March 24, 2017

Spotlight + Giveaway: The Fire Child by S.K. Tremayne

The Fire Child
Author: S.K. Tremayne
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Release Date: March 28, 2017
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing



When Rachel marries dark, handsome David, everything seems to fall into place. Swept from single life in London to the beautiful Carnhallow House in Cornwall, she gains wealth, love, and an affectionate stepson, Jamie.

But then Jamie's behavior changes, and Rachel's perfect life begins to unravel. He makes disturbing predictions, claiming to be haunted by the specter of his late mother - David's previous wife. Is this Jamie's way of punishing Rachel, or is he far more traumatized than she thought?

As Rachel starts digging into the past, she begins to grow suspicious of her husband. Why is he so reluctant to discuss Jamie's outbursts? And what exactly happened to cause his ex-wife's untimely death, less than two years ago? As summer slips away and December looms, Rachel begins to fear there might be truth in Jamie's words:

"You will be dead by Christmas."

"Tremayne...does a terrific job of building suspense until events reach their climax in the midst of a violent storm." - Library Journal

S. K. Tremayne is a bestselling novelist and award-winning travel writer, and a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines around the world. Tremayne has two daughters, and lives in London.
 Thanks to the publisher, I have (2) Paperback copies of THE FIRE CHILD to give away! Open to US/CAN only!


Cover Reveal: Claimed By Power by Zoey Ellis


Claimed By Power
Author: Zoey Ellis
Genre: New Adult Paranormal Romance
 Publication Date: April 3, 2017


Not all angels are angelic…

Thea Robinson has never needed anyone’s charity. Sure, her impoverished existence isn’t desired by most, but her ability to manipulate people’s emotions helps her to blend into the shadows of an unforgiving city. When hideous creatures threaten her life, a surly but gorgeous stranger shows up revealing a world she didn’t know existed. She refuses to put up with his rude, arrogant attitude, but how do you dismiss a warrior angel? And does she really want to when his stormy gaze sends delicious thrills straight to her core?

Cam is one of the most ruthless Power angels in the fight against evil. His devotion to kill demons has made him a celebrated warrior in the Angel Realm, even though his motivation stems from grief. When he is assigned to train and protect a half-angel just coming into her abilities, his rage is unparalleled. Until he realizes Thea isn’t like any others. She stirs a carnal passion in him that he can’t shake. He never counted on her being so beautiful… so fierce… so most definitely his.

Claimed by Power is the first book in the Empire of Angels series, a paranormal alpha angel romance series. If you’re a fan of alpha heroes, powerful heroines, paranormal worlds and falling in love, Zoey Ellis’ riveting, sexy tale is perfect for you.

About the end: Although this book can be read as a standalone, Cam and Thea’s story does continue over the next two books.

Sexual scenes and strong language included. Not suitable for readers under 18.

“What exactly are my powers?” Thea asked

The angel stood up. “Not now. It’s time to go. You have your answers.”

Frustrated, she exhaled loudly. She went to her wardrobe and grabbed a bra, top, and another pair of jeans. The angel turned away, allowing her to dress. She eyed him from behind. So angels were real. And they were handsome and powerful and stern. Nothing like she would have ever imagined them to be. He couldn’t even crack a smile and yet mocked her like a child. Were all angels like that? Maybe he didn’t like humans.

“At least tell me why they sent you,” she said, smoothing down her top. “Why you?”

“Why not me?” he said, almost in a growl. “Who would you prefer?”

“I don’t know,” Thea said, lifting her shoulders. “Someone able to smile once in a while?”

He turned to face her, his plain expression flavored with annoyance. “I’m not here to entertain you. You need someone to train you and help you learn how to control your abilities. I’m the best there is. You should be honored.”

Thea shook her head, annoyed. Trained? Like a puppy? Not happening. Especially not by this man, who’d been abrupt with her from the start, despite his careful treatment of her wounds. “I should be honored? Honored that I was attacked by those creatures? Honored that I almost got ripped apart? Honored that you had to come and save me, a poor damsel in distress?”

His face hardened with each word she said, but she couldn’t give a fuck.

