Friday, July 17, 2015

Crushing It

Damn right, Amy
I had a post in mind for this month. It was going to start out all cutesy about how we won on marriage equality and now we can all relax, and then I was going to launch into a rallying cry to get back on the legislative firing line and push for equal employment protection for LGBTQ+ across all 50 states...and then the EEOC did that already. Thanks for sucking the wind out of my sales Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That's fine. I'll shake it off. We've got other stuff to work on. Let me look down the increasingly checked off list for equal rights...

We're not done, but we're quickly coming to the end of the equality that can be accomplished through the legal and legislative processes. As any other minority group can tell you, that's not nearly the end of it in this country--see the disrespect for America's first black President for notes on how the cultural side can lag behind the legal. The cultural discriminatory bullshit facing the LGBTQ+ community is far from settled, even though Caitlyn Jenner won an ESPY, which is a cool step in the right direction. Big congratulations to her.

Marriage equality across all 50 states in one step is amazing. No longer do we have to worry if a slightly higher court than the last one will take the right away in your state (or the voters in some cases), or if you get married in one state you might not be married in the state you actually live, and what if you travel to another state...how married are you there? Better look that up before you book the flight. By the way, all of these were actual concerns for Nikki and I because of when we lived in California, how long we've lived in Florida, and the various places around the country we've traveled as of late. It just didn't feel like marriage before. We couldn't get married in California when we were in college because we missed the window. A few years after that we could in California, but we'd moved to Florida by then, and Florida wasn't going to uphold a California marriage unless it fit Florida's version of one man and one woman. Then Florida said we could get married, but hold on, our very conservative governor and state attorney general were fighting that ruling tooth and nail, so if we did get married, who knows if it even would have stayed legal. But that's not the worst of it because any state we have to drive through to get out of Florida wouldn't recognize the marriage, and that was true for about two thousand miles in any direction--hope there's no car accidents along the way that would require hospital visitation rights because you're not going to have those in Alabama!

Now that it's real, can't be taken away, and isn't dependent on what state you're in or driving through, Nikki and I have been married, which is good, because we we're bordering on common law at this point anyway. Based on certain family complications and some of our personal history, we did it in our own way, on our own time table, and we did it entirely for us--so don't expect a Kardashian-esque E! special on our big day. Then we went on a cruise and it all felt suddenly very real.

I tried to talk her into the two Corpse Brides topper, but she wasn't going for it.
When we got back from the cruise, we still had to worry about when and where she wore her wedding ring, who we told, and how much exposure she personally had since she still has a job with a boss who didn't seem all that happy about the marriage equality ruling.

Why should that matter? Well, up until Wednesday, it would have been legal for Nikki's boss to see the wedding ring, ask her husband's name (my wife's name is Cassandra, thank you very much), ah, well, you're fired, ya big lesbo! And that would have been completely legal in Florida. Being a freelance writer, and one that writes almost exclusively for lesbian publications, that was never a concern for me--I'm pretty sure all my editors and publishers know I'm super-duper, rainbows flying out my eyes and ears kind of gay, and it doesn't bother them. Nikki didn't have that luxury. No wedding photos on her desk, no conversations about her honeymoon at the workplace, just silence, lots and lots of silence because we live in a state where firing someone for being gay is completely legal. At least, it was. Then Wednesday happened and the EEOC didn't just say LGBTQ+ had federal protections, we'd ALWAYS had them. So now, if Nikki's boss fires her for having an adorable wife instead of a strapping husband, we can literally make a federal fucking case of it.

Let's just go ahead and bring those 29 states into the modern era.
I can hear what you're saying, even through the internet and miles of distance, but hold onto your epic happy dances for the moment, because we're not done yet. Culturally, who knows how long it'll take us to reach some semblance of equality and respect. Ask any black, Hispanic, Asian, female, or other cultural minority of any kind how long it took them to reach equal cultural relevance and they'll tell you, "Not sure, but we'll let you know if it ever happens for us." What can we do to keep moving that forward? Pretty much what we've been doing. Support LGBTQ+ cultural contributions:  TV shows, movies, books, comics, magazines, etc. to keep the voices relevant and contributing. Vote for allies at all levels of government. Come out. Speak up. Be heard.

Or for our generation, continue to fight!
What's left legally, though? Not a whole lot, but what's left is important. The next big fight, the next hurdle to true equality that needs to take place, the next victory we have to win is getting rid of the adoption discrimination laws. You can check out this website for the specifics on which states ban same sex couples from adopting. Suffice it to say, the map looks very similar to the maps of other LGBTQ+ discrimination laws for marriage, hate crimes, and employment protections. Specifically Michigan very recently added new discrimination laws to ban LGBTQ+ couples from adopting or fostering.

Many lesbian couples have the option to have biological children fairly easily--all we need is a male friend with functional sperm and a willingness to sign a contract even though there were hitches for Bette and Tina and the Fosters. Or we can just google "nearest sperm bank" if we don't feel like having that awkward conversation with a close friend. Not all women have that kind of fertility, though, and it gets significantly more difficult and expensive for our gay brothers in this fight who often have to come up with eggs and surrogates and what not (enough to buy a new house kind of expensive sometimes). More to the point, there are plenty of people in the LGBTQ+ community who could have biological children but they're more interested in providing good homes and loving parents to children who need them and would rather adopt or foster children because they're fantastically giving people.

Full disclosure, I have no idea if this is how donating sperm actually works, but it seems wrong.

Next fight up on the block--equal protections for adoption and foster care for LGBTQ+ individuals and couples. You can learn more about what can be done from Human Rights Campaign and what states need the most work. I caught flack for this on my last blog, and to be honest, I don't give a tenpenny fuck if I insulted then or continue to insult now conservatives and Republicans within our community or at large. We need to vote in allies at all levels of government and those allies are almost always going to be from liberal parties like Democratic or Green. Legislatures make laws at the state levels and governors sign them, so it's pretty obvious why the states that discriminate are the states run by Republicans. Vote against them, tell them your rights and the rights of the LGBTQ+ community are a top voting issue for you, and more of them will back away from the topic or switch sides on the issue entirely. It has happened and we can continue to make it happen but only if we apply pressure.

There are children that need homes, LGBTQ+ people wanting to adopt, and the only thing standing between them in many cases are bigots in state houses who think their bigoted base is more important than equality. The best way to prove them wrong is to vote them out.

Stand up and continue to fight!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Trans Political Partnership (the other TPP)


The title of this post is a bad, political wonk double entendre about a trade partnership that...I just realized anyone who doesn't already know what TPP is probably won't care and explaining a joke never made it funnier. Moving on.

Bruce Jenner recently came out as trasngender in an interview with Diane Sawyer. I'm going to stick with Bruce and male pronouns for this post because to my knowledge he hasn't stated a new name he'd prefer and hasn't specified his pronoun preference. If and when he does, I'll put an addendum on this post, if I'm still paying attention to the story, which I might not be.

