Are you in the Mood?

I need to talk about my new favorite thing. Okay, well, it’s not really a new concept, but it is to me.

Anyway…I’ve started making mood boards for each of my books. It helps me get a better picture of the story, the characters, and the overall vibe of the story itself. I started making them in 2020 when I wrote A Lockdown Love Affair, and I never stopped. At some point, I’d like to go back and make some for my previous historical romances, but I just don’t have the time to do that at the moment. Put it on my never ending list of things to do.

Here are my mood boards so far. Let me know if one catches your eye…

What do you think? Do they catch your attention? I know they help me stay focused on the story I’m writing. Just a disclaimer, I’m currently working on Can’t Fight This Feeling. The rest of the books in my 1985 series, She Gives Love a Bad Name, Owner of a Lonely Heart, and Just What I Needed will be releasing next year. So I hope you’re ready for some retro romance. It’s not historical and it’s not contemporary…it’s the 80s baby!

I hope you enjoyed this little visual trip into my writer’s brain. Careful, it’s easy to get lost in there. xoxo

Which mood board is your favorite? Tell me in the comments.

All my love,

Kirsten

Teaser: His Wicked Whispers

Crispin has commanded your presence. Will you deny him?

Here is a sneak peek at the first book of the infamous Prince of Whispers. I’ve listed some content forewarnings at the bottom of the page. This prince isn’t for everyone. Please proceed with caution. No readers under 18 years old. (This excerpt contains explicit language, adult situations, and violence.) Releases on May 10th.

The dirt and stones scuffed his boots as he ambled down the moonlit road. Where are you when I need you, Henry? Crispin lost patience two villages ago. He had been denied a horse, so he walked from the castle he once claimed as his home. The villages near the castle knew his face, so he had wandered into the night in a dark state of mind knowing he must find shelter far from the familiar.

The glimmer of lantern light through the trees signaled a village. He sighed. Hopefully, this one had a whorehouse. He needed a warm body and a good fuck to ease his tension. He rolled his shoulders. A bath would not be remiss, either. Perhaps he could charm one from the wench he intended to persuade to share his bed. Crispin had not checked his coin, but he thought it would be wisest to save what he could.

Crispin grinned when he saw the telltale sign of a brothel. He slipped in the door and took an empty seat by the fire, waiting for service. One of the wenches approached him, sliding her hand up his arm and over his shoulder.

“What can I do for you, love?” she asked, her voice husky. She was plump and ripe, her reddened lips begging with a soft pout.

“I shall take an ale and whatever else you are offering.” He charmed her with a smile.

The wench slid into his lap and toyed with the hair curling at the nape of his neck. “With a smile like yours, ’tis a wonder you have to pay for women to grace your bed.”

“Perhaps I tire of the games that requires.” He slid his hand along her hip, under her skirt. “How about you retrieve my drink,” he whispered as she leaned against him. His fingertips glided over her cleft. “Then I can show you what other games I know.”

She moaned as he touched her. Wet and willing. He smiled. She would suit his purposes quite nicely. He removed his hand and helped her stand. She wobbled a moment before disappearing into the back to fetch his drink.

Crispin glanced around the room. Men and women mingled in various stages of undress. He chuckled. It was almost freeing for once in his life to be in a room and not be the center of attention. He noted the women’s sly looks in his direction. He grinned. Perhaps this would not be so bad after all.

The wench returned, handing him a goblet filled with amber liquid. He took the drink and downed it in one swallow. He reached up to pull the woman into his lap when she was suddenly snatched away.

“Oi, let me go,” she demanded, pulling against a tall, brawny man’s hold. He had a scar running along his right cheek and a dangerous gleam in his eyes.

“You are mine tonight.” He pulled her tight against him, his voice harsh and demanding.

“I am otherwise occupied.” She tried to jerk from his grip, but he brought her up short.

Before Crispin could interject, the back of the man’s hand connected with the woman’s face, knocking her to the floor. Eyes wide, she clutched at her cheek and scurried backward away from them both.

Crispin stood, infused with rage. Such an action was not to be tolerated. “Leave her!”

The whole room fell silent.

The man turned to Crispin, rage contorting his face. “What did you say?”

“I told you to leave her alone.” Crispin rested his hand on his dagger. “She is with me.”

“She is my whore.” The man spat on the floor. “Stay out of it.”

“Do you belong to him?” Crispin addressed the cowering woman on the floor. She shook her head vehemently. He glanced back at the man. “Seems like the lady disagrees with you.”

“Lady? She is a fucking whore.” His guffaw echoed through the room.

“That does not mean she deserves any less respect.” Crispin’s body pulled tight in response to the tension brewing in the room as it readied for a fight. He licked his lips. “Get out.”

“Who do you think you are barking orders and issuing commands? The king?”

Crispin thrust his jaw out. He grew tired of the man’s insolence. In one swift motion, he twisted the man’s arm behind him and threw his weight into his back, sending him crashing to the floor. When the man scrambled to get up, Crispin kicked his backside, knocking him over again. As the interloper attempted to stand, two men came up to them.

“Janos, go home. You have had enough to drink tonight,” one of them said. The other reached for the hulking brute’s arm, but he jerked it from his grasp.

“You and I have a debt to settle.” He pointed at Crispin then stumbled out of the building. The other two men followed him, making sure he had gone.

Crispin offered his hand to the wench, helping her to her feet. He gently moved her hand and saw the red welt below her eye where the brute had struck her. He clenched his teeth.

“Are you well?” His soft question made her relax beneath his touch.

“Aye,” she replied with a shaky smile. “You saved me. I thank you.”

“I can think of another way for you to show me your thanks.” Crispin slid his hand over the top of her breasts, cradling one in his palm. She moaned as she met his gaze.

“Of course, good sir.” She licked her lips. “It would be my pleasure.” She grabbed his wrist and pulled him toward the stairs.

A hand clamped down on Crispin’s shoulder. He turned, coming face to face with one of the men who had tossed out the rabble.

“We are going to need you to leave as well, sir.” His stern tone invited no argument.

“You cannot be serious.” Crispin shook his head in disbelief. “Can I not at least reap the reward for rescuing this fair wench?”

“Not unless you would have me summon the sheriff. We cannot allow such troublesome clients to remain in our establishment.”

Crispin bit his tongue before he betrayed his true identity. It would not do for him to be cast from his father’s house, a whorehouse, and his homeland in a single night. He swallowed his scathing retort and turned to the wench clinging to his arm.

“My regrets, darling. It seems I must take my leave.” He pulled her in for a kiss, tasting what might have been, and released her. She pouted, the disappointment evident in her expression.

“I believe I can find my way out.” Crispin glanced at the men moving to follow him. He walked out the door, drawing it closed behind him.

The night lay shrouded with a thick, misty fog, dimming the glow of the lanterns outside the brothel and encircling the rest of the small village. He ran his hand through his hair. So much for a willing woman and a warm bed. Agitated, he ruffled his hair again.

