Guest Post: The Shadow of Your Love | Pat Elliott

08:00 Daniel Riding 1 Comments

Hello my wonderful fellow book nerds, I have a wonderful guest post for you today. As many of you may know I love creativity is its many forms and love to paint, knit, and create as well as write. I have been very fortunate to have met a wonderful lady who has gifted me with many a kind word but also tons of encouragement and support which she will never know how immensely grateful I am. But enough about me, let me hand you over to the lovely lady herself, Pat Elliott.

Guest Post:

Hello Daniel, 

Thank you for inviting me to your blog. 

For your readers who've not met me before, my name is Pat Elliott– I'm a reflexologist, a painter and a writer.
I became interested in reflexology after my husband had a back injury and conventional medicine wasn't helping him recover. When I started my own full time business as a reflexologist, nearly 20 years ago, I needed something to fill the hours when I wasn't working, until I'd built my business up. That's when I started classes in watercolour painting. Once I felt comfortable with watercolours, I took a couple of courses in creative writing. The first was on writing short stories.
Now when I paint, the paintings inspire my writing.
I'll give you a 'for instance'

Here is a painting called 'The Shadow of Your Love'


and here is the story it inspired:

The Shadow of Your Love

The painting arrived today. The beautiful white rose, with the hint of blue, whenever the light captures it in a certain way. The artist has done a great job, she has captured the nuances of light, the nuances of our love. I've hung it in the lounge, dearest, over the fireplace. When I look at it, I can see where you used to stand, leaning on the mantelpiece, telling me your dreams. I wish you could talk to me now.

Do you remember where we met? The art exhibition. Whoever decided to throw a party at the same time was the one responsible for our meeting. The free food and drink was the reason I went. It was a bonus to meet you. I came to learn that you had a dreamer's soul, that the food and drink were not an attraction for you. It was a painting that called to you. Standing in front of 'My Captain', you had such a faraway look in your eye. That's when I fell in love with you. I miss that look today.

I wonder what you would think of the rose? I think you'd like it. I think you would see the glories within. In the heart of the rose you would see the portal to another world. One where love and peace reign. A world you're now enjoying, whilst your presence is longed for here.

Do you remember the long walk by the side of the River Thames after we left the exhibition? We never felt the cold, we barely felt the rain, we were so happy and intoxicated with each other's presence. I miss your warmth now, my love.

You came back to my little house and you never left. You brought me roses every week, always roses and always white. You used to say to me that pretty ladies should always have pretty flowers. I wish you could bring me some now.

I never had to worry that you brought flowers because of some misdeed, some shortcoming. You brought them because you loved me. How I love you still.

Do you remember the dreams we shared? The way we planned to leave the city and the long discussions over countryside or seaside? I favoured the country and you, the sea. I thought the sea too cold, too bleak in the winter. The countryside was warmer. You said the sea was wild and romantic and suited us better. How we laughed. If you could hear laughter now, it would be hollow.

We were so proud when we sold my London house and bought a home by the sea. We furnished it with warm and bright colours so I'd never feel the cold. I never did whilst you were with me, darling. I feel it now.

How we danced at the New Year party, how the locals took us both to heart. Mainly because of you, my love, because of your love for the sea. They found you work on a fishing boat, oh how proud you were! I remembered the dreams in London, the day of the exhibition. I knew you would be the happiest man alive if you could be Captain of your own boat. You worked and worked, so did I and we'd dream of your boat and save for it. Yet still you brought me roses. We got there though, didn't we, love? We bought that boat after seven years and the pride we had, to see you, Captain.

How you loved to sail the sea, how you loved to fish. I loved seeing you so happy. How I wish I could see you now. Do you remember how I used to put a light in the window every time you went night fishing? How you used to laugh at me following that old tradition and tell me I was a real Captain's wife? There's a light burning now in the window, my love, but one you will see no more.

I remember the day you set out, so clearly, the way you came home early, saying you felt not quite right. You sat in my chair gazing out to the sea you adored, as much as you adored me - and gently slipped from this world. Seventy five years on this earth was too short, my love, especially when we only shared fifty of them.

I know you're sailing a different sea now, and when I look into the centre of that rose, I see the sky you're sailing under. When I see the many shadows on the white rose, I see the many ways you loved me. How could that artist know? How could she name it 'The Shadow of Your Love'? How could she paint it white by painting blue? For blue is how I feel without you. I stand in the shadow of your love, I see the opening to another world and peace comes upon me. We will be together again, my love.

*****

For a little extra bonus on the painting front – here's the painting 'My Captain'


*****

My website is here: http://www.patelliott.co.uk/

You will find links to my paintings and to my writing.
I've written two full length novels and am currently writing a third.
I've also written a little volume of short stories, so if you like the one above, there are more!

If you want to follow me on Twitter – my handle is @feetpaintwords

Thanks for hosting me, Daniel – it's been great fun!

1 comments:

Book Blitz: Banish | Nicola Marsh

08:30 Daniel Riding 0 Comments


Release Date: 05/26/15
264 pages

Summary from Goodreads:
Alyssa has one week to destroy her enemy, save her spirit... and save her soul.

After her ex-boyfriend commits suicide and her mum’s alcoholism sparks yet another psychotic episode, seventeen-year-old Alyssa Wood flees her small hometown of Broadwater and heads to New York City to stay with her bohemian aunt — a Wicca High Priestess.

Alyssa revels in the anonymity of a big city and her new life. Her grades climb, she has a new best friend, and a new guy: the sexy geek Ronan — a saxophone player who prefers jazz to pop.

But her newfound peace is soon shattered when she sees a dead body in one of Ronan’s music clips — and she’s the only one who can see it. Worse still, Alyssa recognises the body that has been murdered a week forward!

