Danielle Ackley-McPhail ~ Bad-Ass Faerie Tales ~ Book Tour / Excerpt / Giveaway

 

 

The Halfling’s Court

A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale Book 1

by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Genre: Urban Fantasy

 

 

 

 

Get Your Bad-Ass On!

 

The rumble of a Harley…
The gleam of black leather…
The shine of polished chrome…
The freedom of the open road….

 

Motorcycles meet magic and mayhem as Lance Cosain, the halfling leader of The Wild Hunt MC, protects his turf and his people from attacks ordered by Dair na Scath, the high king of the fae.

 

Holding his own against rogue fae, redcaps, and pissed-off road gremlins, all Lance wants to do is settle down with his lady. Instead he goes toe-to-toe with the high king’s champion over an ancient dagger and his claim to the throne.

 

Who will triumph? The king of the road or the king of the realm? Either way, the Hunt is on!

 

 

Excerpt:

 

Chapter One

 

The dust rose in a haze against the twilight as the vintage ’47 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead rumbled into the parking lot of Delilah’s. Lance Cosain added his bike to the sea of chrome and steel overflowing the gravel lot into the surrounding fields and hemming in the barracks-style bunkhouse in the back. A kick of his heel set the stand and a twist of his wrist killed the engine. He ran his hands down his thighs, working kinks out of muscles tight from too many hours on the road, and turned a hooded gaze toward the roadhouse. He was home.

A thread of anticipation ran through his gut.

Lance swung himself out of the saddle. He removed his headgear and set it on the tail of the bike. Swirls of white paint hugged the back of the glossy black helmet. Celtic knotwork surrounded ancient symbols representing his name. He ran a finger along each bold line, feeling their power. As he traced them, energy crackled like static from the helmet to his hand. The runes flared, and then faded, leaving the gleaming surface an unbroken black. A gift from Suzanne, his faerie queen, the protective spell spread and settled over him like a second set of well-worn leathers, but stronger than Tri-Armor. It felt like she had just wrapped her arms around him and settled in to stay. He wished.

He headed for the entrance, his leathers faintly creaking and the power subdued. Pulling open the door, he stood a moment in the entranceway. Murmurs of “Wind Walker” traveled around the room as they recognized him. He acknowledged the nods and smiles as those filling the crowded space greeted him, their ride captain. Some of the bikers held up bottles, inviting him over; the mamas had a different invitation in their eyes. He made his way around the bar in search of Suzanne, acclimating himself to the ever-present smoke, savoring the comfortable musk, built up over decades, of butter-soft leather laced with the rich essence of whiskey and beer.

Lance searched the shadowy corners of the place for the slender platinum blonde with mischief bubbling in her silvery blue eyes. The room was large and open, with tables set up in the center and booths down both sides. He didn’t find Suzanne at any of them, or at the bar that faced the door, stretching the full length of the mirrored wall. The lights were dim and the music loud. It was a simple place, no-frills, like its owner.

The one distinct feature of the bar: the Guardian Wall. Right beside the door, hundreds of brass cup hooks cover the wall. From each one hung a guardian bell. Some fancy, some plain; all of them free for the taking, or, preferably, the giving. Delilah kept the wall stocked because at Delilah’s everyone knew road gremlins were more than just an urban legend. The bell represented a biker’s protection, and the Hunt protected their own.

More than that, what made Delilah’s special was the people….

Right now, it wasn’t special enough: most of the faces were familiar, but none of them were his Suzanne. A slight chill of premonition ran through Lance, but he shrugged it off. She’d be here soon.

When the last rider arrived, they’d all get on their bikes and head for the meet-up, to join the Steel Horse Stampede for the sixty-five mile run down to Lynchburg, complete with police escort and a rescue-vehicle entourage. They’d ride in all their glory, with colors, hair, and spirits flying, alone or pillion, passing exit ramp after exit ramp full of idling cars as the stateys forced the cagers to wait until the procession went by, like royalty. And Lance, riding in the Front Door position, would lead the way, with his lieutenant and best friend, Gavin, riding the most trusted position of Sweep.

