Tuesday, June 30, 2020


Midnight Temptation
Raven’s Hollow Coven
Book Two
Shari Nichols

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: City Owl Press
Date of Publication: June 30, 2020
ISBN: 1949090647
ASIN:  978-1949090642
Number of pages: 274
Word Count: 68,500

Tagline: A witch and a vampire must work together to take down the ruthless head of a human trafficking ring.

Book Description:

When tarot card reader Gillian Howe hosts a supernatural speed dating event, she’s hopeful to discover her chance at love. Making the perfect match is her passion.

Too bad she can’t find one for herself. A chance encounter with a wealthy vampire soon finds her plunged into a secret society of trancing, blood bonds, and human escort rings. She’ll need help to survive, but the vampire detective is the last person she wants...even if he is scorching hot.

Garrett Mulroney’s sire tried to force him into a life of debauchery, but he chose to uphold the law instead. The fact that the one woman he can’t seem to get out of his lust-filled dreams is at the center of his investigation doesn’t bode well. It's a good thing she hates his guts, because it helps douse his growing desire for her and focus on the case. But when Gillian’s cousin is kidnapped into the Du Sang Brotherhood, she becomes the prime witness. Now they’re forced to put their differences aside and go undercover by pretending to be a couple. The more time they spend together, the more Garrett wants her in his life—and in his bed.

Will they be able to develop the love and trust needed to take down the Brotherhood or become its next victim?

Suddenly, all the hairs on the back of Gillian’s neck stood on end. Her whole body tensed. The chatter and music became muffled. Her eyes flickered across the lobby in search of who, or what, had caught her attention.
Then she saw him.
Six-feet-three inches of tall, dark, and brooding stood at the front desk. Detective Garrett Mulroney? What the hell was he doing here? Seeing him again after all these months sent a jolt of shock rippling through her.
His gaze locked with hers, and for a moment, she forgot to breathe. They both stood there, staring at each other. It was as though he could see beneath her armor, the kind she wore under the little black dress.
The word handsome didn’t even begin to describe him. Mythological titans like Adonis and Poseidon came to mind, males so stunning, they couldn’t possibly be real. But then she thought of other words too, like arrogant, brash…controlling…she could go on.
Mulroney crossed the lobby with a confidant gait, his long legs eating up the distance between them in a few easy strides. Her heart hammered in her chest with every step.
Every female head turned to catch a glimpse of the vampire. The closer he got, the more her body became hyperaware of his presence. He kept his thick head of dark hair short on the sides and longer in the front. The cut showed off the angles and hard lines of his face. Sexy stubble darkened a square jaw, and he looked every bit as dangerous as she remembered. Long, and lean, Gillian could make out the ripple of sinewy muscle beneath the jacket of his grey suit. In the past, she’d always been attracted to the artistic types. So, there was no good reason why she was drawn to this rough-hewn alpha.
But Goddess help her, he was magnificent.
Laughter drifted from the bar, and that’s when she realized she was still standing on a chair, gawking at him like some lovesick schoolgirl. She went to step down and her foot slipped out from one of her strappy sandals. Before she could fall sideways onto the marble, two strong arms wrapped around her waist and caught her in midair.
When she looked up and into Mulroney’s ice-blue eyes, her heart gave a little flutter. Apparently, the legends about vampires having preternatural speed and strength were real. But then, as his gaze filled with a kind of raw, primal desire, she had no doubt the steamy ones about them possessing a certain sexual allure also rang true.
            “You’re lucky you didn’t break your neck,” Mulroney whispered close to her ear and set her on her feet. “What are you doing here tonight, Miss Howe?” The deep rumble of his voice did funny things to her insides. 
“I could ask you the same question.” Gillian grabbed the scissors and scotch tape off the table, then shoved them in her black beaded bag. “If you must know, I’m working,” Gillian snapped. Ever since the prickly detective had been assigned to investigate the robbery of one of her clients, a local antique dealer, their paths had collided on more than one occasion. 
Mulroney’s eyes did a slow sweep of her from the tips of her three-inch heels to the top of her head. Goosebumps instantly spread across her flesh. Gillian wanted to squirm from the flagrant perusal, but remained still, refusing to give him the satisfaction. Why would she? After all, he had tried to ruin her life. “Interesting work attire,” he murmured.
Her hands clenched at her sides, fighting the urge to tug on her dress again. “I’m sure you didn’t walk over here to comment on my choice of clothing. To what do I owe the unexpected pleasure?” she asked with a healthy dose of sarcasm.
“Trust me, this wasn’t planned,” he said in a gruff voice, refusing to look her in the eye.
Gillian couldn’t help remembering the day he and his partner had showed up at the coven. Peppering her with questions and unwarranted accusations, they’d invaded her safe space, conjuring that too familiar lash of shame, and reminding her of the days when the neighbors used to call the cops to keep her parents from an all-out war.     
He kept his hands stuffed in his pockets, his stance casual, but he wasn’t fooling anyone. There was no mistaking the predatory way he kept checking out the people strolling by as only a cop would. She followed his gaze as it took in every detail, restless with intensity, before finally landing on their banner. “Is this a private fundraiser?”
She nodded, not in the mood to elaborate. “Are you here in an official capacity? What’s the matter, no real criminals on the streets tonight?” Or maybe this was personal and he was meeting someone. He’d worked with Alex on several cases, and according to Willow, he was a confirmed bachelor, not that she had inquired or anything. 
 “A quick word, please, Miss Howe. We need to talk.” The object of her unhealthy obsession ignored her questions and reached for her elbow, pulling her off to the side. His touch seared through the thin material of her dress, leaving a hot flush along her skin. At five-foot-seven, she wasn’t exactly short, but even in her heels, he towered over her.  
“Hold on. I’m kind of busy right now. What’s this about?” Gillian demanded, catching a whiff of his masculine scent, a blend of sandalwood and clean laundry. She fought the urge to sigh and glared at him instead.
“You shouldn’t be here.” Mulroney glanced over at the couple’s tables scattered with rose petals, floating candles, bowls of heart-shaped chocolates, and the Lawrence Charity placards. He turned back to face her and scowled. “I want you to leave. Now.” 
“Excuse me?” His words knocked Gillian off-center and before she could process them, an attractive female vampire with dark hair pulled in a tight ponytail walked up to Mulroney and placed a hand on his arm.
 “It’s time. We need to go.” A surge of irrational jealousy coursed through Gillian’s veins like battery acid. 
For a split second he hesitated, his gaze still fixed on Gillian, and she sensed some kind of inner battle raging inside him. Then he gave her a curt nod and walked away. Her heart sank.
Brooke approached and crossed her arms over her chest. “What was that all about?”
Not sure what to make of their twisted interaction, or of Mulroney’s ominous words for that matter, Gillian sucked in a quivering breath and let it out. “No idea.”

