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Posts Tagged ‘romance’

Raw Animal Passion – Fleas Not Included

There are a couple of reasons I’ve never gotten into paranormal romance. Mostly it involves the tried and true mainstays of paranormal being either werewolves or vampires. Except the vampires are sensitive, effeminate, sparkly, or some other preposterous mutation on a classic monster.

Werewolves? Okay, those are usually less sparkly and more animalistic. I can appreciate them more, even if they do tend to smell like wet dog. My problem here is tying the paranormal into the romance. Typically werewolves are portrayed as turning to their wild side when they suffer intense moments. Well, the culmination of a good romantic moment involves a lot of, uh, intensity. So if the hero happens to suddenly need a trip to the pet groomer while he’s getting his groove on, that could be very awkward. And bestial. Not something that makes me want to have my belly rubbed, to say the least.

In spite of all that, I’m going to attempt to venture into a new foray in the near future. I think I’m going to do a serial novel, which means a novel cut into a few parts that area each stories in and of themselves. I did this in the past with my Vitalis series and it met with great success at first. Then it got chopped apart by some bogus reviews and lost its momentum as it dropped off the ratings charts. I’m hoping the PNR category is not as critical or filled with vindictive writers.

Why me and why this? A couple of reasons and none of them involve me being jealous of dogs because they can lick themselves. I enjoy trying different things, and PNR is new enough for me to give it a shot. I’ll put my own flair on it though and make sure I keep things fun, exciting, racy, and dangerous. No sparkles here – although I am considering a little something special along those lines.

Why else? It’s huge and popular right now and I’ll admit, most of my success with writing has been me getting lucky as I randomly wrote things that seemed fun to me. This time I’m trying to take something that is lined up in the right areas and to make it fun. A different approach, but hopefully the same end result.

I’m finishing up my latest attempt at a blockbuster, a futuristic amalgamation of The Hunger Games and Mechwarrior / Battletech. I loved writing it and I can’t wait to write more of it, but I’ll be taking a break long enough to try at least one, possibly two other books first. The first will probably be this PNR and the second will hopefully be a continuation of both my Voidhawk series and my Blades of Leander / Order of the Dragon series. What, that’s three books…unless I bring Voidhawk and the adventures of Alto and friends together for a single crossover bit of fun! Then back to my world of biomechs and, optionally, more Vitalis.

So many awesome ideas and not enough time! But not to worry, as long as the ideas keep coming I’ll keep writing. So stay tuned while I transition from giant robots to heavily muscled bikers rescuing teenage girls and trying not to give them fleas…

 

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

I Finally Killed the Zombies!

March 28, 2014 1 comment

For years now I’ve agonized over a cover for a book of mine that I just didn’t like. The characters looked like zombies. Dirty, blood stained, mindless, flesh eating, you know the type. But that was what my original publisher thought was a great cover and my objections were promptly ignored.

Well it’s my book now (has been for a while, I’ve just been focused on new stuff). So now I’m unveiling a new and polished look by a great cover artist I found in Italy. I didn’t have to go to Italy, unfortunately (hmm, tax write off?). Her name is Cora and she can be found at http://www.coragraphics.it/.

But enough about that, first marvel at the polished beauty of the new and improved cover for my alternative romance / scorched earth / alien survival thriller, Human Nature!

Human Nature, by Jason Halstead

And I’ve got something in the works for a possible sequel for it too. Second Nature…I know, cheesy, but it”ll be worth it, I promise!

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Organic

Devils Rising is in beta and cover art stages, Marshal is in my copyeditor’s hands, and I’m faced with an exciting opportunity – what should I start now? The answer is something new! Right now I’m calling it Organic, but I don’t expect that to last. I’ve also toyed around with a title like Biomech.

Or maybe instead of babbling about all that you want to know what the heck I’m talking about? Well, it’s my latest attempt to capture mass market appeal. Developing a dystopian society in a futuristic setting, complete with future soldiers, tanks, aircraft, and biomechs.

I’ve said that word ‘Biomech’ twice now. What the heck am I talking about? First let’s take the traditional concept of a mech. For sci-fi aficionados, that’s a simple task. Think Robotech, Battletech, Mechwarrior, Transformers, Pacific Rim, or just about anything involving giant fighting robots. As Pacific Rim showed us, no matter how cheesy the plot and acting, there’s almost nothing cooler than giant robots beating the crap out just about anything.

To introduce a little more science to the fiction, imagine how complicated creating a robot on that scale and making it able to move and balance, let alone fight. Yikes! Super advanced articulation in the joints and the means of moving said limbs and joints are required. Far beyond our ability to manufacture and design. So that’s where the bio comes in.

