Release Day: DEAREST LOVE

Beau and Lily’s story is now available in all eBook stores worldwide! If you’re following the Rebel Court series, this is part two of the seven-novella series based on Snow White’s seven allies. These are definitely romances, and definitely with a LOT of steamy content. You also get bits and pieces of Snow White’s story through these novellas, which may or may not lead to Snow’s own story in her own book at the conclusion of this series. 😉

If you already know what this one is all about, here are the links to buy the novella at your favorite store:

Smashwords | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | Other

If you’re unsure, or want to know more, read the first chapter below!

Chapter 1

Ten years ago, somewhere in the Elderwood…

Just a few more minutes. Dammit! Another candle burned down, turning the cavern pitch-black. And they didn’t have any more.

Beau breathed in deeply to stave off panic. Their main supply lines had been severed, but the Rebels had others; they just took a little longer to deliver, that was all. Another shipment would be delivered any day now, he was sure of it.

Careful not to disturb the map he’d been drawing on, Beau stood, rounded the desk, and shuffled out into the main tunnel.

Blessed light. This cave system used to be a diamond mine. Now it served as the Rebels’ stronghold and base of operations, and the nineteen-year-old Beau, as their master strategist, had been tucked all the way in the farthest reach of the most convoluted tunnel for safe keeping. After Snow White herself, Beau was the most important person in this war.

He emerged into the main cave—a massive, natural cathedral currently housing the bulk of their meager supplies and a handful of foot soldiers passing through to give their progress reports to Snow. Here, several small campfires and three great fairy light orbs banished the shadows, but what they illuminated was almost worse than the darkness: gaunt bodies, harried faces, haunted eyes.

Beau walked among them, taking note of every shaking hand and every unshed tear. Darius and Sebastian were sitting together near the back, resting after a successful defense campaign. Graeme, standing guard at the mouth of the cave, wore a slightly darker scowl than usual. With Saxon down for the count and Haig gone, Graeme had first, second, and third watch until someone else could relieve him—

“Boo!”

Startled, Beau looked down at the girl who’d just snuck up on him. Her big, blue eyes gleamed bright in her sooty face as she grinned at him as if she’d just won a game of hide-and-seek. “What are you doing here?” he demanded, doing his best to look tall and intimidating.

The infuriating brat giggled. “What are you doing here? I thought you weren’t allowed to come out of your cave.”

Beau scowled. “That’s what you get for eavesdropping. Half the story and no context to understand what you’re talking about. Go away, Lily. I don’t have time for you right now.”

Lily’s smile dropped. “I’m sorry.” Then she turned on her heels to shuffle away, dragging her feet to add to his guilt.

He sighed. “Wait.”

Lily stopped, turned back around, but didn’t raise her head. Her flaming red curls, even tousled and tangled, shone like copper around her. At fourteen, she already had the makings of an unparalleled beauty, and Beau pitied every man who took a fancy to her. Lily would play them like a fiddle and send them packing after she was done.

“Why are you out here?” he asked. “Is something wrong?” Miss Kiki and her girls were rescues from a fire Zorana’s troops had set to the brothels in Kesteran. They’d lost their home and place of business, but had escaped with their lives and dignities, which was more than others had. Yet even with Snow White assuring the women they were safe here, Miss Kiki didn’t want any of her girls around the men, especially her too-young niece, Lily.

Lily hitched her bony shoulders up to her ears. “No one wants to talk to me in there. They think I’m too young for them to tell me what’s going on, but I still hear them whispering about it. I thought… Well, I hoped…” Pushing her hair out of her face, she gazed up at him. “You’re the closest to my age here. I know you’re super busy and all but…” She stared helplessly, at a loss for words. Then, seeming to light on an idea, she fumbled in her pockets and pulled out a pair of wooden dice so old their dots were almost completely rubbed off. “I have these! Will you play with me? Please?”

Beau looked from the sorry state of those dice—probably shaved to rig the game—to her pathetically hopeful expression. Without more candles, he couldn’t do any proper work, anyway. What harm could it do to play dice for a little while? “I suppose I can spare a few minutes.”

The radiant smile Lily gave him all but broke his heart. She grabbed his hand and tugged him to a secluded outcropping with a patch of smooth floor to play on. After yanking him down to sit beside her, she placed the dice in his hand. “You go first.”

“You’ll lose,” he warned. “Are you ready for that?”

She scoffed. “Sweetheart, I was born ready.”

He laughed and threw the dice.

They played until his ass hurt and his legs went numb. For hours, the two of them bounced a pair of decidedly shady dice against the cave wall, making outrageous wagers neither of them could ever cover: money, jewels, lumber, raw magic wells. And for those few hours, Beau felt neither poor, nor scared, nor tired.

“Your turn,” he said, his face hurting from grinning more than he had in the last year and a half. “Three Clydesdales and a milking goat says you can’t roll a seven.”

Lily rattled the dice in her hand, considering the wall with the intensity of someone staring down an opponent on a dueling field.

“Well? Do you take the bet?”

“I don’t have horses, or goats.”

He shrugged. “Bet something else, then.”

With a quicksilver glance sideways, she threw the dice, declaring, “I’ll wager a kiss.”

Beau had barely registered the words before the dice settled. A two and a six. She’d lost.

They stared in silence at the faded black dots as the cave got dimmer, hotter. And the silence stretched on, getting more awkward by the second. Say something! he thought as he slowly collected the dice. Say it’s getting late and you have work to do. Laugh it off and say you’ll collect that kiss when she grows up. No, too dangerous. Say—

Lily’s cool hand touched his cheek, turned his face toward her, and then she pressed her lips to his. Beau sat frozen, hands curled into fists on the cold cave floor while his face burned. He wasn’t breathing. Should he be breathing? Should he kiss her back? She was just a kid, for crying out loud!

