Hi guys! We have Lindsey Byrd stopping by today with her new release On The Subject Of Griffons, we have a great excerpt and a fantastic $25 Riptide GC giveaway so check out the post and enter the giveaway! ❤ ~Pixie~
On The Subject Of Griffons
They’ll do anything to save their children’s lives, even if it means working together.
Kera Montgomery is still mourning the sudden death of her husband, Morpheus, when her youngest son falls victim to a mysterious plague. With no medicinal cure, Kera must travel to the Long Lakes, where magical griffons capable of healing any ailment reside.
As an heiress unused to grueling travel, Kera struggles with the immense emotional and physical strain of her journey—one made more complex when she crosses paths with her husband’s former mistress, Aurora. Aurora’s daughter is afflicted with the same plague as Kera’s son, so despite their incendiary history, the two women agree to set aside their differences and travel together.
The road is fraught with dangers, both living and dead. Each night, old battlegrounds reanimate with ghosts who don’t know they’ve died, and murderous wraiths hunt for stray travelers caught out after dark. If Kera, Aurora, and their children are going to survive, they’ll need to confront the past that’s been haunting them since their journey began. And perhaps in the process, discover that old friends may not be as trustworthy as they once thought—and old enemies may become so much more.
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes: Emotional Abuse, Sexual Assault, Animal death, Dubious Consent (backstory)
Kera sat with her hands folded in her lap. Her father, on her left, negotiated with the bankers, while her sister, Ciara, silently offered support from Kera’s right. Kera would have preferred to have this conversation without them, but the bankers had come by no less than four times this week. They weren’t interested in speaking to her, and listening to them spin the same horrid story as they waited for her to find proper representation grew more exhausting by the hour.
Each morning she woke to them knocking on her door, refusing to leave until she let them in. She’d tried ignoring them. She’d made every effort to block them from her mind. But her children had started to look nervous whenever there was a knock on the door, a trend she had no interest in continuing or encouraging if she could help it.
So she let the bankers in. She was talked at. And at some point, she’d memorized their spiel enough to recite it by heart. They always started with their shows of sympathy: “You must understand . . . a lady such as yourself is just not equipped to manage such things.” And they always concluded by asking her to sell her home.
Ciara had been incensed when Kera described the meetings, insisting that they call their father to intervene. It took two weeks before Kera managed to overcome the guilt and despair of not being able to handle the bankers herself. Giving in felt like giving up, and Kera loathed how despondent it made her.
Still, her father had conducted business between the banks of Ship’s Landing and Alexandria for years, advising the Travers banking institution from the comfort of his home at Crystal Point. He wasn’t quite the legend that Kera’s husband, Morpheus, had been, but he was respected enough to mean more to these men than her.
The bankers always came in pairs. Their hair was held back with dark ribbons, black tricorn hats tucked low over their eyes, and their pocket watches clicked far too loud for her liking. Even though there were different representatives each day, they were always from the same bank, with the same pocket watches, always clipped to the same button on their waistcoats.
Her father barely batted an eye at their pocket watches or their coats. He seemed impervious to the nuisance presented before her eyes. He told the bankers in small, simple words that the Ivory Gate was his daughter’s home. Kera and her children would not be moved from it. The debts would be paid, but considering her husband’s death . . . she needed time to restructure them. In any case, she hadn’t missed a single payment yet, so their concern, while appreciated, was unnecessary.
Appreciated. Kera squeezed her fingers in her lap. She could not imagine something she appreciated less.
“We’re concerned for Widow Montgomery,” one of the bankers insisted. “Being a widow of a trait—”
“My husband was not a traitor,” Kera said. Ciara’s fingers snatched at Kera’s palm and squeezed tight. Pain blossomed around fragile bones not used to such strength. The bankers nodded their heads, placating and somber; one even reached out to pat her knee.
“We understand it’s been a trying time for you, madam. But your husband’s attempt on our esteemed Overseer Wild’s life was quite apparent . . . I imagine discovering you were wed to an assassin must be rather difficult.”
