Posted in News

RUN AND TOUCH THE SKY Cover Reveal

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!

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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.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34862530-turn-to-dust-and-ashes

Amazon Pre-order Link Coming Soon

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

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27048456-fall-far-from-the-tree
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01IMGGAFM
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fall-far-from-the-tree-amy-mcnulty/1124435001?ean=9781927940587

Posted in News

Trick or Treat–Win Some Treats!

octbloghunt2016

Tricks can be fun, but TREATS are way better. And this contest gives you a chance to win a ton of treats in the form of signed books, ebooks, candy, book swag and more from 13 authors!! We know…it’s kind of SPOOK-TACULAR!

 
 So WHAT WILL YOU WIN??
A creepy-awesome black canvas tote bag with a cool skull on the cover, filled with each of the books noted below as well as bookmarks and other great book swag. You will also win all of the treats that the author’s list on their pages PLUS a bunch of other candy treats all in a black plastic cauldron. You’ll even get the cute little plastic skulls shown in the prize photo.


LIST OF PARTICIPATING AUTHORS and their AWESOME BOOKS!
 
Amy McNulty – NOBODY’S GODDESS (advanced paperback)
Kiran Oliver – DAYBREAK RISING (ebook)
Dorothy Dreyer – SCARE ME TO SLEEP (Kindle ebook)
Jodie Andrefski – THE SOCIETY (signed paperback)
Julia Ember – UNICORN TRACKS (paperback)
Julie Reece – THE ARTISANS (signed paperback)
Nina Rossing – FJORD BLUE (signed paperback)
Pat Edsen – BEYOND YOUR TOUCH(signed paperback)
Pintip Dunn – FORGET TOMORROW (signed paperback)
S.A.Larsen – MOTLEY EDUCATION (signed paperback)
Suzanne van Rooyen – OBSCURA BURNING (Releases 11/10 ebook)
Vanessa Barneveld – THIS IS YOUR AFTERLIFE (Kindle ebook)
Vicki Weavil – FACSIMILE (signed paperback)


SO HOW DO YOU SNAG THE LOOT YOU MAY BE ASKING ABOUT NOW, RIGHT?

It’s simple, and you don’t even have to dress up and walk in the cold, door to door, to get the goodies. Visit each of the THIRTEEN participating author websites. You will find the name of the candy/treat they are giving away, as well as what BOOK they are offering as part of the PRIZE PACK!  Be sure to write down the name of the treat, you’ll need it later. Each author will provide a link to another author website on the hunt. (We are making it nice and easy so you don’t get lost in the dark) =)

Have fun reading all about the books each author is giving away in the prize pack, plus any other tricks and treats the authors may have in store for you.
When you have collected the names of all 13 author “TREATS”, head on over to complete the Trick or Treat Hunt Page Google Forms doc  and enter the correct treat next to the corresponding author name. 
You can enter for BONUS chances to win via the Rafflecopter found on each author’s website, by doing things like following them on Twitter or following their Goodreads page, or tweeting about the Hunt!
The contest runs from Friday October 28th, 2016 through Midnight, October 31st, 2016 (EST)
Winner will be announced November 1st.
Contest is US only. Thank you for your understanding.
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For my part of the hunt, I am giving away a copy of NOBODY’S GODDESS!

Buy Links

AmazonB&N – Add on Goodreads

For my treat prize, I’m throwing in one of my favorites: HELLO PANDA COOKIES (CHOCOLATE BISCUITS).
To continue on the hunt, be sure to head on over to Julie Reece’s blog. She is the author of several YA novels, and for this hunt she is giving away a signed copy of The Artisans.
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But before you head out, don’t forget to write down the name of my treat, and  enter to win via the rafflecopter below. Feel free to leave a comment telling me YOUR favorite Halloween treat for another entry. Remember, you can tweet daily about the contest for another chance to win. Happy hunting, and good luck!! Thanks for stopping by my blog! =)
Posted in Uncategorized

New The Never Veil Covers! NOBODY’S PAWN Pre-Order

I’m excited to finally reveal the new covers for The Never Veil Series books and to announce that the e-books for the first two are back up for sale. (Watch for them at B&N and Kobo soon.) Nobody’s Pawn is also available for pre-order! (The paperback will be available soon.)

