Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve Morsel--Cobey and Michael from Artistic Endeavor

New Year’s Eve Morsel—Cobey and Michael from Artistic Endeavor

“You’re not dressed.” Michael put his hands on his hips.

Cobey scrunched lower in the couch and stared at his book. “I don’t want to go.”

Crap. Michael’s better half was wearing jeans—not the party kind—and a Christmas green sweater. A cup of cocoa sat on the table next to him. The scent of chocolate and peppermint Schnapps wafted over.

“I thought we agreed: you would choose the Christmas Eve activity, and I would choose the New Year’s Eve plans.”

Cobey flipped the book face down on the arm of the sofa and met Michael’s gaze. “Yeah. But I didn’t think you’d choose a sushi bar followed by Stork’s party and then Turbulence.”

Oookay. “Something going on here I don’t know about?”

“That place is a meat market. Turbulence, I mean. It smells of alcohol and sex and man sweat. That’s not the kind of atmosphere I want for a special time.”

“Oh.” It was kind of smelly. Before Cobey, Michael had considered those aromas to be an appetizer. Admittedly, he hadn’t been there in months, but Turbulence really knew how to throw a party. Michael sank onto the couch. “I wanted to go dancing. And live it up a little while you’re on break from the university.”

Cobey sighed. “I know. I just…it should be memorable. In a good way.”

Memorable equaled romantic. Like in front of the fountain at the university a couple of weeks ago. Like going caroling on Christmas Eve and then coming home to spend time with friends and feast on homemade Christmas cookies. Like a late night present exchange followed by making love in the glow of the Christmas tree lights.

Ah, yes, romance.

There had been a time when Michael would have laughed off all of that and opted for a holly-jolly one-night stand. But that was before Cobey.

Michael scooted closer. “What would you like to do?”

“You make the plan. Just something that we’ll always remember.”

“Any ideas?”

Cobey leaned in and pressed their mouths together. It made Michael warm inside, the taste of hot chocolate and peppermint and Cobey. “You know what I like.”

Great. Obviously Michael was on his own. “I’ll be back.”

“I’ll be waiting.” Cobey grinned.


Cobey couldn’t see a thing. “Is the blindfold really necessary? I feel weird.”

“You look great.” A grin tinted Michael’s words.

After Michael had disappeared, Cobey had wondered if he’d return wearing jeans and announce they were staying in. Cobey wasn’t the best at speaking up about what he wanted. Probably ridiculous not to offer an alternative when he’d shot down Michael’s plans. But Turbulence—yeesh. The place would be packed; the crowd would be drunk. The groping would be rampant.

Maybe Michael was taking him to the movies. There were a few Cobey wanted to see, and that’d be cozy. Afterward they could have a drink at that new English pub downtown. Or the Museum of Natural History had a sort of highbrow champagne dinosaur tour. Or…the college had a “Winter Wonderland” sculpture garden walk, complete with bubbly or hot buttered rum.

The car slowed, turned. “Almost there. Keep the blindfold on.”

“Are we someplace people are going to see me like this?”
Michael laughed. “Nope. Hang tight while I park.”

The window hummed as it lowered. Cold air poured into the car, carrying the smell of exhaust. A ka-ching, a snap, and they moved forward. Cobey shivered. Probably headed for a movie at that vintage theater downtown. What had been playing there? A romantic comedy, maybe.

The car turned, stopped. Cobey reached for the blindfold and Michael grabbed his wrist. “Not yet, not yet, not yet, my son.”
Cobey smirked.  

“ I’ll come around and get you.”

This was unique; Cobey had to give Michael props for that.

The door opened. Michael gripped his forearm. “Pivot and step out. Watch your head.”

A leather-covered palm curled around Cobey’s neck and then into his hair. Gingerly Cobey stood, clutching Michael’s elbow. “Can I take it off now?”

“I’ll let you know when.” Michael’s arm wrapped around Cobey’s waist and pulled him forward. The car door slammed. “Let me guide you, okay?”

