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Monday, February 29, 2016

Blog Tour- BEYOND THE RED by Ava Jae Book Playlist And A Giveaway!

I am so excited to be hosting a spot on blog tour for BEYOND THE RED by Ava Jae! I freaking LOVED this book! It's an amazing sci-fi/fantasy full of court intrigue, action, and romance!!! I have Ava's book playlist to share with you today! And make sure to enter the awesome giveaway for a finished copy of the book! 

Haven't heard of BEYOND THE RED? Check it out!

Author: Ava Jae
Release Date: March 1, 2016
Pages: 360
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Alien queen Kora has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. She’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, but her people are rioting and call for her violent younger twin brother to take the throne. Despite assassination attempts, a mounting uprising of nomadic human rebels, and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she’s determined to protect her people from her brother’s would-be tyrannical rule.

Eros is a rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. Yet that doesn’t stop him from defending his people, at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp and take him captive. He’s given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identity—a secret kept even from him.

When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they flee. Their only chance of survival is to turn themselves in to the high court, where revealing Eros’s secret could mean a swift public execution. But when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide. 
Now on to the playlist!

I very heavily associate Imagine Dragons’s music with Beyond the Red, largely because I endlessly replayed their first album while I was first drafting. Their music is really atmospheric and moody, which was perfect for first drafting as it let me easily slip into the right headspace for Eros and Kora’s story. Since then, they’ve come out with even more music, so putting together a playlist with their music, new and old, to fit Beyond the Red was a really fun exercise. 

Without further ado, here’s the (Imagine Dragons) playlist for Beyond the Red: 



“I’m So Sorry” 

“Bleeding Out” 


About Ava:
Ava Jae is a writer, an Assistant Editor at Entangled Publishing, and is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. Her YA Sci-Fi debut, BEYOND THE RED, is releasing March 2016 from Sky Pony Press. When she’s not writing about kissing, superpowers, explosions, and aliens, you can find her with her nose buried in a book, nerding out over the latest X-Men news, or hanging out on her blogTwitterFacebooktumblr, GoodreadsInstagram, or YouTube channel.

Giveaway Details:

10 winners will receive a finished copy of BEYOND THE RED, US Only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tour Schedule:

Week One:
2/22/2016- Take Me Away To A Great ReadInterview
2/23/2016- Twinning for BooksReview
2/24/2016- A Dream Within A DreamGuest Post
2/25/2016- Avid ReaderReview
2/26/2016- Moonlight Gleam Reviews- Interview

Week Two:
2/29/2016- Two Chicks on BooksGuest Post
3/1/2016- Jessabella ReadsReview
3/2/2016- Taking It One Book at a TimeReview
3/3/2016- Curling Up With A Good Book-  Interview
3/4/2016- Literary Meanderings - Review

Blog Tour- THE FORBIDDEN ORCHID by Sharon Biggs Waller An Interview and Giveaway!

Today I'm kicking off the blog tour for THE FORBIDDEN ORCHID by Sharon Biggs Waller!!! I have an interview with Sharon to share with you today! And make sure to enter the awesome giveaway for a finished copy of the book! 

Haven't heard of THE FORBIDDEN ORCHID? Check it out!

Author: Sharon Biggs Waller
Pub. Date: March 8, 2016
Publisher: Viking
Format: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook
Find it: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Goodreads
Staid, responsible Elodie Buchanan is the eldest of ten sisters living in a small English market town in 1861. The girls' father is a plant hunter, usually off adventuring through the jungles of China. 
Then disaster strikes: Mr. Buchanan fails to collect an extremely rare and valuable orchid, meaning that he will be thrown into debtors' prison and the girls will be sent to the orphanage or the poorhouse. Elodie's father has one last chance to return to China, find the orchid, and save the family—and this time, thanks to an unforeseen twist of fate, Elodie is going with him. Elodie has never before left her village, but what starts as fear turns to wonder as she adapts to seafaring life aboard the tea clipper The Osprey, and later to the new sights, dangers, and romance of China. 
But even if she can find the orchid, how can she find herself now that staid, responsible Elodie has seen how much the world has to offer? 

Now on to the interview!