Credit goes all to  Meet Cute Photography for the amazing photo shoot and Makeready Designs for putting it all together!

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Order now on Amazon!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00032]

Order now on Amazon!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00032]

Pre-order now on Amazon!

Posted in News

Pre-order FALL FAR FROM THE TREE today!

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The FALL FAR FROM THE TREE e-book is now available for pre-order on Amazon and Kobo! (Barnes & Noble will also sell a copy, but no pre-order is available.) Watch for the paperback pre-order within the next month or so.

Available 9/6/2016!

Click here for Amazon

Click here for Kobo

Terror. Callousness. Denial. Rebellion. How the four teenage children of leaders in the duchy and the neighboring empire of Hanaobi choose to adapt to their nefarious parents’ whims is a matter of survival.

Rohesia, daughter of the duke, spends her days hunting “outsiders,” fugitives who’ve snuck onto her father’s island duchy. That she lives when even children who resemble her are subject to death hardens her heart to tackle the task.

Fastello is the son of the “king” of the raiders who steal from the rich and share with the poor. When aristocrats die in the raids, Fastello questions what his peoples’ increasingly wicked methods of survival have cost them.

An orphan raised by a convent of mothers, Cateline can think of no higher aim in life than to serve her religion, even if it means turning a blind eye to the suffering of other orphans under the mothers’ care.

Kojiro, new heir to the Hanaobi empire, must avenge his people against the “barbarians” who live in the duchy, terrified the empress, his own mother, might rather see him die than succeed.

When the paths of these four young adults cross, they must rely on one another for survival—but the love of even a malevolent guardian is hard to leave behind.

Add on Goodreads

Posted in Reading

THE BURNING CHAOS (Smoke and Mirrors Book Two) Is Here!

The wait is finally over! You can finally get your hands on the Kindle version of THE BURNING CHAOS by Melissa Giorgio right now! 😀

The Burning Chaos_Final-high

 

Two months after Bantheir’s betrayal, Irina is learning how to live in a world where magic is not only real, but a part of her everyday life. As a spy for Parnaby, the shadowy president of the city of Dusk, Irina has to pretend Parnaby’s manipulation magic worked on her and she doesn’t remember his horrifying proclamation about Vernen. If her friend, brought back from the dead by an ancient source of magic, begins to show even a hint of magic, Parnaby will kill him without hesitation.

When a mysterious woman named Aeonia confronts Irina, she threatens to tell Parnaby everything Irina is hiding from him if Irina doesn’t steal a magical artifact from the president’s mansion. Knowing she’s the only one who can protect Vernen, Irina agrees to Aeonia’s demands, but she wonders if this ultimate betrayal will destroy her newfound happiness with Leonid—and get her killed in the process.

With elements of magic, mystery, and murder, The Burning Chaos takes readers on a dangerous journey through Dusk, introducing them to new characters and reuniting them with old favorites. Can Irina stay one step ahead of everyone and save Vernen? Or is she doomed to succumb to the magic she once loved but now despises?

Click here to buy!

I’m the editor for this series and I can’t express how much LOVE I have for it! If you enjoy magic and mystery, romance and adventure, pick it up today!

If you’ve yet to read the first book in the series, THE FADING DUSK, you can get it now for only 99 cents!

FadingDuskFront

Posted in Uncategorized

THE BURNING CHAOS (Smoke and Mirrors #2) Cover Reveal!

Long-time blog readers know that I’m the beta reader and/or editor for my best friend and fellow YA author Melissa Giorgio‘s books. Her most recent release, THE FADING DUSK, was book one in her latest series, a YA fantasy with a touch of Victorian-era flair, Smoke and Mirrors. Now it’s time for the AMAZING cover reveal for book two!

The Burning Chaos_Final-high

Two months after Bantheir’s betrayal, Irina is learning how to live in a world where magic is not only real, but a part of her everyday life. As a spy for Parnaby, the shadowy president of the city of Dusk, Irina has to pretend Parnaby’s manipulation magic worked on her and she doesn’t remember his horrifying proclamation about Vernen. If her friend, brought back from the dead by an ancient source of magic, begins to show even a hint of magic, Parnaby will kill him without hesitation.

