Plotting My Torment, I mean Novel

Over the past fifteen years, I’ve met a vast variety of authors from all different genres. Yet there’s always that one detail, aside from genre, that divides us. A question really. A defining characteristic of our craft.

Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?

When I first started writing, I was a pantser. One hundred percent. I had a vibe, some characters, and a general idea for a plot. That’s what I used to guide me through the manuscript. Well, that and the driving force of NaNoWriMo pushing me through my daily word count. The mission was to get words down, not worry about the quality of the story itself.

I wrote this way for five years. Slowly, my process evolved to include a more cohesive story from the very beginning. Short stories and novellas were easy enough to write without an outline, but novels were tricky beasts and I found myself spending countless hours on edits, rearranging and rewriting scenes that didn’t fit into the story.

I can’t remember the moment I realized I was creating more work for myself in the long run by writing without an outline. But I adapted quickly after that.

There was no guideline, no worksheet, no mentor guiding me. I learned through trial and error what worked for me as an author. I’ve long since learned I should never compare my writing or my writing process to someone else’s. We’re all individuals with our own quirks and motivations. You can take what works, leave what doesn’t, and figure out the best process for you. But if you’re struggling with the same issues over and over, then maybe you should try something different and see if it helps.

My process:

  1. The inspiration.

A lot of times I’ll get inspiration for a book from a quote, a prompt, or a scene from a TV show/movie/book. That single spark often ignites a whole series of what if questions in my mind. This is the point where I write it down. Scribble a few notes and set it aside to marinate.

2. The rabbit hole.

While the idea marinates, I don’t overanalyze it. Most of the time, my subconscious will fill in the blanks and start answering the questions surrounding the scenario that sparked the idea. This is where I take random notes. Then, when I have a few spare minutes, I’ll get out a notebook and just write flow of consciousness.

“What if this happens? Then this? But what’s his motivation here? Why is she doing this? Ooh, what if this happens?”

These questions are the bones of my story. They paint a larger picture of the characters, the setting, and their GMC (goals, motivations, conflict.) It’s from this moment I outline scene by scene.

3. The outline.

This isn’t as hard as it sounds, trust me. I typically write anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 words per scene in one POV. Again, this isn’t a rule, it’s just how my work flows. So if I write approximately 2,000 words per scene, I’ll need thirty to give me a 60,000 word novel. That number is my guide to outline.

If I’m writing a novella, I shoot for 20,000 to 30,000 words. This is about 10-15 scenes. Knowing my word count helps me balance the story arc for the outline.

Once I have these details, I’m ready to start my outline with the following general arc in mind.

  • Establish normalcy
  • Inciting incident
  • Rising action on the defence
  • Reversal
  • Rising action on the offense
  • Climax
  • Resolution

For every scene, I make note of the key elements. Who is in the scene? Who’s POV is it? Where is the scene taking place? When does this take place? What happens in this scene? Why does it need to happen? Does it push the story forward? Then, I add any details I want included in this scene, including any random ideas or images that pop into my head. Dialog notes can also be made if the characters start talking. Anything goes here as long as you answer those basic questions. It can be as simple or as complex as you want.

Then, move onto the next scene asking what if when you get stuck. I also find that having a brainstorming session with a reader or author friend can help you get unstuck if you hit that block. My editor once told me that if I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, write ten things (no matter how crazy) that COULD happen and see if it helps uncover the direction of the story.

Now, outline.

If you don’t think you can do it, why not try? The worst thing that happens is you don’t end up following the outline as you write because your mind takes you in a different direction. And that’s okay. It happens. My characters deviate from my outline all the time. Granted, they’re minor deviations, but they can be frustrating.

A lot of times when they deviate, it’s actually better for the story as a whole. It’s almost like my subconscious knew before my brain registered. So I don’t get too upset with their shenanigans because it works out in the end.

Plotting your book doesn’t have to be complicated or intricate, with color coded cards or pages of detailed notes for every character and images galore. If that’s your process, then good for you. I’m glad you found something that works. Sometimes just having a basic framework to follow keeps you grounded in the project and motivated.

When I was a pantser, I struggled to write daily because I didn’t know where the story was going that day for that specific scene. But with a general outline, I at least have a direction when I sit down to write. It helps keep me organized and focused on the task at hand.

The beauty of my outlines is that they’re structured, but it’s not too rigid that I can’t change things if I need to as I write. I also get those surprise revelations during the writing process that keep me engaged in the story. It’s a win-win for me, giving me the best of both plotting and pantsing without the hassle of major rewrites.

So tell me. Are you a plotter? A pantser? What’s your process?

If you try my process, let me know. I’m excited to hear your thoughts and experiences.

All my love,

Kirsten S. Blacketer

Sampling a New-To-Me Author

Let me begin with an honest caveat. I’m a self-published author and have spent ten years cultivating my online presence, learning tips of the trade, finding quality partners to help polish and edit my manuscripts, researching the market and my genre, and investing in the health and longevity of my stories. I may not have a well-known publisher behind my work, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy of enjoyment. There are many self-published authors who invest time and energy to ensure readers get the best quality story at a reasonable price.

Self-publishing is not easy or cheap. Cover art, editing, formatting, marketing, and time all come at a price. I’m fortunate to have a husband who supports my artistic endeavors, both emotionally and financially. But I want to show him, and new readers, that my work is a worthy investment. Because it is. And so are the books of many other self-published authors.

With the expansion of self-publishing, it’s becoming harder and harder to have confidence in trying a new-to-me author. I get it. I often encounter this problem as a reader. When I find a book that catches my attention, I’m always cautious before hitting the purchase button. My solution: download a sample of the book.

Sample downloads are a game changer. If you haven’t been utilizing this feature, I highly recommend you try it. Amazon, Smashwords, and most other retailers allow you to download a 15-20% sample of the book before you purchase it.

When I start a new book, if I’m not hooked by the end of the first few chapters, I’m not going to be invested in the story. I used to be one of those readers who would finish a book, even if I wasn’t enjoying it. But I realized life is too short to read books that don’t resonate from the beginning. Thus began my DNF pile, but it also made me painfully aware of the cost of my unfinished hoard of books.

