Three Tips for Staying Grounded in a Crazy World

Happy New Year, everyone, and welcome to 2018!

I feel confident in putting this as a fait accompli, even though I’m writing this midday on 12/31/17 because I imagine most of you will be reading this in 2018, or as near to it as functionally doesn’t matter. I’m also confident that 2018 will arrive, which hasn’t always been the case.

It’s funny looking back at the turn of the millennium and thinking the whole banking/computer change from a two-digit year to a four-digit year was the worst thing that could happen… I look forward to the day when we can look back, shake our heads at the 2016 election, and trade our “where were you when you found out Trump was actually elected?” stories.

Until then, we do what we can to resist an increasingly authoritarian regime while still keeping our sanity. Thus, my take on this week’s topic at the SFF Seven: Keeping Your Sanity: 3 Things You Do To Stay Balanced/Grounded/In Control. Come on over!


Santa arrived just in time! The third Missed Connections book, SINCE LAST CHRISTMAS, made it out for Christmas!

(We could even call it a Christmas Miracle!)

Anyway, it’s out and available for… did I mention CHRISTMAS??

Hey, there’s a menorah joke in it, too. 

Buy the Book

A little excerpt for you all!

With renewed determination, I wove through the crush looking for Brad. The whole point of bringing him was so I wouldn’t have to stand around alone. I’d brought him to be my arm candy. Men did it all the time, so I refused to feel bad about wanting the same. I craned my neck, looking for him. There he was, taking a group pic with some guys using the telescoping selfie-stick he kept in his jacket pocket like a ballpoint pen. The pocket-protector of the modern era—that fashion statement telegraphed social media aficionado. The guys held up their signature cocktails, identical smiles of white and even teeth, the flash strobing from flattering shadows to glaring bright reveal.

“Amy.” Jon Ahearn appeared in front of me, a serious smile on his stubbly face. And not stubbly in a hip statement way, but in an “I forgot to shave” way. Or maybe an “I didn’t bother to buy new razor blades” way. He, for one, had barely changed since our teens. I’d know him anywhere, though we only ever saw each other anymore at this party.

“Jon. Merry Christmas.” I gave him a light hug with lots of air in it, trying to look past him unobtrusively. They were trying another pose.

“How’ve you been?” Jon asked. “I mean,” he added, “you look fantastic. But then, you always do.”

“Thanks.” I gave up keeping an eye on Brad and focused a smile on Jon. I would not be like our ruder classmates, forever scanning for someone more important to talk to. Jon had been a scholarship student, too, only he’d been defiantly uncaring about it, wearing whatever and refusing to play any of the polite games. He was at Wildwood, he’d once told me, to get into MIT, and that was all he cared about. He’d done it, too, then went for graduate school at University of Chicago. “How’s grad school?” I asked politely. Then jumped as my phone chimed with notifications. I sipped more from my drink.

“A gauntlet from hell,” Jon confided, adding a rueful grimace. “Which is exactly how they intend it to be. Semester ended today, so I at least have teaching over with, except for the grading. I’m hoping to get some substantial work done on my dissertation over the break.”

“Hmm,” I said. He’d told me at a previous reunion party what he was working on. Last year or the one before. He worked on an intersection of math, physics, and engineering, something esoteric enough that I’d retained little of it. Perpetual motion and entropy… Nope. Wasn’t in my head, so I shouldn’t try or I’d butcher it. “That will be good.”

“How’s your job—ready for world domination yet?”

I smiled. “World domination through silk and cashmere, anyway, but yeah—working at Exposition Way is amazing and Adelina is even looking at my designs.”

“She’s smart then, because you’re really talented.”

“Thanks.” We gazed at each other and I was thinking up something else to ask when my phone chimed again. At least I didn’t jump that time.

“Do you need to get that?” Jon pointed his chin at my clutch, hanging from its silver chain against my hip. “Your phone.”

“No.” I should have silenced the damn thing. Flicking open the purse catch, I reached in and flipped the side switch to mute. “It’s just tags—Instagram, Facebook. You know.”

“Tags. Yeah. No.” He shook his head and I had to laugh.

“You’re still not doing social media? I can’t believe you’ve escaped its clutches entirely.”

“The secret is never looking at the stuff.” Then he tilted his head slightly and added a significant lift to his dark brows. “I never heard from you.”

Quite the transition, there. I searched my mind. Had I promised to call him or something? People ask me for job leads sometimes—fashion is all about who you know—but that wouldn’t be Jon. Besides, we didn’t have any contact outside of these semi-awkward annual reunions. Jon was part of a past I didn’t like to think about, and I’d thought he, if not delighted about that, at least had not objected.

He watched me flailing, not giving any more hints, a kind of benign resignation settling over his expression. Jon wasn’t unhandsome, once you got past the scruffiness, with curly black hair that tended toward unruly—especially as he never bothered to get a good haircut—and dark brown eyes, intense with intelligence. I felt a bit like a lab rat that failed to escape the maze. No cheese for you, I thought to myself grimly, and awarded myself a healthy swallow of the cocktail.

“You don’t remember,” he said. Not accusing, but stating a fact. He shook his head a little, as annoyed with himself as I’d been about my phone. Then he met my gaze again and, to my surprise—and you know I don’t like surprises—I saw anger in them. Jon was pissed at me and I had no idea why.

“So, what is it?” he asked in a measured tone that didn’t fool me. “Do you have some special pit in your head where you toss everything that has to do with me?”


