Saturday, December 30, 2017

Favorite Books For 2017

This past year has been strange. There were stretches where I didn't read and then I gobbled up everything in sight or binged on a series. I did a lot of rereading of my old favorites, too. As I was going through my reader, I realized that I didn't even record what I'd read or hadn't. So I had to spend some time flipping through my ereader and trying to remember what paperbacks I'd read. As always, I bought more books than I read. There were several books I didn't finish, which wasn't usual for me. Sometimes I feel as if I'm too picky but I like what I like. And if the story doesn't hold me, I lose interest. :-)

I'm not going to limit myself to the top 10 favs. Why does it have to be only ten? When people read hundreds of books, 10 is like a drop in the bucket. So straight up, I'm giving you my favorites for 2017. I've split up the categories for your convenience. 

For reference, my favorites are books I rated 4 and 5 stars that I would read again and again. There are plenty of 4 & 5 stars that I wouldn't read again, though I enjoyed them immensely. So the re-reading is the key to my list. And I do a lot of re-reading throughout the year, so yes, that is what is most important to me, not the star rating. :D

Gay Romance

The Necromancer's Dance and The Necromancer's Dilemma books and audiobooks are excellent. I love this series and recommend it often with vigor. The characters, the world, the plot, the love between them is wonderful. I'm hoping for romances for Angel's brother. Plus there is a little dragon at war with the pigeons. I'm so curious about where it all will lead. Also, if you are looking for something on the lighter side, a sweet low angst romance, then I recommend Himes's The Solstice Prince (Realms of Love, 1).

All of the Off-Beat Crimes books are great but Jackapoles & Woofen-Poofs in particular I LOVED to PIECES. Alex Wolf stole my heart. His character was so engaging for me that when it was over I was heart broken there wasn't more. I didn't read anything for a couple of days because if it wasn't about Wolf I didn't want to have anything to do with it. The last book in the series is out and on my reader. I don't want to let the series go and so I haven't cracked it open because that will mean the end is nearing. Silly, I know. The other story by Angel that I loved was Safety Protocols for Human Holidays. Growlan Raskli (love the name) and Human Jen were so relate-able and their romance so cute. <3 

The Dance with the Devil series is one of my all time favorite series. I reread all the books at least once a year. I have them in all forms: ebook, paperback, and audiobook where available. Each new addition I gobble up and I'm never disappointed. Twilight takes up back to Barra and his lovers, Neirin and the dragon Troyes. I love the dragons in this universe and this story just gave me more of them. Yum. The other book by Megan that I loved was The Heart of the Lost Star (Tales of the High Court, 3). In this fantasy series, there is a range of sexual and gender identities. One of my favorite things is how it is accepted without thought. Great series.

Healing Touch and Forever Home of Missy Welsh's sci-fi series, Destination Lost, was a fantastic find for me. Aliens and alien worlds with great world building and romance. I blew through both of these quickly and wanted more right away! :) It sounds like there will be at least one or two more to come, and honestly, I could read a dozen in this series. I hope she keeps them coming.

Hidden Gem is one of those books that I wondered why I put off reading it. It was fantastic. I couldn't put it down. A cop falling for a rent boy is typically not a trope that I read, but since this one, I'm like 'more please'. Futuristic dystopias are always fascinating to see. Both Aki and Shane were compelling characters. Great book with a ton of twists that kept my attention fixed on the story. 

Bound by Destiny (The Next Generation, 2) - This sci-fi romance is a spin off of The Harvest series that is another reread of mine. The Next Generation follows the children from The Harvest. There is never a dull moment and watching the characters I fell in love with in the first series get their HEA is extremely satisfying. 

I have to admit that I have not read the Parasol Protectorate series. I really wanted to because I'd heard such good things about the series, but I struggled with the first person POV and eventually gave up. When the author wrote The Sumage Solution under a different pen name, I thought I would give it a try and I'm so glad I did. Really tight writing that drew fantastic pictures for me. I loved the new perspective of a beta's role. Her world of mages is really fascinating. I hope there is more to come.

Nowadays, I read very few contemporary books. I'm such an voracious reader that I feel sometimes I've read the same plot and characters over and over. Something about the blurb for Catch and Release caught my attention and I gave it a go. I'm so glad that I did. I enjoyed the hell out of it and Dakota's POV had me spellbound. His character was compelling and I just wanted to love on him and make everything better. It is a book that is still with me. The details haven't faded. It is in a series, but I didn't read the other books, so it does stand on its own.

What a fun and eventful ride! There are so many things about By Fairy Means or Foul that are hilarious. There are some serious parts, but everything just meshed well. And the NAMES, they get me every time. It was a read that I started recommending as soon as I finished. I keep checking for the next book in the series because I'm impatient like that. When the audiobook released, I snatched it up, too. 

