Bowerbirds (Nested Hearts: Book Two) by Ada Maria Soto – Plot or Die!

August 26, 2015

My evil enabler Cooper West and I spend a fair amount of time bouncing plot ideas and bits and pieces of WiPs at each other. She’s the one who talked me out of deleting Empty Nests. In the time we’ve been doing this it has become very clear that we have vastly different approaches in how we attack a project. She has her characters and a base idea then sits down to write. That is something I cannot do.

I’m a plotter. I’ve tried to just sit down and write a story. This is how I’ve ended up with a dozen barely started projects in my WiP folder. If I don’t have at least a beginning, middle, and end my project is dead before my fingers ever hit the keys. I blame years of theater and film training on this.

In my undergrad days I had a wonderful mad Russian for a professor, who despite being devout to Anton Chekhov who wrote four act plays, believed that plays should have three act and that the five acts Shakespeare is usually cut into is just completely mad. Of course this is the man who also said “Shakespeare wrote it wrong” when discussing Hamlet. In grad school my film writing professor was a BIG proponent of the three act structure as well as outlining. She believed that a step outline, giving brief notes on every single scene was necessary before getting anywhere near the actual meat of the writing. All this seems to have sunk in.

Bowerbirds ScrivI don’t think my books necessarily have that nice three act structure by the final draft but they certainly start like that. It’s one of the reasons I love Scrivener writing software. I can take that bullet list, make each bullet an individual file, then write whichever bit has my attention that day without losing track. I learn things about the characters as I go and what looks like a little jump on a bullet list can easily turn into a 5,000 word chapter. For Bowerbirds the original bullet list for chapters 3 and 4 went Date Night, Phone Breakup, Dinner. It took me a little over 13,000 words to get through those three points and made up the first half of act 2.

I do wish I could just sit down and write and have the story flow organically from me, or something like that. I tried it with my YA project last year. 12,000 words in it crashed and burned. I know where I wanted to start from and I know how I wanted it to end but that entire middle bit just didn’t happen. I have an M/F/M story I started when I was nineteen. I have a ton of backstory for each of the characters, a poetic beginning and nothing past about 2,000 words.

So if you hear me say ‘I don’t have any ideas for story XXXXX’ what I’m probably saying is ‘I have a bunch of random disjointed scenes in my head that involve the same characters but I have no clue how they intersect and until I do I’m not going to get anyone’s hopes up’.

By the way. I don’t have any ideas for Nested Hearts: Book Three, but I think Book Two wraps things up in a nice way.

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Bowerbirds (Nested Hearts: Book Two) available through Dreamspinner Press

Twelfth Night Release Party with Racheline Maltese & Erin McRae – Excerpt

August 13, 2015

It’s been lovely chatting with you all! We’ll be here til midnight Eastern, chatting with y’all in the comments, but for now we’re going to leave you with an excerpt of Twelfth Night:

John doesn’t expect Michael to be as weirdly taken with the ocean as he is with the wild woods. It doesn’t seem like his element the way the trees are. But he is mesmerized by the beach almost instantly upon their arrival, insisting they walk along the hard wet sand of the tide line. It doesn’t matter how many times John says their muscles will ache unhappily tomorrow from miles walked at the edge of the frigid fall water; Michael either doesn’t hear him or doesn’t care enough to respond.

John is fascinated as Michael keeps a close eye on shells and rocks. One is shaped like a small egg, and he’s disappointed when it’s not. Still he makes John hold it for him, running ahead to a rock jetty to comb through the midden of mussel shells left by persistent and angry seagulls.

John tries not to be horrified, but the sight of Michael’s fingers picking through the dead bivalves and seaweed stinking in the sun is a bit much.

“What’s this?” Michael asks, eventually, holding out a shell, colored and swirled, to him.

It’s in perfect condition, and John is about to be impressed with the find until he realizes there’s still a creature using the shell as its home.

“That’s an animal in there.” He doesn’t actually know what kind. But it’s gelatinous and of the sea and not really a thing they should be messing with. They’ve seen dozens of jellyfish washed up on the beach already today.

