Courtney has given me the cover (oh my sweet Lord, wait until you see this cover that I LURVE), blurb and an excerpt (the WHOLE first chapter- eeeep) to post and, in honor of the big release day, I'm doing a giveaway. Yep, you got it! All you have to do is tweet me @mleightonbooks "I love Courtney Cole" and you'll be entered to win a copy of both Soul Kissed (book one in this series) and Soul Bound. I'll be announcing the winner on Twitter Friday morning and then I'll send him/her a DM for gifting info (so be sure you're following me so I can follow you back). How's that for a good way to start your weekend? Woohoo!
Are there a lot of parentheses in this post? I feel like there are a lot of parentheses in this post. It's making me a little crazy. Maybe I should stop looking at it. That's probably a good idea.
*pauses to collect self*
So, you wanna hear all about it?
Yep, that's what I thought. Okie dokie, here ya go!
Check out this most amazing cover! Could you love it any more? I know, me neither!
The gods are playing games again and this time it’s going to get ugly.
Empusa is the daughter of the goddess of witchcraft and the moon. As a child of the moon, she has all of the ethereal lunar powers that come with it. She is beautiful, vulnerable and strong. But since she is cursed by her father to drink souls and mortal blood, her powers will come back to haunt her…
Brennan is the son of Apollo, the god of the sun. As a child of the sun, he is handsome, golden, brave and strong. He’s just learning to harness his own immortal powers, only there isn’t much time…
There’s an ugly, twisted storm brewing on Olympus and Brennan and Em are in the center of it. Their powers are conflicting, polar opposites. If they can’t learn to handle their abilities without killing each other, they will kill everyone in the mortal world, as well. Time is ticking and the gods are watching. Who will rise, who will fall and who will be left standing?
Reality exploded around me in various earth-toned hues as we burst into a wet, green meadow filled with fluttering grass.
The smell of honeysuckle filled my nose and I looked around before I realized that the smell wasn’t coming from around me. It was coming from me. Since I had drunk from Harmonia’s blood and it still pulsed through my veins, her scent was lingering on me. I shook my head, trying to regain my grasp on reality. Traveling through time was disorienting at times.
“Where are we?” my boyfriend asked curiously as we stood on the swell of a slippery, rolling hill. He held my hand with strong fingers and I appraised our surroundings.
Wet earthy smells filled my nose…moss, wood, rain. My thoughts were returning to me by the second and I was able to think more clearly, remembering where we had just come from and where we were now.
Rays from the sun shone weakly through the low-hanging clouds above us, but the filtered light was enough to make Brennan seem radiant. The golden light outlined his blonde hair and tanned, muscled frame. He looked enough like Apollo to be his father’s twin brother. Both of them were beautiful. I took a slow breath and exhaled.
“We’re far from home,” I stated the obvious calmly as if that fact wasn’t apparent already.
As I spoke, a group of women emerged from a clump of trees across the clearing. Moving in a quick blur, I yanked Brennan down until we were concealed from view as we knelt behind the waving wildflowers. Flopping onto our bellies, we observed the strangers in the hollow below us. They wore muted ankle-length tunics and their long hair was pulled back into neat braids which were held away from their faces by woven leather bands.
“Well, that much is apparent,” Brennan muttered as he took in their ancient dress. “Could you possibly be a little more specific?”
I smiled. One of the things I loved about Brennan Delacorte was his sense of humor. And I cherished it even more now.
Five minutes ago, he had broken up with me. But in the space of those minutes, in between running from my father who was trying to kill us both and landing here in an ancient Celtic land, Brennan had decided that as my soul mate, he couldn’t live without me regardless of the risks that our relationship posed for the world. And that left me almost giddy with relief.
“We’re in ancient Britain,” I answered by way of explanation, as though time traveling was common. And when you were the daughter of the goddess of witchcraft like I was, then it wasn’t really out of the ordinary. But when you were new to the whole world of gods and immortals like Brennan was, I had to admit that it must be a bit of a shock. As a new demi-god though, he was definitely handling it well.
He arched a golden eyebrow. “And I thought you were going to say someplace interesting. Or remote.”