This is the future, so let’s merge man and machine in ways not often considered. The musculature needed to move these robots? Grown from organic tissue and grafted to the metal structure. That eliminates the need for a massive engine to move the robot, but puts in a complicated plumbing system for flushing the organic tissue with a replacement blood. Cooling, heating, oxygenation, nutrients – it does it all!

And what’s needed to drive one of these metal monsters? A person, jacked in directly to their central nervous system. A computer will handle the balancing and autonomous commands such as how to do what the driver wants, but the driver provides the true skill behind it all.

But yeah, as cool as that sounds, that’s not going to be what the stories center on. This is about human interest. I’m looking at it as a cross between a lot of successful projects, from (insert giant robot franchise here) to (insert dystopian society being rebelled against) to (insert underdog complicated love story). And I’m writing it Vitalis style, meaning fast paced and fun!

Before I go, let me toss out a tiny snippet of what I’ve been working on so far…

“Krys curled up in a ball in his tiny hollow and let the tears fall. He had no idea why, but something terrible was happening. His friends were dead and for all he knew, his mom and dad were next. And he was trapped beneath a fallen tree in the woods. As much as his dad loved to  tell him that crying wouldn’t do him any good, it was the only thing he could manage.”

 

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Another Notch in the Headboard

With a title like that, you’re probably thinking, “What is that freak up to now?” Well, not to disappoint you, but it’s just an indicator another year come and gone. I’m excited to have made it to the other side (2014), and I think I’ve learned a lot in 2013 that I can reflect on and share. So, without wasting any more time, I’ll jump into sharing the wisdom I gained in 2013 (read: what stupid things I did), and the data behind it.

#1: Never blindly trust an absentee landlord with a gambling addiction that lives in Las Vegas.

#2: Publishing smut (or romance) with a masculine name is an uphill battle. In a blizzard. With enemy machine gunners hiding in fortified pillboxes above you.

#3: Publishing mystery / detective novels is also a hard genre to get into (no machine guns though).

#4: Trying to break into any new genre is difficult because the readers that know and like you probably aren’t interested in trying out the new genre.

#5: Science Fiction and Fantasy are my sweet spots, so I should focus more on those. Except I can’t stop myself from writing other stories because, damn it, they need to be told!

#6 The last quarter of the year kind of sucks for book sales, whereas the first two are the best.

#7 Collaborating with another writer can be a frustrating process or it can be a wonderful experience. For me in 2013 it was a great opportunity. I expect that to continue in 2014 and (perhaps) beyond.

#8 The writing and publishing industry is in a state of constant upheaval and reinvention. That does not mean we should throw our hands up in the air and just have faith that it will all work out. That would be like a book-worshipping religion. Writing is both art and science and to succeed we have to focus on the stats and numbers as well as proper timing of when to sacrifice small woodland creatures to the writing gods.

#9 I can write fast if I have the availability to do so. In the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge I unofficially decided to destroy I wrote two novels instead of just one. While working full time, having a family, and sleeping an average of 6 hours a night. Since I can write fast, I should write fast – that’s what professional editing is for.

#10 Audiobooks are a lot of work! And that’s with me not reading them! The market is there and it’s growing though, so I recommend people hop on the wagon. I have 5 books in audio at present with 1 more about to be released and three more in the process.

 

Now the numbers behind it.

My Total Books Published: 44

My books published in 2013: 16 (2 of which are omnibuses)

My books written in 2013: 14 (not counting the omnibuses twice, nor a book published in early January of 2013, but I did count the book I finished near the end of December but won’t publish for a week or two into 2014.)

Total Books sold (Amazon US and UK only): 27,636

Books by Genre

-Science Fiction:           12,035

-Fantasy:                       13,598

-Urban Fantasy:             1,265

-The Rest:                          738

My thoughts and notes on the above numbers: Pretty darn cool. In 2012 I sold over 35,000 books, but a lot of those were $.99 novellas that I rolled into my Vitalis Omnibus book in late 2012. And yes, I mean a lot (I had a few months with 5,000+ of the $.99 novellas sold). What’s a potentially more impressive number is that in 2012 I saw almost $50k in royalties from Amazon US & UK. In 2013 my Amazon US and UK royalties were over $72,000.

Why do I keep mentioning the US and UK? Those are my biggest markets. With that said, in 2013 I began to regularly see sales each month in Canada, Germany, and Australia. Tangible sales that beat the minimums necessary to send out royalty checks each month. Tangible or not, they typically double digits only, not triple.