“Does it go in the ocean or not in the ocean?”

“Ocean,” John says. He’s not 100 percent sure, but he suspects, like the jellyfish, the sun and the birds will eventually cook and peck it to nothing if it’s not saved by the sea.

Michael throws the shell back and returns to the tide line as they walk, gaze carefully on the ground and picking at every shell he sees that looks like whatever creature he just rescued. Most of them have their animals in them, and John suspects the coming hurricane that’s going to ruin their trip is churning them up.

As Michael throws each one back into the water, John is charmed that he’s trying to save creatures that have no spine, names he doesn’t know, and forms he’s never seen before.

Eventually Michael decides they can leave and reaches for John’s hand. John flinches away. It’s not the strangeness of the town this beach is attached to, half religious meeting town, half gay beach paradise. There’s even a club down the block from their inn that advertises “Less Lights, More Fun!” It’s that he can only think about whatever bacteria Michael is now coated in from all the dead mussels.
God, but he’s going to look like an idiot explaining that.

When he tries, stumbling through a mini monologue about seaweed and sea creatures and sand, Michael just listens with his head tipped to the side.

Finally John’s speech drags to a halt under Michael’s incredibly unimpressed gaze. He sighs and starts again.

“Okay. I swear the handholding thing has nothing to do with anything except your gross dead bivalve hands. But I think I may be freaking out.”

Michael blinks at him. “Did this start when we checked in and you had to deal with people who know we’re here to fuck?”

It’s sharp, but John knows he probably deserves it.

“You know I don’t mind being out in public with you,” he says cautiously. He wants to be honest with Michael, but he also doesn’t want to provoke anger by being less willing to be out than Michael deems sufficient.

Thankfully Michael considers John for a moment and then grins. “Somewhere in the romantic beach getaway, I got that.”
John lets out a relieved sigh and wraps an arm around Michael’s waist. He wants to prove his willingness to be fully in this relationship without shame, but life is also just better when they’re touching. Michael leans into his side, and they start walking down the sand again.

“But it’s something I can’t help being aware of,” John says quietly as they walk. “What we are and what people see when they look at me. Which apparently means I’ve found my internalized homophobia, and I am completely aware of how gross that is. I’m going to work on that, but there it is.”

“You still want to, like, go out to dinner tonight and make out on the boardwalk, though, right?”

“Oh my God, you have no idea. I want to tell everybody about you.”

Michael smirks. “So why don’t you?”

“Coming out at my age is kind of more complicated than it is at twelve. Or however old you were when you did.”

“I was fourteen, thank you.”

“So how did you come out to your parents?” John asks after they walk for a few minutes in silence.

Michael cracks up.

“I’m serious!”

Michael buries his face in John’s arm and apparently can’t stop laughing. “You do understand how ridiculous this is, right?”

“I understand that I’m forty-two and have to come out to everyone in my entire life that I give a remote shit about, because you are addictive and fascinating and wonderful and also are sadly holding me to some pretty legitimate ethical standards. So help a guy out, okay?”

“I was making out with my first high school boyfriend in the living room, and my mom walked in.”

John is entirely not surprised. “So hey, when you meet my family, let’s not go with that plan, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Michael says, drawing the word out in a way that makes it clear it’s his turn to be defensive and weird.

John smirks, pleased to be off the hook for the moment. “You haven’t told them about us either,” he says smugly.

Michael mumbles something against John’s arm.

“What was that?”

“You’re really old,” Michael says. “And they’re going to freak.”

*

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Twelfth Night Release Party with Racheline Maltese & Erin McRae – Locations and Stories

August 13, 2015

 

From Racheline:

Like many New Yorkers, I’ve spent most of my summers visiting the Jersey Shore. For me, that’s been the stretch of beach that includes Ocean Grove and Asbury Park.

Both towns, which together encompass little more than two miles of beachfront, are peculiar relics of another age. Asbury was one an amusement park town; today, while the mini golf and pinball hall of fame remain, the rides are all gone.  Ocean Grove, on the other hand, started and continues life as a Methodist Camp Meeting town.