About the Author:

Shari Nichols grew up in a small town in Connecticut where haunted houses, ghosts and Ouija boards were common place, spurring her fascination with all things paranormal. Ever since she read her first Barbara Cartland novel, her life-long dream has been to write sexy, romantic stories. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, going to the gym, or hanging out with family and friends.

Shari’s a member of Romance Writers of America, New Jersey Romance Writers, Liberty States Fiction Writers and Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal Romance Writers. Shari’s new series,   Ravens’ Hollow Coven, is an urban fantasy with City Owl Press.

Awards:  Beverley Award, Golden Leaf Finalist, Best Book Finalist by a New Jersey Author, HOLT Medallion Finalist, Literary Titan Silver Medal Winner.


A Queen’s Pride
Feline Nation
Book One
N.D. Jones

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Kuumba Publishing
Date of Publication: June 26, 2020
Number of pages: 220
Word Count: 71,524 (appx)
Cover Artist: Ravenborn Covers

Tagline: Revenge Is Best Taken with Claws

Book Description:

Lies. Murder. Vengeance.

For centuries, humans descended on shifters' lands, killing and claiming. They devoured all in their path--gold, God, and glory their battle cries. From the flames of destruction on the Zafeo continent, two nations emerged--the human territory of Vumaris and the feline nation of Shona.

No more wars.

No more bloodshed.

Eight decades of peace.

For eighteen-year-old Asha, traveling to Vumaris with her parents, lion alphas of the Kingdom of Shona, should've been a simple matter. Recommitting to an eighty-year-old peace treaty between their countries should've been easier still. Yet, greed and corruption know no boundaries of time and place. So when a group of mercenaries converges on Sanctum Hotel, hellbent on kidnapping Asha and assassinating her parents, her family trip turns into the bloodiest night of her life.

Will Asha lose those closest to her heart--her parents and Ekon, a young bodyguard she loves. If so, will she forgive her enemies or seek divine retribution?

Only time will tell, and it's running out for Princess Asha of the Kingdom of Shona.

