Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Tracking Asian presence across mainstream romance, 2016

This is my on-going tally of what I see when I see Asian or Asian descent characters in mainstream romance.

To clarify, I do not deliberately seek out POC fiction. I read what I want, when I want, and I don’t really believe that I should have to turn to “POC fiction” to get balanced portrayals of people who look like me and who share similar backgrounds.

All things aside, the poverty of this post in comparison to the hundreds of books I read tells its own story.


The Principle of Desire – Delphine Dryden

Beth had never met Lin before. He was on the short side, pudgy, fussy, with a limp hank of blue-black hair dangling over his forehead. Nothing to write home about, and definitely not a likely kinkster, though she tried not to judge books by their covers. He was obviously a good dungeon master, but Beth still had trouble thinking of him as the “DM” without giggling.

Mmm. Let’s see. There’s the general emasculation there. Dude is short, pudgy, fussy, with limp hair. And the heroine giggles at the idea of him being assertive/alpha enough to be a dungeon master despite his skill at DMing a role-playing game (mostly cerebral, something Asian are good at). Oh, my cup runneth over with stereotypes.


Burning Nights – Julie Wetzel

Shuri – Japanese fox spirit who pretends to be the heroine’s friend, kidnaps her, and then uses her as leverage to get hero to get her out of servitude to the crazy baddie. Oh wait, it’s the highly sexualized Asian chick who is so sweet and demure and helpless and sexy – until she stabs you in the back, necessary for her to accomplish what she wants because she’s too weak to actually get anywhere morally.

Kusanagi – crazy, paranoid, psychopathic, really fucked up Japanese dude who got off on weird power plays, refused to believe the white dude wasn’t out for his territory despite white dude’s repeated assurances that he was there for peace despite the fact that white dude didn’t tell him in advance he was showing up or asking permission to land in his territory (whoa, wait, I wonder why an Asian dude would be skeptical about such things…).

The rest of the cast involving a lot of native Hawaiian people who were subjugated by the crazy Japanese dude and who needed the white dude to step in and save their collective bacon. This isn’t kinda-sorta-maybe offensive at all. Also why do the two words “Pearl Harbor” keep popping up in my brain?


Legal Edentity – Karen Harley

South Korean + Scottish hero. David Argeld. Civil lawyer. Descriptions: “stud”, “genius with women”, “quadruple orgasm”,   ”incredibly, unbelievably gorgeous”, “sleek, dark, and trim”.  Bit of a player, it seems. Footloose and fancy free, except when it comes to his “darling” and her “adorable knobby knees”.

Taiwanese heroine. Jeannie Lin. Descriptions: “shyness bordered on the pathological”, some self-esteem issues, “soft-spoken, with gorgeous brown eyes, midnight black hair, and the most exquisite rear end”, “sweetest, most serious, and timid creature around”. Hidden depths. Programs. High-powered brain. Waiting to be “awakened”.

Much as I wasn’t super excited by Jeannie and her shyness, the hidden fire mostly made up for it. David though, David could drop by and rock my world anytime. I cannot even begin to say how awesome it was to see an Asian (okay, half, but still good because he apparently looks Asian) dude who had game. Cannot. Even. Begin. To. Say.


His Road Home – Anna Richland

Marine biologist Korean-descent heroine.

Hero is the son of an illegal Mexican immigrant. I loved how this was handled. She has a son who got a Purple Heart, but she can’t take a plane to go see him when he comes home with a double amputation because of her papers.

Just, the whole thing, all the details, so well handled. It was gorgeous. At one point, hero and heroine are in the grocery store, talking about T-day and an old woman approaches them and the hero has this minor freakout because he has to remind himself that they’re allowed to be there, that they have just as much right to be making T-day plans as this little old white lady. It was heartbreaking.

The Crystal – Sandra Cox

Villain is an “oriental” named Lai. Black hair. Coffee colored eyes. Can apparently pass for sixteen with her hair up in pigtails.

Crazy psychopathic lady who splashed acid on the face of someone she thought of as a rival. Woman twisted by a terrible childhood and ended up a thief, killer, and ringmistress of organized crime. Trades upon her sexuality. (Of course.)  I assume she’s Indian since she’s from Calcutta, but I honestly don’t know because we’re given very little detail about her. She keeps being referred to as an “oriental” which was kind of …weird and off-putting and IDEK offensive because there’s so little we know about her that she’s almost a caricature of herself. For all we know she’s half Chinese and that’s where the vaguely Chinese name comes from.


To my surprise, 2016 seems to be a good year so far. We have more positive impressions than bad ones. Even if the bad ones are kinda horrific. 

Tally: 4 positive to 4 negative.

Still, I’ve read maybe 100 books so far this year and only 7 impressions total? Kinda shitty odds.


I see her from a distance, through blurry water and misty skies. The curve of her arm, the arch of a delicately pointed foot, and the ankle-length sweep of hair the color of the deepest sea. I see her in the endless mirrors that cover the walls, ceaseless reflections leading me back, back, back to a place I know only for pain and desolation.

Eyes of a sunlit, shimmering sea stare at me through time and space, her gaze full of empty space and broken promises. Broken wings trail from her shoulders, bent as the rest of me is. Unsalvageable, as I am. Hard to imagine those wings once carried the pride of a country, once held aloft the hope of a nation. Easier to recall how they broke so very quickly with only a few blows. Perhaps because they were never meant to carry that weight. No one should have had to carry that burden, the task of saving an entire kingdom of souls.

Just as well that she failed. If she had succeeded, how many more women would have we lost to the task of attempting to placate a tyrant? How many more princesses would we have crowned, royal in name only, their worth lying solely in how much pleasure a man could derive from between their legs?

Sometimes I see a man.

Isn’t it always a man? Laughter doesn’t travel in this realm I find myself in, just the memory of mirth, but I make do. When constant anger, pain and sorrow eddy around me like waves in a storm-tossed sea, that rare solace of something brighter is always welcome.

Golden-skinned, tall and lithe, he bends over her, midnight hair mingling with night-sky strands. He cradles her in his arms, crooning softly in her ear. She doesn’t respond, her eyes blank, her mouth soft with dimly remembered sorrows.

Distant pain rumbles when he comes and so I turn away, diving deeper to get away. Never trust a man. The words echo but I don’t remember who said them. Was it even someone trustworthy?

It doesn’t matter.

I’ve left it all in the past, left her behind.

He can have her, that empty shell of a princess, and I don’t care anymore what he does with her. He can’t, won’t hurt her. Not without me.

It’s all the physical, isn’t it? Did anyone ever care about what the princess was beyond the superficial? How demure, how sweet, how beautiful and graceful. How much can we trade for such perfection?

I don’t blame the people for selling her to the highest bidder. I don’t even blame him for buying her. I blame them for giving me hope that there could have been something better, something more beautiful than duty and obligation out there for her.

Close your eyes and think of the country, the people. Close your eyes and smile, the only acceptable response from a princess in the face of tyranny. Close your eyes and bite your tongue until you taste the pain because it’s better that you bleed than others do. Close your eyes and suffer the sentence, the heavy weight of the accusation of treason. Accept that the man you took into your body, into your heart, whose essence melded with yours, never truly knew you at all. Same as the way you never knew him.

There is no water here, no deep and abiding ocean, but I’ll make do. I ever have and ever will. So long as he cannot find me here, cannot seduce me to land with his honeyed promises and false oaths. It is safe here, far away from the land that broke me, just as far away from the sea that betrayed me.

