Month9Books Friday Reveal

M9B-Friday-Reveal

Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!

This week, we are revealing CHAPTER THREE of

Serpentine by Cindy Pon

presented byMonth9Books!

Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

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SERPENTINE is a sweeping fantasy set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology. Lush with details from Chinese folklore, SERPENTINE tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell.

When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time.

Vivid worldbuilding, incendiary romance, heart-pounding action, and characters that will win you over–I highly recommend Serpentine.” Cinda Williams Chima, best-selling author of the Seven Realms and Heir Chronicles fantasy novels

Serpentine is unique and surprising, with a beautifully-drawn fantasy world that sucked me right in! I love Skybright’s transformative power, and how she learns to take charge of it.” ~Kristin Cashore, NYT Bestseller of the Graceling Realm Series

Serpentine’s world oozes with lush details and rich lore, and the characters crackle with life. This is one story that you’ll want to lose yourself in.” ~ Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of Legend and The Young Elites

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Title: Serpentine
Publication date: September 8, 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Cindy Pon

Pre-order Links:

Amazon | B&N | BAM | Chapters | Indiebound | Kobo | TBD

 

excerpt

 

Chapter 3

Skybright sneaked back into the Yuan manor through the unguarded side entrance, relieved that no one saw her along the way in the dim alley. Like all matriarchs, Lady Yuan was unconcerned with the goings on of her servants—as long as they performed their duties and kept out of trouble. Skybright always had, until today. The door panels to her small quarters were wide open, but the room was empty. She quickly changed into a silk tunic and trousers in sky blue, beaded at the collar and along the sleeve edges in silver, a mark of her mistress’s favor. She plaited her thick hair into two braids and wound them tight against her neck. She hadn’t even realized that Kai Sen had seen her hair unbound until now—something saved only for a husband. Skybright snorted, and had to suppress the hysterical laughter that was rising within her. What did it matter if he had seen her hair unbound when he had already seen her unclothed? She pressed a hand to her mouth and bit the flesh of her index finger to calm herself.

Hurried footsteps and excited conversation carried to her from across the courtyard, and she ran to Zhen Ni’s quarters, pushing the panel aside without knocking. Stepping through the reception hall, she found her mistress hunched over on the platform bed, her hair in disarray. Lan had her arm wrapped around Zhen Ni and dabbed at her wet cheeks with an emerald handkerchief, a gesture both intimate and tender. Whispering soft words into Zhen Ni’s ear, Lan leaned closer till their faces were nearly touching.

“Mistress!” Skybright threw herself at Zhen Ni’s feet and knocked her forehead against the floor. “Forgive me, I didn’t mean to worry you.”
Her mistress uttered a strangled cry.

“Worry me!” Zhen Ni pressed her hands beneath Skybright’s chin and lifted it. Her mistress’s hair had been haphazardly arranged that morning, and most of it had escaped in wild wisps around her face. She hadn’t bothered with any cosmetics or accessories.

“I thought you’d been kidnapped, or ran away, or were murdered—”

“None of those.” Skybright squeezed Zhen Ni’s wrists. “I’m here. I’m well.”

Zhen Ni allowed herself one more sob and snatched the handkerchief from Lan, blowing her nose noisily. The other girl folded her hands in her lap, eyes downcast. She sat with her thigh pressed against Zhen Ni’s, and Skybright felt a sharp pang of jealousy, that Lan felt so close and comfortable with her mistress in the short time they’d known each other. Distracted, she didn’t sense Zhen Ni’s wrath until she shook Skybright hard by the shoulders.

“Where were you?”

Her mistress’s porcelain complexion was mottled.

“Where did you go?”

“I—” Skybright had never lied to her mistress before. “I must have wandered away in my sleep.”

Zhen Ni wrung the silk handkerchief, twisting it mercilessly. “You sleep walked? But you’ve never done that before. You don’t even talk in your sleep.”

Skybright bowed her head. It still ached, and she couldn’t bear seeing her mistress’s face any longer. She had to lie. A rush of dizziness seized her, and she crouched low again. The bedchamber spun in lazy circles. “I don’t feel well.”

“Skybright!” Zhen Ni slid from the edge of the bed, folding her arm around Skybright’s shoulders. “Lan, could you ask my mother to fetch Nanny Bai? Please hurry.”

She heard Lan’s retreating footsteps. Zhen Ni stroked Skybright’s hair and held her. Skybright clutched at her own tunic and leaned into her mistress, refusing to cry. Zhen Ni hadn’t put on any perfume that morning, she noticed. The jasmine would do for today, Skybright thought, once she had the chance to rearrange her mistress’s hair and pin the kingfisher hair sticks into her locks.

Yes.

The jasmine perfume would be perfect.

Skybright drifted in and out of consciousness after Zhen Ni helped her into her own bed, plumping the cushions behind her as if she were the handmaid and Skybright her mistress. Unused to being fussed over, she tried to wave her mistress away and rise, only to be pushed back against the cushions.

“Don’t be a fool, Sky. I command that you lie back and rest!”

Skybright smiled weakly at that. Zhen Ni was used to getting her way. She leaned back and closed her eyes while her mistress sat beside her.

“You like Lan,” Skybright said after a while.

There was such a long pause, she opened her eyes, wondering if Zhen Ni had not heard her. Her mistress was studying her with an unreadable expression, and Skybright had always been able to read her mistress as easily as a deck of cards. “She makes a good friend. I enjoy her company.” Zhen Ni arched her graceful neck and examined a lotus painting, avoiding eye contact in that way she did when she was being evasive. “Don’t you like her?”

“She’s nice,” Skybright said. But in truth, Skybright wasn’t used to sharing Zhen Ni’s attentions, not used to seeing her laugh and chatter so easily with another girl their age. They sat without looking at each other, and listened to the soft trickle of the waterfall from the courtyard. “I can never be a true friend to you,” Skybright whispered after a long silence. “I can only ever be your handmaid.”

“Sky!” Zhen Ni grabbed her hand. “You’re my sister, my better and kinder half.” She gripped her fingers.

“How can you say such a thing? You’re delirious!”

Lady Yuan swished in with a bustle of flowing silk panels on her beautiful dress, followed by Nanny Bai and Lan.

“Skybright! You’ve sent the household in an uproar. We’ve had servants scouring the entire village and had others going into town to search for you, twice.”

“Three times,” Zhen Ni said.

“I’m sorry, Lady Yuan. I must have wandered off in my sleep.” Skybright stared at the silk sheet embroidered with chrysanthemums. Lady Yuan stood beside the bed and touched the back of her hand to Skybright’s brow.

“Zhen Ni said you weren’t feeling well?”

“I think … I’m just overtired, Lady.”

“It isn’t—?”

“No, Lady. It isn’t that.”

Skybright had a feeling that her monthly letting would never come. Lady Yuan nodded and smoothed the stray strands of hair from Skybright’s brow. It was such an intimate, maternal gesture, one that they had never shared before, that Skybright almost cringed. Lady Yuan clapped her hands.

“Come girls, let’s leave Skybright with Nanny Bai.”

Zhen Ni gave her a hug before following her mother and Lan out into the courtyard. Skybright breathed a sigh of relief and sank into the cushions.

“What happened, child?” Nanny Bai asked. What had once been a husky voice was now coarse with age. The same voice that used to sing her to sleep on rare occasions. Nanny Bai was the closest thing she ever had to a mother.

“It’s as I said. I think I wandered off in my sleep.”

The older woman felt the pulse at her wrist and her throat, leaned closer to listen to her breathing. “You never sleep walked as a child. It’s … unusual to start so late in age.”

“Am I that old?” Skybright asked without thinking.
Nanny Bai laughed, the sound like the wind stirring brittle leaves. “Where did you go?”

“Into the forest.”

The older woman made a strange noise in her throat, catching Skybright’s attention. The lines around her old nursemaid’s eyes and along her mouth had deepened in these passing years, but her brown eyes were still as sharp as ever. She smelled of pungent herbs, as she always did—a rich, earthy bitterness.

“What is it?” Skybright whispered.

“I’ve never told anyone this, because it was your story.” Nanny Bai glanced down at her strong, able hands, though the knuckles were beginning to thicken with age. “I was the one to find you, yes. But it wasn’t at our front doorstep.”

Skybright pushed herself up. “What do you mean?”

“I found you abandoned in the forest, child.”

She shook her head in disbelief, and her old nursemaid clucked her tongue in sympathy. “It was the beginning of summer, and the weather was fine that day. I decided to go into town to pick up some medicinal herbs—Lady Yuan was so near to giving birth to our Zhen Ni.

For some reason, I was drawn to the forest, and taking my way through there.” Nanny Bai paused, lost in the past. “It was unusual, as I never walked through the forest. Not alone.”

Skybright knew it was true. Her old nursemaid seemed to avoid it, often sending Skybright into the thickets to gather wild mushrooms and plants for her, never saying why she disliked entering its cool depths.

“But that morning, something drew me.” She said again, nodding for emphasis. “And I followed the creek, not wanting to lose my way, but I heard something deep within the forest. A baby’s cry.” She closed her eyes. “I thought it was some sort of trickery—strange things can lurk among the trees—or that I had imagined it. But it didn’t cease. I tracked the sound, until I was lost in the thickets. And there you were.”

Abandoned in the forest … left to die.

“You weren’t a day old, child. And it was as if your mother had given birth to you in the wild and left you there, with your cord still attached. You weren’t covered or swaddled. It’s a wonder some wild animal didn’t come along—”

Skybright’s tears finally came, held in since the previous night, when she had slithered her way back into the forest as a monstrosity—the same forest where she had been cast aside by a mother who didn’t care if she lived.

“Dear.” Nanny Bai touched her arm. “I’m sorry to be so blunt. But I thought you should know. You understand now why I never before spoke the truth? I feared that Lady Yuan would not have wanted you if I did.” She smiled a gentle smile. “I took you home wrapped in the cloth I had intended for my herbs, and bathed you, then presented you swaddled in red satin in a pretty woven basket to the Lady.”

Skybright rubbed her face, furious with herself for crying. What was the point of wasted tears?

“You know how Lady Yuan always loves a gift well presented,” Nanny Bai said.

She laughed, even though it sounded bitter to her ears.

“Thank you, dear nanny. You saved my life.”

“Look at the lovely, capable young woman you’ve grown into, Skybright.” She patted her arm again.

“You would have made any mother proud. It’s a pity you can never wed, but Zhen Ni loves you as her own sister. Your lot in life could have been much worse.”
The older woman rose, still agile despite her age. “You’re weak from exhaustion and overexcitement. I’ll bring something to help you sleep.”

Skybright nodded. “Thank you again, Nanny Bai. And—and my mother left nothing behind at all? No memento for me?”

Her old nursemaid shook her head in regret. “Nothing. It was clear you were a newborn babe. Although … ”

Hesitant, Nanny Bai tugged at her tunic edge.

“What?” Skybright’s hands tingled, as if in warning or anticipation.

“When I washed you that first time, there were flakes stuck to you. Like scales from a fish. They were quite beautiful but … strange.”

“Like scales from a fish,” Skybright repeated dumbly.