Hi Sharon! First I want to say welcome to Two Chicks on Books! I am so happy that you could stop by for a visit!

Thank you!  So happy to be here.

For the readers: can you tell us a little bit about THE FORBIDDEN ORCHID and the characters?

ORCHID is about Elodie Buchanan, the eldest of ten sisters growing up in a tiny village in England in 1862.  Their father is a plant hunter who they barely know or see as he’s always off adventuring through China, finding new plants for his employer.  When he reneges on his contract to collect a costly orchid due to a terrible accident, Elodie has to take action to help her father return to China to hunt down the flower.  She’s stows away on the tea clipper her father travels on with the help of a handsome Russian sailor named Alex.  Elodie discovers that the world and her place in it are much bigger than she’d ever imagined.  And she has no idea how she’ll ever go back to being the Elodie that everyone depends on.  

This is a standalone correct? So what are you working on now?

Yes, a standalone.  I’m working on a contemporary YA and an adult historical romance. 

Who was your favorite character to write? What about your least favorite?

Aside from Elodie, I loved writing Alex. He’s such a strong yet vulnerable character who is doing the best he can despite his own history.  Both he and Elodie have a hard time reaching out to other people for help.  His dog, Kukla, is also so cute.  I love to write a memorable “meet cute” type of scene with the MC meets her love interest for the first time.  And this one was super fun to write.  Kukla is sort of based on my dog, Daisy, who appeared on my doorstep two weeks after I wrote Kukla into the story.  They look exactly alike and both are food thieves!  It’s kind of eerie, really. 
Least favorite to write…let’s see.  I don’t think I have a least favorite character, although Mr. Howell, the journalist in China, was pretty odious.  But I like writing characters like that too. 

What is your favorite passage/scene in THE FORBIDDEN ORCHID?

I love the scene where Alex and Elodie are alone for the first time on the ship and have to work out how to be together in a small space for the first time.  I wrote that scene early on, actually.  Some scenes pop up out of order and I just go ahead and write them.  Usually they end up being important turning-point scenes.
I also like the dialogue between Elodie and her sister Violetta.  Violetta is really funny with a biting wit and she lends a lot of humor to the story.  She keeps Elodie from becoming too serious.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

So much research!  But I’m a non-fiction writer too and I adore research.  It’s like going on an archeological dig for a story.  I start out with an idea and then dive in with the research, and the story begins to develop from there.  So I researched tea clippers, tea, orchids, china, opium, opium addiction in the Victorian era, the Opium Wars, Manchu custom, foot binding, plant exploration, torture and imprisonment in China, debtor’s prison and the workhouse in England, Victorian clothing, women’s rights in Victorian England and Imperial China.  I own shelves of books!
This summer my husband and I returned to England for our son’s wedding and I went to Kew, Darwin’s home, and the tea clipper Cutty Sark.  It’s always great to walk in my character’s footsteps.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t go to China, but I’d love to someday. 

What are you reading right now? Or what do you have on your TBR that you’re dying to read?

My TBR list is huge and I keep adding to it.  I have several books on the go at once, both print books and on my Kindle.  I’m currently reading Christa Desir’s OTHER BROKEN THINGS, which is downright amazing. And I’m reading ALEXANDER HAMILTON by Alex Chernow, which was the inspiration for the musical HAMILTON (so addicted to that soundtrack).  I’m looking forward to INTO THE DIM by Janet B. Taylor, which is marketed as OUTLANDER for teens (my favorite book).  I love anything time-travelly, so I have high hopes for that one. 

Who is your ultimate Book Boyfriend?

Jamie Fraser from OUTLANDER.  Hands down. 

What inspired you to write YA?

Teen books were so important to me when I was growing up.  I was super-shy and really bookish and I never felt comfortable in my own skin.  I had no idea how to be, who I was, or what to do in the world.  I found myself in the pages of a book and learned that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.  I grew up in the 80s and some of my favorite books were LORI by Gloria Goldreich, Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden, DEENIE and FOREVER by Judy Blume.  When I open these books today and re-read the stories I’m whisked back into teen me again. 