She tried to hang on to the ledge after they threw her from the window, to fly with those crumpled wings, but she failed in the end. I wept for her, wept for her shattered dreams, but I could do no more for her than that. Useless, soft, harmless tears. All I had to offer, just as all she had to offer was her soft, defenseless, useless body. Useless because it didn’t buy her what she needed, not even what she wanted, not even the price of her original submission.

She struggles against his arms and he releases her, agony etched on his features. She spins away from him, lifting her arms to a lover only she can see, the rare smile blooming on her lips. He stares after her, eyes glassy with pain as she chatters wordlessly to the air, guileless, mindless, innocent in a way that cannot be touched by him anymore.

I smile and turn, spiraling into the deep, locking myself away from her. She is happier without me and I love her enough to grant her that solace. Memory cannot hurt without a body to feel pain, after all.

More in the urban fantasy wuxia (rock??) story

Dante looks up at the Dragon and his mouth compresses for a moment before he shakes his head and smiles. “So one of the positions is filled already. No matter.”

Unfurling a reed mat on the ground, he settles on it cross-legged, smoothing the skirts of his robe out around him, hands trembling. The fabric is soft from years of washing, so threadbare it’s more gauze than cloth, but without patches or tears. He balances his qin across his thighs and exhales slowly. In a perfect world he would have incense to burn, but since it wasn’t, the light fragrance of the sweet-grass used in his mat will have to do.

Dante flexes his left hand, then his right, stretching out the kinks in preparation. Closing his eyes, he takes a deep breath, places his hands on the zither, and plucks his first note. The sound, pure and high, pierces through the clouds and soars.

Melody flows like water from beneath his fingers, the light tinkling notes of a stream giving way to the lower, sonorous tones of a river. Magic and qi rises, strong and unrelenting as the Long River, graceful as a dragon soaring through the clouds.

The face of a girl flits at the edge of his mind and he pushes her away, just as he pushed her away that morning so he could leave the shabby apartment. This is for her. For Liliana.

His body sways, long black hair fluttering with the gathering of power, his expression one of longing pain. The music curls around him, a warm wind that caresses him before rising toward the sky.

Gradually his magic coalesces into the sinuous body of a dragon, five clawed, with scales of iridescent pearl and a mane of ocean green fire. Long body curving around the dome, the dragon nuzzles up against the golden shimmer of the shield, its tail lightly wagging to the beat.

His fingers dance across the strings, his qi and magic rippling forth in ever increasing waves. The zither’s song pulsates out the passion of the headlong rush of the Long River to the sea and the melancholy embrace of autumn rain, hinting at wars fought and loves lost. He exhales into the music, weaving in his yearning and his spirit. When he becomes Guardian, Liliana would never have to worry again. They would have food, shelter, protection… all the things that his Liliana should have had but he wasn’t able to provide. Until now.

The notes come faster and faster, building upon each other, the corresponding magic hanging in the air and turning from mere humidity to mist to fog. The air shimmers with power, heavy with promise, but he doesn’t gather it, content for it to surround him like a lover’s embrace.

“Aspirant!” The deep voice rings out like a bell, slicing a path through the fog.

His shoulders loosen as he relaxes, a small smile flitting around his mouth. The arrival of the Gatekeeper can only mean one thing. He’s close to his goal, so close he can almost taste the meat buns he will buy for Liliana on his way home after he took the Seat.

“Why forth do you hesitate, Aspirant? Are you uncertain of your power?”

Hardly. He holds back a snort of derision. If there is one thing he is certain of in this world, it is his power and his determination to wield it to protect the one he loves.

The man comes at him, swords slicing the fog into ribbons.

Dante bends his head over his qin and lends his voice to the zither’s song. His deep baritone winds around the sweeping tones, twisting and twining into glimmering cords that weave into a net and binds the Gatekeeper’s swords. The Gatekeeper curses, his words muffled by the ever-deepening haze.

The haze becomes impenetrable, the shimmer now blinding.

Dante raises his voice, driving his power into the shield, infusing its magic with his own. Close, so close. A few more notes and he would have it. Safety and power and the ability to…

A gleaming sword slashes through, shaving off a lock of his hair. He leans forward, ducking the next blow, and sings out one last imperative note.

The dome shatters with a sound like broken crystal and the Gatekeeper’s sword stops a hairsbreadth away from the skin of Dante’s neck.

“Lords above and below,” he mutters. “The test is for you to break the shield, not annihilate it.”

Dante rises, hands trembling, light-headed from giddy relief and the after effects of having gone two days without food. He stumbles forward, catches himself and gives the Gatekeeper a fierce grin.

“Not so fast, boy. You’re not quite done yet.”

He nods. “I know. I need to harmonize with the first guardian.”

The Gatekeeper smiles in response and bows, indicating the doorway of the Dragon.



Hrm. I feel like this entry has gone more into the fantasy side of things that I truly like. I might need to pull it back a bit, see how to tweak it. Smoke fights with her bachi, but I think Dante needs a secondary weapon to his zither. Of course, he could probably music people into unconsciousness, but I think I’d like to see him with some more martial moves as well. The thing is, traditionally written wuxia strikes me as heavily fantastical anyway — you have people shooting needles out that can kill you by sealing your meridian points; you have people killing one another through sheer force of their reserve of qi; there’s the people who are so skilled at what I’m choosing to translate as feather-craft that they can run on snow without leaving a single footprint and dance over water. So I guess it depends on personal interpretation and likes/dislikes.

So, let me know — what do you think?

POC characters and foodstuff descriptions

So, it has recently come to my attention that some POCs really hate the use of foodstuff in the use of descriptions of POCs. I didn’t know this before and to be honest, it kind of surprised me.

Eunice has this incredible post about troubling tropes regarding Asians and Asian-Americans in YA. I’d suggest reading it in its entirety, but the main thing that caught my eyes was this part on food stuffs and almond eyes:

Another general role of thumb if that you’re describing POC characters, particularly in terms of skin color and eyes and they sound like a tasty Starbucks beverage or cafe pastry (caramel, mocha, coffee, etc.) yeah….no. Food-related metaphors tend to be terribly overused and overdone. Likewise, even more so when the foods used to describe skin color were also the same food items that were PART OF THE SLAVE TRADE, such as coffee, cocoa, and chocolate. Likewise, this is also in conjuction when POC characters’ skin tones are the only ones described but never white characters – thus contributing to the not so common trend of inadvertently establishing ‘white as the default’ narrative, particularly when it comes to racially ambiguous characters.

And there’s Clairelight’s debunking of the whole almond eye thing.

Aside: the whole concept of “olive” skin has baffled me for the longest time also.

I don’t disagree that it’s a lazy way of description. I don’t disagree that the whole slave trade food stuff thing is disturbing.

Where I ran into a bit of a block was Clairelight’s vehement statement that if you describe an East Asian character with almond eyes, you’re showing yourself to be the fraud you are. Then the statement that white people don’t get the same treatment.



Purely from a “just the facts, ma’am” standpoint…

White people get described with food items all the time. I will agree that the food items in question are not as loaded with negativity as ones like coffee, brown sugar, tea, molasses and so forth. But…

Creamy skin? Skin the color of milk? Honeyed skin for a tanned white woman… Sloe-eyed beauty? Sloe being another name for blackthorn and its bluish-purplish-black fruit.

Before people object, I’ll point out the first time I saw someone described with sloe eyes, it was used on a white character in a historical regency novel set in England.

