Enter to win a copy of Moon Shadows by Neena Jaydon!!

Hello friends!

Great news! Neena Jaydon is giving away a copy of her book Moon Shadows to one of our Top2Bottom readers! All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below and you’re automatically entered to win! The contest will run all day until Midnight tonight.

Good Luck!

*Hugs*

Gabbi

Neena Jaydon gives us a glimpse inside her book, Moon Shadows!

It’s been a year since Moon Shadows, my second novel, was released by Torquere Press. In honour of that, here is an excerpt from it. This is the first time that preppy dog trainer Max and nerdy werewolf Theo meet.

Blurb:

Nerdy werewolf Theo and preppy dog trainer Max are accidentally brought together by the mysterious appearance of malevolent spirits in their quiet northern town. More than unruly spirits are unleashed as Theo and Max discover that they have secrets and desires in common.

Excerpt:

There was a car parked out front, and he’d clearly heard the doorbell respond when he pressed it, but no one came to the door. Max glanced up and down the street, which was full of old-fashioned stuccoed houses like this one, before facing the ragged screen door and its scratched white partner again. He tapped his fingers on the wrought-iron railing as he tried to decide whether to ring again or just leave. Just as he reached out to the button again, the inner door opened.

A face appeared: pasty, stubbled with dark whiskers, largely hidden by a combination of brown-framed glasses and heavy, black curls. Taken aback, for a moment Max just stared. Presumably the other man was staring back, but Max couldn’t see his eyes clearly. He rallied himself.
“Hi, I’m Max Shevchenko. Anastasia’s brother.”

The face rose as its owner straightened. The man pushed his hair back with one hand, revealing wide, gray eyes behind the glasses. He took a half-step back and glanced around.

What, is he expecting trouble? Max covered his offense with a smile.

“I’m sorry to intrude, but I just wanted to say thanks for what you did for my sister.”

“Oh.” The voice itself was a sturdy baritone, but spoke softly.

“You are Theo Dimitriadis, right?”

“Yeah. Yeah.” Theo cleared his throat. “Sorry. Come in.” He gestured for Max to enter.

The little house had a sloped ceiling and small, paned windows. The living room wasn’t exactly out of control but clearly fought the reins. Stacks of magazines wobbled on a stool, and DVD and game cases sprawled across the coffee table, while the sofa provided a home to a potato chip bag, a wadded blanket, and a video game controller. The armchair tucked next to the window overflowed with half-heartedly folded laundry. An incongruously new home entertainment center dominated the room.

As he took this scene in from the front hallway, Max carefully kept his expression pleasant. The last thing he was here to do was judge.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Theo,” he said, holding out his hand. Theo shook it; his hand was big and warm, but his grip too careful. After the handshake, Theo rasped his fingernails across his stubbled chin. He wore a black T-shirt, plaid pajama bottoms, and a ratty, gray cardigan.
“You, too.”

“I hope you don’t mind,” Max pushed on, “but I just really wanted to say thanks in person. The police say you saved her life.”

“I just did — what anyone would do.” Theo took off his glasses and held them in both hands. The eyes that kept avoiding Max’s were remarkable. They weren’t blue at all, but a stormy gray that paled when light touched them. “Is she doing okay?”

“Yeah. She should be out of the hospital by next week.” Max pressed his lips together. “She doesn’t remember how the car got into the river.”
“It happens,” Theo said. “Trauma and all that,” he added hastily when Max looked at him.

“Yeah, that’s what the doctors think.” Running out of steam, Max looked at the floor; for at least a minute silence reigned in the hallway.
“Do you want some coffee?” Theo asked abruptly. “Sure.”

“The kitchen’s this way.” Theo led the way down the hall. The kitchen was tidier than the living room, but even more outdated. Formica topped the white table, and the fridge was a dark yellow-beige color. The table had space for four chairs but only had two. At Theo’s nod, Max took the nearer and sturdier of the two.

“Is that a harvest gold fridge?” Max asked. Theo looked up from pouring coffee and nodded. “I just had to ask, because we had one when I was a kid. My mom said it was a ’70s thing.”

