Review Spotlight! A Summoner’s Tale by Ellen 3

STcover600x800From Amazon.com

You need to add more Stars for this one!, July 24, 2013

by Ellen

This review is from: A Summoner’s Tale: The Vampire’s Confessor (The Order of the Black Swan, Vol. 3)

This is the third book in the Order of the Black Swan.  Again, I must stress it is best to read them in order.

I think this might be my favourite one so far, and I loved the others.  Perhaps I would give this one 5 stars plus.  The story had me at the edge of my seat for most of the book.  Both Baka and Elora had me biting my nails and frequently in tears.  I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned Blackie in my reviews of the previous books.  I suppose there are just so many wonderful characters and events in each book that it is hard to cover them all without spoilers.  And I don’t want anything to spoil your experience of these books.  That said, Blackie plays a very important part in this story.  It will make you hug your dog even more and if you don’t have a dog, this might make you go out and adopt one.

There are also so many unforgettable images in this book; the snow falling in an Irish forest, the howl of wolves, an infant’s cry.  This is a book about love, loyalty,  and sacrifice.  There are so many examples of incredible bravery in this story both human and nonhuman. A Summoner’s Tale is darker than the others in the series but is not without humour. We are now aware of what can be lost and how fragile existence can be.  Your whole life can change in an instant. Perhaps because it is darker, the joys are even deeper.

One final thing, NEVER FORGET YOUR CELL PHONE.

Victoria’s Notes:

This is simply one of my favorite reviews EVER. This reader is also a writer, but most importantly she expressed the exact sentiments I hoped would be the “take aways” when I was plotting and writing the book. How gratifying is that? It’s priceless.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that A Summoner’s Tale is special to me, the book that I shall always consider to be my masterpiece. And Ellen has named most of the reasons why. I can’t give this reader a prize, but I can share her thoughts with you.

Thanks again Ellen for writing a review! – Sarah

Author’s Review of A Summoner’s Tale and PROFILE of a Black Swan Reader 9

Beautiful Black SwanPUBLISHED ON GOODREADS ON 1/20/2013.

I suppose it now qualifies as a tradition that I write a review of my own book. In some ways this is the most fun – the cherry on top of the very mixed bag of being an author. Was that a messy metaphor? Oh, yeah. One of the great things about accumulating a little recognition is gaining permission to break some rules.

Baka’s story has been like a pressure cooker in my chest for the past several months. Getting it out there is a marvelous relief because now I’m no longer the only one who knows where we were headed. While preparations have been laid in these first three books for some of the other stories that follow, I don’t expect any future installments to take the emotional toll that this book did.

A Summoner’s Tale is dark, not in the sense of blood and gore, but in the sense of physical, psychic, and emotional pain along with the scariest thing any human ever confronts, that – from beginning through middle to end, no matter how we may try to fool ourselves into thinking otherwise – we are alone. Is the subject matter and treatment deeper than one normally encounters in paranormal romance? Yes. BUT, I insist on my Happily Ever After endings. I’m hopelessly romantic, thoroughly American, and possibly suffering from arrest of development at around age three when my dad would laugh at me for requesting to hear “Snow White” every night.

In a sense this book is also a test of readership. If you have read all three books and are in for a fourth, then we, as reader and author, are a match because each of these first three books is very different.

I’m in the process of building a PROFILE OF A BLACK SWAN READER.  Here’s what I’ve got so far.
1. A Black Swan reader is literate. Someone asked me once for the grade level equivalent of my books. I didn’t know, but was directed to some online testers that can be used to determine that. I discovered that my books read at the 9th-11th grade level. I was horrified. Then I spent half a day testing about fifteen celebrity PNR authors. The typical rank was 3rd – 7th grade although two or three made it all the way to 6th – 8th. That’s why I believe I can make the claim that Black Swan readers are comparatively literate. To illustrate, let me cite a quote from Reviewing in Chaos: “Let me just say SQUEEEEE!”

2. A Black Swan reader appreciates descriptive detail. – Black Swan readers don’t see description as unnecessary and superfluous. They understand that it’s the details that layer richness and depth into the story. They also have the maturity to know that patience brings greater rewards.

For example, here is a quote from Booked and Loaded, my favorite so far:

As multiple stories are seemingly unrelated, each brings with it a new dimension that begins to form a pattern that slowly leads all players to one key game, one final showdown to succeed and emerge intact. It is the chase to the end, the multiple and variant tensions, the characters that have become your friends, your heroes and your entertainment keep you reading long past bedtime and into the night – for you need to know how it all ends.

