Spotlight, Excerpt, & Author Interview: Moroda + Giveaway

moroda blog announcement

Cover - Moroda

Moroda
Series: World of Linaria
by L.L. MacRae
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Intended Age Group: 14+
Pages: 534
Published: May 30, 2022
(Second Edition)
 Publisher: Self Published

Content/Trigger Warnings: Mild to moderate violence, Some swearing

In Linaria, dragons are revered as gods.

Airships command the skies.

And across the land, war is brewing.

Devastated by their father’s death, Moroda and her sister struggle to make ends meet. Things go from bad to worse when a rogue dragon destroys their city.

Fleeing on a sky pirate’s airship to escape the chaos, the sisters find themselves penned in by untrustworthy companions, a bloodthirsty warlord, and dragons on the rampage.

For Moroda, who would do anything to protect her sister, nowhere is safe. Not even the sky.

The balance of power in Linaria is tipping. Can one woman make a difference?

If you love dragons, airships, and sky pirates, you’ll love discovering THE WORLD OF LINARIA.

Do Not Meddle in Dragon Affairs • With Great Power • (Trying to) Do the Right Thing

Universal Link / Goodreads


Excerpt:

Morning dew flavoured her skin with the taste of autumn. Pale sunlight filtered in through the narrow, steel-barred window, and Moroda shivered in the cold cell of Rosecastle Dungeon.

She shifted her position to ease the cramp developing in her aching back and legs. She was not in chains, thank Rhea, but that didn’t bring much comfort to the fear and uncertainty which plagued her.

Surely the threat of beheading had been an idle one? Something to keep the crowd from retaliating at her sudden arrest?

Only murderers and traitors to the crown were beheaded.

She’d just voiced an opinion. She didn’t really believe they’d kill a woman for that.

Would they?

Before she could further consider her mortality, the door to the dungeon rattled and Moroda’s stomach tightened with an involuntary spasm as muffled shouts carried from the other side. Grunting and a shrieked curse pierced the air as the heavy oak door shook.

She backed away from her cell gate, the cold stone floor sending goosebumps rising on her arms and legs. She flinched, and something metallic jingled within the folds of her skirt. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out three silver coins, a set of scales emblazoned on each.

She’d forgotten about the florins—the only money she had left—and another stab of panic pierced her.

Eryn would be so angry with her if she lost them.

Desperate, Moroda looked for somewhere to hide her treasure. If she put the coins back in her pocket, they’d jingle when she moved. She considered the window, before realising they would be seen between the bars. Dragons above, what was she going to do?

She let out a distressed whimper, then she spotted a cracked floor slab.

Outside her cell, the steel hinges of the oak door creaked as it was heaved open, and she knew she had no time to look for an alternative hiding place. Shuffling over on her knees, one fist clenched around the coins, she wedged the fingers of her free hand under the stone slab. It was rough against her skin, but Moroda lifted it just high enough to slide the florins into the gap. The dungeon door slammed shut, the slab dropped into place, and the new prisoner entered the chamber.

The same guard who’d brought her to the cell barely an hour ago now wrestled with another woman—lowborn, from the rasp in her voice and the insults she hurled at him. She spat and kicked, even tried to bite the guard as she fought to free herself from his grasp.

Moroda pressed against the wall, equally terrified yet curious, and watched the guard frog-march the new prisoner towards her cell.

Pressing the woman against the bars, he took the keys from his belt, unlocked the gate, and threw her inside.

Blood spattered the floor from an open gash on the woman’s shoulder, bringing a splash of colour to the grey dungeon. She immediately whirled around and threw herself at the gate, reaching between the bars and scrabbling for the guard’s face with chipped nails. ‘You pig! Bastard! Get this gate open now or I swear to Rhea herself, you’ll pay!’

‘Amarah, you’re done. No threat will change that.’ He shrugged. Beyond the reach of her flailing hands, she was no threat.

She snarled at the guard, animalistic in her fury. ‘Morgen, I’ll kill you for this!’ She covered the wound on her left shoulder with one hand. Blood trickled through her fingers as she tried to stem the flow. ‘At least get me a medic! You don’t want me to bleed to death in here, do you?’ Amarah’s eyes narrowed as the young man glanced at her wound.

He sighed. ‘You aren’t going to die. Calm down and I’ll see what I can do, all right? Try not to cause too much trouble while I’m gone.’ Morgen walked towards the door.

‘What about Khanna? You ain’t gonna destroy that ship are you? She’s faster than anything the Imperial fleet has!’ Amarah followed Morgen and walked along the bars, reaching through them at the edge of the cell. ‘Be of some use, won’t she?’

‘I don’t know. It isn’t my decision. She’s locked up safe and sound, just like you.’ Morgen ignored her glare as he left the dungeon, slamming the heavy door behind him.

As the sound of his footsteps faded, Moroda held her breath, keeping herself as still as possible. Amarah hadn’t noticed her, and she was keen to keep it that way until the other woman calmed down. She’d never coped well with conflict. Who knew who Amarah was, or what she had done to warrant being locked up.

Moroda slid down the wall, until she was half-crouched on the floor, heart racing as she watched the uncouth woman. Perhaps if she stayed quiet enough, Amarah wouldn’t spot her before Morgen returned to take one of them away.

After a moment, Amarah turned and looked around the cell, pausing to scowl immediately at Moroda. ‘What do you think you’re looking at, girl?’

Moroda was taken aback by the harshness in Amarah’s voice. ‘I—I didn’t mean—’

‘Good. Shut up and keep out of my fucking way.’ Amarah strode past Moroda, looking over the rest of the cell. Her scowl deepend. ‘Damned if I’m staying here long enough to be executed.’

Moroda watched her carefully and said nothing.

Amarah released her shoulder and grabbed the bars, giving each a short pull, leaving the metal slick with blood. ‘Damn.’ Amarah shook her head and leaned against the metal gate, her hand returning to cover the wound on her shoulder.