For the most part, this is happy news. Someone who felt compelled to hide who they were was finally ready to publicly be themselves. And, the news around it has been largely positive. Bruce's children seem mostly supportive. The media's reaction ranges from vague interest to support (a far cry from what would probably have happened if he'd made his transition public in the 1980s when he first attempted the change). Even his ex-wife, the notoriously unpleasant Kris Jenner, has been pretty cool about the whole thing. Aside from former step son-in-law Kris Humphries posting an asinine tweet that he immediately regretted and apologized for, this looked from the outside like a very smooth coming out story.

He added a gold medal in coming out to his collection

Yay, so we can all move on. Bruce can transition with the support of friends and family. We can be glad society has become far more tolerant of transgender people in the last 30 years. End of story. Except, no, he kept talking and came out again. This time as Republican.

I've made no bones about not comprehending LGBTQ+ people who swing to the right politically. It seems a little like mice advocating for cats or fire saying it's really water deep down. Why would people openly identify with a group that is actively trying to destroy them? And before you say, "Destroy? Really, Cassandra? They just don't want to bake gay wedding cakes." Yes, destroy, really.

The mouse only thinks they can get along

Believe me, I get that a person is a sum of many parts, and those parts don't always have to fit together with the other parts to make sense to everyone else. Just because Bruce is transgender doesn't mean that defines who he is in every respect. Also, being LGBTQ+, the perennial underdogs in most conflicts, doesn't mean we're all saints who wouldn't betray our own allies. Dick Cheney has a lesbian daughter, who is as big of a right wing shithead as he is as Dan Savage pointed out awhile back. Not that Dan Savage doesn't have his own issues with the bisexual and transgender parts of the LGBTQ+ alliance. Then there are the entirely baffling Log Cabin Republicans...more on them later.

Bruce went on in the interview to say he wasn't a fan of Obama (despite the president recently saying transgender people needed better legal protections) and that Jenner thought John Boehner and Mitch McConnel (Republican speaker of the house and senate majority leader respectively) would be receptive to listening to him about transgender rights legislation, which is about the time I rolled my eyes so hard that I sprained my sardonic muscles.


I could list all the ways in which Republican leadership, not the fringe lunatics barking at their rabid followers on AM radio and blogs, but the people who are in actual positions of power in the party and the country, have attacked the LGBTQ+ community. But then this blog post would turn into a long, gross book about Republican bigotry. Let's just look at this week, shall we. The Republican controlled house (speaker John Beohner) just repealed the Human Rights Amendment Act to allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in schools. The Senate (majority leader Mitch McConnel) already has similar bills in progress and is eager to move forward with what the house has passed. The repeal won't make it through the senate (because Democrats have sworn to filibuster it), but even if it did, Obama said he'd veto it.

Do you see the problem in Bruce Jenner's thinking? He's not a fan of Obama (the guy who swore to safeguard his already flimsy legal protections) and he thinks the two guys who are voting to remove one of the only protections LGBTQ+ people have would be receptive to hearing ideas on expanding the protections they're currently trying to get rid of. I think spending so much time with so many Kardashians may have permanently severed Bruce's connection to reality.

"Reality TV is my reality!"

Log Cabin Republicans were thrilled to death about Jenner's comments. They couldn't agree more. For those of you who haven't heard of the group, they're the gay Republican organization that doesn't have a seat at basically any of the GOP major conventions and who have never successfully donated money to a Republican president's re-election campaign because no Republican president would accept money from gay people. Let me say that again--Republican politicians turned down free money because it came from gay people. In a political party where money = speech/influence and is viewed nearly as valuable to continued existence as air and water, gay people can't even buy a voice with a group who is for sale to anyone with a checkbook.

I'm happy for Bruce Jenner. I'm glad he's finally becoming the person he always felt he should be. But when it comes to the fight for equality in treatment, rights, and protections for the LGBT+ community, he needs to get a fucking clue.

Or a raging clue, whatever.

I wonder what he's going to say when he realizes he's also giving up his hetero male privilege. He probably thinks his Republican buddies will be interested in hearing what he has to say about the rights of a transgender woman who likes sleeping with other women.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ravens From the Ashes

Ravens From the Ashes

From the Ashes Trilogy: Book 1

I love thinking about the apocalypse. Zombies, nuclear war, alien invasions, global warming, whatever, it's all fun to think about. But, like most people who like thinking about the apocalypse, I like it only as a concept. Let's face it, I'd be totally fucked if society really did fall. I'm an indoor kitty cat who doesn't even like camping. Still, it's fun to think about from the social standpoint of what might happen to all sorts of people if society's rules were suddenly gone and challenges that nobody has ever faced before popped up...even if my fate would be to immediately get eaten by zombies because I suck at climbing trees. So it should come as no surprise that I write a lot of post-apocalyptic books, but this is my first book outlining the fall of humanity.

This book was supposed to be a prequel to the Ravens Ladies series, and then I decided it was going to be a prequel trilogy...prilogy...triquel...pretriquelogy...I'm really close to making up a word for that. This caused problems, none of which are particularly important now, but it delayed the release of the book by about a year, which suuuuuuucked. The result, however, is the first book I've actually had complete creative control over. A first for me. So if you're wanting to see exactly what my vision of a paperback is, you should spring for the hard copy since it's exactly what I wanted in a book.

I've also been toying with the idea of books with soundtracks. Movies get them, TV shows get them, and holidays get them, so why not books? Nikki and I sat down while we were working on proof copies (sorry, dear readers, but the love of my life does get to read all my books way before anyone else) and came up with a soundtrack for Ravens From the Ashes. If you want to listen to the music we decided should be the backdrop for the book, check it out on Spotify: Ravens From the Ashes Soundtrack. If you've got music you think would work for the book and would like to add to it, feel free to post your personalized soundtracks for this (or any of my books if you want to) in the comments section. Also consider buying songs/albums/merch or go to a concert for any of the musicians on the soundtrack--I only picked songs I've personally paid for and several musicians I've gone to concerts to see.

Here it is, lovely readers, the first book of the origin story trilogy for Fiona Bishop aka the Gunfighter, Veronica Vegas aka the White Queen, and the Raven Ladies. It's available in all formats through the links below, and heck, I'll throw in the first chapter right now to get you started.

