#SongLyricSunday ♫ “Real Life” – 3 Doors Down

3_Doors_Down

Hi all, it’s been awhile, and what a perfect week to get back into the swing of things. Helen explained that she really couldn’t give much detail about this week’s theme, but that’s okay, I think we usually find our own ways to connect with the themes, and mine was immediate with this one.

When the Seventeen Days album first came out, I listened to it constantly, I’ve been a fan of 3 Doors Down since Kryptonite hit the airwaves, I mean…who hasn’t? Anyway, I was writing this amazing story at the time, hopping back and forth between my computer and my typewriter, without realizing how much this one song, Real Life, was influencing the plot and even my characters.

But by the end, I had these two protagonists brought together while hiding or running from their problems; one desperate for change, the other terrified of it, but they’re both searching for a better version of their lives and themselves. So, I’ve chosen “Real Life” for this week’s challenge, because it may not have the theme word anywhere in the song, but it’s definitely about the search. I also wanted to thank Helen for reminding me of this book, I should really get to rewriting it. (I lost a lot of it to a computer virus about 10 years ago, but that’s another story!)

In case you haven’t guessed, this week’s theme is: Search

Please head over to Helen’s blog, This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time to join in the fun or check out all the other great songs for the week. Enjoy!

I wanted to find somewhere to hide
And I opened up and let those fears inside
And I wanted to be anyone else
Only to find that there was no one there but me

But I woke up to the real life
And I realized it’s not worth running from anymore
When there was nowhere left to hide I found out
That nothing’s real here but I won’t stop now
Until I find a better part of me

I let those hard days get me down
And all the things I hate got in my way
I could’ve screamed without a sound
I found myself silenced by those things they say

But I woke up to the real life
And I realized it’s not worth running from anymore
When there was nowhere left to hide I found out
That nothing’s real here but I won’t stop now
Until I find a better part of me

That’s out there somewhere
And it can’t be that far away
That’s where I’ll find myself
And I’ll find my way out

That’s where I’ll find out

But I woke up to the real life
And I realized it’s not worth running from anymore
When there was nowhere left to hide I found out
That nothing’s real here but I won’t stop now
Until I find a better part of me

♪♫♪♫

Songwriters: Bradley Kirk Arnold / Christopher Lee Henderson / Matthew Darrick Roberts / Robert Todd Harrell
Lyrics found on Google
The Real Life lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

I do not own any rights to this song, lyrics or video. All rights remain with the artists and their respective agents. No copyright infringement intended.

SongLyricSunday

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Dragons: How to Train Your Human

Like the title? Two purposes, 1: no getting sued by DreamWorks and 2: It really turns out to be this way.  I know, what is she going on about? Allow me to explain…

Some of you already know that my long absence has been due to what I thought was Tendinitis in both my hands. Turns out, I only have that in my left hand. The problem with my right hand is carpel tunnel…yay, I’m an overachiever. 😐 Okay, so after moping around for way longer than necessary awhile and getting completely abandoned by my muse, I broke down and bought the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software. And I don’t love it…no, I really don’t.

However, it has enabled me to keep my day job and after finally realizing that my Dragon has been training me all this time and not the other way around, my muse has actually decided to return (though, now that I’ve outed her, she might just take off again, because that’s the kind of floozy she is). Anyway, for any of you who’ve ever considered trying the Dragon software or wondered how it works exactly, I’m here to give you a not-so-quick rundown…awww, you know you missed me.

Warning: Personal Opinion Ahead

It sucks. Don’t waste your money. If your hands aren’t broken, use them. Dragon should only be a “desperate times call for desperate measures” option. The only way Dragon will ever be more efficient and faster than typing, is if you can speak as clearly and enunciate as precisely as Siri 100% of the time and never fluctuate in tone, pronunciation, or especially background noise. In fact, don’t even turn that fan on, I don’t care if you’re dripping sweat, it will make Dragon dictate as if you’re talking with a mouthful of cheesey-puffs. Oh, and I hope you have a totally stocked gaming computer that runs everything at lightning speeds and glitch-free.