“I don’t need to be saved by a warrior who can’t stop the horrors happening in this city every day. Or by a God that keeps himself hidden from those he’s supposed to inspire? People are raped and drugged and killed every day; where are you then? Where is He then? I’ve gotten this far without the help of you or God, and I’ll be fine to continue without you.”

The angel’s stance didn’t change. The only indication of his agitation was in the grounding of his jaw. “You’re being irrational. If I was able to find you here, the demons will find you here. You cannot escape them. Pack. Now.”

“No.” She grabbed her phone. “You go. Thanks very much, but I’ll be fine.”

With a low grunt of frustration, the angel grabbed her around the waist quicker than she would have thought possible. He flew up to the ceiling, his rock-like arm digging into her stomach, pressing her against his chest. He swept his free hand over the length of the room. The room began to glow and then burst into flames, smoke eating up the remaining air.

“No!” She struggled to get out of his arms while her home and everything she owned burned.

He leapt out of the window, holding onto her as he flew over the city.

Zoey Ellis spends her most of her time thinking up stories that explore how love and romance can be tested by the darker side of our personalities and the heart-wrenching challenges that must be overcome for love to win, even if two people belong together.

A lover of the fantastical, Zoey enjoys how intense and vast the challenges can be for couples in the paranormal romance genre. Her goal is to build a body of work depicting thrilling, fantastical romances between demanding alpha heroes and fiery heroines hoping the love they make will scorch ereaders and melt hearts. With a soft spot for angels, dragons and alpha shifters, Zoey blends her love of a Happy Ever After with strangely unique worlds and complex plots.

If you're interested in hearing about Zoey's new releases first, as well as her bonuses and giveaways, sign up to her newsletter.


March 23, 2017

Operation Prom Date Blog Tour: Excerpt + Giveaway

Operation Prom Date (Tactics in Dating #1)Author: Cindi Madsen
Publication Date: March 13, 2017
Publisher: Entangled Teen Crush


Kate ships tons of fictional couples, but IRL her OTP is her and Mick, the hot quarterback she’s crushed on since, like, forever. With only one semester left of senior year, it’s now or never if she wants to land him in time for prom. Since she’s flirtationally challenged, she enlists Cooper Callihan, the guy who turned popular seemingly overnight but who used to be a good friend.

Cooper lives and breathes rowing, but his partner just broke his wrist. When he remembers Kate’s good with a set of oars, he strikes a deal: help him train, and he’ll make sure her crush notices her. Only he didn’t know how addicting spending time with her would be. Or how the more successful the Operation is, the more jealousy he experiences.

The mission has been set. The troops have their marching orders. But what if the target is the wrong guy all along?

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains stargazing, accidental swimming, and poker swindling. This kissing practice will melt your ereader…and give you a new couple to ship.

“That’s Klaus,” Kate said. “Don’t worry, he’s got a much better temperament than his namesake.”

“Oh? And who is he named after?”

“An original vampire. From the show The Originals? Technically he was on The Vampire Diaries first, but they did a spin off, and anyway…” She scooped up the creature as she sat on her bed. “Klaus kills for fun—the vampire. This Klaus is too lazy to do much of anything.”

I sat next to her on the bed, still taking in her collection of figurines.

“That’s my Funko Pop collection. I paired them up the way they should be on the shows.” She gestured at one in a green hood and the blonde figure next to him with the glasses. I realized it was from Arrow.

“I ship Olicity the hardest.”

“‘Ship’ them?”

“I want them in a relationship. Like I’d put them in a ship together so they’d be forced to see they’re perfect for each other, bribe the writers to get them together, ship them. Partnership, friendship, please-God-put-them-in-a-relationship-already ship them.”


“It’s a common phrase. Oliver and Felicity are totally my OTP, which means one true pairing, if you haven’t somehow heard of that, either. I also ship Alexa and Clarke on The 100 a crazy amount, and I was pretty mad at the writers for a while, but something happened and…well, I won’t spoil it, but I might’ve teared up. Then of course there’s Stydia and Captain Swan”—she pointed at a blond figure wearing a red jacket and a goateed dude with a hook for a hand—“I used to be all about Damon and Elena, but there toward the end, I shipped her and a coffin. Which sounds mean, I know, but vampires don’t technically die, so a bit nicer?”

