New release and great deals!

Greetings, readers!
I hope you all are having a fabulous summer!
First of all, apologies for not having the next Werewolves and Gaslight Mystery out to you. The year started off a bit rough with some minor but inconvenient health issues.
Then this spring came a far bigger blow. Mary Rosenblum, my editor, mentor, and friend died in a plane crash. Mary was piloting the Piper and was the only one in the plane. She was an expert and enthusiastic amateur pilot and the Oregon aviation community is as devastated as is the writing community. While there is no replacing Mary, I have finally come up with an arrangement for editing that I hope will allow me to move forward and do honor to her legacy. Until I work through the new plan with at least one novel, it’s hard for me to estimate a publication date for Moon Over London, but be assured that I have not abandoned the project. I am hoping for a Fall release.
Since I realized that it was going to take me longer than I hoped to get another steampunk Victorian detective novel for you, I decided to release a stand-alone medieval fantasy. The manuscript for Brother to the Wolf dates back to my days of traditional publishing. It never found a home then, and when I went indie I focused on my series. But I knew that Brother out to you a lot sooner since the manuscript was already complete and had gone through content-editing.
I’m happy to announce that Brother is now out in both Kindle and trade paperback. Order it now on Amazon! It’s .99 for a limited time, https://www.amazon.com/Brother-Wolf-Shawna-Reppert-ebook/dp/B07DHBGYP8/

Read down to the bottom of this newsletter for a little teaser!

But first, as always, I like to give my readers a little heads-up on good deals on good reads.

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Speaking of deals, here’s a list of SF&F for Kindle at .99! http://sffbookbonanza.com/99c-books-jun-2018/
And for Kindle Unlimited readers, here’s a nice selection of speculative fiction you can read for free: http://sffbookbonanza.com/kindle-unlimited-jul-2018/

One
Worth’s normally placid dun mare snorted in alarm and pulled back, wrenching his shoulder and nearly jerking the leather lead from his hand.
“Stag damn it.” Alf Smithson dropped the hoof rasp as he jumped back from the suddenly panicked animal. Alf’s face was red with anger and exertion, clashing with the rust of his beard. “Thought you were holding her, m’lord.”
Alf only called Worth m’lord when he was upset with him.
“Alf, look.” Worth pointed to the east, over the gray stone walls of his father’s manor.
A column of black smoke rose on the horizon in the direction of their friend’s small holding. It was not the right season for field burning.
“Brun,” Alf said.
The wind shifted, coming now from the east. The acrid smoke the mare had sensed stung Worth’s nose.
He grabbed the mare’s bridle from its hook and slipped it on over her halter. Then he vaulted onto her back—no time for a saddle. The mare raised her head and stiffened; she was not accustomed to being ridden bareback.
Worth looked back at Alf. His friend, a commoner, had never learned to ride.
“Go,” Alf said. “I’ll catch up as I can.”
Worth put heels to the mare’s side, sending her eastward along the wide cart track that went uphill between his father’s hay fields. She pinned her ears, nervous about the smoke and unhappy to be going toward it.
Please don’t buck. He hadn’t ridden without a saddle in years.
The mare broke into a reluctant, but obedient canter—Yes, thank you—and then a lumbering gallop. She was a good Seax horse, bred as much for farm work as for riding. Please, just this once, find some speed. The ground was uneven. The mare stumbled, and Worth slipped. He grabbed mane, and righted himself. He was a decent enough rider, but nothing like a Vainqueur knight who was born to ride—and to kill.
The smoke could only mean a few things, and none of them good. Let it not be Vainqueur. Anything but Vainqueur.
They crested the hill. Too late.
Brun’s small wattle-and-daub cottage was a blackened ghost within the angry flames. The fire popped, hissed, crackled. Worth himself had helped his friend thatch the roof just before Brun brought his bride home from the neighboring holdings. He’d helped with the barn, as well, and that, too, was ablaze. As Worth watched, the hungry fire lapped its tongues at the apple tree beside, catching, devouring.
The chicken coop was down to embers and the stench of burned flesh and feathers battled with the choking harshness of the smoke.
In the barnyard, Brun’s bonnie bride stood pale and stunned, clutching their wailing son, keeping him from under the feet of wheeling, wild-eyed war horses.
The knight in charge rode a great black stallion. Broad-shouldered and clean-shaven and arrogant as any Vainqueur knight, but distinguished by his pale blonde hair, so unusual in a Vainqueur. Sir Gareth of Beaufort, the Baron’s hound.
