GWG Quickie: Birthday Book Drive

Getting books to incarcerated readers, upcoming events, and a new cover for an old romance...

Book Drive for the Women’s Prison Book Project

Hi! I wanted to send out a short newsletter to tell you about my birthday book drive with the Women’s Prison Book Project and Black Garnet Books!

I’d been planning to do an informal book drive again (I did one for my birthday a few years back), so when WPBP reached out about getting more books from Black romance authors to meet the requests of their incarcerated readers, we decided to do something together!

I curated a bookshop.org wishlist of books by Black romance authors that you can purchase via Black Garnet Books, a Black-owned bookstore in Minneapolis, MN. The books go to WPBP, which then delivers them to incarcerated readers!

Wishlist here: bit.ly/bdaybookraiser

You can find out what else is on their wishlist, or how to donate your own gently used books, at the WPBP website.


Cover Reveal!

Check out the beautiful new cover for my Hamilton-inspired f/f romance, That Could Be Enough!

This cover was made by Sarah Waites of The Illustrated Page Book Design, and she did such an amazing job bringing Mercy and Andromeda to life!! I loved the previous cover, but for the print book (finally getting this book and the AI Who Loved Me into print editions—more on that in the next newsletter) I really wanted people on the cove, and I love how it turned out! I hope you like it, too!


Recs


Upcoming Events

Friday 8/13 at 6:00 PM (or Saturday 8/14 at 6:00 am if you’re in guest Mina V. Esguerra’s time zone!)

Date Night at Loyalty Bookstores

I’ll be chatting with five awesome romance authors about their latest releases and more! Come hang with our dates Lyssa Kay Adams, Mina V. Esguerra, Jayci Lee, Joanna Schupe, and Synithia Williams!

Reserve your spot here: loyaltybookstores.com/datenight13

Thursday August 19th at 7:00 PM

I’ll be discussing When No One Is Watching with the Beyond the Page Book Club!

WGBH Beyond the Page Live Virtual Event: When No One Is Watching

Saturday August 21st at 5:00 PM ET

Bookstore Romance Day Panel at the Astoria Bookshop! Register here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/astoriaromanceday


Music Mood Boost


Capybara Corner

Bonus: Parachuting Beavers

June 2021 Romance Rx and more!

Interview with author Fiona Zedde, anime recommendations, and a capybara for the road...

Alyssalaneous

“Bitingly funny…Cole makes virtuoso use of the familiar rhythms of a romance arc. Joyful and absolutely perfect.”

The majority of this novel isn't about what happens when Makeda gets to Ibarania, it's about the journey, particularly her relationship with Bez as they learn to trust, communicate and give in to their attraction for each other. This is a charming novel and readers who love the forced proximity trope and deeply drawn characters will especially love this one.

  • And Weekend Reader interviewed me, and did a Royals zodiac!

Romance RX - recs from my TBR

Drag Me Up - R.M. Virtues - Queer (m/f) Black Hades/Persephone retelling, aka everything I could ever ask for in a book!

Cold Case, True Crime - Denise Wheatley - Romantic suspense with a true crime blogger heroine thrown into danger while digging into an unsolved murder…

The Hellion’s Waltz - Olivia Waite - Queer! Historical!! Heist!!!

Also!

Since consistency is not my jam and I’m not sure what next month will hold on the newsletter energy reserves front, be on the lookout for these two July books, which I had the opportunity to read (or start reading) ahead of time and have enjoyed so much. Both of them have this sense of…emotional nourishment. A gentleness in how the characters are handled in a world that is not at all gentle that just seeps into the bones of the reader and fortifies you. They’re what I needed right now and possibly what many of you are looking for too.

LAST GUARD might be my favorite Psy Changeling Trinity book yet, which is SOMETHING given how much I love the other books.

The Calyx Charm is book 3 of Petersen’s fantasy romance series, and also my favorite so far! Her writing is lush, lyrical, and as magic as the world of The Sacred Dark series.

Anime Recommendation

Sonny Boy (2021) | Tatami Galaxy (2010)

I recently watched the first episode of Sonny Boy, a surreal and intriguing of an anime, and really enjoyed it! It reminds me of a show called Tatami Galaxy, by one of my favorite writer/directors, Masaaki Yuasa (Kaiba, Ping Pong, Devilman Crybaby, and, of course, Keep Your Hands off Eizouken!, which I recommended in previous newsletter). If you enjoy extratemporal twists, psychological suspense, and mind-bending media, check out Tatami Galaxy and then catch up on Sonny Boy.

GWG Interview: Fiona Zedde

Hi Fiona! Thanks for joining us at GWG! Before we get into your books, can you tell the Lunettes a little about yourself ?

Thank you for inviting me over! It’s nice to chat with you, even if you are starting me off with the hardest question. Okay, let’s see… I am a Jamaican-born Aquarius currently living in Spain. My passions are cheese, travel, and cooking, and I’ve published more than 40 novels, short stories, and novellas.

You've been writing lesbian romance for over a decade now, in multiple subgenres! Can you tell us about your path to publishing and how f/f romance publishing has changed over the years?

I found my way to publishing through erotica. My first sale was a short story in a Best Lesbian Erotica collection. Getting that story out there gave me the courage to finish my first book, Bliss, and send it off to some agents. The agency I eventually signed with sold my book within a couple of months and everything took off from there.

