Lovely lady this one, I’m chatted with her quite a bit and for longer than I ever should, lol
She’s a lovely lady but I’m saddened to admit that I’ve only read one of her books, a free one.
She writes MM Science fiction, which isn’t my cup of tea. I did, however read Caterpillar. What I liked most about the story, and you can find my review here, was that even though, clearly they were alien’s, it was more a romance than a fantasy world, which, for a romance reader, was key to me liking it.
This one, the one up for the giveaway, I believe is much more intently fantasy, which for sci-fi readers I believe is key to liking the book more.
Anyway, enough about me here’s an excerpt so you can make up your own mind, the reviews are awesome, by the way
Johann had heard that you can’t change who you are. He’d never questioned that until today. Surely everyone could change—even their basic nature—if they tried hard enough. Why not? Times changed; places changed; so what made people the exception? People can change if they want, he thought. And so could he.
Today, as he walked past the tall gray pillars of the main hall, his footsteps echoing on the onyx floor, he contemplated the changes taking place and what they would mean for him and his family’s school of fine arts.
Despite the uncharacteristic calm of his subterranean home, when he looked up at the three paintings at the end of the hall, he was filled with dread. He’d come this way to see the largest one in the center, but Johann’s eyes drifted from his father’s picture on the left to study its superior quality of his own portrait, the one on the right. Oil paintings weren’t common in the Colony anymore, but his grandfather had insisted on it. Johann looked pleasant enough in the picture, his pale blue eyes and narrow face innocent and hopeful last year when he’d posed.
Your face always stays slim, at least. But you look strange there, Johann, like you don’t belong, he thought to himself, forever focusing on his light blond hair. He was the only blond in his family, and although he thought it suited him, just for today he wished he looked more like his grandfather.
You can’t change who you are…why the hell not?
The hand put on the small of his back felt comforting until he saw that it was Marian, his mother. He stepped back, checking to make sure she hadn’t stabbed him with something.
Today she too looked different.
Eyes narrowed, he stared at her, trying to determine what had changed about her. Surely it wasn’t her raven hair, wound up in its usual neat bun, or the black dress on her slender frame. Her seemingly plain clothes surprised him until he noticed the sequins and detailing. As always, she had the proper dress for the proper occasion; she was nothing if not proper.
Yet something was different about her.
Finally, he focused on her lean face and found the answer. Her face usually seemed mismatched—youthful with weary eyes. Today was the first time she didn’t look haunted. Today she looked young, something he’d never seen before. She was much older than her thirty-something looks suggested, but without her usual scowl, she almost pulled it off.
“I didn’t mean to startle you. Are you all right?” she asked, uncharacteristically gentle.
Any idiot could have answered, but surprise stole Johann’s will to talk. When she stepped closer as if to hug him, he recoiled, and she raised her hands.
“I know this is hard for you,” she said, “But just for today, let’s try. Let’s try to be a family. Please, what’s wrong?”
He tried to place her unfamiliar expression, but he ultimately gave up. When he focused on the center painting again, she stepped beside him.
“I think you get your looks from me,” she mused.
Yeah, along with my inferiority complex.
“You look handsome there. You always complain about that beauty mark under your eye, but it does look good. Don’t you remember me telling you?”
I must have blacked out for that part. ‘Cause all I remember is you screaming “Suck in your gut, suck in your gut!” even though it was a fucking portrait.
When she put a hand on his shoulder, he regarded it as if it was covered with poison. Johann took a chance and decided to be candid. “Ma’am, this…is a bit…uncharacteristic.”
Relief rushed through him when she nodded.
“We can start over today,” she said, letting out a soft sigh. “Your grandfather is gone now; don’t you see that we’re free? Things will be different now. No more fights, no more arguments, no more being pitted against each other. We’re free.”
She took him into a half hug, and even though he was taller, he felt frail in her strong embrace. He didn’t mean to cringe.
“We should go. It’ll start soon,” she said.
“I…” Johann shook his head, his heart beating faster at the prospect of what the morning would entail. “I can’t—I can’t look at the body. I can’t see him at his true age. I don’t remember ever seeing him at his true age.” His gaze rose to the center portrait again. “I want to remember Grandfather like I always knew him, with this face, young and strong.”
“All right. I’ll instruct Gulliver to keep the body covered. Is that enough?” He could hear the displeasure in her voice, yet she still held him firmly.
Despite his unease and suspicion, a part of him was genuinely thankful. “He had a good life, though; he lived long,” Johann said.
Marian didn’t answer at first. She looked up at the painting again and muttered, “Too long.”