Today both towns are also popular destinations for LGBTQ travelers and have significant LGBTQ populations.  Sometimes, this makes things awkward, like that time someone hissed something about lesbian witches at my partner and I as we walked down the boardwalk.  Mostly,though, no one cares.

We set the opening of Twelfth Night in Ocean Grove and Asbury because we wanted to capture our hero John, who is still in the process of coming out to himself and others, adjusting to being someplace that was strongly queer and would recognize him as one of their own. But we also wanted to capture the sense he has of embodying a lot of internal conflicts, much like these towns.

Both towns are easily accessible by public transit and are just a few hours from New York City, and our worth your visit in you’re in the area.  Regrettably, the nightclub with the “Less Lights, More Fun” marquee mentioned in Twelfth Night is no more.

What are your favorite locations, either as vacation destinations or as settings for stories? What’s your favorite location (or type of location) that you like to read about, or that you like to write about? What place have you read about in a book and decided you want to visit? Let us know in the comments below!

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Twelfth Night Release Party with Racheline Maltese & Erin McRae – Meeting the Parents

August 13, 2015

If you’ve ever dated anyone, chances are you’ve had some version of the awkward, unpleasant, or just downright embarrassing version of the meet-the-parents experience. For me, it was the first time I met the woman who would become my mother-in-law: I had just slept over at her house, with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, Ben. An d in Twelfth Night, when Michael has to admit to his parents that he’s dating someone seventeen years older than him, and John has to admit to his parents that his boyfriend is seventeen years younger than him…and a boy.

We love writing about people navigating romantic relationships and having awesome sexytimes (and Twelfth Night has plenty of both). But we also really like the fun, and farce, and yes, embarrassment, of people meeting their S.O.’s parents for the first time. Because no matter how embarrassing or awkward things get as our heroes try to introduce their boyfriends to their families, it makes a great story.

 What we want to know about here, though, is your stories of meeting the parents/families/friends/etc of your significant other(s), and also holiday dsiasters. Did something go horribly awry? Was anything exceptionally embarassing? What made you want the floor to swallow you up? We are here to comisserate and also share our own less-than-perfect experiences with family and the holidays.

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Twelfth Night Release Party with Racheline Maltese & Erin McRae: Shakespeare and Inspiration

August 13, 2015

In a lot of ways, it was inevitable that, at some point, Racheline and I would write a backstage story about a Shakespearean theater troupe. We’re both theater people — she an actor and playwright; me, a techie and production designer. With our love of words and stories in general, have a great soft spot for the Bard.

Book 1 in the Love’s Labours series, Midsummer, is based around a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is a play we both enjoy. Because Racheline and I are both queer and because we write LGBTQ stories, Racheline and I are intrigued by productions that explore the genders and orientations of the characters. For instance last summer, the Stratford Festival put on a four-actor production: Four people playing all the various couples of the play, all set as the backdrop of a same-sex marriage. One of our other favorites is The Globe’s 2013 production, which played up an unwritten queerness in the text and portrayed a physical relationship between Oberon and Puck.

When it came time to write a sequel for Midsummer, the hunt for our next Shakespeare play began. After some consideration we decided on Twelfth Night, which takes place at Christmas, when the normal rules of society are allowed to slip a little. That premise ended up being the perfect frame for our next story as John and Michael cope with the holidays, meet each other’s families, and break the news about their relationship to their collective parents and siblings. And while the action of Midsummer centered around an actual professional production of the play, in Twelfth Night, Michael introduces John to one of his family’s favorite traditions: an extremely amateur performance of Twelfth Night in the living room.

And so, our question for you is, what is your favorite Shakespeare play (and why?) Has an existing book or play (or movie, or TV show) ever made you want to write a story of your own?

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Twelfth Night Release Party with Racheline Maltese & Erin McRae

August 13, 2015

Hello! Racheline Maltese and Erin McRae here, and we’re here to talk about our writing inspirations, family holiday disasters, story settings, and of course our new release, Twelfth Night.


