Just got the cover!

Oh, I’m so excited!  I just got the cover art for Enchant the Dawn, due out on 4/30!  It is wonderful and playful and very 1920’s!  I’m so excited:

And here’s an excerpt:

 She knew why Alan had been so tickled about the seating arrangements. Daron had his arm tightly around her waist and she could feel his breath hot on her neck, his erection pressing into her derrière with every bump in the road. Her long skirt whipped about in the wind and she gripped onto it with one hand as the other wrapped around his broad shoulders. Really, it was almost like she was in some cheap novel, riding sidesaddle like some hoity-toity lady fair. It would have been much safer and more satisfying, to simply straddle the man and throw her arms around his neck. Then she could have ground her pelvis against his and gotten some relief from the unrelenting pressure of her need.

The sounds of the street, the raucous horns, the noisy streetcars, the shouting of newsboys and the whirring of the engine on Ol’ Nellie faded into nothing as she listened to the rough sound of their mingled breathing. Every bump, every swerve seemed timed to throw her against him so she could feel every rigid of muscle in his chest and imagine those hard thighs she kept slipping across inside sliding between her own.

“I’m sorry.”

She blinked, sure for a moment she had imagined those words. She turned her head, diving again into those green eye to try to ascertain if she’d heard him right.

He looked serious and just as incredibly tense as she was. “I would have come earlier but somebody had to watch Hester and Tommy ended up getting piss drunk in a bar in Hell’s Kitchen and I had to go bail him out and the new tenant in…” he trailed off as she began laughing.

“Do you always give your women such excellent excuses when you decide not to look them up?”

He gripped her chin in his gloved hand, forcing her to look him dead in the eye, “It was not a decision, ashavi. It was damn inconvenient.” The look in his eyes was fierce, demanding her understanding. She could almost hear his voice in her mind, If it was up to me, I’d have chased you down that day and we’d still be locked in your flat.

A hard swerve around a plodding horse-drawn ice cart almost threw her out of the car entirely and she felt Daron’s hands settle around her waist as her body lifted up. Before she could think to protest, he’d settled her knees on either side of his hips. Her arms came up around his neck and she found herself sliding, ever so slowly, down the incline of his thighs toward his not inconsiderable erection. At a stoplight somewhere on Park Avenue, she was jammed full against him, feeling the hardness of him through all the layers of damnable clothing between his cock and her throbbing clit. Somewhere on the sidewalk some stalwart matron gave a shocked gasp at such a scandalous position in broad daylight but neither Daron or Sophia heard much of anything.

His eyes were that stunning vibrant green. She wasn’t sure if she was going to be burned or drowned by them, or simply consumed. She knew she wouldn’t survive the journey unscathed. His hands still held her waist and she suddenly felt very fashionably small. They could not help but rub together, the bumpy ride pushing them together in enticing ways.

She was so close to coming she was almost embarrassed. She realized for the first time since she’d seen him last month during that bitterly cold spring sunrise, she didn’t ache. At least, not the usual way. The pounding, unrelenting headache that that followed her into her dreams and allowed not a moment’s real rest for her spirit was gone. It was replaced by his presence and her body’s demand that she meld herself to him and cease all pretense at existing alone.

Her hips moved in shy little circles, as though hoping that her deliberate movements would get lost in the bumping and jostling of the road. The flutter of his eyelids and his low sexy groan meant that she was fooling no one, not even herself. He answered with demanding thrust of his hips up against hers through the thin barriers of his trousers and her bloomers. Her hands twitched on the back of his neck, wanting to dive between their bodies to release the ties that held them apart and feel the wet slide of him inside her. She wanted to ride him in the middle of Park Avenue, the world and all the tens of thousands of beings pressing at her soul be damned. She wanted to come so hard she couldn’t feel her toes. She couldn’t feel anything at all but the promise sweet release that she knew instinctively would happen once they came together.

His breathing was hard, the muscles of his neck rigid under her fingertips while he fought to control the same instincts that drove her. His eyes opened wide and he looked almost alarmed that he was unable to find that deep well of calm that she’d always sensed in him. She was just a mite bit proud that she could drive him just as mad as he drove her. She wondered if he’d been suffering half as much as she had, knowing that he was somewhere in this city wanting her made the situation more bearable. Knowing she had the power to drive him over the edge was almost as good as actually doing the driving. Almost.

She never did get to choose whether or not to make him crack and fuck her right and proper in the rumble seat of that Packard. Instead, with a squeal, the car came to a shuddering stop somewhere around One Hundred Eighteenth Street. The driver’s door opened and Alan popped out in a mad rush to get around the car to open June’s door but he stopped with his mouth open wide enough to catch a baseball when he took in Sophia’s current position perched atop Daron. She pulled back and made a great show of rearranging her skirts as Alan started to whoop his laughter.

This book just really challenged me and I love what came out.  I miss those characters and I’m planning a book that will have just a tiny bit of some of them showing up some fifteen years in the future (1941).  Did I mention I love WWII stories?

Back to the mines on Lithos and Veins of Turquoise….

Seeds of Garnet, available today!