“What color were they?”

“Crimson,” Nanny Bai said.

“They glittered like jewels in the light.”

Skybright dozed through to the next morning after taking the bitter draught Nanny Bai offered her. Zhen Ni had refused to let her return to her own quarters. In the evening, Skybright was vaguely aware of her mistress slipping into the large bed beside her. She woke with a start before dawn, her forehead covered in sweat. Terrified, she kicked her legs beneath the thin sheet, feeling her toes and her knees.

What would happen if she changed with her mistress beside her? Skybright’s throat closed at the thought. She heard Zhen Ni’s steady breathing, and slipped out of bed and into a courtyard dimly lit by starlight.

When she had shifted, it was always at nighttime—she only wished she knew what triggered it, so she could anticipate it. Could she control it somehow? Will it away when it happened? Skybright sat on the stone bench beneath a peach tree, digging her toes into the earth and enjoying its coolness.

Miiisssstress …

The hairs on Skybright’s neck rose and sharp needles danced across her scalp. The word was carried on a soft summer breeze, barely audible. Her imagination, after the past week, was getting the better of her. Huuuuungry!

Skybright leaped from the bench and whirled, turning in a circle, heart in her throat. That word had been as loud as a stone falling from the sky.

“Who is it?” she said into the night.

Another breeze rustled the leaves overhead, seeming to hold and then disperse a multitude of pleading voices.

Pleeeease…

Coooome…

A single firefly materialized in front of her, hovering before her nose. It looped three times and flew a few steps ahead. She followed the insect, past the dark quarters, along winding stone paths. If she concentrated enough, Skybright thought she could hear the murmur of a hundred voices upon the wind.

Finally, the firefly paused in front of the main gate into the manor, with its grand double doors. She unlatched the lock and pulled one door open. It groaned like a dragon disturbed in its sleep, and Skybright stepped across the threshold. The heavy door slammed shut by itself; an empty street greeted her. Their manor was not near the main road, but their street was broad enough for horses and carriages to travel through. Plum trees dotted the wide path, and she could see the neighbor’s red gate and main entrance across the way.

The firefly had vanished, and Skybright stood with her head tilted, listening.

Miiiiistress Skkkky …

Shadows darted around her, an icy wind. She clutched her bare arms with her hands. “Who are you?” she whispered into the night. The air stilled, then wavered. Images coalesced, and a group of people suddenly surrounded her. There were men and women, girls and boys, dressed in shabby clothing with dirt-smudged faces. She knew she should have been afraid, but instead, she was only curious.

They gaped at her with mournful faces, but when she tried to look at one straight on, the spirit would melt into shadow again, absorbed by moonlight. So she observed them from the corners of her eyes. At least a hundred ghosts surrounded her, and they pressed closer as one, chilling the air. Beyond them, she sensed more spirits, too tired or weak to manifest their human forms.
A man in his thirties floated forward from the rest of the pack. His cheeks were rough with facial hair, but the flesh was gone from the upper left side of his face, exposing an empty eye socket.

“Mistress Skybright. We were but humble servants, as you are—”

A chorus of voices echoed. I served Lady Pan for thirty years. I took care of the horses and dogs for the Jins.
I was a cook for the Wang family until the kitchen fire took my life.

I’m an orphan but kept my master company!
The last voice was high-pitched and cheery, and Skybright glimpsed the shadow of a boy no more than eleven years near the front of the crowd.

“What do you want from me?” she whispered.

Their response was an uproar, lifting the loose hair from her head. She staggered back from the force of their sheer need. Love. Vengeance.

My wife.

Retribution. Peace. Rest.

My Son.

Life.

Tears sprang in her eyes because, inexplicably, she knew their loss, felt their wants and desires as if they were her own.

The man who had spoken to her raised a blurry fist and snarled. The silence that followed was immediate and eerie, and her ears rang with it.

“Please, Mistress Skybright,” the man said. It seemed to take great effort for him to speak so clearly to her. Each of his sentences was followed by the restless echo of hundreds of others. “Feed us. We have no relatives left to do so. And those who remain are too poor.”

“But the Ghost Festival hasn’t started yet,” she said. They were a few days from the middle of the seventh moon, when the gates of the underworld were supposed to open for the ghosts to visit the living. The Yuan manor was already beginning to prepare elaborate feasts in remembrance of ancestors, to pay respect and symbolically feed the dead.

We escaped, followed, pushed through.

Wanting. Hunger.

“There was a breach between the realms,” the man said.

“We escaped the underworld early.”

Skybright’s skin crawled, fearful for the first time in this exchange with the dead.

“But why did you seek me out?”

Us. See you. Are us. Their crackling chants shivered across her.

“Because you’re the only one who can see us,” he said, his voice almost gentle.

“Hear us.”

“The only one … ” she repeated.

He paused. “The other one is too well protected.”

“I will. I’ll feed you and burn incense in your memory. I promise.” Skybright’s eyes swept past the hundreds of glimmering ghosts floating before her in the empty road, to the indistinct forms crouched beneath the shadows of the plum trees. “But who’s the other one?”

The man grinned, though the flesh dissolved from his mouth and chin, exposing yellow, jagged teeth. He didn’t answer her question. Instead, the spirits hissed in delight, as if in acknowledgement of who she was—what she was. One of us, they had said. Could they see the monstrous side of her so easily? As easily as she could see them, she realized. They whirled until the pins fell from her hair, freeing her locks.
Then, the air stilled, as sudden as when it erupted.
A cat yowled in terror in the distance.
She was alone.
Something bounced against the cobblestone and rolled into her bare foot. Skybright stooped to pick it up. A copper coin, hundreds of years old, tinged green with age.
A token of gratitude.

Skybright hurried toward Zhen Ni’s quarters with the small coin clenched in her hand, and made it

back right as the roosters began to crow. She almost bumped into her mistress when she entered the

reception hall. The tall girl had a lavender silk robe drawn about her.
“I was just coming to find

you.” It was clear Zhen Ni was concerned, but she withheld her reprimand.
“I needed fresh air,

mistress.”
“Look at you, wandering like a wild animal in your bare feet. Really, Sky! Do you not

want to get better?”
Skybright smiled, glad that her mistress had reprimanded her after all. It

meant things were returning to normal between them. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
Zhen Ni

pulled her into her bedchamber, and Skybright lit the giant pearl lanterns in each corner. Skybright’s

arms shook, and she did her best to steady them.
“Are you feeling better?” Zhen Ni asked.

In truth, she felt drained and wanted more than anything to crawl back into bed. Too much was

happening to her at once, all inexplicable and strange. Instead she said, “I am. And you?” She had been a

poor handmaid these past few days, and it was the only normal aspect of her life now, reassuring in its

rituals and cadence.
Her mistress unconsciously pressed a palm to her abdomen. “The worst of it

is over now … until the next moon.”
“How long do you plan on keeping this from your

mother?”
“Forever,” Zhen Ni said vehemently.
Skybright’s mouth dropped, but she clamped

it shut when her mistress shot her a challenging glare.
“My parents already have two grandsons

and a granddaughter! And another on the way. Why must I be married off as well? It’s not fair!”

Skybright stared at her fists. Her mistress sounded like a petulant child. There was nothing fair or unfair

in the way things were. Was there any point in challenging them, when in the end, a girl such as Zhen Ni

must accept her fate, no matter what? Just as Skybright must accept her own? Memories of herself in

serpent form filled her mind—how alive she had felt. She shoved them aside. There was no place for

that here.
“You’ll help me, Sky? Hide the truth from Mama?”
She led Zhen Ni to the vanity

to prepare her for the coming day. “Of course, mistress. I’ll help you for as long as you want.”

Zhen Ni grinned, her relief plain. “I’ll wear the turquoise tunic today, what do you think?”

Skybright retrieved the tunic and matching skirt from her mistress’s giant rosewood wardrobe. The color

especially complemented Zhen Ni’s ivory skin and set off her warm brown eyes. The tunic was

embroidered with golden chrysanthemums. “Is it a special occasion? Are we receiving a visitor?”

Zhen Ni’s cheeks colored, surprising Skybright.
“Not at all.” Zhen Ni brushed her own hair in long

strokes. “I just wanted to dress especially nice today, after all that’s happened this past week.”

Skybright took the brush from her and smiled. “I’ll do something fancy for your hair then, to match the

outfit.”
Zhen Ni folded her hands in her lap and Skybright saw how the flush in her cheeks

enhanced her natural beauty. Her face was more rounded, like she’d gained some weight in these past

weeks, softening her features. Her eyes shone as she watched Skybright plait her hair, and a faint smile

lifted the corners of her generous mouth. Skybright ran a cursory glance of her own reflection, noted

how her dark eyes appeared too large in her pale face, before concentrating on her mistress’s locks once

more, Zhen Ni had turned into a woman as well, seemingly overnight.
The realization struck

Skybright with a pang of fear and regret. How long could they cling to their childhoods, ignoring the fact

that they had become young women? She twisted tiny braids near the top of Zhen Ni’s head, weaving

ruby flowers in them, before winding the small braids to join her single, thicker braid.
The color of

the dazzling stones reminded her of her serpent scales, and Skybright’s hands trembled as she clipped

the final hairpin into her mistress’s hair. What would Zhen Ni think if she ever discovered the truth? How

could she possibly care for her the same? Skybright would be cast out as the cursed monster that she

was.
Zhen Ni turned her head this way and that, admiring Skybright’s handiwork. She paused

when she caught Skybright’s reflection in the mirror.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing,

mistress.” She rubbed gardenia musk against her mistress’s wrists and behind her ears. “You look

beautiful. And you haven’t even put the tunic on yet.”
Skybright helped Zhen Ni into her thin

chemise and silk shorts, then dressed her in the luxurious turquoise tunic and skirt. She drew back when

she was done, and her mistress stood in front of the mirror, smoothing the silk, making certain

everything was in place and perfect.
“I need to change, too, mistress. I’ll meet you in the main

hall?”
Zhen Ni turned, and her smile was warm. “Yes. I’ll fetch Lan on my way.”
Skybright

stopped by the kitchen before returning to her own quarters. Cook was busy preparing the morning

meal and ignored her as she collected the items she needed in a woven basket. She changed quickly in

her own bedchamber before pulling her small rosewood table outside. A narrow unused alley ran

behind her bedchamber, along the perimeter of the manor’s high stone wall. Skybright pushed the table

against it, then placed oranges and apples on a blue porcelain plate. Beside the fruit, she set down three

bowls of rice and a bamboo and bean curd dish. Cook’s famous nut cakes were her last offering. She lit

an incense stick and set a woven cover over the table.
It was a humble offering, food that servants

would be used to, except the fruit and nut cakes. Skybright bowed her head and said a prayer,

wondering how this could possibly be enough for the hundreds of lost souls she had seen.

