Sneak Peek: Daughter of Ashes, out 10.20.2016!

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Dear Readers –

I am delighted to announce Daughter of Ashes, out 10.20.2016! It will be the first in a new series full of vengeance, court intrigue, dark magic, and – yes – a touch of romance … ! Read on for the first chapter, and stay tuned for release day!

Don’t want to miss it? Sign up for the mailing list HERE to make sure you get an email on launch day!

M

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Chapter 1

Her brother’s sword came down on hers with a clang and Alleyne gave an agonized cry. She struggled to keep her hold. Her muscles were screaming and Almeric’s sword was inching down slowly, closer and closer to her. His eyes were locked on hers, black as jet and just as uncaring.

Behind him, the door seemed impossibly distant. If she could only make it to the door, everything she had wanted for thirteen years would be hers. She could not reclaim what had been lost, but she could get her revenge: she could sink her dagger into her target’s chest and let him know—if only for a moment—what it felt like to run, scared, knowing there was a knife in the darkness.

She just had to get to the door first, and that meant getting past Almeric.

Down, the sword crept. Down. The hallway was closing around her, claustrophobic; the need for freedom was growing nearly as strong as her desire for revenge. She knew she should not let panic overtake her, but she was losing the will to fight it. She braced her feet. Her arms were shuddering. She was so tired, every part of her wanted to release her hold, let his sword sweep down and …. Pain? There would be pain, yes, but she didn’t care, anymore.

Almost.

The moment an opponent drew blood, Alleyne knew, it could all be over. Strength could ebb and momentum could shift in a single moment; of two battered and exhausted combatants, the one who had drawn blood could taste victory, and the other could not.

“Almeric…” Her voice broke on the word. She hadn’t considered the plea before it came out.

Her brother said nothing. He was breathing hard now, she’d forced him into retreat more than once. But it wasn’t enough. He was taller, stronger. His sword was heavier than hers, and he was slowly bringing his weight to bear on her. Her sword wavered, and gave a downward jerk, and Alleyne bit her lip to keep back another cry. She could see death in those eyes.

She wavered—and at last summoned all of her fading strength. Power burst out of her, the strength in her shaking legs, in her hips, in her back, all driving up and into the sword with a despairing yell. Her foot swept up, planted on Almeric’s chest, and slammed out; he went staggering back with a grunt of pain.

The tip of her sword dipped down, almost brushing the ground as she swept it back up and over her head. She was on the advance now, and he was scrambling to regain his advantage as she circled out, trying to drive him toward a corner. She had to turn him about before he realized what was happening. In a fight, sweat dripping down and an opponent’s sword slashing, it was possible for even the best swordsman to be led.

But Almeric had always been better than she was. Four years with the best teachers money could buy, all of their father’s height, and a cool, calculating mind. His head came up as he parried her blows, and she saw the smile in his eyes.

There was one way into this, and that was to fight harder, faster. She only had to make it to the door. She could feel the latch on her palm, but the thought of pulling it open was too much.

No. She would face that when she got to it. For now she just had to—

She almost missed the opening, she was so preoccupied. Cursing herself, hoping she wasn’t too late, Alleyne slid her sword into the gap in Almeric’s guard and jerked her arms sideways. His sword tumbled out of his hands to clatter away on the floor and she spun. Her heel caught him on the temple and he went down in a sprawl.

She didn’t wait for him to get up. If she did, she was dead. She pushed off with all her strength and threw her own sword away from her. Two steps to the door and she was wrenching it open.

Get to the door, kill the target, and then she would be safe. Safe to run, jump into the edge of the broad river and lose herself in the current. The river was crowded with boats, but Alleyne could outswim anything and anyone, and it was three stories down. Few people could make that jump, and Almeric was not one of them.

A hand closed around her shoulder. Almeric dragged her back, spun her, and his gloved hand came down across her face. He threw her at the door and the back of her head hit the wood with a crack that sent stars bursting through her vision.

When her gaze cleared, she was on the floor. It was only instinct that kept her moving, but her arms weren’t strong enough to push herself up. In dazed horror, she watched her brother stroll to pick up the sword. The world was spinning and she closed her eyes against tears as he came to crouch next to her, sword held easily.

“Do you know where you went wrong?” His voice was soft.

Despite her best efforts, the tears were leaking out. She knew where she’d gone wrong, and she didn’t want to hear it. “Don’t.”

“You should have killed me when you had the chance,” he warned. “I was down. If you’d ended it there …. ”

He let the words hang.

Alleyne said nothing. The air was dragging into her raw throat. Breathing hurt, but her body seemed determined to do it.

He wrapped her fingers around the hilt of the sword. “Up. Again.”

Her eyes opened at last and she stared up at him. Fantasy was fading away, until all that was left was the length of their tiny set of rooms and the heavy wooden door at the end. No marble hallways, no incense heavy in the air. Only the endless, endless game of Get to the Door.

“Not again. Not tonight.”

“Yes.” He stood and went to retrieve his sword. “And this time, no weakness. If you can’t even beat me…how are you possibly going to get past the Imperial Guard? Revenge is worth nothing if you’re dead.”

*****

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I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek!

I’ve edited this post as Daughter of Ashes is now out on Amazon!

(If you read on another platform, please contact me – the choice between Amazon-exclusive and wide distribution is complex, and hearing from you helps me choose!)

-M

P.S. Not to worry – Battlemage is still in the works!

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