Hello everyone! I’m Archer Kay Leah, author of LGTBQA+ speculative fiction romance, especially of the fantastical variety. Many thanks to Love Bytes for hosting me today on the tour for Blood Borne, the third book in my fantasy romance series The Republic.
For this stop on the tour, I’ve written an exclusive flash fiction piece featuring Adren and Ress, the main characters in Blood Borne. In the book, things are up and down for them, with both of them wanting out of their terrible circumstances. This scene shows their happier, fluffier sides, especially when they’re together. It takes place just after Blood Borne. I hope you enjoy it, and thanks for stopping by!
Right, because nothing about this spells disaster.
Adren eyed the kitchen with dreadful suspicion. Lips pursed, ce followed Ress inside, his hand tugging cirs as ce faltered.
“It won’t bite,” Ress said, his cane clicking across the floor. He hobbled slower and bumped Adren’s shoulder with his. “It’s not half as scary as you think, promise. Just a little floofing here and a pinch of something there.”
His soft smile was as pretty as the twinkle in his dark brown eyes, but they did nothing to ease the anxiety coiled in Adren’s gut. Cir experience with food ended at eating, and ce had no intention of feeling bad about it.
But then there was that glint in Ress’s eyes when he had asked for cir help, a quiet fire of hope that battled the exhaustion lingering on his face. For the first time in days, he was taking an entire day away from his work and community service to lavish attention on Adren. He had even managed to convince their usual two-guard escort team to step back more than usual, giving them a chance to feel like normal people.
With a sigh, Adren bumped his shoulder gently. “If I burn anything, I’m running and leaving you to it.” Flicking back the narrow braids of cir long red hair, ce scrunched cir nose until it itched. “And if anyone asks, I wasn’t here. I’m just an illusion.”
Ress grinned, his arm encircling cir waist. “If that’s true, I get to eat whatever’s left over. All those lovely treats you might likeó”
Adren jabbed him in the ribs. “Quit being mean or I’ll just illusion myself out of here.” As they stopped at one of the grey stone tables in the middle of the room, ce surveyed the kitchen. The long, wide table was one of three that took up almost half of the room, though the room itself was twice the size of the dining room. Along the furthest wall were two hearths, accompanied by two stone ovens in the adjacent wall and a series of windows close to the ceiling. The rest of the kitchen was a collection of cupboards and counters, with burlap bags and barrels in the corners and bundles of herbs strung across the room.
“So what are we making, anyway?” Adren’s stomach rumbled at the scent of fresh herb bread, spicy smoked meat, and caramelized vegetable tarts. Ce supposed that was what lay beneath the white linen sheets on the table to cir left, the four flat trays surrounded by half a dozen bowls covered with linen squares. On the table to cir right were wooden bowls filled with raw fruits and vegetables, bundles of herbs lying beside them on cutting blocks. The table before cir was just as occupied with large glass jars, wooden bowls with fruit, empty metal bowls, a bag marked flour, a smaller bag marked salt, and several spoons, all of them gleaming in the late morning light, carefully arranged as if in presentation.
“A gift for Priestess Kee,” Ress replied, leaning his cane against the end of the table, “to say thanks for saving our sorry asses from prison.” His lips curved into a quirky smile as he rolled up the sleeves of his heavy, grey wool sweater, then the cuffs of his dark blue shirt. “And if we get through this one, we’ll make the same for Steward Dahe and Lira, not to mention Tash and Mayr. Tash has always liked sweets, and I hear Lira loves berries, so this is perfect.”
“Assuming I don’t poison anyone,” Adren muttered, pushing up the sleeves of cir black tunic.
“It’ll be fine.” Ress grasped cir shoulders and leaned forward until they were eye to eye. “It’s never too late to learn how to bake. It can be fun, too, not to mention fantastic for relieving stress.”
The pointed look he pinned on Adren was irritatingly obvious. Two weeks had passed since they moved from the temple to the Dahe estate. As if the increased security and constant supervision were not obnoxious enough, winter had made itself known the day after the move, hitting hard in a nasty snowstorm. Adren had spent the time since learning the ins and outs of the estate, attempting to avoid Tract Steward Dahe as much as possible, and working with Tash on cir magic. Most of the guards were still complete strangers ce did not trust, though their second in command was becoming an even stranger ally.
“Fine,” Adren conceded. “Though I’m curious where you’ve put everyone. Aren’t kitchens supposed to be bustling?”
