The Howling Heart — Tour Stop

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Synopsis:

Paige Donovan is an ambitious college graduate who aspires to reach the top of thecorporate ladder. She’s climbing fast when given the promotion of a lifetime at a prestigious fashion magazine in New York City. Her bright future comes to an unexpected halt after news of her father’s death. She inherits his old cabin in the Colorado Rockies, and just when she thinks her luck couldn’t get any worse, she has a car accident in the mountains and awakens in the small, remote community of Black River.

Soon, she’s engulfed in the mystical world of Varulv—wolves descended from 13th century Scandinavia and blessed by Norse gods with the ability to appear human. Paige is desperate to return home, but never expects to fall for her rescuer, Riley Gray, a charming young werewolf from England who offers her an alternate future with his pack.

Now, she must choose between the career she’s always wanted and the love she’s always dreamed.

 

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April Bostic is a New Jersey-based, Adult Romance author who enjoys unleashing her creativity and letting her imagination run wild. Her love of romance books inspired her to become not just a reader, but also a writer. In December 2008, she self-published her first novel, a contemporary romance with a supernatural twist entitled “A Rose to the Fallen”.

Her first short story, “Right Here, Right Now”, released in January 2012, is an erotic romance with a dash of S&M. The following year, she released two more short stories: a romantic urban fantasy inspired by the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche entitled “Eros, My Love”, and a sexy romantic comedy entitled “Love Addiction”.

After five years, she released her second novel, “The Howling Heart” in August 2013, a paranormal romance that delves into the mystical world of werewolves and Norse gods. To end her busiest year in publishing, April also released her fourth short story in December 2013, a historical paranormal romance entitled “A Dark Scandal”.

author-interview

Where are you from?  I was born in Perth Amboy, NJ but grew up in Woodbridge, NJ until 6th grade when my parents divorced. Then my mother, sister, and I moved to Brick, NJ where I spent most of my teenage years. As an adult, I live in Perth Amboy again and I think it’s funny how my life has gone full-circle. I just hope I don’t die in the same town I was born.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book? I would write more about the history of Varulv, and include an epilogue which would explain what happened to Quinn after Riley and Paige left. I know many readers wanted to know more about her.


Can you share a little of your current work with us? 
The Howling Heart is an adult paranormal romance about a young woman from New York City named Paige who falls in love with a young werewolf from England named Riley. They first met as children in a forest in the Colorado Rockies, and are reunited years later as adults after a tragedy in Paige’s life. They both face many obstacles that prevent them from being together and it’s not only because they’re different species. Paige wants to focus on her career, but she wants to be with Riley, too. Pack law prohibits him from abandoning it, so they have to figure out how to make their relationship work. My novel gives you a healthy dose of paranormal and romance. There’s an equal amount of both. There are twists and turns in the story, so I hope the predictability factor is low which should make for a more enjoyable reading experience. My werewolves are unique from other authors. Their existence is the result of the love between a wolf and a human during 13 century Scandinavia, and the supernatural intervention of Norse gods. The wolves are called Varulv, which is the Swedish and Danish word for ‘werewolf’. They can’t keep their human form for an extended time or if they fall asleep. The moon doesn’t affect their shifting, but a special light was placed inside of them by the gods which allows them to shift between human and wolf. They are wolves first, and humans second.


How do you overcome writer’s block?
I think you have to be really motivated and have an awesome story idea. The story has to be so great, that you can’t contain it in your mind anymore and you feel like you’ll explode if you don’t write it. That, and having the passion to write. If you don’t have passion, I think readers will be able to tell through your writing.

What was the most fun part of writing your book? I wrote The Howling Heart like I was watching a movie. I love romance movies with supernatural, fantasy, or sci-fi elements, so I think that’s why this book was fun to write. I envisioned my dream cast portraying the characters. For the some of the dialogue, I would think, “How would so-and-so look if they said this?” I’m a very visual person, so I think that’s the reason I wrote the book in the style that I did.

What was the hardest part of writing your book? I acknowledge that I have a problem with telling and not showing in my writing. I’ve been struggling with that weakness for years, but I hope to overcome it one day. I know the only way I will is to write more, but that means getting over my 3-year writer’s block.


Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
When writing about werewolves that are mostly wolf in nature, I felt it was necessary to do some research on Canis lupus. I read about wolves and watched several nature documentaries. I learned about a female wolf’s gestational period for a very specific reason and it’s explained in the book. I read about pack hierarchy, especially because I decided there should be alphas, betas, and an omega in the Black River pack. Reading about wolves’ physical features and advantages that help them survive in the wild was important. I needed to know how a wolf behaved when it was aggressive, submissive, and playful, because it helped me when writing certain scenes. Although my wolves are essentially “super” wolves that have extraordinary abilities, I had to think about what makes them similar to normal wolves. I even looked for images displaying the variety of fur coloring across different sub-species including the extinct species. Could I write about a wolf with striped fur? Are there wolves with tawny or brown fur? Are they all gray, black, and white? Many of the things I learned about wolves were used as a foundation for my mythical werewolves. And while Varulv don’t truly exist, some aspects about them are rooted in truth.


Do you have any advice for other writers? 
If you write a story, and you’re passionate about it, don’t give up on it. See it through to the end, because you’ll feel so good about yourself when you do. It’s a major accomplishment to finish a story, whether it’s a short story, novella, or novel. Don’t get discouraged by negative readers or reviews. Remember for every person who doesn’t like your work, there will be someone who does. Writing, like all forms of art, is subjective, and not everyone is going to like your work. Be brave and put yourself out there. It takes a lot of courage to be a writer or author. Don’t be afraid, because you’ll realize it’s not so scary once you do it.


Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I hope they think The Howling Heart is a unique werewolf love story. If they weren’t big fans of the paranormal romance genre before, and my book just sparked their interest, I hope they finish it with the desire to read more books similar to mine. Each author tries to write their own twist to werewolf mythology, and I think it’s fun to read about different variations. It’s a myth after all, so the possibilities are endless!

Do you have an agent or publisher? How did you go about finding one? When I think about my publishing journey, it brings me back to a place I wish no aspiring author has to go through. I started by querying 52 literary agencies, but no one accepted my manuscript. Then, I queried 31 publishers that accepted unsolicited manuscripts from authors. After receiving so many rejections and unsatisfactory offers, I almost gave up and decided to just keep the story on my hard drive forever. I swore never to self-publish again, because I had such a terrible experience with my first book. But I kept querying publishers, and finally accepted a contract with Eternal Press because they published in paperback and e-book. I’m old school, and still love paperbacks more than e-books.

Find the author on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2768953.April_Bostic

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Purchase links for The Howling Heart:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

 

And don’t forget to enter:

The Howling Heart Rafflecopter Giveaway

April Blog Hop — Write Like a Wizard

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Welcome to the Write Like a Wizard April Blog Hop!