I don't think there has been a book that I've read by Cari Z that I haven't loved. Soothsayer is no different. Her world building and characters are superb. When the book was over, I read it again. Cillian broke my heart, especially the bit about how he interacts with his mother. It's a great urban fantasy and I wish there were more like it. <3

Other favorites

Siren's Call by JC Owens - I loved this. It wasn't as intense as some of her other work that I had to mentally prepare myself to read. That is a plus for me. 
Cronin's Key by NR Walker - This was more intense than I thought it would be. Very cool take on so many different myths and historical concepts.
Recovery (Reawakening, 3) by Amy Rae Durren - I love the series and this new addition to the series to pieces. Excellent writing.
The Thaumaturge series by Cal Matthews - More plot driven than romantic but there is a romance that slowly evolves.
Lord Mouse by Mason Thomas - This times 10x. I loved this audiobook to the moon and back.

LGBTIAQ Non-Romantic

Cal is the bisexual MC of the City of Crows series. Last December, I read the first book in this series and put it on my 2016 favorites list. I gushed a lot about it. This is a new adult urban fantasy... and if you follow my Saturday Reading Radar you'll notice that I don't put many new adult/young adult books on my wishlist. I have a hard time identifying with the age of the characters. Cal has that wide-eyed innocence that he slowly loses through the series, but I found him extremely likeable and he made me laugh. I gobbled up Shade Chaser and Wraith Hunter and I really, really wish they were on audiobook as well. I was a little afraid the series would end with Wraith Hunter but I was thrilled when book four came out. 

In Mad Lizard Mamabo (Kia Gracen, 2) Kia is one of those tortured characters you just want to protect. I loved Black Dog Blues though it was a bit tortuous for me with Kia having such a terrible family history. It makes you see how far Kia has come and exactly how strong he is. Here, Kia finds himself at the beck and call of Ryder, the High Lord of the Southern Rise Court. Kia doesn't want to be a part of Ryder's court or any court, but helping Ryder means his mentor gets the care he needs. So Kia takes Ryder on a hunt for a rumored elfin court in the wilderness. It's a great addition to the series and I cannot wait for more. :)

I'm putting this on the favorites list because it is fantastic and I will re-read this BUT I'm also on the fence about this series. I finished Captive a couple of days ago and bought the next two -- then I read the blurbs. I might not have bought them if I had read the blurbs first. I have some really hard lines when it comes to slavery themes. Matthew is taken captive and he is made a slave all in the name of getting him to trust the incubi. In my mind, they are the ones who should be earning his trust. Matthew vows to free himself and become powerful enough so no one could control him again. That I could get behind. I hate Tarrick. He is manipulative, using Matthew as a tool. Some of it I understood the underlying reasons why, but I still hate him with a passion. I could see Matthew's Stockholm Syndrome and hurt for him, but he is very much a fledgling on both sides, needing grounding and family. This ends with a HFN and at a spot that I was completely comfortable with, but it seems the next two books are going to be harder. Seriously, I had to psych myself up to read this book. I don't know if I can finish the series. And I hate Tarrick. I haven't met the incubi king but I'm pretty sure I hate him, too.

Poly Romance

Loved Waiting for You (Lifesworn, 1)! I've reread this at least three times since it released. Shanna is queen-in-waiting, counting down the days until she can choose a consort and get out from underneath her step-father's thumb. Shanna balanced femininity and strength. There's treachery and unexpected love. I loved the characters and the world. I'm looking forward to more books in this world.

This. This. This. THIS book, this series, this world, these characters! Damn it! I want to be a vampire queen in this world. From the moment that I started reading the sample for Queen takes Knights I was hooked. Yeeeesssss! Give it all to me. I cannot remember the last time I read a book and came away wanting to be the character. I read a ton of poly romance every year and very rarely does a title make my favorites list. So many are formulaic and I'm always searching for that one story that has more to give to me, something I will devour time and again. This series has it in spades. (In case you're wondering, this starts off MMF and stays bisexual.) I devoured Queen takes King last weekend and now I have to wait until January 30th before I can devour Queen takes Queen. *makes grabby hands*

MF Romance and Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and Sci-Fi

I read DNF a lot of mainstream sci-fi romance. I need more to the plot than an erotic romance with an alien who looks human with different colored skin. Stolen by an Alien is one that I almost passed by because of the title. The spines on the cover model made me get the sample and I'm so glad that I did. The aliens are alien. The romance was a slow burn and I really liked the plot. Even though this is about a kidnapped human it diverges from the others because the alien that rescues her thinking she's a Gryfala Princess, which really isn't royalty but something else altogether. I loved Arohk and all his reactions to Angie. I liked the forbidden romance part of the plot where Arohk is not allowed to love a Gryfala because he's a Rakii. Sometimes at the end of sci-fi romances, things are rushed or fall apart a bit, not here. I sorta loved they were still learning new things about each other even toward the end. And the humor was spot on. I immediate bought the next book, Rescued by an Alien without reading the blurb and loved it, too. I actually would have read several more but there is only one left and it jumps about 20 years into the future, which I'm all for, I just want more. :)