Nipples are invariably described using some berry or the other. So’s the clit. Hair the color of honey and molasses? Chocolate eyes? Whiskey eyes? Brandy eyes? Bitter chocolate hair? Olive green eyes? Chestnut hair and eyes?

Now I have a mental image of pickled eyeballs in various boozes… olive eyeballs in a martini…

And that’s just what springs to mind without even trying. I’m not saying don’t stop doing it. I’m saying — saying white characters don’t get that treatment just isn’t true.

Then there’s the East Asian almond eye thing.


Okay, I grew up reading a *lot* of Chinese romance and classic novels. I’m just going to point out that “almond eyes” or 杏眼 is so commonly used that it’s the first suggestion that pops up when you type in “xing yan”. Granted, not much else pops up, but the fact is that it’s the first auto-correct. Also, almond eyes are a type of eye shape in the Chinese tradition of divination according to facial features. We also have phoenix eyes, wolf eyes, eyes big as brass bells, yes that’s an E not an A, willow-leaf eyes, etc.

Also, we love food, all right? Eating is as important as the emperor is how I think the saying goes. That’s pretty damn important for a country who believed that their emperor was literally the Son of Heaven, all right?

So we have descriptors along the lines of food: Skin like “congealed lard” (凝脂), teeth like “gourd seeds” (瓠犀), cherry mouth (樱桃小口), fingers like scallion whites (青葱), arms like lotus roots (edible and 藕臂) and peach blossom cheeks (桃花). Yes. We eat peach blossoms.

For the record? Most of these descriptions are in poems that are old. The Book of Songs is over two millennia years old, with the bulk of the poems in it written around 1046-771 BC.

And while I’m at it — if I hear someone get mad about how Westernization has influenced the Chinese love for white skin one more time, I might not be able to keep from laughing.

For one, congealed pork lard is a creamy white. For two, the majority of poetry written in China well before we were exposed to the barbarian influences praise pale and clear skin as the height of beauty. There is a saying that if you’re pale, then it makes up for 30% of ugliness. 一白遮三丑。

*shrug* I already got yelled at by my friend about how almond-eyes is a tired, tired phrase and so I won’t be using it anymore, but it’s certainly not offensive to me.

I’d argue nor should it be, if you have an entire country of people who use that term happily to describe themselves, but hey. The argument can be made that it’s got negative connotations, so I guess each to their own?



Conflagration of Phoenixes version …what comes after zeta?

So I heard back from readers who beta-ed Conflagration for me. One of them has no problem with how the romance angle unfolds. Two of them have serious how the hell did we get here issues. At least one of them has what the fuck is going on syndrome at the end of the book.

Not good.

Not gonna lie. I was hoping that I would be able to finish the edits by the end of March and send it out to be professionally edited so I could self-publish in May. 

Suffice to say that I don’t think that’s going to happen now. Which is really disappointing since I really, really, really wanted this to be the year when everything came together.

But, you know what? It’s going to be worth pushing it back because I want my first novel to be the absolute best I can make it. You only ever get one chance to catch the attention of a reader. If the first date sucks, there isn’t going to be a second one, much less a happily ever after.

And Ella reminded me that you can have all the plot twists you like in a story — but the reader can’t be wholly in the dark. You have to leave that gun sitting around so the reader knows that there’s going to be a shooting later even if they don’t know how or why or who.

There’s this idea of the ten thousand hour rule, that you cannot be exemplary at something before you sink enough time and effort into it. Most authors agree that their first finished novels are usually completely tragic to look back on.

Conflagration version 1 was 62k words and written in the heat of NaNo 2008. I trashed all of it. This also taught me that NaNo is so seriously not for me it isn’t even funny, btw.

Version 2 was about 70k. Trashed that too.

Version 3 went up to about 82k.

Version 4 was 120k.

Version 5 was when I wrote out an outline, read up on pinch points, turning points, and cut it down to about 63k.

Version 6, which is now, is hovering at about 60k. It just keeps shrinking. I genuinely can’t tell at this point if it’s getting tighter and more focused in a good way or if I’m losing key information points. Hence beta readers.

The next version, which apparently is going to be eta, might balloon back up because I’ll be inserting a lot of scenes that will lay the groundwork for books 2 and 3 and the romantic angles.

And with the way I edit, which usually involves taking the bare bones of a chapter and rewriting from scratch, it’s safe to say that eta is going to be as similar to alpha draft as a human is to a chimp.

The reason I list all this is so I can remember that there is a process and I’m going through it. When Conflagration comes out, it’s going to be the absolute best I can make it for my writing ability of that point, and I’m not going to stress over it. Everybody needs to move on at some point and I feel very close to the point where I know I can be a better writer, but that’s going to gained through writing new stories with different characters and bringing a whole new world to life instead of fine-tuning this book.

At some point, you just have to jump. I’m hoping that my wings will hold. But even if they don’t, I’m not Icarus. I’ll heal and I’ll be back to try flying again.


Goddess in Waiting Ch. 9

I paused in front of the coffee shop and looked at the guys. “I’m going to talk to Gaia. You lot can do whatever you like. I’ll meet you back at my place.”

Mikhail cocked his head. “Shouldn’t we go with you?”

“I think that would be ill-advised. Gaia doesn’t like visitors and she especially doesn’t like guests she doesn’t know.” I made a wry face. “In fact, I’m not certain she wouldn’t throw me out as well.”

“You’re going to see if she’s willing to let you bend the rules of the Pact, aren’t you?”

I nodded at Raphael. “Yes. I was one of the original contractors, so she might be willing to discuss it. Or she might decide to swamp me with molten lava. You never know.”

“I will go with you.”

“Thanatos. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why not? My interactions with her in the past have been amiable for the most part. In fact, if she could be said to like any of us lot, it would be me.”

“If I remember correctly, your last meeting with her didn’t go so well.” That was immediately after we’d made the Pact. I could still see the rage in his face when he realized what we did. What I did.

His eyes iced over. “You don’t know when my last meeting with her was, wife.”

That was true. He could have had tea with her on a weekly basis for all I knew.

“Fair enough.”

“I will need to go as well. I’m your observer, remember?”

Mikhail raised an eyebrow. “So now it’s only me that gets left out? Ah, the joys and perils of being the junior member of the team.”

“At this point, if you really want to, we could drag the entire circus there. Not like one more person is going to tip her into magma levels of rage when there’s already three.”

“Ah, no. Thank you.” He gave a theatrical shudder. “I haven’t had the need to talk with our supreme overlord yet and I’d like to keep it that way. Alexandros always used to get stinking drunk when he went to see her and I think I’ll take a cue from that.”

“As you like. We’ll see you later then.”

He gave me a jaunty salute and disappeared.

I exhaled. “All right. Let’s go.”



“Gaia lives here?” Raphael looked around at the rainforest surrounding us and then at the cave entrance.

“Not exactly. This is just one of the many cave systems that lead to her. I just chose this one because South America is closest to home.” Interacting with Gaia was always an experience and I knew that a short teleportation afterward would be the difference between feeling like a truck or an eighteen wheeler ran me over the next day.

I pushed aside the trailing vines that guarded the entrance and walked in. Two steps in, the walls began to emit a faint blue glow. I trailed a hand over the rock face, leaving behind a brighter neon blue trail behind. The cave narrowed into a tunnel about five feet in. Stone steps were carved into the floor of the tunnel, a necessary feature as the passage sloped sharply down. Before Gaia relented and put in the steps, the only safe method of arrival was to use bring your own lube and use it as a slide as our powers was blocked here. It was messy and undignified. Then there was the inevitable frustration and pain when the lube ran out a mile from destination.

