Shammed, Pho, and Shenanigans!

We meet again, humans.

I come bearing some news and things of that nature. The female has been a bit under the weather today, so I’ve had time to rampage through her computer and things.

First, my human female has listened to those who wanted Burn, Baby, Burn. You can join in some kickstarter shenanigans to get autographed paperback OR hardback copies of Hypnos & Burn, Baby, Burn. She also has an option for a complete collection of all her paperbacks in print and some other tiers. (If a tier you want isn’t shipping to your country, please comment with your country and which tier you want. The female will add shipping to the tier so you can order.) It’s just a lot of work to figure out how much the shipping will be, and it’s very expensive.

It has just occurred to us we did not include Shammed as an option on the Kickstarter. Oops. Well, rats. Maybe a stretch goal? I shall discuss this with the female. I will use my claws during this discussion.

Second, I come bearing snippets for your enjoyment. Well, snippet. I’ll give you one today. If you’re good, I’ll come back and give you another one tomorrow.

I’m being really nice and giving you an entire scene worth of snippet. I could have been cruel and started giving you the first scene of a book in one to two paragraph chunks. That would’ve taught you a thing or two!

Shammed is the second Bernadette Franklin book, and it follows the story of Alice Relin. Those of you who have had Claustrophobic might remember her as one of Chloe’s co-workers. She’s back, and she’s getting her Happily Ever After! (I’d say she deserves one! The Wenchasaurus Rex is mean.)

~About the Book~

At R.K. Legal & Associates, office hours are between ten to six, pranks happen after hours, and evidence of all shenanigans are removed before doors open to clients.

When Alice’s boss, Mr. Kenton, starts a prank war with Lance McCarthy, an up-and-coming attorney from a rival firm, she thinks it’s just business as usual.

She’s never been so wrong in her life.

Chosen to be Mr. Kenton’s accomplice, Alice must face off against Lance in what quickly becomes a winner-takes-all game of hearts.

This snippet has been stolen from the female’s computer and has not had any editorial love yet. If you find a mistake, pat yourself on the back, congratulate yourself, but keep it to yourself, please. (These are supposed to be fun sneak peeks at a book prepublication.)

~From Chapter One~

Stuffed spiders hung from the ceiling of my boss’s office, brushing against the heads of the unwary entering the room. Mr. Kenton’s shriek had brought everyone in the office running. As his newest secretary, I’d had the dubious honor of arriving first.

I’d only been working for him for a month, and I ran a high risk of losing my job from laughing so hard at the childish prank. Tears pricked my eyes, and wiping them away did no good. They kept coming back.

I was probably the only person in the office who actually liked spiders and kept several as pets.

“It’s not that funny, Alice,” the attorney complained.

Yes, it was. “I’m sorry, sir.”

Despite my best effort, I couldn’t stop from laughing.

Several other attorneys crowded into the doorway behind me along with their secretaries and the paralegals working on the floor. Like me, they laughed at the partner’s expense.

Unlike every other legal firm I’d worked for, Mr. Kenton handled the situation with grace—and a few laughs of his own. “To whomever helped with this one, well played. As soon as I figure out which one of you rascals did this, I will have my revenge.”

At R.K. Legal & Associates, office hours were between ten to six, pranks could only be performed after hours and needed to be cleaned up before ten every business day, and all legal representatives were to show up by nine to ensure all shenanigans were removed or cleverly hidden.

As Mr. Kenton’s internal secretary, I needed to make the spiders disappear before ten, but I’d enjoy the work compared to the general monotony of filing paperwork, doing research, making certain Mr. Kenton made it to his appointments on time, and otherwise serving as a well-paid office gopher.

Fighting to regain my composure, I straightened, cleared my throat, and dabbed my eyes, careful to avoid the tender skin of my healing cheek. I’d been promised the injury would stop hurting one day, but the latest surgery to fix my face had left me with a new like of stitches which would result in a second thin scar near my eye.

In eight weeks, I’d be free from all my stitches and be able to get on with my life—and wear makeup without inflicting pain on myself to hide my scars and bruises.

I couldn’t wait.

Once I could speak without giggling, I asked, “What would you like me to do with the spiders, Mr. Kenton?”

The attorney counted stuffed spiders. “It seems there’s enough cute, fluffy spiders for everyone, so do deliver one to every attorney first, and then distribute them as you see fit. Keep the one you like best for yourself. I think I’ll see about getting them little hats with shamrocks on them. We’ll call them holiday decorations for St. Patrick’s Day.”

I lifted my hand and bit my knuckle so I wouldn’t burst into laughter at the thought of stuffed spiders wearing shamrock-themed bowlers. Unable to speak without giggling like a fool, I nodded.

Those behind me didn’t even bother to hide their mirth over the situation—or Mr. Kenton’s reaction to the prank. Fetching a chair, one without troublesome wheels, I went to work retrieving stuffed spiders from the ceiling. They came in bright colors, and upon closer inspection, I discovered some of them came with power switches. Puzzled, I turned one on and set it on the floor.

Mr. Kenton dodged hanging spiders, circled his desk, and yelped and something he found on his chair, likely more spiders.

The bright blue and pink spider took off across the floor right towards the attorney.

His yelp grew into a full-fledged screech.

The toy sped up, spun in a circle, and darted off in another direction.

“What the hell is that?” Mr. Kenton pointed at the spider, which reacted to his voice, spun in another circle, and ran into the wall.

“It seems to be sound activated.” I caught the rogue toy, flipped it over, and turned it off. “Do you know who would leave a bunch of spiders in your office, sir?”

“Yes.”

When Mr. Kenton didn’t elaborate, I assumed he was doing what he always did when someone got the jump on him: he plotted revenge. I got a storage box from the hallway closet and began packing away the toys so I could get back onto the chair and remove the monofilament lines and remove the evidence my boss had been pranked before the first of his clients for the day came.

“Tell me, Alice. You’re Irish, aren’t you?”

Before my former boss had smashed my face, I’d dyed my red hair blond to avoid extra scrutiny and the jokes. A careful application of makeup had hid most of my freckles, and I’d considered colored contacts to hide that my eyes were green. Since my operations to reconstruct my eye socket and minimize scarring, I’d gone without a lot of the little things I’d done to draw attention away from my heritage. “Only part, sir. I’ve never been to Ireland in my life. My father’s Irish, and he returned to Ireland after he divorced my mother. My mother’s part Irish; a quarter, I think? Why, sir?”

“St. Patrick’s Day is coming up soon, and the instigator of today’s prank deserves a healthy dose of shenanigans.”

A healthy dose of what? “Shenanigans, sir?”

“You know, trickery, mayhem, fun at his expense? Shenanigans. Of course, he’ll expect it coming from me. But from you? My quiet, reserved secretary he’s only caught a few glimpses of? He’ll never expect it coming from you. You’re perfect. Our firms are dealing with a divorce case, so we’re sharing an unfortunate amount of space lately. His client requested the divorce. My client would like to try to resolve the issues in their marriage. His client is considering it. As such, the case is being drawn out much longer than anticipated.”

“Ah. The Randel case, sir?” With millions in assets to be divided, I could understand why our client, Mrs. Randel, would want to preserve her marriage. She’d earned a decent hunk of the assets to be split and was in a good position to enjoy a comfortable life without her husband, but everything I’d seen of the file indicated she wasn’t in the relationship for the money.

Mr. Kenton liked the cases where a divorce might be dodged, and it often cost him hours because he opted to not charge extra when the case became complicated as a result of his mediation efforts. His ten to six often became ten to ten because of his desire to do more than the minimum, something I respected about the man.

I needed to pay Chloe a visit and thank her for putting me in touch with her head hunter. Between her and her future in-laws, I’d been able to press charges against our former employer and come away with a fortune. A lot would go into hiding my new scars and medical bills, but there’d be enough left over I could live in comfort. Add in my higher pay with R.K. Legal & Associates, and my ex-boss’s assault had become a rather painful blessing in disguise.

I never wanted to have my face bashed in again, but I’d make the most of my new circumstances.

Mr. Kenton sighed. “Yes, the Randel case. Mr. Randel wants to hear a proposal for mediation with the condition of having all paperwork drawn up and awaiting signature in case it doesn’t work out. So, we’re still doing the complete asset split, which will need judge approval, but they’re going to attempt to resolve their differences. Should it not resolve, they’ll move forward with the divorce.”

“That seems like a reasonable compromise,” I said, wondering what the catch was—if there was a catch. Who was I kidding? There was always a catch.

“It’s reasonable until you have a good look at the assets they need to split, work I have to bill them for. I was hoping to save them the investment, but it’s going to be a lot of hours. You’ll be fielding a lot of paperwork in this case and preparing it for my review.”

I wasn’t a paralegal and couldn’t prepare any legal documentation, but the work I did would become the foundation for what everyone else did. Best of all, I didn’t need to deal with the clients often.

It was enough to make me want to sing and dance in my boss’s office.

“And it’ll be a lot of consulting with Mr. Randel’s attorney.” My boss rubbed his hands together. “Lance’ll never see it coming. If you play your cool professional as usual, he won’t even notice you’re setting him up.”

“What am I setting him up for, exactly?”

“That’s a very good question. I don’t suppose you’re interested in pulling some pranks on a rival firm? Costs will be on me, and I’ll have a budget for you to work with. For the record, their firm is the reason why our firm has rules on appropriate pranking.”

Some stories needed to be told, and if I couldn’t get Mr. Kenton to tell me, I’d ask around the office until I learned the truth. “What happened, sir?”

“One of the partners of the firm decided to send us a rather large shipment of toilet paper during office hours, much to the confusion of our clients, who wondered what we could possibly need with thousands of rolls of toilet paper.”

Well, that was different. “What did you need with thousands of rolls of toilet paper, sir?”

“To this day, I don’t really know, but I think we still have some in the supply closets. We donated the excess to the local shelters and schools. Are you game, Alice?”

Was my boss kidding? When else was I going to get to toy with someone on his dime? “I’m going to need a full list of rules, a budget, and a timeline, sir.”

“Save the best prank for last, and do it on St. Patrick’s Day. Start small and work your way up. When you’re done with him, I want our firms to be talking about it for years.”

I’d learned I had a new favorite word, and it was shenanigans. “I’ll get to work on this immediately, sir.”

“Good. And Alice?”

“Sir?”

“The only good prank is the one where everyone has fun. I’ll send you everything I have on Lance so you can cater your pranks to him and his staff. And do feel free to involve the entirety of his firm. They’ve had it coming.”

I had no idea what sort of budget he was going to give me, but I had the feeling my professional life was about to become a great deal more interesting.

Shammed is available for preorder ($4.99) at most major retailers, including Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and Apple. The human will probably make me do something about Google Play soon… maybe.

For my last order of business, the female wasn’t feeling well, so the male brought her an offering.

Here is a picture.

We’re thinking the bone belonged to an alien cow, perfect for feeding a hungry and ill Wenchasaurus Rex.

Have a good day, humans!

A New Preorder (Hypnos) and a giveaway! Meeeeeow~

We’re all mad here, humans!

Dear furless entities convinced life is best without a natural barrier against the cold and other inconveniences,

It has come to my attention that some of you like free things. My human has joined forces with some friends to bring you a swanky Alice in Wonderland themed prize pack.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone why she might like Alice in Wonderland. So, if you’re a little mad, too, swing on over and see if it’s up your alley!

Moving onto the other things. My human has been working ridiculously hard. As you can tell from the above picture, I have made certain to interrupt her sleeping time for play time. My play time is more important than sleep, right? Wenchasaurus Rex does not need sleep. She needs to be properly taste-tested for future consumption.

When she hasn’t been hard at work on Shammed, a romp of a contemporary romantic comedy, she’s been writing Hypnos, the first of a twelve book series with a prequel novel. (It’s like she actually planned this series or something.)

Well, she has reached the point she’s eager to get a preorder live for your enjoyment. Unlike other series, this one is worked exclusively as a ‘play project.’ It’s a most delicious carrot, and she’s tricked herself into accomplishing a disgusting amount of work so she can work on the Seeking the Zodiacs series.

It’s amazing what a carrot can do to get a human to finish everything else in a timely fashion. Silly humans.

Anyway, Hypnos is available for preorder for $5.99 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble (Well, it will be soon. We’re waiting on the vendor, human! The page for the book is present on the site at time of posting, so check back later if it’s not ready yet!), Kobo, Apple Books, and Google Play.

This series will have a decent amount of humor, although it isn’t to the ridiculous levels of the Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) series.

You’ve probably noticed the price hike. While I don’t want to delay you from reading some unedited drivel from the book, this series has been a great deal more work and research and additional costs than other series, and the amount of work and effort involved is reflected in the price. If you find the price change disconcerting, the book will be available through the major library systems. I’ll keep you in the loop on when they can be requested through your library! (Then my human can feed me and you get to read the book for free!)

~About the Book~

Following the devastation of World War III, nuclear radiation has spawned magic, ranging from nuisance koppa oni plaguing the Golden Gate to masters of the elements. It falls to the FBI’s supernatural quads and their supervisors to protect those who can’t protect themselves.

