Excerpt from Healer’s Touch

Here is Chapter One from the upcoming Healer’s Touch, book 4 of the Hearts and Thrones series, which will be out later this month. Enjoy!

healer_promoChapter 1

Marius had never seen a carriage like this one. It sat before a backdrop of sagging storefronts and fading paint, as incongruous with its surroundings as a swan in a mud puddle. Bars of gold and ivory swooped upward to outline its form, and a crystal lamp sparkled at each corner. Four dapple gray horses waited in harness. He could not imagine what even a single horse of such quality would cost, let alone four of them. A thousand tetrals? More?

He pushed open the wooden shutters of his apartment window for a better view. The carriage was escorted by two others, one in front and the other behind. The escorts weren’t as fancy as the middle carriage, but they were finer than what anyone in the village could afford. Who could be the owner of this assemblage? It was rare for the nobility to pass through a backwater like Osler.

He was due back at the apothecary in a few hours, but his mother had told him that if he ever saw a rich man’s carriage in Osler, he needed to tell her immediately. Apparently she’d once had a serious quarrel with a nobleman.

Marius leaned out the window in hopes of seeing the great man, or perhaps it was a great woman. But he saw only servants. A coachman stood at the lead horse’s head, and a groom was draping blankets over the horses’ backs. Why would a noble personage carry a grudge against his mother for so many years? It didn’t make sense, but he would tell her about the carriage anyway. On his way out, he grabbed a bottle of tincture he’d been meaning to bring her.

The carriage guards paid him not the slightest attention as he climbed down the stairs. A pair of them were going into Lev’s Inn and Tavern. Marius smiled. Gods help them if they tried the special.

A quarter mile down the road, he angled onto the dirt path that led to his parents’ home. Once inside, he hung his hat on the rack and called, “It’s me.” A savory scent wafted past his nose. His mother must be cooking.

She came into the entryway and folded him into a hug.

He hugged her back gently. His mother, Camilla, wasn’t young anymore. She’d borne her children later in life than most women, and Marius feared that he and his younger sister had been a strain on her. She was delicate as a bird, yet he felt strength in her small frame.

He took the bottle of tincture from his pocket and pressed it into her hands. “I brought you more of this. Promise you’ll take it this time?”

She smiled, looking sheepish. “Of course.”

“Your joints will feel better if you do. It’s concentrated, so go easy on it, one swallow in the morning and another at night—”

She waved a hand. “I know how willow bark works. Are you off duty until evening? I’ve got soup on. Won’t do it any harm if we take it off the fire early.”

Marius shed his cloak and followed her into the kitchen, where the aroma of onions and carrots and herbs hung heavy in the air. “I’m not here for supper. I came because I saw a fancy carriage in town.”

Camilla’s eye flicked back to him. “The governor’s?”

“No.”

She walked to the soup pot over the fire, lifted the lid, and stirred. “There’s no reason for the nobility to come through Osler. They take the Nigellus Road. What did the carriage look like?”

“Fancy. There were three carriages, actually. The guards are in orange livery.” His stomach rumbled. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

Camilla dropped the lid back onto the soup pot and turned. “Orange?”

He nodded.

She raised her eyes to his, and Marius became conscious of the lines on her face. She did not speak, and Marius gathered that his answer was not the one she’d wanted.

“Is it the one you’re worried about?” he asked.

She blinked and stammered something that wasn’t a word. Then she left the kitchen.

“Mother?” he called after her.

Her voice shook. “He’s found us.” From the kitchen, he heard her pounding on the door to the workshop. “Tertius, come out. The Legaciatti are here.”

Marius shook his head as if to shake cobwebs loose. Legaciatti? Those were the emperor’s personal guards. They lived in the imperial city and would have no reason to come to a remote village like Osler. “I’m sure they’re not Legaciatti,” he called to her. He cocked his head and listened. She did not answer, but he heard banging and rustling as someone, perhaps two someones, moved around in the workshop.

His mother returned to the kitchen, lugging a rucksack.

“You shouldn’t be lifting that,” said Marius, reaching to take it from her.

She let him have it. “Take this and go.”