 

The next two days, before Skybright would see Kai Sen again, passed agonizingly slow. She

accompanied Zhen Ni and Lan throughout the day, sewing and embroidering, feeding the song birds in

their gilded cages in the courtyards as well as the wild ones fluttering among the trees. On occasion,

Skybright would hear the distant gong from the monastery, and she’d always turn her head in its

direction, wondering what Kai Sen was doing in that moment.
The girls lounged now on the

covered balcony of the fish pond room. Skybright leaned over the wooden railing carved with ducks,

contemplating the clear water below. The square pond was enclosed by high walls open to the sky,

giving the young ladies sunlight yet allowing them their privacy. She couldn’t quite reach to trail her

fingers through the water as she would have liked—it was a hot day in the seventh moon. Silver and

gold fish darted below, and Skybright sang under her breath about lovers separated in the springtime.

The lattice woodwork framing the top of the balcony threw sunlit geometric patterns against the walls,

adding to the serene, dreamlike quality.
“Sing louder, Skybright,” said Zhen Ni. “Your voice is so

lovely.”
Skybright turned her head toward the two girls, and froze. Zhen Ni was nestled at Lan’s

feet, her legs tucked beneath her, leaning into Lan’s legs like a contented cat. Lan had unraveled Zhen

Ni’s thick hair, and it fell across her shoulders past her waist, its jasmine perfume scenting the air. The

girl ran a brush through her mistress’s locks, a dreamy look in her eyes. Skybright tried to choke down

the knot that had risen in her throat. No one was allowed to arrange Zhen Ni’s hair except herself, not

unless Skybright was ill.
Zhen Ni lifted her face and smiled at Skybright. “Doesn’t she have the

prettiest voice, Lan?”
Lan inclined her head, the movement like a sparrow’s, then nodded. “She

does. But she’s stopped singing.”
“Do go on, Sky. But sing something happy. About lovers who are

together, not apart and missing each other.” Zhen Ni draped an arm over Lan’s knees, a gesture that was

both familiar and affectionate.
Skybright felt as if she were missing something. As if Zhen Ni and

Lan were playing a game that she hadn’t been invited to join. Lan was a shy and demure girl, the exact

opposite of Zhen Ni. But her mistress seemed to coax Lan out, as only Zhen Ni could, eliciting rich bursts

of laughter from her. As high in station as Skybright was and as close as she was to her mistress, she was

still only a handmaid and didn’t feel comfortable chatting with Lan, befriending her. It wasn’t her

place.
Skybright lowered her chin and cleared her throat before singing again. This song was about

lovers reunited, and the endurance of their love, as certain as the changing seasons. Her voice rose,

sweet and strong, as she sang for the two girls. Skybright closed her eyes, and also sang for herself, to

try and ease the inexplicable ache in her chest. So much had changed in so few days—Skybright wasn’t

certain who she was any more. And Zhen Ni, the person who had always known her best, now knew

Skybright very little at all.
Zhen Ni and Lan clapped when Skybright finished her song, but she kept

her head bowed. Soon after, Rose and Pearl swept in bearing trays laden with tea, fruit and sweets.

Zhen Ni and Lan stood as one with identical smiles. Skybright hurried to set the plates for them and pour

the chilled jasmine tea. Her mistress winked and patted the enameled stool beside her. “You sang so

beautifully, Sky. Are you feeling back to normal?”
Nibbling on a taro rice ball without tasting it, she

forced a smile for her mistress.
Would she ever be normal again?

 

Skybright rearranged the thin sheet on her bed numerous times then opened the lattice window to

air out her stuffy bedchamber. She was supposed to meet Kai Sen tomorrow morning and had to think

of an excuse to give to Zhen Ni so she could sneak away. Her heart beat faster at the thought of him,

and she chided herself over such a pointless crush.
A shadow obscured the moonlight that had

filtered into her bedchamber, and a gust of wind stirred the crabapple trees outside. The night

whispered to her. She stepped into the courtyard, not bothering to pull a robe on over her sleep clothes.

Excited murmurs drifted from the back alley behind her chamber, and she padded toward the sound,

barefoot.
Skybright rounded the sharp corner and stopped abruptly. The narrow alley was

jammed with spirits crowding close to the makeshift altar she had made for them. They glowed, some

wavering like candle flames. She could push through their insubstantial forms if she wanted, but she

stood there, stunned that so many ghosts had filled this confined space.
The scent of sandalwood

drifted to her. She had lit another incense stick before she had gone to bed. The tall ghost who had

spoken to her hovered in front of the small table, directing each spirit as it took its turn. He saw her and

nodded with a smile, his broad face morphing into a leering skull. The other spirits seemed to sense her

with their leader’s acknowledgment.
Thank you, miiiiistress some rice wine next time are there

lychees lychees were my favorite. I miss them so.
The voice rose and melded together with others

until they were unintelligible to her.
Their leader thrust his fist in the air, and the spirits ceased

speaking as one. “Quiet. He comes.”
Who comes?
“He can force us back to the underworld

if he chooses,” the leader told the other spirits. “We must go.”
The spirits shimmered, then

extinguished into darkness. Just then, a shape rose over the manor wall, crouched at the top. The

person dangled, then dropped without sound to the ground below.
The moon was still bright,

even as it cast the back alley in shadows. Skybright dared not move, afraid this would catch the

intruder’s attention. He was dressed in black and blended with the darkness. She caught a quick glimpse

of a brow and cheekbone touched by moonlight. The intruder paused in front of the altar, examining

it.
Skybright held still, then made the smallest shift to her right, hoping to escape back around the

corner. The hidden face whipped in her direction, and within two breaths, he had shoved his hands

against her shoulders and pinned her to the wall. She opened her mouth to scream. He clamped a palm

over her lips and they stared at each other, eye to eye. Recognition dawned at the same time.

“Goddess. Is it you, Skybright?” Kai Sen asked, dropping his hands from her.
Her knees wobbled,

and he caught her by the elbow. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to see anyone.” She shivered

from the feel of his palm against the back of her arm. “What’re you doing here?” he whispered.

“Me?” She replied too loudly. “I live here! What’re you doing here?”
She could sense his surprise

despite the darkness. He released her and she leaned backward, propping herself against the wall, her

heart racing.
“I was following—” He stopped abruptly. “I thought I heard something.”
The

spirits. Kai Sen had heard the ghosts.
“But why are you so far from the monastery?” He still stood

close enough that she could feel the heat of his skin. “In the dead of night?”
He grinned

sheepishly. “You wouldn’t believe me.”
She glared at him, hoping he got the full effect, even in the

shadowed alley.
“All right. I’ve been hearing strange … noises these past few nights. Voices. They

would come and go with the wind.” Kai Sen tilted his head and studied her. His features were half

hidden, making him seem like a complete stranger. She could not make out the color of his eyes, though

she felt his gaze on her face. “I followed the voices tonight. I needed to be sure I wasn’t going mad.”
Kai Sen was the other one, she realized.
“There were hundreds of shimmering shapes, flitting

through the trees of the forest,” he said. “I thought it was a trick of the light, but the whispers sounded

like words at times. I could understand them.”
“What did they say?”
“They were … needy.

Hungry.” He paused. “You can hear them too?”
“Yes … ”
Kai Sen leaned toward her, but

seemed to catch himself, then straightened. “But how?”
Because she could turn into a serpent

demon. Because she was something of the underworld—like them. She shook her head, not able to lie

to him out loud. “What about you?”
He bowed his head and his black hair fell across his brow.

Skybright wanted to reach over and brush it back. “I wasn’t completely truthful with you when I spoke of

my parents giving me away. I’ve had a … strong intuition since I could talk. The abbot calls it

clairvoyance. My parents and the village folk thought I had been marked,” he touched his birthmark,

“because of this.” He paused, and even in the near darkness, she could see his throat work. Without

thinking, she put her hand on his arm, and she felt the tension seep from him, saw it in the way his

stance softened. “I always saw lost spirits and didn’t realize no one else could until I talked too often

about people who weren’t there. Until everyone I knew was afraid of me, including my own parents.

And every misfortune that happened, every illness, every misplaced jar or broken bowl was blamed on

me. I didn’t know. I was only six years.”
Her fingers glided down his arm and she slipped her hand

into his, gripping it. “Kai Sen. I’m so sorry.”
“Skybright … ” He tugged her gently to him. “I never

feel as if I can speak of my past with the other monks. Because of my birthmark. Because I’m different.

But with you, I … ” He didn’t finish the thought, but instead leaned in and kissed her.
It was like a

jolt, quickening her pulse. His mouth was full, firm against her own. He smelled of camphor wood and

sweat. Of boy. His tongue flicked across her lips and instinctively she opened her mouth to him. She

gasped when their tongues met. Warmth pooled in her stomach and spread, till her entire body was

roused.
Lit.
His hands had wound around her waist, sneaked under her sleep tunic so she

could feel his rough palms against her midriff. They met at the small of her back and slid upward, till his

fingers caressed her shoulder blades, and they were crushed against each other.
They kissed until

the blood roared in her ears and she felt drunk with desire. Then something ignited inside of her, that

now familiar heat, writhing through and pulsing down her legs. Terrified, she shoved his shoulders hard,

and he stumbled back, dazed.
Skybright clutched her head between tight fists, willing the blazing

heat away. Willing herself not to change. No. Not now. Not in front of Kai Sen. Her body shook with the

effort, still trembling from the kiss they had shared. Terror constricted her chest.
His thumb

stroked her cheek, and she jerked away from him.
“What was that?” She tried to catch her breath,

and the words came unevenly.
“I’ve always wondered what it was like, to kiss.” His voice sounded

low and thick.
“So you decided to experiment on the first handmaid you came across?”
The

first handmaid he came across naked in the forest.
Humiliation and anger wound tight within her,

and she welcomed the emotions. Anything to smother the heat that threatened to rise below.
Kai

Sen made a choking noise. “No. Of course not. I wanted to kiss you.” He lifted his hand to touch her

again and she slapped it aside. “I like you,” he said quietly. “I’ve seen plenty of servant girls in town,

wandering the markets. But you were the only I ever knew brave enough to climb a giant cypress to spy

on monks.” He smiled. “You’re the only one I’ve felt I could share my past with–”
“You don’t even

know me,” she said. And it felt as if her heart was shattering like brittle porcelain, because Kai Sen could

never truly know her. Not ever. “Please go.”
He took a step back, and she hated him for obeying

her. “Will you still meet me in the morning by the creek?” he asked.
She almost laughed. “Have

you found something?”
“Come and I’ll tell you.” He climbed up the manor wall with ease,

although she didn’t know how he was able to find any purchase. Crouching low at the top, his dark eyes

sought hers, before he said, “Don’t be angry, Skybright.” Kai Sen dropped noiselessly down onto the

other side of the wall. “I like you.” She heard him say again.
Then there was nothing more except

for the soft murmurs of the evening.

About-the-Author

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Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to Silver Phoenix, titled Fury of the Phoenix, was released in April 2011. Serpentine, the first title in her next Xia duology, will be published by Month9Books in September 2015. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Visit her website at www.cindypon.com.

 

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Touching Fate Cover Reveal

Touching Fate
Release Date: 10/13/15
Entangled Teen: Crave

Summary from Goodreads:

Aster Layne believes in physics, not psychics. A tarot card reading on the Ocean City Boardwalk should have been a ridiculous, just-for-fun thing. It wasn’t. Aster discovers she has a veryunscientific gift—with a simple touch of the cards, she can change a person’s fate.

