Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Chapter Five


Soundtrack: Starry Eyed, Ellie Goulding 


My bedroom door creaked open, but I ignored it and brushed my mascara wand across my eyelashes one more time before tucking it back in the tube.

“Oh-em-gee, Katie, you look amazing! Like a real faerie princess,” Maya came to my side at the vanity mirror and gingerly fingered the gauzy shimmer lace layered over my silk bodice. Her aquamarine mermaid costume, complete with matching demi-mask, was equally as shimmery and far more revealing than my own silver and lace, floor-length gown. The sea-inspired blue color was a perfect complement to her olive skin tone and waist-length, auburn curls. Her look was exotic where mine was fair, and our personalities were just as polar as our looks.

Maya had been my closest friend since we were babies, and I was thrilled to have her at my party, and helping me to get ready for it, too. But, even after all these years, it still drove me a little nuts when she started a conversation with oh-em-gee.

“Thanks. You look great, too.” I stood up from the vanity and made for my walk-in closet to grab my shoes. The clear heels coated with a light dusting of silver glitter had been a last minute, but much needed addition to my costume. I claimed them from the top shelf of my shoe rack and carefully slipped my feet into them. “Ready?” I asked Maya as I emerged from my closet.

“Ready,” she agreed and linked her arm in mine. On my way to the door, I reached out with my free hand and grabbed my mask from the vanity. The shimmery, silver number was barely big enough to cover my eyes and would do nothing to hide my identity. It was purely for show. I couldn’t attend my own masquerade party without a mask. With Maya’s arm still looped through mine, I managed to tie the ribbons together behind my head, securing the mask in place over my eyes without even messing up my hair.

By the time we made it to the landing at the top of the stairs, my arm was starting to sweat where Maya’s touched it, and I was trying to think of a polite way to extricate myself from her hold. “This is going to be so much fun,” I told her, pulling my arm out of hers and clapping my hands together. Then I set both hands on the banister and leaned over to survey the foyer below.

At the bottom of the stairs, partygoers were already milling about, moving from one downstairs room to another, exploring. Still more guests were arriving—some servant, or caterer, or whatever, I didn’t recognize was opening the door every few seconds it seemed like, to allow another group to enter.
“Hey hey, beautiful!” Brad’s voice sounded from somewhere behind me.

I closed my eyes and counted to three, hoping that when I opened them and turned around, Brad wouldn’t be there. Maybe if I wished hard enough, he wouldn’t even be here at the party. Inviting him had been a mistake. I knew that when I did it, but even if I hadn’t invited him, he would have come anyway. Brad was like that, too cocky to realize when he wasn’t wanted. And he definitely wasn’t wanted. If I could have been rid of him completely when we broke up however many months ago, I would have been perfectly happy. But I just couldn’t seem to shake him.

Sure enough, when I turned around, there he stood, dressed as a vampire, complete with fake blood at the corners of his mouth. “Brad. You do know it’s a masquerade right?”

“Chyeah, totally. That’s why I’m wearing this costume.” He posed proudly, voguing the way he must think a vampire would with hands on hips, feet askance, and fangs showing.

What did I ever see in him?

“Ooh, who is that?” Maya’s question drew my attention away from my mistake of an ex-boyfriend and toward the front door. The guy standing in my foyer hadn’t drawn only Maya’s attention, but also the attention of several of the other kids loitering in the entryway. And with good reason. He was dressed head to toe in black, from his scuffed motorcycle boots to his black denim pants to his black T-shirt under a black leather jacket. And he’d topped it all with a black motorcycle helmet, aviator sunglasses, and a black half-mask over his mouth. He was impossibly tall and lanky, but his lean build didn’t make him any less imposing. His look, his whole countenance was both alluring and dangerous at the same time.

“So, babe, when’s the music going to start? I’m saving my best dance moves for you.”

Ugh. Brad.

“Yeah, yeah. Later.” I waved him off like a pesky mosquito and made for the stairs, making sure to place each step carefully, with purpose. A few minutes ago, my heels had seemed so perfect; now they seemed ridiculous because they were keeping me from getting downstairs to figure out who this mysterious bad boy was.