With a shout like the war cry of a Seax chieftain of old, Worth’s friend came at the run from the far field where he’d been laboring. No, Brun, don’t! But Worth was too far to stop the burly peasant from grabbing the black courser’s reins, to stop him from drawing the short blade he wore at his belt for cutting the binding for sheaves.
Sir Gareth’s sword cut a glistening arc in the sunshine, cleaving Brun’s head from his body. Worth screamed wordlessly as he saw his childhood friend fall.
His mare took him closer to the conflict. Had he sent her forward? He reined her in just short of his fallen friend, close enough to meet the knight’s cold gaze. As well as the fair hair, Gareth had blue eyes inherited from his mother who had been a Seax noble’s daughter. But the knight’s eyes were cold, hard, unlike any Seax Worth knew.
Grief and rage burned through Worth like the fire consuming his friend’s farm. He put a hand to his belt. No sword. He’d been working in the stable, for Stag’s sake. His sword still hung in his father’s hall.
Worth’s ancestors had pulled back from the battle and allowed the Vainqueur to take Seaxland, and now he himself couldn’t defend one poor peasant.
Every muscle in his body tensed for battle, ready to launch himself from his horse and go after the knight with his bare hands.
The knight must have read the intention in his eyes. “Don’t do it, Seax. I’d rather not kill a lord’s son, even a Seax lord’s son, but I will if I have to, and the baron will not censure me for it.”
True enough. Though the truth only fueled his anger, that anger now was wrapped in iron chains of helplessness.
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. The baron’s orders were to take the crop and burn the barn and cottage—the man was two quarters behind on the rents, for God’s sake. I would not have killed him, had he not come after me.”
Damn Brun and his pride. Why did he not ask for help? Why did I not see that he needed it?
“And you think it more merciful to turn him out to starve?”
Sir Gareth looked past Worth. “That’s no concern of mine. My duty is to obey my baron, and through him, the regent, and my prince.”
Worth spat on the ground to show what he thought of Gareth’s baron, his regent, his bloody prince.
The knight’s eyes narrowed at the insult. Men had been flogged for less.
So tempting to jump the knight. He’d gone this far, why not finish it? The wailing of Brun’s widow tore his soul.
Worth had stood up for Brun, on Brun’s wedding day. His friend had been so nervous and so proud as the priest had wed them in the eyes of the One God and later, more secretly, before the Stag.
“Don’t do it,” the knight repeated, and though Gareth was better armed, Worth thought he heard more entreaty than command. “You’ll do your friend no good and leave your father without an heir. You know this.”
Worth did know this, but the hot surge of his temper argued against reason.
“Take his woman and the child back with you to your father’s hall. Lord Tilton is generous; you know he’ll find a place for them.”
It was true, and it was sense, and damn but he hated following the knight’s orders. Still he slid from his mare and crossed the hoof-torn barnyard to Avis and poor young Barth, fatherless now at age five. If he had Brun’s unthinking courage, he might have gotten in at least a few blows against the knight before he himself was slain.
If Brun had had his – sense? cowardice? Was there a difference? If Brun had been more like Worth, then he would have lived, and had a place working Worth’s father’s fields, as he had when he was young.
Perhaps his proud friend would rather be dead than give up on the dream of his own holdings. Worth knew what Avis would have chosen.
#
Sir Gareth looked over the fruits of his day’s labors without satisfaction, but without shame, either. The burning of the farm buildings was wasteful, but dramatic, and had been according to the baron’s orders. Aimery felt such a display was more effective in keeping the Seax cowed and therefore controllable.
Gareth would not serve his own position if he started questioning the baron’s orders. He had his own lands and his own people to think of. Without the stipend due him for his service to the baron, he’d not be able to pay his own taxes and the debts his father had left on the land.
With Seax in his bloodlines and his Seax coloring, he had a hard enough time gaining the respect of his Vainqueur peers. He only pretended not to hear the whispers about the timing of his birth, that it came too close to the date of his parents’ marriage for him to have been gotten on the right side of the sheets.
“Sir,” one of his men called. “Should we throw the peasant’s body on the fires?”
Gareth reined Stalwart back; the horse mouthed the bit. “Leave it for the Seax to deal with. We’re done here.”
Brun Woodsby had been a fool, but he had also been friend to Lord Tilton’s son, and there was no sense aggravating Tilton.