He could feel the wind flow over him already. He could feel the rumble of the road beneath his wheels and hear it echo endlessly at his back. And, God help him…again, he could feel the ghost of Suzanne’s slender arms twined around him; hear echoes of her wild laughter by his ear, mingled with the roar of hundreds of cycles strung out behind.

“Sue,” he growled in a tight, hungry whisper.

His eyes searched the crowd again, predatory and sharp.

“Hey, man, it’s been a while.”

Lance turned abruptly to see a tall, lean man with shoulder-length, golden-blond hair and bright green eyes that glowed with power deep within. Lance nodded, giving his best friend a comfortable grin. Gavin was Suzanne’s brother. If he was here, she had to be around somewhere. Lance went back to scanning the place.

“She’s not here,” Gavin continued, as if reading his mind.

Lance’s brow drew down low, and his grin took on a menacing feel. He turned away from Gavin and headed toward the bar.

“Suzanne’s not here,” Gavin repeated as he followed. “But she should be. She called two hours ago to say she caught some static outside of Dalton, and I was to let you know she’s on her way.”

She was coming! Delayed only by an encounter with the police. Lance closed his eyes and breathed, deep and slow. Then the rest of what Gavin had said broke through.

“Two hours ago? Dalton’s not even an hour away. Was she havin’ trouble with the Shovelhead?”

“The bike was runnin’ fine.”

Lance didn’t know what to think. Suzanne was one of the best riders he knew; she should have been here by now. Why hadn’t she called a second time? He wasn’t comfortable with the possibilities that came to mind. “Anything else happen on her ride?”

Gavin considered the question. “She told me she had a run-in with a couple of BUGs a few days back, but she said it was nothing. A few insults. It looked like they might get tough, but a cherry-top cruised by and the guys backed off. She was fine; they were gone. I didn’t think anything more of it….” His voice trailed off.

A slow burn devoured Lance’s patience. “And you haven’t gone after her yet?”

“I only just pulled in ten minutes before you.” Gavin scowled. “She left the message at the bar.”

Where the hell was she?

Lance slipped off his jacket and laid it across a stool. He had one certain way to tell if Suzanne was in trouble. Yanking up the shirtsleeve over his right arm, he bared a vibrant tattoo. To eyes not gifted with the Sight, the tat was of a gorgeous blonde provocatively posed, with her long hair feathered back and her lithesome curves draped in a brief, lavender teddy. To Lance the skin art moved and changed in subtle ways. It was Suzanne’s most recent gift to him. A self-portrait. Whether she was by his side or miles away, the tattoo reflected a small glimmer of her thoughts and feelings. It was a link, a declaration. It gave him entry into her soul. It was how he knew, without doubt, that Suzanne loved him back. Even if things still stood in their way.

He angled his arm to get a better look at the tattoo. Suzanne’s normally alluring expression was gone, her eyes were closed and her pale face slack, emotionless. Her limbs were posed as if bound behind her. A growl escaped Lance’s throat before he could throttle it down. He locked gazes with Gavin. Gavin glanced from Lance to the tattoo and back again. A muscle in his jaw twitched.

“She’s not dead. I would know….” Gavin assured him, though his eyes betrayed an uneasy tension as they lingered over the ink.

Lance’s fists clenched. It looked like he was going to miss the Stampede after all. Grabbing his jacket, he spun around and headed for the door.

Behind him, someone tugged sharply on the segmented ponytail hanging halfway down his back. Gavin, of course. No one else would dare.

“Let. Go. Now.” Lance bit off the words.

Gavin’s hand quickly fell away.

“You’re rushing off half-cocked,” he said. “You know you don’t have a chance of finding her without me. Just give me a minute while I make a call. Sue’s got a couple of friends out that way; if she stopped by choice, that’s where she’d head.”