I read this series out of order and honestly, any of these could stand on their own. Wulf and the Bounty Hunter is where I started. There is the stereotypical alpha male Colette warrior, Wulf, who lays down the law and then there is Yakira who nods her head and as soon as he turns around does what ever the hell she wants. There were places where I laughed until I cried. Usually, I need a little more in the asides department, but the writing style made that a mute point for me. I eventually went back and read everything else by this author. There is a relative of Yakira's in a different book who makes use of a cattle prod... tears, I'm telling ya, tears. Excellent book and series. 

I have mixed feeling about the Elder Race series. I read book one and two and liked them well enough. There were occasionally weird word choices. I skipped book three because I didn't care for either of those MCs, and started Oracle's Moon... and LOVED it. I've read a couple of books about djinn and as much as I love different lores and paranormal people, I remained 'meh' on the djinn. I think it was because they were basically portrayed as humans with the ability to grant wishes and nothing else. Here djinn has this history and culture and they are very much NOT human. I worried there in the middle that might change but nope. The character stayed true and I loved it. I loved Grace who showed a different kind of strength. The romance between the two (adversaries to lovers) was slow. I didn't miss much by skipping the 3rd book. I'm going to go back and read the part where Grace meets Khalil but that's it. I hope the rest of the series is this good.

Keystone was a great library find. Raven is strong but flawed. The world she lives in, she's in constant danger because she's a crossbreed. She's flawed, wounded, self-reliant to a fault, and barely scraping by until she is approached by Keystone. My husband and I talked a lot about this, guessing at what would happen, trying to figure out her background. I'm excited to see where it will lead.

What a world. I love Gin from Spider's Bite. She's kickass. She has a love me or hate me, I don't care attitude that doesn't waver. She owns who she is and what she does. The world is awesome with elementals, dwarves, giants, and vampires. I think I'm on book seven or eight now and I'm still in love with her. My heart broke for her because of that sanctimonious jerk, Detective Donovan Cain, but she gets a love. But don't mistake this for a romance. It has romantic elements but it is definitely not one.

I devoured this series. Valor's Choice is the first book in the Confederation series with the last two books in the spin-off Peacekeeper series. My husband listened along with me and we had huge discussions about so many aspects. This is a military space opera with a female MC who is k.i.c.k.a.s.s. Hands down, if Tanya Huff wrote 50 books with Torin Kerr as the lead -- sign me up. I am all for it. The other beings on her team -- awesome. The enemy -- awesome Seriously, I want to adopt the word 'trick' into my everyday language. There are so many layers to the each story and the plot arc and... just everything. I need more Torin Kerr. I want to follow Tanya Huff on Twitter, but then I'd make a nuisance of myself and become a stalker. Yes, I would lose my shit and fangirl if I ever met her in person. I went out and bought everything in paperpack of hers that I could get my hands on. I'm not sorry at all.

So that is my favorites list for 2017. New to me authors were Jennifer Estep, Dannika Dark, Gail Koger, Amanda Milo, Joely Sue Burkhart, Jex Lane, Meghan Maslow, Mason Thomas, and Missy Welsh. They are the reason why I still try new authors. The gems are worth the search.

Happy New Year y'all! Stay warm and safe! Happy reading!!!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

#PactDays - Feteine #ValespainPact

Welcome to Thursday's Pact Days! Today, we have the Feteine.

In Striker, three were introduced. Europa Astarte, Laertes Arcessii, and Zian Helia. They were escorting V'Saar ambassadors to Haven when the debacle with the Qrxzl's attack on Zeus happened.

A couple of side notes: For a list of species that have been posted so far, see the The People of Valespia pageI'm placing these in alphabetical order so I won't unintentionally place importance on any specie. I will leave off information on the species that will spoil future books. My standard sheet has the same categories for all species. So there will be blank categories just because that species didn't need them.


Species: Feteine
Planet: Sidonia
Other races on the planet:
Planetary Terrain: Rocky, Jungles
Capitol: Amandid
Patron Ryo Pardeep: n/a

Description: Those who are humanoid are between 5'5" to 7". Aluminum based blood. Some of the newer models that mix biomatter with tech have two blood types.

They have bio-tech newborns (with wetware) that they guard fiercely. These newborns can procreate with others like them. One is chosen to be on the Cypress Council of Neighn.

History: The Feteine were created by the Terren companies for labor replacement. They were originally used for war, but the expense of replacing damaged robots caused the Terrens to repurpose them for labor and mining scouts. They were sent on long term space trips to other planets searching for resources the Terrens could use.