Gareth’s eyes fell upon the headless body of the Seax he had slain. The utter lack of emotion he felt might make him a bad son of the Church, or a good knight. If the Seax had kept his temper, Gareth wouldn’t have taken his head.
He refused to end up like Sir Ralf.
Ralf had gone without sufficient reinforcements to serve an eviction on a Seax tenant. The man and his five sons had gutted him and strung him up like a hog. Gareth had been the one to cut him down and to bring the body back to the man’s young widow. He swore then never to let sympathy for a Seax peasant make him relax his guard.
If Woodsby couldn’t make the rents, he didn’t deserve to be a freeholder. He should have gone back to service with Tilton and let his woman work in Tilton’s household. Perhaps the woman and the brat were better off without him. Though by the woman’s ceaseless wailing, Woodsby’s wife wouldn’t agree.
He rode out of the barnyard and turned Stalwart south along the road, heading back to the baron’s castle. Dark clouds gathered on the horizon. With luck, he might make it back before the storm set in.
He glanced once over his shoulder. To the north beyond the horizon lay his own estate, a long day’s ride from the baron’s castle.
He hoped that his servants had finished bringing in the first cutting of hay. The rain would ruin it otherwise, and he needed the fodder to keep his mares fed through the winter. He already had a few of next year’s foals sold on promise, but if he had to buy fodder from a neighbor, it would be a tight squeeze to pay his own duties to the crown.
#
Worth sighted down the arrow, held steady just a moment, and released the string. The arrow hit its target with a satisfying thunk. Worth pulled another arrow from the quiver, and nocked it, imagining Sir Gareth in place of the stacked straw at the far end of the field.
“Worth?”
Worth turned to his father. Lord Tilton’s blonde hair was dulled by gray, now, and years of worries and merriment both lined his face, but still Worth could see in his father the same man who stared out at him from the polished metal of the mirror. Worth still imagined his father as blonde as Worth was, though he knew the gray snuck in day by day, year by year. Hard to see age creeping up on the vital, strong man who had taught him the bow.
“Avis and the boy are settled in with her cousin. They’ll always have a place here, you know that.”
“I do.” Worth’s father was a Seax lord in the old style, as bound to his people as they were to them.
“I’m sorry about Brun.”
Worth nodded dumbly. Brun, like Alf, had been Worth’s friend from back before they were old enough to know what differences in rank meant. Worth’s mother had died in childbirth giving Tilton his first son and heir, and his father had not remarried. Brun and Alf were the closest thing to brothers Worth had ever known.
Worth turned back to the target, drew the bow, sent the arrow speeding again for the center of the target. “I’m going to kill him.”
“The baron? Don’t be foolish.” His father grabbed his arm as he reached for another arrow. “Worth, you won’t even get close enough before you’re caught and hung.”
“Sir Gareth.” Worth pulled free of his father’s hand.
In one fluid motion he pulled an arrow from his belt, nocked, drew, aimed, and shot. The arrow landed neatly between the first two.
“You don’t mean that.”
“Don’t I? If only I had taken the time to go for my sword. Sherard must be rolling in his grave.”
His father shook his head. “Your weapons master, I hope, would have told you a thing or two about picking your fights. Gareth’s just a pawn. Kill him, and there will be another to do the same job.”
“He didn’t have to kill Brun.”
“From what you told me, Brun attacked him.”
Worth shot his last arrow. “He didn’t have to kill him.”
“He’s a seasoned warrior. He was attacked, he’s not going to stop to think about how serious the threat is before responding. That kind of hesitation will get you killed in battle, as I hope you’ll never have to learn.”
Worth stalked down range to retrieve his arrows. His father fell in beside him.
“It wasn’t a battle,” Worth said. “Brun was just a farmer. Why are you trying to defend that murdering Vainqueur bastard?”
His father sighed. “Because I don’t want you to kill him.”
Worth tugged out an arrow. “Why?” Two arrows, three, four.
“Isn’t it enough that I am your father, and that I don’t want to lose you to a life of outlawry, or the hangman’s noose?”
“No,” Worth said. “Not when I sense that there is more to it than that.”
All twelve accounted for, all pulled from the very center of the target. He’d give Gareth as clean a death as the bastard had given Brun.
A hand on his shoulder. “I am your father. Can you not obey me out of love and duty?”
That almost got him. Almost.
“In any other thing, yes. But he killed Brun! You know we might as well have been brothers!”
