Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Stolen Songs Release Party: Song of the Selkies Sneak Peek [IT'S HERE]


You know what today is? It's RELEASE DAY for Song of the Selkies! And I couldn't be more excited! The process of writing this book has been a journey in which absolutely nothing went as expected (and very little happened on the original schedule), but I have fallen in love with these characters and this world anyway. And now I get to share them with you! Which is delightful and terrifying. (Releasing a new standalone or series start is, for the record, always terrifying. When I write Bastian Dennel sequels, I know that people already love the characters, and that's half the battle. And I think y'all will love the cast of Song of the Selkies — my beta readers and ARC readers certainly do! — but setting them out into the world is still daunting.) Anyway, I know that some of y'all already preordered and are probably just as excited as I am, but in case any of you need a little convincing, I'm giving you a sneak peek at the first chapter — or you can hop over to Light and Shadows to discover five reasons why I think you should give the book a try.

About . . .

Song of the Selkies

Undercover in a foreign land, a princess discovers the secrets behind a generations-old enmity.

The youngest princess of Atìrse, Ceana always planned to marry for the good of her people and let love come later. With her sisters' marriages ensuring peace with the nearby human kingdoms, Ceana sets her sights on their last unallied neighbor: the magical and reclusive selkies. The two peoples have experienced a wary peace for generations, and the time seems ripe for a deeper alliance that will benefit both kingdoms. The last thing Ceana expects is for Fionntan, king of the selkies, to take the proposal as a grave insult.

With relations between the two peoples suddenly precarious, Ceana is determined to set things right. Aided by her grandmother, she disguises herself as a selkie and travels to their hidden home of Emain Ablach, where she hopes to discover the reason behind King Fionntan's reaction. But the more she learns about the selkies, the more she uncovers long-kept secrets of her people — and her heritage — that shake the foundations of how she viewed the world. Her growing friendships with and affection for some of the selkie nobility, including King Fionntan himself, further complicate matters, especially as her admiration for the selkie king begins to blossom into something more. No relationship built on a lie can survive, but revealing her true identity as an Atìrsen princess will doom her efforts towards peace.

In order to bridge the divide between selkies and humans, Ceana will have to overcome generations of selkies' suspicion and reveal the insidious evil that's taken root in her homeland. But the greatest obstacle to her success may be her own heart.

Discover a magical new world in this Little Mermaid retelling from the author of Through a Shattered Glass and the Bastian Dennel, PI mysteries

Find it on: Amazon || Goodreads

Song of the Selkies Chapter 1

As betrothal ceremonies went, Ceana couldn’t help but feel that this one was rather lackluster. She should know—she’d attended five before this just for her own sisters.

True, all the elements for such a ceremony were present. The seats of the castle chapel were filled with the most notable Atìrsen nobles, along with many of the lesser lords and ladies who lived within a week’s travel and ambassadors from most of Atìrse’s nearer neighbors. The chapel, while not as grand as the one at the royal seat, looked lovely. The afternoon sun streamed through the many tall, narrow windows, setting the enameled murals on the walls aglow, gleaming on the pale stars beneath the Maker’s Hand, the scarlet footsteps of the Shepherd’s Path, and the vibrant flames of the Gèadh Naomh. Banners hung on either side of the murals, displaying the colors of both Atìrse and Glassraghey.

And Mirren herself, standing at the front of the chapel with King Seòras and Queen Isla, her and Ceana’s parents, and Lord Pherick, the Glassraghean ambassador, looked so lovely that she might have been ready for her wedding, not just her betrothal: serene and solemn, her honey-brown hair falling past her shoulders beneath a web of thin braids held in place with gold pins tipped with tiny jewels that matched the sunset hues of her kirtle and gown. The skirt, sleeves, and neckline of the gown were nearly covered in embroidery, all done by Mirren’s own hand, the tiny stitches forming designs intricate enough to be the envy of any woman. It was, Ceana knew, Mirren’s favorite gown, and she added to its embellishment any time she came up with a new idea. Beside her, everyone else practically faded into obscurity. Still, something seemed to be lacking.

With effort, Ceana tried to focus her attention on the ceremony itself and on King Seòras’s speech. “We are honored by the chance to join our family to that of Glassraghey and to solidify the bond of peace between our peoples. Dèanadair has truly laid His blessing upon Atìrse, allowing us to seek friendship with our neighbors and lay aside suspicion, and we seek to honor Him in maintaining that peace …”

Perhaps that was part of the problem. King Seòras had given nearly the same speech a year and a half ago, when Rhona, the third-youngest of the sisters, had been betrothed to Prince Gwynfor of Addewedig. He’d changed some of the details for today, removed some small parts and added others, but much of the flow and wording remained the same. Of course, after having given similar speeches five times before, he was probably running low on new things to say. All the same, Ceana couldn’t help wondering how many others had noticed.