“And yet it’s my husband who’s dead and not the overseer.”
Ciara’s grip was near bruising. Even Father sighed and shook his head.
“You must forgive my daughter. As you said, it’s been a trying time.” He cut her a sharp glance from the corner of his eye. He’d been terrifying in her youth. One look could send demons into her heart and mind, promising a lifetime of torment should she not obey. Even so far into her maturity, with children well on their way to adulthood of their own, he could cow her with a frown. Kera’s limbs turned loose and awkward beneath his expression. She tilted her head toward her chest and she squeezed her sister’s fingers in return. “Though I will say, the reasons for Montgomery’s actions were never understood. As assassination carries a more political lean . . . It’s entirely possible that he acted from more personal strife.”
Heat rushed to Kera’s cheeks. She could feel the men casting looks about themselves, nodding and smiling and nudging their elbows in a way that made her skin crawl. Her tongue affixed itself firmly to the bottom of her mouth even as one of the bankers dared to say, “Ah yes, the Aurora Sinclair affair. Wasn’t too long ago now was it? Such burdens the gentleman placed on his family.”
“Perhaps we should move on?” Ciara suggested airily, fingers still tight around Kera’s palm.
The bankers cleared their throats. “Yes, ah, of course. Ahem. Well, you see we’ve calculated her income. As we said, from our understanding the Widow Montgomery will not be able to continue payments for much longer. Agreeing to this sale will be a preemptive measure to ensure she will not be taken advantage of in the future.”
The other banker reached for the tea that Kera had served them twenty minutes ago. It had cooled, but he didn’t appear to mind. “And with the plague in the city and all these children . . . holding on to this house may not be in the widow’s best interest.”
Father hummed low, running a hand over his chin as he inspected the documents the bankers were quick to offer. Each one showed line item after line item of projected expenses and return on investments. Kera had looked them over each time they came calling, and they always seemed the same.
Her shoulders sagged, falling out of their forced posture. After two hours of negotiations, through most of which she had been ignored, Kera was finished. She could not fathom why her presence would be required any longer. “Excuse me, gentlemen.” She pushed from the pale green couch her husband had purchased during her first pregnancy and strode from the room.
Ciara followed behind, keeping careful pace with her. Not so close as to risk stepping on the hem of her dress, but still close enough that Kera could feel her walking through the slight tremble of the floor. “They’re not trying to be disrespectful,” Ciara informed Kera, each word clipped and pointed.
Kera nodded. She knew that all too well. In fact, when they came tomorrow, she could hear them tell it to her face again. “We’re just concerned for you, Widow Montgomery.” And then they would request that she sell her home and all her belongings once more. Just yesterday, they’d taken it upon themselves to instill their opinions on her current state of being. “A woman such as yourself, widowed so . . . unfortunately, should be taken care of by a proper gentleman. One who will not act so brashly.”
“You realize they hate me only because my husband put their patriarch in jail. Henry Travers was guilty on all charges, but that bank has been nothing but horrid to our family ever since.”
“They don’t hate you, Kera; they’re conducting a good faith service for their business. It’s in their interest for you to sell. It isn’t personal.”
“Of course it’s personal,” she murmured, letting her eyes travel over the dusty webs on her ceiling. “Everything is personal.” Dust had accumulated on all the surfaces, and though she’d known she had to clean for a while, she hadn’t managed to quite bring herself to do it. The servants had been sent away not long after Mori’s death. She hadn’t been reckless with her finances; she did know they were finite.
But now the house was unwashed. There was a faint smell of something rotting in the floor, lurking in the cellar, and she hadn’t yet mustered the energy to find it. It was one thing too many, and she wasn’t interested in tracking down every flaw in the world. There were too many to number.
Ciara had started herding Kera’s children into industriousness not long ago. Kera had heard them singing songs as they cleaned their rooms and tidied the kitchen. The older ones had been helpful, minding their siblings even as they attempted to put things right.
“It’s been a year,” Ciara reminded her.
