Edited by Jeni Chappelle jenichappelle.com


ASTA is heir to the High Priestess of ancient Santorini, where sex is the highest form of prayer to the Goddess. And the islanders love to pray. When she meets flirtatious foreigner, KYAN, she can't turn down an alluring sunset picnic on the beach. But her virginity is on reserve for a sacred ritual, so after she gets her first kiss—and it’s knee-weakening—she says goodbye and means it.

When the Gods deliver Kyan back into her life, Asta struggles to remember why he's off limits, even though it feels she’s known him for lifetimes. A refugee from uncivilized Thrake would never be welcome at the temple so they rendezvous covertly. Often. And Kyan shows her why that form of prayer is the highest.

Their secret is exposed when an earthquake devastates much of the city and Kyan emerges from her bedroom. Asta’s mother, channeling the Goddess, says the disasters will continue unless they sacrifice Kyan’s life. Asta must outwit Her divine anger to rescue her soulmate—without jeopardizing the lives of her family and her people.

KISS OF WINE AND POPPIES is a 96,000-word adult historical romance with alternating points of view. It combines the passion of Outlander’s Jamie and Claire and the capricious magical realism of Philippa Gregory's My Lady of the Rivers, sprinkled over the sun-kissed Greek isles. After at least 20 years of research into ancient religions and the Minoan culture, I’ve brought these Bronze Age characters alive with modern voices, since many of their struggles are timeless.

Thanks for your consideration,

MJ Marshall


First Five Pages:

Chapter 1 ASTA

One of the hundreds of sweaty people in the marketplace elbowed me in the back and knocked the crudely-formed, clay goddess statuette out of my hands. I winced but kept smiling. An afternoon free of my duties was precious. I couldn’t remember the last time it’d happened, and I reveled in it.

“I hope the real Goddess doesn’t look like this." I scooped up the figurine and waggled Her under the pouty frown of my cousin, Julla.

“Asta, sometimes I wonder if your mother chose the right Descendant to be her heir.” Julla lifted one delicate eyebrow but reverently touched the votive before setting it back on the cart. “How can you be so blasphemous?”

Her well-aimed thrust hurt more than the elbow. We both knew my mother had only chosen me by default when my older sister had run off with a refugee fisherman six summers earlier. But that’s not what Julla was really angry about.

Reminding myself that the single goal of the shopping excursion was to soothe her, I softened my voice. “You know the Rites don’t mean anything.”

“They do to me.” She glared at me, hands on hips, her face in mine. “I hope one day you know what it’s like to fall in love and have your man ripped from your arms.”

“That’s not fair, and you know it. I never asked for Ikanos to partner me.”

And I was thoroughly sick of hearing about it. She’d spoken of nothing else for the past moon, and my stars—I missed the conversations I’d shared with my best friend before my mother decided to teach her a lesson.

I pointed my stubby-nailed finger at her chest. “If you two weren’t so—”

“In love?” Her chin quivered, and concern blew away my indignation.

My mouth clamped shut for half a second. But I was rotten at remaining quiet when I ought to. “Exclusive. We’re not like regular women.”

Priestesses at the House of the Ladies enjoyed men and shared rituals with them. They didn’t form long-term relationships with them, turn down other men for them, or fall in love with them.

But my cousin had, and now she was being punished for it. And since no one dared to argue with my mother, Julla let all her aggravation fall on my shoulders. Her chest rose and fell like a bellow. Mine too.

With a sob, she spun around and stormed into the sea of people.

Raising my palms, I spoke to the air. “You can have him back afterward. It’s only sex.”

I vowed to track her down and offer a peacemaking skin of wine. Unwatered, as the situation called for. After all, making her understand and accept—and submit to—my mother’s will was the only reason I had for being away from my duties.

And I intended to enjoy every moment of the daylight, free.

I dove into the crowd after her, pulling up short as a tall man with golden hair wove past me through the jostling elbows and chattering shoppers. I shuffled back a step or two and almost got caught in the tide of bodies. This stranger—and there weren’t many in Akrotiri—sort of resembled the two westerners my mother had enticed to visit and discuss trade with a few moons before. Their hair and skin was lighter than mine but not as vibrant as this man’s. Why was another foreigner here, and how did the Ladies not know about it?

On tiptoes, I scanned the crowd to find him and twisted sideways to scoot through the throng. His hair was wavy and not oiled like the local men’s. That held its own charm, but the color was remarkable, as gold as the amber beads I wore at my wrists and throat. It was short—just past his collarbone, maybe—and pulled back with a leather tie. Draped over broad shoulders, a sack and a colorless tunic that was once virgin wool was now faded to an unremarkable gray.

