The Match Disaster



Romance, Women’s Fiction
Published: March 2020
Publisher: Lulu

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This is a story about a middle-aged woman who recently got divorced and thought she was open to companionship. She was very apprehensive about opening her heart again after being hurt badly by her ex-husband. To her surprise, she met someone on Match.com that seemed like the man of her dreams. They had so much in common and really enjoyed each other’s company. He managed to convince her to be open to the possibility of falling in love again.

She ended up giving this man her heart only to find out that he wasn’t the man of her dreams at all. He wasn’t like her ex-husband but he had just as many issues. She found it difficult to be the woman that he needed her to be while not compromising her integrity and moral standards.

This story is told totally from her point of view. She is finally able to tell the love of her life everything that she wanted to say throughout their relationship. She is able to express her perspective on all the events that were occurring in their lives without feeling like she is being ungrateful for the good times but imagining the bad times.

She will take you through five years of her relationship. Will she figure out that she deserves so much better than how she was being treated? Or, will she talk herself into saving this relationship and giving her one true love another chance?





Excerpt

Chapter 1

We met on Match.com about a month after a short friendship with someone I met on ChristianMingle.com.  Although, that situation didn’t end well, I thought I would give online dating one more try and boy was I glad I did. I met you.  I was on Match.com one day and I noticed that you looked at my profile.  I decided to say hi to you through the Match.com app.  I was pretty shy about reaching out to guys that I didn’t know, but what did I have to lose?  The only thing that could happen was that you didn’t say hi back.  To my surprise you sent me a reply and it wasn’t just hi.  We began to talk and things got interesting pretty quickly.

Initially, I didn’t know how things would end up because you very blunt and to the point and I really wasn’t used to that.  I would ask you how your day was and you would respond, “It sucked.”  I thought to myself, this guy has a bleak outlook on life, but then one day when we were chatting online about your job, you made me laugh.  I said to myself, maybe he’s not so bad after all.  You actually had a sense of humor.

We talked frequently via the Match.com app for about 3 weeks.  We talked about how many children we had and their ages. Between the two of us, we had 4 boys.  You also told me that you had a daughter, that you raised, but she wasn’t biologically yours.  I really found that honorable.  You told me that your children lived with you, but it wasn’t because their mother passed away.  This also impressed me.  It definitely wasn’t as common for the man to have full custody of his children.  You asked me about my ex-husband and if he was involved in my children’s life.  At the time he wasn’t and you were very upset by that.  You just couldn’t understand why he wasn’t an active participant in the children’s life.  I had some of the same thoughts, so this was a sensitive subject for me.

One day we were chatting on the Match.com app and you told me that you had many more stories to tell me about work and the horrors of online dating, but they would be easier to tell me over the phone.  I figured that was your way of hinting that you wanted my phone number, so I finally gave it to you.  I remember the first time you texted me, I responded and then asked who I was talking to.  You responded, “It’s Thomas.  Didn’t your mama teach you not to talk to strangers.”  That made me laugh.  I liked that you made me laugh.  We progressed from texting to talking on the phone, but it took about a week.  During our first call, you explained why you took so long to call me.  You told me that you had been sick and you didn’t want me to hear your voice like that.  Our very first conversation lasted for over 2 hours.

You told me so many stories about the horrific experiences you had with online dating.  They were so funny but disturbing at the same time.  It was a good thing I met you before hearing those type of stories because your stories made me question the process of online dating.  I asked you why you opted for online dating.  You were a very handsome and intelligent guy.  You had a successful career as an Engineer at a great company.  You could probably get any girl you wanted.  You told me it was because you didn’t hang out at the typical places that would allow you to meet someone and there was definitely nobody at your job who you be interested in dating.

It was amazing to me that I felt so comfortable with you right away, which was unusual for me.  It was like we knew each other forever.  After that first conversation, we talked on the phone almost every night for hours about various topics.  We talked about everything from work, politics, pop culture, music, relationships and so many other things, including what we expected from our significant other in a relationship.  During one of our conversations, you told me that you didn’t believe in traditional roles between a man and woman in a relationship.  You explained that you were looking for a partner and wasn’t planning on supporting anyone, anymore, after taking care of your ex-fiancée.  We discussed how you expected for whomever you were dating to help pay for the dates.  This would have normally been a turn off for me, but I actually understood what you were saying.  In my marriage, I was the one paying for everything, all of the time, so I didn’t mind contributing and helping to pay for our dates.  You told me that you didn’t mind paying for the first date but after that you would expect for me to pay for the second date.  You even told me a story about a girl you went out with and how she acted like she didn’t have money to pay for a second date that you were on and how you refused to pay.  The story was kind of funny, but I was horrified at the same time.

You told me that one of your biggest flaws was your temper.  You explained to me that you didn’t give people too many chances and that your first impression of a person was usually a lasting one for you.  You were very honest and told me that you were a stubborn person and you had no intentions of changing who you were.  You stated that either I liked you for who you were or I didn’t.  I appreciated the fact that you were honest and upfront about who you were.  I learned from my marriage that you can’t change people.  They are who they are, so I had no intentions of trying to change you. I felt if I couldn’t handle who you were, I would just end the relationship.

We were just talking on the phone for a little over 2 months when one night during our conversation, you asked me if we were ever going to go out on a date.  We were taking things quite slow, but I thought it was nice that we were taking the time to get to know each other before our first date.  The truth is, I was actually waiting for you to ask me on a date because I wanted to make sure you wanted to meet me like I wanted to meet you.  I was afraid of rejection, so there was no way, I was going to initiate that first date.  You asked me for a date that night and I definitely said yes.  I couldn’t wait to see if we had the same connection that we had over the phone, once we met in person.

We were so excited about our first date that we talked about it every day on the phone up until the actual day of the date.  You kept changing your mind about the plans for that night.  You asked me multiple questions about what I was going to wear, while you were trying to determine what you were going to be wearing.  I had my outfit ready as soon as you asked me to officially go out on a date however, I didn’t plan on telling you about what I was going to wear.  I just wanted you to see me in it.  I expressed to you that I was nervous about meeting you because I was the total opposite of the girls you were normally attracted to.  I was short, brown skinned, independent and very opinionated.  You explained to me that you weren’t worried about the fact that I was different from the girls you normally dated and that my differences were a good thing.  You never dated anyone who had a Master’s degree, owned their own home and was career driven.  You said you were looking forward to being with someone who had those qualities.

Our first date ended up being pretty low key.  We went to Buffalo Wild Wings, where we intended to watch the UFC fight.  I got there about 20 minutes early because I was so nervous and I didn’t want to be late.  I remember sitting there waiting for you to walk through that door.  When you came in you looked at me and smiled. I was relieved, because you looked just like your picture.  I went to shake your hand and you pulled me in for a hug.  That surprised me since we really didn’t know each other, but I didn’t mind it.  I had on a green and black asymmetrical skirt with a black body shirt and a camouflage jacket that matched the skirt, with some black boots.  I thought I was looking pretty good.  I hoped you liked my outfit because I did.  You were wearing a tan Nautica sweater with some dark khaki pants and black shoes. You were also wearing your glasses.  In your online pictures you were wearing contacts, but I liked glasses on you.  I remember thinking that you looked very nice.

I was so relieved that you were so friendly, especially with us meeting for the first time.  We were seated and the conversation flowed as smoothly as it did when we talked on the phone.  I felt absolutely comfortable with you. The restaurant was playing country music on the radio and I started to sing the song. You made a face and I asked you what was wrong. You told me how you didn’t like country music because of a bad experience you had as teenager working at a barbecue joint in North Carolina.  You told me about the racism you encountered at that restaurant and how that turned you against country music.

When our waiter came over to take our order he was very rude. I must have given him the “look”, because when he walked a way you told me to behave myself.  I didn’t realize that you caught my reaction until you mentioned it, so I began to laugh.  You would quickly learn that I could keep my opinions to myself, but I definitely couldn’t control my facial expressions most of the time.

During dinner, I mentioned how my oldest son wanted a dog.  This was a subject matter that you were well versed in so we spent a large part of the date, googling dogs on your phone. You were determined to help me pick a suitable dog for my son that would also serve as protection.  After the UFC fight was uneventful, you asked me if I wanted to go to the movies.  I don’t know what got into me, but I was following you to your car.  You said, “You’re going to get in the car with a stranger?” I said no and started to laugh again.  I was so embarrassed as I walked to my car.  I normally wouldn’t have even considered doing something like that, but I was just so comfortable around you.  It felt like I had known you all of my life.