“Has it?” That couldn’t be true. There had been no celebrations for the start and end of winter. No feast days. She couldn’t recall the name-day gatherings. They hadn’t celebrated her union day. She folded her hands together and rubbed at the ring she still wore: two bands folded together in an endless loop.
“I don’t suppose you have a destination in mind?” Ciara asked.
Kera stopped short, feet skidding to a halt. They had been walking in circles, looping up and around the Ivory Gate’s second floor without so much as a pause to float between rooms. Dropping her hands back to her sides, she pressed her lips together.
Ciara sighed. She stepped closer to Kera and said in her kindest voice: “It’s all right to grieve.”
No, it wasn’t.
She hadn’t been permitted the luxury of grieving without condemnation since the day following Mori’s funeral. She was reminded that she had eight—sevenchildren, and that it was her responsibility to find them a father who would raise them properly. Whatever that meant. Some people were kind enough not to mention how Mori’s influence had already led one of her children down the path of dueling and debauchery. Some were not. She had heard the whispers in the streets, the vile things said at the market. “At least the young one won’t have any of his influence.” As if little Aiden not knowing his father were a good thing.
“Can you imagine what Mori would have said to our guests downstairs?” she asked Ciara instead.
Ciara allowed the change of topic, stepping closer to loop her arm around Kera’s. “I imagine Morpheus would have given them quite the lecture on proper banking and financing while they sat upon the couch taking notes the whole time, charmed by his nature and awed by his genius.”
Kera could envision how he would look. His slight body dressed in his favorite green coat, arguing with words she doubted even ten percent of the population knew the definition of. She smiled at the thought of it.
“Kera?” Ciara asked, gently. Always gently. Kera’s smile slipped away. Ciara was waiting for an actual response, but words shriveled and died on Kera’s tongue.
She clawed desperately at the folds of her brain and managed to say, “He’d have been furious with the plague.”
Her sister was not impressed. “If only he’d managed to put his temper toward something productive before he passed.”
Something wet pricked at Kera’s eyes. She turned her head so her sister couldn’t see, feigning an adjustment to trail her sleeve across her lashes and catch tears before they fell. Ciara, however, was not so easily convinced. She pressed on, determined. “Would it be so bad to sell the Gate? There haven’t always been . . . the best memories here.”
The words were a betrayal—wrapping around her throat with a cloying hand that strangled even as it pretended to help. “And which memories would those be?” Kera asked so quietly she wasn’t even sure her sister would hear her.
But she had. She touched Kera’s shoulder, saying her name in full like it would somehow ease the blow. “Kerryn—”
“No.” Kera shook her head. “No. This is my home, Ciara. And I’m not going to leave it just because . . . I’m not going to leave it.”
“I couldn’t live in a house where my husband died,” Ciara said. “Where my son died.”
Kera twisted back, away from her sister. She shook her head, brought one hand to her mouth.
“Kera, even before that, with Mori’s affair and the blackmail—”
“He never brought her here,” she snapped. “He promised. He never brought her here.”
Ciara said nothing. Her fingers fiddled with a loose hair ribbon at her front. She wrapped it around her palm forward and backward, tightening and loosening as she gave Kera what must have been the most pitying look in her arsenal.
“It doesn’t matter either way. Good or bad, Ciara . . . This is our home.” Kera swallowed hard. “Mori promised me forever in this home, and I’ll not lose it just so some bankers can add it to their collection.”
One of her hands slipped to the locket she’d worn since the day she was married. Her husband had presented it to her when no one was around to see, shy even though they’d already exchanged their vows. He was scheduled to return to the war in the morning, but they’d made no mention of it that night. He’d placed the locket in her palm and requested that she keep him in her heart. He had whispered, “My beloved Kera, I wish you all the happiness in the world,” in her ear, and she’d held it close always. She ran her fingers over the locket’s sides and edges, thumbed at the clasp with a nail in need of snipping.
Ciara bit her lip, then started talking, even as Kera’s thumb found the clasp. “There is a lot of debt that is in need of . . . restructuring.”
