People sometimes ask me why I use the backcountry as a setting for some of my paranormal stories. It’s easy enough to answer. I’ve spent thousands of days with a pack on my back. No, that’s not an exaggeration. I’ve climbed all over the world, though never any of the eight thousand meter peaks in the Himalaya.
I’ve had more than a few, um, unusual experiences far from other people, and often far from any sort of maintained trail. One common event is hearing someone behind me. Of course when I turn around, there’s no one there. Sometimes, if I listen carefully, whoever’s not there actually talks with me. It’s how I’ve come up with some of my more interesting story ideas.
Another thing that happens far from civilization is sort of a sixth sense. I have something—who knows, maybe it’s a guardian angel—that keeps me safe. It tells me if a snow slope is unstable or a route unsafe. I’ve learned to listen to it. Backcountry survival is a blend of luck and skill. One or the other by itself often isn’t enough.
In the modern world, it’s a treat to get away from electronics and instant availability, sort of a retreat to our roots as more primitive people. What better place to find romance? He’s not texting. He’s putting up the tent. She’s not yammering with her girlfriends, she’s mixing up freeze-dried glop for dinner. You have to rely on each other and pay attention to one another, too. I’ve seen more than one couple who couldn’t get along in the backcountry. Their relationships never lasted long in the front country, either. You learn to work together as a team and to appreciate one another’s strengths. If you can’t do that, you don’t go on many more trips together.
At least in my life, out of the way places have been a crucible to strengthen my marriage. We’ve returned from many an adventure more strongly bonded as a couple than before. And when you get right down to it, romance is looking at your partner with love shining from your eyes. Sure they have faults. We all do. But you turn a blind eye to them. It’s a glass half full phenomenon. We pick what we want to see.
There’s a reason so many people read romance. It’s a metaphor for what we want in our lives. We all want our HEA with the one person who makes us feel loved and special. Want to find out if your relationship will go the distance? Go backpacking together. Travel to a third world country. Face adversity greater than, “Aw crap, we’re out of milk.” If you can work together rather than blaming one another for why something isn’t working, I’d say you picked a winner.Any stories you’d like to share? When did you know your current love was Mr. or Ms. Right? What tipped you off?
Find Ann and her books
Dragon Lore #2
Amazon Barnes and Noble iTunes Kobo
When pressed, Jonathan Shea admits magic runs through his blood, but he’s always been ambivalent about it—until a dragon and her mage show up in the Scottish Highlands, and then all bets are off. Jonathan’s charmed and captivated by the dragon—a creature fresh out of myth and legend—but the woman bonded to the dragon is so enticing, he tosses caution to the winds and dives into the magical power he’s avoided for so long.Excerpt:
Britta and her dragon prepare for a battle to save Earth. Freshly transplanted from a much earlier time, she feels awkward, out of place. The first person she lays eyes on is Jonathan. There’s something about him. She can’t quite pinpoint it, but he has way more magic than he lets on. Magic aside, it runs deeper than that. For the first time ever, she questions the wisdom of remaining a maid. If she doesn’t make up her mind damned fast, though, her choices will fritter away. Beset from every side, she’s never needed her magical ability more.
Surrounded by dragon shifters, Celtic gods, Selkies, time travel, and a heaping portion of magic, Jonathan comes into his own fast. Fell creatures target him, Britta, and her dragon. In the midst of chaos, he and Britta find scorching passion and love so heartbreakingly tender, it will change their lives forever.
…Jonathan tried not to stare, but it was a losing battle. The woman—no, the dragon shifter—was the most perfect, the most alluring, creature he’d ever laid eyes on. Tall, with high, rounded breasts, a slender waist, and curvy hips, she looked like a goddess. Who knew? Maybe she was. The Celts had many deities. He fumbled with his rucksack and pulled out a turkey sandwich on rye bread, which he handed to her.
She yanked the wrappings aside, dropping them onto the floor while she stuffed food into her mouth, chewing and swallowing quickly. “Ye said there were two of these meat and bread things.” Britta surveyed him, her golden eyes alight with interest.
“Yes, I did. If I give you both, I’ll be hungry.”
She shrugged. “Not my problem. Also, I requested mead.”
