Posted in Uncategorized

The Sleeping Ancient Cover Reveal!

The final book in Melissa Giorgio‘s Smoke and Mirrors fantasy series is out in May–and today’s the reveal of this gorgeous cover! *-*

The Sleeping Acient_Final-ebooklg


The unthinkable has happened: A dragon was slain, her death used to free the three most powerful and dangerous magicians in the world, and Irina was powerless to stop it. Now she must pick up the broken pieces and prepare for a battle she seems destined to lose.

But all is not lost.

Hope comes in the form of Nerine, a girl from a faraway land, and her army of dragons. Irina and Nerine know the only way to win this is to work together by uniting their ragtag team of friends, which is easier said than done. Tensions flare, dark secrets from their pasts are revealed, and tears are shed as the heroes struggle to put aside their differences and decide on their next course of action.

The road forward is not easy. In Irina’s most dangerous adventure yet, she travels to lands both new and familiar, learning to accept the fledging magic that’s inside of her. In a race against time, with more than one life at stake, failure is not an option.

When the curtain falls on the final Smoke and Mirrors book, who will be left to take a bow?

Add on Goodreads!

Need to start with Book 1? Click here to buy!


Posted in News

FANGS & FINS Pre-Order!


FANGS & FINS (Blood, Bloom, & Water Book One) is only 99 cents during pre-order and for the first week of sale. It’s going to be in Kindle Unlimited, so the e-book will be Kindle exclusive for the foreseeable future, although the paperback will be available widely.

I’m super excited about introducing you all to my merpeople and vampires and the high school girls stuck in the midst of their war! Book One is just the beginning.

amazon buy2

A dapper vampire. A sullen merman. Two heirs to a great conflict—and each needs to claim a beloved to become his kindred’s champion.

High school senior Ember Goodwin never had a sister, but after her mom’s remarriage, she now has two. The eldest is no stranger to her—Ivy is a witty girl in her grade who’s almost never spoken to the shy bookworm before—but she’s surprised to find the popular girl quite amiable. Their burgeoning friendship is tested, however, when Dean Horne, a pale, besuited charmer, shows interest in them both and plans to reveal his appetite for blood to the one who’ll stand by his side.

Seventeen-year-old Ivy Sheppard is tired of splitting her time between her dad’s and her mom’s, particularly when her dad uproots their lives to move them in with his new wife and step-daughter. Used to rolling with her parents’ whims, she tries to make the best of it and befriend her nerdy new step-sister. Her hectic life grows more unwieldy when she catches the eye of junior Calder Poole, whom she swears she sees swap well-toned legs for a pair of fins during a dip in a lake. Now she’s fending off suitors left and right, all while trying to get to the bottom of the strange happenings in her town.

The first book in the Blood, Bloom, & Water series sets family against family and friend against friend as an epic, ancient war comes to a head in a supposedly sleepy suburb.

Coming from Snowy Wings Publishing May 1st, 2018!

Posted in News

The Kraken Collective Anniversary Sale and Celebration!

To celebrate the first anniversary  of The Kraken Collective, an alliance of indie authors of LGBTQIAP+ speculative fiction, there’s a big sale going on right now with speculative fiction books featuring LGBTQIAP+ main characters! I’m excited that BALLAD OF THE BEANSTALK is a part of this. Play games, get to know the 19 authors involved, and get some wicked deals during the event! Watch the hashtag #KrakenFriends2018 for more. The sale ends February 1st.

In addition to getting some great deals, you can also take a fun personality quiz that will match you with a character from one of these books! Click here to play.

We’re each hosting another author who’s participating in the sale, and I’m excited to present to you author Miri Castor.

Here’s an excerpt from Miri’s featured novel, Hope in Nautical Dusk:

Dawn cast a pale orange hue in the sky as Opal’s eyes fluttered open. Her heart raced, threatening to claw out her chest as she pressed her hand against her forehead.

“A nightmare?” she moaned.