Kindle   --   Nook   --   Kobo   --  Paperback

 

ONE
 

Drip, drip, drip, drip. Fiona awoke to the familiar sound of the coffeepot finishing its run. Her head felt like it was full of wet cement when she dragged it from her pillow. Were the coffeepot not automated, she doubted it would ever make coffee before noon. She didn’t actually know if either assumption was true for that morning. Daylight streamed in through the Venetian blinds on her bedroom window that overlooked the top of King Street. Her cell phone wasn’t on the nightstand so telling time wasn’t an option until she went into the kitchen to look at the microwave.
She stumbled from bed, found a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt among the scattering of clothes on the floor, and wandered out the open bedroom door into the rest of her West Hollywood condo. The coffeepot had filled the living room, kitchen, and dining room with the lovely scent of freshly brewed coffee. Fiona glanced at the sleeping form on her couch on her way past.
“Sharon, get the fuck off my couch and out of my apartment,” Fiona snarled at her mother on the way past. The bleached blond, comatose figure on the couch barely stirred at the order barked at her. Fiona nearly stumbled over a pair of daringly high wedge heels on her way into the kitchen. “And pick up your hooker shoes before I break my neck.”
A glance at the microwave mounted above the never-used stove told her that she’d awoken at 10:32 AM. Not bad considering her night ended on the barely light side of dawn. She stood in front of the coffeepot a moment before she remembered what she was doing. A white mug sat next to the white appliance. Most of the things in Fiona’s apartment were white, not for any vision of d├ęcor, but because she didn’t like trying to figure out complimentary colors and nothing in her apartment was ever used enough to show dirt even on white surfaces. She poured coffee into the mug and considered its existence. Her mother clearly hadn’t made the coffee, and even if she had, she wouldn’t have set out a mug for her daughter.
The coffee mixed poorly with the tequila film coating the inside of Fiona’s mouth left over from the night before. She spit the coffee into the sink and dipped her head under the tap to run the faucet over her mouth to suck in a few mouthfuls. She swished the water around and spit it into the sink before returning to her coffee.
“Don’t drink from the tap like some stupid animal,” her mother croaked from the couch. “There’s bottled water in the fridge. Besides, there are chemicals in tap water.”
It wasn’t even funny how many chemicals Sharon willingly ingested in the form of drugs, paid to have pumped into her face by plastic surgeons, and poured over her head to turn her red hair platinum blond, but her daughter was supposed to un-ironically beware tap water chemicals. “I told you to take your hooker shoes and get out.”
Fiona’s mother rose from the couch like a herky-jerky zombie. She glanced at the shoes mentioned as she staggered toward the hallway and the bathroom door. “Is that any way to talk to your mother?” she said. “And those aren’t mine.”
“You were telling people you were my sister last night.” Fiona sipped her coffee, wrapping both hands around the mug to absorb the warmth along with the caffeine. She took a harder look at the shoes. Upon closer inspection, they were real Jimmy Choos, which were well out of her mother’s price range or fashion savvy.
“There’s someone taking a shower,” her mother said on the way back through toward Fiona’s master bedroom and the other bathroom.
“I told you to get out,” Fiona said.
The shoes must belong to whoever was in the bathroom, the same someone who made the coffee and set out the mug. That made more sense than the automated timer making the coffee. Fiona rarely remembered to set up the pot the night before—automatic didn’t mean the coffeepot would fill itself with a fresh filter, coffee grounds, and water. Fiona hated to admit, even to herself, that she’d thought that’s what automatic meant when she bought it.
“You need to be in Las Vegas by 7 PM,” her mother said. “Do you want me to drive you? We could have a girl’s weekend.”
“You mean you can snort all my coke and dance with frat boys while I work? Fuck off, Sharon.”
“You can’t drive anymore. How else are you going to get there?”
“Stripper flight out of Burbank.” Supremely sought-after strippers and porn stars or sometimes struggling models and actresses, would fly from Burbank airport to Vegas for the weekend on cheap flights to dance in the high-end strip clubs of Las Vegas, earning five figures in two nights. Fiona never did the dancing part, but she’d taken the flights before because they were filled with beautiful women who smelled heavenly and appreciated the professional courtesy of not pestering one another. After Fiona stabbed a paparazzi guy in the mouth with a pen knife outside LAX a couple years ago, she wasn’t eager to use the L.A. hub again and she really didn’t want anyone recognizing her.
“How are you going to get to the airport?”
“Whoever is in the shower can give me a ride.”
“Maybe it’s a him in the shower and he was my date.”
Fiona rolled her eyes. “Not likely. My television is still here instead of at an Echo Park pawnshop sold for meth money and those are women’s shoes on the floor. You’re not coming to Vegas with me.”
“Fine, can I at least have the Camaro since you can’t drive it?”
“Chaos tic.” Fiona looked down meaningfully to the steaming cup of coffee in her hands.
“Whatever, I’m gone.” Fiona’s mother comported herself and walked out of the condo with all the grace and dignity that a hung-over hanger-on could muster.
Fiona returned to sipping her coffee. She hadn’t really had a chaos tic that demanded she throw the hot coffee in her mother’s face, but she’d indulged so many of her psychotic tendencies lately that it was a potent threat even as a lie. Only a handful of people even knew of Fiona’s particular mental affliction that required her to do most of the insane things that popped into her head; thankfully, her mother didn’t know her well enough to know when she was bluffing.
A dainty figure wrapped in a towel emerged from the hallway. Her dark brown, shoulder length hair was still wet from the shower and her face had the attractive, freshly scrubbed glow that Fiona adored. Fiona knew the woman, although she couldn’t remember how they’d met or what her name was.
“What’s a chaos tic?” the woman asked with a twinkle in her dark brown eyes.
“You know those weird urges you get in everyday situations where you feel like doing something socially unacceptable like spitting in someone’s face for no reason, or shoving a stranger off a curb, or whatever?”
“Yeah, everyone gets those.”
“I call them chaos tics,” Fiona said, “and my mother knows I either can’t or won’t ignore them.”
“Good term for something I didn’t know had a name.” The woman kicked her shoes out of the high traffic area between the bedroom and the kitchen. She leaned against the divider wall alongside the kitchen island. “How’s the coffee?”
“Good, thank you.” Fiona liked that the woman had kicked her own thousand dollar shoes as if they were five dollar flip-flops just because Fiona wanted them out of her way. Pliable was good, but being instinctively aware that Fiona’s feelings were far more important than shoes of any price range was great. It kept her calm when people picked up on her desires, however small, without her having to ask for something, and calm kept her from lashing out.
“The shower is all yours if you want.”
“Thanks, I could use one.”
“You have no idea who I am, do you?”
“I want to say Kelly,” Fiona said.
“Right so far. I work for you.”
“As an…accountant?”
“Lawyer.”
“My lawyer is a large, hairy Jewish gentleman with unpleasant breath and a weightlifter’s body,” Fiona said.
“That’s your criminal lawyer. I’m an entertainment industry lawyer.”
“Oh, right, the fucking TV show thing.”
“You’ll be the next host of ‘Model Behavior’ by the end of the month if I have anything to say about it,” Kelly said.
Normally inking a reality television show contract wouldn’t require a lawyer since she already had an entertainment industry agent, but Fiona had some legal baggage that necessitated a specialist, chiefly because of the mouth-stabbing incident at LAX and the suspended drivers license from two DUIs. Truthfully, Fiona didn’t even want the show—playing the mentor figure to a gaggle of bitchy wannabe models sounded like a shit job to her. They drove the metaphorical dump truck full of money into her living room, and she got over her trepidation.
“Did we sleep together?” Fiona asked.
“You fell asleep while I was going down on you.” Kelly cracked a smile that made Fiona flinch inwardly.
“I swear that’s not my best move.”
“I would hope not,” Kelly said. “Did you need me to give you a ride to the airport?”
“I’m driving to Vegas. I just didn’t want Sharon knowing.”
Kelly gave her a suspicious look. “I thought your license was suspended.”
Fiona leaned forward against the countertop between them. She smiled sweetly, letting a few strands of her red hair fall across her face. A little fidgeting with the handle of her coffee mug gave off the sense of nervousness she didn’t really feel. When she glanced up from the demure tilt of her head, she saw in Kelly’s eyes that her coy routine had done its work.
“You could come with me, if you want,” Fiona said shyly. “Give me a chance to make up for last night.”
“You’re not planning on hooking up a bunch when you’re in Vegas?” Kelly asked. A light touch of pink warmed the curves of her cheeks and the top of her neck.
“I am,” Fiona said, letting a tiny pause pass, “with you.”
“I suppose I can take a weekend off,” Kelly said.
“We can swing by your place on the way out of town to pick up your slinkiest party dress and skimpiest bikini,” Fiona said with a smile.

