I walk through camp and wave to Trask as I approach the meeting hall. This is a big day. It’s the first time characters from both Ilyon and Acktar will ever meet. I sent Kaden and Talas to start arranging things, so hopefully everything is almost ready for our soon-to-arrive guests from Acktar. I get a flutter of giddiness thinking about it, and remind myself to keep my inner fangirl at bay at the thought of seeing Leith. I’ve got to be the professional host of this gathering after all.
When I enter the meeting hall, warmth from the fireplace dispels the chill from the nasty weather outside. At least it’s not snowing today. I’d hate for everyone from Acktar to be stranded here in a blizzard and have word somehow get out to Davira that we have believers visiting from a different land. Who knows what sort of crazy insane stunt she might try.
I stop and scan the room, which is in disarray. Talas is sitting on the edge of one of the tables while Kaden lounges in a chair, his feet propped up. Both are discussing something, but fall silent as the door closes. Kaden jumps to his feet.
“What are you two doing?” I put my hands on my hips. “I sent you here an hour ago to arrange the tables.”
Kaden looks around. “We are.”
Said tables are only pushed near each other while the chairs are scattered around haphazardly. I shake my head. “I knew I should have sent Marcus with you.”
Kaden huffs. “We’re not children in need of a babysitter.” He starts sliding one of the tables. “We’ll get it done.”
“We did get the fire going nicely.” Talas grins and nods to the fireplace.
I send him a look, but it’s hard to be irritated with the crete. “And just how long did that take?”
He shrugs and turns to help Kaden.
I carry the bag on my shoulder to one of the tables in the corner and pull out a container of shortbread cookies. Hopefully everyone from Acktar will enjoy them as much as Jace does. As I arrange them on a platter, I glance at Talas and Kaden again. “I should have known you two would just gab like a bunch of girls instead of actually getting work done.”
“Hey, that’s hurtful,” Kaden grumbles.
“Getting sassy with me already.” I shake my head again.
“What do you expect us to do when we’ve got characters coming from a different story world? Of course we’re going to discuss it. We have no idea who these people are or what they will be like.”
“Accept that you should be able to work and talk at the same time.”
“So, you say there are no dragons in Acktar?” Talas asks, changing the subject.
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“Can I take Exsis out to meet them?” Kaden shares a grin with Talas.
“No, you cannot, because it means you’re either trying to show off or to scare them. Probably both.”
Kaden sighs. “How do you know they wouldn’t want to see one of the dragons?”
“Just finish the tables. I’m going to go get some coffee from Rayad. You better be almost done by the time I come back.”
“Yes, Mother,” Kaden mutters under his breath.
When I return several minutes later with two steaming pots--one of coffee and one of tea--the state of the meeting hall is much improved. Now it’s starting to look like we can have company. Jace, Kyrin, Marcus, and Leetra have also shown up. They are probably the ones responsible for the sudden improvement.
“So, are you guys ready for another chat session?” I ask as I set the coffee and tea by the cookies and catch Jace and Kyrin trading a look.
“It can’t be worse than the ones we’ve done in the past,” Jace replies. He hesitates for a moment. “Can it?”
I laugh. “Probably not. You’re all very different than you were during our earlier chats. I think it’s probably a lot easier for you guys to answer difficult questions these days.”
Leetra places her hands on her hips and gives me a firm look. “I thought you said I didn’t have to be here.”
I shrug. “A few more questions came in since I said that and some are for you.”
A few minutes later, someone knocks on the door. I grin. “They’re here!”
I hurry to the door and open it. Tricia, my evil author twin, walks in first, followed by Leith, Renna, Brandi, and Martyn. I try to resist giving Leith a hug like I did at Tricia’s last Facebook party. It’s strange enough showing up in a new story world. Leith looks uncomfortable but puts up with the hug.
Brandi hugs me, then smirks at Leith. “It’s a good thing I taught you how to take hugs.”
Renna laughs and hugs me before gripping Leith’s hand. “He’s better than he used to be anyway.”
Martyn crosses his arms and glares. “I don’t do hugs.”
Brandi huffs. “I know. Sorry. I’ve been trying to work on him, but he’s stubborn.”
I debate whether or not to try to hug him anyway, but decide to let him be. At least I got to hug Leith.
I make introductions. Everyone is polite as they greet each other, though Martyn and Leetra seem a little grumpy. I then guide them to their seats. “Anyone want tea or coffee? I’ve got shortbread cookies too. They’re Jace’s favorite.”
Brandi scoops two cookies from the plate and takes a big bite. “Yum. These are good. Renna, you’re going to have to get the recipe.”
Renna nods as she nibbles on one of the cookies. Leith and Martyn grab cookies too.