Asha flipped from one television station to the next, her mind more on the way Ekon had made her body feel than on finding a show for them to watch before Mafdet took over the post and sent Ekon to his suite. While Zarina had raised Asha to speak her mind, she had also taught her to do so with forethought and care. Zarina may have a tendency to shock people, but it wasn’t because she hadn’t calculated the impact of her words before uttering them. But her mother had yet to teach her how to curb her thoughts when her body wanted to do the talking for her.
Foregoing the television, she clicked it off and dropped the remote control onto the couch cushion beside her. She ached in places she wanted Ekon to touch. If she were alone in the suite and in her bed, she’d close her eyes, slip her hand inside her panties and—
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Opening eyes that had closed of their own volition and dropping the hem of her dress she hadn’t consciously lifted, Asha sat up—embarrassed and breathless.
The knock came again.
Asha stood. Waited. A Shieldmane would announce himself, even Mafdet who had a key to the suite. Her parents would call, if they required something of her, expecting Asha to come to them, not the other way around.
By the time the third round of knocking sounded, Asha had moved closer to the door, scenting more than the human on the other side.
“Miss. Miss. Are you inside? We have an emergency. We need to evacuate this floor.”
The man knocked again--hard and urgent.
Peering through the peephole, she saw a tall man dressed in the same uniform she’d seen the front desk workers wear. He appeared both anxious and impatient. If there was a fire or gas leak, the man’s emotions were justified. Asha and Ekon needed to get out of there.
She unlocked and opened the door. Mistake. Asha stepped backward, and the human stepped forward, shutting the door behind him.
A gun she hadn’t seen through the peephole pointed at her.
“Don’t scream. Don’t fight. If you follow my directions, you won’t get hurt.”
If he didn’t have a gun leveled at her stomach, Asha could’ve misinterpreted his smile as a sign of kindness.
“You’re making a mistake.”
“No, I’m making the world better for humans.” Gun hand steady, the man who clearly wasn’t a hotel employee, scanned the outer room of the suite. “Is someone in here with you? A guard?” Green eyes tracked up and down her body. “Yeah, as pretty as you are, there has to be a guard nearby. Where? Bedroom? Bathroom?”
Asha wouldn’t tell a lie, only to be caught in one, but she also wouldn’t reward the human’s threat of violence with the truth.
“Fine. I’ll take your silence as a yes.” He drew closer, blond hair pulled back in a shoulder-length ponytail Asha would rip from his scalp if given an opportunity to strike. “We’ll just wait right here for whoever is in that other room to come out.”
They waited. It didn’t take long since Ekon had already been in the ensuite for five minutes. Asha knew why he’d made a quick escape. She hadn’t been toying with him when she’d asked to see him naked. She’d very much wanted to feast upon his body … and with more than her eyes.
The door to the ensuite creaked open.
The human shoved the barrel of the gun against her ribs, his breath smelling of cigarettes when he whispered in her ear. “I knew someone was in here with you. You’re too important to be left alone. But didn’t your parents ever warn you about opening doors to strangers?” His other hand found one of Asha’s curls and twisted it around his finger. “I told them I could get you to open the door for me. It was the uniform, wasn’t it? No need to answer, little girl. Now, let’s see who came to play.”
Ekon appeared in the living room, having reached them on soundless feet. If not for the creaking door, the human would’ve never known he approached. As it was, though, it was Ekon who was taken by surprise.
Asha saw the moment her gentle boyfriend morphed into her deadly Shieldmane. His eyes darkened, eye teeth lengthened, sharpened, and his fingernails transformed into long, curved claws.
Ekon stalked toward Asha, his focus on the gunman.
In a swift upward movement, the human pointed his handgun at Asha’s head. “Calm down, kitty, or I’ll splatter her brains all over this white carpet.”
Ekon halted.
“That’s good. Real good. Put those fangs and claws away, friend.”
“I’m not your friend. If you want to make it out of this room alive, you need to get that gun away from her and leave.”
“Yeah, no, that’s not going to happen. She’s why we’re here. Where we go, she goes. You’re the one I don’t need.”
A lion roared, and Asha had never heard a more beautiful sound.
“That would be my father.”
The roar was followed by gunfire, then what sounded like all-out war in the hall.
“Fuck! Fuck! What in the hell are those guys doing?”
“They’re fighting my parents, which means they’re dying. If you give Ekon your gun, you won’t have to die with them.”