♠ ♣ ♥ ♦

After a quick stop off at Kelly’s Culver City apartment, they were on their way down the 10 heading east toward Vegas. Fiona’s lead foot didn’t know or care about suspended licenses or speed limits. She’d purchased the highest of high-end Camaros for the express purpose of feeling every single horse the car had under the hood whenever she so much as twitched a toe against the accelerator.
“Silver and black Camaro ZL1,” Kelly said. “Something like 580 horsepower?”
“Something like that,” Fiona said, not really knowing the exact numbers. Long Beach motor-head butches certainly seemed to like her ride whenever Fiona ventured down that way for an edgier date than she could get in West Hollywood. She hadn’t pegged Kelly as the type to know more about her car than her, although it was definitely a point in the lawyer’s favor. Fiona was a sucker for fast cars and fast women who knew cars.
“Am I going to get to drive it?” Kelly asked.
Fiona downshifted to fourth, slammed the gas pedal, and shot around a slow-moving BMW. The car roared and jumped forward under her expert direction. Fiona liked to think her car wanted to go fast as much as she did. The Camaro understood her self-destructive streak because it had one too. They were both built to someday end up wrapped around a telephone pole—it was in their blood and motor oil. Burnouts that fell short of anything worthwhile in life like Sharon and sweet girls with people-pleasing streaks like Kelly couldn’t understand the need to ride the edge of imminent destruction.
“Maybe,” Fiona said, reconsidering her estimation of Kelly. Anyone who would go to Vegas with her for a weekend must have some nihilistic tendencies.
They merged onto the 15 toward Barstow with the early afternoon sun beating down on the worn California highway. Kelly kept herself busy messing with the air conditioning on her side, answering emails on her Blackberry, and searching through Fiona’s iPod for tolerable music. Fiona couldn’t tell if her lawyer was nervous or just self-contained.
“So what exactly are you doing in Vegas?” Kelly finally asked when she’d run out of busy work.
“There’s a runway thing and a photo shoot,” Fiona said. “I usually just skim the emails enough to know where and when something is happening. Details aren’t my thing. It doesn’t matter since they usually let me know what’s going on when I get there.”
“Is your agent okay with that attitude?”
Fiona shrugged. “Don’t know; don’t care.”
“I saw that you packed something of a treasure trove of pills and other chemical refreshments,” Kelly said. “Are you really going to go through it all in one weekend?”
Fiona glanced over, hoping to judge Kelly’s intentions, but ended up fixating on the top of her silk blouse where the blasting air conditioner vent was fluttering the gauzy material across her cleavage. She was tan, her breasts were exquisite, and Fiona couldn’t think of anything beyond wondering what color Kelly’s bra was. There was little doubt Kelly’s breasts were the work of a surgeon and not genetics, but that had never bothered Fiona. A person in Los Angeles would kill their hookup chances if they excluded the surgically enhanced.
“Um…sure, maybe, do you have a weapon of choice against unsuspecting brain cells?” Fiona asked.
“No, I’m the squeaky clean type, maybe a little pot in college,” Kelly said. “It just made me think of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The talent and her lawyer driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas with a trunk full of illicit drugs.”
“I don’t know what that is,” Fiona said. Even if Fiona wasn’t entirely distracted by the luscious view of Kelly’s cleavage, none of what she’d just said rang a bell.
“The Hunter S. Thompson book?” Kelly asked hopefully.
Fiona shrugged. “It sounds interesting, but like I said, I’m a skimmer not a reader.”
“They also made it into a movie, twice actually,” Kelly said.
As the 15 seamlessly turned into the 515 at Barstow and they dipped into the true desert of eastern California, Fiona began to suspect she was losing Kelly. The truth was Fiona didn’t think of herself as a very interesting person. She didn’t read, didn’t care about politics or causes, and she didn’t even watch TV or movies all that often. Anything that required a quiet mind to enjoy made her skin crawl. She worked hard and partied twice as hard in the hope that the next adrenaline rush or fix would satisfy her long enough to sleep for a few hours before she would have to get up and start hunting for the next jolt. Kelly was interesting, though. She’d gone to college. She’d read things. She knew things that connected to other things she knew in ways that made her seem smart and worldly when she spoke. She probably even knew exactly why she was going where she was going for work. In comparison Fiona was empty, beautiful to look at, but vacant in almost every conceivable way. When faced with that level of disparity in overall value as a human being, Fiona did what she always did.
“Let’s play a game,” Fiona said.
“Like twenty questions or something?”
“Yeah, but strip twenty questions,” Fiona said.
“Okay. You think of something first.”
Fiona could tell from the upward trill in Kelly’s voice that she was excited by the prospect and probably more than a little nervous. That’s what Fiona needed: to feel as though she’d regained the upper hand despite how inferior she really was to Kelly.
By the time Vegas rose out of the desert like an unholy abomination cobbling together a dozen cities from around the world into one, Fiona and Kelly were both mostly undressed and practically thrumming with sexual frustration. The bra Fiona finally got to see cupping Kelly’s breasts so perfectly was maroon with little lace flowers. It was as satisfying of an answer as she could hope for.
Rather than let Kelly get dressed once they pulled onto the strip, Fiona gunned the engine, weaving in and out of traffic until she shot across the oncoming two lanes to get into the Bellagio parking roundabout. The Camaro’s engine roared, the cars she cut across the front of slammed on their brakes and laid on their horns, and Kelly let out the most delightful noise comprised of equal parts nervous giggle and scream of excited fear. They passed along the side of the famous fountains, skipped the valet beneath the awning, and darted straight into the south parking garage.
Fiona loved Vegas for the parking. Finding parking in Los Angeles was impossible, required the right stickers from a monolithic parking authority, and always cost money. In Vegas, they wanted people out of their cars and into casinos as quickly and as painlessly as possible, so parking was typically free and plentiful.
It took every drop of willpower she had not to race through the crowded parking garage to find an empty, secluded spot. Near the top of the structure, away from the elevator to the casino, she finally found the dark corner she was searching for. She pulled the Camaro in, slammed on the brakes, turned off the engine, and practically leapt across the center console into Kelly’s arms.
The fiery kiss they shared was only broken momentarily when Kelly asked, “Aren’t you going to be late?”
“Only a little and I’ll look much better on the runway if I have the glow of just getting laid,” Fiona whispered against Kelly’s mouth.
“Good answer,” Kelly murmured back and their lips were once again inseparable.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