Need those buy links again? 

(ho ho ho!)


And all of you have a wonderful holiday season, whatever and however you celebrate!

The Formidable Four

This release week for AMID THE WINTER SNOW has been so fantastic, and it’s all because of you readers. Grace noted that two different reviews referred to us as “four formidable authors,” so now we feel like a superhero team. The Formidable Four!! I totally get to be the Jessica Jones wine-drinking, smart-assing one, right??

Anyway, we’ve been #1 all week in Fantasy Anthologies and Short Stories, except for brief excursions when a book with a BookBub ads bumps us for a time. We’re so delighted and gratified. 

I’m winding up my excerpts and mini-reviews with this one from Elizabeth Hunter’s story, The Storm! 

I’ve loved Elizabeth’s Irin world since I read THE SCRIBE. Her stories are deeply felt and complex battles between fallen angels, and span centuries. In The Storm, her steadfast hero finally tracks his love down in her last hiding place. I love the snowbound house high in the mountains, and how he insists she see him clearly – and face the old pain that’s blinded her. It’s a lovely story of the dark night of the soul and ultimate redemption. 

Buy the Book



Max returned from the caves while she was reading a book by the fire.

“There is food set out in the kitchen,” she said quietly, not looking up.

“Thank you.” He didn’t go to the kitchen. He crossed the living room and sprawled on the couch, forcing his head into her lap. “That library must have been remarkable.”

She put her book down, knowing he took pleasure in distracting her. “It was.”

“Has no one come back in over two hundred years? No one even came looking for the scrolls?”

“Maybe.” She combed her fingers through Max’s thick blond hair. It was wavy—almost curly—and shone gold in the firelight. “I didn’t return to this place for over one hundred years. Someone might have been back before that, but they would have seen everything gone.”

“Not everything.” He grabbed her hand. Kissed her palm. “I can still feel so much joy in that place. The magic in the walls is still vibrant.”

Renata closed her hand, curling her fingers into her palm. “I only feel pain. Loss.”

“There are both. Pain and joy. That is life. There’s something in the tunnels I want you to—”

“Don’t make me go back there.” She sighed. “Max, I know I can’t get rid of you, but can you just…”


“Let me be.” She closed her eyes. “Just let me be. Ignore me. You are welcome to stay here and rest. Explore the library as much as you want. Eat my food. But let me be. If you need to, pretend I’m not here.”

He nipped the heel of her hand with his teeth. “Well, that would be idiotic.”

She frowned. “Why?”

“Because I didn’t come here for a quiet mountain getaway, Reni. I didn’t come to explore a library. I came for you.”

Excerpt from Thea Harrison

Another excerpt today! This time from Thea Harrison.

I loved this story for all the reasons I love Thea’s stuff. Great hero, with his gruff exterior and tender heart, his noble striving to do the right thing. And Lily is a wonderful heroine. Smart and determined, also striving to do the right thing. I love how she exercises her powers and surprises him with her abilities. I would have eaten up their story as a novel, frankly, but I loved it at this length, too. 


“You might as well order an early supper,” Wulfgar said to Gordon. “Have Jada bring two plates for the priestess and me. I want you to prepare quarters for her. After we eat, we’ll get her settled for the night. I want her close by.”

Once again, he was disposing of Lily as if she were a possession. Frowning, she opened her mouth, but Gordon spoke first.

“Shall I prepare my tent?” he asked. “Since it’s beside yours, it would be easy enough for the guards to keep watch over her as well. I can make a pallet for myself in here, if that would suffice. Or, if you would prefer, I’m sure Jermaine will be amenable if I bunk with him. You’ll have to send for me if you want something.”

“Go ahead and bunk with Jermaine,” Wulfgar told him. “Once supper arrives, I won’t need your services until morning. And be sure to add another brazier and plenty of fuel to your tent. Extra bedding as well.”

“Very good, sir.” Bowing his head, Gordon slipped out.

Sucking a tooth sourly, Lily contemplated the contents in her goblet. When Wulfgar turned to her, she could feel his attention, almost as if it were a physical touch.

“Now what does that expression imply?” He sounded amused.

She took a sip, more to procrastinate for a few moments than from any real desire to drink. She knew what Margot would do—Margot would fume at the preemptory treatment and probably start another argument, but that didn’t seem productive.

The warm wine was an explosion of flavor, spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and orange. After she swallowed, she said cautiously, “I’m not used to being talked about as if I’m not in the room, or disposed of like a… a trunk full of books. But I’m also not experienced at being a liaison for anybody, so…”

“Point taken. Next time I’ll include you in the discussion.” He took a seat, letting his long legs sprawl, and drank wine. “What do you see your role as?”

She shrugged. “I’m not a servant, but I’m not an official ambassador either. I— We— Basically Margot told me to try to behave myself and explain anything you needed to have explained.”

“And assess my camp. Assess me.” His gaze was penetrating. She felt as she had back on the dock, that he was taking in every detail about her and probably seeing more than she wanted him to see. That thought brought a wash of warmth to her face.

“Yes,” she admitted.

“So… assess me.” He gestured at the empty seat across from him. “What do you see?”

Moving to take the seat, she studied him. The black linen shirt revealed the strong, clean lines of his throat and the swell of muscle at the top of his pectoral. Even in such a relaxed pose he conquered the space, the tip of his boots almost reaching hers. His dark hair fell on his forehead, giving his hard features a somewhat boyish look.