“Yeah, my grandmother, uh, said that, too.” Theo looked at the fridge. “She loved it. Ma hated it.”

“My mom wasn’t so big on it, either. As soon as we could afford it, we got new appliances.” Max noticed that the coffeemaker was an expensive brand and sized to serve more than one. Possibly as many as four.

“How do you take your coffee?”

“I always order double-doubles,” Max said sheepishly, and again Theo nodded. He brought Max coffee in a mug decorated with a famous TV spaceship crew. His own mug of clearly black coffee had the initials “FQVII” on it. “Thanks,” Max said, trying to work out what the initials meant. “So what do you do, Theo?”

“I’m a game tester,” came the reply. Here, for the first time, was a hint of a challenge in his voice.

“Game tester?” Max blinked.

“I test video games for game companies. Freelance.”

“That sounds like a fun job to have.” That’s a job?

“It’s actually pretty rough sometimes, but, uh, lots of people want to do it.” Theo drank from his mug.

“I bet. How’d you get into it?”

“I won some competitions. Passed some tests.” Theo quickly drank again. “I’ve got better reflexes than most people.” This was almost inaudible.
“Huh.” Max tentatively sipped his own coffee and then paused. “This is really good coffee.” Running back and forth from the hospital, he hadn’t slept well since the accident, and the caffeine hit him like a slap.

“I drink a lot of coffee,” Theo said with a shrug. “I’m willing to send away for good stuff.”

“Hm.” Max had more of the best coffee he’d ever tasted. After a false start, Theo spoke.
“What do you do?”

“I’m a dog trainer.” He saw those pretty eyes go wide again, and tension lift the broad shoulders hidden in the cardigan. Theo’s build was a mystery under the baggy clothes, but he certainly didn’t seem to be as soft as Max would expect of a man who played video games for a living. “My family runs a boarding kennel,” Max went on. “I grew up around dogs, so it was a natural fit.” He leaned forward, trying to gain eye contact. “Look, why don’t you drop around for supper next week? Maybe Sunday? My family would love to meet you, and Anastasia should be home by then.”

“I really don’t need any fuss made over this.” Theo stared into his coffee. At this angle, his curly flop of hair cupped his cheekbones, as if trying to draw attention to them. They were worthy of attention, high and finely carved.

“Don’t worry about that,” Max said. “It’d mean so much to my mom.”

“Okay.” Theo nodded, offering a smile that did nice things to his well-shaped lips.

“Great,” Max said, feeling a warmth inside unrelated to the coffee. I’m not sure, but I think this guy might actually be really cute.

Neena Jaydon discusses the research she did for her book Moon Shadows

Writing Moon Shadows made me extra-sensitive to the moon. For one thing, I had to figure out the dates of full moons based on the 2012 lunar cycle so that the timeline worked out. But it also meant that every time I went outside at night and saw the moon, I’d smile and my mind immediately filled up with Theo and Max. Often that turned into inspiration and when I got back inside, I’d write up a storm. In my hometown, which is what the setting of Moon Shadows is based on, the night skies can be crystal clear, with the moon just popping out of that sea of darkness. Especially when I lived on a farm, away from the town lights, the stars would be so incredible, in their infinite layers of white sparks. More than once I nearly froze into a statue standing on our driveway to look at the Northern Lights. And the mists rising off the hayfields that appear in the book come from my own experience haying in the evening. Now I live in town, but I still get treated to some really lovely moons. And now, a year after Moon Shadows was released, I’m looking forward to more of the sort of beautiful northern autumn night skies that Theo and Max encounter.

To Max, the moon is just something pretty to look at. To Theo, it’s Mother Moon, an entity with deep connections to his people, and one that often causes him great distress. My relationship with the moon is much simpler than Theo’s — it fills me with joy and inspiration. But then, I’m not a werewolf.

Please Welcome Neena Jaydon!!

Hi Neena! We’re thrilled you’re here!

Thank you for taking some down time and spending it with us. Let’s start this off with a beverage. We have coffee, tea, some sort of juice (I think it’s been in here a few weeks) and soda. What would you like?

