About the author:
Lisa Blackwood grudgingly lives in a small town in Southern Ontario, though she would much rather live deep in a dark forest, surrounded by majestic old-growth trees. Since she cannot live her fantasy, she decided to write fantasy instead. An abundance of pets, named after various Viking gods, helps to keep the creativity flowing. Freya, her ever faithful and beloved hellhound, ensures Lisa takes a break from the computer so they can rid the garden of cats with delusions of conquest.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Iltanni approached a small alcove, one shrouded in potted plants.
A table laden with food and comfortable benches took up a good portion of the area.
She stumbled to a halt as Burrukan executed an elegant bow. The benches were occupied she realized belatedly. A woman sitting on the other side of the table looked up and offered Burrukan a smile and then graced Iltani with a surprisingly honest grin. On the near side of the table, mere feet from where Iltani stood, a broad-shouldered man sat with his back to them. Due to the sultry heat of the day, he was bare-chested.
Her eyes roved over his back, taking in the familiar old training scars. Three of which she’d accidentally given him when they were younger. They’d been mock fighting in the forest during a bout of hand to hand combat. It had been an impromptu fight started by Ditanu and they hadn’t checked the area first. She’d managed to flip him on his back, and he’d landed just off the path, where he’d skidded down a small slope. The rocky terrain had proven far less forgiving than the sands of the practice ring. Healers had spent half a morning picking bits of gravel, twigs, and other debris from Ditanu’s back while Iltani had gripped his hand and offered apologies. He’d only laughed and said it was his fault for starting the fight.
The scars were familiar, but in contrast, the rest of him had changed. He’d filled out…nicely. She watched with purely female interest as his muscles bunched and flexed under his skin as he turned to glance over his shoulder. As the familiar angles of his face came into profile, Iltani belatedly dipped, half falling into a deep bow even as her cheeks burned with embarrassment at almost being caught staring.
Iltani was slowly straightening from her bow, seriously thinking of hanging back while Burrukan made introductions, when her gaze landed on a pair of sandal-clad feet directly in front of her. Slowly, she followed the ankles on up to powerful calves and then up a bit more to the hem of a richly embroidered robe. Her eyes tracked to the side. The bench where the king had sat seconds ago was empty. Heart pounding in her chest, she studied the fine quality linen. She followed the stylish cut higher up to where it hugged powerful thighs and a trim waist. She got as far as a thick belt made out of hammered gold links. It reminded her of fish scales the size of her thumbnail.
“Iltani?” Ditanu said, “Great Gods look how you’ve filled out.”
At the sound of his voice, she jerked her gaze up to look in his face. The youth she’d known was gone. In his place, a stranger with far sterner features looked back at her. The hard line of his clean-shaven jaw, high, well-defined cheekbones and strong brow that hooded his eyes all added to the harder look of a king. Only the slight softening of firm lips and a bounty of dark lashes ringing his hawk-like gaze softened the king standing before her enough that she could still see hints of the boy she’d grown up with.
She couldn’t get her mind to formulate a thought or her mouth to string together words. Instead, she just stood there and stared at her king like a dolt.
With a second, hoarser ‘Iltani’, she was swept up in powerful arms and pressed into that hard chest. It was Ditanu’s voice, alternately whispering her name and laughing in almost tearful emotion.
The feel of his warm body, the sound of his heart, the scent of his skin, it was all too much for Iltani’s starved senses. Snaking her arms around his waist, she clung to him. Then she merely stood, absorbing everything about him in detail, more than happy to stand there for half an eternity if he would allow it.
His arms tightened around her, pulling her closer. Just when she thought he was going to smother her, he loosened his hold and held her out at arm’s length to study her.
“Gods.” Ditanu’s rich voice had steadied a touch. It no longer shook with emotion, but his face was still full of wonder at seeing her again. “My Little Shadow, you can’t imagine how much I’ve missed you.”
That voice. She just wanted to close her eyes and listen to its familiar cadence. It was a touch deeper in tone but still sounded like the Ditanu she remembered.
Requiring a bit more willpower than she wished to admit, she snapped her mouth closed and schooled her expression into what she hoped was polite attentiveness as she fought for something intelligent to say.