We traveled to the movies in separate cars.  I followed you in my car, because I didn’t know the way to the movie theatre that we were going to.  We ended up seeing the Jennifer Lopez movie, “The Boy Next Door.” The movie wasn’t that great but the overall night seemed like a good first date.  We enjoyed each other’s company and laughed a lot.  You paid for the entire first date, however I was prepared to pay for the movies, especially since you told me how you felt about paying for everything. The next day, you texted me and told me that you had a good time.  Although you said you had a good time on our date, I was unsure about whether you would ask me out on a second date. During that week, you asked me out again.  We made plans to meet at Dave & Buster’s for our next date.



About the Author

Latesha Kellam is an author who takes her life experiences and puts them into words that will inspire others. She wrote her first story at the age of 14, about the events surrounding the unexpected death of her father. During the current phase of her life, she has the desire to not only write inspiring books but to help people, especially woman, recognize when they are in dysfunctional relationships. She lives by the old adage, experience is the best teacher, therefore she takes events from her own life to inspire her writing.


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Speakeasy


Suspense Thriller / Historical
Date Published: 12/21/2011
Publisher:  Dark Hour Press, LLC

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The novella is centered on Eddie Durante, owner of a speakeasy who’s supported by his mobster uncle—the boss of the Durante family. Eddie is a young widower after his family’s rival, the Caprice family, murdered his wife over a territory dispute. After devising a plan that retaliated against four of the rivaling capos, Eddie is left with the daunting task to try and move on. That is, until he’s notified that the Caprices have put a hit man in the speakeasy—and Eddie’s name is on the list. But things take an unexpected turn when Eddie instead starts to find the dead bodies of his relatives, the ones who had helped in the retaliation.

Behind the backdrop of jazz music and glistening flappers, murder after murder begins to unravel as revenge takes center stage, and Eddie soon learns that some secrets can’t be taken to the grave.


Excerpt

Once the doors were closed, Sal didn’t take long to get right to the point. “They know it was you, Eddie.”

The words slapped him across the face, but Eddie didn’t respond.

“That you were the one who came up with the idea,” Sal continued. “They’re out for retaliation, and it’s rumored that they’ve sent a torpedo into this juice joint of yours. That’s part of the reason why I’m not being too open with the information. Afraid of who might be listening.”

A hit man in his speakeasy. Eddie stared out the windshield, watching Sal begin to light a cigarette out of the corner of his eye. “I had a lot of ideas,” he remarked hoarsely, fear and dread subtly mixing into his thoughts.

“Only took one,” Sal responded as he lit the cigarette. He silently offered one to Eddie, who refused with a shake of his head. “Sorry, kid,” Sal explained as he took a puff. “After what they did to your wife, I wouldn’t have blamed ya.”

Eddie remained silent, his eyes drifting to the bootleggers who were moving the last of the crates. No wonder they weren’t laying their eyes on him. He was a dead target.

Sal took another drag on his cigarette, taking a moment for himself. “Don’t worry, though,” he finally remarked. “Your family’s got your back. My brother-in-law, your dear uncle, has requested that Joe stay by your side until we can square away if there’s a torpedo and who it is.”

“What?” Eddie balked, shattering his calm exterior.

“It’s temporary,” Sal cooed, trying to calm the young man down. “He’s just some extra protection.”

Eddie gawked, unable to believe that they’d send Joe, of all people, to protect him. “He’s crazy,” was all Eddie could summarize when it came to his cousin.

“He’s happy,” Sal tried to smooth over.

“Trigger happy,” Eddie corrected.

Sal shrugged his shoulders. “He gets the job done. And when the boss’ favorite nephew needs protection, the boss will only send the very best.”

“I don’t need protection,” Eddie fought back, trying not to raise his voice to the lunacy. “And even if I did, I have Anthony and Marcus in there—”

“Little orphan Anthony and Baby Marcus?” Sal choked, half laughing, half sputtering on the cigarette smoke. “Marcus is too naive, and Anthony,” but Sal had to chuckle first before he could continue. “Well, ya better just pray your killer isn’t a female.”

“Thanks for warning me,” Eddie begrudgingly admitted as he pulled the door handle…




About the Author

A. M. Dunnewin grew up with a taste for mysteries and thrillers, inherited ever so lovingly from her family. An affiliate member of the Horror Writers Association, A. M.’s own stories cover a wide range of genres that tend to take a dark turn when least expected. With a B.A. in Psychology, she’s a gambler of words, obsessed with chai tea, and addicted to books – everything from classical literature to graphic novels. Other hobbies include art, history, music, equestrianism, and a good classic film. She currently dwells in Northern California.


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Spider’s Web



Thriller
Date Published: November 30, 2018
Publisher: Rowanvale Books

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Maggie has been in hiding in the Grid for over three years. Her restlessness convinces Shep to arrange a girls’ weekend at the beach. Things go sideways quickly. In an instant her life is changed. Maggie finds herself across the world and away from her team. Unsure who to trust, she tries to navigate her new reality. Will she be able to choose her future, or will she remain trapped in the web of enemies she created.


Praise for Spider’s Web:

“Shannon Condon is a talented writer who knows not only how to hold your interest but also how to turn up the heat.” – Melinda Hills, Reader’s Favorite


“Very strong, intelligent female lead character that would give James Bond a run for his money. Very fast paced drama, with lots of twists and double crossing…” – Suzanne Tibbo, Goodreads Reviewer




About the Author

Shannon Condon lives in North Carolina and is the mother of three boys. She is a graduate of the University of Florida School of Journalism and Communications. Writing has always been her dream.

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God of Small Affairs



Alternative History, Magical Realism
Published: September 2019
Publisher: Pipsqueak Productions

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We are great at little things, at manipulating tiny threads of life. We are the gods of small affairs…until we are not.

“God of Small Affairs” is a creepy and slightly twisted mystery tale of a small mid-Western town, struggling to survive, told from the perspective of man who is culturally a stranger there and yet learns to find comfort and gives back love to people in need…his and those that reside in the town of Wilkins.

It’s a bit of a horror story, a bit of fantastical science fiction, and a take on what the world would be if one could talk directly to a god…even a god who is only interested in micro-management of human species.



 Excerpt

Chapter One: Derailed
Jon Uolan

The sharp sound of ripping leather disturbed Jon’s reverie. He looked down with a start; they both did. Ay-Tal’s knee-high black leather boots had split along the inside seam. With bated breath, Jon watched as the boot started to swell, letting the gray flesh squeeze out like stringy putty between sheared strips of leather. He of course knew about the metamorphosis—the Change—but it had all been very theoretical up till now. He inhaled subtly though his nose so as not to appear rattled and then looked up and caught Ay-Tal’s eyes. This was why he was here with her, right now, on this journey home.

Jon sat across from Ay-Tal in a small but private train cabin. She was almost thirty years his senior, but he thought she was still very beautiful. There was a severity to her features: a strong chin, a slight widow’s peak, dark, thick hair cut short with a few stray grays but not too many, full lips and dark gray eyes, long face and slim figure, very light skin. In short, she was everything he wasn’t—except for her eye color. Gray eyes were common among his tribe. There didn’t seem to be a trace of Inuit in her. And yet Jon knew her tribal roots ran far deeper than his own. His own great-great-grandmother was English, he was told, one of those who came to Alaska during the Gold Rush all those years ago. Ay-Tal was pure…

“How bad?” she managed to ask. Even under duress, her voice was deep and velvety—a perfect oration organ. It had been beautifully designed by his grandfather.

Jon bent down to examine the boot. In some places, the leather polish was thicker than the remaining leather. Even with extra care and regular repair, thirty years was just too long for city boots. He hoped they would last all the way to the little village hidden on the shores of Alaska’s National Coastal Conservation Area, but one didn’t always get all that was hoped. Jon’s father had made these boots to last the duration, and now it was Jon’s job to make them endure these last four thousand miles. Seal fur with a whale hide foundation would have been more durable, but it wouldn’t have been appropriate, not for Boston, not for Washington, D.C., and certainly not in front of the Supreme Court.

He lifted Ay-Tal’s legs onto his lap for a closer inspection and grabbed his tools. Pressing the sides of the ripped leather together, he started to carefully wrap the specially made leather tape over and over the boot’s perimeter to repair the damage. He felt the pressure ease a bit; the gray flesh composed of millions of intertwining threads retreated and resumed the shape of a human leg. The repair wouldn’t last long, but perhaps long enough to get home? He pulled the hunting knife to cut the tape and scrape away the frayed edges.

