Full length paranormal romance with shifters and gypsies and demons–and an HEA.
Long before Germany rounded up Romani and sent them to prison camps, the Netherlands declared them undesirables. Yara’s caravan disbanded when she was fifteen to avoid being driven out of the country. Ten years have passed, and she’s been alone for most of that time hiding in caves and abandoned buildings. It’s been a lonely life, but at least she still has one.
Stewart conceals his true identity for the best of reasons. He’s not actually Romani, even though he’s been a caravan leader for many years. In a bold and desperate move, he joins a small band of shifters and Rom to fight the Reich’s chokehold on Europe. When they’re crossing the border into the Netherlands, vampires attack.
Yara senses Romani near her cave. The stench of vampire comes through loud and clear too, along with shifters. While not nearly as bad as vampires, her people have always steered clear of them. Another type of magic plucks at her. She can’t identify it, but it draws her from her hiding place. That decision tilts her world on its axis when she comes face to face with Stewart’s raw masculinity and savage presence. She could still turn tail and run. If she stays, it doesn’t require magical ability to recognize her life will change forever.
Guest Post: VILLAIN SPOTLIGHT
Thanks so much for inviting me back to your blog, Gothic Mom. Hope all is well with you. Tarnished Journey, last of the Soul Dance books features many villains. Perhaps the most loveable is Manandan, son of Llyr and a sea god in his own right. Rather than an interview, here’s a clip from Chapter Eleven. It shines a light into Manandan’s character, his entitlement mentality, and his particular world view.
…“Tell him what?” Yara broke in. “How the hell do you say no to a god? Besides, I didn’t exactly tell him yes. I asked a question, and he disappeared. Granted, I didn’t try to call him back. It would have been absurdly selfish of me to put myself before all the other people on this ship.”
“So ye werena smitten, lass?” Stewart arched a brow.
She smiled. “Sometimes you sound unbelievably archaic. Nay,” she aped his brogue, “I wasna smitten. Merely practical. Besides, I figured my mother wouldn’t force me into something I didn’t want. Once we were safe in Scotland, I would have addressed this.”
“’Twas a gamble. The gods may squabble like rats over a rotting corpse, but they stand together against any outsider, which is exactly what they’d consider ye to be.”
The deck pitched violently beneath them, and he scrambled for balance. “Come on. Manandan’s temper appears to be deteriorating.”
“It wasn’t his strong suit when he was in my cabin. Let me go first.”
“Nay.” Stewart gripped the handrails and hauled himself one deck up with Yara right behind him. They needed a plan, and he didn’t have one. Manandan had always been quick to anger, and he didn’t like to lose.
The deck canted hard to port; Cadr and Gregor were scrambling to get the canvas down. Vreis stood at the helm. Lines of strain carved deep into his face as he fought the wheel.
Manandan was turned away from them, facing out to sea with his hands raised. Power arced from his fingers, burning blue-white against the darkness where sea and sky merged into each other. It should still be daytime, but you couldn’t prove it by the inky darkness surrounding the ship. Water raced over the rails, retreating as it rejoined the sea.
Yara started forward, but Stewart gripped her upper arm, and then slid his hand down until their fingers laced together. The god knew they were there. No need to say anything.
Stewart rocked from foot to foot to stay upright. Perhaps the god would give him something to work with if he waited. Patience had never been one of Manandan’s virtues. In this instance, that might work in their favor.
Manandan spun. Anger shot from his black eyes. Dark hair swirled around him, falling to the middle of his back. He’d always preferred robes to trousers, and today’s was the color of old claret, sashed in deep blue.
He pointed a long-nailed index finger at Yara. “Faithless whore. I offered you a great honor, and ye throw it in my face by rutting with yon Druid. What? Ye couldna wait until I had the time to take you to my bed?”
The god marched toward them, his arm still extended. “We had a deal. A bargain. Granted, ’twas not sealed with your blood, but ye’re Rhiannon’s daughter. I assumed ye’d be an honorable wench. Not a faithless slut.”
Stewart stepped between them. “That is enough. Ye insult the woman who shall be my wife.”