Alyssa doesn’t believe in the supernatural...despite her family’s Wicca background. So how will she overcome evil when it’s closer than she thinks? 

EXCERPT


Curious, I shifted closer to the screen. The shot narrowed and swiveled lower, moving past a bucket chair in a dingy corner, grazing across pockmarked floorboards, before landing on a hand painted wooden trunk in the middle of the floor.
I squinted, making out some kind of Chinese carving of two ladies posing in front of a jade screen, with a whole bunch of letters etched around the edges. It jarred, surprisingly exotic and out of place with what I’d seen of Ronan’s recording studio in the clip so far.
The camera swept upwards, showing a stainless steel oblong calendar, a chrome lamp, a pale blue porcelain bowl filled with Tibetan prayer beads and a leather-bound journal perched on top of the trunk. Odd, I’d never picked Roman as the prayer type. As the shot swung wider I glimpsed two pillows propped behind the trunk on the floor and, as the camera panned, someone sleeping on their side.
A girl. With bad taste in clothes, going by her faded camouflage harem pants and splotchy crimson halter and purple sneakers.
Annoyed at the instant flare of jealousy, I closed my eyes for a second and rubbed them. Ronan seemed like a stand-up guy. He wouldn’t have asked me out if he had a girl- friend—one with shocking fashion sense who liked to take naps on the floor.
Taking a calming breath, I opened my eyes and refocused. On that ugly red halter-top. And how the splotches seemed to have seeped into the girl’s skin, tattooing her in a random gross pattern.
My breath quickened as I leaned so far forward my nose almost touched the screen. The crimson darkened in patches. At odds with any commercial dye job.
That’s when I saw it.
The deep red pool spreading beneath her torso and staining the floor.
The puckering of her skin beneath her arm.
The gaping gash as the arm fell forward, revealing a horrific crisscross pattern of slashes.
One-second time frames depicting a horror I couldn’t contemplate.
I stared at the screen in revulsion, transfixed, not daring to comprehend.
The camera panned back to the calendar: November 11.
Seven days from today.
A whole week leading up to the murder of a faceless girl.
Slain on my boyfriend’s floor.
A silent scream wedged in my throat, choking, struggling to get out. I shut down the clip with shaky fingers.
This couldn’t be real.
Unless...
I almost wished the horror I’d glimpsed on that screen was real, for if it wasn’t then I had a far greater horror to face.
The possibility I’d imagined the entire episode.
Just like Mom.

Buy Links:

Novella:
(Currently FREE!)

About the Author

USA TODAY bestselling author and multi-award winner Nicola Marsh writes flirty fiction with flair for adults and riveting, spooky stories for teens.
She has published 54 contemporary romances with Harlequin, Entangled Publishing and indie, and sold over 6 million copies worldwide. Her first mainstream romance BUSTED IN BOLLYWOOD was nominated for Romantic Book of the Year 2012. Her first indie romance, CRAZY LOVE, was a 2012 ARRA finalist.
Her YA urban fantasy SCION OF THE SUN won the 2014 National Readers’ Choice Award for Best Young Adult novel.
She’s also a Waldenbooks, Bookscan and Barnes & Noble bestseller, a 2013 RBY (Romantic Book of the Year) and National Readers’ Choice Award winner, and a multi-finalist for a number of awards including the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, Booksellers’ Best, Golden Quill, Laurel Wreath, More than Magic and has also won several CataRomance Reviewers’ Choice Awards.

A physiotherapist for thirteen years, she now adores writing full time, raising her two little heroes, sharing fine food with family and friends, and her favorite, curling up with a good book!

Author Links:
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Inkslinger Cover Reveal: Dare To Run | Jen McLaughlin

09:00 Daniel Riding 0 Comments

dare to run comps_final.indd

Today we are celebrating the release of the DARE TO RUN cover! DARE TO RUN is a gritty, super sexy, adult title coming out on February 2, 2016 from Jen McLaughlin and published by Penguin (NAL Signet). To celebrate, we are having a scavenger hunt! There are 8 clues scattered around groups of bloggers hosting this feature. All you have to do is find all 8 clues and figure out the scrambled word.

To make it easy for you, we will tell you where you can find Clue #1. 


In order to find the groups of bloggers posting, go to Jen McLaughlin's blog and she will have the lists so you can check out each group and find the remaining 7 clues.

For this site, the clue is listed below, along with the rafflecopter.
DTR_SHunt_Clue3  
a Rafflecopter giveaway
 

DARE TO RUN Summary:

The New York times bestselling author of the Out of Line Novels takes readers to Boston where one gang of criminals knows how being bad can be so good…

She knows what he’s like on Boston’s mean streets. Now she’s going to find out if he’s got some heart.

Lucas Donahue is not ashamed of his criminal past, but after a brief stint in prison, he’s ready to go legit and live a normal life. The problem is, no one leaves the gang without permission—even if he is one of the boss’s top men. Plus someone’s placed a hit on him. And then there’s that feisty little bartender who’s going to cause him even more trouble.

Heidi Greene knows to keep her distance from a ladies’ man like Lucas—even if she can’t keep her eyes off him. When he rescues her from an attack in the alley outside her bar, she’s forced to stay by his side for safety. But the longer she spends time with him, the greater her chances are for getting hurt in more ways than one.