I don’t remember when I started downloading samples. But it changed the way I approached reading for pleasure. There are a lot of sample downloads waiting on my kindle, and that’s fine. I’ll get to them when the mood strikes and should they catch my interest, I’ll purchase the full book and continue reading. No harm, no foul.

With so many wonderful books flowing onto the market, it’s hard to decide what to spend your book money on. I understand it can be a difficult choice. But by downloading a sample, we’re trying a new author at no cost but our time. And since that sample is on our eReader, we’re reminded of its presence every time we open the application. This keeps the author’s name at the forefront of our minds.

Have I found wonderful new authors doing this? Yes. Have I found ones that didn’t meet my expectations or standards? Also, yes. I use this method with all types of authors, traditional, independent, or self-published. Even those with a publishing house behind their name are susceptible to the DNF pile. It’s nothing personal. I just know what I like.

Because I’m a reader, I know this also applies to me as an author. There will be those who find my work too steamy, too sweary, too brash. My books may not be everyone’s cup of tea. That’s perfectly fine. For those who find my stories and fall in love with them, I’m honored to have your support and love. You are my community, and I treasure your presence in my life.

Have you used the sample download feature? Does it help you find new authors to love? Tell me in the comments.

With 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

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

Sneak Peek at His Wicked Whispers

I have far too many projects releasing this year, but I can’t help it. These stories demand to be told. So, I’m offering a little teaser of the first chapter of the first book in my medieval trilogy. His Wicked Whispers is Book One and releases on May 10th. It’s being published under my pen name/alter ego Jen Bradlee. Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to Crispin Saville, the Prince of Whispers.


A knock sounded through the chamber. Crispin fumed. How many times must he remind them to leave him alone after the evening meal?

“I will not be disturbed!”

“Your highness.” A strained voice echoed through the solid wooden door. “The king wishes to speak with you straight away.”

His cock wilted at the mention of his father. He glanced at the door, willing the man behind it to burst into flames.

“Your highness?”

“I am coming!” He tossed the whip down and glanced at the naked wench on his bed. “Cover yourself.” He strode to the door and opened it. “This had better be a matter of life and death. I gave clear instructions I was not to be disturbed.”

“I beg your pardon, your highness.” The servant bowed. “I explained your request to the king, but he insisted you be summoned immediately.”

Crispin inclined his head, agitation clawing at his spine. “Well, I would hate to keep him waiting.” His words dripped with sarcasm.

The king only demanded his presence when he wanted something. He frowned, feeling the crease deepen between his brows. The only time anyone had use for him was when they desired something of value.

The servant led him to the king’s presence chamber and opened the doors. Crispin sauntered into the room bearing an air of boredom and disinterest. The servant closed the doors behind him as he exited. The king sat behind his desk, reading a roll of parchment, oblivious to his presence. He cleared his throat when the king continued to ignore him.

“You required me to attend you, yet you do not speak.” Crispin bit back the other words threatening to spill from his lips. Over the past several weeks, his father had shown him nothing but contempt. He had returned victorious from a quest and was met with utter disregard. He straightened, watching his father take up a quill and write upon the parchment before him. His father’s fair hair bore no sign of his age.

Crispin ran his hand through his own auburn locks. He resembled his mother, while Francis—he let the thoughts of his brother drift away and focused instead on his growing irritation with his father.

“I did.” The king spoke slowly, not lifting his gaze from the parchment before him. “You have put me in an awkward position.” He finally met Crispin’s gaze. “I am forced to make a difficult decision.”

“I am unaware of what you refer, Father.” Crispin grit his teeth.

“You know damned well what you have done!” The king rose from his seat and slammed his fist down on the massive wooden desk. He stalked around it, approaching Crispin. His dark gray eyes shone with exasperation and conviction.

Crispin swallowed hard and straightened, keeping his attention fixed on the far wall. He refused to make eye contact with his father. Why should he care what the peasants thought of him? He was the rightful heir to the throne, chosen by God to lead them. He smirked, allowing his arrogance to bolster his courage.

“She informed me she was unattached. How was I to know she was the visiting duke’s wife dressed in peasant rags?” Crispin dropped carelessly in the chair beside him, swinging his legs over the arm.

“Do not pretend you had no inkling as to her identity. Why must you constantly behave like a self-indulgent child?” The king leaned against his desk, arms crossed, his gaze narrowed on Crispin.

“Because I am—at least according to you.” He had grown tired of the lectures and his father’s constant ridicule.

“Crispin.” The king rubbed his forehead. “This is precisely why I sent Henry away. If you do not learn to control your baser impulses, I will be forced to cut you from your inheritance and give the crown to the next in line, your cousin Fredrick.”

His head snapped up at the mention of Henry and the implication of the king’s words.“Father, you cannot be serious. You would deny me the throne? My cousin, the bumbling fool, has neither the presence of mind nor the fortitude to rule a nation.”

The old man shook his head. “I have done all I can to lead you, to show you how to rule as a true king should, but you simply refuse to acknowledge the basic tenets of leadership.”

“I have done all you have asked of me, Father.” Crispin ground his teeth and shot to his feet, pacing the worn rug. “Surely you must see this is ridiculous.” He ran his hand through his hair tempted to tear it out in frustration.

The king’s gaze followed him. His lips pulled in a thin line and his face remained stoic. “I have tried to be a good king and father, but as of late, all my attention has been dedicated to appeasing nations you have insulted with your careless and selfish behavior. The people have suffered because of this, and I must set things to right. Unfortunately, disinheriting you may be the only course of action to ensure the safety of my people and the realm.”

“You cannot take what is mine!” Crispin’s voice rattled the ceiling timbers. “It is my birthright! I will have what is owed me.” He jabbed his finger at the king, punctuating each word.

“It was not your birthright; it was your brother’s!” His father’s restraint finally snapped like a dead branch beneath a boot.

“He is dead!”