About the Author:

N. D. Jones, Ed.D. is a USA Today bestselling author who lives in Maryland with her husband and two children. In her desire to see more novels with positive, sexy, and three-dimensional African American characters as soul mates, friends, and lovers, she took on that challenge herself. Along with the fantasy romance series Forever Yours, and a contemporary romance trilogy, The Styles of Love, she has authored three paranormal romance series: Winged Warriors, Death and Destiny, and Dragon Shifter Romance.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, June 29, 2020


Fly Twice Backward
Fresh Starts in a World of Troubles
David McCracken

Genre: SciFi, SciFiRomance, Alt History

Print Length: 726 pages
Publication Date: October 14, 2019
Sold by: Amazon.com Services LLC
Language: English

Book Description:

You wake back in early adolescence, adult memories intact, including ones that could make you very wealthy now. Your birth family is here, alive again, but your later families are gone, perhaps forever. What has happened, what should you do about coming problems like violence, ignorance, pollution, and global warming? You realize one key connects most, the fundamentalist strains of the major religions disdaining science, equality, and social welfare. You see that there are some things you can change, some you can’t, and one you don’t dare to.

Fellow idealists help you spend your growing fortune well--such as an artistic Zoroastrian prince in the Iranian oil industry, a rising officer in the Soviet army working to find a way to destroy his corrupt government, a Bahai woman struggling against Islamic brutality, a Peruvian leader working for a liberal future, and a snake-handling Christian minister, grappling with doubts, sexuality, and destiny. They are supported by an ally who develops essential psychic powers. The group faces familiar-looking corrupt politicians, religious leaders, and corporate czars, but there is an ancient force in the background, promoting greed, violence, hate, and fear.

This exciting, emotional, thoughtful, humorous, and even romantic sci-fi novel weaves progressivism, music, movies, and literature into a struggle spanning the globe. Vivid characters propel the action back up through an alternative history toward an uncertain destination.

Bewitching Excerpt:

24. Xerxes: Convoy (Shiraz, Iran, Wed., 9/17/52)

After the three-day mourning period for Grandfather, a small crowd gathers in our courtyard around his new green Cadillac as Father hands me the keys. I’m taking it to our villa on the outskirts of Teheran. From there, I’ll report to the recently opened offices of the new Ministry of Petroleum. There’s also a big old black Buick, which will be going along, brought by three brothers who have done various demanding jobs for the family. Mohammed, my favorite, winks slightly at me. Father’s secondary wives are there, too, colorfully dressed, with most of their children. Mother stands apart from them, of course, with her arm tightly around me.
She says, “Son, I know you’re anxious to get started, but you haven’t seen how lawless highways have sometimes become, with less oil money coming in to pay the police.”
“Has it come to that?”
“Well, your father assures me that with Mohammed driving your car and his brothers in theirs, and the full attention of all, you should make it OK.”
Father steps away from the Buick: “Yes, Son, keep your guns handy and don’t stop for anything until you get to cousin Abdollah’s in Isfahan for the night. That’ll end the most dangerous part of the trip.”
“We’ll be careful, Father. What is happening to our country?”
 “A lot of people are short on food, with the British blockage of our oil exports, and some are desperate. Others are just opportunistic. We can’t give in to fear, but neither can we give in to foolishness. Please call when you arrive. Abdollah does have a phone, now that he’s moved into town with his families.”
I open the Cadillac passenger door and say: “Those damned British think they own us as slaves, and they intend to teach us not to be rebellious, as dogs needing discipline to do tricks. I hope to God we can prove they’ve misjudged.” I look around at this home, this family that I’m leaving again: with a kiss to each parent, I settle into the comfortable seat by Mohammed.
“Go with God, Xerxes,” say both my parents together.
“And may God be with you, Father, Mother.”