Twelfth Night
is the second book in our M/M May-December gay-for-you(ish) contemporary romance novella series Love’s Labours. Book 1, Midsummer, came out this past spring. Lush, funny, magical, and a little bit morbid, the Love’s Labours series chronicles a romance between two actors who first meet during a summerstock production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Sure, 42-year-old John Lyonel has never been attracted to men before, but falling for 25-year-old Michael Hilliard is actually the least screwed up thing that’s happened to him in years. Even if sometimes he thinks Michael’s a changeling.


Michael and John, a May/December couple, navigated the repercussions of their gay-for-you love affair in the hothouse of a summerstock theater production.

Back in New York City at the conclusion of their show’s run, John is overwhelmed by his obsession with Michael and the difficulties of learning to date again after the death of his young son and his recent divorce. John gradually comes out to his colleagues, his football rec league friends, and even his ex-wife.

But when he invites his parents over for Christmas to meet the person he’s been seeing, the holiday—featuring Michael’s family’s amateur production of Twelfth Night—quickly turns into a French farce of potentially catastrophic proportions, forcing John finally to take the lead in claiming his evolving identity as he takes the next step in his relationship with Michael.

Now available from Dreamspinner
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We’re thrilled to be your hosts here for the next little while , so hello to everyone wherever you may be in the world, and we’re looking forward to chatting with you!

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Immutable Release Party – Fantasy

July 8, 2015

Immutable is my first full on fantasy story. The rest have been sci-fi. So why suddenly a fantasy story? Why a shifter not an alien? (Hmm, plot bunny…)

I didn’t used to read a lot of fantasy except for the books of the late Sir Terry Pratchett. Yet I love Terry Pratchett – you can see my tribute to him here. But I also didn’t used to read a lot of romance and now I write it. I’m one of the people who came to m/m romance via the fanfic route rather than the mainstream romance route. So the past really is no guide to the future.

I am a long time sci-fi fan, but in many cases more for sci-fi movies and TV shows than books. Though my all time favourite books remains The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy. I’m a fan of the optimistic vision of Star Trek, but even more when it’s tempered with uncomfortable reality – like in the Deep Space Nine series. I also love some grittier military sci-fi, like Aliens. So it’s a strange thing that I’ve even had the idea to write a fantasy/paranormal romantic story.

But my tastes are changing. Lately I’ve been reading a lot more fantasy, whether it’s classical high fantasy, like George R R Martin, or m/m urban fantasy like Psycop or SPECTR. And everything in-between. In fact several of my current favourite authors write at least some fantasy.

That’s not the only genre I’m reading more of. Crime is another, and I combined crime and sci-fi, along with romance of course, in my recent release Mapping the Shadows {link}

We change. At least in part because of the books we read and movies and TV we watch. Using the Goodreads site the past few years shows me the gradual change in my reading habits. We should always be open to getting into a new genre and never dismiss it out of hand because it’s not the kind of thing we usually read.

It’s not only reading. I’m working on moving out of my comfort zone, and expanding what I write. I’ve got an F/F sci-fi story published and a couple of short contemporaries. I’ve got a longer F/F contemporary drafted waiting for editing. I’ve got plans for a m/m near-future murder mystery story to write later this year. But I don’t think purely contemporary is for me. I always want an extra genre element to it – be it crime, fantasy or a zombie apocalypse. But the great thing is to explore and not assume there’s only one genre to read or to write.

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Question – how have your reading habits changed over the years? If one of those changes was starting to read m/m fiction, how did you come to the genre?

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Immutable Release Party – Shifters

July 8, 2015

Immutable is my first ever shifter story. I’m not going to tell you what kind of shifter is involved, because spoliers! But I’ll tell you that it’s not a werewolf. Not that I have anything against werewolves. I love me a werewolf, be it Sergeant Angua in Pratchett’s Discworld books, or Oz in Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, or Scott McCall in Teen Wolf. But there are lots of different shifters besides werewoves around these days. Still lots of the classic wolves of course, but also plenty of big cats, and everything else from sloths to octopi.

