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About the author:
Juliana Stevens was close with her two sisters and parents growing up in a small town outside Austin, Texas. Her favorite pastime is going to the beach and spent many summers in Rockport and Port Aransas, Texas growing up. She used to write short stories for her friends in middle school and has been an avid reader since first grade. She lives in Texas with her husband, three kids, and three dogs.
What inspired you to write your book?
I've always loved reading and writing ever since I could remember. This book is part of a series, and I wrote the 2nd book first. The more I read over and reviewed it, the idea of the culmins (my made up race of beings in another realm) came into play and I wanted to write more about them.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Kaya James settled in her chair at the front counter, wrapping her fox coat tightly around her. She wasn't looking forward to being at Morgan's Packing and Tanning this day, much as she loved her job. She knew full well it would be a busy one. Soon the waiting room would be filled with half the village, ready to give Kaya their orders for the hunters. Everyone knew colder times were beginning, just as it was time for the hunters to head into the mountains.
Kaya couldn't help but think of Mr. Derek Moore and his hunting group, soon to be in the mountains over the next several days or more, and she shuddered. She didn't understand why Kent wanted to become a hunter of all things, the most dangerous job there was! Her mother the night before temporarily gave up nagging Kaya to find a husband, but only to talk about her brother becoming a hunter. She even dared say Kaya should talk to Mr. Moore about hiring him! It didn't matter to her mother that she only spoke to the burly, intimidating man when it was time to give him the villagers' orders for what animal they wanted him to hunt, or when it was time for him to collect his pay afterward. Nor the fact that mostly he spent his time with the men in the warehouses outside, helping with the skinning and tanning of the multifarious animals.
No, that didn't matter to her mother. She had the nerve to insist Kaya chase him down if need be, and beg him for Kent a position. It didn't seem to cross her mind that perhaps Kent should think of an alternative job. The only reason Kaya was even contemplating the silly notion was because of the desperation in her dear brother's eyes when he told her he'd tried several times to ask Mr. Moore himself but to no avail. For that reason alone, Kaya was positive she would have the same luck. The serious and curt Mr. Moore barely glanced at her when collecting from her what he needed before turning and leaving the office.
"Kaya, hello," Olivia Watts said, coming through the front door and interrupting her thoughts. Kaya shivered from the cold, and Olivia walked to the fireplace in the waiting room to stoke it. "It's a cold one out there."
"It always is," Kaya said, smiling at her bubbly friend. "I forgot you would be here to help me today. My mood is immensely better already."
"I'm here for the week. We have to get those orders in for the men, don't we? We must wish them well when they go off."
"Yes," Kaya said, stifling a groan. Olivia was married to Lucas, who worked for Mr. Moore. Olivia's constant fretting and worrying for him was another reason Kaya didn't want Kent to be a part of it. As a boy, he always wanted to be a hunter like their beloved uncle had been, but she thought the phase had passed. She rather hoped he would be a tanner like their father. Sadly, that never seemed to interest him.
"What's the matter, Kaya? I can see something's troubling you." Olivia pulled the chair out beside hers, getting her pens and paper sorted.
"How well do you know Mr. Moore?" Kaya asked, taking Olivia by surprise. She gave Kaya a quizzical look but was interrupted by the Clark sisters coming in, along with a gust of wind.
"So it begins," Olivia said joyfully, Kaya's question seemingly forgotten.
By the end of the day, Kaya was tired. Olivia had already left, but Kaya was putting off going home. She stood in front of the fire in the waiting room and when thoughts of a warm bath and her mother's stew came to mind, she knew it was time to lock up the office for the day. The door flew open, and she turned to see Mr. Moore taking up the doorway. She gasped from the cold and he shut the door behind him. Suddenly, the office felt much smaller. Mr. Moore was tall and muscular, and she felt as if she had to crane her neck to see his face as he made a move to stand beside her. He rubbed his hands together in front of the fire, and she couldn't help but be impressed by the size of him. He wore a great overcoat and she was tempted to dust off the snow from his shoulders. She cleared her throat, wondering where that thought had come from.