Since then, the f/f romance publishing landscape has changed a lot. At least to me. Around that time, Naiad Press was the main publisher putting out f/f romance and there were no large publishers that I knew of that were publishing these books. Over the years since, Naiad has gone away and other small, queer publishers have appeared on the landscape—Bella Books, Bold Strokes Books, Bywater Books, Ninestar Press, Ylva Publishing, to name a few. And with the shift in society’s acceptance of the LGBTQI+ community, more large houses are publishing f/f romance while many authors are self-publishing their novels with great success. It’s fantastic to see these stories - especially ones with BIPOC main characters - gain more visibility.

Your latest release, House of Agnes, straddles the line between enemies to lovers romance and thriller. Can you tell the Lunettes, especially those looking for higher head f/f romance, what the book is about?

House of Agnes is a love story between a ruthless madam and a somewhat naïve reporter trying to destroy her. There is absolutely intrigue, thrills, and surprises, but I also have some of my personal favorite romance tropes at play - ice queen, age gap, and fun with masks. Sexy times pop up every once in a while too.

You also write m/f romance, as Lindsay Evans. Can you tell the Lunettes about those books, and writing under two different names?

My Lindsay Evans alter-ego writes sweet and spicy romance between strong women and the sexy men who can’t get enough of them. These books are Harlequin/Mills & Boon romances except for two - my historical novella called A Delicate Affair and Seducing the Stripper, a story about an older woman and a younger man. So far, Lindsay has about fourteen novels and novellas with more to come next year.

Writing under two names has been fun and even freeing in some ways. I can explore storylines and character types under one name that I feel I wouldn’t be able to with the other.

Because comic nerdiness is our jam at GWG, we of course have to talk about your superheroine f/f romances, The Mercy Chronicles (The Power of Mercy/A Lover's Mercy). Can you share what it's about, and what it was like writing superpowers + romance?

The Mercy Chronicles is a collection of two books about the superhero, Mercy. The first book, The Power of Mercy, introduces Mercy’s love interest and her own intense super-powered family that sometimes tries to kill her.

The second book, A Lover’s Mercy, dives deeper into Mercy’s relationship with Xóchitl, a woman who would make a really great villain. Because I was basically raised on romance novels, I couldn’t resist making Mercy’s turbulent enemies-to-lovers romance be as important as her fight against evil and against her family’s foolery. The marriage of action + romance just felt natural to me.

In addition to writing fiction, you're an avid world traveler and share your travels in a blog. Have you always loved traveling? Can you share what it's like living in Spain?

The travel bug bit me hard through the books I read as a child growing up in Jamaica. After my first flight from the Caribbean to the United States, that bug burrowed under my skin and never left.

Living in Spain has been a big change from everywhere else I’ve been for any period of time. I walk a lot more than I would if I were still living in the States. And I consume a shocking amount of Spanish cheese, wine, and olives. I’m also enjoying learning more of the language, traipsing along cobblestones streets, and exploring hidden villages with their random castles and centuries-old churches.

The only minus (aside from missing family and friends) is the adjustment I’ve had to make moving here from Atlanta where beautiful Blackness and queerness and smiles of greeting abound.

Can you share one or two recent reads that you've enjoyed?

Although I really shouldn’t be reading right now with so many deadlines breathing down my neck, I just finished The Cost of Knowing by Brittney Morris. It was so, so good. The book weaves magic, hard realities, history, and powerful prose to create one of the best novels I’ve read in a while. I’ve also been devouring everything by Nalini Singh. Her debut thriller A Madness of Sunshine has deepened my thirst for all things New Zealand, and now I’m chewing my nails off waiting for her new book to get here in October.

Do you have a specific fandom that you're a part of, or a nerdy hobby you'd like to share?

I wish I had a cool answer for this question but nope. While I love reading Old Guard, Hannibal and (new) Star Trek fan fiction, I wouldn’t say I’m part of any particular fandom. My hobbies are cooking and baking, and one of my travel goals is to swim (or at least dip a toe) in every ocean/sea in the world. Sadly, I don’t think any of these are nerdy enough.

9) What are you working on, or what should we be on the lookout for from you?

Right now, I’m fleshing out Stud Like Her, the follow up novel to my surprise hit Femme Like Her that came out last December. It’s the second in a planned trio of books that dives into the pain and perils of allowing other people to define who we are and how we love. Hopefully, the books are a little bit funny too.

Where can readers follow you online to keep up with new releases and, when travel becomes safe and possible again, your travels?

You can find me online on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram as @fionazedde. My website is www.FionaZedde.com, and my travel blog, which often ends up going off on food tangents, is RoundTheWorldGyal.Wordpress.com. Come follow me on all the social medias!

Going Through It

I don’t need to list everything going on—I think we can all agree that the world continues to be overwhelming in countless ways. Even the act of moving toward a post-vaccination world can be really difficult as we start to feel all of the things we’ve been trying to avoid. I made a comprehensive mental health guide in the April 2020 newsletter, but thought I’d again share some Affirmation Pod with Josie Ong episodes that might be useful. She has a calming, voice, and covers all kinds of topics, and taking a few minutes to listen can be a great mood booster.

https://www.affirmationpod.com/357-learning-to-socialize-again/

https://www.affirmationpod.com/346-feeling-alive/

Capybara Corner

Semi-related: I can’t remember if I shared this here, but if you missed it back in March, I did an interview with The Quiet Pond book blog. Definitely check out their blog if you haven’t yet!

