Monday, June 3, 2024

Now On Sale! Clan Beginnings: Clan and Crave - Final Excerpt

 

  

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A Nobek father's pain

* * * *

After returning home, Conyod still had occasional bouts of the insomnia that had plagued him before he’d run away from home. He’d been unable to sleep the night following his conversation with Sletran and his latest invitation to come to the ranch had been gently refused. Plots swirled in his head on how to get the Nobek to stop considering him a mere child. They all bordered on ridiculous and Conyod knew it, but he couldn’t stop concocting them.

After tossing for hours, he quit trying to fall asleep. It was two hours until daylight, but he got up, dressed, and went to the stables.

He sat cross-legged on the ground outside Elbmur and Dresk’s stall, watching the foal sleep in the long curve of his mother’s neck. Trading fantasies of happily-ever-after with Sletran for the more realistic plans of training his kestarsh brought calm, as did the pre-dawn quiet of the slumbering world. Conyod had snagged a blanket smelling of the musky kestarsh to snuggle in against the chill. Its warmth and a sense of contentment pervaded his senses. He finally began to feel sleepy.

He was just about to lie on the straw-covered ground when he saw movement at the corner of his eye. He looked in that direction and saw nothing but the shadowed entrance of the wooden stable. No sound. None of the kestarsh reacted, as they would should a stranger enter.

Nonetheless, Conyod’s instincts were alert, as if he hadn’t been on the verge of slumber seconds ago. His first thought was for the ghost known for haunting the area before he’d been placed in the psychiatric facility, but it hadn’t been glimpsed in years.

He summoned his courage despite his pounding heart. “Who’s there?”

A familiar figure glided from the shadows. “You have the senses of a Nobek, my son,” Vel said.

The old feeling of crowding prickled his skin. He couldn’t mask the accusation from his tone. “Are you up early? Or following me?”

“I heard you get up. I only wanted to check on you and make sure you’re all right.” Vel came closer and crouched next to him. “I’m doing my best not to smother you, my son. I’m…I’m struggling though.”

“I’m sorry I snapped at you.” Conyod forced himself to relax. Next to Lafec, Vel had the hardest time controlling his need to know where the youth was at any given moment.

“I can’t help worrying about you. I lost your brother. It would destroy me if anything happened to you too.”

It was as close as speaking the words “I love you” as a Nobek could come to another grown, or nearly grown, man. Moreover, Conyod had never heard Vel admit to anything he could construe as a weakness. Saying he might be unable to keep his child from harm and how it would affect him if it came to pass was the sort of soul-bearing Conyod would have doubted Vel was capable of.

His father was trying. It came to Conyod suddenly that Vel was perhaps doing as well as he was able when it came to letting him grow up normally. It simultaneously filled and broke the teen’s heart.

This may be as hands-off as it’ll get where Vel’s concerned. Same for Mother.

He’d have to accept it if he were to manage a decent relationship with his parents.

Conyod offered Vel a tight smile. “What do you think of Dresk? You haven’t said much, at least around me.”

Vel appeared relieved he’d switched subjects. “You can’t argue against good heritage where his sire and dam are concerned. As far as Dresk himself is concerned, he has excellent physical lines early. He used all six legs for walking, right out of the gate, rather than depending on the middle set for mere stability as most foals do.”

“I noticed it also. It’s a rare trait, isn’t it?”

They spent the next half hour discussing the newborn kestarsh before starting the day’s tasks. Though Conyod guessed the future would continue to see him bristling at Vel’s overprotectiveness, he at least felt he’d been given enough of a glimpse into his Nobek father’s heart to bear it.

* * * *

He needed a hero and found two. Can love rescue him again?

Nobek Sletran never took Imdiko Conyod’s infatuation seriously when he rescued him years before. When Conyod shows up in his life again as a strong and successful man instead of a traumatized victim, Sletran has to reconsider the one he once rejected and now can’t imagine life without.

Conyod has never given up on the man he considers his hero. Sletran is all he’s ever wanted for a clanmate, and he’s determined to win him at last. But the past refuses to be laid to rest. When Conyod convinces Sletran to see him for who he’s become, will who he was resurface and destroy the love they’re building?

Sletran’s commanding officer Dramok Erybet is instantly fascinated by Conyod when the soldier brings his love on base for a visit. However, Sletran isn’t the Nobek Erybet feels is right for him. When he rejects the Nobek, he risks losing Conyod too.

Against the backdrop of heartbreaking childhood tragedy, a ghost who haunts Conyod and his grief-stricken family, and military brass determined to oust Erybet from the rank he’s worked so hard to reach, three men must come to terms with who they are. When tragedy strikes, the nightmares of the past must be faced and buried once and for all. Conyod, Sletran, and Erybet must dare everything to find redemption and hold on to each other.