As well as he knew his father, Worth still could not interpret the expression on his face at that exclamation.
“Come with me to my study,” his father said. “There is something we should talk of. Something I hoped never to tell any living soul. But maybe something I should have told you long ago.”
Worth followed his father back down the archery range, past the stables. They reached the stone manor Worth’s ancestors had built long before Vainqueur haunted Seax shores and Seax nightmares. At his father’s side, Worth climbed the stone steps worn smooth with the passing of generations of Tiltons, walked down the hall and into the study where he used to play as a child while his father worked on accounts. The hearth was cold—too warm today for a fire. Worth was glad for the small mercy; smoke still clung to his clothes. It would be a long time before he found fire to be cheering. From the tapestry above the hearth, the twelve-tined stag looked down on the room, the wolf of the Tilton arms lying at ease in the foreground. Where a Vainqueur might see only a hunting scene, Worth saw the Seax Lord of Forests.
He had felt the judgment in the stag’s eyes the day of his coming-of-age when his father brought him into this study, poured him a cup of strong red wine, and told him of his grandfather’s treachery, how he and other Seax nobles secretly negotiated a surrender to preserve their own titles and land.
Worth had sworn then, as had his father before him, to use the shamefully-kept title and position to aid, where they could, the Seax people their ancestor had failed.
His father’s eyes were just as shadowed now as they had been on that day years ago. Worth shivered despite the warmth of the day.
His father was not a drinking man, but he poured them each a full goblet of strong wine before beginning. Worth, following his father’s example, drank deeply. Vainqueur wine—dry, oaky, velvet in his mouth. Knowledge of decent wine-making was the only good the Vainqueur had ever brought to Seaxland. It came nowhere near to balancing the pain that came with them in their great ships.
Two chairs stood by the carved oak desk, polished with use and age, yet Worth and his father remained standing, staring into the black, empty hearth. Worth let his eyes fall on the tapestry, trying to find benevolence in the stag’s brown gaze, comfort in the wolf that reclined at its feet. Silence lay thick and heavy about them as his father stared into his cup as though it held the words he wanted to say.
“When I was young—a few years younger than you,” Worth’s father began. “A few years before I married your mother, I fell in love with the most beautiful maid I had ever seen. Her hair was like spun gold, and her eyes as blue as the summer sky. Her mother was a Seax, and from her she got her coloring. And her sweet disposition, for surely she had neither from her father, who was a Vainqueur knight of the worst sort.
“Her father opposed my suit, for I was a second son—Aurick, rest his soul, had not yet met with that fateful boar. And I was Seax, and while he had married one of us for the sake of her dowry, he thought to do better in auctioning off his own offspring.
“But still, she loved me. And though she was sweet, and kind, she was still on her mother’s side the daughter of Seax warriors, and strong-willed as the water that carves its path through rock.
“And so we wed in secret before the Stag, although not in the Church, which would have demanded her father’s sanction. And we consummated that marriage, beneath the full moon, on Beltane night.
“I was foolish, and headstrong, to put her at risk so. For even my own father did not know, and she still lived in her father’s house. I believed then that somehow, some way, we would find a way to be together.
“Looking back, I can’t believe how naïve I was. You, at that age, were already so practical, so responsible.”
“All because I had you to look up to,” Worth said automatically.
The tale was riveting, but why was his father bringing this up now? A strange foreboding lodged itself in his stomach.
“What happened?” Worth prompted.
Worth’s father took another drink from his cup. “She missed in her courses, the very next month. And the month after. She was forced to go to her father, and tell him what we had done.
“She hoped that he would bow to the inevitability, or that he might be softened by the prospect of a grandchild.
“Instead he found a Vainqueur lord with title and estate, but with deep debts that might be satisfied with a substantial dowry. That lord was willing to declare the child his, born early, in exchange.
“My Elanor was married in the Church against her will. And I dared not speak against it for fear of what Beaufort might do to her or the child.”
“Beaufort?” Worth’s mind fought the understanding dawning on him.
“Our child was born on Candlemas. Beaufort allowed her to give him a Seax name, I suspect because he planned to murder the child as soon as he got his own heir on my love. But ten months later she brought forth a stillborn, deformed child, and died in the bearing. His second wife did not conceive at all, and she, too, died young. Illness, the priests claimed, though there were rumors of poison, whether by Beaufort’s hand or her own. Beaufort was forced to raise Gareth as his heir.”
