Our year is coming to a close. We've had quite the times, haven't we?
I haven't published one of my books since 2014, but I've stock-piled a few and I'm planning on getting them out in 2017.
It's time to dust off some old manuscripts and do the final edits. I've been excited to publish a lot of other authors books and now it's time for my own.
So while we merrily stroll through to next year, plan a few New Year Resolutions and make goals for 2017 lets remember the achievements of 2016.
Of course, I've got a new excerpt for you. Another of the stories I plan on releasing. So click the see more button for the excerpt!
The King's Thief
I didn’t know why the King of Thieves returned to Xaxyia after twenty years, but I’d recognized him the moment his doe-skin, silver-tipped boots stepped into my hall.
Already he was gathering attention from my girls. Being the good courtesans that they were, each woman tried to attend him.
A small sense of satisfaction rippled up my chest when he rebuffed them all and headed straight for me.
I wondered if he remembered the night he whisked me away, by my uncle’s command, saving me from death. It was the last time I ever saw the King of Quenarre, my uncle. Chartan and Detrien were the sole secret keepers of my true origins. Detrien Batiste being a fellow Guild Master, head of the Entertainers Guild, and my cousin would never tell. Chartan, well, it would behoove him to have saved me from the battle of Quenarre only to turn me into the authorities.
Still, Chartan was dangerous. Yet I stayed in my chair, frozen by the beauty of him. Long legs, a perfect bulge to go with his “vee” shaped torso hidden behind a rogue's cape. If you looked carefully, you’d find his riches within his tailor. Clothing of soft fineness but not audacious gold. Chartan was a subtle gentleman that allowed his presence persuade you of his importance. Not like the rest of the dolts chasing my courtesans walking through my halls. The King of Thieves flaunted nothing and outclassed Peace-maker Harold with his gaudy emerald ring matching the huge round emeralds on his doublet.
Though not born from nobility, Chartan knew how to command royalty through his walk, subdue arguments with the language of silent intimidation, and keep the affections of a master seducer even after two decades. He should have been a military commander, but for one reason or another he chose to remain a thief. A thief that caught the eye of a king…and this former Quenarre noblewoman.
I smiled to calm the flutter in my heart and stood to greet him. “Dear Sir, thank you for coming to Courtesan’s guild. How can we pleasure you?”
His eyes were hidden but his lips curved down slightly at my informal greeting. Coming to a full halt he bowed. Then his smooth accent had my thighs clench together. “Lady Dauphine, may we speak in private?”
My stomach detached from my belly and came rushing to my throat. But my smile grew wider, hard as it was to keep it. “I’m sorry my dear, but I don’t take new customers.”
Chartan scanned the room. “I have something of import to discuss with you, I’m not interested in your services.”
I laughed. “That’s the tactic you wish to take. I assure you we are all discreet here. Perhaps you would like to speak to Lady Glen?” He’d better not. Straining to keep from shaking I pointed to Lady Glen as she passed by. Hearing her name she immediately came over.
Chartan waved her away. “No, this is for you only.”
“Oh, I bet it is.” I sat, showing I was not some pithy girl to shove around.
He stepped closer to me, leaned down to my ear and whispered. “I know who you are Lady Dauphine of Quenarre, noble princess of the house Rouelle. I escorted you to safety here before the overtaking of our King (name here). Do not chuff me off.”
It was not the first time I’d been threatened, nor would it be the last. But it was the ultimate impendent. He would not get away with blackmail. Nor would he see me panic. I kept my heart slow and retorted, “Then you will expose yourself.”
He stood and chuckled.
My nose flared and I looked up at him. His waist was at the perfect height to unbutton his pants and bring him to his knees, the way a woman who knows what she’s doing can. Our eyes locked and damn if I was going to give in to him. That infuriating half quirk of a smile. That arrogance. His scent beating at my control.
A pouch appeared in his hand and he let the contents clink before he placed the money bag between my cleavage. “That should be sufficient to avoid unpleasant speculation.”
He stepped back and motioned his hand to indicate he would follow. I was not a horse to lead. Nor a slave to his whims. But, the side of me that wanted him in my bed snuck reason and excuses to take him to my chambers. Really, what choice did I have with what he threatened?
