by Jen Lawrence
When Shayla Aja comes back to the small town of Nyx to visit her grandma Ellie, she finds a lot has changed on the beekeeping farm—not only the house she spent endless summers in as a child, but Ellie herself has changed. And the reason seems to center entirely around Ellie’s new Apiary Manager, August.
August is infuriatingly attractive and shamelessly flirts with Shay—for no apparent reason other than to get under her skin. And the more she tries to get to know August, the more Shay is convinced she’s nothing more than a freeloader taking advantage of Ellie’s generous heart.
Their shaky start is layered with both suspicion and attraction, but when Shay experiences a magical incident at the local farmers’ market, something between them starts to shift. As Shay is forced to trust August with her big secret, they begin to open up to each other. As they reveal more about themselves and the life-altering events that brought them both to Ellie’s farm—they realize they might also have been brought to each other.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Though the world created in Guardian is unique, I've had a great time exploring different supernatural legends, folklore, and mythologies throughout human history when plotting the storylines in the Darke Universe.
In Fury, for example, I drew on one particular tale from ever-popular Greek mythology, and another is derived from the intriguing folklore and belief systems of West African cultures.
In the future, I aim to explore specific aspects of Mesoamerican mythos, Celtic folklore, as well as Norse mythology.
Of course the best part is integrating these into the fictional worlds of Lur Tristea and Lur Ederra, and adding a unique spin on them."
The first part of the book is an amazing treat if you love character development. Shay, August, and Ellie are drawn up honestly and lovingly. Beautiful work by the author, the interactions, the banter, the dynamics of body language. It’s all so good. Then in a heady rush, the author shifts gears and takes wild left turns. No details here because of spoilers but it’s a great ride involving action and sexy mains.
Fury does happen in the same universe as Guardian so there is a definite connection and a fantasy setting. You can read each one as a stand-alone or read both in any order. I’m totally in love with these worlds and hope more books are coming soon as well as audio.
Nutmeg - Jen Lawrence kept the fire slow and steady in the buildup of the relationship but midway through the book turned it into an inferno that can only be contained by the pair complementing and working for each other. The transformations of Shayla and August is a treat for fantasy lovers. Who wouldn't want to see characters that they adore not only be able to wield extraordinary powers, fight with a vengeance and see villains struck with fear with an unknown opponent? I’m looking forward to the next instalment to see all the well-loved characters and maybe new ones as well.
Della B. - Whoa. This was totally unexpected and a phenomenal read from start to finish. I could not put this book down. The writing is smart with exceptionally witty banter. August, one of the main characters, is adorable, sexy and I think I am a little in love with her. Please don’t tell Shay!
Lawrence has the ability to write moving and emotional scenes which grip your heart. She also has kick ass dialogue chops. The story being a satisfying blend of romance and fantasy will appeal to a range of readers. If you love both genres, this book is for you. If you want to expand or dip your toe into fantasy, then this book will be a gentle starter for you. For my enjoyment factor, hilarious banter and blended story, this is a definite 5 out of 5 star novel.
Cheryl W. - I found this book immensely entertaining and hard to put down. The first portion of the book is your normal romance with two very well written main characters. Both are charming and fun to be around even though each of them is suffering from a difficult past. There is plenty of back and forth with good witty banter. This book was a joy to read and I look forward to more fantasy from Jen Lawrence’s talented imagination.
Betty H. - This is a beautiful example of a truly great fantasy story set in a world that otherwise looks very normal to us humans.
Nyx seemed smaller each time she visited, this despite the clear development and expansion of the towns down Route 88. Shay had spent every summer there when she was younger. Had explored every nook and cranny. Had greeted every resident by name. She knew Nyx by heart, and her eyes darted over the shops down Main Street in search of any differences.
The butchery was in the same spot but the name had changed, and the grocery store had the same name, but it looked different in a way she couldn’t quite place. Maybe it was the font and colours of the items and prices listed on the storefront windows.
She had little time to puzzle it out, because though all the shops you needed to maintain a household were located on Main Street, it took about a minute to drive past them all, much of which was spent halting at stop signs.
At least the Black Bull looked the same. It marked the beginning or end of town, depending on which direction you travelled from. The large grey structure consisted of three floors—a pub restaurant at the bottom, bar and pool tables in the middle, and a nightclub up top that opened every other Saturday.
The year after high school graduation, Shay had perilously dangled over the top floor balcony. And far too many pictures and video clips of her seated on the massive metal bull statue out front, with droopy eyes and a sloppy grin, existed on social media and people’s devices.