Woohoo!  It’s here, it’s here:

Although the cover (which doesn’t reflect the book, but is just a gorgeous guy to represent the garnet theme) here’s the cover:

I am really pleased with the world of Lithos, and I enjoy every time I get to go back and write more on this particular planet.  I’ve already finished Sea of Pearls, the sequel to Seeds of Garnet, and I’m deep into Veins of Turquoise, the finale of this trilogy.  But I would love to visit the Lithian universe again sometime soon.  It’s very tempting to return to a planet where the men are made of hot-blooded stone.

And here is a spicy excerpt from the very beginning of Seeds of Garnet (warning, rated E-rotic)

Maybe this hadn’t been such a great plan. Matrissa Prospera struggled to catch her breath as the stone man embedded inside her pulled her away from the wall. He held her ass in an iron grip and walked purposefully over to a rock bench. Of course, everything here was rock. Including the cock bumping into her walls and chasing away anything resembling coherent thought.

She’d already come twice and the great bulk of the Lithian who held her captured showed no signs of giving in anytime soon. The bench gave way the slightest bit, cushioning her as he bent her back on the smooth surface and hauled her hips up to meet his. He knelt, pulling her high and ramming into her hard. She saw purple-white flashes as she clenched her eyelids shut and felt those huge hands grasp her breasts with surprising gentleness.

With another hard stroke, she spasmed again, her eyes rolling back and her teeth clenched hard together as she fought the instinct to scream. Coming down, she found black eyes gazing down at her with unfathomable depth.

Irav Tok, Petrov of the HLL conglomerate, continued tight teasing strokes with his cock and pinched her nipples between his long fingers. Then his eyes roamed over her body and she knew he must be staring at more than her feminine attributes. Those varied remarkably little from one sapiens subspecies to another. He was watching her skin flutter slowly between all the colors of the spectrum, from deepest red to emerald green to brilliant purple.

His own skin was the darkest marble, black with veins of gray. It was entrancing, hypnotic to see the lavish color of her phytodermis against the captivating darkness of his. The smell of him was just as deep, reminding her of the spices of Eados V or the warm soil of Rdani III. Such happy memories seemed in utter conflict with recent deprivations, the horror of disease and death that had inundated her home, Genship DMTR.

She shouldn’t be enjoying this. She shouldn’t be experiencing ecstasy in the arms of a man she was trying to escape, let alone one she had every intention of robbing blind.

Maybe he noticed her mind wander that slight bit, because with brutal efficiency he yanked his cock out of her, ignored her moan of protest and flipped her over, pulling her up on her knees. He plunged back inside, one hand on her hip and the other rubbing her clit hard enough to burn. She wailed, unable to fight the pleasure anymore as he only seemed to plow into her deeper and deeper.

He abandoned her clit and pushed her chest down farther into the bench, leaning over her to grab both arms and yank her high, until she was bent back into an arch like the crescent of the rising second moon. She found the strength within to resist, to push back against him and pull against his grasp but that only succeeded in seating him completely within her, so deep her cervix pulsed against him.

Finally, as she threatened to black out from the intensity of this last orgasm, she felt him erupt within her. The flow of his semen bathed her womb and he fell over her, his arms clasped around her waist, his short rough hair scratching her collarbone as he wrapped himself around her. She was cocooned in living stone by the bench which conformed to their combined weight and the man she’d naively thought to conquer pressed against her back.

She gave up the fight for now. Her eyes closed in needed sleep, knowing that he would not let her go. She had set out to seduce him to her will but she feared he would instead enslave her to her own passions.

Please check out Seeds of Garnet and thanks for stopping by!

News from the trenches

Hello everyone,

First of all, I’d like to send out huge thanks to


  for her phenomenal work on some promo banners and a


card for me.  Aren’t they beautiful:

They are so lovely they almost make up for the crappy stock cover I got (see bar at right…sigh).  The moocards are shipping soon.  Anybody wanna bookmark?  I’d be happy to send some out!  They are tiny but oh so useful!

Seeds of Garnet is coming out on Friday!  I am so excited to see my first scifi book come to life!  I was raised on scifi and fantasy books and I just love being able to create this world.  Here’s an excerpt:

When Matrissa awoke, the garden was empty and she was alone. The soft orange light of the star Lithos shone down from low in the sky, the same position it held throughout all time on this strange planet. Lithos I was a huge rocky sphere so close to its small sun that it was tidally locked, one side always facing the heat and light of the star and one side locked in darkness but for the two circling moons. Life was eccentric here, shades existing in every color of the rainbow but dominantly grey. The flashy lifeforms which her ship had used as food and oxygen producers or décor would look gaudy next to the quiet contemplation of the Petrov’s garden.

She took a deep breath and realized that for the first time in the day-and-a-half she’d been in this compound, she could breathe easily. He’d upped the level of carbon dioxide in the air and her skin tingled with the actions of her phytodermis soaking in the sun. She examined herself, noting her pigment had finally settled down to lavender, once it had decided on the most efficient scheme for absorbing energy from the star. If she had the right balance of carbon dioxide and water, her subspecies could last for months without ingesting food, as long as excessive exertion was not undertaken. The lavender of her skin turned to violet as a blush covered her naked body. Surely last night qualified as excessive exertion.