When a mysterious woman named Aeonia confronts Irina, she threatens to tell Parnaby everything Irina is hiding from him if Irina doesn’t steal a magical artifact from the president’s mansion. Knowing she’s the only one who can protect Vernen, Irina agrees to Aeonia’s demands, but she wonders if this ultimate betrayal will destroy her newfound happiness with Leonid—and get her killed in the process.

With elements of magic, mystery, and murder, The Burning Chaos takes readers on a dangerous journey through Dusk, introducing them to new characters and reuniting them with old favorites. Can Irina stay one step ahead of everyone and save Vernen? Or is she doomed to succumb to the magic she once loved but now despises?

The snow! The fire! This whole cover is just… jaw-dropping!

Add it to your Goodreads to-read list today!

If you haven’t read the first book in the series, get on that so you’re ready this July when THE BURNING CHAOS releases!

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AmazonB&N Goodreads

And don’t forget about the upcoming novella!

By the Morning Light - Melissa Giorgio - eBook - L

Goodreads

Posted in Uncategorized

NOBODY’S LADY Blog Tour

blogtour

The blog tour for NOBODY’S LADY has begun! Watch this page for daily updates throughout the tour or bookmark the Chapter by Chapter site for the latest changes to the schedule. There will be reviews, interviews and guest posts galore. Thanks to everyone who signed up.

Week 1:

April 11, 2016 – Julie Antonovich Reece – Guest Post

April 11, 2016 – Reader Girls – Guest Post

April 11, 2016 – The Recipe Fairy – Review

April 12, 2016 – Books Are My Fandom – Guest Post

April 12, 2016 – The A P Book Club – Review

April 13, 2016 – Chapter by Chapter – Guest Post

April 13, 2016 – Black Cat Blog – Interview

April 14, 2016 – Two Chicks on Books – Guest Post

April 14, 2016 – Simple Wyrdings – Review

April 14, 2016 – Diana’s Book Reviews – Guest Post

April 15, 2016 – Author Nicole Conway – Guest Post

April 15, 2016 – Dani Reviews Things – Guest Post

April 15, 2016 – The Book Adventures of Annelise Lestrange – Review

Week 2:

April 18, 2016 – Larissa’s World – Review

April 18, 2016 – A Book Addict’s Bookshelves – Interview

April 18, 2016 – Just One More Chapter – Guest Post

April 19, 2016 – deal sharing aunt – Interview

April 19, 2016 – A Dream Within A Dream – Guest Post

April 20, 2016 – WS Momma Readers Nook – Review

April 20, 2016 – Twinja Book Reviews – Review

April 21, 2016 – Books and Ladders – Review

April 21, 2016 – Hidden Worlds Books – Review

April 22, 2016 – Off the Page – Guest Post

April 22, 2016 – Realm of the Sapphired Dragon – Review

Posted in News

BY THE MORNING LIGHT Cover Reveal!

If you haven’t read Melissa Giorgio‘s The Fading Dusk, you really should! Not only is it full of magic and adventure, but the sequel is coming out this summer.

FadingDuskFront

…But this post isn’t about the sequel. It’s about a surprise novella in the Smoke and Mirrors series, one that’s both a perfect introduction to the world for new fans and a must-read for people who already love the world and its characters. (Although it’s largely about new characters!)

Today is the cover reveal for Melissa’s upcoming novella, By the Morning Light! It’s simply beautiful!! Add it to your Goodreads list today!

By the Morning Light - Melissa Giorgio - eBook - L

For Claudette and Emile Borde, living in the city of Ayres and working on their parents’ farm has never been enough. Influenced by stories of the past, in which magic was real and the dragons still lived, the siblings have always dreamed of leaving their city behind and embarking on their own adventures. But as squires training to become full-fledged knights, they must renounce magic, for it was magic that nearly tore the world apart during the old wars.

When the carnival comes to the city, Claudette meets Aeonia, and the two become fast friends. But Aeonia is no simple girl playing at fortune telling—she can wield magic, and it’s both breathtaking and volatile. Torn between upholding her duty as a squire and keeping a secret for her friend, Claudette must decide where her loyalties lie. Is this the adventure she’s always craved, or is she dooming her city and her loved ones by remaining silent?

Posted in News

NOBODY’S LADY Cover Reveal! Blog Tour Sign-Ups!