Marius blinked. “Where? I have a shift this evening.” She had to be wrong about the guards being Legaciatti. His family was of no importance whatsoever and would have no business with the Imperium. Neither she nor his father could have committed the sort of crime that would attract the attention of the imperial seat, or, for that matter, any crime at all. His parents were the most straight-laced, law-abiding people he knew. They never gossiped or gambled. They rarely even drank.

“Forget the apothecary,” said his mother. “You have no idea what you’re dealing with.”

“Tell me, then.”

“Some things it’s better not to know.”

She was shaking like a twig in a storm. As absurd as her fears might seem, it was clear that to her, they were absolutely real. Marius felt an icy chill along his spine, like the time his sister had dropped a snowball down the back of his shirt. “Explain this plan to me. Where am I to go? I’ve no money to travel with.”

“Away from Osler. Your father and I will catch up.”

She tried to push him toward the door, but he wouldn’t budge. “What about Laelia?” If the danger was real, they couldn’t leave his sister behind.

His father entered the kitchen with a rucksack of his own heaved onto his wiry back. He moved to the larder, snatching up supplies: the rest of the day’s bread, a bunch of carrots, a pair of wrinkled apples. “I’ll run and fetch Laelia. You leave now and get a head start.”

Marius gaped. His father was quiet and sensible by nature, the steady counterpart to his mother’s fire. If his parents were united in their determination to leave Osler, the situation was serious. “What’s Gratian going to say?” Laelia’s live-in lover wasn’t the friendliest of men.

His father shook his head. “He’ll have to let her go. If he doesn’t, he’ll regret it. Get moving, son.”

Marius went to the entryway, grabbed his cloak, and slung it around his shoulders. His parents’ sincerity had convinced him to follow their directions, at least for the time being, but he could not pretend he understood what was going on. “Are you in trouble with the Imperium?”

“Yes,” called his mother. “We’ll explain later.”

What could his quiet, reclusive parents have done that would induce the empire to hunt them down? He stuffed his hat on his head and grabbed a blanket from the nearest bedroom. “I’ll help you fetch Laelia.” Strength in numbers, when it came to dealing with Gratian.

A loud noise made him jump, and he turned. Someone was banging on the front door with something heavy.

“Out the back, quickly!” shrieked his mother.

Marius lost no time in following her. It appeared her lifelong fear was justified. Someone really was after them.

His father yanked open the back door to a wall of orange livery, and a host of imperial guards swarmed into the house.

Marius sat at the kitchen table with his mother on his left and his father on his right. Guards encircled them. His stomach was in knots, and so far nothing was happening either to alleviate or to sharpen his fears. He and his parents were being held here for some event yet to come, and the guards refused to answer his questions. His parents surely knew something about what was happening, but when he sent them desperate, questioning looks, they stared down at the table and didn’t meet his eyes.

Turning from them, he looked to the guards, trying to determine if they really were Legaciatti. They did have the sickle and sunburst insignia, but did that prove anything? Anyone could make up an insignia and sew it to a uniform. The guards were intimidating, each of them carrying a sword and pistol at his belt as well as a heavy, bronze-tipped stick. Perhaps the stick was for beating people into submission. Or, now that he thought about it, for knocking on doors.

So far the guards had not been violent. One had grabbed his mother when she tried to slip away, but not roughly. Marius recognized the guard standing across from the table as the one he’d seen outside Lev’s earlier in the day.

“Could you just tell us what’s going on?” Marius blurted.

“The emperor will be along shortly,” said the guard from Lev’s.

Marius laughed. This was all a joke, surely. The emperor would not have come personally for his mother; if she were truly in trouble, he’d have sent his guards for her. “The Kjallan emperor?”

The guard gave him a look. “What other emperor is there?”

The Kjallan emperor—ridiculous.

His mother stared straight ahead, stony-faced, wringing her hands in her lap. His father, as always, was an open book, his face etched with worry lines, but he did not seem surprised. That was the oddest thing about this affair. Marius’s parents seemed to have expected this to happen. Even planned for it.

Marius tried something else. “May I have some water?”

After a moment’s hesitation, one of the guards looked around the kitchen, spied the water pitcher, and poured him a glass. He set it in front of Marius. “Here, sir.”

Sir. Marius almost laughed. He lifted the glass and drained half of it.