King Seòras finished his speech, and Lord Pherick began his. “On behalf of Prince Martyn and their majesties, King Austeyn and Queen Mureal, allow me to express the royal family’s joy at this coming union, and their great sorrow that they could not be personally present …”

Ah. That was another part of the problem—the greatest part, even. The whole ceremony would have been far better if Mirren’s intended were actually here, rather than represented by Lord Pherick. True, Prince Martyn and his family had good reason for their absence. Just the week before, they’d sent a mirror-message to say that several members of the royal household, Prince Martyn included, had fallen gravely ill, and so it would be best if Pherick stood in their stead. Even so, it wasn’t the same, and Mirren really did deserve better.

A sharp nudge in Ceana’s side warned her that her thoughts were beginning to show—or, at least, that they were visible to Onora, the crown princess and Ceana’s eldest sister, who stood beside her. Ceana hastily recomposed herself. If she couldn’t give Mirren better, she could at least keep from spoiling things further by letting her thoughts show.

At the front of the chapel, Lord Pherick went on with his speech. “The greatest gift Dèanadair grants any of His people, after the gift of the Path, is the opportunity for each of us to serve our neighbor. And with this union and the greater peace it brings between our lands, so may our two nations more freely partake of this gift …”

Well, that much was true! And that—the betrothal, not the betrothal ceremony—was the important part. Every betrothal and marriage between Atìrse and her neighbors was another step towards ensuring a friendship between the nations that would, Dèanadair willing, last for generations. Ceana and Mirren, like their sisters, had grown up knowing it would be part of their duty to contribute to this peace—duty and honor both! For what greater service could there be than ensuring peace for one’s people, both in the land of one’s birth and the land of one’s marriage?

And, technically, they needed none of this pomp to make a betrothal official. Atìrsen law only required that any royal betrothal be finalized in the presence of a certain number of noble witnesses. Making it into a grand affair just provided an opportunity for the nobility who wouldn’t be able to travel for a foreign wedding to show their support for the union. In that respect, today’s ceremony was more than sufficient.

Lord Pherick finished his speech, and now came Mirren’s turn to speak. She flushed slightly as she began: “I am truly honored to have been accepted as Prince Martyn’s future wife. Though I do not yet know the prince, I know of him, and I look forward to building a life with him that will benefit both Atìrse and Glassraghey and will honor the name of Dèanadair. May His blessings be upon us both and upon our countries.”

Even with the blush, she delivered her statement well—as she ought, given that she’d practiced it nearly a hundred times last night and made Ceana and Onora listen to most of those repetitions. Onora had privately commented afterwards that she’d felt less nervous about her own wedding than Mirren evidently did about this ceremony—but that was Mirren for you!

With the speeches now ended, King Seòras, Queen Isla, Lord Pherick, and Mirren all bent and signed the betrothal contract, one after another. Then King Seòras and Lord Pherick shook hands, and Lord Pherick bowed to Mirren. Had Prince Martyn been here, he would have kissed her hand—but he wasn’t, so he couldn’t. With that, the ceremony ended, and King Seòras offered his newly-betrothed daughter his arm to depart the castle chapel for the banquet in the great hall.

Lord Pherick followed just behind, escorting Queen Isla. Next came the Dowager Queen Moireach, Ceana’s grandmother, leaning on an elegantly carved ivory cane. Then came Onora, escorted by her husband, Prince Alasdair. Ceana brought up the rear of the procession, escortless—for now. Not for long, if she knew her father and mother.

She stepped outside just in time to see King Seòras give Mirren a quick squeeze of the shoulders, then leave her with Onora and Alasdair as he, the queens, and Lord Pherick moved off to speak together. Now that the ceremony was over, Ceana dropped her formal pace and hurried over to hug Mirren. “Congratulations! How does it feel to be properly betrothed?”

“A lot like being not-betrothed, so far.” Mirren wrinkled her nose, but returned the hug. “And Glassraghey can still back out.”

“But they won’t. They want an alliance as much as we do.” Ceana released Mirren, though she kept her arm looped through Mirren’s. “Isn’t that right, Onora?”

