No major plot points, but we’re getting on into it now, so if you reeeeeally don’t want any idea what the book’s gonna be like, don’t read the snippet! Sadly I’m really running low on stuff I can post that is fun but doesn’t give major plot/character stuff away, and I’m heading into the downhill-run of the book now I’m past halfway, so snippets will have to be put on hiatus. Probably I will resume snippets once I have the final edit of Heart of Flame and can start posting teasers for that one!

Anyway here it is, enjoy Xoxo

Three long, narrow benches each sat to the left, right, and dead ahead of the entrance, set way back to leave the middle of the vast room clear. The floor was flagstone, no rugs. Heavy tapestries covered the walls. Huge wall-sconces added firelight to the buttery glow of the overhead chandeliers.

The crier finished his whole shout-and-blow routine, and the silence was deafening. Not to mention eerie – so many people, not a sound.

Put me down, Emma sent to Fern – then noticed he’d gone so still she couldn’t feel his breath. Did I miss something?

Her feet touched the ground. Fern’s hands tightened on her. They didn’t announce you. Or me. Or the maidens. We’re servants.

I’m counted with the servants, right?

Wordless affirmation pulsed through the bond.

Hmm. Emma aimed her thoughts at Red. You know these guys best. Should I be offended?

His anger felt like the first tremor of an avalanche rumbling beneath her feet. Or the psychic equivalent of her feet. They want you to be offended.

Okay. Rule number one: don’t get offended.

How likely are they to take a shot at me right now?

Red gave a sub-audible growl. Flower –

Those odds sound good to me. With that she pushed between Alexi and Seshua. Seshua’s nostrils flared in alarm; Alexi’s scarred face tightened with the stifled urge to smile. At least one person here trusts me, she thought in Red’s general direction.

The guards parted for her. Leah brushed the back of her hand as she passed. Fatima’s eyes flared gold. Ricky and Anton didn’t spare a glance for her, too focused on staring down a feast-hall full of hostiles, most of whom could probably turn into thousand-pound killers.

Emma and Fern reached the maidens at the head of their group. Most of them wore identical expressions of bored resentment, which if you didn’t know them, you might mistake for neutral calm. Rish’s eyes were sharp as knives. Felani’s golden face was a frozen mask, twin spots of color high in her cheeks.

Emma touched her shoulder. “It’s all right, Felani.”

The maiden’s chest rose and fell with her rapid breaths. She met Emma’s eyes. “Is it, my lady?”

Emma gave a slow nod, willing Felani to understand. “Yeah. It is.”  Then Emma lifted her head and got her first good look at the Cantiaci.

It was obvious who was in charge: at the head table, there was a raised dais and three thrones, the middle set higher than the other two, and the woman who occupied the head throne lounged so thoroughly she seemed to have been poured into her seat. She appeared larger than life; everything about her was bigger, richer, deeper than her surrounds. Her hair was the color of fire, the most vibrant natural ginger Emma had ever seen. Her eyes were huge and lavender blue. She wore a cream Roman-styled gown, elegant and simple, and it was the perfect compliment to the crowning glory of all those wild orange curls. The body beneath the gown was sumptuous, plump and round, and the woman had the face of an angel, her expression cherubic. A golden torc graced her throat, looking like it weighed more than Emma’s right arm.

Yup, this was the queen.

She tapped the arm of her throne with one sandaled foot, met Emma’s eyes after giving her own once-over, and smiled sweetly before letting her gaze wander past. Emma felt the impact of her stare hit Red Sun, felt it through the Pledge bond, felt it with some other part of her that was human and simple and very, very female.

She waited until she saw the queen’s ample chest lift with an indrawn breath. “Your invitation was addressed to the Caller of the Blood,” Emma said loudly.

The queen looked at Emma and exhaled with a touch of irritation. She said nothing.

“Well,” Emma said. “Since we’ve never been introduced, I thought you might not know I’d come. People tend to be a little underwhelmed by me. Expecting more, I dunno, just more.” She put up her hands and shrugged. The black starburst mark in her right palm looked black as spilled ink under the glowing lights. She crossed her arms. “I realize I’m not much to look at, but thankfully these guys make up for that.”

A murmur of something that wasn’t quite laughter ran through the crowd at the tables.

The queen smiled a small, indulgent smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “So, young lady, you are the Caller of the Blood.” She spoke with the mildly disinterested tone of a distracted parent inspecting their kid’s macaroni-and-glitter painting, and her accent was the kind of haughty British drawl all Americans expected when a Brit opened their mouth.

And she thought she could piss Emma off by treating her like a child? It was almost kinda cute. Emma routinely pushed around a bunch of possessive, dominant, arrogant ancients who all thought they knew better than her, and she had several annoying nicknames to prove it, all variations on the “little girl” theme – her threshold for getting pissed off at that kind of shit was sky-y-y high, thank you very much.