I kept my eyes glued to him as I descended, and my heart sank when he started toward the great-room-turned-temporary-ballroom. A quick scan of the room ahead of him proved that it was already overcrowded. If he made it in there before I could get to him, it would take me quite some time to find him again. I picked up the pace, practically racing down the final few steps. On the last one, my right heel caught in the hem of my gown. I grabbed tight to the banister and lifted my foot to remove my heel from my dress.

By the time I’d extricated my foot from the lace, my mystery guest had disappeared into the crowd beyond the foyer.

“Hey, Katie! Great party,” Amanda Simpkins sidled up to me and wrapped me in a hug. Her too-large nest of teased red curls tickled my nose in an unpleasant way, smothering me with the scent of too much hair product. “Happy birthday, Bestie!”

Bestie? We were barely friends. She must have been trying to impress whoever she was with. I didn’t bother trying to figure out who she was trying to dazzle. Instead, I pulled out of her hug, patted her on the shoulder and took off for the ballroom, dodging other partiers on my way there.

The room was even more crowded than I’d thought; I realized that as soon as I stepped through the arched entry. I skirted friends and acquaintances, stretching to see over their heads. Anything to possibly catch a glimpse of my mysterious biker. When did I start thinking of him as my biker?
It didn’t matter. I’d lost him.

I gave up my search and wove my way through the mob of dancing teenagers toward the edge of the room. They were suffocatingly close, and I needed space right then. The party had only just started, and already I needed fresh air. When I turned back to face the room, I spotted Brad and Maya both standing at the doorway to the foyer scanning the room for me.

I ducked out onto the terrace before they spied me.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Release Day: The Asgardians


Genre: Upper YA Paranormal/Fantasy (Norse Mythology)

Release Date: TODAY!!!
December 21, 2015

Back Cover Copy
Inga Andersson just can’t catch a break. She’s supposed to be enjoying a ski week in beautiful Åre, Sweden, with her immortal-assassin husband. Instead, she and Gunnar are trapped inside a bizarre scavenger hunt, unraveling an incomprehensible riddle at the bequest of a mysterious being known only as The One. And if Inga and Gunnar don’t decipher the puzzle and deliver a mythological relic to a New Orleans graveyard within three days, they’ll be ejected from the Norse pantheon, stripped of their immortality, and cast as the solitary line of defense against the onslaught of frost giants and Helbeasts ready to bring about Midgard’s fall. What started as a party game has become a lethal challenge with irreparable consequences, not only for Inga, but for the god she loves . . . and the realm she adores.
Let the hunt begin.

The Asgardians is a standalone crossover novella set within both the Elsker and Ære Universe. It features The Elsker Saga’s Gunnar & Inga, AND The Ære Saga’s Henrik & Brynn!

Buy Links:
Add THE ASGARDIANS to your Goodreads TBR

The Asgardians Excerpt:
The minute we were done, Gunnar pulled me to my feet. “Let’s get a move on. If the rumors surrounding Draupnir are true, now that this ring is exposed it’ll act like a beacon. A dark-soul homing beacon. And we only need one ice heir to activate this thing, so we’d better roll before—”
“Gunnar?” I tucked Johann’s necklace into my shirt as a breeze kicked in.
Ja?” He tilted his head. “You cold, babe?”
“Not exactly.” I glanced up at the sky. Now the dull grey clouds dumped thick snowflakes, which whirled in slow circles as the wind increased. My intuition prickled at the same time as the lead balloon dropped deeper in my gut. “The heir is here.”
Gunnar narrowed his eyes. “Is that so?”
Brynn drew her dagger and dropped to a fighting stance. “Isbjørn at twelve o’clock.”
Isbjørn? As in, the ice bears of Jotunheim? The only reason they’d have for coming to Midgard would be to protect Ismord . . .” The word fell flat as Henrik followed Brynn’s eye line. Sure enough, two massive white bears with thick red claws stalked beside an enormous figure. He wore a heavy iron helmet over his shoulder-length black hair, and his chest plate bore the insignia of the jotun crown.
Finally. Let me at him.
We were in the presence of frost giant royalty—the very creature I’d wanted to take down for as long as I could remember. And if the growls of the isbjørn were any indication, his guard bears weren’t about to facilitate an introduction. They looked vicious, feral, like they’d stop at nothing to protect their charge.
Good thing it was hunting season on Midgard.