Diet cola, if you have it. I’m fairly addicted.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure. I’m currently a graduate student working on an English MA thesis. I love animals and spend a lot of time petsitting. I’ve moved back and forth from Japan twice, and I may well move there again someday. I’ve been a geek for a long time. My current obsessions include Asian Ball-jointed Dolls, BBC Sherlock, and Dragon Age.

When you received news that your manuscript had been accepted what were the first words that fell from your mouth?

I believe it was more of an “EEEEEEEEEEE” sound.

What forces brought you over to the MM Genre and what made you want to write it?

I came to MM through the combined powers of yaoi and fanfiction. I would write original fiction involving m/m couples anyways, but I’m so glad the genre has come along as a publishing category in its own right.

Would you care for some cookies? We have chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal with or without raisins and a package of mystery ones. We have cake too. Your choice.

Hmm, that’s a tough one. Cake, please.

How many hours a day do you spending writing?

It varies. I aim to write about a scene a day, or at the very least get out about 300 words. That can take half an hour, or a couple of hours.

Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

I try to get a complete rough draft before I begin revising. I do restart rough drafts, however.

When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

I’m still experimenting with that. When I was a pantser, I never completed anything. Being too much of a plotter gets time-consuming when I end up changing the plotlines anyways. I’m still developing my own method, I guess.

Of your characters do you have a favorite and why?

That really varies depending on what I’m working on at the time. I will say that I have a special fondness for Villam from Storms and Stars, because he’s so ridiculously passionate about whatever — or whoever — he decides to devote himself to. I also have a stronger connection with Theo from Moon Shadows because he’s the most like me of any character I’ve ever written.

Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it, and what measures do you take to get past it?

I do get it from time to time, although rarely for that long. I prevent it by writing every day, and when it hits, I either refill the well with other inspirations, or I try to chip through it by writing just a few words here and there.

Do you have a particular spot in your house that you call your comfy zone? (The place where you write.)

It’s usually just my desk, where I do pretty much everything.

When you’re in the mindset to write, do you put a sign up that warns others not to disturb you while at work?

I don’t. My closed door works most of the time.

How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?

I adore comedy. Webcomics, stand-up comedians, manga, anime, Britcom, satire, TDS/TCR, homegrown Canadian stuff, NZ comedy . . . witty and self-deprecating is my favourite style, although black humour and absurd humour also tickle my funnybone.

What is the most frequently asked (author name) question?

Probably the how-do-you-write question, actually.

What are you working on now?

My current WIP is set in the same universe as Storms and Stars. It’s about a soldier from the other side of the empire and a troublemaking local lad meeting on a farming colony
.

Writing is obviously not just how you make your living, but your life-style as well. What do you do to keep the creative “spark” alive – both in your work and out of it?

I look for inspiration everywhere, such as television shows, books, games, and people-watching. And I try to keep the doubting voices away, so that I don’t block the more adventurous ideas.

What kind of books do you like to read outside of the MM Genre?

Inside or outside of MM, I’m all about SF/F. I also like reading about television, as that’s my area of study. Unfortunately, I have little time to read for pleasure these days
.

Pick one: Scientist, Astronaut, Retail, or Horse Trainer-

Easy question! Horse trainer. I actually thought I would be one, but my mother discouraged me. I had horses in my teens and early twenties. I’m on horsey hiatus, but will own them agai
n.

Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?

My biggest hobby is my Asian Ball-joined Doll collection. That includes painting doll faces, photography, and a bit of sewing. It also means keeping an eye on all the doll companies to see what exciting new sculpts they have and squeeing about new developments with other BJD owners.

Any special projects coming out soon we should watch for?

Not at the moment, but please check out my current releases!

Our readers can check out Neena’s work Here.

Can you please tell us where we can find you on the Internet?

Here are some places to find me:
Twitter: @NeenaJaydon
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/neena.jaydon
Blog: http://neenajaydon.tumblr.com/
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5429018.Neena_Jaydon
Amazon: amazon.com/author/neenajaydon
Homepage: http://neenajaydon.net/
Email: neenajaydon@yahoo.ca

It was a pleasure having you here with us today. Please come by and let us know how you’re doing from time to time. OH! And before you leave, can I get your help here in the kitchen? Thanks!!