Visit each blog for a chance to win an ecopy of the books the characters are from, AND a $10 Amazon GC!

Character Q&A: Isabella Foxworthy (The Lost Heir by Allison Whitmore, Erin Virginia and Grace Arden)

Where are you from? Culver Hills, which is a neighborhood in Los Angeles right next to Culver City. Most people have heard of that more.
How old are you? 15
What do your parents do? They’re dead. But they used to run The Foxworthy Hotel. Now it’s just me and my grandmother.
Tell us about your closest friends. — My best friend’s named Lana Starr. She’s the only person I really trust a hundred percent in this world. I can’t even trust my grandmother, really, and she’s just always been there for me. I recently met these Seth and Micah, and they are okay. I think I like them, but I’m not sure yet.
Any secrets you want to share with us? I really don’t like to share my secrets, but if you won’t tell too many people… Okay. I feel like I’m going crazy almost all of the time lately. It’s because of I have this thing where I can feel other people’s emotions, and it’s getting stronger. I really don’t know what to do about it. Anyway, that’s about it for now.
Describe one moment that you feared for your life. — The night my parents died was really scary. There was a lot of fire, and to this day, I hate fire, and then I just felt like I wanted to save them, but I couldn’t. All I could do was protect myself. I don’t know. I think it’s my fault. I think it’s all my fault.
Is there a love interest we should know about? Okay, well, I have a crush on this guy Max that works at my favorite restaurant Cake N Honey and also…I think Seth Logan is kind of cute, but please, please, never tell him that. He has enough of an ego as it is. I also like him because he seems to really care about people. I think that’s a good way to be, but he is really full of it too, so I don’t know.
Anything else you want people out there to know? The Foxworthy Hotel is an awesome place to visit and if you come ask Rolf for a tour. He’s really good at the history stuff. Thanks for listening to me and my babble. I tend to do that sometimes, and also I tend to get a bit bratty, some people don’t like it, but hey, I’m a kid trying to deal with a lot. Hope you’ll cut me some slack. And I think, maybe you’ll enjoy my story!

Thanks for stopping by! 

What was your favorite part of the Q&A? Comment below, enter the giveaway, and visit the next stop posted on www.writelikeawizard.com.

Enter Isabella’s Rafflecopter Giveaway

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Isabella Foxworthy was just another girl…until she learned she was an empath, able to read the energy of others. A secret world known as the Violet City lies beneath her family’s hotel in Los Angeles. Through this discovery, Isabella is catapulted into a whirlwind of magic, adventure, and danger. The Violet City holds the key to protecting her stability; her family hotel, her friends, and her very sanity. With morphlings, empaths, and fair folk also comes a powerful entity that twists her mind into knots, threatening everything she loves. Now, Isabella and her new friends—a guitar-playing jock, his gifted but neurotic brother, and a set of over-indulged twins—have until her 16th birthday to save her world with the help of someone who’s been lost for a very long time…the lost Foxworthy heir. But will they find him in time? And will he be a friend or foe?

Allison Whitmore was born in Los Angeles and studied literature and writing at Long Island University. She spent several years teaching English and history after earning her master’s degree at Mount St. Mary’s University. Outside of writing and reading, Allison loves classic Hollywood films, and spending time with her family and friends. In 2011, she started working on The Lost Heir (Book I in The Diadem Chronicles) with two of her good friends, Erin Virginia and Grace Arden. She is grateful to have them along for the ride as she developed the characters and etched out the massive story world of the novel and the exciting series-to-come.

The Co-Authors:
Erin Virginia spent the first years of her life in Tokyo, Japan before finishing her formative years in a suburb of Chicago. She attributes her wild imagination and her love of reading to her family. She loved working with her two best friends as the three of them created mayhem and magic with The Lost Heir in her new home, Los Angeles.
Grace Arden was born in Philadelphia. She has always lived in the imaginative world and grew up fascinated by dark stories, fantasy and romance. Grace plans to empower the world through her looking glass mirror perspective on life. She currently resides in Los Angeles.
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Social Media

https://twitter.com/grace_avarden

INSTAGRAM:
@allisonwhitmoreauthor

The Lost Heir — An Excerpt

“Oh my God!” Isabella cried as a blast of air thrust them  forward down a tube in a wild zigzag. Seth’s shouts filtered into her ears as they whipped left and right. Then, without warning, the tube spat them out onto black asphalt. “Ouch!” Isabella rubbed her behind as she looked around them. “This looks like an alley or something.” There were black-brick walls on either side of them, and above their heads, warm light spilled from what looked like a blue sky.

“That can’t be the sky. We didn’t go that far up,” noted Seth.

“But it looks like it, and that definitely feels like the sun,” she replied.

They looked around, spotting lots of trash bins and decaying fliers taped to the walls. They heard what sounded like a train whistle followed by a loud rumble. Then, voices peeled into the alley, and above their heads, a little gray bird tweeted the calls of the train whistle and then repeated the rumbling noise. “It’s a mockingbird,” said Isabella.

“So that’s where he went.”

The bird flew a figure eight in the air and then, without warning, dive-bombed Seth’s head, missing it by a hair. “I told you it was going to attack!”

Before she could respond, the bird swooped by Isabella and into a doggy-door-size opening in the brick wall in front of them.

“Look! It went in there.” Isabella got up and moved toward the opening.

“Oh, no,” Seth said, scrambling up behind her. “I’m not going back into another dark hole.”

“But that bird saved us,” said Isabella.

“It just attacked me,” Seth reminded her.

“It led us out here, didn’t it?”

“It was just getting itself outside. We happened to head in the same direction. It’s not like it waited around for us.”

Before the rest of their argument could play out, commotion emanated from the bird’s hole. “I don’t think a mockingbird could make that much noise,” said Seth. “Something else is in there.” They both stood fixed in front of the small opening, like two deer about to be run over by a semi.

“I was actually a gray catbird,” began a teenage-sounding female voice. “But sometimes I do a black catbird or just a plain ole lil’ black cat. Depends on my mood. Technically, I’m not allowed to go feline, so I keep that under wraps.” She was still talking, but no one had appeared. “Oh, no!” the voice cried. “I think I miscalculated something. I’m stuck. Frickety frack! Help, please! I can’t change unless I’m upright.”

Unsure of what to do, Isabella looked at Seth.

“I’m not going near that thing. Let’s go,” he said.

“Just move the boxes to one side, and I can get out. Please!” the voice implored.

Isabella, ignoring Seth’s protests, knelt down in front of the hole and pulled free several pieces of cardboard. She immediately jumped back to her friend’s side, afraid that she’d made the wrong decision. If she thought about it, she knew her instincts rarely led her astray. Of course, she felt a little different down there: frightened and confused but also calm and less chaotic. She really could not explain the contradiction.