When her mind stayed stubbornly blank for ten whole beats of her heart, she dodged the awkwardness by retreating into another deep bow.
Coward, her internal voice scolded and she couldn’t debate the issue. She’d taken the coward’s way out after Ditanu’s strong showing of affection.
“My king,” she said, hoping a formal turn of phrase would cover her earlier social blunder. “I come before you as your loyal servant. Please take my humble gifts into your house and use them as you may.”
“Humble gifts?” King Ditanu chuckled, “I doubt there is anything humble about your gifts, but even if you had no magic at all, you would still be welcome into my house for the rest of your days.” A long fingered hand settled on her shoulder, its weight and warmth the only things that seemed real at that moment.
She fought the urge to rub her cheek against the back of his hand. Instead, she forced her gaze up to his deep brown eyes with their golden flecks and found all the warmth, humor, and love she remembered reflected back at her. Ditanu slung an arm around Iltani’s shoulders and dragged her toward the table laden with fruits, cheeses and nuts where Burrukan already sat, deep in conversation with Consort Ahassunu. King Ditanu guided her over to the bench and then pushed her down when she would have balked. Before she could shift over, he settled next to her. Close enough their thighs brushed when he reached for various items on the table.
She felt half intoxicated by Ditanu’s scent—that mellow sandalwood fragrance which was purely his own blended with the sweet spiciness all gryphons carried even when they were in human form.
Her heart very much wanted to convince her nothing had changed in the years she’d been away, that she was still the only one in Ditanu’s heart. Alas, no matter what her foolish heart wanted her to believe, her mind knew better.
In all their species’ long history, never once had Iltani read or heard a ballad mentioning a mated gryphon taking a lover. Even Ishtar respected that bond, for the most part. Only once had the Queen of the Night interfered. That time, a gryphon queen had lost her consort before they had sired any young, so to save the royal line, Ishtar had that queen and her male blade perform the Sacred Marriage. That had been nearly three thousand years ago now, and the scroll she’d read hadn’t given much detail. At first, Iltani had imagined it was only possible because of Tammuz and Ishtar’s passionate love, but then she’d got thinking. There must have already been a very strong and loving bond between that queen and her blade, for she hadn’t descended into grief madness at the loss of her consort. She wouldn’t have felt lust for her blade, but she must have loved him enough to live for him, and Ishtar must have assured they had a fertile union.
But she’d often wondered about that poor man. Had he been in love with his queen, desperately looking forward to each future Sacred Marriage? Or had he just seen it as his duty? For his sake, she hoped it was only a duty and he had not been in love with his queen, for outside of the Sacred Marriage, those two could not have shared an intimate relationship. Iltani wouldn’t wish her own misery on another living being.
“Eat,” Ditanu said, shoving food before her and drawing her out of her glum thoughts. “If I know Burrukan at all—which I do—I’m sure he hasn’t given you time to eat yet.” He pressed a finger to her lips. “Don’t argue. Burrukan trained me. Well do I remember his demanding ways.” Ditanu rotated one shoulder as if trying to ease a phantom pain while giving her one of his boyish smiles she remembered so well. The same one which often haunted her dreams.
Iltani felt her own lips curving in response. As she had done in her youth, she leaned closer to whisper in his ear that he was a terrible liar, but glanced across the table and found both Burrukan and Consort Ahassunu watching them. Betraying heat raced over her cheeks and she glanced down at the food on the table. Spotting a tall glass of some drink, she picked it up and sipped at it. Lemon mixed with something a touch sweeter, but her mind was too preoccupied with Ditanu’s nearness to reason out what that other fruit might be.
Ditanu suddenly reached around behind her to snatch the stoneware cup on her other side. While he was pouring himself a new drink—faster, she noted, than a servant could come forward to do it for him—Iltani’s befuddled mind remembered Ditanu was dominant on his left side. The cup she just took a drink from had been his.
She’d just stolen the king’s drinking vessel.
Great goddess Ishtar, please don’t let your humble servant embarrass herself further in the coming hours.
King Ditanu topped hers up.
Frozen in horror, Iltani stammered out an apology. Ditanu brushed it off and then turned to one of the other Shadows standing guard along one wall.