Saturday, May 27, 2017

Sneak Peek: The Cost of a Kiss by Elle Clouse

The Cost of a Kiss by Elle Clouse

The Cost of a Kiss is an upcoming short story by author (and fellow podcaster) Elle Clouse. Elle's debut fantasy novel, Stealing the Wolf Prince, was a 2016 Rone Award winner. The Cost of a Kiss takes place in the Wolf Prince world, and is a fascinating way for readers to get more of the characters they love while waiting for book 2 in the series. 
Elle was kind enough to provide us with the first chapter of her story here, for our reading pleasure!


Orla Casnar stared across the gated garden to the orchids and her stomach fell to her feet.
“It has to be one of those flowers?”  When she agreed to get her betrothed’s favorite bloom as the perfect gift, she’d assumed it could be purchased at the market.  Not locked behind iron gates at the local heretic’s estate.  It was as if the sun shown a little less on the magician’s hill.
“It’s his favorite and it will endear you to him if you present it tonight at the first meeting.”
Orla glanced at her sister-in-law to be and the young woman returned a calculating smile.  Her ladies’ maids behind her offered no mercy.  The brat knew what she asked.  Orla would catch her skirts climbing the wall, or snag her lace on a thorn, or worse.  The tall north tower shone with an unnatural light that flickered and flashed in a rainbow of colors.  The wizard was home.
Orla pushed on the gate, wishing that the lock gave way to granted her entrance.  No such luck.  Her mind raced to find an excuse not to retrieve the flower but she’d given her hasty promise.  And her word, her mother said, was her greatest asset.  No one called a Casnar an oath breaker.
She walked off the path and followed the fence until she found a section with enough vines and footholds so she might make the climb.  The gaggle of women followed, giggles and whispers shared between them.  No doubt at Orla’s expense.  Orla knew her engagement to Timur was advantageous for both parties; Timur got her dowry to settle his debt and she got a title.  It didn’t mean his family would truly accept her as one of their own though.
The vines bit into her hands as she pulled herself up, her feet finding purchase where ever they could.  The foliage was overgrown, giving her hearty branches to step on.  The giggles stopped when she reached the top.  Careful to avoid the top rail spikes, Orla shifted her weight onto the other side and climbed down.
If possible, the orchids looked farther away than when she peered through the front gate.  She stood on the edge of a raised flower bed, the residing plants mere strings of grass.  She stepped down to the stone path.  To her left was a clear path to the front gate and to her right a meandering path farther into a jungle of unknown plants.
Light from the tower flickered above.  If the wizard remained occupied with his work, she couldn’t get caught, right?  Everyone knew the crazy old man wouldn’t be bothered in the middle of his experiments, he wouldn’t answer his door or be seen for days.  Sometimes weeks. 
Orla tip toed down the path, hunching to keep as small and silent as possible.  Purple vines arched over the walkway in places and green blooms littered the flower bed, she couldn’t tell foliage from flower.  Chirps and cheeps sounded in the distance but silenced when she approached, she prayed the sound was a harmless bug or bird.
The orchids grew in their own flowerbed butted against a rock wall.  Stone benches circled the space whilst the path continued and curved out of sight.  Orla fixated on her goal, drawing to a halt at a new sound.
She spun around and met the eyes of a young man knelt beside some herbs.  He dropped his shears into a basket with green clippings.  He rose, his height impressive for having a youthful face but his features were angular, his ears pointed.
“You’re an elf!”  Orla bit her tongue, what a daft thing to say.  Her words must have caught him as off guard as they had startled her. 
He chuckled.  “You’re trespassing.”
She held his gaze.  No hint of malice in his ice blue eyes.  “You’re not the old wizard.”
“You are good at stating the obvious.”  His lips twisted into the faintest smirk.  The rumors about the estate never mentioned a young man, an elf especially, the gossip mongers would have spread the news far and wide.  He must be there for the same reason as she, to acquire some strange plant. 
Orla nibbled her lip, unsure what to say next.  His gaze flitted to her mouth and her heart raced.  She drew breath to say something, anything, but the sound of a door latching cut them off.  She lunged forward, grabbing his hand and pulling him down. 