“Crispin!”

His mother’s voice boomed behind him making him turn. She stood inside the door, her hands clasped before her. The dark blue gown emphasized the color in her cheeks and the dark auburn braid wrapped intricately around her head. The stern set of her lips and the concern in her eyes enhanced her regal bearing. Crispin cursed himself for not realizing she had entered the room, but then she made it a point to tread lightly until the opportune moment. He dropped his hand and met her gaze.

“Mother.” He greeted her with a slight bow. Fury still raged inside of him, boiling and roiling in his mind full of dark thoughts. He would definitely need a good, mindless fuck to release all this repressed anger. Maybe he would start a fight; sometimes that worked just as well. He allowed himself a small, wicked, satisfied grin.

“I know the gleam in your eyes, my son. It betrays the mischief in your mind.” She cocked her head and stepped closer to him, cupping his face with her palms.

Crispin leaned into her warm touch. Her unwavering belief in him touched his calloused heart, but it never swayed him. He stiffened and reached up to slowly draw her hands from his face.

“I appreciate your concern, Mother.” He took a measured step out of her reach. “But I am a man grown, I believe I know my own mind.”

She nodded with tears glinting in the corners of her blue eyes. “’Tis what concerns me, darling.”

The king held his hand out to her, and she joined him, leaning into her husband’s warm embrace. They formed a united front. Crispin crossed his arms, irritation flooding him.

“We are sending you on one last mission to see if you truly are ready to take your responsibilities seriously.” The king spoke with confidence and conviction. “This is your last warning. Failure will result in your banishment.”

Crispin arched his brow, silently challenging his father. “Is this the worst you can do? Banish me from my home and abrogate my God-given rights.”

“I will strip you of your title, your station, and your wealth, and cast you out of my kingdom. Then you may live as you choose. As you are right now, you are unfit to wear a crown.”

His father’s words stuck like an arrow piercing his heart. How did they expect him to change overnight? Could he even change at all? Crispin refused to let emotion creep into his expression. He affected a cold mask of indifference.

“What is this mission?” His voice remained level and calm while the storm raged in his breast.

“A taste of what you can expect if you fail.”

“I beg your pardon?” Crispin glanced between his mother and father. “What will this accomplish?”

His mother spoke this time. “You will travel within our borders, unescorted and penniless, with only the clothes on your back and the people you meet for companionship.”

“And you expect me to survive when they discover who I am?”

“You are not permitted to reveal your true identity. You are to survive using only what you bring with you as a man alone against the world.” The king’s limiting instructions seemed ludicrous.

“Father, surely you jest?” Panic crept into his chest, constricting his heart with its iron grip.

“You know I am not one for games and tricks, Crispin.” He narrowed his gaze. “Those are traits you favor. I doubt they will serve you well on your mission.”

“When may I return?”

“When you have learned what it is to lead and serve in tandem. When you realize a king has duties which lie beyond these walls and his own selfish indulgences.” The king’s voice grew more passionate with each statement. “When you fulfill your destiny and become the man I know you can be.”

Crispin’s hands clenched into fists as he listened to his father’s words. He would do what he must. Deep in the corner of his mind, he realized the futility in arguing. He was not a good man at heart and refused to conform to the mold in which his father expected him to fit. He nodded even though he burned to argue the uselessness of such a challenge.

“Yes, Sire.” His jaw clenched. If he unleashed his anger now, his father would surely banish him without a second thought. It was for the best he follow their request. “Is there anything else you require of me before I take my leave?”

“Know that we do this out of love,” his mother said softly. “Be the leader we know you were born to be.”

 With a stiff nod, Crispin turned his back on his parents and strode from the room without a backward glance. If they were so eager to be rid of him, who was he to defy their orders? He swiftly returned to his chamber and found himself alone.

The wench had gone. He cursed. Part of him had hoped to find her still wet and willing in his bed. He ran a hand over his face. The night had quickly turned sour.

He changed into sturdy traveling clothes and packed a small satchel with some essentials. He hoarded some coin, so he tucked what he could into his pocket for safekeeping. Strapping the belt around his waist, he buckled it and slid his sword into the scabbard. He tucked the daggers away, one into the sheath at his hip and the other in his boot. One could never be too prepared. Crispin headed for the door, snatching his heavy woolen cloak from the hook and draping it across his shoulders. He took one last, long glance at his warm bed and his opulent room then disappeared into the night.

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

Romantic Short: What the Darkness Proposes

As a second-place finalist in 2012’s New Year New Story Writers’ Competition, What The Darkness Proposes, by Kirsten S. Blacketer sets the stage as her first official publication. The short story was hosted on RomanticShorts.com previously. Although her writing has evolved and improved, this story showcases her improvement over the years and remains a crucial component to the foundation of her later works.

Enjoy!

What The Darkness Proposes

by Kirsten S. Blacketer

The note would do the trick. Donald Baranski was nothing if not tenacious. He slipped the folded paper into the briefcase that luckily sat open on Brad Martin’s desk. As he sauntered back to his office, he offered a wink and a smile to the secretary. She blushed prettily, but his tastes ran a little richer these days. He spied the boss’s daughter coming towards him and straightened his tie. Speak of the devil, he thought with a wicked grin.

* * * * *

Evangeline Martin walked towards her father’s office. She noticed that her father’s secretary, Miss LeDeux, gave her a jealous scowl. Then she saw her father’s partner Donald Baranski staring at her. His eyes were as dark as his mahogany-colored hair. He was a handsome man, but there was something unsettling about the way he leered at her.

Evangeline was more than the rich daddy’s girl many people believed. She prided herself on her savvy business sense and her killer shoes. Nothing else mattered to her, least of all people’s opinions. She was too busy making a name for herself in the fashion marketing industry to take time for her private life, which was sadly lacking.

Relationships were superficial. Her last boyfriend had been so obsessed with her that she found herself working longer hours and finding excuses to break their dates. When he confronted her about it, she ended the relationship. She had no friends to speak of. Men or women, it didn’t matter; they all brought drama.