She ached in all the right places. Unlike the hollow lingering ache from the disease plaguing DMTR, these pains brought memories of luscious pleasure and reminders of her own disturbing pliability. She was literally putty in his hands. It was necessary to fight the instinct to trek into the house and demand her release. Or demand he let her climb up those massive thighs and ride that amazing cock until she was screaming her pleasure.

HLL Conglomerate was known for thousands of parsecs as infinitely patient and ruthless negotiators. They would not let her attempted theft go unpunished and if they knew of the weakness of DMTR they would not hesitate to take the ship in payment for any cure they might be able to offer, leaving her friends and family with nothing. She had refused and would continue to refuse to tell Petrov Tok why she had tried to steal his spectral x-ray analyzer and a complete set of mineral base samples. Let him think she was merely an inept thief. Anything but that DMTR was in a fight for its life. She’d play dumb and try to keep his attentions focused on her while her shipmates thought their way out of this mess.

It was for the good of the ship—it was sacrifice. It wasn’t that she liked being at the mercy of the sexiest man she’d ever known, trying to get him to take advantage of her body every single chance he got. No, no—she’d much rather be safe and sound among the nice tame men of DMTR. Wouldn’t she?

She was using the man. Sure, he’d rescued her from the freezing cold of the dark side of the planet where she’d collapsed in her badly patched envirosuit. But he was only tracking his stolen goods back to her shuttle. Taking her to his home and healing her was just in his commercial best interests, though he had every right to let her freeze solid for stealing his personal property. She needed him only because he had the technology and the resources to cure her penniless people. If she had to pay with her body…there were worse fates.


I promise on Friday to have a spicier excerpt.

As for work in progress, I’ve been sending out Portrait to new publishers in hopes of finding it a happy home.  I’ve finished the Mayan book which is very hot and very cool all at the same time.  I really like how the first draft has turned out and I have high hopes for it!  And I’m working on the third book in the Lithian trilogy, to follow Seeds of Garnet and Sea of Pearls, to be called Veins of Turquoise. 

See you on Friday to bounce around in glee over my release!

Have a wonderful day!  It’s raining cats and dogs and it’s actually snowing like 15 miles away (it never snows in the Bay Area!) and I have a cold and a sore throat, but I’m determined to be happy, darnit!

Excerpt from Work in Progress

Hello All,

    I’m getting excited about the release of my first science fiction erotic romance, Seeds of Garnet coming up on January 25th!  Although the cover is very boring and has nothing to do with what’s inside, I really love this plot and the characters.  It’s a Quickie, so it’s HOT!  There will be three in this series, with Sea of Pearls coming out in June and Veins of Turquoise coming in December.  It’s all part of the fun Ellora’s Cave, “Jewels of the Nile” theme for 2008!  There are lot of great “stone” books by some great writers in this theme, so take a look!

  Right now, I’m about 34,000 words into a book currently titled: Lady Six Sky, Mayan Queen.  It’s about a real historical figure, Ix Wac Chanil, the Queen of Saal, and the spicy, sexy life I’ve made up for her.  She’s a fascinating figure in Mayan history, so I’ve been having fun with the writing and the research.  Here’s a sample from the first chapter of Lady Six Sky:




Lady Six Sky was known to the ancient Maya of Central America as Ix Wac Chanil.  She was the Queen of Saal, a kingdom with its capital in the city of Maxam, now known as the archeological site of Naranjo in northern Guatemala.   She was born a princess from the city of Dos Pilas, or more accurately the kingdom of New Mutal, an offshoot of the great kingdom of Mutal (Tikal). 

The royal family of Saal was slaughtered during a vicious ongoing feud between Saal and Oxwitza (Caracol), and to preserve a fragile peace between the massive state of K’aan (Calakmul), Oxwitza and Mutal, it was important that the small kingdom of Saal have a new royal family.  The answer was for a princess to be appointed as the Queen of Saal, and to marry a member of the surviving Saal nobility.  Her child would provide an heir of royal blood and blood native to Saal.

What was not expected was for the princess appointed to the role to be one of the most competent leaders in Mayan history. During her own rule and the rule of her son, Smoking Squirrel (K’ak Tiliw), she brought Saal success after success, despite the kingdom’s tenuous position of being trapped between more powerful and aggressive kingdoms. In all the ceremonial stelae and plaques found at Maxam, none list the name of the lord of Saal who she married, or the father of her son. 

An extraordinary man at this same dynamic time in Mayan history was also from the kingdom of Saal.  An artist of incredible skill, he was considerably proud of his heritage.  So proud, he signed all of his work as “Ah Maxam”, simply “From Maxam”.   He was widely traveled, and his work is found in distant locations around the Mayan world.  His trademark is the fleur-de-lys or waterlily.

We know from the intricate dating system of the Maya, known as the Long Count, that Ix Wac Chanil acceded to the thrown of Saal in 682 AD.  She very possibly would have met the famed artist and traveler Ah Maxam.  In fact, she might even have married him.