We walked down, single-file and silent. The faint blue glow lit at our approach and receded in our wake.

About an hour later, Raphael cleared his throat. “In the interest of curiosity, how long does this trek usually take?”

Thanatos’s laugh was mocking. “It depends on Gaia’s mood. If she wanted us there, three steps would have done. When she doesn’t want to see you, then it could take you a few lifetimes. Assuming you don’t give up.”

“I see.”

“Thanatos. I thought you said she liked you.”

“That wasn’t quite how I phrased it, my flower, and how do you know this isn’t because she doesn’t know Raphael?”

I sighed and trudged on. I liked Gaia, I really did, but she brought a whole new meaning to the concept of power tripping. Add in her propensity to act like a slighted mother and it made for very uncomfortable dealings.

“She’s probably punishing me because I haven’t come to see her the last two thousand years.” In my experience, it was better to admit to being wrong. “Maybe, if she doesn’t want to see me, you can go talk to her on our behalf, Thanatos. We’re only about an hour in. Raphael and I could go wait for you outside.”

My husband’s voice sounded amused. “And you don’t think it’d make her angrier if you showed such a lack of sincerity as to quit half-way through?”

“Considering we have less than twelve solar days to try and save her planet from a hard reset, I think she’ll eventually forgive me if I delay seeing her by two weeks or so because I’m trying to help.”

“That’s rather opt—”

He didn’t finish the sentence because the ground opened up under us. The next moment, we were plummeting through a tunnel that led straight down. I bit back a yelp. Letting her know she got to me was simply a bad idea.

The bio luminescence followed us. It lit up as the air we displaced activated it. The speed at which we were falling meant we barely had three feet of lit space under us and an endless glowing above.

Darling. Well played. Thanato’s mental voice sounded like he was on the verge of laughter.

Thank you. I just hope she doesn’t take it out on us with a hard landing.

A blast of warm air surged up the tunnel. My free fall slowed. The air flow grew progressively stronger and I knew we must be close.

We were falling at a slow enough rate I could see further down the tunnel. The shimmer of a bio luminescent pool gave me just enough warning before the air cushioning us cut off. I took a deep breath and turned head-first. An icy chill assaulted my senses as I broke through the water surface. My chest seized up as all my muscles protested the abuse. I forced my limbs to move, to swim toward upwards and toward shore, but my movements were sluggish. My temples throbbed from the cold. Water filled my nose and mouth as I sank. My vision dimmed.

Pressure at my waist. A hand grasped hold of mine and pulled.

My head broke the surface. I gasped for air. Raphael wrapped an arm around my torso. Thanatos had his hand fisted on my skirt waist. Breathing hurt. Swimming wasn’t going so well either. My limbs sagged in the water despite my best efforts to move.

“You’re killing her.” Thanatos’ roar echoed in the chamber.

“Less rage, more swimming.” Raphael’s voice was calm and unruffled. He tucked me closer to his body and started the side stroke toward shore.

I closed my eyes and did my best to stay out of his way.

Minutes later, his grip loosened and I was swung up into another pair of arms. Thanatos carried me out of the water. A muscle ticked at his jaw. My eyes fluttered closed and I curled closer to his warmth. The cold sank into flesh and bone. I would have yawned if I had the strength to do so. So cold. So sleepy.

“She’s going to die of hypothermia if you don’t do something, you witch.”

Gaia snipped at him. “Do something yourself, Thanatos. I’m not one of your serving wenches.”

He growled under his breath. “You know very well I can’t.”

“Allow me, Thanatos.”

A warm hand settled over my forehead and another over my heart. Heat spread through my body. The cold was still there, hidden in my marrow, but I could feel my toes again. My clothing started to steam gently.

I opened my eyes and croaked at him. “Taking advantage of an old lady? Tsk.”

He smiled and sent an additional burst of warmth through me before lifting his hands. “Such gratitude, Amarantha.”

I reached up to pat his cheek. “Thank you.”

Thanatos set me down, careful not to release me until he was sure I could stand on my own.

Gaia stood in front of us. A toga of linen gauze was her sole concession to modesty. I was surprised to see it, as she usually didn’t bother, just as she often chose not to take human form. Her arms were folded across her chest and her expression was set in obstinate lines.

I sighed. It was going to be one of those days.

“Well met, Gaia.”

She sniffed. “It’d be better met if your husband had the courtesy not to shout at me.”

Thanatos growled. “You nearly killed her with your games, witch.”

“It’s not my fault she’s turned into a puny thing, Thanatos.”

My husband snarled.

The throbbing turned to pounding. I interrupted before he could get going again. “Gaia. Thanatos. Please.”

“I’ll let it go if he behaves.”

“Don’t forget I’m older than you, witch. Don’t you play the elder card on me.”

I raised my voice. “Could we possibly discuss the matter at hand?”

“What is there to discuss? It’s quite literally out of my hands.”

“I would appreciate it if you could release us from the Law.”

She tapped a finger on her chin. “No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t feel like it.”

“Could you please note that I’m only asking so I can help avert a hard reset to your planet? The last I checked, you didn’t particularly enjoy those.”

“I don’t particularly enjoy these humans either. Since it’s a tossup between one and the other, I might as well thwart you a bit as well.”

“What have I done lately?”

“Not much, other than never coming to see me. But thwarting you means thwarting that husband of yours, and that’s not something I get to do often.”

I turned to stare at Thanatos. “I thought you said that most of your interactions with her were amiable. You even implied that she liked you.”

He crossed his arms. “I have not the slightest as to what has her in a snit.”

“So what you’re saying is that you’d rather let a bunch of gods who think they’re superior to you and know better than you decide what to do to your planet just to spite me and Thanatos.”

She sighed. The mask of frivolity dropped and she pinned me with a fathomless gaze. “I will allow it provided you agree to what Grace asked of you.”

My shoulders slumped. I should have known.

“You know it’s necessary once the gods get their act together again, which they will need to do if they are to mobilize to avert this situation. If I allow them their Voices, then what is to prevent them from running amok again? The humans get to enough hijinks on their own with their cults and political parties and so forth. To add Voices to the mix would simply be a recipe for disaster.”

“But why me?”

She smiled. It wasn’t a nice smile. “Because you care. For some reason or the other that I cannot fathom, you still care. Who else would I entrust the world to? Thanatos would just let it burn were it not for you.”

He shrugged. “And well you know it.”

If this was amicable, I didn’t want to see animosity.

“So. Will you or won’t you?”

“What exactly did you have in mind?”

“A guild, a consortium, a council, a judiciary branch, enforcers, rules, rewards, punishments — you know, the usual.”

“And in return, I get my Voice back?”

“Oh, I’m willing to be generous. You can return the Voice to anyone you deem worthy. Of course, if they then fail to meet expectations, you will have to hunt them down and retrieve it.”

“I’m quite overcome with gratitude, Gaia.”

“Sarcasm ill becomes you, young lady. Now, if you give me your word, you can be on your way.”

I closed my eyes. The last time I gave her my word to do something, I lost my child, my husband, and most of my godhood.

“What will it be, Amarantha?” Her voice was soft, as if she recalled the same memory I did.

“Did I really have a choice?”

