The Stolen Luck
Lord James Dupree must recover his family’s stolen Luck, the elven talisman that has protected the Dupree lands for generations. Without the talisman, the Dupree vineyards are failing and creditors are closing in. The Luck is his only hope of saving his home and his family from poverty and ruin.
Despite his abhorrence of slavery, James wins an elven slave in a game of cards. The slave, Loren, provides the only chance to enter the Lands Between and recover the stolen Luck. Despite James’s assurances and best inten- tions, Loren does not trust his new master and James finds it all too easy to slip into the role of slave master when Loren defies him.
As the two work together through hardship and danger, James finds himself falling in love with Loren. And when a hidden enemy moves against them, he must choose between his responsibility to his family and his own soul.
Read chapter one for free here.
The Stolen Luck won the 2014 Eppie for fantasy romance!
From JoyfullyJay.com ( http://joyfullyjay.com/2013/05/review-the-stolen-luck-by-shawna-reppert.html )
I love the fantasy genre and I’m picky when it comes to reading fantasy works by authors I don’t know because when I read a fantasy, I get so deeply entrenched in a new world and I don’t want to be disappointed. Shawna Reppert is a new author to me, and I’m so happy to have stumbled upon her debut novel, The Stolen Luck. It’s a beautifully written, adventurous story with wonderful and endearing characters set in a world that is lovely, riddled with darkness and deceit at the same time. I seriously loved this book. I’m impressed with the characters in this story. . . . their relationship is complicated. The development- from master/slave to friendship to more – is tension-filled, yet beautiful. And I loved every second of the confusion and frustration and angst that came before the sweetness. This is a world of elves and elven magic, of lords and ladies, of friends and foes. It’s a beautiful world that is aesthetically pleasing, but also has evil and danger lurking in the shadows. I have to say, the world building in this book is exceptional. A history that goes back centuries, a hidden kingdom of elves, the rules of the world, the magic, the bonding – it’s all perfectly detailed. I was drew in immediately, and by the end I was sad that I had to leave this world. This is a well written piece full of adventure, tension, and a slow-burn romance. It full of twists, turns, and surprises. I was glued to this book from beginning to end. The plot is exciting and heartbreaking. It’s a fantastic read. If I were to judge by this debut novel, I would say that Shawna Reppert is an author to keep your eyes on. I look forward to seeing what she has coming up next. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that maybe, hopefully Ashe might get a story someday. Highly recommended.
From Fuingala on Amazon review:
I’ll be honest… when I read the first chapter on the author’s website, I was nervous. I know Shawna’s work and didn’t doubt her world-building, character development, or plotting for a moment, but the slavery dynamic was going to be a tough one to handle well in any case, but especially in the context of the romance genre. And icky power dynamics are a major squick for me. I should not have doubted. While I would really place The Stolen Luck more in the fantasy category than in romance, the romance element is there, is complicated, and is handled superbly. And that’s not to ignore the wonderfully consistent world-building, engaging character development, and thorough plotting. The Stolen Luck was so enthralling that I read it straight through in 6 hours and then was sorry I had, because I didn’t want to leave the characters so soon. And like another reviewer, I’m wishing for Ashe to get his own story some day! Excellent!
From Trixie, AKA Omnivoourous reader, at http://asharedbraincell.tumblr.com/
I received this book as an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I was a bit apprehensive before I started this book. I saw the master/slave relationship between James and Loren I was afraid of how this might turn out. I am so glad that my fears turned out to be groundless. . . . I liked the variety, and complexity of people. . . The politics both of the human, and Elvin [sic} world are interesting, and it made for some compelling plot points. I liked that neither race was purely good or evil, and both humans and elves were fallible. The world is well developed, but without any sort of awkward information dumps. I was able to get a real sense of place, and society, and it added so much to the story. Overall a really well done fantasy story. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes a story about respect, honor, and the difficult choices people face.
From Jennifer Lavoie on Goodreads:
. . .Had they fallen in love instantly, this story would not have been a fraction of what it is. While they are on the journey to recover the stolen Luck of the Dupree family, readers are taken on a journey of discovery, acceptance, forgiveness, and ultimately love. There were parts in this story where my heart literally ached for the characters, and the writing was so beautiful I stopped and reread phrases. I can usually guess at the endings as well, but the author did a masterful job of leaving me to think it was all hopeless until the last moment. I certainly hope Shawna Reppert writes more books like this, because if she does, I will most certainly be reading them. I should warn you, be prepared to sit down and spend hours reading. You’re not going to want to get up. And you’re not going to want interruptions, either. I may or may not have yelled at a few people who interrupted my reading.
