Release Date: Mar 26, 2009
Publisher: Changeling Press
Publisher Link: http://changelingpress.com/product.php?&upt=book&ubid=1124
Blurb: Cass is a gardener at a magical museum near Hot River. He takes loving care of all the trees and plants and is pleasantly surprised when Fidel, a Transcendent apple tree sprite, decides to show his appreciation. Cass quickly learns that Fidel is harder to resist than his favorite dessert. Since his Transcendence Ceremony, when he changed from an ordinary tree sprite to a shapeshifter, Fidel has stood silent and alone. Hurt by his former lover, he thought he'd never fall in love again, but Cass has lured him out of hiding. Cass finally believes he can put his dark past behind him and find a new life with Fidel. Then a killer begins stalking Transcendent sprites. Fidel suspects his old lover of the crimes and he and Cass must risk everything to stop him.
Each Transcendent tree sprite had a little sign posted near it with his name imprinted on it. Not that Cass needed signs anymore. They were for the tourists. Cass recognized each and every sprite, except for one.
A particular apple tree never changed to his human form. Cass sometimes wondered if he was a sprite at all, or just an ordinary apple tree. Not that it mattered. Cass loved all trees and had no problem with caring for this one, regardless of whether or not it shifted into a sprite.
At the moment Cass was standing on a ladder, picking fruit from that particular tree. Fidel was the name on the sign beside it. Fidel, a sturdy apple tree who bore the most delicious fruit on the premises.
Cass had spent all afternoon harvesting apples from Fidel. He didn't want the fruit to turn bad or the weight to burden the tree for too long. Even if he never changed to his human form, he deserved respect for the quality of the fruit he provided. So what if he didn't feel the need to so much as introduce himself after two years? After all, who was Cass, a simple human, to make a judgment on a noble sprite?
He paused a moment and gazed skyward. Dusk was setting in and Cass' stomach grumbled with hunger. "It's time for me to go home for dinner, Fidel," he said. "But I'll be back in the morning, after I do some weeding in the rose garden."
He reached for a large red apple and shined it on his shirt, then took a bite, loving the firmness of the fruit and the snap as his teeth sank into it. Sweetness filled his mouth and he took a moment to chew and swallow before climbing down the ladder.
Cass sat under Fidel and leaned his back against his trunk. He rested a moment while enjoying the apple. When he finished, he tossed the core in the trash bag in his pickup truck. Then he loaded the ladder and baskets of apples he'd picked onto the truck. Before going home he needed to drop off the apples at the museum café, where the cook would use them to create a variety of dishes. Cass intended to take some home too and make his favorite dessert, apple crisp.
A short time later, he was on the way home. To get there from the museum's main building, he needed to cut across the field where the fruit trees grew.
By now night had fallen, but the full moon made it easy to see. He noticed movement by Fidel. Silhouettes of two children stood by the tree. Cass saw the glint of a blade in the hand of one boy and he shouted, "Hey! Get away from that tree!"
He jumped out of the truck and ran toward the children, who fled. Cass prided himself on being very athletic and he had no doubts about catching the brats. No one destroyed museum property, especially these beautiful tree sprites. Not on his watch.
He'd nearly caught up to the children when a hand fell on his shoulder and dragged him backward.
Frustrated, Cass jerked away from his pursuer and turned sharply. "Get your hands off me!"
He would have continued, but shock stole his speech.
In front of him stood the most wildly gorgeous creature he'd ever seen. Well over six feet tall, with skin the same rich brown as bark and hair the same deep green as leaves, this tree sprite took Cass' breath away. The sprite's eyes were such vivid green that their color was noticeable even in the moonlight. Sleek muscles sculpted his rangy body. From his broad shoulders to his long, chiseled legs, he was sex appeal personified. He stood towering and half-naked, those vibrant eyes locked on Cass.
The gardener licked his lips, his heart beating fast from more than his recent sprint.
"Calm yourself," the sprite said in a deep, soothing voice. "They're only children."
"They wanted to defile you."
"I think they merely wanted to carve their initials in me."
"Doesn't that bother you?"
"It's something many trees must put up with."
"From humans who have no knowledge of magic maybe, but not from children who live along Hot River. They should know better." Cass' voice faded a bit and he closed his eyes momentarily. He was the last person who should make judgments about others. Not with all the terrible things he'd done in his past.
"Your reaction took me by surprise, Cass. You're usually gentle."
Cass' brow furrowed. "I'm sorry, but I don't recognize you. I thought I knew every sprite on museum property, but --"
"You do know me." The sprite smiled, his white teeth gleaming against his dark skin. "In fact you know me so well that you tasted my fruit just a short time ago."
Now Cass was really surprised, and thrilled. He smiled. "Fidel?"