Painting on my nonchalant smile, I played demure host and did as he bade. Passing my guards I gave them the signal to interrupt us in two minutes.
Luca nodded. He understood.
Down the corridor a ways Chartan’s smooth voice resumed battering against the stronghold of my heart. “How much time do I have before your guards crash it?”
I turned up the spiral stairs and said nothing.
“I’m guessing a few minutes.” He said. “You’ll hear what I have to say.”
I wanted to grit my teeth. Damn thief.
Several of my girls were hard at work pleasuring their clients. You couldn’t pass a door without hearing the particulars of a client’s needs. The sound of a slap on flesh halted my motion. I listened at the door where it came from. If a man was being too harsh with any my women I wouldn’t have him back. Another slap. My hand rested on the door knob.
“You like that, hun? You like being ruffed up?” The woman’s muffled voice belonged to Lady Andrea.
“Yes.” Responded a breathy male voice. “Please, again.”
Apparently, Duke Undore found his pleasure from women on top giving him pain. Good to know.
I smiled, backed away and continued on. At the second floor I turned into the hallway and reached for the key I hid under my sleeve.
“Stop.” Chartan halt in the middle of the hallway.
“You’ve been a larcenist too long, LeBeau.” Showing him the key, I hoped he held no dangerous value in the chunk of metal. I continued down and stopped in front of door number two-ten where I played with clients and teased secrets from their souls.
Chartan hesitated. “Give me the key.”
A genuine smile parted my lips. He took me seriously. He understood the lengths I would go in order to protect my identity. If I was pointed out as a Rouellean it wouldn’t be long before the Theocracy of the Randish would spill my blood.
I crossed my arms and pursed my lips in defiance.
Chartan took the key and inserted it into the lock. He opened the door and stepped back.
Trying to going forward Chartan threw his arm out and waggled a finger at me. His touch was my exquisite pleasure.
“Not yet my courtesan.” The smile didn’t reach his eyes.
Heart tearing itself apart knowing what I had to do, my inner most desire pleaded with me to take him to my bosom and show him he did not need all these precautions, not with me. But it would be a lie.
He freed a dagger from inside his cape and pushed the door wide open with the tip. He looked inside, up then down and finally through the crack of the door.
I sighed in feign disgust but he had every right to be suspicious.
“Have a lot of enemies?” I said.
He went inside, quiet as a stalking cat, and swept the room.
While he was preoccupied with his security check I closed the door—slowly. Reaching under my sleeves, I grabbed my throwing sticks, one for each hand. Thin, with three edges, shaped almost like a dowel I positioned to turn and deploy.
My movement swift, my aim true I lopped the weapons at Chartan’s heart.
The thief deflected one and caught the other. Then slammed me against the wall. The point of my own dagger scrapping against my chin.
Despite me trying to kill him, Chartan’s smile was hearty and his eyes sparkled to life. “My King was right.”
“You are truly the right choice.”
“To regain the crown and return Quenarre to it’s glory.”
His words stung. Quenarre, my beloved home, the land that stole my life. “I’ll never return to that place.”
“You will return and you will rule.”
My guards pounded the door open and rushed in.
Chartan flew backwards, hopped in the air, folded himself forward while sailing through the open window—backward. His flight took a blink of an eye and then he was gone before the guards were down the hall.
My personal security, Luca, eyed me up and down, checking for any harm that may have come to me. “My Lady?”
“We’ll chase after him.” Luca peered out the window.
“Don’t contemplate jumping after LeBeau.” If Luca did catch up to Chartan I’d lose a guard. “Besides, he paid for my time.”
I reached for the bag of coin Chartan lusciously shoved down my corset.
It wasn’t there. I reached further in. Nothing.
My blood boiled. “Chartan!” I slammed the window down.
LeBeau was a mile away by now but his chuckle rang in my ears. He would not win. I would never go back to Quenarre. As for his blackmail threat…if he wanted to fight in the game of espionage, he’d found a formidable opponent.
“He escaped out the window, backwards?” Detrien’s melodic voice soothed many a woman, including me. But I was wise to his seductions having taught him everything he knows.
“He didn’t just escape, he flowed like water. The bastard took his money with him.”