From Alanna on Amazon.fr
Shawna is a world-builder, and The Stolen Luck gives you a taste of her skill right from the start. She cares for detail, painting a vivid image of the world in which James Dupree must find a way to regain the talisman on which his family’s fortunes hinge while struggling to stay true to his principles. Even secondary characters spring to life, from the main villain (or is it villains?) to James’s mother and his overseer. And the suspense is there right up to the end . . .
Lord James Dupree’s stomach roiled as he watched the overdressed merchant across from him shuffle the deck. It might have been the greasy stew he’d just consumed or the inferior wine he had just sampled. Or it might be because he was about to break his most fundamental rule in gambling: never wager more than you can afford to lose.
Or, again, it could be because he’d dusted off his youthful card-sharping for this one night for something very much against his own morals and his northlands upbringing—trying to acquire a slave, an elven slave at that.
Rough-hewn timbers supported the low ceiling of the common room of the Blue Boar. A few cobwebs hung in the corner, ragged and torn from a desultory attempt at cleaning. The walls had been whitewashed too long ago and were now grayed with soot from a poorly drafting fireplace. He leaned his arms on the table, feeling through his shirt the roughness of the scarred wood. “What was your name, again?” asked the midlands merchant sitting across from him.
The man, who had introduced himself as Alain, wore a fur-trimmed blue cloak over his red silk shirt and blue brocade vest. His body was less elegant than his clothing—bloated like a day-dead toad.
James hadn’t given one when he asked to join the game, and the merchant knew it. “James Northlands.”
“I’ll drink to that,” said the self-described playwright on James’s left.
The minstrel across from him laughed. “You’ll drink to anything.”
Both dressed as colorfully as the merchant, if not as richly. Their well-worn clothes had been the cutting edge of fashion a few years ago. Both were lean, almost too thin. Clearly neither had found raging success in his avowed field and neither could afford to lose what they gambled away so blithely.
The merchant filled wine cups all around. “What brings you to our fair town, James Northlands?” “Business. For my master. Looking at some timber down south that he might want to buy. It’s been a long, lonely journey. Kind of you to let me join you.”
Alain laughed. “And if you can come away with a bit of our gold, all the better, yes.”
He smiled in answer, and raised his cup. He carefully did not look at the elf with the iron slave collar who stood in the shadows behind Alain’s chair, still as a stag downwind of a hunter, his eyes hooded and face carefully expressionless.
The iron had given him pause when he first saw it. It seemed to contradict the evidence of the oddly slanted eyes, the ears not quite like a human’s. After all, he had only seen elves in old paintings and tapestries, and everyone knew that iron burned elves’ skin like acid. But then he had seen the flash of silver in the firelight. Silver along the top edge of the collar and, he’d wager, lining it as well. No reason to waste such luxury on a slave—unless the iron collar would kill him without it.
He raised his cup to the merchant and sipped, fighting not to grimace at the offense to the art of the vine, a homemade concoction of various wild berries and inferior, overripe grapes—a nose reminiscent of spoiled blackberries combined with the musty undertones of wine badly corked, and a finish like grape juice left too long in the sun.
He drank to be sociable, and because the others would want to get the stranger tipsy. He knew how to seem to drink more than he was drinking, and to seem more drunk than he was.
Strange that habits of a misspent youth would help him regain his family’s heritage.
In his eavesdropping he had already pegged Alain as one of those men who loved gambling the way a drunkard loved strong drink. He knew how to manipulate this sort of gambler to his own advantage.
But it wasn’t foolproof, and even with card-counting, he still took a risk. Though his estate had suffered since the Luck had been stolen, the Duprees were not quite destitute yet. But he had traveled quite a distance and depleted much of the coin he’d brought with him. He had just enough money on him to make it home comfortably, if he didn’t lose it all tonight.
The minstrel dealt the hand. James studied the faces around the table before calling for another card. He had to win this first round to have a large enough stake to continue.
His old skills did not fail him, for this hand at least.
He lost the second hand. Intentionally. It wouldn’t do to seem too lucky, too early on. He had practice in losing from months traveling as James Northlands. Information flowed freely when ale flowed freely, but more freely still when the other was winning.
He didn’t seek information tonight. He now knew who had murdered his father and stolen the Dupree Luck, and why the thief and the Luck both seemed to have disappeared from the world entirely.
The elf was the key to regaining the Luck. If he could win the elf away from his master. As the evening continued, he won only slightly more than he lost, but always the bigger pots. He lost a hand he had planned on winning and began to sweat. The thrill of chance felt less thrilling now that so many depended on him. Should he forsake his plan?