No, that wasn’t the right word. There was nothing boyish about the dangerous man lounging so casually across from her.

Roguish. That was the word. The disheveled hair seemed to bely the discipline he had shown so far. He was amused by her.

She said, “You carry a great deal of rage, and you’re driven to accomplish what you have set out to do. It couldn’t wait until the spring—you needed to take action immediately. You won’t turn back or turn aside. But you’re disciplined about it, and despite your anger you’re thinking about the welfare of your men. From what little I’ve seen, you have a code that you are determined to live by, at least when you can. I haven’t seen enough of you to know what might happen to that code when you’re under duress.”

As she spoke, the roguish gleam in his gaze faded, and she fell silent, suddenly uncertain. Maybe she had read him wrong. Maybe he hadn’t really wanted to hear what she thought. But if he hadn’t, then why had he asked her?

She wanted to flail. She was no good in any social situation.

“Don’t stop now.” He tossed back the last of the wine in his goblet. “You just got started.”

So that meant he truly did want to hear the rest of it. Right?

Biting her lip, she continued. “You’re not above seizing every opportunity that comes your way, and you never stop thinking about how to turn things to your advantage. You’re a strategist. I’m no good at strategy, so I would be wary of playing chess with you because you’re always thinking four steps ahead. Your words carried a ring of truth when you said you did not kill the lord of Braugne. You haven’t said specifically who you believe did, but it is clear you see the king of Guerlan as your antagonist, so naturally there are inferences to be drawn. And yet this campaign of yours is about so much more than just avenging your lord’s death. You have the soul of a conqueror.” She hesitated, and then made herself say the rest of it. “I don’t think you will rest until you have taken all of Ys under your rule.”

As she finished, he watched her with the same hard, grim expression he had worn on the barge. Unpredictable. Uncompromising. The wolf in his psyche watched her as well, tension in its figure as if it were about to pounce.

He said in a soft, even voice, “That was unexpected.”


Copyright © Teddy Harrison LLC

All rights reserved

The Number One Bestseller Fantasy!


AMID THE WINTER SNOW released today and this is a lovely sight to see! Thanks everyone for pre-ordering and purchasing – and getting us this lovely #1 Best Seller in Fantasy ribbon!

I’m going to be featuring excerpts from the other three stories in the collection this week. Today is one from Grace Draven’s story, In the Darkest Midnight. I loved Grace’s story for the slow-build, the organic development of a truly strong love. Jahna and Velus seem destined for each other from the start, but their love grows based on mutual respect and friendship. Early on in writing this, Grace messaged me and explained that her heroine, Jahna, was a scribe and Grace was concerned that she’d be too much like Dafne, my heroine in THE PAGES OF THE MIND. She hadn’t planned it that way, but as she wrote, some of those similar aspects came through. Jahna isn’t the same character as Dafne, but I think they’d be good friends, just as Grace and I are! And I love in Jahna what I loved in Dafne, her enthusiasm for books and tales. Velus is the perfect foil for her, the master swordsman with keen fighting ability. The dancing scenes in the winter garden are lovely and the best kind of romance.

Also interesting, Grace’s story ends on a very similar scene as my story in this anthology does. Something we did NOT discuss at all.

A kind of magic, right there. 


Jahna envied her that particular talent and wished she might be able to employ the same as she tried for a second time to reach the main doors.  She wanted to race outside, kick up snow drifts and laugh with joy under the winter moon.  Her euphoria over Dame Stalt’s offer wasn’t dimmed by yet another interruption, this one even more welcomed than the dame’s had been.

“You remind me of a lantern whose flame burns bright, my lady.  Your eyes are dancing, though you are not.”  Sir Velus raised a questioning eyebrow, his own eyes green as the coveted sea glass brought over the mountains by the intrepid trade caravans and sold as jewelry to rich noblewomen. 

Jahna grinned, still riding on a swell of elation.  “I don’t dance because I’m never asked, Sir Velus.”  She hurried to qualify her statement in case he thought her remark a clumsy attempt at garnering an invitation from him.  “And I value my feet.  Too many drunk lords fancying themselves butterflies on the dance floor when they’re really oxen.”  His low laughter joined hers, and she thought his as delightful as his speech.  “Why aren’t you dancing?”

He’d been scrutinized, measured and admired the moment he walked through the doors.  A person would have to be without eyes or blindfolded not to see it.  That he hadn’t been swallowed up by the spinning, swaying crowd, a partner on his arm, puzzled Jahna.

Wry humor played across his mouth.  “Because I’m not important enough or high enough in status to warrant the time.  You’re young, but I suspect you know how this works.  This is a dance only on the surface.  Underneath is a battlefield and those who strategize best are the envy of even the most successful generals.”

She blinked.  He had just neatly summed up why she disliked this particular festival dance.  Its air of calculation, of desperate purpose, stripped the joy from it.  People used the event as an excuse to maneuver for position in court and negotiate marriages and trade alignments.  Her father waded into the thick of it, never dancing but flitting from one cluster of nobles to the next as he bargained and gleaned information that would expand his influence.

“You’re right,” she said.  “I don’t participate, but from here, it feels like I’m watching a battle instead of a dance sometimes.  I like the courtyard dances much more, especially the Maiden Flower Dance.  Have you seen it?”