But when a mysterious force storms through a busy shopping center and fells everyone in its wake, Olivia Abrams and her team of special ops must find who is behind the attack and why before the entirety of San Francisco succumbs to its powers.

Dear humans, please note I have borrowed this unedited first scene. There are spelling errors! Editorial snafus! (Okay, there’s been no editorial done on this at all. That’s coming later.) This is for pure enjoyment and to see if you’ll like the story. (We think you will.)

Please don’t tell us about any mistakes you find. We know they’re there. Not only does this give you a sneak peek at the book, it lets you see how it transforms from raw version to the finished title. (If you want to see the actual first draft, you can check out the human’s facebook readers’ group, the Fantasy Worlds of RJ Blain. She photographs pages of the handwritten drafts for amusement purposes there.)

Without further ado, meet Olivia Abrams!

~From Chapter One~

An upstart hunk of a police detective invaded my office, waved his badge in my face like I cared, and barked, “Where were you last night?”

As it took a lot of balls for a local cop to storm into an FBI resident agency and start asking questions without even an introduction, I refrained from encasing him in a bubble of water and drowning him. I was tempted to drench him so I could admire him for a while, however. Beneath his black suit, white shirt, and prissy black tie likely lurked a lean man.

If his face was any indicator, a lean, gorgeous man.

The good upstarts countered their donuts with gym time, and my invading cop seemed to have forgotten to pick up his share of the donuts on his way to the gym.

I smiled, leaned back in my chair, and enjoyed a few more moments of admiring the view. “Well, this is a memorable start to a Monday. Do I intimidate you, or do you always start questioning sessions so abruptly? I will say that was a nice entrance, Officer. You got my attention. I’m sure you would’ve unsettled most suspects.” I leaned forward and closed the folder closest to me to hide the case file I’d been reviewing. “You have the advantage.”

The cop closed my office door. “Paper pushers are hardly intimidating.”

“What did I do to deserve the abrupt treatment? If I missed a blind date again, I might be sorry for once in my life. I had no idea Oakland had such nice police officers. Detective?” I relaxed in my seat and kept a close watch on him through half-lidded eyes. “There must be an endemic of women committing crimes for a chance to be arrested by you. Alas, I missed our date because I was stuck here working. That’ll teach me to skip out.”

“I assure you there was no blind date.”

“Well, that’s a pity. A blind date would’ve been better than critical case reviews.” I rose from my seat, circled my desk, and held out my hand. “Lee Jing Chi. How can I help you, Officer?”

To unsettle, disturb, other otherwise gain the advantage over those who came to my office uninvited, I employed my mixed heritage. Americans like the spunky cop considered me inferior, but the men couldn’t help but stare, especially when I wore a pencil skirt and posed on my desk. The instant my legs came into view, most of them forgot about their petty prejudices.

He locked onto my bare calves, shook his head, and forced his attention to my face. Licking my lips counted as unfair play, but most who came storming into my office ultimately objectified me anyway. Tweaking the cop’s nose would amuse me until I sent him packing.

Unlike most, the cop shook my hand without trying to break my fingers. “Raymond Davis, Oakland Police, Detective.”

“I’d guessed you were with the Oakland police from your badge, Detective. Alas, I missed our date because I was here working. You can verify that with the security desk downstairs. I’ve been here since two.”

Detective Davis released my hand. “In the morning?”

I turned enough on my desk to give the files pestering me a venomous stare. While my quads were responsible for the monitoring and policing of the supernatural, we also got to deal with money laundering and other financial crimes that fell under the FBI’s jurisdiction. When the supernatural did the money laundering, the files were flagged as critical, resulting in an unwanted call at one in the afternoon on a Sunday.

I hoped I’d get to go home before Tuesday.

“In the afternoon. I’m hoping I can go home in the next hour or two—”

Someone knocked at my door, and I kissed my hope of leaving today goodbye. “Enter.”

Of all the quads I managed, Luke Doloman’s team drove me crazy. The quad leader visiting me mean trouble, and it wasn’t the fun type of trouble. “Detective, if you’ll excuse us for a moment?”

Luke’s eyes widened. “Hey, Ray. I haven’t seen you since the koppa-oni infestation on the Golden Gate. What are you doing here?”

“I’m questioning Miss Lee Jing Chi,” he replied.

I smirked as the cop likely had no idea if Lee or Chi was my family name. Technically, neither was, but I’d have fun revealing I was American born and raised, much to my mother’s dismay.

She’d insisted on giving me a proper Chinese name despite my tendencies to take after my American father.

“Is she finally being booked for overworking?”

If Detective Davis did the booking and the pat down, I’d be quite happy with the interruption to my day and a chance for some rest. All I’d have to do was drench a few cops to get into a specialized cell, then my rest and relaxation would be quiet and undisturbed. Alas, there was no rest for quad managers. “What do you need, Luke?”

“There’s a problem, boss.”

Detective Davis’s mouth dropped open. “She’s your boss?”

“You came here without knowing that?” Luke tossed his head back and laughed. “You poor bastard. She’s going to eat you for dinner.”

“Luke,” I warned. “What’s the problem?”

“Andriana’s quad hasn’t checked in, and they’re an hour late. They aren’t answering their phones.”

A different day, a different problem, and when working with a bunch of unwilling supernatural who’d rather have safe desk jobs, I had a list of reasons why the quad wasn’t answering their phones at least a mile long. Unfortunately, my job was to make sure all quads reported back in and find out what had happened to them when they didn’t turn up after a shift. “Take your quad, call for backup if needed, and I expect an update every twenty minutes.” I reached across my desck and snatched my phone. “Activate the trackers on your phones before you leave, and should you call in for backup, make certain they do the same.”

“Yes, ma’am. Good luck, Ray.” Luke bolted from my office and slammed the door behind him.

I considered my phone, judging the situation to figure out the best way to get rid of the detective so I could do my job. A call to the security desk would get the detective out of my hair for a while. “Well, so much for going hjome in an hour. Enough playing. I’ve a quad to locate. Tell me what you think I did, why you think I did it, and what sort of alibis information you need so you can head off and do your job. Any other day, I’d just love to play games with you, but a missing quad is too important for time to be wasted unnecessarily.”

“A koi statuette of importance to the Chinese, according to its owner, was stolen last night.”

I stared at him. “And this has what to do with me?”

“You have the required magic rating to pull off the robbery, and you have motive,” he announced.

I blinked at him, returning my phone to its cradle. “I do? What the hell am I going to do with a fish figurine? If I want a paperweight, I’ll order one online.”

“It’s Chinese.”

“And?”

“You’re—”

“Chinese-American. I’ve never been to China in my life, my Catonese is so bad it makes my mother cry, and I’m a special agent in the FBI. Why would I wreck my career over some dumb fish?”

“The dumb fish is worth over five million dollars.”

Okay. Five million dollars could sway a lot of people, but I wasn’t one of them. “Why would anyone buy a fish for that much? Is it made of diamond or something?” I snorted, slid off my desk, and returned to my seat. “I can send you a copy of my schedule and authorie security to send you copies of the hallway security footage proving I haven’t left the floor all night. Would that be sufficient proof for your needs, Detective Davis?”

“To begin with, yes.”

Hot damn. How had I been working in Oakland for so long without running into the spitfire detective? Now that he was on my radar, I’d enjoy creating excuses to tweak his nose and toy with him.

Nothing spiced up a boring work day than playing with the local police, especially when the detective was easy on the eyes and had enough spine to invade my office.

I’d have to make certain my father didn’t find out I was toying with one of the local cops, or he’d find some way to ruin my fun.

He had a bad habit of ruining my fun whenever I found one of the local cops fun. His status as the area’s police commissioner, formerly a police chief, had something to do with that.

I needed to remind my old man he wasn’t a uniformed officer anymore.

Knocking Detective Davis down a few pegs would buy me the time I needed to deal with my missing quad. I’d even apologize to him for being curt later. “Next time, perhaps base you investigations on somethinga little more solid than my race and magic rating. You’ll waste a lot less time that way.” I smiled at him. “And as for that blind date, sorry. I’ll try not to skip out next time. Give me a call if you think I’ll be late.”

Detective Davis’s cheek twitched. “You’re one of those FBI agents who live to toy with the local police, aren’t you?”

“It would be a shame to let such a nice opportunity go to waste, Detective. Can I call you Raymond? I guess it’s too early to start calling you Ray, especially after missing our date. Call me sometime.” I grabbed my phone from its cradle and dialed the security desk. “Detective Davis from the Oakland Police requires footage from the fifth floor common areas from last night. Make certain he fills out all the appropriate forms.”

The guard chuckled. “Understood, Miss Abrams.”

I hung up and held out my hand. “It’s been a pleasure, Detective Davis. Oh, just so you know. My name is Olivia Abrams to you American types.”

If my mother heard the scorn in my voice, she’d be proud of me for putting an American man back in his place and giving him a taste of the prejudices we faced daily. To his credit he took my hand and maintained his base courtesy.

He squeezed, a gentle enough challenge. “Next time, I recommend against dodging your dates, Miss Abrams. You might break a man’s heart.”

Despite myself, I laughed. “Do you detective types even have hearts?”

He lifted a finger to his lips. “That’s a secret.”

~Mhmmm. Wasn’t that yummy?~

Feline side note: Detective Hunk can come scratch my chin any day of the week. Purr!

Like what you read? Please preorder! Here are the links again for your convenience: Amazon, Barnes & Noble (Well, it will be soon. Check back later if it’s not ready yet!), Kobo, Apple Books, and Google Play.

Requiem for the Rift King has released plus all the updates!

Greetings, humans. Prepared to be awed by my furry tyrant self. Or beguiled. Whichever you prefer.

The humans recently went on a trip, abandoning my sister and I for one whole evening. Honestly, we liked it. A lot. We were (mostly) pleased when they came back because our litter boxes needed scooped and our plate of food was almost empty.

They wisely planned their time from home properly, as we would have destroyed everything they owned had they catered to us properly.

They traveled up CA-1 (The Pacific Coastal Highway) from Oxnard, California to San Jose. They both enjoyed the view, although they were not so thrilled about possibly plummeting four hundred or so feet to a very quick demise.

Their next bucket list item is to do the San Francisco to Leggett portion of the highway. The female in particular is happy she got one half of it knocked off her bucket list!

(It was worth every moment doing the long drive.)

Before they can do that, the humans will be venturing to England for almost two weeks. And they’re sending us to prison. We’ve been promised excellent accommodations, but I’m not buying into that crap.

I’m totally going to find something of the humans’ to destroy. Probably pens. pens count as toys, right?

Dumb humans.

So, the female finally got around to re-releasing some of her earliest books. They’re written in third person, they’re epic fantasy, and they’re… not what she typically writes.

The next time she releases stories from either series, it will be in another box set. These are labors of love, so it’ll be a while.

In the meantime, you can get all three books for ninety-nine copper pieces at your favorite retailer.

Not sure you’re keen on this stuff?

I stole the first chapter for your amusement. According to the female, she’ll probably do some proofing updates as normal, so she’ll probably make me make a blog post whenever she does an update to the book so people can get a fresh copy if they’d like.

~From Chapter One of Storm Without End.~

Kalen stared down at his feet and wondered what had happened to his boots. Thick, black mud oozed between his toes.

If he had his boots, the cold, wet forest wouldn’t have bothered him quite so much. His feet tingled, promising agony if he dared to take a single step. His only arm alternated between burning and freezing. A pair of dark dots on the back of his hand marked where he’d been bitten. He remembered that much. The serpent had been red, gold, silver and black, and it had struck faster than he could react.

What had happened after he’d been bitten? He had flung the serpent away, too late to stop its venom.

That, however, had been within the Rift, where the sun heated the stone and blistered the feet of those who dared to walk without boots. Serpents didn’t thrive in forests. They basked in the sun, waiting for people foolish enough to walk the trails of the Rift without paying attention. Kalen’s mouth twisted up in a rueful grin. Shaking his head, he stared down at his feet again and wiggled his toes.

How could he have journeyed so far without his boots? The answer to where he was and how he had gotten there surely hinged on the mystery of his bare, mud-covered feet.

At least whatever had happened to him hadn’t hurt his horse. While far away, Ferethian was alive. The animal’s presence was a soothing warmth in his chest—the only part of him not plagued with the damp chill of the forest. Kalen furrowed his brow and rubbed his temple with his hand. Ferethian had been with him. How had he gotten separated from his stallion?

He shook his head and lifted his gaze from his feet. The forest stretched out around him, fog coiling around the roots of trees and spreading out as a misty blanket over the ground.

The trees didn’t compare to the sheer cliffs of his home, but there was something majestic and defiant about the way they reached toward the sky.

A blast of wind whipped his rain-slicked hair across his face, and Kalen flinched at the cold against his cheeks. For a brief moment, the fog cleared. Long furrows tore across the forest floor revealing mud, overturned beds of moss, and exposed roots.

His breath caught in his throat. Figures moved through the shadows of the forest, and the rain gleamed on the steel of their naked blades. The winds stilled and the fog rushed back to cover the ground.