The NOBODY’S LADY cover is here at last! Designed by KimGDesign, like the first cover in the series, NOBODY’S LADY reflects a less glamorous time in Noll’s life. After the events of the first novel and a disastrous meeting with the lord, Noll wants nothing more than to live a quiet, uneventful life, but her fellow villagers have other plans. Men are learning what freedom is like for the first time, and they’re not happy about how things used to be.

Nobody's Lady
Plus, you can read the first chapter (at the end of the post), which picks up IMMEDIATELY where NOBODY’S GODDESS ended! There are SPOILERS for the first book right from the very first page, so be sure to check out NOBODY’S GODDESS first (sample here or here) if you haven’t read it already.

Add NOBODY’S LADY to your Goodreads to-read list and preorder the paperback on Amazon or at The Book Depository. More outlets and an ebook preorder should be available soon.

The Book Tour and ARCs

nl book tour
Chapter by Chapter is once again hosting my Never Veil book tour and is seeking bloggers to post interviews, guest posts or reviews of NOBODY’S LADY from April 11th through the 22nd. This is one way to maybe get your hands on a (digital) ARC! If you haven’t read the first book yet, you can still request to review the sequel, and you may be provided with a digital copy of the first book for review as well. (I don’t choose the hosts, but I hope you are all picked!) Click here to sign up!

Month9Books is also offering digital ARCs to those who want to review but don’t want to participate in the tour or who aren’t selected for the tour. Click here to sign up! There are a lot of other Spring Month9Books title up for grabs there, too.

Chapter One

When I thought I understood real friendship, I was a long-lost queen. When I discovered there was so much more to my life than love and hate, that those around me were just pawns in a game whose rules I’d unwittingly put in place, I discovered I was a long-forgotten goddess. But goddess or not, powerless or powerful, my feet were taking me someplace I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. What did I hope to find? Did I truly believe I could hear him call me—that he’d want to call me? Yes, I did. I wanted to see him again. I wanted to hope, even if I wasn’t sure I was allowed. If I deserved to. I headed down the familiar dirt path beneath the lattice of trees overhead, pausing beside the bush with a partially snapped stem that jutted outward like a broken limb. The one that pointed to the secret cavern.

Only, it’s not much of a secret anymore, is it?

My feet picked themselves up. Glowing pools would never again tempt me.

I reached the black, towering fortress that had for so long shaken and screamed at the power of my glance.

For the first time in this lifetime, I stared up at it, and nothing moved. My legs, unused to such steady footing while in the sight of the lord’s castle, twitched in anticipation of a fall that never came.

There was no need. My feet dragged me forward.

At the grand wooden door, I raised a fist to knock.

But I stopped. I felt like if I touched it, the entire castle might crumble. It had done so once before. Not at my touch exactly. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was responsible for whatever destruction I’d find in this place. But that was presumptuous of me. He was strong-willed, and he wouldn’t crumble at the prospect of freedom. If anything, he’d be triumphant over it.

You can’t stop now. I pulled my sleeves over my wrists and propped both elbows against the door, pushing until it gave way.

The darkness inside the foyer tried to deceive me into thinking night had fallen. The stream of light that trickled from the familiar crack in the garden door called the darkness a liar.

I gripped the small iron handles, the material of my sleeves guarding the cold metal from my touch, and pulled.

My touch had come to the garden before me.

The rose bushes that surrounded the enclosed circular area were torn, ripped, trodden, and plucked. The blooms lay withered, scattered and turned to dust, their once-white petals a sickly shade of yellowish brown, smooth blooms turned coarse and wrinkled.

The fountain at the center no longer trickled with water. Its shallow pool was stagnant, piles of brown festering in mildewing green liquid. Dotted amongst the brown was pallid stone rubble. The tears of the weeping elf child statue, which belonged at the top of the fountain, had ceased at last. But the gash across its face told me the child’s tears had not been staunched by joy. I wondered if Ailill had had it carved to represent the pain I’d inflicted on him as a child. And I wondered if now he could no longer bear to remind himself of what I’d done.

I hadn’t done this. But I felt as if I had. If Ailill had gone on a rampage after he came back to the castle, it was because of what I’d done to him. Everything I touched turned sour. I yanked and pulled, trying to draw my hands further into my sleeves, but there wasn’t enough material to cover them entirely.