“What are you doing?” he whispered, his hand covering hers, and sent a thrill across her skin.
“We can’t get caught.”  She glanced up at the tower windows, the light had gone dark.  “The last person to sneak in here got turned into three notes of music and was never seen again.”
He lifted her hand and brought it to his lips with a smirk.  “Indeed?”
The brush of his lips on her fingers blanked her mind.  She met his gaze again, was he laughing at her? 
“Lonan?  Dammit boy, where are you?”
Orla scrunched down, she couldn’t be tiny enough.  She gasped when the elf stood, taking a step to stand in front of her.  Was he hiding her?
“I’m here master.”
“Have you got that lavender collected yet?”  A dark figure approached from the tower side of the garden but halted some paces away.  Orla didn’t dare peek around her protector’s legs to see the threat.
“Almost finished, master.”
“Hurry up, you know this experiment is time sensitive.”  The figure must have retreated, his steps grew softer with each moment.  When silence returned, her protector turned and offered his hand.
“I’m Lonan Gwydion,” he said when she stood.  “Apprentice to that old wizard.  Now what’s so important that you’d risk being turned into music?”
Orla’s cheeks burned.  “An orchid.”
Lonan turned and strode over to the flower bed.  He plucked an orchid and returned to her.  “One of these?”
She reached for it but he tugged it back. 
“Nothing is free.  An orchid for your name.”
She stared at the delicate purple petals in his hand, the gift intended for her betrothed.  What harm could come from him knowing her name?  “I’m Orla Casnar.”
“Orla.”  He smiled. 
Her name on his breath made her head spin.  She closed her eyes to clear her thoughts but his smirk remained in her mind’s eye.  He pressed the orchid into her hand, bring her back to the moment. 
“Thank you.”  She had her flower but her feet stood firm.  Long moments stretched out as her mind couldn’t decide to leave or stay.
“Have you need of anything else?  I’ve got hemlock for a secret, wolfbane for a rumor, and roses for a kiss.”
Her cheeks burned as she glanced at the crimson roses growing in the corner of the garden.  She had promised to marry another, her family depended on her to marry well.  Glancing at Lonan, she knew she had to leave.  His patience and curiosity would be her undoing.
“It was nice to meet you Mr. Gwydion, but I must return to my friends.” 
“You as will Miss Casnar.”
She stepped away, tearing her gaze from his eyes, and hastened back the way she came.  She paused at the section of the fence she’d climbed and looked back.  Lonan hadn’t followed, most likely returned to his lavender, and she sighed.  What had come over her?  She’d never been won over by a handsome face before.  And that of an elf?  What a scandal that would be. 
Orla looked down at the orchid, best to stay on her current course.  She’d given her word, to her parents and to Timur, she’d oblige the marriage contract.  She’d not even met her husband to be, how could she be thinking about abandoning him already?
“There’s no need to scale the wall again, I can let you out the front gate.”  Lonan strode past her, his basket filled with flowers.
Orla jumped, she’d not heard him approach.  How long had she stood there like a daft cow?  She followed, her steps two to his one.  He opened the latch and swung the gate wide.
She ducked past him and out, her cheeks burning again, this time from embarrassment.
“Until you’ve need of me, Miss Casnar.”  He closed the gate behind him and stepped from view. 
She waited a moment then called to her friends.  Only silence met her summons.  The brats had abandoned her!  Her anger over the incident only simmered, she’d not have met Lonan without their shallow games.  Even if she never saw him again, she’d have their heart racing moment. 
And a flower for her betrothed.

Wow! What an ending! This is a wonderful hook and leaves me wanting more of this story, this world, and these characters! We will get to read the entirety of this story in the upcoming Love Through Heartbreak Anthology which is due for publication Fall 2017.

Find out more about Elle:

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About Elle:

Elle has been writing fantasy and science fiction romance for years and an avid participant in the NaNoWriMo. Her first novel, Stealing the Wolf Prince, is a 2016 RONE Award Winner for Best Fantasy Sci-fi Novel.

Elle is happily married to a martial arts instructor. She’s also the mother of two small boys and is constantly talking her husband out of adopting a new pet. She knits and stamps in her spare time as well as feeds a latte addiction.

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