Reese Van Buren is cursed. Like the kind of old-school, centuries-old curse that runs in royal families. Every firstborn son is doomed to die on his eighteenth birthday—and Reese’s is coming up fast. Bummer. He tries to distract himself from his inevitable death…only to find the one person who can save him.

Aster doesn’t know that the hot Dutch guy she’s just met needs her help–or that he’s about to die.

But worst of all…she doesn’t know that her new gift comes with dark, dark consequences that can harm everyone she loves.

About the Author

Brenda Drake, the youngest of three children, grew up an Air Force brat and the continual new kid at schooluntil her family settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Brenda’s fondest memories growing up is of hereccentric, Irish grandmother’s animated tales, which gave her a strong love for storytelling. So it was onlyfitting that she would choose to write young adult and middle grade novels with a bend toward thefantastical. When Brenda’s not writing or doing the social media thing, she’s haunting libraries, bookstores,and coffee shops or reading someplace quiet and not at all exotic (much to her disappointment).

 
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Falling for Shakespeare Cover Reveal

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Falling
for Shakespeare by Erin Butler
Published by: Swoon Romance
Publication date: September 8th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Book Summary:

Katie thought she knew where her life was going. She was dating the captain of the football team, had a BFF for life, and everyone at school wanted to be her. But then her pregnant teen sister’s pregnancy changes all that. Everyone dumps her, including her friends and boyfriend.

Hey, Katie, welcome to life at the bottom of the high school food chain. This is how the other half lives.

Then there’s Nick. He’s a straight-A student and self-professed geek who’s had a thing for her since middle school. He needs a date for the winter formal, and Katie needs something to keep her busy. Nick’s plight becomes her personal pet project. She will help him get over his insecurities and get a date. Besides, she was popular once. She knows how to get dates.

But Nick has other plans. He’s going to use these “dating” lessons as a way to win Katie’s heart.

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About the Author:

Erin Butler is lucky enough to have two jobs she truly loves. As a librarian, she gets to work with books all day long, and as an author, Erin uses her active imagination to write the kinds of books she loves to read. Young Adult and New Adult books are her favorites, but she especially fangirls over a sigh-worthy romance.

She lives in Central New York with her very understanding husband, a stepson, and doggie BFF, Maxie. Preferring to spend her time indoors reading or writing, she’ll only willingly go outside for chocolate and sunshine–in that order.

Erin is the author of BLOOD HEX, a YA paranormal novel, HOW WE LIVED, a contemporary NA novel, and the forthcoming YA contemporary romance title, FINDING MR. DARCY: HIGH SCHOOL EDITION. Find out more about her atwww.erinbutlerbooks.com or @ErinButler on Twitter!

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Nameless Cover Reveal

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Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!

This week, we are revealing CHAPTER ONE of

Nameless by Jennifer Jenkins

presented byMonth9Books!

NAMELESS is in development for film by Benderspink! That’s the same company who optioned Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen and produced the
I AM NUMBER FOUR film!

Jennifer is also one of the co-founders of Teen Author Boot Camp, and works with amazing authors like James Dashner and Brandon Sanderson to help teens master the craft or writing.

New York Times bestselling author Jessica Day George read NAMELESS and loved it!:

“Jenkins brings edge-of-your-seat adventure to this intriguing new world. I can’t wait to read more!”

Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

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Four clans have been at war for centuries: the Kodiak, the Raven, the Wolf and the Ram. Through brutal war tactics, the Ram have dominated the region, inflicting death and destruction on their neighbors.

Seventeen-year-old Zo is a Wolf and a Healer who volunteers to infiltrate the Ram as a spy on behalf of the allied clans. She offers herself as a Ram slave, joining the people who are called the “nameless.” Hers is a suicide mission – Zo’s despair after losing her parents in a Ram raid has left her seeking both revenge and an end to her own misery. But after her younger sister follows her into Rams Gate, Zo must find a way to survive her dangerous mission and keep her sister safe.

What she doesn’t expect to find is the friendship of a young Ram whose life she saves, the confusing feelings she develops for a Ram soldier, and an underground nameless insurrection. Zo learns that revenge, loyalty and love are more complicated than she ever imagined in the first installment of this two-book series.

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excerpt

Chapter 1

Zo couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t fear the Ram.
Even after the raid, when so much of her fear had turned
to hate, the fear still existed beneath. It was a foundation that
she came to rely upon. A constant.

Sleeping under a fir tree so close to Ram’s Gate went
against her very nature. While her body revolted, she couldn’t
think of a more appropriate place to be. Zo choked down the
beastly fear clawing its way up her throat and smiled like this
was just another assignment. “It’s time, Gabe.”

Her guard, Gabe, rested on soggy pine needles beside her.
His hands were tucked behind his shaggy blond head, eyes
closed in feigned sleep. He used to lay like that, with his arms
arrogantly thrown back and his chest puffed out like he owned
the world, when they were kids. The river would rush by
carrying rumors of starving clans and battles lost—heartache
that pulled tight strings of tension throughout Zo’s body—
while Gabe just laid back and chewed on a grass root.

Today, Gabe’s pretend-sleep didn’t fool Zo any more than
it ever had. They both knew he hadn’t slept soundly since
they’d left the Allied Camp a week ago. With eyes still closed,
Gabe frowned as Zo left the protection of his side to bundle her
bedroll. She crawled out from under the skirt of the enormous
fir tree. Its sweeping limbs that kissed the uneven ground had
kept them as safe as one could be in this godforsaken region.
Behind her, Gabe growled impatiently as he gathered his
things to follow.

“There’s no need to rush this.” He pushed the branch aside
and threw out his pack with more force than necessary. Zo
flinched, not used to seeing her childhood friend angry.

“You didn’t wake me for my watch again,” said Zo,
unsurprised. Ever since they’d left the Allies, Gabe had been
insanely overprotective.

“You need your sleep.”

“And you don’t?”

Gabe sighed and scooped a blob of mud from the newly
thawed earth. He frowned and smeared it along the curved
planes of Zo’s face and neck. The cool mud felt surprisingly
comforting, but it could have just been Gabe’s touch. His
capable hands shook while lines of worry deepened across his
brow.

“This won’t work.” He stopped and cupped his muddy
hand at the base of her neck, his blue eyes pleading. “You’re
too pretty. A little mud can’t change that.”

Zo yanked on the sleeve of her shirt until the seam split then
ripped and frayed the cuff of her pant legs. Young, unarmed
women just didn’t go on casual strolls through the perilous
hills of the Ram. Commander Laden said she needed to look
desperate if she wanted them to believe her story. Her lie.

As if looking desperate is hard, Zo thought.

Gabe stood a full head taller than Zo. Despite his large
frame, he could outrun a jackrabbit and his mind was just as
quick. A valuable weapon for the Allies. But with all of his
abilities, he was not the one walking into the lion’s den this
morning.

He untwisted the strap of Zo’s medical satchel and let out a
long breath before dropping his hands to his sides.

“I’ll miss you,” said Zo. Her voice carried the mechanical
cadence she’d adopted several years ago. A small part of her—
the part that wasn’t dead—hated disappointing Gabe. He’d
done so much for her and her little sister, Tess, since they’d
journeyed from the Valley of Wolves to live with Commander
Laden and the Allies.

Thinking of her wild, eight-year-old sister brought a
temporary smile to Zo’s muddied face. She couldn’t think of
Tess and not imagine her tromping through the forest trying
to catch squirrels and sneak up on rabbits. It was her second
favorite thing to do, next to following Zo around the Allied
Camp. The little tick wouldn’t take her absence well. Zo had
left a note and arranged for her care, but that didn’t mean the
kid wouldn’t be furious.

Gabe pressed his cold hands to Zo’s face and forced her to
look at him. “Come back with me, Zo. Let Commander Laden
send someone else. Someone with less to lose.”
“We’re not doing this again.” Zo pulled away. She had
begged for this mission, and she would see it through. No
matter what the cost. The Allies desperately needed information
that only she could provide, if they hoped to defeat the most
powerful military force in the region.

Gabe’s hands curled into fists. His voice rose to carry over
the wind that whipped his unruly hair. “Entering Ram’s Gate
is suicide! We don’t even know if you can get the information
Laden’s after.”

The truth was far worse than Gabe could possibly know.
He hadn’t heard what life would be like inside the Gate. They
would eventually discover her, and once they did, they’d kill
her. Plain and simple.

There were worse things a person could endure.

She’d do anything for the Cause.

“Goodbye, Gabe.” She kissed his frozen, whiskered cheek.

His hand clamped down on Zo’s wrist and he yanked her
into a fierce embrace. “I’ll be close, waiting to help you escape
the minute you send word.” He smoothed down her wild, dark
hair. “I’ll find a way to keep you safe, Zo. I swear it.”
Zo forced a hollow smile, for Gabe’s sake. “Look after
Tess. Tell her I’m doing this for her. Tell her I’m doing it for
our parents.”

She left Gabe standing frozen in the low light of morning.
After a hard climb, Zo reached the towering wall of Ram’s
Gate. The wall was comprised of redwood logs at least four
feet in diameter and fifty feet tall, bound together with heavy
rope and shaved to a point at the top. Black tar and broken
glass glimmered along the high rim of the wall to discourage
clans foolish enough to attack, and souls brave enough to dare
escape.

Zo looked right and left and saw no end to the wall through
the thick maze of aspen and evergreens. From her training with
Commander Laden, she knew the giant wall ran for miles in
each direction until it reached the cliffs that dropped off to the
freezing ocean below. Inside the wall were hundreds of acres
of farmlands, mountainous forests, and enough homes to house
thousands of Ram and the slaves they called “Nameless.”
Calmer than a sane person should be, Zo dropped to her
knees in the shadow of the ominous wall. Knowing these
might be the last free moments of her life, she allowed herself
to think about things that were normally buried deep within
her. The memory of her mother’s soft skin. The safety of her
father’s smile. Tess’ dimples and her eagerness to please,
despite her stubborn ways.

The moment was as sweet as it was brief. But it was hers.
Deep-voiced drums boomed and the enormous gate rose
inch by inch. Men shouted orders and whips cracked. Through
the gap of the slow-rising gate she saw at least forty men in
tattered animal hides with harnesses on their backs. They
slipped through mud while struggling to turn a giant wheel
connected to a thick chain to raise the gate.

The Nameless. The Ram had kept slaves for hundreds of
years, some were captured, others came willingly, while most
were born into the lowly title.

Instinct told her to run, but fear and determination kept her
frozen in place. She locked the people she loved back into the
cage that was her heart and prepared to face her enemy.
Zo pressed her nose into the icy mud in a show of
submission. The drums ceased and the silence echoed in her
chest like a painful heartbeat.

The metal of short swords clinked against armor as men
approached. She peeked up to sight of a bald leader walking
ahead of a wall of six soldiers. His cold eyes seemed too big
for his head, protuberant like those of a frog.

“Get up,” the leader commanded.

Zo climbed to her feet but kept her gaze focused on the
man’s fur-lined boots.

