We’re so pleased to have the writing team of Ari McKay joining us today to introduce their newest collaboration, Out of the Ashes, book one in their new Asheville Arcana series, and the first release in Dreamspinner Press’s brand new house line, Dreamspun Beyond.
Hello, everyone! I’m the McKay half of Ari McKay, and I’d like to thank The Novel Approach for letting me stop by as part of our launch tour for Out of the Ashes.
Out of the Ashes is the first book in our new Asheville Arcana series. There will be three books in the series, each one featuring a self-contained romance with a different couple, but also progressing the overall story arc, which involves a demonic invasion.
I’d like to share an exclusive excerpt from Out of the Ashes, which takes place when Arden takes Eli to meet his parents in hopes that his father – a mage whose specialty is divination – can help them find answers about Eli’s missing packmates.
We hope you enjoy Eli and Arden’s romance!
About the Book
In their differences, they’ll find strength—and love.
Alpha werewolf Eli Hammond returns from a fishing trip to discover a nasty surprise—five members of his pack murdered and the rest missing. He needs help locating and rescuing his pack mates, but the supernatural council in Asheville, North Carolina, turns him away.
Except for one man.
As they work together, Eli is stunned—and not especially thrilled—to discover half-elf Arden Gilmarin is his destined mate. But as Arden and his friends struggle to help Eli in his quest, Eli surrenders to the demands of his body—and his heart. They’ll need to bond together, because the forces opposing them are stronger and more sinister than anyone predicted. The evil has its sights set on Arden, and if Eli wants to save his mate and the people he is entrusted with protecting, he’s in for the fight of his life.
Eli could feel the mystical energy in the clearing Marin had led them to for the ceremony, despite werewolves not being as sensitive to magic as other supernaturals, which meant it had to be quite strong. The trees were tall with thick trunks, signaling their age, and Eli breathed deeply of the forest air, feeling more at home here than he had anywhere else, even Arden’s resort.
The clearing was an almost perfect circle, and the trees opened up to reveal the night sky overhead. The moon provided sufficient light for everyone but Whimsy, who didn’t have the enhanced night vision of werewolves or elves, but he’d conjured a small glowing ball to provide enough light that he could see the path that wound through the woods without tripping over any stray roots.
Marin stood in the center of the clearing and beckoned to Eli, who joined her. “Are you ready?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Eli said. “What do we do?” “Speak their names one at a time.” Eli’s heart constricted, and he had to swallow hard before he could speak the first name. “Herschel,” he said, thinking about the man who had been his mentor and friend. Herschel was the oldest werewolf Eli had ever known, and he’d led the pack for several decades. He’d had long white hair and a thick beard, and they had all called him “Santa” to tease him. “Herschel White.”
Arden had come up beside his mother, and as Marin’s pure, sweet soprano rose on the night air, intoning an entreaty to the forest to listen and pay heed, Arden’s smooth tenor joined in exquisite harmony. They sang Herschel’s name in English, then in Elvish, before entreating the forest to remember him always, not for the tragedy of his death, but for his life as a beloved member of Eli’s pack.
The feeling of magic in the air grew stronger, and Eli saw dryads stepping out from the trunks of their trees, listening as the elves sang. When the last note of the lament for Herschel faded away, Marin looked at Eli again, nodding slightly to signal him to speak the next name.
“Lori Granger,” Eli said, his voice growing husky. “Dale Holloway…. Andrea Holden…. Sam Cooper….”
With each name he spoke, Eli’s grief welled up, and tears stung his eyelids. Yet as the song continued, more and more of the forest denizens came out to listen. The natural creatures like deer and bears kept to the periphery, out of direct sight, but he caught their scent on the night breeze. The magical creatures weren’t quite so shy; in addition to the dryads, he saw a small cluster of wee folk, and a coyote shifter came up to stand close to Whimsy, head bowed in respect. There were other elves, an elderly couple with pure white hair, who added their voices to the chorus as the entire forest seemed to mourn for Eli’s loss.
After speaking the last name, Eli transformed, threw back his head, and howled, adding his voice to the song. Hearing the song of mourning and remembrance lanced the wound on his heart and let his grief flow freely now that he had others to share his pain with. They weren’t his pack, but they were here, and that was enough.