Before finding domestic bliss in suburbia, S.T. Bende lived in Manhattan Beach (where she became overly fond of Peet’s Coffee) and Europe… where she became overly fond of McVities cookies. Her love of Scandinavian culture and a very patient Norwegian teacher inspired the books of The Elsker Saga and The Ære Saga. She hopes her characters make you smile, and she dreams of skiing on Jotunheim and Hoth.
Find S.T. on Twitter (@stbende), her website (www.stbende.com), or send her an e-mail. While you're at it, introduce yourself to @UllMyhr and @TyrFredriksen -- when they’re not saving the cosmos from dark elves, they love meeting new friends . . . especially the human kind.
Want to connect with fellow Norse god fans? S.T.'s readers have created a Facebook group! Head over to the RagnaRockstars page to chat with other readers, talk with S.T., and get access to exclusive content... including Ull POVs and sneak peeks at upcoming Ære Saga books!

Connect with ST Bende at:

TUR is currently available for FREE to newsletter subscribers!

Skål, y’all!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Guest Post: Molly Zenk

Today, I'm thrilled to introduce you to a lovely writer, Molly Zenk, author of the contemporary Christian romance, Out of Character. She's here with a guest post to tell us how Out of Character came to be. And here she is!

Movie And Book Inspiration For Your Evolving Plot

Molly Zenk

I bet you can name at least one or two popular books that started their life as fan fiction.  The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones by Cassandra Clare started out as a Harry Potter fan fic.  Fifty Shades Of Grey was an alternative universe Twilight fan fic. Sometimes, transforming them just takes creative use of the find-and-replace button in your word processing program.  Other times the changes evolve the story in a whole new direction that you never thought possible. That’s what happened to me with Out Of Character.  

Out Of Character started out as a Pirates Of The Carribbean fan fic.  I wrote it back in 2007 when the movies were at the height of their popularity.  When I noticed the finished story clocked in at 36,000 words,  I knew with some tweaking I could turn it into a market ready manuscript. At first,  I tried the old find-and-replace names form of editing.  I was told it was too much like the main romantic plot of Pirates Of The Caribbean. No surprise there. I needed to add something that made it stand out. Adding the actors on a TV show spin still got it called a “back door historical.” What more could I do? I know--they were actors on a historical reality show. That would give it a great juxposition between modern and history. My main inspiration for a historical reality show are 1900s House and Frontier House on PBS. In both shows, modern families agree to live life like the pioneers and Edwardians for three months while cameras rolled.  I knew instantly that I wanted to put my own spin on the historical reality show genre. Now I definitely had something unique that broke away from its Pirate Of The Caribbean beginnings. 

Out Of Character continued to evolve through several more revisions and three rounds of edits till it was published in 2015 by Anaiah Press.  It’s come a long way from its fan fiction beginnings.
MOLLY ZENK was born in Minnesota, grew up in Florida, lived briefly in Tennessee before finally settling in Colorado. She graduated from Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL with degrees in Secondary Education, English, and Creative Writing. She is married to a Mathmatician/Software Engineer who complains about there not being enough "math" or info about him in her author bio. They live in Arvada, CO with their young daughters.
Website: mollyzenk.wix.com/home
Twitter:  @UnsinkableMoZe

Monday, November 16, 2015

Cover Reveal: Perfekt Control by S. T. Bende



Genre: Upper YA Paranormal/Fantasy (Norse Mythology)

Release Date: February 9, 2016

Back Cover Copy

Rule the realms.

Brynn Aksel is a valkyrie—a battle goddess tasked with protecting both the God of War and the future of Asgard. She fends off giants and dark elves with an iron fist, a glossy smile, and no less than perfekt control. She’s focused one-hundred-percent on rising through the valkyrie ranks, and not at all on her lifelong crush on Henrik Andersson—the one guy in all the realms who could be her undoing.

Henrik serves as War’s other bodyguard, and he’s too focused on protecting their shared charge to realize that Brynn’s a girl. When an unprecedented surge of darkness abducts the Goddess of Love, Brynn’s already-steely focus is singularly directed on her new assignment—accompany Henrik to recover the realms’ source of light before the cosmos descends into chaos.

While battling demons, dragons, and the not-quite-dead, it becomes clear that immortality does not equal invincibility. And when Hel herself puts a hit on Brynn, the valkyrie has to decide if staying in control is worth losing everything . . . or if it’s time to rule the realms.

