Feb 29, 2016

RELEASE BLITZ - Teach Me by Lola Darling


 

Title: Teach Me

Author: Lola Darling

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Release Date: July 29, 2015

Praise for Teach Me


"Jack Kingston is one heart-melting, panty-dropping, delightfully delicious professor. I'd let him Teach Me anything he wants."  ~ Laurelin Paige, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Fixed Trilogy

"Professor Jack Kingston smolders. With off the charts chemistry and deliciously hot sex, Teach Me earns an A+ in taboo, student/teacher romance." ~ Sierra Simone, USA Today Bestselling Author of Priest


Blurb
“Looks like you dressed for the occasion."

“You said I should come prepared, professor." She wriggles beneath me.

I bring my hand down on her bare ass, just sharp enough to make her feel it, not enough to leave a mark. She inhales sharply, her hips bucking.

“And have you, Ms. Reed? Or will I need to reprimand you more thoroughly?”

When Harper Reed came to Oxford, her dream was to study modern poetry with the infamous Professor Jack Kingston, NOT to sleep with him. But his lectures are intoxicating, his knowledge captivating, and his accent drops panties faster than Charlie Hunnam on a Saturday night.

Harper has never made good decisions when it comes to sex and Jack has never been able to commit, yet there’s something between them that neither of them has felt before. But students and teachers are not supposed to fraternize, even as this out of control connection puts both of their futures on the line.

When their forbidden love is tested, can they make the grade?

Author Bio
Lola Darling is a romantic with a naughty side. Texas born and raised, she has met a few Mr. Wrongs and is having fun looking for her Mr. Right.

She can be found at her laptop, daydreaming of dirty talking men in well-fitted suits or in the bath enjoying a glass of wine.


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RELEASE BLITZ - One Hour Girl by LeTeisha Newton


 

Title: One Hour Girl

Series: Lost Souls #1

Author: LeTeisha Newton

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Release Date: February 29, 2016

Blurb


He thinks I’m his forever girl, I saw it in his eyes. I wished I could have slapped the look off his face and hit him with the same jarring finality I’d learned I didn’t mean shit.

I’m not a forever sort of girl.

I’m not even his for the night.

He’ll be lucky if I’m his for the next hour if he doesn’t pay me for it.

And then Royce Mattherson stormed my defenses. Took all the poison inside of me and pushed it out through my pores. He tasted the taint on my skin and still decided to love me.

He terrifies me. Exhilarates me. Frustrates me.

And he always gets what he wants.

Always



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Excerpt
“You are my date for the night.” He said date like a curse and I arched my brow at him, irritated that I noticed his good looks when he seemed to be disgusted by the very thing I represented. This man probably never had to pay for sex in his life.

Well I wasn’t some newbie who’d let his actions hurt me. I wouldn’t.

“That’s what you paid for.” I shifted my chest so my breasts swayed a bit. His eyes left my face and his gaze followed the sway of my breasts for a moment before he looked back at me. So, not completely adverse to my charms.

“Your job is to stay silent, entice, and smile pretty. These men here are donating money toward my organization based on ‘paying for one of you for the night’” he said, fingers curling in quotation marks.

“I understand,” I said. This was business, and that I could do. Men with money did a lot of odd things with their money. I had more powerful men and women in my client list than I would have ever believed when I first started. This was no different, and the premise of the evening didn’t bother me.

It was the fact that the organizer seemed discomforted by his event. And his discomfort was extended to me.

And why it bothered me, I didn’t know. But it shouldn’t have. I shook my head, clearing my thoughts, and stood taller. I let my arms fall to my sides before I stepped up to his side. He stiffened a moment before relaxing as I grasped his arm in my hands. The cool material of his suit rubbed against my nipple and I sucked in a breath, and took in his scent with it. I could taste it on the back of my throat.