Legends of humans that turn into wolves and other creatures are ancient, but continue to appeal today. Like many tropes that originate in horror stories, they are symbolic of our fears. Like vampires are symbolic of fears about sex and sexuality, and zombies are symbols of fears about contamination and disease. Shifters can symbolise the fear of the animal side of human nature and what happens if it is unleashed. They’re good for themes of identity too. Which am I, human or animal, or something else?

Attitudes to them are different though. They used to be scary, but shifters have followed the vampires into the romance genre. Maybe it’s because our attitude to animals has changed. People used to be more afraid of them or consider them dangerous pests. Now we tend to admire animals like wolves and big cats. At least those of us who don’t live near them and don’t have to deal with them eating our livestock or pets. So a shapeshifter can be romantic and sexy, though with that extra frisson of danger. The current, dare I say it, obsession, with Alpha Males in the romance genre may be a factor too. Make a character a wolf part of the time and the whole Alpha Male thing can be taken to literal extremes.

So shifters are fun to read about and maybe I’ll write more in the future. The nearest I’ve come to a shifter before this is a shapeshifting ship’s doctor in my Red Dragon series, who cycles between male, female and alien form. Zhe gets an extra uniform allowance.

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Question – what’s the oddest shapeshifter you’ve seen? Mine would be the sloths, in a story by Charlie Cochrane in the Lashings of Sauce anthology. Being a sloth part of the time might not be as sexy as being a wolf or panther, but there’d be less racing over moonlit hills persued by hunters and more just hanging out and chilling. Sounds good to me!

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Immutable Release Party – Dream states

July 8, 2015

I mentioned earlier that the idea for Immutable came to me while snoozing in bed one morning last summer. Not quite asleep, not quite awake, I let it play out to its conclusion in my head. I say it arrived fully formed, but really, it was my mind telling itself the story, and being in a half asleep state, sliding quite easily to what happens next. The unconscious mind is stronger when you’re not fully awake, and the unconscious mind is much cleverer than the conscious mind. It knows all the things your conscious mind can’t hold the whole time. Trusting the unconscious—“the boys in the basement” as Stephen King calls it in On Writing—is important for a writer. When a writer is working on a story, then even when they aren’t consciously thinking about it, the unconscious mind is busy. When it’s got something worked out it shoves it up into the conscious mind and the writer says “this idea just came out of nowhere.”

It’s also the place where characters pick up their tendency to misbehave. Many writers find they can’t make a character do what the writer planned in a convincing manner while writing. The character seems to have a mind of their own. But really it’s the unconscious mind, which already knows the character best and knows what they would and wouldn’t do. Best to do as it tells you.

But back to dreaming and semi-dreaming states. I have had the germs of ideas from actual dreams before, but dreams are usually too wacky to write just as they happened and produce a coherent story with. My novel Higher Ground started as a dream, of climbing to higher ground, while water rose behind me. There were various other bits to it. But that only gave me a basic concept to start from. It took plenty of work to create characters and plot from that. Half-asleep daydreams on the other hand will be more coherent stories, but without the inhibiting powers of the wide awake mind which is too quick to jump in and say “stop that, it’s far too silly.” Creative snoozing is very useful to writers! (Yes, it’s one of the few jobs when napping can count as work.) It allows in odder ideas than the wide awake brain would have countenanced.

In Immutable Callum is in a kind of dream state himself. He’s in a thrall or trance part of the time and it lets him accept things he would otherwise have questioned. But this state is a fragile one, for the writer too. One car alarm going off outside and waking you up fully, and it’s popped like a soap bubble. The same for Callum (without the car alarm.) Once reality hits, his bubble is burst and his dream is over.

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Question – ever had a great idea come to you in a dream or half asleep state? Did you act on it? Write it if you’re a writer? Did it make sense in the light of day?

