Exclusive Excerpt from Morning Star
by Sydney Blackburn
Tariq ducked his head and murmured, “Yes, master.” He understood exactly what his master wanted him to do, even if he did not understand why. Magic had its reasons. Malik was a saahir of great renown and Tariq was fortunate to be his apprentice. One day, he too would know the mysteries of sihr and the healing blessings of barakah.
His unquestioning obedience was rewarded with a careless caress as Malik’s elegantly long fingers brushed through his dark hair, lingering a little too long. Or so Tariq imagined.
His feelings for his master and mentor were wrong. He knew that. Malik, great sorcerer that he was, would be horrified to know the wayward thoughts and unnatural desires of his apprentice.
Tariq was embarrassed when those fingers then moved lightly over his ear, sending a tremor of desire through his slight frame. He resisted the urge to push his head into the touch. His cheeks were burnished with shame when Malik lifted his chin so that they were eye to eye.
“It’s not just about stealing a perfume jar, my boy. It’s about the future. Our future.”
Tariq swallowed as his heart beat a little faster. “Y-yes, master.”
Malik smiled warmly at him and released his chin to take his hand. He slipped a brass ring, still warm, onto Tariq’s finger and then closed both hands over Tariq’s. “This ring holds a spell of finding and returning. It will take you to the treasure room and bring you back safe to me.” He released Tariq’s hands and reached into the folds of his robe again, this time pulling out a small sandglass. “Set this upon your arrival. When the sands run out, the ring shall transport you back here, so waste no time staring at the marvels you may see. You are there for one thing only.”
Tariq reached for it, accidentally brushing Malik’s fingers with his own. Power seemed to spark through him until the ring, loose on his finger, rattled against the sandglass and whatever spell that might have woven vanished.
“The perfume jar that weighs empty. It shall be as you desire, master.”
Tariq collapsed in a heap, coughing and choking and clutching at the thick carpet beneath him as if he might fall off the very floor. The magic of the ring that had transported him had torn him apart and put him together in a rough fashion that left him nauseated and dizzy.
Awareness of the soft wool beneath his cheek helped steady him. Thank goodness it wasn’t dusty. Why had Malik not warned him of the effects of the ring? Perhaps a saahir such as Malik was able to use it without ill effect. Belatedly, he recalled the sandglass and carefully set it on the floor.
The room was cavernous and dimly lit by rays of sun piercing small decorative openings at the top of the thick walls. Tapestries were hung at odd angles. Ornately carved tables and chests filled the room, their surfaces covered with enamelled vases and precious statues. Smaller boxes spilled out jewels that glinted and cast a rainbow of coloured sparks over the smooth sandstone walls. The carpet he’d landed on was but one of several stacked on the floor, golden threads capturing stray beams and winking at him from delicate arabesques.
The sand was falling rapidly. He had no time to admire the many fine riches surrounding him. Where might one store perfume jars in such a room as this…? He turned slowly around, seeking shelves or cabinets. There, to his right, in the corner closest to the great doors most people would use to enter the treasure room, stood a large cabinet with girih-patterned doors.
There were clear, if narrow, paths around the piles of forgotten treasures, and Tariq took care in his haste to find what his master needed. He threw open the doors of the cabinet and saw half a dozen shelves laden with perfume jars of every description: coloured glass, smoothly gleaming metal, glass and silver, glass and gold, bejewelled, or merely intricately filigreed.
Cautiously he picked up one of the vessels. It was a blue globe with a simple silver stopper, and he raised it into the light. It was opaque, and he realized he had no idea what the difference was between a full jar and an empty one. He touched the stopper, hesitating. Malik had told him not to open the one that weighed empty. What if this was the very jar he’d been sent to find? And if it is not, he thought, Malik will be terribly disappointed in me.
About Once Upon a Rainbow
Morning Star by Sydney Blackburn – Tariq is a devoted apprentice to his master, even stealing a perfume jar for Malik, the man he secretly adores, with only a twinge of guilt. But when Malik seeks to use the Jinni bound to the stolen jar, Tariq learns what love is—and isn’t. Ridha has given Tariq five wishes, two of which remain, and the one Tariq wants most, he cannot have. Or can he?