‘What happened?’ Moroda allowed her curiosity to get the better of her, and braced for another insult.

Amarah shrugged. ‘Too much haste. Got sloppy. Made a mistake. Never again, I tell you.’ She closed her eyes, allowing silence to fill the cell.

Moroda took the opportunity to study Amarah’s face. Her hair was short, dark, and roughly cut. She wore no powders on her face or oils in her hair. A thin scar lined her left cheek, just below her dark brown eyes, pale against her tanned skin. Mostly, she looked grubby, as though she hadn’t bathed in months.

She guessed the injured woman to be in her late thirties, but wounds and dirt did a lot to age a person, so she couldn’t be sure. Moroda kept herself small, hoping Amarah kept her distance while they were locked up together.

‘Morgen’s a fool. He ain’t fit to be in here. Neither are you,’ Amarah said, her sneer shifting into a lopsided grin. ‘I heard what you did this morning. Standing up to that foreign bastard.’

Moroda flinched as Amarah swore again, even as relief flooded her—her deed that morning had not gone unnoticed. Then again, she had been arrested publicly, so she supposed word of her actions—a Goldstone’s actions, no less—would spread like wildfire. Not that she was really a Goldstone anymore. Her heart sank as she thought back to the three florins she’d hidden. It was all that remained of a vast inheritance that should have ensured she and her sister were well kept until the end of their days.

Moroda had wanted to leave. Run away from the debtors.

Eryn had convinced her to stay. They could survive without their father and his money. They’d make it work. After all, Niversai was their home. Leaving the only place they’d ever lived was not only foolish, it was childish.

Moroda forced a smile, unwilling to show Amarah any vulnerability. ‘Thank you.’

‘That the only reason you get arrested? Or you do something else? Sleep with some other Goldstone you shouldn’t have, or something?’

‘What? No! N—nothing like that! I would never!’

Amarah’s cackle filled the dungeon, echoing off the stone. ‘Ah, you Goldstones are all the same, ain’t you? Little goody-goody rich girls who never get in trouble or do anything wrong.’

‘I’m not a Goldstone…not anymore.’ If only she’d left after her father had died…

‘Yes, well I can see that, can’t I?’ Amarah grinned, licking her lips. She shifted her hold on her injured shoulder. ‘Can’t buy yourself outta this one, can you?’

Heat flushed Moroda’s cheeks and her stomach roiled. ‘Do you want me to help with that?’ She nodded towards Amarah’s shoulder, eager to turn their conversation away from her shame. ‘I can use some cloth to stem the blood? Won’t be permanent, but it should hold until help comes?’

Amarah paused for a moment before dropping her hand from her shoulder. ‘Yeah, if you can.’

Moroda tore a strip of fabric from the thick, dark cotton at the bottom of her skirt and wrapped the length of it around Amarah’s wound as best she could, tying it off with a secure knot. ‘There. That should help.’ She wiped her bloodied hands on her skirt, satisfied she’d done something useful.

Amarah inspected the makeshift bandage for a moment before approving it with a sharp nod. She glanced at the dungeon door through the cell bars and sighed. ‘I ain’t sticking around here. Neither should you, if you know what’s good for you.’

Moroda knew the woman was right. She didn’t think she’d be executed, but she didn’t want to wait around to find out. She’d never been in trouble with the Imperial Guard before, let alone arrested, and she didn’t have the first idea how to get out of her situation. Would there be a trial? Would she be allowed to plead her case? Beg forgiveness?

She chewed on the inside of her cheek, trying to think. She’d never been any good at planning ahead. Her sister was the brains of their duo. Moroda just dreamt up the ideas.

She didn’t know how her sister managed.

‘Oh great, not a Varkain, too.’ Amarah’s harsh voice cut through Moroda’s thoughts.

‘But I’m not…?’ Moroda followed Amarah’s gaze to the back corner of their shadowed cell. Puzzled, she looked from Amarah to the corner, squinting in the darkness as she tried to make out what Amarah could see.

Her heart raced when she spotted the silhouette of another person sitting in the shadows. How hadn’t she noticed them after all this time? She’d been in the cell for almost an hour!

‘I do love the sound of a panicked heartbeat.’

The smooth voice from the shadows set every hair on edge, and Moroda was on her feet in an instant, breath quickening as Amarah’s words resounded: Varkain. Someone was there. Someone who was mocking her fear.

A Varkain was far more of a threat than Amarah could ever be.

She could have been attacked—killed!—at any moment. Had he just been playing with her?

Stumbling backwards, Moroda tried to put as much distance between herself and the Varkain as she could. She couldn’t even see him, yet her heart thrashed in her chest, as if desperate to flee.

‘Ah yes. And there is the accompanying scent of fear…such a nectar.’

‘Shut up you filthy creature.’ Amarah hadn’t moved, but she glared at the corner with such venom that Moroda thought she’d burn a hole through the stone floor. ‘Why are we in the same cell as you? What in Rhea’s name happened to enforced segregation?’

‘Perhaps they forgot. Being invisible is our speciality.’

Moroda’s heart thudded painfully. She couldn’t quite make out the Varkain’s features—the cell was too poorly lit and he was too still. She could have sworn she’d checked the cell over when she’d been thrown inside, and found it empty.

Then again, she’d never come across a Varkain before. She’d grown up on stories of brutal Varkain killings and had no desire to be in the centre of the next one. Moroda couldn’t even think straight, the fear gripped her so tightly. She was lucky he hadn’t slaughtered her while she’d panicked about being beheaded.

‘Come out from the shadows, Varkain. Show yourself,’ Amarah ordered, her hand returning to her wounded shoulder.

Moroda wanted to object, but her voice fled.

‘No. I am chained.’

Amarah’s shoulders relaxed and Moroda followed suit, happy to take the other woman’s lead. The Varkain’s chains had to explain why she hadn’t been attacked earlier.