Lance didn’t like it, but Gavin made sense. “Hurry up,” he ordered, and moved to the bar to wait. Thoughts on his lady, he ran his hand over the intricate Wild Hunt MC design she had embroidered across the back of his jacket, a compass rose incorporating knotwork, the cardinal points, and the elements. Oddly fitting for their club, often scattered to the four winds, but still connected, though in truth it represented the charter members. The design…the tattoo…his helmet. Subtle means of linking herself to him, of watching over him. Of keeping him close….

Just not close enough, or she’d never have been taken!

Suzanne was essential to his life. His heart. He’d grown up with her and Gavin as playmates. They protected him from those who persecuted him for only being half fae, and he made them laugh, showing them the wonder of the world through mortal eyes. He could not recall a happy moment from his childhood of which they were not a part. They were as close as if they were born to the same mother. But Lance was thirty-five, or near enough; he wanted something more serious. And now, just as he and Suzanne were close to settling things between them, she’d gone missing.

His eyes locked on the front door. No more fooling around; time to find Suzanne, even if it meant riding the Knucklehead into the ground doing so.

“This is how you wait?”

Lance swung around to face Gavin. His lieutenant wore a hard, disapproving expression. Ignoring both the look and remark, Lance took a step toward Gavin. “Well?”

Gavin shook his head and Lance felt his temper flare.

“Clamp down, you’re setting off Tilly.”

Tilly…daughter of Jonraphal and Delilah. Lance’s cousin through her father’s side. They’d been raised together, as close as siblings. Thanks to a bastard who pulled an endo with Tilly riding pillion, she suffered from brain damage, reverted to a child-like state. She could handle simple things enough to help out in the bar, but throw her for a loop and she just couldn’t cope.

Lance looked back and noticed her standing near the kitchen door looking agitated. Her lip quivered with a telltale tremble and the plate in her hand slanted until the food on it was in danger of sliding onto the floor. She was reacting to his emotional state. Not good. He had to deal with this, no matter how he itched to be on his way. He quickly tamped down his agitation, along with everything else he’d carelessly broadcast. In several strides he stood beside her. He took the plate from her hand and handed it to Kelly, who worked the bar.

“Sorry, Dumplin’.” He slid his arms around Tilly in an apologetic hug. Careful to avoid the sensitive nubs tipping her shoulder blades, he gently rubbed her back, easing her distress. Power sizzled along the surface of his palms as he drew off the tension, defusing the emotion. He stopped only when she giggled.

Lance let out a deep breath. Like him, Tilly sensed and affected the emotions of those around her; only now, since the accident, she didn’t have the control she used to have. Things went bad quickly when she got upset.

Very bad…

…For everyone.

Crisis averted, he brushed a kiss across her cheek and patted her arm. “Why don’t you go see if they need anything in the kitchen?”

Tilly smiled and walked off, her chestnut hair falling in thick, wavy curls down her back. Lance watched her go, a gentle grin on his face. He loved his sweet cousin; he just wished the Organ Donor that made her the way she was now had survived so the club could have made him beg for death: he’d gotten off too easily. Again, Lance tamped his emotions down before they got out of hand.

A muscle in his jaw twitched and his gaze swept over the bar. The earlier relaxed atmosphere had disappeared. He’d dealt with Tilly, but he saw signs that his mood had crept into those around him. Time to split and find his lady before he owed his aunt for a new bar. Walking up to Gavin, Lance claimed his jacket, and they turned to leave.

A young kid intercepted them. His leathers were so new they still bore creases, and his colors were mostly clean. Lance would have pushed past him, but Gavin stopped beside the SQUID. The teen flushed a little as their gazes settled on him, but he stood steady despite the scrutiny of his ride captain and his lieutenant. Lance couldn’t help but be impressed.

“What’s up, man?”