Audiobooks? Thanks for asking. I’d wager I made around $500 in audiobooks last year. Not much, but hey, my first book wasn’t available until late June and I didn’t hit 5 available for sale until December 24th. I may never get all my books on audio, but I’ll keep pushing to get them transitioned, especially when I review the work done by my amazing narrators. My two most recent ones sent chills down my spine and made me literally laugh, gasp, and otherwise react out loud when listening to them. In a good way! One of them is Child of Fate, which should be available any day now. The other is Wolfgirl, which is in progress and hopefully will be available by the end of February.

On the writing front I’m about 25% of the way through my next Vitalis book (and I just finished Vitalis: Invasion, which should be released in a week or two). Why write back to back Vitalis books? Two reasons: the first is that the story is burning in my head and wants to be told. The second reason is because I’ve seen a strong surge in my Vitalis series in December. With book sales being the strongest in the 1st and 2nd quarter of the year, it makes sense to capitalize on that by giving my readers what they are showing me they want. This will be the 5th Vitalis novel, but remember the first one (Vitalis Omnibus) contains 7 novellas within it.

What does 2014 hold for me on the writing front? More writing! I’m working on my 46th book right now and I have every intention of hitting the 50 book mark and beyond this year. I’m considering a sequel to Human Nature and I’ve already written a short story to kick it off (unreleased so far). There will be more Voidhawk, more Dark Earth, more Fallen Angels (co-written with J. Knight Bybee) and possibly more Lost Girls, as well as a continuation of both my Homeland and my Cookie Cutters series. Oh, and Vitalis – it’s an amazing setting with so much opportunity it would take a team of writers to even begin to tap into its potential.

A lot of writers are scared or overwhelmed by the chaos in the publishing / writing industry these days. Don’t be! Embrace it. Make it your own and carve out a piece. Readers have more available to them now than ever. I’m looking forward to what 2014 brings, so let’s get started on it!

 

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

I’m Not This Creative

I can come up with some pretty far out concepts. One good example is an undiscovered planet that seems to possess a life and intelligence of its own — not to mention a desire to destroy anything remotely human (Vitalis). Or a way to combine our world with a darker version of Earth in a parallel dimension (Dark Earth, The Lost Girls).

In one book (two now, if I include Sex Sells and Broken Slipper) I’ve got an unlikely couple that found each other and turned a sleazy hobby into an Internet empire. I have aliens all but destroying humanity and leaving a barren and desolate planet behind (Human Nature). Other books feature wooden spaceships using magic to sail the solar waves through space (Voidhawk). Warriors and wizards fighting the forces of evil and waging a war against an insidious cult of dragon worshippers (Blades of Leander, Order of the Dragon). And probably a few other books I haven’t even thought of. Not to mention some great ideas I’ve got for future stories!

How about a man who’s happily married and working hard his entire life. They’ve got a kid and he’s happy and proud, though always busy and working towards keeping his family in a good place. Let’s say nearly two decades passes like this and life is good – until the man’s wife confides in him one day that in spite of all the money he’s given her the house payment has slipped for a few months.

He’s surprised and maybe a little irritated, but this is the mother of his child. The woman he knows better than himself. So he writes her a check with a little to spare. Not quite $20,000, but close enough it’s hard to tell the difference. Then a few months later he gets a call from somebody else telling him his house is entering foreclosure.

He’s sure it’s a mistake – his wife took care of it, right? Things start to happen fast. Email is uncovered and phones get turned off. Bank accounts are drained and closed out and he’s watching the life he carefully constructed spin around him out of control. The icing on the cake is finding out she’s been seeing another man. A man roughly thirty years older than he is.

Unbelievable, right? Who does that sort of thing? It’d make for a lifetime movie, except on that channel they’d probably change it so that woman is the one who’s wronged instead of the man. Nonetheless, this is a true story. It’s the story my family got sucked into by chance. The poor bastard in question is my landlord. The vindictive money hungry thunderc*nt would be his (now) ex-wife.

To be fair, there’s two sides (or more) to every story. Given that she emailed us asking us to change the account we direct deposit rent into without his knowledge and that she gave us her daughter’s cell phone number and encouraged us to call if we had any questions, her side is taking on water fast. She’s disappeared at present and my landlord has no idea where she is. His daughter can’t talk to him for more than a few minutes before her grandfather takes the phone from her and tells him he can’t speak to her (daughter or mother) and hangs up.

So my friends, no matter how bad you think you’ve got it, or how crazy you may think your significant other can be, rest assured that somebody out there drew a shorter straw. It’s amazing, to say the least, and I can’t help but feel bad for the guy. In fact, if I’ve whined or complained about having a deadbeat landlord as we dealt with renting a house going into foreclosure, let me publicly retract and apologize any and all such statements. The person in need of being dumped into a full septic tank and left to marinate for a while is his ex-wife, not him.