I smiled again. We had been able to catch our breaths now since fleeing Death Valley a few minutes ago after Brennan had pulled me out of a burning crevice of lava and carried me away from the danger. We had left my parents dueling there in hand-to-hand combat. My mother was fighting to save my life and my father was fighting to take it. It was enough to make a girl crazy.
But I had a lot to fight for now. Brennan, for starters. And my freedom from the wretched curse that my father had inflicted upon me, the curse that caused me to suck away mortal souls in order to remain immortal and to drink mortal blood to stay young. I absently twisted the moonstone bracelet that circled my wrist.
My mother had given it to me long ago in an effort to protect me from my father. She had enchanted it to alert me whenever he was near. But in the process, my soul had become tied to it. If something happened to the moonstone, I would die. As in, dead-as-a-doornail forever—even Zeus’ sword wouldn’t be able to save me. And that was a daunting thought.
“Why are we here?” Brennan asked curiously, still watching the strange women in front of us. It appeared that they were spreading wet clothing out to dry on large rocks, an archaic but effective laundry system.
“It’s hard to say,” I answered, fingering the small bag of runes in my pocket. My mother had given them to Brennan in Death Valley, telling him that they would instruct us where to go. But she didn’t tell him why. And that was a very good question.
“Well, what do we do now that we’re here?” Brennan asked, finally turning to face me. “Do we wait for your mom? Do we need to hide from these people?”
I honestly didn’t know. The runes had told me where to go. They certainly hadn’t explained why or what we should do once we arrived. I stared helplessly at Brennan, but his question was answered by someone other than me.
The woman in front, a tall statuesque woman, turned to us as though she could see us. Her flame red hair hung to the small of her back and her eyes, as gray as mine, swung around the meadow as though searching for something. I gasped. There was no way she could have heard us, yet her eyes zeroed in on our location with laser precision.
“What the hell?” Brennan muttered. “She can’t see us, can she?”
But she could. I could sense it. The woman was mortal, but she something was very immortal about her. She had supernatural senses somehow.
At my thought, she smiled slightly as though she could hear my thoughts. But that was impossible. I knew that much, at least. No mortal could read the thoughts of the gods. It had never happened. With that, she threw her head back and laughed, causing the other women to look at her curiously before going about their business of doing laundry.
What the hell?
I raised my head slightly and her gaze caught mine. She took one step and then another, then she was walking confidently towards us from across the meadow. The hem of her saffron shift was wet from the dew on the grass and her feet were bare.
There was no point in hiding, so I unfolded myself from the grass as gracefully as I could. Brennan and I stood still as we waited for the woman to reach us. The other females had stopped spreading their laundry on the rocks, but they remained across the meadow. They didn’t look bothered by our appearance.
I could hear Brennan’s unspoken question since I could read his mind. Who is she?
“I don’t know,” I answered out loud. Taking a step forward, I asked the woman that very thing.
“Who are you?” I asked. She was no more than six feet away from us. “Do you know us?”
She didn’t answer my question. Instead, she drew to a stop in front of us and knelt at my feet. “Princess, I’ve been expecting you.”
I fought the urge to roll my eyes. As the daughter of the goddess of witchcraft, who also happened to be the goddess of the moon, I was deemed the princess of the moon. It was, at times, an honor I didn’t appreciate. I could feel Brennan’s eyes on me now. He wasn’t accustomed to this side of my life. He had only seen me act fairly mortal. Being goddess royalty was a new facet of my personality for him.
Gritting my teeth, I reached my hand down. “Please, get up. How do you know me?”
She looked up at me doubtfully as she remained in her submissive position. I felt certain that this strong woman was not submissive often.
“Truly?” She raised one red eyebrow. “How could I not know you? Our father has spoken of you often.”
“Our father…” The words died in my throat as realization set in. Her eyes were identical to mine, a unique gray. I stepped away from her.
“Don’t be alarmed,” she reassured me quickly. “I mean you no harm.”
“How can you say that?” I hissed, stepping further away. Brennan poised himself as if to provide protection for me. I put my hand on his arm. “This can’t be right, Bren. My mother surely didn’t intend for us to come here.”
The woman got to her feet and stared me in the eye. Like my own, the sunlight made her gray eyes seem incandescent. “I recognize the danger Mormo poses to you,” she told me quietly as she remained motionlessly in place. I could see that she wanted to seem nonthreatening. “Like you, he poses a danger to me as well. Unlike you, his threats to me could be quite permanent.”