Her companion nodded.  “I have.  The villages closest to Ilinfan come together to celebrate Delyalda.  The Maiden Flower Dance and the Firehound story are always the favorites.”

“I love the Firehound story!”  Jahna blushed, mortified by her enthusiastic outburst. She sounded more like an overly excited seven-year-old than the dignified young woman her father so desperately wanted her to be.

Sir Velus grinned, the expression one of appreciation instead of mockery.  “Mine too.  One of the older swordmasters possesses a touch of sorcery and can create the Hound from flame, though to be honest there’s been years where it looks more like a rabbit or piglet.”  He winked at her.  “Keep that between us.”

A bubble of laughter escaped her, and she captured it by covering her mouth with her hand.  She had met this man only hours earlier, knew almost nothing about him other than his profession and his purpose in being here, but oh, she liked him very much.  There was about him a steady confidence, as if he was very sure of his place in the world, with no need to prove his worth to anyone.  He’d shown her great kindness, even before he knew she was his employer’s daughter.

Why It’s Great to Be a Writer Today

Jackson has on his winter coat, which makes him exceptionally leonine and add a certain air of dignity. He’s no longer little-boy cat, but has become full-on man cat.

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is if you were to be a storyteller in a different time, when would you choose and why? Come on over to find out my answer!


Only two more days to get AMID THE WINTER SNOW at the preorder price of $4.99. At the break of December 12, 2017, the price goes up!

Spartan Heart

My friend, Jennifer Estep, has a new release in YA Urban Fantasy, if you’re into that sort of thing. And, frankly, why wouldn’t you be?? This is the first in a spinoff of her wildly popular Mythos Academy series. I’m a happily addicted fan of her Elemental Assassins series, so I have no doubt these rock, too. 

Plus, Jennifer is one of the good people.

More info below, including a look at the enticing Chapter One! 


New school year, same old problems . . . 

At Mythos Academy, everyone knows exactly who I am: Rory Forseti, Spartan girl and the daughter of Reapers.  

Even though I fought alongside my cousin Gwen Frost to save the mythological world from Loki and his evil Reapers of Chaos, I’m still the most hated girl at the academy because of all the horrible things my parents did. I had hoped that this school year would be different, but the other kids just won’t let me forget about my parents. 

But something strange is going on at the Colorado academy. First, I run into a Viking guy who dislikes me more than most. Then I notice some odd artifacts in the Library of Antiquities. And worst of all, I start hearing rumors about a new group of Reapers who can summon mythological monsters. 

I might be the most hated girl at Mythos Academy, but I’m also the only one who can save it . . .


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The first day of school is always the worst.

A new school year means new classes, new books, new professors, new projects to prepare and papers to write. Plus, you have to decide what you’re going to wear and how you’re going to act and what kind of person you’re going to be—and be seen as—until school breaks for the summer several long, distant, dreary months in the future. There’s so much freaking pressure to get every little thing right starting from that very first day. And that’s just for regular kids.

That pressure is turned up to extremes at Mythos Academy.

“Are you excited for the first day of school?” a light, happy voice asked.

I stuffed one last textbook into my dark green messenger bag, then slid it over to one side of the kitchen table. I looked up to find Rachel Maddox, my aunt, smiling at me. “Not really.”

Instead of being put off by my sour, surly tone, Aunt Rachel’s smile widened. “Well, you should be excited. It’s a brand-new school year and a brand-new start for us. Everything’s going to be great, Rory. You’ll see.”

“You mean like all the other kids, professors, and workers suddenly forgetting that my parents were Reapers of Chaos and all the horrible things they did?” I snorted. “Not bloody likely.”

Aunt Rachel’s warm smile vanished like a candle flame being snuffed out by a cold wind. She dropped her gaze from mine and turned back to the stove, flipping the blackberry pancakes that she was making special for my first day of school. And hers too, since she worked as a chef in the Mythos dining hall.

I winced, guilt churning in my stomach. Aunt Rachel was twenty-seven, only ten years older than me, since I had turned seventeen a few days ago. She had always been more of a big sister to me than an aunt—at least until my parents were murdered last year.

My mom and dad, Rebecca and Tyson Forseti, hadn’t been brave, strong, noble Spartan warriors like I’d thought. The two of them had secretly been Reapers, working with others to bring Loki, the evil Norse god of chaos, back here to the mortal realm. And my parents hadn’t been your average, run-of-the-mill Reaper bad guys. Oh, no. They had been Reaper assassins, the worst of the worst, responsible for killing dozens and dozens of innocent people.

I had been absolutely horrified when I’d learned the truth about them, especially since the whole time, all my years growing up, I had never realized what kind of evil warriors—what kind of evil people—they truly were.

My parents had fooled me as easily as they had everyone else, leaving behind a deep, jagged wound that just wouldn’t heal. Even now, a year after their deaths, their betrayal still coated my heart like a cold frost, freezing out all my previous love for them.

Sometimes I couldn’t feel anything but that cold numbing me from the inside out. Other times, I was so angry at my parents for all their lies that I half expected red-hot steam to spew out of my ears like I was a cartoon character. In those moments, I wanted to lash out at everyone and everything around me. I just wanted to hurt someone or something the same way my parents had hurt me, especially since I was still dealing with the consequences of all their evil actions. Maybe I also wanted to lash out because I was a Spartan, and fighting was what we were naturally hardwired to do. If only dealing with my emotions were as easy as battling Reapers.