All at once, the guards shifted, turning toward the front entryway and dipping their heads as another man entered the room. This, Marius supposed, was the emperor, or at least someone pretending to be the emperor. He was average in height. In fact, Marius probably had an inch on him. The emperor, if indeed that was who he was, was black-haired and fine-featured. He didn’t look much like his profile on the Kjallan tetral.

The emperor was known to be crippled, but this man wasn’t limping. Marius looked down at the man’s feet and saw a normal boot on the right, leather and mud-spattered. On the left was a sort of wooden shoe. He’d heard that One-Legged Lucien walked with the aid of a prosthetic. Was he looking at that famous prosthetic now?

The supposed emperor turned to his mother. “Sabina,” he said, holding out his hand.

Marius let out his breath in relief. This was a mistake. Sabina was not his mother’s name. These people, whether imperials or charlatans, had come to the wrong house.

His mother stiffened and planted her hands in her lap, refusing to clasp wrists. “You’re too late. He’s grown up, and you can’t have him. He’s no use to you, anyway. He’s got no education and no magic.”

Marius blinked, stunned by this response.

The supposed emperor turned to his father and again offered his arm. “Anton.”

Marius’s father lowered his eyes, but he extended his hand and clasped wrists.

Now the man turned to Marius himself. “Your name, sir?”

Marius reached out and clasped his wrist. “Marius. But I think you’ve come to the wrong house. Those aren’t their names.”

“It’s the right house,” said the emperor. “And those are their names. It’s wonderful to meet you, Marius. I’m Lucien Florian Nigellus, emperor of Kjall. You and I are cousins.”

Marius gaped.

“You can’t have him,” said his mother.

Lucien’s gaze slid in her direction. “I think he’s old enough to make his own decisions.”

Marius reeled in his seat, catching himself just in time to avoid falling out of it. He and the emperor were cousins? How was that possible?

Lucien turned to him. “Your mother never told you, but she’s a full sister to my predecessor, Florian Nigellus Gavros.”

Marius shook his head. “I think you’ve made a mistake. Her name is Camilla Brosus…” He hesitated. Maybe he shouldn’t be sharing these details.

“She changed it before you were born,” said Lucien. “She’s been in hiding for decades. Haven’t you, Sabina?”

His mother—Sabina?—stared balefully at the emperor.

“I’ve found your sister,” said Lucien. “A couple of guards are watching her house. They’ll go in once we’re done here.” He gestured to his guards and nodded at Marius. “I’d like to speak with you alone.”

“No!” cried his mother.

The emperor ignored her. A pair of guards directed Marius out of his chair. He rose and followed them.

“Marius, he’s not a friend!” called his mother as he walked from the kitchen to the entryway in the company of the emperor and a pair of Legaciatti.

They led him out of the house, where the grand carriage awaited. A footman opened the carriage door. Marius was closer to the vehicle than he had been earlier, and he looked for signs of fakery. Perhaps the lamps were cheap glass instead of crystal. Might a thin layer of gold plating be flaking off the trim? But he saw nothing of the sort. Everything looked genuine, and when he laid his hand on the carriage door, he felt its weight and its smoothness as it swung on its hinges. And those stunning dapple grays—equine quality could not be faked.

He was convinced. Everything was real, and that meant the emperor had to be real, too.

Emperor Lucien stepped into the carriage. Marius hesitated, and the guard gave him a gentle nudge. Marius had never ridden in a carriage before. He climbed awkwardly through the door.

The carriage was enormous on the inside and could easily have seated eight. Since he and Lucien were the only ones within, Marius took the seat across from the emperor. He sank deeply into the cushions and struggled for a moment to right himself. He was used to firmer seats. Was this what luxury was like, always throwing one off balance? The footman closed the door behind them, granting them privacy. Marius was alone with the emperor of Kjall. He shoved his hands into his pockets so that their trembling wouldn’t show.

“I’m going to tell you a story,” said Lucien. “Once upon a time, long before I was born, my grandfather Nigellus was emperor. He had two children, a boy named Florian and a girl named Sabina.”

Marius made a strangled noise.

Lucien continued. “Nigellus arranged marriages for both of his children. Florian married as Nigellus directed him and had four children, of which I am the third. But Sabina did not like the man Nigellus had chosen for her. She had fallen in love with another man, a humble upholsterer named Anton who had done some work in the palace.”

