QSFer Carole Cummings has a new MM Fantasy book out:
To reveal the intricate machinations threatening them, two men must learn to trust each other. But how can they, when their hearts and minds—their realities—are subject to manipulation?
When he set out to escort the prisoner Wilfred Calder back to Putnam, Constable Dallin Brayden didn’t anticipate the political betrayal and malicious magic threatening their lives at every turn. To his surprise, he slips into the role of protector—and it’s more than duty compelling him to ensure Wil’s safety as they’re haunted by strange dreams. But does Wil dare put himself in the hands of a man he believes wants him dead?
Wil’s past weighs heavily on him, tainting his perceptions as he struggles his way through a tangle of lies. With both will and magic as his weapons, he fights desperately for survival—and his soul. For the Aisling is coveted by more than the Guild and the Brethren; ancient gods and soul-eating spirits also want what lives within him. His only chance might be Dallin and his goddess, the Mother, who Wil has been taught to despise above all others.
Second Edition. First Edition published by Torquere/Prizm, 2011.
“HEY. HEY, Wil, c’mon, wake up.”
Wil swatted blindly, realizing too late in his sleep stupor that he’d done it with his right hand. A low hiss skidded through his teeth, and he curled the now-throbbing hand—thank you, Brayden—to his chest. He dragged open hazy eyes. Shut one. Squinted.
“Are you all right?” Brayden’s tone was all urgent disquiet. When Wil only blinked in muzzy irritation, Brayden’s face pinched up with worry, and he took Wil by the shoulders to roughly sit him up. “C’mon now, say something, do one thing I ask, all right? I’m drowning here.”
Annoyed, Wil shrugged out of the grip. “Get off, will you? ’M sleeping.”
And why was he annoyed and not afraid? Where had his reflexes gone, damn it?
A balled-up something came at Wil’s nose—another handkerchief? What the hell?—pressing a little too roughly. Wil tried swatting that away too, but Brayden shook his head.
“Just calm down. You’re bleeding.”
And if that wasn’t the dumbest contradiction Wil had ever heard.
“What…? Why am I—?”
“What were you dreaming?” Brayden gently but intractably tipped Wil’s head back, pressing fingers at either side of the bridge of Wil’s nose.
Wil fumbled at the handkerchief and squinted fuzzily at the ceiling. “Coffee.” He frowned. “I was dreaming about coffee, and… rain, I think, but I don’t—” Suspicion crowded out the sleep haze and murky confusion. “Why d’you care?”
Wil pushed Brayden’s hand away and snatched the handkerchief. Brayden let him, leaping back as though Wil had just spit hot coals at him. He just stood there, looking down at Wil with a mix of disbelief and too-cogent dismay, shaking his head slowly back and forth.
Wil couldn’t decide between bewilderment, apprehension, or pique. “What?”
Brayden didn’t say anything, just stared, still shaking his head like he was trying to deny Wil’s very existence, before he turned slowly, stunned gaze going inexorably to the little window above the cupboard. Staring, as though the steady drops of rain had mesmerized—
It all slipped into place, snapped into a broader shape, like those puzzle pieces Brayden was always on about. Every bit of blood in Wil’s body dropped to his gut, leaving him cold and sickeningly numb. “Oh shit.”
Brayden’s hand was tangled in his hair now, as if he’d gone to brush it back and forgotten what he was doing halfway through. “Yeah” was all he said.
His voice was thin and shakier than Wil had ever heard it before. Wil’s own dawning dread was somehow temporized by the fact that Brayden looked almost as shocked and repelled as Wil felt.
“You were there.” Wil’s voice was just as tremulous as Brayden’s had been. “How did you—?”
“I’ve no idea.” Brayden turned to look at Wil—dark, intelligent eyes gone wide and near vacant now. He frowned. “No. No, I… I mean, yes. Yes, I do. I think I do.” He looked at Wil, still knocked for six, but earnest now. “Millard was right. She loves you.”
And that was just about enough of that. Wil threw back the tangle of bedding and lurched up, only half noticing the dull spikes of pain that shot through his hips, his thighs, even his arse as he did so. Damn it, he’d had a feeling he was going to pay for a day in the saddle. He ignored it, skirted clumsily around Brayden, and made a dive for his pack on the floor. Wil backed himself out of Brayden’s immediate reach, hugging the pack to his chest as though it was going to offer even the smallest protection when Brayden decided to… to… well, to do whatever he meant to do.
Except Brayden didn’t look as if he meant to do anything but stare at Wil in troubled bemusement. He merely turned his head and followed Wil with his gaze.
“You’re still bleeding,” Brayden said quietly. “Looks like it’s slowed some, but check your ear too.”
Wil swiped at his ear, then his nose, then backed up another few steps and into the wall when Brayden leaned over, retrieved the stained handkerchief from the bed, and held it out. Brayden did it all without taking a single step, the breadth of his reach going from the bed to the wall where Wil cringed without having to so much as stretch. No wonder he wasn’t chasing Wil around the room—he could probably reach every corner of it without moving more than two steps.
“Take it.” Brayden held the wad of bloody linen out between his fingers. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not going to grab for you. Just take it before you bleed to death.”
Carole lives with her husband and family in Pennsylvania, USA, where she spends her time trying to find time to write. Recipient of various amateur writing awards, several of her short stories have been translated into Spanish, German, Chinese and Polish.
Author of the Aisling and Wolf’s-own series, Carole is currently in the process of developing several other works, including more short stories than anyone will ever want to read, and novels that turn into series when she’s not looking.
Carole is an avid reader of just about anything that’s written well and has good characters. She is a lifelong writer of the ‘movies’ that run constantly in her head. Surprisingly, she does manage sleep in there somewhere, and though she is rumored to live on coffee and Pixy Stix™, no one has as yet suggested she might be more comfortable in a padded room.
…Well. Not to her face.