J.K. Rowling Shouldn't Take Advice From Lynn Shepherd



Lynn Shepherd recently wrote a piece the essentially told J.K. Rowling to stop writing because...I dunno. Her logic didn't make any sense to be perfectly honest. She seems to think that the publishing industry has a finite amount of money (it doesn't since it's a supply side industry), has no room to grow (it does), and that J.K. Rowling is taking it all (she isn't--otherwise I wouldn't be selling books). This is, based on basic economics, patently absurd. She apparently even had a warning from her friend not to publish the article. For one thing, Harry Potter doesn't have a ton of detractors. Most book series or movie series you can think of will have a few haters to side with you if you go after them (hate on Star Wars and you'll get some Trekkies who'll join you), but that's not really true with Harry Potter. You go after the boy wizard, and you're most likely going it alone.

I'm not going to deal with anything of Lynn Shepherd's but the blog post. I know her books have taken a hit from this, but I haven't read her books. And, unlike Lynn Shepherd, I don't think it's appropriate for an author to comment on the entire series of books and their corresponding movies from another author if I haven't 'read a word or watched a minute' as she said, although I can appreciate the irony of throwing that back in her face. Unlike Ms. Shepherd, I have read every word of the Harry Potter series and watched every minute of every movie. So I'm in a position to correct some of the errors she had in her blog. Like her assertion that Harry Potter is just a children's series that shouldn't be bothered with by adults since it supposedly wouldn't stimulate an adult mind. Let me assure you, Ms. Shepherd, you're completely mistaken in this. The story is entertaining regardless of age, but more than that, the writing is so deep that someone at age 10 will find different gems than someone at age 23 or 30 or 40 or whatever. Harry Potter has such broad based appeal BECAUSE there are so many things scattered through the book for people of all ages and life experiences. Additionally, I've always believed the series became fairly adult at the end of the fourth book. And this always made sense to me that a fan base of children growing up reading Harry Potter would continue to grow up at around the same pace as the boy wizard, so the series would need to grow up as well to something closer to YA or almost New Adult by the end. Of course, Lynn Shepherd would know this if she'd read the books.

She also mentioned J.K. Rowling's dalliance in writing mystery novels under a pen name, but she got some of the details on this wrong as well. Yes, Rowling wrote a mystery novel under a male nom de plume, and no, it didn't do particularly well at first. But Shepherd made it sound as if the internet uncovered her subterfuge, when, in fact, Rowling admitted the novel was hers, most likely at the behest of her publisher, so the sales would improve. I'm not going to fault a writer for wanting to branch out (the publishing industry will try to pigeonhole an author into one genre, making a pen name her only option) and I certainly wouldn't condemn someone for being honest for the sake of good relations with their publisher. It wasn't a nefarious plot or untoward behavior, Ms. Shepherd, it was simply business as usual in the publishing world.

Finally, I wholeheartedly disagree with Shepherd's belief that J.K. Rowling should stop writing. J.K. Rowling wrote a series that is iconic, beautiful, beloved, and timeless, which Shepherd would know if she'd actually read it. Rowling's personal story in how she struggled before being published and her difficult path to success is compelling and inspiring. And J.K. Rowling gave so much of her fortune back to help people in need because she was once in need that she bumped herself off the billionaire list. Quite frankly, anyone who could and would do these three things needs to write as much and as often as they want. Moreover, as an author, I'm appreciative to J.K. Rowling for expanding the map and creating readers out of a generation of children. She's not a wildfire sucking up all the oxygen until the rest of us suffocate. She's a pioneer who pushed out borders so we'd all have more room. She added readers to the market and encouraged existing readers to read more, and I, for one, hope she keeps doing that. It's ridiculous to assume a person would only buy J.K. Rowling books and never read anything else ever again, which would be the only scenario in which Shepherd's blog post would make sense. Reading expands to more reading. When one author does well, it benefits all authors since none of us can write at the same pace our readers can read.

If J.K. Rowling cares about writing, she shouldn't listen to people like Lynn Shepherd.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The LGBT Community Gets Two New Heroes: Michael Sam and Ellen Page


This month saw a groundbreaking announcement and one of the most beautiful coming out speeches in the history of gay men and women leaping from closets. Both were met with the expected kudos and cheering from the LGBT community and its allies (yay) and the typical bible thumping/hell fire threats and hate speech from the bigots (fuck y'all). These are normal, expected reactions to Michael Sam and Ellen Page coming out. But we've got some new middle ground folks that reacted in a few similar, but strange and insulting ways.

Firstly, let me tell you how freaking epic and important it is that Michael Sam came out. A little background on the situation. There are zero openly gay players in the NFL right now. That isn't to say there are zero gay players in the NFL, and anyone who claims this is living in a fantasy land; there aren't any OUT gay players. Statistically speaking, there are probably 1-5 gay players on every team, meaning between 32-160 gay players are probably closeted in the NFL at any given moment. That concern everyone keeps raising about "will they feel comfortable showering with a gay man?" Hate to break it to those showerphobes, but THEY ALREADY HAVE. Michael Sam isn't in the NFL yet, but he's pretty much a lock to be next season. He won the best defensive player of the SEC, a college football conference known for their defense. This means, come September, the NFL will have its first openly gay player, and that is pretty damn great!

http://images1.fanpop.com/images/photos/1300000/Ellen-ellen-page-1336371-1200-1607.jpg
This should only upset people if she steals your personal underwear

Ellen Page, an A-list celebrity and top candidate for most adorable person to ever exist, came out in one of the most beautiful coming out speeches ever shared. If you haven't heard it, you should immediately click here and do so. Don't worry. We'll wait. Cry if you have to--I sure did. Amazing, wasn't it? Ellen Page is up there with the most high profile people to ever come out. And yes, right now, that is an important distinction. More on that later.

In a lot of internet threads, articles, comment sections, etc. about these two events, I saw three insanely common new responses to someone coming out. We all expect the enlightened allies to cheer this stuff on and the hateful bigots to condemn it, but when did apathy and frustration become such commonplace reactions? On George Takei's Facebook post about Ellen Page probably half the reactions were of the "who cares?" or "It doesn't matter and I'm sick of hearing about it" types. For a little background info, George is gay and out and amazing--he's also a giant fucking internet celebrity, movie star, and a highly praised guest voice actor on Futurama so he attracts a pretty diverse following, which kind of seemed to surprise even him when many of the responses included people like...