Pre-Order Links

Add PERFEKT CONTROL to your Goodreads TBR

Before finding domestic bliss in suburbia, S.T. Bende lived in Manhattan Beach (became overly fond of Peet’s Coffee) and Europe… where she became overly fond of McVities cookies. Her love of Scandinavian culture and a very patient Norwegian teacher inspired the books of The Elsker Saga and The Ære Saga. She hopes her characters make you smile and that one day, waffles will be considered a health food.

Find S.T. on Twitter @stbende, her website (www.stbende.com), or send her an e-mail. While you're at it, introduce yourself to @UllMyhr and @TyrFredriksen -- when they’re not saving the cosmos from dark elves, they love meeting new friends . . . especially the human kind.

Want to connect with fellow Norse god fans? S.T.'s readers have created a Facebook group! Head over to the RagnaRockstars page to chat with other readers, talk with S.T., and get access to exclusive content... including Ull POVs and sneak peeks at upcoming Ære Saga books!

Connect with ST Bende at:

TUR is currently available for FREE to newsletter subscribers!

Skål, y’all!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Guest Post: Jennifer Novotney--On Finding an Agent


Today, I have the honor of having Jennifer Novotney, author of the award-winning Winter in the Soul series on my blog to celebrate her latest release, Infinite Spring. She was kind enough to write a guest post on her experience finding an agent.

Jennifer Novotney

Author of the Winter in the Soul Series

I had been looking for an agent throughout my entire writing career. As most writers know, signing with a literary agent is really a dream come true. After I finished my first book, Winter in the Soul, I began my search. I followed the usual process of sending query letters, but that was a difficult road filled with rejection. That’s when I turned to Twitter. Nowadays, writers have more options than ever to get recognized. There are several Twitter pitch parties where writers can query a vast amount of agents, editors, and publishers in a short amount of time. This is how I found my current publisher, Anaiah Press.
It was only after the completion of my second book, Infinite Spring, that I garnered the attention of literary agents. Winter in the Soul won a Children’s Moonbeam Book Award and Infinite Spring was set to release in a few months. I found myself in the perfect situation to attract the perfect agent.  I was pitching a children’s book during a Twitter pitch party when I came across an agent I have never seen before. When an agent is interested in finding out more about a manuscript during one of these parties, that agent normally favorites the tweet with the writer’s pitch. This agent did not favorite one of my tweets, however, I did not let that stop me from querying her the traditional way.
I decided to formally query her about my current project and found her to be very responsive. We wrote back-and-forth for a little over a week and realized that we worked quite well together. I am not the typical author and she is not the typical literary agent. We formed a solid friendship and have been working together ever since.
I wanted to share my experience in finding my literary agent to show that there are more ways than one to find representation. I hope this will inspire other writers to look outside the box and keep their hopes up. Success doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen for those who persevere.