On one such venture the Feteine met the Qrxzl who recognized their sentience and helped to free them of the Terren's enslavement. Each Feteine was given a small Qrxzl which allowed the Feteine to organize a mass exodus by quantum leaping, meeting up at a common location.

In the short time they have been freed, they have evolved, devising a way to procreate. These younger versions are biomatter mixed with tech, born in artificial wombs. Of these children, most appear non-mechanical and work off planet as bounty hunters, gathering information for their people. Most do not know they are Feteine, only that they were raised by them.
Their planet is close to the Milky Way but also near the Grid. Aware of the Valespian Pact, they chose the planet because the Grid was weak in that area. They wanted to join the Pact and thought that protecting an area was a show of good faith.

They cannot be corrupted by the V'Saar venom. There is a question if the bio-mechanical models would be susceptible.

The planet of Sidonia is the first habitable planet outside the official boundaries of the Milky Way. It is uniquely situated between the Milky Way, Andromeda, and Anthro (Triangulum) Galaxies.

Leaping: Each Feteine can leap where they want to go. They all have a drive, navigation system, and the stored energy to make jumps. One of their secrets is, they can also take over starships and direct it in a leap for shorter jumps. Some of the bio-mechanicals don't have drives, the energy of the Qrxzls causing mutations or death in biomatter.

From Striker: "The majority of the Feteine were constructed to mine planets uninhabitable by humans. Those present were from the human's limited stock of what appeared to be soldiers. It was rumored the Terrens considered the loss of human life cheaper than the destruction of robotic hardware. Therefore, the robot soldiers had been repurposed as scouts to travel to planets, assess the mining potential, and report back. 

These scouts were the first to encounter the Qrxzl, who befriended them and then later encouraged them to break away from the Terrens. The Qrxzl recognized the Feteine as slaves and offered to help them escape. Each Feteine was given a small Qrxzl crystal, and one morning the entire Feteine population, regardless of where they were in the universe, disappeared. No one knew where the Feteine made their homeworld now, although there was much speculation. Currently, the only way to contact them was through the Qrxzl. Alpha planned to approach the galactic imperials about the necessity, or lack thereof, of the Qrxzl as middlemen for the Feteine."

Common Occupation: Bounty Hunter, Geneticist, Space Patrol

Government Systems: Collaboration

Current Leader: Dahlia Lilith

Council of Neighn of Member:

Allies: Qrxzl, in negotiations with the Gaziniti

In negotiations with the Gaziniti

Star System: Teuphus System

Other planets occupied by species:

Military Leader: Europa Astarte

Cultural names and terms specific to species:

Thank you for stopping by and reading!!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

What's on the Writing Schedule for 2018

Every year I set up a list of stories that I want to work on and complete. I always overdo the list, including too many titles. If they were all 20k a piece, then I could probably blow through the list. But trial and error has taught me:

1) that I don't write short stories well

2) when I try to write shorter stories, they always turn out much, much longer.

3) I always aim for standalones but 9 times out of 10 they turn into series.

If you read last Tuesday's post, I talked about 2017 and what I accomplished and what I didn't. If you haven't read it, Click Here. The list in the picture for 2017's agenda is still there, slightly altered but not completed. But before I get into the writing, I'd like to start with what is finished.

The one self-pub book that I know I will have in 2018 is Caledonia Destiny. It is complete and going through edits. 

Caledonia Destiny is an alternate world, historical, paranormal, fantasy. It's an expanded and rewritten story from a story prompt several years ago, Fate and Destiny, that I got to a HFN point but didn't finish. It's been languishing on my desktop because I went a little too far making it sound and feel historical. The wonderful and talented Alison is helping me whip this bad-boy back into shape. So this will be published in 2018, I don't have a date yet. I really should write a blurb for it but I keep forgetting. Note to self: get in gear!

Writing Schedule for 2018

My top priority for the first part of 2018 is the Valespian Pact. The first quarter of 2017 I stopped writing Bespoken for a few reasons, one of them being that I needed to do more world building and plotting. When I stopped, it was at about the 55k mark. I had split Bespoken into three parts, the first one took place when Prometheus was barely five years old that shows the reader what happened before Prometheus was lost. Part Two shows what happened to both Prometheus and Zeus and how they became lost. Then Part Three is the "present day" where Prometheus is found.