I asked myself if I could use any of this experience in a future book and who knows, perhaps I will. Nothing comes to mind right now though because this is an example where real life is stranger — and more cruel — than fiction.

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Cinderella Never Looked This Good

On this blog I’ve been absent for a while. Months, and lots of them. So what better way to open it back up than with a notice about a brand new book? This one’s called Broken Slipper and it picks up a year after Forbidden Love ended. If those titles sound a little, uh, unusual, it’s because they are. These books are in my Homeland series, which blends espionage, secret agents, and smut. Yes, they are erotic books and definitely for mature reading audiences. But hey, there’s plenty of romance, suspense, and action tossed in as well to round them out.

Broken Slipper is more than just a simple novel, it’s a mega-freaking-novel. Come to think of it, there’s some mega-freaking in it too, but that’s not what I meant. I meant it’s over 140,000 words long, which puts this puppy in the neighborhood of 600 pages. Even at the page turning pace this book demands it’ll keep you busy for a while! As a special incentive to hook people on this series I’ve also lowered the price of book 1 in the series, Forbidden Love, to only $0.99!

But enough about me trying to suggest you check it out, I’ll let the blurb, cover, and the book itself do that!

Special Agent Sarah Ford hated her desk and she hated her life. She’d been stuck behind it for a year thanks to the dark cloud that followed her every move. She knew it was there and so did her superiors– at least the ones that survived her last case.

When her request to be returned to the field was granted she jumped at the chance at redemption. The catch? She had to rely on her skills earned while putting herself through college as a hair stylist. Immersing herself back into the realm of cosmetology would soon be the least of her concerns.

Sarah, with the new name and wild hair of washed up wannabe actress Misty West, was needed to investigate rumors of a threat to national security in Phoenix, Arizona. Her agency secured a position for her in the most unlikely of places to learn more– working for Digital Treasures, an adult multimedia company that specialized in voyeurism and exhibitionism.

With a new partner fresh in the field from training, Misty finds herself in deeper than ever before. Juggling her duty and her ragged emotions is a full time job, let alone the things she begins to discover that threaten to not only shatter who she is, but the lives of countless others.

Broken Slipper, book 2 in the Homeland series by Jason Halstead

Amazon

Amazon UK

Barnes and Noble

iTunes (coming soon)

Kobo

Smashwords

Sony (coming soon)

To learn more about Jason Halstead visit his website to read about him, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Fricking Awesome

I’ll admit I’m not usually given to such eloquent words of praise. In this case though I think it’s very applicable. That’s how I feel about what a reader just said in a review on Amazon about my Lost Girls series, in particular the final book, Black Widow. Don’t believe me? Here’s the 5 star review in full:

Fricking Awesome October 2, 2012
I bought the whole series and if the author sees this, let me just say thank you and please write more. Usually I’d be more descriptive but I’m feeling a little sleepy. I definitely recommend reading this book. You will be entertained. I honestly think all of the books would be perfect as a movie if given to the right individual. :) Love the characters and storylines especially in this particular one.
How could I feel anything but a giant warm fuzzy feeling after reading that? Truth be told, it kind of echoes what I thought of the book as I wrote it, but to be fair the characters in that book touched me in ways different and perhaps deeper than any other characters I’ve ever written about. There was a lot of pain in those characters, some of it I induced, but also a lot of joy. Okay, I suppose I created all of the pain, not just some of it, but with a good character I don’t feel like I created them. It’s more like they just showed up one day and offered to let me write about them. That’s how it was with Katalina Wimple.
Sadly, I don’t have any more planned for Katy. Not only am I afraid of what she might do to me if I tried to run her through a meat grinder again, but her friends and family have become very formidable as well. I don’t want to be the first writer tortured and killed by his own fictional characters!
On the matter of movies – I’d love to have my books turned into movies. I write them with the thought in my head of seeing them on a big (or at least medium) screen. So far nobody has stumbled across them and offered to take me up on the offer, but I remain hopeful!
So instead I write about other people. Take Carl Waters, one of my first characters in the book, Wanted. He and Jessie are back and more fun (and irascible) than ever in Bounty, the third and final book in their trilogy that I’m working on now.  So far I’ve worked in another measly 800 words today on the story. My plan calls for a couple thousand more (at least). It’s a great book so far and I can’t wait to share it with the world. Wanted has a bunch of great reviews too, by the way (and it’s free on Amazon).
Now I’d better get back to writing! There are a lot of people who are anxious for this book to come out. I hope, if you’re reading this, you’re one of them!
To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

You Want Me to Write about WHAT?