 
PRE-ORDER THE BOOK NOW
 
AUTHOR INFORMATION:
JenM
Jen McLaughlin is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of sexy New Adult books. Under her pen name Diane Alberts, she is a multi-published, bestselling author of Contemporary Romance with Entangled Publishing. Her first release as Jen McLaughlin, Out of Line, released September 6 2013, and hit the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal lists. She was mentioned in Forbes alongside E. L. James as one of the breakout independent authors to dominate the bestselling lists. She is represented by Louise Fury at The Bent Agency. Though she lives in the mountains, she really wishes she was surrounded by a hot, sunny beach with crystal-clear water. Though she lives in the mountains, she really wishes she was surrounded by a hot, sunny beach with crystal-clear water. She lives in Northeast Pennsylvania with her four kids, a husband, a schnauzer mutt, and a cat. Her goal is to write so many well-crafted romance books that even a non-romance reader will know her name.

FIND HER HERE:

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Cover Reveal: Lust | Alyssa Rose Ivy

09:00 Daniel Riding 0 Comments

I am so excited for this Cover Reveal (and the book!) for Alyssa Rose Ivy's LUST!! LUST is a New Adult Paranormal Romance releasing July 16, 2015 and the second novel in her The Allure Chronicles Series!

 
LUST - cover

Cover design and photography by Mae I Design.

Add LUST on Goodreads!

Lust (The Allure Chronicles #2)

After years of searching Daisy and Owen have finally found each other, only to face the threat of being forced apart. If they are unable to stop Daisy from becoming an Allure, she will forever lose the ability to love.

Desperate to stop the change before time runs out, they must decide what price they are willing to pay to save their love.

  And don't miss LURE, the first book in The Allure Chronicles and SEDUCTION'S KISS, a prequel novella: 
    LURE

Amazon * Nook *  iBooks * Kobo * Google Play * Smashwords

About LURE: There's danger in the beauty... Two years, six months, and twenty-five days. That's how long it had been since I'd seen my winged hero— not that I'd been counting. I'd suffered through years of counseling just to convince my friends and family that I wasn't crazy and knew he didn't exist. But he did. And I was done waiting. Days after college graduation I headed back down to New Orleans to retrace my steps and find Owen again only to find my life was about to get even crazier... thanks to the most beautiful and dangerous of all paranormal creatures, the Allures.   Seductions Kiss

Amazon * Nook * iBooks * Kobo * Google Play Smashwords

About SEDUCTION’S KISS: *Prequel novella to Lure (The Allure Chronicles #1)* Never agree to a road trip to New Orleans with your roommate. At least not when your roommate is dragging you along while she reconnects with an ex-boyfriend. Possible consequences of failing to take my advice: 1) Unknowingly going out with a vampire stripper 2) Getting kidnapped by said vampire's nest mates 3) Falling head over heels for your winged hero Believe it or not number 3 is the worst one, especially when no one believes you that he exists.  
 Alyssa Rose Ivy- Author Photo 
Alyssa Rose Ivy Bio: Alyssa Rose Ivy is a New Adult and Young Adult author who loves to weave stories with romance and a southern setting. Although raised in the New York area, she fell in love with the South after moving to New Orleans for college. After years as a perpetual student, she turned back to her creative side and decided to write. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and two young children, and she can usually be found with a cup of coffee in her hand.        

Twitter ** Author Goodreads ** Pinterest ** Website ** SEDUCTION'S KISS Goodreads ** LURE Goodreads ** LUST Goodreads ** Facebook

 
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YA Bound Cover Reveal: Forget Tomorrow | Pintip Dunn

08:30 Daniel Riding 0 Comments

Forget Tomorrow
Release Date: 11/03/15
Entangled Teen

Summary from Goodreads:
Imagine a world where your destiny has already been decided...by your future self.

It's Callie’s seventeenth birthday and, like everyone else, she's eagerly awaiting her vision―a memory sent back in time to sculpt each citizen into the person they're meant to be. A world-class swimmer. A renowned scientist.

Or in Callie's case, a criminal.

In her vision, she sees herself murdering her beloved -- and gifted --  younger sister. Before she can process what it means, Callie is arrested, treated viciously, and placed in Limbo―a prison for those destined to break the law. With the help of her childhood crush, Logan, a boy she hasn’t spoken to in five years, she escapes this hellish prison.


But on the run from her future, as well as the government, Callie sets in motion a chain of events that she hopes will change her fate. If not, she must figure out how to protect her sister from the biggest threat of all—Callie, herself. 


Pre-Order Links:

About the Author
When my first-grade teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I replied, “An author.” Although I have pursued other interests over the years, this dream has never wavered.
I graduated from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with an A.B. in English Literature and Language. I received my J.D. at Yale Law School, where I was an editor of the YALE LAW JOURNAL. I published an article in the YALE LAW JOURNAL, entitled, “How Judges Overrule: Speech Act Theory and the Doctrine of Stare Decisis,” and received the Barry S. Kaplan Prize for best paper in Law and Literature.
I am represented by literary agent Beth Miller of Writers House. I'm a 2012 Golden Heart® finalist and a 2014 double-finalist. I'm a member of Romance Writers ofAmericaWashingtonRomance WritersYARWA, and The GoldenNetwork.

I live with my husband and children in Maryland.

Author Links:
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Book Blitz: Granted Wishes | Tanya Vought

08:30 Daniel Riding 1 Comments

330_0.975499001432482036_grantedwishespromo
"Granted Wishes", a contemporary romance by author Tanya Vought, is only $0.99 from May 29 to May 31.

About the Book

23841112 
Title: Granted Wishes
Author: Tanya Vought
Genre: Contemporary Romance

A decision that will change her life forever.
After the loss of her husband, Gracelynn Calhoun has struggled with her life and career. Forced to take a four week vacation or be fired from her job, she surprises everyone including herself and agrees to the vacation.
The owner of Antonetti Suites, Giovanni works hard and doesn’t have time for relationships or love. That is until he literally crashes into Gracelynn. She brings back all the feelings he thought he would never feel again.
With the odds stacked against them in every way possible, will they forge ahead together or will this be the end of the road for their new found love? Will the whispers from above bring them together or will misunderstandings ruin what could be an amazing second chance at love?
Buy from Amazon.