“Tickets!” The compartment door slid open, and the conductor stared at Jon.

Jon looked down at Ay-Tal’s legs bound in tape and the long blade in his hand and back up at the horrified face of the conductor. Ay-Tal tried to talk; it came out like strange whalesong moan. She waved to the conductor, but her muscular control was still off, and what should have been a friendly hello turned into spasmodic jerks. She came across as terrifying even to Jon, and he understood what was going on. “It’s not what it—” he started to say.

The conductor dropped his pad and whipped a pistol from behind his back. “Stop right there!” he ordered.

Jon dropped his knife and tried to straighten out. Ay-Tal let out a loud howl, more animal than human. It would take some time before she would be able to speak again; too much of the transformation had been triggered by the ripped boot.

“Don’t move!” screamed the man.

“It’s not what it looks like,” Jon tried to explain. But he could guess what it looked like to this uniformed man: a dark-skinned man with a scar above his eye (an old hunting accident) threatening a white woman in a business suit with a big knife after binding her legs together. How could he explain it away? And Ay-Tal wasn’t helping. “Officer,” Jon tried again. “I was just trying to help Ms. Blue with her—” He reached for Ay-Tal’s legal case to pull out some documents.

A shot rang out. Jon felt Ay-Tal twitch and push his body out of the path of the bullet. With horror, he watched a hole in Ay-Tal’s chest start to pulse blood. The conductor dropped the gun, terror twisting his face. Jon sprung up and pushed the man out of the cabin, shutting the door with a click of the lock. He picked up the gun and hid it in his own waistband in the back, just like the conductor. The gun was still hot.

Jon looked at Ay-Tal’s ashen face. She was losing blood fast. She was his responsibility, his god, his reason for existence. And he owed her his life now too. He felt sick from panic. She blinked and blinked again, but then her eyes rolled back, closed, and didn’t open again.

“Aguguq take me!” Jon grabbed the knife and started to cut the boots off Ay-Tal’s feet. Cut and pull, cut and pull. It got harder with each incision. Ay-Tal’s fibrous flesh started to expand and push out again. But the bleeding ebbed and then stopped. Ay-Tal only bled in human form, Jon was told. Remove the boots, remove the humanity. That’s how his grandfather shaped her; the whole tribe had worked on finding the right form for those boots. When Jon was done cutting them off, he stood over a gray, twined blob covered in bloody clothing. Well, at least Ay-Tal was alive. It was time to get off this train.

Jon pulled down his backpack, his only piece of luggage, and grabbed Ay-Tal’s briefcase full of documents that solidified the tribe’s position on legal ownership of its land and mineral resources. Fifty years of work couldn’t end just because some white man misunderstood what he saw on the train. Gathering the synthetic blankets that came with their cabin, he wrapped Ay-Tal as securely as he could and stuffed the bloodied clothing under the seat with her suitcase. He wasn’t sure why he bothered—the place looked like a murder scene. Blood everywhere…

With the backpack on, Jon put his ear to the door. There were the usual noises of the moving train but no additional screams or suspicious shuffling. He dared to crack open the door and look out. The long corridor, running from one end of the train car to the other between the cabins, was empty. He had already considered jumping out of the window, but he wasn’t sure Ay-Tal was strong enough to survive the awkward fall. And he wasn’t too sure he was. Too high a risk. That meant carrying Ay-Tal through the train, out to the gangway connection between cars, and jumping from there. Jon deemed that safer. No more than a minute had passed since the gunshot, and Jon expected the authorities to return at any moment, guns blazing. It was now or never.

He felt a slight change in the motion of the train; they were slowing down.

“Ay-Tal,” he said. “I’m sorry, but I see no other choice.” With that, he hoisted the gray body wrapped in the Pacific Railroad blankets over his shoulder, grabbed the briefcase, and ran down the corridor.

Jon made it to the back of their train car without incident and slid open the door. Once between cars, only flexible walls separated him from freedom. He carefully lowered Ay-Tal onto the floor. Using his knife, he twisted and jammed the locks to each of the adjoining cars. It wasn’t much but it would buy him a little more time. A few quick motions with his knife and he opened a hole in the flexible siding big enough to push through. All those years of practicing on whales, seals, and reindeer…

He picked up Ay-Tal like a baby with one hand, pressing her…it to his chest, and with a briefcase in his other hand, he rushed for the opening and jumped.

He rolled over and over down the steep incline away from the train tracks. The early snow somewhat softened the impact. At least he hoped it was the snow and not Ay-Tal’s body protecting him yet again. The briefcase, unfortunately, was slapped from his hand when he hit the ground.

“Are you okay?” Jon asked as soon as he was able; the fall knocked the wind out of him.

The gray, twisting blob that used to be a beautiful woman purred. Jon wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. His father and grandfather had told him stories, but even they only saw the Change once. And he didn’t think it was this dramatic back then. From what he was told, he imagined it was more like going into a room as one person and coming out as another…after many hours. He didn’t know if anyone in his tribe’s living memory had seen Ay-Tal for what it was…like this. It wasn’t revolting or anything. Jon wasn’t repulsed touching the soft, fibrous gray flesh, but he did find it difficult to look at it directly. He needed Ay-Tal to assume a human form again. Fast. Soon. The boots were gone. Ay-Tal would never again have the look of a highly educated lawyer from Harvard, arguing cases in front of the Supreme Court. That person was dead, just like the conductor and the rest would assume…jump to conclusions. Jon knew he would have too if he saw what that man saw. There will be a murder investigation, he realized.

“We need to get out of here,” he said. He stood up and looked for the briefcase. It wasn’t visible. He would have to come back for it once Ay-Tal was safely hidden. Even if the Union Pacific train was far in the distance now, Jon wasn’t naive enough to think they were out of trouble. There was going to be a search. He gently gathered Ay-Tal in his arms and carried her—he felt uncomfortable thinking of her as it—farther away into the shelter of the thick low boughs of the evergreens growing on the edge of the forested strip of land surrounding the train tracks. Tucking Ay-Tal out of view, Jon left to look for the briefcase.

All along the railway, there was garbage strewn about among the vegetation, trash snagged on craggy branches and caught among the barren bushes, tall, dead grasses, and exposed rocks of the late fall. Civilization slithered through nature, leaving its slimy discards. Jon felt disgusted and experienced a strong urge to pick the crap up off the forest floor. But that wasn’t what he was here for. He scanned the ground for the briefcase; it couldn’t have landed too far from where they hit the ground. It was well made so unlikely to have opened and spilled its precious contents all over Wisconsin…or was it Minnesota already? Jon wasn’t sure, but he had a map and a satellite phone in his backpack; normal smartphones were not very useful out in the far northern country of his people. Although all the kids had smart tablets and shared educational materials by linking those directly. Technology had changed his people in the last few decades, but far less than Ay-Tal had when she joined their tribe. There might not even have been a tribe without Ay-Tal.

He spotted the brown leather of the briefcase in a ditch off to the side. He rushed over and almost tripped over a kid’s Dora the Explorer backpack. It was so covered in mud that Jon almost didn’t recognize the friendly face from his childhood. He bent down and picked it up. Probably fell from the train, he thought. It felt heavy; he took a quick look inside. Girl’s clothing, a coloring book, and…Yes! A pair of little pink boots! An idea formed in Jon’s head. It was crazy, but it just might work. He grabbed the muddy briefcase in his other hand and rushed back to Ay-Tal.

Jon had never seen the Change ritual; he was only a few months old for the most recent one. He had been told about it, of course, but hoped never to have to personally put into practice the legends of his fathers. There were chanting and singing and some drumming, but Jon believed all that was for his people’s benefit and not strictly necessary. He knelt before the gray form that was bundled in the ugly blankets and maneuvered the child-sized pink boots under the soft flesh. It almost felt like the gray tendrils burrowed into the earth beneath the Ay-Tal’s body, merging with networks of tubular filaments of mycelia that Jon knew naturally permeated the ground under the tree.

“Ay-Tal?” he said softly. “I know this is not what you would want. And I will help you with…with something else later.” He felt uncomfortable even talking about the Change, much less requesting Ay-Tal to become a child for him. But he saw no other way. The authorities would be looking for him and a woman. An injured woman. Perhaps if he posed as a father of a little girl… “Please?”