Chapter One


Ninth Baktun Twelfth Katun Tenth Tun Fifth Winal Seventh Kin

12 Manik 5 Yax (August 25, 682 A.D.)


As the encroaching jungle began to cut off the view of the city, Chanil looked back toward Kukchanha through the tiny rectangular slit in the back of her palanquin.  Her regal transport was borne by four of the strongest warriors her father could spare. It was truly a work of beauty, a rich mahogany with the finest of detailed carving, revealing the illustrious story of her lineage.  The inside was padded with the finest of woven cloths and softest cotton batting.

She hated the thing.  It was bearing her away from her home, Kukchanha, the capital of New Mutal and the city her father had built from nothing.  She sighed and swallowed the hot, humid air of late summer, knowing that soon enough it would rain and the heat would break.  But now she was uncomfortably dressed as a queen, with a jaguar pelt over her shoulders and a feathered headdress so large she had to almost curl into a ball to keep it pristine in the tight confines.

As soon as they were well on their way, she could tear off the many jade plaques and necklaces, the heavy robes of state and all the other accoutrements of power that she had been laden down with for her journey.  It was too damn hot for all this.  In this weather, she’d rather race around in nothing but a loincloth and a thin huipil dress, but she hadn’t been able to do that for years, once her father’s royal wife had decided it was time for her to become a proper lady.

Once, Chanil had trained with the warriors of New Mutal.  Once she had scrambled through the forest after the wisest of her tutors and soaked up every last drop of knowledge, from plant lore to tall tales, calligraphy to astronomy.  Once she had sat at her father’s knee as he built his empire from nothing, restoring their family the honor and name as the rightful rulers of all Mutal.

Now, it was possible she would never see her father again.

Squinting through that little slit and trying to be careful of her headdress, she could just barely see her father, the great B’alah Chan K’awil.  He was still standing on the ramparts of the Great Temple watching as the procession disappeared toward the heart of the civilized world. 

Her eyes filled with tears and she sniffed hard to chase them away. Memories filled her, of walking with her father down the great highway toward the sacred hunting grounds. Along this same road, she had traveled with him every year since they had returned from exile to Kukchanha and New Mutal.  This last year, the trip had changed her life.

His voice was not powerful, but surprisingly gentle for the sharpness of his intellect and the stone of his backbone. A whisper of the past filled her ears, and the conversation lived again in her memories, as though the Four Becabs, the gods of time and direction, had granted her a boon.

“My Chan-Chan.  You have become so beautiful over the years.  It is hard to believe my little girl is so grown up.”

She smiled and blinked in mock confusion. “Father, you have not called me Chan-Chan for many years now.  Now I am certain you want something!”

His tone had shifted, and the smile that had creased his sun-brown face in lines disappeared.  “Ah, my little Chan-Chan, you are also too bright for your own good.  Yes, my child, I have much to discuss with you.  Something that will require much sacrifice, but that will bring our family closer to its goal.” His eyes glimmered like smoky obsidian, and once again Chanil felt a shiver down her spine. B’alah Chan K’awil had vowed to someday reclaim the throne of Yaxmutal from his spineless brother.  Her uncle had taken the throne of Yaxmutal years before her birth, and the two brothers had been at odds for years.  There was such animosity, her father had sworn alligence to K’aan, the ancient enemy of Mutal, in order to stop the chaos her uncle wrought to anything he touched.  Eventually, after being exiled and almost completely defeated, B’alah Chan K’awil had surged back and reclaimed New Mutal for his own, and his brother had been so wounded in battle that months later, he passed on to Xibalba, leaving her cousin, Hasaw Chan K’awil, on the throne in Yaxmutal.

For a frightening moment, she worried that her father would marry her to her cousin, reclaiming Mutal for his grandchildren rather than for himself.  Hasaw was capricious and cruel, much like his father, though much more intelligent.  She dreaded such a fate.

Her father seemed unaware of the turmoil she suffered in, but continued. “The Snake Lord has approached his vassals with a problem.” She waited patiently, curious at what the king of K’aan would consider a problem, other than the sticky thorn of Mutal in his side. “The problem is Saal.”

“Ah, yes.  At the center of everything, with no one on the throne.”

“As always, my dear, you see clearly.  And so, the Lord of K’aan’s problem becomes my own.  For I must decide whether to send my beloved daughter into the war and strife that is the great triangle between Yaxmutal, Kaan and Oxwitza.”

She released a long breath into the early morning mist, the deer hunt a forgotten prospect with the knowledge of such a change to her life. 

There were those who claimed the three great kingdoms on the green earth were as much the center of the universe as the three stars reigning in the black night sky of summer. Or that the great warring states were reflections of the three great hearthstones of the universe.  At the center of it all, in the middle of the fire, was the kingdom of Saal trapped between the three powers.

“Father? Who…”

“You would be queen, my child.  Not just consort.  It is the very best I could do for you.  You, who are so very quick and so very wise for all your youth.  You would make a better king than I.  I only hope one of your brothers turns out to have half of your wit, and then I can rest easy about my succession.”

Her mind spun.  She would reign in Saal? Ah…for her children no doubt.  If she married an ahau of Saal, because she possessed the highest quality blood, her children would become the new dynasty of Saal. 

For the old dynasty was no more. Blood traitors had betrayed the great K’aan alliance, and the Oxwitza King had slaughtered every last conspirator.  “For K’aan, or Oxwitza, or Mutal for that matter, to take the city outright and put on of their sons on the throne would lead to years of more war, more destruction.”