I didn’t know which was worse, not feeling anything or feeling way too much. Or maybe it was going back and forth between the two extremes. Either way, the cold numbness and hot anger had been my constant companions ever since the day I found out about my parents. 

But I wasn’t the only one who’d been devastated by the truth. So had Aunt Rachel, who had always looked up to her big sister, Rebecca. Aunt Rachel had been hurt just as badly as I had been, but she’d stepped up and taken me in anyway, despite all the horrible things my parents had done. She had even put her dreams of going to culinary school in Paris on hold so she could stay here in Colorado and take care of me. Aunt Rachel had been so good to me this past year, and she did her absolute best to protect me.

I didn’t mean to snap at Aunt Rachel. Really, I didn’t. That was my hot anger boiling up through the icy numbness and getting the best of me. Sometimes, though, it was hard to even look at her, since she had the same long, glossy black hair, green eyes, and pretty features that my mom had. The same black hair and green eyes that I had as well and the same features that haunted me every time I looked in the mirror.

More than once, I had thought about dyeing my hair neon-pink or wearing violet contacts so I wouldn’t look so much like my mom anymore. Who wanted to be the daughter of notorious Reaper assassins? Much less look exactly like one of them? Nobody, that’s who.

But that was me, Rory Forseti, and this was my life, like it or not.

I didn’t want to be like my parents, and not being like them meant not snapping at Aunt Rachel the way my mom had done so many times over the years, especially in the weeks right before she died. Or at least, trying to make things better when I did snap at Aunt Rachel. So I forced myself to sit up straight and plastered a smile on my face.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m just a little . . . nervous. I’m sure you’re right. This is my second year at Mythos, so it’s bound to be easier. Besides, Loki has been defeated, so everyone can finally relax and get on with their lives without worrying about him or Reapers or mythological monsters anymore.”

Aunt Rachel turned back to me, a smile spreading across her face again. “Exactly! And everyone knows how much you helped Gwen and her friends defeat Loki at the Battle of Mythos Academy. They know that you’re a good person, Rory. A hero, just like Gwen is.”

My dad, Tyson, and Gwen’s dad, Tyr, were brothers, which made Gwen my first cousin. Gwen Frost was kind of a big deal in the Mythos Academy world these days. Okay, okay, so she was more than just a big deal. She was like a freaking princess now. Since, you know, she’d found a way to trap Loki and keep everyone safe from the evil god forever.

Several months ago, Loki and his Reapers of Chaos had stormed onto the Mythos Academy campus in Cypress Mountain, North Carolina, in one last, desperate attempt to recover an ancient artifact that would restore Loki to full health so he could enslave us all. But Gwen had beaten the god, tricked him into almost killing her, so that she could sacrifice herself to trap him and save us.

If I closed my eyes, I could still see Gwen lying on the floor of the Library of Antiquities, looking deathly pale, bleeding out from the stab wound she’d inflicted on herself with Vic, her talking sword, in order to stop Loki from taking control of her body, her mind, and her powerful psychometry magic. But Gwen had pulled through, thanks to some help from her friends and Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. Gwen truly was Nike’s Champion, the person who worked for the goddess in this realm, in every sense of the word.

And now she was everyone else’s Champion too—the hero of all heroes.

In an instant, Gwen had gone from just another Gypsy girl to an outright celebrity. Gwen had told me that every time she walked across campus or worked at her job in the Library of Antiquities or even went out for coffee with her boyfriend, Logan Quinn, people were always staring at her and whispering about her. I’d seen it for myself when I visited her over the summer. Now everyone treated Gwen like she was royalty instead of a regular student. Some of the other kids—adults too—would even come up and ask her for autographs and pictures. Gwen hated all the attention, and she just wanted to get on with her life.

I knew the feeling, even if my life was as dark as hers was golden.

The fake smile slipped from my face, and I slumped in my chair.

Aunt Rachel slid a stack of pancakes onto a plate and set it on the table in front of me. “Rory? What are you thinking about?”

I picked up my fork and forced myself to smile at her again. “How great these pancakes look and smell.”

She grinned back at me and sat down at the table with her own plate of pancakes. “Thanks. I used the wild blackberries we picked when we visited the gryphons at the ruins a few days ago.”

I nodded. The Eir Ruins were located on top of the mountain that loomed over Snowline Ridge. Named for Eir, the Norse goddess of healing, the ruins were a magical place, always full of blooming wildflowers and green herbs, no matter how cold and snowy the Colorado weather was. Even better, the ruins were home to the Eir gryphons that Aunt Rachel and I had befriended several months ago.

I loved hanging out with the gryphons, who were like the pets I’d never had. If, you know, pets were enormous mythological creatures who could eat you if they really wanted to. And I especially loved riding on the gryphons’ backs as they soared around the mountaintop and over the evergreen forests below.

“Maybe we can go to the ruins this weekend,” Aunt Rachel said. “After we’re both settled into our routines for the new school year.”

This time when I smiled at her, my expression was genuine. “I’d love that.”

She reached over, grabbed my hand, and gently squeezed my fingers. “I have a good feeling about today. You’ll see, Rory. Everything’s going to be great. For both of us.”

I didn’t know about that, but her cheerful voice and happy expression made a tiny bit of hope spark to life in my chest. I squeezed her hand back. “Of course it will.”