3. A Black Swan reader values characterization and believes that who characters are is as important – if not moreso – than what they do.

All the characters are amazing, strong, handsome, loyal, and married to women who are their equals. – Linda Tonis, The Paranormal Romance Guild.

4. A Black Swan reader is receptive to new experience. In other words, Black Swan readers don’t either want or demand the same plug-in-character’s-name-here, I-could-pie-chart-the-formula story over and over again.

To all of you who fit this profile, thank you. What would I do without you?

Victoria175 – Victoria

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A Summoner’s Tale: Excerpt #1 15

Dear Elizabeth Naylor –

Excerpt #1 is the first chapter which was published at the end of The Witch’s Dream. Just in case you and others got a copy that didn’t include it, here it is. And thank you very much for sending me a scratching-your-head moment. Very helpful.

STcover600x800CHAPTER_1

BLACK SWAN FIELD TRAINING MANUAL Section I: Chapter 1, #1

The plural of vampire is vampire.

 

When the initial rush of activity subsided, he had found himself all too often alone with his own thoughts; a condition that was tediously familiar since he had spent hundreds of years that way. Without the distraction of his friends’ banter, since his proposed staff had left Edinburgh, he had begun to see his task not just as a job, but as a mission, one immersed in the duality of joy and gravity. Though, lately it seemed gravity was winning.

He had never considered himself to be impatient. Quite the contrary. Everything he had ever pursued in earnest, from painting to music to writing, had depended upon patience. But, his awareness of the enormity of the burden he had accepted had grown over the past months and he had turned to brooding about the time that was passing.

Every day that nothing was accomplished was a day when more people had their humanity taken from them, another day when vampire remained imprisoned in bodies infected with the foulest disease imaginable, and, also, another day when people died.

The project was moving painfully slowly. Everyone who had originally been assigned to work with Baka was gone: married, retired, whatever. Everyone except Heaven – who had turned out to be anything but. If he was to be brutally honest with himself, he would have to admit that one of the main reasons for the slow progress was his distraction with his appointed assistant.

The large work space, intended for several people, held two people most of the time. He worked from early in the morning till late at night, challenging both the hours in the day and the fact that he was one excruciatingly short-handed task, force leader.

When Heaven was present, her moods ran the range of a shallow bell curve from disagreeable to surly to sullen. He admitted that he had provoked her on their first meeting, for reasons that were a mystery to him. Something about her had instantly put him on edge, made him feel anxious, and inclined to strike out.

Even though that feeling persisted, he had attempted to make amends so that they could work together amicably, but his attempts at accord had failed. Miserably so. She was prickly all the way to her luscious core, spurning every effort on his part to develop a rudimentary standard of civility. No matter how many times he tried.

He not only had to work with a person who detested his very presence, but, adding insult to injury, it seemed he couldn’t shake an inexplicably strong attraction to her. He found himself staring at the curve of her cheek when her head bowed over work. Or the shine of her chestnut hair when she walked in front of a window, right through a bank of sunrays. Or the way her lips pursed in silent protest and disdain whenever he gave her something to do.

It was damned aggravating to be held captive, figuratively, by a woman who detested him. To make matters worse, he seemed to have lost interest in pursuing other women, which really wasn’t like him at all. After being freed of the vampire virus, he found himself in a world where sex was king. Women dressed provocatively. Women were provocative. And they were free to share sex if it suited them to do so without needing permission outside their own conscience.

He had made the most of that window of sexual opportunity between the cure and the day Heaven walked into his war room.

For over five months, she had behaved as if simple courtesy was more than she could manage. That meant that “nice” was a goal way too distant. Baka knew it wasn’t an expression of her nature in general because he’d often watched her from across the dining hall laughing and interacting with other associates and employees. No. With others her manner was open and unguarded.

A thousand times a day his eyes sought her out while he surreptitiously pretended to be doing something else. He found himself imagining having her lift her head and turn the sunshine of that smile his way or, even better, to angle her face up at him with invitation on her features while she pressed her beautifully packed curves against his body. The thought of that made him hard. Painfully so. Again.

He was staring at the clock on the wall as he did that time every day, waiting for the separation ritual to begin. At exactly fifteen after five, Heaven checked her wristwatch, closed an open folder, pushed her chair back, stood up, shoved her arms into her sweater jacket, put her purse on her shoulder and, like every other day, started to walk out of the office without so much as a passing glance angled his way. Much less a wish for goodnight. But, that night was going to be different. That night his voice stopped her when she put her hand on the door pull.