“My father is a carpenter, not an upholsterer,” said Marius.

“Let me finish my story,” said Lucien. “Sabina eloped with Anton and fled into the countryside. Nigellus tried to find her, but his health was failing, and he died before he could locate her. My father, Florian, ascended the throne, and once established, he resumed the search. He found Sabina and Anton in the city of Rodgany, and they had a child with them—a three-year-old daughter.”

Marius let his breath out. This was all wrong. His parents had never lived in Rodgany, and he was the eldest child. Laelia was two years younger than he.

“Florian left Sabina and Anton where they were, but he took the daughter. You have two sisters, Marius. Not one.”

He shook his head. “I’ve always been the eldest.”

“You have never met Rhianne,” said Lucien gently. “She was raised in the imperial palace and is now the Queen of Mosar.”

Marius stared at him, dumbstruck. He had an older sister, and she was a queen? No, that could not be true. “You’ve got the wrong family—”

“I don’t,” said Lucien. “I’ve been searching for years, and I’m certain I’ve found the people I’m looking for. You are my cousin. You are also Florian’s nephew and Rhianne’s full brother. Rhianne has wondered for years whether her parents had more children after Florian stole her, but they moved away from Rodgany and changed their names, even their professions. They did not want to be found again.”

“Why?” Marius blurted.

Lucien leaned back in his seat. “Because they didn’t want their children taken away a second time.”

“You’re saying they moved and changed their identities because of me and Laelia?”

“They didn’t want to lose you. I promised Rhianne that I would find you, if you existed. All her life, she has missed her parents and wondered about possible siblings. Florian raised Rhianne with every advantage of education and position and wealth, but in other ways he was not good to her. She’s in Mosar now, and far happier than she was here. She will be happier still if she can be reunited with her long-lost family. And Marius, you and your sister belong at the palace. Your mother says you’re not educated. Is that true?”

“I’m a journeyman apothecary. I work for Appius—”

“Do you know your letters?”

“No, but…” He’d never needed them, and never thought he would. Appius couldn’t read either. His cheeks heated as realized how provincial he must seem to this man. When Lucien said educated, he didn’t mean someone who had learned a trade. He meant someone with a formal education, a scholar like they had at the universities. Marius couldn’t even read a street sign.

“I can fix all that,” said Lucien.

“You’re asking me to go with you to the Imperial Palace—”

“I’m not asking,” said Lucien.

Marius looked into those hard black eyes. His mother’s fears had been justified. The emperor did mean to take him away, and apparently Marius wasn’t going to have a say in the matter. He glanced out the carriage windows. Could he escape? Probably not with all those guards watching. Did he want to escape? He wasn’t sure.

“I never knew your mother,” said Lucien. “She fled from Nigellus before I was born, and we met for the very first time today. I don’t know why she made the choices she did, but Marius, those choices have greatly limited your opportunities in life. When she separated you from the rest of your family, she denied you the education and the magic that should have been your birthright—”

“I don’t want them,” said Marius.

“Are you certain? You’re an apothecary. What led you to choose that calling?”

He shrugged. “I like to help people.”

“How effective are your herbs and poultices?”

Marius bit his lip. For most conditions, not very.

“What if you augmented the skill you already possess with the magic of a Healer?” continued Lucien. “Think how much more you could do.”

Marius was silent. He knew Healers could help the people that apothecaries couldn’t. All his life, he’d envied those rare few with healing magic. The emperor had known just where to poke him to make him hurt. And to yearn for more.

“I’m taking you back with me to Riat,” said Lucien. “But I won’t break up your family. All of you will come: you, your sister, and your parents.”

He swallowed. “My sister’s…friend…may give you some trouble.”

“If a situation develops, my guards will handle it,” said Lucien. “Let’s get started, shall we? It’s time this family was reunited. Did you know your sister Rhianne has children? You’re an uncle, and you didn’t even know it.”

Marius couldn’t respond. He felt as if a dust devil had descended upon Osler, picked up the pieces of his life, and whirled them into the air, scattering them hopelessly.