We ate our pancakes, along with the bacon, scrambled eggs, and cheesy hash browns that Aunt Rachel had also whipped up for breakfast. She was a terrific chef, and everything was delicious, especially the light, fluffy, golden pancakes. Aunt Rachel had also made some blackberry syrup, which added even more sweet yet tart flavor to the pancakes.

The good food lifted my mood, and by the time we finished breakfast, I was feeling really hopeful about starting school. So I grabbed my messenger bag from the table, slung the strap across my chest, and left.

Aunt Rachel and I lived in a small stone cottage nestled in a stand of pine trees on the outskirts of the academy. I stepped onto one of the ash-gray cobblestone paths and walked across the lush, green, landscaped lawns, past the student dorms, and up the hills, heading to the main part of campus.

It wasn’t quite eight o’clock yet, but the sun was shining brightly in the clear blue September sky, further lifting my mood. We were so high up on the mountain that the air was still cool, and I stuck my hands into the pockets of my forest-green leather jacket to keep them warm. It didn’t take me long to climb the last and steepest hill and reach the main quad.

Mythos Academies were located all around the world, from the one here in Snowline Ridge, Colorado, and the one in Cypress Mountain, North Carolina, to those in London, England; Frankfurt, Germany; Saint Petersburg, Russia; and beyond. But all the campuses looked more or less the same, and each one featured a quad that served as the heart of the academy.

Five buildings made of dark, almost black stone ringed the grassy quad in front of me—math-science, English-history, a dining hall, a gym, and a library. These same five buildings were arranged in the same starlike pattern at every Mythos Academy, including the North Carolina campus where Gwen went to school and where the final battle with Loki had taken place.

But plenty of differences existed among the various academies. The buildings at Gwen’s school resembled old, creepy Gothic castles, while the ones here were shaped like enormous cabins, made of heavy boulders and thick logs that had been fitted together. Wide windows were set into all the buildings to take advantage of the spectacular views of the pine trees that covered the grounds and the high, craggy mountain that loomed over the campus.

But the things I liked best about the quad were the statues of mythological creatures perched on top of, around, and beside all the buildings. Nemean prowlers, Fenrir wolves, Eir gryphons. All those creatures and more looked out over the quad, their gray stone eyes seeming to follow the students as they moved in and out of the buildings. 

Most of the other kids didn’t care what the buildings looked like, and they completely ignored the statues, but I enjoyed the rustic feel of everything, and I especially loved seeing the mythological creatures. They might be frozen in place, but I knew they were only a few seconds and a little bit of magic away from breaking free from their stone moorings and leaping down to the ground to protect the students, just as they had during the battle at the North Carolina academy.

I nodded at the Fenrir wolf statue sitting on the steps closest to me. The wolf studied me for a moment, before one of its stone eyes slid down in a slow, sly wink. I grinned back at it, then drew in a deep breath, letting the cool air seep deep down into my lungs.

To everyone else, this was just another Mythos Academy, but a sense of wildness, of freedom, existed here that I’d never experienced while visiting any of the other academies. I could see it in the shadows that pooled around the statues, smell it in the crisp, clear air, and hear it in the sharp, whistling wind that ruffled my ponytail. 

It felt like home to me.

Since this was the first day of school, the quad was packed, and practically everyone had a coffee in one hand and a phone in the other. All sorts of mythological warriors attended Mythos Academy, but the majority of the guys were Romans and Vikings, while the girls were mostly Amazons and Valkyries. Bright, colorful sparks of magic flashed in the air around many of the kids, especially the Valkyries. For some reason, Valkyries almost continuously gave off magic, and showers of sparks streamed out of their fingertips with every gesture they made and every text they sent.

Each kid, each warrior, had their own skills, powers, and magic—everything from enhanced senses to being able to summon up lightning to the ability to heal other people. But in general, Romans and Amazons were superquick, while Vikings and Valkyries were superstrong.

I was none of those things.

I was a Spartan, like my parents, and it was another way I didn’t fit in with everyone else, since Spartans were rare—and very, very dangerous. Almost all the other kids were carrying at least one weapon, whether it was a sword or dagger belted to their waist, a staff propped up on the bench beside them, or even a bow and a quiver full of arrows peeking up out of their gym bag.

But I didn’t have any weapons. I didn’t need them, since I could pick up any object and automatically know how to kill someone with it.

Seriously. I could kill someone with a toothpick if I wanted to. A plastic fork, a paper clip, an ink pen. Whatever was handy. Not that I would ever actually do that, as it would be difficult, even for me, especially when it would be much easier to take away my enemy’s sword and use their own weapon against them. But if I had to, I could defend myself with whatever was lying around, no matter how small and innocuous it might be.

I didn’t know how it worked for other Spartans, how their magic manifested itself, but anytime I was in a fight, I could see what the other person was going to do before they did it. How they were going to move their feet, how they were going to shift their weight, even how hard they were going to swing their sword at me. It was like we were both part of the same movie, only I was three steps ahead of the other person.

And the same thing happened when it came to weapons, whether it was a traditional sword or something as flimsy as a toothpick. As soon as I touched a sword, I could tell how well made it was, how balanced, how strong, and I intuitively adjusted my feet, my grip, and my swings to maximize the damage I could do with the weapon. Ditto for the toothpick, the plastic fork, the paper clip, the ink pen, and anything else I could get my hands on. 

And it wasn’t just that I instinctively knew how to hurt people. Something about my Spartan blood made it seem natural, like it was something that I was supposed to do. Holding a sword or a staff or drawing back a bowstring seemed as right and easy as breathing to me.

