Title: A Taste for Poison
Series: Memory of Scorpions: Book Three
Author: Aleksandr Voinov
Genre: Historical Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Blurb: Even a king gets stung when he reaches for a scorpion.
After barely surviving an assassination attempt, King Adrastes is a changed man—one who mistrusts even his allies and friends. He readies his empire for war against an enigmatic enemy, the Elder of Vededrin, but not everyone approves. While courtiers dare only to whisper dissent, an outrider called Death foments rebellion in the mountains, aided by a prophecy that promises he’ll stop the Black King.
Kendras—former lover to Adrastes and leader of the Scorpions—is sent with his elite mercenary force to bring Death to justice. But when Kendras learns who’s hiding behind the mask, he must choose between his lover Graukar, newly-appointed general to the king—and King Adrastes himself.
With no man to call master, the Scorpions could flee the danger and intrigue. But Kendras cannot abandon the man he once loved—or the man he’s growing to love—without first uncovering the real threat to the Empire.
Excerpt: Every Scorpion seemed ready. Kendras grabbed his own saddle bags and slung them over his shoulder. A ripple of excitement passed through their group. Kendras felt it clearly, and it lightened some of the sadness in his chest as he led them down the corridor.
In the stables, they readied their mounts, though Selvan had already prepared the pack horses. The Jaishani looked dubious—their riding wasn’t very good yet, and Kendras doubted they looked forward to spending a few weeks on horseback.
He turned to his horse, fed it an apple from the kitchen, and patted its neck.
He turned to face Graukar, who looked as if he’d just completed his morning exercises, bare-chested and flushed, eyes gleaming. Kendras’s heart clenched painfully. He nodded to him, not sure what to say. They’d spent the evening together, but then Kendras had to oversee the planning with the Scorpions, and he’d left too soon after saying his good-byes.
“Please send greetings to my brother.” Graukar stepped closer, eyes intent on Kendras.
“And,” Graukar stepped even closer, close enough that Kendras could smell his skin, close enough to feel the warmth of his body. “Be careful out there. The mountains are treacherous this time of year.”
“Every step I’ve taken for months has been on treacherous ground.”
Graukar laughed softly. “Well, not quite as bad as Dalmanor the palace.” He touched Kendras’s face, and Kendras melted into the caress. He didn’t want to leave, not with Graukar staying behind. But the king had ordered it. If not for finding out who Death was and keeping Graukar in the city to exclude him from the number of suspects, Kendras could have worried that Adrastes knew about him and Graukar and had separated them on purpose. Though, for a king, matters of state overruled personal feelings, and Adrastes wouldn’t put Kendras over his empire. That had become amply clear.
“I’ll miss you.” Kendras swallowed. “I already do.”
Graukar smiled fondly. “Yes, me too. Listen, when you return, we will have to make some decisions about this.”
“Who we are, Kendras, and what and who we are going to be.”
It had hovered between them for some time now. They lived in two different worlds that only intersected when they both served the kingdom, in the palace, and Kendras couldn’t see a way out of it. He wouldn’t allow the Scorpions to become mere guardians of doors and hallways, nor allow them to become a legion, with everything they believed in watered down until nothing distinguished them from the weak wine offered to children. Adrastes didn’t truly need them, and if he did, it was as one of many tools. How long until he’d use them all for murder? At the same time, Graukar wasn’t willing to shirk his generalship and run away to be a mercenary. So far, they’d enjoyed a respite from that decision—but the impossibility was still a burden in Kendras’s mind, much like how the sense of an impending thunderstorm made the air heavy and charged.
“Why are you speaking of that now, if you’ve made up your mind, just—”
“I haven’t. Not entirely.” Graukar touched his lips to Kendras’s. “I will not lose you because of any fault of my own. Do your duty first, then come back to me. I will be waiting for you.”
Kendras became aware of a lingering silence around them,which jolted him out of anything he could possibly have said to that. “Yes. Duty.” He put his foot in the stirrup and mounted, then gripped the reins. A quick glance confirmed that all the Scorpions had mounted and were waiting, and the nearest two—Dev and Kiran—were grinning. They’d heard everything.
Kendras reached down and squeezed Graukar’s hand. Then he turned the horse and led the Scorpions out of the palace and out of the city.
On the road, once they’d left behind the inevitable throng of traders’ carts, they rode together in pairs, Dev riding a little faster until his thigh was nearly rubbing Kendras’s. “One question, Officer.”
Kendras glanced over. “Yes.”
“What is it about the general? I know you’re fucking, but . . .”
Kendras nodded. “Yes, it’s more than that.”
The silence lasted until the road curved to the Kanenti, past what used to be the temple city. “Then what do you make of it?”
“General Graukar has his duties.”
“The Scorpions are my family.” Kendras glanced back. “I’m not leaving you.”
Dev hmmed. “And he’s not leaving all the power and glory, right?”
“What power and glory there is when the king doesn’t trust you and had your predecessor murdered.” Kendras shook his head and sighed. “I don’t think he’s interested in any of that.”
“Then what’s left to do?”
“He might join us. He might not. It’s his decision.”
“Runner speaks highly of him.”
“He would.” Kendras fell silent, and this time, the silence lasted until they reached a tavern along the road. They could have taken their own provisions, but the autumn chill was in the air, and considering it would be much colder in the mountains, any warm meal they’d get now would stave off the cold for a little while longer.
Author Bio: Aleksandr has been published for twenty years, both in print and ebook. He has ten years’ experience as a writing coach, book doctor, and writing teacher, and until recently worked as an editor in financial services.
After co-authoring the M/M military cult classic Special Forces, Aleksandr embarked on a quest to write gritty, edgy, sometimes literary M/M and gay fiction (much of which is romance/erotica)—the only way he can use his American Literature degree these days.
He’s been published with Heyne/Random House, Carina Press, Samhain Publishing, and others, and is an EPIC Awards winner and a Lambda Awards finalist.
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The Giveaway: A full set of the Memory of Scorpions Series in paperback