Mama hated when newcomers came to Akrotiri, preferring to employ only Keftan ships to trade our goods. But as our harbor got more business, the likelihood grew that outsiders would bring their distasteful foreign ways—and gods—with them. She made the effort to control entrance into the city, even if she couldn’t keep foreigners out of our harbor.

But this stranger didn’t appear threatening. He was tall and sleekly muscled with a relaxed, loose gait. He whistled a tune I didn’t know, and captivated, I strained my ears to hear it better. His whistling grew louder as he walked down the less congested streets—right into the residential area, as if he belonged there—and his steps beat a lighthearted rhythm. His thin, leather sandals were desperate for new soles.

I frowned. The few foreigners who could afford to travel to the island of Thera were ostentatious, their clothes and accessories of the highest quality. Otherwise Mama would write them off as interlopers and forbid them entrance to her city.

He turned down a smaller alley, and I clucked my tongue against my teeth. Should I follow? The skirt of his tunic rose dangerously high with each step, and I decided: yes. The sun cast an inviting sheen on the city streets as I walked close to the buildings so the man wouldn’t notice me. Every once in a while, he’d stop and touch a fancy design on the ashlar walls, his fingers tracing outlines of the painted patterns. I’d step into a shadow and hold my breath, but he didn’t pay me any mind.

He sauntered down a third street when the sound of bare feet pounded on the brick road. A whoosh of air nearly knocked me down, and a blur of two young boys—ten or eleven summers, maybe—raced up to him. One got in the yellow-haired man’s face, flailing his arms and legs as the man shouted in a language I couldn’t understand. The other, behind the foreigner, sliced the strap of his bag with a knife.

“You maloumnik assholes!” He tripped over the boy, who ran down the streets with his friend. On the cobblestones, the man shook his fist.

Without thinking, I took off after the boys as they raced around a corner. No one robbed a visitor to my city. Knowing I pursued them, they split up, but I followed the one with the bag, its strap trailing behind like a long, bobbing ribbon.

We turned another corner. I reached out for the strap, leaning forward to catch it, and it fell from his hands to the street with a clatter. The boy’s eyes opened wide. He pushed down a woman-sized clay pot full of ashes from a communal kitchen. The pot broke into a thousand pieces, and a puff of black air rose all around me.

I skidded in the dust and fell, smacking my rear on the stone street. The cloud of ash caught in my eyes and lungs, and I coughed like I might choke to death.

Sandals raced up behind me. Two strong hands lifted me under my arms.

“Poseda wept, you got my bag—thank you so much.” His enthusiastic pleasantries stopped with a burst of laughter.

I sputtered some more and waved the ashes from the air so I could see what was so amusing.

Face to face with my prey, he had me at a disadvantage. He pursed his full lips in an obvious attempt not to laugh. At me. Shifting his weight, he took the bag from my hands, his eyes not leaving mine. I caught my breath hard, triggering another coughing fit. Trying to be kind, he thumped my back too hard and rattled my teeth.

Not sure what to say, I blinked up at him under my lashes. I’d never seen such a handsome face in my life. It softened with confusion, and his eyes darkened. Then he choked on a laugh, covering his mouth with his knuckles.

This morning my tunic was bright and yellow, but now it was black with soot. Horrified, I rubbed the ash and dirtied my hands too.

“You’re making it worse. I have something. Wait—” He dug through his bag and pulled out a ratty, blue cloth.

I tried to swallow, but my throat was too thick from dust . . . or nerves. Blue eyes were rare enough in Akrotiri to cause comment, and his weren’t the gray-blue I’d seen on some foreigners. They were a dark, lapis color that would have made a plain face extraordinary. And nothing was plain about this face.

Everything inside me trembled as heat rose on my skin. I held my filthy hands out for the cloth. He dipped it in a barrel of water outside of the kitchen in case of fires, dabbed my cheeks and forehead, and gently used his little finger around the edges of my eyes and lips.

“There. Now I can see your face.” His voice was softer, with a hint of an accent I couldn’t place. “I can’t believe you did that.”

Shaking my head, I tried to tear my eyes from his and, unable, laughed a little. “Me either. But it happened so fast.”

His golden head nodded and cocked to the side. “You followed me.”

My chin dipped low, and I stared at my hands. I opened my mouth to explain, but no words came out.

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I'm not normally a romance kinda girl, but this one's got me hooked. Great work, MJ!
Written on Tue, 23 May 2017 22:15:40 by Raimey Gallant