Thanks so much for having me. If it’s the dishes that need doing, I’d rather dry than wash.

Digging Without a Shovel by Neena Jaydon


Title: Digging Without a Shovel
Author: Neena Jaydon
Publisher: Torquere Press
Pages: 20
Characters: Max, Theo
POV: 3rd
Sub genre: Paranormal Romance
Kisses: 3.5



Blurb:

When Max Shevchenko sees his partner Theo Dimitriadis’s very expensive coffeemaker hit the floor, he knows he’s going to have an upset werewolf on his hands. But Theo stays frosty for longer than Max thinks he deserves. There’s something else upsetting Theo, and Max can’t figure out what it is. During a Halloween party, he risks his dignity to wear a costume designed to turn Theo on. Can a little cosplay seduce the truth from Theo’s lips?

Max and Theo first appeared in Moon Shadows

Review:

Max is worried about whats bothering Theo. He accidentally broke Theo’s very expensive coffee maker while cleaning out a cupboard but can’t understand why he is still so angry with him. He’s bought him a new one and apologized over and over but it doesn’t seem to be enough. Max decides to risk his dignity by wearing a costume to a Halloween party guaranteed to turn Theo on and make him forget whatever has had him so upset.

I loved this story about how far someone is willing to go to make their loved one happy, even at their own expense. If you’re wanting a sweet read to pass a little time, check this out!

Reviewed by Pat

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Moonshadows by Neena Jaydon


Title: Moonshadows
Author: Neena Jaydon
Publisher: Torquere Press
Pages: 276
Characters: Theo, Max
POV: 3rd
Sub genre: Contemporary Romance, Paranormal
Kisses: 4




Blurb:

ot every werewolf is leader of the pack. Theo Dimitriadis, games tester by profession and werewolf by nature, has built himself a quiet life. But he puts himself into the public spotlight after he pulls Anastasia Shevchenko out of a river. This brings him to the attention of Max, Anastasia’s brother. Max is a dog trainer who, like Theo, has a family secret. He’s a medium, able to communicate with ghosts and spirits.

When life-draining shadow spirits appear in Fort Rivers, Theo and Max take action together. Max starts wanting the gorgeous man he sees hidden behind Theo’s shyness. The more Theo retreats from his attention, the more Max goes on the chase. Theo loves to submit but fears that he’ll give up too much control to Max. They struggle to understand each other even as they zero in on the shadow spirits. But before they can reconcile their differences, an even darker threat comes along, intent on harming more than their relationship. If Theo and Max want to be together, first they have to get through this supernatural battle intact!

Review

Theo Dimitriadis is a geeky, shy loner who saves a young woman from drowning when he comes across a car wreck late one night. He hates the publicity and attention it brings and retreats into his own little world. Max Shevchenko-the brother of Anastasia, the woman Theo rescued- finally tracks Theo so he can thank him for rescuing his sister and finds himself instantly attracted to the shy loner.

Max can’t figure out why Theo is so reluctant to let him get close to him until the day he goes over to his house and finds Theo shifted into the form of a wolf. Turns out that Theo is a member of a pack of Greek shifters who want to keep their existence a secret. Max can understand the need to appear normal to the outside world as he and his sister have their own secret to hide. They are both mediums, whose ability to communicate with the spirit world has been passed down in their family for generations.

Max and Theo find themselves and their talents drawn into investigating the mystery of why people in the area are collapsing and going into comas with no explanation why. They finally figure out that these people are sensitive to the spirit world and that somehow dark spirits are using them as portals into our world from another dimension.

This story literally starts out with a bang as Theo saves Anastasia from drowning after her car goes off a bridge. Theo retreats from the publicity and attention so that Max has to literally track him down in order to thank him for saving his sister. Max finds himself instantly attracted to the shy loner and can’t figure out why Theo is so reluctant and hesitant about letting him get close to him until he accidentally discovers Theo’s secret-that he is a member of a Greek pack of wolf shifters who want to keep their existence a secret.