Reviews

"Beautifully written story that has you feeling you are part of the story. Makes you feel every emotion the wonderful characters are experiencing and keeps you wanting more!! I too am a hopeless romantic and this book had me laughing, crying and feeling hopeful that true love does still exist!!! I can't wait for the next release in the series!!!"

"Granted wishes is a magical story of love lost and new beginnings."

"Gracelyn and Giovanni story was so beautifully written that it captured my heart. This story has everything fate, faith, love, loss, grief, letting go, finding yourself, second chances, miracles, and soul mates. Get your Kleenex box handy as there are some tear jerking moments."

"Brew up a cuppa, curl up in soft armchair and prepare to be entertained."

"he premise of this book was an incredible tale of immeasurably and everlasting love, despite the fact that many would scoff at the possibility."

About the Author

Tanya Vought is a hopeless romantic. She loves reading, writing, singing and doing crafts with her children. What started as a lifelong dream became reality. She’s overjoyed that readers will get to read her debut, Granted Wishes. She loves her characters sexy and sassy. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two amazing and imaginative children.
Visit her website.

1 comments:

M9B Friday Reveal: Chapter One - Serpentine | Cindy Pon

08:00 Daniel Riding 0 Comments

M9B-Friday-Reveal
Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!
This week, we are revealing chapter one of
Serpentine by Cindy Pon
presented byMonth9Books!

Stay tuned for news on special brush painting card by Cindy with
Serpentine pre-order through Mysterious Galaxy in June!
 
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!
SerpentineEbook
SERPENTINE is a sweeping fantasy set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology.
Lush with details from Chinese folklore, SERPENTINE tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell.
When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time.
Vivid worldbuilding, incendiary romance, heart-pounding action, and characters that will win you over–I highly recommend Serpentine.Cinda Williams Chima, best-selling author of the Seven Realms and Heir Chronicles fantasy novels
Serpentine is unique and surprising, with a beautifully-drawn fantasy world that sucked me right in! I love Skybright’s transformative power, and how she learns to take charge of it.” ~Kristin Cashore, NYT Bestseller of the Graceling Realm Series
Serpentine’s world oozes with lush details and rich lore, and the characters crackle with life. This is one story that you’ll want to lose yourself in.” ~ Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of Legend and The Young Elites
add to goodreads
Title: Serpentine
Publication date: September 8, 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Cindy Pon
Pre-order Links:
excerpt

Chapter 1
The mountain was still shrouded in mist.
Skybright felt its cold tendrils against her nape as she climbed the giant cypress tree. She could almost believe she was in the heavens and the immortals themselves lived beyond the high monastery walls. A strange quiet had settled over Tian Kuan mountain, as if the mist had turned into something solid, blanketing their surroundings in silence. Skybright loved mornings like these. She scooted further up the thick gnarled branch, clinging with her legs, not daring to look down. Rough bark scraped her palms, and she held her breath as she grabbed a branch above her with both hands and eased herself onto her feet, crouching low, like a cat about to spring. She glimpsed the far edge of a square; dense fog hovered just above the green stone tiles of curved rooflines.
Zhen Ni gasped from below.
Skybright glanced down at her mistress. Zhen Ni’s pale face was turned upward, her eyes wide. Skybright quickly looked away and gulped. She had never been this high up before--if she fell she’d surely break her neck.
“Take care,” her mistress said.
Take care! Zhen Ni was the one who had concocted this mad plan to begin with, convincing Skybright the monastery wall truly wasn’t that high, and that she could climb the cypress tree with ease. Curiosity was her mistress’s weakness, and she simply had to know what went on within the monastery, behind its grand facade. Of course, Skybright would have to do the climbing. She couldn’t glare at her mistress, as it meant risking a glance downward again. Instead, Skybright rose slowly, willing her legs to keep steady, until she finally stood, her cloth shoes digging into the wood. She hugged the higher branch to her chest and murmured a prayer to the Goddess of Mercy.
Standing, she had a full view of the immense square hidden behind the walls, flanked by two red rectangular temples. A pair of fierce stone lions guarded each temple, and tall cypress trees dotted the edges of the square. Hundreds of monks, dressed in slate blue sleeveless tunics and trousers, sat cross-legged on the gray stone floor. While Zhen Ni and Skybright had been ascending the mountain, the monks’ strong voices had reverberated across the tall peak, counting as they practiced their forms. Now, they were so still and silent that Skybright blinked, wondering if they were statues as well—or an illusion. Each monk’s head was closely shaved, and they sat with their elbows resting against their knees, exact replicas of one another.
Not even the wind stirred.
“What can you see?” Zhen Ni asked, her impatient voice too loud to be a whisper.
Skybright ignored her. She scanned the endless rows of monks, each offering a three-quarter profile, when her eyes rested on one that did not appear like the rest. His hair wasn’t shorn, but shoulder length, and tied back. His tunic and trousers were tan. He sat in the very back, near the edge. As if he sensed her watching, he tilted his chin until their eyes met across the great distance.
She froze, feeling caught. And in those few quick moments, his gaze swept across her, seeming to take in every detail, before he turned his head back toward the magnificent temples, his expression never changing. Heart thudding, Skybright maneuvered until she was straddling the branch again, then scrambled as fast as she could down the giant cypress.
Her legs trembled when she finally reached the ground.
“Well, what did you see?” Zhen Ni tugged at her sleeve, her face shining with curiosity.
“Monks. So many of them.” She began walking back toward town, not waiting for her mistress as proper decorum dictated.
Surprised, Zhen Ni picked up her skirt so she wouldn’t trip on the embroidered hem and followed. “Could you see their faces?”
She shook her head, even as she recalled the slender eyes of the boy who had seen her. “They were meditating.”
The two girls hurried now through the trees. The fog had begun to lift, allowing glimmers of sunlight, and the earth was soft and damp beneath their feet. Skybright and Zhen Ni clasped hands and ran—they would be in trouble if their absence were noticed.