“Heaven.”

“Yes?” she asked over her shoulder without looking at him directly.

“Why do you hate me so much?”

She didn’t hesitate for an instant before answering, “I don’t hate you. Whatever gave you such an idea?”

Before he could frame an answer to that question, she was gone. He heaved a big sigh. Fuck me.

Life had become a conflict without prospect of resolution. He perpetually struggled to concentrate when she was there because the space seemed to vibrate with a low level, but annoying irritation. When she wasn’t there, he hated it even more.

Baka had been a person with a well-developed sense of morality and a well-functioning conscience before he became a vampire. During the last hundred years of life as a vampire, having survived long enough to blessedly recover his understanding of right and wrong, he had voluntarily allowed himself to be taken into custody by The Order hoping that they would put an end to him. But they devised a far worse punishment. They decided to keep him alive on artificial sustenance so that, on occasion, he could serve as “consultant”. Of course that also entailed imprisonment and many decades of a solitary life.

He could have committed suicide, but submitted to the ongoing torment because he knew he deserved whatever crucible they might devise.

No. He had never been short on conscience. And that conscience was rubbing a hole in his brain telling him that it would be wrong to simply sit at a desk and plan a strategy on paper while, at the same time, doing nothing. So, keeping his own counsel, for better or worse, he determined that he would continue to work as a bureaucrat during the day, but would spend his nights – at least part of them – looking for others he might coax back to the light with the help of a very special serum.

He had worked with Monq at Jefferson Unit labs to develop a delivery solution. Taking a page from the methodology of the late Gautier Nibelung, they had decided that the safest and most effective approach would be dart gun. Each dart was outfitted with a tiny canister that would puncture on impact releasing a formula that was part stun and part cure. The proper dose of stun solution had been determined by tests on Baka himself. So he knew it worked. First hand.

Obviously vampire must be incapacitated while the viral antidote works. As medicinal remedies go, it is fast working, but not instant. There is a delay of two to four hours between introduction to the system and complete reversal of the disease, depending upon the age and constitution of the individual.

His plan wasn’t perfect. It depended on encountering one – no more than two – vampire at a time and extracting them, while paralyzed, without engaging other vampire. Further, all that had to be accomplished by him. Alone.

Tricky, but the alternative was waiting for a task force to be vetted, assembled, and trained. And waiting was the one thing he couldn’t manage. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing he’d ever done, but, hell, he’d had a long life.

To his advantage, he still had certain attributes that were extra human. Not like comic book heroes. More like human plus. No one knew if these benefits would fade away over time, but, for now, he was a little stronger, a little faster, and could see in the dark a little better than most people. All traits very useful for vampire hunting.

It just so happened that he found his assigned base of operations in prime territory that qualified as a vampire magnet on all counts. In Edinburgh’s Old Town there was a large pedestrian population that came out at night and it was built on top of an underground system that was not utilized to any extent that would interfere with the needs of vampire. All this was literally in sight of his office – five minutes’ walk away.

In a darkly poetic way, it was fitting that vampire would thrive in Edinburgh’s underground city which consisted of a system of tunneled streets with walls so close you could almost stand in the middle and touch both sides. The caverns and cells that faced the streets cut into the much softer sandstone under the rock that the above-ground Old Town is built upon. It’s a place with grisly history where thousands of hapless poor lived in darkness, packed together without sanitation and with the vilest of criminals. The legend is that plague victims were not removed and buried or burned, but sealed in their cells.

Some of the underground “vaults” under the bridge were reportedly used during World War II air raids, but, even if that was true, no one had been back since.

Modern day Ghost Tours offer a shallow excursion into Mary King’s Close – shallow because individuals don’t want to stay in the underground very long. Words like “creepy” are frequently used even by hard-core insensitives. That left a lot of maze for a vampire haven.

Baka had been a vampire long enough to know all about how they think which was why he had been supremely valuable to The Order as “consultant”. He knew that the days of the Samhuinn festival would be a gorge fest for vampire. The Royal Mile, just over the heads of vampire living in the Underground, would be crowded with visitors to the city, visitors intent on celebration and revelry, danger being the last thing on their minds. It would be a blessing to vampire in the original sense of the word’s older cousin – bloodletting.