Lightening Round Questions

Twitter or Facebook?
Oh gosh, um…Twitter?  Only because I met my agent on Twitter!

What Hogwarts House would the Sorting Hat place you in?
I thought I was Gryffindor but the Sorting Hat put me in Hufflepuff, which makes more sense to me now that I think about it.  Nymphadora Tonks is in that house, and she’s my favorite Harry Potter character.  I actually named one of my goats after her!

Favorite Superhero?
Wonder Woman

Favorite TV show?
Guilty Pleasure: DANCE MOMS

Sweet or Salty?

Any Phobias?
Clowns.  Terrified of clowns. 

Song you can’t get enough of right now?
Everything on the HAMILTON soundtrack

Upcoming Movie you’re most looking forward to?
Nothing that I can think of.  I’m not a huge movie fan and so lots of things escape me.  I’m probably the only person on earth who hasn’t seen AVATAR, for instance. 

Thanks so much Sharon for answering my questions! 

About Sharon:
Sharon Biggs Waller grew up around artists and developed a passion for Edwardian history and the Pre-Raphaelites when she moved to England in 2000. She did extensive research on the British suffragettes for her novel, A MAD, WICKED FOLLY when she wasn’t working as a riding instructor at the Royal Mews in Buckingham Palace and as a freelance magazine writer. She also writes non-fiction books about horses under her maiden name, Sharon Biggs. She is a dressage rider and trainer and lives on a 10-acre sustainable farm in Northwest Indiana with her British husband, Mark. Visit her atwww.sharonbiggswaller.com

Giveaway Details:

1 winner will receive signed finished copies of THE FORBIDDEN ORCHID, A MAD WICKED FOLLY & swag, US Only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tour Schedule:

Week 1:
2/29/2016- Two Chicks on BooksInterview
3/1/2016- Bookish LifestyleReview
3/2/2016- IceyBooksGuest Post
3/3/2016- Great ImaginationsReview
3/4/2016- The Book Belles- Interview

Week 2:
3/7/2016- The Eater of Books!Review
3/8/2016- Addicted ReadersGuest Post
3/9/2016- Fiction FareReview
3/410/2016- Wishful EndingsInterview
3/1/2016- Mundie MomsReview

Friday, February 26, 2016

Blog Tour- INTO THE DIM by Janet B. Taylor An Interview and Giveaway!

I am so excited to be hosting a spot on blog tour for INTO THE DIM by Janet B. Taylor! I freaking LOVED this book and I already know it will make my top 10 of 2016 list! It's an amazing sci-fi, time travel, historical story in the vein of the movie Timeline that starred Gerard Butler and Paul Walker (if you haven't seen it do so now!)!!! I have an interview with Janet to share with you today! And make sure to enter the awesome giveaway for a finished copy of the book! 

Haven't heard of INTO THE DIM? Check it out!

Author: Janet B. Taylor
Release Date: March 1, 2016
Pages: 432
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, audiobook
Find it: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks
When fragile, sixteen-year-old Hope Walton loses her mom to an earthquake overseas, her secluded world crumbles. Agreeing to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic, but also a member of a secret society of time travelers. Trapped in the twelfth century in the age of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hope has seventy-two hours to rescue her mother and get back to their own time. Along the way, her path collides with that of a mysterious boy who could be vital to her mission . . . or the key to Hope’s undoing.      

Addictive, romantic, and rich with historical detail, Into the Dim is an Outlander for teens. 

Now on to the interview!

Hi Janet! First I want to say welcome to Two Chicks on Books! I freaking LOVED INTO THE DIM and I know my readers will as well and am so happy that you could stop by for a visit!

Well thank YOU for having me, Jaime!! And thanks SOO much for hosting the ITD tour on the one and only, UBER-MEGA-Fabulous ROCK STAR BOOK TOURS!! *holds for roar of applause*!! I think it goes without saying that I simply ADORE you!!!

For the readers: can you tell us a little bit about INTO THE DIM and the characters?

Hmm, the short version is: Into The Dim is a story about a modern girl who time-travels to the twelfth century. Totally on purpose and stuff.