“Well, what a surprise.” I gazed into the shadow beside the doorway. How could I have not seen? The stone table was occupied. The place where I’d sat alone for hours, days, and months was littered with crumpled and decaying leaves, branches, and petals, obscuring the scars left by a dagger or knife striking time and time again across its surface. The matching bench that once nestled on the opposite side was toppled over, leaving only dark imprints in the dirt.

“A pity you could not make yourself at home here when you were welcome.”

My breath caught in my throat.

The man at the table was clad entirely in black, as I knew he would be. The full-length jacket had been swapped for a jerkin, but I could see the embossing of roses hadn’t been discarded in the exchange. He wore dark leather gloves, the fingers of which were crossed like the wings of a bird in flight. His pale elbows rested on the table amongst the leaves and branches and thorns. He wore the hat I was used to seeing him wear, a dark, pointed top resting on a wide brim. Its black metal band caught a ray of the sunlight almost imperceptibly. But I noticed. I always did.

His face was entirely uncovered. Those large and dark eyes, locked on me, demanded my attention. They were the same eyes of the boy I’d left alone to face my curse—not so long ago from my point of view. He was more frightened then, but there was no mistaking the hurt in those eyes both then and now.

“You are not welcome here, Olivière.”

His words sliced daggers through my stomach.

“I … I thought I heard you call me.”

He cocked his head to the side, his brown eyes moving askance. “You heard me call you?”

“Yes … ” I realized how foolish it sounded. I was a fool to come. Why had I let myself fall for that sound again, for my name whispered on the wind? Why was I so certain it was he who’d said my name?

He smiled, not kindly. “And where, pray tell, have you been lurking? Under a rose bush? Behind the garden door? Or do those rounded female ears possess a far greater sense of hearing than my jagged male ones?”

I brushed the tips of my ears self-consciously. Elric had been so fascinated by them, by what he saw as a mutilation. This lord—Ailill—wasn’t like that. He’d touched them once, as a child. He’d tried to heal them, thinking they were meant to be pointed.

The boy with a heart was the man sitting there before me. Even after all we’d been through, he’d still done me a kindness by healing my mother. “No, I just thought—”

“No, you did not think, or you would not have come.”

I clenched my jaw. My tongue was threatening to spew the vile anger that had gotten us into this mess to begin with.

He sighed and crossed his arms across his chest. “I gave explicit instructions that I not be disturbed.” He leaned back against the wall behind him, his chin jutting outward slightly.

I wiped my sweaty fingertips on my skirt. I wouldn’t let the rest of my hands out from the insides of my sleeves. The sweat had already soaked through them. “I needed to thank you.”

He scoffed. “Thank me for what? For your prolonged captivity, or for not murdering both your mother and your lover when I had the chance?”

So you admit you took Jurij to punish me? You admit they were both in danger in your “care”? Quickly, I had to clench my jaw to keep down the words that threatened to spill over. He’s not who I thought he was. He wouldn’t have harmed them.

I loosened the muscles in my jaw one hair’s breadth at a time.

“For healing me when you were a child. For accepting me into your castle instead of putting me to death for trespassing in it. For … For forgiving me for cursing you, even though you were innocent.” My voice was quiet, but I was determined to make it grow louder. “For saving my mother’s life.”

He waved one hand lazily in the air. “Unfinished projects irk me.”

“But you didn’t have to.”

A shrug. “The magic was nearly entirely spent on the churl anyway.”

“I beg your pardon?”

He leaned forward and placed both palms across the rotted forest remnants on the table. “My apologies,” he said, his lips curled into a sneer. “I simply meant that I wasted years and years and let the magic wither from my body to save a person of no consequence. You may thank me for that if you like. I would rather not be reminded of it.”

How odd it was to see the face I’d imagined come to life. The mocking, the condescending—it was all there. I just hadn’t known the canvas before.

And what a strange and beautiful canvas it was. That creamy peach skin, the brownish tint of his shoulder-length tresses. He was so much paler than any person I had ever seen. Save for the specters.

