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About the Book
Title: SHADOW OF DEATH (A Gems of Fire Companion Novel)
Author: Diane E. Samson
Pub. Date: October 27, 2022
Publisher: Diane E. Samson
Formats: Paperback, eBook
Find it: Goodreads, Amazon, Kindle Read for FREE with a Kindle Unlimited Membership!
A homeless prince, a grueling mission, an unlikely hope
When unspeakable tragedy strikes Prince Jack’s family, he’s left with one desire: vengeance. Now living in exile and serving a foreign king, Jack perfects his talent with the sword. He’s sent to the desert for spy and assassin training, dreaming of the day he’ll use these skills to drive a dagger into Ingvar’s heart.
Jack plunges into his training and finds a new family of sorts, whose morally gray members rid the city of vile criminals. But as the desert Lord Anwar readies for battle, allegiances shatter, blood runs in the streets, and the shadow of death looms near. During a last effort to complete his seemingly impossible mission, Jack chances upon a slave girl with a Northern accent and eyes so familiar that he makes a hasty vow.
He always thought he’d defeat his nightmares by becoming one. Could that nightmare fade into a new dream? And could that strange slave girl be at the heart of it all?
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Lennart pulled his powerful bay warhorse up to a walk as they approached the steep path to the castle. His horse snorted. He, too, was ready for breakfast. His brother’s lowered brows and tight jaw relaxed as he turned to John. “You training today?” Lennart made a good effort to brush off his worry, but his shoulders remained tight.
“Laris starts early. I might have missed it.” John hated skipping training, but he’d wanted to catch a glimpse of Ingvar’s entourage. He’d make it up tomorrow.
“That’s his way. What do you think of the new recruits?”
“They’re working hard. Coming along, I suppose.” They were all older than John. Most were second or third-born noblemen’s sons who weren’t set to inherit much, so they needed to join the army as an officer or work for the king. Though he was a prince, he had that much in common with them. “One’s built like a tree trunk.” He couldn’t understand how the young man could have that much muscle at his age, although sparring with him had taught John that quickness sometimes trumped strength.
“Laris said you’ve beaten every one of them. Said he’s never seen anyone wield a blade so well at your age.” Lennart gave him an appreciative glance. He didn’t seem to be mocking. “Keep at it and you’ll be the greatest warrior prince Oclen has ever known.”
Something stirred deep in John’s gut. Warrior prince. He liked the sound of that, but the weapons master had never indulged him in such flattery. “I suspect some of them let me win because I’m a prince.”
“Not what Laris says.” They passed through the first wooden gate, reinforced with metal spikes at the top. His home loomed high on the hill, with spires reaching to the heavens and blue flags embroidered with a white wolf flapping in the breeze.
John lifted his chin as he approached his home.
“Come to the council meeting tomorrow,” Lennart said.
“Will Father allow it?”
Lennart shrugged. “You’ll be fourteen. It’s time.”
John pulled his shoulders back. With all the preparations for Ingvar’s arrival, he’d thought everyone had forgotten about his birthday.
His brother’s lips hinted at a grin. “Just because you’re the youngest doesn’t mean you’re not one of us.”
–Shadow of Death, Chapter One
A small fire popped in the corner fireplace to quell the damp though it was late summer. His father raised his eyebrows as John scraped a chair over the stone floor and took a seat. “Happy birthday, Son, but I thought your mother wanted you at dance lessons.”
John crossed his arms and stared up at the blue and white flags hanging from the high stone ceiling. “I’d rather scrape my gums with a dagger.”
Ville slapped him on the back. “That’s the spirit, Jack, but I’m not defending you if Mother comes storming in here.” Ville had always called him Jack. It’d been a combination of the words John and back, as two-year-old Ville didn’t appreciate baby Jack invading his space and messing with his things. Everyone had taken to the nickname except his mother.