On a more technical note…

Dragon is designed to be completely personalized to an individual. After each time you use it, the software updates your “profile” before shutting down completely, which enables it to remember the way you speak, so it can be more efficient and accurate the next time you use it. I’ll admit, it does eventually begin to show signs of adaption. Just whatever you do, don’t leave the program running over night to save time the next day – I know it takes forever to open and wake up and actually respond – but the longer it runs, even while not being used, the glitchier and boggier it gets. Also, you have to conduct a microphone adjustment every time you fire that bad boy up, even if you’re going to be using it in the same room, with the same background noise, every single day.

In the software’s defense, because I am not completely unreasonable, the above glitchy, boggy issues could also just be my laptop and the fact that it’s not exactly new…or even remotely recent.

Wait, why doesn’t this post have any photos? One purpose: Not getting sued by Nuance Communications

Who’s Training Who?

This is the tricky part. At first, you think that you’re training your Dragon to learn how you speak; your pace, your cadence, etc. which means you have to be careful to try to speak the same way all the time. You can’t approach it with “before coffee speech” one day and then the next day be like “I just snorted a pound of cocaine” speech. (Note: Neither this site nor its author encourages, endorses or engages in the act of snorting cocaine…or ever trying to speak before consuming coffee. Just say no.)

In truth, Dragon is like that kid who sleeps through half their classes, all the while turning you into a person who speaks punctuation marks out loud as if it’s normal. In order to get Dragon to type this exact sentence: “See Dick run. See Jane point and laugh! Did you see Spot pee on the neighbor’s leg?” you have to literally say:

Open quote see Dick run period see Jane point and laugh exclamation mark did you see Spot pee on the neighbor’s leg question mark close quote capitalize dick capitalize spot

The hardest punctuation mark of all time to remember to say aloud is “comma” – oh and hyphen. But tell me, authors: when you’re completely submerged in your own world and dictating what’s happening in any given scene between your characters, are you honestly going to remember to say COMMA? No, you’re just going to naturally pause in speech, the way you would if you were on stage. Nothing yanks you out of your creative flow faster than having to remember to talk punctuation marks! Open parenthesis, close parenthesis, semicolon, colon, oh shit how the hell do I explain an em-dash without it actually typing M dash?

And I get it, these are things you can always correct in editing. The first draft is always a heaping pile of “wtf was I thinking?” anyway – Soooo, I tried to keep that in mind and just go with the flow, only to find out that if I talk at even my normal pace, which is slightly closer to the lack of coffee than OD’ng on coke, Dragon will only type the last portion of my sentence. Or maybe the first two words and then the last part – regardless, it misses entire sections of my sentences.

I spend more time either correcting what Dragon thought I said or waiting for the words to finally appear on the document, so I can make sure Dragon caught it all. And just FYI, Dragon does not like curse words–AT ALL–no matter how many times you use the same one, on the same page, or in Zoe’s case, in the same run of dialogue, these are the handful of words it will never actually “save” with your profile. You cannot teach your Dragon to swear the way you taught your parrot…you know who you are.

Hands-Free Editing

There are built-in verbal commands you can give Dragon, which are supposed to enable you to make corrections without having to type. If you notice it dictated the wrong word, let’s say “Buck” for instance, you can say “Select buck” and it will pop open a box of word options you might have meant, which are numbered. You would then say “Choose one” or whichever number offers the correct option. I promise you, none of the options for “buck” will ever start with an F. So, if you don’t see your choice, then you would say “Spell that” at which time a different box opens that allows you to spell out the word you really wanted to say.