Thanks so much!” the voice said as she crawled from the hole and stood before them. She was a girl. A short girl who looked to be no more than thirteen. Her hair was the color of rust and stuck to her head in loopy curls, and her eyes were a haunting sort of gray. She wore a ratty velvet coat, a too-big dress, and thick boots. “So, as I was saying, I do like to do the kitty thing when no one’s looking. It’s fun to curl up into a ball and roll, but it’s not safe to do that outside, really, and my mother would kill me.”

“Why’s that?” Isabella asked, curious, forgetting for a moment that the conversation was absurd.

“Well, I’m supposed to morph into a raven like the rest of my line, but nobody likes ravens. They have really bad reps, ya know?”

“I guess,” Isabella replied.

“So I do the catbird. I just don’t like the way they sound,” the girl babbled, exposing a row of teeth about half the size of a normal person’s. “I do admire the mockingbird’s ability to mimic, so I’ve mastered a way to morph the two. It’s a rare skill, but I can do it because I’m… well, me!”

“You mean to tell us you are that bird we just saw?” Seth asked.

“One and the same.” She thrust her hand out for one of them to shake. “Name’s Mimi.”

Seth eyed her. “How do you expect us to believe that you were that bird?”

“Why would I lie about something like that? It’s no big deal,” she replied with a good-natured smile.

“Yeah, Seth, it’s no big deal,” Isabella joked, taking a step backward. Mimi’s hand was still extended, unshaken. This girl couldn’t be that bird, really. Could she?

“Okay. If you’re some kind of sci-fi shape-shifter,” Seth continued, though the girl looked like she had no idea what he was talking about, “how do we know you weren’t the one chasing us with those tornadoes from hell?”

“Oh! I saw that, but I don’t really like chaos, so I hid until it was over.”

“Gee, thanks,” said Seth.

“But I did try to help her when she was drowning. I sent a boat, but you didn’t take it.” She turned from Seth to Isabella and folded her arms with a pout.

“If you’re not a shape-shifter, what are you?”

Her pout turned into a bright smile. “A morphling.”

“Sounds like another word for shape-shifter,” Seth muttered.

“I don’t know what you mean, but everyone knows what morphlings are.”

“Is that a type of empath?” asked Isabella.

“No, we’re nether-creatures. Somewhere between fair folk and you empaths.”

“Nether-creatures?”

“Most of us are extinct. Except maybe the noxies in Druid Lake. Oh, and the ones who live in his forest, but they never come out. Unless you count the Bahrguest,” she said quickly. “I hate that thing.”

“Wait. First of all, whose forest? And what is a noxie and a—”

“Bahrguest? That’s just a big, black dog that comes out when people die an untrue death. He howls at the moon, and all the other dogs come out—unless they’re locked up, of course—and walk down the Avenue,” she said, nodding her head toward the opening in the alley.

“I don’t think I like the sound of that,” said Seth.

“Whose forest?” Isabella pressed, half-wondering if she’d say Jack Heel.

“What?” Mimi asked absently, as if she seemed to notice Seth for the first time. A faraway look touched her gray eyes.

“You said something about someone having a forest,” Isabella said through gritted teeth.

Hmm? Oh, yes, Joseph Gaut,” she said dreamily, smiling at Seth for a moment longer before turning to Isabella. “I mean, no one’s ever seen him, so I don’t think he’s real. Other than the fair folk, he’s supposedly the only one who can talk to Yemaya.”

Isabella frowned. “Is that your word for God or something?”

The girl giggled. “No, silly. Yemaya is the oracle goddess of all of us elementals.”

“So she is your god?”

“No. It’s complicated…”

Isabella grasped her necklace and a light shone around it. Mimi looked at her with big, bright eyes. “Theophilus sent me to give you a message! If only I knew where it was or what he told me to tell you. Argh!” She fidgeted through her pockets but nothing was retrieved.

“You know Theophilus? What did he say?” Isabella’s anxiety was almost too much for even her pendant to keep in check. Seth watched her, his expression colored with anticipation and perplexity.

“I can’t seem to remember the words he sent for you. I’m sorry.” Mimi looked off into the distance as if her mind was clouded. “Oh, P.S., I would be extremely careful with the one who calls himself The One True Light… He is no fun.”

“Who?”

“The one feared by all. The one who wants him, who wants the Fire. The one who wants…” She inaudibly mumbled another word.

“What did you say?” asked Seth.

Mimi looked around with wide eyes as she mouthed, ”You’re cute.”

Seth rolled his eyes. “Is that why you dive-bombed my head?” He then turned to Isabella with raised eyebrows. “We need to find the others. And I’m so done with this wetsuit!”

“Okay, then we need to focus on finding the lost heir,” said Isabella. Mimi gasped; Isabella had no idea why. She looked toward the opening in the alley. “Is this really a street? You called it the ‘Avenue,’ didn’t you?” She looked back to Mimi when the girl didn’t immediately answer. But no one was there. “Where’d she go? Why do people keep disappearing into thin air?”

Seth looked around and shrugged. “She was weird, anyway. Let’s go.”

“How can you be so calm? Aren’t you still freaked out?”

“After being attacked by those things in there and seeing that bird turn into a girl, I’ve decided to give up on being shocked at this point.”

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea. Let’s hope we don’t get sucked into anymore tubes.”

Seth started toward the noise coming from the opening in the alley.

Isabella gasped. “Get back here!”

“What’s wrong?”

He followed her line of sight as she pointed at a sign that swung high above them. It was shaped like a pair of goggles with an arrow pointing to its destination. “Dodge’s Diverting Delectables,” she read.

“Theophilus,” they said in unison. Thank God.

“He’s obviously not gonna be there,” surmised Isabella, “but maybe we can get some answers.”

They approached the corner of the alley. Before Isabella could inch a toe beyond it, Seth held her back with his arm. “Wait until I say it’s all clear.”

“What are you doing?”

“Just be still until I say to move.”

She tried very hard not to grind her teeth. He was still playing Mr. Tough Guy. “Seth?”

“What?” he sounded annoyed but looked back anyway.

“Let’s go find some dry clothes.”

He sighed. “And some food. I’m starving.”

The sound of horse hooves clopping on pavement filled her ears. That can’t be right. The telltale stench of horse wafted into the alley.

A man wearing a tight, charcoal suit and a black bowler hat lumbered past, pulling a large black steed behind him. Just like Charlie Chaplin in that cutout she’d seen in the Freakland Lagoon back there.

“That’s so random,” said Seth, peering around the corner. “It’s a street, a huge street, with people, lots of ‘em. Like it’s downtown L.A. or Midtown Manhattan or something. Well, maybe not that crowded. And all decorated. It’s like a town square but way cooler.”

“You’re joking.”

“No. Look.”

He held her shoulders, hovering behind her as she peered onto the street. She couldn’t believe her eyes. It was a street, an avenue, like the girl had called it, but not like any avenue she’d seen before. Decorated with wreaths plus blue, green, silver, and gold bows, and eight-pointed stars, it looked like a vintage Hollywood village imprinted for the holidays, yet not so commercial. Hunter-green banners with the letters and S embossed in gold hung from the light posts.