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Sunday, June 2, 2024

Now On Sale! Clan Beginnings: Clan and Crave - Chapter Five, Scene Six

  

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The arrival of Conyod's adored Dresk

* * * *

It was nearly a year before Conyod and his parents were deemed emotionally ready for him to return home for good. Therapy was ongoing, and biannual home visits by independent psychiatrists were scheduled. Otherwise, life was to become a new normal.

Conyod’s parents had achieved varying degrees of well-being. Tuher and Sema were at far better ease. They assigned independent chores to their son, which took him on solo rides to the nearby town or the plains. At first, Vel ventured to offer to accompany Conyod on those forays. Lafec insisted many of the errands required two people to accomplish them. They were firmly overruled by Tuher. When Conyod returned from wherever he’d been, he didn’t miss Lafec and Vel were working where they could anxiously watch for him.

He did ask a parent to join him when he was to train a yearling or colt on the riskier tasks of mountain work. He wasn’t so much afraid of Hoslek’s fate befalling him as the dark thoughts that filled his head when he had no choice but to confront the crags he continued to despise. In every cranny, he imagined coming across his brother’s remains. Sometimes he thought he saw the round dome of a skull or a rack of ribs, but it always resolved to stones or sun-bleached branches dropped from trees.

He refused to go anywhere near the Pinnacle or the foothills of Mount Evar.

The chance of finding Hoslek, however unlikely to happen, was more than Conyod could bear the thought of. Since he found he was actually happy to be home again, he decided he wouldn’t tell Dr. Hupsan about these terrible fantasies and visions, or his inability to go where the injured Ges had been discovered. Perhaps Lafec and Vel continued to be overprotective, but Tuher and Sema kept them in check so Conyod wouldn’t feel suffocated.

He missed having Sletran close enough to visit, however. He commed the Nobek as often as he thought he could without being branded a pest. Sletran’s usual cheerful greeting of, “Hey kid, how are you?” was as much a blow to his young heart as a joy. Conyod was nearly seventeen, but it was obvious his crush continued to see him as a child rather than a man. The fact Sletran didn’t always pick up or return his coms also made it clear Conyod hadn’t made the sort of impression he wanted.

Sletran did answer the com for one memorable occasion Conyod was eager to share shortly after he’d celebrated his eighteenth birthday. “Guess who this is?” the young Imdiko said as he pointed his com’s vid lens at a tiny kestarsh foal snuggled against Elbmur’s snowy side in her stall.

“It looks as if you have a rodent problem,” Sletran teased. “Call an exterminator or it might attack your mare.”

“Hey!”

“No, I’m kidding. It’s the kestarsh your parents promised you, isn’t it? He’s a beauty. Quite the combination, the black coat and white mane.”

“It’s a rare combination. He’s perfect,” Conyod gushed, his gaze moving constantly between the foal and Sletran’s admiring vid image.

“Did you name him yet?”

“Dresk. It means joy.”

“An appropriate name, given how much joy I hear in your voice. Congratulations, Conyod.”

“Thanks. You should come and see him. Are you getting time off soon?” He did his best to keep his tone casual.

“I am, but I’m visiting my parent clan. Send me vids of Dresk. My mother would enjoy them.”

“Sure.” He swallowed disappointment. He hadn’t seen Sletran in person since their last defensive session at the mental health facility. Try as he might, he couldn’t conjure a plausible reason for them to get together. He’d hoped Dresk’s arrival would do the trick.

* * * *

He needed a hero and found two. Can love rescue him again?

Nobek Sletran never took Imdiko Conyod’s infatuation seriously when he rescued him years before. When Conyod shows up in his life again as a strong and successful man instead of a traumatized victim, Sletran has to reconsider the one he once rejected and now can’t imagine life without.

Conyod has never given up on the man he considers his hero. Sletran is all he’s ever wanted for a clanmate, and he’s determined to win him at last. But the past refuses to be laid to rest. When Conyod convinces Sletran to see him for who he’s become, will who he was resurface and destroy the love they’re building?

Sletran’s commanding officer Dramok Erybet is instantly fascinated by Conyod when the soldier brings his love on base for a visit. However, Sletran isn’t the Nobek Erybet feels is right for him. When he rejects the Nobek, he risks losing Conyod too.

Against the backdrop of heartbreaking childhood tragedy, a ghost who haunts Conyod and his grief-stricken family, and military brass determined to oust Erybet from the rank he’s worked so hard to reach, three men must come to terms with who they are. When tragedy strikes, the nightmares of the past must be faced and buried once and for all. Conyod, Sletran, and Erybet must dare everything to find redemption and hold on to each other.