Here’s where I run into more problems. If I want the word capitalized, I’m supposed to be able to say “Captial F” then spell out the rest of the word. It’s always about a 70/30 chance that it’s going to add an L or an O to the beginning of my word, because it’s picking up those sounds from the word ‘capital’ no matter how fast or slow I say it – also, on most days, the “choose” feature never works in this particular box, so I have to select my choice with the mouse and hit enter, otherwise it tries to add numbers like ‘201’ to the end of the word I spelled out, rather than accepting the command “choose one”, rendering it a not so hands-free feature.

Get What You Pay For

When I started shopping around for the software, I reviewed the different options and decided to pass on the cheaper “basic” version for the newest “premium” edition, because it comes with a feature that allows you to add your own words to the software’s vocabulary. Ideal for an author, right? Well, along with the program, I also bought a recommended book written by a supposed Dragon expert, and I’ll admit, it did help me with my initial introduction to the software and getting it all set up – BUT – according to the author, I wasted my money for this “personalized vocabulary” feature, because Dragon will still never get it. In fact, they suggest that authors supplement their character’s names with simpler ones like “Dick and Jane” and then just do a “Find and Replace” during editing, because apparently they’ve never written fiction, or understand the whole concept of creative flow and the many things that can throw a wrench in it, like having to call your character by a name that is not theirs…

Thanks for looking out, hindsight dude who will never be useful in any situation beyond a “getting started” tutorial.

Then, after about a month of fighting with this newer, better version I stupidly paid extra money for – I started it up one day, and a notice popped up on my screen stating that Nuance was discontinuing the Premium 13 edition of Dragon NaturallySpeaking and that I had to act soon in order to get the newest (15) version for only $99. Eff you, man, I just paid that much for the 13! Like just – and now you’re telling me that you’re no longer going to be offering any updates or customer support for it? WTF?

Bottom Line

If you don’t already have and absolutely love Dragon NaturallySpeaking, you can either refer back to my personal opinion (which, I sincerely recommend) or buy it anyway, but definitely not the Premium 13 edition – and, you know – try it out. I hope you have absolutely no problems with it, and you leave that in the comments below and brag about how much time it saves you, how much your daily word count has increased and that you really do think I just need a new laptop and possibly a better headset.

(No, seriously, I’ll take any excuse to buy a new laptop). 😉

It’s Hexed (Hell on Earth 4). That’s what my muse returned for. I wasn’t going to mention being back to work on a WIP and then not tell you which one, honest. 😀 And if all goes as great as it has been, I hope to have it off to the editor before the end of the year.

Dragon be willin’ and the creek don’t rise…

Tootles!

The Good, Bad & the Frustrating

Vodka

Hi Indies, Readers & Bloggers,

I know I’ve been MIA for awhile and I apologize for that – and for the fact that it’s going to be a little while longer yet.

To better understand the situation, you’d have to know me and my bone-deep refusal to see a doctor unless it’s absolutely necessary. I always try an alternative route, like changing diet, exercise, taking vitamins, etc. to correct a problem, rather than rushing for the prescription drugs and ER – I hate both.

I’ve been suffering from increasing joint swelling, pain and weakness in my hands and wrists for years. My doctor wanted to send me to a Rheumatoid Arthritis specialist and I ran for the hills as fast as I could. I wasn’t even 40 at that time. There was no way in hell my hands were becoming useless; I’m a writer! A writer in deep denial. I wanted to go back to taking piano lessons, this couldn’t be happening…

After trying everything from chiropractor appointments, buying new pillows and blaming poor ergonomic practices (lazy posture) – I was in urgent care this past week with no blood circulation in my left hand and a walnut-sized lump protruding from my forearm.

The lump, which was the scariest part, ended up being severe muscle swelling and I will take that any day over the blood clot my doc thought it might be.

Turns out I’ve been suffering from Tendinitis in both arms all this time. While that’s no picnic, it’s a much better prognosis in the grand scheme, because it’s curable. It will heal on it’s own with rest, icing and strength-building exercises. Surgery is another option, but would be the last resort and I hope I don’t have to take it – so, to avoid that, this will probably be my last blog post for awhile. I may not be able to get my next book out before the end of the year as I’d hoped, either, because I don’t write the kind of stories I can voice aloud with a Talk-to-Text program – unless I had a soundproof room! LOL I don’t want to send my kids to therapy, honest.

