• On Lonely Paths

    Book Cover: On Lonely Paths
    Part of the Earth and Sky series:

    The impending marriage of a Groundbreather and a Skychild is set to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity, yet there are factions on both sides that vehemently oppose such a union.

    While in the midst of planning their nuptials, Skye and Tierra find out just how determined these factions are. Tierra is snatched away from her home, and Skye desperately follows, gathering unlikely allies along the way and learning that trust should not be loosely given.

    While Skye treks across the land, seeking Tierra as well as answers to the multitude of questions that plague him, Tierra finds herself among a people she never knew existed . . . and caught up in politics that involve the very god she worships. The world Tierra thought she knew grows more complicated as she realizes that being apart from Skye is not the only trial she faces.

    Worse yet is the revelation that the Fenik is not the only threat to the world. And the distance that the gods have maintained from their peoples appears to be growing shorter by the day.

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    Excerpt:

    It was night in the sky realm. And what a night it was.

    The sky was clear and the stars as visible as if there was nothing in between the firmament above and the earth below. The wind shifted and swirled about the settlements of the Skychildren, the area at once calm and peaceful, yet giving a hint of a world which, though not flush with youth, was alive and rich with life.

    On the ground world below, the night was equally fine—warm, as dictated by the summer season yet calm and gentle, with no hint of the sometimes spectacular storms which plagued the area during the summer.

    But the world below was of no concern to the two who lay upon the soft grasses of the sky realm. Here and there, hints of nearby foliage, though certainly not as lush and green as that found on the earth below, could be seen in the darkness. Heathers, brush, and even the occasional stunted trees covered the landscape, bringing life to what would otherwise be a blasted land.

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    The two people themselves were a study in contrast, and one which, not many months ago, would not have been seen anywhere in the world. The man was tall and slender, possessed of short locks of straight blond hair and cobalt-colored eyes. He was intelligent and kind, but quick to anger and lacking patience, something which his companion would often tease him about, though always with the utmost of affection.

    By contrast, the woman was small in stature, though her determination and intelligence more than made up for her short height, and while she did not possess a particularly fiery personality, she was not one to be trifled with. As for her looks, they were the opposite of his, for she sported a mane of long, rich, chestnut hair and had a lovely face with amber-colored eyes.

    The fact that their people were the bitterest and oldest of enemies had been all but forgotten by both of them, though their respective peoples were not as quick in embracing one another as the two lovers were. Still, with patience and persistence, they both believed that the change in the relations between their peoples would make their world a better place. This belief and their love for one another drove them to continue their course, no matter what obstacles arose before them. They were determined it would always be thus.

    The woman shifted, gazing fondly at the man beside her for a moment before returning her eyes upward once more. She loved the look of peace and contentment upon her fiancé’s face; there had been a lot to try their patience lately—much of it involving their impending wedding—yet these stolen moments were theirs to enjoy together in relative solitude. Right now, there was no need to worry about consulting with advisers and family members or handling the variety of problems that had cropped up as they attempted to facilitate peaceful trade relations between their peoples. This time was theirs. It was a period when they could afford to be selfish, if only for a brief time.

    “One of the things I love most about the sky realm is how I can see the stars so clearly,” Tierra said softly, breaking the comfortable silence between them.

    “A Groundbreather who also fancies herself a stargazer? I fear you may soon be disowned by your people for heresy,” Skye teased.

    She elbowed him gently in the ribs. “I am not the only one demonstrating unusual qualities for one of a certain race. I seem to recall you admiring some of the flowers in the castle gardens down in the ground realm, which some of your people up here might view to be just as heretical.”

    Skye snorted but did not comment; Tierra knew he was well aware of the fact that his opinions of the ground realm had undergone an almost miraculous transformation. Somehow, she had broken through his barriers without even realizing she was doing it. And she was so glad that she had, for his soul had become irrevocably bound to hers in a way that she had never imagined possible.

    They were quiet again for a few moments before Tierra asked, “Do you remember my constellation?”

    His light chuckle brought a smile to her face. “Of course,” he said, pointing. “That crass sword over there has your name written right on its hilt.”

    “And yours is that primitive old bow over there,” Tierra responded in kind, nodding toward a small grouping of stars. “An absolutely useless weapon for a battle.”

    “I’d say it wasn’t that useless when Cirrus used it to save your neck in our battle with the Fenik,” Skye countered.

    “Mmhmm,” Tierra said. She was glad Skye could speak more lightly of the battle and her role in it now—he had admitted to having some nightmares about it after the fact which she suspected centered on losing her—but she was less than pleased that she owed something to Skye’s friend.

    While the man was all smiles and joviality when it came to Skye, Cirrus’s expression always took on a disapproving cast when he focused on her. She had considered asking Skye to talk to his friend, but Skye seemed so glad Cirrus was alive that she did not want to cause his happiness to dim even a whit. So she held her tongue, hoping that Cirrus would eventually come to see that her motives were pure when it came to Skye. In marrying him, she was not seeking to be queen; she was seeking love and companionship. And she knew she would have it in ample measure.

    “You know,” Skye said, twisting and propping his head up on an elbow while he lazily draped an arm across Tierra’s stomach, “I still can’t believe you disguised yourself as a soldier so you could participate in a fight with a giant beast.”

    As he began to draw circles with his fingers on Tierra’s side, she had to fight against the urge to shy away from the ticklish sensation. “I had no idea that was what I was going to face.” “If you had known, would it have stopped you?”

    “No.”

    Skye laughed, his amusement clearly seeping through their mental bond. “That’s my little Groundbreather.”

    Tierra raised an eyebrow. “Your little Groundbreather?”

    “That’s right,” he said, wrapping his arm tightly around her. “Mine.”

    “I ought to imprison you in a ground cage for that one and teach you just what your place is.”

    “Probably. But then you wouldn’t have someone to take you stargazing.”

    “I would just have to find another Skychild to serve as my personal form of transport. I imagine Mista would not protest.”

    “You’re probably right. But I think her fear of insects and becoming dirty might hamper her willingness to partake in such outdoor activities as reclining on sky soil. And all that’s not even taking into account her insipid personality, which I think would be the more important factor when considering whether to use her as your transportation.”

    “Skye,” Tierra chided, “you know she has a good heart.”

    “I still don’t know what you see in that woman,” he grumbled, shaking his head.

    “As I have told you before, I find her innocence refreshing. But come—you cannot tell me you brought me up here to complain about your stepmother, now, can you?” Her lip quirked. “I am certain you had something more interesting in mind if you were willing to brave my mother’s wrath. She is still angry that I snuck away from the castle to help with the battle against the Seneschal. If she knew how often you snuck me away from the castle, she would have both of our hides hung up outside the castle walls for all the world to see what happens to those who bring about her displeasure.”

    “I think your mother would like my hide regardless. If it weren’t for the water connecting us . . .”

    “Yes, Terrain’s water has indeed brought us great good,” Tierra said with a smile, reaching up to touch his lips at the memory of their first kiss. “Because of his gift, our two peoples have been drawn together at last.”

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