August 24, 2012 11 comments

I’ve been a writer on the side for several years now. Officially, that is. Unofficially I’ve been writing since I was…well, a lot younger than I am now (let’s not get hung up on details). I’ve gone through the stages where I wrote tried to figure out what to write and who to write it for. I’ve scoffed at some genres then been knocked on my butt when I found out how well some of those genres sold. Through it all I have been write about one thing – writing a book about basket weaving is not going to make me rich! :)

A while back I read a study that indicated the majority of e-readers were owned by women. It wasn’t a big majority, but anything over 50% counts. Conversely, the majority of tablets were owned by men (or in my case owned by me but used by my children to play games on). That made me begin to understand why some of the genres were so successful (e.g. romance and it’s many shades). So all I had to do was write romance-ish books, right? Well… not exactly.

My wife recently picked up 50 Shades of Grey. I was torn on the decision. On the one hand it’s a book with loads of bad reviews, written by a writer that made me grimace when I sampled the blurb and some of the text within, and it’s very poorly edited. Professionally speaking, I just couldn’t condone it. But then there’s the sheer volume of copies sold, not to mention the promising secondhand mention of the affect its had upon women reading it (one friend recommend I “nip down to the shops and get some plastic ties, cuffs & a whip”). With advice like that, how could I deny her?

To continue the tangent, my wife is most of the way through it and her opinion of it is that it’s not her thing (the BDSM), the writing seems immature or inexperienced, and there are countless mistakes throughout that are driving her crazy. But she’s still reading it. And no, I haven’t needed the ties, cuffs, or whip.

So I asked her what the deal was. The movie Magic Mike was a big success amongst women and the most regular review is that there’s too much plot and not enough dancing. Similarly, books like 50 Shades are light (at best) on plot and long on smut. Is this a sign that (like usual) most men have no clue what women want? Do you ladies want sexy, fun, light, and humorous entertainment without the burden of plot and story behind it? Oh sure, there needs to be enough to make it look good if somebody should glance over and ask about it. Think of it as a beard covering the steamy parts hidden within.

I asked my wife that same question and I got a half smile and a shrug. That’s it. What the heck is that? How do I, and other writers, provide the kinds of things you’d like without being able to get any clear guidance or data? Maybe that’s just my man-brain and the quest for something that makes sense, but throw us a bone here. Ladies, you’ve been dating and marrying us for years. You know by now us guys don’t do well picking up subtlety. Help us help you…

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

Bound to End Up On Your E-Reader

…I hope! Bound just happens to be the name of my newest release. It’s an edgy romance novel, and by edgy I mean it has some delightfully naughty points in it. The story centers around a boy who makes a mistake and spends the next ten years of his life paying for it, then he has the chance to start fresh but realizes he doesn’t have a clue. Enter the female lead – the same young lady who was indirectly responsible for ruining his life in the first place. His father warned him about girls like her…

Bound, a stand alone Dark Earth romance novel by Jason Halstead

Wrongfully imprisoned for a crime he committed, James Macavoy’s regimented life is suddenly turned upside down when he’s released from prison into a world that’s all but forgotten about him. Sabrina’s the one person that remains for Jimmy, the woman who’s very existence made it possible for Jimmy’s life to be ruined.

 If adapting to a life without walls isn’t hard enough, Jimmy must decide if he can love her or hate her.

Bound on Amazon

Bound on Amazon UK

Bound on Smashwords

Bound on Barnes and Noble

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

The Fear of Betrayal

Here’s chapter 15 of Betrayal’s Hands. It’s nearing the original stories end, but I think I’ll need to rewrite the ending to make it a complete story. Originally I’d hoped for a trilogy but I lost my steam in taking the story any further beyond this initial volume…at least for now. Perhaps when the characters in my other series and stories stop being so damn interesting and fun I’ll revisit Cor, Teri, and Anna…but that’s for the future!

 

Chapter 15

 

“Why did we leave the forest?” Teri asked as they stood along the edge of the Darkwood. The morning sun offered hope of a pleasant day, though neither one felt their mood brightened.

“There are things in the northern reaches of the Darkwood you’d not want to run into,” Cor said. “Things that make your last boyfriend look like a family pet.”

Teri made a face at Cor behind his back for his comment about Krev, but otherwise let the barb go unanswered. Instead she asked, “So where do we go? This way leads to Aradmath.”

“I told you I’d show you the way to Nordlamar,” Cor said gruffly. “It’s to the north. I’ll take you through the fens on this side, then you’re on your own.”

“I don’t want to go there,” Teri lied in a quiet voice.