I will still be here to read and repost, share and support. And on the bright side, this might allow me to put a good dent in my TBR list! 😀 And, of course, as soon as I’m back 100% you’ll all be the first to know. I have so much to share with you already – Indie Resource posts that are already underway – and it’s frustrating having to put it off. Unfortunately, all I do is type for my day job and I can’t quit that, so not writing at all during my off time is the only concession I can make to heal as fast as possible.

The moral of this story is, don’t be a stubborn ass like me when it comes to seeking medical attention and also, take care of yourself. I’m guilty of getting caught up in the rat race, writing endlessly to get the next book out, doing whatever it takes to stay relevant – but sometimes, we just need to rest.

 This post was brought to you while wearing thumb-splint braces on my hands. It’s like an old man being forced to use a computer against his will – one letter at a time. 😂  I’m sure that visual got a laugh out of at least one of you. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

ATTN: Indies! Important Info!

Independent

Hi Indies!

I was just over on Goodreads and saw this topic in my notifications and wanted to share it with you right away! There have been whispers about this coming, but no one was sure when and now it looks like there’s going to be a definite merger between CreateSpace and Amazon Kindle Beta this fall. So for anyone getting ready to go to print, it looks like you might as well take CS off your list of options as a POD and just upload your book directly to Kindle or IngramSpark…

GOODREADS DISCUSSION THREAD HERE

Who’s Ready for More Kinky Fun in Paradise?

Yes, I mean finally! Can you see how excited I am??? It feels like I’ve been waiting forever to say this:

“Scavenger, Book 2 of the Dark Day Isle series is officially scheduled for Release on May 1st!!!” 

When I first released Collar Me Foxy in June of 2016, I already had half of Scavenger’s rough draft penned. I never imagined its release day would be nearly 2 years away! Turns out my first rough draft of Scavenger was 90% rubbish and only 10% salvageable.

I won’t bore you with the gruesome details. Suffice to say, this is NOT the Scavenger I finished a year ago and passed off to beta readers. It’s so much better! The disheartening, yet extremely helpful, beta feedback and struggle with revisions ended up being completely worth it. I hope you all feel the same when you read it! (See how optimistic I am? LOL)

Thanks to the lovely Lauren and Nikki over at Saints and Sinners Book Promotions, I now introduce this pretty banner and sign up link for anyone who would like to host Scavenger’s Cover Reveal and/or Release Day Blitz on their blogs – or maybe you can share with someone who might? You’re awesome, thanks! 😀 ❤

ACs banner

SIGN UP HERE

BLURB

It’s day two of the exclusive getaway on Dark Day Isle, and Felix’s smoldering lust isn’t the only thing to greet Tessa come morning. A list of challenges awaits her; finding the courage to confront her Master, devious tests of kink designed to push her limits and an unpleasant punishment that effects more than just their temporary dynamic.

Afternoon events provide insight on the getaway’s purpose and leads them deeper into the resort’s naughty, fetish-catering amenities. Tessa and Felix’s individual struggles are interspersed with visiting friends, unexpected triggers and a meeting of competitive spirits during the evening’s activity.

When Tessa’s true feelings about the cage are revealed, so is one of Felix’s well-guarded secrets that leaves her stunned. Now, Master expects to learn something from her in return and Tessa dreads what he might deem an even exchange for a truth he never wanted her to know.

Dear Indie ♥ Have You Tried This?

Writers block

Hi Indies!

I’ve been experimenting lately, trying a different approach with one of my latest WIPs. The hope is that I’m honing a certain area I know I need to work on. I worry that I’ve gotten too comfortable with the way I write and it’s become too easy to stay exactly the same, which doesn’t allow for growth or refinement.