“Okay, now that we’ve got introductions out of the way, why don’t we dive into the questions? We’ll start with you, Marcus. Anya says she is the oldest in her family and has seven siblings. Even though she has been the oldest for seventeen years, she’s still not as patient and understanding as you are. How do you maintain a calm and collected disposition when faced with constant trouble?”
Marcus gives a semi-uncomfortable laugh. “I wouldn’t say I’m always that understanding, but I think being raised in the military has a lot to do with how I handle things. You have to stay calm and collected and not act on emotion when you’re a soldier. It’s a very disciplined lifestyle.”
I nod. “Makes sense. Okay, Kyrin, two questions for you. First, what is your fondest memory of your family?”
She smiles wistfully. “I don’t know that I have a particular favorite, but I’d say my fondest memories are from when we were children. I find a lot of joy in remember winter nights when we all used to sit in the living room and my father would tell us stories. They were precious times because we were all together.”
“Yeah,” Kaden adds sounding unusually emotional. “Those were good times.”
There’s a moment of silence. Renna looks up at Kyrin. “My father used to tell us stories on winter nights too, though Mother was always interrupting to add sound effects.”
“Mother just couldn’t stay silent even when someone else was telling stories. She just had to be a part of them.” Brandi’s smile wasn’t as bright and cheerful as usual.
“So, what’s the next question?” Kyrin asks.
“It’s a mushy one.” I laugh. “How did you know you were in love with Jace? Was it a slow realization or did it sort of sneak up on you and then show itself suddenly?”
Kyrin blushes slightly and glances at the characters from Acktar. “I’d say it was a rather slow realization. I think I knew in the back of my mind for quite some time that I loved him and it only grew stronger until he kissed me and we were finally on the same page.”
I glance at Jace who is now blushing.
Martyn nudges Leith. “It took you getting tortured and me getting burned. Why didn’t we try the slow and steady realization thing?”
Renna eyes the two of them. “Because Leith is the kind of either/or person where he’s either head over heels in love or he isn’t, and you’re too stubborn to admit to any sort of warm and fuzzy sort of feelings like love until it smacks you in the face.”
Brandi gapes at Renna. “Wow. That’s the sort of sarcastic comment I usually make.”
Renna shrugs. “Kayleigh and I have had long discussions about this topic. It’s what future sisters-in-law do, after all.”
“Who said anything about being future sisters-in-law?” Martyn scowls.
“You did. Everyone knows that’s where you’re headed.”
“Yes, but you don’t have to go about blaring it to the entire world.” Martyn sinks deeper in his chair.
Renna shakes her head and turns to me. “Jaye, you’d better ask the next question.”
“Anya wants my characters to know that she looks up to you, especially Marcus, Timothy, and Trask. She’s also writing her own novel and several of her characters have been influenced by you guys, specifically Kaden and Jace. She was very excited that Elon finally got through to you, Jace.”
They smile, and Kaden says, “Cool.”
“And now we finally have a question for you, Jace.”
He appears to brace himself.
“Don’t worry, it’s not too bad. Naomi wants to know how you feel about Daniel noticing Elanor?”
Jace sits and thinks about this for a moment. “There’s a lot about it to consider. If his interest is serious, that could mean Elanor will be queen one day. I can’t say I particularly like the idea of her having to face the difficulties of a life like that.”
“Kind of depends on Daniel and whether or not he can convince you to give your blessing, right?” I ask.
Jace nods. “Yes.”
“Since we’re on the topic of marriage . . . “ I pause, and look at Jace and Kyrin, “Naomi also wants to know when you two are going to follow Leith and Renna’s example and get married?”
They look at each other and then back at me.
“How exactly do you want us to answer that question?” Kyrin asks.
“Hmm,” I shrug. “I suppose since Bitter Winter is released, you might as well tell the truth.”
“You mean that they ARE married?” Kaden smirks.
Kyrin casts him an exasperated look, but she can’t hold back a grin. Jace reaches and takes her hand. They give each other a loving smile and Kyrin nods. “It’s true, we are married. Readers will just have to keep reading to find out when and how that came about.”
“That’s just what I was about to say.” I look down at my notecards. “Since marriage typically leads into babies, I now have a question for Leith and Renna.”
Jace and Kyrin look momentarily relieved that the spotlight is no longer on them. Leith tenses, a hand going toward his knife, while Renna grips Leith’s other hand and pastes on a smile.
I turn my attention to Tricia’s characters. “Leith, Renna, do you two want to have kids? If so, how many?”
Leith’s face pales to something of a gray-green color while Renna turns strawberry red and stares at her lap. Leith clears his throat. “We...uh…”
“We want as many children as the Lord wills for us.” Renna blurts out quickly, still staring at her hands.
