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A Marriage of Convenience

I’ve always enjoyed reading a marriage of convenience romance. This type of book is familiar and comforting and popular with readers like me. Since I snap up books using this premise, a marriage of convenience plot was the obvious choice when I decided to write my own historical romances. I’ve written two so far—The Spurned Viscountess and Mistress of Merrivale, which both feature this trope.

So what is a marriage of convenience? What are the characteristics of this type of plot?

In times past, love didn’t come into the marriage equation. Parents arranged marriages for their offspring, searching for the links that would bring land, finance and added prestige into the family. Marriage was all about connections and improving your lot in life.

For the romance writer, this is conflict served up on a platter. The hero and heroine start their marriage knowing little about each other, yet since they’re married there is no barrier to those hot sex scenes. The layers of the characters are peeled away as they struggle to find their place in the relationship and, because this is a romance, love.

Modern day marriage of convenience stories are harder to pull off, mainly because times have changed and sex before marriage is common. The modern way is to marry for love, and we generally choose our partners, rather than letting our parents do it for us.

The modern-day couple might marry for more practical reasons such as sealing a contract, securing an inheritance or to perpetrate a pretense of some sort.

If a child is involved, two people might marry to provide that child with a home and safety. Sometimes money comes into the decision, but immigration to allow one half of a couple to enter the country is a modern twist. The need for protection or the insistent tick-tock of a biological clock might persuade a heroine into marriage or even the modern version of mail-order—meeting someone on the internet.

These stories bring inherent conflict because the characters aren’t in love and they don’t have to pretend they’re head over heels for each other. The getting-to-know each other stage of the relationship becomes the conflict. Sexual relations are sometimes part of the deal and sometimes not, and the greater intimacy comes with time.

Mistress of MerrivaleIn Mistress of Merrivale, Jocelyn Townsend is a mistress to a titled man. When her protector no longer requires her services, she is desperate to find a replacement in order to keep her mother safe. Leo Sherbourne requires a wife to warm his bed, keep his house in order and to look after his young daughter. They agree that a marriage of convenience will work well between and that—in the spirit of a good romance—is when all their problems begin.

Here’s the blurb:

A marriage of convenience…full of inconvenient secrets.

Jocelyn Townsend’s life as a courtesan bears no resemblance to the life she envisioned in girlish dreams. But it allows her and her eccentric mother to live in relative security—until her protector marries and no longer requires her services.

Desperate to find a new benefactor, one kind enough to accept her mother’s increasingly mad flights of fancy, Jocelyn is nearly overwhelmed with uncertainty when a lifeline comes from an unexpected source.

Leo Sherbourne’s requirements for a wife are few. She must mother his young daughter, run his household, and warm his bed. All in a calm, dignified manner with a full measure of common sense. After his late wife’s histrionics and infidelity, he craves a simpler, quieter life.

As they embark on their arrangement, Leo and Jocelyn discover an attraction that heats their bedroom and a mutual admiration that warms their days. But it isn’t long before gossip regarding the fate of Leo’s first wife, and his frequent, unexplained absences, make Jocelyn wonder if the secrets of Merrivale Manor are rooted in murder…

Warning: Contains mysterious incidents, a mad mother who screeches without provocation, scheming relatives, and a captivating husband who blows scorching hot and suspiciously cold. All is not as it seems…and isn’t that delicious?

What do you think of the marriage of convenience trope?

The Lure of Body Parts

Body language is a fascinating subject and a writer can do a lot with their characters in this respect. I’ve read a few books on the subject, and I always enjoy the TV program Lie To Me, which uses body language as a focal point for the show.

The Definitive Book of Body Language by Barbara Pease has a section on the things men and women first notice about prospective partners.

Male Torso

When men look at a woman they’re generally attracted to certain parts of the anatomy—the butt, breasts or legs. And believe it or not, this attraction is all tied up with reproduction.

So here’s the low down on each choice:

Butts – men find rounded, peach-shaped buttocks the most attractive. Female primates display their buttocks when they’re ready to mate. It shows they are receptive and available. Human females display their butts all the time, and this gives males the impression she’s available. Women also store fat in their buttocks for breastfeeding and as an emergency food storage in lean times. Note to self – remember this when complaining about current butt size!