No. Only the Luck would preserve the vineyards, save his mother and daughter from poverty and protect the families that served his family for generations from an uncertain future. He needed the Luck. Therefore he needed the elf.
He fought to keep his gaze on his card. He couldn’t telegraph his true interest, no matter how much the elf attracted the eye. James hadn’t tumbled another man since long before his marriage, but the slave was striking—long, flame-colored hair many a lady would kill for, and a fine-boned face, finer than James had seen before. The shirt the elf wore, too light for the season, was open to the waist, revealing a slight but smoothly muscled torso, a hairless chest.
Alain caught him looking once, smiled, and slid one hand along the inside of the slave’s thigh. The slave tensed, though his face remained carefully expressionless.
James’s stomach lurched. In the Northlands, they did not keep slaves, and taking pleasure with someone who was not willing was a crime, not a matter of commerce.
He had grounds to object. In a game for any real stakes, players kept their hands in plain sight at all times. But he was the stranger here. If the minstrel and playwright didn’t speak, he dared not. Keeping his eyes on his hand proved difficult, and not just because of the elf’s inherent attractiveness. Slowly, he started his winning streak, losing just often enough to avoid discouraging his opponents, until all of Alain’s gold and all of his jeweled rings were either in James’s possession or in the pot.
The minstrel and the playwright folded and left the table. James sincerely hoped they had left themselves enough to survive on. Alain smiled. Now or never.
James raised the bid by the entire sum of his own winnings and all of his original stake. His heart hammered against his ribs.
“I’ve got nothing left to gamble,” Alain said. “Unless you’ll take a pledge? I swear I’m good for it.”
James shook his head. “I never take pledges. But I will wager all my stake against your slave.” He had to play the next moment very carefully; he could see the hesitation in Alain’s face. “Come now, I’m the one taking the biggest risk here, after all. The way I’ve been winning, odds are against me. Lady Fortune is ever fickle, and it’s about time she turned your way.”
Even without his card-counting the argument held about as much logic as a sieve did water, but James knew how gamblers’ minds worked. And Alain was more than slightly drunk. Alcohol fed the flames of reckless gambling like pitch fed fire.
The gambler glanced at his slave, who had gone a bit pale. While he doubted that the elf held any affection for his master, still the monster one knows is always safer than the one still in the shadows. Sorry. But you’ll be better off with me. I won’t use you like he does. And when I have the Luck, you’ll go free. He dared not risk a reassuring glance. He must seem casual, almost disinterested, or he would push Alain in the wrong direction. He took another sip of the awful wine, which was, among its many other faults, too weak to warm the ball of ice forming in his gut. “Agreed,” Alain said at last. “Call.”
Alain must have a good hand. James risked all on the belief that he had better. If he was right, he would have the elf he needed to regain all his family had lost. If he was wrong, he would have no way to get the Luck back and he wouldn’t even have the funds to cover his shelter this night. Alain laid down his cards and smiled in anticipated triumph.
James sighed. “Ah, the Fair Lady’s court. Nearly unbeatable.” He smiled and spread his own cards. “Except, of course, by the Dark King’s.”
The merchant turned white as a lordling presented with breakfast the morning after his first weekend-long drinking binge. “Of course, you’ll be a gentleman and take a pledge. You know the elf can’t be replaced.”
“I know.” James smiled. “That is why I will not accept a pledge. Of course, you will be a gentleman and pay up.”
Alain’s face turned from white to red with anger.
“The Blue Boar has a reputation, you know,” James said. “I always ask around when I come into a town. Not the most elegant place, but safe and fair. I’m sure the innkeep wouldn’t want word to get out that a guest had been cheated at cards. Fairly sure he’d take measures to protect his reputation. Even if it meant upsetting one of the local merchants.”
Alain growled, grabbed the elf by the arm and swung him around the table. Startled and unbalanced, the slave crashed into a chair. James reached out instinctively to steady him. The elf flinched under his touch, and James stepped back.
Explanations would have to wait for a more private setting.
“Right, then.” He gathered up the coins and baubles on the table. “Will you send someone along with his things?”
Alain snorted. “He’s a slave. He doesn’t have things, he is a thing. I’ll be generous and let you have the clothes on his back and his collar. And this.” He reached under the table, brought up a coiled length of black iron chain. “Keeps him where he’s put when you can’t keep an eye on him. Oh, and this is yours, too.” He pulled an iron key from his pocket. “Fits the locks on the chain, and the one on the collar, as well. I’ve left him entire, but you can have that fixed quick enough if you like. He used to be a handful to manage, ’til I sent him to the gelder’s to watch for a day. Made it pretty clear what would happen if he didn’t get cooperative. Worked wonders on his attitude.”
