Book Spotlight + Book Excerpt + Giveaway: The Masks of Under Series (King of Flames and King of Shadows) by Kathryn Ann Kingsley

Title: King of Flames (The Masks of Under #2)
Author: Kathryn Ann Kingsley
Release Date: March 5, 2019
Pages: 193
Publisher: Limitless Publishing, LLC
Find It: GoodreadsAmazonKindleB&NTBD

FREE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED!!!

Everything about my life has been pretty normal working as a forensic autopsy technician. Until the day I woke up with a mysterious symbol tattooed on my arm. Suddenly normal no longer existed. The barrier between Earth and a world called Under, dissolved... Now I’m trapped with dozens of other people. Held prisoner by the creators of myths and legends, where the realm is ruled by two masked kings who want to turn us into creatures like them. But even though I didn’t choose to be here, this new world manages to pull me deeper, affecting me differently than other humans. Unfortunately King Edu, also known as the King of Flames, notices this and I’m now considered a threat. If I want to survive King Edu and the dangers of Under, I need to escape. The only problem is, there’s another masked king who seems to have an interest in me. Aon, the King of Shadows, wants me here in this world, and he wants me alive. I just need to figure out why.

Chapter One

“Hello, my dear.”

Aon.

“How wonderful to finally meet you, Lydia.”

Aon looked like a nightmare come to life. His suit made him look all at once as though he didn’t belong against the twisted and warped woods and yet like there was nowhere he should rather be.
Lydia tried not to cry. Tried not to scream or turn and run the other direction. She wanted to do all those things. Her bleeding knee felt like it was on fire, and the rest of her wasn’t in much better condition. Running would be pointless.

Aon stood before her, twenty feet away, the moonlight reflecting off his featureless black metal mask. He had not moved and seemed content to let her decide what she wanted to do.

Lydia could try to turn and run. She could cry or scream. She could fall to her knees and beg. None of them felt right, so everything locked up. There was nothing she could do to stop whatever Aon wanted to do to her. She had nothing. No hope, no power, no knowledge she could bargain with. There was one thing she could cling to in desperation.

Defiance was all she had left.

So Lydia raised her head, straightened her shoulders, and did her best to look brave. Not because she felt brave, but because there wasn’t anything else left to do.

Aon chuckled, a sound that carried easily in the silence of the forest. He began to walk toward her, and although she wavered, she didn’t back away. He closed the distance in slow, long, easy strides, seemingly in no hurry. One of his hands moved to tuck across his lower back, adding to his dramatism as he approached. He was giving her the chance to balk and run from him. He was seeing her bet and raising it, pointedly challenging her resolve.

Good god, he was terrifying. Far more so now that he was real and not a ghost in Lydia’s dreams. Lydia knew her imagination was probably falling short of what that man was likely about to do to her.
When Aon finally got within arm’s reach, he extended his gauntleted hand to touch her face, the sharp claws glinting in the moonlight. Lydia flinched away from his touch, but by some miracle, she managed to stand her ground. Aon let out a small hmm in his throat. He curled his fingers in toward his palm and brushed the backs of the metal fingers down her cheek.

In the absence of adrenaline, she was shaking in the cold truth of her failure and the chill night air. The touch of metal on her cheek didn’t help matters. Aon was pushing her, calling her bluff once more.

Lydia ran through her options again. Sink to her knees and cry. Turn and run. Plead for mercy. Bargain with him for her freedom. Try to fight him. Faint was now solidly high up on that list.
Each one, Lydia scratched off in order again. Not her style, wouldn’t make it ten feet, pointless, pointless, hilariously pointless, and maybe, in that order. With no other option but accepting her fate, she resigned herself to whatever Aon was going to do and let him run his metal-clad fingers down her cheek without any further fuss from her.

“Tell me, what was it I have just witnessed play out upon these lovely features of yours?” Aon said, his voice low and soft but no less dangerous than before. When Lydia sought him with a questioning, confused glance, he tilted his head back. When he spoke again, his voice was a rumble that made her stomach twist. “Indulge me…”

Lydia stammered twice before getting a word out edgewise, but Aon seemed content to wait. She stopped, took a breath, and tried again. “Crying won’t help. Begging won’t work. I can’t run, and struggling will do more harm than good. I…I’ve lost. The only thing left to do is die with pride,” she admitted, and only fear kept her from just shutting her eyes and accepting her fate.

Mmh, beautiful.” Aon stepped in closer, and Lydia went rigid. The talons of his gauntleted hand stroked through her hair slowly, brushing her blonde waves away from her face and tucking the strands behind her ear. She pulled in a breath and held it. Even if he wasn’t hurting her now, she had already seen firsthand how abrupt his moods could be. “Then you are no fool, my clever child, to see the truth so easily. Good. That will make this far more interesting.”

“If you’re going to kill me, please do it already,” Lydia said quietly, her voice shaking. That was all she could ask of him. Just please, don’t let it linger.

Metal fingers curled under her chin and broke her gaze from where she had fixated on his black-on-black striped tie. “Oh, my dear. Kill you? Why ever would I do that?” He sounded legitimately surprised.

Was he kidding? “I mean, last time…you…”

“Ah. Yes.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his masked face turning away for a moment as if in thought. “I think perhaps I have given you the wrong impression. What I did was merely to teach you a lesson. Hopefully, I will not have cause to demonstrate another.”