Max can understand why Theo hides from the world as he has his own secret as well. He’s a medium who can communicate with the spirit world and doesn’t want the world to see him as anything but normal. Max and Theo find themselves forced to reveal themselves and their talents when they are drawn into investigating the mystery of why people in the local area are collapsing and going into comas with no explanation why. As the two men work together to find out why, they slowly break through the walls that each one has erected to protect themselves and their relationship starts to bloom.

They are finally able to figure out that dark spirits are using the life energy of these people-who are sensitive to the spirit world as portals to enter our world from another dimension. The battle to send these dark spirits back to their own reality brings Max and Theo close to losing their own lives and brings down the final walls between them.

I love how Neena Jaydon is able to blend the world of the normal and the paranormal into a seamless tale that grips you until the very last page.

Reviewed by: Pat

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Torquere Author: Neena Jaydon

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Neena. Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Sure. I’m currently a grad student living in Northern British Columbia. I’ve worked in various jobs, from office work to teaching English in Japan. I’m a fan of many geeky things such as anime, manga, SF/F, and Asian ball-jointed dolls. I also love animals and live in a house overflowing with cats and dogs.

What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?

My first and only book to date is Storms and Stars. It took around six months to write and about that long again to get published.

When did you start writing m/m romance? What about this genre interested you the most?

I used to write fanfiction, so I’d say that was my way in. Between that and reading BL manga, I discovered that I find M/M relationships more interesting than het ones when it comes to romantic fiction. It’s a little different from the mainstream and it means at least twice the hot guys!

How long did it take you to get published? How many books have you written thus far?

That’s a bit hard to answer because this was the first book I polished up and submitted. I’ve been writing or telling stories my entire life. I have several other unpublished projects on the go, although only one I would say is pretty close to submission.

Do you write full time?

No. Right now my schooling is taking priority, unfortunately.

Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?

The profession chose me. As I said, I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I’ll do it whether I get paid to or not and regardless of what my day job is.

On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

I’m not going to lie, a certain amount of it will be spent procrastinating on the Interweb! Once I had gotten the ball rolling, though, I would spend as much time as possible that day in front of the computer writing.

Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

I don’t revise as I write. Writing and revising are two different tasks that I feel need to be done separately.

When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

I’m increasingly plotting things out in advance. I think it’s important to be willing to follow the muse where it goes, but I also find I get stuck less if I know where I’m going.

What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?

It really depends on the book. Most of my stories so far have not required much research. I’ll typically do it later in the process rather than at the beginning. At the beginning I just want to start getting something down on the page while the idea is fresh.

How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? How do you approach development of your characters? Where do you draw the line?

Consciously I don’t try to put me or others into my characters, but I know little bits sneak into them. I would not feel comfortable trying to write a character strongly based on someone I know. I do have characters inspired by creative types I admire (musicians, actors, etc) but they also develop their own personalities. I develop my characters fairly organically, letting them grow in my head as I write. I am being a tiny bit more methodical these days and asking myself questions about them. I would draw the line on trying to write a real person’s actual personality and history into one of my books.

How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write straight through, or do you revise as you go along?

I tend to alternate between projects so that makes it harder to guess, and I do many more drafts now than I used to. I would average it out at about four or five months. Writing and revision are completely different tasks for me.

Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it, and what measures do you take to get past it?

I don’t get serious writer’s block anymore. A major way I’ve gotten past it is by developing a habit of writing regularly. If I leave it purely up to inspiration and “the right mood,” that makes it easy to get blocked. I also went through the programme in the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and found that helped, too.

When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?

I hope they can lose themselves in the story and that they fall in love with the characters. In other words, I want them to have the experience I have when I’m enjoying a book.

Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

I’ve learned to let myself take writing as seriously as my job or my studies, to not fear the submission process, and to be a little less nervous about feedback.

Does the title of a book you’re writing come to you as you’re writing it, or does it come before you even begin the first sentence?

Titles come much later in the process.

How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?

A lot of things make me laugh! I’m a big comedy fan. I love stand-up, satire (Stewart and Colbert are favourites), and especially British comedy. My pets also make me laugh every day.