As you can see from the whiteboard from 2017, I estimated Bespoken at 120k until I started Part Two at the 50k mark. Then I bumped the word count expectation to 150k. I thought about breaking the story into the three or perhaps two pieces. Part Three will be able to stand on it's own, but the first two parts, I'm not sure. Could I break it down? One thing I had to take into consideration was could the series do without Parts One and Two. No, they are the cornerstones of the plot. Much character development is done in them, and even if I take the showing and move it to telling in several paragraphs, I think it would cheapen and weaken the story. Could I break the first two parts away from the third? Possibly, but I have to take into consideration that the first sections of the story lays and builds the foundation for Prometheus's relationship with Vipre and Malek. It isn't romantic because they are kids. In Part One, Prometheus is five, Vipre and Malek are 13 and 15-ish. In Part Two, Prometheus is 12, and Vipre and Malek are 7 years older as well. So, not appropriate. But it is important for their bond because that bond needs to be strong after Prometheus has been away for almost 26 years, otherwise it may seem like there is insta-love involved. Plus, my publisher has a clause about submissions and romance. If I break off parts one and two, I'm not sure it will be accepted. I'd have to have a conversation with them, but first I have to decide if it is right for the story. 

I did get to write more on Bespoken this last quarter, bringing the word count up to 73k. I'm still in Part Two, but I figure another 15k and I'll be able to start Part Three.

If you notice, I have moved Bespoken to book 4 in the series.

This last quarter I was going to write a couple of flash fictions for The Valespian Pact. While I was completing the world building and plotting out the other books in this series, in the last book of the series, Legends, there was a side romance for Zeus's brother, Prince Mestor and Warlord Sohm'lan. Their story actually started when Prince Azaes and Prince Mestor went to pick up Zeus. The flash fictions were going to be two or three scenes to show their budding romance, and then the rest of the series we would see the rest play out. BUT as I was writing the flash fictions, I came to realize that there was much more to their story that needed to be told. Hello, Constant

I'm currently working on Constant, trying to get it finished before the end of December. I'm really close with only three scenes to go, but one of them is really long. I figure another 15k and I'll be finished.

he other active project that I have is Assassin's Retirement. It is a blog story that I started in November, wanting to write a holiday story. It's taken on a life of it's own. Zane's story is a poly, paranormal romance with mythology from Scandinavia and Central America, and Turkey. I write 1-2k on this a week and it is posted every Tuesday. Once completed, it'll be revised and edited then self-pubbed. I already have an idea for the next blog story. I found I really like switching the writing up. It keeps me from getting burned out on The Valespian Pact.

Assassin's Retirement is a huge poly romance so it's going to take some page time for Zane to fall in love with everyone. Plus there is all the action and adventure. I do see this as a series, probably a trilogy, but since I'm pantsing it and world building as I go along... I'm not going to say it will only be three books. What I will say is that this world is tied to I.O.N.'s world, just taking place on a different area of the continent. So you might see a crossover in the I.O.N. series... just saying.

I.O.N. #3: Talking about I.O.N., I would really like to wrap up Diego's part of the series. I haven't started on book three, though I have most of the plotting done on it. I'm going back and forth on the love interest. One or two, one or two. I think book 3 will come in at about 70-80k. There is a ton of things that have to happen before the final book can start.

Along with I.O.N. #3, there is a standalone that has been sitting on my desktop that is at about the half way mark.

Every time I look at it, I itch to rewrite it. When I started this several years ago, my writing and style was at a different place. Plus, I stopped because the story stalled out. It wasn't working and couldn't figure out why so I put it aside. I know what the problem is now. It's sort of daunting to scrap 26k and start over, but that is what the story needs.
There are two more books that I would like to finish in 2018.

Assassin's Legacy is a Sumeria's Sons standalone that I'm writing for Nathan. After Releasing Chaos, I needed to give him a HEA, something that took him away from being Tristan's protector. He needed a life and purpose outside of the obligations thrust upon him when he was 10 years old. 

Assassin's Legacy will meet up with Sumeria's Son and is the base in which I will write Sumeria's Magi and Sumeria's Children.

Lucky Charm is my yummy sci-fi poly romance. Aliens and a human cyborg embarking on a quest for a golden seed. This is the one that turned dark and I wanted to delete everything. I have to go through it and see if my perception was skewed or if I really went to the dark side of writing. :-) I'm hoping it was just my perception since I was struggling with depression. If that's the case, I'll keep the word count and forge on. 


Of course there are always stories that I would love to get to and always hope I have time. This list is also in case I burn out on one of the other series and need something different.

Darksoul: The series titles will be after one of the characters. Such as Akira and Ronan's book will be titled, Akira. There are four standalones I plan for the Darksoul universe. Pip and Wyn, Paulo and Ayre, Akira and Ronan, and Talon Booker and Prophet Mantidea who were introduced near the end of Sunder. These can come in any order so it doesn't mater which couple I choose. I would like to write at least one of the four in 2018.

Tournament of... this is a story that I promised to write for Piper Vaughn. I have some of the world building done. I even have like one chapter written but I keep pushing it back. My goal is to write this even if it takes me all year.

Vows is a Marriage of Convenience to an alien. I actually have a lot of ideas for this. I wanted it to be fun. I have been struggling with it because its not as action/adventure but more of a mystery suspense romance which means that it needs to be well plotted so that I can remember the weave of the mystery.