Aon turned his face back toward her as he pressed the point of the thumb of his clawed hand against the line of her lower lip. He stepped in closer, just a few inches away. “No, beautiful darling, you are the first unusual thing to happen in this forsaken world in a long, long time. I have no desire to kill you. Far from it.”

Lydia’s world suddenly felt unsteady. The ground tipped and swerved. Her hands grasped Aon’s arms in a desperate attempt to hold herself upright. He let out a curious hmm at her movement and then realizing she was about to fall, wrapped his arm around her waist, pressing her to him. “Well, now, all you had to do was ask,” he teased.

“I…uh. I don’t feel so good.” Lydia’s world was spinning. She must have hit her head when she fell from the horse, and her fear and adrenaline had only lasted so long. Fainting was now solidly at the top of her options.

“My poor little thing,” he murmured. “It is quite all right. You are injured. Do not fight it. I will take care of you.”

“Edu’s going to kill me,” she mumbled, barely able to get the words out. Her head was reeling, and she felt the soft fabric of his suit against her as he pulled her closer.

“Oh?” The smell of books was there again, like an old library.

“To keep me away,” the world spun dangerously, “from you, Edu…” Lydia couldn’t hold on to consciousness anymore. Her grip on it was slipping, just as her hands were falling from clinging onto his coat to stay standing.

His metal-clad face was close to her ear, and she heard his words—quiet, dangerous, and a threat even as it was meant to be comforting. “He will not harm you. With me, you will be safe. I promise.”
***
Edu’s drake landed with a hard thud on the dirt road. The bolt of lightning had been not a terribly subtle way to announce where he might find the girl. He arrived in time to watch her head roll to the side as she collapsed against a figure in black that he knew quite well.
Aon leaned down and scooped up her legs with one arm and held her behind the shoulders in the other, carrying her like he might a bride. The thought that the man would seek to instantly claim such possession of his prisoner was beyond infuriating. Instantly, Edu wished nothing more than to pound Aon’s face into the packed ground.

“Ah. Hello, Edu. I was wondering when you might arrive,” Aon said idly, as if what had transpired was no matter at all. “Wonderful evening, don’t you think?” He was clearly goading Edu, taunting him by belittling what was happening.

Edu dismounted his drake and stormed toward the other man, his fists clenched.

“Oh, pull the reins, you great buffoon. You are king no longer. I see you have forgotten!” Aon’s voice raised from casual and idle annoyance to sharp anger with no warning.

Edu shook his head, pointed at the girl, then crooked his finger back at himself.

“Give her to you? Are you mad? You would murder this poor thing to spite me, no less. When have you become so callous? The years have been cold to you. Weren’t you always the sympathetic, forgiving one? To cradle a butterfly in your hands, for fear it might die without your care? She must terrify you greatly to end her life without due cause.” Aon shook his head and tsked. “For shame.”
Edu growled angrily, but the warlock paid him no heed.

Aon cast a glance down at the girl whose head was tucked into his chest, resting against the black fabric of his suit. Blonde hair trailed around her face in stark contrast to the tones of the man’s clothing. “I must see to it that Lydia is attended. She is injured, and as she has been cast away from the ancients,” Aon said, obviously enjoying digging the seriousness of her rejection from the pool into Edu like a knife to the ribs, “she is fragile.”

With that, the warlock disappeared. Merely blinked out of existence as if he had never been there at all. He took Lydia with him without even a swirl of power or a crack of thunder left in his wake.
Edu let out a wordless howl of anger and slammed his fist deep into a tree next to him in his impotent rage, splintering the bark. In the hollow emptiness left behind by his temper, he lowered his head and admitted his folly to himself in the silence of the woods. He should have killed the girl when he had his chance.

Now, it may be too late for them all.

About Book 2
Title: King of Shadows (The Masks of Under #2)
Author: Kathryn Ann Kingsley
Pub. Date: March 26, 2019
Publisher: Limitless Publishing, LLC
Formats: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 225

Find it: GoodreadsAmazonKindleTBD
FREE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED!!!
Some call him a madman. Others call him a warlock. Both are true. But if it wasn’t for Aon, I’d be dead. I was mere seconds away from dying by Edu’s hands when the King of Shadows appeared in a flash of lightning, saving me from Edu’s murderous plans. Now I’m under his protection, living in his home. The more time I’m forced to spend with him, the more I start to piece together the puzzle of why Aon and Edu are at war. Despite how everyone else seems to hate Aon, there’s something that pulls me towards him—like gravity, refusing to let go. My heart is telling me to believe what he says is true, yet there’s this prickle of warning in the back of my skull cautioning me against falling for the King of Shadows. In the world of Under trusting the wrong person can get you killed. Only the strong survive out here, and that’s what I intend to do. Survive.
Kat has always been a storyteller. With ten years in script-writing for performances on both the stage and for tourism, she has always been writing in one form or another. When she isn’t penning down fiction, she works as Creative Director for a company that designs and builds large-scale interactive adventure games. There, she is the lead concept designer, handling everything from game and set design, to audio and lighting, to illustration and script writing. Also on her list of skills are artistic direction, scenic painting and props, special effects, and electronics. A graduate of Boston University with a BFA in Theatre Design, she has a passion for unique, creative, and unconventional experiences. In her spare time, she builds animatronics and takes trapeze classes.

3 winners will receive ebooks of KING OF FLAMES & KING OF SHADOWS, International.
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GOOD LUCK!