“I’m still judging you too much for saying ‘ship them the hardest’ to judge you for the vampire stuff.”

She smacked my arm and I laughed. Honestly, I was also trying to keep up with all the words she’d spouted, trying to make sense of them. We’d spent the past few afternoons on the boat, and the more time I spent with her, the more amused I was by her, even though I only understood about half of what she said.

Klaus crawled higher on her lap and she rubbed his chin. I never knew a lizard could smile, but damned if the thing didn’t grin. Kate caught my eye. “Just call me Khaleesi, mother of dragons. Or dragon, as it were. Please tell me you at least get that reference.”

Game of Thrones. I’ve only read the first book, though. Okay, half of the first book, but I meant to pick it back up. But then I sort of just watched the show instead.”

She glanced around like someone might be listening and then leaned in. “Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve never read the books.”

I leaned a few inches closer, until I could see the different shades of green in her eyes. “Your secret is safe with me.”

“You’re starting to have a lot of my secrets, so I certainly hope so.” Unexpected warmth swirled through my chest. I’d never thought I would want to be a secret keeper, but there was something about having Kate’s trust that made me proud to be one.
Cindi Madsen is a USA Today Bestselling author of contemporary romance and young adult novels. She sits at her computer every chance she gets, plotting revising, and falling in love with her characters. Sometimes it makes her a crazy person. Without it, she’d be even crazier. She has way too many shoes, but can always find a reason to buy a new pretty pair, especially if they’re sparkly, colorful, or super tall. She loves music, dancing, and wishes summer lasted all year long. She lives in Colorado (where summer is most definitely NOT all year long) with her husband and three children.

 Kate Hamilton's OTP Prize Pack, including two Funko Pops: The Green Arrow and Felicity*

*NOTE: A $20 Amazon gift card will be substituted in the place of the prize pack if the winner is international. 


March 22, 2017

10 Things I Can See From Here Blog Tour: Review

10 Things I Can See From Here

Author: Carrie Mac
Genre: YA Contemporary/LGBTQ
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers


Perfect for fans of Finding Audrey and Everything, Everything, this is the poignant and uplifting story of Maeve, who is dealing with anxiety while falling in love with a girl who is not afraid of anything.

Think positive.
Don’t worry; be happy.
Keep calm and carry on.

Maeve has heard it all before. She’s been struggling with severe anxiety for a long time, and as much as she wishes it was something she could just talk herself out of, it’s not. She constantly imagines the worst, composes obituaries in her head, and is always ready for things to fall apart. To add to her troubles, her mom—the only one who really gets what Maeve goes through—is leaving for six months, so Maeve will be sent to live with her dad in Vancouver.

Vancouver brings a slew of new worries, but Maeve finds brief moments of calm (as well as even more worries) with Salix, a local girl who doesn’t seem to worry about anything. Between her dad’s wavering sobriety, her very pregnant stepmom insisting on a home birth, and her bumbling courtship with Salix, this summer brings more catastrophes than even Maeve could have foreseen. Will she be able to navigate through all the chaos to be there for the people she loves?

10 Things I Can See From Here is a great new addition to the diverse young adult contemporary genre. Not only does it deal with LGBTQ issues, it also discusses mental illness - specifically anxiety. Sadly, mental illness is still stigmatized in our society - although it's starting to be talked about more. I personally suffer from mental illness - and one of my diagnoses is anxiety disorder. I'm really glad that more books are being written that discuss mental illness and the impact they have on people. This is another novel that sheds a realistic light on the issue. I'm always weary when approaching a book about mental illness because I'm not sure how the author will portray it - especially so if I also suffer from the diagnosis. It's so hard to talk about these things, and when there are materials written about them, you want them to be accurate and really show how it effects people's lives. Luckily, this story was pretty spot on when it came to the main character's anxiety problems. That trait in itself made me like the novel and I was able to identify with Maeve right away. Sadly, I couldn't fully connect with her character because of her sexual preference. I could easily empathize with her and what she encountered, but that part of her personality eluded me on a personal level. The book was written in the first person point of view - from Maeve's perspective - which is by far my favorite writing style. I'm happy that the author chose this style because it allows the reader a deeper connection with the narrator. With a story so personal, it only makes sense to be written this way (in my opinion).