They were wonderful, and even asked me if there was any particular animal I wanted to be drawn as for my visit to the pond. I think you already know which animal I chose…

How To Find A Princess is Now Available!

Insert pun about finding the princess at your local bookstore here.

How To Find A Princess

How To Find A Princess is finally here!

First, I’d just like to thank everyone who has liked, boosted, and shared posts about the book’s release, and those who have reached out to tell me how much they loved Bez and Makeda’s story. It makes me so happy to know that the story is bringing people joy and warmth, and it is one of those things that truly reminds me of how lucky I am to have such amazing readers. I know this section of the newsletter is usually “Alyssa’s Emo Journal” and not “Alyssa’s Earnest Journal” so I will just pretend I never said this later, but I wanted to take a minute to acknowledge just how much I appreciate all of you. Thank you!!

Release Week Roundup

Here are a few How To Find A Princess Related things:

  • I talked with Frolic about How To Find A Princess and writing royals! Click here to read the interview.

  • How To Find A Princess got a wonderful review in the New York Times! Check it out here!

    “The book is a bitingly funny, scathing rebuke to the emptiness of royal pageantry, and Cole makes virtuoso use of the familiar rhythms of a romance arc.”

Anime!!! Recommendations

Mashiro No Oto / Those Snow White Notes

(1st season in progress)

Okay, I never thought I would be so emotionally invested in a show about a high school band playing a singular instrument (the shamisen), but I am so obsessed with this show that I pulled my dusty banjo (which isn’t the same as a shamisen but has a very similar sound) out of storage and have started practicing again. If you enjoy explorations of personal creativity, music, team competitions, and people coming together to create something beautiful, you’ll probably enjoy this show.

Watch on Crunchyroll.

Yuru Camp/Laid-Back Camp

(2 completed seasons)

Girls talking about camping. Buying camping materials. Cooking at camp sites. Staring at Mout Fuji. Figuring out when they can go camping again. This is what I guess I would call “special interest slice-of-life,” wherein the characters are communally super into a specific thing and watching them explore and enjoy their interest in said specific thing is extremely relaxing. I also now know how to build camp fires, differences in tent set-ups and sleeping bags, etc., so it’s a great way to learn camping skills!

Watch on Crunchyroll.

Super Cub

(1st season in progress)

Another “special interest slice of life” but this time about girls who love motorcycles. Our heroine is a lonely girl who, on a whim, buys a Honda Super Cub and falls in love with it, leading to friendship and adventure! And I now know how lots of things about motorcycle safety and upkeep!

Watch on Funimation.

Randomness Roundup

  • I mean, it’s a bird who riffs as its human plays electric guitar. The bird is also named Tico, and though my Tico sings every night when it’s time for dinner, it’s not quite as cool as this:

  • Hobbit home vibes. As someone who often says I will one day become a hermit in a cave, these German cave-houses have my attention.

Capybara Corner

How To Find A Princess: Upcoming Event and Excerpt

Checking in with the Runaway Royals

I’ve been pretty lax on the newsletter front—I started the draft of this newsletter LAST DECEMBER! I did manage to send out a historical fantasy short story in February, so if you missed lady blacksmith and werewolf girlfriend, check it out here.

I’m in the process of figuring out a new newsletter service and regenerating brain cells, but hopefully I’ll get back on track with posting actual GWG content soon!

ICYMI: Reject Squad Graphic Novel

Reject Squad, the fake anime that Gus and Reggie (who this newsletter is inspired by) bond over in Can’t Escape Love, is going to be a real comic!!!

How it started:

HOW IT’S GOING:

I’m so excited that I get to work with OneillJones on this book, and can’t wait until we can share more!!! 2024, here we come!

Spring Date Night at Loyalty Bookstores

We’re back with another Date Night, and a fantastic lineup! Register for this free event here: https://www.loyaltybookstores.com/datenight12!

How To Find A Princess Release Day Event

Book #2 of the Reluctant Royals series, HOW TO FIND A PRINCESS, is out in just a few weeks! On release day, I’ll be in conversation with Rebekah Weatherspoon at 7:00 ET. We’ll chat about writing queer romance, boats, and lots of random but entertaining things (since that is always what happens when we hang out).

The event is “ticketed” in that you buy a book from your participating bookstore of choice and receive the link to the event—as well as this awesome vintage-style travel postcard drawn by author and illustrator Marika Bailey!!

Multi-Indie Bookstore Release Day Event + Pre-Order Postcard Links:

Astoria Bookshop | Mysterious Galaxy | Novel Neighbor | Charis Books

How To Find A Princess Excerpt

This book is an Anastasia-inspired f/f romance featuring a reluctant possible princess, a chaotic hot investigator, a fake marriage, and only one bed on a transatlantic cargo trip adventure! Here are the basics about our heroines, Makeda and Bez:

And here’s an excerpt. I chose Makeda and Bez’s first encounter—hope you enjoy!

The buzzer at the front door sounded, startling Makeda. There were no guests booked for today and no deliveries scheduled. Maybe it was Lester, the mail carrier. The buzzer rang again, and again, and—no, this wasn’t Lester’s energy. Any other delivery person would have left the package and kept it moving to meet their quota by now. Whoever was at the door, they were rude, impatient, and likely to be a pain in the ass.

Makeda was done dealing with pains in the asses; she turned on the vacuum and continued cleaning the mess that previous pains in the asses had left behind. The person BZZZZTed again; three long, nerve-jangling presses that cut through the sound of the vacuum’s motor.

