Thank you for stopping by That’s What I’m Talking About for today’s Mistletoe Madness spot. For a line up of all of the authors featured here and at The Book Nympho, and to enter the overall event giveaway for a free book (two chances to win!), please click on the image above or go to the kickoff post on November 26, 2014.
Today’s Mistletoe Madness author is…
Book: A Veil of Secrets
Release Date: December 30, 2014
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
At the sound of my brother’s voice, my hand slid toward the hilt of my sword. “Have you found her?”
“Not yet,” Vaughn murmured for my ears alone.
Laughter and music swelled around us as our families enjoyed the Winter Solstice Festival. The absence of my wife, my pregnant wife, sent dread skittering down my spine. “Keep searching.”
“She can’t have made it far.” Vaughn’s gaze slid over the crowd of familiar faces. “She’s too—”
A growl started in my chest and worked its way past my lips. “Careful, brother.”
Vaughn splayed his hands in a gesture of peace. “It’s not my fault I thought she carried twins.”
My upper lip curled, which caused my brother’s eyes to gleam merrily.
He lived to torment me.
I scanned the crowd of relatives gathered here in the common room of the Araneidae nest for the seasonal festivities as well as to welcome the Araneidae clan’s new heiress into the world, if Lourdes would hold still long enough to birth her. Nine months had passed. The babe was due any day now.
“She’s too far into her pregnancy to have left the nest.”
The sound of Vaughn’s voice brought my attention back to him. “She might have had help.” My one duty in this world was to protect that female and her kin, and here I stood, without an inkling of where my wife had gone, who she was with or if she was safe. “It’s a dangerous time to be maven.”
“If only I had a wife who was a maven then I might be able to sympathize,” Vaughn said dryly.
Vaughn was paladin of the Mimetidae, our birth clan. His wife, Mana, a spirit walker, was their maven. But the Mimetidae had their fierce reputation to protect them. Lourdes’s clan, the Araneidae, depended upon the Mimetidae’s strength to shield them. As the Araneidae paladin, it was my duty to safeguard my adopted clan and above all others, my wife.
While my head was turned, a blur of color darted to my side. Amid the swish of rainbow skirts, I recognized my niece.
“Uncle Rhys,” Maisy panted. “Come quick.”
I smoothed a hand over her hair. “I can’t play now. Perhaps later.”
After Lourdes was safe.
“It’s Aunt Lourdes.” She took my hand and tugged. “I was in the stables visiting the falco. I had just returned Tiah to her cage when I saw her. She was holding her belly and looked very tired.”
Ice spread through my chest. “Lourdes is in the stables?”
“Someone was with her.” Maisy wet her lips. “I saw them open the hatch and ran to find you.”
Fists balling at my sides, I kept my tone calm. “Did you recognize the person with her?”
Maisy shook her head and indigo curls bounced around her face. “They wore a cloak and hood.”
“You did well bringing this to me.” I held a finger to my lips. “But don’t tell anyone else.”
“I won’t,” she promised.
“Go find your mother.” I ordered, “Stay close to her.”
“I will.” Worried filled her violet eyes and she flung herself against my side. “Be careful.”
“I vow it.” I gave her a gentle nudge toward the center of the room where I last saw her parents dancing. Once she vanished from sight, I relayed the information to Vaughn, who had drifted back to give me a moment of privacy with Maisy but listened now with rapt attention while we made a plan.
“Call the guards,” I said at last. “Don’t alarm the guests. Follow when you can.”
“Have a care, brother.” Vaughn slid into the crowd and vanished.
Careful to keep my stride even, my face smooth and free of emotion, I crossed the room. As the host, people wanted to chat. Family wanted to reminisce. But I murmured polite deflections my long suffering wife had taught me and eased from the party rooms into the tunnels leading to the stables.
Ahead of me the long hall ended in an arch carved with ursus, and I was left standing on the lip of an incline leading down into the cavernous stables. Over my head, the domed ceiling soared. The space was well lit and smelled of livestock and fresh hay. Rows of stalls held ursus in every color as well as other labor and feed animals. Opposite me was an incline matching this one, rising up toward the massive hatch leading outside the security of the nest and deep into the freezing northland winter.
A chill breeze whirled straw across the floor.
Maisy was right. The hatch had been opened.
A quick scan of the area showed no signs of life. No stable hands strolled through the aisles. No guards stood watch on the narrow walkway above the hatch or anywhere else I could see. Aware the ramp made me an easy target, I murmured a prayer to the two gods then eased down the incline until I stood on level ground and the soft noises of ursus grunting and snuffling shattered the eerie silence.
I spared a glance behind me, but Vaughan and his reinforcements were nowhere in sight.
Jaw clenched, I drew my sword. Clearing the aisles one by one, I approached the exit hatch.
Soft laughter froze me in place. Lourdes.
Tightening my grip on the hilt, I prowled past the last aisle and cut my eyes from left to right.
“Gods’ web,” I muttered.
A box sleigh like those used for hauling firewood and supplies into the nest sat angled to the left side of the exit ramp. A pair of snow white ursus hitched to the front, their thick fur concealing ornate harnesses. The entire scene was wrapped in shadows by someone familiar with the nest’s best hiding places. A clever person who knew this niche was a blind spot, impossible to detect until you stumbled upon it.
It smacked of Lourdes’s handiwork.
A cloaked figure glided forward with familiar grace and an even more familiar scent.
“Mana?” I lowered my weapon a fraction.
She tossed back her hood and grinned at me. “Hello, Rhys.”
I visually swept the area for signs of trouble. “Are you alone?”
A pale arm shot up from the bed of the sleigh and waved.
Mana subdued the flailing limb. “Not exactly.”