The plot was well written, if not a bit predictable. I'm not a huge fan of contemporary fiction, so I didn't really get into the story as much as fans of the genre will. This is purely my own preference and opinion - there's absolutely nothing negative about the writing or the story. I definitely recommend this book to fans of YA contemporary fiction, romance, LGBTQ, and those wanting to diversify their reading lists.

CARRIE MAC is an award-winning Canadian novelist making her US debut. She lives in East Vancouver, where this story takes place. Check out her website at and follow her on Twitter at @CarrieMacWrites. 

Cover Reveal: One S'more Summer by Beth Merlin


 One S’more Summer (The Campfire Series #1)
Author: Beth Merlin
Genre: Adult Contemporary
Publication Date: May 30, 2017
Publisher: Ink Monster LLC

Since that first bus ride to Camp Chinooka twenty long years ago, Gigi Goldstein has been pining for her best friend’s guy. She knows her crush is wrong and has to stop, but her heart won’t listen to reason. To escape the agony of their impending wedding, Gigi accepts a summer job at the only place she’s ever been happy.

But working at Chinooka isn’t all campfire songs and toasting marshmallows. Gigi’s girls are determined to make her look bad in front of the boys’ Head Counselor—the sexy but infuriating Perry—and every inch of the campground is laced with memories.

When Gigi realizes she can’t fix the present by hiding in the past, she’s forced to reexamine her choices. Maybe everything she thought she wanted wasn’t what she actually needed… But if she can get her act together, Gigi might have one last shot at the summer love of her dreams.

Beth Merlin has a BA from The George Washington University where she minored in Creative Writing and a JD from New York Law School. She’s a native New Yorker who loves anything Broadway, rom-coms, her daughter Hadley, and a good maxi dress. She was introduced to her husband through a friend she met at sleepaway camp and considers the eight summers she spent there to be some of the most formative of her life. One S’more Summer is Beth’s debut novel.


March 21, 2017

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Girl From Rawblood by Catriona Ward

The Girl From Rawblood
Author: Catriona Ward
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781492637424


For generations the Villarcas have died mysteriously, and young. Now Iris and her father will finally understand why...
At the turn of England's century, as the wind whistles in the lonely halls of Rawblood, young Iris Villarca is the last of her family's line. They are haunted, through the generations, by "her," a curse passed down through ancient blood that marks each Villarca for certain heartbreak, and death.
Iris forsakes her promise to her father, to remain alone, safe from the world. She dares to fall in love, and the consequences of her choice are immediate and terrifying. As the world falls apart around her, she must take a final journey back to Rawblood where it all began and where it must all end...
From the sun dappled hills of Italy to the biting chill of Victorian dissection halls, The Girl from Rawblood is a lyrical and haunting historical novel of darkness, love, and the ghosts of the past.


"A hauntingly brilliant virtuoso performance." - Emma Healey, author of Elizabeth is Missing
"A gothic tale of love and madness, this atmospheric and chilling story drew me in from the first page, and kept me up at night, until I reached the last." - Claire Fuller, author of Our Endless Numbered Days
"A story to satisfy the most gothic of hearts. I was hooked on the very first page and The Girl from Rawblood never let me go. Sentence by sentence, Catriona Ward made herself one of my very favorite writers." - Kelly Link, award-winning author and Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Get in Trouble
"Brilliant – The Girl From Rawblood is the old-school gothic novel I have been waiting for. While it delivers everything I want from a 'haunted house/family curse' story, it is still stunningly original. I have never read anything like it and that's saying something." - Mike Mignola, creator of the Hellboy comic book series
"The Girl from Rawblood weaves a spell that both terrifies and mesmerizes. As each layer of mystery is peeled away, more haunting truth is revealed. The book leaves the reader breathless in its gothic tale of fear, family, blood, and love." - Simone St. James, award-winning author of The Haunting of Maddy Clare
"'Beautifully written, in equal parts both terrifying and heart-breaking, The Girl from Rawblood is a dazzlingly brilliant Gothic masterpiece." - Sarah Pinborough, author of Behind Her Eyes
"A lush, macabre, chillingly good tale. From the modern horrors of man – medical experiments, war – to the ancient power of the natural world, The Girl from Rawblood is not only a ghost story of the highest order, but a sublime meditation on the things that hold us captive: fidelity, fear, memory, love." - Leslie Parry, author of The Church of Marvels
Goodreads Link:
Buy Links:
Barnes & Noble:
Books a Million:

This is how I come to kill my father. It begins like this.
I’m eleven. We find the mare shortly after noon. She’s not been there long, so the foxes haven’t come yet. The flies have, though. She is glossy, plump.
“Why?” I ask.
Tom’s bony shoulder lifts, indifferent. Sometimes, things just die. He’s learned that well. In recent months.
The mare’s mane is black on the parched turf. Kneeling, I reach a
finger to her. Tom pulls me away from the corpse. I expect a scold, but
all he says is “There.”
I don’t see it, and then I do—in a clutch of bracken, ten paces beyond.
Small and dark in the green shadow. Newborn.
“What will you do?” I ask.
He pushes a hand through his hair.
“Pest question, Iris. What would you have me do?”
This hurts. “I’m not a pest,” I say. “I’m trying to help.”
He gives me a gentle shove. “Pest.” Since his mother died in March, Tom’s voice has been blank.
We watch the foal as it lies, head tucked into itself. It sighs. Thin cotton sides heave. Its coat is still slick in places. It’s too small to live, but it doesn’t seem to know it.
“We could feed it,” I say.
He gives me a look that means I live in a big house with floors shiny with beeswax and high ceilings where the air goes up into white silence and the linen is scented with lavender and tea rose. In the mornings, I have porridge with cream, milk from my silver mug if I am good. Tom’s knees jut through the worn patches in his trousers. He lives with his silent father in the drafty farmhouse with slates missing from the roof. He is in the fields before dawn each morning. There is no we.
I squirm. My boots are tight, my feet bloodless like the flesh of a gutted fish. I shed my stockings somewhere near Bell Tor. Beneath petticoats, my bare legs are gorse striped, beaded with blood.
“Never works,” he says at last. “They won’t take it. Or they sicken.
There’s something not right for them in cow’s milk.”
“I don’t want it to die.”
“You’re a girl,” he says. “You don’t understand.”
So I know he doesn’t want it to die either.
In a March storm, Charlotte Gilmore stepped on a fold of her skirt. I see the moment reflected in Tom’s eye each day: the buffet of cold air on her face as she falls down twenty steep stairs; her dress, belling about her like a tossed blossom; the thunder that covers the sound when her neck breaks.
“Come on,” he says. When he’s upset, his voice rattles like a badly fitted drawer.
Our long shadows slide over the turf. The foal raises its head, questing. Tom seizes it. It twists and struggles and bats him with little hooves. Tom lifts the foal onto his shoulders, settles it there. Slender forelegs and hind legs are safely anchored in his fists. The tiny brush tail whisks, indignant. They go like that, back toward the farm.
“They’ll be missing you,” he tosses over his shoulder. “You go off home now. Pest,” he adds.
“Wait,” I say. “Wait! ” I run on tight feet.
Henry Gilmore leans on the farm gate. His stare is wide, full of nothing. Tom stands upright before his father. At his shoulder, the foal flicks little ears. Tom asks the question once more.
“Maisie’s colt weaned two days ago,” says Henry Gilmore. His words are slow. He gives Tom his flinching glance. Once, he looked at you straight. Not anymore. He left his eyes in Tom’s mother’s grave four months back.
“Will she—” Tom stops.
Henry Gilmore shrugs. “Could be. Don’t fuss her. If she mislikes it. You let her do what she will.” He reaches a hand to the foal’s muzzle. Its nostrils tremble, move across his skin, scent his grief.
“It’ll die either way,” he says. “Better quickly.”
“Might not,” says Tom, and the air between them grows dense.
“You’ll not make a farmer,” Henry Gilmore tells his son, touching
Tom’s shoulder with an absent hand. He leaves us, fades through the gate into the blue. Tom, the foal, and I watch him. Distance narrows him as he goes, whittles his figure to a dark drop crawling across the bones of the hill.
In the loose box, Maisie peers through a forelock the color of dirty snow. Clumps of mud cling to her tangled belly. She lifts a broad lip in our direction, shows us her butter-yellow teeth.