Slowly, oh so very slowly, thin tendrils snaked their way into the tiny boots. His father told him it took over a week for Ay-Tal to become the woman he met. How long would it take now? Back then, his grandfather spent several years designing the person Ay-Tal would need to become to win the tribe’s case in front of the Supreme Court. Ay-Tal knew what was required of her and helped shape that person. But now? How would it work now? Jon sat and watched and prayed to Aguguq that the metamorphosis didn’t take too long.

He woke up with a start. It was dark and very cold. The moon was out; he could see its light shining through the branches of their tree. A small hand touched his cheek.

“Jon?” The voice was very high. A small child was staring at him from inside a nest of blankets. “Will this work?”

“Ay-Tal?” It was one thing to know about the Change, but to witness the transformation? Jon was shaken. The child in front of him was no more than five, perhaps even younger. A skinny little arm was attached to a tiny little hand with miniature fingers. The eyes staring at him were deep blue, with just a hint of gray around the edge. A bit of red hair poked out from under the dirty cloth. That and those pink boots.

“Will this work?” the child asked again.

Jon forced himself to focus. “Yes. That’s very good, Ay-Tal.” It felt strange complimenting a god. “Thank you.” He quickly looked at the child’s face and then had to look away—too strange. “I have some clothing here.” He pulled out the Dora the Explorer bag and gave it to Ay-Tal. “If you could dress, we should try to get out of here as quickly as possible. They will be looking for us.”

The child nodded and took the bag. There were some pink tights, a t-shirt with another Dora print on it, and a sweatshirt. The clothing was covered in mud and blooming with spots of mold. Not enough to keep a child warm, Jon noted to himself. Ay-Tal wiggled out of the blankets and started to put on the clothing, slipping off only one boot at a time.

The child was male, Jon noticed in shock.

When done, Ay-Tal smiled at him. “Ready?”

“Y-yes,” he stammered. “Are you cold or anything?”

“I will be,” the boy answered. “But not yet. It takes time to adjust to the Change.”

“Yes, of course.” Jon had no idea what that meant. “Can you walk?”

“Only for as long as a kid my age can,” the boy said with a smile…a very adult smile. “And call me Al. I think it works better for this body, don’t you?”

“Al. I can do that.” Jon tried to smile back, but it didn’t work—his face refused to make it. So he gathered their meager possessions, rearranging his backpack so he could carry all of the legal documents on his back and tied the rest into a bundle made from one of the blankets. Ay-Tal…Al put on the dirty little backpack and tried to bury the briefcase under the many seasons of pine needles and other detritus surrounding the base of their tree hideout.

“Let me help you with that,” Jon said and with just a few movements of his wide hands finished the job of concealing the bag. It would be found, of course. But anything to give them additional time to melt into the American landscape was worth it.

The child that was Ay-Tal watched him cover the now empty briefcase and strip a dead branch to make a stick to tie up their bundle for ease of carrying; a hobo stick. They climbed together from under the tree. Jon swung the bundle over his shoulder, resting the stick on the strap of his backpack. Al gave him his hand, like a child would. And they walked into the woods, away from the tracks. Jon hoped to find some shelter before the moon set. In this part of the country, they were really never too far from civilization…for better or worse.

A few hours later, Jon was carrying the sleeping child over his shoulder, wrapped in a blanket like a burrito. He walked on the shoulder of US-12, a highway he had located on his map, pegging their position near the town of Wilkins, Wisconsin. It was still dark and there was no traffic, but Jon was ready to jump into the trees along the side of the road if he spotted any headlights. He was sure there was a manhunt on for him and didn’t want to take any chances.

They would need to stop and buy more appropriate clothing for Al. He almost said “Ay-Tal” in his head but stopped himself. That name was dangerous now—too memorable and too easily connected to current events. How many Inuit lawyers named Ay-Tal Blue that just won an argument in the highest court of land were there? She was all over the news last week and would be again now, for totally different reasons. Jon shifted his shoulders, and the child gave a soft sigh. Poor kid tried to walk by himself, and only after Jon pointed out that he was slowing them down did Al allow himself to be carried.

She doesn’t just mimic the attributes of the person she changes into—she fully inhabits that person, he remembered his father telling him. For good or bad, Al was a little kid now. Jon wondered if Al remembered all her…his previous lives. He must. Or it just doesn’t work. He decided to ask later, the next time it was convenient to have such a conversation.

Jon also needed to let his tribe know what happened. He was wary of using phones, but there was an email account set up that he could use to draft a message in code. Messages from that account were never sent, in order to avoid interception in transit. Someone back home checked the account several times a day and read all of the unsent email drafts. Nothing was ever addressed to anyone; nothing ever moved across the network. Ay-Tal had set up the message drop system when the Internet came online, decades ago. Now the whole tribe used this spy-craft stuff. Encryptions, codes, secure passwords, cyber currency, anonymous accounts… It had all been fun and games until now. But Ay-Tal taught them well; clearly, she foresaw it might become necessary someday.

He needed papers for Al. There was no easy way to get over the Canadian border without passports. And the kid didn’t look like his son. A shame, that. It would have been so much easier if Al was a dark-haired, dark-eyed, dark-skinned little boy. People would ask questions, the way Al looked. Perhaps they could use hair dye and sunglasses; it would work at a distance, but not at the border inspection or during any other interaction with authorities. Jon felt cold sweat run down his back as he thought of the police arresting him for murder and taking Al away. They would accuse him of child trafficking, too, and put Ay-Tal in foster care. He needed to stay away from people as much as possible and come up with a good cover story. He could change his appearance somewhat; he could shave his head and grow a beard, perhaps. Would that confuse any face-recognition systems? He could use skin-lightening creams. He could dye his hair red to match Al’s. But then his passport… He was never into the cloak-and-dagger stuff; he was a traditional Inuit artisan, just like his father and his father’s father before him.

A squat building with white walls and a dark-shingled roof surprised Jon out of the early morning mist. “Wilkins Nite Club” said giant letters across the entire facade. On one corner of the building, there were signs of fire damage that were patched up and covered with two giant flags, Wisconsin’s and the Stars and Stripes. Jon looked around. There were no other structures close by and no cars parked in the gravel-covered parking lot. He dashed into the lot and behind the nightclub. He needed to rest a bit and change his own clothing. All this mud and blood would attract attention. Back on the train, Jon never got to the point where his and Ay-Tal’s tickets were actually checked—the conductor never learned their names. Would the conductor remember what they…he looked like? People were notorious for being lousy eyewitnesses. And he still needed to dispose of Ay-Tal’s IDs; it would not be good to be found with those.

He lowered Al, still wrapped in the Pacific Railroad blanket, onto the back porch. The ground was wet and cold, covered in a silvery frost. “These blankets have to go too,” Jon mumbled under his breath, which came out as a small silver cloud about his face. “Should have left ’em under that tree for the police to find.” But the kid was cold. “Aguguq. So much to do.”

Al was sleeping peacefully. He looked like a little cherub from one of those greeting cards. And that was a big problem. Jon actually didn’t look like a typical Inuit—those English genes. He was taller than average for his people, just under six feet, and his eyes were an unexpected dark gray, not brown. But who would take the time to check his eye color when looking at Al’s wide blue-as-a-clear-March-sky eyes? Aguguq, help me.

And looks like a girl too, Jon continued his train of thought. A little white blue-eyed boy…or girl traveling with a guy like him raised eyebrows as well as questions. He needed to get the kid sex-appropriate clothing, something dark and grungy. But those boots… He looked at the shocking patch of pink sticking out from under the drab navy-blue blanket. Those had to stay. So more raised eyebrows, more questions.

He pulled out Ay-Tal Blue’s wallet and passport. Keep or destroy? As far as Jon knew, Al would never be able to take on that identity again. If they were discovered with these… Jon stuffed the papers deep into his backpack and lay down next to the child, pressing the little body close. The kid was still cold and made pathetic little snorts in his sleep. A child who is not a child. How do I keep him safe? And with that thought, Jon fell fast asleep.


About the Author


Olga Werby got her B.A. from Columbia University in Mathematics and Astrophysics and worked at NASA on the Pioneer Venus Project as a programmer. She received her masters from U.C. Berkeley in Education of Math, Science, and Technology and went on to earn a doctorate in education. Together with her husband and business partner, Olga conceives, designs, and creates products, ideas, websites, and exhibits. Along the way, she writes science fiction.

