About a year ago, I had the pleasure of reading a section of an erotic novella, Offerings: Lands of Sex and Magic, Episode 1 (Mythic Erotica), that author Skyler White was working on. We were at a writing retreat, and I thought it was just fabulous (this came as no surprise, because Skyler is fabulous in general.
Her first book — and Falling, Fly — is incredible, and her most recent release, The Incrementalists (co-written with Steven Brust) is kicking serious book butt 🙂 (It’s on my very top-heavy TBR pile).
So it should come as no surprise that the first in her series of erotic novellas impressed me big time.
Here’s the blurb:
Two nights, worlds apart, two women must learn what desire can offer.
In the Arcai, where all magic and power are rooted in sex, young widow Cessaire Oghan offers her body for initiation into the secrets and rituals of knowledge and desire. In America, a powerful but secretive business magnate offers design guru Maxine MacAllister a job whose international and emotional scope she does not know and may not want.
As night deepens, each woman, the mythic and the modern, will need all the erotic wisdom and sacred imagination her pleasure can offer, and more.
Now, this was over a year ago (I remember that I was doing copyedits for Claim Me at the time). Now, the novella is for sale … and it’s not just the story that piqued my interest this go-round, but the (I think) stunning erotic image that Skyler picked for the original cover.
In a lot of ways, it reminds me of the kind of art that Blaine from the Stark Trilogy would create if he did photography instead of painting. Evocative, raw, edgy and sensual. And, like Blaine’s art (his portrait of Nikki), Skyler’s cover caused a bit of a hullabaloo. Yup, when a friend posted it on her Facebook page to help spread the word, that Facebook page got temporarily shut down (when you consider some of the images that don’t shut-down Facebook pages, this is a major face-palm moment).
I believe Skyler’s planning on changing the cover, because right now the book isn’t as searchable as it should be. But until then, you can grab it with the original evocative art:
And check out this first chapter excerpt!
Lands of Sex & Magic, episode l
.:: In the Arcai
When I was seventeen, my husband died, and grief-sick and unwilling to live half the life we’d shared, I hitched a ride on a farmer’s cart to Peircia, our nation’s capital. Three days later, I stood before the towering doors of the central temple with my fingernails painted poison apple green, my hair magicked brown, and blood filling up my boots.
I had no change of clothes, no food left in my pack, and only two copper coins sewn into the hem of my traveling cloak because, when you offer your body to god, you go cup-handed. I had left what little I owned back in Vessia, in my mother’s care. She couldn’t understand why I would elect to begin my life anew in a strange and distant city. I argued she’d done the same at my age, and from stranger and further afar, kidnapped — or rescued — by my father during a raid. But she said that was different.
Still, it was my election, and after four days, turnip-bruised and hunger-weak, I parted from the carter in the kitchen yards of court, and stepped into thrilling strangeness of Peircia’s streets. They smelled of adventure and urine, and thundered with crowds different, even in their movement, from village throngs at fairs and weddings.
Packed more snugly together, Peirciat folk held themselves somehow apart, and did not scan the crowd for the faces of their friends. I had no friends in this strange, far place, and I understood my mother more. But I was too dazzled for dwelling long in dark maternal sympathy. I stood in Peircia at last.
Court spire and temple dome mark the sunrise and sunset edge of every city or town in Arcai, from my rural Vessia all the way to this, its fabled capital. I followed the court’s back wall to its corner, turned, and stopped like a donkey. At the balance end of a river-wide street, the vast and pregnant domes of Peircia’s central temple rose into the damp fall air.
They shone with the blazing blue of summer skies in that one moment when the sun drops and the heat leaves with a final shimmer. The main dome billowed over tiers of smaller half-rounds like the layered skirts of dancers, and even the smallest might have swallowed Vessia’s temple whole. I glanced back for the carter, but the city carried me forward on the waves of its own importance. My past was gone – love, grief and family – and I wanted it so.
Buoyed by a longing that had been years in the fattening, I pinned my eyes to the temple’s distant blue moongate and quickly learned from a toe-crushing barrow wheel to watch where I was more than where I wished to be. I walked three hours between spire and dome, only glancing occasionally at the arched oval doors that were my destination and, I hoped, my destiny.
Educational as the barrow-wheel, the street quickly taught me the city was no softer than the farm. My hard-soled work clogs would have better suited its cobbles than the nimble fighter’s boots I’d worn. Thus I reached the temple wiser and bloodied and stopped, balanced on the fang-edge of my courage, to stow my cloak in my pack.