“Was a couple of guys in here askin’ about the Wind Walker earlier,” he answered, his voice low but even.

Lance and Gavin exchanged hard looks. “When were they here?”

“ ’Bout an hour ago, before ’Lilah came in. They weren’t here long.”

The kid’s words hit Lance harder than the last time he ate asphalt. He felt scraped just as raw. Two hours ago Suzanne had called, then disappeared. Soon after, strangers show up asking questions about him. Hard to believe the two weren’t related. But how? No human alone could overcome one of the fae, particularly a full-blood. Who among the fae had reason to gun for him? And was powerful—not to mention suicidal—enough to use Suzanne as bait? His hands fisted just thinking about it. His life without her in it would be very bleak indeed. Someone out there had decided to rob him of his joy, his love. Well, if they wanted a fight, they’d just ordered one express delivery.

He yanked on his jacket and pivoted abruptly, heading for the door. Gavin trailed behind him. They both stopped as they came face to face with Delilah. She gave a sharp nod. “You boys goin’ somewhere?”

Lance growled. Everyone needed to stop getting in his way. He needed Gavin at his back. Blood called to blood. With Gavin along, finding Suzanne would be a simple matter of closing the distance and annihilating the responsible party. But Delilah had raised Lance; if she knew what was going down she would never let them leave alone. Lance didn’t want anyone else along to slow them down or get in the way.

“Sue ran into a bit of trouble outside of Dalton,” Lance said brusquely as he moved past his aunt. “Gavin and I are going to give her a hand.”

“What about the rest of the club?” Delilah called out before he got halfway to the door. She closed the distance between them.

Impatiently, Lance stopped. “Run the Stampede. Gavin’s with me, so Mongo takes Front Door, with you on Sweep. Keep everyone rolling. We’ll catch up, if we can.”

“You really think they’ll make the run without you?”

“Delilah! You’re wastin’ my time! It’s what they’re all here for. Either they make the run, or they don’t. Their call; it has nothing to do with me.”

“You keep tellin’ yourself that,” she murmured, her gaze brutal in its wisdom. “These riders are here to make the run with you…with the Wind Walker.”

He hissed through clenched teeth. “Anyone can be a wind walker; all it takes is treating people right, looking out for them on the road.”

“Don’t play dumb, darlin’, you ain’t blond enough to fake it.” She gave him the eye. “You are the Wind Walker, and you know it. Everyone in here owes you some measure of blood. You can’t take off and expect them to pretend you ain’t ridin’ off into trouble. These bikers are more loyal to you than they are to their own mothers.”

Lance saw something more in her gaze than impatience, but now wasn’t the time to figure out what. He didn’t have time to argue either. “Fine…whatever. Just keep everyone here, for now. We’ll call if we need the war wagon.”

He turned away abruptly and walked out the door. His boots thudded hard against the walkway as he hurried to his bike. He already had a bowie knife sheathed in the top of his boot, but he wanted something more. He drew an expanding steel baton, or thunderbolt, out of one of his saddlebags and slipped it into the back pocket of his leathers. He then reached for his helmet. When he slid it on, the white lines of the runes and knotwork slowly swirled back across the glossy black surface as the power encasing him flowed automatically back into the gear. He took a few seconds to adjust to the change before mounting the cycle. From across the lot he heard Gavin’s engine revving up.

“Hey,” Delilah called out behind him. Lance glanced back and discovered that she and at least half the mother chapter stood clustered at the entrance. The rest peered out from beyond the bar’s smoky windows. Every expression read fierce and loyal. “Keep the dirty side down, Wind Walker, and bring our Lady home.”

 

 

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The Redcaps’ Queen

A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale Book 2

 

 

The Hunt is On!

When strength becomes weakness…
And hope becomes doubt…
As the past collides with the future…hard…

Can Suzanne—Wild Hunt biker chick and one-time member of the fae High Court—stand strong as her world falls apart? She survived an assault by redcaps, an all-out battle with the High King’s armies, and her first encounter with roller derby… but how will she fare against her inner demons? Caught in the midst of a transformation she scarcely realizes and does not understand, her hard-won convictions are tested as never before.

