Finally, after long delay, Dragon Prey is available! It was not a book I had planned to write, but I am very happy I did. It is the sequel to Unicorn Bait. I'm really hopeful that readers enjoy this novel. It is the longest book I've written. (And there's a sex scene! I've never written one of those.) So I'm pretty nervous, but excited to share this with everyone. I hope you like it!
It's available at:
Barnes & Noble
iTunes has it, but I can't seem to generate a link. Find it in the iTunes store.
Here is the blurb (again):
In the inns of Terratu, bards tell the story of Lady Naomi, the unicorn mistress. It’s a grand story, in which she saves the unicorns and defeats the insane god Errilol. At the end, she lives happily ever after with her husband Lord Tavik. But unfortunately, the story’s about to change because there are two Lady Naomi’s and one of them is a fraud.
Naomi rushes to find an antidote before Tavik marries the other Naomi. She’s hampered, though, by the reward Tavik has placed on her dead head. (Divorce doesn’t exist in Terratu.) She almost has it when a dragon decides that she’s dinner. That’s when her real troubles begin.
Sacrifices will have to be made. The story can’t stay the same. The dragon is hungry.
And here is the first chapter:
Unicorns are fierce creatures and have been known to best dragons. — From Unicorn Bait
Naomi was happy to see that she’d started her period. Of course, it meant she was in for a day of cramps and crabbiness, but hey, it also meant she was most definitely not pregnant. And that could not be repeated enough. She was not pregnant. She was NOT pregnant. She hummed a little tune to herself as she carefully tucked the clean rags into her sanitary harness.
It wasn’t that Naomi didn’t want kids. She’d always figured that she’d have them one day when she was married with a place of her own. She hadn’t thought to stipulate on the nearby medical facilities. That was what was keeping her from going gung ho over the baby making. Naomi had known she was giving up a lot by leaving Earth to move permanently to Terratu. She’d done it to reunite with Tavik and to save him from the mad god Errilol. She did not regret it. She loved her husband, and he loved her. They were happy together. It was surprising how happy they were, except now everyone expected them to take the next step on their happy path, which was to have a baby, and Naomi’s feet were frozen. She didn’t want to move forward.
Having a baby was a life goal. She did want to become a mother. One day. And she was nervous about how her pregnancy would go. With no nearby hospitals ready to dispense lovely pain medicine, no ob-gyn to perform the sonogram, and no prenatal multivitamins, Naomi didn’t like the odds of her pregnancy going smoothly. She knew the mortality rate for childbirth in undeveloped countries was high, and considering she hadn’t been raised in an undeveloped country, she doubted she’d take very well to natural childbirth, but her worries about her own health felt somewhat disingenuous. If she were being truthful, even if a state-of-the-art hospital were next door, she’d still be overjoyed by the arrival of her period. Actually, she’d probably have a prescription for birth control from said hospital. She didn’t want to get pregnant yet. It was as simple as that.
“Something wrong?” Tavik asked from the other side of the privacy screen.
He was becoming quite good at judging exactly how long she needed behind the screen in the mornings. He was on period watch too, but he was hoping for it not to come. Everyone was on the other side of the watch from Naomi. Yula and Agatha had the timing down, and she could expect inquiries from them, and if she tried to play coy, Mr. Squibbles would just tell them whether she was bleeding. The talking mouse could smell when she was menstruating, which was a little fact Naomi could have happily lived without knowing. And even the mouse was invested in the watch. He’d informed Naomi that he wanted the baby to call him Uncle Squibbles. When she had a baby, the child would have a loving family, that was assured, but Naomi just wasn’t ready.
Naomi cinched the belt of her robe and stepped out from behind the screen. Tavik was already dressed and ready to leave to patrol the road to Ravant. There’d been reports of a bandit encampment. He and a group of men were going to rout them out. Their goal was to capture, not kill. This concession was for Naomi’s benefit. If the trip was successful, they would bring the bandits back for a trial. If they were found guilty, they would be sent to the fields to work. Tavik expected to be gone for five days. Naomi was worried that he would get hurt, but so far, he’d always come back triumphant from similar tasks.
She put a cheerful lilt to her voice when she answered, which was not that difficult considering her quiet relief at her period, “Nothing’s wrong.” She smiled and went to give him a kiss on the cheek.
Tavik saw through her immediately. His shoulders slumped, and he took her into his arms. “We’ve only been trying for four months,” he said as he rubbed her back. “Yula said it was nearly a year before she conceived her first son.”