He smelled of sandalwood and Jasmine, but in a light, lingering signature that I recognized. I’ve smelled Clive Christian on a lot of men, but I hadn’t smelled it like this. Ever. I leaned in, inhaling more of his scent. My date shifted against me, and molded his body to my front. I let go of his arm with one hand and gripped his lapel. He held his body, hard and hot, against me. My breasts tingled, crushed to his chest, and I couldn’t stop myself from taking another whiff. My nose touched his neck before I realized it. I caught his swift intake of breath, the bite of his finger in my upper arms as he gripped me, and pulled me a little closer.

“You do your job well,” he whispered in my ear. His voice was low, seductive, and authoritative.

“But I don’t pay for kicks.” I stopped breathing.

He couldn’t have done a better job if he’d tossed cold water over my head and laughed in my face. I plastered a smile on my face, feeling the burn of embarrassment on my cheeks. I leaned back from him and looked directly in his eyes. He wasn’t going to scare me. He wasn’t going to hurt me like so many others had.

“Sugar, you spend over two thousand dollars on cologne made to attract women, and then buy escorts to earn money for your organization. You pay for tricks already, you just would have been much happier had you paid for mine. Shall we?” I gestured toward the open door, and the party he’d paid me for. He hid his momentary surprise well, the expression melting into a cool mask so fast I would have missed it had I not been looking at him.

Take that. I may be a lot of things, but your object of ridicule I am not. He didn’t acknowledge my statement, but he turned towards the door and walked with me out of it. I kept my grip on his arm, holding my head high.

“Royce Mattherson,” he said then, and I frowned over at him. “My name,” he added. A smile played on his lips, the left side a bit higher than the right. That smile, that show of imperfection made my heart skip a beat. I forced myself to ignore it as I thought of my reply.

“Nice to meet you, Royce Mattherson. I’m your one hour girl.” I bowed my head to read the watch on his wrist. “Of which, you have forty-five minutes left.”

He chuckled, a soft rumbling sound that had my toes curling. “I hurt your feelings, I see. Grow up, little girl. This world will crush you if you let it. You won’t make it very far if you don’t understand that.”

“You don’t know anything about me,” I hissed at him through clenched teeth, maintaining my false smile as he walked me up the hallway to the main part of the party in a ballroom.

“You’ve got a chip on your shoulder a mile wide,” he responded.

“Now who has the hurt feelings? I think you’re more bothered than you want to let on that I didn’t offer my services,” I argued.

“You’re here; I’ve already got your services. I just don’t want what’s between your legs,” he added. I felt his eyes on me.

But I knew what he said was a lie. I could read it in him. I’d bothered him. Stepped on his peace offering, but I hadn’t known how to read him. And, yes, I’d been sort of hurt, sort of bothered that he hadn’t reacted to me the way I’d hoped.

And where did that leave me admitting that?

“Yes you do,” I said, stopping.

He stopped with me. I turned towards him and ran my hand down over his groin area. His cock jumped under my hand. The desire was there, despite his words.

“I know this better than anything, and you do want me.” I trailed my fingertips over his shape. The cloth separated us, but his heat pushed through the cloth as I measured his girth. My pulse quickened. Yes, this is what I knew, what I understood. He gripped my wrist and pulled my hand away.

“You speak your mind, and I can respect that. But let me be perfectly clear, I have never, and will never pay for sex.”

“Is that your problem? And if we’d met in a bar? In a club late at night with the music thumping around us?” I asked.

“Then I’d have fucked you against the nearest surface until you couldn’t stand. And then I’d have walked away,” he answered. He stepped back from me and straightened his clothing before looking over at me with a question in his eyes.

I had no return for that. My body was hot with the idea, and the anonymity of the encounter would have been just what I liked, but something in me hesitated. Would I have liked to be a passerby in this man’s world? I didn’t know, and the lack of answer irritated me. I needed to get away from him, and the questions he brought, fast.

“I’m sure it would have been a fun time,” I answered, no longer interested in the banter. I gripped his arm once more and he walked into the party, his small crooked smile on his face again.