I would also like to expand Salvaging Toby's Heart and write about his brothers.

Seriously, I could keep going. I have enough projects that I'll be writing on for the next three years. The frustrating part is that I want to be able to write them all right now! LOL!

So to wrap up, the 2018 Agenda is:

Constant (The Valespian Pact, 3)
Bespoken (The Valespian Pact, 4)
Beowulf's Scion: Assassin's Retirement
Untitled I.O.N. #3
Untitled I.O.N. standalone
Assassin's Legacy (Sumeria's Sons Standalone)
Lucky Charm


Akira? Darksoul #2
Tournament of...
Salvaging Toby's Heart expansion

Thank you for stopping by and reading!!

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Solstice Play – A Sumeria Sons Ficlit #SumeriasSons

From my family to yours, Happy Holidays!

The Solstice Play – A Sumeria Sons Ficlit


With the festive decorations, the Hall of Shamash looked bright and cheerful. Brian shifted nervously in the seat next to me. Here on the balcony, we had the best view of the house, overlooking the dais that normally held the Council of Five's desks. Now it was decorated with cardboard cutouts brightly painted to look like fertile wetlands. Bolts of blue felt covered the floor, representing water.

Under the tutelage of the Goddess Uttu, the children of all the Tribes were being instructed in our ancient history. On this Winter Solstice, a few of the pups were going to act out the Great Flood. Justus and his sisters, Neoma and Dawn, along with their close friends Malek and Ira were participating. They had begged the triplets be allowed to be in the play as well. Ushna was the first one to capitulate, convincing Brian and me that it would be fun.

"You know," I said to Brian as I leaned into him. "You could just go down there and help out like Ushna is." And then Brian would be close enough to the boys that he would stop snarling at everyone. This was supposed to be a carefree night. We were all protective of the pups, but Brian more so than anyone.

Brian slouched down in his seat and crossed his arms over his chest. For the moment, we were alone on the balcony and Brian could be himself. He was always guarded and aloof with everyone outside our inner circle. I loved seeing his grumpy-grouch side, but I didn't tease him. The last several months had been full of changes since Marduk and Inanna were defeated and the government confronted. Every time we left the safety of the ranch, Brian switch to hyper-alertness, even when we were in the relative safety of one of the Tri-Cities. We were currently visiting Bahbelle, staying with Ushna's parents for the holidays. I was pleased to see the citizens seemed to be adapting well to the new location at the base of the Rocky Mountains.

Watching the humans look for Bahbelle in the old location in Georgia was… The elbow in my ribs caused me to grunt. "Ouch! Now you need to kiss it and make it better."

Brian straightened a little and leered, then frowned. "Don't distract me from chastising you."

"All I was doing was sitting here," I scoffed.

"You had that look on your face." He pointed at my mouth, like that would explain the jab he gave me.

I pulled at my cheeks. "Sorry," I said sarcastically. "I don't think it's going anywhere."

He elbowed me again. "Don't be a smart-aleck."

"Hey, it's my best character trait," I defended.

He glanced at my groin. "Not in my opinion." Brian frowned again. "Stop doing that. Now I can't remember what I was originally going to say."

I grinned, feeling accomplished. I slouched in the seat and widened my legs. "I know exactly what you can do while you try to remember."

Below on the stage, Usha appeared at the wings and crossed to the middle. He planted his fists on his hips and looked up at us. "We can hear you."

Brian turned bright red. Not the lightly pink cheeks of sweet embarrassment. Nope. His whole head and neck turned fire engine red. I pulled at the collar of his shirt to see how far the color went and he slapped my hand away, muttering, "Asshole," under his breath.

"I just thought you would want to know before you went from PG talking to bow-chica-wow-wow with innocent ears around." Ushna grinned. "We are ready. If you have no objections, I'll tell security to allow people in."

After I nodded, Ushna walked off stage. He was wearing my favorite pair of wranglers. Brian and I groaned in unison. Ushna threw a flirty smile over his shoulder before disappearing behind the curtain.

Brian leaned forward, and I watched him count the number of warriors on the ground floor. "The boys should have at least four guards on each of them. We think we routed out all the members of the Servants of the Glorious One, but some nefarious organizations are like cockroaches. You think you got them all—"

I cut him off. "There are a dozen guards down there. More out in the reception hall and on the grounds. All the children are perfectly safe."

There were also various warriors, in civilian cloths, drifting through the crowds. I took every precaution so the pups could have some fun.

"Are you sure you don't want to go down there?"

Brian let out a long breath. "I'll stay, for now."

I smiled and gripped his thigh. The balcony started filling with family and friends. Neesie sat next to me with Lonnie on her other side. Stan and Theo, hood pulled up over Theo's scarred face, took the seats next to Brian. I was glad Stan convinced Theo to come to the play. He rarely left Sanctuary.

