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Death & Beauty Preview

I’m getting excited about my Baldr/Hel romance, Death & Beauty, due out this June. (You can read the blurb here, my friends.)

And, just to get you excited too, here’s a sneak peek…

Death & Beauty Preview

A long rectangle of golden light spilled across the darkened hallway. I walked toward it, the echo of my own footsteps growing as the noise of music and feasting faded behind me. Slowly I became aware of a different set of voices, and I held my breath, listening.

“—reports that new arrivals have slowed somewhat, at least in the Northern corner. And travelers to the darkness are holding steady.” It was a man’s voice, nasal and droning.

“Thank you.” That was a woman, a full and rich female voice. It practically rippled with authority. “And the East?”

“Certainly, your Majesty!” Another woman, this one younger and excited. “Steady there as well. This year’s harvest must be holding.”

“Wait. Elenore, we have a visitor.”

The voices fell silent. There was the soft rustle of clothing and scuff of shoes against stone. I blinked as a light swung into the hallway.

“Yes?” It was the man. He was tall and thin, with a very prominent nose and full lips. He held a lantern.

I raised my hands in front of my chest to show I had no weapons and gave him a broad, easy smile. “I beg your pardon, good sir,” I said. “I’m seeking the Lady Hel.”

His face scarcely moved, but I sensed a strange interplay of repressed expressions. Amusement, perhaps?

“Let him enter.” The woman’s voice spoke from behind him.

“Very well,” he said, bowing to the side.

I thanked him and entered. The room was sparsely furnished, with a low hearthfire and several chairs. A small dais stood at the end of the room, with a table and simple black chair.

On the chair sat a skeleton.

A moving skeleton.

I pressed my lips together and held my back stiff, fighting the urge to scream. An enormous blue eyeball jerked in the skeleton’s head as it examined a ream of parchment on the table, its bony fingers flicking through the pages. The skeleton’s lower jaw moved, and the woman’s rich voice echoed across the room.

“One moment.”

Then she turned toward me, and only my decades of warrior’s training with Óðinn kept me from running.

She wasn’t a skeleton.

She was half a skeleton.

The right side of her face and body was a young woman with sallow skin and stringy, dark hair, wearing a utilitarian brown dress. And the left side of her body was dead. As I stared, something sleek and dark shifted inside her exposed rib cage, disrupting the tatters of her dress. I was suddenly very grateful I’d not eaten anything at that feast.

“You’ve found me,” the skeleton woman said. “What do you want?”

I swallowed hard against the bile rising in my throat. “Gracious Lady, my name is—”

“Stop. Stop it.” The bones of her fingers clattered as she waved her hand in the air. “I know who you are, Baldr Óðinnsen. And I can guess why you’re here.”

“Oh, really?” I gave her my most winning smile.

It was met with a flat stare from both her living and her dead eyes. “Let me guess. You’ve come to offer me your heroic assistance, anything I desire, in exchange for one tiny, little favor.”

I tried to widen my smile. “Perhaps, dear Lady.”

She snorted. “Stop. Please, by the Nine Realms. It’s just Hel. And am I on the right track, Baldr?”

“You are most perceptive,” I admitted.

“So you’ve come to ask a boon. And what did you have in mind as an exchange, son of Óðinn? Were you going to offer to ride out against my enemies? To defend my borders? To act as my champion in single combat?”

I bowed so low I was almost even with her feet, one clad in a simple sandal and one made of bone. With, if I wasn’t mistaken, a single maggot in the ankle. I tried to concentrate on the foot with the sandal.

“I would consider it my honor and my duty, my…uh. Hel.”

She laughed. Her voice rang out, bouncing off the walls and growing in strength. I stood up, puzzled. Her attendants were laughing too. The tall, thin man at least had the dignity to attempt to cover his mouth, but the young woman was laughing openly.

“I…I’m not sure I understand,” I said.

Hel wiped her living eye with her skeletal hand. “Oh, you fool. We’re dead! What borders do we have to defend, Baldr Óðinnsen? Niflhel echoes the world above, and it belongs to only us! What enemies do the dead have?”

She stood. The effect was quite disconcerting; I could see her femur rotating in her pelvis.

“And why would I need a champion? Who would dare attack me?”

I swallowed, thinking fast. “Let me teach you,” I said…

*

Stay tuned for more, like a sign-up sheet for ARC copies! 🙂

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