"How do you do?" he asked, his voice deep.
"Mr. Moore," she said, disregarding the question. "I'm afraid you wasted your time in coming here. Olivia Watts took the orders home with her to get them better organized, since the day was so hectic. You had quite a few."
"Is that so?" he asked. "I guess it is later than I realized. Very well, I can get them in the morning."
"I have copies, but the orders will only keep coming over the next week. I'm surprised to see you so soon."
"I wanted to get a feel of the order number so far, so I could get my group together."
"That's a fine idea," Kaya said, seeing an opportunity to mention Kent while she had Mr. Moore alone. She wasn't expecting him to look at her so intently, and she noticed a warmth in his brown eyes. Not to mention how good he smelled, which was another thought she had to wonder at. She cleared her throat, forcing herself to stay on task. "I have a favor to ask of you, Mr. Moore."
"A favor?" he asked, surprised. He turned his full attention on her now, and she chided herself for being tempted to falter. Women were taught to be tough as any man and, intimating as this one may appear, there was no reason to be nervous.
"Yes," she said, standing up fully and still barely reaching his shoulders. He smiled, and she wondered if he sensed the nerves seeping through her tough exterior. "You were saying you need to get your group together and, if I may be so bold, I have a suggestion for you."
"Do you, now?" he asked, and amusement gleamed in his eyes. How irritating! She could almost forget how daunting he typically seemed, how stern he always looked. It must've been the fire, softening his chiseled features.
"Yes. I believe you already know of my brother, Kenton James. He has asked you once or twice, I think-"
"I must stop you there," he interrupted, and she sighed. "I know who you mean, but I've told him several times I can't hire him."
"Why not?" she asked, aggravated. Who did he think he was? Besides being the most sought-after hunter in Elk Valley, of course.
"I didn't realize I would have to explain myself to such a little thing as you," he said casually, and she no longer saw the softness or warmth about him as she did before. She took a deep breath before responding, but she still felt aggravated.
"I feel we are owed at least an explanation as to why my brother is not good enough for your hunting group!"
"Aren't you a feisty little one?" he asked, looking pleased with himself.
"Stop calling me little!" she said, resisting an urge to smack him. "What should my size have to do with anything?"
"I'm sorry," he said, laughing. It only served to anger her more, but she still stood as tall as she possibly could, her gaze never leaving his. He smiled again, and she realized she'd never seen him do so before this evening. "I've only ever seen you sitting behind your counter over there, I didn't realize you were so small… never mind. I'm sorry, I really am. It's been a long and trying day, and I guess I was having a little fun. I didn't mean for it to be at your expense."
"Thank you," she said, astounded by his quick apology. She decided to ignore the fact that he didn't seem to remember her from numerous social settings over the years. "Do you think we can move past this, Mr. Moore? I would appreciate an answer from you."
"This is what I was afraid of," he said. "You seem like a reasonable lady, but I don't need to tell you anything about my business doings. If I don't want to hire someone, that's all there is to it. No explanation needed."
"I see," she said, angrily walking past him to open the door, shivering from the cold gust of wind pushing its way inside. She made a motion for him to leave, but he stayed where he was. "The office is closed for the night, Mr. Moore. It's time for me to go home. I feel the need to add, while I'm at it, that you have no idea the kind of person you're missing out on for your group. Kenton would be a most loyal, brave and trusted worker. I don't wish for him to be a hunter, but it's all he's ever wanted. At least I can say I tried to fulfill that dream. It's probably for the best, for he may have turned out to be someone like you." She let out a deep breath when she finished her unforeseen rant and looked him square in the eyes. A brow was raised, and he stood quietly a moment before finally walking to the open door.
