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Welcome to the
SHADOWCASTER ARC GIVEAWAY!
One lucky winner will come away with a shiny bright Shadowcaster ARC (with the original iconic cover, which no doubt will be a collector's item) signed however you want, plus items from the Chima swag bag.
Be in the know, drop a few hints about the saga to your jealous friends, and please, please, post an honest review on the site of your choice!
The giveaway opens February 15 and closes on the Ides of March (March 15.) Each entry option you choose gets you one entry. Some options, eg Tweeting, can be used every day.
Here's how to enter:
a Rafflecopter giveaway
And, just to whet your appetite, here's an excerpt from Shadowcaster from the viewpoint of Captain Halston Matelon of the Ardenine Army, who is being held prisoner by Captain Alyssa Gray of the Queendom of the Fells. He does not know that she is the heir to the Gray Wolf Throne.
Shadowcaster, from Chapter 40
Hal, unable to sleep, lay on his back, his fingers laced behind his head, his brain rattling like a runaway cart from one problem to another. It had been some time since he’d heard the bell in the tower overhead bong one, but frustration was keeping him awake despite his long walk through the wind and sleet with Captain Gray.
He couldn’t complain about his treatment. If he was a prisoner, he was being cradled in an open hand. He knew that hand would close into a fist with another escape attempt. So it wasn’t enough to escape the keep. In Delphi, he’d been close to the border, at least. Here, there was lots of open space to cover before he reached friendly territory.
If it was even still friendly to Matelons.
He left his locked quarters only for meals, and for his walks with Captain Gray, which inflicted their own kind of torment. Speaking of which, what or who was she expecting to arrive by ship? Why had she barreled down the steps like there were demons at her heels?
He should have a plan by now. Time was wasting, while events in the south went on without him. His father might already be marching on the capital. His mother and sister might be dead. Or worse. He had so many reasons to want to get home. And one reason in particular to stay.
He recalled what he’d said to Gray after his bout with Bosley. Our women are not like you.
Nobody was like her. And now, maybe, he was ruined for anyone else. Meanwhile, she’d made it plain they had no future together. His king had sent him north to die. So far, he’d managed to stay alive, but the experience had changed him. Would he even fit in when he went home?
I need to get out of the witchy north, he thought, before I lose myself. If it wasn’t already too late.
A noise outside his door made him sit upright. The guards in the corridor seemed to be arguing with someone. A voice rose above the others, shutting the discussion down. “I will see him, I don’t care what time it is. Now get out of my way.”
It was Captain Gray.
Hal groped for his breeches, yanking them on hastily. He was just buckling them when the door banged open, and there she was, a bottle in one hand, the other propped against the doorframe. Her shirt was untucked, hanging midway to her knees. She was in her stocking feet, and long strands of hair hung down around her face. Her eyes were deep wells of pain and grief.
“Captain Gray,” Hal said warily. “It’s late.”
“It is late,” she said, her voice a low growl. “It’s late. It’s too bloody late.” Her gaze traveled over his chest and shoulders, lingered there a moment, then seemed to focus. “Where’s your shirt?”
“Forgive me,” Hal murmured. Snatching it up, he pulled it over his head without unbuttoning it. Looking past her, he saw bluejackets milling in the corridor behind her as if unsure what to do. Gray set the bottle in a corner with exaggerated care. Then she turned and threw her shoulder against the door, slamming it in their faces. As Hal watched in amazement, she dragged a massive breakfront over until it blocked the door. She studied it a moment, hands on hips, then spun around to face him.
“Now,” she said, grabbing up the bottle and thrusting it toward him. “We are going to play a game.”
Hal eyed the bottle. “A game?”
“A riddle game.”
Hal looked down at the bottle, then back up at Gray, and realized from her slow, deliberate speech that she had been drinking. A lot. “I was just going to sleep,” he said. “Could we play tomorrow?”
She wagged the bottle in his face. “We’re doing this now.”
He took a step back. “Let’s wait until tomorrow.”
“What’s the matter? Are you scared?”