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Cover reveal for Healer’s Touch

healer_promo

It’s here, the cover for Healer’s Touch! I love how this one turned out. This book will be out in late November. As to who the guy is on the cover, all I can tell you right now is that his name is Marius and you haven’t met him yet. But I’ll be posting the opening chapter here soon.

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Excerpt from The Fire Seer

fireseer_promoHere is the opening chapter from The Fire Seer, available now at Amazon and coming soon to B&N, iBooks, and Kobo.

Chapter 1: Hrappa

Taya trotted her black mare past the flat, unwelcoming stares of the Hrappan townsfolk. She faced forward, reminding herself not to take it personally. It wasn’t who she was that bothered them. It was what she represented.

The sunlight was fading as she rode up to the Hall of Judgment. A haughty-looking servant in belted indigo and gold armbands awaited her on the steps. Taya dropped lightly from the mare’s back and brushed the travel dust from her clothes. She’d come in Coalition regalia, as per instructions. Over her short riding pants, she wore a green robe of soft cotton. A belt of worked silver with a fire agate mounted on the buckle encircled her waist. Her hair was pulled up into a fan-shaped headdress, and her arms jangled with bracelets—silver, since her people did not wear gold.

The servant’s gaze raked her. “You must be the drain-cleaner we sent for.”

Taya blinked in surprise. “No, I’m Coalition.”

“Ah,” said the servant, taking the mare’s reins. “I never would have guessed.”

Taya’s cheeks warmed. Sometimes she didn’t notice right away when a person was being insincere.

The servant straightened. “What am I supposed to do with that?”

Lumbering up the stairs was Piru, her pack elephant. He was a dwarf variety, no larger than her mare, but tame and loyal and incredibly strong. “Put him in a stall next to the mare. Has my partner arrived?”

“He arrived yesterday.”

He. So her partner was a man. Taya didn’t care one way or another, so long as he was competent, but she’d been curious.

The servant circled the elephant dubiously. “Where’s the lead rope?”

“You don’t need one. Just take the mare and he’ll follow her. His name is Piru. Give him a good feed of hay and scratch him behind the ears.”

The servant gave her a look that said, I’d sooner rub a sand viper’s belly.

Poor Piru. Maybe Taya would be able to visit him in the stable herself. “Is my partner available for me to confer with before I see the magistrate?”

“The magistrate wants to see you immediately. Your partner is with him.” The servant pointed. “Straight inside, first hallway on the right, second door on the left.” He whistled, and a boy padded up the steps. The two of them spoke briefly, and the boy took the mare’s reins and led her away. Piru started to follow but hesitated, turning his gray head to Taya in confusion.

“Go on,” she urged, and Piru trotted off, ears flapping. Taya smiled.

She straightened her headdress, noting with exasperation that several locks of her hair had come loose. She tried shoving them back in, but other pieces fell out, and she decided just to leave it be. She wouldn’t make a perfect impression, but how could she be expected to after traveling all day?

Aside from its huge size and arched entryway, the Hall of Judgment was like most Hrappan buildings, a flat rectangle of baked brick. The building was stuffy inside, but now that the sun had dropped below the horizon, it would cool off. Taya turned into the first hallway on the right and looked for the second door on the left. It was guarded by a lightly armored man with a bronze mace at his belt. She caught the guard’s eye and he nodded, granting her permission to enter.

The room was unexpectedly large. A gentle breeze threaded through two windows overlooking a leafy courtyard. A high seat rested upon a raised dais, undoubtedly the chair from which the magistrate handed down his decisions, but it was empty. Three men sat around a table in the center of the room.

One of the men was old and sick—disturbingly so. His stomach was bloated and misshapen, his hair lank, and his face sweaty, as if sitting in a chair was a great effort for him. Taya suspected he was near death.

The man sitting next to him was young and healthy. Both bore the facial tattoos of the ruling caste and were well dressed. The third man, who had his back to her, wore Coalition green and silver and was obviously her partner. Seeing him, her anxiety about the mission eased a little. He looked like the sort of man one could depend on—tall and strong, with a confident manner. He was a quradum, one of the Coalition’s magic-using warriors, and his role was to protect and advise her. Given the hostility of the townsfolk here, she might need protection. As for advice, she welcomed any guidance on her inaugural mission. She hoped her partner was as seasoned as he looked.