“Related question is, how many kids do you want them to have? Not sure who wants to answer, but I’ll give that one over to Tricia and Brandi. I’m sure they have thoughts.”
Brandi smirks. “I’d love a lot of nieces and nephews. Of course I’m going to be their favorite aunt.” She glances at Tricia. “I am going to have a lot of nieces and nephews, right?”
Tricia grins a somewhat secretive smile. “A few. I even know all their names. You’ll have to read Decree to find out more, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone since the book doesn’t come out for a couple of days yet.”
I notice Kaden looking very amused by these questions that are putting the couples on the spot. I set my gaze on him. “Why don’t you have a girl yet? Kyrin would love to have sisters.”
He raises his brows at me. “Isn’t matchmaking what you do? Technically, you’re the reason I don’t have a girl yet.”
I shake my head adamantly. “I’ve said before, you guys never seem to consult me before making eyes at other characters, so don’t blame me for your singleness.”
Kaden shrugs. “Fine. I suppose I’ll get a girl when the right one comes along.”
I flip to the next card. “You’re turn, Talas. Since Leetra complained that you never get any nosy and awkward questions, Addyson has some for you.”
“Uh-oh.” But Talas just smiles.
“Do you have a special girl? Why not? Don’t you wish Kaden had another sister so you could become part of the Altair family too?”
Talas laughs. “No, I do not have a special girl. Same as Kaden, I haven’t met the right girl yet. I wouldn’t have been opposed to another Altair sister, but I don’t think I need marriage to make me part of the family.”
Kaden shakes his head. “Not at all.”
I turn my attention back to Talas, I ask, “What is your worst childhood memory.”
That sobers the mood quickly. I shrug as his teasing look fades. “Sorry, I just ask the questions.”
“Well,” he responds slowly, “probably when my grandmother died. It was a freak accident during the winter when I was a boy. She slipped on some ice and ended up falling off one of the bridges. It was really hard on my Granddad. That’s why he lives with my family now.”
I glance at Jace, noticing how pale he got at the mention of falling from one of the bridges in Arvael.
“I’m sorry, Talas. I didn’t even know that until this interview. That must have been awful.” I look through my cards to find something to lighten things up again. “Here’s a question, are you ticklish, Jace?”
He frowns. “What?”
I shrug. “Addyson also wants to know if you’re ticklish, and I think she wants Kaden and Talas to find out.”
They both grin wickedly, and Jace gives them a warning look.
“You know,” Kaden says, “I bet Kyrin could answer that. They are married, after all.”
“Kaden!” Kyrin turns beet red. Jace isn’t far behind.
“What? If anyone knows, you do. So what’s the answer?”
Everyone looks at Kyrin expectantly.
“Well . . . I . . . he . . .” She glances at Jace.
I haven’t seen him look this uncomfortable since our very first character chat. “You should probably just answer with the truth, Kyrin, and satisfy the masses.”
She sends Jace an apologetic look. “Maybe he is . . . a little.”
Jace scrubs his hand over his face. I can’t help but think it’s adorable, however, to spare them both further embarrassment, but change the subject. “Here’s a random question. Where do you guys get your coffee?”
“Talcrins grow it in Arda,” Kyrin answers, relief fading her blush.
“Okay, I’ve got just a few more questions before we call it a day. These are for everyone here. First, if you were to become friends with a character from the other world, who would it be?”
Kyrin speaks up first. “I’d like to get to know Renna. We’ve both had to deal with a lot of loss, so I think we’d get along well. I also think Jace and Leith would be good friends.”
Jace nods in agreement. Leith also nods as if the answer is so obvious and understood nothing more was needed.
Renna smiles at Kyrin. “I’d love to get to know you to. I think we could both help each a lot with dealing with some of the losses in our past.”
I look at Tricia’s characters. “Brandi, I could totally see you becoming friends with Kaden and Talas.”
Brandi grins at the two of them. “Flying sounds amazing! How fast can dragons fly? Can we go on a ride right after this interview? I’m not leaving Ilyon until I’ve ridden on a dragon. ”
Renna’s face turns a shade white at the thought, though it could be in fear or at how much trouble Brandi, Talas, and Kaden could get into while riding dragons.
“Sure! I wanted to meet you guys coming in with my dragon, but my author wouldn’t let me.” Kaden casts me a sidelong glance.
Brandi turns to Tricia. “Please, please, please say Kaden can take me for a ride on a dragon! Please!”
Tricia sighs and glances at me. “We might have to let Brandi ride a dragon sooner or later.”
I shake my head at Kaden. “Be careful. I don’t want you scaring anyone.”
“Yes!” Brandi pumps her fist.