She fought the rising anxiety that came from ignoring a clear bid for her attention—this felt like a battle of wills. She was tired of people expecting her to drop everything and do what they wanted. She was ashamed that, without actual effort to resist, she was the kind of person who would.

The buzzing stopped and Makeda grinned triumphantly, putting a little more oomph into the push and pull of the vacuum. It was pathetic that ignoring someone at her door felt like any kind of victory, but she’d take it.

“Hello,” a voice called from behind her a moment later, and Makeda gasped and spun around, vacuum gripped by the handle and hefted, ready to bash whoever had sneaked up on her.

A woman was standing in the doorway— tall and brown- skinned with a straight blunt- cut bob that rested on her shoulders in a silky wave, like she’d just unwrapped the perfect doobie. Her hazel eyes, a stunning contrast to her dark skin, were  magnified by comedically large round-lens glasses perched on her nose. The lenses were smudgy with fingerprints and the sight of them would have made Makeda spray her in the face with Windex if she wasn’t so shocked by her presence.

The woman sported a black suit that managed to accentuate her broad shoulders and long, muscular body despite its clearly untailored cut. Makeda wasn’t judging, but it reminded her of the cheap polyester tuxedo uniform of restaurants she’d worked at, worn to project a false sense of professionalism. Was she a traveling saleswoman? Not common, but people did show up trying to sell things from time to time. The green button- down shirt and skinny tie beneath her jacket pulled the look together into a

disheveled chic, like the fashion editorials models in oversize asymmetrical out"ts. Although this woman was far from the waif- thin looks of any couture spread. She was solid and muscular and Makeda’s face went hot just from looking at her.

The woman scrunched her face as she examined Makeda, as if trying to increase the magnifying power of her glasses. People usually didn’t look at Makeda with this much interest— she was the type who won people over with her usefulness and reliability, not by grabbing their attention. Then the woman’s full lips spread in a smile to reveal a gap between her two front teeth.

“Excellent reflexes,” she said with an approving nod, speaking loudly to be heard over the vacuum that was sucking at the air between them.

Makeda turned the power off, but the woman still shouted her next sentence. “You’ve no idea how many people sense someone creeping up on them and turn without grabbing for even a butter knife.”

“You creep up on people often enough to know that?” Makeda asked. Her arms started to ache, so she lowered the vacuum but kept a tight grip on it in case she needed to deliver a suction- free beatdown.

“Not often, no.” The woman clasped her hands behind her back, her gaze drifting off to the side, as if she were trying to remember something. “Wait. Perhaps often, but not regularly. It is a skill, not a habit or a hobby.”

There was a husky musicality to her voice, an accent that might have been Italian or Arabic.

“Usually people trying to sell things wait outside,” Makeda said in the least hospitable voice she could muster, which was still far too warm but only because her cheeks were burning. “Is there something I can do for you?”

“I believe there is,” the woman said. “I’m looking for a woman named Makeda Hicks. Are you Makeda Hicks?”

Makeda wasn’t an accent ho, but hearing that voice wrap itself around her name sent a shiver of delight through her. The woman made the three syllables sound exciting. Full of possibility.

“I— I am,” she said, gripping the handle of the vacuum even more tightly. “I’m Makeda Hicks.”

The woman’s gaze sharpened. She didn’t move, but it somehow felt as if she’d closed the space between them. It reminded Makeda of when Kojak the cat stalked her as she cleaned, staring at her from across the room one moment, then pouncing at her ankles from beneath her the next.

The woman continued to stare, seemingly having no intention of blinking or need to do so. Sweat beaded on Makeda’s upper lip as the panic of sudden and incredibly inconvenient attraction overtook the adrenaline that had kicked in moments ago.

No. This wasn’t attraction of the sexual kind; it was just cleverly disguised as such, like it had been so many times in the past. Grandmore had her dreams that gave hints about the future, but Makeda had a help- y person’s intuition, and as she withstood the full blast of the woman’s attention, she understood that the tug she felt was actually a warning beacon from her inner watering can.

Chaos radiated from this stranger, the kind that appealed to Makeda’s innate urge to fix, and if she wasn’t careful it would suck her right in. Worse?

She’d like it.

“It’s been quite the adventure tracking you down. You’re not at all what I imagined,” the woman said matter- of- factly as she looked Makeda up and down. “Much shorter than expected of al-Hurradassi stock, and lacking in obvious menace. You’re about as intimidating as a sea snail.”

Oh.

The woman hadn’t been staring because she liked what she saw, but because she was making a list of Makeda’s faults. Like Steph had. Like people had for most of her childhood. Like Makeda did to herself.

The woman whipped a cell phone out of her pocket, the movement so fast it was startling, and began taking pictures of Makeda. There was a kind of glee in her eyes that should have been off-putting but was somehow alluring—

No! Makeda mentally snapped at herself. Don’t let the chaos vibes pull you in.

“They didn’t exactly sanction this investigation, but the search team will be won over by this for sure. The Cinderella angle! Do you understand what an easy sell the Cinderella angle is?” She stopped taking pictures and squinted at Makeda. “Perhaps you do, which is why you rudely continued cleaning instead of coming to see who was at the door? Maybe you wanted me to find you toiling away?”

“I didn’t expect a stranger to break into my house just because I didn’t answer the door,” Makeda said, growing more frustrated as the situation continued to spin out of her control. Grandmore would have hustled this woman out of the house already but Makeda was letting the woman cha-cha slide over her doormat self.