She swallowed and tried to calm her breathing.

‘Ah, well you’re just a worm then, ain’t you?’ Amarah cackled, wandering to the edge of the shadow. ‘Tied up and left for dead. It’s all you’re worth.’

‘Be quiet.’

Amarah crouched and sneered. ‘I don’t think so. I don’t take orders from anyone, not least the likes of you. Tell me, Varkain, were you given a name at birth? Or just abandoned in a nest somewhere?’ She tilted her head to one side. ‘Dumped in a hole in the ground and left to rot like the maggots you are.’

Moroda didn’t know what might come of taunting such a dangerous creature, but Amarah clearly thought he posed no threat.

‘Sapora,’ he answered, voice barely more than a hiss. ‘I know you are a sky pirate and thief, Amarah. And a murderer, just as I am. The scent of blood runs deep in your skin.’

Amarah snorted and straightened. She ignored the Varkain and paced the cell, clearly shaken. With her good hand, she grabbed one of the bars on the gate and furiously shook it. ‘Morgen! Where is my medic?’

Silence answered.

Amarah grunted and paced again, fingers tapping against her arm. It didn’t take long for her to notice the cracked stone slab.

‘Oh? What’s this?’ She dropped to one knee and picked at the cracked stone. Within seconds, she’d lifted the slab and was rewarded with the glint of silver. ‘Every cloud has a silver lining.’ She snatched the coins and grinned. ‘Three florins. Perfect!’

Amarah pocketed them as quickly as she’d found them, and Moroda clenched her fists in response. She couldn’t bring herself to challenge Amarah, despite those coins being the only thing of worth she had left.

Especially not if she was a murderer as the Varkain claimed.

All her fight had gone out of her earlier that morning.

Moroda didn’t even know why she’d got involved. She’d been berating herself about it since she’d been arrested, in between panicking about whether or not she’d actually be beheaded.

She’d been taken aback by the shift in behaviour of the townspeople after Aciel—a foreign dignitary—had arrived in Niversai some days previous. Even the Imperial Guard who’d been nothing but fair towards them had turned suddenly aggressive. Eryn had said it was simply a result of their ill fortune.

Moroda had been convinced that something else drove the shift in behaviour. The injustice.

Aciel’s speech that morning had been the last straw.

A guest of the city. Invited into Rosecastle. Given an address to the gathered townspeople. And yet she couldn’t accept the words Aciel spewed, the condescension in his tone, the disgust with which he’d stared at her and the people of her city.

As far as she was concerned, he was a pompous, arrogant bully who delighted in war-mongering, and she wouldn’t stand for it. Eryn had told her to leave it alone, but Moroda had lost too much too quickly to put up with more patronisation, and refused to be silenced. She hated conflict, had never learned how to deal with it properly, and she’d exploded.

Despite having his own soldiers, the city’s Imperial Guard had leapt to apprehend her when she’d spoken out.

Her immediate arrest only proved she’d touched a nerve.

Scare people enough, and no-one will stand against you.

The thought made her sick.

Closing her eyes, Moroda exhaled, resigning herself to her situation. An hour ago, she’d been worried about being beheaded. Now, she was stuck in a cell with two murderers. She shook her head, wondering which fate was worse.

It took only a few minutes before the dungeon door was forced open again with another loud creak, but it wasn’t Morgen who walked down the corridor. It was a young woman clutching a ring of bronze keys close to her chest as she tiptoed across the stone floor in soft leather shoes.

Moroda couldn’t believe her luck.

‘Eryn!’ She jumped to her feet and clutched at her sister’s hand through the bars. ‘What in Rhea’s name are you doing here? How did you get into the castle?’

‘Sshh, never mind that. I’m getting you out!’ Eryn glanced over her shoulder.

Amarah approached the gate and elbowed Moroda out of the way. ‘Get on with it, then. Hurry up!’

Eryn tried each key quickly, breathing a sigh of relief when the successful one clicked and the latch lifted off the lock.

Before Eryn could move, Amarah wrenched the door open and shoved past. ‘Get out now if you know what’s good for you!’ She raced down the corridor and disappeared from sight.

Clearly unfazed by Amarah’s brusqueness, Eryn turned to Moroda. ‘You heard her! Let’s go!’

Moroda faltered, peering back at the corner of the cell. She dreaded the Varkain’s wrath if he ever got out on his own and hunted her down. ‘Ryn? Do you have all the keys? There’s someone else back there…chained up.’

‘Moroda, this isn’t a jailbreak! I’m here to get you and get out!’ Eryn whispered through clenched teeth. ‘The guards’ll be here any minute, and I’ll be locked up too! Come on!’

‘I can’t. He’s a Varkain!’ Moroda grabbed the keys from her sister and ran to the dark corner, hesitating at the last moment. It was too late for second thoughts, now.

‘There’s a Varkain in there? We should be locking the gate, not letting him out!’ Eryn cried, incredulous.

Moroda felt it best to address him by the name he’d given to Amarah. She took a deep breath and ignored Eryn’s frantic whispers. ‘Sapora? You…you won’t attack me if I let you out?’ Her voice was as meek and small as she felt.


Author Interview:

1. What inspired you to write this book?
I had the idea for this story back when I was around sixteen, and it centred on being “the greatest dragon hunt ever” or something along those lines. It was only a rough concept at the time, but I knew dragons were going to feature prominently.

I wanted to create a fantasy world where dragons were not dying out or extinct. I didn’t want magic to be fading, from the past, or something hidden. I wanted the world to be full of life, magic, and adventure!

Although dragons are pretty central to both the world and story, I wanted to keep some mystery around them, too. They’re powerful, but they aren’t always accessible or approachable, so keeping the balance of wonder was definitely something I wanted to get in the book.

