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New Release: Waylaid – J.M. Snyder

Waylaid - J.M. Snyder

J.M. Snyder has a new MM fantasy romance out: Waylaid.

It’s only supposed to be one night. Until it isn’t.

When the Queen’s guardsman enters my inn, the last thing I expect is to be propositioned. But this far north, it can get lonely at times, and my bed fits two easily enough. The guardsman is lithe and fae, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested. Besides, what’s one night between grown men?

I don’t expect to see him again. But rumors of war bring him back to me, and what starts as a one-off soon blossoms into so much more …

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From the moment he walks into my waystation, I can’t take my eyes off him.

He looks impossibly young, but from the way he carries himself and the short sword he wears sheathed at his side, I know he’s older than I first think. His hooded olive cloak has the gold chain epaulets that mark him as a member of the Queen’s guard, which means he’s spent at least ten years in the service. To be honest I haven’t seen anyone wear the chains in years, not this far north. The Queen’s reach here is tenuous at best.

He pauses just inside the door, easing back his hood to shake dark blond hair off his brow. He wears it long, in waves almost shaggy around ears with a hint of point to them. So elven, to some degree. He has the slight frame, the bow-shaped mouth, the smooth jaw and chin. His eyes are dark — maybe blue, maybe not — and he must feel me watching because after a quick glance around the empty hall, his gaze centers on me. He gives me a quick nod of acknowledgement and, a moment later, heads my way.

Then again, I’m the only one here, so of course he’s looking at me. I’m behind the bar, wiping down an ale stein, the empty expanse of weathered wood in front of me inviting. No one stops at a waystation who doesn’t need a drink or a bed or something to eat for either himself or his steed. Unfortunately a bad storm several weeks back stripped off the roof and damaged our lodgings, but hey, two out of three.

It’s late afternoon, too early for the salt mine dwarves to start trickling in after their day-long shifts, so there isn’t really much else to draw his attention but me. Most of the candles at the tables around the hall are unlit; the only light comes from the fireplace along the far wall, where a dying flame struggles to hold back the afternoon chill. From the kitchen behind me comes the clatter of plates and quiet giggles, the girls cleaning up and prepping for tonight.

As he crosses the room, he shifts a dusty pack off his shoulder and drops it to the floor before pulling out the stool in front of me. This close I realize his eyes aren’t blue at all but a dark green with flecks of gold that flash in the candlelight above. He wears simple gold hoops in each ear, four or five running up each lobe.

I’m staring, I know it, so I step back and thump the stein down too heavily on the bar between us. It’s thick dwarven glass and doesn’t break, but the sound is enough to shake me out of his spell. “Hey there.” My voice sounds gravelly and unused, so I clear my throat and try again. “Hey.” Sounds just as bad. I barrel on. “What can I do you for, traveler?”

He looks at me openly, guileless. The Queen’s chains or not, he looks fresh off the farm. Then he asks, “What do you have behind the bar you can tempt me with?”

Huh. Yeah, he’s older than he looks. I hear his age in his voice. It’s a pleasant tenor with a touch of the eastern provinces filling out his vowels. And he doesn’t even blink when the double entendre rolls off his tongue. Cheeky bastard.

I step to one side so he can see the array of heavy bottles along the wall behind me. Whiskey, wine, gin. Vodka, rum, ouzo. Absinthe that’s always a favorite with the ladies. A few ciders, some local ales. Some stronger stuff I only sell to those who know to ask for it by name. He looks like a cider man to me, but I’ve been wrong before.

“See anything you like?” I ask.

He doesn’t even glance at the shelves. “You know a merrow at Land’s End?”

“I do,” I admit, though I haven’t thought of her in quite a while. “Land’s End is quite a hike from here. She tell you to stop in and say hi?”

He answers with a sort of shrug that might be yes, might be no. “She said you have good food and a soft bed.”

Bed, singular. I caught that.

“No beds, I’m afraid.” I nod up at the ceiling, as if he could see through the rough wooden rafters to the damaged bedrooms on the floor above us. “Lost the whole upper level to an early snowstorm. Roof caved right in. We’re working to get it fixed but can’t let out any rooms until we do.”

“Nowhere to sleep at all?” he asks in a way that says he thinks I’m lying.

“How do you know her again?”

Another lazy shrug. “I was out that way about a month ago. On a quest –”

“Of course,” I mutter under my breath. Every wide-eyed traveler who comes through here is on one type of quest or another.

He ignores me. “Stopped at her place, asked if she knew anything about snowstars, and she directed me out this way. Said I could do worse than the Windy Bandit.”

Thanks for the endorsement. She’s a half-merrow, half-selkie barmaid whose advances I turned down years ago, when I was barely a man and she just fresh from the sea. Since then, she’s made it her mission to send me any number of wayward travelers she thinks might tickle my fancy instead. I’ve never been interested in any of them, but I have to admit, this one’s easy on the eyes.

“So you don’t have any beds here.” This time it isn’t a question.

Before I can think better of it, I tell him, “Only mine.”

One corner of his mouth twitches. “And it doesn’t fit two?”

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