Skybright brought a late morning meal of rice porridge to Zhen Ni’s spacious reception hall and dined with her mistress. The two girls were now draped across Zhen Ni’s expansive bed, playing a game of Go. Her mistress was the better player, yet Skybright still had to keep an eye on the game, to be sure she never won by chance or from carelessness on Zhen Ni’s part. The last time she had won, Zhen Ni had pounded the bed so hard with her fists, the black and white stones scattered and bounced to the floor. Skybright never did find all of the pieces.
Morning light filled the bedchamber through lattice windows cast wide open. The walls were papered in the palest green, and Zhen Ni had decorated them with several magnificent lotus paintings—her favorite flower. Despite the open windows, the bedchamber was warm, and Skybright felt her chin dip, her lids growing heavy. Zhen Ni gave a languid yawn and stretched like a cat onto her side, leaning her head against her arm. A sharp tap on the reception hall’s door startled both girls. Skybright jumped from the tall platform bed as Zhen Ni swung her legs down the side, patting the gold ornaments woven in her hair.
“Your mother’s bringing a guest to visit, mistress,” Rose, another handmaid, said from outside.
“Now?” Zhen Ni asked as Skybright smoothed her mistress’s peach tunic and skirt.
“She’s on her way, mistress,” replied Rose’s muffled voice.
Zhen Ni sighed and gave Skybright an exasperated look before saying, “Thank you, Rose.”
Lady Yuan entered the quarters soon after, trailed by a woman in her forties, but dressed much more plainly, with her hair pulled into a tight bun. If Lady Yuan was an iridescent king fisher, then this woman clad in brown and gray was a dull hen. Yet there was a keen sharpness to the woman’s eyes as she took in the opulent reception hall, decorated in pale gold and pink, before her gaze glided to Zhen Ni’s face.
“I’ve brought a special surprise for you today, Daughter. Madame Lo is the best-regarded seer of our time. We’re fortunate to have her visiting so far from the Capital.” Lady Yuan smiled at both girls, her excitement obvious. She had grown plumper in these past few years; it had softened her features and rounded her chin.
Madame Lo inclined her head. “You honor me, Lady Yuan. It’s been too long since I’ve visited the mountains. I consider it a retreat.”
Zhen Ni bowed to the woman. “The honor is mine.” A flush colored her cheeks as she turned to her mother. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I wasn’t certain if Madame Lo could make it until she actually arrived at our door,” Lady Yuan said.
Zhen Ni swept an arm toward the curved-back chairs. “Please sit.”
“You’ve not yet started your monthly letting,” the seer stated, and everyone froze as if she had picked up a vase and smashed it to the floor.
“Mother?” Zhen Ni’s voice was barely a whisper.
Lady Yuan sat down, arranging her silk skirt with nervous fingers.
“Dear girl, the fact that you’ve not reached womanhood shines as bright on your face as the moon in full bloom. I’m a seer, after all.” Instead of following her hostess’ lead and sitting, Madame Lo stood before them and scrutinized Zhen Ni. Despite her plain dress, two stunning jade bracelets encircled the fortuneteller’s fine-boned wrist. One in a clear crisp green, and the other a deep lavender, both wrought with delicate gold details. They flashed and gleamed under the bright lantern lights, mesmerizing Skybright. Madame Lo lifted a hand to her chin, and her dark, piercing eyes slid to Skybright’s own face for a breath before she said, “But don’t fret, Mistress Yuan, your monthly letting will start soon enough.”
A chill slithered down Skybright’s spine when her eyes had met the seer’s, and she retreated a step to leave when Zhen Ni grabbed her hand and pulled her to the plush chair beside her own. “So, Madame Lo, how do you tell your fortunes?” Her mistress wore a faint smile, but Skybright heard the hesitancy in her voice.
The seer gathered her brown skirt and finally seated herself. “I use your birth date and time, and study your facial features as well.”
Zhen Ni ducked her head, staring at her folded hands. “I see,” she murmured.
“Tell us what you’ve divined,” Lady Yuan said, turning to the other woman across the enameled table. “Will she have a good husband? And many children?”
Zhen Ni caught her lower lip between her teeth, something she did when she was anxious. The familiar clatter of china against lacquered trays, a pleasant sound, carried from the covered corridor outside, along with the barely perceptible whisper of slippered feet. Rose entered, followed by another handmaid, Oriole, who set small dishes of lychees and sweets on the tables beside them. The delicate aroma of jasmine tea filled the reception hall. Pouring the brew into celadon cups, Rose then offered one to each of the women with both hands. Her dark eyes flickered to Lady Yuan, and the lady gave the barest nod before Rose gave a steaming cup to Skybright as well.
The two handmaids then slipped out, after bowing their heads.
They took time to sip their tea, quiet for a long moment, before Zhen Ni, with a raised chin, finally met Madame Lo’s knowing eyes and asked, “Will I fall in love?”
“Love!” Lady Yuan cut in. “Love comes later, Daughter.”
“When did you fall in love with Father?” Zhen Ni plucked at the delicate beading on her sleeve edge.
“Not until ten years after we were wed,” Lady Yuan said. “Love takes time.” She nodded at Zhen Ni, as if in encouragement. But Zhen Ni wouldn’t look at her mother.
“I’ve composed and read her star chart according to her birth date and time. And what they tell me confirms what I see in your features, Mistress Yuan.”
They all leaned forward while the seer pressed the tips of her long fingers together, her wide mouth drawn tense. Skybright wondered if the pause was for theatrics. But when Madame Lo spoke, it was with such care and authority that the thought disappeared from her mind.
“You’re a willful girl.”
Zhen Ni crossed her arms and reclined into the cushion. Skybright struggled to keep her face straight.
“This will pose challenges for you. Cause grief for you and your family. The shape and set of your chin only emphasize what your star chart indicates. You will love. Truly and deeply. The slight tilt of your eyes, the sheen to them, say as much. You’re a romantic, and sensual—see the shape of your upper lip, and the curve of your lower. You will suffer heartache.”
Zhen Ni’s dark brows had drawn together, and she gripped her hands so tightly that the nails bit into her skin.