“You’re mortal,” I said bluntly. She nodded.
“Yes. I am. But we share the same immortal father. It is true.”
“Why did my mother send me here?” I asked her brusquely.
“Because she thinks I can help,” the woman answered simply.
“Help me?” I asked.
“Of course. Who else?” She stared into my eyes again and I felt as though she was looking directly into my soul. It was disconcerting.
“Your name.” I didn’t ask, I stated. I was simply too tired for pleasantries at this point.
“Branwyn. You and the son of Apollo should rest. Allow me to show you to a safe place, princess.”
“My name is Brennan,” Brennan interjected. “It’s not ‘son of Apollo.”
“Whether it is your name or not your name, it is still who you are,” Branwyn replied. “I cannot help that and neither can you. There are worse things.”
I had to admit that I liked her matter-of-fact manner. Her attitude was simple and definitely not flowery. I had the distinct impression that I would always know where I stood with this woman. My sister. The thought almost floored me. I had no idea that I even had one.
“Come,” Branwyn urged. “We have much to discuss, but I believe you should rest first and we can speak when your minds and bodies have rested.”
Brennan looked at me, his amber gaze concerned. “You really should rest,” he said quietly. “You’ve been through a lot today. You’re strong, but even the strong have the need to rest.”
I nodded curtly, just once. I hated to admit it, but he was right. My legs were quite literally shaking from weariness. Hanging over a ledge, dangling over bubbling lava would do that to a person.
“Good,” Branwyn smiled. “You must believe me, princess. I wish you no ill. I only want to help. Your mother is very strong and very respected here. We would do anything to keep her daughter safe.”
She smiled again and I studied her for a moment. She was sincere, I could tell that much. I glanced around again. The druids sought wisdom. I quickly flipped through my memories regarding this ancient people.
Druids had priests, priestesses and seers. They sought higher powers in many forms, including gods and goddesses. They worshipped my mother, for one, although they didn’t typically use her true name. They thought she was the mother of everything that ever was. Priestesses and Seers lived simple lives. They were self-sacrificing and loyal. It didn’t surprise me that Branwyn was opening her home to me. It was very possible, probably even likely, that she had seen me in a vision. They worshipped nature, they opened their minds to powers that they didn’t understand. And sometimes, they channeled visions. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if she had seen me in one.
“Did you see my coming in a vision?” I asked curiously as we walked together over the meadow toward the small gathering of huts.
“No,” she glanced at me. “Your mother told me.”
“My mother literally came to you and told you that I was coming. She appeared to you?”
“I am your mother’s faithful servant,” Branwyn said quietly. “Your mother knows this. She trusts me. I have proven my loyalty to her in every way. I only hope to prove it to you, as well, princess.”
“You don’t need to call me princess,” I told her wryly. “Empusa will do.”
She met my gaze. “Wonderful. Empusa, it is.”
My feet fell on the wet velvet of the wild grass and I realized with a start that I had lost my shoes along the way. Probably while I was dangling over the hot lava. Perfect.
Brennan read my thoughts and smiled at me. “It’s alright, Emmie. I’ll carry you wherever you need to go.” I rolled my eyes and laughed.
“I’m good,” I assured him. “I can conjure shoes.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “That you can. I had forgotten.”
We approached the other women who had stilled their movements in order to watch our approach. They were all calm and interested. I could see that they had been expecting me, as well. As I stepped inside the perimeter of their camp, they each dropped to their knees, their heads bowed.
My breath caught in my throat at the show of reverence.
“I told you that you and your mother are respected here,” Branwyn murmured. “They won’t get up until you give them permission.”
“Please, get up,” I stammered quickly. “There is no need to kneel to me. My mother is a powerful goddess of the moon. I am just her daughter, no more and no less. Only that. There is no reason to revere me.”
“You are too modest, princess,” Branwyn observed. “Surely you are aware of your own value. But you heard her, ladies,” she turned to the others. “The moon princess has said to rise. You can resume your duties. We’ll meet in the Meadow of Peace later this afternoon to meditate.”
The women resumed their laundry duties while Branwyn continued leading us away from the common area to a small but well-built hut.