Breasts—they serve as a sexual signal. Men are attracted to cleavage.

Legs—long legs are a non-verbal signal telling males that a woman is sexually mature and capable of childbearing. Men like women who wear high-heels because it gives the illusion of fertile looking legs.

When we women look at male body parts a sexual response is triggered in us too. Here’s the low down from the feminine prospective:

We like chests—a wide chest tapering to narrow hips allows a man to lug heavy weapons for long distances and to carry home their kills. Always handy, I think!

We like small, tight butts—a tight, muscular butt is necessary to make a strong forward thrust that’s needed for sperm transfer during sex. A man with a flabby butt has problems with this and tends to throw his entire body into the thrust, which isn’t comfortable for his partner.

We also like hips and muscular legs. They’re symbols of masculine power and endurance. Long, muscular legs allow a man to run swiftly, chase and hunt. Ladies like a man who can provide for them.

Interesting stuff, isn’t it? I tend to check out a man’s butt—don’t tell hubby. I had no idea I was thinking about forward thrusting. Really! No idea at all…

If you’re looking at a person of the opposite sex, which part do you check out first?

A Field Guide to Dragons

Thursday Thirteen

Dragons were a popular subject with scholars, especially Victorian ones. They took on the task of cataloguing dragons.

The categories are as follows:

1. The Wyvern:

The name orginates from the Saxon word wivere or serpent. Its large body coiled, it had eagle’s legs and huge wings. Feared for its vicious nature and the pestilence it carried to northern Europe, Greece and Ethiopia.

2. The Amphiptere:

A legless, winged serpent found along the banks of the Nile and in Arabia. They are known to guard frankincense bearing trees, causing a threat to those who wished to harvest the resin.

3. The Heraldic Dragon:

Widespread and formidable, this dragon has massive fangs, four clawed legs and a ridge of sharp spines that stretch from nose to stinging tail.

4. The Guivre:

Wingless and legless, it has a massive dragon head, horns and a beard. They live in forests and wells and near water.

5. The Lindworm:

Has a serpentine body with one pair of legs. It is flightless

6. Cave Dweller:

Dragons like the dark, coldness of caves. They were private and easily defended. Caves close to towns (and food) are best.

7. Mountain Predators:

The elevation of mountains allows a dragon to spy on their prey and swoop down without warning. Their inaccessibility offers safety.

8. Aquatic Denizens:

These dragons live in seas, rivers and lakes and dine on fish and unlucky fishermen and sailors. The water allows them to approach towns and food sources undetected.

9. Swamp Beasts:

They live in marshes and swamps, some of which are rumored to be bottomless. The swamps are cold during the summer and don’t freeze in winter.

10. Celestial Guardians:

These dragons protected the heavens and also the mansions of the gods. These dragons have five claws instead of the normal four.

11. Treasure Keepers:

Subterranean dragons are responsible for all the precious jewels and metals buried in the earth. Each of these dragons owned a pearl, which reputably multiplied whatever it touched.

12. Weathermakers:

These spiritual dragons governed the wind, clouds and rain. They floated across the sky and the locals took care to appease them in case they took offence and created bad weather.

13. River Lords:

Earth dragons determined the course of the rivers. They regulated their flow and maintained their banks. Every river in China had an earth dragon that controlled the waters.

Source: The Enchanted World: Dragons

Which dragon would you prefer to meet?

Horses and Captured & Seduced

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We always had horses when I was a child growing up on a farm. My father bred horses for polo and purchased a thoroughbred stallion for this purpose. The horse’s official name was Grey Cavalier and as the name suggests, he was a blue/grey. My father used to take us to the thoroughbred yearling sales, and we’d sit there quiet as anything, frightened to move in case we purchased a horse during the auction by mistake.

The breeding and pedigrees of the thoroughbreds fascinated me, and I used to study the sale catalogues and the family trees of each yearling. All thoroughbreds originate from three stallions, which were brought into England and bred with larger British mares. The stallions were the Byerly Turk, the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Barb, and all thoroughbred horses have one of these three stallions in their pedigree.

Later on, when I started going out with my husband, he and his father were part owners of a race horse called Paul’s Gold. As a result I attended the races quite often and cheered on Paul’s Gold. She won lots of races and was eventually sold as a broodmare.