He finished his day, went to dinner alone, and slowly savored every bite of actual food. Afterward, driven by a heartfelt desire to do some good in the world, he pulled on a pair of cargo pants and equipped the dozen pockets with as many canisters as they would hold. He opened his backpack and stuffed it with two not-for-sale-on-any-market, rapid-fire dart pistols designed by The Order’s own, genius inventor, Thelonius M. Monq. To that he added five revolving canisters for reloads, a thinsulate, a lighted helmet guaranteed to give fourteen hours of use in exchange for three AAA batteries, and six pairs of handcuffs.

When he put the handcuffs in side zipper pockets he wondered if he was being ambitious, prideful, or just plain stupid. It gave him pause, but, when weighed against the burden on his heart, his second thoughts didn’t carry enough weight to stop him. Like many natural intuits, he ignored the foreboding of his own instinct and proceeded with the plan, foolish though it might be.

He descended the stairs to the main foyer wondering if, even partial redemption for a long life of misdeeds, is possible. The fact that he was not accountable for his infamous history should have given him some peace of absolution. But didn’t. He said good evening to the doorman, threaded his arms into the backpack straps, and headed out into the night.

A Summoner’s Tale: Excerpt #2 6

STcover600x800After brunch, Kay and Katrina did hugs all around, loaded the car, and drove away from the Black Swan Vineyard villa where they had been guests for four days. They were supposed to rendezvous with an Order jet at Voltaire Unit, Presidio, San Francisco and catch a ride to Edinburgh. Kay had been persuaded to consult on a Berserker issue and, since it wasn’t an active duty assignment, Katrina came along.

The young married couple had both been changed by the experience of her demon abduction. The feeling of not knowing whether or not they would ever see each other again was still raw and near the surface of shadow consciousness so they didn’t like to spend time apart if it could be helped.

Storm and Litha stood on the pea gravel drive and waved goodbye like an old married couple. They held hands and watched the teal blue Caddy until it went over the hill before going back inside. At home in Houston, Kay had an expensive sports car that had been custom tricked out to accommodate his size, but only a few loaner cars came big enough for him to ride comfortably.          

They closed the door and got as far as the two cordovan, leather sofas that faced each other in the great room before they flopped down. The excursion into the new world of hosting house guests at the newly renovated and furnished villa had been a success.

“I want to clean up the kitchen, but I’m too tired to move.” Litha opened one eye a slit so that she could gauge his reaction. She hoped the thinly disguised suggestion would prompt Storm to volunteer, even though they both knew it was her turn.

He grinned, black eyes sparking with just a touch of taunt. “Nice try though.”

Screwing up her face and groaning, she dragged herself up off the couch and made drama of trudging toward the kitchen.

The spectacle made Storm grin even bigger and his abs rippled with unvoiced laughter. He put his feet up on the heavy, square coffee table, and slouched down into the couch smiling to himself, feeling self-satisfied, and more than a little proud of the vineyard, the villa, and his wife.     So this is dreams coming true.

He had hunkered down, nested, and loved every damn thing about it. When the thought, “It’s too good,” wandered across his mind, he could have slapped himself. In his experience “too good” is a state of being that never lasts long. It’s even shorter when the gods think good fortune has been questioned. Don’t they just love to fuck with that?

He snapped out of the fatalistic philosophizing when he heard a knock on the door. Assuming Kay forgot something he opened the door saying, “What did you…?”

It only took a second for Storm to string together everything Litha had told him about Deliverance, add that to the conspicuous family resemblance, – She got her looks from a sex demon. – and come the conclusion that the caller was his new father-in-law, in the flesh, and standing on their porch. He steadily held the visitor’s gaze and, without taking his eyes away, yelled loud enough to be heard in the kitchen.

“Litha! There’s a demon here to see you!”

There was no question that she heard him because of the volume of response. Shiny, new copper bottom pots make a lot of noise when they land on something as hard as a custom poured concrete kitchen counter or a slate floor.

Deliverance had been staring at Storm without blinking. He had to give the kid credit. Not so much as a muscle twitch or tiny tremor. He supposed she could have done worse. He let the corners of his mouth soften with the humor in his eyes. Storm didn’t show any sign of fear, but he didn’t invite the demon inside as they continued to silently take each other’s measure.

Litha rushed past Storm right into the laughing embrace of the male. Speaking of ‘too good to be true’, that pretty much summed up the demon’s looks. Anybody, even a heterosexual man had to admit that he was stunning.

Deliverance was visibly relieved that she was glad to see him. Still on the wide front porch, he swung her around like she was a little girl and she rewarded him for it with delighted giggles.

When he set her on her feet and drew back to take in her face, she said, “Guess what?”