The fond memories had her settling in the seat of her silver Volvo SUV and she softly smiled when the Old Lumber Factory came into view. The building had been out of operation for over fifty years, all of its windows neatly shattered, but it had become an unofficial historical landmark of sorts.
Nyx’s teenagers frequented the spot, doing the things not permitted under their parents’ roofs. Shay herself had spent many a summer night idling around a bonfire, picking up bad habits and making poor choices.
Every once in a while, a town official would check whether the building remained structurally sound, but no one yet had dared to advocate for its demolition. It was as much a part of Nyx as the pine forests that had grown back around it, and the farms that kept the little town going by supplying the abattoir and auction house with livestock.
Yellow grasslands and grazing cattle greeted her next and Shay was once again reminded that though the town centre was small, the farmlands surrounding it went on until they merged with the town boundary of Virgil, thirty miles northwest, and the city outskirts of Herschel, about ninety miles southeast.
A short distance from the lumber factory, she turned onto a dusty dirt road, tilting her head at the gravel that had been evened out, potholes filled, and the two rows of young pine trees lining the way. The cattle encampments on either side were covered in fields of bright yellow dandelions.
Distracted by the smooth drive, she was unprepared for the sight of the wood-built farmhouse standing as huge and stately as it had always been. A clear cedar exterior tastefully contrasted with an intersecting charcoal grey, gabled rooftop. Most notable were the large feature windows that made up most of the front and faced the main road about two miles back and the mountain peaks in the distance that cupped the valley.
The front yard showcased a neat flower garden that had been largely expanded upon since Shay’s last visit. Lush green lawns cupped the sides of the house, sectioned off by smooth whitewashed rocks. Giant oak trees surrounded the yard, casting shadows over patches of grass and pea gravel and extending into a thick crop of pine trees that stretched about a mile into the woods, separating the farm from the town.
Shay pulled up beneath the shade of a tree, parking beside an unfamiliar and new, red Ford pickup truck. Climbing out, a waft of heat knocked the breath right out of her lungs. After nearly three hours in the cool air-conditioned vehicle, she felt the heat that much worse.
Stretching her stiff muscles with a groan, she snorted at the sweaty bronze of her driver’s arm that contrasted with the cream-coloured, chaotically crinkled, mini-tiered sundress she wore. Her stomach gave an excited and anxious little swirl as she walked up the steps and stopped in front of the ornate oak door with its smooth cherry varnish. Bouncing on the balls of her feet, she knocked three times and waited impatiently, sweat dusting her brow. After receiving no answer, she tried the handle and found the door locked.
Frowning, she decided to check the back door and made her way around the side of the house, but stopped when she heard a loud electric buzzing sound coming from the direction of the shed.
Well, the sound came from where the shed had once stood. More a barn than a shed, which hardly mattered right then, because in its place, was a massive warehouse with an aluminium rooftop, like the ones in the industrial areas of major cities. It was made of concrete blocks, a regular door on its front, and six double garage doors down the side. The two in the centre stood wide open, revealing an area with grey rubber floors covered in sawdust. Above those doors was a large sign proclaiming, “Aunt Ellie’s Honey” with a smiling cartoon bee beside the lettering, holding a champagne flute filled with golden nectar.
Feeling as though she had stepped into an alternate universe, Shay walked her flip-flops across the pea gravel, up the cement entryway of the warehouse and came to a halt in the entrance. The buzzing was from a table saw where a tall and lean woman expertly ripped a two-by-four board through the blade.
She wore a black tank top and gloves, khaki cargo shorts, and a pair of beige slip-on safety boots. Sawdust was stuck in the thin hairs on her golden-brown arms and it clung to her shiny, muscular legs. The same light sprinkling of dust covered long wavy hair as black as Shay’s own, tied into a ponytail.
Most of the woman’s face was hidden behind a black mask that obscured her nose and mouth and a pair of transparent goggles that protected her eyes.
She must be an athlete, a sprinter most likely. And while Shay pondered the sport responsible for all that exquisite definition, the saw stopped, or rather, it had stopped at some point, because the woman was blinking at her from above her mask, goggles on top of her head.
Heat rose in Shay’s cheeks, the scent of wood wafted sharply up her nostrils and she fought the urge to sneeze.
The woman’s eyes were near black, no discernible pupils in the warehouse light, and she tilted her head at Shay, not saying a word.
“Have I walked onto the set of some lesbian porno?” Shay blurted with an awkward little chuckle that made her internally cringe. She tried to disguise her discomfort by wiping the sweat from her brow.
Shelves lined the walls from floor to ceiling, stacked with various-sized woodcuts, tools, and an assortment of beekeeping equipment. The space was stuffy and hot and she longed to be back in the shade of the oak trees.