Johann pretended not to hear. Instead he broke her hold; she gave no protest. When she turned to walk down the hall, he followed. In a short time the open space of the underground courtyard came into view.
“What do you want to do now, Johann?” She chuckled, “And don’t say get an E; that’s what you always want. But for you, your dream, anything is possible now that you’re not under anyone’s rule. What is it you want?”
He didn’t dare answer, but she gave him a pleasant enough smile, her blue eyes twinkling when he met her gaze.
“Don’t worry. You can have everything you want now. Nothing’s holding you back,” she assured him.
Instinctively, Johann walked closer to the wall, away from her. You can’t change who you are—that was what he’d heard—but this woman, a woman he’d known his entire life, was different. At this moment, she was so different that she was a stranger to him.
The courtyard seemed eerie and empty due to the low attendance, and the sight of it saddened Johann to no limit. Even the servants weren’t there. He knew his grandfather didn’t have many friends, but he had expected at least one.
“Nobody came,” he lamented under his breath.
“He was well into his nineties, darling.” His mother soothed. “His friends hadn’t kept their youth. They’re long gone now. You cannot be so surprised by the turnout.”
Now he really wanted to be rid of her.
For so many years, he would have killed for a mother like this—a woman who had a pleasant word to offer, who’d comfort him in time of need. Now, at his grandfather’s funeral, she was everything he envisioned a good mother would be. Yet he couldn’t say why he disliked the sudden transformation.
Only three other people were there: his mother’s servant, Gulliver, a man in his early forties; Johann’s fifteen-year-old brother, Dominic; and a man he knew well, the Elemental, Kobal.
Kobal’s tall, toned frame was a magnificent sight, even at a funeral, and his tasteful black suit made him stand out all the more. Today he had tied back his discolored wine-red hair, and his piercing blue eyes were heavy with sympathy and compassion.
Johann calmed upon seeing him. “Kobal,” he said.
“Master Johann.” Kobal bowed low. “My condolences.”
Marian focused on the body hidden under a white sheet in the center of the circular yard and said, “Let’s get on with it.”
Johann turned and took in the area, his eyes scanning the stone fence that bordered the wide, open space.
“Master Johann, is something wrong?”
Kobal’s voice brought Johann back to his senses, and he shook his head. “No, no. I just…I just wish we had sprung for at least one flower. Never mind the cost.” He scoffed. “Some courtyard. All concrete. Not even one flower for the man of the house upon his death.”
A sudden gasp from the small crowd prompted Johann to look about the courtyard again. He was touched by the sight of countless stone flowers rising from the ground, blanketing the concrete like a storybook meadow.
“It is only stone, and for that I’m sorry,” Kobal said gently. “To make it organic would require a lot more power, and I might not have enough energy for the burial.”
“That doesn’t matter.” Marian interjected and offered, “We can bury him with the System; a burial by that computer is fine. That’s all the rest of us will ever get.”
“It’s just one day,” Johann said, his blood boiling. “It’s just one day, Mother. For the love of the Colony, can’t we just be cordial for one damn day?”
Kobal looked embarrassed for them as he waited for the family to step back and stand against the stone barrier encompassing the courtyard.
When the Elemental clapped his hands together and closed his eyes, Johann relaxed. He felt more at ease than ever, and although his gut ached at seeing his grandfather go, he felt proud that they’d given him a proper send-off. His father wasn’t there, but he decided to ignore that fact.
Johann hadn’t had enough saved up to afford a funeral conducted by an E—an Elemental—but when he’d asked his mother, she had shocked him by agreeing. He looked at her now, Gulliver by her side; she was so calm.
This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. Shouldn’t she be down on the ground, banging on the old man’s chest? Crying? He stifled a snort because he didn’t think she was capable of tears.
Kobal was ready, so Johann stood up straight. His own black suit had been freshly tailored, and he was proud that he at least looked the part of someone paying their honest respects. Tears didn’t come to Johann easily, but he wished he could cry for the man now. Somebody should. Maybe that was what his father was doing.
A gentle gust of air flowed around them, and Kobal took on the stance of an archer.
“From the Colony you’ve come.” Kobal stood to his full height, and the concrete below the Elemental’s feet liquefied. “To the Colony you shall return.” He stomped once and then punched forward.
A loud pop echoed in the courtyard as the body sunk into the ground so quickly that the white sheet rose. Once the fluttering fabric landed, the ground was solid once more. Kobal bowed low. “Be at peace, Johann Andreas the First.”
“I’m Johann Andreas the Fourth,” Johann said an hour later, closing the door of the study.