Fast forward a few years—well, quite a few, actually—and I was in the planning stages of a sci-fi/paranormal romance. I wanted an Earth heroine and an alien hero, but I struggled to find a way for them to meet. I didn’t want your basic kidnapping, so I needed to decide on a reason for the hero to capture and kidnap the heroine. Suddenly, inspiration struck. I decided to make my heroine a jockey and my hero in need of someone to train his hell-horse for a special race called the Dowry Derby.

Of course, my alien horses are very different from Earth horses, and Camryn, my heroine, has a big challenge in store for her if she wants to train a hell-horse ready for the race. The aliens have promised to return her home, but only if she helps them win the race.

Here’s the blurb for Captured & Seduced:

A shapeshifter and a wizard slugging it out, an alien world and a hell-horse…

Jockey Camryn O’Sullivan is an alcoholic on a downward spiral after the death of her husband. When aliens kidnap her, she’s both terrified and reluctantly fascinated by Ryman Coppersmith. She’s positive the weird attraction to her abductor is an anomaly. Something to ignore. She’ll train the aliens’ horse and they’ll return her home. Simple. There’s no need for sex or a stubborn male kitty-cat to replace the precious memories of her husband.

Murder. Betrayal. Banishment.

Feline shapeshifter Ry has experienced treachery of the worst kind. When his foster brother—the man who betrayed him—proposes a wager on a hell-horse race, the lure to clear his name is irresistible.

Camryn’s arrival triggers a jump in his already overactive sex drive. It’s a struggle to keep his hands off his beautiful captive. Something in his mysterious feline background compels him to chase her and the passion firing between them soars out of control. Ry doesn’t understand the mechanics of their attraction but knows he can’t afford to lose Camryn…despite his promise to return her home.

To learn more or read an excerpt visit the book page for Captured & Seduced.

Have you been to the races before? Did you want to have a pony when you were growing up? And did you read books about ponies? (I sure did!)

It’s Bedlam!

Bedlam!

According to www.dictionary.reference.com bedlam is a scene or state of wild uproar and confusion. Synonyms for bedlam include disorder, tumult, chaos, clamor, turmoil, commotion, and pandemonium. If someone says, “The place was bedlam!” we know there was trouble and a lot of confusion.

But there’s more to the word.

Bedlam originated as a common and popular name for the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem in London. The hospital was a lunatic asylum and many families left relatives there in order to hide them. It was also a place where husbands could leave wives who had become inconvenient, since it was widely known that women of the time were mentally unstable. Thank goodness times have changed!

The patients were chained to walls and posts and conditions were terrible. During the 18th century, in an effort to raise funds for the hospital, anyone with the price of admission could enter the hospital and visit the patients. Originally it was expected that the visitors would help the hospital raise money and bring food for the patients. That didn’t happen as the visitors treated the patients like a sideshow. They laughed and jeered, poked and teased the patients and threw things at them, inciting them to acts of madness. Bedlam was part of the tourist trail and these visits continued from 1720 – 1770.

Mistress of MerrivaleIn Mistress of Merrivale, Jocelyn, the heroine resists her sisters’ attempts to place their mother in Bedlam. She hates to think of her mother in a place like this and makes a point of looking after her parent. As one of the conditions of her arranged marriage with Leo Sherbourne, she insists he give her mother a home with them.

Elizabeth Townsend is spared from residing at Bedlam.

Bedlam was a tourist site during the 18th century. If you were to visit London either during the 18th century or now, which tourist site would be on your to-do list?

Fun at the Frost Fair

Let’s travel back in time…

Imagine yourself in England—London, to be precise. It’s almost Christmas or Yule, and it’s cold. There’s an air of excitement because the Thames has frozen over. Traders are rubbing their hands together. Local residents are anxiously watching proceedings. Children are gleeful because if the cold snap continues, the ice will be thick enough for a Frost Fair.

So what is a Frost Fair? Here’s the scoop. The old London Bridge caused the water to run slowly and during cold conditions the water froze, sometimes for months. When the ice was thick enough to support weight, the frozen Thames became a playground. Locals played games and skated on the ice. Local traders set up booths and the crowds flocked to the Thames to join in the festivities.

I write historical romances set during the 18th century, a little before the official Regency period. If the characters from The Spurned Viscountess and Mistress of Merrivale were to travel to London for the Yule season they might go shopping for trinkets and gifts to give their loved ones.