Detrien pulled his head back and laughed. Even the deep sound of his mirth was a caress of music. “This is serious, Detrien!”
Raising a hand to his mouth, as if that would disguise the huge smile, he regained the stature of the Entertainers Guildmaster. “He has you in quiet the tissy.”
“He’ll have both our heads in the bastille if he’s allowed to live.”
Detrien raised a dark brow. “You think the man saved us twenty years ago only to kill us now?”
That gave me pause.
Detrien sat back in the booth of his side and examined me. “He does have you in a quandry, doesn’t he. Come now, give it up. What does he have over you?”
“Death isn’t enough?”
“This isn’t your first round of epionage.” Detrien pursed those lushious lips. I’d taught my cousin certain facial expressions that caused women to melt before him and offer their hearts—and their secrets.
“That doesn’t work on me Detrien.” I shot him a haughty glance.
“I guess I’m not Chartan.”
I wanted to slap him on the chest. But it would give too much away. Playing the icy seductress I mimiced Detrien and leaned back.
He smiled in a way that told me he was on to me.
Outside the carriage, sea-side bells rang. I pulled the window skirts back to have a look. Barrels of fish, ship nets, the street market lay before me.
I turned to Detrien to ask where he’d taken us, but my tongue held at the mornful saddness in my cousins eyes.
“What’s wrong?” I sat back.
His eyes remained far away. “Have you seen it, after…”
“Quenarre? No, I’m not going back.”
His single chuckle, a brief outburst escaping his nose, sent a chill up my spine.
“I have.” He said.
Smoothing over my skirts I asked, “When?”
The entertainer in Detrien took over. “I don’t think I should tell you.”
Keeping my expression bland, I went for the real question. “Where are we going?”
“I’m not going to tell you that, either.”
“Stop the coach.”
Detrien’s smile widened. “No.”
I knocked twice on the wood panel near the driver.
My cousin sighed. “We’re going to see my surprise.”
A face over the driver’s side peered in and Detrien waved the man off.
“I don’t like surprises,” I wanted to grit my teeth, but smiled instead. “You know that.”
“All right,” Detrien sighed in an actor’s dramatic fashion. “I bought a ship.”
“You?” I snorted. “Bought a ship? What for?”
“You never know when we’ll have to entertain the Randish.”
My cousin knew all my hot spots, had pushed them in our youth so I could practice control of my responses. It was effort, not hitting him in the face for that comment. The Randish now occupied the city I loved. They had killed my uncle and king, my parents, my friends. All I had left of Quanarre was Detrien.
“Promise me you won’t go back there.”
“Darling, there is nothing to go back to.”
A spike of guilt tore into my stomach. Both wanting and not wanting to know I kept my mouth shut. The weakness of asking versus baring the guilt of not knowing about Quenarre warred inside the core of who I was, where I came from, and my birthright.
The clip-clop of horse hooves slowed to a halt and the coach stopped.
“We’re here!” Detrien bounded out of the cabin, rocking the springs side-to-side. Excited as an actor at curtain call, Detrien hopped down and held the door for my appearance.
The fish market wasn’t high society, but many a ship captain were entertained in my halls. Many of those men held the faint smell of fish and salt. The odor was pleasant in moderation, but concentrated like it was now could overwhelm.
Saliors and dock workers hauled baskets, carried crates, or rolled barrels. I enjoyed watching men work, but never admired them. My girls were trained to make their nights worth wanting to toil and labor and spend their wages worth inside the city walls so their days weren’t meaningless.
I wrapped my hand around Detrien’s arm but stopped at the lead horse.
Dark, small but fast, Carnival was Detrien’s lucky prize after gambling with the Sultan of Tarkesh. The horse was one of the fastest I’d ever seen and unique from our tall thoroughbreds. Despite his size, Carnival’s stamina went beyond even the most fit of any horse I’d seen.
“Hello, dear.” I patted the dark hair of Carnival’s nose. “Thank you for the ride. Smooth as ever.”
Carnival shoved his head into my hand and used it as a scratching post.
Detrien eyed me. “Do none of the men satisfy you? After my horse now?”
“Cousin! Have cooth. I am admiring your beast with no sexual intent I assure you.”
Detrien laughed and I allowed him to lead me through the mean aisle of working men.