Olga is an indie author. Her stories have won awards and got some nice reviews (thank you, readers!).

Contact Links



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RABT Book Tours & PR

Murder Knows No Boundaries



JD Pickens Mysteries, Book 3
Mystery, Murder Mystery
Published: December 2019
Publisher: Gatekeeper Press

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Sometimes routine wasn’t always routine as Sheriff JD Pickens, and his deputies learned. What was supposed to be a routine 911 call ended up costing Pickens a deputy and turned out to be a double homicide. One that was outside the realm of humanity. Pickens was forced to divide his team and call for help from two retired homicide detectives. Not since a psychopath went on the warpath with a shotgun had there been such bloodshed in the county leaving scars that would last a long time.






Other Books in the JD Pickens Mystery Series:


Descent Into Hell
JD Pickens Mysteries, Book 1
Published: July 2017

With a population of just twelve thousand, Creek City is a sleepy rural town in Central Florida. Folks live there because life is simple and peaceful; but once dead bodies start turning up, Creek City is anything but.

Underprepared and undermanned, the county sheriff’s office scrambles to stop the bloodshed, but the killer is always one step ahead. Sheriff J. D. Pickens, usually a steady hand, loses patience as clue after clue results in a dead end and another corpse turns up. When Pickens gets close to the truth, the killer threatens Pickens’s own family, making this murder investigation personal. Anger, terror, and tenacious police work clash in a surprise ending that will leave readers breathless.

Descent into Hell is a thriller that will make you lock your doors and bar your windows. Big cities may be filled with crime, but it’s easier to get away with murder in rural areas. The silence of the countryside is not always comforting; it can also be a reminder of how alone you are—and how unlikely it is that anyone will hear you scream.




Murder on Grange Road
JD Pickens Mysteries, Book 2
Published: May 2019

Quail hunting in Central Florida was supposed to be an exciting experience. But lately, for Bo Tatum, the owner of Tatum’s Hunting Resort off Grange Road near Lake Azur, it had been a disaster. Instead of his dogs flushing out birds, they’d been digging up human bodies.

Sheriff JD Pickens and County Medical Examiner, Dr. Marge Davids, were planning a festive holiday season. But their plans were put on hold thanks to Tatum’s discoveries. Undermanned and ill-equipped in a city and county where such things rarely happened, Pickens and Davids will need to muster all the ingenuity they can to solve the mysteries of the bodies, including getting help from an expert in forensic science.

With clues scarce and few leads, Pickens and Davids had to rely on unconventional methods as a last resort. When tempers started to flare during the investigations, Pickens had to use every ounce of patience he could muster to stay calm and in control.



About the Author

George Encizo is an award-winning author and has written seven novels. Murder Knows No Boundaries is his latest. Encizo is a retired banker and lives in Tallahassee, Florida. When not writing, he enjoys a cup of coffee on the back porch with his wife surveying their gardens.

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SICARII PARTS 1-3

BOOK BLAST

Book Title: Sicarii (3 book series)

Author: Adrienne Wilder

Publisher: Self-published

Cover Artist: Adrienne Wilder

Release Date: April 28, 2020

Genre/s: Contemporary M/M Romantic suspense

Heat Rating: 4 flames

Length three books total: 160 454 words/627 pages

Is it a standalone story across three parts.

Goodreads

 

Buy Links – Available on Kindle Unlimited

Amazon US | Amazon UK

 

Marcel isn’t going to save them.

He’s going to change them.

Because life is a gift.

 

Sicarii Part 1

  BLURB Ben Corbin lost his parents then his uncle and clues to the man responsible take him to the small town of Spencer. While Ben is determined to get justice for the murder of his family, he finds himself drawn to Jacob Moser, an ex-prostitute with ties to the killer. Jacob Moser owes his life to Marcel Serghi. A man forged into a killer under the most brutal conditions. A man who saved him when no one else would. Ben and Jacob, two men from completely different worlds, who have no idea how much they need each other until a killer brings them together.

Sicarii Part 2

  BLURB Ben Corbin has been swept up in a vicious game of revenge. A pawn to be sacrificed in a life or death game of chess. In order to survive, Ben must make a deal with the devil, Marcel Serghi. A mistake from Jacob’s past is brought into the game. And it could cost Jacob more than his pride. It could cost him Ben. Ben and Jacob, two men from completely different worlds, who have no idea how much they need each other until a killer brings them together.  

Sicarii Part 3

  BLURB Marcel Serghi lives by the rules of his House Sicarii where he was honed into the perfect killer; merciless, emotionless, incapable of remorse. Jacob Moser has always had undying loyalty to Marcel for saving his life. Until Ben. Now Jacob must make a choice, to love or live. Because breaking a vow with Marcel means returning what he gifted Jacob. A chance to live. Ben and Jacob, two men from completely different worlds, who have no idea how much they need each other until a killer brings them together.   Excerpt Chapter I The killer watched. Light bled from Sam Water’s window, backlighting his silhouette. The pencil danced in his hand. Whatever drove him from his bed must have been important. He was up early, even for a school day. Marcel leaned against the porch railing and coaxed a cigarette from the package in his hand. The momentary flame from the lighter outlined the web of scar tissue across his palm and three and a half fingers. The car bomb had also spared his thumb. A good thing. Learning how to write with his left hand would have been a bitch. Not that an old dog couldn’t be taught a new trick. He was no old dog, but the teachings ingrained in him had been done so under conditions leaving no room for change. The cherry of his cigarette flared in the darkness. Night in this suburban neighborhood was nothing like where he’d grown up. Tucked in the mountains, there were only the stars, the moon, and the occasional candle. There the darkness wasn’t just a state of being. It was a living thing. All-consuming and unforgiving, conspiring with the wilderness to kill those too weak to survive. Here the darkness was just a veil; once lifted, life returned, shattering any chance of reaching such perfection. The storm door to the house opened, and the wooden slats on the porch creaked. Mild green tea and aloe mixed with the honeysuckle blooming along the split rail fence nestled between the houses. The heat left over from the shower clung to Jacob’s skin. “I wish you wouldn’t smoke.” In the darkness, there was only the sound of his breathing, the rustle of his clothes, the weight of his body pressing against the space around Marcel. A space that shrank to nothing with another small step. Jacob’s caress traced the line of Marcel’s jaw. Layers of scars disrupted the gentle movement. “Did you find your money?” Marcel exhaled a stream of bitter smoke. “You gave me too much again.” “It is a tip. For…you know. Good service.” Jacob teased his fingers down the back of Marcel’s neck. There was more in his touch than physical contact. There was longing, yearning, endless want. But Marcel would never be able to give the man what he yearned for. “You don’t need to tip me. You already give me so much.” “I make you live in a motel.” “Only because it’s close.” “I could buy you a house.” The tip of the cigarette flared. Jacob was right, he shouldn’t smoke. Damn things never tasted like anything but shit. “I don’t want a house.” “You should. You are young. Young people should want a house. A family. A car. You have nothing.” Jacob rested his cheek on Marcel’s shoulder. “I have you.” “Nothing.” Marcel snuffed out the cigarette between his finger and thumb, then slid the butt into his shirt pocket. “You should go. Get some sleep.” “I napped.” Marcel cupped Jacob’s chin. He didn’t need the light to know how Jacob pleaded with his eyes. Marcel saw it every time they were together. “No. I have told you many times.” “Maybe I keep hoping.” “It is a waste.” “I don’t see it like that.” “I could let you go. I could give you enough to go wherever you wanted. Back to school, maybe. What was it you wanted to do again?” “I don’t want to go to school.” “You should.” “I’m happy.” “You need more than an old man’s cock in your ass. You could go back and get your degree.” “It takes years to be a doctor, and that dream sailed a long time ago.” He was young enough to catch up to it. Or simply change direction altogether. All Jacob needed was motivation. A reason to want more. Someway for him to see there was more. Marcel leaned down, and Jacob tipped his face up, leaving his mouth an inch, maybe less, but definitely not more, away from Marcel’s. “You need to save those for someone you love.” Marcel traced the bow of Jacob’s lips with his thumb. “Maybe I have.” “No, Jacob. I fuck you. That is all.” “And I’m okay with that. I—” Marcel stopped him with a press of his finger. The tremor running down Jacob’s body was nothing more than a flutter of his pulse. Jacob swallowed. “Please don’t send me away.” One day Marcel would. But not today. Or tomorrow. Jacob wasn’t ready. “Friday. Ten o’clock.” Marcel went back to tracing Jacob’s lips. He deserved to be kissed, to be loved. But that part of Marcel had been stripped away those nights on a mountain ledge when he was a boy. “Go home.” He patted Jacob’s cheek. “Rest. You will need it.” The whisper of tennis shoes against wooden slats faded into steps of rubber soles on concrete. Then those too were gone, leaving Marcel to the darkness. In the window of the house next door, the boy finished writing whatever had pulled him out of bed. He folded the piece of paper in careful movements. Then he disappeared from view, and the patch of light coming from his lamp winked out. And the killer watched.  