Recently, I opened a new document and started rewriting a new WIP outside of my narrative comfort zone. I know, that doesn’t sound real dazzling. But, as someone who prefers to read and write in the Third Person, I have to tell you that trying to write fictional characters in the First Person POV is doing things…I’m not sure if they’re good or bad things yet, as I’m just starting. And don’t get me started on how difficult it is to switch from years of writing in the past tense to suddenly writing everything in present tense. O_o

The reason I’m doing this, is because I want to hone that vital difference between “Showing” and “Telling”. Something that seems easier to accomplish in First Person…or is it? Yes and no. When I’m writing about myself, it’s absolutely easier. But I’ve never set out to be someone else before, at least not outside of childhood imagination. I can detail all of the nitty-gritty facets that make up my characters from a detached vantage point, like a psychiatrist, and relay that through my writing while remaining in the Third Person–and it doesn’t matter their gender or their personality. I’ve written from the male POV just as often as I have from the female POV. I can flesh out sub-characters or climb into an antagonist’s head and portray their nastiness all over the page without it bleeding over onto my other characters. They each retain their own, distinct voice.

Yet, this is proving difficult while writing in First Person. My characters read almost exactly the same; their unique voices are lost. I already know it’s because I’m used to writing from the director’s chair, where I can see the whole picture, and I don’t have to climb into these skinsuits of my characters to get through the scene. I empathize, relate and paint the picture. I don’t live, eat, breathe, be. I’m finding that it’s harder with my male protagonist, because I’m NOT an alpha male by any stretch of the imagination, but even my female protag’s voice has changed from the way she was coming across in Third Person. So, that poses a problem, but it’s given me whole new admiration and respect for those First Person POV authors who manage to pull this off with deceptive ease.

I liken it to method acting, which some say is a myth, but it’s the closest example I can think of. I have to learn how to live this story as it’s unfolding on the stage, rather than relaying the way I saw it unravel from the front row. Release the confines of all those habits I fall back on, so I can expand my writing limits and open myself up to *gasp* change.

And the positives can’t be discounted; writing in the First Person is far more succinct than Third. Details, ideas and reactions are conveyed with smaller word counts, because everything is happening in the moment. This allows me to get a first hand perspective into my character’s thoughts, feelings and reactions as they’re happening, rather than after the fact. I’ve also noted how many more character insights have revealed themselves which the Third Person POV version didn’t have. The shifting of my own focus in order to capture – or recapture – my characters’ individual voices will be my greatest challenge and currently, it’s exciting trying to put it into practice.

Just don’t hold your breath for any First Person POV novels written by yours truly, LOL! So far, my goal for this experiment hasn’t changed: I want to develop the ability to slip deeper into my character’s skins with relative ease, so that “showing” becomes the natural style of my writing without having to worry about so many “telling” pitfalls.

Have you ever tried the method of switching narratives before, even just for fun? I’d love to hear about your “outside of the box” trials and what your results were in the comments below or tag me in your own blog post, if you feel inspired – that would be great, too! 🙂

❤ A.C.

Thief of Dragons ♥ Episode 25

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Ace In The Hole

Arcylaen was pacing the foyer by the time his aunt decided to bring Leandra home. He’d been a nervous wreck since the woman had declared her intentions and forbade him from interfering. He was sure he had something unpleasant coming his way for not giving Leandra a head’s up, but worried more if she and his aunt had been getting on okay.

When Emmon opened the door, the last thing Cylaen expected was to hear and see the two women laughing like old friends. Something powerful punched him right in the chest at the sight of the glowing smile on his sexy kitten’s face. It was the very thing that made his lingering distrust for her so damn painful. When he was with her, all of his concerns seemed so frail and distant. Her personality, passions, the things that made her happy and the way her mind worked; none of those things matched the worst of his fears, so he had no clue why they were still there. Brejeir was right, it was tearing him up inside, driving him crazy.