The long version adds in all the whys, hows and what-happens-when…but at its core, Into The Dim is a tale about love, sacrifice, and what you can overcome to save those you love. I just mixed in a little fantasy, a pinch of sci-fi, and a big old heaping helping of my greatest love, historical fiction! Oh!! And hot guys…and a little smooching. Gotta have the smooching! ;)

Into The Dim’s main character, Hope Walton, is no badass, butt-kicking heroine. The only way she might knock someone down is if she happened to trip over her own feet. But she’s whip-crack smart, and possesses an eidetic memory, which is her only claim to anything resembling a superpower.

At her aunt’s house in Scotland, Hope meets the rest of her mom’s family and begins to unravel the secrets of her mother’s murky past. After learning the truth, Hope joins up with siblings Phoebe and Collum MacPherson, a pair of ‘Young Indiana Jones-type’ siblings who escort Hope on her journey to the medieval world.

The other ‘significant’ in Hope’s world is Bran Cameron, a British guy she meets soon after her arrival in Scotland. But as the story progresses, we come to see that Bran’s intentions could be more than a little murky. 

So…. What about book 2? Do we have a title yet?

Weeel, we’re getting pretty close, but since it’s not quite 100%, I can’t reveal. Not just yet anyway!

Why did you pick the time period you did for the characters to time travel to? Also not really a question but who knew Eleanor of Aquitaine was such a badass?!

*Waves hand in air like teacher’s pet* I did! I did! ;)

I’ve been a huge Eleanor of Aquitaine fan for years, since my mom and I watched the movie, “The Lion In Winter,” when I was in Jr. High. She’s truly one of the most impressive historical figures ever. Without spoiling anything, there’s a line in the book where Eleanor wonders whether her legacy will even matter. If she—like so many queens before her—will be forgotten, like grains of sand washed away on a beach.

I think the answer is fairly obvious. It’s almost a thousand years later, and we’re still talking about this incredible, incomparable woman.

The medieval era because...come on…Knights and Castles, corrupt Bishops and royals with unlimited power? What’s not to love?

Who was your favorite character to write? What about your least favorite?

Oh, Hope, without a doubt. Because I got to know her so, so well and so many of her traits are similar to my own. Also, I LOVED writing Sister Hectare. It was weird, because I had not planned that character whatsoever. I was just writing this scene with Eleanor and BAM! She just showed up out of nowhere, this fully fleshed-out character. (It was almost spooky!) Dum dum daaaaa…..

My least favorite? Hmm…probably Collum, just because I had to dig deep to find that manly, surly gentleness of his. (Side note: I’m also crazy about Doug. And btw…you’ll be seeing a lot more of him in Book 2!)

What is your favorite passage/scene in INTO THE DIM?

Wow, hard question! I guess I’d have to say I really liked the jailbreak scene. I love how they all work together. And I love ‘watching’ the way Hope’s mind works as she comes up with solutions to these seemingly impossible situations. Also, the scene in the glade, because it was so emotionally exhausting.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

So, so, SO much reading. On every resource and book and article I could find on the High Middle Ages. Henry and Eleanor’s reign. London in the twelfth century. I spent WAY too much money on books, ya’ll! But the best part was travelling all over Great Britain and Europe, visiting the places where Eleanor had lived and died. That part was incredibly surreal and just fascinating!

What are you reading right now?

OMG, I just started the audiobook of “Morning Star,” third book in Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy. (Holy. Freaking. COW!) I just finished Alexandra Bracken’s “Passenger” (Incredible!), and I’m also currently reading several of my fellow Sweet 16s debuts all at the same time!

Who is your ultimate Book Boyfriend?

Easy. So easy. Two words…. Jamie. Fraser.


Me too Janet!!! Sorry had to add the Gif couldn't help myself lol

What inspired you to write YA?

You know, it’s like this. No one…NO ONE…feels as strongly or as deeply as a sixteen year old girl. Everything is emotion and drama and life or death. Also, teens are old enough to deal with adult issues, and yet at their core, they’re still malleable enough to change in the most fundamental ways.

The other reason I love to write about teens is….You can just beat the holy crap out of a teen in fiction, and they just bounce right back. It’s wonderful! Throw them down a flight of stairs, dump them in an icy river? Teens just shake it off. You can’t do that with a forty-something year old woman!