Opal’s recollection was murky. All she knew was that her slumber was disrupted with some kind of dream. Her race car alarm read 5:35 AM, twenty minutes before she had to wake up for the trip to Manhattan. Eager to get more sleep in, Opal closed her eyes and allowed soothing darkness to blanket her once more.

At the sound of her alarm, she hauled herself out of bed to see golden sand piled atop her legs. The nightmare slashed across her chest and the back of her head – Mimoza threw cars at her, and slammed Aaron’s head into the car. Maybe he did worse.

Opal panted as she turned on the lamp and examined her face. Nothing hurt anymore, and her mouth reeked of a musty morning odor.

“I did it! I went back in time.” Opal had to smack herself to make sure it was real. “Is Aaron…?”

She picked up her phone and called him.

“Mmm, yeah?” he groaned.

Tears welled up in her eyes. Too happy to speak, Opal dropped to the floor. “Mmm…this a wakeup call?”

“Aaron, I –” Opal started.

What am I doing? 

She shook the idea from her mind. Was she going to tell Aaron she came from a timeline where she saw his head get smashed in? Now that she was back here, things could play out differently. They had to.

“L-let’s go somewhere else, Aaron,” Opal said. “Like Union Square or Bryant Park.”

“Wait, what? What about Times Square?” Aaron moped. “Let’s talk about it later. I gotta get ready.”

He hung up, and Opal’s hand trembled. She squeezed the tears out of her eyes as she rushed to the bathroom. After finishing up, Opal put on her outfit and undid the soft twists from her hair.

She went toward Sarah’s room, her last memory of her bringing Opal to a halt. She smacked her cheeks, the sudden fear leaving her.

It’ll be different this time. It’ll be a better future.

“Sarah, get up.”

The train arrived at the same time as last time. Sarah slid into the window seat, Opal and Aaron behind her. Aaron started off with the same jokes about everyone. The same hot coffee spilled on the same slacks, and the same couple talked about the same interview; Opal let the déjà vu wash over her as she listened.

She watched Aaron as he slept against the window. He had a clean face – no blood, no dirt. Nothing but peace as he dreamed beside her.

You believe in me and my Twilight, right?  Then I’m not letting you get hurt again, Aaron. I promise.

Learn more about Miri Castor here or click here to buy Hope in Nautical Dusk on Amazon!

Posted in News

Announcing Magic at Midnight!

Magic at Midnight - ebook

I’m excited to announce the YA fairy tale anthology book coming in May from one of my publishers, Snowy Wings Publishing! I’m one of the editors on this book and it’ll also have my retelling of Rapunzel, a standalone prequel to my upcoming YA paranormal romance series, Blood, Bloom, & Water!

Once upon a time is eternal…

Turn the pages and fall into the enchanting worlds of beloved, age-old fairy tales made new again in this fifteen-story collection from Snowy Wings Publishing.

A girl with long, long hair is trapped in an attic, ensnared by promises of immortality, the radio her only companion. An android wants to believe in her life, that the feelings she has are real—and that she might be just as beautiful as her famous stepsister. A gamer must save her true love from the mysterious, dark entity that has ensnared him in their MMORPG. A modern teen is lured to the fantastical Land of the Dolls, and only her own cunning can help her escape. These are just a few of the bewitching tales found within Magic at Midnight.

From sci-fi to fantasy, contemporary to historical, paranormal and more, there’s a fairy tale retelling in this collection for every reader. Featuring stories from bestselling and award-winning YA authors as well as emerging voices, this anthology will take you to distant worlds and back again—all just familiar enough to make you feel at home.

This gorgeous cover was designed by KimG Design, the amazing designer behind the original The Never Veil covers.
Magic at Midnight - fullwrap.jpg
Posted in Reading

YA Scavenger Hunt: Team Red Stop

Welcome to YA Scavenger Hunt! This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors…and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize–one lucky winner will receive one book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 120 hours!

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are multiple contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I’m a part of the RED TEAM–but there are also a lot of other teams for which you can try to win a whole different set of books!