“I didn’t break in. The door was unlocked.”

Makeda was fairly certain she’d locked the door behind her grandmother when she’d left for aqua aerobics. She narrowed her gaze. “Even if it was, most people have enough home training not to waltz in uninvited.”

“I do lack that,” the woman conceded. “And I apologize for insinuating that you were acting like something you weren’t. I can see that such artifice is beyond you. You truly are a shabby ragamufin.”

“Shabby? Ragamuffin?” Makeda looked down at the dolphin shorts and old T- shirt she was wearing, and then at the stranger. “You have some nerve coming in here with your 1920s insults, wearing a too-big Burlington Coat Factory sales rack suit.”

Beznaria shrugged, as if settling her jacket more comfortably. “There is no need to besmirch my fashion sense or my frugality, Ms. Hicks. I’m simply doing routine follow-up, and this will go much more smoothly if you comply.”

Makeda’s patience snapped. “What are you talking about? Why are you taking pictures of me? And who are you? Can you answer at least one of those questions?”

“Ah. Right. Proper introductions! I always forget the introduction, but to be fair, when I’m on a mission the goal is generally for the person I’m observing not to know who I am. This is a habit, and not a skill.”

“That’s... not making things any clearer,” Makeda said.

The stranger unbuttoned her jacket with one hand and reached for an inner pocket, then handed Makeda a card. “Here.”

Makeda snatched the card— as much of a snatch as she could muster, though it was more of a tug—and felt no more informed about what was going on after she read it than before.

BEZNARIA CHETCHEVALIERE

JUNIOR INVESTIGATOR

WORLD FEDERATION OF MONARCHISTS

That last name seemed familiar for some reason.

“Great. Why are you here, Ms...” She glanced at the card again as the words printed in bold black letters penetrated through her confusion.

World Federation of Monarchists.

“…World Federation of Monarchists?” The words squeaked out of her throat, strangled by the realization that her grandmother had been uncharacteristically quiet on the Ibaranian royalty front after their talk four months ago. She’d never pressured Makeda about it, not even nudged, which Makeda had attributed to her newfound irritability, when in fact something else was far more likely.

Grandmore wouldn’t go behind my back. Well, yeah, she absolutely would.

“My name is Beznaria Chetchevaliere,” the woman corrected with clear amusement, pulling Makeda’s attention from the disbelief that was shifting to understanding. “The World Federation of Monarchists is the organization I work for. I’m taking pictures of you to add to the file I’m creating for you. You may not believe it, but stodgy old monarchists require reams of paperwork, and if I’m going to prove you’re a princess, we’re going to need an excessive amount of documentation.”

“Prove what?”

Makeda was generally not prone to panic, but at this sneak attack of what was, in a way, her worst nightmare, her mind blanked and she sprinted past the woman, heading out of the room.

Preorder How To Find A Princess and learn more about both books in the Runaway Royals series here!

Capybara Corner


The time stamps on these tweets show how long this newsletter has been in progress…

Short Story: Of Fur And Fer

A post Civil War blacksmith meets her werewolf girlfriend

Hi! I’ve been holding off on sending this story out while waiting for some news to drop, but since a watched pot never boils, I decided to send out the story alone without the rest of the Girls With Glasses extras. It’s a sapphic short I wrote a few weeks back after getting major inspiration from the following two tweets:

It’s more spec fic romance than paranormal romance, fyi. This is labeled Part I because though it works fine as a stand alone, I imagine this will be a serial in a few parts dropping every month or so. Enjoy! 1) It has not been edited so be aware there will be typos and stuff. 2) There is sex!

Of Fer and Fer, Part I

Unionville, Maryland

1870

First thing I thought when  I saw her was, That’s a damn shame, dying ass-up in the snow like that.

No, actually the first thing I thought was, That’s a pretty ass, with the light of the gibbous moon hitting it just so, but even though I’m strange and unnatural, I didn’t disrespect the dead by letting that thought linger.

It was an early-dark winter evening and I was returning from the forge, the heat of the iron still in my blood and the pounding of metal against anvil still throbbing in my hands. You can’t work with the metal all day and just leave it at the threshold when you go, like the grocer locking the door against his grain and perishables every evening.

The old folk used to say that people like me, who live for the heat, who hear the iron scream and sing as we work it, that we got the old gods in us. The ones even this fresh country gone rotten couldn’t kill. Metal don’t burn to ashes, like wood, after all. Heat it hot as you want and all you can do is shape it or let it shape you.

Snow from the edges of the big storm coming our way was whipping in my face and going up my nose, and it was cold enough to crack your toenails. So when I saw her—hunched up like a cat in heat, not a stitch of clothes on her lean, dark frame—I thought she was dead. She should have been dead. But when I got closer I realized something: the snow wasn’t sticking to her skin. It was beading up like dew drops on velvety leaves, rolling down over the sinews of her back and the dip in her hip. The ground showed bare and brown for the width of the tip of my thumb, all the way around her.

There were pink spots in the snow near her head.

Blood.

I couldn’t see her face; I kept my hair short, curled tight to my head, but hers was long, even matted as it was, covering her.

My belly had gone tight with anger and fear; folks had always talked about spirits and devils in these wood, but the bodies showing up around here since the war had ended had fallen pray to a different kind of evil—the kind that claims fear while stalking those that just want to be free.