“E.S…. Empath Society,” Isabella whispered to herself. “Awesome.” Even more impressive was the design of the thoroughfare. Sidewalks were patterned in a large checkerboard of gray and black stones. Running down the center of it all were two terrestrial rails, as if for a tram system of some kind, with no room for automobiles. Footbridges crossed up and over the streets at the corner of each block. And shops with uniquely designed signs almost seemed to wink at every passerby, as the soft light from above filtered down over them in a peaceful haze.

“Let’s just slip out and try to act like we’re not flipped out, okay?” Isabella insisted.

“Well, I think it’s pretty awesome, but just the same, stay close,” he said.

They eased around the corner. Isabella started to walk, but she heard Seth clear his throat. “Izzy, I think the sign was pointing this way…” Seth trailed off, eyes wide, as two car-size vehicles zipped down the rail lines. “Whoa!”

“Guess it’s not a tram,” she said. A third zoomed by in the opposite direction. They were all different colors and shapes, like mini-bullet trains.

“Sick!” Seth exclaimed once more, pushing past a woman wearing a bird hat who eyed him as if he were some oddity. The look she gave Isabella was not much different.

“Excuse me, ma’am, but do you happen to know where Dodge’s Diverting Delectables is located? Or do you have a cell phone we could use?” Isabella had an inkling that phones were not commonplace here, but the thought of calling someone from home—maybe Elyse or Rolf; okay, not Rolf—might have been a good idea.

The woman laughed out loud. “Do you think this is the 1980s? We haven’t used phones in the Underground for thirty years. Haven’t you heard of the empath network? Cell phones…! Why they open the portal for Wintertide, I’ll never know,” she said tiredly, eyeing Isabella up and down. Self-consciously, Isabella looked down and gripped her necklace. “And why are you both soaking wet?”

“We went diving today,” Isabella said, feeling a shiver run through her body.

“During Wintertide? Mighty cold for that.” The woman stepped closer to Isabella and studied her eyes, ears, and nose. “Where’s your seal?”

“My what?”

“Your seal. The Light Council has every citizen on watch for invaders. If you’re from sky-side, you still have to have been given a seal. I am not one to discriminate but have to protect my own, you understand? I’m just glad you’ll be gone when the portal closes if you are that kind.”

Isabella did not understand at all. Seth’s attention seemed stuck to the traffic beside them, as a blue then a black then yellow car-like vehicle sped by on the rail.

“Your seal, youngster, or I shall report you to the Hall Patrol or worse, the Shadows.”

“Did you see that man?” Seth interrupted, eyes shining like a child on his first trip to the circus. “His face was glowing—purple!”

“Violet,” the bird-hat woman amended. “Haven’t heard of the violet ones? The diadems?”

“The what?” Isabella asked.

“Show me your necklace, girl, and you, boy, show me your ring.”

Realization dawned on Isabella, and she pulled out the necklace Theophilus had given her from beneath her wetsuit. Bird-hat woman snatched the pendant. When she turned it over, her eyes grew as big as flapjacks. “I—I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. Forgive me,” she muttered.

“But what did you mean when you said the portal closes?” Isabella asked before the woman could retreat.

“The portal closes as the clock strikes midnight on the first of the year,” she said, her eyes turned down, and then dashed down the road.

“That was weird. And it’s freezing!”

“I know, and I’m hungry,” Seth complained. “Did you notice that bird on her head? Do you think it was one of that Mimi girl’s relatives?”

Ew. Don’t be scary.”

“You never know. Could have been won in battle. Like the Celts, when they walked around with enemy skulls on a stick so they could tell stories about how they’d killed each guy on their kabob.”

“That’s gross, Seth.”

“It’s true! And pretty cool if you ask me.”

“Boys,” she sighed. “Well, I’m sure there’s some place we can get some food around here.”

“I think I see a place up the road.” She followed him, thinking that eating might be nice.

As they walked, she noticed that cool air flowed all around them. It was cold enough to mimic a winter chill, yet warm enough to not cause frostbite. “We definitely need some dry clothes now. It’s freezing.” She resisted the urge to clutch Seth’s hand for warmth. ”My hair’s like a sponge, so I’m really cold,” she said, teeth chattering.

“Do you think they have some kind of air pumps down here?” Seth asked. “They have to, right?” They continued on, passing shop after shop; people stared at them as they walked by. “How come we never knew about this place? You, especially. It’s right under your hotel.” An old man with a white beard and a capuchin monkey on his shoulder passed them. “He was wearing a fez like that weird tour guide,” he noticed.

Isabella looked back and grinned, arms tucked across her chest. “Oh yeah… You remember that guy’s name? The one the tour guide mentioned, I mean?”

“Fleck or Neck or something.”

He really thought he was funny, didn’t he? “Peck,” Isabella corrected, not bothering to play into his joke. “Do you also remember that other name in that room we found? Millford Peck?”

Seth nearly tripped over an enormous dog; it had the build of a springer spaniel but was the size of a Great Dane. “You mean the room with our parents’ names on those gold pen things?”

“Betty’s name was on one, too. You know, my favorite chef at the hotel?”

“Oh, the chowder-taco lady, right?”

“Exactly,” she said, impressed that he remembered. “The only name I didn’t know was Millford Peck… until you mentioned that tour guide a second ago. Didn’t he mention someone with that name?”

“That can’t be the same guy! That guy was a loony tune.”

“So what?” she said, exasperated, although she knew she should not expect Seth to have a penchant for names like she did. “But that was his boss’s name. Remember?”

“Maybe,” he said without commitment.

“Never mind,” she grumbled as they came upon a small shop with a carved sign shaped like a coffee cup and what looked like real steam billowing from its center.

“You think they sell pecan pie?”

“We should eat real food, Seth. Not pie.”

“Pie is real food.”

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Find The Lost Heir on Amazon:

http://amzn.com/B01946ERJK

Dragon’s Revenge Cover Reveal

In search of his place in the world, Kyn visits his new friend, Ben’hyamene. Together, they meet an ailing dragon rider from the marshes of a land called the Carr. The rider recounts a people beset by anger, depression, and despair. After befriending and healing the rider, the group travels to the rider’s home. There they discover a breed of wild dragons, called drakes, which have been at war with humans for four hundred years.
One sleepless night, Ben’hyamene uses his new abilities to communicate with the lead drake. This sets Kyn and Ben’hyamene on a path that could bring peace to a conflict that’s nearly destroyed a whole people. Can revenge be set aside and enemies be called friends?

Find out in the exciting third book of the Dragon Courage series, Dragon’s Revenge by Kandi J Wyatt.