I hated that smile. It meant he won. That he’d bested me. I didn’t want him to win. I didn’t want to fall behind. And it irritated me that I care so much. And yet, as I listened to him talk about his organization, helping with domestic violence and using rescue dogs to help rebuild trust in those who’d learned only pain from their loved ones, there was no doubt he was an intelligent man. He was composed. He was a man that I could have liked. A man that I could have respected if my other side, the pristine side, the perfect side had met him first. Would she have sat and smiled, talked to him? Would she have blushed prettily at his compliments and challenged him with thought provoking conversation? Would he have liked her?

Because right now I was playing the whore, and, for the first time, I felt dirty and wished Ms. Perfect was in attendance.

I hated Royce Mattherson.


Writing professionally since 2008, LeTeisha has spanned from Fantasy to Interracial Romance on her road to getting the jumping characters out of her head. Most days she’s pretty color blind, unless it’s a great shade of red (then she can’t ignore it). Other times she’s plotting her next twenty books and then remembering that the computer can’t read her thoughts and doesn’t type at lightning speed. Either way, she just can’t seem to get enough of quill to paper…or eh…keyboard strokes, apparently.

Author Links



Writing professionally since 2008, LeTeisha has spanned from Fantasy to Interracial Romance on her road to getting the jumping characters out of her head. Most days she’s pretty color blind, unless it’s a great shade of red (then she can’t ignore it). Other times she’s plotting her next twenty books and then remembering that the computer can’t read her thoughts and doesn’t type at lightning speed. Either way, she just can’t seem to get enough of quill to paper…or eh…keyboard strokes, apparently.


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COVER REVEAL - With Ties That Bind by Trisha Wolfe




With Ties That Bind
Series: Broken Bonds #1
Author: Trisha Wolfe

Genre: Dark Erotic Thriller
Release Date: February 29, 2016

Blurb


This series is a spinoff of the Broken Bonds serial which must be read prior to beginning this first book. Contains spoilers to the Broken Bonds serial.

Detective Ethan Quinn has questions. The Arlington Slasher case is closed, the UNSUB no longer a threat—but Quinn can’t quiet the suspicion he harbors toward his partner and the young, attractive M.E. Not only does he loathe his uncertainty, he’s torn between doing his job and protecting his team.

But burying himself in cases no longer works. He’s restless. On edge. And tired of fighting his compulsions. Quinn has always viewed the law in black and white. Only now his world is swirling with a murky gray that threatens to devour him.

When lead medical examiner Avery Johnson careens toward a dangerous path, she pulls the unwitting detective into a dark web of deception and lust, triggered by a spree of recent killings.

Is this new player linked to the Bathory murders, or is it another copycat?

Time almost took Avery from him once before. As the clock ticks, Quinn will stop at nothing to protect her, refusing to let Avery become a victim again. Against his uncompromising logic, Quinn can’t deny his feelings. Avery forces him to acknowledge his darker desires, tempting his control—which weakens with every second he spends with the feisty M.E. as they hunt down the perpetrator threatening to tear them apart.

Catch Up with the first Broken Bonds serial: With Visions of Red - the first book is FREE
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Excerpt

Avery

The windowless room is freezing. Florescent lights hum, echoing off the cinderblock walls and tingeing the too bright, barren room in a sickly green hue. As soon as I was ushered inside, the bag was removed from my head and my lab coat was taken.

The thin blouse I’m left with does nothing to shield me from the frigid air.

I rub my arms to generate heat, giving myself something to concentrate on besides counting the seconds. I’ve only been locked inside for minutes, but panic threatens to pull me under when I imagine it turning into days.

So very different than before, but somehow just as frightening. I’m not shackled. I’m not drugged. I don’t, logically, think these people have the same intentions as my abductor did when he took me…but I can’t say that for certain.

As soon as I think I’m going to lose it and start banging on the steel door, I hear a click, and the door grinds open against the floor.

The man entering is tall and thickly built. He wears a mask. A Jason mask like on the horror movie. And he’s carrying a semiautomatic gun. My stomach plunges, free-fall. I want the bag back over my head.

He jerks his head. “Move. It’s ready.”

What’s ready? But I can’t work up the courage to ask. This man is not manhandling me, and somehow my feet move me in that direction. I’ve just simply lost my mind. So many days spent fearing the world after I was released from the hospital, and what I dreaded could happen—that which I told myself over and over would never happen again—has, in fact, happened.