“I don’t want to run into anyone I know like this.” Cobey ducked his head. This was getting a little extreme, now that they’d arrived.

“I won’t let that happen.”

Cobey snorted. “No way to avoid it, I’d say.”

“Do you trust me?”

During the summer, trust had been their watchword. Cobey had trusted Michael to teach him the ropes of intimacy, and Michael had never pushed, never broken his word.

“Yeah, I trust you.”

“Then c’mon.”

They strolled–at Cobey’s speed—across the space. Their footsteps echoed, and there was the idle of an engine in the distance. The smell of concrete and mud and melting snow got stronger as they made their way.

Must be a movie.

Then why dress up? At home, following a mysterious thirty minute interval, Michael had waltzed into the living room. He cut a dashing figure wearing a black long-sleeved T-shirt, black pants, and a charcoal jacket. Cobey had whistled, and Michael had sent him upstairs with the caveat to wear what Michael had laid out.

Black pants, black long-sleeved Tee, dark pin-striped jacket. White silk briefs.

He could feel the slide right now if he concentrated on it. So soft. And Michael hadn’t gotten to enjoy them—

“Stop.” Michael’s arm tightened. “We’re at an elevator.”

“Ah. Can I take it off?”

“So impatient. Soon, I promise.”

“I don’t want a bunch of people on the street to see this.” Cobey waved a hand in front of his face.

“Mmm.” Michael nuzzled Cobey’s ear. “No worries.”

The air pressure changed and Michael tugged him forward. “Straight ahead three steps.”

Cobey hesitated. The game was getting old. This was too much cloak and dagger to attend a movie. Or…was there some solve-the-mystery thing downtown? That might be fun.

“There’s no one in the elevator, Cobe. C’mon. Almost there.”

“Okay.” He shuffled his way forward. The doors closed them in. There was a hint of floral perfume in the space. Lips nibbled along his jaw, and then Michael kissed him on the lips. And again. Cobey smiled and reached for him, teasing with a bit of tongue.

Michael pulled away. “We better stop.”

“Are we almost there?”

“Yep.” The car slowed, stopped. “Now.”

Cobey slid off the blindfold, tucked it in his jacket, and squinted at the lights. Now what? The doors slid open. Cobey’s jaw dropped. Oh my God, Michael. What did you do? He turned to Michael.

Michael had a huge grin. “Yeah?”

“I…you…wow.” Cobey exited the elevator, Michael at his side.

It was bright, but a different kind of bright; an elegant bright, the kind borne of dozens of tiny lights. Cobey directed his attention upward. And no wonder. There was a giant chandelier illuminating the area. And what an area. The space rose high above, a giant atrium. Richly patterned carpet in shades of navy, purple, and cream stretched ahead, punctuated by a round table bearing a vase of white roses which scented the air. Marble pillars, a mezzanine with arched openings, and wrought iron railings. And everywhere gold and silver: balloons, streamers, confetti, all gilded.

A band played somewhere.

It was amazing and daunting and delicious all at once. 

“Michael…you brought me to the Palace?” Guilt poked at Cobey. This place cost a fortune, and they were on a budget. Assistant art professors didn’t make much, and neither did self-employed graphic artists.

“You like it?” Michael ran a hand up and down Cobey’s back.

“I love it. But it’s so pricey.”

“Ah. But look what I have.” Michael reached inside his jacket, pulled out two tickets, and handed them to Cobey.

The heavy card featured a drawing of a man in a gold mask, wearing a wicked smile while another masked man shown in profile kissed him on the cheek. The sketch was rendered in gold on a black background. Below the figures it said:

Admit One

Figlio New Year’s Gala 2014


The Palace

Who was Figlio, and why did Michael have tickets to Figlio’s Gala? “Where did you get these?”

Michael’s eyebrows rose. “Do you not recognize the drawing? I’m no art professor, but it turned out well, I think.”

Oh. Yeah. The original drawing had been graphite on white. “You designed this.”

“Guilty as charged.” Michael put one hand on his chest and took a slight bow. “Mr. Figlio was so happy he invited me to his party.”