Her tone was hard and cold when she replied. “If you have to ask that, then you haven’t learned a thing. You always had a choice. You have one now. You’re the one you need to answer to as regards whether or not the price you pay for something is too great. If you consider the price too great, then perhaps you should either consider not paying it or letting go of your hubris long enough to save yourself and others more pain and see what’s been in front of you all along.”

My gut cramped as a sense of betrayal washed over me.

“Don’t look at me that way, Amarantha. You know I consider you a daughter. How do you think I felt when I knew you lost your child, a being I would have considered my grandchild, because of my request and your foolhardiness? I know you blame me for it and I can accept that blame. However, never forget that there was a choice somewhere along the way where you didn’t need to carry as much weight as you did and instead you chose your damnable independence and pride over asking for help.” My breath choked in my chest and pain lanced through my heart.

She flicked a glance at Raphael and Thanatos. “Mikhail would call forth his army if you asked him to. Raphael appears to have at least a vested interest in not letting you die. You don’t need me to detail what Thanatos would do for you. Lucifer would offer up his demons to you in a heartbeat if you only hinted that you might welcome aid. Grace and her godlings are yours to command if you would only take up the reins. You have an embarrassment of riches and yet you disregard them like so much trash.”

The truth of her words swept over me. Heat flushed my cheeks. Just as quickly, ice prickled my skin as what what she said sank in. Realization dawned. If she was right, then I had single-handedly sentenced my child to death — for nothing at all.

“No.” I backed away. “No. No no no.” I tripped over a loose rock and nearly went to my knees. Thanatos caught me by the arm. His touch was the stick of dynamite that blew up all of my denial and grief.

Pain raged through my body. My heart felt afire and my breath sawed at my lungs. I killed my child. Our child. And there was likely to never be another. Not that any could replace the one we’d lost, but knowing that I would never have the chance to cradle life in my arms and it was my fault slayed me.

“Amarantha.” His voice was soft and pained.

I closed my eyes and clapped my hands over my ears and shifted. It shouldn’t have worked. I didn’t question how I was able to. I just needed to be away. Away from the god who looked at me with such horror in his eyes. Away from the disappointment in my mother’s eyes. Away from the husband I’d so cruelly betrayed.

Goddess in Waiting ch. 8

We stood in downtown Taipei, across the street from the Taipei 101 building. I looked up at the skyscraper and smiled. Why was I not surprised Chang’e chose to live at the top of a skyscraper?

Thanatos tipped his head back. “So this is the Taipei one-oh-one.”

Mikhail followed suit, raising his hand to shield his eyes. “How do we get in? I’ve heard rumors of the VIP club at the top, but it’s never been substantiated.”

A melodious voice came from behind us. “You don’t.”

I turned. “Chang’e. Or shall I call you Grace?”

A girl walked toward us, her hip length ponytail swaying in counterpoint to her hips. She wore the uniform of a prestigious private high school, a white silk blouse paired with a red tartan plaid knee-length skirt. A band of cloth was pinned to her sleeve, proclaiming her to be the class president. The former moon goddess took off her mirrored glasses, revealing large black eyes, and regarded me steadily.

“Grace.” Her lips quirked in a humorless smile. “Only my estranged husband calls me Chang’e anymore.”

“I’m Amarantha and these are the boys. They’re just there to look pretty.”

She gave them a leisurely once-over. “And they do very well at that. Why are you here, Amarantha?”

“Don’t pretend you didn’t know via your grapevine. I need to find someone who can speak to the leaders of the supernatural community.”

Her eyes hooded and her faint smile disappeared. “You know the Law.”

“Yes, and so do you. Your blog and forum, however, is not governed by the same rules we are, is it?”

Her eyes flickered at that. “What do you need, and why?”

“You know of the rules of Ascension.”

“Yes. We should be on target.” Her lips twisted. “Even if certain people insist on sowing strife where ever they go.”

“Happens we’re not. The ruling has come down that this planet is to be wiped in twelve solar days.”


I continued, ignoring her outburst. “To be honest, I’m not sure if we’re counting from when I got the verdict, or if we’re halfway through our first day already, but I’m not certain I care. Either way, we needed to fix this yesterday.”

“We’re counting from when you got the verdict.” A smooth voice interjected from behind me.

Grace arched a brow. “I thought you said he was merely decorative.”

I shrugged. “Are you going to help, or are you going to hop on your phone and call for immediate evacuation?”

I thought about it. “Not sure what worlds we could evacuate to though. Raphael, any good ones?”

“The closest one with an Earth-like composition and atmosphere was still fiddling with the pulley the last I checked.”

Grace narrowed her eyes. “You needn’t mock me.”

“I’m not mocking you. I’m actually genuinely contemplating what would happen if we didn’t manage to save this world. Twelve solar days. That’s not a whole lot of time.”

She whirled on her heel and strode down the sidewalk. “Then we better get moving, don’t we?”


Grace led the way to a coffee shop. She didn’t even glance at the sign that said ‘closed’ before she pushed open the door.

A long bar hugged the wall on the right. Ceramic tea caddies and tea sets both Eastern and Western lined the shelves behind the bar. Wooden tables were set along the wall with the stairway up to the second floor.

She fluttered her fingers at the boy who came out from behind a cloth curtain at the back of the shop, his hair sleep-rumpled and his eyes drowsy. “Nono, make us something nice, all right?”

His eyes sharpened. “Grace. What…”

She hopped up onto one of the bar stools. He reached under the bar, pulled out a tablet, and handed it to her. He set a glass kettle over a stand and lit the alcohol burner beneath it.

I took the seat beside her and the guys remained standing behind us.

Grace’s fingers flew over the touchscreen keyboard. “I’ve sent private messages to all the reincarnated deities that I know. They’ll be in touch. I’ve also posted a note at the top of the forum. Everyone who’s anyone will see it and then they’ll be in contact. Have you considered how you are going to do this? You can’t speak to them directly of this or you’ll be in breach.”

I smirked over my shoulder at the guys before turning back to her. “I thought I’d ask Lucifer if we could cut in the demon summoning line.”

She didn’t even blink. “That’s not a bad idea. I have some girls who would find that amusing. They’re cute too, so they probably won’t be instantly sent back. My question would be, how are you going to phrase this so they actually give a fuck?”

A low groan came from behind us at her easy capitulation. Someone muttered something about crazy women and their antics.

“I’m thinking that telling them the earth is going to go medieval on their ass should be sufficient incentive, don’t you? It’s kind of hard to continue being the big bad when you’re all dead. Besides, it’s not like the white magic types don’t know how to summon demons.”

Nono placed cups of tea in front of us along with a plate of buttery cookies.

I flicked a glance at him. Pure human. Warlock. Grace was a clever girl. Then again, she always had been.

“What else do you need?”

“What can you give me?”

She smiled. “Depends on what you can do for me in return.”

She leaned forward. I noticed Nono had started polishing glasses just within ear range.

“I want your help in reviving the gods.”

“And how do you propose that I accomplish this miracle? The worship simply isn’t there anymore. If you haven’t noticed, I’m spirit housed in flesh as well. I don’t have the ability to clothe myself in flesh.”

“Yes, but you have the ability to help us retain our memories.”

“What good would that do? Your memories return eventually anyway.”

She cocked her head and studied me for a moment before shaking her head. “No. They don’t. Not all of them. And the more we Fall, the more memories we lose. That’s part of why we Fade to human.”

I blinked. “Interesting. But that’s not all of it. I’m Fading as well, and I remember everything.”