Dragon's Revenge Cover

Kandi is a wife, mom of five, teacher, artist and author. In her free time, she enjoys writing fantasy, writing Christmas programs, drawing using graphite and colored pencils. Portraits are her specialty. She also enjoys photography. Thank you to her photographer husband who has let her join his journey in photography as well. She is both his model and apprentice. (She still think he does a better job than her.) On occasion she’s his assistant when working with clients and when he needs a “light stand with feet”.

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webpage: http://kandijwyatt.wordpress.com/
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Dreamscape Tour Stop

Sixteen-year-old Alexis Stone is used to getting away from life’s frustration with Dreamscape, a video game she’s loved since childhood. As her family prepares to move, a sleepy night of gaming pulls her into the world like never before. Trapped in Dreamscape’s realm, Alex is about to learn that being a hero has consequences… and this time, the stakes are deadly. Will helping the rebellion cost her everything she knows and loves? Or will she betray them to save her own life?

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Kirstin Pulioff is a storyteller at heart. Born and raised in Southern California, she moved to the Pacific Northwest to follow her dreams and graduated from Oregon State University (Go Beavs!) with a degree in Forest Management. Happily married and a mother of two, she lives in the foothills of Colorado, and enjoys being a stay at home mom. When she’s not writing an adventure, she’s busy living one.

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She loves to hear from readers and fans. Please connect with her on any of her sites:

Webpage: www.kirstinpulioff.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/kirstinpulioffauthor

Goodreads:www.goodreads.com/author/show/6558842.Kirstin_Pulioff

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For Better or for Worse

I don’t watch all that much television, but the shows that I do watch have decided to use the same phrase this week. I’m not sure if it means a thing, but I’d like to explore it. For better or for worse: meaning, whether the outcome is good or bad, we stick to the decision made behind it.

SPOILERS involved from the January, 2016 episodes of X-Files, Arrow,  and Legends of Tomorrow. Read with caution.

X-Files
Mulder: I’m afraid that book is closed.
Scully: As are the X-Files…for better or worse. We’ve moved on with our lives.
Mulder: Yes, we have. For better or for worse.

Scully is implying that things have moved on and that even if it wasn’t for the best, it is what it is. Mulder is just like this is what life is like right now, and he’s given up…until, of course, it’s time to become Spooky Mulder again.

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Arrow
Felicity: My point being is that we didn’t really exchange any vows, so the whole for better or worse thing doesn’t really apply here.
Oliver: What are you talking about?
Felicity: That maybe the real reason you haven’t been here is because…
Oliver: Felicity…(takes ring from pocket and holds it up so she can see.) The nurse. She took this off of you in the E.R. How dare she? (Slips that bling-bling ring onto her finger)… For better, for worse.

This is a clear declaration of love and promise….and also a hint that Doom’s Day may be around the corner. ::Shuts eyes in fear:: It’ll be okay. And breathe.

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Legends of Tomorrow
Sarah: This mission is about changing the future. And if we have the power to change the world, don’t you think we have the power to change our own fate?
Captain Cold: For better or for worse.

We can make or fate good or bad.

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The same phrase used over multiple shows meaning specifically very different things for very different characters gives me pause. What do I think of it?

Stick to what I choose…for better or for worse.

Do what I am meant to do…for better or for worse.

Let the past go…for better or for worse.

The underlying theme here? Decision. Do you eat that cheesecake or not? Do you take time out of your busy life to go to the gym or stay home? Do you tell your boss what you really think of the changes she made last week or do you let it go? Do you quit your job and pursue your dream? Do you have children or not? Get married or not? Decide to be happy or not? Make your choices and stick to them and let the chips fall where they

Make your choices and stick to them and let the chips fall where they may. You can always do the other thing later, but the good or bad consequences from your initial decision will come — for better or for worse. You cannot control everything, and when that realization hits you, how will you handle it? You must learn to trust yourself in this great gift given to us all…life. Easier said than done, right?

Now, enough of all that. Who’s enjoying the X-Files reboot? I thought the premiere was crazy awesome but still have issues with it. What kind of a die-hard fan would I be if I didn’t? And loved the Legends of Tomorrow premiere. And Arrow? Can’t get enough of that show…like ever.

Thanks for reading. Nearly one month down of 2016. Just 11 more to go…for better or for worse. 😉

 

 

Fated Capture Tour Stop

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I am a normal seventeen-year old girl living a normal life… Well as normal as a Half-Human, Half-Craecia girl can be anyway while trying to avoid becoming an unwilling hostage of the Orfeo in the process of saving my best friend and brother from said Orfeo. Ok so I wasn’t normal and neither was my life, but it wasn’t all bad either. I am the Chosen. I know! Sounds so cool right! My very existence threatens everything Ose the leader of the Orfeo has obtained. I just don’t know how to bring him crumbling to knees yet. That’s where Lyon comes in … *sigh. Yep I’m smitten. HEY! Don’t judge me. If you had seen him you’d be smitten too. He’s all hot, sexy, protective wildness rolled into a beautiful, British-speaking male specimen and he was created just for me. Together we will do everything in our power to stop the evil from spreading and destroying the world.

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About the Author

Kristyn Eudes was raised in a small town in Alabama, where she recently married her best friend and love of her life.  Together, they are raising their combined large family  along with their newly adopted Tuxedo kitty, Fluffy.  

When not writing the next book in her Fated Keepers series, Kristyn obsessives over The Vampire Diaries, enjoys reading books by her favorite authors and brainstorming her next writing project.  

She loves all kinds of music and art, believing that creativity opens the soul. Her favorite hobbies are horseback riding and volleyball and she absolutely adores baseball (Go Red Sox)!

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Location, Location, Location

TOPIC: Story World Building

Many of you have read or heard about our book, The Lost Heir, so my writing partners and I were thinking that maybe some of you might like to see who the “skyside” world in The Lost Heir came to be.

**skyside=Above ground (as this world also includes vast environs below ground).

There are two major locations considered skyside in the novel: Brightwood Studios and The Foxworthy Hotel.  As a writing team, over the course of about two years, we visited many places to write and take notes. The year and a half after that, we spent in edits and publishing this title, along with my other book, Forget Me Not. Thank you, Booktrope Publishing for helping make that happen.

When it came to building the world of The Lost Heir, we decided on occasion to get outside of the house and work in blissful settings that might inspire the story locations fluttering around in our imaginations. We looked no further than the city we live in, Los Angeles, CA. I am a native of the area, and I think it’s my imagination that holds the novel’s world the most, but I feel that Erin Virginia and Grace Arden are powerful forces that swirl around in it and give it new life. But where did all this life and this world spark from?

Inspirations for BRIGHTWOOD STUDIOS

The Culver Studios is the movie studio that inspired Brightwood Studios in The Lost Heir. We spent a lot of time walking along the outer rim. Though we’ve been inside briefly, we have not had the full tour yet. But when we stayed as guests at the Culver Hotel, we had a good view of it from our windows. From the best of our views, we found out what it might have looked like as Isabella looked out of her window onto Brightwood Studios. See below. Cool huh?