“You’re not to go in,” says Tom. “Pest. D’you hear? No matter what.”
He has a twitch above his eye. His eyebrow stutters with distress. The foal’s muzzle brushes his cheek. Tom’s hands tighten, sticky about its legs.
“You’ll have to hold it,” he says. “Can you? If you… Yes.”
A flurry of little hooves, and the foal shrieks like a cat. At length, it subsides in my arms. Its pounding heart, its thin new bones.
Tom says, “We have to make them smell the same.”
Pressed together, the foal and I shiver under the sun. I can’t see where Tom has gone. There’s the crack of his boots on the dry earth, the puzzling intricacy of wood, metal, catches, clasps, doors. He is back quickly.
“This’ll do.”
The tin is squat and burly. He pries the lid up with his knife, plunges a hand in. It comes up a shining paw, gloved in treacle. Dark shining loops. He covers the foal’s head and withers. He puts the stuff on its hindquarters, smooths it over the heaving flanks, over its belly. When he’s finished, my arms are crosshatched as if by the path of snails.
“She won’t hurt it,” says Tom. His hand cradles the foal’s jaw. Its eyes close. Long lashes on sooty lids. “She won’t,” he says again, not to me. Over the stall door, Maisie shakes her massive head, blinks a bashful eye, lifts her rubber lip.
“No,” I say, “she wouldn’t. Good Maisie.”
The surface of the cart horse is vast. Her flanks ripple like a quiet sea. Tom watches. His eyes show the blue iris, ringed with white.
“Won’t do to wait,” he tells himself, or me. Maisie offers flared nostrils to his sticky hands. “Yup,” he says to her. “All that. Soon.” He slips into the stall, bolts himself in. His hands move to and fro, between light and the straw-scented dark. They coat Maisie’s muzzle and mouth with treacle. He works backward along the colossal sculpture of her, moves out of sight into the dim. She stands, but her head follows him, the glassy brown trail.
I pick up the foal. It lies like a sack in my arms. It has given up. Its hooves are no larger than shillings. The thud of its heart on my wrist. It smells of freshly crushed nettles, sharp against the farmyard.
“Will it be all right?” I ask.
Tom says nothing. I carry the foal to the stall door. It is quiet, leaden. He reaches, takes it through the crack into the dark. Then he’s out. He blinks in the sudden, honeyed day. His dark eyebrow quivers. I put fingertips to my wrist. The flesh there holds the memory of the foal’s heartbeat, weaving over my own. We wait, silent.
“I can’t,” Tom says.
So I look.
In the dim light, Maisie’s nostrils traverse the lineaments of the foal’s body. She licks the treacle from its muzzle, eyes. Her tongue sweeps down its length, a thick banner. The foal mews, a high complaint. Maisie levers it upright, nose under its stomach. Her ponderous head is as long as its body, an edifice of teeth and bone. The foal stretches. Its neck elongates beyond possibility, reaches upward in a graceful line. It can’t reach. It makes the high sound again. Maisie bends her legs, collapses, groaning, into the straw. Her eyes close. The foal feeds, a tiny, resolute shape by her monstrous belly. The tail whisks. Maisie breathes. Hayseed whirls in the slanting light.
“It’s all right,” I say. There is no reply.
Tom’s lips are moving silently. I shove a finger into his ribs. I fold a damp hand around his thin brown wrist.
Tom whips his hands from his ears where they have been painfully pressed. He goes to the stall door.
“Good,” he says in a rush. “Good. Oh, well done, pest.”
“Don’t call me pest anymore,” I say. “I don’t like it.”
“I know,” he says. “Sorry. I don’t mean it, Iris. You’re not a pest. It’s just…remember how you felt when the dogs got your rat?”
Sorrow comes, and anger, hot.
Tom nods. “That’s how I feel all the time now,” he says. “Every day.”
I think about this. “All right,” I say. “You can call me what you want. I don’t mind.”
For the first time since his mother died, Tom takes my hand in his. We watch the mare and the foal. Bees hum in the falling afternoon. Sound bleeds back into the day.
“Come on,” Tom says at length. “Home for you.”
“No.” I am not ready to face Papa.
“We’ll catch it if you don’t.”