Her smile turned wry. “In your case, I actually think it’s because you’re overloading your human flesh with what it wasn’t built to handle. You’re burning out to white ash.”

“The Fading process is irreversible, however. So how will having more of their memories help?”

“Yes and no. The Fading process can be reversed. I’ll discuss that later because it might be applicable to some, but it won’t be for the vast majority. Having access to more of their memories will allow us to have a foot up in this world. We might not be able to be revered as gods anymore, but the sort of adulation celebrities receive is still more than enough to sustain us and possibly gradually reverse the damage.”

“And how would I justify doing this? We drink the brew before we Fall for a reason: to level the playing field. We must earn back our powers and prove that we are worthy and capable of wielding them. You remember what happened before this rule went into effect.” The Black Plague, the Inquisition, Qin Shi Huang, Shang Zhou Xin and the Crusades were all direct results of gods Falling without having their memory wiped.

“The werewolves, vampires, and everything else under the sun has a governing body of some sort. Maybe it’s time we took a hint and did the same before we all go extinct. The virtuous get rewarded and the rule-breakers get punished.”

I folded my arms. “And you expect me to be the poor bastard to set all this up? Why me? You have a platform and you are able to call in and mobilize more gods than I can — why not do it yourself?”

She grinned at me. “Because you’ve always been a sucker for a good cause?”

A muffled laugh. I jabbed back with my elbow and was rewarded with a pained grunt.

“Hey, I wasn’t the one who laughed.”

“Tough titties. Feel free to pass the jab along to whoever did laugh.”

Another grunt. A muttered curse.

Grace flicked a glance at them. “However, if you’re going to be disruptive, take it outside.”


“He’s such an obliging boy, isn’t he?”

Considering the ‘boy’ in question was Mikhail, I grinned back at her.

“In all seriousness, however, you are the perfect candidate as you are already the representative for the planet. Why not keep all the hats in once place?”

“That’s the shittiest attempt at persuasion I’ve ever heard.”

She spread her hands. “Well then, what do you want me to say? You know that it would all fall apart to in-fighting if we tried to have someone else head the council.”

“And what makes me so special? Specially unlucky, to be specific.”

“You have something we all want — the ability to grant us our memories. There’s your carrot and your stick. In addition, you know I’m right about the many hats thing.”

“Aren’t you whippersnappers supposed to respect and care for your elders?”

“I’m helping you make Earth a better place. How’s that for respect and caring?”

I looked up at the ceiling. “Why me? I’m supposed to be retired.”

“Well, there is that lovely little planet a few galaxies over. I have a very nice cave I could show you.”

I turned around just in time to see Thanatos smack the back of Raphael’s head. “That whole etching thing went out of fashion a long time ago.”

Grace shrugged. “Think on it. There’s no rush.”

“Unless the world resets in twelve days.”

“Well, then, the rush would be for something else entirely.”

“Fair point.”

I slid off the bar stool. “I’ll be in touch.”

“Yes. I do believe you will be.”

I pushed open the door to her knowing laughter, barely resisting the urge to curse out loud.

Goddess in Waiting ch. 7

I lifted the bronze ring and let it fall with a crash against the door to Dawn’s cave.

“C’mon Dawn. You better be home, or else.”

I tapped my foot against the stone ground and resisted the urge to look over my shoulder. If he had wanted to follow me, he would have caught up with me by the time I’d arrived at Dawn’s dwelling. His continued absence probably meant he was willing to honor my wishes.

The heavy stone door swung open and Dawn peered out.

“Amarantha. Come in.”

I breathed out a sigh of relief when the door slid shut behind us. Even Death couldn’t come into another god’s home without an explicit invitation. I kicked off my shoes and tucked them into the wooden cabinet behind the door.

The door onto a short tunnel that led into the gigantic cavern Dawn called home. Globes of golden magelight were embedded into the sandstone and alabaster walls. The top of the mountain had been sheared away by her brother at some point and sunlight flooded in through the glass ceiling. A waterfall flowed over the wall directly opposite the tunnel, functioning both as a decorative focal point and as a shower. Plants grew in profusion in gigantic planters inside the cave and the air was heavy with the scent of flowers and fruit. The ground was warm underfoot and I relaxed as the heat soaked into my bones.

Dawn took my hand and tugged me over to the polished tree root table. She pushed me down into one of the root tangle chairs before seating herself opposite me.

She poured me a cup of jasmine tea.  ”So. How did it go?”

“Why didn’t you tell me about Thanatos?”

My voice came out soft and strained and old. Startled, I took a deep breath and focused my thoughts. I couldn’t let this get to me or I’d sink into the past.

She sighed. “He just showed up at the last meeting. It wasn’t as if we could bar him from it. I didn’t mention it because I didn’t think you would encounter him. He’s been almost impossible to find the last thousand years — I thought he’d continue the trend.”

I closed my eyes, not wanting to see the sympathy in her eyes. “It was such a shock to see him. And to have him see me like this.” A laugh escaped my throat, bitter and grating.

It was times like this when I wanted to curse, to shatter, to set something afire just so I could stop feeling impotent.

“Amarantha. Why don’t you just talk to him?”

“And speak of what? Our dead child? How I’m a shell of my former self? The impossibility of being married to someone who has to die every hundred years or so? What is there left to say?”

“Love?” Her quiet word fell into the silence between us.

I flinched back, incapable of hiding my reaction.

“He hasn’t had another in over a thousand years and neither have you. Eternity is too long to spend hiding from yourself, Amarantha.”

I swallowed hard and cut her off. “He won’t forgive me. I asked. First thing I did when I saw him.”

“Did he actually say so or did you assume?”

“He didn’t answer and the ambient temperature dropped at least twenty degrees. How’s that not answer enough?”

“Remember the chicken feather? Mikhail said that he’s claiming his place as your husband. Isn’t that promising despite all that he said and didn’t say?”

“And when did Mikhail say this?”

She waved her hand airily. “You know how useful email and Twitter is.”

I let my head fall back, the effort of holding it up suddenly too much to bear. “You know love isn’t always enough, Dawn.”

“No, I don’t.”

Her words snapped like a lash between us. I sat straight, surprised at her sudden show of temper.

She pinned me with amber eyes gone the color of flame. “I do not know that love isn’t always enough, Amarantha. He’s sulking and you’re hiding. You’re both allowing everything to speak instead of love. If you’re going to relegate love to last place in your priorities, you have no business claiming that it is failing you.”

Something broke in my mind. My heart shattered further. Against my will, my voice swelled into a shout: “I can’t force it, Dawn! I killed his child and I lost his wife. I’m not the goddess he fell in love and married anymore. I Fell and broke that promise to him on top of everything else. What am I supposed to do? Walk up to him and tell him that despite everything I did, I want us to be together? That I’m really sorry but he’s just going to have to cope with having a wife like this?”

“So you’re letting pride get in the way.”

I threw out my hands. “What pride? I apologized. I begged him to forgive me. I admitted that I should have waited for reinforcements. I said I was wrong ten million times over. What more can I do?”

“Have you asked him what else you could do? Or have you just been compounding your error by asking him for something he could not give and flouncing when he refused?”

I pressed a hand to my heart, fighting the urge to curl in on myself from the pain.

“Is that how you see it? Is that how he sees it?”

She reached for me and wrapped her hands around mine, chafing it between her own.

“Speaking of your marriage and your marriage only? Yes. You made a mistake and then you ran. You’re still running instead of fixing it.”