The woman pulled down her mask, revealing a pair of full lips. Even with the goggle marks on her sweaty and dirty cheeks, Shay had to admit she was surprisingly attractive. And that was before she turned and picked up a pair of large, dark-rimmed spectacles that she placed on her pretty face.
“Do you know a lot about lesbian pornos?” the woman asked in a seemingly natural rasp.
Shay nearly rolled her eyes and adjusted her dress that uncomfortably clung to her skin, clammy from the walk over to the workshop. Her curly hair was a mess, knotted into what used to be a loose bun, and she had hardly checked what state she was in before leaving the car.
“Pfft, everyone, aficionados and critics alike, know how this scene plays out,” she said, shifting on her feet, a head shorter than the mysterious woman intently examining her, thick, perfectly shaped brows curiously knitted together.
“And how’s that?”
Her cheeks grew warmer, and she hoped her flushed state would be attributed to the heat. “Innocent woman’s car breaks down after a long journey. Hot and tired, she unassumingly wanders into the tall lumberjack’s workshop in search of aid.”
“Lumberjacks fix mechanical problems?”
“Porno lumberjacks fix whatever needs fixing.”
The woman nodded sagely and tilted her head to the other side. “Do you have a problem with your car?”
Shay huffed out a laugh. “No. I don’t.”
“A pity then.”
Shay lifted a brow, relaxing now that the woman hadn’t taken offence at her staring and inappropriate comments. “Are you new here? I wasn’t aware my grandmother had hired another person.”
“Oh, you’re Shayla?”
“You don’t photograph very well, do you?”
“It worked for you when you were a kid, but wow, photos really don’t adequately portray how very hot you are as a grown woman.”
Shay snorted, more heat implausibly spreading up her chest while she fought a grin. “I’m going to ignore that. Do you know where Mama Ellie is? I knocked at the house but there was no answer.”
“She’s probably asleep,” the woman said and lifted a gloved hand to look at one of those multi-sport GPS watches clasped to her wrist. “Yes, you caught her during her usual naptime. We weren’t expecting you until later.” She then took off her gloves and stuck out a hand. “I’m August.”
“You’re August?” Shay grasped the rough, calloused hand, and a shock, not exactly like static, but a strange yet pleasantly warm current, flowed between them.
They stared at their clasped hands before Shay ripped hers away, absently shaking it. August frowned at her own hand, then shoved her fists deep into the pockets of her shorts, shifting the hem down and revealing a generous sliver of toned, tanned stomach.
Shay cleared her throat, reflexively covering her own soft belly with her hand.
She had thought the “August” her grandmother had often mentioned over the past three years was a man—an older man who helped her out on the farm and around the house. One who Ellie might have been crushing on, considering how happy she seemed at his existence in her life. Even Shay’s parents had been taken in by August, elated that Ellie had someone to keep her company.
“My parents love you.”
August flashed a set of straight white teeth, perfect in a way that only a lifetime of visits to an excellent orthodontist could manufacture. “Are they not supposed to?”
Shay was aware of how strange her behaviour seemed, but her entire family had met and knew about August. They kept in contact with her. More in contact than Shay had been with any of them during the last few years, so much so that the fact that August was a disturbingly hot woman in her early thirties had never once come up.
Her stomach knotted painfully. “No, I’m sorry. Can I borrow a key to let myself into the house?”
August blatantly examined her for a long moment while Shay blindly stared at the shelves.
“I’ll let you in,” August finally said and moved past Shay toward the exit. “Wouldn’t want to miss Ellie’s reaction to your prodigal return.”
Shay glared at the tight muscles of August’s back. Maybe she had imagined the hint of bitterness in that statement, or maybe it was her own guilt bleeding through, but Shay quietly followed August back to her car, her mind racing a mile a minute. Because all Shay could wonder was what a woman like August was doing out in the middle of nowhere, seemingly best friends with an eighty-year-old lady.
She popped the trunk and heaved out a hardtop travelling case half her height, placing it on its four wheels before shouldering a massive duffel and her handbag and slamming the trunk shut.
“Uhm. I could, help…you?” August uncertainly offered, no doubt sensing the animosity rolling off Shay.
“I’ve got it,” she muttered and then remembered herself. “Thank you.”
August looked dubious but let them in the front door.
They entered the tinted glass antechamber, decorated with a variety of potted plants. Shay nearly moaned out loud at the cool air that hit her overheated flesh. Mama Ellie had finally upgraded to an air-conditioning system. During her entire journey to Nyx, she had dreaded the ceiling fans throughout the house that merely shifted the hot air from one spot to another.