What else is there left to fear?

Death?

I’m almost relieved. Like I’m ready to welcome it. Like I can stop dreading it now.

The masked man stands in the doorway as I cross through. My eyes go wide when I see what’s on the other side of the room.

A lab.

But unlike any lab I’ve ever worked in. It’s dirty, and smells of death. Not like the death in the morgue, where I’m accustomed to being surrounded by bodies. But a grotesque, sour stench that soaks my pores.

Tables are full of beakers and test tubes. A giant syringe station is setup with thin blue hoses curling down into a large tub. My gaze follows the tubes’ path along the back wall to a large containment unit.

“Welcome, Dr. Johnson.”

I whirl around, trying to locate the source of the deep, gravely voice. Feedback pierces the air, and I look up to find a speaker in the corner.

The voice booms through the room again. “Go ahead. Get comfortable. There’s a coat on the hanger to your left, and goggles on the table.”

I shake my head. “What do you want from me?” I say to the room, hoping this unsettling PA system is two-way.

“It’s what we both want,” the voice responds. “I believe neither of us want any more dead girls littering up our beautiful streets. So you should get to work.”

I turn around and see the man with the gun standing watch at the only exit.

I face forward, lick my lips. “And if I can’t?”

The silence stretches out, endlessly taunting. I’m sure the decision to end my life has already been made. Then: “I really don’t think that’s an option for you, Miss Johnson.” A beat. “Best focus on the task at hand. You have one hour.”
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Passion and lust ignite. Dark and light battle. This explosive first installment of the Broken Bonds series sets the exhilarating pace for a cat and mouse game where no one knows who’s really pulling the strings.

Criminal profiler Sadie Bonds knows blood. Her affair with the gruesome, dark world of killers began long before she started applying her analytical skills to investigate gory crime scenes. She gets inside the killers’ heads, breaks them down, relates to them on an arcane level. She prefers it this way—because it’s safer to ally herself with the villain than the victim. At least, that’s how she’s coped ever since she was abducted and tortured as a teen.

She will never be a victim again.

Now, she’s honed her skills in order to bring justice to these ritualistic offenders. Working alongside her colleagues, armed with sharp wit and a SIG, Sadie always catches her sadist. Until one ruthless serial killer gets inside Sadie’s head, turning the tables. He knows her secrets. Her obsessions. The darkest, most deviant part of her soul.

When she meets Colton Reed, dangerous stakes are raised as he threatens to unravel her control and reveal her darkest fantasies. The sexy-as-sin bondage rigger at an exclusive BDSM club pushes her boundaries, forcing her to acknowledge that side of herself she fears. Plunged into a realm of torture and suffering, pain and pleasure, Sadie balances on the razor-sharp edge of two intersecting worlds threatening to swallow her.

AMAZON US / UK

The UNSUB has made contact.

After a rapid string of grisly murders shakes the usually peaceful city of Arlington, Virginia, the sadistic killings of young women lull into a deceptive calm. Agent Sadie Bonds knows the terror isn’t over; serial killers don’t stop until caught.

And this sadist has targeted the profiler, revealing pieces of her dark past and weaving her secrets into each gruesome crime scene. Is the killer someone from Sadie’s past, her present? Or is he part of a fated future she brought on herself? The answer lies within the riddle of the copycat killings, ones mimicked after the infamous Blood Countess.

As tension brews in the department awaiting the UNSUB’s next move, Sadie’s more than on edge—her deviant cravings for the possible perpetrator have ratcheted out of control. She needs the feel of Colton’s ropes binding her, sheltering her from stark reality.

Only Colton Reed has his own twisted secrets that threaten to unravel not only Sadie as they come to light, but the UNSUB’s carefully constructed web now entangling both the profiler and her sexy bondage rigger.


AMAZON US / UK

Who is the UNSUB?

For Agent Sadie Bonds, finding the answer to that question means the difference between life and death for someone close to her. The UNSUB’s latest abduction reaches right into the heart of the ACPD, forcing every member of the department to search within their ranks for the sadistic perpetrator.