Sometimes that scared me a little.

I didn’t want to be like my parents. I didn’t want to hurt innocent people. I didn’t want to be a bad person.

I didn’t want to be a Reaper.

I wanted to be . . . well, I wasn’t quite sure yet. I wanted to do something with my life the way Gwen had. I wanted to do something important. Something that mattered. Something that would aid other people.

And maybe, just maybe, something that would help make up for all my parents’ mistakes.

But I couldn’t do any of that standing here, so I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and stepped out onto the main quad.

“Here goes nothing,” I muttered.

I walked along one of the cobblestone paths, winding my way toward the English-history building, since that’s where myth-history was, my first class of the day. I loved myth-history and learning about all the gods, goddesses, warriors, and creatures, and I wondered what new things the professor would talk about this year, especially given the recent battle and Loki’s imprisonment—

“Look!” a voice hissed. “It’s Rory Forseti!”

I was halfway across the quad when I heard my name.

I froze and looked over to my right, dreading what I would see. Sure enough, a group of Valkyries wearing designer boots, jeans, and matching plaid jackets were gathered around one of the iron benches that dotted the quad. They were all quite pretty, with perfect hair and makeup, and their phones and purses were even more expensive than their clothes.

Dezi, Harley, Kylie . . . I recognized several of the girls, since they were all second-year students like me. None of them had liked me when we started school last fall, and they had outright hated me after it came out that my parents were Reapers.

The Valkyries realized that I was staring at them. But instead of turning away and pretending they hadn’t said my name, they all pointed at me, making pink, green, and blue sparks of magic crackle in the air around them. My heart sank. I knew what was coming next.

“I can’t believe she came back here this year.”

“Did she really think that just because she helped out in North Carolina, we would forget what her parents did? Or what they were?”

“They were Reapers, through and through, and rotten to the core. And she’s probably even worse than they were . . .”

The snarky comments went on and on, each one sharper, crueler, and more vicious and hurtful than the last. Even worse, the Valkyries’ loud voices drowned out everyone else’s conversations, causing the other students to turn and stare at me as well. In less than a minute, I was the center of everyone’s attention, and they were all talking, texting, and whispering about me.

All I could do was stand there frozen in place with my mouth gaping open, looking like a clueless fool. I’d actually gotten my hopes up. I’d actually thought that this year would be different, better, normal. That I’d done enough good things to change everyone’s opinions of me. But I’d been wrong—dead wrong.

I was such a freaking idiot.

Of course the other kids wouldn’t forget that my parents were Reapers—not for one lousy second. How could they when Reapers had terrorized them all for so long? When they had lived in fear of Reapers their whole lives? When Reapers had killed their friends and family members for generations on end? One battle wasn’t going to change all of that history, all of that bad blood, all of that fear, anger, and hate.

Nothing could ever change that.

But the worst part was that I had hoped it would. I had hoped for the fresh start that Aunt Rachel had said we would have. I had wanted it more than anything.

My first class hadn’t even started yet, and my school year was already ruined, soaked in blood and burned to ash by my parents’ evil actions, like so many other things in my life.

In many ways, my feelings about Mythos Academy mirrored those about my parents. I loved so many things about the academy—the scenery, the statues, the sense of being home—just as I had loved my mom’s quiet strength and my dad’s unending patience. But part of me also hated the academy, especially all the other students knowing about my Reaper parents. Sometimes I felt like I had a big red bull’s-eye strapped to my chest, one that gave all the other kids permission to mock me.

The cruel comments, snarky whispers, and hateful stares continued. A hot, embarrassed blush flooded my cheeks, and my anger bubbled up to the surface again. But I knew from past experience that there was no point in fighting back against the other kids. It would only make me even more of a target than I already was. Besides, they had just as much right to their anger as I had to mine. So I gritted my teeth, ducked my head, and hurried forward, determined to get inside the English-history building as quickly as possible—

A shoulder slammed into mine, making me stagger to one side of the cobblestone path.

“Watch it!” I snapped.

“Why don’t you watch it?” a low voice growled right back at me.

Normally, I would have kept on going, since this wasn’t the first time someone had accidentally-on-purpose rammed into me while I was walking across the quad, thinking that it was hilarious to pick on the girl with the dead Reaper parents. All the taunts, whispers, and stares had filled me with a familiar, sickening mixture of guilt, shame, and embarrassment, but those emotions quickly morphed into a cold, hard knot of anger in my chest. Dirty looks and whispers were one thing, but actually plowing into me was something else, especially when I was already struggling with my emotions.

Once again, I felt that need to lash out, and I decided to give in to it, since my day was already ruined. Someone wanted to mess with me? Well, I was tired of taking everyone else’s crap, and I could give as good as I got. 

I whirled around to confront the person who’d run into me and realized that it wasn’t one of the snotty Valkyrie girls like I’d expected. It was a guy—and he was gorgeous.

Seriously, he was tall and muscled and just plain gorgeous in his black boots, black jeans, dark gray henley, and black leather jacket. Rich honey highlights ran through his dark blond hair, which stuck up at odd angles, as though he constantly ran his fingers through it, but the slightly messy, unkempt look totally suited him. He had the kind of great cheekbones, perfect straight nose, and strong jaw that you’d see on a movie star. But his eyes . . . his eyes were simply amazing—a light, bright, piercing gray. I’d never seen eyes like that before, and I tried to figure out what their color reminded me of. Rain-soaked clouds, maybe, or the gleaming edge of a freshly sharpened sword . . .