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Immutable Release Party Excerpt and Giveaway

July 8, 2015

Immutable isn’t just my first none HEA story, and my first non-anthology story with Dreamspinner Press, it’s a first in lots of ways. It’s my first ever fantasy story. I’ve done a zombie novel before now, called Patient Z, but they were very much science fiction zombies. It’s my first shifter story. It’s my first set in a historical fantasy setting. It’s not quite my first story in First Person point of view, but it’s the first of those longer than a short story that I’ve sold. So because of all of those firsts I’m just dying to see what people make of it.

Here’s an excerpt from chapter 1, to see what you make of it! Keep going and at the end there’ll be a chance to enter to win a copy.

Chapter 1

The wind was cold that morning I found him. I remember. I’d come down to the beach when the sky was barely light. Fine rain misted my hair and clothes as I scrambled down the cliff path onto the sand.

I carried a basket on my back and began filling it with driftwood as I walked. Driftwood burns with a strange blue flame, but there were so few trees on the island it was the only type of wood we ever had to burn. Those who could afford it bought coal shipped over from the mainland. Me, I pick up the sea coal that washes ashore from the coal seams exposed under the water. I always pounced on a piece of that when I saw it, as if it were a diamond. Winter wasn’t far away. Ma wouldn’t make it through the winter if I didn’t keep the cottage warm enough.

I threw those thoughts off and continued along the beach, shoving driftwood in the basket, watching among the seaweed and pebbles for the precious sea coal. With my gaze glued to the sand, I didn’t spot the body until I was close enough to see instantly that it was a man. He lay on the wet sand, pale, almost gray in the morning light.

I ran, hoping—praying—not to find him dead. He was naked, but that didn’t surprise me. The sea can strip a body bare. I dropped the basket off my shoulders as I fell to my knees beside him. It toppled, spilling out its load.

The man lay facedown, his legs still in the surf, the waves breaking over them and ebbing as if trying to pull him back into the sea. He had skin as pale as ivory—not the skin of a sailor or fisherman exposed to the sun on deck all day. His exposed back was smooth and unmarked, without the tattoos or scars from the lash sailors often had. Hair as black as anthracite lay across his shoulders, a few strands of seaweed caught in it.

I laid a hand on him, fearing I’d find him cold and dead. But he was warm. I turned him onto his back. Nobody I knew. My island, Sula Skerry, was so small I knew the face and name of everyone who lived here. This face I’d never seen. This face… I’d never seen a face like it. Not even in schoolbooks about the legends of changelings and fair folk. For he was fair, God forgive me. I’d never seen a man so fair.

He lay against my arm, eyes closed, thick black lashes brushing cheeks marred only with wet sand. I touched his chest to feel if he still breathed. He did. I left my hand there, on that warm skin, as pale as the rest of him, one dark nipple under my palm.

“Cold….”

I gasped at the sound of a voice and stared down at his face. He’d opened his large and dark eyes. So dark I couldn’t say they were any color at all, like I can say mine are blue. They weren’t merely dark brown; they were black. He’d spoken, and his mouth, his well-shaped lips, moved again. “I’m cold.”

The wind on his wet, naked skin must have been sucking the heat from him. I had to get him somewhere warm. I pulled off my jacket and wrapped it around him. But his long legs were still naked, and his…. I tried hard not to look at his member, for that’s a sin.

“Can you stand?” I asked him, grateful we understood each other. Sailors had been washed ashore here before, who spoke languages none among the islanders understood. I helped him up, but he sagged against me and I had to catch him in my arms to keep him from falling. I’d never get him up the cliff path to the cottage in this state. If I ran for help, he’d be dead of cold before I got back. I had a better idea.

“Hold on to me.” I hauled him toward the cliff face, a hundred feet or so along the beach, dragging my basket behind me. Good thing I’d been coming down here since I was a boy, when Ma was the one collecting the driftwood, and I’d followed behind her, barefoot, searching for shells or stones with holes in them—those were lucky—and always the precious sea coals.