He needed to leave the room before he struck the man. Standing, he excused himself, taking the chain and the key. He gestured for the elf to follow, not quite able to look at him.
He now owned someone. Gods help him.
“I’d wish you a good night,” Alain called after him, “but I’m sure it will be.”
He glanced at the elf walking just behind him. He’d blanched.
“It’ll be all right,” he murmured to him in an undertone, just soft enough for the two of them to hear.
The elf startled at being addressed and regarded him with wary eyes.
After he let the elf into his rented room, he closed the door behind them and shot the bolt. He dropped the chain on the nightstand. It clanked loudly. James winced at the sound. He set the bag with the rest of the winnings beside it.
The room was small and rather plain, neither the best nor the worst of those he’d stayed in on his journey. It held a single bed, an uneven nightstand, and a small, rickety chair. The air smelled only slightly musty, and the linen looked like it had been washed recently.
The space seemed infinitely shabbier now for the presence of the long-limbed elf. He should be in a grand ballroom or a walled garden of rare flowers or among the towering trees of an ancient forest. He seemed as out of place here as a falcon in a chicken coop, and as frightened as a wild fox in a kennel full of hounds.
The elf backed into a corner, sage-green eyes regarding him with a fearful, hostile stare. He had to secure the elf’s obedience for the sake of his plan, and his trust for both their sakes. He had no idea where to begin.
“Look,” he said at last. “I—what’s your name?”
The elf shrugged. “Whatever you want it to be, Master.”
“What did he call you?” James loathed Alain too much to even say his name.
Gods of vine and weather, this was not going well. “What is your real name?”
James refused to hear that again. “What did your mother call you?”
The elf went rigid. Had the question overstepped some elven taboo?
“Loren,” the elf said softly after a moment. “My name is Loren. Master.”
“Please, even my servants call me James.”
Loren’s eyes narrowed. “And what do your slaves call you?”
“I have none,” James said. Oh gods’ mercy “Except, well…”
“So you are not a man who lightly owns another. And I am an exception. Is it because I am an elf, not a mortal, that my slavery is acceptable to you?”
“No. Yes. Not exactly.” James took a deep breath, decided to start over. “Loren, I won’t use you as Alain did. I would take no one, not maid nor elf nor mortal man, without consent, and a slave cannot consent because a slave cannot refuse.”
“What, then?” The suspicion in Loren’s eyes did not abate.
“Do you know of the Luck of the First Families?”
“How could I not? Or have the short memories of mortals forgotten from whence the Luck came?”
He should count it a victory that Loren felt confident enough to challenge him so. Really, he should.
“We have not. The Duprees have not, at least.”
Loren went on as though he had not spoken. “When the elf-lord Varen gave talismans to the noble families of this new, short-lived race that had come from far across the sea, it was meant as a symbol of the friendship built between elf-kind and mortal kind. Your families held on to your Luck, as you called them, but you forgot about the friendship.”
“My ancestors did not. The Duprees never turned on your kind.” His father was very proud of that bit of family lore, always emphasized it when he told him stories of the long-ago when mortals drove elves from the Sunlit Lands to the Lands Between.
The elves had knowledge and magic on their side. But mortals had more children, faster than their mortality took them. Elven wisdom and elven powers had not long stood against sheer numbers.
“The Duprees did nothing while my people were slaughtered and driven from these lands! And you have no problem, apparently, keeping one of us as a slave.”
If Loren felt comfortable enough to talk back, that must be progress. Of a sort.
Exhausted from the long night and the strain of the risk he’d taken, James wanted to sleep. More than anything, he wanted to be sleeping at home, in his own bed.
Home meant rolling vineyards and mist in the orchards; the weathered stone of his ancestral manor; the rose-bordered graveyard where his ancestors were buried, where his beloved wife was buried. He owed it to those who depended on him, and to the memories of those gone before, to regain the Luck. That meant gaining the cooperation of the justifiably suspicious elf before either of them could sleep this night.
“I have no choice,” James said. “Years ago, my father was murdered and our Luck stolen.” A married man, and he should have been spending the feast-night with his parents, with his wife and young daughter. Instead, he’d gone out for a night of drinking and gaming with an old friend. He’d come home to his father’s body in a pool of blood on the floor.
Hours later, he had realized the Luck was gone.
He swallowed, and went on.