25. Xerxes: Danger (Near Shareza, Iran, Wed., 9/17/52)

Driving under the noon sun, still short of Shareza, visibility is good. There is no traffic as we head north, so we can pick up speed. To the right, the road is skirting a long, high ridge of barren rock and fallen sand, like so much of the land all the way toward the eastern deserts. To the left, at a bit of a distance, a lower ridge has a few isolated patches of green and an occasional shabby house. I’m missing beautiful Shiraz already. And Austin.
The road makes a sharp turn to the right, going around a ridge so we can’t see past the curve. Immediately before it, we see a junky old car pulled off the road, a man working under the hood, and a young family inside. Mohammed is passing them by.
 “Oh, Mohammed, we should stop, or they’ll be in danger.”
“And if we stop, we’ll be in danger . . . . OK, we’ll pull just past that curve, and you look back as we round it. Watch to see if he gets in his car as we get to the curve.”
“He did.” Oh, oh! What are we in for?
“Roll down your window and look ahead, holding your gun ready. Be ready to hand me mine.”
“There, ahead of your brothers! A horse and cart are nearly blocking the road.”
“Kian’ll know what to do.”
The Buick swerves, so it is aiming straight at the horse’s front shoulder, speeding toward it. The horse rears in panic, tipping the cart backward. Two short hay-streaked men with old-style long rifles tumble out, struggling to get their balance and turn those rifles toward us. Through a window of our leading car, I see--a rock? No, a grenade, exploding as it falls between the men.
Gunshots smash into our rear window, one going all the way through and into the windshield before me: “Shoot at that car coming up behind us.”
“The children!”
“Aim low.”
Mohammed slews our car across the road and joins me in firing. Kian screams back in his car, and those brothers join the fusillade. Our bullets must puncture the fuel line of the following car, as flames flare up and grow quickly. The family tumbles out of all the doors and roll away from the car.
Leaving the two bodies, a forlorn family, and a burning car behind, our little convoy roars on.
“Reload!” Mohammed says.
The bodies! And what a waste of my own life, if I’d died here, never seeing Julia again!

About the Author:

David McCracken was born in Louisville, KY, in 1940. Raised mostly in Winchester, KY, he now lives near Winchester, VA, with his third and final wife. He has three children, two stepchildren, and six grandchildren.

After three years in the U.S. Navy following a lackluster academic start, he graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1963, in Diplomacy and International Commerce. He then worked as a Latin American country desk officer in the U.S. Department of Commerce until he returned to school to earn an M.A. in Elementary Education in 1970 from Murray State University, having always been intending to teach. Eventually realizing his children qualified for reduced-price lunches based on his own teaching salary, he studied computer programming at Northern Virginia Community College and worked as a programmer until shifting back into elementary teaching.

He began working on what became Fly Twice Backward in 1983 and finally finished it in 2019! At 79, David strongly doubts he’ll be doing another novel of such scope and complexity, but is preparing to work on a children’s science fiction novel with a progressive bent, being a devout progressive in politics and religion, as well as a lover of learning.

Thursday, June 25, 2020


Today's we're saying hello to author Melody Johnson, who has come by to talk about her novel, BEYOND the NEXT STAR. Welcome, Melody!

SC: Tell me a little bit about your main character of this book.

MJ: Commander Torek Renaar is the military leader of his planet, Lorien. Descended from a long line of commanders, he’s confident, well-qualified and battle-tested, having led his people from the safety of their estate in matters of business and in the midst of combat. He was never one to flinch when facing a challenge, but the court-mandated appointment of an animal companion to “facilitate mental recovery” was the challenge that finally made him flinch. If he doesn’t find relief from his PTSD symptoms, he won’t be fit to lead the Onik guard anymore, an unfathomable prospect. He’s not ready to retire, but even he can admit that the nightmares, blackouts and panic attacks feel like he’s losing his head. From his first sight of Delaney in her cage—at the beautiful, riotous hair that sprang like coils from her head and would obviously need continual cleaning and grooming, at her tiny stature and lean form that probably couldn’t lift its own weight, at the lovely gray eyes and smooth, bare skin that would need layers upon layers of protective coverings to keep her warm—their relationship is more about protecting and caring for her than healing him. In saving his animal companion, perhaps Torek can save himself.
SC: We're all about the unknown here. . Do you believe in the paranormal and if so, do you have an experience you can share?

MJ: I don’t have any first-hand experience with the paranormal, but unexplained, unprecedented phenomena are certainly present in this world. In my writing, I enjoy using paranormal and sci-fi elements as metaphors for the human experience, such as transformation (vampires), memories that haunt (ghosts), and being caged by circumstances seemingly out of our control (alien abduction). Plus, I’m a tension and action-scene junkie. The paranormal genre is ripe for all my favorite scenes to read and write.
SC:  What titles are you working on now that you can tell us about?