Madame Lo rose from her seat. She was a slight woman and moved with an assurance that lent her grace. Her brown tunic and skirt were loose and edged with gray, worn only for function. Skybright tried to imagine the woman in turquoise or lavender—any bright color—but was unable. The seer didn’t need any extravagance but the glittering bracelets at her wrist, and the sharp light of her dark eyes. Madame Lo kneeled beside Zhen Ni’s chair and extended a hand to her face. Her mistress shrank from the older woman, as if her fingertips were barbed.
“Her ears are beautifully shaped. See how thick the lobes are? This coupled with the wideness of her nose all point to her fortune in having been born into such an illustrious family. You’ll find a very wealthy husband for her to marry, Lady Yuan.” Madame Lo stood and returned to her chair, before taking another sip of tea. “She’ll have at least two children. More, I cannot say.”
“Will she marry an eldest son?” Lady Yuan asked. “Will she bear a boy herself?”
“I fear I have nothing more specific, Lady Yuan.”
Zhen Ni had not relaxed beside her, but was still sitting rigid as a bamboo stalk, and leaning toward Skybright as if for shelter. “How can I marry well yet suffer heartache?” asked Zhen Ni.
“One does not exclude the other,” said the seer.
“We all suffer from the pangs of love at least once in our lives, Daughter. It’s nothing to worry over. The important thing is that you’ll marry well and have children!” Lady Yuan smiled, her face glowing with pleasure.
“I think I’ve heard enough, Madame Lo,” Zhen Ni said briskly, and her mother cleared her throat before taking a sip of tea. Zhen Ni blushed. “You honor me with a personal reading.”
“It was a pleasure,” Madame Lo replied. “I hope it has helped to ease your mother’s mind.”
“My gratitude, Madame Lo,” said Lady Yuan.
Skybright eyed the ginger candy on a plate beside her. It was Zhen Ni’s favorite, but she hadn’t touched any of the sweets since they had been brought. Skybright would have liked some lychees, but decorum didn’t allow her to eat until everyone else had taken something for herself first. Instead, she stood and refilled the teacups. The fragrant scent of jasmine rose with the steam.
“What about a reading for Skybright?” Zhen Ni asked after a long pause.
Skybright almost exclaimed aloud, but bit her tongue.
“Skybright? Of course.” Lady Yuan said. “But what’s there to tell?”
Madame Lo turned her attention to Skybright fully for the first time, and Skybright sank deeper into her seat, feeling exposed. “I would need her birth date and time. A star chart takes at least three days to prepare.”
“We don’t know when Skybright was born, exactly,” Zhen Ni said.
Madame Lo studied her face as if she were a painting. Skybright willed herself to keep her head raised. “You’re Zhen Ni’s handmaid?”
“Yes. And my companion since we were babes.”
“Let the girl speak for herself,” the seer said.
All three looked to Skybright, and she swallowed, feeling the heat rise to her cheeks. She wasn’t used to being noticed, much less being the center of attention. “I’m an orphan.”
“I see,” Madame Lo replied. “And you were taken in by the Yuans?”
“She was left on our doorstep in a basket--”
“She wasn’t more than a few days’ old--”
Lady Yuan and Zhen Ni spoke over each other but both stopped abruptly when Madame Lo slapped her palm against the carved armrest. Lady Yuan jolted in her chair and Zhen Ni attempted to appear contrite.
“It’s as they say, Madame Lo,” Skybright said. “I know nothing more beyond that.”
The seer beckoned with a curl of her fingers. “Come here, girl.”
Skybright rose and stood before Madame Lo, feeling the damp of her palms. She had spent very little time wondering about her past, her parents, where she came from. It seemed pointless and impractical. Her life was full with daily responsibilities and rituals, with being a handmaid and companion to Zhen Ni. Now, this stranger might tell her more about her future or her past—probably useless or false knowledge, as far as Skybright was concerned. If she had a family, if her parents were still alive and wanted her, wouldn’t they have come back for her by now?
“Kneel,” Madame Lo said.
Skybright lowered herself onto the cold stone floor. The seer took her chin in one hand, turning her face this way and that, as a merchant would study cattle before purchasing. Skybright held her arms still at her sides, her hands fisted.
“There’s an unusual symmetry to your face.” Madame Lo tilted Skybright’s head to examine her ears. “Your features reveal little to me.” Skybright wanted to jerk away, but steadied herself. “She’s no classic beauty,” Madame Lo went on, speaking to Zhen Ni and Lady Yuan directly. “See how the mouth is too full, the eyes set slightly far apart. The nose is narrow, the bridge too tall—there is no wealth there. No fortune. Yet the face as a whole—”
“I’ve always thought Skybright quite pretty,” Zhen Ni said.
“Yes. Not a classic beauty, but the features come together to create something quite alluring. Almost unearthly.”
“But this tells us so little, Madame Lo,” Lady Yuan said, choosing a candied persimmon from the tray.
“Will she meet a good man?” Zhen Ni asked.
“Daughter!” Lady Yuan reprimanded.
Because they all knew Skybright would be a handmaid to Zhen Ni for life, and never marry.
“She could take a lover,” Zhen Ni retorted.
Skybright bowed her head, and Madame Lo patted her hot cheek, as if in sympathy. Then the seer’s grip tightened, her long nails digging into Skybright’s face, and Skybright gasped in surprise and pain. Grimacing, Madame Lo dropped her hand, then pressed her knuckles against her eyes. “I’m sorry, Skybright,” she murmured. “This has never happened to me before.”
The seer’s complexion had turned ashen, and Skybright could see she was unsettled. Alarmed, she sensed that Madame Lo was rarely fazed, much less showing it as she did now. She jumped to her feet, lifting the ceramic pot so she could pour the seer more tea.
“What’s the matter?” Lady Yuan exclaimed.
“When I touched Skybright, her image changed. It was as if her true self was veiled, and I was unable to see her clearly. I’ve never encountered the like before in any of my readings, and I’ve done hundreds.” Madame Lo reached for her teacup and took a long sip. Her hand trembled. The seer drew a breath before saying, “But she’s strong. That much comes across.”
Zhen Ni nibbled on a ginger candy and watched Skybright with interest. “Have you ever thought of yourself as alluring, Sky? As strong?”
“Never, mistress,” Skybright replied. Madame Lo’s revelations meant little to her—they were only frivolous nonsense.
“I can see it,” Zhen Ni said, her dark eyes gleaming as she nodded to the seer. “I never noticed before, but now I can see it.”

