Well, it’s been a whirlwind of a summer. How is it August already? Time flies when you’re moving house, I suppose. :)
But, today is release day, and I have a new book for you!
All of this information went out on my mailing list last month when the book was up for pre-order (I sort of forgot to post about it here. Whoops. Bad author!), so today, to make up for my utter lack of updates, I’ve decided to share an entire scene from the new book.
So what is this new work?
Tempered Hearts is the first book in a brand new series: The Hearts of Valentia Saga. This first book is very much a regency-style romance meets high fantasy, and I’m really proud of the world I’ve created for these stories. I’ve spoken before about my undying love for BioWare’s Dragon Age games, and this world is very much along the lines of that franchise. It was inspired by one of the potential endings for Dragon Age: Origins, in fact, although since that initial spark, it’s grown and become something else entirely. If you’ve ever played these games, you’re very aware of the romance options in that series, and if you’re a fan of those portions of the games, this series will be right up your alley! The second in this series will be a bit different, in that it won’t involve nobility except for some minor interactions, but I’ll speak more on that when that book is closer to release. There’s considerably more action coming in book 2.
Before I get to your preview, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share the specifics of the book. This cover is just gorgeous on the screen, and it’s even more stunning on the print copy! Check it out:
The Hearts of Valentia Saga, Book 1
High Fantasy Romance
By S. A. Huchton (read as: intended for an older audience)
The war against corrupted monsters from the Void may have ended, but much remains broken in Valentia, including its reluctant monarch. To save the kingdom from the destruction of civil war, Darius Marillion had to sacrifice his heart, agreeing to a marriage of convenience over one of love.
Lady Arden Tanarian was born to wealth, bred to be a fine wife to a high lord. Despite her mother’s best efforts, however, her passion for the decidedly unladylike fields of chemistry and elvish culture marks her as a different breed of woman. Though she’s always been able to see the bright side of things, Arden’s hopes for her life with the dashing, but sullen prince crumble around her in learning where his heart truly lies.
Dubbed The Light of Valentia, Arden has a mystifying effect on the world around her. She inspires something in people— including Darius— that he thought he’d never feel again: Hope.
Bonds of the heart forged in battle are strong, but time changes much. When the flames of war fade to low embers, peace in a kingdom can reveal love in the most unexpected places.
The ebook is live as of today, but the print version went up for sale last week. And, wow, you guys, it’s just so dang pretty in person! Look:
And with the matte cover, it’s very difficult to keep my hands off of it, let me tell you.
So what about that excerpt? Well, I suppose you’ve all been patient enough. You can definitely click on this link to view it on Amazon and read the first 10% in the free preview, but I thought I’d share something from a bit further into the book, to give you a broader sense of what this series will entail. Both Darius and Arden have dreams of their own, and while Darius’s current position isn’t one he ever wanted, Arden has the highest of hopes for what she might achieve. Her optimism is one of her greatest strengths, but is rooted in something far greater than either of these two realize. There’s magic afoot, and the world desperately needs what’s buried in her heart. However, it might take a small miracle for that power to reach its true potential…
* * * * *
About ten minutes away from camp, logic returned, but by then it was a little late to start thinking straight.
The snippet of conversation Arden walked in on left her bruised. The way he reached out to touch Naya’s face, with so much tenderness in his gaze, tore away at the small piece of her heart that had begun to hope for him.
She sank down at the base of a tree, holding her face in her hands, but refusing to cry. The Light of Valentia must be strong. The Light of Valentia must not shatter as a pane of glass in a storm.
Above all, she felt immensely stupid. A crown and love? Was there ever such a deluded, childish dream? What nonsense filled her head that she’d entertain such a notion?