Despite the paleness, part of me felt I wasn’t wrong to have mistaken one brother for another. Elric had been dark-skinned, but they seemed almost like reflections of the same person; they shared the same brows, the same lips, and even eyes of a similar shape if not color. Perhaps the face before me was a bit gaunter, the nose a bit longer. It was easier to focus on the differences. Thinking of the similarities made me want to punch the face in front of me all the more—and that would undermine everything I had set out to do when I made my way to him. I wanted to see if you were really restored to life. Say it. I wanted to know if you really forgave me. Say it. I wanted to know why I … Why I feel this way about you, why I keep thinking about you, when I used to be unable to stand the sight of you. Say it, Noll! I dug my nails into my palm and shook the thoughts from my head. He’d called my mother a “churl.” I couldn’t just tell him everything I was thinking. “Have you no sense of empathy?”

“What a coincidence that you should mention that. I am sending Ailill to the village with an edict. He can escort

you there.” “Ailill?” But aren’t you him? Could I have been mistaken? Oh, goddess, help me, why do I do this to myself? Why do I think I know everything?

He waved his hand, and one of the specters appeared beside me from the foyer.

The specters. There were about a hundred of them in the castle. Pale as snow in skin and hair with red, burning eyes. Mute servants who seemed to anticipate the lord’s every command. Only now I knew who they really were.

Oh. “You call him by your own name?” I asked.

He raised an eyebrow. “I call them all by my name. They are me, remember?”

His icy stare sent another invisible dagger through my stomach. “Yes, but—”

“A shame you never cared to ask my name when you were my guest,” he said. “I have a feeling things might have turned out much differently—for all of us.”

“You knew what would happen! Why didn’t you warn me?” I had to squeeze my fists and teeth together to stop myself from screaming. This wasn’t going at all like I had hoped. But what had I hoped? What could I have possibly expected? I thought I’d be forgiven. I thought that Ailill and I might start over, that we could be friends, perhaps even … What a fool I’ve been.

Ailill turned slightly, his attention suddenly absorbed in a single white petal that remained on a half-trodden bush beside him. “I was not entirely in control of my emotions,” he said, “as you may well know.”

“I tried to give you a way out!” My jaw wouldn’t stay shut.

Ailill laughed and reached over to pluck the petal from its thorns. “Remind me exactly when that was? Perhaps between condemning me to an eternal life of solitude and wretchedness and providing yourself with a way to feel less guilty about the whole affair? And then you just popped right back to the present, I suppose, skipping over those endless years in a matter of moments.” He crushed the petal in his hand.

“A way to let myself feel less guilty?” He wasn’t entirely wrong. But it wasn’t as if he had done nothing wrong.

Ailill bolted upright, slamming the fist that gripped the petal against the twigs and grass on the table. “Your last words to me were entirely for your own benefit, as well you know!”

If, after your own Returning, you can find it in your heart to forgive me, the last of the men whose blood runs with his own power will free all men bound by my curse.

“How is wishing to break the curse on the village for my benefit?”

“Perhaps because the curse was your doing? Perhaps because you only wanted the curse broken to free your lover from it in the first place?”

“Stop calling Jurij my ‘lover.’ He’s not—”

“And you did free him with those words. You knew I would forgive you.”

“How could I have known? I didn’t think it possible you’d forgive me, not after all we’ve been through.”

“You knew because you knew I wanted to be free myself. That I would do anything—even forgive you for half a moment—to earn that freedom.” His voice grew quieter. “You never wanted anything from me, not really. I was just a pawn in your game, a way to free the other men in your village, a way to punish the men from mine.”

I fought back what I couldn’t believe was threatening to spring to my eyes. No tears, not in front of him.

“The men of the old village deserved everything they got,” I spat at last, knowing full well that wasn’t the whole story.

Ailill scoffed and put both hands on his hips, his arms akimbo. Oh, how I tired of that pose. The crushed petal remained on the table. Its bright white added a bit of life to the decay.

“There were plenty of young boys not yet corrupted,” he said. “And some that might have never been.” He took a deep breath. “But, of course, you are not entirely to blame. I blame myself every day for ever taking a childish interest in you. That should not have counted as love.”

I swallowed. Of course. Before the curse of the village had broken, a woman had absolute power over the one man who loved or yearned for her. When I visited the past through the pool in the secret cavern, I discovered a horde of lusty men who knew nothing of love but were overcome with desire. Since so many had lusted for any female who walked before them, and I had carried the power from my own version of the village with me, it had been child’s play to control the men. But why had that power extended to Ailill? He had only been a boy then, broken, near silent—and kindhearted. He couldn’t have regarded me with more than a simple crush on an older sisterly figure, but it had been enough.