Crispin stepped down onto the street when four men stepped from the darkness, surrounding him. The two flanking him grabbed his arms, while the third wrapped his arm around Crispin’s throat from behind. He thrashed against their grasp, but they were huge, hulking beasts. He was outmanned and outmaneuvered. God’s blood, teeth, and bones.

“You and I have unfinished business,” the fourth man said, stepping into the light, allowing Crispin to see his face.

“You bloody bastard.” Crispin struggled against their hold. “I will have your head for this. Do you have any idea who I am?”

“The pompous arse who stole my whore.” Contempt dripped from the man’s words. “I do not give a cock’s crow who you are.” He threw a punch, and it landed in Crispin’s stomach, knocking the air from his chest. “But you are going to pay.”

Crispin jerked, trying to break free, wheezing. The man holding his head released him but stood like a solid stone wall against his back. He had to defend himself, but there were too many of them and they were far too strong for him to take them on alone. Three more blows landed in succession, two to his midsection and one cracking across his jaw. Pain shot through him as the warm, metallic tang of blood filled his mouth.

“That the best you got?” Crispin spat. He knew it would only enrage the beast more, but he never backed down, even in the most hopeless situations.

The man threw another punch, square in the chest over his heart. Crispin thought it ceased beating with the blow. The world spun as he gasped for breath, doubling over. The men held him steady. Crispin coughed, spewing blood onto the man’s shoes. The assailant grabbed a handful of his hair and jerked his head back. He winced before narrowing his gaze. Never show weakness.

 A yelp of pain from the man on his right was followed by Crispin’s sudden release. A moment later, the second man released him, clutching at his arm as he stumbled backward. The man behind them backed away as if sensing something was not right. Crispin stumbled forward, trying to catch his breath. His eyes watered from the pain throbbing in his head. He glanced up and saw the man who had been pummeling him standing as still as a marble statue. The shaft of an arrow glinted in the lamp light from where it protruded from the man’s chest. The beast pitched forward, and Crispin scrambled out of the way, slamming onto his back on the ground.

He lay there, staring up into the starlit night catching his breath. A figure stepped into his view wearing a dark cloak with the hood pulled up.

“Are you going to lay there and bleed?”

Crispin’s head pounded. Those blows must have affected him more than he had thought. Was it a woman’s voice? Surely not. He tried to sit up and wobbled at the motion.

“Help me up, damn you.” He held out his hand.

With a derisive snort, the cloaked savior helped him to his feet. Crispin draped his arm across the man’s shoulder, steadying himself.

“Come, we must away before the soldiers arrive.” The stranger’s voice was strong and steady, but it most definitely belonged to a woman.

“Wait.” Crispin protested, but the stranger pulled him deeper into the shadows.

“There is no time.” His savior helped him onto her horse then swung up into the saddle behind him. With a nudge, the beast was off, hurtling through the darkness. Crispin’s head ached. The jolting pace of the horse did nothing to ease his discomfort, but it could have been worse. The stranger’s arms around him made him acutely aware of the lithe body pressed against his back. It was a woman, he would stake his life on it. In silence, they rode into the night away from the village. He would demand answers once they reached wherever the hell they were headed if he survived the ride.

Content Forewarnings for His Wicked Whispers: Morally Gray Hero, Jealous/Manipulative Hero, Questionable Menage, Dubious Consent, Light Bondage, Explicit Sex Scenes, and Mature/Graphic Language.

Inspiration: Secondary Characters, Muppets, and My Husband

People often ask me where I find the inspiration for my stories. It doesn’t take much to spark a story idea in my brain. Most of the time, it’ll be a quote, or a scene from a movie/show. But there are those strange instances where it’s inspired by the secondary characters from a prior book. This is the case for A Holiday Love Affair.

When I started writing A Lockdown Love Affair, I had zero intention of writing a second book. In fact, I had hoped there wouldn’t be any pesky secondary characters to annoy me in Ben and Penelope’s book. But I was wrong. So wrong. As I wrote Lockdown, it became abundantly clear Evan and Lucy would gravitate toward each other if I put them in the same room together. Which is how they ended up getting their own book.

Ben Statler and Evan Waldorf are best friends and business partners. They’re also distinct opposites. Where Ben is dark and brooding, Evan is pure sunshine and positivity. At first, Evan’s presence was merely as fodder to elevate Ben’s irritation with the state of their business affairs during the pandemic lockdown. But as the story progressed, Evan took on a life of his own.

Lucy Mackewitz and Penelope Weiss are besties by accident. Literally. Lucy was the nurse on duty when Penelope’s grandparents admitted to the hospital after a car accident. Their bond formed quickly. Lucy’s presence in Penelope’s book solidified her support network in the city during the chaos and uncertainty of lockdown.

But Lucy and Evan don’t actually meet until Ben and Penelope’s wedding six months later. This is where their romance begins.

What inspired their story? The characters begged me to write it, but more than that, I liked the idea of Evan being the ray of sunshine and Lucy being the perpetual grump. Who said the grump always has to be the hero? Heroines can be just as miserable.

Before I started writing Holiday, I imagined Evan as a Steve Rogers kind of guy. I often post my daily word count on social media as I write the first draft and add a gif of the actor I cast as the hero to the post. For this book, it was Chris Evans. Yes, even Evan’s name is an homage to the actor. I even wrote a log splitting scene. But that’s where the similarities ended.

The more I wrote, the more Evan’s mannerisms mirrored my husband’s. Of all the characters I’ve ever written, Evan is the only one I’ve ever modeled after my husband. They’re both effervescent rays of positivity and charm while simultaneously being classic button pushing antagonists.

While Ben and Penelope’s book takes place in Brooklyn, most of Evan and Lucy’s story takes place in upstate Indiana. I seized the opportunity to use some of my personal adventures with my husband as inspiration for their journey. It was also fun to write Lucy’s POV in the book because she’s a city girl, born and raised. Country life gives her quite a culture shock, and Evan takes full advantage of it. But I won’t give you any spoilers if you haven’t read the book. *wink*

If you recognize the names Statler and Waldorf, you get bonus points. I was stuck, unable to figure out surnames for these two men when an image of the comedy muppet duo popped into my mind. That’s exactly how I imagine Ben and Evan banter back and forth.

Waldorf and Statler

I would say the resemblance is uncanny, if they were thirty years older. In my head, Evan Waldorf is Chris Evans and Ben Statler is Adam Driver. Now that’s in your head too. Another terrifying glimpse into the muddled mind of a romance author.

My creative process is anything but typical, but it works for me. I hope this brief peek into the inspiration for A Holiday Love Affair makes you smile. Most of the time, I have no idea where the next story will come from. It could come from a random tweet or a video posted to Facebook. But most of the time it’s born from the nagging secondary characters demanding I give them their moment in the spotlight. C’est la vie.

Oh, and a side note, if you enjoyed Ben and Evan, then you won’t want to miss Confessions of a Gamer Girl coming in June. The heroine, Maggie, works for Ben and Evan at Solus Inc. And the events take place before Ben and Evan meet their matches.

Authors: Where do you find inspiration for your stories?