A muted squawk emerged from Yara, but she didn’t follow it up by telling him he’d just presumed a whole lot without asking her.
“Wife, eh? Appears she’s a wee bit surprised by your proposal.”
“If I’m surprised, it’s because I can see you,” Yara spoke up, her voice surprisingly steady. “In my cabin, you were nothing but a disembodied voice.”
“So?” Manandan stared at her. “Surely ye’ve seen Rhiannon in all her forms.”
“In truth, I’ve never seen her at all. Not that I remember, anyway. She fostered me in a gypsy caravan when I was just a babe.”
“Details.” He waved a dismissive hand and more seawater sluiced over the deck, swirling about his feet. “We had an agreement. Will ye maintain your end, or would ye prefer to leave this flimsy piece of wood masquerading as a boat to the whims of the sea?”
“I see many more options than that,” Stewart cut in smoothly. “Ye surprised the lass when ye materialized below decks. She was flustered and dinna wish to put her own needs above those of the rest of us traveling with her.”
Manandan nodded knowingly. “Indeed. All good and salient reasons for her to leave with me now. I’ll instruct the sea to see you safely across to Scotland as I promised.”
“Did you talk with my mother? With Rhiannon?” Yara asked.
“When would I have had a chance to do that?” he countered. “I’ve been here, holding the storm at bay.” He tossed his head. “Keeping my end of the bargain.”
Stewart clacked his jaws together and jumped in with both feet. “Ye just contradicted yourself.”
Manandan transferred his unnerving black eyes to Stewart. “I should kill you for that impertinence.”
“Hear me out, then decide.” Stewart squared his shoulders. “First, ye said ye could instruct the sea to guide us safely across, implying ye dinna have to be here overseeing things. Next, ye announced ye’d been holding the storm at bay. Ye canna have it both ways. Either your presence is essential. Or ’tis not.”
“Your point, Druid?” Manandan skinned his lips back from his teeth, looking annoyed.
At least he hasna called down lightning to smote me. Yet.
“My point was this.” Stewart plunged ahead. If he stopped to organize what came out of his mouth, his courage might fail. “Ye dinna believe aught stood betwixt ye and yon lass, so ye werena in any rush to leave. Your behind-the-scenes motive was to make certain the ship made port with her aboard. Now that ye recognize I have a claim where she’s concerned, ye’re anxious to spirit her away regardless of whether the ship founders.”
“I would hear from her whether she sees herself as yours.” The sea god shoved past Stewart and stood nose to nose with Yara. “I take what I want, lass, but ye agreed to—”
“I asked a question,” she broke in. “I never said yes to anything. You left too soon.”
Stewart winced. She’d interrupted a god, and that wouldn’t end well.
“We had an understanding,” Manandan shouted. “Ye asked what I wanted when I turned down your offer of gold. Since my request was well within your ability to acquiesce, of course I left.”
“I asked a question,” Yara persisted. “You never used the words mistress or marry or have sex with. From where I’m sitting, your meaning was vague. For all I knew, you were planning to shanghai me to be your housekeeper.”
Stewart bit back an inane desire to laugh. Clearly not cowed by the god, Yara was brave and resourceful, countering his opinions with reason. Stewart wanted to hug her, but there wasn’t much point in making Manandan even angrier.
“Housekeeper?” His voice rose. “Housekeeper? I’m a god, woman. Magic accomplishes such tasks.”
Yara shrugged. “Since I wasn’t raised by Rhiannon, all I understand is life in Romani caravans—or by myself after the Dutch government made it a crime to be a gypsy.” She crossed her arms beneath her breasts and stood as straight as she could manage on the pitching deck.
A crafty look crossed Manandan’s craggy features. “Ye’ve had little enough of ease in your life, lassie. I could make up for the hard times. Ye’d never want for aught.”
“It takes more than that to make someone happy. I may be Rhiannon’s child, but until less than a day ago, I viewed myself as human.”
“I know what women like. Come with me. I have a lovely corner room in mind just for you. It looks down on gardens such as ye’ve never laid eyes on afore. Flowers grow that bloom only in the Otherworld. Ye’d have servants to tend to your every need.”
