Sexy Alpha Heroes, Demons and Chocolate (oh, my!)

Today we welcome award-winning author and 2009 RITA finalist Jessica Andersen back to the Lair. The third book in her Nightkeepers paranormal romance series is out (the books stand alone, in case anyone’s worried about starting later, though we completists like to read from the beginning *g*). Skykeepers is fabulous, with a dark, tormented hero, a determined heroine, and lots of action. And chocolate, of course. Jessica will talk to us about all those things today. Welcome, Jessica!

Hello, and thanks to Nancy and the Banditas for offering to host me on the official release day of SKYKEEPERS: A NOVEL OF THE FINAL PROPHECY!

Okay, typo alert – I just typed that as ‘A NOVEL OF THE VINYL PROPHECY.’ Hm. I think that’s a different concept entirely, and probably a sign that I need more (or maybe less?) caffeine this morning. [As a note: I just tried to Google a fun link for men’s vinyl clothing to use as a joke here … and now I need to go bleach my eyeballs.]

Two randomly selected commenters will win a signed copy of NIGHTKEEPERS or DAWNKEEPERS, which are the first two books in this sexy series of paranormal thrillers. And, of course, SKYKEEPERS is in a bookstore near you as of today!

Here’s the blurb:

Ancient prophecy holds that 12/21/2012 will bring a global cataclysm. Mankind’s only hope lies with the Nightkeepers, modern magic-wielding warriors who must find their destined mates and fulfill the legends to defeat the rise of terrible Mayan demons.

In Skykeepers, Michael Stone is a man with a dark secret that has skewed his magical abilities dangerously toward the underworld. Seeking redemption, he sets out on a perilous mission to save the daughter of Ambrose Ledbetter, a renowned Mayanist who died before he could reveal the location of a hidden library. The Nightkeepers must find the library before their enemies gain access to its valuable cache of spells and prophecies.
Sasha Ledbetter grew up hearing heroic tales of an ancient group of powerful magi who were destined to save the world from destruction. She never expected that her bedtime stories would come to life in the form of Nightkeeper Michael Stone, or that she’d hold the key to the warrior’s survival. As Sasha and Michael join forces to prevent the imminent battle, sparks of attraction ignite between them, and they’re forced to confront the unexpected passion that brings them together … and also tears them apart.


And here’s the cover. How sexy is that?? Phew! (Fans self.) During an early cover art discussion with my editors, I mentioned that Michael is darkest and most sensual of the Nightkeeper heroes so far … and the art department took it from there (chops to them!!). But it’s not just Michael who is highly sensual in this story; the heroine, Sasha, is also very attuned to her senses, though in a different way. Although her father pushed her toward med school, she rebelled (on many levels) and became a chef. She experiences the world through its flavors, and has a definite sweet tooth, though Michael is far from sweet when they first start striking sparks off each other.

In particular, Sasha is attracted to chocolate … and as she finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into the Nightkeepers’ world—and their magic—she learns that chocolate was sacred to the Nightkeepers and Maya. In fact, the consumption of chocolate arose in Mesoamerica among the Maya around 200 CE (Common Era, aka AD), and was among the New World ‘wonders’ the Spanish conquistadors brought back to Europe.
The Maya cultivated cacao and harvested the seeds. Some were used as currency; others were fermented, dried, and ground into powder. The ground cacao could be applied for medicinal uses, combined with copal (sacred incense) and burned as an offering, or mixed into a variety of chocolate drinks that included a variety of other flavoring elements, such as maize, chili peppers, etc. (the Maya only rarely sweetened their chocolate, instead primarily using it as a savory). The drink could then be poured from one vessel to another until a heady froth built up. Voila: early latte!

In the moist regions of the Maya territories, where cacao trees grew wild (or later, were purpose-bred and cultivated) beneath the rainforest canopy, chocolate was widely consumed. In the distant city-states of the empire, however, laboriously transported chocolate was a prized commodity, often reserved for the upper classes and the most sacred of ceremonies. As Sasha begins to accept the reality of the Nightkeepers’ magic, and grasps that she has a special magic of her own, her former life as a chef becomes intertwined with her new life as a mage, and she brings the magic of chocolate rituals back to the Nightkeepers, as we see in the following short (and exclusive to Romance Bandits!) excerpt.