“State your name and clan,” he ordered.

“I am from the family Shaw of the Kodiak Clan,” Zo said,
hoping her accent would pass. The Ram had raided one of the
Kodiak settlements a few weeks earlier. Many of the women
and children whose husbands had died in the raid would
come to the Gate, choosing to offer themselves as slaves over
watching their children starve to death.

The leader circled her. “Age?”

“Seventeen.”

A few of the guards in the line exchanged words. One
laughed under his breath.

“You’re too thin to claim the Kodiak as your clan. Your
jaw is more square than round.”

The sound of a young girl’s scream saved Zo from having
to answer.

“Let me go! You’re hurting me!” the girl cried.

Zo froze. It couldn’t be …

A guard dressed in full armor carried the kicking child up
the muddy hill and dropped her at the bald leader’s feet.
Zo’s whole body went rigid as her eight-year-old sister,
Tess, scrambled up to hug her. “I’m so sorry,” Tess cried. She
must have secretly followed them from the Allies, though how
she survived the dangerous journey unnoticed was beyond Zo.

“Tess, I thought I’d lost you,” Zo stammered. She hoped
her shock registered as relief instead of panic. “Don’t say a
word,” Zo whispered in her ear as they embraced.

“Who is this child?” the frog-eyed leader asked.

“She is my sister, sir. We were separated. She found me.”

“Clearly.” He circled the girls once more then reached out
and grabbed Zo by the throat, forcing her to the ground on her
back. His lips brushed her cheek as he spoke. “How do I know
you’re not a stinking Wolf? That you’re not feeding me some
story?” His breath reeked of stale cabbage and rotten sausage.
Zo’s heels dug small trenches in the mud as she struggled
against the hand tightening around her throat. Black dots
invaded her vision.

The leader smiled and licked his lips as if she were his next
meal. “We don’t allow Wolves through the Gate.” A string of
spittle escaped his lips and landed on her cheek. “Ever.” He
released his grip and Zo gasped for air.

Tess rushed to Zo’s side, her eyes wet with tears.

“With all of the clans mixing, it’s getting harder and harder
to sort the wheat from the tares. I can’t take any chances …

” He shrugged and nodded to his guard. The men moved in,
pulling the sisters apart. Tess let out a shrill cry. A guard struck
her tiny cheek.

“Please!” Zo fought against firm hands digging into her
arms. “I come from three generations of healers. My sister is
learning too. We beg the mercy of the Ram, and pledge our
lives to your service!”

The Gate Master held up a hand, and his men threw Zo to
the ground. His round, glassy eyes stayed fixed on her as he
grunted a soft command to one of his men. The soldier nodded,
bowed, and ran back through the Gate.

“A healer, you say?” The corner of his lip pulled up to
reveal rotting teeth as he smiled. “We’ll see about that.”

about-the-author

©NicholeV Photography, LLC 2008. http://actions.nicholeV.com. This work is registered and protected under US and international copyright laws. Any violation of this copyright will be diligently prosecuted.

With her degree in History and Secondary Education, Jennifer had every intention of teaching teens to love George Washington and appreciate the finer points of ancient battle stratagem. (Seriously, she’s obsessed with ancient warfare.) However, life had different plans in store when the writing began. As a proud member of Writers Cubed, and a co-founder of the Teen Author Boot Camp, she feels blessed to be able to fulfill both her ambition to work with teens as well as write Young Adult fiction.

Jennifer has three children who are experts at naming her characters, one loving, supportive husband, a dog with little-man syndrome, and three chickens (of whom she is secretly afraid).

Visit her online at jajenkins.com

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Nora and Kettle Cover Reveal

Nora and Kettle
Release Date: 02/29/16
Clean Teen Reads
Summary from Goodreads:
What if Peter Pan was a homeless kid just trying to survive, and Wendy flew away for a really good reason?

Seventeen-year-old Kettle has had his share of adversity. As an orphaned Japanese American struggling to make a life in the aftermath of an event in history not often referred to—the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the removal of children from orphanages for having “one drop of Japanese blood in them”—things are finally looking up. He has his hideout in an abandoned subway tunnel, a job, and his gang of Lost Boys.

Desperate to run away, the world outside her oppressive brownstone calls to naïve, eighteen-year-old Nora—the privileged daughter of a controlling and violent civil rights lawyer who is building a compensation case for the interned Japanese Americans. But she is trapped, enduring abuse to protect her younger sister Frankie and wishing on the stars every night for things to change.

For months, they’ve lived side by side, their paths crossing yet never meeting. But when Nora is nearly killed and her sister taken away, their worlds collide as Kettle, grief stricken at the loss of a friend, angrily pulls Nora from her window.

In her honeyed eyes, Kettle sees sadness and suffering. In his, Nora sees the chance to take to the window and fly away.

Set in 1953, NORA AND KETTLE explores the collision of two teenagers facing extraordinary hardship. Their meeting is inevitable, devastating, and ultimately healing. Their stories, a collection of events, are each on their own harmless. But together, one after the other, they change the world. 

About the Author
Lauren Nicolle Taylor lives in the lush Adelaide Hills. The daughter of a Malaysian nuclear physicist and an Australian scientist, she was expected to follow a science career path, attending Adelaide University and completing a Health Science degree with Honours in obstetrics and gynaecology. 
 She then worked in health research for a short time before having her first child. Due to their extensive health issues, Lauren spent her twenties as a full-time mother/carer to her three children. When her family life settled down, she turned to writing. 
She is a 2014 Kindle Book Awards Semi-finalist and a USA Best Book Awards Finalist.
 
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Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!

This week, we are revealing CHAPTER TWO of

Serpentine by Cindy Pon

presented byMonth9Books!

Have you entered the pre-order giveaway yet? With each pre-order of Serpentine, you will have the chance to select one of Cindy Pon’s pieces of brush art !
You can find out more details HERE!

Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

 

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SERPENTINE is a sweeping fantasy set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology.

Lush with details from Chinese folklore, SERPENTINE tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell.

When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time.

Vivid worldbuilding, incendiary romance, heart-pounding action, and characters that will win you over–I highly recommend Serpentine.Cinda Williams Chima, best-selling author of the Seven Realms and Heir Chronicles fantasy novels

Serpentine is unique and surprising, with a beautifully-drawn fantasy world that sucked me right in! I love Skybright’s transformative power, and how she learns to take charge of it.” ~Kristin Cashore, NYT Bestseller of the Graceling Realm Series

Serpentine’s world oozes with lush details and rich lore, and the characters crackle with life. This is one story that you’ll want to lose yourself in.” ~ Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of Legend and The Young Elites

 

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Title: Serpentine
Publication date: September 8, 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Cindy Pon

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excerpt

 

Chapter 2

Skybright cradled the woven basket to her side. She had left under the pretense of going into town to buy a new silk handkerchief and pears for Zhen Ni. In truth, she had her mistress’s bed sheet, hoping to wash it at the creek.

She and Zhen Ni had shared their morning meal of rice porridge and pickles in silence. When they spoke after, it was in hushed tones. She had fetched a medicinal tea to ease her mistress’s cramps, and told everyone in the household that Zhen Ni was suffering from a headache and needed quiet and rest.

The forest towered, seemed to lean forward in greeting. Soon, she was lost in its depths, making her way down a familiar yet barely marked path to the creek. It felt good to be outside the manor, today of all days. When she had asked, Zhen Ni had described the cramps feeling as if someone squeezed her womb in a tight fist, bringing waves of aching pain like she’d never experienced. Skybright remembered the heat she had suffered the night before in her fevered dreams, as if her lower half were fracturing then melding together again.

She placed the basket on a rock and shook out the sheet, picking up the chunk of square soap. Skybright sang as she worked, enjoying the feel of sunlight on her bare neck, where her hair had been wound into two tight buns low against her nape. She scrubbed the stain out and wondered how Zhen Ni was faring right now without her, wondered when she, too, would begin her own monthly letting. A lucid image of a serpentine coil flashed in her mind—a forked tongue darting—and she winced. Skybright scoured the sheet harder, until it was spotless, her arms sore from the task.

“It’s a nice morning for song,” a soft voice said behind her—a male voice—and Skybright leaped to her feet, turning to thrust the lathered soap in front of her like a weapon.

The young man smiled. “You’re quick.” He carried a wooden staff that was taller than he was, long enough that he could whack her in the head without taking a step.

She grimaced at her soap. “You frightened me.”

“I apologize.” He inclined his head.

He wasn’t more than seventeen years, dressed in a tan sleeveless tunic that revealed wiry arms. His slender eyes were near black in color. Skybright took a small step forward. He lifted his chin, as if in challenge, and she saw the angry red mark covering his neck, like a hand had seized him by the throat, burning an imprint into his flesh.

“You’re … him,” she said.

“And you are her. The girl spying in the tree.” He laughed, and it was warm and unguarded.

“I wasn’t—” She stuttered. “I was—”

“Chasing after a lost cat?” he offered.

She smiled despite herself. Skybright had never spoken to a boy so near her own age before, other than to haggle over the price of vegetables at the market.

“I’m Kai Sen.” He half bowed, gripping his staff with both hands so it was parallel to the ground.

“Skybright.” She nodded shyly.

He pointed at her washing. “I didn’t mean to interrupt. Do you mind if I rest here a few moments?”

Skybright returned to wringing the sheet, and he sat near her by the creek’s bank. Feeling self-conscious, she was relieved that he was gazing at the water. The thick trees surrounding them made it seem as if they were the only people for several leagues. He closed his eyes and tilted his face toward the sky, seeming content. She submerged the sheet, splashing the water just to make some noise.

“So truthfully, were you spying?” Kai Sen asked, breaking the silence.

She tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “My mistress talked me into it. She’s always full of wild notions.”

“Was it worth the climb?”

“I saw you.” She wrung the sheet, then realized her simple statement could be construed another way. She wasn’t normally so coy, but he truly was the most interesting thing she had seen during her tree-climbing escapade. Mortified, she considered putting the wet sheet over her head.

His dark brows lifted, then he laughed again. She liked his laugh—so full and unrestrained.

“I hope it was an easy climb then.” He grinned at her, his fingers searching for stones near the water’s edge. His hands were broad, darkened by the sun. She shook the sheet out, draped it over a rock, and sat down beside him, the staff resting across his lap a buffer between them.

“Why do you not look like the others?” she asked.

He cast a pebble into the water, and it bounced once before sinking. “You don’t mince words.”

How was she supposed to talk to a boy? Differently somehow? She hadn’t an inkling. All Skybright knew was that his nearness unsettled her in a way that she wasn’t able to explain. “My mistress says I’m too forthright.”

He flicked a glance at her, and she remembered how he had studied her from that great distance in the immense temple square, as if he could see within her. “There’s an openness in your face, yes.” The corners of his mouth quirked upwards as he pitched another stone into the creek. “I don’t look like the others because I’m not truly a monk.”

“Ah.” She furrowed her brows, but he didn’t look at her.

“I study and train at the monastery as a monk would. But officially, the abbot won’t allow me to take my vow because of this.” He lifted his chin. The birthmark was a deep red, like nothing she had ever seen, making the parts of his throat that were flesh-colored appear exposed and vulnerable.