Naomi nodded and tried not to feel guilty about her secret happiness at not being pregnant. “I know. I’m sure we’ll be blessed soon enough.” But not too soon, she silently added. Was she a bad wife? She knew all good marriages were based on trust, and honesty was the cornerstone of trust, but Tavik’s eagerness for a child was so sweet. She’d seen him play with the stable boys in the early evening. Roughhousing and laughing with them, he was primed to be an excellent father. The thought of dashing that joy and eager anticipation from his face made her want to cry. She squeezed him tight. She’d spare him that. She’d get pregnant eventually. He never had to know how she relished the protracted time it took.
With a kiss to her forehead, Tavik let her go. “Are you off to Agatha’s today?”
Naomi nodded while trying to keep her swirling feelings off her face. “Yep, as usual.”
There was a tap at the door, and Tavik opened it for Yula, who’d brought them their breakfast. Being the head housekeeper now, Yula could have delegated this task to a maid, but she insisted on personally bringing their breakfast up every morning. Naomi worried that Yula took on too much for herself, but the housekeeper always waved off Naomi’s concerns, saying she had everything well in hand. As the castle ran smoothly without any input from Naomi, Naomi did not argue with her. The responsibility and trust instilled on her seemed to make Yula happy, and Naomi wouldn’t dream of impinging on that.
“Good morning, Yula. How goes the day?” Tavik said as he dug into his meal.
Yula was already busy setting out Naomi’s clothing. “We’ve aired out the north tower and taken the hall rugs out for a good beating. We should have all the linens washed by noontime.”
Naomi shook her head. “Listening to you makes me feel like I’ve already wasted half the day.”
“You have more important things to concern yourself with, milady,” Yula said with a heavy glance at Naomi’s tummy.
Tavik coughed and shook his head discreetly. Yula’s cheerful smile wilted a touch at this silent communiqué. Naomi wished she could hide her stomach. She pecked at her food and dreaded the third reiteration of this conversation with Agatha. The witch had been pushing fertility aids for the last month. Naomi had been rejecting them, but she thought she saw Tavik drink something suspicious last week. She feared Agatha would begin secretly slipping her stuff. She no longer drank anything the witch brewed for her.
Once Tavik had departed, Naomi got up from the table and went over to the clothes Yula had set out. She began getting dressed without another word. She was trying not to get frustrated with everyone’s eagerness for her to get knocked up, but it was becoming difficult not to get snippy. Why did she need to have a baby right now, anyway? She and Tavik had been getting along really well. Couldn’t they enjoy themselves for a little bit? Naomi scowled at herself, frustrated with the underlying guilt these thoughts invoked. Having a child was a serious thing. She should be allowed to want to wait. It wasn’t her duty. She was more than just a baby-making machine, and while no one had suggested that, years of latent misogyny on her own world had led her to feel that was what everyone silently thought.
Naomi went down to the stables to get Stomper. Geoff gave her a strange look. Was he on baby watch, too? The whole castle probably was. She wondered if there was a betting pool. The stable master, though, didn’t say anything beyond a few casual pleasantries. He saddled and bridled Stomper for her and helped her on. She pointed the horse toward the woods and let the steed find the way. He’d taken her to Agatha’s cottage five times a week since she returned to stay and had worn the path that they now followed.
She’d begun going to Agatha’s regularly after she came back. Naomi was unofficially the witch’s apprentice. At least that was how she thought of herself. Agatha claimed not to want to train her in anything, but Naomi’s wily strategy was just to hang around enough that she’d learn by watching. And Mr. Squibbles could usually tell her a few things, especially if she offered some wine and cheese.
She arrived at the cottage and tethered Stomper to a tree with plenty of grass around it to munch on. She approached the open door and was about to call out a greeting when a large cauldron came flying out at her. Naomi dropped to the ground to avoid being clobbered, but as the cauldron flew over her, she got streaked by some sort of strange yellow pudding that smelled like bananas and old socks.
Naomi straightened with disgust, shivering as she felt the goop run down her back. “Agatha! What have you just contaminated me with?”
“You better wash that off quickly if you don’t want to grow feathers,” Mr. Squibbles said.
“Please tell me you’re joking,” Naomi said as she began furiously wiping the yellow goop off.
“That side effect only occurs with red-haired boys named George,” Agatha said as she came out wearing a heavy leather apron and gloves. It was her usual attire when potion making.