Readers: Do you like getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the creation of the stories you enjoy?

Which book should I tell you about next? Or should I have an interview with the main character? Tell me in the comments.

Until next week!

All my love,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Confessions of a Fangirl Sample

When Confessions of a Fangirl released in December, I was recovering from Covid. So, that whole month was a blur. Allow me to give you a little sneak peek into the Rom Com that reads like a fangirl confessional. This book has a very special place in my heart. It taught me balance, which is a central theme and my new credo. Without further ado, allow me to introduce Jen, her devoted boyfriend, Shaun, and my made up fandom of Space Vendetta accommodating the deboinair, morally gray space pirate, Captain Korbin Ransom. Enjoy…

Chapter One

STAGE ONE: DISCOVERY

Everyone thinks they’ve got their shit figured out until they don’t. Somewhere between my first cup of coffee this morning and the afternoon staff meeting, my mind decided to take a leisurely stroll down Fantasyland Avenue. Unfortunately, I need to get it back in familiar territory so I can focus on the words coming out of my boss’s mouth.

But that will never happen. Thanks to the new guy sitting across from me in his well-tailored suit and rocking dark, wavy hair a tad too long to be fashionable. I bet it’s soft. His attention shifts away from the boss, and I catch his penetrating gaze. A half-smile forms on his lips. Shit.

I readjust the notebook in front of me and scribble a few incoherent phrases down to make it look like I’m doing something productive. My heart slows to a normal rhythm, and I curse myself for not paying closer attention to Mr. Roberts who’s rambling about quarterly reports.

Normally, I dread this monthly meeting when all the department heads gather. I’m flattered my supervisor is considering me to step in while she’s on maternity leave, but it’s been hell getting over this feeling I’m pretending to fit in instead of actually being part of the team. This opportunity will give me a shot at the promotion I’ve been hoping for—if I can focus.

When I glance up at Mr. Roberts, the new guy sits perfectly in my peripheral vision. And like that, my mind is cruising down Fantasyland Avenue again with Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome riding shotgun. I glance at the pad again in defeat.

“That should do it for the moment.” Mr. Roberts gathers his files into a pile. “Before you go, I’d like to introduce you to the newest member of our staff.” He gestures to the new guy I’ve been eyeing for the last hour. “Mr. Shaun Townsend. He’s transferred in from our Denver office to give us a hand in Marketing.”

My gaze shifts to Mr. Townsend who glances around the room with a pleasant smile. His gaze lingers on me for half a second before drifting back to Mr. Roberts.

“Thank you. Glad to be a part of the team.”

Oh, man. His voice. I could sit and listen to him read me the phone book.

“That’ll be all. Enjoy your weekend.” Mr. Roberts dismisses us, and I’m out of my chair in an instant.

I edge toward the door with the rest of my coworkers. Part of me wants to introduce myself to Mr. Townsend, but I remind myself to be professional. Work isn’t an appropriate venue for flirtation and romance as Pamela down in HR reminds us in her memos constantly.

Once I reach my desk, I settle in to work on the orders I started before the meeting. Not even five minutes later, Lily appears around the corner making a beeline for my desk. I envy her ability to rock vintage styles without effort. She slides into the chair beside mine, tugging her polka dot wiggle skirt down her stockinged thighs.

“Hey, Jen, did you see the new hottie in marketing?” She fans herself with dramatic flair.

“Mr. Townsend,” I inform her. “And yes, he was at the department heads’ meeting.”

“Isn’t he gorgeous?” She plucks a candy from the crystal dish and unwraps it.

My mind replays the fantasies I indulged in during the meeting. “Yes. He is.”

“Think he’s single?” Lily’s eyes sparkle.

“I doubt it.” I sigh and pout for her entertainment. “He’s probably married.”

“I didn’t see a ring.” She pops the candy in her mouth with gusto. “Means he’s still fair game.” She pauses. “Unless you want a shot at him.”

“Geeze, Lily, give the man a chance to breathe. He just got here. I’m sure he’s already got half the single ladies on staff drooling over him, not to mention the married ones.” I chuckle.

“You’re right.” She stands and smooths her hands over her hips. “Hey, are we still on for movie night this weekend?”

“Yeah, my place. Six o’clock. The new Space Vendetta movie is on Prime, I think.”

Lily bounces on her toes and claps with excitement. “Yay! I’ve been dying to watch it, plus I need some girl time. My roommates are great, but they don’t seem to get me. Ya know?”

“Why are you living with three guys again?” I lean back in my chair.

“I went to school with them.” She shrugs. “They needed a roommate, and I needed a place to live.”

“Any of them single?” I wink.

Her eyes go wide. “Trust me. You don’t want to involve yourself with these three. I’ve seen the train wreck dates they bring home.” She mimes gagging and laughs.

“Point taken.”

“I’ll see you after work.” She waves and saunters down the hallway toward her own desk.

My first day at Valentina’s, I ended up with a mud stain on the hem of my brand-new cream skirt. I couldn’t start my new job at a trendy, upscale department store looking like a hobo off the street. Without a word, a gorgeous woman who looked like a pinup model from the fifties took my hand and pulled me into the nearest restroom. Within twenty minutes, she’d worked her magic on the stain. Lily saved my ass, and I’m forever in her debt.

Three years later, we’re best friends. She grew up in Manhattan but lives in Brooklyn now. My family is from Staten Island, but I live in a small apartment in Brooklyn not far from Lily’s place. We commute together because single city ladies stick together.

I shake off the slump I feel sneaking up on me and dive back into those reports I promised myself I’d finish before the weekend. I hate having a pile of work waiting for me on Monday mornings. I focus on the screen and drown the office noise into the background.

Two hours later, I hit send on the final report and glance at the clock. Nearly four. I power down my workstation and tidy up before gathering my things and heading for the elevator. I pop by Lily’s desk on the way, but she’s nowhere in sight.

I glance around and then check my watch again. Five after four. Where is she?

As I wander the floor, I pull out my phone and send her a text. I stumble back when I collide with a solid warm wall, dropping my phone and my bag.

A pair of hands grab my arms and steady me. “Are you okay?”

Once I find my footing, I glance up to meet the piercing gaze of Mr. Townsend. My face warms and I curse the natural blush God blessed me with.

“I’m fine. Thank you.”

“It’s dangerous to text and walk, you know.” His lopsided smile makes my stomach flip.

“So I’ve been told.” I pick up my phone as he bends to retrieve my purse. Once we both rise, I offer my hand. “I’m Jen. I work in acquisitions for women’s wear.”

“Nice to meet you.” His warm hand nearly engulfs my own and a spark of need envelops me.

“And you, Mr. Townsend.”

His grip tightens. “Call me Shaun.”

I swallow the lump in my throat. “Shaun.” With reluctance, I release his hand.

A strained pause pulls tight between us, until he smiles. “I don’t want to sound presumptuous, but are you free tonight?”

My heart pounds. Free? Me? Are you kidding? “Yeah, why?”

“Would you like to have dinner with me?” He chuckles and the sound reverberates through me. I’m smitten with the sound of it.