I’ll catch it anyway, but I don’t tell him that. “I don’t know the way home,” I say, triumphant.
“You always say that.”
“I’ll probably end up in Belgium.”
“All right, I’ll walk you,” he says, as I knew he would. “Back to the Home of the Difficult Pest!”
“That’s not its name.” I leap on him, pummeling. “Or my name!”
“I thought you didn’t mind anymore!” he shouts through the blows. “Pest! No, ow, no biting, pest!” We roll, joyous, in the dusty yard.
I slip through the hedge. My eyes water from the sunlight, the breeze. But within the yew walls, there is stillness. The scent of lavender hangs in the air.
On the green, my father dreams. Banks of gray and purple frame him in his black suit. Open on the table beside him lies a moldering book, spine broken. There’s a lime-green jug, where glassy water shines. By the jug, a soft leather wallet, half unrolled on the warm wood. I can see the gleam of metal within: sharp, inviting. I look away. I must not go near my father’s pouch; I am never to touch it. That is one of the Rules. Behind him, the house rears up, warm and gray.
Rawblood. Home. It sounds like a battle, like grief, but it’s a gentle name. “Raw” from sraw, which means “flowing,” for the Dart River that runs nearby. “Blood” from bont, a bridge. Old words. The house by the bridge over flowing water. It has been in my family since I don’t know when. Rawblood is us, and we, the Villarcas, are Rawblood.
It’s a bulging, ungainly thing. Windows poke out along its lengths at no set distance from one another. Crazy angles of warm slate roof are purplish in the sunshine. It’s old, and everyone who has lived here has built something or taken something away. Like its name, it has shifted through time. But the house has its own sort of will. It has preserved its long U shape quietly, with the minimum of fuss. When I try to think of Rawblood, to draw it with words, a muffling whiteness comes. I can’t describe it any more than I can my own bones, my eyes. It simply is. It hangs in the foreground of everything like blindness.
These are among the first things I recall my father teaching me: that I must keep quiet and may not go among many people or to towns, because of the disease, and that Rawblood is written into us. Sometimes, I think Tom knows about the disease. Sometimes, he looks at me as if he knows something. Or perhaps I could tell him, and he’d still be my friend after all. I don’t care to test it.
I come near to watch my father sleep. His head nods to inner music. His lids shiver. I am near enough to see the low sun single out each silver whisker like a filament of steel.
A hand uncoils itself into the air between us, grasps my forearm, pulls me close. It happens fast and smooth, like the whip of sapling wood.
“What have I caught?” he murmurs, eyes still hidden. “What can it be? A lion?” He tightens his long fingers, and I shriek and say no, no, I am not a lion.
“I don’t believe it. You must be a lion. I am a famous lion catcher, you know.”
He makes a show of feeling my arm, looking for paws, looking for claws. “So. Not a lion. How’s this?” He hums. “A badger, then. A striped, snouty badger.”
“A fish. A lovely, silvery fish for my supper.” His fingers slide over my ribs, a rapid accordion, and the laughter takes all the wind out of me.
“A person,” I gasp. “I am a person!”
He opens his eyes. “So you are. Well. I must let you go, then.”
But he doesn’t. He looks me over, sharp. I had not considered my appearance. I’m covered in treacle, pony hair, and dirt. My pinafore is streaked with green, with black. The wind has teased my hair into peaks and horns.
My father says, “Is it…horse that you smell of? What have you been doing, Iris? Where have you been?”
I’m caught. So I tell him. About the foal, about Maisie, about the farm, backward, words stumbling over themselves.
He dips his handkerchief in the water jug, smooths the cool, wet linen over my arms. The ring on his finger gleams red and white and gold. The imprints of his fingers are white ghosts on my wrists.
“Gilmore’s boy, who is not a farmer,” he says. “Iris.”
I wait. The hairs on my arms stand to attention.