If there was one thing Evangeline despised, it was drama. When it came to business, she could charm the pants off a priest. In the business world, negotiations and deals were part of a game she could easily manipulate to her advantage. But outside of these office walls, when she was merely Evangeline, not Miss Martin VP, she felt inadequate.

She shivered as she brushed past Mr. Baranski. An odor of overpowering cologne and faint cigar smoke wafted off him. “You look lovely today Miss Martin.” His voice was pleasant, but Evangeline wanted nothing more than to be away from him.

“Thank you,” she replied, smiling sweetly. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a few things to attend to.” She entered her father’s office and shut the door behind her.

Making her way to his desk, she saw her briefcase sitting on the top. Her father had given her that briefcase for Christmas last year; it was identical to his. It wasn’t the first time her father had been in such a hurry that he’d grabbed the wrong case. She smiled at the thought of her father.

She was about to close it when she saw the small folded note. Evangeline opened it and felt the blood rush to her head as she read it. The note was one sentence:

Mr. Martin. If you want continued safety for your daughter, you will meet my demands. ~ X

Blackmail? Evangeline stared at the note in horror. Her father was in meetings all afternoon, and she needed to know the meaning behind this. She would leave a message for him to meet her for dinner. He’s not telling me something. I have to know. She scrawled a quick note and left it on his desk. Then grabbing her briefcase, she returned to her office and buried herself in work, ignoring the foreboding creeping up her spine.

* * * * *

Cedric snapped his cell phone shut and placed it back in his hip holster. This job was wearing on his nerves. The rich old man was paranoid, but he paid good money to have his daughter taken care of. He had hired Cedric several weeks ago to keep a watchful eye on his protégé, his little girl.

He scoffed. Little girl, he thought, hell, she is a full-grown woman with a full-blown attitude. The first time he saw Evangeline Martin, his heart had nearly stopped. She was a looker with a mane of long black curls framing a deceptively angelic face. He knew from his research that she was a lion in this industry. Thanks to Daddy and his deep pockets, he figured.

After shadowing her for nearly three weeks, he knew everything about her. She didn’t have a social life, worked all the time, and had a sweet spot for delicately crafted expensive footwear. Tonight, he thought, as he waited outside her office building. Tonight.

* * * * *

Evangeline glared up into the evening sky. A faint glimmer of starlight beamed back, mocking her. “Freakin fantastic,” she cursed under her breath. She bent down to pick up what remained of her three-inch Manolo Blahnik heel, which was torn off her shoe and now sat lodged in a sizable crack in the sidewalk. “I just bought these yesterday!”

She jerked it free and removed both shoes, seating herself on a nearby bench. Fortunately, Evangeline always carried a pair of ballet flats in her purse; luck favors the prepared. She slipped them on and glanced around the deserted park. She knew better than to cut through here after dark. Who knows what kind of people congregate here at night? Her brain screamed to keep moving, yet her slightly swollen ankle and the torturous instruments that passed for shoes had sucked the last of her resources. The things one does for beauty.

This shoe debacle was beginning to grate her nerves anew. Rubbing her ankle, Evangeline forced herself to breathe deeply, to quell the rising tide of frustration. Could this day actually get any worse?

“Do you need help?” The velvet voice was like a caress, smoothing her ruffled feathers. Evangeline looked up, startled by the sensuality of his voice, and his sudden appearance.

“No, I’m fine,” she replied, “just broke my damn shoe.” She muttered, “Contemporary torture device,” glaring at the offending accessory. His soft chuckle caught her attention.

“What are you doing here so late?” he asked, searching her face.

A bit confused at his question, she rubbed her ankle one last time and slowly stood, stooping over to pick up her belongings. “Short cut. Bad idea,” she confessed, finally taking a full, measured look at the stranger. He was well over six feet, his body a collection of shadows here in the dimly lit park. A faint, flickering streetlamp glowed nearby, providing just enough light for her to see his face.

Sinful. That was the first word that popped into her head. The second was dangerous. A close third was delicious. All in all, he was the perfect example of the man mothers warn their daughters about. His hair glistened as he cocked his head, the streetlamps catching shades of auburn among the deep mocha coloring of his hair. A shadow of a beard sharpened the angles of his cheeks and chin, while his cool grey eyes sparked with intelligence. She was going to make sure she didn’t underestimate that.

He stood with his hands in his pockets, relaxed, watching her. “Can I walk you home?”

She heard him say it but still couldn’t believe it. She took a step back, hesitant. Her mind protested, but something about his silver tongue melted her reservations. A distant warning in her mind burned like a neon sign. It said, Be careful what the darkness proposes. There was not a doubt in her mind that he was the antithesis of light. It was as if the night amplified him in some way. She would have bet right then and there that, had she met him in the daylight, he would still be just as dangerously handsome, but without the presence the darkness gave him. She took a moment and studied his face.

He did not look like a serial killer. He did not look like anyone she had ever seen before. Evangeline prided herself on her gut instincts when it came to first impressions. In her line of work, she had to make split-second decisions sometimes moments after meeting someone for the first time. No amount of pre-introduction research could ever prepare a person for a face-to-face meeting. Everything hinged on that gut feeling. At least it did for Evangeline, and right now, it was telling her to trust him.

“I don’t normally allow handsome strangers I meet in the park to walk me home.” She smiled. “But I can make an exception.”

His eyes glimmered with amusement. They walked in the general direction of Evangeline’s apartment. She was burning with questions, but fortunately, her tongue decided to cooperate with her tonight and not blurt out the first things that popped into her mind.

“Do you make it a habit to pick up strange women in the park?” she joked.

“No.” He glanced at her. “Just you.”

“Can I ask why?”

“Sure.”

She frowned slightly. “Why did you ask to walk me home?”

“You’re going to need help.”

Evangeline froze. “What do you mean?” She took a small step away from him.

He stopped and turned to face her. “Evangeline, at some point, you’re going to need my help.”