Kobal nodded and looked down at the thin metal five-by-seven-inch data tablet in his hand. He tapped the black touch screen and read, then reread, the data. “I…I’m not sure what to make of this,” Kobal said.
“Can we do this another day?” Johann searched his family’s faces for agreement. “It’s just…talking about the estate on the same damn day we bury the man. Can—”
“Johann.” Marian’s gentle tone held a warning. “I know you’re upset, but you’d be wise to let the E finish his job. He charges by the hour.”
Kobal colored, and Johann’s cheeks heated as well.
“Ma’am, I assure you…” Kobal floundered.
Johann kept his voice low. “We know you don’t care about the credits. I think she means you’re busy.”
“And I hope you don’t take offense at being called an E,” Johann said. “It’s such a derogatory term. Seems a bit lazy to reduce people to one letter instead of saying ‘Elemental’ or ‘Empath.’”
“No, not at all. Times have changed. We’ve embraced the abbreviation.” Kobal got back to business. “All right. So, Master Johann, you are the Fourth?”
Johann nodded and Kobal turned to Dominic, who stood by his mother, leaning against the wall of the study.
“And Master Dominic…wait a second.” Kobal turned to Johann again and seemed to be counting. “Your grandfather was the First?”
Johann’s stomach sank. He knew Kobal had realized something that had been bothering him for some time as well. “Yes. My father’s the Second—”
“And the—” Kobal stopped himself, but Johann understood.
Someone was missing, and as a good official of the Assembly, Kobal knew to keep his mouth shut.
“That would explain why I cannot make anything out. Only the active head of the household can see the family records in their entirety. For now you will have to use the System for this. Because it is a private matter pertaining to family, I cannot be present.” Kobal waited and when no one protested, he turned to each of them and bowed low.
“Take care, Master Johann,” he said, “I know this was difficult for you.”
Johann was grateful for the gesture. Kobal walked to the wall, and it liquefied upon his touch. The E stepped through without trouble, and once he was gone the steel solidified. The air was tense. Gulliver was still there, something Johann hadn’t expected. He wasn’t the only one surprised.
“What’s the Gull still doing here?” Dominic asked his mother. “This is about family, isn’t it?”
Marian didn’t often look at Gulliver, as if he brought up some guilt that she was hiding, but she stared at him now. Gulliver simply lowered his gaze and walked out the door, which slid shut after him. Now only the three of them were left, and although the study wasn’t that small, it didn’t feel big enough.
Marian turned her attention to her youngest son and nodded to the steel door. “You should go also. You don’t need to be here for this.”
“But…” Dominic glanced at Johann and snorted in derision. “But there’s no way he left the title to Johann. Look at him. He’s just a fucking mess. He probably had to let out that suit two sizes. You know I’m entitled to it. I at least have a shot at graduating. Grandfather wasn’t dumb enough to let this chubby idiot take over. His belly’s practically sagging over, he’s so big. He’d probably pawn everything for a cheesecake.”
“Dom…” She didn’t often scold him, but this time she looked serious. “That is enough. Please give us a moment.”
Johann watched his younger brother march to the door. The boy was brash for his fifteen years. Before he walked out, he turned to Johann and crossed his arms, making his index fingers into hooks. That profane gesture made Johann’s eyes widen.
“There’s no fucking way you’re getting it, fat ass,” Dominic warned through clenched teeth. “And the first thing I’m doing is making you sleep in the tunnels.”
Dominic left, and the room quieted. Marian let out a soft breath and walked behind the desk. Her bony hands gave her support as she leaned forward.
“Listen to me, Johann. We’ve had our differences.” She looked him in the eye. “I haven’t always been gentle with you, but after we get the title thing straightened out, I need you to be cooperative and help out.”
Johann wrinkled his brow. “I don’t understand.”
“The title will go to your father. That’s what I want to talk to you about.”
“So you’ll have all the power? Because let’s face it; Father’s about as strong as a toothpick.”
His uncharacteristic boldness caught her off guard—she didn’t have a sharp response for once. When she stood to her full height, however, he knew she was gearing up for a fight.
“Listen very carefully. I’ve worked hard for this place. I’ve killed myself trying to get this school working, and we’re a success now because I’ve worked my fingers to the bone. A business like this is a great burden, and it will be your burden if you take it on. I’m not asking you to do anything but simply look at the big picture. You should work hard for what you have. Once you’ve worked hard and achieved something, only then will you truly be happy in life.”
“But you didn’t.” Johann hadn’t meant to say it aloud, but she didn’t defend herself.
Instead she tapped the top of her desk twice, and the smooth mahogany surface turned black. With the ease and convenience of verbally requesting information from the System, Johann hadn’t expected her to call on a private interface on the desktop. He had been counting on overhearing that verbal request to hide his knowledge about the estate.