“But you did forgive me.” Why couldn’t I stop the words from flowing?

Ailill shook his head and let a weary smile spread across his features. “Forgive you? I could never forgive you. No more than I could forgive myself for daring to think, if just for a moment, that I … ” He stopped.

I shook my head. “The curse wouldn’t have been broken. The men in the village wouldn’t now be walking around without masks. Nor you without your veil. If you hadn’t forgiven me.”

Ailill tilted his head slightly. His dark eyes searched mine, perhaps for some answer he thought could be found there. “I would still need the veil even now?” he asked, his voice quiet. “Are you certain?”

Removing the veil before the curse was broken would have required the Returning, a ritual in which I freely and earnestly bestowed my heart and affection to him. It would have never happened, not with the man I knew at the time to be mine. So yes, he would still need the veil to survive the gaze of women. I was sure of it. He’d been arrogant, erratic, and even cruel. Perhaps not so much as Elric, Ailill’s even more volatile older brother, the one who wound up with a mob of angry, murderous women in his castle and a gouge through his heart. But even so.

It was my turn to cross my arms and sneer. “I said you could break the curse after your own Returning, and I specified that you didn’t need my affection to have a Returning. All you needed to do was crawl out of whatever abyss I’d sent you to.” I shifted uncomfortably in place. “And I suppose I should be grateful—for my mother’s sake—that you did.”

Ailill waved a hand at the specter beside me and brushed aside a pile of clippings on the table to reveal a hand-written letter. It was yellowed and a tad soggy. “Yes, well, the endless droning that made up your curse gets a bit foggy in my mind—assuming it even made sense in your mind to begin with. I am afraid I lack the ability to retain exact memories of an event that took place a hundred lifetimes ago when I was but a scarred child terrified of the monster before him.” He looked up to face me as the specter retrieved the letter from his extended hand. “But I suppose it was not all that long ago for the monster, was it?” He turned again to the table, shuffling brush about aimlessly. “Take her with you to the market,” he said.

The specter made to grab my arm as he passed. I slipped out of his reach only to back into another specter who had appeared quick as lightning from the foyer. He grabbed one arm, and the first specter seized the other.

“Let go of me!” I shouted as they began to drag me away.

The specters didn’t pause, as they once would have.

“Stop!” called Ailill from behind me. The specters did as they were told.

Ailill spoke. “I forgot to inform you that my retainers lost all desire to follow your orders when I did.” He waved his fingers in the air. “Carry on.”

I struggled against the grip the specters had on my arms. Again. He has me under his thumb again. “I can walk by myself!” I screamed as my toes slid awkwardly against the dark foyer floor. “I don’t need to go to the market!”

A black carriage awaited us outside the castle doorway. A third specter opened the carriage door, and my captors heaved me up into the seat like a sack of grain. The one with the letter slid in and took the seat across from me. He stared vacantly at the top of the seat behind me.

I leaned forward, whipping my hand out to stop the carriage door as one of the specters moved to close it. I didn’t care what I touched in the castle anymore. Let the whole thing crumble.

A black-gloved hand covered mine. I jumped back. Ailill stuck his head inside the carriage. His face stopped right before mine, the brim of his hat practically shading me under it. The sight of his face so close to mine, unveiled and painted with disdain, caused a thunderous racing of my heart. It was as if I’d just run the length of the entire village.

“You kept your hair short,” he said. He reached his free hand toward it, then pulled back.

I’d once let the bushy mess of black hair grow as long as it wanted, but once I cropped it closely to my scalp, I found it easier to deal with. “There hasn’t been enough time for it to grow, anyway. Not for me.”

He snorted. “Of course. But it makes me remember you as you were, long ago. When you cursed me and every man whether he deserved it or not.” He leaned back a bit, putting more space between our faces. “I think you will be most interested in going with my servants to the market,” he said. “But there will be no need to thank me in person afterward. I would rather not see you again.” His eyes drifted upwards, thoughtfully. “In fact, remind the villagers that I am closed to all audiences. My servants will be out there to see that my edict is obeyed.”

Before I could speak, he leaned back and let my hand fall from his. He reached around the door to close it.

“Wait—”

And slammed it in my face.