Monday, 3 November 2014

Book Spotlight: Beyond the Rift by Alana Ankh


Beyond the Rift
by Alana Ankh
Elemental Lovers Book 1
M/M Fantasy Romance
Dreamspinner Press

Blurb:

Across the centuries, the Nikari, a race of vicious elemental mages, have built an empire, bringing an entire continent to its knees. The course of history seems set... until one innocent Andari mage changes everything and claims a greater prize—the heart of the Nikari emperor.

Behnivyr ‘Ivy’ Erethe knows his duty is to wed another Andari Pure-Blood. Craving one moment of freedom before his loveless bonding, he escapes his father’s suffocating protection and goes to a masquerade ball, only to unexpectedly meet a mysterious Nikari named Kris. Kris makes Ivy ache with a need he barely dares to acknowledge. One kiss, one dance—and Ivy’s life changes forever. Unbeknownst to Ivy, Kris is actually Kristelien Fezenda, the Nikari emperor. Forced to make a difficult choice, Ivy picks love over duty and becomes Kris’s concubine.

Poorly prepared for the whirlwind of emotion Ivy summons inside him, Kris now faces the hardest battle of his life. In a ruthless world where all weakness is exploited, where allies become enemies in the blink of an eye, where love can mean death, he will have to defeat more than his own personal demons to breach the rift between him and Ivy.

***

Excerpt:

Masks

A thousand years later

“THIS IS a terrible idea, Your Lordship. Please. We should go back.”

Ignoring his manservant’s protests, Ivy sneaked through the garden, hiding behind a statue and scanning his environs for any sign of guards. He spotted several silhouettes patrolling the edges of the garden and grimaced. Oh well. He had been ready for that.

“Come along, Akolo,” he whispered to his manservant, “or I’ll leave you behind.”

With a frustrated huff, Akolo fell silent and followed Ivy out of his hiding place. Ivy took a deep breath and murmured a cloaking spell, wrapping his magic tightly around him and Akolo. As quietly as possible, they slipped past the guards and headed toward the back gate of the property.

As a rule, the service entrance was always open, but not tonight. Tonight, a heavy lock blocked the access to the road beyond. Fortunately, Ivy had known about it, and in fact, had counted on his father’s habit of shutting down the manse every solstice. Sweeping his fingers over the lock, he murmured another spell, willing the lock to open for him.

Mercifully, it worked. The gate swung open far more violently than Ivy had expected, but by some sort of miracle, he managed to catch it before it hit the fence and drew entirely unwanted attention.

“Your Lordship,” Akolo tried again.

Ivy shushed him and stepped outside. As his manservant followed, Ivy shut the gate behind them. His father believed him to have retreated to his quarters, so, if all went well, the older Andari would never know about Ivy’s little rebellion.

It took a while, but at last Ivy and Akolo managed to make their way outside his father’s territory and enter downtown Seanda. Ivy’s efforts were rewarded since the solstice carnival was already well underway.

As the capital city of the province of Reptatte, Seanda usually bustled with activity. However, at late hours, the Andari tended to retreat to their homes or to indoor establishments. Tonight, this had changed. The quiet Seanda evening had exploded in a display of color, diversity, and joy. The streets were lined with stalls and tents offering all sorts of products, from meals to toys or jewelry. Wreaths of flowers and symbols of the Creator adorned each home in sight, the decorations in tune with the lively carnival.

The smell of candied malynsa permeated the air, beckoning partygoers to approach and usually finding an adequate target in the throng of children already demanding the treat. The scent of burning torches and smoked meats added to the bouquet of aromas, while laughter, merriment, and song bubbled all around.

Ivy made his way through the crowd, taking in the sights with a mix of anxiety and happiness. Behind him, his manservant kept muttering imprecations and pleas. “Your father will figure out that you escaped, and then he’ll punish both of us.”

Ivy settled his mask more carefully on his face. He knew that, in all likelihood, Akolo was right, but he couldn’t turn back, not now. “I’m sorry, Akolo, but this is my last chance. I need to feel alive just once. Will you truly begrudge me that?”

Akolo sighed heavily but said nothing more. Perhaps he realized that Ivy hadn’t escaped tonight just for the purpose of upsetting his overbearing father. Sure, that could have been a very good reason, but Ivy prided himself on not choosing such childish, petty ways of revenge.

No, tonight he had another goal. In cities like Seanda—ruled by Full-Blooded Andari—the summer solstice was celebrated by encouraging openness toward the rest of the settlements of Anderra. It was the one time when Full Bloods came together with their Half-Blood cousins and, sometimes, even their less pleasant Nikari leaders. The masquerade balls brought all sorts of people together, blurring the well-defined lines of their social structure for a single night. Seanda opened its gates to all, and within the enjoyment and laughter of the carnival, they found togetherness and the hope for understanding.