“You never mentioned it.”

Michael’s smile faded and he pulled Cobey into an alcove occupied by a confetti-strewn white
buffalo sculpture. “I…didn’t think you’d want to go.”

“Why?” No way. No. Way. “This is a work event?”

Michael shook his head and leaned in. Against Cobey’s ear he said, “It’s a private party. Mr. Figlio owns Escalade Underwear.”

“That expensive brand that caters to…” Cobey swallowed. “To gay men?”

“The very same. In fact you’re wearing a pair from the new line.”

The briefs seemed to caress him and he shivered. “Thank you.”

There was a sharp nip on his ear. Cobey sucked in a breath. “Mr. Figlio is gay, Cobe. We can dance and drink champagne and kiss at midnight.”

That did sound good. Cobey pulled back and gazed into Michael’s eyes. “Lead on, Captain my Captain.”


The dancing was the best part. Michael snuggled Cobey against his chest for a slow dance. It felt so good to be in an atmosphere where no one batted an eye about men with men. The big band music was more fun than the teeth-rattling boom-boom-boom of club music. No one had shed their clothes. The restroom had an attendant and was nicer than most living rooms. No screwing in the bathroom.

Not a problem. Cobey seemed in heaven. He hadn’t been the typical shy professor tonight. Maybe it was the comfort of the circumstance, or maybe Cobey had sneaked a second flute of champagne. Whatever it was, he’d been animated and charming with Mr. Figlio and guests.

“Michael…” Cobey spoke low, against Michael’s shoulder.

He spun them and began moving them toward the tables. “What?”

“You are amazing.”

Michael laughed. Must be the champagne talking. “Mmm.”

“No really. I’m serious.” Cobey pulled back and gripped Michael’s shoulders. “This is the best New Year’s I’ve ever had. The first celebration I’ve ever had.”

Michael stopped dancing. “Seriously?”

“Yep. There was never a suitable party for me to attend.” He gave a shy smile. “And who wants to kiss a girl at midnight?”

“Gentlemen, and gentlemen.” The voice came from in front of the band. Mr. Figlio stood there with a glass. “It’s nearly time. Grab your drink and your man.”

Michael grabbed Cobey’s hand and they hustled to retrieve champagne from one of the waiters.

“Ten, nine…”

“Thank you,” Cobey whispered, eyes wide.

“Eight, seven…”

“You’re welcome.” Michael pulled Cobey in.

“Six, five…”

“This is romantic,” Cobey breathed.

Bingo. Michael grinned.

“And you are so getting laid.”

“Four, three…”

“Good thing I have a room upstairs,” Michael murmured in Cobey’s ear.

“Two, one…Happy New Year!”

Noisemakers rattled and horns blared around them. Michael pressed their mouths together. “Happy New Year,” he said, voice sultry and low.

“It is,” Cobey said with a grin. “The best.”


 Happy New Year, everyone. Thanks for a great 2014, and here's to a fabulous 2015.
~Whitley Gray


Monday, December 29, 2014

Cover Reveal for Artistic Endeavor

Some of you may have read the anthology/bundle Campus Cravings. Nine authors, each with a novella set on the fictional Cathia University campus.
As of midnight on December 31st, Campus Cravings will cease to exist.
But, not to fear...
My story in that anthology--Artistic Endeavor--will become available as a standalone in January. It has a lovely new cover by the talented Diana Carlile, and I wanted to share that here.
Several other stories will also become available as standalones--each with its own unique cover. Check them out at your favorite ebook seller.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Morsel #3: Jeff and Ash from Rabbit Wars

This month I'm posting a series of holiday vignettes, featuring characters from my books. Christmas morsels--bite-size scenes of the season. This is Jeff and Ash from Rabbit Wars...
Christmas Morsel #3

“A little more to the left.”

Jeff eyed Ash. They’d been at this for over thirty minutes. The tang of evergreen filled his nose. “You just said a little more to the right.”

“You overcorrected.” Ash grinned. “Now it needs a bit to the left.”