As the Black Kingdom spreads, Lilika attempts to save the land from destruction. But is it too late?
With the golden forsythia in hand, Lilika and Talon must work together to plant it before powerful Cyperus and his mallow close in on Summer Harvest and Spring Bloom. Transformed by her recent discoveries, Lilika puts her own safety at risk in hopes of taking down the Black Kingdom. She is their only hope at redemption and the only one with the knowledge to defeat them.
In this breathtaking fantasy sequel to Winter in the Soul, Lilika finds herself trapped in the grip of the Black Kingdom where one mistake could cost her everything, but the right move just might save everyone she loves.
Release Date:
July 7th, 2015
Book Links:
Anaiah Press:
© 2015 Jennifer Novotney
Winter in the Soul
Lilika stood in the upstairs guest room of her cousin Malachite’s house, looking out the window. The house was old and creaky, but she loved it all the same. The snow drifted down from the sky like tiny pieces of paper. Her gaze followed one snowflake to the next, wishing she could catch each and every one of them to save in her pocket. She’d put everything about Wits in her pocket if she could. It was so beautiful here, but so cold. Even standing by the window gave her the chills. She pressed her palm against the glass. It was cold as ice. She quickly pulled it away and crossed her arms.
They’d only been in Wits a short time, but she was beginning to get used to having family around. She still had a mission. She needed to plant the forsythia around the land as soon as possible to stop the Black Kingdom from spreading. It was a big task, and Cyperus was no joke. She could definitely wait to come face to face with him again. She had to admit she was partially glad her father suggested they go back and rest up for the long journey back home.
“You know, I’m really going to miss you, Lilika.”
She turned around, and Malachite stood in the doorway.
“I know. I’m going to miss you, too. It seems like we just found each other and now we have to leave.” Lilika sighed.
“Will you come back to visit? I know my mother would love that. We don’t see much family.” Malachite leaned against the doorway and crossed his arms.
“Sure, if I can convince my dad.”
“Malachite?” a woman called from down the hallway.
“Who’s that?” Lilika narrowed her eyes.
“Is she down here?” the woman called again.
“It’s my grandmother.” Malachite turned toward the hallway and called over his shoulder, “Yes, Grandma Poppy! We’re in here!”
“Oh good!” Poppy appeared next to him and tried to push him out of the way. “Well, come on now and move over. I can’t very well get in past you like this.”
“Oh sorry.” Malachite chuckled and backed up to let her through. Poppy was a small woman who looked to be in her eighties, but she had a big personality. Lilika could already tell that just by her entrance. She didn’t seem like one to let anybody push
her around. She was wearing a long, cream-colored dress that peeked out under a grey, floor length sweater over it. She gripped the collar of the sweater closed tight around her neck. Her lips were a soft pink color, and her barely wrinkled skin looked smooth for her age. Her crystal blue eyes zeroed in on Lilika.
“So, this is your cousin, huh?” Poppy came very close to inspect Lilika. “You’ll have to excuse me. My vision isn’t what it used to be.”
“That’s okay. It’s nice to meet you.” Lilika smiled and held out her hand.
“You can call me Poppy. That’s what all the kids use.” Was she another long lost family member? Was this her father’s mother? Lilika’s stomach danced, and she widened her smile. “So are you my grandmother, too?”
“Oh, no dear. Sorry. I’m from Malachite’s father’s side.”
“Oh.” Come to think of it, she’d never heard Malachite mention his father. Her gaze moved to him. “Your father? Is he here?”
Malachite shook his head. “No, he’s out on an expedition. He won’t be back for another week or so.”
Her smile dropped along with her hopes of meeting him. “Well, that’s too bad.”
“Another time maybe.” Poppy’s gaze drifted down to Lilika’s locket, and she pointed to it. “Oh, I see you’ve got one, too.” She looked at Malachite over her shoulder. “Did you take her to see it yet?”
“Yes, Poppy, I did.” He nodded. “And? What did you think, Lilika? That magical golden forsythia is something, isn’t it?”
“Oh, yes. It sure is.” Somehow, that came out more sarcastic than she’d anticipated. Her cheeks got hot, and she laughed nervously. “I mean, it is quite beautiful, all those bright flowers together like that. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s… it’s magnificent is what it is.”
Poppy glared at Lilika for a little too long. Her sweet expression seemed to turn in an instant, and her gaze stayed glued on Lilika. “Malachite, why don’t you give me a few minutes alone with Lilika.”
Malachite stood up straighter and furrowed his brows as if he was put off by her request. “Okay. We’ll talk more later, then, Lilika.”
“Sure. I’ll see you downstairs.” She waved to Malachite. Well, this couldn’t be good.
He left and shut the door behind him. Lilika stood as still as a statue. The room was so quiet she could only focus on her pounding heartbeat.
Poppy came closer and whispered, “What do you know, dear?”