Jonathan’s lips twitched. He corralled the smile that wanted out. Britta was an imperious bitch, yet there was something so undeniably appealing about her straightforward nature, it was impossible to feel offended. “No mead. At least I don’t have any. We could ask the other witches, or if we found you some clothes, we could go into the city and buy a proper meal, and as much to drink as you wanted.”
She cocked her head to one side and popped the last bite of sandwich into her mouth. “I can go as I am. Shall we walk or use magic, witch?”
“Um, no, you can’t go as you are. You’d be arrested.”
She tilted her chin up. “Why? I can see where I might freeze to death, but who would give a jolly fuck whether I’m dressed or not?”
Before he could craft an explanation, Kheladin stalked over, trailed by three female witches stroking the scales on his lower body. “Lachlan kept a clothes chest against the far wall.” He pointed with a talon. “I’m certain some of his shirts and tights would work, though there’s little to be done by way of shoes.”
Britta’s gaze landed on a particularly large heap of gold jewelry and coins. “I could borrow a bit of money from your hoard, just a coin or two, and—”
Kheladin’s eyes whirled faster, glittering dangerously. “I doona think so. Unless your First Born bondmate orders me.”
“No need to disturb Tarika.” Britta turned a brilliant smile on Jonathan and tapped his chest with her index finger. “He can buy me what I need.” Magic shimmered around her. “Come close, witch. We’re leaving.”
Kheladin stumped to Britta’s side. The counter spell he summoned to dampen her power sparkled, and multi-hued strands wrapped around her. Her lips curled in fury, and she raised her hands to call magic of her own.
“Not so fast,” Kheladin snapped. “First, ye’ve forgotten ye need clothes. Second, Tarika was in an all-fired hurry to find me. Such a big hurry, ye went without food or rest. Why?”
Britta shook her head so hard, her hair danced about her body. She swept the heels of her hands down her cheeks, distorting her perfect features. “Och aye, whatever is wrong with me? Nay, I know the answer. The Morrigan is furious because Lachlan triumphed over the black and red wyverns, and their dragon shifter mages.”
“Good the old Battle Crow even noticed,” Kheladin growled and breathed a fiery gout of flames.
“She did more than notice. She cast a spell to disrupt our memories out of sheer meanness. If ye wouldna have reminded me… Hell, ’tis surprised I am we got here at all. The Celtic gods, Gwydion and Arawn, sent us to warn you and Lachlan. They told us their magic would trump the Morrigan’s, but not forever.” One corner of her mouth turned down. “’Twould appear I just ran up against forever. Or mayhap their magic got subverted by your wards.”
“What impact has the Morrigan’s mischief had on the rest of our kind?”
“Those in Fire Mountain are safe so long as they remain there. The memory-altering spell only snares them when they set foot on Earth.”
“We just saw Gwydion, Arawn, and Ceridwen, and they dinna tell us aught of any such casting. Did they try to neutralize it?”
She cast a look Kheladin’s way that said he should ask something worth her time answering.
Jonathan watched the exchange, chest tight with excitement, feeling he’d fallen into one of the old tales where heroes and heroines walked among humans.
“Let me try again.” Kheladin sounded exasperated. “Did the Morrigan wake the black wyvern’s mage, Rhukon?”
“’Twas the first thing she did.”
“So all our effort was for naught.” The dragon clanked his jaws together. “I must alert Lachlan. Where’d the Celts find you? And how long ago?”
Britta rolled her eyes. “Not in Fire Mountain, though I admit Tarika and I retreated there after Rhukon, Connor, and their dragons teamed with the Morrigan, and things werena looking good. Nay, the Celts plucked us out of the sixteen hundreds. They told us enough about what the future holds to alarm us and sent us on our way.”
“Aye, and how long ago was that,” Kheladin prodded.”
“Mayhap a week. Tarika had things to attend to afore we could come. Why is that important?”
“Because Lachlan and I just sought them out, and they reminded us they doona censure their own, meaning they have no plans to clip the Battle Crow’s wings.”
“I believe I understand.” Tarika forced her voice through Britta’s vocal chords. “They rousted us out to excuse themselves from action. Craven bastards, the lot of them.” Fire rolled from Britta’s mouth.