Lily spared him additional embarrassment when she let go of him and drew back. Gods, he almost followed. What was wrong with him? She searched his gaze, then blushed and gave him a shy little smile so unlike her exuberant grins it felt like a punch in the gut. “Thanks for playing with me,” she said, then pushed to her feet and ran off, leaving the dice behind.

He was still staring into the dark tunnel where she’d disappeared when Graeme shouted for help from the cave entrance. Swiftly pocketing the dice, he hobbled over to see what happened.

Graeme half-dragged, half-carried a bloodied Haig through the cave, yelling at the crowd to part. Holy gods…

“Make way! Move!” Beau hurried ahead, pushing people aside to clear the tunnel to Declan’s infirmary. He spared Snow a grave look, but she couldn’t leave the troops in the middle of their reports, not even for one of her Rebel Seven.

Once they made it to the infirmary, Graeme helped Haig onto a cot, careful of the bleeding cuts all over his back. “What the hell happened to you, man?” he growled.

“Ambush,” Haig said, wincing as Declan rolled him to lie on his front and tore off the bloodied shirt to reveal long gashes so deep Beau could see glimpses of bones.

His stomach dropped, knees weakening. “What ambush? Where were you?” He hadn’t ordered any actions in days; they’d lost too many men in the last one and he’d needed time to strategize their next attack.

Haig turned his head to look at him. “Don’ worry ’bout it,” he said, then moaned in pain when Declan began to wipe away blood from the few patches of unharmed skin he still had. “My fault. Got cocky. But it’s done. Mission accomplished, like I promised.” He was shaking, his teeth chattering.

Then his words registered, and Beau shared a confused look with Declan. “What mission?” Beau asked. Had he missed something?

Haig tried to roll his shoulder and ended up hissing in pain and biting down so hard on his own arm he drew blood.

In an instant, Declan went into full-on healer mode. “Everyone out. I need room to work.”

Graeme dragged Beau out of the infirmary by his sleeve. “Think long and hard,” he snarled. “What did you do? Where did you send him?”

“I…didn’t,” Beau replied numbly.

“He said something about the supply lines when he showed up.”

Beau shook his head. Trying to figure out what possible reason he might have had to send Haig out alone, all he could think of were maps. Supply lines severed, one after the other. Strategic hits that must have been planned out with meticulous care, well ahead of time.

Had he suspected another mastermind in Zorana’s forces?

He couldn’t remember!

Graeme’s ominous scowl cleared slightly as he sighed. “Look, I know you didn’t do it on purpose. We’ve been putting a lot on your shoulders—we’re all counting on you to think us out of this mess, and it isn’t fair. You’re just a kid, for fuck’s sake. You should be chasing pretty girls and playing dice, not wasting away in a fucking burrow. So I get it, okay? We all slip. We all make mistakes. But we can’t afford them from you. If you fuck up, we all die. Understand?”

Beau nodded, staring at the far wall, only half-hearing the words as he kept slamming against the same dead end in his own reasoning: Why would he have ordered Haig out on assignment? Why?

“Graeme,” Declan said from the doorway. “Haig wants to talk to Beau.”

“He should be out cold by now,” Graeme snapped. “Didn’t you sedate him?”

“I tried,” the Ravenskin healer replied evenly. “He insists on speaking to Beau first.”

All three of them returned to Haig’s bedside. Haig’s eyes were half closed and unfocused, his hands loose over his head. Declan had covered his back with a light sheet of bandage that was already soaked red with blood. Looking at him, Beau was terrified Haig wouldn’t make it through the night.

After an encouraging nod from Declan, Beau sank to his haunches to put himself in Haig’s line of vision. “Hey, man,” he said as calmly as he could.

Haig blinked. “Hey, kid. How’re ya doin’?”

“Better than you. What happened?”

Haig winced, sucking in a pained breath. “Bastard had assassins guarding him. Six of ’em. Shoulda seen that coming.”

“Who are you talking about?”

“Shoulda retreated when they came out. Had a way out, but…woulda lost…surprise. Had to get it done. No matter the cost.”

The words chilled Beau to the bone. “If the cost is your life, it fucking matters!”

Haig choked out a chuckle. “That’s cute, kid, really. Listen. ’m ’bout to pass out here in a second but…tell the Network: Strike now. Strike hard. Get out…quick…” His eyes closed and his mouth went slack.

“It’s okay,” Declan assured them. “He’s just sleeping. He’ll be fine once I close the wounds, but he’ll hurt like hell for a while. We’re down one man for the time being.”

Beau pushed to his feet to find Graeme frowning at him. “Didn’t you say last week you were waiting for an opportunity to strike at Zorana’s spies?”

Beau nodded. “I seem to recall I had a plan in mind, but I can’t remember what it was.”

Graeme uttered a long string of foul curses. “I know what this is,” he said, rubbing a hand over his face. “Get the word out to your Network as fast as you can, got it? And after that, I want you to take a few days’ break.”

“But—”

“We can handle things without you for a little while. You planned well ahead for any contingency—”

“Yet I somehow missed this?” Gods, how could he have missed this?

“Trust me, kid, you didn’t. Go. Do what you need to do. I’ll tell the others.”

Later, once his mind had cleared, Beau would remember this conversation and get furious that the others had left him in the dark about something that could have cost Haig his life. For now, he was too rattled to do anything except mumble a message to his runner and then walk aimlessly through the cave system.

Somehow, he ended up sitting on the ground just off the main tunnel, far enough to hide in shadow, but close enough to see the light.

And somehow, when he woke up a while later, he found himself clutching an old pair of dice so hard they’d left sharp impressions in the palm of his hand.

Buy DEAREST LOVE:

Smashwords | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | Other

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