Suspicion not only clouds the task force; it slithers into Sadie and Colton’s bond, challenging their love. Discovering the truth means facing their past together. Sadie’s connection to Colton has quieted her inner demons—but is she strong enough to confront the real monster?

All players take their places as the stage is set for the final scene. With the UNSUB manipulating the game, even Sadie and Colton fall victim, spiraling deep into the darkness that threatens not only their lives, but their trust. As Sadie navigates a tortuous maze, Colton will do whatever is takes to protect her.

The truth will set you free. Only for Sadie, her truth will test the very fabric of her reality. She must silence the threat, or risk losing everything and everyone she loves.



AMAZON US / UK

Author Bio


From an early age, Trisha Wolfe dreamed up fantasy worlds and characters and was accused of talking to herself. Today, she lives in South Carolina with her family and writes full time, using her fantasy worlds as an excuse to continue talking to herself.

For more information on Trisha Wolfe and her works, please visit: www.TrishaWolfe.com

To be the first to hear about new releases and sale events, sign up for Trisha Wolfe's Newsletter: http://bit.ly/1rXTKI7
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Songlines: Mapping the Journeys of the Creation Ancestors in Australia

Screenshot of ‘What are song lines?’

Songlines (known also as dreaming tracks) are believed by the Aboriginal people of Australia to be the journeys taken by the creation ancestors (or creator-beings) across the land during the Dreaming.

In the Australian Aboriginal belief system, the Dreaming was a point in time when the earth was being created. It is believed that during this period of time, the earth was a featureless void. Then, the creation ancestors emerged from the earth and sky, and began to travel across the land. In the process, they formed the landscapes, created living things, and even instituted the laws governing human society.

The paths of these ancient songlines are preserved in traditional songs, stories, dances, and art. This form of knowledge has been passed down from one generation to the next, and each Aboriginal group has its own set of songlines.

Navigating the Land

Songlines serve a variety of functions in the societies of the Australian Aboriginal people. One of the most famous of these is that the songlines served as a means for navigating the land. It has been asserted that by singing certain traditional songs in a specific sequence, people were capable of navigating the land, often traveling across vast distances across all types of terrain and weather, without getting lost. This is due to the fact that numerous features in the landscape are contained in the songlines, thus allowing them to be used as oral maps.

One Yolngu (an Aboriginal group inhabiting the north-eastern part of Arnhem Land, Northern Territory) songline, for example, describes the path taken by Barnumbirr (a creation ancestor associated with the planet Venus) as she crossed the coast, bringing the first human beings to Australia from the east. 


Yolngu use hollow logs in traditional burial rituals. They are also an important "canvas" for their art, Aboriginal Memorial. (NGA)

This song is contained in the Yolngu Morning Star ceremony, and includes the location of various features, such as mountains, waterholes, landmarks, and boundaries. Over time, as people followed the songlines, glyphs and etchings were left along these routes, which served as landmarks to aid future travelers in their journeys. This can be seen, for example, in Wollemi National Park, New South Wales, where many Aboriginal rock etchings have been discovered.

Routes Across the Sky

Instead of describing paths across the land, some songlines describe routes across the sky. The Euahlayi and the Kamilaroi (Aboriginal groups inhabiting the south-eastern part of Australia) possess such songlines. 


Songlines from Chartwin’s Songlines. (travel-studies)

It is known that the Aboriginal people have been using the stars as directional points for navigation. With these songlines, however, the stars are used by the Euahlayi and the Kamilaroi as “a reminder of where songlines go, often months before they travel to their destination.” In some cases, the songs are said to contain instructions telling people how to navigate, as well as information for the identification of places on the ground with places in the sky.

Defining Groups

Apart from navigation, songlines also serve other important functions. For example, songlines help to define the various Australian Aboriginal groups. As mentioned previously, each Aboriginal group has their own unique set of songlines. These songlines in turn are said to define these various groups, including the land they live on, the laws they live under, and the ceremonies and obligations they have with relation to the land they live on.