“For the love of the goddess,” she sputtered from around flames. “Stop that.”
Kheladin inclined his head. “Though the circumstances leave much to be desired, thank you for coming.”
A warm smile lit Britta’s face. It softened her features and made her look barely more than a girl. Jonathan’s cock stiffened where it pressed against his jeans. Breath caught in his throat, and he fought against touching her, running his hands down her golden skin. He drew magic around himself to mask his lust, make it unobtrusive, but she noticed anyway.
Britta turned an appraising glance his way. “Aye, ye’d do well to hide your rut from me.”
Embarrassed at being caught out but curious too, he asked, “Why?”She tossed her head at Kheladin. “Tell him, dragon. Mayhap he’ll believe it if he hears it from another, ahem, male.” Her last word dripped sarcasm…
Dragon Lore #2
Amazon Barnes and Noble iTunes Kobo
Tumble off reality’s edge into myth, magic, and Scottish dragon shifters
Bloated on chaos, the Morrigan leaves the Scottish Highlands to gather power. A trip through Hell yields quite the assortment of allies tagging along behind her. Fell creatures straight out of myth and nightmare that haven’t darkened Earth’s boundaries for centuries heed her call.
Heartily sick of the Morrigan’s maneuvering, the dragons are close to shutting their world off from everywhere, Earth included. If they do, every dragon shifter bond will be broken. Horrified, Lachlan and Britta launch a desperate campaign to hang onto their dragons.
Magic may bite back, but if the dragons take their magic ball and go home, Earth will fade, along with all other worlds. That suits the Morrigan fine. War and anarchy are her favorite companions, and she collects misery like children gather beloved toys.
Arianrhod’s fellow Celts found out about her fall from grace and her half-Druid son, Jonathan. With nothing further to hide, she goes back in time hunting Angus, Jonathan’s father. Forty years apart was a steep price to pay. The world needs Angus’s magic. And Jonathan needs all the help he can get. Late to accept the power thrumming through him, he holds a key role in keeping the world from spinning off its axis. Reluctant at first, Jonathan finally gets it.
Anything less and everyone he loves will pay an unthinkable price.
…Jonathan Shea cradled Britta in his arms. She was asleep, the rhythm and cadence of her breathing revealed her exhaustion. He still couldn’t believe he’d found a mate, and a woman linked to a dragon at that. Britta KilKerran was actually the Countess of Cumbria, or she had been a few hundred years back. He wasn’t certain such a title still existed.
It didn’t matter. He’d offer up his life to protect the woman slumbering against his chest. He loved her dragon too, but Tarika scarcely needed his protection. When he thought of the scarlet-scaled dragon, one of the First Born, the place on his neck where she’d marked him with a mating bite tingled. It was her contribution to his bond with Britta.
She stirred in his arms. He stroked strands of long, red-gold hair away from her face and spun a small spell to keep her asleep. They’d just come from a major battle to free Tarika and Kheladin, another dragon, from the Morrigan’s clutches. Both of them needed rest, but his heart and mind were too full to let go quite yet.
After years of never believing the rumor about his mother being a Celtic deity, he’d finally met her. He brought it on himself by calling for her when they desperately needed help, but he never believed she’d actually show up. Regardless, he couldn’t deny her existence anymore—no matter how much he might want to. Arianrhod had abandoned him when he was so young he had no memories of her, and when he cut to the bone of things, he resented the crap out of her neglect.
Jonathan shut his eyes for a moment and summoned an image of his father. Tall and rangy with shaggy, rich brown hair and amber eyes, Angus had been a dreamer. He did his best for Jonathan, but often as not, he’d been caught up in some trance state or another. Though Angus hadn’t said so, Jonathan understood his father was relieved when he grew old enough to be on his own. Once Jonathan left Ireland, Angus vanished. Their modest cabin near Inishowen remained, but Jonathan knew better than to waste time hunting for a man who didn’t wish to be found.
Had Arianrhod seen Angus all these years he’d been missing? Jonathan could ask her, but she might just stare him down with those inscrutable eyes—one gold, the other silver—and not bother to answer.