A solicitous whistle from the docks had me searching for my admirer.
“It could be for me.” Detrien feigned offense at my expectation.
I laughed and patted him on the hand.
“You sure are pretty.” A tall man with smudged dirt across his face and too short clothes stood by the side.
I stopped and craned my neck up to meet his gorgeous blue eyes. My evaluation pegged him as born poor, working poor, die poor. Knowledge of the streets and hunger clashed within his eyes. Desperate, but not dishonorable. Strong but not one to overpower. There was a kindness behind the mean expression. He held no secrets. Honest men were rare. Hard work should be rewarded.
“Thank you.” I reached up and cupped his face.
Shocked at my intimacy he stood frozen.
“You should come to our halls. Speak to Mai, she’ll get you cleaned up. Tell her Lady Dauphine sent you.”
I moved my hand down and discreetly placed a token in his palm and whispered, “Don’t lose it. Give it to Mai.”
With just my words, Mai would scoff, but with the token she’d take him seriously and I’d meant what I’d said—not in reaction to his complement, but in knowing that there are no coincidences. This man of an honest nature was placed here for a reason.
I removed my hand before the lad crumpled. His eyes started glazing over and I wasn’t sure if he heard what I said.
Detrien moved us forward before the worker could respond.
Shouts of congratulatory, and whistles commenced behind me.
“Mia will sell his clothes as rags to get her money’s worth.” Detrien smirked.
“If he’s too dumb to let that happen, he’ll deserve it. But if it’s Mia he goes to, he’ll purchase better clothes for the next time he sees her so she can get her monies worth.”
Detrien laughed. “Well here she is.”
My cousin presented a very large cutter with blue and white stripped sails.
“Rogues gambit.” I read the name of the ship. “Someone likes to play échecs.”
We strode up the pier to a crew hard at work ready to sail. Suspicious of my cousin I smiled, sweetening him up for information. “Planning on sailing off soon?”
“Welcome, Lady Dauphine.” Chartan sauntered across the deck in those soft-skinned boots.
I’d been had—by my own cousin. I shot a look of pure hate at Detrien and pushed him aside to run. He grabbed and held me.
“Dauphine, you have to go with him. You must reclaim our home.”
“No! I’m not going back there!” I tried to get free and met resistance.
Detrien wrapped his arms around me, encasing me in his grip.
“Let me go.”
“At least see it before you stubbornly shove all reason aside.” Detrien whispered in my ear.
I jabbed with my elbow, connecting to Detrien’s ribs.
“Oomph.” He let go and I started to run.
Chartan spun me around and held me with the force of his gaze. Within his eyes I could see a hallway with a thousand doors. So many secrets lay behind them, more than I could get him to divulge in a lifetime. Beautiful and deadly secrets, including mine, under a lock and key so tight I wondered if he’d forgotten they were tucked away in the rooms of his mind.
“Ma’am? Do you need help?” The honest stranger I’d given my token to walked half-way up the plank.
Chartan gripped me firm with one hand and using my body as a wall to hide his other hand, pulled out a dagger. It was a warning to me. Chartan banked on killing the man.
“No!” I said to Chartan and broke free of his grip. I turned to the strangers eyes once more. “No. I’m fine.” I gave him my best smile.
“You sure?” The stranger glared at Chartan. The honest man probably was prepared for a brawl, but Chartan was prepared to kill him.
“I’m sure. Everything’s all right. Please don’t let my outburst distract you.”
The stranger gave a frustrated sigh but backed down the pier.
Chartan replaced the dagger in its sheath. “Floats up!”
The anchor clicked in ascent. Men pulled ropes and lifted the bumpers. The pier was lifted and stowed and the boat cast-off.
Detrien waved from the dock. “Smooth sailing!”
I smiled at him mouthing, “You will pay for this.”
Chartan leaned against the railing. “You stayed on board to save that stranger.”
“Descent men aren’t abundant.”
We stood there, Chartan waiting to see what I would do.
The port was becoming harder to identify.
“So your plan is to take me to Quenarre.”
“You are proof.”
“That the Rouelle family still lives.”
I smirked. If he thought he was taking me to the city of my family’s name sake, he was sorely mistaken.
Until next time!
♥ ~ Stephy