“I don’t know if I should be afraid or celebrating,” he commented, when his aunt greeted him with a lot less hostility than her arrival to his office.

“Both, darling,” she smiled, patting him on the cheek. “It’s good for you to stay on your toes, especially with the trials ahead. Now, I think I’ll go freshen up before dinner. You put me in the East tower, Emmon?”

“Of course, my Lady,” he answered and led her away.

Arcylaen stepped into Leandra and wrapped his arms around her waist, before they were even alone. He didn’t care who saw. Relief filled him when she didn’t hesitate to rest her hands on his arms and smile up at him. He peered into her beautiful face, the sparkle of humor in her feline eyes and forwent all charm for straight up pleading.

“I’m sorry. She insisted on surprising you and forbade me from calling to warn you ahead of time. You don’t know how frightening she can be–”

Leandra laughed. “Are you going to get on your knees and beg forgiveness, your highness?”

Cylaen popped his jaw to the side, torn between doing just that and narrowing his eyes at her for the highness remark.

“Do I need to?” he hazarded.

“No,” she chuckled again, wrapping her arms around his neck. “You’re just lucky it turned out so well, or I might have lorded it over you until I felt thoroughly compensated.”

There was no mistaking the sensual gleam in her eyes, or in the purring undertone of her voice. He saw it, heard it and felt it reverberate through every single one of his male instincts.

“Well, now let’s not call the matter squared just yet,” he suggested, dropping his gaze to her mouth, because the desire to kiss her in ways he’d yet to even try was growing strong. His kitten had no idea the feast he planned to make out of her. “I think you might feel better if you let me make it up to you, and we do have some time before dinner.”

She snickered, and placed a chaste kiss on his starving mouth. “Which, I’m going to use to go freshen up, as well, while you track Rynd down for your daily report.”

Cylaen released a quiet growl, when she slipped right out of his hands and headed for the stairs. “I’m going to put that Hawk under a gag order,” he warned.

“That wasn’t a trade secret, your majesty, I’m just that smart,” she winked over her shoulder. Halfway up the stairs, she smiled down at him. “You’re right, I do feel better. Maybe I’ll hold onto this for awhile.”

A rumble of laughter filled him and the foyer. Fuck, her mind was marvelous. “You just let me know when you really want to feel better, kitten, we’ll see who’s the one lording then.”

He followed her beautiful laugh all the way across the second story balcony, before shaking off the lustful effects and doing precisely what she predicted by tracking Rynd down. He didn’t have anything to report that Arcylaen wasn’t already aware of, but that was a good thing. The signs the Hawk was watching for weren’t things Leandra would necessarily notice, because as she’d admitted, she hadn’t been in Skaulling during the reign of the Black Dogs. She had no idea the terrifying lengths criminals would go to for a shot at a big payday or revenge.

Parting with Rynd in the kitchen, Cylaen made it into the dining room just as Sajyn and the rest of the kitchen staff were setting up the trays on the serving cabinet. His aunt appeared a few seconds later. When he attempted to give her his seat at the head of the table, she shook her head and skirted around him for Brejeir’s place, instead. He moved just in time to pull the chair out for her.

“That seat was never meant for me, Cyl,” she said, her gaze lingering on the chair they both knew should still be occupied by her brother, his father. It was a shared sorrow that went unspoken. “Where’s your lovely Cat?”

“She’ll be arriving any moment,” he answered, because he could feel Leandra descending the grand staircase in the foyer, her presence like an enticing shiver down his spine.

“I like her,” Aunt Aviya said, looking him straight in the eyes. “I mean it.”

Arcylaen felt pride and apprehension with that declaration. There was a hidden warning in his aunt’s tone, as if she feared he might muck it up. Shit, he was afraid he’d screw it up, but doubted it was for the same reasons. Most of his concern was the Warden bond, the constant worry that he’d say something the wrong way again. The other part was attached to his inability to trust her completely.