Cor glanced at her and saw that she was lying. He shook his head, baffled by the contradictions posed by the small female. “It’s a good place for a girl like you. Lots of people be happy to help you out, and you can meet a good man there.”

Teri’s jaw dropped. “How dare you,” she said, stunned. “I don’t need to meet a good man, I…” It was true, she didn’t want a good man. She wanted Cor.

“Fine,” He snapped, interrupting her. Shrugging, he turned away from her before muttering, “There’s plenty of good women you could meet too, if that’s your mind.”

Confused by this last comment, Teri remained too stunned by it to mount a retort. Cor started walking, keeping near the verge of the woods, and Teri was forced to trail after him. After a few minutes of walking in silence Teri’s face began to burn. She’d realized what he’d meant by his last comment. She tucked her chin down, trying to hide her embarrassment. It wasn’t unheard of in Aradmath, the joining of two women, but it was hardly polite conversation.

The pace he set wasn’t as brutal as that of the prior day. Teri found she could keep up with the big man, although it took most of her energy and concentration to do so. She wondered for a brief moment if Cor could have out-walked Krev with his long legged pace.

She had little chance to talk throughout the day, even when he stopped to rest she found herself too tired for thought. When she caught her breath embarrassment stayed her tongue. Cor’s wit was rapier sharp and no matter what she said he always seemed to be able to infuriate her with his retort.

That night, fatigued and aching, she nevertheless stirred up the energy to ask of him, “Why can’t you be nice?”

Cor looked at her, surprised by the blunt question. He almost laughed at her, then realized it might not be what she wanted by way of a response. He shook his head and muttered something under his breath about women.

“I saved you, didn’t I?” He asked, annoyed. “I’m taking you somewhere where you’ll be safe. I even kept you a maiden, as you claim to be.”

He stood up from where he’d been tending the fire and stared at her, then with a growl he turned and moved off into the darkness descending around the campsite. She caught something from him about never satisfying a woman as he stalked off to make sure nothing came at them from the swampy fens they were on the border of.

Teri, frustrated with Cor’s strange behavior, shook her head. “Claim to be?” She kicked at an offensive dirt lump, “Why would I claim to be something I’m not?” She vented her frustrations aloud. Suddenly a thought occurred to her which had been hiding in the back of her consciousness for some time. “He thinks… that Krev… that I…” Hysterical laughter pealed from her and she collapsed against a tree trunk. Tears ran unheeded down her face, and the giggles simply couldn’t be put down.

This was how Cor found her when he came storming back from the fen. “What the…” He reached out and shook her gently, and then realizing she was hysterical, and without thinking, he slapped her across the face. As soon as the blow connected, he was backing away. Teri had stopped laughing, and was sitting slumped against the tree with her hand over her face.

She’d been slapped before. Much harder, in fact. Cor’s blow almost seemed playful compared to Krev’s heavy handed discipline. Still, she hadn’t expected it. It stung and surprised her, and the simple fact that he did it made her eyes fill with tears. She looked up at him through her fingers and saw the look on his face.

She gasped.

Teri had expected a glare or a look of smugness. What she saw made her heart open for him in spite of his brutality. It was brutality that, she now knew, was unintentional. He looked like someone that had just accidentally killed his own family.

“Cor,” she said, letting her hands fall away. Already a red mark was appearing on her cheek.

He backed up another step, his hands coming up in front of him defensively. “I… No. No, not again!” He backed up another step and then whispered with moisture in his eyes and pain in his voice. “I’m sorry.”

He was gone then, turning and stumbling not only away from the campsite, but into the fens.

“No!” Teri cried after him, scrambling to her feet and following into the marsh. “Wait! Please!” She stumbled on a hummock and splashed into the muddy water. When she looked up, he was gone. Determined not to let him flee to his death, she followed doggedly, stumbling and splashing in the fen water. “Don’t leave me!” she wailed, suddenly afraid of what it might mean for them both if he continued to run. She might indeed lose her life, but from the look on his face, she felt it possible that Cor would lose his soul.

When he came to his senses, Cor was a good distance ahead of the girl in the dark marsh. He could hear her splashing about behind him. Stopping, he crouched in the dark, struggling to pull himself together. “Cor?” She called to him. “Please, I’m not hurt…” He could tell she was crying now, her voice growing hoarse with the tears. “Don’t leave me alone…”

The fens were dark and there was an unpleasant smell rising from the murky water. Not the smell of plants and earth that Teri had expected, but more a stench of death, of rotting flesh and putrescence. The scent and the darkness, coupled with sounds echoing from hidden places, amplified Teri’s fear.