Taking a shaky breath, she answered her own questions. It may have been stupid, deluded, and childish, but, for a handful of moments, it felt possible. His gaze had turned from guarded and sad, to warm and hopeful in the weeks they’d known each other. At times, he showed her so much care she was certain he was falling as hard as she had. Perhaps all of that was an act: a means of placating a silly girl. Had that very thing not crossed her mind before? Somewhere along the line she discarded that possibility, but it haunted her there in the darkening forest near the Ansere’th. Others used the same strategy with much success in court. Playing ignorant inspired others to let their guard down, got them to spill secrets that made them easier to manipulate. Had she been duped in every second she’d spent with him?
She frowned at her thoughts. Believing such a thing meant those closest to him had been a part of that conspiracy. Vennic, Ehlren, Duke Ingram… they’d all played vital roles in the deception if it were true. No matter how unsure she was about Darius, she knew she could trust at least the dwarf and the elf. Ingram was more skilled than most when it came to subterfuge, but she doubted he would use such a tactic on her. She was not a problem to be handled; she was a beautiful, intelligent woman with many skills of her own.
Iron, steel, granite, gold.
She leaned her head back against the smooth bark of the tree, her arms resting on bent knees. As evening descended, she took in a deep breath of cool air, inhaling all the scents of the woods around her. Night blooming flowers began to open, releasing their exotic perfumes. The moss held on to traces of rain, the damp earth. A single, twittering bird took flight from the branches above her, and she envied the freedom it had for an appreciative moment.
“If you’re considering running away…” The sound of Naya’s voice sent her scrambling to her feet. “I don’t think you’ll get far without a few supplies.”
Arden’s shoulders stiffened. “I don’t run away from my problems.”
“Appearances say otherwise.”
Irritated the woman had the nerve to accuse her of cowardice, she stepped towards her and glared. “If you’re as familiar with battle as I hear tell, you know the value in retreat, in gathering your forces for a rally against the enemy.”
She crossed her arms and leaned up against the tree Arden had been sitting under. “I’m not your enemy.”
“Your knife against my neck earlier tells me otherwise.”
Releasing a long sigh, Naya eased herself to sit. “I am sorry about that. I didn’t see your truth at first, asahan’dri.”
“And then there’s the other thing as well.” She scowled, unable to relax.
She shrugged. “A moment between two old friends, of which you only saw a tiny portion.”
“It’s that it was only a tiny portion that worries me.”
“Sit with me a moment, riyah.” She motioned to the grass in front of her. “I think it’s best if we speak truthfully with each other now. Waiting does neither of us any favors.”
Logically, Arden knew she was correct, but it was hard to give her any ground. As she did when dealing with her mother, she set her feelings aside for the moment, seeing wisdom in gathering more information on her problem. A large rock was embedded at the base of a tree across from her, and she perched atop it, ready to leave if the need presented itself.
“Do you know what it means to be elata’hem?”
A few details trickled through her memory, but it wasn’t much. “A little.”
“Only a handful in each generation are chosen for the path. We are guardians for our people, but we are also keepers of knowledge, a little like a Ta’Mareth. Our knowledge is generally older, however, but less to do with life and more about monsters and magic. The process for becoming elata’hem is painful. When we drink from the Waters of D’Sandrei, who we were is broken, replaced by something else, our former selves becoming nothing more than distant memories. We remember our heartaches and our triumphs, but they no longer define us. We share minds with spirits long since passed from this world, their words guiding us as we protect our people. Do you understand, asahan’dri?”
“D’Sandrei…” Her mind shifted from hostile to studious faster than she was aware of the change. “The ancient elven god of war?”
“He is that, but that is only one facet of him. He is also a guardian, a protector, and a hunter.” She waved the conversation on. “I can elaborate more on that later if you like, but I think for now you need to understand who I am before we speak of history and tradition.”
She couldn’t argue with her logic, but Arden far preferred a conversation on elvish history to discussing her husband, Naya’s former lover. “Continue.”
“When masareh and I parted ways, I wandered for months before my dreams sent me to the temple. I’d known since I was a child I’d been chosen for the path, but I greatly disliked being told what to do. It wasn’t until I had nothing left that I decided to become elata’hem. In doing so, I released the last threads of what held me to that life and began a new one. I tell you all of this so you’ll understand. What was before will never be again. It cannot be. My heart is filled by D’Sandrei and the need to protect my people. That old life is but a distant echo to me. I am not your rival.”