“If Glassraghey changes their mind at this point, it means something has gone very wrong indeed.” Onora raised herself on tiptoe to give her husband a kiss on the cheek, then pushed him in the direction of the main keep. “Go distract anyone who tries to enter the Great Hall, won’t you? That ceremony finished faster than I thought, and I don’t think the servants have had enough time to set up.”

“Bossy,” Alasdair teased, returning the kiss. “And who’s lord of this castle, I’d like to know?” Nonetheless, he set off towards the keep, walking as if it had been his idea in the first place.

Onora took Mirren’s other arm. “See what you have to look forward to?” Still, she laughed. “Don’t you worry. Everything will be fine. By all accounts, Prince Martyn is quite taken with what he’s heard of you.”

Ceana grinned around Mirren. “Oh, your agents afield are keeping track of our allies’ love lives now, are they?”

“Well, naturally,” Onora replied, raising an eyebrow. “Part of their job—” She paused as a stub-tailed cat darted over to rub himself against her legs. “Oh, bother. Càirdeil, what are you doing out here?” She let go of Mirren’s arm, bent, and scooped up her cat. “As I was saying, part of their job is to find out who would be best suited and most amenable to an alliance so I can advise Athair and Màthair. Should Prince Martyn be infatuated by some local lass, we’d not about send one of you off to marry him.”

“I’d go anyway,” Mirren murmured, though she didn’t sound entirely certain of her statement. “If I needed to. I’d have every cat in the palace to keep me company if the prince didn’t care to.”

Càirdeil chose this moment to let out a rumbling meow, as if to say he approved. Onora gave a little shake of her head. “Maybe, but a marriage with nothing between husband and wife is a dishonor to Dèanadair and a disservice to both countries it binds.” She set off towards the keep, and Ceana and Mirren followed her. “I don’t know why we’re fussing over this anyway. I already told you that Prince Martyn fancies you, as much as he can without having met you.”

“True, you did.” Mirren’s lips quirked upwards. “So if you’re helping Athair and Màthair find marriages for the rest of us, who do you have in mind for Ceana? It’s her turn now.”

Was it Ceana’s imagination, or did a hint of worry cross Onora’s face? But Onora just shook her head. “What Athair and Màthair have planned is for them to say in their own time. I’ll not spoil the anticipation—not before Mirren’s feast is over!”

“As if they won’t tell her anyway in a few days!” Mirren protested. “Surely you can tell us.”

“’Tis theirs to tell, not mine.” As they neared the keep, Onora turned towards the great doors. “I’d best see how the servants are faring. I’m sure Alasdair can only hold the crowd so long. Go mingle, and I’ll see you at the feast.”

She hurried away, her full skirts swishing around her legs. Ceana and Mirren called farewells after her, then made for the crowd gathering in front of the main doors.

As soon as they reached its edge, guests started coming forward to offer Mirren their congratulations. Ceana stood politely by her sister, smiling and occasionally nodding or responding to comments made in her direction. But her thoughts were already flown past the feast towards her own future. Tomorrow, she knew, the king and queen would come to her or call her to meet with them so they could tell her who they had in mind for her to marry, just as they’d done for all her sisters.

But who would it be? That was the thrilling question. Someone from Addewedig to the south or from the Talaschean Kingdoms to the west would be most likely—and that would put her close to either Rhona or Mey. Joining Mey in Talascheal would make sense; they had five royal families there, plus a high king, and that meant plenty of potential matches—and more opportunity for Ceana’s marriage to really mean something. Addewedig had been a strong ally to Atìrse for generations upon generations, but the Talaschean Kingdoms had only recently made a proper alliance. And surely it would be worthwhile to create ties to all five kingdoms?

With effort, Ceana pulled herself back to the present. Today they celebrated Mirren’s betrothal; she ought to focus on that. She’d have plenty of time to dream later.

Thankfully, the doors to the Great Hall of the keep opened not long after, signaling the beginning of the feast. The crowd streamed in to find their seats: Mirren in the place of honor between King Seòras and Queen Isla; the rest of the royal family, various Glassraghean representatives, and other particularly important guests arranged around the high table; and the remaining attendees at lower tables according to their rank and where they could find space. King Seòras blessed the meal, thanking Dèanadair for Mirren’s good match and the bonds of friendship forming between Atìrse and Glassraghey.