He remained standing, waiting for Leandra to enter the room. She looked both relaxed in the simple floral dress, and stunning. He knew it was the woman. He doubted there was a single article of clothing she couldn’t pull off. She’d just sat down in the chair he’d pulled out for her, when the rest of his kin filed into the room. Grevys, Daelyn and Rivyr made a beeline for their aunt, while Brejeir meandered in at his usual pace.

“Aunt Aviya!”

“There’s the rest of my boys,” their aunt greeted, standing to accept their hugs and kisses.

It was a far cry from the way she’d greeted him and Brej at the office, which is exactly what the look Brej gave him translated to. Arcylaen chuckled and pushed Leandra’s chair back in for her.

“Brejeir, did you just roll your eyes?” Aunt Aviya never missed a thing.

“No, ma’am,” he grinned, turning it right to Daelyn, as he snagged their younger brother’s chair and sat down beside Leandra, as if he’d won a major victory.

Once everyone was settled and the first course served, Aunt Aviya jumped right into her campaign plans without preamble.

“House Turvo must be your first stop,” she stated.

Cylaen paused mid-chew and gave the woman a weary look. “I’m trying to eat.”

“Don’t give me your sass, Cylaen,” she chastised. “You know I’m right. They’re already feeling offended and vulnerable due to this situation, to not visit them first would come across as both cowardly and more offensive. They are second in line for Dragon’s Head, that gives them precedence, whether you like it or not.”

Cylaen groaned and continued chewing. He knew she was right, that didn’t make it any less unpleasant and it wasn’t like it hadn’t already crossed his mind.

“It would be getting the biggest hurdle out of the way first, rather than spending a week fretting about it,” Leandra commented, though she sounded just as disgruntled about the prospect as he felt.

“That’s the spirit, my girl,” Aunt Aviya smiled, lifting her wine in a toast.

“It’s not like we don’t already know what their answer’s going to be, at any rate,” Brejeir chimed in.

“After your brother gives them his answer, yes,” Aunt Aviya agreed. “But, they still have to be given the chance to ask it.”

Cylaen’s grip tightened around the handle of his spoon when Leandra stiffened beside him, her hand pausing in the process of lifting soup to her mouth.

“Aunt Aviya–”

“I’m fine, Arcylaen,” Leandra cut him off. “You think I haven’t already guessed what they’re planning? Bartering their vote to keep you as Dragon’s Head on the condition that you wed Eleqwyn is their most obvious course of action. What I worry about is their ace in the hole.”

“What ace in the hole?” Brej asked, as that phrase got everyone’s attention.

“That’s just it,” Leandra sighed. “I have no idea what it is, but they have one. Because for all of Eleqwyn’s predictable traits, she has zero confidence in her ability to win Arcylaen over on her own. She proved that the night of the Gala. She’s not stupid. She knows Arcylaen’s disinterest in her has nothing to do with me or any other woman.”

“Cyl?” Brejeir questioned.

Arcylaen was still wrapping his head around the idea that the Turvo’s might have a secret weapon against him, but more so about how in the hell Leandra had been able to see it, when none of them had. Her mind, yes it was freaking spectacular, but her ability to think so strategically didn’t help his remaining concerns about her connections to the robberies.

“She’s not wrong.” He shrugged.

“No shit, she’s not wrong,” Brejeir exasperated. “But what would they have up their sleeve?”

“There are two ladies at your table, nephew,” Aunt Aviya chided him.

Brejeir opened his mouth, then sulked back into his soup, muttering under his breath about Leandra never caring if he swore.

Their aunt ignored him and tilted her head at Leandra. “I like the way your mind works,” she said. “I worried that the Turvo’s might rush to get a lead on us with the rest of the Houses. That could be the ace they’re hoping for.”

“Especially, if they’ve already started,” Daelyn put in. “Eleqwyn’s known about the panther’s choice since first thing this morning, at least, which means they could already be a day ahead of us.”