“Please Cor…” Teri was sure he couldn’t hear her. He was gone and she was alone in this terrifying place. She continued to splash through the muddy water, her clothes soaked through and her body chilled to the bone. She started to shake, but more from fear than cold. She stopped moving and sat despondently on one of the taller hummocks rising from the marsh.

“How am I going to get out of this?” She wept aloud to herself, and then she straightened some. “At least if I die here, it will be better than going back.” She sighed, and picked herself up to continue wading through the water.

Cor shuddered, still crouched in the shadows only a few paces ahead of the girl. His face was wet with tears he couldn’t remember, and his heart still raced. He wondered for a moment how he had gotten himself into this mess, he was in no position to be responsible for a girl, even a pretty one like Teri. Gathering the tattered remnants of his dignity to his breast, he stepped out from his concealment.

Teri shrieked as a dark shape moved towards her from the dense brush. Flailing her arms wildly, she would have landed in one of the deeper pools if the blackness hadn’t caught her first. She thrashed and struck out at her captor, until the black beast growled, “Stop that you little fool! Unless you’d like me to let you drown?”

Cor’s voice sent little thrills up and down Teri’s spine, and she began to weep in earnest her relief at having found him. “Thank the Lady you came back!” was what he thought he heard from the face pressed into his chest. His hand reached down and tipped her face up so that he could see her. He chuckled softly at the image she presented, all mud and weeds. Her pretty eyes peered solemnly out from behind a mask of mud.

“They wouldn’t recognize you now.” He smiled, feeling a bit better from her obvious joy at their reunion.

“No,” she giggled, “I don’t suppose they would.”

The moment, tender and filled with promise, was fleeting. As much as the desires Cor had hidden deep within himself fought to be let loose, his caution overpowered them. “Come, the fens are no place to spend the night.”

Teri’s greatest concern wasn’t the dangers of the swamp, but rather the fright she must look. She just knew that if she were cleaner Cor would have been unable to resist her, swamp or no. She reached up and wiped some of the grime from her cheeks, hoping to make a difference. She knew how precious the moment was; how rare and possibly unique the opportunity.

“Come, this is no place to dally,” he said again, his tone softening the effects of the words.

Cor pulled away from her and turned, aiming for the southern edge of the fens. Teri hurried to stay close to him, reaching out and capturing her hand in his. Cor took a deep breath but otherwise made no sign he noticed.

Once back at their campsite Cor grudgingly allowed a small campfire so that Teri could warm herself. She, in turn, grew bold by the turn of events. “How much water do we have?” She asked him.

“Two skins we filled earlier, why?” Cor asked her, uncertain.

“I need to get out of these muddy clothes and clean them,” she said, untying the laces on the crudely sewn dress she’d made for herself over the winter.

Cor felt his heart beat faster. He looked forward to seeing her, but didn’t welcome the distraction and confusion it would bring. Reluctantly he said, “Let it dry on you, there’s no water safe to drink until we clear the fens.”

Teri’s final hopes were dashed against the rocks. She’d been ready, then and there, to let Cor have her. She bit her lip and blinked away the tears of rejection. After a long moment of fighting to maintain her composure she asked, “may I at least wash my face?”

Cor gave her one of his rare smiles and nodded, “won’t help, but go ahead.”

Teri’s mouth fell open in spite of herself. Fresh tears sprang to her eyes and a small squeak of protest escaped her mouth. She stood up and turned away, stomping a few feet away from him, where she hugged her arms about herself.

How could he? She could not believe that he could just so callously insult her like that. Perhaps the Aradmathian view of women being little better than property was true. Perhaps she was no more than a object of passing fancy.

She was surprised when she felt Cor’s hand on her shoulder, pulling gently at her. She resisted at first, and only when he gave up and removed it did she turn to face him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, the words sounding strange coming from a man such as he. “I meant it could not improve your looks.”

Teri, without thinking, reached out to slap him. Cor jerked his face back, surprised by her speedy and sudden attack. Her fingers still grazed his lips and chin, leaving a tingling sensation in their passage.

“Gods, woman!” Cor said, holding his hands up defensively. “That’s not it! I meant that you are pretty no matter what mess you’ve made of yourself!”

Teri’s hand no covered her own face, and fresh tears ran from her eyes clearing a path of dirt and mud from her cheeks. “Cor… I’m sorry! I thought you meant… I thought…”

“You thought I was like your betrothed?” Cor guessed.

Teri nodded, too ashamed to speak.

Cor chuckled self-deprecatingly. “I’m probably worse,” he said. Then he shrugged and turned away and headed back to their campsite.

Teri followed him, sitting down on a rock and reaching for her skin of water. She splashed some in her hands and then proceeded to rinse her face reasonably clean. She looked up at him and found him watching her afterwards.