As Ress straightened, a blush raced through his cheeks to the tips of his ears. “The power of asking very nicely and having the help of the beloved household priest,” he said, brushing back his short brown hair. “Cook said we have the place while they’re taking a long lunch. Figured you wouldn’t want an audience,” he murmured, looking away. “You’ll be more comfortable ifó”
Adren snatched his chin and turned his face towards cirs, stealing a kiss before he could finish. Not that he needed toóce knew that tone and the quiet way he took care of cir, even when ce was being a child.
Once he sank into the kiss, giving in, Adren pulled back. “Thanks,” ce said softly.
“YeahÖ. Sure.” Ress blinked and cleared his throat, his daze fading into relieved delight. “So I have thisÖ” He pulled out a piece of folded parchment from one of his sweater pockets. “I left my recipes in Araveena, but I remember this one by heart. My mother made it often when I was growing up.” The parchment crinkled as he smoothed it out on the table. “Usually it was a gift for birthdays, sacred days, and whatnot, but Mother also made it whenever my sisters or I achieved something, like high grades in school.”
Adren skimmed the hastily scribbled instructions. “What is it?”
“Wintertide tingle loaf.” Ress motioned to the jars and bowls. “It’s served with warm honey, clotted cream, and Winter’s Steeped Heart. We’ll give Kee a basket with it all. There’s a beekeeper in the village who sells the perfect type of honey, and I’ve already got the bag of Steeped Heart.”
“But tingle loaf,” Adren said, arching one brow. “Dare I ask?”
Ress rolled his eyes. “It’s not what you’re thinking. Let’s just say mixing the aminthe in the bread with Steeped Heart practically kills your mouth, but in the best way possible. Aminthe makes it taste sweet, but then fades off, leaving that icy sensation. Add the spice in the steeped herbs and it’s like your tongue freezes to death from a blessed high then burns back to life on a savoury low.”
“So you numb your face off, and you’re probably in tears, but it feels so good you take another bite?”
“You’re cracked,” Adren muttered.
“Hey! It’s good. Addicting, too. I shovelled it back like you wouldn’t believe.” Ress’s grin graced his features with a youthful glow. “Made myself sick a few times until I learned to pace it.”
“Cr-a-ck-ed,” Adren repeated.
“Doing it anyway,” Ress sang, busying himself with the jars. After reading each label, he moved the bowls around, placing the largest empty metal bowl in front of Adren. “So I’m cheating here. Half the fun is searching through the cupboards to figure out where you’ve put everything, then finding out you’re down an ingredient. Usually ends up in cursing, unless you’re smart and get everything together the day before.” He winked at Adren and opened the jars. “Generally I recommend that. I drove my sister mad when I didn’t bother.”
“And that’s cheating how? That’s a solid plan.”“Oh, it is, but that isn’t cheating. No, cheating is asking one of the kitchen staff to get everything for us.” A wicked glint filled Ress’s eyes. “Like Arieve, the one who makes all those sappy eyes at Tash and Mayr when they aren’t looking.”
“What? She asked if I had a list of things we’d need, so I gave it to her.” Ress returned Adren’s glower, though playfully. “I don’t want to get lost in their pantries and cellars. I’m used to smaller kitchens, not these gigantic monstrosities. I certainly know better than to piss off a cook by messing with her kitchen.”
“Self-preservation.” Ress tapped his temple. “Comes and goes.”
“It’ll go a lot faster if we don’t get moving. Hop to.” Adren grasped the metal bowl. “Where do we start with this death delicacy?”
Ress tsked at Adren, picking up a glass cup with red lines and small numbers etched and painted on the outside. “The dry marry first, followed by the wet, and then it all gets combined. Everything after that is walk away, let sit, then bake.”
“Seriously.” He handed cir the cup. “Here, use this. It starts with a cup and a half of flour. Otherwise it’s a salad.”
Adren snorted and untied the bag of flour. With Ress’s assistance, ce measured out the flour and dumped it in the bowl, thankful the bag remained upright. Ce could just imagine the catastrophe had it hit the floor. Wearing it had an even worse appeal.
“Now one and a half acespoons of ground simpa,” Ress said, “plus half an acespoon of salt and leaven, each. Else it won’t be rising and it certainly won’t be bread.”
“It’ll be its other nastier, messier twin, mush,” Adren said, echoing Ress’s tone.
Ress raised one eyebrow and handed cir the open jar of simpa.