B’alah sighed harshly. “You understand all to well.  You will enter a maelstrom, but you will tame it, my little one.  Tame it and make it your own.”

She let out her own long sigh as her father’s voice faded into memory.  In the distance, she watched her father’s proud form disappeared as the procession moved around a curve in the great road.  Finally feeling free to relax, she took off the headdress and ran her fingers through her long black hair, scratching her scalp with unrestrained vigor. She would have to consider all the options, and she couldn’t think straight with the weight of that thing on her head.

Her father never worked on a single level.  Sending her to Maxam, the Saal capital, to be the “Bride of Saal” would also bring a scion of the ancient, legitimate line of Mutal closer to the usurper who sat perched on the throne in Yaxmutal.  B’alah Chan K’awil and his heirs should be there, not her thrice-damned cousin, Hasaw Chan K’awil.  She was sure her father would be planning her military campaigns as soon as she was out of his sight, so, any moment now.  But she had a firmer grip on reality. She had a real fight on her hands to try and rule a kingdom like Saal at only twenty years old.  Especially a kingdom so ancient, in the center of the cauldron of the Great Peten valley. It would take every iota of her abilities.

And she would have to find a suitable husband.  She wasn’t sure if the jostling of the palanquin or the thought of intimacy with a stranger made her stomach dance so vigorously.

Wac Chanil had agreed to go to Saal only if she would have her pick of husband.  She’d offer herself up as a sacrifice to the suicide goddess Ixtab before she’d let herself be foisted off as a pretty trophy to the most devoted K’aan sycophant.  K’aan and its ally Oxwitza were now firmly in control of Saal.  She was certain the Snake Lords would have put one of their own heirs on the throne, if they did not fear another uprising within the city.

Her father was supposed to be loyal to mighty K’aan, so he had faithfully offered his only daughter.  A woman as the regent for the foreseeable future would ensure the loyalty and relative passivity of the troublesome Saal to the K’aan alliance.  A woman was supposed to be an easier yoke for the proud city.  Mated to one of the lesser nobility, she would produce an heir worthy of its great history, yet remain suitable loyal to the great Snake Lords of K’aan.

She would have to judge the political field carefully and choose a man who would be tolerable, yet intelligent.  A councilor, yet not one who would threaten her control of power. 

She could not afford to choose a man whose body made her quiver in want, whose smile could melt the resistance of a mountain ice goddess like Chac Chel herself.  Most definitely not a man who apparently had sown his seed in every female from Xukpi to B’aakal and back again. 

She rolled her head around her shoulders, trying to loosen her stiff neck.  It was swelteringly hot in the palanquin, and thought of him would not make her any cooler.  Already, the fine oils that had been massaged into her skin as part of the elaborate departure rituals were beginning to bead with her sweat, and the rich scent of cinnamon and cedar filled the air.

She still remembered what he smelled like. Man and fresh ink and the slightest undertone of cacao. The man she most associated with Maxam was the man who signed his birthplace as his name.  Ah Maxam was one of the greatest artists of the age and he had, for a brief time, graced the court of B’alah Chan K’awil of Kukchanha when he was in exile from his homeland.  Eight long years ago she had been a mere child, but that damn smile of his had awakened the desires of a woman in her breast.  Her monthly flow had arrived within weeks of his setting foot in the great plaza of Kukchanha.  He’d been the partner of her every erotic fantasy and spirit quest she’d taken. 

He’d romanced his way through a fair number of the female ahau, and a fair number of their servants.  Whispered conversations she wasn’t supposed to have heard told of his prowess, his talented hands, his agile tongue. She felt wounded, that he had been with so many women and not waited for her.

She’d learned more about life after that.  Following her own family into exile when her uncle had driven them from Kukchanha some five years ago, she herself had traveled from court to court.  There she had observed the ahau from every kingdom act very similar to how Ah Maxam had conducted himself.  For herself though, there had been no time for romance, only politics and scheming until her uncle had been utterly defeated, and they reclaimed Kukchanha as their home.  Her uncle had died, her cousin succeeded and New Mutal was flourishing under her father’s reign.

Now at twenty, she was the age Ah Maxam had been at the time of that long ago visit.  She knew of the powerful lure of desire, and how the curve of a firm ass or the glistening of a bare chest could make her salivate with want.

It was one of the worst parts of being a princess – she could not easily take a lover.  She had a vivid imagination, but absolutely no real experience.  She hoped her new husband could banish the image of Ah Maxam, T’ul Tiliw, from her fantasies. 


* * * * *

It was much cooler here on the edge of the forest.  She enjoyed the chance to walk and stretched her legs once they were hours away from the closest large settlement. They’d made good time, passing through several of the smaller towns in the territory New Mutal controlled. Only now, two days into their journey, did they need to camp in a forest clearings or a field by the main trade road.  She’d only been this way once before, when her family had fled into exile.  The road skirted the edge of the dry savanna to the south of the Great Peten Lake, with the dense jungle of the hills on one side and the dry grasslands on the other.  The landscape was something alien to her.  In Kukchanha, the land was wet and lush, the cottonwood and mahogany trees soaring thirty zapal overhead, taller than twenty men standing on each others’ shoulders.  But in this broad flat plain, there was nothing but distant herds of deer, a few scattered trees and countless zapal of grasslands.  The very smell of the air was different and though she loved new experiences, she still felt unaccountably nervous.