Down below, the civilians entered the auditorium and claimed seats. I was excited. Such performances had fallen out of practice when the last of the Lycan kings died. Finding information on the different celebrations had taken the elder of the King's Library a little time to find. The pups chose the Great Flood for Solstice to celebrate new beginnings, which was wholly appropriate considering the changes that had taken place this past year.

Once the seats were filled, Dawn stepped onto the stage, looking enchanting in a diaphanous dress of sparkling white with matching butterfly wings. With graceful poise she waited for the crowd to hush before bringing the microphone to her mouth and introducing herself as the narrator of the play.

Out of the corner of my eye, Theo leaned forward, his concealing hood slipping down as he watched Dawn with evident pride.

"And it came to pass that Enlil, King of the Gods, became upset that humans were overpopulating the Earth. He called a meeting of his brothers and sisters."

On stage, four kids walked to the center. Ira was dressed as Enlil with long flowing robes, a beard that was tucked into his belt, and a set of wings. Malek was the Sky God, Anu. A few people snickered at his white wig, the hair sticking out like he'd been electrocuted and a blue-belted robed that ended at the knee. Neoma was the Goddess Ki. She refused to wear a skirt, saying that it would be ridiculous to fight in. Instead, she wore white pants and a turtleneck sweater with matching knee-high boots. At her belt hung a cudgel and atop her head a crown of ram's horns.

Brian growled under his breath and sat straighter. Atar was dressed in a Halloween lion onesie. A puppy chest harness connected him to the leash that Neoma held. She patiently walked slowly so that Brian could keep up with her as she joined the other gods on the stage.

"You agreed to that?" Brian whispered harshly. He didn't look at me, not really needing me to answer the question.

I chuckled under my breath. He had no idea what would be coming. I was going to have a ball watching this play unfold.

Justus was the last to jump on stage and the laughter in the room grew. He wore a huge black wig with long curly hair and a loincloth. That was it. I stifled a laugh and I heard Theo cough. Someone had went to town on Justus with a bottle of self-tanner and some kind of sparkly bronzer. He was mottled brown and orange,  not by design. Justus stopped next to Neoma and posed. His wig dipped into his eyes and he quickly pushed it back into place while retaining his stance.

Theo's cough turned into a choke, Stan slapping him on the back a couple of times. "Is he wearing anything under the loincloth," Theo wheezed.

"Goddess, I hope so," Stan replied.

I wiped my eyes, laughing as silently as I could. I didn't think he did.

The door to the balcony opened and I turned to see Cory letting in Randy and surprisingly—or perhaps not—the Goddess Ereshkigal. For some reason, she had taken a liking to Justus and often visited at odd times of the day or evening.

Down below, the God Enlil was upset about there being so many humans, filling up the world, making all manner of noise, and creating chaos. He sent drought and famine and there were still too many. "I have decided, there will be a flood to wash away all this trash!"

"Sounds like Enlil," Ereshkigal commented, sitting somewhere behind me. "I always thought he was a blind fool."

The argument raged among the gods and goddess. Atar was sitting on his butt his gaze hopping from one person to another, his eyes wide.

"Enough!" Enlil exclaimed, hands raised in the air." I have made up my mind and you are all sworn to secrecy."

Anu and Ki held onto Enki's arms as he lunged as if to attack Enlil. He snarled, "You cannot kill the life that all of the gods have helped to create. Life is precious in every form!"

Without warning, Atar the lion cub lunged and attacked Enlil with a might roar. My brows climbed my forehead and Brian's mouth was formed in a large, round O. Behind me, Ereshkigal gave a rusty laugh. "Oh, I wish that had really happened. Get him, little lion. Bite him hard!"

Enlil stumbled and fell on his butt, Atar pulling on the end of Enlil's robe while Ki tugged on Atar's leash, bent over laughing. Enlil didn't break character, raising his fist and promising retribution which earned him a bite on the ankle.

The auditorium was filled with the crowd's amusement. Enki picked up the lion cub and tucked him under his arm. "You haven't heard the last of me, Enlil!" Enki exclaimed, exiting the stage.

When I glanced at Brian his earlier indignation was replaced by pride. Stan wondered aloud how long it would take for the self-tanner to wear off. Below, the stage was being reset with a new scene. A cardboard house was erected with a back drop of a city.

Dawn stepped back onto stage. "The hero of this tale is a gudug priest who is sometimes called Zi-ud-sura or Atra-hasis. But the descendants of Enkidu and Gilgamesh know him best as Utnapishtim, the ancestor of Gilgamesh. Chieftain and priest, Utnapishtim was at the river when he heard a whisper in the reeds."

