—oh my God, Karate Crumpet was pulling up my T-shirt. I was caught between arousal, desperate hope no one would notice my arousal and fervent regret I hadn’t done a few more sit-ups lately. We all peered at my middle, as if it had suddenly sprouted a TV screen like a Teletubby. There was a reddish patch, but no obvious signs of massive internal haemorrhaging. “I’m okay, honest,” I protested a bit more strongly now.

“Anything else?”

“Well, I hit my head…” I put my hand up to the back of my head—and stared when it came back smeared with blood. “Oh. Ow.”

“Right, that settles it. I’m taking you to A&E.”

“I can’t!” I blurted out. “I’m meeting Keisha.”

He gave me a startled look. “You can text your girlfriend on the way.”

“She’s not…” I cursed as I remembered something more important than setting him, as it were, straight. “She hasn’t got a phone. It broke, and she can’t afford a new one.”

“She’ll forgive you. Come on, let’s get you looked at.”

“I could just go to the slam first…”

“No arguments. Lauren, can you take over with the class?” At the hard-faced girl’s businesslike nod, he turned back to me. “I’ll take you. I’m parked not far away. Right, Lauren, everyone, I’ll see you on Tuesday.”

He gave a little bow. The posse bowed back and chorused something that sounded like “Ooss”.

“But…” I held out a hand, my fingers clutching violin-wards.

“Don’t worry. Lauren will take good care of it, and you won’t have to worry about dropping it if you come over a bit faint, okay?”

“O-okay,” I quavered.

The posse jogged away, up-do girl carrying my violin, which added a nice surreal touch to the already weird sight of them all bounding through the streets. I hoped I’d get it back, but on the other hand, if I got to keep Karate Crumpet instead, it was probably a fair trade.