“Lourdes?” I sheathed my blade and jogged to Mana’s side. Nestled under a pile of blankets and furs, Lourdes glanced up at me, her blue eyes dancing, and wiggled the fingers of her captured hand.
“I see Maisy delivered our message,” she said by way of greeting.
“You sent her—?” The strain tensing my shoulders eased. “You set all this up.”
“I did indeed. You certainly wouldn’t have agreed to it. You barely let me out of bed these days.” She patted the spot beside her. “Come on. There’s plenty of room.”
“Our guests…” I rubbed my face. “We can’t leave them.”
“As my heir, Armand is filling in for us.” She patted her rounded belly. “Should anyone ask, we retired to our rooms. I’m resting—” her lips parted in a teasing grin, “—and you’re pacing tracks in the floor.”
Maisy knew. Armand knew. I narrowed my eyes at Mana. “Vaughn knew about this.”
“Your personal guards rode out and took up their positions while you and Lourdes were greeting guests. Vaughn should have joined them by now.” Mana tugged on leather gloves. “I will be your driver this fine afternoon. As Lourdes’s midwife, I assure you she is perfectly sound and this trip is perfectly safe. I have driven the route once already with Vaughn to test for thin ice. And,” she added with a wink, “should the little one decide to join us ahead of schedule, I brought all the supplies we need.”
“Rhys.” Lourdes scrunched up her face as she strained to reach my hand. “All I want for Solstice is one last sleigh ride with my husband.” I leaned closer, stretched out my arm, and she slid her icy fingers through mine. “This is our last chance to be alone together.” She addressed her stomach, “Tonight is the night. Isn’t it, darling?”
I gripped the edge of the sleigh with my other hand and leaned against it for support. “Tonight?” My gaze shot to Mana for confirmation. When the spirit walker gave a solemn nod, the air whooshed from my lungs, and I forgot how to breathe. Only the gentle caress of Lourdes’s thumb over the back of my hand anchored me, kept me standing when my knees threatened to buckle like a newborn foal’s.
“We’re losing the light.” Mana climbed onto the driver’s seat. “We should leave soon.”
With a tight nod, I climbed into the sleigh bed beside Lourdes and slid under the covers she had lifted. She tucked the blankets around me then leaned against my shoulder, looping her arm through mine and sighing with such contentment that I marveled at being the cause of her happiness.
This was the gift she wanted. Us. Together. Alone. As though the birth of one child or twelve could change how I felt about her. A child was a treasure, but a wife…my wife…
Lourdes was the heart beating in my chest.
With a snap of the reigns, Mana shocked the ursus into motion. The sleigh bumped up the ramp and out into the waning sunlight. A burst of frigid air slapped our faces, and Lourdes’s cheeks turned rosy with the cold. Blonde hair whipped around her head, the ends lashing my throat. Her lips spread in a wide grin and her cornflower eyes twinkled as the blades whooshed over the freshly fallen snow.
Fierce words clawed their way past my tight throat. “I love you.”
She peeked up at me. “I love you too.”
I curled my finger under her chin and tipped her head back. “The babe changes nothing.”
Lourdes laughed softly. “She changes everything.”
“Not this.” I lowered my head and claimed her sweet, soft lips. “Not us.”
Her pleased sigh blew warm breath over my chin. “Is that so?”
“You own my soul.” Our life threads were tied. “A child is a blessing, but you…” I took her mouth again, lingering this time, “…are a miracle to me.”
“Happy Solstice,” she said against my lips.
I stole another kiss that left me breathless. “Happy Solstice.”
Some secrets are best forgotten.
Araneae Nation, Book Five
Fresh from the battlefields of Erania, Marne rides south with Edan, headed for the city of Beltania. Among the Mimetidae guards accompanying them is Asher, who’s been a thorn in her side since the day they met. He’s rude and abrasive…yet he was the first to volunteer as escort.
Marne dreams of a fresh start where no one knows who—or what—she is. But first, they must cross the veil. Rumor has it spirits haunt that grim stretch of road, and unwary travelers who enter are never heard from again.
Veil or no veil, Asher is honor bound to see Marne safely to her new home. Though truth be told, Marne leaving Erania is the last thing he wants. This journey is his final chance to convince her distance will only make his heart grow fonder.
When Edan is lost to the mists, Marne is trapped in a strange land with no allies—with a man who draws her closer every day. Closer to her heart, and her secrets. Secrets she must reveal if they are to save the one man bent on tearing them apart.
Read more about Lourdes and Rhys in A Hint of Frost, the first Araneae Nation book, available for free during the month of December from your favorite retailer.
When the head of the Araneidae clan is found poisoned in her nest, her eldest daughter, Lourdes, becomes their clan’s new maven. If her clan is to survive, she has but one choice: she must marry before her nest is seized. All she needs is a warrior fierce enough to protect her city and safeguard her clansmen. Such a male is Rhys the Cold.
Born the youngest son of an impoverished maven, the only things Rhys has to his name are his sword and his mercenary reputation. His clan is starving, but their fondness for the flesh of fellow Araneaeans makes them unwelcome dinner guests. Torn between loyalty to his clan and fascination with his future bride, Rhys’s first taste of Lourdes threatens to melt the cold encasing his heart.
Amid the chaos of battle, Lourdes’s sister disappears and is feared captured. Lourdes and Rhys pursue their enemies into the southlands, where they discover an odd plague ravaging southern clans as it travels north, to Erania. Determined to survive, Lourdes will discover whether she’s worth her silk or if she’s spun the thread by which her clan will hang.
Hailey is generously donating a awesome prize pack to one (1) lucky commenter. The prizes include:
*One Print Copy of A Breath of Winter
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*One Araneae Swag Pack
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Now, head over the THE BOOK NYMPHO to see today’s feature with Susanna Fraser.