Ushna was briefly visible as he escorted Ramsey onto the stage. He wore a brown onesie that had tall reeds glued to the fabric. Ushna sat him on the floor next to the blue felt river. Utnapishtim came out of the cardboard house wearing a brown belted-tunic that went to his knees. He crossed to sit next to Ramsey, dipping his fishing pole in the water. Poor Ramsey was staring at the crowd with huge eyes. He grabbed his feet and rocked, making the reeds swish, drawing his attention to the bushy ends over his head.

Enki crawled onto the stage, holding the front of the loincloth against his groin.  

"Oh, dear Goddess," Theo groaned.

Stopping on the other side of Ramsey, Enki lay on the stage and told Utnapishtim that a great storm was coming. "Remove your house and build a boat." Ramsey squealed and waved at Enki. "You will gather your wife, family, relatives, the craftsmen—"

"And craftswomen," Neoma whispered, close enough to a microphone so we all heard her.

When Enki didn't respond to Ramsey's wave he grabbed Enki's hair.

Enki grabbed his wig before it was pulled completely off his head. "And craftswomen." He finally got Ramsey to let his hair go. "And baby animals and grains."

On the other side of the stage at the house, little Brian in a pink bunny costume peeked his head out the door and looked around with a devilish grin. A couple of months ago, the triplets had turned one year old. They were walking, though their balance was precarious. The bunny toddled on two legs then dropped and crawled like a bullet toward the reeds right as Enki was wrapping up with Utnapishtim. The bunny jumped onto the reeds and the reeds gave a high-pitched scream that made everyone laugh.

"Is there anyone watching the boys at all?" Brian snarled. 

I shouldn't have to remind him that the triplets were escape artists. I would almost bet that Atar did something really cute to draw all attention to him so that his brother could get away from their caregivers. It was a popular tactic they employed, and I was surprised that there were still people who fell for the maneuver.

The rabbit rolled in the reeds until Utnapishtim grabbed the bunny and then turned and ran back to the house when the reeds snarled and attempted to follow. Enki quickly picked up Ramsey and passed him off to Ushna.

Dawn returned to the stage as kids swarmed the set. The house and village were removed, replaced with a large boat.

"And then the storm came," Dawn said as the lights lowered. Neesie startled when a rumble of thunder came and the lights flashed. "You could say it was the storm of the century. Even the gods and goddesses were terrified and fled to Dilmun." Behind her a group of gods ran across the stage huddled together, leaving a trail of colorful feathers shed by their costumes. "Utnapishtim had readied everything as he'd been counseled." Kids dressed as villagers hurried from the curtains to the door of the boat.

In the midst of the group acting out the flood, the lion Atar charged out the boat's door and then crawled as quickly as he could toward Dawn. Behind him, another lion—someone had redressed Ramsey—followed. Dawn covered the microphone. "Atar. Ramsey. Go back. You're supposed to be fleeing the storm."

A high-pitched squeal sounded before little Brian in the pinky bunny costume and wearing Ki's ram's horn crown chased the lions.

"Well, ladies and gentlemen, the first sighting of a jackalope was witnessed in 5000 BCE," Dawn deadpanned as the rabbit snarled and tackled the slower lion.

I was laughing so hard, I didn't have the air to call Brian's name as he hopped over his hair and rushed out of the balcony, Neesie following behind.

"I have never heard of this jackalope, Randy. Is there one on the ranch that I can see?" Ereshkigal said from behind me.

I couldn't help it. I laughed until I cried.

After the play finished and we met obligations at the reception, Ushna, Brian, and I met everyone at Ushna's parents house. When I walked in Theo and Stan were talking to Justus about his loincloth.

"Why didn't you wear anything underneath?" Theo questioned.

Justus sounded incredulous. "It's called method acting, Dad. I needed to be authentic to the time period. I interviewed Enki very carefully. He said people didn't wear anything under the loincloth."

"Here, let us put them to bed," Ushna's mother, Donya, said reaching for Atar. The pups had fallen asleep almost as soon as we climbed into the car.

Behind me Ushna handed little Brian over to his father, Hami. Brian followed them out of the room with Ramsey, whispering he'd be back, which I doubted. He wouldn't leave them for another half hour and with as tired as we all were, Brian would fall asleep watching over the boys.

Taking Ushna's hand, we followed the voices to Donya's kitchen. Justus still wore his costume and wig. The orange of the self-tanner was hideously bright under the florescent lights. The kids grinned up at me. Donya had food trays out on the table and counters. My stomach rumbled.

"Who helped you with the…" Stan made a motion that meant he was talking about Justus's skin.

"Uncle Tristan," Justus, Neoma, and Dawn said at once. I stuffed a roll of salami into my mouth and grinned.

"Method acting," was all I said when they turned their horrified gaze to me. I grinned wider. Playing and planning with the kids had been the best stress reliever, while giving everyone a solstice they wouldn't soon forget. I couldn't wait to see the video of what went on backstage. 

Thank you for stopping by and reading!!