It was made from wood and rock and was solid and strong. It stood in the middle of the others, larger and away from the perimeter. The perimeter was clearly marked with a boundary of stones. I recalled that the druids believed that there was protective magic within circles. And I was not one to determine who had more valid or powerful magic. Magic, as a whole, was a very fluid thing. Even mortals could channel it if they concentrated enough.
“While you are here, you will occupy my home,” she told us as she ducked her head slightly to enter the doorway. We followed and once inside, we could easily stand to our full heights.
The hut was simple, but clean. There was a largish bed in the center of the room covered in animal pelts. A fireplace adorned the back wall, simple and stone, with a roaring blaze inside. Cookware hung on hooks beside it.
“We cannot take your home from you,” I told her quietly. “There must be somewhere else we can sleep.”
“We have no extra homes,” she said in amusement. “We are a simple people. We only take what we need and we only use what we must. We do not waste. I am honored for you to use my home. I will share with someone else.”
She showed us a few things inside of the hut and pulled a buckskin over the single window before turning back to us.
Pulling a silver ring off of her finger, she handed it to me. The silver knotted ring glistened mutely in the dark.
“Promise me, Empusa, that you will wear this. It’s enchanted with protection. Never walk outside of our circle without it. Do I have your word?”
Her face was serious, her voice solemn. It would not hurt me to wear it, so I opened my fingers and allowed it to fall into my palm.
“Of course. Thank you.”
She nodded and turned to leave. “I’ll send someone for you when it is time to eat. You should rest.”
With that, she was gone.
Brennan and I were left staring at each other in the dim light of the hut. He reached out to me and almost without thinking, I collapsed against his chest. His heart thudded against my ear, its strength a throbbing cadence. I memorized the rhythm, tracing the outline of his collarbone with my fingers.
“We should rest,” he reminded me gently, staring down with his amazing golden eyes. His father, Apollo, was known throughout the world as being beautiful and charming. Brennan had inherited the best of those traits, which was a little funny since he had never actually met his father. He had been raised by mortals.
My fingers made their way to the cleft in his chin and I rose on my tiptoes to kiss his lips.
“I didn’t get the chance to thank you for saving me from the lava,” I told him, my gaze frozen on his. He smiled, his perfect lips stretching over a white smile.
“Anytime,” he answered confidently. “Anytime, anyplace, moon princess.”
“Ugh,” I rolled my eyes. “Don’t you start.” Twisting out of his arms, I padded across the dirt floor to the bed. Brennan followed closely on my heels.
“What?” he raised a golden eyebrow. “You don’t enjoy adulation?”
I cringed even at the word. “I don’t deserve adulation,” I replied quietly. “Nothing about me is deserving of that kind of respect. My mother, yes. Me? I’ve never been given the chance to earn it. I’ve spent my entire life, my entire existence, running from my own curse.”
Brennan inhaled sharply, pulling my chin up with his index finger. “I don’t ever want to hear that you are not worthy or undeserving of something again,” he cautioned me. “Your curse is what it is. You didn’t ask for it and it isn’t your fault. We will search the earth from top to bottom to find a way to reverse it. If we can’t find an answer on the earth, we’ll search elsewhere. I promise you, by all that is holy, we’ll figure it out.”
I nodded tiredly. I knew he wanted to believe that.
“I believe that because it is true,” he told me firmly. “Now, hop into that bed. We’re going to rest.”
“Yes, sir,” I answered with a weak smile. Pulling the skins back, I did as he said. He climbed in beside me, pulling me into his arms. It was my favorite place to be.
“And when we wake, you will need to feed,” he told me. “I know that you’re weakened now from everything that happened in Death Valley.”
My heart raced at the thought. “I can’t feed from you,” I stammered. “We haven’t mastered our powers yet and your strength has grown. I don’t know if I could control it.” The thought, the simple thought, of drinking Brennan’s blood now terrified me enough that I started to see his aura. The colors blinded me and I closed my eyes against the light.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered softly into my hair. Cupping my face, he ran his thumb lightly along my cheekbone.
“You don’t need to drink from me. We’ll think of something else.”
I squeezed my eyes tightly closed. This part of my curse was truly a curse. But it was something I’d think about after I’d rested. Brennan was right. I was in a weakened state. A little rest would go a long way.