When she froze, he took a step back because there was no way to feign surprise. He knew something she hadn’t been privy to until this minute. Johann waited for her to speak, and the fact that she didn’t worried him.
“M-Mother. I know you’re surprised by this, but Grandfather told me last year that the title would be mine. That it would skip Dad and fall to me. I just want you to know that this—this won’t be something that I—that I abuse. I mean, you can stay here forever of course, and…everything you need will be provided without question.”
She stood still, her eyes fixed on the data, and when she exhaled he imagined the air coming out of a balloon. Though she met his gaze and seemed like her ghoulish old self, he noticed her eyes held hurt.
“You have to relinquish it. You have to.” He was stunned to see actual tears form, but she blinked them back and sucked in a deep breath. “You must. It won’t be active for another year, not until you turn twenty-one. So please.” She set her mouth in a line, seemingly fighting to keep her composure. “Please, I’m doing this for you. Please do not trap yourself in this place.” Finally, she pleaded, “Do not trap us. Give the title to Dom. I’ll admit your father isn’t the ideal choice, but Dom—”
“System, please stand by for a command,” she said.
A soft chime sounded, and a male voice echoed throughout the room: “Awaiting command…”
She stepped around the desk, and Johann backed away. “No. Of course I won’t relinquish it. It’s my right.”
If a person couldn’t change, their eyes even less so. Hers were the same haunted blue orbs that he’d seen every day for as long as he could remember. She stared at him for a moment. Then all sympathy and slight good cheer faded from her face, her glare turning stern. And just like that, the new Marian was gone. Now Johann knew what that phrase meant. She’d tried being nice, tried being the gentle matriarch, playing the part in hopes it would take. It hadn’t. Now that weakling picture-perfect storybook mother was gone, and Marian was back.
“Don’t test my patience, Johann. If you ever, ever want to be able to call me Mother again, you’ll listen to me for once and do as I say.”
“And when have you been a mother? Huh? When were you ever a mother to me?” Bile rose up in him. “You are the most awful person I know. Hell, when looking for a spouse, I cringe at the idea of it being a woman because I cannot imagine any woman being anything but cruel and surly like you. I’ve lived my life in fear of you. I even went so far as to steal some of your hair and ask the System to make certain you’re my blood parent, that some breeder didn’t give birth to me. Because I couldn’t believe one person could hate me so much. That’s how bad you are.”
“I don’t despise you…”
“I said hate, not despise. It’s interesting that you heard me differently.”
She watched him, her glare so hateful he swore he could feel it burning his skin.
“If you walk out of this room, Johann, you can mark this day. You can put it on your calendar for the years to come. Know that January thirteenth in the fifty-sixth year of the third passing is the day you made an enemy for life.”
Her fists were clenched—and they were rarely brought out just for show.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Mother,” Johann assured her, his voice quivering. “I never want to do that—”
“Do not call me Mother. Do you hear me? From this day forward, you are as dead to me as that festering sack of impshit we put into the ground this morning.”
He flinched, but he kept his distance.
“Listen carefully,” she said, slowly advancing. “It’s one year before that title comes into effect. One whole year, so think very long and hard if you want to try my patience for one year.”
He eyed her steady approach, his pulse racing. “I’ve survived you for nearly twenty years already.”
She smiled; it made her face looked twisted. “Oh, you’ve survived me? You’ve survived me, Johann? Is that what you think this is? You’ve survived me?” She stopped before him finally, the faint traces of her sweet perfume soured by the venom in her voice. “I promise you this. The very day you open your mouth to accept that title is the day one of us draws our last breath. If you think living with me till now was survival, then I’ll have to reeducate you on the true meaning of the word. You’ve only just begun to learn about survival.”
From Johann to Tannenbaum by Ashlyn Forge
(Toys and Soldiers #4)
Published 5th November 2013 by Ashlyn Forge
Science Fiction LGBT Romance
Johann Andreas IV is a rich loser who has a raw deal in life. He is handsome, yet with a poor self-image, clever, but still uneducated, and despite being the heir apparent in his grandfather's will, he's about to be thrown out with nothing.
In the underground colony of his birth, two things matter the most to its denizens: a name, which will guarantee his wealth and status, and a designated branding tattoo, the only thing allowing Colony-Dwellers to live safely underground. Johann has one year to find a husband in order to secure both.
Grandfather's unexpected passing has propelled Johann to the foreground of his family. He's up to the challenge but one thing stands in his way; his mother has plans of her own...and they don't include him.
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