Breathing easier, she dragged her luggage into the front hall and looked around the house that felt as familiar and strange as Nyx had. Her grandfather had crafted the doors and balustrades and built each and every cabinet and cupboard. The elaborate staircase that served as a centrepiece had been featured in a popular interior design magazine a few decades ago. The article had been framed and hung in her grandmother’s study.
Natural light flooded in from the windows and cast the interior in a golden glow. At night the inside lights created a similar, albeit softer, effect that had always reminded Shay of a vintage cathedral.
August neatly placed her boots and socks inside the coat closet and Shay kicked her flip-flops beneath the bench beside it, both of them continuing barefoot to the bottom of the stairs.
The house smelled the same. She hadn’t been there in seven years, hadn’t seen Ellie in over two, but that subtle scent of roses and smoky cedar made her heart expand with nostalgia while she stared at August’s long toes wriggling against the hardwood floors.
“Ellie prepared your room. You can place your things in there,” August said and attempted to lead her to the right of the staircase, but Shay took hold of the handle of her luggage case and started up the stairs.
“I’ll take my usual room,” she said, because she always slept in the guest room down the hall from the master, allowing Ellie to easily call her if she needed anything and because it gave her a perfect view of the pond out back.
August silently followed and Shay would have sent her a scathing look over her shoulder if she wasn’t certain that it would throw her off balance and send her tumbling down the steps, toppled by the weight of her luggage.
So focused on not falling, it took her a second to notice the unfamiliar alcove she found herself in when she stopped on the landing. It revealed an entryway reminiscent of an apartment’s front door in a fancy building complex.
Shay let go of her suitcase handle, dropped her duffel and handbag, and walked through the open door, halting on top of a plush white carpet that marked the centre of a very large room.
Light streamed in from the wall of floor-to-ceiling glass that revealed a wooden balcony decorated with potted plants. A maple table and two chairs looked out over the pond in the distance surrounded by green grass and weeping willow trees, the forest at the foot of a few rolling hilltops as a backdrop.
The view was even better than she remembered.
Light ash-wood floors matched the smooth finish of the timber trusses framing the ceiling, and clear cedar made up the platform headboard and side tables that framed a king-size bed. The space resembled a room at a five-star spa retreat, the only thing missing was a mint chocolate on the pillow of the pristinely made bed with its starched white duvet cover.
Was it not for an architect’s drafting table set up in the corner beside the windows, a comfy desk chair in front of it, and design papers strewn across the surface, she might not have known that someone lived there. A map of the farm was pasted on the wall above, with various penned and thumbtack demarcations on it.
Beside the desk was a table containing a microscope, a few stacks of petri dishes, insect trap catchers, clips, and empty glass jars and vials, all neatly lined against the wall and on the shelves of a small wooden rack. A whiteboard cluttered with scribbles was mounted to the wall above the table and a large calendar hung beside it, finishing off the workspace.
Shay couldn’t help it, mostly because it felt as though she had walked into an entirely different home, but she turned, taking in the rest of the apartment. The landing entrance was squared off by four white walls. Two hallways flanked the entryway. On one side, a bathroom with a set of open barn doors revealed a shower and a corner tub. And on the other side, another set of barn doors showed a walk-in closet with an organising system highlighting sets of clothes stacked and hung according to colour.
Shay’s feet carried her down the hallway past the closet and into an expansive living area. The space remained fairly similar to the rest of the house as her grandfather’s handiwork appeared untouched. A sunroom was set up above the downstairs antechamber and a white lounge set hugged an elevated stone fireplace.
On the other side of the room, four tall oak shelf cases filled a corner with an eclectic collection of books, and a light grey chaise lounge overlooked the dandelion fields and sun setting behind the mountain tops.
Ellie had never liked all the windows. She didn’t believe people should be able to see into one’s home, which was why Mpa Jake had compromised by having the windows downstairs open up over the front hall and hallways leading to the living room on one side of the house and the kitchen on the other side. In return, Mama Ellie had consented to the upstairs showcasing the feature windows the way he had intended them: to maximise the panoramic view of the Nyx Valley.
When Shay had last visited, a large entertainment room along with three bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, and a big study where Ellie had done most of her work, had covered the top floor of the house.
Spinning around, Shay’s gaze narrowed on August with her gorgeous and dirty face, leaning against the wall with a mounted flatscreen television. Her hands were shoved into her pockets, but she removed one and used two long fingers to press her glasses farther up the bridge of her nose, lips tilting amusedly. “Well, if you insist on staying up here, I like to sleep on the left side of the bed.”