Today I am so pleased to welcome M.A. Grant to Joyfully Jay. M.A. has come to talk to us about her latest release, Crooked Shadows. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Thank you for having me here today! Crooked Shadows picks up right where Rare Vigilance leaves off, with our human bodyguard Atlas protecting his vampire charge Cristian as they flee to Romania to escape the strigoi hunting them. In this scene, the pair have returned to their hotel room after narrowly surviving a dangerous encounter. They finally have it out over Atlas’s past mistakes and how even that hasn’t changed the way Cristian feels about him.
“I’ll feed you,” Atlas declared.
“No.” He said it as gently as he could, knowing Atlas would be stung by the rejection. “You’re not looking too good yourself. I can handle a little pain for a few days. If you’re still willing once you no longer look like you got trounced in a barroom brawl, I’ll happily accept.”
“I’ve had worse,” Atlas shot back. “I told you, I have to get over this. I can’t do my job otherwise.”
Ah, yes, there was the frustration in his voice, the need to prove his worth when he’d already done that a hundred times over. Cristian wondered if Atlas would ever lose that defensive edge, if he would ever understand his own value or how rare he was among humans and vampires alike. He could easily pull on his own sarcasm and irritation to respond, but he didn’t want to. Tonight’s unexpected fight lingered, written on their skin in bruises and injuries they wouldn’t be able to hide easily. And the bruises left on Atlas’s mind and soul would take even longer to heal.
“Atlas,” he said, “I have never doubted your strength. You face every challenge like a warrior and you never back down.”
He didn’t mind when Atlas dropped his gaze. He’d long known Atlas suffered embarrassment over any genuine compliment directed his way. He read Atlas’s body, the slight hunch of his shoulders, the way his hands fisted on his thighs.
He tried to soften his voice even more, hoping it made the truth more palatable, and went on, “This is no longer just a job. Not to me. It hasn’t been for a while.”
Atlas bit at his lower lip, fighting down whatever interruption he wanted to make.
“I won’t turn my back on my father or the dangers he’s facing. I can’t. But I also can’t step aside and watch you destroy yourself for a paycheck.” He hesitated. Without trust between them, there was no way they’d be able to support each other as they uncovered the truth about the strigoi. He wanted to help Atlas shoulder the burden of those discoveries, but he couldn’t do that until Atlas let him past those emotional walls.
Walls he could smash through if he admitted he already knew Atlas’s shame, that Andrei’s suspicions of Atlas’s ties to the Wharrams had been proven right. With that secret dragged out into the open, maybe they could find better footing. Or maybe he would be left with nothing but smoking rubble as Atlas’s guilt poisoned whatever they could have created.
He had to tread carefully, to watch for any fractures forming. “You have responsibilities too. Everything you’ve done to keep Beatrice safe, everything you’ve sacrificed, is too important. I won’t let you throw that all aside. I—”
His chest tightened, the word on the tip of his tongue, so close to escaping. Love, he wanted to say. Because it was love, not the all-consuming lust or passion he’d expected to fizzle out, but a constant pressure, one that had taken him over despite knowing Atlas would never feel such an emotion for him. It had no place in this conversation, so he forced himself to change course. “I…care for you. Deeply. And I want to help you find what closure you can here—”
Atlas surged forward, his mouth slamming into Cristian’s. His hand scrabbled at the back of Cristian’s head, his fingers digging into his hair and using that leverage to tilt his head back farther as he deepened the kiss. Cristian groaned and let Atlas take the lead, reveling in the heat of his lips and the aggressive slide of his tongue, the way he stole his words and breath without regret. When he finally pulled away, his fingers tightened the smallest amount, and the prickling of his scalp shocked Cristian enough he opened his eyes.
Atlas stared back at him, lips slick and face flushed. “Stop talking. You can twist anything with your words, so…stop talking.”
The command was too raw, too close to begging, so Cristian reached up with his good hand and brushed his fingers along the grim line of Atlas’s jaw. “Make me,” he challenged softly.
Atlas’s pulse ratcheted up, and he watched Cristian warily. “If I wanted to…?”
“I’d be good for you.” He wasn’t sure where those words came from, but the moment he said them, a new clarity snapped into place. Since Atlas’s first work shift, when he’d bested Cristian through his wits alone, all Cristian had wanted was to show this man he could be just as good as he was. He could show it now. Would show it.
“You really mean that, don’t you?” Atlas breathed.
When Cristian nodded, Atlas gave a ragged exhalation and leaned forward again. This kiss was gentler, more careful, but Cristian felt the tremble in his jaw and hand. Something wanted to break through and he’d move heaven and hell to ensure its freedom.
“Clothes off,” Atlas whispered when he finally drew back. A soft order, one that would be easy enough to turn down if Cristian changed his mind. A sweet, unnecessary offer.
Everyone has secrets. Especially those who live in the shadows.
Cristian Slava doesn’t fear much. After he was betrayed by the man he called an uncle, leaving upstate New York for the Carpathian Mountains of his childhood is more a matter of practicality than fear. With him is Atlas Kinkaid, a former marine turned fierce bodyguard…and fierce lover, albeit a hell of a complicated one.
Cristian’s cunning is tested by the politics and intrigue of the vampire families of Romania, and the warm welcome he and Atlas were assured of quickly turns to ash as they race to unravel the mystery of an old friend’s disappearance. Searching for the missing vampire draws them into a web of betrayal and half-truths that reaches further than Cristian ever could have imagined, and they uncover a string of grisly murders that bear a striking similarity to the attack that changed Atlas’s life forever.
Stalked by the past and uncertain of the future, Cristian learns he does have something to fear after all…
Losing the man he loves.
Book 1: Rare Vigilance
Book 2: Crooked Shadows
Also by M.A. Grant:
The Darkest Court
Book 1: Prince of Air and Darkness
Book 2: The Marked Prince
Book 3: The Iron Crown
M.A. Grant fell in love with the romance genre while working at an independent bookstore. She spent a decade in the rugged beauty of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula before moving to the mountains of Eastern Washington. When she’s not calling out to passing ravens or making a cup of tea, she’s writing dark and moving stories.
- Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7141845.M_A_Grant
- Author website: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7141845.M_A_Grant
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/authormagrant
Welcome, M.A., and thanks for sharing the excerpt.