Hi friends! It’s release day for the fabulous Jeffe Kennedy! She’s written in a number of [sub]genres, and high fantasy romance is one where she shines. She very generously offered to be part of the blogiversary and have a giveaway, so I figured her release day was the perfect timing! (Timing being 😅 something that I struggle with when it comes to blog posts.) ANYWAY! The Golden Gryphon and the Bear Prince is out today, and we’ve got an exclusive excerpt of it to share with our A Little Bit Tart, A Little Bit Sweet readers! <3 I hope you enjoy!
Crown Prince Astar has only ever wanted to do the right thing: be a credit to his late father’s legacy, live up to his duties as heir to the high throne of the Thirteen Kingdoms, and cleave to the principles of honor and integrity that give his life structure—and that contain the ferocious grizzly bear inside. Nowhere in those guiding principles is there room for the fierce-hearted, wildly free-spirited, and dizzyingly beautiful shapeshifter, Zephyr. Still, even though they’ve been friends most of their lives, Astar is able to keep Zephyr safely at arm’s length. He’s already received a list of potential princess brides who will make a suitable queen, and Zephyr is not on it.
A Longtime Obsession
Zeph has wanted the gorgeous, charming, and too-good-for-his-own-good Astar for as long as she can remember. Not that her longing for him—and his perfectly sculpted and muscular body—has stopped her from enjoying any number of lovers. Astar might be honorably (and foolishly) intent on remaining chaste until marriage, but Zeph is Tala and they have no such rules. Still, she loves Astar—as a friend—and she wants him to at least taste life before he chains himself to a wife he didn’t choose. There’s no harm in him having a bit of fun with her. But the man remains stubbornly elusive, staving off all of her advances with infuriatingly noble refusals.
A Quest to Save the World
But things change when a new terror threatens the Thirteen Kingdoms. Following prophecy, Astar and Zeph—along with a mismatched group of shapeshifter, warrior, and sorceress friends—go on a quest to stop a magic rift before it grows beyond anyone’s ability to stop. Thrust together with Zephyr, Astar finds himself increasingly unable to resist her seductive invitations. And in the face of life-and-death battles with lethal monsters, he begins to lose sight of why having her, just once, is such a terrible idea…
Zeph beelined to the fire, standing as close as she could without igniting her fancy skirts. “I like Castle Elderhorst. Suddenly I’m a lady!”
Astar laughed, bringing her a copper goblet of hearty red wine. It was warm and redolent of spices like those that scented the air at Ordnung for the Feast of Moranu. Tasting it gingerly—should wine smell like pinecones and bark?—she moaned at the delicious flavor and drained the goblet. It hit her empty stomach like sunshine, and she immediately went to find the source for a refill.
“More?” she asked Astar.
He shook his head. “I’ll sip this one, so I can keep my wits sharp. Wine on an empty stomach is a recipe for trouble with me.”
“Yes,” she said, rejoining him by the fire. “I’m so hungry I could eat a bear.”
Choking a little, Astar actually blushed. She couldn’t wait to show him things far more blushworthy than that mild comment. “We, ah, haven’t talked,” he said, staring intently into the fire, “about the promise I made you.”
Was he going to ask to be released from the vow? And, if he did, would she grant the request? Probably. Though the prospect filled her with bitter disappointment—an abrupt wave of it that nearly crushed the breath from her—she didn’t want him unwilling. She’d had enough of Astar’s noble sacrifices. Especially if bedding her became one of them. “It doesn’t violate Willy’s Moratorium,” she said in a sadly desperate bid to take at least that ethical quandary off his mind.
“I know.” He raised a brow at her consternation. “I could hear everything you all were saying. Grizzlies aren’t deaf.” He tapped her on the nose, a gesture that made her want to smile and weep simultaneously at the simple, sincere affection. “Clever girl,” he added, his gaze admiring. “I never had a chance of eluding you, did I?”
Her heart, which seemed to be behaving in an absurdly silly manner, leapt with hope. “You’re not going to ask me to release you from the promise?”
He frowned. “Never. Asking to be released from a vow is nearly as bad as breaking one.”
She would never be able to keep track of all these rules. Something occurred to her, maybe Gen’s unwelcome voice in the back of her mind. “Would it be honorable thing for me to do if I released you from the promise without you requesting it?” she asked hesitantly, while part of herself jumped up and down, screaming with rage, wanting to know what in Moranu she was doing. “Because of duress,” she added, when he gave her a quizzical look.
Something about that made his summer-sky eyes dance with amusement, but he otherwise regarded her seriously. “Have you changed your mind?”
“Never,” she replied, exactly the way he’d said it to her—except her reasons were entirely about going after what she wanted, while his were about putting honor ahead of his own desires. “But I don’t want to force you into anything.”
He smiled then, though it had a wistful slant, and he trailed a finger over the curve of her cheek. “I made the offer of my own free will.”
“Because you were afraid for me.”
“Because you matter to me.”
Tracing the edge of her jaw, he seemed fascinated, desire heating in his eyes. Hot Astar now. His thumb brushed over her lower lip, and only severe self-restraint—well, and not wanting to scare him off—kept her from sucking it into her mouth. “I should be honest with you, Zephyr,” he said, very quietly, and her silly, jumping heart clenched with trepidation. He leaned in closer, his thumb tugging on her lip gently, his gaze focused there as if he meant to kiss her. “I’m relieved to have an excuse to discard my better judgment.”