Stewart both saw and felt compulsion weave itself with the sea god’s offer. He fisted his hands, wanting to drive them through Manandan’s handsome face.
A closed-off look etched into Yara’s features, and she tilted her chin at a defiant angle. “Sorry. God or no, I’m not for sale.”
“I tried to do this nicely,” Manandan snarled. “Let’s see if a year or two in the dungeons doesna improve your attitude. I can afford to wait ye out.” The sea crashed over a railing and formed a glittering nimbus circling him and Yara. Brightness grew around the two, edging upward.
Stewart pulled power like a madman. He had to intervene before the god’s spell reached its zenith. When that happened, he’d disappear and take Yara with him.
“Let us help.” Jamal and Elliott closed on either side of him, weaving their shifter magic with his. It was a more potent blend than Stewart would have guessed. Power flared around them in a mixture of blues, greens, and browns, and the scents of their combined power gave him hope all wasn’t lost.
“Yara! Break free while ye still can,” Stewart exhorted.
Rather than answer, she extended her arms. Lightning bolts crackled from her fingertips. The wind turned her flame-colored hair into a twisting mass that took one bird form after the next.
Was it conscious? Either she was channeling her mother, or Rhiannon was on her way. Stewart upped his link with the two shifters and focused more power to break through the pulsing maelstrom of seawater surrounding Manandan and Yara. Even if Rhiannon were racing to her daughter’s side, she might arrive too late.
As if drawn by the avian tableau playing itself out in Yara’s long hair, Meara flew between the god and Yara, cawing fiercely. Stewart felt like cheering, but his spell required all his attention. Surely, the god couldn’t stand against all of them.
He doesna have to. All he needs to do is create enough of a power vacuum to spirit himself and Yara out of here.
Aye, and once he’s gone, we shall feel the full brunt of his resentment.
No help for that last. Once Yara was safely beyond the god’s reach, Stewart wanted him well and truly gone. He’d faced rough seas before, and he could do it again. The boat was solidly built. It would see them safe to port—with an assist from everyone’s combined magic.
I have yet to lose a ship. This willna be the first.
Manandan shot a blast of blue-tinged power at the vulture shifter, but she evaded him easily with a tilt of her extended wings. Yara took advantage of the momentary break in the god’s attention to fashion an opening in the pulsing water. Once she slithered through, she dropped back until a few feet separated her from Manandan.
He roared his displeasure. A vortex crafted from seawater swished outward from where he stood, enveloping Yara. She fought against it, power spewing from her as she tried to break the god’s grip.
Meara went on full attack mode, flying right at the god with her beak angled to take out one of his eyes. Just when she got close, she smacked up against something Stewart couldn’t see.
Must be the god’s warding. Shit! How would they drill through that? He was holding his spell around Yara and defending himself without expending much visible effort at all.
Stewart focused his magic, combined with Jamal’s and Elliott’s, at various points in the cyclone around Yara, but couldn’t penetrate it. “I need more,” he cried. “Give me more.”
“There isn’t any more,” Elliott said, his tone grim as death. “We need to be smart about this. Water is the most potent of the elements, and it’s his strong point. The rest of us use earth and air.”
“Fire comes to my call,” Jamal panted, “but it’s less than useless against water.”
“We have to do something.” Stewart shouted to make himself heard above the howling wind and pounding sea.
Oblivious to the rest of them, Meara flew around Manandan’s head, getting in blows from her beak from time to time. How she determined where rents were in the god’s warding was beyond Stewart since the shielding around the god all looked the same to him.
At least Meara’s diversion kept the god’s net around Yara from reaching full velocity. Stewart stripped warding from himself and plunged toward Yara. Where the sea touched him, it burned so hot he imagined skin sloughing from his bones, but he kept going until he stood within the circle of water by Yara’s side.
“That was stupid,” she screeched, her face contorted into a rictus. “Now you’re trapped right along with me.”