With Lord Ingvar’s ever-important arrival this week toting a caravan of nobles, Jack’s mother, Avigail, was forcing him into dance lessons. A room full of girls all batting their eyes at him was a particular kind of torture. Soon, dinners and balls would fill their evenings. Ugh. Happy birthday, indeed.
Lennart winked and found his seat next to his father. “Don’t worry, Ville will wish he’d practiced a little when he’s stepping all over those pretty girls’ toes.”
“It’s not Lady Katri’s toes I’m worried about bumping into,” Ville said. “I hear Ingvar’s niece is gorgeous.” He waved his hands to indicate ample curves and punched the crown prince in the arm. “You can only make a first impression once, Jack. And they all love to dance.”
“They won’t notice me at all with you making a fool of yourself,” Jack said. He was often overlooked at these events, even if it was his birthday, but Jack didn’t mind. Last thing he wanted was to be the center of attention.
“How will we know if you don’t at least try?” Ville smirked. “I’ll make you a deal. Dance with the lady or drink four pints of ale. Your choice.”
Jack scowled. Another subject his brothers teased him about—the night he’d drunk one pint of ale and was so tipsy he could hardly make it to his room.
“It might take him three pints to work up the courage,” Fingal, the second-eldest prince, joked. At twenty years old, he’d shown quite the ability to hold his liquor. “After that scene with the kitchen maid, on second thought, make it four.”
The king rapped Fingal on the back of the head as he stepped behind him. “That’s enough. Sit down. And Jack—no more ale until you get hair on your chest.” He winked.
His brothers roared.
–Shadow of Death, Chapter Two
Meisha continued working. “Zorab can be a fool.”
“He set clear boundaries for me.”
She scraped another large mound of manure into her shovel. “It’s complicated.”
“Because you two…?”
“That’s not allowed.”
“And if it were?”
She scowled. “It’s not like that. He’s more of a big brother. Thinks it’s his job to protect me.”
Was she lying or clueless? Jack wasn’t sure.
By the time they made it back to the barn, Jack’s sweat-soaked shirt stuck to his chest and back. Dust from a strong, hot wind clung to his damp neck and caked his throat with every breath. He took a long drink from his water flask, kept on his hip at all times now. He offered Meisha a drink.
She emptied it and handed it back. “Thanks.” She ran the back of her hand over her mouth, leaving a streak of brown on her upper lip.
“What I’d give for a proper bath,” Jack mumbled.
“A proper bath?” Meisha whipped out an invisible sword and held it above her head. “Servants. Prepare my bath!” She strutted ahead of him, nose in air. “And bring me wine, cheese, and the softest towels money can buy.” She flipped her hair. “Only the finest from Vahia will do.” Anwar’s palace.
Jack didn’t react. Let her mock him.
She spun back. “We all pegged you as a nobleman’s son from the moment you stepped foot here. I’ve met my share of them. Full pockets, empty brains. When I’m done with them, their pockets are empty as well.”
“Were they marks? Or just innocent young men you decided to have some fun with?” The sharp words spilled out of his stupid mouth.
Her expression shifted, and Jack paused his stride. “You think I’m some kind of monster? Killing for pleasure?”
“Of course not.”
She trudged back toward the stables. “You’re wrong. I am a monster. A unique weapon, forged in the quiet. A dark flower. Beautiful and deadly.” Her voice dropped off at the end, and she tugged the donkey back into the shadowed barn.
–Shadow of Death, Chapter Fifteen
Diane E. Samson grew up on acreage just north of Kansas City, Missouri, with horses and dogs in the backyard. She later pursued her love of words and earned a degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. After graduation she worked as a reporter, managing editor, freelance writer and in public relations. After moving around the country, she’s recently returned to the Kansas City area where she lives with her husband, children and golden retriever.
She’s written fiction off and on her whole life. Gems of Fire is her first series about a girl traveling a journey of self-discovery in a world of powerful gems, supernatural forces, epic battles and of course, handsome heroes.
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