As for overall inspiration, I think playing video games, reading fantasy books, and encountering other stories always triggered the idea of: what would MY dragons be like? Or what would MY cities be like? If I had the chance to create my own?

Very often I would see something in media that would spark my own imagination, and over the years I jotted down enough notes and ideas that I could pull a whole novel from it!

Also, the sky pirate character of Amarah was perhaps one of the earliest characters that I created. I knew I wanted a confident, somewhat devil-may-care woman who avoided paying air taxes at all costs. It was a tiny nugget of information, but her character grew from that seed.

2. What, if anything, did you learn when writing the book?
It’s hard to say, because I originally wrote it over six years ago, and the re-write to launch the second edition wasn’t a learning experience in the same way writing a debut book is.

I think returning to a book where you’re familiar with the characters already, the journey they go on, the impact they have on the story in later books allows an element of hindsight, which is fun to explore. It’s very nice to learn where these characters have gone and how you can add that in – because I had no idea where they were going when I first wrote it!

And I also learned it’s a bad idea to ever re-write your books, so that’s something I won’t be doing again!

3. What surprised you the most in writing it?
That writing the same book for a second time is almost harder than writing it for the first time!

This is the second edition of my debut novel, originally published in 2017. Since then, I’ve published over one million words across three series, so I thought rewriting my first book would be simple.

That definitely was not the case.

It actually took three times longer than I’d planned to get the rewrite complete, and even then, it was a push to hit the deadline! It’s difficult to look back at your earlier work, because you have changed so much and learned so much that something you used to be proud of actually makes you cringe inside.
I knew it was a bit rougher than my current books, but it really surprised me how much I disliked re-reading it, and re-writing it. It was a far bigger and harder challenge than I thought it would be, and had definitely not thought that would be the case!

Thankfully I am VERY happy with the second edition, and all that love and passion and enthusiasm has come roaring back!

4. If it’s not a spoiler, what does the title mean?
The title is the main protagonist’s first name.

5. Were any of the characters inspired by real people? If so, do they know?
There are parts of people I know in each of the characters, as well as bits of myself! But no, I haven’t specifically told anyone who has inspired a character. It’s all so much of a blur now that I’d struggle to pick out which characteristics or personalities of real people went into which characters!

6. Do you consider the book to have a lesson or moral?
I wouldn’t say it’s a lesson as such, but there is a definite theme of people trying to do the right thing – even when that’s hard. Making the best of what you have is a powerful mindset, and an often difficult one, but it’s definitely something that pretty much all my main characters try and achieve – with varying levels of success!

As cliché as it sounds, not giving up is also important to many characters, as well as knowing when to change course and adapt. There’s also a bit of a flavour of turning biases and judgemental thoughts on its head. What you expect from people isn’t always what you get, whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

7. What is your favorite part of the book?
This is super tricky, as I enjoy many parts of the book for different reasons!
The opening four or five chapters are pretty fun. Everything kicks off pretty quickly – there’s a jailbreak, a dragon attack, and an introduction to some of the world’s major races in quick succession.

I also love the parts where our group is just flying on the airship, getting to know each other and starting to have some personal biases challenged.
Also, the heist sequence is pretty fun! Especially when you get to see more of the “compulsion” magic that the main antagonist has.

Sorry, that’s a kind of cheat answer!

8. Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
Probably Moroda herself! She isn’t a super confident, outgoing extrovert. She has a lot of self-doubt and insecurity, but she had a great support system growing up, so balancing her traits to make her likeable and sympathetic (rather than annoying, frustrating, or bland) was tricky.

It took a while before she felt fleshed out and real – having enough of the “weaker” character traits but not so much that she was either a complete pushover, or totally outshone by the other side characters who have stronger personalities.

I think the balance is good, and while her morals don’t change throughout the book (if anything, they strengthen!), you can definitely see her confidence grow as her overall character develops and some of her misbeliefs are corrected.

9. What are your immediate future plans?
Now I’ve republished the World of Linaria series under my new author name, I’m going to be writing The Shadow Gate, which is the sequel to my novel, The Iron Crown. I hope to get that published before the end of 2022!

Then, it’ll be back to Linaria, writing the fifth (penultimate!) novel in the series.
Additionally, I have a Patreon where I write a monthly fantasy serial called Shadowlight! Think phoenixes, dragons, and magic in a blighted world. It’s ongoing, so there’s always a few more chapters of that to write at any given time!


About the Author:

Author Photo - LL MacRae and BorisLauren is a fantasy author of character-driven stories and epic adventure. Her books usually contain dragons, eclectic characters, and are typically fun and hopeful.

She lives in a tiny village in the UK, has a degree in Psychology, and was a professional copywriter before going full-time as an author—swapping corporate copy for magic and dragons!

She has previously published under the name L.L. McNeil.

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Starts: June 27, 2022 at 12:00am EST
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Book Blitz & Excerpt: The Fix Up + Giveaway

The Fix Up Banner

The Fix Up by Raven McAllan

Book 1 in the Happy Ever After at Romansa Castle series

Word Count: 81,552
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 301

Genres:

COMEDY AND HUMOUR
CONTEMPORARY
ROMANCE

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Book Description


Romansa Castle, where love is all around—if you dare to take a chance on it.

Arietta writes romance, she doesn’t participate in it.

A posh wedding? No thank you, not when it’s the wedding of an ex-but-not-for-long-boyfriend. And an ex-but-never-really-a-friend-flatmate.

Her brother has other ideas. He answers ‘yes’ for her and sends his friend to be her partner.

Moss Kirby, heartthrob film star.

Arietta reckons no one would believe he was interested in her…would they?

Is he?

She’s about to find out.


Excerpt

To add to the gloom of a storm where the end of the garden was hidden by mist, raindrops bounced off the terrace like golf balls. The pond overflow spout was akin to Niagara Falls in full spate and the postman brought bad news.

Two lots of bad news.