“I’m sure there’s a carpenter’s level in the construction zone.” Which was pretty much the entire second floor of the house. The formal sitting room was one of the few places in the Rabbit mansion that had undergone restoration.

“You want me to hold the tree?”

“I don’t think I can let go.” Pine sap had glued Jeff’s fingers to the trunk. Spruce needles poked through his sweater, generating a tickle and itch.

“A little more to the left, then.” Ash motioned with one hand.

Jeff tilted the tree.

“Stop. Right there.” Ash strode over and ducked down to tighten the tree stand. He straightened, a few stray needles in his hair. “Let go.”

Jeff let go as Ash crossed the room. Golden sap and bits of bark stuck to Jeff’s fingers. “Is it straight?”

“It’s perfect,” Ash said. He had that beatific smile on his face—the one that made Jeff feel like the king of the world. “Just like in a magazine.”

Giving an answering grin, Jeff joined Ash on the other side of the room. It was pretty cozy. Two of the walls were papered in gold- and wine-striped silk, and the other two were bare plaster. Ash had insisted on halting the work for the holiday. Ash had lovingly restored the oak fireplace mantel and hung wine-colored velvet stockings, one for each of them. A fire crackled in the hearth, giving warmth to the high-ceilinged space. Above the mantel a beveled mirror reflected the room. The hardwood floor gleamed around the edges of the Persian rug.

“It does look good.” Jeff wrapped an arm around Ash’s waist and pulled him in for a kiss. “You have a good eye.”

“I have a good memory for what it looked like when we were kids.” Ash put his arms around Jeff. He smelled good, like citrus and fresh-cut grass.  “I think Dalton would approve.”

“I think he would.”

Dalton Rabbit had left the Rabbit estate jointly to Jeff and Ash, with the caveat they had to work together to restore the house. Between Jeff’s architecture background and Ash’s intuitive knack for decorating, they were making slow progress. Years of neglect had left the house in need of a generous dose of TLC.

Ash raised an eyebrow. “Ready for a treat before we decorate the tree?”

“And what would that be?”

“A dessert wine and dark chocolate truffles with raspberry and quince.”

Jeff’s mouth watered. Ash created the best chocolates on the face of the earth. “Sounds like Santa Claus made an early delivery.”

Ash led the way to the sofa. “Santa has nothing on me when it comes to chocolate.”

Jeff dropped onto the couch and pulled Ash down beside him. The firelight danced over Ash’s pale hair, highlighting his Scandinavian good looks.

“I’m glad we’re home,” Ash said.

“If it weren’t for this house, would we have ever gotten back together?”

“Yes,” Ash answered promptly.

Jeff chuckled. “How can you be so sure?”

“I moved back here.” Ash moved closer, ice-blue eyes intense. That frenetic energy radiated off him, like waves of heat. “I knew it was just a matter of time before you came back too.”

“If it weren’t for the will—”

“The will has nothing to do with it.”


“It was Fate. The cosmos wanted us together.” Ash spoke with certainty. “It was set in motion when we first met.”

That had been a lot of years ago. Nearly sixteen, in fact. A year ago Jeff never could have imagined himself sitting in the front parlor of the Rabbit Mansion with Ash. “It’s too bad the upstairs rooms aren’t finished. We could stay here.”

“We are staying here.”

“With the mice and the bats?” The upstairs was…rustic. To put it mildly.

“No, down here.” Ash’s smile glinted in the firelight. “I brought the air mattress and blankets. It’ll be just like camping out.”

“C’mere.” Jeff pulled him in for a kiss. And another.

“What about the wine and chocolate?”

“Later.” Jeff kissed him again.    


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas Morsel #2: Beck and Zach from High Concept

This month I'm posting a series of holiday vignettes, featuring characters from my books. Christmas morsels--bite-size scenes of the season. This is Beck and Zach from High Concept…
Christmas Morsel #2

Beck slouched on the sofa, watching It’s a Wonderful Life. Two days before Christmas, and Denver had unseasonably warm temperatures and not a hint of snow. Didn’t feel very Christmassy, especially with only two fingers of bourbon for company.