About the Author

I am a writer of contemporary and speculative fiction and artist of all things monster. I live to create new worlds and the people in them. Several of my books have been best sellers both nationally and internationally.

I do my best to write original stories with powerful characters and emotion as well as a fast-paced plot. My goal isn’t just to deliver a good story but to take the reader into the story and let them experience the characters as if they are right there with them.

While almost all my books have a romantic element, I will be the first to admit, they are not traditional romance. In fact, I’d like to think there is nothing traditional about them. And the stories I paint are done so way outside the lines of traditional genres.

One of my favorite things to do as a writer is push the boundaries of what makes a story and to deliver the unexpected and maybe even change the perspective of the reader.

My characters are more often than not, beautifully flawed, not always the good guy, and make mistakes. Their stories will take dark turns which, in the end, make the light at the end of the tunnel all the brighter.

If you’re looking for something different, exciting, and unique, my books are for you.

Check out my website for updates and how to contact me. I love hearing from fans.

   

Author Links

Blog/Website | Facebook group | Twitter

| Instagram | Newsletter Sign-up | Patreon | Deviant Art

   

Giveaway

Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway for a chance to win

a $10 Amazon gift card or one of two sets of the Sicarii ebooks (parts 1-3)

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Hosted by Gay Book Promotions

 

Follow the tour and check out the other blog posts and reviews here

 

Seductive Santino



Savage’s Buck & Doe #4
Adult Romance
Date Published: January 30st, 2020

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Words like love and hate invoke strong feelings that can change a person, but the word revenge can make a seemingly normal person pure evil. Santino Savage understands all these feelings because he lost his dad and oldest brother to a madman in a mass shooting. Everyone asks: how do you move on after such a loss? Santino would say he survived because he had to. The choice wasn’t his to make. The family left behind needed him.
The same protective instincts Santino has for his family kicks in when the captivating, soon-to-be bride, Chloe Marsh, shows up at his family’s resort for her bachelorette and bachelor party. Deep in his bones, he knows something is off with her fiancé. Santino will have to betray those closest to him to do what he knows is intrinsically right.
Chloe has felt the sting of wickedness that life has to offer. For the soft-spoken woman, trust is a word that is the hardest to achieve and the easiest to be broken. However, she is ready to leave the past behind and start afresh. But then the four-day, mini-vacation brings back the ghosts from her past and thrusts her into a nightmare of epic proportions.
Can Santino save Chloe from the ghosts of her past and the evilness of the present? Is saving a woman he is instantly attracted to worth the sanity of the woman he has always protected? Santino has to discover if truth is a word consisting of facts or feelings. Or if both depend on the beholden.


About the Author


Anne Marie Citro grew born and raised in the greater Toronto area of Ontario, Canada. She grew up in a large, loving family. Anne Marie is married to a very patient man. He is the love of her life. They have four very cool sons, and the girls they brought into their family that have become daughters of her heart. She has been blessed enough to finally have two beautiful granddaughters after four sons. She has her own personal gaggle of girlfriends, who enrich her life on a daily basis and make her laugh. Caesar Friday is her favorite day of the week. Caesars with the girls and date night with her hubby. She worked with special-needs teenagers, that taught her how to appreciate life and see it through gentler eyes. Anne Marie was encouraged by her husband to follow her lifelong dream to write. She loves the characters that take over imagination and haunts her dreams. She loves the arts and she has tried her hand at painting, wood sculpting, chainsaw carving, wood burning, metal and wire sculptures. Yes, her husband is a very patient man! Anne Marie is an avid reader and enjoys about three books per week. But nothing makes her happier than riding on the back of her husband’s Harley and throwing her arms out and feeling the wind race by. Anne Marie and her husband take a few weeks every year to travel to spectacular destination around the world. Anne Marie is excited and can’t wait to see what the next chapter holds for her life.

Contact Links
Facebook: Anne Marie Citro
Twitter: @AnneMarieCitro
Pinterest: Anne-Marie Citro

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His Scream Queen



B Mine, Book 3
Horror
Published: April 2020
Publisher: Boroughs Publishing Group

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QUEEN FOR A NIGHT

When Lucio Argento is dumped by Amteep High’s most popular girl, he plots revenge in a way he’s certain will crush her. He convinces Jamie Blair – the target of his ex’s bullying – into doing a makeover that will garner enough votes for her to be Prom Queen. What he doesn’t expect is to fall for Jamie, or to become her willing accomplice in uncovering who is behind the spate of deaths of animals in their community. When their classmates begin to die in the most horrific ways, Lucio and Jamie discover dark supernatural forces are at work, and unless they can conjure a miracle, everyone will die at Prom.


Other Books in the B Mine Series:


His Final Girl
B Mine, Book 1
Publisher: Boroughs Publishing Group
Published: April 2019

DON’T GO IN THE WOODS

Computer nerd, Wes Carpenter, dreads having to spend ten days at summer camp with the rest of his in-coming high school senior class. But when he meets strong-willed and confident farm girl, Linnea Langenkamp, everything about being away at camp improves immediately. When a malicious prank awakens an ancient evil, turning their summer romance into a bloodbath, Wes and Linnea pray they make it home alive while fighting for the survival of their classmates. With Wes’s ingenuity and Linnea’s knowledge of the forest, together they may be able to stop the killer, save the camp, and maybe even find their happily ever after on the way.




Her Haunted Heart
B Mine, Book 2
Publisher: Boroughs Publishing Group

WHEN THINGS GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

When Zelda Shaye inherits the infamous Sazerac House, she immediately senses that something’s not right about the ancient mansion. Strange noises interrupt her sleep, the garbage disposal hates her father, and things move on their own. Her cute nerdy neighbor, Tobe Friedkin, confirms her suspicions when he tells her everyone knows the house is haunted and over the years members of the Sazerac family have suffered mysterious deaths until they were nearly wiped out. Zelda is the last female descendant to inherit the legacy, and the family curse. Since her parents don’t believe her, it’s up to her and Tobe, with the help of the crazy recluse down the street, and a cat named DeLorean, to lay the unquiet spirit to rest before it’s too late.




Excerpt


Chapter One
January 1984

Brittney Shaw allowed Brandon Teller to kiss her as the clock struck midnight. He’d be the perfect candidate to be her king at the prom if only he went to Amteep High instead of Sunnydale Prep. Looking at the glittering throng gathered in the Skeetshue Country Club ballroom, she wondered if she should have asked Daddy to transfer her to Sunnydale. But no, she’d gone to public school with the same classmates since kindergarten, and they’d witnessed her transformation from a dull, stringy-haired, middle-class girl to the rich, beautiful, popular princess she was today. And before graduation, those peers would see her change from a princess to a queen.

Brandon snapped her attention back to the present. “Hey. My parents are still in Cabo. I can have my driver take us to my place if you want to go somewhere where we can…talk alone.” He trailed his fingertips across her collarbone.

“That’s very tempting,” Brittney purred. “But I have a headache. Maybe next time.”

Brandon’s protests chased her as she left the dance floor and had one of the club employees call her driver and bring her fur from the coatroom. The employee brought the luxurious mink and even placed it over her shoulders.

Brandon didn’t take the hint, instead following her out onto the shoveled patio and down the slick flagstone steps. Rock salt crushed under the heels of her red leather Oscar de la Renta shoes as Brittney thought of how easily she could silence him forever if she felt like it.

Once she was delivered home to the gorgeous mansion on Lake Skeetshue that her father had purchased two years ago, Brittney kicked off her shoes and raced up to her room. She only had a few more hours before her parents would return home from the party.

Quickly, she changed out of her puffed-sleeve red chiffon gown and into a ski outfit that was so two years ago. Something she could easily throw away if things got too messy.