MJ: Actually, I have the first draft of two books already completed! Book 2 in the Love Beyond Series, Sight Beyond the Sun, and a small-town contemporary romance, The Five-Week Flip. I love vampires and aliens (obviously, hence my Night Blood and Love Beyond series!) but I have a special love-hate relationship with contemporary romance. I’m always tempted to add a dragon or a hit man or a ghost—something, anything, to easily heighten the stakes—so writing a “vanilla” romance was a challenge I wanted to succeed at. It forced me to use “realistic” and “real life” problems to up the ante, and I think I achieved a deeper, more full-fleshed novel because of those genre parameters. I can’t wait to finish editing and share more stories with you!
SC: Thanks for dropping in today. Let's take a look at your book now.

Beyond the Next Star
Love Beyond Series
Book One
Melody Johnson

Genre: Sci-fi Romance
Publisher: Incendi Press, LLC
Date of Publication: June 23, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-7351499-0-5 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-7351499-1-2 (hardback)
ISBN: 978-1-7351499-2-9 (ebook)
ASIN: B0897S23JN (ebook)
Number of pages: 392
Word Count: 91, 815
Cover Artist: Robin Ludwig Design Inc.

Tagline: An intolerable order. A desperate charade. A deadly secret.

Book Description:

“She wasn’t dreaming, in a coma, having a mental breakdown, or in hell.
She was abducted by aliens.”

Before Commander Torek Renaar can return to active duty, he’s ordered to purchase an animal companion to help relieve his PTSD symptoms. But having been a caretaker for and lost a loved one, keeping even one little human alive is a challenge he feels doomed to fail. It doesn’t help that his animal companion is the newest, most exotic breed on the market, demanding constant attention, daily grooming, and delicate handling. If she doesn’t die first in his incompetent care, she’ll be the death of him.

After witnessing the murder of her domestication specialist, Delaney McCormick allows her new owner to treat her like the pet he believes her to be. If anyone suspects she’s more intelligent than a golden retriever, her murder would be next. She endures the humiliation of being washed, the tediousness of being trained to “sit” and “come,” and the intrigue of hearing private conversations. But in Torek’s care, she finds something unexpected on this antarctic planet, something she never had in all her years on Earth while house-hopping between foster families: a home.

As companionship grows to love, must Delaney continue the charade, acting like an animal and hiding from the murderer waiting on her misstep? Or can she trust Torek with her secrets, even if the truth threatens everything he holds dear—and both their lives?