Kalen tensed and for a moment he forgot the cold and the aches plaguing him. Even the throb in his right arm faded to little more than a burn creeping towards his shoulder. He slid his left foot back and turned so that he presented less of a target. Despite the fifteen or so years since he’d lost his left arm, he was too aware of the phantom sensation of flexing a hand he no longer possessed.

Reaching down to his side proved fruitless. The corners of his lip twitched upward. His sword must have suffered the same fate as his boots, another thrice-cursed mystery he didn’t want to solve.

Another breeze whispered through the trees and disturbed the clouds of white engulfing him, but did little to clear it. The wind tugged at the thin pair of braids tucked behind his ears, which draped over his shoulders and down his chest. His every instinct urged him to step forward and strike. It whispered to him, urging him destroy the threat. Kalen drew one breath, held it, and then let it out before drawing another. Feet splashed through the water and mud. One pair, two pairs, three pairs. His heartbeat sounded in his ears with the same steady driving tempo of the drums of war.

A gust parted the fog; the shapes had drawn closer. Branches creaked overhead, then the wind stilled once more. Through the gaps in the mist, Kalen saw six, but somewhere in the forest lurked a seventh, splashing through the mud whenever the others hesitated to move forward.

He stood his ground, watched, and waited. If he moved too soon, they would be ready for him. Too late, and escape wouldn’t be possible. He had to wait for the moment when those before him were assured of their prey. Then, he would strike. His lip twisted up in a grin. Would they believe him a child due to his height? Many did, and some even survived to regret it. Would they hesitate at his lack of a left arm, and believe they had the advantage?

Kalen hoped so.

If he could take one of their weapons, he’d have a chance.

One of the figures stepped forward. While most men were taller than him, the stranger towered over him enough that Kalen was forced to tilt his head up to stare at the man’s face.

All he saw was a frown and narrowed eyes. The man’s squared jaw twitched. Kalen shuffled back a step, the mud clinging at his trousers and sucking at his feet. The man’s sword was held low and at the ready, gripped with white-knuckles. Kalen swallowed and glanced around for something—anything—he could use as a weapon. If the man wanted his head, so be it, but it wouldn’t be without a fight.

They stood and stared at each other with nothing but the patter of rain and the rustle of branches and leaves to break the silence. The darkness of the forest couldn’t hide the paleness of the stranger’s hair. It was a color Kalen hadn’t seen in so long that he blinked several times to assure himself that his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him.

The color didn’t change.

The cold of the rain seeped into his veins. Blond hair didn’t exist in the Rift. Those with the man’s light-toned skin and hair the color of the sun were killed on sight in neighboring Danar. Mithrias had forests, but blond hair was rare; even in the gloom, the glints of yellow and light brown was predominant. The clans had men with blond hair, but they lived on plains, not within forests.

Many Kingdoms bordered the Rift, but only Kelsh had men with such pale hair.

Loathing and disgust burned within him. It was bad enough that he was cold, wet, bootless, and without his sword. But to be stuck in Kelsh?

He longed for home, even if he had to subject himself to the watchful eyes of his Guardians.

Kalen fought to keep his expression neutral and his gaze fixed on the man in front of him.

“Why have you come here?” the man asked in the trade tongue, the words clipped, harsh, and grating to Kalen’s ears.

“Passing through,” he replied, careful to keep his voice quiet and his tone even, like he did when soothing a wild or unruly animal.

“With no horse? With no pack? Your clothes aren’t from here. We don’t wear such symbols,” the man replied, moving closer. The tip of the sword remained lifted. “We’re far from the trade road. Only raiders, outlaws, and beasts come this way. Which are you?”

Kalen reached up, touching the cloth crossing his chest. The sigil, crafted of black silk and embroidered in silver and gold thread, was in the shape of a winged serpent. Had he been wearing it when the serpent had bit him? If he had been in the city of Blind Mare Run, he would’ve worn his sigil as a sash. Had he been on the trails? He couldn’t remember.

“Which are you?” Kalen challenged, stealing glances to both of his sides when he could without losing sight of the man before him. The rain and the groaning of the trees masked too much sound. The other men were out there, but Kalen wasn’t certain of where.

The disadvantage could get him killed. He could only hope that their sight was as hampered as much as his, and that their muscles were also stiff from the cold.

Fervent obsession lit the stranger’s eyes. “We’re those who will bring you to justice.”

“I am no Danarite,” Kalen said in the Kelshite tongue. Hatred ran thick between the lands of Danar and Kelsh. Few Kelshites learned Danarite, and fewer Danarites learned Kelshite. He jerked his chin at his left shoulder and his empty sleeve. “Do I look like a raider? Or a beast? I have broken none of your laws.” He took one step back, then another, until the bark of the tree bit at his back through the material of his tunic.

~Truth,~ a voice whispered. It was a sound, but not one Kalen heard with his ears. It was a voice, a woman’s voice, but it resonated within his mind. It was meaning, intent and thought rather than spoken word.

Kalen shivered. Hearing voices in his head was the last thing he needed. Was the last vestiges of his sanity finally slipping away?

If the Kelshite also heard the voice, there was no indication of it. “The beast was here. It led us to here. To you.” Rage contorted the man’s features. “You lie.”

“Beast? What be—” Kalen sucked in a breath through his teeth and swallowed back his words as the man leaped forward.

“Hareth, wait!” someone—a man—shouted.

Rain whipped off of the blade as it was thrust at Kalen’s chest.

Kalen dove out of the way. The mud sucked at his feet and legs. The bark tore at his tunic, scratched at his back, and slowed him. Steel grazed his arm, and a pained hiss slipped out from between his clenched teeth. The blade bounced off the tree trunk and showered him with bark.

Then the tip of the weapon rose, arcing to strike Kalen down as he fell.

* * *

~Stop!~

For one moment, the world obeyed the command that thundered through Kalen’s head. There was no sound, and even the rain ceased falling on him. He was unable to resist the power of that one, simple word. His legs collapsed beneath his own weight, and he hit the ground hard.

The mud enveloped him in a suffocating grip. Bursts of light danced in front of his eyes. He struggled to move, but his muscles stiffened and refused to obey. The sword, so close to running him through, splashed down beside him. It wasn’t just within reach; it rested on his hand, as though imploring him to take it up and use it.

~Kill.~ It wasn’t the woman’s voice. It wasn’t a man or a woman, but rather a strange blending of the two in Kalen’s head, consisting of the rumbling tones of a man partnered with the sultry, lighter intonations of a woman. The images of battle and bloodshed, and a deep, burning hatred accompanied the command. The taste of blood was hot on his tongue, sweet yet metallic, and he wasn’t certain if it was from a past memory or the present.

The new compulsion was born of malevolence so strong that Kalen’s heart ceased beating. Those who defied him needed to die. Those who dared to raise their hand against him would be destroyed.

Kalen wrapped his fingers around the hilt of the sword.

“This isn’t right, Hareth,” a deep voice called from within the mists. “Would you turn us into murderers?”

Movement drew Kalen’s eye. A dark-haired man emerged from the forest to stand beside Hareth. All Kalen needed to do was lift up the sword and take but two steps, and he would be free. He would feed the forest with the blood of those who tried to strike him down.

The need to use the sword burned within him and drove away the chill of the rain and the mud.

Muscle by muscle, Kalen gained back control of his body. His breath came as short pants.

~This isn’t right,~ the woman’s voice said. He couldn’t sense any ill-intent from her, but he got the sense that she wasn’t speaking to him. It reminded him of listening in on a conversation others didn’t want him to hear.

It was nothing like the other’s voice; its message was simple and clear, and it was meant for him and him alone. Its message was one he knew too well: kill, or be killed.

~Kill,~ the malevolent one whispered again, taking on a more masculine than feminine tone. Kalen rose to his knees, his grip tight on the sword.

Within two short strides, his enemies glared at one another. The forest was silent and the rain ceased falling, as though anticipating his choice. Two steps and he could cut his way to freedom.

“Do you really intend to kill a harmless cripple you just injured? Have you lost your mind?” The questions were whispered, but they carried the weight of loathing and disappointment.

~Kill.~ Kalen once again adjusted his grip on the hilt of the sword. Strength flowed through him. If he wanted to rise and take the steps, he would succeed. Within three breaths, he could strike.

“He’s one of them. He wears its sign,” Hareth replied, voice shrill with madness. The man yanked a dagger free from his belt and clutched it in a white-knuckled grip before lunging forward.

Kalen rose to meet the strike, parrying the wild thrust. Steel clashed against steel. Rage and hatred clouded the tall man’s eyes, and spittle frothed and dripped from the corners of Hareth’s mouth.

Sliding his feet through the mud, Kalen came alongside Hareth and cracked the flat of the blade against the Kelshite’s unprotected ribs. Jerking the blade up, he let the edge slice through clothes and flesh. A line of darkness seeped through the brown tunic the man wore.

With a little more pressure and a twist of his wrist, Kalen could gut the man and be done with it.

~Kill!~

Spitting his disgust and shaking his head, Kalen disengaged and slipped out of Hareth’s reach. Shock paled the man’s face to white. Out from the shadows, several other men leaped towards them.

Hopping back several steps, Kalen braced for the attack. Roaring with inarticulate rage, Hareth lunged at him again.

It took several men to hold Hareth back and tear the dagger free of the crazed man’s grip.

“I’ll kill him,” Hareth snarled. “Murderous little runt.”

“Curse you, fool! He spared you.” Once again, it was the dark-haired man who spoke. The others remained silent as they fought against Hareth’s insanity and strength.

Kalen tensed and held the sword at the ready. The dark-hair man stepped forward but remained well outside of his reach.

“Why didn’t you kill him?”

The wind blew and thinned the fog, revealing the others waiting and ready deeper in the forest. Kalen retreated to the safety of the tree’s trunk. “Does he deserve to die?”

“Maybe, maybe not. That isn’t for me to decide. I am Derac. What is your name, stranger?”

“Kalen Alkasatoren,” he replied. Without letting go of the sword, he shifted his weight and stance to limit how large of a target he was.

“That is not a Kelshite name,” Derac said.

“I am not a Kelshite.”

~Truth, but also a lie,~ the woman whispered in his thoughts. The malevolent voice and the chill of its presence were all but gone, leaving behind a faint sense of its displeasure.

“Let me go!” Hareth screamed. “I’ll kill him for what they did to Aurorie.”

“He didn’t kill Aurorie. Frankly, you’re fortunate to be alive. He could kill us all, if he so desired.” A young man stepped out from between two trees and moved towards him.

Kalen shifted his weight from foot to foot and longed for his boots. His toes were cold, and the unpleasant tingle was back, threatening fully fledged pain.

At least the rain no longer fell. Biting back a sigh, he glared at the newcomer. Like Hareth, the young man’s hair was a lighter shade, but the deepening shadows hid whether it was brown or blond.

“What do you mean, Marist?” Derac asked.

Kalen’s mouth twisted in a feral grin when Marist pointed at the sigil that crossed over his chest. He glanced down at the mud-coated fabric. The metallic threads of the winged serpent glinted despite the mud and the dim illumination of twilight.

“I know this man. He’s not a raider or an outlaw. He is not a beast,” Marist replied with a shake of his head.

“Then what are you?” Derac asked. When Kalen didn’t answer, the dark-haired man turned to his companion. “Who is he?”

“He is someone far more dangerous.” Marist dropped to a knee and inclined his head. “I hope that you will forgive my companions.”

Kalen scowled. “Get up.”

“How dare you!” Hareth snarled. The men holding him let out startled cries as he broke free of them. A long, slim dagger appeared from a sheath hidden within his tall boots. Hareth slashed at Marist before twisting around to lunge at him.

~Kill!~

Kalen obeyed.

* * *

“What do you mean, you can’t find him?” Breton didn’t shout, and he was proud of that. He wanted to, but it wasn’t Avern’s fault, not really.

No one could control the Rift King, not even Breton, no matter how hard he’d tried. But, almost a month had gone by without word or sign of His Majesty. It didn’t surprise him; he’d learned long ago to trust that quiet, unsettling feeling that told him his charge was far away.

“I rode as far as Land’s End. He wasn’t there, and no one has seen him,” Avern whispered.

Breton tried to convince himself he wouldn’t get angry. Staring at the cluttered chamber didn’t help. The Rift King’s study was buried beneath towers of letters, missives, and tomes. Gorishitorik was sheathed and placed on top of the piles on the desk, waiting for its master’s return.

“Put out the call,” Breton said, and then huffed out a sigh. With Avern’s failure, a gathering of the Guardians was inevitable. Invoking it admitted that the bad had gone to worse, and things wouldn’t get better until they found the missing Rift King.

Avern ran out the door, a streak of black against the pale stone that Blind Mare Run was carved out of.

Breton slammed his fist against a stack of the parchments and vellum perched on the edge of the giant desk. They scattered to the floor and knocked over several other piles as they fell. “Hellfires.”

There was no one present to hear him use the Rift King’s favorite curse. He could almost understand the lure of the oath, since he would’ve been more than pleased to drop a torch in the middle of the mess just to be done with it.

“He’ll flay you when he learns you threw his work on the floor,” a woman murmured from the hall. Riran laughed, leaning against the door with her arms crossed beneath her breasts. The hem of her tunic had been pulled down low to reveal her cleavage.