He says, “Gilmore’s not managing. No. Not at all.” He takes my chin in the white wing of one hand and looks. His vast eyes shine like varnished wood. Now he’ll tell me I’m not to. He’ll say I mayn’t because of the Rules… I can’t bear it. The lavender is sooty in the air, my lungs. When Papa and I fight, it is always about Tom.
“Don’t say I mustn’t have him as my friend,” I say.
“I do say so, but plainly, it has no effect,” he says. “You are heedless, and you are growing. I do not know what to do. Lock you up? We cannot continue to differ on this, we cannot…”
The handkerchief falls to the table. I am new, damp, clean. I slip from his grasp and sit beside him on the lawn.
My father does not reprove me or mention my dress. He puts his hand to my head again, light and sweet. It strokes, gently picks bracken and straw and burrs from my indignant hair. “Ragamuffin,” he says to himself. Cushioned turf tickles my unstockinged calves. Nearby, sparrows quarrel in a rhododendron. Against the hedge, lying in shadow, a single daisy breaks the immaculate green of the lawn. It will be gone tomorrow.
I pick up the collapsed book. A ledger, really, like the one I have seen for the household accounts. It falls open in my hand. Some sharp scent rises from the spoiled pages. They are damp, oily to my touch. Faint lines of copperplate.
She does not trouble me; the fact being so plain, perhaps, that I am already damned. Other things haunt my dreams. A small blessing, given to a fiend.
“What does it mean?” I ask.
Papa’s fingers drum the paper, a soft tattoo. He says, “Highly unsuit- able.” He takes the book, puts it from me on the table. Something is frightening.
I wipe my fingers on my dress. My father says, “So.”
I look up, inquiring. He is giant against the sun.
“If he is good with horses, it is settled. We need another groom; Shakes is getting on. We will have the young not-farmer. And”—his hand cups my neck—“Miller’s wolfhound has six pups. I will take you down to choose one in the morning. He will sleep at the foot of your bed. How do you like that?”
Light fingers in my hair. Inattentive, sun-dazed, the words will not at first connect with meaning. Why would Tom sleep at the foot of my bed? Then I understand. I scrub my hand across my eyes, across the grass.
“No,” I say.
“No?” he asks. “I have given you two presents; all you have for me is no?”
“Thank you, Papa. I don’t want the presents.” I know this will upset everything, though the reasons are just out of my reach.
He regards me mildly. “Iris, I am surprised at you. It will be good for the boy, and the Gilmores have mouths to feed, whether you like it or not. But you need not have the puppy if you do not want it.”
“He’s my friend,” I say.
“Now he will be your groom,” Papa says. “And you will treat him as such.” “Yes,” I say, because that is what one says to Papa. I’m dazed, ears ringing. “But I will have no one. It will be hard to remember that we’re not friends anymore…”
“You will accustom yourself to it,” he says. “We are adaptable animals. When you have called him Gilmore a few times, it will come more naturally. When he has been your groom for a year or so, you won’t remember he was ever anything but.”
“You are disobedient, Iris, and you force me to act. You will not stay quiet; you will not stay under my roof or my eye. You court the disease and will not abide by the Rules.” His hand strokes the soft leather case. His eyes have found the distance.
I rise to leave Papa there, warm and solid on the bench, silver head already nodding. I know my love for him. I am surprised by my hate. It comes like the shaft of a splinter on the smooth grain of wood.
Horror autotoxicus. The disease. Papa does not say, but I think it kills us, the Villarcas, and that is why we two are the last.
Catriona Ward was born in Washington DC and grew up in the US, Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen and Morocco. She studied English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford followed by the UEA Masters in Creative Writing. After living in New York for 4 years where she trained as an actor, she now works for a human rights foundation and lives in London.