The first was a scribbled note, in a handwriting Arietta didn’t recognise. That got her wondering even before she opened the envelope. Who sent notes like that these days? When she checked the signature she understood. It was from a so-called friend who did not and now never would have Arietta’s phone number, saying she’d met Arietta’s ex a few days before in Mauritius. Wasn’t it fab, she gushed—if gushing in bright green ballpoint was possible—that he was loved-up and his partner expecting a baby in the very near future? As it hadn’t been that long since he and Arietta had split, and he’d always been adamant he hated flying and asserted even from Glasgow to London brought him out in hives, Arietta decided she was entitled to be upset. Especially as it now appeared that the bloke who’d professed she was the love of his life and had been pressuring her to move in with him—or was it him with her?—had been bonking someone else at the same time.

Thank God for condoms. Okay, it was time to forget him, but that was easier said than done. Not that she ever wanted to see or speak to him again, but the bugger had hurt her big-time.

Bye-bye, Stu.

If that wasn’t enough, she’d also received an invitation. A very unwelcome one.

What next? The roof to cave in? The electricity to be cut off? An alien invasion?

Dramatic or what? Enough already.

Arietta opened the other envelope, took out the contents, stared at the piece of very elegant, heavy and expensive card in her hands and grimaced.

“Mr and Mrs Arthur Berkley-Tong request the pleasure of Harriet Clare and partner to the wedding of their beloved daughter, Kristin Therese Maude, to The Honourable Tarquin Algernon Carstairs Kinsley Smith on November 13th at Pannerburn Castle…”

If she hadn’t realised whom the invitation was from, the way her name was incorrect would have told her. She’d never bothered to correct them that Arietta wasn’t and never had been a version of Harriet.

Honourable? Ha, not when I knew him. Tar…Tack for initials? Oh my, hahaha, that fits… Very tacky. Maude? She never mentioned that. Go to their wedding? Not in a million years. November? In Scotland? No chance, I might be stranded there in a snowstorm. Any Scottish snowstorm I’m stranded in is going to be here. The thirteenth, no way. That would be an unlucky thirteen and was a scary thought. Enough to make her shiver. Stuck with a load of people she didn’t know for however long, in a hotel, however sumptuous, wasn’t a scenario Arietta favoured. She’d have to look tidy, not wear jeans without non-designer rips in them, and remember to put on a bra.

Yuck, not to be considered.

Nor was the idea of seeing two people loved-up when her loved-up-ness was zilch. A big fat do-not-go-there zero. She’d sworn off men for the duration. Being dropped with no warning had hurt too much. Even if she’d found out afterwards he was a two-timing, two-faced rat fink.

The idea of a wedding was anathema to her. Especially that one.

She stared at the card again.

It had to be a joke. Was a bloke in tighty-whities going to jump out from behind the front door, take her photo and shout gotcha? She hoped not. Her current attire of a pair of leggings that had seen better days with a large bleach mark down one leg like an exclamation mark and a scarlet uni sweatshirt that had once read ‘writers do it the right way’, and since faded to a dark pink—with splotches of something unmentionable—wasn’t the sort of look she wanted captured for posterity.

Arietta dropped the card onto her desk, just missed her cold cup of coffee—she had been carried away with her writing and forgotten all about it—and caused three pencils and a toffee to rattle off the surface and onto the floor.

Request the pleasure indeed. Pull the other one. That was called rubbing her nose in it, big-time—or it would have been if she’d been bothered. Which, she ruminated, she wasn’t. Ten years was a long time to get over the non-event of a short and not-so-sweet romance, and a barely begun friendship. Strange how it mattered to other people, though.

Nevertheless, why the invite? Just to show what they’d got up to? Perhaps, but seriously, she was not bothered. Life was too short, and she had a book to write.

“Hey, what’s this?” Thomas, her twin and, as she often said, the annoying ten-minute-older half of their twinship, came into her study unnoticed. He picked up the discarded card and whistled. “Whew… Posh place. Who do you know who can afford to get hitched there?”

“I don’t, not really.” Arietta plucked the card out of his fingers and dropped it back on her desk. This time the corner dipped into her coffee mug. “Someone’s being funny—not. It’s a snarky attempt to rub my nose in something. It won’t work.” She might have been upset—for all of half an hour—at the time, but she could honestly say she had not given the two people concerned a thought in the past years. In fact, she could probably pass them by in the street and not recognise either of them. “I don’t give a monkey’s these days. Over, done with, and the proverbial T-shirt burnt almost immediately.” She flicked her finger at the now getting-soggier-by-the second card. “Overkill.”

Thomas tutted at her handling of the card. “You can’t treat it like that. I bet you need to take it with you to get into the place. Think how downmarket you’ll look with it covered in coffee stains.” He took it out and wiped it on his T-shirt. “Mind you, November… Maybe it’s winter rates and cheaper?”

Arietta shrugged. “No idea. Knowing the bloke, it could well have a lot to do with it, but then I’d bet he’s not dipping his hands in his pockets anyway. Not big on sharing his coffers. Or he wasn’t. It’s a long time since I knew ’em.” She pointed to Thomas’ T-shirt. “You’ll need to rinse that or it’ll stain.” Gah, she was conscious she sounded like their gran. She’d be suggesting a blue bag—whatever that was—next.

“The card?” Thomas, an up-and-coming actor and well on the way to becoming the teenagers’ latest, or next, heartthrob, perched on the edge of her desk and swung his legs. As ever, his jeans were ripped in places no jeans should be and still be worn, and his T-shirt with a hole under one armpit was a hand-me-down from when their dad had gone to concerts and had been three stones lighter. In faded black it proclaimed ‘Iron Maiden’.

“No, twerp, your shirt.”

He winked and she growled. He held his hand up in the universal peace gesture.

“Just makes it look distinguished.” He plucked at the faded material. “Actually, could you tell it was stained? It looks part of the pattern to me. I guess if it was still proper black you’d not see it at all.”