“Sure. I know this great place in Brooklyn if you’re craving pizza.”

“Sounds perfect.” He laughs. “You read my mind.”

Oh crap, I’m beyond smitten. I’m half in love with him. I shake my head when I remember Lily. “Give me a minute and we can head out.”

“Sure. I’ll grab my coat.” He disappears down the hall.

I slump against the wall and text Lily. I’m going out to dinner with a friend. Catch you tomorrow.

After I send it, I close my eyes and lean against the wall. Did I just fall in love with a stranger? What the hell am I doing? I must be insane.

Chapter Two

Within thirty minutes, we’re in Brooklyn, standing in front of the pizza place I told him about. Mario’s neon sign glints from inside the front window. My apartment is in the building above the shop, but I don’t mention it to Shaun.

He opens the door and gestures for me to enter. Butterflies take flight in the pit of my stomach when he smiles. Oh man, I need to pace myself with this one.

I slip inside the door and wave at Johnny working behind the counter. The middle-aged pizza slinger with slicked black hair and a thick Brooklyn accent is like the older brother I never had since I eat here at least twice a week. I can feel his curious gaze sizing up the man entering the shop behind me.

I snag the booth in the corner facing the front window. It’s comfortable and familiar, and yet with Shaun sitting across from me, it feels new and exciting.

My coat is too hot. I tug it off my shoulders and set it aside as Johnny comes up and puts two menus on the table.

“Hey, Jen, how’s it goin’?” He tosses an easy smile at me before eyeing my dinner companion.

“It’s goin’.” I return his smile and smack my lips. “Can I get a Yuengling?”

“Yeah, sure.” Johnny turns to Shaun.

“Same for me.” Shaun leans back with a casual indifference that seems to say you’re driving this car.

“Want the usual, Jen?”

“You particular about toppings?” I ask Shaun before making my decision.

“Nope. I’m game for anything.”

I swear there’s a double meaning behind those words, but before I can chase the thought, Johnny mumbles under his breath.

“The usual is fine. Thanks, Johnny.”

“You got it, kid.” He shoots a glance at Shaun before retreating behind the counter once more.

“I don’t think he likes me much.” Shaun’s crooked grin makes my heart thump against my ribs.

“We’re practically family. I mean, I eat here more than I eat at home, so…” I shrug and my face heats at the confession of how much pizza I consume on a weekly basis.

“Ah.” He nods as Johnny returns with two frosted mugs brimming with lager. “Thanks.”

Johnny shoots me a sidelong glance as he sets the mug down with a look that screams if he tries anything stupid, let me know. It’s nice to know someone’s looking out for me. Once we’re alone again, I take a sip of beer and relax.

“Nice place.” Shaun’s gaze strays for a second taking in the small shop. When it meets mine, my whole body warms through like I took a shot of whiskey.

“So.” I shift in my seat under his perusal. “How was your first day? I’m sure our office is quite different from Denver.”

“It is. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m excited for a new challenge.”

“Are you from Denver originally?” I dig deeper wanting to know more about him.

He shakes his head. “No. I was born in Davenport, Iowa.”

I blink at him drawing a blank. “Where’s that?”

His eyes sparkle when he laughs. “Not many people can point it out on the map. It’s right on the Mississippi River. Just find St. Louis and follow the river north, you’ll run smack into Davenport.”

My face warms. “It’s been years since I’ve been anywhere farther than Pennsylvania. Guess it shows, huh?”

He shrugs it off. “You grow up here?”

“Staten Island. I mean, it’s still one of the boroughs, but it’s a bit more spacious than Manhattan.” I take another sip of the cool lager.

“But you’re a Brooklyn girl now, huh?”

“Yeah. I mean, my apartment’s not much, but it’s in a decent neighborhood.” I gesture to the room. “And the food’s great.”

We sit in silence for a moment, and I can’t help but wonder what’s going through his mind. I mean, I don’t know this guy. But being with him is comfortable and his warm charm makes me trust him. Maybe that’s why they chose him for the marketing director position. His charisma will go a long way in bringing in potential clients.

“You okay over there?” He rubs his thumb across the frosted mug as he watches me.

“Yeah.” I shuffle off whatever doubts remain and remind myself we’re still coworkers.

“You look worried.” He’s intuitive. Damn, that’s kind of hot.

“I don’t want you to get the wrong impression.” I twist the mug in my hand searching for the words. “I don’t normally…”

“Jen.” He interrupts me with a gentle tone. “You’re showing the new guy the best pizza joint in town. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that.”

I groan and hide my face behind my hand. But what if I want it to be more? “Sorry.”

“Why are you apologizing?” He chuckles. “I asked you to join me for dinner.”

“I know.” Open mouth, insert foot. “But I’m still trying to figure out why?”

His eyes darken the slightest fraction, almost as though I’d imagined it. “Because I wanted to get to know you.”

Years of telling myself not to get involved with a coworker fade into a distant oblivion with those simple words. “Do you use that line often?” I tease, unable to stand the tension pulling tight between us.

“I’ve never used that line.” He laughs and the tension eases back into comfortable companionship. “In fact, I’ve always made it a point to avoid mixing my personal life with work. It’s cliché, I know, but it’s true.”

“So you never went out with your coworkers for pizza in Denver?”

“Never.” He scoffs. “What about you?”

“Oh, I hang out with my coworkers all the time outside of work.”

His brow arches, and I kick myself for not being clearer.

“I mean, I have a lot of friends at the office.” Yeah, keep putting your foot in your mouth. I groan. “Maybe I should shut up now. I sound like an idiot.”

“No, you don’t.” He leans forward resting his elbows on the table. “I want to be honest with you.”

Johnny arrives with a steamy, delicious supreme pie laden with veggies, sausage, and pepperoni. He slides it onto the table between us. “Enjoy.”

“Thanks.” I flash him a smile as he walks away. When I turn back to Shaun, his intense expression steals my breath.

“I’ve never broken my rule about dating a coworker.” His focus hones on me like a laser, and I freeze mid-reach for a slice of pizza.

“Dating?” The word feels foreign on my tongue.

“Is that a problem for you?” He reaches across the table and takes my hand. Those soft fingertips brush over my skin making me shiver with need.

“I mean if we were in the same department, maybe, but I don’t know. I’ve never dated anyone from work before. Holy shit. I wasn’t expecting this.” My heart thunders in my chest drowning out the sound of my own thoughts.

“Neither was I.” He squeezes my hand gently and then lets go. “If I’m going too fast, tell me. We can take it slow. I’ve always been told I’m too direct for my own good.”

My hand tingles where he touched me. I miss the warmth already. “Knowing what you want isn’t a bad thing.”

“The question is, what do you want?” His gaze bores into my soul.

“As long as it doesn’t affect work, I’m game for anything.” I throw his own words back at him in an effort to play it cool regardless of the simmering attraction steaming up the window beside us. Oh, no, that’s from the pizza. I reach for a slice giving my hands something to do other than reach for him.

