TITLE: The Strix (Bag of Tricks)
AUTHOR(S): Katalina Leon and Amber Skyze
PUBLISHER: Loose Id LLC
LENGTH: 234 Pages
SUBGENRES: Vampire, Shapeshifter, Fantasy
A cursed amber amulet unearthed in Pompeii flings Arcona into a past life of witchcraft, bloodshed, revenge and sexual slavery to the cruel Master of a gladiatorial school. This violent parallel world is populated with “Slayers,” blood-drinking immortals devoted to the gods of war and mayhem.
As a Strix, or malignant witch, Arcona once used sex and blood rituals to create a race of immortal warriors to unleash on Rome. Now it’s time to pay.
The gladiator Tyr was one desperately lonely lover she betrayed. Against his will, she turned him into Upir Likhyi, a foul vampire. For two millennia he’s lived a grim existence as a Slayer, in constant sexual arousal yet denied release; now, he's pissed off and wants revenge. He kidnaps Arcona planning to drink her dry and break the curse.
Along the way Arcona and Tyr relive their sexual slavery at the hands of Rome and blood sport in the arena, but the real magic is they forgive and fall in love.
Too bad another Slayer wants them dead.
My name is Katalina Leon and writing “The Strix” was a very special experience for me that resulted in quite a few surprises and firsts. This was my first NANO project. This was my first time co-authoring a book series. This was my first book partially channeled by a dead friend and this is my first book with Loose Id Publishing. The whole experience was a little weird and very fun to take part in. I woke up every morning really excited to work because I had no idea what was going to happen.
The Bag Of Tricks book series was the first time I truly collaborated with another author, Amber Skyze. The series was Amber’s idea based on her annual trips to Salem Massachusetts and the fun of visiting a Wiccan shop with girlfriends and having their fortunes told. The wish bag filled with magical stones was her idea.
When I was a young and single I would have found the idea of seeking out a little magical guidance to see if I was going to be lucky in love pretty irresistible.
Amber came up with idea of four girlfriends in their early thirties who were close in college, reuniting for a Halloween weekend in Salem. Each heroine chooses a wish stone from the bag and has her fortune told by one of two very eccentric witches. What the girls don’t know is the moment they make a wish they fall under some heavy enchantment and their lives become rocket ship rides of unexpected adventure. Of course every story is also populated with gorgeous supernatural men.
In “The Strix” Arcona enters a parallel world. She’s an innocent historical researcher in her current life but she once was a strong spirited and desperate Celtic captive of Rome in 78 AD, who practiced dark witchcraft. She comes face to face with that lifetime and a man she should have loved but instead pushed away.
Tyr was a condemned gladiator who loved Arcona and wanted to buy her freedom but ended up being turned into an immortal flesh and blood weapon with a badly damaged soul. After two thousand years of under Arcona’s enchantment in heartless misery as a Slayer dedicated to the gods of war, Tyr has had enough and wants it all to end. Meeting the reincarnation of the original Arcona in Salem is Tyr’s sole opportunity to be free of the Slayer’s curse. He kidnaps Arcona intent on breaking the curse and dragging Arcona into death with him, but their hard start quickly turns into something more complex and tender as old memories and motivations rush forward. For the first time in two thousand years Tyr begins to feel love again and his plans change drastically.
“I wouldn’t go that way if I were you,” he called out to her.
She turned. “Why?”
“It’s a dead end.” A sly smile crossed his face. “Unless you’re carrying a grappling hook and a climbing rope in your purse, you’ll never get over the eight-foot brick wall waiting for you around the corner.”
He lifted his hand into the air and slowly motioned for her to approach. “Come here.” His tone softened. “A beautiful woman really shouldn’t be walking alone at night; it’s not safe. You can take a shortcut through my bar and walk straight onto a lit street.”
She relaxed her tensed shoulders. There was something dangerously intriguing about this Nordic beauty that drew her toward him. “You own Slayers?”
“Yes.” A proud smile warmed his sharply chiseled features. “You’ve heard of Slayers? My name’s Varn.” He thrust his palm forward in greeting.
“Hello, Varn.” She was too nervous to grasp his hand. “Come inside and stay for a drink if you like.” “I thought Slayers was some sort of private gentlemen’s club?”
Varn’s brows arched. He laughed softly as if he were enjoying a private joke. “Slayers is a gentlemen’s club by nature, not by choice. We’d welcome the privilege of entertaining an attractive female patron.” His eyes glittered in the darkness, almost as if they were casting their own light. “By the way, I’m not sure it’s accurate to describe us as gentlemen.”