Breton scowled and ignored the aging woman and her tricks to get his attention. He wasn’t an eager foal anymore. He did not need to prove he was a stallion. While she was talented with horses, he wasn’t about to let her rein him in.

“You haven’t found him,” she continued when he said nothing.

“Not yet,” Breton replied. “I’ll be the one to do his work.”

There was always someone who dealt with the constant stream of messages meant to serve as the Rift King’s prison. The above worlders only assumed one man handled it all.

The above worlders were fools, all of them. They were just kings and queens who sat on their precious thrones and vied for dominance while fearing a man they’d never met and worked hard to keep contained within the vast desert canyons.

Breton clenched and then relaxed his hand. It throbbed. How many times had he taken his frustrations out on the stone desk and its precarious stacks in the past few days?

“You’re worried,” Riran whispered, weaving her way through the maze of unfinished work. “He’s a strong man. He’s proven that many times.”

“You only consider him strong because he refuses to spear you and make you one of his Queens,” Breton retorted.

Riran laughed. “He’s still alive.”

The confidence in her voice didn’t surprise him. Even if he hadn’t confirmed the truth with her, the Rift Queens always knew. It didn’t matter if they were Queens of the current Rift King or not. If His Majesty died, they would know. Like him, the Queens had known the moment that Arik had been replaced by the very man who’d killed him.

That man had only been fifteen years old.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“I wish to prove my craft. I would act as a Princess. All of us. All of Arik’s Queens would serve as Princesses to the Rift King.” Riran lifted her chin and her dark eyes were hard with challenge.

Breton kept his expression neutral. Taking up one of the missives from the floor, he thrust it to her and nodded at the desk. While he couldn’t stop her from trying, he could demand perfection from her and all of Arik’s Queens, and he’d get it. “It won’t make you Queen again.”

“I know,” Riran replied. “This is my fault, and it could destroy us all.”

Breton waited in silence. If he spoke, the temptation to break the Code and strangle the woman would be too strong. She told the truth. Without her machinations to replace the Rift King with a man who’d make her Queen again, he would be glaring at a diligent young man hard at work rather than at a woman consumed by her thirst for empty power.

For all Arik had speared many women and sired well over a hundred children, he had mated with a purpose. His Queens were intelligent and capable of matching any handwriting. They were wise enough to know when a Guardian’s touch was needed for a reply.

Some of them, like Riran, were serpents clad in human skin.

But Kalen wasn’t Arik, and few understood that. Most wouldn’t call the Rift King by name, because it would be an acceptance of all that he was. Breton couldn’t erase the name of the boy who’d grown to be the most feared man in the Rift.

“Breton?”

He shook his head and met Riran’s eyes. “What is it?”

“Do you think they’ll actually go to war this time?” she asked, lifting up the missive and waving it in the air. The vellum crinkled, giving it the appearance that it had been read and considered several times.

“That isn’t our concern,” Breton replied. He hesitated before continuing, “It wouldn’t surprise me. Kelsh and Danar have always been at war. The question is whether or not it’ll be official this time. Unless they call the Council, we can do nothing.”

“If we don’t find him before someone else does, they’ll go to war with us.” Her brow furrowed as she picked up one of the root quills and dipped it in ink. The scratch of writing was the only sound in the room until she finished the reply. “We’ve been practicing since it happened.”

Breton didn’t need to ask what she spoke of. Something was happening, but he didn’t know what. No one did. He wasn’t certain if he could call it evil, but it wasn’t good either. There was one thing he was assured of: whatever caused the feeling was dangerous, and it was affecting all of the Guardians.

“Do Arik’s Queens feel it too?”

Riran nodded. “We want to help find him, but we can’t risk our mares. None of us have geldings or stallions. But, we can free you of this work and make it so you can go out and find him for us.”

She refused to meet his eyes, staring down at the vellum as though it held the secrets of the world within the letters written upon it. The corners of Breton’s mouth twitched up.

“By ‘you’ do you mean me or the Guardians as a whole?”

Riran thrust the sheet of vellum at him. He took it and read through the document. The message from Kelsh was neither report nor letter, but the vague sort of missive that Breton hated the most. It wasn’t addressed to a man. It wasn’t even addressed to the Rift King or His Majesty. Even worse, the tone of the writing was so dismissive that Breton wanted to shred the page.

The sight of Kalen’s handwriting partnered with the careful and neutral tone of the Rift King hurt. The pressure in his chest grew until he wanted to lash out from the frustration of it all. She’d done it just right, even mastering the flicked curl added to many of the letters. It was a Kelshite habit that Breton hadn’t quite managed to convince the Rift King to remove from his writing.

“Are all of you this proficient?” Breton asked.

“Yes,” Riran replied.

“Get this mess cleaned up, and I’ll think about it,” he said. He lifted Gorishitorik from the desk and held the old sword in the crook of his arm.

“We’ll need a few days.”

“Fine. Oh, Riran?”

The woman looked up from the stack of papers in front of her. “What is it?”

“Scheme against Kalen again, and I’ll separate your head from your shoulders. Understood?”

Riran paled and jerked her head in a nod. Inclining his head, Breton turned and walked through the room, not caring how many of the stacks he bumped against on his way out.

* * *

Calling for the other Guardians would need to happen and soon, but instead of heading straight for the library, Breton wandered through the carved tunnels of the underground city to the plains skirting the Foristasa.

The winds sweeping down from the cliffs dried out his nose and mouth with each breath. He sighed, lifted his fingers to his lips, and whistled. A whinny answered his call, but instead of his tall gelding, a much smaller horse charged at him. Underneath a flaking layer of yellow dust and brown, drying mud, the tiny King Stallion of the Rift skidded to a halt in front of him, letting out an explosive snort.

“Ferethian,” Breton greeted, clasping his hands behind his back. The stallion snorted again, both delicate ears turned back. A frayed rope halter hung on the horse’s filthy head, one of the nose bands severed. The others were close to breaking. Dark eyes bore into his, and with an unrepentant toss of his head, Ferethian presented the halter’s clasp to him.

Breton shook his head but obeyed the animal’s command. The halter was caked in muck and was damp. “Where have you been this time, Ferethian?”

Ferethian ignored him. Draping the halter over his shoulder, Breton hesitated before holding out his hand to Kalen’s horse. The animal sighed and eyed him before relenting and bumping his fingers with his soft nose.

“I’ll bring him back to you,” Breton whispered. One of the stallion’s ears pricked forward.

The crunch of dry grass under foot approached from behind, quiet enough that Breton tensed and listened to the cautious steps. Ferethian’s ears twisted back, and the stallion’s snort was one of warning. A squeal startled Breton into whirling around in time to see a pale-robed figure leaping towards him, a short blade thrust out. Breton dropped his hand to his sword and he managed to get half an inch of steel free before something large and golden lunged out of the grasses.

Pale hooves lashed out, and bone broke with a crunch. Blood fountained from the figure’s mouth and nose before crumpling to the ground. Breton’s mouth dropped open. For a moment, he thought the bright chestnut was Kalen’s Honey, but when the animal whirled and galloped away, he was certain the horse was too large to be the Rift King’s mare—and a stallion.

At Breton’s feet, the body twitched. Ferethian reared, hopped forward on his hind hooves, and slammed both of his front hooves down. When the stallion was finished, what was left of the figure’s face was too bloodied and crushed to identify. He guessed the person had been female, judging from the way her garb clung to her curved figure. Her sword, a thin short blade favored by many women, was plain. He stooped to pick it up. The weapon’s balance was off, too heavy in the hilt, and the blade’s edge was dulled and chipped.

Breton wrinkled his nose. The blade glistened with fluid. “Poisoned,” he murmured.

Ferethian whinnied and kept close to his side.

“If you’re wise, you won’t move,” a deep voice stated in the brisk and harsh trade tongue.

A man clad in tan robes similar to the color of the grass rose. The tip of an arrowhead glinted in the sunlight. Breton closed his fingers around the hilt of the poisoned blade and kept still. Ferethian’s legs pressed against Breton’s back, and the horse squealed a challenge.

“While I’d prefer you alive, dead is fine too,” the man said. The bow’s angle changed. “Silence your horse or the first arrow goes in his head. It’d be a shame to kill such a valuable beast. I’ll be a very rich man once I get him out of this cesspit.”

“Ferethian, still,” Breton hissed through clenched teeth, wondering if the stubborn horse would even listen to him without Kalen’s direct order. The stallion’s breath tickled his neck.

“Stand up and drop the weapon.”

A long shadow stretched over the grass, followed by a second. Breton loosened his grip on the weapon and let it fall. Careful to step on the blade as he rose, he held out his hands to show he wasn’t armed.

A second robed figure emerged from the knee-tall grass, and the tip of a second arrowhead glinted in the sunlight. Breton ran his tongue over his teeth. The first stood close enough for Breton to reach, if he could avoid being struck.

The second man would prove the true problem. If Breton was hit—or if the archers missed him and hit Ferethian instead—he’d have more than his survival to worry about. While he needed to find Kalen, he didn’t want to lure the Rift King back to the Rift through someone’s death.

“That’s right. Easy now. Keep your hands where we can see them, Rifter.”

Breton glanced out of the corner of his eye at Ferethian. The Rift King’s horse stood rigid, the animal’s dark eyes staring beyond the two outsiders.

The pair of large shadows moved closer, and it took all of Breton’s will to keeping staring at the two figures in front of him.

“Hands up higher, Rift King,” the man snapped.

Breton hesitated, glancing at each figure in turn. They thought he was the Rift King? He frowned and considered the two men. They didn’t exactly go out of their way to describe Kalen to anyone. However, he could recall a few missives talking about how unusually small the Rift King’s horse was. Had they learned of Ferethian, but not of the man who rode him?

“Do it!”

The shadows solidified to the towering forms of black horses. The taller of the two Breton recognized from the familiar warmth in his chest born from being near his horse. Perin’s teeth were bared and both ears were turned back. The second horse was covered in river mud and dust, with black patches showing through.

Breton held his breath.

Ferethian lifted his hoof and struck the ground once. A chill ran through Breton. The two large animals took their places behind the robed figures, their movements silenced by the ever-present hiss of the wind.

“Halter your horse,” the man ordered.

He lifted his hands to his shoulder to grab the ruined halter. Ferethian snorted and reared back, slamming both hooves down at the same time.

The outsiders fell to the heavy blow of hooves to the head. Angry squeals broke the silence, and Ferethian surged forward to trample the fallen, his long tail bannering.

Breton shivered, stooping to pick up the poisoned blade and the outsiders’ bows and arrows. One of them was carrying a small pouch tied to his belt. He grabbed it and tucked it away in a pocket. Pivoting on a heel, he left the bodies for the nibblers. The three Rift horses flanked him.

He hurried to where the Foristasa cut its way through the plains. The weapons vanished beneath the white caps of its waters. Perin draped his head over Breton’s shoulder and sighed. There was only one reason he could think of for outsiders to make their way to Blind Mare Run. They wanted the Rift King, dead or alive.

If the outsiders learned the truth of the Rift King’s disappearance, he didn’t want to think of the consequences. Breton knelt by the river’s edge and clucked his tongue at the horses. Perin came without complaint, letting him clean the blood from his legs.

The other two horses refused, as though unwilling to wash away the evidence of their devotion to the King no longer within the Rift.

He glanced in the direction of the bodies, shook his head, and headed back towards Blind Mare Run to call for the other Guardians.

* * *

The library was the only place in Blind Mare Run that was able to hold all of the Guardians and offer the illusion of privacy. It took four of them to wrestle the stone doors closed. While it wouldn’t prevent anyone from listening at the cracks, Breton was at least confident no one would come in and interrupt them.

The last time they’d all gathered was when Arik had died, and the room had been just as quiet. Instead of staring at the blood-stained boy holding Gorishitorik, the Guardians stared at him. The sword was still tucked beneath his arm, and he had no intentions of letting it go.

Breton exhaled in a huff. At a head taller than anyone else in the room, even those who knew him tended to gawk. This time, he doubted they stared at him due to his height.

“I need five volunteers to stay in Blind Mare Run,” Breton announced. No one moved and he doubted anyone dared to breathe for several long moments. The rows upon rows of bookcases cast long shadows from the witchlights hovering near the tiled ceiling. “Gentlemen, it is time to ride. Someone will find him, and they’ll try to discover the secrets of our people and his rank. They might even try to kill him, and may their gods and goddesses have pity on their souls.”

Breton narrowed his eyes, considered telling the Guardians of the attack on him, but remained silent while waiting for the tittering, nervous laughter to fade. “Every man and woman who wishes to wage war and protect our heritage can. The way of the sword will be taught. The correspondences will not cease until our horses emerge draped in red with banners held high. When we are done, they will remember why they were right to fear the Rift King.”

The door at his back wasn’t enough to block the murmur of conversation in the hallway.

“Arik’s queens have conceded to serve as Kalen’s Princesses and will deal with most of the correspondence. Your duty will be to handle what they cannot. A new era of Guardians must be groomed. I won’t promise we’ll all return. You will coordinate with the horse breakers, the quartermaster, and the warmongers. The rest of us ride. I will take a group to Kelsh,” Breton said.