The Thames froze over during these years in the 18th century: 1709, 1716, 1740, 1768 (a little frozen), 1776, 1785 (a little frozen), 1788, 1795. Source~Wikipedia.

So let’s get back to the fun.

Jocelyn and Leo Townsend from Mistress of Merrivale are strolling on the ice. Leo has his daughter’s hand firmly in his grasp. Cassie’s eyes are wide as she gazes at a juggler. Then a puppet show grabs her attention. Jocelyn laughs and together, she and Cassie drag Leo over to join the crowd.

Once the show finishes, they visit a ribbon seller. Jocelyn buys several ribbons to give as gifts and lets Cassie choose one for herself. Cassie picks a scarlet ribbon and insists that Jocelyn tie it in her hair immediately.

Leo buys cups of hot cider and slices of spicy gingerbread. They meander through the crowds and pause to watch some acrobats. A roar comes from across the way, an animalistic growl and a louder shriek. Jocelyn takes on quick look in that direction and urges Cassie to move on to see the sailing ship, stuck firmly in the middle of the ice. There’s no need for Cassie to catch a glimpse of the bear baiting.

The scent of cooking meat fills the air while men and women shout of their wares. “Hot beef here!”

“Oranges! Oranges!”

“Buy Frost Fair prints here!”

Occasionally, the ice creaks. A group of children jeer at a hunchback while three young maids giggle and clap at the antics of a strolling minstrel.

The hour grows late, and Leo, Jocelyn and Cassie make their way to their carriage. Cassie goes to sleep on the way home while Jocelyn cuddles against her husband’s side. His hand rests on her rounded stomach, and they both laugh softly when their baby kicks. A family outing to the Frost Fair ends with love and a snatched kiss just before the footmen opens the carriage door, and Leo hustles them inside out of the cold.

Note: The last Frost Fair took place during the winter of 1813-1814 when the ice was thick enough to lead an elephant across the river near Blackfriars Bridge. New innovation during the Victorian era increased the flow of the river and ended the entertainment known as the Frost Fair.

Sources: London by Peter Ackroyd, Georgian London, Into the Streets by Lucy Inglis and Daily Life in 18th Century England by Kirstin Olsen.

Mistress of MerrivaleMeet Jocelyn and Leo in Mistress of Merrivale – order at Amazon http://amzn.to/1eW93rW

Jocelyn Townsend’s life as a courtesan bears no resemblance to the life she envisioned in girlish dreams. But it allows her and her eccentric mother to live in relative security—until her protector marries and no longer requires her services.

Desperate to find a new benefactor, one kind enough to accept her mother’s increasingly mad flights of fancy, Jocelyn is nearly overwhelmed with uncertainty when a lifeline comes from an unexpected source.

Leo Sherbourne’s requirements for a wife are few. She must mother his young daughter, run his household, and warm his bed. All in a calm, dignified manner with a full measure of common sense. After his late wife’s histrionics and infidelity, he craves a simpler, quieter life.

As they embark on their arrangement, Leo and Jocelyn discover an attraction that heats their bedroom and a mutual admiration that warms their days. But it isn’t long before gossip regarding the fate of Leo’s first wife, and his frequent, unexplained absences, make Jocelyn wonder if the secrets of Merrivale Manor are rooted in murder…

Warning: Contains mysterious incidents, a mad mother who screeches without provocation, scheming relatives, and a captivating husband who blows scorching hot and suspiciously cold. All is not as it seems…and isn’t that delicious?

13 Facts About Dragons

Thursday Thirteen

I’ve been in a dragon frame of mind recently, and I’m excited to be part of the Flight of Dragons box set, which came out this week. In honor of the release, my TT this week is about dragons.

Thirteen Facts About Dragons

1. Dragons can be grouped into three groups: Earth dragons, Water dragons and Fire Dragons.

2. Dragons are warm-blooded creatures since they control their body temperatures internally. They are not dependent on the sun in the same way as other reptiles.

3. Dragons live for a long time and are more likely to die from an accident than old age.

4. Dragons prefer a natural environment rather than cities filled with pollution.

5. Dragons are the largest known flying creatures.

6. Dragon bodies are covered with tough, shiny scales. They can make them stand on end if they want to preen or groom themselves.