If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.

Directions: Below, you’ll notice that I’ve hidden my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the blue team, and then add them up (don’t worry, you can use a calculator!).
Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.
Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by October 8th at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.
Today, I am hosting David Macinnis Gill on my website for the YA Scavenger Hunt!
David Macinnis Gill is the author of the new YA horror novel, UNCANNY, as well as SOUL ENCHILADA, and the BLACK HOLE SUN scifi series, which Suzanne Collins said “rockets readers to new frontiers.” He teaches in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a professor at UNC Wilmington. He lives with his family on the Carolina coast, where he actively avoids the beach and most hurricanes.

When a bolt of lightning causes a Boston-wide blackout on her sixteenth birthday, Willow Jane doesn’t think anything of it—until she begins stopping time, until she comes face-to-face with her menacing familiar, until her sister disappears.

But these aren’t the only strange and horrifying things to come out of the storm. An ancient witch named the Shadowless has awoken and escaped from her crypt, and she’s looking for revenge on Willow Jane’s family.

From the critically acclaimed author of Black Hole Sun and Soul Enchilada, this eerie horror story lingers long after its bloody end, and is perfect for fans of Madeleine Roux, The Ghost Files, and anyone who likes things that go bump in the night.

YASH is over! My first 100% horror novel was published last month, just in time for Halloween. My editor and I went through several huge revisions to get the book exactly the way we wanted it. There were so many revisions, there are only three scenes left from first draft I turned in! That UNCANNY was a very different novel than the one that was published. It has a different set of characters–only the hero and the villain remained the same–and the POV was 3rd person. Here’s the opening scene, written in 2013, warts and all. Take a look at it and the opening chapter of UNCANNY and compare.

And don’t forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of books by me, David Macinnis Gill, and more! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is 83. Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the blue team and you’ll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!

To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author, Jennifer Brody!
Before you go, consider entering my own mini Rafflecopter giveaway! I’m offering a bunch of my books in e-book form! (Mobi, epub, or PDF)
  • One e-copy three-pack of NOBODY’S GODDESS, NOBODY’S LADY, and NOBODY’S PAWN, the complete trilogy (my YA romantic fantasy The Never Veil Series)
  • One e-book copy of BALLAD OF THE BEANSTALK, my YA romantic fairy tale fantasy
  • One e-copy two-pack of FALL FAR FROM THE TREE and TURN TO DUST AND ASHES, my dark YA fantasy duology

(If you already have the prize you win, you’re welcome to select another one of my books as a substitution.)

Click here to enter my Rafflecopter giveaway!

Posted in News

Turn to Dust and Ashes Release Day!

It’s release day for TURN TO DUST AND ASHES, the second and final book in the Fall Far from the Tree duology! I want to thank the readers who enjoyed the first book and reached out to me because although I know the story wasn’t fully told after just one book, I wasn’t sure I was going to go back to this world to finish the tale since I wrote the first book four years ago now and I have other projects on my to-write list. This book literally exists because some of you asked for it!

Watch for the paperback version in the next few weeks! The paperback will be available widely at outlets such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Book Depository.

To celebrate, the e-book of Book One in the series is just 99¢ during release week! Both are free on Kindle Unlimited.

Buy Book OneBuy Book Two

(Click here for more Book One links to get the paperback!)

Posted in News


One of the things I love the most about Melissa Giorgio‘s Smoke and Mirrors series is that she has shorter books about new characters about to appear in the main series, so you really get to feel for the new people before they show up in the main narrative. This is the second such book in the series and wow, look at this cover!


In a world where magic is real and dragons are extinct, the people of Meradell are keepers of a great secret: Dragons live. Highly protective of these magnificent creatures who were prosecuted relentlessly during the old wars, the Meradellans promised two hundred years ago to never betray them. But even though the ancient beings live peacefully, the magic is dying, and no new dragons have hatched in nearly three hundred years.