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4/15/2019- Dorky Girl and Skeletor- Spotlight
4/16/2019- Lone Tree Reviews- Excerpt
4/16/2019- Jaime's World- Excerpt
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Week Two:
4/22/2019- Two Chicks on Books- Interview
4/22/2019- Parajunkee- Excerpt
4/23/2019- Books a Plenty Book Reviews- Review
4/23/2019- Owl Always Be Reading- Excerpt
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Book Spotlight + Book Excerpt + Giveaway: THE HIEROPHANT'S DAUGHTER (The Disgraced Martyr Trilogy #1) by M.F. Sullivan

  
The Hierophant's Daughter (The Disgraced Martyr Trilogy, #1)Title: The Hierophant's Daughter (The Disgraced Martyr Trilogy #1)
Author: M.F. Sullivan
Release Date: May 19, 2019
Publisher: Painted Blind Publishing
Pages: 286

     
By 4042 CE, the Hierophant and his Church have risen to political dominance with his cannibalistic army of genetically modified humans: martyrs. In an era when mankind's intergenerational cold wars against their long-lived predators seem close to running hot, the Holy Family is poised on the verge of complete planetary control. It will take a miracle to save humanity from extinction. It will also take a miracle to resurrect the wife of 331-year-old General Dominia di Mephitoli, who defects during martyr year 1997 AL in search of Lazarus, the one man rumored to bring life to the dead. With the Hierophant's Project Black Sun looming over her head, she has little choice but to believe this Lazarus is really all her new friends say he is--assuming he exists at all--and that these companions of hers are really able to help her. From the foulmouthed Japanese prostitute with a few secrets of her own to the outright sapient dog who seems to judge every move, they don't inspire a lot of confidence, but the General has to take the help she can get. After all, Dominia is no ordinary martyr. She is THE HIEROPHANT'S DAUGHTER, and her Father won't let her switch sides without a fight. Not when she still has so much to learn.

I
The Flight of the Governess

The Disgraced Governess of the United Front was blind in her right eye. Was that blood in the left, or was it damaged, too? The crash ringing in her ears kept her from thinking straight. Of course her left eye still worked: it worked well enough to prevent her from careening into the trees through which she plunged. Yet, for the tinted flecks of reality sometimes twinkling between crimson streaks, she could only imagine her total blindness with existential horror. Would the protein heal the damage? How severely was her left eye wounded? What about the one she knew to be blind—was it salvageable? Ichigawa could check, if she ever made it to the shore.

She couldn’t afford to think that way. It was a matter of “when,” not of “if.” She would never succumb. Neither could car accident, nor baying hounds, nor the Hierophant himself keep her from her goal. She had fourteen miles to the ship that would whisk her across the Pacific and deliver her to the relative safety of the Risen Sun. Then the Lazarene ceremony would be less than a week away. Cassandra’s diamond beat against her heart to pump it into double time, and with each double beat, she thought of her wife (smiling, laughing, weeping when she thought herself alone) and ran faster. A lucky thing the Governess wasn’t human! Though, had she remained human, she’d have died three centuries ago in some ghetto if she’d lived past twenty without becoming supper. Might have been the easier fate, or so she lamented each time her mind replayed the crash of the passenger-laden tanque at fifth gear against the side of their small car. How much she might have avoided!

Of course—then she never would have known Cassandra. That made all this a reasonable trade. Cold rain softened the black earth to the greedy consistency of clay, but her body served where her eyes failed. The darkness was normally no trouble, but now she squinted while she ran and, under sway of a dangerous adrenaline high, was side-swiped by more than one twisting branch. The old road that was her imme­diate goal, Highway 128, would lead her to the coast of her favorite Jurisdiction, but she now had to rediscover that golden path after the crash’s diversion. In an effort to evade her pursuers, she had torn into a pear orchard without thought of their canine companions. Not that the soldiers of the Americas kept companions like Europa’s nobles. These dogs were tools. Well-honed, organic death machines with a cultivated taste for living flesh, whether martyr or human. The dogs understood something that most had forgotten: the difference between the two was untenable. Martyrs could tell themselves they were superior for an eter­nity, but it wouldn’t change the fact that the so-called master race and the humans they consumed were the same species.

That was not why Cassandra had died, but it hadn’t contributed to their marital bliss. And now, knowing what she did of the Hierophant’s intentions—thinking, always, what Cassandra would have said—the Governess pretended she was driven by that ghost, and not by her own hopelessness. Without the self-delusion, she was a victim to a great many ugly thoughts, foremost among them being: Was the fear of life after her wife’s death worth such disgrace? A death sentence? Few appreciated what little difference there was between human and martyr, and fewer cared, because caring was fatal. But she was a part of the Holy Family. Shouldn’t that have been all that mattered? Stunning how, after three centuries, she deserved to be treated no better than a human. Then again, there was nothing quite like resignation from one’s post to fall in her Father’s estimate. Partly, he was upset by her poor timing—she did stand him up at some stupid press event, but only because she hoped it would keep everybody occupied while she got away. In that moment, she couldn’t even remember what it was. Dedicating a bridge? Probably. Her poor head, what did the nature of the event matter when she was close to death?

That lapse in social graces was not the reason for this hunt. He understood that more lay behind her resignation than a keening for country life. Even before he called her while she and the others took the tanque to the coast, he must have known. Just like he must have known the crash was seconds from happening while he chatted away, and that the humans in her company, already nervous to be within a foot of the fleeing Governess, were doomed.