She shook her head, the very marrow of her bones beginning to tremble. “Who are you? What do you want? And how the hell do you know my name?” The questions raged from her lips. Evangeline was two seconds from bolting into the trees if it meant she could escape this man. But part of her sanity held her fast as if that small part knew that if she tried to run, it would only make things worse.

“You have no reason to fear me.” His voice was calm and soothing.

She wanted to believe him, but the whole situation made her uncertain. The memory of the note flashed into her mind. She closed her eyes, squeezing them tight. She shook her head then opened her eyes focusing all her energy on the devastatingly handsome man watching her. “Okay, you’re seriously creeping me out. Either you start explaining or you start walking.” She pointed in the opposite direction of her apartment.

For a moment, Evangeline almost thought he was going to answer her. He took a deep breath. But just as quickly as he opened his mouth, she saw a blur as he grabbed her arm and pulled her against him. His hand had covered her mouth and his other arm held her tight. He backed swiftly and quietly into the closest copse of trees, keeping her flush against his body.

“Quiet.” He whispered the word, his breath caressing her ear.

A pair of masked men bolted into the clearing, approaching where she and the man holding her had just stood. Evangeline’s blood pounded in her ears as she watched, helpless. What have I gotten myself into? She started to struggle, but Mr. Sinful was much stronger than she had anticipated. I’m going to die. They’re going to kill me. A sob caught in the back of her throat, and she struggled to hold back the threatening tears. This is the shittiest week EVER!

The masked men looked around for a few seconds, stopping on the path where she had stood just moments before. “Where did they go?” the tall one asked.

“Damned if I know.” The shorter one spat. “You were supposed to be keeping track of her.”

“Don’t start that shit now. C’mon, we’ll get her soon enough. Let’s get out of here before anyone sees us.”

The two men jogged back the way they came. Evangeline sagged a little in his arms when she realized that he was not in league with them. As the adrenaline rush slowed, she was immediately aware of the man holding her. Aware of every solid, muscled inch. She could feel the tension and movement in every twitching muscle. He slowly lowered his hand, but he didn’t let her go.

“Th-thank you.” Her voice sounded raspy in her ears.

“You’re welcome.”

His voice was a low baritone that gave her immediately dirty thoughts. Someone just tried to attack you and your brain is in the gutter. Something about this whole situation did not sit well with her. Deep in a dark recessed part of her brain, reason was trying to shove its two cents forward.

She spun on the man holding her. “What the hell is going on?” she exploded. She looked at the stranger expectantly, but he stood staring into the dark patch of woods where the masked men had just disappeared. When no answer was forthcoming, she turned; throwing her hands up in the air, she stomped away from him. Good riddance. She chewed on her lower lip, feeling the anxiety as it began to weave through her synapses. Evangeline was tired and frustrated. She longed for nothing more than to be safely tucked behind two deadbolts and a chain, sipping a comforting cup of spiked cocoa and vegetating in front of cable reruns.

“Where are you going?”

She looked up, seeing that he had caught up with her. His eyes weren’t hard or angry, just amused. Evangeline stopped. Putting her hands on her hips, she hoped she sounded confident. “I am going home,” she snapped.

“You know you can’t do that,” was his calm reply.

“The hell I can’t.” Her patience cracked in half. “Listen, I don’t know who you are or what you want from me. But I’m about this close to losing it. I want a hot drink, an even hotter shower, and then a date with my remote. And no one, least of all you, Mr. Dark and Sinful, is going to get in my damn way.”

His laugh gave her pause. It was melodic and honest. She blinked twice, mesmerized by the sound of it. It ended on a long sigh, and then he spoke.

“Evangeline.” He paused, thoughtful, and then shook his head. “Let’s go.”

She stood there staring at his back as he walked away. “Wait, who do you think you are just barging into my life by moonlight and barking orders at me?” She caught up to him and tossed what she hoped was an intimidating glare out of the corner of her eye.

“I asked you a question,” she ground out between clenched teeth. Still nothing. She had had enough. “Alright!” She put her hand on his arm and pushed him. “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me who you are. I at least deserve to know that!”

Evangeline hadn’t even dropped her hand when suddenly he had her by the arms and spun her in front of him. His grip was hard and unyielding, but not painful. His grey eyes darkened like a storm cloud as they bore into hers. She felt as if he was reading pages torn from her soul, listing all of her deeds, and every one of her desires. She looked away, ashamed at her thoughts.

“Cedric Deveraux,” he murmured. She looked up at him again. His grip softened, his fingers released her and slowly caressed her arms as he dropped his hands. She shivered, feeling disappointed at the loss of contact.

“Come with me,” he said quietly. “I will explain everything.” The shadows danced over them as they wove through the park under lamplight and trees. Evangeline studied him from the corner of her eye.

“What kind of name is Cedric?” she asked, breaking the silence.

“A very old and distinguished one.” His answer was brisk.

“Old? How old are you Cedric?” Cedric’s silence annoyed her. She liked having all the information she wanted at her fingertips. Her nerves were already frazzled. He was just adding tinder to the fire. “I thought you were going to explain everything.”

“I am.”

“Well?”

“What?”

“I’m just trying to make conversation here unless you want to skip the foreplay.” She mentally smacked herself for using those words. His eyes caught hers and smoldered. She decided to change the subject.

“Are you a vampire?” she blurted.

He laughed.

“A warlock?” He gave her a strange look.

“Time traveler? Sorcerer? Werewolf?” she asked in quick succession. She covered her mouth, a giggle escaping her lips. “Sorry.”

“You sound amused.” He eyed her solemnly, then stopped to turn and face her. “Tell me, Evangeline, do you begin happy hour at noon or as soon as you get up?”

Her giggles stopped. “I’ll have you know I haven’t imbibed a single drop of alcohol today!”

“Yet,” he finished her thought. “Fear does that to some people. Most of the time it makes them insane, seeing things that don’t exist. You, however, use humor to cover fear. Try to pretend it’s no big deal.”

Her eyes locked onto his. She hoped he was getting her hate-filled message loud and clear. “Who are you?” She glared at him.