I tried to pull my hand away, but she held fast.

“Don’t turn away, Amarantha.”

“You never said anything. Have you all been thinking that this entire time? That I’ve been running away from my mistake instead of trying to fix it?”

“No. Not at all, dear heart. I would have said something earlier if I had.”

“When, then?”

“Something caught my attention at the meeting.” She bit her lip. “‘If you’re looking for a savior of the world, then why look further than Amarantha? She may have failed our marriage, but no one can fault her devotion to this world.’ He said this when Anansi questioned his support for you.”

Ice lodged in my heart and clogged my throat. My eyes burned, but I had no tears left to weep. I’d done all the crying I could when I realized that my child was gone and my husband with her.

Dawn grasped my wrist and shook me. “Amarantha. Stop thinking about that part and think about the important bit. Listen. He didn’t say that you failed him. He said you failed your marriage. To me, that says it’s fixable. It’s now a matter of whether or not you want to.”

Hope bloomed for the merest second. Then I saw my hand, cradled in Dawn’s, and reality slapped me in the face. It was a fine enough hand for a woman of sixty years, unlined and soft. However, the thickened knuckles and prominent veins gave the game away.

“And for what prize?” I motioned to myself. “To saddle him with this?”

Her brows snapped together. “Do you really think that he’d care what flesh housed your spirit? If you’re going to be insulting, perhaps you’re right and you don’t deserve him and your happiness.”

I yanked at my hand and this time she let me free, her eyes dark with condemnation.

“No, Dawn, it’s not about the fact that I look like his grandmother. It’s about how I cannot give him children. It’s about how I don’t want to burden him with having a wife who has at most sixty years in which to be a wife every hundred or so years and who spends the rest a blubbering idiot because of first youth and then senility. It’s about how this flesh is too weak to support consummation with Death.”

I stopped to catch my breath. She reached for my hand again and I stood up, curling my hand to my chest.

“And as people forget, I’m only going to become weaker. Sooner or later, I will become just another human and what then? Don’t forget how we’ve never had a happy ending between a mortal and a deity.”


I shook my head. “Perhaps he will find another to love, in time.The sooner I release him from his vows, the faster that can happen. I need to go. I have to meet the boys.”


Her voice followed me even after I shifted, angry and anxious, reminding me once again why I chose to retreat these last few centuries. The less others saw of me, the less likely I would be to disappoint them.


Power differences in romance

I read a book by an author I usually enjoy a couple of days ago.

As you might have guessed from the title and the “usually”, I didn’t enjoy it.

There was a significant power difference between the heroine and the hero. The sort of power difference where it was like watching a ten year old beat on a three year old. It wasn’t just age, or knowledge, resources, physical capability, mental capacity, and sexual prowess — it was that he trumped her soundly in all of those areas. It was painful to read, because he’d do something terrible and then he’d put his hands on her and she’d just melt. Then she’d hate herself for it afterward. Rinse and repeat. As one other reviewer put it, it was like a BDSM book without the safe, consensual, or willing sex. Forced orgasms don’t make things okay, just for the record.

There were other issues I had with the writing and the plot, but that stood out overall.

I like my conflicted heroes. The alpha males who are intelligent, ruthless, and just a bit too much on the bad side. The ones who don’t flinch at killing when death is needed and those who you want on your side in the dead of night and on a battlefield. Anne Stuart writes really good ones. So does Anne Bishop.

But this didn’t remind me of those men. This male reminded me of a bully. The sort who bloodies his wife’s face and then cries over it and apologizes and does it again. It would have been all right if he groveled at the end, but he didn’t need to. She just rolled over and forgave him everything because somehow everything was magically her fault.

I have a friend who can’t read Nalini Singh’s Archangel series because of the power discrepancy. I love that series. For me, I can accept it because Elena is a hunter, with her own abilities, and her mind is almost always her own. Raphael is also vulnerable to her and for her, which helped balance things out for me. When they tangled, I was never certain who was going to come up on top and Raphael’s code of honor made me feel that Elena was safe, no matter what was going on.

I need to know that even if it’s not an evenly balanced fight, that at least it’s a clean fight, and the other person has a fighting chance.

It’s a line to keep in mind when writing in the paranormal or fantasy realm, where the men are larger than life and have ten times the testosterone.

Any fellow Anne Stuart lovers who have bad boys to recommend?

Goddess in Waiting ch. 6

Mikhail lifted the cup of tea to his lips, sooty eyelashes sweeping down to hide those piercing silver eyes. Dressed in a soft blue cambric shirt and worn jeans, he looked more the part of a too-pretty cowboy in one of those denim ads rather than the archangel he was.

Strangely enough, he’d insisted on moving somewhere else for the discussion. Somewhere without a dead man and a pool of congealing blood.

It was somehow decided that my home was the place to go, over my objections.

I looked around the table and swallowed a sigh. I had my estranged husband, my leash-holder and an archangel in my garden drinking tea together. It sounded like the beginning of a bad joke.

“Are you always so strongly scented?”

Death looked at Raphael. “Yes.” His voice was flat. “It is all the flowers that are for Death.”

It was also why we were in the garden. He wasn’t quite as oppressively fragrant out here. What he wasn’t admitting to and what I wasn’t going to bring up was that he could tone it down quite a few notches. He was only this bad when he was metaphorically whipping out his peen.

Raphael looked like he was about to say something but Mikhail cut in. “What is your demesne, Raphael? Israfil, who shares your name, heals.”

“Information. Numbers. Technology.” He shrugged. “I suppose you could generalize my demesne as governance over the scientific arts.”

I frowned. “How does that work?”

“The prayers for the car to start up, just one more time. The fierce longing of the scientist for a break through. The focus of the accountant looking for that one discrepancy to unravel all the others. All those come to me and more. Of course, I also heal. Who doesn’t?”

I didn’t bother answering that. “Right. So you facilitate information.”

“You could say so.”

“It’s a step up from his days of watching men try to create fire.”

“My usual last resort was lightning. Of course, the rain could be problematic, but short of starting a forest fire and hoping they didn’t all burn to death, there wasn’t much by the way of options.”

Mikhail crossed his arms over his chest. “You two know each other.”

Raphael and Death exchanged a look. They shrugged simultaneously.

My gaze darted from one to the other. Their motions mirrored each other to an uncanny degree. That was something I would have to explore some other time. Right then, I didn’t have that luxury.

A suspicion teased at my mind. “You two know the D too.”

“The D?”

I flipped my hand. “The Devourer. I decided that calling him that was giving him a little too much pomp and circumstance.”

Raphael chuckled and shook his head.

Thanatos’ eyes hooded and his lips compressed. He studied the teacup he held in his hands as if it were the single most important thing in his life at the moment.

“I have heard of him, yes, but I am not familiar with him, if that is what you implied. That is all.” Raphael’s voice was final.

I wrapped my hand around the base of my neck and squeezed. “All right. I was simply hoping you had some more intel you could share since Mikhail has already admitted to having nothing.”

Mikhail shrugged. “Since we can’t kill him, what good is more intel, Amarantha?”

“I just like knowing what we’re up against. Besides, I wasn’t aware that killing him wasn’t an option.”

“He’s the Devourer of Worlds. That’s not something you jab a sword at and hope for the best.”

“Actually, I was thinking something more along the lines of shoving him into a supernova-ing star or a black hole.”

Raphael blinked. Mikhail sighed. Thanatos threw his head back and laughed.

