I've become addicted to the adrenaline rush of fighting against impossible deadlines until all hours of the day and night, sending off a story and praying it would past muster. The consecutively bigger thrills of getting the contract, the advance check, release days, and the sweet joy of hearing from people who've enjoyed my writing enough to tell others about it. I've even come to enjoy the excitement of parlaying my romance writing career into other endeavors and causes, such as my contributing author status for the weekly arts and poetry blog http://theriverjournal.org and my work with Writing Out Child Abuse. For me, it all comes back to the sweet agony of never knowing whether you're going to sink or swim, and for someone who's always been a bit of a gambler, there is no greater rush.
|Oh yeah. It's like THAT.|
The highest any of my work has ever made it at Noble to date was #9. While I was proud of that achievement, I confess I had higher hopes for Angels Cry and "Ancient Magic." Neither of which, to date, has seen the Top 10.
I did mention I'm kind of an addict, right? Add to that, I'm also the competitive sort. Not the kind who'd run someone I was racing off the road, but when I commit myself to something, I refuse to settle for anything less than my absolute best effort. Ask anyone who's ever played chess with me more than once.
Anyway, I was taking a break from "Silver and Air," the next Wildsworn story, and a title-TBD story for the forthcoming Lesbians Versus Zombies line to take a swing at a comedy story about a ghost who's into BDSM and his new, sexy roommate. I'd gotten about two thousand words in when I noticed a flashing orange light in the bottom right of my screen. It was an email alert, and I clicked on it just to see what was going on.
"EEEEEEE You're #1!!!!!"
*What the hell?!?!?!*
So I bounced over and clicked on the message. It was from H.C. Brown.
I didn't get any further than "Hey, you're number 1 at Noble this week!" before I opened a new tab. I set a land speed record and probably did some permanent damage to my clicking hand getting over to see for myself. As soon as the page loaded, a lump rose in my throat, my jaw dropped, and a perfectly idiotic grin spread over my face. (Say what you will about impossible simultaneous actions, that's how it went down.)
I never learn. For some reason, it seems the less I expect from a story, the more it actually does. So it has gone with:
"Angels Would Fall" (No one's going to pay good money for a story this short. First Noble contract.);
"Espiritu Sancti," from Red Roses and Shattered Glass (Is this even really romance? Second contracted story; released ahead of "Angels Would Fall" by exactly two weeks.);
"Angel of the Morning" (Fun, throwaway story. #9 at Noble Romance. Twice, in two non-sequential months.);
and "Dancing On Flames" (What the hell do I bring to the gay romance table that H.C. Brown, Bryl Tyne, Amber Green, Margie Church, and KevaD haven't already done a LOT better? #1 at Noble Romance.)
The point is, maybe someday I'll learn. But I wouldn't put any serious money on it.
In the meantime, I owe some profound and heartfelt thank-yous:
To Bryl, Margie, KevaD, H.C., Renee Vickers, and everyone else who believed enough in Russell and Ion's story and my ability to tell it to put up with my, let's be honest, whining, and keep me going long enough to finish it.
To the people who've reviewed it, including H.C. Brown and Mandy Rosko, clamoring for MORE! More's on the way. Promise. :)
And, last but by no means least, to the readers, who took a chance on "Dancing On Flames," and in the process helped me achieve a dream I've cherished ever since I started writing for Noble. I'm so proud to see so many people reading and hopefully enjoying my work. If any of you are new readers, I hope you'll take a look at some of my other work!
Thank you all. From the bottom of my heart.
Now . . . to see what new worlds I can conquer!
Until next time,
Come on, now. You didn't seriously think I was going to leave without breaking you off a taste, did you? ;)
In the aftermath of a raid on a band of child slavers, Russell and Ion of the Chosen of Fenrir find themselves baring their hearts and souls—and their bodies—to one another. In doing so, they violate one of their clan's most sacred laws: Look not to your own kind for love.
Now, one will lay his life on the line on the Path of the Flame Dance, where the Earth Mother will judge whether the love they have is worthy—or a betrayal of their own blood. The other must watch as his lover walks the fire, or perishes in the attempt.
Stand or fall, the two warriors will never be the same . . . .
The camp was a tightly huddled affair, well concealed among the trees and hard against the leeward side of a hill. Around the fire echoed the coarse laughter of men and the weeping of children from inside the tents.
Guards stood at regular intervals around the camp's perimeter, holding torches to give light. From atop the hill, the outer ring of torches clearly defined the size and shape of the camp, which featured a blazing bonfire at its center. The men's voices rang out as they told vile jokes, each planning what he would do with his cut of the take from the latest group of child slaves they had "acquired."
As remote as the area was, well away from any roads or paths in the rugged foothills, the men thought themselves to be alone and safe from observation. Though as with so many other things humans believe, they were wrong.
Had any of them troubled to look up, they might have seen the sleek outlines of two immense wolves silhouetted against the three-quarter moon rising just over the top of the high hill. If the watcher had been particularly observant, he might have noticed that these wolves did not behave precisely as wolves should.
For now, however, the two wolves went unnoticed.
For now . . . .
* * * * *The silver wolf stole a glance at his larger, black cohort. What do you think, Ion?