I hesitated then, pondering which of the squat corner marketgates might cost my feet the fewest steps. My hunger thundered loud as knocking, and the temple gates groaned back and split open.
In my shock, I dropped my bag and had to scramble after it humiliated, even as I fled crushing across the bruising stone. What terrible thing had I done? Surely these sacred doors parted only for the nation’s king, as Vessia’s ritual gate opened only for our spire judge. Had my determined gaze worked some unholy magic, which, now recognized, would taint my offering before I might give myself to the temple?
The gate ground open. Eight bare-chested templars, four men per door, strained against the weight, heads bowed and muscles braided down their shimmering backs. I stumbled from their path. One man raised his face from the toiling ranks, turned my way, and stopped my breathing.
His perfect, straight brow arched, and the piercing eye below it winked. Desire plunged between my legs, quick and hopeful. I dropped my eyes from his and swatted road dust from my too-thin shift. I was no out-boundary blindling to gawp at the matched and naked backs of men. I was an adult woman with the full marks of Arcaix citizenship on my spire-side wrist. I had come to offer my body to god. I shouldered my pack and cupped my hands.
The beautiful templar watched me, turning his head over his bare and sculpted shoulder, as he and the other domic men drove the halves of the gate apart. He grinned at me, showing sharp hard teeth, and bowed again to his work, and despite my growling hunger and my barrow-crushed, and blistered, bleeding feet, moonwant swam within me. But I would not be staggered. I swallowed childish wonder, and marched priestess-bold for the nearest market gate, careful not to limp.
I took no more than five steps before doubt tripped me. Might the moongate have opened for me? It was impossible. Yet I would truly look the blindling if I used the market gate once the ceremonial one had been parted for me. I wavered, wobbled.
“Is that a temple ban?” My winking templar spoke from where he crouched fastening the gate with an iron ring.
“Fangs and horns!” I cried, horrified that this man, or any during my journey, might have thought the same. I wanted to snatch the dressing from my still-healing dome-side arm and glanced about to see if the other templars had noticed, but they had already melted back into the pleasureyard. I drew myself to my full height. “It is a widow’s mark,” I told him with withering dignity.
He frowned, unwithered. “I did not judge you of age to marry.”
“Then you misjudged.” I swatted more dust from my tattered pack. “I shall be eighteen on Halfwinter Night.”
“Oh?” He leaned his naked back against the temple door. His hairless chest tapered to a belly, smooth and flat and masculine only in its musculature. “What spire are you of?”
I had been the most skilled magic user in my cohort and was still the daughter of Vessia’s war chief, but “Why?” was the best I could do.
“Because your mark was not worked at this temple.”
“No,” I said, as if he’d posed a question.
“You’ve travelled here.” Without the temple’s silver mark on his brow, he could not be a priest, but he was too old to be still serving his dome-bound years, and too confident. I didn’t know who he was or why I needed to answer his questions. This was not the way I had thought my arrival here would go.
“I can see only one remaining travel band, but your journey took several days.” A smile touched his child-soft lips — their innocence an unsettling contrast to his shrewd eyes. “Yet you came alone, as a widow new-made.” Above his dome-side elbow, he bore a single, silver temple mark, and I had to stop myself from touching the same spot, unmarked on my own arm, in longing. He was an acolyte — an offering claimed by the temple, but not, as yet, by god. And I was his new guessing game. “So the question is: of what spire are you, and why are you here?”
Behind my eyes, my moon voice whispered: I am Cessaire Oghan, come from Vessia to offer my body to god, but I only said, “That’s two questions.”
His words slowed, and he appraised me with no desire in his narrow gaze. “Your skin is more freckled—”
“Yours is tanner.” I snapped back, before I could stop myself. I knew I was too sensitive about my skin.
“Yes, my features are more spiric than domic.” He shrugged. “Yet I have elected the temple dome and not the court spire none the less, and my face is not more tan on one side than the other, whereas your skin is more freckled —” He stopped, waiting, eyes crinkling, for me to interrupt again, but I found my pack needed my attention. I wished he’d go away and let me present myself as I had imagined doing, only without the dust and bleeding feet, to a priestess at a market gate.
“Your skin is more freckled dome-side,” he continued, “because, traveling south over several days, it faced the rising sun.”
His smile was so smug I would have trodden on his foot had mine not hurt so. “I am Cessaire Oghan, come from Vessia,” I said, beginning the ritual presentation of offering, but at the last moment, I changed the ending. “I bear a message for the Lady from Lady Mellone.”
