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Serpent Prince Linden of Ardaul is determined to drag his barbaric, power-hungry country into the modern age by encouraging learning, advances in the sciences, and tolerance. His insane brother Edward, the King, delights in making him pay for his efforts.
Long years of watching his back, fighting wars, and solving conflicts started by his cruel brother have taken a toll on Linden’s body and mind, and he needs a respite. When Linden meets an alluring young bed slave named Alasdaire, his weary heart responds. Alasdaire is an exotic mix of southern royal Totandian elf and human, and, although he’s also suffered hardship most of his life, his loving personality captivates the Prince.
Despite their differences, Alasdaire, canes—and Linden, scales—unite in body and soul, but their romance is nearly shattered by betrayal. When Linden becomes King, magical assassins, treachery, and threats plague them. They narrowly escape death more than once. The lovers must discover who wants them dead and more importantly, where they can turn for aid. Neither enemies nor allies are what they seem. Only time will tell who means to harm Linden and Alasdaire—the elves, the imprisoned Edward, or something even deadlier—and time is one thing they don’t have.
Gay activity filled the crowded ballroom. Two wild dances I did not recognize passed before us. The dancers moved in kinetic loops. Tonight the music sounded jagged, more feral than what I had heard at Keith’s manor.
I leaned against Linden’s shoulder. “My love, I do not recognize these odd dances. Are they from another country?”
He gestured toward the moving gaiety. “Ah, these are traditional folk dances from the time of the battle of Adwurtein, which was a mighty win for Ardaul five hundred years ago. Imagine, my social advisor Sir Newton took my ball request seriously and scheduled these dances. At the battle of Adwurtein, the mighty Serpent strangled what used to be Istarnor and added the country to the growing collection. Now Istarnor is a peaceful Ardaul province, supplying fertile ground for needed crops along with a prime port. They are part of the Pastures.”
“Oh. How lovely.”
He gripped my thigh again. “Blast, Ala, forgive my unthinking statement.”
“Why should I forgive you? See, at least under your fair and benevolent rule, Hast’ntrata will continue to exist on her own. Someday I might visit there without fear of their reaction to my mixed heritage.” I sighed and shook my head. “Doubtful, but take heart, your rule should impress on other countries that Ardaul isn’t dedicated to relentless destruction.”
His inquisitive stare swept over my sharp smile. Linden pursed his lips and returned to his eating.
I had not intended to insult him. I sensed his years as Ardaul’s royal war hero had made him sensitive about destruction. Instead of asking for forgiveness, I nibbled a truffle and scallop pâté nested in a puff pastry shell. Delicious. Tonight little descriptions sat on the plates, so I knew what I was eating.
I watched the nobles battle decoratively on the dance floor. The old dances provided a barbaric flair, featuring arm flailing and plenty of foot stomping. The dances reminded me more of ancient mating rituals best conducted around a blazing fire.
I concentrated on ignoring the bizarre shadows. They collected even closer to me. Could I banish them? How? I couldn’t stand and try my limited elven magic during a royal ball.
A crashing crescendo ended the barbaric music.
Linden applauded the dancer’s efforts. I sipped my wine.
After the dancing, the small orchestra played soothing background music. Linden blew an exasperated sigh against my cheek. “Ala, tell me what is wrong. Your discomfort pushes at me. Why won’t you tell me what is the matter? What do you sense? Tell me already.”
“Fine, yes, something is amiss, but I don’t know what!” I blinked. “You want the truth? Everything in this room threatens me. I see things that cannot
exist in the logical world lurking in the shadows—in fact, shadows exist where none should be. Strange magic hammers at my soul.”
Linden gently grasped my chin. He looked sorrowful. “Then please leave. Abandon the search. I do not want you hurt.”
I could barely form words. The magic ate at my senses. “I fear if I abandon this search something awful will happen. Please don’t send me away, Linden. I need to be here.”
Duchess Curselean appeared by my side. She smiled as she held out her hands to me. “Dear Alasdaire, will you be my partner in the next festive line dance?”