Suzanne is left with only one question—what if they’re wrong?

The truth could mean the difference between saving her sanity and losing her soul…

 

 

Excerpt:

 

Chapter One

 

Suzanne surfaced to the sounds of softly rustling leaves. The raucous cawing of crows. And sinister murmurs close by her ear. The chill of a breeze tickled her bare back as the sharp pain of bindings on her wrists and legs kindled anger in her breast.

The impulse to fight surged strongly within her, yet something more than physical bonds held her immobile. Her effort to open her eyes triggered no more than a weak flutter. The blackness shrouding her consciousness briefly lightened to grey before darkening once more. Inwardly, Suzanne growled, drew several deep, centering breaths, and once more bent her will toward moving.

Nothing.

The murmurs increased. She couldn’t distinguish what they said, but their growing excitement needed no words. Many hands grasped her. Lifted her up. Bore her away. Suzanne threw her effort into resisting as what felt like sharp-pointed claws pierced her flesh. Her mind fought, but her body remained lax. Her breathing labored the more she strained internally against the force that bound her. The rasp of something like barbed sandpaper swiped across her bare shoulder. Her stomach clenched at the sensation and her muscles screamed to break free of her bonds. Suzanne’s pulse picked up and her frustration grew. The more anxious she became the more the fog cleared from her mind.

And then she felt him.

Lance, her lover, was somewhere nearby. The link between them trickled his emotions into her thoughts. Love. Concern. Anger. The last most of all; his temper boiled fierce and hot beneath his skin, even in the bare echo that she felt through their magical bond. Suzanne’s soul reached for him but found itself likewise bound. Panic flooded her veins, born of memories long past of childhood beneath her father’s control. Kept weak and powerless, her every act dictated. In the here-and-now, Suzanne’s breath came in sharp gasps. The darkness deepened until she grew frantic, casting her inner self once more against restraints she could not shake free.

Someone spoke. Distant, yet all too clear. A flat, harsh voice, reminiscent of the crows’ caws.

“Service rendered calls for payment due.”

Her bearers lowered her to the ground and backed away. Like a rabbit sensing a hawk circling overhead, her inner self stilled, unsure of how to evade.

“No!” Lance roared.

Her eyes snapped open. The world became clear as the esoteric restraints lifted. In the next instant, bitter-cold droplets struck Suzanne’s skin. Acid burrowed deep and fast to devour her flesh. No longer weighed down, she bucked and thrashed. The clawed hands returned, pinning her down, and her vision filled with wizened faces grinning beneath brown caps that deepened to crimson as her blood flowed and the redcaps feasted.

Suzanne screamed a piercing, earth-rending scream.

~*~

She jerked awake, sweat-soaked, her body trembling and her breath fast and shallow in reaction to the raw, brutal memory that haunted her dreams. Screams still echoed in her mind. Torturous, agonized, piercing. Lance lay undisturbed beside her, arm draped over her waist, breathing in a slow, relaxed rhythm against the back of her neck. His presence calmed her, again a reminder she’d survived. Most mornings were the same lately. Ever since she had been captured by the Dubh Fae and his redcap minions—coming within seconds of death—her sleep had been a stalking ground.

She growled in frustration as she edged away from Lance’s loose grip. A grey hint of light placed the time somewhere just before dawn. Way too early to be up. She ignored the piercing phantom pains as she slipped from the bed. The chill of the morning air made her shiver as she ran her fingers over naked skin that should have borne scars. She caught her unblemished reflection in the bureau mirror across the room and shivered again. Damp tendrils of platinum-blonde hair clung to her face, neck, and breasts. In the low light, her blue eyes shone dark and startling against her ashen skin. She scowled at her reflection and quickly shimmied into her clothes, reflexively sliding a well-worn bandana in the front pocket of her jeans, an old habit from her childhood.