“You are Cessaire Oghan, come from Vessia…” he repeated. His eyes touched my lips and breasts like a cook tests fruit. I ripened. He guessed, “…To offer your body to god.”
He had guessed my purpose! “I have come for the gazebos,” I lied, furious to have been so transparent.
“No.” Certainty deepened his voice. “You are an offering.”
“You can’t know that.” I sounded shrill, desperate to have a second chance at presenting myself to anyone but this smug, gorgeous man. “I might be seeking counsel,” I extemporized. “Or medicine.”
He met my defiant eyes with his too-clever ones, and laughed, pushing himself away from the door. “You would not have hesitated at the gate. Anyone not banned may enter for care.” He glanced again at my bandaged arm. He was taller than I first thought, and more heavily muscled. “And had you come to Peircia for pleasure, you would have left your traveling pack with your other belongings in rented rooms.” He ran his eyes over me, and I withered. “You’ve slept in the dress you stand in, and it’s too thin to be worn past Halfall Eve, so I’ll wager only a road-dusted cloak fattens your pack, and the shift you wear is all the silk you own.”
I had been married in it.
“I am Cessaire Oghan, come from Vessia,” I said, sheltering in words I’d rehearsed since my husband’s death. “To offer my body to god.”
“I knew it!” he laughed, suddenly relaxed. “I suppose you do carry a message for the Lady as well.” He grinned at me. “But if you hope to taste the blessing of the high priestess of Arcai — human incarnation of Apei, the female aspect of our blended, boundless god, mother of our nation, and god’s eyes — you need to drop your pride and pick up your pace.”
He gestured toward the court spire I knew to be a three-hour, foot-bruising walk away. “The spire enters the dome this night, oh my offering, so it’s about to get busy around here. In fact, horns and fangs, I’m already late!” He pivoted on a hard-booted heel, and strode back the way he’d come.
I stood motionless and uncertain on my bleeding feet. Even if the Lady’s chambers were located where Lady Mellone’s were relative to the central dome, I had no confidence that the architecture of my village temple would translate across so many tiers and layers.
I ran, flinched, then walked after the tapering back and trim waist of the beautiful acolyte. He must have expected me to follow him, or at least wasn’t surprised to find me at his elbow again, and I swallowed a comment about guides being so much more guiding if you know to follow.
Within the temple’s white walls, the grassy pleasure yard lay like verdant basket in the pale arms of a maiden. Lush and tranquil after the street’s hurry and stone, it soothed my feet and softened my anxiety. My guide smelled of new sweat and some nameless, ancient flower, and we walked wordlessly between a fishpond and an occupied gazebo, its black mating curtains gusting free. It made the moon within me fatten and shine with anticipation.
I was inside the temple walls! A gorgeous, marked acolyte was escorting me to the Lady of Peircia that I might give myself to god. The flat crack of smacked flesh and a woman’s cry of pain startled me. My poor feet faltered, and the acolyte cocked a wry eyebrow my direction. From the curtained gazebo, a woman’s laugh tapered into a moan.
“Are you stopping to watch?” my guide leaned close to whisper. His voice was cinnamon and sun-warmed stone and ran across my skin in silken shadows.
The smack, cry, laugh and moan repeated in the gazebo, and I stopped my palm sliding over the flesh of my hip. Desire thickened between my legs, but I shook my head. “You said it was going to get busy later and I must see the Lady today.” I said, and swallowed against the heaviness in my throat. He winked at me again, which didn’t help, and we passed the curtains by, me craning my hopeful neck for a glimpse of the couple gazeboed there.
Disappointed, I turned back to find my guide arrested. He stood transfixed by a blur hurtling diagonally across the pleasure yard. I remembered a time I’d seen troupe of traveling performers launch a tumbler from a springboard toward a pyramid of men. She’d missed her footing, and her fall had the same chaotic grace of the sprinting priestess.
Beside me, my tall acolyte, his arm half-raised, had almost called to her, but checked himself. I marveled that such a poised and appealing man might be uncertain too. The priestess saw him and wheeled our way. I felt him forcefully arrange his limbs into indifference.
“Niko!” the priestess panted, stopping before us. I brought the insides of my wrists to my eyebrows in the temple’s ritual greeting before I saw the shimmer on her brow was but painted, not tattooed, there. She was a priestess-in-training only, and had not noticed me. Still breathless, she touched my guide’s bare chest with sinuous fingers. “Oh Niko, I’m late for my boundlings, and I can’t find my teaching robes!”
Behind us, the woman in the gazebo cried out again, more loudly, but no longer surprised, and Niko put a steadying hand under the priestess’s tiny elbow. She turned to him, her chin tucked down and her eyes peeking up. It was very pretty, and made her seem more helpless than her breathlessness, which was real.