They were halfway into their hundred-thousand-zapal journal to Saal.  Five long days of walking and they would arrive in her new home.  Mentally, she was trying to prepare herself, to push away her girlish desires and become the queen she needed to be.  She couldn’t do the necessary mental inventory sitting cramped in the palanquin like the dozen ladies-in-waiting that attended her in her transition to her new home.  She needed the clear air and physical exercise of the steady pace the warriors set. Dressed in a simple long huipil that settled around her calves and the rubber sandals that she’d had made despite the vocal protests of her father’s royal wife.  She wondered if her mother would have had half the protests about her behavior that his second wife always had. She bit her lip and pushed the thought away.  Her mother was dead more than ten years, and it did no good to speculate.  At least her father’s wife had gifted him with the male heirs Kukchanha and New Mutal needed.  She would miss her brothers deeply. They had cried when she had left, until their mother had swept them inside the palace with a disapproving glare on their lack of aplomb.

Bah – it did her no good to become maudlin.  Better to focus her thoughts on the future than the past. She dug her feet into the packed earth of the road, trying to force her mind to consider her future.  It was silent here at the front of the procession, far from the palanquins where the rest of the women moaned and complained loudly about the distance, the unbearable heat of the season, the boring taste of the food, every little ache and pain and inconvenience. 

Ix Nich Na, the highest ranking woman to accompany her from Kukchanha, had done nothing to quiet the complaints of P’awil or Juknik or Sak Uh. 

“Where is my cinnamon hair oil!  I must have it immediately!” No matter that it had been packed and sent with the baggage train a week prior, P’awil would not accept the reality that her favorite cosmetic was unavailable.

“Fish!  I detest fish!  I will not eat this!” No thought to the fact that it was a beautiful and rare tarpon and tasted exquisite. Nich Na had no appreciation for simple foods.

“Can we not stop for an hour or two?  This constant motion is making my stomach queasy?” Sak Uh, gentle and young, did not appreciate the rigors of travel – and did not have the callousness on her feet to make walking long distance an option.

Chanil had long had hardened feet, and she’d much rather hike with uncomplaining soldiers.  Her father had sent her with the best, and she admired their alertness at their duties as well as their firm bodies shining in the summer sun. A man with a spear or whose muscles were bulging with the weight of a palanquin was truly a thing of beauty. 

She shivered as her mind plunged back into the memory of the night before.  The village where they had feasted and welcomed with song and dance and plenty of good food was as serene and simple as a hundred such in the Petexbatun valley of New Mutal. She had been sleeping in the mud-brick home of the village leader, comfortable on the finest of woven hammocks, when she had jerked awake by the oddest sensation.  Heat filled her sex and fired her blood, and her nostrils flared open like a large cat tracking its prey.  A noise drew her attention, something wild and untamed though it was just a muffled whisper.  The sound drew her out of her comfortable hammock and out into the field surrounding the clustered buildings of the village.  Those camped on the ground were soundly asleep. No one, not even the posted sentries were in a mood to impede her. 

She had stepped into the forest a mere two zapal away, the waxing moon providing enough light to make the jungle full of curious shadows that made the imagination long to create monsters.  The low, gasping sighs, the slap of flesh of flesh was growing distinct and part of her mind had known she should turn back.  But her curiosity carried her forward, stealthily moving through the brush until coming to a clearing filled with beams of filtered moonlight.  There were a man and a woman enacting the holiest and most profound of rituals, the glory of sex.

Both naked, brown skin turned silver in the moonlight, one of her ladies-in-waiting clung to a low hanging branch, bent over with a searching look on her face so intense, Chanil was unsure if it was pleasure or pain. 

Ix Huk P’awil gave a low moan.  “Hard, Yaxal, hard!” begged in a soft voice.  With a grunt, the man obliged and the moan became a long spiraling wail. Both warrior and woman remained ignorant of their audience, and Chanil could not take her eyes off the couple.  Chuc Yaxal was one of the sergeants of her company, a position far below the Lady P’awil, but his naked body was hard and strong, all hard muscle and feral passion. He gripped P’awil’s hips with huge hands as he thrust hard enough to send her pendulous breasts shaking.

It was beautiful, it was frightening.  Sweat slick flesh shimmered and rippled as man and woman came together.  P’awil’s wail broke suddenly into a scream and Yaxal arched his back and gave out a roar, pulling her ass against his hips with such force the branch P’awil clung to gave an alarming creak as though ready to break.  But neither of the lovers noticed, lost in the peak of their pleasure.