Worth drank deep of his wine, trying to assimilate all that his father had told him. It sounded more like a bard’s tale than anything that could have happened to his practical, responsible father. He ached for his father’s broken heart and for the fair Elanor who had died miserable in a loveless marriage. And the child—his half-brother!—who grew up in the house of a man who knew he was not his son.
For just a moment he let go his hatred of the man that boy had grown to.
His father sighed. “Beaufort and I have few friends in common, but still word travels, and bad word widest of all. I knew that Gareth, that my son, was made to pay for my indiscretion. And yet I could do nothing. I could not intervene without naming him bastard, and making his lot in life even worse.”
“But he was lawfully gotten. You were married!” Worth felt a surge of indignation for the man, enemy though he was.
“Before the Stag, but not before the Church. The Vainqueur law can, and would, refuse to acknowledge such a union. And Beaufort could deny my claim. Vainqueur word against Seax; who would win? But he resented raising a child not his own as his heir, and he took it out on Gareth.”
His father took a deep swallow, finished his wine, and poured more. Worth could understand why his father would not want to be entirely sober for this conversation.
“Perhaps I should have acted anyway. Perhaps I am a coward, for letting my own blood be raised by a man who might as well have been the devil himself.”
“Does Gareth know?” Worth had to ask, though he was not sure he wanted to know. Which answer would be the worst—that Gareth had known that he stared down his own brother over his bloodied sword, or that he did not?
“No. Elanor’s maid managed to get a letter to me. Elanor said she would not tell him, and begged me to keep the secret. She thought it could only bring harm to our child if the truth were known.”
Worth paced, stopped, turned. Emotions he could not name churned in him. He wanted his bow in his hands. He wanted a horse beneath him. He wanted a hawk on his wrist that he could cast to strike some hapless pigeon. He wanted to do something, anything, to not have to think about any of this.
But his father kept on talking. Worth listened, He had to know the whole of it.
His father took another drink from his cup. “Gareth must suspect, of course, that he is not Beaufort’s true son. He looks nothing like the man; and though that could be explained away by his mother’s line, there is the matter of the timing of his birth, and that Beaufort never seemed to show any signs of parental affection.”
“There have always been rumors that Gareth was a bastard,” Worth said carefully.
It had been laughed about in the taverns, alluded to in songs, and Worth had laughed along with the rest, not realizing the part that his own father might have played, and not realizing how much his father had heard of the cruel jibes aimed at his eldest son.
“I know. I have heard the jests, the songs. Have heard you singing one or the other of them, from time to time.”
Worth dropped his gaze, feeling a flush of shame on his cheeks. “I’m sorry, I—”
“You had no way to know.” His father refilled Worth’s cup. “The tavern tales were the least of it, I fear. Though I have been to the baron’s court seldom, I have been there often enough to see my son slighted, hear the things said not quite to his face, never enough to provoke an honorable challenge, but enough for him to know that he will never quite be accepted among the nobles, for all his title and his skill as a knight.
“I have seen my son suffer, and bear up under it with a grace that made me proud even as it broke my heart. I know Gareth is far from pure. I know the things he has done, under the baron’s orders. But I also know that he is not the monster he could have become, growing up as he did under Beaufort’s hand.”
Worth had to admit that Gareth was not the worst of his kind. The Seax who worked his fields and served in his household all defended him as a just and generous master, a welcome change from the late elder Beaufort. He torched homes and barns, killed, even, at the baron’s behest, but never outside the rule of law, unfair and one-sided as that law may be. He was not like Sir Brian.
Worth shuddered at the thought of how much worse things could be.
His father put a hand on Worth’s shoulder and squeezed. “Promise me. On your love for me as your father, on the blood we share, that you will not kill your brother, nor cause his death. Already, there is too much tragedy in the tale, and neither the Stag nor the Church condone fratricide.”
Worth hesitated, knowing the seriousness of such a vow. So much woven beneath the simple words. A long-lost brother he’d always longed for. An abandoned child left to grow up as best he could in a loveless house. The knight who cut down Worth’s best friend, who sat there on his horse, looking down on the body with less emotion than Worth felt for a chicken he might butcher and pluck for dinner.
His father’s eyes held pain and deep, bitter regret. It might well destroy the man to see one son kill the other.
“I swear it.”

Buy it on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Brother-Wolf-Shawna-Reppert-ebook/dp/B07DHBGYP8/