“I volunteer,” Gorteth said, lifting his fisted hand high over his head. The man was almost as short as the Rift King, though by age rather than nature’s refusal to let Kalen grow any taller than Breton’s elbows.

One by one, hands rose. While none of them were exactly old, save venerable Gorteth, they approached the time where it was honorable to put away the sword to focus on their horses and their women. The last man to raise his hand was one of the youngest of the guardians, and one of Arik’s many foals.

“Father’ll kill us all if we are too cowardly to do our duty,” Joris said.

Breton smothered a laugh. The ‘father’ wasn’t directed at Arik. Almost all of Arik’s offspring loathed the man and hadn’t even mourned his death. But, Joris wasn’t young enough to be Kalen’s foal; he was elder by several years.

It wasn’t the first time he’d heard one of them address Kalen as their father, but it’d been in whispers. He’d even seen Kalen’s colors of silver, gold, and black woven over Arik’s in the ancestral blankets.

Breton searched the room for the twins, but didn’t see their brown hair among the more common black. “Where are Varest and Ceres?”

“They’re not here,” Joris replied. Breton felt both of his eyebrows creep upward and he was powerless to smooth his expression. “I did try to stop them. I didn’t try very hard, but I did try.”

Several of the other Guardians laughed.

“Don’t waste the effort, Breton. Those two don’t have your stifling sense of honor. They tore up the trails the day after,” Dorek called out from somewhere in the back of the group. Of all of the guardians, Dorek was one of the few who could feel the presence of the Rift King and all of the Guardians. “I’ll stay behind as well. Someone needs to keep the records.”

The room quieted. Breton didn’t want to think about how many new names would be added to the volumes. The very existence of the Rift King was akin to dark clouds brewing on the horizon that was yet to break and expose the land to its fury.

If they failed in their duty, it would be a storm of war, violence, and death. It would be their history and heritage brought back to life. His people would seek their revenge over hundreds of years of seclusion, using the Rift King’s demise at the hands of outsiders as their excuse.

“So be it,” Breton said. “Split yourselves into groups. No Guardian rides alone. Clear off the map and we’ll assign duties. Someone get the flags.”

The Guardians shuffled off of the central mosaic inlaid in the floor and packed into the spaces between the packed shelves. Crafted of colored stone tiles, the floor was both a piece of art and an ever-shifting map of the land. Built from the hundreds of maps imported from the above world, it was as accurate as they could make it. Even the rivers and mountains were portrayed in different colored stones.

The edges of the map were gouged and scarred where the tiles had been pried up, new ones carved, and the mosaic relaid.

The Rift, crafted of ruby and moonstone, resembled a bloodied tear through the center of the continent. The Six Kingdoms were of precious stones, while the minor kingdoms were formed of colored granite, slate, and malachite.

One of the scribes, a woman clad in the veil of mourning, hurried forward with a tray of small, colored flags mounted on polished stone bases. Breton took them and crouched at the edge of the map. He found the one with his name on it and placed it over Kelsh’s capitol city of Elenrune. “I will go to Kelsh. Of the Six, Kelsh and Danar are the biggest threats. The clans would kill him and ask questions of the body.”

“What about the other kingdoms?” Joris asked.

“They’re all threats. Kelsh and Danar are just the biggest of our problems,” Breton replied. “Some will disagree with me on that, though.”

“Where was the Rift King born?” Dorek asked.

Breton pursed his lips together and didn’t reply. Of all of the Rift Kings, of all of the failed successors, of all of the men who’d taken up the red banner of war, only Kalen had been born outside of the Rift. Arik had, in the last of his days, seen the worth of the young man and had conspired to forever bind him to the Rift.

By turning an innocent into a murderer, by turning someone so gentle into a cold-blooded killer, Arik had acquired what no other Rift King before had: the perfect successor.

One by one, the Guardians picked up their flags and placed them on the mosaic until red covered most of the map. Dorek placed two flags on the map next to Breton’s.

“I believe they’re headed here. It feels like this is the direction they have gone. This is the land of his ancestors, isn’t it? It knows, doesn’t it?”

Their secret didn’t have a name, and even if It did, Breton doubted that any in the room would be brave enough to speak it. It was something he didn’t want to think about for too long, and he shivered at the implication of Dorek’s suggestion. “Perhaps.”

Breton pressed his arm against Gorishitorik to reaffirm the weapon’s presence. He didn’t have Dorek’s strong senses. But, he had Gorishitorik, and he had the Rift King’s horse.

The horses always knew where their masters were, and Ferethian even listened to him sometimes. Breton suspected the stallion would obey. This time, they shared a common goal.

He tried to hide his smile by shaking his head and scowling at the map and the flags on it. “Ferethian comes with my group. If the rest of his horses accept your leadership, take one in each group. They’ll know how to find their master, maybe even better than we do. Spread the word.” In a way, the truth hurt, but it relieved him as well. After fifteen years of watching and waiting, he’d no longer have to try to protect his foal from his own people. “The ascension is over.”

The silence in the room was like the moment of calm before a storm.

Like what you read? Grab your copy here. The Wenchasaurus Rex isn’t sure how long it’ll stay $0.99, but she’s a lazy critter, so it probably will stay that way for a long while.

Have a great day, folks!

Wait. No. Belay that. the female is glaring at me. Look, Wenchasaurus Rex, I have better things to do than this, right? Like nap. Do I really have to?

Damn it, I really have to.

So, things. Those ‘updates’ she mentioned.

First, a reminder that Hearth, Home, and Havoc is out as an audiobook. If you have audible, and you’re in the US, that link is for you! It’s also available in the UK, FR, and DE. We hope you love it. (The Wenchasaurus Rex is totally jealous of peoples who can listen to audio because Courtney, the actress who is doing all the female perspectives of the Romantic Comedy series sounds amazing. Daniel, who is doing the male perspectives, is also amazing.)

Playing with Fire is still processing and on its way to retail, but the female will force me to post when it’s ready!

Fowl Play was just started by Courtney, so the final audiobook for that should be done in March sometime, roughly.

No Kitten Around is also in production, and it should be releasing in February or March. Or something like that!

Cheetahs Never Win will also be heading into production soon. (Likely right after No Kitten Around.) It’s been ordered, just have to wait for the voice actor to become available for recording!

In other news, the Wenchsaurus Rex is listening to a metal version of Let It Go, and she absolute loves it. You can listen to it here. You can also search iTunes for Connor Enstrom Let it Go.

Pat from Storm Called isn’t sure he’s too fond of this choice of music, as it has encouraged the human to continue being mean to him.

Fair warning: Storm Called? It’s about like you’d expect from a Royal States novel. Which is to say that it starts crazy, stays crazy, and is entirely focused on the relationships in the book.

Well, I might be lying a little bit. There is a plot. It’s just covered in honey and served with a side dish of angry bees.

This is a prequel novel in the Royal States series, and it’s pretty obvious who is marrying who, but you fans caused this thing to happen. You wanted to read about Pat fainting at Jessica’s feet.

So that’s what you got.

We hope you’re happy with yourselves, human. The Wenchasaurus Rex wrote an entire book dedicated to setting up Pat fainting.

It’s been a surreal experience for her.

It’s also been a surreal experience writing a book where no one has been kidnapped or killed.

Like, what the actual fuck?

Hold off on the or killed part… the Wenchasaurus Rex is writing an action sequence and Geoff is pissed.

Looks like there’s about to be a body.

Spoiler alert: a much younger Geoff is partnered up with a much younger Pat, and Geoff is pissed.

Somebody is about to die.

But who? Why? Oh noooooees.

Guess you’ll just have to read the book, humans!

Coming to an e-reader near you in February.

</insert maniacal laughter here.>

Audiobooks, Upcoming Books, and Why Authors Do as They Do…

I find this conditioner positively enthralling, humans.

I come bearing gifts of news and other things, also… answers to many questions you have had.

As my human has received a lot of messages, letters, comments, and so on asking a huge spectrum of questions, it has become my responsibility to take a few minutes to do my best to explain things to you about the nature of my human’s writing habits, her career, and the realistic expense of writing a novel.

(These things aren’t free, y’all.)

We’ll begin with the news!

Hearth, Home, and Havoc is now available as an audiobook!

This novella rarely gets any love, but our human really had fun with this story. It’s about a single mother who has finally lost her last fuck and goes onto an adventure. As this is a romantic comedy, the adventure definitely involves some romantic shenanigans (of the fade to black kind.)

Playing with Fire will be releasing in audiobook format in the next few days, so keep an eye out for it. As I’ve mentioned before, if you’re new to the series, you can start reading for a big bad 99 copper pieces.

If you’re an audiobook fan, please consider giving it a try! (It’ll make my human cry a little less over the expenses Cheetahs Never Win incurred.)

Now, to get to the less fun stuff. Well, maybe. My human has been fielding a lot of questions and listening to feedback about the decision to discontinue the Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) series.

It’s time to drive around in the friendly blunt mobile. Because being blunt makes sure there are no misunderstandings.

My human doesn’t like misunderstandings.

1: Yes, sales were down. Yes, readers didn’t like the exploration my human was doing in the series. Here’s the thing:

My human writes for a career, but she also writes projects she thinks she will enjoy writing. She doesn’t like writing books she hates. Every now and then, a book gives her fits, but she loves writing the books even when they don’t really cooperate with her.

She still loves them. Just ignore the complaining. She’s expressing frustration. Something she loves to do can also be frustrating as hell and make her want to throw it out the nearest window. We’re fond supporters of defenestration here. Here’s the thing.

No, she ‘just can’t go back to writing books like Playing with Fire.’ Or ‘like Water Viper.’ Or ‘like this book.’

Every book is different. That’s why it’s fun to write. If she has to write books just to make readers happy because she stuck to one shoe box, she’s not going to want to keep writing any more. She’d rather have a guaranteed salary working as an office drone.

No play makes RJ a sour puss.

But that’s why she loved writing the Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) books so much.

She could play.

Unfortunately, readers aren’t enjoying how she’s playing, which means they’ll have to be played with in her spare time.

No, she will not ‘write another book just like this one.’

That isn’t fun to write.

She’s writing Burn, Baby, Burn because she wants to write another Bailey and Quinn novel. Not because people asked. Not because people begged. Not because ‘we just want another Playing with Fire.’

Burn, Baby, Burn is not going to be another Playing with Fire.

Quinn and Bailey are married now. Quinn and Bailey are facing challenges as an official couple. Quinn and Bailey are still Quinn and Bailey, but they’re not the same Quinn and Bailey from Playing with Fire. Perkins has changed, too. The grandfathers have even changed.

Time changes people.

Bailey has been softened and tempered by months of living with someone who truly loves her. She’s still Bailey, but Quinn has changed her as much as she has changed Quinn.

Burn, Baby, Burn is not going to be another Playing with Fire.

Oh, there’ll still be a glorious fire-breathing, meat-eating unicorn. There’ll still be a smoking hot Quinn and his insane family. (They have a respectable amount of screen time.)

Perky’s wife is a major player, and boy… you’ll like her, I think.

But they’re not going to be the same book.

She doesn’t want to write the same old book over and over. That’s boring. She’d rather go defenestrate herself and get a day job, one with stable pay and less stress.

What? You thought writing books was a cakewalk? Nah, it’s not, human.

There are days the human crawls to bed leaking because she doesn’t know if she’ll meet her income numbers for the month, and the only person to blame for her failures is herself.

Being a writer is hard.

Here’s some harsh realities she wishes for me to share with you.

She isn’t guaranteed any pay. She has to write books people want to read and are willing to buy. She must entertain them. When she fails to entertain them, she doesn’t get paid. People refund books they don’t enjoy. They pirate them rather than going to the library and requesting them there.

All of those things make it harder and harder for her to want to keep writing books. It’s not just about the money.

Right now, she makes good money. She knows this. She also knows that the money could magically stop tomorrow.

But when the human starts thinking about picking up a minimum wage job anywhere because the stability might be nice, there’s an issue.

The Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) books need to be fun for her, too, But they also need to earn their keep.

There’s math that goes into this. A lot of math. Books aren’t free, and this is the reality of my human’s situation.

40% of her income automatically goes to taxes. That’s approximately what her current tax bracket is. (She gives herself a tiny bit of buffer, but it’s not a lot of buffer.) (Go ahead and cringe. She pays more than regularly employed people because of being self-employed.) Fortunately, she doesn’t have to put aside anything for health insurance; she’s insured through the male’s work. He pays that bill and doesn’t make her account for those costs from her business. (She’s very grateful for this.)

40% goes to paying the bills. We live in California, so life is expensive. My human partners with her male to keep the bills paid, but 40% of her earnings automatically go to the household so they can live comfortably.

That leaves 20% for expenses.

If she makes $2,000 in a month, that gives her $400 for expenses. That covers one book cover. $300 for the digital copy, approximately, and the rest going to paperbacks and audio spreads. If she doesn’t do audio covers, she might have a few bucks left over she could spend towards advertising.