“I told you.”

“No,” she pressed, “I know your name. I want to know who hired you.”

“Ah, you think someone paid me to be here.” His mischievous grin deepened. “You’re right.” He began walking again.

She caught up to him. “Well, since you’re not going to tell me what I want to know and just admitted that someone paid you to be here, then go.” She pushed past him and stormed off in the direction of civilization.

“And pass up this lovely opportunity.” She could hear the amusement in his voice. Just the tenor of it made her limbs turn to jelly. “Your problems are far more complicated than just having me trailing your skirts.”

How could he be so cavalier? She was having by far the shittiest week of her life, and he waltzes in and starts barking orders. Work was an absolute nightmare. Donald had been hitting on her for weeks after Daddy had let slip about her recent breakup. Her gaze lingered on Cedric for a moment. I wonder if he’s married. Why am I even having these thoughts? Cedric was another matter altogether. Sure he was as decadent as a midnight chocolate binge, but he was dangerous. And off limits, period.

As if he read her mind, he caught up, catching her arm in his. She looked at him and his eyes flickered with an emotion that could be interpreted as either desire or intense dislike. It was hard to tell in the poorly lit park. Good, I hope he hates me. She chewed her lower lip. His eyes watched her mouth.

“What?” she snapped.

“Nothing,” he replied tersely. He took a moment and surveyed the park around them. The street was a hundred feet away. She could see the twinkle of the Starbucks and the glowing neon of Cantori’s, her favorite bar. “C’mon, let’s get a drink.”

She didn’t argue. But she vaguely remembered that she had somewhere to be. Although, right now, she didn’t want to admit to herself that she felt safer with Cedric. It’s nice not being alone.

* * * * *

Donald leaned against the tree, scowling at the couple that walked on the path no more than a stone’s throw in front of him. The tall, shadowed stranger by her side had been following Evangeline for weeks. He had thought his note might have scared the old man into locking his little girl at home. She would have been an easier target there. His frown deepened.

For far too long he had taken the old man’s lead, played second fiddle to the master. Since he won’t listen, I will remove my competition. Donald smoothed his hands over his hair and straightened his jacket. He was going to make sure Evangeline knew that her career was over, permanently.

* * * * *

This woman is a pain in the ass, Cedric thought to himself watching the sassy little brat push past him and burn a direct path to the neon-lit bar. His head cocked to the side as his eyes zeroed in on her posterior. What an ass! He shook himself mentally. This job was making him lose his mind.

Evangeline was a walking contradiction. She was smart, funny, and successful in her career. But away from the bustle of the job, she rarely left the house and never went out with anyone. Here was a sharp sophisticated business woman with every modern convenience who shunned friends and love. In Cedric’s mind, a professional life was a means to money for the relaxing comfort of a personal life. Yet from watching over her for the past three weeks, he had seen the two distinctly different sides to this beautiful woman. The VP Miss Martin who goes after what she wants and the quiet pretty Evangeline who has no idea what her heart truly desires.

Speaking to her tonight had been partly a lark. He’d toyed with the idea for days. This morning it was in his plans to run into her, get a bit closer and wedge himself into her life. All for the job, he tried to convince himself. By that afternoon he had talked himself out of it. What if the old man fires me?

He shook his head and darted across the street after her. Her glossy black curls bobbed against her shoulders as she looked back catching him off guard with a smile. She’s hot.

So what? His brain argued, trying to justify his body’s revolt. He wouldn’t admit it aloud but he was more than attracted to her. She’s a job, and that means NO TOUCHING!

Once she understood what was going on, he was sure that she would be pissed. If personal experience had taught him anything, he was prepared to take the brunt of her ire. She had a right to know the truth, even if it meant getting fired. The old man wasn’t going to like it, but Cedric was the best at what he did. To flush out this rat, he was going to need Evangeline to be on the same page with him.

He followed her into the bar and noticed her wave to the bartender, holding up two fingers. The bartender nodded. Cedric watched with mild fascination at the brass this girl had. They wove through the crowd and snagged the last booth tucked in the back corner. The bar was filled with people laughing and enjoying what was left of happy hour. In this town, every hour is happy hour, he thought.

Evangeline slid into the booth, and he sat next to her. Her green eyes sparkled as she peered sideways at him through her lashes. Cedric immediately thought of a cat with a bowl of cream. He had the feeling he had lost control of the situation the minute they’d entered the bar. The waitress stopped by long enough to deposit two highball glasses on the table, and then sauntered back off into the crowd. He sat there waiting for the green-eyed cat to pounce.

“My father hired you.”

It wasn’t a question, he knew that much. “Yes,” Cedric kept the reply short, waiting.

“Someone is blackmailing him and using me as the leverage.” She wasn’t speculating, and there wasn’t an ounce of humor in her voice.

“Yes.”

“You have no idea who it is, and you want to keep me close because it’s easier to protect me that way.”

Cedric’s brow furrowed. He was beginning to wonder how much she knew. “Yes.” Before he could ask her anything else her eyes flickered to a spot just past him.

“Oh shit,” she grumbled, and then Cedric saw the panic hit her eyes. She moved closer, turning fully towards him, and her lips connected with his. The touch sent sparks to his fingertips and toes. His arms instantly went around her, hands roaming her back. When she opened her mouth, he slipped his tongue inside touching his to hers. At that moment, he lost all coherent thought.

* * * * *

He tasted of cinnamon and home. It went to her head, making her dizzy for want of him. Kissing him had been for self-preservation, but now she completely forgot why she had done it. Her hands slipped under his wool pea coat, molding the linen of his shirt to the warm expanse of skin underneath it. He was so close and yet not close enough. She had not intended to do it, but when she touched him he felt so damn good. He growled and slipped a hand down grabbing a handful of her ass and squeezing. Her gasp made him smile against her mouth. That tiny fraction of reality reminded her why she kissed him and she opened her eyes.