Zhen Ni fiddled with the jars and bottles on her vanity as Skybright brushed her black hair then plaited it, weaving luminous pearls into the single braid. Her mistress had been quiet since Madame Lo’s visit earlier in the day, her usually animated face appearing pensive for much of the afternoon. In an attempt to coax her into a better mood, Skybright had suggested a new hairstyle and outfit in time for Zhen Ni’s evening meal with her mother in the main hall. Her mistress had agreed with a distracted wave of her hand.
“Mama said a family friend’s daughter will be staying with us through the summer,” Zhen Ni said and began chewing on her nail. “She’s our age.”
Skybright swatted at her mistress’s hand.
The smile Zhen Ni gave her lacked its usual mischievousness. “I hate waiting. I wish it would never happen.” Their eyes met in the bronzed mirror, and Skybright took the opportunity to adjust the jade lotus pendant encircling her mistress’s neck.
Skybright knew she wasn’t talking about the girl who would be visiting.
“I know Mama’s eager to show me that book as soon as my monthly letting begins.”
Zhen Ni’s older sister, Min, had sneaked The Book of Making to share with them when they were just fourteen years. All three had gawked at the dozens of illustrations depicted, teaching a bride how to best pleasure her future husband in the bedchamber and become with child quickly. Now, two years later, Min was wed and living with her husband’s family, already expecting her first babe.
“To think Mama’s so desperate to marry me off, she hired that seer!” Zhen Ni said. “You’re so fortunate not to have to … suffer through any of it.”
Skybright began making Zhen Ni’s expansive platform bed, straightening the silk sheets and plumping the brocaded cushions. Her mistress had lain in it for much of the afternoon, without ever falling asleep. “I’ll go with you when you marry, and have to leave the Yuan manor too.”
“You would come with me, Sky?” Zhen Ni grabbed her hand and smiled coyly, knowing Skybright had no choice.
Skybright rolled her eyes. “Of course.”
“It would be a great comfort to me to have you by my side.” Zhen Ni sighed, her shoulders drooping.
Skybright laughed and, because she looked so pitiful, gripped her mistress’s hand. Zhen Ni’s most beautiful feature was her eyes, almond shaped and a deep honeyed brown. They often appeared to have sheen to them, as if she were on the verge of uproarious laughter or dramatic tears. She was half a head taller than Skybright, and more slender of build.
And as Zhen Ni considered her, her mouth twisted into a scheming smile, one that Skybright knew all too well. Wary, she dropped her mistress’s hand.
“You know you’re supposed to help me. Teach me to be a better wife to my future husband.”
“Teach you?”
Zhen Ni nodded. “A good handmaid … practices with her mistress.”
Skybright blushed, finally realizing what she was implying. The illustrations from The Book of Making had always featured a man and a woman. It had never crossed her mind that … Skybright swallowed, before saying, “I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“You wouldn’t have. But Min told me some households require it of their daughters before they marry, to make them better wives. It’s called mirroring.” Zhen Ni grinned wider, the same wicked grin as when she had plucked the eyeballs from the steamed fish when they were eight years and convinced Skybright to eat one, telling her it was a delicacy and would make her smarter. She would never forget the wet, gristly texture of it, the hard marble in the middle. How it had burst in her mouth. Zhen Ni had cackled when she spat it out, almost retching.
“Don’t worry, Sky.” Zhen Ni drew closer, then leaned forward and pressed her mouth against Skybright’s.
Skybright startled but didn’t pull back. Her mistress’s eyes were closed, and the delicate scent of peach cream enveloped her senses—the cream she had rubbed into Zhen Ni’s face and throat earlier. Her lips were soft, supple, making Skybright suddenly aware of how rough her own were.
Zhen Ni put her hand on one shoulder and squeezed, before she spun away and collapsed onto the bed, giggling. “Oh!” She rolled, quite unladylike, twisting the sheets. “Oh,” she snorted, “We just had our first kiss!”
After a few moments, she sat up and rubbed the tears from her eyes. “How was it?”
Skybright hadn’t moved, not knowing how to respond, afraid of what her mistress might suggest next. “Your lips … were soft.”
Zhen Ni covered her mouth with both hands and began laughing uncontrollably again. “Dear darling Skybright.” She shook her head. “There is no guile to you. It’s why I adore you.”
“How did it feel to you?” Skybright was too curious not to ask.
Zhen Ni scrubbed at her mouth with the back of her hand with exaggerated disgust. “It was like kissing my own sister!”
Skybright pitched a fat cushion at her, and Zhen Ni squealed, barely dodging it in time. She then fell into bed and laughed with her.