Fairest by K.S. Trenten – All of my life, I’ve been haunted by her dark eyes. At birth, she cursed me to prick my finger on the spindle and sleep for a century. She appears in my dreams, my reflections, shaping my desires. Who is she? My guardian has only revealed a few enigmatic words as to her identity, the fairest of them all. Follow me into the lonely Forest of Tears where the dwarves dwell, walking where she once walked. Gaze into the depths of the magic mirror, which reveals her secrets. For I refuse to fear her, even if I should.
Gingerbread by Riza Curtis – When a dozen gay men go missing, the Supernatural Investigations team is brought in.
With the trail running cold, werewolf Detective Erik Stuart is sent undercover with fellow officer Noah Coleman to investigate exclusive gay club Gingerbread. As their friendship blossoms into romance, danger puts their very lives at risk. Are they powerful enough to survive and bring justice for the missing men?
Sleeping Beauty by A. Fae – Two royal births: one born into the body of a prince and the other a princess, bodies betraying their true identity. They grow to be inseparable, both deciding to become their true selves as soon as they are able. But an ugly curse by a wicked godmother brings them to the brink of disaster. And only through true love’s kiss can they be united.
Little Match Girl by Dianne Hartsock – Christian can’t help himself. He’s fallen in love with the sweet, sometimes effeminate guy who’s been coming into the sandwich shop for the past several months. But Dani is also the Little Match Girl, the ragged queer selling candles on the street corner Christian’s been avoiding all year, going so far as to cross the street to avoid walking by him. Ashamed, he wonders if Dani can ever forgive him.
Losing his mother to cancer, Dani has spent the last year in a haze of grief and loneliness, selling Mother’s candles like they always had, giving himself to any man who can pay, saving him from having to go home to his father’s brutality. Desperate for a place to belong, he sets out with Christian to find his mother’s family. Christian helps, wanting Dani to be happy, though the cost might be losing his sweet lover forever.
Hood’s Ride is Red by J.P. Jackson – Harkin Ross, otherwise known as Hood, hasn’t exactly had a happy childhood. His mother died in childbirth and his older brother perished in an unusual accident on the family farm. Hood’s father hasn’t coped well over the years and he’s spiraled into a black hole of anger, alcoholism, and abuse.
But when Kenneth Lowell is hired as the family farm hand, Hood’s life vastly improves. Kenneth earns Hood’s trust, and friendship while teaching Hood some basic mechanics skills, helping Hood get his red Dodge Dart up and running.
Kenneth, however, is hiding a violent and primal secret of his own. When Hood’s father discovers the Hired Hand is doing more than just yard work, the weekly trip to Grandpa’s house goes all to hell.
The Gingerbread Woman by Donna Jay – Looking forward to a weekend of solitude, Candace heads to her country cottage hoping the peaceful surroundings will help to get her creative juices flowing. Never in her wildest of dreams could she have envisioned the events that unfolded.
White Roses by A.D. Song – One night in the dark woods, a faerie attacks Lady Iliana and curses her to slumber forever. Lady Iliana finds herself kissed awake by Lord Alexios. When Iliana meets Adara, Alexios’ sister, Iliana finds herself torn between the man who saved her and the woman who hides secrets about Iliana’s awakening. When Alexios turns on Adara, they discover Lady Iliana is stronger than anyone thought. She does whatever she has to do to save Adara…even if it means killing her again.
Once Upon a Mattress by Mickie B. Ashling – Crown Prince Sebastian of Sendorra has shied away from his obligations to marry and produce the requisite heir. He wants a love match—complicating an already difficult situation—and insists on finding the right man; someone willing and able to carry his child with medical intervention. The Royals throw a ball and invite eligible bachelors from all over the world.
Errol Maitland, a famous sculptor who lives in the small Principality, is tired of random hookups and relationships that fizzle out before they get started. He’s intrigued by the Prince’s invitation and decides to attend the ball.
Sebastian’s mother belongs to a clan of powerful witches. She’s convinced that a touch of magic will ease the selection process. Placing a spell on an ordinary pebble, she tucks it underneath Sebastian’s mattress. The right choice will voice a complaint. Will Errol spend a miserable night and prove his worthiness or will Sebastian have to keep on looking?
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