Looking down at her with pride, he answered dutifully, indulgently. “What?”  

She swept her hand around in the air. “This is where I live!”

Deliverance laughed. “I thought so.”

“Come in. Oh. Wait.” She turned to Storm. “Guess what?”

“This is your dad.”

“This is my dad!”

Her excitement was contagious and starting to make him smile a little. How bad could the demon be if her made her that happy?

Storm offered his hand to Deliverance. “Engel Storm.”

Deliverance gripped the waiting hand. “You taking care of my little girl?”

Storm withdrew his hand, raised his chin a little and, as he was putting his hands in his jeans pockets, in a show of nonchalance, said, “When she’s not locked in the cellar.”

Deliverance snorted. “I’d like to see you try it. Did she ever tell you what she did to my cousins?”

Litha
shrugged as if to say, “Aw, shucks, it was nothing.”

Storm was interested. “No she didn’t. Was it fire related?”

Deliverance looked at Storm like he must be mentally deficient. “No,” he said slowly like he was trying to exercise great patience. “Fire wouldn’t hurt my cousins.”

There was a very loud ‘duh’ that hung unspoken in the air.

Storm was thinking that it was shaping up to be a long afternoon.  

Litha shook her head a little and repeated, “Come in,” to her father, the demon.

They gave him a tour of the house and he pretended to be interested in every tidbit about the renovation while rarely taking his eyes away from his daughter. When they circled back to the kitchen, Litha glanced toward the pantry with a dismissive wave in that direction, “I’d offer you something to eat, but…”

Deliverance nodded in the direction indicated. “You have women in there?”

Litha and Deliverance both laughed at his joke. Storm didn’t question the fact that he didn’t think that was funny. He knew, all the way to his core, that it wasn’t funny and thought it may have bordered on disturbing. The fact that Litha found it hysterical was disturbing.

“I’m not staying long. Just wanted to pop in and bring you a wedding present, or housewarming gift, or whatever you want to call it.”

Litha perked up. “Present?” She looked around thinking he had set the bar pretty high with a red, convertible Aston Martin that held a vintage Gucci suitcase full of cash in the trunk. “Where is it?”

“In the abstract.”

“An abstract present?” She blinked. “I don’t get it.”

“Do you want to guess? Yes! Let’s do that. It’ll be so fun. Three guesses and I’ll give you a big hint. Ready?” Storm was trying to remember if Litha had ever said her father had a personality like a game show host. “It’s travel related and better than owning your own private jet.”

“Wow. Really. Okay. I’m in.” She glanced toward Storm. “Storm can play, too, right?”

Deliverance leveled a look on Storm that left no doubt he considered that his new son-in-law was intruding on his visit with Litha. “Sure. Go for it.”

Litha noticed the change of tone and the reduction in the level of enthusiasm, but pretended she didn’t.   

 “I surrender.” Storm would rather observe than horn in on their fun. The dynamic between his bride and her father was interesting and surprising. He knew Litha had tolerated learning about her heritage and was mentally flexible enough to adapt, but he had no idea she held the demon in such regard and with so much affection. “Litha’s better at guessing games.”

Litha jerked her head at Storm and narrowed her eyes. “Liar. There’s not a game on Earth I can win when you’re playing.”

“There’s one.” Deliverance sang those two words as he crossed his arms over his chest and stoked the mystery with his smile. As an incubus demon he had an acute appreciation of the value of anticipation.

Stumped by the esoteric clues – travel related and better than a private jet – she lunged at her father and grabbed two fistfuls of shirt. “Tell me!”

He laughed, clearly delighted by her display of delirium. “No, but I’ll give you another clue. And, watch the threads! My sustenance depends on good grooming, you know.” She snorted as he gently wrested her hands away from his shirt.

“Somehow I think you’d survive, fresh pressed ‘threads’ or not.”

Deliverance bowed his head a little in appreciation of her admiration. “The lord of the manor here…” He jerked his chin toward Storm. “…is not what you think.”

Litha dropped both hands to her sides and took a step back. She sobered instantly, all levity gone from her expression and tone of voice. “You’re not here to make trouble, are you?”

Deliverance was taken aback, a scowl looking out of place on his flawless features. “Certainly not. I would never do anything to hurt you. It’s not anything bad. He’s just not fully human.”

She stared at her father for a couple of beats then looked at Storm to judge his reaction to the outlandish and completely unexpected announcement. Except for a muscle that twitched involuntarily under Storm’s right eye he had not reacted in any visible way.