When the lorienok abducted Delaney—after she’d finally accepted that she wasn’t dreaming, in a coma, having a mental breakdown, or in hell—she’d given them a fake name: Jane Smith. Not an exceptionally creative or unique pseudonym by any stretch of the imagination, but having come to grips with the fact that she’d been literally abducted by aliens, her imagination was stretched dangerously thin. Intergalactic kidnapping wasn’t a chronic illness, but for a time—a longer time than she was comfortable admitting to now—wasting away had seemed a preferable fate.
She didn’t accomplish much by hiding her identity. She didn’t have any blood relatives to protect, a criminal record to hide, or a trust fund to safeguard. Delaney Rose McCormick had about as much value associated with her name as did the fictional Jane Smith and left nearly as small a void on Earth. But all Delaney had in those early days directly following her abduction was her name and the hope that everything—the abduction, the tests, the training—was just a big mistake. Which, as it turned out, it was. Her abduction had been the biggest technological mistake in lorienok history, but that didn’t change her circumstances. Days turned to weeks turned to months turned to the abandonment of tracking time. Hope died. She had nothing to her name, but her name, at least, was her own, and she would keep it for herself.
By the time her domestication specialist, Keil Kore’Weidnar, discovered Delaney’s capacity to learn and taught her Lori, his native language, the issue of her name had become moot. He’d already renamed her Reshna, a spiral-shaped handheld tool used to drill into ice. He’d shown her a hologram of it, pointing to the spiral and then to the wild frizz of her unconditioned curls. They had a similar-looking tool on Earth, but they used it to open wine bottles. He’d named her “corkscrew” for her crazy hair.
She’d been called worse names in high school.
She couldn’t say she’d lived in worse places, though. Most of her foster families, with the exception of the Todd household, had been decent people who’d given her clothes, a bed under a roof, and regular meals. Besides clothes, those basic necessities were still being met, so a little gratitude was probably in order. But only just a little, because she also had a cage. And a collar. And if she’d just translated the words and growls of the pet store manager correctly, she had a new owner.
Like most lor, her owner had thick, curved ram horns jutting from his head, and like all lorienok regardless of gender, he was covered head to toe in brown fur. Sasquatch did exist after all; he just wasn’t native to Earth. He was roughly the same size and shape as a human bodybuilder, and in addition to the horns, his nose and mouth protruded slightly into a blunt muzzle, two rows of sharp predator teeth filled his overly large mouth, and pointy bearlike claws tipped each finger and likely each toe on his boot-shod feet.
Unlike most, this male wore his hair long. His locks were tied back from his face in a messy bun with a forest-green elastic band. His beard was also long and came to a point at the end, hanging a few inches below his chin. But his eyes were his most striking feature, assuming that one had already become accustomed to the ram horns, claws, abundance of muscle, and close-cropped body fur. His left eye was the same doe brown common to all lorienok—a smidge rounder and larger than human eyes, like calf eyes with those thick lashes and soul-deep stare—but his other eye was ice blue. A thick scar bisected his right brow, eyelid, and upper cheek, slicing directly over that unique, penetrating gaze.
His bearing was regal and confident, the sharp cut of his jawline proud, but his eyes betrayed him. He was sad—horribly sad—and he glowered at Delaney through the wire door of her cage like he was the Greek king Sisyphus and she his boulder, resigning himself to an eternity of labor over an impossible, futile undertaking.
Or maybe Delaney was just projecting because she couldn’t imagine anything more impossible and futile than her current existence. I am not a pet! she wanted to yell. But after witnessing Keil’s cold-blooded murder, she knew to keep her mouth firmly shut. If anyone suspected her more intelligent than a golden retriever, her death would be next.
Accomplishing impossible feats while enduring debilitating injury and sensory deprivation were challenges both expected and anticipated by the young cadets training to enter the combat and strategic intelligence division of the Federation. Qualifying exams were brutal. Training was rigorous. But for the few who didn’t fail, drop out, or obtain an infirmary discharge, the rewards were astronomical. Torek Lore’Onik Weidnar Kenzo Lesh’Aerai Renaar had certainly reaped those rewards many times over, as evidenced by the four property titles bestowed to his name. He’d never been one to flinch when facing a challenge, but this order—the court-mandated appointment of an animal companion to “facilitate mental recovery”—was the challenge that finally made him flinch.
Torek stared at the human—at the beautiful, riotous hair that sprang like coils from its head and would obviously need continual cleaning and grooming, at its tiny stature and lean form that probably couldn’t lift its own weight, at the lovely gray eyes and smooth, bare skin that would need layers upon layers of protective coverings to keep it warm—and he seriously considered the merits of simply retiring from the Federation.
No one would blame him after what had happened. He could return to his home in Aerai and resume the quiet, peaceful, unappreciated toil of plant cultivation he’d abandoned so many seasons ago along with his dreams of filling that home with a family.
The store manager hefted a bound book from the counter and plopped it into Torek’s unwilling arms.
“What’s this?” A tingle of cold dread crept across the back of Torek’s neck.
“Why, it’s your owner’s manual, of course.”
“Of course.” The Federation’s policies and procedures manual was the thickest book Torek had ever had the displeasure of memorizing, and it wasn’t even half the size of this tome.
“You’ll be the envy of all Lorien. The first to purchase a human, our newest species. She’s the pilot for her breed, of course, but her domestication is progressing fabulously. They dispatched a harvester while she was still in transit, so until the next shipment arrives, she’s the only human we’ll have for a while yet, six kair at the least. You must be thrilled.”
As Torek flipped through a few of the manual’s pages and skimmed the table of contents, the tingle of dread that had started at his neck devoured the rest of his body and intensified to nausea. An entire chapter was dedicated to heating and insulating the human’s living quarters. If her rooms dipped below a specific temperature—Torek brought the book closer and squinted, but no, his eyes didn’t deceive him—and the human didn’t have tailored, fur-lined coverings to retain heat, she would sicken and die. If he didn’t provide her with private sleeping quarters, she would become lethargic and depressed, then sicken and die. If he didn’t feed her three meals a day, complete with a cooked protein, vegetables, and some grain, she would sicken and die. She was even allergic to ukok, a simple seasoning. If consumed, her throat would swell, cutting off her air supply, and she would immediately die.
He would kill her.
Not intentionally, of course, but despite the wild popularity of owning foreign domesticated animals, he’d never even owned a zeprak let alone something as exotic, delicate, and temperamental as this human. She wouldn’t survive a week in his care.
His throat tightened. His breath shortened. His chest ached, and suddenly, black starbursts shadowed his vision.
Not now. Not in public. Not again.
A loud bang echoed through the store, startling Torek back to himself. He blinked a few times, breathing past the panic and reorienting his mind. The store manager was silent now and staring.
He’d dropped the owner’s manual.
Torek gathered the reserves of his iron will. He was not afraid of domesticated animals. He did not shirk his responsibilities. And he did not flounder. He straightened away from the store manager, stepped over the dropped manual as if he’d intended to discard it so carelessly, and eased his fist through the open petting window of the human’s cage, offering the back of his hand for her to sniff his acquaintance. He didn’t particularly want to become acquainted—acquaintance with an animal companion could all too easily flip to a desire for one—but that’s what a normal, well-adjusted lor not on the brink of hyperventilating would do.
So, he did it.
The human stared at his fist, blinking. She glanced up at his face and then back at his fist before leaning in and brushing her cheek affectionately against his knuckles. Her skin was newborn-baby soft.
His chest constricted with renewed panic.
Torek cleared his throat. “She’s an adult female?”
The store manager nodded. “Her name is Reshna.”
“Fitting.” Torek pulled one of those hair coils and watched with amusement as it bounced back into place when he released it.
Her hair left a grease spot on his finger pads.
Torek narrowed his eyes. Her hair, which he’d already noted would require daily maintenance, needed washing.
“How long has she been in store for sale?” Torek stroked the side of her jaw with the back of his knuckle, peeking under her collar as she shied away from his touch. Her neck was chafed and red.
“She’s been the joy of this establishment for most of Rorak. Eh, about two-thirds of the season.”
Torek stared at the manager, taken aback. “She’s been in this cage that entire time?”
The store manager’s smile was placating. “I assure you, animal companions thrive here under my care.”
The skin on her arms, which had been smooth a few minutes earlier, wrinkled in tiny, raised spots. A slight tremor shook her body.
“Is she all right?” Torek’s heart lurched painfully. “I think her collar may be too tight.”
“Hmmm.” The store manager stooped to pick up the manual, licked his thumb pad, and paged through it, frowning.
“You’ve had her this long, and you haven’t memorized her manual?”
The store manager’s face darkened. “Reshna is the newest, most exotic animal companion we currently sell. The few who considered purchasing her weren’t willing to invest in her care after reading the manual. Like most exotic breeds, she isn’t for just anyone. It takes time to find companions like her a home, and in that time, I assure you that I’ve cared for her as I do all our animal companions. As required by her manual.”
Torek might have apologized for giving offense—he didn’t know the first thing about caring for exotic animals—except that the few words he’d glimpsed from her manual screamed at him: adult humans require private sleeping quarters and washrooms complete with…excruciatingly long bullet list of requirements… Without these necessary living conditions, the human will sicken and die.
And here she was, going on nearly all of Rorak in a wire cage so small, she couldn’t rest without curling in on herself. If she remained here, she would sicken and die.
“I’ll take her.”
About the Author:

Melody Johnson is the author of the “out of this world” Love Beyond series and the gritty, paranormal romance Night Blood series published by Kensington Publishing/ Lyrical Press. The City Beneath (Night Blood, book 1) was a finalist in the “Cleveland Rocks” and “Fool For Love” contests.

Melody graduated magna cum laude from Lycoming College with her B.A. in creative writing and psychology. Throughout college, she wrote contemporary love stories, but having read and adored the action and dark mystery of vampires her whole life, decided to add her fingerprint to the paranormal genre.

Melody's unique perspective on vampires lends fresh bite to a classic paranormal genre. In addition to a reimagined transformation—the requirement of night blood—vampires have gargoyle-looking, vicious day forms, an orgasmic bite, and as the series progresses to Sweet Last Drop (book 2), a mindless, rampaging, zombie-like breed is introduced. Melody is constantly upping the stakes, and Day Reaper (book 4) is no exception.

Beyond the Next Star is an exciting branch from Melody's paranormal romance roots, keeping the dark grit from her Night Blood Series and taking it to new worlds. Told from the dual perspectives of both human pet and alien owner, Melody's story weaves a slow-burn romance that explores the bonds of love in all its forms, navigating the main characters’ relationship in delicate stages from oblivious ownership to woke, romantic love.

After moving from her northeast Pennsylvania hometown for some much needed Southern sunshine, Melody now works as a digital media coordinator for Southeast Georgia Health System’s marketing department. When she isn’t working or writing, Melody can be found swimming at the beach, reading at the pool, and exploring her new home in southeast Georgia.

a Rafflecopter giveaway