What are you working on now?

I’ve got a paranormal M/M romance in the works that I hope to get done this spring.

What was the best piece of advice you’ve received with respect to the art of writing? How did you implement it into your work?

To turn the internal editor off while you write. That negative, questioning voice in your head just gets in the way and makes writing difficult. I can’t always successfully turn it off but I really try to.

When it comes to promotion, what lengths have you gone to in order to increase reader-awareness of your work?

Promotion and marketing do not come naturally to me at all. I’m not an aggressive person. So far I’ve just been trying to make myself available to fans through places like Goodreads, placed a couple of ads, and participated in some online events. I’m definitely still learning about promotion!

Writing is obviously not just how you make your living, but your life-style as well. What do you do to keep the creative “spark” alive – both in your work and out of it?

I think it’s important to seek out experiences, no matter how small. I also find other creative works — books, movies, TV shows, music, art — inspire me.

What kind of books do you like to read?

Obviously M/M romance (particularly BL manga) is high on the list! For the most part, though, I like my romance mixed with something else. I’ve been reading fantasy for years and occasionally read SF as well. Other than that I’m partial to comedy, especially that written by British authors.

If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

If I had the ability or talent to do so, I’d love to be a voice actor.

Where did you get the idea for the stories you write?

Ideas can come from anywhere. I’ve been inspired by other stories, by TV or movies, etc. Storms and Stars first started to form in my mind because of a specific Asian ball-jointed doll, oddly enough. The artist’s image that came through in that doll got me asking myself some questions, and that’s how Villam and Luke’s universe came about.

When it comes to the covers of your books, what do you like or dislike about them?

I only have the one so far. I like the retro-style font and (of course) the gorgeous model they chose! If I had to nitpick, my only issue is that his eyes are the wrong colour.

Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?

I like many geeky pursuits. I spend a lot of time on my Asian ball-jointed doll collection. I enjoy playing video games and I watch a fair amount of TV. I also enjoy playing with our dogs.

Any special projects coming out soon we should watch for?

Well, I’m hoping I can get that paranormal M/M romance out this year . .
.

New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

First of all, read a lot. Writers learn to write by reading. Also, try to separate writing from revising. Lastly, when it comes time to revise, very little in the rough draft is sacred. If it’s not working, be prepared to make changes.

What future projects do you have in the works?

The previously mentioned paranormal novel, plus another project set in the same universe as Storms and Stars but focussing on other characters.

Can you please tell us where we can find you on the Internet?

I’m on Twitter as @NeenaJaydon. My homepage is at http://www.neenajaydon.koemoe.net/main.html. I also have a LiveJournal at http://neenajaydon.livejournal.com/. You can also find me on Goodreads.

Could you please share your favorite excerpt(s) from one of more of your stories with us?

This excerpt is from Storms and Stars, published by Torquere Press. It is early on in Villam and Luke’s relationship. They are enemies who have been stranded together on an uninhabited planet. They’ve declared a truce, thinking that they’ll have a better chance of surviving together. It hits some of my personal buttons, so it was really fun to write.

Excerpt:

Villam spent every night in stuttering moments of sleep, waking every time Luke so much as breathed too deeply. To his bemusement, the would-be kidnapper didn’t seem to have any difficulty falling asleep.

But not deeply. Whenever Villam gave up on sleep in the creeping grey light of morning, Luke would immediately open his eyes and sit up. His unreadable eyes followed Villam’s every move.

“I’m an officer of the Imperial Fleet,” Villam said one morning, irritated. “I keep my word.” One of Luke’s well-shaped eyebrows trekked upward. It was soon pulled back down again, but Villam grimaced at what it had communicated. “Did you have something to say?” When he got no reply, Villam glared right into the other man’s eyes. “Do you speak Empirish, or are you just particularly bloody-minded?”

After a pause longer than Villam thought himself currently capable of tolerating, Luke spoke.

“Both,” he said. Laughing out loud, Villam startled a tiny songbird into flight. “South,” Luke went on.

“Eh?”