Arietta shrugged. “If that’s what you think.” The T-shirt was ready for the ragbag anyway. “Who am I to argue.”

She saved her work on her laptop and pushed her chair back from her desk. From past experience, she accepted she would get no more written until Thomas had gone home, and as he announced he was stopping for lunch, that wouldn’t be any time soon. “What would your fans think if they saw you now?”

“I’m retro cool?” Thomas hooted with laughter. “The shirt’s not a problem, it’s my car mending one.” He housed his elderly MG in Arietta’s garage and tinkered with it whenever he visited. “I do have another one with me. And it’s not even one of Dad’s, just plain boring blue.” He picked up the card again. “You’ve got to go, you know. Apart from seeing how the other half live, or whatever, it will do you good to get out and about again. I worry.”

“Nope, and what do you worry about? I’m fine.”

“Hmm.” Thomas tapped the card on the corner of the desk. “If you call sitting here writing for ninety percent of your time, not socialising, and ignoring your friends fine, I don’t.”

“Honestly what a load of cobblers,” Arietta said defensively. “I do get out, and I do mix. I’ve got lots of friends and I do see them.”

“Nope,” Thomas corrected her. “Who you rarely see. Not since… Okay.” He held his hands up in a ‘peace’ gesture. “I won’t mention it again, but that arsehole isn’t worth your thoughts.”

“And I don’t give him any,” Arietta assured him. But it stung to be so gullible. Stu with his, ‘Oh I’m away for work’. “I don’t know about him being a good screw salesman, but it seems he was a great one for screwing. Ach.” She dusted her hands together. “I’m just a bit wary now. Okay?”

Thomas nodded. “If you say so, no problem. But I can sense a mystery. C’mon, spill. What’s with the Harriet bit?”

Brothers. How on earth had she thought she could put him off? He was like a truffle hound on the scent of truffles. Arietta pushed him off her desk as she walked to the door then turned to look at him with exasperation and affection.

“The people concerned never ever bothered to get my name right. It annoyed me then, it doesn’t now. It’s not a problem, for either of us. Any of it. What do you want for lunch, or are you off before then?”

“Here’s your hat?” Thomas said wryly as he followed her into the kitchen. “It’s not eleven o’clock yet. I can smell a good story when I see it.”

Of course he could.

“Mixed metaphors, love.”

“So?” He put every ounce of incredulity possible into that one word. “Stop trying to change the subject. Come on, tell your lovely brother all about it. I’m a good listener, and I promise not to share it…unless it’s juicy and I can get one of the ghastly rags that dog me for an interview to print it for mega millions. Then all deals are off. I can retire on the money, and lotus eat.” He opened his eyes wide and blinked theatrically. “Er, what does that mean? It sounds uncomfortable.”

“Idiot.” It was just as well she loved him.

“That’s me. Look, on a serious note, this is one fancy deal,” he said earnestly. “I’ve heard it’s at least two to three tho’ a guest, and that’s without a meal, bed or booze.”

“Two or three thousand pounds?” Arietta said, aghast. “What for?”

“A seat in the chapel, exclusive use of the place—the chapel, not the whole kit and caboodle. There’s cottages to rent in the grounds, and if someone’s got in first, tough luck—and a bun fight I guess.” Thomas stared at her. “Without the buns. At the venue of the decade, and I mean the. Where the oh-so-beautiful go to be seen and talked about and are prepared to pay the big bucks. No press, or at least not without prior notice and invitation. The rooms start at five k a night, and that’s for a shoebox. You can however add many noughts on for a suite or a cottage.”

“Sounds pretentious.” Arietta observed. “And you know all this how?”

“Because Rob Toleman, a fellow actor, enquired about renting one for his parents’ golden wedding and his mum told him if he wanted to waste his money, would he waste it on flying lessons for her instead.”

“What about his dad?” Arietta asked, fascinated by the insight into the life of someone Thomas associated with. As an up-and-coming actor he was, as he said, “happy rubbing shoulders with the good and great, but not quite on a par yet”. “What did he do?”

“Bought his mum the lessons and gave his dad his dream.”

“Which was?”

“An allotment.” He paused for effect. “With a shed, a bench, a coffee maker, comfy chair, radio, iPad and a generator. And Netflix.”

“Oh I love it.” That sounded amazing. Sometimes Arietta wished she had somewhere like that—well, she wasn’t bothered about Netflix or any streaming gubbins. As long as no one except her knew where the allotment was. Why did people assume because you were at home you weren’t doing anything important? She’d lost count of the number of times someone assumed she’d do whatever, because “you’ve nothing on”. However, as she rarely told people what she did, she guessed she only had herself to blame. Goodness knew what they thought she lived on. A private income? A sugar daddy? One day she’d have to try to find out. “Were they pleased?”

“Oh yes, and back to the subject in question.” Thomas waggled his finger at her. “There has got to be a good reason why you don’t want to go. Apart from being anti-social and anti-weddings, and not over that arsehole Stu, I sense a mystery.”

He was like a truffle hound on the scent.

“I am so over him,” Arietta said indignantly. The note she’d got that morning had been for her information only. Thank goodness she’d thrown it in the shredder. Why did some people enjoy being bitchy?

There was no answer to that.

“Earth to Arietta.”

She jumped. She’d forgotten she was having a conversation with Thomas

“This is me, you’re talking to, love,” Thomas said. “He who knows you as well as he knows himself. Well, almost. The sod hurt you, and you wouldn’t let me hurt him back.”

“Yes, okay, he did, but that was then, now I’m just wary and off men. Present company apart…as long as you stop this interfering.”

“Stopped,” Thomas said hastily. “But spill the deets over why the invitation and why the antipathy.”