After grabbing the suitcase that she kept hidden in the back of her walk-in closet, she went back out into the winter night. Her boots crunched over the frozen snow. Her nose and cheeks stung from the cold, but it couldn’t be helped.

This was the first day of the new year. A time when she had to give thanks for all she’d received the previous year and ensure the fortunes for this one.

The gardener’s shed was unused in the winter, which made this ritual easier. In the summer, she had to store her sacrifices elsewhere.

The animal whimpered when she opened the door but didn’t try to escape. It was too weak for that now. Instead, it allowed itself to be led to the birdbath in the backyard. Brittney set her suitcase on top of the glass-hard ice surface of the marble birdbath and opened it to reveal the tools that had helped her grant her every heart’s desire.

With practiced ease, she withdrew a large dagger and carved a pentagram in the snow around the birdbath. Then she placed red candles at every point and lit them. Opening one of the books she’d stolen from the library three years ago, Brittany chanted the words that summoned her own personal genie.

Scar rose up in front of the birdbath, looking more solid than he had the first time she’d called him forth from the netherworld. Long, sharply pointed horns extended from his large head. His eyes glowed yellow, and his massive jaws were filled with sharp teeth. The animal let out a piteous squeal and tried to flee, but Brittney was used to this part of the ritual. Still gripping the knife she’d used to carve the pentagram, she slit the creature’s throat.

Steaming blood sprayed through the air, glittering in the moonlight. As she’d expected, crimson droplets splattered on her ski suit, more than a stain removal spray could handle. She shrugged. She’d have to burn the outfit.

Brittney extended her hands and chanted the ritual words, “Oh, Scarlionapskhis, scourge of the soulless, most infernal, please accept this blood sacrifice as a token of my gratitude for the favors you’ve bestowed on me, and as a gift in exchange for making me beautiful.”

The demon inclined its head sardonically and fell upon the still-twitching body of the sacrifice.

Brittney used to gag when Scar devoured the animals she’d killed, but after so many years, she was used to the sight and aftermath. Now, she only wiggled her numbing toes in her snow boots, impatient for the ritual to be over with.

When Scar finished dining, he fixed Brittney with yellow glowing eyes. His growling voice sounded like a rabid dog coughing up shards of broken bones. “Do you have a wish you want me to grant?”

“Not tonight.” Brittney did not fall into the trap. She’d quickly learned not to get too greedy with the demon. Not only because it would grow angry with her if she demanded too much too soon, but also because she didn’t want to owe a debt before she was ready to pay it.

Wishes called for careful consideration, cautious wording, meticulous ritual, and a proper sacrifice.

“This night, I gave you this gift, and now allow you to return to your realm in peace.” Brittney then said the guttural words that banished the demon before she blew out the candles. She then lit a sage bundle and trailed the smoke behind her as she kicked snow over the pentagram. After packing her candles and knife away in the suitcase, she hauled the grisly remains of the sacrifice over to the edge of the cliff where the backyard ended and kicked it over where it sank into the black waters of the lake below.

Back inside, she stripped off the bloody clothes and tossed them in the fireplace. The smell of burning nylon wrinkled her nose. She hoped it dissipated before her parents got home.

After a luxurious soak in a hot bubble bath, Brittney changed into a nightgown and settled into her king-size four-poster bed.

Her parents’ drunken laughter carried up from downstairs.

Mother spoke in a fake, Zsa Zsa Gabor wannabe voice she’d been affecting lately. “Can you believe that Cora Neery dared to show her face at the gala tonight? I would have thought that she would be persona non grata after the incident at the charity ball last month. Some people have no sense of class.”

Brittney’s father cleared his throat and spoke in a grating, patronizing tone. “The Neerys have more money than us and are friends with Mr. Hogadane, punkin’. They’ll always be able to behave as they like, unlike us, who weren’t allowed among their ranks before my promotion.”

“Well, I still think she’s a tacky hussy,” Mother sniffed. Daddy must have made some sort of expression of disapproval, for Mother’s voice shifted back to normal. “I am of course grateful for the improvement of our circumstances. You’ve worked so hard for our family.”

They have me to thank, Britney thought furiously. If I hadn’t learned the mysteries of the occult and called forth Scar, Dad would still be a junior at Woodward & Paulson instead of a full partner, and Mother would have been getting her manicured nails dirty working at the jewelry counter at J.C. Penny. We still would have lived in that ugly subdivision on Locust Lane, and the doors of Hogadane’s country club would still be slammed in our faces.

But it wasn’t her parents’ misfortunes and mediocrity that had motivated Brittney to check out that book at the library on casting spells. It was the desire that every fourteen-year-old girl had.

To be pretty.

Brittney still didn’t know if the spells from that first book had actually worked, though just enough things that she wanted had happened and made her think it wasn’t coincidence. Her acne had cleared, and her hair did seem a little thicker, and the other girl competing for a spot on the cheerleading squad had indeed suffered a terrible fall and had broken her ankle. That was enough of an impetus for Brittany to delve further into the occult.

That first book mentioned the possibility of summoning spirits to do one’s bidding, so she looked up books on that. Most were full of useless ghost stories, but one directed her to exactly what the spell book had promised. Only this book referred to the spirits as demons. Brittney had felt one icy shiver prickle the back of her neck before tossing her hair and deciding that it didn’t matter what they were called, only that they gave her what she wanted.

Months of chants, arcane symbols and a pentagram drawn on her bedroom floor beneath her rug, three dead mice and four dead rabbits later, she brought forth Scarlionapskhis for the first time. All the demon’s names were impossible to pronounce, that was the first challenge in summoning them.

Brittney called her demon “Scar” for short but learned quickly that demons did not appreciate nicknames.

The first wish Scar granted was for her dad to have enough money to buy a new wardrobe from the J.Crew and Esprit catalogs she and her friends pored over. That wish was granted when one of the partners of Woodward & Paulson Law Firm committed suicide, and her father was made into a full partner.

The wardrobe got Brittney a foot in the door with the A crowd at school, but since the queen bees, Heather Price and Jennifer Armstrong, were part of the country club set, Brittney’s family had to be as well.

That wish was granted when her grandmother died shortly after visiting, leaving Brittney’s mother a small fortune, and around the same time, her father landed a prestigious client, gaining the Shaws their coveted invitation to Hogadane’s country club.

Wayne Hogadane was the richest man in Amteep, maybe even the entire northwest. He owned the most prestigious country club, two giant lake cruise boats, the Amteep Resort, the Amteep Press, and, some said, the entire town. Becoming part of Hogadane’s social sphere guaranteed high social status.

Brittney never returned the library books. She couldn’t stand the idea of someone else gaining the power she had. Besides, she reasoned, if these books fell into the wrong hands, good people could be hurt. Demons demanded sacrifices. And while Brittney only offered up creatures that wouldn’t be missed and people who were bad, like her father’s mistress, someone else might not be so discerning.

***

The return to school after Christmas break had Brittney energized. She’d spent an invigorating morning at cheerleading practice in the gym, demonstrating that extra edge of agility that Scar had given her, and examining the loyalty of her friends who’d been away for the break, making sure there were no cracks in their devotion to her as their leader.

After practice, she showered and changed into one of the new outfits she got for Christmas, an oversize, off-the-shoulder cashmere sweater of the palest pink with a large matching hair ribbon, high-waisted acid-washed Guess jeans with rolled-up cuffs, a pink Swatch, and tons of new bangle bracelets. She blow-dried her hair and sprayed it until she had amazing volume.

On the way to first period, her best friend, Heather Price, leaned over and asked, “I heard you dumped Lucio Argento after Christmas.”

Brittney shrugged, trying to ignore the pang of envy at Heather’s new burgundy blazer. “He was beginning to bore me. Men of his breeding simply cannot understand the importance of the finer things in life.”

While Heather nodded in sympathetic understanding of the vast chasm between those who had class and those who didn’t, her other friend, Jennifer Armstrong, stared at her with wide, curious eyes. “Is it true that Lucio’s dad is a mobster?”

She shrugged. “He’s a restaurant owner. I barely saw the man. Besides, if I’d learned the truth, I wouldn’t be alive to tell it, now would I?”

Later, at lunch, Brittney couldn’t fight off a pang of bittersweet regret when she saw Lucio in the cafeteria looking decadently gorgeous with his long black curls, and eyes dark as sin, which perfectly complemented his Mediterranean complexion.