The "I don't care" posters -- basically, they're liars. It wasn't as if George Takei individually asked all his millions of followers to personally look at an article he posted and give their opinion. If he had, then a bunch of "I don't cares" would make sense. But for someone to read an article that nobody asked them to read and post a response that nobody asked for...let's just say, someone going out of their way to post that they don't care would be ironic if it were true, but it's disingenuous because they actually do care. (There are things I actually don't care about. Do you know what they are? Nope, because I don't care about them enough to bother listing them. See how that works when the apathy is real?) For the most part, these people are just as bigoted as the ones decrying homosexuality as a sin, they simply lack the conviction. They want to deride and belittle the LGBT community by telling us how little the things we do matter to the delusional self-important people, but they want to do so in a way that doesn't leave them open for criticism. Too bad for them. I'm calling the "I don't care" response to these important events both bigoted and cowardly and in possession of an inflated sense of their opinion's value to the world.

The "I'm sick of hearing about this stuff" people -- Boo-fucking-hoo. Go back to the white heterosexual media coverage that dominates more than 90% of every movie, television show, radio station, and any other media source. This is such a whiny, narcissistic stance to have about the plight of a group that makes up more than 10% of the human population. Really? Because something doesn't directly impact or interest you, it shouldn't exist, or should only exist until you're tired of hearing about it? My answer to that is simple and universal: fuck off. I'm sick of privileged people telling me that the fight for equality shouldn't infringe on the monopoly of attention and focus given to the white heterosexual narrative. 90+% of all media isn't good enough for these whiny, self-important pricks. No, they need 100% to keep feeling special.

The "Why does it even matter?" camp -- This group is basically broken into two sides. Half of them don't understand that other people don't have the same rights and protections as them, so they don't see why coming out is even important. They're so narrow-minded that they think their own experiences and what they think is important is so universally accepted that if they don't understand why something matters then obviously it shouldn't matter to anyone. They're ignorant, thunderously ignorant at that. And, from what I've encountered, they're not all that interested in learning that their opinions don't shape the reality of every other human being on the planet--they want to be glib and they're basically just lazier versions of the "I'm sick of hearing about this stuff" people.

The other half of this group are more accurately "This SHOULDN'T matter" and that's as asinine as people who claim they don't see race. War shouldn't be an answer, puppies shouldn't be euthanized, mentally ill people shouldn't be forced to live on the streets, the impoverished elderly shouldn't have to eat cat food to survive, and gay people shouldn't be persecuted. But guess what, should doesn't have a lot to do with what actually happens. How completely worthless is a person who identifies that something shouldn't be happening, but all they do is say that it shouldn't be? Marriage equality exists in less than half the states, a majority of states offer no workplace discrimination protections for LGBT people, hate crimes are still a daily occurrence, and that's the best THIS country can offer. Don't get me started on what happens to the LGBT communities in Russia, Iran, and Uganda. It doesn't matter one bit if a person thinks something shouldn't be an issue if it directly contradicts reality. It shouldn't matter, but it damn well does.

Gather around, all you "Why does it matter?", "It shouldn't matter", "I'm sick of hearing about this", and "I don't care" folks, because I'm going to explain to why it is important. And anyone who doesn't feel like explaining this shit to them, go ahead and link to this post and add your own reasons in the comment section. For LGBT youth, hope isn't easy to come by and a pride in sense of self is even harder. A young, gay man who wants to play football doesn't have role models who know what he's going through, doesn't have heroes like himself to emulate, and is essentially told if he wants to pursue his dream, he has to hide who he is. That is why Michael Sam is important and why what he did matters. If a person can't see that it is because they lack basic human empathy for anyone who isn't exactly like them. Michael Sam broke a barrier that existed for decades so others like him wouldn't have to encounter the same level of resistance--that is as heroic now as it was when Jackie Robinson did it. Ellen Page made a marvelous case for why coming out is important so I can only assume most of the people commenting didn't actually listen to the speech and just scrolled down to the section where they got to put in their own, ignorant opinion. She was dead on--gay women, especially women who don't look like society says lesbians should look, get some of the most condescending, insulting treatment as if heterosexuality is a prize that pretty girls can win, and aren't they ungrateful or stupid if they don't want that prize. That attitude is sick, wrong, and it ties together the worst parts of bigotry and sexism. Young lesbians...yanno what? it doesn't even just apply to young lesbians since Ellen Page coming out inspired me and I'm in my twenties...need to hear that their sexuality isn't tied to their appearance. Actually, forget about it just being a good lesson for lesbians of all ages, it's a good message for women of any orientation and age. I'll repeat it: your sexuality is not dictated by your appearance and it damn sure isn't dictated by what people think you should be based on your appearance.

As for the brain dead morons who said "I didn't have to come out as straight / Tim Tebow got persecuted for being an evangelical and nobody applauded him"...the level of stupid and entitled required to post that shit, especially if its attached to your actual name and Facebook/Twitter account, is beyond help, at least from me. Someone with a crowbar and a bucket of grease might come along to manually remove their heads from their asses, but it's just not worth it to me to bother.

Does any of this directly impact straight, white, males? Nope, but it doesn't have to for it to be important. Let me repeat that for the people who are still confused--just because it doesn't cater to the majority, doesn't mean it is valueless and the LGBT community getting a few heroes and role models doesn't diminish the fact that you have all the role models and heroes you could possibly want in every field and at every level. Another group getting the same treatment you already have doesn't mean your treatment got worse. More importantly, you're not in charge of what is and isn't important to the world. I hate to be the one to break it the heteros, but you don't get to tell LGBT people what is valuable. We get to decide for ourselves who we love and we get to decide that Michael Sam and Ellen Page are fucking heroes to be proud of.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Eternal Autumn

The Eternal Autumn

Available on Kindle, Kobo, and Nook

I really like travel stories, especially through classic fantasy settings like in The Hobbit and Lord of the Ring trilogy or a science fiction/paranormal setting like in the Dark Tower series. Essentially, in the first book of this series (Divine Touched) everyone hung out in Griffon's Rock for the most part, exploring the city and dealing with everything more or less within sight of the city walls. In The Eternal Autumn everyone has hit the road!

The cover, as seen above, features the lovely, blue-eyed assassin Calista, but she's not alone in the traveling adventures. Harper, Athol, Wizardly Willard, Brandinne, and Sofea from the first book all return. New characters are added along the way, including the daughter born of two women, gifted by three goddesses. In writing this book, I wanted Vaelandria itself to become a character as the reader travels the Last Road with Sofea and explores the Valley of the Hallowed Harvest with Harper and Calista. As with the first book, I tried to balance adventure, action, humor, and romance in the largest project I've written to date.

Enjoy the prologue as a sample below, and meet up with old friends as you return to Vaelandria in the troubled times of the Eternal Autumn!

Synopsis

Time has frozen. The leaves of autumn refuse to fall, frost clings to the ground, and the last harvest took place more than a year ago. Vaelandria is gripped by the Eternal Autumn, and some say it is the end of days. Starvation and madness spread across the countryside even as corpses climb from their graves, goblins raze villages, witches fly through the darkest nights, and ghosts rise to haunt the living.