The guy glared at me, breaking the spell. I blinked and forced myself to ignore how cute he was. Instead, I studied him again, and I realized I’d never seen him before. Last year, after all that mess with my parents had happened, I had made it a point to know every single student at the academy, especially the ones I should avoid. But this guy? He was new.

Oh, I was sure there was a perfectly logical explanation. Lots of students transferred from one academy to another, especially at the start of the school year and especially at the start of this school year, since the North Carolina academy was still undergoing repairs from the earlier battle.

Still, I kept studying the guy, this time trying to figure out what kind of warrior he was. He couldn’t be a Roman, since his magic would have made him fast enough to avoid running into me. My gaze dropped to the black duffel bag dangling from his hand. The bag’s long, distinctive shape was meant to hold a battle ax, and a couple of smaller axes were hooked to the outside of the bag as well. So he was a Viking. They were the only warriors who used axes like that. No wonder he’d almost knocked me down. His Viking strength would have let him knock me into next week if he’d wanted. Maybe he hadn’t slammed into me on purpose after all.

The guy’s eyes narrowed. “What are you staring at?”

Embarrassment spurted through me that he had caught me gaping at him. But I ignored the fresh, hot blush stinging my cheeks, crossed my arms over my chest, and glared back at him.

“What are you staring at?” I snapped. “I was walking along, minding my own business, when bam! You plowed right into me. And now you’re not even apologizing for almost knocking me down.”

Anger sparked in his eyes, turning them a darker storm-cloud gray, which, of course, only made him look that much more handsome. “I didn’t plow into you. You weren’t watching where you were going. If anyone should be apologizing, it’s you, cupcake.”

My arms dropped to my sides, and my hands clenched into fists. “You did not just call me cupcake.”

He arched an eyebrow. “What? You don’t like that nickname? Well, it’s true. Look at you, with your designer clothes and expensive bag and perky little ponytail. You’re a cute little cupcake of a warrior, just like the rest of the girls here.”

More anger surged through my body, and I stepped up so that I was standing inches away from him. “I am a Spartan,” I hissed. “One who is perfectly capable of kicking your ass, right here, right now, Viking.”

He arched his eyebrow at me again. “A threat? Aw, that’s so cute. Maybe some other time. Right now, I’ve got to get to class, and so do you. Unless you want to be late on the first day of school.”


I started to snap back at him, but a series of bells rang out across the quad, cutting me off and signaling that we had five minutes to get to class.

“And that’s my cue to leave. Later, cupcake.” The Viking snapped his hand up to his forehead in a mock salute. He hefted his bag onto his shoulder, making all the small battle axes hooked to the outside clank-clank-clank together, and moved past me.


I whirled around, but he was moving fast, heading for the gym on the opposite side of the quad. He was already out of earshot, unless I wanted to scream insults at him. I was still so angry that I opened my mouth to let loose, but then I realized that everyone was staring at me again, including the Valkyries who’d been mocking me earlier. The girls all rolled their eyes and snickered, adding to my humiliation. Everyone had seen my confrontation with the Viking, and they were already gossiping about it.

Great. Just great. I had wanted things to be different this year, but I was right back where I’d started, with everyone talking about me, the supposed Reaper girl in their midst. And it was all his fault.

I glared at the Viking’s back, but there was nothing I could do about him now. So I sighed, turned around, and trudged across the quad toward the English-history building.

As I walked along, one thought kept running through my mind. I had been absolutely right before.

The first day of school is always the worst.

Especially at Mythos Academy.

Listening for the Quiet Voice of Creativity

AMID THE WINTER SNOW, an anthology of fantasy romance holiday novellas is now available for pre-order! It releases December 12, 2017 and contains four all-new, meaty novellas in each of our fantasy worlds. Early reviews have called it “gorgeous,” which I just love.

As the snows fall and hearths burn, four stories of Midwinter beginnings prove that love can fight its way through the chillest night…

The mark Jahna Ulfrida was born with has made her a target of the cruel and idle all her life. During the long, crowded festivities of Deyalda, there’s nowhere to escape. Until a handsome stranger promises to teach her to save herself…

THE CHOSEN, by Thea Harrison
In her visions, Lily sees two men fighting for her tiny country’s allegiance: the wolf and the tiger, each deadly, each cunning. One will bring Ys chaos and death, one a gentler path—but she’s destined to love whichever she chooses. The midwinter Masque is upon them, and the wolf is at her door…

THE STORM, by Elizabeth Hunter
When her soul mate died in a massacre of the half-angelic Irin people, Renata thought she’d never feel happiness again. She’s retreated to the snowy Dolomites to remember her hurts—until determined, irrepressible Maxim arrives to insist on joy, too. And before she can throw him out, they discover a secret the Irin have to know…

As a blizzard threatens their mountain keep, the new Queen Amelia of the Twelve Kingdoms and her unofficial consort Ash face their own storm. Ash knows a scarred, jumpy ex-convict isn’t the companion his queen needs. But when a surprise attack confines them together in their isolated sanctuary, the feast of midwinter might tempt even Ash into childlike hope…


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We’ve been getting an amazing response, so thanks to everyone who’s already pre-ordered!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is writing in a vacuum—which is better for you, writing in a closed space or writing where people can interact with you? Come on over for my answer.