Closing her eyes, Arden willed herself to think rationally. She had no doubts about the truth of Naya’s words, but her own insecurities pulled at her. “I understand, but…”
“I know. I see plainly what you fear, but I see what he fears as well.”
She sighed. “Darius fears nothing, if the stories are to be believed.”
Naya laughed a little. “Stories are often exaggerated, although that part isn’t far from the truth. I’ve seen him fight every foe imaginable, face down armies without a second of hesitation, but there is a single moment in recent memory I saw true fear in his eyes.”
“And when was that?” Arden asked, preparing to hear a long, complicated story.
Naya simply shrugged, nonchalant. “The moment he saw me with a knife to your throat.”
She couldn’t say she expected to hear anything of the sort coming from her. Arden stared at her, searching for any trace of dishonesty in the elf’s expression, but she was as placid as a lake frozen in winter.
“You seem surprised.”
“Why would he be afraid then?” she said. “He knew you.”
“Perhaps he used to, but I am not that Naya anymore. I’ve never seen Darius as terrified as when you were threatened. The asahan’dril are to be protected above all others, so I understand some of how he feels. The elata’hem are not immune to that duty.”
Arden frowned. “I don’t understand how I’m so important. Asahan’dri? I’m only one person.”
Naya’s head tilted as she considered her. “I understand now how I found you so quickly this evening, and why you drew me away from our scouting party this afternoon. I’d never seen an asahan’dril before, so I erred on the side of caution when I took you today. In all life, even in the elata’hem, our first instinct is hostility when we encounter the new and different.”
“So, how is it, then?” she asked, still dubious. “How do I seem different to you?”
Gazing up into the leaves, she thought for a while. “It’s difficult to explain. It’s a scent I cannot place, yet is familiar. It’s long shadows cast by bright lights that have no origin. It’s a sound— a melody, or a whisper— I can’t quite hear. You leave traces of this sensation wherever you pass. It’s quite remarkable, yet might be dangerous for you.”
Arden sank into silence, thinking over her words. In truth, she wasn’t sure how to feel about it when Calla first explained it, and Naya did nothing to alleviate that. What was she? An omen? A prophecy? A rare magical creature? She didn’t feel like any of those things, no more or less than she’d ever been. Should she have some sense of responsibility about it? Did it change her life somehow?
“When I first arrived here, I spoke with the Ta’Mareth,” Arden said. “He welcomed me without hesitation and told me I shouldn’t worry. He said I could see my dreams made real. I thought perhaps he was talking about… well, I wonder if he didn’t mean something else entirely now.”
“You thought he meant Darius?”
Her cheeks heated. “Well, yes, that was my first thought. But I have many dreams, big and small, he’s only one.”
Naya stood and brushed herself off before offering her hand. “He’s worried about you, you know. Are you ready to return?”
She swallowed, not at all sure what she’d say to him or how to act after running off to pout like a child.
“You should give him a chance to speak, riyah,” Naya said gently. “I believe there’s more he was going to say to me that might not be as bad as you think.”
With a last, calming breath, Arden steadied herself and accepted her hand. “You’re right. It’s been a long day, and I think I’ll feel better after a good night’s rest.”
Naya gave her a reassuring smile, then led the way. Regardless of if she was ready, not going back wasn’t an option. Delaying the inevitable wasn’t going to make her feel any better.
* * * * *
And there you have it. This excerpt gives a small look at the overarching plot this series will take. Each of these books will feature a different couple, all with unique stories and characters that are a true joy to get to know as I write them. High fantasy doesn’t have to be all dark and end of the world sort of stories. Sometimes, it’s important to remember the light and wonder of the magical world, to immerse yourself in something entirely different from the dour grittiness our reality can be. And so, I’ve tried to capture that with this new series.
It’s time for a new escape, and I invite you all to join me.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you all next time!