Of the many people remaining on Earth, those lumped into the group of “human” were at constant risk of death, mutilation, or—far worse—unwilling martyrdom. This meant those humans lucky enough to avoid city-living segregation went to great lengths to keep their private properties secure. Not only houses but stables. The Disgraced Governess found this to be true of the stables into which she might have stumbled and electrocuted herself were it not for the bug zaps of rain against the threshold’s surface. Her mind made an instinctive turn toward prayer for the friendliness of the humans in the nearby farmhouse—an operation she was quick to abort. In those seconds (minutes?) since the crash, she’d succeeded in reconstructing the tinted windows of the tanque and a glimpse of silver ram’s horns: the Lamb lurked close enough to hear her like she spoke into his ear. It was too much to ask that he be on her side tonight.

Granted, the dogs of the Lamb were far closer, and far more decisive about where their loyalties stood. One hound sank its teeth into her ankle, and she, crying out, kicked the beast into its closest partner with a crunch. Slower dogs snarled outrage in the distance while the Disgraced Governess ran to the farmhouse caught in her left periphery. The prudent owners, to her frustration, shuttered their windows at night. Nevertheless, she smashed her fist against the one part of the house that protruded: the doorbell required by the Hierophant’s “fair play” dictatum allowing the use of electronic barriers. As the humans inside stumbled out of bed in response to her buzzing, the Disgraced Governess unholstered her antique revolver and unloaded two rounds into the recovered canines before they were upon her. The discharge wasn’t a tip-off she wanted to give to the Lamb and her other pursuers, but it hastened the response of the sleeping farmers as the intercom crackled to life.

“Who is it?” A woman’s voice, quivering with an edge of panic.

“My name is Dominia di Mephitoli: I’m the former Governess of the United Front, and I need to borrow a horse. Please. Don’t let me in. Just drop the threshold on your stables.”

“The Governess? I’m sorry, I don’t understand. The Dominia di Mephitoli, really? The martyr?”

“Yes, yes, please. I need a horse now.” Another dog careened around the corner and leapt over the bodies of his comrades with such grace that she wasted her third round in the corpses. Two more put it down as she shouted into the receiver. “I can’t transfer you any credits because they’ve frozen my Halcyon account, but I’ll leave you twenty pieces of silver if you drop the threshold and loan me a horse. You can reclaim it at the docks off Bay Street, in the township of Sienna. Please! He’ll kill me.”

“And he’ll be sure to kill us for helping you.”

“Tell him I threatened you. Tell him I tricked you! Anything. Just help me get away!”

“He’ll never believe what we say. He’ll kill me, my husband, our children. We can’t.”

“Oh, please. An act of mercy for a dying woman. Please, help me leave. I can give you the name of a man in San Valentino who can shelter you and give you passage abroad.”

“There’s no time to go so far south. Not as long as it takes to get across the city.”

It had been ten seconds since she’d heard the last dog. That worried her. With her revolver at the ready, she scanned the area for something more than the quivering roulette blotches swelling in her right eye. Nothing but the dead animals. “He’ll kill you either way. For talking to me, and not keeping me occupied until his arrival. For knowing that there’s disarray in his perfect land. He’ll find a reason, even if it only makes sense to him.”

The steady beat of rain pattered out a passive answer. On the verge of giving up, Dominia stepped back to ready herself for a fight—and the house’s threshold dropped with an electric pop. The absent mauve shimmer left the façade bare. How rare to see a country place without its barrier! A strange thing. Stranger for the front door to open; she’d only expected them to do away with the threshold on the stables.

But, rather than the housewife she’d anticipated, there stood the Hierophant. Several bleak notions clicked into place.

One immaculate gray brow arched. “Now, Dominia, that’s hardly fair. Knowledge of your disgrace isn’t why I’ll kill them. The whole world will know of it tomorrow morning. You embarrassed me by sending your resignation, rather than making the appearance I asked of you, so it is only fair I embarrass you by rejecting your resignation and firing you publicly. No, my dear. I will kill these fine people to upset you. In fact, Mr. McLintock is already dead in the attic. A mite too brave. Of course”—he winked, and whispered in conspiracy—“don’t tell them that.”

“How did you know I’d come here?”

“Such an odd spurt of rain tonight. Of all your Jurisdictions, this one is usually so dry this time of year! Won’t you come in for tea? Mrs. McLintock brews a fine pot. But put that gun away. You’re humiliating yourself. And me.”

Dominia, with some delay for her trembling, slid the gun into its holster, then entered a building that gleamed with history. Such a nice ranch house, with generations of pictures on walls that had themselves been carefully preserved, or identically restored. People were metic­ulous with homes like these. They lived. This one had been around a long time. Two millennia, based on the style. Centuries of love and care, about to be disrupted by a terrible bath of blood.

A friendlier dog than the ones outside greeted her at the door, and the Hierophant bent to ruffle its floppy black ears. “A new friend for the Lamb, perhaps, after you’ve cruelly killed three.”
“As poor a guard dog as he’s proved tonight, I don’t think he’s the hunting sort.”

“Of course not. But we can always use more pets, can’t we?”

Wasn’t that the use of courtiers? She kept the joke to herself. In an intimate, doily-filled drawing room, the Hierophant drew an antique oak chair from the matching table and patted its scroll-carved back. Dominia lowered into the place set in anticipation of her coming, wherefrom she, scowling, studied him with she had already begun to consider her “good eye.” The Hierophant, that eerie smile never leaving his pale lips, poured the tea as he spoke.

“I remember when you were first martyred. You’d pout at every supper, refuse to eat your food. I ought to have seen this night arriving.”