The black wolf gave a low growl and shook his flanks, the hair along the ridge of his spine bristling with disgust. His posture and bearing spoke of barely-restrained fury, even as his blue eyes glinted with an intelligence far beyond that which might be observed in his smaller brethren. Slaver scum, came the ominous mental retort. Looks like our information was right.
When do you want to attack?
The black wolf swiveled its muzzle up and studied the rising moon. After a long moment, he replied, No time like the present. You up for this?
Russell chuffed, the canid equivalent of a mirthless laugh. Give me a moment, and then we can go.
He looked down on the camp and focused all his will on a plea to the Mighty Mother. Bring forth your breath, Mother, that it may shroud our attack. In his mind, he began a low chant that built quickly in power and volume.
Below, thin ribbons of mist crept into the camp. In moments more followed, until a billowing cloud of fog enveloped the tiny enclave. The merrymaking in the camp cut off, to be replaced by cries of consternation and alarm at the unnaturally fast-rolling fog.
Russell looked at Ion, who stood proudly, head erect as he glowered down at the camp. No matter what form Ion wore, he looked every inch the warrior he was. Will that cover our entry adequately?
Ion's jaw lolled open in a wolfish grin. Well done, Brings-The-Sign. Let's make an end of these fools.
I thought you'd never ask. Let's dance.
Silently, the two wolves stole down from the hilltop, picking their way cautiously. Russell placed his paws gingerly on the hard ground, feeling the textures and shapes beneath him and mentally cataloguing everything he touched. Granite here gave way to soil there, which in turn melted into soft grass and a blanket of tiny ferns. A field of pebbles about halfway down altered his course, for he feared dislodging one and sending it tumbling down the hill. Might as well bang a drum to let them know we're coming if we're going to be that clumsy, Russell grunted in his head.
This was not Russell's first raid. Far from it. Back in the Caves of the Chosen, he had a belt festooned with trinkets and trophies of the many battles he'd fought since finding his way to the Chosen enclave a year earlier in the traumatic aftermath of his first transformation. He had earned his clan name honestly and early when he'd stolen two letters from a neon sign that advertised a massage parlor where many of the "employees" were children. After seeing them all safely out, he had set the place ablaze with cleansing fire. Although the moniker "Brings-The-Sign" was originally intended as a small mockery, he carried the name with sincere pride.
Tonight was the first time that he'd ever gone out on patrol with Ion, though. The black wolf was a legend within the Chosen of Fenrir, frequently vanishing for weeks at a time from the borders of the Chosen lands. When he returned, he did so with fascinating tales to tell. But he always backed up his tales by the macabre souvenirs he carried in his pack; at any moment, he could pluck any item from a vampire fang to a crow's feather out of his collection and give a detailed accounting of how, when, where, and under what conditions he came by it.
As a living legend, Ion was often predicted by the Elders not to return from whatever errand he'd been sent on. Legends among the Chosen tended to have longevity or glory, rarely both, and Ion had a talent for getting himself into scrapes that an average wolf could only hope to survive. Time and again, Ion had demonstrated his resourcefulness and cunning; thus far, these qualities had kept him alive where a lesser Scion of Fenrir would surely have fallen.
Russell entertained a brief moment of pity for the men whose camp they were about to invade, earning him a hard, sidelong glare from Ion. He shook his head hastily. Don't make the mistake of thinking I have any sympathy for them. I'm just thinking that between you and me, this isn't even a fair fight.
Ion snorted. Perhaps not. They are unlikely to carry silver ammo, but at least half of them have firearms.
Russell almost missed a step in surprise. But you're immune to silver! It was a well-known part of Ion's myth. He had actually seen the Head Elder, Speaks-To-The-Wind, cut open Ion's palm with a silver blade. Where almost any other Chosen would have borne an angry scar for the rest of their days, Ion had healed from the without so much as a blemish.
One blue eye rolled around to study him. You're not, came Ion's silent retort.
There was more emotion in those two simple words than Russell would've expected from this grizzled veteran. You almost sound like you care.
Without warning, the black wolf wheeled in front of him and barred Russell's way. His lips curled back in a snarl, and he revealed long, sharp, white teeth. I do care, you fool! I've had to bury more than my share of Chosen who got careless or cocky. It fell to me to sing their souls to the Moon. I was the one who had to tell their kin what had befallen them. I was the one who had to carve their names in the Glade of the Fallen. You cannot even imagine how that feels; I bear their loss with me with every step I take.
Russell's stupid impulsiveness had inadvertently gained him invaluable insight into the warrior's mind, but at a terrible cost. Ion had always been one to keep his feelings close to the vest; it was one of many reasons most of the Chosen steered well clear of him. Ion had made a science of keeping people at arm's length. I'm sorry. I spoke without thinking. Is that why you go places that even other Chosen would think twice about treading without the full might of the Clan behind them?
Ion stared at him for a long, brittle moment before nodding. It is. My way of atoning for failing my brothers and sisters.
A very human lump rose in Russell's throat. I think I understand.
With a derisive shake of his head, Ion turned away and flicked his tail angrily, heading back to the task of getting to the camp. No you don't, whelp. And I pray to the Mother and the Moon that you never do.
There was nothing more to say, and the night was wearing on. Although the confrontation had occurred literally at the speed of thought, even thoughts takes time.
Head in the game, Russell, Ion growled. We're almost there.