“I wouldn’t put it past her,” Leandra said. “If there’s one thing she seems very confident in, it’s that all of the Dragons will want to keep the traditions going strong.”

“Not all,” Aunt Aviya interjected. “But, yes, a good many of them will want to hold fast to that, until they meet you, Miss Leontle. When they see you and Arcylaen together as a united front, hear your answers to their questions and learn about your joint renovation projects for the cities, they will change their minds. Dragons may be strong headed about their traditions, but they are and will always be, protectors at heart. These cities mean everything to them, they’ve fought and bled for them. You mustn’t forget that. You will be speaking with war veterans and families who lived through the reign of the Black Dogs and the war to take them down.”

“How Arcylaen handled the war should be enough all on its own,” Rivyr put in.

Cylaen looked at him and sighed, shaking his head. “We’re not playing that card, brother,” he said, understanding his thoughts on it, but disagreeing. “This isn’t about what happened during the war, it’s about what happened after. I didn’t step up to the plate and take the official position as Dragon’s Head. No matter my reasons, I’m sure it’s long been seen as a sign of weakness and no one wants a weak leader.”

“It’s the robberies,” Leandra said, surprising everyone.

Arcylaen looked at her, their eyes crashing and holding. “What?”

“They know something about the robberies,” she said. “That’s their ace. That’s the only way they’d be able to discredit you as a good leader, Arcylaen, because I agree with Rivyr, your past and present actions which have led Skaulling and all its citizens back to their former glories should be enough, whether your leadership was official or not. There’s only one thing that’s happened in all that time that has shaken the Dragons’ confidence in you, and that’s the robberies.”

“I think she might be right, nephew,” Aunt Aviya said, her tone grim. “Somehow, the Turvo’s have found evidence that you and your investigation team missed.”

“How?” he balked, every muscle in his body tightening with the absurdity and denial, even as a darkness crept into his blood, chilling him. “I went over both my team’s and the Council’s investigation reports. The only way they have evidence we don’t, is if they found it after the fact–”

“Or before and withheld it,” Brejeir stated.

“No,” Arcylaen immediately denied. “Eleqwyn might be a prickly little snot, but we’re talking about an entire family of Dragons who’s bloodline and history stretches as far back as ours. I refuse to believe they would purposely obstruct an investigation.”

“Even if they found it afterward and withheld it, it’s still obstruction,” Leandra pointed out. “And who’s to say all of the Turvo’s know about it?”

Cylaen ground his teeth, the uncertainty that Eleqwyn might actually do something like that out of desperation was too great to ignore. He still refused to believe it would be any other Turvo, though. He rose from his chair, and flashed a look at the only brother sitting beside his kitten.

“Brej.”

When Brejeir stood to join him, Leandra did the same and he had to bite down on his desire to tell her to stay. It was just a word, but with the Warden bond, it would be a command she couldn’t refuse and it would mess everything up all over again.

Instead, he held his hand up to stop her. She crossed her arms, matching his imploring look with a determined one. Cylaen tried to think of how best to phrase his words so they wouldn’t emerge as a directive, but before he could say anything, she sighed and let her arms fall to her sides again.

“Fine,” she exhaled. “But you better fill me in later, or I’ll find somebody who will.”

His grin was fast and masked too many reactions at once to put names to, but stars above, she was a constant fascination. Arcylaen stepped into her and placed a kiss on her cheek. “It’s a date,” he whispered in her ear, not even trying to hide his naughty innuendo.

It was better to see the glint of appreciative humor in her eyes, as he walked away, than frustration. Just as he reached the door, his youngest brother had to put his two cents in.

“They don’t even have to talk anymore, that’s just creepy.”

“No, my youngest hatchling,” Aunt Aviya smiled, sending Cylaen a wink when he glanced over his shoulder. “That’s called partnership.”

©A.C. Melody

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