“You did. You only pretended not to.”

“True! I always like to think I’ve some small say in destiny. That if I ignore inevitability hard enough, it shall not rear its head. But that never seems to be the case. These tedious things all end the same.”
“This is drugged, I suppose.”

“It’s as if you don’t know me. How passé! No, my dear, I only wish to speak to you and—Carol?”

Now the berobed, befuddled woman Dominia had expected made her belated appearance. The Hierophant flashed her a smile stupid men cherished and wiser men feared. “I don’t suppose you’ve a few spare pastries?”

“Some donuts for the children,” she mumbled automatically, paling to have reminded herself, and the Hierophant, of their existence.

“Well, far be it from me to take food from the mouths of babes. Why not bring them to share with us! Rouse the tykes from bed. I love to see sweet, sleepy faces.”

“Please,” said the woman.

“No,” said Dominia.

The Hierophant’s black eyes danced between them. “I suppose it is rather late for sugar, but you ladies are taking this much too seriously. Carol, dear: go get the children. Or would you rather I fetch them?”

That suggestion chased her right up the stairs. The Holy Father smiled as he plucked with huge hands a delicate teacup adorned with painted roses; the gesture resembled that of a better father, playing tea with his daughter’s tiny plastic saucers. “What a hostess. Up at two in the morning with such moxie!”
“Why are you doing this?”

“Don’t you wish for a bit of civility amid all the violence and terror? You looked like you could use a sit-down. Please, drink the tea.”

With a sniff that detected nothing but jasmine, she did, and broke up the heretofore uninterrupted taste of blood to which she had adjusted. Meanwhile, the flow of blood had stopped above her left eye, and a little shard of glass was pushed out by the work of the sacred protein. That good protein, her one friend. While she blinked the shard away in relief to know she was not fully blind, she finished her tea and tried to calculate a way out of the house before he got his hands on her.

No chance of that. A bonny pair of children soon tumbled down the stairs, wired from their mother’s angst and promises of midnight donuts. The Hierophant laughed in delight and clapped his hands, and the girl gasped in wonder.

“Isn’t that the Holo Man?”

“It’s the Hierophant, Betty.” Exclaiming this, the boy froze at the entrance of the room. Their mother whisked past, her anxious stare trained on the Hierophant to whom the girl, brash with innocence, giddily darted. Wiser with his eight years of dread, the boy licked his lips. “Has our family done something wrong?”

“No, no. There will be donuts.” Pleased, the Hierophant turned his attention to the girl, whose golden locks fell in disarray while he whisked her up to bounce upon his knee. “I do love children,” sang the martyr, far taller in the presence of the doll-like girl. Dominia gripped the table to remind herself of her own size. “They take joy in such simple things. Their courageous connection to the moment, that joie de vivre, has yet to be deadened by social laws.”

The Governess couldn’t hold her tongue. “By your laws.”

“God’s laws. There are men, and there are martyrs. That is a fact about which nothing can be done—no more than anything can be done about the martyr’s inherent superiority. Thank you, Carol.” He turned his smile to the tense woman who deposited plates of donuts before her unwelcome guests. On eye contact, her pupils shrank to pinpoints. With a lingering stare for her daughter, she hustled her son to the corner of the sofa and sat with him, one iron hand clamped to the base of his neck.

“You always had a problem accepting that,” resumed the Hierophant, breaking up the powdered pastry and offering half to the bright-eyed girl. “Our superiority, I mean. Oh, you tucked your ideals away with enough years’ worth of tutors, and enough time spent in the proper culture, but I admit that I saw your regression the instant you took up governance of the Front. Even after your sordid military career, your heart is too soft for these more difficult matters. Will you continue to let Cassandra’s unraveling destroy your future?”

“She didn’t ‘unravel.’ You drove her insane. She died because of you. She—”

“Is this a topic for young ears? Please, dear. I must apologize, Carol: despite my best efforts, my duckling never grew into a swan as did her younger sister. There are always kinks worked out with older models. Your name was ‘Betty,’ wasn’t it, princess?” At the oblivious girl’s happy nod from behind her powder-coated fingers, the Hierophant offered her the other half of his donut. “Well, Betty, you remind me an awful lot of my Lavinia. Do you know who Lavinia is?”

At the name, the girl’s eyes widened, and she preened as any small child would when compared to royalty so high. “She’s the real princess! The best princess in the whole world, and the prettiest!”
“She certainly is. What do you think of Lavinia, darling girl?”

“That she’s pretty,” emphasized the child again. How old was she? Three, going on four? How old had Dominia been when the Hierophant martyred her? Seven, or eight. He preferred that humans did the bulk of early raising; bed-wetting increased the transition’s already unbearable difficulty. She had to lean on her notion of his preference and hope that he had only bluffed about his killing mood. There was no moving faster than him. No wasting a bullet on him. At the slightest provocation, or none, he would snap the girl’s neck and be on the mother and her son two seconds later. Dominia already saw it happening and willed the images away as the child continued rattling off that Lavinia, “Gets to live in a castle with a lot of horses and doggies and all her friends. And she sings pretty, too.”

“Ah, doesn’t she.” The Hierophant smiled with fondness, then pointed across the table at Dominia. “Do you know who that is?” he asked in a half whisper. The girl, who had been glad to have the donuts but reluctant to look at the bloodied Governess, now followed his finger and shook her head.
“What’s wrong with her eye?”