Shaun grins and grabs a slice for himself. “Sounds like a plan.”

We eat in relative silence and hang out to chat over another mug of Yuengling. He’s sweet and conversational. The topics range from his childhood in Iowa to my adventures in Brooklyn and beyond. He asks about my parents and my interests. I reciprocate the inquisition, and we laugh at how different yet similar we are. 

When Johnny finally kicks us out at eleven, I’m stunned at how quickly time passes in Shaun’s company. Finally, a man who doesn’t make me feel inept or defensive. It’s so refreshing. We exchange phone numbers before pulling on our coats.

We stop outside the shop so I can pull on my gloves.

“Can I walk you home?” Shaun asks, his eyes glinting under the streetlights.

“I thought you said we were gonna take this slow?” I sway against him with a nudge of my elbow.

“You’re right.” He grins. “I wanna make sure you make it home safely.”

“That’s quite chivalrous of you. It’s not far. I’ll be okay.” I squeeze his hand. “Thanks though.”

His gaze searches my face like he’s trying to decipher a code beneath the surface of my skin. My whole body ignites and I’m melting regardless of it being a chilly twenty-five degrees in the middle of February.

He steps closer and cups my jaw in his hand smoothing his thumb across my lower lip. My breath catches as he lowers his head and kisses me. The soft brush of his mouth on mine is a welcome invasion. I grasp his lapel and pull him closer. His warm, spicy scent envelops me, tugging at the back of my mind. Gucci Guilty, I think, subtly buried beneath the fresh scent of linen and what I can only assume are his natural pheromones.

Shaun pulls me against him and teases my lips open with the slightest press of his tongue. I’m lost in the kiss, in his arms, drowning in a sea of unexpected bliss, I barely hear the sound of someone coughing behind me.

“All right, you two. Get a room.”

I pull away from Shaun with a start, and he laughs. I turn to see Johnny standing in the doorway with his hands on his hips.

“This ain’t that kind of establishment. Go home, Jen.” He jabs a finger at Shaun. “Don’t mess with her.”

“Sorry, Johnny.” I turn back to face Shaun. “I’ll see you later.”

“Yeah. Sleep well.” He reluctantly drops my hand and retreats down the street.

I watch until he disappears around the corner. With a sigh, I head toward the entrance beside the pizza parlor. My mind spins over the impossibility of the day’s events. If someone would have told me I’d meet the man of my dreams at work today, I’d have called them crazy. Maybe I’m the one who’s crazy. Either way, I can’t complain. Crazy is feeling pretty damn good right now.

Click here to grab a copy and continue reading…

Thanks for stopping by. XoXo

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Curse of the Huntsman’s Jewel: Release Day and Sale!

If you’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to pick up a copy of Curse of the Huntsman’s Jewel, then your wait is over. ❤

Starting on Sunday, March 27th, my fairy tale fantasy romance will be ONLY $0.99 for a limited time. Three romances in one novel for a buck! That’s a steal of a deal. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this opportunity. It goes LIVE on March 29th. Check it out. ❤

Once upon a time, an ancient darkness consumed the land. It cursed the innocent and seduced the powerful. No man could break it for none possessed the knowledge or the will to do so.

After seven years hunting the beasts who killed her aunt and grandmother, Scarlett returns to her cousins, Bianca and Rose, only to find her uncle slaughtered in the forest near their cottage. The man who once protected them from the queen was gone.

When three handsome brothers appear at the village market selling their wares, Scarlett and Bianca hesitate to welcome the outsiders, but Rose takes an immediate liking to the burly, quiet middle brother.

Unease fills the women when it becomes obvious something is hunting them. Trained in the art of the hunt and the healing power of nature, they set out to uncover the sinister truth behind the death of their family members. Wandering down a dark and twisted road, the trio soon discovers the hunter can easily become the prey.

Still not sure? Check out Buffyanna’s review:

“You have such bright eyes.” The observation fell from her lips in a whisper. “All the better for me to see you in the dark.”

Scarlett, and her cousins Bianca and Rose, are huntresses. Orphaned at a tender age, but not before they have been trained to be fierce and resourceful fighters, they live in the forest outskirts of the Kingdom of Revaria and wish to be left alone. Well, Scarlett and Bianca do. Rose, the most amicable and nurturing of the three, wants to know the new blacksmith better. The feeling is mutual, and he has two brothers who want to know Scarlett and Bianca better, too!

“What sharp teeth you have.” She licked the trickle of blood from her lip. Lust boiled beneath the surface of her fear.

Kirsten Blacketer performs pure alchemy, transmuting “The Red Riding Hood” and the “Snow White and Rose Red” fairy tales into one all-in-the-family dark tale complete with an evil queen, a cruel curse, and not only one, but three, love stories! Oh, how I loved this! In the first half, I was totally captivated and I couldn’t put it down. Towards the end, I forced myself to slow down, savour it, chew slowly, because I so desperately didn’t want it to end.

“Such a wicked mouth you have.” He grinned at the way she writhed beneath his touch. “All the better to—”

I loved the way the Scarlett, Bianca, and Rose are badass all the way through from beginning to end, but they do have their soft spots for their boys, each in their own way. There is a mystery as to why the evil queen and her huntsman have been pursuing them (which makes this a nod to both Snow Whites) but the reason was not one I guessed! I strongly recommend Curse of the Huntsman’s Jewel to anyone looking for a carnal, suspenseful, feminine retelling of Grimm’s fairy tales.

Thanks for the support and love. I hope you enjoy my fairy tale reimagining. xoxo

All my love,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Inspiration: Grief, a Viral Video, and ReyLo

As an avid reader, I love learning behind-the-scenes information about a book I enjoyed. So, I’ve decided to have a little fun and show you the inspiration behind some of my books. This week, I’m going to chat about A Lockdown Love Affair.

There are a couple of layers to this one, so let me unpack them one stage at a time.

In March of 2020, I was living blissfully in Italy and planning countless trips across Europe for the upcoming year. Then the pandemic struck. Not only was I unable to leave my property for three months, but I ended up canceling every trip I had planned because no one knew how long it would last or what would happen. Needless to say, I experienced the stages of grief during that period.

Denial – This couldn’t be happening. It’s like a nightmare.

Anger – I only had a limited time in Italy and wanted to make the most of my ability to travel Europe. Piss me off.

Bargaining – I’ll follow the rules, just let me OUT!

Depression – I wasn’t going anywhere, and it left me hopeless and miserable.

Acceptance – There wasn’t much I could do to change the world around me, so I had to find something to do with my time and my emotions.

This post isn’t about the pandemic or my reaction to it, but I need to explain my initial reaction because it’s ultimately what breathed life into my characters, Ben and Penelope.

See, Ben Statler became a conduit for my stages of grief. I poured every ounce of my emotional response into his character. Ben absorbed all of my frustration and rage. His grumpy ass mirrored my own. But I gave him a life and a purpose of his own.