Lightening Round Questions

Twitter or Facebook?
Twitter! I like the gogogo pace!

If the sorting hat were to place you into a house at Hogwarts which house would you be put in?

It already did! I am a proud member of House Ravenclaw, thank you very much!!

Yay me too Janet!!

Favorite Superhero?
THOR….And do I have to explain why? *purr*

Yeah had to go with a shirtless one here too lol

Favorite TV show?
Outlander, Game of Thrones, New Girl, Agents of Shield, Downton Abbey,

Sweet or Salty?

Any Phobias?
Umm….Once you read Into The Dim, I think you’ll be able to tell the answer to that question!

Song you can’t get enough of right now?
I’m going through a retro period right now. And TRUST ME…If you want to see true magic visited upon the stage, watch the YouTube video of a VERY young Stevie Nicks singing “Rhiannon” onstage for the first time. You won’t be able to look away!

Upcoming Movie you’re most looking forward to?
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Cause…I mean… Jane Austen. And ZOMBIES!!! It’s a perfect combination!!!

Thanks so much Janet for answering my questions! 

You betcha, Jamie! And again, I just want to thank you SO much for inviting me to take part on Rock Star Tours AND “Two Chicks” which is one of my VERY fave YA book sites!
Plus…You are simply marvelous and I love you to pieces!!! Xoxoxoxoxo!

About Janet:
The 2013 winner of the coveted #PitchWars, Janet B Taylor, has four years' experience writing web content for a major television network fan site (CBS) that garners over a hundred thousand hits a day. Janet travels extensively to those places where her novels are set, often roaming around at night to commune with the famous historical figures about which she loves to write. She is a member of several writing organizations, including the SCBWI and the Historical Novel Society, and lives in a tiny town in Arkansas with her family.

Giveaway Details:

3 winners will receive a finished copy of INTO THE DIM, US only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tour Schedule:

Week One:
2/22/2016- Bookish LifestyleInterview
2/23/2016- A Perfection Called BooksReview
2/24/2016- Princessica of Books - Guest Post
2/25/2016- Ex LibrisReview
2/26/2016- Two Chicks on BooksInterview

Week Two:
2/29/2016- Owl Always Be ReadingReview
3/1/2016- Such a Novel IdeaGuest Post
3/2/2016- A Backwards StoryReview
3/3/2016- Brittany's Book RamblesInterview
3/4/2016- Book MunchiesReview

M9B Friday Reveal- NOBODY'S LADY by Amy McNulty Cover & Chapter 1 Reveal And A Giveaway!

Today Amy McNulty and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for NOBODY’S LADY! Book 2 in the Never Veil Series which releases April 12, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive an eGalley!!

On to the reveal!

Author: Amy McNulty
Pub. Date: April 12, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books
Format: Paperback & eBook
Find it: Amazon | Goodreads

For the first time in a thousand years, the men in Noll’s village possess the freedom to love whom they will. In order to give each man the chance to fully explore his feelings, the lord of the village decrees all marriages null and void until both spouses declare their love for one another and their desire to wed again. What many women think will be a simple matter becomes a source of village-wide tension as most men decide to leave their families and responsibilities behind.

Rejected by the lord and ashamed of her part in the village’s history, Noll withdraws from her family and lives life as an independent woodcarver. This changes when her sister accuses her of hiding her former husband Jurij from her—and when Jurij eventually does ask to move in. Determined not to make the same mistakes, Noll decides to support her male friends through their new emotional experiences, but she’s soon caught up in a darker plot than she ever dared imagine possible from the men she thought she knew so well. And the lord for whom she still has feelings may be hiding the most frightening truth of them all.


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.


And slammed it in my face.

About Amy: 

Amy McNulty is a freelance writer and editor from Wisconsin with an honors degree in English. She was first published in a national scholarly journal (The Concord Review) while in high school and currently writes professionally about everything from business marketing to anime. In her down time, you can find her crafting stories with dastardly villains and antiheroes set in fantastical medieval settings. Visit her website at amymcnulty.com.

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