Zach was late. Any minute he might call to say he couldn’t get away, that some case had heated up and kept him out in the field.

A key rattled in the lock. Beck jumped up and opened the door to a surprised Zach, who grinned and said, “Hey! You’re home!” 

“I am.” Beck’s heart gave a little skip at that gorgeous smile. Beautiful and happy and all his. He tugged Zach inside, dragging in cold air and closed the door. “You made it.”

In answer Zach dropped his duffel bag and pulled him in, hot mouth covering Beck’s and tasting of mint. After not seeing each other for three weeks, it was easy to enter into the spirit of things. Dueling tongues and bodies pressed together.  

They broke for air, and Zach said, “Merry Christmas.”

“It will be, now that you’re here.”

Zach chuckled, pulled off his coat, and draped it over the back of an overstuffed chair. “Want to get me a drink?”

“Coming right up.”

“Where’s the tree?” Zach looked around Beck’s apartment as if Beck had hidden a decorated spruce somewhere.

It hadn’t crossed his mind that Zach might want—expect—a tree. Of course Zach had grown up with a more normal childhood, where a Christmas tree would be commonplace. “I…there is no tree.”

 “What do you mean, no Christmas tree?” Zach looked like the Grinch had just stolen his Christmas.

Beck winced. As a kid, there hadn’t been money for frivolities like Christmas trees. After he was on his own, Beck had never bothered with a tree. Christmas was just another day. Hence, no tree.
Sometimes it was hard to predict what Zach expected. New relationship learning curve at work, Stryker. “I’m never sure if you’ll make it when we plan to be together, and I didn’t need a tree…just for me.”

Zach opened his mouth, closed it.

Was Zach mad? Frustrated? Had Beck blown it utterly and completely by forgoing a tree? He'd wanted this to be perfect, and tree. No decorations of any kind. No manifestation of holiday spirit. His gut clenched. Beck looked away from that intense blue gaze.

In a blink Zach was across the room and Beck found himself taken in strong arms. He responded in kind, drawing Zach to him. The now-familiar smell of Zach’s lemongrass aftershave soothed Beck's nerves.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been more reliable,” Zach whispered. “The job tends to be unpredictable.”

Understatement of the decade. In two months, Zach had had to cancel more rendezvouses than he‘d attended. Thanksgiving had ended up a solo holiday. So Beck had looked forward to Christmas, hoping against hope that Zach could break away. A tree would have been a glaring reminder if Zach had cancelled yet again.
Beck buried his face in the crook of Zach’s neck. “I know. But it’s what you do. You’re good at it.”

Zach pulled back and gestured between them. “I want this. You know that, right?”

“Yeah.” Beck understood wanting to be together and having it happen weren’t the same. They’d known going in, the long-distance thing wouldn’t be easy. Knowing it was a finite period of time had made it tolerable when Zach left Denver in October and returned to Minneapolis. Beck hadn’t counted on just how tough Zach’s job might make things.

Beck rubbed his palms on Zach’s shoulders. “Let’s go get a tree.”

“I don’t need a tree, as long as I have you.” Zach’s eyes were full of humor.

“Oh, you have me all right.” That had been true practically from the time they’d gotten reacquainted in October. After some initial antagonism over the case, fireworks had flown and ignited a spine-melting heat between them.

“In that case, want to open presents?”

“But it’s not Christmas for another two days.” And he hadn’t wrapped Zach’s gift yet.

With a slow smile Zach said, “Tonight, you’re my present.”

Now that was a Christmas sentiment Beck could get on board with. He grinned. "Then by all means, let the unwrapping begin."


Monday, December 8, 2014

Magic doesn't solve everything by Blaine D. Arden

In the world of the Fifth Son, every person--not counting Llyskel--possesses magic to some degree. From boiling water for tea to turning on the lights at night, spells are used for every day chores. On top of that, every person performs magic while they work as well, whether it's curing leather or fighting the enemy.

But energy isn't limitless. Small spells--like the abovementioned boiling water--barely don't cost much at all, but the specialised spells need more. The harder the spells, the longer they are maintained, the more energy they cost.