“I think we should go south.” His fingers, an odd mix of deft grace and sturdy joints, pointed to the hill. “There are too many dangerous holes up there. Following the ridge,” his ring and pinky fingers traced the rocky part of the hill that jutted out near the top, “we can see the layout of the land. That green stuff past the lake looks wet. Following the ridge is better.”

Villam examined the ridge, then turned to gaze down at the lake. He nodded.

“All right,” he said. “Let’s do it your way. Well thought.”

What would have gotten him a salute or a straightened spine from a soldier got him nothing from Luke. Villam sighed to himself, prodding at his bristly chin. He despised the feeling of whiskers, and this was turning into a beard; he hadn’t yet succumbed to the mad urge to try shaving with his sword. He glanced at the knife Luke was using to trim fern heads.

“Lend me your knife, would you?” he asked. Luke didn’t look up from his task.

“No.”

“I’m hardly going to attack you with it,” Villam snapped. “I just want to shave.”

“No.”

“Fine.” Villam sat down, his back to a tree, and crossed his arms over his chest. “You’ll just have to shave me, then.” He’d meant to irritate Luke into giving up the knife, but all he got in reaction was a shrug. For a moment he hesitated; then, not willing to back down, Villam lifted his chin. “Well?”

Without a change of expression, Luke set aside the ferns. He rinsed his hands and the blade from a canteen. Then he walked over to Villam and looked down at him, holding the knife in one hand, the canteen in the other. Villam’s heart skipped a beat; he didn’t allow himself to look away. Something in his stomach sank with Luke as he went to his knees.

Luke poured a small amount of water into his palm, then patted it onto Villam’s face. He looked Villam in the eye as he raised the knife; Villam swallowed reflexively, his body tensing. As always, he felt as though Luke were taking his measure, but he didn’t know against what standard. When that attention moved to Villam’s cheek, it was only bringing his willpower to bear that stopped him from jumping at the first touch of the blade against his alert skin.

It was a sharp knife, gliding against his jaw; Luke’s calloused fingers were gentle as they pulled his skin tight. Villam gazed at the tendons in Luke’s throat, the subtle swell of his jaw, and the potent shape of his Adam’s apple. He licked his lips.

“Stay still,” Luke murmured. He was intent on his work now, making his way to Villam’s chin. A lock of his hair brushed the bridge of Villam’s nose. It was so quiet now, the birds on the water settled down to rest; he could hear his own breathing, louder than Luke’s, quicker than it should be. Luke’s lips were resting thoughtfully closed; their shape was gentle, just slightly lush, and shaded a paler relative of burgundy.

The only hint that Luke thought anything of what he was doing was a single sharp look as he put the edge of the knife to Villam’s throat. Feeling his face harden, Villam met that challenging gaze; his fingers curled into the dirt. In that moment, he remembered in a visceral way that they were enemies, and that he was foolish to trust. Luke’s palm slid down his neck, a warm contrast to the goosebump-raising chill of adrenaline. Then Luke bent his head to focus on his delicate work.

Villam’s confused senses found the ticklish sensation almost unbearable; he closed his eyes and realized that he was holding his breath. He could feel Luke’s body close to his own, but only making contact through that one steadying hand, and his jaw clenched. As strange sparks bolted down his spine and his skin tightened, Villam had an urge to take hold of him with both hands and grip hard. His fingertips wanted to know what Luke’s chin might feel like; his legs wanted to press into Luke’s, to feel and to trap.

This is ridiculous. He’s just —

Then Luke’s touch was gone, taking the precisely uncomfortable knife with it; Villam opened his eyes, then gasped as chill water splashed against his bared face. Luke picked up his small canteen and stood up while Villam ran an exploratory hand over his face. His skin felt rubbed raw, but free of whiskers.

“Thank you,” he said as steadily as he could. His heart hadn’t quite understood that the process was complete.

“My knife is only for my use,” Luke said. “I’ll use it for you, but don’t touch it.”

“Fair enough,” Villam replied faintly. Then he gave himself a mental shake. “Enough lounging about. Let’s put your plan into action.” He smiled at Luke’s puzzled look. “Let’s pack up and head south.”