As many have come to believe the child of three Goddesses is the source of the Eternal Autumn, Calista and Harper struggle to protect their fated daughter from unseen enemies. They flee to the Valley of the Hallowed Harvest where the Eternal Autumn is celebrated as a holy sign only to find the citizens of the valley are every bit as dangerous as those they thought to escape.

In the war torn north, the Dagger Falls Company is hired to discover the source of the Eternal Autumn and hopefully end it. Led by Sofea, the former North Wind Valkyrie, the company takes to the road in hopes of gleaning answers from the Thief Queen of Griffon’s Rock, the mystical Ogre of the orchards, and a long-dead dragon. Unlikely aid for their impossible task comes from an escaped Cyclops bear, a flirtatious Brownie bandit, and a sarcastic Witch of the Nightshade Coven.

Amid the insanity sown by the Eternal Autumn, assassins skulk through the night, mask-wearing cultists roam the forests, and divine powers tear at the very fabric of reality. While the world decays under the sinister beauty of the Eternal Autumn, Calista and Harper slowly unravel the mystery to find frozen time is a harbinger of something far worse.




Prologue

The Eternal Autumn began in Vaelandria on the day the child of three Goddesses was born. And the world will burn before her, as the prophecy went.
The doula, midwives, and priestesses all agreed that Calista would not give birth until the first month of winter. Calista was growing increasingly unhappy with the lot of them. There were women who enjoyed pregnancy, who felt right, natural, beautiful, transcendent, comfortable, and Calista came to hate these women too. Calista’s personal doula, a dignified matron of sixty years from Harper’s home fishing village, stated that Calista might have more than a month left as first children were often late. Calista nearly slapped the woman at the mention of ‘first children.’ The daughter she was carrying was to be her only child—any future children their Goddesses planned to accost them with would have to be carried by Harper.
Pregnancy was a blight for Calista. She was sick for months at the outset. Allegedly, the stomach upset was to focus mainly on the dawn hours, taper off in the day, and evaporate entirely after the first few months. Calista’s pregnancy involved stomach disquiet throughout, anchored to no particular time of day. Her ankles were swollen. Her back ached. Her feet were a constant source of discomfort. She couldn’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time. The baby, her beloved, bedeviling daughter of divine origin, kicked her almost constantly. She had to pee every ten breaths it would seem. Her moods swung like a pendulum batted by a cat to the point where she didn’t know what she would be feeling from one moment to the next, but she knew she would feel it with an intensity completely inappropriate to the situation even if the emotion matched, which it seldom did. All the women surrounding her who had collected their knowledge of childbirth over decades of experience said it was one of the toughest pregnancies they’d seen.
Calista walked the cold, narrow hallways of the keep they were staying at on the furthest eastern edge of the duchy of Ovid. She was wrapped in a giant set of wool and satin robes colored royal blue and black. Her feet were left bare to absorb a soothing chill from the stones she walked upon. More than the pain, discomfort, and dawn stomach illnesses, which had only recently subsided, she was most irritated that her body no longer did as she commanded. Once upon a time, she was fast of hand, swift of foot, strong, agile, and able to do back flips while fighting. Now she struggled to simply walk down the hall without holding her back with one hand and her protruding belly with the other.
Harper meant well throughout and fawned over Calista with a devotion that was increasingly irritating. Since most things irritated Calista as of late, she’d banished Harper from the keep for the day along with all the entourage who came from the four corners of Vaelandria to attend upon the unborn fated child. Calista loved Harper, but she wished truly that her Goddess had chosen the Sword Maiden to carry the child rather than her. Calista expected Harper’s natural sweetness and caring to blossom, and it had, but she hadn’t expected the amorousness that accompanied it. Harper was tender, loving, and took remarkable care of Calista during her pregnancy, but seeing her beloved wife heavy with child also sparked a nearly insatiable lust in the Sword Maiden. Calista enjoyed the romantic wishes of her wife at first, especially since she felt like a waddling, griping, mess most of the time and greatly desired anyone telling her she wasn’t actually the waddling, griping, mess she thought she was. After a time, Calista’s own sexual needs grew, as was common during phases of pregnancy, she was told, until she and Harper did little more than make love. With around three weeks until her due date, Calista was still amorously inclined and Harper seemed even more so, but Calista simply couldn’t stand anything anymore. Warm baths were interrupted by the need to pee. Sexual contact was often spoiled by the distraction of her child kicking and rolling about in off-putting ways. Even the foot massages Harper gave weren’t tolerable anymore as Calista couldn’t find a comfortable position to sit in long enough to truly savor them. She dreamed of a time when the child would be out of her, and she could turn her body back into what it was before.
Her constant inner monologue of desiring the end of her accursed pregnancy was interrupted by the faint scent of something old and familiar. She was still an assassin trained in the lowlands and any assassin from the south could identify the faint aroma of the systemic poison known as Belly Rot. It was a sickeningly sweet fragrance like a rotting corpse, but with a peculiar undertone of cinnamon. The stone keep they inhabited on loan from a lesser noble smelled of wet stones, rain, and moldering cloth most of the time. The intrusion of Belly Rot was subtle, yet well within Calista’s powers of perception.
Calista froze and listened. As if to follow her mother’s lead, the baby within her belly ceased her kicking to listen as well. Strangled breathing trying to pass through a mangled nasal passage sounded from around the corner ahead. Calista took a soft step back and then another. She pressed her back to the wall, glanced down the corridor in the direction she’d just come, finding it dimly lit by the gray light filtering in through the arrow slit windows, but otherwise empty. She was unarmed and no longer able to run or fight as she once did. She regretted banishing Harper and everyone attending on her from the keep. Calista was several stealthy steps back down the hall before the ambusher apparently realized she wasn’t completing the circuit to the window that she’d been walking most of the morning. The assassin stepped around the corner, apparently a little surprised to find Calista staring at him even while she was sneaking in the other direction.
The assassin was tall, powerfully built, and wrapped in the muffling black wool clothing common to many orders of hired killers. His face was obscured by a black shroud. A large knife, coated in soot and poison, rested casually in his left hand.
Calista turned and ran for the end of the hall. She couldn’t hear the assassin give chase above the sound of her own robes swishing and her bare feet slapping against the stones, but she didn’t doubt for a second that he was behind her and closing fast. She cursed how slow she was and how awkward her gait had become. Before turning the corner, she snatched the lone torch from the sconce at the darkened end of the hallway. She tucked into a slide on her side, gripped the edge of the wall to pull herself around the turn, and pointed her feet at knee level. Her suspicions were immediately confirmed when her foot struck the leg of another assassin waiting around the corner. The man’s knee buckled backward under her attack, and he crumpled sideways into the wall. She sprung to her feet as sprightly as an almost nine-month pregnant woman could manage, and swung the torch at the man’s face. The burning wood and pitch made perfect contact with his black shroud at what turned out to be eye level. The man shrieked, gripped his face, and began wailing about being blinded.