The younger man stood to welcome her but the sick man only gave her an apologetic look. Taya gathered he was not capable of standing. Her partner rose, too, with leonine grace. As he turned, she moved toward him eagerly and froze in shock.

She knew that face.

Even if she had been uncertain in her recollection, the facial tattoos were unmistakable. The sunburst on his forehead and the lines just beneath his eyelids, all in dark red, marked him as a member of the royal house. She was looking at Mandir isu Sarrum. Taya felt sick.

Recognition dawned in Mandir’s eyes as well, and he went as still as an onager jack who catches the scent of a lion in the grass.

“Welcome to Hrappa,” said the older man, in a weak voice that carried the echoes of well-worn authority. “I am the magistrate Ashur isu Dayyanum. I’m sorry I cannot stand to offer you a proper greeting. I have been ill these past seasons.”

Taya tore her eyes away from her partner. Manners first. “My name is Taya. I’m sorry you’ve been ill.” She approached the table and held out her hand, pressing her five fingers to the magistrate’s. “Have you seen a Coalition healer for your condition?”

“I have the Curse of Lalan. They can do nothing.”

“I’m so sorry,” she said. If he had the Curse, there was, indeed, no cure. It did not spread from one person to another, but it was lethal.

The magistrate continued, “This is my son and heir, Kalbi isu Dayyanum.”

Taya touched fingers with the son. Their names, Ashur and Kalbi, were interesting. “Traditional” names, the people called them, but since joining the Coalition, Taya had learned that such names were actually remnants of the forbidden language, the mother tongue. Parents had handed them down for generations, having no idea what they were preserving. Her own name, Taya, had no such significance; it was from the river tongue and of modern origin.

“And…you already know your partner?” said the magistrate. “I was led to believe you would be strangers to one another.”

Taya turned to Mandir, folding her arms to indicate she had no intention of touching fingers with him.

“Indeed,” said Mandir, mirroring the gesture. “Taya and I have not seen each other for a number of years, but we trained together as children.”

“Such fond memories,” said Taya. “Mandir almost killed me once.”

Mandir forced a laugh, as if she’d made a joke.

“Ah,” said the magistrate, taking it as one. “I could tell you some stories about my own misspent days.” He indicated the empty chair. “Have a seat. We’ve business to discuss.”

Taya sat, edging her chair away from Mandir’s. How had this happened? Mandir was a year older than her, but he’d entered the Coalition the same year as she had, and he’d been sentenced to a Year of Penance for his crimes. That should have put him a year behind in his instruction. He should not be a fully qualified quradum! In silence, she fumed. Someone had bent the rules for him. Mandir was the son of a prince, and once again his connections had saved him from having to face the consequences of his misdeeds.

She longed to toss a barb in his direction—So, Mandir, how was your Year of Penance?—but she contented herself with shooting him a nasty glare.

He was looking her over in an appraising manner, which irritated her even more. He’d always coveted her body, even as he’d insulted everything else about her. Well, let him look. Let him see the green robe and silver belt that showed she was every bit his equal despite her low birth. Let him see the fire agate that marked her as a fire seer. Caste didn’t matter in the Coalition, only ability.

Boldly, she scrutinized him in return, searching for physical flaws, but she was disappointed. His hair and clothing were perfect, not a strand out of place, and her onetime hope that his gangly teenage body would over-mature into coarseness had not come to pass. Instead, he’d filled out into a man with size and muscle and sleekness, putting Taya in mind of a jungle cat.

His eyes were the color of overripe wheat, his hair dark as a monsoon cloud. She tried to stare him down so he’d know she was no longer a scared fourteen-year-old farm girl he could play cruel games with, but there was more in his eyes than just arrogance. Was it fear? Surely he had nothing to fear from her, unless it was the fact that she would not hesitate to go to the authorities if he overstepped his bounds. The Coalition might not forgive his excesses forever. But that was his problem, not Taya’s. He’d made a mess of his life by messing up other people’s lives. Three people had been expelled from the Coalition, their magic permanently destroyed, because of him. He’d gotten off easy, and he deserved no pity.

Mandir turned to the magistrate and said, “Tell us about the suspected jackal.”