I’d met those kinds of demons, and they’d learned in their final moments what real fear was.

The woman wasn’t moving, not even to shiver, not even when my heavy boots crunched in the iced over snow. When I touched her, she went from stillness to motion, rearing back and glaring up at me with wide brown eyes that were vulnerable and vicious both—I’d seen that look before too many times. A woman who had something soft in her once and maybe still did, but knew you had to fight to keep anything like that in this hard world.

There was red streaked over her mouth, and when I looked at her hands, there was the source of that red—a rabbit from one of my snares, gnawed on, gore spilling out.

I don’t know why, but I laughed; it just came up out of my belly, that loud laugh that everyone always tell me to hush up about when it makes its rare appearance.

“I’m starving too, but I plan to cook my meal before I get to eating it,” I said. “Come on. That’s my rabbit, but since you got to it first I suppose we can share the stew that comes of it.”

She stood, and as she did I saw the moment when the viciousness left her and the shame set in. She looked down at her body, as if naked was somehow worse than the blood ringing her mouth.

“These woods aren’t safe, especially not for a lady like you, and a storm is coming,” I said. I shucked off my canvas coat and handed it to her.

“You ain’t scared of me?” she asked as she slid it on, pulling the warmth in the lining closer like she just remembered how to be cold. “Come on.”

“Not scared of nothing, Miss, except striking the iron wrong,” I said, with a chuckle. “If there’s anything else I should be scared of, I haven’t met it yet. Might could be you, but I guess we’ll find out after supper.”

We didn’t see anyone on the short walk to my cabin, living out on the edge of town like I do, and I didn’t talk. It was a bad day at the forge, hearing our delivery of ore got blocked again and knowing we couldn’t do nothing but wait for the people blocking it to get bored or find other Negroes to bother and know that’s why they left off of us.

When we got there, I did like I would have if I was alone. Got the fire going in the wood stove that I’d made all those years back, melted some snow in a pot, then handed her a clean rag and some soap.

“I don’t wanna answer no questions,” she said in a voice like cotton in my mama’s lap, though she was trying to sound like nettle. I been a blacksmith since I could lift a hammer, got the feel for hardness down in my bones, and this woman was silver playing at steel. I let her play. Sometimes when I get a piece of iron that has a natural resistance in it, I let it think it can’t be bent before doing the bending. No reason to make it think otherwise, or her either.

I tilted my head. “I don’t recall asking none. You hearing questions? Might be ghosts because it wasn’t me.”

She just stared at me as I put a bowl of heated water behind the curtain hung over twine, then I came back out.

“You can wash back here. Some clothes in there.” I pointed at the chest that I hadn’t opened since I’d moved alone into this cabin built for two. “About your size, though might be a stitch too big.”

I grabbed the rabbit she was clutching like it was a rag doll and headed to the shallow winter cellar I’d dug out, pulling up the flap over it. My back was to her, but I heard her struggle with the heavy mahogany lid and then the creak as it opened. I heard the water slosh as she cleaned herself.

I gathered potatoes and dried maize, and set to skinning the rabbit—if she’d been trying to eat it, she was more successful at ripping it apart than getting it in her belly, so there’s still plenty of meat. I was curious, but I’d seen all kinds of things out here on the edge of the woods. Seen even worse out in them fields when the war was raging and men were being killed just like this—shredded to bits on account of what looked like a necessity from afar but was maybe greed and maybe a whim.

That anger jumped in me again, when I thought of the men at the forge that never came back. Of the hook I made for Henry ‘cause he left his hand behind in some Virginia wood but escaped with his life.

This country always taking pieces of us, then leaving us to fill the space left behind with their castoffs.

The woman came and sat down next to me, smelling clean. Now that she was next to me, I couldn’t believe I’d thought she was dead. I felt the life in her strong, like a good piece of ore, her pulse throbbing in me, waiting to be shaped—to be touched.

The edge of Addie’s dress, the green striped one she used to wear to church, spread out over my leg before the woman tucked it beneath her and got to helping with the food.

Addie.

“Tell me your name,” I said, and it came out all harsh. “That’s not a question. It’s what you owe me if you want to shelter here. Don’t gotta be your real one, but I can’t have some no name under my roof.”

“Page,” she said quick—too quick to lie. “I’m Page.”

“Page,” I repeated, because there had been something kind of needing in her tone, like she wanted me to know this one thing about her. “I’m Kisey.”

“Kisey,” she said, that soft voice brushing my own name over me, and I looked at her then.

Her hair was tied back in a bun, so I could see that her face was too thin—cheeks hollowed out and eyes too big, the circles beneath them so dark that they looked like the ash god’s thumb prints. I thought maybe it’d been so long since she’d eaten that she forgot how, and that’s why she made a mess of the rabbit. But even so, her face was just as pretty as her ass, and I felt a hammering fire in my blood. This kind had nothing to do with iron. It was a different kind of heat, the kind that made my whole body burn like the first time Addie tapped me on the shoulder and said, I’m here to see a woman about a fence.

I looked away from her, and we prepared the food together in silence. She kept brushing up against me as we cooked, and set out the plates, and when I would glance at her, she was always looking at me. Even when I went to wash behind the curtain as the stew cooked, I could feel Page’s eyes on me. It felt wrong, how the rough cloth made my nipples go hard because she was so close, this stranger. How I imagined her pulling the curtain back, and touching me. It was the first time I wished cold water had any effect on me.