“I know who she is,” called the boy, to his mother’s visible anguish. “She’s the Governess of the whole United Front, all North America.”

“‘Was’ the Governess, lad. Come here.” The Hierophant waved a regal hand, and over came the boy, in danger far graver than his sister by virtue of age. As Dominia’s breath stilled, the Holy Father reached across the table to pluck up her donut in offering to the boy. “What’s your name?”
“Murph McLintock.” Donut acquired, the breathless child edged toward the Governess as much as manners allowed.

“Do you see the Disgraced Governess’s eye, Murphy?” asked the Hierophant. The boy turned to regard the (slightly) less notoriously evil martyr.

“It’s all full of blood.”

“Let’s play a game. What do you reckon the odds that the Disgraced Governess’s eye will stay intact ’til morning?”

The grim boy regarded the jelly extruding from the edge of the donut. “What happened to her?”
“Dominia? Would you tell Murphy what happened?”

With a resentful glance at her Father, Dominia turned her good eye toward the boy. “I was in a car accident. On the way to the shore.”

Her Father pressed. “To do what?”

“To…leave.”

“To run away,” corrected the Hierophant, his solemn expression still aimed at Murph. “To abandon her post and deliver information to the enemy. This woman is a criminal.”

Face writ with anxiety, the boy stepped back from the table. The Hierophant’s smile never wavered.
“Have you ever met a martyr before, lad?”

The boy shook his head.

“What do you think? Is a martyr different from a human?”

“Dad says—”

“I don’t care what ‘Dad’ says. I want to know what Murphy says.”

Between the Hierophant and the Governess, the boy swallowed like his saliva had been replaced by sand.

“Yes. Martyrs are different from humans.”

“And how are we different?”

“Well, humans are born, and then we die. But martyrs are born human, and then they die, and then they’re born again as martyrs.”

“And what happens when they’re born again? What makes a martyr superior to a human?”

The boy’s face tightened, and Dominia thought, that’s right, we’re not superior, there’s nothing that makes a martyr superior, nothing that merits his treatment of humans, and you don’t have to say it; but, of course, she didn’t vocalize this thought. Instead, she sat frozen as she’d been in the instant of Cassandra’s death. She was back in that dark and bloody room until Murph said, “Well, they’re fast, and strong. Some are geniuses—magical, almost, like you. They don’t have to worry about anything, even if they get into an accident and need a wheelchair like my aunt Hilda. ’Cause they get better so fast. My aunt doesn’t live here,” added the child, chin raised in a defensive posture. The Hierophant chuckled to himself.

“And what does a martyr need, my boy, to sustain that second life?”

“Human flesh.” The boy spared a reluctant glance for his sister in the Hierophant’s lap. “Or blood.”
“That’s right: although, flesh is better. And how is a martyr made?”

“By eating,” whispered Murphy.

“Yes, dear boy. By eating the flesh or drinking the blood of a martyr. And other means, of course, not suited for young ears.” The Hierophant winked at pale Carol, who rested her elbow upon the back of the couch and cradled her forehead in that worried hand. “What other things are passed that way, lad? Outside of martyrdom?”

“Well, sicknesses. But it’s a sickness, isn’t it? Martyrdom? It’s a kind of sickness, and that’s why all the rich people left in—when was it, Mom? I saw on the history program one day, but I don’t remember. After Mars was good enough for people to start living there.”

“1744 Anno Lucis,” his mother answered from behind closed eyes. “My ancestor wasn’t quite seventeen, too young to go with her fiancé, so they forged her documents and pretended she was eighteen. They had to leave their baby behind, and that’s why we’re still here.”

“To think, Carol, you begged before to know why I was here— coming as you do from a family of criminals! Martyrdom is not a sickness, my boy. It is the cure to sickness—all sickness. But it is more than mere earthly cure. It is a mission. A privilege. It is an honor in which one becomes part of something grander than oneself. Grander than one might ever comprehend. One becomes a gift to the world. To reject that, and see that as anything but a privilege…do you suppose that is right, Murphy? Do you think it is fair that a martyr should reject the role chosen for them? Should they deny the importance of their task, and the importance of the tasks being done by their brethren?”

Caught in a trap by the sensibilities of his age, the reluctant boy shook his head. The Hierophant’s hands spread in Dominia’s direction. “There you are, my girl! I have no choice.”

He snatched her right eye from her skull in a motion so quick Dominia could only scream in tandem with the children before pro­pelling from the table to writhe upon the floor. Blood oozed through her fingers while her legs kicked to fend off the pain; meanwhile, the girl’s panicked feet carried her cries to her mother. With his most feline expression of amusement, the Hierophant dipped the much-abused sac into his tea.

“We never did place a proper bet, lad, so I’ll count that as a ‘win’ on my part, if you don’t mind. Do you like your life the way it is?”

“No!” Dominia arched her back against the pain and gnashed her teeth, unable to lift her hand away to view the unfolding scene. “Don’t do it! Don’t do it, you bastard!”

“I will deal with you at an opportune juncture,” said the Hierophant. “Come here, Murphy. Answer the Holy Father.”

Again, obligated by well-instilled values, the boy neared with but a flicker of attention for the crying mother who cradled her second child and prayed for her first. Amid all her screaming pain, Dominia thought to herself how praying would only make the situation worse, but she had no strength to say it as her free hand fumbled around her belt.

“I love my parents.”

“And your sister?”

With more reluctance: “Yes.”