“No mystery,” Arietta said, resigned to telling him everything—almost everything—as she spooned coffee into her stovetop coffee maker and slid it onto the hot plate of her Aga. “Just someone trying to be superior, and I’d guess they think they’re rubbing my nose in it. Which they aren’t, but I bet my next royalty cheque they wouldn’t believe that even if I swore it on oath.”

“I need more.” Thomas sat on top of the work surface, as close to the Aga as he could without burning. “Lots more. What’s better than coffee and gossip?”

Arietta rolled her eyes. It didn’t matter how many times she complained about his preferred seat, he just grinned and carried on doing it. One day he’d burn his bum and it would be his own fault.

“Bride or groom?” he asked as he began to juggle the salt and pepper pots. “As I have no idea what it’s all about it is still a mystery to me”—he began to sing It’s a Mystery in a very tuneful voice—“spill the beans. Who?”

“Both, sort of, but I suspect it’s the bride.” Arietta grabbed the condiment set before all the contents ended up on the floor and put them down out of his reach. Then she handed him a cup of coffee and sighed. “She was a bit of a bitch, and that’s doing bitches a disservice. Ditto if I said a cow, to cows.”

Thomas raised his eyebrows and rolled his eyes. “Ooh…you’re not usually spiteful. Tell me more, sister mine.”

It was Arietta’s turn to roll her eyes. “Oh all right, Mr Nosy. Let’s sit in the conservatory and I’ll give you chapter and verse.”

“Done.” He jumped down and tweaked Arietta’s nose. “Let’s go.”

“Anyone would think it’s the story of the century and it’s really not,” Arietta said as they settled in the sun-warmed room. She watched two robins eyeing each other up with suspicion and smiled. Her garden wasn’t large but she loved it. This room and her study both overlooked the lawn, pond and bird table. Contrary to popular belief, she was never distracted from work by the view. It gave her inspiration. Many a hero in the historical romantic crime stories she wrote had had his complicated love life resolved as she’d stared out of the window.

Thomas coughed ostentatiously. “Earth to Ari.”

“Don’t call me that,” she said automatically. He always made it sound as if he’d deliberately dropped the “H”. “Okay, well, you remember when I first went to St Andrews, to uni? I shared a flat with four other people?”

Thomas nodded. “Yeah, you, Jan, Daisy, Helen and someone I don’t remember. Long hair she tossed around at every opportunity and over-plump lips. Do you think she’d had them done? She definitely needed her roots done.”

“Miaow.”

Thomas laughed. “Got the claws out,” he agreed. “She had to be a cat to upset you. What was her name again? I can’t keep calling her trout lips.”

“Kristin, who called herself Krystal, and regarding her lips, who knows? Her roots, yup, always two-tone but not by style. Several years older and evidently she’d swanned around, ‘trying to find herself’—that’s a direct quote by the way—before she chose to go to uni. She wasn’t with us for many weeks. She got a feller, got fed up of actually having to work and got a better offer from Daddy. Went to live the life of a…well, a well-heeled lady in London, I guess.”

“It’s her wedding?”

Arietta nodded. Thomas whistled. “And you’ve kept in touch?”

“Oh no, never heard from her since she left.” Which Arietta decided was a plus. “Weird or what?”

“Then why now?” Thomas sounded as puzzled as she felt. “‘Weird or what’ is about right.”

“Ah, that’s the rest of the story.” Arietta sipped some coffee then put the cup down. It must had been her mood because the best Kenyan blend tasted like cardboard. Soggy, cheap cardboard. That was annoying. She was limiting the amount of full strength, full flavour, full-on caffeine coffee she drank every day, so for one not to be up to par didn’t seem fair.

“You remember for a few weeks back then, in the first few weeks of my first year, I said I was sort of seeing a bloke?” she asked. “He was a post grad. I wasn’t sure about him, but was prepared to give him a chance? He had… I dunno, something about him that was appealing. Up to a point, I guess. He had an appalling taste in socks. Anyway, we had a barney and I told him to sling his hook? You were in Spain filming that TV series where you played an alien, so all my angst was by phone and email?”

“Oh yeah,” Thomas said fervently. “When I got back all fired-up and ready to kick ass, you told me to calm down, it was well over and done with. I’ve never seen you so…so disgusted, I guess. You never did say why, though, and I was too much of a gentleman to pry.”

Arietta laughed. “Get it right, love. You were too much involved with that pretty blonde who called you Tommy. Or was it the one who lisped and called you Th…hom…uth and kept sending you pouty kisses?” She mimed blowing him a kiss with her bottom lip stuck out. “And cwoowtie pie.”

“Susie and Loretta,” Thomas commented with a reminiscent smirk. “I’d forgotten them. Ah, to be young and have stamina. Actually, it was neither then. They came, they went, I was gutted. Until it was Maybelle Fortune. Lovely Maybelle. She married a vicar and has six kids at the last count. Even one named Thomas. Lives in Cumbria. I get a Christmas card every year. And stop changing the subject.”

“I wasn’t,” Arietta said indignantly. “Well, not very much,” she added with honesty. “And it’s boring, the old, old, story. I met him in my first few days at uni. He tried to monopolise me and didn’t take kindly to me not letting him. Then, after only a couple of weeks, he wanted to have sex. I didn’t. Too much, too soon. I mean, you and the parents had drummed into me…be sure, and I wasn’t. We were having a heated discussion about it in the communal lounge when Kristin walked in and said, well, if I didn’t want sex with him, she did.” She smiled at the memory as Thomas let out a long whistle. “Not good.” With hindsight it was humorous, but it hadn’t been at the time. Kristin had sent her a malicious smirk as she had spoken. It had been obvious by her snarky comments she’d been smitten by the guy and most annoyed he’d chosen Arietta to ask out.

“Oh…my… And?”

“He said, ‘last chance, babe’, to me. I said not interested, too much too soon, and I didn’t realise he was that desperate, so he shrugged, said my loss.” She snorted. “I said not really, plenty more fish in the sea, less needy, not much of a loss.