Below is the 2oth Century Fox backlot. A good deal of Brightwood’s backlot is based on this studio, which is about five miles from Culver Studios. I have been on this backlot a few times more times than Culver so it was easier for me (Allison) to picture this one. Also, Brightwood is about halfway between the size of the Culver Studios and Fox lot. Though Sony Studios is closer to our main location, the only thing I think we used as inspiration is that lot’s main gate…It once used to be good old MGM. Yay for Leo the Lion!

THE FOXWORTHY HOTEL

The Culver Hotel is the hotel we spend the most time in and was the primary inspiration for The Foxworthy Hotel. I guess you could say The Culver Hotel is our hero. Practically adjacent to Culver Studios, just like The Foxworthy is nearly attached to the fictional Brightwood Studios in The Lost Heir, The Culver Hotel was always accommodating and friendly when we’d spend hours there working with our laptops. Some of the staff members even made into the book! We’ve had several tours of the hotel and as we mentioned earlier have rented rooms a few times to make sure we soaked up the classic Hollywood charm that the stunning boutique hotel has to offer. The Foxworthy is meant to be much larger than The Culver Hotel. We had to do that so we could make sure it has plenty of places to move and get lost in. But The Culver Hotel itself is not without its own magic and mystery. Talk to the staff and you’ll hear stories of the ghosts of Hollywood past. Legend has it that there is even an old tunnel underneath the hotel that led to MGM (now Sony lot). Sorry, people, it got plugged up… or so they say.

Below is the gazebo at The Ritz Carlton, Marina del Rey. We only went to this hotel once to write, but we loved the back garden and the staircase that led to it so much that we decided to make it the inspiration for the gardens behind the ballroom The Lily Field Ballroom in The Lost Heir. This gazebo looks like it comes from a magic world, doesn’t it?  It definitely opened up our imaginations to beautiful ideas.

We visited the Chateau Marmont and felt it was as spooky and grand as The Foxworthy. The Foxworthy, again, is larger than the famed Hollywood Hotel, but lacks the bungalows the Marmont is famous for. Also, there aren’t many wild celebrity parties at The Foxworthy — in the first book, anyway. 😉 We created a funny character whom you’ll meet later in the series just before we went inside that. It was a fun visit, but since we were afraid to break something, we decided to leave after about an hour. They seemed nice enough though.

The Beverly Hills Hotel‘s Cabana Cafe was a fun place to have lunch and write. We shared steak quesadillas and had amazing cocktails. Yes. We are over 21. We had a great time discussing Isabella’s life and family legacy at this historic Los Angeles landmark. We did not base specific decor of the hotel in The Lost Heir, but we do imagine Isabella and her grandmother’s suite to look a bit like the interiors of the bungalows. The hotel staff clothing in our novel is also similar to that of the BH Hotel staff’s. Thank you Pink Palace for always being so friendly and making our poor writer girl days filled with hopes and dreams.

We also spent some time at The Roosevelt Hotel for inspiration. It’s bigger. It’s Hollywood. It’s legendary. We could not skip it.  So what happened on the first, second then and third visit? We just ended up eating giant burgers at their Average Joe and Jane restaurant, 25 Degrees, situated at the back of the hotel. Nothing specifically in The Lost Heir is based on the Roosevelt, other than this restaurant. The food at Betty’s is a combo of the food here, The Culver Hotel, The Biltmore in downtown Los Angeles, and, of course, Musso & Frank!

That’s it! There will be many more places visited in the series, but unfortunately, there is no underground Violet City, but I’m sure we’ll find ways to make do. Oh, note: Isabella’s school (St. Agnes) is based on Immaculate Heart School for Girls as well as Marymount High School. We did visit the below location to map out Isabella’s run from the bullies with Pythian and decided to place her school, St. Agnes, in a fictional location near the 8600 block of Sunset Blvd, known as Sunset Plaza. Fun times! We actually walked the chase path. We had a lot of fun.

Sunset Plaza, Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, CA -- setting for Part 2 of Chapter 1

Sunset Plaza, Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, CA — setting for Part 2 of Chapter 1

We’ve had a great time getting prepped for the novel. Now it’s time to work on its sequel. Since we know the world so well now, we are ready to write it and the rest of what we will call The Diadem Chronicles much more quickly!

Happy 2016!

**Dedicated to Alan Rickman, a wonderful actor and talent.

Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas, everyone! Hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday.

I would like to share with you a story for you to read at your leisure. It is the beginning of a new series by my co-author Erin Virginia and me. Have a great holiday!

It’s the story of Cinderella’s stepsister after happily ever after and the curse that has been placed upon her..

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The dark, foreboding sky looming above Barren Wood that night painted it in a more haunting light than usual. At only ten-years-old, Hans Nox, was used to nightmarish things: things many in their realm thought to be mere myth or legend. But for the boy, whose hair and eyes matched the darkness that followed him wherever he went, this was a good thing. Hans fashioned himself an apprentice to both the darkness and the light, so he had to study each carefully. Twigs snapped beneath his feet until he came to a familiar clearing in the woods, not too far from the cottage where he lived with his family. It was odd, all the moonlight seemed fall into that circular area. Then, he saw her standing by the cauldron as it bubbled brilliantly above the crackling fire. She wore a dress layered in black and red. In her hand, she held a raven, petting it gently as an evil smile creased her lips. She forcefully cracked the bird’s neck, causing a sharp snapping sound to echo through the night. Then, she tore away a clump of feathers and tossed the carcass into a nearby bush as a dark, red liquid gushed over her hands.

“Why are you doing this, mother?” Hans asked, pulling himself onto a tall tree stump that overlooked the cauldron. With his feet dangling back and forth, he watched her carefully and waited for an answer.

Without a word, his mother lifted her bloody hand above the brew. Then, she slowly dropped one feather into the brew at a time, which bubbled and smoked with ferocity until they had all been added. Moments later, it faded back to a quiet boil. “I owe it to my sister’s memory and to the peace of this realm,” she said, her sharp glare focusing on him for a moment.

From her pocket, she pulled out a smooth, round mid-sized stone and gripped it tightly. It was dark green and glowing. It could have been from the moonlight or the light of the fire, but Hans knew differently. It was coming from a place of magic. He frowned, attempting to make sense of his mother’s words. “But I thought the curse was to be lifted nevermore?”

She glared at him again then when he thought she’d shoot him with a spell to punish his sass, she turned back to the brew and barked with laughter. The sound was so terrifying that even his skin stood on edge, but he knew what she needed next. Without waiting to be asked, he slid off the high stump and walked over to his mother, who now had her hand out in anticipation of his approach. From his pocket, he pulled out the small purple root that he had just retrieved from the deepest part of the woods and held it out her.