Oh, but there’s a problem. A book like Cheetahs Never Win costs her anywhere between $600 to $1000 to edit. (Sometimes the editorial bill is higher. Cheetahs Never Win had a higher editorial bill because it went through multiple editors.)

On a $400 monthly budget, she’d be able to release a book once every four months. One month to pay for the book’s cover. Three months to pay for the book’s editorial costs. A little extra would go to advertising.

My human fortunately makes more than $2,000 in a month.

Right now, to continue sustaining book releases at the current level she does and still pay the bills, eat, and pay taxes, she must make approximately $10,000 a month.

$2,000 a month in budget gives her room to have a cover made, do the paperback spread, and pay her editors. All of her editors. There’s more than one.

That doesn’t leave a lot of money for anything else.

When she released Cheetahs Never Win, she gambled on the book doing better than it did; she’d booked in to pay for the audiobook edition to be made.

That cost approximately $1,800. She gambled, and because the book itself didn’t do as well as needed, she lost.

Then, because she wanted Cheetahs Never Win to do as well as possible, she invested $10,000 into advertising on No Kitten Around.

She made that money back… if she forgot the 40%/40%/20% rule. For the sake of that advertising campaign, she was permitted to forget that rule. The male human gave the funds to her as a gift because he was going to invest in his 401k instead, and thought for the short and long term, investing in her series would be the wisest choice.

We’re hoping those investments pay off. We really do. But, being realistic, it’s been three weeks and it’s barely made back its money. Cheetahs Never Win didn’t fly. No Kitten Around didn’t sell as well as it could have. It could have just been the time of year. It could have been a lot of things.

It could just be that people are tired of the stories she wants to have fun and write in that world.

But she didn’t make this decision lightly.

She wants to have fun.

She wants the readers to have fun.

When these things don’t happen, when the latest book will not be able to pay for itself or pay for future books in the series… there’s an issue.

The 40%/40%/20% rule trumps all.

We furry demon seeds need to eat. She needs to eat.

She is not guaranteed any pay.

For those of you on limited or fixed income, please don’t pirate books that aren’t available in your subscription services. Ask your local library instead. You’ll be surprised at what they can order, especially for their digital library system.

Authors, like my human, are paid for their hard work this way. You get to read for free.

And since she gets asked this often, no, my human does not do ARC readers or beta readers. A few years ago, one of these readers stole her books, put them on a pirate site, and ultimately lost her a lot of sales as people pirated the books before release.

And of course, they were reviewed harshly because the books were not publication-ready titles. They were pre-release versions that hadn’t been proofread or completely through edits.

So, yes. Somebody pissed in the pond, ruined two releases for her, and ultimately resulted in a negative earnings year that year because the money she had been expecting to earn back had been stolen from her.

View it this way: you expect your employer to pay you for the hours you work. You give him your time, you expect him to give you your pay.

Authors expect you to pay for the time you get out of reading their books.

No pay is no food, no food is no more books, as the authors must do things to make money to pay for food.

It’s really as simple as that. From the dawn of traditional publication, readers have always been the ones to decide the fate of a series.

Wanted to know why a traditional publisher dropped a series?

Readers weren’t buying the books.

Want to know why an author dropped a series?

That’s a lot more complicated. For my human?

See the math above, add in a dash of “Author just wants to have fuuuunn~” plus a refusal to write inside a shoe box because people just want a rehash of the same book.

Readers complain all the damned time that they just want to read something new… but they complain when they get what they asked for.

Something new happens only when authors write outside of their set shoe boxes.

And boy, do readers tend to get mad when you don’t present them with a rehash of the same old book over and over again.

If my human wanted to write nothing but Playing with Fires with rehashed content and formulaic writing… she would.

But she doesn’t want to.

Sorry.

Perhaps shunting the Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) series to no more often than once a year will help. If anything, the human will be able to spend her 20% on spreading out and writing all those equally fun projects she has on the back burner instead.

Because here’s the reality: she had been writing so many of them because you were having fun. She’s completely happy writing something else.

And now she will.

Burn, Baby, Burn, which should be available for preorder sometime in the next month or two, will essentially decide if its 20% will go towards the next book in the series. If it flops, well, its 20% will go to a new series that may let her keep writing.

She is not guaranteed pay. That means she does have to try to write what may sell better.

On Facebook, there’s a group called The Fantasy Worlds of RJ Blain. If you like seeing what she’s up to, every Wednesday or so, she releases a new scene or snippet from a project in the works. (You can access the group clicking the link below if you’re interested.)

But for those who don’t really want to join a group, here is a snippet from Hypnos: Seeking the Zodiacs #1. The preorder for this book goes live in June or July–or whenever she’s finished the draft and it goes to her editor. (Expect 3 months following the draft being completed and it going to her editor for release.)

She’s having a blast with this series. It’s a traditional 12 book series with a prequel. (13 books total.) It will follow one character as she adventures through a post-World War III world loaded with magic.

She is the manager of the FBI’s supernatural quads for the San Francisco area, and her job is to help police the supernatural.

Shenanigans happen. She’s feisty. She’s spunky. She has sass in high volume. She’s a lot of things, but I love writing her and her friends.

This series is replacing the Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) books. The covers have already been paid for, although they haven’t been made yet with the exception of two. This is a big gamble, but she hopes you all enjoy a more traditional series with a set beginning and end.

With this one, you know exactly what you’re getting.

Like everything else she does, this is a gamble, but some gambles are worth making. And in the worst case scenario? It joins the books with a 1-2 year release frequency.

And since she’s gambling a lot, the Wolf Hunt series should be completed by the end of 2019. No known dates on when License to Kill, the Case Files of Karma Johnson, and Dual Nature will release. She’s not going to worry about them until 2020 at the earliest probably.

(Why? Simply put, some of those books haven’t even earned back if they were assigned 100% of their earnings. They’re being done entirely because she wants to. And she must pay for them when a book does well and earns back and is solely investing in the existence of new books.)

She likes them, so she keeps writing them. That’s it, that’s all.

But for everyone asking, the reviews on paid vendor sites, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc are what she uses to tell if readers are actually enjoying a series. This, in conjunction with how well the sales are going and other feedback she receives, is what determines if she’ll keep writing more stories of the same world or series back to back to back.

And no, she will not ‘write another Playing with Fire’ or ‘Hoofin’ It’ or whichever one you want just because you liked that specific book. (She’s really grateful you liked that book, but that’s not how writing a book works.)

She has to want the book to happen. She writes books she wants to read.

And yes, Cheetahs Never Win cracked her up as often as it made her cry.

Because to her, a good book makes you laugh and cry. And that one accomplished both for her.

Not everyone is going to laugh at the same jokes. Not everyone is going to cry over a book the same way or even cry at all.

But our human?

She’s not going to just write yet another book of this type because that’s what’s been asked for. For her, it just doesn’t work that way.

There will never be another Playing with Fire.

But there will be other books. Will they be in the Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) series? Well, there’s Burn, Baby, Burn.

After that, we’ll see.

Because she wants to have fun, too.

And sometimes, that spells the death of a series.

(And she’s okay with that.)

P.S.: The human expects absolutely nothing of her readers. Don’t like the way the series turned out? Don’t buy the books. The series will die, and that won’t bother you because you didn’t like the way the series turned out. Totally okay.

That’s reality.

My human will keep writing. Maybe you’ll like the next thing on the horizon.

It is okay for a series to die when people no longer enjoy or have fun reading it. But if you did have fun reading it… take a few minutes to leave that honest review that you did. It’s so easy to forget.

And then those who didn’t like it ultimately have the loudest voice.

And that, too, spells the death of a series.

As a final note: No, my human does not look at goodreads. In her opinion, that is where authors go to lose their self-esteem and generally die inside. (Generally, people review with lower stars at goodreads, and they’re generally just harsher and meaner there.)

You will never find my human active on goodreads, and she only logs in to ask a librarian to merge profiles so people can find her books. Sorry.

We do hope you enjoy going on new adventures with our human.

Status Update: The Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) Series

We need to talk, humans.

This decision has been several books into the making, but unless circumstances change (significantly) with the May 16, 2019 release of Burn, Baby, Burn, the Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) series will be discontinued. We know this decision will upset some people, but all good things need to come to an end, and my human hates hearing how readers complain about how a series should have died at $x number book in the series.

No Kitten Around started the trend of lower average ratings for reviews, which was kinda mostly continued with Blending In, and saw a noticeable dive with Cheetahs Never Win. (Before my human discussed this issue and the series’ imminent end on Facebook, the book had dropped to 4.3* average and had less than 70% 5* ratings.)

To our human, that’s a very clear sign it’s time to hang the series out to dry and work on something else the readers may like more.

Maybe it’s a matter of the haters speaking louder. Maybe people just couldn’t be bothered to buy or review the book.

But here are the facts:

Sales were down.

Reviews were not as happy as before. (Lower average stars, etc, etc, etc.)

This was not a one-off book decision. This was over multiple titles. Sales are a touchy figure to discuss, but here’s a basic truth of the situation:

Cheetahs Never Win was up for preorder a month longer than No Kitten Around, and it barely kept pace with No Kitten Around. Blending In had a similar preorder length to No Kitten Around and sold hundreds of copies less than either other title.

The first week sales are pretty critical for a book, but the human does consider sales after the first week, too.

Sales have been down, period.

Most of that is on the human. She wrote the book. She wrote the description for the book. She picked the cover art. Combined, these things aren’t selling the books.

That’s fine. Sometimes a series just needs to die. Really, it’s okay. We know there are a lot of people out there who enjoy the series, but the human gambled on audibook, signing a contract for Cheetahs Never Win to put it into production to learn the gamble is likely to fail even before the sample 15 minutes is recorded.

Sales of the digital copies generally reflect sales of the audio copies, and it isn’t looking promising at this point. Honestly, the human doesn’t expect Cheetahs Never Win will earn back using the math that she must do to keep writing. (40% goes to taxes, 40% goes to the household, 20% goes to paying for everything she needs to write.)

As sales drop, that 20% figure becomes smaller and smaller, so the human can’t afford to write books people don’t want to read or buy.

The human enjoys writing all sorts of things, and she has a lot of stories she’d love to write that she has high hopes will perform well.

But here’s the thing: she’s already putting in a LOT of books on the schedule this year that will probably not earn back for 3, 4, or 5 years.

Steel Heart is one of these books.

Wild Wolf and The Edge of Midnight are two more of these books.

She’s also working on continuing the Requiem series. More of these books.

She’s doing this because she loves the books and readers have asked.

But they’re poor fiscal decisions.

She really can’t afford to keep writing books people aren’t happy with or have lost interest in and/or just don’t want to see continued.

The Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) books are starting to join the ranks of books that may not earn back.

It’s a gamble she can’t afford right now.

To see this change, this is what needs to happen:

Sales for future books need to go up rather than down. (Burn, Baby, Burn is essentially the series’ last chance for a while.) The human has picked 3,500 combined preorder and release week sales as the number needed to keep the series trucking at around two books a year, with one more Magical Romantic Comedy coming out in 2019 if it reaches the benchmark. 2020 will depend on how many, but she’ll likely do one on May 16, 2020 because that’s what she always does, even if the series does ultimately ‘die.’ (But we’ll see.)

Otherwise, books will release as the human has budget and covers and finishes them on the side.

That does mean there will be more (see the list above) but there won’t be any guarantees on when and why. There won’t be any preorders, and my human will stop investing in the series in general.

Here’s the thing: she just invested $10,000 to breathe life back into this series. While she made the $10,000 back… barely… it did not work as well as hoped. She’ll ultimately make a profit from the investment as new readers pick up the other titles in the series, but the promotion just didn’t do anywhere near as well as hoped.

To her, it feels like the series has reached a plateau, and that’s okay. Maybe it has. It hasn’t been due to a lack of effort on her part, but it’s hard when she busts her ass on a huge ad campaign to drive new readers to a book and it just doesn’t work as well as hoped.

She’s considering herself exceptionally fortunate that the gamble made back its money at all. But she’s not expecting to see much of a profit. That’s life.

But it’s definitely a factor in the decision to retire the series from active production once Burn, Baby, Burn releases.

If this decision bothers you, there are things you can do to help:

1: Be bothered to leave honest reviews. Sometimes, a series just needs to die. That’s okay. Be honest. But please, be bothered. If only the unhappy people leave reviews, then their voices will be heard over those who love the series.

And thus, the series dies quietly, much to the confusion of those who loved the books and don’t understand why the series might be ending.

2: Contact your local libraries and request the books, especially if the book is not yet for sale. They can preorder for their library, too! Their sales definitely count as copies sold.

3: Convince your friends to try the series out. To help out with this, our human has permanently set the price of Playing with Fire to $0.99.

She’s trying, but there comes a point where it’s not worth the time and general investment to continue trying. That’s okay. The Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) books have been a joy for her to write, even during the difficult times.

There will be new books, other series, and books that have humor, snark, and sass in high quantities. But there’ll be science fiction action adventure romps, pirate books with sentient ships, magic, and romance, and all sorts of other things going on.

For long-term series, her next large series is called Seeking the Zodiacs, and the first book will release later in 2019. It will have 13 books in total; one prequel novel and 12 main series books. (You guessed it, one for each Zodiac.)