Behind her, Lance stirred. His arm reached for her in his sleep. The hint of a frown furrowed his brow when he did not find her. Awake or not, his protective nature seeped through. As the leader of the Wild Hunt M.C. he considered himself responsible for every member, but most particularly for her.

Again, frustration burned along her nerves, causing her to tense as she willed him to remain asleep. She loved Lance, had for over twenty years…even before he turned thirteen and discovered the joy of girls, but he never seemed to get the fact that she needed to stand on her own, not because she had to, but because it was important to her to be able to. She’d even held a human job once. For nearly a year she’d manned the drying furnace at the local auto plant, where intense heat baked the fresh paint into a protective shell. A very unfae occupation; that had been part of its charm. With the resources of the fae world to draw on she hadn’t needed to work. What she had needed was to prove she could. That she was strong and capable in all things. Not until she proved that to herself and everyone else, could she and Lance move forward and build the kind of life she had always longed for. The life where they were never separate, where family meant love…and children.

That dream seemed even further out of reach now. If only she could conquer this crippling fear. In the military they called it PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder. Suzanne…she called it fucked up. Just seeing the color red froze her up worse than a seized engine. If she did not overcome that fear on her own, she expected she never would. But Lance kept interfering. He just never seemed to know when to stand down and when it was okay to step in. When he’d learned about her recent issues, he’d actually gone so far as to try and ban anything red from Delilah’s, the bar that served as a clubhouse for the Wild Hunt. Well-intentioned as his effort was, she stopped him straight away. Besides being impractical, a solution like that threatened to cripple her for good. Remnants of an older fear rose up at that thought. She would let no one make her weak again.

No one.

As she stood there trying to rally for the day, the room around her took on a steadily growing reddish tinge reflected from the rising sun. Suzanne tensed and refused to close her eyes against the sight. She fought to get control of the panic, resisting the urge to crawl back into Lance’s arms and pretend herself safe. She wouldn’t do it, though; unlike her father, she made a point of never lying, even to herself. The faster her heart beat, the more her skin crawled, as if distant eyes watched her, waiting eagerly for the chance to bleed her. Surrounded by the dawn’s haze she relived the attack; the flood of red light swept her back to the blasted crossroads, bound and helpless as the Dubh Fae’s Dragon Tears ate through her skin and flesh, and the redcaps feasted on her free-flowing blood. Suzanne shuddered. The panic gained ground until she nearly crumpled to the floor. Sheer will alone kept her standing tall, her slender frame too rigid now to tremble. An improvement after last night, where she’d been curled nearly fetal in Lance’s arms, but still unacceptable. She reminded herself that those who had harmed her couldn’t get past the shields safeguarding the property, including Delilah’s and the living space above the bar.

It didn’t help. The true demons lived in her head.

Deep beneath the trauma from the attack lurked her true fear: that her father was right. That she was weak and could not defend herself. She’d fought against those beliefs her whole life. That was likely the reason so many of her gifts to Lance—and anyone else she cared for—provided protection, right down to the magic tattoo of her likeness that linked their awareness. As if proving that she could take care of others meant she could look out for herself, too. Only…look how well she’d botched that.

Again Lance stirred in the bed behind her; he grumbled and came a little more awake. The flashback lost part of its grip on her as her thoughts latched on to him. His strength and presence tempted her to depend on him, to let him protect her. Furious with herself, she scrubbed her hand hard across tear-dampened cheeks.

Before he roused fully, Suzanne leaned over and tucked the warm blanket back around him, ran her hand gently over the soft waves of his light brown hair, lying long and loose over the pillow. “It’s okay, babe,” she murmured by his ear, a bit of magic giving weight to her words. Her heart surged and a smile crept across her lips. Impulse took her and she brushed a tender kiss across his brow. “Go back to sleep. I’m going downstairs.”