When I came back to serve our meal, I swear she knew what I’d been thinking. She was still cautious, but had a kind of secret smile.

It was too cold to eat at the table, so we ate on a blanket in front the hard-packed dirt in front of the wood stove. My hearing isn’t so good and the snow and wind were blowing hard against the cabin, but it was like every motion Page made drew my attention: the brush of her bare foot against wool; the suck of her mouth as her lips closed around bone, rooting out every morsel of flesh; the moan of contentment low in her throat after each swallow. I could have talked to drown it out, like I do when I don’t feel like hearing Ezekiel jawing about disrespectful customers, but I didn’t know what to say that could make the awareness of her less and not more. I wasn’t sure I wanted it to be less and not more.

Page didn’t speak either;  it wasn’t until she was done with her second bowl that she said something. She placed the bowl beside her and then curled up right on the floor, soaking up the heat with her eyes fluttering shut and a smile tugging her lips up.

She gestured toward the stove with her pinky, too satiated to move. “You make that?”

I grunted in affirmation; I wasn’t used to dinner time chatter and I didn’t know I could say anything that wouldn’t have the telltale husk of desire in my voice.

“I knew it. All these tools and fine cutlery and prettiness in this cabin.” She opened her eyes and looked up at me, the firelight dancing in her dark brown eyes like the mischief in her words. “Good with your hands, gods in your hands.”

I grunted again, because I knew better than to talk about that with a stranger, especially one who had no business knowing such things.

“Kisey is a pretty name,” she tried, still playing with me though I wasn’t sure how. “It feels good, like this fire warming up my toes.”

I scraped the last bit of  stew from the bottom of my bowl, thinking on how things might go if I took her bait, then wiped my sleeve across my mouth and put the bowl down with a clatter. “You can’t say something like that when I’m not allowed to ask questions.”

She rolled onto her back, keeping her eyes on me. “Like you said before, you didn’t ask no questions. Ask, Kisey.”

“What business you got here in Unionville, and what you was doing ass naked out in the snow?”

“I’m looking for somebody. Earlier, when you found me I…got distracted,” she said, grinning big at me.

I cut a narrowed eyed glance down at her, but respected how she avoided answering without losing any of the sass that was starting to show now that she was clean, warm, and fed.

“A relative?” I asked. Since the war ended, there’s always somebody coming through looking for a family member who was sold away.

“In a way.” She screwed up her mouth like she was tasting how to say something. “I’m looking for somebody I gotta kill. I heard they been around here. So here I am.”

I think on that for a long moment as I look down at her. “I see. Well, long as it ain’t me, that’s none of my business.”

She laughed then, and reached her hand out to rest it on my knee. Her hands are big for her small frame, and warm enough that even I could feel it through my denim. At her touch, a tingle of pleasure traveled up my thigh to my cunt, and I tried not to make a sound.

She inhaled deeply, then sighed with contentment.

“You the first person I met who ain’t tried to pry my business out of me, and even when I give it to you, you don’t seem to care.”

I shrugged, all my focus on her hand still resting on my knee, her fingertips rubbing back and forth. “If you telling me, you got a reason. Some people need killing. Even the Lord thinks so.”

She laughed again, more quietly, and her fingertips stop moving. “Someone told me that I been cast out from his grace.”

“Unless he told you so himself, that’s just talk.” I brushed my fingertips over the back of her hand, and the skin was so smooth I almost did it again, but she returned her attention to me so I had no reason to keep at it aside from desire.

She grinned. “Told me?”

I nodded.  “When a god wants to talk to you, you get the message. Did a man come down from the sky and tell you that?”

“No,” she said. “But I think the person who told me was right. I done bad things, broken a commandment or two.”

I shrugged again. “There’s more gods than the white one. One of ‘em will have you, I bet.”

She laughed again, and when she looked at me this time, the heat was in her eyes and not just her hands—not just in me.

“It’s getting late,” she said. “I’ll clean up since you cooked.”

We didn’t talk about where she’d sleep. I prepared my bed and pulled out an extra blanket and bed roll while she cleaned up supper. Her touch burned on my knee and the mischief in her eyes had pulled my imagination places it’d long since abandoned.

After putting out the candles, I stripped and got under the covers. A moment later, her shadow passed in front of the low light thrown by the wood stove fire as she stepped over the bedroll and got in with me.

“This okay?” she asked, and her voice was a different kind of soft now—the softness of plush lips against mine, of smooth breasts heavy in my palms, of folds spreading between my fingers. An urgent kind of softness, a hungry kind, that made my cunt ache for her touch and my mouth long to taste hers.

“I run hot when I sleep, like a furnace” I said, my voice sounding all funny.

“Like a forge,” she whispered, and I felt her voice all through my body.

I was lying on my back, so I laced my arms behind my head like a knight placing his steel between him and a maiden in one of them ancient  stories. “I don’t wear a nightshirt.”

I’d slept alone for so long, I hadn’t even thought of putting on proper nightclothes. Or maybe I had but the tension that had been coiled in me all night, pressed down by the weight of her knowing gaze, was ready to spring.

She turned onto her side beneath the blanket, facing me, and slid her body up against mine; more softness, along with the bony jut of a hip against my thigh and the less sharp, more seductive poke of her hard nipple pressing into the sensitive skin below my armpit.

“Good,” she said. Her hand went to my knee again, and this time it was bare palm against bare skin. My knees were ugly things, scabbed over from falls and burns, but she touched them so lightly, petting me almost, and my hips bucked up, seeking.