At fifteen years old, Nerine is in awe—and just a touch envious—of her older sister’s bond with one of the majestic beasts. When her sister’s dragon—the last one to hatch in the mountains—might become a mother herself, Nerine wonders why her sister should have all the glory. Setting off with her best friend, Nerine climbs the mountains in hopes of glimpsing the hatchlings.

What she encounters there is nothing she imagined or expected, and a disastrous chain of events brings about both the worst and best moments of Nerine’s life. Now she must learn to heal her heart and look to the future if she hopes to save both the dragons and herself.

Featuring a new cast of characters, Run and Touch the Sky is the penultimate book in the Smoke and Mirrors series by author Melissa Giorgio.

Add to your Goodreads to-read list!

Posted in Writing

Turn to Dust and Ashes Cover Reveal and Publication Date

Above is the cover for the second and final book in the Fall Far from the Tree duology, which I can now announce is publishing September 5th! That means I have a lot of work ahead of me in the meantime, but I can’t wait to share the rest of these characters’ journeys with you. Below is the blurb (spoilers for Book One), too:

Turn to Dust and Ashes (Fall Far from the Tree #2)

Coming September 5th, 2017 from Patchwork Press

Impassive. Devious. Besieged. Naive. In the ashes of their parents’ cruel sovereignty, four teenagers are left holding the reins with no idea how to lead their peoples to peace and prosperity.

Rohesia, told she is the true heir to Hanaobi, must choose between ruling the duchy in her father’s place and returning with her cousin to seek the throne that is more rightfully hers. Without her father figure, she has little interest in either, but there is no escape from the infamous legacy of her parents on both sides of the sea.

Fastello, left to lead both his father’s people and to seek the rule of the entire duchy, has never had so much responsibility in his life. Grappling with heartbreak the likes of which he’s never experienced, he doesn’t know if he has it in him to try to fill the hole so many people so desperately want him to fill.

Kojiro, adrift in a strange land and emboldened by the actions of the people he met there, is determined to find his courage and free his people from the tyranny of his mother’s reign. However, with her number one foe defeated, the empress of Hanaobi is more unstoppable than ever.

Tomiko, the perfect daughter to the strict and controlling empress, is sheltered from the reality of the world but eager to discover the truth. Before the war is over, she must decide between fealty to her mother and loyalty to her brother, knowing full well that either way, her family will never be whole again.

The goals of each of these four young adults are bound to clash—but there’s no escaping their destinies, no matter the destruction left in their paths.


Amazon Pre-order Link Coming Soon

Catch up with Fall Far from the Tree, Book One in the series!

Barnes & Noble:

Posted in Geek Out

Young Adult Summer Scavenger Hunt Stop #53

The contest is over!! Thanks for participating!

Welcome to the 53rd stop on the Young Adult Summer Scavenger Hunt! If you don’t know what that is, visit the YA Bookshelf for all the rules. On your quest to uncover the secret short story, you should have visited author Chanda Stafford‘s website before this. After you’re done here, move on to author Melinda Cordell‘s site!

Everyone who’s reading this gets a FREE e-copy of my spooky YA short story, Drowned Silence! This story includes samplers for all of my other current YA work, too.

Click here for your free copy!

Plus, stick around after my exclusive content for a chance to win free copies of all of my books! Don’t like exclusive content or free books? The word you’ll need to continue is MET.

My YA romantic fantasy, Nobody’s Goddess, the first book in The Never Veil Series, went through so many revisions that I have a number of deleted scenes to show. Here’s one of the openings the book used to have. Visit Wattpad or Amazon and compare it to the finalized opening chapter!

First Draft Chapter One to Nobody’s Goddess

I’d known him my whole life, but until one year prior, I had never seen his face. The fact that I could now bask in the fire in his eyes meant he was lost to me forever. Not that there was ever any hope. Not for me.

With my free will to love whom I would, I loved the man who sat beside me in the violet lily-covered hilltop before the woods. And it mattered not.