“This isn’t fun anymore, Dad. Start explaining now.” Litha watched the demon pull a heavy, wrought iron bar chair away from the kitchen island and gracefully take a seat like he knew his way around a barstool.

“You remember saying you thought his eyes looked like mine?” Litha’s gaze flew to Storm. Though her face remained passive, it was easy to see her mind was doing some lightning speed gymnastics. She nodded silently. Storm looked at Deliverance to see if he would agree to a resemblance. “Well, you were right. They do. That’s because his father was Abraxas. Probably a distant relative, but definitely same tribe.”

When Deliverance finished that sentence, there was no response. The silence drug on as both the newlyweds processed individually, internally testing the likelihood that the news was the truth.

Finally, Litha said, “And you thought this would make us happy?”

He beamed. “Yes. It’s my gift.”

Litha lifted fingers to her temple and stared at the ground for a minute. “I can’t believe I’m asking this, but how does this relate to trav…” She stopped in mid sentence and looked a little stunned. She jerked a wide eyed gaze back up to his face. “You’re saying he can ride the passes.”

“No.” Deliverance was shaking his head emphatically. “He doesn’t have enough demon blood for that. But he can piggyback. Well, not literally.” His eyes drifted down Storm’s body and up again unapologetically as if he was calculating how much Storm might weigh. “He could go along with you and survive it.” He turned to Storm. “Just don’t get separated from her because she’s your ticket in, out, and everything in between.”

Litha took in a big breath and let out a curse ending in, “…Jezebel’s Juice.”

“You don’t look happy,” Deliverance was just starting to tune in to the mood in the room.

“Well, I don’t know how I feel about it. I’m, um, surprised to say the least.” She wanted to look at Storm and get a read on how he was taking the dubious news, but, at the same time, hesitated to see his reaction. “When we’ve had time to get used to the idea, I’m sure we’re going to be really excited.”

“Well, yeah! Go anywhere you want to go instantly? Do anything you want to do? How many humans can say that?”

She stared at him. “None.”

“Exactamundo!” He jumped down from his stool in a fluid move and bent to give Litha a big smooch on the cheek. “Getting hungry. Gotta go.” He grinned and straightened the sleeves of his sports coat by pulling on them.

“Thanks for coming, Dad.”

“Welcome, beautiful.”

“Say goodbye to Storm,” she directed.
            Deliverance tossed a look over his shoulder that implied he had forgotten Storm was there. “Engel Beowulf Storm. Take good care of my little girl.”

“Stay right where you are.” Storm said it quietly, but in the demanding tone of someone unaccustomed to being ignored. When Deliverance turned and faced him, he added, “With all due respect, Sir.” Storm may have coated the honorific title with a little too much sarcasm, but he wasn’t in the mood to guard against belligerence. “I want to be sure I’m not misunderstanding. You’re claiming my father – biological father – was an Abraxas demon?”

“Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation is usually the correct one,” the demon said cheerfully right before his expression abruptly changed to serious; as if he had just stumbled upon an unexpected obstacle. “Hold on. I’m not impugning your mother’s name or anything as Dark Ages as that. Right?

“Just look at it this way. If he was an Incubus, she wouldn’t have been able to resist. I mean…” He held his arms out in a pose that was reminiscent of Fonzy from the old TV show, ‘Happy Days’, in evergreen reruns on the grid of screens in the demon’s living room.

Storm was every bit as unimpressed as you would expect a Black Swan knight to be. His manner and tone were even. “Where’s your proof?”

Deliverance didn’t look offended. If anything, Storm’s reaction seemed to soften him around the edges. He shook his head slightly in a way Storm had previously thought was unique to Litha. “The only proof I can give you is the fact that you can survive the passes. Of course…” He smiled just a little too wickedly to suit the lady of the house. “… if I’m wrong, you’ll be dead.”

Storm straightened, pulled his jaw in, and glared. He looked like he would love nothing more than to throttle one exceptionally pretty, super arrogant demon currently standing in his kitchen with blatant effrontery written all over his smug mug.

“Comforting,” Storm said drily.

“Ask your mother then.” He cocked his head in a way that served to remind Storm that Deliverance was not exactly human. “Doesn’t she live nearby?”

Storm almost took a threatening step toward daddy dearest. Litha sucked in a breath as she practically read her husband’s mind.

“Dad,” Litha said quietly while pulling on his sleeve, “time to go.”

“Alright, love. See you soon.”

Urging her father toward the door, she glanced at Storm and didn’t like what she saw. “I’ll let him out and be right back.”