Silence fell in the wake of the song, and Arden knelt down next to him and buried his fingers in Eli’s ruff, stroking his fur. Whimsy knelt too, and Marin flowed down gracefully in front of him, laying a hand atop his head, gently caressing his ears. Whining softly, Eli closed his eyes and leaned into the gentle touches. As part of a pack, Eli was accustomed to— and needed—the comfort of others; seeking out pack mates during times of loss, pain, or grief was normal, and Eli felt the lack of that support keenly. But more than that, his mate was touching him, and the wolf eagerly sought more.
“The forest won’t forget those you lost, and neither will we,” Arden said, leaning closer to him. “You aren’t alone, Eli.”
He shifted back into human form and looked at Arden. “Thanks.”
“I wish I could do more,” Arden replied, his green eyes searching Eli’s face. “Do you feel like going back to the resort now? Or would you prefer to stay in the woods for a while?”
Eli almost said he wanted to stay, but he realized he didn’t need to. The song was over, those who lived in these woods had slipped away, and Eli felt more at peace. For him, this place had served its purpose, and so he rose to his feet.
“I’m ready to go,” he said.
The others rose as well, and Arden stayed close by his side as they made their way back toward Marin’s home. Several of the dryads nodded respectfully to him as he passed beneath the branches of their trees, and Arden spoke their names to him, apparently well acquainted with all of them.
After they made it back to the cabin, Arden and Marin slipped away to check on Gilorean. They returned within only a few minutes, and Arden didn’t radiate the anxiety he’d shown earlier.
“He’s doing a lot better,” Arden reported. “We can go back to the resort to see if Julian’s returned.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Eli said. He turned to Marin and offered a respectful bow. “Thank you. It eases my mind to know the elves will remember our dead.”
Marin smiled at him, raising a hand to touch his cheek. “They were a part of you, and therefore deserving of remembrance. I am glad if I could help offer some solace. It pains me to see the mate of my son so lost in grief and uncertainty.”
Oh shit. Eli glanced sidelong at Arden, hoping he wasn’t paying attention to the conversation. But Arden was staring at him, eyes wide.
“Amma… what are you saying?”
Marin turned to her son. “Eli is your mate. Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed his aura or felt the pull toward him. It is something elves and shape-shifters have in common—we both mate for life. I could see it between the two of you from the moment you arrived. Your father saw it as well.”
Arden raised his eyes to Eli’s, seeming subdued for once. “Did you know?”
Eli rubbed the back of his head and avoided looking directly at Arden. He’d counted himself lucky when Arden hadn’t picked up on what Gilorean had said earlier, but the truth was out now, and he couldn’t ignore it any longer.
“Yeah, I knew.”
“Oh.” Arden nodded slowly, then seemed to shake himself. “I suppose we should be on our way. Julian might be waiting for us.”
Eli waited for a moment, but when Arden didn’t say anything else about the mate issue, he released a quiet breath. Maybe Arden didn’t want a mate any more than Eli did, so they could both ignore the whole thing and move on.
“I’m ready to go when you are,” he said.
Whimsy looked back and forth between them, appearing confused, but he possessed enough tact not to say anything. “Yeah, I’m ready too.”
“Give Appa my love,” Arden said, kissing his mother on the cheek. Marin bid them goodbye, and Arden turned and headed out of the cabin, leading them back through the woods toward his SUV.
About the Authors
Ari McKay is the professional pseudonym for Arionrhod and McKay, who have been writing together for over a decade. Their collaborations encompass a wide variety of romance genres, including contemporary, fantasy, science fiction, gothic, and action/adventure. Their work includes the Blood Bathory series of paranormal novels, the Herc’s Mercs series, as well as two historical Westerns: Heart of Stone and Finding Forgiveness. When not writing, they can often be found scheming over costume designs or binge watching TV shows together.
Arionrhod is a systems engineer by day who is eagerly looking forward to (hopefully) becoming a full time writer in the not-too-distant future. Now that she is an empty-nester, she has turned her attentions to finding the perfect piece of land to build a fortress in preparation for the zombie apocalypse, and baking (and eating) far too many cakes.
McKay is an English teacher who has been writing for one reason or another most of her life. She also enjoys knitting, reading, cooking, and playing video games. She has been known to knit in public. Given she has the survival skills of a gnat, she’s relying on Arionrhod to help her survive the zombie apocalypse.