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Saturday, June 1, 2024

Now On Sale! Clan Beginnings: Clan and Crave - Chapter Five, Scene Five

 

  

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A court-ordered visit and an incredible gift

* * * *

Conyod left Dr. Onbal’s shuttle. His parents’ court-appointed therapist had volunteered to bring him home to the ranch, since he was to be on hand for the visit. An orderly from the psychiatric facility where Conyod currently lived, Dramok Cotra, followed behind him as he stepped through the hatch.

Conyod’s parents waited in various stages of anxious anticipation a few steps from the home’s front door. Only the front wall was visible, as the rest of the abode was nestled in a small hill. Much of it was underground.

His heart lurched to see his mother Lafec looking somehow shrunken next to her taller and bulkier clanmates. She’d cut her midnight black hair shorter since he’d last seen her. Her braid reached to her waist instead of mid-thigh. Though she wore the usual work pants and blouse suited for mucking stalls and training kestarsh, her clothes were scrupulously clean. Her brown boots appeared new.

His fathers were also dressed for duty, also impressively clean for mid-morning as if they hadn’t been up before sunrise. He knew it was for show. He wondered if their spotless state was for his benefit or Dr. Onbal.

Tuher stepped forward first, Lafec on his heels. Though they’d visited Conyod regularly at the mental health facility, they appeared hesitant. Did they think he’d try to run off at the slightest wrong move? It seemed they did.

Conyod convinced his feet to carry him toward them. When Tuher held his arms to him, his smile hopeful, the youth felt a weight slide free. He stepped in the enveloping hug and rested his cheek against his Dramok father’s chest. His eyes shut to hold in the tears as Tuher pressed a kiss to his forehead.

“Thank you for coming, my son. It’s wonderful to have you here.”

“I’m glad to be home.” For a precious moment, Conyod was.

“Conyod.” Lafec sobbed his name, and Tuher released him so he could turn to accept her embrace.

He was surprised to find he was an inch taller than his mother. He was still smaller than the average sixteen-year-old, but he was eating better than he had in a long time. Lafec noticed too as she released the crushing hug she’d given him. “You’re growing up, my son. Look at him! He’s getting so tall!”

Conyod heard the note of reproach in her tone, as if he’d done something wrong by maturing beyond her presence. He also caught the warning glance Sema and Tuher exchanged. The Imdiko tugged their son close, forcing Lafec to reluctantly step aside.

“Indeed, he is growing up. I’m glad you look so healthy, my son. Is the food that good?” Sema chuckled as he claimed a hug.

“Nothing beats Mother’s cooking, but I’ve started an intense exercise regimen, so I eat like a ronka. I can’t shovel enough food in my face lately.”

Conyod didn’t mention his increased appetite had largely resulted because the anti-anxiety medication he took kept his stomach from the upset he’d suffered at home. It was easy to eat well when food wasn’t forced to move past the knots tied in his gut.

“Taller and filling out. I’m glad.” Vel looked him over as he pulled Conyod in his arms. Vel’s embraces were rare, which made them special…but the youth experienced a note of fear his Nobek father wouldn’t let him leave later. Lafec was the clingiest, but Vel was a close second…and he was willing and able to fight physically for what he wanted.

Conyod managed to refrain from sighing in relief when Vel released him after a couple of beats. He looked at his parents. They looked at him. Awkward seconds passed.

Distinctive animal rumbles sounded behind Conyod, and he swiveled toward the huge corral several yards distant. An uninhibited smile burst forth as he noted over half a dozen kestarsh standing at the rails looking at him. He recognized each of the mares and the stallion Guhof, his curly black fur and mane gleaming in the sunlight.

“It looks as if they’re glad to see you. Say hello, or they might kick the paddock’s posts down,” Tuher chuckled.

Conyod didn’t need to be invited twice. Laughing, he ran to the corral and its six-legged inhabitants.

“Hello, Guhof. How are you, old friend?” He curled his arms around the muscular neck of Clan Tuher’s prized stud and rubbed his cheek along the beast’s face. Guhof droned a reply, then he pulled his head back. His intelligent eyes inspected Conyod.

Kestarsh were among the rare animals Kalquorians had domesticated. The sure-footed mounts were required to search treacherous mountain slopes for missing climbers and explorers. They were capable of going places men and their shuttles couldn’t reach. They had many other uses as well, and the species was as prized as an able ranch hand…and often, family members. A local kestarsh’s passing was included in obituary notices alongside their Kalquorian neighbors.