Her lack of faith in him stung, but he pushed it aside. “I hold Jamal’s and Elliott’s magic in addition to my own. Join yours to the mix. Together, we can blast through the enchantment. Ye must believe we can do this, lass.”
Hope flared in her eyes, turning them deep violet, and the unique feel of her magic augured into him. He didn’t hesitate, just braided it with what lived within him, working as fast as he could.
The sea pushed against them now with the same hungry icy-heat that had burned him when he blasted through its barrier. “Earth trumps water,” he shouted. “Channel as much as ye can.”
“It’s my strongest element.” A feral expression made her look like something out of legends, otherworldly and fierce enough to bend fate to her will.
“On my count of three.” Stewart didn’t bother with telepathy. Meara was still keeping Manandan busy, and if this worked, things would happen fast.
“One. Two. Three.”
Magic scoured its way through him; he welcomed its cleansing path. Extreme power always did this, made him feel like he came within a hairsbreadth of dying and being reborn as something pure and innocent, yet ancient and wise at the same time.
The circle of seawater burst around them, turning into nothing more than foam racing across the tilting deck.
Stewart didn’t hesitate. He wrapped his arms around Yara and dragged her backward until they were behind Jamal and Elliott.
Manandan focused a gimlet gaze their way. “Ye think to stymie me with cheap parlor tricks? My sea will make certain this ship founders. I’m done with good deeds. And with faithless sluts who doona appreciate me.” He raised both arms over his head and began to chant in Gaelic.
Meara pecked his outstretched hands until blood flowed, but the god ignored her.
Magic with a different feel spilled around them, enveloping them in a multihued ball of light. Wind still howled and waves still roared, but the ship righted itself, no longer fighting the restless sea.
“What the hell is happening now?” Yara sputtered.
Stewart tightened his grip on her. “I might be mistaken, lass, but I believe your mother is about to make an appearance.”
Yara tried to evade his grasp. The air around her developed a reddish tinge as anger exploded from her. “I hate this,” she yelled. “I’m more than a goddamned pawn on a game board. You hear that, Mother?” She shook her fist skyward. “Take your fucking help and choke on it. I may have needed you once, but I don’t anymore.”
Shock ricocheted through Stewart. He opened his mouth to chide Yara for her disrespect, but silvery laughter cut through the howl of wind and the slap of waves.
A gateway pulsing with violet light formed next to Manandan, and Rhiannon stepped through. Long red hair, twin to her daughter’s, flowed to her feet. She was wrapped in lengths of silver and gold brocade, and an owl sat on each shoulder. A copper torc circled her throat, and rings with violet gemstones adorned the index fingers of both hands.
She turned her golden eyes on Yara. “Well met, daughter. ’Twould be a sad day, indeed, if ye suffered for want of a mother ye never knew.”
About the Author:
Ann Gimpel is a mountaineer at heart. Recently retired from a long career as a psychologist, she remembers many hours at her desk where her body may have been stuck inside four walls, but her soul was planning yet one more trip to the backcountry. Around the turn of the last century (that would be 2000, not 1900!), she managed to finagle moving to the Eastern Sierra, a mecca for those in love with the mountains. It was during long backcountry treks that Ann’s writing evolved. Unlike some who see the backcountry as an excuse to drag friends and relatives along, Ann prefers solitude. Stories always ran around in her head on those journeys, sometimes as a hedge against abject terror when challenging conditions made her fear for her life, sometimes for company. Eventually, she returned from a trip and sat down at the computer. Three months later, a five hundred page novel emerged. Oh, it wasn’t very good, but it was a beginning. And, she learned a lot between writing that novel and its sequel.
Around that time, a friend of hers suggested she try her hand at short stories. It didn’t take long before that first story found its way into print and they’ve been accepted pretty regularly since then. One of Ann’s passions has always been ecology, so her tales often have a green twist.
In addition to writing, Ann enjoys wilderness photography. She lugs pounds of camera equipment in her backpack to distant locales every year. A standing joke is that over ten percent of her pack weight is camera gear which means someone else has to carry the food! That someone is her husband. They’ve shared a life together for a very long time. Children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out their family.
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