“It’s only a birthmark,” she said.

His smile was rueful. “My parents gave me to the monastery when I was six years because of this birthmark. They were superstitious people from a rural village and believed I was dragged by the throat into this life by the hell lord himself.”

It seemed a cruel fate, to have had parents then to lose them because of something so superficial. For the briefest moment, she wondered about her own parents, where she had come from. “But what does the abbot think?”

“I don’t know.” His head dropped, and some of his hair escaped the twine and fell across his brow. “The abbot took me in, raised me for eleven years. I’ve never asked what he truly thought.”

They sat in silence for some time, listening to the rustle of the forest, the soft stir and hum of hidden birds and creatures. She found a stone and tried to bounce it off the water, but it plopped and sank. Kai Sen’s rock followed, skipping three times before vanishing below the surface.

“And you? You’re a tree-climbing handmaid spy?”

Skybright burst into laughter, sending a bird from a nearby tree spiraling into the clear sky. She’d never laughed like that with anyone except Zhen Ni. “Something like that.”

“To be truthful, I haven’t been able to stop wondering about you. Every time I meditated, I saw an image of you perched high in that cypress tree gaping down at us.” He chuckled. “It was the most unexpected and absurd thing I’d ever seen.”

“I wasn’t gaping,” she said, indignant.

“Oh, you were gaping. Fortunate thing, too, otherwise I would have thought some goddess or nymph had descended upon—”

“There you are! I wondered where you disappeared to.” A lanky boy the same age as Kai Sen ran up to them. “You’ll get me in trouble if we don’t head back now!” The boy’s head was shaved, and he was dressed in slate blue, like all the monks she had seen the other day.

Kai Sen stood, rolling the tall staff easily from one palm to the other. “I forgot the time, talking here with Skybright.”

She scrambled to her feet, embarrassed, and the new boy gawked at her as if he’d never seen a girl before. She picked up the sheet and shook it as a distraction, enjoying the crisp snapping sound.

“Close your mouth, Han,” Kai Sen prodded him in the chest with his staff.

Han clamped his mouth shut, then grinned boyishly. “Kai has the heart of a wandering monk,” he told Skybright. “I’m always herding him back to the monastery. First time I’ve found him with a girl, though.”

Skybright suppressed a smile as she folded the sheet.

“Brother, let’s go.” Kai Sen clasped the taller boy by the shoulder. “Before you embarrass me even more.” He turned and gave her a nod. “Maybe we’ll meet again? I’ll look for you in the trees?”

She laughed, shaking her head. “I don’t think I’ll do that again.”

“That’s a pity,” Kai Sen replied, and Han tugged him by the tunic edge to go. He grinned and waved once, before disappearing into the thicket.

 

 

 

 

Skybright had taken so long that she’d missed the midday meal. Surprised not to find Zhen Ni in her quarters, she wandered through the manor until she saw everyone gathered in the main hall. The two paneled doors had been folded open, letting in the summer breeze and light. Lilies in bright yellow and orange adorned each table, scenting the air with their strong musk. The red five-sided lanterns were already lit overhead. Lady Yuan sat with Zhen Ni beside her, chatting to another woman and girl across from them.

Someone had dressed Zhen Ni in a pale pink tunic and skirt. As with all her mistress’s clothes, they were intricately beaded, befitting the family’s status and wealth as successful merchants. Skybright noticed, with annoyance, that the jewels pinned in Zhen Ni’s hair didn’t match her outfit. It must have been her stand in, Rose’s, mistake.

“There you are, Skybright,” Lady Yuan exclaimed.

The guests half-turned to glance at her. Skybright bowed her head, but not before sneaking a long look. The girl was petite, with large eyes set beneath delicate eyebrows, and a round nose over a rosebud mouth. She was not dressed as resplendently as Zhen Ni, her outfit not even rivaling Skybright’s own. Her family obviously didn’t enjoy the same stature as the Yuans.

“Lady Fei and her daughter Lan have just arrived after a long journey. Oriole is fetching us some tea. Could you go to the kitchen and ask for the custard buns and nut cakes Cook made this morning?”

Skybright retreated, and hurried toward the kitchen, weaving past the fragrant honeysuckle and quiet pavilions in the courtyards. When she arrived, she helped Cook arrange the freshly made treats on a lacquered tray inlaid with pearl, before tucking a lotus from the pond among the desserts. It would please Zhen Ni. Her trip back was at a brisk, yet careful pace.

When Skybright set the beautiful display of desserts in front of the women, Zhen Ni caught her eye and smiled, having seen the blushing pink lotus. “It matches my dress perfectly,” she said.

“Thank you, Skybright,” Lady Yuan said. “You may go now.”

But Zhen Ni grabbed Skybright’s sleeve. “Do let her stay, Mama.” She flashed her most winning smile. “Skybright should get to know Lan as well.”

“Of course.” Lady Yuan indicated the carved stool in the corner. “Join us.” She passed the desserts on cerulean plates to the guests. “Zhen Ni and Skybright are almost sisters. The goddess left Skybright at our doorstep right before Zhen Ni was born, like a gift for our youngest daughter.”

“Mama, don’t speak of Skybright as if she were a pet Chow!”

Skybright managed to smother her smile, but Lan laughed, a surprisingly rich sound coming from such a small frame, and clapped a hand over her mouth like she had surprised herself.

Lady Yuan took a long sip of tea, her bejeweled fingers holding the porcelain cup just so, before setting it down with artful grace. “It’s my fault,” she said to Lady Fei, flashing a smile at Zhen Ni. “I’ve spoiled her, even Master Yuan says so—and then he does the same!” Master Yuan was a merchant and away traveling many months out of the year, but whenever he returned, his carriage was always piled high with heaps of gifts for Zhen Ni.

“You’re truly fortunate to have four children, and three already wed.” Lady Fei nibbled on a nut cake. Lan had inherited her mother’s small, full mouth. “We’re still searching for a suitable match for our Lan.”

Skybright and Zhen Ni pointedly avoided each other’s gaze. As the women discussed betrothal gifts and the best dates to wed for their daughters, Skybright’s mind wandered back to thoughts of the stream. Of the warmth of sunlight against her skin, and Kai Sen’s laughter. Of the way he had studied her with those dark brown eyes.

 

 

 

 

The next few days passed quickly as Lan settled into her new quarters, near Zhen Ni’s. She had not come accompanied by her own handmaid, so Lady Yuan assigned a girl of fourteen years called Pearl to help her. And all the while, Skybright and Zhen Ni were on edge, frightened that their secret would be discovered somehow. Skybright went to her mistress even earlier each morning, soon after the rooster’s crow. Zhen Ni was more pale than usual, and they took great care to add color to her cheeks before she greeted anyone.

Lan’s arrival proved to be a good distraction. Zhen Ni and Lan spent their mornings gossiping and embroidering before taking a midday meal, then scattering into the gardens to sip chilled honeyed tea. Lan was better at embroidering than Zhen Ni, but Skybright’s mistress proved to be the best with composing lyrics and playing the lute. Skybright couldn’t do either very well, but had the prettiest singing voice, and was often asked to accompany Zhen Ni as she plucked at the lute strings. Rose and Pearl stayed near, fanning their mistresses, as the summer days were becoming unbearably hot.

Skybright retired exhausted in the evenings, not having given further thought to her feverish dreams from the previous week. But tonight, a familiar tingling below her waist woke her. Terrified, she reared up and grabbed at her legs. They were still there, still the same. She gave a loud sigh of relief, but even before the full exhale, her flesh began to undulate and change beneath her fingers. Bones, ligaments, and joints warped and crackled, melted away, striking with that unbearable heat.

Smooth scales rippled over her human flesh, like dragonfly wings fluttering their way from her feet to cover her abdomen. She swept both hands across her torso, the clothes having evaporated from her, and gasped. Her snake tongue darted out, oppressing her voice, and she could taste the air with it; the whiff of smoke from the snuffed lantern, the bitterness of the gardenia musk Zhen Ni had rubbed into her wrists in the morning, all tinged by the scent of her own sweat and fear.

She fell out of bed, her long serpent body slapping the ground with a loud thwack. Crawling with her hands, she pulled herself up by the window ledge and lit the lantern. She saw the thick coil that began at her waist, just as the last time—but this was no nightmare. Skybright pinched the flesh of her upper arms, her cheeks, then where her hip should be, and the end of her tail flipped, like it had a mind of its own.

“No,” she tried to say. But all that came out was a guttural rasp.

How could this be real?

To her horror, a rooster began to crow. Skybright scrambled on her hands and slid the door aside, hefting her long serpent body, which was at least four times the length of her legs, behind her. She shut the door, fighting panic. She must leave the manor. No one could see her like this—a monstrosity. What if she never changed back?

She crawled awkwardly, using her arms but beginning to push herself a little with her muscular coils. Fumbling too long with the key Zhen Ni had stolen for their escapades, Skybright thrust her way through a narrow side door used by servants and into a dark alley. She had enough wits about her to tie the string the key dangled from around her wrist. More than one rooster was now crying at the morning light in greeting, and some neighborhood dogs responded to the cacophony. In desperation, she tried to quicken her pace as she slithered toward the forest, propelling herself more and more with her serpent length. Her lungs felt as if they would burst from exertion and terror, and a sense of overwhelming grief. She sobbed, but what came out was a long hiss. The mutt that had been barking ferociously behind the neighbor’s wall quieted with a yip, then whimpered.

She had never liked that mean mutt.

The jagged line of trees was a familiar and welcome sight, and Skybright snaked toward it, unused to her lower vantage point. Her serpentine body met the ground where her hips used to be, although she found she could rise higher on her coil if she wanted to. Swallowed by darkness, she made her way between the trees, tasting the earthy tang of the forest on her tongue. The ground vibrated with life, telling her how many nocturnal creatures were still scampering to their nests, even as others were just rising for the day. No humans were nearby.

Skybright navigated with only her coils now. Each powerful thrust propelled her forward, and her speed increased as she pushed her way deeper and deeper, going further than she had ever strolled before with Zhen Ni in their explorations. It wasn’t until morning sunshine glimmered through the thick branches of the trees that she collapsed beneath one, exhausted, unable to shed the tears that weighed heavy against her heart. Why was this happening to her? Curling herself up, her serpent length wound in tight circles, the sight turning her stomach. She shut her eyes so she could no longer see it.

 

 

 

 

Skybright woke from the feel of a hand pressed against her upper arm, warm and reassuring. Groggy, she opened her eyes and squinted. Kai Sen’s concerned face filled her vision, and she bolted to a sitting position, clutching a tan tunic to herself. It was long sleeved, thank the goddess, and she tucked herself as small as she could beneath it.

He sat down across from her, allowing some distance, folding those lean arms over his knees. The tall staff he had carried before rested beside him. His chest was bare, as he had given her his tunic. “Are you all right?” he asked.

She blinked, feeling woozy. “What time is it?” Her voice sounded thick in her own ears, odd.