The spot where Donald had been standing was now vacant. She buried her face in Cedric’s coat, too embarrassed to face him just yet. He had ceased all movement but didn’t push her away. They sat there for a moment, their breath synchronizing. She pulled away slightly and looked into his face. His eyes had deepened in color, his unshaven jaw locked. He looked as if he was waging some kind of internal battle. She waited for him to speak. He didn’t.

“Cedric,” she whispered, afraid to say anything else. She wanted to kiss him again, and that kind of thought could prove dangerous.

“What was that about?” he asked with what sounded like mild curiosity.

“I saw someone from work who I didn’t want to talk to,” she said, completely honest. “He’s an ass and has been trying to ask me out for months.” She shivered.

“So you kissed me to warn off this guy.” He sounded amused.

“Yes, is that a problem?” She pulled away from him completely, crossing her arms. He reached for his drink and took a healthy swallow. She watched him drink, the muscles in his neck moving. She licked her lips, suddenly dying of thirst.

“Who?” His question squashed her budding fantasy.

“Donald Baranski, my father’s partner.” She shivered again. “The guy might be as handsome as Brad Pitt, but he gives me the creeps.” She took a sip of her drink. “He was hanging out by Dad’s office again today. He’s forever bothering Dad, following him around the office. Typical brownnoser. He’s starting to become a pain in the ass.”

Cedric was staring at her. Evangeline smiled but he seemed to be lost in his thoughts.

“Excuse me, I need to go to the restroom.” She needed to put some distance between them. This man-made her heart and stomach want to do the fandango. A few minutes out of his presence should air the lusty thoughts swimming through her mind. She pushed past him when he stood to allow her out of the booth. When she cast a glance over her shoulder, she saw him watching her, a thoughtful smile playing on his lips, and her cheeks warmed.

Evangeline turned the corner leading towards the restrooms. She looked up as she brushed past someone. “Sorry, excuse me.”

“Now, isn’t this a surprise,” a familiar voice exclaimed. She looked up at the person she brushed past. Donald! Her heart began to race. Her brain searched for an excuse to be rid of him. “Donald, what are you doing here?” She smiled, but deep inside she was not at all happy.

“Oh, I heard you mention that this place had fantastic wings!” he said with a charming smile. She vaguely remembered mentioning it to Miss LeDeux. Of course, Donald would hear every word; he rarely missed an opportunity to loiter outside her father’s office.

“So they do.” She wished herself back to her cozy booth with Cedric.

“Oh, by the way, I have some papers you need to sign as soon as possible.”

“The Murphey contracts?”

“Yeah.” He smiled. “I know you’ve been working hard on their deal for weeks. You’ll probably want them before the weekend? They’re just in my car. Do you mind terribly?”

“Absolutely.” She needed to get that deal in ink as soon as possible. This was her biggest client to date. The sooner it was done, the better. “Where are you parked?”

“Just through there.” He gestured toward the back door. “I always park in the alley to avoid the traffic.”

Evangeline walked out into the dim alley and spied Donald’s car. She followed him. He opened the back door and pulled out a binder. As he handed it to her, the binder slipped from his hand and fell to the pavement. She bent over to pick it up. A sharp pain shot through her head. Everything went dark.

* * * * *

Cedric kept a close eye on the hallway where Evangeline had disappeared. It had only been a minute since she’d left him to go to the restroom, but a chill had settled in her absence. He looked around the bar once and then picked up his glass. Downing half the drink, his eyes settled on her briefcase. He picked it up and opened it. He sifted through the paperwork organized neatly in the manila folders, but it was the small folded note on top that caught his eye. He read it.

A wheel clicked and began to whirr in Cedric’s mind. It was another note. Just like all the other blackmail notes her father had received. God damn it all! She’d seen the note. That would explain how she knew what she did. Cedric slammed the briefcase closed and stalked off in the direction of the restrooms. He stopped in front of the women’s room and, when a petite blonde emerged, he asked her if there was anyone else inside. At her negative response, he glanced at the back door. Where was she?

He burst into the alley in time to see a black sedan disappear around the corner. A flicker of white caught his attention. A binder lay open on the pavement, its pages fluttering. He picked it up and read the name inscribed on the cover. Donald Baranski.

Cedric recognized the name. It was the man Evangeline was avoiding in the bar, her father’s partner. A thousand thoughts rushed him all at once. He knew now that she was in trouble. Baranski had been far too interested in sidling up to the boss’s daughter.

He pulled out his cell phone and dialed. “Sir, I know who has been blackmailing you.”

* * * * *

The pounding headache throbbed mercilessly. Evangeline did not open her eyes. She tried not to even breathe, for fear of making it worse. Her brain slowly began to function over the pain. She remembered nothing after the alley. Her eyes shot open. She tried to open her mouth, but it was taped. She jerked her arms and feet. But she was tied to a chair. Her eyes searched the room frantically. Her brain searched for answers.

“I’m glad to see that I didn’t kill you.” Donald’s voice floated from beside her. She struggled to turn and look at him. She froze when she felt the cool kiss of the gun barrel on her cheek. “It’s so nice to see that you have at least a hint of sense in that pretty head.” Donald’s eyes gleamed with hate as he walked into her line of vision. He leaned against the mahogany table. “This would have been much cleaner had those two idiots succeeded in the park.” He nodded toward the two thugs guarding the door. “Or at the very least at your home, had you followed your routine.”

Evangeline glared at him. He had stalked her like a predator with its prey. He’s going to kill me, her inner voice screamed.

“Your father will be so distraught over your disappearance.” His dark good looks were charmingly deceptive. Evil was oozing from his soulless eyes. Deep inside, Evangeline knew she was as good as dead.

“That old bastard should have taken the hint.” His face was thunderous as his grip on the revolver tightened. “I was more than qualified to run that company!” He tossed his arms up, waving the gun in the air. He brought it down aimed at her head. “But he chose you.”

Oh my God, he’s insane! Her eyes darted to the door praying for a miracle.

“A spoiled princess.” He seethed. “As if you could run that company!”

At the thought of her father, tears sprang to her eyes. Evangeline pushed past the horrible things Donald said. She remembered she was to have dinner with her father to talk about the note. The note! She glared at Donald. He was behind the note.