With him lolling against my side and leaning heavily on me, I reached the mouth of a small cave. I’d first found it when I was eight years old. I’d hidden in it, listening to Ma calling me. “Callum! Callum!” A game to me, frightening to her the first time, fear in her voice that I didn’t understand. The cave seemed huge then, like a cavern. Fifteen years later I had to stoop over as I went into it, and I could reach the back in only a few steps.

It lay well above the high tide mark and only the worst storms ever reached into it, so there was little on the floor but dry sand. Some lichen grew on the walls. Nothing else lived here since it got sunshine only at dawn, as the sun rose over to the east and lit this cave low in the cliff for little more than an hour.

I lowered the man to the floor of the cave and he lay there shivering, despite having my jacket wrapped around him. What should I do? Go to the cottage and fetch him some clothes? Go to the village and fetch the constable or the doctor? I felt a strange reluctance to bring anyone else. I wanted him to myself.

“What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Breen,” he said, voice shaking as he spoke. “B… Breen.”

Breen? Where was that from? For all he spoke our language, he had a foreign look to him, with that coal black hair. Some of the shipwrecked sailors who washed up on the island before had skin browner than the most tanned and leathered of the shepherds and fishermen. This man had skin as pale as a highborn lady who’d never ventured out without a shady hat or parasol.

A fire. Yes. I could make a fire for him to warm himself by. I emptied my basket and built a fire at the mouth of the cave. Dried seaweed served for kindling, and I made a spark with the flint I had in my pocket. I blew softly on it until it caught and flames licked up. The wood ignited and the fire began to crackle. I hauled Breen closer to the mouth of the cave. A little smoke came in, but the wind was blowing from the north, down the beach, not from the sea, so most of the smoke blew away from us.

Breen sat up after a few minutes warming by the fire, pressed close against my shoulder. I didn’t know if the touch warmed him, but it sent a flush through me. Heat pooled low in my belly. I tried to ignore it. Mustn’t think on it. I could have left him then, gone up to fetch him some clothes from the cottage. He was out of the wind and had the fire and my jacket. He wouldn’t freeze in the time it took me to get there and back. But I didn’t want to go. I had a strange fear that if I let him out of my sight for even a minute he’d disappear.

“What’s your name?” he asked me suddenly, rousing me from a daydream, my mind full of… sin.

“Callum. Are you a sailor, Breen? Were you wrecked?”

“Wrecked?” He asked it as if he didn’t know what the word meant. He had an accent, not local, not even like the men who sometimes came from the mainland.

“Were you on a ship? Did it sink?”

“No. No ship.”

No ship? So how’d he come here? For he’d surely come out of the sea.

“A fishing boat?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I am here for you, Callum.”

“What?” I turned to him, thinking I’d misheard, or he’d misspoke, not knowing our language so well after all. His eyes were huge and so beautiful. Looking into them felt like falling into a tarn, or looking up into the night sky, at the velvet blackness.

“I have heard you call me,” he said, voice low, a dark, throbbing edge to it. He reached for me, his long fingers touching my face. Shock made me want to pull away. But the thrill down my spine at his touch—fingers still cold despite the fire—kept me riveted. I could no more stop him than I could fly. He leaned close. I thought he was speaking. His lips formed words, or perhaps my name, but my ears were full of the crashing of the waves and the crackle of the fire. His lips touched my mouth.

I closed my eyes. A kiss. He was kissing me. I’d never… not with a man, not a kiss. Some… fumbling with other lads, and a kiss with a lass or two, because they expected it, and because other people expected it, and it kept them from talking about me. But this… nothing had ever felt like this. His mouth slanted across mine, lips soft, but something hard behind them. No, not hard. Strong. His skin was smooth where mine was rough. I hadn’t shaved before coming to the beach.

His tongue—hot, wet—touched my lips. It should have been disgusting. Sin should feel disgusting, make me want to stop him, push him away, drag him out and toss him back in the sea that brought him. But instead it thrilled me. I wanted his tongue inside my mouth, and I opened my lips to him. It pressed in and found mine. Oh, God, to feel that for the first time. Like his tongue was a flint and mine was kindling. A spark and then flame.

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