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Announcement: Branded, by Clare London

BrandedDSP Publications author Clare London has a new Fantasy book out:

Maen is a Gold Warrior, an elite defender of Aza City, respected by his fellow soldiers and favored by his imperious Mistress for services both in and out of the bedchamber. His loyalty and commitment are unwavering until he recruits Dax, a captivating and challenging Bronzeman who, despite his youth and inexperience, seduces Maen with his fierce hero worship. When they’re captured by enemies of the City, Maen risks everything to save Dax: his position, his faith, and even his life. But he loses his lover to the rebels and upon his return to the City is stripped of his rank.

In Aza, where a soldier’s only lawful devotion is to the City and his Mistress’s pleasure, the disgraced Maen is placed under the watchful guard of the arrogant Gold Warrior Zander and relegated to preparing a Royal History for the new Queen. But his discoveries cast a new and shocking light on the past and threaten to stir revolution in both citizens and rebels. With the help of the lively and inquisitive scribe Kiel, Maen initiates a chain of events that will change their world forever—and offer him the chance to regain both his honor and his heart’s desire.

1st Edition published by Dreamspinner Press, 2010.


Excerpt

THE DAY was so much hotter than it should have been—it seemed the climate grew more erratic every spring. Unless I was planning a campaign, I rarely listened to the ramblings of the Weather Weavers, but occasionally I’d admit they were right to complain about it. Today the breastplate and leggings of my dress uniform were awkward and my helmet too heavy. I could feel my long hair sticking to my scalp with sweat, and my sword belt dragged painfully at my waist. But I’d worn all of this for many years. I, of all men, had no reason to complain.

Inside the arena, the sanded floor had been brushed down and the stone steps prepared for today’s event—the Choosing for Aza City. It was a very public venue and well used. I could see how tired its decoration looked. The structure always remained dirty, despite regular scrubbing by hordes of cleaners. Construction work was habitual throughout the city, and it proved difficult to keep buildings at their best. But I saw evidence of attempts to make the arena look glamorous for this occasion. Banners and notice boards had been hung from the pillars at the side, the flags of the Households of the city flew proudly along the top wall, and there were plenty of facilities to feed, clean, and relieve the large number of visitors that flocked in today. This event had occurred annually for hundreds of years; there were few excuses for it to be less than spectacular.

Most of the Households had already arrived, settling with blankets and folded chairs, erecting sunshades for the Mistresses, preparing refreshments in case the public supplies were inadequate. Each Mistress was attended by a few of her Ladies, and most of them also had the company of soldiers from their Guard. This had often seemed ludicrous to me, for what military danger would there be during a Choosing? Everyone’s attention would be on very different things! But it was a matter of prestige. I’d always accompanied my Mistress, ever since I qualified as a Silver Captain under Bernos, the serving Gold Warrior of the time. Now I stood as a Gold Warrior myself—the highest honor there could be for a soldier, let alone a man.

The Mistresses were excited to meet each other, and high-pitched female chatter choked the air around us. It would get fiercer once the bidding began. Many of them only saw each other at these events, and although some were glad for this, others regretted it and regularly made plans to travel more to visit. Whatever their pleasure at seeing friends, however, their gazes still strayed frequently into the center of the arena, to the ring where this year’s candidates would soon appear. That was, after all, the main purpose of the day.

A couple of my Silver Captains stood at my Mistress’s side. I watched them closely, for I was currently displeased with their lack of attention to her. She may have found them interesting in bed, but I demanded far more of them than a pleasing prick. It was an honor to be chosen for today’s duty, and I expected them to anticipate their Mistress’s discomfort. She had to stand for long hours at the side of the ring with an inadequate sunshade and nothing but cooled water when the serving children came past. Today she wore a thin pale blue shift in deference to the weather, and a cloak in a light fabric. Her badge of office was a pendant around her neck. Her head was uncovered, her long dark hair caught loosely at the back of her neck with a brooch. She was no longer as young as many of her favorite Ladies, but her skin was smooth, her hair glossy with aromatic oil, and her brown eyes very bright. She was a faithful follower of the Devotions. In return, they repaid her with good health and delayed aging. That’s how things were in the city: we all benefited in many ways from the Devotions.