“So what are the side effects for brunette women named Naomi?”
“It depends. Are you pregnant?”
Naomi growled and marched off toward the nearby stream. Had that whole incident been a setup for the pregnancy question? She shook her hands out to try and remove some of the goop. She took off her kerchief and began wiping off the mess. She hoped it didn’t stain. The laundress always took special care of her clothes and apologized profusely when she couldn’t get a dress back to pristine condition. She hated giving the woman impossible tasks.
Is all well, Mistress? Naomi looked up from her scrubbing at the unicorn that now stood on the other side of the stream. He dipped his horn and touched the water. It shimmered, and all traces of the yellow goop were gone. She at least didn’t have to worry about poisoning any villages downstream.
“I’m not pregnant,” she told Snowflake. That wasn’t the unicorn’s actual name. Unicorns didn’t have names. It had something to do with mind-to-mind communication making names obsolete and all unicorns being the same and different, thus making names redundant. It had made sense when Snowflake had thought it directly into her head, but when she’d tried to express the concept aloud, she’d found herself tongue-tied and confused. She’d named the unicorn to help her feeble mind cope, and unfortunately Snowflake had been all she could come up with. She’d considered other names, but Alabaster had been too much of a mouthful, and Ivory had just seemed wrong. And she couldn’t think of a name that didn’t involve some reference to his white coat. She’d wracked her brain for something better, but Snowflake eventually stuck, and the unicorn hadn’t offered any suggestions. He didn’t seem to care.
You do not wish to be pregnant. Why is your tone sour?
“Because everyone else wants me to be preggers, and they’re disappointed that I’m not yet, and I feel like I need to keep apologizing to everyone, and you’re right. I am happy not to be pregnant. I’m scared that if I get pregnant, the baby won’t be healthy, and I might die, and why can’t I do stuff before getting saddled with a baby anyway?”
Snowflake just stared at her. No thoughts beamed into her head. She went back to scrubbing the yellow goop off. Snowflake was sort of her unicorn. Or maybe she was Snowflake’s human. That was probably more accurate. Anyway, Snowflake checked in on her regularly. He didn’t seem to want to help her so much as make sure she wasn’t doing anything to end the world or something.
She sometimes wondered if he’d done something to piss off the other unicorns, and they stuck him with her as punishment.
“She didn’t mean to goop you.”
Naomi looked over her shoulder and had to peer a few minutes before picking out the mouse from the underbrush. She bent down and offered Mr. Squibbles her palm to climb up on. He swiftly raced up her arm to her shoulder. It made goose bumps form on her flesh. She looked back across the stream, but Snowflake was already gone. He usually only showed himself to her and exited stage right when anyone else showed up.
Naomi sighed and went back to cleaning her dress. “What was she trying to do?”
“She was trying out this potion that a wizard had written to her about, but she should know better than to trust anything he sends her. He always leaves something out or jinxes it somehow.”
“If he always sends her bad info, why does she attempt the spells?”
“She thinks she can figure out the mistakes. She does occasionally, and she’s even improved them to do better than he claimed, but this time, I think he just sent random ingredients.”
“So I’m not going to grow feathers?”
“No, but she does want you to lay an egg.”
Naomi groaned. “You know a watched woman never preggers.”
She gave up on the dress. Most of the goop was gone, and her skin wasn’t burning. She turned and headed back to the cottage. She wondered if Agatha would let her do anything that day. Getting nearly brained by a cauldron had to get her something.
“What was that potion supposed to do?” Naomi asked. When Mr. Squibbles didn’t answer, she jostled her shoulder. “What was it supposed to do?” she repeated.
The mouse sighed. “You know that question Agatha asked you?”
Naomi could feel her stomach dropping. “Yes,” she said, her jaw tightening.
“That was what the spell was supposed to do.”
“She launched a baby-making potion at me?”
“Well, no, like I said, she didn’t mean to hit you with the stuff, but it was supposed to be for you. It didn’t come out right, and in frustration, she hurled it.”
“And what was it supposed to do? Make me insta-pregnant?” Naomi asked.
“Oh my God. What type of baby was the potion supposed to give me?”
Mr. Squibbles’ whiskers twitched. “A curly-haired blond girl was what the wizard promised.”
“Wait, she asked him for this potion?” Her voice rose an octave as she asked the question.
“No, she asked for a brunette boy.”