“Without the Luck, my family’s fortunes have declined. I will not see my family’s estate taken to pay our debts, see my mother homeless in her old age and my daughter without prospects.”
“Other mortals survive without Luck.”
His hands clenched into fists. Loren pressed back against the wall. Still afraid, and you’re not helping. He took a deep breath, let it out, opened his hands.
“For myself, I could survive, by the strength of my back, by my skill with a blade,” he said. “By my skill with the cards, if it came to it. But not well enough to support my family as they are accustomed to living. Not well enough to keep the estate my ancestors built. Certainly not well enough to keep the servants who have worked for us for generations, who depend on me to provide their livelihood. It has taken me years, but I have found the identity of the thief—a wastrel younger son of one of the upstart midlanders. And I have found out what he was after, and where he likely perished, and where my family’s Luck might still rest.”
“And what has this to do with your sudden desire to hold a slave?” Curiosity now mingled with the hostility in those gray-green eyes, and the elf held himself less stiffly.
James leaned against the wall, deliberately making himself less threatening. The elf’s posture relaxed further.
“I had to ask myself why it was the Dupree Luck that was stolen. Not the Normand Luck, to bestow good fortune in commerce, nor the Halstead Luck, which gives advantage in armed conflict.”
“The Dupree Luck was the finest of all Lucks, the essence of my people,” Loren spat. “Given to your ancestor who was, among all mortal lords, best beloved of our king. Though I suppose a mortal could not be expected to appreciate such a sublime gift.”
Rising to Loren’s baiting would only make matters worse. He raised a hand in a gesture of peace.
“I meant no slight to your family’s gift. I was raised to cherish our own Luck, both for the spirit in which it was given, and how it nourished the wine-yeast that was also a gift from your king, the yeast that made our wines the most prized from the North to the Midlands to the very South.” He began to pace.
“The worth of that wine was enough to keep us, my household and its servants. When the Luck was stolen, the yeast failed to thrive and changed somehow.”
Loren had pressed back into the corner. He stopped pacing, and Loren relaxed a fraction.
“The wine is still good, among the best, but it is no longer prized above all other wines. And, strange as it sounds, the vines seem less vigorous, and my people and even the livestock get sick more often, when before they were uncommonly healthy.”
If the Luck had not been stolen fever might not have taken his wife’s life.
“Not so strange,” Loren said. “The very heart of our magic, the power of the green, the spark of life itself, went into the Luck we gave to your family.”
“And that’s why it was stolen. The thief thought it would get him safely into your people’s lands, hoping to steal things of greater power than that you freely gave to mortals so long ago. I believe he died somewhere in the Lands Between, and that the stolen Luck remains there still.”
“And so you need an elf to guide you to the Lands Between. I will not betray my people by bringing a mortal into their sanctuary.” The elf raised his head proudly, but his voice trembled in anger and fear. He doesn’t know you. He has no reason to trust you. “I mean no harm to your people, and I would not ask you to betray them. I only wish to recover my heritage.”
Loren’s eyes narrowed. “Why should I believe you?”
He spread his open hands in appeal. “You don’t have to. No human could find his way back to the Lands Between without an elf’s aid.”
“Your thief did.”
“And died there.”
“If I refuse to take the risk?”
Could the elf not be the least bit grateful that he’d saved him from Alain? It was too late at night to deal with this dance between fear and defiance on top of his own guilt.
James’s slow-building temper boiled over. “If you refuse, then I suppose you would be of no use to me, and you could take your chances with the highest bidder at the next slave auction. Who might or might not have you cut as a precaution.”
Loren stiffened; fear flashed in his eyes. James opened his mouth to apologize—gods of my ancestors, did I just say that?—but couldn’t find the words to even begin.
The elf lowered his head in submission. “I am yours to command, Master.”
No matter how much he wished to unsay the words, they had achieved his purpose. Damn.
“I told you, my name is James. And I am glad we have reached accommodation,” he said more softly. “Truly, I do not wish to see you harmed, nor do I intend harm to your people. When I have recovered my family’s Luck and am safely back in the Sunlit World, I swear you will go free.”
Loren did not look up; drawn in on himself, a slave’s posture, the body language of fear and mistrust. He put a hand on Loren’s shoulder, intending comfort, but the elf flinched under his touch. James stepped back.
“It’s late. Let’s try to get some sleep.”
Though it made him sick to do so, James chained the elf by his collar to the bedpost on the far side of the bed. He made sure the chain was long enough for Loren to move comfortably.
James lay down, and Loren promptly shrank against the wall. James turned his back to the elf, and tried to sleep.
What have I gotten myself into?