Taya blinked. She needed to focus on the mission, not on her partner, but she couldn’t help noticing, now that she was over the initial shock of seeing him, that his voice had changed. It had deepened into a rich, velvety tenor.

“Three people have been murdered, all of them killed in ways consistent with a jackal,” said the magistrate. “Two by fire, one by flood.”

“Who was the first victim?” asked Taya.

The magistrate’s head dipped. “My younger son Hunabi.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Taya. “How was he killed?”

“Burned alive in the middle of a cotton field.”

“How many children had you?”

“Two sons, Kalbi and Hunabi.” He indicated the young man sitting next to him.

Taya nodded. Until she could clear him, the elder brother, Kalbi, would be a suspect. Ruling-caste families were typically polyandrous, with their sons marrying the same woman in order to keep family estates intact. It was a situation that caused tension if the boys did not get along. “How many years separated Kalbi from his younger brother?”

“Three.”

“What was the nature of the brothers’ relationship?”

“I am no jackal,” broke in Kalbi. “I did not kill my brother.”

“I was not making an accusation,” said Taya. “I’m collecting information.”

“The boys were close,” said the magistrate. “They were in harmony.”

“Were they married, or contracted for marriage?”

“A contract was under negotiation at the time of Hunabi’s death. We have set it aside while our house is in mourning.”

Taya exchanged a look with Mandir. The marriage contract might be significant; it would need investigation. “We’ll need details on the marriage contract. What about the other murders? Who were the victims and when did they occur?”

The magistrate opened his mouth to answer. Then a shudder wracked his body, and he closed his eyes.

“Are you all right?” asked Mandir.

“No.” The magistrate turned to his son. “Fetch my attendants. And Rasik.” Kalbi leapt from the table and hurried from the room. The magistrate continued to speak, his voice thready and weak. “The other two victims were girls. The daughter of cloth merchant Bodhan isu Kasirum and the sister of farmer Zashkalim isu Ikkarum. I will assign Rasik to you. He is my clerk, an educated servant, and he knows all the particulars in these cases. He will guide you around the city of Hrappa as you hunt your jackal.”

Footsteps alerted Taya to Kalbi’s return. Another man was with him, the servant who’d taken her livestock at the front steps. The servant frowned, folding his arms in mock indignation. “My lord, have you been at the whiskey again?”

“If only, Rasik,” said the magistrate. “I require you to place yourself at the disposal of these Coalition representatives. Set them up in guesthouses, see that they’re fed and looked after, and show them around town tomorrow morning.”

Rasik made a face. “Perhaps Sukal, or Illia—”

“I give this task to you. And mind your tongue. You know the Coalition.” He turned back to Taya and Mandir. “Forgive his indiscretions. Servants with his skills are nearly impossible to replace.”

More servants arrived, bearing a litter, which they squeezed through the narrow doorway. Something about the magistrate smelled strange, like rotten fruit. It was disconcerting. Taya was relieved when Rasik beckoned her and Mandir from the room.

Find The Fire Seer on Amazon

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Release day for The Fire Seer!

fireseer_promoIt’s release day for The Fire Seer! This novel, the beginning of the brand new Coalition of Mages series, is available now on Amazon, and is coming soon to Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Kobo.

It was a funny thing that inspired this book. My younger son was having a bad time in school, so I pulled him out and home-schooled him for a while, just to give him a break from a bad situation. And part of the curriculum was a world history book I picked up, a history of the ancient world, and this book included a chapter on the Indus Valley Civilization.

My son was indifferent to most of the school stuff, but I had never learned about the Indus Valley Civilization in school, so it was new to me, and I was blown away! Here was a civilization from around 2400 BCE, contemporary to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, where they had cities laid out in perfect grids. And they had sewers, and they had flush toilets (!), and they had what looked like public baths. Furthermore, the houses were all similar in size, suggesting a relatively egalitarian society–quite unusual for the ancient world. (In fact, unusual for any civilization anywhere.) But sadly, we know little about their civilization because while they had a written language, scholars have been unable to translate it.

The Indus Valley Civilization is one of the great mysteries of the ancient world. Who were these people? What were they like? How did they lay out their cities so perfectly? And what happened to them, since they seem to have disappeared, leaving their cities intact? While I have no idea what the real answers to these questions might be, I was inspired to write a fantasy novel, with magic, set in this world.