Her concern was sisterly and fond, but Kera would not be swayed. She popped the locket open, then snapped it shut without even looking at it, repeating the action a few more times as she replied. “I will not take my children from the home their father built for them.”
Ciara folded her hands in front of her, a delicate gesture of calm. She nodded her head, even bent her knees a little—the slightest curtsy Kera had ever seen—serving as an apology and polite acceptance in one. “I am worried for you, my Kerryn.”
“Well you need not be.” Kera’s hand fell back to her side. Even if her father ceased his support, even if her sister refused to give her aid, she would not be moved from this house. She would not leave her home. The gods themselves couldn’t move her from this building, so let the bankers try.
Tipping her head toward her sister, she asked for a few moments of privacy. Ciara didn’t seem surprised by the request. It was one that Kera had asked for countless times over the past few months. Ciara did seem resigned, however—resigned and despondent even as she smiled and kissed Kera’s cheek. She told Kera that she would attend to the children, wherever they might be, and departed without another word.
Kera stumbled to her room, closing the door behind her. She slid down the hard wood surface, and drew her knees up to her chest. Her dress pooled around her, fabric bunching along the boards. Then, with no one around to see her and her brow resting on her knees, Kera let herself cry.
She tried to overcome the swell of hysteria, but the tears came without consideration to her efforts. The damnable headache that always came in tandem with her tears arrived in prompt fashion, as if to say well you’re already in pain, what’s a bit more? You can take it!
As foolish and as ignorant as the bankers might think her, Kera was aware of her predicament. For all his wonderful talents, Mori had borrowed too much in order to see this house built. He had promised her the world, and ignored the cost, desperate to give her a life she thought she wanted.
But she had never wanted this.
She had just wanted him with her. She had wanted him when he was a penniless soldier fighting in the revolution against Trent, when he’d been desperate and eager to please. She wished she could turn back the clocks. She wished she had asked him to leave the war behind for her. Or, barring that, she wished she had asked him not to follow General Zakaria into politics. He could have worked as a lawyer, and they could have had a quiet and comfortable life.
There would have been no dreams of Ivory Gates or glory, but neither would there have been pistols at dawn and death that ruined everything they had ever planned.
Kera allowed herself a moment to laugh, holding the locket tight, tears staining her knees. She laughed. Mori would never have settled for anything less than what he had done. He had never been capable of sitting still. Such a quiet life would have brought him unimaginable misery. He would have become something wicked and cruel: a chained beast that snarled and snapped at any who passed. Their marriage would no longer have been a thing he treasured, but a thing he endured.
He’d had one affair during a time when their relationship was already filled with bliss. She couldn’t imagine what would have happened if he’d been miserable at home.
Something shattered downstairs. The echoes of glass hitting the floor reverberated through the house even as Kera heard her sister scream. Lifting her head, Kera pushed herself to her feet. Ciara shouted, “Aiden!” over and over, and each recitation of her son’s name drove Kera’s heart faster and faster.
She rushed out, tripping on her skirt hem in her haste. She jerked at the fabric to pull it up and out of the way. When she reached the ground floor, she saw them all together. The bankers, her father, Ciara, her children—all seven—assembled in the parlor, door to the cellar cracked open just a little. The children liked to play down there from time to time, but their play had been interrupted. Aiden was on the floor, shaking, limbs thrashing. His dark eyes were rolled back in his head and his mouth was frothing.
Kera pressed her hand to her lips, and she leaned against the doorway. No. Not little Aiden . . .
But it was too late. The plague had come to the Ivory Gate, and for the second time in as many years, she felt helpless.
Lindsey Byrd was brought up in upstate, downstate, and western New York. She is a budding historian of law, medieval, and women’s studies and often includes historical anecdotes or references within her works. Lindsey enjoys writing about complex and convoluted issues where finding the moral high-ground can be hard to do. She has a particular love for heroic villains and villainous heroes, as well as inverting and subverting tropes.
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