Although the songlines allow the various Aboriginal groups to differentiate themselves from each other, they may also function as a unifying factor for them. It has been said that songlines transcend the borders of individual groups. One consequence of this is that peoples from neighboring language groups become connected to one another. Beliefs regarding the creation ancestors and the laws relating to them are shared, and cultural knowledge between these groups may be exchanged, hence enriching each group.

It has also been pointed out that the songlines can be mapped. For this undertaking to succeed, however, major consultation between the different Aboriginal groups is required, as each group possesses its own set of songlines. It is only through co-operation that such a grand map of songlines may be produced, creating “a kind of cultural network of stories that ties all of Aboriginal Australia together.”

Featured image: Screenshot of ‘What are song lines?’ Photo source: Queensland Rural Medical Education

By Wu Mingren

References

Feb 28, 2016

The Midnight Sea by Kat Ross Preorder and Cover Reveal

The Midnight Sea

The Midnight Sea - Ebook
The Midnight Sea
(The Fourth Element) 
Author: Kat Ross 
Genre: Fantasy 
Release Date: May 24, 2016 
Hosted by: Book Enthusiast Promotions

Goodreads Button with Shadow

They are the light against the darkness.

The steel against the necromancy of the Druj.

And they use demons to hunt demons….

Nazafareen lives only for revenge. A girl of the isolated Four-Legs Clan, all she knows about the King's elite Water Dogs is that they bind wicked creatures called daevas to protect the empire from the Undead. But when scouts arrive to recruit young people with the gift, she leaps at the chance to join their ranks. To hunt the monsters that killed her sister.

Scarred by grief, she's willing to pay any price, even if it requires linking with a daeva named Darius. Human in body, he's possessed of a terrifying power, one that Nazafareen controls. But the golden cuffs that join them have an unwanted side effect. Each experiences the other's emotions—and human and daeva start to grow dangerously close.

As they pursue a deadly foe across the arid waste of the Great Salt Plain to the glittering capital of Persepolae, unearthing the secrets of Darius's past along the way, Nazafareen is forced to question his slavery—and her own loyalty to the empire. But with an ancient evil stirring in the north, and a young conqueror sweeping in from the west, the fate of an entire civilization may be at stake…
You can read more about the series here.


Excerpt
On my seventeenth birthday, the magus summoned me to his study.

I sat down and waited while he shuffled through a stack of papers. Finally, he looked up.

"I've found you a daēva," he said.

I sat very still, hardly breathing.

"His name is Darius. He was raised by the magi in Karnopolis. By all accounts, obedient and devout. And powerful." The magus held my eyes. "Very powerful. The strongest in generations, if his keepers are to be believed. You were chosen because your gift is so great." He sighed. "And because I can't leave either of you unbonded much longer. You're nearing the time when your mind will become too rigid to accept him, Nazafareen. And so that is my present to you. Are you happy?"

"Yes, magus. Very happy." I was happy. I was also nervous.

"Do you wish to meet him?"

My heart lurched. "He's here?"

"In the yard, waiting for us. Oh yes, and his curse is a withered left arm. I thought the fact that you are left-handed would be a nice complement."

I let out a long breath as we walked outside. Bonding my daēva meant I could hunt Druj. Go on patrol with Ilyas and the others. I'd been waiting for this moment for three years. And yet part of me still wanted to run in the other direction as fast as I could.

We came around the corner of the barracks and there he was. A boy still, although not for much longer. I took in the close-cropped brown hair and pale, serious face. His sky-blue tunic matched his eyes, which were not particularly warm. More along the lines of one of the glacial lakes I'd bathed in as a child.

I walked right up to him, refusing to be cowed. It seemed prudent to let him know who was in charge immediately.

"I'm Nazafareen," I said.

Darius nodded. His face was perfectly impassive, but did I see a spark in those eyes? Of fear? Contempt? It came and went too fast to tell.

I had no idea what to say next, so we just stood there in awkward silence for what felt like an eternity. Finally, the magus spoke.

"Come. Satrap Jaagos and the other Water Dogs are waiting."