As the boy answered, the Hierophant lifted the lid of the sugar bowl and scooped a few generous teaspoons into the cup. “What if I told you that you could keep your family safe from me forever? All you’d need do is trade your life for them.”

“No,” cried Dominia again, a word useless to him.

The wise child asked, “You don’t mean really die, do you?”

The Hierophant smiled in that mockery of patriarchal tenderness which was his trademark. “No, I don’t. It has been a long time since I’ve been a new grandparent.”

“Murphy, don’t.” His mother made one futile plea, but the boy looked in her eyes and saw her fear, saw her neck wet with the tears of his sister. Strangled with grief, Murph turned back to the Hierophant.

“I’d do it for them.”

“You’ll come with me and grow into a man who will never age beyond his apex. Never sicken. Never die. You’ll have wealth beyond measure, more friends than you could count; I’ll make you a duke, or an earl. Not so bad a trade for your old human life? For your family’s lives?”

Mute, the boy shook his head. The smiling Hierophant offered the cup of tea and blood. That nauseating admixture stood poised millim­eters from the boy’s lips when Dominia managed to lift the gun and, half blind, pull the trigger.

She would wish for the rest of her life that she had gotten the shot off sooner, and that Murphy’s last memory of life before the bullet ended his suffering wasn’t the tea of ocular matter nearing his lips for the sake of his cowering family. She would wish and wish and it would never change, that second of realization that she had killed a child to save him from martyrdom. Nothing about it would change, neither that cry from his mother, which pierced the air for miles around, nor that cold, dead-faced look from the Hierophant, who regarded the corpse, then his daughter, with disappointment.

“That was a stupid thing to do.”

“Well, you know me.” Dominia took a haggard breath while the Hierophant, in a petty rage, stormed across the room to snap the necks of both mother and daughter. It was the most painless death possible for either of them after the night’s direction. “I’ve never been your favorite.”

“You could have been, had you ever tried to adapt. Nothing you could have done for me, for the Family, ever could have made you my favorite child until you accepted my love into your heart! Yet you have always refused it, that love. All the things I gave you—all the sacrifice, the attention and education. The land. Your governance! Oh, Dominia, what an awful shame!”

Feeling pathetic, Dominia endeavored to turn her last bullet on herself, but recalled as she pulled the trigger that her last had been spent on Murph. The Hierophant swept the gun out of her hand, as angry as if she’d been successful. “No, no, no. You ridiculous woman. Shall I take both your eyes? Eager as you are to destroy your world, I would do you a favor by blinding you to it.”

“Fuck you,” she said, and was whipped across the face with the handle of the gun.

“I have never been as humiliated by your mouth as I was tonight. What a pitiful waste.”

He drew back his leg and kicked Dominia once, hard, in the stom­ach. As her hand shifted protection from her eye socket to her winded gut, the Holy Father clutched her by the throat to fling her against the table. Precious more than a rag doll, she lay upon the broken shards of a porcelain vase and its half-dead posies. The Hierophant regarded her with a heavy sigh.

“Oh, Dominia, my dear. How sad I am to leave you thus. Should I tear out your tongue to let you drown in your blood? That would be easiest, perhaps. Instead, I’ll take these.” He bent and, with one great hand, forced open her jaw. With the other, he reached into her mouth. After a sickening snap-crunch-pop, first came one silver fang, then came the next. Dominia kicked and screamed, and the family’s border collie crawled into the room to bark in an effort it knew was fruitless. The Hierophant was careful his fingers were free of her teeth before allowing her to shut her mouth again. Then he slipped the cuspids into the pocket of his waistcoat, wiped his hands clean of blood on Dominia’s leather breeches, and smiled at the dog.

“Hello, hello! How are you? Aren’t you a lovely boy.”

As the towering man approached it, hand outstretched, the dog’s ears pinned back. It edged away with a growl.
“So upset. Wouldn’t you like a new friend?”

Once, twice, the dog barked, and Dominia, when she turned her head, caught a glimpse of white tooth. Please, go hide! But the Hierophant chuckled over his shoulder at the Disgraced Governess.
“Perhaps I’ll leave him to keep you company while you die.” With a lamp from an end table, the Hierophant shattered the most modern object in the room—the holo-center and its attached phone, all tucked in the corner by the couch. Too woozy to protest as he shattered the projector and tore wires from the installation within the wall, Dominia let her head roll back against the floor. “Call some friends on your watch if you’d like us to trace their numbers, assuming you haven’t excised yourself of friends as you’ve tried to excise yourself of family. It’s a few hours until dawn. When it comes, why not crawl to meet it? A few minutes after, you’ll have nothing to worry about. Oh, but—leave the door open behind you. Wouldn’t want the dog to starve once his family is down to bones.”
As her Father’s back receded along with her gun, her teeth, and her sense of reality, existence faded into the whine of the dog. How funny: after all this time, all this luck, all one thousand battles, Dominia felt certain she’d die in her sleep.


Fate, of course, would never be so kind.

M. F. Sullivan lives and works in Ashland, Oregon, having completed THE LIGHTNING STENOGRAPHY DEVICE, the psychedelic follow-up to the transgressive DELILAH, MY WOMAN. Her forthcoming series, THE DISGRACED MARTYR TRILOGY, will be released over nine months from May 2019 through January 2020.
2 winners will receive a Painted Blind Publishing/Holy Martyr Church logo t-shirt, US Only.
5 winners will receive an ARC of THE HEIROPHANT'S DAUGHTER, US Only.

RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY
GOOD LUCK!