She scooped up the knife the assassin dropped and began running again. The second man was an insurance policy, smaller and likely less skilled than the one still chasing her. Were she still herself, she would have used the knife she’d collected to gut the much larger assassin on her heels; pregnant and clumsy as she was, she chose fleeing.
Calista ducked into a room rather than continuing on to the next corner. No sooner was she across the threshold than a sharp, stabbing pain shot through her from groin to sternum. The harbinger pain wasn’t precisely like a knife wound, but she could see the similarities. Her labor was upon her and at the worst possible time.
“Curse you, you little shit, not now,” Calista hissed at her unborn daughter.
She collected herself after the pain subsided and ran for the window. The outer windows were arrow slits meant to defend the keep while the inner windows were more provincial glass and large enough to let in an ample amount of light as they looked in on a well fortified courtyard. She pushed open the window and hauled herself up to the sill even as the large assassin warily stepped into the room.
There was a narrow ledge running around the outside wall, no more than a couple hand-widths of stonework made slick from autumn rain. Before she was heavy with a Goddess inflicted child, Calista would have looked upon the ledge as being miles wide and more than enough to run across. In her current state, the slippery stone ledge that wasn’t long enough to accommodate her entire foot from heel to toe when placed from wall to edge, looked entirely too narrow to even stand upon. She willed herself out the window onto the ledge and pressed her back against the wall.
She was a solid dozen steps down the ledge when the next labor pain shot through her. When it became a matter of keeping her knife or keeping her grip on the wall, she relinquished the assassin’s weapon to hold on to the inner face of the keep. The blade clattered into the courtyard, but she blessedly didn’t follow it.
“You do realize if I die, you’re likely to die with me,” Calista growled at her unborn daughter.
A quick glance back revealed the assassin had already crawled onto the ledge and was following her at a pace quicker than she thought such a large man could manage. The assassin had to be divine touched. He wouldn’t have been sent otherwise, and he certainly wouldn’t have been as cavalier about killing her if he didn’t have a deity’s blessing in the world. Even if he were just a standard assassin, she would have struggled against him since her own stores of power were completely depleted as she hadn’t killed anyone since becoming pregnant.
She continued on along the ledge and around the corner. Getting her pregnant body around the outside curve of the building was enormously difficult and she didn’t want to admit, even to herself, how close she came to falling. Her balance was all off. Her center of gravity was way out in front of where it should be, and her spine wasn’t nearly as spry.
There was one window left before she rounded to the outside of the tower where there would only be arrow slits. The large man pursuing her struggled around the corner that nearly knocked her from the tower’s ledge, though not nearly as badly as she had. Her head start was spent, and she was quickly running out of options.
Before she could duck into the window, a brief waft of burned flesh, hair, and clothing carried on the wind to her. She plunged a hand into the window and pulled hard at what she found. The backup assassin she thought she’d blinded came stumbling toward the window and fell out with her aid. She ducked into the window, stumbling about in the weaving room while trying to right the wobbly ship that was her body. She barked her leg against a spinning wheel and cursed loudly. The other assassin died on the stones of the courtyard below. She felt a sudden rush of his life energy flowing to her.
The large assassin filled the window, knife not yet at the ready. She gathered the scant scraps of power she’d just received and put them behind a single strike. A labor pain shot through her mid punch, but she only let the agony fuel her attack further. The assassin braced to take the hit, clearly not expecting the added force of a Goddess’s might behind it. Her knuckles made solid contact with the bridge of his nose. The bone shattered, his neck snapped backward, and the assassin was flung from the window as if fired from a catapult.
She flexed her sore hand and began her slow, painful waddle out of the room. She’d have to search their bodies in the courtyard to find out who they were—that was the only major flaw in her plan of survival: making her way down the narrow stairwell while in the midst of labor. By the time she reached the bottom floor of the keep’s tower, she was breathing hard, gritting her teeth through every fresh grind of pain through her body, and ready to kill a few more people to vent her frustration. Her daughter was a month early and charging hard to be born far faster than expected.
Rain fell in earnest by the time she stepped into the gray courtyard. She made it several steps toward the crumpled body of the first assassin she’d pulled out of the window. Hoof beats interrupted her focus. Riders were coming toward the keep’s open gates, although they didn’t sound entirely like horses. She had the life force of the second assassin she’d killed at the ready, but from the increasing intensity of the thundering riders she assumed the force was far too formidable for her to fight. Instead, she began looking for a place to hide in the largely empty courtyard.
A labor pain ceased any further thoughts of hiding. She ended up facing the approaching riders doubled over, cursing the Goddess and her unborn child. A familiar voice bellowed across the keep as he rode through the open gates on a mighty draft horse. Calista looked up to find Athol and Caleb leading a group of a dozen Sylvan riders upon dire elk.
“What in the name of the pantheon are you doing out in the rain?” Athol demanded, reining in his horse next to the body of one of the assassins she’d killed.
The Sylvan riders spread out into the keep, never dismounting their dire elk. They were of middling height, muscular, and all had hair the color of autumn leaves in golds, reds, oranges, and browns. Their otherworldly green eyes glowed faintly in the gloom of the overcast day. Calista knew the Sylvans’ hair changed with the season, becoming black or white in the winter, pale green in the spring, dark green in the summer, and then every shade of autumn leaf in the fall. The deeper woods Sylvans’ skin also changed throughout the year to match the forest around them. The riders in the keep looked to be of a tribe from the darkest boreal forests in the northeast.
Athol rushed over to help her stand fully. She accepted his hand and powerful arm around her waist. They walked toward the household entrance on the side of the castle, passing by the assassin body in the courtyard.
“You killed a Dark Stalker while in the midst of labor pains?” Athol asked. “It would seem the rumors of pregnancy difficulties are overblown if you managed such a feat.”
Calista gripped his massive hand tightly as the next wave of contractions overtook her. She bent his thick thumb back, knocking him to his knees at her side. “Let me share the pain I’m enduring, and you tell me how bad it is,” Calista snarled.
“I’ll take your word for it if you allow me to keep my thumb,” Athol complained.
“This is the mother of the prophesized daughter?” one of the Sylvan riders asked of Caleb.
“One of them,” the Ranger replied. “The other mother is the one with the Sylvan blood.”
“Speaking of, where is Harper?” Athol asked after Calista relinquished her death-grip on his thumb.
“I sent her away to gain a moment’s peace,” Calista said.
“We will remain in the courtyard until she returns,” the Sylvan rider said.
“I’ll remain outside as well,” Caleb said.
“Perhaps I should too then,” Athol agreed.
“You’ll all come inside or there will be several more dead bodies in the courtyard to worry my wife upon her return.” Calista was pregnant, irritated, a little frightened about a second squad of assassins coming when she was even further into her labor, and she wasn’t remotely in the mood to tolerate male fear of the birthing process.
“Have you thought of a name for her yet?” Athol asked.
“Pain-in-the-ass,” Calista replied.
“That was my nickname as a child,” Athol said.
“Bianca then.”