As the root disappeared into the clutch of her hand and sharp fingernails, she smiled at him and shook her head. “A curse can always be lifted, but I will not allow that. I cannot allow that.”

Then, she raised her hand above the cauldron and let the root fall from her grasp. As it slipped into the liquid below, a large cloud of smoke emitted from it, filling the entire clearing with a faint green mist. Hans looked up, unsure of what to say or do, but when he set his focus back on his mother he noticed that the stone held in her opposite hand changed to black.

A flock of ravens burst from the trees as steam from the brew climbed into the sky.

“As long as this stone remains black, we can be certain that Stephanie Thorne will die-without true love, or happiness.”

Chapter One

CURSED
Beyond the shadowy trees of Barren Wood in the northern realm of Fairland, sat a vast castle; one that had once been used during times of war to stave off soldiers and threats that had spilled out from the mysterious, darker parts of the country. At the moment, war was not on the horizon but that did not mean relations were harmonious between the four kingdoms of Fairland. The High Emperor, who overruled it all, imposed many restrictions upon the citizens though the kingdoms, who each had their own rulers, remained independent in their day-to-day lives.

As the morning stretched toward noon, the beautiful raven-haired, Stephanie Thorne, sat in the kitchen yard of the Northern castle, the section of Fairland that was on one side dark and on the other side very green, with a bowl of cherries and a sharp, thin knife. The juices gushed over her hands and clothing with each pit she removed, soaking her apron in their blood-red stains. She’d finally reached the last cherry when a large cloud of smoke burst from the woods in the distance. A pain in her stomach twisted at the same instance. It mirrored the pain she’d felt the night she’d moved to the castle over five months ago, and the pain she’d felt the morning of Prince’s Dominic’s Rose & Slipper ball, and the pain she’d felt when she turned sixteen and every birthday before that since she was eleven-years-old. It came more often and erratically as of late. Stephanie watched the billowing smoke evaporating into the sky, waiting for the sharpness to pass and wondered if she’d been stricken with a kind of intuition about whatever happened in the woods that she didn’t understand yet. It wasn’t a place she’d often go. She wasn’t like her younger sister, Helena, who didn’t mind the trees and the earth. But the feelings were probably only bad stomach spells as many were wont to have. They passed, then they were gone. Age had probably increased their frequency. She’d be twenty in a few months time.

“You’re wanted upstairs, milady,” said a familiar voice. Stephanie turned to see the head kitchen maid standing in the doorway, brushing the back of her hand against her sweaty brow.

“I’m just Stephanie, Mary Oliver,” she told the woman tiredly. She didn’t seem to understand that Stephanie was no longer a lady, or maybe she did understand, but it was too much for the middle-aged woman to ignore Stephanie’s true station.

She stood up with her bowl of cherries, handed it to Mary Oliver, then removed her apron to give it to the kind-faced woman as well. At that moment, the kitchen mutt with its light somewhat unclean fur and adorable but mischievous panting face, ran out of the backdoor, limping. Stephanie whistled for the dog to come back to her. She sat back on the stoop and put the dog in her lap, scratching it behind its ears and looking at its injured paw. “Has anyone looked at this?” she asked Mary Oliver.

“What? No, milady. We’ve been too busy.”

Stephanie gave the dog another scratch, this time beneath its chin. “Well, Mr. Wallford,” she said to the dog. “I’ll just have to send someone to look after you myself.”

“Milady,” Mary Oliver cleared her throat.

“Yes, Mary Oliver?”

“Princess Ellinor wants to see you.”

Ellinor. She sighed. Ellinor was the person she spent most time avoiding at the castle. Her step-sister, who’d been in her place once upon a time, was now royalty. It didn’t seem right, but what could Stephanie do? “The cinder princess. Whatever for?” She watched the dog hobble over to its small bed set up for him inside of a wooden crate then stood to look at Mary Oliver directly.

“It’s not for me to question,” she replied, avoiding eye contact.

“But you know?” Stephanie asked stepping over to a washing bucket the maids used to clean their hands. She took a cup and scooped out the water, then watched it send the redness from the cherries with a splash into to the ditch in the kitchen’s dirt packed yard. Stephanie took the small towel Mary Oliver had on her shoulder and wiped her hands with it before replacing it neatly. She gave the woman a pointed look. “Well then?”

“They want you to move all of your things upstairs, milady,” Mary Oliver said, unable to contain her smile, re-folding Stephanie’s apron over her arm, while still balancing the cherry bowl in the crook of her other arm.

For some reason, Stephanie felt the urge to smile back. At last, this could mean they’d finally come to their senses and were ready to grant her title back. Would they grant her mother and her sister’s titles back, too? And the lands that had been taken away from them after Ellinor had married the prince, would those be restored? They’d found her mother guilty of treason after lying to the Grand Duke and hiding away the now Princess Ellinor from the prince. Her mother could have worked her away out of it if she hadn’t spit in the Grand Duke’s face during a heated argument in front of several nobles. She was lucky to have her head, really. But the Grand Duke had known Lady Lavinia years before under what circumstances Stephanie was never quite clear on, and so he’d had the king punish her and her daughter for their crimes mildly. They would either be banished from the kingdom to live penniless, or they could stay at the castle and work as Ellinor (or as they’d once called her as children, Cinderella) had done all those years as a servant. But Ellinor must have seen the darkness of this cruelty and fought to bring the light back into their lives. She, after all, had the kindest heart of all of them growing up, a heart that Stephanie sometimes envied. She had to have gotten the king and his brother to re-think everything. What else could it possibly be? Stephanie rushed inside, passing through the kitchen and the other servants. As she rounded the first corner, mirth compelled her to reach into one of the maid’s mixing bowls and pull out a handful of berries. She stuffed the small bunch into her mouth as she skipped through with a wide grin on her face. There were gasps and sighs all around her as Stephanie yanked the apron tie from another maid, spun her around then let her go. The maid held her head as if she’d gone dizzy. As she ran out of the kitchen, she heard that same maid’s voice shout, “You’d think she weren’t never a high born lady!”

Stephanie could have cared less what maids thought of her. They’d never warmed to her anyway. That didn’t matter now, did it? As she passed the servants’ quarters, she stopped in the threshold and peered in. Along the floor lay stacks of hay with makeshift hay beds and floor mattresses littering the room. It was modest and dreadful, but the thought of moving upstairs caused her to sigh in relief as a smile creased her lips. “At last,” she said to herself, before heading down the back western corridor to the spiral staircase at the end of it.

***

At the top of the staircase sat the princess’s quarters, which was connected by a bedroom in the center to the prince’s rooms. When Stephanie reached the landing, she came to a set of guards standing watch outside of the door. They immediately moved aside and held the door for her. Chin high, Stephanie walked into the room to see her step-sister standing by the window with her ladies-in-waiting just behind her. At eighteen, Princess Ellinor, was the youngest of the group, but she was also the most beautiful. Her long, honey-colored hair shimmered in the light as it fell in perfect waves down her back, and her sweet hazel eyes added to her innocence.