7. Dragons are fastidious and take care to keep skin and scales immaculate.

8. Dragon colors come in three broad color groupings. Blue – ranging from mother-of-pearl and silver to dark blue. Red – copper red to dark red and reddish black. Green – every shade of green, yellow, dark brown and burnished gold.

9. The dragon father or king is the head of the family and other dragons pledge their allegiance. He adjudicates in disputes.

10. Water dragons live in salt and fresh water and are extremely agile in the water.

11. According to legend, water dragons only eat human virgins and if they can’t find suitable food, they suffer excruciating indigestion, which can lead to death. This dietary need has contributed to their dwindling numbers.

12. Dragons are skilled in the art of magic. They also have a love of music and possess an excellent sense of rhythm. A dragon’s voice has a bewitching effect on humans.

13. Dragons love treasure and acquire valuables through fair means or foul.

Flight of Dragons

Flight of Dragons is available for 99c for a limited time from all online retailers. Grab your copy today!

Read an excerpt of Blue Moon Dragon, my contribution here.

Soruce: The Book of the Dragon by Ciruelo

Artist Trading Cards: Tiny Masterpieces

Charlotte Dixon, the heroine of One Night of Misbehavior is interested in design, and before her grandmother became sick, Charlotte was studying to become a graphic designer. Charlotte and her grandmother try all sorts of crafts and Charlotte enjoys making artist trading cards.

So what is an artist trading card?

They’re original and small works of art on cardstock—the size of a playing card. The idea is to collect and trade with other artists. Here is a link to my Artist Trading Card board at Pinterest to give you an idea of the scope of the cards. http://pinterest.com/shelleymunro/artist-trading-cards/

Follow Shelley Munro: Author’s board Research: Artist Trading Cards on Pinterest.

At first Charlotte uses the ATCs as a way to express herself and play with different techniques, but when Ash Marlborough, the hero in One Night of Behavior offers Charlotte a job, she finds new applications for her hobby. She uses the idea as a part of an ad campaign for a motorcycle shop.

These days the trading cards are used by artists, people doing crafts and more recently, authors have printed ATCs to use for promotional purposes. http://romancetradingcards.com/

If you’d like to try making your own artist trading cards visit this site for some helpful hints and instructions. http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Artist-Trading-Cards

One Night of MisbehaviorOne Night of Misbehavior by Shelley Munro

He wears his scars on the outside. She keeps hers safe inside.

Charlotte Dixon ignores her stepmother’s edict and, in an act of disobedience, attends one of the social events of the year—a masquerade costume ball. Charlotte’s naughtiness escalates when she dances and smooches with a sexy mystery man. The night of anonymous passion that follows makes her yearn for a different life, but the next day she’s back to her dull routine of household management.

Advertising tycoon, Ash Marlborough is about to set a private investigator on the trail of his nameless princess when she waltzes right into his place of work. Charlotte is shocked to meet her masked man in the flesh, and even more perturbed when he asks her out on a date. Despite craving another night of sexy loving, she doesn’t have time for a man, not when she wants to reinvent herself and grasp a new, improved life with both hands. But Ash knows what he wants, and he’s determined to win the heart of his princess. Let the dance of seduction commence.

Warning: Contains a conniving stepmother, selfish stepsisters, a grandmother with fairy godmother tendencies and a sexy masked man who is willing to face them all for the love of a good woman.

A Black Cat Crossed the Road

Cats

What do you think when you see a black cat?

Do you mutter about superstitions and run screaming in the opposite direction or do you rub your hands together and watch approvingly while the black cat prowls past?

Is a black cat good luck or bad luck? I decided to research the subject for a definitive answer. Detective Shelley is on the case!

In Egypt all cats, including black ones, were held in high regard. Laws protected cats and when a pet died, the entire family would mourn. Both rich and poor families embalmed their deceased pets. Archaeologists have discovered entire pet cemeteries with mummified black cats fairly commonplace.

Fast forward in time to the Middle Ages. Cats overpopulated all the major cities. Any woman who owned or fed a stray black cat ran the risk of accusations of witchcraft.