“He said I was well named—he’d thought my initials were HRC and said it was short for hah-archaic. Then he said to Kristin, ‘yeah, why not’.

“She said to me, ‘All’s fair in sex and war’ and they walked out of the room together. I laughed loudly, well, it was laugh or throw things and I wasn’t stooping to that. Not wanting to be around to hear anything—the walls weren’t that thick and we already knew she was a screamer—I went down to the union.”

Thomas spluttered his coffee. “Oh my a…” He shook his head in mock sorrow. “Look what I missed. Luckily.”

“You better believe it. Anyway, I met up with the others, had a good slag-off fest and lots of dodgy cocktails. Eventually we meandered back, slightly mellow, shall we say, and her room was empty. Just a toothbrush and a packet of contraceptive pills on the bathroom floor. Mega oops there, we reckoned. Even so, that was the last we saw of her in the flat. We were told she’d changed halls. For a while after that you’d see the pair of them arm in arm, or tonsils against tonsils all over the place. The term ended, and then… No one saw her again. Nor him.”

“But it’s over, what, fourteen years since then,” Thomas pointed out. “Nothing since then?”

“Not a lot. I did hear third or twentieth hand about six or seven years ago that he was working for her father, who has a multi-million-pound company recycling rags, and that she was modelling.”

“The rags?” Thomas said and almost fell over as he snorted. “I’d love to see it.”

Arietta punched him. “Idiot. I never saw her name mentioned anywhere afterwards, so who knows. Anyway that’s it. A non-story. I don’t half know how to pick ’em.”

“I don’t get it.” Thomas ignored her woe is me remark, picked up two pencils and began to juggle with them. “Why has she suddenly decided to ask you to her wedding?”

“I’m guessing that’s got a lot to do with her groom,” Arietta said and sniggered. “All those years and…” She did the ‘da…da…dah daaah’ out loud.

“You mean?” Thomas smiled, very wickedly. “You mean…”

Arietta nodded. “Whatever the pair of them have been up to in the meantime, the bloke I ditched is the groom to be.”

Thomas howled. “Ohh, the cat she is. You have to go, you cannot miss it. Don’t you have a handsome, hot-as-hell bloke tucked away? Someone to make her drool? Someone you can ask to be your partner?”

Arietta rolled her eyes. “Nope.” Droolworthy men in her orbit were few and far between, as in zilch, none she wasn’t related to. “The only one of those is you. Stop grinning, you sod, I was going to add allegedly, though I can’t see it myself and frankly you’re too well-known for anyone not to know you’re my brother. Plus you’d be mobbed and I’d be stuck in the corner as Ari-no-mates.” She couldn’t stand the thought of Kristin’s smirk if she turned up alone. “I’ll send my apologies and say I’m at some writer’s convention in Ulan Bator or somewhere.” That sounded sort of plausible, and she had a mate who could mug up some tweets if need be.

“Tut, tut.” Thomas shook his head in mock sorrow. “What is that our dear mama always says about liar, liar, pants on fire?”

“She also says if you have to lie, do a big one,” Arietta pointed out. “And I’m doing that. Mega big. Though I might say Hong Kong and go visit Jan. She’s still out there.”

“Ah, the lovely Jan. Still refusing to admit I’m the love of her life?” Thomas patted his heart. “Gutted, I am.”

“’Fraid so.” Arietta looked at him curiously, struck by the wry note in his voice. “Would you like to be?”

“Gutted? Nah. The rest? Who knows,” Thomas said in what Arietta decided was a cryptic manner. “Dammit. I really wanted to find out what Pannerburn Castle was like, even if it’s second-hand. You’re cruel, love.”

“That’s me.” She didn’t mention his change of subject. On the odd occasion that Jan and Thomas were in the same vicinity, sparks flew, and Arietta had long wondered why, made her own conclusions and decided never to interfere. “When you get your Oscar, you’ll just have to treat yourself,” Arietta said, unmoved by his ‘woe is me, poor deprived male’ expression. He was a bloody good actor and used that at his convenience. “Or just be brass-necked and go and have a look around. It’s only on the other side of the loch. Not far as the crow flies.” Although a lot longer by road. “Now make yourself comfy with the paper or something while I write my sorry, but thank you note and sort out something to eat for lunch.”

“I’ll need to slip into the village and buy a paper.” Thomas patted his pocket. “Wallet in place. You write your scaredy-cat note and I’ll pop it into the post box for you. Anything else you need?”

“Nope.” Arietta nipped back into the study, found an appropriate card and scribed her apologies. She handed it to Thomas with a flourish. “Are you happy with my pâté and stuff for lunch?”

“Well, duh. Look, my last attempt. Are you sure you’re not letting what happened with them and that bloody Stu cloud your judgement? I mean, you should go and say sod ’em all.”

“I shouldn’t go and be miserable. Which I would be. To say nothing of bankrupt and not able to feed you when you visit. Now are you going to give it a miss and give over, shut up and let it be and stop for lunch, or have me throw a hissy fit and chuck you out?

“Shutting up. Lunch, please.”

“Great. It’ll be ready when you get back. Here you go.” She handed him an envelope. “I’ve even found a stamp for it.”

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About the Authors

Raven McAllan

After 30 plus years in Scotland, Raven now lives near the east Yorkshire coast, with her long-suffering husband, who is used to rescuing the dinner, when she gets immersed in her writing, keeping her coffee pot warm and making sure the wine is chilled.

With a new home to decorate and a garden to plan, she’s never short of things to do, but writing is always at the top of her list.

Her other hobbies include walking along the coast and spotting the wildlife, reading, researching, cros stitch and trying not to drop stitches as she endeavours to knit.

Being left-handed, and knitting right-handed, that’s not always easy.

She loves hearing from her readers, either via her website, by email or social media.


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