“We’re all essentially energy, right? So theoretically, a supernova could either scatter him far enough we wouldn’t have to worry about him for a while and a black hole could put him in enough of a tight spot that he would be less of a distraction for us.”

“And who would do the shoving, Amarantha?”

I flapped my hand at my husband. “Details.”

“Important details.” Mikhail growled. “I do not wish to see Alexandro in a few decades and explain to him how I allowed you to run face first into either a supernova or a black hole.”

I arched a brow. “Allowed? There is nothing about allowing between you and I, Mikhail.”

What was it with all the men in my lives and their love for control?

“I would not permit it, moglie.”

“I wasn’t asking permission, xianggong.” I used the archaic term for husband on purpose.

“Anyway. Bossy gods and archangels aside, I’ve thought about it and I think we should leave the Watchers alone unless Mikhail can afford to spare angels to watch over them. If Mikhail wasn’t able to roust them out of hiding, I’m hoping that D is going to give it up after running a cost benefit analysis. Right now, there are other groups that we should contact first. Once we have established connections with them, then perhaps the Watchers will come out of hiding.”

Mikhail arched a brow. “Who did you have in mind?”

“The High Coven, the Convocation, the Exaltation, the Lepe, the Pack, and the Cohort for starters.”

“And how are you going to bypass the Law?”

The Law that no deity, major or minor, was allowed to be in direct contact with humanity. No more speaking from bushes, no more stone tablets, no more oracles, and definitely no more appearing in person to perform miracles.

I shrugged. “I thought I’d ask Lucifer to let me cut in line.”

Mikhail’s eyes widened, then he broke out laughing.

My husband shook his head. “My wife is going to ask Lucifer for a favor. And the boon she craves, is to be allowed to the head of the line of demons waiting to be summoned and bound by humans.”

“It wouldn’t cost a favor. Lucifer’s a friend.”

“Morning Star would just let her do it for the shits and giggles.”

Thanatos muttered something unintelligible under his breath.

“I think someone should explain the Law to me and why it’s necessary for Amarantha to ask for a favor to be summoned and bound and why that’s amusing.”

Thanatos and I responded at the same time.

“It’s not amusing.”

“It is verboten for us to deal directly with humans.”

Storm-dark eyes narrowed. “And your method of circumventing this is to allow yourself to be bound and summoned as a demon?”

“We’re allowed to speak to them then, since appearing in a demonic summoning circle means that we’re pretty much not allowed to speak unless spoken to and in response to direct questions. It is assumed that we’re going to lie as much as possible, so the Law doesn’t care.”

“And how does that aid us?”

“It’s one way of getting the information out.”

“Surely there are other ways.”

Thanatos pinched the bridge of his nose and cut in. “You could, for example, talk to the Fallen. That is allowed since they are technically not precisely human.”

“I was going to do that also. However, we will need to get word to the supernatural community as well. Their help could mean the difference between winning and ignominious defeat. If at all possible, I’d prefer not to be known for the rest of eternity as that goddess from that planet. Screws with my social life.”

“I don’t believe that between blogs, forums, tweets, and all other similar social media detritus, you can’t find a Fallen that has an in with the supernatural community.”

But where would the fun be in that?

Thanatos’s eyes narrowed and he leaned in close, gritting out his next words in a near growl. “We will do this, but we will not do this in a way that involves you being naked and trussed up liked a heavens be-damned present.”

I sighed. “Killjoy.”

He raised a long-fingered hand to my chin, a devastating smile curving his lips. “If you want entertainment of the naked and bound sort, I’m more than willing to lend you a hand. Or two. And in my case, you know your fun is guaranteed.”

I rolled my eyes and pushed his hand away.

Mikhail coughed. “Focus, you two. I’d tell you to get a room but I think it’d take a decade for you to even begin to take the edge off. So, knock it off.

Death arched a brow, his smile deepening. “Why, Mikhail, I do think that’s the nicest compliment I’ve had in an age.”

“Or the worst insult to your sexual prowess in an age. Requiring a decade to bring a woman to ecstasy implies staggering amounts of incompetence.”

I blinked at Raphael before bursting into laughter. His comment was made completely deadpan, his expression as smooth as if he were delivering a statement about the weather, but there was a wicked glint in his eyes.

Thanatos smirked at him. “Wouldn’t you like to know which one it is.”

“I was assuming that they didn’t just call it la petite mort for no sound reason. Perhaps I shouldn’t have.” The archangel sounded penitent, but his eyes danced from beneath his lashes.

“I think you three should get a room, just so you can settle the question once and for all.”

Near identical looks of male confusion from the god and the archangel.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, darlin, but we don’t exactly have the right parts.”

Raphael glanced over at Mihail, his gaze assessing. “Do angels even have the parts in question?”

I folded my arms. “You being a deity clothed in flesh means you can create the necessary parts. As for you, Mikhail, wouldn’t they need an arbiter of some sort? Of course, you can always test out his oral skills in addition to his manual ones. The parts may be different, but I’m sure they’re mostly translatable enough that you can get a decent impression of his ability.”

Thanatos spread his hands, his smirk firmly in place.

Mikhail shook his head. “Tempting, but I think I’ll pass.”

“Because of Leviticus? Again, assuming you have the requisite parts.”

The archangel snorted out a laugh. “Hardly.” He looked over at Thanatos. “What I’m afraid of is that one taking la petite mort to an extreme that I would find very inconvenient and unfortunate.”

“Ah, Mikhail, you wound me.”

“That’s not a denial.”

My husband shrugged.

“Would he truly? Why would he have cause to?”

“He would have been tempted twice over at the point where I didn’t look as if I were going to intercede about the plan involving Lucifer, nudity, and bondage.”

What was this? Afternoon tea with the ladies?

I decided to ignore them and pulled out my smart phone.

Raphael directed his next statement at my husband. “You said earlier that she was your first choice. So you knew of this and you knew what you were sending her into.”

“Don’t be tiresome and coy, Raphael. I was hardly sending her into danger. I knew you’d step in to champion the situation. What could they have done except give a verdict we don’t agree with?”

“You knew? Even I didn’t know I’d be the one to hand her the verdict.”

Thanatos exhaled sharply. If he was any less than his elegant self, I’d have called it a snort. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’ve been babysitting this planet since they first discovered the wheel and what it could do. Who else would they have given the task to?”

“Implying that they do not wish the planet to be reset.”

“They could hardly care less about that. You were simply the least likely to decline the chore and so it fell to you.”

Mikhail looked from Thanatos to Raphael. “So, what are your intentions? Are you in or are you the peanut gallery?”

Raphael arched a brow. “I wasn’t aware my duty was an optional venture.”

“Per the directive you mentioned, you only need to observe and ensure that the numbers are correct. It says nothing about aiding us or not.”

“It would be immensely tiresome to tag along like some unwanted younger sibling. I might as well render myself useful.”

“And you, Thanatos?”

“Whatever made you think that I would allow my wife to walk into danger without me at her side?” His  low voice was filled with silken danger.

I held back a cringe. Please don’t bring it up. Don’t…

Mikhail’s eyes flared, but he only nodded. 

I breathed out in relief.

“Amarantha. You done playing with your toy yet?”

I closed out of the app. “Yeah. I have some leads. I’ve texted you a list of names and addresses. I’ll see you guys at the first one in about four hours.”

“And where would you be going?”

“This old lady needs food, a nap, and to talk to Dawn. Not necessarily in that order. I’ll see you guys there.”

I shifted before they could object.