Penelope was my little ray of sunshine, my hope that something good could come from this. And it did. This book became the catalyst for my writing goals. I wrote and released four stories in 2020. Then, in 2021, I wrote seven stories and released four. This newfound drive became something I could use to my advantage. I pulled story ideas I began years ago and put them on paper. And new ideas flowed like wine at an Italian feast.

A Lockdown Love Affair saved my sanity.

But there are two other important contributors to the creation of this story. A viral video on Facebook, and ReyLo.

Scrolling endlessly on Facebook one day, I stumbled across a video of a guy in New York City who saw a girl dancing on the neighboring rooftop. He sent a note with his phone number using his drone and they started a socially distanced relationship. It was a cute story and sparked the inspiration I needed to bring Ben and Penelope together.

But what’s ReyLo and how does that fit into this?

Well, right before the country went into lockdown, my husband and I took the kids to see The Rise of Skywalker. Up until this moment, I hadn’t seen The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi. (Don’t judge me.) But the moment I stepped out of the theater, I knew I needed more Kylo Ren/Ben Solo x Rey in my life. More than that, I needed to fix what the creators destroyed. (I’m trying really hard not to go off on a tangent. Bear with me.) So I watched all the films, and then dove into the fan fiction. I became a ReyLo Shipper.

Gif from The Rise of Skywalker

I love fan fiction. I read copius amounts of it from many different fandoms. But this one hit me differently. I wanted to write so many variations and alternate universe ideas with the pairing, but I knew it would steal time away from my original fiction. So, I combined them.

I used ReyLo as the inspiration for Ben and Penelope, making him grumpy and brooding while she became his ray of sunshine. It was the perfect compromise. Ben Statler is still one of my favorite characters, and he appears in my other contemporary series as the main character’s boss.

There you have it. The inspiration for A Lockdown Love Affair. It may not be pretty or coherent, but there it is. A story born of my coping mechanism, a viral video, and my unwavering love of a fandom ship.

Life has a strange way of working things out in the end.

Which book should I dive into next? Let me know in the comments.

All my love,

Kirsten

Why Contemporary Romance?

Even though my journey as a published author seems like it began with historical romance, it really didn’t. Around the same time I wrote An Irresistible Shadow, I wrote two other stories, both contemporary romance. They weren’t as complex as my medieval romance, and both had elements of romantic suspense. Yes, both were also published at the beginning of my career.

My first publication was a short story called “What The Darkness Proposes.” If this title looks familiar, it’s because I published it here on my website a week before I posted this. I originally wrote it for a short story competition hosted by Romantic Shorts, and it won second place. Unfortunately, Romantic Shorts will be closing their doors. So, I made a new home here on my website for the short stories they published.

Around the same time, I submitted a romantic suspense novelette to another small press. Full Throttle: Blood, Sweat, and Gears. It was very much inspired by Tara Janzen’s Crazy series featuring fast cars and a smoking hot hero. I absolutely loved writing it. But this story has also been taken down from the publisher and the rights returned. I am considering the idea of revising it as a fun treat for my subscribers.

I’ve learned a lot since these first publications. My writing has improved. My tastes have also become more specific. But the best lesson I learned was to follow my heart and write the stories I want to read. I’ll chase down whatever idea strikes me and pen a delightful romance with its inspiration.

But after six years of writing historical romance, why did I suddenly dive back into contemporary?

Well, as much as I love historical romance, there are limitations when I write it. Specifically the firm constraints of the time period which could be etiquette, technology, or other details that may inhibit the creative process. This isn’t a bad thing, but it can be exhausting trying to be true to the time period.

In Spring of 2020, I was enjoying my time living in Italy…when Covid struck. I had plans. To travel. To grasp every possible opportunity living in Europe had to offer. And then we got locked down. HARD. I mean, I didn’t leave our one-acre property for three months. My husband did all the shopping when he went to work. We weren’t allowed to go anywhere, and all of our plans were canceled, including my trip to visit Samantha Holt in England! I was enraged. Furious. Disappointed. Crushed. I had nowhere to vent my frustrations.

Only, I did. I poured my heart and soul into A Lockdown Love Affair that spring. Then it sparked an idea for A Holiday Love Affair and Mistletoe and Mistakes. All three books are interconnected and the characters were born from an idea sparked during my time in lockdown.

I set a writing schedule and stuck to it. By January of 2021, I decided to challenge myself and focus on writing a book every two months while publishing one every quarter. I met this goal with ease, even in the midst of an intercontinental move.

I pulled ideas for stories I had set aside years ago and focused on writing them. Confessions of a Fangirl had been an idea for a screenplay, but I morphed it into a romantic comedy that sparked two more books. Thus, the Her Confessions Series was born. The best part of that is these books interconnect with the universe I created for my Sunshine Meets Grump Series (A Lockdown Love Affair, A Holiday Love Affair, and Mistletoe and Mistakes.)

All of my contemporary romances so far weave together in the same universe. That’s the only tidbit I’m going to tell you because I don’t want to spoil the Easter eggs I’ve placed in the books. But even my 1985 time travel romance, When I Found You, spawned its own series of five books, and there are characters within those stories who tie into my contemporary universe. I love when a plan comes together, especially when I didn’t really plan it at all! My subconscious is a terrifying place sometimes.

Honestly, why do I like writing contemporary romance? Because I’m a contemporary woman. For me, it’s the easiest era in which to write. It feels natural because I’m living it on a daily basis. I can tie in modern technology and conventions while putting my own fun spin on it with pop culture.

It also brings a much-needed reprieve from writing a bygone era. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing historical romance, but it can be overwhelming at times. I love the freedom that contemporary romance gives me to explore topics and plots I couldn’t utilize in a historical romance.

Fortunately, I read a lot of both genres, so I’m able to bounce back and forth with ease. There are just some days when you’re in a very specific mood. I like to be flexible with my reading, but even more so with my writing.

I’ll keep going as I have been, writing both steamy historical and contemporary romance. But at least now you know the reason why I’m all over the place. Thanks for tagging along for the ride!

Are you camp Contemporary or camp Historical? Tell me in the comments.

Always,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Valentine’s Day Giveaway!

Hello, darlings,

I’ll be running a special price on my contemporary romance ebook, A Lockdown Love Affair, from February 11th to the 14th. Only $0.99 for four days. If you’re looking for a Sunshine/Grump romance, then this one is perfect for you. Available on sale at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, as well as Apple.

Let’s celebrate love with a little giveaway, shall we? I have some lovely teacups and signed copies of both A Lockdown Love Affair and A Holiday Love Affair up for grabs. (Only U.S. Residents over 18 of age are eligible. ❤ Thank you for understanding.) Here’s the link to the Rafflecopter:

The winner will be announced on Wednesday, February 15th on my Facebook page. Thanks for participating, and I hope you all have a wonderful Valentine’s Day weekend! Good luck. ❤

With love,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Romance Genre: A Study

Hello, my darling readers…

If there’s one thing I love more than writing romance, it’s reading romance. For me, it doesn’t matter the subgenre category. I’m game to try anything. Science Fiction, Historical, Contemporary, Time Travel, Paranormal…it doesn’t matter. I’m a Mood Ring Reader. My choice of reading material depends completely on my mood. That leaves a veritable smorgasbord of possibilities at my disposal.