“Me?” She put her hand to her chest and shook her head. “Nothing.”
“Oh, don’t you play dumb with me. I can see it in your eyes. You know more than the others. There’s something different about you.” Poppy tilted her head and examined Lilika’s face.
“I… I don’t know what you mean.” Lilika’s stomach filled with a thousand butterflies. Suddenly, the golden forsythia burned a hole in her pocket. She seriously
thought it would catch flame. “Did you see one?” Poppy craned her neck forward, her eyes wide.
“See one what?”
“A Welkin.”
“A what?” Lilika crinkled her nose. It sounded like something horrible.
“So, you don’t know about the Welkins then, huh? I was sure you had met one by the look on your face.”
“The Welkins? I’ve never heard of them.” Lilika narrowed her eyes.
“Oh yes. The Welkins were a mighty force when they were around.”
“Where are they now?”
“They took to the waters when the blackness was prophesized.”
“The blackness,” Lilika said flatly. That she knew about. It was the Black Kingdom led by the worst one of all, Cyperus. It was the exact reason she’d taken a golden forsythia plant from the dome in Winter in the Soul in the first place. She thought disbursing it around the land would’ve destroyed the Black Kingdom. She’d only planted one forsythia so far, so she really couldn’t be sure that was the answer.
“Have you seen it?” Poppy put her warm hand on top of Lilika’s.
She hesitated. “Seen it?”
“Yes, dear. The blackness. The Black Kingdom. Have you seen it?”
She had, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to divulge that to Poppy. “I…”
“Come on dear, you can tell me.” Poppy’s expression softened.
Lilika exhaled softly. “I have. I went through it on the way here.”
Poppy’s eyes widened, and she leaned back. “Did you? My, I’ve never seen it. Only heard about it. What’s it like?”
“Well, consider yourself lucky. It’s not a place I recommend visiting. It’s dark and frightening. Not a really welcoming place at all. There are creatures there I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.”
Poppy’s wrinkled lips curved into a smile, and she patted Lilika’s hand. “You know what, dear? I like you.”
“Thanks, I guess.” Lilika shrugged.
“Oh no, that’s a compliment. I don’t normally like many people like this, and that’s why I’m going to give you some advice.”
Poppy leaned in close and whispered, “Stay as far away from here as possible.”
“Just trust me, dear, and never come back. Take an old woman’s word for it.”
“But why?”
“It’s for your own good. You seem like such a sweet girl. You don’t want to get wrapped up with what’s going on around here.” She pointed to the window.
“What is going on here?” She desperately wanted to know more about all of it and something told her Poppy was just the one to inform her.
“Oh, I don’t know if we have time to get into all of that.” Poppy leaned back and pursed her lips.
Lilika had pushed too much. She wasn’t here to make enemies. She just might need Poppy’s wisdom in the future. “Of course. I understand. Well, do you think you can tell me more about the Welkins? Surely we have time for that.” Lilika stared hopefully at Poppy.
“What do you want to know?”
“This is the first I’ve ever heard of them. You said they live in the water?”
Poppy nodded. “Yes, they are the oldest, wisest living beings across our lands. They used to live all around us, but then they predicted a blackness would overtake our lands. So, they moved underwater to avoid it.”
“Underwater? But how do they survive?”
Poppy shrugged. “They have their ways.”
“And did it work? Are they safe from the Black Kingdom?”
“For now.”
“So they predicted that the Black Kingdom would spread before it ever even happened?”
“They did.” Poppy nodded.
“Wow. Do you think they know how to stop it?”
Poppy arched her brow. “Stop it?”
“Yes, the Black Kingdom. I mean, is there a way to stop it?”
Poppy threw her hands up, her palms facing upwards. “Who knows? They are quite elusive and would be hard to find anyway. Even if you did find them, you might not understand their wisdom.”
“Have you seen them before?”
Poppy’s gaze caught Lilika’s. “Yes.”
“Where? When?” Lilika leaned toward her.
“When it was only us in Winter in the Soul. When we were all together as one. There was no Summer Harvest or Spring Bloom. It was just us. Things were simpler then, you know.”
A knock at the door broke Lilika’s concentration. “Come in,” Poppy called out. Lilika’s father opened the door and poked his head in. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“No, it’s fine, Sage. I was just getting to know your wonderful daughter here.” Poppy tapped Lilika’s knee.
“Well, we are leaving soon, Lilika. So get your things together.”
“Okay Dad.” That was the last thing she wanted to do. She’d rather stay there and talk to Poppy all day, picking her brain. She knew so much about how things had progressed to their current situation.
Poppy rose from the bed. “Remember what I told you, Lilika. It’s for your own good.” She slowly made her way out of the room past Lilika’s father.
“What was that about?” He looked over at her.
Lilika shrugged and shook her head. “Nothing.”
* * * *