And then the servers brought forth the food! The dinner began with thick, savory vegetable and barley stew. Next to the table came every manner of fish, perfectly roasted, some in cream and some in sauce, some on beds of wilted greens and flecked with spices, and some served over crisp-edged potatoes and brushed with parsley sauce. Along with the fish came a splendid venison roast, so tender the meat practically fell off the bone at the first touch of a knife.

Ceana could have happily finished with the venison and fish—but the servants next brought forth roasted poultry: peacock for the high table and those nearest it, and duck and goose for the rest. One servant slipped Ceana a plate of duck without having to be told, and Ceana gave him a quiet thank-you in return, making a mental note to tell Onora the same later. An occasion like this demanded the fancier peacock meat, which Ceana had never much cared for, but duck prepared by Onora’s cooks was a delight, common fare or not. With the fowl were roasted vegetables and fluffy rolls still warm from the oven, their tops glistening with butter.

At last, however, only bones remained of the birds, and the servants cleared away the platters, replacing them with trays containing tarts laden with creamy custard and spiced stewed pears. Ceana could only manage one, she felt so full from the rest of the feast, and she couldn’t even touch the accompanying bowls of honeyed plums and candied nuts.

Yet when the court musicians struck up a tune and King Seòras escorted Mirren down to the floor to open the dancing, Ceana sprang to her feet and hurried down after them. She allowed Onora’s brother-in-law, Evander, to claim her hand for the first dance and set to the steps with as much energy and enthusiasm as she could muster. Failing to dance, after all, would be an insult to her family and to Glassraghey—and it would be bad luck for both her and Mirren, besides.

She stepped and spun through seven dances before her stomach and legs’ mutual protests convinced her that she had better rest a moment. So, she made her way back to the high table. King Seòras had returned to his seat as well, she noticed, and Lord Arran, along with his wife, had moved up to sit across from him.

Onora still danced, so Ceana slid into her seat beside the king without hesitation. King Seòras gave her a side-smile as she did, but Lord Arran only nodded and went on with the conversation with barely a break. “Your majesty, with all due respect, I urge you to push for better terms when the treaty with the selkies is renewed. That they should maintain such harsh sanctions over an offense that was old and half-forgotten when our great-grandparents were children is, frankly, ridiculous.”

“That we refrain from hunting seals is no great hardship, Arran, nor is paying the little they ask.” King Seòras spoke with a tone of weary patience. “We have paid more for safe use of ports in some other lands, and had less good of it.”

“Your majesty looks far too kindly on such extortion.” Lord Arran’s face was all thin, disapproving lines. “The sea belongs to no one, human or selkie, and it is madness that these seal-folk think they can claim it as their own.”

“Yet the selkies travel the same routes we use, and they have done so longer than we have. If we can claim the land as ours, I am willing to let them have the sea.” King Seòras shook his head, leaning forward with his arms resting on the table’s edge. “And I have no desire to anger them such that they start attacking our ships again.”

Lord Arran just scoffed. “Your majesty should have more confidence in your people. The selkies would find us far harder to sink than they have in the past, and I think they would soon learn to leave our ships alone.”

Ceana stifled a sigh and instead exchanged a sympathetic look with Lord Arran’s wife. Lady Eilidh’s expression suggested that she’d heard this rant too many times before. True, she almost always looked like she were trying and failing to remember what a smile felt like, and her eyes—huge and dark as the storm-tossed sea—frequently held the kind of bone-deep weariness that Ceana mostly associated with grieving mothers. But today, she seemed especially defeated.

Another day, Ceana might have invited Lady Eilidh to walk and talk with her. Though the lady spoke little, and she struggled when she did speak, she always seemed to appreciate the escape from her husband’s presence. However, today, Ceana needed to sit, so she remained where she was, listening to King Seòras and Lord Arran debate policy and treaties until she’d recovered enough to leave them again and rejoin the dancing.

The next time she looked towards the high table, Lord Arran had gone, and Queen Isla sat beside King Seòras, leaning into him, her head on his shoulder and his arm around her as if they were still young newlyweds who could be excused such things. Ceana smiled as she saw them and mentally whispered a prayer to Dèanadair asking for that same blessing for Mirren and herself. She knew her parents had met the first time only a few days before they wed, but they had been as determined then as they were now to do right for their countries, and love had sprung from that shared determination like snowdrops after the first spring thaw.

Someday, that would be her fate. Someday soon, she hoped. Now that only she among all her sisters remained unattached, it was only a matter of time.


What did you think of that sneak peek? Are you excited to read the rest? Tell me in the comments! (And if you want to find out what happens next, make sure you go order your copy!)
Thanks for reading!


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