He tightened his hold on Britta, and she nestled closer. She was more comfortable about Arianrhod being his mother than he was, but then she was far more comfortable with magic in general. He blew out a breath, recognizing his life would never be the same.
Not that he wanted it to be, but he would’ve preferred finding the love of his life without having to deal with a long-lost parent. Particularly one who stirred up a welter of prickly feelings. Now if Angus were to show back up, it would be a different story…
Britta wriggled against him, and her golden eyes flickered open. She regarded him sleepily through thick red lashes. “Ye canna rest, my love?”
Jonathan shrugged and offered a sheepish smile. “Lots to think about.”
She cupped the side of his face in one hand. “Do ye wish to talk about anything?”
He shrugged again, feeling uncomfortable. What was there to say, really? He was a little old to be struggling with parent issues. Besides he’d long since come to terms with his father’s magic being too pervasive for him to spend much time around normal humans. Jonathan dealt with some level of that as well, but his job as a software engineer who designed games let him keep to himself.
Britta brushed her hand across his lips. “Whenever ye wish, I’ll be here. Tarika too. She’s verra old and much wiser than either of us. If ye canna get the information elsewhere, mayhap we can figure out what sort of hold the Celtic gods had on your da.”
“Thank you. I’ll keep it in mind.” Jonathan reached around her and snagged a bottle of Irish whiskey off the nightstand. “Would you like some? I can get us glasses.”
“Och, and I can drink from the bottle. No need to get fancy.”
She smiled, and it transformed her into something so striking he couldn’t look away. A high forehead gave way to sculpted cheekbones and a defined chin. One of his old T-shirts covered her from chest to knees, but the outline of her breasts was clearly visible through the well-aged beige fabric.
His cock stirred, and he rolled his eyes. “We made love twice after we got here. I don’t understand why I can’t get enough of you.”
“Are ye complaining?” She quirked an arched red brow.
He shook his head and drew both of them to a half sitting position against the carved oak headboard. He uncorked the bottle and handed it to her. She drank deep before handing it back.
Britta narrowed her eyes and watched him drink. “We’re far from home free,” she blurted without preamble.
“Which problem are you referring to?” He placed the bottle on a side table not bothering to cork it. He wasn’t done yet, and likely neither was Britta.
She moved away and sat cross-legged facing him, her lovely face creased with concern. “We may have permanently removed Connor and Rhukon and their dragons from the action, but there have to be other corrupt dragon shifters. We must seek them out and destroy them too.”
Jonathan shook his head. “It won’t matter unless we get to the heart of things.”
“Aye, ye’re correct. We must find a way to corral the Morrigan, or she’ll just entice more mages and dragons with promises of limitless power.” Britta caught her lower lip between her teeth. “Tarika plans to warn the dragons. She believes the dark mages want to drain their dragon bondmates’ power.”
Jonathan straightened and recaptured the whiskey bottle, taking another swallow. “I thought mages became dragon shifters because they loved dragons and wished to share their lives with them.”
“Aye and that would be true—for most of us. Power lures dark mages, though. Far more power than can be had through the normal dragon shifter bond.”
“How do you know?”
“I saw it in Connor and Rhukon’s minds afore we thrashed them.”
“You didn’t say anything.” He handed her the bottle. Maybe they should eat something, if they were going to drink much more.
“I would have. Eventually. Tarika and I needed to determine just what it meant. And if ’tis really true, or just conjecture on our part.”
He kissed her forehead before swinging his legs over the side of the bed. “I’m going to cut up a bit of cheese for us and get some crackers.” He pulled on a pair of black sweat pants, securing the waist string to keep them from falling down, and got to his feet.
“Excellent.” She grinned. “Plotting revenge is hungry business, but ye dinna have to cover that amazing cock.”
He bit back a laugh, enjoying the compliment, and made his way to the kitchen. His apartment was small enough to keep talking. “Did you discuss this with Lachlan?” he asked as he chopped cheese off a block and opened a box of biscuits.
“Nay, but Tarika and Kheladin figured out what was going on while they were held prisoner.”Jonathan returned to the bedroom and plopped the snacks on the bed next to Britta. “How does this bondmate thing work? Would Lachlan be privy to the dark mage problem, if it’s in his dragon’s mind?”…