Since it's Christmas, the format of this party will be just a little different, with extra prizes and a finale on Friday with SIX guest authors!
Unfortunately, Stella Cameron, who was to have been our guest today, has had to pull out for reasons of family illness and deadlines, so our first guest of honour will be tomorrow, when Mari Carr joins us. On Wednesday we'll welcome Shawna Delacorte and on Thursday, Jill Sorenson. And finally, on Friday, we'll have a grand finale with six of the Changeling Press authors clebrating their White Hot Christmas series: Ayla Ruse, Selena Illyria, Zenobia Renquist, Cynthia Sax, Camille Anthony and BJ McCall.
So, fab party coming up! Let me start by asking you if you go looking for Christmas stories at this time of year, and if so, why? What is it you most enjoy about Christmas romances?
And since we're short of a guest today, let's have a contest instead, with a prize for everyone! The prize is Gothic Wolf, a short Christmas story I wrote a few years ago as a free "mini-sequel" to Gothic Dragon, which is a sort of time-travel fantasy still available from Samhain. But I think Gothic Wolf can safely be read on its own! Here's an excerpt to whet your appetite :).
A mini-sequel to Gothic Dragon
By MARIE TREANOR
On Christmas Eve, lonely widow Jen hears her sister’s cry for help and falls into a seductive dream of a handsome Renaissance lover…
Jen closed the bedroom door with a small, definite click and turned to face the world of her childhood. Though it had been years since she’d stayed here, nothing much had changed.
Even the sheets, probably.
Sinking down on her old bed, she began to pull off her sweater. A flood of memories hit her of past Christmas Eves – she and Esther hanging stockings at the ends of their beds, falling asleep in a daze of exhausted excitement and unspecific good will. There had been a magic about Christmas then, a belief and a joy that vanished with childhood.
Jen tossed her sweater onto Esther’s bed. Coming home for Christmas was a mixed blessing. Had she really thought Esther would be here too? No. In truth, her chief motivation had been to avoid another lonely Christmas in the house she’d shared with Richard. Last Christmas had been too close to his death to do more than wallow in the shock of loss; it had been necessary then but she was damned if she’d do it again. She’d learned to bear the grief, as something that would always be there. It shouldn’t define who she was or what she did.
Jen threw her jeans on top of the sweater and unclipped her bra. As she bent to remove her knickers, something on the dressing table caught her eye. A wooden carving that certainly hadn’t lived here when she had.
Padding naked across the carpet, Jen picked it up and examined it. It was rather beautiful – a wolf in motion. She could make out the powerful muscles, almost feel them rippling as she stroked its back with one finger.
She’d seen it before. Esther had given it to their father when she’d buggered off to Italy with the new man. Typically, Dad had stuck it in here out of the way.
Well, hadn’t she done the same thing with Esther’s beloved ring? Until tonight. Jen brought up her left hand and gazed at the antique lapis-lazuli ring that adorned her middle finger, outshining the plain gold wedding band next to it. She’d been astonished and secretly touched when Esther had given it to her. After all, they hadn’t spoken for a year then, largely because Jen couldn’t stand Kevin – the man Esther had planned to marry. Fortunately, Esther had dumped him for the mysterious Italian who’d swept her off to his own country. And when Jen had last seen her, the old light of fun had been back in her sister’s eye.
Jen found herself smiling at the memory. The reflection in the mirror caught her attention and for a moment she stared at herself, the smile slowly dying on her lips, dulling in her brown, stricken eyes. From nowhere, grief assaulted her, so suddenly that she had to rummage wildly for its source. Not for her tragically dead husband, not even for her disappearing youth or the laugher lines beginning their slow transformation into wrinkles. It was childhood she missed. It was her little sister she wanted.
Gasping, she clutched the wolf carving in both hands. Emotion crashed over her. Memory flooded her. A closeness that could never be repeated in adulthood; shared fun that had been so magical, especially at Christmas. Just for an instant, missing Esther overwhelmed her.
And even as she began to laugh at herself, to pull herself out of the pointless misery, she heard her sister.
Esther, gasping out in terrified agony, “Oh God, oh Jesus, oh Jenny…!”
Fear slammed into her. The old urge to protect rose up with a peculiar pain because she didn’t see how she could help from here, or even how she could know, how she could hear her sister in her head. But logic had no place in this, only a desperate desire, a need to help. Without meaning to, she cried out, “Esther!”
The room rocked. Her own reflected image blurred and span in front of her. She felt herself falling back toward the bed. And when she stared down at her hands in new terror, the wooden wolf’s blank eyes seemed to glow…
Abruptly, Jen stood in darkness. Icy wind swept across her naked skin. Tall, menacing trees surrounded her, below a surprisingly bright full moon. And only feet away, staring at her with hunger in its shining, amber eyes, stood the black shadowed figure of a wolf.
“What the…?” Jen blinked. She squeezed her eyes shut hard, and when that didn’t work, she tried shaking her head. But the darkness, the cold and the wolf stubbornly remained. In fact, her movement seemed to anger the wolf, who curled back his lips and snarled.
“Bad dog!” Jen scolded “Shoo!” She took a step forward, stamping her bare foot rather painfully as she did so.
As if from instinct, the wolf backed up a pace, but before Jen could congratulate herself, it snarled again. Its muscles bunched, ready to spring.
The ground crackled. Something – another animal? – snuffled, and the wolf’s gaze flickered.
Run! Jen screamed at herself, but her frozen feet seemed rooted to the spot. She heard a strange whizzing sound. Something struck the tree behind the wolf. The animal whirled round and bolted into the wood.
Jen swallowed and turned her dazed head. A horse and rider waited in the shadow of the trees. The rider lowered his arms. He seemed to be holding something like a bow. Of the Robin Hood variety.
I’m dreaming, of course. But even for me, this is a weird one.
Still, if it was a dream, she didn’t need to be frightened as the rider urged his horse forward and came to a halt in her patch of moonlight. She didn’t need to be horrendously embarrassed by her bizarre and inexplicable nakedness. Although it was irritating that even in the dream she was freezing cold. She should have used the electric blanket.
The rider – a man in a dark cloak with a hat almost like a beret flopping jauntily down one side of his head, and a feather trailing fetchingly over his ear – began to smile. Or at least his teeth gleamed. Other things about his person glinted in the moonlight too: an ornate sword-hilt, surely, at his hip, something shorter above it…
“Well,” he said, leaning forward to rest one wrist against the pommel of his saddle. “What sort of a wood-nymph are you?”
“A bloody freezing one,” Jen retorted.
To receive your PDF copy of Gothic Wolf, all you have to do is... email me! Just put Gothic Wolf in the subject line, and send to Marie AT MarieTreanor DOT com.
Happy Christmas :)