Still, how many women could say they could hold the man they loved in their arms? Intertwine their arms with his, rest their heads upon his shoulders and breathe in the flowery scent of his shoulder-length black hair?

I suppose if they were like my mother had been, quite a lot. When the time came, anyway.

But I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there had to have been other women like me. The fact that their husbands still walked around with their faces a secret made it impossible to deny.

Had those women loved another? Had they chosen not to love at all? Of those who had foolishly let their hearts take hope in another, as I had, how many even managed to get those men to look their way? To see the woman as anything more than another person in the village, a forgettable face in the background obscured by the goddess whom he loved?

I had to believe that I was the only one. I wouldn’t feel the glares at my back, hear the rustle of whispers as I passed if there had been another.

“Noll,” came a kinder whisper than the type to which I was used, “you’re awfully quiet. Is something troubling you?”

I flinched. And with my hands so tightly wound around his upper arm, I’m sure he felt it.

“No,” I lied. As if speaking the lie aloud could fool my own heart.

Of course, Jurij would not be fooled. Not entirely. He gently pulled apart from my grip and put a few more inches of the grassy hilltop between us. Just a few more inches, but he may as well have put the entire village between us. Not that it wasn’t already.

His face was pained. “I wish you wouldn’t keep secrets from me.”

I scoffed—not at him, but at myself and the inanity of it all. If Jurij knew my secret, he pretended not to know it. I liked to think that it was impossible for him to know it because asking me to speak it aloud would be too cruel. Maybe he couldn’t know. Men were said only to gain a bit of awareness once they got married. And only even then if they experienced the Returning first.

I sighed and let go of Jurij’s arm. If I spent one more moment looking into the flames in Jurij’s eyes, I felt I may burst. I wished he did not look so sad—not for me, anyway. What he likely guessed to be the topic troubling me was something else entirely. How could he know that it was my love for him that pained me? How could he even fathom that I was someone capable of his love?

“It’s getting late,” I said, brushing grass off of the front of my skirt.

Jurij nodded and jumped upward. “Elfriede will be wondering what’s keeping us.”

Ah, yes, Elfriede.

I grabbed the picnic basket that had held a few of Elfriede’s crispels. We walked in silence down the grassy hilltop outside of the woods and back onto the dirt road. In the distance, the mountains that encircled our village completely soared far beyond the fields of crops on the western side of the village. I liked the mountains for the most part. From the north, the south and the west, they seemed to embrace our village and protect us with their jagged peaks. But then I thought of the mountains behind us, the ones that towered above the woods on the eastern side of the village. I felt a cold breeze hit my back, and I trembled. I always tried to avoid looking toward the east. There was something there on which I would rather my thoughts not dwell.

I shoved the idea of the looming eastern mountains aside. Elfriede awaited us.

Elfriede was Jurij’s goddess. Even if I meant something more to Jurij than just another young woman in the village, it wasn’t enough. In fact, it was worse.

But I suppose it could have been worse still, if his curse had chosen anyone but Elfriede. My golden-haired, lovely sister, so pale and oak-fair and delicate in nature that a gust of wind could surely blow her away. My trustworthy sister, who would never think ill of me for spending so much time with the one to whom she had so willingly performed the Returning. For what if he had loved a shrill woman of the village, one who, Returning to him or not, got angry at the mere sight of him with another woman? It hadn’t really happened before—a man spending so much time with and giving so much affection to a non-related woman who was not his goddess—but the way the women scoffed at me, you’d have thought that Jurij was theirs, and my actions were a personal affront.

But there was another reason why my affection for Jurij irritated the villagers, I knew. I just didn’t like to think of it too often.

A gust of wind blew up from behind us, rustling through my skirt and knocking loose one of Jurij’s smooth black curls. It bounced absently against his cheek. Jurij didn’t move to readjust it. He walked forward, his face fixed toward home, a glow of sunshine spreading warmth throughout his features.

Against my better judgment, I reached over to brush that loose lock of hair behind Jurij’s ear again. My fingers glided across the pointed edge, and I felt a rush of hot blood spread from my hand to my toes. I shivered.