She watched to make sure Lance drifted to sleep again before leaving the room. Grabbing her leather jacket from the closet by the apartment door, she carefully kept her eyes averted from the pile of winter gear on the shelf above it. The knit hats were a mix of all colors, but Lance’s favorite—red—dominated. Suzanne shuddered as another flash of memory superimposed the leering, bloody face of a redcap over the pile of hats. Squeezing her eyes closed tight she fought the renewed anxiety the flashback caused. She stumbled back and the sleeve of her jacket caught on something. Opening her eyes, she saw an old air rifle with a blown gasket that Lance hadn’t had the time to fix yet. Suzanne reached out, her hand lingering on the stock of the gun. An idea took root as she forced her gaze back to the pile of knit caps. Last night she’d told Lance she would handle this problem of hers…

Now seemed like a good time.

It took a massive effort to fight past her aversion, but she reached up and managed to pick through the jumble of winter hats. Her hand shook violently as she plucked out every red one she could find, shoving them into the sleeve of her jacket where she wouldn’t see them until she had to.

Downstairs, in the back room of the bar, Delilah—Lance’s aunt—kept an entire closet full of well-maintained paintball gear: from weapons and protection, to marker flags and CO2 cartridges, not to mention a whole case of paintballs in ridiculous neon colors. That stockpile was the key to Suzanne’s plan. Well, that, and the fact the Wild Hunt owned all the acreage within a two-mile radius of the bar.

She headed for Delilah’s office off the kitchen to retrieve the ring of supply closet keys hanging just inside the door. She then returned to the back room and pulled all of the gear she wanted from the closet. Everything lay ready and waiting by the time the first footsteps sounded on the stairs. Jon, Lance’s uncle and fellow exiled Fae, didn’t appear surprised—by her or the pile of gear on the table—though the stack of stocking caps did seem to puzzle him a moment until he clued to the fact they were all red.

“Dušan doesn’t have any idea what you’re up to, does he?”

Her eyes narrowed. Jon rarely used the name the Four Winds had given Lance when the Hunt was formed; the subtle reminder that anyone wearing colors answered to him brought out her spirit of rebellion. “You going to help, or get in the way?”

Jon’s hands went up along with one corner of his mouth. “Me? I know better than that. S’long as you don’t plan anything stupid, I got your back.” He joined her at the table, picked up a Tippman pneumatic pistol, and made a show of inspecting it, then preparing it for use.

“You know, wanting to protect you isn’t the same thing as thinking you aren’t capable of protecting yourself,” he finally said, without looking up from the air gun he loaded.

Suzanne ground her teeth as she glared at her hands. Her knuckles had gone white. She glanced back at Jon. “It’s not what Lance thinks that I’m concerned about.”

Across the table, Jon’s head snapped up, a protest on his lips as he stared at her intently from beneath a shag of dark brown hair. His natural, deep purple highlights glimmered under the glamour that hid his magical state from most mundane folk.

Before he could speak, Suzanne went on, her words hurried. “Or the Club…I’m the one that has to get my head on straight, before I start thinking I can’t hack it.”

Jon nodded slowly, his rich bronze-brown eyes fairly swirling in sympathetic memory. For a moment both of them remained silent as he held her gaze. Then Jon laid the readied pistol down and settled back in his chair.

“I understand,” he said, and she could see he really did—both what she’d said, and what she hadn’t—as plain as the haunted look in his eyes. They sat in taut silence, inspecting and readying the gear as they waited for more bodies to arrive.

 

 

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About the Author

Award-winning author and editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books (www.especbooks.com).

Her published works include six novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections Eternal Wanderings, A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, Transcendence, Between Darkness and Light, and the non-fiction writers’ guide, The Literary Handyman, and is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Side of Good/Side of Evil, After Punk, and In an Iron Cage. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and three extremely spoiled cats.

 

 

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