“Yes, of course.” I stood, barely remaining upright. I glanced over to see a regal young lady I did not recognize inviting Linden to the dance floor. Ah, Lady Aless had arrived for her dance. Linden gazed at me with concern until I nodded.
Sickness welled within me. I blurted out a flimsy excuse. “Forgive my nerves, Duchess, but I am not a skilled dancer.”
Alicia squeezed my fingers. “Do not worry, my friend, this is a simple country line dance. I promise to guide you.”
What could I do, rebuff her and create a scene? Perhaps the dancing would confuse the evil shadows gathering around me. After all, hadn’t I come here to touch the nobles? I bowed with stiff acceptance, and let Alicia escort me to the dance floor. Linden stood alongside me across from his partner. Of course, the king would start the dance.
He leaned close. “Are you sure you can do this?”
“Yes.” I looked down the double line. To my horror, the shadows intensified around certain laughing nobles. Before I could run, the orchestra surged into the opening notes announcing the dance. Linden bowed, grasped his partner’s hands, and darted between the double row of clapping nobles. He rolled his broad shoulders. The music captivated him until Linden forgot himself and moved using his customary grace. Caution, my love, caution! When the pair reached the end, I accepted Alicia’s gloved hands in mine and started down the row.
Suddenly the shadows transformed into huge gray snakes. The scaled beasts lunged at our light movement. Terror filled my mind. I halted and almost pulled Alicia to the parquet floor. Hissing snakes crowded around me. I released Alicia and waved my hands against the air. “No! This is not real. I refute what I see.”
Despite my wild protests, the salivating serpents crowded around me. I fell to the floor bellowing like a raving madman, waving my fists against their attack. A fierce golden serpent clad in a festive blue-and-gold suit lunged down at me.
“Ala! Ala, what is wrong?” The words sounded concerned. He tricked me into not pushing him away.
Linden slashed his venom-dripping fangs into my chest. The sharp tips ripped open my clothing. The fangs dug into my flesh, deeper, deeper, until they released burning poison into my body. Fire raced through my veins, seeking to scorch me from within. Pungent putrefaction spread across my wounded chest. I smelled my rotting flesh. Numbness attacked my hips, the sensation swirling down into my legs, halting my attempt to scramble away.
I desperately pummeled my fists against his head. “Stop! Linden, stop hurting me! Stop! Leave me alone. This cannot be happening!”
He hissed at me. A rank stench of decay and despair swirled around me. Pain released a thousand deadly arrows into my flesh. My skin continued blackening and bubbling. Decomposing strips sloughed off my hands.
I was rotting. I screamed as pain defeated my senses. I knew this could not be real, not unless I had gone insane in a blink….
I fell into blackness.
Who is S.A. Garcia?
Forty years ago, I started writing gay male romance. Writing about men inserting tab A into slot B didn’t seem the norm for a suburban female teenager. Reading Gordon Merrick, John Rechy, and Larry Kramer helped me fill in the serious informational gaps. Yes, I read those informative books in my bedroom. No wonder.
As the years progressed, I continued writing gay male romance, although the stories progressed from scribbles in notebooks to hiding on the computer. I wrote fantasies, contemporaries, bodice rippers—my muse Diva Faboo refused to let this old lesbian write a F/F romance. Go figure. Someday!
I’m glad I kept the writing faith. I never thought anyone would published my novels. Imagine, my comedy An Elf for All Centuries (formerly from Silver Publishing; now in talks for a new home) was in the running for a few awards. What a thrill!
My life has turned into a fun quandary of too many stories hindered by my slow, two-fingered typing skills. I blunder onward into more trauma, drama, and humor. I just hope I can keep up with sexy men who insist on running off with the plots!
Along with Canes and Scales: the Novel, Dreamspinner is also home to my novellas, assorted short stories, short stand-alones and the M/M romdramedys (romance/ drama comedy) Cupid Knows Best and The Gospel According to Cher.
Love in the Shadows, my first attempt at mixing M/M historic and contemporary with a touch of the supernatural, is at MLR Press.
Facebook: S.A. Garcia