Skybright couldn’t fall asleep that night.
It was near the end of the sixth moon, and the summer air was heavy and hot. She kicked the thin sheet aside and wound her thick hair away from her damp neck, trying to find a cool spot on the narrow bed. Her mind kept returning to the kiss she had exchanged with Zhen Ni. The kiss itself had been chaste, like she had shared with Zhen Ni before on the cheek. But there was an undercurrent there, an expectation, a bated breath. It seemed to have stoked something deep inside of her, as if touching her mouth to someone else’s had kindled a hidden desire, dormant until now.
She let out a long sigh, feeling the back of her arms stick to the bamboo mat. The face of the young monk who had glimpsed her clinging to a branch bloomed beneath her eyelids, how his expression never changed as he assessed her, as if they stood in front of each other at arm’s length. Who was he? And why wasn’t his hair cut like all the others?
Her dreams, when she finally fell asleep, were scattered and warm.
Then insistent.

Skybright woke in a fevered haze, feeling as if she were drunk. It was still night, so dark that she couldn’t see. Heat radiated from her groin downward, pulsing through her legs, tingling her feet, then ricocheting back again. Her thighs and calves ached of it, of melding and severing.
She gasped, trying to rise. She clutched at her legs, and her hands sprang back as she cried out. No sound came and she whimpered, rubbing her ears. Had she gone deaf as well? Skybright touched her legs again, but they were no longer there, replaced by something sleek and supple that wasn’t her skin, wasn’t her flesh.
This must be a dream.
A nightmare.
She tried to swing her lower half off the bedside, but instead thrashed and thumped to the stone floor below. Its rough coldness scraped her torso and elbows. Unable to stand, she dragged herself across the ground toward the lantern resting on her small cherry wood dresser. Something knocked over and hit her back. She hissed. Pulling herself up, she grabbed the lantern and a match. Her hands shook as she lit the wick.
The light’s warmth was familiar, comforting. Skybright twisted, held the lantern over her lower half, and nearly dropped it. A thick serpent coil snaked behind her, where her legs should have been, the ruby red scales glittering even in the wan light. She glided her hand along its smooth length, and felt it as her own flesh. The serpent length began at her waist, but the scales covered her abdomen, rising to just beneath her breasts. She was naked. Where had her sleep clothes gone?
The lantern jangled in her grasp, and she set it on the ground, running her hands over her face, now in a panic. Her features felt the same. She pushed herself, slid back to the dresser, and grabbed the pearl hand mirror that had been a birthday gift from Zhen Ni. Her familiar face reflected back at her, although her eyes were dark and wild, and her long hair seemed alive, floating about her shoulders.
A silent sob shook her, tremored from her chest through to the tip of her grotesque tail. Then she glimpsed something that caused her heartbeat to stutter. Slowly, she opened her mouth, and a long forked tongue escaped from it, waggling, as if taunting her.
The hand mirror crashed to the ground, and Skybright clawed at her neck with both hands, unable to speak, to scream. Her serpent coil jerked, swept the lantern on its side, and the flame was doused, casting her into darkness.

Quiet knocking stirred her awake.
The door panel slid aside and Zhen Ni poked her head through, then tiptoed inside, closing the panel behind her.
“You’re late. Of all the days!”
Sunshine flooded the small chamber when Zhen Ni opened the lattice window and Skybright struggled to rise, hysteria smothering her chest.
“What happened in here?” Her mistress stared at the toppled stool and broken lantern with oil seeping out beneath, then looked at her and gaped. “Why are you naked?”
Skybright glanced down and saw her legs, stuck her tongue to the roof of her mouth. “I’m—” She choked with relief when she could speak, “I was hot. Last night.” It must have been a nightmare. She had a fever and was hallucinating.
Zhen Ni drew to her bedside and waved her hands at her torso. “When did you get those?” she exclaimed.
Skybright peered down again, momentarily terrified, to realize that Zhen Ni had been pointing at her breasts. She crossed her arms, flushing.
“You’ve become a woman,” her mistress said in a quiet voice, her expression serious and thoughtful.
She wrapped the thin sheet around herself, laughing from a mixture of embarrassment and disorientation. “We’re the same age!”
“I certainly don’t look like that.”
Skybright was familiar with her mistress’s physique, being the one to help her bathe, and Zhen Ni was willowy, lacking the curves that Skybright had. Curves hidden beneath loose tunics that, until now, Skybright had never given a second thought.
Zhen Ni stooped down so that they were eye level. “It’s happened, Sky,” she whispered. “My monthly letting came.”
Skybright clapped her hand over her mouth. “Mistress—” But something in Zhen Ni’s measured gaze stopped her short.
“I’ve bled onto the sheet. You must strip and wash them. Hide the evidence.” Zhen Ni paused. Skybright had known her a lifetime and had never seen this look of fierce determination in her mistress’s eyes. “Mama can never know.”
About-the-Author

Cindy Pon
Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association's Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to Silver Phoenix, titled Fury of the Phoenix, was released in April 2011. Serpentine, the first title in her next Xia duology, will be published by Month9Books in September 2015. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Visit her website at www.cindypon.com.

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