While this applies to every profession, the consequences of energy drain are more severe for the soldiers of the King's Guards. As wonderful as it would be to slay the enemy with magic alone, it's just not possible. The risk of running out of energy during a battle is too big, and would only lead to disaster, to defeat.

That is why soldiers aren't merely trained in magical combat, they are trained in physical combat as well. They start out learning to hold their own in old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat, and work their way up to using ordinary non-magical weapons like short blades, sticks, and swords. Of course, physical training serves a dual purpose; it's a good way to stay fit and work on one's endurance.

As for their battle magic... To help channel their magic for aim and precision, all soldiers have a gun-like, copper weapon called a shooter. That isn't to say soldiers can't perform these spells without the aim of a shooter, but a shooter helps them be more accurate at a distance. And while shooters can be used at any distance, battle field spells are mostly used for ranged attacks.

The Giveaway:
One lucky commenter will receive a copy of The Fifth Son in format of choice (epub/mobi/pdf)

The Fifth Son by Blaine D. Arden
cover by Simoné -
illustrations by Yana Goya

A prince without power
In a land where magic is commonplace, Prince Llyskel has none. He can’t command spells, he has never been taught to fight, and as the fifth son of the King, he will never rule. Everyone believes he’s a weakling, most of all himself.
Powerlessness is Llyskel’s problem-and his pleasure. In his secret fantasies, the prince dreams of nothing more than finding himself helpless at another man’s hands… particularly the hands of Captain Ariv of the Guards.
Then Ariv makes Llyskel’s dream a reality, and as the powerless prince surrenders to the soldier’s desire, he finds his own true strength at last. But a web of royal politics is closing around Llyskel, threatening to tear him from his lover, and it will take all his newfound courage to escape…