“What?” Adren demanded, measuring out the dark orange spice with a small spoon. Ce flicked it into the bowl and pretended to toss the spoon at his head. “You’re not the only sarcastic one.”
“Didn’t say I was, dear heart. Didn’t say a thing at all.” Ress offered up the bag of salt, followed by a jar of foul-smelling leaven. “You’ll need fresh spoons for these. It’s considered bad manners to spoil them.”
Adren followed his instructions and added both into the bowl, cir nose crinkled. “This leaven rubbish smells spoiled already. If cooking means finding out what’s actually in the food, I’ll just stay out of the kitchen, thanks.”
“But where’s the fun in that?” Ress laughed, pointing at the bowl. “Mix it well, please and thanks.”
“I’ll mix you well,” Adren grumbled as ce stirred with a wooden spoon. Ce elbowed Ress in the arm three times with a half-hearted, “Oops.”
“Hey, if you like it roughÖ” Ress reached around cir for more metal bowls, his body grazing cirs with welcome warmth. “There’s always a sparring ring downstairs.”
“Tempted.” Adren resumed stirring, only to have the bowl and spoon wrenched out of cir hands. Ress shoved a tiny bowl into cir grasp. “Now hold onó”
“Time for the wet marry. This one smells better,” he added, his wide smile almost charmingósave for the fact Adren wanted to beat him with the pasty goop on the flour spoon.
“You’re the worst tutor ever.” Adren scowled at Ress’s laugh, then glowered as he handed cir two eggs.
“Beat those, dear heart, not my head.”
“However did you guess?” Adren said sweetly, cracking the eggs open on the side of the bowl. The shells crumbled in cir hands, yolk dripping between cir fingers as ce stopped bits of shell from tumbling into the bowl. Cursing, ce discarded the shells and wiped cir hands on the towel Ress offered before massacring what remained of the eggs.
“Now for a peace offering.” Ress held a cup half-filled with a black, sweet-scented sauce beneath Adren’s nose. “All the sweet fruits of winter smashed up.”
“How about I take half, you take half, and we run?”
Ress chuckled as he poured the sauce into another mixing bowl. “Here, add the eggs and beat together. Then we put in kindren syrup and the fruit.” After a shuffle of bowls and jars, he poured golden syrup into the bowl. While Adren continued stirring, he cut handfuls of dark violet blackenfroste berries, blue icesworn berries, and red, oval-shaped kimmers into small pieces and combined them in a cup until it was full. His wrist slid across Adren’s arm as he dumped the fruit into the bowl. “There, mix them in and we’ll be done soon.”
Adren resisted the urge to stuff a handful of berries into cir mouth. Their bittersweet scents filled the air with the sweet syrup, teasing cir mouth until it watered.
With quick movements, Ress chopped up a cup’s worth of roasted red balenuts, gold meadlin nuts, and orange tarries. He moved the flour mixture forward, motioning for Adren to pour the contents of cir bowl into it. “Now we can add that to this,” he instructed, waiting as ce complied, “and add theseó” he dumped the nuts into the bowló “and finally, one thricespoon of aminthe.”
His soft smile returned as he held out the jar of finely chopped aminthe. Adren added the potent, ice-blue herb to the bowl and mixed it until the batter was blended.
“Looks wonderful,” Ress said quietly, his chin on cir shoulder. “Now we leave it covered for the afternoon. We’ll put it into a bread pan before dinner.”
“Mmmhmm.” The heat of Ress’s breaths danced over Adren’s ear, his lips teasing cir earlobe.
“Don’t start something you won’t finish,” Adren warned, turning cir head slightly. Ce was pleased when his lips followed, planting a kiss above cir throat.
“I can always finish kisses,” Ress murmured. “I like those.”
“So I’ve noticed. Just maybe not here.” When another kiss pressed just behind cir ear, Adren tossed a twig of berries at Ress. “This isn’t in the recipe, kissy face.”
Ress grunted and drew back, pawing at his hair. “HeyÖ” He scowled at the berries on the floor. “That’s notó”
A pinch of aminthe hit his chest before he looked up. “Youó” he started, snapping his head up. His eyes flashed with a playful darkness.
Adren grinned and brandished a spoon. “Me?”
“Yeah, you.” Ress threw a handful of berries at Adren, catching cir shoulder as ce twisted away.