Naomi rocked back on her heels. She needed to have that talk with Agatha right now, though if the witch had resorted to baby-making potions, maybe it would be no use. When they arrived back at the cottage, Naomi approached the door warily, watching for any more large flying household items. She peeked into the cottage and found Agatha at the worktable grinding something with her large pestle. “Is it safe to come in?” Naomi asked.
Agatha glanced at her and nodded her head. “Yes, it’s fine. Bring me over a slip of yarrow.”
Naomi reached up and carefully snapped off a stem of yarrow from the bunch hanging from the wall. She brought it over to the witch. “Whatcha making?” she asked.
Agatha added the yarrow to the mortar and started grinding again. “Tea. You could probably use something for the cramps.”
Naomi looked away but nodded. “Yeah,” she said quietly.
“Sorry about the cauldron,” the witch said.
“Mr. Squibbles told me what you were trying to make.”
“I was going to offer it to you, not douse you with it when you weren’t looking.”
Naomi stared at the tabletop and built up her resolve. She had to tell Agatha what she wanted. Everyone assumed she wanted a baby immediately, and that just wasn’t the case. “I’m fine waiting a while.”
“I just think that having a baby right now may be too much. Tavik and I just settled down. We’re still getting used to each other. I’m still getting used to Terratu. A baby would be too much on top of that.”
“You say that now, but once you have it, you’ll love it, and you’ll have plenty of help.”
Naomi sighed. “I know that’s true, and I do want a baby but down the road.”
Agatha harrumphed to herself. Naomi didn’t know if she’d accepted what Naomi had said or was now plotting ways to douse her with baby-making potions when she wasn’t looking.
“Is there anything you need me to do?”
The witch nodded. “You can go out and gather some plants for me. Take Mr. Squibbles. He can help you identify them. I’ve left a list in the basket.”
Naomi took the large basket off its hook and unfolded the small piece of paper inside. “All right, I’ll go get these. Don’t take what I said the wrong way. I do want a baby, but I want to wait a little while.”
Agatha nodded without looking up. Naomi let herself out of the cottage. She felt better for saying her piece but wished Agatha had acknowledged her more.
She walked through the woods, keeping an eye out for the plants on her list. This was a common chore for her at Agatha’s, and she was beginning to recognize some of the plants.
“How upset do you think she is?” Naomi asked the mouse.
“Don’t worry about it. She’ll be fine.”
She tried to take his words to heart but still felt uneasy. “Why doesn’t she want to train me in witchcraft anyway?”
“She is training you.”
“Not willingly. She seems so proud to be a witch. Why wouldn’t she like an apprentice? Does she think I won’t make a good witch?”
“There’s no such thing as a good witch.”
“What? Come on, Agatha’s a good witch.”
“She would like to be called a good woman by her friends, but there’s no way to be a good witch. A witch can’t worry about morality. Magic is not good or bad, and a magic user can’t pigeonhole it either. Every spell can be used for good or evil. And even if the witch’s intentions are good, the spell can still do evil. If a witch worries about the moral outcome, she might as well not call herself a witch. The only way to be a good moral witch is not to do witchcraft at all.”
Naomi sighed and tried to wrap her brain around what Mr. Squibbles had said. She could understand what he meant, but she still didn’t think Agatha was bad. “So why perform witchcraft at all if you’re not concerned with doing good?”
“Curiosity, a thirst for knowledge, a glee in doing something no one has done before.”
“So, because it’s fun?”
“Isn’t that why any of us do anything?”
That seemed as good a reason as any other. Naomi spotted a plant from her list and began snipping off leaves. “Is she working on anything other than baby-making potions?”
“She was trying to figure out how to make four-legged chickens.”
“She likes drumsticks that much?”
“Mr. Squibbles, you don’t eat chicken, do you?”
“When it’s nicely cooked, I will happily partake.”
Naomi shook her head. “That’s not right.”
“Why not? You eat chicken.”
“Yes, but I could conceivably kill a chicken if I needed to. A chicken could kill you.”
“Yeah, so? When it’s cooked, I’ll eat it. I’ll always win in that fight. You missed the silversaw,” the mouse said. She stopped and scanned the area. She saw the plant and crouched down to snip it.
“Oh, this is too easy,” said someone from behind Naomi.
Naomi didn’t know who had spoken. She didn’t know anything at all as stars erupted behind her eyes and everything went dark. She collapsed to the ground, squashing the silversaw.