For those of you who have read my Hearts and Thrones novels, I’ll tell you a little about what is similar and what is different about Hearts and Thrones and Coalition of Mages. Both series feature strong heroines. The Fire Seer features Taya, a lowly farmer girl who is favored by Isatis, the fire goddess, and is blessed with powerful fire magic. Both series are also generally bright in tone, with some darker moments.

Where they differ, aside from the setting, is in the series structure and the nature of the hero. The Hearts and Thrones series is a romance series, which each book featuring a different romantic couple. Coalition of Mages, however, is a mystery series. Taya’s romance with Mandir is prominently featured, but the two of them are also Bronze Age sleuths who solve a murder mystery in each book. And every book is about Taya and Mandir. I don’t switch couples in this series.

Mandir is not the type of hero you’d typically find in my Hearts and Thrones series. Generally, the Hearts and Thrones heroes are respectful and kind. Mandir is more the alpha type and a bit of a jerk. He’s a reformed jerk–at least, he’s trying very hard to be reformed–but he’s not going to be perfect all the time, and there are a lot of fireworks between him and Taya. Not always the good kind of fireworks!

This novel won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense in 2012, right after I’d signed the contract for the first three Hearts and Thrones books. I was thrilled when it won, but I couldn’t publish the book at the time because of my existing contract. I am thrilled to be able to bring this book to readers now, and I hope you enjoy it.

View “The Fire Seer” on Amazon

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Spy’s Honor wins a 2014 Prism award!

Spy's Honor final coverI’m thrilled to announce that Spy’s Honor is the winner of the 2014 Prism award in the Fantasy category!

The Prism awards, for those not familiar with them, are given by the RWA special-interest chapter focused on Paranormal romance. The categories include Fantasy (my category), Futuristic, Light and Dark Paranormal, Novella, Erotica, and YA.

Spy’s Honor is a book particularly close to my heart, since it’s the second novel I’ve ever written (I wrote Assassin’s Gambit later), and it’s the novel from which sprang Lucien. It warms my heart to see it honored.

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Cover reveal for The Fire Seer: coming later this summer!

Before Assassin’s Gambit finaled in the Golden Heart and was picked up by Penguin, I wrote a book called Flood and Fire. This was a fantasy/romance/mystery hybrid set around 2600 BCE in a fantasy re-imagination of the Indus Valley Civilization, which was contemporary to ancient Egypt and Sumer. The Indus Valley Civilization intrigued me because on the one hand, we know so little about it, but on the other, what we do know suggests a relatively egalitarian culture quite unlike Egypt and Sumer.

I entered this manuscript in the 2012 Daphne du Maurier contest and it won! Not just the paranormal category; it was the overall winner that year in unpublished manuscripts. So there was much excitement and interest in the manuscript. However, I was legally unable to sell it, because by then I’d signed my contract for the Hearts and Thrones series.

Now that I’ve finished the three books of that contract (I’m working on book 4), I am finally free to publish the manuscript that used to be titled Flood and Fire. It’s now titled The Fire Seer, and I got my cover art for it this week. It is GORGEOUS. Have a look:

fireseer_promo

Is that not stunning? This cover is by Ravven, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Look for The Fire Seer in late July or August of this year!

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New release: “Archer’s Sin” audiobook

AmyRaby_ArchersSin169My first audiobook is out! It’s “Archer’s Sin,” and it’s available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. The narration is by the very talented Lauren Sweet.

I have some free codes for review copies on Audible, so if you’d like to review “Archer’s Sin” on Audible, contact me through my Contact page, and I can send you one.

Nalica Kelden, war mage and world-class archer, doesn’t need love. She’s come to the imperial city for a single purpose: to win Kjall’s most prestigious archery tournament.

Until she meets one of her fellow competitors, and he sends an arrow straight into her heart.

Justien Polini is the man she’s always dreamed of. Like Nalica herself, he’s from the rough country in the eastern highlands. He’s big and strong and handsome, and he’s nearly as good an archer as she is. Best of all, in a country where most men look askance at women warriors, Justien admires Nalica’s talent and strength.

But Nalica can’t let her personal feelings get in the way of her ambitions. The tournament must come first… and there will be only one winner.

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