Painted Blind Publishing's Twitch will be doing a tarot reading/book reading/giveaway on May 20th, 2019, one day after the book's release. The Twitch.tv account is https://www.twitch.tv/paintedblindpublishing 


Week One:
4/15/2019- BookHounds- Excerpt
4/15/2019- Two Chicks on Books- Excerpt 
4/16/2019- Lone Tree Reviews- Excerpt 
4/17/2019- Always Me- Excerpt 
4/18/2019- Jaime's World- Excerpt 
4/19/2019- Reese's Reviews- Review
4/19/2019- A Dream Within A Dream- Excerpt

Week Two:
4/22/2019- Taking It One Book at a time- Review
4/22/2019- A Gingerly Review- Excerpt
4/23/2019- Owl Always Be Reading- Excerpt
4/24/2019- Bluestocking Bookworm- Review
4/25/2019- wewhotellstories- Review
4/26/2019- Some Books & Ramblings- Excerpt

Week Three:
4/29/2019- Parajunkee- Excerpt
4/30/2019- The Caffeinated Reader- Review




Top Ten Tuesday: (First Ten) Books I Reviewed (Throwback to 2013)

Top Ten Tuesdays (TTT) is a weekly event now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week's TTT is: (First Ten) Books I Reviewed.
I wanted to start out this post with talking a bit about my blogging history. I started reviewing books in 2013. Though I didn't join Owl Always Be Reading until early 2017, I thought it would be fun to do a throwback sort of post and talk about books that I reviewed in 2013.  I would love to know if you have read any of these, if we have any common first review books and if any of these bring back some memories!



My very first review was...

My rating: 5 stars
From my review:
"Let me start by saying how beautiful Tahereh Mafi writes. I haven't been touched by such wonderful writing in a while and I found myself wanting to keep devouring page after page of this book. I haven't read anything like this book in awhile, the premise was completely unique to me."


My rating: 2.5 stars (since lowered..)
From my review:
"The book has a cute story and the characters are fun to read about. At times it seemed to me that there were chunks of the story taken out; these parts were not crucial to the story but rather just bits and pieces that were missing from the story. It was an okay read."


My rating: 5 stars
From my review:
"This book is beautifully written and has a beautiful story. It will keep you hanging on until the very last sentence of the book and even then you'll be left with wanting more. I cannot wait for the next book- which is from Willem's point of view- I just HAVE to know what happens next!"


My rating: 5 stars
From my review:
"Let me just start by saying Wow! This book was so good! All I've heard about this book are rants and raves...well let me tell you why I am ranting and raving about this book...The action in this book is never ending with plot twists galore. This book will keep you up at night wanting to know what happens next and will keep you up after reading it, wondering what will happen next."

*Fun fact... this next book was the first book that I reviewed for a publisher. Up until this point, I just talked about books I borrowed from the library.

My rating: 4 stars.
From my review:
"This book, as said in the description is a thriller. It keeps you on edge page after page. Heath wrote this book wonderfully with the action pacing perfectly along with the twists and turns that occur along the way, there were parts where my mouth would drop open, like WTH just happened?!"


My rating: 5 stars
From my review:
"I am a huge fan of Sophie Kinsella's writing and those stories that fly out of her fingers. This is no exception...This book is one of those page turners in the sense that you can't turn the pages fast enough. This story was highly entertaining that has you on the edge of your seat waiting to see what happens next. The plot twists and situations that Poppy gets herself into had me cringing and laughing (out loud!) at the same time. This book is tied with Can You Keep a Secret? for my favorite Sophie Kinsella novel. I highly recommend this book!"


My rating: 4 stars
From my review:
"I haven't heard a bad thing about this book so far, and you won't find a bad word here either. This book left me speechless and feeling so many different things that I simply couldn't compute, in a good way...This tale will ride by fast when you have to keep turning pages to satisfy the urge to know what happens next, but it's a story that will stick with you and characters that will nestle themselves into your heart."


My rating: 5 stars
From my review:
"I enjoyed the writing style of this book. I felt that it flowed as beautiful as the dress on the front cover. I loved the character development and while I wished there was a tad more world building, I didn't feel that those mysteries surrounding the rebellion took away from the story. I'm looking forward to reading The Elite and continuing with America on her journey!"


My rating: 5 stars
From my review:
"I am really glad I read this book when I did. It was the perfect summer read and I loved the uniqueness of the story and characters. I found myself having a crazy adventure through Kiri's antics that I didn't want to end. I was living and learning through Kiri and having fun doing it. This book was fun to read, it was entertaining, it was wild, it was crazy, and above all this book came alive for me and left me wanting more."


My rating: 3.5 stars
From my review:
"I love road trip books!! As it so happens, this book also adds in four characters that make the road trip that much better. I loved all the characters, the three boys and Rosie, together had fun adventures and brought out some fun bantering throughout their adventures. I love the people they meet along the way and I love the places they go...Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It is the perfect summer read. It's light, entertaining and fun to read. I would recommend this one, especially if you enjoy road trip books!"






It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is a weekly meme hosted by
Book Journey * *
Here is what we Finished, Currently Reading, and what is
Next In line. How about you? These were some fantastic reads and we are so excited to share what we think with you! So make sure you keep your eyes out for our reviews!


  The Missing Years The Last 8 (The Last 8, #1) The Guinevere Deception (Camelot Rising, #1) Nexus (The Androma Saga #2)We Are Lost and Found Miracle Creek
 
There's Something About Sweetie Normal People The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
Montauk






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