Looking back done at my cards, I ask everyone, “Is there a character from the other world you wouldn't like to meet?”
“Well, that Respen character sounds a lot like Daican, so I don’t think any of us would want to meet him,” Kaden answers.
Martyn crosses his arms. “I thought Respen was bad enough, but Daican and now Davira? They sound downright terrifying.”
Leith’s grip tightens on his knife as if he’s worried Davira might crash into this interview. Renna shudders and Brandi reaches for her sword.
“Now, if you had to trade lives for a day with a character from the other story, who would you trade with?”
My characters trade glances with each other and then with Tricia’s characters. After a long silence, Talas finally answers. “Honestly, with everything both of you authors put us all through, I don’t think choosing who to trade lives with would be that easy.”
I shrug. “You have all had pretty hard experiences.”
“Except for getting to ride a dragon, no I wouldn’t want to trade.” Brandi bounces on her seat and gives Talas another look. “Though, I’d be a crete if I were in Ilyon. Cretes sound like they have the best homes, and I would love to live in a treehouse, and they have dragons.”
“Speaking of cretes,” I look over at Leetra who has sat in silence with her arms crossed this whole time, “you have a couple of questions from a big fan of yours.”
Talas leans toward his cousin and nudges her arm. “Look at you having fans.”
She rolls her eyes at him. “What are the questions?”
“First, what is your dragon’s name?”
“It’s Soka.” She looks at me expectantly, waiting for the next question. She seems a bit miffed today. Maybe it’s because Timothy isn’t here too.
“Zoe also wants to know what clan you are from.”
Leetra sits up a little straighter. “I’m from the Hawk Clan.”
“These next couple of questions are for either Leetra or Talas. First, are there different kinds or breeds of dragons?”
“Just the northern dragons we use and cave drakes,” Talas answers. “Then, of course, there’s fire drakes.”
“Are certain colors more common?”
Talas shakes his head. “As far as dragons go, the males are black and green and the females are gray-blue and white. The patterns do change a bit like you would see in say a paint horse.”
“Have either of you two ever been burned by your dragons?”
“I’ve never been burned by Storm,” Talas says, “but I have been burned by young dragons before during training.”
I look over at Leetra.
“Same,” she answers.
With a grin, I turn to Brandi. “This first question has basically been answered already, but would you like a dragon? What would you name it?”
Brandi grins. “I would love a dragon, but I guess I’ll have to settle for a ride on one while we’re here. Maybe I can have an honorary dragon in Ilyon?” Her forehead puckers. “Not sure what I’d name the dragon. I usually look at a pet and go with the first name that pops into my head. If it was a female dragon, I’d call her Frosty and a male dragon I’d call Tornado.”
“Since we were just talking about you, Leetra, this is a good time to mention that, for our giveaways, Tricia and I have set up polls asking readers who they think would win in a fight. Today’s match up is Leetra versus Martyn.”
Talas laughs. “How did you come up with that match?”
“Well,” I shrug, “they’re both kind of . . . you know . . . prickly.”
He laughs harder, and Kaden joins in. Leetra shoots them a glare. Martyn is giving Tricia a similar glare that only goes to prove this was a good match up.
“So what do you guys think? Who would win?” I look between Leetra and Martyn.
Leetra eyes Martyn across the table and lifts her chin a little. “I could take him.”
Martyn snorts and crosses his arms. “No, you can’t.”
Talas nudges her again. “You sure about that, Lee? He is a trained assassin.”
She glares at him again. “You’re enjoying this too much.” Her glare switches to me. “So are you, I’m sure.”
I lift my brows. “Okay then. This last question ties in perfectly. What do you all think of your authors?”
“I think we’ve pretty much established that it’s a love hate relationship,” Kaden says. “We would exist without you, but we never know what calamity you’re going to bring down on us next.”
Martyn glances at Tricia. “I’m not allowed to say what I’m thinking. Not if we’re going to keep this interview PG.”
Tricia glares back at him. “You’re still thinking it.”
Martyn grimaces, pulls a piece of soap from his pocket, and scrubs it over his tongue. “There. Happy now?”
“Mostly.” Tricia shakes her head. “You are incorrigible.”
I laugh. “If it’s any consolation, I love all of you dearly.”
No one seems particularly consoled.
* * * * * * * *
Since this is the perfect time of year to read, I've put together a winter reading bundle! The bundle includes signed copies of Bitter Winter and Lacy (without the proof watermarks on the cover), a fleece throw blanket, a hand painted watercolor bookmark from SulitByJohnna, a Fireside candle, and some chocolate and mints! Just use the form below to enter! (Giveaway is open to US residents only. Cannot be shipped internationally.)