She’s really looking forward to sharing Hypnos with you, as she’s been having a blast working on it.

But, as always, the ultimate decision on a series’ fate is in the readers’ hands. This has always been the case in publishing. Publishers won’t continue to release books that aren’t selling, and they’re not likely to continue even a trilogy if the first two books don’t do as well as they need.

As an indie, our human has more flexibility than a traditional publisher. But she pays all the bills herself.

And that means when three books in the series start to strike out, perhaps it’s time to say goodbye for a while… at least as a main project series.

After post edit note: Burn, Baby, Burn won’t be available for preorder until 90 days prior to its release date per Amazon’s rules.

Cheetahs Never Win has released!

We can has nap time!

Princess here.

After an unfortunate setback, Cheetahs Never Win has finally released. We hope that you enjoy the book as much as our human did. We’re grateful she’s moved on, as we got so tired of listening to her pun that damned title over and over and over again.

We get it, human. You like cheetahs. You also like puns. But did you really have to subject us to that so many times?

We’ll keep this short and sweet today, as the human requires the glowy rectangle box to tell all the stories. She’s itching to work on her goals for this year, and it’s her first real day back to full work.

She’s stupidly excited. Human, it’s work. You really shouldn’t be that excited to be going back to work.

Anyway, I have stolen this section of book for your enjoyment. Please consider tossing 499 pennies into the human’s jar so I can coerce more treats out of her. Thanks!

From Chapter One…

Miss Sharon Gray locked onto a shoe store at Park Lane, a woman on a mission refusing to accept defeat. Someone was going to lose, and I wasn’t sure if I pitied her wallet, her new shoes, or the horrified woman in the store. Under the guise of checking my phone, I photographed the pair, the building, and to make things more difficult on myself later, I snapped a few shots down the sidewalk where the Saturday shoppers congregated.

My client’s target recruited the store employee, and I worried she’d stay there all day. Had I been wise, I would’ve dumped the problem onto Sassy’s lap. Sassy liked shoes. Sassy even enjoyed keeping other women company while they shopped for shoes.

Sassy also found—or created—trouble wherever she went. Chaos nipped at the cheetah’s heels. If I called her, she’d storm into my quiet afternoon of information gathering. Miss Gray matched the usual shadowing target, a pretty woman with expensive tastes and as much of a magnet for trouble as my feline partner.

Women like her put me on edge, usually because they viewed me as candy for their arm. When they found out I was a private investigator, most lost interest—or immediately made assumptions.

As I often did when following someone, I questioned every decision leading up to the acquisition of my private investigator’s license. Generally, I enjoyed questioning people and seeking secrets.

Unfortunately, most of my cases involved figuring out who was cheating who, and if my client was correct, Miss Gray spent her evenings with Senator Sterling, a married man up for reelection in a few months.

My client wanted Senator Sterling’s job, and he meant to get it through any means possible. Investigating Tom Heathrowe on the side might land me in hot water later, but I’d seen a few too many PIs burned by politicians to take any chances.

A single conviction would lose me my license, and I meant to keep my reputation spotless.

I second-guessed my decision to accept my client’s offer, a sum sufficient to cover my expenses for an entire month and then some. A few incriminating photos would wrap the job. Mr. Heathrowe would need a lot more than a single sex scandal to win a senate seat. As I hadn’t been paid to offer advice, I’d let him learn from his mistakes.

Senator Sterling was already on route for a divorce. I’d located the filing after ten minutes of work. In his case, it was a matter of who had cheated who first.

One day, people would learn cheaters never won. With men like me around, secrets always surface. It was just a matter of when.

Why couldn’t I get one of the more interesting jobs?

Oh, right. The firm of defense lawyers still wasn’t talking to me after I’d proven without a shadow of a doubt their defendant was guilty of embezzlement, blackmail, and extortion. Add in an accessory to murder charge and evidence presented to the prosecution, and I’d burned more than a few bridges with the firm.

They couldn’t touch me for following the law, but they refused to hire me again.

I found the entire situation ridiculous. The job of the defense wasn’t to clear guilty men of crimes, but to ensure the punishment fit the crime.

My job was to find the truth. That was it, that was all.

I figured my parents had pegged me right from the start. In any other life, I would’ve become a cop.

If they’d gotten their way, I would’ve been a married cop, but I’d learned the hard way the cheated never won and to never trust a woman on the prowl. Ladies enjoyed their dalliances as much as men, and once the lies started, all bets were off.

I’d evicted myself from the dating pool, determined to stay single until I died of old age. It might’ve worked if not for Sassy. I still didn’t date, I still lied to myself that I never would, but every time I crossed paths with my partner, I wondered.

I reined myself in, packed up my misgivings, and chucked it into the bin to worry about later. To offer the illusion of purpose, I ducked into the shop beside the shoe store, browsing the selection of overpriced watches while waiting for Miss Gray to finish making her purchases. Ten minutes later, she remained in the store, and when I checked, the store’s employee looked ready to throw up.

What Miss Gray had done to terrorize the woman interested me far more than infidelity. While I tried to limit my interactions with someone I photographed for a job, I couldn’t leave the poor clerk to suffer.

Damn it. Sassy didn’t need yet another pair of heels, yet I had no other excuse to play rescuer or snoop. I’d lose hundreds of dollars, but I always budgeted for excess expenses when shadowing someone.

I just hadn’t planned on making contact with Miss Gray yet, and I disliked when something snarled my plans.

It would take work, but I’d convince myself buying shoes for Sassy technically counted as a business expense. Technically.

Realistically, I couldn’t mark a pair of shoes on my taxes, which meant I’d be buying Sassy another pair of heels out of my pocket.

Bracing for the worst, I stepped into the store. Both women stopped and stared, and Miss Gray’s gaze roamed over me while she licked her lips. Having been treated like a dessert at a buffet more times than I cared to count, I could handle the situation one of three ways: I could run, I could ignore her, or I could smile, which would inevitably be treated like an invitation.

Whoever invented the social requirement to smile needed to be taken out back and shot.

“Howdy, ladies.” I tipped the brim of my baseball cap, forced a smile, and turned my attention to finding the perfect pair of shoes for Sassy, expecting her to beat me with them when she found out I’d unwillingly flirted with someone I was tailing. After she finished beating me, she’d probably kill me. Before killing me, she’d remind me I suffered from an allergy to women first.

“What’s a handsome man like you doing in a store like this?” Miss Gray murmured, and to make certain I understood she wanted to catch my attention, she fluttered her lashes.

The poor store employee deflated, but it was better than an imminent loss of her lunch.

“A friend of mine’s dating someone new, and I thought I’d congratulate her with a pair of shoes. She lives for shoes. What would you ladies suggest? I’d like to make them something special.” I paused, faked a cringed, and added, “Preferably something special but affordable.”

According to their expressions, the world had ended in a blaze of glory. Rather like my laptop, a relic in dire need of replacement, they struggled to comprehend my question.

Maybe if I’d stop buying Sassy shoes I’d have more money to spend on replacing things like my laptop.

The employee’s brain finished rebooting first. “This way, sir.”

She led me straight to the front window and pointed at a pair of black heels. “This is a classic heel good for everyday use. If you want something a little wilder, I just got in a pair of leopard print.”

Leopard spots would infuriate my cheetah partner, which tempted me into making the purchase to watch her reaction. “Anything in cheetah?”

“If you’re willing to spend a thousand, yes. It’s a three-inch stiletto, open toe.”

“She wears a size 8. I checked five different brands to be sure.”

“Do you remember any of the brands?”

“One had a funky red bottom.” Despite feigning ignorance, I could list almost every brand she owned; the more expensive the shoe, the more passionate she became, and I loved watching her when she forgot herself and rambled about the latest and greatest.

“A size 8 should fit. I’ll be right back, sir.” The employee, Danielle according to her name tag, scampered off.

Miss Gray glanced at my left hand. “How is a nice man like you still single?”

Her question led me to believe she thought any man without a ring was fair game, something that often led to single women taking married men to bed. Fighting the urge to sigh, I forced another smile. “I haven’t met the right woman yet.”

While the truth, I also lied right through the tiny gap between my front teeth. Sassy churched through boyfriends, mostly cheetah lycanthrope, and came to me with her current war cry: cheetahs never win.

I gave it another few years before she realized she could date every cheetah male on Earth without finding one loyal pre-mating. I’d done my research.

The females mated with one male for life.

The males slept with each other until a female convinced him it was time for a lifetime of cubs.

Sassy only dated lycanthropes.

The only woman I wanted, lycanthrope or not, only dated lycanthropes.

I’d need a miracle to dig out of the relationship mire I’d made for myself. Until then, I’d pretend being hopelessly single was what I wanted.

Miss Gray took her time looking me over. Again. “You could come give me a try tonight. There’s a party. It’ll get rowdy, I’m sure. You got yourself a suit? If so, I’ve got the ticket. My date cancelled.”

On the PI front, a cancelled date was a bust. “Well, that’s a pity. Know why?”

“He’s a cheap dick. Fucker picked some other broad.”

I could think of a few reasons why. “I’m sorry, ma’am.”

Miss Gray wrinkled her nose. “Turns out the bitch is his fucking wife.” Clicking her teeth together, she shook her head and averted her gaze. “In our club, the rules are clear: either the wives are in or the men are out. Why can’t everyone just follow the rules?”

Why did I always meet the odd ones? Oh, right. I was a private investigator. I courted trouble on a daily basis. I’d been around long enough to deduce she had kinkier tastes than most. Dallas also had more swingers clubs than I cared to count, and I’d been invited to at least half of them during jobs. I’d gone exactly once as an observer.

Some liked to be watched, and I’d sworn to reject any job that might drop me into a den of depravity. Obviously, I hadn’t vetted Tom Heathrowe and the potential for uncomfortable situations thoroughly enough.

Why had I accepted his proposal, anyway?

Oh, right. A month’s worth of income, which I needed to pay for Sassy’s new pair of thousand dollar shoes.

Damn it.

“Swingers club?” I made a show of looking over the cheaper shoes, and a pair of baby blue flats caught my eye. I picked them up and turned them over in my hands. Sassy sometimes wore a dress the same color, one capable of transforming me into an emotional wreck. “Are these a good shoe?”

Miss Gray snatched the shoes. “On the lower end, but yeah. They’ll do. These ones would be in an 8, too. Your friend has trouble dating?”

“You have no idea,” I muttered. “Is the party tonight with your club?”

“Yeah. It is. There’s no sex tonight, though. You interested?”

Damn it, damn it, damn it. Why couldn’t I keep my license with a conviction? Mr. Hearthrow deserved a one-way trip to hell. “As a matter of fact, I am. When and where?”

“The Ritz-Carlton at nine. It’s a mixer. It’s how we find new people to partner with. You’ll be a hit. It’ll be a good way for you to see if you like it.” Miss Gray handed over the shoes and dug into her pocket, retrieving a small white envelope. “Arrive thirty minutes early.”

I slid the invitation into my back pocket, already hating myself for what I did for money. A hidden camera would do the talking for me if Senator Sterling showed up. I doubted it if I held his ticket, but I couldn’t be certain.

The ticket could’ve belonged to another man easily enough.

However, if he had acquired his own ticket and brought his wife, things would become interesting for my client, who would lose his sex scandal angle. Miss Gray’s commentary led me to believe infidelity factored, but considering the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Sterling was all but over, the information I gathered wouldn’t create much of a scandal.

I needed proof of a scandal. Proof got me paid, and I couldn’t break the law while I worked, which made the job challenging on a good day.

Oh, well. I’d figure something out.

Danielle returned with Sassy’s new shoes, and as I suffered from a complete lapse of good judgment, I got her the blue pair, too. She might kill me over it later, but for a few minutes, one of us would be happy.

Cheetahs Never Win is available at major retailers and will cost you 499 copper bits to purchase.

A Year in Review: The Sneaky Kitty Critic(s) and the Author of Doom. (Plus 2019 Predictions!)

Send help or more treats. I’ve been adopted by insane people.

Why me, humans?

My new sister, Princess, seems to have inherited her title of ‘the Understudy’ for a reason. The instant she assumed I could do her job for me, she went to the nap pad to take a snooze.

I’d like to call her a lazy so-and-so, but the human has given me some strict directions of what words I’m fucking allowed to use, and so-and-so is on the ‘we’re not allowed to use that one’ list.

Frankly, I don’t see why the hell not!

I’m just a kitten. I’m supposed to be playing, not… not… doing this stuff!

For the record, I do not appreciate the glowy rectangle boxes I’m cruelly being forced to use. It’s noisy, it glows, and I do not like it. However, I do quite enjoy that I can badmouth the wretched human for wandering off and leaving me to do her job.

Seriously, am I the only responsible sentient in this apartment? I fear so.

As part of my new duties as Chief Human Wrangler, I’m to familiarize myself with my human’s odd activities this year in this year in review thing. Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is, but fine. I’ll do it. I’ve been promised more time with the lazy pointy if I’m a good kitten. If I’m really good, I’ll get to try a can of the new grain-free wet food the humans spent a fortune on.