“Page,” I whispered without thinking, my voice trembling. I wasn’t scared of nothing, but her light caress of my knee pulled up something close to fear; my desire for her was almost overwhelming.

She slid her hand up my thigh, squeezing as she pressed it down into the mattress. Her nipple grazed my side as she moved her mouth to my ear. “Do you want me to stop?” she asked before pressing a soft kiss to my earlobe.

“No.” I slid one hand from behind my head and wrapped it around her shoulders, pulling her to me. I tilted my head down, finding her mouth. “Don’t stop,” I said against her lips as I kissed her.

I felt her smile against my mouth, a wicked, delicious sensation, and remembered how I’d found her, lips streaked in a rouge of gore.

“Someone told me that I been cast out from His grace.”

 I didn’t care who she was or what she was in that moment. I only cared that she was in my bed, in my arms. We were both graceless; we would sanctify each other.

Her tongue pressed into my mouth hard, slicking over mine; at the same time, her hand left my thigh to cup me at the juncture of my thighs, her fingers quickly finding my swollen clit and stroking it.

“Oh hell,” I groaned into her mouth, freeing my other hand from behind my head as my pretense of courtesy burned away. I palmed over her body in a fast swipe, my burned and scarred hands roughing over her shoulders and breast, over the dip of her hip and then grabbing a fistful of that ass that I’d seen glistening in the moonlight. She moaned deep in her chest, almost a growl of pleasure, and hooked her leg over mine. The curly that at her mound brushed over my skin as she settled into place, grinding her clit against my hip as her fingers toyed wickedly between my thighs, rubbing and retreating, slicking and sliding over the tight bundle of nerves.

She pulled her face back to look at me with those hungry eyes of her; they caught the firelight from a funny angle and glinted green for a second, but I couldn’t care then.

“Kisey,” she murmured. “My pretty Kisey.”

“Page,” I panted, dropping my head back into the mattress and lifting my hips seeking more pressure, more pleasure. She’d said I had gods in my hands, but maybe there were devils in hers because the sensation wasn’t like I’d felt before; my whole core was clenching, I was so wet that I could feel my juices sliding though my folds.

Page was hot and slick as she worked her clit against my, thigh, too. She made another animal sound, like a whimper this time, and then turned her hand slid two fingers into my cunt, pressing gently upward as she slicked in and out of me. The storm faded into the background; all I could hear was the crackle of the fire, the sound of her fingers driving into my wetness, and our moans.

“Hot like a furnace around my fingers,” she said in a low voice as she pushed into me, again and again. “Hot and wet and smelling so good.”

She ran her nose along my earlobe, inhaling deeply at my neck before swiping her tongue over my skin, and I cried out.

“Yes, Kisey. Moan for me.” She thrust her fingers in hard and rubbed her thumb over my clit when she could go no further, dragged her fingers out with a twist, then did it again. I clamped around her, my stomach rolling with pleasure, my body trembling. “You like that?”

“Yes, Page. Don’t stop, please don’t stop.”

I had never begged for a damn thing a day in my earthly life, but I wasn’t thinking of anything but Page’s touch and how I needed more of it.

Passion swirled all through my body like the sparks that go flying when I bring hammer down on hot metal; people like to think that’s rough work, but it’s gentle. Precise. You have to know where to bring it down hard, where to pull back, and mosy of all, if you’re good, you gotta know how to worship that thing you’re changing from one thing to the other with your bare hands. Page was transmuting me with her hands and her words that were  perfect, wicked prayer, stoking them sparks everywhere in me bright and burning, like she had the power to create a million starbursts of pleasure in just her two fingers.

I writhed beside her, back arched as the pleasure tore sounds from me that sounded something like dying even though I had never felt more alive.

She kissed her way down the slop of my breast and sucked a nipple into her mouth. Gripping it in her teeth with a sharp bite of delicious pain and then circling it with her tongue.

Just like that, the sparks exploded all in me; I yelled as my release zipped through my body, a hoarse ugly sound that covered Page’s quiet growls as she humped frantically against my thigh. There was nothing pretty or dainty about that climax, for either of us, but when I crashed back into the mattress, there were tears in my eyes—not from pain, or fear, but from beauty.

I made beauty our of lumps of ore damn near every day, but I hadn’t cried about that—about anything—since I was a girl at my mama’s knee. I lay there like a woman with her chest blowed open as Page kissed her way up my arm, up my neck, and took my mouth again. My legs was still shaking, but, as I would come to discover all too well, my Page was ravenous—and so was I.

When I woke up the next morning, after I had barely slept, she was gone. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad about that, but I learned long ago that sadness don’t change much of anything for me.  

I ate my breakfast with the too-quiet quiet, and when I opened the door to see if walking in to town would be practical, the snow was dotted with pink.

A stack of rabbits were piled in front of the door. Beside them lay Addie’s dress, folded neatly. And behind them, in the snow leading away from the cabin, two sets of tracks, one human and one not.

I lived out on the edge of the forest for years and years now, and like I said, I’m strange and unnatural. I know how to track and how to tell your dog from your fox, your stray cat from your bobcat.

Them tracks belonged to a wolf, and a big one.

I smiled, bringing the game inside, and closed the door.

I didn’t lock it.

Copyright Alyssa Cole 2021

If you like this, you can order my upcoming F/F contemp romance romp, How To Find A Princess, out May 25, 2021!

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