Cedric. If her father had hired Cedric, then he must know that she disappeared from the bar. But how would Cedric know she hadn’t just ditched him? Hopelessness returned. She slumped in the chair. She didn’t even know where she was. She looked around the room and saw a picture of Donald on the mantle with a pretty redhead. We must be in his apartment. But no one knew he had taken her. The tears started silently.

“Such pretty tears,” Donald droned on. “Don’t worry, I’ll try to make this as painless for you as possible. Even though you don’t deserve it.”

“Mmm mmm mrhhmph!” She swore at him, the tears blurring her eyes.

“Did you say something?” He leaned in closer. “Speak a little louder next time.” His breath was hot on her cheek. “It’s a shame you never came around. We could have had a good time.” He leaned down and his tongue touched her neck. She cringed at the contact. He brought himself eye level with her. “Such a waste of a woman,” he murmured.

Evangeline waited for the right moment. Then leaning away from him, she let the powerful thrust of her head flow from her spine as she jerked it forward cracking his skull with her own. The force threw him backward, knocking the gun from his hand, but he caught himself before he fell. He glowered at her, blood streaming from his broken nose.

“Stupid bitch!” The back of his hand collided with her face. Suddenly, his hands were around her throat, squeezing, suffocating her. As she struggled to breathe, her eyes grew heavy and she slowly felt herself giving into the darkness.

A loud crash and shouting broke through her oxygen-starved haze. She opened her eyes. Donald was standing over her, his grip released. He scooped the fallen revolver off the floor and aimed it at the man fighting the two thugs. Donald couldn’t get a clear shot, so he put the gun to Evangeline’s head.

“Stop! Or she’s dead,” he shouted over the scuffle.

She recognized Cedric as he turned to face Donald, dropping the smaller thug to the floor. The two men quickly scrambled out of the apartment. “Get your goddamn hands off of her!” Cedric growled.

Donald’s hand was steady as he shifted the gun, aiming at Cedric. “Make me,” he sneered and the gun exploded.

Evangeline’s heart stopped when she saw Cedric’s body sway from the impact. He twisted and stumbled backward, collapsing to the floor. A cry lodged in her throat. Her body thrashed as she struggled. As she twisted her legs, she felt the rope give. She pulled her foot from its bonds.

Donald took a step toward Cedric. Evangeline thrust her foot out catching his legs causing him to crash to the floor.

“Freeze! Don’t move!” She heard the command as a swarm of armed police invaded the apartment. One of them stepped toward Donald, kicking the gun from his reach. Another one told him to put his hands behind his head and began to pat him down roughly.

They led Donald from the room in handcuffs.

Evangeline felt the tug of someone releasing her from the chair. She ripped the tape from her mouth and threw herself down on her knees beside Cedric. A medic had arrived and turned him over to apply pressure to a large bloody wound in his left shoulder. Relief and concern flooded her simultaneously. She could see him struggle against the pain. Evangeline took his hand in hers, kissed it, then held it to her heart.

“Are you okay?” he asked her.

She smiled at him, tears dripping down on his hand. She leaned down and wrapped her arms around him. “Thank you.”

“For doing my job?”

“For caring enough to finish the job.”

He smiled. “I should have quit weeks ago.”

She pulled back a moment and looked at him. His eyes were dark and intense. “Why?” she asked confused.

“So I wouldn’t have felt so damn guilty about wanting to do this,” he said as his right arm came around her crushing her down against his chest and capturing her lips with his. The kiss deepened briefly and he nipped her lower lip with his teeth. She sighed, sinking into him. He broke the kiss and looked into her eyes.

“I don’t think your father would have approved of my methods, but it would have kept you close.” He smiled at her when she laughed.

“I knew my first impression of you was right,” she said still laughing.

“Do I want to know?” he asked as they lifted him onto a gurney.

“I knew you were sinfully delicious, darkness personified. You came with a warning label, Be careful what the darkness proposes.”

His wicked grin was all the encouragement she needed.

Why Historical Romance?

A lot of people ask me why I write historical romance? I never really thought about it before because my love of historical romance came naturally. My writer’s voice seemed suited to the task, and I was excited to dive into the story! It was destiny!

When I first began my publishing journey, I gravitated toward writing historical romance. Why? Well, I wish I had an easy explanation, but I don’t.

I could say I was heavily influenced by the romance novels I was reading. They had a profound impact on me. Authors like Teresa Medeiros, Julia Quinn, Elizabeth Holt, Jo Beverley, and Elizabeth Elliot. These are only a small sampling of the authors I read who influenced my writing and inspired me to pursue my own dream of becoming a published author. There are many other historical romance authors whom I adore and aspire to emulate through my own writing.

But here’s the truth. I write the stories that come to me demanding to be told. It’s as simple as that.

My first novel was a medieval adventure set on the English/Scottish border, as was the second book. Both of them were written during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). My subsequent novels followed the same historical pattern, but I couldn’t remain bound to only the medieval era. I dabbled in Prohibition-era, late-Victorian, and even Victorian steampunk.

I became a time traveler of sorts, going where the stories led me. The challenge of exploring a new era and embracing the possibilities of the time period envigorated my love of writing. Had I remained bound to one era, I would have grown stagnant and frustrated with my craft.

This inevitably led me to write contemporary romance, as well as time travel and fairy tale fantasy romance. The possibilities are endless!

While I vacillate between subgenres and different eras, there is one constant component on which you can always rely when it comes to my writing. I write romance. Period. There may be elements of other genres in my work, but it will always focus on the relationship and have an emotionally satisfying ending.

No matter the era or the subgenre, I stand by the KSB guarantee: A steamy getaway and always an HEA!

If you’re a writer, why do you write in the genre you do? If you write romance, what subgenre do you write in and why?

If you’re a reader, what makes you pick up a book? Will you follow the author no matter what they write or are you devoted to one genre/subgenre?

I have questions. Let’s chat about it! Leave your comments below.

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.