The bonding ceremony took place in the audience chamber of the satrap. It was a cavernous room, with vaulted ceilings of gilded tile and three marble pillars. The walls were carved with bas-reliefs of horses, their arched necks and braided manes rendered in exquisite detail.

Jaagos sat on his throne, his Water Dogs arrayed to either side. Half of them wore tunics of sky blue, the other half of a deep, bloody red.

I'd seen Jaagos from afar a few times, but this was the closest I'd ever been to him. In the moment before I prostrated myself, I saw a chubby man dressed in a rich gown of silver thread. He was bald as an egg, with thick lips and sloping shoulders. A housecat among lions.

I pressed my forehead to the stone. To my right, Darius did the same.

I was keenly aware of the eyes of the Water Dogs on me. They were the ones I wanted to impress, especially Ilyas. I didn't give a fig about the satrap, except that I knew I didn't want to make him angry. His authority was absolute, the hand of the King in Tel Khalujah, and if he wanted me dead, he had only to make the slightest gesture and it would be done.

"Get on with it," Jaagos said after an appropriate amount of time had passed for the obeisance.

The magus stepped forward. "You are Water Dogs, the holiest of all dogs," he said. "Without water there is no life, yet water has the power to destroy as well as to create. May your impurities be washed away." The magus slowly poured the contents of a silver bowl over our heads.

"May the Holy Father keep you and guide your actions," he intoned. "May the bond bestowed this day be true and pure. May you always serve the cause of light and shun the darkness."

He set the bowl aside and pulled on a pair of leather gloves. Then he took out a gold cuff, thick and worked with snarling lions. Had he touched it with his bare hands, he would have bonded Darius himself instantly.

The magus's face swam in my vision as he knelt before us. Darius had gone a deathly pale, but he looked at the cuff—the twin of one already encircling his right arm—without wavering. I resolved not to show him how afraid I was. Not to give him that victory.

"You will fight as one, live as one," the magus said. "You will carry out the will of the Holy Father, as directed by your King and satrap. Good words, good thoughts, good deeds. By the Prophet and the Holy Father are you bonded."

Then he snapped the cuff around my wrist and locked it with a tiny golden key. I may have cried out. I probably did. Because I wasn't alone anymore. Floodgates opened in my mind, releasing a torrent of alien emotions. Next to me, Darius drew a sharp breath as the same thing happened to him, although I barely heard it.

Panic surged through me, followed by an aching loss so deep it tore a hole in my heart. I didn't know if it was mine or his, or both feeding off the other. And I felt his power, a deep, churning pool of it, held tight in my fist.

"It is done," the magus said.

My knees trembled as I stood. Darius offered me his hand but I was afraid to touch him so Ilyas took charge of me, leading me from the audience chamber to the fire temple. We knelt there together. I tried to pray, but my teeth were chattering.

"It gets easier with time," Ilyas said in a soothing tone, as if he was talking to a small child. "You'll learn to tell the difference between your own feelings and his. To separate them. To hold onto yourself."

I nodded but I didn't believe him. I just wanted to tear the cuff from my wrist. To get Darius and his bottomless despair out of my head. But that was impossible. It was locked in place.

"Look into the flames," Ilyas said. "Imagine them burning your fear away. Scouring your mind clean of thought. Feed it all to the holy fire. You have the gift, Nazafareen. Now you must learn to control it, or it will destroy you."

I tried to do as he instructed. For a moment, I felt as though I'd broken the surface, that the torrent was easing a little, but then it came back stronger than ever.

I jumped to my feet and just made it to the courtyard before I threw up.

They let me go to my bed after that for the rest of the day. Everyone left me alone. They understood that I couldn't bear to be near even a single other person. I had enough of them in my head already.
meet the author
Kat Ross worked as a journalist at the United Nations for ten years before happily falling back into what she likes best: making stuff up. She lives in Westchester with her kid and a few sleepy cats. Kat is also the author of the dystopian thriller Some Fine Day (Skyscape, 2014), about a world where the sea levels have risen sixty meters. She loves magic, monsters and doomsday scenarios. Preferably with mutants.

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