Chanil had fled, making her clumsy way back to her hammock.  In moments, her fingers had delved through the folds of her loincloth and circled her clit.  She was the one clinging to the branch, a man embedded hard and hot inside of her, the sounds of the forest mingling with moans and grunts and that alluring slap of flesh.  She was so close to coming it was almost pain, but she could not arrive.  In her mind’s eye, she had turned her head, and behind her, thrusting with vigor was no nameless, faceless fantasy male, but none other that the memory of Tiliw T’ul, his grimace of sexual excitement somehow mocking and reverent all at the same time.  It was then that she had exploded with the most amazing orgasm she’d ever experienced.  She’d fallen into an exhausted sleep, and slept so deeply that in the morning she was not at all sure her journey into the forest had been part of a dream or raw reality.

Only when she could see the glow in P’awil’s face, the sparkle in her eye when they had broken their morning fast before continuing their journey, then Chanil knew the truth of what she had seen.  Sighing, she almost wished one of these men caught her interest enough to risk an introduction into the mysteries of sex.  She had heard strange rumors of the royal marriage ceremony, and she was quite sure she would like to be fully conscious when her hymen was first breached and she was initiated into the great gift of sexual intercourse.  Unfortunately, although some of the men were quite muscular and fit, they were all dull, and she could feel not the smallest twinge of true arousal.  Oh well, perhaps for political reasons, it would be best to prove her purity to the ahau of Saal by proving her virginity on her wedding night.

Her rubber sandals were almost worn through, and she was glad she had packed an illicit extra pair.  Her feet were hardened and used to walking, but days of unrelenting walking were starting to get to her muscles.  She would sleep well tonight, unplagued by dreams of Ah Maxam hovering over her, whispering words of seduction as he worshiped her body.  Sunset would be upon them soon enough and then they could make camp at the base of one of the small hills, poised between the exposed grasslands and the cover of the trees.

Again, she felt tension flood through her.  The soldiers were definitely all on their guard, using that nonverbal cueing to convey between them the possibility of danger. She could decode some, if not all, of those subtle signals.  At least all the silly women in the other palanquins weren’t screaming in fear.  Yet.

She squinted into the distance and thought she saw the approach of travelers on the road coming toward them.  Immediately, she quickened her pace to catch up with the captain of her guard.  T’unich had known her since she was an infant and she trusted him more than she trusted members of her family.

“Hostile?” she didn’t need to waste words on the man. He liked as few as possible.

He shook his head slightly, his eagle eyes reading the angle of the light, the shift of every leaf, the smell of the wind. “Not them on the road.  There’s something else around.  Be ready for it.”

She took a deep breath, then fell back to the center of the party.  It would do no good to present an easy target for a foe.  Perhaps she could learn more of the threat from the travelers coming from the north.

As they approached, she was disheartened by the small size of the group.  Only eight in total, they looked like good enough men.  It was some kind of official mission, since they carried a proclamation banner. Seven soldiers and one other man dressed in more finery.  Not too much finery, or too ornate, but he carried himself with the subtle assurance that marked an ahau.  The afternoon sun shone on him, making the white woven cape thrown back over broad shoulders glow like a beacon. Even from the distance of some thirty zapal, he riveted the eye, presenting a fine form and regal bearing.

When she could make out the scrolling waves and crosshatch symbol on the banner she stood up straighter, cursing the fact that she was sweaty from walking in the sun and wearing simple traveling clothes.  This was a group from Saal damn it, come to meet their queen and escort her to her new home through hostile territory.  And here she looked like a common fieldhand.

Chel’s left tit, that’s all I need.  To completely lose the respect of one of their ambassadors before I’ve set foot in the place.  It was too late to look presentable, and climbing into the palanquin simply to climb out again was idiotic.  She’d have to try to face them with cool aplomb.

Easier said than done.  Especially when, as the groups drew closer together and her stomach clenched with uncharacteristic nervousness, she recognized the Sa’al ambassador to be Tiliw T’ul. Ah Maxam himself. 

Just perfect.  By all that was sacred, why do I have to be tested like this?

There was such a roaring in her ears that it took a full minute before she realized that chaos was erupting out of the nearby forest and down on to her head.  Warriors covered in thick black tar paint and little else had exploded from the dense foliage of the jungle were already clashing with her men.  The women in the palanquins were screaming with rare passion.

Her eyes flew to the entourage from Saal, wondering if this was another instance of betrayal.  But the Saal warriors were throwing themselves into the battle firmly against the ignoble assassins Tiliw T’ul himself had drawn a small flint axe, but he was dodging through the conflagration with some kind of goal in mind, his eyes focused toward her.

She didn’t have time to wonder what in the hells of Xibalba he was up to.  She was too busy cursing her own lack of such a weapon.  No one had yet forced their way through her troops, but it was only a matter of time, outnumbered as they were.

She dashed into the fighting ducked between two groups locked in hand to hand combat.  Getting spattered with deep red blood, she managed to grasp the axe of a fallen foe.  Feeling much better with a weapon in her hands she retreated to guard the palanquins and the frantic screaming women within.  These men looked savage, unearthly, as though they had ascended directly from Xibalba to grab prisoners from the world of light.

Testing the sharpness of the blade, she felt her own blood pool across the flat of her palm.  If necessary she would hack her own damn path to the underworld rather than let these bastards drag her there.  The first warrior made it through the wall of her men, and she greeted him with a grimace and a sure stroke to the testicles.  He had been unprepared for a woman warrior and he collapsed screeching like the girl he now was.