There are subgenres contained within the romance genre. And even those categories break down into smaller niches. Let’s take a peek at what delights await.

  • Historical gives you Medieval, Regency, Victorian, Western, Ancient Civilizations, etc. Pretty much any era you can think of has a place under the Historical Romance umbrella.
  • Contemporary can run the gamut. Anything from a rom com to a dark mafia romance to a forbidden reverse harem to Amish. I mean really, there’s a broad variety to choose from in this category. It can be erotic (lots of sex) or sweet (no sex at all). It can feature a variety of pairings and sexual orientations. It can focus on multicultural characters or a specific heritage. The sky truly is the limit when it comes to Contemporary romance.
  • Paranormal has a huge reach as well, incorporating elements of the supernatural or monsters or fae or even wizards and witches. I mean, if it’s not of this world (but not from another planet specifically), then it falls into this broad category, and it stretches it’s tentacles into other subgenres as well.
  • Science Fiction is making it’s mark on the romance genre by venturing beyond our own planet to explore new worlds and strange, but wonderful, new civilizations. These romances tend to be a bit out there for some, but for the adventurous among us, it’s like discovering a whole new galaxy beyond our own and never wanting to leave.
  • Fantasy romance can include Fairy Tale Retellings and vast medieval kingdoms. But it can also branch out into elements that can be considered a paranormal tale as well. It is common to find these types of stories overlap into paranormal territory.
  • Dystopian and Postapocalyptic romance are becoming quite popular under the romance umbrella. This is one subgenre I haven’t explored, but I’m definitely interested in seeing how it grows in popularity. I could definitely see these paired with elements from both the paranormal and science fiction categories to create some really awesome stories.
  • Then there are the outliers. These stories could fit into any category with the right nudge, but whose names ring loud and clear when we’re searching for something specific to quench our thirst. Adventure, Gothic, Inspirational, Military, Medical, Mystery, New Adult, Romantic suspense, Sports, Sweet, Time Travel, and Steampunk are all examples of very specific dynamics we’re searching for within the established romance subgenres. Sometimes they’re classified as tropes more than genre, but their fan base is strong.

I know there are some I missed, and I apologize. This was a quick list off the top of my head with a little help from LYSS EM Editing. You can find her post HERE for more information.

Why am I explaining this? As voracious romance readers, you know what vast potential lies beneath the umbrella of the term romance. There is something for everyone.

So then what makes the romance genre unique?

Two things. If they are not present, the story cannot be considered a romance. Period. There are no exceptions.

  1. The story must focus on or center around the relationship.
  2. There must be an emotionally satisfying ending. An HEA (Happily Ever After) or an HFN (Happily For Now) specifically.

Simple. So long as you follow these two guidelines, then you have a romance. Everything else is up to the author’s creative mind. And there are truly some creative minds out there.

Whether you’re an author or a reader (or both as in my case), I hope you write/read the stories that bring you joy. No matter the genre. Life’s too short to not do what brings us joy.

Please feel free to leave a comment below if you want to chat about the romance genre or gently remind me of a category I might have overlooked. I look forward to chatting with you!

Always,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Curse of the Huntsman’s Jewel (Sneak Peek)

This week I have a special treat for you. The first glimpse into my twisted fairy tale romance, Curse of the Huntsman’s Jewel. I borrowed from the established tales of Red Riding Hood as well as Snow White and Rose Red (the sisters who befriend an enchanted prince) to create this magical universe. There are three romances in this book. One for each female lead character: Rosalind, Bianca, and Scarlett. You won’t want to miss the three handsome huntsmen brothers either. *wink*

Releases on March 29th! Preorder is available from ebook retailers HERE.


Prologue

Scarlett

A knock at the door disturbed the evening meal. Uncle Jack stood, gesturing for the family to remain seated at the table. Her grandmother and Aunt Caroline exchanged a lingering look, the stew before them left untouched upon the table. Her cousins, Rose and Bianca, continued eating without care. Scarlett knew better. Something was amiss.

She glanced toward the door where Uncle Jack stood over the threshold blocking whoever interrupted their peaceful evening. Voices echoed through the small space, but the words garbled together, muffled by distance and tone.

“Eat your supper, Scarlett.” Aunt Caroline gestured to the bowl of venison and potatoes in front of her.

“Come now, Red, you do not want it to get cold.” Grandmother lifted a spoonful to her mouth, but her gaze darted between the door and the table before her. “Finish your supper, and I shall tell you a bedtime story.”

Bianca and Rose bounced in their seats, grins on their faces.

“We love your stories, Grandmother.” Bianca shoveled a large spoonful into her mouth.

“Can you tell us the story about the huntsman’s curse?” Rose asked, her eyes wide.

“Of course, Rose.” Grandmother smiled and encouraged her to finish what remained in her bowl.

Scarlett took a bite of her food, unable to enjoy the flavor. A strange tension pulled tight in the small cottage. Rose always wanted to hear the story about the huntsman and the princess. Personally, Scarlett disliked the tale. It always left her with a sadness she could not describe. Were love stories not meant to have a happy ending?

The door closed and Uncle Jack returned to the table, his handsome face lined with worry making him look like an old man, burdened with exhaustion.

“Who was that?” Aunt Caroline wiped her mouth with a rag.

“The queen’s guard.” He cleared his throat and tucked his hands into his pockets. “We have been summoned.”

Her aunt dropped the cloth, her lip trembling. “How…? Never mind.” She rose from the table in haste, nearly upsetting the bowl of unfinished stew.

“Go. I shall remain here with the girls.” Grandmother rose from her seat and shooed them toward the door before any questions could be asked.

Curiosity burned within her. Scarlett regarded her aunt and uncle carefully as they donned their warm, outer garments. Her aunt pulled a satchel from the hook hanging near the door and slung it across her shoulders before retrieving her bow and quiver of arrows. They kissed their daughters and Scarlett before heading toward the door.

“We shall return as quickly as possible. Remain here until then.” Uncle Jack pulled on his cap, and together they ventured out into the night where the queen’s guard awaited them.

Before Scarlett could say a word, Grandmother pushed her empty bowl away and stood. “Shall we gather around the fire for our story, girls?”

Rose and Bianca wasted no time. They raced for the bearskin rug beside the hearth and curled upon it. Grandmother settled in the rocking chair beside the crackling flames.

Scarlett sighed. She reached her fourteenth summer only a fortnight past. She was older and wiser than her cousins. At eleven and twelve summers respectively, Bianca and Rose were still quite young. They enjoyed Grandmother’s tales of romance and adventure, while Scarlett knew of the dangers of the world.

Aunt Caroline and Uncle Jack took her in, raising her as their own daughter in the wake of the tragedy which took her parents’ lives. Only a wee baby at the time of their deaths, she remembered nothing of her birth parents. Her aunt and uncle welcomed her into their family, and they taught her the ways of the huntsmen. Or in her case, the huntress, giving her the tools to defend herself and survive. Scarlett embraced the challenge with relish.