“Looks like war now,” Adren declared, whipping the berries back at him before grabbing the salt. Ce pelted him with what spoonfuls ce managed without knocking the bag over.
Flour hit cir in the face, square on the cheek. Ress’s laugh followed, accompanied by a series of nuts that bounced off cir forehead.
Adren seized the jar of syrup and held it before cir, motioning back and forth with the spoon. “Think carefully.”
“Oh, I am.” Ress grabbed the jar of fruit sauce and mirrored Adren’s threat.
They shifted from one foot to another, their breaths the only sound. Adren gripped cir spoon tight, cir gaze on Ress’s hands. If he moved, even a littleÖ
Sauce hit cir neck, a thwap of fruit-flavoured explosion on cir skin. Warm and slimy, it slid down cir chest, leaving behind a sticky trail.
Crying for battle, Adren attacked Ress with syrup, assaulting his face, sweater, and whatever he left open. They jolted and slid across the floor, distancing themselves from the table and diving for the food. Salt flew. Flour puffed in the air, blanketing everything. Fruit sauce splattered everywhere, even stickier with the syrup. Berries rolled and squished beneath their feet, painting the floor blue, purple, and reds Teensy leaves of aminthe clung to the table and skin and Adren’s braids. Raucous laughter filled the kitchen, giggles filling the spaces between cries. Nuts crunched and busted open, rolling under their heels.Even as Adren slipped and hit the floor, ce kept laughing. If anything, ce laughed harder, arms slammed against the floor as Ress pinned cir down. In a tangle of limbs, ce rolled Ress over and sat on his hips.
In a blink, ce was on cir back again, then rolling, rollingÖ
Ress hit the floor, his grip tight on cir forearms to steady them both. Adren drew cir hand through the mess of fruits and colourful powder on the floor and smeared the filthy mixture down Ress’s face. “How about themó”
Adren yelped as Ress shoved cir over and rubbed cir hair into the floor, coating cir braids with grit. “How about this?”
“That’s just plain dirty!” Adren yelled, kneeing him in the stomach. It would take all afternoon to get the salt and other rubbish out of cir hair.
“Yeah, wellÖ” Ress scrambled across the floor and pulled himself up the side of the table, grabbing something.
The sauce. Adren scurried backwards from his advance. “Nope, nope, nopeóDammit!”
Ress’s foot knocked cirs, tripping him forward. Before his bad knee could hit the stone, Adren caught him and rolled him away from harm, spilling sauce down cir neck and shirt. Groaning, Adren snatched the jar and placed it as far as ce could reach.
“Sorry,” Ress breathed.
Before Adren could yell at him to stop getting hurt, his lips were on cirs in a soft kiss, sweeter than the berries squashed beneath cir. As ce wrapped cir arms around him, Adren surrendered to their sweaty, gooey tangle, meeting Ress’s heart with cirs. Maybe there was something to the baking thing after allÖ like a hidden gift for the soul, wrapped in the safety of quiet certainty.
For Ress, survival is a complicated nightmare. Caught between two masters on different sides of the law, his life is falling apart one bad decision at a time. All he wants is to be is a good person, a loyal family man, and a successful metalsmithóa dream he can never obtain while he works for the Shar-denn, the violent gang that plagues the republic of Kattal.
To make matters worse, he works as an informant for the High Council. He scrapes through both jobs waiting for his last breath. As the Shar-denn motto says: the only way out is dead.
No stranger to living complicated decisions, Adren is caught between worlds of cir own. As the child of a Shar-denn faction boss, cir life is a conflicted tangle of expectation and duty. When cir family is arrested, Adren manages to escape, but nowhere is safe. Desperate and on the run, Adren is determined to punish Ress for turning in cir family. No one who betrays the gang can live. Ress must pay the price, even if Adren has to go against everything ce is.
Archer Kay Leah was raised in Canada, growing up in a port town at a time when it was starting to become more diverse, both visibly and vocally. Combined with the variety of interests found in Archerís family and the never-ending need to be creative, this diversity inspired a love for toying with characters and their relationships, exploring new experiences and difficult situations.
Archer most enjoys writing speculative fiction and is engaged in a very particular love affair with fantasy, especially when it is dark and emotionally charged. When not reading and writing for work or play, Archer is a geek with too many hobbies and keeps busy with other creative endeavors, a music addiction, and whatever else comes along. Archer lives in London, Ontario with a bigender partner and rather chatty cat.
Author Page at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/archerkayleah
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