“Less a swamp rat and more of a drowned rat,” he said with a smile.

Teri understood he meant no insult this time, though his smile was what it took to convince. She smiled in return and thanked him, then blurted out the question truly bothering her. “Why are you so hard on yourself? What horrors have you done?”

Cor blinked in surprise at her question, then sighed. “I’ve too much blood on my hands,” he admitted finally, staring at her challengingly.

“Too much blood? You were a soldier, weren’t you?”

Cor shrugged. “Yes, I was.”

Teri looked at him curiously. Something about his manner clued her in that she had guessed poorly. “That’s not it, is it?”

Cor chuckled darkly again. “This is no game, lass. I was a soldier, that’s where I learned how to kill. It’s what I do best,” he said. Then, in almost a whisper he admitted, “and I learned that it’s easy to do… more so when the innocent fall before me.”

Teri’s eyes widened at his vague but chilling confession. She couldn’t imagine the man that had saved her butchering the innocent. It seemed so out of character. Sure, he had his grumpy moments – a lot of them, in fact. But even at his worst she couldn’t imagine him committing such an evil action.

“I don’t know what you did, nor who you are,” Teri said softly and slowly, making sure each word was spoken as heartfelt as she meant it. “But I do know that I cannot see such a person in you.”

“You don’t know me,” he said. Anxious to be done with the conversation, he rose up from his seat. “I’ll take watch, get some sleep.”

“Cor, wait!” Teri said.

With an impatient pose he turned to face her. “What?”

Pressing the time she had remaining to her, she said. “I’ve grown to know you well over the winter and now. You are bothered, true, but you are a caring and gentle person. One who only commits to force when no other option is available.”

Sarcastically, he said, “like when I slapped you earlier.”

Teri shook her head emphatically. “No! I let my emotions get control of me and needed it, I think, to make me stop. I realized that you thought I loved Krev, or that I had lain with him.”

“And that amuses you?”

“Yes, it does,” she said, smiling. Her smile faded as she made herself remember her captivity to the half-ogre. “Krev was a monster and a brute. At best I could get him to talk with me at times, but I was his slave. He made me do things for him, some unpleasant, some horrible.”

“And yet you remain a maiden?” Cor asked, his tone one of disbelief.

Teri could accept his suspicion at her claim. It was a bold one to make, that a simple bandit would leave her, a young and attractive woman, untouched. “He insisted that I would fetch a better price as a maiden.”

Cor nodded, understanding the claim as possible. “He made me do other things for him in place of that,” Teri openly admitted.

“Other things?” Cor was curious, even if the question bordered on the inappropriate.

Teri blushed but wouldn’t relinquish his gaze nor the rare moment of openness between them. If it meant spilling her soul to him she would do it, if only it would get him to open up to her in turn. She would do anything to help him, she realized. Anything at all.

“Yes, other things. He taught me how to pleasure a man with my mouth and hands, and taunted me with the threat that one day he would take me in other… well, my maidenhood would remain intact, at least.”

Cor watched her carefully for her reaction. She spoke openly and honestly, it seemed, and though she was embarrassed she confessed willingly to him. “And these are the things you offered to me once?”

Teri nodded, a fresh surge of redness appearing on her cheeks. “Yes, I did,” she said softly. She wondered if he wanted them now. In spite of the sadness she felt at the thought that he might use her thusly, she felt a tingle in her belly and in her loins at the thought of it.

“And do you still offer them?” He pressed.

The excitement at her progress with him dropping considerably, she nevertheless held her ground. “If you desire me in such a way, yes.”

“Sounds like it must have been horrible,” he muttered before he could bite off the bitter sarcasm. He did, indeed, desire her, but not like that. No, if that was all she offered then he was by far better off abandoning her as soon as possible. Once she was safe, of course.

Teri blinked the moisture from her eyes that his verbal slap caused her. She took a deep breath and said insistently, “There was no pleasure from it for me. He was a cruel monster that used me for his pleasure and beat me if I refused or did not perform to his liking. With you it would be different, I think. I hope.”

Cor looked at her, at a loss for words. He opened his mouth and then shut it, deciding he dare not say anything before thinking it through. Finally he nodded and said, “Yes, I would never beat you.”

Teri smiled sadly. “That’s a kindness, but it’s not what I meant.”

Cor nodded, suspecting as much. “I… yeah, well, I’m going to make sure nothing followed us out of the swamp. Get some rest, we’ve a hard day ahead of us tomorrow.”

Teri nodded and watched as he turned and left the campsite. He looked back at her once then was gone into the darkness. She sighed longingly. “Why won’t you love me?” She asked softly of the night.

 

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com.

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