“Do you have all your things?” Lilika’s Aunt Holly cleared the plates from the table after their breakfast. “Yes, I think so. Thanks for the meal. It was delicious.” Lilika hadn’t brought much, so it wasn’t hard to put her stuff together.
“Yes, thank you, Holly.” Sage wiped his face clean with a napkin.
“Here, let me help you with those.” Talon rose from his chair at the table and grabbed a few dishes. He carried them to sink with Holly.
“So, do you feel ready to go?” Lilika’s father turned to her and rubbed her back.
“I guess so. I’m really going to miss my family though. Can’t we stay a little longer? The weather’s been so bad, I still have so much to see here.”
“Lilika, you know we can’t. Your mother and brother miss us too much. They need us back home as soon as possible. We were only supposed to be gone for a few nights. This trip has dragged on much longer than expected.”
“I know. Did your letters get to Mama?”
“Yes, I just heard back from her. She is anxiously awaiting our return.”
Lilika missed her mother and brother, Jet, too, but she had to admit some great things happened on this trip. Her gaze landed on Talon’s and when he smiled at her, she felt warm inside. She would miss him most of all and had to figure out a way to see him again as soon as she could. “Okay, I think you’re all set.” Malachite descended the stairs. “The weather looks to have calmed, so I think this is a good time to travel back to Summer Harvest.”
Lilika was happy the weather had turned worse over the last week since it gave her more time in Wits. She secretly wished for more wind and snow to extend their visit.
“Well, I’m sorry to see you go, but hopefully we can visit again soon.” Holly came over and hugged Lilika. “Yeah, that would be great.” She forced a smile. Sage came over to Lilika and whispered in her ear, “Why don’t you and Talon go check on the forsythia you planted before the storm. Make sure it looks okay, and I’ll be out in a few minutes.”
“Okay,” Lilika whispered back. She rose from her seat and walked over to Malachite. “Thanks for everything. It was great meeting you and getting to know you better. Hopefully, we’ll see each other soon.”
“It was pretty fun. Until next time.” Malachite smiled and hugged her.
“Yeah, thanks for everything.” Talon shook Malachite’s hand.
“Any time. I hope you have safe travels back home.” Malachite patted Talon on the back. After a few more hugs and goodbyes from Aunt Holly, Lilika and Talon left the house. Walking away, a pit formed at the bottom of Lilika’s stomach. She’d miss them, but she’d miss Talon even more than she could fathom. “Are you excited to get home soon?” Lilika glanced at Talon as they walked through the snow.
“Yeah, I guess I am. It will be good to be back home and see my mom, but I’ll miss you.” His chocolate brown eyes landed on her. Lilika’s cheeks warmed. “I’ll miss you too, but we’re not leaving right away. We have to plant the forsythia first in Summer Harvest.”
“Well, that’s true, but I’ll still miss you.” Talon reached out and grabbed her hand. He helped Lilika through the line of trees leaving Wits. As they got closer to the spot, the golden forsythia sparkled bright even though there was no sun.
“There!” She pointed. “There they are!”
“Yeah, I see them. They look like they’re doing pretty well to me.”
Lilika nodded. “They do.”
They hurried to the plants. Lilika took one in her hand, careful not to break it off. “They’re amazing, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, they really are. Do you think this will work? Do you think it will stop the Black Kingdom?”
Lilika shrugged. “I’m not sure, but it’s worth a try, right? At this point, only time will tell, but we’ve got a few more plants still. We’ve got to spread as much as we can as quickly as we can.”
“I know.”
“Lilika! Talon!” Sage called from behind them.
Lilika glanced over her shoulder, and he waved her over.
“Come on, we’d better go. We’ve got a long walk ahead of us.” Talon took her hand and started off toward Sage.
Lilika followed, but reluctantly. Poppy’s words rolled around in her mind. The Welkins. She’d never heard of them before, but their story made her curious. She stared off to her right. Something about that direction pulled her eye there. A thick fog encompassed the area, and she couldn’t see much. The only body of water she’d ever known was the river at the edge of Spring Bloom. If Poppy was right, there must be an even larger body of water out past Wits. What did the Welkins know about the Black Kingdom that she didn’t? How did they thrive under the water? Curiosity consumed her, and she just had to find out more.
“Come on, Lilika.” Her father waved her on. “We’re going this way.” Her gaze followed where he pointed, and she hoped it wasn’t through the Black Kingdom.
Book Trailer:
Author Bio:
Jennifer Novotney is the author of the Winter in the Soul series. She was a 2014 recipient of the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award. Jennifer grew up in Los Angeles, California and attended Northern Arizona University, graduating with highest honors in English. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and daughter.
Website:         http://www.jennifernovotney.com/
Twitter:           @jennovotney
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Facebook:       https://www.facebook.com/jen.novotney