He lowered his mouth. His breath, warm and wine-scented, wafted over her skin…
A door flew open, sending the pair of them flying apart. She nearly shifted into a bird, she was so startled.
“Prince Willy, my boy!” King Groningen boomed out. “Up to your usual shenanigans, I see. And you brought me a beautiful Tala woman.” Though he carried a cane, the broad-chested man with a massively bushy white beard strode toward her with no apparent impairment. Picking up her hand, he bowed over it, then peered at her cannily. “You’re not Nilly.”
“No, indeed,” she replied, immediately charmed. “I’m Zephyr.”
He narrowed his eyes, studying her face. “Daughter of Zyr and Karyn, if I don’t miss my mark.” He grinned at her surprise. “You have your father’s eyes and blue-black hair, and your lovely mother’s complexion and bone structure.” Then he winked. “And your wily father’s tricksy nature, no doubt.”
Absurdly, she flushed with pleasure. “I’m surprised you know my parents.”
“Oh, we’ve encountered one another a few times over the years.”
“My sympathies,” she offered very seriously.
He boomed out a laugh. “Gorgeous and clever. I approve, Willy boy. Excellent choice, for a mistress.” He added that last with a peculiar emphasis.
(Sorry about the formatting/lack thereof. I’ve spent countless hours trying to fix it, even adding code and editing themes and … I have been defeated. Perhaps some day I’ll get it, but today is not that day.)
ANYWAY. What can you win? I’m super excited to tell you because it’s fantabulous! Some lucky commenter will win an epub or mobi copy (winner’s choice) of The Golden Gryphon and the Bear Prince as well as a copy of of Under a Winter Sky, the anthology which contains the prequel novella, and of course novellas by other excellent authors! See?)
Five powerhouse authors of fantasy and urban fantasy bring you a feast of romantic midwinter holiday adventures. These heartwarming and pulse-pounding tales celebrate Hanukah, Christmas, the solstice, Yule – and holidays from worlds beyond our own. With fancy-dress balls, faery bargains, time travel, blood sacrifice, and festive cocktails, these stories will delight lovers of fantasy and romance, with a dash of seasonal joy.
Ballgowns & Butterflies by Kelley Armstrong
The North Yorkshire moors are always a magical place, but they’re particularly enchanting at the holidays…especially if one gets to travel back in time to a Victorian Christmas. For Bronwyn Dale, it is the stuff of dreams. Fancy-dress balls, quirky small-town traditions, even that classic one-horse open sleigh, complete with jingle bells. There’s just the tiny problem of the Butterfly Effect. How does a time-traveler make a difference without disrupting the future forever?
The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon, a prequel novella to Heirs of Magic, by Jeffe Kennedy
Shapeshifter Prince Rhyian doesn’t especially want to spend the Feast of Moranu at Castle Ordnung. First of all, it’s literally freezing there, an uncomfortable change from the tropical paradise of his home. Secondly, it’s a mossback castle which means thick walls and too many rules. Thirdly, his childhood playmate and current nemesis, Lena, will be there. Not exactly a cause for celebration.
Princess Salena Nakoa KauPo nearly wriggled out of traveling to Ordnung with her parents, but her mother put her foot down declaring that, since everyone who ever mattered to her was going to be there to celebrate the 25th year of High Queen Ursula’s reign, Lena can suffer through a feast and a ball for one night. Of course, “everyone” includes the sons and daughters of her parents’ friends, and it also means that Rhyian, insufferable Prince of the Tala, will attend.
But on this special anniversary year, Moranu’s sacred feast falls on the long night of the crystalline moon—and Rhy and Lena discover there’s more than a bit of magic in the air.
Blood Martinis & Mistletoe by Melissa Marr
Half-dead witch Geneviève Crowe makes her living beheading the dead–and spends her free time trying not to get too attached to her business partner, Eli Stonecroft, a faery in self-imposed exile in New Orleans. With a killer at her throat and a blood martini in her hand, Gen accepts what seems like a straight-forward faery bargain, but soon realizes that if she can’t figure out a way out of this faery bargain, she’ll be planning a wedding after the holidays.
Echoes of Ash & Tears, an Earthsinger Chronicles Novella, by L. Penelope
Brought to live among the Cavefolk as an infant, Mooriah has long sought to secure her place in the clan and lose her outsider status. She’s a powerful blood mage, and when the chieftain’s son asks for help securing the safety of the clan, she agrees. But though she’s long been drawn to the warrior, any relationship between the two is forbidden. The arrival of a mysterious stranger with a tempting offer tests her loyalties, and when betrayal looms, will Mooriah’s secrets and hidden power put the future she’s dreamed of—and her adopted home—in jeopardy.
A Memory Of Summer, a Wraith Kings Novelette, by Grace Draven
Spinsterhood has never bothered or embarrassed the independent Emerence Ipsan, and the winter festival of Delyalda keeps her far too busy managing her father’s shops to worry about matters as trivial as marriage.
Until the arrival of a young Quereci warrior with old eyes and an admiring gaze makes her question that notion.
How do you enter to win a copy? Answer this question: Have you ever visited a castle and which one, or if you haven’t: which castle is on your bucket list?