He awoke near midnight, almost at the threshold of the solstice day. Even before he was fully conscious, he was aware of an aching hum of magic in the air, one that stirred his blood. He turned to Sasha, only to find her side of the bed empty and cool to the touch.

Unease stirred. He told himself to roll over and go back to sleep, that she was safe within the warded compound. But something had been off about her that night, a discord in their vibe, a wrong note or two over the course of the evening. She’d said it was nothing, that she was just keyed up for the solstice, and the planned ambush, which was still on the table, with contingency plans atop contingency plans, none of which completely satisfied any of them. And yeah, she had every right to be jacked up about that. Except he didn’t think that was what she was really worried about. He was pretty sure it was something to do with him, with them.

Twenty minutes of staring at the ceiling later, he rose, pulled on dark track pants and a white tee, shoved his feet in a pair of rope sandals, and padded off in search of her. He found her, not surprisingly, in the main kitchen at the center of the mansion. The air was heavy with the scents of chocolate and dark spices, bringing a long, low tug of hunger that was more for the woman than the food.

He’d thought he’d steeled himself for the familiar kick of attraction, the lust that hadn’t faded with their becoming lovers. But need hit him hard the moment he saw her stretched on her tiptoes to return a bowl to a high shelf, her midriff-cropped tee riding up, yoga pants riding down, the two exposing a strip of her taut, strong abdomen, with the soft lines of muscle on either side of her navel, where a trio of freckles drew his eye.

She turned slowly, and when she met his eyes, he saw a reflection of the burning heat that churned in his gut. “Well?” she said softly.

His body moved almost without conscious volition around the pass-through and into the kitchen, where he stopped close enough to catch her light scent over the cooking smells, close enough to distinguish the heat of her body from that of the stove. “What’s cooking?”

She handed over the mug she’d been sipping from. “It’s something I’ve been playing with.”

He knew she had magic in the kitchen, knew she wielded flavors with the deftness of a trained chef and the inspiration of a mage, but still he was unprepared for what hit his taste buds the moment he took a sip. Sensations exploded across his neurons in a blaze of heat, texture, and taste that had him sucking in a breath. There was chocolate, yes, but it was more savory than sweet, taken away from the realm of dessert by a mix of peppers and salt, and things he wouldn’t even begin to match with chocolate, but that somehow matched perfectly. He sucked in a breath. “Holy crap.” Took another sip and rolled it around in his mouth, closing his eyes briefly as the flavors changed subtly, the peppers mellowing to something else. “Nice,” he said, and this time his tone was one of reverence. “Very nice.”

“That,” she said with evident satisfaction, “was exactly what I was going for.”

Eyes still closed, he felt her trying to take the mug back, and tightened his fingers on it. “Leave it,” he said. “I’m at your mercy. Anything you want. Just ask.”

He’d said it partly in play, but also because he remembered what she’d told him back in the beginning, on her first day at Skywatch. I cook when I’m happy or sad, when I’m celebrating with friends or all alone with my thoughts. Which of those things applied now?

He felt the air shift, felt her indrawn breath as his own, but instead of “we need to talk” or any of the female warning signs experience had taught him to expect, she surprised him by leaning in and touching her lips to his.

The kiss was as unexpected as the hint of pepper and spice he tasted amidst the chocolate on her lips, in her mouth. Setting aside his mug, he deepened the kiss, relieved to let it be easy even though a small part of him said it shouldn’t be so easy, that he was skimming the surface of something he needed to be diving into. But then she shifted her hands, sliding them up his chest to link behind his neck and tug him closer, pressing her body to his, and the vibe went true, singing inside his skull with the warm sparkle of red-gold magic.

“Come back to bed,” he said against her mouth. “We’ve got a few more hours to burn.”

For more info on the history of chocolate, its importance in Maya culture, and the value of free trade cacao in modern-day development and reforestation efforts, check out the ‘References’ section on my website, www.JessicaAndersen.com, which also offers excerpts, extras, and a whole lot more.

For now, though, I’d like to hear from you. As you might have guessed, I’m a huge chocoholic, and I’m always looking for new chocolate options. Some of my current favorites can be found at http://www.yachanagourmet.com/. So tell me … what chocolates do you love? Or, if you’re not a chocolate fan, what is your food indulgence? Remember, all comments are entered to win one of two signed backlist books!

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