The moment Stephanie’s presence was known, the ladies-in-waiting turned toward her with sharp glares. Stephanie paid little mind, however, as all three of them were nothing but an annoyance to her. She’d known them growing up, and she knew that they loved the idea of seeing Stephanie in such a state, any excuse to look down on someone. She’d been like them too once, she supposed, but now, she just wanted to be home again, comfortable and at the station she belonged to. She wouldn’t take it for granted ever again. Not like these girls did. The three ladies continued blinking at her as if the image of her stung their eyes. There was Marigold, who was beautiful and bookish, but her problem was that she never failed to let you know just how smart or attractive she was. Then there was Abigail, a stern, plain, no-nonsense kind of woman–whom frankly she found dull. Last but not least was Penelope, the group’s peaceful mediator. She was the nicest of the bunch, but that wasn’t saying much. Even she made Stephanie feel uneasy most of the time.

“Thank you, ladies. I would like to speak to my sister-cousin alone, if you please,” Princess Ellinor said, still looking out from her window.

“Why, so I can strangle you without any witnesses?” Stephanie mumbled to herself.

The three ladies curtsied toward the princess and then exited the room, leaving only the step-sisters behind. Just then, Stephanie stood up straight and mimicked their curtsy, grinning widely as she thought of just how fake and irritating they were. “Your highness.”

Ellinor smiled, her eyes darting back and forth. Seconds later, she began pacing the room, picking up and folding garments as she came by them.

“Ah… your highness?” Stephanie repeated, hoping to gain her attention, but it didn’t work. Instead, the princess carried on, ignoring her as she became engulfed with the task at hand. Not wanting to overstep any bounds, Stephanie waited patiently; well, as patiently as she could.

Once Ellinor had finished, she turned back to her with a bright smile. “How long have I been married to Prince Dominic?”

Stephanie tried to hide her face from the princess as she gritted her teeth at the thought. “Five months, three weeks, seven hours, twenty-three minutes, and three seconds, your highness.”

Ellinor tilted her head slightly and shot Stephanie an incredulous look. “You never took care to know any minute of the day when we were children.”

“Things change, your highness,” she said in earnest. She was tired. Her bones hurt and feet ached. She just wanted to take a hot bath, but she never got to do such things. Who would carry hot water in for the likes of her ever again? It was obvious that Ellinor had not called her in to restore any title. She would have come out and said it by now.

Princess Ellinor then returned to the vanity by her window. “They do,” she said, staring out of her wide window that overlooked the castle gardens once again.

Stephanie stood there, watching Ellinor twiddle her thumbs as she stared blankly out of the window. She was already growing weary of the princess’s delays. Why didn’t she just come right out and say it? “Your highness, I heard from Mrs. Oliver that you wanted to speak to me,” she said, her tongue a bit sharper than in should have been.

“Oh. Yes,” Ellinor replied, her eyes still refusing to focus on Stephanie. “As you may have noticed,” she sputtered. “I am not doing well in my station. I’m rubbish, really. And the last time I attended a tea party was when I served you, which-”

“Not to be rude, Ellinor… your highness,” Stephanie said, interrupting her mid-sentence, “But would you please get to the point?”

The princess turned away from her window and shot Stephanie a piercing gaze before speaking. “Prince Dominic’s mother is returning from the south for the first time since our marriage, and I want to host a tea party for her before the gala that night in honor of her homecoming.”

“And?”

“And… I wondered if you could be my etiquette tutor,” Ellinor said, her voice sounding a bit strained. Stephanie shook her head, taken aback by the offer. She wanted to say something–anything–but she couldn’t find the right words to use before the princess spoke again. “If you want to keep your kitchen duty, I understand. Is that what you were doing just now?”

Stephanie could tell by her step-sister’s actions and expressions that she was keenly interested, but it didn’t make her any less exasperated by the request. “Cherries, Princess. I was cutting cherries.”

“Oh,” Ellinor said, smiling as she turned back to the window. “I love cherries.”

Without control, Stephanie raised her hand and made a choking gesture aimed at her step-sister’s neck. Something had come over her. She was not going to harm Ellinor, of course. In spite of everything she’d done or said to Ellinor in the past, she did not hate her, or at least she did not want to. She’d tried hard on many occasions to be friendly with her, but there was always something holding her back. Any time Ellinor irritated her or didn’t grasp things as sharply as she did, she found herself annoyed, fired up in a way that almost seemed magical. It was a feeling she’d felt so many times growing up, a feeling that seemed almost as if it was not under her control. It was as if a mystical force was causing her to lash out at Ellinor when with another person she would have easily been able to relax or brush it off. The feelings had left her since she’d moved to the castle, but she’d made it a point to stay as far away from the princess as possible. That likely had everything to do with it. The only thing was that it felt stronger than ever today, like it had when they were children and like the day she’d rather forget, the day of the Rose and Slipper ball. It always frightened her a little, but she was able to find the composure to close her eyes and take a deep breath.

When Stephanie opened her eyes again, her hand fell right to her side seconds before Ellinor turned to face her again. “You could live right here next to me. There’s a small room adjacent to this one,” she said, her tone now perking up quite a bit.

Stephanie sighed loudly, shaking her head in disapproval; although she really did want to escape the servants’ quarters. “Why, so I can hear you and the prince in the throes of passion while I lie cold and grateful under a thin sheet of cotton alone?”

“Don’t be silly,” Ellinor said, almost laughing. “You’ll have thick blankets.”

And that was it. Stephanie clenched her fist tightly at her side, anger swarming over her. “Will I have my title reinstated?”

“You know I can’t do that,” the princess said, letting out a faint sigh. Then, she turned away and began brushing her thick, fair hair.

Stephanie shot her a heated glare, frustrated and angry with her flippant response. “At least, I wasn’t raised in a cinder closet.”

Almost immediately, Ellinor’s hand stopped brushing, and she looked back at Stephanie through the reflection in her mirror, blinking.

“Apologies, your highness; but I must decline,” she said, offering a final curtsy to the princess before walking toward the door. Before she could leave, however, she turned to her. “Your old dog, Mr. Wallford. He’s got a bad foot. Would you mind sending someone for him?”

Ellinor’s eyes went wide. “Mr. Wallford is hurt? I wish I could bring him up here with me, but he is an outside dog.” And not a purebred, who might have been given a caretaker and a groomer.

“Tell that to the kitchen maids,” said Stephanie.

“I’ll send someone.” Ellinor looked a bit guilty, but Stephanie knew that Ellinor really had as little control over her life as she did. Thinking she could help her had been a wild idea at best. There was no one to help either of them.

“Thank you, your highness,” Stephanie said softly and left Ellinor alone.

***

Happy holidays, everyone! I hope you enjoyed the first part of Cursed. You can find more of the story on Wattpad