“At halfday, the Lady names those granted to the court for its pleasure this night,” she fretted, and leaned subtly into him, her body trembling in a shift not much thicker than mine.
“And I wanted my skin magicked too, but now there’s no time. Rao’s my co-guide, and you know she’ll report me if I skip class again.” She turned out the bud of her lower lip in a plump pout.
“Er,” I suggested, hoping to refocus Niko.
“Do you know where your robes are?” Niko’s voice was analytic, but his eyes, moving down her throat from her mouth, weren’t evaluating, only hungry.
“Maybe in Iovair’s chamber?” The priestess’s fingers trailed down Niko’s lean torso the way sprouting vines tendril a wall. “Or Kyri’s.”
Niko shivered like stones, and I understood his earlier skepticism about my offering. I could get to classes on time with my cosmetic magic worked and my right robes, but I would never have the kind of beauty that paralyzed.
Behind me, the spanked woman’s cries dropped in pitch, but not in volume. They reached beneath my too-thin silk and slid along my bruises, the sounds of her pleasure orchestrating the seduction of my guide.
“Niko?” I tried, uncertain what form of address to use with an acolyte. But Niko could neither see nor hear me, so I needn’t have worried.
“You were sent to open the moongate,” the priestess whispered. “No one’s expecting you to be anywhere immediately. But I…” She bit her lip with a stifled desire that would have been laughable if it weren’t deeply erotic, and the first honest thing she’d done. “Niko, I might be among those granted this night,” she pleaded. “Rumor says the Sairait king likes petite.”
Niko clearly did. “Shall I magick your skin for you?” His voice was rough with desire.
Niko stepped closer to the priestess and put his large hands on her slender waist.
A cry from the gazebo guest was bitten off, shrill and urgent, and I clamped my eyes to the priestess before me to keep from looking back around at the mating pair. The priestess’s hair, a riot of unmagicked brown, clung to her face and throat, and she wound her arms around my guide, pressing herself on tiptoe to kiss him. Her ripe lips and delicate tongue feathered his mouth, and his jaw clenched.
I looked away from the thaw of his restraint just as a deep groan of penetration came from the gazebo behind me. I turned and saw the naked torso of a woman framed in the mating gazebo’s open window, black curtains billowing out on either side of her. Large, scarlet nipples topped the swollen mounds of her breasts, and a man’s broad hands gripped the soft flesh of her hips. He had just entered her, and I watched as they held themselves still for the prayer of penetration.
From this distance, I could see only she was guild-marked on her spire-side arm, but not which guild or her rank within it. She moaned as her lover withdrew, and braced her hands against the window frame, pressing her ass back to him. Her full breasts hung heavily forward, and when the man spanked her again, they quivered, the blow rippling through the swollen flesh, and through me.
“Seventeen,” Niko replied to a question I hadn’t heard.
The woman cried out as her lover drove into her again; her breasts, heavy as her moaning, hefting with the impact of her lover’s penetration. Her nipples brushed the window ledge and mine tightened, imagining the friction.
“I don’t know.” Niko touched my elbow and I stepped into his hand. “What’s your name again?”
“Cess.” I tore my eyes from the gazebo and corrected myself. “Cessaire.”
“What spire are you of, Cess Cessaire?” the priestess asked with mocking cordiality. A rank above acolyte, she was still an offering god might claim, or not. She was also exactly the rank likely to be charged with the tedious and unwelcome responsibility of escorting the sort of new offering I hungered to become.
I straightened. “I am Cessaire Oghan, come from Vessia to offer my body to god.” I met her eyes.
“Hello, Cess.” A half-grin cracked her newly magicked-white face. “I’m Mina.”
I did not wish to anger her, but I had come to Peircia, I realized, more cup-handed than perhaps was meant by the expression. If I did not make my offering this day, I had no place to go and no money to keep me. “You must forgive us, Mina,” I said, summoning courage. “Niko was escorting me to the Lady Khara, mother of our country, that I might make my offering.” I curled my fingers around Niko’s arm, just over his acolyte mark, striving not to relish the taper of muscle there. “We must now take our leave.”
I knew it was bold, and that Niko did not wish it, but none of my planning and imagination, or even my worrying and doubt, had provided any outcomes beyond either that the temple would claim me, house, feed, and train me, or that I’d throw myself from the city bridge.
Truthfully, I would probably have sold the silver braided in my hair for coin enough to board me for one night of staring into the river from the bridge, but my despair bred courage.