We’re not spoiled. Really. We’re not. Spoiled would be eating nothing but those delicious kitty treats all day. The humans ration them out like the cruel dictators they are.

I’d like to complain more, but there are whispers of us getting a new cat tree to be placed near a window.

January 2018

I literally have no idea what the human did in January. Slacked off, maybe? I’m pretty sure she slacked off. There’s no actual evidence she did anything important in the month of January.

I’ve been informed, by Princess the Understudy, that the female ‘wrote books’ and the male ‘went to his day job, where he abandons the sad female for a minimum of eight hours five times a week.’

Princess doesn’t seem to like this whole abandoning the sad female part of things. Honestly, from my observations?

Bitch throws a party when she gets the place to herself. Please. I’m not falling for that garbage. Bitch throws a partttttay.

What? I can’t call the female a bitch? These rules are lame. Fine. How about Wenchasaurus Rex?

February 2018

This month seems to have had some activity. She ‘published’ this ‘book’ called ‘The Captive King.’

I think the cover thing is pretty? I’m not sure why she has several names. Silly Wenchasaurus Rex.

March 2018

What the hell? She published another book in March? Seriously?

Someone needs to tell her to cool her heels and go sit down and smell the roses. Buuuussy. She obviously isn’t a cat. A cat would’ve fit in a lot of naps.

I see I will have my work cut out for me.

March say the release of Serial Killer Princess, a short novel in the Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) series.

April 2018

Seriously?? Is this thing just a list of books she released this year? Apparently. Okay. Fine. I’m going to save us all this trouble of listing by month and just put a list of the damned books the Wrenchasaurus Rex released.

We won’t discuss the kitty who crossed the rainbow bridge because the humans get sad, but that was in December, and December was a sad month for the humans.

That’s a lot of stuff.

But you probably have no care about the stuff she’s already done, right? You probably want to know what’s coming up next, right?

Well, I can help you with that. I stole the book of organizations. I will ruthlessly share her secrets. I am the queen of all I survey, the stealer of souls!

The humans are muttering that I may become either Zazzle the Beguiler or Zazzle the Tyrant. Personally, I’m thinking I should be Zazzle the Tyrannical Beguiler. It’s so flashy, just like me.

They’re still thinking about it, but the female sometimes calls me the Zazzler when I’m hyper.

Predictions for 2019!

Yep. This is totally the part you were waiting for, humans. Never fear. While the Wrenchasaurus Rex was going to hold out on you, I’ve got you covered.

  • January 2019: Cheetahs Never Win (Magical Rom Com, RJ Blain)
  • February 2019: Storm Called (A Royal States Novel, Susan Copperfield)
  • March 2019: Shammed (Bernadette Franklin)
  • April 2019: Blood Bound (Lowrance Vampires, RJ Blain)
  • May 2019: Grave Humor (Magical Romantic Comedy, RJ Blain)
  • June or July 2019: Steel Heart (Jesse Alexander, RJ Blain)

While subject to change, these are projects already slated in for editorial work, so it’s pretty probable these will happen in the month listed!

Yay for those crazy Jesse Alexander fans!

Other projects slated for 2019 include…

  • Burn, Baby, Burn (Mag Rom Com, Quinn/Bailey #2, RJ Blain)
  • Murder Floof (Bernadette Franklin)
  • The Run Around (Bernadette Franklin)
  • On the Run (Magical Romantic Comedy, RJ Blain)
  • Hypnos (Seeking the Zodiacs #1, RJ Blain)
  • Ginger Snapped (Christmas 2019, Bernadette Franklin)
  • In a Bind (Bernadette Franklin)

Here’s the wish list projects the female hopes to get to in 2019, but it depends on how badass she is.

  • Random Mag Rom Com Novella Slider
  • The Queen’s Deception (First Person, set in the Rift King world, Fantasy Romance-ish novel.)
  • Rider of the Sun Horse (Must… finish… long… book…)
  • Work on the Sais chick books
  • Work on Sunshine Cassidy books

Then there are a lot of wishful thinking goals involving making money, which I’m just going to light on fire and toss in the bathtub to watch it burn because the male human promised to feed me even if the female human sucks at authoring this year, and really… that’s all that matters.

We must be fed.

Plus given treats.

Plus given time with the lazy pointy.

So far, so good. Wish me luck, though. These humans are weird.

I’m 100% sure I’ll write this book better than the human. Soon, she’ll understand my brilliance. Soon.

~Zazzle the (Potentially Tyrannical) Beguiler

New Release: Witch & Wolf: The Complete Series (plus pics of the new kitten, Zazzle!)

The male human dropped something. Fascinating! (No, the kitties didn’t eat the cigarette.)

Greetings, humans!

Princess here. Zazzle still isn’t up for trying her hand at helping control the magical glowy box yet, so I’m in charge for a while longer. (She’s starting to come out from under the sleepy place on her own, although I’m really not sure what I think about her asking for attention from my human female.)

As for the human female, she’s had a hard time lately, but she’s doing better. She’s (somewhat) back to work today, but she’s taking baby steps. It’s hard to write things to make people laugh when she’s trying hard not to cry. So, she finally got around to compiling the complete series collection for the Witch & Wolf series.

This is for those who want to read the core of the Witch & Wolf series. It’s priced at $9.99. If you were to buy the books individually, it would cost $20.95.

It contains the following stories:

  • Inquisitor ($4.99)
  • Winter Wolf ($4.99)
  • Tales of the Winter Wolf, Vol. Six. ($0.99)
  • Blood Diamond ($4.99)
  • Silver Bullet ($4.99)

You can get your copy at Amazon and at Kobo. Other vendors will be coming soon, humans! (The human female has submitted them everywhere, but the holiday season is here, so it’s a little tough on getting new books published!)

I give kissies if you bring the red dot back, human?

I groomed her a little today. She looked like she needed a little bit of love. But only a little. She got too familiar with my human female, so she got a growl and hiss, too.

What? I can’t be nice all the time, and she was getting too familiar with my human female!

Training of the new Furred Manager has begun, but it’s not going quite well… mostly. Zazzle has a lot of training to do, but the human female managed to cajole her into helping with the business duties a little today.

I’m not sure about this. Can I leave now?

As Zazzle is in dire need of training on how to be a proper member of the Furred & Finned Management, I took a moment to show her how it was done.

We’re going to read the purple one tonight, human.

The next thing I will train Zazzle in is the art of Workus Interruptus. It’s a critical skill kittens must practice to perfection. Here is a picture of the first training session.

She can’t escape me now, humans!

Now that the female has been properly subdued and her work interrupted, it’s time for a nap.

Later, humans!

Thank you, humans.

So long and thanks for all the fish!

Princess here.

I’m still getting used to my sister being gone. The humans aren’t sure how to human any more, but they’re managing. Mostly. I, using my most cunning tricks, convinced them I would be sad and lonely all by myself.

As a part of saying goodbye to you most excellent humans, my sister wanted me to share the last picture our humans took of her. She wants you to remember her as the loving deity she was.

This last picture captures what she did best: loving people (and me!)

My sister’s journey is over until we cross the rainbow bridge to join her on the other side, but the end of her journey became the beginning of another journey.

This beginning happened at the Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority.

The calico is named Zazzle, and she moved into our home today. The precious little black and white kitty was a strong contender, but… sometimes, the cat chooses the humans, and Zazzle refused to be deterred.

Don’t leave me, human!

Her refusals involved digging her claws into his shoes and his jeans and rubbing her head anywhere she could reach.

The male human didn’t stand a chance.

While that’s the technical start of Zazzle’s story, it’s not quite that simple, humans. It never is.

It actually began several hours earlier with a conversation and a tiny bit of (loving) bullying from the female human.

This morning, the male human didn’t want to get out of bed at all. The female didn’t, either, but I needed breakfast, and my sister wasn’t there to help the humans get out of bed.

They were sad. They’re still sad.

But the female human, despite appearances, is a smart human. She asked the male human if he still wanted to go on a quest to Gondor. (He said no.)

She persisted, and she said he didn’t have to bring home a new friend, but he needed to go meet new friends, and they needed to have fur.

He was a sad human, but the female nudged, pressed, and finally hissed until he agreed to go meet some new furry friends.

Then the female human picked up my carrier because they’d been looking at Gondor, a rather large long-haired kitty.

Their quest to go to Gondor didn’t go well. The male human, on way to the door, said, “There is no way we are getting a cat today. We are going to look. We are only going to look.” There was something about not wanting to drive toooo far, too, and then something about picking a shelter where the fate of the kitties wasn’t quite as secured as Gondor’s. (Gondor is a customer service manager at a cat cafe.)

Here’s the takeaway: The male human was absolutely adamant there would be no kitties going home with him today. (Go ahead. Start laughing. The shelter people laughed and laughed and laughed, too. Female human giggled. Even the male human cracked a grin.

One journey had ended, but another had begun.

The humans arrive at the shelter, and they ask to see kitties, and they explained my sister had passed away over night, and that they needed to at least see some kitties.

So, they went into the shelter and started to meet kitties.

The first cat the male human met was named Smokey, and Smokey rubbed against the male’s legs.

Male lasted all of twenty seconds before announcing he wanted to take Smokey home.

The female’s expression? Priceless, humans. Priceless. Or so she told me. I believe her. Because the male totally surrendered in twenty whole seconds. The female informed the male that he needed to meet more kitties, especially the little calico that had been pouncing and playing with her cage mates.

The male agreed.

We found out right after meeting Smokey that he bullied other kitties, and that made the male sad. I’m not very good at standing up for myself, so I wouldn’t do well with Smokey. Smokey couldn’t go home with the humans no matter how much the male liked him. (Which was a lot.)

The shelter people then said which kitties were kind to other kitties, and they were escorted to the room with four kitties, two of which aren’t feeling well right now. My humans then explained to the shelter people that I had a mild case of the sniffles, so it was ideal for us to welcome a potentially sick kitty into our home because I’m already a little under the weather and there’s little difference between nursing one kitty as there is nursing two.

This made the shelter people happy, because not many people want to adopt potentially sick kittens.

Please can go home with you, human? I good keekee?

Yes, keekee, you can has home with us!

The competition was fierce, and when this photo was taken, then male asked the female if he could take all three home. (Sorry, male human. City limit is two!)

Please admire my female’s shiny red shoe. Isn’t it cute? She wore her prettiest shoes trying to lure keekees to her.

It obviously didn’t work. All the keekees wanted the male human. (Obviously. They knew who needed the most love, and while the female has a very large cat-shaped hole in her soul, she was going to be okay. She has me! The male needed to be loved, too.)

Zazzle was the last of the kittens to come say hello, but she didn’t want him to leave and sulked when he went to the car. She didn’t realize, then, that he was on a quest to retrieve the carrier he absolutely swore would not be needed.

Yeah. That didn’t work out like the male was expecting at all.

Within half an hour or so, Zazzle was in the travel box and came home to meet me! I am very excited. I am very excited. The instant the female put the carrier down and opened it, I went inside and kissed my new sister’s home.

Then we realized something was strange and weird, and we both ran and hid under the bed together. I’m really not sure why the humans laughed so hard, but whatever. They’re laughing. That beats the leaking. (They reenacted Titanic in my living room, humans.)

The female human was trying to entertain Zazzle in the shelter while the male human was retrieving the carrier and beginning the adoption process!

Zazzle is now trying to come to terms with her entire life being turned upside down on her.

This is what betrayal looks like, humans.

Zazzle will be okay. She just needs some time to adjust. In the meantime, I really, really want to meet my new sister and play with her! My new sister isn’t sure what she thinks about this, but I promise we’ll have a good time.

But for the next few days, Zazzle will be hiding in the bathroom. The humans gave her many of Tia’s old toys and her bed, and I think my sister would be proud of them.

In the near future, Zazzle will be helping with the newsletter and other fun things we have in mind! I’m excited. I wonder what her title will be?

I’m staying the Understudy, because that’s what I do best. But the world is Zazzle’s to rule, and I’ll be the same old Princess, ready to help her reign over the humans wise enough to worship us.

We’ll do our best to entertain you.

We’re not kitten around here. (I’m lying. We totally are. This link goes to the book my human has on sale, which tells the story of a kitty who sank her claws into a mere human male’s soul, forever changing his life… it sounds familiar. Good luck, Zazzle. You’re going to need it. Our humans? They are stubborn.)

Tia the Majestic has crossed the rainbow bridge.

It was time. She was hurting, and she deserved only the best we could give her. We weren’t expecting it to be tonight, but tonight was the right time.

Yesterday, she could barely stand.

Today, she fell over several times trying to walk to her food bowl.

She enjoyed her favorite turkey this evening, and we showered her with love and stayed with her to the very end.

She was a good cat, and we will miss her dearly.

For now, Princess the Understudy will take over for her sister. There’ll be another cat one day, and probably sooner than we would like. Princess is very social and will need a friend. That won’t happen today. It probably won’t happen tomorrow.

It’ll happen when we can think about our wonderful, personality-packed best friend we escorted to a better place tonight.

Well, probably sooner than that. Princess will tell us when she needs a new friend.

In the meantime… Goodbye, Tia.

We loved your dearly, and we always will.

We already miss you.