“A few gongs before the midday meal yet.” The gongs set the schedule at the monastery, and could often be heard as far as their manor, if she paused to listen for them.

Skybright thrust her face against her knees, which were pulled tight to her chest. Kai Sen’s tunic smelled faintly of camphor wood. The wind stirred, lifting a corner of the cloth, and she clutched her legs harder, acutely aware of her nakedness beneath. Although Skybright was glad to see Kai Sen, she wished he hadn’t discovered her, like some wild animal, naked and disoriented in the forest.

“What happened?” he asked in a quiet voice.

How could she explain this away? It was impossible. Zhen Ni would be hysterical with worry. She had never disappeared like that before. The entire staff would be out searching for her. Skybright took a deep breath that shuddered into a silent sob.

“I can’t say.” She raised her eyes and swallowed the sour taste in her mouth. “I must have wandered in my sleep.”

“I’ve sent Han back for a robe. He … didn’t see you.” Kai Sen’s gaze held steady, and she was grateful for it. “When I found you, I thought you were injured or—” he cleared his throat. “Has this happened before?”

“No,” she lied, hating the way her scalp tingled from it.

“We’re leagues from town.” He lowered his chin. “I’m only glad that I was the one to find you.”

His concern warmed her, even as she shivered beneath the thin fabric of his tunic.

“I wish I had more to offer.” He smiled, and Skybright realized with shock that she wanted to flick her tongue out, to taste the scent of him.

In that moment, someone shouted from beyond the trees, and Kai Sen leaped to his feet. “It’s Han.” He ran, faster than Skybright had seen anyone run, and disappeared among the thickets.

Skybright suddenly remembered the stories of serpent demons, always women, who would shape shift after luring victims with their beautiful faces. Zhen Ni’s sister, Min, had spoken of them. Skybright recalled how Min had widened her eyes and said in a hushed voice, “She acts the helpless maiden, but when she has you alone in the dark of night, that’s when she attacks!” Min had leaped at them, baring her teeth and hissing. “The beautiful woman changes into a giant serpent.” Min threw her arms out wide to emphasize her length. “She’ll sink her long fangs into your flesh to poison you, then swallow you whole. And the worst part? You’ll still be alive when she does it!” Min gnashed her teeth and smacked her lips. Skybright and Zhen Ni had clutched each other during the tale, squealing and giggling.

Was this what she was—a monster of folklore? How could it be possible? She tightened her arms around her knees.

Kai Sen returned with a wheat-colored monk’s robe. “It was the best Han could find,” he said apologetically. “Here.” He stuck his hand out and turned his face away to show he wasn’t looking.

But Skybright took the opportunity to do just that. His chest and torso were as muscular and lithe as his arms. She marveled at how different his body appeared compared to hers, all hard lines and angles. He was as tan as she was pale, letting her know that he often went shirtless in the sun. Kai Sen’s stance exposed his throat to her, and that strange birthmark, which seemed to have deepened to the color of plum wine this morning. Skybright resisted the urge to press her hand over it, to see if it was indeed in the exact shape of a palm. She reached for the robe instead and wrapped it around herself, tying it securely at the waist. The sleeves were too long, and the hem dragged against the ground, but she was relieved to feel the soft cotton against her skin.

“Thank you, truly. To you and Han both.”

He turned to assess her, unable to keep from grinning. “I’ve never seen a monk’s robe on someone so—” He stopped mid-sentence, and appeared flustered for the first time since they’d met. “Never on a girl before.” His smile turned lop-sided, and she wondered what he had been about to say.

“I should return to my mistress.” Skybright drew the robe tighter around herself. “She must be so worried.”

Kai Sen nodded. “Let me walk you back—”

“No, you’ve done more than enough, I couldn’t ask—”

“It would ease my own mind, Skybright. Please.”

Taking note of the unfamiliar surroundings, she said, “Then I would be grateful for your company.”

Kai Sen drew his own tunic on and tied the sash, smiling. “I promised Han I would return as soon as I took you back.”

He led the way through the trees with dexterity, knowing exactly which way to go. She followed, feeling the soft earth and pebbles beneath her bare feet. What must he think of her? The strange girl who climbed trees and wandered naked in the forest at night. Her ears burned at the thought, and she was glad he didn’t see. Some time later, he slowed and glanced her way. “You are certain you’re all right?” He paused. “Your mistress … she treats you well?”

Humiliated, she colored even more. “They’re so kind to me. Zhen Ni treats me like her own sister.”

“Good. I’m glad,” he said. “It’s just, I don’t often find beautiful girls sleeping naked in the forest.”

Her mouth dropped, then she burst into laughter when she saw the teasing slant of his gaze.

“Not that I’m complaining,” Kai Sen went on. “But the last time I was caught undressed in the forest, it was because Han had stolen my clothes from the river bank and I had to return to the monastery plastered in cypress leaves. They were prickly. And didn’t do the job well.” He cleared his throat and grinned at her.

She laughed harder. “Han didn’t!”

“Han did. Don’t worry, I got him back.” Kai Sen laughed with her, and it eased Skybright’s heart. His laughter made everything feel normal and right again. She reached overhead to grab a sprig of cypress, sweeping her palm across the needle-like leaves, trying to picture Kai Sen returning to the monastery covered in them, and chuckled again.

They strolled beneath the cool shadow of the majestic forest, and Skybright remembered how the earth vibrated and hummed with life the previous night, when it seemed she could detect every small movement and animal near her within leagues, smell and taste them on her tongue.

“Do you practice forms with the staff?” she asked.

“I do. We’re taught to use an array of weapons, but I’m most comfortable with the staff.” He spun it from one hand to the other, without thought, by reflex. He wielded it as if it were an extension of him.

“But I thought monks were against violence?”

“Fair point. The techniques and forms help strengthen us not only physically, but mentally and spiritually. And we’ve been known to take to arms and go to war to defend our kingdom in the past. Then, there are always the demons.” He said the last part with a mischievous wink, but she felt both arms prickling. “We must always be prepared.”

“Demons?” she whispered.

“From the ancient texts. The ones that roam the underworld, the ones that roam our own world.”

“Do they exist?” She shivered despite herself. Kai Sen noticed and drew closer, but she wasn’t shivering for the reasons he thought.

“I’ve not seen the like myself. But the abbot believes what the books say.”

They were now by the creek where they had met the first time, not too far from the Yuan manor. “You’ve read these books?” Skybright tried to keep her voice even.

“We study them, yes. Why?”

“I need to—” She rubbed at her throbbing temples in frustration. “Could you research something for me?”

He peered at her, his handsome face curious. “If I can. On what?”

“The serpent demon.”

Kai Sen’s eyebrows lifted.

“Do you know anything about them?” she asked.

“Not beyond the usual old wives’ tales of warning.”

They heard the distant gong from the monastery and Kai Sen whipped toward the sound, his stance as taut as a tiger about to leap. “Han’s going to kill me.”

“I can find my way back. I know where I am.”

“It’s my fault. I took my time on purpose.” He grinned. “I’ll see what I can find. When can I meet you again?”

“Back here, in three days’ time? In the morning.”

“I’ll look for you, Skybright.” Kai Sen jogged back in the direction of the still reverberating gong. “Keep safe until then.”

She waved, sorry to see him go. Skybright wasn’t certain that she could keep safe. She wasn’t certain about anything any longer.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cindy Pon

Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to Silver Phoenix, titled Fury of the Phoenix, was released in April 2011. Serpentine, the first title in her next Xia duology, will be published by Month9Books in September 2015. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Visit her website at www.cindypon.com.

 

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Friday Reveal: Into The Dark by Caroline Patti

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Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!

This week, we are revealing the cover AND Chapter One of

Into The Dark by Caroline Patti!

Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

IntoTheDark_eCover1800x2700

A girl’s sweet sixteen party is supposed to be among the most memorable events of her life. But on the night of hers, Mercy Clare wakes in the waiting room of a hospital with no memory of how she got there. To make matters worse, she’s wearing something she’d never be caught dead in: her best friend Lyla’s clothes.

Mercy’s nightmare is just beginning. The doctor arrives to tell her that it’s she who lies in the hospital bed waiting to die. A trip to the bathroom confirms Mercy’s fears, as Lyla’s face stares back at her and Lyla’s curvy figure pokes through her tight clothes.

But finding out what’s really going on won’t be easy. Because if Mercy wants her body back, it might just cost her Lyla’s life.

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Title: Into the Dark
Publication date: August 18, 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Caroline Patti

Amazon | Kobo | ibooks | Google Play

Excerpt

Chapter One

Mercy

A TV, bolted high on the wall, buzzes in the background, the faint sound of the local news reporter’s

voice robotically reciting the events of the evening. “One dead and another in critical condition … ”

The waiting room is empty of people. Plastic chairs line the walls. Magazines are strewn about. How

did I get here?

The news reporter continues to speak. “What appears to be a suicide occurred tonight in the alley

behind local watering hole, Wally’s Pub. Closed for a private party, owner Kate McCrimons had no

comment on tonight’s event. Relatives of the victim, high school teacher Matteo Andreas, were not

available for comment.”

It’s all coming back to me now. The party. The alley. Seeing Mr. Andreas with the gun in his mouth.

Oh God.

“Hey, you’re awake.” Jay stands before me holding two coffee cups.

“Did you bring me here?” I rub my temples with the palm of my hand. My head is pounding.

“You don’t remember?” Jay’s eyes narrow and tiny creases indent his furrowed brow. He doesn’t

look at all like his normal goofy self. His brown eyes are concerned and focused intently on me.

I close my eyes and hold my head in my hands. “I feel sick.”

“Kate is on her way,” Jay continues. He sits down next to me and sets the cups on the table. “Just a

warning, she’s pretty freaked out.”

Tiny waves of nausea roll in my stomach. My mouth is dry and parched. “I’m gonna throw up.”

“Shit.” Jay jumps from the chair. I can hear him scrambling around the room. The noise is making me

feel worse.

Something bangs into my legs. I open my eyes just a little to see a garbage can. Jay sits back down

next to me and holds my hair back as the contents of my stomach empty. My stomach clenches as I grip

the sides of the can. I hate throwing up. I hate the convulsions, the acid taste that fills my mouth, and

the way a single strand of spittle dangles from my lip like I’m a drooling dog. Luckily, this is happening in

front of Jay so it’s only moderately mortifying. Having known him all my life, he’s seen all sides of me:

the good, the bad, and the worse.

“Here.” Jay slips a napkin into my hands. He rubs my back lightly. “Should I get a doctor?”

Jay kisses the top of my head and I flinch. My head snaps up too quickly and I stare at him while the

room around me sways. “What are you doing?” I have to close my eyes again as another wave of sick

crashes over me.

He takes his hands off me. “What?”

“Why’d you kiss me?” I peer at him sideways.

“I’m sorry.” He says it like a question, and then he looks at me like I’m nuts. “I was just trying to

make you feel better, Ly.”

“Okay, but … ”

He called me Ly. As in Lyla. My best friend Lyla. “Why are you calling me Ly?” My pounding head

cannot take this conversation.

“That’s what I always call you.” Jay shakes his head. His mop of curls swishes along his forehead. He

brushes it out of his eyes by raking his hands through his hair. “How much did you drink tonight?”