Jurij snapped out of his daze and gave me a smile. Without pausing, he removed his cloak and slipped it over my shoulders. Then his gaze returned forward and his pace quickened.

“Thank you,” I murmured. I gripped the cloak around my shoulders so tightly I swore my fingers would start to bleed. I tore my eyes from his features and focused instead on the dirt on the ground.

But his face was impossible for me to forget. It’d only been a year since I saw him—truly saw him—for the first time. I had been so happy… And yet his face made it so much harder. I supposed his features were no more or less remarkable than any of the men’s faces I could see, but somehow they came together in just the right way. Perhaps because I had been projecting my love onto that face for years, ever since we were kids, and Jurij was always hidden from me behind one mask or another. Perhaps back then, I thought the impossible might come true.

“Jurij!” called a sweet voice on the wind.

“Elfriede!” echoed Jurij back. His feet practically turned into wings, and he closed the final distance between us and my front door before he could even let out another breath.

But it probably had become impossible for him to breathe until he found his way to her embrace. Literally, even more so than figuratively.

They kissed. A thousand snowy mountaintops would have melted under the light of that one kiss. It was as if they had been parted a lifetime instead of just a short while. To them, it probably felt as long.

On deeper thought, Jurij’s goddess being Elfriede was the worst possible outcome. Something sharp stabbed my stomach every time I thought of how much she deserved him. And frankly, he deserved her. I was the only one not deserving—of either of them.

“Good evening, Noll,” said Elfriede as I finally managed to catch up to Jurij with my mere mortal legs.

“Good evening,” I mumbled. I wouldn’t let my eyes do more than flicker up at them, still intertwined in their embrace. I shuffled through the doorway and into the kitchen, dumping the picnic basket on the table with a little too much force. I tore off Jurij’s cloak and hung it on the back of my chair.

If Elfriede or Jurij had heard the commotion, neither said a word. They both entered, and Elfriede returned to the fire, where I saw she had been cooking a large pot of stew for dinner. Jurij slinked behind her, his steps echoing hers. He put his hands atop her shoulders and peered into the stew as she stirred it with a ladle.

“Smells divine, my love,” he purred before kissing the top of her head.

“Thank you,” said Elfriede. A blush leaked onto her cheeks.

Every moment with them was excruciating.

I had to stop myself from stomping as I made my way to the cupboard to put away the picnic basket and grab the table settings. After all, I was almost seventeen, hardly young enough to get away with such repugnant behavior. Not that even kicking and screaming in the middle of the table would tear those two away from one another. But at least the thought of doing just that was enough to loosen the tense feelings in my shoulders and make me grin.

“Will you be joining us for dinner, Jurij?” I asked with as much serenity as I could summon to my voice.

“Yes, thank you.” He had both arms wrapped around Elfriede across her shoulders.

I took a deep breath. I have a choice in this matter. He doesn’t. I can do this. I can let go.

I absently placed bowls and spoons for four people at the places at our table. I felt a brief jolt of pain as I set Jurij’s setting down next to Elfriede’s, but for once it wasn’t for my foolish feelings. It was for my mother, who once occupied that seat, and the loss of whom nearly drove my father to madness a few years ago. If a man were truly immortal until he experienced the Returning, and the loss of his goddess was enough to kill a man as the stories claimed, why was my father still among the living?

“Ah, good evening, Jurij,” said the very man who had occupied my thoughts. I glanced up to see my father in the doorway. For a moment, a trick of the light perhaps, his figure seemed as dashing and as tender as I remembered him from my childhood. But he took a few steps more into the room, stumbling his way to his chair, and I saw him for what he was: a shade of my father.

Father had the same features he always had, but they were muted somehow. His strong, dark chin poked through a rough, unkempt black and gray beard. His curls drooped and stuck out in all directions, although somehow the pointed tips of his ears made a slight appearance through the wild tangle of knots. His eyes, they sparkled, but in a different way than they once had. The flame in those eyes burned as lightly as a candle in its final few moments before the wick withered away.