Ivy was accustomed to Half Bloods, as most of the servants in his household—Akolo included—came from such families. However, the rich, powerful Half Bloods who now formed part of the landed gentry were an entirely differently matter. Their magic was not as potent as his own, but that didn’t make them any less intriguing. And then, there were the Nikari. How was Ivy supposed to fear and loathe someone he didn’t even know?

Of course, everyone knew the general history of the Nikari. Ironically, the ancestors of the Nikari, the Ndara, had been distant cousins of the Andari, which was why, to this day, some customs of the two species bore slight resemblances. However, after the Ndara had been taken over by the foreign Aranken force, countless things had changed.

Now the Nikari occupied the entire Western Realm and were regularly a reason for Ivy’s father’s rants. Ivy didn’t want to borrow the opinions of others. Like he’d told Akolo, this was his last chance to figure things out for himself. And maybe, just maybe, he’d actually experience what it was like to live before the gilded cage of his parents’ desires snapped shut around him.

Ivy shook off his glum musings, refusing to let his impending betrothal ruin tonight. He caught sight of a stall that sold reada wine and quickly made his way there, ignoring Akolo’s protests. Traditionally a Nikari drink, it had spread all throughout Anderra after the Great Wars and had become quite popular, especially in the northern regions.

“First time?” the merchant asked with a grin.

Ivy nodded, not bothering to deny the obvious. Even with the mask, he couldn’t hide his Andari Full Blood nature. His fine, fair complexion and heart-shaped face contrasted with the dusky skin and sharper, more angular features of the Nikari. At most, people might mistake him for a particularly exotic-looking Half Blood, but even that was doubtful. Nikari blood guaranteed that Half Bloods were never as slender as Andari tended to be, and their skin tone was very distinctive, far darker than Ivy’s.

The merchant gave him a long look, probably realizing the truth. Still, he didn’t turn Ivy away. He poured Ivy a generous portion of the brew and said, “Careful now. Just take a sip. It might be too strong for you.”

Ivy arched a brow. He knew all too well the Nikari didn’t drink their wine by sips, and he could identify the challenge in the merchant’s voice. Drinking reada wine was only allowed after a Nikari—and naturally, an Andari—reached his age of majority. Coincidentally, Ivy had just come of age a fortnight back. He refused to step back from the challenge as if he were some child.

Taking a deep breath, Ivy gripped the offered glass and analyzed the bubbling crimson liquid. Without allowing himself to hesitate, he drank down the entire contents.

For a few seconds, nothing happened—or maybe it just seemed that way to Ivy. Then the world came crashing down, the scents, lights, and music becoming sharper, hotter, brighter. Ivy’s eyes watered as the heavily spiced brew scorched his taste buds. He swayed and distantly berated himself for his recklessness. It was a good thing Akolo manifested behind him and supported him because otherwise, he might have collapsed right then and there. Ivy didn’t think he could have survived the embarrassment.

Ivy leaned against Akolo and managed to gather his wits. Sweet Reysen, the brew must have been more potent than Ivy had thought. He suddenly had the impression that Akolo smelled very good and seemed far taller and more muscular than Ivy knew him to be.

“Are you well?” a male voice asked behind him.

Ivy froze as the smooth baritone cleared the lingering fogginess from his mind. No wonder Akolo’s hold on him had felt different. It hadn’t been the manservant who’d kept him from falling.

As quickly as possible, he straightened himself and pulled away from the stranger. Turning on his heel, he instinctively checked his mask. Once he ascertained it remained in place, he faced the other man, only to blink in shock at the sight that met his eyes.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out the stranger was Nikari. His piercing black gaze was sharpened by gold-rimmed irises that appeared to glow in the light of the torches. He was easily a head taller than Ivy, but twice as bulky, with the difference being all muscle. His traditional Nikari garb did nothing to hide his warrior’s build, the tight tunic and breeches instead emphasizing his barely leashed virile strength. Twin braids of dark hair framed his cheeks, marking him as a seasoned warrior. A black mask hid part of his dusky-skinned face, adding an edge of mystery and danger—as if that had been necessary.

Ivy’s mouth went dry, and for a few moments, he couldn’t remember how to speak. He tried to fall back on his deeply ingrained manners, or maybe to remember his lessons on Nikari mores, but it was all a blur in his mind.

The stranger frowned, and Ivy realized he hadn’t replied to his question. Snapping out of his trance, he stammered, “F-Fine.” Frustrated with himself, he straightened his back and added, “My apologies. I should have known better than to take him up on the offer.”

The stranger threw a dark glare toward the merchant. “Sometimes, people like that enjoy teasing Full Bloods. I doubt he expected you would actually do it.”

***

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