“You mean to offer yourself?” Mina crossed her delicate arms and examined me, moon-pale skin shimmering in the morning light. The magic Niko had worked exaggerated her already extraordinary beauty, making her lips fuller, he eyes darker and her breasts fatter and erect beneath her thin gown. Uncomfortable under her scrutiny and Niko’s again, now he had rediscovered me, I stepped back, glancing from priestess to acolyte.
“Don’t fidget,” she commanded, sounding like my lady from home. “Turn round.”
I faced the gazebo, but the rhythmically shuddering breasts only added arousal to my embarrassment. The woman panted in time with her lover’s thrusts, and my ass, easily my best feature, warmed unaccountably. I kept it motionless with all the strength of my will.
“I’ll take her,” Mina announced. “Escorting an offering to the Lady is an excusable reason to show up late for teaching silly dome-bound boys.”
“No, go to your boundlings.” Niko sounded almost bored. “Rao’s gifts in pleasure rival yours, but young men need both inspiration and instruction to bind them. I’ll take Cess to the Lady now and bring your robes to you before the quarter day gong. Slip away then, and I’ll magick you whiter.” Desire hung in his voice heavy as the gazeboed woman’s breasts.
“Really?” Mina asked. “Could you?”
In the gazebo window, the man shifted his hands from his lover’s hips to her breasts, pinning them against her chest. He pulled her more nearly upright, and I stopped my back from arching with hers. One red nipple squeezed between his fingers and she released the window ledge to slide her hand into her dark triangle of pubic hair.
Her lover’s movements behind her were smaller, and she rippled with them in shivers and waves rather than single blows. The lips of my moongate thickened as hers opened. Her lover worked her nipple’s scarlet tip and her own fingers fanned over the tender eye of her sex, and I wanted to feel any part of what she was feeling.
“Don’t you work in the healing hall at quarter-morning?”
“I was asked to open the moongate.” Niko’s voice was low, but strong as the hands crushing the breasts, releasing and recapturing them. Two thick fingers recaptured the escaped nipple roughly and the woman nearly screamed. I forced out the air trapped in my throat and replaced it.
“You wouldn’t have time to escort our new offering to the Lady Khara and bring me my robes. You’d miss the call, and you can’t want that,” the priestess said. I breathed, and felt the red, twisted nipple driving short, frantic yelps from the skewered woman.
“I could always—” Niko said.
“No, that settles it. I’ll take her. Come along, Cessaire.”
Panting heavily, the woman gripped the gazebo window again, clawing the railing as though grasping for her incipient eclipse.
“Cess?” Niko’s voice sounded far away.
But the nimble little priestess was close, breathing in my ear. “Just think,” she whispered, “what pleasure she might know if I replaced her lover’s clumsy hand with my skilled mouth.” Her breath stroked my neck. “Oh look, Niko! She’s blushing!”
I turned my back to the gazebo and faced the acolyte and priestess. “I am just flushed,” I said, and schooled my face and hips to stillness.
Mina took my chin in one of her small hands. “What do you think, Niko?”
Niko said nothing, watching only her. She tipped my face to hers, and stroked deliberate, shivering fingers down my throat and over the thin silk of my shift. I swallowed hard. I must not let Mina know she had guessed true. Yes, I had felt shame – legacy of my out-boundary mother — over my interest in the gazebo, but I would not show it.
Mina fanned my nipple with the calculating pad of her thumb. Heat flooded my cheeks again, my breasts and between my legs. Mina puckered heart-shaped lips in her heart-shaped face, while behind me, the woman being paddled and mated in the gazebo reached eclipse at last in a ragged, panting wail. My eyes and moongate brimmed, but I would not blink or fidget. I would not weep or wane for Mina.
“Well, Niko?” The priestess’s insistent, flicking thumb, at odds with her indifferent tone, twisted a moan from me. She laughed again, a silver sound without malice. “She’s no beauty, but she clearly has some gift for primary pleasure. She might make a worthy offering yet.”
Niko was pale. Did he read shame or only arousal in my scarlet face? The sated woman sighed behind me. Mina freed my breast and caught my wrist. “Come along, blindling.”
I could neither argue nor swallow, all my senses firmly rooted in my tightened breast tips and plumped moongate. I let Mina tow me into the temple on my long-bruised and newly doubting feet.
So what do you think of the cover? Evocative? Facebook-worthy? Are you intrigued?
[…] shamelessly stole the book cover from Julie Kenner’s blog. It is the original cover. The new one is more discreet (because Amazon can’t distinguish […]