The narrow arching upper lip made him look a little wicked, while his full lower lip promised sensuality. His square jaw and broad shoulders made him look powerful and dangerous. And his large hands… She bit back a sigh, remembering how they felt on her bare skin.

He was fun while he lasted. Her friends had been amusingly awed that she was dating “a bad boy,” and the popular guys had been driven crazy by the fact that Brittney had passed them over in favor of “slumming with a dumb…” She’d never heard so many slurs for Italians in her life until she’d agitated the WASPs’ nest.

Ah, but Lucio had been fantastic in bed and treated her like a queen. Brittney wasn’t so sure that she’d be treated as well when she began dating someone who was her social equal. And being with him was hardly slumming.

Lucio’s father owned Bava’s, one of the fanciest restaurants in town, and if Mr. Argento really was a member of a crime family, then he and his son weren’t poor. Hell, Lucio drove a Trans Am, albeit an older one, and had motorcycle.

But Brittney wanted to be prom queen. Therefore, she needed a worthy king. And no one would vote for an Italian delinquent who’d been held back a year in tenth grade.

Her musings broke as she crashed into Jamie Blair, a friend back in Brittney’s middle-class days, now a pariah who must be avoided at all costs.

Brittney fixed her with a glower. “Watch it, trailer trash.”

Jamie backed away, her black hair falling forward to hide her reddening face. But her light brown eyes flashed a hint of defiance and accusation. “Watch yourself, bimbo,” Jamie’s retort was barely audible as she retreated.

If I hadn’t been staring at Lucio like an idiot, I wouldn’t have bumped into her. I need to focus on finding my king.

But Brittney couldn’t let Jamie’s defiance stand. “Do you want to be dumped into a trash can again?” Her friends were dutifully laughing at Jamie’s retreating form.

Brittney noticed the strong arms of Chet Morgan wrapped around Heather Price’s waist. Now there was an excellent candidate.

His sun-bleached hair and tanned skin attested to a Christmas vacation spent in a warm paradise. His eyes were the color of aquamarines, shining nearly as bright as his perfectly white, straight teeth. His shoulders were broader than Lucio’s, and since Chet was quarterback of the Amteep Devils, he was also more muscular.

And he was definitely more fashionable, looking like he stepped out of the latest L.L.Bean catalog, with his sandy-blond Ken Doll hair, popped-collar polo shirts, and loose-fit tan slacks.

Yes, Brittney mused as she appraised her best friend’s boyfriend. Chet would be a perfect prom king. A lot of people would vote for him because he’s the quarterback. He should be with me anyway since I’m head cheerleader.

She closed her eyes and pictured him being crowned beside her. It should be easy enough to snare him, either with her charms or with magic if she needed to.

And if Heather decides to get in my way, I can get rid of her. The demon likes human flesh better than cats or dogs anyway.







About the Author

Formerly an auto-mechanic, Brooklyn Ann thrives on writing romance featuring unconventional heroines and heroes who adore them. Author of historical paranormal romance in her critically acclaimed “Scandals with Bite” series, urban fantasy in the cult favorite, “Brides of Prophecy” novels, and the award winning, “Hearts of Metal Series, she’s now writing the “B Mine” series, horror romances riffing on the 1970s and 1980s horror movies.

She lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho with her gamer son, rockstar/IT Guy boyfriend, and four cats.

She can be found online at https://brooklynannauthor.com as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

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Rites of Passage


Book 1 of Sawyer Shepherd Chronicles
Young Adult Supernatural Thriller
Date Published: 2/4/2020

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 Sage City, Colorado is a beautiful but struggling town. Its mining history has dried up, leaving it only with a dark local legend that may just be more history than myth. But an East Coast developer named Lucius Furr and his team, including Lennox Dupree and Elena Cordova, might just bring salvation- or awaken a long-dormant evil.

Sawyer Shepherd is on a road trip of self-discovery- and running from a tragic past. He hopes to find himself and healing from the loss of his parents while in the deadly beauty of the Colorado Rockies. He soon finds himself caught up not only in Furr’s plans for the small town, but also an ancient and epic battle between good and evil. Guided by locals Eli Romer (the ‘town drunk’ that knows more than he lets on) and Mandy Jane (college intern with the Parks Service), Sawyer will seek to overcome the demons of his past while also trying to survive a real-life demon that seeks only to consume.

Or is it also trying to open the door for an even greater and more powerful evil?


 Excerpt

Steve shrugged and launched into the story. “Hezekiah Romer was a prospector that came to Sage City- or the loose collection of people that would become Sage City- during the Silver Boom here in the 1870s.  A lot of folks came, and it was a rough town.  In the fall of 1876, an early snowfall and subsequent avalanche blocked the township off from aid.  The blizzards were relentless, and food got scarce.  Some folks started to turn up dead and apparently…somewhat consumed by something or someone.  Then more and more. Before long, there wasn’t many folks left.  One was a local pastor that had come to town to save them from “greed and damnation.”  Name of Horace Goodley.  People started to suspect it was Goodley that was killing and eating folks.  Legend has it, the town asked Hezekiah-” Eli laughed a dark laugh and looked at Steve, shaking his head. “–Okay, volunteered?” Eli looked back to the rubble, still shaking his head.  While Eli had been showing his disapproval of this revisionist history, one of the “geologists” walked to the rubble. He then inspected it close enough to touch- which he did despite Eli’s warning- near the mineshaft opening.  Sawyer caught this quick approach, but he was the only one.  By the time Eli turned back to his vigil, the man was a reasonable distance away.  And backing up.

“Anyway,” Steve continued, “Hezekiah acted as bait and got the pastor to chase him up the mountain to this mineshaft they had just opened before the snow started.  We only have Hezekiah’s account, but apparently, there was a struggle, and Goodley was knocked into the open mineshaft.  Then Hezekiah blew it shut with dynamite.  Apparently, they felt guilty about outright killing him, so they decided to lock him in a cave and let him starve to death far enough outside of town they couldn’t hear his screams.”

Furr was shaking his head.  “Human nature.  It’s a funny thing.  Of course, the irony that they killed the cannibal by starvation has a nice poetry to it.  So, how did you happen to get this land where your ancestor proved himself such a hero, Mr. Romer?”

Eli clearly wouldn’t answer, so Steve did. “When Sage City was incorporated, the town charter decreed that as long as an heir of Hezekiah Romer lived and wanted it, this land was theirs for a homestead.  Eli here is the fifth generation to call this land home.  You could say it us his birthright.”

Sawyer noticed that Eli was looking at him, and in a flash of realization, he understood that Eli was the man in the dream he had just had.  There were no snowdrifts, but it was the location, and Eli was the man.

Just then, a single snowflake landed on Ranger Steve’s shoulder.  It was followed by a couple more friends, then a full-on snowfall.

Ranger Steve looked up at the white stuff coming in from the sky. Then he looked at his watch.  “Yep, October 25th, right on time for the first snowfall.  And by the looks of it, it’s going to be a big–”

An explosion from the mineshaft cut Ranger Steve off.  In slow motion, Sawyer saw everyone around him seem to lift off the ground and fly away from the flames and advancing rubble flying through the air. He hit the ground about ten feet from where he was and slid into a pine tree trunk.  As he lost consciousness, he saw the hole where the mineshaft and scratched stones had been.

He thought he saw eyes-green eyes- from inside the dark hole.

Then everything was just dark.


About the Author


The only child of a family that lived on a ranch in the Central Texas Countryside, Chad Lehrmann learned early on to use his imagination to entertain himself.  Creating stories in his head and acting them out eventually led to him entertaining the idea to write stories.  He began this process in his teens, but life got in the way.  After eleven years in ministry, Chad became a public school teacher in College Station, Texas.  Working with teenagers (and raising two of his own), he began to read young adult fiction like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.  Combined with his love of the works of Stephen King, Chad began to recall those stories and ideas from his youth, but with a new perspective.  Tired of explaining to his students that if he was not a teacher, he would be a writer, but doing nothing to validate that- he penned his first novel, The Sawyer Shepherd Chronicles:  Rites of Passage.  It would be the culmination of characters and story beats that had been germinating in his head for over twenty years.  He hopes you will join him on this journey!

Chad still teaches at College Station High School, where he is currently the Psychology, Sociology, and Debate teacher.  He is married and has two teenage daughters and as a family they love vacationing in the mountains (which are a strong inspiration for the stories he writes).  He also has hobbies of woodworking and collecting action figures.

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