He looked intense but seemed good-tempered. She silently admitted it was a heady thrill to have such a striking, semidangerous-looking man flirting with her. She loved the whole underworld attraction of ultratough guys but had never found one she could actually trust and relate to; most were just trouble, plain and simple.
A cool breeze funneled through the alleyway and blew Varn’s long hair away from his steep cheekbones. This guy sure looked like a big, burly bushel of trouble. His knuckles were raw with scars like he got in a fistfight every Saturday night, and won. Her imagination was really running away with her, but what the hell? He was just a bar owner in a touristy town, not a world-class mercenary, for God’s sake, though he certainly looked like one. The touch of danger called like a Siren’s song to her attention-starved libido.
“If you don’t mind, I think I will dart through.” God help, she was already thinking of staying for a drink and maybe more. Why rush back to an empty hotel room when a little fun might be had? She tried to be stealthy as she swept her gaze over Varn’s thick forearms. His sleeves were rolled up, and he didn’t seem the least bit bothered by the chill.
In her mind she cataloged each exciting detail, loving everything she saw. Solid, tough, and steely described Varn perfectly. How much would Jael love this guy’s icy good looks? A lot. She owed it to Jael to at least check this guy out.
Varn reached toward her and offered his hand a second time. “Be careful stepping over the crates. There are a couple of broken bottles. I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”
She took hold of his hand. His grip was iron, and his hands were heavily calloused.
Varn grabbed her around the waist and lifted her to his shoulders with an easy swoop.
She gasped in surprise as Varn effortlessly elevated her high above the crates and set her down gently at the threshold of Slayers’ back door.
He opened the door for her with a flourish. “After you.”
She breathlessly planted her boots on the ground. Men didn’t just pick her up and twirl her through the air every day, especially gorgeous ones in black silk shirts. This was a special thrill. What else could this guy do to make her heart race faster?
She felt a little shaky as she entered Slayers and immediately noted the building was chilly and dimly lit by old-fashioned kerosene lanterns. The scent of fresh-cut cedar hung in the air. Her first impression was Slayers felt like a men’s outdoor camping trip.
They walked down a narrow service hallway lined with wooden casks, dark cubicles, and storage closets, and past a small, candlelit room strewn with earthy red cushions and a curved lounge, before entering the main part of the bar.
Her gaze narrowed as she entered the room. The interior of Slayers was an odd, ultramacho ensemble of an old West saloon complete with a naked lady etched into an antique Parisian-style mirror hanging above the bar, a Viking longhouse with exposed wooden beams and dragons carved into the individual booths, and a military barrack embellished with Roman shields, medieval swords, weapons, and artillery shells of every description.
“Wow.” Every bizarre detail dazzled her. She couldn’t settle for long on a single thing. Slayers’ decor seemed to chronicle every great moment in warfare and mayhem. “Who’s your decorator?”
She began to worry she was barking up the wrong tree. When Varn had said gentlemen’s club, had he meant gay? This place definitely looked like it was a testosterone-drenched, chest-thumping, dick-swinging, war-craft-loving, all-male celebration, no-pink-panty zone.
A few of Slayers’ patrons sat in dark booths quietly playing cards and drinking from an eclectic selection of pewter-topped beer steins or wooden tankards. The rough- faced men casually looked up at her before returning their full attention to the card game.
There seemed to be a lot of combat boots and leather worn in this place along with steel rivets and fur. The whole place looked a little too Road Warrior, even for her tastes.
Varn leaned close to her ear. “Would you like a Humpen?” His deep voice sent thrilling shivers up her spine.
“Would I like what?” she asked in alarm.
Varn pointed toward a row of polished stoneware beer mugs lined up on the bar. He walked toward the bar, picked up a chunky mug, and began to draw a trickle of rich black beer from a keg. “A Humpen is a half-liter beer stein.”
His gaze dropped toward the dark, liquid filling the mug. “This is Slayers’ signature brew. It’s an ancient recipe and the only brew we drink. You can’t get it anywhere else. I want you to try it and tell me what you think.”
He handed Arcona the weighty mug with a tall head sloshing over the rim.
She accepted the drippy mug and fought the impulse to wipe her wet fingers on her pant legs. “Thank you.” She hoisted the mug in a toast. “To Slayers.” She paused before taking the first sip. “Are you going to drink?”
A dreamy, sexy expression briefly crossed Varn’s face. “I’ll drink later.”