I’m not quite sure.

The smell of my own sick is singeing my nostrils so even though it makes the room spin, I raise my

head to look at him. A few strands of long, dark hair fall across my face. Hesitantly, I reach up and pull a

clump around so I can see it better. My eyes cross as I stare at the nearly black hair. What the hell?

Frantically, I pick at it, like an addict with a fixation.

“Lyla, what are you doing?” Jay asks.

I drop the pieces of hair and smooth them back. “Nothing.”

“You’re acting really weird.”

I’m acting weird? He’s the one who keeps calling me Lyla for God’s sake!

“Here you guys are!” Lyla’s older sister, Kate, speaks with an exasperated tone. “I’ve been looking

everywhere for you. There’s like sixty waiting rooms in this place.” She takes one look at the garbage in

front of me and exhales, annoyed. Being a bar owner means Kate has plenty of experience with

vomit.

“You okay?”

Slowly, I nod as I slide the can away from me with my feet. She sits in a chair just across from us. “I

brought you some clothes.” She holds out a brown paper bag to me and waits for me take it.

“Don’t give me any grief about what I picked. I was in a hurry.” Kate’s appearance is frazzled. Deep

brown curls spill forth from the messy bun of hair piled on top of her head. Her feet jiggle up and down.

Kate always fidgets when she’s nervous.

In the bag I find Lyla’s “Crazy for Cupcakes” tee, a pair of jeans, and some flip-flops. Why did Kate

bring me Lyla’s clothes?

“Do we know anything?” Kate asks.

“No,” Jay tells her. “We’re still waiting for the doctor.”

“Is Eric here yet?” Kate asks about my dad.

“Not yet,” Jay answers.

My dad is on his way. Relief sinks in knowing that in a few minutes I’ll be able to hug him and he’ll

make everything okay again.

“You want some coffee?” Jay reaches for the cup and holds it out to Kate. He gestures toward me as

he says, “I got it for Ly, but I don’t think she wants it.”

I do not. I hate coffee.

“Sure.” Kate takes the cup and sips slowly. She gives me a reproachful look when she says, “You

drink too much coffee as it is.”

I start to protest, to tell them both that it’s Lyla, not me, who insists on stopping every morning at

Peet’s, but Kate quickly adds, “Well, go change. This isn’t exactly the place for heels and cleavage.”

Cleavage? I look down and see what she means. I’m busting out of the seams! This isn’t my dress.

This is Lyla’s dress. I would never wear a dress like this. For one thing, it’s pink. And it looks like dip-dyed

ace bandages wrapped around my body. I hold the bag close to my chest hoping to conceal my heaving

flesh. Wait. I don’t have heaving flesh. And I don’t have raven hair. Something is very, very wrong.

“Okay.” As I stand to go, I teeter on Lyla’s five-inch stilettos. Jay catches my elbow and steadies

me.

“You need some help?” he offers.

“I got it.” I think. I cannot get away from them fast enough.

Not only do I feel like I’m going to vomit again, but I also feel like I’m having a mental breakdown.

My hair is a different color. My breasts are like cantaloupes. I’m not wearing my own clothes. I swallow

hard to push down the panic and a touch of bile.

Kate eyes me suspiciously. “Do you want me to come with you, just in case? You don’t look so

good.”

“I’ll be fine,” I say, hoping to reassure both her and myself. I don’t have much confidence that I can

walk far in Lyla’s shoes. For a split second I think about going barefoot, but decide against it. Luckily, it

turns out the bathroom is just across the hall.
Lyla’s dress clings to me like Saran Wrap. I must look

like Bambi learning to walk as I concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. The carpet of the

waiting room isn’t that treacherous, but the slick, overly polished hallway isn’t as forgiving. My left ankle

rolls and I stumble just as I reached the bathroom door. Damn!

The bathroom is dark. I flip the wall switch and the light flickers, groans, and burns nearly out,

casting a ghoulish yellow glow of light over the room. “Great.”

I grope my way toward the sink. It is then that my eyes adjust to the dark, and for the first time I see

my reflection. Only it isn’t my face peering back at me. It’s Lyla’s, my best friend since the third grade.

Leaning in closer, I stare, mouth agape, into the mirror. Her blue eyes are rimmed with multiple coats of

black eyeliner. The red of her lipstick is faded, leaving her lips with only a hint of berry stain. My hands

explore, skimming the sides of her cheek, hoping, praying that at any second the illusion will shatter.

Despite my desperate hopes, the reflection never morphs from Lyla’s into mine.

I rack my brain trying to piece together everything that happened tonight. It’s my birthday I suddenly

remember. We were having a party at Kate’s bar. A party I didn’t want. Lyla had talked Gage into being

my date. Well, more like forced. But we were having a good time. He’s really nice. I went outside; I

remember that part. And my teacher was there, that letch Mr. Andreas, and he grabbed me. He kept

saying all this weird stuff to me and I tried to get away and that’s when Gage came out and started

yelling at him. Mr. Andreas had a gun. And he … and he …

I remember the sound of the gun going off, and the brief second of relief I felt when I realized he

hadn’t shot Gage. But then I saw all the blood. There was so much blood.

I stagger backward knocking into the stall door. It swings open and I drop to my knees over the

toilet. I heave and heave, but nothing comes up. I curl into a sitting position. My fingers knot into my

hair.

When I finally stand up, I expect—okay hope—that everything will have returned to normal, that I’ll

be me again, and that seeing Lyla was just some sort of weird post-traumatic stress thing. But when I

look in the mirror, I don’t see me. I see her.

This isn’t possible. There’s no way. I must be dreaming.

That’s the only explanation. This is just a dream. A very strange, twisted dream.

But it isn’t a dream. I press my hand to the mirror. It’s solid. It’s real. This is really happening.

“Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!” I curse as the mother of all freak-outs rumbles inside me. What am I

supposed to do now?

 

About-the-Author

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Caroline T Patti is the author of The World Spins Madly On and Too Late To Apologize. When she’s not writing, she’s a school librarian, mother of two, wife, avid reader and Green Bay Packer fan. You can chat with her on Twitter:@carepatti or find her on Facebook.

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Friday Cover Reveal: Jennifer Jenkins’ and Ciny Pon’s ALA Appearance

Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!

This week, we are featuring

Jennifer Jenkins and Cindy Pon

who will be appearing and signing at ALA!

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Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

 

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Four clans have been at war for centuries: the Kodiak, the Raven, the Wolf and the Ram. Through brutal war tactics, the Ram have dominated the region, inflicting death and destruction on their neighbors.

Seventeen-year-old Zo is a Wolf and a Healer who volunteers to infiltrate the Ram as a spy on behalf of the allied clans. She offers herself as a Ram slave, joining the people who are called the “nameless.” Hers is a suicide mission – Zo’s despair after losing her parents in a Ram raid has left her seeking both revenge and an end to her own misery. But after her younger sister follows her into Rams Gate, Zo must find a way to survive her dangerous mission and keep her sister safe.

What she doesn’t expect to find is the friendship of a young Ram whose life she saves, the confusing feelings she develops for a Ram soldier, and an underground nameless insurrection. Zo learns that revenge, loyalty and love are more complicated than she ever imagined in the first installment of this two-book series.

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©NicholeV Photography, LLC 2008. http://actions.nicholeV.com. This work is registered and protected under US and international copyright laws. Any violation of this copyright will be diligently prosecuted.

With her degree in History and Secondary Education, Jennifer had every intention of teaching teens to love George Washington and appreciate the finer points of ancient battle stratagem. (Seriously, she’s obsessed with ancient warfare.) However, life had different plans in store when the writing began. As a proud member of Writers Cubed, and a co-founder of the Teen Author Boot Camp, she feels blessed to be able to fulfill both her ambition to work with teens as well as write Young Adult fiction.

Jennifer has three children who are experts at naming her characters, one loving, supportive husband, a dog with little-man syndrome, and three chickens (of whom she is secretly afraid).

Visit her online at jajenkins.com

Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest | Instagram

SerpentineEbook

SERPENTINE is a sweeping fantasy set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology.

Lush with details from Chinese folklore, SERPENTINE tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell.

When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time.

“Vivid worldbuilding, incendiary romance, heart-pounding action, and characters that will win you over–I highly recommend Serpentine.” Cinda Williams Chima, best-selling author of the Seven Realms and Heir Chronicles fantasy novels

“Serpentine is unique and surprising, with a beautifully-drawn fantasy world that sucked me right in! I love Skybright’s transformative power, and how she learns to take charge of it.” ~Kristin Cashore, NYT Bestseller of the Graceling Realm Series

“Serpentine’s world oozes with lush details and rich lore, and the characters crackle with life. This is one story that you’ll want to lose yourself in.” ~ Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of Legend and The Young Elites

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Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to Silver Phoenix, titled Fury of the Phoenix, was released in April 2011. Serpentine, the first title in her next Xia duology, will be published by Month9Books in September 2015. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Visit her website at www.cindypon.com.

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Will Choose Cover Reveal

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Will Choose by Laura Catherine
(Djinn #1.5)
Publication date: July 27th 2015
Genres: Paranormal Romance, Young Adult

Synopsis:

Will loves Kyra, but he know he can never be with her. He is Guardjinn and she is Djinn. Their love is forbidden.
He has a duty to his people. Will is a palace guard and after the Blooders attacked he is needed more than ever.
Will knows he should stay away from Kyra, but then why does he keep ending up at her house, watching her from a distance?

A choice is coming.
What will Will choose?
Love or duty?

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About the Author:

Laura Catherine is Young Adult author focusing on Paranormal Romance, Dystopia, and Fantasy.

She writes stories full of action, secrets, and magic. She loves creating worlds where anything is possible and everyone has a story to tell. She has an over-active imagination, spends a lot of her time daydreaming, and wishes pokemon were real so she would have one.

Laura Catherine lives in Melbourne, Australia.

 

Author Links:

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Unexpected Cover Reveal

 

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Unexpected

by Lilly Avalon

Release Date: 07/21/15

New Adult/Standalone

Summary from Goodreads:

Ever had one of those days? Alina Lyons is having one. Everything keeps falling apart and going wrong. Just when she thinks it couldn’t get worse, it does. After a case of mistaken identity and a broken heart, she finds herself questioning the things she thought she knew. She wonders who she can turn to or trust anymore.

An unlikely bond with her former best friend’s ex, Ryan Wilcox, sends her life in a new direction. He offers her a place to stay while she gets her life back on track. His friendship is exactly what she’s been missing—what she’s been needing. Alina’s never felt this alive. As time goes by, the dynamic of their relationship becomes more than either of them expected. A few innocent kisses could lead them in a new direction, but are they prepared for what’s on the other side?

Only one way to find out.

*Unexpected is a standalone new adult novel*

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About the Author

Lilly Avalon is the author of the RESIST series as well as other erotic romances. She’s somewhere in the midst of her twenties and lives mostly in the stories in her head. When she’s not enveloped in the worlds she creates, she’s out in the real world making stories happen. That or reading other romances. It’s a toss-up.

 

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