Just about then, she caught my eye and raised her eyebrows. She was amused at my frustration with the men. I swear the woman should have been Mistress of Magic, not of the Exchequer. She had a sharp, often wicked perception that many underestimated.

“Leave them be, Maen,” she murmured, leaning toward me from her position on the steps so that others wouldn’t hear. “They’re excited by this as well. It’s an upheaval for them, this time of year. When I ask for something, they will be speedier than the hare to fetch it, never fear.”

She’d used my personal name rather than my rank, and that was frowned on socially, though of course I wouldn’t chastise her. It was a measure of the time we had been together and the ease we had between us—and also, perhaps, her sometimes worrying tendency to chafe at the more formal requirements of her position.

“Excitement is not part of their official duty, Mistress,” I replied rather dryly.

But maybe they overheard me. The blond Justes straightened his shoulders guiltily and snagged another cup of water from a passing refreshment tray.

My Mistress smiled, unconcerned. When Justes handed her the water with the appropriate greeting and the brief but formal salute of a palm to his heart, she caught at his fingertips for a little longer than necessary. His eyes flashed with passion and pride; he would be the one she took tonight, in all probability. She liked his combination of strength and soft skin—he had the flexibility of a gymnast and the reflexes of a cat. Or so word had it in the barracks.

Mistress Luana was always interested in such things.

“The Choosing of the Bronzemen… don’t you remember it yourself, Maen?” Her gaze met mine with an innocent expression that I knew to be contrived. I’d been in her Household for my ten years of adult life. By now I should know her character well, both as a woman and as a Mistress. “Is that all too long ago, my grown-up Gold Warrior? Too long to remember yourself as a young boy on the cusp of adulthood, desperate to impress, desperate to be chosen by a good Mistress?”

“I remember,” I said, determined to say no more unless she insisted.

“Or perhaps the memories are clearer from when you were first a Silver Captain. One of our youngest to qualify, I believe. One of our finest athletes and also our most excellent swordsman, which is indeed still the case. You stood here, like Justes and… the other one.” Her memory failed her, for she couldn’t always remember the names of all the men she called unless they became particular favorites. “You watched all the young boys, all the potential Bronzemen, full of your professional criticism, questioning whether they would be a good crop that year.”

“I wondered what Bernos would make of them,” I said. “Whether they’d make good soldiers.”

She smiled. “Whether they would be good servants in many ways, Maen! Whatever Bernos—and those before him—may have recommended, I don’t choose only on the basis of potential military skills. As I said, it’s a difficult time for the Silvers. There’ll be a new batch of these gorgeous young things in the Household. My attention will be drawn away from the Silvers themselves, along with the other Ladies’. There’ll be a time of some insecurity and frustration, until the positions have been reestablished in the Household—”

“And in the Guard itself,” I added. “For they will be soldiers first and foremost.” I took a risk, interrupting her. But she’d let me know many times that she would allow me to banter with her. I believed she enjoyed it.

She laughed softly, and Justes turned his head sharply to see if she called him, but she waved him back. She looked up into my face—I was a good head taller than her—and smiled purely for my benefit. “Did you never worry that I would tire of you, that each year I would prefer the new, soft young bodies to your fiercely toned soldier’s muscles? That you’d languish in my indifference with nothing but your barrack companions for physical relief? That my gifts would be given to others, now and for the foreseeable future?”

“I’ve never had any interest in gifts,” I said a little too sharply. I felt Justes’s gaze on me now, but he would never challenge me, his commander, in public.


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Author Bio

Clare London took her pen name from the city where she lives, loves, and writes. A lone, brave female in a frenetic, testosterone-fueled family home, she juggles her writing with her other day job as an accountant.

She’s written in many genres and across many settings, with award-winning novels and short stories published both online and in print. She says she likes variety in her writing while friends say she’s just fickle, but as long as both theories spawn good fiction, she’s happy. Most of her work features male/male romance and drama with a healthy serving of physical passion, as she enjoys both reading and writing about strong, sympathetic, and sexy characters.

Clare currently has several novels sulking at that tricky chapter-three stage and plenty of other projects in mind… she just has to find out where she left them in that frenetic, testosterone-fueled family home.

 

Website: www.clarelondon.com

Email: [email protected]

Blog: www.clarelondon.com/blog

Amazon: www.amazon.com/author/clarelondon

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