“Yes,” Hal said honestly. “You’re scaring the shit out of me.” He took the bottle, tipped his head back, and took a careful swig. Blue ruin. It all but lifted the top of his head off.
“Hey! We’re not playing yet.” She grabbed the bottle back and drank, her throat jumping with each swallow. She thumped it down on Hal’s little table and slumped into one of the chairs. “You. Sit,” she commanded, pointing at the other chair.
Hal sat across from her, resting his hands on the tabletop.
“Here’s the rules,” Gray said. “I’m going to ask you riddles, and if you can’t answer, you have to take a drink.”
“Ma’am, I’m really not much for—”
“And every time you say ‘ma’am’ you have to take a drink.”
Hal pressed his lips together and waited.
“Now, then,” Gray said. “First question: Why are southerners such assholes?”
“That’s not a riddle,” Hal said.
“Answer the question.”
“Why are you trying to pick a fight with me?”
“You’re the only flatlander within reach.”
Hal studied her haggard face. In truth, she looked like she’d been run over by a team of horses. He’d seen that expression before, on some of the men in his command. Ambushed by grief, they had taken to drink in an effort to drown it. It was the face of heartbreak. Did it have to do with the ship that had arrived that afternoon?
“What’s happened?” he said. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“That’s not an answer.” She pushed the bottle toward him, and it rocked dangerously. “Drink up.”
“I’m not going to do this,” he said, shoving his chair back. “I’m going to call for the guards.” Crossing to the door, he took hold of the breakfront and tried to drag it aside. A flicker of motion caught the corner of his eye before Gray bulled into him. This time, Hal was smart enough to mind his feet, shifting them out of danger at the last minute so she was unable to sweep them out from under him. Even drunk as she was, she came close to rolling him over her shoulder. He wrapped his arms around her in a kind of bear hug, and wrestled her to the floor so he could pin down her flailing arms and legs. It took the full weight of his body to keep her down. She was yelling something at him, over and over.
“Why did you do it? Why did you bastards murder my brother? He was a healer! He never did anyone any harm.”
Bewildered, Hal tried to remember what she’d told him about her family. If he remembered right, her brother had died years ago. Sometimes drink will surface long-buried hurts, like corpses floating out of a flooded graveyard. Hal had seen it before, in taverns and inns, when the hour was late and the ale had been flowing.
“I’m sorry about your brother,” Hal said. “Too many people have died in this war—people we can’t afford to lose.”
“Sorry doesn’t bring him back,” Gray said, her voice hitching. She’d stopped struggling, and now lay on the stone floor, limp and weeping.
“I know,” he murmured. “I know.” He didn’t know, exactly, but he could imagine how he would feel if the war took Harper and Robert from him. Though, just now, they seemed more at risk from his own king than from the enemy they were supposed to be fighting.
Taking a chance, Hal slid his arms under Gray, leaned his back against the wall, and scooped her onto his lap. She buried her face in his shirt and kept crying, clutching a fistful of the fabric. Gently, he rocked her, smoothing back her hair and kissing her forehead, murmuring whatever came to mind. Eventually, she slept, lips slightly parted, tears still leaking from under her eyelashes.
He recalled the glib words he’d said to her, the excuse used through history by soldiers standing up for the killing trade.
This is war. People die—even innocents die, unfortunately.
He thought about carrying her to the bed, but that was risky in a hundred ways. So he sat, cradling her in his arms, thinking that he never wanted to let her go.
He heard new voices in the hallway. Someone hit the door, hard, and it shifted the breakfront a little. Three more body hits, and the door had slid open enough to let them squeeze through, Talbot in the lead, still rubbing her
shoulder. She froze, scanning the scene, the bottle on the table, Hal propped against the wall with Gray snuggled in against him, her fingers tangled in his hair.
Talbot raised both hands, palms up, the universal sign for What the hell?
Hal motioned Talbot over, and she squatted in front of them. He eased Gray into Talbot’s arms. Talbot stood, nodded at Hal, as if acknowledging their partnership, and carried Gray from the room. The other bluejackets moved the furniture back into place and left, closing the door behind them.
Happily, they left the bottle of blue ruin behind, and it helped Hal into sleep.