Apparently, Guhof approved of the changes Conyod’s parents had noted. His tapered muzzle lit on the teen’s forehead where Tuher had kissed him.

“It’s great to see you too. And you, ladies.” Conyod grinned at the mares attempting to jostle Guhof for a turn to say hello. Elbmur, his favorite, was the most insistent. As white as Guhof was black, she shimmered in the sweet-scented air. It was for her the stallion moved aside to allow a reunion.

“Even after so many months, you still have the touch,” Lafec sighed. “They know a caring heart and rider on sight.”

“Thank you, Mother.” It was easy to ignore the jab of accusation in her reminder he’d left home when Elbmur leaned her face against his. She fairly purred her joy.

“We’ve been thinking when you come back for good, you should have your own kestarsh to keep. Perhaps a colt from Guhof and Elbmur would make an appropriate mount.”

Conyod gaped at Tuher. “Really?” The pair’s past offspring had commanded the greatest income for the ranch.

As a rule, the kestarsh belonged to the ranch, not individual members of the family. Being offered one to call his own was unheard of.

“You’ll have to train him as we do the rest. But yes…you’ll be the owner.” Tuher smiled.

“Thank you. Thank you all!” Elation filled Conyod, though he recognized the gift for what it was…bait for him to hasten his recovery and return home. Nonetheless, to have one of the beasts he adored for a lifelong companion was a treasure beyond compare. Only Sletran pledging himself as a clanmate could have topped such a gesture.

“Did you have breakfast?” Lafec prompted. “We waited in case you hadn’t.”

He hadn’t. Even his medication hadn’t been enough to calm him to eat prior to leaving the mental facility. Now that the future included a kestarsh of his own, Conyod was ravenous. “I don’t suppose swala and ronka pastries might be on the menu?”

She laughed. For a bright, shining moment she was the mother Conyod had known before Hoslek’s disappearance. The strain disappeared, and she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. “Already prepared and waiting to go in the cooker.”

Sema slung an arm across Conyod’s shoulders. “Lead on, my Matara. I could eat a tray full.”

She chuckled and allowed Tuher to take her arm and playfully tug her to the home in pretended impatience. Vel joined in the fun, jogging ahead to trigger the door to open and gestured frantically for them to hurry.

Conyod grinned and wrapped his arm around his laughing Imdiko father’s waist. They turned to go into the home.

The breath left his body as the landscape swept across his gaze. The mountains loomed over the plain, jagged, broken teeth of a monster. His eyes instantly went to the Pinnacle, a needle-like protuberance of rock in the lower reaches of Mount Evar. It was where Hoslek’s injured kestarsh Ges had been found, the last place he might have been alive.

Conyod’s stomach dropped to his shoes. He suddenly wasn’t hungry.

Sema must have felt him pause, though it was only for an instant. He glanced at Conyod, then where the teen gazed. His arm tightened on Conyod’s shoulders.

“Me too, my son. Look away and forward instead. There’s only hurt there and a past we can’t rewrite.”

The silent Dr. Onbal, who’d hung back with the orderly to observe, must have overheard. Conyod noted him nodding approvingly as father and son walked past.

“Forward,” Conyod echoed. “Where kestarsh and especially swala pastries wait.”

And a certain Nobek, if he’d wait long enough for Conyod to grow up. Conyod kept his gaze on the home, ignoring the looming mountain he hated to his very soul.

* * * *

He needed a hero and found two. Can love rescue him again?

Nobek Sletran never took Imdiko Conyod’s infatuation seriously when he rescued him years before. When Conyod shows up in his life again as a strong and successful man instead of a traumatized victim, Sletran has to reconsider the one he once rejected and now can’t imagine life without.

Conyod has never given up on the man he considers his hero. Sletran is all he’s ever wanted for a clanmate, and he’s determined to win him at last. But the past refuses to be laid to rest. When Conyod convinces Sletran to see him for who he’s become, will who he was resurface and destroy the love they’re building?

Sletran’s commanding officer Dramok Erybet is instantly fascinated by Conyod when the soldier brings his love on base for a visit. However, Sletran isn’t the Nobek Erybet feels is right for him. When he rejects the Nobek, he risks losing Conyod too.

Against the backdrop of heartbreaking childhood tragedy, a ghost who haunts Conyod and his grief-stricken family, and military brass determined to oust Erybet from the rank he’s worked so hard to reach, three men must come to terms with who they are. When tragedy strikes, the nightmares of the past must be faced and buried once and for all. Conyod, Sletran, and Erybet must dare everything to find redemption and hold on to each other.

Now on Sale: Amazon, Amazon UK, Nook, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords, print