“Once upon a time there lived a huntsman…”

Rose sighed, and Scarlett rolled her eyes, leaning back listening from a distance.

“Come join us, Red.” Grandmother patted the chair beside her.

Reluctantly, Scarlett retreated from the table and slid into the seat beside Grandmother. She folded her arms across her chest and fixed her gaze upon the flames in the hearth. How she detested love stories. Her thoughts remained on the curious summons from the queen as her grandmother continued her tale.

“This huntsman lived in the forest surrounding the royal palace.” Grandmother’s voice carried through the small cottage. “One day he fell in love with the princess. But he hid a dark secret, one that would bring his ruin should it come to light. He bore the mark of the Inkling, a message to all who saw it that he was an animus.”

Bianca gasped even though they heard the tale a hundred times before. The story infected them, drawing them in with every telling. “What form did he take?”

“No one knows his form, but for the sake of our tale, let us say it was a wolf.” Grandmother chuckled before continuing with her tale. “He remained content to admire the princess from afar and never tell her of his love. He watched and waited, praying fate would bring them together.”

“How romantic.” Rose clung to her every word. The contents of Scarlett’s stomach churned.

“One day, the huntsman was wounded while hunting. He managed to return to his human form and seek help, but he grew weak from his injury and collapsed deep in the forest.” Grandmother’s tone deepened drawing the girls into the tale. “A lone traveler found him. He happened to be a powerful alchemist and took mercy on the injured man, carrying him to his cottage. The alchemist healed the young huntsman, but the damage was done. He saw the Inkling beneath the young man’s skin.

“As payment for his aid, the huntsman bestowed a vial of his blood drawn directly from the Inkling. The alchemist vowed to inspect this mysterious affliction and gain a greater understanding of its power.” Grandmother leaned closer. “However, the huntsman did not realize how powerful his blood truly was and the magic qualities it possessed.”

“Foolish man,” Scarlett grunted in annoyance. How could the huntsman do such a ridiculous thing by relinquishing something so rare and coveted?

“Hush!” Rose scowled at her and turned to motion for Grandmother to continue.

“Several moons passed and the huntsman encountered a pack of wolves in the forest near the castle. He tracked them knowing they stalked prey.” Her voice lowered. “When he reached the clearing, the huntsman gasped. The ravenous pack encircled a woman wearing a white cloak and brandishing a large tree branch in a futile attempt to scare them away.” Grandmother swiped her hands at the girls like massive paws. “They attacked, and the huntsman joined the fray. He defended the woman, fighting off the pack of bloodthirsty wolves alone.

“When he defeated the final wolf, he converted into his human form and offered his hand to the cowering woman. It was the princess! He bowed low, and she threw her arms around him in gratitude for coming to her aid.” Grandmother sighed with satisfaction. “She explained how her horse had bolted when it smelled the wolves, casting her aside. When the pack surrounded her, she could not fight them off. Under the protection of the huntsman, she followed him through the thick and winding forest until they reached the safety of the castle.”

Scarlett listened to the story, knowing each part by heart and reciting it in her mind. Her cousins adored the tale, and her grandmother told it with such fervor, one would believe it truly happened. Try as she might to ignore the attraction of such a legend, it drew her in every time. She licked her lips and waited for Grandmother to continue.

“After being rescued by the handsome and charming huntsman, the princess grew quite fond of her savior. He returned her to the castle unharmed and was granted a boon for his daring rescue. Seizing the opportunity, he requested to become the princess’s personal protector.” Grandmother chuckled. “The king laughed at the bold request, but he acquiesced with gratitude, sensing the young man’s honorable intentions.”

Rose sighed again. Irritated, Scarlett nudged her with her foot.

“As time passed, their love blossomed, and the young huntsman waited for the opportunity press his suit for the princess’s hand in marriage.” Grandma’s smile faded and her eyes grew misty. “Until one cold winter morning, the alchemist returned with a gift for the king. A vibrant jewel with rare and mystical powers. The Huntsman’s Jewel, formed from the blood of an animus bearing the mark of the Inkling.”

Rose and Bianca gasped.

“The huntsman realized his mistake, but it was too late. The bargain he made by bestowing the blood to the alchemist bound his soul to the gem, and a cursed existence, one from which he could never break free. If he remained, the curse would plague generations to come.” Grandma sighed. “He stole the gem and transformed into his animus form before escaping into the night. The huntsman was never heard from again, and the princess languished of a broken heart.”

“This story is ridiculous.” Scarlett threw her hands up in the air. “Why must you always tell the saddest story? Aren’t love stories supposed to have happy endings?”

“I like the story, even with a sad ending.” Bianca scrambled to her feet and stuck out her tongue. “Why must you always ruin it?”

“The story ruined itself.” Scarlett scowled. “I do not understand why you cannot tell us a different, happier story, Grandmother.”

“I happen to like this one.” Grandmother shrugged and rose to her feet. “Off to bed, girls.”

Once they were tucked in bed, Scarlett attempted to sleep, but visions of snarling wolves appeared in her dreams whenever she tried. Darkness lay thick in the cottage, reaching down from the loft where they slept. She drifted in and out of sleep.

A door slammed, shaking the cottage. Scarlett bolted upright, pulling the blankets around her like a shield.

“Girls, wake! Hurry!” Her uncle’s voice echoed from below. A lantern flickered to life illuminating the small space. “Get dressed and gather your things, quickly!”

In haste, they dressed and packed a few items in their sacks before slinging them over their shoulders. They climbed down the ladders to find Grandmother and Uncle Jack pacing by the door with their own satchels on their backs.

Confused, Scarlett stepped forward. “Where are we going?”

His haunted eyes met hers. “We must go. Now. Whatever happens, run and do not look back.”

“Where is mother?” Rose asked, glancing around.

“Come.” Grandmother pulled her close, and they ventured out into the night.

As they weaved through the blackened forest, an eerie sound filtered through the silence. Wolves. The girls took off at a run with Grandmother and Uncle Jack following behind. They ran until their legs weakened and their chests nearly burst.

Somehow they remained ahead of the pack, reaching the river as the cool blue light of dawn broke over the horizon. They climbed into the boat and pushed off from shore. Grandmother cradled Rose and Bianca against her chest as Uncle Jack rowed.

Scarlett scanned the shore, catching a glimpse of the pack in the distance standing where the boat had been moored. Relief filled her.

“Where is mother?” Rose muttered between sobs.

“She is gone, pet. I am sorry.” Uncle Jack hung his head, hiding the tears staining his cheeks. “The wolves…” His voice drifted off as though it pained him to recount what had transpired. He cleared his throat. “Whatever happens, you must remain hidden from the queen. Do you understand, girls?”

Rose and Bianca nodded.

Scarlett tried to comprehend, but nothing made sense. “Why?”

“It does not matter why.” His dark gaze bored into her soul. “But if you wish to live, you must remain as far from the queen as possible.” Those were the last words spoken on the matter.