And perhaps that’s exactly how I could think of my father.

“Good evening, Gideon,” said Jurij. He tore himself from Elfriede long enough to come and put his hand on my father’s shoulder. “How was Vena?”

“Huh?” asked Father absently. Often you had to ask a question more than once before he had any idea you were talking to him.

Vena,” I reminded him, referring to the tavern’s barkeeper. Of course. Who else would my father see in town? No one else drank before dinner, so my father alone practically kept Vena and her husband Elweard in business while the sun was still up.

“Oh, fine, fine.” Father’s eyes glossed over, and I swore the flicker of light was extinguished for a moment. I sat down in a panic.

“Father?” I asked, reaching my hand out to cover his, which was shaking on the table.

He said nothing. But after I squeezed his hand, he turned to look at me, the smallest of smiles edging onto his lips. The light flickered. It was still there. Of course it was. But only just.

Jurij picked up my father’s bowl and then my own and brought them over to the fire. I tore my eyes from Father’s and watched as Jurij and Elfriede worked in perfect harmony, one ladling the stew and the other holding the bowls out to receive it. It was my turn to feel a squeeze on my hand. I turned back to my father and offered him the same tentative smile he had given me.

“Vena asked about your wedding,” said Father as he redrew his hand. For a moment, my heart nearly stopped.

“And what did she want to know?” asked Jurij jovially. He returned to the table and put the stew bowls in front of Father and me.

I felt a rush of relief. Of course. Their wedding.

Father smiled, his face almost as warm as it had once been, his eyes almost growing brighter with a small spark. “How much ale you’ll need for the festivities, of course!”

Jurij shook his head, but I noticed the smile on his face lacked much of the life shown in the grins he gave to Elfriede. Or even the ones he gave to me.

“Oh, Gideon,” laughed Jurij as he grabbed the empty bowls for himself and Elfriede. “You know we only want a few bottles at the most.” He paused a moment as he slid soundlessly next to Elfriede. Even from the table, I could see the lines burrowed deep between her brows.

“Or maybe none at all,” whispered Jurij. Elfriede plopped the stew into their bowls with a little less tenderness than was her custom.

My father’s face fell. “I’ll be on my best behavior. I promise you.”

No one spoke.

Father and I sipped from our stew for a few moments longer, and Jurij sat down next to us, placing the bowls on the table and picking up his own spoon.

Elfriede lingered back at the stew pot for a few minutes longer, stirring and stirring. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her dab her cheek with her apron.

“Noll,” spoke Elfriede tentatively. I allowed myself to turn my head to see if she was finished composing herself. She seemed a bit less troubled, and she stirred the stew with a little too much interest. Oh, no. I knew what type of question was coming. “Would you be willing to help Albin deliver the bread to the castle?”

I drummed my fingers on the tabletop. “I didn’t think the bakers were so busy they couldn’t spare a few dozen members of their tremendous family to deliver bread to his lordship.”

“Noll, please help Albin deliver the bread,” interrupted my father. He tried to take a sip of his stew, but his hand shook, and the stew slid off the spoon and spilled onto the table. Whether because he had now likely gone a short while without his bottle, or because he could barely contain his rage at me, I could not be sure.

He only managed to truly seem among the living these days when it came to rejoicing in Elfriede’s Returning and lamenting my unspoken opposition to my own.

I glanced out the window. Albin, the baker’s youngest son, stood in front of our house next to his cart full of bread. Father had no doubt come straight with him from the village and had let Elfriede know ahead of time that they both would be coming.

I did the only thing I could. I bolted out of the door, past Albin—no doubt fuming with impatience under his ugly fox mask—and ran straight into the woods.

There was one thing worse than a foolish heart loving a man it could not have and watching that man be so in love with your sister. And that was realizing that you could never love the man who was yours—but the whole village expected you to perform the Returning with him anyway.


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