Throughout history, black cats are blamed for causing disasters ranging from blasphemy to plague. Even today black cats get bad press and conjure up images of witchcraft and magic. Poe wrote about one, Hollywood makes movies and television series about them. Heck, even I write about them with my Middlemarch Mates series.

There are hundreds of superstitions associated with cats, probably because cats and humans have lived alongside each other for thousands of years. Let’s look at some of them.

A cat sneezing is a good omen for everyone who hears it. ~ Italian superstition.

If a cat washes behind its ears, rain is coming. ~ English superstition.

If a cat mews and appears cross, the ship and its passengers will have a hard voyage. ~ Sailor’s superstition.

A strange black cat on your porch brings prosperity. ~ Scottish superstition.

If you wash a cat, it will rain. ~ Indonesian/Malaysian superstition.

If you dream of a white cat, you’ll have good luck. ~ American superstition.

If you kill a cat, you’ll have seventeen years of bad luck. ~ Irish superstition.

In tasseography (tea-leaf reading) a cat signifies false friends and deceit or someone lying in ambush.

In the Netherlands cats were banned from rooms where private family discussions were taking place.

In Egypt it was thought the life-giving rays of the sun were kept in a cat’s eyes at night for safekeeping.

And of course during October, the silhouettes of black cats decorate many houses and shops for Halloween.

So what about black cats? Are they good or bad luck?

Well, it seems it depends on where you live in the world. For example in Britain and Japan having a black cat cross your path is considered good luck. If you live in the USA or in European countries you definitely don’t want a black cat strolling by because bad luck will surely follow. Now if you live in New Zealand, near the town of Middlemarch, seeing a black cat mightn’t be such a bad thing, especially if you’re a single girl looking for a man!

Note from Shelley: Look for My Scarlet Woman, book 1 in my Middlemarch Shifters series, which is coming soon. This is a reissue with some new content and brand new covers.

What do you think about black cats? Do you think they’re good luck or bad luck? Do you have any cat superstitions to add?

The Terrifying Taniwha

Flight of Dragons

I was brought up hearing tales from Maori mythology. Everyone in New Zealand knows of Maui who fished our country from the sea. One particular beast from the legends has always fascinated me, and that’s the taniwha.

The taniwha (pronounced tan-e-far) is a Maori monster, a ferocious beast that ate naughty children and devoured warriors and other hapless people who found themselves in the wrong place.

If I were to describe a taniwha to a non-New Zealander, I’d say they were a water dragon since many taniwha live in lakes, rivers and the sea. According to my research, they were often called lizards by the Maori people. In Maori mythology, lizards are symbols of death and the appearance of one is an ill omen. Our New Zealand lizards are small, but the idea of a large one inspired fear in everyone.

While most taniwha lived in water, some made their homes in caves or under mountains. Those earthquakes—caused by a taniwha! Some of the monsters could fly while others were capable of traveling underground. Some taniwha looked whale-like.

Local Maori tribes were able to appease taniwha with offerings of food, and they received protection in return. But the taniwha were known to turn on their benefactors if the food supply dwindled or wasn’t good quality. Beware the grumpy taniwha!

Occasionally a man or woman transformed into a taniwha after carrying out bad deeds. Sometimes the transformation happened due to bad luck.

Taniwha can talk, which makes for easy communication, although I understand their growls can be fearsome too. The other thing about taniwha is that they like to take human wives and aren’t above stealing them if the opportunity presents itself.

I used the legend of the taniwha in my dragon romance, Blue Moon Dragon, which is part of the Flight of Dragons box set. Flight of Dragons is available for pre-order and releases on 13 October.

Here’s the blurb:

On her 25th birthday Emma Montrose decides it’s time to show bad boy investigator, Jack Sullivan she’s more than an efficient secretary. She’s a woman with needs, and she wants him.

Jack is a taniwha, a shifter, who requires women to satiate the sexual demands of the serpent within. Nothing more. Then work forces the reluctant Jack and ecstatic Emma undercover as a couple. Thrown together, pretence and reality blur generating hot sex laced with risk…

Of course, I changed the legend to suit my story. Jack, my taniwha, is a private person and working with Emma pushes his buttons in a big way. He’s fighting both his own taniwha instincts and Emma’s enthusiasm. I fear he’s fighting a losing battle!

Source: Taniwha, Giants and Supernatural Creatures by AW Reed and Ross Calman