Do you ever have dreams where you're cast into a familiar situation but out of context? Maybe a 30-year-old you is suddenly back in high school and no one realizes you're out of place, yet you're struggling to remember a locker combination you haven't used in 13 years. Or you're in the right time and place, but you suddenly realize that everyone around you at the fabulous dream summer BBQ is fully clothed and you're not wearing pants.
You know the sort of situation I'm talking about, right? It happens in real life too, and it's more mortifying there. Like when you go to the BBQ but you actually DO forget to wear pants. Or, you know, you show up for Vampire Month...without a vampire.
So hi everyone, I'm Bru. I'm thrilled to be here on the GLRT blog, and I'm happy to report that I am indeed wearing pants to this shindig. Unfortunately, I'm wearing them while telling you about my latest release, which has nary a vampire in sight. How embarrassing.
If you're still with me and haven't run for the pitchforks (or would it be crosses and wooden stakes in this instance?), I'd love to tell you about Branded, which is part of the Dreamspinner Press Daily Dose Anthology, Mended. While it's lacking in vampires it's not exactly bloodless, which is probably to be expected since the Mended Anthology is 30 stories for the month of June that all focus on the hurt/comfort trope.
In Branded we meet Coren and Bran, who have been friends since childhood and lovers for a few years by the time we catch up with them. They're forced to keep their true relationship a secret—kind of like many vampire romances...yeah, I'm trying too hard forcing the vampire connection, here aren't I? At some point you've got to drop the checkered tablecloth “skirt” and admit that you actually do not have pants, right?
Anyway, Coren and Bran can't publicly acknowledge their relationship because Coren's father, King Fyodir, would never stand for it. He's a tyrant, so caught up in his bloodline and furthering the kingdom's wealth that he can't see his only son is in love with his best friend and personal advisor.
When Fyodir demands that all the servants be branded with the royal crest, Coren tries his best to stop the brutality. And when he fails, he insists on administering Bran's himself. Cue the hurt/comfort, but not in the way you'd expect. Coren is tied up in knots over what he has done to Bran, and Bran is more focused on easing those worries than on any care for himself.
Here's an excerpt:
The sound of the overstoked fire crackling merrily was preternaturally loud in the room, and each snap made the feeling of cold dread in Coren’s stomach grow. He grabbed the ewer of water next to the grate and tossed it in, causing the fire to hiss and smoke before it sputtered out. The room filled with an ashy haze, settling between him and Bran like a physical manifestation of the barrier Coren felt between them.
“It’s not your fault.” Bran’s voice was measured, but Coren could hear the strain in it. Bran’s posture was straight and his muscles rigid; he was clearly holding himself in check. Coren wouldn’t stand for it.
“How is it that you are offering comfort when you are the injured party?” Coren hated the way Bran flinched at his clipped tone, but he was not in the mood to be pandered to. He wouldn’t have Bran expending any energy placating him—not when he knew Bran must be in pain. “Climb on the bed.”
“It’s too early to retire for the night,” Bran said in the same careful tone. “I have to make my evening rounds, and someone will be in with your supper soon.”
“Our supper,” Coren corrected. Bran took most of his meals in Coren’s rooms; the kitchen staff automatically sent up rations for both of them now. They had for years.
“Your father requested my presence in the great hall this evening.”
That was news to Coren. Meals were served in the great hall daily, but they were rarely attended by anyone but the lower members of the court. Unless there was a celebration or occasion of state, Coren’s father took all of his meals in his rooms. The higher nobles often either dined with him if they were currently in favor or took private meals in their quarters if they were not. Coren didn’t mind; he’d take a meal with Bran eaten in privacy over the grandest affair of state any day.
“I wasn’t summoned?” Bran handled almost all of Coren’s affairs—if Coren was expected at the dinner, the request would have gone through him.
“And you thought to go alone? That I would eat a quiet meal here in my rooms while you suffer under the stares of the court as my father makes a show of you?” Coren could barely contain his anger.
Bran sighed. “I thought to spare you the spectacle, yes.”
“I won’t have it. You’re mine.” Coren’s voice broke at the slip, and he swallowed to wet his throat before he corrected himself. “You’re my personal advisor. It wouldn’t be proper for you to appear before the court without me in attendance.”
Bran’s lips twitched, the first hint of a true smile Coren had seen in too long. “I am yours, sire. Which is why you need to stay in your rooms tonight.” He stepped forward and nuzzled against Coren’s cheek with his own. Coren shivered and leaned into the light touch without conscious thought; he was relieved beyond words at this proof that Bran still sought his touch after what he’d just done to him. “Your face, Cor. You’d give us away in a heartbeat. You’re too wound up right now for an appearance. Your father will make me display my brand and I’ll be dismissed. It’s a formality. I’ll be back before you even start your meal.”
That was a certainty, since Coren would not be able to stomach a single thing until he had Bran safely back in his rooms.
- Branded, Bru Baker
Bru Baker is a freelance journalist who writes for newspapers and magazines by day and for Dreamspinner Press by night. She's happiest when she's immersed in fictional worlds because they're a lot more fun than her day job. She and her husband live in the Midwest with their two young children, whose antics make finding time to write difficult but never let life get boring.
Visit Bru online at www.bru-baker.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bru_baker. She doesn't talk about vampires there either, but she does occasionally Tweet recipes for killer BBQ side dishes that are tasty enough to serve as a decent distraction in the event that you also forgot your pants.
Her next release will be Finding Home, which is book two of the Dropping Anchor series and is due out June 23.