     The field was doused in sunlight, drifting dry sand, and sweaty soldiers practising their swordplay and stick fighting. I managed to find a spot in the shade, away from the blowing sand. I started with a bit of sketching first. The soldiers closest to me fought with sticks-long ones, short ones, single and double. I sketched their poses, their hits, their misses, feeling the ground tremble beneath me as the practising became more aggressive. By the time I finished the last of my sketches, my throat was dry, despite sitting away from the sand-blowing wind, and my voice was scratchy as I asked Neia for some water. The soldiers, while sweaty, hardly seemed tired. Training was far from over.
     I put a canvas on my easel and looked around the field, sipping my water, searching for an appealing object to paint. Captain Ariv wasn't training, himself; he was supervising a group on the other side of the field in hand-to-hand combat. Still, I could not help staring at him and the way his skin glistened in the sunshine.
     "Ogling the men, Llyskel? Seems like you found the perfect spot for it."
     Kalnor stood behind me, long blond hair falling in his eyes as he looked down at me.
     "Kalnor. Good to see you." I smiled at him and patted the ground. "Sit. You can join me for a moment, can't you? I'm sure your siblings won't mind."
     "If it means ogling my beloved Endyrr a little longer, I'm game." Kalnor sat down beside me. "My siblings be damned."
     We both gazed across the field, to where Endyrr swung his long stick about with ease, holding off his attacker, while explaining his moves to his group.
      Kalnor sighed. "I could watch him at this all day."
      I looked from Endyrr to Kalnor and knew I had my model. It had been a while since I had painted any of my brothers. I was about to tell him when a high-pitched screaming interrupted our conversation. We both turned our heads to the row of orrin bushes across from the entrance in the garden wall. I didn't see Sirr or Inau, but Neia had already raised a shield to block any stray magic coming from my frustrated little niece, who must have escaped her mother. I smiled at Neia, mouthing my thanks, and hoped Sirr was still within the inner walls and nowhere near the training fields.
      "How long has Sirr been volatile?" Kalnor asked.
      "About a week, I think." A long week in which I hadn't even caught a glimpse of her. She usually enticed me to play marbles with her at least once a day, or joined me as I painted, creating her own art with her colouring sticks or old brushes I saved for her. "She already hurt two of the kitchen staff because they weren't shielding themselves properly."
      "So, you're allowed nowhere near her, I take it?"
     "I'm not allowed anywhere near the annex at the west wall, which is where Danen and Inau have moved for the time being. And Sirr is not allowed in the castle or past that row of orin bushes. I guess it's a fair trade-off."
     "Nothing as dangerous as a child coming into their powers. Mother said I nearly burnt the house down."
     I still remembered the look on my parents' faces when they realised I would never come into my powers. I envied Sirr, tantrums and all. And I missed playing with her.
      As I turned back to the training field. Endyrr's group had moved closer and switched to swords. Perfect. No doubt Kalnor would very much like to have a painting of Endyrr with his sword in his workshop.
     Kalnor got up and dusted off his leather work tunic and trousers. "If I want to meet Endyrr for dinner tonight, I'd best get back to work."
     I nodded and wished him well, never taking my eyes off Endyrr. I grabbed my brush and my palette and studied the way he moved, the way he raised his brow when his opponent made a mistake, the way he held his shield. I barely noticed I had started the first lines even before I decided on the pose. Endyrr moving around made it difficult to choose, but when I found a pose I liked, it didn't matter that he wouldn't stand still. Once I had that image in my head, the painting would almost paint itself. I copied the pose of Endyrr with his sword slightly raised, shield hip high, and his face in full sunlight. Maybe I could surprise Kalnor by delivering the painting to his workshop later this week. I enjoyed walking into town, even with Neia trailing after me.
     Sirr's screaming stopped at last. I turned my head to check on Neia, who slumped as she released her shield. She immediately started a relaxation exercise, because holding up a shield for that long took its toll. I sighed. Neia was just doing her job, and I often treated her as if she was unwanted. Maybe she would like a painting of her own.
     The ground shook as something hit it with a loud thump, and I turned back to watch the soldiers. The soldier training with Endyrr had gone down. I would paint Neia another day. Today was Endyrr's turn.
     Endyrr leaned on his sword, panting, but only until the next soldier took his place before him. This one attacked at once, and then ducked behind Endyrr. How he could even sense where his opponent was, I had no idea, but Endyrr did not have any trouble fighting him off and forcing him back.
     By the time I moved on to sketching the background, Endyrr had long stopped fighting and was now merely instructing his soldiers as they practised their moves. I put my tools down for a moment and gratefully took the water Neia handed me, gulping it down as I searched the field for a moment, but Captain Ariv was nowhere to be found. Perhaps he had taken his soldiers on a run.
     "Kalnor will no doubt love the pose."
     Captain Ariv's voice washed over me, and I was glad to have drained my cup already, I would have ruined the painting otherwise.
      He looked down into my face with that wide grin plastered on. "I'm sorry, Your Highness. I didn't mean to startle you."
     I narrowed my eyes. If I didn't know any better, I'd say he was doing it on purpose, but I refused to show he got to me. "Kalnor will see it every day, once I hang it in his workshop."
      "He'll never get any work done."
     I couldn't help but smile. "Or it might make him work faster, knowing the original is waiting to dine with him."
      "True, Your Highness, very true."
     No matter how gorgeous Ariv looked in my paintings, it didn't compare to seeing him standing in the shade, glistening with sweat and sand-dust after a hard day's work. I would never leave my gallery if I had him in there with me, looking as he did now.
      Ariv leaned over my shoulder, and I caught his scent of sweat, sand, and clove oil. I sat on my hands. It was all I could do not to pull him into my lap.
     "I can't wait to see what it looks like with a proper background." And with that, Ariv turned and walked away.
Some questions for the readers. The only battle spells I mention in the Fifth Son are the stunning spell and shielding. What sort of spells do you think would be useful in battle? Also, Ariv's favourite weapons are the short blades or sticks, depending on his mood. What would your favourite weapons be?

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Blaine D. Arden is a purple-haired, forty-something author of gay & trans* romance mixed with fantasy, mystery, and magic who sings her way through life in platform boots.

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