"Miss James, was it?" he asked politely, and she nodded. Of course he hadn't known her name. They'd grown up together in the same village, even though he was a few years older and they never spent time together personally. Still, it stung a touch he didn't know her name, just as it stung that he obviously hadn't remembered her from concerts and village gatherings over the years. She must be invisible to someone like him.
"Good day, Mr. Moore," she said with gritted teeth, more anxious than ever to be home. She wished she hadn't sent word to Kent that she wanted to walk this evening, instead of him coming to pick her up with the buggy. At the time, she wanted nothing more than a quiet walk home, now she wanted to forget the day ever happened and go to sleep.
"I didn't see your horse in the stables out back earlier. Do you need me to take you home? It was snowing before, it may do so again."
"No, but I will thank you," she said icily. "I would much rather walk the mile home than accept anything from you."
"Very well," he said, taking off his hat to reveal a head of dark hair. He surprised her by putting the hat on her and covering her ears. She stiffened, refusing to meet his gaze. "I will walk home, and you can take my horse and buggy." He turned and walked out the door, and she stood in stunned silence for a second before running after him.
"I will do no such thing," she said, pulling at the back of his coat. When he turned, she could see the laughter in his eyes. He had to be the most frustrating person she ever met!
"You're not even wearing a coat," he said, taking his off and wrapping it around her. "This swallows you right up."
"You find this funny?" she asked, knowing she must look silly in the large man's coat. She was tempted to hug it around her like a blanket, feeling the warmth from his body heat still inside, and catching a whiff of the soapy smell of him. She sighed without meaning to, and he chuckled.
"It is funny," he said, tightening the coat around her. Suddenly she felt like a child and she pulled away from him. Must everyone want to take care of her because of her size? Even this cold and irritating man! Ever since she was little, everyone always wanted to look after her, be protective of her every move. She might be little compared to others she'd known, but she was tough and could handle herself if she needed. She took off his coat and hat, throwing them at him, his eyes widening in surprise by the action.
"I have to lock the building," she said obstinately, turning from him and walking back to the office. "I don't need anyone to take care of me, Mr. Moore, but I will accept your offer to take me home."
"Call me Derek," he said when she returned from locking up. He held out his hand and she grudgingly took it, and he helped pull her up on the seat beside him. He smiled at her before taking the reins, but she refused to smile back. "Did you hear me?"
"Yes, I heard you," she mumbled. The horses took off, and she fell against him. She straightened herself up, bracing herself for the chilly wind to hit her face, and half wishing she could settle in against him to soak up his warmth. She quickly pushed that thought from her mind. "I'll stick with Mr. Moore if you don't mind."
"I do mind," he said, sneaking a quick look at her. She stared straight ahead. "I'd like us to be friends."
"That's funny," she said shakily, the cold getting inside her now. He took notice and pulled off the road, even though no other carriages were in sight.
"You say you don't want to be taken care of, yet you're not even wearing a hat."
"I left it back there, so I didn't keep you waiting. I have a heavier coat, too." He repeated his earlier move of taking off his hat and coat, and this time she accepted them wholeheartedly. She was stubborn, but she wasn't stupid. He looked like he was wearing plenty of layers, so she didn't need to feel terribly guilty. "Thank you."
"No problem." He surprised her once again by scooting closer to her and tilting her chin so she had no choice but to look at him. "Never worry about keeping anyone waiting, especially where your safety is concerned. Don't ever leave without a hat or a jacket."
"I won't," she said, properly chastised.
"Good," he said, turning from her, and pulling on the reins again.
When Kaya was settling into bed that night, she realized she never had such mixed feelings about someone. Mr. Moore had never shown her any attention in all the time she knew him, and suddenly he was so concerned with her wellbeing? She wondered what had come over him. He said he wanted to be friends, yet he showed no inclination of telling her why he wouldn't hire Kent. She didn't know what to think of him, but she knew one thing. She had no desire to be his friend. Anyone that couldn't see how amazing Kent was, wasn't worth her time.