The next enemy was more prepared.  This one was huge, towering over her in height and probably double her weight.  She blocked two strokes before the force of his club brought her to her knees.  Before the giant could pummel her into a pulp, he dropped like a rag doll, the backs of his knees sliced to the bone by a quick blade. His bellow was quickly cut off as Tiliw T’ul administered an expert kick to his head.

Dazed, she looked up at him in gratitude.  “Thank you, ahau.” Her lips were dry, and though her words had come out as a whisper, she was incredibly glad to have escape death.  The man in front of her looked down upon her with one eyebrow raised ever so slightly  She knew she looked like something a jaguar had mauled, but it wasn’t fair that even in his blood spattered state he still looked gorgeous.  He held out his hand and when she took it, he pulled her to her feet with ease.

“No time for pleasantries, Ix Wac Chanil.” His black eyes flickered around them, assessing the state of the fight.  T’unich, her captain, tried to move toward them, alarmed that a foreign man was so close to his charge and that there were bodies strewn in front of them, but yet another enemy got in his path.  She nodded at him, hoping to reassure him that she was safe.

At least, she thought she was safe.  The sick feeling in her stomach was probably the excitement of the fight, rather than how T’ul had pulled her close to his body.  He may not have been as finely toned as a warrior, and there were ink stains under the fresh blood stains on his hands, but he was still the man who’d just saved her life and who had captured her imagination since the moment she had become a woman.

“Come,” he yanked her into the center of the impromptu circle the palanquins had been dropped in as the men rushed forward to meet the threat. Ducking behind the huge cedar chest that was her own transport, he pawed through his traveling pouch slung from his belt. She tried to look over the boxy jails of wailing women and assess the fighting, but he yanked her back down and fixed her with a commanding glare that left her livid.  How dare he treat me so!

When she finally noticed what he was doing with his hands, she had to suppress a scream of indignation.

“What are you doing with fire starter?” He was holding the smoking threads of a traveler’s fire pouch to the back corner of her palanquin.

“I’m trying to get you out of here alive, girl.  Can you manage a scream when I tell you to?”

She blinked at him for a moment, but given the intensification of the noise of battle and the confidence he projected, she decided that his plan was superior to her strategy of “defend or die”.

She pushed a finger into the rear visibility slit in the transport, revealing the cleverly concealed aperture.  “If you want this thing to burn, the inside is filled with feathers and cotton padding.  That will catch a hell of a lot better than treated cedar.”

He flashed her a broad grin of straight white teeth and made her womb twitch and her nipples harden beneath her huipil.  He pushed the embers in, condemning the beautiful barge that had taken Kukchanha artisans a month to make.  But if it would buy her freedom it was worth the sacrifice.

He gripped her arm again, pulling her around the rest of the palanquins at the very back of the group. Chanil noticed one brave head of perfectly coifed hair poke out of on of the boxes to take stock of the situation.  Lady Nich Na had been an attendent of Chanil’s father’s second wife since the marriage had occurred more than a dozen years previously.  The woman had always been cunning in court politics, even retaining a position in her uncle’s proxy court at Kukchanha when the rest of the family had fled to exile.  Chanil has never before thought the woman would be brave as well.

Nich Na had not yet seen her though, and whatever Ah Maxam was doing, she thought someone should know she was well.  But he covered her mouth with one hand, preventing her from making a sound.  “Forget your scream, looks like we won’t need it.”

With those words, he pulled her off the road and into the same forest the attackers had emerged from. She kicked out and tried to scream to spite him, scared that he was leading her to her doom, but he had too good a grip on her.

Nich Na’s voice rand out above the din, “The princess!  She’s on FIRE!”

More wails erupted, following them through the woods as T’ul pulled her in deeper.

“Stop your damn struggles, you idiot.  I’m trying to save you!”

She grunted, biting his hand and fixing him with an evil glare.  He released her and gripped his injured hand with the other, swearing under his breath and kicking at a tree root.  She was appalled at her herself, not for her actions, but that she almost missed the possessive grip of his arm around her waist and his hand over her mouth.

She pulled herself up to her insignificant height and tried to stare him down.  “I have men back there.  I can not abandon them.”

“I have men back there too.  But I was charged with the all important task of getting your little ass all the way to Maxam safe and sound.  You have a duty there, if you recall.”

She charged up to him, sticking her face up to his and yelling in his face.  “Are you insane?  I’m going back to Kukchanha’ and getting a force big enough to crush these criminals!”

“You little fool,” his eyes were glinting with black fire and he stood his ground, “Running home to daddy already?  That’s the first direction they’ll go looking for you.  They’ll hunt you down and slaughter you, or drag your sniveling carcass back to whatever city wants to interfere with this marriage.  Could be anyone from Yaxmutal to Yaxha.”

Gritting her teeth at the condescending sneer in his voice, she had to admit he had a valid point.

“Fine.  We go to Saal.”  She began walking, charging in front of him and into the dense undergrowth.  When he gripped her arm with firm but commanding gentleness, she whipped her head around to fix him with a glare of icy derision.

“That way, my princess.” He tipped his head in a completely different direction than the one in which she was headed.

Damn him to Xibalba.